Magical dance: Houston Ballet brings 'Aladdin' to Chicago

Magical dance: Houston Ballet brings 'Aladdin' to Chicago

One of the most adventurous and enchanting tales will come to life in a dance format this weekend in Chicago.

Houston Ballet will present "Aladdin" March 22 and 23 at The Auditorium Theatre. Starring choreography by David Bintley, the production about a young man, his adventures in life revolving around romance, hidden treasure, mistaken identity and a magic lamp, debuted as a dance production in 2008. It was created for the New National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo.

"For me, personally, it's a fun production since I'm performing the role of Aladdin," said Connor Walsh, a principal dancer with Houston Ballet. "I have a tremendous amount of stage time and the production has wonderful special effects. The costumes are dazzling and the set design is beautiful."

Walsh said the dance show is a huge production featuring both Houston Ballet's main company and its second company. A live orchestra also performs the score, which Walsh said is a plus.

The story of "Aladdin" has long been appealing to the dancer.

"I grew up with the story and the movie," Walsh said. Performing as such a popular character and bringing him to life on stage, according to Walsh, isn't a great challenge because he feels he knows the character so well and is so familiar with everything about the story.

Walsh, who's been dancing since he was a child, looks forward to traveling to Chicago with Houston Ballet.

"Chicago is really a dance town," he said. He was last here to perform in the Chicago Dancing Festival.

The performer said his mother, who was a dancer, was an influence in his decision to originally begin taking dancing lessons. "I was an energetic kid and played soccer and things like that," he said. So it was natural for him to gravitate to the dance art. Walsh said dancing is also emotionally satisfying.

Houston Ballet, established in 1969, features a varied repertory, which Walsh enjoys performing.

"I like doing all different styles. That keeps anything from getting stale," Walsh said.

FYI: Houston Ballet will present "Aladdin" at 8 p.m. March 22 and 2 p.m. March 23. Tickets are $32 to $92. Visit or call (800) 982-ARTS.

March 20, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Mike Tyson shares his story in 'Undisputed Truth'

Mike Tyson shares his story in 'Undisputed Truth'

Audience members saw a more thoughtful and even humorous Mike Tyson during his one-man show "Undisputed Truth" Feb. 8 in Hammond.

The former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world performed the show, which chronicles key stages in his life, at The Venue at Hammond's Horseshoe Casino. The production, directed by Spike Lee, is produced by James L. Nederlander.

As Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy," played in the background, Tyson took the stage to present his autobiographical tale.

"Thank you for coming tonight. I welcome you into my living room," he said. Tyson later told the crowd "I hope you leave here with a better understanding of me."

Throughout the show, the boxing champ stressed "things are different now" in his life. On stage, backed by a screen showing various photographs and video from his life, Tyson delved into his troubled youth, his relationship with his mentor Cus D'Amato, his disastrous marriage to Robin Givens, his ear-biting incident when fighting Evander Holyfield and other topics.

About serving three years in an Indianapolis prison on rape charges, Tyson told the audience, "I did not rape Desiree Washington and that's all I'm going to say."

The former boxer, who said he "grew up in the gutter," also offered some touching, heartfelt moments in the production.

Near the end of the show, a photograph of his late 4-year-old daughter Exodus appeared on the screen. Exodus died in a home accident after being caught in a treadmill cord in 2009.

Tyson said he dedicates his life to her now and in her honor strives to be "a better father to her brothers and sisters" everyday.

Tyson's show, clocking in at nearly two hours, provides a fascinating look at the former champ.

February 14, 2014 1:45 pm

A Star is Born: Briana Brooks debuts in “Redemption” at Athenaeum Theater in Chicago

A Star is Born: Briana Brooks debuts in “Redemption” at Athenaeum Theater in Chicago

Eleven-year-old Briana Brooks of Northwest Indiana is rehearsing for her debut as the star of “Redemption,” directed by Mita Vain and opening at the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago on February 28th. According to her mother Shavonda King, she and Briana found out there was an open casting call and received a script for a monologue to learn for the scheduled audition. This is Briana’s first professional acting job but she has already been signed by a talent agent. Keep watching the GO! section and for more details on Briana and “Redemption” coming next month.

January 23, 2014 2:57 pm Photos


Vintage vocals: Ron Hawking returns with 'Frank' for NYE concert at Theatre at the Center

Vintage vocals: Ron Hawking returns with 'Frank' for NYE concert at Theatre at the Center

Entertainer Ron Hawking is a famous and favorite stage attraction for his vocal stylings, all-star performance repertoire salute to great names.

Last year, he jammed-packed two exclusive New Year's Eve performances at Theatre at the Center in Munster with audiences sampling his "Copa Chicago" show to spend the night enjoying the best of Ray Charles and Lou Rawls, as well as nods to Frankie Valli, Bobby Darin, Kenny Rogers, Burt Bacharach, Billy Joel and Roy Orbison.

This year, he's returning and bringing Frank, Sammy and Dean with him to the same stage at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts on Ridge Road in Munster

"A year ago, I was in the middle of producing a new show and Theatre at the Center audiences got the first taste of what I'd come up with," said Hawking, who now has a host of specialty shows he performs at venues around the country, including the popular "His Way for the Holidays."

But as a special treat for Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana audiences, he's welcoming the new year with a return to his signature show that skyrocketed him to the top as an in-demand headliner.

"I think they are billing my show this year in Munster as 'a revival,' " Hawking said.

"But I don't know if the word 'revival' is even necessary. Frank and his voice and songs have never left. They are always around as audience favorites."

Hawking, who refers to himself as "a musical messenger," is familiar to fans because of the six year run of his successful and critically acclaimed show in Chicago called "His Way -- A Tribute to the Man and His Music," paying homage to the late and great Frank Sinatra.

In addition to the two performances on New Year's Eve, he is also presenting a string of three more concert the next weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In 2007, Hawking unveiled a new hit stage show that began to showcase the range and variety of his musical impersonations, staged at his familiar Windy City performance home Mercury Theatre.

Called "The Men and Their Music," it included iconic numbers from many great male vocalists including Paul Anka, Barry Manilow and others.

During his New Year's Eve performances at Theatre at the Center, which also includes the option of a buffet dinner seating at the theater prior to the show start, Hawking also promises to host a vocal return for his signature Las Vegas headliners that have become his claim-to-fame.

"If I'm bringing Frank, then I have to have Sammy and Dean with me, because I can't disappoint my favorite trio," said Hawking, who has back-up singers to help create an even more dazzling stage effect.

When it comes to the business of using his voice to spread messages, Hawking is an old pro.

Long before he made his name on the Chicago stage, he earned his reputation as one of the most sought-after jingle singers and commercial voice-over artists in the country.

His is the voice behind hundreds of TV and radio commercials, including providing the distinct voice of Starkist's Charlie the Tuna, impersonating the voice of Jimmy Durante in commercials for Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats -- and recreating Louis Prima's vocal talents for Progresso Soups, Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" for Subaru and Nat King Cole's signature "Unforgettable" for Hershey's.

"There are so many people who only know me from my Frank Sinatra tribute, so I decided the time was right to share Sinatra again not only with his fans, but also with a new generation of fans," said Hawking, who spends as much as two years before unveiling his new shows.

He has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall with the Philly Pops Orchestra and has opened for such notables as Carol Channing, Sheena Easton, Robert Klein and The Temptations.

Of all the greats Hawking impersonates so precisely, Davis is one of the few he actually met.

"It was just a handshake after one of his concerts at the old Mill Run, but I did get to meet Sammy Davis," he said.

"And even though I never actually met Sinatra, I did get to see him in concert a few times."

The walls in Hawking's office also spotlight some star-studded photographs of the singer with other legends such as Shirley MacLaine and Tony Bennett.

And even though he occasionally has played famous venues in Las Vegas and Reno as part of what he calls "corporate gigs," Chicagoland remains his "main stage."

"The shows I do are intended to keep music and memories alive," Hawking said.

"No one can fill the big shoes of the big entertainers of our time."

December 11, 2013 11:33 pm Photos


'Nutcracker' a family favorite holiday tradition

'Nutcracker' a family favorite holiday tradition

Seasonal shows are lighting up stages across Chicagoland. And for many families, it's a tradition to attend a special show to share in the spirit of the season.

Productions of "The Nutcracker" abound every year on stages across the area and the Windy City. The casts of the favorite holiday ballet where toys, sugar plum fairies, and nutcrackers come to life, regularly include young local dancers.

"The Nutcracker" remains one of the starring productions of various dance troupes including companies such as Indiana Ballet Theatre to The Joffrey Ballet, Salt Creek Ballet, Ruth Page Civic Ballet, South Shore Dance Alliance and others.

This past week Indiana Ballet Theatre presented its elegant production at Star Plaza Theatre while Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker" was performed Saturday at The Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University. The Ruth Page Civic Ballet's production was performed this weekend and will be presented again Dec. 21 and 22.

The Joffrey Ballet's beloved production of Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" opened Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 28 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. In its children's cast, The Joffrey regularly features young dancers from Northwest Indiana, the South Side of Chicago and Chicago's South Suburbs.

"We have 118 kids in the show," said Katie Garwood, children's cast director for The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

We love to see diversity in the cast. The Joffrey embraces diversity," Garwood said, adding auditions for the children's cast took place in mid-September and dancers were chosen from a variety of areas and schools. The director added working with the acclaimed company is a great opportunity for young dancers who are "well trained and committed to being willing to learn."

In addition to working hard, the young cast members, Garwood said, have a unique and positive experience performing in the ballet.

"It's also fun for them to have a new community of friends," she said.

For families attending "The Nutcracker," Garwood said "It's become a tradition which many families look forward to celebrating together."

For Kaci King of Valparaiso, performing in The Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" is a rare and exciting experience.

"I felt shocked. I didn't know I was going to make it," Kaci said.

Her mother Julie King said she and the family were excited to learn Kaci, 9, had won a role in the production. Julie King said her daughter is an undefeated dance champion who last season, and in previous seasons, has won awards for her dancing. Kaci studies jazz dance at Eclipse Performing Arts Centre in Chesterton.

"What I like about 'The Nutcracker' is it's such an amazing show where all these dancers come together to make a beautiful production," said Kaci, who performs as a snow tree angel in the ballet.

Carol Dilts, of Gary, this year, is performing in "The Nutcracker" for the second time.

"I am so excited. It's probably one of the biggest highlights of the holiday season and my year," said Dilts. Her mother Megan Cecil said they were ecstatic she's involved in the show.

"It's an honor, and it's an opportunity to perform with professional dancers," Cecil said.

Dilts, 14, a student at Indiana Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Academy of Dance, won the roles of a mouse in the battle scene and a Polichenelle, one of the dancers who emerge from character Mother Ginger's giant hoop skirt, in the party scene.

As part of the Ruth Page Civic Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," Portage's Julianne Kinasiewicz will once again perform as character Clara. Her mother, Therese, also plays a part in the adult ensemble of the show.

According to The Joffrey's Garwood, the holiday ballet is overall "a beautiful story of a girl who gets to see her dreams come true."

The following is a sampling of productions of "The Nutcracker."

• "The Nutcracker," by The Joffrey Ballet, runs through Dec. 28 at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. Tickets range from $31 to $132. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit

• Ruth Page Civic Ballet performs "The Nutcracker" at 1 and  5 p.m. today at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. S. Louis Ave., Chicago and at 5 p.m. Dec. 21 and 3 p.m. Dec. 22 at College of Lake County, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake, Ill.  Tickets for the Chicago performance are $25 for general admission, $18 for students and senior citizens and $5 for Northeastern Illinois University students. Tickets for the Grayslake performance are $12 to $30. Visit

• "Cirque du Jazz: A Nutcracker Tale" runs Dec. 20 to 22 at Wirt Emerson Auditorium, 210 N. Grand Boulevard, Gary. The show is presented by Gary Community School Corporation and South Shore Dance Alliance. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children and senior citizens. Visit

December 08, 2013 9:00 am Photos


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