Theater: 23 Can’t-Miss Musicals and Plays in Chicago This Spring and Summer

We turn the spotlight on the hottest plays in Chicago and beyond this spring and summer.


April 17 to June 9

Plays in Chicago: "Hamlet" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
The company of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” directed by Barbara Gaines, in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater, April 17 to June 9, 2019. Photo courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Pictured from left to right: Top Row – Maurice Jones, Karen Aldridge, Larry Yando, Mike Nussbaum, Sean Allan Krill; Middle Row – Kevin Gudahl, Al’Jaleel McGhee, Sam Pearson, Callie Johnson, Alex Goodrich, Timothy Decker; Bottom Row – Samuel Taylor, Greg Vinkler, Rachel Nicks, Drew Shirley, Paul Deo, Jr., Sarah Chalcroft.

To be or not to be in the audience for this play? That is not the question — you’ll definitely want to be there when Chicago Shakespeare’s longtime artistic director, Barbara Gaines, takes on one of the Bard’s most famous dramas for the first time in more than 20 years. Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago

Sentimental Journey

April 26 to May 26

With emotional authenticity and a lively sense of humor, Ross Lehman has proved time and again that he’s one of the area’s best actors. Now, he performs his own script: the true story of his parents, including their lives during World War II, when Lehman’s father was a bombardier held prisoner by the Germans and his mother was a career woman awaiting his return. Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest

West Side Story

May 3 to June 2

Plays in Chicago: "West Side Story"
“West Side Story” at Houston Grand Opera (Photo by Lynn Lane.)

Over the last few years, the Lyric Opera has been staging one show per season that would normally be categorized as a musical rather than a traditional opera. This time, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s 1957 landmark “West Side Story” — with Romeo and Juliet-style forbidden love amid New York’s warring gangs — gets the Lyric treatment. It’s a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Festival, and the results should be epic. Francesca Zambello directs a cast including Corey Cott, Mikaela Bennett, Amanda Castro, and Manuel Stark SantosLyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago

Next to Normal

May 8 to June 16

Raised in Skokie, David Cromer rose to the top ranks of Chicago’s theatrical directors, bringing dramas to life with something like a magic touch. He hasn’t directed here very often since moving to New York, so this is a welcome opportunity to see his craft again. Working with music director Andra Velis Simon, Cromer is helming this Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey about a seemingly average suburban family with some long-buried secrets. The cast includes Kyrie Courter, Alex Levy, Liam Oh, Gabriel Ruiz, David Schlumpf, and Keely Vasquez. Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe

Into the Breeches!

May 9 to June 16

It’s 1942, and a Rhode Island playhouse’s season is in doubt — because all of the men who’d normally perform the shows are away at war. But the women on the home front decide that the show must go on — even if they have to do an all-female production. Jessica Thebus directs George Brant’s new comedy with local favorites Kate Fry, Hollis Resnik, and Penny Slusher, among others. Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Aug. 17-25

Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel and filled with Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s songs from the 1996 Disney movie, this musical has followed an unusual path. It premiered in 1999 in Berlin, where it was a big hit. But in the U.S., the show has never made it to Broadway — and this production will be its Chicago professional premiere. That makes this a rare chance to see this reimagining of Quasimodo’s story. Music Theater Works, at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston

Other plays worth checking out:

Robert Loerzel is a freelance journalist who lives in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. His work has also appeared in Playbill and on WBEZ, and he is the author of the book “Alchemy of Bones: Chicago’s Luetgert Murder Case of 1897.”