Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Our Top Rated Plays and Musicals for 2013

In 2013, we saw 90 staged performances of plays, musicals, and operas.  (For complete list see here.) This was an exceptional year, in our opinion for plays.  Narrowing our top-rated plays to the Top Ten was very difficult.  Musicals, at least those produced in the Bay Area, seemed to have an overall weaker year.  We list only the Top Seven in that category this year.  (There were many excellent touring musicals this year; but since we had seen all/most of them on Broadway in earlier years, we did not see most of them among our 2013 ninety.)

Among Bay Areas theatre companies, we gave the most “5” ratings (the top of our scale) to SF Playhouse (5 of their productions).  Right behind them was TheatreWorks with four “5”-ratings.  Altogether, 17 local companies had at least one production we rated “5,” a testament to the amazing theatre scene of the SF Bay Area.  (We attended plays and musicals at 31 different Bay Area companies in 2013.)

Our Top Ten SF Bay Plays of 2013

10.  “Abigail’s Party” - Mike Leigh, San Francisco Playhouse
[A biting, disco infused satire of British suburbia in the 70's is a party. Beverly and Laurence host a drinks party for neighbors. The guests: new couple Angela and Tony, Sue, a divorcee whose daughter Abigail is having a rowdy party. After a series of awkward silences and arguments about music and art, Laurence, tense from the outset, dies of a heart attack.]

9.  “Ideation” - Aaron Loeb, San Francisco Playhouse
[A group of corporate consultants work together on a mysterious and ethically ambiguous project. They are brainstorming a new assignment: to design a system for disposal of dead bodies. Millions of them. Some of them not dead - yet.]

8.  “Wild with Happy” - Colman Domingo, TheatreWorks
[Mom passed away—now where to put her? A struggling black actor rejects the rituals of grief, opting instead for a rapturous road trip to the happiest place on earth.]

7.  “Black Watch” - Gregory Burke, A.C.T. (National Theatre of Scotland)
[Based on interviews with former soldiers, it portrays soldiers in the Black Watch regiment of the British Army serving on Operation TELIC in Iraq during 2004, prior to the amalgamation into the Royal Regiment of Scotland.]

6.  “Other Desert Cities” - Jon Robin Baitz, TheatreWorks
[A Hollywood star’s desert estate glows with Christmas cheer. But home for the holidays is daughter Brooke, a novelist whose tell-all memoir is sure to rip the politically-divided clan apart.]

5.  “The Whipping Man” - Matthew Lopez, Marin Theatre Company
[At the end of the Civil War, a Jewish Confederate soldier returns to find his once-grand home in ruins, occupied only by two of his family’s former slaves. The three men must grapple with their responsibility toward each other and the secrets they hold while celebrating Passover.]

4.  “The Chairs” - Eugène Ionesco, The Cutting Ball Theater
[An elderly couple who pass their time telling each other half-remembered stories. The Old Man resolves to convey his wisdom to a lifetime of friends, while the Old Woman frantically sets out chairs.]

3.  “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” - Mona Golabek, Hershey Felder, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
[Set in Vienna in 1938 and London during the Blitzkrieg, this one hander tells the true story of Mona Golabek's mother, Lisa Jura. As a young Jewish pianist, Lisa dreams of a concert debut at Musikverein concert hall. When Lisa is swept up in the Kindertransport to London in an attempt to protect her from the Nazi regime, everything about her life is upended -- except her love of music.]

2.  “The Mountaintop” - Katori Hall, TheatreWorks
[A Memphis motel, 1968. First night for a sassy maid and the last for an icon of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fresh from the speech of a lifetime. Show re-imagines the night before the tragedy.]

1.  “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” - Christopher Durang, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
[Chekhov is turned on his head in this new farce for our modern hyperconnected world. In bucolic Bucks County, PA, Vanya and Sonia have frittered their lives away in their family’s farmhouse full of regret, angst and the alarmingly ambiguous prophecies of their addled housecleaner Cassandra. Enter their sister, self-absorbed movie star Masha, with her prized 20-something boy toy Spike.]

Our Top 7 SF Bay Musicals of 2013

7.   “Camelot “- Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, San Francisco Playhouse
[A widescreen, punk-inspired look at the creaky musical of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.]

6.  “Little Women” - Allan Knee, Jason Howland, Mindi Dickstein, TheatreWorks
[Musical based on novel by Louisa May Alcott. Four precocious New England sisters come of age in this 1860s story. It follows independent Jo, traditional Meg, soft-spoken Beth, and vivacious Amy on their journey of personal discovery, romance, heartbreak, and enduring sisterhood.]

5.  “Being Earnest” - Paul Gordon, Jay Gruska, Oscar Wilde, TheatreWorks
[London,1965. This romantic pop musical moves Wilde’s comic masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest to a Carnaby Street flat, where mod music and morality inspire young love, but outrage Lady Bracknell, the keeper of tradition’s flame.]

4.  “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” - John Cameron Mitchell, Stephen Trask, Boxcar Theatre
[A musical of botched sex-change surgeries, historical ironies, worthless lovers, defiant anthems and showbiz injustice. Includes a roster of 8 different Hedwigs.]

3.  “The Fourth Messenger” - Tanya Shaffer, Vienna Teng, Ashby Theatre
[Musical loosely inspired by the life of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. Here the "awakened one" is a woman guru with a mysterious past. A crusading journalist finds more than she expected when pursuing an expose of the spiritual leader.]

2.  “Carrie The Musical” - Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford, Lawrence D. Cohen, Ray of Light Theatre
[Based on Stephen King’s novel. Musical reworked and re-imagined from B'way flop. Carrie White is a misfit. At school, she’s an outcast who’s bullied by the popular crowd. At home, she’s at the mercy of her loving yet cruelly over-protective mother. But Carrie’s just discovered she’s got a special power. And if pushed too far, she’s not afraid to use it.]

1.  “Beautiful The Carole King Musical” - Douglas McGrath, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, SHN (pre-Broadway world premiere)
[Tells the inspiring true story of King’s rise to stardom, alongside husband and co-writer Gerry Goffin and fellow song writers Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil]

Our Top 3 Operas of 2013

3.  “Dolores Claiborne” - Tobias Picker, J.D. McClathy, San Francisco Opera
[Based on Steven King novel. When housekeeper Dolores Claiborne is questioned in the death of her wealthy employer, a long-hidden dark secret from her past is revealed- how and why she killed her husband, Joe, 30 years ago.]

2.  “The Flying Dutchman” - Richard Wagner, San Francisco Opera
[A ship's captain is condemned to endlessly travel the seas in search of true love. Once every seven years he may leave his ship in search of a woman who will redeem him from his deathless wandering if she gives him faithful, absolute love. Enter the lovely Senta.]

1.  “The Barber of Seville” - Gicachino Rossini, Pierre Beaumorchais, San Francisco Opera
[Count Almaviva loves the beautiful Rosina, who is kept a virtual prisoner in the house of her lecherous guardian Dr. Bartolo. Almaviva hires jack-of-all-trades Figaro to liberate her.]

Our Top 6 “Outside the Bay Area” Plays of 2013

6.  “The Explorers Club” - Nell Benjamin, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York
[London, 1879. The prestigious Explorers Club is in crisis: their acting president wants to admit a woman, and their bartender is terrible. True, this female candidate is brilliant, beautiful, and has discovered a legendary Lost City, but the decision to let in a woman could shake the very foundation of the British Empire, and how do you make such a decision without a decent drink? Prepare for a farce of mad science involving deadly cobras, a guinea pig, irate Irishmen and the occasional airship.]

5.  “Trip to Bountiful” - Horton Foote, Stephen Sondheim Theatre, New York Cuba Gooding, Jr., Vanessa Williams, Cecely Tyson)
[The play involves a "woman who has to live with a daughter-in-law who hates her and a son who does not dare take her side." While the unhappy family lives in a Houston apartment, Carrie Watts dreams of returning to Bountiful, where she was raised. She eventually runs away and embarks by bus to her destination. She meets several people along the way and upon her arrival, she is wisked back to Houston by her son and daughter-in-law.]

4.  “Choir Boy” - Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York
[The all-black Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is the setting for this play with music that provides sometimes direct, sometimes allusive commentary in a coming-of-age work that explores the tug between tradition and self-expression in young black men. The effeminate Pharus wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school's legendary gospel choir. Can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key?]

3.  “The Nance” - Douglas Carter Beane, Lyceum (Nathan Lane)
[In 1937 Chauncey Miles is a star in a burlesque theatre in NYC, playing a "nance" or the stock character of an effeminate homosexual. Chauncey is gay and looks for men at an automat, but he must be careful or he could be arrested. There he meets younger Ned and they become romantically involved. Mayor La Guardia is trying to end burlesque, in part by persecuting the gay population. Chauncey, in court, defends burlesque and free expression. He also comes to understand that he cannot be monogamous with Ned.]

2.  “The Assembled Parties” - Richard Greenberg, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York (Jessica Hecht, Judith Light)
[The story of a Jewish family living on the Upper West Side of New York City told in 2 acts over a twenty-year period, 1980 to 2000. Set on two Christmas Days, it charts the decline of the Bascov family. It contemplate the legacies we leave to our families and friends when we do things that we know are wrong.]

1.  “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” - Mark Haddon, Simon Stephens, Apollo Theatre, London
[The fifteen-year-old narrator, Christopher, discovers the slain body of his neighbor’s poodle on the neighbor’s front lawn one evening and sets out to uncover the murderer. His investigation is at times aided, and at other times hampered, by the mild form of autism he lives with.]

Our Top 4 “Outside the Bay Area” Musicals of 2013

4.  “Cinderella” - Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Douglas Carter Beane, The Broadway, New York
[Orginally written for TV, Cinderella opens Prince Topher's eyes to the injustice in the kingdom. The prince's parents have died, leaving the kingdom in the hands of a villainous prime minister, who has been the prince's mentor and has duped his young charge into approving oppressive legislation. The rebel Jean-Michel, a new character, and stepsister Gabrielle are in love and seeking to overthrow the government.]

3.  “Top Hat” - Irving Berlin, Matthew White, Howard Jacques, Aldwych Theatre, London.
[Musical based on 1935 Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers move. An American dancer comes to London to star in a show where he meets and attempts to impress a woman in a hotle room below him and to win her affection.]

2.  “Kinky Boots” - HarveyFierstein, Cindi Lauper, Al Hirschfield Theater, New York (Billy Porter)
[Based on the 2005 British film about a struggling, family-owned English shoe factory that avoids bankruptcy when its young boss, Charlie, develops a plan to produce custom fetish-type footwear for drag artists rather than the men's dress shoes. In order to save his workers from losing their source of income, Charlie partners with Lola, a drag queen, to save the business he inherited.]

1.  “Pippin” - Roger O. Hirson, Stephen Schwartz, The Music Box/American Repertory Theater, New York (Patina Miller, Andrea Martin)
[A mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player, tells the story of Pippin, a young prince on his search for meaning and significance.]

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