Chicago is host to a wealth of musical theater, much of it among the best theater in Chicago. In the downtown theater district, Broadway in Chicago's historic palaces house touring productions along with a steady stream of pre-Broadway tryouts, while the Goodman Theatre regularly stages splashy revivals and new works alike. Suburban venues like Drury Lane and the Marriott Theatre trade off between polished productions of the classics and premiering new works. Elsewhere in the city, you can find tuners new and old on every scale, down to the scrappiest storefront theaters. Here's our guide to the shows to see now and in the coming weeks.
Musicals in Chicago
Let’s not mince words, since we’ve already spilled so many of them: Hamilton, writer-composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s biography of Alexander Hamilton as refracted through a hip-hop, pop and R&B lens, is a sprawling, stunning, singular achievement. By filtering the story of the American Experiment’s beginning into modern, meticulously rhymed vernacular and populating the stage with performers of color to play the likes of Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson and Madison, Miranda and his regular collaborators (director Thomas Kail, music supervisor Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler) make the founding fathers feel fresh and, miraculously, human. RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Hamilton Chicago Weeks out from the country’s naming its 45th president, Hamilton’s new Chicago company arrives to remind us our democracy has always been messy, political, personal, and worth fighting for. Kail and Blankenbuehler fill designer David Korins’s spare set—which suggests that, like the country, it’s still under construction—with movement as thrilling and dense as Miranda’s lyrics. (The few moments of stillness are also used to great counter effect.) The nearly all-new Chicago cast (ensemble member Emmy Raver-Lampman is the sole transfer) easily lives up to the originals while finding their own new moments and shades. Miguel Cervantes is a rather more grounded Hamilton than the more frenetic Miranda, who originated the role, but Cervantes conveys the man’s vital, fatal
ABC 7 Chicago’s Janet Davies hosts Broadway in Chicago’s annual Summer Concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Performances will include cast members and songs from current shows and the upcoming season, including Dear Evan Hansen, Heartbreak Hotel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Miss Saigon.
The Cadillac Palace Theatre is turning into Chicago’s premier destination for musicals that once featured local actress-turned-Broadway superstar Jessie Mueller. Last December, the venue hosted a national tour of Beautiful—The Carole King Musical, and it’s currently showing Waitress, an adaptation of the late Adrienne Shelly’s beloved 2007 indie film. Mueller headlined both musicals on Broadway, but each production—Waitress especially—still has much to offer in her absence. And the kickass songbooks help: Beautiful had Carole King and Waitress has Sara Bareilles. As channeled through a live onstage band, Bareilles’s rowdy, casually frank ballads are the perfect match for musical theatre. When listening to her melodies, it’s hard not to feel like Bareilles is your best friend—the kind who will tell you to your face that the guy you’re dating is an asshole. Not one song into Waitress and you start to wonder: Why has it taken Bareilles this long to write a musical? And when is she penning another? As far as adaptations go, Waitress remains faithful to its cinematic source material, which is slightly ironic considering that the story is rife with infidelity. The plot follows Jenna (Desi Oakley), a small-town woman whose only escape from her loveless, abusive marriage is her passion for baking pies. Jenna works at a local diner with her two friends, fellow waitresses Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman), where her baking talents are put to delicious use. The
This 1989 British creation, perhaps one of the first in the now inescapable wave of pop-star jukebox biographies on stage, offers a starkly mechanical retelling of events in Buddy Holly’s brief career. Don’t expect to learn much of anything about the inner life or influences of the bespectacled young Texan who cranked out an astonishing string of hits like “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day” before he was killed at age 22 in the plane crash that also took the lives of Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Despite its title, Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story isn’t much interested in story—just the songs. Both acts, as arranged by writer Alan Janes, culminate in extended mini-concerts—the first depicting Holly and his bandmates in the Crickets making their debut at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and the second the Clear Lake, Iowa show with Valens and the Big Bopper on the night before the day the music died. But if you accept Buddy for what it is—a tribute-band concert with occasional book scenes and less depth than a Wikipedia entry—then Lili-Anne Brown’s production for American Blues Theater is as enjoyable as it could get. Brown’s cast is stacked with supremely talented actor-musicians (among them Alex Goodrich, Liz Chidester, Derek Hasenstab, Shaun Whitley, Kieran McCabe and music director Michael Mahler) who are more than capable of carrying out this hit parade. And as the man behind the glasses, Zachary Stevenson is vocally spot-on and thoroughly charming. Though new to Chicago—thi
A prime example of the self-aware meta-musical that dominated the first decade of this century, Eric Idle’s Broadway adaptation of his old comedy troupe’s film Monty Python and the Holy Grail was first seen in Chicago, in a 2004 tryout at the Shubert Theatre (now the CIBC Theatre). The Mercury Theater plans to cram the spoofy show into its new Venus Cabaret Theater space with a new production sporting just seven actors, served up alongside medieval-esque snacks and ales.
This new jukebox musical chronicling the early years of Elvis Presley’s career comes from Floyd Mutrux, the co-writer of Million Dollar Quartet, the long-running musical that featured Elvis alongside Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Billed as a prequel to MDQ, Heartbreak Hotel has both the imprimatur of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which is co-producing with Mutrux, and an eye toward following Quartet to a Broadway bow.
Based on the bestselling YA series by Rick Riordan about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard demigod, this family-friendly musical by Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki had a well-received Off Broadway run in 2017. The show will try to bring the thunder again when it launches a national tour with a one-week run at the Oriental Theatre.