Chicago’s Best Theater of 2016

| January 3, 2017

  

Miguel Cervantes stars as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Broadway ChicagoDana Omar and Gay Glenn star in Cinderella at the Theater Potatotes, Hypocrites TheatreKaren Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater 3ETHL_ShowPageFINAL_450x665James Vincent Meredith and Bethany Jillard in Othello, Chicago Shakespeare TheatreBryce Gangel, Jessica Ervin and Charlotte Thomas in Dry Land, RivendellJulissa Contreras, Sarah Cartwright and Ada Grey in The Haven Place, Red Orchid TheatreEvan Linder and Liz Sharpe in Byhalia Mississippi, New Colony Definition TheatreBrian Parry and Aaron Kirby in The Drawer Boy, Redtwist TheatreChristian Castro and D’Wayne Taylor in Jesus Hopped A Train, Eclipse TheatreThomas Cox, Bolden. (Back) Ruiz, Sullivan, Brown. Photo by Michael Brosilow (2)Mary Beth Fisher and Harris Yulin in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Court TheatreEliza Stoughton and Sam Hubbard in A Loss of Roses, Raven TheatreBlair Brown and Alan Wilder in Mary Page Marlowe, Steppenwolf TheatreChristina Saliba with mirror from Learning Curve, Albany Park Theater ProjectThe Joffrey Ballet presents Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker, Auditorium TheatreJustin Keyes, Chris Sams, Tyrone L. Robinson, Will Skrip and Sean Blake in Smokey Joe's CafeDash Barber and Christopher Borek in Posh by Laura Wade, Steep Theatre LMSarah Goeden, Justine C. Turner and Nicole Bloomsmith in Once in a Lifetime, StrawdogSydney Charles and Julian Parker in Prowess, Jackalope TheatreIt’s the classic tale of the Sharks versus the Jets in West Side Story, one of the greatest musicals ever, playing March 16-April 24, 2016 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. For tickets and information, go to ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666. Photo credit: Liz Lauren.Brian Quijada in Where Do We Sit On the Bus, Teatro Vista Chicago 2Amy Stricker, Britain Gebhardt, Max DeTogne, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Kelly Baskin, Caitlin JacksonMonica Raymund stars in Thaddeus and Slocum, Lookingglass TheatreBrenda Barrie, James Doherty. Michael E Martin, Johnny Arena and Rudy Galvan in United Flight 232

     

See our picks below the fold

     

                Chicago’s best theater of 2016

(in alphabetical order; all summaries by Lauren Whalen)

       

Evan Linder, Kiki Layne and Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr. in Byhalia Mississippi, New Colony Definition Theatre
 

Byhalia, Mississippi

The New Colony / Definition Theatre  (Jan 11 – March 14)

Evan Linder’s uncompromising look at infidelity in the American South enjoyed simultaneous world premieres in Chicago, Toronto, Memphis and Charleston. While I can’t speak for the other three, I can confidently state that the Chicago premiere (which resulted in a well-deserved extended run and remount) gave underdogs New Colony and Definition a fresh influx of respectability in local theater. Playwright Linder also portrayed lead character Jim, a perpetual small-town boy whose marriage to high school sweetheart Laurel (Liz Sharpe) is threatened when the white couple’s baby is born with dark skin. Thanks to the unflappable direction by Definition’s Tyrone Phillips, John Wilson’s humbly authentic set and a host of magnificent lead and supporting performances, Byhalia, Mississippi was a simple yet thunderous look at the intricacies of marriage, the pitfalls of dual infidelity and the mostly-impossible standards we place on one another.  (our review)


     

Elle Walker, Dana Omar, Joel Rodriguez, Leslie Ann Sheppard, Gay Glenn and Aja Wiltshire
  

Cinderella at the Theater of the Potatoes

The Hypocrites  (Nov 21, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017)

A much-loved Chicago company whose current season has tragically been cut short, The Hypocrites closed 2016 with this world premiere play-within-a-play operetta that also served as a tribute to a long-forgotten female composer. Pauline Viardot-Garcia kept company with Brahms, Chopin, Debussy and Mendelssohn, holding twice-weekly salons in her Paris flat (a potato was the price of admission), but unlike her contemporaries, faded into obscurity due to her gender. Director Sean Graney brought Viardot’s work to sweet and vibrant life in this 85-minute musical, adapted by Andra Velis Simon from Viardot’s Cindrillon. There was no handsome prince or glass slipper, only a young woman who aspired to sing opera and a composer searching for the perfect voice – portrayed by Viardot’s eager friends and staff. With the stunning stage magic and gifted performers that define this unique Chicago company, Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes was unmercifully short but definitely, wonderfully unforgettable.  (our review)


  
           
 Brian Parry, Aaron Kirby and Adam Bitterman in Drawer Boy, Redtwist Theatre  
   

Drawer Boy

Redtwist Theatre  (Jan 30 – Feb 28)

With a trio of actors and the simplest of sets, director Scott Weinstein elevated what could have been a manipulative melodrama into a tough but warm tale of the nature of truth. Penned by Michael Healey, Drawer Boy opens In 1972, as young playwright Miles (a charismatic and funny Aaron Kirby) befriends a pair of grizzled post-war roommates whose shared life contains much more than meets the eye. Veteran Redtwist member Brian Parry positively shone as the gentle and childlike Angus, whose long- and short-term memories were largely destroyed thanks to a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain in a long-ago London bombing. As his patient, but protective best friend Morgan, actor Adam Bitterman had the challenge of presenting a multifaceted man who dealt with his own demons while recreating the world for Angus every single day. Widely different in age and life experience, these three men’s relationships changed radically over the course of the play, and with Weinstein at the helm, an emotional journey was never truer.   (our review)


      

Jessica Ervin, Bryce Gangel and Charlotte Thomas in Dry Land, Rivendell Theatre
  

Dry Land

Rivendell Theatre (April 27 – May 28)

“Punch me! Harder!” The order-turned-battle-cry of one teenage girl to another kicked off this Midwest premiere, equal parts shocking and stunning. Set entirely in a high school locker room, Ruby Rae Spiegel’s script was not for the faint of heart.  But thanks to Hallie Gordon’s intelligent and quick-witted direction, Spiegel’s sensitive and nuanced teen characters, and glorious lead performances by Bryce Gangel and Jessica Ervin, the story of a promising high school swimmer, an unexpected pregnancy and the brutality of youth (to each other, and within) became one for the feminist record books. And thanks to a nonverbal sequence that was pitch-perfect in its uncomfortable nature, I haven’t looked at a janitor the same way since.  (our review)


  
       
Kevin Roston, Jr., Alfred H. Wilson, Willie B., Antoine Pierre Whitfield, Tyla Abercrumbie, A.C. Smith, Luce Metr
   

East Texas Hot Links

Writers Theatre (Oct 26, 2016 – Jan 29, 2017)

Don’t let the slow burn fool you – Writers Theatre’s latest (which just received an extension to the end of January) was both grotesquely rewarding and strangely poetic. Well worth the trip to Glencoe, Eugene Lee’s ode to rural Texas in all its beautiful brutality is a stunner from humble beginning to dark end. Acclaimed director Ron OJ Parson made a name for himself in the Chicago theater scene with a 1995 production of this play, and his trademark rich, nuanced style was once again the perfect fit for this night-out-gone-wrong. Tyla Abercrumbie delivered a career-making performance as Charlesetta, an earth mother type whose baseball bat was never far away – and in 1955, when Jim Crow laws and lynchings were the law of the land, who could blame her? Jack Magaw’s almost hyper-realistic set design and a host of incredible actors rounded out a disturbing but moving night at the theater.  (our review)


  
        
Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda at PrivateBank Theatre, Broadway in Chicago 3
   

Hamilton

Broadway in Chicago (Oct 19 – open run)

Before the opening of his second musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda was a respected composer and performer with a Tony Award under his belt. Since the soundtrack of his hip-hop take on the Founding Fathers was released last year, the 36-year-old with the gift of Shakespearean-level wordplay has become a worldwide phenomenon, rightfully earning the adoration of everyone from President Barack Obama to a generation of new musical theater fans singing along in the backseat of their parents’ cars. Chicago is the first city outside of New York to welcome this groundbreaking piece of theater, so the pressure was on for this cast to fill the shoes of Miranda himself, plus Tony Award winners Renee Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom, Jr. Thankfully, they were more than up to the task, particularly Miguel Cervantes’ uniquely cerebral interpretation of the title character and Tony winner Karen Olivo’s sharp and intuitive Angelica Schuyler. Well worth the standing in line, the Internet scrambling and the lottery entries, a ticket to Hamilton is a key to understanding both the sacrifices of those before us, and the necessity to stay proactive as America evolves.  (our review)


      
     
Julissa Contreras, Ada Grey, Sam Blin, Haley Bolithon, Eden Strong, Sarah Cartwright, Rudakova, Szalai-Raymond
    

The Haven Place

A Red OrKids Youth Project  (Dec 11 – Dec 30)

Levi Holloway’s engaging and thoughtful world premiere was part Stranger Things and part Black Mirror, both a harbinger of what may come in a dystopian America and a hopeful tribute to the resilience of young people. A gang of teenage girls, led by the tough, trucker hat-sporting Jessie (rising star Sarah Cartwright) treks through a no-longer-United States in search of the one safe place left, in northern Canada. But is it real? Can they trust the male hitchhiker they just picked up? Can they trust anyone at all? Branded a “youth” production, The Haven Place, deftly directed by Steven Wilson, is a perfect fit for A Red Orchid and its edgy, uncompromising look at humanity. Cartwright leads a phenomenal ensemble (including one deaf actress) in a truly badass tale of girl power, RVs and chosen family.  (our review)


       
  
 Caitlin Jackson, Amy Stricker, Kelly Baskin, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Britain Gebhardt
  

High Fidelity

Refuge Theatre Project  (Jan 31 – Feb 28)

Both Nick Hornby’s bestselling novel and the subsequent film adaptation starring John Cusack successfully made a relatable, even likable character out of Rob Gordon, a flawed record store owner with a passion for music and a tendency to strike out in the love department. But what of the stage musical, which had a respectable but forgettable New York run over a decade ago? Refuge Theatre made the savvy decision to stage their High Fidelity in an intimate gallery-type space, breathing rock star energy into Rob’s quest to figure out how, why and where he keeps going wrong with women. A breakout performance from Max DeTogne as Rob, as well as a sarcastic and joyful Caitlin Jackson as his snarky pal Liz, transformed what could have been a passable evening out into a laugh-out-loud musical labor of love.  And Chicago audience are in luck – look for a remount of this hit running late January thru early March at a pop up Refuge Records in Wicker Park!  (our review)


     
              
D'Wayne Taylor, Christian M. Castro and Johnathan Nieves in Jesus Hopped A Train, Eclipse Theatre   

Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

Eclipse Theatre  (April 17 – May 22)

Eclipse is known for its “one playwright per season” mission, and for its excellent taste in such playwrights. Classics like Eugene O’Neill and contemporaries like Terrence McNally have received the Eclipse treatment in the past, and this year, Stephen Adly Guirgis stepped up to bat. I had the pleasure of reviewing all three of Eclipse’s Guirgis productions, and while each packed a punch, April’s season opener was the strongest of them all. Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train chronicled the journey of two very different prisoners – rough-yet-noble Angel (Johnathan Nieves), and HIV-positive God-fearing Lucius (D’Wayne Taylor) – with a humble grace and a take-no-prisoners attitude (pardon the pun). Guirgis’ writing spins the toughest language into poetry, and director Anish Jethmalani embraced the challenge with aplomb. Nieves’ quiet monologue was one of the play’s most haunting moments, and as the devout, complex Lucius, Taylor is, quite simply, a revelation.   (our review)


  
          
 Maidenwena Alba in Learning Project, Albany Park Theater Project, Third Rail Projects
  

Learning Curve

Albany Park Theater Project  (July 31 – Dec 17)

It’s not every day that one goes back to high school, but perhaps we should, even just for a few hours. Dedicated to working with Chicago teenagers in both performing arts and academics, the Albany Park Theater Project is known for its groundbreaking student-led and artist-facilitated original work. However, Learning Curve took APTP’s originality to a whole new level. The immersive experience explored a day in the life of a Chicago Public School from the perspectives of both teacher and student. From burned-out instructors and frazzled administrators to gossiping in the hallways to prom proposals, each theatergoer was treated to a unique “day” and left with a new perspective on the state of education in our city, our nation, and our society. Learning Curve was an intense 100 minutes, and an unforgettable triumph for the pioneering company, (our review)


     

Michael Doonan and Dan Waller in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Court Theatre
  

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Court Theatre (March 19 – April 10)

Everyone knows Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but most don’t have the physical, mental and emotional fortitude to stage it. Director David Auburn pulled no punches in his exquisite rendering of Eugene O’Neill’s classic family drama, where alcoholism, drug addiction and plenty of family secrets bubble just under the surface until they reach a boiling point. Sound designer Toy Olorio helped deliver the haunting metaphor of fog with well-placed cues, and Jack Magaw’s set depicted a 1912 New England estate gone to seed with tragic accuracy. Faced with the challenging role of matriarch and opiate addict Mary – a part that can become overacted in the blink of an eye – Mary Beth Fisher is gleeful, torn apart and staggeringly authentic.   (our review)


  

Abigail Boucher, Barbara Roeder-Harris and Eliza Stoughton in Loss of Roses
  

A Loss of Roses

Raven Theatre (Feb 22 – April 2)

While William Inge is best known for Picnic and Bus Stop, the 1959 Broadway run of A Loss of Roses launched the career of a then-unknown Warren Beatty, and carries its own charm to boot. Raven Theatre excels at old-school productions with lots of expository dialogue, multiple characters and elaborate sets, and A Loss of Roses (along with the more recent Betrayal) was no exception. Centering on a glamorous actress’ visit to humble Depression-era Kansas, A Loss of Roses was a rewarding slow burn, and a far cry from the 90-minutes-no-intermission plays of the 21st century. Presented with much nuance, wit and pure drama, Director Cody Estle, gave deep significance to the seemingly mundane, and as the down-on-her-luck Lila, Eliza Stoughton displayed an endearing, trembling vulnerability.  (our review)


     
  
 Sean Michael Sullivan, Melanie Brezill, Shaledon Brown, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Thomas Cox, Ruiz, Williams, Gilmore
  

Man in the Ring

Court Theatre (Sept 24 – Oct 16)

Court Theatre productions veer toward the heavy, the rich and the unforgettable, and this fall’s Man in the Ring was all three, and then some. The true story of Emile Griffith, a six-time welterweight world champion – and a gay man in the hyper-straight environment of professional boxing – wasn’t just a gut punch but a lethal coldcock to the head. Told with a nonlinear structure, Man in the Ring bounced back and forth in time for maximum effect, equal parts cautionary tale and psychological thriller. The dream team of veteran director Charles Newell and choreographer Tommy Rapley collaborated to infuse Michael Cristofer’s script with a delicate balance of modern sincerity and ancient Greek tragedy. Homophobia, murder and destruction of the body and mind were all on viciously vivid display as the Court once again delivered a life-changing take on a little-known historical figure.  (our review)


  

Madeline Weinstein, Jack Edwards and Rebecca Spence in Mary Page Marlowe, Steppenwolf Theatre
  

Mary Page Marlowe

Steppenwolf Theatre (April 9 – June 5)

Pulitzer-winning Chicago playwright Tracy Letts’ new work, directed by fellow ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro, was at once very spare and very elaborate. Six different actresses portrayed the title character – an Ohio accountant inspired by Letts’ own mother – whose existence from birth to death was both very unique and very universal. Young Fredericka in A Little Night Music sings “ordinary mothers lead ordinary lives,” and while Mary Page Marlowe proved that true, Letts also challenged the audience to question their own personal definition of “ordinary.” Each actress was perfectly cast in their respective vignettes from Mary Page’s life, particularly film actress (and Letts’ wife) Carrie Coon, as Mary Page in the 1970’s, the most exciting – and quietly sad – part of her life.  (our review)


  
       
 Miguel Angel Blanco stars as The Great Impresario in The Nutcracker, Joffrey Ballet
  

The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet  (Dec 11 – Dec 30)

This December, renowned stage and screen choreographer Christopher Wheeldon premiered a new and exciting twist to Joffrey Ballet’s always-lovely performance of the holiday dance classic. Rather than a wealthy and coddled little girl, this Nutcracker’s heroine was scrappy peasant Marie, whose immigrant single mother is preparing a gold sculpture for the upcoming 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. By transporting the location and circumstances, Wheeldon and Joffrey’s cadre of athletic and gorgeous dancers found magic in both the ordinary and extraordinary. The Drosselmeyer character transformed into the Grand Impresario, a man both dedicated to the Fair and generous to his migrant employees and their children, who made their own family Christmas in a heartfelt opening scene. Far from the sugary norm, this Nutcracker had grit and heart, and will delight balletomanes, newbies and everyone in between for years to come.  (our review)


  

Paul Fagen,  nicole bloomsmith, brando Saunders, Justine C. Turner and Sarah Goeden
  

Once in a Lifetime

Strawdog Theatre (May 2 – June 11)

This past year, Strawdog bade farewell to its home of 28 years on Broadway in Lakeview, and said hello to temporary digs at Rogers Park’s Factory Theater. As its Lakeview sendoff, the company chose a brilliant piece of slapstick and musical comedy in legendary duo George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1930 breakout hit Once in a Lifetime. The goofy narrative of an opportunistic trio who reinvent themselves as vocal coaches to silent film stars in the post-Jazz Singer talkie era, Strawdog’s production popped with stellar timing, engaging set design (thanks to master Joe Schermoly) and classic tunes reinvented by popular contemporary group Postmodern Jukebox. As the aforementioned opportunistic trio, Michael Dailey, Kat McDonnell and Scott Danielson banded together for a unique dose of whip-smart and well-timed comedy. A better swan song was never sung.  (our review)


      

James Vincent Meredith in Othello, directed by Jonathan Munby, at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
  

Othello

Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Feb 25 – April 10)

Setting a Shakespeare play in present day is hardly groundbreaking, but when done well, can highlight the Bard’s almost frightening relevance to the current political and cultural landscape. Director Jonathan Munby’s decision to portray this parable of doomed interracial love, jealousy and manipulation in a modern military setting may not have blown anyone’s hair back. However, the touches of contemporary credit cards, cell phones and music were so intelligently thought-out and seamlessly integrated, the modern Shakspearean setting was never more natural. James Vincent Meredith was a powerful, convincing and not easily fooled title character, while Michael Milligan’s Iago traded the usual comic-book villainy for real and terrifying psychological warfare. A surprisingly show-stealing turn by Luigi Sottile as the charming but vulnerable Cassio rounded out a tragedy of truly epic proportions.  (our review)


   
   
Matthew Garry, Dash Barber, Michael Holding, and Sean Wiberg in Posh, Steep Theatre LM
  

Posh

Steep Theatre (Jan 21 – March 12)

Thanks to the upcoming Presidential inauguration, the topic of white male privilege is more relevant than ever. Steep Theatre Company began 2016 with a bang, reminding audiences just what’s at stake if young men are allowed to get away with anything and everything. Laura Wade’s Posh was equal parts cozy and bombastic, a cautionary tale of the British equivalent of a fraternity, and a dinner party gone horribly, horribly wrong. Director Jonathan Berry took many artistic risks – Steep typically has much smaller casts and less elaborate sets – and each and every one paid off in multitudes. Ashley Ann Woods’ set, which was destroyed every night and subsequently reassembled, was the ultimate symbol of the 99% white male cast of characters: destruction and decay running just under the surface of their buttoned-up, fun-loving exteriors.  (our review)


      
   
 Julian Parker, Sydney Charles, Andrew Goetten, and Donovan Diaz in Prowess, Jackalope Theatre
  

Prowess

Jackalope Theatre  (May 24 – June 25)

Playwright Ike Holter is a Chicago treasure, and his imaginative wit was on full display in Jackalope’s world premiere of Prowess. The story of four Southsiders who respond to increasing street violence by forming a vigilante gang, Prowess was equal parts comic book-esque wish fulfillment and a timely analysis of the dangers that lie on the city’s collective doorstep. Director Marti Lyons expertly guided a four-person cast and a gifted design team to create a minimalistic yet achingly real story with a cinematic quality (both the polish of Marvel films and the rough-and-ready quality of indie films). A sad and hopeful production executed at breakneck speed, Prowess was a stark and essential reminder of the urban Hades that most face on a daily, even hourly, basis.  (our review)


         
  
Will Skrip, Orman, Justin Keyes, Donica Lynn, Sean Blake, Meghan Murphy, Chris Sams, Carrie Abernathy, Tyrone L. Robinson
  

Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Drury Lane Theatre  (Sept 8 – Oct 23)

Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge made the unique decision to stage Drury Lane’s production of this musical revue, which premiered on Broadway in the late 1990’s, in a very specific and historic Chicago location. In the 1950’s and early 60’s, the near-South Side Maxwell Street was a diverse, rollicking open air market that was also known as “Ground Zero for the Blues” thanks to frequent visits from Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. By placing the audience squarely in a piece of its own history, Dodge avoided the great potential for blandness and plopped the rock and roll music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in a jazzy, soulful new-old home. Songs like “Hound Dog” and “Stand By Me” are well-known classics, sure, but sung by a terrific group of vocalists in a sweet local setting, they took on a whole new meaning.   (our review)


         

Sharriese Hamilton, Monica Raymund, Samuel Taylor, Molly Brennan, Morohunfola, Travis Turner, Lawrence DiStasi, Brown
  

Thaddeus and Slocum

Lookingglass Theatre  (June 11 – Aug 14)

This savvy, well-timed and passionate world premiere was perfectly suited to the Lookingglass mission of "redefin[ing] the limits of theatrical experiences." Scenic designer Collette Pollard reimagined the Water Tower Water Works space as a Chicago cabaret circa 1908, complete with footlights, grand red curtains and balconies. It’s those balconies where talented vaudevillian Thaddeus was forced to sit while watching shows, separated from his Irish best friend and duet partner Slocum. The lengths the interracial duo go to in order to perform at their dream venue, The Majestic, were both extreme and, unfortunately, necessary in a highly segregated era. And as playwright Kevin Douglas asks the audience: has all that much changed? Thaddeus and Slocum asked the tough questions and paid tribute to a dirty but glorious life onstage, thanks to graceful co-direction by J. Nicole Brooks and Krissy Vanderwarker, as well as Douglas’ subtle but savvy writing, Pollard’s transformative set design, and inspired performances by Travis Turner, Samuel Taylor and Chicago Fire‘s Monica Raymund(our review)


      

Alice da Cunha, James Doherty, Elana Elyce and Michael E Martin in United Flight 232
  

United Flight 232

The House Theatre of Chicago  (March 20 – May 1)

Everyone should have perished, yet many lived to tell the tale. In fact, the crash had a literal one-in-a-million chance of even occurring. United Flight 232, adapted and directed by Vanessa Stalling, was a beautifully presented oral history of defying the odds, and the doomed flight that manifested in an almost overwhelming plethora of human resilience, kindness and support. Known for work both thorough and profound – with a dash of stage magic – the House Theatre left no detail neglected. From the gray corridor to the folding chairs to Brenda Barrie’s bravura performance as a courageous flight attendant, United Flight 232 was pure emotion and inspiration. There was nary a dry eye in the peanut gallery as Barrie uttered the final, powerful line of dialogue: “It’s good to be alive.”  (our review)


     

Karen Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater 1
  

The Way She Spoke

Greenhouse Theater  (June 16 – July 10)

This past year, Greenhouse Theater Center – previously a rental venue and store for scripts and theater books – added several staff and a board of directors, and began producing its own work. Greenhouse launched the “Solo Celebration!” series, an eight-month run of one-actor productions that began with June’s grim but incredibly vital The Way She Spoke. Isaac Gomez’s eerie, disturbing play-within-a-play began with a coffee-swilling, loud-talking actress reading for a part, then slowly but surely morphed into an exploration of the women of Juarez, Mexico, who are constantly at risk for kidnapping, sex trafficking and murder. Based on Gomez’s research of his native city, and featuring a star-making turn by Karen Rodriguez, The Way She Spoke used a variety of voices to highlight a little-known epidemic just south of the border. Coincidentally, The Way She Spoke opened after the closing of Profiles Theatre (after exposition of sexual harassment on the part of co-founder Darrell Cox) and the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and its already-stirring tribute to the violated and marginalized resonated tenfold.   (our review)


     

West Side Story, Paramount Theatre, Leonard Bernstein
   

West Side Story

Paramount Theatre  (March 19 – April 24)

At its best, Leonard Bernstein’s musical is a cautionary tale of the dangers of violence and bigotry, set in 1950’s New York when the rivalries between white and Puerto Rican gangs were very real. At its worst, West Side Story has been rife for parody and, in the early 2000’s, even Gap commercials, thanks in large part to Jerome Robbins’ original finger-snapping dance-battling choreography. At Paramount Theatre, director Jim Corti eschewed colorful costumes and stereotypes and took West Side Story to the streets. Paramount’s Jets and Sharks were dirty, their clothes shabby, their attitudes tense. They, and their lovers, knew that death and destruction was just around the corner, and they could never let go of that look-over-your-shoulder feeling. Realistic costumes, sets and projections, as well as a vocally strong cast, reminded the audience that though this West Side Story was still set in 1950’s New York, the violence and threats were as real as those faced in 2016 Chicago.  (our review)


     

Brian Quijada in Where Do We Sit On the Bus, Teatro Vista Chicago 3
     

Where Did We Sit on the Bus?

Teatro Vista  (March 17 – April 10)

Using only his body and voice, and a handful of small electronics and instruments, performer Brian Quijada took only 90 minutes to thoroughly convey a life, a legacy and a dream, and Quijada’s performance won him a Jeff Award later in the year. Named for a question he asked his third-grade teacher during Black History Month (her response? “You weren’t there”), Where Did We Sit On the Bus? was not only about Quijada, but the American Latinos before him and those who follow. Civil rights, oppression and plain old prejudice were all covered, as well as family conflicts and a passion for the arts. Victory Gardens Artistic Director Chay Yew (and director of this production) first met Quijada in Denver, and deserves kudos for bringing this funny, talented and intelligent artist to Chicago’s theater community.  (our review)  

       

             

Select Production Videos

    

West Side Story


   

Long Day’s Journey Into Night


   

Hamilton


   

A Loss of Roses


  

Where Did We Sit on the Bus?


  

United Flight 232


     
   

Byhalia, Mississippi


     

Man in the Ring


  

The Nutcracker


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Category: 2016 Reviews, A Red Orchid, Albany Park Theatre Project, Athenauem, Auditorium Theatre, Best-of-Year, Broadway Armory, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Shakespeare, Chopin Theatre, Court Theatre, Dance, DCA Theatre, Definition Theatre, Den Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Eclipse Theatre Company, Eugene O'Neill, Greenhouse Theater, House Theatre, Ike Holter, Jackalope Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Lauren Whalen, Leonard Bernstein, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lookingglass, Musical, National Tours, New Colony, New Work, One-Man Show, Paramount Theatre, PrivateBank Theatre, Raven Theatre, Refuge Theatre Project, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Stephen Sondheim, Steppenwolf, Storefront Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, Teatro Vista, Tom Kitt, Tracy Letts, Water Tower Water Works, William Inge, William Shakespeare, World Premier

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