Brittany Bellizeare as Pecola (foreground) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Bluest Eye. Photo by Dan Norman.
During the 2017 calendar year, I saw more than 150 theatre performances. That tally excludes shows that I directed and dance-only performances, but includes spoken theatre, musicals, opera, improv, and pretty much anything in-between. Most of the performances were in Minnesota or nearby Wisconsin; several dozen were not.
With no further ado, here is an unranked list of my 10 favorite local stage performances from 2017:
- Sheep Theater – Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand
- The Hennepin Theatre Trust – Phantom of the Opera (National Tour)
- The Guthrie Theater – The Bluest Eye
- Savage Umbrella – Ex-Gays: Not A Str8 Remount
- Theater Latté Da – Peter and the Starcatcher
- Minnesota Opera – The Marriage of Figaro
- Skylark Opera – Don Giovanni
- The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts – In the Heights
- Bearded Men Improv – Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign
- The Jungle Theater – Ms. Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
The reasons why performance memories linger are many and varied, but some of the reasons that these shows were selected include:
- The masterful blending of comedy with historical exposition in Sheep Theater’s Assassination of the Archduke. What would normally be far too much backstory became hilarity with Joey Hamburger’s script and Michael Hugh Torsch’s directing, elevated by John Hilsen’s score.
- The timeliness and weight of the social commentary in Savage Umbrella’s Not A Str8 Remount.
- The depth, breadth, technical difficulty, and polish of the dancing in the Ordway’s In the Heights.
- The Jungle Theater’s Ms. Bennet defying the odds to create a worthy sequel to one of Jane Austen’s most beloved novels – and turning a literary wallflower into a very interesting and compelling protagonist in her own right.
- The highly effective use of found spaces in Skylark Opera’s Don Giovanni at the Minneapolis Women’s Club, which cemented the company’s comeback from a financial crisis.
- The masterful, high-energy improvisation on a truly epic (and trope-filled) scale in Bearded Men Improv’s Swords & Sorcery – including taking long-form improv to mean “over five consecutive, interlocking performances”.
- Boudoir comedy done to its logical operatic extreme in Minnesota Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro.
- The introspection produced by the Guthrie Theater’s staging of Lydia Diamond’s The Bluest Eye, especially about socially constructed concepts of beauty and hierarchy.
- If you’re going to do Gothic horror romances in musical form, it’s hard to beat the epic scale of the Phantom of the Opera Broadway tour. Nothing does the genre quite like Phantom, and this production brims with sweeping grandeur and lush visuals that suck you in – to say nothing of the terrific cast
- Latté Da’s Peter and the Starcatcher was completely different in feel from the Broadway tour of recent years, with director Joel Sass finding threads of energy that made some people loudly proclaim this a superior product – and much more in-your-face in the intimacy of the Ritz Theater.
Missed any of these shows? Here’s a sample of their imagery:
If you weren’t otherwise aware, I am the Artistic Director of Really Spicy Opera, an Opera America member organization that performs in Minnesota and tours internationally. I also freelance around town, directing 12 productions in 2017. As a matter of course, I exclude any show that I directed from lists that I curate – doing otherwise would be crass.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017. He was previously the Regional Governor for the National Opera Association's North Central Region.
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