Looking Back at 2016 Theatre

I am not the type that likes to give out artificial awards in theatre. I know people that do, and I know theatres that find such awards useful in their advertising. I like to believe I’ve got the humility to be above that — I’m just one person with no theatrical criticism training, expressing my personal opinion. Why should what I say matters? Still, I do find it useful to look back at what stuck with me or was most significant. With the highway and news chum updates, I didn’t get a chance to do this at 2016 ended, so let’s do it now…

In 2016 I wrote 76 reviews, although not all were theatre or concerts. The live performances we saw were:

  1. Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. Geffen Theatre, 1/2/2016.
  2. Bullets over Broadway – The Musical. Pantages. 1/9/2016.
  3. That Lovin’ Feeling. Group Rep. 1/16/2016.
  4. 50 Hour Drive By. Zombie Joe’s Underground. 1/23/2016.
  5. Stomp. Valley Performing Arts Center. 1/24/2016.
  6. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Cabrillo Music Theatre. 1/30/2016.
  7. Empire – The Musical. La Mirada Performing Arts Center. 2/6/2016.
  8. An Act of God. Ahmanson Theatre. 2/7/2016.
  9. Jason Moran – Fats Waller Dance Party. Valley Performing Arts Center. 2/9/2016.
  10. Dogfight. Chance Theatre. 2/14/2016.
  11. Prez. Chromolume Theatre. 2/20/2016.
  12. String/ Awakening. Muse/ique. 2/21/2016.
  13. The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards, Valley Performing Arts Center, 3/1/2016.
  14. Man Covets Bird, 24th Street Theatre, 3/6/2016.
  15. All Shook Up, Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 3/12/2016.
  16. Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse, 3/19/2016.
  17. Bach at Leipzig, Lonny Chapman Group Rep, 3/20/2016.
  18. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Ahmanson Theatre, 3/26/2016.
  19. A Shred of Evidence, Theatre 40, 3/27/2016.
  20. Lea Salonga, Valley Performing Arts Center, 4/1/2016.
  21. An Evening with Elaine Boosler, Temple Ahavat Shalom, 4/2/2016.
  22. Turtle Island Quartet, Valley Performing Arts Center, 4/6/2016.
  23. Children of Eden, Cabrillo Music Theatre, 4/9/2016.
  24. Stella’s Last J-Date, Whitefire Theatre, 4/14/2016.
  25. Anton in Show Business, Hudson Theatre, 4/24/2016
  26. Lunatics and Actors. Four Clowns. 4/30/2016.
  27. Endgame, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 5/7/2016.
  28. Carney Magic, The Colony Theatre (Guest Production), 5/8/2016.
  29. The Boy from Oz, Landmark Musicals (San Francisco), 5/13/2016.
  30. The Last 5 Years, ACT San Francisco, 5/14/2016.
  31. Los Angeles: Now and Then, Los Angeles City College, 5/23/2016.
  32. I Only Have Eyes for You, Ricardo Montalban Theatre, 5/29/2016.
  33. Alien vs. Musical, HFF16 (Lillian/Sacred Fools), 6/4/2016.
  34. Code 197: Driving While Blewish, HFF16 (Studio C/Complex), 6/4/2016
  35. Toxic Avenger: The Musical, HFF16 (Good People Theatre, Lillian/Sacred Fools), 6/4/2016.
  36. Tell Me on a Sunday, HFF16 (Black Box/Sacred Fools), 6/5/2016
  37. All The Best Killers are Librarians, HFF16 (Second Stage/Sacred Fools), 6/5/2016
  38. Einstein: The Man, The Myth, The Mustache, HFF16 (McCadden Theatre), 6/11/2016
  39. The Boy from Oz, Celebration Theatre, 6/11/2016.
  40. Titus Andronicus Jr., HFF16 (Second Stage/Sacred Fools), 6/12/2016
  41. 30JJ or Bust: The World is my Underwire. HFF16 (Studio C/Complex), 6/18/2016
  42. Lamprey: Weekend of Vengence, HFF16 (Second Stage/Sacred Fools), 6/18/2016
  43. Mark Twain Answers All Your Questions, HFF16 (Studio C/Complex), 6/18/2016
  44. The Old Woman, HFF16 (Lounge Theatre), 6/18/2016
  45. Sweet Love Adieu, HFF16 (McCadden Theatre), 6/19/2016
  46. All Aboard the Marriage Hearse, HFF16 (Lounge Theatre), 6/19/2016
  47. Squeeze My Cans, HFF16, 6/25/2016
  48. Taming of the Show, HFF16 (Black Box/Sacred Fools), 6/26/2016
  49. My Big Fat Blonde Musical, HFF16 (Black Box/Sacred Fools), 6/26/2016
  50. Hamlet (Las Vegas Style), HFF16 (The Actors Company), 6/26/2016
  51. Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Pantages, 7/3/2016
  52. Grey Gardens, Ahmanson Theatre, 7/9/2016
  53. Thirteen’s Spring, HFF16 (Moving Art Collective, The Actors Company), 7/15/2016
  54. The Little Mermaid, Cabrillo Music Theatre, 7/16/2016
  55. Weird Al Takes the Bowl, Hollywood Bowl, 7/23/2016
  56. Get Trump’d: We’re Making Opera Great Again, Operaworks, 7/24/2016
  57. Copeland and Marsales, Hollywood Bowl, 7/28/2016
  58. American/Rhapsody, Muse/ique, 8/20/2016
  59. Gutenberg: The Musical, Backyard Renaissance, 8/28/2016
  60. Summer/Time, Muse/ique, 9/10/2016.
  61. I Love You Because, Red Brick Road/Grove Theatre Center, 9/17/2016
  62. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The Musical, La Mirada Center for the Performing Arts, 9/24/2016
  63. Dear World, Valley Performing Arts Center, 9/30/2016
  64. Our Town, Actors Co-Op, 10/1/2016
  65. Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wyton Marsalles, 10/8/2016
  66. Kelli O’Hara, Valley Performing Arts Center, 10/14/2016
  67. Evita, Cabrillo Music Theatre, 10/15/2016
  68. The Turn of the Screw, Actors Co-Op, 10/22/2016
  69. Hello Again: The Songs of Allan Sherman, Temple Ahavat Shalom, 10/29/2016
  70. Vote or Die Laughing (Culture Clash), Valley Performing Arts Center, 11/1/2016
  71. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Pantages, 11/5/2016
  72. Funny Girl, Conundrum Theatre at The Colony Theatre, 11/18/2016
  73. Little Women: The Musical, Chance Theatre, 11/25/2016
  74. Into the Woods, Nobel Middle School, 11/30/2016
  75. Wonderful Town, LA Opera @ Dorothy Chandler, 12/3/2016
  76. Amelie – A New Musical, Ahmanson, 12/10/2016
  77. The King and I, Pantages, 12/17/2016

That’s quite a few shows, so let’s get on to the recap.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesMost Significant Event. I think the most significant event wasn’t a show, but a battle. The battle with Actors Equity over the future of Intimate Theatre (99 seats and under) in Los Angeles was clearly a transformative event. The LA Actors lost the battle (as for the overall war, that’s still up in the air), and the new AEA rules have gone into effect. Companies that don’t fall under exemptions (pretty much all artistic-director non-membership efforts) now will either have to pay minimum wage, or go with non-AEA actors. Membership companies (such as Actors Co-op) are safe for now. We will need to see how this will change the theatrical landscape: will it be doom and gloom, or will we survive. Time will tell.

Greatest Loss. For us, that was the apparent death of two theatre companies where we subscribed: Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) and The Colony Theatre (FB). I don’t believe either will be back; certainly not in the forms they were, and likely without us as subscribers. We’ve moved on, and have new subscriptions at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

Most Talked About Show. For me, a good measure of a show is how much I refer to it afterwards — remembering its impact on me and how it changed my thinking. This year where were a few. The most moving performance was clearly The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The Musical at La Mirada — the combination of signing and singing was transformative. The most magical performance was the recent Amelie – A New Musical at the Ahmanson — there, the stagecraft left me spellbound. But I think the most talked about performance was String/ Awakening from Muse/ique — this was a show that tied-together (pun not intended) everything “string”, from bridged-string instruments to knitting to real string theory.

Best Peformance. All of the shows we saw, which actors and performances stayed with me?

On the actress side, there were two: Kim Dalton (FB), who we saw twice — in Dogfight and Toxic Avenger: The Musical, was perhaps the best find of the year — spunky performance, strong voice, and just strongly memorable. Coming in close was Phillipa Soo as the title character in Amelie – A New Musical — she just charmed the pants off of you with her playfulness.

On the actor side, again we have two: Andrew Bongiorno (FB) in the Celebration production of The Boy from Oz — who basically drove this show with his masterful performance, and the pair of John McGinty (FB) [performance] and Dino Nicandros (FB) [singing] as the title character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The Musical. They were just mesmerizing.

Most Creative. These were the shows that took stagecraft to a new level; that left you astounded at what they could do on the stage and the magic that could be created without CGI. I’ve got three in this category that somewhat fit into small, medium, and large — with similar creativity. The small is 24th Street Theatre’s Man Covets Bird; the medium is La Mirada’s Empire – The Musical, and the large is the Ahmanson’s Amelie – A New Musical. All create the magic through the clever use of projections and the actor’s interactions therewith. They take this new artform to a new level. A close runner up is Four Clowns’ Lunatics and Actors, which used no projections but simple performance to create an extremely chilling portrayal.

Most Entertaining Revival of an Old Show. There were a number of old shows that got revivals this year, and some worked better than others. Most were memorable and enjoyable — Funny Girl, Wonderful Town, and Dear World come to mind quite readily. All haven’t been done in ages. I think the one that most made me want to see the original was Wonderful Town. Hearing the music, one could get the sense of why this is a great show and what it could achieve in the right hands. Dear World was good but you could see the creaky-ness in the plot (and one could say similar about The King and I). Funny Girl was good for what it was, but it really needs a full-scale big-budget revival to shine at the level it needs.

By the way, a similar contrast was in play for The Boy from Oz. We saw two “West Coast Premiere”s of this: Landmark Musicals and Celebrations. Both had strengths and weaknesses, and both showed the creativity of small low-budget theatres in realizing a rarely seen show. Celebration’s came out slightly ahead, but Landmark’s had a spunk and a “yes, we can” attitude that was nice to see. It really makes me curious to see what Chromolume Theatre (FB) will do with Pacific Overtures at an intimate theatre level.

Best Memories. There were a few shows that just brought back memories, but I think my favorite was Los Angeles: Now and Then, a lovely musical review about my city, Los Angeles. Some very good songs, and some even better memories. A runner up was Hello Again: The Songs of Allan Sherman, simply because that brought back the parody music of my childhood.

Best “Heard But Never Seen Before”: There were a number of shows which I had only heard, but never seen, until this year. Most were even better on stage. It is hard to pick a “best”; certainly, at a large scale, both Wonderful Town, and Dear World come to mind quite readily. But both of those were “staged concerts”, not full realizations. Perhaps the best full realization was Toxic Avenger: The Musical, although Dogfight is close. Also strong was I Love You Because, but the New York theme was a bit much. But the two The Boy from Ozs fit in there somewhere.

The Best. Was there one production that, if I could, I would go back and see again. Looking over the list of what I saw, I think I would go with Toxic Avenger: The Musical. Amelie was a close second, but I think Toxie had the biggest fun factor.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: January starts with a Southern California Games Day, followed by Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.