Year in Review – 2017’s Best Musicals

Chicago provides such extensive theater offerings that I try to choose shows from as many theaters as possible when creating my end-of-the-year lists. In 2017, however, Writer’s Theater and the Paramount (along with Hamilton) stole the spotlight for their edgy musical productions.

#1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Paramount Theater

Jesus Christ Superstar
Mykal Kilgore, Felicia Boswell and Evan Tyrone Martin

Every song in this production (directed by Ron Kellum) brought to life the struggle of a man exhausted by the expectation that he should be everything for everyone. The 26-member, astonishing cast was led by Mykal Kilgore (Judas), Felicia Boswell (Mary Magdelene), and Evan Tyrone Martin (Jesus)—each supplying an emotionally draining performance along with superlative vocals.

#2. Parade – Writer’s Theater

Parade
Patrick Andrews and Brianna Borger (as Leo and Lucille Frank); Jake Nicholson and the cast

Leo Frank is guilty of nothing more than being an outsider and a Jew in this heart-shattering musical, which presents Frank’s persecution and eventual lynching in 1913, when he is blamed for the death of a teen girl who works in his factory. This musical co-conceived by Harold Price was not popular in its 1988 Broadway premiere, so thank you to Writer’s Theater for reviving a treasure that deserves to be seen again and again.

#3. Hamilton – CIBC Theater

Hamilton_best of
Miguel Cervantes and Ari Afsar; Chris De’sean Lee (as Thomas Jefferson) and the cast

There was much to love about this musical phenomenon. Looking back, what stands out the most is the precision and pacing. With so many characters doing so many things on stage and telling such a complex story, the plot never feels overstuffed. Among the many memorable songs, “Wait for It” (sung by Gregory Treco as Aaron Burr) has emerged as one of my favorite songs in all of musical theater.

#4. Trevor – Writer’s Theater

Trevor
Eli Tokash and the cast; Eli Tokash and Matthew Uzarraga

The team behind Trevor hoped this world-premiere at Writer’s Theater would be a stepping stone to Broadway, and it will be a tragic lose if that jump never happens. Middle school is a difficult time, particularly for someone as out-of-place as Trevor (played by Eli Tokash and Graydon Peter Yosowitz), a flamboyantly gay, Diana Ross-loving teen in the 1990’s. The script and generally upbeat songs by Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis bring dignity to each of the young characters, allowing them to be real people whose sense of right and wrong does not always overcome their insecurities.

#5. Sweeney Todd – Paramount Theater

Sweeney Todd_best of
Bri Suda, Paul-Jordan Jansen and Emily Rohn; the cast during “God, That’s Good!”

The slums of London came alive though the shadow-heavy production design by Jim Conti. Paul-Jordan Jansen was well deserving of his Joseph Jefferson award for best actor in a musical. Jansen’s Sweeney was a man on a singular mission, and every musical note and facial gesture communicated his laser focus on revenge. Bri Suda and Patrick Rooney were also notable in their soles as Mrs. Lovett and Anthony Hope (the later’s perfect rendition of “Johanna” would not leave my head for days).

Honorable Mentions

Fun Home – Victory Gardens

Fun Home_best of
Hannah Starr, Danielle Davis and Danni Smith

This emotional musical gained a level of intimacy from Victory Gardens’ more minimal staging, and the always dependable Rob Lindley was at the top of his game as Bruce Brechdel.

The Bridges of Madison County – Marriott Lincolnshire

Bridges of MC
Nathaniel Stampley and Kathy Voytko

Nathaniel Stampley and Kathy Voytko created the year’s most empathetic duo—two people living life but not loving life until they met each other.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Oriental Theater

Hedwig_best of
Euan Morton

Hedwig might be more fitting in venues smaller than the Oriental, but the music and Broadway-caliber performances have propelled Hedwig to one of my all-time favorite musicals.

Saturday Night Fever – Drury Lane Oakbrook

 

Saturday Night Fever_2
Adrian Aguilar and Erica Stephan

I enjoyed the original London and Broadway productions, but the plot holes were undeniable. To my surprise, there is a “North American” version, which keeps the fantastic songs and dancing, while also tightening up those problematic script issues.

Marry Me a Little – Porchlight Theater

Marry Me a Little
Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas

An example of what Porchlight does best—a small ensemble show with good music and exceptional singers. Bethany Thomas belting “That Boy Can Foxtrot” was particularly memorable.

Year in Review – 2017’s Best Musicals

3 thoughts on “Year in Review – 2017’s Best Musicals

  1. The best musicals I saw last year were Rent and Les Mis.

    I fell in love with Rent Fall 2012. I really wanted to see it live and it never as if it was touring or even going back to Broadway. The closest I got was seeing the final Broadway cast DVD. But still really wanted to see it live. But in 2016 when I realized Rent was touring the US, I started convincing my parents to take me and they gave me ticket for Christmas to see it in September. Our seats were perfect and the cast was so good that I was an emotional wreck watching it and I was more emotional than I thought I would be.

    This was my 5th time seeing Les Mis. The other four being 3x at community and 1x in the West End. So this was my first time seeing it on tour so I was seeing the 25th anniversary staging for the first time. Like Rent, I was an emotional wreck. This cast was so powerful that I got goosebumps, got teary eyed and laughed. I am a Les MIs Freak and still not sick and tired of it.

    I have just this massive fan of musicals

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    1. Thank you for reading. I am a big Les Mis fan also. It is the musical I have seen the most times (dating all the back to 1991), and I really liked the movie including some of the minor changes. I also really like Rent–the first time I saw it, I was sitting so far up in a huge auditorium that I could hardly see the actors’ faces.

      I checked out your blog, and of the shows you mentioned, Pippin is my favorite one–particularly the recent remounting with the circus backdrop. I connected with the idea of the personal quest combined with a historical/mythical figure.

      I hope you have a great semester when your school starts up again.

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      1. I saw Pippin in 2015 and that almost didn’t happen. My mom at the last minute decided to take me to see to it. It was a week before show time and mom could only find one day with two seats together so that almost didn’t happen.

        The movie of Les Mis led me to seeing the stage show and reading the book. The first time I saw the stage show was a community college production in 2013 and saw it 3x due to being an usher and it was phenomenal. The 4th time I saw the stage show was summer of 2015 in London- a dream of mine and I saw it with mom and I had an understudy as Jean Valjean and it was epic. The 5th time I saw Les Mis was in 2017 when it went on tour again in the US and I saw it with my school in Greenville and I had an understudy as Eponine and the cast lived up to the West End cast in its own way and this cast was very powerful and to say which cast I like more between Greenville and the West End is tough considering the fact that they are two professional casts.

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