12/31/2019 A Dedalus-Eye look at 2019: The Year in Review
It’s become a tradition for me to recap the year at the end of December. Herewith is a Dedalus-Eye View of 2019 in Atlanta Theatre.
Let me start by saying 2019 was an “interesting” year for me, personally – my uncommon daughter finished high school and immediately “deserted the nest” for more Manhattan-esque environs. The nest itself flew off, leaving us stranded in an Acworth rental, many additional miles (and gasoline gallons) from my favorite theatrical venues. And my health took a left turn, leaving my 2020 fate in the hands of two feuding Gastroenterologists (Wellstar and Emory at war!) who cannot agree on my treatment.
And, I (finally) decided that giving “grades” on my reviews ran counter to my stated purpose of “cheering and supporting” all aspects of Atlanta Theatre, making this “Best of the Year” recap more difficult than my usual Excel “Search of A’s and B’s.”
So, at first glance, I’m able to characterize 2019 as the year “bookended” by two equally enjoyable “Cinderella musicals”: The Alliance’s (perhaps Broadway-bound) grand and glorious Ever After in January, and Synchronicity’s more-kid-friendly gloriously small-scale Ella Enchanted in December. To be honest, I preferred Synchronicity’s production, but that is perhaps the product of my rapidly withdrawing-from-view memory – it’s been almost a year since Ever After.
Speaking of the Alliance, 2019 brought us the opening of their new Coca-Cola stage, and, to my jaded eyes, it was only a modest enhancement over the old, with a slightly smaller stage, but more audience-friendly amenities (soundproof crying child viewing rooms, boxes for donors, and an inside-the-main entrance staircase to the balcony -- which, of course, makes scanning tickets at the front a much simpler task). It’s still a beautiful venue, with all the bells and whistles 21st-century theatrical technology can provide, and seeing shows there is still an event to be cherished. So, thanks Alliance for Ever After, Ride the Cyclone, Becoming Nancy, Angry Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous, and, of course another Christmas Carol (but I DO miss those detritus-laden apron-wings, and the glorious shoot-up-from-the-floor entrance of Christmas past). Not to be outdone, the Alliance’s small black-box Hertz stage saw terrific productions of Small Mouth Sounds, Courtney’s Cabaret, and two that belong on any “best of” lists – Max Makes a Million (my favorite play for young audiences of the year) and Goodnight, Tyler (my favorite non-musical of the year).
Usually my favorite venue, Serenbe, had another good year with imaginative stagings of Shenandoah, Hair, and Ragtime, but they paled (slightly) to prior seasons. (You know, what I would formerly grade as “A’s” rather than “A+’s). Even their new winter show for young audiences, Narnia, was stellar but not Snow Queen unforgettable.
Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre, which is ALWAYS worth the long commute, had my favorite musical of the year, Men With Money, preferred only (very) slightly over super-outstanding productions from Actor’s Express (Falsettos and Head Over Heels), Alliance Theatre (Ride the Cyclone), Atlanta Lyric Theatre (a surprisingly memorable War Paint), Georgia Ensemble Theatre (Bullets Over Broadway), BUICentennial Productions (Songs for a New World), and City Springs Theatre (Hairspray). Even some not-yet-fully-professional venues gave the pros a run for their money, particularly Out of Box Theatre (Fun Home and Working), OnStage Atlanta (Spring Awakening), and Act 3 Productions (Disaster and Baby). On the other hand, I had some serious issues with Aurora’s Children of Eden (script-wise, not production-wise), which opened a satisfying line of conversation with director Justin Anderson (who, in my mind, is one of the most talented and creative artists working in the area).
As to other non-musicals, I have to give shout-outs to K2 by Catalyst Arts (unforgettable despite a dated and contrived script), The Wolves (Horizon Theatre; also my favorite non-musical ensemble of the year), Angry Fags (7 Stages), The Cake and Pipeline (also at Horizon), the repertory of Our Town and The Laramie Project (Theatrical Outfit), Night Must Fall (Georgia Ensemble Theatre), and Theatrical Outfit’s very welcome return to Jane Austen country, Christmas at Pemberly: The Wickhams.
And, of course, there are the shows I worked on, which went unreviewed because of my obvious bias. That being said, I would have to say that I never grew tired watching Out of Box’s The Grown Up and A Public Education, or Marietta Theatre Company’s Altar Boys and I Love You Because. And working the Topher Payne “Beta Test” play at Out of Box, Entertaining Lesbians, would be the highlight of any theatrical year (or even decade).
I spent hours this week going over my columns for the year, trying to winnow out a list of favorite performances and tech achievements and creative driving-forces, coming up with a list of hundreds of names. Rather than winnow that list down to a few short sentences, let me, instead, cite a handful of memorable moments that moved, that astounded, that refuse to fade from memory –
The sound (and) cold of K2 putting me on that mountain ledge
The flood in Children of Eden – a phenomenal collaboration of light, sound, and projection
Erin Smith’s costumes in Wrinkle in Time
The Full Moon over the set of Shenandoah combined with Joel Coady’s lights
The brilliantly tight direction and choreography in Bullets Over Broadway
The walk “through the wardrobe” in Narnia.
Kaley Morrison’s quiet dignity in Pocahontas: The True Story
Hearing EVERYTHING Music-Directed by Ann-Carol Pence
Anne Marie Gideon lighting Manhattan in Max Makes a Million
The set (Jason Sherwood), lights (Liz Lee), and leading performance (Travis Turner) in Goodnight, Tyler
The brilliant musical ensemble work of Falsettos, Ragtime, Head Over Heels, Men With Money, Shenandoah, and Spring Awakening
The brilliant non-musical ensemble work of The Wolves, Max Makes a Million, Baby Shower for the Antichrist, and Our Town / Laramie Project
The brilliant tech ensemble work from the team at Stage Door Players
D. Cooper McVey’s gentle TV-glow lighting in Skintight
Mary Nye Bennett and Pamela Gold convincing me to actually enjoy War Paint
Terry Burrell NOT going gently into “older actress limbo” in Angry Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous
Zuri Petteway’s twin “villainesses” in Jungle Book and Narnia
The pairing of Greg London and Steve Hudson in Hairspray
The costumes of Shenandoah (Emmie Thomson) and Slaying Holofernes (Jane Kroessig)
Andre Allen’s slow fade to morning light in the preshow of The Wickhams
The Triple Threat of Charlie Miller for Spring Awakening (Direction / Set / Sound)
L’Oreal Roaché Making magic in Ella Enchanted
Sharing my work on The Grown Up with my supportive spouse
The Projections in Pipeline, Ella Enchanted, Slaying Holofernes, and Ride the Cyclone (especially that final punch-to-the-gut “movie”)
Any script by Topher Payne and any hours spent working with him as he directs
Kenneth Branagh’s new Shakespeare movie, All is True
(Apologies for not citing venues and theatres and companies in this list. Most can be found in my opening paragraphs above. ALL can be found in my individual reviews.
Even more apologies to the many MANY productions I missed -- the truly "unseen mass" of the theatrical-moments iceberg.)
These are merely the barest tip of the very large iceberg that comprised my 2019 Theatrical moments to remember. After all, what is a theater experience but a vast collection of moments, for good or for ill? Thank goodness, most of this year’s moments were “for good.”
So, as usual, let me sign off by thanking you for sharing your talent and your hard work, and by thanking you for choosing Atlanta as your "Base." I blame all y'all for making my "day job" retirement everything I always dreamed it would be! 2020 is already off and running, with two shows to watch and discuss this very weekend!
-- Brad Rudy (BK @bk_rudy #2019InReview )