The 2003-2004 season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in terms of world premieres. In the coming season, Chicago audiences will enjoy dozens of productions never before seen on any stage other than those in the Windy City. Following are my picks for debut shows that leave me breathless with anticipation. The list is by no means exhaustive; these are simply the brand spanking new shows that seem to hold the most dramatic potential.
2003 world premiere openings
Bailiwick: Dr. Sex by Larry Bortniker and Sally Deering ( opened Sept. 5 ) . An exuberant musical that celebrates the life and work of Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey is a jaunty and melodic look at the man whose pioneering work helped change our sexual landscape, Dr. Sex will be perhaps the cleanest show about sex in the history of American musicals.
LookingglassThe Secret in the Wings, directed and adapted by Mary Zimmerman ( opens Sept. 17 ) . Mary Zimmerman, whose acclaimed, record-breaking Lookingglass production of Metamorphoses won her a Tony for best direction, returns to Lookingglass to create a new production of The Secret in the Wings, one of the first shows ever presented by the company. The work is a fantastic retelling of four emotionally charged but unfamiliar fairy tales, Three Blind Queens, Allerleirah, The Princess Who Wouldn't Laugh and Silent for Seven Years, framed by a unique twist on Perrault's beloved classic Beauty and the Beast.
Black Ensemble Theater Company: Mamma Said There'd Be Days Like This, by Marsha Estell ( opens Sept. 21 ) . The girl group sound of the '50s and '60s marked an important influence in rock-n-roll as a defining image of American culture. The music and story of groups such as The Shirelles, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Chiffons, and others come to life on stage.
Stage Left Theatre: Cuttings by David Rush ( opens Oct. 7 ) . A former psychologist attempts to rescue a teen run-away to redeem a lifetime of wrongdoing, but ultimately spins a web of betrayal and destruction. Written by the award-winning author of Leander Stillwell, Dapples & Grays, and Police Deaf Near Far.
Famous Door: The Great Society by Barbara Wallace and Thomas Wolfe ( opens Oct. 12 ) . From the authors of the smash Early and Often. Four years have passed since the 1960 election, but not much has changed in this North Side ward. Or has it? The 1964 Civil Rights Act has just passed and a young idealistic priest goes toe-to-toe with ward boss John Flannery overof all thingswho supplies the folding chairs for the parish Christmas bazaar.
Steppenwolf: Man from Nebraska by Tracy Letts ( opens Nov. 20 ) . A luxury sedan, a church pew, and visits to a nursing home form the comfortable round of Ken Carpenter's daily life. And then one night, he awakens to find he no longer believes in God. This crisis of faith propels an ordinary middle-aged man into an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. This wickedly funny and spiritually complex play examines the effects of one man's awakening on himself and his family.
2004 world premiere openings
Goodman: The Light in the Piazza with a book by Craig Lewis, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel ( opens Jan. 10 ) . A lush and romantic world premiere musical from the acclaimed creator of Floyd Collins and the author of Prelude to a Kiss! On holiday in Italy with her overly protective mother, stunningly beautiful Clara Johnson meets her destiny in the form of Fabrizio Naccarelli, a handsome young Florentine. The two young people are smitten, and their courtship moves with lightning speed. But Clara's mother has a reason to be protective of her child, and divulging her secret could mean the end of Clara's happiness.
Griffin Theatre Company: Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, adapted by Christina Calvit from the novel by Louise Rennison ( opens Jan. 18 ) . Bridget Jones Diary for the younger set, about the trials and tribulations of a British schoolgirl in London is funny and irreverent.
Noble Fool: Damage Control, by Matt Tiegler ( opens Jan. 28 ) . A North Shore family attempts to save face when their son drops out of college by staging a 'Special Announcement Party' in hopes of covering the truth with a less embarrassing cover story. That sets off a hilarious cascade of cover ups.
Lifeline: The Killer Angels, adapted by Karen Tarjan, from the novel by Michael Shaara ( opens Feb. 13 ) . Come face-to-face with Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Joshua Chamberlain and other key military leaders in this unparalleled examination of the battle of Gettysburg. A brilliant, intimate look at the emotions and personalities behind one of the most pivotal conflicts in our nation's history.
American Theater Company: American Dead by Brett Nevue ( opens Feb. 18 ) . One of Chicago 's most celebrated up-and-coming playwrights tells the story of the death of small town America. Lewie can't get over the murder of his sister and struggles to find work and meaning in his hometown. Surprisingly funny and touching. Neveu's simple language is beguiling and powerful.
About Face: Pulp by Patricia Kane ( opens February ) . A hilarious send-up of lesbian pulp fiction, Pulp is being presented at Victory Gardens. This sultry, sexy comedy features one-liners, romance, betrayal, and a score of jazz standards sung by drag-kings.
Shattered Globe: Meet John Doe ( opens February ) . Based on Frank Capra's classic film, Shattered Globe's stage version follows the rise and fall of John Doe from Fabricated Everyman to American Political Hero. With a comedic sensibility, Meet John Doe examines the interplay between the American political system, the Media and the voting public.
The Side Project: Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, adapted by Adam Webster from Stephen Crane's novella ( opens February ) . The descent of a young girl in the Bowery District of New York who falls prey to her environment, and her brother's struggle to identify his role in corrupting and saving her.
Pegasus Players: John Callaway's Life Is ... Maintenance, by John Callaway ( opens March 5 ) . Broadcaster John Callaway focuses on the 'miracles of the mundane,' focusing on why getting up and getting out the door at age 66 requires more steps than major transplant surgery.
Victory Gardens: Hanging Fire by Claudia Allen ( opens March 29 ) . Slated to star screen and stage legend Julie Harris, Hanging Fire is set on the 4th of July in small-town America. Shifting back and forth in time, Hanging Fire is a touching, funny comedy about family and the lifelong love/hate emotional tug of war between sisters.
Northlight Theatre: Studs Terkel's The Good War, adapted by David Bell and Craig Carnelia ( opens May 12 ) . 'Is there such a thing as a good war?' is the timely question raised by Studs Terkel's ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 oral history, transformed into a rousing WW II musical.
Court Theater: Cyrano, adapted by Jim Lasko and Charles Newell ( opens May 20 ) . Spectacle and visual wonder are combined in Court's collaboration with Chicago's acclaimed Redmoon Theater, in a production of the famous French play, Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.