It's that time of year, when we all make lists of things to do or buy, and critics make lists of the 10 best or the 10 worst of the past year. While there are some shows I would put on my "disappointing list," since I know how difficult it is to produce theater, I won't mention them. Let's just applaud the efforts of all who try to produce quality theater-it's a difficult task, and I'm happy it succeeds as often as it does.
My Choices for Best Connecticut Productions
The top two productions in 2014 in Connecticut had to be Hamlet at Hartford Stage and Fiddler on the Roof at Goodspeed. They were by far the best play and musical produced this year. A substantial part of the credit has to go to the two directors: Darko Tresnjak for Hamlet, and Rob Ruggiero for Fiddler on the Roof. A close second to Hamlet was the new Split Knuckle Theatre's production of its play, Endurance, which was at Long Wharf in June.
My other top plays included These Paper Bullets (with a lot of music) and The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, both at Yale; The Other Place at TheaterWorks; Shadow of a Hummingbird at Long Wharf; the flawed but still interesting Somewhere at Hartford Stage; Things We Do for Love at Westport; Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Long Wharf; and Say Goodnight, Gracie at Ivoryton. An honorable mention to the Hartford Stage production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike-I love the play, but I did not love the production.
Plus, I must add to the list the reinvigorated A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas at Hartford Stage.
The musical category is shorter. Gordon Edelstein did a fine job directing The Last Five Years. I also thought All Shook Up at Ivoryton was outstanding and I thoroughly enjoyed Woody Sez at TheaterWorks and Holiday Inn at Goodspeed.
Turning to the New York City Shows
It has been a mixed year with some very interesting works, but often the performances and the production outshine the quality of the underlying work.
• The Musicals
My favorite musical of this year was the short-lived The Bridges of Madison County, which had an outstanding score by Robert Jason Brown as well as a terrific performance by Kelli O'Hara.
Violet was a small show that featured great performances, including one by Sutton Foster.
Cabaret brought back the iconic performance of Alan Cumming and a wonderful supporting cast, but its Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams) was lacking.
Of course, I have to include Neil Patrick Harris's performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
This fall brought us two musicals that were interesting and not all sweetness and light: Sting's The Last Ship had terrific music but a muddled book, and Side Show featured a stunning production but has not found an audience.
A very special mention must be given Just Jim Dale, a one-man show that featured lots of music as its talented performer explored his life and career.
• The Plays
My favorite play of 2014 has to be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, currently on Broadway.
From last spring, Bryan Cranston was LBJ in All the Way, and an ensemble cast led by Tony Shalhoub made Act One a delight.
Other favorites last spring included Mothers and Sons with Tyne Daly, Daniel Radcliffe giving a subtle and fine performance in The Cripple of Inishmaan, and Brian O'Byrne and Debra Messing in Outside Mullingar.
From the fall, an all-star cast led by James Earl Jones showed us how delightful You Can't Take It with You is, Bradley Cooper demonstrated his acting chops in The Elephant Man, and Blythe Danner returned to Broadway in Donald Margulies's (a Connecticut resident) new play The Country House, another Chekhovian inspiration. And though the play wasn't great, Hugh Jackman demonstrated both terrific acting and box office appeal.
The Top Theater News in Connecticut in 2014
There were to big theater news stories in Connecticut this year. One was the retirement of Michael Price, executive director at Goodspeed for more than 40 years; his replacement is Michael Gennaro. The other was that Tony awards went to The Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder,which had its first production at Hartford Stage and was produced by Branford resident Greg Nobile. Director Darko Tresnjak also took home the directing Tony for the musical.
Karen Isaacs is a North Branford resident who hosts radio shows broadcast on University of New Haven's radio station, WNHU 88.7 FM, and online at www.wnhu.net.