Chicago may not boast the glamour of Broadway, but it has some damn good theater anyway. And you don't have to worry about being elbowed in the face by an elderly woman in a mink coat trying to get tickets for a show seven months early. In Chicago, theatergoers can find whatever they are in the mood for, from classic Shaw and Shakespeare to Debbie Does Dallas, the Musical.
To start with, there are the big city productions—shows like Wicked or The Blue Man Group that are all about spectacle and production value and can only be supported by a large theater. They are theater's version of the summer blockbuster, enjoyable for their sheer scale and energy, which wow the crowds at the Oriental Theater (24 West Randolph Street, oriental-theater.com), and Cadillac Palace (151 West Randolph Street, (312) 977-1700, broadwayinchicago.com).
High-profile, traditional production companies like The Goodman Theater
(170 North Dearborn Street, (312) 443-3811, goodman-theater.org), and Steppenwolf
(1650 North Halsted Street, (312) 335-1650, steppenwolf.org) produce highly publicized shows that sell out for weeks and draw some incredible talent. Shows at these theaters are worth the effort to see, as they engage the viewer on a decidedly deeper level. Though student rush tickets are often available, be sure to call in advance, because these shows sell out early.
The dozens of smaller theaters in the city are worth the visit to provide a well rounded stage experience. Theaters like the Victory Gardens Theater (2433 North Lincoln Avenue,
(773) 871-3000, victorygardens.org), which puts on only original works, or the Annoyance Theater (4830 North Broadway Street, (773) 561-4665, annoyanceproductions.com), which specializes in parody, are cheaper and more intimate options (ranging from about $5 to 20, depending on the show and the theater), and put on entertaining shows.
But don't limit yourself to conventional forms of theater. Chicago has many more unusual theatrical offerings. The city is the home of improv comedy, and some of the funniest entertainment around can be found at Improvised Shakespeare at the iO Theater (3541 North Clark Street,
(773) 880-0199, iochicago.net), where actors perform in Shakespearian language on Shakespearian themes in a completely improvised play based on a name given by an audience member. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind at the Neo-Futurarium (5153 North Ashland Avenue, (773) 275-5255, neofuturists.org) is another unconventional show, composed of 30 plays performed in 60 minutes. The price for admission is determined by the roll of a die and ranges from $8 to $13. Perhaps the most innovative and unconventional of all is Redmoon Theater (1438 West Kinzie Street, (312) 850-8440, redmoon.org), which produces public spectacles as well as stage performances. Their stage shows mix performance art, elaborate puppetry, interpretive dance, traditional narrative, and acrobatics, and somehow it all comes together perfectly.