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Posted on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 : 5:33 a.m.

Some of my favorite moments in local theater in 2012

By Jenn McKee

Ann Arbor area stages played host to some boundary-pushing, edgy theater productions this year—in addition to more traditional fare—kicking things off in January with a historic re-mounting of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’ groundbreaking, non-narrative, almost-5-hour opera, “Einstein on the Beach,” presented by the University Musical Society.

“It emerged as utterly modern, and still revolutionary, after a sleep of 20 years since its last revival,” wrote contributor Susan Isaacs Nisbett.

UMS presented more examples of visually (and technically) stunning theater in 2012 by way of Ex Machina’s “The Andersen Project,” and Theatre de la Ville-Paris’ production of “Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros,’” while the University of Michigan department of theatre and drama offered thoughtful, wholly satisfying takes on Caryl Churchill’s gender- and time-bending “Cloud 9,” and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” set at a Burning Man Festival-like event, with gender-blind casting (by director Malcolm Tulip).

No year-end list can be wholly comprehensive, of course, since we couldn't see/review every show. But here’s a short list of some local theater highlights from 2012—and please add your own in the comment field.


Photo by Peter Smith Photography

Best musical: University of Michigan’s “Chicago.” Phil Simmons’ “A Little Night Music,” now at Performance Network, is pretty darn great, but nothing this year could possibly beat director/choreographer Linda Goodrich’s sexy, funny, dance-tastic “Chicago.” It really did make you feel like you were sitting in a Broadway theater, instead of the Power Center, for a couple of hours.

Best drama: “A Stone Carver” at the Purple Rose Theatre. Nothing absorbed and moved me quite as much as “Stone Carver”—though “Red,” at Performance Network, came pretty close.

Best comedy: “Noises Off” at U-M, directed by John Neville-Andrews. This one’s an easy call, thanks to a fast-paced production that, as a bonus, featured the talents of local favorite Naz Edwards.

Best performance by an actor: Guy Sanville in “A Stone Carver” at the Purple Rose. Playing a character that’s stubborn, brusque, and sometimes downright mean, Sanville nonetheless managed to make his larger-than-life character endearing, beneath all the bluster.

Best performance by an actress: Naz Edwards in “A Little Night Music” at Performance Network. She was born to play Desiree—and she somehow made a song I’ve come to despise, “Send in the Clowns,” gorgeous and moving.

If X is in a show, I’m there: Kevin Young’s terrific work in “Red,” “Burn This,” and “The Glass Menagerie” at Performance Network makes me want to see every show he’s in; and Sebastian Gerstner, in my mind, had a breakout performance as the gentleman caller in “Menagerie.” Also, Allison Brown’s hilarious, memorable turn as Bottom in U-M’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” makes me anxious to see where she goes from here.

Community theater kudos: contributor Roger Lelievre was very impressed by both Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s “Sweeney Todd,” and the Burns Park Players’ “Once Upon a Mattress,” while I was wowed by the second act performance of Kathy Waugh as Little Edie Beale in A2CT’s production of “Grey Gardens.”

Memorable design highlights: Monika Essen’s marvelous rendering of Mark Rothko’s studio in “Red” at Performance Network; the entire design team behind U-M’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which achieved a spellbindingly novel look for an old play; and Linda Goodrich’s phenomenal choreography for U-M’s “Chicago.”

Pleasantest surprises: Encore Theatre’s production of “Godspell,” wherein director (and star of “Mamma Mia” on Broadway) Dan Cooney worked his magic to make the bric-a-brac-ish show both cohesive and inviting; and U-M’s “Almost, Maine,” directed by Jerry Schwiebert, managed to (mostly) transcend the script’s twee tendencies and instead delivered a sweetly funny and romantic night of theater.