11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015

Let's hear it for 2015! Beyond it being the year of Hamilton, it also brought other notable theatricalizations, retellings and revivals. We are examining the structures in place and breaking them down. As in film, we are rebooting, remaking, and continuing the stories set forth by our (sometimes very immediate) predecessors. Some of the best shows focused on the lensing of their story: who gets to tell the story and the politics behind all that.

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Spring Awakening

Michael Arden turns a revival no one asked for into the theatrical event of the year. Deaf West's inspiring production deepens and expands the universe created in the original 2005 production using a careful interplay of spoken word, sign and silence to breathe new life into the blunt book. Every song is a showstopper performed by the outstanding young ensemble executing lyrical ASL integrated choreography by Spencer Liff. The gorgeous melodies lead to the crazy beast that is "Totally Fucked," featuring Ben Stanton's rock-star lighting descending out of nowhere (just one of the awesome moments from the best lighting of the year). Alex Boniello and Daniel N. Durant create a deeply troubled Moritz in tandem, and Krysta Rodriguez is easily giving her best performance yet as Ilse. You have until January 24th to see it- stop putting it off. (Presented by Deaf West)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015

St. Joan of the Stockyards

Peter Kleinert's production of Brecht's rarely seen slaughterhouse strike epic was radically inventive. Beginning as a simple staged reading, it quickly took full advantage of Irondale's cavernous space (Ken Rothschild did the transforming scenic design) through extreme communal staging. The audience and actors were brought together through hilarious and never painful interactions. Highlights include Joan (a winning Erika Strasburg) selflessly serving soup or a PR photo op from the soulless slaughterhouse investors led by the charismatic Celeste Ciulla as the slimy Susan Slift. Through epic theatrics and attached detachment, this 20th century classic fully immersed you in the bitter critique of humanity. Yay Brecht! (Presented by Irondale Ensemble)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015

Hamilton

What else can be said about Lin-Manuel Miranda's seminal Hip-Hopera? Miranda takes the classic musical theatre form and amplifies it to new heights with his score, book, and central performance in Hamilton. Paul Tazewell's glamorous period costumes grounded us in this lush theatrical 1700's (mad props to the androgynous, but still period, duds for the ensemble girls). The regal costumes were perfectly tailored to Andy Blankenbuehler's hip hop meets contra choreography. And all the praises for Renée Elise Goldsberry's super fierce performance as Angelica. Though I attended the show while still at the Public, I could only imagine all of these elements amplified in the smash Broadway run. (Originally presented by The Public Theater)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015

Let The Right One In

John Tiffany's characteristically moody production of Let The Right One In gave us a chance to see the prolific director tackle pure melodrama with spectacular results. Frequent collaborator Steven Hogget's movement was particularly beautiful set amidst Christine Jones's winter-scape. Jack Thorne's adaptation of that now semi-frequently adapted vampire romance never stalls and gives an intriguing homoerotic charged lens of bullying. Being a melodrama, the big sensation scene included a water tank onstage in which Oskar (an affecting Christian Ortega) is convincingly drowned. The audience was breathless way before, mostly from Rebecca Benson's hauntingly beautiful, ageless portrayal of Eli. (Presented by The National Theatre of Scotland at St. Anne's Warehouse)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo by: Carol Rosegg

Gloria

As an ambitious 20-something, I identified with the insufferable principal characters of Branden Jacobs-Jenkin's latest masterpiece. As if the bitchiness and antiheroism wasn't enough for the relevant first act, Jacobs threw in an eye popping act-one finale that left my heart thumping more than it's ever thumped in a theatre. Evan Cabnet's masterful production moved between three fully realized locations in Takeshi Kata's naturalist set where a chintzy red curtain is the only thing separating this world from reality. (Presented by Vineyard Theatre)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo Credit: Hunter Canning

Ms. Julie Asian Equities

It's intimate homegrown theatre--- literally. Leegrid Stevens's thrilling update of Strindberg's Miss Julie was done right in his apartment. Under the direction of Ryan Pointer, set designer Carolyn Mraz transformed this space into a menacing Wall Street office ruled by Erin Treadway's ferocious Julie. The adaptation follows the beats of the original, but the intimacy and outstanding performances from the three-person cast made it an unforgettable new experience. (Presented by Loading Dock Theatre)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo Credit: Jan Versweyveld

A View From The Bridge

Ivo Van Hove has rightfully taken over the New York theatre scenes with his buzzy productions of late. His Broadway debut is a sexy, epic production that more resembles an expertly conceived Greek tragedy than a 50's american realist play. Arthur Miller's look at immigration, pride, and gay panic is maximized using breathtaking tableaus and must see performances led by Mark Strong's tragically antiheroic Eddie Carbone. The production is currently scheduled to run through February 21st. (presented by The Young Vic and Lincoln Center Theater)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo Credit: Cory Weaver

Oklahoma!

Daniel Fish debasicifies a classic. This presumed-to-be dated show was performed in an authentic dance hall, with the audience at tables in an arena fashion. Cornbread is made onstage (by Mary Testa no less) and served along with helpings of scary small town mob mentality. Damon Daunno and Amber Gray, each with gorgeous, unique voices, were sizzling as legendary lovers Curly and Laurey. All of the performers, including the onstage bluegrass band, gave constant life (and eerie neutrality when called for) to the most famous musical of all time. Multimedia and radical conventions make this Oklahoma! much more chilling than you might remember. I've had to justify its relevance and coolness to so many people. I'm sure they'll get it soon whenever it inevitably hits the city. (presented by Bard College part of Bard Summer Scape)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo Credit: Kevin Frest

Comfort Dogs

Perhaps a look at a post apocalyptic world left to our dogs, Comfort Dogs is a plotless wonder wrought by the ambitious, expressionist playwright William Burke. The words, which sound pretty authentic to what puppies might actually say, are set to a groovy 70's tinged score by Shane Chapman (think The Band) and performed by a talented cast of actor/singer/musicians who are all incredibly lovable and look awesome in their moddy costumes by Enver Chakartash. The musical is further punctuated by actual dogs (!!!) roaming, sleeping, and howling throughout the space. (Presented by JACK)

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo by: James Leynse

Lives of the Saints

Building on the success of the acclaimed 2013 revival of All in the Timing, Lives of the Saints was a brilliant sequel/reboot of David Ives's philosophically minded, frequently performed, 1993 anthology of short comic plays. Reuniting much of the team of the revival, the new collection of sketches hilariously illuminates our relationship to friendships, time, morality, and, closure. Once again, Carson Elrod leads the ensemble with a command of language and physical comedy, John Rando directs the sketches with the finesse of 6 full productions, and Beowulf Boritt's maximizes the small space with sleek, forced perspective sets. A successful theatrical brand expansion, I look forward to these new shorts inevitably performed across the country.

11 Awesome Theatre Happenings of 2015
Photo Credit: Micharne Cloughley

The Way They Live

A perfect encapsulation to lensing on art, The Civilians wrapped up their Metropolitan Museum of Art residency with a spectacular showcase of devised monologues and songs from the employees and patrons of the museums American Wing. Art and racial theory often clashed from responses and critiques of the vast collection, most movingly in Michael Friedman's "John Brown," adapted from a young black man's response to Thomas Hovenden's painting. "In All Directions", the End of the Trail inspired finale composed and sung by Ty Defoe, tied the evening together perfectly through a Native American perspective rarely seen in theatre (and he plays no less than three indigenous instruments!). You can watch the whole thing here! (presented by Met Museum)


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