The national tours of Broadway blockbusters "The Book of Mormon" and "War Horse" heading our way have generated enough buzz to make those shows among autumn's hottest tickets. Yet the fall season offers theatergoers more than zealous missionaries and noble stallions.
The kids from Rydell High rock 'n' roll into Aurora in Paramount Theatre's revival of "Grease," while "The Marvelous Wonderettes" doo-wop at Arlington Heights' Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Ann Landers dispenses homespun advice in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's "The Lady With All the Answers," and "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire kicks off Steppenwolf Theatre's season devoted to "the reckoning."
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Chicago's Court, Remy Bumppo and Shattered Globe theaters revive works by August Wilson, Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson respectively, while BBC TV hosts Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner promise to deliver all seven Harry Potter books as part of their off-Broadway hit "Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience" coming to the Broadway Playhouse in November.
As ever, Chicago-area theater offers everything from classics to new works, dramas to farces. If you can't find a show to suit your tastes, you're not looking hard enough.
Here are a few shows worth sampling this fall:
"The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story" -- First Folio Theatre remounts its original production, adapted by executive director David Rice from Poe's life and writings and centered on Poe's relationship with his wife, Virginia. Ensemble member Christian Gray stars as Poe. Diana Mair co-stars as Virginia, a role she created, and Robert Alan Smith reprises his chilling portrayals of the Madman in "The Telltale Heart" and the Prisoner in "The Pit and the Pendulum." Runs Sept. 26-Nov. 4 at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St. Oak Brook. (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org.
"The Odd Couple" -- George Wendt and Tim Kazurinsky star as Neil Simon's mismatched roommates in this Northlight Theatre revival directed by BJ Jones. Runs Nov. 7-Dec. 9 at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. (847) 673-6300 or northlight.org.
"Singin' in the Rain" -- Drury Lane Theatre promises to re-create a 1920s soundstage and a downpour for director Bill Jenkins' production inspired by the 1952 musical starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds about Hollywood silent-screen stars navigating "talkies." Jeff Award-winners Roberta Duchak (music direction) and Kevin Depinet (set design) are members of the creative team for the show, which features Sean Palmer ("Sex and the City") as song and dance man Don Lockwood, Jenny Guse as chorus girl Kathy Seldon and Matthew Crowle as Don's best pal, Cosmo. Runs Nov. 8-Jan. 13, 2013, at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. (630) 530-0111 or drurylaneoakbrook.com.
"Hamlet" -- Writers' Theatre artistic director Michael Halberstam helms the company's all-star production featuring Scott Parkinson as Hamlet, real life husband and wife Shannon Cochran and Michael Canavan as Gertrude and Claudius, Timothy Edward Kane as Laertes, Ross Lehman as Polonius and Larry Yando as the Ghost. Through Nov. 11 at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. (847) 242-6000 or writerstheatre.org.
"Dreamgirls" -- Raena White knocks the ball out of the park as Effie, the ousted dream girl in Marriott Theatre's stylish, superbly sung revival of the 1981 musical about a 1960s R&B trio's rise to fame, loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes. Marc Robin directs and choreographs the show, which also stars Britney Coleman, Rashidra Scott and Naperville's Darilyn Burtley. Through Oct. 28 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com.
Broadway in Chicago
"Kinky Boots" -- The Broadway-bound musical by Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book) gets its world premiere in Chicago where Tony Award-winner director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell heads up a creative team that boasts an impressive Tony pedigree. Based on the 2005 film, the musical centers on a drag performer named Lola (Broadway's Billy Porter) who helps shoe-factory owner Charlie Price, played by Stark Sands of "American Idiot" fame, revitalize the family business by catering to a unique clientele. Runs Oct. 2-Nov. 4 at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com.
"The Book of Mormon" -- Broadway's hit satire by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Robert Lopez ("Avenue Q") looks to get comfortable in Chicago once the national tour gets here in December. The extended run continues through at least mid-2013 for the nine-time Tony Award-winning show about a pair of Mormon missionaries who try to divert a Ugandan warlord away from his brutal ways by sharing with him the sacred text of their faith. Performances begin Dec. 11 at the Bank of America, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com.
"War Horse" -- The winner of 2011's Tony Award for best play arrives in Chicago in December for a limited run. The play was inspired by Michael Morpurgo's children's book about a horse named Joey conscripted into the British army during World War I and the extraordinary lengths his best friend Albert goes to get him back. It premiered in England in 2007 and features life-size puppet stallions. Runs Dec. 18-Jan. 5, 2013, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com.
Other city offerings
"Sweet Bird of Youth" -- Film star Diane Lane plays an aging Hollywood actress confronting a fading career, and Finn Wittrock stars as a wannabe actor and gigolo who wants to use her to win back his former love in Goodman Theatre's revival of the Tennessee Williams drama. Making his Goodman directorial debut is David Cromer, who brilliantly helmed Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" for Writers' Theatre in 2010. Runs Friday, Sept. 14-Oct. 25 at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. (312) 443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org.
"Sunday in the Park With George" -- Broadway veteran Jason Danieley and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Carmen Cusack make their Chicago Shakespeare Theater debut in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical about the conflict between making art and living life. It was inspired by Georges Seurat's famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte -- 1884," which hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago. The production marks the sixth Sondheim musical directed by associate artistic director Gary Griffin, who last year helmed CST's stellar "Follies." Chicago-area favorites Sean Fortunato, Kevin Gudahl, Ora Jones, Heidi Kettenring and Michael Aaron Lindner make up the ensemble. Runs Sept. 26-Nov. 4 at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. (312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com.
"Metamorphoses" -- Lookingglass Theatre celebrates its 25th season with a revival of writer/director Mary Zimmerman's acclaimed production, which comes on the 10th anniversary of its Broadway debut. Zimmerman earned a 2002 Tony Award for the play about transformation rooted in Ovid's myths. The production transfers in February to The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Runs Sept. 19-Nov. 18 at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. (312) 337-0665 or lookingglasstheatre.org.
"Black Watch" -- The National Theatre of Scotland remounts at the Broadway Armory its highly acclaimed drama with music chronicling the renowned Scottish regiment, originally established in the late 17th century, and its deployment in the Iraq War. Part of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's world's stage series, the show depicts a slice of the modern soldier's life. Runs Oct. 10-21 at the Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway, Chicago. (312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com.
"Trainspotting USA" -- Director Tom Mullen re-imagines Irvine Welsh's novel about heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland -- which spawned a stage play and a 1996 film starring Ewan McGregor -- and sets the action in Kansas City, Mo. Mullen adapted the play, which includes new material from Welsh. Runs Oct. 12-Nov. 25 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. (773) 975-8150 or theaterwit.org.
"The Opponent" -- A Red Orchid Theatre presents the world premiere of the latest play by ensemble member Brett Neveu ("Eagle Hills, Eagle Ridge, Eagle Landing," "Eric LaRue," "Gas for Less"). Karen Kessler directs Red Orchid's founding artistic director Guy Van Swearingen in the drama about a small-time gym owner and the up-and-coming boxer he takes under his wing. Runs Oct. 18-Dec. 2 at 1531 N. Wells St., Chicago. (312) 943-8722 or aredorchidtheatre.org.
"Hellcab" -- Profiles Theatre revives "Hellcab," an iconic Chicago storefront show by Will Kern, in celebration of its 20th anniversary. Kern drew from his own experiences driving a Chicago cab to create this dark comedy, which chronicles the harrowing, humorous and occasionally heartwarming day in the life of an everyman cabbie. Artistic director Darrell W. Cox directs the show, which ran for nearly 10 years at Famous Door Theatre following its 1992 premiere. Runs Nov. 15-Dec. 23 at 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago. (773) 549-1815 or profilestheatre.org.