The end of the year is a great time to look back at the best shows of 2013.
But I don’t do "Top 10" lists (at least not for community theatre), for several reasons:
1) I hate applying the "Best of" label to community theatre shows. Every single show was created after a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and while some may be more successful or more accomplished or have a bigger budget than others, they were all a labor of love.
2) It's apples and oranges. Unless you're comparing different productions of the same show, there's no way to compare different shows made with different casts, different budgets, different conditions - you get the idea.
3) I didn't see all the shows that hit the stage in the Tri-State area in 2013. I saw 23 shows (by my count), but there were approximately 103 shows in our area, so I (sadly) missed lots of ‘em. I do have two good excuses: I was in one show in the Spring and I directed another one at the end of the year. I have friends who see lots of shows, some see more than I do - but I don't think there's anyone who sees every show (I'm not even sure it's physically possible).
4) And I can't be impartial, because I'm on the board of First Stage Theatre Company, and I have good friends in virtually every other local theatre company - so I can’t pretend I’m not prejudiced.
What I will do is talk about some of the shows I saw and enjoyed, and invite you, gentle readers, to make comments about shows you liked, too. Send your comments to the link at the bottom of this post, or email them to me at TheMinskers@aol.com and I'll share them on this blog site.
Brag on shows you worked on, rave about shows you saw, but no negative put-downs, please. (I don't believe in "Worst of the Year" lists, either.)
I'll start with the non-musical productions. First Stage presented two this year, including The Bully Plays and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - both terrific productions packed with outstanding young talent. One tackled a very important topic, while the other brought a classic story of love and redemption to life.
It was a great year for Shakespeare - the Alban Theatre started the year off strongly with an excellent traditional production of Richard III, and ARTS offered an ingenious twist on Julius Caesar, placing it in the setting of a modern political drama, complete with an array of TV monitors - it was an outstanding production.
The Alban Theatre is one of the newest in the area, but they presented several terrific shows this year, including Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, Jonathan Joy's Princess of Rome, Ohio, and one of the year's best plays, The Tennessee Williams Project, the ingenious creation of the new Appalachian Artists Collective.
Marshall University's Theatre Alliance offered a new take on a classic horror tale in the excellent play Monster, bringing the Frankenstein story to life in an original and fresh fashion.
Another (relatively) new group, ACT, offered the surprisingly dark, thoughtful and moving tale of A Thousand Cranes in a special production presented to hundreds of students around the Tri-State.
ARTS certain didn't rest on its laurels, tackling six productions this year, including three non-musicals - Julius Caesar, and two outstanding comedies: the hilarious Laughter on the 23rd Floor, the Neil Simon play based around a team of comedy writers working on a hit TV show; and The Man Who Came to Dinner, the delightful story of an annoying guest who is hurt in a fall and turns a household upside down while recuperating. I love the show for the sharp script, the amazingly talented cast, the gifted director, and - I admit it - because I was part of the production, with a (mercifully) small but fun role. It was a blast!
Now, for the musicals! These actually fall into two categories - concerts and musicals:
Under concerts, the year started with Josh Meredith presenting his Senior Project at Marshall University - Josh M! - a (virtually) one-man singing and dancing showcase, and a heck of a lot of fun!
First United Methodist Church presented its annual fundraiser as a delightful mix of songs and comedy skits (and a great meal) in Laughing All the Way.
First Stage wrapped up 2014 with its annual alumni concert with Home for Christmas - and what a delight to see so many talented young adults back on stage in Huntington! I admit a special fondness for this show for several reasons: I directed it; it included a performance by son Evan (and a "Les Mis" duet with Evan Price); and it featured more than 20 amazingly talented young adults who grew up on stage in the Tri-State - a wonderful, heartwarming show!
First Stage also presented a musical that had never been staged in this area - the Broadway production It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman, complete with a high-flying Man of Steel, lots of amazing songs and a terrific cast (not to mention the cutest pre-show ever)!
CUP presented a non-Disney take on the adorable classic fairy tale in the delightful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Charleston Light Opera Guild (CLOG) tackled two major productions this year, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, a top-notch production of a very challenging show. (We'll talk about the other show in a second.)
This summer we saw the final production for Huntington Outdoor Theatre, but they went out on a high note with the high energy (and highly entertaining) Hairspray.
ARTS presented three terrific musicals in 2013, and I admit I adored each one. First was the amazing and inventive Cabaret, then the wonderful, larger-than-life How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, wrapping up with the powerhouse Civil War drama Shenandoah. Any of the three would find a comfortable spot at the top of any "Best of the Year" list.
If I were to compose such a list - which I'm not - there are two other shows that would be in the running, too. One is Marshall Theatre Alliance's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a riotous, wonderful, high-energy delight of a show - I could have watched it over and over again.
The other show is CLOG's other major production of the year, the excellent Les Miserables, a professional-quality production with an all-star cast, led by the phenomenal Ryan Hardiman as Jean Valjean. Top-notch in every sense!
My only regret for 2013, as always, is that I didn't get to see more shows! There's so much talent out there, I hate to miss any of the shows!
Hopefully I'll be able to catch more productions in 2014 - there are loads of terrific shows on the horizon!
Happy New Year, theater fans!