From premieres to 'Poppins': 12 fall theater shows worth a peek
New works and works new to the Chicago area dominate this fall's theater offerings which, at last count, include 33 world and regional premieres.
But the fall season also showcases a few musical chestnuts, as well as one of the area's most acclaimed actors taking on one of Shakespeare's great roles.
Here are a dozen shows worth a look:
"Death Tax" -- Runs through Oct. 12 at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, (312) 337-0665 or lookingglasstheatre.org. Tony Award winner Deanna Dunagan stars in Lookingglass Theatre Company's Chicago premiere of Lucas Hnath's dark comedy about a woman in failing health who believes her daughter is paying a nurse to "nudge her into the grave." Ensemble member Heidi Stillman directs.
"King Lear" -- Runs Sept. 9 through Nov. 9 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, (312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com. Frank Sinatra provides the musical backdrop for artistic director Barbara Gaines' production of William Shakespeare's tragedy, which examines the destruction dementia wreaks on a once-great mind. Larry Yando stars as the titular monarch, who gives up his crown and divides his nation among his three daughters to disastrous results.
"Native Son" -- Runs Sept. 11 through Oct. 12 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, (773) 753-4472 or courttheatre.org. Court Theatre and American Blues Theater co-produce the world premiere of Nambi E. Kelley's adaptation of Richard Wright's novel examining the impact of racism and oppression. Jerod Haynes plays Bigger Thomas, an impoverished, young African-American man living in 1930s Chicago who lands a job with a wealthy white family. Then a rash decision sets him on a downward spiral that may well have been inevitable.
"The Commons of Pensacola" -- Runs Sept. 12 through Oct. 19 at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847) 673-6300 or northlight.org. Northlight Theatre opens its 40th anniversary season with the Midwest premiere of Amanda Peet's dramedy, fresh from its off-Broadway run. Linda Kimbrough stars as a woman who takes refuge in a Florida condo after her husband's Madoff-like financial crimes disgrace the family and upend her once luxurious life. Steep Theatre associate Robin Witt directs.
"The World of Extreme Happiness" -- Runs Sept. 13 through Oct. 12 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org. Developed as part of Goodman Theatre's New Stages series, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's play premieres this fall in a co-production between Goodman Theatre and The Manhattan Theatre Club. Jennifer Lim ("Chinglish") plays Sunny, a rural Chinese girl left to die at birth who makes it to the big city where her attempts to climb out of poverty lead to devastating results. Griffin Theatre artistic associate Jonathan Berry directs.
"The Night Alive" -- Runs Sept. 18 through Nov. 16 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, (312) 335-1650 or steppenwolf.org. Character actor M. Emmet Walsh joins Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble members Francis Guinan and Tim Hopper in Conor McPherson's "The Night Alive," about a lonely, middle-aged Dublin man who rescues a prostitute from a violent attack and gets nothing but trouble for his pains. Henry Wishcamper directs the play. This is the fourth McPherson work produced by Steppenwolf, which has a particular flair for McPherson's language.
"The Gravedigger" -- Runs Oct. 1 through Nov. 1 at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org. Just in time for Halloween comes "The Gravedigger," First Folio Theatre's world premiere of the gothic drama written by artistic associate Joseph Zettelmaier (of last season's "Salvage"). Inspired by Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," this psychological drama unfolds in a long-forgotten Bavarian cemetery where a solitary gravedigger (Craig Spidle) discovers a scarred man hiding in a fresh grave. Artistic director Alison C. Vessely directs.
"Sweeney Todd" -- Runs Oct. 3 through Nov. 9 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, (773) 777-9884 or porchlightmusictheatre.org. Porchlight Music Theatre opens its 20th anniversary season with a revival of its 10th season smash, Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." David Girolmo stars as the murderous barber Benjamin Barker and Rebecca Finnegan plays meat pie maven Nellie Lovett, the role that earned her a Jeff Award in 2005. Michael Weber directs and Doug Peck serves as music director.
"Amazing Grace" -- Runs Oct. 9 through Nov. 2 at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com. Broadway in Chicago presents the world premiere of this Broadway-bound musical by composer/lyricist Christopher Smith, with book by Smith and Arthur Giron, examining the man behind the famous hymn. A story of love and redemption, the musical stars Tony Award nominee Josh Young as John Newton, an 18th-century Brit involved in the slave trade whose spiritual conversion during a storm-tossed ocean voyage puts him at odds with his father.
"Titanic" -- Runs Oct. 18 through Dec. 7 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, (773) 975-8150 or theaterwit.org or griffintheatre.com. Griffin Theatre Company opens its 26th season with a reworked, scaled-down version of composer/lyricist Maury Yeston and writer Peter Stone's musical about the ill-fated luxury liner. This revised chamber production features new orchestrations by Ian Weinberger and material cut from the Broadway production. Griffin's production marks the first of this revised version of "Titanic" in a major U.S. city. Scott Weinstein directs the 20-person cast. Elizabeth Doran serves as music director.
"The King and I" -- Runs Oct. 22 through Jan. 4, 2015, at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com. Marriott Theatre revisits the golden era of musicals with a revival of the lush Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein show about a British schoolteacher hired to teach the royal children as part of the King of Siam's efforts to modernize his country.
"Mary Poppins" -- Runs Nov. 26 through Jan. 4, 2015, at Paramount Theatre, 6 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com. This season marks the first that Paramount Theatre is eligible for equity Jeff Award consideration, and they're going big with this family favorite inspired by the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. Rachel Rockwell directs. And if anyone can make Mary Poppins fly, it's Rockwell.
Other fall theater options
Other fall productions worth checking out include a summer holdover, several literary adaptations and a chamber revival of a Jason Robert Brown musical.
"All Our Tragic," an epic theatrical event, is director Sean Graney's astutely crafted adaptation of all 32 surviving Greek tragedies. It juxtaposes humor and pathos as it unfolds over 12 hours, including intermissions, snack and meal breaks. The Hypocrites' premiere runs through Oct. 5 at The Den Theatre, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (773) 525-5591 or the-hypocrites.com.
"The Game's Afoot," the comedy whodunit starring Derek Hasenstab and local favorite Alene Robertson, runs through Oct. 19 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylane.com.
Lifeline Theatre's adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" runs through Oct. 26 at 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, (773) 761-4477 or lifelinetheatre.com. Speaking of adaptation, Strawdog Theatre Company remounts its hit 2013 adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" (Oct. 31-Dec. 20) at 3829 N. Broadway St., Chicago, (773) 528-9696 or strawdog.org.
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble concludes its 10th season with a revival of "Parade" (Oct. 17-Nov. 16) at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. Linda Fortunato directs the based-on-fact musical by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry about a Jewish factory supervisor in 1915 Atlanta charged with the murder of a young female worker. (773) 975-8150 or theaterwit.org.
From Caitlin Parrish, the writer who penned Route 66's 2011 hit "A Twist of Water," comes the world premiere "The Downpour" (Sept. 10-Oct. 12) at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, (773) 404-7336 or greenhousetheater.org. Erica Weiss helms the production, about the troubled history between two sisters that threatens to repeat itself when one of them announces she is pregnant.
Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, opens its season with the Midwest premiere of "Rest" (Sept. 12-Oct. 12). The play, about the residents of an Idaho retirement home caught during a blizzard, is by Samuel D. Hunter, who wrote last year's hit "The Whale." Victory Gardens also presents the Midwest premiere of the Tony Award-nominated "The Testament of Mary" (Nov. 14-Dec. 15), Colm Toibin's examination of the last days of Jesus, described by his mother. (773) 871-3000 or victorygardens.org.
Libertyville native Marti Lyons directs the Chicago premiere of Laura Marks' "Bethany" about a single, middle-class mother trying to survive without a safety net during the recent economic downturn. The Gift Theatre production runs Sept. 25 to Nov. 23 at 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (773) 283-7071 or thegifttheatre.org.
Lookingglass Theatre Company remounts its ever-charming signature production "Lookingglass Alice." Adapted from Lewis Carroll's novels by director David Catlin, the show runs from Nov. 12 to Feb. 15, 2015, at 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, (312) 337-0665 or lookingglasstheatre.org.