The theaters that so gallantly kept working right up to Martin Luther King Day in order to rescue us from the post-yuletide doldrums are not about to abandon us. Over eight plays opened before the end of January, with more on the way—some reminding us of the resolutions we vowed to uphold, to be sure, but others arriving in time for Valentine's Day, Presidential birthdays and even Saint Patrick's holiday revels to offer playgoers assurance of spring's return.
SHOWS CURRENTLY RUNNING
Anything Goes, Porchlight Music Theatre at the Ruth Page Arts Center (through March 10). In olden days—ninety years ago in 1934, to be exact—a glimpse of stocking was all you needed to make a musical romcom, but in 2024, our cruise-ship romp comes with a score of Cole Porter's greatest hits, a bevy of toe-tapping drill-team dances by Tammy Mader and Chicago's own full-throated Meghan Murphy in the role created for Ethel Merman.
Champion, Lyric Opera (through February 11). Opera, jazz and pugilistics may seem an odd combination, but composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Michael Cristofer elevate the rise and downfall of real-life gay prizefighter Emile Griffith to the level of high tragedy.
Highway Patrol, Goodman Theatre (through February 25). In 2012, the not-yet-weaponized invention we know as "Twitter" led Hollywood actress Dana Delany to forge an unexpectedly intimate relationship with a teenage fan, as well as several of his family members, its progress recounted for us verbatim by Jen Silverman, Dot-Marie Jones and Delaney herself.
Mother Courage and Her Children, Trap Door Theatre (through February 24). Bertolt Brecht's mid-20th century analyses of wartime economics, as illustrated by an itinerant battlefield merchant whose children fall victim to carnage and capitalism, are still applicable to nations today.
In Quietness, A Red Orchid Theatre (through February 24) A cheating husband atones for his paramour's death by taking up the cross, spurring his spouse to abandon her corporate career in pursuit of the domestic cleanliness whose proximity to godliness will restore their marriage.
Cry It Out, Oil Lamp Theatre in Glenview (through March 3). Centuries of western literature have proclaimed babies to be universally welcomed, but only recently have playwrights had the courage to propose progenitors unable, unfit or unwilling to parent.
Flood, Shattered Globe at Theater Wit (through March 9). Linda Reiter and H.B. Ward star as an elderly couple living complacently in upstairs-apartment comfort while their adult offspring downstairs are engulfed by rising waters in this absurdist "comedy for the end of the world."
In The Heights, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire (January 31-March 17). Chicago audiences have seen Lin-Manuel Miranda's pre-Hamilton portrait of his vibrant boyhood community once in a crowded downtown palace and once in a cozy close-up storefront—but Marriott's spacious arena stage offers neighborhood guide Usnavi de la Vega plenty of room to tell us how he got his name and why we should care.
Billy Elliot, Paramount Theatre in Aurora (February 16-March 24). Elton John and Lee Hall spin a working-class yarn of coal miners struggling with labor conditions in England during the Thatcher era and a motherless teenage boy who longs to be a ballet dancer. Don't forget to bring your hankies, everyone.
Fiddler On the Roof, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook (February 1-March 24). Sixty years after its premiere, the saga of Tevye and his family, and the ever-changing global conflicts that condemn them to perpetual migration, has lost none of its timeliness.
The Matchbox Magic Flute, Goodman Theatre in the Owen (February 10-March 10). Mary Zimmerman comes home to Chicago for the premiere of her fifteen-member company (ten actors, five musicians) performing Mozart's fanciful opera of fairies, dragons and giddy royals. "Mozart composed Symphony No. 1 in E Flat Major at the age of eight," the publicity reminds us, "Feel free to bring your little geniuses!"
The Band's Visit, Writers Theatre in Glencoe (February 16-March 17). Itamar Moses' multiple Tony-winning musical about a touring Egyptian orchestra's unexpected delay in a backwater Israeli village makes its Chicago-area debut with a cast featuring the always-charismatic Rom Barkhorder.
BIG TALK/BIG IDEAS
Richard III, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (February 2-March 3) Past productions have depicted Shakespeare's mobility-challenged villain flaunting crutches, wheelchairs and exobots, but the director who gave us the marathon butcher-block War of the Roses cycle in 2005 now proposes the disfigured evil prince portrayed by glamorous athlete/actor Katy Sullivan, wearing her own sleek, shiny titanium-steel prosthetic legs.
Antigone, Court Theatre (February 2-25) Sophocles wrote his examination of filial piety versus temporal government in 500 BC, but director Gabrielle Randle-Bent, concluding the trilogy with founding member Nicholas Rudall's translation of the text, promises to free its heroine's acts of civil disobedience from "the trap of martyrdom."
Notes From the Field, Timeline (February 7-March 24) It requires three actresses—Shariba Rivers, Adhana Reid and Mildred Marie Langford—to perform Anna Deavere Smith's docudrama, originally conceived as a solo show, mapping our society's predetermined pathway funneling school-age children to penal incarceration.
Tad in 5th City, MPAACT at the Greenhouse (February 1-March 2) Carla Stillwell's narrative, viewed through the eyes of a 10-year-old survivor and based on the poetry of Orron Kenyatta, is a testimony to the legacy of devastation still evidenced today left by the riots along Chicago's West Madison Street following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
The Reclamation of Madison Hemings, American Blues Theater (February 16-March 29). James Madison Hemings and Israel Gillette Jefferson were the real-life descendants of once-president Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, reunited following emancipation in Charles Smith's speculative history play premiering under the direction of Chuck Smith.
SMALL TALK/BIG IDEAS
Selling Kabul, Northlight Theater at North Shore Arts Center in Skokie (February 2-February 25). Taroon was a language interpreter for the United States in Afghanistan, but on the night of the allies' departure, while his wife is giving birth to their son in the hospital, he must remain in hiding from the Taliban and decide where his future lies.
TopDog/Underdog, Invictus Theatre Company at Windy City Playhouse (February 16-March 31). Suzan-Lori Parks' fable of two ill-starred brothers named Lincoln and Booth, marks the housewarming of the storefront-circuit Invictus troupe in its ritzy new loft-sized North Center quarters.
A home what howls (or the house that was ravine), Steppenwolf Theatre for Young Adults (February 7-March 2). Matthew Paul Olmos' world premiere play calls itself a "modern myth" of displaced communities, asking whether a lone young woman activist can protect her family from eviction in an unjust global economy.
Mothers, Gift Theatre (February 5-March 3) Anna Ouyang Moench presents us once again with a family circle—three moms, a stay-at-home dad and a nanny—sharing domestic woes in times of crisis, but subverts familiar tropes to explore new solutions arising from unexpected sources.
Brother Sister Cyborg Space, Raven Theatre (February 8-March 17). Environmental activist Giselle wants to save the world as we know it, billionaire sibling Elon wants to colonize unexplored territories, robot assistant Ava won't shut up—oh, and Terry Guest directs. Political Polemic, FamDram or Climate-Change Apocalyptica? See for yourself.
When You Awake You Will Remember Everything, The Plagiarists at the Edge Theater (February 2-March 2). The Titan is an exiled superhero in a comic book whose publisher's brother is missing-can an unlikely league of fantasy-nerds solve the mystery of a hospital patient, recently awakened from a coma, who claims to be the fictional warrior?
Wipeout, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble (February 29-March 30) When three septuagenarian ladies-played by the irrepressible Meg Thalken, Celeste Williams and Cindy Gold-sign up with a handsome young male instructor for surfing lessons, they not only learn to navigate the ocean waves, but the rest of their lives as well.
Sunsets: Two Acts on a Beach, Open Space Arts (February 2-18) Cal Yeomans broke artistic boundaries in the early 1970s with his candid-some even called them pornographic-depictions of gay sexual dynamics, but Uptown's Open Space Arts finds these museum pieces to be revival-worthy in 2024.
The Smuggler, Jackalope Theatre Company at the Berger Park Coach House (February 20-March 16) While Jackalope's studio shelters actual immigrants, a converted 1910-vintage carriage-house provides the setting for Ronan Noone's solo show about an Irish immigrant bartender whose road to success in a New England resort town leads him down some shady lanes.
Shakespeare's R & J, Pride Arts (February 22-March 24). The premise of four classmates at an all-girls prep school meeting in secret for an extracurricular reading of Shakespeare's romantic classic makes Joe Calarco's intimate glimpses of adolescent infatuation the perfect date for Valentine's night.
Mary Shen Barnidge