Lyric’s Broadway Hits…A Growing Chicago Tradition
Great stories. Thrilling music. Theater that’s filled with beauty and spectacle. Dance that ranges from dreamlike to explosively energetic. If you think we’re talking about opera—you’d be right. And we’re also talking about Lyric’s ongoing series of Broadway musicals, which has brought tens of thousands of new music lovers to the Lyric Opera House (including many for the first time) since the Broadway initiative launched in 2013. Family audiences, musical theater lovers, and those eager to explore Chicago’s gorgeous, historic theater scene while enjoying an unforgettable performance experience have made an annual tradition of never missing any of these grand-scale entertainment events in the cultural year.
Lyric had certainly produced musicals before—from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd in 2002/03 to Gershwin’s famed masterpiece that straddles the world of opera and musical, Porgy and Bess (in 2008/09 and 2014/15). In the 2011/12 Season, Lyric produced an opulent Showboat as part of the mainstage season, a sellout hit that foreshadowed the exciting Broadway works that would lie ahead.
The goal has always been to choose titles that Lyric is uniquely positioned to produce in new and exciting ways. Lyric brings the full power of an opera company’s resources to classic works that benefit from large choral and orchestral forces, to say nothing of theatrical productions that are built for and brought to life on the largest stage in Chicago. Add the best and brightest directors, conductors, and star artists, and the results have been resounding hits with audiences.
The 2012/13 Season featured Oklahoma!, the first of several Rodgers and Hammerstein classics presented at Lyric. The new production was directed by Gary Griffin and featured the original choreography by Agnes DeMille, as realized by her longtime friend and associate, Gemze de Lappe. “It all looks simply magnificent,” declared Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. “It's hard to overpraise the narrative precision, emotional honesty and delicacy of the choreography.”
The next season brought Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, starring Broadway darling Jennifer Gambatese as Maria with Titanic film star Billy Zane as Captain von Trapp. "The sound of perfection...the best stage show we've had in Chicago in years,” raved WGN’s Dean Richards of the new production, which was such a runaway success that it was extended beyond its original run to meet demand as families flocked to see the show on a grand scale.
In the 2014/15 Season, Lyric mounted an original production of Carousel from Tony and Olivier Award-winning director Rob Ashford that was praised by Broadway World as “huge, audaciously daring, and bracingly human…immediately legendary….starring a slew of Broadway, television, opera and ballet stars alongside the cream of Chicago’s theatrical and vocal talent.” The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which starred Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale, compelled The New York Times to rave, “A chance to hear this cherished score delivered with such ample vocal and musical resources should not be missed."
The following two seasons brought Lyric’s presentation of magnificent, collaborative productions from Théâtre du Châtelet of Paris. First came an ornately elegant staging of The King and I starring Kate Baldwin and Paolo Montalban, which WGN’s Dean Richards called “lush and elegant...lavish and beautiful...the grandest scale possible.” Lyric then turned to Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady in a charming production from director Robert Carsen. Starring Lisa O’Hare and Richard E. Grant, it was called “exquisite…sublime…as loverly as it gets” by Chicago Theatre Review, while the Chicago Reader said, “Rarely does [My Fair Lady] soar the way it does at Lyric.”
After six seasons of classic musicals, Lyric used the 2017/18 Season to experiment with a more contemporary title: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famed rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The production won audience and critical acclaim and scored four stars from the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones, who wrote, "There is no Broadway tour coming through Chicago that could vocally match [this production]. Not in this day and age." NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me host Peter Sagal told his audience, “This production of JCS is the best I’ve ever seen...Chicago: go see it. Non-Chicago: get on a plane."
This production of JCS is the best I’ve ever seen...Chicago: go see it. Non-Chicago: get on a plane.
Just last year, Lyric produced the biggest box-office success in company history with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. West Side Story, the thrilling contemporary telling of Romeo and Juliet, took Chicago by storm in an original coproduction starring Mikaela Bennett and Corey Cott. "What greater emotional sound ever entered anyone’s ears?" asked the Chicago Tribune, while the Chicago Sun-Times said, "I can’t think of any recent show with such constant, thrilling injections of dynamism and adrenaline, always supported by that giant orchestra.”
The production sold more than 100,000 tickets over its four-week run, bringing thousands of new audience members to the Lyric Opera House for a title that was more than 60 years old but felt deeply relevant for our time.
Of course, the most wonderful reviews Lyric has received are from the audience members who return year after year with their families and friends. While it was deeply disappointing when safety and health concerns during the global pandemic forced the company to postpone the Lyric premiere of a grand-scale production of 42nd Street, audiences will get to enjoy the toe-tapping spectacular in Spring 2022 and hear its many hits, including “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “There’s a Sunny Side to Every Situation,” and more.
Coming up next, Spring 2021 will bring Lyric's presentation of Singin’ in the Rain, featuring beloved classics like “Good Morning,” “Make ‘em Laugh,” “You Were Meant For Me,” and “You Are My Lucky Star.” Work continues now on staging this magnificent production, complete with indoor rain showers. We’re confident it will be another remarkable Lyric musical to be enjoyed by returning and new audience members alike.