In a city with as much theater and great food as Chicago, it’s easy to make a day of theater and dining with kids in Chicago. My daughter and I did it with a morning spent at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place seeing the new rendition of “Charlotte’s Web” followed by lunch at one of Chicago’s iconic burger joints, the Billy Goat Tavern, and a delectable dessert at Glazed and Infused.
But first, the play.
Charlotte’s Web in Chicago
“My favorite part was when Charlotte’s baby stayed with Wilbur,” my 9-year-old daughter exclaimed after we saw Charlotte’s Web at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago on its opening day. “But it was different in the end because…” Well, we won’t spoil the play for you but suffice to say my daughter and I loved how similar the play was to the book and yet the poetic liberties the writers and actors took with a childhood favorite book.
My daughter finished reading E.B. White’s beloved childhood book with her 3rd grade class a couple of months ago. When we learned Broadway in Chicago and Emerald City Theatre were putting on a play, we were more than thrilled when Broadway in Chicago asked us to see it play out live on stage. Even more so because my daughter has been wanting to take acting lessons and we’d be considering Emerald City Theatre.
Liam Dahlborn plays Wilbur while Lily Dahlborn plays Charlotte’s daughter. Both are students of Emerald City Theatre and attend St. Clement School during the school year. Liam did an excellent job and I could see my daughter following him as he traversed around the theater as the beloved pig. In addition to playing Charlotte’s daughter in the end, Lily played as a spectator throughout the play.
In the playbill, Emerald City Artistic Director Ernie Nolan recounts a story of sharing his excitement of directing Charlotte’s Web to a friend who responded: “You’re excited to direct the most emotionally scarring story ever?” His friend continued that the story is how he learned where bacon came from and it was sad.
Nolan had a different experience when he first read the book in second grade. He felt the story was about love: love of friends, family and life.
He captures that love time and time again throughout the play, from Fern’s (played by soon-to-be 7th grader Avery Moss) plea to her father to pardon Wilbur from a death sentence to Charlotte’s unwavering commitment to her friend until the very end. I would lie if I didn’t admit that I got teary-eyed when Charlotte finished her last web for Wilbur, knowing it would be her last. And when, soon after, Wilbur committed to taking care of her egg sack filled with 514 of her baby spider eggs. My daughter turned to me and gave me a hug. Oh my goodness. I wish I could bottle up that feeling.
Lunch at Famed Billy Goat Tavern
Afterward, I asked her if she wanted to grab lunch since it was almost lunchtime. She said she was hungry and had a taste for a burger. I knew exactly where to take her: Billy Goat Tavern just a few blocks south on Michigan Avenue.
We took the 15 minute trek along the Magnificent Mile, stopped to take photographs of visitors along the way, took the stairs down to the lower level of Michigan Avenue. It’s a place tourists tend to shy away from because they think they’re going into a parking garage or something. Even my daughter kept asking if we were going the right way.
“Yes, it just doesn’t look like it,” I say.
“You sure, because it’s kinda dark down here,” she asks again, unconvinced.
Of Saturday Night Live Fame
“Yes, look,” I point out where it says Billy Goat Tavern on a wood-paneled painted sign with its signature, Saturday Night Live-made famous goat that I swear makes me think I’m in London.
We walk down the few steps and before we make it to the last stair, the guy manning the grill yells at us “Cheezborger, cheesborger, cheezborger.” Yep, we found the right place.
If you’ve never been to Billy Goat Tavern, it’s important to know there is protocol to dining at this dive. One thing to note is that you must order quickly. Usually it’s a double cheeseburger. With chips and a Pepsi (no Coke).
If you’ve seen the old Saturday Night Live skit, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, it’ll be an experience. But worth it. It’s super cheap for Chicago, in general, but especially for the Magnificent Mile. Two single burgers (I know, I know. Do as I say, not as I do.), two bags of chips and two pops came out to be less than $13.
Another thing to know is that the joint is CASH ONLY. A full bar with bar stools are popular among locals who work nearby including employees of the Wrigley Corporation (Billy Goat is located right below.) and the Chicago Tribune (which is directly across the street).
The Billy Goat Tavern now boasts nine locations with the first one opening in 1934 near the United Stadium. While this isn’t the original one, it’s still worth a visit.
Dessert in Chicago
For dessert, we walked a couple of blocks west to Glazed and Infused for some decadent donuts. Chloe chose the Red Velvet while I opted for the coffee glazed and split a white chocolate passion fruit.
We ended up making our theater visit an entire morning and mid-day affair complete with lunch and dessert. I enjoyed the morning as much as my daughter did, taking in our beautiful city and the arts.
Nolan chooses to quote the novel’s end in his note and it’s quite fitting for everyone to hear and re-read: “It’s not very often that someone comes along who is a good friend and a great writer. Charlotte was both.”
Go see Emerald City Theatre’s Charlotte Web theatrical interpretation at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago. For a complete performance schedule, visit Broadway in Chicago. The play continues through August 17, 2014. Then take the opportunity to enjoy the city’s great nearby restaurant options, including Billy Goat Tavern and Glazed and Infused.