Martin Short in Fame Becomes Me
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Martin Short in Fame Becomes Me
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
It's summer in Chicago, but the busy local theater industry doesn't stop to smell the barbeque. Some 40 shows open this month, with many of them happening at outdoor venues.

The month's main event is Martin Short bringing his Broadway-bound new tuner, Fame Becomes Me, to the LaSalle Bank Theatre (July 5-16). The same night brings Seussical, the musical based on the books of Dr. Seuss, courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater (July 5-August 20), which is offering the show as part of its summertime family series (extra weekday matinees). A week later, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire offers the world premiere of , Once Upon a Time in New Jersey (July 12-September 10), a musical romance with a 1950's setting directed and choreographed by the multiple-award-winner Marc Robin.

As for non-musical fare, the July highlight will be the world premiere of The Unmentionables by the sardonic and sometimes nihilistic playwright Bruce Norris, commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre Company (July 8-August 27). The cast features Steppenwolf Ensemble member John Mahoney, returning to the stage after a winter illness that forced him to withdraw from two plays. War! Now in It's 4th Smash Year!, a new revue at the epicenter of improvisation, at The Second City (opens July 2).

Theatre-Hikes offers Orson Welles' Moby Dick: Rehearsed (July 1-30) at several outdoor locations, among them the west suburban Morton Arboretum, a large and lush horticultural park. Combining exercise and art, Theatre-Hikes gets the audience to walk along a designated nature trail, coming upon scenes from the play at various stops along the way.

Other outdoor fare is of the sit-and-watch variety. Rival productions of Shakespeare's The Tempest duke it out at First Folio Shakespeare Festival (through July 30) in west suburban Oakbrook, and in Ground-Up Theatre's touring edition that plays city parks (through July 23). The Festival Theatre, Oak Park offers Julius Caesar (June 29-August 15) in rotation with William Inge's Picnic (July 13-August 19) in Austin Gardens in Oak Park's historic district with its mix of grand Victorian and Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

Also on tap are popular comic strip author Nicole Hollander performing her one-woman show, Plastic Surgery or a Really Good Haircut?, at Live Bait Theatre (July 7-August 5); Romulus Linney's Unchanging Love at the tiny-but-highly-admired Artistic Home (July 9-August 20); Rebecca Gilman's drama,Spinning Into Butter, about racism at an elite college, by Eclipse Theatre Company at Victory Gardens Theater (July 24-September 3); and a rare revival of Frederich Durrenmatt's large-cast drama, The Visit, by Halcyon Theatre Company at Steep Theatre (July 24-August 16).

As usual, Chicago offers some special-interest attractions, among them dueling circuses. A troupe of Chinese acrobats and circus artists who spend December-April in Branson, MO have set up shop at Skyline Stage on Navy Pier under the name Cirque Shanghai (through September 3), smartly offering daily matinees at very friendly prices ($14.50 for adults). Meanwhile, Cirque de Soleil returns after two years with Corteo, performed in their signature blue and yellow tent pitched at the United Center (July 14-August 15).

Finally, an international sporting event, Gay Games VII, brings some 12,000 participants to Chicago (July 14-23), and numerous GLBT-themed performing arts events are planned in support. Among them: the Pride Series at Bailiwick Repertory (various shows, continuing into September); Paul Rudnick's comedy Jeffrey at Stage Left Theatre (July 5-August 5); the world premiere of The Home Project at About Face Theatre at Victory Gardens (July 9-30); Live Bait Theater's Some Like It Homo solo performance series (July 14-August 12); and the one-and-only Sandra Bernhard at the intimate downtown club, Hothouse (July 16-21).