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All’s Well That Ends Well – Harried Happenings at Navy Pier



A rarely produced dark comedy from the annals of William Shakespeare’s lexicon of material is ushering in springtime at Navy Pier. All’s Well That Ends Well might not have the popularity or recognizability of titles like Romeo and Juliet or Othello, but the dark comedy is certainly high energy silliness. Director Shana Cooper keeps the pace light and fast as this story juggles a hoard of over a dozen characters, who on the surface have little in common, and milks out the fun. From royalty to commoners, the twist and turns of the narrative make sense by the story’s end, just stay with the journey. At the heart, ethical issues are not necessarily solved by simple solutions. For example, what length does one go to when the object of their affection doesn’t return the same feelings?

The young Bertram (Dante Jemmott) rejects a royal decree, as Helen (Alejandra Escalante) holds back the incensed King of France (Francis Guinan). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Written by English playwright William Shakespeare, considered one of the greatest dramatist of all time, this play is told in a darker, more cynical tone. Also, it’s spoken in the Bard of Avon’s favorite iambic pentameter style. Don’t fret, the costuming and surface charms are entirely modern and make this material very easy to digest. At one point the “ladies of Italy” dance, breaking into Beyonce’s familiar “Single Ladies” choreography. At this point, I knew this was not my grandparent’s interpretation of Shakespeare.

Alejandra Escalante and Francis Guinan. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The play unfolds at the funeral of the Countess of Rossillion’s (Ora Jones) husband. Death certainly  becomes the first act, as we also meet the orphaned daughter of the Countesses’ doctor, Helena (the likeable Alejandra Escalante) a young and beautiful healer in her own right. Her recently deceased physician father, from whom she learned all of his trade secrets, then helps to heal the King of France (Francis Guinan) suffering from a near fatal disease. Once he is back in fighting shape, he wants to reward her and suggests an arrangement of marriage with Bertram (Dante Jemmott), the Countesses’ son. Bertram instead flees his royal duties, and potential matrimonial entanglement, to join the military in far away Italy. Well, unbeknownst to him, Helena, naturally, fakes her own death and then follows him to Italy in an attempt to win his heart. Well, being in love with a man who doesn’t return her feelings, she goes to extreme lengths, both physically and metaphorically, in the hopes to win his heart.

The Soldier Lords venture to the wars in Italy. Photo by Liz Lauren.

On top of this, there are several subplots featuring a menagerie of wildcards. The wildest, a weasel named  Parolles (Marc Bedard) as the absolutely self absorbed, court jester type. The physical resemblance to Ryan Gosling cannot be coincidental and Bedard plays this with pompous aplomb. Also played straight for laughs, the clownish, Lavatch (Elizabeth Ledo) pelvic thrusting like a chihuahua in heat. The height difference alone between Ledo and Jones adds an additionally delightful sight gag during their repeated flirting scenes. This relationship goes nowhere, except to the funny bone. Add in a faked kidnapping, a case of mistaken identity, a Cyrano de Bergerac inspired love triangle, and there is more farce here than in a month of daytime soap operas. All’s Well That Ends Well might be an ambitious title, but the audience will definitely find some giggles during the proceedings.

Stephanie Martinez’s choreography was surprisingly modern. The aforementioned Beyonce moment, boy-band boogie in the military scenes, her flow is definitively contemporary. Raquel Barreto’s costumes were all over the place, and that added to the fun. From the classic period dresses on the Countess to the Pucci print inspired scarves influenced by the 1960’s, to modern day khakis worn during the military scenes, this visual gamble was a contemporary twist to make Shakespeare more accessible to the masses, and it worked. Andrew Boyce scenic design elements were sparce but solid. It is tough when the audience surrounds three-quarters of the stage, but his pieces served the narrative well. Adam Boyce’s effective and deliberate lighting also helped push the momentum forward.

The clown Lavatch (Elizabeth Ledo, right) amuses the Countess (Ora Jones).Liz Lauren

William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well might not be one of his most famous pieces, and it does require patience from the viewer as it takes a while to get going. The conclusion here more satisfying than the dry text might have originally called for. I kept wondering why Bertram had such disdain for Helena. She is smart, educated, saved the King’s life and is now in his debt, well connected, actually loved him and was also easy on the eyes. What’s not to like? Instead he runs away to another country to escape this arranged marriage and starts dating other women. Bertram, you could do MUCH worse. Helena, you can do much better. So, spoiler alert, when they end up together in the end, its in the title folks, I couldn’t help but wonder, is all going to be well? Come for the giggles, stay for a talented troupe making this material accessible and easily understandable for a new generation. All’s Well That Ends Well is an affable trip to the theater.

Emma Ladji Photo by Liz Lauren

If I may, I would also like to thank the entire box office staff at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I attended on a very rainy and messy Saturday afternoon and they were so kind to me. So kind in fact, they even let me charge my cell phone in their office during the entire second act. Their above and beyond customer service so appreciated, I told them I would include a note about their generosity, in print, and in my review. I was so harried, I didn’t get their individual names, but that helpful trio certainly was a lifesaver and they know exactly who they are. Again, my sincerest thanks.

Alejandra Escalante Photo by Liz Lauren

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents All’s Well That Ends Well is now playing on Navy Pier through May 29, 2022.

Photo by Liz Lauren

Francis Guinan, Ora Jones Photo by Liz Lauren

Francis Guinan, Alejandra Escalante  Photo by Liz Lauren

Emma Ladji, Alejandra Escalante Photo by Liz Lauren

Elizabeth Ledo Photo by Liz Lauren

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.


The Olivier Awards Return



Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.

Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.

The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.

The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.

The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.

And the nominees are:

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Out of Town

The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview




Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNATwo People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova.

Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.

During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.

Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?

Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic.  The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.

What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?

For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process.  Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.

The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.

Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?

We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play.  We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.

Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!

Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…

We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months.  There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft.  Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.

What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?

For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art.  Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.

For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years.  The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.

The most rewarding?

Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine.  Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.

What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?

We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto.  We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine.  And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.

First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit

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Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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