I’m making my list, and checking it twice, for my Theatre Highlights of the Year.
I must preface this by saying a big thanks to ALL the theatres, big and small, for entertaining, amusing, evoking tears, laughter, and even outrage, and for taking us out of our reality into another’s. If we just let you entertain us, we’ll very likely have a real good time, yessir! Or, worst case, something to rag about.
1. Come From Away (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
A thing of beauty, and assured of being a joy forever, as it heads to Broadway and beyond. I have not heard a soul who saw it say they came away unmoved by this musical about the effects of the 9/11 related plane diversions to Gander, Newfoundland. Great book, music and lyrics by a beyond promising Canadian team, ace direction, and a truly perfect ensemble cast. In the top 5 of my all-time top 10 list.
2. My Fair Lady (Village Theatre)
My heart danced, if not all night and least for 2 and ¾ hours as director Brian Yorkey and company freshened but still honored the well nigh perfect Lerner and Loewe musical of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Allison Standley’s untoppable Eliza, Priscilla Hake Lauris’ wily and wise Mrs. Higgins, and Cynthia Savage’s costumes were the zeniths of the production.
3. Slaughterhouse Five (Book-It Repertory Theatre)
Even if you’re not a Vonnegut fan, you couldn’t fail to become wrapped up in this out of time and place modern parable. As with all of Book-It’s best shows, it was as if we were swept into the novel’s pages. Local gems Todd Jefferson Moore, Erik Gratton, Jim Gall, and Robert Bergin headed up a fine cast, and Josh Aeseng’s adaptation and direction were as one with each other.
4. Lizard Boy (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
Hard to explain and hard to forget, this musical super hero graphic novel by, and starring, Seattle wunderkind Justin Huertas is the first truly home-grown show in some while that I would tout for a production in Manhattan (preferably Off-Broadway to preserve its essential intimacy.) Huertas, as a young man turned Lizard Boy, Kirsten deLohr Helland, as a sinister songstress with secrets, and William A. Williams acted, sang, played the music, and mesmerized us. Get the cast album and let that suffice till the show hits the big-time. It may have to be retitled Lizard Boy-Turn on the Light.
5. Waterfall (5th Avenue Theatre)
It was unabashedly romantic and bravely old-fashioned, and this critic loved every moment of this show that pleased crowds while alienating much of Seattle’s critical cognoscenti. Based on a Thai novel and musical, Broadway vet Richard Maltby Jr. wove a show of hope and heartbreak, set in Thailand and Japan, pre WWII. The background story of how the Imperial Japanese drove western culture and entertainment away from Japan in the 1930’s was more intriguing than the romance, but thanks in particular to Broadway and Seattle veteran Laura Griffith as the ultimately tragic leading lady, the melodrama played well, too. And, if ever an actress in a supporting role stole the show, it was J. Elaine Marcos, as Griffith’s wary servant.
6. Orpheus Descending (Intiman Theatre Festival and The Williams Project)
You’d never really guess from this brave, bombastic, and fabulously inventive production that this play is considered a lesser work in the Tennessee Williams pantheon. Crossing every available line of race and gender, the super-energized company, along with bold direction by Ryan Purcell, this was my favorite show during Seattle’s long hot summer. Somewhere Williams and a rent boy were watching and smiling from an upper balcony seat.
7. Legally Blonde (Second Story Repertory Theatre)
Like the little engine that could, Second Story Rep repeatedly exceeded expectations this season. And OMG you guys, this underrated lark of a show thrived in the company’s cozy mall confines. Elle Woods and company could NOT have been in better hands than savvy director Matt Wolfe, and this city’s next hot blonde musical star, Kristen Burch. Hers was the best Elle I have seen take the stage.
8. American Idiot (ArtsWest Theatre)
I never expected nor wanted to see this show again, but what appalled me about its Broadway tour at the Paramount enthralled me in the hands of director Eric Ankrim and company, all in an environmental staging like you have never seen by a Seattle Company. ArtsWest let their space be gutted and transformed into an urban wasteland, complete with audience members who paid extra to be lead around like tour group customers as the action and Green Day music were ongoing. This show, and a few others on this list, make me think we have a real theatrical renaissance happening in Seattle.
9. Green Whales (Forward Flux)
A newish play, a new company, and a tiny venue. What did I expect when a cast member invited me? Not much I admit. But what I got was a funny, trenchant 90-minute walk through some semi-sordid lives, with a lot of laughs, and a lot of heart. Leslie Wisdom and Rachel Anne Godbe, as sympatico if vastly dissimilar sisters, gave two of the best performances I saw all year, and I hope Forward Flux keeps moving forward with interesting fresh scripts by worthy young authors.
10. Jacques Brel (ACT Theatre and 5th Avenue Theatre)
In my high school and college days this musical, along with The Fantasticks, may as well have been the only musicals ever written, so frequently were they produced. Now that a few decades had passed, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and a revue of the works of the acclaimed, now deceased songwriter seemed like a breath of fresh air. The gallic melancholy, mixed with biting humor, rue, and regret was impeccably directed and envisioned by David Armstrong, and the ensemble cast consisting of Eric Ankrim, Louis Hobson, Cayman Ilika, Kendra, Kassebaum, and Timothy McCuen Piggee were all shown off to their individual and collective best advantage.
Chinglish (Arts West) and JesusChrist Superstar (Seatttle Musical Theatre) were also exemplary productions and I would have felt remiss to have missed mentioning them here.
Interviews with theatrical icons John Rubinstein, Priscilla Lopez, Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire, and LaChanze also made my year.
Wishing you the best in these waning days of 2015, Happy Holidays, and a theatrical new year.