John Malkovich in Lost Land(Photo © Michael Brosilow)
John Malkovich in Lost Land
(Photo © Michael Brosilow)
April may have but 30 days, but there will be more than 40 Chicago theater openings in prime time. More if you count late-night shows and sketch comedy. Even more if you include the already-underway third annual PAC/Edge Festival of cutting-edge performance and visual arts (Athenaeum Theatre, through April 10). There's also a torrent of dance, headlined by the annual three-week hometown season of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Harris Music and Dance Theater, through April 17).

The big news is that Wicked is coming to Chicago to stay. The touring production arrives at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre at the end of this month for a seven week run (through June 12), but that's not the end of it. The touring cast will move on to their next stop, but the sets will remain in Chicago where a new cast will open Wicked again 10 days later and run as long as there's someone to buy a ticket, and the producers are talking years, not months. When it's all over -- say, in 2007 or 2008 or later -- the Chicago company will close, and not tour. In other words, Chicago is going to be treated just like Broadway.

The Chicago resident cast will be heavy with well-known local players. Already, Jefferson Award winning veterans Gene Weygandt and Rondi Reed (a member of the famous Steppenwolf Ensemble) have been announced as The Wizard and Madame Morrible. Saturday Night Live's Ana Gasteyer will play witch girl Elphaba.

Broadway in Chicago, the local presenter of Wicked, is cranking up a major and ongoing marketing campaign in Chicago and throughout the Midwest, and will offer numerous special hotel/theater and dining/theater packages in connection with local hospitality and tourism authorities.

Of course, Wicked isn't the only musical game in town this month. The mock-opera Les Miserables is back for the umpteenth time (Cadillac Palace through April 24) as Lyric Opera of Chicago offers the real deal, three performances of Richard Wagner's complete Ring cycle (Civic Opera House, through April 16) with Placido Domingo, Jane Eaglen, and James Morris, among other singers.

At Theatre Building Chicago, mighty Porchlight Music Theatre has launched a two-month festival celebrating the works of composer/lyricist William Finn. Currently running in rotation are the early Finn hits, In Trousers and Falsettos. Still to join the repertory late this month are two more recent Finn works, A New Brain and Elegies: A Song Cycle. Then Goodman Theatre offers the world premiere of a Country and Western musical, Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky, book and lyrics by noted monologist David Cale who also stars (April 19-May 8).

The suburbs sing a merry tune as well, with Michael John LaChiusa's Hello Again at Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park (April 17-May 15), while the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire continues its very well received production of Swing!, directed and choreographed by Marc Robin (through April 24).

April is full of non-musical treats as well, with much of the highest-profile action going on at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In its upstairs theater, 'Wolf -- as we shorthand it in Chicago -- is presenting the About Face Theatre production of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, the Tony Award-winning play about a gay baseball superstar (through May 1). At the same time, the larger downstairs theater heats up with Steppenwolf Ensemble member John Malkovich returning to star in Lost Land, a world premiere from the pen of Stephen Jeffreys (April 10-June 5). Malkovich also is co-designing the costumes. Who knew the boy could sew?

In other dramatic fare, Eclipse Theatre completes its season-long tribute to Lanford Wilson with The Rimers of Eldritch (at Victory Gardens, April 4-May 15). Days later, the Neo-Futurists examine American patriotism by comparing and contrasting the unlikely pair of 19th century poet Walt Whitman and the late long-serving senator Strom Thurmond, in the world premiere of Patriots (Neo-Futurarium from April 9). The Los Angeles and Off-Broadway hit Jewtopia, debuts at the Mercury Theatre April 20 for an open run. The Chicago edition will be the first one in which the two co-authors have not performed. The uniquely named greasy joan & company channels great 19th century Russian satirist Nikolai Gogol with a stage adaptation of The Nose, the tale of a man who has lost his nose and must find it (at the Athenaeum Theatre, April 23-May 29). The Journeymen also tackle a classic from another medium in its stage adaptation of 1960s anti-war cult film, The King of Hearts (at the Berger Park Cultural Center, April 29-June 4).

Several brand-new theaters make their Off-Off-Loop and Way-Off-Off-Loop debuts this month: in the western suburb of Glen Ellyn, Inspirare Theatre sets up shop with David Mamet's Oleanna (April 7-May 7). Back in town, a new crew called Bruised Orange Theater Company launches itself with a world premiere about -- what else? -- creating Off-Loop theater (at the National Pastime Theater, April 11-June 6). The end of April will witness the birth of Polarity Ensemble Theatre with their take on Shakespeare, Absolute Macbeth (at Breadline Theatre, April 29-May 22). Not a word has been changed, they say, but the physical staging is being radically reinterpreted.