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
The Jesus Christ Superstar team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice first collaborated on this somewhat sunnier biblical parable. Drury Lane’s new production features Christina Bianco as the Narrator and Evan Alexander Smith in the title role.
The Mercury inaugurates its new Venus Cabaret Theater (a remodel of the former Cullen’s restaurant and bar adjacent to the Mercury’s main lobby) with Stephen Sondheim’s episodic musical about birthday-boy bachelor Bobby learning about being alive. The immersive production promises to put you in the middle of the birthday party.
Chicago gets the first look at the new Broadway-bound musical based on the 1990 film that made Julia Roberts an instant star, a Pygmalion-via-prostitution romcom about an escort and a rich cad who fall in love on the job. The cast includes Samantha Barks (the film adaptation of Les Misèrables) and Tony Award winner Steve Kazee (Once) in the Roberts and Richard Gere roles, along with Jason Danieley and Orfeh; the score is by Canadian soft-rocker Bryan Adams.
Before moving into its own new space this fall, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre turns the No Exit Café into Mrs. Lovett’s meat-pie shop for an intimate staging of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody good musical. Philip Torre and Jacquelyne Jones lead director Fred Anzevino’s cast.
[Note: The Sound of Music national tour returns to the Cadillac Palace in April 2018. Below is our review of the 2016 cast.] Not based on an actual Broadway production—astonishingly, The Sound of Music has only appeared on Broadway twice, in the 1959 original production and a 1998 revival—this staging of the Rodgers & Hammerstein chestnut was created for the road, touring in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the film version. So it must be said, then, that the painted backdrops of Douglas W. Schmidt’s scenic design don’t quite live up to the Technicolor splendor of Julie Andrews’s Alps. Physically, Tony winner Jack O’Brien’s production—all flat panels and scrims, sparsely furnished and scaled for shallow stages—looks like it was built to tour (Jane Greenwood’s clever costumes are the exception). It has its pleasures, though, among them newcomer Kerstin Anderson, plucked out of undergrad to play an extra-plucky Maria. Her characterization of a gawky, cheeky, goofball governess, taking conspiratorial tones with the Von Trapp children and surprised by her feelings for their father, is perhaps a touch modern—it’s the kind of performance that the portmanteau “adorkable” was made for—but it’s winning nonetheless. She’s got a strong match in Ben Davis’s Captain Von Trapp, a principled man who rediscovers playfulness by Maria’s example. Davis is perhaps the one element in this production that exceeds Chicago’s most recent look at the show, with Billy Zane’s stiff turn in Lyric
This hyperfaithful stage transfer of the 1987 movie premiered in Australia in 2004, and it’s just been kind of perpetually on tour ever since—nobody’s puts this baby in the corner. The North American touring company returns to Chicago for a weeklong time of your life.
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.