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Top 10 Best Plays/Musicals of 2010

Disclaimer: I didn’t see every play and musical in the Bay Area or on Broadway, so unfortunately this isn’t a comprehensive list. I did see over 60 productions this year and saw a wide variety of plays and musicals at most of the Bay Area Theatre companies and several in Las Vegas, London and New York City.

There are still a few main companies that I’m missing in the Bay Area, but planning on reviewing next year (most notably, ACT in San Francisco). I’m excluding two productions that I was a part of: RENT at City Lights Theatre Company and Smokey Joe’s Cafe at Bus Barn Stage Company — they were both fantastic productions, but would be totally biased if included.

These 10 plays/musicals were my favorite productions that I saw in 2010. (You can see the list of all of the shows I saw, here.)  The Bay Area has had many success stories this past year, from Theatrework’s production of Memphis that won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Berkeley Rep transferring Green Day’s American Idiot (which also won two Tony Awards). The Bay Area Theatre community is definitely representing well but here’s a list of my favorites of 2010 that includes the Bay Area, Las Vegas, New York City and London!

Congratulations and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year! I’m hearing that some of my favorite shows are going to be produced right here in the Bay Area.

Number 10:

Rain at Broadway San Jose: Broadway San Jose has brought a lot of fun productions this year to San Jose. They started off the year with the super high-spirited shows, Avenue Q and Legally Blonde. In September, their second season started off with a bang, with the sizzling show, Burn the Floor (which I surprisingly loved). But, my favorite, so far this year, was Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles. I said in my review, “Rain: A Tribue to the Beatles does an incredible job of grabbing everyone’s attention and giving them a show that’s instantly likable at any age.”

I had more fun at this performance, (which technically seemed more like a concert than a “musical”) than I ever expected to have, plus I was able to hear some of my favorite Beatles’ songs performed live. 100% recommended.

Read the full review, here.

Number 9:

In the Heights at Curran Theatre (SHNSF – touring production): Out of all of the touring productions that SHNSF brought to San Francisco, In the Heights was by far the best one. There was Fiddler on the Roof, Young Frankenstein (which I missed), Beauty and the Beast, West Side StoryShrek and of course, the San Francisco cast of Wicked which sadly closed at the beginning of September. Here’s an excerpt of my review of In the Heights:

I never expected to love it as much as I do, but it’s infectious rhythms and beautiful melodies accompanied with a story that has more heart than most Broadway musicals makes for an electrifying evening of theatre. I might just have to go back and see this again. It’s that good.

I’m sad that In the Heights is closing on Broadway in January, but happy I had the experience of seeing this incredible show.

Read the full review, here.

Number 8:

Ain’t Misbehavin’ at San Jose Repertory Theatre: For my first introduction to this fantastic show, San Jose Rep’s production was Broadway-caliber. I thought the performers were incredibly talented and the overall production was one of the best shows I’ve seen at SJ Rep. I really enjoyed several productions at SJ Rep this year and Black Pearl Sings was another favorite, but Ain’t Misbehavin’ had an energy that was totally infectious.

I think the entire audience was ready to dance and clap at the end because all of us leapt to our feet during the closing song!

I couldn’t be more thrilled that this was my first introduction to Ain’t Misbehavin’! It’s a perfect treat!

Read the full review, here.

Number 7:

San Francisco SymphonyAudra McDonald & Duncan Sheik/Holly Brook: San Francisco Symphony is creative and innovative with their programming choices. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two programs that I saw at SF Symphony this year, because they were excellent. Audra McDonald’s performance was genius (per usual). McDonald’s voice accompanied by the SF Symphony was absolutely breathtaking. This is a night I won’t soon forget. The other show I saw was Duncan Sheik’s symphonic arrangement of his newest musical, Whisper House. The beautiful arrangements added so much texture and layers to his already haunting score. I just wished it was a longer concert. (It was great to see Duncan Sheik in concert while I was visiting Glasgow.) Well done SF Symphony.

Read the full review of Audra McDonald, here.

Read the full review of Duncan Sheik/Holly Brook, here.

Number 6:

Musical Love Never Dies at Aldephi Theatre (London): With all of the negative press that has been surrounded by Love Never Dies I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed myself. I’ve never been too partial to Phantom of the Opera (though I do love the shortened Vegas production), but I was absolutely intrigued by the beautiful set, costumes and world that Andrew Lloyd Weber has created at the Aldephi Theatre. I was enraptured the entire time (and I had the worst seats ever). I’m seeing this production again on New Year’s Day and am looking forward to seeing the changes that they have made to the plot/story-line, but  the melodramatic story accompanied the music perfectly. It’s a spectacle and one that you shouldn’t miss. It was my favorite show I saw in London.

Read the full review, here.

Number 5:

Jersey Boys at The Palazzo (Las Vegas): For some reason, I avoided Jersey Boys like it was the plague. I had no interest in seeing this musical, even though it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. But on my Las Vegas Broadway Vacation, I saw The Lion King, Phantom and Jersey Boys and both the missus and I absolutely loved Jersey Boys. Here’s an excerpt from my review:

The Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys is so engaging that even someone who has never cared to acquaint themselves with the music and story of The Four Seasons (like myself) cannot escape being sucked into this world.

Read the full review, here.

Number 4:

Compulsion at Berkeley Rep: This particular play will be in New York City (with the same cast) in the Spring and you won’t want to miss this heart-breaking play. The interweaving of puppets, matched with Mandy Patinkin’s intensity makes this play one of the best things I saw this year!

Berkeley Rep is known for producing first-rate theatre, but out of everything that I saw this year at Berkeley Rep, Compulsion was the best. It’s remarkable.

Read the full review, here.

Number 3:

Tie between American Idiot and Next to Normal on Broadway: The reasons behind the tie is that I have seen both of these productions before. I saw American Idiot four times at Berkeley Rep and Next to Normal four times on Broadway (all with Alice Ripley). This was the first time I saw American Idiot on Broadway and the first time I saw Next to Normal without Alice Ripley. Out of all of the new shows I saw on Broadway that weekend, these two shows still resonated with me the most.

I can’t get enough of either show. I rarely see a show multiple times, and both of these shows I have now seen five times. If you haven’t seen either, than I suggest running to theatre and grabbing tickets! I’ll be seeing both of these shows in the new year – American Idiot again on Broadway with Billie Jo Armstrong as St. Jimmy and Next to Normal on tour in San Francisco with Alice Ripley.

Read the full review of American Idiot, here.

Number 2:

Broadway Cast Poster Closing night of Finian’s Rainbow at St. James Theatre: On a whim, I saw the closing night of Finian’s Rainbow. It was one of the most emotional nights of theatre I have ever witnessed. Here’s an excerpt of the review:

Song after song, scene after scene, it just kept getting better and better. It ended with a beautiful rainbow as they sung, “How are Things in Glocca Morra?” The audience leapt to their feet, tears in their eyes and gave a rousing standing ovation unlike any standing ovation I’ve ever seen in theatre. What a special show, night and cast.

It’s truly a travesty that this show closed so early, but it’s a gift that will never be forgotten. The magic of the rainbow is far but over.

Read the full review of Finian’s Rainbow, here.

Number 1:

Whisper House at Old Globe Theatre (San Diego): This is a musical that has stayed with me all year. Time after time, I’m thinking about this show, listening to the music and recounting the experience to friends and family. “Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow’s new musical, Whisper House, carefully crafts a new style of story-telling that is powerful, unique and riveting.” I love that Sheik and Jarrow upset the “standard musical comedy” with a different way to present a musical. It tells me that there is a future in this craft and that people are still willing to make huge strides in storytelling in musical theatre instead of adapting movies into musicals (over and over).

I absolutely loved Whisper House and I will go and see it anywhere in the country. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Read the full review of Whisper House, here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

 

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Theatre Review: “Jersey Boys” @ The Palazzo, 02/21/10

The lyrics “Oh, what a night!” resonant loudly in the custom built Palazzo Theater and I think, “I couldn’t agree more”. I keep having to remind myself that this is a musical and it’s not okay to sing along with the band. The Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys is so engaging that even someone who has never cared to acquaint themselves with the music and story of The Four Seasons (like myself) cannot escape being sucked into this world.

The musical Jersey Boys is fittingly separated into four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, with each season narrated from the perspective from one of the original Four Seasons members: Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Frankie Valli. Despite the amazing popularity of the band, Jersey Boys is the first time the behind-the-scenes story of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons has been told. This all sounds basic enough, yet somehow watching the plot weave seamlessly through the music of The Four Seasons makes me realize that this is not the “musical review” that I thought I was walking into. No, it’s a fast-paced, lively musical worthy of all the critical acclaim it has received.

The cast consists of seventeen men including a solid performance by Bay Area actor Jeff Leibow as Nick Massi. Most notably, Rick Faugno shines as Frankie Valli, a role so vocally demanding that two people (Rick Faugno and Travis Cloer) must alternate between the eight weekly performances. Also, Deven May does an incredible job as Tommy DeVito, the Italian-bred, Jersey-born leader of the group. There are also three women – Lauren Tartaglia, Carly Thomas and Nikka Wahl – who convincingly play over fifty different roles in the show, all of course to perfection.

The music arrangements are one of the highlights of this show. Vocal arrangements (Ron Melrose) and orchestrations (Steve Orich) stay true to the style of music while filling in the harmonies and textures just enough to give it a little more pizazz. The music of The Four Seasons such as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Sherry,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is so ingrained in American culture that most people know the music already – even if they aren’t aware that it was The Four Seasons that originally performed them. In fact, I don’t recall a single song in the musical that I hadn’t heard before.

Next time you’re in Vegas, check out the only current West Coast production of Jersey Boys. And make sure you check out all the memorabilia taken from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on your way out of the theatre. It will have more meaning after you’ve seen Jersey Boys. Especially if you knew as little as I did about The Four Seasons.

Jersey Boys at The Palazzo Resort

3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Phone: (702) 414-9000 or (866) 641-7469

Group Sales: (702) 785-5394 or email GroupSales@BASEentertainment.com

Tickets: Prices range from $67 – $147 + tax – VIP seating is available

Website Address: www.JerseyBoysInfo.com or www.PalazzoLasVegas.com

Read my twitter feed and learn all about my Las Vegas Broadway Weekend.

 
 

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Theatre Review: “Phantom” @ The Venetian Resort, 02/20/10

It’s called Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular for a reason. Phantom in Las Vegas is spectacular. There’s really no other way to describe it. From the gorgeous 40-million dollar theatre (specifically built for this production), to the stunning costumes, amazing special effects, falling chandelier (in four parts) and incredible set design, Phantom does not dissapoint.

When I saw Phantom of the Opera, years ago, at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, it felt long-winded, a little boring and the love story didn’t resonate at all. Now, it’s been reworked, cut to 90 minutes and it couldn’t be a more precise production. There’s nothing extra in it, no long-winded reprises of songs you can’t understand the lyrics to there’s not even any unneeded dialogue. It’s short, to the point and yet somehow the story is much clearer than the recent movie adaptation or original musical. I finally walked out the theatre understanding the love connection between Christine (Kristi Holden) and the Phantom (Anthony Crivello) and also between Christine and Raoul (Andrew Ragone). Before I never understood any of the relationships so I didn’t care. Now, I do. And that makes all of the difference.

One of the best parts of the production is the sound design by Mick Potter. Obviously, Potter had state-of-the-art material to work with and a brand new theatre but even so, his sound design makes the show. It must have been a dream to design! No limitations. Because of that, he’s designed one of the best sounding productions I have ever seen. It’s very rare for me to walk out of a production thinking, “Damn, that sound design was fantastic.” The way the sound moves through the auditorium creates almost another sensory experience for the theatregoer. It comes at you at all angles, crescendoing and decrescendoing at all the right moments. The orchestra and voices sounded crystal clear. You almost have to see this production just for the sound design.

Now combine the sound design with an incredible set design and special effects and Phantom will blow your mind. There’s fire, fog and even nightly fireworks. The Phantom only appears in the chandelier (that cost $5 million to build), above the stage, in the box seats, through trapdoors and downstage only in his dungeon lair (surrounded by mist). He’s truly a ghost of the theatre. One of my favorite moments is when Christine and Phantom are on the boat, surrounded by fog and mist, with floating candles all around. It couldn’t be a more beautiful stage picture.

Christine Daae’s (Kristi Holden) beautiful voice soars throughout the entire production. Her voice against the Phantom and Raoul’s voice was a perfect match, especially in “All I Ask of You”. Everyone in the 40-person cast sounded amazing, especially up against the magnificent orchestra conducted by Jack Gaughan. The orchestra should be congratulated for making Andrew Lloyd Weber’s score fresh and modern (unlike the dismal movie). I absolutely think they should make a cast recording of the Las Vegas production. I would buy it in a heart beat.

Over a hundred million people have seen the stage version of Phantom of the Opera (and countless others the movie). They’ve created a smart, updated, stripped-down version that is ultimately better than the original. It’s quite hard to one-up a masterpiece, especially one as well-known as Phantom, but the Las Vegas production does that in spades.

Check out my twitter feed and learn all about my Las Vegas Broadway Weekend!

Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular

Venetian Resort – Hotel – Casino

Venetian Box office – (866) 641-SHOW (7469) or (702) 414-9000

Group Sales: For 10 or more – (702) 785-5394 or Groups@BASEentertainment.com
Tickets: Prices range from $72 – $160 + tax – VIP Experience Package is available
Website Address: www.phantomlasvegas.com or www.venetian.com

Check out Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new sequel to “Phantom of the Opera” entitled “Love Never Dies”. The Broadway Critic has a sneak peak to two of the songs.

 
 

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Theatre Review: “The Lion King” @ Mandalay Bay, 02/20/10

Ever since The Lion King made it’s debut roar on Broadway in the New Amsterdam Theatre, I have heard mostly great things about the show (especially about Julie Taymor’s direction and costumes).  I’ve been avoiding it for 12 years for no particular reason other than it’s a musical based on a cartoon. I’ve always just had more important or time-sensitive shows to see when I go to New York City. The Lion King has just surpassed Beauty and the Beast and now is the 8th longest running musical on Broadway. Quite a feat! Not to mention the several US and international tours that are currently in production. Luckily, I had the chance to see The Lion King for the first time in Mandalay Bay’s beautiful, spacious state-of-the-art theatre.

What a beautiful production – from the costumes, down to the set design; it’s visually stunning! And you can’t forget the memorable songs and story. In the first number, “Circle of Life”, you’ve already seen dozens of ingenious animal costumes/puppets – all of which are incredible. I was literally inches away from the actors as they proceeded down the aisles of the theatre to the stage. The elephants, birds, antelope, cheetah and the rest of the animals all gather to see Mufasa’s new child, Simba displayed on top of Pride Rock. And so begins the circle of life…

Everyone knows the story of The Lion King since it is 19th biggest grossing movie with several Academy, Golden Globes and Grammy awards and nominations. It’s the highest grossing cartoon of the 1990’s. It’s epic in it’s own right. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the cartoon that I forgot that I had every line and lyric memorized. There are some differences in the musical version – some added scenes and songs to help create some depth to the characters (especially the older Nala and Zazu) and plot. Unlike the changes in plot in Disney’s recent The Little Mermaid musical, I liked the changes/additions in The Lion King. One of my favorite numbers of the whole production was a new song called “Shadowlands” sung by the older Nala (Kissy Simmons). In one song, you learn about Nala’s frustrations, sorrow and fears – something you miss in the cartoon.

Besides being a beautiful costume parade, the choral music – that became the underlying thematic material throughout – was beautiful. The 40-plus cast members were in perfect tight harmony the entire show. Not only did everyone look beautiful and amazing, they sounded how they looked. There were a few striking performances that stood out against the rest: Scar (Thom Sesma), Older Nala (Kissy Simmons), Young Simba (Aubrey Omari Joseph) and Rafiki (Buyi Zama). Each one of these actors took command of that giant stage and held their own. Not once did their costume consume them; it only helped them further tell their story. Sesma’s interpretation of Scar was spot-on, down to his nasty snarl. Simmons’ powerful voice gave me chills and almost got me to cry when she sang “Shadowlands”. Joseph’s buoyant energy filled the theatre with young Simba’s curiosity and courage. And Zama held the show together (just as Rafiki holds the animals of Pride Rock together) with her powerful voice, character and monkey-charm.

There were only a few disappointments. With the amount of credits that Clifton Oliver (older Simba) has, I was underwhelmed by his acting and singing. He’s played Simba in L.A., Broadway and on the 1st National tour. You would think that this guy is gonna blow you away, but he didn’t! He didn’t nail either of his songs, but especially my favorite song, “Endless Night”. It felt constricted and overworked to the point that it had no life. Because the rest of the cast was so strong and the fact he only is in the second act, it didn’t effect the overall show. Mufasa (Alton F. White) didn’t necessarily command the stage as James Earl Jones’ voice did in the cartoon. White sang “They Live in You” beautifully, but I just didn’t feel Mufasa’s mammoth presence radiate.

The magnificent morphing set, designed by Richard Hudson, was incredible as it created beautiful allusions of caves, jungles, waterfalls and grasslands. I couldn’t believe how they manipulated the stage to do all of those changes in one show. At points, it was breathtaking.

Seeing my favorite childhood cartoon on stage was more memorable than I ever thought it would be. I loved it, plain and simple. The best part is that adults and children can equally love The Lion King. It’s part of why it was so successful as a cartoon and also why it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It’s a beautiful story that’s set to great music by Elton John and Tim Rice. You add Julie Taymor’s creative vision on top of that and you’ve created an imaginative masterpiece.

Read my twitter feed and learn all about my Las Vegas Broadway Weekend.

Listen to songs from the Original Cast Recording of The Lion King:

“Shadowland”

“Endless Night”

The Lion King at Mandalay Bay

Las Vegas, Nevada

Open-ended Run

Website | Get tickets

 
 

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The Las Vegas Broadway Weekend

To the West Coast, New York City can be quite the journey! It usually takes most of the day (or night – if you take the red eye) to get there and then you have to deal with the 3-hour time difference. Though New York City is thrilling and one of my favorite cities, it can be altogether a bit exhausting.

Good thing there’s Broadway in Las Vegas! Hop on a plane and you’re there in an hour or so and you’re refreshed from the quick nap you’ve just taken. Over the last 5 or 6 years, Las Vegas has really amped up their “family-friendly” marketing and nothing is more family-friendly than the musicals, The Lion King or Phantom! Since then, Las Vegas has been host of several shows including the new Queen musical We Will Rock You, Abba’s hit-musical Mamma Mia and even the Sesame Street adult-style musical Avenue Q. Broadway is taking over Las Vegas one show at a time. (MORE PLEASE!)

Now, you’ve got to remember that it’s Las Vegas. The shows are a little shorter. (You don’t want to be spending the entire night at the theatre right?) And of course, they have a little more razzle dazzle than productions in New York City. It obviously goes a long with the overall Vegas-esque theme! But, I don’t mind. Bring it on!

Here’s a run-down of Las Vegas Theatre:

Broadway shows:

Off-Broadway type shows:

Cirque du Soleil productions:

For a full listing of everything, you can always check out Playbill.com.

This weekend, I’m going to have an epic Broadway-filled trip to Las Vegas. Instead of going to freezing New York, I decided it’s high time that I see The Lion King and Jersey Boys. I’ve never seen either of those shows on Broadway, so I’m looking forward to seeing them for the first time. Last June, I saw Phantom, The Las Vegas Spectacular and I was absolutely blown away. I can’t wait to see it again! It’s truly spectacular.

What’s your favorite part of Sin City? Though we do love the shopping, a little gambling and the rollercoasters, our favorite part is, of course, the theatre!

 
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Posted by on 02/18/2010 in Broadway, Las Vegas, Preview

 

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