Come Hell and High Water, The Moving Company
Hamlet, Jungle Theater
I admit it - I have a hard time with Shakespeare. It takes me a while to get inside the language and really feel what's going on. But I didn't have any problems with the Jungle Theater's production of Hamlet this year. Bain Boehlke designed the inventive set and directed the fabulous cast, led by Hugh Kennedy as a very real Hamlet. The whole production felt utterly modern and current, including innovative use of video, while still remaining true to the original work.
I really loved this original dance/music/theater piece by Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum. I had no idea what to expect walking into the Guthrie's studio theater, and was blown away by the story of an American journalist in the Bosnian War, and the way it was told through music, dance, and images. This is what musical theater can and should be: original, relevant, inventive, moving, and full of wonderfully diverse music and dancing. And for some inexplicable reason, this is the most viewed page on my blog, with twice as many views as the next highest page. It makes me think that maybe they're shopping the piece around trying to find new life for it, which makes me happy.
Penumbra Theatre, which has produced more August Wilson plays than any other theater in the country. I look forward to next season's selection.
Pride, Pillsbury House Theatre
This might have been the most difficult play to watch this year; there were some brutally violent scenes. But it was also very moving and meaningful and well done. Four actors all played multiple characters and depicted the story of two gay men and the woman who loves them, in two distinct time periods - 1958 and 2008. Tracey Maloney, Matt Guidry, and Clarence Wethern all brilliantly portrayed two different versions of the same character, one in each time period. Subtle changes in voice, wardrobe, and carriage of the body instantly let the audience know which time period was being presented. The play illustrated just how far we've come in 50 years, and that we still have a ways to go.
[title of show], Yellow Tree Theatre
Musical theater is my favorite thing in the world, so a musical that celebrates (and maybe pokes a little fun at) musical theater is bound to be on my list of favorites. This musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical is hilarious and full of musical theater references. It was a perfect choice for the cozy intimate stage of Yellow Tree, my favorite little theater in the suburbs. The fabulous four-person cast (Jessica Lind, Mary Fox, Andy Frye, and J.C. Lippold) had as much fun as the audience. It also gave me a new motto: "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing."
Twisted Apples, Nautilus Music-Theater at the Fringe Festival
This was my first year attending the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and I loved it. I saw ten shows in a little over a week (a record even for me), some funny, some moving, some weird, but all in all a wonderful sampler of the talent in the Twin Cities. My favorite show of the Fest turned out to be one of my favorites of the year - the original music-theater piece Twisted Apples by Nautilus Music-Theater, the second of three short operas that will eventually make up a full three-act opera based on Sherwood Anderson's 1919 short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio. Led by a gut-wrenching performance by Norah Long, it completely captivated me and brought me into the world of the little frontier town, so much so that I found the sunshine outside jarring when I left the theater. I look forward to next year's installment.
Since it's hard for me to pick just ten, here are ten more shows I loved: 7-Shot Symphony, After Miss Julie, August: Osage County, Avenue Q, Burial at Thebes, Edge of Our Bodies, H.M.S. Pinafore, I Am My Own Wife, Little Shop of Horrors, and Wizard of Oz.
In addition to the above plays and musicals, there are a few artists whose work stood out for me this year, whom I saw multiple times in wonderfully diverse productions.
Bradley Greenwald appeared in two of my favorite shows this year, and I don't think that's a coincidence. From the emcee in Cabaret to a German transvestite antiques collector in I Am My Own Wife, and everything in between ("everything" in this case being Hamlet's murderous uncle and a buffoonish soldier on the Way to the Forum), he's always a joy to watch. Whether he's speaking or singing in that magnificent voice of his, in English or in German, he puts everything he's got into his performance, and I can't get enough.
Peter Rothstein that I've seen has been excellent theater, so he must have had something to do with it. It's always high quality work from top to bottom, beginning with the seemingly perfect cast he assembles. Whether it's with Ten Thousand Things (the thought-provoking Doubt, see above), The Children's Theatre (two shows that'll make you feel like a kid again, Annie and The Wizard of Oz), a joint production between the Ordway and 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle (the colorful and entertaining Guys and Dolls), or his own Theater Latte Da (the moving Song of Extinction; an original piece about immigrant music that he created with pianist Dan Chouinard, Steerage Song; and the delightful Spelling Bee), a Peter Rothstein directed show is always entertaining, or interesting, or thought-provoking, or hilarious, or heart-breaking, or moving, or all of the above.