Mean Girls musical teaches important life lessons

By Elisa Shoenberger

While many people will be snapping their fingers to the music while leaving Mean Girls, they will also be taking away some life lessons.

“It’s very clear that (though) it is a comedy that there are dire repercussions to being mean—to being a bad person,”  said Danielle Wade, principal actor playing the lead role of Cady Heron. 

Wade appreciates that Cady Heron “starts out one way and goes through all these emotions that we have felt and dealt with in high school or post high school. She faces repercussions for actions too and I think that’s really important.”

The Mean Girls musical is based on the 2004 movie by Tina Fey. It’s the story of  Cady Heron who grew up in Africa and finds herself in the world of high school cliques in the suburbs. She becomes part of the Plastics, a popular trio of girls led by Regina George, and faces some tough challenges arising from her decisions.

The musical has something to offer for everybody.

“There is a character within the show that everyone can relate to—or parts of each character that everyone can relate to,” Wade said. She’s met many people at the stage door that have told her that they saw themselves in various characters.

When Wade was on Broadway, a woman told her she realized that she was Regina in high school and needed to go make an apology phone call to her high school friend.

“On the inside, I was like ‘Regina is very scary, that’s scary to me.’ That was  cool that she recognized that and felt she needed to say something,” Wade said.

 Mean Girls helps people better under- stand issues of cliques and bullying. 

“I think it’s given people language to talk about this problem. When 12 to 13 year old girls refer to ‘Mean Girls,’ we know what they are talking about,” child  therapist and president of Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute Erika Schmidt said. 

Wade hopes that people will take something away from the show.

“The show is goofy and it’s rooted in humor, but it’s really truthful. As much as we joke and are dressed head to toe in pink outfits, it’s an important message for people to hear,” she said.

Mean Girls runs through Jan. 26 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, and will tour across the U.S. throughout 2020.  

‘The Santaland Diaries’ opening at the Goodman Theatre brings festive, but naughty smiles

By Mat Cohen

It’s rare for one of Santa’s little helpers to be a realist who gets satisfaction from asking, “Have you ever imagined Santa as an anagram of Satan?”

But then again, a Christmas grouch doesn’t usually make you smile.

Steven Strafford does while performing The Santaland Diaries in his return to the Goodman Theatre. 

Strafford plays a struggling actor in New York in need of some quick cash. So he becomes an elf at Macy’s Santaland. After a quick job orientation and a costume change, Strafford takes the audience on a comedic sleigh ride exploring the realistic side of a 33-year-old wearing striped tights while dealing with the holiday crowd.

The monologue contains a high level of detail from writer David Sedaris. He depicts specific situations of the holiday rush, from a perspective not familiar to many, observed by an angry elf, helping parents force kids onto Santa’s lap while also trying to make them smile. The specificities benefit the sometimes-crude humor and draw the audience into every word from Strafford.

He walks around the glitter-filled, snow-covered stage, playing different parts, including a crying kid, a flirtatious Santa and an elf singing a Billy Holiday-style Christmas carol. He mans different stations of Macy’s Santaland, bringing out funny observations, such as dealing with a fist fight and ignoring cash bribes in hopes of cutting the line and going straight to Santa’s house.

The 80-minute show displays Strafford’s ability as a storyteller and as a solo entertainer, which made the festive, but naughty, performance feel like half the time had passed.

The Santaland Diaries, written by Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello, is directed by Steve Scott.

For information about the Goodman Theatre and The Santaland Diaries, running through Dec. 29 in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, visit https://www.goodmantheatre.org/santaland

THE JOFFREY BALLET CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS WITH CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON’S CHICAGO-SET THE NUTCRACKER

Photo by Cheryl Mann

By Elaine Hyde

Dec. 1, 2019

This time of year you might have different options when it comes to seeing a Nutcracker performance but you should really go to see the ‘real’ one. In Chicago, you can’t get any better than The Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’. With its dazzling whirlwind of sugar plum fairies, its rendition of the dance is so glorious, you can barely believe your eyes.

There may be nothing more perfect for a family Christmas outing than a visit to Joffrey’s ‘The Nutcracker’, partly owing to the pomp and ceremony that going to the ballet at the Auditorium Theatre affords – it’s the last time the show will take place at the theatre as the Company will move to the Lyric Opera House at the start of the 2020-2021 season – but mostly because sitting in a gilded room with an audience full of bright eyed children, bursting with questions and excitement is electrifying. 

This year, the children’s cast numbers 102 and includes students from Joffrey Academy Adaptive Dance Program for students with disabilities. “We are proud that our Academy, which is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary year, is developing the skills of all its students, no matter their specific needs,” said Ashley Wehater, The Mary B. Galvin Articstic Director.

The Chicago World’s Fair themed Nutcracker performance, first unveiled in 2016, is reshaped with new surprises. Tweaks to the set make the show feel slightly different from previous years. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is spot on, and takes the audience on a turn-of-the-century tale paired with Tchaikovsky’s classic score, performed by The Chicago Philharmonic.


Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a transformative experience, leaving you filled with the joyful energy of the holiday spirt.

Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’, Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Ida B. Wells Drive, in 29 performances only, November 30-December 29, 2019. Single tickets start at $35 and are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium TheatreBox Office, by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at joffrey.org.

Blind musician makes audiences see Jazz in a different way

by Mat Cohen

For Matthew Whitaker, a blind eighteen-year-old jazz musician who will be playing at Harris Theater in Millennium Park on Dec. 9, hearing and touch are his most gifted senses.

“It makes me feel amazing that the audience is supportive of whatever music I’m playing,” he said. “I always try my best to make the audience feel it just like I do when I’m playing.”

Whitaker lost his sight at birth. Born prematurely in Hackensack, N.J., weighing one pound, 11 ounces, he was given less than a 50 percent chance to live. Three years later, his grandfather gave him a keyboard and he fell in love. He taught himself nursery rhymes and filled the air with music.

“I’ve been in love with [playing] ever since,” he said. “When I was five, I started taking classical piano lessons and when I was six, I started playing drums. At seven I got into jazz music and ever since it’s been my favorite genre to play and listen to.”

Although he draws from many inspirations, he doesn’t remember the exact jazz albums or songs that drew him in.

“Whatever it was, it got me really interested in it,” he said.

He’s been named a Yamaha Artist; he’s made appearances on “Ellen” and “The Today Show;” he won Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater when he was 9 years old and opened for Stevie Wonder’s Apollo Theater Hall of Fame induction at age 10. 

The legendary musician has been a great influence for Whitaker.

“It’s an honor to be compared to Stevie Wonder, but there’s really only one Stevie,” he said.

He plays at his church in Hackensack and is majoring in jazz piano in New York. Whitaker spends just about every minute immersing himself in his craft. He has released two albums, “Out of the Box” and “Now Hear This.”

“The first album was called ‘Out of the Box’, which really demonstrates the different styles I can play,” he said. “‘Now Hear This’ shows what else I can do. It features a lot more complex styles and I lot of complex music as well.”

At his performance at the Harris, Mix at Six, the audience will hear a little bit of everything.

“It’s going to be a fun time. Get ready.”

Harris Theater’s President and CEO Patricia Barretto is thrilled to have Whitaker perform.

“It’s great to be able to present a young and astonishing talent,” she said. “It couldn’t be a better fit. I think people are going to be blown away.”

Mix at Six draws younger crowds with its more casual style and feel.

“It’s a place for trying new things and trying exciting things,” she said. “They end up falling in love with what we put on stage. He’s so inspiring, he’s young, he’s a self-starter and it’s going to be inspiring.”

Through the help of sponsors of the Harris Theater, Mix at Six has been showing for about five years with tickets at $15. 
For more information visit https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/tickets/2019-2020-season/mix–matthew-whitake

Here Comes Santa Claus (and another and another)

by Doug Rapp

 If you see dozens of Santas gathered around the Bean sometime on Dec. 7, don’t worry, he hasn’t been cloned—it’s all part of SantaCon.

The annual holiday convention of Santas occurs nationwide around the holidays when groups of Santa-clad revelers gather, often for a pub crawl. For Chicago, SantaCon will commence the first Saturday in December at noon at the Tavern Tap Pub at the Congress Plaza Hotel, 520 S. Michigan Ave.

“I believe this event to be an outlet for people that like to dress up, drink and spread the holiday spirit,” said one of the co-organizers, who asked to be identified only as Santa Joe. “I personally love the flash mob aspect of SantaCon. The look on kid’s and people’s faces as we stroll down Michigan Avenue in Santa Suits is priceless.” 

When pressed for more information, Santa Joe replied, “Ambiguity is the key.  We are all just Santa.”

Santa Joe said they usually have from 200-500 Santas attend throughout the day. This year, after starting at the Tavern Tap, they plan to stop by the Art Institute for some caroling, surround the Bean from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m., while hitting other bars such as 2twenty2, The Joy District, Clover Sports and Leisure, and the Sleigh Baby Winter pop-up bar.

SantaCon began in the 1990s in San Franciso and, as of 2017, was in nearly 400 cities worldwide, according to their official website, Santacon.info.

“Santa Tom started the [Chicago] event in 2005, which he had participated in while he lived in New York  years previous,” Santa Joe said. “In 2006, I heard about the event on the radio station Q101. Starting attending, never missing a year. After a few years, myself and my buddy Ryan took over and we’ve been running it ever since.”

The aforementioned buddy, Santa Ryan, is a Chicago native who commutes downtown for work.

“It’s become a tradition between me and my friends,” Santa Ryan said. “We’re able to go out and have a good time while bringing smiles to children and adults faces. For me it has become part of Christmas. Similar to opening up gifts on Christmas day as a child. Now as an adult I get to go out and celebrate in the city drinking, spreading cheer and creating memories.”Anyone over 21 wishing to join in the fun needs a Santa- or Christmas-themed suit—a Santa hat alone won’t cut it. Register online at https://www.originalchicagosantacon.com/. Donations are accepted as well.

“Drink sir, is a great provoker”: Drunk Shakespeare delivers unpredictable laughs

by Doug Rapp

Behind an unmarked door on Wabash Street on a narrow stage, actor Courtney Rikki Green downs four shots of whiskey.

She isn’t fighting stage fright—this is part of the show.

Welcome to Drunk Shakespeare, a self-proclaimed drinking club with a Shakespeare problem. The small troupe performs one of his plays with a twist: one actor is drinking. A lot. 

The chosen actor takes four shots before the show, then two more during the performance in a space modeled to look like a hidden library speakeasy. 

“It’s taking a fresh look at Shakespeare and playing with it and letting people know that it’s approachable,” resident director Kathleen Coombs said.

At two recent performances of Macbeth, Courtney Rikki Green imbibed 12 shots of whiskey throughout the night while playing Macduff, Macbeth’s nemesis.

Drunk Shakespeare mainly sticks to the plot but allows plenty of room for improvisation. The actors, including Elizabeth Rentfro and Chelsea David, faithfully recite monologues while breaking into contemporary songs (Radiohead’s “Creep”), pulling audience members on stage or bringing out a birthday cake for actor Jordan Golding, who played Macbeth.  

Thomas Toles is the host, or “designated plot driver” as he calls it.

“I’m there to keep the story somewhat on track and also enable [the actors] at any moment to be their worst selves,” he said.

Green, for her part, held up remarkably well. She did drink hot sauce on stage, made a puppet do inappropriate things and poke Golding in sensitive areas with props, but returned to form to deliver her lines when needed.

“The alcohol helps so much,” Green said. “I’m into it.”

Before joining Drunk Shakespeare, she said the idea of drinking before a performance was unthinkable.

“Now, I’m like ‘Yes!’ That is how I unlock and unfurl and uncover the best parts of my acting ability,” Green said.

Coombs said alcohol helps the actors’ improv, allowing surprises and discoveries for a unique show each time. It all dovetails with Chicago’s reputation as the mecca of improv.

“I think it’s a really great fit for Chicago,” Coombs said. “We’re a theater town, an improv town and a town that loves drinking and having fun.”

Toles said drinking makes Shakespeare more relatable. High school English teachers have told him they wish they could bring classes to see what makes Shakespeare “so special and interesting and fun.” The show is 21 and over.

The diverse audiences at the frequently sold-out shows are approaching Shakespeare from various angles, Toles said.

“That’s a nice feeling when you get the nerdy Shakespeare fan and the jock from the frat house and they both are invested,” he said. “That’s so cool.”

“It’s a unique beast of a show that is truly unlike anything in Chicago,” Green added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, binge drinking (having 4 or more drinks within 2 hours) has serious health risks such as strokes, liver disease, various cancers plus memory and learning problems (like forgetting lines from MacBeth).

Drunk Shakespeare performs Wednesday through Sunday at 182 N. Wabash Ave. Visit drunkshakespeare.com for showtimes and tickets.

The News Gets Around

Take a little piece of home with you when you travel this holiday season. Show love for your community by snapping a photo holding up New Eastside News in a new and exciting location. We would love to hear the story behind the photo as well. The best photo and story we receive each month will get a spot in the paper and a gift card.

Managing Editor Stephanie Racine just took a trip to Newport Beach, California. Before having lunch with a view of the Pacific, Stephanie took a picture with the September edition of New Eastside News in front of Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean. 

Jane Eyre ballet adaptation brings literature to life

by Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet’s performance of Jane Eyre brings the Victorian Bildungsroman to life. 

The ballet opened its 2019/2020 season Oct. 16 with the Chicago premiere of Cathy Marston’s adaptation of the novel. There will be just 10 performances at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., running through Oct. 27.  

Jane Eyre’s difficult journey is highlighted by the presence of the “D Men,” which stands for “death” or “demon.” Constantly looming, Jane struggles with her own demons and insecurities throughout the production. She repeats arguments with the D Men, fights them off and loves them, mirroring her actions throughout the story.

Jane’s tortured upbringing is fractured by violence. Her aunt, cousins and headmaster all cruelly shun her with forceful motions. These movements are later juxtaposed with the languid, loving and passionate pas de deux Jane has with Rochester. 

Jane moves to Rochester’s home, Thornfield, as the governess for his ward Adele—who may be his daughter. Adele is flighty in her pink dress, constantly moving and prodding at those around her. 

Jane becomes a fixture at Thornfield, feeling at home despite an ominous feeling of mystery. Jane does not notice Bertha, the woman in the ragged red dress lurking and watching her interactions with Rochester, as they grow fond of each other. Bertha, the mentally ill wife of Rochester, is kept away from the public. Once Rochester and Jane are blissfully engaged and in the process of getting married, Bertha reveals herself in a frenetic and rough display. 

Jane leaves Rochester, but cannot stay away for long. She returns to find Thornfield in flames—a stunningly realistic set display—as Rochester fights to save Bertha from the fire and her own mind. He is blinded by the flames, falling into Jane’s arms upon her return. 

Tickets for Jane Eyre, starting at $35, are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office, at (312) 386-8905, or at joffrey.org.

Chicago’s downtown offers spooky history

By Elisa Shoenberger

Downtown Chicago has a rich history of ghost stories and and many popular landmarks have spooky tales associated with them.

A famous site is the Iroquois Theater, now the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. Hundreds of moviegoers, mostly women and children, perished in a horrible fire during a Christmas musical in 1903.

Many people died in an alley behind the theater when the panicked crowd ran out the upper-level fire escape doors and fell to their death because fire escapes had not been installed. 

There have been reported sightings of ghosts in the alley as well as the theater.

One reported haunting is inside the theater. Adam Selzer, a local historian, said theater workers report a backstage toilet that flushed by itself and the sound of a little girl giggling. 

However, Selzer explains, people assume that all the ghosts behind the Nederlander theater are from the Iroquois Theater Fire.

“Plenty of other people got killed there,” he said. The street, known as “Hairtrigger Block,” was filled with gambling halls.

Selzer has led ghost tours all over Chicago. This fall he’s running haunted river cruises as well as tours of Lincoln Park Zoo. 

Selzer said he does his research “to get the history right.” While studying haunted places, he’s found the stories can change as they are passed along.“

“Like a game of telephone,” he said.

Selzer said some stories involving Congress Plaza Hotel are more legend than history. However, he said, the location’s proximity to the Auditorium Theater offers some “gruesome” history. Many opera singers who stayed in the hotel ended their lives there.

Selzer said he once heard a gunshot in the hallway behind the Congress ballroom while leading a tour. They never found the cause.

Other haunted places include the site of the S.S. Eastland Disaster on the Chicago River at Clark St. and Wacker Dr., where 844 people perished when the boat capsized in 1915, and the site of Fort Dearborn at Wacker Dr. and Michigan Ave. where soldiers died in the Battle of Fort Dearborn.

Lyric names new musical director as Davis announces retirement

(Published Sept. 12, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

On Thursday the Lyric Opera announced Enrique Mazzola as Lyric’s next music director.

Mazzola will be the third director for the theater and he will take over from Sir Andrew Davis when Davis wraps up the 2021/2022 season in the spring of 2022. 

Davis has directed at the Lyric for 20 years, and he will return for guest spots on certain operas. 

“My love for the company has not diminished one jot or tittle since I first came here in 1987,” Davis said. “The Lyric is my family my wife feels exactly the same way and I shall have a wonderful two years finishing my official stint. Anthony, I thank you for everything.”

Davis was referring to Anthony Freud, the general director of the opera who praised Davis as he welcomed Mazzola. 

“It’s been a greater honor than I can say for me to be able to work so closely with Andrew during my time here,” said Freud. 

Mazzola has conducted operas at the Lyric, first in 2016 then in 2018 and Freud praised his attention to detail and his pacing. 

“These were extremely happy experiences for the company for our audiences and I hope for him,” Freud said. 

Mazzola said he did enjoy his work at the Lyric and he looks forward to moving to Chicago.

“I want to become a Chicagoan as far as possible,” he said. “I’m Italian but I will try. … I want to be near you all. … I think that from today in a way and from Sept. 21, my place is here and I want to listen to Chicago and stay in Chicago.”

He said fell in love with the city at first sight. 

“Each time I left my heart here,” he said. 

This year’s theater season kicks off Sept. 28 with a production of “The Barber of Seville.” For more information and tickets, visit lyricopera.org.

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