Best on the Shoreline!
It's time to nominate your favorites for the 2021 Best on the Shoreline Awards!
No Goodspeed: South Pacific, which Goodspeed had hoped to produce this fall, has been postponed to 2021. Executive Director Michael Gennaro said that “in the end, as much as we want to begin presenting musicals in our theater again this fall, we realized that we could not overcome the obstacles under the evolving state guidelines to bring an audience safely into the opera house.”
Entire Season: The Yale Rep and the Yale Drama School have canceled the entire 2020-’21 season. As part of the cancellation, the Drama School has extended the three-year program by a year; students will receive full scholarships for the fourth year. Dean James Bundy points to not only the pandemic issues but also said, “The state of our nation and field calls us more urgently than ever to continuous work toward anti-racist pedagogy and practice.”
Connecticut Season Wrap Up: The 2019-’20 season was most unusual; the season effectively ended in mid-March with the shutting down of productions and the closing of theaters. In Connecticut about one-third of the anticipated shows were missed.
So what were my highlights of the 2019-’20 season?
The Connecticut 2019-’20 season had great inconsistency. Practically no musicals rose to the top of my lists, though a number of them had some good moments. Playhouse on Park’s production of The Scottsboro Boys was daring with some good performances, but others that were weak and direction that didn’t quite make the most of the show. Goodspeed’s productions of Because of Winn Dixie and Billy Elliot suffered from the same problems; with Billy Elliot it was inconsistent choreography that damaged the show. Connecticut saw multiple productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Cabaret. Again, good moments and performances in each of them, but also moments that were lacking.
So for me, the best musical production in Connecticut season was Ragtime, produced by the small Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC) in Norwalk. It blended overall fine performances with direction that took this large cast show and put it on a very small stage. Congratulations to director Kevin Connors and the entire cast and production team.
Several plays impressed me. Rather than try to rank them, I’ll mention them by theater.
Westport Country Playhouse had two productions: Milma’s Tale, which featured a fine ensemble cast and terrific direction by Mark Lamos. This story of illegal ivory hunting absolutely moved me. And the production directed by David Kennedy of Moliere’s Don Juan was a total delight.
Heading up the coast of Connecticut, Long Wharf gave us a very good, though not outstanding, production of I Am My Own Wife. Yale Rep offered several very good productions; I found elements of Girls interesting, but I really enjoyed The Plot and Manahatta. The best of these was The Plot, in large part because of the fine acting ensemble.
Moving east to Ivoryton, I happily laughed my way through the farcical Shear Madness. It was silly and exaggerated, which is exactly what good farce should be; the cast had the timing down to an exact science.
If we move inland, I was impressed with Thrown Stone Theatre’s production of Birds of North America. This relatively new theater in Ridgefield performs in a tiny, intimate space and this father-daughter play fit perfectly and featured fine performances and sound design.
West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park showed me there was merit to Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice, though I still didn’t like the show. But playhouse really shone with a beautifully acted production of Shayna Maidel, a play from the 1980s that deserved a revival.
TheaterWorks produced some of its shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum before reopening its own theater after wonderful renovations. At the atheneun, Actually was well done though there were elements of the play that I did not find realistic. In the renovated theater, we had several terrific productions: American Son had fine acting, in some ways better than the Broadway production; I still find the play totally unrealistic. Lifespan of a Fact also featured a production that was as good as the Broadway production and maybe in some ways better. This play fascinated me, particularly in our environment of social media trolling and fake news. Also, TheaterWorks gave us a wonderful performance by Jamison Sterns and a creative set, in the one-man play, Fully Committed.
Last but not least on my tour of Connecticut is Hartford Stage. Two productions stood out. The fall opened with Quixote Nuevo, a modern retelling of Don Quixote that was inventive and yet remained true to the original work while also being relevant and bringing a new perspective on our current world. It had terrific acting, music, directing, and production values. The last production at Hartford Stage was also a favorite. Elizabeth Williamson adapted and directed Jane Eyre, which was faithful to the novel but also made it stage-worthy with inventive staging, story-telling, and fine performances.
One production I wish I had seen (my colleagues raved about it) was the Connecticut Rep’s production of A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.
Karen Isaacs is an East Haven resident. To check out her reviews for New York and Connecticut shows, visit 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com. She’s a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle, New York’s Outer Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association.
Karen Isaacs is the Columnists for Zip06. Email Karen at .