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Fall theater preview: Which plays and musicals deserve your vote?

Marc Grapey stars “Equivocation” set 1605 LondVictory Gardens.

Marc Grapey stars in “Equivocation,” set in 1605 London, at Victory Gardens.

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While a number of Chicago theaters now regularly “import” actors from New York, the traffic definitely runs two ways. The Steppenwolf Theatre revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” starring Amy Morton and Tracy Letts, will open at Broadway’s Booth Theatre Oct. 13 (the play’s 50th anniversary). And Craig Wright’s “Grace,” directed by Chicago’s Dexter Bullard (who initially staged it at Northlight Theatre), opens Oct. 4 at Broadway’s Cort Theatre, with a cast of such Chicago-connected actors as Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington and Ed Asner (who spent a very brief post-University of Chicago period in the theater here).

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:15AM

Of course the biggest show playing this fall — and the one with the most gobsmacking budget — is the presidential election. But those in search of an antidote to that spectacle can find plenty of honest entertainment in the form of legitimate theater. The choices available on Chicago’s fall 2012 theater ballot are many and varied, with a candidate to suit every taste. So, as the saying goes, vote early and often.

The following list is by no means all-encompassing. And, as always, it’s a good bet that some of the biggest surprises will emerge from the smallest and least-heralded productions. But here are some front-runners:


“Sunday in the Park With George” (Sept. 26-Nov. 4 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand): This glorious Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical about “children and art” — inspired by the Georges Seurat painting that hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago — is being directed by Gary Griffin (who staged Sondheim’s “Follies” last season). It will star the formidable Broadway actor Jason Danieley as the French painter, with Carmen Cusack as his model-mistress, Dot. Visit

“Kinky Boots” (Oct. 2-Nov. 4 at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe): Who better than Cyndi Lauper to be the first female rock star to pen a score for a Broadway musical? She has always had a flair for both the theatrical and the impossibly catchy tune. The show (in its pre-Broadway tryout here, but already set to open in New York in April, 2013), features a book by Harvey Fierstein and direction by Jerry Mitchell. It is based on the 2005 British film about a shoe factory heir who enlists a drag queen to help save the family business. Visit

“The Book of Mormon” (Dec. 11, 2012-June 2, 2013 at Bank of America Theatre): By the time this Tony Award-winning show hits the stage here we will know whether or not a certain Mormon candidate will be heading to the White House. Whatever the election results, one thing is certain: This satirical musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone will generate plenty of laughs. Visit

“Xanadu” (now through Oct. 28) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (Nov. 8, 2012-Jan. 13, 2013, Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace): Catch the zanily mythical “Xanadu” just to see what master director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell does with this mashup of Venice Beach, California artists and Greek gods. But don’t forget to pop open your umbrellas for “Singin’ in the Rain.” Visit

“My One and Only” (Nov. 7-Dec. 31 at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr.,Lincolnshire): “Dreamgirls” is already setting the Marriott stage on fire as the season opener, but “My One and Only,” about a 1920s-era romance between an American aviator and British aquacade star — told by way of the divine songs of the Gershwin brothers — is sure to generate a different sort of joy. Visit

“The Burnt Boys” (Nov. 7-Dec. 12 in a Griffin Theater production at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont): This Off Broadway hit, with a bluegrass and pop score by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, is set in 1962 rural West Virginia, and spins the story of two brothers who embark on a life-altering journey to the coal mine that took their father’s life. Jonathan Berry directs. Visit

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (Sept. 24-Nov. 11 at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 6970 N. Glenwood): This irrepressible storefront operation is sure to bring heat and a beat to this revue featuring the songs of Leiber and Stoller, the pair responsible for “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Don’t,” “Kansas City,” “Stand By Me” and many more. Brenda Didier directs and choreographs. Visit

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (Oct. 4 – Nov. 11 in a Bailiwick Chicago production at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence): This Off Broadway hit by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers gives a sort of rock star veneer to the maverick Tennessee frontiersman who became the seventh president of the United States. Visit


“Sweet Bird of Youth” (Sept. 14-Oct. 25 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn): For his starry revival of this steamy Tennessee Williams classic about aging, love and dreams denied, director David Cromer (“Our Town”) has cast film star Diane Lane (making a rare return to the stage) as Princess Kosmonopolis, and Finn Wittrock (Broadway’s “Death of a Salesman”) as her lover for hire. Visit

“Hamlet” (now through Nov. 11 at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe): Scott Parkinson and Shannon Cochran play the Danish prince and his mother in an all-star Chicago cast directed by Michael Halberstam. Visit

“Metamorphoses” (beginning Sept. 19 at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan): Mary Zimmerman, who won a Tony Award for her direction of this hip, magical adaptation of the myths of Ovid, will reprise the production that arrived on Broadway 10 years ago, and now kicks off Lookingglass’ 25th anniversary season. Visit

“The Big Knife” ( Sept. 11-Nov. 11 at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark): In this rarely revived Clifford Odets play, a top actor caught up in the Hollywood system tries to break free, but becomes trapped in a vortex of circumstances that lead to his self-destruction. Visit

“Night Over Erzinga” (Oct. 9-Nov. 11 at Silk Road Rising, 77 W. Washington): Adriana Sevahn Nichols’ world premiere play travels from the Ottoman Empire to New York City, and involves three generations of an Armenian and Dominican family through tragedy and triumphs of the heart. Visit


“War Horse” (Dec. 18, 2012-Jan. 5, 2013, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph): In this London and Broadway hit, a young boy’s search for Joey, the beloved horse sold to the cavalry as World War I begins, is brought to life with astonishingly vivid, actor-driven horse puppets developed by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. Visit

“Black Watch” (Oct. 10-21 at the Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway): Those who missed last year’s visit of this phenomenal National Theatre of Scotland production have a second chance to catch Gregory Burke’s look at a Scottish regiment in Iraq. John Tiffany’s boldly physical, gorgeously rendered direction is unforgettable. The show arrives here courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Visit

“Wrens” (now through Oct. 13 at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge): Rivendell is celebrating its 17th anniversary by reprising the play that put it on the map — Anne McGravie’s lovely tale of the relationships among seven young English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish women who served in the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRENS) during World War II. Visit

“Wasteland” (Oct. 18-Dec. 30 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington): In this world premiere by Susan Felder, and directed by William Brown, an American soldier, captured by the enemy in Vietnam and isolated in an underground cell, bonds with a man whose voice he hears from the other side of a prison wall. Visit

“Ipigenia 2.0” (now through Oct. 14 at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston): Charles Mee’s pop culture-infused retelling of Euripides’ ancient Greek classic looks at a great imperial power as it decides to go to war, flirting with self-destruction. Lookingglass’ David Kersnar directs. Visit

“Making Noise Quietly” (Oct. 4-Nov. 10 at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn): British playwright Robert Holman’s triptych of plays portrays the subtle and far-reaching consequences of war, whether during World War II or the Falklands War. Visit www.


“Good People” (Sept. 13-Nov. 11 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted): In David Lindsay-Abaire’s play about class and desperation in contemporary America, a woman who works at a South Boston dollar store loses her job and turns for help to an old flame who is now a successful doctor. Visit

“Jitney” (now through Oct. 14 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis): August Wilson’s tale of a black gypsy cab company owner trying to survive gentrification and much more in the Pittsburgh Hill District of the 1970s, is a remarkable ride into language, frustration and the hustle for money and respect. The excellent Ron OJ Parson will direct. Visit

“Equivocation” (Sept. 14-Oct. 14 at Victory Gardens Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln): Bill Cain’s “comedy of ideas,” directed by Sean Graney, gives us a slice of politics in Shakespeare’s London, where, in 1605, the playwright receives a conscience-rattling royal commission to write a play promoting the government’s version of Guy Fawkes’ treasonous Gunpowder Plot. Visit

“Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” (Sept. 14-Oct. 21 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blivd., Skokie): Just in time for the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, this musical portrait, directed by Nick Corley, celebrates America’s great folk troubadour — the man who helped define an era of social consciousness and political expression with songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “The Ballad of Tom Joad.” Visit

“44 Plays for 44 Presidents” (Oct. 4-Nov. 10 at the Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland): This timely update of the company’s sensational 2001 hit, “43 Presidents,” is a chronological and biographical survey that celebrates the tragic-comic and at times surreal lives and legacies of American presidents from Washington to Obama. It will tour nationally this fall. Visit

“Assassins” (Oct. 10-Nov. 10 at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western): In this chilling and bizarre musical by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, all the political malcontents and crazies of American history, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald and beyond, gather for a murderous carnival game. Visit

“Dirty” (Sept. 13-Nov. 18 at Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee): In this world premiere by the provocative Chicago playwright Andrew Hinderaker, a young husband and father-to-be who can no longer stomach investments and trading, devises a business plan that will make him millions while also letting him help those in need. But is the new venture more vile than the previous one? The excellent Michael Patrick Thornton and Mouzam Makkar are in director Jonathan Berry’s cast. Visit


“Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience” (Nov. 13-Dec. 16 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut): Talk about speed-reading. In this 70-minute parody, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, two cheeky writer-performers and BBC-TV hosts, race through all seven volumes of the J.K. Rowling epic book series. Visit

“Unspeakable” (Oct. 16- Nov. 25 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted): In this adults-only “dramatic fantasia” inspired by the life of Richard Pryor, New York-based actor James Jackson Jr. will star as the groundbreaking comedian, with Isaiah Washington (best known as Dr. Burke on “Grey’s Anatomy”) as Pryor’s friend. Visit

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