42nd Street Rebellious Theater Gift Guide

“What to get the person who has everything?” is a question that coexists with nearly every “happy holidays” declaration. Luckily, the joy of experiencing live theater needs no return receipt, especially when gifting seats to the following favorite revivals and Chicago premieres.

42nd Street
Before “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent,” the only way for an aspiring singer (and hoofer) to break into showbiz was to understudy a Broadway role and wait for the lead to break an ankle. Such is the stuff star-making dreams are made of in “42nd Street,” the Tony Award-winning musical comedy that utters the immortal line, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”

Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes with book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, the Depression-era revival features such toe-tapping classics as “We’re In The Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and, of course, “42nd Street,” written by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics). Under the direction of Michael Heitzman, the new production showcases the singing, dancing and acting talents of Suzzanne Douglas, Gene Weygandt, Kimberly Immanuel, Phillip AttmoreJustin Brill, Donica Lynn, Brandon Springman, Cedric Young, Erica Evans and Sierra Schnack, as well as choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Roberta Duchak, scenic design by Collette Pollard, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Ray Nardelli, and music arrangements by Everett Bradley.

“42nd Street” can be seen (and heard) now through Jan. 7, 2018, at Drury Lane Theatre 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets ($42-$62) and more information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com or call 630-530-8300.

Five Mile Lake
The spirit of Chekhovian themes and David Bowie’s song “Changes” meet in “Five Mile Lake,” a Rachel Bonds play that follows five Pennsylvanians trying to improve their lives before they turn 30. “The writing in ‘Five Mile Lake’ is a gift to actors as they explore the tension between what the characters say and what they feel,” says Sandy Shinner, the producing artistic director at Shattered Globe Theatre, which is staging the Chicago premiere next year.

According to director Cody Estle, the play is “a funny and moving portrait of small town people – both the people who stayed and the people who moved away. Sometimes everyone else’s life looks better from a distance, but what really defines happiness? Coming from a small town myself and being around the age of these characters brings a special connection – it’s a story that I’m eager to tell. It’s filled with family, dreams and hope – I think it will engage, move and inspire audiences.”

Shattered Globe Theatre’s premiere production of “Five Mile Lake” performs through Feb. 24, 2018, at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., in Chicago. Preview performances ($20 for general admission, $10 for students, $10 for industry tickets with code FRIEND) begin Jan. 11. Tickets for the regular run ($35 for general admission, $15 for students, $28 for seniors, $20 for patrons under 30, and $15 for industry tickets on Thursdays with code INDUSTRY) are available at www.ShatteredGlobe.org. For group discounts, visit GroupSales@ShatteredGlobe.org or call 773-770-0333.

Hard Times Theater Gift Guide
Cordelia Dewdney, Audrey Anderson, Ensemble Members Louise Lamson and Raymond Fox in “Hard Times.” Photo by Liz Lauren.

Hard Times
It’s been more than 15 years since Lookingglass Theatre performed “Hard Times” in Chicago, and for theater patrons, book lovers and fans of Victoriana, it’s been well worth the wait. This subtle social satire has something for everyone, including a circus! Presented in association with The Actors Gymnasium, director/writer Heidi Stillman’s flawless adaptation literally leaps off the pages of the Charles Dickens classic as colorful acrobats soar above the rigid and roaming inhabitants of a grim industrial metropolis called Coketown.

Ever relevant, the story juxtaposes the haves and have-nots while weighing the merits of right vs. wrong, and logic vs. imagination. Dickens makes the point, “there is a wisdom of the head” and more importantly, “a wisdom of the heart” to apply when making milestone decisions or taking life-altering actions that affect others. In this case, the others are a cast of characters ranging from the good, the bad and the ugly inhabited by ensemble members David Catlin, Raymond Fox, Louise Lamson, and Troy West, as well as Atra Asdou, Audrey Anderson, Amy J. Carle, Raphael Cruz, Cordelia Dewdney, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Nathan Hosner and JJ Phillips.

“Hard Times” performs through Jan. 14, 2018, at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave., in Chicago. For tickets ($40-$85) and more information, visit www.LookingglassTheatre.org or call 312-337-0665.

Nice Girl
Pop culture critics claim 1984 is one of the poppiest of years on record, what with the release of albums (remember albums?) like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Prince’s “Purple Rain,” as well as teen blockbusters “The Karate Kid,” “Footloose” and “Sixteen Candles.” The year also marked the debut of the MTV Video Music Awards, which showcased Madonna performing “Like a Virgin” (though it was Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” that took the Best Female Video prize).

Yet amid the surge of celebrated success,1984 also was a time when people in real life faced less glamorous fates. Take the 37-year-old singleton who Melissa Ross writes about in her humorous and heartfelt play “Nice Girl.” Under the direction of Lauren Shouse, the heroine exclaims, “This isn’t the life I thought I’d be living. I’m a spinster who lives at home with her mother! I had a scholarship to Radcliffe, and I’m a secretary!” Fortunately, romance may be brewing in the background of this role-reversed “Marty”-like play.

The Chicago premiere starts with previews ($32, $29 if purchased online) on Jan. 24 and an official run slated from Feb. 2 through March 11, 2018, at Raven Theatre East Stage, 6157 N. Clark St., in Chicago. Tickets are $46 ($43 if purchased online); $41 ($38 if purchased online) for seniors/teachers; and $15 for students, active military and veterans. Patrons younger than 30 years old may be admitted for $15 on Under 30 Thursdays. To order, visit www.RavenTheatre.com or call 773-338-2177.

Sweet Texas Reckoning
Come spring, Chicagoans will enjoy warmer weather, longer days, and the Midwest premiere of “Sweet Texas Reckoning” by Traci Godfrey, who audiences may recognize from her roles on “Law & Order Criminal Intent” and “The Sopranos,” among other TV shows. As a playwright, Godfrey creates a dysfunctional family com-dram that balances humor and heartbreak with some sweet rewards. Think “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” —  if the daughter was a liberated lesbian bringing her pregnant African-American wife home to her bigoted Southern Baptist mother.

“I’m happy to brag that the staged reading of ‘Sweet Texas Reckoning’ was the undisputed audience fave from Artemisia’s Fall Festival 2016,” says Executive Artistic Director Julie Proudfoot, who will be directing the premiere production at Edgewater’s Frontier Theatre in June 2018. In addition to being named the Artemisia Fall Festival 2016 Audience Favorite, “Sweet Texas Reckoning” was the first place winner of the New Works of Merit 2016 International Competition.

Single tickets go on sale Jan. 1, 2018, however early ticket sales are offered with Artemisia’s VIP Pass. For $25, the pass includes reserved seating to “Sweet Texas Reckoning” as well as a host of other perks, such as admittance to the company’s Fall Festival 2018. Group Tickets are also available. Find out more by visiting ArtemisiaTheatre.org or by calling 312-725-3780.

The true meaning of beauty is unmasked in “Violet,” Griffin Theatre Company’s revival of the Tony-nominated play featuring a rock, folk and gospel score composed by Jeanine Tesori, with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley. Based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, the musical follows Violet Karl, a facially disfigured woman who travels through the deep south in the mid-1960s. As she searches for a faith healer to help her, she encounters others who wind up transforming her life.

In the title role, Nicole Laurenzi leads the cast that includes Will Lidke, Stephen Allen, Matt Miles, and Maya Lou Hlava, with Connor Baty, Brianna Buckley, Nick Druzbanski, Sarah Hayes, Anthony Kayer, and LaShera Zenise Moore. The behind-the-scenes team includes Scott Weinstein (direction), John Cockerill (musical direction), Lauren Nigri (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Alexander Ridgers (lighting design), Keegan Bradac (sound design), Jamie Karas (properties design), and Kasey Alfonso (choreographer).

“Violet” performs at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Mainstage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, from Nov. 26, 2017, through Jan. 13, 2018. For tickets (previews $30, regular run $42, students/seniors and veterans $25-$37) and more information, visit www.griffintheatre.com or call 773-697-3830. Discounts for groups of 10 or more are also available.

The Wolves
Not since “The Crucible” has a gang of girls emitted as much raw adolescent energy as the nine high school soccer players do in “The Wolves,” a play that The New York Times hailed as one of the best of 2016. Everything from school buses to sanitary pads to snake-handling is discussed by a team of teens as they stretch themselves and kick girl power into high gear. Written by Sarah DeLappe (who received the American Playwriting Foundation’s inaugural Relentless Award for this work) and directed by Vanessa Stalling, “The Wolves” presents a layered portrait of young women navigating friendships and maturity as they ready themselves for the big game, and the world.

“The Wolves” performs from Feb. 9 through March 11, 2018, in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., in Chicago. Tickets go on sale Friday, Dec. 8, however gift certificates (which can be purchased in any denomination and redeemed for single tickets or used toward subscriptions) are available now. On the date of the play, patrons will receive a special discount at Government Center Self Park, adjacent to the theater on the southeast corner of Clark and Lake streets.

In addition, Goodman Theatre provides special seating options, open captioned performances, ASL interpreted performances and audio described performances. For details on these offerings, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/access. For additional information, visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org or call 312-443-3800.

(Top photo credit: Kimberly Immanuel, center, and the cast of “42nd Street.” Photo by Brett Beiner.)

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.