The Twelve Days of Christmas
2022 Theatre Memories, Trends, Moments, Shows, and Performances
This year, for my annual celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I have chosen to count down my favorite trends, moments, shows, and performances of 2022. This not only serves to celebrate what pleased me most about the theatrical year, it also saves me (for the first time in too many years) coming up with a “Dedalus-Eye View of the Year” recap. I am, after all, growing old and lazy. For those keeping count, this is my seventieth year going around Mr. Sun, and I’ve been enjoying (almost) every minute of it. Politics, Weather, and General Civil Malaise notwithstanding.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol,com #2022InReview)
Thank you so much for indulging my Twelve Days of Christmas 2022 recap. As a "coda," I have to confess all the marvelous productions I regret missing. Sometimes my calendar was too strict to allow me to schedule, sometimes my car wasn't in any shape to make a long commute, sometimes my health kicked me in the aging butt. And to be perfectly honest, sometimes I just was not up to facing Atlanta weather and traffic.
All this being said, I have to apologize to the casts and crews and companies that gave us Caroline, or Change (Jennie T. Anderson Concerts), Sunset Baby (Actor's Express), Guys and Dolls (Atlanta Lyric Theatre), Legacy of Light, Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Synchronicity Theatre), All the many Christmas Carols that were staged last month (Woodstock Arts, OnStage Atlanta, Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, and, especially, Aurora Theatre), Misery (OnStage Atlanta), Vanity Fair (Georgia Ensemble), Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company), and Bright Half-Life and Flex (Theatrical Outfit).
I'd like to promise to do better in 2023, but my calendar is just as strict, my car is just as old and decrepit, my health another year advanced in age, and Atlanta weather and traffic remains Atlanta weather and traffic. I DO promise to continue my pledge to be a cheerleader of the work rather than a judge, and, really, can't wait to see what y'all have in store.
Have a safe, successful, and sane 2023!
Happy Twelfth Night!
My Mostest Favorite Theatrical memories are the Jennie T. Anderson Concert Series
This year, the concert musicals at Cobb County’s Jennie t. Anderson Theatre truly achieved the pinnacle of professionalism and execution and were my greatest joy of the year. Artistic Director Jono Davis established a goal of presenting fully staged concerts of musicals that are (usually criminally) not produced often enough, achieving miraculous results with only a week of rehearsal and technical preparation. Since Mr. Davis is hiring some of Atlanta’s most talented directors to helm these projects, musicians to accompany them, and artists to perform them, can we just revive an old-time theatrical title for him – Impresario?
Presented with a minimum of scenery, and with the orchestra on stage (with the conductor often being a character in the show), these shows stretch the imaginations and skills of tech crews and projection designers, with great success. In addition to the live concerts, 2022 saw two video streams (The Last Five Tears and The Wild Party), both of which used the video format to greatly enhance the production.
The only issue I have is that these were usually confined to single performances, which made me regretfully have to miss Caroline, or Change. It is promised that 2023’s season will have (slightly) longer runs (two, maybe even three days), and the line up includes, to put it simply, my greatest “can’t waits” for 2023: Assassins, john & jen, Spring Awakening, A New Brain, and The Light in the Piazza. As a bonus, 2022’s concert of Next to Normal will be revived in February as a co-production with Atlanta Lyric Theatre. Huzzah!
Here are my original reviews of the four concerts I was privileged to experience:
Happy Eleventh Day of Christmas!
My Second Favorite Theatrical memory is Dramatist Play Service’s Book Club
Sure, it’s a blatant example of 21st century capitalism – the price for each shipment is only slightly less than if you buy the scripts separately – but is there a better way to introduce yourself to a bevy of plays you would not otherwise order? Or read? Or even know of? This club is essentially a quarterly shipment of seven scripts from Dramatist Play Service.
I am a rabid bibliophile. I love reading. I love collecting books. I love collecting scripts! I have a room in my home dedicated solely to scripts and programs and memorabilia accumulated over the past …. well lifetime. Many are even in hardcover, the legacy of the late (and sorely missed) Fireside Theatre Book Club. These DPS packages are devoured shortly after I get them, and thumbnail reactions are shared with all y’all as soon as I’m done. As a bonus, each collection is curated by an established playwright (so far it’s been Lauren Gunderson and Anna Zeigler) and includes an extra script by that writer.
I anxiously await the next shipment next month!
Happy Tenth Day of Christmas!
My Third Favorite Theatrical memory is Rivka Levin in The Merchant of Venice (Lady Shakes / Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse)
My favorite (non-musical) performance of the year came from Rivka Levin in the Lady Shakes summer mounting of The Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse. Her Shylock was by far the best I’ve seen, hitting every note in the wide range of that character – showing us the positive and the negative sides and much in between. She was wise, funny, intelligent, victimized, angry, obsessively possessive, and, in the classic “Hath not a Jew hands?” speech, totally riveting. That she was a woman who shared Shylock’s faith only added more layers of intensity to her compelling performance. “Brava!” is not enough to fully express my respect for her achievement.
Another performance at the Tavern that deserves a shout out was Mary Ruth Ralston, playing BOTH Antipholuses (Antipholi?) in The Comedy of Errors. She not only hit every comic note perfectly, creating two distinct characters, she also added a third – herself aggravated at the Stage Manager who forced her into this impossible challenge.
Other performances of note this year included Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor in Code Noir (Théâtre du Rêve), Olivia Lampert in Bina’s Six Apples (Alliance Theatre), Cynthia D. Barker and Enoch King in The Light (Horizon Theatre), Kaley Pharr and Chris Hecke in The Country Wife (Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse), Rhyn McLemore and Jennifer Alice Acker in Roe (Horizon Theatre), Tim McDonough and Precious West in Desire Under the Elms (Actor’s Express), Robert Wayne in Alabama Story (Georgia Ensemble Theatre), Amanda Lindsey MacDonald in Macbeth (Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse), Christina Leidel and Daniel Thomas May in The Turn of the Screw (Georgia Ensemble Theatre), and EVERYBODY in Everybody (Alliance Theatre). We, indeed, live and work and play in a city with a seemingly bottomless well of talent!
Happy Ninth Day of Christmas!
My Fourth Favorite Theatrical memory is Desire Under the Elms (Actor's Express)
My favorite (non-musical) show of the year is this O’Neill classic, given a bravura production at Actor’s Express. It was one of those shows in which everything synched – insightful and complex performances, clever and beautiful physical look, and an over-arching concept that paid due homage to both the era that produced the play and contemporary standards of casting and tech. As icing on the cake, it managed to reduce a play of three long acts into a brisk 120-minute show that showed no seams or editing lapses. And it marked the long-overdue return of the Tim McDonough to the Atlanta Stage. Huzzahs all around for this one.
Other shows that impressed with their overall everything included Everybody at the Alliance Theatre, The Turn of the Screw and Alabama Story at Georgia Ensemble (welcome back Daniel May!), The Wolf at the End of the Block (Theatrical Outfit), The Country Wife and (especially) The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse), The 39 Steps (Merely Players Presents), The Drowning Girls and My Brother’s Secret Keeper (Pumphouse Players), and Roe (Horizon Theatre. Here’s hoping 2023 proves as rich in excellence as 2022!
Happy Eighth Day of Christmas!
My Fifth Favorite Theatrical memory is Isa Martinez in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Aurora Theatre)
When browsing through my 2022 columns looking for an outstanding Musical Performance, I was struck by how many outstanding moments were given by the well-packed stable of Atlanta Musical Theatre Artists. Galen Crawley and Maxim Gukhman in The Wild Party, Jeff McKerley in Secret Garden and The Wizard of Oz, India Tyree and James Allen McCune in The Last Five Years, Aneesa Folds in Trading Places, Mary Nye Bennett in Next to Normal, Marissa Bondurant in Matilda, Gina Ann Riggs in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Jasmine Renee Ellis in Lizzie – all gave outstanding performances that would top anyone’s “Best of” list in any year, especially this one.
So why did I select as my memory an understudy in a show I didn’t fully love? Simply because swings and understudies rarely (if ever) get the credit, the attention, the critical raves they almost always deserve. In fact, they even face walk-outs and disdain if they are replacing a popular and well-loved partner.
Ms. Martinez probably went on with short notice  in a leading role in a musical that was filling the house with enthusiastic fans. And she nailed it. She brought Cinderella to life with a characterization that was full of insight and surprise, and she sang with a voice that would be the envy of anyone on the stage. I’m not the biggest fan of this particular musical, but Ms. Martinez’ performance made me like this production much more than I was expecting to.
Happy Seventh Day of Christmas!
My Sixth Favorite Theatrical memory is Trading Places: The Musical (Alliance Theatre)
Atlanta is fortunate that we get to see many productions at the Alliance Theatre that are (potentially) Broadway Bound. Aida, The Color Purple, Sister Act: The Musical, Come Fly With Me, Bring it On: The Musical, The Prom, and (the criminally underappreciated) Tuck Everlasting all got “workshop” productions on the Woodruff stage. Of Course, not everything goes on to Broadway success Ever After hasn’t made it there (nor is it likely to), and Harmony is still promised a future run. But there’s something ego-boasting about seeing a show before it dazzles the Great White Way, and, in all honesty, I have a fantasy about being quoted on a Broadway Poster.
So, this year, it was Trading Places: The Musical. I had high expectations because its score was by the team that gave us First Date, which, through more than one production, has grown to be a favorite. Yes, I was not a fan of the original movie, or the eighties ethos that it exemplified, or even the music that filled its soundtrack. Yet somehow, I found this adaptation delightful with a score that was memorable (unlike the ‘80’s style it thankfully did not try to evoke). That it layered gender and sexuality politics over its original class conflict politics made it richer and more layered than the original movie. It was also memorable for a dynamite central performance by Aneesa Folds and for bringing director Kenny Leon back home to Atlanta.
At the moment, the fate of the show is in limbo, owing to a surprising number of negative reviews for this production. IMHO, many of those reviews were wrong-headed and transparently all-musical-hating rants. Some made valid points, but they were all points I overlooked because of my total enjoyment of the production.
Other musicals from 2022 that were memorable in their own ways were The Pretty Pants Bandit at Georgia Ensemble, the Broadway Tour of Mean Girls: The Musical, and, if you’ll forgive these bias-laden choices, The Great American Trailer Park Musical at Marietta Theatre Company and Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical at Pumphouse Players. I’ve already praised Matilda: The Musical at Atlanta Lyric and A Chorus Line at City Springs, so let’s echo that praise here. And, of course, everything produced by the Jennie T. Anderson Concert Series. Not to suggest a spoiler, but there will be more on those concerts on a future Day of Christmas.
Happy Sixth Day of Christmas!
My Seventh Favorite Theatrical memory is Baayork Lee’s direction of A Chorus Line (City Springs Theatre Co)
It’s a well-founded gripe of theatre artists that critics (myself included) too often ignore the work of the Director and Musical Director. Hopefully this shout-out (and those below) will be taken as a small step to apologize and atone.
It’s a fact of live theatre that many productions are familiar pieces, shows we have seen before, loved (or hated) before, shows that, in the best of circumstances, are given a new life and energy. A Chorus Line at City Springs Theater was my favorite of these seen-far-too-often “Warhorse” shows of 2022. This production was filled with energy, filled with a boatload of “corrections” of quibbles I had with previous re-stagings, and left my heart singing and dancing and wishing it could recapture those youthful passions that ruled my twenties. Not that I REALLY want to go back to that point in life …
Most of the credit goes to director and choreographer Baayork Lee, who played Connie in the original cast (and yes, I did see her when I saw the original production way back when). You would think that someone with such a long history with this show would try to recreate everything she experienced with it. But this production came across as fresh and new. Yes, there were the expected “tropes” of the original – the mirrors, the offstage Zack, the faceless final number -- but there were also new and exciting moments that made the whole affair a “singular sensation.”
Just to (belatedly) honor other directors this year, Kudos go out to Heidi Cline McKerley for reminding me of why The Secret Garden is such an exquisite musical, to Kati Grace Brown’s sly and subversive direction of The Merchant of Venice by the Lady Shakes troupe (and yes, she went totally unacknowledged in my rave review of that show), to Zac Phelps’ joyous direction of Clue at Marietta Theatre Co, to Lisa Adler’s even-handed take on the politically volatile Roe at Horizon theatre, to Freddie Ashley’s tight control of Desire Under the Elms at Actor’s Express, and to Stacey Bern’s successful low-budget mounting of Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical at Pumphouse Players.
All this being said, Directors tend to be the “Invisible Artists” of the theatre, who are most successful when they are they least intrusive, but who bear the enormous responsibility of finding a show’s focus, wrangling its artists and technicians, and lighting a fire in its pace-engine.
Happy Fifth Day of Christmas!
My Eighth Favorite Theatrical memory is the Children’s Ensemble of Matilda: The Musical (Atlanta Lyric Theatre)
What is the Magic that a well-tuned, totally in-synch ensemble brings to a production? Especially a musical? For me, it’s that extra boost for willing suspension of disbelief. If we believe the group is a real group – a real family, a real team, a real collection of characters, it goes a long way to breaking down those judgmental barriers we put up to slow our full engagement.
So how do I define ensemble? It’s all those little gestures, subtle looks, engaging subtexts that make the whole of a cast greater than the sum of its parts. You can have the best performances to ever grace the stage, but if there is no aura of ensemble, it is excellence in a vacuum, and the entire production leaves me with a been-there seen-that meh-response. But when the group is itself a character, even the most familiar script, the most “only adequate” individual performances can leave me breathless with giddy excitement. And ensembles can be small – I have seen one-person plays that have an ensemble “feel,” especially when that one person plays several characters and engages the audience as another character.
So why were the Matilda kids so special? Leaving apart their outsized talent and energy, they took what is to me a rather blandly-scored musical and made it soar. They created individual characters as skillfully as their older peers and blended them all almost perfectly. That they interacted well with analog teen and adult ensembles is just icing on the cake of the layered ensemble work in this show. One of my favorite moments of the year was the climactic “Revolting Children” anthem that shook me to my toes. Yes, I did enjoy the Netflix movie version just out, but Atlanta Lyric's production will always outshine it in my mind. And I blame the kids!
Other ensembles of note this year were The Great American Trailer Park Musical at Marietta Theatre Company, Lizzie at Actor’s Express, Comedy of Errors and Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Tavern (in fact EVERYTHING I saw at the Tavern), Everybody at the Alliance, and EVERYTHING in the Jennie T Anderson Concert Series.
Happy Fourth Day of Christmas!
My Ninth Favorite Theatrical memory is Roob and Noob (Alliance Family Theatre)
I think one of the most important choices a theatre can make is to include programming for young audiences. To be blunt, the future of theatre depends on sparking a flame of passion in the young (the “Get ‘em While They’re Young” school of thought). The Alliance Theatre is especially adept at this, with their two tracks (Young Audiences and the Kathy and Ken Bernhardt Theatre for the Very Young), and Roob and Noob was, for me, the highlight of Young Audience events in 2022 – performed with absolutely no dialogue, it nevertheless managed to convey the joy of science and experimentation with technical flourishes that were a Stage Manager’s Nightmare, yet performed it flawlessly in a way that kept a room full of fidgety kids enthralled and did not forget to entertain their taller companions.
Kudos also go out to the Aurora Children’s Playhouse, Georgia Ensemble’s Theatre for Young Audiences, Woodstock Arts’ age-diverse season, and to ALL the venues and companies that sponsor camps and classes and programs to incite a lifelong excitement for theatre. And, in keeping with this theme, tomorrow’s memory (semi-spoiler alert) will be a production that soared because of the kids it included in its cast.
Happy Third Day of Christmas!
My Tenth Favorite Theatrical memory is Beetlejuice: The Musical.
Perhaps not for the show itself, even though it was a true delight and a remarkable union of macabre humor and musical geekery (not to mention a miraculous union of show-stopping performances and high tech whiz-bangery), but because it marked my first Broadway experience in almost eight years. Of course that January 2015 show was You Can’t Take it With You, and James Earl Jones (not to mention Kaufman and Hart) is a very hard act to follow. The truth is, when I was living in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I went to Broadway almost every month and have scores of Playbills as evidence (my first, and most cherished, is 1970’s Harvey with James Stewart and Helen Hayes). But since my move to GA, it has been difficult to find the time (and funds) for a trip to Manhattan. And now that my daughter has moved there and has an open-door policy to her old man, ticket prices have become totally out of reach. Still, it was a grand trip to the Marquis Theatre with my uncommon daughter, and a grand trip to the Drama Book Shop (one of my all time favorite NYC hangouts), and a grand discovery of the theatre section of the Strand Book Shop. Okay, I never wrote a review of Beetlejuice – there was one planned, but other more local productions kept putting it onto the back burner until the pilot light of inspiration blinked into nothingness. So, my Tenth Favorite theatrical trope is (on reflection) Broadway, the incredible shows that premiered this year, and the sincere hope I can get there more often!
Happy Second Day of Christmas!
My Eleventh Favorite Theatrical memory has to be the eleven productions for which I designed lights.
This is less of a “Tooting My Own Horn” impulse (maybe) than taking joy in the fact that the Theatre Community has bounced back from the pandemic to the point where I was able to get this many gigs. I was hired for Marietta Theatre Company’s full season and volunteered at Pumphouse Players for some old favorites (Putnam County Spelling Bee) and risky new ventures (Drowning Girls, Bonnie and Clyde). I also commuted over to Roswell for Acting Up’s Sound of Music and to downtown Atlanta for Out of Box’s new Santa After Hours (more on that production yesterday). I will be slowing down in 2023, but I’m already set for the first MTC production in February.
BTW, thank you MTC for actually risking putting me on stage. As a lucky stiff, but one with choreography.
THE FULL LIST:
Marietta Theatre Co Lucky Stiff
Marietta Theatre Co Love is a Many-Splintered Thing
Pumphouse Players The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Marietta Theatre Co The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Pumphouse Players The Drowning Girls
RUMC - Acting Up The Sound of Music
Marietta Theatre Co Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree
Pumphouse Players Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical
Marietta Theatre Co Clue
Pumphouse Players The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Out of Box Theatre Santa After Hours 2022
So, for the First Day of Christmas, let’s talk about my Twelfth Favorite Theatrical Event:
The return of Out of Box Theatre and Santa After Hours.
I have been associated with Out of Box since its beginning (2012’s Talking With). These are some of my favorite people in the world, and they ALWAYS make risky choices with their play selections and stagings. Not only that, they force me to stretch my abilities as a lighting designer while giving me the grace and freedom to make mistakes and find solutions. Yes, OOB’s future is sketchy – COVID forced them to surrender their Artisan Resource Center lease and this production at Ponce City Market’s Role Call Theatre space was cut short – again, because of COVID. But I believe in these artists and am honored to call them friends!