Editor's Top Picks in Connecticut 2013

Paul Giamatti in Hamlet. Photo © Joan Marcus.
Ronn Carroll and Harry Bouvy. Photo: Lanny Nagler
Mamie Parris and Bill Nolte. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

As always, Connecticut's professional theaters offerered a bountiful selection of excellent theater in 2013. It's hard to pick just a few, but here are some of the year's standouts from the theaters I cover for BroadwayWorld.com:

Goodspeed: Rob Ruggiero helmed a delightful production of THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. Bill Nolte and Mamie Parris teamed for sentimental, lovely portrayals in the moving love story set against Frank Loesser's charming score with choreography by Parker Esse. A really satisfying night at the theater. Also charming at Goodspeed was KLea Blackurst in the lead in HELLO DOLLY. A cross between Ethel Merman and Bette Midler, Blackhurst put her own stamp on the iconic role and led a dazzling production.

Yale Repretory: A middle-aged HAMLET took the ivy-league town by storm. Audiences (and critics) either loved Paul Giamatti or hated him in the much-talked-about, hot-ticket production directed by Artistic Director James Bundy (and also starring Marc Kudish). I was in the "loved it" camp. Giamatti was funny and brooding and simply fabulous and Bundy's fresh interpretation of scenes had me thinking, "but, of couse!" many times throughout the engrossing three-and-a-half-hour production. Yale had a banner season last year and even presented an enjoyable version of a play I never thought of as very watchable: Marie Jones' STONES IN HIS POCKETS starring Fred Arsenault (who starred in Yale Rep's excellent MARIE ANTOINETTE) and Euan Morton. Direction by Evan Yionoulis helped make the difference.

Seven Angels: R. Bruce Connelly turned in a one-man trip down memory lane as George Burns in SAY GOODNIGHT GRACIE. Connelly held attention throughout the presentation and expertly brought the comedy legend to life without trying to do an impersonation.

Hartford Stage: Director Darko Tresnjak focused on the darkness of evil and the psychological depths of the pit it offers to anyone choosing to follow it in a memorable production of MACBETH (those witches etching on the stage floor still creeps me out when it comes to mind). Matthew Rauch played Macbeth with Kate Forbes was his conniving, greedy wife. This production far outshone the one currently running on Broadway starring Ethan Hawke in the title role.

Ivoryton Playhouse: Director Lawrence Thelen cast terrfic nonEquity actress Sheniqua Denise Trotman from Huntsville, AL in the iconic role of Effie for a very satisfying production of DREAMGIRLS. Trotman's "I'm Not Going" put focus on the emotional pain felt by the character and was a powerhouse exploration of the moving lyrics.

Music Theatre of Connecticut: A.R. Gurney's lesser-known play ANCESTRAL VOICES found a perfect home on the intimate stage at this venue in a production featuring a strong ensemble cast and solid direction by Kevin Connors.

CT Repretory Theatre: Director Paul Mullins teased together a terrific cast (the ensemble at 45+ was huge) for an exciting production of HAIRSPRAY starring comedian Kevin Meaney as Edna Turnblad, Tina Fabrique (Ella) as Motormouth Mabel and Lena Mary Amato as Tracy, reprising this role for the fifth time (she won the 2012 Syracuse Area Live Theatre Award for Best Actress for her portrayal at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse.) Broadway-quality choreography by Gerry McIntyre was executed with enthusiasm and precision by the cast to add to the fun (as did costumes by Maureen Freedman).

Theaterworks: CHRISTMAS ON THE ROCKS closed out 2013 with a funny and poignant look at grown up versions of children from holiday classics. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero conceived the idea of bringing them together at a bar on Christmas eve. The top-notch cast of Ronn Carroll (as the bartender), Harry Bouvy and Christine Pedi portrayed various characters like Ralphie from "A Christnmas Story" and Cindy Lou Who from "How the Grinch Stole Christnmas" in shorts from seven different playwrights including Theresa Rebeck, John Cariani, Jacques Lamarre and Matthew Lombardo.

Happy New Year! Can't wait to experience what takes place on Connecticut stages in 2014!

--Lauren Yarger

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