It's a new year with another 800 or so productions, the typical annual total of plays, revues, musicals, one-person shows, etc. presented by the 230-plus theater companies in the greater Chicago area.
You really can't go anywhere these daysBridgeport, Naperville, Albany Parkwithout bumping into a theater troupe. So what's going to be good? How the hell do I know? I ain't seen them yet, either. But what's going to be interesting ( not necessarily the same as good ) is easier.
Keys of the Kingdom, Stage Left Theatre Company at Theater Wit, through Feb. 15Penny Penniston's thought-provoking world premiere deals with a lowly assistant to a megachurch pastor, and how the assistant deals when the pastor hires a lesbian atheist artist to create a church mural. The pastor believes God has chosen this artist, but has She? Talk about drama of ideasKeys of the Kingdom seems to be chock full.
Accidentally Like a Martyr, A Red Orchid, through April 12This is a rare dip into gay-related material for A Red Orchid, with this regional premiere of Grant James Varjas bittersweet comedy about the not-so-young regulars at an East Side gay bar in New York. Written in 2011 and produced off-Broadway, it may be an update of The Boys in the Band: We're still all growing older, except this time no one's in the closet. The expert Shade Murray has directed.
The Apple Family Plays: That Hopey Changey Thing and SORRY, TimeLine Theatre Company, through April 12Tony Award winner Richard Nelson long has been hailed as one of the country's super-intellectual playwrights, his intelligence often at the expense of creating empathetic characters. But Nelson has grown warmer over the years, especially with his series of four plays about the Apples, an upper-middle-class family. These two plays ( first and third of the four ) concern U.S. political change and how the multigenerational Apples deal with it. The plays are presented in repertory and either can be seen first. Jeff-winning director Louis Contey has staged these Chicago premieres.
Music Hall, Tuta Theatre, at The Den, Feb. 5-March 8Three actors act, sing and dance every night in this serio-comic exploration of the finite career of any performer. The show doubles as a cabaret or vaudeville act, being both a personal story of the trio and show within the show. Author Jean-Luc Lagarce is a widely-produced and highly-theatrical contemporary French author. Tuta has scored with his works twice before. The director, Zeljko Djukic, is co-founder of Tuta and teaches theater at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Sweeter Option, Strawdog Theatre, Feb. 13-March 28This one sounds like a good, gritty fist-to-the-face, lurid thriller. It's a world premiere by John Henry Roberts, and also Strawdog's 100th production. It's about a low-rent dick who stumbles on a vast embezzlement scheme while tracking a stolen rent-a-car. There's money for the taking, if he's willing to go through a dame to snatch it. Set in 1971 Chicago, The Sweeter Option will be staged by the always-interesting Marti Lyons.
First Wives Club, Oriental Theatre, Feb. 17-March 29A big new musical, based on the 1996 film and Olivia Goldsmith's novel, will play here for six weeks on its way to Broadway. The score will feature both classic and new songs by the legendary Motown team of Brian Holland-Lamont Dozier-Eddie Holland, which maybe makes it one-half a juke box musical. But, differently, this one also has a real story to tell, and a strong story at that.
The Hammer Trinity Part III: The Excelsior King, The House Theatre of Chicago, at Chopin Theatre, Feb. 21-May 4. Even if you have seen Parts I & II of this three-year epic saga by Nathan Allen, you'll find the twisty plotlines of The Excelsior King difficult to follow. So what? Nobody tells better stories than The House, mixing music, magic, myth and epic in highly physical and engaging productions. The Hammer Trinity is at once ancient and very modern as it relates the history of a timeless and ancient nation that nonetheless seems very modern and American. Oh, did I mention it's also a heroic journey quest tale? FYI: This is the final installment.
Outside Mullingar, Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, March 13-April 19Veteran U.S. playwright John Patrick Shanley scored a Tony Award nomination for this play in 2014, and he's quite the storyteller. This one, set in rural Ireland, offers a long-delayed and maybe-misguided romance between two neighbors whose families just may be planning a feud. Northlight artistic director BJ Jones will direct, and he knows his stuff.
The Good Book, Court Theatre, March 19-April 19A world premiere by the co-authors/performer team of Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare ( yes, of Oz and other TV shows ) who created An Iliad several years ago. It's about the Bible, and not. It's about religion and, perhaps, more so about faith. It's about a 13-year-old boy and a Biblical scholar, ancient Judea, medieval Ireland and the suburban United States. It promises to weave together multiple stories about devotion and the creation itself. You can't go wrong with these artists.
The Upstairs Concierge, Goodman Theatre, March 28-April 26The exuberant Kristofer Diaz ( The Elaborate Entry of Chad Deity ) returns with a farce about expensive hotels, celebrity suites, fame and a new concierge for the limited-access floors. Which big celeb is going to run around naked tonight? Poor Ella soon will find out. This official world premiere ( it was given a limited test-run off-Broadway last spring ) was commissioned by the Goodman Theatre for its 90th-anniversary season.
Sense and Sensibility, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, April 18-June 17Jane Austen and kick-steps. Well, perhaps at least there's a quadrille or minuet in this world-premiere musical version of Austen's novel about the Dashwood sisters, one swooningly romantic and the other acerbically sensible. Book, music and lyrics all are by Paul Gordon and, generally speaking, that's too much for any one person to do. We shall see. The show was commissioned by Chicago Shakes and will be staged by founding artistic director Barbara Gaines. You can be damn sure the production values will be lavish and the show will be gorgeous to see.