Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
December 30, 2011
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Theatrically speaking, there were some serious clunkers in 2011 – even at our flagship, Tony Award-winning theaters. But there were also some unusual and unforgettable highlights — glitzy, glorious or gut-wrenching moments of drama – and comedy.
The most perfectly polished production of the year was “August: Osage County” at the Old Globe, a superb staging of one of the most celebrated plays in decades. Also memorable were the gorgeous Globe productions of “The Tempest” and “Jane Austen’s Emma, the Musical.”
The tiny, ever-imaginative ion theatre gave us one thrilling, risk-taking, provocative production after another, and capped it all off with the most ambitious project in their seven years of existence: both parts of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” the most brilliantly influential theatrical creation of the late 20th century. On a shoestring budget, ion made mind-blowing theater magic.
Another American classic, another outstanding ensemble: the marvelous “Of Mice and Men” at New Village Arts, based on the timely Steinbeck novel about migrant workers in Depression-era California.
If you think incisive drama is tough, try fast-paced farce. North Coast Repertory Theatre offered a side-splitting, hair-trigger-timed laugh-fest in Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor.”
And of course, we can’t forget the La Jolla Playhouse, which launched a new, site-specific program, Without Walls, with the remarkable “Susurrus,” presented on personal iPods at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Watch for the next WOW production, “The Car Plays,” 10-minute playlets attended – yes, you guessed it, in the back seat of non-moving vehicles.
The Playhouse also gave us the entertaining but heartbreaking “Milk Like Sugar,” Kirsten Greenidge’s drama about a teen pregnancy pact, which went directly from here to Broadway. The same path will be taken by the electrifying revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which brought back Playhouse director emeritus Des McAnuff , who re-mounted the rock extravaganza at his new home, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada.
On a less grand scale, but with enormous ingenuity, 2011 brought us Moxie Theatre’s funny, poignant “Dead Man’s Cellphone,” and two knockout youth theater productions of “Spring Awakening,” from ACT San Diego and American Rose Theatre. Also in the musical realm, chalk up a hilarious “Hairspray” at Moonlight Stage and the beautiful, mythical “Sleeping Beauty Wakes” at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Downsizing and belt-tightening were the name of the game this year, and two theaters – Starlight and Lyric Opera – were lost to us. But great theater kept being made; heads were turned, hearts were stopped – and maybe, just maybe, a few minds were changed.
So if you didn’t fulfill your annual quota – put theatergoing on your must-do New Year’s resolution list.
Here’s wishing you a dramatic 2012!
©2011 PAT LAUNER