Brian Simmons inJerry Springer - The Opera
(© David G. Zak)
Brian Simmons in
Jerry Springer - The Opera
(© David G. Zak)
Merry May is a musical month in Chicago, of which the two most anticipated shows are polar opposites, except both are musicals. The first national company of the Broadway hit The Color Purple opens May 3 at the 2,300 seat Cadillac Palace Theatre with advance sales well in excess of $12 million. The Color Purple is directed by Chicagoan Gary Griffin and stars Jeanette I. Bayardelle, Michelle Williams, LaToya London, and native star Felicia P. Fields as Sofia, the role that earned her a Tony Award nomination.

At the other end of the spectrum is the North American premiere of Jerry Springer -- The Opera at Bailiwick Repertory (May 14-July 8), an Off-Loop venue seating 200. This show, which is about the trash TV host -- won the 2004 Olivier Award as London's best musical. Bailiwick is using 25 performers and six musicians in its biggest-ever production.

Michael York rides the noble horse of Camelot into the LaSalle Bank Theatre (May 2-13), even though he's a trifle old to be playing King Arthur. The final May musical offering is Fire on the Mountain, about Appalachian coal miners, with authentic fiddle and banjo music and featuring "Mississippi" Charles Bevel, at Northlight Theatre (May 16-June 17).

On the non-musical front: Victory Gardens Theater welcomes back company co-founder Cecil O'Neal, longtime head of the theater program at Southern Methodist University, to stage Athol Fugard's My Children, My Africa (May 7-June 10), while the Goodman Theatre presents Oedipus Complex; the legend of Sophocles' forlorn king as imagined in the mind of Sigmund Freud -- which is the latest creation of Tony Award-winning director and writer Frank Galati (May 8-June 3). Court Theatre delves into time and space with Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (May 12-June 3), while Shattered Globe puts Hollywood through the gossip mill with Peter Parnell's Hyde in Hollywood (May 12-July 7), the tale of an A-list star with a big secret and everything to lose.

Those with a taste for the classics have several choices. TimeLine Theatre does Shaw's Widowers' Houses (May 5-June 17); Writers' Theatre offers Shakespeare's Othello (May 22-July 15); and the month closes with Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Steep Theatre (May 31-July 7).

Modern classics this month include Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano by The Hypocrites at Building Stage (May 13-June 24) and Edward Albee's The Lady from Dubuque, presented at the Raven Theatre by the Infamous Commonwealth Theatre Company (May 19-June 17).

Bailiwick Rep is presenting an original revue titled Penchants and Fantasies: A Light Look at Lesbian Love (May 3-June 17); and About Face Theatre offers a too-brief revival of its delightful 2005 hit Pulp, Patricia Kane's sincere send-up of 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Kane herself is in the cast of this 90-minute play with music, for which several new songs have been written (Victory Gardens Greenhouse, May 6-20).

Finally, two of the month's musicals are family-oriented fare, even if one wouldn't take the really young ones: The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire opens the much-loved anti-War musical Shenandoah (May 2-July 1), while the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble presents The Fantasticks at the MacAninch Arts Center in West Suburban Glen Ellyn (May 4-26).