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Vibrant! San Fermin at Valley Bar in Phoenix (November 10, 2019)

Finding the Valley Bar is a bit of a challenge. When you arrive via Google Maps, there is nothing there but a dark alley. You nervously head down the alley and then find around the corner there is a very small red neon sign that states “Valley Bar.” After showing your ID to bartender, even if you are in your 50’s, you head down the stairs into the basement of a building. The concert takes places in a small room with a bar that could hold maybe 150 people.

San Fermin is the creation of Brooklyn composer and songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Their self-titled debut album is strongly influenced by Ludwig-Leone’s unique background in classical music, which includes a job assisting composer/arranger Nico Muhly. After finishing his musical studies at Yale, Ludwig-Leone wrote the album in six weeks while holed up in a studio on the mountainous border between Alberta and British Columbia. He focused on lifeʼs top-shelf issues – youth, nostalgia, anxiety, unrequited love – and tied these vast themes to different characters through vocal contributions from longtime friend Allen Tate, as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius.

Tonight, the eight-piece band fills the small place with their vibrant sounds.  Claire Wellin commands the stage with enthusiastic tosses of her huge mane of hair and brilliant smile.  Karlie Bruce displays her vocal talent during their hit song, Sonsick, and provides wonderful back-up vocals with Wellin throughout. Many songs feature fantastic brass that energizes the band and the crowd. Allen Tate’s vocal performance is impressive as well and sounds similar to the lead singer from The National.  The rendition of Methuselah brought the house down.  During a lively instrumental, the trumpet and saxophone players come to the front of the stage the cheers of the audience who are enthusiastic for the entire performance. They close the memorable night with “Cairo” from their 2017 album, Belong.

Quinn Delaney



Powerful! First Floor Theater Presents Sugar In Our Wounds at The Den Theatre (Through November 23, 2019)

It is the middle of the civil war. A group of slaves are living in the deep south. One of the men is secretly being taught to read by the master’s daughter, who wishes to become a teacher. This is the only nice thing that she does.  He reads about the possibility of all the slaves being freed. An unexpected newcomer arrives and a love story forms in this most unlikely situation.


This play truly brings to life a dark time in our nation’s history. It’s one thing to read about it in history books, and quite another to see it played out right in front of you. It’s a very powerful production and the actors go through the ringer to put it on every night. During the talkback, they all mention how afterwards they need to disconnect and focus on self care.


Ashley Crowe is excellent as Mattie, who is looking for love even in this terrible situation. Renee Lockett is outstanding as Aunt Mama, who tries to care for everyone. Grainne Ortlieb puts on a powerful performance as the master’s daughter, who is very racist and the villain of the story. During the talkback, she says how playing this character can be lonely and wouldn’t be possible without the great support she gets from her fellow castmates. Londen Shannon is great as the newcomer who is standoffish at first. Michael Turrentine is great as a young slave facing some difficult decisions.


Get tickets now for Sugar In Our Wounds through November 23!


Cost of a ticket: $35

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

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


Quinn Delaney

First Chicago Show! Angie McMahon opening for Hozier at The Chicago Theatre (November 3, 2019)

This is Angie McMahon’s first show in Chicago. Talk about starting at the top! She is also playing solo tonight without her band. After introducing herself, she says she is now going to play some sad songs. She plays beautifully and her voice is fantastic as well. The audience is incredibly encouraging and gives her a giant round of applause after each song.

“This is another song about my dating experience,” she says. On one date, she spent the whole dinner explaining gender equality. The next song definitely had some anger behind it.

She is very charming and wins the crowd over talking between songs. “I’m from Australia,” she says. “But, you can probably tell that from my accent!” Later on, “I’m wearing my own merch. These socks say ‘Slow Mover’. You can buy some in the lobby, or not.”

It was a great short set and a great start to a promising career.


Hozier was excellent as well. See our past review here.

Quinn Delaney

Exciting! The Effect at Strawdog Theatre (Through November 23, 2019)

A man and a woman have signed up for a clinical drug trial for an antidepressant. They are given drugs that raise their dopamine levels which satisfies their natural reward systems. This leads to them feeling very attracted to each other and to fall in love. The doctors are wondering if this is strictly an effect of the drug or if it is just the result of them being in the long trial together. The doctors also have a long history together which complicates things further.


The first half of the play is very exciting as the drugs are having a very positive effect and love is in the air. After the intermission, everything begins to unravel and everyone must struggle to cope with the situation.


Yeaji Kim created a pristine white and grey set.  The bed and walls are white. The floor is grey. Along with the white lab coats, the environment is well established.

Sam Hubbard is powerful as Tristan, a man who reacts very strongly to the drugs. Daniella Pereira is fantastic as Connie, who also falls in love, but questions whether it is the result of the drug. Cary Shoda is great as the lead doctor, who explains how he came into this line of work with a great story. Lastly, Justine C Turner is excellent as the other doctor who has a complicated history with her boss.


Get tickets now for The Effect through November 23rd!

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

Beautiful Music! Ray LaMontagne and Kacy & Clayton at The Chicago Theatre (October 25, 2019)

Ray LaMontagne takes the stage at The Chicago Theatre with Carl Broemel, a guitarist from My Morning Jacket. They begin with “Be Here Now”. Ray’s fantastic voice along with their great guitar synergy makes for a beautiful sound.

Soon afterwards, they play “Beg Steal or Borrow”. This is one of his more upbeat songs. “All the friends you knew in school, they used to be so cool, now they just bore you”. He doesn’t say much between songs. He just allows the songs speak for themselves.

Very sparingly, Ray plays the harmonica during tonight’s performance. It’s absolutely heavenly when he does. He should play it a lot more often. It’s just as good as when Neil Young plays this small instrument.

There are many couples embracing in the theatre. His music is very romantic.

The moment that he speaks the most is when he talks about the opener, Kacy & Clayton. He comments how they are so young and talented. He completely loves their sound.

In the encore, they play “Jolene”. The entire audience sings “Still don’t know what love means” along with them and continue to replay it in their mind as they happily make their way home.

See the full setlist here.

Quinn Delaney

Polygamy Explored: Silk Road Rising Presents Twice, Thrice, Frice … at The Chicago Temple (Through November 10, 2019)

Three Muslim women are discussing polygamy. One of the women is married and is strongly opposed to the idea. The other two are more religious and support the idea. When one of their husbands marries a second wife, these beliefs are strongly challenged and their friendships are put to the test.

The play is presented as a comedy, but it is more of a dramatic soap opera. It is a light hearted exploration of a serious topic, polygamy. It also dives into the Muslim faith, which is uncommon among the theatre available in Chicago.

Catherine Dildilian is great as Amira, the strong independent artist. She quotes “Kahlil Gibran” to describe her marriage: “And stand together yet not too near together. For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Marielle Issa is excellent as the young and naïve Samara, searching for love while following the Muslim rules. Annalise Raziq is solid as Khadija, who questions her beliefs when her husband marries a second wife behind her back.

Many Arabic words are used in this play. Here are a few definitions:

Dorrah – Additional wife

Habibi / Habibti – My beloved

Kafir – Nonbeliever

Salam – A general greating, meanin peace

Marielle Issa and Catherine Dildilian. Photo by Airan Wright

Get tickets now for Twice, Thrice, Frice … through November 10th.

Cost of a ticket: $38

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Half Price

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

Annalise Razie, Catherine Dildilian, and Marielle Issa. Photo by Airan Wright

Quinn Delaney

Impressive: The Joffrey Ballet Presents Jane Eyre at the Auditorium Theatre (Through October 27, 2019)

Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte. It was first published in 1847. Cathy Marston adapted the story into a ballet in 2016 for Northern Ballet in Doncaster, England. It’s North American premiere was in New York in June 2019 by the American Ballet Theatre. And now, in October of 2019, it premieres in Chicago.

In the story, Jane has a hard childhood as an orphan. However, she persists through it and becomes a teacher. This leads to a position as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she teaches the child of Mr. Rochester. There is a spark between Jane and her employer, but things will not go smoothly from here.

This ballet is truly narrative. It’s amazing how much can expressed through dance without words. However, it could also be helpful to have surtitles describing the action taking place on stage like they do at operas. Perhaps this will take place when the Joffrey moves to the Lyric Opera in the fall of 2020. Or, maybe it’s best not to have them and not worry about the meaning of the words and just get swept up in the emotion.

Victoria Jaiani as Jane and Fabrice Calmels as Mr. Rochester are fantastically impressive as the leads. They are so graceful and balletic.

The music was compiled and composed by Philip Feeney creates the emotional atmosphere expertly. It is played magnificently by The Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra.

Christine Rocas_Greig Matthews_Amanda Assucena and ensemble_Photo by Cheryl Mann(1)

Get tickets now for Jane Eyre through October 27th!

Cost of a ticket: $96 (Orchestra Seats)

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Half Price +

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

Christine Rocas_Photo by Cheryl Mann

Quinn Delaney

1950’s Feel: Porchlight Music Theatre Presents Sunset Boulevard at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts (Through December 8, 2019)

In 1950, Sunset Boulevard was released as a film, directed by Billy Wilder. On July 12th, 1993, the musical version premiered in London starring Patti LuPone. Just five months later, it opened in Los Angeles starring Glenn Close. In 2017, Close reprised her role in London and on Broadway. Now, Porchlight Music Theatre opens their version in October of 2019.

In the musical, an older actress is planning her great return. She has written a gigantic script for her next film. At the same time, a young writer is trying to make it in Hollywood. One night, his car breaks down in front of her house. Upon them meeting, the actress learns that he is a writer and convinces him to stay and help with her screenplay. She even gets him to move in. At the same time, he is working on another project with a young engaged woman. Conflict is inevitable.

With some musicals, it can be difficult to understand the words or it is tiring having every word sung. This is not the case with this production. The singing is slow and clear. Also, the acoustics in the intimate Ruth Page Center for the Arts are excellent. This production keeps the 1950’s feel and will appeal to older audiences.

Hollis Resnik is superb as Norma Desmond, desperate to return to the spotlight. Billy Rude is excellent as Joe Gillis, troubled by the choices presented to him. Michelle Lauto (In the Heights, HAIR) is great as Betty, looking for her first big break in Hollywood. Larry Adams (The Merry Widow) is spectacular as Norma’s servant, who hides many secrets from her. The entire cast sings beautifully.

Get tickets now for Sunset Boulevard through December 8th!

Cost of a ticket: $60

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It –

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


Quinn Delaney

Perfect for the Halloween Season! WildClaw Theatre Company Presents Hell Followed With Her at The Den Theatre (Through November 9, 2019)

The setting is a western style saloon in the middle of Texas. A game of liars dice is being played in the back corner. The bartender is pouring drinks for the thirsty people at the bar. In walks a woman known as “The Wisp”, like a wisp of smoke. She grabs an acoustic guitar and sings. She is seeking revenge and she is close to finding the man she is hunting down. Suddenly, another woman enters the saloon screaming and drops dead. Then, she rises from the dead, thirsty for blood. She attacks the others until “The Wisp” puts a bullet in her skull. This is no ordinary night at the bar.


This horror play is perfect for the Halloween season. It builds up the drama and tension leading to the bodies piling up. The audience wonders who will make it out alive. Also, a song at the beginning and one at the end is a great touch.


Sophia Rosado is absolutely cold blooded as “The Wisp”. George Zerante is tough as nails playing Glanton, the man whom “The Wisp” is seeking. Nora King is hilarious as Shelby, the witty blind girl in the corner. Ardarius Blakely is excellent as Cole, a spot on western gunslinger. The rest of the cast is solid in their supporting roles often ending in a gruesome death.


Get tickets now for Hell Followed With Her through November 9th!

Cost of a ticket: $35

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It –

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


The digital program is available here.


Quinn Delaney

Smart and Funny! Shattered Globe Theatre Presents Be Here Now at Theatre Wit (Through October 19, 2019)

Bari is a professor who teaches nihilism. Her status is ABD, all but dissertation. She cannot teach again until she completes it. Bari is struggling to finish so she takes a job at a fulfillment center. At the center, she makes a few new friends who convince her to go on a date with Mike. On their date, she has a seizure which results in her acting as if she is high on LSD. She loves the feeling and doesn’t want to fix whatever is causing the seizures out of a fear of losing that feeling.


This play is very smart, funny, and heartfelt. The 90 minutes fly by without a lull in the quality of dialog. It’s a journey of self-discovery in midlife.


Rebecca Jordan (Shameless) is excellent as Bari, searching for meaning in her life. Joseph Wiens (The Realistic Joneses) is hilarious as Mike, an eccentric guy building houses out of found items, aka, trash. Deanna Reed-Foster is excellent as Patty, the leader at the fulfillment center who also wants to lead her employees’ private lives. Lastly, Demetra Dee is delightful as Luanne who is young and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.


Get tickets now for Be Here Now though October 19th.

Cost of a ticket: $42

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It

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

Quinn Delaney