Well it’s that time again! One of the most anticipated issues that THE COLUMN publishes each year, and that is our annual BEST OF DFW THEATER FOR 2015!
What makes our publication and picks so unique and that separates us from other publications’ picks is this:
THE COLUMN has a massive staff of theater critics, in fact we just this week added a new staff member! But more so THE COLUMN does not focus on just Dallas theater companies or just on Equity. THE COLUMN prides itself in that we have reviewed ALL OVER the DFW metroplex. We want to support ALL theater, not just “certain” theater companies. We also do not ignore non-equity theaters whatsoever.
In my personal opinion-theater is theater, be it equity or non-equity. I got my equity card when I worked and performed for Disney Entertainment. I have done tons of equity and non-equity, and what I discovered was that there is only one major difference, in that one side gets paid weekly and gets medical insurance, the other does not. They both love to make theater magic. Both sides work endless hours on creating and producing the best theater they can bring to their audiences. Sure some theaters have more money, major donors, etc. which allows them to add more “bells and whistles” to their shows. But in the end for me it’s the talent that matters. The work of the actors, directors, designers, choreographers, musical directors, and production staff-that’s what REALLY matters-not that you have at your disposal an extra $3,000.00 for your sets. Both sides (equity and non-equity) pour and dedicate so much heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into their work. They sacrifice so much, and for what? To bring the art of live theater to their audiences.
What a diverse and varied theater season it was for the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in 2015. We had everything from regional premieres to new works produced for the first time. But if there was one thing that every show produced in 2015 was this- in that the dedication, compassion, and drive to create artistry in theater showed. The DFW metroplex can boldly hold the crown as the only area in Texas that has more theater companies than any other major city in this big, grand state. We’ve also had new theater companies enter our ever growing family of theater companies!
To my staff of theater critics on THE COLUMN, I did not tell them who to pick, etc. These are their own personal selections. Now, NO and I mean NO critic in this metroplex can say they have seen every single show in the Dallas-Ft Worth area, both equity and non-equity. That they have seen every single play and musical from that theater’s season. Period. Hell, no one can say that. So myself and my staff of critics are making their selections on the shows that we either reviewed OR simply attended as an audience member.
You will see the vast, wide range below on what THE COLUMN felt created the BEST in theater for the 2015 season within the DFW area. Congrats to all those selected!
SENIOR CHIEF THEATER CRITIC/EDITOR
For my personal picks, I decided to do something different, and that was to trim my selections down. I looked at a myriad of factors on deciding my selections. Thus it was a very, very, very hard process on being so selective on the productions that I saw or the ones I reviewed this past season. This was NOT an easy process for me this season! But here my picks as to what I considered was the best of the 2015 season:
BEST EQUITY PRODUCTION:
Les Miserables (Casa Manana).
This was a very difficult decision to make as I saw some really terrific equity shows, but Casa’s version of this very well known, and often produced musical stayed with me even all these months later. I have-and I mean have seen my share of Les Miz. From Broadway, to the many national tours, to the recent revival. Some were amazing while others were god awful. For Casa’s version Director Tim Bennett avoided in mounting a replica of the original or recent (and still running) Broadway revival. He instead focused on creating a completely new, raw, fresh, and emotionally powerful version. The staging was marvelous, and what he brought out of this extraordinary cast left me utterly speechless. So many musical numbers were stripped apart and recreated in a vivid new way. For example the number “Empty Chairs and Empty tables”. Who knew that a new way to use the candles would cause me to have tears streaming down my face. From the leads to the ensemble, they discovered amazing new subtext with both the characters and the vocal interpretations from one of the world’s most known musical scores. When that company closed Act 1 with “One More Day”, the tornado gush of belting voices caused the audience to actually give them a standing ovation, and that was just Act 1! Casa Manana’s production of Les Miserables was a masterpiece and elevated the art of musical theater on how you can still create original new life into a well-known piece. Felicitations Casa Manana!
BEST NON EQUITY PRODUCTION:
The Addams Family (Plaza Theatre Company).
This musical was produced several times around the DFW area this past season. Prior to Plaza’s version, I had only seen the national tour version. Other theaters in the area that mounted this musical did it in proscenium. Plaza had the difficult task of doing it in the round. This musical goes through a lot of scene changes in various locations, that is much easier for the proscenium, but how on earth can you achieve that in the round? PTC seems to truly enjoy challenging themselves every season with at least one show. While they do promote they are family friendly, they still produce at least one show to not only challenge their performers and designers, but to also educate and broaden the minds of their audiences. Their production of The Addams Family the musical was a big surprise for me. There was a load of new originality and creativity they brought into the cartoon world of Charles Addams. I loved that they threw in current references that had me laughing out loud. The lighting was scrumptious and the costumes were lavish. The various set pieces worked like a glove in the intimate, in the round space. But where Director G.Aaron Siler really excelled was with his cast. The principals were hysterical and created a tight, cohesive chemistry between each other and the ensemble. The ensemble added a fantastic foundation of vocals, dancing, and comedy that ebbed into the audience. There were a lot of great non-equity musicals this season, but Plaza had such major obstacles in creating this musical, and with their usual magical artistry, they once again succeeded!
BEST ORIGINAL NEW PRODUCTION/ AREA PREMIERE:
CREEP (Watertower theatre)
BEST NATIONAL TOURS:
A DIVINE EVENING WITH CHARLES BUSCH (AT&T Performing Arts Center)
NEWSIES (Winspear Opera House, AT&T Performing Arts Center)
KINKY BOOTS (Dallas Summer Musicals)
PIPPIN (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Tim Bennett, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
CREEP, Kate Galvin (Watertower Theatre)
Nancy Schaffer, FANCY NANCY (Dallas Theater Center)
G. Aaron Siler, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
BEST MUSICAL DIRECTOR:
James Cunningham, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Cody Dry, GUYS AND DOLLS (Rockwall Summer Musicals)
Scott A. Eckert, WEST SIDE STORY (Garland Summer Musicals)
Kevin Gunter, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
Adam C. Wright, FANCY NANCY (Dallas Children’s Theater)
Tabitha Barrus, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Tim Bennett, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Rachel Hunt, SHREK THE MUSICAL (Plaza Theatre Company)
Kelly McCain, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
BEST SCENIC DESIGN:
Rodney Dobbs, WEST SIDE STORY (Garland Summer Musicals)
Adam Koch, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
H. Bart McGeehon, FANCY NANCY (Dallas Children’s Theater)
Jeff Schmidt, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Tina Barris, SHREK THE MUSICAL and ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Lyle Huchton, FANCY NANCY (Dallas Children’s Theater)
Derek Whitener and Victor Newman Brockwell, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN:
Cameron Barris, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Jason Foster, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
Aaron Johansen, FANCY NANCY (Dallas Children’s Theater)
Samuel Rushen, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Susan A. White, WEST SIDE STORY (Garland Summer Musicals)
PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR: I am a major believer in subtext flowing out an actor or actress’s work on stage. You just cannot stand there and recite lines or sing pretty notes. It is those performances that vividly and clearly show that they have buried themselves within their characterizations. That they actually pump out the heart, soul, and emotion from within the very inner being of their characters, and more so-the audience can see this. Vocally they must not rely on a body mic. They also must possess the gift to sustain notes to the final cut off and belt with soaring success. They must interpret the lyrics as though they are coming from the very depths of their character’s heart and mind. For comedy, they totally need to understand comedy, it cannot be taught! They must find the jokes hidden within the book and score. They must fully comprehend comedic timing, pace, and delivery. Those who understand comedy find hidden gems within the book and score that are not the obvious punch line. That is a RARE gift to have in comedy. They must have stage presence that automatically causes you to fixate your attention to them. That even when they are not the focus of a scene, they are still in character, reacting and showing they are always in the moment. Those are the performances that stick to my cranium like sweet, delicious bubblegum. The following individuals achieved all of these requirements that earned them my selections as the most memorable and best performances in 2015:
Cheryl Allison as “Madame Thenardier”, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Jason Bias as “Michael”, I DO! I DO! I DO! I DO! (Brick Road Theatre)
Jonathan Bragg as “Jackson”, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
Patty Breckenridge as “Polly”, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
Daron Cockerell as “Princess Fiona”, SHREK THE MUSICAL (Plaza Theatre Company)
Alyssa Gardner as “Anne”, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
Michael Hunsaker as “Jean Valjean”, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Kyle Igneczi as “Riff” in WEST SIDE STORY (Garland Summer Musicals)
Ashlie Kirkpatrick as “Adelaide”, GUYS AND DOLLS (Rockwall Summer Musicals)
Caitlan Leblo as “Morticia Addams”, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
J. Aaron Lett as “Gomez Addams”, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Janelle Lutz as “Agnes”, I DO! I DO! I DO! I DO! (Brick Road Theatre)
Christia Mantzke as “Mother”, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
David McDonald as “Javert”, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Susan Metzger as “Alice Beineke” in THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Stephen Raikes as “Action” in WEST SIDE STORY (Garland Summer Musicals)
Daniel Rowan as “Enjolras” LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana) and as “Christian”, CREEP (WTT)
Brandon Shreve as “Lucas Beineke” in THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Rashaun Sibley as “Lionel”, FANCY NANCY (Dallas Children’s Theater)
G. Aaron Siler as “Shrek”, SHREK THE MUSICAL (Plaza Theatre Company)
Sarah Elizabeth Smith as “Mary”, CREEP (Watertower Theatre)
Meredith Stowe as “Wednesday Addams”, THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Plaza Theatre Company)
Max Swarner as “Tony”, WEST SIDE STORY (Garland Summer Musicals)
Stephanie Umoh as “Fantine”, LES MISERABLES (Casa Manana)
Zachary Willis as “Donkey”, SHREK THE MUSICAL (Plaza Theatre Company)
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Best Musical - Hello Dolly (Theatre Arlington)
Best Director - Brandon Mason, Hello Dolly (Theatre Arlington)
Best Choreography - Brook Goodson, Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Granbury Theatre Company)
Best Costume Design - Stefanie Glenn, Hello Dolly (Theatre Arlington)
Best Lighting Design - Kalani Morrissette, Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Granbury Theatre Company)
Best Proprieties - Jennifer Stewart and Jean Jeske, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Stolen Shakespeare Guild)
Best Set Design - Phil Groeschel, Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (GTC)
Best Actor - Ben Phillips as Lawrence, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Stolen Shakespeare Guild)
Best Actress - Persis Ann Forster as Dolly Levi, Hello Dolly (Theatre Arlington)
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
As an Associate Theatre Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN, I have reviewed over 80 productions in the last few years, and seen even more as an audience member. The common theme I’ve discerned is that DFW is a place of extraordinarily diverse and high quality live theater. There is a constant growing number of production companies. None of the reviewing organizations can see them all. Yet, we see a lot, and what we see are production teams who create courageous, sometimes dangerous, always entertaining shows. Their designs stretch the imagination at times and the quality of acting, directing, and production are as good as you see anywhere, albeit with less cost and fewer ‘stars’ than major centers. In every show I see, I recognize dedicated artists are putting their lives and visions on the line. The winner is humanity. These shows uplift, educate, challenge, and entertain us and we take their creative energies and spread them throughout our own communities. Though the financial struggles are still there for many companies, it’s a Wonderful Life for live theater in DFW. So, with apologies to the many artists I saw and didn’t mention, here’s a few memorable highlights. Keep on creating.
DRAMA – MY NAME IS ASHER LEV - CIRCLE THEATRE
This outstanding dramatic play written by Aaron Posner and directed by Harry Parker was an exploration of the life led by young Jewish people in a largely sectarian world but influenced by their traditionalist families. Three actors filled several roles, led by the tension between Asher Lev, played by Sam Swanson, and his father, played by David Coffee. The mother, as well as several other women, was played by Lisa Fairchild. The mother had to walk a fine line between supporting her traditionalist husband and yet seeing her loving son find his own place in the world. The father had to learn to let his son explore his art in his own way. Asher Lev is an artist faced with the Artist’s Dilemma, whether to create from his heart and mind or from his family culture and religious beliefs. This was a powerful story with a poignant message that affects anyone from any culture. We all go through similar struggles.
ACTRESS DRAMA –- DANA SCHULTES - OTHER DESERT CITIES – Circle Theatre
In this dramatic and surprising story of a daughter writing about her memories of her brother, lost in the 60’s, Dana Schultes played Brooke Wyeth. It’s a Christmas play that reunites Brooke with her far-right leaning Republican parents in Arizona and her far left-leaning Hollywood producer brother to discover the truth of her older brother’s ill-fated story. Schultes gave a performance that was almost a teaching tool for actors. Her ability to play the moments of the story spontaneously and then react realistically in complete truth with Brooke’s fragile understanding was refreshing and inspirational. And because of this, a story which could’ve been hard to see in many respects was interesting and soul-challenging.
ACTOR DRAMA – DAVID COFFEE – King Lear – Trinity Shakespeare Festival
I’ve raved about David Coffee before, and especially at Trinity Shakes. He is an actor who gets the most out of Shakespeare characters, regardless of how big or little they may be. He takes a character thought by many to be minor and inconsequential and makes them funny, pathetic, and lovable. And in the process he contributes to the story in unique ways. But his portrayal last year of King Lear, arguably the pinnacle in Shakespeare’s tragic characters, was the best I’ve seen in a host of productions from London to New York. I did not see the Dallas version last year, so I have no comparison. But Coffee’s range of emotional experiences was breathtaking, and in him we saw the true depths of Lear.
ACTRESS MUSICAL – EBONY MARSHALL OLIVER – Celie - The Color Purple - Jubilee
My fondness for this actor can also be seen through all my reviews if her, as she has always presented a stand-out performance. As Celie in this iconic musical, she must put together all the elements of her emotional range, a strong physicality, and subtext to support all of Celie’s mixed feelings. She played feelings and actions I suspect may normally be very foreign to her personally. Add to her acting the pure vocal tones across a range of musical styles apply them to this strong musical story and she once again rises to the top for musicals in my book.
SUPPORTING ACTOR DRAMA – Amber Devlin – Picnic – Theatre 3
In reality, all actors are supporting actors, as the best production is an ensemble and only a few are designated as leads, but even the leads must support. There are really a lot of actors this year who could get mentioned in this category and the list would go on and on. In Picnic, Amber Devlin took on the supporting role of Rosemary Sydney. This woman is a cross between comic relief, conscience of the play, and upper-middle-aged lush with a strong penchant for sex and drink, but a conscience of small-town piety. Devlin explored all these traits and more with her portrayal. Her intoxicated scenes were the best I saw all year, done believably and tastefully with a touch of comedy and a little sadness. She played her seductress role to the hilt and got her man in the end by clever wrangling like roping a wily calf. In lesser hands, Rosemary can come off as just a minor character, but Devlin made Rosemary a vulnerable woman of deep feelings and values. It was a great performance.
DIRECTOR – AKIN BABATUNDE – The Color Purple – Jubilee Theatre
When your job is to take an iconic movie, with iconic stars, that spans the life of characters and fills the largest stages in America, and then turn that into a small-stage theater in Fort Worth, the challenges are great. Akiń Babatundé put together a cast of excellent singers and actors and a design team who could tell this story and make the audience forget the Broadway play, the movie, and the iconic stars. The vision of this powerful telling of Celie’s story gave the audience an experience that both jerked at the heartstrings over the violent treatment of humans and built up their spirits with an exultant ending. There’s so much in this story that’s hard to watch, and yet I walked out of the theater feeling empowered and hopeful. That’s a tribute to this Director’s vision and his powerful team of artists.
SCENIC DESIGN TEAM– CREEP – Water Tower Theatre
Design for good theater is a team sport and this is especially true of big musicals, where so many elements are combined to create a setting and atmosphere for a show. CREEP brought together a group of designers who created an environment you could see, hear and feel the moment you entered Water Tower’s big theater space. This team worked especially hard to make all the elements work together perfectly to support this new and unique story, the music that told it, and the actors who sang it. From the giant multi-colored background with very large hanging curtains to the smallest bauble on a saucy girl of the night, there was nothing left to chance. The story, already a challenge because of the Ripper mystique, was possible to understand because of the wholly believable “feelable” design. So, to name names, here are the designers who created this amazing visual/auditory spectacle. Set Designer, Jeff Schmidt. Costume Designer, Derek Whitener and Victor Newman Brockwell. Lighting Designer, Jason Foster. Sound Designer, Curtis Craig. Assistant Sound Designer and Sound Mixer, Kellen Voss. And Properties Designer, Tish Mussey. Fantastic team work!
TREATMENT OF HISTORICAL SUBJECT: CREEP – Water Tower Theatre
The subject of Jack the Ripper has been a popular topic of artistic expression since the time of the actual crimes. There are numerous treatments, as well as documentaries and on-going investigations. The fact is that nothing has ever appeared that would prove anything conclusively; so the mystery goes on and the story remains alive. CREEP, an ambitious full-sized Broadway-quality musical was conceived and written, including book and music, by Donald Fowler, after an inspirational experience some years ago. The story could have been a simple retelling of one of the many attempts to capture that mystery, but Fowler found a deeper meaning in the Ripper story, a fear that we have when an unknown danger is nearby. Fear often brings out the worst, and sometimes the best, in us. That is the story CREEP tells. While there were a few technical and production growing pains in the opening night of the world premiere at Water Tower, this show had power, emotion, good music, and an engaging story. With its financial and technical support, a run at Broadway has a clear possibility. And I’d like to see that.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Jersey Boys, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
The Buddy Holly Story, Casa Manana
Fiddler on the Roof, Casa Manana
Aaron De Jesus, Frankie Valli, Jersey Boys, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
Drew Seeley, Bob Gaudio, Jersey Boys, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
Ben Davis, Captain Georg Von Trapp, The Sound of Music, Dallas Summer Musicals
Bruce Winant, Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof, Casa Manana
Mary Gutzi, Golde, Fiddler on the Roof, Casa Manana
Ashley Brown, The Mother Abbess, The Sound of Music, Dallas Summer Musicals
Kerstin Anderson, Maria Rainer, The Sound of Music, Dallas Summer Musicals
Allison Pistorius, Laura, The Glass Menagerie, Theatre Three
Connie Coit, Amanda, The Glass Menagerie, Theatre Three
Kierstin Mathis, Janet Van De Graaff, The Drowsy Chaperone, Granbury Theatre Company
Best Supporting Actor:
Brian Box Lawson, Aldolpho, The Drowsy Chaperone, Grandbury Theatre Company
Best Scenic Designer:
Klara Zieglerova, Jersey Boys, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Sound of Music, Dallas Summer Musicals
David Rockwell, Kinky Boots, Bass Hall
Best Costume Designer:
Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots, Bass Hall
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Best Actor in a play: Nate Davis, "I And You" (Circle Theatre)
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: David Goza as "Sancho", Man of La Mancha (Artes de la Rosa)
Best Set Design: Katie Dill, Fiddler on the Roof (Casa Manana)
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
My top 5 Favorite Shows of 2015:
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Uptown Players):
“Hedwig” is one of my favorite musicals. The key to doing a great production of “Hedwig” is having an actor ballsy (pun intended) enough to tackle the complicated lead role. Kyle Igneczi did a fabulous job filling Hedwig’s heels. Mr. Igneczi belted the rock songs while strutting across the stage and nailing the emotional moments. The secret weapon for this show was Grace Neeley as Yitzhak. Ms. Neeley’s powerful vocals showed she deserves to be a rock star in her own right.
Colossal (Dallas Theater Center):
When I walked into the Wyly Theatre for a matinee of “Colossal”, my jaw dropped to the floor and when I picked it back up I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. DTC had finally transformed the space in the Wyly in a way I've been waiting for them to do since the theatre opened! With bleacher-style seating, AstroTurf, a giant scoreboard, and the back windows open to let in the sunlight, I felt like I was really at a stadium watching a football game. The show tackled a lot of heavy themes such as homosexuality, disability, masculinity, teamwork, and relationships. I hope DTC continues to do daring shows like this and push the boundaries of what theatre can do.
Kinky Boots (Broadway at the Bass):
This was my first time to see “Kinky Boots” and I was not disappointed. The book by Harvey Fierstein preaches love and acceptance and is just plain fun. Cyndi Lauper wrote some memorable and catchy songs that made me want to get up and dance a couple times. Kyle Taylor Parker played Lola with a ferocious mix of confidence and vulnerability. All the glittery costumes by Gregg Barnes were especially creative. This was a splendid touring production with a great message.
Grand Hotel (Lyric Stage):
This little-produced musical was given a grand production by Lyric Stage. I was especially impressed with the set design by John Farrell. The towering set evoked the rich wood and ornate design of a European hotel in the 1920’s. From the leads to the ensemble, all the actors were top notch and had terrific voices. The songs aren't very memorable, but Lyric’s full orchestra made the score sound divine.
Over the River and Through the Woods (Richardson Theatre Centre):
This intimate show about a young man who wants to move away from his four overbearing grandparents in New Jersey really hit home for me. All the actors did a fine job, especially Brandon Simmons who played the grandson Nick. Billy Glenn Allen designed a set that reminded me so much of my own grandparents’ house. It was about twenty years out of style with lace curtains and mismatched furniture, yet it was warm and relaxing. I enjoyed watching these characters, and wished I could have spent a little more time with them.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Outstanding Play Productions:
OTHELLO by Second Thought Theater
PICNIC by Theater Three
ALL MY SONS by WaterTower Theater
BLOOD WEDDING by CaraMia Theater Co.
Outstanding Musical Productions:
GRAND HOTEL by Lyric Stage (My favorite)
THE FANTASTICS by Theater Three
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Uptown Players
Outstanding Performances by Actors:
Amber Devlin in PICNIC at Theater Three (Maybe the most truthful performance I saw all year.)
Joey Folsom in ALL MY SONS at WaterTower Theater and COTTON PATCH GOSPEL at Theater Two at Theater Three
Anthony Fortino, David Lugo and Christopher Curtis in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at Uptown Players
Andy Baldwin in GRAND HOTEL at Lyric Stage (entire cast was outstanding – great production!)
Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso and Caroline Dubberly in BLOOD WEDDING at CaraMia Theater
Alex Organ and Jenny Ledel in OTHELLO at Second Thought Theater (the whole cast was wonderful)
Scott Osborne for THE FANTASTICS at Theater Three
Bob Lavallee for BLOOD WEDDING at Cara Mia Theater
Special Mention to Dallas Children’s Theater for their production of TEEN BRAIN-the musical.
DCT does consistently wonderful productions on all levels, but particularly in their dedication to plays for and about teens. TEEN BRAIN was no exception. Skillfully written and produced, it addressed problems and behavior about teens that were and are relevant and worthy of discussion. A smart, fast and engaging production with helpful talk-backs afterward made this an outstanding event.
Theater Person of the Year:
Bruce Coleman. Bruce took over as acting artistic director of Theater Three after the tragic loss of Terry Dobson and Jack Alder and carried the theater forward like the professional and creative leader he was born to be. Nothing but kudos for his work this year!
I’m sure I’ve left out many deserving people, but as many others have pointed out, this has been an outstanding year for theater in Dallas. MAY IT EVER BE SO!!!
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
RACHEL E. KHORIANDER'S
Best Actor - Lon Barrera as Man in Chair, The Drowsy Chaperone, Firehouse Theatre
Best Actor - Hunter Lewis as Aldolpho, The Drowsy Chaperone, Firehouse Theatre
Best Actor - Cole Cloutier as Leaf Coneybear, The 25th.. Putnam County Spelling Bee, Runway Theatre
Best Actor - Michael Federico as Gus, The Dumb Waiter, Kitchen Dog Theater
Best Actor - Bryce Ryness as Miss Trunchbull, Matilda, AT&T Performing Arts Center
Best Actress - Robin Clayton as Olive Ostrovsky, , The 25th..Putnam County Spelling Bee, Runway Theatre
Best Actress - Sarah Dickerson as Kitty, The Drowsy Chaperone, Firehouse Theatre
Best Ensemble - The Drowsy Chaperone, Firehouse Theatre
Best Director - Tim Johnson, The Dumb Waiter, Kitchen Dog Theater
Scenic Design - Jeff Schmidt, Creep, WaterTower Theatre
Scenic Design - Clare Floyd DeVries, The Dumb Waiter, Kitchen Dog Theater
Scenic Design - Nick Brethauer, Dear Liar, WingSpan Theatre
Lighting Design - Scott W. Davis, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Runway Theatre
Costume Design - Derek Whitener and Victor Newman Brockwell, Creep, WaterTower Theatre
Costume Design - Jen J. Madison, The Dumb Waiter, Kitchen Dog Theater
Choreography - Amy Cave, The Drowsy Chaperone, Firehouse Theatre
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
LAURIE LYNN LINDEMEIER'S
Best traditional opera production: LA BOHÈME by Giacomo Puccini, The Dallas Opera. The overall beauty of the costumes and set provided a satisfying experience of this beloved opera.
Best opera chorus: The chorus of LA BOHÈME created a massive boisterous crowd of street people, students, work-girls, shopkeepers, street vendors, soldiers, waiters, and children that populated the stage and admirably performed in this lovely traditional opera.
Best bass: Alexander Vinogradov sang the role of Colline, the philosopher in LA BOHÈME. He wowed me when in richly dark tones, he said goodbye to his old coat, in the sad aria, “Vecchia zimarra.”
Best tenor: Bryan Hymel as Rodolfo was sweet to behold. He sailed through his role with genuine dramatic acting and a clear touching voice.
Most technically impressive new chamber opera: DOG DAYS, Music by David T. Little, Libretto by Royce Vavrek, Fort Worth Opera Festival. This was a riveting new opera from beginning to end—it so rocked my soul that I will never be the same.
Best non-singing role: Prince the dog acted by John Kelly, Kelly performed a masterpiece of feral madness to untamed perfection.
Best debut performance: Soprano Lauren Warsham as Lisa. She manipulated her voice around the jocular melodic lines like a seasoned pro and was steeped into her character. Warsham brought meaning to her arias’ haunting minor tonalities with natural ease and fluidity and mastered the detached phrases of this modern opera.
Best lighting designer: Christopher Kuhl, His brilliant work brought the apocalyptic scenes to eerie light.
Best sound engineer: Garth MacAleavey, His sounds of the undefined war were terrifyingly real.
Best wig designer: Anne Ford-Coates, designed Prince’s gnarly dog/man wig
Best costume designer and projection consultant: Victoria “Vita” Tszkun. Her dog/man costume and the all other costumes of the family and soldiers were stunning and critical to the success of the performance.
Best video designer: Jim Findlay did a fine job creating a war-ravished world with projections of smoking landscapes coupled with helter-skelter trash littered around the stage.
The best new opera: GREAT SCOTT, World Premiere, By Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally. The Dallas Opera.
Best mezzo-soprano: Joyce DiDonato as Arden Scott. DiDonato brought humor and technical prowess to her portrayal of a successful opera singer who returns to her home town to save the opera company.
Best supporting role: Mezzo-soprano, Frederica von Stade (Mrs. Edward “Winnie” Flato) She granted the audience yet one more fine performance in a supporting role.
Best countertenor: Anthony Roth Costanzo as Roane Heckle, Costanzo had a humorous and expressive voice in his role as the opera star’s assistant.
Best scenic designer: Robert Brill who created a stylized mountain in the Dallas Opera’s world premier of EVEREST.
Best conductor: Nicole Paiement held together this modern opera and pulled together many elements to make this world premiere of EVEREST a success.
EVEREST and IOLANTA
Best projection designer: Elaine J. McCarthy Her projections enhanced the mountain and the frigid temperature of the air and mood in the Dallas Opera’s EVEREST. McCarthy’s projections in the DOs opera IOLANTA also augmented this opera’s overall effect.
Most innovative recreation of a traditional opera: HAMLET, by Ambroise Thomas, Libretto by Michel Carre and Jules Barbier, Fort Worth Opera Festival
Best baritone: Wes Mason masterfully sang the role of Hamlet that holds many challenges, as it was originally written for a tenor and retains much of that range. Mason had the notes and the characterization gripped firmly in his fist.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Best Play - The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (L.I.P. Service)
Best Musical - Singin in the Rain (Artisan Center Theater)
Best Director - Danny Macchietto (The Whale)
Best Supporting Actress - Heather Sturdevant (Lucinda - Into the Woods, Firehouse Theatre)
Best Actor - William Earl Ray (Kenyatta - Sunset Baby, Jubilee Theatre)
Best Costuming - The Whale (L.I.P. Service)
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Unnecessary Farce—Runway Theatre
The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Jodie and Soni Barrus—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Lon D. Barrera—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Dennis Yslas—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Dennis Canright—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Best Musical Director
Rebecca Lowrey—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Cheri Dee Mega—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Christina Kudlicki Hoth—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Joshua Sherman—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Kimberly Anne Cooper—Unnecessary Farce—Runway Theatre
Best Scenic Design:
JaceSon P. Barrus—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Jeffrey S. Franks—A Flea in Her Ear—MainStage Irving – Las Colinas
JaceSon P. Barrus—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Best Costume Design:
Tina Barrus—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Victor Newman Brockwell—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Nita Cadenhead—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Best Lighting Design:
Scott Davis—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
G. Aaron Siler and Cameron Barrus-- The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Branson White—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Best Sound Design:
Joshua Hahlen and Dennis Canright—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Scott Bardin—Victor Chandebise/Poche—A Flea in Her Ear—MainStage Irving – Las Colinas
Chris Rodenbaugh – The Pilot—Laughter in the Stars-- Fun House Theatre and Film
R. Andrew Aguilar – Chief Bromden—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Jeff Burleson – Randle McMurphy—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Michael Alger – Officer Eric Sheridan—Unnecessary Farce—Runway Theatre
Piper Cunningham – The Little Prince—Laughter in the Stars-- Fun House Theatre and Film
Leslie Boren – Nurse Ratched—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Ginger Smith – Officer Billie Dwyer—Unnecessary Farce—Runway Theatre
Laura Merchant – Karen Brown—Unnecessary Farce—Runway Theatre
Best supporting Actor
Peter DiCesare – Camille Chandebise—A Flea in Her Ear—MainStage Irving – Las Colinas
Steve Cave – Dale Harding—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Zachary Leyva – Billy Bibbit—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Theatre of North Texas
Billy Myers—Lion—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Jason Phillip Cole—Scarecrow—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Nate Milson—Tinman—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre CompanyDavid Lewis – Marvin—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Brendon Gallagher – Whizzer—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Matt Victory – Greg Nowack—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Bella Murphy—Dorothy—The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
Meredith Browning – Amalia Balash—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Best supporting Actor
Matthew Vinson – Jason—Falsettos—Runway Theatre
Jay A. Cornils – Mr. Maraczek—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Drew Sifford – Arpad Lazlo—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
Best Supporting Actress
Paulie Cocke – Ilona Ritter—She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
The Wizard of Oz—Plaza Theatre Company
She Loves Me—Plaza Theatre Company
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
The Addams Family – Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas
This was a fantastic production with a simpler set than what is normal for MILC. Michael Serrecchia always gets a great performance from his actors. In this case a special nod goes to Caroline Ellis in her portrayal of Wednesday Addams who was exceptional in the role. All of the cast had their special moments and performed wonderfully. Also, Nate Davis’ video effects for this production were amazing and raised the bar for theaters throughout the metroplex.
Evita – Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
This show put the focus on the most important aspects of musical theatre, the music and the performances. Bill Sizemore and Josh Bradford led their cast to a beautiful and moving production with exceptional performances by Rebecca Paige, Martin Antonio Guerra-West, and Keith Warren. The ensemble’s harmony was unsurpassed. With video effects and Costume Design by Hope Cox, it was a complete and well-rounded production.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Runway Theatre
Byron Holder’s production of the hilarious comedy did not disappoint. Great performances were given all around with particular notice given to Cole Cloutier, Robin Clayton, Jason Solis, and Caleb Cothren. The audience was transported to the small Putnam County school’s gym through simple but effective set design and fantastic performances.
The Farnsworth Invention – Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas
I will always show up to an Aaron Sorkin show and MILC’s production of The Farnsworth Invention was superb. With so many actors playing multiple characters, Michael Robinson’s costume design was terrific. MILC’s sprawling stage was expertly covered by a multi-functional set designed by Clare DeVries. Neil Rogers’ portrayal of David Sarnoff, Tammy Partanen as Pem Farnsworth, with Kevin Michael Fuld, Clayton Cunningham and Billy Betsill help make this production memorable.
A School Bus Named Desire – Fun House Theatre and Film
This incredible production, performed by children, was the brain child of Bren Rapp and Jeff Swearingen. With two strikes against it, children’s performances and children performing adult themes, Schoolbus knocked it out of the park. They found the perfectly precocious lead in Zoe SMithey as Blanch. Piper Cunningham as Stella and Alex Duva as Stanley were great compliments to her performance. Of course elements of the script were altered for children (rightfully there is no rape) but with careful writing audiences fell in love with a funny show for kids.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
2015 was a year for me to explore many different genres, age groups, and innovations in local theater. The experiences I had instilled a genuine sense of hope for the future of community theater in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The performances that stood out for me were all produced by local, non-equity theaters and the quality of the productions were outstanding. Here are my picks for 2015:
Best Musical – Urinetown at Theater Arlington. Bill Sizemore once again demonstrated his outstanding ability to cast and direct a fantastic team of artists to create an entertaining and artistic evening for patrons.
Best Set Design – Tony Curtis for Urinetown at Theater Arlington. Every nook of the small space was artfully and functionally designed to enhance the experience and round out the artistry of the entire production.
Best Play – Rumors at ONSTAGE in Bedford. This was the first play I saw during 2015 and it was extremely well done. Everything about the production pointed to an attention to detail and quality performances.
Best Play – Youth performances – Tom Sawyer at Artisan Center Theater. The musical, adapted by Joe Sturgeon from the original Mark Twain novel, is nicely woven with pleasing musical pieces and a mix of joviality and suspense. The cast that director, Joe Sturgeon, brought together for the performance gave every bit of energy and talent needed to provide a truly exceptional experience for their audience. It is a delight to witness young people at their most creative and under Sturgeon’s direction, all of the youth actors were impressive in their roles.
Best Musical – Youth performances – A Schoolbus Named Desire at Fun House Theater. I was excited to have the opportunity to witness a musical designed to highlight the youth of the metroplex. Unlike many youth-heavy productions, this adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire was worthy of professional status. Each of the young people dove into their roles with great talent and high energy. The clever twist of a familiar story, envisioned by Bren Rapp and penned by director, Jeff Swearingen, is worthy of being taken on the road!
Best First-time Director – Danny Macchietto, The Whale at Firehouse Theater. In his directorial debut, Macchietto chose a difficult and thought-provoking piece. The evening was uncomfortable in its reality in large part due to the choices made by Macchietto in casting, set design, and timing. In the world of community theater, where venues often house a rotating mix of very few titles, I expect we will be treated by a similar break from the “same old” whenever he dons his directorial cap in the future.
Best Costumes – White Christmas at Artisan Center Theater. With the exception of some questionable military togs, the cast of White Christmas was beautifully adorned with gowns, dance costumes, and holiday apparel through the efforts of Patrick Holcomb.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
I live in Plano and I see LOTS of shows all over the Metroplex. I am also a director, actor, and playwright, and I’m the Artistic Director of Rover Dramawerks (not to mention a mom and avid Texas Rangers fan), which means I stay really busy...and I STILL see lots of shows all over. It also means none of Rover’s shows can be on my list. Even ones I had almost nothing to do with that I thought were excellent. It also means I can’t nominate people I worked with who did some amazing work, and there were a lot of you. So this really is an incomplete list. That said, I saw some great stuff.
I would encourage all of you in the upcoming year to go to a theatre you’ve never been to before and check out what they do. Go see plays if you’re a musicals person and vice versa. Go see a World Premiere. Go see some play festivals. Go see a show you know nothing about and don’t have any friends in. There is SO MUCH GOOD WORK in the DFW area!
Best Play - The Farnsworth Invention at Mainstage Irving - Las Colinas
Best Director - Stefany Cambra for Two Rooms at Proper Hijinx Productions
Best Actors -
Jackson Ewing as Philo T. Farnsworth in The Farnsworth Invention at Mainstage Irving - Las Colinas
Michael McNiel as Frank Foster in How the Other Half Loves at Theatre Britain
Best Supporting Actors -
Jeff Burleson as Walker in Two Rooms at Proper Hijinx Productions
Jake Shanahan as Philip Poole in Jack the Ripper - The Monster of Whitechapel at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre
Best Featured Actors -
Jason Morgan as Dr. Bradman in Blithe Spirit at Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Richard Stubblefield as Octavius in Lovers and Executioners at Circle Theatre
Brandon Whitlock as Hecate in Macbeth at Bare Bones Shakespeare
Best Actress -
Jacie Hood Wentzel as Elizabeth Caulder in Laundry and Bourbon at Runway Theatre
Best Supporting Actresses -
Francine Simpson as Penelope Sycamore in You Can’t Take It With You at The Firehouse Theatre
Jennifer Stoneking as Jackie Kennedy/Commandatron in Chrono Cops - Elite Time Patrol at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre
Best Featured Actresses
Andrea Himmelsehr as Miss Lowell in Light Up the Sky at Mesquite Community Theatre
Danielle Nelson as Banquo in Macbeth at Bare Bones Shakespeare
Best Youth Performer - Julianna Ruml as Esther Jane in A Christmas Story at Allen’s Community Theatre
Best Costume Design - Blair Hutchinson and Frances Seman for Chrono Cops - Elite Time Patrol at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre
Best Set Design - Erin Maher for Lone Star & Laundry and Bourbon at Runway Theatre
Best Props Design - Dawn Blasingame for The Boys Next Door at ONSTAGE in Bedford
Best Sound Design - Richard Frolich for Lovers and Executioners at Circle Theatre
Best Lighting Design - Nikki DeShae Smith for Chrono Cops - Elite Time Patrol at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre
Best Musical - Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Director - Derek Whitener for Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Actress - Alexandra Cassens as Laurey in Oklahoma! at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Supporting Actress - Tianta Harrison as the Dragon in Shrek the Musical at Grand Prairie Arts Council
Best Featured Actresses -
Kristi Smith Johnson as Gertie in Oklahoma! at the Firehouse Theatre
Caroline Rivera as Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Actor - Drew Seeley as Bob Gaudio in The Jersey Boys at AT&T Performing Arts Center
Best Supporting Actor - Martin Antonio Guerra-West as Juan Peron in Evita at Greater Lewisville Community Theatre.
Best Featured Actor - Gary Eoff as Wolf/Guard in Shrek the Musical at Grand Prairie Arts Council
Best Youth Performer - Parker Niksich as Michael Banks in Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Ensemble - Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Choreography - Brandon Harvey for Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Set Design - Kevin Brown for Company at ONSTAGE in Bedford
Best Costume Design - Victor Newman Brockwell for Mary Poppins at The Firehouse Theatre
Best Lighting Design - Scott Davis for Shrek the Musical at Grand Prairie Arts Council
Best Actor - Brian Witkowicz as various characters in the plays of A Very Nouveau Holiday at Nouveau 47
Best Actress - Stacy Ann Strang as Lucinda in Dissonance for the PlayPride LGBT Festival at Teco Theatrical Productions
Best Short Plays -
Conflict & Resolution in Outside the Box Play Festival by Ginasys Productions
Winslow Family Christmas. And Kyle in A Very Nouveau Holiday at Nouveau 47
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Best original script: Dirty Dishes by Amanda Brooke Edwards. It was funny, poignant, chock full of one liners, and rang true to life, because it is based on true events in Ms. Edward’s life. Her script took a personal drama and made it universal. This is a play that begs to be done again.
In acting these performances stood out:
Shea Smitherman as Emily in Dirty Dishes presented by NTACT. She completely nailed being a teenager. Her line delivery was spot on, but it was her subtext that spoke volumes.
Kwame Lilly as Lucien P Smith in The Boys Next Door presented by On Stage in Bedford. Portraying a man with mental disabilities can be a daunting task for an actor so as not to fall into stereotypes. The subtleties in his vocal, physical and emotional performance were breathtaking.
Mike Hathaway as Mr.Kempler in The Boys Next Door presented by On Stage in Bedford. . Though the role was small, the moment he entered the stage, without saying a word he was able to convey the anger, disappointment, and emotional disengagement he had toward his son. Through the rest of the scene he maintained the character’s intensity so that eve n once his character left the play you could steel feel the reverberations.
Barbara Bernier as Vanessa in David Kicks the Dog by Nouveau 47 Theatre . This very unusual script by Collin Miller required the character Vanessa to fool the audience. We think she’s alive only to discover that she’s a ghost. This said, there are times that the two leads get so involved in discussing their past that they basically emotionally re-live those moments so it requires the character Vanessa to be alive again. She made these transitions seamless while helping unravel and clarify the complex timeline of the play.
My choice for Best play is an unusual one because technically it was still a staged reading, but it was so well blocked, the characters were so well developed, it was so sensitively directed and even though the actors held books in their hands they were pretty much off book, (and they did charge admission) so it felt like a produced show:
David Kicks the Dog by Collin Miller presented by Nouveau 47 Theatre . This completely out of the box play toys with the emotions and sanity of the audience. One of the characters is actually dead, but thrusts herself continuously in the life of her best friend who is desperately searching for meaning and love in his life. It’s a play is of people in their early 20’s searching meaning in their life as they transition into adulthood. The play is very adult in content, and chock full of black humor. This angst play mixes sex and death expertly and lingered in my mind long afterwards.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Best Play: Lovers and Executioners (Circle Theatre)
Best Musical: Shrek The Musical (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Female Lead- Amber Marie Flores as Constance, Lovers and Executioners (Circle Theatre)
Best Female Lead: Suzanna Catherine Fox as Beatrice, Lovers and Executioners (Circle Theatre)
Best Male Lead - Jeremy Davis as Shrek, Shrek The Musical (Grand Prairie Arts Council)
Best Supporting Male Actor- Clyde Berry as Lord Farquaad, Shrek The Musical (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Supporting Male Actor- G. Aaron Siler as Uncle Fester, The Addams Family (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Supporting Female Actor- Kristin Spires as Muriel, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Stolen Shakespeare
Best Set Design- G. Aaron Siler, The Addams Family, (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Costume Design: Tina Barris, The Addams Family (Plaza Theatre Company)