Paul Thompson CV

Biographical Sketch

Paul W. Thompson is a Chicago-based music/theater teacher and coach, singer and actor, musical director and pianist, composer and songwriter. As a leader in the fields of vocal pedagogy, theatrical journalism, recording, theatrical music improvisation, choral singing and music-theater collaboration, he has moved easily between the worlds of classical music, religious music, classic pop, music improv and musical theater, both traditional and contemporary. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Mr. Thompson was raised in a family of professional musicians and teachers, steeped in classical, gospel, country, pop, sacred and show music. Dubbed a “thin, winsome lad” at the age of 13 by a critic for the Nashville Banner, Mr. Thompson has appeared onstage or in the orchestra pit in concerts, improvised sketch comedy, musicals, operettas and operas in 35 states, in a career spanning more than 40 years. A Chicago resident for 33 years, his career as a performer, teacher and writer is centered at Paul W. Thompson Music, headquartered in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building. His proudest achievement is that he has seen the original Broadway production of every Tony Award-winning Best Musical since “Cats!”

Teaching Philosophy

As a lifelong musician, I approach music in a broad, multi-disciplinary way. One style is a valid as another, and they all can be done well. Which one are we doing today? And as an experienced theater practitioner, I realize that music is one of the tools at the storyteller’s disposal. How does character-based music help tell this story? And how do music and theater inform and enhance one another?

I teach musical theater voice, popular vocal styles, music improv, traditional and contemporary piano, and the situations in which these arts overlap. At Paul W. Thompson Music, the study of music (whether for theatrical purposes or not) is student-focused. In this way, students can achieve the goals they set up for themselves when they begin instruction. Why have you come for your lesson?

Children and youth can find a solid grounding in music theory, proper style-based technique and effective practice strategies, while strengthening their maturing bodies, and they will enjoy beginning to master the different techniques and styles required by different types of music and theater literature. Let’s prepare for that upcoming try-out, performance, online opportunity or college entrance audition!

College students and young professionals can build their audition repertoire and their range of musical and theatrical expression, while gaining the confidence to successfully negotiate the challenging world of performing arts job-seeking and performance-making. How many pieces can you sing or play on a moment’s notice?

And mature professionals and older folks who just love music can learn new songs, deepen their understanding of stylistic and repertoire requirements, or get a “tune-up” that is a natural part of being a busy, working adult. Need a refresher, or some new ideas for material?

Younger children typically have a thirty-minute lesson weekly, and teens and adults a full hour. Lessons during 2020 are typically online through Zoom. Each weekly lesson begins with a brief warm-up, readying the voice and body for the demands of the lesson. These exercises will help the student understand how to use and to choose the registers of the human voice and the fingers of the human hand. Then, this work will be incorporated into the process of learning new music. Finally, more familiar music will be polished, both for optimal technique, and for audition or performance presentation in a theater, cabaret, concert or online format.


DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
Master of Business Administration (M.B.A) in General Business (2004)

  • Degree granted “With Distinction”
  • Advanced course work in Management
  • Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi
  • Delta Mu Delta Honor Society in Business Administration
  • Vincentian Community Service Fellow

University of Miami
, Coral Gables, Florida
Master of Music (M.M.) in Music Theatre (1985)

  • Graduate Assistantship in Music (1984-1985)
  • Graduate Assistantship in Theatre (1983-1984)
  • GPA: 3.7/4.0

Baylor University
, Waco, Texas
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in Music/Theatre (1983)

  • Degree granted “With Honors”
  • Gamma Beta Phi Society
  • National Merit Scholarship


Select Employment History

Interlochen Center for the Arts (Interlochen, Michigan)
Online Instructor of Theater, Interlochen Arts Camp (2020)

The Second City (Chicago, Illinois)
Part-time Music Faculty Member, Training Center (2015-Present)

Des Plaines School of Music (Des Plaines, Illinois)
Part-time Piano and Voice Teacher (2014-Present)

Paul W. Thompson Music, Chicago, Illinois
Sole Proprietorship (2011-Present) – Fine Arts Building
Specialty in Musical Theatre and Popular Voice

BroadwayWorld, New York, New York
Regional Editor and Chief Theatre Critic, BroadwayWorld Chicago (2007-2016)
Columnist, “The Showtune Mosh Pit,” (2009-2016)

Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chicago, Illinois
Section Leader, Tenor II Section (2012-2014)
Section Leader, Tenor I Section (2001-2003, 2005-2007)
Member, Tenor II Section (2011-Present); Tenor I Section (1995-2011)

St. James Cathedral (Episcopal), Chicago, Illinois
Acting Director of Music (July-August, 2016)
Cathedral Carillonneur (2000-2013)
Member, Cathedral Choir, Tenor I (1991-2016); Tenor II (2016-Present)

Select Memberships

Transgressive Theatre-Opera, Chicago, Illinois (2016-Present)
Artistic Associate

Improvised Sondheim Project, Chicago, Illinois (2014-Present)
Company Member and Musical Director

National Association of Teachers of Singing, Chicago Chapter (Member 2011-Present)
President (2017-2019)
Vice-President (2015-2017)
Director of Finance (2014-2017)
Chicago Musical Theater Competition Presentation
“Thoughts About Vocal Performance For Musical Theater” (2011-2012)

Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works), Evanston, Illinois (2006-2009)
Secretary, Board of Directors (2008-2009)
Member, Board of Directors (2006-2009)

Actors’ Equity Association (1999-Present)

American Guild of Musical Artists (1999-Present)

National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (1998-Present)
Voter for the Grammy Awards

Teacher and Vocal Coach

Paul W. Thompson has taught voice and coached musical theater repertoire throughout his career. He teaches musical theater voice, history and repertoire from his experiences as a working arts professional, commentator and audience member. In the summer of 2020, he was an Online Instructor of Theatre for Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Camp, teaching voice lessons and co-teaching a Song & Dance Lab for high school musical theatre students. From his private music studio in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building (Paul W. Thompson Music, est. 2011), he teaches the great songs of Broadway and the techniques to sing them to the next generation of musical theater performers, and coaches classical and popular music. In the pop music world, he has coached performers for appearances at Chicago’s Lollapalooza and House of Blues, and to sing the national anthem at Wrigley Field. From 2011-2013 he was an independent contractor to the Chicago High School for the Arts.

Music Director and Pianist

During the past decade, Mr. Thompson has enjoyed a wide variety of musical directing and piano opportunities, both professional and academic, in the Chicago area. In 2018 he was Musical Director for the world premiere professional musical, “Burnham’s Dream: The White City,” presented at Theatre Wit and honoring the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. From 2017-19, he was keyboard accompanist for fall musicals at Chicago’s Kelly High School. (Alan Menken’s “A Christmas Carol,” “All Shook Up” and “Cyrano De BurgerShack”). In the spring of 2017, he played Keyboard 2 for “Seussical” at Winnetka’s North Shore Country Day School, and in the fall of 2016, he was the piano accompanist for the Chicago Symphony Chorus’ popular video version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” supporting the World Series champion Chicago Cubs! Earlier that year he musical directed “Bye Bye Birdie” at Montini Catholic High School in suburban Lombard.

In July of 2015, Mr. Thompson was musical director and pianist in Three Oaks, Michigan, for Harbor Country Opera’s presentation of “The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables in Concert,” an evening of excerpts from the world’s most popular stage musicals. In the fall of 2014, he became an ensemble member and musical director of the Improvised Sondheim Project, improvising musicals in the style of Stephen Sondheim in open run and in festivals at venues like The Second City, iO Chicago, Stage 773 and MCL Chicago, and at improv festivals in Chicago, New York (2015-17) and Cincinnati. In 2010 he musical directed and accompanied the world premiere of the sketch musical “four play,” by Jamie Campbell and Amanda Murphy, at Chicago’s Studio BE. He has substituted as pianist in sketch comedy venues like The Second City and Stage 773, accompanied choirs at the Noble Street Charter School in Chicago, and accompanied Kelly High School musicians at the IHSA Solo & Ensemble competition.

In 2011 and 2012, Mr. Thompson was the musical director, conductor and keyboard player for the musicals “Gypsy” and “Rent,” presented by Dominican University in its Lund Auditorium in River Forest, Illinois. In 2012, he was the accompanist for the Musical Theatre class (THEA 382) taught by Krista Hansen, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, at Dominican University, and in 2011 was accompanist for her Auditions class (THEA 398). In 2012, Thompson was the musical director, conductor and keyboard player for the world premiere children’s musical “Off to Olympus,” by two-time Richard Rodgers Award winner Dave Hudson and composer Mark Sutton-Smith, presented by The Actors Garden at Dominican University.

In July and August of 2016, Mr. Thompson was Acting Director of Music at Chicago’s St. James Cathedral (Episcopal), selecting and arranging musical selections, accompanying services and conducting the part-professional choir. At the organ and piano, Mr. Thompson played for special worship services at St. James Cathedral, Holy Name (Roman Catholic) Cathedral and at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows throughout the 1990s. He was named Cathedral Carillonneur at St. James in 2000, where for 14 years he played the historic James Carter Memorial Chime on Sunday mornings. He played organ-chime duets with noted organists Peter Richard Conte and Douglas Cleveland. He has played piano for wedding receptions, cocktail parties and corporate events throughout his career.

Early in his career, Mr. Thompson was musical director or assistant musical director (including work as conductor, keyboardist, violinist, vocal coach and rehearsal pianist) for a number of professional productions of musicals at theaters in the Midwest, South and East:  “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Carousel,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “South Pacific,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Sound of Music,” “Gypsy,” “Camelot,” ”Fiddler on the Roof,” “Mame,” “Two by Two,” “Godspell,” ”I Love My Wife,” “They’re Playing Our Song,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” ‘Guys and Dolls” and “My One and Only” at Bucks County, Enchanted Hills, Pocono, Falmouth and Woodstock Playhouses , Naples and Clock Tower Dinner Theatres and Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.

Mr. Thompson studied piano for ten years with his mother, Fay Jennings Thompson, Assistant Professor of Music at the Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tennessee. He first gained accompanying experience at his high school, and for the collegiate show choir, “Baylor Showtime!,” as part of his undergraduate piano studies . At the University of Miami, he was the improvisatory accompanist for Edward Rozinsky’s Movement I classes (DRA 113-114) and for students in the voice studio of Dr. Lorene Buffington. In Evanston, Illinois, he accompanied in the private voice studio of Kurt R. Hansen (1988-89).

Singer and Actor

Paul W. Thompson appeared as both Jinx and Sparky in the long-running “Forever Plaid” at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre, and sang and danced in 20 productions with Evanston-based Music Theater Works (formerly known as Light Opera Works) (he served on the Board of Directors from 2006-2009); representative LOW productions include “Babes in Toyland” (with Ray Rayner), “Wonderful Town,” “The Golden Apple,” ”Knickerbocker Holiday,” “The New Moon,” “Die Fledermaus” and 2009’s “A Little Night Music.” He appeared as Rizzoli in the Midwest premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” with Pegasus Players, as Leonard in the Chicago premiere of Carl Nielsen’s “Maskarade” with Vox 3 Collective, in productions with Chicago Opera Theater (“The Ballad of Baby Doe” and 2019’s “Moby-Dick”), Transgressive Theatre-Opera (2016’s “Three By Chekhov”) where he is an artistic associate, Chicago Theater-Opera (2015’s “Hello Out There”) and Chamber Opera Chicago, in staged concerts featuring artists Sarah Brightman, Josh Groban and William Warfield, in ten of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, and he has sung and spoken live on numerous television and radio stations. He appeared in summer stock musicals at Music Theatre of Wichita, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and the Cumberland County (TN) Playhouse in such shows as “Guys and Dolls,” “Brigadoon,” “My Fair Lady,” “Funny Girl” and  more, in “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville, in “The Stephen Foster Story” in Bardstown, KY, in a wide range of collegiate productions, and in Benjamin Britten’s “The Little Sweep” with Nashville Children’s Theatre. As a boy soprano, he starred in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in concert and in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” on stage. And he appeared as an extra in the 1986 film “At Close Range,” starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken.

Mr. Thompson has been a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (CSC) since 1995, singing the great works of the choral/orchestral literature with world-class soloists under the world’s greatest international conductors (a partial listing includes Muti, Solti, Barenboim, Boulez, Haitink, Levine, Mehta, Ozawa, Conlon and Eschenbach). Mr. Thompson spent four years as Tenor I Section Leader and two years as Tenor II Section Leader. One of the world’s leading choruses, the CSC regularly performs works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi, Mahler, Stravinsky and others, as well as new works, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival as well as in Madison, Wisconsin and in two programs in Berlin, Germany; with the Chorus, Mr. Thompson performed five times in New York’s Carnegie Hall. He appeared in over 125 performances of the CSO’s legendary “Welcome Yule!” concerts, has appeared in CSO children’s concerts and Day of Music concerts, and was a charter member of the Chicago Symphony Singers (stage direction by Broadway’s Gary Griffin), subject of an hour-long special on WTTW-TV, Channel 11. He also sang in 2016’s popular screening of the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Orchestra Hall, and 2012’s “Peace Through Music” concert broadcast with the CSC and the Lyric Opera Orchestra, honoring Pope John Paul II. He sings on Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated recordings by the Chicago and Nashville Symphony Orchestras (including the “Best Classical Album” of 2011, Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem” conducted by Riccardo Muti), and is a proud voter for the Grammy Awards.

Mr. Thompson was named seven times to the supplemental roster of the Grant Park Chorus, appearing in works by Mozart and Berlioz in 2016, and has appeared with the William Ferris Chorale, the Camerata Singers, Chorus Angelorum, Windy City Gay Chorus (Midwest Premiere of “Tyler’s Suite”) and Saint Romanos Capella. He has sung on the stages of the Auditorium Theatre, Arie Crown Theater, Harris Theater, Pritzker Pavilion, Medinah Temple, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall and Chicago Shakespeare Theater, appeared in the first two Make Music Chicago festivals (2011 and 12), and sang four times on the Rush Hour concert series at St. James Cathedral. He sang with the Lakeside Singers in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017 in the Ravinia Festival’s CSO presentations of the Academy Award-winning “Lord of the Rings” film scores, sang the 2014 Lerner and Loewe concert and 2015 Danny Elfman concert there, and performed in “Video Games Live” at the Chicago Theatre in 2010. He’s sung under the baton of Broadway’s Rob Fisher and Ted Sperling.

One of Chicago’s foremost liturgical singers, Mr. Thompson has sung for 29 years at St. James (Episcopal) Cathedral and sang for 21 years at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation (appearing on compact disc recordings for both congregations); he sang periodically at St. Peter’s-in-the-Loop, St. John Cantius (Roman Catholic) and at Chicago Sinai Congregation. In 1997, he sang at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. for the installation of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, and in 2017 sang with the St. James Cathedral Choir in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas (Fifth Avenue) and St. Bart’s (Park Avenue) in Manhattan. His solos in sacred choral works have included Vivaldi’s “Dixit Dominus,” Handel’s “Messiah” and “Judas Maccabaeus,” Bach’s “Magnificat,” Pergolesi’s “Magnificat,” Haydn’s “Heiligmesse in B Flat,” “Lord Nelson Mass” and “Paukenmesse,” Mozart’s “Requiem,” “Coronation Mass,” “Missa Brevis in C” and “Vesperae Solennes de Confessore,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria” and Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” plus Britten’s “Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac.” He has sung for many weddings and funerals.

Mr. Thompson regularly sings intimate concerts of musical theater repertoire and his own songs throughout the Chicago area, including three annual appearances on the “Music in the Neighborhood” series. His covers of pop songs and musical theater and oratorio favorites can be found along with his original songs on YouTube. Mr. Thompson is a proud member of the American Guild of Musical Artists and Actors’ Equity Association.