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Busting Buttons with Corduroy



Jean Claudio Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

Just in time for the holiday season, Emerald City Theatre has reworked their hit, family friendly play, Corduroy, with a little tinsel and lights. Surprisingly little else changed to amend this children’s classic to the Broadway Playhouse Stage just in time for Christmas. For those not in the know, Corduroy originated as a 1968 children’s book, both written and illustrated by Don Freeman. The tale of a teddy who just wanted to belong, missing a button, but still full of optimism and hopeful cheer. This cast of kooky characters wandering about a shopping mall well after closing, will warm the hearts of young and old alike. Matching perfectly with Emerald City Theatre’s season 24 theme “A Place to Belong” I am hopeful this Corduroy quickly becomes an annual Windy City family theatrical tradition. 

Averis I. Anderson, Matt Miles, Kelsey Shipley Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

The story may center around a charming teddy bear displayed proudly on a toy shelf, but the action doesn’t begin until he catches the eye of precocious youngster, Lisa (Tia Pinson) purposely perusing the toy store at the local mall. Alas, Lisa’s overwrought mother (Michelle Renee Thompson) isn’t as smitten, quickly dismissing the toy as flawed since he is clearly missing a button on his overalls. After the ladies leave and the shopping center closes, the real adventure took shape as this inquisitive teddy began his determined quest for completion, to find a coordinating button to fix his overalls.  Searching from floor to floor, through sporting goods, appliances, housing and bedding, the slap-stick, impressive, physical comedy left the audience in stitches. As Corduroy, Jean Claudio masterfully cartwheels, flips and somersaults his way into everyone’s good graces. Clearly a gifted gymnast and tumbler, I dare anyone not to be smitten with the antics of Claudio’s stuffed toy. Joining him on his journey, two more impressive hysterical harlequin’s, clown one and clown two (Averis I. Anderson and Kelsey Shipley). With very little dialog, this triumphant trio wins through exaggerated movements and giggle inducing pratfalls.

Jean Claudio Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

Adding a little drama, the Night Watchman (Matt Miles) hot on the heels of this button seeking brown bear. The hapless security guard convinced there is a prowler on the loose in the store, completely unaware the teddy he keeps finding around the store is causing all of the mishaps and misfortunes. Will Corduroy and Lisa be reunited just in time for Christmas? Will the Night Watchman catch the elusive bad guy? Will this moxie filled mammal ultimately find his “place to belong?” What do you think?

Jean Claudio Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

Director Jamal Howard lets his cast shine in this brisk, one act play. Geared predominately towards the kiddos, there truly is something here for everyone to enjoy. Amanda Crockett’s well executed physical comedy delighted all. Jazmin Aurora Medina’s Crayola crayon, brightly colored costumes popped perfectly against Jeffrey Kmiec exaggerated scenic design. Moving from the larger Athenaeum Theatre to the more intimate Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place space this season, all of the show’s original heart and joy remained firmly intact.  

Jean Claudio, Kelsey Shipley, Averis I. Anderson Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

Emerald City Theatre is the largest theater for young audiences in the Windy City.  Through their One Fund signature outreach program, hundreds of thousands of books and free tickets to plays have been gifted to under-resourced Chicago Public Schools students annually. Corduroy is not only a charming children’s fable; it is a winning live production as well.  Don’t be so quick to leave at curtain as there are a few audience sing-a-long holiday numbers as well to enjoy before you are back out in the holiday hustle and bustle of the nearby Water Tower shopping mall.  Everyone will bust their buttons for this winningly portrayed family friendly tale, Corduroy

Tia Pinson, Michelle Renee Thompson Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

Corduroy is now playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower through January 5, 2020

Tia Pinson, Jean Claudio Photo by Emerald City Theatre 

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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