Marching into a month that will roar with visual and performing arts

Jewish performances to see this month

Arts -_ Hedy  image
Esther Fishbein plays Anne Frank in a new one-act adaptation of Frank’s story.

Will March come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? Impossible to predict. But one thing is for sure: You can count on a constant stream of cultural activity in and around the city, ranging from a grand scale Newberry Library exhibition about a fabled Chicago nightclub, to two musicals, a play, and two concerts. And in one way or another, all of this activity has Jewish roots. Here's a closer look: 

A multi-faceted celebration of Mister Kelly's: 

In many ways, it was ahead of its time. Opened in 1953, on Rush Street in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast, Mister Kelly's started out as a restaurant owned and operated by two Jewish brothers, George and Oscar Marienthal (but named after Pat Kelly, one of its managers).  

Soon, it evolved into a remarkable nightclub showcasing jazz musicians, singers, and comedians. Many were Black and Jewish performers, during a time racial segregation and antisemitism. 

Some already were famous-Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, and the Kingston Trio-but many notables made their mark there on their way up. 

High on that list is Barbra Streisand, who, in 1962, when she was just 20, traveled to Chicago to sing at the club. Other singers who stopped at Mister Kelly's on the way to the top were Aretha Franklin, Lisa Minnelli, Eartha Kitt, and Nancy Wilson. 

Comics appearing there included Jewish icons like Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, and the duo of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. It was also a stepping stone for major comedians both Black and white-Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, and Bill Cosby, as well as George Carlin, Bob Newhart, and Steve Martin. 

"My father, George, and my uncle, Oscar, were not civil rights crusaders, but they had a sense of the closeness of the Jewish and African American communities," said David Marienthal, one of George's three sons. "And they made those who performed at the club feel comfortable." 

In 2021, the award-winning documentary Live at Mister Kelly's-directed by Theodore Bogosian and narrated by Bill Curtis-brought its history (now the site of Gibson's Steakhouse & Bar) back to life.  

The film will have several free screenings at the Newberry Library at 60 W. Walton- just a few blocks away from the former site of Mister Kelly's.  

Those screenings will accompany an elaborate exhibition, "A Night at Mister Kelly's," that captures the essence of the nightclub that "transformed the American entertainment scene of the 1950s, '60s and '70s." The exhibit runs from March 21-July 20. 

The content of the exhibition, curated by Alison Hinderliter, has been donated to the library by David Marienthal. It includes everything from live footage and archival photos to posters, recordings, reviews in periodicals, and oral histories of the performers. The exhibit also will feature artifacts from the club itself like menus, matchbooks, and dinner plates.  


For details, visit newberry.org. 


On stage at Orchestra Hall 

The CSO is back in Chicago, after its three-week tour in Europe earlier this year. And here are a number of musical treats featuring the orchestra as well as guest artists. 

First up is the exceptional violinist Gil Shaham-performances on March 7, 8, 9. He was born in Urbana, Ill., while his Israeli parents were on an academic fellowship at the University of Chicago. His family moved back to Jerusalem when he was two. He debuted as a soloist with the Israel Philharmonic at age 10, and later he won a scholarship to Juilliard. Over the years, Shaham has performed with many of the world's major orchestras, playing a violin dating from 1699 on loan from the Stradivarius Society of Chicago. In addition to Shaham's performance of Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto," the CSO will play works by Richard Strauss and Witold Lutoslawski. 

On Feb. 15, a special program by the German singer/bandleader Max Raabe- and his 12-piece band, the Palast Orchestra- will pay tribute to the music and style of the Weimar Era, with a repertoire celebrating the work of Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin (both Jewish), and others. 

Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 4" will be performed by the CSO at Orchestra Hall on March 21, 23, and 24, and at the Edmonton Memorial Chapel in Wheaton on March 22, along with works by Wagner and Lowell Liebermann. Mahler was born in 1860 to Jewish parents in Bohemia (then part of the Austrian Empire), but he eventually converted to Catholicism knowing that antisemitism would have prevented him from securing the position of director of the Vienna Court Opera. 

For tickets to all these concerts, visit CSO.org or call 312-294-3000. 

Two musicals and a play 

*The Sondheim Tribute Revue-running March 8-April 28 at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater, 721 Howard Street in Evanston-is a cabaret style celebration of Stephen Sondheim. Unquestionably one of the most brilliant and innovative composer-lyricists of Broadway musicals, he died in 2021 at 91. The show will be directed by Fred Anzevino, Theo's artistic director.  

For tickets, visit boxoffice@theo-u or call 773-939-4101. 

*The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee-a Music Theater Works production running March 7-31 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie-has a score by William Finn, and a book by Rachel Sheinkin, who won both a Tony and Drama Desk Award. It's a musical about six students (with several young people drawn from the audience at each performance) who compete for a spelling bee championship. (Note: The March 23 and 27 evening performances will feature some racier words and is recommended for those 18 or older.)  

For tickets, call 847-673-6300. 

*The Diary of Anne Frank, is running now through March 24 in a Young People's Theatre of Chicago production. It is being staged at the upstairs mainstage of The Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., as a new one-act, 75-minute adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, it was adapted by Wendy Kesselman, who has drawn on Frank's previously unpublished diary entries. Playing Anne is Esther Fishbein.  

For tickets, contact boxoffice@greenhousetheater.org



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