Despite spending a lot of time at the movies this year, I managed to fit in a handful of live theater, too – shows that stretched from Broadway to London and back to Chicago. I saw nine shows in all, which puts my theater attendance at less than once per month…maybe I was busier with movies than I realized!
Whether a Broadway revival or a local production of a classic, I enjoyed each show for different reasons. The coming year sees a touring production of Fun Home hitting Chicago and my NYC trip to see Hamilton on Broadway. Add in my ongoing effort to get to more local shows, I forecast another great year for me and the stage in 2016.
AVENUE Q – There are several shows I’ve never seen, yet I can still sing along to every word on the cast recordings. Until early 2015, Avenue Q was one of them. I finally got my act together and nabbed a ticket to a weeknight show at a theater literally three blocks from my Manhattan apartment. Go figure. Though the house was half empty (that’ll happen for a show that’s been around since 2003 without the heft of Les Mis or Phantom), the production was energetic and enjoyable, nonetheless.
ON THE TOWN – I couldn’t have known it when I saw Avenue Q, but my time in New York was winding down not long after, and the last show I caught on Broadway as a resident of the Big Apple was a fitting one: the classic story of three sailors on leave who have 24 hours off the boat to enjoy the city that never sleeps. I’ve loved the film since I was a kid, and the stage show, though lightweight, didn’t disappoint in its entertainment.
CAROUSEL – Speaking of films I’ve loved forever, Carousel is another classic that’s been a favorite for decades. It’s dark and dramatic in ways that other musicals of the time didn’t risk; in a way, it harkens back to the heavy subplots of Show Boat, one of the first musicals I ever fell in love with. With a production running for just a few short weeks from the Chicago Lyric Opera, I snagged a ticket without thinking twice.
BILLY ELLIOT – Not long after Carousel, I was off to London for a week with a dear friend, where we decided well in advance to catch a show in the West End. With a few options to choose from, we settled on Elton John’s musical adaptation of the 2000 feel-good film. Not the best show I saw all year, but the only one I saw in England so it holds its own in the record books of 2015.
BOOK OF MORMON – When my mom and I drove from Chicago to Utah in October 2012, we had a lot of time on the road to fill, and fill it we did. Mostly with conversation, but also with show tunes. Obvs. One we enjoyed a bit too much on the drive was Book Of Mormon, so high on the agenda when I moved back was finally seeing the show, which we did together in early summer, my gift to her for Mother’s Day and her birthday. Keepin’ it classy.
ALL OUR TRAGIC – As I settled into life in Chicago, I became determined to experience more of the local arts scene; a quick search for “best theater in Chicago” popped up this epic, so I dove in (after finding a discounted ticket – 9 hour stage shows aren’t cheap, apparently). An ambitious undertaking, All Our Tragic attempts to recount all the Greek tragedies in one sitting. They employ an ever-evolving chalkboard to track the developments of the 700-page script, and provide meals to keep you sustained for the long haul (that is entirely worth it, by the way).
PIPPIN – Since this one won the Best Revival Tony, I’d been meaning to catch it on Broadway but something else always caught my attention (and my meager expendable budget). So when the tour found its way to Chicago and I was in serious need of a distraction from a very stressful late summer, I found a seat in the balcony and took in the magic.
BEAUTIFUL – Looking back, I realize I took a bit of a hiatus on live theater between Pippin and Beautiful, as at least a couple months went by between the two. This one also falls under the “meant to see it on Broadway” umbrella as well. I’m not usually a fan of catalog shows, those mash-ups of an artist’s archives cobbled together to create a plot (I’m looking at you, stage production of Mama Mia). But Beautiful manages to cram in the feel-good classics around a life story that couldn’t possibly be convoluted, seeing how it’s one woman’s real story.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – Another feather in Chicago theater’s cap, I stumbled on to this charming experience that I would honestly make a tradition every holiday season, that’s how much I enjoyed it. A small theater, the production is equal parts intimate and professional, and en entirely heart-warming take on the classic film. If that bell ringing at the end doesn’t get you in the gut, you’re no friend of mine.