BWW's Michael L. Quintos Picks His Best of So. California Theater for 2013

Ah, yes. 2013 was indeed an outstanding year for theater in Southern California.

Even better: Orange County---my home base---boasted some of the best shows, period---marking an exciting theater renaissance in brilliance and artistry that I hope continues to grow here inside L.A.'s next door neighbor.

This past year saw several locally refreshed revivals---some winning (PARADE, SIDE SHOW), others not so much (JEKYLL & HYDE). But most productions, thankfully, rose to great heights earning cheers and praises ...without the use of flying harnesses even! And there were also plenty of riveting performances that stuck with me all year.

With that said, here is my Top 10 Stage Shows of 2013 from Orange County and adjacent locales nearby, followed by my picks for the year's best performances. Enjoy your holidays and here's wishing you a very theatrical new year! (And, what about you, dear readers... what were some of your fave local productions and performances this year?)

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1. PARADE
Regional Production
3-D Theatricals, Fullerton

Memorable from start to finish, this stunning, perfectly-staged production proves once again that Orange County's relatively young 3-D Theatricals keeps cementing itself as one of the best theater companies in Southern California. With its searing, thought-provoking look at this little-known, yet monumentally abhorrent occurrence in our nation's history, 3-DT has outdone itself with its moving, epic-sized revival of Jason Robert Brown's Tony Award-winning musical. Directed by 3-DT's co-founder and artistic director TJ Dawson, this triumphant, emotionally-resonant, Broadway-caliber presentation managed to not only tug at the heartstrings but it also shook the audience to its very core.

2. THE WHALE
Regional Production
South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa

Beautifully-acted and truthfully heartbreaking, Samuel D. Hunter's excellent, emotionally-gripping play follows the story of home-confined Charlie (played by Matthew Arkin, in a truly transformative performance that many will remember for decades to come), a 600-pound internet writing teacher whose alarming health problems are coupled with deep-rooted heartache. It's uncomfortable, visceral, and achingly real---precisely why this is the best play I have seen this year, and still haunts me to this very day.

3. SIDE SHOW
San Diego / Kennedy Center Production
La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego

Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Chicago, Dreamgirls) has taken a brilliantly cinematic approach to revitalize this cult 1997 musical about a pair of real-life conjoined twins and their quest to find love, contentment, and individuality while navigating the rough waters of being, first circus "freaks"... then, later, as vaudeville entertainers. Almost wholly new and featuring brand new music from Bill Russell and Henry Krieger, this rejiggered revival exposes the beauty and sadness in the unusual more than ever before.

4. ANYTHING GOES
National Tour Production
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

The Roundabout Theatre Company's buoyant Tony Award-winning revival of ANYTHING GOES finally docked in Orange County this past autumn. Featuring an incredible lead performance by Broadway vet Rachel York as Reno Sweeney, this old-fashioned crowd-pleaser is, hands-down, one of the most jubilantly-entertaining revivals in recent years. It's pure smile-inducing, gimmick-free musical comedy fun.

5. TRIASSIC PARQ: THE MUSICAL
Regional Production
The Chance Theater, Anaheim Hills

If you've ever sat through Steven Spielberg's e-ticket blockbuster Jurassic Park and wondered to yourself... "Gee, I wonder how those dinosaurs feel about this whole situation," then this cheeky, oddly hilarious musical send-up is the perfect show for you. Silly and even surprisingly touching, this refreshingly odd new musical offers a mosquito-on-the-wall look inside the electrified fences of that fictional dino-populated island, but this time from the point-of-view of the gender-confused dinosaurs themselves. The result? A laugh-riot from snout to tail.

6. THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
Los Angeles Production
Center Theatre Group / Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles

This gut-punching masterpiece makes a repeat appearance on my end-of-year list, this time because of its excellent transfer to Los Angeles (The Old Globe Theater in San Diego staged the production last year). Even more so on repeat viewings, the show remains thought-provoking, emotionally moving, and unflinchingly tragic. This controversial and (unfortunately) short-lived Kander and Ebb musical is a retelling of a shameful injustice in US history, mixing bits of minstrel show comedy with an ebullient score. The clever interplay between playfulness and vaudevillian melodies that underscored heartbreak and prejudice easily seared itself into me long after the final cast bows. And, gosh, I think I cried even more this time around. It's just brilliant.

7. EVITA
National Tour
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles

In one of this season's most pleasantly welcome surprises, the latest Broadway iteration of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's grand stage musical EVITA is an entertaining, vibrantly-refreshed production that expertly blends modern sensibilities with classic musical theater staging, all while highlighting what is arguably Webber and Rice's most interesting musical collaboration. This lively 2012 Tony-nominated revival also boasts a pair of excellent lead voices---Caroline Bowman and Josh Young---that will make you wish this entire cast would pause for a week to go into a studio to record their own soundtrack album.

8. NEXT TO NORMAL
Regional Production
La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts, La Mirada

Heartbreaking. Gutsy. Intensely riveting. These are some of the words I jotted down in the dark---while simultaneously wiping tears streaming down my face---during the Southern California Regional Premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical. This thought-provoking, emotionally-heavy musical play (which also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) has been mounted locally as a top-notch, Broadway-caliber staging that truly impresses from beginning to end. It packs such an emotional wallop that you too will wish for a few happy pills (while giving a standing ovation).

9. PRISCILLA - QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL
National Tour
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles

While I do love those brilliant, mind-blowing musicals... it's also nice to sit through a show that, at its core, is just a whole lot of fun. Hilarious, visually arresting, and surprisingly heart-warming, this rousing stage musical adaptation of the 1994 Oscar-winning indie film of the same name is an outlandishly silly show, filled with non-stop eye-popping visuals, out-of-this-world costumes, playfully cheeky adult banter, and a smile-inducing songbook crammed with familiar, decade-defining pop hits. Though a show about drag queens may not necessarily be everyone's cup of tea, open-minded theatergoers seeking to experience a fun, non-serious, genuinely entertaining spectacle will truly enjoy this musical comedy's brand of unbridled self-expression.

10. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS
Regional Production
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, La Mirada

Or... as I otherwise refer to as "Magic Mike: The Musical" since seeing it this year (the "brothers" in the cast certainly have the stuff to make such a musical work). All kidding aside, La Mirada's rip-roaring, über-caffeinated revival was an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that was superbly entertaining in a square, shamelessly old-fashioned way. It's also a strong indication of just how much Broadway-caliber talent is swirling (and twerking) around Southern California.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

BARE: A POP OPERA
Hayworth Theatre, Los Angeles

CHICAGO (In Concert)
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles

END OF THE RAINBOW
Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles

THE MOTHERF***ER WITH THE HAT
South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa

War Horse
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

BEST BROADWAY CONCERT

Kristin Chenoweth in Concert
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles

BEST CABARET SHOWCASE

Bernadette Peters (Cabaret Series)
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

BEST SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT

Barbara Cook's 85th Birthday Concert
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

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PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR
(In Alphabetical Order)

Stephen Anthony
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: THE MUSICAL,
Pantages Theatre/Segerstrom Center

Matthew Arkin
THE WHALE, South Coast Repertory

Samantha Barks
CHICAGO: In Concert, The Hollywood Bowl

Larry Bates
THE MOTHERF***ER WITH THE HAT,
South Coast Repertory

Tracie Bennett
END OF THE RAINBOW, Center Theatre Group

Rufus Bonds, Jr.
PARADE, 3-D Theatricals

Caroline Bowman
EVITA, Pantages Theatre/Segerstrom Center

David Burnham
SUNSET BOULEVARD, Musical Theatre West

Ta'Rea Campbell
SISTER ACT: THE MUSICAL,
Pantages Theatre/Segerstrom Center

Erin Davie & Emily Padgett
SIDE SHOW, La Jolla Playhouse

Eddie Egan
NEXT TO NORMAL,
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Norman Large
SUNSET BOULEVARD, Musical Theatre West

Bets Malone
NEXT TO NORMAL,
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Wade McCollum, Scott Willis & BRyan West
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT,
Pantages Theatre/Segerstrom Center

Joshua Henry
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, Center Theatre Group

Payson Lewis
BARE: A POP OPERA, Hayworth Theatre

Jenny O'Hara
4000 MILES, South Coast Repertory

Nicole Parker
FUNNY GIRL, 3-D Theatricals

Lindsay Pearce
BARE: A POP OPERA, Hayworth Theatre

Charlie Robinson
DEATH OF A SALESMAN, South Coast Repertory

Tony Sancho
THE MOTHERF***ER WITH THE HAT,
South Coast Repertory

Jeff Skowron
PARADE, 3-D Theatricals

David St. Louis
SIDE SHOW, La Jolla Playhouse

Keaton Williams
TRIASSIC PARQ and BLOODY BLOODY
Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater

Rachel York
ANYTHING GOES, Segerstrom Center

Josh Young
EVITA, Pantages Theatre/Segerstrom Center

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Photo credits (from top to bottom): Caitlin Humphreys & Jeff Skowron in PARADE by Isaac James Creative; Matthew Arkin in THE WHALE by Scott Brinegar/SCR; Keaton Williams & Alex Bueno in TRIASSIC PARQ - THE MUSICAL by Doug Catiller/True Image Studio; Emily Padgett & Erin Davie in SIDE SHOW by Kevin Berne.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Feeling nostalgic? Check out The Best of 2012 HERE.



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