Energetic ‘Music Man’ opens at Goodman

(Published July 10, 2019)

By Bob Oswald

The Goodman Theatre is closing out the 2018-2019 season with an energetic presentation of “The Music Man.” 

Meredith Wilson’s story about con man Harold Hill who plans to swindle the town of River City, Iowa with the promise of a band opened to an enthusiastic crowd Monday night and kept a rousing pace throughout.

Hill, played by Goodman alum Geoff Packard, gets things moving as he arrives in town and convinces citizens to support the band. Packard and Monica West, who plays the town’s librarian Marian Paroo, work beautifully together and don’t miss a note while keeping up with the dazzling and intense dance moves worked out by choreographer Denis Jones.

The production is directed by Mary Zimmerman, who has directed an impressive 16 productions during her 25 years at the Goodman Theatre.
Following the opening, the Goodman Theatre announced it has added a second and final extension week to “The Music Man.” Due to an “overwhelming demand for tickets,” the show will run through Aug. 18. in the 856-seat Albert Theatre. Tickets, from $25 to $142, are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/MusicMan, at 312-443-3800 or at the box office, 170 North Dearborn.

A closer look at hidden bars around downtown

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

Looking for someplace new? Someplace weird? Someplace out-of-the-way?

Look no more. Here is a list of the best hidden bars downtown.

The Library

The Library is located in the basement of the Gilt Bar in River North. It has a speakeasy feel with soft lights, bookshelves and gentle 1920s music playing. They don’t take reservations, expect a wait.

Gilt Bar

230 N. Kinzie St.

The Drifter

This River North establishment is also in the basement of another bar, the Green Door Tavern. The cocktail menu varies because drinks are printed on tarot cards, and different cards list different drinks. Risk-seeking patrons can snag a fortune cookie from a Buddha cookie jar where each fortune lists a cocktail or liquor. After 8 p.m., there’s burlesque and musical entertainment curated by Michelle L’amour. Expect to pay a cover charge.

Green Door Tavern

678 N. Orleans St.

The Milk Room

This tiny hidden bar is on the second floor of the Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan Ave. Allegedly, it was used by members during Prohibition. Paid reservations are recommended as the bar only has eight seats. This is the place for the discerning cocktail aficionado since they serve rare spirits.

Chicago Athletic Association

12 S. Michigan Ave.

Blind Barber

The Blind Barber, in West Loop, is in the back of an actual barber shop. When a patron enters the barbershop and asks for the bar, they will be directed to an unmarked door. Once inside the cocktail bar, it’ll feel like a time warp with soft lights and cozy chairs. In addition to a delicious cocktail list, they offer a grilled cheese that isn’t to be missed.

Back of a barber shop

948 W. Fulton Market

SafeHouse Chicago

A Milwaukee transplant, this Streeterville bar lets patrons feel like secret agents. First one must locate the red door and then provide the password or perform a designated task. Once these tests are passed, patrons find themselves in a spy-themed cocktail bar. It’s goofy and fun with lots to explore, including secret entrances and passages.

60 E. Ontario St.

Bridgehouse Museum continues to welcome visitors, despite Riverwalk construction

(Published June 19, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Though the main Riverwalk entrance to the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum is shuttered as city workers renovate that space, the museum is open and busy planning for an upcoming cruise fundraiser.

The cruise is June 26 and the boat ride offers a unique voyage on the Chicago River.

“It’s unlike any other tour,” Coles said. “We go places where other tours typically don’t go. We go all the way to Damon Avenue on the south branch.”

The Bridgehouse Museum celebrates the history of Chicago’s bridgehouses—the small offices once used to manually raise and lower the city’s drawbridges—as well as the history of the Chicago River. Aside from the museum, many of the bridgehouses are now closed and unused.

The museum, at the northern corner of Columbus Drive and upper Wacker, is only open during the spring, summer and early fall. Museum director Josh Coles said, despite the construction, he’s happy with attendance so far this year. He even praised the work on the Riverwalk, which he said will improve the exterior space.

“They are expanding the plaza space,” he said. “They’re going to add two large long planters full of native plants. It should be good.”

Inside the museum, Coles said the organization continues to welcome locals and tourists with a robust schedule of river-related events through the summer.

“In July and August we do a speaker series,” he said.

The free series will kick off July 8 and run from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. xperts will talk on a variety of topics, from the history of the area to the ecology of the river.

“We have all kinds of great people who know a lot about river-related issues,” Coles said. “Also, in late June, we have our annual fundraiser for the museum and it’s a summer cruise.”

Tickets are $85 for a single or $155 for two tickets, available online at bridgehousemuseum.org.

In September, the Bridgehouse Museum will offer a temporary exhibit, The Tender House project, which imagines the potential use of the other bridgehouses in Chicago.

The Bridgehouse Museum is open Fridays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Thursday from noon to 7 p.m. The museum is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mt. Joy, Rayland Baxter open Millennium Park free concert series

(Published June 12)

By Bob Oswald

Kicking off the Millennium Park Summer Music Series, indie rockers Mt. Joy are looking forward to the June 13 show at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

“It feels like we have played in Chicago as much as anywhere else in the country,” singer Matt Quinn said. “It is truly one of our favorite places in the world.”

The California band, with origins in Philadelphia, built up an online following after the release of the song “Astrovan.”

“We had an EP written and just felt good about ‘Astrovan’ so decided to throw it on Spotify first,” Quinn said. “It got added to a couple of playlists and performed really well and the whole thing kind of snowballed. It was surreal. It put us in a position to build out the band, quit our day jobs, tour and write.”

And then they hit the road.

“We have toured pretty continuously for the past two years,” he said. 

“It has been an amazing experience. I think we have all grown so much as musicians, but I am probably most proud of how close we are as a group.”

Quinn said the constant travel takes a toll so it’s important to have a strong support system.

“It’s a crazy ride and it’s so much fun,” he said. “The highs are some of the best times of our lives, but there’s really no way to live like this without people taking care of each other.”

The group, made up of Quinn, his Philadelphia high school buddy Sam Cooper, Michael Byrnes, Sotiris Eliopoulos and Jackie Miclau, released their self-titled debut album last year.

“I’m proud of the first record,” Quinn said. “It was recorded extremely modestly and made a lot of beautiful things happen.”

But Quinn said there are parts of the album he would change.

“That’s where the live show becomes important,” he said. “A lot of the songs on the record are played pretty differently live, which keeps us sane.”

And Quinn is bringing that energy to the city.

“Every time we play [in Chicago] the shows are memorable,” he said. “It’s a city that cares deeply about music, and there’s obviously an amazing amount of history to support that.”

Also performing Thursday will be country singer and Nashville native Rayland Baxter.

The Millennium Park Summer Music Series lineup

All shows are free and begin at 6:30 p.m., according to City of Chicago.

Thursday, June 13

Mt. Joy

Rayland Baxter

Monday, June 17

Cory Henry and the Funk Aposties

Liniker e os Caramelows

Monday, June 24

Chucho Valdes & Jazz Bata

Fareed Haque + Casseus

Thursday, June 27

Flora Cash

Susto

Monday, July 1

Car Seat Headrest

Naked Giants

Monday, July 8

Brent Cobb

Lydia Loveless

Thursday, July 18

Orchestral Interpretations of J Dilla–Directed by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

Kenny Keys

Thursday, July 25

Los Amigos Invisibles

City of the Sun

Monday, July 29

Rev. Sekou

Cha Wa

Monday, Aug. 5

Love Love Love – Chicago Celebrates the Music of Donny Hathaway

Thursday, Aug. 15

Jupiter & Okwess

Noura Mint Seymali

For information, visit chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/millennium_park9.html

Architecture Biennial draws visions of an improved city from students

(Published June 1, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

In May, the Chicago Architectural Biennial announced the winners of the BP Student Ideas Competition at a ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center. The competition challenged Chicago students to re-imagine how they might use abandoned or empty properties in their neighborhood for greater public good.

In one of his last acts as mayor, Rahm Emanuel congratulated the students for their ideas.

Emanuel kickstarted the Biennial five years ago and he said it remains one of his proudest accomplishments. He said the challenge is intended to get high school students from across the city and across backgrounds to see the city as theirs.

“My test of this city of Chicago is that if a child in Ravenswood and a child in Roseland and a child in Edgewater and a child in Rogers Park or in Wildwood, if they all can look to the city and see the image of all of ourselves in the skyline against this natural beauty which is lake Michigan and if they have the same perspective that that’s my city and that’s my home, then New York City, Boston, London, Berlin and Beijing, watch out. Chicago is coming for you,” Emanuel said. “But if a child looks at the city and thinks it’s a whole different place, even though it’s five miles away, we will never be what we can be.”

He said the Chicago Architecture Biennial is intended to inspire young people to write the next chapter of the city’s story. In total, 171 students, from 49 schools and 42 ZIP codes, reimagined vacent lots. Ideas ranged from replacing empty lots with gardens and libraries to homeless shelters and public medical facilities.  

Jessica Chaidez, a 10th grader from Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago was the first-place winner. For her entry, titled Blackwell Hospital, she design a community hospital for the Ashburn neighborhood.

As part of her entry, Chaidez argued that many in the neighborhood are unemployed and a community hospital could lower mortality rates.

“Ashburn’s mortality rates can go down by providing a hospital in the community according to the British Medical Journal,” Chaidez wrote. “The distance from a hospital plays a life or death situation. If it’s close, you will have a greater chance of surviving. Ultimately, having a hospital in your community offers great job opportunities to the people and can reduce the number of unemployed.”

Ultimately, Emanuel said all the projects gave him hope for the future of Chicago.

“This, in my view, makes sure it’s a legacy that pays dividends for our future and that’s why I am so proud of this event,” Emanuel concluded.

Chicago Architecture Biennial Executive Director Todd Palmer said the program is more important than bricks and mortar.

“What is architecture,” Palmer asked. “It’s of course buildings, but we think it’s also ideas, including landscapes, buildings and projects that work to solve homelessness. Architecture is for all of us and we can change Chicago for the better in a global context.”

The finalists’ projects are on display through August on the third floor of the Chicago Cultural Center building, 78 E. Washington St.

Urban Growers turn Chicago’s front yard into a garden

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, staff writer

It’s a farm on the front yard of Chicago.

That’s how Erika Allen, co-founder of Urban Growers Collective (UGC), explains Art on the Farm, located in Grant Park at the intersection of Congress and Columbus.

This urban farm grows over 150 varieties of edible flowers and vegetables, including swiss chard, leeks, edible pansies, celery, tiny peppers, sunflowers, and more. The produce is then loaded onto their Fresh Moves Mobile Market, city buses doubling as mobile farmers markets and sold around the city.

Besides farming, the UGC offer agriculture-related educational programs for high schoolers and Art on the Farm hosts afterschool and six-week summer programs for teenagers to work on the urban garden.

“It’s public land that we are using a portion of the city’s landscape budget to grow food,” Allen said. She pointed out that by being in the proverbial front yard of the city, the program signals to the world the importance of the garden program.

Residents and tourists stop by the farm and talk to UGC volunteers and staff and UGC offers tours. The farm is also visited by birds. Allen noted a regular visitor to the farm, a Kirtland’s Warbler, was making waves amongst Chicago’s birding community for its rarity.

Allen founded Art on the Farm in 2005 through her organization, Growing Power. Adam Schwerner, the past Director for the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources at the Chicago Park District, was instrumental in helping Allen make the project happen. When Growing Power closed in 2017, Allen and co-founder Laurell Sims opened Urban Growers Collective in 2017.

Allen said one challenge has been balancing the farm’s productivity with its beauty. The farm started with straight beds, though now the beds are arranged in various shapes and Allen said the best view is probably from above.

For more information about UGC, their tours, products and other programming, visit their website, urbangrowerscollective.org.

Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA brings BMX, hair suspension acts to Soldier Field

Cirque du Soleil-VOLTA, Mr Wow act. Photo: Matt Beard

By Elaine Hyde | May 18, 2019

This year, 72 trailer trucks have rolled up to Soldier Field, and set up a tent that can withstand 75 mph winds for Cirque du Soleil’s new production, VOLTA, that runs May 18-July 6.  VOLTA refers to a jolt of energy or a sudden change in emotion or idea. The show captures the spirit of adventure that pervades the world of urban street sports and explores themes of freedom and self-acceptance.

It’s the first time in the 30 years, that one of Cirque’s shows has been so close to downtown. Visible from office towers and freeway traffic, beckoning with lights and action, the accessibility and proximity to transportation is a plus, according to Artistic Director, Ron Kellum. “Sometimes because of the traffic and all the things about getting to a show, when it’s accessible it makes everything a little easier,” he said.

Cirque du Soleil-VOLTA Mirage Act. Photo Matt Beard

A master of making hard things seem easy, Kellum says that the show has acrobatics that have never been seen before under the big top. “BMX, hair suspension, the trampo wall…they’re new acts to the circus culture, to our family. We’re under a tent, so to see these acts perform in a moving reality is unreal.”

The audience is taken on a journey of self discovery through the character of a young man named Waz. “Volta is about finding your free. This is about a young person that goes on a journey, who is trying to escape who they really are, and what they find out is who they really are is uniquely special and makes them even more important to their community and those around them,” Kellum said.

This theme of self-acceptance and freedom from the judgement of others, will particularly resonate with a Chicago audience according to Kellum. “Chicago has always been a city that’s unto its own. There’s a real sense of pride. There’s a real sense of “this is who we are,” he said. The show includes local talent Kevin Beverly, a Chicago native on the shape diving team as well as talent from around the country and the world.

The unicycle act in Cirque du Soleil’s newest production VOLTA. Photo by Matt Beard

AJ Anaya, a BMX artist from Colorado who performs in the final act, says that the theme of being free is not just in the storyline but extends to the stunts that the artists perform. “It’s basically a big long dance with bikes, as long as we stay with the timing in the air we are able to do any tricks we like.”

BMX artist AJ Anaya (center) in the final act of Cirque du Soleil’s-VOLTA. Photo: Matt Beard

On stage there is a lot of real time communication that happens between the BMX artists. It’s a brotherhood pushing the edge of convention, seamlessly working as a team. “What I enjoy most about our act is the freedom. Everyone of us has gone through judgement and acceptance. Once I accepted that this is what I wanted to do for a living, more than anything, some people didn’t take that very seriously as a real job, but I was determined to make it a career and I was grateful I was able to get to that point.

See Cirque do Soleil’s VOLTA under the big top at Soldier Field South Lot, 1410 Museum Campus Drive, Chicago, May 18–July 6, 2019. Tickets start at $49, and can be purchased by visiting cirquedusoleil.com/volta or calling 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783).

West Side Story sizzles

By Elaine Hyde | May 5, 2019

Lyric’s Opera’s coproduction of West Side Story delivers such a punch, that it’s love at first sight, and not just for Maria and Tony.

Internationally acclaimed opera and theatre director, Francesca Zambello, successfully recaptures the ‘wow factor’ in the retelling of Romeo and Juliet’s story, set in the back streets of New York.

Lyric Opera Chicago West Side Story. Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

The nearly 100 cast members and musicians light up the show. West Side Story is a thoroughly immersive spectacle with captivating performances by Broadway star Corey Cott as Tony and rising star Mikaela Bennett as Maria. The talent of Brett Thiele as Riff, Amanda Castro as Anita, Manuel Stark Santos as Bernardo, and Adam Soniak who plays Action, authentically portray the complexities of friendship, loyalty and love.

As the characters tumble head first towards the “rumble”, we are taken on a musical journey with iconic songs like “Tonight”, “America”, “I feel Pretty” and “Maria” that display the talent of the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by James Lowe.

Lyric Opera Chicago West Side Story. Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Raw and edgy, the scene is powerfully set by the two gangs sparring against a steel punctuated backdrop of New York City. The famous ‘balcony’ is obvious, and meaningfully painted red, with colorful costumes contrasting against a grey background.

Arguably, the dance-off was invented in West Side Story and choreographer Jerome Robbins artfully blends tough-guy athleticism with the sauciness of Anita, played by Amanda Castro, who’s authentic and spicy performance stole the show.

West Side Story will leave audiences spellbound and reasserts the enduring potential of the story of star struck lovers.


Lyric Opera’s West Side Story is a coproduction with Houston Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Festival. Performances run through June 2.

Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased at lyricopera.org/wss or by calling 312-827-5600.

Not Your Average Mother’s Day

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Treat mom to a unique Mother’s Day experience that goes beyond brunch.

Family Game Night Out

Does mom love family game night, but is often stressed playing host? Try Family Game Night Out in Lakeview, which takes the pressure off mom. Invite the whole family, from 6-24 guests, to play familiar party games in a private room that includes a host. Family Game Night Out is BYOB and welcomes guests to bring snacks. $45 per person for a 2-3 hour experience, depending on the number of guests. Make reservations in advance. Recommended for game players 18 and up.

gamenightout.com

2828 N Clark St., Chicago

312-448-724

Donut Tour

If mom is a pastry fan, then the Chicago Donut tour will be a treat. The Underground Donut Tour has two Chicago-based tours, one of which covers downtown, the other covers Wicker Park. The downtown tour encompasses two miles and each donut shop stop includes samples. Tours run Thursday to Sunday and begin at 9 a.m. The downtown tour is $35 for adults and $15 for children.

undergrounddonuttour.com

Freeze and Float

For a relaxing Mother’s Day, take mom to River North’s Freeze and Float, a recently opened spa specializing in cryotherapy treatments, infrared saunas and flotation therapy. Cryotherapy hyper-cools the body for three minutes, with temperatures in the chambers reaching -184F. According to the Freeze and Float website, Cryotherapy has rejuvenating effects, similar to the benefits of icing inflamed muscles. Infrared saunas improve circulation and help with injury recovery. Floatation therapy in Epsom-salt filled water is a meditative experience. They also offer classic massages, facials, and beauty treatments. For pricing and more information, visit Freeze and Float’s website, or call them.

freezefloatspa.com

371 W Ontario St.

312 809-7008

Windy Kitty

For the cat-lover mom, Windy Kitty is the place to go. Windy Kitty is a cat cafe in Wicker Park, where mom can hang out with some rescue cats, while having a snack or coffee. Cats at the cafe are available for adoption, but enjoy being visited too. Windy Kitty also features a kitten nursery, available to visit for those over 10. Windy Kitty strongly suggests reservations. Admission is $14 per person per hour. For parties of five people or more, Windy Kitty recommends a private party reservation. They often have fun events, such as Yoga with Cats or Painting with Cats. For more information, visit their website, or email them. w

1746 W North Ave

Let it Out

Moms often are subject to a lot of stress. To give mom a way to let go of that stress, take her to The Rage Room, in River North’s Escapades Escape Room. For those over 18, the Rage Room allows visitors to break as many items, such as televisions, crockery, and computer equipment, as they desire. The Rage Room provides safety wear to go along with a baseball bat, crowbar or golf club. The room can be shared with up to 15 people in a party, but only one person goes in at a time. Experiences can last up to 2 hours, or can be as little as 15 minutes. Prices vary. Online reservations required. Visit their website for more information.

www.escapadesescapegames.com

153 W. Ohio

312-526-3072

Learn Something New

For the jack-of-all-trades mom, check out Dabble, which has classes available in a variety of subjects. Pasta making, archery, glassblowing and soap making are just a few available on Dabble in the upcoming weeks. They also have food tours, architecture tours and drinking tours. Prices, locations, and times vary. Dabble’s website has a list of classes and is constantly updating new times, dates, and experiences.

dabble.co/chicago/

May the fourth celebrations to include free lightsaber ‘fight’ at 360 Chicago

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

For millions around the world, May the fourth isn’t just a date on the calendar. It’s a day to celebrate one of the most beloved films of all time — Star Wars.

May the fourth plays on the phrase “may the force (be with you),” the popular farewell among the film’s rebels. In this world, May the fourth is an international day to celebrate Star Wars and all things Jedi.

And that goes for downtown Chicago, too.

Chicago Jedi, one of the largest fan groups in the city, will demonstrate lightsaber fight techniques at 7 p.m. May 4 on the observation deck at 360 Chicago, 875 N Michigan Ave. Entry will be free for anyone who wants to see the Jedi battle.

Ross Greenberg, the second in command at Chicago Jedi, said everyone is welcome to stop by and take pictures or even participate in the fun.

“We usually do a freeze mob or a force battle,” he explained.

In a freeze mob, participants pose in a fighting positions. Greenberg said this is safer than public battle recreations.

“We don’t want people to get whacked and get hurt so we came up with the idea that we do what’s called a freeze mob,” he said. “What we do is we have everyone get together and play some music and when you hear the musical cue, everyone freezes in place.”

The group has done this at Millennium Park near Cloud Gate, but this year 360 Chicago offered their space to the group.  

Greenberg said he hopes kids and families come, because everyone is welcome.

“The event is BYOL, bring your own lightsaber,” he said.

Greenberg said the event is a good introduction to the group, if residents want to join.

“If people come to one of our events to become an active member, they have to show up to six or seven meetings, not in a row but just to show they’re serious, then after that, they’re a member or a Padawan,” Greenberg said.

Group founder and leader Gabriel Calderon said they offer a unique community for “Star Wars”-obsessed fans.

“On the surface, people gain an immediate sense of community—connecting with others who have a shared interest in all things Star Wars,” Calderon said. “As you get to know one another, you realize how deep and varied the life of each member really is, people you may not have met in traditional settings. We have writers, doctors, teachers, gamers, professionals, and so on.”

Greenberg said members can take Jedi fighting courses.

“I am a 40-year veteran of martial arts and I’m a martial arts master and a six-degree black belt,” he said.

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