"Archduke," which was workshopped at TheatreWorks' New Works festival a few years back, drew mixed audience reactions. I, however, called its regional premiere "moving, bold, strange and empathetic," in addition to very humorous. Back at the year's start, theater critic John Orr gave rave reviews to "Frost/Nixon," calling it an "astounding, not-to-be-missed 110 minutes of theater."
Its current offering, the world premiere of Paul Gordon's new musical adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (another New Works alum) has audiences swooning for this fresh, funny take on the centuries-old romantic comedy.
Dragon Productions Theatre Company had a big year, its first under the leadership of new co-artistic directors Bora "Max" Koknar and Alika Spencer-Koknar, who took over where founder Meredith Hagedorn left off (Hagedorn also gave a very endearing performance as doomed queen Marie Antoinette in "The Revolutionists" in January). The little downtown theater that could offered many fine productions over the course of the year but perhaps most surprising to me was its intimate and visceral Second Stages version of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth." In addition to its main stage productions, the space has been enhanced by ongoing circus series, festivals (some in cahoots with Fuse Theatre), comedy, open-mic and music nights, children's programming and more, including a new batch of classes in partnership with Broadway by the Bay.
Speaking of which, Broadway by the Bay in March this year offered a near-perfect version of the pop-rock opera "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," a dreamy, rainbow-hued riot of music, comedy and dance that showcased its impressive production values, choreography and ensemble strengths.
Over at Mountain View's Pear Theatre, Artistic Director Betsy Kruse Craig announced she was stepping down at the end of the year but plans to remain involved as an actor and director. Orr named actor Fred Pitts' performance in "Sweat" at the Pear as one of the year's best. He also enjoyed the quickfire character changes by the cast of the theater's annual "Pear Slices," which showcases original shorts by local writers. More recently, Janet Silver Ghent called the Pear's ambitious one-woman production of "You/Emma" "imaginative," "well-crafted" and "poignant."
It was a good year for updates on some lesser Rodgers & Hammerstein classics. Foothill Music Theatre this summer presented a charming version of "Cinderella," updated for modern tastes by making Cinderella a much more active heroine yet still retaining most of the beloved fairy tale elements. Kuo-Hao Lo's scenery, too, was sublime, and the result was a family-friendly treat.
Palo Alto Players mounted an updated R&H production of its own with David Henry Hwang's rewrite of "Flower Drum Song." By keeping most of the songs but jettisoning most of the cringe-worthier aspects of the stereotype-laden original script, this production was a funny, touching and very welcome story of the Chinese American experience. Another favorite this year from Palo Alto Players was the screwball comedy "One Man, Two Guvnors,".
Over to the west, Los Altos Stage Company went bold with shows, including the comedies "American Night" and "Admissions," which tackled prescient issues with wit and aplomb. The former was a surreal trip through one would-be citizen's dream, while the latter took on the sometimes-hypocritical world of elite education, and both seemed at times to slightly baffle and rattle their audiences; a risk well worth taking.
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