HITTING ALL THE RIGHT NOTES:
THIS YEAR’S BEST MUSICALS!
By Joel Markowitz
I am a musical theatre crazy, and this year we were blessed with many wonderful productions in our local theatres. Here are my top ten musicals of the year, my top ten musical performances, and the musical performer of the year.
#1 THE MUSICALS OF MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL (MetroStage)
The Musical of Musicals-The Musical was non-stop craziness, with great singing, hilarious lyrics, and a cast from heaven -Janine Gullisano-Sunday, Russell Sunday (her husband), two-time Helen Hayes winner Donna Migliaccio and Bobby Smith, hurling lots of corn (“Aw Shucks!”) getting hit by swinging chandeliers, parodying Sondheim (”A Little Complex”), Rodgers and Hammerstein, (“Corn!”), Jerry Herman (“Dear Abby!”) and Kander and Ebb (“Speakeasy”).
For this musical fan, it was sheer bliss and delicious fun! I never saw so many critics laughing their heads off like I did on opening night. Brilliantly directed by Larry Kaye, this production never let up until the lights came up at the end, where audiences rose to their feet to show their appreciation to the hard working and totally exhausted cast.
#2 LES MISERABLES (Act Two at The Olney Theater Center)
I’ve seen Les Miz over a dozen times, and when I was invited to see Act Two’s School Version, I was feeling a little miserable because I was afraid that these young kids would destroy a show I love. How could they pull it off?
To my pleasant surprise, with two superb singers in the leads roles – Nate Betancourt as Jean Valjean and Andrew Ennis as Javert – this stunning production left me breathless. It was 2 ½ hours of gorgeous lighting, costumes, sets wonderful singing, and an orchestra led by Keith Tittermary that rivaled any of the national touring companies I had seen over the years. It was tres manifique!
#3 THE FULL MONTY (Toby’s-The Dinner Theater of Columbia)
This production really took off from the moment the overture was played until the curtain came down. With a brilliant cast that included two-time Helen Hayes winner David James turning the other cheek, and Dan McDonald, David-Bosley-Reynolds and Ray Hatch baring all, and Lynne Sigler as Jeanette Burmeister, the piano player with a big heart, this production was pure fun. And to hear that great David Yazbeck score again reminded me that he wuz robbed when Mel Brooks won for his nothing of a score from The Producers.
#4 THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (Signature Theatre)
They re-worked the earlier London production and gave local audiences a nastier edge and the devilish Marc Kudisch in a role that if it ever transfers to Broadway (and I hope it does), Marc could easily win a Tony. The onstage chemistry of Broadway vets Jackie Piro, Christiane Noll and Emily Skinner, was a joy to watch and when I had the honor of podcasting them, I got to see the chemistry they shared as friends. Marc singing and strutting his stuff during “Darryl Van Horne,” and Jackie singing “Words, Words, Words” were the highlights of this funny and very adult production.
#5 RAGTIME (Toby’s – The Dinner Theatre of Columbia)
How do you remount another production of a show that received 9 Helen Hayes nominations in 2004? If you are Toby Orenstein, you change the stage from in the round in Columbia, to proscenium in Baltimore. You cast two young singers/actors – Kevin McAlister and Ashley Parker as Coalhouse Walker and Sarah, and you bring back Nancy Aserdorf to recreate her role as Mother, as well as Jason Fullmer in the role of Tateh.. Beautifully staged and directed, the production looked like a great Broadway musical production.
#6 SIDE SHOW (Elden Street Players)
Once again, The Elden Street Players have ended their season with a terrific summer musical –Side Show. The Henry Krieger/Bill Russell musical about the
The Hilton Sisters, the famous Siamese twins, has grown into a cult musical for musical lovers. I saw the original Broadway production several times before its abrupt and much too soon closing, and loved it.
Like their production of Blood Brothers last year (which I selected as the Best local musical production of the year), the two leads were phenomenal! Katie McManus (Violet) and Jennifer Lambert’s (Daisy) singing was equal to the originals-Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, and they were also fine actresses. I took the Ushers to see the show on August 18th and all they could talk about when the cast joined us for dessert after the show, was how phenomenal they were as Daisy and Violet.
The other star of the production was Elisa Rosman’s nine member orchestra. Hidden from view, they played the wonderful score beautifully. It was as if I was listening to Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s melodic score for the first time. The intimacy of that small theatre added extra power to an already powerful and heartbreaking story.
#7 BLOOD BROTHERS (Act Two at Olney Theater Center)
They did it again! The brilliant performances by young actors Jake Sheffer and Michael Brick as Mickey and Eddie and Jennifer Steiger as Mrs. Johnstone turned a mediocre musical into a great musical experience. Jennifer’s rendition of “Tell Me It’s Not True” left the audience in tears. A haunting evening done so professionally that you would think you were in a Broadway Theatre., Bloody incredible!
#8 REEFER MADNESS (Studio Theatre)
With hysterical performances by Andrew Sonntag, Lauren Williams, Larry Redmond,
Channez McQuay and Bobby Smith, Reefer Madness “lit up the joint” with sheer madness (sorry Kennedy Center!), great one-liners, silly songs and wonderfully athletic and energetic choreography by Matthew Gardiner. And to the cast, I was up in the (green) clouds watching you, so I hope you will accept a toke-n of my appreciation for your hard work and great performances. It’s nice to see Studio Theatre audiences going to pot!
#9 SHE LOVES ME (Arena Stage)
A lovely production of a lovely show, She Loves Me graced Arena Stage during Christmas time and brought love and charm to its audiences. How nice to see this musical revived. (It had the unfortunate bad timing of opening during the season when Hello, Dolly and Funny Girl were the smash hits). The cast was perfection – Nancy Lemenager, Kevin Kraft, Jim Corti, Sebastian La Cause, and Brynne O’Malley, all Broadway vets who sang the beautiful score with gusto.
But the highlight of the show was watching J. Fred Shiffman as the crazy waiter in “A Romantic Atmosphere.” J. Fred, you were so incredibly convincing in that role that I left a $5.00 tip in an envelope for you at The Studio Theatre box office. Did you ever get it?
#10 SEUSSICAL (Musical Theater Center)
In the hands of a group of talented young actors, a show that flopped on Broadway, became a laugh-filled, visually beautiful production. This Seussical had it all – an incredible orchestra comprised of professional musicians, gorgeous costumes and sets, and a young cast of up and coming talents who can really sing – Max Talisman as Horton (Remember him as Noah Gellman in Studio Theatre’s Helen Hayes Winning Best Resident Musical Caroline, Or Change?), Jonny Perl as Jojo, and Christopher Wolf as the very arrogant Cat In The Hat. Composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty would have been proud!
Honorable Mention –
Evan Hoffman deserves a Medal of Honor for Nevermore. His lead actor left the production in the last few weeks before opening, and Evan was forced to assume the lead role of Edgar Allan Poe in addition to directing the show. And what a performance Evan gave!
In this beautifully sung production of Matt Conner’s Nevermore, which had a premiere production at Signature Theatre, Evan and his talented cast gave this Nevermore more heart, and more emotion. We were able to hear the real beauty of Matt Conner’s score and those infamous Poe words because it had a small orchestra and the great singing cast had perfect diction.
And what a joy is was to see local theatre vet Gilly Conklin as Edgar’s Mom, full of grace and elegance. This Neverless was really Nevermore…
GREAT MUSICAL PERFORMANCES
I explained why I chose these actors/actresses above, so here’s my list:
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JOEL’S MUSICAL PERFORMER OF THE YEAR IS …..
** BOBBY SMITH **
He jittered his way through The Musical of Musicals: The Musical. He played Jesus and a pot supplier in Reefer Madness. He charmed and soft-shoed his way through The Queen of The Bohemian Dream at this year’s Fringe Festival. He appeared as another man of G-d in The Long Christmas Ride Home at Studio Theatre, and finally played a silly and at times loony father in The Girl in The Goldfish Bowl at Metro Stage.
All of these performances made me grin and cheer for Bobby Smith, my Musical Performer of the Year.