It has been a stellar year in the Bay Area for theatre. So many wonderful productions, so many amazing performances, and just another year confirming that if you are a theatre lover, you can see lots of great work happening in whatever part of the Bay you inhabit.
While I have seen many productions over the course of this calendar year, it was hard to to select only ten from my list. The bigger venues such as SHNSF and San Jose Rep have had excellent years, and smaller companies such as City Lights and The Pear Avenue Theatre continue to crank out quality work.
In order of production month, here are my top ten shows of the year, along with an explanation as to why it made my list, and a link to the original review:
1. “Hedda Gabler” – City Lights Theatre Company, San Jose (April)
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Interpreted by Brian Friel
Directed by Virginia Drake
City Lights’ phenomenal production of Ibsen’s infamous anti-heroine featured a powerful ensemble cast and an exquisite performance in the title role by Hayley Galbraith. Virginia Drake’s strong direction gave wonderful insight, helping to tell the story of a bored housewife grappling with the banality of her new existence.
2. “Wild With Happy” – TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (June)
Written by Colman Domingo
Directed by Danny Scheie
Colman Domingo’s journey to take his mother’s ashes to Disneyworld, directed with flair and substance by Scheie, made for a joyous piece of theatre. What further strengthened the piece was the masterful turn by Sharon Washington in dual roles, playing both Domingo’s mother and sister.
3. “Reefer Madness” – San Jose Stage Company (June)
Book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney
Directed by Tony Kelly
This piece of irreverent hilarity was big, bold and downright zany. Strong choreography, joyous and wild little ditties and a whole lot of “Stuff” made this a sure entry into the top ten.
4. “This is How it Goes” – Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by Tom Ross
In classic LaBute prose, “This is How it Goes” is shocking in its cavalier attitude towards race, with the last speech haunting and effective. Watching this show in the unique three-quarter space gave the audience the perspective of seeing each other’s reactions, which was fascinating unto itself. The strong cast of Gabriel Marin and acting maestros Aldo Billingslea and Carrie Paff cohered wonderfully.
5. “Spamalot “– Hillbarn Theatre, Foster City (September)
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed by Dan Demers
In the great sendup of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The folks at Hillbarn created a big, silly show that featured some joyous performances by its principal actors, further cementing its extension-worthy status.
6. “One Night With Janis Joplin” – San Jose Repertory Theatre (September)
Created, written and directed by Randy Johnson
The Rep is off to an amazingly fast start in its latest season, starting out with this piece that focuses solely on the music of Joplin, and not on the darker aspects of her life. Kacee Clanton is a fireball that whales and blows all over the stage, bringing back all the timeless hits like “Summertime,” “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart.” A hot band and some big-throated backup vocalists helped the show break the Rep’s own box office records
7. “The Tempest” – The Pear Avenue Theatre, Palo Alto (October)
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jeanie K. Smith
Shakespeare’s final play, ripe with magic, fantasy and wisdom, which may have been his farewell to an extraordinary theatre career, was handled marvelously in the sublimely intimate theatre at the Pear. Diane Tasca provided a solid grounding as the Tempest, with a delicate handling of Shakespeare’s most lovely poetry.
8. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” – SHNSF (October)
Book by Douglas McGrath. Songs by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Directed by Marc Bruni
This pre-Broadway run was given a huge boost by the dazzling turn of singer/actress Jessie Mueller. It also featured King’s scintillating catalogue, with many songs taken from the vinyl of legendary album “Tapestry,” among others.
9. “Next Fall “– San Jose Repertory Theatre (October)
Written by Geoffrey Nauffts
Directed by Kirsten Brandt
A show featuring Danny Scheie, James Carpenter and Rachel Harker, to name a few, cannot miss, and absolutely did not miss. This show is one that doesn’t leave your mind when the curtains close. So many powerful moments, from deep frustration to boiling anger, and then fulfilling love, all went into making this show an absolute winner.
10. “It’s a Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play” – San Jose Stage Company (December)
Adapted by Joe Landry
Directed by Randall King
Is the movie ridiculously sappy? Absolutely, and that’s exactly the way people like it. The popular Frank Capra film, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is made remarkably warm in the Stage’s exquisite adaptation, which is set in a radio studio. George Bailey, Clarence, and all the bells and wings we’ve come to know and love creates the perfect piece to get folks into the holiday spirit.
May the New Year bring you all health, happiness and prosperity. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading, as well as thank you for your emails, invitations to your shows, disagreements and going out to support all the great work we have in our area. All the happiest of playgoing in 2014!