Seven shows light up Chicago stages this season.
Labor Day may signal “the end” for those who wish summer would last forever. But for theater and dance fans, whose pickings can be pretty slim midyear, September is the start of something good — and this season is shaping up enticingly well. Here are just a few of the events we’re looking forward to.
‘Death Tax’ at Lookingglass Theatre
It’s no fun facing mortality, and fast-rising playwright Lucas Hnath makes sure audiences don’t forget it with “Death Tax,” a sharp and cutting show in which a dying woman is convinced that her nurse and daughter are in cahoots, hastening her death to diminish the inevitable tax bill. Deanna Dunagan, whose memorable turn in Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” earned her both Jeff and Tony Awards, stars in the Lookinglass Theatre Company production, directed by ensemble member Heidi Stillman. Sept. 2-Oct. 12, 821 N. Michigan.
Tickets: $25-$40 through Sept. 10; $40-$65 thereafter. Call (312) 337-0665 or visit Lookingglasstheatre.org.
‘Stories in Motion’ at the Joffrey Ballet
Hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years since the Joffrey Ballet pulled up its roots and settled in Chicago. As the company launches this anniversary season, Artistic Director Ashley Wheater has devised a special, one-weekend-only addition to the typical three-program subscription season. Titled “Stories in Motion,” the richly varied offering focuses on the narrative appeal of the story ballet, with the return of two major modern works from the Joffrey repertoire: George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son” and Antony Tudor’s “Lilac Garden.” And to bring things up to date, the program includes the Chicago premiere of “RAkU” by San Francisco Ballet’s resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov. Sept. 18–21, Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Congress.
Tickets: $32-$155. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit Ticketmaster.com.
‘The World of Extreme Happiness’ at Goodman Theatre
The Goodman Theatre kicks off its 90th season with the world premiere of Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s “The World of Extreme Happiness.” Taking inspiration from sources as varied as Arthur Miller’s essay “Tragedy and the Common Man” and Xue Xinran’s “Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love,” the New York-bound show follows the travails of a peasant girl turned factory worker negotiating life as the booming economy affects every aspect of existence in China. The piece made quite an impression when it played in London last fall, with critics calling it “hard-hitting and bruisingly funny” and a “snappy theatrical insight into contemporary China.” Sept. 13–Oct. 12, 170 N. Dearborn.
Tickets: $10-$40, subject to change. Call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodmantheatre.org.
‘The Night Alive’ at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Director Henry Wishcamper is certainly getting his Conor McPherson fix. This past spring, he directed the Irish playwright’s adaptation of Strindberg’s “The Dance of Death” at Writers Theatre (and just earned a best director nomination for that effort from the Jeff Awards committee). Now he’s helming the Chicago premiere of McPherson’s “The Night Alive” at Steppenwolf Theatre. The play, which debuted at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2013, concerns a less-than-successful chap who rescues a strange woman from an abusive boyfriend. Drunks, deadbeats and the downwardly mobile have long populated McPherson’s plays, but with this latest work, the possibility of hope seems to glimmer a bit brighter than usual. The cast includes ensemble members Francis Guinan and Tim Hopper, with Helen Sadler, Dan Waller and M. Emmet Walsh. Sept. 18–Nov. 16, 1650 N. Halsted.
Tickets: $20-$82. Call (312) 335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.org.
Broadway in Chicago’s ‘Amazing Grace’
From “Kinky Boots” to Sting’s “The Last Ship,” Chicago continues to be the launching pad for big-budget, Broadway-bound musicals. Next up: “Amazing Grace.” And this one’s really got a backstory. The show is the brainchild of Christopher Smith, a former cop who dreamed up the idea back in the ’90s. Although he had only dabbled in music, his fascination with the hymn’s power and the man who penned it — John Newton, an 18th-century English ship’s captain — never waned. And 17 years later his prayers were answered, in a dream team of producer Carolyn Rossi Copeland (“Freud’s Last Session”), director Gabriel Barre, Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli and Josh Young, who earned a Tony nomination for his performance in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Opens Oct. 9, Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe.
‘Ionesco Suite’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
French villagers transform into beasts. Two proper couples meet for dinner and their polite conversation devolves into sheer nonsense. A music teacher stabs his pupil. Such is the stuff of playwright Eugène Ionesco. And while his absurdist jewels of the 1950s might strike some as museum pieces all these years later, in the hands of director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, his work has lost none of its luster. The company’s “Ionesco Suite” — a tapestry of scenes from seven of the writer’s plays — makes its U.S. debut on Navy Pier as part of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s always eye-opening World Stage Series. Oct. 15-19, 800 E. Grand.
Tickets: $45-$55. Call (312) 595-5600 or visit Chicagoshakes.com.
‘Living the History: 125 Years of the Auditorium Theatre’
Lyric Opera fans love the Civic Opera House. CSO subscribers adore Symphony Center. But if there’s one venue that audiences of every stripe embrace, it’s the Auditorium Theatre. No wonder: This grand old palace of the arts has seen just about every kind of entertainment on its stage, from opera and ballet to “Les Misérables” and The Grateful Dead. This season alone, its offerings include appearances by cooking maven Ina Garten, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and Dance Theatre of Harlem. A National Historic Landmark, an architectural treasure and the city’s playhouse, this great space gets a lot of love with “Living the History: 125 Years of the Auditorium Theatre.” Directed by Rachel Rockwell and hosted by actor John Mahoney, the talent-packed evening features Broadway star Patti LuPone, the Apollo Chorus, the All-Star Band, Lyric’s Eric Owens and members of the CSO, Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Dec. 9, 50 E. Congress.
Tickets: $35-$125. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit Ticketmaster.com/auditorium.