Lumière (Mark King) entertains Belle (Ruthanne Heyward) in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ 2016 production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Those of us living in the greater Twin Cities metro area are blessed with an embarrassment of artistic richness. There are far too many performing arts organizations for any one person to take in, with more than 300 theatre companies alone. Any one critic’s list of favorites is, therefore, a subset of what they’ve been able to see and experience.
Here are 10 of the plays, musicals, dance shows, and operas from my own list of 2016 favorites:
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical (Children’s Theatre Company). Where to begin? The stellar cast of child actors? The very high likelihood that all of your kids will see the show and want to start reading the books by Jeff Kinney? Kevin Del Aguilar’s stellar script or the songs by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler? As the Star Tribune‘s Rohan Preston called it, this show’s an energetic winner.
- Disgraced (Guthrie Theater). A poignant exploration of prejudice, cultural baggage, and things we say in guarded moments, cast in the context of the sort of dinner party that one only hopes to be invited to. Bhavesh Patel’s riveting performance as Pakistani-American lawyer Amir Kapoor stood out in a talented ensemble directed by Marcela Lorca.
- Horidraa: Golden Healing (Ananya Dance Theatre). ADT is a gem of contemporary (Asian) Indian American dance. Ananya Chatterjea’s choreography and the show’s exquisite sound wrapped viewers in a rollercoaster journey of movement.
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (National Tour/Hennepin Theatre Trust). We don’t usually give nods to touring productions, but this traveling version of the Broadway hit stood out. It’s hilarious, wonderfully satirical of a period and social mores that are often glamorized, and propelled by the quartet of Kevin Massey, Kristen Beth Williams, Adrienne Eller, and John Rapson. Having seen the original Broadway production with the original cast, this tour compared very favorably by becoming its own animal, with its own beats and nuances.
- Das Rheingold (Minnesota Opera). This staging of Act I of Wagner’s Ring cycle set a new watermark for exquisite singing, sensitive performance of complex orchestration, and grandeur. Minnesota Opera’s individual production budget details are private, but it’s clear that they spent a great deal on bringing in top vocal talent – and it showed in all the best ways. Michael Christie’s return to the Ordway’s podium showed masterful craft, channeling Wagner’s massive orchestra through magnificent moments without ever overpowering the singers. The hot topic at every performance: “Will Minnesota Opera do Siegfried (Act II of Der Ring des Nibelungen) next year? Please?”
- Watermelon Hill (History Theatre). 2016 was a watershed year for local theatres engaging with abortion, adoption, and pregnancy, including excellent productions like The Red Letter Society’s The Abortion Chronicles at the Minnesota Fringe Festival and In My Heart: The Adoption Play Project at Mixed Blood. Watermelon Hill stood out with its engagement with a piece of St. Paul history whose legacy still lives in the larger community – as testified as many of the engrossing anecdotes, letters, and memories posted on the walls outside the theatre. A perfect exposition of the History Theatre’s mission, directed with sensitivity and nuance by Anya Kremenetsky.
- Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle (The Catalysts). Max Wojtanowicz’s one-man comedy rocked the house, sold out Fringe shows, and made at least one member of our staff (not me) pee their pants from laughing too much. When life gives you cancer, sing about it…
- Apple Picking (Ben San Dal Presents). Over the last decade, writer and comedian Ben San Dal has shot to sellout fame, with his shows a must-see at the Fringe Festival. This romp through the orchard was stuffed to the gills with perception shifts, unexpected places for comedy, and two trees that you’ll never forget.
- Beauty and the Beast (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres). For classic, nostalgic fun, this new production of the Disney musical just couldn’t be beat. You probably could hang a whole show on Aleks Knezevich’s charisma (or his biceps) or Ruthanne Heyward’s vocal line. Rich Hamson’s new costume designs were stellar.
- Sufiana – The Sufi Ecstasy (Katha Dance Theatre). Speaking of an embarrassment of artistic riches, Crystal, MN is home to an Indian classical dance ensemble that will turn 30 this year. This perpetual motion machine of movement and music was described by audience members as entrancing, mesmerizing, indescribable, and virtuosic – all extremely apt.
Honorable mention: The Marriage of Figaro (Angels & Demons Entertainment).
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.