A hard-rocking musical, a re-imagined Shakespeare tragedy, a rollicking world premiere comedy and a haunting play about a play are among this year’s top contenders in South Florida regional theatre.
- If I Forget, GableStage
GableStage’s consummate production of this provocative, gasp-worthy script artfully juggled the competing motivations of a Jewish family riven by politics, faith and distance, with a first-rate cast delivering some of the finest, most emotionally draining work of their careers.
- Cabaret, Area Stage
I didn’t think we needed another version of “Cabaret” until I saw Area Stage’s impeccably polished and winningly bawdy production. It delivered on everything we seek from the Kander & Ebb masterpiece: imaginative choreography, aching drama, tender romance, a shabby-chic set and lurid lighting, staged with a combination of longing and prescience.
- King Lear, Thinking Cap Theatre
Nicole Stodard’s re-imagined “King Lear” modernized the 17th century text by setting it in a modern hospital, and presenting the title character’s mad ravings as the fraying tether of a diseased mind in the final stages of degenerative disease. This bold and heartbreaking masterstroke was far from the only innovation: There were also dance numbers, imaginative blocking and props, and live Beatles instrumentals underscoring the action. It all added up to a powerful and easily digestible night of Shakespeare.
- Rock of Ages, Slow Burn Theatre
Slow Burn’s cheeky, zesty and salacious production of this arena-rock jukebox musical was the surprise of year, with choreography as tight as the bands, musical direction that approached its cheezy ballads and first-pumpers rockers with zeal and affection, and acting that walked a careful tightrope between earnest authenticity and winking self-effacement.
- Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Palm Beach Dramaworks
With director Bruce Linser captaining a seemingly effortless ship of song, this exploration of the hillbilly godfather of folk music was neither revue, nor biography, nor jukebox musical. It was more of a communal hoedown with Guthrie’s music as the soundtrack. Even the songs about poverty, death and hard living hid notes of hope, inviting us to come together to find them.
- Equus, Palm Beach Dramaworks
With its dizzying, orgiastic deployment of lighting, sound and movement, Dramaworks’ spellbinding production of “Equus” left me flummoxed and roped into its madness, struggling to re-process a show I’d seen in the past, but never like this. Director J. Barry Lewis guided his actors through challenging, sensitive terrain, with an impeccable design team to match.
- An Inspector Calls, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
The Maltz dusted off this antique British mystery about the collective guilt of an aristocratic family with exemplary technique and a 21st century vision, utilizing smoke, curtains and scenic obstructions to bring the play’s themes to vivid life—even going so far as to deepen the text with an atmospheric, class-conscious denouement.
- Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
This was live theatre in all its myriad forms—muscular and delicate, historical and modern, physical and literary, musical and verbal, English and Yiddish—all of it adding up to an unclassifiable experience that no other medium could replicate. There was even a smattering of humor in Dramaworks’ telling of the rise and fall of Sholem Asch’s controversial “God of Vengeance,” but it’s the haunting bits that most stay with you.
- Gloria, GableStage
Even knowing the play’s shocking pre-intermission development beforehand, I nearly fell out of my chair when happened. The year’s most relevant production, “Gloria” explored workplace violence and its reverberating aftermath with a bounty of textures, transforming from an uproarious comedy to a pulse-pounding thriller to a somber postmortem—representing nothing less than a GableStage best-of compilation.
- Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, Zoetic Stage
Miamian Chris Demos-Brown’s cynical legal comedy, written with the topical relevance and the rapier wit of an Aaron Sorkin script, received a sparkling world-premiere production from Zoetic, including an actual three-ring circus, acrobatic interludes and wry audience interaction. Arguably the year’s funniest show was also its best, with every single actor outshining his or her previous work.
And kudos to these five honorable mentions:“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Miami New Drama, “Fun Home” at Zoetic Stage, “Memphis” at Slow Burn Theatre, “Once” at Actors’ Playhouse, and “Zanna, Don’t!” at Island City Stage.