CHITHENew York has Broadway and is no question the grand dame of American theater.  However, the theater scene in Chicago is vibrant and exciting with many local repertory theaters and small theater companies that operate in small spaces and collectively called “store front” theaters.  In addition, Chicago attracts the big Broadway shows in touring and sit-down productions, and is increasingly the place major shows debut pre-Broadway.

All of this makes Chicago a special place for fans of live theater like yours truly.  I have attended many shows in Chicago over the years and have seen some really great things, some interesting things, and some terrible things (which can be fun too).

I love Chicago’s wonderful resident theater companies like Steppenwolf, the Goodman, Second City and many others including the Lookinglass Theatre company which I discovered for the first time on this trip.

EASTLANDLookinglass, located in the iconic Water Tower Works building in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, is currently producing the world premiere musical Eastland, based on one of the city’s biggest tragedies.

About Eastland at Lookingglass Theatre“July 24, 1915 – Moored on the Chicago River between Clark St and LaSalle, The Eastland begins boarding and thousands of Western Electric employees and their families climb the ramp, excited for their annual company outing. Overflowing with passengers about to depart, the boat leans port – and doesn’t lean back. Within minutes, cries fill the air, families are torn apart and unexpected heroes emerge to rescue dozens of Chicagoans from a watery end. Artistic Director Andrew White resurrects the ghosts of America’s forgotten tragedy in this Lookingglass Original musical, with music by Artistic Associate Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.”

I attended a performance of Eastland the other night and was blown away by the production, including the material, the talent and creative staging.

Like all great theater, Eastland not only entertained, it made me want to know more about its subject matter.  Eastland has been critically acclaimed and embraced by audiences, which has led it to be extended through August 19th – so if you are coming to Chicago this summer, you have a chance to see this great production.

IMEDMeanwhile, down in the Loop’s theater district, the wonderful Goodman Theatre company is enjoying a successful season, which included a hugely popular production of The Iceman Cometh.  The Goodman’s summer season includes the gospel musical, Crowns, and a new play, Immediate Family, which I was fortunate to catch in a matinee yesterday afternoon.

Immediate Family, written by Paul Oakley Stovall and directed by Phylicia Rashad (yes that Phylicia Rashad) carries on the great tradition of plays about the dynamics of the American family.

About Immediate Family at the Goodman Theatre“In the Bryant family’s Hyde Park home, prodigal son Jesse shows up for a family wedding with his Swedish “friend,” who is actually his boyfriend, turning the family reunion into a family showdown. Evy can’t understand why her younger brothers are so mysterious and distant; Jesse is afraid to be true to himself and honest with his family; and no one can understand why Tony is so eager to get married. Modern Family meets Soul Food as these siblings try to bridge their differences with a little help from God, card games and their Immediate Family.”

I enjoyed Immediate Family very much and was impressed by the cast who were brilliant at navigating the play’s high emotional moments with broad comedic elements.

Immediate Family continues at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen stage until August 5th.

Visit Lookingglass Theatre here.

Visit the Goodman Theatre here.

Browse Chicago theater listings on the Theatre in Chicago website here.