A Look Back at the Best Plays, Actors in 2012
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
2012 came to an end, and it was an exciting year of theatre for me as a reviewer. I reviewed everything from solo performances, both comedy and drama, musical extravaganzas, dazzling benefits, wonderful ensemble plays, and more. It is a challenge to pick “best” dramatic play, best comedic play, best ensemble, best musical, best original play, etc. I had so many favorites.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Concert” was one of the best benefit shows, with star studded talent and was an exciting evening of entertainment at its finest which raised funds for Josh Groban’s “Find Your Light Foundation” and the Musical Theatre Company of Los Angeles. It was a first class evening with a Red Carpet line up.
I saw many solo performance shows, and I am hard pressed to pick one. I will break these shows into comedic, dramatic, and musical shows. One that stands out to me immediately is the superb job Kathleen Turner did in the “Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” in “Red Hot Patriot which ran at the Geffen Playhouse. She brought playwrights and sisters Margaret and Allison Engels’ one woman show to life and infused it with her brand of energy. From the moment Turner swaggered onstage, put her feet up on her desk, and uttered the first words, with her raspy voice, “ I’m writin, and this is what writin looks like.”she was Molly Ivins. She gave a compelling and electrifying performance not to be forgotten. The Engels writing was exceptional. It was hard to believe this was their first play. I give Kathleen Turner kudos as Best Actress in a Dramatic Solo Performance in this one woman show. And, I give the Engels sisters Best Original Playwrights. That being said, director, David Esbjornson’s direction was flawless and he brought out the best in Kathleen Turner.
The next Best Solo Performance for Best Actor in an Original One Man Show goes to writer-actor Tom Dugan in his “Shades of Gray, Robert E. Lee” at Theatre 40. Dugan gets Best Original Playwright for historical drama and Best Actor. Dugan re-created history so beautifully in his one-man show. I not only learned a lot, I was held spellbound. Not only did he show us what motivated Robert E. Lee, he managed to do all the supporting characters Lee interacted with. There was not one dull moment and Mel Johnson Jr’s staging and direction were excellent.
In the category of one man shows, I would be remiss if I did not mention Aaron Braxton’s ‘Did You Do Your Homework?” which Braxton wrote and perfromed at at The Lounge Theatre. Braxton gets Best Original Playwright for a solo show and Best Actor in a Contemporary show. His acting dazzled me. He re-created over twenty characters he had come in contact with as a teacher with LAUSD. Braxton’s insight into his students was incredible and moving. He became the vessel each of his students moved and spoke through. He used the word, “luminosity” and indeed, his performance was luminous and filled with light and insight.
Actress-pianist, Mona Golabek stunned me in her original one-woman show, also at the Geffen Playhouse, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane”. With excellent direction by Hershey Felder, Golabek brought to life her mother’s poignant story of her escape from the Nazis during World War 2. It was a sublime portrait and a brilliant homage to her mother, Lisa Jura. Jura's dream to be a concert pianist sustained and fortified her during the Nazi occupation of Vienna. Golabek gets Best New Actress in an Original One Woman Show. She filled the stage with such strong images, emotions and music. Golabek is the fulfillment of her mother’s dream.
Next, is ensembles. The clash of classes as depicted in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” at the Geffen Playhouse did it for me as Best Ensemble in a Drama. Matt Shakman’s direction was so tight. Jane Kaczmarek’s Margie was a stand-out in the ensemble cast of six performers. All the actors in this fine ensemble were so good in showing us the contrast of the classes in South Boston. The question the play begged was “Who Is Good People?” Well, I know this ensemble cast showed "who is good acting”, very good acting!
The Geffen Playhouse would seem to be the venue of my favorites. The next winner in ensemble performances would have to be for the comedy, “By the Way Meet Vera Stark” by Lynn Nottage. This ensemble was headed by Sanaa Lathan and directed by Jo Bonney. Kimberly Hebert Gregory shone as the ample, than life Lottie, and gorgeous Merle Dandridge was electrifying as the hussy with the gyrating hips, Anna Mae. Amanda Detmer brought diva Gloria Mitchell to life as she and Sanaa’s Vera sparred back and forth like Lucy and Ethel with impeccible timing. Kevin T. Carroll was so smooth as jazz musician, Leroy Barksdale, and Mather Zickel did a fine job in dual roles. Spencer Garrett rounded out the ensemble as studio head, Slasvick. The writing was like one of the best sitcoms in Act 1 but faltered in Act 2. But, “Vera” gets my vote for Best Ensemble in a Comedy.
Barbra Streisand gets my award as Best Diva and Best Entertainer for her “Back to Brooklyn” at the Hollywood Bowl. This was one of the most well put-together shows I have seen in a long time. Streisand sang, she had film clips from her hit movies, footage from people in Brooklyn commenting about her, a film her son, Jason had done for her seventieth birthday and he sang with her, the talented Chris Botti, her sister, Rosalyn Kind, and three very talented young performers in Il Volo. Streisand proved to be a first class entertainer is still at the top of her game.
Howard Storm as Ralph Bellini and Mariko Van Kampen gave lovely performances in Joe Di Pietro’s “The Last Romance” at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. Dorothy Sinclair was marvelous as Ralph's suffocating and grasping sister. It was a heart warming story, though the ending was not satisfying.
Musicals come next and it is a toss-up between three shows: “The Producers” at the Hollywood Bowl, “Follies” at the Ahmanson, and “Anything Goes” also at the Ahmanson. If pressed to select a favorite, I would have to select “The Producers”. I so loved it! “The Producers” was so zany, and I will never forget the “Springtime for Hitler” number. Only Mel Brooks could conceive of such a musical and make it work. It was irreverent and it was brilliant! Richard Kind gets a Best Actor in a Musical . He made me forget Zero Mostel, who had played the role and stood out in his portrayal of Max Bialystock. Roger Bart’s Carmen Ghia was delightfully fey and gay, and Gary Beech’s Roger de Bris was hysterical. “I look like the Chrysler building”. Their number, “Keep It Gay” was so funny. Toss in Dane Cook as Hitler lover, Franz Liebkind and my sides were splitting. This was such an evening of laughter! Yes, Best Musical Comedy! Definitely.
While Rachel York stood out as Reno Sweeny in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” , I still have “The Producers” as my pick for Best Musical Comedy. York is a one-of-a-kind gal with a fabulous rich voice, and I’d like to bottle her energy! This one definitely gets a Best Choreography by Kathleen Marshall. The dance numbers were breathtaking. And, those Cole Porter songs were wonderfully nostalgic. How about a Best Songwriter for Cole Porter? His songs have stood the test of time.
I’m saving the best for last. Playwright Donald Marguiles, “Coney Island Christmas” at the Geffen Playhouse was the best production to end the year with. His original play brought the whole year together in a sweet and sentimental family-type play. Marguiles play transcends both time and religion and gives us a universal theme of finding one’s own voice. It was a gem of a play with an exceppent ensemble cast. Best Original Play. Marguiles play is in a category of its own. This play was Gil Cates last dream. He had commissioned Marguiles to write a Christmas play. Marguiles’ answer was that he was Jewish. But, he was inspired by Grace Paley’s short story, “The Loudest Voice.” And, playwright Marguiles achieved a heartwarming play that easily could become Gil Cates’ dream for an annual family play that brings people together.
It was a wonderful year of theatre and these plays showed Los Angeles is second to none. We have a wealth of wonderful talent in Los Angeles in writers, actors, and singers. We do not live in the shadow of Broadway.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”etc. She is currently in a “Greenlight Financial” commercial.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850-course # 18014. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. The next class starts January 10th For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com or to register, call 310-285-6850 for a PIN # so you can enroll on line.
The class in for 8 weeks @ $118 from 6:45-9:15 PM ($5 materials fee payable to instructor first night).