Our critics rank the best of 2012 in film, stage and music, and name our 10th Actor of the Year
Some years of theatergoing are better than others. This year was better — much better — than most.
First, there were two unforgettable touring shows (Bring It On! and American Idiot) that showed health on the national stage. There were premieres of shows here that didn’t quite work (Giant) that made their way to New York for a chance to evolve and become better. And then there was the home-grown talent (see also Actor of the Year, Page 25) that established, as if anyone still doubted it, that the North Texas theater community is vibrant and endlessly creative. Best of all, 2012 ended on a high note — higher than most even dream.
Here, then, from 10 to 1, my best local productions of 2012:
10. Ruth (Kitchen Dog Theater). Vicki Caroline Cheatwood’s world premiere play, debuting at the New Works Festival last summer, took a retelling of the biblical tale of Naomi and Ruth, transplanted it to Steinbeck’s California and then again to present-day Oklahoma in a subtly affecting parable about immigration and bigotry.
9. The Most Happy Fella (Lyric Stage). This rarely performed American opera, with a restored original score overseen by composer Frank Loesser’s widow Jo Sullivan, was a grandly entrancing entertainment with a stellar cast.
8. The Night of the Iguana (Contemporary Theatre of Dallas). Director Rene Moreno discovered something most directors don’t in this, Tennessee Williams’ last great play: Its wicked sense of humor. Actress Cindee Mayfield reinvented herself as a blowsy slut, but she was matched sweat-bead for sweat-bead by Ashley Wood and Terry Vandivort.
7. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety (Dallas Theater Center). Talk about a daring recipe: Mix the world of professional wrestling with the environment of theater of the mind and add the street patois of Latino culture and this hodgepodge show — sexy, smart, insightful — became the unlikeliest drama of the season to take you into a new world.
6. The Farnsworth Invention (Theatre 3). One of two Theatre 3 shows to make my list (a third, Avenue Q, just missed), this Aaron Sorkin drama about the birth of television was directed with whip-smart efficiency by Jeffrey Schmidt and acted by a standout cast led by Alex Organ and especially Jakie Cabe as NBC visionary David Sarnoff.
5. Becky Shaw (KDT). Playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s reductionist play of the theater of upper-class misogynists, usually the purview of Neil LaBute and David Mamet, got a witheringly intelligent and hilarious treatment — the laughs came as fast and furious as the dialogue.
4. Oklahoma! (Lyric). We’ve almost become inured to Lyric’s tradition of reviving classics with a vigor rarely seen since the heyday of Broadway, and given the chance to revisit Rodgers & Hammerstein’s masterpiece — and have Cheryl Denson direct it with Jay Dias conducting — proves that the Great American Musical is no more alive than in Irving, Texas. New York wishes they could do a show this good.
3. The Producers (Uptown Players). Dallas’ gayest theater troupe tackled the gayest modern musical — a massive undertaking, even at their still-newish home at the Kalita — and demonstrated how a scrappy, smallish company can attract the best talent (including B.J. Cleveland in a bespoke role as maniacal Max Bialystock) and turn out jokes, dance, singing and style with dizzying energy that plays right to their audience. We were enraptured.
2. Superior Donuts (Theatre 3). The second show on the list from a company that celebrated 50 seasons in Dallas, this small-scale comedy-drama by Tracy Letts about a weary shop-owner (Van Quattro) enlivened after meeting an ambitious young man (Chris Piper) was a character-driven delight, fleshed out by terrific turns from Rick Espaillat, Carolyn Wickwire and Brandi Andrade.
1. On the Eve (Nouveau 47 and Spacegrove Productions). Literally saving the best for last, this creatively explosive original musical from locals Seth and Shawn Magill and Michael Federico, was the can’t-miss production of the year — a dangerous guerrilla enterprise spanning space and time, with a score that makes you feel as if you are at the first of Spring Awakening or Rent. It’ll be talked about for years.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 28, 2012.