From one-person premieres to lavish productions and classic musicals to cutting-edge comedies and dramas, the Midpeninsula theater scene had something for everyone in 2017. Below are a few of the Weekly's favorite shows of the year.
"The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga" - TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Putting together a "best-of" is difficult but, while the rest of this list is not really ordered by rank, choosing the cream of the crop, in this case, was an easy decision. Bay Area playwright Min Kahng's "The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga," based on Henry Yoshitaka's graphic novel about Japanese immigrants in early 20th-century San Francisco, was absolutely fabulous, incorporating local history, humor mixed with serious issues, wonderful songs and lovely artistic flourishes. The performances of all the cast members were so good that I couldn't even single one out for special mention. In my July review I called it "smart, funny, touching and visually stunning." I hope it will live on in future productions.
"The Notorious B.U.G." - Dragon Theatre
Merriam-Webster dictionary's word of the year for 2017 is "feminism," and in a #MeToo year packed with art referencing the current socio-political climate, one my favorites was "The Notorious B.U.G." Local writer/actor Marjorie Hazeltine's one-woman play, told from the point of view of a sassy praying mantis named after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, explored scientific discovery, body-image issues, gender norms and entomological information in a sweetly quirky, hilarious and one-of-a-kind way. Feminist Dragon bonus kudos: Weekly critic Kaila Prins also debuted her terrific one-woman musical burlesque show, "How Lovely to Be A Woman," at the Dragon, cementing the theater’s reputation as a great place to nurture new creations.
"Next to Normal" - Broadway by the Bay
Broadway by the Bay offered a riveting production of the Pulitzer-winning musical "Next to Normal," which explores a "normal" family torn apart by a mother's battle with mental illness and the tragedy that haunts their home life. Among other things, it featured incredible lighting design by Michael Oesch, which pulsed and flashed along with the show's rich soundtrack and intense emotions.
"What You Will" - Pear Theatre
Playwright Max Gutmann took a risky gimmick -- borrowing a whole bunch of words and phrases from the works of Shakespeare, mixing them up and putting together a whole new, pseudo-Shakespearean mash-up -- and succeeded in creating a zany, original show. Critic Kaila Prins called this "fun, funny and complex play" a "can't-miss midsummer night's dream."
"Peter Pan" - Palo Alto Players
Critic's best-of lists are inherently subjective. In terms of productions having an impact on my personal, everyday life, none did so more than Palo Alto Players' production of the classic musical "Peter Pan," which set off a "Pan" obsession in my 4-year-old co-critic that continues, full force, to this day. The show I called "charming and nostalgic" was full of old-fashioned, irresistible magic, led by the delightful Corrie Farbstein as the boy who never grows up and John Bisceglie as the campily wicked Captain Hook.
"A View from the Bridge" - Pear Theatre
Weekly critic Janet Silver Ghent picked The Pear's production of the 1955 Arthur Miller classic "A View from the Bridge" as one of the best of the year, thanks to its Greek tragedy-like look at the dark side of "decent working-class folk trapped in trauma" and its continued relevance to modern America.
"(title of show)" - Los Altos Stage Company
Los Altos Stage Company was strong all year, including its very fun, harmony-rich production of "(title of show)," an inside-jokey meta-musical all about its own creation. Co-lead Jocelyn Pickett is a vocal and comedy powerhouse (she was also the best part of "Shrek the Musical" at Foothill College last summer).
"Airswimming" - Dragon Theatre
The great chemistry between (and plausible English accents of) Annamarie MacLeod and Katie Anderson anchored the Dragon's long-awaited production of Charlotte Jones' "Airswimming," about a shameful part of recent British history in which women who deviated from social norms were locked away in mental asylums for decades.
"Side Show" - Foothill Music Theatre
The loosely biographical tale of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who briefly achieved stardom in the age of Vaudeville, proved a great choice for Foothill Music Theatre this year, with gorgeous costumes, eccentric characters and strong performances galore.
"In the Next Room (or, The Vibrator Play)" - Pear Theatre
I called The Pear Theatre's stimulating production of Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room (or, The Vibrator Play)," about women being treated for "hysteria," "a very interesting examination of the ways in which women of the era were, body and mind, controlled by the men in their lives."
"The Prince of Egypt" - TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
TheatreWorks delivered the goods with its world-premiere of Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz's new stage version of "The Prince of Egypt," based on the 1998 animated film. The story of Moses, Ramses and Exodus is old and familiar but this show gave it a refreshingly human touch, plus incredible choreography by Sean Cheesman. Weekly critic Jeanie Smith called it a "gorgeous, talent-filled production."
Looking forward to 2018's crop of shows!