Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top Theater Moments of 2015

This wasn’t my favorite theater season. Yes, it had the sublime Fun Home, but more often I felt mixed about the just-under two-dozen shows I saw. I enjoyed parts, but not always the whole experience. So here’s my “Six Best Theater Moments in 2015.”*

Fun Home

The Shows:
1.     Fun Home—Circle in the Square. Previews began on March 27, still playing. This transfer from the Public Theater shattered me. Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel and featuring music by Jeanine Tesori and book/lyrics by Lisa Kron (both of whom won Tonys for their contribution), the plot centers on the coming-out of a young lesbian, but also offers an intimate look at a fractured family. Sydney Lucas broke my heart as the child who discovers she is different through a ring of keys, and Judy Kuhn as the unfulfilled mother is haunting when she sings “Days and Days.” I could continue with more superlavatives to describe Michael Cerveris, Beth Malone and Emily Skeggs, but I’ll let the Tony received for Best Musical do the talking for me.

2.     Into the Woods—Laura Pels Theatre. Last performance: April 12, 2015. The Roundabout Theatre Company presented the McCarter Theatre and Fiasco Theater production of the Sondheim/Lapine musical. As Liz said, this scaled down version focused more on the play than sets and costumes (for instance, an actor transforms into Milky White merely by hanging a cowbell from his neck). The 10 actors played multiple parts (and sometimes instruments) and often the key set was the piano. The simple re-telling allowed the audience to focus on the complexities of the story.

3.     The Legend of Georgia McBride—MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre. Last performance: October 4, 2015. This frothy romp by Matthew Lopez tells the tale of Casey (Dave Thomas Brown), an Elvis impersonator who goes from unwilling drag queen to a man who fully embraces his feminine side.  Matt McGrath played the wise, no-nonsense older queen with a sly, knowing humor. Everything about this production was fun – and its message of transformation and acceptance was moving despite its predictability. Plus, the spirited performances filled with country hits by Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton vastly entertained.

4.     On the Twentieth Century—Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre. Last performance: July 15, 2015. Tony winner Kristen Chenoweth (Lily Garland) was a laugh in this musical revival set on a train. Peter Gallagher played the charming impresario with big ideas and little money and Andy Karl was Garland’s movie star fiancé. Zany and delightful, the true star was the staging that swirled the set from a station to a train before your eyes and the dancing bell (train?) boys.

An American in Paris
The Moments:
1.     An American in Paris—Palace Theatre. Previews started March 13 and the show is still playing. Based on the beloved 1951 Oscar-winning MGM musical, this show lagged for me. Ballet stars Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope dazzle when dancing but the songs never reach show-stopping heights with their thin voices. Interestingly, on April 27th, director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon spoke at Symphony Space about An American in Paris, comparing it to his experience in 1995’s West Side Story Suite where Jerome Robbins tried casting dancers in some of the speaking/singing roles before hiring more established theatrical folk to do the bulk of the singing. Perhaps, Wheeldon should have done the same. Still, the big, dreamy 14-minute ballet, featuring Fairchild and Cope, is one of my favorite moments in 2015.

2.     Hand to God—Booth Theatre. Previews started March 14, still playing—Robert Askins’ play about an evil puppet is full of laughs, even though it lags in the second act and tends to oversimplify complex issues. Still, when I think of the moment when Stephen Boyer (Jason)’s hand puppet defiles a Sunday school room, it still brings me chuckles.

·      Note: I did not see the much-lauded Hamilton. Ask me after January 16th, when I see the show, and I’ll tell you if it would’ve made the list.

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