Wednesday, December 18, 2019

2019 in Review: Off-Broadway & Regional Theater

Over the past twelve months, we only had the opportunity to see three off-Broadway and four regional theater productions, but they were all terrific and all for different reasons. Off-Broadway, we saw Puffs, Merrily We Roll Along and Little Shop of Horrors; regionally we saw Fun Home at Baltimore's CenterStage, and Grand Hotel, Assassins and A Chorus Line at Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia. Here's what stood out for us in 2019.

2019 in Review:
Off-Broadway & Regional Theater

February: Puffs
(New World Stages)
Being huge Harry Potter fans who identify as Hufflepuffs, we had to see this parody. It was very funny and smart in its sharp observations about all things Potter.
  • What we liked best: Hands down, it was the creative use of props that were instantly recognizable yet completely original. I can't imagine being in charge of all that.
  • What we liked least: It could have used a bit of a trim. A little of that goes a long way.

February: Fun Home
(New World Stages)
One of our all-time favorite musicals, this may have been the best post New York production we have seen. Alison Bechdel would be pleased.

  • What we liked best: An amazing performance by Michelle Dawson as Helen, a frightening take on Bruce by Jeffrey Denman, and a touching performance by Molly Lyons as Young Alison. And the use of projections was masterful.
  • What we liked least: It was over way too fast.

April: Merrily We Roll Along
(Laura Pels Theatre)
As Sondheim fans, whenever there's a new interpretation of this enigma, we must see it. That this was being done by Fiasco Theatre made it all the more urgent.

  • What we liked best: The cuts made were fine - they actually helped clarify things. And the arrangements and vocal direction were spot-on. Watching a cast of six navigate multiple roles added to the fun of trying to get a grasp on what makes these characters tick. Then there's that Mary
  • What we liked least: The search for the perfect Merrily rolls along. Maybe the next one?

May: Grand Hotel: The Musical
(Signature Theater)
One of my ten favorite musicals of all time, this show just isn't done that often. A major New York revival is long overdue.

  • What we liked best: They didn't try to replicate Tommy Tune's work, and the show was perfectly cast. The set by Paul Tate Depoo III was beautiful, especially the floor. And Bobby Smith's take on Kringelein was heartbreaking.
  • What we liked least: Really hard to think of anything... rub a dub!

August: Assassins
(Signature Theater)
Another Sondheim show that must be seen anytime it comes around. Needless to say, we are really excited to see the 2020 off-Broadway revival. Until then, we are glad we saw this one!

  • What we liked best: The dynamic duo of "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, played to perfection by Rachel Zampelli and Tracy Lynn Olivera. And the final scene between John Wilkes Booth (Vincent Kempski) and Lee Harvey Oswald (Sam Ludwig) was absolutely brilliant.
  • What we liked least: A couple of characters overplayed it, but that may have more to do with us seeing an early performance than anything else.

November: A Chorus Line
(Signature Theater)
I never miss a chance to see my favorite show ever. The downside is that it takes a lot to impress me. The good news is that there's a lot to love in almost any production. This was no exception.

  • What we liked best: A really strong, nuanced Zach is always a plus, and Matthew Risch was one of the best I've ever seen. And our belief that seeing understudies is an opportunity, not a bad thing was proven once again, by Zeke Edmonds, who made the smaller role of Al into a star turn. Hope to see him again and soon!
  • What we liked least: They promised us it would be like we've never seen it before, but it was pretty much your standard A Chorus Line.

November: Little Shop of Horrors
(Westside Theatre - Upstairs)
Sometimes doing a show the way it was originally meant to be is a good thing.

  • What we liked best: This was one of the best shows we saw in all of 2019, no matter what the venue. Jonathan Groff was the sweetest nerd ever, Christian Borle was never funnier, and in another understudy discovery, Chelsea Turbin was brilliant as Audrey.
  • What we liked least: We probably won't have a chance to see it again.


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