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BWW's Best of NorCal 2013 (Harmony's Picks) and What to Look Forward to in 2014

The 2013 BroadwayWorld San Francisco audience choice awards saw a fantastic number of nominations for Northern California, from Fresno's Good Company Players to Modesto's Gallo Center to Broadway Sacramento. If only enough time existed to see every show. Here are a few of my favorite productions from 2013.


1776 - I have to admit, when I originally watched the film version of "1776," I thought the show slow and boring, but "1776" is one of those shows you have to see in person to love. And once you've seen it done well, the film doesn't seem so bad. Earlier this year, American Conservatory Theatre's patriotic co-production quickly turned "1776" into one of my new favorite musicals. The musical timing and cast chemistry blended to perfection with witty humor and endearing characters.

LITTLE ME / SUGAR - Comedic standout of the year, Broadway performer Jason Graae starred both in Sacramento Music Circus' tap-dancing spectacular "Sugar" and San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon production of "Little Me." Audiences found Graae dressing like a woman to hide from gangsters in one show and playing a multitude of different characters in the other. With their hilarious stories and energetic casts, both productions made my Best of 2013 list, but Graae deserves a category all his own.

A LITTLE PRINCESS - It's not too often that you get a new musical outside of Broadway that really sticks with you, especially if it's based on a classic source. But Sacramento Theatre Company's debut of Eric Rockwell's beautifully composed "A Little Princess" featured a well-paced story with unforgettable characterizations of the young orphan girl's hopes and dreams. Here's to hoping this royal show gets the royal treatment. I would love to hear its gorgeous music grace Northern California again.

IOLANTHE - In August, Lamplighters Music Theatre gave its best performance of the season with the most whimsical choreography of the year and my personal favorite creative costuming of the year in Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe." The silly love story, which involves fairies and half-mortals, called for a playful and flawless cast that included Molly Mahone, Cary Ann Rosko, F. Lawrence Ewing, John Brown and Sean Irwin.

THE WHIPPING MAN - Marin Theatre Company presented an incredibly raw production of Matthew Lopez's "The Whipping Man" with Bay Area favorites L. Peter Callender and Nicholas Pelczar. Set after the end of the Civil War, the play deals with controversial issues of race, abuse and religion, but manages to do so in a manner that is both thought provoking and tactful.

THE HOBBIT - Back in February, the small community gem Playhouse Merced turned its intimate stage into the Shire and other favorite locations from J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit." No big budget film, but in some ways more enjoyable, the production's perfect cast featured a dedicated and melodramatic Jeshamon Volkerts as Gollum and the charming next-door-neighbor Jake Levi Nelson as Bilbo Baggins. Stephen Mouillesseaux and Zachary Ellis also deserve best actor nods for their turns as Thorin and Gandalf. With such a success behind them, I look forward to Playhouse Merced's next classic, "The Three Musketeers" in April 2014. One more play, several touring shows, honorable mentions and 2014 highlights after the jump. Click "Page Two" to read more.

OLD WICKED SONGS - Think "Master Class," only with piano instead of opera and men instead of women. Center Repertory Company's production of the two-person-play "Old Wicked Songs" glorified classical musical while taking on war, grief, justice and the human condition. It also contained my picks for best lighting (by Kurt Landisman) and scenic design (by Nina Ball) for 2013.

TOURING SHOWS - Not to be forgotten, many fabulous touring Broadway productions, ballets and musical groups visited Northern California in 2013. January saw the soulful "Dreamgirls" arrive at Broadway Fresno. The non-equity production included many impressive quick changes and show-stopping numbers like "I Am Telling You..." and "I Am Changing." Around the same time, "Rock of Ages" shook Broadway Sacramento and San Jose audiences with hilarious characters, a Goosebumps-inducing ensemble and "nothing but a good time." More recently, a revamped touring production of "Addams Family" made sure its audiences were very "unhappy" with campy tunes and cartoony characters. And in the Bay Area, popular tours of "The Book of Mormon," "Porgy and Bess," "The Lion King," played SHN San Francisco.

HONORABLE MENTIONS - Music Circus' "Show Boat," Hillbarn Thetare's "Spamalot," Theatrework's "Little Women," Center Repertory Company's "Christmas Carol."


TOURS - After wrapping up its current run in San Francisco, "Beauty and the Beast" will be your guest for two performances only at the Valley's Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto. Other theatrical highlights at the Gallo will include Luis Bravo's "Forever Tango" this month (January) and Tony Award winner "Memphis" in May. Broadway Sacramento's remaining season has a great lineup, with "Flashdance," "Blueman Group," "Sister Act" and "Wicked" on the way. "Wicked" will also visit Fresno, as well as San Jose, whose season also includes "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Jersey Boys." In San Francisco, tours of "Mamma Mia," "Once" and "Pippin" will visit. And back in the Folsom/Sacramento area, "Bring It On" and "Peter and the Starcatcher," two of my must-see's for 2014, will play at the Harris Center, formerly known as Three Stages. Broadway Fresno tops of my three must-see shows for 2014 with Sally Struthers in Hello Dolly, playing in Februrary at the Saroyan Theatre.

COMMUNITY - While many theatres have yet to announce their 2014-2015 season, we can look ahead at community and professional offerings through early summer. On the community level, Playhouse Merced will present "Shrek the Musical" in February, Modesto Performing Arts will present "Man of La Mancha" and "South Pacific" in June and August, Contra Costa Musical Theatre will present "Les Miserables" this spring and Hillbarn Theatre's remaining season includes "Lend Me A Tenor" in March and "The Color Purple" in May. Broadway by the Bay highlights include "In the Heights" in June and "Dreamgirls" in August. In April, Palo Alto Players will present one of my favorite comedy musicals, Mel Brook's "Young Frankenstein." And in Fresno, Good Company Players' Roger Rocka's Dinner Theatre has a great season of musicals planned, including "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Crazy for You."

PROFESSIONAL LOCAL - Marin Theatre Company starts the year in February with a play about the creation of Wonder Woman, "Lasso of Truth." Always presenting new works and classic musicals, Theatreworks will finish its season with favorites "Once on This Island" and "Marry Me A Little." Over in San Francisco, American Conservatory Theatre will present "The Suit" and "The Orphan of Zhao," which promise innovative new tales. I'll end with a shameless plug for my own professional connection, Sierra Repertory Theatre, whose 2014 season includes "Les Miserables," "Church Basement Ladies 2," "The Sound of Music," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and more.

Check out the websites for all these awesome theatre companies for more details on their full seasons.

Did we miss anything? Since we can't make it to every show, be sure and comment below to let us know your favorites from 2013 and what you look forward to in 2014!

Follow BWW writer Harmony Wheeler's theatre exploits on Twitter and Instagram @HarmonyWheeler.

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler