Chicago artists never rest, whether in the dead of Winter or at the first signs of Spring. Nor do their audiences. So let those winds whip in off Lake Michigan, and the trees return to green. Here (in chronological order) is a dramatically abridged look at 16 exciting options for 2016:
“Satchmo at the Waldorf” (begins Jan. 7 at Court Theatre): This Midwest premiere of Terry Teachout’s one-man play will star film actor Barry Shabaka Henley (“The Terminal,” “Better Call Saul”) as both legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong and as his Jewish manager, Joe Glaser. Set in 1971, Armstrong is backstage after finishing a set in the Empire Room of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Nearing the end of his career, he begins to reminisce — revealing intimate aspects of his life, and his ever-evolving struggle to live with dignity as a black musician in a white world. Visit http://www.courttheatre.org.
“Sunset Baby” (begins Jan. 13 at TimeLine Theatre): Dominique Morisseau’s play explores the journey of a woman who finally arrives in Brooklyn to mend her relationship with her father, a former revolutionary in the Black Power movement. Her dad is totally unprepared for the hardened, modern woman she has become, and as father and daughter circle one another, old wounds are revealed, generational differences exposed, and truths laid bare. http://www.timelinetheatre.com.
“Spring Awakening” (begins Jan. 16 at Marriott Theatre): This rock musical, with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater (based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play of the same name), was a hit on Broadway in its original 2006 Broadway edition, and again now in a version featuring deaf actors. The story of teenagers experiencing adolescent sexuality and repression, it is an audacious choice for the Marriott, and is being presented as a pre-season “special” with just a three-week run. Visit http://www.marriotttheatre.com.
“Another Word for Beauty” (begins Jan. 16 at Goodman Theatre): Jose Rivera’s play, with music by Grammy-winning composer Hector Buitrago, is set in a prison in Bogota, Colombia, where each year, the female inmates compete in a beauty contest designed to motivate and rehabilitate them — a contest that becomes a moving exploration of the events that led to their arrests. Visit http://www.GoodmanTheatre.org.
“Rent” (begins March 11 at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre): Theo Ubique has a terrific track record for envisioning grand-scale Broadway musicals on a storefront stage and exposing these shows’ hearts and souls in a unique way. Jonathan Larson’s rock musical classic about “la vie boheme” in the East Village of Manhattan, circa 1989, should be no exception. Visit http://www.theo-u.com.
“Arcadia” (begins March 23 at Writers Theater): Tom Stoppard’s difficult but wondrous 1993 play, has been given pride of place as the grand opener for Writers’ ultra-modern new home in Glencoe, designed by Chicago “starchitect” Jeanne Gang. The play, about love, poetry, landscape architecture and far more, is set in a storied country house in Derbyshire, England, as the activities of two modern scholars and the house’s current residents are juxtaposed with those of the fabled people who lived or visited there in 1809-1812. Visit http://www.writerstheatre.org.
“Mary Page Marlowe” (begins March 31 at Stepppenwolf Theatre): This world premiere play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”), looks at the life of Mary Page Marlowe, an accountant from Ohio who has led an ordinary life and made the difficult decisions we all face “as we try to figure out who we really are and what we really want.” Along the way, the portrait of a surprisingly complicated woman emerges. The cast of 19 includes nine different actresses (counting a baby) who play Marlowe from age 18 months to 67 years. Visit http://www.steppenwolf.org.
“Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure,” at Lookingglass Theatre (begins June 1): Written by Kevin Douglas and directed by J. Nicole Brooks and Krissy Vanderwarker, this world premiere work, set at Chicago’s Majestic Theatre in 1908, dives into the divided heart of American show biz with a cavalcade of slapstick, song and dance and burlesque as two best friends — one black, one white — risk everything to make it to the top together. Visit http://www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
“War Paint,” at the Goodman Theatre (begins June 28): Already a hot ticket, this much-anticipated world premiere musical looks at the fierce competition between two legendary cosmetics magnate — with Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden. The show is the work of the “Grey Gardens” team, including librettist Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel, lyricist Michael Korie and director Michael Greif. Lipsticks to the ready! Visit http://www.GoodmanTheatre.org.
“The SpongeBob Musical, at the Oriental Theatre (June 7 – July 3): Fans of that animated square yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple on the floor of the Pacific Ocean with his pet snail, Gary, are already rejoicing that Chicago will host the pre-Broadway world premiere of this show. Co-conceived and directed by Tina Landau, with choreography by Christopher Gattelli (of “Newsies” renown), it will feature original songs by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Jonathan Coulton, Dirty Projectors, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., with an additional song by David Bowie and additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Visit http://www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Thodos Dance Chicago in “Sono’s Journey” at the Auditorium Theatre (Jan. 9): Melissa Thodos’ company traces the life of Sono Osato, the legendary ballerina (now 96), who grew up in Chicago, joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1934 (at the age of 14), and later became a star of American Ballet Theatre. Osato originated the role of Ivy Smith in the Broadway musical, “On the Town,” yet her Japanese American father – released from a Chicago internment camp, but still considered an “alien enemy” during World War II – was not permitted to travel to New York in 1944 to see his daughter’s triumphant debut in the show. Visit www.thodosdancechicago.org.
Joffrey Ballet in “Bold Moves,” at the Auditorium Theatre (Feb. 10-21): The Joffrey’s mixed repertory programs invariably showcase this company of unique personalities at its very best. “Bold Moves” will reprise two emotionally riveting pieces: Jiri Kylian’s hauntingly beautiful “Forgotten Land,” to the music of Benjamin Britten, in a work inspired by Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch’s painting of women in mourning alongside a stormy sea; and “RAkU,” Yuri Possokhov’s searing tale set to Sinji Eshima’s audacious score, and based on the true story of the burning of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan, where a warrior and his beloved princess are undone by the schemes of a jealousy-crazed monk. Also on the bill is a world premiere by choreographer Ashley Page (long associated with Britain’s Royal Ballet and the Scottish Ballet), set to music by contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. Visit http://www.joffrey.org.
Hamburg Ballet in “Othello” (Feb. 23 and 24) and “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” (Feb. 26 and 27), at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance: This internationally admired German company will showcase two major works by Milwaukee-born, German-based choreographer John Neumeier. “Othello” will be part of the Shakespeare 400 Chicago celebration paying homage to the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. “Third Symphony” is Neumeier’s pure dance evocation of the emotions and human relationships suggested by Mahler’s great symphonic work. Visit http://www.harristheaterchicago.org.
Lucky Plush in “Trip the Light Fantastic: The Making of Superstrip,” at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (March 3): This witty, ingenious Chicago company is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the creation of a world premiere dance/theater work that follows a group of washed-up superheroes attempting to reinvent themselves in a nonprofit think tank for do-gooders. It will feature comic book-style graphics, sound effects and immersive video designed as “a meeting of contemporary dance and an animated graphic novel.” Visit http://www.harristheaterchicago.org.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Spring Series, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (March 17-20): HSDC’s triple bill will include “The Impossible,” resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s 13th work for the company, which promises to”ricochet between dance and theater in scenes that raise intriguing questions about memory, mortality, partnership and the human spirit.” Also on the bill: “I am Mister B,” Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s exhilarating deconstruction of Balanchine’s ballet, “Theme and Variations,” to music by Tchaikovsky, plus a world premiere by the always eccentric and witty Lucas Crandall, Hubbard Street’s rehearsal director. Visit http://www.hubbardstreetdance.com.
Miami City Ballet, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (April 29 and 30): This virtuosic company, celebrating its 30th anniversary, will present two different programs – the first featuring works by George Balanchine, and contemporary choreographers Alexei Ratmansky and Liam Scarlett, and the second featuring two classics by Balanchine and one by Justin Peck. Visit http://www.harristheaterchicago.org.