The Neon Lights are Bright on Broadway in Chicago

by Marlene Shyer

Theatre here is vibrant, eclectic, and exciting. The city's many stages and their actors have come brilliantly into their own in the last 15 years.

Based on a true story, another don’t-miss hit is Come from Away, the happy musical that seems will run forever in New York. It’s a laugh here, a tear there, when a cast of 12 sings its way through the stories of some of the 7,000 people who were stranded in, Gander, Newfoundland after the 9/11 attacks. The original cast featured Jenn Colella, who played the part of the female pilot of one of the grounded planes. Tickets during the Chicago summer run are now available. A seat in the center orchestra at the Cadillac Palace is currently going for pretty much the same amount as a ticket at the Schoenfeld in New York, but things change. Stay tuned.

Hamilton in Chicago

Hamilton in Chicago

 

Want to see CATS again? Here’s your chance: Andrew Lloyd Weber hit lives again through the summer at the Nederlander after the Falsettos ends its run. Winner of seven Tony awards, it celebrates felines’ lives in a way that may have inspired
many a drag show costume and the endurance of the song, “Memory.” By this time it must have been played, sung, and hummed in every corner of the world. The show runs through August 4, at least.

Remember the Music Man? There’s a reason this charmer continues to be produced, and if ever there was a musical that was fit to be a part of the Chicago experience, its rural, Midwestern zing gives it “integrity and authenticity,” according to its director Mary Zimmerman. Who can forget “76 Trombones” and the sound of a local parade band? It’s pure nostalgia and uplift, playing at the Goodman. Tickets are going for from $28-99, subject to change. The show will run through August 4.

Missed The Band’s Visit in New York? This crowd-pleasing show is one of the most popular musicals of our time. It takes place in an Israeli desert town when a band of Egyptian musicians are taken in by a local café owner. Strangers become friends, and an entire small town fills with musical comedy life. The show ran away with the season’s awards, which included the Tony, Drama Desk, and Obie. Joyous, jubilant, inspirational, a big hit with the critics, here in Chicago in September at the Cadillac Palace.

The Loop is not the only good theatre news in the city. To visit or not to visit the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (www.chicagoshakes.com) at Navy Pier is not the question; go. It’s not only about the Bard’s plays; there are 16 to 18 productions of all sorts here: comedies, classics, imports, and ‘made in Chicago’ plays. Three stages, including a small “black box” theatre for experimental and new plays, offer “off-Loop,” with a diversity of options. It doesn’t hurt that the new theatre complex is part of a large, glamorous event space, complete with restaurants, shops, and a view of the ships anchored on the adjacent Lake Michigan.

Criss Henderson is CEO, “a powerhouse” according to his assistant, Hannah Kennedy. He says, “Every night in Chicago is a great festival.” He’s been married for four years to Rick Boynton, a former actor who is now a creative producer, and together with the founder and third partner, Barbara Gaines, they make both the city and this group a crossroads for standout theatre experiences. Many of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s plays have “legs,” originating here, they continue to be performed in theatres across the country.

Everyone in the world of theatre makes reference to the famous nonprofit Steppenwolf Group, (www.steppenwolf.org), which was formed in a Unitarian church basement in 1974 by a group of high school friends that included Gary Sinise. It is known for creating ensembles of home-grown talent. Terry Letts among many, many others, began his career here. He’s a native Texan who moved to Chicago when he was twenty and as a playwright has created hits like August in Osage County and Superior Donuts. As an actor, he won a Tony for his portrait of George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He is still involved with Steppenwolf, which now includes programs for teens and teachers.

The First North American Tour Cast of Come From Away

The First North American Tour Cast of Come From Away

David Schwimmer is Looking Glass Theatre’s (www.lookingglasstheatre.org) founder and most famous alumnus. This renowned Chicago production company trains its ensemble in theatre, dance, music, and circus arts. Founded in 1988 and inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, its mission statement says “our goal is to fire the imagination” and to “love, weep, laugh.” Coming in summer of 2019 is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The prestigious Goodman, (www.goodmantheatre.org), which comprises of two theatres, includes the ‘grand’ space that can seat 856 and the smaller Owen that seats 400. It’s where I saw a sad, beautiful one-gayman’s performance with a depressing title: “We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time.” Its star, David Cale, says he is scheduled to tell his life story in New York City, sooner or later. At bigger prices than the $25 that can get you a seat here, probably.

 

Space does not allow for a listing of the many “storefront,” aka Off-Broadway, or Off-Off options, but an important venue for significant contemporary theatre is The Victory Gardens Theater (www.victorygardens.org). It’s dedicated to new play development, especially for works focusing on social justice to reflect the diversity of Chicago. That of course does include the LGBT demographic, which seems to make up a large portion of every theatre audience here, and everywhere.

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