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The best performances in Chicago theater in 2023

Our annual list of the year’s top 10 performances in Chicago theater is back! This joins my previous ones top 10 theater productions of the year.

Here’s hoping they bring back some happy memories for you. And adding to this list are some terrific artists to watch out for in 2024.

1. Jasmine Amy Rogers, “Boop! The Musical at CIBC Theatre: Like almost all Broadway attempts, “Boop! Musical” still needs work. But the right star is definitely in place. A beautiful singer and a vulnerable but strong actress, Rogers delights the audience from start to finish in this new musical, even though she has the difficult job of fleshing out a cartoonish character. Really. Watching her debut performance on opening night was like watching Sutton Foster take the stage in “Throughly Modern Millie.” It was obvious that you were experiencing the birth of a major new Broadway star. To be This Being good this early in the development of a difficult, made-from-scratch musical is a great indicator of a future career.

2. Kate Fry in “Birthday Candles” at Northlight Theatre: Fry’s magnificent performance in this emotional Noah Haidle play brought the entire theater to tears. Portraying a woman who ages before your eyes, spanning decades, Fry never hits a false note as her character goes through one difficult year after another. “Birthday candles” is a play mostly about loss and survival, and Fry’s work here felt like an ode to all Midwestern mothers, mothers who nurtured their loved ones and eventually had to watch them go.

Kaitlyn Davis and cast "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire.

3. Kaitlyn Davis in “Beauty: The Carole King Musical” at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire: This reboot of the Carole King jukebox musical starred many talented Broadway actresses for Davis to follow. at Marriott Directed by Jessica Fisch. But he had an additional feature in his toolbox: the ability to play the piano live throughout the show. Add in his amazing vocal and acting skills and the result was an extraordinarily good performance. Marriott audiences flocked to see a beautifully constructed performance that focused on the paradox King has experienced throughout his life; King always wanted a stable husband and family; That turned out to be hard to find, whereas fame and acclaim were not.

Dana Saleh Omar and the cast of the musical "One time" at the Writers' Theater in Glencoe.

4. Dana Saleh Omar in “Once Upon a Time” at the Writers Theater: “How is your heart?” That’s the central question the beautiful Anglo-Irish musical asks. “One time” and all the previous productions I’ve seen have focused on the emotional journey of the depressed Dubliner known only as Guy, played so beautifully by Matt Mueller in Writers. But Omar’s excellent performance revealed that Girl was just as “stopped” as her musician friend, with whom she developed the most complex and hypnotic relationships. She worked with director Katie Spelman to find something new in this beautiful series, highlighting her character’s emotional journey and it was beautiful to watch.

Samuel Roukin, Jon Hudson Odom, Jeff Perry and Mark Ulrich "No Man's Land" at Steppenwolf Theatre.

5. Jeff Perry in Steppenwolf Theater Company’s “No Man’s Land”: On rare occasions in theatre, it feels as if an actor has been waiting for a role for years. This indirect performance from Perry seemed to do the same. Harold Pinter’s classic it was textually flawless, emotionally heartbreaking, and filled with passion and menace. Perry’s work both embodied and rekindled Steppenwolf’s signature intensity, and this fearless performance felt like a vital cornerstone in the Steppenwolf co-founder’s distinguished career.

Ali Louis Bourzgui as Tommy and company "Who is Tommy?" at the Goodman Theatre.  On the far right are Captain Walker (Adam Jacobs) and Mrs. Walker (Alison Luff).

6. Ali Louis Bourzgui in “The Who’s Tommy” at the Goodman Theatre: When you win one Joseph Jefferson Award, burzgui He thanked The Who’s Pete Townshend and director Des McAnuff for taking a chance on an unknown relative in this high-profile Broadway revival. “Tommy.” We suspect it is not an unknown situation for a long time. Bourzgui’s life will likely change when “Tommy” opens in New York. His honest, original and brilliant vocal performance as a bad pinball kid in Chicago blew away audiences while avoiding most of the potential clichés. Here was a Tommy for a new generation, and Chicago audiences saw him first.

Jordan Stafford, Julia Morales, Andy Bolduc, Evan Mills, Claire McFadden and Kiley Fitzgerald "Don't Give Up on Your Dream."

7. Evan Mills in “Don’t Give Up on Your Dream” in Second City: Mills is a transformative comic actor who can represent different things to different people. Mills, who had long had a presence on Wells Street, reached his comic peak during this period. 2023 main stage review. Most Second City performers specialize in either physical comedy or rapid-fire soundbites; Mills excels at both, while providing viewers with an empathetic personality and a kind of personal vulnerability that makes her instantly likable. Add in a fast-moving brain that comes with the current events and cultural knowledge needed to succeed in this job, and Mills is the full package. He played a crucial role in helping Second City find its comedic courage.

Matt DeCaro, Kate Fry and Christopher Donahue in Anton Chekhov's film "Cherry Orchard" at the Goodman Theatre.

8. Kate Fry in “The Cherry Orchard” at the Goodman Theatre: No artist has ever appeared twice on this list. But not including either of Fry’s 2023 strong abilities It would be unfair. Inside Production by Robert Falls In Anton Chekhov’s famously challenging play – the director’s swan song at Goodman – Fry’s Lyubov Ranevskaya had to deal with so much directorial subtext that lesser performers would collapse under the weight. Not Fry. He rose to the role, alternately expressing the immense difficulty most people face in moving on and the ease of slipping into a clown’s make-up.

Erica Stephan (Sally Bowles) and the cast "Cabaret" By Porchlight Music Theatre.

9. Erica Stephan in “Cabaret” at Porchlight Music Theatre: Despite the abundance of now-iconic characters, the great musical “Cabaret” still revolves around the emotional orbit of unheralded British socialite Sally Bowles, who performs in Berlin as the party winds down. Stephan, now settling into his relatively new role as one of this city’s musical theater stars, was magnificent in the role: his performance was an imitation of no one, was as tender as it was unforgiving, and brought with it the vulgar yet hypnotic sparkle of a singer. relieve despair.

Tracey N. Bonner in the original play by Lydia R. Diamond "Tony Stone."

10. Tracey N. Bonner in “Toni Stone” at the Goodman Theatre: A tremendously central role and clearly a huge challenge to play, Negro League baseball star Toni Stone, the first of three Black women to play professional baseball for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s, was a gift for Bonner. Her bold central performance was an ideal blend of playwright Lydia R. Diamond. historical accuracy intellectual richness and director Ron OJ Parson’s characteristic humor, pace and spontaneity. Stone was a baseball nerd, a savant, and a damn good player, too; not all of his traits were compatible with being hired as a crowd-pleasing gimmick. Bonner’s performance reflected pain and disappointment as well as the joy of the beautiful game.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

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