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Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond
'Chicago' kicks up its heels at the Hippodrome

If our culture had managed to advance sufficiently since 1975, when the biting musical "Chicago" landed in Broadway, the show might be considered just harmless, lively entertainment now.

Then again, if our culture had greatly matured since 1924, when the real-life murder trials that inspired the musical took place, there might not even have been a "Chicago."

As every encounter with this brilliantly crafted musical reconfirms -- and the high-temperature national touring production currently at the Hippodrome does some mighty powerful reconfirming -- we're still hopelessly addicted to celebrity, no matter how criminal in nature or blatantly manufactured; still afflicted with short attention spans; still prone to fall for sure bets or exploit those who do.

This, needless to say, is not the main reason why "Chicago," running now through March 8 at the Hippodrome, is such a perennial hit. In what might be the ultimate act of manipulation, the show is so damn entertaining, so irresistible in...

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Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond add star power to Folger Consort's 'Merchant of Venice' program

There was no shortage of sheer aural pleasure during the Folger Consort's program the other day, an imaginative blend of music and text focusing on "The Merchant of Venice."

Performed Friday night at Strathmore and set to be repeated this weekend at Shakespeare's Globe in London, the venture had two things going for it right off the bat -- the Consort's well-known, high-level musicianship, and a superb quartet of actors for the readings.

I've had a near-awe of Derek Jacobi ever since encountering the BBC's "I, Claudius" for the first time. (I'm such a fan that I got through -- and even started to enjoy -- "Vicious," his recent, prickly sitcom with the equally splendid Ian McKellen.) So the prospect of hearing Jacobi as Shylock and Bassanio, if only delivering a sampling of the play, proved irresistible.

Same for the chance to experience in person Samantha Bond, currently on so many of our radars as the ever-sensible and elegant Lady Rosamond on "Downton Abbey." She took the roles of...

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Respectable revival of 'Earnest' from Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

There is just no underestimating the importance of Oscar Wilde.

As he might say, modern life would be very tedious if we didn't have his works to savor, and modern theater a complete impossibility — modern television, too, as Julian Fellowes proves every season writing for Maggie Smith's character, the delectable Dowager Countess of Grantham, on "Downton Abbey."

As much fun as it can be to try imitation, nothing ever beats the real thing, of course. And for the real thing, nothing ever tops Wilde's final play, "The Importance of Being Earnest," which opened on Valentine's Day 120 years ago in London and is currently receiving a respectable revival by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

This "trivial comedy for serious people," as the author dubbed it, isn't foolproof. Matters of tone and style have to ring true if the world Wilde was walloping — all those essential class distinctions in speech and action, all that high moral tone and careful calculation of each societal maneuver — is...

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Kennedy Center to offer 'Ring' Cycle, new music, skateboarding festival in 2015-2016

So much for the notion of the Kennedy Center as an fusty old institution. Among the more than  2,000 performances planned for 2015-2016 is a season-opening, multidisciplinary skateboarding festival, complete with specially constructed skating area in the center's grounds. Local bands will get in on the act, too.

As for more traditional fare, Washington National Opera, a resident company at the Kennedy Center, will present its long-delayed production of the complete "Ring" Cycle for the first time, directed by company artistic director Francesca Zambello.

Dubbed the "American Ring" due to Zambello's incorporation of American mythology, the full cycle will be performed in April and May 2016, with a cast that includes the sensational soprano Nina Stemme.

The company will also offer its first Philip Glass opera -- the premiere of the revised version of his "Appomattox," with a new second act that takes the action from the Civil War to the 1960s civil rights movement.

Kurt Weill's "Lost in...

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Weather forces postponement of Sunday concerts in Baltimore area

For the second week in row, weather has forced a change to the Spencer Hammond tribute concert planned at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. Originally scheduled for Feb. 22, then March 1, new date will be in April (details to be announced.)

The Handel Choir of Baltimore, which was to have performed at 4 p.m. March 1 at Second Presbyterian Church, will now perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday March 3 in that same venue.

Music in the Valley, which was to have presented a recital by violinist Qing Li at 5:30 p.m. March 1, will now offer that program on May 31.

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John Kander and the jazzy, ever-relevant 'Chicago'

First, some numbers.

Forty years ago, a musical called "Chicago" opened on Broadway. It had a decent run of 936 performances, but it couldn't keep up with another show that debuted in 1975 and hogged the spotlight — "A Chorus Line."

Flash forward to 1996, when a revival of "Chicago" took New York by surprise and, after hitting performance No. 7,486 last November, surpassed "Cats" as the second-longest-running show in Broadway history. It's still playing there.

The 2002 movie version of the musical piled up some impressive figures, too, grossing more than $300 million and taking home six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, out of 13 nominations.

Back to the stage show. There have been 16 national tours of the Broadway production, the latest due this week at the Hippodrome Theatre, which last presented the musical in 2007.

One more number: 88, the age that the composer of "Chicago," John Kander, will turn this month.

"I am fortunate to have done an awful lot of other things, but...

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