This spring, Chicago’s theater and opera artists are staging provoking, inclusive and forward-thinking plays and musicals, including several that shed light on our most vulnerable.
Now, the question is — will Chicagoans get out to see them? Reports have shown live show attendance in Chicago is down 15% to 20% below pre-pandemic levels.
This list is part of a weeklong celebration of spring culture in the city. Here are our picks for 12 productions that are vibrant and bold and are worth getting off the couch for.
How Blood Go
When: Now through April 23
Where: Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre
Congo Square Theatre Company’s How Blood Go is a futuristic story that explores the complicated relationship between Black Americans and our country’s health care system. The narrative centers around Quinntasia, a woman who learns that her body is actually an experimental device, and when activated makes her appear white to health professionals. Playwright Lisa Langford’s own grandfather was a patient in the Tuskegee syphilis study, so the piece feels reflective and personal.
Info: Congo Square Theatre Company at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets are $35. Students and seniors pay $20.
Describe the Night
When: Now through April 19
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre
In Describe the Night, what’s true and what’s fiction is up for you to decide. The reality bender introduces real historical figures but inserts them into Playwright Rajiv Joseph’s version of events, ricocheting between soldiers, poets, KGB agents and babushkas through 90 years of history. Don’t worry: You don’t need to be a Soviet history buff to enjoy the show, or to understand how Joseph’s past informs our present.
Info: At The Steppenwolf Ensemble Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets are $42 to $58.
When: March 24 to April 8
Where: Lyric Opera House
With Proximity, Chicago’s celebrated opera house puts on a trio of new works, The Walkers, Four Portraits and Night, that grapple with a variety of modern issues — from technology’s impact on human relationships to gun violence and the environment. The triple threat bill gives audience goers a snapshot of 21st Century life on a micro and macro level and brims with recognized talent. Winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Grammy Awards, and the MacArthur Genius Grant are behind the shows.
Info: Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr. Tickets are $40 to $310.
The Cherry Orchard
When: April 1 through April 30
Where: The Goodman Theatre
The plot of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is full of new beginnings, endings and bittersweet departures — a fitting story arc as the final act for the Goodman Theater’s artistic director Robert Falls. After nearly 40 years of transformative work in Chicago’s theater community, Falls is stepping down. Falls has already tackled Checkhov’s Three Sisters, The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. By directing The Cherry Orchard, he will have left his mark on all four of Chekhov’s major plays.
Info: The Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets are $25 to $60
The Threepenny Opera
When: Now through April 30
Where: Theo Ubique
Perhaps a 1928 German opera doesn’t sound like the most current piece of theater, but legendary writer Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera tackles themes of censorship, greedy capitalism and corruption that finds its way to elected city officials — timeless issues. Staged by the cabaret aficionados at Theo Ubique, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the show is bound to be an intimate and sexy experience, with powerhouse singing and food and drinks to boot.
Info: At Theo Ubique, 721 Howard Street, Evanston. Tickets are $50 to $85.
Last Night and the Night Before
When: April 6 to May 14
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre
In Last Night and the Night Before, playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays balances darkness and humor in a story about a mother-daughter pair fleeing a traumatic event in their hometown of Southern, Georgia. What they are running from, and why, drives the plot. Grays is currently under commission with Steppenwolf, and has established herself a strong voice in the charge to create more inclusive and accessible theater spaces. The show is a dedication to Black, queer and familial love.
Info: At Steppenwolf, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets are $48 to $72.
Jagged Little Pill
When: April 11 to April 23
Where: James M. Nederlander Theatre
The New York Times called it the Jukebox musical that “finally fixed the jukebox.” Alanis Morissette has been the queen of grungy teenage wisdom since the mid 90s, so it’s no surprise that her music lends itself so brilliantly to a musical about imperfect American family life and the love and heartbreak that comes with coming of age. The show is directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Waitress, Pippin, 1776), has a Tony-winning book by Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body), as well as a Grammy-winning score. You oughta go.
Info: At the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets from $31 to $111.
The Gospel at Colonus
When: May 12 to June 11
Where: The Court Theatre
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this African American musical takes inspiration from the classic myth of Oedipus. But this production promises new depth and understanding to the mother loving tragedy. The show focuses both on redemption and exile — what it means for refugees who fear a new community will not accept them. Scored with the power of gospel music, it is soulful, stirring and unique.
Info: At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. Tickets are $23.50 to $51.50
The Dream King
When: May 17 through June 18
Where: Chopin Theatre
The Dream King, put on by Latino theater company Teatro Vista, is a silent musical. If that feels like an oxymoron, that’s the point. The show takes its inspiration from Chaplin-era silent movies, with the background music acting like a film score. The show is created by composer and actor Marvin Quijada, who is known for his work in miming and clowning.
Info: Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St. Ticket price $35 for previews, $45 for the main run.
Lucy and Charlie‘s Honeymoon
When: May 24 to August 13
Where: Lookingglass Theatre
Composed and written by actor-musician Matthew C. Yee, Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon follows the escapades of two first generation Asian American newlyweds on the run. The show plays with traditional notions of Asian American identity by firmly rooting the piece in western Americana. The original folk and country soundtrack was composed by Yee, a Lookingglass company member who recently had his Broadway debut in Almost Famous the Musical.
Info: Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave.
When: April 28 and 29
Where: Shoreacres and the Ragdale campus
This literary event at the nationally acclaimed artist residency in Lake Forest likely will draw a who’s who of fiction writers, poets and playwrights. The lineup includes Nawaaz Ahmed, Peter Ho Davies, Paul Natkin and Sarah Ruhl. The event is not just a celebration of the writers and artists who are speaking, but an ode to the importance of art in our community and the way we pass these beliefs to the next generation.
Info: Shoreacres in Lake Bluff, 1601 Shore Acres Rd, and the Ragdale campus, 1260 N Green Bay Rd, Lake Forest. Tickets start at $150
What the Constitution Means to Me
When: May 10 to July 2
Where: Timeline Theatre Company
Those who participated in high school debate know that it’s not just an analytical exercise — it’s a performance. Heidi Schreck’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, What the Constitution Means to Me, is a cheeky and powerful human debate-meets-play that focuses on women and the founding document that impacts their lives. With the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, this play gains particularly fresh meaning.
Info: At Timeline Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets are $25 to $62.