The single most important item of the 2000-2001 season isn't a production, but a happening: the December opening of the $46 million Goodman Theatre complex on Dearborn Street. This will be a fitting new home for Chicago's oldest and largest resident troupe, now in its 75th year. The new Goodman instantly will become the principal anchor of the revived North Loop Theater District, presenting a nearly year-round schedule of performances in its 850-seat mainstage theater and its 400-seat "black box" space. The mainstage will open officially on December 11 with August Wilson's King Hedley II; the smaller venue will follow in February with a new work adapted and directed by the always-dazzling Mary Zimmerman. Another Goodman highlight will be the world premiere of Chicago playwright Rebecca Gilman's The Great Baseball Strike of 1994 (May 11-June 16).
Chicago's other big troupe, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, celebrates its 25th anniversary this season beginning with a world premiere musical, The Ballad of Little Jo, by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlessinger. Opening night is Sept. 24. A world premiere stage adaptation of Dickens' David Copperfield will be on view February 1-March 25 and, from April 24 to June 10, audiences will have a chance to see Steppenwolf ensemble members John Mahoney and Frank Galati acting together in Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy."
Steppenwolf practically invented the Chicago style of gritty "verismo" acting that has become the gold standard in America and is just what casting directors on both coasts look for when they hold auditions. Sometimes called "rock 'n' roll" acting, or even "scratch and sniff" acting, it's a far cry from classical technique but, nonetheless, presents a lofty challenge to any thespian visiting this city. At least three visitors this year really have their acting chops together, even if they don't scratch and sniff: Audiences will flock to see Kathleen Turner as Tallulah Bankhead in a pre-Broadway tryout of Tallulah (Shubert, November 14-26), Brian Bedford in The School for Scandal at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (November 21-January 14), and Julie Harris in the world premiere of Fossils by Claudia Allen at Victory Gardens Theater (May 11-June 17).
The Restoration classic with Bedford will be the first non-Shakespeare play ever produced on the mainstage at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. In just 12 years, CST has become not only a leading Chicago company but also one of the finest Shakespeare troupes in the world, praised even by British directors such as Sir Peter Hall. Having moved last year into a warm and handsome new $24 million theater at Navy Pier, CST saw its subscriber roster rocket up from 7,000 to 17,000. The troupe opens this year with more than 20,000 subscribers in its 525-seat house. As a special bonus, CST will present 18 performances of Peter Brook's Hamlet next spring--a run that already is sold out.
Chicago's other leading classically-based company, Court Theatre, demonstrates its much broader mandate by opening with Tom Stoppard's latest, The Invention of Love (September 6-October 15). But the highlight of the Court season may be the November 1-December 10 world premiere of a Philip Glass opera, In the Penal Colony, after Franz Kafka.