The first half of 2016 promises an abundance of theatrical riches in Chicago. Shakespeare400, the citywide celebration of all things Shakespeare, gets under way. Several notable tours wend their way through Chicago, and, in most cases, you'll have to move fast. The major regional houses are staging several epic works, including the latest from Robert Falls. And Chicago's pulse, the city's storefront theaters, offer numerous Chicago, American and world premieres of new dramas from around the world.
Here are 10 especially promising selections, though there could have been at least 50 shows on this list. Enjoy what we have. And a very happy new year.
"Bruise Easy": American Theater Company had a huge hit with Dan LaFranc's "The Big Meal," and it now premieres the latest drama from this resonant scribe known for his poetic and sensitive depictions of modern middle-class life in America. Directed by Joanie Schultz, "Bruise Easy" is about two returning-to-suburbia adult siblings (one of whom is pregnant) striking up a conversation in the driveway of the home in which both grew up. Kelly O'Sullivan and Matt Farabee star. Jan. 8-Feb. 14, American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St.; www.atcweb.org
"The Flick": Annie Baker's widely acclaimed play, the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is set in the world of movies, but centers on three lonely, minimum-wage employees who sweep the floor between screenings. As with much of Baker's intensely literate work, "The Flick" explores issues of class, inequality and the sadness of very small lives. Dexter Bullard returns to the Steppenwolf Theatre to direct the Chicago premiere; his cast includes Will Allan, Danny McCarthy, Caroline Neff and Travis Turner. Feb. 4-May 8, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St.; www.steppenwolf.org
"Hazel": A pre-Broadway tryout in Oakbrook Terrace, the new musical "Hazel" is based both on the popular Saturday Evening Post cartoon strip and the 1960s TV sitcom starring Shirley Booth, each recounting the adventures of a feisty, opinionated live-in maid. This all-new show features a book by Lissa Levin, a score by Ron Abel and Chuck Steffan and direction by Joshua Bergasse, known for his work on the NBC show "Smash." Set in the 1960s, the retro show will star Klea Blackhurst, a popular Mama Rose of the past, in the title role. March 31-May 29, Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace; www.drurylanetheatre.com
"If/Then": The first national tour of the complex 2014 Broadway musical, which was better than some believed in New York, arrives in Chicago. It's all about a 40ish New York woman confronted with, and haunted by, the many choices of modern life. With beautiful music by Tom Kitt and a rich (maybe too rich) book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, "If/Then" is an unusual but worthy exploration of modern maturity and the perils of wondering what might have been. The original star, Idina Menzel, will not be in the show in Chicago. No matter, one hopes. Feb. 23-March 6, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.; www.broadwayinchicago.com
"Matilda the Musical": One of the best family-friendly musicals ever to appear in London's West End and on Broadway, "Matilda" is based on the happily anarchic Roald Dahl novel about a protofeminist young girl whom life deals some tough blows, but whose intelligence and spirit allows her to triumph over the inferior authority figures who love to stand in her way. This adaptation, featuring a book by Dennis Kelly and a score by Tim Minchin, captures all of the crucial Dahl qualities of defiance and empowerment while serving up so much raw and nostalgic emotion, parents likely will find themselves awash in tears. The Chicago run, alas, is much shorter than the show deserves. March 22-April 10, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.; www.broadwayinchicago.com
"Measure for Measure": Part of Shakespeare400, the Chicago festival honoring the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, this production of the consummate Shakespearean problem play is the work of two globally powerful companies — Britain's Cheek by Jowl and Russia's Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre. Declan Donnellan directs a staging that recasts the play as a portrait of modern-day Russia. The visiting international company of actors will be in Chicago for just one week. Jan. 27-31, Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier; www.chicagoshakes.com
"Mothers and Sons": The notable Chicago actress Cindy Gold stars in the first Chicago-area production of the under-appreciated Broadway play by Terrence McNally, exploring the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s from our current vantage point, and focusing in on a bereaved mother who must accept that her late son's partner has gone on with his life in a changed world for gay Americans. On Broadway, this was a moving portrait of the long-term effects of loss, along with a reminder of how quickly we forget the pain of other people. Jan. 22-Feb. 28, Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; www.northlight.org
"Posh": Jonathan Berry, now an artistic associate at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, returns to his old Steep Theatre storefront stomping grounds to direct the U.S. premiere of a much-admired new play by the British writer Laura Wade. Concerned with an elite dining club at Oxford University — and therefore issues of class and privilege — "Posh" was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 2010. The Chicago cast includes Alex Gilmore and Kendra Thulin. Jan. 21-Feb. 22, Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave.; www.steeptheatre.com
"Satchmo at the Waldorf": This Off-Broadway play with music about the incomparable trumpet player Louis Armstrong was penned by Terry Teachout, theater critic for The Wall Street Journal, and receives its Chicago premiere at the Court Theatre under the direction of Charles Newell. It's a biographical drama but also a celebration of the great American improvisational art form. The actor Barry Shabaka Henley stars as Armstrong, and the show will be surrounded by programming celebrating Armstrong's contribution to Chicago's South Side. Jan. 7-Feb. 7, Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.; www.courttheatre.org
"2666": Robert Falls, no stranger to the magnum opus, takes on the famously unadaptable novel by the great Chilean writer Roberto Bolano. Published posthumously in 2004 and variously regarded as a masterpiece, a literary labyrinth and an epic with a plethora of narrative strands, this massive work is concerned with violence, death and the other apocalyptic qualities of life in the 20th century. Since the work is some 900 pages long in the English translation, expect a running time of five hours or more. "2066," the experimental centerpiece of the Goodman season, was funded by lottery winner Roy Cockrum, in perhaps the most unusual use ever of Powerball-fueled riches. Feb. 6-March 13, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; www.goodmantheatre.org
Thank you, Mr. Cockrum. We're glad you won.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
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Entertainment Chris Jones Tim Minchin William Shakespeare Idina Menzel