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Chicago Spotlight: May 2011

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John Mahoney
(© Richard Blinkoff)
Tony Award winners John Mahoney and Rondi Reed star in the world premiere of The Outgoing Tide by Bruce Graham, at Northlight Theatre (May 12-June 19). Lookingglass co-founder Thomas J. Cox is also featured in this play about a man who hatches an unorthodox plan to secure his family's future but meets with resistance from his wife and son, who have plans of their own.

Meanwhile, multiple Tony Award nominee Andre DeShields stars in Charles Smith's The Gospel According to James at Victory Gardens Theater, where Smith is a member of the Playwrights' Ensemble. The play tells the story of James Cameron and Mary Ball, who in 1930 emerged as the sole survivors of racial crimes in Marion, Indiana.

The merry month of May will be a musical month as well, beginning with the spectacular multi-media version of Peter Pan, presented by 360 Entertainment at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center (through June 19). Oak Park's Circle Theatre follows immediately with the Sondheim/Wheeler A Little Night Music (through June 5), with the creative Kevin Bellie at the helm.

Also starting off the month is The King and I, staged by Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773 (through June 5). It's the very first foray into Rodgers and Hammerstein turf for the 15 year old company, and the last production staged by founding artistic director L. Walter Stearns, who now is executive director of the newly-reopened Mercury Theater.

A fourth early-May musical is what's being billed as The Original Grease, at American Theater Company (through June 5). Returning to the city where the popular musical was created and first produced in 1971 (at the long-defunct Kingston Mines Theater Company), surviving co-author Jim Jacobs is participating in a 40th anniversary production that restores all the show's original Chicago-specific references and a few risqué lines of dialogue. More, Jacobs has promised new material by him and late co-author Warren Casey, not featured even in the original original.

Next up is a world premiere musical, Trogg!, loosely based on the last movie Joan Crawford ever made, a schlock horror flick about creatures from under the earth. Hell in a Handbag Productions is the presenter at the Chopin Theatre (May 14-July 3). The co-authors are Cheryl Snodgrass, Taylor E. Ross and Mr. Hell-in-a-Handbag himself, company founder David Cerda who, as he always does, will play the Joan Crawford role.

Perhaps the most anticipated musical is what Court Theatre is calling The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (May 12-June 19) as if Dubose and Dorothy Heyward had no part in writing it. Whatever the revised title is about, the so-called folk opera will be staged in a 250-seat theater, with a cast of 15 and a five-piece orchestra, so it certainly will NOT be the opera house version customarily used on the rare occasions when the work is produced. Director Charles Newell and musical director Doug Peck have collaborated previously on intimate productions of large musical works, so one anticipates a very clear vision from them.

Among non-musicals, a notable event is the commercial remount of A Twist of Water, a new Chicago-set play by Caitlin Montayne Parrish that was a winter hit for Route 66 Theatre Company at Theater Wit, and now will re-open the larger Mercury Theater (through June 5), which has been shuttered for over a year. The other non-musical big event of the month is the world premiere of a new romantic comedy by Sarah Ruhl, Stage Kiss, at the Goodman Theatre (through June 5).

Also on the dramatic plate in May: Festen, a stage adaptation of the ground-breaking Dogme film of the same name, at Steep Theatre (May 5-June 11); a world premiere adaptation of Richard Adams's novel (and later a film) Watership Down, at Lifeline Theatre (through June 19); Will Eno's Tragedy: a Tragedy, offered by Red Tape Theatre (May 9-June 4); and Michael Weller's Fifty Words, directed by Joe Jahraus at Profiles Theatre (May 6-June 11).

Then, Teatro Vista presents Jennifer Barclay's Freedom, NY at Theater Wit (May 8-June 12), starring Teatro Vista company member Desmin Borges, who garnered wonderful reviews in Chicago and New York for his work in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.


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