City Stories

2018 [on stage]

I broke a personal record of sorts in 2018: thanks to exceptional access via Third Coast Review (hello, media tickets!), I saw a whopping 35 theatrical productions over the course of twelve months. From storefront productions to world-class opera and everything in between, there were weeks I saw several shows in a row. And of course, who can forget that super-festive holiday run in December. (To put this all in perspective, consider this: I only saw seven shows in 2017!)

There are several highlights (and low-lights) that come to mind when I look back on the full list of shows (recorded below for posterity). Generally speaking, I’m most grateful for the insight these thirty-odd productions gave me into Chicago’s vibrant theater scene. Growing up, I used to ask for tickets to touring shows for Christmas (thanks, Mom!); back then, I was enamored with the Broadway musicals making their way through town. Now, I get to take in so much more, and it’s true what they say: Chicago is a theater city. (Does anyone say that? I’m saying it!)

Easily my favorite discovery of 2018 is Porchlight Music Theatre, Chicago’s very own home for stellar musical theater productions. Last year, I caught Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along; the mid-century set Memphis; and a contemporary take on Gypsy, all of which knocked my socks off. From casting to production value, this unassuming venue in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast consistently presents some of the best shows in the city. Already, I’m looking forward to what they have in store in 2019.

The rest of the top of my list is an eclectic mix, from a magic-infused production of MacBeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (another venue with consistently solid offerings) to seeing the Chicago-centric version of The Nutcracker, presented by the Joffrey Ballet, for the second year in a row (something of a new tradition, perhaps?). Several of those touring productions delivered solid performances, from the Tony-winning play The Humans to a stirring revival of The Color Purple.

Locally, I was thoroughly impressed by Windy City Playhouse’s immersive presentation of Southern Gothic, a show about an intimate birthday party in the mid-1960s where you’re one of the guests observing the action. It’s become so popular the company has optioned a theater on the southside to present an open-ended run. For the third year in a row, I caught It’s A Wonderful Life presented as a live radio play, and it was as endearing as ever. Other highlights include catching Hamilton again this year (third time!); seeing La Boheme for the first time (the opera on which Rent is based); and treating myself to a ticket to Come From Away while in Toronto for a business trip.

Of course, when you see nearly three dozen shows in a year, not everything can be a winner, and I certainly sat through a few duds. So bad I can laugh about it now, at the time I was pretty upset to have suffered through an awful The Spitfire Grill, presented in a cramped diner with bad actors. Shows like Cal in Camo and Pamplona (starring Stacy Keach, no less) certainly meant well in their efforts but just fell short for me. Even a year-end production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a favorite Shakespeare comedy, fell a bit short with flat performances and out-of-place dance numbers.

Here’s everything I saw on stage in 2018 (I’ve linked to my full reviews where there are ones to share):

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