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Thank you, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, for letting me come out for this show!
This review was originally posted on my Instagram reel here!
If there’s a NEW MUSICAL, we all know I’m there for it. If it’s a jukebox musical, I can be more hesitant. That said, at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is so so much more than just another jukebox musical – and you should see it! If you’ve ever listened to this particular Sufjan Stevens album (it’s a good one – no skips), it’s easy to see how the lyrics could craft a cohesive throughline. That said, there’s no spoken dialogue, and it’s completely dance-based. Yep, all vocals are provided by musicians on raised platforms surrounding the dancers.
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The Chicago Shakespeare Theater production takes this album that’s beloved by many and puts it in front of a new audience that likely hasn’t been exposed to Sufjan Stevens or even this album that’s dedicated to the state of Illinois. Songs about John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (yes, that serial killer), Jacksonville, or Decatur (if you’ve ever been there, you know) help craft a story about the characteristics of the state. Stevens’ music is notorious for a blend of styles and unique instrumentation which was obviously evident in the score, but also in the actual dancing we saw onstage. The skeletal frame/book of the show starts with friends gathered around a campfire sharing stories (through dance) and eventually tells the story of a young man sharing about the people in his life – which easily ties back into the lyrics of this acclaimed concept album. Filled with moments of joy for the whole ensemble and poignant reminders of grief (we may have cried), the choreography by Justin Peck is beautiful to watch.
The show features 12 dancers (with ALL kinds of dance backgrounds), a large band of 14 that includes three superstar singers. This show was my 1st time in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and it was the perfect venue for this kind of show – the industrial vibes of the space were perfect for this. It’s 90 minutes with no intermission, so you can still make a full day of it when you see a show. Illinoise runs through February 18th in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, and it’s perfect for a day trip up to Chicago.
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS: Have you been to a show at Chicago Shakespeare Theater before? Or are you a fan of new musicals like me?