The Top 10 Plays of 2011

The 12 Best Plays of 2011 by
The 12 Best Plays of 2011These are the ten top plays of 2011 in Chicago that reflect excellent stage craft and flawless production values according to us at

1. An Iliad An Iliad

By Denis O’ Hare & Lisa Peterson

Based on Homer’s The Iliad

Translated by Robert Fagles

Directed by Charles Newell

At Court Theatre, Chicago

One of the many remarkable things about Timothy Edward Kane’s riveting performance of Homer’s The Iliad is his nimble ability to both reach the depths of despair and the jubilation as the Poet who tells the story of the mythical ten-year Trojan War. Kane’s performance is a major theatrical triumph as he glides through 90 minutes of verbal dexterity that includes speaking in classical Greek, delivering Homer’s lines (translated by Robert Fagles), and adding modern references as extemporized comments to give contemporary relevance to the epic poem.

Timothy Edward Kane in An Iliad

2.  FolliesFollies at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

 At Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Book by James Goldman

Directed by Gary Griffin

Kudos to the fabulous Chicago cast members and to director Gary Griffin for mounting a world-class production of Follies. Congratulations to Stephan Sondheim for his pastiche of Broadway show tunes from the Follies Era (Sondheim defines pastiche as “Fond imitations, unlike parodies or satires, which make comment on the work or the style being imitated.”) Lastly, to Chicago Shakespeare Theater for spending whatever it took to mount a costume and set rich production.  We can hope that each year, Chicago Shakespeare Theater will mount a seldom-done Broadway musical.

3. The Madness of George III

The Madness of George III
The Madness of George III

By Alan Bennett

Directed by Penny Metropulos

At Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

Although there are a lot of politics in this play, at its heart George III is about the human condition, the humanity of the “divine” monarch.  Four different doctors try to cure the ailment, all using the brutal medical practices of the time; three have no effect, but the fourth may (or may not – George says it was time that cured him).  It is a remarkable play; one is reminded of Lear – a fact that does not escape Bennett: he has the King and his men read a scene from the play during his recovery.  There is a plethora of powerful monologues and powerful moments.

4. The Real Thing

The Real thing at Writers' Theatre
The Real Thing

By Tom Stoppard

Directed by Michael Halberstam

At Writers’ Theatre

But it is Stoppard’s characters that are so fascinating and really drive this play.  Henry is clever, flippant, glib, but moreover an absolute romantic.  He is obsessed with trite 60s pop music.  He does not listen to the angry, populist, buzzsaw music of his day.  He listens to sappy, romantic ballads from a better, simpler time, when there was a possibility that love, that “our energy would simply prevail.  There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs.  We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”

5. My Fair LadyMy Fair Lady at Paramount Theatre

Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s

play Pygmalion

Directed & Choreographed by Jim Corti

Music direction by Shawn Stengel

At Paramount Theatre, Aurora

Leave it to Jim Corti to open the new Broadway series of musicals at the wonderful 1800 seat Paramount Theatre in Aurora with a major production of the finest Broadway musical ever- My Fair Lady! With a cast of 31 and a 22 member orchestra , Corti has established an exquisite standard of excellence for his new Broadway series. His production is a sumptuous, funny, witty and romantic take on Edwardian English society filled with colorful costumes, memorable songs and marvelous preferences.  Corti’s production is equal, if not a tad finer, than the major national tour that played in Chicago a few years ago.

6. The Pitman PaintersThe Pirman Painters at TimeLine Theatre

By Lee Hall

Inspired by a book by William Feaver

Directed by BJ Jones

At TimeLine Theatre

Hilarious yet poignant drama about artistic meaning an expression emerges as wonderful theatre.

“Art makes something possible that wasn’t there before.”

When told that there is no secret to art, Harry says: “If there’s not a secret—how come we don’t knaa what’s gannin’ on?”

They come to be known as the Ashington Group of pitmen painters. The eccentric group consists of George Brown (the officious William Dick), Oliver Kilbourn (Dan Weller in a emotionally strong fine turn), Harry Wilson (James Houton), Jimmy Floyd (the hilarious Steven Pringle) and the Young Lad who observes (Jordan Brown). These miners quickly embrace Robert Lyon’s lessons by putting their working class raw personal instincts on their canvasses.  Using Mike Tutaj’s video projections that illustrate actual works by the Pitmen Painters, we see each of their art works and we appreciate the critiques by Lyon and each other.

7. Sweeney Todd Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre

A Musical Thriller

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell

Music Direction by Roberta Duchak

Killer performances in musical thriller

If ever a play deserved a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation, it was the mesmerizing opening night production of Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane. For a moment, the audience sat silent, stunned, and then rose to its feet, almost in unison, to cheer performance and performers.

Why is such a murderous story so compelling? The same question might be asked about many of Shakespeare’s plays – most especially Hamlet and Othello. And the answer is the same: when a body of work is in the hands of a brilliant artist, the end result transcends the individual facts. The whole becomes far more than the sum of its parts. The result is a masterpiece, a Tony Award winner.

8. The Last Act of Lilka Kadison

The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
By Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar,

Abbie Phillips,

Hedi Stillman and Andrew White

Directed by David Kersnar

At Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago

Moving Holocaust love story depicts a spirited woman in her life defining moment

The Last Act of Lilka Kadison at lookingglass theatre

Told as a memory play from the 87 year old Lilith Fisher (then know as Lilka Kadison), we meet the tough-as-nails old lady living in a cluttered California apartment. Marilyn Dodds Frank gives a funny, yet poignant performance as the ghost haunted sickly Lilith. Her caregiver, Menelik Kahn, Pakistani immigrant (played with humorous aplomb by Usman Ally) tries to get Lilith to both take her meds and let him clear up her house from all the clutter. Lilith is feisty as she drifts into remembrances brought on by the ghost of her first love- Ben Ari Adler (the charmingly charismatic Chance Bone).

9. Porgy and BessPorgy and Bess at Court Theatre

A folk opera by George Gershwin, DuBose

and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin

Directed by Charles Newell

Music and New Orchestrations by Doug Peck

At Court Theatre, Chicago

Brilliance of Gershwin’s score in terrific hands with Newell, Peck and a great cast with their re-imagined Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess

It features George Gershwin’s magnum opus with stirring score that includes innovative synthesis of European orchestral techniques with American jazz and folk music idioms with elements of gospel and Jewish religious music.  The 1935 American folk opera has a controversial history and was ahead of its time yet George Gershwin’s score was never scorned. Based on DuBose Heyward’s novel, Porgy, the Gershwins and the Heywards spent time in the island based Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina researching the Gullah dialect – the sense of community including their African influences and superstitions. The result is a complex storytelling fueled by the rich Gershwin score that necessitates a superb cast of actor-singers.   That is exactly what Newell and Peck has achieved in their fabulous production of Porgy and Bess.

10. 42nd Street42nd Street  at Marriott Theatre

Music by Harry Warren

Lyrics by Al Dubin

Book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble

Directed by Rachel Rockwell

Music direction by Doug Peck

Choreographed by Tammy Mader

At Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL

“Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet on the Avenue I’m Taking You to -42nd Street!”

42nd Street at Marriott theatre

Based on the 1933 film that saved Warner Brothers studio,  producer David Merrick , believing that the  1980 nostalgia craze, decided to mount 42nd Street on stage. Directed  by Gower Champion with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, 42nd Street became an extravaganza not seen on Broadway in decades. From the show’s opening that featured 40 dancers to the terrific energetic show-stoppers, Merrick’ concept led to a run of 3,486 performances. People love tap shows! The 2001 revival of 42nd Street ran for 1524 performances followed by a successful national tour and several worthy regional productions at Candlelight, Drury Lane and Marriott in Chicago.

Kudos to Marriott Theatre for remounting 42nd Street! Great classical Broadway Musicals need to be produced every few years so that the next generation can enjoy the art form. Director Rachel Rockwell and choreographer Tammy Mader have mounted a slick, splashy, spirited production of the quintessential backstage  musical fable. 42nd Street is a pure 1930′s style musical about how an ingenue saved a major new musical just before the first preview.

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