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Idina Menzel

There is no doubt Idina Menzel has a fervent guardian angel keeping a watchful eye out on her and her career. Initially cast in the original Broadway company of a little show called Rent, Menzel played the enigmatic performance artist, Maureen, in 1996, and was nominated for a Tony Award for her debut performance. Menzel was then bestowed the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical as Elphaba in the original production of a show you may have heard of before, Wicked. Then in 2014 she had a triumphant return to Broadway as the lead in the Tony nominated star vehicle, If/Then, earning her a third Tony nomination.  Next,  she was honored with the Breakthrough Artist Award at the Billboard Women in Music Awards for a little song and film you may be familiar with; Let It Go from Frozen, the global phenomenon that still shows no signs of stopping, almost 2 years later. Her role in this, the titular Queen Elsa, of course. Add to this list, a reoccurring role on Glee, a supporting part in another Disney film hit, Enchanted, the Travolta mispronunciation of her name heard around the world, and  “Adele Dazeem” I mean to say,  Idina Menzel is at the top of her craft.   Bringing her powerhouse, belting, Mezzo-soprano voice and descending on Chicago at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park for a one night only event concert.  While it was almost 90* that night, the real heat was the sizzling talent of Menzel center stage, in a 95 minute concert combination of show tunes, serenades, accolades, and some real life Disney magic.

Idina Menzel

Giving the fans exactly what they commanded, Menzel opened the show with her signature track from Wicked the musical, Defying Gravity. Following up with the Barbra Streisand classic,  Don’t Rain on My Parade.  “Is there a single straight man here?” she jibed to the enthusiastic audience. When pointing to an older gentlemen sitting just a few rows behind me, she deadpanned, “There he is.  You probably don’t know who the hell I am, sir.”After the giggles subsided, Menzel broke out into the song Brave from her debut album Exhale that she kidded was “an old album that only about three people bought.”Continuing the theme of empowerment that has linked almost two decades of her work, she concluded this initial set with I Stand. Clad in a simple black, belted, strapless dress with a silver and black printed wrap tied around the waist, which she discarded, and completing her look with a pair of silver chunky heels, which she also quickly discarded.“The more famous I’m getting the bigger the stage” she exclaimed as she ran from corner to corner of the expansive Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage, waving at her eager fans.

Idina Menzel

This self titled “Long Island Girl” shared with the audience “as a kid I had this voice and I was afraid to shine.”Well, she has clearly gotten over that, as she next dazzled with The Wizard and I, also from Wicked.    “I was the very first, original green girl” she preened. Bringing out her own stool, center stage, Menzel next crooned River by Joni Mitchell. As we were all glowing from the heat and humidity of the evening, Menzel jibbed she will “now be associated with all things cold weather for the rest of my career.”A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she shared a freshman girl’s tale of unrequited love by her professor (“another gay” she chortled) and then wowed with a mash-up of Love for Sale by Cole Porter and Roxanne by The Police.   Finishing her second set with an all singing salute to the “Big Belting Woman of Broadway, Ethel Merman.”Melding the classics, There’s No Business Like Show BusinessAnything Goes and Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Menzel’s throaty delivery sent chills down the spines of her enthralled audience.

Idina Menzel

If the Broadway songs were loud and bodacious, her next number Still I Can’t Be Still was delivered quietly and intimately, Menzel on her knees, center stage. She blended a few verses of Creep by Radiohead into this mix as well. It seems there are days even this Queen of the spirited, triumphant and empowering  ballad of self esteem and self worth doesn’t want to get out of bed either.  This was Menzel at her most humble and earnest.

Idina Menzel

with Ariana Burks

Next, selecting three members at random from the audience to duet with her Take Me Or Leave Me song from Rent,  Menzel was in for quite a surprise herself. It was a delightfully fortuitous moment when Chicago’s own South Side spitfire Ariana Burks happened to be in the audience, dressed in one of her signature oversized hair bows, when Menzel exclaimed “the one in pink”motioning for Ariana to join her onstage, out of a sea of tweens screaming“pick me, pick me.” It was then that real magic ensued. This dynamite 15 year old, last seen headlining Chicago Children’s Theater’s  Wonderland, Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure commanded the stage like a young Aretha Franklin, with Menzel giving her nothing but respect. “I love it when they can sing” Menzel kidded before giving the teen-age chanteuse a hug and wiped away the tears staining the young fan’s face.    Then ending this set with the theme, No Day But Today,  a quiet tribute to Rent writer and creator Jonathan Larson.  “Live for Today!” She exclaimed.  “I am present.  I am in the moment.  I am living this.” Which then lead to a lovely No Day But Today audience sing-a-long too.

Speaking then of how life sometimes imitated art, Menzel waxed poetically of her most recent return to the Great White Way of Broadway in the musical If/Then. “You have the power, if you want, to start your life again” she said before bringing the outdoor venue onto its feet with her epic vocal runs of the tune Always Starting Over.  Ending with an a cappella version of For Good from Wicked with a wild twist addition of The Red Hot Chili Peppers Give It Away. Inviting all the small children to the foot of the stage, Queen Elsa finished her concert with a 10 minute plus version of the Oscar award winning anthem, Let It Go.  Passing the microphone around to almost a dozen small children with various vocal talents, all delighted that “the cold never bothered me anyway.” What a charming treat for all, before Menzel took the mic back, returned to center stage to belt out the remaining authoritative final notes of her signature, career defining,  ballad.

After almost 10 minutes of thunderous ovation, Menzel reverted back to her stool to finish her show with its final two songs.  The first, titled Child, a new piece written especially for her son, who she joked “doesn’t like when Mommy sings.”Boy will he change his tune when he gets a little older. She concluded the evening with a song she said she has sang “since childhood,” a sweeping rendition of Little Orphan Annie’s  Tomorrow, which we all know is “only a day away.”Expressing her love for getting to do what she has always dreamed of doing, Idina Menzel waved good-bye to the Windy City crowd and wrapped the night with a simple “Thank You, Chicago.”

Idina Menzel’s World Tour 2015 played the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park Sunday August 16, 2015

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.


Broadway’s A Doll’s House Meticulously Stunning Revival Soars Like a Birdie Above That Clumsy Cat on a Hot Tin Roof




For a revival to find its footing, it has to have a point of view or a sense of purpose far beyond an actor’s desire to perform a part, whether it suits them or not. It needs to radiate an idea that will make us want to sit up and pay attention. To feel its need to exist. And on one particular day in March, I was blessed with the opportunity to see not just one grande revival, but two. One was a detailed pulled-apart revolutionary revival of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that astounded. The other, unfortunately, was a clumsy revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that fell lazily from that high-wired peak – not for a lack of trying, but from a formulation that never found its purpose.

Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House. Courtesy of A Doll’s House.

But over at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre, a reformulation chirps most wisely and wonderfully, bringing depth and focus to a classic Henrik Ibsen (Hedda Gabler) play that I didn’t realize was in such need of an adaptation. With no extravagance at its core, Amy Herzog (Mary Jane) dynamically takes the detailed structure and beautifully adapted it with due purpose. It hypnotizes, dragging in a number of light wooden chairs, Scandinavian in style, I believe, onto the stage, one by one, by their black-clad counterparts in a determined effort to unpack what will unfold. There is no artifice to hide behind in this rendering, as designed most impeccably by scenic and co-costume designer Soutra Gilmour (NT’s My Brilliant Friend; Broadway’s & Juliet) and co-costume designer Enver Chakartash (Broadway’s Is This A Room), only A Doll’s House’s celebrated star, Jessica Chastain (Broadway’s The Heiress; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye“) rotating the expanse of the bare stage before the others join her slowly and deliberately. She sits, arms crossed, staring, daring us to look away, while knowing full well we won’t. Or can’t. And without a word, it feels like she has us exactly where she wants us. Needs us to be. And all that transpires before the play even begins.

They sit on that bare and stark stage, waiting, in a way, to be played with, like dolls patiently wanting some children to come and give them a voice through their imagination. As Nora, Chastain delivers forward a performance that is unparalleled. To witness what transpires across her face during the course of this extra fine adaptation is to engage in a dance so delicately embroidered that we can’t help but be moved and transported. She barely moves from her chair, as others, like the equally wonderful Arian Moayed (Broadway’s The Humans) as Torvald, are rotated in to sit beside her, conversing and delivering magnified lines, thanks to the brilliant work of sound designers Ben & Max Ringham (West End’s Prima Facie), that dig deep into the underbelly of the complicated interactions. This pair of actors find a pathway through the darkness, never letting us come to any conclusions until they are ready to unleash a moment that will leave you breathless. This is particularly true for Moayed’s Torvald, who seems decent enough at the beginning, but once the shift occurs, when the beautiful thing doesn’t happen as it should, his unveiling is as gut-wrenching to us as it is to Nora. Even though we knew it was coming long before the play even began to spin forward.

Arian Moayed, Jesmille Darbouze, Okieriete Onaodowan, Tasha Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Patrick Thornton in A Doll’s House. Courtesy of A Doll’s House.

The art of the unfolding is steeped within the whole, refocused inside the brilliant shading, shadowing, and starkness of the cast. As Krogstad, the powerful Okieriete Onaodowan (Broadway’s Hamilton), alongside the deliciously tight Jesmille Darbouze (Broadway’s Kiss Me, Kate) as Kristine, find an engagement that sits perfectly in the structuring. They push the reforming to the edge, approaching and receding away from Chastain’s brilliant centering helping move the piece towards the required conclusion.

The same can be said of the wonderful Tasha Lawrence (LCT’s Pipeline) as Anne-Marie, and the exquisitely emotional turning of Michael Patrick Thornton (Broadway’s Macbeth) as Dr. Rank. Thornton, in particular, finds a telling and emotional space to connect, unearthing an engagement that breaks the circle apart, leaving Chastain’s Nora and all of us observers shattered and broken in its black X’d finality.

As directed with the same magnificently detailed energy and flat-walled framework as the previously seen Betrayal on Broadway and the West End, Jamie Lloyd gives us A Doll’s House that will never be forgotten. The focus is so deliberate, and the formulations are just so strong, pushed forward in black and white by the exacting lighting design of Jon Clark (West End/Broadway’s The Lehman Trilogy). Forced while remaining ever so intimate, the cascading of the statement delivered registers in a precise way, more exacting than I ever remembered, and I’ve seen numerous renditions of this epic play. And even though, from what I hear, many on the left couldn’t see the epic exit of Nora, a moment that typically registers throughout theatre history, the symbol of a woman, steadfast and true, leaving the safe and simple artifice of A Doll’s House for engagement in the hard cruel reality of the world outside is as clear as can be. The delicacies of this birdie trapped inside a cage, poisoned with lies and excuses, and beautifully brought forth by Chastain, registers the reasonings for this revival to exist. It has found a new and deliberate place to sing, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House. Courtesy of A Doll’s House
Matt de Rogatis in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.

I wish I could say the same about Ruth Stage‘s modern take on the Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire) classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, currently being re-delivered at the Theatre at St. Clements. As directed by Joe Rosario (Hemingway and Me; Ruth Stages’ The Exhibition), the play doesn’t find its rationale for existing in the modern day beyond the simplistic sexualization of its boxing-ring corners. Matt de Rogatis (Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses) as the tense athletic Brick stays broken and damaged in his corner, riding out the moment, waiting for the click, while in the other corner is the tense Maggie, played without hesitation by Courtney Henggeler (Netflix’s “Cobra Kai“) poised and ready for the bell to ring.

The battle is only heightened by the presence of two other fighters in the opposing corners, Big Daddy, played with determination by Frederick Weller (Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird) in the third, and Big Mama, played with a strong intent by Alison Fraser (Gingold Theatrical’s Heartbreak House), in the fourth. And watching and cheering for their own personal perspective wins are the obnoxious Mae, typically portrayed by Christine Copley (although I believe I saw an understudy), the weasely Gooper, played by Adam Dodway (Theatre Row’s Small Craft Warnings), Rev. Tooker portrayed by Milton Elliott (Ruth Stage’s Hamlet), and Doc Baugh, typically played by Jim Kempner (“The Girlfriend Experience“) (although, once again, I believe I saw an understudy).

Frederick Weller and Alison Fraser in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.

Generally, this is a battle that rages deceptively strong and subtle for the length of the play, swimming cruelly in the hazy heat of its Southern charm. But somewhere in this modernization, the reasonings never get fully realized, leaving the cast to wander in their stereotypical delivery without a sharp focal point in the horizon to zero in on. Hidden behind the bar and the drink, de Rogatis finds a Brick to be engaged with. He’s definitely handsome and desirable, especially in the eyes of the far-too-straightforward Henggeler’s Maggie the Cat, and his occupation of drinking rings more true than most. I’m not sure if the modernization has been created to fit his chest-baring delivery of a broken Brick, but I will say that his artful approach to the part is one of the stronger components of this otherwise clunky reimagining.

Given so much to unpack, Henggeler runs a little too fast and furious, not weaving a pause into her thoughts and actions. It’s all forward flowing, ignoring the laws of silence and deliberation. Big Mama and Big Daddy, ignoring the fact that they don’t seem to fit in with their surroundings or the set-up, find their way into the same cage as the two central figure fighters, giving us something else to contemplate in their constructs, beyond their tight fitting jeans and dress. There’s not much of a father/son connection, nor does their familial energy register, even as it moves and twitches within the pauses well. The details of attachment are lost, as they talk around things, with everyone else playing at high volume, courtesy of a sound design by Tomás Correa (Hudson Street’s Adam & Eve), delivering the Southern drawl with the intensity of an SNL skit. That’s a problem to the whole and one that doesn’t work for this rendering.

Courtney Henggeler in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.

Most of the cast is all hock and no spit, moving around the room with a strange case of physicalized mendacity while never really finding a reason for their existence. The artifice gets in the way of the movement, especially in Matthew Imhoff’s (off-Broadway’s soot and spit) busy and overly clumsy set, with some distracting fading in and out by lighting designer Christian Specht’s (SSTI’s Cabaret). The storm approaching is as false as the formula and the reasoning for this retelling. It showcases some basically good actors embracing the chance to play iconic Big roles that I’m sure they have always wanted to dig their Southern-accented chomps into, possibly because one or two of them might never otherwise get the chance as they don’t exactly fit the literal sashaying of the “fat old” bodies out and around the staging of this play. The idea breeds curiosity, but one that doesn’t save this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from falling quick and hard from its perch, I’m sad to say. While the birdie in A Doll’s House flies strong out into the cool Broadway air, with solid reasoning on its stark wings, reminding us all what makes for a worthy reimagining of a classic.

Frederick Weller in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.
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Relevantly Tuneless Fairytale Bad Cinderella Isn’t Bad, It’s Forgettable



You are seriously asking for it, when you make the title for your musical Bad Cinderella, however the show is  not bad, it’s just seriously lacking. For an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which is normally rich in melody, the only song that has any kind of hold is “Only You, Lonely You” sung by Prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson or in my performance the wonderful Julio Ray). The lyrics by David Zippel and book by Emerald Fennell, adapted by Alexis Scheer are inane. It doesn’t help that the cast for the most part speaks and sings with mouths full of cotton. The orchestrations sound tinny and computerized, The lead Linedy Genao has no charisma or vocals that soar musically, instead she is rather nasal, like Bernadette Peters with a cold. Why this show is two and a half hours long is beyond me.

Grace McLean and the hunks Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

The show is based in a town called Belleville (beautiful town en Francais), that is based solely on looks and prides itself on its superficiality. The opening number starts with “Beauty Is Our Duty,” the Queen (a fabulous Grace McLean) is into her hunks including her missing son Charming (Cameron Loyal).

Christina Acosta Robinson Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

And the fairy godmother (Christina Acosta Robinson) is a plastic surgeon who sings “Beauty Has a Price”. In a day and age, where we are suppose to see past all that, this show is politically incorrect.

Linedy Genao Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Cinderella a Gothic, and a graffiti artist, naturally does not fit into the town’s mold of beauty, which is how she earns her nickname. Her rebel move happens when she defaces a memorial statue of Sebastian’s older brother, Prince Charming. Sebastian is more of a geek, and he and Cinderella are in the “friend zone,” since both lack communication skills in admitting their love.

Carolee Carmello Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Sebastian is being forced by his mother, the Queen to find a wife at a ball and invites Cinderella. Cinderella’s stepmother (the always remarkable Carolee Carmello) blackmails the Queen to get one of her daughters Adele (Sami Gayle) or Marie (Morgan Higgins) the gig.

Grace McLean, Carolee Carmello Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

McLean and Carmello are the bright spots in the show and if the show had been about these two, maybe we would actually have a show that could work. These two steal the show.

Linedy Genao, Jordan Dobson, Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Cinderella has not one, but two what should have been show stopping numbers “I Know I Have A Heart (Because You Broke It)” and “Far Too Late,” but she does not have the vocals, the character development or the star power to carry them off.

The set and the revenge porn costumes by Gabriela Tylesova, are just over the top, with the storybook set faring much better than the over complicated flowered pastels that waltzed across the stage.

The direction by Laurence Connor is just dull and lacks oomph.

If you like buff men and Chippendale type choreography this is the show for you.

Bad Cinderella, Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street.

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Did You Know There Is A Kander & Ebb Way?



On Friday, March 24th, the 96-year-old John Kander was given a Mayoral Proclamation from Mayor Eric Adams in celebration of the first performance of his new Broadway musical New York, New York. Following the proclamation, Lin-Manuel Miranda unveiled the sign renaming 44th Steet ‘Kander & Ebb Way. On hand was the Manhattan School of Music to performed the iconic Kander & Ebb song “New York, New York.”

New York, New York opens Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre (246 West 44th Street).


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