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TOP 10: Bev Wolfe’s 10 Best Plays and Musicals of 2016

Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Laila Robins) and Henry Plantagenet (Kevyn Morrow) in a rare moment in the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Lion in Winter. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

I have not seen all of the great shows that were performed in the Twin Cities in 2016, but here are the 10 best shows that I did attend:

  1. Nina Simone: Four Women (Park Square Theatre): Christina Ham has written her best play so far with this production about the murder of four young girls during the bombing of a church in Alabama.  It boasted an incredibly talented cast including Regina Marie Williams, Aimee K. Bryant, Thomasina Petrus and Traci Allen Shannon.  Additional plusses were Nina Simone’s songs and Lance Brockman’s set design of the bombed out remains of the church.For those of you who missed this play last year, Park Square Theatre is bringing it back for a limited run in February 2017.
  1. Glensheen (History Theater): This musical was on most Best 10 lists in 2015, but I am putting it on my 2016 list since I first saw it when it was reprised this summer at History Theatre.  It is hard to conceive how a brutal double murder of an elderly woman and her nurse can make for a really fun night, but this show definitely made the concept work with Chan Poling’s catchy lyrics and Jeffrey Hatcher’s witty dialog.  Jen Maren played the psychopathic Marjorie with such charm and humor that it was hard to remember she was the villain in the show.
  1. Trouble in Mind (Guthrie Theatre): Director Valerie Curtis-Newton’s production of Alice Childress’ 1950s play stood out as a powerful indictment of America’s second class treatment of its African-American citizens.  In the lead role, Margo Moore showed a compelling intensity as she transformed from an actor who made a living playing stereotypical “happy Negro” roles to that of a person who could no longer accept this degradation of her race.
  1. Everyman (Open Window Theatre): Prior to going on hiatus due to leasing issues, Open Window Theatre succeeded with an ambitious staging of this ritualistic 15th Century play.  Director Jeremy Stanbary added original music, movement, expressive lighting, and a metal jungle gym stage set to bring the original play to life for a modern audience. Hopefully, Open Window will resume these daring productions in the near future.
  1. The Parchman Hour (Guthrie Theater): This musical variety show concerned the 1960s Freedom Riders who were imprisoned in Mississippi’s infamous Parchman Prison.  It presented a notable intermix of comedy, drama and unique renditions of the 1960’s protest songs.  The talented and enthusiastic cast made this civil rights story well worth watching.
  1. Harvey (Guthrie Theater): This revival of Mary Chase’s 1944 Pulitzer Award-winning play tells the story of a 6-foot white invisible rabbit and his best friend Elwood P. Dowd.  It is a delightful and relaxing comedy. Sally Wingert’s overwrought performance of Veta was a standout.
  1. Queen (Heart of the Beast Theatre): Playwrights Erik Ehn and Junauda Petrus provided a poignant puppet show about a little boy killed in street violence and his grandmother’s journey to find his soul which was lost in time and space.  The play is a combination of grandmother myths from different cultures and a touching story about dealing with loss.
  1. The Naked I: Self-Defined (20% Theatre Company): This was the fourth incarnation of the Naked I series that 20% Theatre began producing in 2009. This play is the very definition of a “community play” where members of the community write and perform a play giving voice to non-traditional communities or issues.  This series focuses on the transgender and gender-queer communities.  The timely relevance of the issues and the talented (largely community members) cast made this performance a unique and warmhearted experience.
  1. The Lion in Winter (Guthrie Theater): This is a powerful Christmas tale of a dysfunctional and scheming family in the 12th  The events revolve around the royal family of Henry II, his estranged wife Eleanor, and their three sons who give new meaning to sibling rivalry.  Laila Robins masterfully portrayed Eleanor, one of the most fascinating women of the Middle Ages.
  1. Under the Gaslight (Minnesota Centennial Showboat): Bringing an end to a nearly 60 year tradition on the Mississippi River, this show was a fitting farewell performance. Olivia Wiluze was memorable as the plucky heroine Laura Courtland in this classic melodrama.  The disco finale of “I Will Survive” was both unexpected and sheer genius.


Bev Wolfe