REVIEWS for THE MISTRESS CYCLE Remount at The Auditorium Theatre
This beguiling, sophisticated concept musical--a remount of Apple Tree Theatre's 2007 regional premiere--examines the consorts, concubines, and courtesans who provide men with the sympathy and sensuality lacking in their marriages…... Director Kurt Johns's alternately refined and bawdy production unfolds on the stage of the Auditorium Theatre, with viewers also seated onstage. This is thought-provoking, high-quality, offbeat musical theater….. This ingenious arrangement perfectly suits The Mistress Cycle, one of the most sophisticated and musically captivating musicals in recent memory. Sitting on the stage of the Auditorium, I was always aware of the graceful arches, beautiful murals, and gentle amber lighting behind me, yet never distracted from the subtle staging and delicate choreography before me. Albert Williams- Chicago Reader
The Mistress Cycle, currently on stage (literally) at the Auditorium Theatre is a transfer of the hit Apple Tree production and is one of the finest productions to be produced in years. Under the masterful direction of Kurt Johns, the Auditorium Stage is transformed into a beautiful red mosaic of colors which the audience is privileged to surround as five mistresses at different points in history, melodically and emotionally tell their story via one of the most vibrant and luscious scores to be penned in a two decades.
The Mistress Cycle is receiving a stunning downtown Chicago premiere at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Don’t worry about the notoriously cavernous Auditorium because the stage has been converted into an intimate space, proper for a chamber musical. Director Kurt John’s production is a textbook example of less is more, putting the focus on storytelling rather than spectacle. Tom Williams – ChicagoCritic.com
But because of Giering's gorgeous music and Blatt's richly textured lyrics, "The Mistress Cycle" is quite a moving and provocative affair that manages to pack a lot of wisdom and poignancy on matters of love and power into its short duration. And Kurt Johns' fine production features a cast of empathetic women with beautiful voices. The production at the Auditorium Theatre this summer originated at the Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park, in the theater's depressing temporary quarters. The show transcended those surroundings, and it surely deserved the greater elegance afforded by this transfer to the Auditorium, where both show and audience occupy the stage in intimate configuration. Chris Jones – Chicago Tribune
A sensuous delight in every connotation of the word, it is no surprise that the production received a Jeff nomination for Best Revue pursuant to the 2007-2008 season. The only shock is that it did not walk away with the trophy. Forget everything you thought you knew about musical revues in the past. Though light on dialogue, the Mistress Cycle has a strapping narrative arc, a compelling and moving plot, told through one emotionally reverting song after another. Rebecca Sarwate – Edge Chicago
It’s fitting that “The Mistress Cycle” takes the point-of-view of “the other woman,” a perspective usually overlooked in most romantic narratives, since it’s the first theatrical production watched from the stage of the spectacular Auditorium Theatre, and that’s an equally unusual vista. Set in a “black-box” seating a mere 200, it’s awe-inspiring to gaze out on the nearly 4,000 empty seats, and to take in Adler & Sullivan’s glorious space from a vantage usually reserved for performers…. Nevertheless, director Kurt Johns moves the whole thing along so smoothly that you’ll forget you’re sitting in this spectacular mammoth cave, and get lost in the souls on stage. (Brian Hieggelke)- NewCity Chicago
I missed the press opening last week, but did catch the Sunday matinee performance, which both entertained and interested me and had me on the edge of my seat…It's 80 minutes long without an intermission, free-flowing, song by song, as each woman's story unfolds detail by detail. Even the staging and style for this production is intriguing. Kurt Johns is back to repeat his Jeff-nominated direction with musical direction by Diana Lawrence, at the piano as a sixth cast member of the show….I'm not always overly anxious for a nearly hour and half musical without an intermission. But these entwined songs, lives and stories are so easy and interesting to follow, the time passes all too quickly. NWI Times –Phil Potempa
REVIEWS FOR PEN
APPLE TREE'S PEN IS MIGHTY THANKS TO STORY NUANCES, STRONG ACTING.
Set in the days before New Year's Eve, 1969, David Marshall Grant's quiet, heartfelt, finely written, 2006 play catches its three characters in the midst of small but shattering changes, as the caretaker son contemplates going off to college just when his mother realizes that her marriage is irrevocably broken. It's a measure of Kurt Johns's ability as a director, and of his excellent ensemble, that this production plumbs the emotional depths of the script without getting mawkish or melodramatic. Hollis Resnik, in particular, plays the quieter tones of her wounded character like a virtuoso.
The 2006 off Broadway play by David Marshall Grant provides the usual abundance of bickering, backbiting, and around nastiness that sustains this kind of play, but the author adds a fantasy element in the second act that offers some relief from the relentless kvetching of the first act. The performances under Kurt Johns’s directing all serve the play well enough. “PEN” has its moments of intensity and its moments of humor...
Director Kurt Johns has assembled a strong cast that includes the awesome actress Hollis Resnik in the role of Helen Bayer. Ms. Resnik commands the stage with her strong performance. Pen" is a serious play that deals with harsh reality and tears, yet it offers plenty of humor. It is an interesting production that is well directed by Mr. Johns.
Despite this potentially grim subject matter, there's a good amount of natural humor in the lively sparring between Helen and her son. Directed by Kurt Johns, "Pen" plays out well in its first act. The first act climaxes with a riveting, emotionally painful scene.
REVIEWS FOR IOLANTHE
A fresh twist on Victorian Satire...Iolanthe is stylishly droll. Just take a peek at Light Opera Works' beguiling, often-hilarious revival of "Iolanthe," now in a lavishly designed, hugely engaging revival. The little miracle in all this is how deftly and convincingly the Light Opera Works cast ... make the show feel wholly fresh.
Kurt Johns has directed the production with enough flare to disguise the fact that the show has little physical action. So much beautiful singing, so much visual creativity, and so few performances.
Light Opera Work’s production, under the swift flowing direction by Kurt Johns and movement by Rudy Hogenmiller, allows the satire and comedy to flourish. This lightness is refreshing. We have as good a time as the performers—we all smile. The ensemble work here is first class, blending fine harmonies and swift movements. Be sure to catch this vintage Gilbert and Sullivan operetta soon—you only have a few days to laugh and tap you toes to such a charmingly pleasant musical treat.
A glorious gift from 1882...The result is a musical banquet as clever as it’s melodious, well worth a revival as excellent as Kurt Johns’ sterling staging....you’ve got an evening of sublimely escapist entertainment, possibly the best this summer has offered. You’ll leave humming your way to heaven.
Director Kurt Johns would easily bring a tear to the eyes of Gilbert and Sullivan who may be smiling at him from a celestial distance. He’s created a believable Arcadian world in this production fueled simply on the high energy of brilliant voices, sidesplitting comedy and stunning costumes by Darcy Elora Hofer and a near Eden of a set by Courtney O’Neill.
Iolanthe marches on with a lilt: They’ve got some spunky fairies up in the Evanston “Iolanthe.” One brought to mind a younger Kristin Chenoweth, and another Amy Winehouse, albeit lighter on her toes and more smiley. The youthful vigor and insouciance of the fairy ensemble... get the tone just right—honest but, well, a tad Pythonesque. And thoroughly unpredictable. May the insouciant giddiness of the young—and the young at heart—shake the cobwebs from the rest of the enterprise.
... this is a very pretty and faithful rendering, as Stage Director Kurt Johns and Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller pay homage to the centuries old traditions of the D'Oyly Carte classic productions.... "Iolanthe" is a silly little trifle, but Light Opera Works gives it a beautiful production.
Suspend disbelief and enjoy Light Opera Works' 'Iolanthe' ...Unless you accept this, nothing wonderful can happen....And wonderful things do happen...You don't have to believe in fairies to enjoy this show, but it helps....
Substitute red and blue states for conservative and liberal, and the proceedings allow us a good laugh at ourselves in an election year. The irony is at a premium, with the fairies and the members of the House of Lords achieving the right amount of tongue-in-cheek... the chorus, orchestra and overall sense of mayhem and spectacle, sparkle.
REVIEWS FOR THE MISTRESS CYCLE
"...Kurt Johns' bold
and passionate production of "The Mistress Cycle" is one of those shows.
It's hard to overstate the sense of relief one feels. It's like a much-loved
cultural institution has suddenly returned to creative life..."The
Mistress Cycle" is a must-see
for lovers and supporters of new musicals.... it does provide exquisite
-- truly exquisite -- musical snapshots of life from the point of view
of the other woman.... the main reason to see this show is to enjoy
the emotional intensity of these richly connected actresses -- a blend
of established pros and up-and-comers -- these
ensemble performances are, without exception, both beguiling and beautifully
sung. It's a very timely reminder of what Apple Tree long has meant to
"The Mistress Cycle," is
setting the stage ablaze... riveting 85-minute show. Director Kurt
Johns chose wisely when casting the show with a mix of up-and-coming
talent as well as more established musical theater actresses... there
are moments that will take your breath away.
This Highland Park troupe mounts outstanding
musicals and you can add The Mistress Cycle to
that list. This is a wonderful, serene chamber piece filled with lush
voices from the five players...This is a captivating,
lusty and magical song cycle that creates a haunting mood
as it hones into the heart of each character...This
is a special musical treat—the singing is outstanding!
"...this probing 85-minute musical
revue is making a smashing regional premiere at Apple Tree Theatre
under the creative direction of Kurt Johns. Ultimately, "The
Mistress Cycle" brings home a positive message about survival...
“It’s undeniably juicy material…Director
Johns makes the best of these moments, and elicits some lovely performances…”
"And Apple Tree's well-cast production has Kurt
Johns' fluid, unobtrusive staging; Diana Lawrence's expert
music direction; and a terrific cast .... to recommend
"Kurt Johns, one of Chicago's most talented actor, singer and
now directors, has assembled a first-rate cast of singers…the
performers and direction of the show are well worth the price of admission. I
give a lot of credit to Apple Tree, Kurt Johns and the cast and crew
for giving us this chamber song cycle."
REVIEWS FOR IRON
"Iron" at the Apple Tree Theatre is everything adult spectators
could want in a play. It's beautifully acted, sensitively directed,
honestly written, and builds to a wrenching but inevitable climax.
Its arrival in Chicagoland
be treated as an event. We won't be seeing many more engrossing or
emotionally involving plays in this area all season. Kurt Johns directs
with a sure but unseen hand, each scene unfolding naturally and credibly.
Johns steers his ensemble through the script to ensure that the play
never descends into talkiness, or worse, melodrama. The show gets a
rating of 4 stars.
Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park is offering one of the finest
plays of the year. It’ll grab you and hold you tight until the
end. This is a tremendous, marvelously acted beautifully paced show.
Director Kurt Johns has a mounted a gem. Don’t miss this powerful
play. Highly Recommended.
"Iron" is as solid as its title implies. Director
Kurt Johns has a core cast up to the raw, wounding dialogue, a pair
of actors capable of carrying the formidable demands of a drama that's
a speeding roller coaster of non-stop emotional intensity from start
It's simply a rich, deeply human story.
It's a well-directed (by Kurt Johns), superbly acted production. It's
a remarkable thing to see. 3 Stars.
"Iron," a widely admired British drama that played
the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2003 to great critical acclaim, gets a
belated, well acted, Chicago-area premiere at the Apple Tree Theatre
under the taut direction of Kurt Johns. It
is a superb script. John's
well-cast show is moving, replete with rich truths about the vexing
disconnections of life. - CRITIC'S PICK
Rona Munro's play "Iron," is now in an exceptionally
well-acted production at Highland Park's Apple Tree Theatre. Kurt Johns
has done a first-rate job...Recommended.
It’s a splendid showcase of laughter, tears and tension
for Kirsten Fitzgerald (Fay) and Lindsay Gould (Josie) , as directed
by Kurt Johns.
REVIEWS FOR TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE
Call on Chicago-bred actor-turned-director
Kurt Johns (repatriated from New York) to perfectly modulate the
play's crass, crazy and gerontologically scatological excesses.
Busch's comedy of manners for the "culturati class" of Manhattan's
Upper West Side takes on a new quality. Even the title, a twist on
Tales, begins to make sense.
production is well paced...cleverly cast and it ripples along very
pleasantly. And the tricky, farce-serious tone mostly is pitched
about right. "Allergist's" looked
too small...as part of a Broadway tour...the piece
looks far more comfortable in Apple Tree's intimate little space.
Therein, practiced Chicago hands have a great old time. Kurt
Johns' perfectly solid production — should serve that
purpose(a mainstream, popular hit) in the coming weeks.
The Apple Tree Theatre is reviving Busch's play and restoring
most of the laughs that were obliterated by the vulgarized touring
production. The whole concoction is directed with nice comic sensibility
by Kurt Johns.
The cast, directed by Kurt Johns, achieves a natural yet hilarious
sense of humor. Near the end of the first act on opening night, the
audience's laughter at each funny moment began to spill over into anticipatory
giggles of the jokes still to come.
Director Kurt Johns brilliantly staged the comedy utilizing
Richard and Jacqueline Penrod's exquisite Upper West Side apartment
set to reach to all three sides of Apple Tree's intimate stage.
"...Apple Tree’s polish accentuates the humanizing side of
play, taking the edge off its anarchic spirit. ...Allergist’s
Wife delivers an enjoyable and frequently uproarious evening."
this cast, smartly directed by Kurt Johns, make these caricatures
This production benefits from strong direction by Kurt Johns
and flawless performances by the ensemble.
REVIEWS FOR VINCENT IN BRiXTON
This is a smart show beautifully directed
with a strong cast. Don't miss it. The work here
done by the entire cast, but particularly the two leads in concert
with director, Kurt Johns, is stellar. The performances are
nuanced and convincing without being sentimental.
Kurt Johns, a Chicago-bred actor-turned-producer and fledgling
director, has gathered a fine cast.
It should be noted that this play has been exceptionally well
produced by the always-reliable Apple Tree Theatre. I
saw the show in its Broadway production in 2003 and
not only is the talky piece better served by Apple Tree's more intimate
auditorium, but Kurt Johns' production is rather smarter and considerably
more truthful. The show is well-paced, right-headed and credible within
the British milieu.
Director Kurt Johns shows a keen eye for blocking, and his staging
has a sweeping, cinematic feel that underscores Wright's attempts to
frame his play as a populist love story for the ages. It should be
the feel-good hit of the winter--and I mean this without cynicism.
Bring plenty of tissues.
The well-acted production that opened this week at Apple Tree
Theatre benefits from sincere, perceptive performances, thoughtful
direction from Kurt Johns.
Director Kurt Johns treats his audience to a multisensory delight,
using set designer Keith Pitt's beautifully realized rendition of a
pastoral London kitchen to the fullest extent. Delicious smells emanate
from Ursula's oven almost constantly as tempting bits of herbs tantalize
in a window. There is a deliberate sense of hush lilting through the
air as important moments are given their due. This is not lost on light
designer David Ferguson , and he never allows a harsh moment to intrude
upon Johns' quiet.
REVIEWS FOR THE WATER COOLERS
There’s some really witty material here, ... Kurt Johns’ efficient
and engaging staging works.
Director Johns and choreographer Linda Parsons… by grabbing
the jokes by the lapels and shaking them for all they’re worth….
they keep the pace brisk and encourage their talented cast to fill
in the blanks with charm and chutzpah.
genial, capably produced, …director Kurt Johns keeps
instantly relatable confection - briskly directed by Kurt Johns
- has appeal.
Under Kurt Johns’ quick-paced, high-stepping direction,
their unflagging sparkle and intimate audience rapport make Water Coolers
the perfect office-party outing.
“Kurt Johns' direction does all you could reasonably ask….”
REVIEWS FOR BERLIN TO BROADWAY
NewCity Chicago - Highly Recommended
ChicagoCritic - Recommended
Windy City Times - Recommended