Lyric Opera has staged a grand, traditional WEST SIDE STORY that serves as a veritable primer for this iconic musical. With director Francesca Zambello at the helm, who is no stranger to directing classic musicals, Lyric’s production celebrates the beauty and complexity of Leonard Bernstein’s stunning score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. All the hallmarks of a classic WEST SIDE STORY are present here, starting with the urban-yet-polished set design from Peter J. Davison (with that famous balcony intact)
Lucy Kirkwood’s aptly titled THE CHILDREN, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, poses thought-provoking questions about the responsibilities that humankind has to future generations. Kirkwood’s intentionally crafted play filters these broad themes through the specific narrative of her three characters, all nuclear scientists. The larger repercussions of the characters’ careers means that Kirkwood can dive into the meaty content of the play with both a particular emotional arc and also with a universality that should resonate with all audience members. Because of this, THE CHILDREN comes across as rather pointed in certain moments, but the weight of the issues that Kirkwood presents allows it to resonate deeply.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Barbara Gaines has staged a HAMLET that captures both the universality of Shakespeare’s language and the equally universal—but also profoundly personal—experience of grief for the title character.
Under the direction of Brenda Didier and with show-stopping choreography from Christopher Chase Carter, Porchlight’s A CHORUS LINE captures the emotional heart at the center of this classic musical and has plenty of pizzazz. While the production definitely has a 1970s flare and feel (especially with those fabulous leotards selected by costume designer Bob Kuhn), the emotions are raw and fresh. A CHORUS LINE cannot succeed without heart-wrenching emotional intensity as it relates the story of 17 performers aspiring to be cast in the chorus of an unnamed Broadway show. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, A CHORUS LINE also includes some of the most iconic Broadway tunes, including “One” and “What I Did For Love.”
It seems only fitting that Ike Holter would conclude his seven-play “Rightlynd Saga,” set in the fictional 51st Ward of Chicago, by literally sending it off with a party. And this is no ordinary celebration. A cast of characters from previous installments in the “Rightlynd Saga” gathers in Mallory’s backyard; she’s the neighborhood’s maternal figure, and she’s poised to give away a sizable sum of money to one lucky winner. The play itself mirrors the energy of Mallory’s boisterous gathering; the overall tone of the piece is cacophonous, with characters often shouting and talking over one another so that some lines of dialogue are intentionally indiscernible.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the catchy pop hits of the ‘90s, CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL is just the ticket. By far the most enjoyable element of this musical adaptation of the 1999 film (itself inspired by the 1782 French novel LES LIAISIONS DANGEREUSES) is discovering the surprising ways in which the show incorporates some of the most iconic ‘90s jams. The musical plays somewhere between a faithful recreation of the film and a parody. In detailing the devious exploits of lustful stepsiblings Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont, the original 1999 film was already fairly out there. The musical takes all of that manipulation and teenage lust and heightens it even further. While fans of the original film will recognize the most iconic traits of each character here, all of the teenagers (and Mrs. Caldwell, the lone adult) become even more like caricatures.
Now in its Chicago debut at Theater Wit under the direction of Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler, Joshua Harmon’s ADMISSIONS is entirely prescient. The play takes a critical look at both prep school and college admissions, and the lengths to which people will go to have their children admitted. The play also asks keen, complicated questions about white privilege, racism, and how we should now be deciding who gets a seat at the table. ADMISSIONS does not offer up any neat solutions to the questions its poses, but it causes the audience to take a hard and needed look at those questions and at how we might relate to the happenings onstage.
Launching BoHo Theatre’s fifteenth season, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s BRIGHT STAR is an earnest and charming show that wears its heart proudly on its musical sleeve. Martin and Brickell have composed a rousing and heartfelt bluegrass-tinged score, which BoHo’s band beautifully and spiritedly delivers. This North Carolina-set musical centers on Alice Murphy and her unusual life story, toggling back-and-forth between 1923 and 1946 as it relays this narrative. While Alice’s backstory and her star-crossed love with Jimmy Ray form the heart of BRIGHT STAR, the show weaves this together with a secondary story of the young, idealistic writer, Billy and his childhood friend and love interest, Margo. Alice and Billy’s stories intersect in a surprising way.
Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning SWEAT, now in its Chicago premiere at Goodman Theatre under the direction of Ron OJ Parson, focuses on a group of blue-collar factory workers in Reading, Pennsylvania. Bound together by the toils of working-class life in the town’s steel-tubing factory, these friends and family members gather at a local bar to let off steam and celebrate special occasions. And though the work at the factory may not be fulfilling, Nottage makes clear this work is vital for the characters’ livelihoods. For many of them, a life of working at the factory dates back generations. As the play toggles between 2000 and 2008, Nottage also reflects how her characters’ lives intersect with current events and questions of race, class, and success in America.
In HANDS ON A HARDBODY, now making its Chicago premiere with Refuge Theatre Project, the mobility offered by that titular hardbody truck is not just of the wheeled variety. Instead, the contest among 10 working class Texans to be the last to have their hands on that Nissan truck also becomes a rather obvious symbol of the American Dream. While book writer Doug Wright, lyricist Amanda Green, and composers Green and Trey Anastasio are not subtle in their treatment of that metaphor, HANDS ON A HARDBODY is a thoughtful meditation on how elusive that dream can be.