April can be the cruelest or the kindest month for a critic, but it most certainly is the busiest month in the Chicago theater. Over the last 30 days, I've seen about 30 shows in Chicago and New York. I'm gonna get right to the point here; there are more reviews to write.
Best contemporary drama in town: I think Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Head of Passes" at the
Best musical on the boards: You have plenty of choices. "South Pacific" is the best
How about a sleeper hit? I'd nominate "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" at the Royal George Theatre. You might think a solo show that deals with the war years would be a tough sell, and you would be right. (Producer Hershey Felder, who does not have subscribers, was taking a serious risk.) But Mona Golabek does not just recount a heart-stopping true story, she pounds out its tensions on the piano keys. This show is also only 90 minutes, despite the scope of its narrative journey. It is a formidable piece.
How about with kids? "Oliver" is the best choice right now. "South Pacific" is great for teenagers. "Big Fish" is also suitable for those 10 and above. Take them to the Oriental Theatre, and you can engage their critical thinking skills.
I am going to New York. So many new shows. There are two must-sees: "Matilda" and "Pippin." Repeat after me: "Matilda" and "Pippin," one a new musical, the other a revival. You want a play? "Lucky Guy" is a wonderfully enjoyable evening replete with fine acting by
Best performances (male) in town: Dale Calandra, who inhabits the 600-pound man at the heart of "The Whale"; he's offering up a formidable performance that should emerge as a tour de force of the season. A close second is Armando Riesco, whose performance as a veteran Marine in "Happiest Song" is a big part of why that show works. Then there's Christopher Donahue in "Still Alice" at the Lookingglass Theatre. That production about
Best performances (female) in town: There is one heck of a comic cameo in "Pal Joey" by a young actress named Callie Johnson, whose rendition of the song "Zip" is a showstopper. Kate Baldwin is delightful in "Big Fish" (she is the only one of the leads who already has found the heart of the piece). Heidi Kettenring's Nancy in the Drury Lane "Oliver" is filled with passion and defiance. Kristina Valada-Viars is the linchpin of the smart and sexy "Completeness" at Theater Wit. But the very best? Without question, that would be Elizabeth Lanza as Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific."
Stop with this, Mr. Critic. I only have time for one show this weekend. Really? Such a shame. But if you insist: "The Whale."