Summer is officially here, in case the sweat and lightning bugs weren’t enough of a clue. In addition to the shows and artists we profiled in our summer arts preview issue this week, we’ve got just a few suggestions for other offerings in theater, dance, and opera that look promising—whether you’re looking for a nice air-conditioned theater or a bucolic outdoor setting.
THEATER PICKS (Kerry Reid)
It Came From Outer Space
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So Hamlet knew about aliens, is what we take away from that. And therefore, it makes perfect sense that Chicago Shakespeare is premiering this musical by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, based on the 1953 sci-fi film. The company offered a digital sneak peek, entitled We Are Out There, last year; now you can see it live at Navy Pier (where, let’s face it, aliens would blend perfectly most days). Laura Braza directs a cast that includes Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Ann Delaney, and Alex Goodrich. Through 6/24, Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, chicagoshakes.com, $50-$60.
Pearl’s Rollin’ with the Blues: A Night with Felicia P. Fields
Fields, one of the bona fide greats in Chicago theater, takes over Writers Theatre in this world premiere, which she created in collaboration with director Ron OJ Parson. (The two previously worked together at Writers in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2019.) Fields delivers blues classics by Big Mama Thornton, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, and others, backed by a band headed up by Chic Street Man, as she tells the story of how the blues have influenced her life and career. 6/23-7/24, Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe, writerstheatre.org, $35-$90.
Get Out Alive
Haven Chicago presents a new “multidisciplinary afrogoth” musical by Nikki Lynette that draws on her own experiences dealing with abuse, trauma, and the mental health system. Roger Ellis and Lucky Stiff co-direct, and the cast, in addition to Lynette, features DJ P1, Keeley Morris, and Jacinda Ratcliffe. Over ten years ago, Jessica Hopper wrote in the Reader that “it’s unfair that Chicago MC Nikki Lynette is hip-hop’s other Nikki. Not that there should be just one, or that Nicki Minaj doesn’t deserve her celebrity, but Lynette certainly has what it takes to compete with all the singing-and-dancing rappers who are already getting over on quirk, hooks, and charismatic flow,” adding, “The city should be proud to call her its own, but given that Chicago is where hip-hop careers go to die, let’s hope she gets the hell out.” She’s obviously stayed and survived, and has some stories to tell us about that. Lynette has also adapted the musical into a film that has been making the festival rounds. 7/8-8/6, Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee, havenchi.org, pay what you can previews 7/8-7/10, regular run $36 ($46 reserved table, industry $31, students $21).
Nikki Lynette in Get Out Alive
2nd Annual BIPOC Play Fest
Perceptions Theatre started life at the beginning of the pandemicwith a strong focus on digital content and new work, as well as with a playreading club. They’re ready to go live with the second iteration of this festival, which will also offer a streaming option for those who find that more convenient. The lineup includes Carlo Zenner’s Mess, about “a Queer Latinx Chicagoan grappling with the disorienting effects of quarantine” and “the pleasures and pains of casual dating”; The Voice Inside My Head by Louis Johnson, in which a middle-aged Black man gunned down by the police reflects in the afterlife upon his accomplishments and the outrage unleashed by his murder; Was It Me? by Andrea J. Fulton, an excerpt from a larger play about Margo, a 49-year-old woman confronting the effects of childhood trauma on the eve of a birthday reunion with old friends; and Kingdom by Nic Bell, an absurdist short work that focuses on “family, duty, free will, and the inevitability of fate.” 7/9-7/10, Studio 2226 Inc., 2226 E. 71st, perceptionstheatre.org for more information and reservations.
The Devil Wears Prada
Cruella De Vil or Miranda Priestly: who’s the scariest of them all? OK, Miranda didn’t want to make couture out of canines, but as depicted by Meryl Streep in the 2006 film, she’s become cemented in popular imagination as the Lady-Boss from Hell. Now a new high-profile musical based on Lauren Weisberger’s book about the cutthroat world of fashion hits the runway in Chicago before heading to Broadway. Sir Elton John wrote the score, with lyrics by Shaina Taub and a book by Kate Wetherhead. Former Steppenwolf artistic director Anna D. Shapiro directs (her first time helming a musical), and the show stars Beth Leavel as Miranda and Taylor Iman Jones as her besieged assistant, Andy Sachs. Will a show about abusive bosses feel the same in a post-Scott Rudin landscape? You can be among the first to find out! 7/19-8/21, James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, broadwayinchicago.com, $33-$110.
Just in time for midterms, TimeLine pulls back the curtain on the history of campaign spin with the world premiere of Will Allan’s play, directed by Nick Bowling. Based on the true story of Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, who formed the first political consulting firm in U.S. history, Allan’s comedy offers a perhaps-too-late cautionary tale about propaganda (aka “fake news”) through the lens of the married couple who torpedoed author Upton Sinclair’s (The Jungle) chances to become the first Democratic governor of California in 1934. Whitaker and Baxter pioneered the use of direct mail and ad buys to win the hearts and minds of voters, and also deployed oppositional research that allowed them to cherry-pick quotes to put Sinclair (who actually was a socialist) in the worst possible light. Oh, thank god those days are behind us, huh? The company returns to their longtime Lakeview home for this season—the last before they move into their new spiffy Uptown digs. 8/3-9/18, TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, timelinetheatre.com.
DANCE PICKS (Irene Hsiao)
New Dances returns to the stage, continuing a tradition of bringing Chicago dancers and choreographers together for a rapid-fire period of creative development. Inaugurated 39 years ago by Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, and now in its 21st season under the auspices of Thodos Dance Chicago and DanceWorks Chicago, this year features new works by Kaleigh Dent, Brandon DiCriscio, Trey Johnson, MurdaMommy, Marco Pizano, and Taylor Yocum.
“In viewing the works in process over these past few weeks, I see exceptional facets of thought, depth, and intent on the part of the choreographers,” says Melissa Thodos, artistic director of TDC. “It is as if this diverse group of works were growing, seasoning, and gestating in each of the artists’ minds and beings over these past challenging years.”
“Being able to create dance again in person has been jarring and exciting,” says Pizano, whose work combines pedestrian movement with vogue aesthetics. “It has been mind-blowing to see how far [we] pushed our bodies,” says MurdaMommy, who trained her cast in Chicago footwork. “New Dances has been a wonderful experience of making new connections in the Chicago dance community, renewing old ones, and getting deeper in touch with my choreographic voice,” says DiCriscio, who describes his work as “a story of intimate worlds destined to collide, indirectly influenced by a drifting external force.” 6/23-6/25, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, danceworkschicago.org, thodosdancechicago.org, $30.
Artist Showcase, Mandala Makers Festival
The Mandala Makers Festival presents a colossal lineup of South Asian dance, music, poetry, comedy, and drag at Indian Boundary Park, near Mandala South Asian Performing Arts’s new home on Devon Avenue. In addition to contemporary works based on classical Bharatanatyam, “the festival also showcases less common forms embedded in South Asian arts, such as Sufi dances, Odissi, and forms from the Caribbean diaspora,” says Mandala associate artistic director Ashwaty Chennat, who curated the event.
Self-reflection and the persistence of change are themes of some works featured. “Prakriti II continues our dialogue about our relationship to the divisiveness we see in this world,” says Ishti Collective cofounder Kinnari Vora. “It is through movement that we express the ways in which we can cope and move forward. We explore ways to pause and heal, reach for grounding strength, listen and open our minds, shed our egos, bring brevity and find joy in little things and seek empathy and kindness.”
On remounting the 2014 work She Cannot, Soham Dance Space artistic director Anjal Chande says, “It’s mysterious how the body remembers movements, intentions, associations, while the body also persistently evolves.” June 24-26, Indian Boundary Park, 2500 W. Lunt, mandalaarts.org, free.
Emperor of all he surveys: Matthew Polenzani appears in Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito at Ravinia in August. Courtesy the artist.
OPERA (Deanna Isaacs)
Ravinia Festival Operas
What could be better than moonlight, a Mozart opera, and the CSO? How about two Mozart operas with a favorite conductor? Ravinia Festival’s offering two performances each of Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito this summer, both in the venerable Martin Theatre with sound (no video) to the lawn. Former Ravinia music director James Conlon (longtime music director and principal force at LA Opera) returns to the leafy venue to conduct. The Don Giovanni cast includes baritone Lucas Meachem as the predatory title character, bass-baritone Craig Colclough as his hapless servant Leporello, and soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Donna Anna, one of his many outraged prey. La clemenza di Tito features two of Chicago’s own opera superstars: tenor Matthew Polenzani as the Roman emperor of the title and soprano Janai Brugger as Servilia, the woman he would make his reluctant queen. The orchestra will be on stage with the singers. Metra’s Union Pacific North line is offering free transportation to and from Ravinia concerts this summer for passengers with concert tickets. Don Giovanni, Thu 8/11 7 PM, and Sat 8/13 1 PM; La clemenza di Tito, Fri 8/12 7 PM and Sun 8/14 1 PM; Martin Theatre seats $125-$140; lawn admission $15; ravinia.org. Public gates open two hours prior to performance.