All over Chicago, as the pandemic eases, theaters are planning to welcome live audiences with everything from individual outdoor productions to entire indoor seasons. Besides Court Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and a few others covered in a June 1 story, here are several late summer and fall openings we're really looking forward to. Given the uncertainty of the times, be sure to check that nothing has changed.
Goodman Theatre comes roaring back with a very full ten-play season in its two theaters. First up, in the Albert Theatre, July 30 to Aug. 29, is the Chicago premiere of Jocelyn Bioh's “School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play,” which was suspended just days before its opening in March 2020. Lili-Anne Brown directs the biting comedy about competition to win the Miss Universe pageant among teenage girls at Ghana's most exclusive boarding school. The production was broadcast online briefly, and most of the marvelous cast is the same.
Autumn in the Albert begins Sept. 18 to Oct. 24 with José Cruz González's “American Mariachi,” a co-production with Dallas Theater Center produced in association with Teatro Vista. Directed by Henry Godinez and set in the 1970s, the heart-warming show is about a young woman who decides to break with tradition and form an all -female mariachi band when a forgotten record album sparks the memory of her ailing mother. Chicago's Sones de México Ensemble enlivens each performance with live mariachi music.
Also in the Albert are the annual “A Christmas Carol,” a major revival of August Wilson's “Gem of the Ocean” directed by Chuck Smith and “The Outsiders,” based on the novel by S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s film, with a book by Adam Rapp and music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine. But I'm especially excited about the premiere of Doug Wright's “Good Night, Oscar,” March 12 to April 17, 2022, which is directed by Lisa Peterson and stars Sean Hayes as the edgy American humorist Oscar Levant who bares his soul during an appearance in 1958 on Jack Paar's live late-night television talk show.
The four-play lineup in the smaller Owen Theatre kicks off Oct. 15-Nov. 14 with the Goodman-commissioned “Fannie, The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer” by Cheryl L. West. Godinez directs the passionate rallying cry inspired by the life of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, and E. Faye Butler reprises the title role, which she created for Goodman's abridged version, “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It!,” staged in collaboration with the Chicago parks last fall. The Owen closer, April 1-May 1, 2022, is a new production of “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci,” adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman. As anyone who saw her original version nearly three decades ago can attest, the staging is as unforgettable as the text drawn entirely from the artist's notebooks and treatises.
Speaking of the parks, Goodman presents Sones de México’s “Zulema” as part of the Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks, produced in association with Chicago Department Of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance and the National Museum of Mexican Art. The family-friendly one-hour show, infused with regional Mexican music and dance, follows the title character's journey from her home in Chiapas to Chicago. Free performances are Aug. 5-21 in ten different parks culminating in a Sept. 2 spectacular with an ensemble of more than 70 artists.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Chicago Shakespeare Theater returns in Oct. (dates not set yet) with a highly anticipated “As You Like It” that brings together the Bard's comedy and The Beatles music. Adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran, artistic director of Canada's Citadel Theatre, and first staged in 2018 at Vancouver's Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, the 1960s-set love fest features nearly 20 songs by the Fab Four, among them “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Let It Be.” And they're performed live on stage.
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Lookingglass's diverse season gets underway on July 27 at dusk with a one-night-only ritual called “Sunset 19” that commemorates the start of the 1919 Chicago race riots with music, movement, art and words. Then, in the fall, a showcase of five short films, the first part of “50 Wards: A Civic Mosaic,” includes works by ensemble members Kasey Foster, Kareem Bandealy, Philip R. Smith and J. Nicole Brooks with Latesha Dickerson and artistic associate Matthew C. Yee. That leads up to the November re-opening of Brooks' “Her Honor Jane Byrne” in the Water Tower Water Works theater, where it closed after only a few performances because of COVID-19. A radio version of the play about Bryne's brief sojourn in Cabrini-Green was created during the pandemic, but the pointed political drama is worth seeing live.
Broadway in Chicago
Broadway in Chicago's lineup of touring shows at Chicago's downtown theaters is in flux, but at the moment the fall highlight promises to be the pre-Broadway world premiere of “Paradise Square” at the James M. Nederlander Theatre (formerly the Oriental), Nov. 2 to Dec. 5. Helmed by Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky, who spearheaded the renovation of the Oriental decades ago, and first produced in 2019 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the musical is set in Lower Manhattan's Five Points slum in 1863 and focuses on the co-existence and cultural sharing of Black residents and Irish immigrants —abruptly disrupted by the institution of the first draft and subsequent riots. The high-powered creative team starts with director Moisés Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife,” “The Laramie Project”) and choreographer Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening,” “Fela!”). Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango heads the cast.
Other Broadway in Chicago autumn entries are mostly return engagements: “Rent — 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour,” Oct. 5-10, at the CIBC Theatre, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Oct. 26-Nov. 21, at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place and “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” Nov. 2-7, at the CIBC Theatre.
Under new artistic director Jay Españo, PrideArts begins its season Aug. 19 to Sept. 19 with the American premiere of “The Things I Never Could Tell Steven,” Australian writer Jye Bryant's revue-style musical in which the mother, father, wife and ex-boyfriend of the title character each reveal what they want from him and who they think he is. The lineup exploring “The Search for Identity Among Queer Communities” continues Sept. 30 to Oct. 31 with “4000 Days” by British playwright Peter Quilter, whose Judy Garland stage bio, “End of the Rainbow,” was adapted as the Academy Award–winning film “Judy.” In this play, a gay man awakens from a three-week-long coma to discover he has no memory of the previous eleven years, while his possessive mother and sometimes controlling husband fight to make him the person they want him to be.
Theater Wit resumes live performances Aug. 27 with an open-ended revival of Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,” one of its most popular shows ever. The timely paean to the healing power of storytelling begins after life as we know it has ended and asks “What's left after everything is taken away?” It also delves into how the pop culture of one generation might evolve into the mythology of another.
City Lit Theater
City Lit bows in Sept. 10 to Oct. 24 with a pre-season world premiere of “Thirteen Days,” Brian Pastor's adaptation of Robert F. Kennedy's memoir of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Pastor also directs the account of the incident that brought us perilously close to nuclear war, and City Lit has gotten permission from the Kennedy family to insert excerpts from transcripts of JFK’s strategy sessions into the script. The twist is that while all the actual participants were white men, they're all being played by women (and not all white).
The Den Theatre
Stand-up comedy is on tap this fall on the Heath Mainstage of The Den Theatre with Erik Griffin Oct. 1-9 and Maria Bamford Oct. 14-17, along with Jacqueline Novak's off-Broadway hit “Get On Your Knees.” Also look for announcements soon from the multi-stage theater's resident companies: Broken Nose Theatre, First Floor Theater, Haven and The New Coordinates (formerly The New Colony).
Oak Park Festival Theatre
Oak Park Festival Theatre returns to the lovely Austin Gardens July 15-Aug. 21 with Shakespeare's “The Tempest,” directed by artistic director Barbara Zahora and featuring artistic associate Kevin Theis as Prospero. The play was chosen before the pandemic and murder of George Floyd, but themes of exile, injustice, the struggle for power, self-discovery and healing really resonate after the last year-plus.
Oil Lamp Theater
Up in Glenview, Oil Lamp Theater stages two shows as part of its “Season Under the Stars” (on the lawn of St. David's Episcopal Church): Landford Wilson's charming “Talley's Folly” through July 18 and Donald Margulies “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment” July 30-Aug. 29. The former is a thoughtful love story set in World War II–era Lebanon, MO. The latter is based on the true tale of a Swiss explorer who claimed to have daring adventures in the Asian Pacific — but may have been a con man.