Chicago hotter than Broadway

December 23, 2008
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In January, more than a dozen Broadway productions will be shutting down, including "Spring Awakening," "Gypsy," "Hairspray" "13," and "Young Frankenstein." And there's little on the horizon to replace them. (Are you really anxious to see "Shrek: The Musical"? Didn't think so.)

So what's a travelling theater junkie to do?

Consider a much closer trip, that's what.

Here's a rundown of some of the potentially noteworthy productions hitting Chicago soon (and the familiar faces you'll see in them).

At Steppenwolf, long-time company member John Mahoney (you know him from "Frazier" and "Say Anything") stars in Conner McPherson's play "The Seafarer" through Feb. 8. Meanwhile, new Steppenwolf member William Peterson ("CSI") stars in McPherson's "Dublin Carol" through Jan. 4. And, in March, Tina Landau directs a production of "The Tempest" starring fellow director Frank Galati.

At the Goodman, the "Eugene O'Neill in the 21st Century" festival is anchored with a production of "Desire Under the Elms" starring Brian Dennehy and Carla Gugino (Yes, the mom in "Spy Kids"--she also has extensive theater credits.) Perfromances begin January 17.

At Lookingglass, company co-founder (and familiar "Friend") David Schwimmer takes a role in "Our Town," opening in February.

The Broadway in Chicago series may not have a potential blockbuster such as the still-running "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" in the next few months, but it does have one out there on the horizon. The pre-Broadway production of the musical "The Addams Family," with the hoped-for cast including Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth opens in November. In the meantime, there are yet-to-hit-Indy tours of "Xanadu," "Legally Blonde" "Mary Poppins," "Spring Awakening," and Chazz Palminteri in his one-man show "A Bronx Tale."

And that's just the familiar-face productions. For more Chicago theater info, click here.

Your thoughts? Anything here sound worth the drive...or the Megabus you?
  • Mom and were actually talking about swapping our annual NYC trip for a short run up to Chicago this year. Now you definitely have me thinking harder on this idea. Xanadu (seen it twice, definitely a must-do) and Addams Family look promising.

    I'm working my way through the shows on the Broadway Cares hat I bought last year, so Mary Poppins, Legally Blonde, and Spring Awakening are on my list of shows I have yet to see from the hat. Silly, I admit, but it would be so cool to wear it and say I've seen them all.
  • Keep in mind that Chicago also has a half-price ticket spot similar to NYC's TKTS. Big difference--you can check on line for tickets and prices at

    So by all means go up and see the big touring musicals--but consider catching a local Chicago production as well.

    Remember to chime in on any of this blog's You-review-it Monday to let us know what you saw.


  • Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia? Holy smokes. I wonder if this effort will trace its roots more to the TV show or the original Addams comics from The New Yorker?

    Anyway, Chicago's theatre scene has been hopping fof a long time, and (arguably) frequently features work that's somewhat more daring than what you might find in NYC. There's a lot of cool independent stuff happening there, and let's face it; it's a lot cheaper than making the trek to Gotham.
  • Recently saw the Snow Queen which was produced by Victory Gardens and up at the Biograph Theatre. It is in it's third year running and is great for both kids and adults. I had a ball. This is the last week but please check it out next year. It should become a holiday tradition!
  • Hmmm....sounds like a lot of midwestern wishful thinking.

    There's a reason it's the second city (actually more like third since it was long ago displaced by Los Angeles.)

    Sure the theatre scene is lively enough there, but don't kid yourself.

    If you must circumvent New York, Toronto is a happening place in so many ways and infinitely more cosmopolitan and more accomodating than Chicago. Surprisingly, winter is not as brutal there, or as long. Chicago's weather is absolutely miserable -- flying OR driving. Definitely to be avoided!!
  • OK, Parkershade, challenge accepted.
    Since I'm not terribly familiar with Toronto theater, tell us the ten top professional resident theater companies.
  • I would like to hear more about the Toronto theatre scene, too. I have been to Toronto twice and enjoyed it very much, but that was before I became a theatre junkie.

    Hope Baugh
  • Lou's Challenge

    Mine was hardly a challenge. I would be hard-pressed to name the top ten resident companies, much less give you names and theatres. I just found it incredulous to say Chicago trumps New York theatre -- big houses/companies and small. You sir, are a taskmaster.

    I'll give it a go, based on 3-4 trips to Toronto -- a little easier when you drive from Detroit, where I used to live.

    There's as much, if not more big name theatre in Toronto than Chicago...and in some of the coolest venues in North America...Prince of Wales, Canon, and the Hummingbird are top of mind.

    Resident, smaller houses that I can say I've seen at least one noteworthy production would include: Soulpepper, the Factory, Canadian Stage, the Diesel, and a smaller theatre in a neat neighborhood town, name I cannot remember, that's a 20 minute subway ride into the burbs. (*On that note, public transit in Toronto is mind-boggling: fast, efficient, clean.... subways, steetcar trolleys, and suburban trains.) Hmm, now I can think of another theatre in the vast downtown area with a college lecture hall setting-seating that has some sort of resident comedy troupe -- again, names escape me.

    And last, and certainly not least is the Stratford Festival, about 75 minutes west of Toronto, 2 1/2 hours east of Detroit.. I assume you're familiar with that. It's in a league all its own in the spring and summer...and maybe into the fall. Okay, it's not in Toronto, but it just ups the theatre ante in the region -- and it's a very distant burb. Worth a stop all its own.

    Beyond theatre, Toronto's a very happening place for restaurants, nightlife, outdoors life, and great neighborhoods (not one but 2 Chinatowns,) all of it with a comfortable North American vibe mixed in with a little Europe. No, I am not Canadian, but I do like Molson.

    It's worth a visit. And for the kids, they have water, islands, the Tower, a sister park to Kings Island, and some sort of National Fair just west of downtown. In less than an hour, you're at Niagara Falls.

    I must qualify all this -- it's been a couple years since I was in Toronto -- as I write this, I know we're headed there in 2009.

    Hope this helps.
  • Thanks for the info.
    DIdn't mean to make it so confrontational. I'm a little defensive about Chicago though because, at any given time, there are a half dozen or more productions up that I'd love to see. I know a lot goes on in Toronto but didn't know how much on an ongoing basis.
    That being said, yes, the Stratford Fest is always on my radar. And someday I'll get up there and review for IBJ. Perhaps next season.
    Keep us posted on what you see, here and elsewhere. You-review-it Monday welcomes your input.
  • If you have the chance - do try and catch Dublin Carol at the Steppenwolf - it is a beautifully told story and the opportunity to see Mr Peterson trod the boards should not be missed. He is terribly good. The staging is wonderful, the other two cast members are very good as well. It's a fantastically intimate space and a unique tale. It is selling out, but we were very lucky to somehow get tickets when we checked back in with the theatre after first being told it was sold out.
  • The quantity of quality on display in Chicago theater is shocking. And people attend. You go to some shoebox someplace you've never heard of, and it is packed - with a great performance to boot.

    My brother is an actor in Chicago, so he keeps me informed on what I need to see there, though live theater is one of the arts that I don't get to all that much. Between that and film, books, the opera, etc. there's just no time!
  • I do most of my theatergoing in NYC and Chicago, and Chicago's scene is easily the most consistently interesting--and often the most consistently satisfying. And not infrequently these days, the most interesting stuff in NYC is there courtesy of Chicago, with people like Tracy Letts, Anna Shapiro and David Cromer dominating the midtown landscape. Not for nothing was last year's Tony ceremony a de facto reunion of colleagues from Chicago--many of whom still receive their mail in Chicago and are attached to companies there.

    Much as I enjoy NYC, the 99-seat scene in L.A. and Stratford, I'm inclined to say that Chicago's preeminence as the most vibrant theater town in North America is a no-brainer.

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