William Petersen and Ian Barford in Endgame
(© Michael Brosilow)
William Petersen and Ian Barford in Endgame
(© Michael Brosilow)
Chicago's lively April calendar has two big events. First, Tony Award winning director Frank Galati stages Beckett's Endgame with William Petersen as Hamm, at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company (April 1-June 6). Although best-known for TV's CSI, Petersen is a member of the Steppenwolf Ensemble and a highly-respected stage veteran. Then, the much-ballyhoo'd Chicago company of Billy Elliot the Musical, already in previews, has its official opening on April 11 for an extended run at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre. Eventually, this new Chicago cast will become the nucleus of a national touring company.

Other musical fare includes Michael John LaChiusa's Hello Again, based on the classic play of overlapping love affairs, La Ronde, to be staged by the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at the Heartland Studio (April 2-May 1); also, the Sondheim-Lapine Into the Woods, presented by Porchlight Music Theatre at Theatre Building Chicago (April 3-May 30); and what is expected to be an innovative and intimate staging of Cabaret by The Hypocrites at the city-operated Storefront Theatre (April 15-May 23).

There are several more musicals as well: Fireworx Productions offers Cougars! The Musical at the Greenhouse (April 3-May 22); Noble Fool offers The 25th Anniversary Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Pheasant Run Resort (April 22-June 13); and Theatre at the Center presents I Do! I Do! (April 22-May 23) with local favorites Bernie Yvon and Heidi Ketternring.

Despite the continuing economic squeeze, several theaters are thinking big with very large-cast productions. The Griffin Theatre closes the season with 27 actors in a rare revival of Stage Door, the 1936 back stage drama by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, at Theatre Building Chicago (April 3-May 23); Provision Theatre trumps them with a cast of 30 for director Timothy Gregory's world premiere adaptation of The Hiding Place, the World War II memoir by Corrie ten Boom, at the Chernin Center (April 10-May 23); and Lookingglass Theatre remounts its mythological circus tale, Hephaestus, at the Goodman Theatre (April 7-May 23) with a cast of 14 including three of the Flying Wallendas and their in-laws, who will stage a seven-person pyramid on the high wire as part of the show.

Contemporary drama is represented at The Plagiarists with Gregory Peters' historical drama, The Wreck of the Medusa, at Angel Island Theatre (April 8-May 9); and at New Leaf Theatre with Sam Shepard's newly-revised version of Curse of the Starving Class, at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center (April 15-May 23). There's also the world premiere of Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry, a comedy about Henry VIII and his wives, at Piccolo Theatre (April 16-June 5); and John Robin Baitz's Ten Unknowns, offered by Will Act for Food at the Athenaeum (April 23-May 29). Classical drama has little to show this month except ShawChicago's staging of George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma at the Chicago Cultural Center Studio (April 12-May 10).

As usual, the Chicago theater calendar offers a few unique happenings. The rap artist known as GQ, famous for his own rap adaptations of Shakespeare, appears in the hip-hop-inspired work of another writer, Kristopher Diaz, as American Theatre Company rocks the North Side with Welcome to Arroyo's (April 15-May 16). Then, Theatre Wit unveils its $1.2 million make-over of the former Bailiwick Arts Center with the regional premiere of Penny Pension's Spin (April 11-May 6). The improved venue features three performances spaces of 99 seats, a lobby wine bar and gallery and improved audience amenities.