Tuesday, January 1, 2013

ProfMiller's Top 10 of 2012

As I begin writing this, we are 90 minutes shy of saying farewell to 2012 and another year of theatergoing, my fifty-third as a devoted audience member. 

I thought this might be a good time to review the year and highlight the plays and musicals I have enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, both on and off Broadway. 

If my handy-dandy pocket calendar is to be believed, I‘ve seen 70 productions, starting with Look Back In Anger on January 15 and rounding out the year with Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on December 21. 

The first thing I noticed when going through the calendar is that, frankly, there were not a lot of shows that got my heart pounding. There was much solid work, to be sure, and an occasional astonishing performance (e. g. Tracie Bennett’s explosive turn as Judy Garland in the otherwise insipid End of the Rainbow), but few truly compelling evenings of theater. 

The next thing I noticed is that all ten on my “best of the year” list were revivals, eight plays and two musicals.  I do not know what this might mean, if anything, but I do long for something new that I can get excited about. There are many very good young playwrights producing excellent work, but nothing that I saw during 2012 was able to push its way past the revivals.

Lastly, only two on the list were presented in Broadway houses. This does not surprise me. Broadway is not much for risk-taking or ground-breaking plays these days, and movie star-powered productions abound—not always to the greatest advantage, except financially.  Don’t get me wrong; as Charley Kringas would say, “I like money a lot.”  But still…

Anyway, here’s the list, offered in alphabetical rather than preferential order:


Athol Fugard season at Signature Theatre, featuring Blood Knot; My Children! My Africa!; and The Train Driver.  Signature Theatre, currently in its second year at its new home, the Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street, is not entirely clear as to its revised mission or how to put its three theater spaces to best use.  But its inaugural year allowed it to do what it has always done best—lovingly showcase a selection of works by a single playwright.  Each of these productions was a riveting powerhouse about the devastating toll of South African apartheid laws and their aftermath, and all make it to this list on both their individual and collective merits. I was fortunate enough to have met the playwright outside of the theater one afternoon, so that I was able to express my appreciation for his amazing body of work.  

Lost In Yonkers. This Neil Simon Pulitzer Prize winner was given a loving and thoroughly engaging revival by the Actors Company Theatre (TACT).  A pleasure from start to finish.

Serious Money.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this revival of Caryl Churchill’s over-the-top satirical play about the shenanigans of Britain’s financial industry—written in rhyming couplets no less—yet  it knocked my socks off and erased all memory of that smoke-and-mirrors snoozefest, Enron, that covered much of the same ground on Broadway a couple of years back.  Kudos to the Potomac Theater Project that always brings interesting works to New York during the dog days of summer.

The Best Man.  Another happy surprise, thanks to top-notch directing (Michael Wilson) and a strong ensemble cast.  This was a fitting bow for Gore Vidal, the playwright, who passed away during the run.  I attended the moving and entertaining tribute by some of his friends and colleagues (among them Dick Cavett, Elaine May, Alan Cumming, Anjelica Huston, and Michael Moore) that was held on the set towards the end of the run and concluded with a short scene from the play performed by the production’s stars James Earl Jones and John Larroquette. 

The Lady From Dubuque.  Another hit for Signature Theatre Company.  Often dismissed as second-rate fare from the pen of Edward Albee, this production found the play’s deeply personal and emotional center and made it a revelation. 

The Piano Lesson.  This is a masterwork by August Wilson, and it couldn't be in finer hands than those of director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and its stellar cast.  And, yes, yet another triumph for Signature Theatre Company.  Closes all too soon on January 13.   


The Most Happy Fella.  The Dicapo Opera Theater’s production of this glorious Frank Loesser gem, with a brilliant performance by Michael Corvino in the title role, was the musical theater highlight of the year. I look forward to the company's presentation of Kismet, coming in the spring. 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The cast is having a blast, and, I daresay, so will you. You’ve got until March 10 to catch it at Roundabout’s Studio 54.

And so we move into 2013 with great hopes and expectations.  

Have a safe, healthy, and happy new year!

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