What I’m looking forward to in 2011 (so far, anyway)


It’s a relatively quiet period for Chicago theatre, with many shows either ending runs or getting ready to open. So, another list-y blog post!

As usual, there are a barrage of shows opening in the first few months of the new year. Where to start? In no particular order, here are a few things I’m particularly looking forward to in the near term (click on the play’s title for more info):

Violet: Bailiwick Chicago, which enjoyed a very successful resurrection last season, plans to stage this cult favorite musical, which features music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change; Shrek) and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley. I’ve heard a lot about this rarely-produced show over the years, including that musical master Stephen Sondheim has listed this show among his favorites. And if he recommends it, I guess it’s worth considering. From the show’s press materials:

Set in 1964 in the deep south during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, the story follows the growth and enlightenment of a bitter young woman accidentally scarred by her father. In hopes that a TV evangelist can cure her, she embarks on a journey by bus from her sleepy North Carolina town to Oklahoma. Along the way, she meets a young black soldier who teaches her about beauty, love, courage and what it means to be an outsider.

Les Miserables: Hello? It’s only the biggest mega-musical of the mid-’80s. And I can sing the score from beginning to end at will and without prompt. I’m sure whoever’s playing Marius can’t compete with my earth-shattering take of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” but I’ll try to give him the benefit of the doubt. From press materials:

Cameron Mackintosh presents a brand new 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Schonberg’s legendary musical, with glorious new staging and spectacular re-imagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. This new production has already been acclaimed by critics, fans and new audiences and is breaking box office records wherever it goes.

Heddatron: Robots and Ibsen? I’m so there! And Sideshow theatre, a group that I became familiar with last year thanks to a stunning production of Theories of the Sun, is sure to offer a compelling production as part of Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep series. From the show’s press materials:

A book falls from the sky and a depressed Michigan housewife is kidnapped by a clan of renegade robots, whisked away to the jungles of South America, and forced to perform the title role in a mechanical version of Hedda Gabbler. As a documentarian searches for the truth about the abduction and the woman’s family mounts a search party, Ibsen himself enters the picture to defend his well-made play. Sideshow is partnering with robotics experts across Chicago to present a cast of human actors and functioning robots in this bizarre and savagely funny Chicago premiere.

Odradek: I’ve yet to see a House Theatre production that’s blown me away with its fantastical theatricality (I missed The Sparrow, which everyone still raves about). However, this show — a world-premiere by Brett Neveu based on the Franz Kafka short story “The Cares of a Family Man” and this painting — sounds like it has big potential. And I can’t wait. From press materials:

Set in a small Iowa town, a boy struggles to come to terms with his parent’s divorce and his father’s new relationship. Late one night, after a session with his new doctor, the boy encounters Odradek, a dark, shifting form made of twine and rags who lives under the stairs. As the boy’s emotional health rapidly worsens, the father begins a romantic relationship with his child’s doctor. Seeking understanding, the boy enters an odd friendship with the monster.

Working: This “working man’s” musical boasts an impressive cast of Chicago actors (E. Faye Butler, Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt, among others), and an even more impressive list of composers who’ve contributed to the score (Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor). From press materials:

Working is a vital new musical based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Chicago’s own Studs Terkel. Newly adapted by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippen and Godspell), Working is the working man’s A Chorus Line. It is a musical exploration of people from all walks of life, with twenty-six songs by all-star composers. Working celebrates everyday people, fills you with hope and inspiration and is the perfect musical for anyone who has ever worked a day in their lives.

God of Carnage: While I highly disliked Yasmina Reza’s previous play, Art, many of my fancy New York City friends saw Carnage multiple times on Broadway last season, as the show cycled through its starry cast changes. And they raved about it each time. So, I’m intrigued. And with Mary Beth Fisher in the lead in the Goodman’s production, the potential is high. From press materials:

When Alan and Annette’s son hits Michael and Veronica’s son with a stick, the two couples meet to discuss the problem over appetizers. What starts as a civilized get-together quickly devolves into a scrappy, laugh-out-loud evening that The New Yorker calls “ninety minutes of sustained mayhem.”

Sex with Strangers: If the title isn’t enough to entice you, I don’t know what is. Maybe that Steppenwolf is presenting it? And the description is compelling:

Ethan is a hot young writer whose online journals of “sexcapades” are the buzz of the blogosphere. Olivia is an attractive 30-something whose own writing career is fizzling. They hook up, sex turns into dating and dating into something more complicated. A break-out hit at Steppenwolf’s 2009 First Look Repertory, Sex with Strangers explores how we invent our identity – online and off – and what happens when our private lives become public domain.

There’s a ton of other stuff I’m forgetting, but this is what’s on my mind at the moment. What shows are you looking forward to in the coming months?

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12 Comments

  1. We saw a production of “Violet” at Apple Tree about ten years ago! The songs are good. The story is a tad hokey.

    “As You Like It’ opens this week at CST with a promising cast that includes both old stand bys (Ross Lehman) and interesting newcomers (Hilary Clemens, who was the little sister in Picnic at Writers Theater, and Philip Brannon, who was K. Todd Freeman’s younger brother in The Brother/Sister plays at Steppenwolf).

    We saw “God of Carnage” in New York. It’s a farce. Accept that and you can enjoy it. Not my favorite genre! Has any casting besides MB Fisher been announced?

    I’m looking forward to “Mary” at the Goodman studio (aka the Owen). It stars Alex Wiseman, recent NU grad who won a Jeff award for playing Posner in The History Boys at Timeline.

    • Hi, Diane – thanks for sharing!

      A press release announcing Carnage casting went out Dec. 28. This is what it says:

      Mary Beth Fisher (Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Seagull); Keith Kupferer (Passion Play, The Dark Night); Beth Lacke (Man From Nebraska, Frost/Nixon) and David Pasquesi (Sin, Romance).

  2. @Diane–The “As You Like It” cast is awesome. In addition to those you mentioned, other great Chicago actors in it include Kate Fry and Matt Schwader. Interestingly, Hilary Clemens played Rosalind in As You Like It this summer at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin and was superb, so any chance to see her is a pleasure. Also, is it just me, or is this the first Chicago Shakes mainstage in a looooong time to have only Chicago actors in the cast?

    And I would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t say how much I was looking forward to “An Enemy of the People” at Stage Left. Ibsen’s great play in a smashing Arthur Miller adaptation, with an awesome cast. And sadly, still scarily relevant. It’s gonna be great.

    • Sounds like I have to add “As You Like It” to the list! If two people whose opinions I respect (yours and Diane’s) aren’t reason enough, I love me some Kate Fry.

      And I’ll also keep an eye out for Stage Left’s “An Enemy of the People.”

      • I’m glad it worked–I’m definitely going to try to make
        some cheap tickets happening. (Damn you, no longer being a
        critic–I’d love to see this for free!) And seriously, HIlary
        Clemens is great. If Chicago gets to hold on to her, we’ll only
        hear more from her.

  3. I would love to hear you sing the score of Les Miz sometime. It’s one of my favorite musicals.

    I saw God of Carnage with the original Broadway cast & liked it a lot. It was especially interesting to see how things slowly spiral out of control.

    Sadly, Jeff Daniels was not at the stage door so I wasn’t able to get my Playbill autographed by all four cast members. Poor Hope Davis was left to explain his absence. He had “friends from out of town.” A likely story, I say!

    And I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Working. It’s got a great creative team and I met Studs Terkel briefly when I was college.

    You are so lucky to have so much to see!

    • Jeff Daniels apparently taught at my alma matter, Albion College, when I was a freshman. I say “apparently” as I never saw him on campus. Probably with friends out of town.

      And my performance of Les Miz is especially better after a few glasses of wine…

  4. A. I’m so going with you to Heddatron.

    B. I saw “The Rose and the Rime” at House Theatre, and it remains one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen onstage. If that means anything. ;)

    :)

    • Consider it a done deal, re: Heddatron.

      And I recall you said Rose/Rime was amazing. Sad I missed that one, too. However, Lofty Deeds, Wilson Wants it All and Thieves Like Us, while all creative and very good, weren’t mind-blowing. And I’ve heard that House Shows of the past were, in fact, mind-blowing…

  5. I was slightly obsessed with Violet in the late 90′s. It is pretty decent if done well. ;-)

  6. [...] season. I’ll get by without my Jean Valjean fix. However, please note that one of the top things I was looking forward to in 2011 is likely a [...]

  7. [...] shows I’m looking forward to As a companion piece to my last “what I’m looking forward to” post, here are some additional things — all new, original works — that have me [...]


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