10 Chicago theater shows to see in March
UPDATE: Some local theater shows have been cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus. Take a look at our updated roster of Chicago event cancellations, and be sure to call ahead if you're unsure. In the spirit of Chicago’s notoriously unpredictable spring forecast, the local theater scene has a wide array of genres on tap in March. On the docket this month are three shows that promise to whisk audiences back to high school, whether you were on the debate team, ran with (or against) the queen bees, or went out for student government. If thinking back on your teenage years is PTSD-inducing, Carla Ching’s family drama Fast Company brings a thrilling heist to the stage at Jackalope Theatre. You can also tap your toes into spring with three musicals, including one that features American Idol alums Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young. Fight the urge to stay in hibernation and get out to one of the best theaters in Chicago to see these 10 new plays, which hit local stages this month.
13 Chicago theater shows to see in February
February may be a short month, but the Chicago theater scene is buzzing with a jam-packed calendar of great shows. The Leftovers star Carrie Coon leads the pack with Steppenwolf’s revival of your-love-is-my-drug thriller Bug. If you want to double down on creepy feels, snag tickets to Will Arbery’s plague-ridden Plano, Broken Nose Theatre’s debt-crisis rollercoaster Labyrinth, or Haven’s upcoming rendition of Titus Andronicus. For something a bit more tame (Valentine’s date night, anyone?), there's Stick Fly at Writers Theatre, Emma at Chicago Shakes, and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical at the James M. Nederlander Theatre. And since it’s a leap year, you have a whole extra day to get out and see some theater. With these fantastic offerings on tap, there’s no excuse to miss out.
15 Chicago theater shows to see in June
The arrival of summer weather shouldn’t deter you from checking out a stellar lineup of theater happenings around town in June. Pride Month is appropriately headlined by the world premier of Ms. Blakk for President, an original play from the Oscar-winning writer of Moonlight, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and director Tina Landau, in which McCraney also stars as real-life Chicago drag queen Joan Jett Blakk. There’s also a revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Theo Ubique, a docudrama-style play about the band Pussy Riot and a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma. You’d be a fool to spend all of June huddled up inside, but once you’ve had enough sun for the day, make sure to check out these critic-picked plays and musicals that Chicago theaters have on tap this month.
10 Chicago theater shows to see in October
The spookiest month of the year fills Chicago with haunted houses, corn mazes and pumpkin patches. The local theater community gets in on the fun with some scary offerings of its own. Love grunge and gore? Snag a ticket to Wildclaw Theatre’s world premiere of Bill Daniel's Western-zombie mashup Hell Followed With Her. Those seeking high-minded chills should enjoy A Red Orchid’s Grey House, which finds a couple reeling from a nasty car accident in the mountains of Oregon. Rounding out the offerings are dysfunctional family fun, courtesy of Leah Nanako Winkler’s Kentucky, as well as centuries of Latino history crammed into the one-man show that is John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons. Check out Chicago’s scary-good lineup of plays this month—here’s what to see in October.
8 Chicago theater shows to see in July
If you’re in the mood for something a little esoteric, July is a great month to revisit your favorite Chicago theater. Kokandy Productions remixes a renaissance romance with tunes from The Go-Go’s in Head Over Heels, while Black Button Eyes Productions stages composer Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, mashing up half of the Western canon. Steep Theatre’s Pomona and Haven Theatre’s Kiss are a pair of wildly entertaining mindbenders: One’s a dark, fantasy-tinged thriller, the other a darkly meta soap opera. Weirdest of all might be Love, Chaos & Dinner, a funky cabaret inside a mirror tent inside a theater that, until two years ago, was hidden inside the Cambria Hotel. Meanwhile, Mary Zimmerman’s take on The Music Man and a revival of Steppenwolf’s True West should both be pretty normal—and stupendous. Take a closer look at the eight Chicago theater shows to see in July.
10 Chicago theater shows to see in November
Before you get together with your nearest and dearest for Thanksgiving in Chicago, break the ice with a few theatrical families at the city's top stages. The Bennetts and Darcys of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley are a well-loved group, and the sister-like bond at the center of Always… Patsy Cline is sure to warm your heart. If your family is constantly bickering, you'll feel right at home with the Capulets and Montagues, who are taking their feud to the stage at Navy Pier this month. (Are you getting excited for Thanksgiving dinner yet?) Whatever your family dynamic looks like, make time to see these 10 amazing theater productions gracing Chicago's best stages this month.
10 Chicago theater shows to see in April
As you retire your winter coat and break out the shorts and flip-flops (a bold move in April, but we admire your gumption), Chicago theaters are offering a clean slate of new shows to enjoy. Ike Holter’s Rightlynd Saga concludes with Lottery Day at the Goodman, while Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band at Victory Gardens features music from L.A. outfit Dengue Fever. If you prefer stone-cold classics, nab tickets to see Hamlet at Chicago Shakes or A Chorus Line at Porchlight Music Theatre. Meanwhile, Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical ushers in the laughs and makes you feel really old. The forecast for April may be wildly unpredictable, but these 10 Chicago theater shows are solid bets.
10 Chicago theater shows to see in May
Chicago theater is the gift that never stops giving. Just look at the deep bench of shows available in May, from Lyric Opera of Chicago’s rumble with West Side Story to Goodman Theatre’s staging of Shakespeare’s weirdest play, The Winter’s Tale. Elsewhere, Lookingglass Theatre closes out a slew of Frankenstein-centric works with David Catlin’s take on the horror classic. David Cromer mounts an intimate revival of Next to Normal at Writer’s Theatre and—oh yeah—Cirque du Soleil’s Volta mixes their mind-blowing brand of acrobatic artistry with BMX tricks. The Cubs and White Sox may be lousy, but the city’s theaters are throwing straight heat. Here are the 10 Chicago shows you need to see this month. RECOMMENDED: The best Chicago theaters in the Loop
10 Chicago theater shows to see in January
Kick off the new decade by becoming a theater buff (or amateur—we’re not judging) with the most exciting new plays that Chicago has to offer this month. Political junkies have their eyes on Victory Gardens’s Nancy Pelosi biography, The Adult in the Room, as well as Roe at the Goodman Theatre, which takes a closer look at two young women embroiled in the 1973 landmark trial of Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, Once On This Island at the Cadillac Palace and Sean Graney’s take on The Mousetrap at The Court Theatre offer slightly lighter fare. Whether you want to dive into the century’s knottiest topics or curl up with a good old-fashioned yarn, Chicago’s theater scene has you covered. Here are 10 plays and musicals opening in January that will be well worth braving the winter cold to see.
The best family-friendly hotels in Chicago
Traveling with the entire family can go one of two ways: great or a total nightmare. While Chicago is a dream destination for vacationing families—with sports galore, theater offerings, museums, tours and shopping—choosing the right hotel goes a long way in determining your fate. We rounded up the very best family-friendly accommodations in Chicago. Go ahead and make it a memorable trip. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best hotels in Chicago
The best business hotels in Chicago
Business trips—even to a city as great as Chicago—can be a total drag. The hassle of travelling can suck the life out of you, and you’re not even getting the benefit of a relaxing vacation once you arrive. Upgrade your trip by staying at the city’s best hotels for business travel. If you have to work while you’re away, why not make the experience as enjoyable as possible? After all, your boss is picking up the bill.
Listings and reviews (73)
School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play
In Jocelyn Bioh’s ferocious comedy, the queen bee at an exclusive Ghanaian boarding school has to fend off a new-girl usurper to her throne, one that puts her quest for the Teen Miss Universe Pageant at stake. And with director Lili-Anne Brown at the helm, you can expect zero punches to be pulled. The Goodman's production originally made its debut last March and closed as in-person events were canceled—this limited engagement gives audiences another chance to see the show onstage, though you'll need to wear a mask regardless of your vaccination status.
The Lady From the Sea
If you’re in the mood for some Ibsen but you don’t want to watch yet another production of A Doll’s House, we don’t blame you. Luckily, Court Theatre has just the thing: a revival of Ibsen’s much (much) less famous play, The Lady From the Sea starring the superb Chaon Cross. If you find yourself regularly pining for the fjords, this might just be the show for you.
Hit Her With the Skates
This new rock musical at the Royal George Theatre has Broadway ambitions, which is why it boasts starring roles for married American Idol alums Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young. DeGarmo plays Jacqueline Russell, a ’90s rockstar who returns home to Chicago to headline the grand re-opening of her childhood roller rink—only to find herself whisked back to 1977, where she meets up with her 12-year-old self.
Long before American politics got openly weird, there was Big Edie and Little Edie. The 2006 musical Grey Gardens, based on the 1975 documentary of the same name, beautifully chronicles the pair’s troubled relationship. It’s a great match for Theo Ubique’s cozy cabaret space—especially with Harmony France and Nancy Kolton in the leading roles.
Audiences might remember the music of husband-and-wife duo The Bengsons from last fall’s Sundown, Yellow at Raven Theatre. In March, the pair’s folk-punk musical Hundred Days, co-written with Sarah Gancher, will get its Chicago premiere from Kokandy Productions directed by performance artist Lucky Stiff.
Her Honor Jane Byrne
This new play from Lookingglass ensemble member J. Nicole Brooks drops in on Chicago’s first female mayor just as she’s moving into Cabrini Green for a three-week stay. With Christine Mary Dunford in the titular role, Brooks hits on a great angle to tell a quintessential Chicago story. Say what you will about old-school Chicago politics: It’s never ever dull.
If there’s one story genre that’s criminally underrepresented on the stage, it’s heists. But maybe there’s hope: Carla Ching’s Fast Company is about a family of grifters who are left scrambling when their youngest kid—the one who wasn’t supposed to join the family business—puts together a huge score. Kaiser Ahmed directs the play’s Chicago premiere at Jackalope Theatre.
UPDATE: These performances have been canceled due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Theater review by Alex Huntsberger At first, the title of Mlima’s Tale seems slightly misleading. Mlima is an elephant with gargantuan tusks, and he is shot in the play’s opening moments by a pair of Somali poachers. The play isn’t about Mlima, but about the system that profits from his demise; incarnated by David Goodloe, Mlima glowers in angry silence as his teeth make their way from the plains of Kenya to the showroom of a Chinese tech billionaire. But Lynn Nottage’s choice of title is, in a way, distressingly apt. For all that Mlima may have been when he was alive, his ivory is all anyone really cares about. That is Mlima’s tale, and that’s the problem. For the play’s Chicago premiere, produced by Griffin Theatre Company, director Jerrell L. Henderson gives Mlima’s Tale a lean and hungry look. Joy Ahn’s set is a hollow wooden structure draped with ropes and canvasses: a ghost ship carrying its prisoner to foreign servitude. Nottage’s may be America’s greatest living playwright, and her craft is on full display throughout. The play is a series of two-person encounters, with Henderson’s deft cast darting from one character to the next. Michael Tuerrentine is the production’s standout performer—he plays one of the poachers, an overwhelmed game warden and a slippery black marketeer—but every cast member has at least one memorable turn. Through it all floats Goodloe’s smoldering Mlima, c
Theater review by Alex Huntsberger Will Arbery’s Plano is like a dream unfolding at double speed: a heady brew of theatrical tropes, whip-smart jokes and Catholic theology that goes right to your head. After the widely lauded Off Broadway run of his drama Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Arbery’s profile is on the rise. And while the deeply weird Plano is less conventionally structured, its Chicago premiere is a can’t-miss for adventurous theatergoers. The plot of Plano is hard to describe in much the same way as the plot of the Bible is: If you try to simply recount the events therein, you sound bonkers. The play concerns three sisters in Dallas. The oldest, Anne (Elizabeth Birnkrant), has a closeted gay husband from Mexico (Chris Acevedo); a plague of slugs has descended on their home. The middle sister, Genevieve (Ashley Neal), gets divorced from her Karl Ove Knausgård–loving husband Steve (Andrew Cutler), only to find that he has split in two and that the other Steve (also Cutler) isn’t eager to go. The deeply religious youngest sister, Isabel (Amanda Fink), suffers from a vague chronic illness and is shacking up with a faceless ghost (Andrew Lund) who might also be God. Trying to describe Plano by way of comparison is equally tricky. Anton Chekhov is the obvious choice—there are three lonely and frustrated sisters, after all—but David Lynch is a better one, given the characters’ surreal earnestness and the play’s dreamlike air of omnipresent menace. But the play is much fun
The plot of playwright korde arrington tuttle’s graveyard shift commemorates the 2015 death of Sandra Bland. Much like Bland, Janelle (Aneisa Hicks) is a black civil rights activist from Chicago who moves to Texas for a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M, and to be together with her boyfriend, Kane (a stunning Debo Balogun). Like Bland, she is stopped by a small-town policeman for a minor offense—failing to signal a lane change—and ends up in jail after their confrontation escalates. Like Bland, Janelle dies in her cell, hanging from a makeshift noose. But graveyard shift goes beyond the facts of Bland’s life and death. This lyrical, searching, brutally tragic play is like a Greek myth that replaces divine fate with the crushing realities of American racism: how its past informs its present, and how its present denies people like Janelle and Kane the futures they deserve. As it barrels inexorably toward Janelle’s death, tuttle expends most of his poetic energies on how very alive she is. The play sets Janelle’s trajectory in parallel to that of her arresting officer, Brian (Keith D. Gallagher), a likeable-enough chump with no passion for police work but possessed of a wounded ego that pairs poorly with his badge. Between having an affair with a coworker (Rae Gray) and pissing off his boss (Lia D. Mortensen), Brian doesn’t have much going for him, and he knows it. But his uniform, complete with mirrored aviator sunglasses, gives him an authoritarian swagger. There’s Brian
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Theater review by Alex Huntsberger At the start of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Summer (Dan’Yelle Williamson) welcomes audience members to sing along and even to dance in the aisles if they want. It’s a telling moment. This is a show for the singer’s superfans—the ones who know her catalogue by heart, well beyond such megahits as “Hot Stuff,” “Love to Love You” and “She Works Hard for The Money.” For more casual admirers, it has much less to offer. Maybe we should stop referring to shows like this as jukebox musicals and start calling them karaoke musicals instead. They’re only fun if you know all the words. Like a store-brand version of The Cher Show, to which it bears a striking resemblance, Summer uses a trio of actresses to portray its subject, who died in 2012. Williamson is Diva Donna, the oldest and wisest of the three; Olivia Elease Hardy plays the precocious young Duckling Donna, and Alex Hairston handles Disco Donna, the singer at the height of her powers and success. Together, they track Summer’s rise from the aspiring star—in the Munich recording studio of Italian synth god Giorgio Moroder (Kyli Rae)—to dance-music queen to pill-addicted burnout to born-again Christian. Co-written by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and director Des McAnuff, the script offers few insights about Summer’s experience beyond the most basic platitudes. (Sure, she might have sung “I Feel Love”…but did she really feel love?) The show’s lightness serves its goofier impulses better than it
Theater review by Alex Huntsberger Caryl Churchill’s 1982 masterwork Top Girls is never more daring than in the first of its three acts. Urbane career woman Marlene (Linda Gillum) is hosting a fantastical dinner with a guest list of women from ages past: Pope Joan (Rebecca Spence), Victorian explorer Isabella Bird (Annabel Armour), Dutch folklore figure Dull Gret (Aurora Real De Asua), the dutiful Griselda from Canterbury Tales (Amber Sallis) and the 13th-century Japanese diarist and courtesan Lady Nijo (Karissa Murrell Myers). Churchill infuses this scene with such acrid vivacity that you’d think she had written it on a dare. As the ladies eat and drink—and drink some more—solidarity and celebration over Marlene’s recent promotion at work curdle into bitterness, rage and regret. Whatever inspiration Marlene hopes to take from their life stories is dulled by the suffering they all endured. Director Keira Fromm, whose sharp-elbowed style serves the material well, combines a top-notch cast with precise staging to move the scene from amiable chatter to utter chaos in what feels like a heartbeat. Time and time again in this production, Fromm locates the explosive heart in Churchill’s writing and then wires it to blow sky high. Throughout Top Girls, Churchill makes the case that although the world may be horrible to women, the way to overcome it is not to be just as horrible back. Act Two traces the very 1980s goings-on at the recruitment firm where Marlene works. When her worship
Steppenwolf’s latest tells the story of the first black drag-queen presidential candidate
Longtime collaborators Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney wanted to make a new show together, but they weren’t sure what it was going to be. Then, Landau, a director and playwright, came upon the story of queer African-American activist Terence Smith and his drag alter ego, Joan Jett Blakk, who ran for president of the United States in 1992. (Blakk’s slogan: “Lick Bush in ’92!”) “I started pointing at the book and jumping up and down and saying, ‘That’s it! That’s it!’ ” Landau recalls. Together, she and McCraney wrote Ms. Blakk for President, based loosely on the night Blakk declared her candidacy. It’s a play that is also a party, a happening and a political gathering, Landau says. “This is queer form,” she notes. “It resists the binary. It’s not just that or this—it’s this and that.” The show’s in-your-face approach echoes Smith’s work with ACT UP, Queer Nation and other activist groups. (The stage design features a zigzagging fashion runway surrounded by “party zone” seating, a first for Steppenwolf Theatre Company.) “We are introducing a voice in Terence, and a set of characters around him, that are not often depicted onstage and who have very out-there ways—sometimes flamboyant, sometimes politically aggressive—of approaching life,” she adds. Landau is directing, and McCraney is moving outside his usual boxes, starring in the production as Blakk. Although he acted in a few Chicago shows after graduating from DePaul, including in Landau’s 2004 Steppenwolf piece, Theat