BWW's Michael L. Quintos Picks His Best of So. California Theater for 2012

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As expected (thankfully) 2012 provided Southern California audiences--specifically here in Orange County and nearby Los Angeles and San Diego--a season full of outstanding, remarkable theater offerings from touring companies, impressive regional productions, and even some tiny black box theaters.

And, of course, as is the common practice during the ushering of a new year, the enjoyable past-time of putting together my year-end "best of" list is something I truly look forward to doing, especially when there's a plethora of great work to choose from--many of which I had the pleasure of reviewing exclusively for BroadwayWorld.

But, alas, I have to divulge a bit of a caveat: while 2012 was indeed a banner year for plays, musicals, and cabaret concerts from visiting Broadway talent, I'm afraid it was just near impossible to watch every offering available.

You see, on a personal note, 2012 also marked the year in which I felt it necessary to scale back on reviews and interviews for BWW in order to devote more time to, yup, actually performing on stage myself. Unfortunately, this meant fewer opportunities to attend opening nights and press performances, which may have impacted the results of this very list (for example, I heard nothing but great things about Celebration Theatre's The Color Purple, Theatre Out's Cabaret, Over The Moon's Spring Awakening, 3D Theatrical's Avenue Q, and the West Coast production of Silence! The Musical... so, I bet any of these would have made my list had I seen them. Sigh).

But the trade-off for me was a really fun year of performing on various stages, including the chance to be a part of my singing group's all-male (!) version of The Sound of Music (I played Gretl Von Trapp, believe it or not) and also, ending the year with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of sharing the stage with the legendary Liza Minnelli (you clever readers can find photos from the show right here on BWW).

With that said, here is my Top 10 Stage Shows of 2012, followed by my picks for the year's best performances. Happy New Year! (I also invite you, dear readers, to post your own Best-Of list in the comment section below!)

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1. THE BOOK OF MORMON
First National Tour
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles

At long last, one of the most buzzed-about new musicals to hit the Great White Way finally made a triumphant bow in the West Coast -- and, boy, did it ever live up to expectations. Giddy, crass, and surprisingly heart-felt, this Best Musical Tony winner full of winking cynicism and reverent nods to past Broadway musicals is truly a genius concoction that's both fresh yet comfortably familiar. Here, AVENUE Q's Robert Lopez and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have produced, hands down, the best, most thoroughly-entertaining musical comedy to ever be mounted on a stage in quite some time. It's rude, crude, and shamelessly offensive... and you're going to adore every single minute of it. This easily nudged its way into my Top 5 favorite shows of all time.

2. FOLLIES
Broadway Transfer
Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles

Opulent, gorgeous and supremely lush, Stephen Sondheim's unstructured musical about aging ex-showgirls reuniting at a dilapidated old theater--an almost exact transfer of the Tony-nominated revival that wowed audiences in New York and Washington D.C.--was certainly a welcome "replacement" for the shuttered FUNNY GIRL revival that never came to fruition. Featuring arguably the composer's most beautifully-written score which was then interpreted by a roster of staggeringly good actors, this thrice-only incarnation was something you couldn't possibly miss. Plus, the show also proved that even Broadway Babies of a certain age can sing circles around their much younger peers.

3. THE CAR PLAYS
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego

Produced by LA's Moving Arts, THE CAR PLAYS is one of the most thrilling theater experiences you will ever sit through--or rather, get stuck in (and in a good way). At times moving, at times hilariously cringe-worthy, and at other times downright uncomfortable, this high-concept experiment is about as in-your-face as site-specific theater gets. One by one, ushers escort (then trap!) an audience of two inside the confined space of a vehicle for five randomly appointed 10-minute mini-plays that unfold right in front of you. Frightening yet cool, right? Seek this out if it is ever presented at a theater parking lot near you.

4. SCOTTSBORO BOYS
San Diego Production
The Old Globe, San Diego

Thought-provoking, emotionally-stirring, and unflinchingly tragic, this controversial and (unfortunately) short-lived Kander and Ebb musical mixes a hot-button storyline with bits of minstrel show comedy and an ebullient score--which together, produced an astonishing musical that moved me more than any other I saw this year. Hints of playfulness and vaudevillian melodies that underscored heartbreak and injustice easily seared themselves into me long after the final curtain fell. Just brilliant.

5. MAN OF LA MANCHA
Regional Production
Musical Theatre West, Long Beach

With two impressive lead stars at the forefront of a fresh, dynamic re-staging of a classic work, MTW's exceptional production of the 1965 Tony Award-winning musical is by far the most complex, beautifully-rendered regional production I saw this past year. A laudable blend of strong musical performances, sublime visual artistry, and a labyrinthine story, this intensely-moving production proved once again that MTW is still one of the area's most exciting, top-tier regional theater companies.

6. MISS SAIGON
Regional Production
La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts, La Mirada

And speaking of top-tier regional theater companies, this surprisingly full-scale revival of the West End/Broadway hit was not only a feast for those with a penchant for big, grandiose theatrics, it was also pleasing to those seeking to hear the show's lovely, euphoric score performed by a really talented ensemble.

7. ELEMENO PEA
Regional Production
South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa

By far my favorite play of the year (that didn't take place inside a car), Molly Smith Metzler's funny new American play cracks wise like an intelligent TV sitcom, full of biting sarcasm and of-the-moment snark. Wry humor and even a surprising amount of pathos are sprinkled generously in this hilarious portrait of people--both rich and poor--equally behaving badly.

8. A CHORUS LINE
Regional Production
3D Theatricals, Fullerton

Despite a gluttony of productions from small community theaters and high school auditoriums to regional houses and touring venues over the past few decades, one would think that seeing this ubiquitous show for the umpteenth time would be a tiresome exercise. Thankfully, 3DT's fine, top-notch iteration is an enjoyable one, buoyed mostly by its staging, choreography, lighting, costumes, and a terrific ensemble cast. And, man, that kick-line still gets me.

9. JUSTIN LOVE: A NEW MUSICAL
Regional Production
Celebration Theatre, Los Angeles

The most beguiling new musical of the year, JUSTIN LOVE is an unlikely fairy tale (in earthly, WeHo clothing, of course) that's witty, smart, lively, funny, and--ohmigosh--unabashedly romantic. And the best surprise of all? You'll find yourself actually rooting for the biggest, most villainous bitch in the room even as the narrative goes barreling forward towards its happy, oh-so-Hollywood ending. So adorkable.

10. THE ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL
First National Tour
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

With its earlier Broadway reputation wiped away like a bad nightmare, this re-tooled roadshow version--a funny yet tender blend of wickedness and heart--was charmingly corny, ghoulishly droll, and genuinely hilarious from top to bottom. It helped, too, that the gifted Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger led the eponymous clan's high-kicking high-jinks.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

ALLEGIANCE: A NEW AMERICAN MUSICAL
(Pre-Broadway World Premiere)
Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (National Tour)
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles

LES MISERABLES (National Tour)
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

THE PRODUCERS (In Concert)
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles

TRACES (National Tour)
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

WEST SIDE STORY
Chance Theater, Anaheim Hills

BEST BROADWAY CONCERT
(Tie) "In Conversation with Stephen Sondheim" featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell & Christine Ebersole; and Kristin Chenoweth in Concert at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

BEST CABARET/JAZZ SHOWCASE
Jane Monheit & John Pizzarelli (Double Bill)
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

BEST SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT
TEATRO ZINZANNI: Love, Chaos & Dinner
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

BWW's Michael L. Quintos Picks His Best of So. California Theater for 2012

PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR

Jan Maxwell, Victoria Clark, Ron Raines,
Danny Burstein, Elaine Paige, Terri White
FOLLIES, Ahmanson Theatre

Alet Taylor
JUSTIN LOVE: A NEW MUSICAL, Celebration Theatre

Christopher Sieber
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (Tour),
Pantages Theatre, Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Clifton Duncan
SCOTTSBORO BOYS, The Old Globe

Gwen Stewart
HAIRSPRAY, 3D Theatricals

Joseph Foronda
MISS SAIGON, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Katrina Lenk
ELEMENO PEA, South Coast Repertory

Peter Lockyer
LES MISERABLES (Tour), Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Rachelle Rose Clark
SPRING AWAKENING, Theatre Out

Tammi Tappan Damiano
SPAMALOT, Musical Theatre West

Tracy Lore
42ND STREET, Musical Theatre West

Jared Gertner & Gavin Creel
THE BOOK OF MORMON (Tour), Pantages Theatre

Davis Gaines & Lesli Margherita
MAN OF LA MANCHA, Musical Theatre West

Lea Salonga & Telly Leung
ALLEGIANCE: A NEW AMERICAN MUSICAL, The Old Globe

Richard Kind & Dane Cook
THE PRODUCERS, Hollywood Bowl

Felicia Boswell & Bryan Fenkart
MEMPHIS (Tour)
Pantages Theatre, Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Douglas Sills & Sara Gettelfinger
THE ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL (Tour)
Pantages Theatre, Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Tessa Auberjonois & JD Cullum
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, South Coast Repertory

Danny Moreno & Kalinda Gray
AVENUE Q, Theatre Out

The Cast of Forbidden Broadway 2, Musical Theatre West

The Cast of PRINCE OF ATLANTIS, South Coast Repertory


Photo credits (from top to bottom): Gavin Creel in THE BOOK OF MORMON by Joan Marcus; Davis Gaines in MAN OF LA MANCHA by Ken Jacques; Jan Maxwell in FOLLIES by Craig Schwartz; Kevin Odekirk and Jacqueline Nguyen in MISS SAIGON by Michael Lamont.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

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Michael L. Quintos Michael Lawrence Quintos is a quiet, mild-mannered Art Director by day. But as night falls, he regularly performs on various stages everywhere as a Counter-Tenor soloist, actor, and dancer for The Men Alive Chorus since 2002. He's sung everything from Broadway, Jazz, R&B, Classical, Gospel and Pop. His musical theater roots started early, performing in various school musical productions and a couple of nationally-televised programs. The performing bug eventually brought him a brief championship run in the Philippines' version of "Star Search" before moving to Las Vegas at age 11. College brought him out to Orange County, California, where he earned a BFA in Graphic Design and a BA in Film Screenwriting. He has spent several years as a designer and art director for various entertainment company clients, while spending his free time watching or performing in shows.

Follow Michael on Twitter at: twitter.com/cre8iveMLQ.


 
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