It was an odd year at the theater in South Florida. Try as I might to include them in the year’s best, two of the region’s most reliable companies – Maltz Jupiter Theatre and GableStage – failed to make the cut of the top 10.
Nor did Broward Stage Door, but that is less surprising, since the organization folded in March, after 25 years of operation and eight months after moving to new swank digs in Lauderhill.
But there was good news in 2019, like the following highlights of the season:
1. A Streetcar Named Desire (Palm Beach Dramaworks) – Given the head start of one of Tennessee Williams’ greatest plays, PBD demonstrated why the play captivates us with a top-notch production lyrically directed by Barry Lewis, and a memorable performance by Kathy McCafferty as the emotionally fragile Blanche DuBois.
2. Funny Girl (Wick Theatre) – This bio-musical of Follies star Fanny Brice is rarely revived due to inevitable comparisons to La Streisand, but The Wick found the remarkable Stephanie Maloney who took on the challenge, single-handedly pulling the production into the winner’s circle.
3. Dear Evan Hansen (Broward Center) – OK, maybe it’s no Hamilton, but this tale of high school angst and a social media lie that goes viral is the most original and emotional musical to come along in years. And care has been taken with the national tour to deliver the show’s full impact.
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Zoetic Stage) – Artistic director Stuart Meltzer tackled Mark Haddon’s wildly imaginative novel of teenage, autistic, math whiz Christopher (brilliantly twitchy Ryan Didato), who fancies himself an amateur Sherlock Holmes, and succeeded with an artfully unconventional staging.
5. Andy and the Orphans (Primal Forces) – Perhaps the most authentic performance of the season came from Edward Barbanell, a Down syndrome adult playing a similarly afflicted character in a drily comic yarn of parental loss and offbeat memorial services, a surprisingly heartfelt production from this usually edgier company.
6. Crazy for You (Wick Theatre) – Charismatic hoofer Matt Loehr’s Carbonell-winning performance as a show biz-mad banking scion at the Maltz eight years ago was no fluke as he demonstrated anew, singing and cavorting through the Gershwin canon. Who could ask for anything more, as they say?
7. Grindr Mom (Wilton Theatre Factory) – One-person shows rarely show up on my 10 Best List, but Ronnie Larsen’s 90-minute monologue about a mother of a gay son who tries to understand him through the Grindr hook-up app is a warmly comic and sensitive exception, in large part due to the bravura performance by Jeni Hacker.
8. Ordinary Americans (Palm Beach Dramaworks) – After several stumbles with new work, PBD scores a triumph with the world premiere of this commissioned script on radio and TV pioneer Gertrude Berg, whose loyalty to her co-star is sorely tested in the era of Red-baiting and blacklisting. Elizabeth Dimon as Berg (and her fictional alter ego Molly Goldberg) is masterful in roles she was born to play.
9. Shrek, the Musical (Slow Burn Theatre) – While hardly the hard-edged material this company made its reputation on, director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater finessed this musical’s technical challenges and delivered the family-friendly fun, with major assist from Wesley Slade as the burping, farting green ogre.
10. Sweeney Todd (Zoetic Stage) – Director Stuart Meltzer (busy man this year) reduced Stephen Sondheim’s masterwork revenge musical to an eight-member cast – headed by Aloysius Gigl and Jeni Hacker as Todd and his lovestruck accomplice Mrs. Lovett – without compromising on its macabre and comic power.