Wednesday, December 31, 2008


In no particular order, the following were my top 10 most outstanding trips to the theater outside of Chicago:

1. "Ivanov" (LONDON: Donmar Warehouse at the Wyndham's / West End) - Michael Grandage's production of this rarely performed Chekhov play (new translation by Tom Stoppard) was pitch perfect and was led by a voracious performance by Kenneth Branagh.

2. "Macbeth" (NYC: Brooklyn Academy of Music) - As directed by red hot director Rupert Goold, this rendition of the Scottish Play was played out as a relentless horror flick. The main draw may have been Patrick Stewart in the title role, but it was Kate Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth that really got my skin crawling.

3. "Sunday in the Park with George" (NYC: Broadway, Studio 54) - This fine, fine revival featured the best blend of theater and computer animated projections I had yet encountered. One couldn't ask for a better ensemble, with Daniel Evans (as George) giving an emotionally resonant performance straight from the heart.

4. "South Pacific" (NYC: Broadway, Vivian Beaumont) - Perfect in every way, Bartlett Sher's full, glorious revival seethed authenticity without reverting to hokeyness. As Nellie, Kelli O'Hara gave an honest, beguiling breakthrough performance that was also gorgeously sung.

5. "Gypsy" (NYC: Broadway, St. James) - Despite its threadbare looks, this revival was a firecracker, with a trio of definitive performances: Laura Benanti was utterly believable at every step of Louise's transformative joureny; Boyd Gaines as Herbie was effectively solid as a rock until his heartbreaking departure; and Patti LuPone gave a focused, galvanic performance that will be remembered for generations.

6. "The Seagull" (NYC: Broadway, Walter Kerr) - Ian Rickman's production went down in my book as the best representative of Chekhov performance I have seen to date, with every moment balanced between comedy and tragedy. The regal Kristin Scott Thomas led a true ensemble with her fiery, volatile performance.

7. "Arias with a Twist" (NYC: Off-Broadway, HERE) - I had never seen anything like this show, which can be best described as a hallucinatory B movie sci fi adventure told through drag performance and puppet arts. Ridiculously talented master puppeteer Basil Twist framed legendary drag artist Joey Arias in some of the most provocative stage pictures of the year.

8. "Fuente Ovenjuna" (ONTARIO: Stratford Festival) - Laurence Boswell's engaging, rock solid revival of Lope de Vega's scantly done play was a true highlight of my first ever visit to the revered Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. There was an overwhelming sense of community among the cast members here that I found extremely moving.

9. "The Music Man" (ONTARIO: Stratford Festival) - Susan H. Schulman's lovely, pristine production of this Meredith Wilson classic not only basked in the joyous exuberance of early 20th century Americana, it also highlighted the piece's sophisticated writing and structure. May it have actually deserved its Best Musical Tony over the much-loved "West Side Story"?

10. "Hamlet" (STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, Royal Shakespeare Company) - Gregory Doran's crystal-clear "Hamlet" was headlined by David Tennant's Danish prince. I am happy to report that Mr. Tennant's (aka Dr. Who) interpretation was worth the hype; his performance had an accessibly modern appeal and possessed a manic charisma. He was supported step by step by an exceptional cast, with Patrick Stewart's sympathetic take on Claudius being the best I'd ever seen.

Honorable Mentions:
-"O" (LAS VEGAS: Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio in Las Vegas) - the most spectacular thing I had ever seen; really pleasantly surprised by its dark, almost impenetrable world
-"Lipsynch" (LONDON: Barbican) - Robert Lepage's nine hour epic was not perfect, but it had moments of breathtaking stagecraft
-"Now or Later" (LONDON: Royal Court) - a timely, edge-of-your seat study on the intersection between the personal, political, and the media
-"The Merry Wives of Windsor (LONDON: Shakespeare's Globe) - a disarmingly charming production, made even more irresistible by its setting
-"Piaf" (LONDON: Donmar Warehouse) - I could care less about the uneven play, but I was very impressed by the passionately explosive performance from diminutive Elena Rogers in the title role
-"In the Heights" (NYC: Broadway, Richard Rogers) - successfully brought hip hop to Broadway, but at heart, this sentimental musical was as traditional as they come
-"Passing Strange" (NYC: Broadway, Belasco) - one of the few Broadway shows ever to truly rock; oh yeah, the show was also a successful experiment on the limits of the musical theater form and an an existential mediation on life
-"Dividing the Estate" (NYC: Broadway, Booth) - a new Horton Foote on Broadway (a cause for celebration in and of itself), and it's pretty darn good
-"The Women" (SAN DIEGO: Old Globe) - stylish and very funny, one of the few unadulteratedly enjoyable experiences this year
-"Hamlet" (ONTARIO: Stratford Festival) - Ben Carlson was even better in Adrian Noble's stylish and stark production than in his Jeff Award-winning performance at the Chicago Shakespeare last year

No comments: