SunSpots: Tuesdays On the Terrace

 Tuesdays On the Terrace - Terrific!


On Tuesday, July 31st, I ventured out to the Museum of Contemporary Art for its Tuesdays On the Terrace series.  The demographic at Tuesdays On the Terrace is quite varied - old, young; black, white; families, singles; tourist, natives - and everything in between!  The series features a nice variety of local jazz artists and the line-up is decidedly culturally-diverse!  On this evening, Art Hoyle delighted the audience with jazz standards and notes that reached every area of the terrace and and the sculpture garden!

The biggest change to Tuesdays On the Terrace in recent years is that the majority of the terrace is now allocated to reserved dining.  Reserved seating is worthwhile because of the . . . well . . . the seats!  Also, you'll have a view of the band (though it may be partially obstructed) and access to Wolfgang Puck's all you can eat buffet!  I could go on and on about the buffet, but let it suffice to say the food is delicious!! Don't expect to just walk in and get a table, references must be made in advance.  The earlier you reserve, the better your seats will be!  While I made reservations for four, I ended up solo.  However, the crowd at Tuesdays On the Terrace was so friendly that two strangers invited me to join their table!

I, in turn, invite you to join my table!  On Tuesday, September 18th, Soleil's To-Dos will host Simply Social:  Tuesdays On the Terrace with Tomeka Reid!  Join us!

Admission to Tuesdays On the Terrace is free and the Wolfgang Puck buffet is $24.  Lawn chairs and outside food and drink are prohibited; however, you can bring a blanket or rent an MCA lawn chair for $5.  Tuesdays On the Terrace continues through September 25th, 5:30-8pm.  View the entire schedule!

In the News: Isaiah Washington featured in "Unspeakable"!

Award-Winning TV & Film Star Isaiah Washington Featured In Unspeakable,
A Dramatic Fantasia Inspired By The Life Of Comedic Icon Richard Pryor


This fall, Chicagoans will get the chance to experience the New York International Fringe Festival hit, Unspeakable, a dramatic fantasia inspired by the life of comedic icon Richard Pryor, on the Royal George Theatre Main Stage, 1641 N. Halsted, in a limited eight-week engagement beginning Tuesday, October 2, 2012.  Unspeakable is presented by Executive Producer Susan Batson (Broadway revival of Raisin in the Sun), Creative Mind Entertainment, OBC Dream Theatre, and in association with Kenneth Schapiro/ Enlightenment Productions.

Unspeakable is an unflinching look at the life and times of an iconic comedic genius. Covering a span of sixty one years, and focused on the period between 1967 and 1982, audience members travel through the emotional landscape that is Richard Pryor.  Growing up in a Peoria brothel, where his mother toiled as a prostitute that his grandmother owned and operated, Pryor faced situations that forever shaped and scarred his sensitive soulCoping with the reality of being born to a prostitute, his imagination allows him to escape and ultimately leads him to comedy. From his rise to super stardom in the shadow of Bill Cosby to his blazingly self-destructive love affair with cocaine and women, Unspeakable captures the duality of his success with the number of internal and emotional demons he battled throughout his life.   At the center of Unspeakable is the humanity that connects us all through our vulnerability, intimacy and truth.

The cast of seven - many taking on multiple roles – features television and film star Isaiah Washington making his Chicago stage debut in the role of “Moody,” and James Murray Jackson, Jr. as “Richard Pryor,” a role he originated at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival that earned him a New York Times rave for his “magnetic lead performance.”  Additional casting will be announced shortly.

Unspeakable is directed by Rod Gailes OBC, based on a script by Gailes and Jackson, Jr.  Given the strong language and adult situations inherent in this story, this production is recommended for theatergoers 16 years of age and older.

“Richard Pryor broke down barriers and stereotypes once thought unimaginable, said the unspeakable and did the unthinkable. He taught us by holding a mirror to the conscience of America, while self-destructing, and imploding on his own pain and grief. Though flawed in life, he lived uninhibited onstage. He was part preacher, social commentator, political activist, addict and a whole lot of devil. Richard ushered in a groundbreaking style which paved the way for a generation of comedians. He was able to convert his painful personal experiences and searing political observations into mainstream comedy,” said Gailes.

Whether in his professional life as an actor and producer or his personal role as a husband, father and activist, Isaiah Washington passionately commits himself to all ventures. As an actor, critics have lauded Isaiah's ability to effortlessly disappear into each role.  Winner of two NAACP Image Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award, Washington most recently appeared in Jeymes Samuel's They Die By Dawn starring Michael Kenneth Williams, Harry Lennix, Erykah Badu, Jesse Williams, and Rosario Dawson; and he will produce and star in the upcoming films The Undershepherdand Blue Caprice in theaters this Fall and Summer 2013, respectively. Washington has also produced and starred in Tony Abulu's film Dr. Bello; recently co-starred with Kate Beckinsale and Nick Nolte in The Trials of Cate McCall, also due out in 2013; and co-starred in John Sayles Go For Sisters starring LisGay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross, Edward James Olmos and Hector Elizondo.  He is currently producing five other films:  Africans vs African AmericansPrecipice, Live Or Die, One Last Pimp Out/Waiting for Nick, and God Gave Us Tomorrow.. Washington also completed his first memoir, A Man From Another Land:  How Finding My Roots Changed My Life, (Hachette/Centre Street Publishing) and is now producing the Audiobook version for iTunes.

For his portrayal of Richard Pryor in the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival production of Unspeakable, James Jackson, Jr. received the Festival’s Outstanding Lead Actor Award. The New York-based actor/writer/producer found mentors early on in acting gurus Nathan George and Susan Batson, who  etched into his mind the responsibility the artist has to himself as well as to his community.  Jackson, Jr. has worked in theaters throughout New York City and the Tri-State area, with credits including: The Awakening/Ohm Theatre Group, of which he was a founding member;  Port Authority Throw Down/  Working Theatre; Risk/The Looking Glass Forum; White Baby/Passage Theatre;  andUnspeakable/SoHo Playhouse.  In2009, Jackson, Jr. and his wife Lisa created Creative Mind Entertainment, an entertainment production company that is currently in various stages of production and active development of numerous projects in virtually every entertainment medium including stage productions of Rooftops, Little Fish, Johnny Coconuts: The Saga of a Wanna be Porn Star!! and Follow me to Nellie’s, and film projects including Pharoah Jones  and Private Joy. James is also a graduate of the Commercial Theater Institute’s Broadway producer program.

Rod Gailes OBC is a Detroit native, University of Michigan graduate, and an alumnus of the prestigious NYU Graduate Film Program.  There he studied under noted filmmakers, Raoul Peck and Nancy Savoca, and directed the award-winning classic, Twin Cousins, a Regional Student Academy Award™ Finalist, winner of the HBO Short Film Competition, and best short film in New York’s Urbanworld Film Festival before winning the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival and being featured at the Kodak Emerging Filmmaker Showcase in Cannes. After working with director Spike Lee, Gailes OBC, a versatile writer, director and producer, moved on to groundbreaking work in New York’s theatre community with I AM Because We ARE; Revolution, Romance, & WarThin Black Line; his original musical, COLORS: Dream Of the MASTA; and his original play, 18 Eve, commissioned  by Harlem’s  Boys & Girl’s Harbor. His work as a director and developer of new work continued in 2012 when Gailes OBC directed the first developmental workshop of Disney’s The Lion King Jr. in partnership with Disney Theatricals and Harlem School of the Arts, and most recently, the Araca project’s CAKE by Shawn Nabors.

Theater Review: Three Sisters

Dwayne T. LawrenceThree Sisters - Slow Start; Banter-full Finish

By Dwayne T. Lawrence


[caption id="attachment_1233" align="alignright" width="200"]three sisters Ensemble members Alana Arenas and Ora Jones.
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow[/caption]

I must admit in the beginning, Three Sisters, a play by Anton Chekhov and adapted by Tracy Letts under the direction of Anna D. Shapiro at the Steppenwolf Theater was incredibly slow.  The fact that the play started off slow doesn't necessarily mean that it was bad; it just reflected the sense of mood that Chekhov is famous for trying to display in introducing the psychology of his characters.  The highlights of the play were the interactions between the characters that often times lead to comedic respites.

Other standout performances are led by Carrie Coon (who portrays Masha).  Masha is the dark, forlorn and brooding sister, as compared to Olga, the pragmatist, and the younger sweet and innocent sister Irina (Caroline Neff).  Masha's husband, Fyodor (Yasen Peyankov) was by far the funniest character in this play. Peyankov’s delivery was dry and subtle, but his timing during critical moments was exactly what the doctor ordered.  Speaking of doctors, Chebutykin (Scott Jacek) the army doctor is a nod to Chekhov’s primary profession and contributes richly to the back and forth banter and delivers a one-liner faster than Nolan Ryan pitches.

Three Sisters can be compared to a pot of homemade soup: it starts out bland but when you add to the broth, varied and flavorful ingredients, it becomes more appealing and alive to the palette.  Three Sisters is a wonderful play about humans and their trials and tribulations in trying to live during very strange and obscure times.  Once again Chekhov’s ability to relate the characters to their desires and motivation is reason enough to see this play!

Three Sisters continues through August 26th at Steppenwolf Theatre.

SunSpots: Jazzin' at the Shedd!

Stephanie's Just Hangin' Around!


When It's Hot, Chill at the Shedd!


Until recently, I believe it had been several years since I had ventured out to Jazzin' at the Shedd and I wondered how it may have changed.  When I heard that Detour JazFunk was opening this year's season, I knew I had to be there!

(This image, below, is a video link - so, click it!)

Jazzin' at the Shedd

Detour JazFunk

Detour was outstanding, as per their usual.  Comprised of Phil Seed (Guitar and Lead Vocals), Kenery Kent Smith (Bass Guitar), Ben "Jammin'" Johnson (Drums & Lead/Background Vocals) and a keyboardist (usually Tim Gant), Detour is cohesive and smoking'!!!  They performed a perfect mix of jazz, R&B and neo-soul!  Joined by Carla Prather and Andrea Love, the music was HOT!  A better opening act couldn't have been chosen. 

Jazzin' at the Shedd TerraceOpening night was no exception to our recent run of hot weather - it was easily 95-100 degrees!  However, the canopy provided just enough protection to make the weather not only bearable, but pleasant.  There are several seating areas available - the main covered terrace, an uncovered terrace (for the true sun-lovers) and an indoor air-conditioned area (for the folks who probably should have just stayed home!)  However, this To-Do is popular and fills quickly and people love to hold seats for 15 of their closest friends :=|, so it's best to arrive early!  Onsite ticket sales do not begin until 5pm, so I suggest purchasing tickets through Groupon (if available), or buying a Shedd season membership for $80 (for you and a guest, valid for general museum admission as well).

Jazzin' at the Shedd TerraceThe crowd at Jazzin' at the Shedd varies so widely in age that anyone would be comfortable - including children and seniors.  Some people stick around for the music after enjoying a day at the aquarium, but most people come specifically for the music.  I'm sure the racial demographic varies slightly according to the musical performer, but on opening night, people of color were in the majority.  Although this To-Do is crowded, it is not unbearably so and you can easily mingle!  Enjoy cocktails, soft drinks and ample food - all reasonably priced.

Other things to be aware of:

  • No re-entry

  • No outside food or drinks

  • No outside chairs

  • Parking is NOT close (so what shoes are you going to wear?)

Other than a larger crowd, Jazzin' at the Shedd is largely unchanged previous years - it's a fabulous way to enjoy a summer, music-filled evening!  Nothing beats the views of the lakefront and the beautiful people!  Jazzin' at the Shedd continues on Wednesdays through September 5, 2012.  Admission is $18 for adults and $16 for children.  (See Detour JazFunk again on Wednesday, July 18th and Wednesday, August 29th.)  View the entire schedule!

View More Photos!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="461"]Stephanie and Tressa Tressa Epps and Stephanie S. Green[/caption]


Theater Review: Crowns

Dwayne T. LawrenceCrowns - A Crown-ing Achievement!

By Dwayne T. Lawrence

Crowns, the high octane, gospel infused play written and directed by the legendary Regina Taylor was a rousing good time at the Goodman Theatre.  The music was off the chain, under the direction of Fred Carl.  Hand clapping, foot stomping, and dancing in your seat to the soulful rhythms of a talented cast was an inevitable and predictable response.  I missed church on Sunday, but on Monday (Opening Night), Crowns delivered a rip-roaring sermon sufficient to make anyone a believer!

[caption id="attachment_1185" align="alignright" width="240"] Mother Shaw and Yolanda[/caption]

The story is relevant to current times, telling of a young girl Yolanda (Marketta P. Wilder) from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.  Recently, Yolanda experienced the death of her beloved brother to gun violence on the mean streets. Her mother, in a desperate attempt to save her remaining child, sends Yolanda to live with her grandmother, Mother Shaw (Felicia D. Fields) in Darling, South Carolina.  Generations collide when the hip-hopish teenager meets the genteel, boisterous, church going matriarch of the family.

CrownsAs is typical in most African-American families, Mother Shaw is backed-up by a host of surrogate mavens who lend their wisdom, experience and powerful voices to help Yolanda stay on the right path.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the play from the outset was the transcendence of time across generations and historical references that connect the audience, committing the audience to believe that these believable characters are in fact part of their own crazy family.  We all have a Mother Shaw in our lives, who sacrifices her life to be the anchor, the supportive matriarch who comes when she is called and nurtures everyone back to health.  The inter-weaving of stories made this play profoundly enjoyable because the transitions from past to present engages the audience and gives further definition to all the nuanced relationships.  Crowns was wrought with symbolism and laced with the teachings of values illustrated by the type of hat and attitude with which it is worn.  The rich music and powerful voices of the cast help to define the spirit and purposeful direction.  Simple lessons to be used in everyday life become more pronounced through the meaning of hats and their importance in everyday interactions.

Crowns, is truly worth seeing!  The intertwining of gospel tunes and hip-hop mesh and highlight the differences between generations and act as a constant reminder that despite these differences, music can help us relate in special and unique ways.  “Our crowns are bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear them,” and well they did in this crowning achievement!

Crowns is extended through August 12, 2012.  Ticket prices are $29-88.  View more theater listings!
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