Fall theater in Chicago: highlights of the upcoming season

The national touring production of “Hamilton” arrives in Chicago on Sept. 13.

Copyright Joan Marcus

Theaters across the country, including those in Chicago, are facing unprecedented issues that began with the pandemic shutdown, which, over time, served to highlight many other pre-pandemic woes — an aging audience, the invasion of stay-at-home streaming entertainment and the decline of theater subscriptions.

   Yes, there is much to mourn on the theater scene as companies have for a myriad of reasons closed or slowed down their production schedules while others continue to face an uncertain future.

   But there is also much to celebrate and support as a new theater season gets underway at both the larger houses and storefront establishments that continue to make the Chicago theater scene unique. 

   “Theater is an important part of the cultural and vibrant fabric of Chicago, adding to the soul and character of our city,” says Marissa Lynn Jones, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres, adding that the fall season “is full of theater, music, dance and comedy productions, giving people a reason to leave their homes and take in a show.”

   Driving the season are new touring musicals including pre-Broadway runs and the return of old friends (“Hamilton” arrives at the Nederlander Theatre on Sept. 13; visit broadwayinchicago.com), premieres of innovative new work and the return of classics that never get old.

   So whether it’s downtown or in the neighborhoods or suburbs, step out to the theater and enjoy, as the lights go down, that sense of wonder only found in live theater.

   Here are some highlights of the very long list of comedies, dramas and musicals offered this season by local theaters in city and suburbs.

   Discounted tickets for many fall shows are available at hottix.org.

Kate Fry stars in “Birthday Candles.”

Jeffrey L. Kurysz

“Birthday Candles,” Sept. 7-Oct. 8, Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, $39-$89 (northlight.org).

Playwright Noah Haidle always has an interesting take on the human condition which is often poetic and surreal. This play, directed by Jessica Thebus, is no exception as it traces the ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, moments in the life of Ernestine (the always wonderful Kate Fry) from her 17th birthday to her 101st and the family tree that grows around her. 

“Welcome to Mattteson!,” Sept. 6-Oct. 1, Northwestern University’s Wirtz Theatre, Abbott Hall, 710 N. DuSable Lake Shore Dr., $45 (congosquaretheatre.org).

Congo Square Theatre’s 25th season gets underway with this world premiere by Chicago playwright Inda Craig-Galvan. The dark comedy, directed by Ericka Ratcliff, explores gentrification as two Black couples — one displaced from Cabrini-Green housing and relocated to suburban Matteson, the other longtime residents of the suburb — confront their issues as tensions rise at a dinner party. 

Eileen Niccolai (from left) plays Beatrice, Scott Aiello is Eddie and Isabelle Muthiah plays Catherine in Shattered Globe Theatre’s “A View From the Bridge.”

Jeffrey L Kurysz

“A View from the Bridge,” Sept. 8-Oct. 21, Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, $15-$52 (sgtheatre.org).

Louis Contey, who staged Shattered Globe Theatre’s stunning 1993 production of Arthur Miller’s drama, returns to once again direct the play that put SGT on the map 30 years ago. An operatic tragedy, the 1955 play is the story of the unraveling of a working-class Italian-American family after two young men, illegal immigrants from Italy, arrive to stay with them.

“The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years,” Sept. 16-Oct. 15, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, $25-$90 (goodmantheatre.org).

Pearl Cleage’s comedy opens the first season under the leadership of new artistic director Susan V. Booth. The centerpiece to a citywide salute to Cleage, the play follows six African American debutantes about to be introduced to a world of wealth, privilege and social responsibility. Lili-Anne Brown directs a cast lead by E. Faye Butler, Ora Jones, Tyla Abercrumbie and Demetra Dee.

Mayer (Joey Slotnick, front), Henry (Mitchell Fain, center), and Emanuel Lehman (Anish Jethmalani) dream of the possibilities of establishing a lasting family in TimeLine Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere production of “The Lehman Trilogy.”

Joe Mazza/brave lux, inc

“The Lehman Trilogy,” Sept. 19-Oct. 29, Broadway Playhouse, Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, $30-$90 (broadwayinchicago.com).

TimeLine Theatre teams with Broadway in Chicago for the highly anticipated local premiere of Stefano Massini and Ben Power’s multiple Tony Award-winning drama that reaches across 164 years of history to trace the Lehman family and the financial institution that would eventually bring the global economy to its knees. The cast — Mitchell Fain, Anish Jethmalani and Joey Slotnick — is co-directed by Nick Bowling and Vanessa Stalling.

“Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival,” Sept. 28-Nov. 9, various locations and prices (destinosfest.org).

Always a winning entry in the fall season, this festival offers an exciting overload of work showcasing Latino theater artists from Chicago, the U.S. and Latin America. Presented by the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, the roster ranges from new solo shows to large scale productions.

“A Wonderful World,” Oct. 11-29, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, $35-$105 (broadwayinchicago.com).

A new musical in a pre-Broadway run about jazz legend Louis Armstrong’s journey, as told from the perspective of his four wives, from the birth of jazz in his native New Orleans through his international stardom, all shadowed by the complex history of race in America. The show features songs recorded and made popular by Armstrong, who is portrayed by Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart (“Aladdin”).  

“¡Bernarda!,” Oct. 18-Nov. 19, Steppenwolf 1700 Theater, 1700 N. Halsted (teatrovista.org).

Teatro Vista stages Emilio Williams’ innovative adaptation of “The House of Bernarda Alba,” which challenges the traditional and brings a contemporary relevance to the Federico Garcia Lorca’s classic drama about sexual repression and a mother’s misguided attempt to protect her daughters. Wendy Mateo directs an all femme BIPOC cast and an all femme creative team.

“POTUS, or Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive,” Oct. 26-Dec. 3, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, $20-$114 (steppenwolf.org).

In Selina Fillinger’s comedy, seven women in the inner circle of the president of the United States find their job challenging when his sex-related scandals careen out of control. Audrey Francis directs a powerhouse cast: Celeste M. Cooper, Sandra Marquez, Caroline Neff, Karen Rodriguez, Karen Aldridge, Chloe Baldwin and Meighan Gerachis.

“BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical,” Nov. 19-Dec. 24, CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, $28-$106 (broadwayinchciago.com). In the works for more than a decade and arriving in a pre-Broadway run, this has the workings of a fun time as cartoon queen Betty Boop dreams of an ordinary day off from super celebrity in her black-and-white world which, of course, leads to a very colorful, jazzy adventure. Created by Grammy Award-winning composer David Foster, lyricist Susan Birkenhead and book writer Bob Martin, it’s helmed by director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

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