BWW Feature: DC BWW's Senior Writer's Top Theatergoing Experiences in 2016
In 2016, I saw 120+ productions, the majority of which were in the DC Metro Area. The 2016 calendar year offered a slew of memorable theatergoing experiences, but some stand out among the others. As I look forward to what's in store theatrically in 2017, I take a look back at 2016.
In no particular order:
TITANIC at Signature Theatre: TITANIC may be one of my most recent theatergoing highlights, but even if it had been staged earlier in 2016, it likely would have still been on my mind today. From Eric Schaeffer's creative production concept and Maury Yeston's beautiful music, to the most glorious singing I have ever heard at that theatre, TITANIC is a production that will stay with me for a long time. It plays through January 29.
SWEAT at Arena Stage: Lynn Nottage's SWEAT will begin performances on Broadway on March 4, following a successful Off-Broadway run at the Public and several regional productions, including one at Arena Stage early in 2016. Set in Pennsylvania, we follow what happens when a factory announces layoffs and the everyday working class is left to grapple with "what comes next?" A relevant story for this era, the production boasted not only a gripping script, but several acting performances that made it one of the most emotionally charged evenings in the theatre I've had for some time.
The Abbey Theatre's Production of THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS at Kennedy Center: In May, Kennedy Center hosted Ireland 100, a festival showcasing the best theatre, music, dance, and more, out of Ireland. These international arts festivals are always a highlight of my year, but the Abbey's presentation of Seán O'Casey's classic work on the 1916 Easter Rising was the highlight of Ireland 100. Certainly, the play is well known, but this production made me look at it with new eyes, and makes me even more excited to see a production at the Abbey this summer on my vacation in Ireland!
ANGELS IN AMERICA at Round House Theatre: Co-produced with Olney Theatre Center, ANGELS IN AMERICA at Round House Theatre deserves mention not only because of the ambition required to put on both parts of Tony Kushner's epic tale in repertory, but because it was done so flawlessly. Kimberly Gilbert and Tom Story, in particular, offered two of the most memorable acting performances in 2016, but we also cannot forget the hardworking creative team and backstage crew that was so instrumental to its success. Much like the three-part FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS, which was staged with much acclaim at Round House earlier in the year, ANGELS IN AMERICA demonstrates quite well how willing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette is to push the boundaries of what we've come to expect at this Bethesda theatre. I look forward to what he does next.
KISS at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: Truth be told, I bought a ticket to Guillermo Calderón's KISS at Woolly Mammoth one night on a whim (someone else reviewed it for BWW). Staged in the downstairs rehearsal hall by Yury Urnov, this little gem of a show offered the biggest theatrical surprise for me of the season. There was nothing predictable about it, and was so different from anything else that was staged in Washington in 2016. A tight ensemble of actors did an exceptional job with the enormously challenging script, and reminded me why I fell in love with Woolly's work more than a decade ago.
FLOYD COLLINS at 1st Stage: My relentless love for Adam Guettel's music aside, I rushed over to 1st Stage in the Tysons Corner area because I was so intrigued that this small-but-mighty company would present this rarely done little gem of a piece. Starring Evan Casey as the American dreamer Floyd Collins and directed by Nick Olcott, FLOYD COLLINS was most memorable because of the heart all of the actors put into it - especially Casey. 1st Stage took a risk with presenting it, and I think the risk paid off because it was one of the most moving and beautiful musicals I saw all year.
Other honorable mentions:
Other top theatergoing experiences included COME FROM AWAY at Ford's Theatre. I can't wait to see how it does on Broadway in 2017 because it was a pure joy to watch in DC. Then there is ROAD SHOW at Signature Theatre. You can't go wrong with Sondheim in my book, but the Signature crowd made me see the show in a whole different - and more positive - way, fixing some missteps that plagued previous productions of the show. EQUUS at Constellation Theatre Company also deserves mention because the production pushed the company to a whole other level artistically. It was so thoughtfully staged and acted. Ford's Theatre's productions of 110 IN THE SHADE and THE GLASS MENAGERIE proved memorable because of Tracy Lynn Olivera and Tom Story's performances, respectively. Mainstays in the DC theatre scene, they did some of their best work to date. Speaking of best work to date, I am also still gutted by Bobby Smith's turn as Albin/Zaza in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.
Watching Forum Theatre's BLACKBERRY WINTER and I CALL MY BROTHERS were two of the most challenging experiences I had as an audience member all year, if only for their emotional impact. It was also truly a pleasure to see the incredible Holly Twyford perform in an intimate black box in the former production. She navigated the difficult material - a story about a daughter grappling with her mother's dementia - with ease and care. The latter is yet another reason why I always look to Forum to do something a little out of the box that makes their audiences think.
Finally, Andrew Lippa's I AM Harvey Milk/I AM ANNE HUTCHINSON was a little out of the norm of what the Music Center at Strathmore usually presents - I AM ANNE HUTCHINSON was even a world premiere - but this kind of work is something I'd like to see more of at the center. It not only offered beautiful music and a particularly strong performance by Kristin Chenoweth as Anne Hutchinson, but had something important to say.