With MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT, co-creators Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney have created a raucous and welcoming celebration of Queer culture by bringing to life a true story that few audience members might have known previously. The play’s title refers to Joan Jett Blakk (given name: Terence Alan Smith), a drag queen who ran first for mayor of Chicago and then for President of the United States in 1992. By staging a piece about Blakk, McCraney and Landau have poetically brought forward a story that might otherwise have been forgotten by the general populace, just as many American citizens who identify as Queer are often erased from consideration and representation in this country. MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT fully explores this issue of erasure without making the production one that’s defined by tragedy.
The national tour of the 2016 Broadway revival of FALSETTOS, once again helmed by director James Lapine, has landed in Chicago with a first-rate production and cast. The mighty touring ensemble of seven captures all the neuroses and emotional journeys of the musical’s composite “Tight-Knit Family.”
Bow down to the queens of SIX. In this new musical from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (with direction from Moss and Jamie Armitage), the six wives of King Henry VIII are taking back their mics and sharing their stories—in the form of contemporary pop musical songs. This masterful musical sizzles with electric energy and endless delight. SIX remains a fiery and joyous theatrical affair without ever making light of the fact that the musical demonstrates how these six women are best remembered in history as “belonging” to an infamous king. Yet SIX also brilliantly subverts this notion by reminding us that a huge part of this Henry VIII’s legacy stems from the fact that these six women were all his spouses. SIX posits that without this line-up of ex-wives, Henry VIII might not have left such an indelible mark on history.
Under the direction of David Cromer, Writers Theatre presents a NEXT TO NORMAL that is raw and electric. Tom Kitt’s music and Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics have an utter immediacy to them in this production (and each note sounds great thanks to the music direction of Andra Velis Simon and the six-piece band.) It’s beautifully cast and even more beautifully delivered. Each member of the cast rises to the dual challenge of conveying the messy, deeply personal experience of emotional pain while also hitting the notes of Kitt’s complex score with precision.
Under the direction of Artistic Director Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre’s THE WINTER’S TALE is one of the most inventive and playful productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen. In the Shakespearean canon, THE WINTER’S TALE defies easy categorization. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, which can be neatly defined as either tragedy or comedy, THE WINTER’S TALE incorporates both immense despair and immense mirth in the text’s very core.
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.