Monday, December 31, 2018

The Best of 2018: The Best New Movies I Saw

Of movies that were first made readily available for me to see in 2018, whether in Chicagoland theaters for a regular run--i.e. not a festival showing--or via self-producing streaming TV channels, I saw 39 over the past 365 days.

For the purposes of my list below, these include The Post, Phantom Thread, Hostiles and perhaps a few other films that were officially 2017 releases but didn't open locally until 2018.

I won't count as eligible a film called Fast Color, which I saw at a special screening--with star Gugu Mbatha-Raw present at Chicago's Music Box Theatre--but which won't open normally until March 29.

And because I believe I only saw two new documentaries in 2018--not counting straight concert movies or Springsteen on Broadway--I will take care of acknowledging them separately here:

1. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story 
2. McQueen

As in years past, after my list I will also include the Top 10s of my friend Dave and Brad, who tend to see a wider swath of art films than I do.

I won't take the time to spell out which films are still in theaters, on Netflix or other streaming service, rentable or whatever else, but have found an app called Just Watch is quite valuable in this regard. 

Best New Movies Seen in 2018
(F = Foreign; 17 = Officially a 2017 release)

1. If Beale Street Could Talk
2. Roma (F)
3. Shoplifters (F)
4. Burning (F)
5. Green Book
6. The Post (17)
7. Widows
8. Leave No Trace
9. Eighth Grade 

10. Blackkklansman 
11. The Rider 
12. Disobedience 
13. You Were Never Really Here
14. Bohemian Rhapsody 

15. Black Panther 
16. On the Basis of Sex
17. Crazy Rich Asians 
18. A Simple Favor 
19. First Reformed
20. A Star Is Born

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

Mary Poppins Returns, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, Foxtrot, Lean on Pete, Annihilation, Zama, Hostiles, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Notable 2018 Movies Not Yet Seen
The Favourite, The Sisters Brothers, Mandy, The Mule, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Wildlife, First Man, A Private War, Creed II, Museo, Boy Erased, Ben Is Back, Halloween, Cold War (not yet released in Chicago), The Death of Stalin, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, Love After Love, Isle of Dogs, The Other Side of the Wind, Colette, Bloodspotting, A Quiet Place, The Endless

Notable Movies Seen But Not Cited Above
Phantom Thread (17), Fast Color, Support the Girls, Deadpool 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Set It Up, Anon, Game Night, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Dave's Top 10 Movies of 2018

1. Roma (F)
2. Eighth Grade
3. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
4. The Mule
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. The Favourite
7. Hostiles
8. Foxtrot
9. Green Book
10. Leave No Trace

Brad's Top 10 Movies of 2018

1. Roma
2. Blackkklansman
3. First Reformed
4. Burning (F)
5. Hereditary
6. The Other Side of the Wind
7. Black Panther
8. Eighth Grade
9. The Endless
10. Shoplifters (F)

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Best of 2018: Some Most Memorable Meals

I am someone who actively likes to seek out eateries ranked among The World's 50 Best Restaurants--I've been to six places on this year's list, including two in 2018--or which have earned a 5-Diamond Rating from AAA (eaten at five of these; one this year).

Yet I also love Vienna Beef hot dog stands, Italian beef, tacos and even 7-Eleven taquitos.

I don't think I'm particularly unique in this regard, but I've had wonderful meals costing above $150 and under $5.

So while--much as I celebrate quality, creativity and artistry in many forms and via my other Best of 2018 lists--I think it fun to recall some great food I've enjoyed over the past year, this category always poses a particular quandary.

Even in considering just the food--and somewhat innately the service and ambiance--of a "memorable meal" without factoring in the occasion, my dining companions, etc., the considerable variances make it difficult to compile a single ranked list.

Hence the disparate ways I've handled this post in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

But since I doubt anyone really cares except me, I guess I'll do this:

The Most Memorable Meals I Enjoyed in 2018

1. Lima Splurges - On my June trip to Peru, I ate at the world's #7--Maido--and #39--Astrid y Gaston--ranked restaurants (#6, Central, was closed during my visit). Both were phenomenal. So too was La Rosa Nautica, which sits atop of the Pacific Ocean.

2. Chicagoland Ribs - My single favorite entree is a rack of baby back ribs, and in 2018 I again savored the two best purveyors anywhere--Carson's in Deerfield and L. Woods in Lincolnwood.

3. Prime Steaks - Each year I try to visit some Chicago area chophouses I haven't been to previously. In 2018, three stood out: Mastro's, Kinzie Chophouse and Stefani Prime (the latter in Lincolnwood).

4. Quick & Tasty - In terms of places at which to get a quick bite, often before a show, three places stand out, all in Chicago: Big & little's, Luke's Lobster and 5411 Empanadas. 

5. Boston Bites - In August, I spent four great days in Beantown, with some terrific meals at The Union Oyster House, Legal Sea Foods, Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (in Cambridge), Durgin-Park and Mike's Pastry for sensational cannoli.

6. Lomo Saltado - A traditional Peruvian dish mixing meat, onions peppers, french fries and rice (on the side). I enjoyed it in Lima at Restaurante Arequipeño Willys and in Aguas Calientes at a restaurant seemingly named El Generalle , but also in Chicago at La Unica, Taste of Peru and Machu-Picchu. I also developed a passion for Peruvian soft drink, Inca Cola.

7. Supreme Pizza - Once again, the year's best was had at Pizano's (deep dish and thin) and Lou Malnati's (deep dish). I also love Gino's East but didn't get there in 2018.

8. Dogs and Beefs - Quite tried and quite true, I love Poochie's in Skokie (char cheddar Polish on French bread) and Al's for Italian Beef.

9. Food Hall Fixings - Food halls, which seem much like food courts with nicer signs, have become popular in Chicago. I've been to a few, in the Merchandise Mart and the Revival Food Hall, but tend to prefer Forum 55 under 55 E. Monroe. I particularly like Pork & Mindy's and their Pig Candy BLT.

10. Up There - Not too long ago, I treated myself to a 3-course dinner at Everest, long one of Chicago's most acclaimed restaurants. With the caveat that their full Prix Fixe menu is much pricier than what I got, it was great and not quite astonishing at the same time.

11. Here and Gone - I was sad to see longtime stalwart, The Bagel, close in my hometown of Skokie, and though Real Urban BBQ remains in other north suburban locations, its Skokie joint came and went too quickly. I enjoyed fine meals at both again in 2018. I'm hoping the new Vietnamese restaurant Pho Phu Linh sticks around. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Best of 2018: The Most Enjoyable & Enlightening Museums, Exhibitions and Attractions I Experienced

If you're reading this--whether just this particular blog post, my current series of "Best of 2018" posts or my Seth Saith blog with any regularity--I appreciate it.

I like sharing my thoughts, and passions, and certainly hope doing so may enlighten, or merely entertain, somebody else.

Ideally several times over.

But the truth is that I write and maintain Seth Saith in large part for my own benefit.

Therapeutically, certainly, as the enjoyment of writing--and sharing my opinions on many superb performances--with consistency has been rather fulfilling.

But candidly, I also like having an archive of what I've seen, done, thought, etc.

Year-round, but in more capsulized form, via these Best of the Year posts.

This category, with somewhat unwieldy rankings of museums of differing types, sizes, scopes, exhibitions and/or permanent collections, etc., and also "attractions" of myriad forms, very much plays into this.

The lists wind up being rather non-parallel, and undoubtedly weighted to sights seen on vacation. Some of the "once in a lifetime" variety.

I realize the imperfections, and even more than most, the rankings are somewhat immaterial. But it'll be nice to have something to look back upon. And if you enjoy perusing this, that's even better.

(Note that in the museum listings, in some cases I cite particularly great Special Exhibitions, while in others simply a visit to the museum itself (or both). In the specific case of the Art Institute of Chicago, I have visited it for so long and so often--including a few times this year--here I will merely consider special exhibits I saw this year, although the museum as a whole could always rank near the top My Favorite Museums list.)

My Favorite Museum Visits of 2018

1. Museum of Fine Arts - Boston

2. Larco Museum - Lima, Peru

3. Isaballa Stewart Gardner Museum - Boston

4. Old State House - Boston

5. Harvard Art Museums - Boston

6. Ivan Albright and John Singer Sargent exhibitions - Art Institute of Chicago (seen on the same visit)

7. Speak Truth to Power / Kerry Kennedy - Illinois Holocaust
Museum & Education Center - Skokie, IL (my recap)

8. Milwaukee Public Museum

9. Paul Revere House
- Boston

10. Japanese Prints - Art Institute of Chicago

11. Lima Art Museum - Lima, Peru

Best Non-Museum Attractions Visited in 2018

1. Machu Picchu - Peru 

2. Ollantaytambo Sanctuary - Ollantaytambo, Peru

3. Whale Watching Boston Harbor Cruise - Boston

4. Forced from Home interactive exhibit by Doctors Without Borders - Daley Plaza, Chicago (website)

5. Qorikancha - Cusco, Peru 

Convent of San Francisco and Catacombs - Lima, Peru

7. Boston Public Library, Old Building 

8. Huaca Pucllana - Lima, Peru

9. Plaza de Armas, Cusco 

Trinity Church - Boston

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir - Bartlett, IL

Honorable Mention 

- Convent of Santa Domingo - Lima, Peru
- Plaza de Armas, Lima
- Fenway Park - Boston
- Harvard  University Tour - Cambridge, MA

- State House Tour - Boston
- Art Walk of River North Galleries - Evening Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago
- Convent of Santo Domingo - Lima
- Old North Church - Boston
- Basilica of St. Josephat - Milwaukee

The Best of 2018: The Best New Albums I Heard

This seems like apt category in which to admit that I've been a broken record.

For years, perhaps decades now, I've been complaining that there have been relatively few new artists in a rock vein that have gotten me excited--especially on an ongoing basis.

Yes, there are acts such as Ash and Maximo Park and Arcade Fire who have popped up on multiple "Best New Albums of (Year)" lists, but all are at least a dozen years old.

Late last year, as I was rummaging through albums I had gleaned might be worthy of "Best of 2017" consideration, I discovered Life Without Sound by the Cloud Nothings.

After several listenings, I decided it was the best album I'd heard all year, and it topped my list.

But not only can't I say that I returned to it often this year, until the past couple weeks I was oblivious to the Cloud Nothings releasing a follow-up, Last Building Burning.

And I don't like it nearly as much.

So with relatively few albums that catch my attention--and fancy--throughout the year, I try my best to listen to several in a cluster of December weeks, and see what I like best.

But though I am trying to gauge the merits--as per my preferences, which lean toward guitar-driven hard rock--of any particular album, I realized I somehow also should factor in what I'm likely to stick with and return to.

This year, my favorite discovery was a band called the Struts, who are unabashedly retro, with a singer and sound that recalls--without matching--Queen and a Cuisinart of other classic rock influences.

Noting that they would be opening for the Foo Fighters at Wrigley Field in late July, I listened to and loved their then-only album, Everybody Wants, which was released in 2014, and re-issued in the U.S. in 2016.

Their new album, Young and Dangerous, was released in late-October, and likewise has several songs that are unabashedly fun. It also has some that are, candidly, rather dumb and not so great, and I can't call the album a masterpiece.

Still, it is the 2018 album I've most enjoyed hearing, and presumably the one I will continue to most often. So while I don't think it historically good, it tops my list of:

My Favorite New Rock Albums of 2018

1. The Struts - Young and Dangerous (Spotify link)

2. Elvis Costello - Look Now (Spotify link)

3. Superchunk - What a Time to Be Alive (Spotify link)

4. Ash - Islands (Spotify link)

5. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs (Spotify link)

6. The Vaccines- Combat Sports (Spotify link)

7. David Byrne - American Utopia (Spotify link)

8. John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness (Spotify link)

9. Kyle Craft - Full Circle Nightmare (Spotify link) 

10. Paul McCartney Egypt Station (Spotify link)

11. Judas Priest - FIREPOWER (Spotify link)

Honorable Mention

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer (Spotify link)
The Chills - Snow Bound (Spotify link)
Mitski - Be the Cowboy (Spotify link)
Paul Weller - True Meanings (Spotify link)
Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour (Spotify link)
Cloud Nothings - Last Building Burning (Spotify link)
Albert Hammond Jr. - Francis Trouble (Spotify link)

Reissues, Live Albums, etc.

John Coltrane - Both Directions at Once (Spotify link)
The great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane died in 1967, and even in just the past few years, there have been many archival releases and reissues, typically featuring Trane performances. 2018's release of Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 being just one example. Both Directions at Once is a bit different, as it is from a recording session Coltrane did with his classic quartet in 1963, but whose tapes had long been lost. Hence, almost all of it is of material never heard. And it is brilliant.

David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000 (Live) (Spotify link)

Midnight Oil - Armistice Day: Live at the Domain, Sydney (Spotify link)

R.E.M. at the BBC (Spotfiy link) - Several discs worth of live in studio and live in concert recordings.

The Beatles - The Beatles (White Album) Reissue, featuring Esher Demos (Spotify link) - The Esher Demos are acoustic recordings the Beatles made prior to working on the actual album versions. And they sound wonderful.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Live Archive Recordings
Available via These are the ones I purchased:
● East Rutherford, NJ (without ESB) 6/24/93
Boston 11/19/07
● Freehold (solo) 1996
● Roxy (LA) 7/7/78
● Wembley Arena (London) 6/5/81
● Chicago 9/30/99
● Helsinki 6/16/03
Leeds 7/24/13

Of these, London '81 would probably be my top recommendation.

Pearl Jam has also long released official bootlegs of their concerts--which can be found here--and having attended their two Wrigley Field shows in Chicago (August 18 & 20, 2018), I enjoy owning them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Best of 2018: The Best Musicals I Saw Onstage

Other than sensational rock concerts by cherished artists, and perhaps a few transcendent movies, there is no art form I love more than musical theater.

Even without any trips to New York or London this year, I saw 32 "Broadway" musicals in 2018, including several fantastic ones.

With the caveat that in my reviews--a link is provided for each show making my list below--I am really judging a particular production as much as the musical itself, I saw terrific touring renditions of such classics as Hello, Dolly! and Fiddler on the Roof.

While it may seem a bit unfair to gauge big budget national tours--and even the continuing Chicago sit-down production of Hamilton--against local productions, you'll see that several area troupes are well-represented.

All the musicals I saw in 2018
In fact, not making my Top 11 or Honorable Mention below are a few high-profile world premieres--Pretty Woman, The Cher Show, A Taste of Things to Come, Heartbreak Hotel--that I didn't quite love. (The first two cited are currently running on Broadway.)

So I am not so concerned with the budget, scale or pedigree, but primarily what moves me.

As you'll see, I really liked the pre-Broadway Chicago run of Tootsie, and even more so, a stage version of Moulin Rouge that I happened to catch in Boston. It's scheduled to open on Broadway in Summer 2019.

For whatever it's worth, and however unscientifically determined, here are my picks of:

The Best Musicals I Saw On Stage in 2018:
(Note: All theaters in Chicago proper unless noted; in some cases the theatrical company is cited rather than venue. New shows are denoted with an *)

1. Hamilton - CIBC Theatre / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

2. Moulin Rouge* - Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boston (my review) 
3. Hello Dolly - Oriental Theatre / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

4. Fiddler on the Roof - Cadillac Palace / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

5. The Book of Mormon - Oriental Theatre / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

6. A Little Night Music - BoHo Theatre (my review)

7. Jesus Christ Superstar - Lyric Opera of Chicago (my review) 

8. Ragtime - Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (my review)

9. Tootsie* - Cadillac Palace / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

10. The Color Purple - Auditorium Theatre / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

11. Miss Saigon - Cadillac Palace / Broadway in Chicago (my review)

Honorable Mention
In preference order

- Haymarket* - Underscore Theatre Co. (my review) 
- Merrily We Roll Along - Porchlight Music Theatre (my review)
- Women of Soul - Black Ensemble Theatre (my review)
- Striking Out - Annoyance Theatre (my review)
- Company - Mercury Theatre (my review)
- On Your Feet! - Cadillac Palace / Broadway in Chicago (my review)
- Murder for Two - Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (my review)

As of this writing, Hamilton and Fiddler on the Roof are still running in downtown Chicago, while Women of Soul continues at the Black Ensemble Theatre. 

-- If re-posting lists or highlighting selections, please attribute to: Seth Arkin on

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Best of 2018: The Best Plays I Saw

In 2018, I saw 40 plays.

This doesn't include musicals, operas, ballets, sketch comedy, improv, etc.

Presented by 22 different local troupes in a wide variety of venues, some of these works were world premieres, some were age-old classics, many were somewhere in-between.

There were shows with vast casts, and several others with a single performer.

And many of the performances were fantastic, from Hollywood stars--Michael Shannon, Stacy Keach, Richard Thomas--many Chicagoland actors I've long seen and several I never had before.

A large number of the works were quite good, with all of the top 11 below earning @@@@@ or @@@@1/2 (out of 5) on my ratings scale--and the others cited at least @@@@. 

My #1 pick is still running for a few more weeks, and though it is a non-traditional play--with no spoken dialogue--it is completely magical.

As always, my exact rankings--and ratings of any play--are an inexact science, so great admiration is bestowed on all productions making my list, and many more that didn't.
The Best Plays I Saw in 2018
All were in the Chicago area. New/recent works are denoted with an *.

1. The Steadfast Tin Soldier* - Lookingglass Theatre
conceived and directed by Mary Zimmerman
(my review)

2. Liberty City - Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre
written by April Yvette Thompson; directed by Jonathan Wilson
(my review)

3. Pamplona* - Goodman Theatre
written by Jim McGrath; directed by Robert Falls
(my review)

4. All My Sons - Court Theatre 
written by Arthur Miller; directed by Charles Newell
5. Downstate* - Steppenwolf Theatre
written by Bruce Norris; directed by Pam McKinnon
(my review)

6. A Home on the Lake* - Piven Theatre and Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre
written by Stephen Fedo & Tim Rhoze; directed by Tim Rhoze
Liberty City at Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre
(my review)

7. A Shayna Maidel - TimeLine Theatre 
written by Barbara Lebow; directed by Vanessa Stalling
(my review)

8. Until the Flood - Goodman Theatre
written by Dael Orlandersmith; directed by Neel Keeler
(my review)

9. Linda - Steep Theatre
written by Penelope Skinner; directed by Robin Witt
(my review)

10. An Enemy of the People - Goodman Theatre
written by Henrik Ibsen; adapted & directed by Robert Falls
(my review)

11. The Gentleman Caller* - Raven Theatre 
written by Philip Dawkins; directed by Cody Estle
(my review)

Honorable Mention

Curve of Departure* - Northlight Theatre
written by Rachel Bonds; directed by BJ Jones
(my review)

The Play That Goes Wrong - National Tour / Broadway in Chicago
written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields; directed by Matt DiCarlo
(my review)

Indecent - Victory Gardens Theatre
written by Paula Vogel; directed by Gary Griffin
(my review)

Victims of Duty - House Theatre
written by Eugène Ionesco; directed by Shira Piven
(my review)

The Humans- National Tour / Broadway in Chicago
written by Stephen Karam; directed by Joe Mantello
(my review)

The Lonesome West - Aston Rep Theatre
written by Martin McDonagh; directed by Dana Anderson
(my review)

Vietgone - Writers Theatre
written by Qui Nguyen; directed by Lavina Jadhwani
(my review)

Lady in Denmark - Goodman Theatre
written by Dael Orlandersmith; directed by Chay Yew
(my review)

A Moon for the Misbegotten - Writers Theatre
written by Eugene O'Neill; directed by William Brown
(my review)

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years - Goodman Theatre
written by Emily Mann; directed by Chuck Smith
(my review)

-- If re-posting list or highlighting selections, please attribute to: Seth Arkin on

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Best of 2018: My Favorite Songs of the Year -- A Spotify Playlist

Anybody who sees my post of The Best Rock Concerts I Attended in 2018--or most other years for that matter--will likely think, "Boy, he likes a bunch of old rock bands."

Which isn't incorrect. I do.

I still love rock music, and listen to it daily.

But I can count on two hands the number of rock acts I've really cared about that have arisen in this century, and on just one those from this decade.

Yet I rather constantly--and quite vociferously at year-end as research for lists like this and Best Rock Albums--try to catch wind of new artists, albums and songs that prove that rock really is still alive, in an ongoing sense.

And I also attempt to find some stuff a bit beyond my wheelhouse.

Different than most of my other year-end Best of 2018 lists, my selection of Favorite Songs isn't presented as a ranking, but rather as a playable Spotify playlist. It is sequenced to hopefully make for pleasant listening, without qualitative delineation.

You can play the songs through the interface below, but can also find/bookmark the playlist online through the URL:

And should you happen to care, past yearly playlists of favorite songs can be found by clicking each year: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014


My Favorite Songs of 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Best of 2018: The Best Rock Concerts I Attended

Even without any shows by Mssrs. Springsteen and McCartney, 2018 was another rather remarkable year of concert going. (And I love Springsteen on Broadway on Netflix after seeing it live in December '17.)

Including everything from free shows in local parks to sold-out stadium extravaganzas, I attended 45 rock concerts--and I truly enjoyed every one of them.

I say "rock" so as not to include here classical, jazz and theatrical performances, even if the latter included rock & pop songs.

But acts I saw in 2018, and eligible here, range from Buddy Guy to Taylor Swift, Erasure to Foghat, so rock isn't meant in any stringent sense.

I awarded 12 performers a full @@@@@ rating on my Seth Saith scale, and among these, I saw U2 and Pearl Jam twice. (For ranking purposes, I will award them just one berth each.)

And while I will cite opening acts, my ratings and rankings only apply to the headliners. Def Leppard and Journey made for the only true double-bill I saw (with the Pretenders opening the show at Wrigley Field), but though both were quite enjoyable, neither makes the list below.

My Favorite Rock Concerts of 2018
Artists seen multiple times ranked just once; venues in Chicago area unless noted.

1. David Byrne (w/ Benjamin Clementine) - June 3, Auditorium Theatre (my review) 

2. Arcade Fire (w/ Manchester Orchestra) - July 8, Milwaukee Summerfest Mainstage (my review)

3. Depeche Mode (w/ EMA) - June 1, United Center (my review) 

4. Foo Fighters (w/ the Struts) - July 29, Wrigley Field (my review 

5. Pearl Jam - August 20 & 22, Wrigley Field (my review)

6. U2 - May 22 & 23, United Center (my review)

7. Jeff Lynne's ELO - August 15, Allstate Arena (my review)

8. Elton John - October 26, United Center (my review)

9. Stereophonics (w/ The Ramona Flowers) - September 11, The Vic (my review)

10. The Struts (w/ The Glorious Sons) - November 24, House of Blues (my review) 

11. Ash (w/ Namorado) - September 22, Schuba's (my review)

Honorable Mention
(in preference order)

- Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul - November 5, Copernicus Center (my review)
- Robert Plant (w/ Seth Lakeman) - February 20, Riviera Theatre (my review)
- Radiohead (w/ Junun) - July 7, United Center (my review)
- Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (w/ Larkin Poe) - December 14, Allstate Arena (my review)
- Smashing Pumpkins (w/ Metric) - August 13, United Center (my review)
- The Zombies (w/ Don DiLego) - March 19, City Winery (my review)
- Neil Young (John Hammond Jr.) - June 30, Auditorium Theatre (my review)
- Buddy Guy (w/ Ronnie Baker Brooks) - March 31, Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet (my review)
- Simple Minds - October 15, Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Willie Nile - April 14, City Winery (my review)

Thus begins my annual barrage of year-end rankings. In the coming days, please look for The Best of 2018 posts covering Plays, Musicals, Albums, Songs and Movies, as well as others covering Travel, Dining and various other topics. 

If re-posting lists or highlighting selections, please attribute to: Seth Arkin on

Thursday, December 20, 2018

To Life, To Life, L'Chaim: Remarkably Tuneful Fiddler on the Roof Remains Richly, If Grimly, Resonant -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Fiddler on the Roof
National Tour
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru January 6

For my money, or at least freely offered opinions, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the 10 greatest musicals ever created.

With a wondrous set of songs by the composer/lyricist team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick--the show's book is by Joseph Stein based on Tevye and His Daughters by Sholem Aleichem, while the original Broadway production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins--Fiddler feels specifically Jewish and widely universal, comfortably classic and eternally relevant.

Like some other of the very best musicals--e.g. West Side StoryCabaret, The Sound of MusicLes Miserables, Evita, Hamilton--the score and tonality are often buoyant while foreboding undercurrents are rather brilliantly woven in.

It's an eminently hummable, quintessential Broadway musical, but its narrative is rather substantive (and eventually even grim).

So it's likely that any strong professional production will enchant me (or even first-rate community, college and high school stagings).

And on what I believe to be a non-Equity (actors' union) tour derived from a 2015-16 Broadway production--the original one debuted in 1964--I found Fiddler on the Roof again to be sublime, largely but not only due to its inherent "wonder of wonders."

Photo credit on all: Joan Marcus
From what I had read, it seems that I am supposed to report that this rendition--directed by Bartlett Sher, who has garnered renown for acclaimed Broadway revivals of classics like South Pacific, The King and I and My Fair Lady--is considerably different and darker than past takes.

I'm not saying it isn't, but having last seen Fiddler live in 2009, I can't authoritatively say I noticed this.

Though certainly, it was a bit unique to see Tevye played by/as a relatively young man.

In 2000, I had seen one of the most legendary and frequent Tevye portrayers--Theodore Bikel--when he was well into his 70s, and likewise Topol in 2009 (though the latter did play the role, at 36, in the 1971 film version).

After the recent Broadway revival featured Danny Burstein in his early 50s, the tour stars Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov, whom Wikipedia says is 44.

The actress playing Tevye's wife Golde, Maite Uzal, is also younger than in other iterations, and given the ages of the couple's five daughters--perhaps 12-22 and largely congruent across all productions--the casting makes more biological mathematical sense, despite how great Topol and Bikel were.

In his singing, acting and rendering of Tevye's oft-bemused disposition, Lazarov is terrific, and more time in the role should make him even more so.

His delivery of "If I Were a Rich Man" is delicious, and while communal choral tunes and group dances--"Tradition," "To Life," "Tevye's Dream," "Sunrise, Sunset," "The Wedding"--are the most overtly thrilling numbers, everyone who was individually heard on the show's myriad great songs sounded swell.

This includes Mel Weyn, Ruthy Froch and Natalie Powers as Tevye & Golde's three oldest daughters--Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, respectively--on "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," Jesse Weil (as Motel the tailor) on "Miracle of Miracles" Froch and Ryne Nardecchia (Perchik) on "Now I Have Everything" and Froch solo on "Far From the Home I Love."

Director Sher and costume designer Catherine Zuber made an interesting decision to have Lazarov begin and end the show adorned in modern outerwear, ostensibly to more overtly tie the forced dissolution of a Jewish village in Russia, circa 1905, to today's times.

While a notable ploy, I didn't find it necessary, as deportation of individuals from longstanding U.S. homes, the harrowing journeys of migrants seeking a better life and the ugly brutality of bigotry make Fiddler on the Roof all too resonant without any extra gimmicks.

Other elements, old and perhaps new, will also make the tale of close-knit Anatevka, the tyranny of the Russian tsar and his xenophobic pogroms and the historical diaspora--and far worse--faced by Jews and many other peoples feel rather contemporary.

And the familial dichotomy repeatedly at the heart of Fiddler on the Roof--the battle between cultural & religious traditions and personal freedoms, particularly regarding love & marriage--should feel familiar to those of any faith, race, background or age.

It is with no disrespect to--and considerable admiration for--this production, cast and crew that it's not impossible for me to perceive Fiddler on the Roof being done ever better. If my @@@@@ rating scale was instead based on 1-to-100, I might award a 95.

But this is a brilliant musical being done tremendously well, and I believe my highest rating to be apt.

And even though there really is no roof for the fiddler to play upon in this production, appreciating all of its wonders--and even some creative miracles--should make you a rich man, or woman, indeed.


Monday, December 17, 2018

We've Got Tonight: As He Prepares to Turn the Page, Bob Seger Still Has the Fire Down Below -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Seger 
& the Silver Bullet Band
w/ opening act Larkin Poe
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
December 14, 2018

Before embarking on his latest outing with the Silver Bullet Band--which began in August 2017 and was initially slated to run through early this year--Bob Seger dubbed it his "Final Tour."

This followed the death, in January 2016, of Seger's old musical pal from Detroit, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, which came the same week as the passing of David Bowie.

Many other music luminaries--among them Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Glenn Allman, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Glen Campbell and Walter Becker (of Steely Dan)--would also soon move on to the great gig in the sky.

Just a dozen shows into the 2017 tour, Seger suffered a ruptured disc requiring emergency back surgery, prompting the postponement--for what would be over a year--of all shows after one in Pittsburgh at the end of September.

Mere days later, one of Seger's closest contemporaries--Tom Petty--died suddenly. And in August of this year, the world lost another of Detroit's greatest musical icons, Aretha Franklin.

Several other rock acts who, like Seger, rose to fame in the 1970s, have recently called it quits,
announced plans to do so or are seemingly eyeing the checkered flag, from Elton John and Paul Simon to bands like Rush, Kiss and AC/DC.

So in one sense or another, an air of finality certainly hung above Seger's rescheduled show Friday night at Allstate Arena, especially as he delivered a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" while images of Cohen, Petty, Prince, Berry, Allman, Aretha and Frey were projected on a video screen. (I found it a bit odd that Bowie wasn't included yet Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in 1990, was.)

But more predominantly--particularly given what Seger presumably had to endure to ready himself to again perform for nearly 2 hours--it was a night that celebrated pride, perseverance, passion, longevity, loyalty to & from the fans, a communal sense of what Bob's songs have meant to those of us of a certain age--at 50, I was considerably on the young side of the Allstate crowd--sincerity and ultimately, good "Old Time Rock and Roll."

I've been a Seger fan for 40 years, specifically, as I remember my dad--a bit incongruously given that he was mainly a classical and Broadway fan--adding 1978's Stranger in Town album to our family record collection (and subsequently 1980's Against the Wind).

So my love for Seger has always centered around those two albums and the 1981 live collection, Nine Tonight, rather than--presumably for fans a tad older--1976's Live Bullet and Night Moves. (I'm now aware that Seger started releasing albums in the mid-60s and had his first hit with "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" in 1969.)

Saxophonist & guitarist Alto Reed
At any point after 1978 I would have happily seen Seger & Silver Bullet live, but never did in the '80s or '90s.

For whatever reason, I really don't recall him touring in 1996, though I see on that he did.

But since Bob and his erstwhile band returned to the road in 2006, I have now seen him six times
across five tours (including Friday). So I pretty much knew what to expect, including that in terms of his voice and kinetic energy, Seger isn't what he was circa 1978 (as per YouTube).

And with his white hair, trusty headband and a bit of paunch, he isn't the epitome of what hipsters would consider hip.

So be it.

This wasn't really a night for hipness, myself included.

Opening act Larkin Poe
And even though opening act Larkin Poe enjoyably demonstrated the talents of a young pair of rock 'n rollin' sisters--neither named Larkin or Poe--in 2013 I saw Joe Walsh open for Seger and in 2014 the J. Geils Band. And Grand Funk Railroad opened a couple shows just last week, so with no disrespect to Larkin Poe, I could've taken even more of the old and unhip.

Taking the stage at about a quarter after nine--I would've loved had "Nine Tonight" kicked things off--Seger and his large band, including a horn section and trio of backing singers, opened with "Long Twin Silver Line."

A somewhat obscure album track from Against the Wind, this differed from what Seger had opened at his seven prior tour stops this year ("Face the Promise" mostly; "Shakedown" once).

I certainly didn't mind the variance, or the selection, but sonically, "Long Twin Silver Line" was something of a train wreck.

The right acoustic mix for the arena had yet to be sorted out, Bob was under-miked and it would take several songs for his voice to truly warm and it's certainly possible the battalion of musicians hadn't fully acclimated to the change of pace.

So while it was a thrill just to see Seger take the stage--especially given all that I alluded to at top--at first it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

But next up was my favorite song from Seger's deep catalog--"Still the Same"--and he's largely eschewed it on recent tours, so although things were still settling in I couldn't help but savor it.

You can see the setist here, with many of the usual suspects--"The Fire Down Below," "Mainstreet," "Old Time Rock and Roll," "Come to Poppa," "Roll Me Away," "Like a Rock"--but they all came off well, and I relished 1991's somewhat under-the-radar "The Fire Inside," with some terrific piano interplay between Craig Frost and a keyboardist whose name I apologetically can't ascertain.

More classic rock staples including "We've Got Tonight," "Travelin' Man"/"Beautiful Loser" and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man'" rounded out the main set before Bob's almost boilerplate quartet of encore tunes:

"Against the Wind," "Hollywood Nights," "Night Moves" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets."

Say what you want about Bob Seger, but he knows what works. The Allstate Arena was packed to the rafters, and pretty much singing along with every word.

Especially on "Turn the Page," which Seger said he wrote in an Eau Claire, WI, hotel room in 1970, when he'd have been all of 24 or 25.

And here he is, on the road again, here he is up on the stage, at the age of 73, as he reminded us during "Rock and Roll Never Forgets."

For those judging only on technical merit, it was certainly an imperfect night, with not only some sound issues, but a few flubbed lyrics, Seger playing an out-of-key or out-of-tune guitar on "Night Moves" and his once powerful voice far more sufficient than spectacular.

But while he isn't, physically, still the same, Bob Seger remains a passionate performer who gives the audience his all. And from what I could tell from the appreciative fans with and around me, that was enough to make for a memorable night.

On what well may be a Midwestern rock legend's last ever gig in Chicago.

I'm glad I was there.

And as Bob Seger his bandmates--some dating back nearly 50 years with him, like the wondrous and ageless sax man Alto Reed and bassist Chris Campbell--I couldn't help but surmise that Glenn and Tom and Gregg and Prince and Aretha, et. al., were also there to accomp'ny us.

For as we all turn the page, what's been written--literally and figuratively--by the musicians we cherish will never really fade.

Thanks for a wonderful ride, Mr. Seger.

Rock and roll never forgets and neither will I.