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The best theater of 2009
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The best theater of 2009

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

We had a great year of theater in this town, and now it's time to sum up some of the very best. Whether your choice was bigger budget (mainstream) or smaller budget (sidestream) - What's this 'fringe' business? We should retire this 'fringe' concept regarding small theaters! - you could find sharp, thoughtful, provocative and fun theater productions.

This was a terrific year for musical theater. The 5th Avenue had world premieres of Memphis and Catch Me If You Can, which were moving swiftly to Broadway (watch the Tonys for Memphis awards soon). The 5th also presented a wonderful Sunday in the Park With George, with amazing local talent Billie Wildrick as Dot. The Village Theatre presented two fantastic new musicals, both by Peter Kellogg and David Friedman, Stunt Girl and Chasing Nicolette. Stunt Girl Sarah Chalfy and "top clown" Nick DeSantis gave prize performances.

Other theaters, including some sidestream theaters, got into the musical act, with outstanding duo Cayman Ilika and Kate Jaeger in Always Patsy Cline from Centerstage, two top-notch productions from Seattle Musical Theater: Guys and Dolls and The Producers, Balagan Theatre presenting an effective "chamber" The Full Monty, Contemporary Classics offering NewVoices concerts 7 and 8, ACT Theatre reprising Das Barbec├╝ with a terrific quintet (including Billie Wildrick and Anne Allgood), Felicia Loud playing a heartbreaking Billie Holliday in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, and ArtsWest's summer musical, Sweeney Todd, a surprisingly sophisticated treat. Ilika, a honey-voiced charmer, also shined as Julie in Village's Showboat. Showtunes! produced a magical A Man of No Importance starring Richard Gray in a heart-warming portrayal of a Gay Dublin bus driver.

Theater Schmeater had an outstanding year of productions, including When the Messenger is Hot, Maria/Stuart, The Twilight Zone (coming soon with new episodes), An Oak Tree, and a triumphant The Creation of the World and Other Business, headed by the unabashedly nude Matthew Middleton and Heather Roberts, and the scene-stealing Alex Samuels. Steve Cooper's lush set took that production to a higher level. If you're thinking about new subscription possibilities, do consider The Schmee.

Satori Group moved here and presented two productions, Tragedy and Artifacts of Consequence, both of which innovated in technological special effects and whet the appetite for 2010. These people know their theater. Two other transplants - Art Attack Theatre with Shorts by David Lindsay-Abaire and Woman Seeking with Last Summer at Bluefish Cove - show us how lucky we are that people want to relocate here to do theater.

Seattle Shakespeare Company had triumphs with The Merchant of Venice, starring Gregory Award-winning Charles Leggett and a jaw-droppingly fun production of Taming of the Shrew set in a trailer park. Book-It Repertory shined with their adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma.

Seattle has some incredible writers, both as individuals and as a few companies that collaborate together on edgy, challenging work. This year had original material that was well worth your time. Awe-inspiring puppetry was on hand for the historical Bloody Henry by Brian Kooser and friends. Annex Theatre presented Blind Spot by Bret Fetzer and Juliet Waller Pruzan, about a little girl who shrinks down to the size of dust to explore a world we are blind to. Rubble Women was created by Martha Enson and the UMO Ensemble to illustrate the hardships of German women conscripted to move Berlin's piles of rubble after the war. Nebunele cast-created Cussing At The Moon, a wonderful piece about sisters coping with hospitals and family in illness. Kristina Sutherland and Desiree Prewitt created Nancy, Frank and Joe, about our favorite kid book heroes, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Norman Bell created and acted in a one-man show, SubPrime, about our mortgage crisis, which was fun and insightful. A notable non-local offering, Marc Bamuthi Joseph was imported to ACT Theatre for his show the break/s, challenging us to look at truths that are less clear and more ambivalent.

Other excellent productions in 2009 included Below the Belt at ACT Theatre, an incredible solo turn by Terri Weagant in Balagan's Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a tight ensemble production of Orange Flower Water by New Century Theatre Company, a slick presentation by Taproot for Around the World in 80 Days, another joyous Taproot show, Enchanted April, where magic filled the theater, and the mysterious Tryst at Seattle Public Theatre, with Brian Claudio Smith and Emily Chisholm. Seattle Repertory Theatre had three very different shows to praise, with the madcap slapstick of 39 Steps, the lyrical movement of the small ensemble in Opus, and the pointed, intellectual, spirited Equivocation. But you were incredibly lucky if you caught The Elephant Man, as presented by Strawberry Theatre Workshop, the best play of 2009.

Other productions of note were by WET (Washington Ensemble Theater) with Mistakes Madeleine Made, SiS Productions' The Theory of Everything, SecondStory Repertory's The Last Night at Ballyhoo, History Boys and Dead Man's Cell Phone at ArtsWest, Rabbit Hole at ReAct Theatre, the Durang 7 at Stone Soup Theatre, Bone Portraits at Live Girls' Theatre, and 52 Pickup by theater simple.

Here's a toast to 2010 and to the excitement of new productions, to fresh takes on old stories, and to all the talented folks who work so very hard to give us these experiences. The range and breadth of these 52 plays demonstrate how much fun it is to attend theater in our evergreen city.

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