Still suffering the effects of the infamous polar vortex? May we present our annual list of the Hot New Faces of the Chicago stage.
The chance to be a part of Chicago theater draws actors from all across the country these days. The class of 2014 includes a former child star from Philadelphia, an actor with roots in Arizona, and a young man from Miami. You’ll find graduates of Columbia College, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina and many more fine schools.
They’re a diverse crew — some exploded fast on the scene, others were a slower burn, plenty have paid a few dues, more than a few still wait tables to fully support their habit. But they all have one thing in common: we think they’re faces to watch. And they’ve all shown they can heat up any season. Even in Chicago.
Emily Berman: Poised yet vulnerable, this New Trier graduate turned a lot of heads in “Days Like Today” at Writers Theatre, the North Shore company located just a few miles north of where she grew up in Wilmette. Berman, a University of Michigan graduate (with degrees in economics and theater) has taken herself as far north as Wisconsin, where she followed up her college years with work as an intern at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Writers had to grab her back from Milwaukee, where she was about to begin another gig. She was happy to come home and find herself in the maelstrom of a new musical, built from scratch. “I don’t see any reason to be anywhere else but Chicago,” she says. “I’m very much a hometown girl.”
Up next: “Days Like Today” runs through Sunday. She’s then understudying the role of Cordelia in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of “King Lear.” In the spring, appearing in “Sense and Sensibility,” also at Chicago Shakespeare.
Cole Doman: Doman is only 21 year old but, as a former child actor in Philadelphia, he arrived in Chicago with years of experience. And a sister in the business — whom he followed to Chicago. Doman impressed in the recent Kokandy Productions staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins,” a gig he snagged despite still being an undergraduate student at Roosevelt University. For Doman, acting is a family affair. His mother was a performer, too. “I really was raised in a community of artists,” he says. “I’m the youngest person in ‘Assassins’ and I look up to everyone in the cast.”
Up next: Appearing as Henry Gamble in the new Stephen Cone movie, “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party.” In the fall, appearing in BoHo Theatre’s production of “Parade” at Theater Wit.
Landree Fleming: Remarkably, this 29-year-old has appeared in three separate productions of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in recent weeks. And she’s not even been playing the same role — she flipped back and forth between Olive Ostrovsky and Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre. That’s indicative of Fleming’s malleable talent: funny, emotionally centered and right on key. Fleming hails from Newcastle, Penn, and went to school at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg. “I was working as an intern in Cincinnati and I thought, well, I either go to Chicago or to New York,” she says. “I thought the theater here just sounded more exciting to me.”
Up next: Appearing in “Spelling Bee” at the Drury Lane Theatre through Aug. 17. And auditioning.
John Hartman: In “Depraved New World,” the current mainstage revue at Second City, this highly distinctive comic talent goes by the name “Little Dumpling,” a reference to his diminutive size and quirky personality. “I know I look young,” the 30-year-old Hartman says. “I am blessed or cursed with looking like a tired 13-year-old.” Hartman hails from Northern Virginia. He trained at the University of Michigan and did a stint at the now-defunct Second City Detroit. He’s been in Chicago for 7 years, performing and improvising around town. But he hit big at Second City this year: “It felt like the culmination of a lot of things coming together,” he said. Indeed. Little Dumpling is on the boil!
Up next: Continuing at Second City in “Depraved New World” followed by the 103rd Second City Mainstage revue this fall.
Callie Johnson: You wouldn’t imagine a starring role in “Carrie: The Musical,” one of the great theatrical bombs of all time, would burnish anyone’s career. But that’s what happened this year to Johnson, a 24-year-old graduate of Columbia College and a rising star of Chicago’s musical-theater scene. Johnson says she’s pondering a move to New York (“I’d love to pull a Jessie Mueller”) even as she works constantly in Chicago. And she loved playing poor Carrie in the dead-serious Bailiwick Chicago production. “When we did the blood dump for the first time, I was just so happy,” she says. “What a blast.”
Up next: In the national touring cast of “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which plays the Broadway Playhouse from Sept. 23 to Oct. 12.
Shane Kenyon: Kenyon prefers playing losers to winners. A busy actor in gritty storefront companies (and a sometimes waiter at Rosebud), this 28-year-old Roosevelt University graduate has been knocking around the Chicago scene for a while. But his work as a well-meaning but chaotic young man named Terry in Nick Payne's “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” at Steep Theatre went far beyond the routine. “That play was talking about a lot of the things we don’t talk about,” Kenyon says. “Terry had lost almost everything. I had to tap into those places in my life with heartbreak. I went through all of that.” Anyone who saw his moving, deeply vulnerable performance was glad he did.
Up next: Appearing in the First Look Festival at Steppenwolf Theatre in August.
Ashleigh LaThrop: Of all the acting assignments on offer in Chicago during the past season, few were as demanding as what this 27-year-old was asked to do in “Motortown” at Steep Theatre, where she played an abused teenager in this hard-hitting Simon Stephens drama. LaThrop grew up on Chicago’s South Side, graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and, she says, “debated about where I should go.” But she has no regrets about her choice of her hometown. “I love the scene so much,” she says. By day, LaThrop nannies for a family involved in showbiz. “So they understand,” LaThrop says.
Up next: Auditioning.
Yando Lopez: In the Black Ensemble Theater production of “One Hit Wonders,” Lopez opened his mouth to sing “Hey There, Lonely Girl” and half the joint went ballistic. These are some pipes and they’re matched by an exuberant personality. Lopez, who is 23 and hails from Miami, started out at Northwestern studying engineering only to switch to statistics and theater. He got his big break by singing at karaoke night and being overheard by Rueben Echoles of Black Ensemble. “I’ve been told I’m not a tenor but an alto,” he says. Whatever you might care to call it, those notes sound beautiful.
Up next: Auditioning and “hoping for the best.”
Jerry MacKinnon: Few actors are being discussed around town as much as MacKinnon, the young star of the recent “Exit Strategy” at Jackalope Theatre. This young guy from Baltimore is, clearly, the real deal. “I really can’t sum up in words how I feel about that play,” the 23-year-old graduate of Columbia College said of his most recent role. “I wanted it to get attention.” It did. And he did. MacKinnon was a film major in school but he’s quickly found a career on the Chicago stage. And theaters across the city are hoping he has no exit strategy of his own.
Up next: Appearing in the remount of “Exit Strategy” Wednesday through Aug. 28 at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway. In the fall, he is slated to appear in “Luce” at the Next Theatre in Evanston.
Camille Robinson: The American Theater Company production of “Hair” was significantly different from any other “Hair” ever produced in Chicago, and this young actress-singer’s beguiling rendition of “White Boys” went a long way toward explaining the how and the why. Robinson, who is 22, hails from Elizabeth City, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She also weighed different theater-loving cities for her post-graduation move but picked Chicago. “This winter nearly made me totally re-think my life,” she says, “but I am really glad to be here.” You might also catch her hosting at the Goose Island brewpub.
Up next: Auditioning and looking for an agent.