Just This

2016 [On Stage]

When you’re in the thick of a thing, it’s sometimes impossible to know how it’ll all turn out when it ends. Throughout the year, I didn’t really feel like I was getting to many shows, but as I look back at the list for 2016, I’m surprised it’s as healthy as it is. There it is in writing: ten shows, from local Chicago productions to Broadway blockbusters. What it lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality.

Body/Courage – One of my theatrical resolutions for 2016 was to make an effort to see more local productions, and I kicked it off early in the year with this one-woman show at Rivendell Theatre, a storefront community shop on the city’s north side. Presented in the round, it’s the story of one woman’s journey to self discovery and the family history that shaped her. Though not a perfectly-crafted production, it’s a very personal story shared with twenty or so people at a time.

The Flick – I continued my local production fling with a show at Steppenwolf, my first time catching a show at this Chicago institution. I chose The Flick, a pensive play about a local movie theater and the employees who tear the tickets and sweep the floors. Strong production value paired with high-caliber performances bolster the otherwise sparse dialogue and sometimes gloomy outlook of the show.

Hamilton – I’ve already written a few words about this one. I’ll leave it at that.

The King & I – I actually forgot about this one this year until a quick look at my own past posts and saw one about it. It’s so me to catch this one for the reasons I did: I missed it in New York, it got great reviews, and you know, just generally loving the story and songs and all. I can still remember tearing up with joy during the iconic waltz.

Little Shop of Horrors – After seeing It’s a Wonderful Life at American Blues Theater over the holidays last year, I was sold on this local theater’s production quality. So when friends visited from out of town, I wholeheartedly recommended we catch this show, and we were not disappointed. They manage to transform a small space into a new world with impressive sets and costumes, and a company as talented as they get. Add in the beer they let you take into the theater and we all had a blast.

Newsies – I had a ticket to see the Chicago production of Newsies, a personal favorite. But I managed to find a buyer online for the single ticket when I realized it was scheduled for the same night as Hillary Clinton’s big speech at the Democratic National Convention. I’ll see Newsies again the next time it comes through Chicago.

Hamilton (Chicago) – Back in February or March, I noticed a friend’s Facebook post about a friend of hers with two tickets to spare to the opening run of Hamilton in Chicago for October. Needless to say, I snatched them up. In a happy coincidence, my kid brother was game to see it with me, which made it all the more enjoyable, seeing him see his first Broadway-caliber show. And what a show to start with; though no Lin/Leslie/Daveed/Renee/Philippa ensemble, the Chicago cast is a strong crew bringing a new iteration of this modern classic to life.

Fun Home – Another on my Missed It In NYC list, I managed to get in a night with this production just as the Festival wrapped up. A fast show without even an intermission, it’s nonetheless quiet poignant, the story of Alison Bechdel’s coming out and coming to terms with her family of dysfunction. I would’ve liked to catch it in its original run, where it was presented in the round. This stage design still worked, each area of the stage morphing into new sets as the story progressed.

Cats – I knew when I booked my ticket to New York for November that I’d try to see this one. The first musical I ever saw in the theater, it was a special treat to see it back on Broadway. I snagged a ticket in the first row of the balcony and despite some disruptions during the first act with folks trying to scam seats that weren’t theirs, it was a night full of nostalgia. After thirty-five years, the show filled with prancing, twirling, gyrating performers dressed as cats is more than a little absurd. And yet, I loved every minute of it.

Waitress – The other show I caught in New York, it was a tip from a friend who suggested the performance followed by Cast Album Karaoke, a new-to-me marketing gimmick where show creator Sara Bareillis emceed actual karaoke of songs from the show by audience members. Surprisingly well-done (with a few exceptions), it was the perfect coda to a charming, heartwarming show. Based on the movie of the same name, powerhouse Jesse Meuller (who flawlessly created the role of Carol King in Beautiful) stars as a small-town waitress who finds herself pregnant, in love with her OB/GYN, and channeling all her emotions into the pies she bakes.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – I’ve been waiting for this one forever. Another I didn’t catch in NYC, I also had a chance to see it in London but passed when my travelmate preferred seeing Billy Elliott. So when I saw ages ago the touring production was headed to Chicago, I knew I’d find a night and be there. It’s a magical production, if not in the story about an autistic teen coming to terms with his parents’ divorce, then in the stage design that sees an LED screen cover every surface of the stage and light up to create various sets and effects. The whole approach, combined with a script (based on the book) that is evocative and compassionate, makes for entirely unique theater.

In the end, it was a good year for me at the theater to say the least. As I look ahead to 2017, there are a few shows coming to Chicago I’d like to catch, and I’ll certainly make plans to see a few on trips back to NYC, and perhaps in some travels as well. Whether I make it to another ten shows or twice as many, it’ll be time well spent.