Arts & Entertainment

From Broadway Hits to Serious Shows

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You don’t have to travel far to find world-class musical and theatrical performances. Here’s a breakdown of just some of our region’s upcoming events and amazing venues.

Metropolis Mainstage Series kicked off the 2016-17 season in October with the stage adaptation of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

It’s a tradition older than Vaudeville, older than Shakespeare and perhaps even older than the Ancient Greeks. Live theatre is an essential part of the human experience.

In the northwest suburbs, live theater is an ingrained part of our cultural scene. Whether you’re interested in reliving your favorite Broadway shows or want to challenge yourself to a more serious staging, you can find it at some of the region’s top venues for performing art.

Williams Street Repertory

Performs at Raue Center for the Arts, Crystal Lake

Honoring its status as the only Actors’ Equity Association theater in McHenry County, Williams Street Repertory’s (WSR) dynamic ensemble delights in performing musicals, stage classics and new plays that have yet to hit the Chicago scene.

The in-house professional theater company at Crystal Lake’s Raue Center, WSR presents a diverse array of entertainment in its sixth season. Earlier this year, it staged the witty comedy “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” written by comedian Steve Martin, and this March, it delivers the

Chicago debut of “Any Other Name,” a dark comedy set in Victorian England and written by award-winning playwright George Brant. The 2017-18 season kicks off in June with the Broadway classic “Guys and Dolls.”

Outside its mainstage shows, WSR finds other ways to light up the stage at Raue Center. Four times a year it produces Lab Series, where ensemble members and new talent perform staged readings of new plays. Look for those on select Mondays at 7 p.m. in March and May.

Every Third Thursday of the month brings comedy night at the Raue, with WSRep Comedy’s sketch and improv show at 8 p.m. Each set is unscripted improvisational comedy based on audience suggestions and original sketch comedy.

On the second Thursday of the month, WSR joins Get Lit, a literary reading series hosted at Le Petit Marche, a bakery located across the street from Raue Center.

All this comes atop a busy lineup of local and big-name performers, including Amy Grant and Jon Lovitz, who visit in April.

“We’ve grown incredibly fast, and it’s due in large part to our wonderfully supportive community,” says Michele Vazquez, marketing manager and an Equity member of WSR.

Upcoming Shows

Any Other Name (Chicago Premier)
March 17-April 2, Fri.-Sun.
A dark comedy about poetry, madness and identity theft in Victorian England.

Guys and Dolls
June 30-July 23, Fri.-Sun.
The classic Broadway tale of high-rolling gamblers.

Metropolis Mainstage Series

Performs at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

Mixed in with its busy schedule of nearly 350 performances, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s (MPAC) mainstage productions bring the Broadway experience to an intimate setting. With only 350 seats in the auditorium, Metropolis leaves nearly everyone in the audience feeling as though they’re in the front row.

“You’re only ever 50 feet away from the stage,” says marketing director Liz Lach. “You’re really pulled right into the action.”

MPAC’s ambitious 2016-17 season kicked off in October with the Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein,” followed by “It’s a Wonderful Life – a Radio Play,” just in time for Christmas. It’s followed by the dark comedy “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” which runs in February and March, and original rock opera “Hair,” which runs May through July. The season wraps with a summer staging of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a show described as the adult prequel to “Peter Pan.”

Previous seasons have been no less impressive, with hits like Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” and the modern hit “Rent.” Early this year, MPAC shows received eight finalist nominations from BroadwayWorld Chicago, including three for best actor/actress.

Though MPAC is a non-Equity theater, Lach believes the talent that appears onstage is top in its category.

“Most of our actors who are pursuing this as a career end up being Equity and ending up at the Drury Lanes and the Paramounts and the Marriotts,” says Lach. “You can see these rising stars first, right here.”

Outside its mainstage series, MPAC welcomes several traveling theater shows and performers, in addition to productions created by the youngsters of Metropolis School of Performing Arts.

Upcoming Shows

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Feb. 8-March 18, Thu.-Sun.
Tom Stoppard’s award-winning comedy takes an absurdist look at the story of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Hair, the Musical
May 24-July 1, Thu.-Sun.
Broadway’s first rock opera, with songs like “Age of Aquarius,” centers around a group of young hippies and their friend who’s called into the draft.

Peter and the Starcatcher
July 20-Aug. 20, Thu.-Sun.
The Tony award-winning origin story of Peter Pan, an orphan boy who seeks a family of his own while taking an imaginative journey into Neverland.

TownSquare Players

Performs at Woodstock Opera House, Woodstock

McHenry County’s oldest continuing community theater group is on a mission to bring relatively new shows to Woodstock. As the all-volunteer group prepares for its 50th anniversary season, it’s planning some big productions for the cozy stage inside Woodstock Opera House.

Kicking off its season with “A Christmas Story – The Musical,” Town Square Players (TSP) are set to stage the musical adaptation of “Legally Blonde” this March. Next year, musical adaptations of “Shrek” and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” are planned. Past shows have included titles like “The Sound of Music” and “The Wedding Singer.”

But TSP is dedicated to much more than famous musicals. Each year, it produces at least one straight production. This year, TSP presents Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” a farcical story about a dinner party gone topsy-turvy.

“Most community theaters don’t tend to show a straight show, and we’re trying to keep that alive so we can give the more serious actors a chance to shine as well,” says Susan Falbo, TSP president. “We can dive into something a little meatier, more serious.”

TSP is largely supported by volunteer efforts and casts mostly comprise local actors, although Falbo does see occasional talent come from elsewhere in the Chicago area.

Performing on the same stage where the likes of Orson Welles and Paul Newman once trod, TSP casts make the most of an intimate, 400-seat auditorium.

“Theater is so important, because it gives a human quality to a world that can sometimes be dark and not so pleasant,” says Falbo. “We really are so appreciative of the people who come out and support us.”

Upcoming Shows

Legally Blonde, The Musical
March 3-19, Fri.-Sun.
Adapted from the popular film, this story follows bubbly Elle Woods as she enrolls at Harvard Law School in an attempt to win back a boy.

Neil Simon’s Rumors
June 16-25, Fri.-Sun.
A farcical take on a dinner party gone topsy-turvy.

Steel Beam Theatre Mainstage

Performs at Steel Beam Theatre, St. Charles

Located upstairs from a pub in downtown St. Charles, Steel Beam Theatre is a classic storefront theater. But this is no black box avant-garde space. Rather, it has a proscenium, 79 fixed seats and its namesake steel beam overhead.

“We are right in your lap,” says Marge Uhlarik-Boller, executive/artistic director. “The audience is so close that you can see the actors’ faces very clearly and you can almost reach out and touch them.”

Though the small stage has hosted musicals like “A Chorus Line,” Steel Beam has made a name for itself by portraying serious plays, often somewhat obscure. In its 16-year history, the company has shown works from the macabre “Veronica’s Room” to Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys.”

This year, Steel Beam’s mainstage series presents a line of comedies, from “Don’t Drink the Water” in February and March to “Ruthless, the Musical,” in April, and “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” in May and June. Performers recently wrapped a run of “Random Theft & Other Acts,” a heist comedy-thriller.

“This was its second production ever,” says Uhlarik-Boller, who’s done more than 100 shows, mostly around the Chicago area. “The playwright is on our board. I had read his script maybe 20 years ago, and I’ve always wanted to put this on.”

Steel Beam is a professional non-Equity theater that pays performers. Naturally, many young up-and-comers in Chicago find their way to the St. Charles stage.

“We really try to offer variety, and not just family favorites,” says Uhlarik-Boller. “Some people are thrilled that we can do more serious theatre or dive into some more gritty kinds of shows.”

Upcoming Shows

Don’t Drink the Water
Feb. 24-March 19, Fri.-Sun.
In this Woody Allen farce, an American family accused of spying is trapped in a run-down embassy in a Third World country, with hilarious results.

Ruthless, the Musical
April 7-30, Fri.-Sun.
This mashup of hit Broadway musicals examines the relationships between stage mothers and their corrupted offspring.

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike
May 19-June 11, Fri.-Sun.
Middle-aged siblings eager to break out of their routine face reality when their sister threatens to sell the house.

Paramount Broadway Series

Performs at Paramount Theatre, Aurora

Downtown Aurora’s grand movie palace sets a glamorous scene for some of the biggest Broadway productions in the northwest suburbs. Now in its sixth year, the theater’s Broadway Series delivers four beloved musicals, including hits like “Hairspray,” “Rent” and “Oklahoma.”

Its latest show, an adaptation of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” smashed the theater’s box office records. This February and March, look for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” The season closes with the Andrew Lloyd Webber hit “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which runs in April and May.

The theater’s stunning auditorium, fully restored in the 1970s, holds 1,888 seats on the main floor and balcony.

“You almost feel like you’re in downtown Chicago, because it’s that gorgeous,” says Jay Kelly, head of public relations for Paramount.

But it’s also the caliber of talent at Paramount, which recently became an Equity playhouse. Actors hail from Aurora and around the Chicago area, in most cases bringing experience in well-known Chicago venues like Steppenwolf and Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Paramount’s Broadway Series has become a perennial winner of Jeff Awards – the Chicago equivalent of the Tony. For the past two years, it’s taken home the prize for best Musical, first for its production of “Les Miserables,” followed by “West Side Story.” The theater earned 14 nominations for its 2015-16 series.

The music, too, is top-notch, performed by a live orchestra playing the show’s original score. No pre-recorded or synthesized tunes here.

“We have top-notch production values,” says Kelly. “We often hear, ‘This could go straight to Broadway,’ because of the amazing sets and our production quality.”

Upcoming Shows

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Feb. 8-March 19, Wed.-Sun.
Steven Sondheim’s tale of a betrayed barber who’s out for revenge.

Jesus Christ Superstar
April 19-May 28, Wed.-Sun.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic rock opera about Jesus’ final week and the friend who betrayed him.

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