With “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” the title explains the show itself. It’s not the story of Johnny Cash the man, nor his demons or his loves, but of his music, specifically the music he wrote.
In the 1830 tragedy "Anna Bolena" ("Anne Boleyn"), the second of Donizetti's four operas dealing with Tudor England and a classic of the bel canto operatic style, the composer and his librettist Felice Romani put the title character through hell—and aren't that much easier on the singer playing the role. She's on stage for most of the opera (which, in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production that opened this past weekend, runs three and one-half hours with intermission), finishing up with not one but two "mad" scenes and an execution scene that is almost as harrowing.
If your only exposure to George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's 1935 opera "Porgy and Bess" has been the tour of the cut down "Broadway" version that played the Muny this past summer or even the interesting but flawed Union Avenue Opera/Black Rep co-production from 2007, you'd probably be justified in wondering why this is considered a great American opera. The current Lyric Opera of Chicago revival of its 2008 production—which runs through December 20—demonstrates why.
I was looking forward to our visit to the new Boo Cat Club about which we've recently been showered with printer's ink. It's the renovated old Artists' Guild building on Union -- just across from the Union Avenue Opera -- and it's the venue for a production of "Stairs to the Roof" by Tennessee Williams.
It was an adoring crowd that filled the Gaslight Theatre—a surprisingly large crowd for a singer who has no history in cabaret.
Mabel Mercer Award–winning cabaret artist Steve Ross has a long and happy relationship with St. Louis, going back to the early days of the Grandel Cabaret Series. He was one of the first performers to be featured by Jim Dolan's Presenters Dolan organization when it got off the ground many years ago, so his appearance last weekend at Jim's Gaslight Cabaret Festival had something of the feel of a homecoming.
I have a list of movies that should not have been made into stage musicals. I haven't seen the movie of “Dirty Dancing,” but my friends who were at the opening of the stage version at the Fox and have seen the movie told me that the stage version is very true to the movie. Maybe too true. Which is why I might add it to my list.
Naomi Iizuka wrote “Anon(ymous)” for a children's theatre. She tells the story of a young man who was separated from his mother as they were escaping the violence in their native land.
With its skimpy costumes and abundant references in word and deed to sex of various kinds, “The Rocky Horror Show” might seem an unlikely choice for a group calling themselves Family Musical Theater. But someone who first saw “Rocky Horror” on stage or screen 30 years ago could well be joined by a grandchild at this production for a pleasant family outing.
What's the essence of cabaret? Partly it's what my friend Ken Haller (no mean cabaret artist himself) calls the art of telling stories through song. But equally essential, as Karen Mason's show demonstrates, are the arrangements used to tell those stories.