City, suburban theaters return with fewer shows but plenty of applause-worthy options
While a crush of openings typically accompany autumn's arrival, that is not the case this year as the Chicago-area theater community continues to suffer the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that suspended live, in-person performances for more than a year.
This fall offers fewer options compared to years past, but the season holds promise as several city and suburban theaters resume their coronavirus-interrupted seasons.
Add to that a Broadway-bound tuner which tries out in Chicago next month and you've got the makings of a rally among live theater operators -- one that began last spring when the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights and Glenview's Oil Lamp Theatre resumed in-person performances outdoors.
Here are a number of shows worth checking out with a reminder that many theaters have established COVID-19 protocols that require audience members provide proof of vaccination for admission and wear masks inside the theater.
"Legally Blonde" at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre
Oct. 7-Nov. 20, at 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights
(847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
The stage adaptation of the hit movie about California girl Elle Woods, who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School where her snooty fellow coeds dismiss her as a ditz, is lighter than air. That makes it an ideal form of escape.
"Kinky Boots" at Paramount Theatre
Through Oct. 17, at 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
(630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com
Among the first suburban theaters resuming indoor, in-person performances, Aurora's Paramount delivered an exuberant first regional production of this Harvey Fierstein/Cyndi Lauper tuner about a drag queen (the powerhouse Michael Wordly) who teams up with the owner of a failing shoe company (Devin DeSantis) to manufacture fabulous footwear for drag queens. Paramount welcomed audiences back with a joyous show whose message about tolerance, acceptance and embracing change resonates now more than ever.
"American Mariachi" at Goodman Theatre
Through Oct. 24, at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago
(312) 443-2800 or goodmantheatre.org
In the 1970s, two cousins form an all-female mariachi band in "American Mariachi," Goodman's pandemic-delayed Chicago premiere of Jose Cruz Gonzalez's comedy. Artistic associate Henry Godinez directs the production which features musicians from the Grammy Award-nominated Sones de Mexico Ensemble.
Steppenwolf Theatre kicks off its season with virtual productions of three short plays by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Tracy Letts, seen here in a 2018 photograph.
- Courtesy of Amy Sussman/Invision/AP
Three (streamed) plays by Tracy Letts at Steppenwolf Theatre
Streaming online from Sept. 29-Oct. 24
(312) 335-1650 or steppenwolf.org
Steppenwolf inaugurates its 2021-2022 season with a trio of virtual performances by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts who says the short plays share a common theme of "a world off-kilter." In "Night Safari," a man (Rainn Wilson from NBC's "The Office") ruminates on monkeys, frogs and middle-aged homo sapiens. In "The Old Country," two men (Mike Nussbaum and William L. Peterson) wax nostalgic while drinking coffee in a diner. In "The Stretch," Letts plays an announcer who may be calling the 108th running of the El Dorado Stakes.
"As You Like It" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Oct. 6-Nov. 21, at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
(312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com
Twenty songs from The Beatles provide the soundtrack to CST's production of "As You Like It," William Shakespeare's comedy celebrating the transformative power of love even as it sends up courtly conventions. "She Loves You," "Can't Buy Me Love," "Love Me Do" and "Something" are among the hits played live on stage.
"Recipe for Disaster" at Windy City Playhouse
Oct. 7-Dec. 31, at Petterino's 150 N. Dearborn St., Chicago
(773) 891-8985 or windycityplayhouse.com
Master chef Rick Bayless and Windy City Playhouse cook up a theatrical dish that pairs food with farce and unfolds at the theater district's popular Petterino's restaurant. The immersive performance includes bite-size tastings, cocktail samplings and wine pairings to tell the story of an "influencer night" at a hot, fictional restaurant during which everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.
"The Jigsaw Bride: A Frankenstein Story" at First Folio Theatre
Oct. 13-Nov. 14, at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 31st St., Oak Brook
(630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org
First Folio's premiere of "The Jigsaw Bride" marks its fourth staging of a Gothic suspense tale by playwright and artistic associate Joseph Zettelmaier ("The Gravedigger," "Dr. Seward's Dracula," "The Man-Beast"). Inspired by Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and set 100 years after Victor Frankenstein's death, the play centers on a female scientist who makes a shocking discovery while excavating a ruined castle.
"The Last Pair of Earlies" at Raven Theatre
Oct. 27-Dec. 12, at 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago
(773) 338-2177 or raventheatre.com
Raven Theatre's premiere of "The Last Pair of Earlies," Joshua Allen's drama about a long-married couple who begin to wonder if they are enough for each other, marks the Chicago company's transition to an equity ensemble after nearly 40 years as a non-equity theater. Joseph Jefferson Award-winner Wardell Julius Clark directs.
Hailee Kaleem Wright, left, Karen Burthwright and Sidney Dupont, front row, perform in "Paradise Square," whose pre-Broadway run opens in Chicago in November.
- Courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre
"Paradise Square" at the James M. Nederlander Theatre
Nov. 2-Dec. 5, at 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago
(800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Shuttered during the pandemic, the Chicago to New York City pipeline reopens this fall with the Broadway-bound tuner "Paradise Square," about the residents of a 19th century Manhattan neighborhood comprised of free Blacks and Irish immigrants whose happy coexistence was upended by the draft riots of 1863. The score is by Jason Howland ("Beautiful: The Carole King Musical") and Nathan Tysen ("Amelie") with additional material by Masi Asare ("Monsoon Wedding") and Black 47 singer Larry Kirwan along with songs by 19th century American songwriter Stephen Foster. The book is by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley ("The House That Will Not Stand") and Craig Lucas ("The Light in the Piazza") with contributions by Kirwan. Moisés Kaufman ("I Am My Own Wife," "The Laramie Project") directs.
"Kiss Me, Kate" at Marriott Theatre
Nov. 17-Jan. 16, at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire
(847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com
Marriott resumes its coronavirus-interrupted season with a revival of the Cole Porter backstage musical which was in rehearsals at the time of the March 2020 shutdown. Inspired by William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," the romantic comedy features the songs "So in Love," "Always True to You in My Fashion" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" among others.
"Stove Toucher" at Buffalo Theatre Ensemble
Nov. 26-Dec. 19, at McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn
(630) 942-4000 or atthemac.org
Buffalo Theatre Ensemble member Kurt Naebig premiered his solo show chronicling his experiences as a teenage skateboard phenom and skateboard shop co-owner earlier this year as part of Lifeline Theatre's virtual Fillet of Solo Festival. Next month, the Lombard native performs his meditation on a man trying to understand himself and keep his dreams alive as the opening production of BTE's season.
"Mr. Dickens' Hat" at Northlight Theatre
Nov. 26-Jan. 2, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
(847) 673-6300 or northlight.org
Northlight premieres Michael Hollinger's play with music about a pair of thieves whose plan to steal Charles Dickens' hat from a Victorian shop is thwarted by a young girl. David Catlin, former Lookingglass Theatre artistic director, directs.
"Dishwasher Dreams" at Writers Theatre
Dec. 9-Jan. 23, at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
(847) 242-6000 or writerstheatre.org
Former Victory Gardens Theater artistic director Chay Yew returns to helm Writers' 2021-2022 season-opening production written and performed by stand-up comedian Alaudin Ullah, whose family hails from Bangladesh. The play traces his family's history from 1930s colonial India to 1970s Spanish Harlem to present-day Hollywood.
Courtesy of Drury Lane"Holiday Inn" plays the Drury Lane Theatre stage from Nov. 19 through Jan. 9.
Looking ahead to the holidays? Here are a few shows to pencil in.
• "The Snow Queen" at The House Theatre of Chicago
Nov. 12-Jan. 2, 2022, at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago
(773) 769-3832 or thehousetheatre.com
• "Holiday Inn" at Drury Lane Theatre
Nov. 19-Jan. 9, at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
(630) 530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com
• "A Christmas Carol" at Goodman Theatre
Nov. 20-Dec. 31, at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago
(312) 443-2800 or goodmantheatre.org
• "Q Brothers Christmas Carol" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Dec. 7-23, at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
(312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com