11:18 AM CDT, May 3, 2012
Here is one word to describe the current summer offerings in our great Midwestern capital of live theatrical entertainment: Thin.
Sure, we're buzzing through June, what with Nathan Lane, "Timon of Athens" and the TBS Just for Laughs Festival, which is offering a particularly robust and compelling slate of comedic shows this year, ranging from "Stuffed and Unstrung" to live tapings byConan O'Brien. And with"War Horse," "Kinky Boots," "The Book of Mormon" and all kinds of other shows, the fall is positively frenetic. But during peak tourist season in July and August, the offerings are not exactly world class.
At press time, there are no shows announced for the Bank of America Theatre. None for the Oriental Theatre. None for the Cadillac Palace Theatre. None for the Auditorium Theatre. "The Doyle & Debbie Show," a fun time, is exiting the Royal George Cabaret Theatre, and if "Motherhood the Musical" makes it through the summer on the Royal George main stage, I'll give birth myself. Nothing new has been announced for the Royal George.
There are few openings on Broadway in the summer, you might be thinking, so what's the difference? Carry-over shows are the difference there, although after this season in New York, there may also be some empty real estate in Midtown.
Still, we're not even remotely competitive. There is a sit-down production of the Broadway musical "Rock of Ages" at the Broadway Playhouse. It will be interesting to see how that retro feast of headbanging and power ballads does in a smaller venue — it might well be a good time — but it's a non-Equity show, alas.
The new Riverfront Playhouse, a big tent sitting astride the Chicago River at the Tribune's Freedom Center printing plant, is a promising addition to the city's slate of venues. There are few things nicer on a summer night than mingling and drinking in an attractive outdoor environment and then heading indoors for a show under a marquee. But this initial slate of attractions, awfully heavy on tenors and tribute-type shows, is not exactly cutting-edge entertainment.
We'll have to see how it all plays out. At least "La Soiree," the hipster circus coming to the Riverfront in July, features well-respected artists.
Broadway in Chicago and other presenters say they're still working on shows, so perchance this grim state of affairs will improve before Memorial Day. And one has to sympathize with presenters — many past summer efforts, such as the Blues Brothers musical brought in by the Auditorium Theatre, have fizzled. But in the meantime, what will you do with those summer visitors?
The Goodman Theatre, which is staging Regina Taylor's "Crowns" this summer, is well positioned to take advantage of the lack of competition downtown. This likely will be a souped-up production of a show that celebrates the gorgeous hats popular in the African-American community, especially on Sundays. "Crowns" was a huge hit in regional theaters when it showed up on the scene in the late 1990s, but it never has played Broadway, where the Goodman surely would like to see this new production head in the fall. That's maybe a long shot, but a summer extension in Chicago is far more doable.
Goodman also is hosting the new play by Paul Oakley Stovall, "Immediate Family," as directed by Phylicia Rashad. Maybe that one will have legs in the Loop. Showing its usual disdain for populist summer fare — second only to its disdain for wholesome Christmas entertainment — Steppenwolf Theatre is doing Chekhov: "Three Sisters," as translated by Tracy Letts. Pass the margaritas.
The other show with designs on a long summer run is the American Theater Company production of "Rent," as directed by David Cromer, who now is something of a brand — an insider brand, anyway — all by himself. ATC has let Cromer totally pull its space apart and reconfigure it for his show. And it has cleared its decks until the fall. If it's a hit, and "Rent"-heads abound in Chicago, look for the show to play all summer, albeit in a venue not exactly on the tourist track.
Next year should be busier. At least "The Book of Mormon" will be playing downtown. God willing.
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