3 Reasons To Hit The Theater Before Summer Starts

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With only a few months of favorable weather to enjoy in this town, we know the last thing you want to do is spend it indoors. But before all of those street festivals (and patio sipping) kick into high gear, head to the theater for a dose of culture. And, no, we're not talking about the silver screen where the debonair Mr. DiCaprio is flashing his pearly whites in Gatsby — though if old-school classics are your thing, you're in luck.
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Two of the plays currently on stage highlight the works of the great Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and Charles Dickens, while a third takes a look into the life of legendary P.T. Barnum — otherwise known as the man who brought the "greatest show on earth" into existence. But in case you need a refresher from English class, we've summed up the trio for you after spending a few evenings at the theater.
South Pacific
One might not expect another iteration of this long-standing classic to raise eyebrows, but it does and with the verve and enthusiasm of its first opening night. It can only be attributed to the zest of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s rousing score and timeless story of men and women during wartime. Directed by David Bell, it’s all brought to life by an able cast led by Elizabeth Lanza as Nellie and Stephen Buntrock as Emile de Becque. Matt Raftery deftly choreographs the spirited extended cast and musical director Ryan Nelson delivers spirited versions of "There's Nothing Like a Dame" and "Bloody Mary," along with all the favorites like "One Enchanted Evening." And that pretty much sums up how we felt walking outside the theater. South Pacific plays through June 2.
Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Drive (at Milwaukee Avenue); 847-634-0200.
Oliver!
Three words: food, glorious food! The classic tale of Oliver Twist relies on a large, youthful cast to bring to life the lair of John Reeger’s Fagin. And, forget humdrum sets reminiscent of a high school play. Creatively lit, complex constructions transport you to the seedy underworld of Dickens' Victorian London slums without leaving your seat. Brady Tutton shines as the young, orphaned Oliver Twist, so does J.D. Rodriguez as the Artful Dodger. Overall, choreographer/director Rachel Rockwell moves the cast through with skill and dexterity as Oliver navigates the grotesque inequities he is subjected to while struggling to regain the comfort of home. In short, it'll make your childhood look like perfection. Oliver! plays through June 2.
Drury Lane Theater Oakbrook Terrace 100 Drury Lane (at Roosevelt Road); 630-530-8300.
Barnum
When's the last time you went to the circus? This production of Barnum — recounting the adventures of the legendary P.T. Barnum — delivers lively performances by Gene Weygandt as Barnum; Cory Goodrich as his wife, Charity; and Summer Naomi Smart as singer Jenny Lind. The multitalented supporting cast also provides interludes of acrobatic feats, novelty acts, dance numbers, and other circus attractions to punctuate the narrative of this impresario’s path to build the "greatest show on earth.” The story touches on the fact that the circus came late in Barnum’s life and how his early years unfold amidst great social change in America. But through all of that, his keen eye was ever watchful for the opportunity to raise the unlikeliest of humankind to stardom. Barnum plays through June 16.
The Mercury Theater, 3745 North Southport Avenue (between Waveland Avenue and Grace Street); 773-325-1700.
Photo: Courtesy of The Marriott Theater
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