THEATER TALK: Best Of 2011
"Anything Goes" on Broadway
Stephanie J. Block stole the show in this "delovely" production the the classic Cole Porter musical. The show is beautiful and very well done, and I look forward to seeing the national tour when it comes to the Ahmanson this fall! [x]
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Broadway
Benjamin Walker (who will keep the presidential streak going in the upcoming movie "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter") and company were fantastic in this hilarious emo-rock account of America's controversial president. While the schtick of the show could have easily become tiresome, the book & music by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman kept things moving along at a nice, entertaining pace. [Note: while this show closed January 2, 2011, the performance I saw was the last of the Broadway production, so it was 2011, if only just barely!]
"The Book of Mormon" on Broadway
There's not much more to say about "The Book of Mormon" that hasn't already been said. It's painfully funny, and everything I could have hoped for from the creators of "South Park" and "Avenue Q." Tickets are near-impossible to obtain, but I look forward to the touring production's visit to the Pantages this fall. [x]
"Burn the Floor" national tour at the Pantages
To preface, I should say that I've always enjoyed dance in a general way. However, "Burn the Floor" really showed me the profound capability of dance as a form of communication on a level that I had never before seen in any other dance show. [x]
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" on Broadway
I suppose it's ironic given the title of the show, but I think Daniel Radcliffe may be one of the hardest-working actors on Broadway. His determination to do something completely different from the Harry Potter franchise brought him to "How to Succeed," and regardless of what naysayers of stunt casting have to say, I think Broadway is all the better for his presence. Yes, it's a nightmare walking down 45th Street while people are waiting to meet him outside the stage door, but he is a (very high-profile) cog in the machine that is tirelessly working to make musicals more relevant in general American culture. When you add that to the fact that this production of "How to Succeed" is a good deal of fun, who can complain? [x]
"Lysistrata Jones" on Broadway
I have to root for "Lyssie Jones," as the new musical has affectionately been dubbed, for a variety of reasons. First of all, and most importantly, it's a very enjoyable show. I walked out of the theater in a sort of giddy state that few other contemporary musicals have evoked. Secondly, it's based on Aristophanes, and I have a soft spot for him after I fell in love with his really weird Old Comedy, "The Clouds." Third of all, it reminds me of a quirky indie movie, a la "Saved!" or even "Juno." I want "Lysistrata Jones" to be the little musical that could, so to speak, and enjoy a successful run on Broadway. [x]
"The Merchant of Venice" at the Broad Stage
Modern audiences tend to shy away from Shakespeare, viewing it as unapproachable or incomprehensible. However, the most remarkable thing about Theatre for a New Audience's production of "The Merchant of Venice" was the way in which the actors breathed new life into the five hundred year-old language. By bringing the events to Wall Street (circa 2007, not in the midst of the "Occupy" movement), the show gained new relevance, and I witnessed a new sense of clarity in the play that is rare in most productions of Shakespeare plays.
"Next Fall" at the Geffen
On a whim, I decided to see "Next Fall" when it was on Broadway in the summer of 2010, and I absolutely loved the play. When I found out that it was being produced at the Geffen, I was excited, but not confident that their production would live up to my extremely high expectations. I was pleasantly surprised as I left the Geffen, though, as their production was as chock-full of love, pain, and, ultimately, catharsis, as it was when I saw it over a year ago in a different city. [x]
"Next to Normal" national tour at the Kennedy Center
I saw the national tour of "Next to Normal" at the beginning of its run, at the Ahmanson in December 2010, and then again in July at the end of its run, at the Kennedy Center in July 2011. While I enjoyed the show when I saw it on Broadway in 2009 and last December, I can honestly say I liked it best at the Kennedy Center. Pearl Sun's pure-voiced Diana was heart-rending, and Emma Hunton's Natalie seemed to have found her footing and settled into an understandably conflicted daughter. The rest of the cast were just as spot-on as they were in Los Angeles, and the show's creative team provided great source material. [Read Jason Kehe's review of the show at the Ahmanson here]
"Oklahoma!" at Arena Stage
Somehow, this production of "Oklahoma!" was actually the first time I'd seen a Rodgers & Hammerstein show live onstage. I'm obviously quite familiar with their work, and have seen the movie versions of many of their shows, but somehow, I'd yet to see their work in the flesh. I don't think I could have asked for a better first experience than Arena Stage's production of the 1943 musical. The show, which was staged in the round, had a high-spirited, high-kicking ensemble, a lovely Laurie in Eleasha Gamble, a charming rascal of a Curly in Nicholas Rodriguez, a blood-curdling Jud in Aaron Ramey, and a charming Will Parker in Cody Williams. The choreography (by Agnes de Mille and Parker Esse) was inventive, and Molly Smith's deft direction brought the whole piece together quite well.
Honorable mentions: "American Idiot" on Broadway, "Hair" national tour at the Pantages [x], "In the Heights" on Broadway, "The Normal Heart" on Broadway [x], "Spring Awakening" national tour at the Pantages [x].
Best performance by a male in a musical: Jeremy Jordan, "Bonnie & Clyde." Jordan gave his heart and soul to this production, and it shows. Hopefully he will return to "Newsies" as Jack Kelly and Broadway will get to see more from this magnetic performer. [x]
Best performance by a male in a play: Mark Rylance, "La Bête." While the play as a whole was occasionally dry, Rylance's performance as the Molière-esque Valere was a delight. This is compounded by the fact that Valere delivers a twenty-some minute soliloquy that is entirely composed of rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. Rylance not only delivered the speech in question, but did so in an entertaining and engaging way that makes the audience forget that he is prattling on for quite as long as he is. Furthermore, Rylance managed to keep Valere from entirely alienating the audience, as detestable character as he is.
Best performance by a female in a musical: Stephanie J Block, "Anything Goes." I've already raved a fair amount about Block's performance as Reno Sweeney, but suffice it to say the natural comedienne was great as the brassy dame.
Best performance by a female in a play: Camille Mana, "Asuncion." Mana dealt with the complexities of the title character in Jesse Eisenberg's play quite adeptly. The skill with which she carefully toed the line between caricature and character was quite remarkable. [x]
Most dedicated ensemble: "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." I'm still surprised by how many of the cast members are still in the media-disdained musical. Of the 41 actors who were in the show in January, 30 of them were still in it (or at least, in it again) in December. Considering that 4 roles were entirely eliminated and those actors were released from their contracts, it's especially impressive that all but seven actors are still with the show. I have to give these actors props for not jumping ship after their contracts ended, given the show's bumpy road to Broadway. [x]
Here's to an even better 2012!
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