The Year's Best: Playbill Contributors Choose Unforgettable Theatre Experiences of 2013

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21 Dec 2013

Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan-Bolger
Photo by Michael J. Lutch

DAVID GEWIRTZMAN, Playbill Special Projects

Carousel (New York Philharmonic). I don’t think I’ll ever think of "The Carousel Waltz" the same way again. Admittedly, I would have bought a ticket to see Kelli O’Hara and Nathan Gunn sing Carousel if they were only accompanied by a toy piano, but when conductor Rob Fisher walked onto the stage at Avery Fisher Hall, and the New York Philharmonic started playing that opening to Carousel, my jaw dropped from how beautiful it sounded. Happily, the rest of the evening lived up to that high bar, with O’Hara, Gunn, Jessie Mueller, Stephanie Blythe and the rest of the cast delivering truly incredible performances.

Good Person of Szechwan (Foundry Theatre at La Mama and The Public Theater) and Saint Joan (Bedlam at 45 Bleecker). There are certain playwrights whose work I approach with about as much enthusiasm as a toddler toward steamed brussel sprouts: I know they’re important to the well-rounded theatre diet, but that doesn’t make experiencing them any more enjoyable. So imagine my amazement that two of the most exciting productions I saw this past year were the Foundry Theatre’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan and Bedlam’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. Good Person, which stars Taylor Mac and David Turner, was both funny and moving, not to mention still shockingly relevant 70 years after it was written. And Saint Joan, mind-bogglingly performed by a cast of four with only a minimal set, was one of the most intellectually and emotionally engaging three hours I spent in a theatre this year.

The Low Road (Royal Court Theatre, London). You know you’re going to be in for an "interesting" experience when, having finally taken your seat after waiting in the lobby long past the play’s scheduled start time, the director walks on stage to inform you that due to various technical issues and performance cancellations, you are about to see the first-ever run-through of the play. Well, when Bruce Norris has written a drama with a cast of 20 that includes scenes with protesters storming through the aisles of the theatre, and stage directions like, "The craft lands and two seven-foot tall ALIENS in the shape of bees emerge, taking readings with various instruments," maybe it’s not surprising there would be technical issues. Sprawling and messy and overall pretty wonderful, The Low Road was without a doubt unlike any other new play I saw this year.

Macbeth (Trafalgar Studios, London). In a year of many Macbeths, the finest I saw was Jamie Lloyd’s West End production, starring James McAvoy in the title role. According to the program, the production was set in "dystopian Scotland at some point in the near future," following "years of economic downfall and environmental disaster." To translate: it was a modern-dress production with lots of dirt and metal and blood. As good as McAvoy was, I think my favorite performance was Jamie Ballard’s Macduff. His "All my pretty ones? Did you say all?" scene when he finds out his family has been murdered was absolutely devastating, and still brings tears to my eyes when I remember it.

Parsifal (Metropolitan Opera) Five-and-a-half hours of Wagner may sound daunting, but never has time flown by so fast. Director Francois Girard’s new production was absolutely the best thing the Met has produced in years. Stunning stage design. Glorious singing from Jonas Kaufmann, Rene Pape and Peter Mattei. Just perfection.

And because I can’t stop myself with just those few, I must also mention John Tiffany’s stunning production of Tennessee WilliamsThe Glass Menagerie at A.R.T. and on Broadway, with a perfect cast led by Cherry Jones; Richard Nelson’s quietly moving final Apple Family Play, Regular Singing; Daniel Kitson’s quirky mix of stand-up comedy (delivered sitting down) and philosophical discourse After The Beginning. Before The End.; Vampire Cowboys’ hilarious and endlessly entertaining Alice in Slasherland; the masterclass in acting that was watching Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon perform Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall; the thrill of experiencing live performances of Jeanine Tesori’s beautiful scores for both Violet and Fun Home; and last, but not least, sitting in the front row for Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming’s bizarre and fabulous concert at Town Hall.


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