Our city has always been lauded for its diverse array of cultural events — and this spring is no exception. Here you’ll find our picks for the season’s can’t-miss events, ranging from classic plays to dance troupes to live music. Make sure to snap up your tickets before they’re sold out.
“Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology,” Feb. 14-March 10: With Chicago logging more than 500 homicides last year and the dialogue on gun violence hitting a fever pitch, this show couldn’t be more timely. Drawing from news accounts and interviews, Collaboraction’s Anthony Moseley sifts through the facts and commentary surrounding three acts of violence to examine the constellation of ills that have left this city shaking. Tickets: $25; $15 for students, educators and industry. Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee. Call (312) 226-9633 or visit Collaboraction.org.
“Cadre,” Feb. 15-23: Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Market Theatre of Johannesburg present South African playwright/actor Omphile Molusi in the world premiere of his latest work. Demonstrating that the personal is political, the show follows a young activist of the apartheid era as he forges a new life in an incipient democracy. Tickets: $20. Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand. Call (312) 595-5600 or visit Chicagoshakes.com.
Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Feb. 16: Film scores rarely require repeated hearings, but Orbert Davis’ Emmy-winning accompaniment to the PBS documentary, “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis” is one of the exceptions. Davis — trumpeter, composer, educator and co-founder of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic — joins his critically-acclaimed ensemble to play the piece live at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Tickets: adults $35, students $10. 915 E. 60th. Call (773) 702-2787 or visit Chicagojazzphilharmonic.org.
“The Fall of the House of Usher,” Feb. 23, 24, 27, March 1: Chicago Opera Theater and its new general director, Andreas Mitisek, launch the season with this dark and unsettling production from master minimalist Philip Glass and maestro of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. Spun by the haunting voices of the Chicago Opera singers, the performance is a hallucinatory whirl of ambiguous relationships, a gothic tale treading the line between illusion and reality. Tickets: $35–$125. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Call (312) 704-8414 or visit Chicagooperatheater.org.
“Kara Walker: Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!,” Feb. 21-Aug. 11: Aesthetically pleasing forms and ugly truths converge in the art of Kara Walker. In her latest highly visual disquisition on race — which combines drawings and her trademark paper silhouettes — she takes as a starting point “The Turner Diaries,” the 1978 novel penned by white nationalist William Luther Pierce. Admission: adults $18, students and seniors $12, children under 14 free. Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, 159 E. Monroe. Call (312) 443-3600 or visit Artic.edu.
John Neff, March 3-April 14: For his solo show, the Chicago artist used traditional view cameras combined with commercial flat-bed scanners to create large-format images that suggest frames from the early days of photography. Long exposures and the subjects he has chosen — the stuff of everyday life and friends caught in less-than-dynamic poses — add to the effect. Free. Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis. Call (773) 702-8670 or visit Renaissancesociety.org.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, March 8-17: This ever-engaging troupe returns with a rich array of offerings, including including “Petit Mort,” a world premiere from Kyle Abraham, hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris’ “Home,” Ohad Naharin’s improvisational “Minus 16” and, of course, the timeless Ailey classic, “Revelations.” Tickets: $32-$92. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit Ticketmaster.com/auditorium.
Leonard Cohen, March 13: Forty-six years after his recording debut, poet/performer Leonard Cohen is still the master wordsmith, with a voice that has only grown more oracular and enigmatic with age. And if recent appearances are any indication, he won’t quit the Chicago Theatre stage until he’s said all he has to say. Tickets: $119-$277. 175 N. State. Call (800) 745-3000 or visit Ticketmaster.com.
Latino Theater Festival, March 22-June 30: The Goodman Theatre’s biannual fest, curated by Henry Godinez, kicks off with an appearance by Cuba’s Teatro Buendía. The company, known for reimagining classics texts, presents its take on a landmark of magic realism, Juan Rulfo’s 1955 novel “Pedro Páramo,” a story about a man’s return to his mother’s hometown and the ghosts that greet him. Tickets: $14-$27. 170 N. Dearborn. Call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodmantheatre.org.
“Catch Me If You Can,” April 2-14: Based on the DreamWorks film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this lively Broadway musical tells the true story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr., the clever chameleon whose forged checks and assumed professions (including pilot, doctor and lawyer) gave him the glamorous life he always hankered for — until the long arm of the law finally reeled him in. Tickets: $18-$85. Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. Call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadwayinchicago.com.
“The Whale,” April 5-May 5: Samuel D. Hunter’s incisive drama details a depressed, morbidly obese man’s desperate attempt to move past the losses life has dealt him and reconnect with his estranged daughter. The show, which debuted off-Broadway last season, makes its Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens. Tickets: $30-$60. 2433 N. Lincoln. Call (773) 871-3000 or visit Victorygardens.org.
“Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon),” April 7: Mariachi where you’d expect Monteverdi and Mozart? Por que no? The Lyric Opera presents its first Spanish-language piece with this work from José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of the historic Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. The first-ever mariachi opera, “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” movingly explores the immigrant experience and the meaning of home. Tickets: $25-$75. 20 N. Wacker. Call (312) 332-2244 or visit Lyricopera.org.
Billy Bragg, April 12 and 13: Bono may be the unofficial poster boy for celebrity philanthropy, but he’s got nothing on Britain’s Billy Bragg, the punk/folk artist whose first top 10 album bore the less-than-catchy title, “Talking with the Taxman about Poetry.” For all his social consciousness, Bragg is no buzz-kill. Music is his motivator, and after five years he’s back on tour. Tickets: $45-$65. City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph. Call (312) 733-9463 or visit Citywinery.com.
eighth blackbird, April 30 and May 1: Chicago’s Grammy-winning new music sextet (which has championed artists such as Steve Reich, Jennifer Higdon and Stephen Hartke) returns to the MCA stage with a concert featuring work from Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner, New York-based composer/performers who move nimbly between the worlds of rock and classical music. Tickets: MCA members $22, nonmembers $28, students $10. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. Call (312) 397-4010 or visit Mcachicago.org.
“Trumbo — Red, White and Blacklisted,” May 3-19: Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (“Bill of Divorcement,” “Spartacus”) didn’t buckle before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and for that he earned himself a stint in jail and a spot on the blacklist. Trumbo’s son, Christopher, has drawn from his father’s letters, fashioning a tender, honest and inspiring document of Trumbo’s tough times. Tickets: $25-$33. McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage. 425 Fawell, Glen Ellyn. Call (630) 942-4000 or visit Atthemac.org.
“Britten at 100,” May 8: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, under the direction of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, brings the celebrated ensemble to the Harris Theater to celebrate the centennial of the great English composer, Benjamin Britten. The program ranges from the Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6 to the Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, composed for the incomparable Mstislav Rostropovich. Tickets: $15-$30. 205 E. Randolph. Call (312) 334-7777 or visit Harristheaterchicago.org.
“In the Company of Men,” May 16-June 30: Profiles Theatre, which often showcases raw, challenging works, has long enjoyed a close creative relationship with writer Neil LaBute. Last year it presented the U.S. premiere of his taut sibling drama, “In a Forest Dark and Deep.” Now the company is debuting a new version of his “In the Company of Men,” the controversial and misogynistic piece that had everyone talking when it was made into a film in 1997. Tickets: $35 on Thursdays, $40 Friday-Sunday. 4147 N. Broadway. Call (773) 549-1815 or visit Profilestheatre.org.
“Theaster Gates: 13th Ballad,” May 18-Oct. 6: Trained as an urban planner and sculptor, this Chicago artist’s work hits home. He’s effectively combined art making with activism (reclaiming derelict buildings on the South Side for a cultural center) while keeping up a presence in the galleries. His MCA installation includes church pews and a cross, identifying the art museum as a site of pilgrimage. Admission: $12, $7 for students and seniors, children younger than 12 free. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, (312) 397-4010 or visit Mcachicago.org.
John Waters, May 21: From “The Book of Mormon” to “Breaking Bad” — not to mention the excesses of reality TV — it seems pop culture has finally caught up with the less-than-proper sensibilities of filmmaker John Waters. But no one explicates with such relish the appeal of the gross, dirty and deviant quite like the boy from Baltimore. In his one-man show, Waters dishes on his career, his life and his myriad influences. Tickets: $55-$75. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Call (312) 334-7777 or visit Harristheaterchicago.org.
—Story by Thomas Connors