Winterset, Finding Neverland, and three more alternatives to holiday fare | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Winterset, Finding Neverland, and three more alternatives to holiday fare 

A resonant period piece and a musical that does it better than the movie are among this week's best bets.

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click to enlarge Griffin Theatre Company's Winterset

Griffin Theatre Company's Winterset

Michael Brosilow

click to enlarge JOE MAZZA
  • Joe Mazza

Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes Picking up where Redmoon Theater's old winter pageants left off (and the House Theatre's Nutcracker keeps on keeping on), this new Hypocrites show retrofits a classic fairy tale for the sensibilities of 21st-century progressives. Adapter Andra Velis Simon has taken Pauline Viardot-García's Cendrillon—a belle epoque chamber-operetta version of the Cinderella story—and stripped away such backward elements as charmed mice and handsome princes. In their place she gives us a narrative in which talent will out, true sisterhood is powerful, and "extraordinary things are possible when ordinary people help each other." The forward-thinking maxims get a little much, tending to come in a flurry toward the end, and Sean Graney's brightly costumed 85-minute staging can tip over from the festive into the twee at times, but the songs and voices are strong (particularly that of Amanda Martinez, well cast as Cinderella) and the spirit overall is as affable as it is positive. —Tony Adler

click to enlarge Finding Neverland, at the Cadillac Palace - CAROL ROSEGG
  • Finding Neverland, at the Cadillac Palace
  • Carol Rosegg

[Recommended] Finding Neverland Based on a 2004 film—which in turn was based on a 1998 play—this stage musical tells how J.M. Barrie's friendship with young widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons led to his creation of Peter Pan. In its way, it's a big improvement over the movie—and not just because of the often charming songs by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Celluloid stars Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet were too picture-perfect to be quite believable as the misfits Barrie and Davies; the leads in the current Equity touring production (Kevin Kern and Christine Dwyer) are no slouches physiognomy-wise, yet they're better able to project the sense of two souls—lost boy, lost girl—in need of connection. What's more, a musical is simply the right mode for a tale so full of whimsy. Both the dancing by choreographer Mia Michaels and the undanced movement by director Diane Paulus are idiosyncratic fun, the effects are beautiful, and the cast exudes an exuberance that's a joy to share. —Tony Adler

click to enlarge Sideshow Theatre Company's Give It All Back - JONATHAN L. GREEN
  • Sideshow Theatre Company's Give It All Back
  • Jonathan L. Green

Give It All Back Like her Rolling, which premiered at Jackalope Theatre last spring, Calamity West's new based-on-fact play concerns a public figure trying to hide in plain sight. The protagonist of Rolling was a reporter remarkably similar to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, whose Rolling Stone story about a collegiate gang rape turned out to be false. At the center of Give It All Back is a famous musician you'd swear was Bob Dylan. In 1966 Dylan was on a world tour, having recently enraged his folkie fan base by going electric. West's "Artist" is also touring, also under fire. He spends his days in a Paris hotel room, much as the Erdely character holed up at her mom's house. But the Artist's real disguise is the asshole persona he's chosen to present to the world. Marti Lyons's staging for Sideshow Theatre goes slack in its second act, when West hasn't much to do but contrive a satisfying ending, but until then it's crisp, funny, and shrewd. Mary Williamson is a hoot as a cross between Allen Ginsberg and R. Crumb's Mr. Natural. —Tony Adler

[Recommended] Jeeves Intervenes ShawChicago, which generally specializes in concert readings of George Bernard Shaw's dialectical social satires, eschews intellectual comedy for pure farcical fun in this rendition of Margaret Raether's adaptation of stories by British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. Set in 1928 London, the nonsensical plot concerns dimwitted, idly rich aristocrat Bertie Wooster's efforts to evade marriage to the young lady his overbearing Aunt Agatha intends him to wed. The situation is complicated by the arrival of Bertie's old school chum, feckless Eustace Bassington-Bassington, who needs to "borrow" Bertie's fashionable flat to pose as a successful businessman so he can avoid his uncle's intentions to send him off to India to learn the jute trade. To the rescue comes Jeeves, Bertie's pluperfect valet, who cannily manipulates the situation to suit Bertie's—and Jeeves's own—interests. Director Robert Scogin's minimalist production conveys both the verbal wit and fast-paced physical humor of the story, thanks to selectively staged movement and, especially, the superb cast's deft delivery of Wodehouse's whimsically eccentric dialogue. —Albert Williams

click to enlarge Winterset - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Winterset
  • Michael Brosilow

[Recommended] Winterset Convinced of his father's innocence, Mio (Maurice Demus) sets out to uncover the truth about a murder prosecution gone awry. Based on the notorious case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian-American anarchists who in 1921 were convicted of first-degree murder and eventually executed, playwright Maxwell Anderson's epic drama is a rare treat straight from the vault: 1935 to be exact. This resurrection from Griffin Theatre Company is chock-full of the sort of weighty poetic verse and scrumptious dialogue found in any good Shakespearean tragedy. Righteous indignation runs aplenty but with a soft touch, notably from Demus and Larry Baldacci as the unsettled Judge Gaunt. Jonathan Berry directs a fantastic cast, and the anarchist sentiment of the play, even its subtle sense of unnerving populism, feels especially relevant in these times. —Matt de la Peña

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Twice, Thrice, Frice... Silk Road Rising
October 01
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Manic Mondays Frances Cocktail Lounge
November 20

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