Chicago News

Chicago’s New Shining Stars

Friday, October 01, 2010

By: Jonathan Abarbanel

The men and women profiled below are among the new generation of young theatrical veterans whose careers and early success have been launched Off-Loop in Chicago.

Patrick Andrews (right) with Tracy Letts in AMERICAN BUFFALO. Photo by Mark Campbell.

Alana Arenas (center) in THE BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Brian Sidney Bembridge’s scenic and lighting design for THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY at Victory Gardens Theater

Yosh Hayashi

Jessica Hutchinson

Michael Mahler’s HOW CAN YOU RUN WITH A SHELL ON YOUR BACK? at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Jessie Mueller (left) with Johanna McKenzie Miller in CAROUSEL at Court Theatre

The men and women profiled below are among the new generation of young theatrical veterans whose careers and early success have been launched Off-Loop in Chicago. They have many equally overachieving colleagues, as Chicago theater continually reinvents itself, but critics and audiences have identified them as among the best-of-the-best.

Patrick Andrews

It’s not easy to hold your own against Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble veterans Francis Guinan and Tracy Letts, but that’s precisely what Patrick Andrews did last season in his Steppenwolf debut in David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO. Soon after he was named an ensemble member himself.

It will be an interesting balancing act for this small and slender young actor/singer/dancer, who also is an artistic associate with About Face Theatre and a member of the American Theater Company ensemble. Let’s face it, Steppenwolf doesn’t offer many singing or dancing opportunities, but Andrews has found plenty in shows at About Face, The House Theatre of Chicago, Marriott Lincolnshire, Chicago Shakespeare, Victory Gardens, Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace and Bailiwick among others.

Alana Arenas

This young actor stole audience hearts as the unlucky-in-love Oya in THE BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS at Steppenwolf last season. A 2002 graduate of the Theatre School, DePaul University, she was invited in 2007 to become a member of the prestigious Steppenwolf ensemble. In-between she toured with Lookingglass Theatre in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS and also worked with MPAACT, eta Creative Arts, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Black Ensemble Theater.

But her career really has blossomed at Steppenwolf where her work includes Mary Warren in THE CRUCIBLE and Pecola Breedlove in THE BLUEST EYE, the role and production in which she made her New York debut. This season, Arenas will perform three roles at Steppenwolf, beginning with Robert O’Hara’s THE ETIQUETTE OF VIGILANCE, Oct. 27-Nov. 14 in the Garage Theatre.

Brian Sidney Bembridge

Patrons of smaller Off-Loop theaters over the last 10 years already may know Brian Sidney Bembridge, the Jeff Award winning scenic and lighting designer. They’ve watched his career progress from low-budget sets in small storefronts and studios to large-scale efforts for Court, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens theaters. Recently, Bembridge made his New York debut as scenic designer for THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY at The Second Stage, recreating his original Victory Gardens concept.

Increasingly in demand across the country, Bembridge is most identified in Chicago with TimeLine Theatre (where he’s an associate artist), Lookingglass Theatre (where he’s an ensemble member) and Writers’ Theatre. Bembridge’s great art is to make all his sets—whether high-budget or low-end—appear lavish and detailed.

Yosh Hayashi

His looks are modest enough, but Yosh Hayashi is an actor you wouldn’t want to meet alone in a dark theatrical alley: He’ll blow you away with his onstage intensity. This young character actor is equally adept at dramatic or comedic roles, especially those with a dash of nasty anthem.

The Alaska native earned an MFA at the Theatre School, DePaul University in 2006 and already has triumphed (Google the reviews) in the title role of Brecht’s THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI at Steep Theatre. Other credits include work at the Circle, Goodman and Lifeline theaters.

This summer he married longtime sweetheart Mira Vasiljevic (whom he’s known since his Alaska childhood), and they are among the cofounders of Theatre Mir (Russian for “peace”) in Chicago. FYI: Hayashi is a stage combat expert in rapier and dagger.

Jessica Hutchinson

Nebraska native Hutchinson has established herself as a hard-working artist and arts administrator at multiple venues. In 2007 she became artistic director of the innovative New Leaf Theatre, staging several intriguing shows such as VOX PANDORA and THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY. She has also directed for the Halcyon and LiveWire Chicago Theatre, for which she staged the September world premiere of Emily Dendinger’s HIDEOUS PROGENY at the Storefront Theatre.

Jessica’s “day job” also is theater: She is director of outreach for the University Theatre at the University of Chicago. She has also worked in the education departments at the Chicago Shakespeare and Goodman theaters, and for the last three years has been on the faculty of the summertime National High School Institute (“The Cherubs”) at Northwestern University.

Michael Mahler

Since graduating from Northwestern University’s musical theatre program in 2005, Michael Mahler has bestrode Chicago’s narrow theater world like a colossus as an actor/singer, composer and musical director. The Minnesota native was a published composer at 17, won a Joseph Jefferson Award for MY FAVORITE YEAR at Bailiwick Repertory in 2007 and composed a hit musical, HOW CAN YOU RUN WITH A SHELL ON YOUR BACK? for Chicago Shakespeare Theater. And that’s just for starters.

He has played lead musical roles at the Porchlight, Chicago Dramatists, Drury Lane, Provision and Marriott Lincolnshire theaters, and he’s written book, music and/or lyrics for songs and shows at Bailiwick Repertory, Next Theatre Company and Theatre at the Center. Most recently, he was musical director for HOT MIKADO at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace.

In a season when Glee is a huge TV hit, it’s not surprising that Mahler currently is writing an original musical series, Boyfred, for ABC.

Jessie Mueller

A 2005 Syracuse University graduate, the Evanston-bred Jessie Mueller has rapidly advanced from the chorus line to leading lady, with credits at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace, Goodman Theatre, Marriott Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre among others. A triple-threat performer, Mueller won a Jeff Award for her work as Carrie Pipperidge in CAROUSEL at Court Theatre.

Hey, the girl can’t help it.  She comes from solid theatrical stock as the daughter of award-winning actors Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger.

Last summer, Mueller played the virginal Anne Egerman in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at Peninsula Players, and she currently can be seen as romantic leading lady Amalia in SHE LOVES ME at Writers’ Theatre (through Nov. 21). Her career beckons her beyond Chicago, so catch Mueller while you can.  n



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