As expected (thankfully) 2012 provided Southern California audiences--specifically here in Orange County and nearby Los Angeles and San Diego--a season full of outstanding, remarkable theater offerings from touring companies, impressive regional productions, and even some tiny black box theaters.
And, of course, as is the common practice during the ushering of a new year, the enjoyable past-time of putting together my year-end "best of" list is something I truly look forward to doing, especially when there's a plethora of great work to choose from--many of which I had the pleasure of reviewing exclusively for BroadwayWorld.
But, alas, I have to divulge a bit of a caveat: while 2012 was indeed a banner year for plays, musicals, and cabaret concerts from visiting Broadway talent, I'm afraid it was just near impossible to watch every offering available.
You see, on a personal note, 2012 also marked the year in which I felt it necessary to scale back on reviews and interviews for BWW in order to devote more time to, yup, actually performing on stage myself. Unfortunately, this meant fewer opportunities to attend opening nights and press performances, which may have impacted the results of this very list (for example, I heard nothing but great things about Celebration Theatre's The Color Purple, Theatre Out's Cabaret, Over The Moon's Spring Awakening, 3D Theatrical's Avenue Q, and the West Coast production of Silence! The Musical... so, I bet any of these would have made my list had I seen them. Sigh).
But the trade-off for me was a really fun year of performing on various stages, including the chance to be a part of my singing group's all-male (!) version of The Sound of Music (I played Gretl Von Trapp, believe it or not) and also, ending the year with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of sharing the stage with the legendary Liza Minnelli (you clever readers can find photos from the show right here on BWW).
With that said, here is my Top 10 Stage Shows of 2012, followed by my picks for the year's best performances. Happy New Year! (I also invite you, dear readers, to post your own Best-Of list in the comment section below!)
1. THE BOOK OF MORMON
First National Tour
Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles
At long last, one of the most buzzed-about new musicals to hit the Great White Way finally made a triumphant bow in the West Coast -- and, boy, did it ever live up to expectations. Giddy, crass, and surprisingly heart-felt, this Best Musical Tony winner full of winking cynicism and reverent nods to past Broadway musicals is truly a genius concoction that's both fresh yet comfortably familiar. Here, AVENUE Q's Robert Lopez and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have produced, hands down, the best, most thoroughly-entertaining musical comedy to ever be mounted on a stage in quite some time. It's rude, crude, and shamelessly offensive... and you're going to adore every single minute of it. This easily nudged its way into my Top 5 favorite shows of all time.
Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles
Opulent, gorgeous and supremely lush, Stephen Sondheim's unstructured musical about aging ex-showgirls reuniting at a dilapidated old theater--an almost exact transfer of the Tony-nominated revival that wowed audiences in New York and Washington D.C.--was certainly a welcome "replacement" for the shuttered FUNNY GIRL revival that never came to fruition. Featuring arguably the composer's most beautifully-written score which was then interpreted by a roster of staggeringly good actors, this thrice-only incarnation was something you couldn't possibly miss. Plus, the show also proved that even Broadway Babies of a certain age can sing circles around their much younger peers.
3. THE CAR PLAYS
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa
La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego
Produced by LA's Moving Arts, THE CAR PLAYS is one of the most thrilling theater experiences you will ever sit through--or rather, get stuck in (and in a good way). At times moving, at times hilariously cringe-worthy, and at other times downright uncomfortable, this high-concept experiment is about as in-your-face as site-specific theater gets. One by one, ushers escort (then trap!) an audience of two inside the confined space of a vehicle for five randomly appointed 10-minute mini-plays that unfold right in front of you. Frightening yet cool, right? Seek this out if it is ever presented at a theater parking lot near you.
4. SCOTTSBORO BOYS
San Diego Production
The Old Globe, San Diego
Thought-provoking, emotionally-stirring, and unflinchingly tragic, this controversial and (unfortunately) short-lived Kander and Ebb musical mixes a hot-button storyline with bits of minstrel show comedy and an ebullient score--which together, produced an astonishing musical that moved me more than any other I saw this year. Hints of playfulness and vaudevillian melodies that underscored heartbreak and injustice easily seared themselves into me long after the final curtain fell. Just brilliant.
5. MAN OF LA MANCHA
Musical Theatre West, Long Beach
With two impressive lead stars at the forefront of a fresh, dynamic re-staging of a classic work, MTW's exceptional production of the 1965 Tony Award-winning musical is by far the most complex, beautifully-rendered regional production I saw this past year. A laudable blend of strong musical performances, sublime visual artistry, and a labyrinthine story, this intensely-moving production proved once again that MTW is still one of the area's most exciting, top-tier regional theater companies.