Best of 2013: Chicago's Ten Best!

By: Elee Schrock and Paul W. Thompson

"Appropriate" at Victory Gardens Theater: Gary Griffin directed this play centered around a family coming to sort through belongings at the plantation of their dead patriarch and brought to minds the same explosive family drama that "August: Osage County" delivered. As the breakout hit of the fall, it was impossible to not hear the excellent word-of-mouth that "Appropriate" earned.

"Great Expectations" at Strawdog Theatre Company: The Dickens' classic was reimagined and creatively told by a superb cast of 6 actors playing nearly 40 characters. Under Jason Gerace's direction, audiences were taken through a high-energy and riveting play with minimal props and set pieces that found multiple uses and made "Great Expectations" the surprise hit of the holiday season.

"Head of Passes" at Steppenwolf Theatre Company: From the same playwright as "The Brother/Sister Plays" (Tarell Alvin McCraney) came a powerful and moving tale about a Louisiana woman, her family and friends, and her home. Tina Landau directed this piece that included a tour-de-force performance by Cheryl Lynn Bruce and an amazing set trick (thanks to designer David Gallo) that was worth the price of admission alone.

"Henry VIII" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Artistic Director Barbara Gaines proved once again there is no better director in Chicago when it comes to staging Shakespeare. In its first staging at Chicago Shakes, "Henry VIII" wowed critics and audiences alike, being called a "revelation" and a "masterpiece."

"Miss Saigon" at Paramount Theatre: This lavish staging of Boublil and Schonberg's second masterpiece, directed by Jim Corti, smacked Aurora audiences with lush pop music, gripping action and superb technical design, all the while reconceiving key moments in the well-known show to stunning effect. No helicopter? "The American Dream" with Joseph Anthony Foronda's Engineer alone on stage? Wow. And yes, please.

"Next to Normal" at Drury Lane Theatre: The regional premiere of this Pulitzer Prize-winning musical (and taut exploration of mental health issues in the suburbs) took a mostly suburban audience on a risky journey, peeling back layers, exposing vulnerability and intensity, and seamlessly placing ordinary life under the most remarkable of musical microscopes.

"Othello: The Remix" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater: [pictured] Shakespeare via rap and hip-hop? An all-male cast, with Desdemona heard but unseen? After a shakedown in the UK and Germany, Chicago's Q Brothers brought it home in stunning style, with a 90-minute show that extended for months, brought generations together and proved the power of the original--while demonstrating something of the effect that those audiences 400 years ago must also have experienced.

"A Raisin in the Sun" at TimeLine Theatre Company: Ron OJ Parson's direction of Lorraine Hansberry's piece took Chicago by storm this fall. With a stellar cast and intimate staging, TimeLine's "A Raisin in the Sun" proved once again why the play made the mark on theatre history that it did and how its themes and questions are still relevant today.

"Smokefall" at Goodman Theatre: This new work written by Noah Haidle and directed by Anne Kauffman revolves around a woman who is about to give birth to twins and whose world around her is also in transformation. Mike Nussbaum's performance alone made "Smokefall" a must-see production of 2013.

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Paul W. Thompson Paul W. Thompson, a contributor to since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as a performer, teacher and writer is centered at Paul W. Thompson Music, located in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building, where he teaches the great songs of Broadway to the next generation of musical theater performers. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Paul was raised in a family of professional musicians and teachers, steeped in classical, gospel, country, pop, sacred and show music. Dubbed a “thin, winsome lad” at the age of 13 by a critic for the Nashville Banner, he earned two degrees in musical theater (a B.F.A. with Honors from Baylor University and an M.M. from the University of Miami, Florida), plus an M.B.A. with Distinction from DePaul University. Paul’s memberships include Actors’ Equity Association, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (proud voter for the Grammy Awards!), the National Association of Teachers of Singing and New York’s Drama League.

Moving easily between the worlds of classical music, religious music, classic pop and musical theater, Paul has appeared onstage or in the orchestra pit in concerts, musicals, operettas and operas in 30 states and in Europe, in a career spanning more than 35 years. His Chicagoland stage credits include “Forever Plaid” at the Royal George Theater and twenty mainstage productions at Light Opera Works. Paul joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 1995 (he was Tenor I Section Leader for four years and sings on two Grammy-winning recordings), and is one of Chicago’s foremost liturgical singers, marking 20 years as a member of the choir at St. James Cathedral (Episcopal) in 2011.He has composed and arranged a number of anthems, hymns and songs for worship and concert use, and collaborates on the creation of new works of musical theater. Paul can be found on Monday nights watching showtune videos at the world-famous Sidetrack nightclub, the inspiration for his weekly column, “The Showtune Mosh Pit.” His proudest achievement is that he has seen the original Broadway production of every Tony Award-winning Best Musical since “Cats.” No, really. Since “Cats!”

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