Chris’s Picks: Top 5 Shows of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, I find myself looking back at the past few years and just how much tremendous theatre I’ve seen in Chicago. This year has been no exception. There were some really awesome shows this year. There was a difference, though, in the overall number of shows I saw. Not unlike all other “best of” lists, only those which were seen can be included. So, my apologies to those I did not see. I’m pretty sure there are some great pieces of theatre I missed. But, as I say goodbye to this year, I am glad to share what I saw as the best of Chicago theatrical productions that I personally witnessed.


Show: “Marry Me A Little”

Company: Porchlight Music Theatre

Venue: Stage 773 Thrust

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Sondheim review shows off two brilliant performers in perfect harmony.

RATING: d20 — “One Of The Best”

I would give both of my pinkies to be half the musician that Austin Cook is.  Of course, that would make playing the piano more difficult, but you get the idea.  Cook and his co-star, the dynamic Bethany Thomas, brought this show to life in a way that was just perfect.  I was taken to this show as a gift by my wife.  It has long been one of my favorites.  But, only on recordings.  I’d never seen a production.  I’ve used a number of songs from it as audition pieces over the years, though.  So, I felt I had a good understanding of the piece.  But I didn’t really know it until I saw Porchlight’s production.  Now, granted, they altered the show a bit, swapping out some newer Sondheim pieces for a couple of my favorites.  I really wish they’d left “Silly People” in the program.  But, even with one of my favorite songs’ omission, I still loved being immersed in the lives of the two neighbors/lovers as we tracked their romance from beginning to end in a circularly staged hunk of possibilities.


Show: Musical Therapy”

Company: Death & Pretzels

Venue: Gorilla Tango

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Sock puppets and sex and singing and dancing and wow.

RATING: d20 — “One Of The Best”

This entry was an unexpected surprise when I saw it. I’ve worked with the director, Madison Smith, and I find her to be a joy to work with, but the premise of this show didn’t really sing to me upon reading the show’s description.  And yet, once the characters started to sing to me, it was a whole different thing. There is something special about a musical that leaves songs running through your head the next day. And there is something great about a show that is put up by a small, low-budget operation that manages to outshine the boys with the big bucks.  This was a tightly crafted piece that was more than laugh-out-loud funny. There were times when my sides hurt from laughing.  I imagine this show will be remounted at some point.  I know that the playwright and composer are interested in continuing to improve the script and music.  But, when it comes down to it, the show is already finishing just behind a Sondheim piece on my list this year.  I’m not sure it needs any improvements.


Show: “Objects in the Mirror”

Company: Goodman Theatre

Venue: Goodman Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Trust in this one thing: You should see this play.

RATING: d20 — “One Of The Best”

The ten-word summary above is a reference to the mantra of one of the show’s main characters — that you should trust no one.  Playwright Charles Smith’s play was given a massively staged production by director Chuck Smith, which felt intimate and personal despite the operatic scale of the set. A tale about escaping the ravages of war torn African countries, we followed a family through trials that most people can hardly imagine. Daniel Kyri and Breon Arzell were standouts in this cast, though there wasn’t a single weak link in the show.  I always expect good-to-great work from the Goodman.  After all, they have the budget to pull off just about anything.  But this show went above and beyond what I expect from them. This show really meant something, and brought a story from far away to the hearts of everyone who saw it.


Show: “Hamilton”

Company: Broadway in Chicago

Venue: CIBC Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: History will never be the same. Better than the recording.

RATING: d20 — “One Of The Best”

I know that most press outlets covered “Hamilton” in 2016, but I wasn’t able to see it until after Wayne Brady had come and gone. Long before it got to Chicago, many of my friends were singing and/or rapping the songs from this show thanks to the spectacularly popular original cast recording.  It was an epic struggle on my part to remain unexposed to the work on the whole prior to seeing it in person.  Seldom do I find that a show lives up to the hype surrounding it, but generally, “Hamilton” does.  I will see this show again, and I’m sure it’s not a huge surprise to see the production in a “best of” list, but perhaps the most significant thing for me about this story of Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton, is that a number of locally produced shows finished the year higher overall in my eyes.


Show: “London Assurance”

Company: City Lit Theater

Venue: City Lit Theater

TEN WORD SUMMARY: After 120 years, this show is welcome back in Chicago.

RATING: d12 — “Heckuva Good Show”

This show just barely missed my top ranking.  The production was wonderful.  The casting was great.  And the performance had me laughing and enjoying myself more than almost anything else I saw this year.  There were a couple of odd things in the play’s structure, and one character that seemed extraneous.  That’s what kept it from the d20 ranking originally, but this is a show that I remember vividly, and that I will continue to do so for many years to come, I’m sure.  Kat Evans and James Sparling were each stellar in their roles, and while the entire cast was excellent, Kingsley Day appeared in a part that was clearly made especially for him over a century earlier.  Director Terry McCabe gave us a gift with this show.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Triassic Parq” (Circle Theatre); “Hir” (Steppenwolf Theatre).