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Six Things to See at Chicago’s Yearlong Shakespeare Festival

Rock ‘n’ roll Macbeth, hip-hop Othello, and David Carl’s Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet

The Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix   Photo: Michael Brosilow

All Chicago’s a stage with next week’s launch of Shakespeare 400 Chicago, a yearlong festival commemorating the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death in 1616. 

From January 27 until year’s end, fans can toast the Bard through theater, music, slam poetry, dance, film, and food events spearheaded by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the City of Chicago. They’ll take place almost daily at the city’s myriad cultural pillars—the Lyric Opera, Joffrey Ballet, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra among them.

“The spirit of Shakespeare lives in Chicago,” says festival producer Doreen Sayegh. “Everyone here has been affected by Shakespeare in some capacity, whether they read him in high school or acted in a play or regularly visited the theater. His words live in the city.”

In anticipation, Sayegh highlights the six events she’s most excited for.

Back-to-back U.S. premieres

Shakes 400 reinforces its raison d’être—rallying global fans around Chicago—by opening with back-to-back stateside premieres from progressive overseas companies. First up, a collaboration by London-based Cheek By Jowl and Moscow’s Pushkin Drama Theatre, which sets Shakespeare’s political problem play Measure for Measure in modern-day Russia. The second, King Lear, is presented by the Belarus Free Theatre, a company that formed in 2005 under Alexander Lukashenko, who has been banned from Belarus. GO Measure for Measure: 1/27–31. $68–$78. King Lear: 2/5–14. $48–$58. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand. chicagoshakes.com

Culinary complete works

Throughout the year, 38 Chicago chefs will craft meals inspired by Shakespeare’s 38 plays. “It’s a crazy way to marry Chicago’s love for culinary and performing arts,” says Sayegh. A full roster will go live in the coming weeks, but Sayegh highlights Tony Mantuano’s Romeo and Juliet at Café Spiaggia, Ryan McCaskey’s Winter’s Tale at Acadia, and Rick Bayless’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Topolobampo. GOVarious dates. shakespeare400chicago.com

Othello—thrice

If next month’s stage production of Othello at Chicago Shakes somehow doesn’t quench your bloodthirst, look for the ballet version performed by the Hamburg Ballet at the Harris a few weeks later. In April, check out a reprise of the Q Brothers’ beloved hip-hop rendition, Othello: The Remix. GO Othello (play): 2/18–4/10. $48–$88. Othello: The Remix: 4/12–5/8. $20–$35. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand. chicagoshakes.com. Othello (ballet): 2/23–24. $35–$125. Harris Theater, 2015 E. Randolph. harristheaterchicago.org

The Lyric’s Romeo & Juliet

“They’re international superstars,” says Sayegh of Susanna Phillips, Joseph Calleja, and Eric Cutler, who respectively sing Juliet and split time between Romeo in this production of Charles Gonoud’s five-act opera. GO 2/22–3/19. $20–$349. Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker. lyricopera.org

David Carl’s Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet

This piece is as utterly weird as it sounds: Comedian David Carl plays comedian Gary Busey playing every character in Hamlet, alone, with puppets. GO 7/12–17. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand. chicagoshakes.com

Rock ‘n’ roll Macbeth

Shakespeare’s classic gets a very metal production by Belgian rock band Zuidpool, who’ll weave Shakespeare’s dialog throughout plot–inspired rock music. GO August. 1807 S. Allport. thaliahallchicago.com

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