Ann Arbor area's theater highlights for the year
Though I didn’t get to every live theater show that played in the Ann Arbor area in 2009 — I start pondering the up side of cloning when three shows open on the same Thursday — I filed nearly 50 reviews in the past year, and of the shows I saw, these were the highlights.
Best local musical production: “42nd Street” (U-M), directed by Linda Goodrich — though I also really enjoyed EMU’s “Reefer Madness,” directed by Phil Simmons; and “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by Barbara Cullen, and “Sweeney Todd,” directed by Dan Cooney, both at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.
Best local amateur productions: “Follies,” directed by Brian Hilligoss, by Ann Arbor Civic Theatre; “Betrayal,” directed by Wendy Wright, by Michigan Classical Repertory Theatre; “Night of the Iguana,” directed by Susan Morris, by MorrisCo Art Theatre; and “Present Laughter,” directed by Tod Barker, by PTD Productions.
Best locally-produced new play: Michael Brian Ogden’s “Bleeding Red” (PR), directed by Guy Sanville, about two obsessed, superstitious soccer fans who are trying to get their just-dumped friend to join them for their traditional pre-game ritual.
Production that somehow made a show better than its script: Sarah Treem’s “A Feminine Ending” at Performance Network. I had a fantastic time, despite the script’s problems, so hats off to director Joe Zettelmaier and his terrific, hilarious cast for improving on the original material.
Best acting performances, male: John Manfredi, “A Picasso” (PN); Matthew David, “Streetcar” (PR); Will Myers, “If Only in my Dreams” (Blackbird Theater) and “A Feminine Ending” (PN); Michael Brian Ogden, “Bleeding Red” (PR); James Bowen, “Fences” (PN); Malcolm Tulip, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” (PN).
Best acting performances, female: Michelle Mountain, “Streetcar” (PR); Inga Wilson, “A Feminine Ending” (PN); Sarah Litzsinger, “Little Shop” and “Sweeney Todd” (Encore); Emily Wilson-Tobin, “Orpheus Descending” (Blackbird); Sheila Alyce Slaughter, “Fences” (PN); Suzi Regan, “The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead" (PN).
Performers who brought their “A” game to more than one show this year: Matthew David in “Streetcar” and “Bleeding Red” at the Rose; Sarah Litzsinger in “Little Shop,” “Oklahoma,” and “Sweeney Todd” at Encore; Steve DeBruyne in “Little Shop,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Annie” at Encore; John Seibert in “A Feminine Ending” and “Christmas Carol’d,” both at PN; Will Myers in “Feminine Ending” (PN) and “If Only in My Dreams” (Blackbird); Joey Richter in U-M productions of “Tartuffe” and “MacBeth”; Maxim Hunt in EMU’s “Angels in America” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
The “Let’s hope she just moves to Michigan, already” Award: Litzsinger, the Broadway veteran who absolutely lit up the stage and charmed audiences in three of Encore’s productions this year. Let’s officially adopt her, shall we?
Best tech achievements: Monika Essen’s sets for “Fences” (PN) and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Blackbird); Dave Early’s set for “Orpheus Descending” (Blackbird); Vince Mountain’s set for “Bleeding Red” (PR); Gary Decker’s set for “The Show Off” (U-M); Daniel C. Walker’s lighting design for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” (PN) and “Christmas Carol’d” (PN); and Rob Murphy’s lighting design for “MacBeth” (U-M).
Biggest laughs at the classics: I had a great time U-M’s “Tartuffe” and at Shakespeare in the Arb’s “Twelfth Night,” but it was hard to beat London’s Globe Theatre production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” presented by the University Musical Society.
What made me optimistic about the area’s arts future: The girls who played Miss Hannigan’s orphans in Encore’s “Annie,” particularly lead actress Bryana Dorfman, who already has a showstopping voice and loads of stage presence.
Theatrical feats of daring: This fall, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Blackbird) and “Christmas Carol’d” (PN) were both performed by only five actors; Encore first opened its doors in February with “Evita,” while still renovating the space up through (and after) opening night; both parts of the epic play “Angels in America” played in repertory at EMU in March; and in May, a student-constructed robotic cow cheekily beefed up EMU’s production of “Into the Woods.”
Favorite moments on stage: Michelle Mountain’s work in the final, tragic scene of “Streetcar” (PR); “The Brownie Song” in EMU’s “Reefer Madness”; seeing John Seibert and Terry Heck, who are married in real life, playing a hilariously estranged and eccentric married couple in “A Feminine Ending” (PN); the tap-dancing explosion that was the opening number of U-M’s “42nd St.”