BWW Critic's Choices: Best of 2013 in Central PA

It's time for Broadway World's annual review of the past year in theatre, and for Broadway World writers to reveal their very favorite things of the past season.

The past year has provided some exciting theatre in Central Pennsylvania. The excitement has been at both professional and community theatres, where some exceptional work has been performed. This critic's personal "Best of" for 2013 in the area is here:

BEST PLAYS: This was a mostly-community-theatre arena this past year. Many larger theatres have to do musicals to make a go of things, as most people seem to prefer musical theatre. And other theatres exist on the premise that musicals will be performed there. But there's still a place for well-written, well-performed straight play, especially in this writer's heart. Here are the shows I'd single out, in no particular order:

1)ANGELS IN AMERICA (Parts 1 and 2) at Ephrata Performing Arts Center. It's a marathon feat even when not at its best, and this was some of the best. Brilliantly produced and acted, well-paced, and featuring what to this writer was the best performance of the entire season, Richard Bradbury's turn as the dying Roy Cohn, former aide to Senator Joe McCarthy in both parts of the production.

2)THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON at Susquehanna Stage Co. in Marietta. It's now under-produced and rarely seen, but is still a solid, well-written men's ensemble drama that showcases the issues that run underneath long-term friendships and sometimes bubble up to the surface. Things are never quite what they seem. Jim Johnson did a fine job with the direction of this piece.

3)MY NAME IS ASHER LEV at Gamut Theatre/Harrisburg Shakespeare Company. Tom Weaver's Asher Lev compares favorably with his Off-Broadway counterpart. So did the entire production.

4)JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE at Open Stage of Harrisburg. It's a very long play. It never felt like it. Some of the best acting of the year was in this production, from the entire cast. Well played, Open Stage.

BEST MUSICALS: Again in no particular order of personal preference. Here's where professional theatres often excel over their community counterparts, thanks to greater resources. But that doesn't make all professionally-produced musicals good, or negate some excellent community theatre work:

1)SOUTH PACIFIC at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre. Debra Thais Evans as Bloody Mary was a revelation, and can come back to Dutch Apple anytime. This show was one of those times that everything came together and that the needed power-singers knocked their songs out of the ballpark.

2)CABARET at York Little Theatre. Black box/Studio Theatre work rarely translates into stunning musical, and I was doubtful. But Chad-Alan Carr's Emcee is one of the best I've seen, professional or non-professional, and a delightful interpretation of the Alan Cumming Emcee. The director made the intimacy of the space transform perfectly into intimate nightclub space for the KitKat Club as opposed to feeling cramped. It worked, and there was magic on stage.

3)A CHORUS LINE at the Fulton Theatre. Marc Robin's re-staging of the Michael Bennett classic with his own choreography was too hot to handle for a number of people but was a fine, Fosse-laden reinterpretation of the original, which despite nostalgic belief is not sacred. Jessica Lee Goldyn brought her Broadway characterization of Cassie to the Fulton Stage, and Nathaniel Shaw was a particularly fine Zach. Yes, there were some issues with the show, but overall this was a spectacular production and both Marc Robin and the Fulton should be proud of it.

4)HAIRSPRAY at Allenberry Playhouse. Robert Gadpaille's Edna Turnblad was everything an Edna should be - sharp, sassy, and wielding a mean iron. Casey Weems' Velma Von Tussle was equally perfect. The battle of the mothers alone was worth the price of admission.

FAVORITE PERFORMANCES: Critic's picks follow, also in no particular order.

1)Aaron Bomer in JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE

2)Richard Bradbury in ANGELS IN AMERICA

3)Chad-Alan Carr in CABARET

4)Robert Gadpaille in ANNIE and HAIRSPRAY (both at Allenberry Playhouse)

5)Debra Thais Evans in SOUTH PACIFIC and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS (also at Dutch Apple)

6)Jessica Lee Goldyn in A CHORUS LINE

7)Elizabeth Pattey in ASSASSINS (Ephrata Performing Arts Center)

8)Anne Alsedek in A CHRISTMAS MEMORY (Open Stage of Harrisburg)

We're looking forward to seeing equally fine work coming from these and other area theatres in 2014. Stay tuned.

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From This Author Marakay Rogers

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