7 Great Chicago Theater Companies Where You Should Consider Subscribing

Chicago Theater: Henry Godinez in "Don Quixote" at Writers Theatre

We live in one of the world’s top theater cities, surrounded by scintillating, challenging and groundbreaking work at every turn. We literally have a front row seat to what’s happening in the theater world — every top national tour seems to start here; world premieres bring in top national talent; and we are turning out a new generation of fine actors, writers, directors, and designers. Are you taking full advantage of what we’ve been gifted? Autumn is on the horizon, and with it comes the advent of the new Chicago theater season.

Do yourself a favor: Read through these offerings, and choose one (or two!) that fit your schedule … and your wallet. Don’t worry about committing yourself to four or five shows. They’ll be spread out over the season, and Chicago theaters are famously flexible with their subscribers if you need to change a date or two. And there are distinct advantages to subscribing versus single ticket purchases: you’ll get early access to tickets; score a significant discount on tickets (and many theaters have deals with neighboring restaurants and businesses for deals, too), and have access to special events at the theater, which might include meetings and lectures with playwrights, actors, and the like. Support the arts, AND have a built in date night? Sounds like a win-win to me.

Here’s how the 2017-18 Season is shaping up; be sure to check each individual website for more detail on upcoming shows.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Theater: "The Taming of the Shrew" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Crystal Lucas-Perry as Petruchio, at left, and Alexandra Henrikson as Katherine in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s all-woman production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” directed by Barbara Gaines with additional dialogue by Ron West, in CST’s Courtyard Theater, Sept. 16 – Nov. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Sciortino.)

The story: Founded in 1986 by current artistic director Barbara Gaines as the Chicago Shakespeare Workshop, CST held its earliest performances on the roof of Lincoln Park’s Red Lion Pub, but as Chicago Shakespeare Repertory they had a 12-year residency at the Ruth Page Theater. Since 1999, CST has made its home at Navy Pier in their expansive new digs, including the 510-seat Courtyard Theater and a smaller black box theater upstairs. This season, they launch The Yard, a year-round flexible performance venue that could well redefine theater in Chicago. Given their name, the focus on the works of Shakespeare is not a surprise, but CST has become so much more than that, bringing in international works and companies from around the globe, and providing tremendous outreach through CPS and city parks.

The shows: “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare (Sept. 16 – Nov. 12); “Red Velvet” by Lolita Chakrabarti (Dec. 1, 2017 – Jan. 21, 2018); “Schiller’s Mary Stuart” by Peter Oswald (Feb. 21 – April 15, 2018); and “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare (April 25 – June 24, 2018). Additional, shorter runs include “The Toad Knew” from France’s La Compagnie du Hanneton (Sept. 19–23); Short Shakespeare! “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Feb. 3 – March 10, 2018); and “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett via Ireland’s Druid Theatre (May 23 – June 3, 2018).

The deal: There are three ticket packages available: the Ultimate 5-Play (starting at $240), Essential 4-Play (starting at $180), or Create Your Own (starting at $180) with four or more shows.

Drury Lane Theatre at Oakbrook Terrace

Chicago Theater: Drury Lane's "Rock of Ages"
Adam Michaels as Stacee Jaxx in “Rock of Ages” (Photo by Brett Beiner.)

The story: We’re actually in the middle of Drury Lane’s 2017-18 season, but tickets are still available for their last three shows, all big-budget musicals and a guaranteed good time. Drury Lane Theatre, named for the iconic Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, once boasted five theaters in the Chicago area: The original dinner theater in Evergreen Park (opened in 1958), Water Tower Place (now the Broadway Playhouse), North (now the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre), East (a short-lived venue at McCormick Place), and Oakbrook Terrace, opened in 1984 and now the only one that remains. In the past 30-plus years, they’ve produced more than 300 shows, largely crowd-pleasing musicals.

The shows: “Rock of Ages” (Aug. 24 – Oct. 15); “42nd Street” (Oct. 26, 2017 – Jan. 7, 2018); and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (Jan. 18 – March 25, 2018).

The deal: It’s too late in the season for the deal, but you can still buy group tickets at a discount. Single tickets are available for all shows ($47 – $62) or as part of a meal package ($63 – $97).

Goodman Theatre

Chicago Theater: "Yasmina's Necklace"
Susaan Jamshidi as Yasmina in the world premiere of “Yasmina’s Necklace” at 16th Street Theater (Photo by Anthony Aicard.)

The story: This is the granddaddy of Chicago theater. First established at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1922 with funding from the Goodman family, its initial production season was in 1925. They remained at that location (although they had separated from the AIC imprimatur in 1976) until moving to the spectacular new Loop facility on Dearborn Street in 2000. The Tony Award-winning director Robert Falls has led the Goodman as artistic director for more than 30 years, overseeing their move to the new digs, as well as recent renovations and the opening of the Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement, a hub for the education of both young and old. The season is spread between two performance spaces inside the complex: The Owen and The Albert theaters. The Goodman is particularly known for their commitment to diversity and color-blind casting.

The shows: “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller (Sept. 9 – Oct. 15); “Yasmina’s Necklace” by Rohina Malik (Oct. 20 – Nov. 19); “Blind Date” by Rogelio Martinez (Jan. 20 – Feb. 25, 2018); “The Wolves” by Sarah Delappe (Feb. 9 – March 11, 2018); “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen (March 10 – April 15, 2018); “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” adapted from the book by Sarah L. Delany, A. Elizabeth Delany and Amy Hill Hearth by Emily Mann (May 5 – June 10, 2018); “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3” by Suzan-Lori Parks (May 25 – June 24, 2018); and “Support Group for Men” by Ellen Fairey (June 23 – July 29, 2018).

The deal: There are three membership packages available: Classic (choose from 3-, 5- or 8-play packages, starting at $75 for the three-play package), Choice (create the season you want to see, with a minimum purchase of three plays, and you save 15-25 percent off single-ticket price), or Whenever (for ultimate flexibility, purchase 4-10 passes for the season — good for any production but “A Christmas Carol” — and ages 35 and under save up to 50 percent).

Lookingglass Theatre 

Chicago Theater: Lookingglass Theatre's "Hard Times for These Times"
Audrey Anderson in “Hard Times for These Times” (Photo by Sean Williams.)

The story: Located in the still-functional Water Tower Water Works on Michigan Avenue, Lookingglass Theatre was founded in 1988 by a group of Northwestern University grads, including David Schwimmer of “Friends” fame. Starting with “Alice in Wonderland” — thus the moniker “Lookingglass” — they have made their name with literary adaptations. Their main stage theater is extremely flexible, changing shape with every production to accommodate their very physical brand of theater, often encompassing exciting circus elements. This is their 30th Anniversary season. 

The shows: “Hard Times for These Times,” adapted from Charles Dickens by Heidi Stillman (Oct. 4 – Jan. 14, 2018); “Plantation!” by Kevin Douglas (Feb. 21 – April 22, 2018); and “20,000 Leagues Under the Seas,” adapted from Jules Verne by David Kersnar and Althos Low (May 23 – Aug. 19, 2018). 

The deal: There are two flexible subscription options: the gglasspass (three tickets for $150, to be used however you’d like) or the Madhatter’s Club (for subscribers under 35, $75 for three tickets). Or, you can subscribe to the full season for one ticket to each show and save 30 percent off single ticket prices ($116 for previews, $144 for weekdays, and $170 for weekends).

Northlight Theatre  

Chicago Theater: Northlight Theatre's "The Legend of Georgia McBride"
Image courtesy of Northlight Theatre.

The story: Since 1974 — when Frank Galati, Gregory Kandel and Mike Nussbaum founded it as the Evanston Theatre Company — Northlight has wowed the North Shore with its commitment to excellence. A then-decommissioned Kingsley school was its original home, but North Light Repertory lost the space in 1990 when the school came back online. Henceforth known as Northlight Theatre, they spent an itinerant few years at different Evanston venues before being wooed to the new North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie in 1997, where they’ve been ensconced ever since. Coming off a record-breaking season, Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Tim Evans are mulling over a future move back to Evanston, but for now, the parking is easy and the 2017-18 season is looking hot, hot, hot.

The shows: “The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew Lopez (Sept. 14 – Oct. 22); “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson (Nov. 9 – Dec. 17); “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morisseau (Jan. 25 – March 4, 2018); “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” by Martin McDonagh (March 15 – April 22, 2018); and “Cry It Out” by Molly Smith Metzler (May 10 – June 17, 2018). 

The deal: 5-Play Subscription ($99 – $250); 4-Play Subscription ($90 – $210); 3-Play Flex Pass (excludes opening nights and premium seating); Weeknight Pass ($117); and Anytime Pass ($147).


Chicago Theater: Steppenwolf
Photo by Kyle Flubacker.

The story: For more than 40 years, Steppenwolf has been bringing visceral, in-your-face theater to Chicago. Famously started in a Highland Park church basement by pals Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise, they’ve been in the current location since 1991. The Steppenwolf Ensemble, under the artistic guidance of Ensemble member Anna Shapiro, is now 44 members strong, many of whom are well-established Broadway and Hollywood actors (Tracy Letts, John Mahoney, Laurie Metcalf, etc.) that choose to make the pilgrimage back to the mother ship and get back to their Chicago theater roots. With two theaters (Upstairs and Downstairs) operating, they can stretch out the season through August.

The shows: “The Rembrandt” by Jessica Dickey (Sept. 7 – Nov. 5); “The Minutes” by Tracy Letts (Nov. 9 – Dec. 31); “BLKS” by Aziza Barnes (Dec. 7 – Jan. 21, 2018); “You Got Older” by Clare Barron (Jan. 25, 2018 – March 11, 2018); “The Doppelgänger” by Matthew-Lee Erlbach (April 5 – May 20, 2018); “Guards at the Taj” by Rajiv Joseph (May 31 – July 15, 2018); and “The Roommate” by Jen Silverman (June 21 – Aug. 5, 2018). 

The deal: Steppenwolf has three subscription/membership options. There’s the Classic, which can be purchased as a 5-, 6- or 7-play package with prices starting as low as $30 per play, or a Black Card membership, “six tickets that are as flexible as you are,” which can be purchased as an Anytime ($70 per credit), Weeknight ($50 per credit) or Preview ($30 per credit) card. If you’re under 30, you can get a Red Card for $100, which gets you six tickets that can be used at any time.

Writers Theatre  

The story: Once a tiny, struggling theater that staged readings in the back of a Glencoe bookstore, Writers Theatre has blossomed over the past 25 years into a major force in Chicago theater under Artistic Director Michael Halberstam. Since early 2016, they have a venue that matches their reputation: a gorgeous state-of-the-art building in downtown Glencoe designed by Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang Architects with two distinct performance spaces: Nichols Theatre and Gillian Theatre. This is truly destination drama. 

The shows: “Trevor, the Musical” by Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis (Aug. 9 – Sept. 17); “Quixote: On the Conquest of Self,” adapted from Miguel De Cervantes by Mónica Hoth and Claudio Valdés Kuri (Sept. 27 – Dec. 17); “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde (Nov. 8 – Dec. 23); “A Moon for the Misbegotten” by Eugene O’Neill (Feb. 7 – March 18, 2018); “Smart People” by Lydia Diamond (March 21 – June 10, 2018); and Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” (May 9 – June 17, 2018). 

The deal: Six-play season subscription packages are available ($249 – $389); a 3-play “Pick Your Own” Flex package, with two plays in the Nichols Theatre and one in the Gillian Theatre, starts at $199.


Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz ScaggsRick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck(not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.






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