I’m sure you’ve wondered how best to review all of the wonderful theatrical productions Chicago continuously oozes into the public light. After all this is a city of many talents, many opinions, a melting pot of cultures and perspectives. From the historic Goodman Theatre to the eclectic Steppenwolf Theatre, the Windy City is home to some of the most exciting and dynamic community theater scenes in the country. With so many productions happening all the time, it can be hard to keep up with all the latest shows, reviews and gossip. That's where local theater blogs come in! Some of Chicago’s bloggers are the perfect way to stay on top of what's happening in the community theater world and to get a sneak peek at the hottest productions before they hit the stage. As a proud supporter of the Chicago theatre scene, Fourth Wall Tickets is here to provide you with a few good review blogs to get you started. In this article, we're going to take a look at the best community theater blogs in Chicago and see what they have to offer.
If you google for Chicago theatre review blogs, you’ll find many carcasses of blogs long inactive, with their latest post dating back several years. Luckily there are a few diamonds hiding among the ambitious burnouts, and once you find a well oiled review machine it’s like pulling a thread to find the next five that post regularly. We should start by addressing the elephant in the room, theatreinchicago.com, which has a large array of reviews of just about all productions in Chicago. The beauty of Theatre in Chicago is that they don’t charge a cent to bloggers or patrons for the information they provide and truly seem to enjoy facilitating connections by linking out to the individual boots-on-the-ground bloggers. The site layout helps provide a comprehensive archive of past reviews, which is a great way to dig into Chicago show history and help paint a picture of the community theater scene. If you click on a production listed on their site, you’ll see the handy blog links in the review section with a small blurb. They also have sister sites for other cities, so they’re truly a force with their fingers on the pulse of community theatre.
The first bonafide blog we're going to take a look at is the Court Theatre blog. This blog is dedicated to providing in-depth coverage of productions at the Court Theatre, one of Chicago's most respected and historic community theaters. The blog features fairly detailed reviews of current productions, interviews with cast and crew members, tributes to the outstanding talent leaving or entering the Chicago theatre space, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into putting on a show.
Almost all of the Court Theatre’s blog posts are written with a more educational and informative tone, rather than critical. Of course that’s expected from a theatre blog, since they exist to support and show off the productions they put on. The intimacy these posts garner through their meticulous in-depth reviews of the production pre-cursors and intuitive interview style gives it a unique charm that gets you to start wondering when the next showing is, so that you can dive in deeper and meet with these wonderful people in the flesh. What really stands out is that multiple posts cover the same production, but from different angles. One may be a dive into the language of the production and its objective origins, another dives into the producer’s relationship with those origins. Overall, the Court Theatre blog is a great resource for anyone interested in the wonderful productions at one of Chicago's premier community theaters. Check them out here, https://www.courttheatre.org/about/blog
Before we get into the smaller and more personal blogs, a great review site is Third Coast Review. With over 30 enthusiastic writers that span across age, background, and theatre experience, there really is something for any patron. They have ambitious undergraduates cutting their teeth in the critic space, as well as some established names like Anne Siegel, a 30 year veteran of the American Theatre Critics Association, and June Sawyers, who has published 25 books and contributes significantly to multiple prominent publications such as The Chicago Tribune. Third Coast Review also cover games, art, and music, but their most active posts definitely seem to be in the stages section, so check them out here, https://thirdcoastreview.com/category/stages/
One of the smaller theatre production review blogs that we’ve enjoyed is The Fourth Walsh (great name btw). The Fourth Walsh is a theatre blog that reviews plays from the audience perspective, and doesn’t shy away from giving viewers the straight poop. Katy Walsh is not a theatre expert or a critic by her own words(although we say she is), but rather an opinionated person who enjoys being entertained. She started reviewing plays as a hobby and has turned it into a job, making May of this year (2023) her fourteenth anniversary of reviewing plays in Chicago. Ms. Walsh has shown this love for theatre across different platforms such as a weekly podcast and has been featured on Chicago Now and Chicago Theater Beat. Boasting over 1500+ plays attended from 300+ different theatre companies, Ms. Walsh has unsurprisingly found herself in good company and has recruited some of her favorite writers to join in reviewing theatres to give the blog a consistent flow of different perspectives. The review posts always show immense respect for talent in the Chicago theatre community, while providing quality cliff notes on the vibe of the performance, without hesitation to point out the hangups (which is invaluable!). Check out her work here, https://thefourthwalsh.com/
The next blog very much worth mentioning is Chicago Theater and Concert Reviews. Now most posts seem to go under the moniker of ‘theatredude’, but this blog has been reviewing shows since 2011, roughly 12 years! A brief glimpse into their current staff of five; Gayle Kirshenbaum is a theatre critic who has held posts as the resident theatre critic on air for the Ted Webber show and WZRD at Northeastern Illinois University, Colin Douglas is an AEA actor, director, and freelance theatre critic,. Kevin Curran is an attorney by day who has a passion for musical theatre that he explores with the rest of his time, Sophie Vitello is a musical theatre performance senior at Columbia College Chicago, and Rachel Robbins is a recent graduate of Lake Forest College and an admirer of all things music and theatre. It’s great to see review blogs stand the test of time with such consistency, and we take off our hats to the insightful glimpses provided into popular play plots. As Ms. Walsh mentions in one of her Fourth Walsh posts (did we mention this is a great name?), don’t just read one review, read a bunch to get a well rounded picture. To create your holistic view of a show, you should absolutely check out Chicago Theatre and Concert Reviews, found here, https://www.chicagotheatrereview.com/category/news-reviews/reviews/
And let’s further refine your palate of theatre review resources by mentioning Chicago On Stage, run by Karen Topham, who is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, has taught theatre subjects and coached for over 20 years, directed 37 plays, with four novels (that should probably get published!) under her belt. The reviews date back to 2017 with an obvious passion ringing through as she’s happy to share thoughts from both a personal and professional perspective. It seems her family is in the theatre scene so there may be some bias, but from what we’ve read she’s well aware of it and happy to disclose the relationships. The refreshing bit about this blog is that occasionally a review is written by a guest, who has sometimes even been a member of the production crew, and albeit this may cause bias, we feel it provides an awesome look inside the minds of Chicago talent. Being an English major from Northwestern, Topham has mastered the flow of attending, digesting, and providing a wonderful bow-topped review of Chicago’s productions (as well as shows in other cities). Be sure to sneak a peak when you’re curious about recent shows, https://www.chicagoonstage.com/theatre/reviews/
Not so much a blog, and not surprisingly yet another good resource for Chicago theatre news is the Facebook Chi Theatre Symposium group. The Theatre Department of Columbia College Chicago, with the support of Columbia’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, hosted a symposium in 2011 called "Chicago: Theatre Capital of America--Past. Present. Future" which brought together scholars and professionals from around the country and overseas to discuss the history, current state, and future directions of Chicago theatre. The symposium resulted in Columbia College Chicago partnering with city agencies, cultural and philanthropic organizations, and other institutions of higher learning in the area to offer artists and academics an opportunity to share their knowledge of what has made Chicago “the current theatre capital of America”. The symposium's success laid the groundwork for future endeavors and was the catalyst for this Facebook group as a forum for news, commentary, and archival material related to Chicago theatre. You’ll see quality posts from Columbia professors, theatre owners (some of which operate happily with Fourth Wall Tickets), directors, actors, you name it. The beauty of this being on Facebook is the levels of engagement available and visible to us all. The group frequently pays its respects to theatre greats and it’s hard not to crack a smile when scrolling through and seeing how much love the local community has to share on a given topic or legend in the arts. Needless to say the group is active and community engaged. We highly highly recommend joining and at least lurking for a bit to get your theatre feet wet, but ideally contributing to it yourself! If your theatre had pain points in the past regarding ticketing that were resolved by adopting the Fourth Wall Ticketing platform, then this would be a great place to share your success story and help spread the good word of FWT.
Engagement is a good segway into what’s truly important in the arts, being passionate about expressing ideas and sharing experiences with friends and family. Fourth Wall Tickets works hard to provide systems for this expression to happen effortlessly. We handle the ticketing so that theatres can focus on not only making productions fun and eventful, but to bring people together as a strong testament to communal unity. It's not just good for the soul, it's also good for the economy! Fourth Wall Tickets is one of the most competitively priced ticketing platforms, and when a community has a thriving arts scene, this means funding isn’t stifled and can flow through to attract even more patrons and spur other culturally rich businesses to emerge. It’s not unheard of for every dollar invested in the arts leading to an economic return of up to nine dollars. That's a pretty good return if you ask us, and we’re happy to steward theatres on their paths to success. But the benefits of the arts go beyond just money. The arts have always been a huge part of human history and have been used to express ourselves, to tell stories and to show the world our deepest emotions and ideas. The corporate and tech life can be distracting and soul sucking, while the arts provide a cathartic and rejuvenating outlet for people. It's a way to connect with others and to gain a deeper understanding of the human experience in the increasingly insulating environments forming around the world.
The arts aren't just for the rich and famous, they're for everyone. It's important to attend shows, review them, pass judgment, and most importantly share that review, since your time invested in the arts is what truly strengthens our communities. Let us know if we missed any prominent production review sites, and let Fourth Wall Tickets share that passion of the arts with you, to work with you to not just make the present better through seamless and affordable ticketing, but to invest in the long term vision of a brighter and more expressive future. If your theatre is experiencing growing pains due to an overbearing ticketing platform, let Fourth Wall Tickets free up your valuable resources so that you can do what you do best, put on a fabulous show!