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Mark Larson (Photo © Sarah Elizabeth Larson)

Mark Larson’s encyclopedic new book chronicles the development of a unique artistic movement in Chicago through the voices of more than 300 actors, directors, designers, writers, choreographers and producers. 

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(Ravinia Festival / Russel Jenkins)

Rachmanioff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” is awash in ravishing melodies and virtuosic thrills, and Denis Matsuev brought such volcanic power, exquisite lyricism and absolute fluidity to the fiendishly demanding work that it felt as if he himself were writing the demonic piece on the spot. 

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Frank Ferrante (Photo by Alan Alabastro)

Inside a lavish, 330-seat theater space in the Loop is the madcap escapade “Love, Chaos & Dinner” – a high energy combination of cabaret, comedy and circus, plus a four-course dinner (or brunch) – all backed by a dynamite band.

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Hit Broadway musical “Come From Away” runs through Aug. 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)

The big surprise in this hit Broadway musical is how the seemingly most unlikely material for a musical – the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – ends up feeling as if it were custom-made for the form and turns great darkness into a healing light.

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From left: Thera Wright, Vincent Jordan, Stewart Romeo and Dwight Neal in “You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music),” at Black Ensemble Theater. (Photo credit: Alan Davis)

Unquestionably one of the company’s most irresistible, highly polished, dance-fueled productions of recent seasons, “You Can’t Fake the Funk” will take you higher, set you on fire, and infuse you with a Superfly energy.

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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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Monica West (Marian Paroo) in “The Music Man” with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and a book by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, directed by Mary Zimmerman. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

There’s a parade of new shows on stage in Chicago. Theater critic Hedy Weiss recommends her current favorites.

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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.