With Scrooge back under wraps, it's time for the 2013 winter theater season to begin in earnest. There's an especially strong slate of classical works opening between now and the end of March, but the offerings also are as diverse as ever. Among the many intriguing, cold-weather possibilities, here are 10 shows (in alphabetical order) with particular interest and promise.
"The Aliens": The works of the playwright Annie Baker ("Circle Mirror Transformation") have not been produced often enough in Chicago. A Red Orchid Theatre, an aptly intimate Chicago theater, will produce the first Chicago production of Baker's sweet, 2010 play about young people in small-town Vermont struggling to find their way. Shade Murray directs a cast featuring Steve Haggard, Brad Akin and Michael Finley. Jan. 17 to March 3 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St.; $25-$35 at 312-943-8722 and aredorchidtheatre.org
"The Birthday Party": Austin Pendleton directs a major new production of the classic Harold Pinter mystery-drama from 1958, wherein a man named Stanley has the kind of confusingly macabre party guests who make any event special. There's a stellar Steppenwolf cast on tap, including Kevin Anderson, Ian Barford, Francis Guinan, Moira Harris and John Mahoney. Jan. 24 to April 28 at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.; $20-$78 at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org
"Columbinus": One surely wishes that this drama about the 1999 school shootings in Littleton, Colo., did not suddenly feel so apt for revival. But while attempting to understand school shootings might be raw and painful, it remains an essential quest. PJ Paparelli, artistic director of the American Theater Company, directs a play he co-wrote with Stephen Karam. The script, alas, has been updated. Feb. 1 to March 10 at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St.; $38-$43 at 773-409-4125 or atcweb.org
"Disconnect": Ann Filmer helms the American premiere of a 2010 drama by Anupama Chandrasekhar, first seen at London's Royal Court Theatre, a play that chronicles the lives and times of Indian call center workers, chasing their own versions of the American dream. Jan. 25 to Feb. 24 at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.; $30-$60 at 773-771-3000 or victorygardens.org.
"A Grand Night for Singing": The Mercury Theater, an intimate venue on Southport Avenue operated by L. Walter Stearns, kicks off its new and ambitious identity as a producer of homegrown musical productions with Equity casts and live musicians. Kevin Bellie, the former artistic director of the Circle Theater in Oak Park, takes the helm of the first production, a revue of the much-loved music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Jan. 16 to March 10 at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave.; $25-$59 at 773-325-1700 and mercurytheaterchicago.com
"Julius Caesar": With David Darlow in the lead role of the ill-fated Roman leader and politician, the British director Jonathan Munby directs the famous Shakespearean tragedy on the Navy Pier stage. The intriguing cast also includes the British actor John Light as Brutus, Barbara Robertson as Calpurnia and Brenda Barrie as Portia. Feb. 5 to March 24 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier; $48-$78 at 312-595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com
"Other Desert Cities": Directed by Henry Wishcamper, the newest artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre, this is the first Chicago production of a very compelling 2011 play by Jon Robin Baitz, set among a powerful but troubled political family that lives in Park Springs, Calif. The older generation, once powerful Republicans in Ronald Reagan's California, must deal with offspring with a destructive streak. The top-drawer cast includes Deanna Dunagan, Chelcie Ross, Tracy Michelle Arnold, Linda Kimbrough and John Hoogenakker. Jan. 12-Feb. 17 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; $25-$86 (plus possible higher demand-based prices) at 312-443-3800 and goodmantheatre.org
"Sunset Boulevard": The actress Christine Sherrill takes on the biggest challenge of her red-hot career when she plays Norma Desmond in this new production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film and the story of a faded Hollywood star with delusions of the past. William Osetek re-imagines one of the theatrical tent-poles of the mid-1990s. Jan. 24 to March 24 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace; $35-$46 at 630-530-0111 and drurylaneoakbrook.com
"Sweet Charity": A rare intimate production, directed by Michael Halberstam, of the much-loved Neil Simon-Cy Coleman musical about a bar girl for whom big spenders need a big, soppy heart. Doug Peck has re-orchestrated the piece for a jazz combo — and Tiffany Topol takes on the title role. Jan. 22 to March 31 at Writers' Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe; $35-$75; 847-242-6000 and writerstheatre.org
"The Whipping Man": The hot Chicago director Kimberly Senior, fresh from New York's Lincoln Center, stages the first Chicago production of Matthew Lopez's intense off-Broadway drama wherein a Confederate soldier finds himself in the company of two former slaves, who share his Jewish faith. Jan. 18 to Feb. 24 Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; $25-$72 at 847-673-6300 and northlight.org
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