As the Weekly's arts editor, it's my privilege to have seen, reviewed and enjoyed a good number of local theater productions over the past year, my favorites of which (with input from critic Jeanie Smith) are highlighted here. Of course, with so many great theater companies in operation in our area, we no doubt missed plenty of other gems. All opinions here are wholly subjective, and your personal best-of lists may vary widely (feel free to let us know in the comments). We're looking forward to another year of standing ovations.
"'Gravity' A New(tonian) Musical"
Sometimes, the best shows come from Broadway to San Francisco and trickle down to Silicon Valley a bit later. But other times, the brilliance is homegrown. By far, the standout of the year for me was a show that was all the more remarkable for being staged without costumes, scenery or orchestra. "Gravity," the time-twisting musical comedy about Isaac Newton and a modern-day physicist who inadvertently helps him along, debuted as part of TheatreWorks' summer New Works Festival. Originally written (by a team of five, including director Ken Savage) as part of a Stanford University 72-hour musical-writing competition (which it won), the musical boasts eclectic, clever songs, smart humor, science and a feminist perspective (all my favorite things!). I expect a bright future for this crew.
'She Loves Me'
The Broadway revival of the 1963 romantic comedy is a hit, but for those of us not able to get to the Great White Way, Foothill Music Theatre's February version about pen pals in love proved sweet and enchanting, with a standout supporting performance by Morgan Dayley and great set design by Kuo-Hao Lo.
'The Beard of Avon'
400 years after his death, Shakespeare still manages to steal the spotlight. In April I called Pear Theatre's production of the comedy "The Beard of Avon," "a splendid, hilarious take on William Shakespeare and the ongoing questions regarding the authorship of his canon." It was an ideal ratio of silly, bawdy jokes and highbrow allusions and I was thoroughly entertained.
Dragon Theatre's 2016 season was made up of intriguing, mind-bending works. I liked most of them, and in August I said that "Wild Boy," about a modern family dealing with autism and the story of "Peter the Wild Boy" from centuries earlier, was "recommended for anyone who's a parent, interested in history, concerned with what it means to be human or has ever felt like an outsider."
Los Altos Stage Company's September production of Sondheim's edgy, murderous musical included one of my very favorite performances of the year: Ken Boswell as the flamboyant, delusional killer of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau. During the thick of the grim presidential-election season, this dark show hit the target.
'The Diary of Anne Frank'
Critic Jeanie Smith (who herself directed well-regarded productions of "August Osage County" at the Pear and "Waiting for Godot" at the Dragon this year), said the Palo Alto Players' moving production of the tragic story of Anne Frank "was an excellent combination of cast and production team and extremely timely and relevant material." I agreed.
'The Velocity of Autumn'
Smith was also a fan of TheatreWorks' "The Velocity of Autumn," which she called "underrated by most other reviews" and "a stunning interrogation of aging and our preconceptions; well-acted, beautifully staged."
'Oh, What a Lovely War!'
Stanford TAPS delivered an ambitious and meticulously researched production of the sharp and poignant WW1 musical satire "Oh, What a Lovely War!", which included the most impressive program (book, really) I've ever received at a show.
'Daddy Long Legs'
From the creators of "Emma," TheatreWorks saved one of its best treats of the year for last: a revival of the romantic adaption of "Daddy Long Legs," which I called "a wonderfully charming and delightful bit of musical comedy."