Jan 26, 2024 - Culture

Sufjan Stevens' beloved "Illinois" comes to Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

Two men holding hands, one looking down and one looking up.

Original company members Ahmad Simmons and Ricky Ubeda. Photo courtesy of Matt Murphy

A theatrical adaptation of musician and songwriter Sufjan Stevens' beloved "Illinois" album opens Sunday at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Driving the news: Chicago Shakes' "Illinoise" will run at Navy Pier's The Yard through Feb. 18.

Why it matters: The production draws from themes in Stevens' 2005 ode to Illinois landmarks, history, and people — and will incorporate hits like "Casmir Pulaski Day," pointing to the state's idiosyncrasies, that earned the album its cultish following.

The big picture: Many people, including a queer and Christian fanbase, connected with Stevens' album for its beautiful orchestration and literary and honest lyrics.

Details: In Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury and choreographer Justin Peck's theatrical adaptation, characters share stories around a campfire.

  • "I couldn't tell you if it's a concert or dance-theater piece or musical," Peck told Pitchfork last year. "It's somewhere amidst all that but feels like its own thing."

Context: Timo Andres, who did the musical arrangements and orchestration, tells Axios that all the songs from the album are part of "Illinoise" in some way.

  • "There's a lot of detail from the original album that I've tried to retain as well, everything from the instrumentation to lots of tiny details for the 'real heads,'" says Andres, who's collaborated with Stevens on other work.

What they're saying: "Part of what interested me about the 'Illinoise' project in the first place was the opportunity to help transmit this beloved body of work to the next generation of performers," Andres says.

  • "There's a lot of this album that I don't think Sufjan and his band ever played on tour" that "Illinoise" audience members will hear.

Be smart: Tickets are on sale now. Performances run Tuesdays-Saturdays.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more