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  WINDY CITY TIMES

SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT Reflecting on 2016
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2016-12-28

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The close of the calendar year is typically a time to reflect. So here's a look back on some notable Chicago-area theater news stories and trends of 2016.

Hamilton in Chicago

Lin-Manuel Miranda's wildly acclaimed hip-hop and pop musical Hamilton may have had a 2015 debut in New York, but the sold-out Broadway show made waves locally this year when a dedicated Chicago company set up shop at The PrivateBank Theatre. The fact that Hamilton's producers chose Chicago for an open run and not just a launch for a national tour is a sign of the Windy City's strength as a theater town.

Miranda's exploration of this country's founding fathers is not only notable for commanding stratospherically high premium ticket prices, but also for its non-traditional casting. The inclusiveness of Hamilton is one of its strengths, and its message has become even more vital.

"Whitewashing" accusations

Diversity in casting, or the lack thereof, became a huge point of contention in 2016. Actor Bear Bellinger took to social media to criticize the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire for the lack of Latino and Latina actors hired for its revival of Evita.

Meanwhile, Porchlight Music Theatre was taken to task for hiring actor Jack DeCesare to star as the leading man Usnavi De La Vega for its hit production of In the Heights—particularly once word got out that DeCesare was actually of Italian heritage rather than being Latino. Many arguments over "white washing" in the casting of minority characters erupted, and it's likely that the debates will spill over in 2017

Alleged abuse

The Uptown-based Profiles Theatre quickly disbanded in June following a Chicago Reader cover story investigating allegations of abuse from actors who had worked with the company. A Chicago theater support group called Not in Our House emerged in the fallout as a resource to prevent potential future abuses of power.

In the aftermath, Pride Films and Plays took up residence of the former two Profiles Theatre spaces at 4139 and 4147 N. Broadway and renamed them the Pride Arts Center. The first official Pride Films and Plays large-scale production in the Pride Arts Center is Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical, which opens in January.

Trans stories

Transgender stories and artists received a lot of Chicago attention in 2016.

Early in the year actress Delia Kropp starred in David Valdes Greenwood's world-premiere drama Raggedy And about a transgender poet for Pride Films and Plays. She later became the first trans performer to star as East German survivor Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in About Face Theatre's reconceived revival of Doug Wright's 2003 drama I Am My Own Wife. by About Face Theatre.

Trans performer Sydney Germain also got plenty of stage time this season, which could be a sign that Chicago casting directors are making strides to be more inclusive. In 2016, Germain played Minnie Fay in the Goodman Theatre's non-traditionally cast production of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream for First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook and the roles of Cinna and Octavius in Julius Caesar at Writers Theatre in Glencoe.

The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company recently teamed up for the dance-theater piece [Trans]formation.

Also big news was the appointment of trans artist Will Davis as the new artistic director of American Theater Company. Davis' first season begins in January with the Chicago premiere of Jaclyn Backhuas' gender-fluid historical drama Men on Boats.

Taking Manhattan

Quite a few shows that made their debut in Chicago also made the journey to New York. Others are in the New York pipeline for 2017.

Stephen Karam's The Humans, which had its world premiere in Chicago at American Theater Company in 2014, triumphed on Broadway with four Tony Awards including Best Play. Karam's Thanksgiving-set drama shined a dispiriting modern light on a family's economic and emotional anxieties.

Another 2014 drama that made it to New York was Exit Strategy by gay playwright Ike Holter. Originally created for Jackalope Theatre, Holter's CPS school-closing play made it off-Broadway following a regional run at Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Though it originally debuted in Canada, the macabre theme park disaster musical comedy Ride the Cyclone also made it off-Broadway this year. It's the same Chicago Shakespeare Theater production by Jeff Award-winning director Rachel Rockwell.

The Goodman Theatre went out of its way to reshuffle its season to host a summer run of the new musical War Paint, especially since it came attached with two-time Tony Award-winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole respectively starring as sparring cosmetics titans Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Box-office records were broken, and it was no surprise that a Broadway berth was later announced for War Paint, a documentary-style musical by the creators of Grey Gardens. Also be on the lookout for Andrew Hinderaker's acclaimed gay drama The Magic Play to appear in New York at a Roundabout Theatre Company venue.

Tough times

Condominium construction on Broadway south of Sheridan Road severely impacted three strong storefront theaters. Rather than seeking out a new home, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company chose to shut down rather than relocate. Oracle Productions also recently announced that it will cease operations by the end of the year.

Yet Strawdog Theatre is still making a go of it as an itinerant company. Strawdog has been staging its productions like Jerre Dye's Distance and Shakespeare's Cymbeline at the newish Factory Theatre in Rogers Park.

Other distressing news is that financial issues are forcing The Hypocrites to cut short its 2016-17 season. Planned productions of The House of Martin Guerre and Las Meninas have been cancelled, while the winter run of Wit has been shortened from Jan. 20 through Feb. 19.

In passing

Gay playwright Edward Albee, a titan of U.S. theater, passed away at 88. Some of his acclaimed and prize-winning works include: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Three Tall Women and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Locally, GayCo co-founder and longtime Second City instructor Judy Fabjance died from cancer in August at the age of 41. Fabjance fought through her cancer diagnosis by creating comic theater pieces like Are You There, Judy? It's me, Cancer and Tales of a Stage 4 Cancer.

Cancer also claimed the life of First Folio Theatre co-founder and artistic director Alison C. Vesely at the age of 59. Vesely and her husband, David Rice, founded the professional theatre in Oak Brook 20 years ago.


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