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(Credit: Ravinia Festival / Patrick Gipson)

The widely celebrated 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein is now in the midst of a grand-scale finale as the Ravinia Festival moves through its second summer of programs devoted to all aspects of his legacy.

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From left: Rachel Guth, TJ Anderson and Amanda Raquel Martinez in “Ghost Quartet.” (Photo by Cole Simon)

Dave Malloy’s time-warping web of a song cycle deals with competing sisters, strange parents, a photographer’s guilt, a subway murder, an astronomer, spirits (of the alcoholic variety), and the quest for love, revenge, stardom and truth over many centuries.

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From left: Dara Cameron, Jacqulyne Jones and Catherine Smitko in “The Spitfire Grill.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

The 2001 musical with a soaring, intensely poetic score delivers both a rare emotional punch and a winning sense of forgiveness, redemption and love. It is uncannily timely.

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The North American Tour of “Cats.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

“Cats” and “Les Miserables” have both returned to Chicago this summer, and “West Side Story” is in the throes of a renaissance. Here are some brief impressions about all three musicals as experienced in their recent incarnations.

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Jon Michael Hill, left, and Namir Smallwood in Steppenwolf’s production of “True West” by Sam Shepard. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Steppenwolf’s fabled 1982 production of Sam Shepard’s darkly comic tale is a foundational part of Chicago theater history. And now, two of the company’s “next generation” of actors are bringing their own high-octane intensity to the play.

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Brian Keys, left, and Julian Hester in “The Recommendation” at Windy City Playhouse. (Photo credit Michael Brosilow)

With its volcanic staging of Jonathan Caren’s intensely physical play, Windy City Playhouse has carved out a unique niche for itself in Chicago with a style dubbed “immersive theater.” 

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James Konicek (Olin Britt), Ayana Strutz (Townsperson), Matt Casey (Townsperson), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Tommy Djilas), Kelly Felthous (Zaneeta Shinn), Christopher Kale Jones (Jacey Squires), Geoff Packard (Harold Hill), Alejandro Fonseca (Townsperson), Laura Savage (Farmer's Wife / Townsperson), Adrienne Velasco-Storrs(Townsperson), Sophie Ackerman (Amaryllis Squires) and Ron E. Rains (Mayor Shinn) in “The Music Man” with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and a book by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, d

The overall pacing of this bear of a show can sometimes feel a bit off. At the same time, there is such a sense of jubilation about this production that its imperfections are easy to overlook.

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Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in “Darling Grenadine.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

It might not be a Broadway-style blockbuster, but this intimate musical very skillfully mixes romantic comedy tropes with an uncompromising look at self-destructive behavior, self-doubt, alcoholism and complex friendships.

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Brookelyn Hebert in “Ada and the Engine” at The Artistic Home Theatre. (Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Photography)

A wonderfully imagined riff on the Ada Lovelace story, Lauren Gunderson’s fascinating, emotionally feverish play is now receiving a vividly realized Chicago premiere production by The Artistic Home.

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From left: Sarah Ruth Mikulski, Cydney Washington, William Roberts, Clara Imon Pedtke, Elena Avila, Rose Guccione, Ysaye McKeever and Angela Yu in “The Flower of Hawaii.” (Courtesy of Folks Operetta)

For all it’s polish and ambition I can’t say the show has turned me into a fan of the operetta style. But “The Flower of Hawaii” is unquestionably an artifact of musical theater interest, and this might just be the only chance you will ever have to experience it.

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Audience members enter Symphony Center on opening night of Verdi’s “Aida.” (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Despite the dire warnings about “the demise of the audience for classical music,” there is a significant audience in Chicago that values this incomparable art form. Two recent, radically different CSO concerts are prime examples.

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Will Lidke in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” (Photo by Austin D. Oie Photography)

Arriving at Theo Ubique as the final show of the theater’s first season in its spacious new Evanston home, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” serves as definitive proof that this company can finesse anything and everything in the musical theater repertory.

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CSO Piccolo Jennifer Gunn is the soloist in Ken Benshoof’s “Concerto in Three Movements” with Music Director Riccardo Muti and the CSO. (© Todd Rosenberg)

The unlikely combination of Vivaldi, Beethoven and Gershwin with two contemporary works was full of delightful surprises and unexpected revelations. 

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The Loss of Place” by Brian Brooks. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

The titles of the four pieces provide a telling suggestion of the psychologically probing works being performed with the company’s trademark blend of uncanny fluidity, plasticity, control and ensemble perfection.

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Krystal Ortiz and Matt Fletcher in Griffin Theatre Company’s production of “For Services Rendered.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In some ways, “For Services Rendered” is an old-fashioned play, but it is a beauty. And coming at a moment when Britain is undergoing a different sort of social and economic upheaval, it seems ideally timed for a revival.

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Tarell Alvin McCraney in Steppenwolf’s world premiere production of “Ms. Blakk for President,” co-written by ensemble members Tina Landau and McCraney. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

This unabashedly flamboyant fantasia by Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney spins the true story of Joan Jett Blakk, who helped found the Chicago branch of the Queer Nation Party and ran for Chicago mayor in 1991.

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