Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An "Epic" Tribute to the Stones, Who and Zeppelin

Along with hearing that the Titanic sank, Pearl Harbor was attacked and Nixon resigned, I was recently made aware that many people much younger and hipper than me frequently use the word “epic” with great frequency.

As an adjective.

To express positive regard about something—such as earlier hipsters might have used “cool” or “rad” or “dope” or “awesome”—but, as has been intimated since I’ve rarely heard it from the horses’ mouths, with a preponderance of hyperbole and no obvious irony or sarcasm.

Such as in, “that was an epic sandwich” or “Mr. Smith is such an epic teacher” or “Breaking Dawn was so epic.” I’m also told “epic” is commonly followed by either “win” or “fail,” as in: “I got a B on my mid-term; epic win.”

Funny thing is, although I have rarely ever used it, I like the word epic as an adjective. However, my connotation would be one that expresses not only that something is great, but rather grandiose in size and/or scope and shown to possess enduring brilliance over a considerable length of time.

“Citizen Kane is an epic film” or “Igor Stravinsky was an epic pianist and composer.”

I like to believe my concept of epic comes closer to the dictionary definition—per heroic; majestic; impressively great; interestingly, the Webster’s on my desk (from 1988) doesn’t define epic as a verb, only a noun.

But not only do I not have first-hand knowledge—merely hearsay and the Urban Dictionary entries—that the average person in or below their mid-20s is rampantly using the word epic erroneously, I’m admittedly unclear about the following distinction:

Is epic being adjectified to praise things the quarterians (those 25 and under; yes, I made it up) truly believe to be epic in the way I’d define it—i.e. is the word being used correctly, just about the wrong things?—or are they nonchalantly using it about things they think are good, but not necessarily extraordinary or historic?

My guess would be the latter. So while I can’t necessarily blame anyone (of a youthful age) for not knowing—or appreciating—the Beatles, Akira Kurosawa or Pablo Picasso, I can blame them for incessantly bestowing “epic” status on individuals, works and things that do not merit it (if what I’ve heard and suspect is indeed true).

Now, I think it’s been well-established that this is not an epic blog post, but all this blathering is essentially just self-justification for me to say the following without feeling like an epic cad:
The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin are three of the most epic rock bands to ever exist, as I have recently had reinforced.
“Well, duh,” you should retort, as I elaborate on what prompted such an epically obvious statement.

The Rolling Stones
I did not go to London for the first two of their 50th Anniversary celebration concerts and I won’t be getting to any of the three in New York. If they opt to tour next year and hit Chicago, I would intend to see them once again but have already done so numerous times. And thanks to the magic of YouTube, I have seen a number of songs performed at London’s O2 arena on Sunday night. Say what you want about them being geezers, but 50 years down the road, the Stones are still much better than most bands half their age. Not just historically—though their legacy is infinitely impressive—but now. Even pushing 70 or having surpassed it (as in Charlie Watts’ case, and that of original bassist Bill Wyman, who played on a couple of songs at the O2), as I believe this clip illustrates:

The Who
I am seeing the Who on Thursday night in Rosemont. The bulk of the show will be devoted to playing Quadrophenia in full. I expect it to be good, but am a little concerned that Roger Daltrey’s voice has declined considerably from the fine instrument it was even 10 years ago (the video below from a recent show seems to substantiate my fears, but reviews I've seen have been positive).

So admittedly, my attendance (in the cheap seats) will be more out of reverence for what the Who once were—when John Entwistle and Keith Moon were still alive— than with expectations that they are still truly outstanding now. I’ll review the show itself, but even though I’ve only seen the Who since 1989 (this will be my 8th time), when they were already well past their prime, I nonetheless consider them one of the best bands of all time (they rank #9 on this list).

And on Monday night, I got the thrill of briefly speaking with, shaking hands with, photographing and getting an autobiography signed by Pete Townshend at Barnes & Noble in Old Orchard. Considering that he pretty much wrote all the early singles, The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia and more all by himself, I think it is fair to say that it was an epic encounter.

Led Zeppelin
As much as I love the Stones and the Who, and also the Beatles, the Kinks, The Clash, U2 and other epic bands, I don’t think any of them would want to take a concert stage after Led Zeppelin. Not only is their stature truly, well you know, but their new Celebration Day DVD—documenting a one-off reunion show in 2007—is easily the best concert film released in 2012.

Although Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had not played a full concert together since 1980—the year John Bonham’s death brought an end to the band—they were still truly phenomenal. With Jason Bonham taking over for his father on drums, the band (with no additional musicians) raged through songs like "Good Times, Bad Times," "Black Dog," "Stairway to Heaven," "Kashmir" (video below) and "Rock ’n Roll" every bit as good as you could hope. That the band was even that much better back in the day—as well documented on their 2003 self-titled DVD and How the West Was Won CD—only goes to show how epic they truly were.

If you're wondering what the point of this blog post is, so am I. So on the word epic, I'll leave you with these words: "You want it all but you can't have it; it's in your face but you can't grab it." Now that's an "Epic" ending.

Monday, November 26, 2012

'Singin' in the Rain' Shimmers on Stage -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Singin' in the Rain
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace, IL
Thru January 13, 2013

Many great musicals have started on the stage and then were adapted into movie versions; My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The Music Man, Oklahoma, Cabaret, South Pacific and Fiddler on the Roof are just a few of the classics that have followed this path.

More recently, Chicago was turned into an Oscar-winning movie and Rent, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia and, opening on Christmas, Les Miserables, have gone the stage-to-screen route.

Particularly over the past 20 years or so, there have also been several examples of non-musical films being the source for new stage musicals—The Producers, Hairspray, Billy Elliot, Legally Blonde, Sister Act, Shrek and many more—with the first two proving so popular on-stage that musical movie versions were made from them.

A good bit less common, though not unheard of, is a musical that started its life on celluloid subsequently—often years down the road—being turned into a stage musical. This perhaps has been most prevalent in world of Disney, with animated movie musicals—The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid—being reimagined for the stage, and later, a live version of Mary Poppins being produced.

If it isn’t obvious, producers—of both movies and theatrical works—like giving audiences “titles” with built-in appeal. Though not always the case—sometimes quite deservedly—pre-existing popular affinity is generally good for box office.

So along with Singin’ in the Rain being a bit atypically a high-profile movie musical that didn’t originate on stage, it seems somewhat peculiar that a live version of the beloved 1952 Gene Kelly film didn't make a splash onstage until 1983.

And though I saw and very much enjoyed Singin’ productions in the early ’00s in Melbourne, Australia, and at the now defunct Drury Lane Evergreen Park—and my friend Paolo recently saw a current London West End version he said was great—for whatever reason, Singin’ in the Rain has not been a staple of Broadway revivals, regional theater productions or even community theater renditions.

It should be.

…as evidenced by the thoroughly enjoyable production now running at the Drury Lane Oakbrook, where even a crippling injury to the leading man couldn’t shake the theater from again delivering a crowd-pleaser with outstanding production values.

Given the story of Singin’ in the Rain—the stage version hews so closely to the movie that no “book” writer is credited, only screenwriters Betty Comden & Adolph Green—which in good part is about entertainers adapting, to movies with sound and actresses who squeak, the real-life circumstance of DLO’s star substitution is both noteworthy and impressive.

For several months, ads for Drury Lane’s Singin’ in the Rain heralded Sean Palmer, an actor with solid Broadway credits who was to star in the Gene Kelly role, as Don Lockwood.

Then just a couple weeks ago, I read that Palmer suffered a knee injury and though he would gamely perform in a few more previews, he had to undergo surgery and was replaced by Tony Yazbeck, another actor with a solid Broadway resume (he was in Gypsy, A Chorus Line and Oklahoma, among others).

It says a lot about DLO’s stature that the suburban Chicago theater is able to snare nationally esteemed actors such as Palmer—and then, at the drop of a hat, Yazbeck. But the truth is, that at least for the last few years, Drury Lane has been staging musicals that approach Broadway quality (their productions of Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, The Sound of Music and Hairspray have all been splendid).

Now, I feel obliged to give the caveat that the show I saw on Saturday afternoon was officially still a preview, and just Yazbeck’s second performance in Oakbrook Terrace, but if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t have guessed. Yazbeck stepped into the role like an old pro and impressively imbued Lockwood with a dashing aplomb that never felt forced.

I don’t care if he has done the role before (at St. Louis' MUNY Theater); to re-memorize all the lines, songs and dances—not to mention film the old silent scenes for the movies within the, uh, musical—so adroitly in such a short time is rather impressive.

So too were Matthew Crowle, who if not quite Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, was a reasonably good facsimile (his dancing is excellent), Jenny Guse, who showcases a great voice as Kathy Selden, and Melissa Van Der Schyff who appropriately doesn't as Lina Lamont.

Given that the “on the boards” version of Singin’ in the Rain essentially replicates a beloved 60-year-old movie—which itself was impressively stitched together with songs written years previously by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed—as a stage work it doesn’t feel quite as organic as shows with vice-versa origins.

On its own artistic merits, I can’t rank it among my very favorite stage musicals—it’s #71 here—although the film is my favorite movie musical.

But the songs are infectious—“Fit as a Fiddle,” “Make Em Laugh,” “Moses Supposes,” “Good Morning,” and the title tune—and everything at Drury Lane is well done, including the rain scenes.

Whether you love the movie or have never seen it, this fine production of Singin’ in the Rain is a whole lot of fun. Having recently seen a sensational version of Les Miserables (now at the Cadillac Palace) I can’t say that Singin’ is a stage piece on that level, but it will put a song in your heart and a smile on your face. And Yazbeck especially deserves plenty of kudos; the role already feels like one he’s been playing for years.

Although Singin’ in the Rain feels rather familiar—perhaps because I just watched the movie again on Thanksgiving—it still seems odd that this is a show that isn’t frequently performed onstage. While the film being so fantastic (and seemingly available at any library) might render this rendition not quite a “must see,” it is nonetheless a live musical that almost all who see it are sure to like.

And with a few scenic enhancements—though DLO’s sets are impressive for the size of its stage—it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine this production being good enough to run on Broadway. They just wouldn’t need to make a movie out of it afterwards.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Taking It from the Top -- Photos from SkyDeck Chicago

Recently, I wrote and posted a Chicago Travel Guide, highlighting the attractions I recommend visitors to the Windy City make a point of seeing and doing. Understandably, most of the places I’ve cited are those I’ve personally enjoyed, but there are several local sights I haven’t seen in years.

Over the next few months, I am intending to get to more of these places, and last Sunday I spent a tourist type day in Chicago. I attended two theatrical performances (Les Miserables and Lysistrata Jones), bought some Garrett’s Popcorn (specifically their caramel-cashew crisp), ate at Cosi on Michigan Ave., hung out in the Palmer House lobby and went to SkyDeck Chicago, the observation deck atop the Willis (nee Sears) Tower.

I enjoyed myself, including because I got a first-hand glimpse of hundreds of Chicago tourists (many clearly from overseas), of whom I had only speculated about in my travel guide. In walking over to the tower from a parking space in the Loop, I didn’t notice anybody clearly walking toward it—let alone hordes of tourists—yet it was fairly crowded inside. And I would venture to guess that I was the only person there who lives in the Chicago area. It was kind of fun to be among so many people visiting our city, from everywhere.

Below are some photos I took from the SkyDeck, including a couple from out on The Ledge, glass enclosed “bubbles” that let you step out over nothing, 1,300+ feet down.



The one above and this one aren't from the top of the tower, but are shots I liked:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Less Than a Year, 'Lysistrata Jones' Goes From Broadway to a College Production, Cheerfully

Theater Spotlight

Lysistrata Jones
a musical by Douglas Carter Beane
with music/lyrics by Lewis Flinn
Roosevelt  University - Chicago College of Performing Arts, Patrick O'Malley Theatre
Run Ended

Over the years, I have seen a fair share of “Broadway musicals” that have ranged from “good” to “outstanding,” yet never actually played on Broadway. Some of these have been considerably better than musicals I’ve actually seen on Broadway, in New York.

I’ve also become aware that “opening” a musical on Broadway can be as much a matter of financing, timing and perceived commercial potential as it is a quality judgment about the work itself.

Still, though it is an inexact barometer, a musical (or play, but not the focus here) running on Broadway is in my mind, analogous to a baseball player playing in the major leagues. It’s—theoretically—the highest level of theater, with the best actors, singers, dancers, directors, musicians, set design, costumes, etc.

So I typically pay attention to new musicals opening on Broadway, but unless I knew and then forgot that I did, I didn’t know that a musical named Lysistrata Jones bowed on the Great White Way in December 2011.

And closed in January 2012.

That is until I noticed that, last weekend, the Chicago College for the Performing Arts (part of Roosevelt University) was staging the Midwest Premiere. My curiosity piqued despite the strange name, I discovered that reviews for the show had generally been pretty solid on Broadway and had been very good during the preceding Off-Broadway run.

So with tickets less than it costs to see a movie, I decided to check it out.

As with community theater, I don’t feel right reviewing college productions; especially, in this case, since the run has ended. Hence, there is no rating at top. But without getting into specifics about performances or the production—except where I can offer genuine kudos—I wanted to comment on the show itself.

With a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music & lyrics by Lewis Flinn, Lysistrata Jones is based on a comedy by Aristophanes from 411 BC called Lysistrata, in which the title character convinces the other women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers until they bring an end to the Peloponnesian War.

The musical’s action takes place in the modern day at Athens University, which seems to be in America and whose men’s basketball team is on a perennial losing streak.

So a perky cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones—impressively played and well-sung by Katherine de la Torre—convinces the other squad members to withhold sex from the players until the team wins a game.

It is a cute conceit whose deeper meaning seems to be about how one person can take action to fight the good fight against mass apathy.

I sufficiently enjoyed the show, though I can see why it wasn’t a Broadway smash. It isn’t bad and has some catchy songs and some nice humor, but is several wins shy of an undefeated season. To compare it to two shows of similar milieus—of which I’ve seen more professional productions, either on Broadway or on tour—Lysistrata Jones seems to be a solid step below Legally Blonde, the musical, but I enjoyed it a good bit more than Bring It On, the musical.

The way it was staged at Roosevelt’s Patrick O’Malley Theater, with a gym floor and actual basketball hoops being utilized, was rather fun. And in addition to strong work in the title role by de la Torre—who seemingly could adroitly step into the lead of Legally Blonde—Lexi Lyric was notably good as Hetaira, something of a goddess emcee for the entire proceedings.

Though the audience on Sunday afternoon was likely largely comprised of family and friends, the energetic cast well-deserved the standing ovation it received.

This may not have been a Broadway-level production, but didn’t leave me thinking that I really needed one to know what Lysistrata Jones is all about (the performance setting was particularly appropriate given the show’s college setting).

Having closed after just 30 official performances on Broadway, I doubt that Lysistrata Jones will be getting a national tour anytime soon. So it was cool to learn of it, and see it, so soon after its time in Times Square—its first staging anywhere was only in January 2010 in Dallas—and though it may not quite be a slam dunk, it's more winning than not.

Monday, November 19, 2012

C'est Magnifique: The Power and the Glory of Les Misérables -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Les Misérables
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru December 2

Christmas Day will bring the opening of the movie version of Les Misérables. I intend to see it and hope it does justice to two of the greatest artistic creations of the past 150 years: Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, which I’ve admittedly never read, and the stage musical on which the movie is more directly based.

First staged in English in London in 1985 and on Broadway in 1987, Les Miz stands as one of the most popular musicals ever created, and in my opinion, the very best. (Although it did not quite top My 100 Favorite Stage Musicals of All-Time list, I believe it is the art form’s greatest achievement.)

Les Miz has played in Chicago numerous times since its creation and is back again at the Cadillac Palace. It is still on its 25th Anniversary Tour, a bit revamped and slightly downscaled from earlier touring versions, but still rather majestic nonetheless.

I was originally a bit slow on the Les Miz uptake, ignoring chances to see early tours in Chicago and L.A., but first saw the show on Broadway in 1998 and on multiple tours since. So I’ve seen it at full tilt, but also thoroughly enjoyed a regional in-the-round staging at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire and even a high school version I caught last year at New Trier.

In February 2011, I saw the current touring version—with a different cast for the most part than the one now in town—also at the Cadillac Palace. Though it was a magnificent reminder of the greatness of Les Misérables, it felt slightly lesser than past productions.

That still might be true with the rendition now playing to full houses in Chicago, but if Les Miz isn’t quite as good as it once was—and my eroding memory doesn't allow me to remember many specific shortcomings—it is still better than almost anything else you can see on a theatrical stage.

Given Chris Jones’ rave review in the Tribune, rather than it just being my perception that this rendition is particularly great from beginning to end, it seems an even more discerning critic believes that the current production and cast are especially scintillating.

For all the Miz-ciples who care about these things, the only latter-day concession of consequence that I noticed in again witnessing the 25th Anniversary Tour is that without the stage turntable of old, the “Look Down” chants within the Prologue at the beginning aren’t as boisterous or as menacing as I remember them. (The prisoners are now seen rowing, rather than pounding the ground.)

Otherwise, for whatever Les Misérables may no longer be, as exemplified from the stage and orchestra pit of the Cadillac Palace, it is utterly majestic.

Every song in the show is excellent. The full orchestra made Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score sound exquisite. And while I am impressed by anyone who can sing in tune—thus my commonly being quite laudatory about talented folks in community theater productions—a Broadway-caliber voice (and many in this Equity cast have Broadway credits) goes beyond being tuneful. For lack of a better way to explain it, there is a richness to the vocal timbre, with the ability to not only emote, but be truly evocative.

And singer after singer sounded absolutely sensational. The choral or group numbers—the Prologue mentioned above, “At the End of the Day,” “Master of the House,” “The People's Song,” “One Day More” —were sublime and the solo or duet numbers—“I Dreamed a Dream,” “Stars,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home” and more—were uniformly every bit as good as I could have hoped.

Peter Lockyer is a bit slighter a Jean Valjean than I've usually seen, but was quite strong of voice, as was Andrew Varela as Javert (I'm pretty sure Russell Crowe won't sing that good in the movie). Briana Carlson-Goodman delivered an astonishing “On My Own” as Eponine and Timothy Gulan & Shawna M. Hamic made for fun Thernardiers. Max Quinlan, who's done a lot of work in Chicago area theaters, was excellent as Marius, Lauren Wiley complemented him well as Cosette, Betsy Morgan (introduced as a Chicagoan during the post-show appeal for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; hence the signed Playbill shown above) was a stellar Fantine and Jason Forbach as Enjolras was just one more example of great voices up and down the cast.

Tickets for this rather brief run of Les Miz appear to be rather scarce and/or pricey. If you have to wait for the movie, so be it. But if you love this musical and/or want to see it the way it deserves to be seen, by all means, don’t Miz it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Sister Act' Showcases a Host of Appealing Habits -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Sister Act - The Musical
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Thru December 2

Twenty years ago, the movie Sister Act was released to substantive acclaim and success. It starred Whoopi Goldberg as a singer who—on the run from her criminal ex—hides out in a convent and teaches the nuns to sing much more soulfully.

I saw it once, perhaps when it was released on videotape—remember those?—and without being able to recall any specifics, I think I adequately enjoyed it (but not enough to see the sequel).

Because I pay attention to such things, I know that more recently, Sister Act was developed into a stage musical that was produced in London before coming to Broadway in April 2011, where it ran until August of this year. 

The touring version, now playing at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, is part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription series, but I really didn’t remember it was on my slate until I noticed it on my calendar a few days ago. Coming after the pre-Broadway tryout of Kinky Boots and prior to the arrival of the phenomenally successful The Book of Mormon, it hasn’t exactly been a beacon on my musical theater radar. Other than cueing up the cast album on Spotify a couple times in recent days, I didn’t arrive at the Auditorium with much awareness nor anticipation.

But I left having been faithfully entertained.

Sister Act is not a groundbreaking musical nor is it among the very best I’ll see, even this year—though it may make my Top 10—but it is an entirely enjoyable one, crafted by esteemed professionals and, on its first Chicago visit, featuring impressive talent in the lead role and throughout the cast.

Based on the movie script by Joseph Howard, the book of the musical was written by Cherie and Bill Steinkellner, whose Broadway credits aren’t extensive but who were writers/producers for TV’s Cheers. Douglas Carter Beane, who has written several plays and musicals, did some additional book work. Alan Menken, a composer celebrated for many Disney stage and screen musicals, wrote the music, with Glenn Slater handling the lyrics as he did with Love Never Dies, among other shows. Four time Tony winner Jerry Zaks is the director and Whoopi Goldberg is one of the producers. So the show's creative pedigree is pretty strong and the result is clearly Broadway caliber, if not quite of the highest order.

As I mentioned, I don’t remember the movie very well, but based on what I gleaned from Wikipedia, the musical relocates the action from San Francisco to Philadelphia and changes the names of some characters, but otherwise stays fairly true to the film. In Chicago, Ta'Rea Campbell plays the Whoopi role of lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier. With impressive Broadway credits, Campbell is quite strong vocally, though isn't nearly as comedically wry as Goldberg.

Kingsley Leggs reprises his Broadway role as Curtis Jackson, Deloris’ boyfriend turned pursuer, and delivers a stellar rendition of "When I Find My Baby," one of the show’s best—and most imaginatively staged, in a Four Tops vein—songs.

It was also great to see Hollis Resnik, a venerable Chicago performer, well handle the the show’s second-billed role, that of Mother Superior. She demonstrated her strong voice on "Here Within These Walls" and particularly "Haven't Got a Prayer."

While the musical has a bit of trouble dramatizing Deloris’ story prior to landing in the convent, and doesn’t do a perfect job with some second act transitional numbers, for the most part the plot line is engaging, the dialogue is funny—my Catholic friend admittedly “got” a few more jokes than I did—and the score is ebullient.

As a rule, the upbeat songs on which the nuns sing together are considerably stronger than anything else, though this formula suffers a bit on the finale, “Spread the Love Around,” the weakest of the group numbers ("Raise Your Voice" and "Sunday Morning Fever" are much more infectious). 

Along with strong work by Campbell, Resnik and Leggs, Lael van Keuren beautifully delivers "The Life I Never Led" in the role of Sister Mary Robert, and though as cop Eddie Souther, E. Clayton Cornelious doesn’t get to show off his talent all that much, it was readily apparent he has a lot of it. And maybe I just like her name, but I feel compelled to note Florrie Bagel who played Sister Mary Patrick.

Though it isn’t perfect, or quite brilliant, there is nothing particularly wrong with Sister Act. While the cavernous Auditorium isn’t the best venue for it—or any musical for that matter; fortunately, balcony seat holders were allowed to move downstairs—the show delivers solid entertainment that should please any musical theater fan. Especially ones who can appreciate the sly musical references in Menken & Slater's original score, which at least in terms of artistic merit is more commendable than a soundtrack of '70s disco and soul hits, such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert relied upon for crowd-pleasing pep.

I think the fact that Sister Act is on a post-Broadway tour contributed to it seeming a bit less exciting than Kinky Boots, which bowed in Chicago on its way to New York in the spring, but the quality of the two shows is somewhat similar.

With another Les Miserables tour having now arrived in Chicago, I can't call Sister Act the best large scale musical currently in town, but it's nun too bad. If you want to check it out--discount tickets should be readily available through HotTix--you have my blessing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

'The Producers' Completes Its Theatrical Life Cycle, Enjoyably

Community Theater Appreciation

The Producers
North Shore Theater of Wilmette
Community Recreation Center, Wilmette
Thru December 2

A few weeks ago, I published a list of My 100 Favorite Stage Musicals of All-Time. Topping the list is Mel Brooks’ The Producers. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is the musical I have seen performed most often, now 12 times in all.

Beyond loving the show from the first time I saw it—early in its pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago in February 2001—because its inception corresponded chronologically with my evolving passion for live theater, it became a show I followed as it moved throughout its life cycle to date. Though significant to no one but me, I considered myself a Producersologist.

After the initial Chicago run—with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and the rest of the original Broadway cast—I saw The Producers on Broadway in June 2001, right before it won a boatload of Tony Awards. I saw the show early on its first national tour (in Cleveland), caught it in Los Angeles—with Jason Alexander and Martin Short, as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively—and London, with Lane and Lee Evans. I saw two different Equity tours in Chicago, a 2005 Broadway cast (with Richard Kind and Roger Bart in the leads) and a non-Equity tour in Aurora. As the show became licensed for local productions, I saw productions at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire and Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN. (I wrote about this in a bit more detail here.)

I saw The Producers on-stage 11 times between 2001 and 2008, but I had not seen it since then until Sunday, when I caught a community theater production by the North Shore Theater of Wilmette. So barring any possible high school or college renditions, which may not be likely given the ribald material, I have now seen The Producers at virtually all levels of the theatrical life-cycle: pre-Broadway, Broadway, National Tour, London, Non-Equity Tour, Regional and Community.

And while I won’t specifically review the Wilmette production—I tend not critically pontificate upon volunteer performers—it was strong enough to validate that The Producers holds up across the spectrum, even without star names, professional performers or, in this case, live music.

While most community theater shows do have live bands or small orchestras, the music at the Wilmette Community Recreation Center auditorium was obviously canned, but I won’t hold that against an otherwise impressive local production. The singing was done live and was rather solid.

Based on Mel Brooks’ 1968 movie about a down and out Broadway producer—Max Bialystock—who in tandem with Leo Bloom, an accountant who discovers it’s possible to make more money with a flop than a hit, sets out to create a show sure to instantly close (and finds a work called Springtime for Hitler), the musical can’t be an easy one to stage on a small budget.

There are many high-profile characters—Max, Leo, writer Franz Liebkind, director Roger DeBris, his assistant Carmen Ghia and sexpot secretary/starlet Ulla—who almost all get individual production numbers demanding a variety of locales and costumes.

So I was tremendously impressed at how for a run of just 9 performances (and the one I attended was far from packed), the North Shore Theater of Wilmette managed to create suitable replications of all the Broadway sets and costumes. Obviously, there was substantial scaling back, but I wouldn’t be hesitant to recommend this version to anyone who has never seen The Producers—or to those who have.

While, as with almost all community theater, the was some variance in the singing and acting ability of cast members, and a few places where the production values didn’t shine as brightly as others, I found Frank Roberts to be terrific as Max (he’d be fine in a touring version playing downtown theaters) and Brent Walker was nearly as good as Leo. A few other performances were notably good, including Rick Schram as Franz and Sean Blitzstein as Roger DeBris.

The Producers is a show that keeps you laughing or smiling throughout, and while I’m obsessive enough to know that a few jokes were omitted or altered, the cast and crew in Wilmette earned the applause they received after nearly 3 hours on stage.

And while I certainly wouldn't mind if I again get the chance to see Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise their original roles—though I could just watch the movie version of the musical—if I stumble across a community production as good as this one every few years, I’m confident The Producers will keep producing a whole lot of enjoyment.

I consider it one of the very best pieces of entertainment created in my lifetime and—even at a relatively universal stratum—worthy of forever being produced anew.

'The Book Thief' Gets an Excellent Stage Reading -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
adapted by Heidi Stillman
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Run Ended

The great thing about theater, or any form of entertainment for that matter, is the way it can surprise you.

Of the myriad stage productions of various sorts I see in a given year, some selections are certainly prompted—without advance planning—by stellar reviews, but most are part of subscription series or are shows I’ve noted months in advance (I seem to get advertising from every theater in Chicago).

While I am not a subscriber to Steppenwolf, I get to several of their mainstage shows. But I only came to know about The Book Thief—an Upstairs Theater production that was part of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults program—because my mom mentioned that she couldn’t get any tickets. Seems that with several performances being done exclusively for high schools, along with The Book Thief novel by Markus Zusak being the current selection for One Book, One Chicago and an extremely reasonable $20 ticket price, the stage adaptation by Heidi Stillman has been a complete sell-out.

Knowing that my mom and sister, who had both read and enjoyed the book, wanted to see the show, I was able to respond quickly to an email about a few added performances and got 3 tickets for Saturday, which happened to be my mom’s birthday.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow
Other than knowing that the book, and play, revolve around the Holocaust and are narrated by Death—wonderfully played here by Steppenwolf ensemble member Francis Guinan—I really didn’t know much about the show going into it.

So I was pleasantly surprised when The Book Thief turned out to be among the best plays I’ve seen on stage all year; I liked it even more than Steppenwolf’s widely-heralded (and rather good) mainstage work, Good People.

Having not read the book myself—I intend to—I had to have a few plot points explained by my mom and sister (it didn’t help that I was a bit sleepy during Act I), but even without having any point of reference, I felt the stage rendition stood strong on its own.

The run at Steppenwolf has now ended, but hopefully will be reprised somewhere, as while there were some moments that felt like I was watching the enactment of a book, rather than an organic stage play, for the most part this is a legitimate piece of theater that doesn’t require knowing the source material. And although it was presented toward young adults, a full spectrum of audience members certainly seemed to appreciate it.

Of course, great acting always helps. Under the direction of Hallie Gordon, Guinan was superb in instilling Death with whimsy as he guided us through the events of the play, even those of which the story’s main character, Liesel (a terrific Rae Gray) was not acutely aware.

Liesel is a teenage German girl who is not Jewish, but orphaned nonetheless during World War II due to her parents being Communists. She is taken in by foster parents, the Hubermans (embodied warmly by Mark Ulrich and a bit more sternly by Amy J. Carle) and makes friends in the neighborhood, particularly with a boy named Rudy (Clancy McCartney). Subsequently, the Hubermans take in a young Jewish man named Max (the typically excellent Patrick Andrews), promising to hide him—he is the son of Mr. Huberman’s war buddy—in the face of Jewish persecution.

Except for revealing that Liesel gets monikered "The Book Thief" by Rudy due to her propensity for stealing books from the house of woman in town (Ilsa, played by Nicole Wiesner), I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to uncover, whether through the book or a future stage rendition. Suffice it to say that it gets quite gripping, both in terms of what happens to the characters themselves, but also as a study of “bystanders.” Zusak (and Stillman) asks difficult questions about the responsibility of decent citizens—in this case, non-hateful Germans—in the face of abhorrent atrocities. Should they speak out and put themselves and loved ones at risk? Are they wrong for turning the other way?

With much resonance and excellent performances throughout, The Book Thief proved to be extremely compelling and moving, for audiences of all ages.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Thick Slice of the Windy City: Seth Saith's Chicago Travel Guide

Above graphic and all photos by Seth Arkin. Please do not use without permission.
Having recently turned 44, I have lived in the Chicago area all my life, except for during college—when I was just 50 miles west in DeKalb, IL—and for the first three years of the ‘90s, when I lived in Los Angeles.

I have also had the pleasure of visiting several of the world’s great cities—New York, London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam,  Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona, Prague, Montreal, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cairo, St. Petersburg, Florence, San Francisco, Boston, Washington and more, some multiple times.

Given these experiences, I feel I can honestly say—without the opinion based too heavily on not knowing any better—that there is nowhere in the world I would rather live (for any longer than a year or so) than Chicago.

And especially for those who value the things I do in a travel destination—art, history, architecture, entertainment, baseball, food—Chicago should be a rather remarkable place to visit.

Keep in mind that Chicago is sprawling (especially with worthwhile attractions beyond the city limits), expensive in terms of downtown lodging and parking, and conceivably a bit challenging for first-time visitors to navigate. It isn’t all that complicated, especially with plenty of public transportation available, but just don’t expect to be able to walk to everything that’s worth seeing.

Depending on where you’re staying, renting a car isn’t essential, but could be helpful in accessing all that Chicago and the region have to offer.

CTA Subway and "L" Map
Similar to how I’ve structured Seth Saith Travel Guides on London, Washington, San Francisco and Detroit, the attractions below are listed in recommended order of what I think any random tourist should see and do in Chicago.

Before I get to the listings--most of which are hyperlinked to more information--here are some links that may be beneficial to those planning a trip to Chicago:

Public Transportation: CTA | Metra Rail
Tours of Chicago: | Chicago Architecture Foundation
Dining & Entertainment Guides: Chicago Reader | Metromix Chicago | Chicago Magazine | Zagat | Dining Guide | | OpenTable
Concert Listings: Pollstar
Festivals: City of Chicago Festivals
Theater in Chicago: TheaterMania | Chicago Tribune / Chris Jones |
Discount Tickets: HotTix | Goldstar
Chicago Tourism: | | WikiTravel
Hotel Guides: Chicago Traveler Hotel Guide |
Chicago Bike Map
Guide to Chicago Beaches
Guide to Downtown Pedway Routes

Keep in mind that no travel guide can be one size fits all; what can most appeal to any traveler varies based on particulars such as age, interests, companions (including kids or not), etc.. So adjust accordingly, but...
This is what I would most want to see and do if I were coming to Chicago for the first time:

1. The Art Institute of Chicago – I’ve been to well over 100 art museums around the world and believe the Art Institute belongs among the Top 5, due to both the breadth and depth of its collection. The Impressionist works—including Seurat’s astonishing Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte—are stunning, but the museum also has an amazing El Greco, a Botticelli, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic and much else.

2. Wrigley Field – I’ve likewise been to 38 other major league baseball stadiums, including all the current ones except the two in Florida, and don’t think any quite compare to Wrigley. Its distinct neighborhood setting, ivy-covered walls, manual scoreboard and the nearly unmatched futility of its occupants, the Chicago Cubs, makes catching a game here unique from all other athletic spectatorship. Of course, you can only do so between April and early October. U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox play, is also a comfortable ballpark, if a bit less distinctive.

3. Millennium Park – A relative newcomer to the Chicago landscape, located just north of the Art Institute, Millennium Park features distinctive public works—Pritzker Pavilion and a nearby bridge by Frank Gehry, Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) by Anish Kapoor, Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa, which digitally depicts people’s faces—and has become the city’s best place for communal gathering (including many tourists) and people watching.

4. Chicago-style Pizza – Chicago’s deep dish pizza is every bit as good as it’s purported to be, and considerably better than nationwide replications (such as at the Pizzeria Uno chain). Probably the most emblematic places to get some in Chicago are the original Gino’s East location at 162 E. Superior, the original Pizzaria Uno (29 E. Ohio) or Pizzaria Due (619 N. Wabash), with any Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s or Pizano’s location also serving up thick-crusted nirvana. 

5. Museum of Science and Industry – I don’t go to Science museums in other cities, because I have one of the best in my hometown. Therefore, I now have scant points of comparison. But MSI has some great exhibits, including a simulated coal mine, live chickens hatching, a large model railroad and an actual German U-Boat. Through February 18, 2013, the MSI has a special exhibition on the Peanuts cartoons called "Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit."

6. Downtown Architecture Tour – Chicago has, in my estimation, the greatest skyline in the world, but the brilliance of our architecture isn’t always a matter of height, with creations by Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham and Mies van der Rohe being just as noteworthy as many of the taller buildings that came later. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers over 85 different tours by foot, boat, bus, bike and Segway, while Wendella Boats  feature a variety of architecture tours along the Chicago River.

Chicago also has a number of noteworthy sculptures, with impressive works by Picasso, Calder, Miro, Chagall and Dubuffet all within a few blocks in the heart of the Loop (i.e. technically the Central Business District within the “L” tracks that circle it). This Loop Art Tour walking map from WikiTravel provides a pretty good guide.

Graceland Cemetery, near Wrigley Field, has many architecturally and/or sculpturally-significant gravesites of (or by) some the city’s legendary residents (Sullivan, Burnham, van der Rohe, etc.)

7. Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio and nearby Wright-designed Homes in Oak Park – The home & studio utilized by America’s greatest architect during his most productive period is in a western suburb, but relatively easy to reach using the Green Line of the “L” (west to Harlem/Lake). Several additional homes designed by Wright are just around the corner on Forest Ave. and otherwise nearby, so get a map at the Home & Studio and do a walking tour as well. Separately, the Robie House, located in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago, is one of Wright’s greatest masterpieces, recently renovated and open for tours Thursday thru Monday.

8. Live Theater – While it doesn’t have the same cluster of long-running shows in large theaters that Broadway and London do, Chicago’s theater scene is nearly as rich as it spreads throughout the region, with professional-level productions being staged in storefronts with as few as 40 seats or so. In addition to Broadway in Chicago touring shows that frequently play downtown--such as the upcoming extended run of The Book of Mormon--top tier troupes include Steppenwolf, Goodman, TimeLine, Lookingglass, Victory Gardens (at the historic Biograph Theatre), Northlight, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire and many more. There are also several first-rate Improv venues, including Second City and Improv Olympic, plus the verable Zanies Comedy Club. Discount tickets for many shows are offered through HotTix, Goldstar and often through the theaters themselves.

All photos and graphics by Seth Arkin.
Please reference if re-posting.
9. Sears (Willis) Tower / John Hancock observation decks – Many observation decks, such as the one atop the Eiffel Tower, can disappoint because the structure you’d most like to see and photograph is the one you’re in. But Skydeck Chicago atop the Willis (formerly and still to most, Sears) Tower and the John Hancock Observatory provide bird’s-eye views of each other and many other Chicago skyscrapers and its beautiful lakefront. I haven’t been to Skydeck Chicago recently enough to “step out on the Ledge,” but having nothing beneath you for 1,353 feet seems pretty cool.

10. The Field Museum – A terrific museum of natural history, featuring dinosaurs—including Sue, a Tyrannosaurus Rex—along with many permanent and special exhibits.

11. The “Tastes” of Chicago – Deep dish pizza merited its own listing (#4) and the annual Taste of Chicago—the world’s largest food festival—is worth visiting if you’re in town in mid-July. But whatever your tastes, they can be well-satisfied. Check out a proper Chicago Dining Guide for a better overview or just explore Chicago’s myriad ethnic neighborhoods and restaurants, from Polish to Puerto Rican, Thai to Jamaican, and on and on. A Chicago-specific favorites include: 1) Vienna hot dogs (available at myriad hot dog stands, including the perpetually chaotic Wiener's Circle. Superdawg is also a unique local institution); Polish sausage (check out Jim’s Original) and specialty sausages at the truly unique Hot Doug’s  2) Italian Beef sandwiches – I like ‘em wet with sweet peppers, from Al’s #1 Italian Beef (the original on Taylor St. or the more convenient one on Ontario, plus several franchise locations), Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park and Arlington Heights or Mr. Beef on Orleans downtown or near Harlem & Irving; 3) Steak, Prime Rib and Baby Back Ribs – We’re home to a lot of great steakhouses; Gibsons and the Chicago Chop House have always done me right; Lawry’s The Prime Rib does its namesake proud and Carson’s still is the place for ribs, though many choices abound; 4) For those who can afford to really splurge, Alinea is perennially ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world (another great one, Charlie Trotter's recently closed). And while I've never been there myself, the Signature Room atop the John Hancock Center can be a treat for those seeking to heighten their dining experience (there is also a Signature lounge a floor up). 5) Although the faux-'50s novelty of Ed Debevic's isn't so novel anymore, it still can be a fun place for those who have never been. And genuinely going back to 1934--at least the original location on the lower level of north Michigan Avenue near the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower--is the "world famous" Billy Goat Tavern, home of the "Cheezborger, Cheezborger."

12. The Lakefront / Buckingham Fountain / Lincoln & Grant Parks – The “East Side” of Chicago is undoubtedly the city's most beautiful, as it is essentially just Lake Michigan.

Any visit to Chicago should include a walk, jog or bike ride along the lake, with a glimpse of the beautiful Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park and ideally a jaunt through Lincoln Park (the actual park) as well.

13. Water Tower / The Magnificent Mile – In 1871, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow or some udder culprit started the Great Chicago Fire and the Water Tower and the nearby Water Works are all that survived. Water Tower still stands amidst the posh shopping district along North Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile. It’s a fun place to stroll, shop (if so inclined) and people watch, especially if you like seeing other tourists.

14. Live Music – Chicago is home of the Blues, great Jazz, a pioneering folk scene, a world-renowned Symphony and Opera, one of the premier rock festivals—Lollapalooza—and is a regular tour stop for artists in every genre. I always use to see who might be playing in town (any town), but Orchestra Hall (home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), the Lyric Opera, Buddy Guy’s Legends (Buddy himself does an annual January residency) or Kingston Mines (for blues), the Green Mill and/or Jazz Showcase (for jazz), Old Town School of Folk Music, and Ravinia (an outdoor venue in Highland Park) are among the venues first-time visitors may wish to explore. This City of Chicago site in terms of a variety of festivals put on by the city.

15. Museums / Zoos / Gardens – In addition to the museums listed above, many additional choices exist in Chicagoland in terms of worthwhile places in which to explore and learn. Depending on the proclivities of you, your family or your companion(s), any of these options could fill a good portion of a day: Adler Planetarium; Shedd Aquarium; Chicago History Museum; Lincoln Park Zoo; Brookfield Zoo; Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum / Judy Istock Butterfly Haven; Chicago Botanic Garden; Morton Arboretum; Illinois Holocaust Museum; Museum of Broadcast Communications; National Museum of Mexican Art; Garfield Park Conservatory; the Oriental Institute; Pritzker Military Library; DuSable Museum of African-American History; National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame; Blues Heaven (in the former Chess Records studio), Newberry Library, Harold Washington Library

The Chicago Cultural Center in the heart of downtown, along Michigan Avenue, was built as the main Chicago Public Library. It now has rotating exhibits, free and often quite good, along with a nice display of architectural photographs. It also provides a handy place to take a break, find a restroom and/or grab coffee in the midst of exploring the Loop and its environs. The Palmer House Hotel on Monroe & State is also worth knowing about for these latter reasons and a splendid ceiling mural.

16. Neighborhoods – I will fail to do justice to the great number of ethnic communities that comprise distinctive neighborhoods throughout the city, but while being wary of your surroundings and security as you venture off the beaten path, you really may want to explore not only such well-known enclaves as Chinatown, Greektown, Pilsen and the Indian area along Devon Ave., but also seek out areas flavored by Polish, Irish, Korean, Vietnamese, Swedish, Jewish, Persian, Puerto Rican, German and myriad other immigrants. A great number of churches dating back a century and which often quite ornate also dot the landscape (St. Mary of the Angels is a cool one). And while it isn’t nearly as extensive as it once was, the Sunday morning Maxwell Street Market (now along Des Plaines Ave.) still serves as a great glimpse into the melting pot that is Chicago. Wikipedia page on Chicago community areas

17. Navy Pier – This is perennially ranked as Chicago’s most popular tourist attraction, but I’m not really sure why. Though not terrifically convenient, it’s a pleasant place to stroll, but doesn’t offer much in the way of things to do. There’s a large Ferris Wheel in homage to the world’s first (built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition), the first-rate Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, an array of restaurants and gift shops and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, a nice (and free) hidden treasure, but not worth the trip in itself.

18. University of Chicago / Hyde Park / Jackson Park – Chicago is home to some great private universities, with the University of Chicago a particularly distinguished campus in the south side Hyde Park community (where the Obamas reside). Sights include the Rockefeller Chapel, Oriental Museum, Robie House and Nuclear Energy, a sculpture by Henry Moore on the exact site where the world’s first self-sustaining controlled nuclear reaction was conducted. The campus is divided by the Midway Plaisance, which served as the Midway for the Columbian Exposition and is highlighted by Laredo Taft’s Fountain of Time sculpture. The 1893 World’s Fair was principally held in Jackson Park, behind the Museum of Science and Industry (which was the Palace of Fine Arts and only building to survive). A gilded 1/3-size replica of Daniel Chester French’s Statue of the Republic sits in the park, along with a Japanese Garden that was re-created long after the Fair.

19. The North Shore – Heading north from Chicago can bring you to Evanston, home to Northwestern University and a rather cosmopolitan downtown area, then up Sheridan Road to see the Grosse Point Lighthouse, beautiful Baha’i Temple, glorious views of Lake Michigan and glamorous lakefront mansions in such communities as Winnetka, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Highland Park and Lake Forest. If you know where to look, you can see some Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes (1, 2) and two former military bases turned into residential communities (Fort Sheridan and the Glenview Naval Base, aka The Glen). If you love shopping, Westfield Old Orchard in my hometown of Skokie was one of the country’s first outdoor shopping malls and—long since renovated—one of the most attractive.

20. Catch a Game – While Wrigley Field (#2) offers Chicago’s most unique stadium experience, all of Chicago’s pro teams are much beloved by a devoted fan base. Baseball’s White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field, the Bears play football within the spaceship that landed in Soldier Field a few years back, the Bulls (basketball) and Blackhawks (hockey) share the United Center—with the popular Michael Jordan statue out front on the East side—and the Fire play non-American football at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. If you like college action, DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Northwestern are Division 1 basketball schools, while the Wildcats of NU also play football up in Evanston.

21. See Some Flicks – Along with first-run cineplexes, Chicago has at least three venues that show art-house/festival-type films on a year-round basis: The Music Box Theatre, Siskel Film Center and Facets Multimedia. Hardcore film buffs might also appreciate the showings at the Portage Theater and Doc Films at the University of Chicago. Out in the Northwest suburb of Park Ridge, the Pickwick is a great old theater that has stood since 1928, with a diner next store said to have been frequented by Park Ridge native Hillary Clinton in her youth. Even further northwest in Barrington, the Catlow is also a cool old movie house with an adjoining sandwich shop from which you can bring in food. If you love old theaters like I do, you may wish to check out the Theatre Historical Society, next to the York Theater in west suburban Elmhurst. I believe they receive visitors on a limited basis.

22. Shoot Some Pix – Within any city I visit, I try to photograph as many of the emblematic sights that I can find. In addition to everything mentioned in the listings above, I’d direct you to these as well:

Marina City (twin “corn cob” apartment buildings), Tribune Tower (and its collection of famous building fragments), Wrigley Building, Merchandise Mart, Chase Tower (First National Bank Building), Aon Center, Chicago Board of Trade Building, Aqua Tower, Trump Tower, Chicago Theatre, “The Marshall Field's Clock” attached to Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) at Randolph & State, the Macy’s holiday windows (Nov-Dec), the Biograph Theatre (where Dillinger was caught & killed), the skyline (from either near the Planetarium or the Roosevelt & Canal area), Union Station, Michigan Avenue Bridge, Prairie Avenue Historic District, Clarke House (oldest Chicago home), the Auditorium, Uptown Theatre (exterior only), IIT campus (largely designed by Mies van der Rohe and other prominent architects), The Drake Hotel, Holy Name Cathedral, Leaning Tower of Niles

23. Make the Kids Happy - I've never been to American Girl Place, now located within the Water Tower Place high-rise mall on Michigan Ave., but I'm aware that it's extremely popular with young girls. Similarly, it's been at least a couple of decades since I visited Six Flags Great America in far north suburban Gurnee, but for those who love amusement parks--and particularly those with several roller coasters--it might well be worth the trip.

Hopefully, this gives someone considering coming to Chicago for the first time--or who has been here several times--a good starting point for places to consider seeing. While I think Chicago makes a fantastic place to visit, I had some thoughts on our soft spots as a tourism city and shared some suggestions about potential new attractions in this article, which began as an introduction to this one.

Please let me know if you need any specific guidance or have thoughts on great sights I failed to cite.

Chicago looks forward to your visit. Welcome, and happy travels.