By Daniel Skora
One of the disadvantages of writing for a newspaper is that much of what the reader sees and reads of an author’s work has been determined by someone other than the person who wrote the article. Word count, positioning, availability of space for pictures, deadlines, the title that goes above the review, and sometimes even the content of the article are the result of decisions made by an editor or a layout person. Writing for my own site has given me the freedom to overcome most of these limitations.
One thing I have always wanted to do was a “Best of Season” article. Understandably, it would be impossible for me to see the hundreds of plays that are performed every season in the southeastern Michigan area. I have been able to attend over seventy performances over the past season and my choices for “Best of…” have been chosen from these. The theatres I have frequented can be found on the list of categories that accompanies my reviews.
To be sure, all of the plays I saw during this time period came with their own unique takeaway. Several shows that did not make the list were serious contenders, but ten is a good round number and I’ve decided to stick with that. Not surprisingly, what the ten do have in common is that each and every one of them was flush with those hard-to-define qualities that make live theatre such a magical experience. In all of the Ten Best, the diverse disciplines that make up a play were operating on all cylinders, creating shows that were entertaining, satisfying, and memorable. Perhaps most importantly, each began with an intelligent, well-written script and was fronted by a cast whose talents and enthusiasm were unparalleled.
The plays are listed in random order. I placed their names in a hat and I’ve listed them in the order they were drawn. Start from the top, start from the bottom, work your way out from the middle. They’re all equally my Best of the 2015/16 Season. The plays which were considered cover the time frame from September 2015 through June 2016. Without further ado, here they are:
R.U.R, D.B. Schroeder, director (Puzzle Piece Theatre)
Schroder took a piece of early 1920’s science fiction writing about the inevitability of society’s dependency on robots and crafted it into a wonderfully entertaining play that was contemporary, futuristic, and retro all at the same time. The “robots”, Stebert Davenport, Anna Marck, and Joshua Daniel Palmer, provided the essential image of a world soon to be overrun by machines and deserve much of the credit for having made this steampunk-flavored tongue-in-cheek comedic concoction seem not only believable but frightening as well. Read the original review HERE.
Always…Patsy Cline, Thalia V. Schramm, director (Encore Musical Theatre)
Two great entertainments, a comedy and a musical revue, perfectly melded together. Emmi Veinbergs performed pitch-perfect vocals as Patsy Cline and Sonja Marquis contributed a fabulously fine comedic performance as the fan who, through a series of letter exchanges, became a close friend and confidant. Lots of great songs and laughs, an inviting set, a whole wardrobe full of dazzling costumes, and Honky-tonk at its best. Read the original review HERE.
Katherine, David Wolber, director (Theatre Nova)
Five generations of the joys and sorrows of an equal number of 20th Century American women from the same bloodline all named Katherine. An incredible performance by Melissa Beckwith that left me breathless. In a nifty piece of theatrical creativity, Beckwith creatively forecasted the coming of each successive “Katherine” by costume alterations executed behind a back-lit screen. Read the original review HERE.
The Drowsy Chaperone, Steve DeBruyne director (The Dio Dining and Entertainment)
Patrick O’Reilly in a knockout performance as Man in Chair. His creation of the erudite, whimsical aesthete whose records and imagination conjured up a whole ensemble of outlandish characters was positively brilliant. A well-written show with plenty of laughs and hilarious musical numbers. Any one of the ensemble cast could easily qualify for best supporting actor awards. Read the original review HERE.
Barrymore, Dr. Arthur J. Beer director (Theatre Company)
A Master at the height of his powers and a lengthy well-deserved standing ovation. David L. Regal was truly amazing in a show that deserves to be seen by more than just those who attended the one-night gala event. Theatres should seek him out. He just might be interested in presenting the show to a larger audience. Read the original review HERE.
Devil Dog Six, Leah Smith, director (Detroit Repertory Theatre)
An interesting and relevant story, bold characters, intriguing plot, creative casting, excellent acting, imaginative set, humor, excitement, and the best equine impressions since “Equus”. Devil Dog Six had it all, including a high-octane performance from Jaclynn Cherry as the female jockey who, in her desire to become the best, became in the process a kind of horse whisperer. Read the original review HERE.
Forever Plaid, Travis W. Walter, director (Meadow Brook Theatre)
A theatrical staple done up right. Four of the most talented and energetic Plaids you will ever find. The set glittered, the cast dazzled, and the songs and music from the fifties and early sixties reflected a happier, more sensible time in American history. Read the original review HERE.
From Broadway to Obscurity, Brian P. Sage, director (Detroit Public Theatre)
Eric Gutman in a bravura performance about an actor’s life both on and off the stage. He went to Broadway as a member of the “Jersey Boys” cast and gave it all up when the bright lights of fame began to lose their luster. He’s honest and reflective in this story that he lived, wrote, and created himself. It’s an all-encompassing snapshot of what it’s like to have your heart and soul fixated on the stage and your body just one of dozens waiting in an audition line. Gutman is darned good at turning in powerful vocals, especially when he’s got songs of the Four Seasons to work with. Read the original review HERE.
Rounding Third, Tony Caselli, director (A coproduction of Williamston Theatre and Tipping Point Theatre)
Two men and a diamond. Baseball and fatherhood mix in this delightful comedy about how the game will always be subordinate to those who engage in it. John Lepard and Tobin Hissong, always great alone, are exceptional here together. Read the original reviews of the Williamston performance HERE and the Tipping Point performance HERE.
Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story, Tim Rhoze, director, and Dickens: An Acapella Carol, Suzi Regan, director (Performance Network Theatre)
Two shows that Performance Network alternated during the holiday season, both exceptional and included here as one because their scheduling made them a kind of two-fer-one. Sean Blake became Sammy Davis Jr. in this one man show about the triumphs and heartbreaks of one of America’s great entertainers. Playwright Tim Rhoze presented a sick and physically drained Davis looking back on his momentous career and those who were a part of it. “An A Capella Carol” was unique in that the actor in the role of the storyteller changed from performance to performance. Hence, neither the show’s program nor my review (per the theatre’s request) identified the actor who was performing the role on any particular night. John Manfredi narrated Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” the night I saw the show and was his usual splendid spectacular magnificently-voiced self. Dickens’ in a junkyard among the homeless made for a truly memorable night of theatre. Read the original review HERE.