With a mix of touring companies, professional ensembles, college, community and even a Broadway show - here is my delightful dozen of the most notable, nifty and nicely staged productions of 2012:
"Sweeney Todd" (Penn State Centre Stage) -The word "awesome" is tossed around frequently, often without much rhyme or reason, but awesome is the most-fitting description of Penn State's October musical staged in the close-in, intimate surroundings of the Pavilion Stage. With a mix of graduate vocal students and Equity actors with stellar technical designs, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street never looked or sounded better. (In my previous 11 years of listing my notable favorites, there was no significance to the order until Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" sliced its way to the No. 1 slot in 2012).
"Murder at the Howard Johnson's" (Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble) - A somewhat surprise selection for the fine professional regional theater ensemble, this slaphappy comedy about a trio (husband, wife and her boyfriend) plotting and trying to kill each other unsuccessfully over three holidays in a HoJo Motel room always was animated. James Goode noted that "BTE likes a hilarious farce as much as anybody" and this production was notable as a departure from the more traditional offerings - and was it ever funny!
BOB?RUSH/Special to the Sun-Gazette
Guest Actor David Menich as Scrooge’s nephew Fred is shown in Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”
"All Shook Up" (Millbrook Playhouse) - The Main Stage opener almost shook the old barn theater's rafters with this high-energy musical. With no original score, this "jukebox musical" features several Elvis Presley's hits as the large cast of professionals and community actors kicked off the 49th season with rousing renditions and nifty dance numbers.
"Forever Plaid" (Allenberry Playhouse) - Another season opener, which kicked Allenberry's 2012 schedule into high gear. This "Heavenly Musical" featured a nifty mix of '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll and show tunes. The Plaids, who after meeting an early death, come back to Earth for one final concert. With nicely executed dance numbers and great harmonizing, "Forever Plaid" was a notable revue, which raised the audience's spirit and drew sustained applause.
"Hello Dolly" (Community Theatre League) - Dolly Levi Gallagher is not only a seasoned matchmaker but was CTL's season-ending musical. Featuring Marissa Hickey as Dolly and Greg Keiffer (returning to the stage after a lengthy hiatus) as Horace, this version of Jerry Herman's "Hello Dolly" visually painted a colorful picture with great looking costuming and hats. Jason Moyer's sure-handed meticulous direction elevated "Hello Dolly" to one of CTL's best musicals in recent years.
"The Wild Party" (Bucknell University) - Notable in that this controversial and ground-breaking musical even showed up in the Department of Theatre and Dance's "season."
Boozing and brawling at a knockout, all-night party is the setting for this powerful look at the drug-addled and highly sexualized milieu of the 1920s. The jazz-infused music of the era added a nifty touch.
"Lend Me a Tenor" (Millbrook Playhouse) - When I saw Ken Ludwig's comedy on opening night in the Cabaret, I predicted that this fractured farce would prompt the artistic director to try to round up the cast for encore performances at season's end. With great characterizations and timing, the cast generated howls of laughter both in June as the Cabaret's opening attraction and also in August when the madcap antics of a Cleveland opera company were repeated for sold-out encores.
"Grand Hotel" (Penn State Centre Stage) - Notable as this infrequently staged musical had an imaginative staging. The performance featured solid acting by the all-student cast of eight, as they enter the revolving doors of Berlin's "Grand Hotel" during one fateful weekend in 1928. Maury Yeston's additional lyrics paint with subtle strokes the high life and optimism of the top-hatted men and flappers.
"Chicago" (Allenberry Playhouse) - Topping the trio of summertime's musicals of "The Sound of Music" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "Chicago" showed why it is the "Razzle Dazzle" dance sensation. Funny portrayals and great vocals by Velma and Roxie and sizzling dance numbers brought "All that Jazz" to life, much to Allenberry audiences' delight.
Artistic Director Rogue Berlonga directed "Chicago" with orchestrated abandon.
"A Christmas Carol" (Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble) - A holiday tradition got a nifty uplift as BTE's Rich Cannady both adapted and directed Charles Dickens' classic.
This version breathed new life into Ebenezer Scrooge, also focusing upon his partner Jacob Marley. Danny Roth played the skinflint and BTE welcomed back Tom Byrn to play Marley, both seemingly having a great time - as did the audience. The production was refreshingly vibrant and excelled in its technical phases, making it the best family fare over this holiday season.
"West Side Story" (ACT-UP) - Notable as the Community Theatre League's collaboration with the Community Arts Center produced another stellar summer musical. Jacquie Engel's expert direction of students from several school districts again paid entertaining dividends. Tess Bower Gist's choreography of Jerome Robbins' routines made the Jets and the Sharks move and dance with great precision. A full orchestra playing the complex Leonard Bernstein score complimented the vocals ("Maria," "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty," "Somewhere"), which generated the most applause.
"War Horse" (Lincoln Center) - Just a few weeks ago before ending its Broadway run, I saw - make that experienced - "War Horse." It was a thoroughly amazing and stirring experience.
The handling and puppetry of the horses is hard to describe but several in the audience gasp or cry out when the "War Horse" gets whipped. Set near the end of World War I, the tale of one boy's love and search for his horse, sold off to go to war, is absorbing and emotionally draining. An amazing statistic in the program: One million English horses were taken to France to be used by the British Army.
Only 62,000 of them were brought back to England. A total of eight million horses died during World War I.