By Daniel Skora
It was a banner year for great theatre in southeastern Michigan and as a result, this year’s Best of the Season had to be enlarged from a “ten best” list to one that recognizes a baker’s dozen of noteworthy productions. The thirteen shows that appear on the list have been selected from the 70-plus shows that were reviewed by this site over the past year. Traditionally, theatre was a September-through-May proposition, but now many theatres are open throughout the year. Last year’s “Best of” list included shows that were performed through June 30th of 2016. The list this season is based on shows that opened on or after July 1st 2016 with a cutoff date of June 30th 2017. Theatres frequented and shows reviewed can be found in the tags on the site’s sidebar. Last year, the shows were listed randomly; this year they appear in the order in which they were reviewed. Included on the list are comedies, musicals, dramas, even an absurdist classic. What they had in common was that they held your attention from start to finish and scored high marks in all the disciplines that go into making a live theatrical presentation. This year I have also recognized Best Actor and Best Actress achievements in a comedy, a musical, and a drama.
Summer Retreat; Williamston Theatre; Suzi Regan, director
A hilariously funny show about how the bond of friendship between four college women faces new challenges after each has gone their separate way and one of them has died. A stellar cast with Sandra Birch, Julia Glander, and Emily Sutton-Smith as the three survivors and Dani Cochrane as the kid sister of the deceased thrown in by playwright Annie Martin just to make things more interesting. Read the original review HERE.
My Fair Lady; Encore Musical Theatre; Tony Walton, director
As close as a local theatre is likely to get to the professionalism of a touring Broadway musical company. Casting, sets, costumes, music and vocals were as good as it gets when you’re working on a limited budget. The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but this show brought a lot of sunshine to Dexter. Read the original review HERE.
Don’t Dress For Dinner; Tipping Point; James R. Kuhl, director
A classic French farce that comes with the laugh-laden warning that affairs are not to be engaged in by the faint of heart. A cast with talent galore and a set that would make the Hamptons crowd envious for sure. Read the original review HERE.
Murder Ballad; Detroit Public Theatre; Courtney Burkett, director
Sensuous and thrilling, with lyrics and a score that reflect the lifestyle of the younger set. Seating accommodations made you feel like you were in the show and murder never seemed so deliciously sweet. Read the original review HERE.
2.5 Minute Ride; Matrix Theatre; David Wolber, director
A rollercoaster ride of emotions and events from the life of playwright Lisa Kron. A one-woman show about a German-Jewish family whose patriarch lived through the Second World War, it’s performed magnificently by Luna Alexander and is the first of two “Best of” shows directed by David Wolber. Read the original review HERE.
Sexy Laundry; Tipping Point; Beth Torrey, director
Though it’s love that makes the world go ‘round, it’s sex that provides the fuel that feeds the furnace. Sandra Birch and Dave Davies show what happens when the fuel runs low even while the world demands to continue to spin. Read the original review HERE.
The Lesson; Mind the Gap and Monster Box Theatre; directed by The Cast
Ionesco done up creepy with absurdities that tease the mind and twist reality. 60 years of continuous running on Paris’ Left Bank translate exceptionally well into English and the American experience. Read the original review HERE.
Capital; Detroit Repertory; Leah Smith, director
Marx, Dickens, a young lady’s desire for a new bonnet, and a somewhat true story make for a lot of laughs coming out of this intellectually stimulating script. The cast for James Armstrong’s world premiere included delightful performances by Harry Wetzel, Lulu Dahl, Sara Catheryn Wolf, and Ben Will. Read the original review HERE.
The Bridges of Madison County; The Dio-Dining and Entertainment; Steve DeBruyne, director
Based on Robert James Waller’s bestseller, a rather ordinary story of love finding its mark for the briefest of moments gets elevated to the level of near perfection by the incredible performance of Marlene Inman. Tender and sad, the musical drove home the point that we all carry within us longings for things left by the wayside. Read the original review HERE.
I Love a Piano; Meadow Brook Theatre; Travis W. Walter, director
Irving Berlin never sounded so good, and the first three-quarters of the 20th century never looked better than they did in Meadow Brook’s tribute to the most American of American composers. Classic songs, costumes galore, and a talented cast fleshing out both a life lived with music and the music of a lifetime made for a spectacular evening of theatre. Read the original review HERE.
Taking Shakespeare; Williamston Theatre; Mary Job, director
Who knew that Othello could be as exciting and as intellectually stimulating as both the book and the character were made to be in this amazing performance by Terry Heck. And the tragedy of Othello is not lost on the misfortunes of the play’s passionate mentor. Read the original review HERE.
The Legend of Georgia McBride; Ringwald and Theatre Nova; Brandy Joe Plambeck, director
A revealing and sympathetic look at why men dress up as women: art, employment, and perhaps the realization that the dividing line between male and female is not as clear-cut as we think it is. Read the original review HERE.
Dream Deferred: Detroit 1967; Matrix Theatre; David Wolber, director
The night this show was reviewed, the Matrix theatre was nearly as hot and humid as the streets of Detroit were back then during the riots, giving an extra shot of realism to the production. The stories told about those who experienced the riots firsthand ring true because they are. Read the original review HERE.
Recognition of individual performances:
Best Actor in a Comedy:
Dave Davies; Don’t Dress For Dinner; Tipping Point
Best Actress in a Comedy:
Sandra Birch; Sexy Laundry; Tipping Point
Best Actor in a Musical:
Conor Ryan; Into the Wild; Encore Musical
Best Actress in a Musical:
Marlene Inman; Bridges of Madison County; The Dio
Best Actor in a Drama:
Matthew Webb; Mr. Joy; Theatre Nova
Best Actress in a Drama (Three-way Tie):
Luna Alexander; 2.5 Minute Ride; Matrix Theatre
Casaundra Freeman; Countdown to the Happy Day; Detroit Rep
Terry Heck; Taking Shakespeare; Williamston Theatre