It’s that time again! THE COLUMN’s most anticipated yearly issue, BEST IN DFW THEATER. As Editor in Chief, Senior Theater Critic, and founder, I still am astounded that THE COLUMN has now been in publication for over 26 years! We survived the negative backlash in the early years, and have continued to grow every year with hundreds of subscribers, supporters, and readers.
Our reviews are posted and shared on social media non-stop. Many of our reviews for Broadway and national tours have been published on the show’s official websites, email newsletters, and their social media platforms. They have used quotes from our reviews for advertising, websites, and newspapers.
I am extremely proud to say that THE COLUMN is the ONLY publication (newspaper or internet) that reviews ALL theater in the DFW area, both equity and non-equity. So many theaters get ignored simply because they are not in the immediate Dallas area or are not equity. I don’t believe in that theory because EVERY single one of us started in non-equity, unless your mom gave you birth on an equity stage (LOL). I have done equity and non-equity. I turned equity when I was with Disney. I’ve done equity in Florida, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma. I have also been in a ton of non-equity productions. The difference? One gets paid weekly, gets medical insurance, and the equity cot. In non-equity you normally get a stipend. BUT, both groups strive and work so hard for the SAME goal, which is to bring the art of theater to life. To entertain, to make audiences laugh, cry, smile, or think. We love the creation of a new “family” every single time we do a show. We theater folk are a strange tribe. But we love the art we create in theater, be it as a performer, designer, choreographer, director, etc.
Because THE COLUMN has grown so much over the years I just could not review (or see) every single show. That’s when I decided to bring on board a staff, and they have been a HUGE reason why we are able to review all over the area. Having said that, NO theater critic can say “I saw every single show both equity and non-equity in the ENTIRE DFW area”. Anyone can boast how many shows they reviewed or saw, you still did not see them all. Nether have I, nether has my staff. But the combination of all my critics we have reviewed everywhere. That is what makes this issue so special and unique. They saw shows I or others had not seen. Since October of last year I have told my staff to start gathering up their Playbills, re-read their reviews, and pick their favorites. As you read you will see we are all over the map, which I love!
The bad news though is that for the first time not every theater critic participated. So I greatly apologize for that.
So let’s see what my critics and I have picked from a wide plethora of shows and theaters as the BEST IN DALLAS-FORT WORTH AREA FOR 2016!
DO NOT SKIM! THE PICKS ARE FROM ALL OVER THE DALLAS-FORT WORTH AREA! YOU OR YOUR SHOW MIGHT BE ON ONE CRITIC’S PICKS, BUT IT COULD BE ON ANOTHER CRITIC’S. ALSO THERE ARE LOTS OF WONDERFUL SURPRISES! IT’S NOT JUST THE “SAME ONES” YOU EXPECT TO SEE!!!
SENIOR CHIEF THEATER CRITIC/EDITOR
BEST MUSICALS FOR 2016:
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
(Garland Summer Musicals)
GSM went all out with this production and came out with a breath of fresh artistic air. They mounted this new Gershwin musical before any other theater company in the area. This was a wonderful treat for audiences, because they did not have to sit through yet another creaky war horse musical. The scenic design and lighting design were eye popping exciting, full of color and pizzazz. The direction was crisp and clean, and the pace never lagged or slowed down. The choreography was enthralling with flawless execution from the company. The orchestra was Broadway caliber, layered with pure professionalism. Finally we have that extraordinary cast! That stage was packed with dazzling talent, from the principals to the ensemble. GSM gave their audiences a glistening diamond of musical artistry that was the perfect show to see on a summer night.
Runway yet again surpassed many theater companies by not mounting one of those musicals that is done five or eight times in one season. They stretched every artistic muscle to create a haunting, gut wrenching dramatic musical that had sexual erotic heat within the subtext, it was so raw and lava hot that even the theater walls began to sweat. And this was a non-equity production! A magnificent cast who did their homework in understanding the birth of sexuality and urges. This production also had one of the most exhilarating orchestras that brought astonishing life to the score (special kudos for having live strings!). The direction, staging and blocking was slathered in subtext that was riveting. The choreography went from innocence to lust that would make Madonna say, “I’ll copy that!” Finally the triple design of set, lighting and costumes worked together like a well-oiled machine, especially the lighting! The lighting design surpassed the work done in local equity theaters. Last year Runway had the critically acclaimed Cabaret that everyone was raving about (and won Best Musical at The Column Awards). They are first theater company in years to have back to back mega hits that raised the bar in how to do a musical right!
BEST PLAY EQUITY:
Since one of my critics reviewed it I was not able to get press comps, so a friend bought us tickets to see it. They were under his name, so we quietly snuck in and watched it. I have seen almost every Charles Busch play that headlined Coy Covington. No one has been able to master the art of a Busch comedy like Covington. It’s NOT drag, it is a full fleshed out character. Bruce R. Coleman was finally the one to tear down the cobwebs of those old, musty productions this theater tends to produce. The cast of babes, muscled surfers and Mrs. Forrest had the audience howling in laughter. The pace was rapid and delicious. The sets, costumes, and lighting were so perfect in period with delicious tongue in cheek humor. It was a non-stop evening of waves of gut splitting laughter thanks to that comedic tour de force comedy. Personal opinion here, but I would rather have dinner with Donald Trump and Sarah Palin than sit through another Horton Foote slow as molasses dated piece. This cast and production could have easily mounted a national tour, it was that dang good!
BEST NATIONAL TOURS:
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER (ATT Performing Arts Center)
IF/THEN The musical (ATT Performing Arts Center)
WICKED (Dallas Summer Musicals)
BEST PRE-BROADWAY/OUT OF TOWN TRYOUT PRODUCTION:
THE PROM (Alliance Theatre of Atlanta)
JaceSon P. Barrus, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Jason Bias, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Bruce R. Coleman PYSCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Joel Ferrell, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
Joseph Jones, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Linda Kay Leonard, COMPANY (Brick Road Theatre)
Derek Whitener, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
BEST MUSICAL DIRECTION:
Jeff Crouse, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Esther Lim, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Rebecca Lowrey, THROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Pam Holcomb- McLain, COMPANY (Brick Road Theatre)
Michael O. Mitchell, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
Tabitha Barrus-Ibarra, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Ashley Markgraf, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Kelly McCain and Carl DeForrest Hendin, NICE WORK..IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Christina Kudicki Hoth, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Christina Kudlicki Hoth, THROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Rickey Tripp, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Tina Barrus, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Victor Newman Brockwell, THROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Bruce R. Coleman, PYSCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Karen Perry, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN:
Cameron Barrus, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Lap Chi Chu, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
Scott Davis, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Bryant Yeager, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
BEST SCENIC DESIGN:
JaceSon P. Barrus, BIG RIVER, (Plaza Theatre Company)
Kevin Brown, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Bruce R. Coleman, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Kelly Cox, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Becky Henderson, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Bob Lavallee, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES FOR 2016:
As an actor I know what it is like to create a character. It’s a lot of work both mentally and physically. I am from the school of “either you’re born with it or not.” I can tell within five minutes if that actor/actress on stage has the gift or is just remembering the lines. I learned a lot about acting and especially comedy when I did my summer acting internship in New York. For dramatic, it’s all about subtext and the background of the character. To bury yourself underneath the skin of that character and you must discover things that are NOT in the script. For comedy, those who truly understand the art know that you must dissect every single line, NOT the punchline. You find the beats, timing, pause, and facial expression to the comedy. You must find the laughs in the beginning, middle, and AFTER the punchline or sight gag to find comedy that-again-is NOT on the page. It’s painstaking work. You know if you have the gift if you are never satisfied with your performance and work. You wreck your brain on why that moment didn’t hit the audience or why a comedic moment didn’t land. As for vocals, I am the fan of the belt, i.e. don’t need a body pic! If you belt to the walls and sustain a note with firm vibrato until the cut off from the orchestra-you are a winner in my book. I poured for FOUR solid months on my picks for the Outstanding Performances of the Season. I re-read my reviews and looked at photographs to remember what I felt when I saw them on stage. I take this selection VERY seriously. These following artists achieved all that is on my checklist of what I consider the BEST in talent. It was EXTREMELY hard to narrow my list. It’s tough because there is so much AMAZING talent in the DFW area. But finally I have made my decision. Here are my selections of actors and actresses that in my opinion gave the outstanding performances of 2016.
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR (In alphabetical order):
Tyler Jeffrey Adams as Jimmy Smith, THOROUGLHY MODERN MILLIER (Firehouse Theatre)
Andi Allen as Joanne, COMPANY (Brick Road Theatre)
Jenna Anderson as Chicklet, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Jason Bias as Bobby, COMPANY (Brick Road Theatre)
Heath Billups as Yo-Yo, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Logan Coley Broker as George, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Coy Covington as Mrs. Forrest, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Joey Donoian as Moritz Stefel, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Kate Dressler as Gloria, THOROUGLHY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Justin Duncan as Melchior Gabor, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Steph Garrett as Berdine, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Patti Granville as Duchess Estonia Fulworth, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
J. Alan Hanna as Duke Mahoney, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Jake Kelly Harris as The Duke, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Carl DeForrest Hendin as Jimmy Winter, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Dominick Hubbard as Jim, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Jay Lewis as the King, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Erika Larsen as Wendla Bergmann, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Aaron Lett as Adolpho, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Janelle Lutz as Amy, COMPANY (Brick Road Theatre) and as Mille, MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
David Midkiff as Huckleberry Finn, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Rebecca Paige as Janet, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Judy Perser as the Chaperone, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Alexis Sims as Deena Jones, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
Kim Swarner as Eileen Evergreen, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Eric LaJuan Summers as James Thunder Early, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
Lauren Urso as Billie Bendix, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Zach Valdez as Provoloney, PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (Theatre Three)
Marisha Wallace as Effie White, DREAMGIRLS (Dallas Theater Center)
SPECIAL RECONGINATION AWARDS:
Outstanding DFW Stage Debut: Nick Reed as Robert Martin, DROWSY CHAPERONE (RCP)
Outstanding Scene Stealing Performance: Marilyn Setu as Miss Flannery, MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Outstanding Scene Stealing Performance: Jacey Lett as Kitty, DROWSY CHAPERONE (RCP)
Outstanding Scene Stealing Performance: Kim Swarner, NICE WORK..GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Outstanding Orchestra: NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Outstanding Orchestra: SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Outstanding Orchestra: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Outstanding Vocal Ensemble in a Musical: SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Outstanding Vocal Ensemble in a Musical: BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Outstanding Dancing Ensemble in a Musical: NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Outstanding Dancing Ensemble in a Musical: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Outstanding Duo team in a Musical: Sam Selden and Josh Haupert as the Gangsters in DROWSY CHAPERONE (RCP)
Outstanding Due team in a Musical: Mark Quach and Hunter Lewis as Ching Ho and Bun Foo in THOROUGHLY..MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Outstanding Vocal Performance (Duet):
Dominick Hubbard and David Midkiff, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Beth Lipton and Kate Dressler, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Aaron Lett and Judy Perser, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Carl DeForrest Hendin and Lauren Urso, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Outstanding Vocal Performance (Solo):
Justin Duncan, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Dominick Hubbard, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Erika Larsen, SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Janelle Lutz, COMPANY (Brick Road Theatre) and MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
David Midkiff, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Rebecca Paige, DROWSY CHAPERONE (Rockwall Community Playhouse)
Lauren Urso, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
Outstanding achievement in Sound Design: Danny Bergeron for SPRING AWAKENING (Runway Theatre)
Outstanding achievement in Wig Design: Logan Coley Broker for DROWSY CHAPERONE (RCP) and THOROUGLHY MODERN MILLIE (Firehouse Theatre)
Outstanding achievement in Props Design:
Lynn Mauldin and Rebekka Koepke, NIC WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Garland Summer Musicals)
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Memories of 2016
Theater in 2016 had a record year. Column reviewers saw over 130 productions and we didn’t review all that played here. New production companies premiered throughout the year. Premiers of new plays or regional openings appeared frequently. There were great shows offering fantastic entertainment. I saw 20 shows and will try to narrow the list to ones I think were outstanding and memorable, knowing others are being left out. Theater in DFW thrives.
My preference is for edgy, dramatic stories, though a few musicals are fun. Nothing here is listed as BEST. That comes during the Column Awards and there’s too much that goes into a quality production while personal preference clouds subjective perspective. BEST implies other shows are less. That’s not true. So here are shows that stood out as I remembered the year in December.
DRAMA – ELEPHANT MAN – L.I.P. SERVICE
It’s hard to choose from L.I.P. Service productions. I haven’t seen them all, but what I saw was fantastically staged and presented with top-notch acting, producing great stories that delve into the depths of human experience. Elephant Man was a show I saw and did not review, but everything about it screamed must-see theater. This play is the story of John Merrick, a historically accurate portrayal of a grotesque figure in the time of Jack the Ripper. Exceptional direction and acting opened those disturbing themes about how people see, judge, and treat others who are physically different. The acting was amazingly sensitive with a delicate subject matter, and beautifully performed.
MUSICAL – BELLA: AN AMERICAN TALE – DALLAS THEATRE CENTER
DTC has produced big-name, lavish productions in Dallas for decades. Bella: An America Tall Tale was another big-stage musical experience, being developed for Broadway; so it had high-caliber talent and artistic design, including quality actors from this area. Bella needs work on its story structure to improve it for entry into the Great American Musical sweepstakes, but for fantastic entertainment, it was fun with lots of lush music, fabulous singers, and eye-dazzling scenery.
DRAMICAL – ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS – WATER TOWER THEATER
Water Tower is good at bringing big-stage shows into their community space to create outstanding entertainment for Dallas patrons. This year they brought a fan favorite, One Man, Two Guvnors, as a premier to Dallas. It fits into my new, made-up category of dramical, because most of the story is told in dialog, not song, but it had lots of music and singing. In fact, you might call it an audience-participation, slapstick, musical comedy vehicle for its main character, Francis Henshall. James Corden originated this part in London, played its opening on Broadway, and parlayed his fame into late night TV. It was fun, entertaining and a fantastic, high-speed story about misdirection and mis-identity, based on Servant of Two Masters, a 1700’s Commedia dell'arte story. The Dallas production had Henshall played by Broadway actor and DFW native, Brian Gonzales, who could be a ringer for Corden in style and personality. Gonzales was an understudy on Broadway for Corden and engaged the Dallas audience with great style and huge laughs.
EDGY & COURAGEOUS DRAMA – THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA – L.I.P. SERVICE
L.I.P. Service often walks the edge along societal norms and succeeds in making them watchable and enlightening. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia, explored the boundaries of our sexual mores and challenged our quick judgements against people who are extremely different from our expectations. It explored extreme choices people make and the consequences on family and friends, by pushing into one of the last remaining taboos in shocking, sexual experience, bestiality. This play was in the ICT Rudy Seppy Rehearsal Hall, but they set it up as an enjoyable place to watch a show. Acting by Van Quattro, Jason Leyva, Morgana Shaw and Garrett Reeves was filled with sensitivities the story needed to be believable in order to explore those themes, yet Director Shawn Gann allowed the timing to unfold at a pace that enabled the audience to breathe.
HISTORICAL TREATMENT – 33 VARIATIONS – ICT MAINSTAGE IRVING
33 Variations is a favorite for me and it’s no wonder I liked it so much when ICT presented it this year on their Mainstage. It was last done by Theater 3, with Jac Alder directing, and both productions were fantastic. It parallels two groups of people in different eras. Ludwig van Beethoven worked over some years on a set of variations on a musical theme, as he was becoming deaf. It became an obsession. At that time, deafness was a major mental condition with mortal consequences. Two hundred years later, his biographer, Kathrine Brandt, becomes obsessed learning why he wrote those 33 variations, even as she was falling into the throes of ALS. Jill Stephens at ICT created a wonderful version of this fascinating story, though very different in setting and atmosphere from the Alder version. Both had a professional pianist on-stage playing each variation as Beethoven wrote them and Brandt studied them. At ICT the pianist was Miyoun Jang, who transited reportedly difficult piano passages with great beauty. The story explored the challenges Beethoven and Brandt endured as their afflictions took their life force and showed how those challenges affected their social support systems and families. In spite of different staging choices that created different atmospheres to each audience, both were beautiful musical experiences!
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR – NEVERMORE! EDGAR ALLAN POE: THE FINAL MYSTERY – RUNWAY THEATRE
Runway Theatre brought in Adam Adolfo, fresh from his long history as Artes de la Rosa’s Artistic Director, as director for this unique story. You could say it was inspired casting of a Director, as this play was in the middle of Adolfo’s wheel-house. A quirky script with known, but misunderstood, characters in literary history, Adolfo cast a collection of energetic young actors to play roles that morphed and transitioned through time and space to weave a story about what might have made Edgar Allan Poe strange. Nevermore! is a bit of a musical, as it had lots of moments with some story line delivered by song, but it’s hard to call it a musical in any traditional sense. It was, however, an exciting story to experience.
POLITICAL SATIRE – THE TAMING – CIRCLE THEATRE
Leave it to Circle to play perfectly into the political season with The Taming, by Lauren Gunderson, a comedic look at politics in America. I suspect when Circle picked this show they had no idea how timely it would be in the environment we experienced this year. It pushed the boundaries of our traditional political views, even as the real campaign unfolded in crazy ways. The story lived in dual time periods, today and during the Constitutional Convention of 1776. It left us with a sneak peek at what had to be a hopeful possibility for a woman president when Gunderson wrote it. Robin Armstrong directed with Circle’s regular designers and they used a minimalist, but arresting, mise-en-scène for the story. But the actors soared in some of the most lavish and outrageous costumes you can imagine, designed by Armstrong. Did I mention the show was based on The Taming of the Shrew, with all sorts of reversals and misdirection? So there was Bush v Gore, Hillary v Donald, James Madison v Charles Pinkney, and the fate of the U.S. Constitution was on the line. What could be better?
The quality of acting in DFW is improving. Whether that’s a result of better training, more experience, or better direction, it’s a boon to DFW audiences. So picking a few actors to highlight excludes others who deserve recognition. Most will have gotten kudos from their reviewers. This category highlights two males and several females.
DRAMATIC ACTOR – JASON LEYVA & VAN QUATTRO
Jason Leyva is not only the creative spirit of L.I.P. Service, but also an extraordinary actor. His skills in creating characters outside societal norms give us glimpses into humanity through deformed, malformed and ill-fitting personalities. When playing a supporting character, as he did in this year’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia or last year’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, while on-stage he commands attention. While on-stage with no lines is so grounded that just observing the action of others creates a powerful presence. But as the lead, such as in The Whale last year, and this year’s Elephant Man, his performances make you wince and feel a character’s inner pain. In Elephant Man, as reviewer Jeremy Osborn wrote, "Early in the show Dr. Treves describes Merrick’s condition as we watch Jason Leyva, clad in a loin cloth, physically transform into a representation of the Elephant Man. Prosthetics are not necessary when so convincingly represented by a skilled actor.” I got chills watching it! Throughout this performance, he held Merrick’s extreme deformations, including speech and the way his eyes molded eerily across stage as people addressed him, so that it looked painful in the portrayal.
For The Goat, or Who is Sylvia the lead actor was Van Quattro. I had seen Quattro on other things, including his Out-Of-The-Loop Festival show, but this performance showed a different side of this actor. He wasn’t physically deformed in the way Leyva was in Elephant, but he was emotionally damaged, dealing with his love of Sylvia, a goat, and the repulsion everyone projected onto him. This could’ve been a trap where an actor gives way to the absurdity. Instead Quattro portrayed a man seriously and completely in love and mystified as to why it would be any different than loving another woman. It was delicately played, with no judgement about the act, but deftly trying to handle the criticism from everyone.
DRAMATIC ACTOR – MORGANA SHAW & SARA LOVETT
Morgana Shaw played Stevie Gray in The Goat, or Who is Sylvia. As the wife of Van Quattro’s Martin Gray, the story was as much about her reaction to Martin’s love affair with a goat as it was about him. Shaw played a deeply injured wife, who thought she was in a perfect marriage, as she devolved into violence showing the depths some marriages go through. Shaw threw things and broke furniture and slowly destroyed the living room as Stevie tried to deal with this unthinkable horror. In some ways, we understand why she spiraled out of control to such a shocking, unthinkable end, but in others, there’s little we can do to get Stevie’s feelings. Shaw played this with such passion and belief we were brought into Stevie’s world without wanting to be there. Shaw was sensitive to the delicate subject and gave a fantastic performance.
Madge Kendal was a lady brought into John Merrick’s world in Elephant Man as a contact with the high-society of England. She introduced Merrick to the upper crust and made him a society darling. In time, this developed into the closest thing to a relationship Merrick could muster. Sara Lovett played this elegantly beautiful woman and from the moment she entered, there was a quality about her that said she was special, as a character and as an actor. In time, although married, Merrick fell in love with Mrs. Kendal. In a scene as shocking as it was revealing, as a personal and parting gift to Merrick, she revealed herself in a way he had never seen, the thing he regretted most about his life. It was the most beautifully sensitive nude scene I’ve seen on stage. In ten minutes, without dialog, it was as close to making love on-stage as you can get away with, and not an ounce of titillation. Seeing Leyva’s Merrick watching her silently through his deformed facial structure was powerful theater. And Sara Lovett made this a magical moment.
MUSICAL ACTOR – ASHLEY D. KELLEY – BELLA: AN AMERICAN TALL TALE
Ashley D. Kelley played Bella, the young freed slave who escaped a plantation with the help of her long-dead ancestor, Booty. Even with the high-powered vocal help of M. Denise Lee, Liz Mikel, Kenita Miller, and an ensemble so together they could be a long-standing church choir, Kelley stood out as she ran through a raft of songs by Kirsten Childs to frame the fantasies and experiences Bella encountered as she travelled by train to find her love, and herself. Kelley had a huge voice with a fantastic quality and an ability to put songs into the stratosphere. Her role called for a young girl who grew up before our eyes and Kelley showed this maturation with subtle, understated acting skills. Her big booty costume was a constant companion and obstacle to her growth, but it was also key to accepting who she was as a person. I’m hoping she gets to take this role to New York. I’m glad I got to see Ashley Kelley’s Bella.
Production Direction and the associated design teams seem to be getting better. In productions I’ve seen, directors have created innovative visions for shows and found designers to bring those visions to life. Along with a rash of great casting, it seems directors are becoming better at their craft. So, with admiration and respect for the rest, here’s my outstanding memories.
DIRECTOR OF DRAMA – SHAWN GANN & ADAM ADOLFO
Shawn Gann, director of both L.I.P. Service productions I saw were low tech in design with fairly small casts, but were perfect for their stories. Elephant Man stands out for some elements and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia is very near to it. What really stands out about both is how sensitively these grotesque subjects were presented. Either could have gone overboard and been hard to watch. Instead, Gann created the intended shock as-written in text in ways that made them easy to digest. How Gann and his production teams used the uniqueness of each of those theaters, Firehouse in Carrollton and Rudy Seppy in Irving, was part of the mystique. The spaces made their stories come alive. It’s probably easier to direct actors Gann cast, as strong and experienced as they were, and I suspect there was a lot of collaboration, which is a mark of great production. But they still needed a director to ground the vision and keep everyone focused on the themes.
Adam Adolfo gets an equally impressive nod to direction. I’ve seen Adolfo shows at Artes de la Rosa and have always loved his visual staging, the way he melds Spanish and English and gets actors to create characters that are out on the fringe. With Nevermore! Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery, we saw his characteristic use of gossamer white silks and their aerial performances along with his soaring visual and auditory stage pictures. They combined to showcase a story set in history, but which crossed different time periods AND spiritual planes. This could have been a musical, as much content and poetry was shared through song. It could have been a fantasy, as one was always questioning whether a character was real or imagined. Nevermore on Runway’s small stage seemed expansive beyond its walls, which created an evening of intrigue that will stay with me for a while.
DIRECTOR OF MUSICAL – TERRY MARTIN
I’m not sure we can strictly call One Man, Two Guvnors a musical either, though it had lots of music and singing that was fabulous, fun, and rocking. But the production seemed to be so much bigger than a story or a musical. It seemed like an event that ended too quickly. Terry Martin, Water Tower’s artistic visionary, assembled a musical direction team that brought this popular show to our area, with a cast of great singers and a stage band that seemed to be a hot-to-trot rockabilly group that loved to play any style, and did so. This one should have been extended another month!
All the shows noted here and the others I saw had supportive stage technology, including scenery, lights and sound. Designers are becoming more daring and yet putting their work into the service of the story. Most also used projection to create, enhance or extend scenery. Directors and technology designers are getting smarter about using projection to create atmospheres for a story without making the projection the story. But this particular category is going to focus on the old-style visual story that makes a play come alive.
MISE-EN-SCENE – RAVENSCROFT – GARLAND CIVIC THEATRE
Ravenscroft by Don Nigro was presented by Garland Civic Theater. Directed by Kyle McClaran, who’s known for lavish sets on the shows I’ve seen, his design team created a lush set that caused you to gasp when you entered the theater. Set and costume designs by Virgil Hollywood and lighting by Joshua Hensley, along with amazing atmospheric musical pieces for scene changes, were combined with McClaran’s unique ability to find the most eclectic collection of furnishings and wall art one could hope for. This visual experience made one feel they were actually in a rich, English estate of the 1800s. Every direction you looked there was finery, on the floor, on the wall, across the furniture, in the air. Minimalism is not McClaran’s style and we are richer because of it. The play was a luscious story, a murder mystery, with McClaran playing a codgy old detective in a house filled with outlandish, quirky women. But it was the set that put the audience into the mood before the play started. Impossible to describe, hopefully you can find pictures to get an idea. Or you might just catch the next McClaran production.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
Best Shows of 2016:
The Empress, The Lady and the Pearl Part One; The Empress and the Pearl, Theatre Three, Dallas
The Wizard of Oz, Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
Singin’ in the Rain, Granbury Theatre Company, Granbury
Matt Victory, Joe Pendleton, Heaven Can Wait, Plaza Theatre Company
Morgan Reynolds, Hunk/Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz, Bass Hall
Randy Pearlman Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof, Garland Summer Musicals
Sam Hartley, Beast, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
Joshua Sherman, Don Lockwood, Singin’ in the Rain, Granbury Theatre Company
Carl DeForrest Hendin, Jimmy Winter, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Garland Summer Musicals
Clayton Sackett, Billy Bigelow, Carousel, Rockwall Summer Musicals
Suzy Simpson, Amber Lanning, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Granbury Theatre Company
Marisa Diotalevi, Janis Joplin, The Empress, The Lady and the Pearl Part One, Theatre Three
Denise Lee, Bessie Smith, The Empress, The Lady and the Pearl Part One, Theatre Three
Emily Warwick, Lucy, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Plaza Theatre Company
Sarah Lasko, Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz, Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Lauren Urso, Billie Bendix, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Garland Summer Musicals
Madeline Grace Smith, Kathy Selden, Singin’ in the Rain, Granbury Theatre Company
Allison Pistorius, Marianne, Constellations-A Mind Bending Love Story, Dallas Theatre Center
Best Supporting Actor:
Jay Cornils, Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, Plaza Theatre Company
Michael Lain, Max Levene, Heaven Can Wait, Plaza Theatre Company
Jason Philip Cole, Cosmo Brown, Singin’ in the Rain, Granbury Theatre Company
Brian Lawson, Roscoe Dexter, Singin’ in the Rain, Granbury Theatre Company
Best Supporting Actress:
Molly Pope, Julie Jordan, Carousel, Rockwall Summer Musicals
Patty Granville, Duchess Estonia Dulworth, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Garland Summer Musicals
Kim Borge Swarner, Eileen Evergreen, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Garland Summer Musicals
Best Scenic Designer:
Robert Jones, The Wizard of Oz, Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Phil Groeschel and Kerri Pavelick, Singin’ in the Rain, Granbury Theatre Company
Stanley A. Meyer, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear
Rodney Dobbs, Fiddler on the Roof, Garland Summer Musicals
Best Lighting Designer:
Steve TenEyck, Constellations-A Mind Bending Love Story, Dallas Theatre Center
Hugh Vanstone, The Wizard of Oz, Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Best Costume Designer:
Lyle Huchton, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dallas Children’s Theater
Ann Hould-Ward, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, AT&T Performing Arts, Winspear
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BEST EQUITY PRODUCTION:
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (AT&T Performing Arts Center)
BEST NON EQUITY PRODUCTION:
RAGTIME THE MUSICAL (Dallas Summer Musicals. EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a non-equity tour)
BEST NATIONAL TOURS:
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL (AT&T Performing Arts Center)
BEST MUSICAL DIRECTOR:
Luke and Rachel Hunt, Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical (Plaza Theater Company)
SEUSSICAL JR (Casa Manana)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Tina Barris, MARY POPPINS (Plaza Theatre Company)
PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR:
Daniel Rowan as “Jesus”, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Casa Manana)
Glenn Seven Allen as “Pontius Pilate”, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Casa Manana)
Domanick Hubbard as “Jim”, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
JaceSon P. Barrus as “Pap”, BIG RIVER (Plaza Theatre Company)
Meredith Browning as “Mary Poppins”, MARY POPPINS: The Broadway Musical (Plaza Theatre Company)
Rylee Mullen as “Jane Banks” MARY POPPINS: The Broadway Musical (Plaza Theatre Company)
John Wilkerson as “Abel Frake” STATE FAIR (Stolen Shakespeare Guild)
Mark Winters as “Scrooge” A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Artisan Center Theater)
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I am thankful again this year that we are blessed to have such an abundance of theatres and talent here in the Dallas and Fort Worth area. The downside to this is that it’s often difficult to make it to see all the spectacular performances going on all over. I can honestly say that I did not see as many shows this year as I have in the past. I regret that I missed some great shows that I heard about and would like to have seen. So to keep it short and sweet, here are my top three favorite shows I saw in 2016:
Cabaret (AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series):
I’ve seen Cabaret performed several times, from student productions to previous national tours, and this was the best production I’ve seen yet. The classic songs were outstanding, but it was the plot and characters that really stood out to me this time. The subplot between Herr Shultz and Fraulein Schneider has always seemed extraneous to me in relation to the other plotlines, but this production finally managed to weave it seamlessly into the story and make it important. Andrea Goss was a fine Sally Bowles, but it was Randy Harrison as the Emcee that really surprised me. The Emcee is a funny, menacing, and impish role that Mr. Harrison clearly relished and gave his all.
Dreamgirls (Dallas Theater Center):
The Dallas Theater Center really put a lot of effort and money into this production and it payed off wonderfully. The many beautiful costumes shimmying with sequins looked fantastic. And I was particularly impressed with the set which utilized sliding panels and a center lift to raise the actors high in the air. The real starring role in the show belongs to whoever plays Effie White, the diva who gets ousted from the Dreams girl group. Marisha Wallace, fresh from performing on Broadway, is definitely a powerhouse. Though I thought her vocals were a little underwhelming during the legendary show-stopping number “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going”, she absolutely nailed the second act solo “I Am Changing”. The real scene-stealer was Eric Lajuan Summers as James “Thunder” Early. His boundless energy and charm made it hard to take your eyes off of him.
Angels In America, Part One: Millennium Approaches (Uptown Players):It had been a while since I had seen the play and I was worried that the themes and time period would feel dated, but this production moved swiftly in a clear direction that felt fresh. The stark set made of slate color geometric shapes looked fantastic but moved in a clunky way; however the overlaying projections beautifully teased some of the locales. Angels In America takes place during the AIDS crisis in the late 1980’s, but it’s about so much more than that. Each main character is deeply damaged and flawed. This may be one of the best ensembles I’ve ever seen for a locally produced show. I can’t say enough good things about the entire cast. There is a LOT of dialogue and every one of the actors had to pour their guts out onstage. Themes of morality, death, oppression, dreams, and love will always resonate in art and theatre, and Uptown Players packed it all into a powerful show that will be remembered.
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Best Play – Dreamless – Ochre House Theater
This show was wildly creative, meaningful, timely and generally very well done. Intimacy in theatre is a powerful condition/tool and Dreamless at Ochre House achieved intimacy in its highest form, with the audience and among the cast. Top to bottom, this show was well done and, removing my critic hat, very entertaining.
Best Director – Bruce R. Coleman – The Wedding Singer – Theatre Three
His use of the space, the overall look and feel of the set and the staging of this musical are why I select Bruce R. Coleman as my Best Director of 2016.
Best Costume Design – Jill Blaylock Lord and the cast of Citizen Drumpf – OhLook Performing Arts Center
For the ensemble of Donald Drumpf, this must be my pick. From him tiny hands to his ridiculous pompadour, Drumpf was matched perfectly.
Best Lighting Design – Clayton Van Winkle – The Wedding Singer – Theatre Three
Just as every nook and corner of this theater was used for this production, each corner and nook were well-lit. Creative uses of lighting on and around the stage set that 80s mood well.
Best Proprieties – Dreamless – Ochre House Theater
For the cooks behind the window using kitchen implements as musical instruments in a live environ
-ment. This was very fun and was the perfect touch of zaniness to this show without going over the top.
Best Set Design – Kevin Brown - Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – ONSTAGE in Bedford
This set made me feel dusty and just a little bit grimy. To create that lived in and not often cleaned feeling is an art that requires a delicate balance. Kevin Brown achieved that with this set.
Best Actor – John Garrison as Bernie Sanders – Citizen Drumpf – OhLook Performing Arts Center
When I look back on the shows I saw or reviewed in 2016, the male role that stands out is John Garrison as Bernie Sanders. I don’t know John Garrison. Maybe he really talks and acts like that in real life, if so, he was perfectly cast. If not, he did a superb job of creating Bernie Sanders for this role. Of course he had a LOT of content to work with, but it takes time and talent to so perfectly emulate someone. Well done!
Best Actress – Rose Anne Holman – Martha – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – ONSTAGE in Bedford
The fact that Holman stepped in to this role a week before curtain did not factor in my pick. I have been a fan of Edward Albee and have studied his characters for a long time. Martha is one of the most demanding straight roles a female can play in the theater. Both she and George require huge amounts of emotions, dramatic timing, comedic timing and a general trove of talent as they are huge roles. Martha’s maintained level of intoxication makes this role just that much harder to do with complete believability. Rose Anne Holman played this role to perfection.
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RACHEL E. KHORIANDER'S
Best Musical: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, AT&T Performing Arts Center
Best Play: Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Best Ensemble: Violet, Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
John Rapson, The D’Ysquith Family, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, ATT Performing Arts Center
Jeremy Schwartz, Anthony Reilly, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Jessica Cavanaugh, Rosemary Muldoon, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Laura Merchant, Violet, Violet, Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
Kenneisha Thompson, Vicky, Bright Half Life, WaterTower Theatre
Kristen Beth Williams, Sibella Hallward, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, AT&T Performing Arts
Best Supporting Actor:
John S. Davies, Tony Reilly, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Marcus Jauregui, Michael, Tick Tick… Boom!, ONSTAGE in Bedford
Best Supporting Actress:
Gail Cronauer, Aoife Muldoon, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Best Scenic Design:
Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, AT&T Performing Arts Center
Bradley Gray and Garret Storms, Bright Half Life, WaterTower Theatre
Michael Sullivan, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Best Lighting Design: Jason S. Foster, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Best Sound Design: Kellen Voss, Bright Half Life, WaterTower Theatre
Best Costume Design:
Linda Cho, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, AT&T Performing Arts Center
Barbara C. Cox, Outside Mullingar, WaterTower Theatre
Peggy Hickey, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, AT&T Performing Arts Center
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC NICOLE MULUPI'S
Best Play: THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (Dallas Children’s Theater)
Best Musical: THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Best Lead Actor in a Play:
Johnny Lee as Edward Tulane, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (DCT)
John Rodgers as Atticus Finch, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, (Firehouse Theatre Company)
Best Lead Actor in a Musical:
Brian Lawson as The Beast, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Lead Actress in a Play:
Steph Garrett as The Woman, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (DCT)
Sherri Small as Maria Callas, MASTER CLASS (Greater Louisville Community Theatre)
Best Lead Actress in a Musical:
Tabitha Barrus as Belle, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Plaza Theatre Company)
Daron Cockerell as Milly, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Supporting Actor in a Play:
Haulston Mann as The Other, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (DCT)
Stephen Newton as Dill Harris, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, (Firehouse Theatre Company)
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical:
Melvin Abston as Sebastian, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Jay Lewis as Maurice, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Supporting Actress in a Play:
Riley Jo Payne as Mayella Ewell, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, (Firehouse Theatre Company)
Ellena Weber as Mary Elliot, PERSUASION (Stolen Shakespeare Guild)
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical:
Tracy Lore as Ursula, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Emma Colwell as Alice, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Musical Performance:
Scott T. Leiendecker and Jeffrey Christopher Todd, with “Sweet Child” from THE LITTLE MERMAID (DSM)
Best Comedic Performance:
Jeff Skowron in “Les Poissons”, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Best Musical Score (for a Play):
Johnny Lee and Sonny Frank, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (DCT)
John MacInnis, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Emily Leekha, SHREK THE MUSICAL (Music Theatre of Denton)
Best Scenic Design:
Kenneth Foy, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
H. Bart McGeehon, MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (Dallas Children’s Theater)
Marlena Almond and Julie Lee, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Plaza Theatre Company)
Best Costume Design:
Tina Barrus, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Plaza Theatre Company)
Amy Clark and Mark Koss, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Best Hair and Wig Design:
Leah J. Loukas, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Best Lighting Design:
Charlie Morrison, THE LITTLE MERMAID (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Best Sound Design:
Marco E. Salinas, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (Dallas Children’s Theatre)
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JEREMY WILLIAM OSBORNE'S
Picks are in no particular order
The Last Five Years – Frisco Community Theatre
Thoroughly Modern Millie – Firehouse Theatre
Jekyll & Hyde – Onstage in Bedford
Monty Python’s Spamalot – Casa Manana
Jesus Christ Superstar – Casa Manana
The Elephant Man – L.I.P. Service
To Kill a Mockingbird – Firehouse Theatre
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Jackson’s Dance and Theatre Company
The Book Club Play – Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
Robert San Juan – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Jackson’s Dance and Theatre Company
Dan Servetnick – Spring Awakening – Runway Theatre
Michael McCray – The Last 5 Years – Frisco Community Theatre
Jason Leyva – The Elephant Man – L.I.P. Service
Pat Watson – The Elephant Man – L.I.P. Service
John Rodgers - To Kill a Mockingbird – Firehouse Theatre
Janelle Lutz – Thoroughly Modern Millie – Firehouse Theatre
Rebecca Paige – Jekyll & Hyde – Onstage in Bedford
Kim Borge Swarner – The Last 5 Years – Frisco Community Theatre
Sara Lovett – The Elephant Man – L.I.P. Service
Piper Cunningham - To Kill a Mockingbird – Firehouse Theatre
Best Set Design
Alex Krus – Jekyll & Hyde – Onstage in Bedford
Kevin Brown - Spring Awakening – Runway Theatre
George Redford – The Book Club Play – Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
Clare DeVries – Kind Lady – Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas
Best Lighting Design
Adam Livingston – Jekyll & Hyde – Onstage in Bedford
Scott Davis - Spring Awakening – Runway Theatre
Kyle Harris – To Kill a Mockingbird – Firehouse Theatre
Best Costume Design
Hope Cox – Jekyll & Hyde – Onstage in Bedford
Tammy Spencer - Jesus Christ Superstar – Casa Manana
Tim Hatley - Monty Python’s Spamalot – Casa Manana
Hope Cox – To Kill a Mockingbird – Firehouse Theatre
Victor Brockwell - Thoroughly Modern Millie – Firehouse Theatre
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The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Mike Hathway – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Cheryl Denson – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Adam Adolfo – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Best Musical Director
James McQuillen – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Austin Ray Beck – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Matthew Perry Smith – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Best Scenic Design
Jeffrey Franks – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Lauren Morgan – Tartoufee – Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Paul Brown – Phantom of the Opera – Bass Performance
Jeffrey Franks – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Red Hot Patriot
Alex Krus – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Best Costume Design
Amanda Capshaw – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Hope Cox – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Lauren Morgan – Tartoufee – Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Best Lighting Design
Kyle Harris – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Adam Livingston – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Linda Blase – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Best Sound Design
Marco Salinas – A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Mark Howard – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Andrew Manning – Tartuffe – Tartoufee – Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Kyle R. Trentham – Alejandro Arroyo – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa
Lindsay Hayward – Molly Ivans – Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins – Runway Theatre
Karen Matheny – Dorine – Tartoufee – Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Lana K. Hoover – Dolly Biddle – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Sherry Etzel – Isobel Lomax – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Emma Leigh Montes – Amalia “Molly” Arroyo – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa
Best Supporting Actor
Jordan Justice – Trip “Tizzy” Goldstein – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa
Magdiel Carmona – Nel “Nelly” Cardenal – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la Rosa
Andrew Christian – Stephen Biddle – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Best Supporting Actress
Elizabeth Thresher – Lelly Santiago – Welcome to Arroyo’s – Artes de la
Best Featured Actor
Adam Livingston– Rob – The Kitchen Witches – Onstage in Bedford
Christopher Curtis – Frog – A Year With Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Brian Hathaway – Toad – A Year With Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
Best supporting Actor
Darius-Anthony Robinson – Snail – A Year With Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
A Year with Frog and Toad – Dallas Children’s Theater
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In years past, some theatrical titles have become so commonly seen in area theater that the redundancy becomes a detractor from the quality of the productions. Not true in 2016! Many theaters delighted audiences with less familiar titles. Sometimes this was successful and other times not as successful, but either way, I was happy to see the transition and look forward to an even more diverse 2017 lineup!
When I reminded myself of the performances I saw in 2016, I found that, although there were fewer opportunities for me to experience live theater this year, there were several truly outstanding performances, so here are my picks for Best of Theater 2016:
Little Shop of Horrors (Granbury Theatre Company): This fun, yet meaningful musical was expertly performed by an extremely talented cast and crew. Director, Luke Hunt, should be commended for bringing together the perfect group of artists for this production.
Best Costumes: Emily Warwick pulled together a perfect selection for every actor and every situation, adding a dimension of detail to an already strong performance.
Best Scenic Design: Phil Groeschel developed a fun, functional, and elaborately efficient set (and puppet) for this outstanding musical.
Outstanding Actors: The entire cast delivered impeccable performances, but these deserve special recognition: Xan Cramer, Zach Zagroski, Micky Shearon, Dakota Brown, Jay Cornels, Claudia Fain.
Jekyll & Hyde (Bedford ONSTAGE): Frank Wildhorn’s depiction of the tormented Dr. Jekyll provides a challenge to its directors, cast and crew, but Bedford ONSTAGE knocked it out of the park entrusting director, Bill Sizemore, with the task. Sizemore brought together an outstanding cast which worked well together and an artistic crew that wove their artistry through the production to create a package that was truly a delight to see.
Best Costumes: Hope Cox selected an array of costumes for each character which worked perfectly to enhance the Sizemore’s vision for every scene.
Best Wigs: Logan Coley Broker created a terrific set of wigs to transform each actor with perfectly adorned coifs.
Best Scenic Design: Alex Krus designed an extremely versatile and visually stunning set with expertly engineered features that made scene changes seamless.
Best Lighting Design: Adam Livingston took the meaning behind each scene to a new level with intricate lighting that enhanced every minute of the action. I especially loved the red light “splatter” during murder scenes.
Best Choreography: Elise Lavallee created a beautifully stunning set of intricate dance numbers on a small proscenium stage. Her expert attention to details made the choreography one of the outstanding features of this production.
Rebecca Paige (Lucy) was incredible in this role. Every moment, every breath, every movement was perfection. Keith Warren (Jekyll/Hyde) utilized the range of his talents in this heartbreaking role and was equally monstrous and likeable. The entire ensemble delivered outstanding performances, rounding out this outstanding musical production.
Clever Little Lies (Circle Theatre) – This play was nicely done with a small cast that worked well together.
Best Scenic Design: Clare Floyd Devries
Best Performances: Jake Buchanan, Bill Jenkins, Linda Leonard, and Kelsey Milbourn
Other Outstanding Artists:
Big Fish (Artisan Center Theater) – Wendy Searcy is deserving of recognition for her outstanding scenic design.
The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild (Tarrant Actors Regional Theater) – Ensemble actor, Nathan Dibbin, was so exceptional in the delivery of his roles that his performance was unforgettable.
Old McDonald Had a Farm: A Children’s Fable about the Obama Presidency (Fun House Theatre and Film) - Doak Rapp delivered a truly outstanding performance as a scarecrow with rather orangery-styled hair.
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According to my calculations, I saw 61 shows this year, and this doesn’t include any of the short play festivals I saw. Of these 60, ten are ones I can’t include in my “Best of” list, as two were in Chicago and I had something to do with the other eight, still leaving me 51 full-length plays and musicals from which to choose. I saw everything from community theatre to touring shows. As the Artistic Director of Rover Dramawerks, it’s not always easy for me to see all the shows I want to, but I make a concerted effort because I love live theatre! Being a part of it is great, of course, but there’s also nothing like going to see a show. I encourage everyone reading this list to go see more live theatre in the coming year! These are the performances that stood out to me:
Celia Arthur as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie & Clyde the Musical at Theatre Coppell
Noelle Chesney as Margaret Johnson in Light at the Piazza at Brick Road Theatre
Catherine D. Dubord as Gina in The Dead Guy at Proper Hijinx Productions
Shane Beeson in Driving Miss Daisy at Frisco Community Theatre
Nick Levingston as Flick in Violet at Greater Lewisville Community Theatre
Trey West as Jon in tick...tick..BOOM! at ONSTAGE in Bedford
Best Supporting Actress
Emma Leigh Montes as The Voice of the Raven at Runway Theatre
Leslie Patrick as Eve Grayson in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder at Pegasus Theatre
Mallory Osigian as Maria/Antonia in Twelfth Night at Bare Bones Shakespeare
Best Supporting Actor
Brian Brissman as Nicky Holroyd in Bell, Book and Candle at Runway Theatre
Gary Eoff as Ted Hinton in Bonnie & Clyde the Musical at Theatre Coppell
Kevin Michael Fuld as Brad Reinbalm in Triangles at Pocket Sandwich Theatre
Best Featured Actress
Alison Baron as Edith in Blithe Spirit at Allen’s Community Theatre
Beth Lipton as Hunyak in Chicago at Mainstage Irving Las Colinas
Best Featured Actor
Ian Mead Moore as Shrimp in Death the Musical II at Pocket Sandwich Theatre
Walt Threlkeld as Gudgeon in The Hollow at Theatre Britain
Best Youth Actress
Elizabeth Drake as Iris Kelly in Fame the Musical at Junior Players
Emily Kondrat as Grace Farrell in Annie Jr. at Haggard Middle School
Best Youth Actor
Dru Miers as Schlomo Metzenbaum in Fame the Musical at Junior Players
Riley Niksich as Young Patrick/Michael in Auntie Mame at Richardson Theatre Centre
Chicago at Mainstage Irving Las Colinas
Jekyll & Hyde at ONSTAGE in Bedford
Nevermore at Runway Theatre
Best Sound Design
Tim Addison for Bonnie & Clyde at Theatre Coppell
Best Props Design
Kristin Burgess for Nana’s Naughty Knickers at Runway Theatre
Best Lighting Design
Scott Davis for Nevermore at Runway Theatre
Best Costume Design
Ryan Schaap for Light in the Piazza at Brick Road Theatre
Best Scenic Design
Darryl P. Clement for The Hollow at Theatre Britain
Best Musical Direction
Shane Hurst for Jekyll & Hyde at ONSTAGE in Bedford
Dr. Kelley Poche-Rodriguez for Bonnie & Clyde at Theatre Coppell
Christina Kudlicki Hoth for Spring Awakening at Runway Theatre
Adam Adolpho for Nevermore at Runway Theatre
Bonnie & Clyde at Theatre Coppell
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder at Pegasus Theatre
Nevermore at Runway Theatre
Best Touring Show Actress
Elizabeth Stanley as Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County at Dallas Summer Musicals
Best Touring Show Actor
Jeff Brooks as Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway at Dallas Summer Musicals
Best Touring Ensemble
Bullets Over Broadway at Dallas Summer Musicals
Best Touring Production
The Bridges of Madison County at Dallas Summer Musicals
My favorite moment this season:
Cheech and the Gangsters’ tap number in “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do.”
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Top Ten for 2017
1. Dallas Theatre Centre: Gloria
Gloria, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is a drama concerning the death of compassion in American culture, and how we talk each other out of caring. It is actually quite subtle, considering the shocking act of violence that ends the first act. Afterwards, my friend suggested that there will always be schmucks, which is certainly true. But I believe that Jacobs-Jenkins has hit upon a current, pervasive attitude (perhaps the seeds were planted during the “Me-Decade”) that it’s easier to dismiss the deeply troubled than reach out to them. In the second act Kendra remarks that all the attention being heaped on Gloria is perversely rewarding her for terrible behavior. This may be so, but just as in the case of Columbine and the catastrophes that followed, red flags were ignored before the tipping point. Why not take refuge in cliques and label those in pain as “freaks”?
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is rather sly and Dallas Theater Center’s production of Gloria laden with thematic rhyming. Several characters swoon over her intensely emotional songs when a young, intoxicating siren dies, but have no use for the messy side of their own humanity. What we might normally ascribe to double or triple-casting, gradually reveals the suggestion that our fate is wished upon us, rather than due to lack of character. Sound Designer John Flores and Scenic Designer Dahlia Al-Habieli have erected pristine, secular temples of civilization, complete with disembodied choral fanfare, and persistent, salient red accents. In my numerous years of theatre-going I have to say, Gloria is one of the most powerful plays I have ever seen. We’re already 17 years into the 21st Century, but still believe the affectation of spiritual enlightenment is good enough.
2. Kitchen Dog Theater: Feathers and Teeth
Reflecting upon Kitchen Dog’s current black comedy, Charise Castro Smith’s Feathers and Teeth, I was struck by the subtlety of the title. In nature, you never see both in the same creature. If it has teeth it doesn’t have feathers. If it has feathers it doesn’t have teeth. But the villain of Feathers and Teeth does. Like Mack the Knife, she’s very good at hiding her grisly side. Set in 1978, and recalling the trashy sci-fi of the 60’s, Feathers and Teeth mixes a strange and unlikely blend of genres: dark satire, absurdism, horror and drama. And (this is the truly bizarre part) they blend perfectly, like a collage, or a quadriptych. When we see Arthur jumping Carol’s bones on the kitchen table it’s ridiculous, funny and sad, all at once.
I must give all kinds of mad props to Charise Castro Smith, Director Lee Trull, and cast members: Matt Lyle, Morgan Laure', Dakota Ratliff and Parker Gray. This is difficult material to pull off. Beyond evincing a successful show, there’s something about this play that transcends narrative on its face. It stays in your memory, though it’s not easy to understand why. Smith has laced this piece with vivid, indirect metaphor. Like other intoxicating shows, it rewards closer inspection. Kitchen Dog has a gift for staging plays that sink into your skin. As it were. Feathers and Teeth is subversive, and tender in odd ways. It takes a deranged sense of irony to stage this during the holidays, but it’s something you shouldn’t miss. If you love visionary, risky theatre.
3. Bishop Arts Theater: Ruined
Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, is a poignant, intelligent, drama that explores the diminishment and degradation of women in the midst of a patriarchy. Set in a Mama Nadi’s brothel, in a small mining town in the Republic of Congo, Ruined opens when Christian (the Poet) sells a couple of girls to Mama Nadi, one of them his niece, Sophie. The other girl, Salima, has run away from her husband. Sophie is “ruined” which (as you might have guessed) means she has lost her virginity. So she is spared the indignity of selling her body, and Mama Nadi finds other things for her to do. Mama Nadi is not without her kindnesses, but she is a business woman, and a survivor. As the story is revealed we see how she and her girls are forced to subsist in the midst of political upheaval and civil war. But mostly they are subject to the whims of the men. Miners and soldiers.
Lynn Nottage has crafted a subtle, original, savvy exploration of what it means to get by when you are immersed in a sense of perpetual danger. For all the serious rhetoric of soldiers and commanders, we get the distinct impression that their pursuits are vapid and amount to one pissing contest after another. That they subjugate women because it gives them the opportunity play despot. [How appropriate in light of the current presidential race.] Women must take these idiots seriously because they have no choice. There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a fool with power. When Sophie spits on one of their boots, you want to cheer, but you can’t because you’re terrified for her. Like the best playwrights Nottage doesn’t tell us what to believe, she demonstrates the ugly disgraces prevailing in the world, and lets us decide for ourselves. Ruined is splendid, life-changing theatre.
4. Contemporary Theatre of Dallas: Dancing at Lughnasa
I’ve never cared for terms like “bittersweet” or “dramedy” as they obsess with labels, when literature resists such facile categories. Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa is a quietly electrifying, intensely moving memory piece (in some ways like The Glass Menagerie) in which Michael, illegitimate son of Christie Mundy, remembers when his family was in the usual upheaval, just before everything went completely sideways. Michael is the narrator, and in retrospect realizes that for all the brouhaha, the five Mundy sisters had each other, Michael, and the daft Uncle Jack, a missionary priest back from Africa.
So much genius in Friel’s play. Dancing at Lughnasa mocks easy answers to the quandaries that plague the Mundy Sisters, while making us ache for them. Because we hate to see these vigorous, vibrant women hurting. Friel never leads us by the nose, he’s too subtle for that. But the celebratory nature beneath the travails and mischief, that we see so gloriously expressed in the title event (if only in the Mundy kitchen) leaks and brims and gets beneath our skin. The friction between sober devotion and pagan life-affirmation fuels this exquisitely realized, truly miraculous story of familial grace. Please understand. After years of seeing theatre, I know how difficult it is to capture authentic, overwhelming emotion in a way that actually reaches the audience. And stays with them. Directors Miki Bone and Frank Latson, and this inspired, precise, utterly involved cast have managed to do just that. Tears and mirth and implacable humanity.
5. Stage West: Bootycandy
Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy, currently playing at Stage West in Fort Worth, is fierce, dark, satire. Like David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, it has very grim undercurrents, disguised as comedy of manners. Making the trek to cowtown exhausts me, but I wince to think I might have missed one of the most powerful, chilling, sardonic shows I have ever experienced, period. It lulls you with the quaint humor of queer sexuality as it’s perceived in Afro-American culture. Yes (just as in white culture) much of the contempt our hero, Sutter, is exposed to, comes from ignorance. And on its face it’s funny. But the longer and harder and closer you look, the more poisonous it feels. As if Sutter, cool, genuine, sophisticated, is gradually being slipped strychnine. O’Hara satiates us with the candy of hilarity, while delivering his rabbit punches with stealth.
At first Sutter’s calm, even temperament feels natural, almost a relief in the context of hysteria that engulfs him. Then you begin to wonder if he’s shut down. At the center of Bootycandy is an atrocity that’s hinted at, then only revealed in subplot involving a group of black playwrights. The result is ambiguity: has Sutter actually done these things, or deep in the midst of his shadows, only reflect on them? In the narrative we are given, can we infer that Sutter was molested as a boy, degraded by other white men he’s slept with? We can only speculate. Though it’s safe to conclude that we are carefully given certain details for a reason, and Sutter’s “pathology” did not grow in a vacuum. Also safe, I think, to wonder if the adults responsible for him (with the exception of Grandma) have ultimately failed him. O’Hara could have titled this play: Elegy for Sutter’s Soul.
6. L.I.P. Service: Trainspotting
Rarely have I seen a show with such bone jolting, abyss swimming, heart shredding velocity as Trainspotting at the Rudy Seppy Studio in Irving. Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel by Harry Gibson, it reveals the lives of Mark Renton, et al: disaffected Scottish heroin addicts who kill the pain of despair and seething anger with mindless promiscuity and drug abuse. If not teenagers, they are not much older. This is thwarted eruption and anarchy with maybe the slightest whisper of irony or relief. Sex undercut by the shame of dirty bedsheets is metaphor for Trainspotting: kids who fuck with fierce indifference but worry about ass stains. Mark lives by impulse, but still seems to be the only one amongst his friends (Tommy, Simon, Lizzie, Allison, Franco, and “Mother Superior” a drag nun) not completely numb to their dwindling conscience. When Tommy begs Mark to help him try smack, he really tries to stop him, but Tommy, it seems, is bent on urgent ruin.
Trainspotting has the power of the undiluted, the unbuffered, the authentic. The characters are so defiant in their grubby, sardonic soullessness, we can’t help but respect them. They never ask for our pity, or even sympathy, that ship sailed long before the lights went down. This astonishing cast (Dustin Simington, Jason Robert Villareal, Conner Wedgeworth, Caleb J. Pie terse, Lauren Mishoe, Jad Brennon Saxton, Erica Larsen, R. Andrew Aguilar, JL Sunshine, Leslie Boren, Steve Cave) is utterly fearless and submerged in this anatomy of a clusterf**k/train wreck. They wield dialogue like rusty scalpels. They French kiss you with strychnine. They shoot horse like they are making love to seraphim. Trainspotting is a profoundly unsettling mix of contempt, damage and aching, disconsolate loss. When they deliver a snarling, ferocious finale of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, you can just feel the waves of blind rage throbbing. Trainspotting is glorious, uncompromising, remarkable theatre.
7. Second Thought Theater: A Kid Like Jake
Alex and Greg have a four-year-old son named Jake. Alex wants to get Jake into an erudite school, so we find her nervously preparing his resume: writing an essay, answering questionnaires, consulting books to improve his chances. Judy is the principal of the kindergarten that Jake currently attends. She and Alex are close friends and this has several advantages. Judy knows and loves Jake, Alex and Greg, so she can coach Alex as she applies Jake to prestigious schools. During a strategy session she essentially recommends that Alex mention Jake’s (for lack of a better term) gender-fluid worldview. This sets a series of incidents in motion.
Alex and Greg are well beyond progressive. They do not mind when Jake likes to dress as a princess, say, like Cinderella. They don’t have meltdowns when Jake identifies with female characters. Alex is a bit leery about following Judy’s advice, but she’s been assured that the current trend towards diversity will work in her favor. It’s only when Jakes wishes to go trick-or-treating in female persona that the situation begins to deteriorate. Greg and Alex do not shame him, but it’s a challenging ordeal. Suddenly Jake is acting out, defiant to authority figures, showing signs of personal crisis.
Playwright Daniel Pearle has created a subtle, sharp, even fanciful at times, exploration of the intense and pervasive impact of gender, and how best to love those dearest to us. Pearle strips away layers from Alex and Greg and their marriage, and the buried, tumultuous issues left unacknowledged. A Kid Like Jake considers how certain events are shaped by the attitudes brought to them. It examines the crucible of wrestling with the expectations and constraints of those around us. Pearle takes a loaded topic (laden with pain) and handles it with grace and precision.
8. Theatre Three: The Novelist
Theresa Rebeck’s The Novelist is a beguiling and (not unexpectedly?) fairly literary drama. Metaphor overlaps with metaphor, delicate butterflies in shadow boxes, Frank, one son who cannot finish sentences, yet brings statues pregnant with implication, Ethan, the other, cannot tell he is turning into his father. If anything Rebeck spells the subtext out a bit too clearly, but The Novelist is certainly absorbing and wise without ever turning cynical. At least not towards anyone who doesn’t warrant it.
Perhaps it’s no different in other parts of the world, but many Americans heap adulation upon anyone who is very, very successful. Paul, the title character, while not exactly the vox populi, has been vetted by the critics. Like Picasso, Hitchcock and Faulkner he is indulged in his despicable behavior, perhaps because the rest believe he inhabits the realm of immortals. Like Mount Olympus? Paul is not just a cranky, insufferable curmudgeon, he’s a schmuck that enjoys being a schmuck. When Sophie, his new assistant, confronts him on his toxic behavior, the rest of the family rushes to his defense. Though, thankfully, without admonishing Sophie.
If this weren’t bad enough, the evidence that he’s plagiarizing the work of female consorts (including his wife) steadily mounts. (Remember the Jerzy Konsinski controversy?) He comes on to Sophie without being a complete oaf, but it’s obvious he’s so used to getting what he wants from the awestruck and self-effacing, that chutzpah just comes to him naturally. When Sophie breaks the spell at the same time Laurie returns to New York without Ethan, Rebeck’s thematic rhyming becomes even clearer, and the irony that Ethan has unwittingly accepted the torch from his father.
The most salient epiphany of The Novelist is the sad revelation that artists who create the most spiritually compelling work are often not remotely admirable. The risk of this content is lapsing into familial melodrama. Rebeck mostly carries this off, though it’s a perilous endeavor, dancing all around an issue without reaching the audience’s conclusions for them. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t say that The Novelist has much beauty, incision and humanity to recommend it, not the least of which comes from the meticulous cast.
9. Uptown Players: Angels in America (Part One)
Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, a two-part series (both parts standing as independent pieces) is puzzling yet satisfying, epic yet personal, enigmatic, yet funny and cogent. Key characters are Mormon, yet it’s not immediately apparent why the Mormon church is vital to content. When Angels premiered they weren’t the only church condemning same-gender sexuality, but somehow the (shall we say?) more fanciful details of their theology seems consistent with the deadpan strangeness of the tone. The characters are not heroic but they seem swept up in the forces of history or zeitgeist or perhaps something greater? The one character who seems aware of his place in the politics and cultural evolution of America is Roy Cohn, a powerful, intelligent, reprehensible attorney who believes in contextual morality.
When Angels opened transgender cast doubling was an original way to add depth and complexity to a story. The idea that the inexplicable, mysterious gender we are is the one we just happened to wind up with. In 2016, maybe not so much. Kushner’s cunning is in his ability to personalize the impact of AIDS, as a barometer of an ethically pathological America. Not in the sense that some men were making love to each other, or frantically copulating, but that our hysterically heterocenterist society forced them into hiding. Villified them. Instead of addressing AIDS solely as metaphor or politics, he pulls us into attachments that emotionally involve us too, and walks us through the consequences. By weaving in gobs of often wry humor, he avoids pity, maybe even tragedy. Absurd, comical scenes have somber subtext. Poor Prior isn’t thrilled when a glorious angel appears. He’s terrified. His wrenching pain is treated as a stepping stone to his role in some kind of profound watershed for America’s future. But we won’t find out till part two.
Cheryl Denson has directed a sublime, crisp, infinitely intriguing and enjoyable show. The cast is skillful, agile and resonant with genuine emotion. They have captured a very difficult tone, flippant and grave. Sorrowful and resigned but nonchalant. The stony, monolithic, minimal sets by H. Bart McGeehon are appropriate and powerfully nuanced. Special kudos to Emily Scott Banks who handles her descent with poise and (forgive me) grace.
10. Cara Mia Theatre: Crystal City 1969
Inspiring. Enraging. Heartbreaking. Exhilarating. Cara Mia’s current show: Crystal City 1969 will catch you off-guard. I confess that I was unfamiliar with this incident in Crystal City, Texas (unlike Stonewall, Ferguson, Little Rock) where high school students protested blatant, brazen, unconscionable discrimination from teachers and administrators alike. Not that Texas has ever led the way when it came to issues like civil rights, but even for a school operating in the Bible Belt, in 1969, the transgressions of those in authority were particularly egregious. Students were paddled for speaking Spanish, refused equal participation in school activities (though they outnumbered Anglos) shamed, humiliated and verbally abused in the classroom by teachers, punished for protesting or even signing petitions. Some young men were even sent to the front lines of the Vietnam War, made cannon fodder for the sheer audacity of objecting to unfair treatment.
Somewhat similar to The Laramie Project, Crystal City 1969, shows a myriad of characters and situations. The toxic effect of diminishing and degrading ethnicities and races perceived as “the other,” by those in power. We are privy to the home lives of the students, parents, Latinos, Anglos, no one is demonized or canonized. If anything the commonplace occurrence of unchallenged racism and imperialism is made palpable. None of the white people are made to look like The Grand Dragon or Simon Legree, but the gratuitous hostility, the remarks like, “I thought you were one of the good ones,” illustrate the disgusting way a culture indoctrinates its members to seek comfort and validation by subjugating others. Again and again we see individuals ignored, knocked down or eliminated lest they begin to act on their self-esteem. Even the most reasonable requests for decent humanity is met with arrogance and abuse.
Whenever a play seeks to examine the nature of prejudice, civil rights, the countless ways human beings find to justify beating and lynching and exterminating one another (In White America, Bent, The Diary of Anne Frank) the risk is stacking the deck, on one side or the other. Jason might have treated Medea like drek, but he still gets to tell his side of the story. Playwrights David Lozano and Raul Trevino have avoided this entirely. Crystal City 1969 is not distorted or amplified. It tells the story of Latinos in a small, provincial Texas town, where bigotry is so ingrained in Anglo behavior, that it must be fought, without stooping to their level. Cara Mia Theatre and this wonderful cast (and adroit director David Lozano) have crafted a deeply moving, powerful, stirring narrative of the triumph of humanity and spiritual abundance when we genuinely care for and look out for one another. I think Jesus said something like that, didn’t He?
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
I usually find it difficult to make these best of lists every year. Curiously enough, this year was different. Even though I saw much great work, there were certain performers and technicians whose work stood out.
Best ensemble: Animal Vs, Machine, Prism Co. When you have an entire cast working so well together, and there is no weak link, you are guaranteed to have a good show.
Best Actor: Mike Tibbetts, I Hate Hamlet, Lakeside Community Theatre. Aa Barrymore, he chewed the scenery, played the stereotype to the hilt, yet managed to somehow make him three dimensional by the end.
Best Actress: Amanda Carson Green, Auntie Mame, Richardson Theatre Center. The titular role is one of those “monster” roles for any actor because there’s lots of lines, every human emotion is touched upon, it requires strong dramatic and comedic chops to create the character, and the length of play requires stamina. Amanda Carson Green portrayed Mame effortlessly, convincingly, and genuinely.
Best Supporting Actor: Hal Heath, Auntie Mame, Richardson Theatre Center. To hold your own against a powerful actor on stage and match that performer is a feat. Especially in a play like Auntie Mame in which the titular character is iconic. In Auntie Mame, Hal Heath plays Patrick, Mame’s “adopted” son and he approached the role with powerful subtlety. It is hard to compete with the pyrotechnics on stage created by the titular character/actress, and by opting to play the role in the complete opposite manner, he made his own character just as powerful and gave the show a beautiful balance.
Best Supporting Actress: Kim Swarner, Psycho Beach Party, Theatre Three. From the moment she stepped on stage to the very last Kim Swarner made me love/hate Marvel Anne. I couldn’t get enough of her character, which is a sign that the actor is doing her job.
Best Direction: Eve Roberts, Big Fish, Artisan Center Theatre. To coordinate a large cast and not make it seem like a train wreck happened on stage is difficult, especially in the round. A show in which reality and fantasy alternate and at times happen at the same time can confuse an audience. Eve Roberts untangles the intricacies of Big Fish to make it understandable, deliver beautiful stage pictures, and create a delicately sublime show.
Best Musical Direction: Andrew Friedrich, [Title of Show], Firehouse Theatre. It is a testament to how strong a musical director is when he can vocally guide the cast to create a myriad of styles, and the only musical instrument in the show is a piano. It also helps that he is a very good piano player and has such strong musicality.
Best Choreography: Katy Tye & Jeff Colangelo, Animal Vs. Machine, Prism Co. This play has no dialogue. The entire story is conveyed through movement. From intentional slow movements, to ultra-fast sequences the choreography created by these two artists was jaw dropping.
Best Set design: Wendy Searcy, Big Fish, Artisan Center Theatre. This show requires every trick in the book for a designer: create fantasy worlds AND real worlds. Wendy Searcy nailed both.
Best Sound design: uncredited, Animal Vs. Machine, Prism Co. To not be able to mention who did the incredible sound design that coordinated so perfectly with the action on stage is frustrating. This wasn’t your typical sound design in which the noises or music you hear are adding to the realism. In this show the sound actually affected the action on stage. It was brilliantly executed and the timing of it was spot on.
Best Lighting design: Jonah Gutierrez, Animal Vs. Machine, Prism Co. What can you do with less than a handful of instruments? Miracles. Perhaps it was the lack of instruments that inspired Mr. Gutierrez to create such effective lighting. Whatever the case may be, his lighting design was one of the best I’ve seen not just this year, but in several years.
Best Costuming: Bruce R. Coleman, Psycho Beach Party, Theatre Three. Mr. Coleman dressed, and undressed his actors to the hilt. It helped that the cast was so gorgeous and not afraid to show off their amazing bodies. He captured not just the era of the play but somehow made it contemporary, with a great dose of humor, whimsy, and major sexiness. There was not an ill-fitting costume in the entire show, and it showed. Believe me I checked, over and over again, along with the rest of the audience.
Best Play: Animal Vs, Machine, Prism Co. This no dialogue 1 hour play packed as much emotional content and plot as any Ibsen or Chekov play. Dramatic, beautiful, minimalistic, and emotionally satisfying.
Best Musical: Big Fish, Artisan Center Theatre. A big musical done in a big way, and done right. Yes, the show wears it’s heart on its sleeve and you can guess the ending long before the show ends, but when the performances and the entire production is so genuine, who cares? I went along with the manipulative ride of this musical and loved every darn minute of it.
ASSOCIATE THEATER CRITIC
BEST MUSICAL OF THE YEAR: Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)
BEST ACTOR: J. Clayton Winters, Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)
BEST ACTRESS: Daron Cockrell, Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jeremy Davis, The Gifts of the Magi (Jubilee Theatre)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Max Swarner, Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sheran Keyton, Women of the Delta (DVA Productions)
BEST ENSEMBLE IN A MUSICAL:
Broadway Christmas Wonderland (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)
BEST DIRECTION: Penny Ayn Maas, Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN and BEST SOUND DESIGN: Broadway Christmas Wonderland (DSM)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Christmas Wonderland (Dallas Summer Musicals)
Anything Goes (Lyric Stage)