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.

"South Pacific" at Marriott Theatre: Garnering universal raves, David H. Bell's production of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's award-winning rumination on racism and heroism featured returning star Stephen Buntrock, new star Elizabeth Lanza and Jeff Award-winner Bethany Thomas, backed by the best male ensemble seen on any Chicago stage this year.

--Elee Schrock and Paul W. Thompson

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From This Author 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 (read more...)

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