A daily dose of arts and entertainment

February 2013 Archives

Thalia to hit the road, will stop March 24 at the Vic

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Latin pop star Thalia announced Thursday that she will make a swing through several U.S. cities on her upcoming "VIVA!" tour. Her itinerary includes a Chicago stop March 24 at the Vic.

Billed as "an intimate theater tour," it will take her to New York City, Los Angeles and Houston, as well as Mexico and South America. "I'm so excited to be going out on the road," she said in a statement Thursday. "My recent Hammerstein Ballroom Show in NYC was a great warm-up and I can't wait to bring it to many loyal fans who have waited for the tour."

Thalia's latest disc, "Habítame Siempre," released in November, features duets with Latin hitmakers Prince Royce, Leonel Garcia and Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Anglo stars Robbie Williams and Michael Buble.

Tickets, $41, for the Vic concert go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday at the theater's box office and at etix.com and jamusa.com.

ABOVE: Thalia at the 2013 Premio Lo Nuestro Awards last week. (Getty Images)

Former Chicagoan Eris Huemer is among a trio of "LA Shrinks" featured in a new docu-series on Bravo starting at 9 p.m. Monday, March 4.

The series follows the professional and personal lives of Huemer, a licensed marriage and family therapist, along with Venus Nicolino, a sharp-tongued life consultant and mother to four boys, and Gregory Cason, a psychologist specializing in cognitive therapy and living a "monogamish" life with his partner of 23 years. Bravo's press materials tease that Huemer will be coming face-to-face with issues in her own marriage during the series.

Each episode of "LA Shrinks" gives a fly-on-the-wall look at sessions between the shrinks and their clients as they tackle issues including a homophobic man whose identical twin is gay, a client with intense anger triggered by Los Angeles traffic, a couple with opposite practices in the bedroom and a man with a hatred of people who are overweight. The show also delves into the shrinks' personal lives and "exposes the often thin line between their clients' problems and their own," according to Bravo.

We're told that Huemer is a relationship counselor/coach, author, and speaker who specializes in "love makeovers" with singles and couples. Bravo's materials go on to say that "she founded her company after surviving her fair share of excruciating break-ups, but finally married the man of her dreams. Eris helps a former Playboy model with her issues of attracting the wrong kind of men and works with an interracial couple facing deep-rooted relationship intimacy issues. Feeling the pressure of her own relationship issues and the ticking of her biological clock, Eris begins to challenge her hesitant husband, Clayton, about starting a family and soon."

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Joan Rivers: No apology for Holocaust joke

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Joan Rivers (above) is rebuffing demands that she apologize for a wisecrack on her E! show "Fashion Police." About Heidi Klum's Oscar dress (below), the comic quipped, "The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens." The Anti-Defamation League called the joke "vulgar and offensive."
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That's the skinny via splitsider.com, which gleaned it from bleedingcool.com. If true it means the Chicago component of "Anchorman 2" is growing as Marquette Park's John C. Reilly joins former Second City/ImprovOlmpic-ites Steve Carell, Dave Koechner and Adam McKay, who's married to filmmaker and Evanston native Shira Piven, whose brother is actor Jeremy Piven -- who starred in "Kiss the Girls" with Morgan Freeman who starred in "Seven" with Brad Pitt who starred in "Sleepers" with Kevin Bacon, who has gigged with his Bacon Brothers band and probably shot a movie or two in Chicago.

Check, Please! still hiring

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There's still time to get that application in to be the new host of WTTW's "Check, Please!," the show where regular people from around Chicago talk about their favorite restaurants.

You don't need previous on-camera experience but you do need "a broad, intimate understanding of the culinary world," according to "Check, Please!" producer David Manilow.

The deadline is March 1. Click here for the application. This could be your window to a whole new world.

Jane Fonda's Oscar night

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The stars are still talking about the Oscars so we're still writing about it. I've just simultaneously learned two things - Jane Fonda has a blog, and she gives a lengthy, detailed look at her Oscar night in it.

A few items of note:

* Fonda loves a lady who is a "triple threat," writing "I so admire the women who do it all: act brilliantly, sing, and dance...I'm thinking Charlize, Anne Hathaway, Amy Adams, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and, of course, Meryl (Mama (sic) Mia!)."

* She wasn't as fond of host Seth MacFarlane and his Broadway tribute to Hollywood's topless women. Fonda on "We Saw Your Boobs": "What I really didn't like was the song and dance number about seeing actresses boobs. I agree with someone who said, if they want to stoop to that, why not list all the penises we've seen? Better yet, remember that this is a telecast seen around the world watched by families with their children and to many this is neither appropriate or funny."

* She loves the Oscars, writing "I can say this: I've been to more Oscars than I can count and it never gets boring. I am still thrilled to see all the amazing talents there, in flesh and blood."

Collaboraction's acclaimed production, "Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology," the unique exploration of violence in this city created and directed by Anthony Moseley, has been extended by 17 performances through April 7.

The show is running at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee. For tickets call (312) 226-9633 or visit www.collaboraction.org.

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Talk about the old switcharoo! Or at least a problem that is exclusively in the domain of the rich and the famous.

Anne Hathaway was set to wear Valentino to the Oscars (similar to the dress on the right). Then she turned up in Prada, reportedly because the Valentino dress she planned to wear was too close to the dress worn by Les Miserables co-star Amanda Seyfried, who wore Alexander McQueen.

"It came to my attention late Saturday night that there would be a dress worn to the Oscars that is remarkably similar to the Valentino I had intended to wear, and so I decided it was best for all involved to change my plans," Hathaway said in a statement released to People. "Though I love the dress I did wear, it was a difficult last minute decision as I had so looked forward to wearing Valentino in honor of the deep and meaningful relationship I have enjoyed with the house and with Valentino himself. I deeply regret any disappointment caused."

The "deep and meaningful relationship" with Valentino included the designer creating her wedding dress.

Perez Hilton announces he's a new Dad

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One of the most outspoken celebrity gossip bloggers in the world, Perez Hilton, surprised pretty much everyone waking up very early today with the news (which actually broke very late Wednesday) that he is the father to a baby boy, born earlier this month.

'I am ready to announce that earlier this month I was blessed with the birth of my first child, a beautiful and healthy baby boy - with lots of hair on his tiny head!' the 34-year-old Perez wrote on his website www.perezhilton.com

The official website statement continues: "I am so humbled to welcome this little man into my life. And I am honored and ready for the challenge of guiding him through his."

On Feb. 27, Perez tweeted "Big day tomorrow!!!" and "Don't get too comfortable! Things are about to change! For the better!"

And then finally, 11 hours ago, Perez tweeted: "A Very Important Message From Me" with the news.

Pictures, info here perez.ly/15Rs2Ra

STP puts the smack down on Scott Weiland

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NEW YORK -- Singer Scott Weiland said he learned that he'd been fired by the Stone Temple Pilots when the band released a one-sentence statement to the media Wednesday.

"I learned of my supposed 'termination' from Stone Temple Pilots this morning by reading about it in the press," he wrote in a statement. "Not sure how I can be 'terminated' from a band that I founded, fronted and co-wrote many of its biggest hits, but that's something for the lawyers to figure out."

The statement by the band said: "Stone Temple Pilots have announced they have officially terminated Scott Weiland." No other information was provided.

Weiland, 45, said he's focusing on his solo tour, which kicks off Friday in Flint, Mich., and stops March 19 in Chicago at the House of Blues.

Stone Temple Pilots' 1992 debut, "Core," has sold more than 8 million units in the United States. Their hits include "Vasoline," "Interstate Love Song" and "Plush," which won a Grammy in 1993 for best hard rock performance with vocal.

He has dealt with drug addiction, run-ins with the law and two failed marriages. He released his memoir, "Not Dead & Not for Sale," in 2011.

AP

'70s pop/rocker Melanie headed to Mayne Stage

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With her unmistakable gravelly-edged vocals, the New York born-and-raised Melanie garnered 13 Top 40 hits back in the day, most notably (and perhaps most familiar) "Brand New Key" with its impossibly zig-zagging, octave-hopping refrain, and the anthemlike "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" that became one of the most memorable moments at Woodstock.

Catch the singer at 7:30 p.m. April 21 at the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. March 2, at www.ticketweb.com

Sara Sevigny, who has worked long and often with many of Chicago's Off Loop theaters, has been cast as a series regular on Fox TV's new pilot, "The Gabriels". Sevigny plays Bonnie Klabunde, wife of Tom (played by Tim Meadows of "SNL" and "Mean Girls"). Rob Riggle ("21 Jump Street," "The Hangover") and Angela Kinsey ("The Office") will play the couple's next-door neighbors and title characters, The Gabriels.

Represented by Gray Talent Group in Chicago, Sevigny, a fine comic talent, is currently a cast member of "I Love Lucy: Live On Stage" at the Broadway Play House. She is a 2007 Equity Jeff Award winner for her role as Sara Jane Moore in Porchlight Music Theatre's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins".

Born in Evanston, Sara graduated with her BA degree in Theatre/Communications from Curry College. She also is a graduate of Second City's conservatory.

Guided by the theme of "Legends and Legacies," American Blues Theater has announced its expanded (and ambitious) 2013-2014 season. The lineup includes:

± The Chicago professional premiere of "Hank Williams: Lost Highway" (Sept. 5-Oct. 6), by award-winning playwrights Randal Myler and Mark Harelik, directed by Damon Kiely.

± The 12th year of "It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!" (Nov. 22-Dec. 29), directed by Marty Higginbotham.

± The world premiere of the 2012 Blue Ink Playwrighting Award-winning script "American Myth" (Feb.-March 201), by Christina Gorman, directed by Steve Scott, about a college professor's questionable involvement in the Vietnam War.

± The Chicago premiere of George Brant's 2012 Smith Prize winner "Grounded" (June 2014), a one-woman show about a female flyer now operating drones.

Meanwhile, the company will engage in a year-long development and public reading of ensemble member Nambi E. Kelley's adaptation of Richard Wright's novel, "Native Son," set for a production in fall of 2014.

Most performances will be at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
For more information visit www.americanbluestheater.com.


'AN AMERICAN STORY FOR ACTOR AND ORCHESTRA'
± In previews; opens March 10 and runs through April 14
± Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted
± Tickets: $60-$65
± Phone: (312) 988-9000; www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com


Now for something completely different courtesy of Hershey Felder, the actor, playwright, composer, Steinway pianist, producer and globetrotting impresario who, since 2004, has visited Chicago in the guise of George Gershwin, Frederic Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein, and, along the way, has attracted a large, loyal following. And you can't say his new adventure isn't timely either, perching as it does atop the stovepipe hat of that man of the moment -- President Abraham Lincoln.

Felder, the Canadian-born performer (who proudly notes that he has spent most of his adult life and professional career in this country) is now returning to Chicago's Royal George Theatre with a new production, "An American Story for Actor and Orchestra." And following a limited run of the show, he will put on his producer's hat and bring in three additional one-person shows by other talents who combine theater and music.

Set in New York City in 1932, "An American Story" finds Felder, who wrote both the book and score for the show, playing the distinguished Dr. Charles Leale. Ninety years old, he is thinking back to the most momentous evening in his life -- April 11, 1865 -- when, as an unknown Union Army medic of 23, he became the first person to reach the presidential box at Ford's Theatre in the wake of Lincoln's assassination by John Wilkes Booth.

Felder based his work on "Lincoln's Last Hours" -- Leale's 22-page account of the events that was written in 1865 and submitted to a commission of the House of Representatives investigating the shooting. Believed to be lost, the document was "rediscovered" in 2012 in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

For his score, Felder drew on the work of that hugely melodic American composer, Stephen Foster, master of parlour and minstrel songs (including "Beautiful Dreamer," "My Old Kentucky Home," Oh! Susanna"), who died just a year before Lincoln did. It also uses some of Lincoln's own words.

"Unlike the musicians I've portrayed, Dr. Leale was a man who was at peace with himself," said Felder. "Aside from a 100th anniversary birthday celebration for Lincoln in 1909, he never spoke about the assassination or his role in treating Lincoln."

"Just six weeks before the fateful event, Leale had graduated from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York. He would marry well -- to the daughter of an industrialist -- and go on to establish The Floating Hospital in New York, which served impoverished children from the city. He also served as a surgeon in World War I. He was a man of humility, and one devoted to public service."

Leale, as it happens, also was a man with considerable theatrical knowledge, passed down to him from his father who took him to see many productions when he was a child -- from Shakespeare, to opera singer Jenny Lind, to minstrel shows.

"He was not sheltered from the messages of those minstrel shows, either," said Felder. "Leale's father left him to think about just what was going on in them, and how threatening they were on the issue of race."

"In many ways there was something Zelig-like about Leale," said Felder, who has incorporated the original Jim Crow character into his show. ("The term 'Jim Crow' actually derived from the name used by a struggling New York actor who heard a crippled black man singing, and proceeded to turn him into the offensive stereotype we now know," explained Felder.)

And about that fateful night that Lincoln was shot: "Leale was seated just five rows behind the presidential box. He ran to help Lincoln, and when a hysterical Mary Todd asked him who he was, and he told her he was a Union Army surgeon, she put him in charge. Lincoln was paralyzed and struggling to breathe, and Leale eventually found a large blood clot near the back of his skull that he knew had to be removed. He also realized the president's condition was 'mortal,' though he was moved to a neearby building and hung on for another nine hours."

As is always the case with Felder's shows, "An American Story" has gone through a couple of incarnations.
"We did tryouts in San Diego and at the Pasadena Playhouse, and since then I've pared down the 45-piece orchestra to a more subtle 11 pieces that allows for more solo sounds," Felder said.

Felder's limited run will be followed (in an order still to be determined) by three shows he admires, and has made part of an informal "touring circuit." To be sure, they promise to be a huge improvement on recent offerings in the 440-seat mainstage space of the Royal George.

They include: "I Found My Horn," a London import starring Jonathan Guy Lewis ("Coronation Street"), written by author, journalist and playwright Jasper Reese and directed by Harry Burton, that tells the gently comic story of a middle-aged divorcee who finds a whole new reason to live by rediscovering his childhood French horn; "The Pianist of Willesden Lane." which has had successful runs in Los Angeles and Boston, and stars pianist-storyteller Mona Golabek telling the true story of her mother, a young concert pianist who survived World War II; and "Lem," a new musical about fathers and sons, devised by Felder, and starring Christopher Lemmon playing his own father, the stage and film star Jack Lemmon.

"Game of Thrones" fans are hungry for the start of season three on HBO March 31.

If you're also hungry for some "GoT" nosh, a new cookbook is full of hearty fare inspired by George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series.

"The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook" (F+W Media, April 2012) is by Alan Kistler, co-host of the weekly podcast Crazy Sexy Geeks and writer of the "Agents of S.T.Y.L.E." column on Newsarama.com. The book sells for $13.57 and can be purchased by clicking on the link above.

The various dishes in the 256-page culinary tome find their roots in the pages that brought Westeros to life. Examples include Dragonstone Meat and Mash, Fiery Dornish Frittata, Jeyne's Stewed Onions and Leeks, Lord Walder's Green Bean Salad and Baratheon Boar Ribs, pictured here:

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James Hetfield of Metallica sings out the end of "That Was Just Your Life" during their set at the Allstate Arena in 2009. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

For those looking to "Seek & Destroy" their shoe closet this spring, Metallica has the answer.

The band members, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich have partnered with Vans to release their own takes on the iconic slip-on skate shoe. Each selected a classic version from the existing collection and added their own design take.

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With Chicago's violence epidemic making national headlines, a local morning talk show is devoting two episodes to the topic starting Thursday.

WLS-Channel 7's morning chatfest "Windy City Live" is dedicating two, hour-long programs at 9 a.m. Thursday and Friday to "stopping the violence." Hosts Ryan Chiaverini and Val Warner will spend Thursday focusing on the problem itself and follow that up Friday with ideas for possible solutions.

Thursday's program will take a look at the impact of gun violence, from victims and their families to the city's reputation as a whole. Warner will talk to five kids from different Chicago neighborhoods who've all experienced violence. Cleopatra Pendleton, shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton's mom, will be there, too.

Friday's program will center on a round-table discussion with community leaders about ways to stem the violence. Guests include Cassandra Bell, a youth development specialist with the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center; Marshaun Bacon, "Beccoming a Man" counselor; Lamont Evans with Cease Fire and religious leaders such as Father Michael Pfleger and Pastor Corey Brooks.

The Met announces 'Live in HD' lineup for 2013-14

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Along with its 2013-14 season, the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday announced the lineup for its popular "Live in HD" cinema simulcasts.

The Met will offer 10 productions, down from 12 this season. Four will be new productions. The "Live in HD" season begins Oct. 5 with a new staging of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," conducted by Valery Gergiev, featuring baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role, soprano Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and tenor Piotr Beczala as Lenski.

The rest of the lineup: Shostakovich's "The Nose," Oct. 26 (a revival of the William Kentridge production, above); Puccini's "Tosca," Nov. 9; Verdi's "Falstaff" (new production), Dec. 1; Dvorak's "Rusalka," Feb. 8; Borodin's "Prince Igor" (new), March 1; Massenet's "Werther" (new), March 15; Puccini's "La bohème," April 5: Mozart's "Così fan tutte," April 26, and Rossini's "La Cenerentola," May 10.

Tickets go on sale in August, with Met members receiving priority. For details, go to metopera.org.


'EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED'
RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 31
Where: Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston
Tickets: $30-$40
Info: (847) 475-1875; www.nexttheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 25 mminutes with one intermission


Before saying anything else about "Everything is Illuminated," London-based writer Simon Block's stage adaptation of Jewish-American writer Jonathan Safran Foer's bestselling 2002 novel, I want to call your attention to Chicago actor Alex Goodrich. He is reason enough to see this show, now in its Chicago premiere at Evanston's Next Theatre.

I've been watching Goodrich for years now -- at Chicago Shakespeare, the Marriott Theatre, Chicago Children's Theatre. And I can think of no one with his singular blend of youthful charm, delightfully comic braininess and surprising emotional heat. Capable of effortlessly grabbing your heart and making you laugh out loud, you can trust him to take you on any "voyage."

And a voyage is of the essence in "Everything is Illuminated," which spins the story of Alex, a young Ukrainian translator, who, along with his angry, anti-Semitic grandfather (William J. Norris), and his dog, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.) [cq] help Safran Foer's excessively nerdy doppelganger, Jonathan (played by Brad Smith), a fledgling New York writer, with his heritage quest.

Jonathan is hellbent on visiting Trachimbrod, the Ukrainian village where he believes his Jewish grandfather was "saved" from the Nazis by a local woman, Augustine, who appears in an old photo. As Jonathan reasons, had his grandfather not been saved, he himself would never have existed.

Alex (who admits he has never met a Jew, but has clearly inhaled the abiding local anti-Semitism) is a marvelous, beguiling character. Fabulously inventive in his native language, his heavily embellished, butchered, Malaprop-strewn translations are even better. It's quite a linguistic trick, and Goodrich has a rip-roaring good time with it, as do we.

Alex wants very much to succeed with Jonathan, whose exhaustion, frustration, fear of dogs and vegetarianism (in a place where meat is all), make their initial connection a challenge. But he eventually overcomes his grandfather's obvious reluctance to find Trachimbrod. And their encounter with an Old Woman (played beautifully, but never sentimentally by Ann Whitney) yields some answers.

I have a big problem with Safran Foer's sugar-coated version of the Ukrainians' treatment of the Jews, so while Grandfather's initial ferocious anti-Semitism rings true, his second act apologia feels wholly false, despite Norris' valiant efforts.

Director Devon de Mayo captures the story's Eastern European magical realism quality (with help from Sasha Gioppo and H.B. Ward as "ancestors"). Best of all, Grant Sabin's marvelous diorama set and Heather Gilbert's lighting assure that everything IS fully "illuminated."


'THE FALL OF HEAVEN'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 24
Where: Congo Square Theatre, 4520 N. Beacon
Tickets: $35
Info: (773) 296-1108; www.congosquaretheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission

An angel dukes it out with the devil right here on Earth. And while that is unquestionably a very old story -- at least as old as the Bible -- rarely has it been retold quite as engagingly as in "Fall of Heaven," Walter Mosley's rip-roaring stage adaptation of "The Tempest Tales," his own "novel in stories," now in an altogether irresistible production by Congo Square Theatre.

Mosley (widely known as the creator of that hard-boiled detective, Easy Rawlins), possesses a hiply modern ear, a sharply focused, streetwise eye, tremendous wit, and a mischievous mix of unmitigated comic glee and deep ruefulness about the human condition. And that is just enough to reawaken belief in even the most cynical of us mortal creatures.
He also knows how to make temptation tempting, how to make sin justifiable, and how to make redemption worth fighting for. Daniel Bryant's expert direction of an electrifying cast of five does the rest, and also keeps the hellfires burning even as heaven sends out its own particular glow.

At the center of Mosley's story is Tempest (a.k.a. Roger Jones), a black man from Harlem who is wrongly gunned down with 17 bullets fired by a policeman. Though Tempest has an admittedly checkered past (forever juggling a wife, a girlfriend and various survival scams), he also has some noble deeds to his credit. And he has the audacity to refuse to march quietly into hell like other "sinners" when he arrives at the pearly gates.

Granted a temporary reprieve, Tempest heads back to Earth where he is "counseled" by Joshua (a perfectly understated Boise Holmes), the "angel" with no real-life experience of sex, family, responsibility or the plight of an African-American man. His only irritation comes from an office job and a sassy assistant (the very funny Krenee A. Tolson).

And then he is approached by Branwyn (the easily seductive Jessica Dean Turner), the woman whose life Tempest once saved. Branwyn deftly initiates Joshua into manhood -- as husband, dad and wage slave, and he very soon has a more realistic view of Tempest's challenges. Meanwhile, Bob (Jordan Brown as the slick, white Beelzebub of the story) tries to win Tempest back to the dark side of the "next" world.

Irons, a lean, fleet, quick-witted, super-charged actor is terrific, making the countless shifting emotions of his character come to life in a flash. Like Tempest, he is stormy, complex, forever pursued and in pursuit -- tragicomic in the full sense of that word. A delicious performance.

Designer Andrei Onegin's minimalist but effective multilevel set (neatly lit by Richard Norwood, and with evocative projections by Liviu Pasare), puts the focus on the play's outstanding actors and lets Mosley's bristling language dominate. The author (whose only misstep is a brief but clumsy geopolitical rant), was in the audience on opening night. He was too modest to take a bow, but along with the Congo Square team he unquestionably deserved one.


'The City and The City'
SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED
When: Through April 7
Where: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood
Tickets: $40
Info: (773) 761-4477; www.lifelinetheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

After watching the Lifeline Theatre production of "The City and The City," Christopher M. Walsh's stage adaptation of a quasi-political whodunit by China Mieville (the British writer now in residence at Roosevelt University), I headed to Google to look for a list of the world's currently or historically "divided cities." Turns out it is surprisingly long, extending far beyond such iconic European sites as Berlin, Germany, or Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Set in a fictional, economically depressed Central European or Balkan country, the dual cities of the show's title are Beszel, which has attracted the interest of an American technology company, and Ul Qoma, which has an active archaeological site. Operating in a jaggedly defined "no man's land" between them is The Breach, which somehow wields a strange power of its own.

As you might expect, the political forces in each city are contentious and secretive. And here's a dirty little secret: Though perceived as two different cities, it might just be that those on either side must "unsee" the other, so they could very well be one and the same. Intrigued? While the insanity of it all hints at a slew of actual geopolitical situations, Mieville's story turns out to be rather tedious.

Operating out of Beszel is Inspector Tyador Borlu (Steve Schine), a dogged man who gets loyal assistance from the expletive-spewing policewoman, Corwi (a very funny Marsha Harmon). Borlu will encounter the fully nefarious forces at work in this split city as he tries to solve the elusive case of the murder of Mahalia Geary, an American doctoral student who was studying in Ul Qoma, but appeared to be killed in Beszel.

Mahalia's parents (played by Don Bender and Millicent Hurley) are impatient. Her academic adviser (Hurley), is enigmatic. An older academic, Bowden (the excellent Patrick Blashill), whose research Mahalia discredited, is bitter, to say the least. The sinister police chief of Ul Qoma, Dhatt (the always zesty Chris Hainsworth), is surprisingly open to Borlu, but far from trustworthy. And there are edgy turns by Jonathan Helvey, Megan M. Storti, Volen Iliev and Bryson Engelen all along the way.

Director Dorothy Milne captures the mysterious and sinister movement of the city's inhabitants. But for all the effort, Mieville's story grows tedious long before Borlu manages to solve his case.

Note: This is Lifeline's 30th anniversary season, and to thank the theater for jump-starting his career many years ago, James Sie, a successful actor and voice-over artist now based in Los Angeles (and known as "the Jackie Chan impersonator") has set up a $30,000 matching grant for the company.


Note: This is Lifeline's 30th anniversary season, and to thank the theater for jump-starting his career many years ago, James Sie, a successful actor and voice-over artist now based in Los Angeles (and known as "the Jackie Chan impersonator") has set up a $30,000 matching grant for the company.

2012 music sales actually rose -- a wee bit

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Tonight the music industry's going to party like it's 1999.

That's because figures for 2012 show the first -- albeit slight -- increase in music sales in 12 years.

The 0.3 percent rise in music revenues makes a total of $16.5 billion, up from $16.2 billion in 2011, according to figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry released Tuesday.

'Arrested Development' may not get more seasons

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"Arrested Development" may have already been canceled again.

The cult comedy returns with a new slate of shows in May streaming on the Netflix video service, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told investors not to expect a second season.

"'Arrested' is a unique property, we don't anticipate being able to do season five, six and seven," Hastings said Monday. "We have less of a stake in it. It is really a fantastic one-off, which is coming together incredibly. I think it will be amazing for us, but think of it as a nonrepeatable amazing" thing.

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A former denizen of Chicago's iO and Playground theaters, Pete Holmes just landed the break of his career: a late-night comedy series for Conan O'Brien's production company Conaco. TBS, which airs O'Brien's talk show, ordered only a four-week run, but that's just the start if Holmes's as-yet-untitled creation -- which is slated to air Monday through Thursday immediately after "Conan" this fall -- catches fire.

"The first half of my meeting with Conan was spent making sure this wasn't all part of a new TBS prank show called 'You Got Coned!'" Holmes, who also provides the voice for that smart-ass E*Trade baby in widely aired TV ads, said in a statement. "The second half was spent expressing my sincerest enthusiasm and gratitude for this incredible dream come true."

Michelle Obama's dress photoshopped by news agency?

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Seems Michelle Obama's Oscar night gown, created by Indian-born American designer Naeem Khan, got a foreign press makeover.

Check out the photo/details http://eonli.ne/Xd97Mb

Singer Morrissey, uhm, ducks out of 'Kimmel' appearance

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Singer/animal rights activist/vegan Morrissey has cancelled his appearance tonight on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" because the show's lineup also includes the cast of the A&E reality show "Duck Dynasty."

Numerous websites are reporting Morrissey would not perform on a show with people whom he allegedly called "animal serial killers."

"Duck Dynasty" follows a Louisiana family who own a duck decoy/duck call business.

In a statement, Morrissey said he "cannot morally be on a television program where the cast members of Duck Dynasty will also be guests."

In related news: On his Facebook page, Morrissey, who had cancelled a slew of dates on his current tour (including a stop in Chicago) due to illness, announced that he will resume his North American tour with a performance in San Diego on Weds, February 27 as a part of a 27-city tour with newly added cities.

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The wait is over, some of the rumors confirmed, ABC announced the cast for season 16 of "Dancing with the Stars" this morning on "Good Morning America."

The lineup includes:
Comedian Andy Dick; he will dance with pro newcomer Sharna Burgess

Comedian D.L. Hughly; he will dance with pro Cheryl Burke

"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Lisa Vanderpump; she will dance with pro newcomer Gleb Savchenko

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver and Super Bowl star Jacoby Jones; he will dance with pro Karina Smirnoff

"American Idol" alum and country singer Kellie Pickler; she will dance with Derek Hough.

Country superstar/reality TV star/five-time Grammy winner Wynonna Judd will dance with pro Tony Dovolani

Olympic gold medalist, and captain of the U.S. women's gymnastic team Aly Raisman; she will dance with pro Mark Ballas

Boxer Victor Ortiz; he will dance with pro newcomer Lindsay Arnold

"General Hospital" star Ingo Rademacher; he will dance with pro Kym Johnson

Disney star Zendaya Coleman; she will dance with pro Valentin Chmerkovskiy

Figure skating legend Dorothy Hamill; she will dance with pro Tristan MacManus

Missing from the cast is pro veteran Maks Chmerkovskiy, the "bad boy" of the ballroom who confirmed earlier this week he was eager to pursue other television and film offers.

The show returns with a two-hour premiere at 7 p.m. March 18.


The statistics tell part of the story about the Goodman Theatre's newly announced 2013-2014 season for its Albert and Owen stages. There will be four productions authored by women, and five shows directed by women. There will be three world premieres (two coming directly from the theater's New Stages new play development series, including Goodman commissions). And there will be two major productions with music.

The complete lineup is as follows:

In the Albert Theatre:

± "Pullman Porter Blues" (Sept. 14-Oct. 20), Cheryl L. West's story about the hidden lives of the Pullman porters who worked on the luxurious trains so essential on the American landscape for decades. Infused with many original and classic blues songs performed by a live, onstage band, the show, in its Chicago premiere under the direction of Chuck Smith (celebrating his 20th anniversary with the theater), takes place on the Panama Limited Pullman Train as it travels from Chicago to New Orleans on the night in 1937, just as Joe Louis and James Braddock were vying for the world heavyweight championship. Three generations of African-American train porters wrestle with ghosts of the past and dreams for the future as they eagerly await word of the Brown Bomber's victory.

± "Luna Gale" (Jan. 18-Feb. 23, 2014), a world premiere by Chicago playwright Rebecca Gilman, directed by Robert Falls, about a veteran social worker who thinks she has a typical case on her hands when she meets Peter and Karlie, two teenage drug addicts accused of neglecting their baby. But when she places their infant daughter in the care of Karlie's mother, Caroline sparks a family conflict that exposes a shadowy, secretive past, forcing her to make a risky decision with potentially disastrous consequences.

± "Venus in Fur" (March 8-April 13, 2014), David Ives' Broadway hit, in its Chicago premiere directed by Joanie Schultz, is about a young actress who upends her audition for a play based on a 19th century novella by Sacher-Masoch (of masochism renown) by making the audition a game of dominance between actress and director.

± "The White Snake" (May 3-June 8, 2014), the Chicago premiere of a work written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Based on a Chinese fable, it spins the story of a gentle serpent spirit who lived for centuries coiled on a mountaintop but one day transforms herself into a beautiful young woman and, with her feisty companion Green Snake, travels down to the world of humans. There, she unexpectedly finds love, happiness and family until a vengeful monk vows to destroy the life she has built.

± "Brigadoon" (June 27-Aug. 3, 2014), a revival of the classic Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical, directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell ("Annie," "Ragtime"). This modern fairy tale spins the story of American tourists Tommy and Jeff who get lost on vacation in Scotland and stumble into Brigadoon, a mythical 18th century village that appears for only one day every 100 years. Love and mortality are at stake.

Note: The Goodman's 36th annual production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (Nov. 16-Dec. 29) will be directed here for the first time by Henry Wishcamper, the Goodman's newest artistic associate, who recently directed "Other Desert Cities."

In the Owen Theatre:

± "Smokefall" (Oct. 5-Nov. 3), a play by Noah Haidle ("Vigils"), directed by Anne Kauffman. This world premiere Goodman commission, co-produced with South Coast Repertory, is about a woman preparing to bring twin sons into the world while inside her womb the boys contemplate their future. Meanwhile, the pregnant woman's husband is secretly planning to leave her, her father is slipping into senility, and her daughter has taken a vow of silence.

± "Buzzer" (Feb. 8-March 9, 2014), a Chicago premiere by Tracey Scott Wilson ("The Good Negro"), directed by Jessica Thebus, about Jackson, a young, successful African American attorney determined to build a life in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of his youth. When he returns "home" with his girlfriend and troubled best friend, both white, the trio are soon forced to confront the simmering racial and sexual tensions that exist both inside their home and beyond.

± "Ask Aunt Susan" (May 24-June 22, 2014), a world premiere Goodman commission by Seth Bockley, directed by Henry Wishcamper, gives us "Aunt Susan", a twentysomething man who moonlights as an online advice guru. When "Ask Aunt Susan" becomes the web's hottest spot for self-help, Aunt Susan's boss rakes in the profits from women's everyday woes, and as Aunt Susan's online reputation mushrooms, so does the web of deceit.

Note: The Goodman's New Stages series, slated for December in the Owen, will focus on new Latino plays.

To subscribe call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org. Individual tickets go on sale beginning in August.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


John Mahoney will be returning to the Northlight Theatre stage in a world premiere. A drama by acclaimed playwright Amy Herzog will have its Chicago debut. And on the heels of this season's success with "The Odd Couple," another Neil Simon classic will be revived by the Skokie-based company. And while there are still two shows to be announced for Northlight's 2013-2014 season -- designed to examine intergenerational relationships -- here is the lineup so far:

± "4000 Miles" (Sept. 14-Oct. 20): Amy Herzog's drama about a rudderless 21 year-old who, at the end of an arduous cross-country bike trip, seeks refuge in his elderly grandmother's West Village apartment. These two outsiders face ideological differences, but ultimately find their way together in this Obie Award-winning work named Time Magazine's #1 Play of 2012.

± "Chapatti" (Marc 7-April 13, 2014), the world premiere of Irish playwright Christian O'Reilly's drama about two lonely animal-lovers living in Dublin. When forlorn Dan (to be played by Mahoney), and his dog Chapatti, cross paths with amiable Betty and her 19 cats, an unexpected spark begins a warm and gentle story about two people re-discovering the importance of human companionship.

± "Lost in Yonkers" (May 2-June 8, 2014), Neil Simon's 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning memory play, set in the summer of 1942, as Eddie, flat broke, has no alternative but to leave his sons with their ill-tempered grandmother while he struggles to pay off his debts. The boys must not only contend with their grandmother, but with the sweet but damaged Aunt Bella, and Uncle Louie, a small-time hoodlum.

For subscriptions ($105-$235) call (847) 673-6300 or visit www.northlight.org.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Veteran Chicago actor William L. Petersen, the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member best known for playing Dr. Gilbert "Gil" Grissom on the hit CBS series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," will be heading "home" this summer. He will star in Greg Pierce's play, "Slowgirl" on the Steppenwolf Upstairs stage. where his costar will be Rae Gray, the young actress now making her mark in Theater Wit's "Completeness."

Randall Arney, another long-absent Steppenwolf ensemble member (currently artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles), will direct the production which is set to run July 18-Aug. 25.

"Slowgirl," which debuted last summer at the Lincoln Center Theater, is set in motion in the wake of a harrowing accident at a house party in Massachusetts, as a teenager flees to her uncle's isolated retreat in the Costa Rican jungle to await, or avoid, the repercussions. As the reclusive Sterling (Petersen) and his impulsive niece (Gray) get reacquainted over the course of a week, startling details about their pasts slowly unfold.

Tickets ($20-$78) go on sale May 3. Call (312) 335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


The Remy Bumppo' Theatre Company delights in opening a thematic umbrella over its subscription season. Emblazoned on the umbrella for the 2013-2014 lineup are the words "The Human Puzzle." As artistic director Nick Sandys explains it: "The three plays explore the mysteries of the human condition, but in very different modes."

Here are the productions planned:

± "Northanger Abbey" (Oct. 2-Nov. 10): The U.S. premiere of Tim Luscombe's stage adaptation of the Jane Austen work about 17-year old Catherine, a voracious reader, who travels to Bath, dabbles in romance, and makes the Gothic tale she's reading come all-too-much to life, causing her to misinterpret much that's happening around her. Joanie Schultz will direct a cast that includes Annabel Armour.

± "An Inspector Calls" (Dec. 4, 2013 - Jan. 12, 2014), the J.B. Priestley classic set in 1912 England, where the Birling family has just enjoyed a fine dinner in their upper-middle class home and is disrupted by the arrival of Inspector Goole, who brings word of a sudden death. The inspector proceeds to interrogate the family, discovering dark secrets and setting off a series of revelations in thisdark social critique in the form of a whodunit. David Darlow will direct a cast that includes Greg Matthew Anderson.

± "Our Class" (April 2- May 25, 2014): Ryan Craig's English version of a prize-winning work by Polish writer Tadeusz Slobodzianek. The story tells of how, for decades, it was believed that the annihilation in 1941 of the Jewish population of Jedwabne, Poland was a Nazi atrocity. The truth turned out to be even more shocking as this play looks at the build-up to the massacre, the events themselves, and the impact on the lives of survivors, all told through the eyes of ten classmates, half Jewish and half Catholic, who were young adults at the time. Sandys will direct David Darlow, Shawn Douglass and Linda Gillum.

In addition to the subscription series, Remy Bumppo will also reprise five performances of Sandys' adaptation and solo performance of Charles Dickens' "The Chimes in December."

All four presentations will be at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Subscriptions will go on sale in March. Single ticket sales will open in August. For additional information visit www.remybumppo.org.


'DOO WOP TO HIP HOP'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through April 14
Where: Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark
Tickets: $55-$65
Info: (773) 769-4451; www.blackensemble.org
Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission

You might expect a show contrasting the music of the doo wop and hip hop generations to be set under some rusted urban street lamp where the echoes of that classic 1950s sound are being drowned out by a far more aggressive style.

But writer-directors Jackie Taylor and Rueben Echoles have strayed far from the obvious for the backdrop to their beguiling new show, "From Doo Wop to Hip Hop," now in a talent-packed world premiere at the Black Ensemble Theater. They've set their tale in a place called Unison Hills, a well-to-do, predominantly (but not exclusively) African-American gated community in what might be the western suburbs of Chicago -- a place where the members of successful doo wop groups of years past intersect with younger musicians now trying to carve out careers of their own. And as it turns out, when push comes to shove they all can sing each other's music.

The show, which features a greater mix of races and ages than usual -- and along the way stuffs a whole lot of topical issues into the script -- has a contemporary "Our Town" vibe to it. It is even set in motion with a morning chorale of sorts, as the sixtysomething members of each household open their front doors with a newspaper, broom or watering can in hand, and a goofy mailman makes the rounds.

Of course nothing is quite as copacetic as it initially appears. There is illness and violence, tensions within longstanding marriages (one of which is interracial), and disputes between a father and daughter, an older brother and sister, and a girl and her over-controlling boyfriend, all climaxing in a terrific second act version of "You Don't Own Me," the John Madara-David White song Lesley Gore made famous in 1963, when she was just 17.

The 16-person cast is, without exception, enormously talented -- big personalities with spectacular voices, the ability to croon AND rap with equal verve, and a flair for shifting from dramatic heat to effortless comedy. The onstage band, under musical director and drummer Robert Reddrick (who also is responsible for the dazzling arrangements) is, as always, worth the price of admission all by itself.

Playing the established couples are Dwight Neal and Cynthia F. Carter, along with David Simmons and his white wife, Meghan Murphy. Matthew Payne is the recently widowed white dad who is overly protective of his stylish daughter (Erin O'Shea), who wants to become a recording star rather than head to college, and whose unexpected romance with the mailman (John Keating), is one of the zanier elements in the show. Monty Montgomery is a widower who suffers a stroke; Christopher B. Straw is the brother of a resident who thinks his wife is cheating on him.

And then there are the twentysomething "kids" whose hip hop attitudes are funneled directly into their music: Independent-minded Nina (Lisa Beasley), whose brother, Brian (Kelvin Roston Jr.), disapproves of her romance with established hip hop star Malcolm (Lawrence Williams); ultra-sassy Tahquesha (Marquecia Jordan); and the all-business Kayland (Danielle Davis), Darrell (Brandon Markell Holmes) and J.R. (Coryandre Wright).

Every one of these performers has a moment to burst out, and every one of them seizes the opportunity. As they mix and match on David Ferguson's set (with character-defining off-the-rack costumes by June Saito), the result is not just thrilling, but ideally synthesizes the sounds of past and present. Eat your heart out Thornton Wilder!

NOTE: Chester Gregory, the Broadway star who forged his career playing Jackie Wilson in a Black Ensemble show, will be returning home for a benefit performance, March 24.

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First, there's a rare apology from the frequently spot-on satirical publication The Onion for a "crude and offensive" Twitter crack made (and quickly removed) about nine-year-old "Beasts of the Southern Wild" actress Quvenzhané Wallis: "Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a [c-word], right?"

It went out to nearly 4.7 million followers and was retweeted countless times. The company posted a link to its mea culpa on Twitter as well. Here is it in its entirety.

No stranger to controversy, last year the publication was lambasted for using the attacks of September 11, 2001 as a basis for joking about a jet bearing the Sears logo crashing into the Willis Tower.

But some Onion staffers strongly disagreed with their former employer's decision to nix the Tweet, arguing that it set a dangerous precedent.

"It shows they don't have faith in the writers, or in their public," former editor Joe Garden told Buzzfeed.com. "It looks worse that they took [the tweet] down. My reaction was, 'It wasn't a great joke, but big deal. I saw where they were going, and the commentary was about the media construct and the Oscar hype in general. But the tweet was shocking for the sake of shocking, but I think that [taking it down] was not the way to handle it."

Garden and other one-time Onion staffers posted a mock apology on the Facebook page for their Adult Swim project "Thing X."

On the other hand, the Onion's erstwhile director of digital, Baratunde R. Thurston, offered these thoughts on his Facebook page:

"[The joke] wasn't necessary and was loaded with horrible language. In the context of what I've read about Seth McFarlane's jokes, I feel especially bad for Wallis and her family who won't 'get' or care what the comedic idea was and only know that some comedy news organization called their little girl a disgusting, sexist name. It just comes across as mean. Intention does matter, and based on my time [at the Onion], I'm sure the intent was not, 'Hey let's call this little girl a c---. Ha. Ha.' However, RECEPTION and context matter as well, and this utterly failed in that regard.

I'm glad The Onion removed the tweet (which BTW for that outlet is a massive massive decision)."

The Onion couldn't be reached for comment about its latest fumble, but a voicemail message offered this bit of advice:

"For content concerns, please refer to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. For content corrections, please note that we do not make mistakes. And if you feel like ranting, you can send an email to corrections@theonion.com."

By Bill Zwecker
@billzwecker


Oscars 2013 - Opening Number With Seth... by IdolxMuzic

Considering the team -- including host Seth MacFarlane and his writers -- spent 5 months working on tonight's show, it was a huge disappointment. Most jokes fell flat or were simply not funny at all.

However, MacFarlane's best line of the night was one of his shortest. "The following presenter needs no introduction." Of course, it was Meryl Streep.

Highlights really were the musical numbers - especially Barbra Streisand's "Memories" concluding the In Memoriam segment, the "Les Miserables" piece and Adele singing "Skyfall.

Certainly a big disappointment for the "Lincoln" team.

Loved Jennifer Lawrence cleverly joking about her tripping on her gown walking up the steps to the stage for winning best actress. Also loved her quick "Happy Birthday, Emmanuelle" as she exited the stage.
B.Z.

Corinne Foxx Bishop among the talk of the Oscars

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With all the glitterati of Hollywood out in full force on Oscar night, seems like one lovely young lady got a good slice of the attention.

Dressed in a gorgeous blue gown, and holding on to her proud papa's arm, Corinne Foxx Bishop, daughter to superstar Jamie Foxx (Bishop is his real surname)--- stole a fair share of the night's tweets. Seems everyone was just taken with Corinne once again (she attended the Oscars 8 years ago with her Dad, as well, and stole everyone's heart that night, too!). The father-daughter team also attended this year's Golden Globes together.

If Oscar audiences were gaga over the 18-year-old Corinne, she was equally in awe (and having a marvelous time) at the star-studded event when she tweeted :"My dad and I are hilarious at awards shows. We get star struck then stalk people until we get pics."

Shirley Bassey electrifying in James Bond tribute at Oscars

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Shirley Bassey gets the night's first standing ovation with her electrifying performance of the theme from "Goldfinger." An Oscar night iconic moment in the making.
Who wants to follow that?

Live Oscar blog

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Follow along with @RichardRoeper and @BillZwecker for their thoughts on the 2013 Oscars.

TMZ.com is reporting today that "American Idol" alum Kellie PIckler and current season "Bachelor" Sean Lowe are heading to the ballroom for season 16 of "Dancing with the Stars."

Both ABC and the show are not commenting. The lineup will be announced Tuesday on "Good Morning America."

More of the details available at http://www.tmz.com/2013/02/24/dancing-with-the-stars-cast-revealed/#ixzz2LrNPo9hl

The site is also reporting that country music star Wynonna Judd is also slated to star on "DWTS" this season.


Maks Chmerkovskiy to exit 'Dancing with the Stars'?

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With ABC set to announce the lineup for season 16 of "Dancing with the Stars" on Tuesday, the web rumor mill is spinning out of control with reports that the popular/controversial Maks Chmerkovskiy will not return to the reality show that made him a household name.

TMZ.com http://www.tmz.com/2013/02/22/maksim-chmerkovskiy-leaving-dancing-with-the-stars/ says it's so.

The 32-year-old Chmerkovskiy earned the title "the bad boy of the ballroom" since joining the show in season 2. He has never won the mirrorball trophy.

By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'Completeness'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 24
Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets: $18-$36
Info: (773) 975-8150; www.TheaterWit.org
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

What British playwright Tom Stoppard was for the intellectuals of the baby boomer generation, playwright Itamar Moses might very well turn out to be for the current generation of American achievers in their twenties and early thirties.

Like Stoppard, the Berkeley-bred, Brooklyn-based Moses possesses a unique gift for blending the exceedingly brainy with the knowingly sexy and neurotically chaotic. He thrives on complexity, but he also knows that if you are going to have scenes filled with substantive talk about molecular biology, algorithms and the Traveling Salesman Problem (a matter crucial to theoretical computer science), you also had better have some attractive people taking their clothes off and at least trying to get into bed with each other.

That's the all but unbeatable combination Moses finesses with such dexterity and comic self-awareness in "Completeness," arguably his best play to date. First produced in 2011 at California's South Coast Repertory, it is now receiving a knockout Chicago premiere at Theater Wit, with whip-smart direction by Jeremy Wechsler, exceptionally sophisticated performances by an ideal cast of four, and visual design that is a perfect complement for its intimacy-meets-hi-tech world view.

Elliot (Matt Holzfeind, who recently starred in the rock musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"), and Molly (Kristina Valada-Viars, a standout in Steppenwolf's "Time Stands Still"), meet cute in a university library. He is a grad student in computer science; she is working on her thesis, trying to map essential proteins. Both are far too smart for their own good, and, despite considerable sexual experience, socially and emotionally awkward. HE has an adorable girlfriend, Lauren (Rae Gray), and SHE has been having an affair with her adviser, Don (Andrew Jessop). But as is often the case, everything is in flux.

In a play whose operative metaphor just happens to be that Traveling Salesman Problem (which involves homing in on the optimal combinations that, for example, might make DNA sequencing research less of an infinite quest), the more down-to-earth notion of selecting a romantic partner is a big part of the equation.

The chemical attraction between Elliot and Molly makes their hormones move as quickly as their brain synapses. But Molly's fear of committing to Elliot is as palpable as Elliot's was with Lauren. And of course there are always other temptations.

Moses' scenes, spot-on in the way they capture insecurity, desire, the excitement of connection and the terror of what happens next, are beautifully rendered by Holzfeind and Valada-Viars. They clearly are exceptionally smart (you can't fake this dialogue), and they have one of the best sex scenes you'll see on any stage.

Gray, a "real-life" junior at the University of Chicago, is a proven talent, with a delicious mix of guilelessness and shrewdness, and she is perfection in several roles. Jessop also plays multiple roles, wide-ranging in age, and does so with panache.

Joe Schermoly's sleekly modern cabinet set, combined with Michael Stanfill's video design and Michael Rourke's lighting, contains its own rich set of variable possibilities. And even a technical malfunction at the performance I caught was handled brilliantly by all involved.

"Completeness" is the real deal.

No Hope For "25 Saints"

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by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'25 Saints'
NOT RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 31
Where: Pine Box Theater at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $25
Info: (773) 404-7336; www.greenhousetheater.org
Run time: 85 minutes with no intermission


In the opening moments of "25 Saints," Joshua Rollins' dreadful, altogether belief-defying play, two guys carry an already bloodied fellow into a tattered Appalachian shack and proceed to bludgeon him to what they believe is his death -- first with their firsts, and then, for good measure, with a hammer. This deed accomplished, they stuff him into a wooden trunk (an heirloom, we are later told), and, just to make sure he has breathed his last, they hold down the lid for a good long time.

So, you really have to ask: Where can you go from there? And I will tell you: Not very far. The next 80 minutes of this world premiere production by Pine Box Theatre, directed by Susan E. Bowen, only gets worse. Much worse.

The perpetrators of the snuffing -- Charlie (Drew Johnson), a college grad, and Tuck (Josh Odor), a veteran with a damaged arm -- happen to be operating a meth lab in their living room. Before leaving this town behind they're trying to get free and clear of a big debt left by Charlie's no-good brother, Trevor, who also left his girlfriend, Sammy (Caroline Neff), in the lurch. Charlie just happens to be crazy in love with Sammy, a relationship that will do him no good.

As for that body in the trunk, it belongs to the town's deputy sheriff (John Ross Wilson, who gets off easy given that he can drop out of the play at this point). Running the meth ring is the real sheriff (Danny Goldring), a master of corruption and cruelty in this down-and-out, stripmined, town of dead dreams.

The sheriff's "henchwoman" is the salty Ms. Duffy (Molly Reynolds). A scrawny young meth addict, Sasha (Ashley Neal, who makes the most of one great bit that catalogues the downward spiral of life in this West Virginia town), is the local pizza delivery girl.

Suffice it to say, there is more. But your life will not be better for reading about it.


by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


HUBBARD STREET AND LUNA NEGRA: THE DANCERS AND THE DANCE

Here is a question worth asking when considering the creation of a new dance piece: What has the choreographer brought into the rehearsal studio for the dancers to learn, and just how much movement has he or she had the dancers help generate as part of the creative process?

Consider the case of two companies -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Luna Negra Dance Theater -- both of which will be performing new works in their upcoming engagements at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
The Hubbard Street engagement, March 14-17, promises to be an intriguing experiment on many levels, as the Chicago company of 18 dancers has joined forces with Alonzo King's LINES Ballet, an ensemble of 12 dancers from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Together they will perform "Azimuth," King's new work, created with the participation of both companies. Also on the program will be the LINES dancers performing King's "Rasa," set to the highly complex rhythms of Indian tabla music, and the Hubbard Street dancers reprising "Little mortal jump," the enchanting dance theater piece by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo that captures the mystery, humor, terror and true romance of intimate relationships (set to a mix of music from the American band, Beirut, to Andrew Bird and Philip Glass.)

During the past few seasons, the Hubbard Street dancers made King's 2000 piece, "Following the Subtle Current Upstream," a gorgeous blend of the cosmic and natural worlds, very much its own. But artistic director Glenn Edgerton wanted King to create something from scratch that would use both troupes and enable them to feed off each other.

"Azimuth," whose title refers to a measurement that makes it possible for an astronomer to record the location of a heavenly body, is set to everything from Gregorian chants and Jewish sacred music to folk music and southern gospel -- all linked together and expanded upon by composer Ben Juodvalkis.

"The piece is really about the journeys we can take as human beings," said Kellie Epperheimer, a Hubbard Street

Asked what she learned by working with King and the LINES dancers, Epperheimer said: "Alonzo's dancers are quite fantastic, with legs that stretch forever. But what unites us is that both companies have a great sense of community within themselves, and both are intensely interested in exploring self-expression. Alonzo is very clear that he wants you to assign your own voice to whatever movement he gives you."

"One thing Alonzo does is give you images to work with," said Epperheimer, who found the companies' joint residency at the University of California, Irvine a wonderful experience. "For my solo he used the words power, Mother Nature, ancestry, the stepping stones of time. And although I'm small he encouraged me to reach far outside myself."

Veteran LINES dancer Meredith Webster, who performs a different solo in "Azimuth," says King's guiding words to her included "fervor and heat, tenderness and quiet. Often he will give us those words, we will respond with movement, and then he will sculpt what we have started to shape. He knows what he wants when he sees it, but he likes to give us space to make things our own. And the important thing about Alonzo is that he sees the bigger picture of the universe at every moment."

"LINES and Hubbard Street are in alignment about many things," said Webster. "But one difference is that all the choreography we do is by Alonzo, while Hubbard Street works with many different choreographers, so their bodies are used to making quick stylistic changes all the time. What we share is that our primary interest is the quality of the movement, even if we all are sticklers for technique."

For its March 9 (one night only) program at the Harris, Luna Negra Dance Theater is presenting three works under the title "Made in Spain." Two are by Fernando Hernando Magadan, the Spanish-born choreographer associated with the Nederlands Dans Theater since 2004: The world premiere of "Royal Road" (the title is by way of Sigmund Freud who said "music is the royal road to the soul"), to compositions by David Balakrishnan, a violinist with the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet, whose musicians will play live and interact with the dancers; and a revival of the "Naked Ape," a wonderfully quirky dance about verbal, physical and emotional communication in our world of technological overload.

In addition, Monica Cervantes, the company's stunning, Spanish-bred lead dancer, has created "Presente," a world premiere work set to Max Richter's "recomposed" version of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."

Eduardo Zuniga, another outstanding Luna Negra dancer, describes working with Magadan this way: "He is very interested in connecting the music to the dancing and plays with the idea of the actual notated musical score and Labanotion, a technique for notating choreography. He gave us sequences of steps and then we deconstructed the material to make it our own -- sometimes re-ordering or reversing or adding things. Then he'd edit the results, always explaining why if he made changes."

"With Monica, it was a little different, because we all know each other so well," said Zuniga. "She choreographed everything very quickly -- in about a week and a half -- but then she had us improvise certain moments to the music and took some of the things we did. In one section we see a person in the womb, then a baby discovering its hands, and becoming a kid, and a young adult and an old person. It's the whole journey, with very sophisticated choreography that can be both raw and surprising."

The Harris Theatre is at 205 E. Randolph. For tickets to Hubbard Street ($25-$94) and Luna Negra ($25-$65) call (312) 334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org.

Dirty, nasty...comedy

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Lenny Bruce being arrested for obscenity at Chicago's Gate of Horn, 1962. Following close behind: a young George Carlin.

"If I do a disgusting show, or use any disgusting words -- or I just could be talking about pork -- that's my right, you see, as an American citizen," comic Lenny Bruce said decades ago.

Famously, not everyone agreed with him. But these days -- thanks in large part to guys like Bruce and Richard Pryor and George Carlin and countless others whose in-your-face musings challenged laws and the status quo when doing so was actually dangerous (career-wise or worse), anything goes.

Not surprisingly, just as there are folks who love horror flicks that cause fetal curling and vivid nightmares, there are fans of raw and raucous comedy that aims to rattle sensibilities as much as entertain. If you're in the mood for that sort of fare and don't want to drop big bucks, "The Nasty Show" at Chicago's Laugh Factory comedy club (3175 N. Broadway) might just have what you seek.

Featuring comics Liza Treyger, Danny Kallas, Tristan Triptow and Aaron Weaver, it takes place again Saturday, February 23 at 10 p.m. 18 and over only, please.

Warning: The following clip contains material that may not be suitable for everyone:


When she was hired by Saturday Night Live last fall, Chicago-trained comedic actress/improviser Cecily Strong was among a record three locals to simultaneously land coveted on-camera spots on the venerable late night sketch show.

As the first of those three to appear on Jimmy Fallon's NBC talk show recently, she gave shout outs to Chicago's iO Theater and Second City, on one of whose cruise ship partners she spent four months in 2010.

"Which is as funny as it sounds," she said sarcastically while turning to the audience.

"That just sounds painful to me," Fallon replied. "Is it vacation or no?"

"For the first two months I was so happy," Strong said, "because I get paid to do what I want to do. And I'm on a cruise! And then it's like half-prison, half vacation."

To make matters worse, there was "a lot of animosity" toward the Second City cast from crew members. "Not a lot of people want to help you out. They're like, 'I work 18 hours a day,' and I'm, like, hiding my mojito."

James Bond said WHAT?

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So the much-anticipated Oscar night reunion of the six actors who've portrayed James Bond through the ages has been reportedly cancelled (a girl can dream, can't she?)

In lieu of hearing them LIVE Sunday night (and a totally fun trivia game for your Oscar-viewing party), see if you can match the correct Bond with the words he uttered, as well as the James Bond film in which the line originated? (No Google help, please!)

They are pictured here: Pierce Brosnan (from left), Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig.

1) "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!"

2) "Which bullet has my name on it? The first or the last?"

3) "There's always something formal about the point of a pistol."

4) "Standard operating procedure. Boys with toys."

5) "We have an old saying too, Georgi. And you're full of it."

6) "I've got a little itch, down there. Would you mind?"

Answers are posted after the jump... NO PEEKING

Not only is he gigging with Jay-Z at Soldier Field this summer, pop superstar Justin Timberlake is slated to host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" for the fifth time on March 9. That makes him something akin to the Billy Crystal of latenight sketchfests. Only Timberlake is funnier. Sure, Crystal's a polished pro, but there's something about Timberlake's gameness for goofing (on himself, especially) and innate ability to sell jokes and premises that's somehow more endearing. That he's primarily a musician makes it all the more impressive. SNL guru Lorne Michaels must agree, or he wouldn't keep bringing sexy back.

WARNING: LANGUAGE AND CONTENT OF THE FOLLOWING VIDEOS MAY BE UNSUITABLE FOR YOUNGER VIEWERS:

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Move over Pearl Jam, Jay Z may take the Chicago throne this summer.

Global Grind reports the rumor mill can cease and desist, because the hip hop superstar is set to stage a 12-city tour with Justin Timberlake. Jay Z posted a picture of Soldier Field on his website with the hashtag #legendsofsummer.

Hova and JT are teaming up at London's Wireless Festival this June.

Tour dates haven't been announced, but check Live Nation for updates Friday.


Cirque du Soleil announces Michael Jackson 'One'

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Cirque du Soleil announced today that its latest homage to pop music stars will be the long-awaited "Michael Jackson ONE." The show, produced with the cooperation of the Jackson estate, will put down stakes at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas in May.

"ONE" boasts a cast of 60 and will make use of Jackson's original masters of his No.1 hits.

Previews are scheduled to begin May 23 with the official world premiere slated for June 29.

"ONE" is the second time Cirque has partnered with the late pop singer's estate. The first joint effort produced "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" traveling spectacular that played here last year.

Tickets for the Las Vegas show are set to go on sale March 7 at www.cirquedusoleil.com.

Best supporting actor: no newbies here

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On a night when an acting Oscar could go to a 9-year-old kid or the guy from "Alias," the supporting actor category is where experience is a given. Every one of the nominees already has an Oscar (or two), so winning this one means not just validation, but also a second chance.
Giving a follow-up Oscar speech is an opportunity to redefine oneself and make up for the oversights of the first one. Here's how the nominees handled their earlier victories, and a little advice if another one happens Sunday.

The fans have voted. And the Oscar goes to ....

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"Argo," according to voting by moviegoers on BlockbusterAwards.com, an interactive website designed for people to host, manage and participate in a fantasy league celebrating the Academy Awards.

The balloting continues on the the site, with "Argo" leading the best picture race (39 percent to 22 percent for the second-place "Lincoln"). Other Oscar front-runners: actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln," 67 percent; actress, Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook," 47 percent; supporting actor, Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln," 32 percent; supporting actress, Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables," 68 percent (thus robbing runner-up Sally Field of the chance to admit yet once again "I guess you really like me.")

The Oscars of course are Sunday night (starting at 7 p.m. on ABC), and fans still have a chance to sign up and join or host a league for free at blockbusterawards.com. Or cast a ballot for gentle Ben Affleck (above, at the Oscar nominees luncheon earlier this month), the director-producer-star of "Argo," who though snubbed in the best director category, may walk away with the top prize Sunday, after all.

Two Chicago college students are among the half-dozen aspiring filmmakers who won a contest to present this year's Oscar statuettes.

Oscar co-producer Neil Meron told the Associated Press that "this tradition of the buxom babe that comes out and brings the trophy to the presenter to give to the winner seemed to be very antiquated and kind of sexist, too. Why can't we have people who actually care about film and are the future of film be the trophy presenters?"

The contest asked college students to submit a short video that answered the question, "How will you contribute to the future of movies?"

More than 1,000 students took part. Here are the six winning entries:

A.J. Young, Columbia College Chicago
Hometown: Mesa, Ariz.

Abe Diaz, DePaul University
Hometown: Duluth, Minn.

ChaRon Brabham, SUNY Potsdam, New York
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Jennifer Brofer, University of Texas at Austin
Hometown: Austin, Texas

Hearin Ko, Emerson College in Massachusetts
Hometown: Shanghai, China

Tatenda Mbudzi, UCLA
Hometown: Harare, Zimbabwe

Oscar Oratory

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By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


THE ACTORS' SPEECH

I confess: I'm a theater snob. And for years I took pride in the way almost everyone on the Tony Awards, from actors to designers, seemed more articulate, intelligent and poised (whether as a presenter or an award-winner) than those "Hollywood types" on the Academy Awards. With only rare exceptions, the movie crowd seemed at a loss when it came to speaking "the King's speech," or even walking across a large stage. And the whole sense of what you need to do when standing in front of a live audience (don't blame the Teleprompters) seemed to knock them cold.

But things have changed lately. Hollywood stars are now the first recruits for Broadway shows, and the Tonys are showing the negative effects. Meanwhile, this year's crop of nominees for the acting Oscars is a pretty impressive bunch, and a great many of them have serious stage credits.

The leading actor category is a case in point, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper and Denzel Washington all with plenty of theater "cred." Among the leading women, Juilliard-trained Jessica Chastain just made her Broadway debut in "The Heiress" and Emmannuelle Riva began her career on the Paris stage. Quvenzhané Wallis is still in grammar school, so she will be adorable no matter what she does.

Diane Lane, Josh Brolin divorcing

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Diane Lane and hubby Josh Brolin are calling it quits after 8 years of marriage.
The two wed in 2004 and have no children.

It will be the second divorce for both of them. Lane was once married to actor Christopher Lambert, while Brolin was married to actress Alice Adair (they share two children).

Brolin is the son of actor James Brolin and son-in-law to Barbra Streisand.

Lane starred at the Goodman Theatre last year in "Sweet Bird of Youth."

'Million Dollar Quartet' extends at Apollo Theater

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"Million Dollar Quartet" is extending its run through Sept. 1 at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln.
The musical, which showcases one night at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash is currently celebrating its fifth year at the Apollo.
Tickets, $25-$85, are available at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (773) 935-6100

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Former Spice Girl Melanie Brown, a k a Mel B, will join NBC's summer series "America's Got Talent" as a judge, taking a seat alongside holdovers Howie Mandel and Howard Stern.

Known as "Scary Spice" during her tenure with the all-female Brit pop group, Mel B replaces long-time judge Sharon Osbourne, who previously announced she'd be leaving the show.

Contestants from "AGT's" season eight open-casting auditions will perform in front of Mandel, Stern and Mel B in five cities across the country (including suburban Rosemont), with the Top 48 acts moving on to compete during this summer's live shows and vie for the $1 million prize. Submissions are still being accepted online at www.agtauditions.com.

"This exciting addition of the dynamic Mel B to our lineup of judges promises that fans will see a strong, talented and opinionated woman match up against our equally outspoken judges Howard Stern and Howie Mandel," said NBC's Paul Telegdy, president of alternative and late night programming, in a statement. "Her presence has powder-keg potential for lots of fireworks this summer as the #1-rated 'America's Got Talent' will return with even bigger and more exotic acts than any year before."

"I'm thrilled to be part of this season of 'America's Got Talent' and to get to work with Howie and Howard," Mel B said, also in a statement emailed to press. "It's so exciting to be bringing some Girl Power to the panel!"

Mel B just returned from Australia where she appeared on "The X Factor" for two seasons as one of the four judges and was co-host of one season of the Australian version of "Dancing With the Stars."

In 2010, along with her husband and children, she also starred in a reality series for The Style Network called "Mel B: It's a Scary World," which let viewers get to know the family and see how Mel manages a multi-faceted career, raises her family and still finds time for her husband. Mel was on Season 5 of the ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," where she came in second place with her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy. On Broadway, she headlined as Mimi in a major production of "Rent."

Mel B helped propel the Spice Girl's global success, racking up worldwide record sales of $55 million. The Spice Girls reunited for a performance at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony.

Auditions for new contestants begin in New Orleans (March 4 - March 5) at the Lakefront Arena before a move to San Antonio (March 20 - March 21) at the Lila Cockrell Theater. The auditions continue in New York City (April 8 - April 10) at the Hammerstein and then re-locate to Los Angeles (April 24 - April 26) at the Pantages Theater before concluding in Chicago (May 8 - May 10) at the Akoo Theatre in Rosemont. For taping times and ticket information visit, www.nbc.com/agt.

The Rascals headed to Broadway

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A shout-out to Associated Press writer Mark Kennedy:

By Mark Kennedy/AP

The band that gave us "Good Lovin,'" "People Got To Be Free" and "I've Been Lonely Too Long" are grooving their way to Broadway.
The original members of the 1960s-era blue-eyed soul quartet -- singer Eddie Brigati, keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli -- will reunite for what producers call "a hybrid of a rock 'n' roll concert and a Broadway show."
Performances of "The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream" will begin April 15 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and will last only 15 performances, ending May 5. The show made its debut in late 2012 in Port Chester, N.Y.
It will showcase their hits, which also include "It's a Beautiful Morning," "How Can I Be Sure" and "Groovin,'" and tell their history through archival footage, narration and dramatic film segments.
Steven Van Zandt, a founding member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, is producing the show. Van Zandt inducted the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
"The Rascals created music that inspired a generation - and that feeling has lived on through their original fans and the legions of new fans that have discovered their music over the years," Van Zandt said in a statement.
Tickets go on sale Friday at www.ticketmaster.com

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Desiree Hartsock had her heart broken on Monday's episode of "The Bachelor" after the ladies' hometown dates.
It was a surprising exit for the 26-year-old bridal stylist from L.A., whose brother, Nate, gave Bachelor Sean a hard time during the hometown visit. At one point, Nate called Sean a playboy, which The Bachelor said ticked him off royally during the "Sean Tell All" special Tuesday.

"I don't think that my brother helped my chances in staying," she said on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Were you mad at your brother for his behavior on the show?
"I don't justify anything that my brother said or the way he said it to Sean. But he was protecting me. He didn't feel that Sean was going to be the right guy for me. Looking back, I can't be mad at my brother. I can move on and know that Sean and I aren't meant to be together."

Was that normal behavior for your brother, or was he just trying to make an impact on TV? Or was he on drugs?
"My brother doesn't believe in reality TV. He wants to pursue ministry and he's a missionary. He definitely doesn't do drugs or anything like that. He is very intense with the way he thinks. It's completely far off from the way I think. I'm not very close with my brother. I see [him] maybe once a year. My brother's opinion would never influence my decision."

Did Sean make a mistake letting you go when he did?
"In the moment, I felt we had the best connection. However, looking back, he did have great relationships with the other girls. I don't think it was a mistake."

Would she be interested in being The Bachelorette?
"I would definitely have to think about it...and make sure I'm prepared to get back on that emotional roller coaster. I'd probably say yes to the opportunity."

"I think he ended up choosing the love of his life and that's not me."

Which of the women from the house are you still close to?
"I connected most and became greater friends with Jackie, Lindsay and Daniella." (She no longer keeps in touch with Sean.)

Is Sean a playboy, like your brother said?
Being on the show, the set up is to date more than 20 women at once. But as for Sean, "I think he's as far away from being a playboy as anyone can be."

Sean said there were other things lacking in your relationship. What was he referring to?
"Looking back and watching the show, maybe I did put up a guard. I was holding back a little bit more than maybe the other girls were. It takes me a little longer to say I love you because I want it to be right."

Are you still devastated about the break up with Sean?
"I'm such a positive person. I've moved on. I'm completely over it. I know that I'll eventually find my Prince Charming." (She hasn't been dating since the show ended, though.)

Michelle Williams to star in reality show

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Michelle Williams, one-third of Destiny's Child, and currently in Chicago starring in the national touring production of "FELA!," will soon hit the small screen in her own reality show.

The series, titled "My Sister's Keeper," (from Entertainment One Television), , will follow the singer-actress and her sisters as Williams records and releases her upcoming solo gospel album.

The Hollywood Reporter noted executive producers include Williams, Tara Long, Phil Thornton, Jeff Hevert and John Dee Hammond.

Jamie Barton to compete in Cardiff Singer of the World

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A member of Lyric Opera's production of "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" will have a chance of becoming an actual "master singer."

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, currently singing Magdalene in the Wagner opera at Lyric, announced Wednesday via her Facebook page that she has been chosen to represent the United States in the annual Cardiff Singer of the World contest, running June 16-23 in Wales. One of opera's most prestigious competitions, it also marks its 30th anniversary this summer.

Past winners include current opera supernovas Karita Mattila (1983), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1989) and Nicole Cabell (2005), an alumna of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center.

Barton, 31, a native of Rome, Ga., is one of 20 singers from more than 400 applicants chosen as this year's finalists. On her official site (jamiebartonmezzo.com) Barton wrote: "I'm very much looking forward to getting to know my fellow competitors, as well as getting to know Cardiff. (Fun fact: One of my absolute favorite televisions shows, 'Doctor Who,' is filmed in Cardiff! Perhaps someone could sneak me onto the set of the Tardis?")

'CRIME SCENE: A CHicago Anthology'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 10
Where: Collaboraction at the Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $25
Info: (312) 226-9633; www.collaboraction.org
Run time: 85 minutes with no intermission

Driving home earlier this week from "Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology," Collaboraction's searing look at this city's legacy of violence, I switched on the radio. And there it was: News of the latest young shooting victim -- the sister of a girl who, just 12 hours earlier, had attended President Obama's talk on gun violence at the Hyde Park Career Academy.

Neither politicians, nor the police, nor community activists, nor parents seem capable of stopping the insanity. And it's a good bet no theater company will be able to turn the tide, either. Yet there is something about the 85-minute "Crime Scene" that is so direct, visceral, youthful and winningly honest (meaning not at all predictably politically correct), that you might at least find yourself listening again -- willing to get beyond the overload of disgust, impotence and sense of futility.

Conceived and expertly directed by Anthony Moseley, "Crime Scene" has the feel of a streetwise Greek tragedy as it employs elements of history, testimony, song and hip-hop oration. Enter Collaboraction's loftlike space and the seating area is initially cordoned off like a police crime scene. On the walls are projections of maps of Chicago's neighborhoods, all with sidebars of crime statistics and more.

The scene is set for a whole lot of gunshots and venting, with a cacaphony of voices sounding off about the roots of the violence epidemic. And then the fully engaged cast of 12 treats us to a bristling history lesson -- a "timeline of Chicago violence" that takes us from the city's founding in 1780 through the Haymarket bombing of 1886, the race riots of 1919, the gangsters of Prohibition, the 1968 Martin Luther King riots and on and on.

Fast forward to a sadly typical case from 2000 -- in which Orlando Patterson, a 12-year-old, was shot to death in retaliation for an insult he had nothing to with. A series of "real life" voices follow, including an Irish priest (the very authentic Eamonn McDonagh), and an edgy Latino cop (altogether dazzling work by Lisandra Tena). Tena returns in a sensational, often hilarious scene, "Career Day at Cook Country Juvenile Court," in which she plays a visiting artist and raps with the best of them.

There is more: The 2012 case of a young Chicago rapper gunnned down "because of a gang feud fueled by YouTube videos and Twitter posts"; television news that makes crime and weather news almost interchangeable; and a chilling incident of Bucktown violence in which two young white female students who'd had too much to drink were brutally mugged.

Victoria Blade's anthemic song, "Let Hope Rise," captures the grief as much as the hope. And audiences for the show seem unusually eager to stay for the talk-backs.

"I like knowing we sold out Chicago in an hour," uber-comic Louis C.K. told Entertainment Weekly last June.

He was talking about his two November 2012 shows at Symphony Center, which holds 2,500 when filled to capacity.

C.K., as you might know, is one of the top-drawing stand-ups in America, packing large venues from coast to coast.

Nonetheless, he's got nothing on Baconfest.

It's exactly what it sounds like: a festival of bacon. Most of the roughly 3,000 tickets for this year's Chicago shindig on April 20 at the UIC Forum sold out in four minutes. Four. The stragglers were gone in 41, as heralded on Twitter.

Why? Because bacon makes everything better, that's why.

Our hog-butchering predecessors would be proud.


'FELA!'
.....RECOMMENDATION
When: Through Feb. 23
Where: Arie Crown Theatre, 2301 Lake Shore Dr. at McCormick Place
Tickets: $20-$70
Info: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission


"Fela!" the explosive show about Nigerian composer and political firebrand Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is categorized as a Broadway musical. But watching the galvanic touring production now at the Arie Crown Theatre I had this thought: "Fela!" may very well be the first Afro-beat opera.

It's not just that the Arie Crown Theater -- an uncongenial airplane hangar of a space, despite its fine acoustics -- has the seating capacity of an opera house. It's that "Fela!" has all the components of opera: A grand-scale story; tragic, larger-than-life characters; a dynamic onstage band; a fabulous dancing chorus; sound-and-light-show theatrics, and an overriding sense of ritual.

I've seen the show in two other venues: In a small Broadway house that made you feel you were entering The Shrine, Fela's iconic, musically audacious, sexually promiscuous and politically "dangerous" nightclub in Lagos that, during the 1970s, was a hotbed of activity, as well as last year, at the Oriental Theatre here, where it seemed a bit distant. But somehow, at the Arie Crown, the show -- conceived by director-choreographer Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel, and driven by the songs of Fela Kuti (with additional music by Aaron Johnson and Jordan Mclean) -- has popped into overdrive. It easily fills the space.

Fela Kuti, who even dreamed of becoming Nigeria's president, was a sharp, unrelenting thorn in the side of Nigeria's military dictatorship for years. Arrested, tortured and jailed many times, in the late 1970s his compound, The Kalakuta Republic, was destroyed, with many of his friends and followers horribly brutalized, and his mother, Funmilayo, who he emulated, was murdered.

Framed as the musician's final performance at The Shrine, "Fela!" traces the development of the musician's Afrobeat sound -- unique synthesis of West African "highlife," the Afro-Cuban beat, and the influences of Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and James Brown. It also follows his growing role as a rock star-like political irritant whose hit song, "Zombie" (the term he used to describe Nigerian military officials and all those who fell in line behind them), became an international hit, and, far more perilously, a subversive anthem in Nigeria.

The role of Fela is something of a triathalon, and here, the magnetic Adesola Osakalumi -- with his seductive voice, radiant personality, sexy physique and abiding sense of teasing, bitter anger -- has the character nailed. He fires up the stage.

Michelle Williams, tall and bean-pole thin, and with the ideal R & B voice, moves with sinewy grace and snap as she plays Sandra, Fela's feisty American girlfriend who introduces him to the Black Power movement but, like his many African "wives," is less successful at indoctrinating him in feminism. Melanie Marshall is formidable as the operatic Funmilayo, with Gelan Lambert a knockout lead male dancer along with Rasaan-Eluah "Talu" Green.

Most crucially in this show, however, is the ever-present ensemble of dancers who are in wild, perpetual motion, and the fabulous 10-piece band with Morgan Price (on tenor sax) putting the brass behind Fela, and Roland Guerrero beating the life out of those conga drums.

Romanian-born set and costume designer Marina Draghici (whose work is stunningly lit by Robert Wierzel) convinces you she was really born in Lagos.

As James Brown might have sung, this show has "Got the Feeling."


Jane Lynch to snarl in Broadway's 'Annie'

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Jane Lynch, a veteran of many a Chicago stage, is poised to make her Broadway debut.
In the current revival of "Annie," she'll replace Katie Finnernan as Miss Hannigan, the orphanage matron with a malevolent streak reminiscent of her "Glee" character, conniving cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.
"I'm so thrilled I can't see straight," the actress told the AP. "It's a preposterous fantasy come true."
Lynch will sit in for at least eight weeks, from May 16 through July 14, after Finneran leaves to film a new NBC comedy series with Michael J. Fox.
She said she knows "every breath of this musical," having grown up listening to the cast album with her mother. She recalls seeing the film in the mid-1980s and adoring Carol Burnett, who played Miss Hannigan.
Lynch grew up in Dolton and cut her teeth touring with Second City, playing Carol Brady in the Annoyance Theatre's "Real Live Brady Bunch" and appearing at Steppenwolf.


'CADRE'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 23
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre Upstairs, 800 E. Grand
Tickets: $20
Info: (312) 595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission)

Theater, and the human stories it can tell, became a crucial tool for teaching the world about the horrors of apartheid, the brutal system of racial segregation enforced in South Africa from 1948-1994. The plays of Athol Fugard, and the work of many others at the pioneering Market Theatre of Johannesburg, were almost always about the personal costs of the system rather than outright political dogma, even if politics was never far from the surface.

That tradition continues in the work of Omphile Molusi, the impassioned young actor, writer and director whose latest show, the intense and intensely moving 80-minute "Cadre," is receiving its world premiere as part of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's invaluable World's Stage series.

With writing that is direct and unadorned, acting that is immediate, visceral and unaffected, and an almost childlike physicality that creates a music all its own, "Cadre" casts a spell at once guileless and sophisticated. It is what those theater masters Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook once called "poor theater," though "essential theater" might be a far more accurate term.

Unfolding in the years between 1965 and 1994, "Cadre," inspired by the life of Molusi's uncle, looks at a less familiar aspect of the apartheid era. That struggle has usually been told in terms of a minority white, Afrikaner-dominated National Party as the oppressors on one side, and, on the other, the black ANC (African National Congress), buttressed by some progressive white sympathizers, leading the struggle for liberation and winning the first democratic elections in 1994.

But such situations (as we see in the Middle East right now), are never so simple. Splitting from the ANC was the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), which believed the South African government should consist only of black people. And Molusi's story is about two brothers tragically caught up in that part of the movement -- a tale that will perhaps be unfamiliar even to the generation who grew up in post-apartheid South Africa. (THAT audience will be able to see the show at the Market Theatre beginning March 18.)

Molusi (familiar here from his acclaimed 2010 solo show, "Itsoseng") plays Gregory, who is a young boy in 1965. His older brother (played by the expertly morphing Sello Motloung), has joined the radical PAC group, much to the chagrin of the boys' Christian father (also played by Motloung). The thought that Gregory might die by following in his older brother's footsteps terrifies and enrages the man. Gregory's mother (the astonishing Lillian Tshabalala) can only look on helplessly.

Gregory develops a crush on little Sasha (Tshabalala, who can change age in seconds), with whom he swears lifelong allegiance when her family is forced to move. Then, when his older brother is killed, Gregory runs off and joins the PAC. Before long he is caught delivering messages, brutally beaten and imprisoned for 11 years. Eventually rescued, he begins work as a double agent for PAC, serving South Africa's white leader, Pieter Botha ("The Big Crocodile," played ideally by Motloung), realizing he must "kill or be killed" to maintain his cover, and facing ever escalating tragedy.

All this storytelling (in English) unfolds on a stage decorated only with sheets hung from poles and a simple bench. And in league with his fellow actors, Molusi, a performer of enormous heat, warmth and soulfulness, keeps us riveted. A bit of artful shadowplay, and a series of mournful African songs performed in Setswana, Zulu and Xhosa, are the only other things needed.

"What is freedom without love?," Gregory asks when almost all is lost. No doubt there are many young revolutionaries today asking the same question.

Mike Tyson cancels 'Undisputed Truth' tour dates

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Boxing champ Mike Tyson has cancelled several upcoming dates for his one-man stage show "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth." According to tickemaster.com, shows in Houston, Texas, Cincinnati, and Louisville, Kentucky, are officially cancelled. (The San Diego performance on March 5 has moved to a different theater.)

The show, which bowed on Broadway last April, and kicked off its 10-week national tour two weeks ago in Indianapolis, played to favorable reviews in Chicago on Feb. 22.

Though the Internet rumor mill is swirling with speculation that the tour, scheduled to run through May, is perhaps in jeopardy, tickets are still on sale for a majority of the remaining dates via www.ticketmaster.com and the tour's official site at www.tysonontour.com.

In prepared statements, both Tyson and James L. Nederlander, the tour's producer, vehemently deny the tour is cancelled.

"I am huge supporter of Mike and this compelling show. Unfortunately tickets sales in certain markets did not support the scope of the tour originally planned and we've pulled back in a few markets. The tour is still traveling to numerous cities. Mike has been the consummate professional and I'm proud to bring Mike's talent and story around the country." - James L. Nederlander, Producer

"Due to circumstances beyond my control, certain cities on my Undisputed Truth tour have been cancelled. I am so appreciative of my fans and all of my supporters. I sincerely apologize to anyone that was inconvenienced by these cancellations. I was looking forward to doing a great show for you and hope at a later date that I am still able to do so." - Mike Tyson


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Fans of "Family Guy" or "Ted" think he's a genius. You've never heard of him except that he's hosting the Oscars.

Here are five things to know about tonight's emcee, Seth MacFarlane.

Chicago-bred actress and comedian Nora Dunn, widely known for her years on 'Saturday Night Live," will debut her new one-woman show, "Mythical Proportions," at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont this summer.

The 70-minute piece includes Dunne's forte -- monologues performed in character -- as well as stories she tells in her own persona. The work emerges in the form of: The memories of a mythical 87-year-old Hollywood doyenne who discovered the greatest stars of the 1950's; the musings of a seven-year old girl mystified by the small world of Mr. Rogers' neighborhood and the life of the inmates in a TV series called Lockdown; a 65-year-old woman, Mrs. Williams, who chronicles a family history tainted by racism yet grounded in love; and a dreamy middle-aged English bookkeeper whose ill-fated vacation to Southern California ends in tragedy. Dunn's personal stories from her childhood on Chicago's West Side collide with the tales of the rich and powerful players in show business.

Dunn has been writing and performing the stories and characters that make up "Mythical Proportions"since 2010 -- in small spaces in Chicago, including Paper Machete, Center Portion, and in the comedy showcases iO and The Second City.

Previews begin Aug. 16, with an opening set for Aug. 19. Tickets will go on sale at a date to be in March. Theater Wit is located in the heart of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood at 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. For tickets and information, call (773) 975-8150 or visit TheaterWit.org


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Itasca is about to get some losers. Big losers.

The Biggest Loser Resort plans to launch its fourth U.S. outpost this spring in the western suburb. The facility is scheduled to open in May as part of the existing Eaglewood Resort and Spa (the former Nordic Hills Resort), a AAA Four Diamond facility with a golf course and 75-foot indoor pool set on 106 acres.

The Biggest Loser Resort licenses its name and models its programs after the long-running NBC show by the same name. The program features overweight contestants who are challenged to take off the pounds with a workout regimen and diet plan. Participants are also faced with challenges, temptations, weigh-ins and eliminations until only the final contestant remains to claim the title of "The Biggest Loser" and a monetary prize.

Starting in 2009, parent company Fitness Ridge Worldwide has opened Biggest Loser Resorts in California, Utah and New York. A good portion of the clientele has come from the Midwest. That's why the company decided to open its fourth facility in the Chicago area, close to O'Hare Airport.

"This is their first foray into the Midwest," spokeswoman Iris Shaffer said. "And it's the first one in a big city." It's also the first Biggest Loser Resort to be affiliated with a AAA Four Diamond property.

Biggest Loser Resorts cater to adults of all fitness levels and teens 14 and older. The idea is to provide exercise, healthy nutrition and education to guests during their stay, which lasts a minimum of a week. The resorts' wellness and weight loss program combines morning hikes and daily fitness classes, including kickboxing, yoga, spinning, biking, water aerobics, among others. Certified personal trainers supervise the activities. Dietitians are on hand to teach better nutrition and chefs serve calorie-conscious spa cuisine.

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While Jillian Michaels won't be yelling at you on the treadmill, the resorts occasionally invite past contestants to give inspirational talks.

All-inclusive week-long packages at the Itasca property are priced at $2,995 a week for single occupancy or $2,595 based on double occupancy. Typical spa treatments -- massages, acupuncture and the like -- are offered at an additional cost.

Guests at Itasca's Biggest Loser Resort will stay at the Eaglewood property. An outbuilding is being constructed on the property to include a climbing wall, basketball court and separate dining facility for Biggest Loser guests.

Company officials said partnering with Eaglewood made sense because the facility often hosts business meetings, which can be broadened to include a healthier lifestyle, weight-loss component for participants.

"Expanding into Chicago is a very exciting step for us, and this resort will allow us to continue our expansion into corporate wellness," said Larry Bond, CEO, Fitness Ridge Worldwide in a statement. "Workforce health care costs are spiralling out of control, and one way to stem these costs is to prevent the chronic and complex diseases linked to being overweight and obese. Companies will now be able to combine traditional corporate training and retreats with a wellness solution that can work within the parameters of their business meeting."

Advance reservations can be made by calling (877) 825-8878. Visit www.biggestloserresort.com for more info.

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Bruno Mars headed to Chicago

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Bruno Mars brings his Moonshine Jungle World Tour to the United Center on July 13.
Special guest is Ellie Goulding.
Tickets go on sale March 1 at 10 a.m. Visit www.brunomars.com for more information.

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Pig willing, this will be my third trip to the bacon bacchanal -- or bacon-nal since puns seem to be a requisite for Baconfest Chicago.

The tribute to all things porcine happens April 20 at the UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt. But in order to consume your weight in bacon, a $100 ticket in hand is required. And those are a hot commodity, so set your alarms. They go on sale today at noon.

Speaking from past experience, tickets sell out fast. How fast? Not Pearl Jam Wrigley Field fast, but this is the Midwest after all. And while milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard, an all-you-can-eat-bacon festival causes a sensation.

Some of the bacon kitsch is over the top, but there vendors worth repeat visits throughout the year. A bacon-agnostic Brit found Spencers Jolly Posh Foods two years ago, and now the freezer is stocked with full English brekkie bits year round. Sable Kitchen and Top Chef Heather Terhune's fare (and new this year, drinks) introduced this now-Friday night regular to her innovative small plates.

There are two sessions -- set 2 1/2-hour lunch and dinner slots. Don't fret -- when one smells like a Waffle House cook and also has the meat sweats, the time frame is more than enough time to kill your good cholesterol.

Ready to pull the trigger? Tickets are available here.

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The White House Correspondents' Association picked late night talk show host Conan O'Brien to be the featured act for its annual dinner on April 27.

Another late night comic, Jimmy Kimmel, did the honors last year.

The White House Correspondents' dinner is traditionally attended by POTUS and FLOTUS, of course, as well as assorted government officials and journalists. Proceeds pay for scholarships and journalism awards.

Broadway In Chicago Announces Fall 2013 Season

Something old, something new and something born and bred in Chicago. That's the mix for Broadway in Chicago's 2013 fall season lineup which will include:

± "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" (June 18 - 30 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph), a revival of the popular musical about the kid from Texas who enjoyed a meteoric rise and untimely death leaving behind such early rock 'n' roll hits as "That'll Be The Day," "Peggy Sue," and "Oh, Boy!"

± "Flashdance" (July 30 - Aug. 11 at the Cadillac Palace), a pre-Broadway run of this musical previously seen in London, and based on the 1983 movie about a Pittsburgh steel mill welder with professional dancer dreams. Along with "What a Feeling," "Maniac," "Gloria," "Manhunt," and "I Love Rock & Roll" will be 16 new songs.

± "To Master the Art" (Sept. 10 - Oct. 6 at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut): A remount of Chicago's hit TimeLine Theatre production by William Brown and Doug Frew about the inimitable Julia Child, and her husband Paul, and their life in Paris in the 1950s

± "Evita" (Sept. 17 - Oct. 6 at the Oriental Theatre): The musical about Argentina's Eva Peron (and the revolutionary Che Guevara) that is arguable Andrew Lloyd Webber's best show.

± "Once" (Oct. 9 - 27 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph): The winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards including Best Musical, this show is based on the beloved movie about an Irish busker and the Czech emigre he falls for.

± "Elf, the Musical" (Nov. 26 - Dec. 15 at the Cadillac Palace): The comic tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa's bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole

The "off-season specials" include "The Cat in the Hat" (June 15 - Sep. 1, an Emerald City Theatre "family show" at the Broadway Playhouse); "We Will Rock You" (Oct. 22 - 27 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre), featuring hit songs by Ben Elton and Queen; and "Wicked" (Oct. 30 - Dec. 21 at the Oriental Theatre), marking the 10th anniversary of the Broadway hit.

Tickets are now available for groups of 15 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Current Broadway In Chicago subscribers can renew now at BroadwayInChicago.com. New subscribers will be able to purchase the 2013 Fall Season on March 22. Individual tickets will go on sale at a later date. For more information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Michael Jackson, who sang in his 1995 song "Tabloid Junkie" that "Just because you read it in a magazine/Or see it on the TV screen/Don't make it factual," has spawned a would-be journalist.
The pop icon's 16-year-old son Prince Michael Jackson is scheduled to make his reporting debut today (6:30 p.m., WBBM-Channel 2) as a correspondent on "Entertainment Tonight."
His first assignment: interviewing "Oz the Great and Powerful" director Sam Raimi and stars James Franco and Zach Braff and director Sam Raimi. The "Wizard of Oz" prequel is a particularly apt subject for Jackson, whose dad played the Scarecrow in another Emerald City movie, 1978's "The Wiz."
Jackson makes no secret of his show-biz ambitions, telling the "ET" team, "I'm looking to become well-rounded as a producer, director, screenwriter and actor."

Nothing like a dame: Mitzi Gaynor at the Music Box

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Movie icon Mitzi Gaynor will appear when the film "South Pacific" (1958) screens March 19 at the Music Box as part of Turner Classic Movies annual "Road to Hollywood" series.

Film scholar Leonard Maltin will host the free-admission event, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available starting March 5 at tcm.com/roadtohollywood.

A Chicago native, Gaynor played the role of naval ensign Nellie Forbush in this screen version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's hit Broadway musical. In the film, she sings "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" (above), "A Wonderful Guy" and "Honey Bun," among others.

The series serves as a run-up to TCM's annual film festival, set this year for April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Pierre Boulez drops out of March dates with the CSO

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Conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez, due to an undisclosed medical condition, has canceled his scheduled appearances in March with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Replacing him will be Cristian Macelaru, associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Asher Fisch, principal guest conductor of the Seattle Opera.

Macelaru will lead the CSO on March 7, 9 and 12 in a slightly revised program, with Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra replacing Messiaen's "Chronochromie." The rest of the program remains the same.

Returning to Symphony Center for the first time since his CSO subscription concert debut in October 2010, Fisch will lead the CSO for three performances March 14-16, with no changes to the program.

For further details, call the CSO box office at (312) 294-3000.

Chicago foodies compete as Beard Awards semifinalists

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Oscars, schmoscars. Today the James Beard Foundation announced its semifinalists (nominees) for its 2013 Beard Awards -- the Oscars of restaurateurs.

Chicago's fine fare has fared well, as is often the case.

Billy Corgan, wrestlers in new Smithe Furniture ad

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Always up for a pop culture parody, the brothers at Chicago furniture supplier Walter E. Smithe have roped in Billy Corgan -- and his pro wrestling troupe -- for their latest wacky TV ad.

In the new commercial -- online now, airing on television soon -- a cardigan-clad Corgan plays musical chairs with the Smithe brothers. When Corgan fails to seat himself in time, he calls in some Spandexed brutes from Resistance Pro, the local pro wrestling organization Corgan founded a couple of years ago.

A Red Orchid Theatre's riveting production of "The Aliens" -- Annie Baker's haunting play about two lost but brilliant twentysomething guys in a Vermont town, and the naive but solid high school boy who comes under their spell (if not their influence) -- is extending its runs for two weeks through March 16.

The Chicago premiere of this strange, powerful drama, directed by Shade Murray and featuring three superb actors -- Steve Haggard, Brad Akin and Northwestern student Michael Finley -- has been doing exceptionally well at the box office.

A Red Orchid Theatre is located at 1531 N. Wells. For tickets ($25-30) call (312) 943-8722 or visit www.aredorchidtheatre.org.

Incidentally, Baker is the subject of a New Yorker magazine profile (it's in the Feb. 25 issue), and her latest play, "The Flick," about movie-house workers in a small Massachusetts town, will have its world premiere March 12 at New York's Playwright's Horizons.

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Move over DMK.

For the best burger in Chicago, meatheads need to head north of the city limits -- to Evanston. Zagat declared the best meat between the buns can be found at the original Edzo's Bruger Shop, 1571 Sherman Ave.

Edzo's joins the best 25 burger joints including Hopdoddy's Burger Bar in Austin, Texas, Bad Daddy's Burger Bar in Charlotte, N.C., Crave Real Burgers in Denver, Colo. and more on Zagat's list.

City dwellers don't have to hop the Red Line, however. The shop opened a Lincoln Park locale, 2218 N. Lincoln earlier this year.

Baroque Band cancels MCA shows

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The Museum of Contemporary Art announced today that due to an unforeseen schedule conflict within the ensemble, the Baroque Band 21st Century Brandenburg Project has been postponed until next season.

As a result, the February 21, 23, and 24 performances scheduled at the MCA will not take place.

Refunds are available by contacting the MCA box office at (312) 397-4010.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Victory Gardens Theater has received the largest individual gift in its 38-year history.

The $350,000 gift comes courtesy of Steven and Diane Miller. Steven Miller, who has been involved with the company since the late 1990s and has served as president of the Victory Gardens board since July 2012, has structured his gift as a match to encourage long-time and new supporters to make philanthropic gifts to the theater that is housed in the restored Biograph Theatre at 2433 N. Lincoln.

In a prepared statement, Miller, principal and co-founder of Origin Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in early-stage companies, said: "Victory Gardens is one of the most important companies in Chicago. Our focus on new works, new voices, and telling the stories of all Chicagoans resonates with Diane and me. We want others who feel as we do to join us in supporting this theater that means so much to Chicago. "

Shemekia Copeland to open Chicago Blues Festival

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Good news for a cold day: The Chicago Blues Festival is set for June 6-9 -- that's an extra day -- with an opening-night concert featuring Chicago's "new queen of the blues" Shemekia Copeland in Millennium Park before moving festival events to Grant Park for the weekend.

Chicago's Art Expo 2013 Plans Outreach Beyond Visual Arts
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

This year's Expo Chicago, the International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art that will run Sept. 19-22 at Navy Pier's Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand, will attempt to use the arrival of international art dealers and collectors to help brand Chicago more widely as a destination for museum-going, the performing arts and fine restaurants.

At a press conference Tuesday at the Chicago Cultural Center, Tony Karman, president and director of Expo Chicago said: "We heard at last year's Expo that many of those attending were excited by the free concert conducted by Riccardo Muti in Millennium Park. We want to extend that interest with our partners in the Chicago theater, dance and opera worlds, as well as with such key museum partners as the MCA, the Art Institute, the Smart Museum and the Renaissance Society as well."

No specific details have yet been announced, although the Joffrey Ballet's special weekend of performances, "Russian Masters" (featuring "The Rite of Spring," and works by George Balanchine and Yuri Possokhov) will coincide with the Expo's dates. Other companies will not necessarily have official events ongoing during Expo week, but Karman said special VIP events and showcases were in the planning stage.

Ticket prices for the Art Expo itself have not yet been announced. For more information visit www.expochicago.com.


"To Master the Art," a play about Julia Child, the beloved grande dame of French cooking who changed attitudes about food in the U.S., will be remounted at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, beginning Sept. 10.

A big hit when it was given its world premiere by Chicago's Timeline Theatre in 2010, the play, by William Brown and Doug Frew, is being produced by the Chicago Commercial Collective, the organization created by Brian Loevner and Aurelia F. Cohen that is devoted to giving the best not-for-profit Chicago theater productions a commercial life.

"To Master the Art," which will be part of the Fall 2013 Broadway in Chicago season, traces the adventures of a young Julia Child and her husband, Paul, when he was working for the U.S. Foreign Service in Paris in the 1950s, and Julia began taking cooking courses at the Cordon Bleu. Karen Janes Woditsch will reprise her role as Julia, as will Craig Spidle as Paul.

Tickets will go on sale in mid March. For information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Latin star Jenni Rivera's memoir to be published in July

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Some final words from the late Mexican-American singer and TV star Jenni Rivera will be out this summer.

Atria Books announced Monday that it will publishing a memoir by the multimillion-selling artist, who died in a plane crash in December at age 43.

"Unbreakable" is scheduled to come out in July, in English and Spanish language editions. It has been authorized by Rivera's family.

Rivera (shown here at an August 2012 press conference) had been working on "Unbreakable" for several years. Atria says "Unbreakable" will reveal the "heart and soul" of Rivera, a mother of five and grandmother of two known for her frank talk about her life. Born in Long Beach, Calif., Rivera went on to sell more than 15 million copies of her 12 major-label albums.

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Gwyneth Paltrow to be honored at Gene Siskel Film Center

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Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow will be honored with the Gene Siskel Film Center's 2013 Renassiance Award at a gala benefit on June 15 at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago.

The event, "A Summer Soiree with Gwyneth Paltrow," celebrates the actress' critically acclaimed film career, including a discussion and retrospective film tribute.

"The diversity of characters she has portrayed on the screen, from the deft romance and comedy of 'Shakespeare in Love' and "Sliding Doors,' to her heart-rending performances in 'Proof' and 'Contagion,' is truly impressive," said Siskel Film center executive director Jean de St. Aubin in a statement. "Audiences have come to know Ms. Paltrow from the honesty and intelligence she exudes and we look forward to hearing about her inspirations and favorite memories when we celebrate her many accomplishments."

Past honorees have included Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., George Lucas and Nicole Kidman, among others.

Individual tickets, $400-$1,000 are available by phone at (312) 846-2072. Proceeds benefit the Siskel Center's film programming as well as lecture series and discussions with visiting scholars and filmmakers.

Visit www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

Mindy McCready's apparent suicide on Sunday makes her the fifth "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" cast member to die in the past two years.

The troubled country singer appeared on season three, a season in which three cast members have died, including Evergreen Park native Joey Kovar. The former "Real World" star was found dead last summer in a home in Chicago Ridge at the age of 29. The Cook County medical examiner's office ruled his death, due to "opiate intoxication," an accident.

Former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr, 44, died in 2011 reportedly from a prescription drug overdose. He, too, was on season three.

McCready is the latest fatality from that season, which aired in 2010 on VH1. The extremely unsettling video below is a clip from her stint on the program. It shows her having a seizure while the cameras rolled. Castmate Heidi Fleiss is laughing at first because she thinks McCready is faking it. Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman runs out to the ambulance to comfort McCready as she's being taken away from the Pasadena Recovery Center where the show was filmed.

McCready, who died of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot to the head, clearly was a deeply troubled person. The Associated Press reported that the 37-year-old mother of two had attempted suicide at least three times since 2005. I don't think being on "Celebrity Rehab" led to her -- or any of her castmates' -- untimely demises. But that doesn't make the show feel any less exploitative, especially when you watch the disturbing clip in this post.

The Hollywood Reporter had a story in January 2012 that VH1 had no plans to air "Celebrity Rehab" or its spin-off, "Celebrity Rehab Presents Sober House" last year. Dr. Drew Pinsky did have a show last fall that focused on rehabbing regular folks as opposed to celebrities.

VH1 hasn't made an official statement on the fate of its "Rehab" franchise, but in my opinion, McCready's death is one more reason in a long list of reasons to quit this series.

After a season full of suffering -- if only Branson had just stayed a chauffeur -- here's a fun video featuring the cast of "Downton Abbey" performing One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful."

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And in case you missed it, here's a post about other actors who bid adieu to the shows that made them famous, along with videos of some of the more poignant goodbyes.

Here's a video with "Downton" cast members weighing in on the controversial season three finale:

Watch Downton Abbey: The Cast on Season 3 Episode 7 on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Shirley MacLaine headed back to Downton Abbey

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Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine says she's headed back to "Downton Abbey" next season, reprising her role as Martha Levinson.
The actress will be in town Feb. 22 for her one-woman autobiographical show at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. For tickets and show information, visit www.oshows.com.
She's got plenty to say about life, Hollywood and more.
Read all about it online Wednesday at www.suntimes.com/weekend and Friday in the Sun-Times Weekend section.

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

"A SOLDIER'S PLAY"'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 30
Where: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark
Tickets: $36
Info: (773) 338-2177; www.raventheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission


Although African-American soldiers fought in every major conflagration in which this country has been involved -- from the Revolutionary War onward -- segregation was officially sanctioned until July, 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that integrated the military and mandated equality of treatment.

"A Soldier's Play," Charles Fuller's 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama -- now in a bristling Raven Theatre revival under the muscular direction of Michael Menendian -- is set in 1944. And even as a unit of black soldiers prepares to be shipped overseas to fight and die in World War II, the racism is deep, pervasive and hugely destructive.

It does not help that the United States Army base here is in Fort Neal, Louisiana, full-fledged Klan country., though the Klan, as it turns out, is the red herring here. THAT kind of racism is a given.

What Fuller (who served in the Army, and fought in both Japan and Korea), explores in this play is the tragically warping effect of racism on black soldiers, especially those few who have risen in the ranks and are forever being scrutinized, judged, pressured and second-guessed.

Capt. Richard Davenport (Frank Pete), a rare black officer, has been summoned to Fort Neal to investigate the shooting murder of Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (Antoine Pierre Whitfield), another black man whose treatment of his men was more fierce and punishing than any white man could have doled out. Filled with twisted self-hatred, and hellbent on separating himself from what he says are "the lazy, shiftless Negroes" who bring men like him down, he has driven one young man to suicide, yanked the hard-won stripes from another, and humiliated the rest.

Any one of those men might have had cause to strike back at Waters. And blaming the Klan, a natural enemy, could have repercussions in the surrounding community. Davenport, the ultimate professional, is determined to go wherever the case leads. And unlike Waters, he has an unshakeable sense of self, and even grudgingly wins the respect of Corporal Ellis (Carthy Dixon), the white officer who bluntly informs Davenport what he thinks of black officers.

Told in a series of revealing flashbacks, we meet all the men under Waters' command -- guys who also happen to form a solid Negro baseball team. They include: Private James Wilkie (Bradford Stevens), the family man determined to get his rank back; Melvin Peterson (Eric Walker), who has the guts to talk back to Waters; C. J. Memphis (Brian Keys), the young country boy and blues guitarist who Waters both loves and despises; the quiet but questioning Private Tony Smalls (Kory Pullam); and the more laid-back guys played by Tamarus Harvell and Rashawn Thompson. Two white soldiers (played by Scott Allen Luke and Tim Walsh), add to the atmosphere of hate.

The performances are uniformly strong and distinctive. And Andrei Onegin's angular set design -- military spare and subtly dangerous -- provided the ideal backdrop for this unsparing look at the self-devouring aspects of racism.


by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


JOFFREY BALLET IN 'AMERICAN LEGENDS'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb.24
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress
Tickets: $31-$152
Info: (800) 982-2787; www.ticketmaster.com
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions


The Joffrey Ballet's hugely engaging "American Legends" program, at the Auditorium Theatre through Feb. 24, serves as a multi-faceted exploration of this question: What do we mean when we talk about "modern ballet"? It explores the question with performances of four works created over the course of nearly seven decades by choreographers Jerome Robbins, Gerald Arpino, Twyla Tharp and Stanton Welch. And the result is a fascinating roadmap -- one that never entirely discards 19th century ballet traditions (in terms of technique, partnering, patterns), yet demonstrates the way artists have synthesizes many new influences and stretched the art form.

In "Interplay" (from 1945), in which the four men are dressed in t-shirts and black tights, and the four women wear short, brightly colored dresses, Robbins makes full use of Morton Gould's jazzy score. With its youthful, sassy attitudes, playful flirtatiousness and high-speed, streetwise competitive moves, the piece easily suggests a template for Robins' later work on "West Side Story." The exhilarating John Mark Giragosian is the leader of the pack, with Christine Rocas, Amber Neumann, eye-catching newcomer Cara Marie Gary and Kara Zimmerman giving the formidable men (Ricard Santos, Lucas Segovia and Alberto Velasquez) a good run for their money.

Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino continually stretched the ballet vocabulary by infusing it with modern dance-style floor work, acrobatic positions and overt eroticism. Yet "Sea Shadow" (1962), his mesmerizing duet to the music of Ravel, also harks back to Nijinsky's 1912 "Afternoon of a Faun," and Robbins' 1953 version of that work as it traces the erotic encounter between a man and a sea nymph. The almost illegally beautiful Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili (married in real life) were the breathtaking couple here. You could hear a pin drop as they held the audience in rapt attention.

Choreographed by Twyla Tharp (whose "Deuce Coupe," set to Beach Boys songs, gave the company its first pop vibe back in 1973), "Nine Sinatra Songs" (1982) -- the only piece danced to recorded music on a program otherwise accompanied by the splendid Chicago Philharmonic under Scott Speck -- is as much ballroom-meets-Broadway as it is ballet. But the Joffrey dancers (in gorgeous costumes by Oscar de la Renta), have a rip-roaring good time with its acrobatic demands and acting challenges. Tiny Christine Rocas and partner Suluashvili were terrific in "One for My Baby." Joanna Wozniak and Rory Hohenstein were full of heat and chemistry in "All the Way." Mahalia Ward and Graham Maverick were a comic treat in "Something Stupid." Jaiani and Lucas Segovia gave as good as they got in the Apache-style "That's Life." And there was much more to delight.

Despite its quirky title, "Son of Chamber Symphony" -- choreographed for the company last year by Stanton Welch, the Australian-bred artistic director of the Houston Ballet -- is every bit as complex and agitated as it score by contemporary American composer John Adams. There is a kind of edgy, mechanistic, space-age quality about Welch's fiendishly difficult neo-classical work that draws on elements of the ballet classics in its structure and partnering. The powerhouse Amber Neumann (partnered by Adam Adamczyk), was a standout, along with Jaiani (with Fabrice Calmels), and April Daly (with Suluashvili). Costume designer Travis Halsey's unique tutus -- think Saturn's rings, satellite dishes, calla lilies -- gave the work, which needs several more viewings to fully appreciate, a decidedly otherworldly feel.

Deputy GQ magazine editor Michael Hainey's "After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story" is a love letter to a bygone era when America's (and Chicago's) newspaper industry was booming. It's also the intriguing and sometimes heart-wrenching -- but never overly emotional -- saga of a son searching for truths about his father that were buried for decades. Some thought for good.

Hainey's dad, Bob, was a former Sun-Times night copy chief who worked hard, played hard and died at the age of 35. The circumstances surrounding his death, however, remained a mystery to most until Michael began sniffing around. Over the course of ten years, during which the author endured a good amount of evasiveness and outright stonewalling (a sort of journalistic version of omerta) and ultimately gleaned surprising revelations, he finally was able to sort fact from fiction. His accounting of the hows, whats, whens, wheres and whys makes for a damn fine read -- one the earned a starred review from Kirkus and raves from lots of others. It's in stores and on cybershelves February 19.

Be on the lookout for a Q&A with Hainey -- a graduate of the Medill journalism school at Northwestern and an erstwhile Park Ridge resident -- in the Sun-Times Books section on Sunday, February 24 (online earlier). And later this month, Hainey arrives in town for not one but FIVE appearances at various venues.


Michael Hainey Chicago Appearances

Monday, February 25
Chicago Public Library
Cindy Pritzker Auditorium
6 p.m.
400 S. State


Tuesday, February 26
The Book Stall
7 p.m.
811 Elm Street
Winnetka

Wednesday, February 27
Women & Children First
7:30 p.m.
5233 N. Clark

Thursday, February 28
Anderson's Bookshop
7 p.m.
123 W. Jefferson
Naperville

Friday, March 1
Lake Forest Bookstore
7 p.m.
Market Square
680 N. Western
Lake Forest


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The witches are flying back to Chicago.

"Wicked," the hit Broadway musical, will be returning to Chicago in celebration of the show's 10th anniversary on Broadway, with a limited eight-week run (Oct. 30-Dec. 21) at the Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph.

Based on the the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, the show, which conjures "the untold story of the witches of Oz," features a score by Stephen Schwartz and direction by Joe Mantello.

Globally, "Wicked" has amassed nearly $2.9 billion in ticket sales and been seen by 36 million people worldwide. In Chicago it ran for 1,500 performances over 3 1/2 years (and was seen by about 3 million people) during its initial engagement that began in April, 2005. It subsequently returned as part of a national tour.

Tickets are now available for groups of 15 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Individual tickets for "Wicked" will go on-sale at a later date.

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That most Swedish symbol of the Andersonville neighborhood is getting a makeover. The Dala horse, that sweet blue steed on the corner of Clark and Farragut, was removed Friday in order to get a little sprucing up, reports Stephen Anderson of the Swedish American Museum.

"It has not been the victim of thieves, nor has it fled to greener pastures," Anderson writes in an email. "The symbolic painted horse was transported on February 15 to a shop that specializes in the renovation of colorful statuary.

Installed in 2005, the horse was painted by artist Lars Gillis. Stockholm is shown on one side of the horse; Chicago on the other.

The Dala horse should be back by June.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


As they wittily note, "assuming we survive the Ides of March," the Babes With Blades Theatre Company is planning for the opening of its battle-ready production of "Julius Caesar," an all-female take on Shakespeare's historical tragedy. (Might be the ideal alternative to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production.) Performances (at Raven Theatre's West Stage, 6156 N. Clark) begin March 9, with an official opening on March 18.

The performance on March 21 will be a Theatre Thursday event, held in collaboration with The League of Chicago Theatres. Patrons are invited to come to Fritzy's Tavern, directly across the street from Raven Theatre at 6156 N Clark, at 6:00 p.m. for a pre-show wine-tasting event. Tickets are $25, and reservations can be made online at babeswithblades.org or by calling 773 (904) 0391 and mentioning "Theatre Thursdays."

by Hedy Weiss
Arts Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'PICASSO AND CHICAGO'
When: Now through May 12
Where: Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan
Tickets: $18 (adults)
Info: (312) 433.3600; www.artic.edu

"PICASSO AND CHICAGO"

The first thing you see as you enter "Picasso and Chicago" -- the Art Institute of Chicago's wide-ranging, often revelatory new exhibition that pays tribute to this city's intriguing 100-year relationship with the artist who changed the face of 20th century art -- is a model of the "Chicago Picasso," that massive sculpture so familiar to anyone who has walked past Daley Plaza in the Loop.

Some describe this great steel face that gazes out onto Washington Street as belonging to a woman. Others think it's the long, narrow head of a horse. And some happily admit it might well be a beguiling hybrid of the two -- a perfect example of the mischievous, often anthropomorphic imagination of the Spanish-bred artist who spent most of his life in France.

Giving breath to this model are recordings by Studs Terkel who was on the scene when the sculpture was unveiled on Aug. 15, 1967. He asked ordinary Chicagoans to comment on the work and their answers suggest it was not exactly love at first sight.

"It's like pickles and ice cream," said one passerby. "It looks like a lady -- Cleopatra in a sense," said another. It captures "the confusion of present time's society." "It's a steel monstrosity; but at least it won't burn."

And then there was the woman who got it just right: "It represents that Chicago will always be progressive, and keep rising."

The creation of that sculpture for Chicago -- a gift from the artist, and his first monumental work of public sculpture -- came rather late in his life. (He died in 1973, at the age of 91.) And not only had he never visited this city, but he had never stepped foot in the United States -- in large part because as a member of the French Communist party he was not permitted entry here.

Yet from very early on in Picasso's career, this country embraced his work in significant ways. And it is the Art Institute of Chicago that holds the distinction of being the first American museum to show his work.

How did that happen? It was all an outgrowth of the New York Armory Show of 1913 -- a landmark showcase of the work of the most audacious European artists of the time, hung alongside their forward-thinking American contemporaries.

"When some influential Chicagoans -- including Arthur Jerome Eddy, a lawyer, collector and critic -- heard about the Armory exhibition, they were determined to have it travel to Chicago," said Stephanie D'Alessandro, the show's curator and author of its catalogue. "They canceled previously planned shows, emptied some galleries, and made it happen -- displaying the work of Picasso, as well as such artists as Braque, Derain, Brancusi and Matisse."

"The Chicago show [which would go on to Boston in yet another form] attracted nearly 200,000 visitors, and really set the course for the forward yearning of this city. Although none of the Picasso paintings shown in Chicago in 1913 are in the current exhibition, the 'Head of Fernande' sculpture, seen only in New York, IS included here because it was later bequeathed to us by Alfred Stieglitz."

Arranged largely chronologically, "Picasso and Chicago" -- the first large-scale Picasso show at the Institute in 30 years, and a tribute to the centennial of the Armory show -- features about 250 works, of which 200 are drawn from the Art Institute's own formidable collection of close to 400 of Picasso's paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and other work, with an additional 50 pieces from the private collections of Chicagoans. (The only outside loan is the bristling "Woman With Gloves," from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) And it traces the arc of the artist's astoundingly prolific and varied output.

A polymath with a voracious appetite for experimentation, Picasso was, as he often portrayed himself, something of a great Minotaur -- a creature with the head of a bull, the body of a man, and a nearly unmatched spirit of obsessive creativity and experimentation.

"You can see his genius in everything," said D'Alessandro. "For example, when he learned how to make prints he took those techniques and flipped them on their head. Master printmakers loved working with him for that very reason."
Picasso was a master draftsman, as you can see in such exquisite drawings as the very early "Peasant Woman with a Shawl"; or the portrait of his first wife, Fernande Olivier; or the wistful "Pierrot and Harlequin"; or the somewhat amazonian "Dancer"; or the delicate, impossibly minimalist lines of "Three Nudes Reclining on a Beach"; or the weighty, distorted "Woman Washing Her Feet"; or the marvelous picture of animals done for a bestiary.

And if the artist's revolutionary work in Cubism marked him as cerebral, you need only look at the earlier Spanish-influenced, earth-toned paintings done before he fractured the picture plane, or the monumental "Mother and Child" (along with an excised "Fragment" from that canvas that he gave as a gift to the Institute), or even the abstract, richly textured canvas, "Head," from 1927.

And when it came to color he could be muted or bold: Look at the anguished blues of "The Old Guitarist"; the absinthe-green ink of one version of the print, "The Frugal Meal"; the exuberantly tinted patterns in the collage, "Man With a Pipe"; the clean, brilliant tones of "The Red Armchair."

It was in 1963, led by William Hartmann and other Chicago architects behind what is now the Richard J, Daley Center, contacted Picasso's friend, Roland Penrose, the British artist and poet who would act as a go-between. As D'Alessandro recounts, a delegation went to visit the artist, bringing a model of the plaza project, images of the Picasso collection in the Institute, and photos of famous Chicagoans -- among them Ernest Hemingway, whose origins here he seemed unaware of, but whose knowledge of bullfighting he happily took credit for. The deal was sealed.

Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker writer who penned the introduction to the "Picasso and Chicago" catalogue (and who will give a lecture here, "Picasso Not in America," on Feb. 21), noted that "Picasso had a mythic image of America, even as he sometimes criticized it politically."

"He idolized Orville and Wilbur Wright, and had a collection of photos of Lincoln, who he thought had 'true American elegance'. And his earliest collectors, Leo and Gertrude Stein, were Americans in Paris."

"Perhaps what made Picasso most American in spirit was how improvisational his work was," said Gopnik. "He was fabulous one day, yet could do something that was almost drek the next. And I think it's those oscillations, that sense of the instantaneous and unpremeditated, that is what we love about him."


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THE PICASSO EFFECT BEING EXPLORED THROUGHOUT ART INSTITUTE

The "Picasso and Chicago" exhibition is only the centerpiece of the Art Institute's museum-wide exploration of Picasso's impact on every aspect of modern art.

Among the many fine "satellite shows" that help put Picasso's work in context are:
± "The Artist and the Poet," an homage to Picasso's close relationships with poets and poetry featuring work by such artists as Robert Motherwell, David Hockney, Chicago's own Tony Fitzpatrick and many others.
± "Picasso and African Art," a selection of African artworks, comparable to works once owned by Picasso, suggesting how such art influenced him.
± "Picasso and American Art," showing how his work inspired American artists in the early 20th century.
± "Picasso and Spanish Golden-Age Painting," featuring works by such Spanish masters as El Greco and Velázquez, who he re-examined in late life.
± "Picasso and Cézanne," with works by the artist Picasso dubbed "a father for all of us."
± "Picasso, Man Ray, and Les Champs Délicieux," a selection of photograms byMan Ray offering insight into the two artists' friendship and artistic exchanges beginning in the early 1920s, when they first met in Paris.
± "Bacchanalia: Picasso and Ancient Greek Vases," a selection of Greek vases suggesting the influence of the classical theme of the wine god Dionysos and his entourage.
± "Public Sculpture and the Architectural Frame," a look at how architectural space has engaged with sculpture, from Beaux-Arts monuments to Picasso's work in Daley Plaza.
± "The Mark of Modernism: Published Picasso," books of classic literature, surrealist poetry, and art journals that reveal Picasso's prolific work as both a collaborator and creator of illustrated books and magazines.

In addition, along with lectures, a symposium and a screening (on March 6) of "The Mystery of Picasso," a 1956 French documentary by Henri-George Clouzot that catches Picasso at work, members of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will explore aspects of Picasso's work (Jan. 24, March 21, April 18 and May 9 in the Griffin Court).


In case you missed him during his swing through town last year, or when he played the Mayne Stage and the Schaumburg-based Improv in 2011, former Kids in the Hall/NewsRadio/A Bug's Life star Dave Foley's coming back to the heart of Chicago for three nights at Second City's UP Comedy Club in Piper's Alley.

Foley's latest project is a comedy pilot for Canada's broadcasting giant CTV.

DAVE FOLEY AT UP COMEDY CLUB
April 25 through 27 (two shows Friday and Saturday)
Tickets $25
230 W. North
3rd Floor
(312) 662-4562
www.upcomedyclub.com

Here's Foley on Marc Maron's podcast WTF

And other stuff:


To quote a man knowledgeable in such matters, get up offa that thang and shake till you feel better.

Specifically, if you want to be one of the cool kids (you do, right?), shake it Harlem-style. Even though Electronica artist/Brooklyn producer Baauer released his tune "Harlem Shake" last spring, it just recently caught fire thanks to high-profile and homemade renditions of the freestyle boogie featuring stars and everyday folks -- including Jon Stewart and the Daily Show staff on Comedy Central -- getting jiggy wit' it.

How to: start slowly and gradually build your way up to feverish -- or whatever your heart can take. And because there are no rules, anything goes. Just try not to hurt yourself, OK?


Aretha Franklin to sing at CSO fund-raiser

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Aretha Franklin will sing at Corporate Night, the annual fund-raiser benefitting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. CSO members will accompany the Queen of Soul under the direction of Fred Nelson III. Tickets to the May 20 concert at Symphony Center are $75-$175 (312-294-3000; cso.org).

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By now you've probably heard the news - two Sichuan takins, large goat antelopes, were born at the LIncoln Park Zoo on January 31 and February 9.

The lumbering, cloven-hoofed beasts certainly have their charms, but on Valentine's Day, we wonder, are takins for lovers?

One zoo employee seems to think so.

"A pair of healthy takin baby boys is way better than candy and roses," said General Curator Dave Bernier, who serves at the Species Survival Plan (SSP) Coordinator for the Sichuan takin across North American zoos, in a statement from the zoo. "It is great to have two youngsters at the same time for the animals' social development, and we can look forward to some exciting play behavior in the near future."

Here's to takin' about - and having - a good time with these little guys. You can help name them here.

Dame Maggie Smith herself, or so she says.

Smith tells CBS' "60 Minutes" that she's never watched the trans-Atlantic hit. She'd rather wait until it's all finished, otherwise she'll second-guess herself too much.

Not sure I buy it when actors say they don't watch their own work. Smith might be fibbing here. Not that I can tell. She's too good of an actress, after all.

Here's a clip of her upcoming "60 Minutes" interview. Judge for yourself:

Dance, dance revolution

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Dance away this Valentine's Day with an all-afternoon dance party, part of the One Billion Rising event working to raise awareness about sexual assault.

Chicago's Rape Victims Advocates are throwing the party at River East Art Center, 435 E. Illinois St.

Among those moving and grooving will be Cheerobix, BeMoved, Psalm One, DJ All the Way Kay, the Fabulous Ladies of Fitness (FLOF), KOKUMO, a "Power of the Mic" panel discussion, Spudnik Press, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon and the Windy City Rollers.

For more details, click here.

Proud papa Steve Martin & Rangers set Chicago Theatre gig

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Newly revealed 'Papa' Steve Martin and his Steep Canyon Rangers are headed to the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, for a July 25 gig. Singer Edie Brickell joins them.
Tickets go on sale at 11 a.m. March 1 at www.ticketmaster.com.
Catch a listen of Martin & Brickell's new single off their upcoming album here http://nyr.kr/12r4vGA. The album, "Love Has Come For You," is due out April 23.

Picasso and Chicago

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The Art Institute of Chicago hosted its press preview this morning for its latest exhibit "Picasso and Chicago." I'm not an art critic, but if you love Chicago and the city's history and haven't been to the Art Institute recently, this is the exhibit for you.

Chicago and the Art Institute have a long and rich history with the Spanish artist. The Art Institute was the first American museum to showcase Picasso's work, part of its historic Armory show a century ago. The museum acquired its most well-known Picasso work, "Old Guitarist," in 1926.

And of course in the center of the city is the Picasso sculpture, the artist's first "monumental sculpture" that was unveiled in 1967. The new exhibit touches on it all, weaving Picasso's life and work in with Chicago civic and art history.

"Picasso and Chicago," the museum's first Picasso exhibit in nearly 30 years, runs from Wednesday, Feb. 20 through Sunday, May 12. A members preview is scheduled for Feb 18 - 19.

On another note, does Stephanie D'Alessandro, Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, ever sleep? She curated the 2010 "Matisse: Radical Invention" exhibit and then started work on the Picasso project immediately after. Somewhere in there she oversaw the restoration and move of the museum's Marc Chagall's "America Windows."

D'Alessandro said Thursday her hope is that the exhibit inspires people to imagine the city's art scene and the life of the artist.

"We live every day with a Picasso sculpture in Chicago," she said. "It's so remarkable we have that work."

By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The wonderful production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe- The Songs of Leiber and Stoller," which became a big hit for the vibrant Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Rogers Park earlier this season, is getting a commercial transfer. Under the producing entity SJCCProductions , the show- directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier, with music direction by Jeremy Ramey - will move to the Royal George TheatreCabaret, 1641 N. Halsted. The full original cast will return.
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The show, featuring such pop classics as "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Love Potion No.9," will run March 7-May 26. For tickets ($25-$46.50), phone (312) 988-9000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

The bio on celebrated jazz guitarist John Moulder's web site mentions the recordings he has made, the musicians he has worked with, his appearances on stage and television. It notes that he got his masters in music from Northwestern and is currently a faculty member there as well as at Benedictine University and Roosevelt University's College of the Performing Arts. He's also given many master classes around the country.

The bio leaves out one thing: John Moulder is also a man of the cloth. A padre. A priest. He was ordained at St. Gregory's in Chicago. And he's using his considerable talents not only to entertain, but to care for those in need. Come March 13 at the Jazz Showcase, during the Chi-Town Jazz Festival Moulder founded, he'll jam for the fourth consecutive year to feed the hungry.

"I have found that a lot of players are supportive of who I am," Moulder told Chicago Jazz Magazine in January, "and the balance of music and ministerial life."

If you can't catch Moulder in March, he's playing before then with his quartet -- also at the Jazz Showcase -- on Wednesday, February 20.

And keep an eye on the Sun-Times Weekend section Friday, March 8 for a feature on Moulder, his music and his community outreach.

JOHN MOULDER QUARTET
Jazz Showcase
Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Tickets $5-$10
www.jazzshowcase.com


By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Redmoon , the unique Chicago theater operation that specializes in grand-scale spectacles staged both outdoors and on standard stages, is on the move. It is leaving its longtime headquarters in the West Loop for a new 57,000-square-foot space at 2120 S. Jefferson in Pilsen, with backing from 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, the Department if Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Mayor's Office, all of whom want to make Pilsen more of a vibrant cultural district.

Redmoon, founded in 1990 and co-directed by Frank Maugeri and Jim Lasko, will inaugurate its new space, which can accommodate 1000 people, on March 9 with its Spectacle Lunatique benefit. For information visit www.redmoon.org.

John Mayer, here's your Easter destination

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Just announced: The Music Box's Easter Special featuring "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

The Music Box will screen the classic musical, starring the incomparable Gene Wilder (and it's SO much better than the 2005 remake), at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 31. On its site, the theater invites fans to "pig out on candy, wear your best Veruca (or Augustus!) costume and join in with the rest of the audience as our MC leads the house in pre-show singing!"

If only John Mayer, who looked very Wonka-ish at the Grammy Awards, could be there. After all, he already has the suit.

For more details, go to musicboxtheatre.com.

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Lady Gaga cancels tour to have hip surgery

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A day after postponing her Chicago concerts, Lady Gaga has canceled them for good, along with the rest of her tour.
Tour promoter Live Nation said Wednesday that a tear in her right hip will require surgery followed by a recovery period.
Refunds are available at the point of purchase.
The pop star had 21 dates through March 20 remaining on her "Born This Way Ball" tour schedule. She postponed four dates on Tuesday, including two this week at the United Center, after telling fans in a tweet she'd hurt herself some time ago, but hid the injury from her staff.
Over the last month, the injury became worse and she said she was unable to walk following a performance Monday in Montreal.
AP

Michelle Williams talks 'FELA!' and Destiny's Child

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Michelle Williams hits town next week with the national touring production of "FELA!" at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (tickets at www.broadwayinchicago.com)

She talked to me about Destiny's Child, starring in a Broadway musical and chocolate chip pancakes, among other things.

About the big Super Bowl halftime show reunion with Beyonce and Kelly Rowland, Williams said: "It was just absolutely so much fun. In rehearsals we were just out of control having fun. It was just us being the giddy young women that we were when we first met each other. When you get back with your girlfriends it's this special freedom you have to just be goofy around each other. We just picked up where we left off. It was the same feeling when we were in the studio recording "Nuclear." We still sounded amazing together. It's this divine connection we have."

Get the full story at www.suntimes.com/entertainment.

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

"MIKE TYSON: UNDISPUTED TRUTH" AT THE CADILLAC PALACE THEATRE

Given all that he tells us during the course of his 100-minute solo show, "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" -- at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre for just two nights -- the indisputable miracle is that this

What's more, Tyson turns out to be a compelling storyteller -- funny, self-aware and fully capable of filling a vast stage (empty aside from the occasional projected photo or video clip), while holding a large audience at full attention in a way that many experienced actors never quite master. I confess, I was happily stunned. And if ever there were proof that American life is not only FULL of second acts -- but capable of supplying at least a dirty dozen of them -- this is your show of shows. Only in America.

As for its moral uplift -- well, it's a mixed bag on that count, though Tyson (with a script by his current wife, Kiki Tyson) certainly is a man in search of both setting the record straight and finding redemption.

The show opens with Tyson seated on a chair, his bald head resting in his hand, and the sound of Nat King Cole singing what might be the most incongruous of songs, "Nature Boy," whose lyrics describe "a very strange, enchanted boy." (I suspect that might be a canny little addition by way of director Spike Lee, who came on board when the show headed to Broadway. And it works its disarming effect.)

Tyson starts at the very beginning, with a rare photograph of his mother, who died young (of alcohol abuse, cancer, heartbreak), and a birth certificate that bears the name of a father who probably wasn't his biological dad. Then (with just the slightest lisp that marks his speech), he describes growing up on the pre-gentrified streets of Brooklyn, his frequent visits to juvenile detention centers, his emergence as a tough guy. He also introduces us to his early mentors, both white -- Bobby Stewart, a former boxer, and his beloved, grandfatherly trainer, Cus D'Amato

Of course by age 20 Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. And his life in the ring seems far easier than his life outside it. Success brought him fame, money and all the rest, but he was still an eighth-grade dropout (though literate) -- angry, naive, impulsive, self-destructive.

Tyson saves his lingering rage for a handful of people: His first wife, actress Robin Givens (and her mother); beauty queen Desiree Washington, who charged him with rape, for which he was sent to prison; and Don King, the boxing impresario who took him to the cleaners and back again

He is more amused than angry at a former nutcase opponent, boxer Mitch Green (a story that goes on a bit too long). He is happily reconciled with Evander Holyfield, despite the infamous ear bite scandal. He tells surprising stories about Florence Henderson (of "The Brady Bunch"), briefly touches on his introduction to Islam in prison, confesses his cocaine habit (kicked more than four years ago). And most crucially, he ends the show by admitting that he has been remiss as a father to his eight children (one of whom died as a tot). He knows it will probably take years for the older ones to forgive him. And that, to be sure, is the undisputed truth.

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'JULIUS CAESAR'
RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 24
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Tickets: $58-$78
Info: (312) 595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission


Here is the incendiary little idea that came to mind as I watched British director Jonathan Munby's emphatically contemporary, alternately intimate and spectacle-filled version of "Julius Caesar" that opened Wednesday night at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Why not video the production, dub it into Arabic, Russian, Belorussian, any number of African languages and many others, and then send it out via all the relevant social media as a cautionary tale? It would go viral.

Of course Shakespeare's plays have already made their way into all of these places. But "Julius Caesar" certainly does seem custom-made for them at the moment -- and perhaps far too dangerous to get an airing. As for its relevance to THIS country? Well, we've had our share of assassinations, but we also have our safeguards.

I confess that the "pre-show" for this production had me worried. It smacked of a grade school intro as "the masses" gathered beneath the steps of the massive white marble Roman Forum set by Alexander Dodge, and a political button-seller and hotdog vendor worked the street alongside placard holders and flash-mob dancers. But happily things more or less settled down as soon as Shakespeare was allowed to take over.

The story here is straightforward: Caesar (David Darlow), a military man of great accomplishments and considerable maturity, is being tempted with a crown. He demurs, but one senator, Cassius (Jason Kolotouros) suspects he really wants to seize such power and he proceeds to convince his brother-in-law, Brutus (John Light), an admirer of Caesar, that it is their patriotic duty to murder their leader and save the Roman republic.

The assassination indeed goes forward in exceptionally bloody fashion. And the manipulative Cassius, and the more ambivalent, morally high-minded Brutus, shrewdly decide to permit Caesar's loyal supporter, Marc Anthony (the easily eloquent Dion Johnstone, a veteran of Canada's Stratford Festival), to preside at the funeral, believing he will give them "cover." Instead, his subtle tribute to Caesar results in chaos in the streets. And civil war is set in motion -- much as we have seen the scenario play out, in one variation or another, so many times in recent years.

Munby's production can feel somewhat hyperbolic and cliched in the big action scenes. But the crucial arguments between Cassius and Brutus are expertly done. And in an exceptionally large cast, there is great clarity in many moments: From the wily Casca (the ever riveting Larry Yando as a crucial turncoat senator, as well as the show's expert vocal coach); to the heated relationship between Brutus and his perceptive wife, Portia (the splendid Brenda Barrie); to the sweet trust between Brutus and his innocent young aide, Lucius (a most winning Alex Weisman); to the clearly shallow character of Caesar's young successor, Octavius (Samuel Taylor); and to the madwoman Soothsayer (haunted and haunting vocalizing by McKinley Carter).

Chicago Shakespeare's audiences are by now well aware that the playwright remains our contemporary in the most uncanny ways. So all the extra, overly obvious bells and whistles and "signs of our time" seem unnecessary. And really, if you've got the Roman Forum as your backdrop at least give us a gelato stand.

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By Allison Horton
ahorton@suntimes.com

If you miss the '90s and R&B is your jam, hit up the Arie Crown Theater Thursday night.

While it's the romantic holiday, both singles and couple can celebrate the holiday by dancing up a sweat at the New Jack Swing Valentine Jam. The lineup includes Tony, Toni, Tone; SWV; Dru Hill; and Al B. Sure.

Dwayne Wiggins of Tony, Toni, Tone said he is looking forward to performing on his birthday, which falls on Valentine's Day.

This year also marks the group's 25th anniversary in the music business, Wiggins said.
"Expect us to celebrate like it's our anniversary, no pun intended," said Wiggins, alluding to the group's 1993 hit single "Anniversary."

Tony Toni Tone was comprised of brothers Raphael Saadiq and Wiggins along with cousin Timothy Christian Riley. Since 1998, cousin Amar Khalil, who has been a part of the band since its creation, has sung lead vocals while Saadiq pursued a solo career.

The group remains a family affair, Wiggins said, with Saadiq popping up and performing from time to time.
"Our group is so much family," Wiggins said. "When we get together it is so special because the music is more than just songs to us.

"The music represents what we were going through and were learning," Wiggins said. "It is beautiful to be able to still celebrate like that."

Dancing with Chicago celebrities set for March 8

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Chicagoans are asked to step out for a worthy cause for the Dancing with Chicago Celebrities charity ball on March 8 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker.

Proceeds from the fund raiser will benefit area charities working to fight breast cancer. This year's primary beneficiary of the net proceeds is the Northwestern Memorial Foundation, where funds raised will be directed to an innovative research effort supporting a breast cancer vaccine trial. Additional funds will be directed to grantees of the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Chicagoland Affiliate.

Local celebs scheduled to put on their dancing shoes this year include reporter Stefan Holt (NBC5-Chicago), Miss Illinois Megan Ervin, reporter Michelle Gallardo (ABC7-Chicago) and former Chicago Bears player Anthony Adams, among others. Also slated for the evening are Celebrity Dancing alums Rick Bayless (2006 champ), Val Warner ("Windy City Live" and reporter Kim Vatis (NBC5-Chicago).

The event will also feature a live auction, raffle, food, music and professional dancing performances.

Festivities begin at 6 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets for $175, donate to the cause or to support a celebrity, visit www.amdwcc.org. or call (630) 699-6327.


SHAW CHICAGO TO CELEBRATE THEATER ICON CORNELIA OTIS SKINNER
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The ShawChicago Theatre Company, which devotes every breath it takes to the work of George Bernard Shaw, is staging a most intriguing benefit under the title, "The Art of Cornelia Otis Skinner."

The Chicago-born Skinner emerged from the proverbial "theater trunk" -- launched as an actress when she went to work in her father, Otis Skinner's, company at The Empire Theatre in New York in a 1921 production of "Blood and Sand." She would go on to make a career for herself--not only as an actress, but as an author, playwright, and the nation's foremost performer of modern monologues and unique costume dramas for a single actress. She carried the art of solo drama to its peak, most often portraying multiple characters with a common interest or experience -- or, as in the works to be done at the benefit -- with a common love.

The ShawChicago benefit program, starring veteran actress Barbara Zahora, will feature two of Skinner's famous monodramas -- "The Loves of Charles II" and "Paris '90." Adapted and directed by ShawChicago artistic director Robert Scogin, these unique solo performances explore the dynamic women of England's Merry Monarch and the world of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, respectively.


"The Art of Cornelia Otis Skinner," will be performed March 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. Tickets range from $55 ($20 tax deductible) to $110 ($75 tax deductible) and are on sale now. For more information call (312) 587-7390 or visit www.shawchicago.org.



by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Tamberla Perry, the Chicago actress who has worked on most of the city's major stages, and is familiar to many as the woman on WGN who draws the numbers for the Illinois Lottery, has been cast in the title role of "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark." The play, by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage ("Ruined"), will receive its Chicago debut at the Goodman Theatre, April 27-June 2.

The production, to be directed by Goodman Theatre resident director Chuck Smith, is a satire that "pulls back the curtain on the glamorous film studios of the old Hollywood of the 1930s," and ultimately fast-forwards to the early 1970s as it explores the notion of African-American identity in the movies.

The Goodman cast also will include Patrick Clear, Chike Johnson, Taron Patton, Ron Rains, Amelia Workman and Kara Zediker.

Tickets ($25 - $81 go on sale Feb. 15 . Call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org

Daddy Yankees wants you to sing along with 'Limbo'

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Urban Latin hitmaker Daddy Yankee announced Tuesday that he launched a virtual karaoke contest called "Sing With Daddy Yankee" via his Facebook page.

To promote his latest single, "Limbo," currently No. 1 for the third week on Billboard's Latin songs chart, the Big Boss has invited fans to record a video of themselves singing the hit. The contest runs through March 11. The creators of the two videos with the most "Likes" each will receive a pair of DY's signature PRO edition headphones.

For contest details, go to www.facebook.com/daddyyankee?sk=app_116272508446233

Lady Gaga postpones Chicago shows

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Live Nation Global Touring confirmed today that due to a case of synovitis (severe inflammation of joints), Lady Gaga's doctor has order her to postpone The Born This Way Ball performance in Chicago at the United Center on February 13 & 14. Ticketholders are asked to hold on to their tickets pending a rescheduled date.

THOSE TALENTED NUSSBAUMS

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THOSE TALENTED NUSSBAUMS

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Like father, like daughter.

Mike Nussbaum, now 89, needs no introduction. The veteran Chicago actor and early David Mamet "muse" -- who recently spent six months starring as Sigmund Freud in "Freud's Last Session" at the Mercury Theater -- is about to discuss his portrayal, and more, when he appears Feb. 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, 122 S. Michigan (Room 1323) as part of its Dialogues with Creators Series.

Nussbaum will be interviewed by Christine Sterkel, MD, faculty member at the Institute. Advance registration is required. For tickets ($25 or $10 for students), call (312) 922-7474, ext. 324.

Meanwhile, Mike's daughter, Chicago actress-writer-activist Susan Nussbaum, is celebrating the publication of the paperback edition of her book, "Good Kings, Bad Kings" which received the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. She also will be part of the upcoming Chicago Bodies of Work Festival (May 15-25), a multi-venue festival featuring the work of national and international visual and performing artists with disabilities.

On May 18, from 2-4 p.m., Susan Nussbaum will sign and read from her book -- her first novel -- at Woman Made Gallery, 685. N. Milwaukee Ave. Admission is free. The book follows the lives of residents at the ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, "where friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin, in an atmosphere of neglect and abuse. In this alliance the residents of ILLC ultimately find the strength to resist their mistreatment and fight back."

A lifelong Chicago resident, Nussbaum's plays have been produced at many theaters. In 2008 she was cited by the Utne Reader as one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" for her work with girls with disabilities. To learn more, visit womanmade.org.


Chicago's Aqvavit Theater Stages Norwegian Triptych at Storefront

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

A TASTE OF SCANDINAVIA (AND BEYOND)

In recent years Chicago theater has become as globally oriented as the city itself, with visiting companies headed to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, a wide range of European playwrights putting their work in the hands of Trap Door Theatre and other companies, and coming soon, the latest edition of the International Voices Project (running March 7-17 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln), with readings of plays from Switzerland, Italy, France, Egypt, Canada, Austria, Brazil and Wales. (For additional information visit www.ivpchicago.org.)


A relative newcomer on the scene is Akvavit Theatre, which takes its name from the traditional flavoured spirit that has been principally produced in Scandinavia since the 15th century, and bears the distinctive flavor of spices and herbs, most notably caraway or dill.

The company, established in 2010, and led by Bergen Anderson and Chad Eric Bergman, was created "to investigate and encourage discussion about what 'Nordic' means, and how it is perceived through translated theater performance." Its goal is to give Nordic countries a stronger voice in North America. And the company's focus is entirely on contemporary Nordic plays. As its mission statement declares: "You won't be seeing Strindberg or Ibsen any time soon."

What you WILL be seeing soon is an ambitious project under the umbrella title of "Gjenganger" (Norwegian for "those who walk again"). It's a triptych by Jon Fosse, the acclaimed Norwegian playwright, that includes "A Summer's Day" (directed by Wm. Bullion), "Autumn Dream" (directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch) and "Winter" (directed by Paul S. Holmquist). The plays will be presented Feb. 28 - March 24, running in rotation (two per night on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and all three on Sundays) at the Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph.

Though the three plays are closely related, with overlapping characters and themes, they do not have a linear narrative. Instead, they are described as rich in "depictions of hard truths about the human condition, transcending the locales and settings of each, while speaking to the larger issues of our times." The world premiere translations presented here are by Kyle Korynta, with Bergman serving as dramaturg and designer. Original musical arrangements for the plays are by Dag Juhlin of Poi Dog Pondering.

Though said to be Europe's most-produced living playwright, Fosse's work has been rarely produced in the United States. But "A Summer's Day" was presented by Off Broadway's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in 2012, with Karen Allen in the leading role of an older woman who still aches for the young husband who disappeared suddenly many years earlier. The New York Times described Fosse as "much celebrated in Europe for his Beckettian austerity, opaque mysticism and his portrayal of time as both a liberator and a destroyer."

For tickets call (800) 595-4849) or visit www.tix.com or www.akvavittheatre.org.

Tari Kelly to star in Lyric Opera's 'Oklahoma!

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Broadway veteran Tari Kelly has been cast as Ado Annie in the upcoming Lyric Opera production of "Oklahoma!". The new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic will be directed by Gary Griffin and conducted by James Lowe.
Kelly, a graduate of the Theatre School at DePaul University most recently starred in the Broadway revival of "Anything Goes" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Already set for the cast are John Cudia as Curly, Ashley Brown and Laurey, David Adam Moore as Jud and Curtis Holbrook as Will Parker.
Performances will run May 4-19 at the Civic Opera House. Tickets, $32-$153 are available by phone at (312) 332-2244 or online at www. lyricopera.org

Ribfest Chicago set for June 7-9

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The 15th anniversary of Ribfest Chicago is slated for June 7-9 on Lincoln Ave. between Irving Park and Berteau.
The 3-day festival includes plenty of barbecue, plus the 4th annual RibMania challenge featuring 10 top-ranked professional eaters in a rib-eating contest on June 7.
In addition to live music courtesy of 20 scheduled bands, the annual Kids Square on June 8-9 will feature plenty of activities for children and families.
A $5 donation is requested.
For more information, visit www.Ribfest-Chicago.com or call the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce at (773) 525-3609.

Penelope Cruz, Jamie Lynn-Sigler expecting babies

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Make room in the Hollywood maternity ward for Jamie Lynn-Sigler and Penelope Cruz.
Sigler, who played Meadow on "The Sopranos" and now is on "Guys With Kids," is expecting a kid, her rep confirmed to USA Today.
The 31-year-old actress announced last month she's engaged to minor league ballplayer Cutter Dykstra, the son of former major league All-Star Lenny Dykstra, via Twitter on Jan. 28.
He's 23.
The publicist for Cruz, an Oscar winner for "Vicky Christina Barcelona," confirmed rumors she's expecting a second child with husband Javier Bardem, 43.
No further details, including due date, were revealed.
Cruz, 38, had son Leo in January 2011.


Mercury Theater Chicago Announces Casting for Rare Revival of "Barnum" Musical
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


The Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport, which inaugurated its first subscription season this winter with "A Grand Night for Singing: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein" (running through March 10), has announced the high-profile cast for its upcoming production of the rarely revived circus-themed musical, "Barnum," running March 27-June 16.

Leading the way as showman P.T. Barnum will be Gene Weygandt, the Chicago veteran with a long list of Broadway, TV, and film credits, including the role of Jean Shepherd in "A Christmas Story: The Musical." Cory Goodrich will costar as his wife Charity, and Summer Naomi Smart will play Barnum's love interest, "'Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind. The Mercury's production -- the first major Chicago revival of the show in more than 20 years -- will be helmed by Jeff Award winners L. Walter Stearns (director), Eugene Dizon (musical director), Brenda Didier and Andrew Waters (co-choreographers) and Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi of the Actor's Gymnasium (circus director).

Along with capturing that unique impresario, Phineas Taylor Barnum, the musical looks at the tale of the American Museum, the smallest man, the oldest woman, the largest elephant and more, with acrobatics, variety acts and whimsical magic and puppetry all part of the storytelling.The Mercury Theater cast also will feature Kevin McKillip as "the Ringmaster" and Christian Libonati as the world's smallest man, "General Tom Thumb." The circus performers are Karissa Barney, Nathan Drackett, Kris Hyland, Taylor Krasne-Wilton, Jeremy Sonkin, Ryan Westwood and J. Tyler Whitmer. (NOTE: Bethany Thomas, initially cast as the oldest woman alive in "Barnum," will instead be seen in the Marriott Theatre production of "South Pacific.")


With a score by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart, and a book by Mark Bramble, "Barnum" was originally produced on Broadway in 1980.


For tickets ($25-$59), call (773) 325-1700 or visit www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.

Lady Gaga, LPC: Pre-concert counseling offered

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There are easy jokes to be had here -- like, if you're at a Lady Gaga concert voluntarily, you probably do need some counseling, ha ha -- but actually this is a serious matter and an interesting idea.

Lady Gaga is making professional mental health counseling available to fans before each concert on her current Born This Way Ball Tour, which stops Wednesday night at Chicago's United Center.

By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The Off Broadway hit, "Old Jews Telling Jokes," a revue that pays homage to classic Jewish humor and reinvents time-tested jokes, will be getting a Chicago production this fall The show, created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, and directed by Marc Bruni, will begin a limited engagement at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted on Sept.24, with a five-actor cast still to be announced.

For tickets, $49-$59, call (312) 388-9000 or visit Ticketmaster.

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Two Chicago-area players are facing off in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, which starts Feb. 13.

The tournament brings together the top Jeopardy! players from the past season. This year's group includes Fenwick High School teacher Colby Burnett, who won $100,000 in the Teacher's Tournament, and Ashok Poozhikunnel, an underwriter from Wheaton, Ill., who won $69,002 during the regular season.

Burnett will be playing Feb. 14 and Poozhikunnel plays his quarter-final match on Feb. 19. I played in the 2011 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions and have one piece of advice for these players - threesome will never be the correct answer. Or question, since on Jeopardy! the answer is the question.

Anyway, the winner has already been determined. Here's hoping this group of fierce competitors will stay in touch in the same way I have with those I competed against. #tocove, baby!

Check out more about the contestants and the tournament here.

mtvU sports new Woodie Award nominations

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Chicago's Matthew Santos performs at the 2007 mtvU Woodie Awards. (Getty Images)


Now that your Grammys hangover has worn off, how about another cheeseball music awards show?

Nominations were announced this morning for the mtvU Woodie Awards. Vying for chunks of wood this year are Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, MGK, Jack White, fun., Avicii, Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, Best Coast, Grimes, A$AP Rocky, Frank Ocean, Zedd, twenty|one|pilots and more.

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Latin rock superstar Juanes, who just picked up his second Grammy Award, announced additional dates Monday for his upcoming "Loud & Unplugged Tour."

Already booked is a June 13 date at the Congress Theater in Chicago. New dates include New York City (June 22, Radio City Music Hall) and Washington, D.C. (June 19, Wolf Trap). A day after winning the Latin pop album Grammy for his "MTV Unplugged" disc, the Colombian singer-songwriter launched the tour with an exclusive private concert Monday in Los Angeles for 600 fans. For more tour details, go to juanes.net.

Though Juanes holds a record for most Latin Grammy wins ever with 19, his prize for "MTV Unplugged" marks only his second "regular" Grammy. He also performed Sunday on the Grammy telecast (above), in a tribute to Elton John, singing the Rocket Man's "Your Song" in English and Spanish.

Meanwhile, the Congress continues to the leading local venue for Latin rock and pop. Also recently booked: Spain's Mikel Erentxun, on a rare U.S. tour, March 21, and Lila Downs, winner of this year's regional Mexican Grammy for her outstanding "Pecados y Milagros," March 30. (It topped this writer's best Latin music discs list of 2011.) More details: congresschicago.com

Game over for G4, soon to be Esquire Network

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The geeky G4 network is getting a makeover.

The cable channel will be renamed the Esquire Network starting April 22, announced its owner, NBCUniversal. It's a partnership with Esquire magazine, the classy publication that has advised men on fashion, entertainment and really lovable women for some 80 years.

It's a move to another level for G4, which caters to nerdy dudes 18-34 with programming largely about video games and gadgets. Some of that will live on. The popular series "American Ninja Warrior" will continue, supplemented by movies, reruns of "Parks and Recreation" and "Party Down," and new shows including a cooking competition, "Knife Fight," and a travel series, "The Getaway."

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No one puts Katy Perry in a dress code.

Not even the fashion police at CBS.

The pop singer chose a mint green Gucci gown to wear to the Grammys with her gal pal Allison Williams. But when she ran into another power couple, Ellen Degeneres found her fashion choice a bit revealing. "Here I am taking a tasteful glance at Katy Perry's dress," the talk show host tweeted, while sending a picture of herself and her wife Portia de Rossi.

Katy Perry says she was inspired by Priscilla Presley during the Elvis years.

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NEW YORK -- While the Grammy Awards couldn't come close to the freakishly high ratings generated in 2012 because of Whitney Houston's death and Adele's smashing success, this year's show had the second-largest audience for the program since 1993.

The Nielsen company said Monday that music's annual awards show was seen by 28.4 million people Sunday night on CBS.

The Grammys this year were packed with high-powered musical moments and, in its awards, celebrated the industry's diversity rather than overwhelmingly honoring one artist. It also had a few water-cooler moments: Which boyfriend was Taylor Swift (above, far left) specifically dissing in her latest performance of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"? Was Chris Brown flaunting his revived relationship with Rihanna?

The music academy's decision to turn the televised Grammys into more of a showcase than an awards show appears to be bearing fruit, too. The show's audience was nearly 2 million higher than the 26.7 million who watched in 2011. From 2005 to 2009, the Grammy Awards audience fluctuated from 17 million to 20 million viewers.

Last year, 39.9 million people tuned in to see how the industry would react to Houston's death just before the awards and celebrate the coronation of its hottest star, Adele, who won six Grammys.

This year's show featured the musical return of Justin Timberlake, collaborations honoring Bob Marley and Levon Helm, and performances by the majority of stars up for major awards.

The Grammys far outpaced the Emmys, which had 13.3 million viewers last September for its more traditional awards show, and the Golden Globes, which had 19.7 million viewers in January. The upcoming Oscars usually get more than 30 million viewers.

AP


By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'TEDDY FERRARA'
SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 3
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Tickets: $14-$45
Info: (312) 443-3800; www.GoodmanTheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission


Were I a student at "the large state university" that serves as the backdrop for "Teddy Ferrara," the Christopher Shinn play now in its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre, I would be driven to protest the lack of old-fashioned intellectual engagement being carried on at the school. I would object to the fact that the most crucial function of the university was being completely eclipsed by issues of sex, lies, webcamming, texting, sexting, and politics of both the ordinary and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) variety. I might even be tempted to demand a tuition refund.

But without all these distractions, there would be no play. The raison d'etre of "Teddy Ferrara" -- which telegraphs its every message, even if from time to time it puts a redeeming twist on well-worn stereotypes -- is to explore the pain, alienation and provocation of those outside the sexual mainstream. Of course the ubiquity of social media and its viral potential for doing harm only up the ante. And plenty of heterosexual college kids aren't all that happy or socially well-adjusted either.

Drawing loosely on the 2010 case of a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate made and promoted a secret webcam showing him having sex with another man, Shinn spins a story of "poisonous" attitudes towards gays and others on campus. Yet in many cases the fault lies within themselves far more than their sexual orientations.

Gabe (Liam Benzvi) is the earnest senior who runs the university's Queer Students Group and is vying for Student Council president. His new boyfriend is Drew (Adam Poss), the sexy, dangerously manipulative editor of a campus paper who has been digging up dirt about a student suicide a year earlier with the help of his much-abused reporter, Nicky (Rashaad Hall), another decent guy. A distraction for both Gabe and Drew is Tim (Josh Salt), a seemingly straight guy with a girlfriend, Jenny (Paloma Nozicka).

Enter Teddy (Ryan Heindl), who appears to be a lost, lonely, slightly weird Freshman. As it turns out, he has a very active online sex life and a serious proclivity for sexting. His roommate will expose him on video and he will do just as that Rutger's student did. Should more attention have been paid?

Meanwhile, the university president (Patrick Clear, terrific in priceless Joe Biden-mode), is hoping to launch a senatorial campaign soon. And, in league with the provost (Janet Ulrich Brooks), he struggles awkwardly (even comically) to manage the ever-escalating campus scandals being orchestrated by his arch-enemy, gay activist Ellen (Kelli Simpkins).

Along the way we also meet the seemingly balanced Jaq (Jax Jackson), and Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano), who is both gay and handicapped, and whose treatment by the other gay students is neatly hypocritical.

Directed by Evan Cabnet, the large cast is effective. But from the start, the writing is on the wall, and we've read it many times before.


Train headed to FMBA

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Train brings their Mermaids of Alcatraz Tour to the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater on July 21. Special guests include Gavin DeGraw and the Script.

Tickets go on sale Feb. 15 at 10 a.m. at Live Nation.

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By Hedy Weiss
Theater and Dance Critic

Experienced theatergoers know all the little tricks for catching live theater at less-than-sticker prices. They can subscribe, or head to Hot-Tix, or go for the group rate, or whip out their student or senior citizen IDs, or even volunteer to usher.

Now, with the establishment of the first annual Chicago Theatre Week, running Feb. 12-17 -- a project of the League of Chicago Theatres, in partnership with Choose Chicago -- avid theatergoers also can take advantage of discounted tickets and added incentives for more than 100 shows currently running at theaters throughout the city. The hope is that both locals and tourists will venture out "to see a live show."

Each participating theater will offer $15 or $30 tickets throughout the week. Purchase tickets here.

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Justin Willman is a 32-year-old magician who hosts "Cupcake Wars," a Food Network show that pits cupcake maker against cupcake maker to see who can create the ultimate cupcake. While Willman considers himself a magician first and cupcake host second, he was happy to weigh in on America's fascination with cupcakes, a baked good trend that shows no sign of slowing.

"Even the most amazing expensive cupcake is going to be about four or five bucks," Willman said recently in an interview with the Sun-Times. "For four or five bucks even in a rough economy you can still eat like a king. It's this little bit of decadence. They are delicious little things and I'm happy to be part of the wave."

Willman brings his "Tricked Out Magic Tour" on Feb. 16 to the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, Chicago. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $120 and the show is for 21 years old and over. For more information or call (773) 478-4408.

No word if the show is BYOC - Bring Your Own Cupcake.

The first and only time I met Crystal Bowersox, the gifted former "American Idol" runner-up (many thought she was robbed during season 9) and Chicago resident who'll soon appear at Space in Evanston and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, we were at a small bar in Wrigleyville. Her very talented husband Brian Walker -- whom I had just profiled for the Sun-Times -- was at the tail-end of his late-night acoustic set when "Mama" (that's what he calls her) came strolling in and bellied up.

Bowersox and I had talked several times by phone, and the interviews were generally very friendly. But this time was a bit different. When Walker finished I approached Bowersox, tapped her lightly on the shoulder (she was facing away from me and I didn't want to startle her), and said, "I know you hated the story I wrote about Brian, but I just wanted to introduce myself in person."

Her reply, "Yeah, I did. I really did."

Gotta give her points for honesty. Then again, I'd been told beforehand, that's part of what she loathed about the article: it was too honest. Anyway, she thanked me for coming out, which was swell. And I remain a fan. Onstage, as you might know from watching "Idol" -- and as you'll see if you catch her at Space or the Arcada -- Bowersox has the goods.

Crystal Bowersox Chicago Appearances

Space (with Monte Mar)
1245 Chicago Ave.
Evanston
Friday, March 1 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $17-$30
www.evanstonspace.com
(847) 492-8860

Arcada Theatre
105 E. Main St.
St. Charles
Saturday, March 2 at 8 p.m.
Tickets $15-$39
21+
www.oshows.com
(630) 962-7000


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While CBS execs ripped a ticket from Joan River's fashion police's notebook, the network's sartorial suggestions raised the style bar at the Grammy's Sunday night.

As Deadline.com first reported, the network attempted to curb the obvious in-your-face-female-anatomy lessons. And for the first time in recent Grammy red carpet presentations -- ladies certainly will land on the best-dressed lists, rather than called out for epic don'ts.

No word if CBS staffers issued citations at the door.

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By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'Bengal TIGER at the Baghdad Zoo'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 17
Where: Lookingglass Theatre at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan
Tickets: $36-$70
Info: (312) 337-0665; www.lookingglasstheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

Evil exists in this world. War is a madness that makes unhinged beasts of us all. And as for just where God happens to be in all this -- well, if you listen closely to "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," Rajiv Joseph's dark, mournful, disorienting and very angry play, "His" existence is beyond problematic. "He is wild," concludes the tiger of the title. "And maybe HE should be in a cage."

In a Black History Month tribute to such legendary African American comics as Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson and Chicago's own Bernie Mac, several of their lesser known brethren in yuks will take to the stage Saturday, Feb. 23 for an evening of laughter and remembrance -- and even a few classic bits. Homegrown comic Ronnie Ray will emcee the event, which takes place at the new Chicago Comedy Club in Dolton and is produced by UDC (Underdogs of Comedy) Entertainment.

Then & Now: Honoring the Great Comedians
Saturday, Feb. 23, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The Chicago Comedy Club
14737 S. Drexel
Dolton, IL
www.udcent.com
(708) 374-7523
Tickets $15 ($20 at door)

She's a veteran of the local stand-up scene, a regular on the national circuit and recently appeared on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network in the reality show "My Life is a Joke," which might get picked up as a series. During her 13 years as a comic, Patti Vasquez has traveled from coast to coast and earned the respect of such top gut-busters as Lewis Black.

Later this month she'll host a two-part stand-up workshop in Chicago's Eckhart Park neighborhood.

Keep checking the Sun-Times for more about Vasquez and her career.

In the meantime, if you're interested in learning funny business basics or know someone who is, here are the particulars:

Stand-Up Comedy Workshop with Patti Vasquez
Tuesday, Feb. 19 and Tuesday, Feb. 26 (both days)
Workshop fee: $55
Space is limited
Register at www.mikeyocomedy.com or call (773) 895-8978

***

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Those brought up in the Catholic school system expect explicit dress-code warnings before the prom.

Grammy show attendees? Not so much.

CBS sent a wardrobe advisory this week, advising performers and audience members to cover all their bits -- including "bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack." Deadline.com published the network's memo after receiving it from an irked source who said, "I assume that my lovely colleagues to do not guet this same email for the Oscars."

Considering the parade of celebs who would make a list of fashion don'ts for other shows, the music award shows are the place where everyone expects to let it all hang out. J. Lo's cut-to-there-floral Versace gown at the 2000 Grammy Awards seems positively chaste compared to L'il Kim's pasties at the VMAs and Toni Braxton's bondage-inspired bathrobe dress.

Keeping the female form under wraps includes ditching "thong-type costumes," "adequately covering the genital region" and avoiding sheer fabric that "could possible expose female breast nipples."

No mention on men's breasts -- a la Trey Parker's homage to J. Lo's Versace gown at the 2000 Oscar Award ceremony -- but the dress code does point to men's fashion as well. Lapel pins are off limits.

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After two bona fide critical and commercial successes with her first two thrillers, "Sharp Objects" and "Dark Places," Ukrainian Village-based author Gillian Flynn hit the stratosphere with her latest work, "Gone Girl." Not only did it perch atop the New York Times fiction bestseller list for two months, it has to date sold a couple of million copies and been optioned by 20th Century Fox for an upcoming feature film to be produced in part by actress Reese Witherspoon. Oh, and she recently made the Hollywood Reporter's first-ever list of the 25 most powerful authors in Hollywood. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are on it, too.

Come February 13 at 6 p.m., you can see this hometown phenom for yourself when Flynn talks and reads at the Harold Washington Library downtown. Seating is first come, first served and Flynn will ink books at the end of her presentation.

For more about Flynn and her work, check out this Sun-Times article that ran last summer shortly after "Gone Girl's" publication.

Gillian Flynn at Harold Washington Library
Wed., February 13 at 6 p.m.
Cindy Pritzker Auditorium
400 S. State
www.chipublib.org

Here's Gillian during a summer appearance on ABC's "The View"

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In true "Girls" fashion, Katy Perry is leaving her boyfriend at home Sunday night.

The Grammy award-winning singer and 2013 nominee is taking her new pal, Allison Williams, rather than her squeeze John Mayer. Williams plays Marnie on the popular HBO series "Girls" and is the girlfriend of Mayer's BFF, College Humor cofounder Ricky Van Veen.

"I am going to the Grammys and Katy Perry is my date," Williams told Anderson Cooper during his "Anderson Live" Thursday. "She's the hottest date. She's a friend of mine and she's nominated as she should be. I can't wait to go. Obviously she's awesome. She's the best."

'190 North' goes south on WLS-Channel 7

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The weekly run of "190 North" is coming to an end after 14 years. WLS-Channel 7 said Janet Davies' lifestyle/entertainment series will air its final episode March 31 but live on as an online and on-air "franchise." The station blamed "the economic challenges in our industry."


by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

THODOS DANCE CHICAGO IN 'LIGHT IN THE DARK: The Story of Helen Keller and AnnE Sullivan'
Date: Feb. 16 at 8 p.m.
Place: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Tickets: $36-$46
Phone: (847) 673-6300; www.northshorecenter.org

NOTE: This performance will be repeated downtown -- March 2 at 8 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m. -- at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. For tickets ($30-$60), call (312) 334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org.

CAPTURING HELEN KELLER AND ANNE SULLIVAN IN DANCE

As choreographer Melissa Thodos recalled recently, it was just about two years ago -- as soon as the curtain came down on the Thodos Dance Chicago premiere of "The White City: Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893," a one-act multi-media story ballet -- that the seeds for "Light in the Dark: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan," her follow-up collaboration with Ann Reinking, the fabled Fosse dancer and Broadway choreographer, were planted.

As Thodos explained: "It was our closing night dinner, and we were all sitting there celebrating -- Ann, and Gary Cryst [the former Joffrey Ballet star who served as acting coach on the work], and Bruce Wolosoff [the composer]. and the designers. And as we began drinking a bit, and talking about what a great experience we'd had, we started wondering in a think-tank sort of way about what we might do next. And that's when Gary just burst out with 'How about Helen Keller?'"

"The room got silent. But six months later we started working on the idea. I love the fact that my company celebrates the American voice in dance, and here we had another iconic, and immensely appealing American story -- one that I first learned about in middle school."

It was through "The Miracle Worker" -- William Gibson's drama (a teleplay in 1957, a Broadway play two years later, and then a 1962 film starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft) -- that many first became aware of Helen Keller (1880-1968) and her fiercely determined teacher, Anne Sullivan. But this dance piece is no copy of that work.

Keller, a child who became deaf and blind at the age of 19 months, was taught to communicate by Sullivan, who was herself visually impaired, and just 20 years old when she arrived at the Keller home in Alabama town to serve as Helen's governess and teacher. Helen would become a world-famous writer, political activist and lecturer, as well as the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree. Sullivan, who found a way to break through the girl's isolation and give her a means of communicating, would go on to serve as her companion for nearly half a century.

"'A Light in the Dark' really tells an intimate family story," said Thodos. "And unlike in the play, we take time to develop Anne Sullivan's story, as well as Helen's. We show how her drive and passion to connect with Helen, who was seven when they first met, was in part a response to the death of her younger brother in a terrible orphanage of the time. She thought Helen might also be headed to an institution if she failed to get through to her. The Kellers were a staunch, upper class Southern family who did not want the chaos Helen brought into the home. Luckily, Helen's mother sensed how smart she was, reached out to the Perkins School for the Blind in Masssachusetts, and found Sullivan."

As with "White City," Thodos and Reinking did copious research, much of which they passed to the dancers.

"They also learned the American Manual Alphabet that Anne taught Helen, and we've embellished and expanded on that alphabet for dance purposes," said Thodos, who joined Reinking last spring for a visit to the Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf-Blind on Long Island, where they observed how people moved and learned to navigate.

The one-act "A Light in the Dark" will feature 10 dancers playing the roles of Helen (with Jessica Miller Tomlinson alternating with Caitlin Cucchiara); Anne (with Alissa Tollefson alternating with Annie Deutz); Helen's mother, father and brother; Anne's brother; a maid, and Anne's students at the school for the blind where she taught before becoming Helen's teacher.

Along with co-choreographers Thodos and Reinking, and theatrical coach Chryst, the same creative team behind "White City" has returned to work on "A Light in the Dark," including Wolosoff (who spent many hours in the rehearsal studio creating the original score), Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Kai Olsen (who will create a behind-the-scenes film about the piece), and designers Nathan Tomlinson (lights) and Nathan Rohrer (costumes).

"I think what gave me the idea for this work was watching that wonderful dancer, Jessica Tomlinson, in 'White City,' where she was imprisoned in a black box by her crazy captor," said Chryst. "There was just an association with the way Helen Keller was trapped until Anne opened her up to communication. And guess what? Helen and Anne actually visited the 1893 Columbian Exposition, with Alexander Graham Bell as their guide."

"When I first saw 'The Miracle Worker' in my youth it frightened me," recalled Chryst, who said he has been surprised to learn how the Keller story, once a part of every school curriculum, is no longer at the top of list. "Since then, the more I've read and the more I understand what she overcame, the more astounding it all is. I still remember working with deaf students who came to the Joffrey School and felt the vibrations from the piano through the floor. And if you go to YouTube you can even see Helen Keller visiting a rehearsal at the Martha Graham Dance Studio in New York -- sensing the vibrations of the drum and touching the dancers' bodies."

NOTE: Also on the Thodos Dance Chicago program will be: "Rest is Not Always Possible," a new work by San Francisco-based choreographer KT Nelson; "Subtle Passages," another world premiere by Thodos; and "Lullaby," by Brian Enos.
....................................................................................................
Special Perks for the Sight Impaired:

Thodos Dance Chicago and the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired have partnered to build awareness within Chicago's disabled community for "A Light in the Dark." Specific initiatives include: Pre-show Touch Tours for patrons who are blind or with low vision (Feb. 16, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the North Shore Center and March 3, starting at 12:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater); and Audio Description, which uses a real-time two-channel headset, also available for patrons at those performances. The Chicago Lighthouse is printing complimentary Braille and large print programs for both engagements. Call (312) 266-6255 for information.

Mexican tenor steps in for 'La boheme' at Lyric Opera

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Lots of offstage drama at Lyric Opera of Chicago this week. The company announced late Thursday that Mexican tenor José Luis Duval would make his house debut as Rodolfo in Puccini's "La boheme" on Thursday at the Civic Opera House. He replaces Dimitri Pittas, who canceled late in the afternoon due to illness.

That means this last performance of the first cast of "Boheme" had a pan-Latin favor, as Duval sang opposite Puerto Rican-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Mimi. So for one evening, there was an actual Latin Quarter in Puccini's evocation of 19th century Paris.

In March, "La boheme" returns with a second cast starring Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo and Anna Netrebko as Mimi.

Duval (shown here in concert last year in Mexico) made his Metropolitan Opera debut in this role in 2005, and also is serving as a cover this season at the Met. Recent assignments include Calaf in Puccini's "Turandot" and Don Jose in Bizet's "Carmen" at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

Jim Jefferies has a new series on FX, a problem with people who don't drink and a very young son by whom he seems only mildly amused. And he'll be prowling the Vic Theatre's stage come February 16. The early show is sold out, but tickets remain for the later one.

Jim Jefferies
Vic Theatre
3145 N. Sheffield
Saturday, February 16 at 10:30 p.m. (doors open at 10 p.m.)
Tickets $31.50 (plus fees and tax)
www.victheatre.com
(773) 472-0449

If you can't catch him in the flesh while he's in town, keep an eye on the Sun-Times for a chat with this rising Australian-born comedy star.

Here he is on "Conan" talking about fatherhood and his FX show.


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By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'COLUMBINUS'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 10
Where: American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron
Tickets: $38-$43
Info: (773) 409-4125; www.atcweb.org
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions

Without doubt, reactions to "Columbinus," the three-act, part-imagined, part-non-fictional,altogether stunningly realized exploration of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, will run the gamut.

A shattering sense of shock and awe? Yes, despite all the outrage and numbness that has accrued with subsequent mass shootings. Feelings of deep ambivalence? Beyond any doubt. Catharsis? This is elusive. The guilt of the voyeur? Most definitely.

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If you like it, you shoulda put a ring on it. Or in the mail, if you are Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler.

His fiancee/former "The Hills" bad girl Kristin Cavallari recently told E! News that Cutler asked her to marry him over text and then mailed her the engagement ring. For unknown reasons, she waited a few weeks to put it on. This was the second time they got engaged, having broken off their previous engagement.

"It was so silly," Cavallari said, according to E! online. "I was in the airport, leaving Chicago. We had just spent however many days together and we were texting and somehow it came up, like, 'Oh, shall we get married?' We're like, 'Yeah, OK.' And then he sent my ring in the mail. So I actually had my ring sitting at home for a couple of weeks before I put it on."

She also had this to say to US Weekly, as reporter by ABC News, on Portillo's: "There's a place called Portillo's in Chicago, which is fast food [and] has the best burgers. So we've had that I think twice this year. But that's a lot of fast food for me in that short amount of time."

More interesting than this story - why does Jay Cutler never talk about this relationship? Or Portillo's? We admire Cavallari's candor but wonder what Cutler thinks about this yammer jammer.

Final thought - Portillo's has a surprisingly delicious fried fish sandwich. It's so worth it.

The "Today" show is finding Nemo to be a real spoil sport.

Co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were supposed to broadcast Friday from Chicago, but those plans have been scrapped as the East Coast prepares to get blitzed by winter storm Nemo.

The 'Today' show is visiting various markets this month as part of its Friday field trips in February. Matt and Savannah were slated to go live from the plaza in front of Chicago's NBC Tower at 6 a.m. Friday.

A spokeswoman for NBC 5 Chicago said the "Today" show visit will be rescheduled.

The "Today" show is finding Nemo to be a real spoil sport.

Co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were supposed to broadcast Friday from Chicago, but those plans have been scrapped as the East Coast prepares to get blitzed by winter storm Nemo.

The 'Today' show is visiting various markets this month as part of its Friday field trips in February. Matt and Savannah were slated to go live from the plaza in front of Chicago's NBC Tower at 6 a.m. Friday.

A spokeswoman for NBC 5 Chicago said the "Today" show visit will be rescheduled.

Call Me Maybe, Trebek

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Those clever scribes at "Jeopardy!" pulled out all stops for the ongoing Teen Tournament, constructing the entire board of categories from "Call Me, Maybe" lyrics.

Carly Rae Jepsen's words have never sounded sweeter than when spoken by Alex Trebek. Both are Canadian, eh?

While I'm writing about Alex Trebek, how about this clip where a contestant calls him insensitive because he laughs at the death of her pygmy goat? Now that's television, folks!

Bob Seger tour headed to Chicago

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Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band are bringing their Rock and Roll Never Forgets Tour to the United Center on April 6th. Special guest is Joe Walsh.

Tickets go on sale Feb 16 at 10 a.m. at livenation.com.

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I had a lengthy and fascinating interview last night with Dean Evans, a professional clown and mime who teaches clowning at The Second City and Columbia College. Evans will be playing the role of a dunce in the Actor's Gymnasium's upcoming show "Skooled."

I asked Evans the question everyone wants to know about clowns - why are they so scary? Evans, 35, explained that at the heart of clowning is vulnerability and connecting with the audience. If you try too hard to clown around, or just dress up in a wig, red nose and big shoes, you aren't really clowning in the theatrical sense, he said.

"The reason people are afraid of clowns is that you take a human shape and what you are pushing out there is not humanity," Evans said. "It is a monster."

When he was an undergraduate theater major at Ohio State University, Evans signed up for a mime class as a joke. Looks like the joke is on him. He pays the bills working as a clown and mime.

"I don't put on a white face and pretend I'm trapped in a box," he said. "I love tricks. I love pranks. I love manipulation in a fun way."

"Skooled: A Study in Circus," opens Feb. 16.

All-star tribute to Levon Helm set for Grammy telecast

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NEW YORK -- Elton John and Mumford & Sons will hit the Grammys stage to pay tribute to Levon Helm.

The Recording Academy announced Wednesday that T Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes will also perform "The Weight" at Sunday's awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

"Can you think of a song that fits (more)?" said Ken Ehrlich, producer of the Grammy Awards. "Philosophically it fits the moment."

Helm was the drummer and singer for The Band. He died of complications from cancer last year at age 71.

The Band's 1968 debut, "Music From Big Pink," and its follow-up, "The Band," remain landmark albums of the era, and songs such as "The Weight" and "Cripple Creek" have become rock standards. Early on, The Band backed Bob Dylan on his sensational and controversial electric tours of 1965-66 and collaborated with him on the legendary "The Basement Tapes."

Ehrlich said the lineup of performers is a representation of Helm's diverse sound. They'll sing "The Weight" when the show has its in memoriam tribute, which honors musicians who died last year.

"Generationally it's very mixed, and genre-wise it's certainly mixed, and ... that's what (Helm) was all about," Ehrlich said. "He was about old and young, country and pop. He was this incredibly eclectic artist."

The 55th annual Grammy Awards will air live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on CBS.

AP


Something for Everyone on Chicago Stages

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


There is something for everybody on Chicago's stages at the moment. Here's a quick look at just a few of the wildly different choices available:

YOUNG MEN LOST: In Annie Baker's "The Aliens," set in the back lot of a rural Vermont coffee shop, two lost but brainy twentysomething guys connect with a wide-eyed high school kid, and before the summer is over all their lives have changed. Three beautiful performances anchor this haunting play that runs through March 3 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells. Call (312) 943-8722; www.aredorchidtheatre.org.

CUPCAKE HEAVEN: In "American Wee-Pie," a goofily tragicomic, zestily acted new play by Lisa Dillman, a brother and sister in middle age try to reconnect after the death of their mother, and a husband and wife who run an artisanal cupcake business try to weather the recession. You will laugh as you cry watching this production that runs through Feb. 16 at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge. Call (773) 334-7728; www.rivendelltheatre.org.

SOVIET MIND GAMES: "The Letters," a noose-tight two-character play by John W. Lowell, takes an intense, unblinking look at the psychological warfare that makes a totalitarian regime tick. Kate Fry and Mark L. Montgomery turn in chilling, superbly controlled performances as an archivist and her manipulative boss in this Writers' Theatre production that runs through March 17 at the intimate Books on Vernon space, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe. Call (847) 242-6000.

JAZZ LEGEND REBORN: In "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," Alexis J. Rogers gives an uncanny, tour de force portrayal of Billie Holiday, singing her way through 14 classic songs and suggesting the jazz icon's very troubled life. This truly breathtaking Porchlight Music Theatre production runs through March 10 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Call (773) 327-5252; www.stage773.com.

CALL CENTER BLUES: Sure, you may hate dealing with those far-flung Indian call centers as you make a credit card query. But in "Disconnect," the human drama that unfolds on the other side of the world becomes alternately touching and funny, and it is universal in its depiction of office politics. Anapuma Chandrasekhar's play runs through Feb. 24 at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln. Call (773) 871-3000; www.victorygardens.org.

Few would think about swimming in Antarctica, but Sports Illustrated took its models there for its annual swimsuit issue -- shooting on all seven continents for the first time.

The around-the-globe effort will be chronicled by the Travel Channel in a special on Feb. 17. Sports Illustrated said Tuesday it's the first to do a fashion shoot in Antarctica, where temperatures were subfreezing.

Among the locations featured are Namibia, China, Australia and Easter Island, one of the most remote places on Earth.

Sports Illustrated will reveal its cover and cover model Monday on "Late Show with David Letterman," which marks the 6th year for the official unveiling.

The magazine hits newsstands Feb. 12.

-- Associated Press and Staff Reports


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Petite and pretty in a creamy satin dress and opera length gloves -- her hair meticulously coiffed and makeup just so -- Alexis J. Rogers arrives on stage to play Billie Holiday in the Porchlight Music Theatre production of Lanie Robertson's play-in-the-form-of-a-gig, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." And as she steps up to the microphone and launches into the soul-baring Johnny Mercer song, "When a Woman Loves a Man," something close to miraculous happens.

It takes barely a bar or two before the spell has been cast. The unique timbre, intonation, phrasing, color and, most crucially, the abiding anguish that marked Holiday's singing are all there. Yet Rogers is no mimic. Rather, she has somehow managed to crawled right into Holiday's psyche and reactivate the voice in a way that should dazzle even the most fervent devotees. And she brilliantly sustains this miracle for the next 90 minutes as she takes us through one set at the Philadelphia bar where Holiday has been able to find work.

It is March, 1959, and within four months the singer, 44, will be dead -- the victim of a chaotic childhood, rape at age 10, a period of prostitution, several prison stints, pervasive racism, too much alcohol, and a husband who introduced her to heroin, a habit that would undo her. Meanwhile, she also had a career that took her to the heights, including a Carnegie Hall concert, even if now she has been barred from performing in New York clubs because her "Cabaret Card" has been revoked.

If Rogers' vocal magic were all, it would be more than enough as she makes her way through 14 of Holiday's best-known songs -- from the playful "Gimme a Pig Foot," to the horrific "Strange Fruit," from the fervent "God Bless the Child" to the self-deflating love song, "Don't Explain." Each rendering is beyond masterful and wholly immediate -- suggesting how she got the "blues feeling" from Bessie Smith and melded it to "the jazz beat" of Louis Armstrong.

But Rogers (who starred in Court Theatre's production of "Porgy and Bess") also is an extraordinary actress.
About three-quarters of the way through the show, Holiday begins to lose it and retreats to her dressing room for a fix. She returns, in a drugged state, a glove no longer covering the tracks on her arm. And without ever overdoing things, Rogers' transformation is complete and devastating.

Rob Lindley's beautifully modulated direction (richly enhanced by Jeffrey D. Kmiec's ingenious set), underscores Rogers' many talents. And the excellent three-piece band (music director Jaret Landon on keyboard leading Michael Weatherspoon on percussion and Chris Thigpen on bass), suggests how Holiday's musicians tried to protect her.

"Singing is living to me," says Holiday. Rogers' star turn is the proof.


Petite and pretty in a creamy satin dress and opera length gloves -- her hair meticulously coiffed and makeup just so -- Alexis J. Rogers arrives on stage to play Billie Holiday in the Porchlight Music Theatre production of Lanie Robertson's play-in-the-form-of-a-gig, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." And as she steps up to the microphone and launches into the soul-baring Johnny Mercer song, "When a Woman Loves a Man," something close to miraculous happens.
It takes barely a bar or two before the spell has been cast. The unique timbre, intonation, phrasing, color and, most crucially, the abiding anguish that marked Holiday's singing are all there. Yet Rogers is no mimic. Rather, she has somehow managed to crawled right into Holiday's psyche and reactivate the voice in a way that should dazzle even the most fervent devotees. And she brilliantly sustains this miracle for the next 90 minutes as she takes us through one set at the Philadelphia bar where Holiday has been able to find work.
It is March, 1959, and within four months the singer, 44, will be dead -- the victim of a chaotic childhood, rape at age 10, a period of prostitution, several prison stints, pervasive racism, too much alcohol, and a husband who introduced her to heroin, a habit that would undo her. Meanwhile, she also had a career that took her to the heights, including a Carnegie Hall concert.
If Rogers' vocal magic were all, it would be more than enough as she makes her way through 14 of Holiday's best-known songs -- from the playful "Gimme a Pig Foot," to the horrific "Strange Fruit," from the fervent "God Bless the Child" to the self-deflating love song, "Don't Explain." Each rendering is beyond masterful and wholly immediate -- suggesting how she got the "blues feeling" from Bessie Smith and melded it to "the jazz beat" of Louis Armstrong.
But Rogers (who starred in Court Theatre's production of "Porgy and Bess") also is an extraordinary actress.
About three-quarters of the way through the show, Holiday begins to lose it and retreats to her dressing room for a fix. She returns, in a drugged state, a glove no longer covering the tracks on her arm. And without ever overdoing things, Rogers' transformation is complete and devastating.
Rob Lindley's beautifully modulated direction (richly enhanced by Jeffrey D. Kmiec's ingenious set), underscores Rogers' many talents. And the excellent three-piece band (music director Jaret Landon on keyboard leading Michael Weatherspoon on percussion and Chris Thigpen on bass), suggests how Holiday's musicians tried to protect her.
"Singing is living to me," says Holiday. Rogers' star turn is the proof.


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Bravo's cooking competition "Top Chef" will be returning for an 11th season. Think you've got what it takes to win top toque? Open casting calls for interested chefs will be held in several cities, including Chicago.

For additional casting information and to download an application, visit www.BravoTV.com/casting.

Here's the line-up for auditions:

AUSTIN
Monday, February 11, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Uchiko
http://uchiaustin.com/uchiko

BROOKLYN
Wednesday, February 20, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Talde
http://taldebrooklyn.com

LAS VEGAS
Wednesday, February 20, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
STK in The Cosmopolitan
http://www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com/taste/restaurant-collection/stk.aspx

CHICAGO
Sunday, February 24, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Girl & The Goat
http://www.girlandthegoat.com/

MIAMI
Monday, February 25, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Michy's
http://michysmiami.com/

LOS ANGELES
Friday, March 1, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
The Foundry on Melrose
http://www.thefoundryonmelrose.com

Kitty cat the new Monopoly token

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The fans (and cat lovers) have spoken!

The new token for the iconic Monopoly game is a cat.

Say bye-bye to the iron, which will move on to collector's item.

"Smash" has made some changes for season 2 -- different showrunner, the addition of younger cast members, no more scarves -- but while the NBC musical drama is "new," its ratings haven't improved.

Marc Berman with TV Media Insights reported the numbers for last night's two-hour season 2 opener (featuring guest star Jennifer Hudson) on his blog: "Smash" opened with an uneventful 3.7/ 6 in the overnights from 8-10 p.m (Central). That's 53 percent below the one-hour series-opener (7.8/13 on Monday 2/06/12 at 9 p.m. out of The Voice). And Smash dropped in household rating in each of the four half-hours (4.1/ 6 - 3.7/ 6 - 3.6/ 6 - 3.4/ 6).

This doesn't bode well for the ambitious, expensive show. But it is a pet project of NBC entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt, so the network is bound to pull out all the stops to keep "Smash" alive.

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- The end is near for the shoe, wheelbarrow or iron in the classic Monopoly game as fans vote Tuesday in the final hours of a contest to determine which token to eliminate and which piece to replace it with.
The eight tokens identify the players and have changed quite a lot since Parker Brothers bought the game from its original designer in 1935. The latest changes mark the first time that fans have had a say on which piece to add and which one to toss.

The voting on Facebook is scheduled to close just before midnight Tuesday. Pawtucket-based toy maker Hasbro Inc. will announce the new piece Wednesday morning.

So far, the wheelbarrow, shoe and iron are neck and neck for elimination through the Save Your Token Campaign. The new addition will be a robot, diamond ring, cat, helicopter or guitar. Fans from more than 120 countries have voted.

The online contest to change the tokens was sparked by chatter on Facebook, where Monopoly has more than 10 million fans.

Monopoly's iconic tokens originated when the niece of game creator Charles Darrow suggested using charms from a charm bracelet for tokens. The real-estate trading game is based on the streets of Atlantic City, N.J., and has sold more than 275 million games worldwide.

The eight tokens are an iron, racecar, Scottie dog, a shoe, thimble, top hat, wheelbarrow and battleship. Most of the pieces were introduced with the first Parker Brothers iteration of the game in 1935, and the Scottie dog and wheelbarrow were added in the early 1950s.

Versions of Monopoly with the new token will come out later this year.

AP

Charlize Theron going to 'Dark Places'?

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Charlize Theron reportedly now is the front-runner to star in the film version of Chicago author Gillian Flynn's 2009 novel "Dark Places." Deadline.com says the "Prometheus" star is in talks for the murder-witness role that earlier was linked to Amy Adams. Flynn went on to write the 2012 best-seller "Gone Girl."


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'DISCONNECT'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 24
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $35-$50
Info: (773) 871-3000; www.victorygardens.org
Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission


The connections and misconnections in "Disconnect," Indian writer Anupama Chandrasekhar's elaborately wired play -- now in a Victory Gardens Theater production vibrantly directed by Ann Filmer -- are many and varied.

Most literally, the connections come by way of the multiple telephone lines that link True Blue -- a call center in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, that operates as a collection agency and pursues American "marks" who have failed to pay their credit card bills.

And then there is the English language itself, as plied by a group of mostly twentysomething Indian strivers (and one man old enough to be their dad), all of whom have absorbed the colloquialisms of their American marks in order to do their jobs convincingly.

The misconnections are far more profound.

There is the generational gap, which separates fortysomething Avinash (Kamal J. Hans, a most sympathetic sad clown), from Jyothi (Arya Daire, ideal as the fashionable harpy), a shrill, people-unfriendly manager who demotes him from head of a "New York team" to an "Illinois team." The latter is not meeting its collection quotas despite the best efforts of three bright callers -- Ross (Debargo Sanyal, volatile and intense), Vidya (Minita Gandhi, smart and enigmatic) and Gini (Behzad Dabu, fleet and sardonic).

There is a cultural gap, too, for despite familiarity with brand names, couture labels and all the lore of "America," there is a distance of experience and traditions. There also is the sexual gap, with Indian women coming in second for promotions and still being controlled by their fathers. There is the urban/rural gap among the Indians. And for at least one of the callers, there is a racial gap -- the difference between being white or brown-skinned.

All these differences feed a palpable desperation, especially as jobs are at stake, and as True Blue (neatly captured by Grant Sabin's sleek industrial set) now faces competition from a company in the Philippines competing for these outsourced jobs. And, because it is 2009, with THIS country's recession still in full swing, there also is desperation in the American marks who have maxed out their credit cards, lost their jobs or simply indulged themselves far beyond their means. It is time to pay up.

Chandrasekhar has written a play full of fast, brash, funny dialogue (much of it wildly overlapping and no doubt mind-boggling to the splendid actors). As the call center workers sit at adjoining desks with their headsets on, they alternately adhere to their "script-books" or, as becomes the dangerous case here, ignore them in favor of improvisation, role-playing and false intimacy. So, lurking behind all the comic, instantly recognizable "office behavior" is a very modern tragedy. And it definitely connects.

Tickets for Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field in presale first

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Want to see Pearl Jam play at Wrigley Field on July 19? Well, get in line.

The question, though, is: Which line?

Tickets for the concert go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Feb. 9 at tickets.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. Tickets will not be available at the Wrigley Field Box Office.

Hopefully there will be some left.

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Urban powerhouse Don Omar leads this year's contenders for the annual Billboard Latin Music Awards, with 18 nominations. Close behind are bachata superstar Romeo Santos, with 12, and urban duo Wisin & Yandel and banda star Jenni Rivera (above) with 11 nods each. The nominations were announced Tuesday in Miami.

Rivera, who died in a plane crash in December, tops all female nominees, including Colombian superstar Shakira, with seven. Rivera received two nominations for album of the year, "Joyas Prestadas" and the compilation "La Misma Gran Señora."

Other contenders: bachata star Prince Royce, 10; urban Latin hitmaker Pitbull, nine; Mexican rockers Mana, eight, and Latin pop singer-composer Ricardo Arjona, three. (Arjona stops next week in Chicago, with a Feb. 14 concert at the Akoo Theatre in Rosemont.) Mexican icon Vicente Fernandez, who had to curtail his farewell tour because of emergency surgery (done at the University of Illinois-Chicago), is up for best tour.

The awards, which are televised live on Telemundo, will be presented April 25 in Miami. The honors are determined by actual sales, radio airplay, streaming and social data as indicated by Billboard magazine's weekly Latin music charts during a one-year period from the issue dated Feb. 4, 2012, to Jan. 26, 2013.

NPR's hit game show "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" is almost ready for its close-up.

Come May 2 at 7 p.m., the comedy-rife quiz program hosted out of Chicago by Peter Sagal and frequented by such celebs as Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin will broadcast live to select movie theaters from New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

As ever, judge/scorekeeper Carl Kasell will be on hand to assist Sagal, who'll also be joined by comedians Tom Bodett, Paula Poundstone and Mo Rocca.

"Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" Live on the Big Screen
Thursday, May 2 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m.CT (encore May 7 at 7:30 p.m. local time at select theaters nationwide)

Chicago-area theaters
City North 14
Webster Place 11
River East 21
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Productions of Hip-Hop "Othello: The Remix" and "Shrek" Planned for Chicago Shakespeare
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Review/hweiss@suntumes.com

Let it never be said that the Chicago Shakespeare Theater permits either of the two stages in its Navy Pier home to lie fallow. Amid all it current offerings, including the upcoming mainstage production of "Julius Caesar," plans are afoot for two additional shows.

First, on the heels of its London world premiere at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad at Shakespeare's Globe, as well as engagements in Germany and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, comes the U.S. premiere of "Othello: The Remix," the latest hip-hop style creation by the Chicago-bred Brothers Q who also devised such shows as "The Bombitty of Errors" and "Funk It Up About Nothin'." The show will begin performances in the Upstairs Theater on March 12. Tickets ($20-$35) are now on sale.

Headed to the stage this summer as its annual family production is a 75-minute production of "Shrek, The Musical" running July 13-Sept. 1. It will be directed by Rachel Rockwell, whose recent production of "Annie," at the Paramount Theatre, was a huge success. Rockwell was just named director/choreographer of a grand-scale revival of "Brigadoon" coming to the Goodman Theatre in the summer of 2014.

Based on the Academy Award-winning DreamWorks film and the book by William Steig, CST's 75-minute production of "Shrek ,The Musical" tells the story of a swamp-dwelling ogre who goes on a life-changing adventure to reclaim his once-secluded home. Accompanied by a wise-cracking donkey, this unlikely hero fights a fearsome dragon and rescues the cursed princess Fiona.The show features music by Jeanine Tesori ("Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Caroline or Change"), with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Lindsay-Abaire (" Good People"). Tickets for "Shrek" are $18-$25.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (312) 595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.



Beyoncé didn't cause Super Bowl outage, but sales jolted

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Shortly after his wife, Beyoncé, won the Super Bowl with her fiery halftime performance, Jay-Z tweeted: "Lights out!!! Any questions??"

Amusing as it's been to speculate that Beyoncé's electrifying 12-minute concert somehow caused the partial power outage that darkened the Superdome for half an hour during Sunday's broadcast, that's not the case.


Mary-Arrchie's "Glass Menagerie" Set for Transfer

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

For the second time this season, an acclaimed production that originated at the Mary-Archie Theatre is headed for a transfer and an extended run.

On the heels of its hugely successful production of "Superior Donuts" (which played at the Royal George Cabaret), the company's haunting, innovative take on the Tennessee Williams' classic, "The Glass Menagerie," is now set to move to Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, running for an additional six weeks beginning May 22, The original cast will be reuinted following several actors' previous commitments to Lookingglass Theatre productions. The current production of the show at Mary-Arrchie ends Feb. 17 and is currently sold out.

With innovative direction by Hans Fleishchman (who also does a fascinating turn as Tom, the play's narrator), The Mary-Arrchie "Menagerie" takes Williams' opening scene in the play to heart. This Tom (alter ego of the playwright) is something of a homeless alcoholic, and the crucial moment in his family's past that he recalls is truly envisioned as a warped, dreamy memory.


For tickets call (773) 975-8150 or visit www.theaterwit.org.


The following are comments by Carlo Garcia, Mary-Arrchie's producing director, Richard Cotovsky, artistic director and Fleischmann:

Cotovsky: The rationale for the move? Our Angel Island space is a classic 50-seat black box and as the buzz began to build for "The Glass Menagerie," our regular run and extension sold out very quickly. We were receiving a hundred calls a day after we had sold out the run, so we knew we had to keep it going to give people who wanted to see it an opportunity to do so. But we wanted to do it right, meaning with the original cast and designers, and the right space. Artistic Director

Garcia: The major hurdles? Scheduling was the biggest one. Ourr talented cast members Walter Briggs, who plays our Gentleman Caller, was already cast in"Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" at Lookingglass Theatre before we started rehearsals, so we knew our time with Walter was limited. During rehearsals, Joanne Dubach, who plays Laura, was offered a role in "Still Alice," also at Lookingglass Theatre. It was important for us to keep the original cast together for the remount, so we pushed back our extension plans to May 22nd.

Fleischmann: Why did we choose Theater Wit as our transfer venue? One of the reasons this production is so affecting is the intimacy of the space and storytelling. As director I wanted to maintain that intimacy with the audience. Aesthetically, the space is actually walled by the original brick of the building - brick over a century old, running upwards of 25 feet along the western wall. To have a feature like this, aiding us in creating an old abandoned alley in the mid 1950's, was a gift.

Garcia: After scouting a few locations, we all decided on Theater Wit. It gives us ample opportunity to add more seats, maintain the intimacy and most importantly accessibility. Our home space is on the second floor of a building with no elevator, which can be difficult for some patrons. Theater Wit is accessible to everyone.

Fleischmann: As for any artistic modifications that might be made...when you run a show with an audience for a couple months it inevitably changes; things sharpen, old ideas are replaced with new ones. However, there are some things that can't change because certain moments are tethered to the production's technical design and were locked in before the show opened. This remount allows us to re-examine those moments and run with them in a new direction. We also have major staging, lighting and sound restraints at Angel Island [Mary-Arrchie's home space]. These design elements cost more money than the theater takes in and, unfortunately, present restrictions on the creativity of the talented artists working on any particular production for Mary-Arrchie. Having these restraints lifted allows all the artists involved to push in the direction originally intended for this interpretation.


by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The Auditorium Theatre has announced a major new initiative, "The Music + Dance Festival," a project designed to pair 11 of Chicago's finest dance troupes with some of Chicago's best live music makers. The festival, which will unspool over a five-month period (beginning this month and running through June), is being underwritten with $145,000 in grants from the Chicago Community Trust, The Boeing Company and The Joyce Foundation.

The festival will begin with 10 performances taking place in the Auditorium's Katten/Landau Studio, 425 S. Wabash (4th floor), and will continue on the Auditorium Theatre stage, 50 E. Congress, with the highly anticipated April 13 collaboration between River North Dance Chicago and Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic's in "Havana Blue," an exploration of Afro-Cuban music and dance.

The Auditorium also will host a May 15 showcase featuring five selected performances from the festival as well as Giordano Dance Chicago and Luna Negra Dance Theater.

The dance companies commissioned by the Auditorium Theatre are: Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center's Bryant Ballet, DanceWorks Chicago, Full Effect Entertainment Theatrical Dance Company, Joel Hall Dancers, Kalapriya Dance Company, Kuumba Lynx, Mexican Dance Ensemble and Thodos Dance Chicago. They have been paired with musicians ranging from students honing their skills to esteemed international musicians. Each pairing creates a unique, original performance to premiere in the Auditorium's versatile Katten/Landau studio. All performances are reviewed by a panel of distinguished dance professionals who will select five stand-out pieces to culminate in the May 15 showcase.

While some of the dance companies will be using original scores, others will be using existing music, but many of the companies and musicians are still in creative discussions. The score for the River North piece will be original. Paul Wertico and DanceWorks Chicago, and Charles Heath and the Joel Hall Dancers also plan to use original music as of now.

Tickets are on sale now. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit www.AuditoriumTheatre.org/musicandmovement. The festival will continue with various community performances through June in select locations around Chicago.


Victory Gardens Playwright Marcus Gardley Awarded Mellon Foundation Grant

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Marcus Gardley, an ensemble playwright with Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre, has been awarded a three-year residency with the company as part of a new $3.7 million initiative by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Along with 13 other playwrights across the country, Gardley will receive a salary and benefits for 3 years, with a $260,000 grant given to Victory Gardens for the residency. Gardley will permanently relocate to Chicago.

In a prepared statement, Victory Gardens artistic director Chay Yew observed: "Marcus has a singular voice and possesses an unflinching ability to poetically describe the African-American experience both nationally and regionally. As a new member of our current Playwrights Ensemble [he joined the group in Spring 2012, along with Philip Dawkins, Samuel D. Hunter and Tanya Saracho], this Mellon residency will afford Marcus even more freedom to develop and produce new work within an artistic home."

Gardley, a poet and playwright, is a recent James Baldwin Fellow and one of 50 USA award recipients for 2012. He is also the 2011 PEN Laura Pels award winner for Mid-Career Playwright. The New Yorker magazine has described Gardley as "the heir to Garcia Lorca, Pirandello and Tennessee Williams." His most recent production, "Every Tongue Confess," premiered at Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage, starring Phylicia Rashad, and directed by Kenny Leon. Gardley is a professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Brown University.


JOYCE AWARDS CELEBRATING 10th ANNIVERSARY
by Hedy Weiss
Theater/Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Joyce Awards, the prestigious honor given by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation that is designed to underwrite commissions of new works from artists of color. Each artist and nonprofit organization involved receives a $50,000 award to support the project and the process of engaging people in its creation.

Among the four 2013 Joyce Award winners is Eduardo Zuñiga, the exceptional dancer and choreographer of Luna Negra Dance Theater, Chicago's Latino-based company. Zuniga will collaborate with Luna Negra to present "Agora" ("Marketplace"), a free-to-the-public multimedia dance, video and public art piece in Grant Park. His work will be built around Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz's piece of the same namethat is a permanent installation in the park. The artist will present sixteen onsite performances over three days in June, 2013, documenting the experience on video for later use in Luna Negra's season.

This year's other Joyce Award winners include: Reginald Baylor, who is collaborating with ART Milwaukee to present TypeFace, a series of outdoor paintings affixed to boarded-up abandoned homes, storefronts and buildings in some of Milwaukee's most blighted neighborhoods; Emily Johnson, who is collaborating with the University of Minnesota's Northrop Auditorium to present "Shore," the third work in a trilogy that integrates dance, storytelling, volunteerism and a shared feast blending native traditions and contemporary dance; and Seitu Jones, who is collaborating with Public Art Saint Paul to present "The Community Meal," a dinner stretching a half-mile-long across the city of St. Paul where 2,000 participants will dine and explore ideas about food deserts, consumption, marketing and the production of food.

Meanwhile, three previous Joyce-funded artists and their projects will reach fruition on Chicago stages this season. They include: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's collaboration with San Francisco-based choreographer Alonzo King and his LINES Ballet (March 14-17 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance); the Steppenwolf Theatre production of "Head of Passes" (April 4-June 9), the work of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney; and the Goodman Theatre production of "The Happiest Song Plays Last" (April 13-May 12), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes's drama about an Iraq War veteran in Jordan who finds rebirth with acting, and his community activist cousin who starts a program for the needy in North Philadelphia.

Latin music superstar Shakira is sharing the first public photograph of her newborn baby, with father Gerard Pique planting a kiss on his infant son's cheek.

The 36-year-old Colombian singer announced Monday on Twitter that the photo of "my two angels" could be seen on the website of UNICEF. She has urged people to donate to a baby shower on behalf of needy children helped by the U.N. children's agency.

The photo shows Milan, who was born Jan. 22 in Barcelona, apparently sleeping in the arms of his father. The 25-year-old Pique is an FC Barcelona soccer star. Milan is the couple's first child.

Shakira who works as a goodwill ambassador for the organization, has previously asked fans to make donations to UNICEF, helping to provide polio vaccinations and other aid.

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by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'SUNSET BOULEVARD'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 24
Where: Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Tickets: $35-$46
Info: (630) 530-0111; www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission


It's not often that audiences for musicals call out "bravos" the way those in opera houses regularly do. But Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" makes operatic demands on several of its singers. And at the opening night performance of the show at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre -- after Christine Sherrill finished casting her spell, both emotionally and vocally, with the make-or-break first act aria, "With One Look" -- the audience erupted the way they might at Lyric Opera.

The statuesque Sherrill -- whose voice has a huge range of tones and colors -- is thrilling in this song. And she remains so throughout the rest of this crazy, somewhat uneven noir vision of Hollywood. Putting her distinctive mark of ownership on the role, the actress sustains the bizarre mix of glamor and grotesquerie essential to the story based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film, and penned for the stage by Don Black and Christopher Hampton.

Sherrill also easily suggests why Norma Desmond -- who years earlier was the hugely bankable young star of countless silent films, and is now an aging, forgotten, delusional shut-away still wealthy enough to sustain a grand palazzo in the city of broken dreams -- can still wield her magic as she dreams of a comeback.

You can see Norma's enduring will at work in the way she lures and manipulates her prey -- the cynical, cash-strapped young reporter-turned-screenplay writer, Joe Gillis (Will Ray, who uses his powerhouse voice to give a scorching rendition of the show's title song, and brings just the right streak of rage, bitter resentment and self-disgust to his portrayal).

You also can sense sense the fierce love Norma continues to inspire in Max von Mayerling (Don Richard, who brings a real humanity to the role, rather than making it the usual Addams Family-like stereotype). This once formidable director, now serves as Norma's unflappable butler and protector, is awed by her unwillingness to surrender, even if she IS wholly divorced from reality.

"Sunset Boulevard" is a huge show that moves between the bizarre goings on inside Norma's mansion, and the more recognizable reality of a Hollywood studio, a sound stage and even Schwab's Drugstore, a favorite hangout for young talent. Among that talent is Betty Schaefer (the fervent, clarion-voiced Dara Cameron), a young script editor who encourages Joe to keep up the good fight, and falls for him as they collaborate on a script, even if Joe is a marked man in many ways.

The show itself is hardly seamless, even if it is largely sung-through. And director William Osetek hasn't solved the problems that have plagued this musical from the start, particularlythe way the air tends to go out of the show whenever the larger-than-life Desmond scenes switch to "the real world." (His staging of the final staircase scene isn't quite as dramatic as it might have been either.)

Yet there are some well-done cameos -- Rod Thomas as a studio boss and David Kortemeier as a studio technician who remembers Desmond from the old days. There is excellent music direction by way of Roberta Duchak, an impossibly sensual tango sequence choreographed by Tammy Mader, cleverly done special effects by projections magician Mike Tutaj, grandly stylish costumes for Sherrill (by designer Theresa Ham), a muscular set by Scott Davis that captures dual architectural styles, and a fine orchestra led by Ben Johnson.

And there is Sherrill, who by all rights should be a Broadway star. Just consider yourself lucky that you can see her here. She is more than ready for her close-up.


Slated to open in 2015, the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall at Northwestern University in Evanston will feature a 50-foot-high glass wall behind the stage that overlooks Lake Michigan and Chicago's skyline. The 400-seat performance space, courtesy of a $6 million gift from the Robert W. Galvin Foundation, is to be housed in a new music and communication building designed by Goettsch Partners. Construction has been underway since 2012.

The recital hall's namesake, Mary Galvin, is co-founder of the Stradivari Society and graduated from Northwestern in 1945. School officials say it will be the centerpiece of a five-story structure that includes lounges, offices, teaching labs, classrooms and numerous other features.

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HAMBURG BALLET IN 'NIJINSKY' AT THE HARRIS THEATER FOR MUSIC AND DANCE

by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Long before the advent of Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Russian prodigy by the name Vaslav Nijinsky was hailed as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century. He also was a choreographer of genius (think of him as the Picasso of dance) whose work combined ballet with his own unique form of modern movement in such groundbreaking, sexually-charged, often scandal-generating masterworks as "The Afternoon of a Faun," (1912), "Jeux" (1913), "Till Eulenspiegel" and "The Rite of Spring" (1913) -- all created for impresario Sergei Diaghilev's Paris-based company, the Ballets Russes.

In his remarkable, grand-scale fantasia of a ballet, "Nijinsky," -- which played to packed houses this weekend at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance -- John Neumeier, the Milwaukee-born choreographer and designer who has spent the past 40 years as artistic director of Germany's Hamburg Ballet, captures the tormented psyche, as well as the artistic brilliance of this man whose explosive talent and inevitable implosion were inextricably connected.

But beyond capturing Nijinsky's innovative brilliance, this work, created in 2000, powerfully reveals Neumeier's own immense creativity -- his choreographic audacity, his ability to infuse layer upon layer of psychological and historical insight into movement, his grand theatricality and his bold, supremely elegant sense of design. Fittingly, he has a large, virtuosic company of dancers to interpret his work, as well as the largesse of state support.

The opening scene of "Nijinsky" (set variously to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich and others) immediately sparks the connection between the world of the stage and the actual audience. With the house lights still blazing, the guests at a posh hotel salon in Switzerland file into view, chattering audibly before Nijinsky arrives to give his final public performance.

It is 1919. The dancer's long and torturous relationship with Diaghilev -- his ever-manipulative lover, mentor, promoter and more -- is in shambles, in large part because he has married Romola de Pulszky. Caught up in what was surely the marriage from hell, Romola was unfaithful, yet returned time and again to try to rescue her husband. Meanwhile, in the world outside there was more chaos -- World War I -- which left Europe and Nijinsky (who was interned in Hungary until 1916) forever altered. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that Nikinsky was about to sink into ever more severe mental illness.

And it is that mental breakdown -- complete with flashbacks to the career-making roles he danced (as the Golden Slave in "Scheherazade," as the Faun, as the broken-hearted puppet Petruschka, as the Spirit of the Rose, as Harlequin and more) -- that drives the ballet.

Among Neumeier's most remarkable achievements here is the way he has been able to echo Nijinsky's now iconic choreography while also developing a distinctive and complementary vocabulary of his own to chart the anatomy of a fractured genius. Steeped in Nijinsky's world since his youth, Neumeier's choreography and design coalesce into an extraordinary hybrid vision. (As just one example: The giant neon rings that capture the more abstract aspects of Nijinsky's mind in this ballet just happen to be contemporary versions of Nijinsky's circular-patterned drawings.)

The more you know about Nijinsky (a marathon performance by the mesmerizing Alexandre Riabko, full of heat, beauty, anguish and dazzling technique), the more you can appreciate this ballet. But the sheer scale and complexity of the work is enough to enthrall, as multiple incarnations of Nijinsky inhabit the stage, as his whole world spins around him, and as he is relentlessly torn by his feverish, devouring relationship with Diaghilev (an ideally chilly Carsten Jung), and his taut yet volatile wife, Romola (Helene Bouchet, the powerhouse wraith in a crimson gown), who, in a particularly stunning series of images, pulls him across the stage on a child's black sled.

The fleet and wildly expressive Aleix Martinez danced the role of Nijinsky's (also mad) brother with gorgeous ferocity. Thiago Bordin's Golden Slave and Faun were both richly sensual in very different ways. Lloyd Riggins was an aptly tormented Petruschka, and Silvia Azzoni was a delicate winged sylph. Dozens of other notable dancers contributed in countless ways, many gathering in a slow, persistent march of soldiers along the back wall of the stage in an obligato of terror.

Neumeier may have given his ballet a few too many endings. Yet that is a small flaw, indeed, in a work that leaves Nijinsky dancing in your head long after he and his demons are out of the spotlight.

[One final note: John Neumeier is in discussions with Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey Ballet's artistic director, about possibly having one of his existing works set on the Joffrey. This would be a fine challenge.]

Three seconds. That's roughly how long it takes for friends and fans of Ron Onesti to merrily accost him at the Office, a bar and eatery near his Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Onesti could be mayor of this 'burb, it's suggested, and in fact he once pondered running for 36th Ward alderman. But the born promoter, a first-generation Italian-American, has no interest in politics.

"Mayor," he says wryly, "would be a step down."

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Onesti has run the Arcada for nearly 9 years, during which time he has lured countless concertgoers from Chicago and far beyond to watch such headliners as Richard Marx, Don Rickles, Foreigner, Air Supply and numerous others.

It's not easy to keep the joint afloat, though, and Onesti has encountered his share of roadblocks. But even though he ponders closing shop "every day," it's not in him.

"I'd go have a show, people leaving with tears in their eyes [because] it was the best night of their life," he told the Sun-Times. "And it was like, 'Oh, I gotta do it. I gotta figure something out.'"

For more on Ron and his theater

And here's some footage of the acts who've played in his venerable 900-seat venue:

Richard Marx and Hugh Jackman

Foreigner

Rick Springfield

The Go-Go's

Jerry Lewis

Kenny Rogers

Don Rickles

Kevin Costner


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'THE BIRTHDAY PARTY'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through April 28
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre Upstairs, 1650 N. Halsted
Tickets: $20-$78
Info: (312) 335-1650; www.steppenwolf.org
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions


It is a dining room table -- that iconic symbol of "the nuclear family" -- that serves as the centerpiece of the spellbinding Steppenwolf Theatre revival of "The Birthday Party," Harold Pinter's deeply enigmatic, creepily sinister, often darkly funny play dating from 1958. And to be sure, this is no accident.

That table -- the lone, unmovable object in the Upstairs Theatre's new runway configuration -- begins to look more and more like an island. Initially safe and wholly mundane in its isolation, it is increasingly besieged. And what becomes ever more clear as Pinter's story unspools is that "the family of man" that exists beyond the discontent inside the non-existent walls and neatly carpeted confines of this "safe house" is even more devious, opportunistic, threatening and brutal. There truly is no place to hide.

And oh, did I forget to mention that under Austin Pendleton's needle-sharp, revelatory direction, this production is a master class in acting? It is led by a cast of five peerless veterans (Moira Harris, John Mahoney, Francis Guinan, Ian Barford and Marc Grapey), with one eye-catching newcomer, Sophia Sinise (daughter of Harris and Steppenwolf co-founder Gary Sinise) who clearly has inherited an ideal set of theatrical genes.

"The Birthday Party" is set in an English seaside boarding house. The place is owned by an aging couple -- caretaker Meg Bowles (Harris, back at Steppenwolf for the first time since 1998, and in bravura form), and Petey (Mahoney), whose morning ritual of corn flakes, newspaper-reading and non-communication with his wife sets the play's tragicomic, Beckettlike tone. (Petey's job as a deck chair attendant on the pier keeps him offstage for all but a few crucial scenes, which Mahoney nails with gorgeous minimalism.)

And then there is Stanley (Barford, astonishing in his volatility, vulnerability and impotence), a washed-up, depressive young pianist who is the couple's sole border. He might be the Bowles' surrogate son, or a real one who receives quite a bit too much attention from his mum and not nearly enough from his dad. Either way, he is not quite right. He can't make a connection with Lulu (Sinise, pitch-perfect as an English bird who fully senses her seductive power), the fetching young blonde neighbor who comes on to him in her faux-haughty manner. And he very definitely is in some kind of serious trouble in the wider world, which is why he is in semi-hiding.

The tension rises palpably with the arrival of a wealthy Jewish businessman/mobster, Nat Goldberg (Guinan, in a dazzling performance whose daring emotionalism and conniving seductiveness are near operatic in intensity), and his tense, taciturn, Irish henchman, Dermot McCann (Grapey, whose less-is-more approach works wonderfully here).
Goldberg knows immediately that he can charm and disarm Meg. And he is just smarmy enough to seduce Lulu. He also can easily work his psychological terror on Stanley before someone else finishes the job.

What Pendleton and his actors do so brilliantly here -- aside from acting the stuffings out of every suggestive, meticulously orchestrated moment in the play -- is to reveal Pinter's profoundly disturbing take on human nature. As each character weaves his or her own narrative with just enough lies and self-deceptions to survive, all the pain and discontent of their real existence becomes transparent. Along the way, several of them -- most notably Meg and Goldberg -- engage in a long chorale of idealized childhood memories. Whether real or embellished, they are at considerable distance from their adult lives.

As for finding a defender or protector in this world -- forget about it. Most are too self-involved or oblivious. Those who can see what is happening are too late to act and impotent.

Walt Spangler's inspired set, Rachel Anne Healy's costumes (oh, those sweater vests) and Josh Schmidt's eerie soundscape are a perfectly primed canvas for Pinter's insidious dialogue. This is a "Birthday Party" you will not soon forget.

stallone.jpgDespite his "Rambo" image and new shoot-em-up film "Bullet to the Head," Sylvester Stallone reports he's in favor of new national gun control legislation.

Stallone supported the 1994 "Brady Bill" that included a now-expired ban on assault weapons and hopes that ban can be reinstated.

"I know people get [upset] and go, 'They're going to take away the assault weapon.' Who ... needs an assault weapon? Like really, unless you're carrying out an assault. You can't hunt with it.Who's going to attack your house, a [expletive] army?"

The 66-year-old actor, writer and director also hopes for an additional focus on mental health to prevent future mass shootings.

"It's unbelievably horrible, what's happened," he said. "I think the biggest problem, seriously, is not so much guns. It's that every one of these people that have done these things in the past 30 years are friggin' crazy. Really crazy! And that's where we've dropped the ball: mental health," he said. "That to me is our biggest problem in the future, is insanity coupled with isolation."

Stallone is now in production on his next project, pairing up with the former "Raging Bull" Robert De Niro for "Grudge Match," about two aging boxers.

"People think it's going to be some geezer brawl. Really? OK, they're in for a surprise. [De Niro] is taking it deadly serious. Because no one wants to be shown up," Stallone said. "It's going to be like a 'Rocky' fight. This will be 'Rocky 7,' with me fighting -- with Rocky fighting the 'Raging Bull.' "

AP

Before he was a big star, before he did "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" approximately one zillion times, David Brenner graced the small stage at Mister Kelly's nightclub on Rush. Between then (the early 70s) and now, the 76-year-old has played countless gigs (some in town), authored books, taped HBO standup specials and served as a pundit for major cable networks. Come March 3, for one gig only (as of now, anyway) he's back in town (ish) to play Zanies' newest comedy club in Rosemont. Tickets are a bit pricier than usual ($30), the showtime is earlier (6:30 p.m.) and we can't vouch for the quality of his current act (because we haven't seen it), but it's a swell chance to see this legend in action.

David Brenner at Zanies in Rosemont
Sunday, March 3 at 6:30 p.m.
MB Financial Plaza
5437 Park Place
(847) 813-0484
www.zanies.com
Tickets $30

DuSable Museum Celebrates

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by Hedy Weiss
Theater and Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

CELEBRATING THE LIFE AND ART OF GEOFFREY HOLDER AND CARMEN DELAVALLADE

At the top of the list of fabled husband-and-wife artistic partnerships you will find such pairings (for better AND for worse) as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keefe, and Picasso and Dora Maar.

Add to that list of "creative royal couples" the names Geoffrey Holder, 82 (who, at various times has been an actor, choreographer, director, dancer, painter, costume designer, singer and voice-over artist), and Carmen DeLavallade, 81 (a dancer's dancer, choreographer, actress, director, writer, teacher and coach). Their careers now span seven decades, and together they occupy a unique place in African-American cultural history.

The couple -- who are as stunning to look at as they are accomplished -- have been married since 1955, and continue to work at their art. And now they are being celebrated in a major exhibition, "Geoffrey & Carmen" A Memoir in Four Movements," that will run Feb. 9-May 30 at Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History, before traveling to the California African-American Museum in Los Angeles (DeLavallade's home town), and the new National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad (where Holder grew up).

The show, curated by Charles Bethea, with assistance from the Holders' son, Leo (a visual effects and animation specialist now working on the new Fox TV series, "The Following"), will include about three dozen of Holder's paintings, drawings and collages, as well as photographs and memorabilia from throughout the couple's careers, several gowns Holder designed for DeLavallade, the costume for Dorothy that Holder designed for the original Broadway production of "The Wiz," rare film footage of DeLavallade dancing with Alvin Ailey in "Revelations" (recently unearthed in Malaysia) and more.

"Putting this show together has been a multi-fold, multi-year adventure to say the least," said Leo Holder. "And along the way things changed. Two years ago, my father, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall, broke his hip, and he has been in rehab at the Actors' Fund Home in New Jersey ever since -- producing more works of art than ever, and using whatever he can get his hands on, from wrapping paper and cardboard boxes to wire hangers and styrofoam cups."

"At the same time, my mother and I had the unenviable task of emptying the 5,000-square-foot loft in SoHo they had shared since 1981. So multiply the archives of two octagenarians with the sort of unique, artistically fertile lives they've led -- and add to that the fact that they amassed a huge library, and that from the start my father has been a major maker of art and a major collector of art [Matisse, Diego Rivera, Dogon masks, and Haitian paintings that, since the destruction of the 2010 earthquake, have become incredibly precious], and you will understand that finding, selecting and shipping everything for this show has been a Herculean task."

"It is hard to explain our lives," said DeLavallade, who now lives in a Harlem loft, and will attend the Feb. 9 gala opening at DuSable that will begin with a tribute to the Holders (Geoffrey will join in via Skype), and a conversation led by Susan Taylor, former editor of Essence magazine. "We lived in a great big playground. Now, at the Actors' Home, Geoffrey has a small space and it is hard to control; he just fills it up with his work."

Holder confirms the situation.

"I make something every five minutes," he said, proceeding to retell the Genesis story in a highly theatrical way, and suggesting that God was clearly an artist -- a man who took mud and started sculpting life. "All I see is art; it just comes out of me. And I've always believed that if you love what you're doing you're not working."

It was in 1952, at the age of 21, that Holder first left his big, gifted family in Trinidad, traveling with his own dance company to a Caribbean arts festival in Puerto Rico. He was spotted by the great choreographer Agnes de Mille who invited him to New York. In 1954 he made his Broadway debut as Samedi, a Haitian conjurer, in "House of Flowers," the fabled Harold Arlen-Truman Capote musical. He was immediately smitten with fellow cast member DeLavellade, and they were married the following year.

"Carmen is the most wonderful woman in the world -- my goddess, a brilliant artist, very kind and very beautiful, and she gave me a good son," said Holder. "I have good taste."

He began his movie career in the 1962 British film "All Night Long," a modern remake of Shakespeare's "Othello," following up with roles in "Doctor Doolittle," "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)," and the James Bond movie, "Live and Let Die." In the 1970s Holder also became a memorable spokesman for "the uncola" advertising campaign for 7 Up, as well as the lilting voice for BWIA (British West Indies Airways).

In 1975, Holder won two Tony Awards -- for direction and costume design -- for "The Wiz," the hit all-black musical version of "The Wizard of Oz," becoming the first black man to be nominated in either category. In 1978, he directed and choreographed the Broadway musical "Timbuktu!" He also has created choreography and costumes for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

DeLavallade grew up in Los Angeles, raised by her aunt, who owned one of the first African American bookstores. Her cousin was Janet Collins, one of the first African American prima ballerinas, and, inspired by her, DeLavallade began studying ballet and modern dance at the age of 14. She won a scholarship to the pioneering Lester Horton Dance Theater. And it was there that she first met the young Alvin Ailey, who also became part of the cast of "House of Flowers" in New York.

It was Lena Horne who introduced DeLavallade to 20th Century Fox executives, which led to her appearance in more than 75 films and television shows. She later joined the faculty of the Yale Drama School as a choreographer and dancer-in-residence, teaching such young actors as Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Henry Winkler.

"That was in the 1970s -- a remarkable time to be in the midst of so many terrific writers, designers, directors and actors of the future," she said. "I worry about young artists now. There are too many distractions, and everyone is
worried about 'branding' themselves. My advice to them is always to be disciplined and focused, and to take their time."

And DeLavallade still dances.

"I call it moving," she said, laughing. "It is very important to keep moving."

For those about to rock, IU salutes you

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mcrobbie_1544.jpgBLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University President and ardent rock fan Michael A. McRobbie selected four rock-related movies from the 1960s and '70s to be shown in a special film series starting next week on the Bloomington campus.

The films for the President's Choice Film Series at IU Cinema include "Woodstock," "Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii," "Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day" and "Don't Look Back," a documentary about Bob Dylan shot during a 1965 concert tour.

The film festival begins Feb. 4 and continues Feb. 11, Feb. 18 and April 29. Tickets for all films in the series are $3 each.

A native of Australia, McRobbie believes rock has provided iconic performers and key moments in cultural history. No word on whether he prefers the Beatles to the Stones.

AP

Brandon and cast.jpg

Members of the Chicago cast of "Million Dollar Quartet" will appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" next week during the late-night gabfest's big "Elvis Week."

Lance Lipinsky who plays Jerry Lee Lewis will appear with his band Lance Lipinsky and the Lovers" (along with the Elvis performer that day), Feb 4-6. Brandon Bennett, who plays Elvis in the Chicago's production, will perform on Feb 5.

Tickets for "Million Dollar Quartet," now playing at the Apollo Theatre,are available at (773) 935-6100

The controversial director of "JFK," "Platoon," "Born on the Fourth of July" and several other films will make local appearances Friday, Feb. 1 (as in TODAY) at Clemente High School at Western and Division and Saturday, Feb. 2 at the Institute for Puerto Rican Art and Culture. At both stops he'll be joined by American University history prof and Nuclear Studies Institute director Peter Kuznick. He's Stone's co-author on the bestselling book "The Untold History of the United States" and co-producer (also with Stone) of the 10-part Showtime documentary series "Empire, Colonialism and Torture." The Friday event at Clemente is moderated by professor Jose E. Lopez and follows a screening of episode 7 -- "Vietnam, LBJ, and the Third World." Saturday's press conference also will focus on the book and Showtime series.

Oliver Stone in Chicago
Friday, Feb. 1
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick in discussion with Prof. Jose E. Lopez
Clemente high school
1147 N. Western (at Division)
Doors open 6 p.m.
Admission is free

Saturday, Feb. 2
Puerto Rican Art and Culture
3015 W. Division
11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
RSVP to Melinda Power, (773) 278-6706


pitchfork-CST-071612 15.JPG

The last time I set foot anywhere near a music festival, Metallica headlined Lollapalooza. That was long before Grant Park -- I covered it for The Daily Iowan at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa.

That was an actual festival venue -- dusty, hot and complete with livestock barns where 4H members competed for statewide honors in livestock categories earlier that summer. Did I mention it was hot?

Since the day that music (festivals) died for me in 1996, there hasn't been any concert lineup that convinced me to mingle with the masses. Until today's Pitchfork Festival announcement.

R. Kelly and Bjork! It's such an odd, weird and unbelievable mashup that I'm pulling the trigger on tickets. Buy them here.

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