2015 and The Arts: The Year in Review in Three Acts
Act II: The Best Plays, Musicals, Productions, Directors
As a part-time arts reporter, I missed more productions than I got to see, but I did manage to catch some incredible theatre, music, and dance.
Best Production of a Play: The Laramie Project at Connecticut Repertory Theatre
The Laramie Project, the Moises Kaufman/Tectonic Theatre’s story of Matthew Shepard’s murder and its impact on a small Wyoming college town, is a poignant show with a powerful message. CRT staged it flawlessly, and the ensemble of actors played multiple roles. It all added up to an intense experience, where the power of live theatre overwhelms, envelops and educates.
Best New Play: The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Hartford Stage
The Pianist of Willesden Lane,based on the book “The Children of Willesden Lane” by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, was a moving story about a young pianist (Golabek’s mother) who was sent from Europe to England on a Kindertransport during World War II. The personal dramas of Holocaust survivors are prime for theatre, and the fact that Golabek acted and played piano superbly added to the story. She is living history in performance. The refugee plight is still in the headlines… This makes this play timeless.
I was also impressed by Mark St. Germain’s lovely two-character play Dancing Lessons, which travelled from Barrington Stage to TheaterWorks in Hartford. It had charm, and it had heart, and I hope the production moves on to bigger and better opportunities.
Best Production of a Musical: Kiss Me Kate at Hartford Stage
For decades, Goodspeed Musicals has been the area’s best (and only) producer of musicals–a living history museum of the unique American art form. They gave us a wonderful production of La Cage Aux Folles this season. Barrington Stage’s Man of La Mancha was stunning. But, best for me was Hartford Stage’s sizzling revival of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. Darko Tresnjak’s staging was superb, and he mined every bit of innuendo and double entendre in the musical’s witty script and score. Hartford Stage’s production had a major wow factor.
Best Direction of a Play: Eric Hill for “The Homecoming” at Berkshire Theatre Group.
I’ve seen Eric Hill stage theatre for almost thirty years, since we were colleagues at StageWest. Hill is always true to the playwright’s intent, and he enhances it with good designers and actors. And, he’s always aware of his audience. The Homecoming was one of the best things he’s ever staged Hill has ongoing competition from other extremely accomplished resident directors: Darko Tresnjak at Hartford Stage, Julianne Boyd at Barrington Stage, and Rob Ruggiero at TheaterWorks (and Goodspeed). This was Hill’s year.
Best Direction of a Musical: Rob Ruggiero for La Cage Aux Folles at Goodspeed Musicals
Those Jerry Herman musicals are full of sentiment and schmaltz, but Rob Ruggiero gave La Cage Aux Folles a heart and some empowerment, too. Even though I’d seen the original and the award-winning revivals, I found much new to savor in this production, which I credit to Ruggiero’s ability to find balance between song and dance and laughs.
Best Choreography: Ralph Perkins for La Cage Aux Folles at Goodspeed Musicals
Anyone who can make a sextet of buff Broadway boys in heels look delicate as flowers, deserves my vote for “Best Choreography”. Perkins’ dances were fun, and they were well-performed. Kudos to Parker Esse for his fine dance numbers in Berkshire Theatre Group’s Bells Are Ringing. And, there was some incredible fight choreography onstage, from Ryan Winkles’ fight scenes for Barrington Stage’s Man of La Mancha, and J. Allen Suddeth’s staging of sparring spouses in Hartford Stage’s Private Lives.
Best Scenic Design: Alexander Dodge for Rear Window at Hartford Stage. I’ve seldom seen a set change get an ovation in a regional theatre, but Alexander Dodge’s scenic design for Rear Window was almost as much of a thriller as Hitchcock might have dreamed of. His set designs for Hartford Stage’s Private Lives were just as breathtaking.
Best Costumes: Michael McDonald for La Cage Aux Folles at Goodspeed Musicals
McDonald’s frocks for the La Cage Aux Folles “Cagelles” and Zaza, the musical’s leading lady, were just jaw-dropping. They brought out the feminine in brawny dancers, and they were fun. Bravo! Honorable mention goes to Alejo Vietti for his Christmas On The Rocks costumes at TheaterWorks, especially his outfits for Cindy Lou Who and Clara. Who knew costumes could be so funny?
Best Lighting Design: York Kennedy for.Rear Window at Hartford Stage
Rear Window was the perfect example of design driving production. York Kennedy’s lighting design provided an intensity and the support for the onstage thrills.
Best Sound Design: Jane Shaw for Rear Window at Hartford Stage Shaw’s brilliant sound effects, from an elevated subway’s clicks and clacks to a sultry jazz score really heightened the drama of Rear Window, which was the best fusion of production values seen on any stage this year.
Next week, my favorite performances of 2015.
Keep in Mind…
A Town Known as Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community, a visiting exhibit, is on display at The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst through March 27. Best known by its infamous name it shared with the Nazi death camps there, the Polish town of Oswicim was home to Jews and non-Jews for centuries. This exhibit shows life in the town before World War II. For details: www.riddishbookcenter.org.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.