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Sunday, June 12, 2016

25 Memorable Chicago Theater Productions 1987 - 2007

Since I began DEEP DISH in 2008, I've seen many memorable theater productions in Chicago (click here to read about some of them). But in honor of tonight's Tony Awards, I thought it would be fun to revisit my collection of programs (yes, I'm one of those hoarders - or as I prefer to be called, "a theater enthusiast") and remember some of the stage productions from 1987 (when I moved to Chicago) until 2007. I saw a lot of great shows - and a few memorable stinkers - and below are 25 of them.

1. Catch-27 - The Second City (July 1987)
The first show I saw after moving to Chicago was this comedy revue starring the always delightful Bonnie Hunt. In July 1988, I saw Ms. Hunt again in Second City's Kuwait Until Dark, which also featured future SNL star Mike Myers.

2. Little Egypt - Steppenwolf Theatre Company (September 1987)
This was the first play I saw in Chicago, and it introduced me to such talented Steppenwolf ensemble members as Francis Guinan, Moira Harris, Tom Irwin, Laurie Metcalf, Rondi Reed and Rick Snyder. The play received two Jeff Award nominations for Best Ensemble and Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play (Guinan). A new production of Little Egypt played 14 performances at NYC's Playwrights Horizons in 1992.

3. Big Time - Remains Theatre (November 1987)
This was my first Remains production, which introduced me to the amazing acting talents of William L. Petersen, Martha Lavey and Amy Morton. The production received three Jeff Award nominations for Best Director of a Play, Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play (Alan Novak) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play (Morton).

4. Landscape of the Body - Goodman Theatre (February 1988)
This production had a great cast, including Gary Cole, Barbara E. Robertson, Peggy Roeder and a 16-year-old Anthony Rapp. It received three Jeff Award nominations, including Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play (Roeder), Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.

5. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune - Body Politic Theatre (June 1989)
Kathy Bates brought her Obie Award-winning performance to Chicago, and she and her co-star, Tony Campisi, were married from 1991 to 1997.

6. The Good Times Are Killing Me - City Lit Theater Company (September 1989, January 1990)
Although I only have two programs for this outstanding play, I think I saw it at least three or four times (and 30 Rock's Scott Adsit replaced actor/director David Cromer during its run). Based on cartoonist Lynda Barry's 1988 novel, the show won eight Jeff Awards, including Best Play, Best Director of a Play, Best Ensemble, Best Actress in a Principal Role in a Play (Lorell J. Wyatt), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenda Starr Kelley), Best Music Direction, Best Scenic Design and Best Adaptation. A new production of the play opened Off-Broadway in 1991.

7. Reckless - Steppenwolf Theatre Company (February 1990)
It was worth braving a blizzard in order to see this play, which starred Joan Allen, Boyd Gaines and Jane Lynch. Allen deservedly received a Jeff Award nomination for Best Actress in a Principal Role in a Play.

8. Elliot Loves - Goodman Theatre (April 1990)
It was the first time I saw the marvelous Christine Baranski on stage - and the rest of the cast was pretty good, too (including David Pierce before his middle name "Hyde" became a star). The production then moved to NYC's Promenade Theatre, where it opened in June 1990.

9. Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love - Halsted Theatre Centre (February 1991)
I can understand why Brad Fraser's play was named one of the 10 best plays of 1992 by Time magazine - it's damn good. And the Chicago production - with a few cast changes that included Sam Rockwell - opened Off-Broadway in September 1991 and ran for 103 performances.

10. Prelude to a Kiss - The Wellington Theater (April 1991)
Although I liked this play, I was more thrilled to see actress Barbara Harris, whom I loved in Freaky Friday and Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (this was before I discovered her sublime Broadway performances in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Apple Tree).

11. Sylvia's Real Good Advice - Pegasus Players (April 1991, June 1991)
Based on Nicole Hollander’s comic strip, Sylvia, this fun musical comedy - which I saw twice - ran for seven months in Chicago and received three Jeff Award nominations (it won for Best New Work). The show received its East Coast premiere in a 1993 Horizons Theatre production at George Washington University.

12. After Taste - Cardiff Giant Theater (November 1991)
I think this was the first show my husband and I saw together (since we met on November 15, 1991). Ten years later in 2001, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis' musical comedy, Urinetown, opened on Broadway (with a character named "Little Sally") and received 10 Tony Award nominations (it won three).

13. Falsettoland - Wisdom Bridge Theatre (November 1991)
I became a fan of composer William Finn after seeing this production, which opened the 18th season of Wisdom Bridge Theatre. It received four Jeff Award nominations for Best Musical Production, Best Ensemble, Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Jim Corti) and Best Music Direction.

14. The Sum of Us - Pegasus Players (January 1992)
The Chicago production of David Stevens' engaging play did not star Scandal's Tony Goldwyn (who played the gay son in the 1990-91 Off-Broadway production). However, it did feature the handsome Kyle Hall, who looked mighty fine in a pair of shorts. The show won two Jeff Awards for Best Director of a Play and Best Actor in a Principal Role in a Play (Bradford Farwell).

15. The Women - Cloud 42 (June 1992, June 1993, June 1994)
This hilarious all-male staged reading of Clare Boothe Luce's 1936 play was an annual benefit performance for the Chicago theater company, Cloud 42. We saw it three years in a row at the Park West.

16. Flesh and Blood - Bailiwick Repertory (June 1992)
Many years before he starred in Desperate Housewives, James "Jamie" Denton played a gay (and naked) man in this play. And, yes, his performance was memorable.

17. Riverview: A Melodrama with Music - Goodman Theatre (July 1992)
In 1992, this production was the largest and the most expensive show ($750,000) in Goodman Theatre's history as playwright John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Penny Dreadful) set his musical melodrama in Chicago's famed amusement park (which closed in 1967 after 63 years). I don't know if this show has ever been produced again, but I fondly remember it - especially since it introduced me to actress Marin Mazzie.

18. Control Freaks - Center Theater (September 1992)
I've seen some bad shows over the years, but this terrible play still remains my worst Chicago theater experience - as well as one of the most memorable. It's a good thing there was no intermission because I'm sure most of the audience would have left. Control Freaks did live to see another day as Beth Henley directed a Los Angeles production in July 1993 starring (and co-produced by) her friend Holly Hunter.

19. Valley of the Dolls - Id/Ego Productions (July 1993)
This production was a hoot. I wish I could go back in time and see it again.

20. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice - Steppenwolf Theatre Company (December 1993)
I thoroughly enjoyed this play, which received a Jeff Award nomination for Best Actress in a Principal Role in a Play (Hynden Walch). Unfortunately, New York City was not very kind to this Steppenwolf production, which only ran for nine performances on Broadway in May 1994.

21. Schoolhouse Rock Live! - Theatre BAM (April 1994)
This groovy little show is still around today, but it began in the intimate basement of Cafe Voltaire (3231 N. Clark St).

22. Another Midsummer Night - Goodman Theatre (June 1995)
This enjoyable premiere production featured a talented cast that included Jim Corti, Jessica Molaskey, Hollis Resnik, Michael Rupert and Jim Walton. It received four Jeff Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical, Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Corti) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Resnik). The musical was later produced in 1997 at Philadelphia's American Music Theater Festival with original cast members Robert D. Mammana and Jennifer Rosin.

23. Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo! - New Millennia Theatre (May 1996)
I find it hard to believe that 20 years have passed since my husband co-produced this gay extravaganza in the Royal George Theatre Center Cabaret. It was a fun summer with a wonderful group of people.

24. Beautiful Thing - Famous Door Theatre Company (May 1998)
Jonathan Harvey's beautiful play received its American premiere in Chicago, and Kirsten Sahs won a Jeff Award for Best Actress in a Principal Role in a Play (she was also my teacher for a dramatic literature class at Illinois State University in 1985). Famous Door then took its Chicago production to NYC's Cherry Lane Theatre, where it opened in February 1999 and ran for 152 performances.

I did see some good theater between May 1998 and August 2007, but since I wanted to limit this post to only 25 shows, many memorable productions did not make the cut. However, there is always the possibility that a "Part 2" might appear someday.

25. August: Osage County - Steppenwolf Theatre Company (August 2007)
Tracy Letts' brilliant play received seven Jeff Award nominations and won six, including Best Play, Best Director of a Play, Best Ensemble, Best Actress in a Principal Role in a Play (the fabulous Deanna Dunagan), Best New Work (Play) and Best Scenic Design. It then opened on Broadway in December 2007, received seven Tony Award nominations and won five, including Best Play, Best Actress in a Play (Dunagan), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Rondi Reed), Best Direction of a Play and Best Scenic Design of a Play.

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