PJ and I only went to New York City once in 2013, and we didn’t manage to see any plays when we traveled to other places. Consequently, I saw fewer professional plays in 2013 than was usually  the case over the previous few years. We did see a local summer stock production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was fun. We also saw some of the shows that the School of Theater produced this year. So we didn’t entirely miss out!

Since I didn’t get a chance to post about most of these productions throughout the year, I will write a quick round-up of my five favorite productions that I saw 2013.

Cloud 9 

My favorite production from 2013 was a production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 locally. Our School of Theater has an MFA in Directing. The students, of course, have to direct productions of various kinds to earn their degree. One of these is a “style project,” and one of the MFA directing students, Ryan Holihan, chose Cloud 9 for this assignment.

I don’t know the director, but I love Churchill’s work, so PJ and I made sure we got tickets to see it. Holihan did an amazing job — and not just amazing for being a graduate production in a small Appalachian town. Everything about the production was top-notch.

What impressed me most was Holihan clearly understands the play and was able to get his actors to understand it as well. The production was hilarious, suspenseful, and moving, not an easy combination. Add to that the fact that some of the actors play characters of different genders and ages, and you have a work that could be an utter disaster in the wrong director’s hands. I was clearly impressed by the skills Holihan, his cast, and his crew demonstrated in this production. It’s a reminder that, perhaps, the most important theatrical engagements don’t happen on Broadway by on stages throughout the country, in small towns with amateur or student actors and crews. The work these performers do is arguably the true essence of what theater is all about.

While I love university theater, the other four entries in this post are all Broadway shows. I’ll try to see more non-Broadway productions in 2014. (I guess that’s my first New Year’s resolution!)

Kinky Boots 

PJ and I had seen and liked the movie Kinky Boots. Add Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein as writers, and we definitely wanted to see the musical on Broadway. We both loved it.

Billy Porter is great as Lola, the drag queen in need of some kinky boots. His Lola is sexy but also has a lot of depth. I especially like the show’s presentation of Lola’s relationship with her father. The song Porter sings about his father will surely resonant with any gay man whose sexual orientation causes distance between him and his father.

Stark Sands is also wonderful as Charlie Price, the hapless owner of a show factory that needs to adapt if it’s going to succeed. He’s likable and has a boyish quality that immediately gets us on his side.

Here’s a video from the production that I think captures its energy:

Once

I also loved the movie of Once when it came out, but we didn’t see this musical during its first year on Broadway. Instead we saw it last spring. Steve Kazee had already left the production, so we saw the actor who had been his understudy. He was really good, as was Kristin Milioti, who originated the role of Girl. It was interesting to see how the production filled out the plot of the movie a bit with a few new characters and a lot of extra music, which was excellent. Here’s a taste, in case you missed the show:

Ann

Ann Richards is one of my idols, so I had to see Holland Taylor’s one woman show about Richards’s life and political career. It was a little bumpy in spots, and I’m not sure that the framing device always worked, but Taylor was amazing in this role. She also wrote the play, and it’s success is entirely due to her commitment to getting it done. Here’s a clip that features an extensive segment of the play, which Taylor performed at the Women in the World Conference:

Nice Work If You Can Get It

The last entry in my list is Nice Work If You Can Get It, which is built around the song of George and Ira Gershwin. It starred Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara. It’s a much more traditional musical than is often produced on Broadway these days, a throw back to an older art form. I enjoyed it and couldn’t help but tap my foot along to the music. And Judy Kaye was hilarious in a featured role — she definitely deserved her Tony Award! Here’s a clip:

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