A Legend! Celine Dion at the United Center (December 1, 2019) 

“I was locked up in the Nevada desert for 10 years!” exclaims Celine Dion. “But, I escaped!” She is of course referring to her Las Vegas residency in which she did 1,141 shows. During this time, she honed and crafted her live performances into a big spectacle. The show has that big Las Vegas feel. This is a precursor of sorts as PlaylistHQ is heading to Las Vegas to review shows in late January. This will include the beginning of Aerosmith’s residency.

To make a grand entrance, Celine rises up from below the stage on a moving platform. After greeting the audience, she launches into the Pandora’s Box cover, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”. “When I touch you like this, when I hold you like that, it’s so hard to believe but it’s all coming back to me!” This is a fantastic ballad and a great choice to open up her return tour.

She keeps the ballads going with “The Power of Love”, a Jennifer Rush cover. “Cause I‘m your lady, and you are my man!” This song really shows off her vocal talents and her ability to put so much emotion into her voice.

This is the Courage tour, the name of her new album. She sings the title track and also “Imperfections”. This song was produced by DallasK, a DJ based in LA. It has a very modern dance pop feel. It may be very different from her other songs, but it sounds excellent.

For the encore, she returns to the stage in a gigantic white dress and sings the theme from the 1997 film Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On”. The entire audience is all smiles as they sing along to this very romantic ballad. About 30 small drones light up and rise up from the stage. They take a few different positions in a very cool display. At the end, one of them hovers right above her hands.

 

She says she wants to leave us with a message of world peace. So, to close out the night, she beautifully sings “Imagine” by John Lennon.

See the full setlist here.

Quinn Delaney

Wacky and Funny! Eclipse Theatre Company Presents Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them at Athenaeum Theatre (Through December 15, 2019)

Felicity wakes up in a strange bed next to a man she doesn’t recognize. She attempts to sneak out, but he awakens before she can leave. He explains to her that she was really drunk last night and that they got married! After getting to know him a bit, she gets really worried that she has married a terrorist! Her father thinks so also and is determined to stop his next attack with the help of his sidekick, Scooby Doo.

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The whole play is wacky and funny like the two previous Christopher Durang plays produced by Eclipse Theatre Company, Baby with the Bathwater and Beyond Therapy. However, this one also contains a message about how torture is ineffective. It’s a wild ride trying to figure out what is going on and predicting what will happen next.

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Tracey Green is great as Felicity, who is very overwhelmed by the situation she has found herself in. Siddhartha Rajan (Beyond Therapy) is hilarious as her husband. He does great playing the line between being a terrorist or just lazy and unemployed. Patrick Thornton (Requiem for a Heavyweight) is solid as her father, a conspiracy believing right winger. Elaine Carlson is charming as her mother always wanting to talk about theatre. John Arthur Lewis is very funny as the person who married the young couple who also directs porn on the side. Elizabeth Birnkrant is solid as the father’s right hand woman. Lastly, Devon Nimefroh is absolutely hilarious as the narrator who at one point comes on stage saying “I am the waiter in this scene.”

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Get tickets now for Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them at Athenaeum Theatre through December 15!

Cost of a ticket: $35

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It –

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

 

Epic! Don’t Miss! The First Deep Breath at Victory Gardens (Through December 22, 2019)

The father is a preacher who rarely demonstrates love toward his children. The children are hungry for his affection and therefore hide their secrets as they also fear his disapproval.  The drama and tension escalate up to Thanksgiving dinner when the shit hits the fan.

The cast is truly fantastic. Each character has their defining moment where they share their deepest feelings and lay out their truth. It’s a wow moment each time as they cease to restrain their feelings and release them.

David Alan Anderson is powerful as the founding pastor of a local church who is focused on its expansion. Celeste Williams (Mies Julie) is heartbreaking as his wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Deanna Reed-Foster (Be Here Now) is hilarious as her sister, who has moved in to help take care of her and the house. Clinton Lowe plays the complex oldest child, Albert IV, who has just returned from six years in prison for a crime he may not have committed. Melanie Loren is great as the daughter who is always trying to keep the peace. Gregory Fenner is very affable as her boyfriend who wants to be her husband. Patrick Agada is fantastic as the youngest son, who is afraid to declare what he wants to study in college. Lastly, Jalen Gilbert (Mies Julie) is absolutely excellent as the neighbor who has become part of the family.

At three hours and thirty minutes, you might think this play would feel like it drags on. However, it is such an epic story that it fills this time fully and the time actually flies by. The playwright, Lee Edward Colston II has created a work on the same level as Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Get tickets now for The First Deep Breath through December 22!

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Cost of a ticket: $51

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

Excellent! Lindiwe featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Steppenwolf (Through January 5, 2020)

Lindiwe is a young woman from South Africa who is visiting Chicago. She finds her way to Kingston Mines and is moved by the music, and even more so by the drummer. They spend all their time together for the rest of her trip. Soon afterwards, she returns to Chicago and again they find themselves experiencing a strong connection. However, she longs to return home to continue her singing career. Concurrently, he wants to stay in Chicago to continue his career. Eventually, events take place out of their control that force them to make some very big decisions.

At its heart, this play is a love story. But it is also about so much more. It is about two cultures coming together. Also, there is a supernatural part of the story that is very theatrical and mysterious. The purpose of this is very slowly revealed. Perhaps a bit too slowly.

The music fits in so smoothly. The blues band sounds great. In addition, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s singing is truly beautiful. Additionally, their dancing is so fun. This is their third collaboration with Steppenwolf. Both groups share the same vision of bringing together individuals to form something greater together, an ensemble.

Nondumiso Tembe is a great lead as Lindiwe. She has a great singing voice and a great positive and infectious energy. Erik Hellman (Familiar) is excellent as the drummer, conflicted between his love for Lindiwe and his love for Chicago and it’s music. Yasen Peyankov (The Children, Between Riverside and Crazy) is outstanding as the Keeper, a larger than life Grim Reaper type character that commands attention. Cedric Young (Familiar) is awesome as Lindiwe’s wise grandfather guiding her through her struggles. Lastly, Jennifer Engstrom is solid as the drummer’s aunt.

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Get tickets now for Lindiwe through January 5th!

 

Cost of a ticket: $85 (Main Floor)

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

 

Quinn Delaney

Exceptional Value! Augustana at Subterranean (November 19, 2019)

Augustana’s self titled album (2011) and their debut, All the Stars and Boulevards (2005) hit #1 on the Billboards chard for Top Independent Albums. Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt (2008)  hit #2. The single from 2005, “Boston”, hit #10 on the Adult Top 40.

Tonight, they take the stage and get right into playing. The lead singer, Dan Layus, looks very happy and is enjoying his time on stage. The band is from Southern California, but he clearly doesn’t mind the Chicago winter. He starts the show with a hat and a sweatshirt, but he ends up in just a t-shirt by the end.

They have two new songs “For Now, Forever” and “The Heart of It” that sound excellent and prove that Dan Layus still has what it takes to write a great song.

Dan gives props to the opener, Zac Clark, who played a great set. Zac just recently left his previous band of 7 years, Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness.

“This is the part where we would normally leave the stage,” says Layus. “But we’re not going to do that.” This is most likely because to exit the stage at Subterranean requires climbing a small winding staircase that it is quite awkward. Thus, many bands at this venue just say this instead.

The entire set is solid with the crowd singing every song. The songwriting is fantastic and the performance matches it too. The setlist for this show in the same as the one from St. Louis the next day, which is available here.

Cost of a ticket: $24

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

Nonstop Hilarious! Do You Believe in Madness? at The Second City (Open Run)

A group of students is about to take a test. One of the students, Mary, asks to use the restroom. While she is out of the room, each of the students gets a suggestion from the audience. Tonight’s answers are Portland Seadogs, Country Road, It, and Barack Obama. After Mary returns, the test begins. Mary doesn’t know the answers, so she asks the other students for help. Then, one by one, they act out the answers without talking. Impressively, Mary gets all of the answers quite quickly! It’s hilarious watching them act out the answers and then after she gets the answer, they always have a few one liner jokes to tack on. This combination of a sketch and improv is absolutely fantastic and has the crowd laughing non stop.

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Everyone in the cast is making their debut on the Second City Mainstage. Andrew Knox (Gaslight District, Grinning from Fear to Fear) is absolutely hilarious in every scene in which appears, especially as the stranger at the bus stop hesitant to make a new friend. Adam Schreck (America; It’s Complicated!) also shines often. This includes playing a father who puts on a game show to determine who ate his pretzels. Asia Martin is so funny, especially when she is making her very silly faces and dancing. Jordan Savusa is also great and his song about being from Hawaii is golden. Mary Catherine Curran is excellent throughout and really shows her chops in the classroom scene. Lastly, Sara Dell’Amico is solid as the girlfriend who is suspicious of her too perfect boyfriend. This cast is so good, that surely at least of them will end up on Saturday Night Live. Catch them now while they are still in Chicago!

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Cost of a ticket: $36

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

 

Quinn Delaney

Wide Variety! Dance Chicago’s 25th Anniversary Party at Athenaeum Theatre (November 16, 2019)

Dance Chicago has put together a night of a vast variety of dances. Between each dance, everyone is pulling out their flashlights on their phones to read who is on next. They should have a screen on stage that displays the next performer or have an announcer / host.

Here are some of the highlights:

RawFunkyStreetFlav

It’s about the journey

Choreographer: VioLa Elkins / Tarik Hasan (freestyle)

 

This freestyle hip hop dance is excellent. The performers are so graceful and talented.

 

Water Street Dance Milwaukee

Choreographer: Morgan Williams

This group from Milwaukee just formed this year. The performance is very athletic and impressive and they are off to a great start.

 

Gus Legacy Co

Choreographer: Sarah Ford Hardy

Music: Coming in Hot by Andy Mineo

Gus Giordano is known for jazz dance. However, they also do hip hop. This performance features 9 dancers decked out in sleek red and black outfits. The choreography is fantastic as it combines full company movement with many solos.

 

Comedy Dance Chicago

Tiny Dancer, Return to Innocence, Cheek to Cheek, Staring Contest

This group provides the comic relief for the night. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it will make you smile. The music selections of I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing and Tiny Dancer are great choices.

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Visceral Dance Chicago

Passage

Choreographer: Nick Pupillo

https://www.visceraldance.com/

Spring to Dance festival organized by Dance St. Louis at Touhill Performing Arts Center of the University of Missouri in St. Louis on May 23-25, 2019.

This is a great finale with 19 dancers filling the stage with movement. The choreography is excellent as everyone moves in sync.

Quinn Delaney