Critical rankings of the best of 2015 in stage
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Without doing an exact count, I would hazard to guess that I saw fewer stage productions in North Texas in 2015 than I did the year previously, but probably saw more excellent theater than at any time in recent memory. That’s sometimes the nature of the lively arts: A rising tide lifts all boats (there’s no denying that, following heavy losses with the deaths of Jac Alder, Nye Cooper, Terry Dobson and others, the theater community bounced back in a quasi act of defiance). Uptown Players has a legendary season (even its bonus spoof show, Gilligan’s Fire Island, was among its best), but Dallas Theater Center offered three world premieres, Kitchen Dog made good use of its new temporary space and Lyric continued to make us wonder when the regional Tony Award will finally be presented. Kudos, guys — we couldn’t imagine a better way to end the year.
10. Pippin (Dallas Summer Musicals/Performing Arts Fort Worth) The best touring production of the year (and there were several good ones, including a rich, Broadway-bound Sound of Music) is this enchanting revival of the Stephen Schwartz/Bob Fosse time-capsule from the 1970s, made fresh and engaging by an exceptional cast that included the original Pippin (John Rubenstein) now as Charlamagne, and former sexpot Adrienne Barbeau astonishing as Pippin’s grandma.
9. The Show About Men (DGDG). To be honest, the original description of this combination play/ dance/performance art piece left me wondering whether it was gonna be self-indulgent navel-gazing or have any greater merit, and boy was there merit! Hilarious, moving, confessional — and, yes, underground-edgy — this hybrid work from Danielle Georgiou, Justin Locklear and their cast of men made audiences reconsider definitions of masculinity without getting preachy.
8. Grand Hotel (Lyric Stage). I practically reserve at least one slot each year for Lyric Stage, which produces the kind of large-scale musicals like no place else in America (and we mean nowhere). There are actually two spots this year, with Grand Hotel — a rarely-performed portmanteau musical with scope and characters to go on for days — making the first appearance on the list. Such magnificent singing and characterizations (especially from Christopher J. Deaton, Mary-Margaret Pyeatt and Andy Baldwin) made 1920s Berlin soar.
7. The Down Low (Audacity Theatre Lab). Danny O’Connor’s experimental play — the venue was the director’s living room in East Dallas; the audience at each performance barely the size of the cast — makes for an uncomfortable two hours of absurdist comedy about a closeted gay man, the dead African-American in his bedroom as well as spies, stoners and who-knows-what else.
6. The Totalitarians (Kitchen Dog Theater). Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s eerily timely dissection of a political campaign — with a brain-dead but incidentally evil candidate (Tina Parker) that hits surprising success with meaningless Trump-like rhetoric — gave us the funniest production of the year.
5. The Flick (Undermain Theater). The winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Flick is a play about movies … that’s just as much about the close-knit trio of people onstage and how they interact.
4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Uptown Players). John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask created this meta-musical, a real-time concert by a notorious transgender East German pop star who was dumped by her lover once he became too famous to be “gay.” It’s a thrilling piece of rock opera given heft by great characterizations (from Kyle Igneczi and Grace Neeley as his side man), directed with boundless energy by Jeremy Dumont.
3. South Pacific (Lyric Stage). Rodgers & Hammerstein are still the masters of musical theater, who transformed Vaudeville revues into socially-aware portraits of the American (and human) experience. Lyric did it up right with this full-on revival, starring Janelle Lutz as a naïve farm girl given lessons in life when she falls for a mysterious and sexy plantation owner in a war-torn island nation. It felt as fresh as it must have to audiences 60 years ago.
2. Colossal (Dallas Theater Center). Kevin Moriarty transformed the space of the Wyly Theatre into a bleachers-filled football stadium in this world premiere work about a young man felled in a fluke accident on the field who has a lot more to hide than his disability. Tender and sexy, thrilling and thoughtful, Colossal turns a curious eye at the intersection of sports, art and sexuality.
1. The Nance (Uptown Players). Chauncey (B.J. Cleveland) is one of the true headliners of the fast-disappearing burlesque circuit, a comic genius renowned for his performance of “The Nance,” the flamboyant and suggestive gay character. He’s also secretly queer (and openly Republican), hiding in plain sight while he seduces budding hustlers back to his apartment for hook-ups. When he meets a young man (Sterling Gafford) whose guilelessness intrigues him, Chauncey discovers love … but at an immense cost. Douglas Carter Beane’s hilariously heartbreaking period piece — part cabaret, part Sunshine Boys, all soul — was the year’s most breathless wonder, staggeringly well-directed by Bruce R. Coleman and performed exquisitely by Cleveland, Gafford and the entire cast. It was 2015’s highlight in a theater. •
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2015.