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A Critical Look At Theater In Chicago
Reviews of On Your FeetEnemy of the People and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
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  WARNING!!! When you go to see On Your Feet: The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical, be prepared because, as the song says, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” With Estefan hits such as “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet” and “Turn The Beat Around,” this musical is alive and the rhythm does get theatergoers out of their seats. 
   After its 2015 premier in Chicago, the production has captured Broadway and is now back in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through April 8 to highlight the life story of the 26-time Grammy Award-winning husband-and-wife team and to reveal how that story came to be. An energetic Christie Prades has a voice that’s strong enough and sultry enough to fill the role of Gloria, and Mauricio Martinez is the loving but headstrong Emilio, who began his relationship with Gloria after making her the lead singer of his group, The Miami Latin Boys.  
   In the hands of Tony Award-winnng director Jerry Mitchell (who also directed and choreographed Kinky Boots in Chicago), the story continues through their days that led up to the breakthrough of Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine, and focuses on Emilio’s consistent fights on behalf of the group that became the most successful Latin crossover artists of all time. But not before Emilio refused to be denied and had to convince record industry executives that, although it was a Cuban group, music lovers outside the Latin market would embrace their sound.  
   On Your Feet is a story about passion, a story about the music, a story about family and a story about love. It’s as much about the Estefans’ drive to become successful as it is about the music itself. The Tony Award-nominated production brilliantly chronicles Gloria’s love for music as a child, her bond with, and care for, her father who had multiple sclerosis, her mother’s initial reservations about her working with Emilio and how her grandmother played such an important role in her music career ever getting off the ground. 
   Nancy Ticotin’s efforts are beyond impressive as Gloria’s mother and a talented singer herself who wasn’t able to reach her full potential due to situations out of her control. She since has become embittered and perhaps envious of her own daughter’s opportunity for success, which contributes to a two-year separation between the two. In the middle of their battles is Debra Cardona, Gloria’s embraceable grandmother who is a wise sounding board for her daughter and granddaughter and is more of a behind-the-scenes force in Gloria’s life than the aspiring musician knows.
   With On Your Feet book writer Alexander Dinelaris’ focus covering such a long time span in the lives of the Estefans, David Rockwell’s changing scenic designs helped to perfectly capture and highlight the various eras and musical settings, contributing to the vibrancy of the production. In many productions, there’s usually a point when things might temporarily go a bit flat. Not in On Your Feet. The brass-heavy music from the orchestra (that included five members of Miami Sound Machine) was as important as the characters and provided the electricity for the light-on-their-feet group of dancers who energize the stage with their salsa and mambo excellence that’s coordinated spectacularly by choreographer Sergio Trujillo. At one point, the dancers even turned it up a notch and plucked people out of the audience to join a Conga line in the aisles of the theater.
    As it is in many biographical musicals, On Your Feet is a balanced mix of personal relationship, business relationship and music and dancing on stage. By the time Christie Prades sings “Coming Out of the Dark” at the American Achievement Awards to highlight Gloria’s return to the stage after her back-breaking bus accident, theatergoers might have shed some tears, but the night belongs to the pulsating music, which had one woman leaving the theater displaying her best salsa moves all the way to her car. 

For tickets and more information, go to www.broadwayinchicago.com.
   NAIVE scientist Dr. Thomas Stockmann thought he would be hailed as the “man of the hour,” the recipient of unceasing pats on the back and a string of thank-yous after making a discovery that, he thought, would be celebrated by the masses. Wrong!!! On the contrary, in unexpected turn, he became the object of their public scorn in An Enemy of the People at the Goodman Theatre through April 15. 
   In the updated presentation of Henrik Ibsen’s 136-year-old play, directed and adapted by Robert Falls, there is a relevancy that focuses on current issues, particularly as it relates to the apparent turning back the clock on the environment. 
   Stockmann (Philip Earl Johnson) is a man of conscience, one who wants to do the right thing, but he gets a lesson in corruption, bureaucracy and what can happen to anyone when situations lend themselves to political and economic consequences. It’s discovered that the town’s popular, revenue-generating “healing” spas are contaminated by pollution from the town’s mills and will require expensive and lengthy repairs. His wife Katherine (Lanise Antoine Shelley) and his daughter Petra (Rebecca Hurd) have a front-row seat to Stockmann’s travails. 
   The bigger picture comes into play when Stockmann reports his findings of the “toxic tonic of disease and death” to his brother Peter (Scott Jaeck), who happens to be the town’s mayor. It doesn’t matter that the bacteria level is 250 times higher than should be, he threatens a campaign of propaganda to discredit his brother’s findings and to cast him as the one not having the town’s best interests at heart. Still hopeful, Stockmann relies on the local newspaper, eager to run a front-page story on the contamination. That is until the mayor secretly convinces editors that closing the spas could end the town as they know it.  
   Johnson’s character is in some ways reminiscent of the James Stewart portrayal of Sen. Jeff Smith in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as he battles corruption, political insiders and their ability to convince the masses to sometimes walk lockstep and act against their own self-interests. Johnson, too, has a huge mountain of political self-interest to climb to get the people on his side. At the Goodman, there was noticeable laughter (and perhaps some current comparisons) when Stockmann chastised the townspeople, saying: “Stupid people put stupid people in charge.”
   As a last resort to reveal his laboratory findings, Stockmann arranges a town hall meeting, where he is shouted down after the mayor stacked the deck to keep the people uninformed. His subsequent rant does nothing to reestablish his credibility.  
   What An Enemy of the People outlines so clearly is that the late 19th century effort by Ibsen is aptly timed, forcing many observers to look inside themselves to reassess who they really are and whether they are simply pawns in a continuing swirl of political self-interests. 

For more information and tickets, go to www.goodmantheatre.org. The schedule for An Enemy of the People is as follows: No performances on Mondays and Tuesdays (with the exception of a 7:30 p.m. performance on April 3; Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (no 7:30 p.m. performance on April 8).

––Walter Leavy
Dancers exhibit their best salsa and mamba moves in On Your Feet, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. 
The Return Of On Your Feet
Back in Chicago, the compelling story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan is at center stage

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At left, Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Philip Earl Johnson) confronts his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Scott Jaeck), in An Enemy of the People
An Enemy Of The People
Almost 140 years after Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece, the play remains pertinent and reflective of 2018
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Tempers flare during a scene in the renewed version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? at Court Theatre through April 15. 
A New Look At Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
The presentation at Court Theatre raises the question of tolerance and acceptance
  THERE comes a time when circumstances define you as one who talks the talk or one who walks the walk. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? at Court Theatre through April 15, that time has come for Matt and Christina Drayton after their daughter Joanna “ambushes” them with news that she’s getting married to a doctor––a black doctor.  
   Race always has been the great revealer of some people’s true thoughts and tolerances, even for the Draytons, a white, well-to-do San Francisco couple who raised a daughter who listened to them when they drilled into her that people are people, no matter their race. Now they have come face-to-face with their longtime progressive values and have to decide if those principles apply to their daughter or just for everyone else. 
   Based on the screenplay by William Rose and the 1967 Academy Award-nominated movie––which starred Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton––playwright Todd Kreidler crafted a relevant and thought-provoking script that’s comedic, dramatic and heartfelt. Upon coming into the theater, you are met by scenic designer Scott Davis’ pristine white set, featuring the living room area that signals the comfortable life of the Draytons––Matt (Tim Hopper), a newspaper editor, and Christina (Mary Beth Fisher), an art gallery owner. 
   After a 10-day, whirlwind romance in Hawaii, where the couple’s relationship begins at a medical facility, Joanna (Bryce Gangel) and Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue) decide on a hasty marriage before John, an internationally renowned researcher focusing on tropical medicine, departs for an extended assignment in Geneva, Switzerland. The reactions of her surprised parents are palpable as they struggle with the situation, conflicted about their daughter’s happiness and her welfare as a newlywed in an interracial marriage during a racial climate in which such unions have proven to be overwhelmingly unacceptable. Do they have the courage? Do they have the will power? Do they have enough love to withstand all the ugliness they will face? As Matt says: “What happens when you run into someone from the KKK?”
   All the while the frustration, confusion and uncertainty swirl around the house, an interested (and interesting) observer is taking it all in––Tillie (Sydney Charles), the Draytons’ longtime black maid, who is beyond skeptical and views Dr. John as an interloper, a phony who is hoping to benefit in some way from the family’s wealth and social standing. She doesn’t hesitate to share her blistering thoughts with him, even though he has pledged to Joanna’s parents that there will be no wedding unless they approve without any reservations.  
   While the personal hurricane blows through the Draytons’ home, what apparently has been lost in the debate is the other side––the response to all of this by John’s parents, played superbly by Jacqueline Williams and Dexter Zollicoffer. Their thoughts come to the forefront, explosively, after Joanna secretly invites them to join her family for dinner––without her fiancé’s knowledge. They bring another perspective, one that is not expected. The fact that the Draytons had not even considered that the upcoming wedding would upset the black parents, perhaps, is more revealing about Matt and Christina’s view of who is and who isn’t important in this scenario. Shortly before John’s parents arrive, he shares his horror with Christina about their likely negative reaction. But Christina says rather matter-of-factly: “Why would they be upset?”––as if to point out that he would be marrying an affluent white woman.
   Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, directed by Marti Lyons, compels observers to examine their own level of tolerance as they put themselves in the Draytons’ place. As has been illustrated for years, a good play (one that can emotionally involve the audience) prompts an immediate reaction about the subject matter that has been presented. And there was no shortage of conversation and discussion among theatergoers as they left Court Theatre.

For more information and tickets, go to www.courttheatre.org. The schedule for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is as follows: Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.