Andrew Osborne’s Best of 2012: Theater

Much to the surprise of nobody, if I had to choose (…which I don’t, but bear with me…) I’d pick the world premiere of my play No Love at the Eclectic Company Theater in North Hollywood as the obvious theatrical highlight of 2012 (while coaching the comedy commandos of the Burt Wood School of Performing Art’s Improv Deathmatch at the Alley Theater was a close runner-up).  But here are five other productions equally worthy of shameless plugs!

1. Pippin (American Repertory Theater)

In recent years, the title of Stephen Schwartz’s 1970s medieval coming-of-age tale has become the go-to punchline for all things theater-geeky uncool — which is odd because, unlike the adorkable hippie Christian rainbow of Schwartz’s Godspell, the world of Pippin features plenty of cool stuff like sex, violence and emo malaise (as well as a contemporary ironic swagger of absurdist self-awareness).  But this time around, the A.R.T.’s Gen-X whiz kid Diane Paulus (who brought Sleep No More to America and scored a Tony for her revival of Porgy & Bess) also adds a fresh layer of steampunk burlesque to the mix, filling the theater with jaw-dropping acrobatics — including the surreal vision of SCTV’s Andrea Martin belting the showstopper “No Time At All” while dangling from a trapeze by her ankles (!!!).  Bonus points to Patina Miller’s astonishing all-in performance as the Leading Player and a retooled ending that improves on the original with a clever full-circle twist.

2. The Mikado (Lyric Stage Company)

Combine a talented cast with a clever staging of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic operetta (complete with sharp anachronistic jabs at the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street and everything in between) and you’ve already got the ingredients for a memorable production.  But the affectionate performer/audience camaraderie that resulted when director Spiro Veloudos was forced to step in for a sick actor (and deliver a hilariously gruff rendition of “Tit Willow”) made the performance I was lucky enough to see a truly unforgettable theatrical experience.

3. Avenue Q (Lyric Stage Company)

This grown-up version of Sesame Street (complete with an immortal Gary Coleman, puppet sex and songs like “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”) is a perennial crowd-pleaser, especially when it features a cast as dynamic as the Lyric’s flesh & blood performers (and as loveable as their floppy felt co-stars).

Honorable Mention:  Xanadu (SpeakEasy Stage Company), Dina Martina (at the Crown & Anchor)

Worst:  God of Carnage (Huntington Theater Company)

The staging by director Daniel Goldstein was fine.  And Brooks Ashmanskas, Christy Pusz, Stephen Bogardus and Johanna Day did their best as a quartet of adults squabbling like children after a dust-up between their respective offspring.  But, God, what a stupid play.  Shrill, meandering and pointless, this navel-gazing ode to the non-problems of overprivileged white people somehow received a 2009 Tony Award from…um…a bunch of navel-gazing, overprivileged white people.


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