As the long hot summer winds down, the Chicago theater season kicks into full gear with its usual wide array of shows from a Broadway-bound musical and British imports to a Tony Award-winning drama and new takes on horror and holiday classics.
Here’s a sampling of the varied offerings coming to local stages this fall. And as usual, it’s a list that could be much longer.
“Tootsie” (Sept. 11-Oct. 14 at Cadillac Palace Theatre, broadwayinchicago.com): One of the highlights of this Broadway-bound musical is sure to be the score by David Yazbek, a recent Tony Award winner for “The Band’s Visit.” Also expect plenty of laughs and touching moments in this adaptation of the gender-bending film. Santino Fontana (the voice of Prince Hans in Disney’s “Frozen”) stars as Michael Dorsey, the struggling actor who finds fame as soap star Dorothy Michaels, who has her share of #MeToo moments.
“We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time” (Sept. 15-Oct. 21 at Goodman Theatre, goodmantheatre.org): Never a mainstream artist, New York playwright/performer David Cale found his niche with help from the Goodman Theatre, where many of his solo shows debuted. The British-born monologist, whose enthralling works offer insights into various aspects of life, returns to what he calls his “home away from home” with the world premiere of his latest piece, a musical memoir about growing up in an industrial English town.
“Downstate” (Sept. 20-Nov. 11 at Steppenwolf Theatre, steppenwolf.org) Never one to shy away from lightning-rod topics, playwright Bruce Norris sets his provocative new play, directed by Pam MacKinnon, in downstate Illinois where four men convicted of sex crimes share a group home. Questions of compassion and forgiveness are examined. The production transfers to the National Theatre of Great Britain in the spring.
“Nell Gwynn” (Sept. 20-Nov. 4 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, chicagoshakes.com) The North American premiere of Jessica Swale’s lively comedy recounts the true story of a girl from the streets of London who becomes a leading stage actress and the mistress of King Charles II. Scarlett Strallen stars as Nell, with Timothy Edward Kane as her royal paramour.
International Latino Theater Festival (Sept. 20-Nov. 4 at various venues, clata.org): This expansive festival, titled “Destinos,” now returning for its second year, is quickly gaining a reputation as a leader in showcasing important Latino work from companies both national and international. An important addition to the local theater scene, it’s not to be missed.
“Indecent” (Sept. 21-Nov. 4 at Victory Gardens Theater, victorygardens.org) For this Tony Award-winning drama, playwright Paula Vogel found inspiration in a little-known chapter of Broadway history: the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance,” a drama about a forbidden lesbian romance. Directed by Gary Griffin, a nine-member cast performs more than 40 roles to tell the story of the artists who risked their careers to perform the controversial play.
“The Woman in Black” (Nov. 15-Feb. 17 at Royal George Theatre, theroyalgeorgetheatre.com): Need a good scare? This should do the trick. Called a “brilliantly effective spine-chiller,” the long-running London hit performed by just two actors is based on Susan Hill’s gothic horror tale (adapted by the late Stephen Mallatratt) set at an isolated mansion where a young lawyer encounters a ghostly world. The show’s British director Robin Herford helms the American premiere.
“Hello Dolly!” (Oct. 23-Nov. 17 at Oriental Theatre; broadwayinchicago.com): Beloved Broadway star Betty Buckley (the original Grizabella in “Cats,” for which she won a Tony) takes on the role of Dolly Levi for the national tour of the 2017 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” She steps into shoes filled in the past by Ethel Merman and Carol Channing and more recently by Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters.
“Frankenstein” (Nov. 1-Dec. 2 at Court Theatre, courttheatre.org): Hot off its summer staging of “The End of TV,” Manual Cinema puts its unique spin on Mary Shelley’s horror classic. The ensemble combines the classic story with Shelley’s own biography in a piece about the beauty and horror of creation.
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier: A Christmas Pantomime” (Nov. 7-Jan. 13 at Lookingglass Theatre, lookingglasstheatre.org): Drawing inspiration from English pantomime, Mary Zimmerman works her magic on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic. The family-friendly show about the adventures of a little tin soldier promises to be a spectacle filled with Zimmerman’s ingenious brand of storytelling. Could this new holiday entree be the next seasonal tradition?
In addition to the Broadway touring shows and productions at some of the area’s larger venues, there is a vibrant theater scene continuing to unfold at storefront and mid-sized theaters. From classic musicals and plays to new works, solo shows and the offbeat, there is something here for every taste.
Here is a sampling of what can be found at these theaters across the city this fall. Check out our weekly Curtain Call column for an ongoing list of shows as they open.
“Caroline, Or Change” (Sept. 22-Oct. 28 at Firebrand Theatre, The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee; firebrandtheatre.org) Firebrand Theatre, in partnership with TimeLine Theatre, stages Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical, set in 1963 Louisiana, about a maid struggling with changes monumental and mundane. Tesori’s score is a wonder ranging from Motown to klezmer to classical. Lili-Anne Brown directs.
“Zurich” (Oct. 4-Nov. 10 at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn; steeptheatre.com) Playwright Amelia Roper’s perspective on life has been called “bracingly astringent.” Find out why in this dark comedy, set at a posh Swiss hotel where power struggles between guests play out. Brad DeFabo Akin directs.
“Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine” (Oct. 5-14 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago, Evanston; musictheaterworks.com) Angela Ingersoll brings her critically acclaimed portrayal of the legendary singer to the Music Theater Works stage. With her stunning voice and eerie resemblance to Garland, this short run is one not to miss.
“Flyin’ West” (Oct. 5-Nov. 3 at American Blues Theater, Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont; americanbluestheater.com): Chuck Smith directs Pearl Cleage’s powerful exploration of a little-known chapter of American history in which former slaves headed west, where the Homestead Act of 1862 afforded them the chance to begin new lives.
“It’s Only a Play” (Oct. 11-Nov. 11 at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway; pridefilmsandplays.com) Terrence McNally’s hilarious send-up of show business is set at a disastrous opening night party where things do not go as planned. Jon Martinez directs.
“Gypsy” (Oct. 12-Nov. 25 at Porchlight Music Theatre, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn; porchlightmusictheatre.org) Powerhouse singer E. Faye Butler stars as Broadway’s legendary stage mother in the classic musical. As is always the case with Porchlight, expect a first rate production helmed by Michael Weber.
“The Scientific Method” (Oct. 18-Dec. 2 at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge; rivendelltheatre.org): Jessica Holt directs the world premiere of Jenny Connell Davis’ comedy-drama about a scientist on the verge of a scientific breakthrough whose nerves are rattled when a handsome new colleague starts asking questions around the lab.
“Cosmologies” (Oct. 19-Dec. 9 at The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee; gifttheatre.org): The Gift turns to playwright and ensemble member David Rabe for this existential absurdist comedy about a young man whose negotiation for a date goes very wrong. Michael Patrick Thornton directs.
“In the Canyon” (Oct. 23-Nov. 25 at Jackalope Theatre, Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway; jackalopetheatre.org) Calamity West’s plays have ranged from a contemporary take on an Anton Chekhov drama to a psychological study of serial killer John Wayne Gacy to a murder mystery set in Bavaria. West’s new play, a story of survival in a broken society, spans 2007-2067. Elly Green directs.
“The Revolutionists” (Nov. 15-Dec. 29 at Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice; strawdog.org): Lauren Gunderson’s intriguing play brings together four women who made history during the French Revolution — playwright Olympe de Gouge, assassin Charlotte Corday, deposed Queen Marie Antoinette and spy and free women of color Marianne Angelle. Denise Serna directs.
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.