Composer Richard Sherman, music director Doug Peck and actor Larry Yando in a music workshop for The Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre
Theater in Chicago can slow down a bit in the summer, when we all want to be outside while we can. But with more than 200 producing theaters in and around the city, there's still plenty to look forward to onstage. Here you'll find our guide to ten plays, musicals and theater festivals to keep your eye on this summer. And bookmark our Theater homepage for the latest reviews throughout the year.
Speech and Debate
American Theater Company first mounted Stephen Karam's biting comedy about a trio of misfit high-school students in 2008, marking artistic director PJ Paparelli's Chicago directorial debut (and well before Karam became a Pulitzer Prize finalist, for last year’s Sons of the Prophet). Paparelli again helms this remount, with ensemble member SadiehRifai reprising her killer turn as an outcast primadonna; she's joined by Will Allan, William Patrick Riley and Janet Ulrich Brooks. American Theater Company.May 13–Jun 10. $33–$43 (atcweb.org).
Fight Girl Battle World
Qui Nguyen's She Kills Monsters, about a woman working through her younger sister's death by fighting trolls and dragons in the role-playing game module she wrote, was the breakout hit of this year's Garage Rep at Steppenwolf. Now InFusion Theatre Company stages another of Nguyen's poptastic plays, a sci-fi comedy about the last woman in the galaxy. Theater Wit. May 14–Jun 16. $25, students and seniors $15 (infusiontheatre.com).
The Jungle Book
With backing (and, presumably, Broadway aspirations) from Disney Theatricals, Mary Zimmerman adapts and directs the story of Mowgli and friends, borrowing from Rudyard Kipling's original stories and the Walt Disney animated film. Music director Doug Peck reorchestrates the Sherman Brothers' tunes for a 12-person band that blends jazz influences with traditional Indian instrumentation. The cast includes Usman Ally as Bagheera the panther, AndréDeShields as orangutan King Louie and Larry Yando as the villainous tiger Shere Khan. Goodman Theatre. Jun 21–Jul 28. $27–$125 (goodmantheatre.org).
Michael Shannon may be playing megabudget Hollywood supervillains these days (he’s starring as Superman’s Kryptonian enemy General Zod in Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel), but he’s not one to forget where he came from. Shannon still finds time to regularly tread the boards at Old Town’s tiny A Red Orchid Theatre, where he’s been an ensemble member for years. This summer he’s set to star opposite longtime pal Guy Van Swearingen in Sam Shepard’s horse-racing drama Simpatico. But the big-screen stuff can affect timing; promotional obligations for the Superman film recently forced Simpatico to push back from a June opening to July. A Red Orchid Theatre. Jul 4–Aug 25. $25–$30 (aredorchidtheatre.org).
From the fast-rising Jackalope Theatre Company comes a new play with music by Andrew Burden Swanson and Chance Bone about American nuclear testing in the ’50s. Details are sparse this far out, but Jackalope's track record so far this season (with the terrific Long Way Go Down and Rich and Famous) and the up-and-coming talent involved with this one have us curious. DCASE Storefront Theater, Gallery 37 Center for the Arts. July 11–28. $TBA (jackalopetheatre.org).
Playwright Luis Alfaro'sOedipus El Rey, produced last year at Victory Gardens, earned a spot on our 2012 top ten list with its imaginative recasting of Sophocles' Oedipus the King as a tale of gangbangers in modern-day Los Angeles. Now, in this world premiere, Alfaroreimagines Euripides' Medea for a contemporary Pilsen setting. Chay Yew directs. Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. Jul 12–Aug 11. $20–$50 (victorygardens.org).
William Petersen and Rae Gray star in Greg Pierce's two-hander about a New England teenager who, following a terrible accident, absconds to the Costa Rican retreat owned by her uncle to wait out the aftermath. Randall Arney directs this late entry to Steppenwolf’s summer slate. Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Jul 18–Aug 25. $20–$78 (steppenwolf.org).
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.’s delightfully loopy, three-day nonstop fringe fest, Abbie Hoffman Died for Your Sins Theatre Festival, a.k.a. AbbieFest, reaches an astonishing XXV—that’s 25, yes—and expands to three stages by moving to Wicker Park’s Den Theatre. The Den Theatre. Aug 9–11. Weekend pass $25; day pass $10 (maryarrchie.com).
The growing Chicago Fringe Festival returns for a fourth late-summer binge of 50 performances from local and touring groups. This year it relocates from various venues in the Pilsen neighborhood to various, yet-unnamed venues in Jefferson Park. Aug 29–Sept 8 (chicagofringe.org).
The Chicago Park District’s Theater on the Lake is an invaluable venue for audiences who may have missed some of the previous season’s best, offering weeklong remounts of a carefully curated selection of recent productions from around the city.