PLAYBILL PICKS: The Memory of All That! Playbill Contributors Choose Unforgettable Experiences of 2012

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21 Dec 2012

DAVID GEWIRTZMAN, Playbill Special Projects

Two productions this year left with a big smile on my face. The first was the Broadway production of Peter and the Starcatcher, which happily lost none of its charm in the transfer to a larger theatre. With a ship created with little more than a rope, a fabulous music hall mermaid song, and of course Chistian Borle's comic genius, it's one of those wonderful shows that lets adults revisit childlike wonder. The second was the Roundabout's joyous revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Specifically, at the end of the first preview performance when the audience voted for Deputy (played by 14-year-old Nicholas Barasch) to fall in love with The Princess Puffer (played by not 14-year-old Chita Rivera). Both the audience and the cast were in absolute hysterics.

What is it about Steppenwolf that makes it so good at doing productions of plays that I thought I had already seen definitive productions of, and then proving me wrong? Watching Tracy Letts and Amy Morton's unique take on George and Martha in the Broadway revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was the most exciting take on the play I've seen. And the production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People at Steppenwolf's Chicago mainstage, though performed with a different acting style than the original Broadway production, proved every bit as good, and had me on the edge of my seat through the entire second act, wiping away a sentimental tear at the end.

Signature's production of Athol Fugard's My Children, My Africa managed to make a political statement without feeling forced, was incredibly moving (especially because of James A. Williams' beautiful performance as Mr. M), and also just felt like one of those plays that was inspiring to the point that it felt like it should be required viewing. A Whistle in the Dark was the middle play in the Druid Murphy marathon, and the best of the three. The inevitable, yet brutal and shocking final scene left me slack jawed and unable to move after the play ended.

Director David Cromer once again flexed his brilliant directing skills with Nina Raine's Tribes, assembling a perfect ensemble cast and one of the least intrusive sets of supertitles I've seen. Samuel D. Hunter's original and moving drama The Whale was perhaps most memorable for Shuler Hensley's physically and emotionally draining performance as a 600-pound man. Christopher Durang's hilarious Chekhov-inspired comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike had two unforgettable solo moments in the second act: an unexpectedly moving phone call for Kristine Nielsen, and a fantastic rant for David Hyde Pierce.

The West End production of Matilda was by the far the best new musical I saw this year. Bertie Carvel's evil Miss Trunchbill was comedy perfection. And Tim Minchin's score is one of the most tuneful and witty I've heard in a long while - and not just because there was a "Doctor Who" reference in one of the songs. Thank goodness for the cast recording, because it's all I listened to for weeks after I saw the show.


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