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In this carefully plotted survey, Christiansen, one-time arts critic for both the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Tribune, travels back in time to the beginnings of the Windy City (1837) and its early theaters, playhouses, and actors; once we reach the 1960s, the chronicle turns into a firsthand account of the author's time on the aisle. There are interesting short pieces on individual actors, plays, and theaters, e.g., "What They Did for Pay" lists the day jobs of Chicago theater professionals in their early years (imagine John Malkovich as a bookstore clerk). The origins of landmark plays from Grease to The Grapes of Wrath are also described, as are the stories of the Second City, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and the Goodman Theatre. Interviews and conversations with the likes of David Mamet, Mary Zimmerman, Gary Sinise, Frank Galati, and Laurie Metcalf offer a backstage look at the Chicago theater scene. Including photos of players, plays, and playbills, this well-wrought production is recommended for all theater and performing arts collections.-Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
In the past 40 years, Chicago has grown from a place ragtag touring companies passed through on their way to downstate Illinois into what British critic Michael Billington calls one of the most important theater towns in North America. Many of the top actors and directors working today, including talents as diverse as John Malkovich, Bill Murray, and Tina Fey, cut their teeth there. Chicago-based arts journalist Christiansen watched it all happen, as a reporter for first the Chicago Daily News and then the Chicago Tribune. Now retired, he is ideally suited to chronicle the Chicago theater movement. Written in the sometimes dry but fact-packed style of well-edited Sunday features, his book begins with the earliest theatrical enterprises in pre-fire Chicago and touches every major theater event, including the Iroquois Theatre fire and the Depression-era WPA, that preceded the great flowering of theaters in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a blooming that, as Christiansen notes, continues to this day. Christiansen's effort will be an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to find out about the theaters and the companies that put Chicago on the theatrical map and keep it there. --Jack Helbig Copyright 2004 Booklist