Award caps season of New York successes

Chicago legit is hot in Gotham these days, and the regional Tony given to Chicago Shakespeare Theater is just more proof of it.

Award makes Chicago the first city to have four theaters recognized with the regional laurel — the sole Tony handed out each year beyond Broadway. Prior local recipients include Steppenwolf Theater Company in 1985, Goodman Theater in 1992 and Victory Gardens in 2001. (Both Minneapolis and the San Francisco Bay area have three each.)

Kudo also caps an impressive season of high-profile New York successes for Chi stagework. Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” the play to beat with seven Tony noms, was commissioned and preemed by Steppenwolf, while Off Broadway tuner “Adding Machine” emerged from Next Theater in suburban Evanston to win Gotham’s Lucille Lortel Award for top musical, among other honors.

While Chicago Shakespeare Theater has cultivated a profile outside the U.S., the Tony provides one of its first marks of Stateside prestige.

“We’ve had plenty of international recognition,” artistic director Barbara Gaines told Daily Variety. “But this award is really the first time we’re getting national recognition.”

The theater has seen explosive growth since Gaines founded it in 1986, when the company bowed with a production of “Henry V” staged in a pub with seating for about 40.

“In 21 years, we’ve gone from a $3,000 budget to a $14 million budget,” said Gaines.

Since the company’s birth, CST has migrated twice, first to the 333-seat Ruth Page Auditorium, and then, in 1999, to its current two-theater complex on tourist-friendly Navy Pier, featuring a 500-seat thrust stage inspired by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theater.

These days, the theater delivers more than 600 performances a year to 225,000 audience members. Of those, 20,500 are subscribers, and more than 50,000 are students.

Gaines credited the theater’s diverse programming for its broad base of support. In addition to the Bard’s canon, the theater produces family shows and musicals, including an upcoming world premiere of a new version of “Willy Wonka.”

Chicago Shakespeare’s mainstage is currently occupied by Gaines’ production of “The Comedy of Errors.” Show incorporates a play-outside-the-play written by Ron West, which depicts a WWII British film studio making a movie of the Shakespeare comedy.

Next up in the company’s second space will be “Funk It Up About Nothin’,” a rap adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” from the creators of “The Bomb-Itty of Errors.”

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