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12/25 Twelve Days of Christmas:   2023 Theatre Trends, Moments, Shows, and Performances

 

Introduction:

Last year, for my annual celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I chose to count down my favorite trends, moments, shows, and performances of 2022. This not only served to celebrate what pleased me most about the theatrical year, it also saved me from 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 71st year going around Mr. Sun, and I’ve been enjoying (almost) every minute of it.

 

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #2023InReview)

1/5/2024   My Favorite Musical Experience:

 

NATASHA AND PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 FROM HORIZON THEATRE

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For Twelfth Night, let’s have a party!  Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 was the mostest FUN I had in a theatre all year.  Composer/Lyricist Dave Malloy has lifted a segment out of Tolstoy’s mammoth War and Peace and fashioned an interactive experience that drops us deep into the ethos of the Russian aristocracy (circa 1812, of course).  Part love story, part romantic misadventure, part philosophical rumination on war and marriage and aging and ennui, part social broadside, ALL Party!  Director Heidi Cline McKerley has the cast and audience intermingled in an elegant restaurant / tavern and drives the pacing like a runaway troika.  This is an original experience, unlike any other, and was the pinnacle of my play-going year!

 

And, because everybody wrote letters back then, I had to fashion my appreciation in the form of a letter to my uncommon daughter.  Find it HERE.

 

So, to Horizon Theatre, to Ms. McKerley and her remarkable ensemble of artists and artisans, to Mr. Malloy and Mr. Tolstoy, and to the enthusiastic audience that were with me on November 1, an exuberant and vodka-soaked “Happy Twelfth Night!”  Let’s party!

1/4/2024   My Favorite Non-Musical Experience:

 

PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC FROM ACTOR’S EXPRESS

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This was the most memorable non-musical production of the year for me.   Appealing to both heart and head, this was a moving and riveting experience driven by an extraordinary cast, a remarkably pointed and timely script, and a production that made no mis-steps.  Being similar in theme and style to the recent Tony-Winning Leopoldstadt is perhaps why this play is experiencing a current Broadway run, but, to my mind, it stands on its own as a more contemporary examination of anti-Semitism and attempting to navigate life while being Jewish.  It asks the pertinent question , Is there a safe place in the world to be Jewish?  That Israel has exploded in violence since this production closed makes it all the more relevant.

 

And yet, the play was much more that a political screed.  It was a warm and often funny portrait of one family, of their history, and even of some of their joys and victories.  And it was structured like a musical sonata, lyrical and harmonic in language and tone, as memorable as a melody you just can’t get out of your head.

 

Here is my Original Review

So to Actor’s Express, to director Freddie Ashley, to the cast, and to the artisans who brought Prayer for the French Republic to unforgettable life, and especially to playwright Joshua Harmon, a sobering and gentle “Happy Eleventh Day of Christmas,” if that’s not too inappropriate for such a non-Christian work.

1/3/2024   My Third Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

ALL THE PLAYS AND MUSICALS PRODUCED IN ATLANTA

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From here through Twelfth Night, I will be praising productions that highlighted my year.  I’m reserving today's spot for all the productions that could have easily been one of my favorites for the year, if it weren’t for the two that close out this series over the final days.  (Disclaimer: This list does not include any productions I worked on, nor some of the fine shows I cited on earlier days.)

 

So, my favorite Non-Musical plays included (but were not limited to) the following:

            Kim’s Convenience (Horizon Theatre / Aurora Theatre Co-Production)

            Women in Jeopardy     (Georgia Ensemble Theatre)

            The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd    (Alliance Theatre)

            Tiny Beautiful Things    (Theatrical Outfit)

            The Plat That Goes Wrnog   (Auroora Theatre)

            The Pros and Cons of Killing Your Cult Leader   (Weird Sisters Theatre Project)

             Rooted     (Horizon Theatre)

            The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane     (Synchronicity Theatre)

            Cullud Wattah     (Actor’s Express)

            Wait Until Dark    (Georgia Ensemble Theatre)

            A Christmas Story    (Theatrical Outfit)

 

So, my favorite Musical Productions included (but were not limited to) the following:

Hadestown    (Broadway in Atlanta)

Monty Python’s Spamalot    (City Springs Theatre Company)

Bright Star    (Georgia Ensemble Theatre)

Water for Elephants     (Alliance Theatre)

Beautiful: The Carol King Musical     (Aurora Theatre)

Pelagius     (Legacy Theatre)

Fiddler on the Roof     (City Springs Theatre Company)

          

So, to ALL The Theatre Organizations in Atlanta, to all the creative minds and talented actors and artisans who brought these productions to glorious life, and to all the audiences who were fortunate enough to experience them like me, a blissful and rapturous “Happy TENTH Day of Christmas!”

1/2/2024   My Fourth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

THE JENNIE T. ANDERSON THEATRE CONCERT SERIES

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Like last year. the concert musicals at Cobb County’s Jennie T. Anderson Theatre truly achieved the pinnacle of professionalism and execution and were one of my greatest joys of the year.  So, please forgive my lazy-way-out and let me copy what I wrote last 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 (john & jen and Spring Awakening), both of which used the video format to greatly enhance the production.

 

Unfortunately, this will be the series’ final season, as, for reasons too charged to discuss here, they have seen their last production, despite the partnership and support of Georgia Ensemble Theatre (who happily will be continuing residence at the Anderson Theatre in 2024).

 

So, to Mr. Davis, to the casts and musicians who brought these incredible experiences to life, and to Georgia Ensemble Theatre for their support, a sadly final(ish) “Happy NINTH Day of Christmas!”

 

My 2024 Anderson Series Reviews:

 

Assassins

Spring Awakening

A New Brain  

The Light in the Piazza

(See My Third Day of Christmas Choice to link to my review of the Next to Normal remount.)

1/1/2024   My Fifth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

SIX ON BROADWAY

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My exchequer can be a harsh taskmaster, so I have to limit my Manhattan excursions to {Not as many as I would Like}.  This year’s annual July Daddy / Daughter bonding visit involved a trip to the Lena Horne Theatre for SIX, a show I’ve been longing to see since I first heard its driving score two (maybe three?) years ago.  It really lived up to expectations, as I trust most of you will see when the national tour hits the Fabulous Fox Theatre April 16 – 21.

 

So, here’s the thing.  Henry VIII’s ex-wives are tired of being known only because they happened to be married (however briefly) to history’s worst husband,  Now, they are out and angry and telling us their stories in a Girrrllll-Power Hard-Driving Rock and Roll Experience.  As any Tudor-Era geek will tell you, these six women had a lot going on and were accomplished in their own right.  With this, they are finally being HEARD!!!

 

Not only did I get to spend some quality theatre time with my most uncommon daughter, I got to wallow in Tudor history, which has always been a most welcome wallow!

 

So, to the creators of Six, to the astounding performers and musicians from that July matinee performance, and to Broadway in Atlanta for choosing this for 2024, a Regal (and Estrogen-Soaked) “Happy EIGHTH Day of Christmas!”

 

(I hope to write a full review in April!)

12/31/2023   My Sixth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

DRAMATIST PLAY SERVICE'S BOOK CLUB

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For the second straight year, I have to confess to finding sheer joy in just reading scripts I may (or usually may not) have heard of.  Let me copy what I said about this wallow in 2022:

 

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 and includes an extra script by that writer.

 

I anxiously await the next shipment next month!

 

Okay, just add an embarrassed confession – I’ve gotten a little less rabid with the speed of consumption on these.  I received the last shipment more than a month ago and I’ve been through only the first two.  But they’re stacked up and waiting for my attention!

 

Find the First Quarter Shipment HERE (Curated by Lucas Hnath)

Find the Second Quarter Shipment HERE (Curated by Jocelyn Bioh)

Find the Third Quarter Shipment HERE (Curated by Lloyd Suh)

 

Find the Fourth Quarter Shipment in 2024.  (Curated by the Staff of Dramatists Play Service)   Hopefully BEFORE the next shipment comes into my life.

 

I also used my platform to trumpet the praises of other scripts I picked up on my annual pilgrimage to Manhattan’s Drama Book Store:

 

            Find These Columns HERE and HERE!

So, to the Dramatists Play Service Book Club, to the Drama Book Store, to Amazon’s Play Collection, and to playwrights the world over, a Literary “Resplendent SEVENTH Day of Christmas to Thee and Thine!”

12/30/2023   My Seventh Favorite Theatrical Memory:

ENSEMBLE WORK ON ALL ATLANTA STAGES

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The Ensemble of Head Over Heels   (Marietta Theatre Company)

 

 

Choosing “Favorite Performances” over the year can be a hit-or-miss challenge.   What dazzled me when I sat down to write my reactions may have faded into the mists of memory by the following week.  What thrilled in a musical performance (usually) outshone what thrilled in a dramatic (or comedic) context.

 

What doesn’t change is the high-level of excellence coming from ensembles – that intangible “something” that makes the output of a group far greater than the sum of its (usually top-notch) parts.

 

So, let me just shout-out (with no elaboration or justification) my favorite on-stage ensembles of 2023.   My initial list was extraordinarily massive (more than half of the shows I saw), so I’ve winnowed out productions that are cited elsewhere (elsewhen?”) among these twelve-day series of light extemporanea (shows I worked excepted).  To be honest, neither my favorite musical ensemble nor my favorite non-musical ensemble are included here, as I will be discussing those shows in more detail as we get closer to Twelfth Night. 

 

There will be no links to individual reviews today, but I encourage you to go to my “Index Page” and surf-the-columns.  HERE.    

 

My Favorite Ensembles of 2023 (in review-date order):

     Hadestown   (Broadway in Atlanta)

     Kim’s Convenience   (Aurora Theatre)

     Women in Jeopardy    (Georgia Ensemble Theatre)

     The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd   (Alliance Theatre)

     Bright Star   (Georgia Ensemble Theatre)

     Tiny Beautiful Things   (Theatrical Outfit)

     As You Like It   (Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse)

     The Play That Goes Wrong   (Aurora Theatre)

     Water for Elephants    (Alliance Theatre)

     Head Over Heels   (Marietta Theatre Company)

     The Pros and Cons of Killing Your Cult Leader   (Weird Sisters Theatre Project)

     Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical    (Aurora Theatre)

     Cullud Wattah    (Actor’s Express)

     Fiddler on the Roof    (City Springs Theatre Co)

     Perfect Arrangement    (Act 3 Productions)

     The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee   (Marietta Theatre)

     A Christmas Story   (Theatrical Outfit)’

     Y’allmark Christmas:  An Improvised Holiday “Movie”   (Dad’s Garage / Horizon Theatre)

     A Christmas Carol   (Alliance Theatre)

To all these casts (and to the directors who shepherded (wrangled?) such good Ensemble work), a Group Hug with a choral "Happy SIXTH Day of Christmas!!" Preferably delivered in 8-part Harmony.

12/29/2023   My Eighth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

AANIKA’S ELEPHANTS AT THE CENTER FOR PUPPETRY ARTS

It’s hard to imagine, but in my {Mumble Mumble} decades of Atlanta Theatre wallow-festing, I had not  been to the Center for Puppetry Arts a single time.  That finally changed this year because a friend (the super-talented Jimmica Collins) was headlining this gem of a play, which is actually scheduled for a spring 2024 Broadway run.  This remarkable production takes my vote as the best production for young audiences in 2023, but ONLY because the only other YA show I saw was Synchronicity Theatre’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – also extraordinary and an experience to be cited in any other year.   Hopefully, 2024 will find me audience-embedded in more than a few younger audience productions.

 

So, to Ms. Collins and the cast of Aanika’s Elephants and to the talented artists and artisans of the Center for Puppetry Arts, a heartfelt (and apologetic) “Happy FIFTH Day of Christmas!”

 

Find my Review of Aanika’s Elephants HERE

12/28/2023  My Ninth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

THE WORK OF MERELY PLAYERS PRESENTS

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My favorite Non- (or Semi-) Professional Theatre this year was Doraville's Merely Players Presents. **  Every production I saw there was a gem of low-budget execution and professional-level talent.  Their choices of plays are always challenging, their use of their limited resources and small space is the “poster child” of imagination and creativity, and every experience is worth the difficult commute from the wilds of Bartow County.  My only excuse for not seeing all their offerings is an unforgiving calendar and a hit-or-miss willingness to face North-of-the-Perimeter traffic.

 

See below for my original reviews of the four productions I saw in 2023!

 

So, to Joanie McElroy, her organization, and all the actors and creative spirits who worked for Merely Players in 2023, a hearty and sincere “Happy FOURTH Day of Christmas.”

 

 

Find my Review of Marry Me a Little HERE

 

Find my Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf HERE

 

Find my Review of Independence Day at Happy Meadows HERE

 

Find my Review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time HERE

 

(**  I purposefully did include the groups I worked with this year, Marietta Theatre Company and Act 3 Productions, to avoid the appearance of bias.)

12/27/2023  My Tenth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

BACK-TO-BACK PRODUCTIONS OF NEXT TO NORMAL

There are a few shows (well, many actually) that I like enough to see whenever a production is staged.  In 2023, one of my all-time favorite musicals, Next to Normal, was given two very different productions within a week of each other.  Seeing them both gave me an opportunity to take a “deep dive” into this show, why it is so appealing to me, and how different approaches can “shine a spotlight” onto different aspects of it.

 

The productions were a study in contrast.  The Atlanta Lyric Theatre joined with the Jennie T. Anderson Concert Series to restage their 2022 large(ish)-budget concert version in their vast Cobb County facility with full orchestra and featuring some of the best actors in Atlanta.  Young upstart non-professional group Mad Artists Entertainment produced a stripped-down, minimal-budget version on Cartersville’s tiny Legion Theatre (home to Pumphouse Players, with whom I have a history).

 

I could recount my analysis here, but I’d rather keep this short, so I hereby direct you to my initial reviews of both productions.

 

So to the casts, producers, and crews of both productions, and, especially, to the creators of the words, music, and book of Next To Normal, (Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt), “Happy THIRD Day of Christmas!”

 

Find My Review of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre / Jennie T. Anderson Production HERE

 

Find My Review of the Mad Artists’ Entertainment Production HERE

 

As an addendum, my LEAST favorite 2023 memory will surely be the final productions of both Atlanta Lyric Theatre and the Jennie T. Anderson Concert Series.  Georgia Ensemble Theatre has promised to keep alive the values and process of the concert series, so at least fate (and I suspect bureaucracy) will not have completely killed off Professional Theatre in Cobb County.

12/26/2023 My Eleventh Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES ON PBS

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PBS’s Great Performances has a history of broadcasting video records of Opera, Ballet, and Concert Performances, but they do (too occasionally for my tastes) dip into the theatre well, especially sharing summer Shakespeare in the Park productions from New York City.  This year saw broadcasts of Danai Guria as Richard III, Jocelyn Bioh’s adaptation of Merry Wives, a documentary on the impact of Fiddler on the Roof, the opera adaptation of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, and (my favorite) a breathtaking monologue Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski (which, to my delight, will be given a live performance by Theatrical Outfit beginning previews January 23).  Older shows are available to PBS donors via their “Passport” streaming service.

 

These are memorable productions of top-notch works that are accessible to those of us who cannot afford the time and expense of frequent visits to New York, and are an experience and memory to be treasured!

 

So, to PBS and our two local carriers (WABE and GPB-TV), "Happy SECOND Day of Christmas!"

 

Find my original review of these five streams HERE.

12/25/2023     So, for the First Day of Christmas, let’s talk about my Twelfth Favorite Theatrical Memory:

 

MY FINAL YEAR AS A LIGHTING ARTIST

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I tried to "retire" back in the spring -- my arthritic knees could not keep up with the ladderwork required even in small black-box theatres, and I am somewhat skeptical of my ability to "keep up" with technological advances in the field. I kept finding reasons to “unretire.”  For my final year, I did four of Marietta Theatre Company's final shows in the Alley Stage, and I was lured to Act 3 Productions to do a Topher Payne play. I do confess that the idea of working with Mr. Payne again may just "lure me out of retirement" in the future -- I truly miss "Topher's Summer Camps" at Out of Box Theatre.

 

For the record, my "Swan Song" year included Calvin Berger (a sweet modern redo of Cyrano), I Love You You're Perfect Now Change (can't say I'm overly fond of the revisions to this old favorite), Head Over Heels (and the freedom to do an X-Rated Shadow scene), Perfect Arrangement (wish I coulda made that black-and-white effect work for the opening. Alas!), and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (the perfect show with which to end over 50 years of painting with light).

 

So, to the directors and casts and board operators who made my work seem effortless and better-than-I-think-it-was, a resounding "Happy First Day of Christmas!"

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