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Autumn theater sneak peek: 50 shows for the next few months

TheaterBroadway TheaterMusical TheaterMusicCulture

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, the theater scene offers its own bountiful fall harvest. From heirlooms to hybrids, homegrown treats to intriguing imports, the list below highlights just a few of the toothsome possibilities on the menu.

  • Coming Sunday, Sept. 8 in the Tribune, the official Tribune Guide to 2013 Fall Theater, including Chris Jones' 10 picks for the season.

BIG DEALS AND RELIABLE FAVORITES

"The Mountaintop": Katori Hall's Olivier Award-winning play, which starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in its Broadway run, imagines a meeting between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a hotel maid on the eve of his assassination. Ron OJ Parson directs David Alan Anderson and Lisa Beasley in the local premiere. Court Theatre; through Oct. 6

"To Master the Art": William Brown and Doug Frew's portrait of Julia and Paul Child, which first appeared at TimeLine Theatre in 2010, gets another outing through the Chicago Commercial Collective, which is dedicated to providing commercial remounts of shows originating in nonprofit houses. Karen Janes Woditsch and Craig Spidle return as the woman who brought French cooking to American kitchens and the diplomat husband who introduced her to Paris. Broadway Playhouse; Sept. 10-Oct. 20

"The Wheel": Joan Allen makes her long-awaited return to Steppenwolf (her first appearance since 1991) in Zinnie Harris' magic-realist epic about a woman in Spain who, like Grusha in Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," must care for a young girl in an age of war and chaos. Tina Landau directs. Steppenwolf Theatre; Sept. 12-Nov. 10

"Pullman Porter Blues": For decades, the men who worked as porters on the Pullman train cars served as "the town criers of the African American community," as director Chuck Smith puts it, as well as forerunners of the civil rights movement. Cheryl L. West's play with blues music brings it home to where George Pullman's company began with this story about three generations of porters. Goodman Theatre; Sept. 14-Oct. 20

"4000 Miles": Amy Herzog, whose "Belleville" got a run with Steppenwolf this summer, penned this Pulitzer Prize finalist about a 21-year-old man seeking solace in his grandmother's West Village apartment. Kimberly Senior directs the local premiere. Northlight Theatre, Skokie; Sept. 14-Oct. 20

"Once": The winner of the 2012 Tony for best musical, inspired by John Carney's 2007 film about a Dublin street musician who finds companionship and collaboration with a young Czech woman, features the songs from the film co-written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, with a book by Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Oriental Theatre; Oct. 9-27

"The Normal Heart": Celebrated (and MacArthur "genius") director David Cromer makes a rare onstage appearance in Larry Kramer's contemporary classic about the early days of the AIDS epidemic and the activists and doctors who fought to make the world take notice of the tragedy. Nick Bowling directs. TimeLine Theatre Company; Nov. 1-Dec. 22

"Appropriate": Sibling drama fills Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' new play, in which the adult children of a dead plantation owner in Arkansas fight over their history — and what's left of their father's possessions. Gary Griffin directs the piece, which was developed through Victory Gardens' IGNITION Festival, in a co-world premiere with Actors Theatre of Louisville. Victory Gardens Theater; Nov. 8-Dec. 8

"Million Dollar Quartet": At this point, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny, and Carl (do you really require last names?) have probably cleared a million in box office several times over. Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott's jukebox musical about one magical night at Sam Phillips' Sun Records has been rocking the retro appeal since 2008. Apollo Theater; open run

"TJ & Dave": Two of the finest improv talents you'll ever see (that would be TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi) team up in this long-running long-form late-night show — and at $5, it's also one of the best deals in town. iO; open run

CLASSIC UPDATES

"King Ubu": The Plagiarists practice their fold-and-spindle techniques on Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi," whose nihilistic and scatology-obsessed title character has inspired generations of confrontational artists. James Dunn directs this ensemble-created adaptation. The Den Theatre; through Sept. 28

"The Balcony": Jean Genet's dark absurdist allegory about authoritarianism and role-playing unfolds in a brothel where clients engage in fantasies about being high-ranking officials — while a real revolution rages outside. Max Truax directs. Trap Door Theatre; Sept. 5-Oct. 12

"The Killer Angels": Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel comes to the stage in Karen Tarjan's adaptation, directed by Matt Miller. Lifeline Theatre; Sept. 6-Oct. 27

"Cyrano de Bergerac": Director Penny Metropulos and actor Harry Groener , who collaborated on Chicago Shakespeare's acclaimed "The Madness of King George" in 2011, return for Edmond Rostand's tale (adapted and translated by Anthony Burgess) of a man with an outsize nose and a noble heart. Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Sept. 24-Nov. 10

"The North China Lover": Heidi Stillman adapts and directs this world premiere based on Marguerite Duras' autobiographical novel about an affair between a 14-year-old schoolgirl and a Chinese aristocrat in 1930s Indochina. Deanna Dunagan plays the older Duras, Rae Gray (most recently seen in "Slowgirl" at Steppenwolf) the younger version, and Tim Chiou is the title character. Lookingglass Theatre; Sept. 25-Nov. 10

"All-Girl Frankenstein": Or, The Thoroughly Modern Prometheus. Bob Fisher's adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic for the Chicago Mammals features an all-female cast. Zoo Studios; Oct. 19-Dec. 1

"Dylan": The life and poetry of Dylan Thomas, as adapted by Sidney Michaels in this rarely revived 1964 Broadway hit, presented by Red Theater. Den Theatre; Nov. 22-Dec. 22

TUNEFUL TREATS

"Let's Misbehave!": Pop the corks and hum along to Cole Porter's greatest hits in this revue, directed and choreographed by Kevin Bellie for Fox Valley Repertory. Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles; through Oct. 20

"Hank Williams: Lost Highway": The troubled troubadour takes the stage in Randal Myler and Mark Harelik's bio-musical, directed by Damon Kiely for American Blues Theater and starring Matt Brumlow as Hank. Greenhouse Theater Center; through Oct. 6

"The Old Man and the Old Moon": Writers' Theatre opens with this fantastical play with music, created by PigPen Theatre Co. and originally staged in New York last year. Stuart Carden directs the tale of a man who abandons his job of collecting spilled light to replenish the moon in order to follow his lost wife. Writers' Theatre, Glencoe; through Nov. 10

"In the Heights": The increasingly busy director and choreographer Rachel Rockwell stages the local professional debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes' infectious portrait of Manhattan's vibrant-but-changing Washington Heights neighborhood. Paramount Theatre, Aurora; Sept. 11-Oct. 6

"It's All Right To Have a Good Time (The Story of Curtis Mayfield)": The R & B genius behind "Super Fly" and many other hits, who faced paralysis after a 1990 onstage accident, provides the inspiration for Jackie Taylor's latest musical biography, starring Reginald Torian as Mayfield. Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center; Sept. 14-Oct. 20

"Gershwin's Greatest Hits": It's tough to narrow it down, but George Andrew Wolff's staging for Light Opera Works offers some of the most memorable songs in the Gershwin canon. Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston; Oct. 4-13

"A Year with Frog and Toad": Chicago Children's Theatre brings back its inaugural production — the Broadway musical version of Arnold Lobel's book, created by brothers Robert and Willie Reale. Henry Godinez directs. The Ruth Page Center for the Arts; Oct. 9-Nov. 3

"The Life and Death of Madam Barker": This raucous cabaret musical comedy, originally conceived and created by Molly Brennan and John Fournier for 500 Clown, returns with Brennan and Fournier in a new full-length version featuring a book by Brooke Allen and directed by Eric Hoff. Red Tape Theatre; Oct. 14-Nov. 10

"Hello Dolly!": Tony winner Karen Ziemba steps into the shoes of everyone's favorite matchmaker under the direction of the indefatigable Rachel Rockwell. Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace; Oct. 17-Jan. 5

"Mary Poppins": The flying nanny of London takes to the air in the suburbs. Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire; Oct. 23-Jan. 5

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee": Appropriately enough, Griffin Theatre celebrates its own 25th year with Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn's word-happy musical. Scott Weinstein directs. Theater Wit; Oct. 26-Dec. 15

NEW FLAVORS

"The Crownless King": House Theatre of Chicago presents the sequel to last year's "The Iron Stag King," co-written by Chris Mathews and Nathan Allen and directed by Allen. Chopin Theatre; through Oct. 20

"Warped": Barbara Lhota's drama crosses "A Steady Rain" with "Rashomon" in the story of two Chicago cops who give a drunken young woman a ride home — only to be accused of rape hours later. Jason Fleece directs the world premiere for Stage Left Theatre. Theater Wit; through Oct. 6

"Clumsy Sublime": Local writer Barrie Cole, who has long specialized in off-kilter looks at unlikely connections, brings together a teenage girl, a grieving gay man, and an Edward Hopper painting in her latest offering, directed by Stefan Brun for Curious Theatre Branch. Prop Thtr; through Oct. 13

"Sixth Annual Alcyone Festival: A New Dawn, A New Day": Halcyon Theatre's annual tribute to women playwrights past and present includes a rarely produced work by Restoration pioneer Aphra Behn, as well as new pieces by Chicago writers Kristiana Colon and Nambi E. Kelley, New Yorker Callie Kimball and San Franciscan Marisela Trevino Orta. Christ Church Lutheran; Sept. 6-28

"White Tie Ball": Teatro Vista kicks off its residency at Victory Gardens with the world premiere of Martin Zimmerman's story about two brothers — one easily identified as Latino, and the other as "white" — and the internecine struggles they face. Edward Torres directs. Victory Gardens Theatre; Sept. 6-Oct. 13

"Broken Fences": Chicago playwright Steven Simoncic's picture of a gentrifying neighborhood in East Garfield Park. Ilesa Duncan of Pegasus Players directs. 16th Street Theater, Berwyn; Sept. 19-Oct. 26

"Unwilling and Hostile Instruments: 100 Years of Extraordinary Chicago Women": Theatre Seven of Chicago celebrates female Chicagoans who stirred the pot — and we aren't talking about soup — with short portraits penned by nine local scribes. American Theater Company; Oct. 1-27

"The Binding": Theatre Y — one of the more intriguing movement-based and site-specific companies to emerge in recent years — combines a Jewish apocryphal text about Abraham, an eggplant and Greek philosophers Democritus and Heraclitus in Evan Hill's new piece. It's staged in a long-abandoned church by his wife and Theatre Y founder/artistic director Melissa Lorraine, with assists from another husband-and-wife team, European choreographers Denes Debrei and Heni Varga. St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square; Oct. 3-Nov. 3

"Harry & the Thief": Sigrid Gilmer's play about a time-traveling thief charged with delivering a shipment of arms to Harriet Tubman was developed by the playwright in association with Pavement Group for this world premiere, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. Den Theatre; Oct. 10-Nov. 10

"Warm on the Coolin' Board": Two brothers in Roseland clash over their competing ideas of what they owe to their troubled community and to themselves in Shepsu Aakhu's drama. Marie Cisco directs MPAACT's season opener. Greenhouse Theater Center; Oct. 11-Nov. 24

"Bring Me the Head of James Franco, That I May Prepare a Savory Goulash in the Narrow and Misshapen Pot of His Skull": Write Club founder and hilariously corrosive social commentator Ian Belknap takes aim at the peripatetic movie star/MFA candidate/performance artist as the embodiment of all that is wrong about dilettantes and pop culture. Den Theatre; Oct. 19-Nov. 16

SAVVY FINDS

"9 Circles": Bill Cain's take on Dante's "Inferno" imagines a private in the U.S. Army who, while in jail awaiting judgment for war crimes, is visited by a surreal series of people and memories. Marti Lyons directs the Chicago premiere for Sideshow Theatre Company. DCASE Storefront Theater; through Oct. 6

"#GodHatesHashtags": GayCo Productions tackles Twitter culture and imagines gay life after full marriage equality comes to pass in a series of new sketches, directed by Andy Eninger. Donny's Skybox; through Oct. 19

"Sweet Child of Mine": The Neo-Futurists go international with this import of Australian performer Bron Batten's piece about explaining her career as a performance artist to her parents. Her father, Jim, co-stars and her mother, Linda, appears via video. Neo-Futurarium; Sept. 5-21

"The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, The Ugliest Woman in the World": In addition to offering competition to Ian Belknap for the longest title in the fall line-up, Shaun Prendergrast's play also provides an "Elephant Man" approach to the story of Pastrana, dubbed "The Ape Woman" because she suffered from hypertrichosis, or excessive hair growth over her entire body, but who also spoke three languages and was an exceptional dancer. Tympanic Theatre presents the local premiere. Berger Park Coach House; Sept. 26-Oct. 19

"Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play": A heavy metal band comes back together after years apart when one of their comrades dies under mysterious circumstances. Keira Fromm directs the local premiere of Marco Ramirez's drama. Gift Theatre; Sept. 26-Nov. 24

"Veronica's Room": Ira Levin, better known as the author of "Rosemary's Baby" and "Deathtrap," penned this thriller about a couple caught up in an identity game involving a long-dead woman. Charles Riffenburg directs for Bohemian Theatre Ensemble. Heartland Studio; Sept. 28-Oct. 27

"The Goddess": The Artistic Home scores a bit of a coup with this world-premiere adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-nominated screenplay, marking the first time the Chayefsky estate has allowed such a thing. John Mossman directs his original adaptation of Chayefsky's story of a troubled Marilyn Monroe-like star in Hollywood's Golden Age. The Artistic Home; Oct. 6-Nov. 11

"Compulsion": Rinne Groff's semi-fictional take on a legal battle over Anne Frank's diary opens Next's season under Devon de Mayo's direction. Next Theatre, Evanston; Oct. 10-Nov. 17

"Trevor": Make room for Bonzo, er, Trevor: a combative 200-pound former star chimpanzee is at the center of the battles waged in Nick Jones' dark comedy, directed by Shade Murray. A Red Orchid Theatre; Oct. 11-Nov. 24

"Lydie Breeze": John Guare's drama about a 19th-century Nantucket commune destroyed by multiple tragedies gets a revival with Ka-Tet Theatre Company. Greenhouse Theater Center; Oct. 11-Nov. 10

"Paulus": Israeli playwright Motti Lerner's take on the apostle Paul views his life and teachings through the lens of an intra-Jewish debate. Silk Road Rising; Nov. 7-Dec. 15

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