My sister Liz, who is the best sister in the world – or at least the best sister I’ve ever had – gets me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier as a combination birthday/Christmas gift every year. We usually see four plays, unless the season doesn’t excite us that much, in which case we choose the three-play subscription. This year, we were excited. Of the productions available, we chose Cyrano de Bergerac (with Harry Groener in the title role-loves me some Harry Groener!), Merry Wives of Windsor, Gypsy, and Henry V.
Some readers are probably scratching their heads right now, thinking not all the plays mentioned are Shakespeare. These readers are right to wonder. Usually Chicago Shakespeare tosses in plays by other authors. I think their reasoning goes like this: if we want to keep subscribers, we can’t only repeat Shakespeare ad infinitum. Even when you dress Shakespeare up in different periods, people only want to see Midsummer Nights Dream or Macbeth so many times before they’ve had enough and start subscribing to the Goodman or Steppenwolf instead.
So, yes. Cyrano de Bergerac is by Edmond Rostand. It kind of goes with Shakespeare on account of all the swashbuckling and the poetical language. Gypsy has a book by Arthur Laurents, with music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It doesn’t exactly go with Shakespeare in any way, but it’s a great musical. Chicago Shakespeare has been exploring Sondheim’s work for several years now. We were late adopters on the musical front, but since starting to attend them, we’ve enjoyed these productions.
Anyway: Merry Wives of Windsor. This version was set in post WWII Britain. We liked it. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect production. It was a laugh riot, though. Some of our favorite actors were featured, the music was often fun, and the dogs were a huge hit. I was looking forward to Merry Wives (and Henry V, which starts in April) because I’ve totally been into the Harry-related history plays lately. Of course, Merry Wives is a comedy rather than a history, but it does borrow Falstaff and some of his cronies, so there’s a tangential link. If you’re interested, this production runs through January 19, and you may still be able to snag some tickets.