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Summer Theater: 6 Must-See Plays at Steppenwolf, Lookingglass and More

In these lazy days of summer, some of the Chicago-area theaters go on hiatus, but there’s still plenty to see — stories and musicals, both classical and brand-new. Or consider a trip to Wisconsin, where you might find some of those local actors who went away for the season.

The Bridges of Madison County [1]

Through Aug. 13

Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel about a romantic fling in Iowa was one of the biggest best-sellers of all time, beloved by millions of readers. When this musical version debuted on Broadway in 2014, the story of a lonely housewife falling for a National Geographic photographer still failed to persuade some critics, but just about everyone fell in love with composer Jason Robert Brown’s lush, melodic songs. The show is now receiving its regional premiere at the Marriott, an ideal setting for its romantic duets. Marriott Theatre [2], 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, 847-634-0200 

Gypsy [3]

Aug. 19 – 27

One of the greatest of all American musicals, “Gypsy” is also a terrific vehicle for talented women to show off their vocal and acting chops. This traditional staging by Music Theater Works will feature Mary Robin Roth — who previously played the title role of “Hello, Dolly!” for the same local company, when it was called Light Opera Works. She plays Rose, the mother of all stage mothers. Music Theater Works [4], at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, 847-920-5360

Hir [5]

Through Aug. 20

Taylor Mac’s surreal black comedy about a dysfunctional family sounds tailor-made for Steppenwolf, where the cast includes stalwarts Francis Guinan and Amy Morton. During the play’s original New York run in 2015, the New York Times praised [6] its “woolly, dark vision of an American family run amok.” Steppenwolf Theatre [7], 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-335-1650 

Madagascar: A Musical Adventure [8]

Through Aug. 27

Based on the animated DreamWorks movie [9] from 2005 about a bunch of animals who break out of New York’s Central Park Zoo, this new show presents the fun adventure as a family-friendly 70-minute musical. This Chicago debut is directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell, who has a stellar track record of delivering delightful entertainment in recent years, including “Brigadoon” at the Goodman, “Ride the Cyclone” at Chicago Shakespeare and “Billy Eliot” at Drury Lane. Chicago Shakespeare Theater [10], 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, 312-595-5600

Moby Dick [11]

Through Sept. 3

Director-writer David Catlin’s majestic staging of Herman Melville’s epic American novel “Moby Dick” deservedly won four Jeff Awards, including best production, when it debuted in 2015. Now it’s back, with a slightly streamlined script and a few new cast members [12]. Even if you saw it before, the quest for the white whale is worth another journey. Lookingglass Theatre [13], 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-337-0665

American Players Theatre Summer Festival [14]

Through Oct. 22

Drive for a few hours north to this rustic oasis and you’ll find a selection of plays featuring top talent from Chicago and elsewhere. This year’s plays are “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “A Flea in Her Ear,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “Three Sisters,” “Pericles,” “The Unexpected Man,” “The Maids” and “A View From the Bridge.” Spring Green, Wisconsin

Other shows worth checking out:


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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 [21].”