Distinctive Dozen: Best plays of 2013

Compiling a list of the top plays and musicals from the past year is my annual labor of love. Admittedly, it’s difficult to compare shows staged by local and area community theaters with touring Broadway productions, and professional regional ensembles with summer stock groups and college productions. But each of the following elevated my entertainment meter as either nicely staged, notable, or just plain nifty.

Here, in no particular order, is my Distinctive Dozen of 2013:

– “The Sound of Music” (Millbrook Playhouse) – The second Main Stage attraction at Mill Hall’s Millbrook Playhouse’s 50th anniversary season proved to be the audience’s “… favorite things.” Nicely staged with a minimum of set pieces, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score sung by a mix of professional and community artists (including the Von Trapp children) deservedly drew big audiences.

– “I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change” (Community Theatre League) – The reprise of CTL’s earlier success produced even more laughs, ranging from thoughtful to the belly variety. A nigh perfect quartet sang on the joys of dating, mating, marriage, newborns and even why “Funerals Are For Dating” with many hilarious characterizations.

– “The Trial of Walter Goodwin” (Hamilton Gibson Productions) – A notable recreation of a murder case in Wellsboro is based upon actual trial transcripts. Only one hour in length but exceptional educational entertainment as Goodwin’s conviction in 1897 for the grisly murder of his wife led to one of the last public hangings in Tioga County.

– “War Horse” (Broadway) – A riveting, highly emotional drama of a young boy’s search for his horse through the horrors of a world war. Notable in that it is only a matter of minutes before the audience forgets that the high -stepping horses are puppets, The Lincoln Center production was so engrossing that “War Horse” ranks as the top non-musical show – not only of 2013 – that I have ever seen.

– “The Full Monty” (Allenberry Playhouse) – This mid-summer musical drew appreciative crowds to the professional Boiling Springs theatre. The tale focuses on unemployed steel workers who, frustrated with work and women, decide to bare it all regardless of looks.

With some serious back stories, the production’s lighting was notable and vital, pinpointing how the best Chippendale strippers that Yorkshire England would ever see would also be what the Allenberry audience would not quite see.

– “Doubt: A Parable” (Penn State Centre Stage) – The Pulitzer-Prize and Tony Award winning drama got a suspense-filled production with Jane Ridley’s last role as a teaching faculty member of PSU School of Theatre. As the rigid nun who, despite no evidence and no witnesses, has no doubt of the parish priest’s molestation of a young boy, Ridley gave a mesmerizing performance.

– “The Merchant of Venice” (Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble) – The season opener and this year’s Project Discovery, in which nearly 1,400 high school students saw the Bard’s classic, “pushed the buttons” by its selection and casting. Andrew Hubatsek, the show’s director, set the action in modern day Venice. The themes of prejudice, greed and “minority rights” got a unique spin in this “comedy” which is best remembered for its classic dramatic script.

– “Nunsense A-men!” (Millbrook Playhouse) – The super-silly season finale in the Cabaret was extra funny as the five Little Sisters of Hoboken go about stumbling from one crisis to another. The five male actors in drag – make that nuns’ habits – milked the script for extra laughs resulting with five extra performances tacked on to the original sold-out run.

– “Annie” (Community Theatre League) – Everyone’s favorite orphan turned out to be everyone’s favorite musical … CTL ‘s “Annie” was notable in many regards, from double casting the slew of “Little Girls” to having Daddy Warbucks and his adopted Annie played by a real-life father and daughter. Most notable, however, was the attendance – the highest in CTL’s 35-plus years which optimistically points to a financially solvent “Tomorrow.”

– “A Christmas Memory” (Open Stage of Harrisburg) – This show was included in 2011 list when BTE presented this autobiographical tale of young Truman Capote growing up in rural Alabama during the Great Depression. Notable then as BTE’s alternative to its “A Christmas Carol” productions. Notable now as a winning musical score has been added with OSH offering the Northeast premier of this quietly funny and often poignant portrait of the young writer’s fondest holiday memories. (Still running through Dec. 29 for those wanting to catch some exceptional family theater fare.)

– “The Graduate” (Bloomsburg University) – The mid-November attraction in the Celebrity Artists Series brought the cult favorite to the B.U. stage.

The 2000 stage version of the award winning film tells the tale of the martini-saturated Mrs. Robinson and her prey, young Benjamin. Presented by the L.A. Theatre Works, this touring production coincides with the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking novel from 1963.

– “Mama Mia” (Broadway) – Notable not only because it was the third time that I’ve seen the ABBA musical that always gets audiences dancing in the aisle during its rousing 12-minute curtain call …

But after the show, a jaunt to Times Square became life-altering when, before the Jumbotron screen, someone was heard to say one of show’s song titles. It was “Will You Take a Chance On Me?” And the answer was “Yes!” Now that’s notable!