It's the final column of 2013. So, happy New Year! And here are 10 moments from the Chicago theater — the inspired, the unusual and the I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that — that I'll be remembering for years to come.

1. The umbilical cord moment in "Smokefall." This beautiful but complex Noah Haidle play contained a scene in which twins in the womb have a conversation about whether it is better to be born or to remain inside where it's warm and safe. One twin takes the plunge. His brother is about to follow, but although director Anne Kaufmann's Goodman Theatre staging was far from literal or realistic, the audience immediately grasped the danger that the second twin might die on the way out. "No," people shouted, as others shifted in their seats, wishing they could fix the events onstage and make life more gentle.

2. The singing Nazi in "Signs of Life." As a general rule in theater, singing Nazis are to be avoided, unless you've got Mel Brooks penning the lyrics. But if you do have a Nazi, as in the musical "Signs of Life" in a commercial production at Victory Gardens, and you do want to make him sing, it generally is better not to hand over the 11 o'clock number and include lyrics wherein he justifies his way of thinking. "Signs of Life" was a serious show, set in a Jewish ghetto, and the song was intended to fulfill a legitimate dramatic purpose. Still, that Nazi did not need to open his mouth to sing. Who cares what he thinks?

3. The scene in "Once" with the Guy and his Da. "Once" is a beautiful musical, and its visit to Chicago was all too brief. But among the emotional jewels of the show, no moment is more lovely than the little scene wherein a loving dad gives his restless son permission to go chase his dreams. It's not much more than "I'll be OK, son, now go," but it's all the more beautiful as a result.

4. That terrible "Jekyll & Hyde" revival. On its way to crashing and burning on Broadway, "Jekyll & Hyde" stopped through town, replete with a set that brought to mind more a sadomasochistic torturer's dungeon than a great work of Victorian literature. I've long had a soft spot for Frank Wildhorn's effective, populist musical, but this tone-deaf production stuck a skewer in its heart.

5. Robert Falls changing the plot of "Measure for Measure." Fallsian Shakespeare is known for its audacity. But even by Falls' standards, the director's decision to kill off Isabella in his revival of the Shakespearean problem play certainly was a bold move, given that Shakespeare had chosen to let the girl live. Nonetheless, there in the dying embers of this never-dull-for-a-second Goodman Theatre production, Isabella met her end, and Shakespeare met Falls. Traditionalists howled. The rest of us pondered the quality of the choice.

6. Kids thriving onstage. Youthful actors are a constant feature of Chicago theater, but I don't recall a year with so many excellent performances by school-age actors, ranging from Johnny Rabe's moving Winthrop in "The Music Man" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora to Brady Tutton and J.D. Rodriguez in "Oliver!" at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, and from the powerful Alaina Stacey in "The Dream of the Burning Boy" at Profiles Theatre to the hilarious Liam Dahlborn as Hermey the Elf in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" at the Broadway Playhouse.

7. The set for "Head of Passes" at the Steppenwolf Theatre. When designing a play with biblical inspiration ("The Book of Job"), it's a rare chance for a set designer to unleash apocalyptic forces. David Gallo did not squander the moment, treating the audience for Tarell Alvin McCraney's opus to an epic spectacle of total domestic collapse. There was no more thrilling, or discombobulating, visual moment of the theatrical year.

8. Nudity, writ constant. A flash of flesh might be salacious, but a show performed entirely by naked actors is far more complex and interesting. Young Jean Lee's remarkable company of actors arrived, without their clothes, to present "Untitled Feminist Show" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, exploring the relationship between clothing and power, and intimidating everyone in the room who stayed dressed.

9. The new performance space of the year. Redmoon's eye-popping new digs in Pilsen represent a new opportunity for large-scale performance work in a raw space of colossal scale. This is the kind of cool, postindustrial venue that could soon attract international work of the kind that often has bypassed Chicago.

10. The cameo of the year. At the end of the memorial service for Bernie Sahlins, who died in 2013, the stage of Chicago Shakespeare Theater filled with the friends and admirers of the co-founder of The Second City. A man in a white suit could be seen in the crowd, staring at the ceiling. This was Bill Murray, showing up to pay tribute to the man who began his career and changed the face of comedy in Chicago and beyond.

cjones5@tribune.com

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