Year in Review: Chicago Theatre

Top 2016 shows Year in Review

With about 250 theatre companies in the Chicago area, it’s pretty much a given that their audiences are fairly sophisticated when it comes to show choices. In addition, some folks love musicals, others gravitate toward meaningful reflections of life. So, feel free to add your top choice or choices in comments after reading those of Chicago Theater and Arts. The picks here are not in order of preference.

From left: Nic Fantl (Beauregard), Nancy Hays (Mame), Alexander Wu (Ito), Alicia Berneche (Agnes Gooch) and Zachary Scott Fewkes (Patrick). Phot Mona Luan
From left: Nic Fantl (Beauregard), Nancy Hays (Mame), Alexander Wu (Ito), Alicia Berneche (Agnes Gooch) and Zachary Scott Fewkes (Patrick). Photo Mona Luan

‘Hamilton’ at Private Bank Theatre is part of the Broadway In Chicago series. It has an open run so there is still time to see it. And yes, it’s worth the hype for Lin Manuel Miranda’s adept story-telling in a variety of rhythms and its outstanding choreographed movements. BTW, this musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton took the Tony Award for Best Musical.

‘West Side Story,’ at Paramount Theatre in Aurora deservedly received seven Jeff Award nominations and walked off with top honors for Best Musical, Best choreography and Best Supporting Actress in the musical-large theatre category.

‘Smokey Joe’s Café,’ a musical revue at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, was a wonderfully sung and danced production about a bygone era. Thanks to Drury Lane, Chicago area audiences saw why this revue lasted on Broadway from 1995 to 2000.

“Mame” at Light Opera Works performed on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston was the best production of this musical seen by this critic. Its pace was perfect and so was the talented Nancy Hays who played Mame Dennis.

‘Man of La Mancha’ at Marriott Theatre was not the Broadway or movie version filled with the expected windmill scenery and Spanish-style costumes. Instead it was set in a prison where rags, mops and bowls were props and writer Cervantes was an accused prisoner. He convinced his cell mates he shouldn’t die by using a story about Don Quixote that he wrote. Nathaniel Stampleyh as Cervantes hands out his scripts and his cell mates play their roles. Stampley won the Jeff Award for principal actor in a musical.

‘Mr and Mrs. Pennyworth’ at Lookingglass Theatre is a remarkable new play that goes far deeper than the symbolic big bad wolf disappearance from children’s tales that it uses. It looks at what keeps stories alive, including people’s stories, whether they are happy or not.

‘The Magic Play’ at Goodman Theatre, also a new play, looked at how a person’s profession, in this case that of a magician, influences personal relationships. Magician/actor Brett Schneider  enthralled audiences with his illusions and, eventually, understood they changed his relationships. It would be interesting to see this concept extended to other professions, such as law and advertising.

‘King Charles III,’ at Chicago Shakespeare takes an unexpected “what-if” view about Britain’s  succession to the throne when Elizabeth II dies. The production is well staged and believably performed no matter whether you like the outcome or not.



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