Introducing our Top 10 Hot New Faces of Chicago Theater. We have improvisers and comedians, singers and storytellers and impeccably trained actors aplenty. We think you're looking here at some soon-to-be-famous faces. Either way, once the heat of summer dies down, they're on track to warm up your coming season of Chicago theater and comedy.
Of all the productions created by Chicago theaters in response to the city's youth-violence problem, none was more intense than Collaboraction's "Crime Scene," a show dominated by this authoritative, emotionally unstinting, 26-year-old graduate of DePaul University's Theatre School. She is an uncompromising actress who understands the power of a personal story.
Tena hails from Albuquerque, N.M. "I grew up in the 'hood," she said, talking at length about how the summer parks tour of "Crime Scene" has allowed her to get so emotionally connected to the young kids coming to see the show in Chicago. "I just wish we could reach more adults," she said, "more of the people who really have control over change." Tena, who plays a police officer in the show, makes an ideal catalyst.
Up next: Producing her one-woman show, "Geura," with MPAACT Theatre in November.
This 25-year-old California native arrived in Chicago in January of last year after studying theater at Boston University. She quickly found her way to the Theo Ubique Theatre, increasingly a destination of choice for young musical-theater talents. And last March she turned in a remarkably seductive and shrewdly crafted performance in director Fred Anzevino's intimate production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Aspects of Love."
"This really was the best theater family I ever could hope to find," she said.
Up next (UPDATED): She'll be Marcy in Griffin Theatre Company's fall production of "The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee."
Every so often a theater student will make an arresting professional appearance even before he or she graduates. So it went last winter with Finley, a 21-year-old student at Northwestern University. Annie Baker's "The Aliens" is dominated by 30-ish slackers, but Finley, playing a young server at their coffee shop of choice, garnered all kinds of attention for his emotional, compelling portrayal of what it's like to be on the brink of maturity and surrounded by lousy role models.
He's from Arlington Heights and is planning a December graduation. "Chicago is definitely the place for me to grow as an actor," he said. We're glad we'll be able to watch.
Up next: "This Is War" at Signal Ensemble Theatre.
These days, the actors at The Second City are looking more and more ready for TV. But Bryant, a thin, tall, dweeby fellow with thick glasses and one of those haircuts that you can get for five bucks, is a throwback to the comedy troupe's nerdy roots in the 1950s. This 32-year-old is also hilarious. In "Let Them Eat Chaos," his first show on Second City's mainstage, it seems as if his mind is moving at atomic speed. Bryant is a graduate of Appalachian State University and hails from a small town in North Carolina. He's been improvising in Chicago for a decade or so, "but this does feel like my big break," he said.
Yup. We don't think he'll be headed back home any time soon.
Currently in "Let Them Eat Chaos" at Second City.
Ensign Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific" is a tough cookie — the romantic lead of a musical but also a blinkered young woman full of prejudice. Lanza, 28, nailed her in all her complexity earlier this year at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Lanza, who grew up in Wheaton, first emerged at the Theo Ubique Theatre Company and graduated quickly to leading roles at theaters like the Marriott and the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. She's a beautiful singer and an intense actress.
"Really, it has been an amazing year," says this Illinois Wesleyan graduate and relatively recent arrival on the Chicago theater scene, following various out-of-town gigs and a stint on Disney Cruise Ships. And thanks to "South Pacific," she's now carrying a newly minted membership card for Actor's Equity. Clearly, she's ready for adventures.
Up next: In "Hello Dolly" at the Dury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
"This is huge for me," says this hard-working 32-year-old actress of her new gig at Second City e.t.c. in the hit revue "A Clown Car Named Desire." No kidding. The blond Barreca, a bona fide singer and choreographer as well as a comic actress, is hilarious. She's no overnight sensation, but has "years and years of free improv shows" behind her. In fact, not so long ago, the Arlington Heights native and graduate of Marquette University was showing audience members to their seats at both the mainstage and the e.t.c. theaters from the host stand.
"I just wanted to get close," she says. Well, now she's there — and ready to take off.
Currently in "A Clown Car Named Desire."
Steep Theatre's production of "The Knowledge" was filled with potent newcomers to the Chicago theater scene, none more impressive than McCartney, a 24-year-old graduate of DePaul University. He played a sensitive schoolkid's worst nightmare — a hyperaggressive bully — and he did so with terrifying veracity and a powerful undercurrent of pain. "My years in Chicago have been the greatest of my life," McCartney says. "I only wish for the chance to continue working." We wish for very much the same for this impressive young actor.
Up next: Two Lights Theatre Company's production of "Pleasant Dreams" in October.
When they cast white guys at the Black Ensemble Theater, they have a good laugh and call it "nontraditional casting." But don't be fooled: They know what they are doing at BET, and Keating has some serious chops. This Minnesotan only arrived in Chicago last October, but Keating brought the house down in "From Doo Wop to Hip Hop," playing a singing mail carrier, no less.
"It was unlike anything I'd ever done before," said the 29-year old graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. "They were kinda writing as they went along, so it meant they really could cater to what you do."
Currently in understudy duties in "The Jungle Book" at the Goodman Theatre.
In the New Colony production of "The Bear Suit of Happiness," a play about gay servicemen, Jarosch played a character born years too early, with dreams of not having to hide his sexuality. This moving performance came from a 30-year-old graduate of Columbia College Chicago (and native of Grand Rapids, Mich.), who almost gave up acting. "I broke my foot a few years ago on opening night of a show," Jarosch said. "It kinda put me out of auditioning and the whole theater scene until 'Bear Suit.' I owe a lot to those guys at the New Colony for offering me this opportunity. It made me realize I'm at my happiest when working on a creative project." And darn fine he is too.
Up next: Auditioning.
Fresh from an enigmatic debut performance as a runaway in "Princes of Waco" at the Signal Ensemble Theatre last fall, this hugely talented young woman from Tempe, Ariz., then drew all kinds of attention for her heartbreaking turn in "The Knowledge" at the Steep Theatre this past spring, playing a tough, sexualized teenager with a soft core. It was a beautiful performance from a promising young star.
Braver, 21, dropped out of Cornell College in Iowa after her freshman year and moved to Chicago in 2011, not knowing anyone. "I am really lucky the way things have worked out," she said. "I've been able to work with people from whom I can really learn."
Up next: Auditioning.
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