Our Top 10 new faces ... and where you'll see them next

Hear from some of the bright new stars in the Chicago theater scene. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune)

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.

Lisandra Tena

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.

Rochelle Therrien

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."

Michael Finley

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.

Ross Bryant

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.

Elizabeth Lanza

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.

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