Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Announcing the 2014 Theatre Eddys

Eddie on stage.
ED’S & EDDIE’S 2014 TOP-RATED
PLAYS, MUSICALS, & OPERAS

In 2014 and in spite of Ed's six months of intense chemotherapy,  we saw 112 plays, musicals, and operas (not to mention a full season of ballet and several nights at the symphony).  Once again, this was an outstanding year for plays in the Bay Area..  Narrowing our top-rated plays to the Top Ten was very difficult, and so we also included some "Honorable Mentions."  Locally produced musicals in the Bay Area area are often outstanding but really good ones are harder to find than comparable plays. We list only our Top Eight in that category this year.  Touring musicals have had  an outstanding year, but we skipped most of them because we had already seen them in NYC.

Of the 111 shows we saw, we awarded 35 "5 Stars" and only 5 ratings of "1 or 2 Stars."
Among Bay Areas theatre companies for the second year in a row, we gave the most “5” ratings (the top of our scale) to SF Playhouse (5 of their productions).  Right behind them as in 2013 was TheatreWorks with four “5”-ratings.  Altogether, 12 local companies had at least one production we rated “5,” a testament to the amazing theatre scene of the SF Bay Area, including 3 to the new Stanford Repertory Theatre.  (We attended plays and musicals at 26 different Bay Area companies in 2013.)

(A complete list of our 2014 shows with ratings and short descriptions can be found at http://guydads.com/ticketstubs2014.html.)

The EDDYs Top Ten SF Bay Plays of 2014

10.  An Inspector Calls - J.B. Priestley, Stanford University Department of Theater & Performance Studies (Jim Carpenter)
[When Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the home of a wealthy British family, their well-mannered dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the suicide of a young woman. Goole's interrogation uncovers startling relationships between each family member and the tragic suicide.]

9.  The Whale - Samuel D. Hunter, Marin Theatre Company
[On the outskirts of Mormon Country, Idaho, a 600 pound recluse hides away in his apartment eating himself to death. Desperate to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter, he reaches out to her, only to find a viciously sharp-tongued and wildly unhappy teen.]

8. Seminar - Theresa Rebeck, San Francisco Playhouse
[Five hundred dollars a week for all the abuse you can take. And maybe sex. That’s what four aspiring novelists pay for a ten-week private writing class with the legendary Leonard. It’s a smorgasbord of vicious, funny wordplay.]

7.  The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures - Tony Kushner, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
[Retired longshoreman and labor leader, Gus, is feeling confused and defeated by the 21st century. When Gus decides to die, his sister, who has been staying with him for a year, invites Gus' three children (who in turn bring along spouses, ex-spouses, lovers and more) to a most unusual family reunion in their Brooklyn brownstone.]

6.  The Big Meal - Dan LeFranc, San Jose Repertory Theatre (theatre closed)
[In a suburban restaurant, 8 actors present the life-changing moments from 5 generations of an American family. From their most intimate joys to their most public sorrows, this family's history is revealed through a time-bending odyssey of birth, death, divorce, and dinner.]

5.  Bad Jews - Joshua Harmon, Magic Theatre
[Cousins Daphna, Jonah, and Liam are Jewish. But when religious Daphna squares off with secular Liam and his shiksa girlfriend over a family heirloom, they battle it out Old Testament style.]

4.  Gidion's Knot - Johnna Adams, Aurora Theatre (Stacy Ross)
[Over the course of a parent/teacher conference, a grieving mother and an emotionally overwhelmed 5th grade school teacher have a fraught conversation about the suicide of the mother's son, Gidion, after his suspension. Gidion may have been bullied severely -- or he may have been an abuser.]

3.  Jerusalem - Jez Butterworth, San Francisco Playhouse
[A modern mythic tale of the death of a god. In the woods of southwest England, Johnny "Rooster" Byron, former daredevil and modern-day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his son wants to be taken to the country fair, a stepfather wants to give him a serious kicking and a motley crew of friends wants his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.]

2.  Bauer - Lauren Gunderson, San Francisco Playhouse
[Why did Rudolf Bauer stop painting? Imprisoned by the Nazis, he sketched on scraps. His fiery love affair with Hilla Rebay (Guggenheim curator) lasted a lifetime. The Guggenheim was built to house his work. In his time, Bauer was considered by Solomon Guggenheim to be an even greater painter than his contemporary, Kandinsky.]
Seen this year on both SF and NYC by SF Playhouse!

1.  The Great Pretender - David West Read, TheatreWorks
[The passing of a cherished puppeteer consumes a children’s TV host in this comic tale of friendship, love, and letting go.]

THE EDDY'S HONORABLE MENTION BAY AREA 2014 PLAYS

- Rapture, Blister, Burn - Gina Gionfriddo, Aurora Theatre
- Old Hats - Bill Irwin, David Shiner, Shaina Taub, A.C.T. 
- Venus In Fur - David Ives, A.C.T. 
- American Buffalo - David Mamet, Aurora Theatre

THE EDDYs Top 8 SF Bay Musicals of 2014

8.  Bonnie & Clyde - Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, Ivan Menchell, San Jose Stage Company
[At the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from two small-time nobodies in West Texas to America's most renowned folk heroes and the Texas law enforcement's worst nightmares. The score combines rockabilly, blues, Broadway pop and gospel music.]


7.  Do I Hear a Waltz? - Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, 42nd Street Moon
[Based on Laurents' play "The Time of the Cuckoo". A lonely American spinster touring Italy finds bittersweet romance with a married shopkeeper in Venice]

6.  Yeast Nation - Mark Hollmann, Greg Kotis, Ray of Light Theatre

[In the year 3,000,458,000 B.C., the salt-eating yeasts are the only living creatures on earth, and they’re up against a food shortage, a strange new emotion called “love” and the oppression of a tyrannical king. What follows is a story of youthful love and rebellion involving gooey muck, a coup attempt and … evolution.]

5.  Triassic Parq - Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, Steve Wargo, Ray of Light Theatre
[Dinosaurs, showtunes and sex changes come together in this new musical. When one female T-Rex suddenly turns male, the entire pack must question their identity, gender, and what is possible through the lens of faith and science. The mutation spawns a chain reaction of identity crises, forcing the dinosaurs to question the very facts of life they've held as truth.]

4.   Motown, The Musical - Berry Gordy, Motown music catalog, SHN
[Story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more.]

3.  Marry Me A Little - Stephen Sondheim, Craig Lucas, Norman Rene, TheatreWorks
[A revue of songs cut from Sondheim's better-known musicals to a dialogue-free plot about the relationship between two lonely single people, who are in emotional conflict during an evening in their separate one-room apartments. Reset form NYC to SF.]

2.  Into the Woods - Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, San Francisco Playhouse
[The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The musical is tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, their interaction with a Witch who has placed a curse on them.]

1.  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, Christopher Bond, TheatreWorks
[Tells the tale of a barber seeking justice for the corrupt London judge who exiled him. Partnered with a delicious pie shop proprietress, Sweeney exacts a fearsome revenge as she concocts an alarming new recipe. Staging changed from Victorian era to 1940s London during the Blitz.]

THE EDDYs SPECIAL 2014 BAY AREA 
THEATRICAL EVENTS

Two local companies this year undertook especially daring and worthy undertakings this year that we rated as HUGE 5's

2.  House - Alan Ayckbourn, Pear Avenue Theatre;
  Garden - Alan Ayckbourn, Pear Avenue Theatre
[Two interlocking comedies seen on consecutive nights that take place simultaneously, with one cast performing both shows in two different theatres at the same time. Teddy and Trish Platt are hosting the annual May Fête for the village. Friends, family, house staff, lovers, politicians, a French movie star and, will it rain?]

1.   The Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
.  Stoppard's 2002 trilogy of plays: Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage, that focuses on the philosophical debates in pre-revolution Russia between 1833 and 1866.  We saw them all in one day at noon, 4 and 8.

Voyage - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
[Meet the young, passionate, idealistic men and women whose struggle for freedom ignited the Russian Revolution and changed the world: Michael Bakunin and Alexander Herzen - among quite a few other competing intellectuals and several romances - in dangerously autocratic 1830s Russia.]
Shipwreck - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
[The young heroes are now in their 30s. The optimism of their early years has hit the rocks of marital infidelity, social anarchy, and a tsar who has no intention of stepping down. The survivors are living in exile: Paris. We follow Herzen's emergence as the father of Russian socialism through the passionate heights of 1848 revolutionary fervor in Paris and desolation of failure, amid a flowering of free love.]
Salvage - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
[The group of would-be revolutionaries moves to London where, after suffering decades of personal and political losses, they struggle to find hope for their way of life. A rising tide of young revolutionaries, dismissing of the old guard as irrelevant, forms a large, sniping chorus.]

THE EDDYs TOP 2014 ONE-PERSON SHOWS  

Ed and Eddie with Coco Peru
3.  Have You HeardMiss Coco Peru, Birdland
[Reprising bits of her past, all-scripted shows from the past 24 years, Peru's show is full of what she does best: telling stories.]

2.  Buyer & Cellar - Jonathan Tolins, SHN (Michael Urie)
[An underemployed Los Angeles actor goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.]

1.   Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill – Lanie Robertson, Circle in the Square (Audra McDonald)
[A play with music recounting some events in the life of Billie Holiday. Set in South Philadelphia in March 1959, Holiday is performing in a run-down bar, during one of her last performances before her death in July 1959.]

THE EDDYs TOP 4 2014 OPERAS

4.  Cinderella (La Cenerentola) - Gioachino Rossini, Jacopo Ferretti, San Francisco Opera
[Thanks to her open heart and determination, Cinderella triumphs over her mean-spirited relatives.This version has evil step-father, a wise tutor instead of fairy-godmother and matching bracelets in place of glass slippers.]

3.  Partenope - George Frideric Handel, San Francisco Opera
[Staging reset to a sureal/dadaist 1920's Paris. Disguises, cross-dressing and gender confusion leads to romantic complications in this comic opera about Queen Partenope and her three royal suitors.]

2.  Susannah - Carlisle Floyd, San Francisco Opera
[In the backwoods of Tennessee, a beautiful young woman is accused of indecent behavior after she is discovered bathing naked in a stream. The charismatic traveling preacher sets his sights on her soul for salvation, but it will be their downfall.]

1.  Show Boat - Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Edna Ferber, San Francisco Opera (Bill Irwin, Patricia Racette)
[Based on Ferber's novel. A tale of life on the Mississippi from the 1880s to the 1920s is both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of the bitter legacy of racism. Classic songs as "Ol’ Man River," "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man," "Make Believe" and "You Are Love."]

THE EDDYs TOP 2014 5 NON-BAY AREA PLAYS

5.  The Cocoanuts - Irving Berlin, George S. Kaufman, Mark Bedard, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
[The service stinks but the gags are four-star in this Marx Brothers romp. Groucho owns a bum hotel in Florida. He’s after a rich society dame, who’s after an eligible match for her daughter, who’s in love with the hotel’s head clerk. Trouble rolls in with the tide when the other Marxes arrive and mama’s eligible match turns out to be anything but.]

4.  This Is Our Youth – Kenneth Lonergan, Cort Theatre-Steppenwolf (Michael Cera)
[Set in NYC in 1982, it follows 48 hours in the lives of three very lost young souls: Warren, a dejected nineteen year old who has just stolen $15,000 from his abusive, tycoon father; Dennis, his charismatic drug-dealing friend who helps Warren put the stolen money to good use; and, Jessica, the anxiously insightful young woman who Warren yearns for.]

3.  It's Only a Play
- Terrence McNally, Schoenfeld Theatre (Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally)
[Set on the opening night, the playwright anxiously awaits to see if his show is a hit. With his career on the line, he shares the evening with his best friend, a television star, his fledgling producer, his erratic leading lady, his wunderkind director, an infamous drama critic, and a wide-eyed coat check attendant on his first night in Manhattan. There's no business like show business.]

2.  The Tempest - William Shakespeare, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
[On a remote island, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skillful manipulation. He conjures up a storm to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's lowly nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand.]

1.  Disgraced 
- Ayad Akhtar, Lyceum Theatre
[A Muslim-American lawyer is rapidly moving up the corporate ladder while distancing himself from his cultural roots. When he and his wife, a white artist influenced by Islamic paintings, host a dinner party, with another couple, a male Jewish art dealer and his African-American lawyer wife, what starts out as a friendly conversation escalates into something far more damaging.]

THE EDDYs TOP 2014 5 NON-BAY AREA MUSICALS

5.  A Gentleman's Guide to Murder 
- Robert L. Freedman, Steven Lutvak, Walter Kerr Theatre (Jefferson Mays)
[Based on Roy Horniman’s novel “Israel Rank, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” finds Monty Navarro, a British commoner, discovering that he’s ninth in line to inherit the Earldom of Highhurst and electing to murder the members of the odious D’Ysquith family standing in his way. In the process Monty keeps a mistress, Sibella Hallward, and courts the comely young Phoebe D’Ysquith.]

4.  On the Town 
- Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jerome Robbins, Lyric Theatre
[Tells the story of three wide-eyed sailors on a whirlwind musical tour of the city that never sleeps. With just 24 hours of shore leave, they’re eager to experience all that New York City has to offer… including a chance to discover love with the girl of their dreams.]

3.  The Last Ship
 - Sting, John Logan, Brian Yorkey, Neil Simon Theatre
[Inspired by Sting’s own childhood, the show is set in an English seafaring town that operates around the local shipyard and follows Gideon Fletcher, a man who left home to see the world and returns fourteen years later to find that the future of the shipyard is in danger. The shipyard’s workers decide to take their fate into their own hands and build a towering representation of the shared dream that has defined their existence.]

2.  Cabaret -Joe Masteroff, Fred Ebb, John Kander, Studio 54-Roundabout Theatre Company (Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams)
[Seedy nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub and doomed romances set in 1929/30 Berlin on the eve of the Nazis' rise to power.]

1.  Here Lies Love 
- David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Tom Gandey, J Pardo, The Public Theater
[Within a throbbing dance club atmosphere we follow the astonishing journey of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos and her meteoric rise and subsequent descent into infamy. The show is an immersive theatrical experience with a narrative, the life of a charismatic president’s wife, reminiscent of Evita.]