Best of Capital Region theater 2019

"Hamilton," "In the Heights" came our way
photo provided “In the Heights” at Park Playhouse in Albany’s Washington Park was the other local Lin-Manuel Miranda production
photo provided “In the Heights” at Park Playhouse in Albany’s Washington Park was the other local Lin-Manuel Miranda production

This year, theater in the Capital Region seemed to be all about Lin-Manuel Miranda. Park Playhouse pulled together a show of Miranda’s “In the Heights” back in July and reviewer Paul Lamar was so thrilled with the production, he couldn’t help but rap about it: 

“Yo Washington Park after dark becomes Washington Heights/ On rain-free nights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show about the barrio/Will blow your mind. You’re gonna find the kind/Of eye-poppin’,  head-spinnin’, and how’d-they-do-that grinnin’/Entertainment. Here’s the dope about the plot: people full of hope/

“In the Heights” got different dreams, like Nina, but the seams/Are rippin’, and she’s slippin’ , flunkin’ out of college/And the knowledge kills her ’rents who went to great expense/To pay. Usnavi’s got a corner store but more than that nada, zip.

Abuela’s hip to everything that goes on in the Heights, her sights/Are set on everyone’s success. Benny’s happiness is Nina/But her old man has a different plan and takes a stand./”

“Hamilton” was, of course, the most buzz-worthy production of the year. Its run at Proctors in September brought in viewers from around the Capital Region and beyond: 

“It is audacious, funny, inspiring, instructive, and clever on nearly every level of the script and the production. . . If the arc of the story is chronological (unfortunately, about three-fourths of the way through the technique becomes a wearing “And then this happened”), and if the content is not unfamiliar to most Americans, it’s Miranda’s riff on the story of this immigrant from the British West Indies that makes us pay attention. The cast is — intentionally — a melting pot of races, with Hamilton and Washington, for example, played by African Americans. The musical language, too, shifts subtly from rap to pop to spoken word to soul. In short, the time warp is the message: contemporary America remains a work in progress just as those framers of the Constitution were flying by the seat of their breeches to come up with a new country.

In a show with 34 musical numbers, I can only mention a few of my favorites. “My Shot” captures the revolutionary spirit that seized the colonies, with the stage animated by people in purposeful frenzy. “The Schuyler Sisters” (yes, Albany’s own) and “Helpless” feature the redoubtable Hannah Cruz, Stephanie Umoh, and Olivia Puckett.”

Lamar found that the Mac-Haydn Theatre’s production of “Ragtime” was certainly worth viewers’ time:

“In her program bio, Rachel Rhodes-Devey, who plays Mother in Mac-Haydn’s stunning production of ‘Ragtime,’ says, ‘[I hope] the topics of this show stay in your hearts and in your conversations beyond the theater doors.’

Indeed. Adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s novel, this 1998 musical, with a book by Terrance McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, satisfies by being an entertainment of ideas, with a seductive score that carries us on a wave of profound emotion from beginning to end.”

Lamar found that the Curtain Call theater started off its 2019 season right with a production of “Broadway Bound.”
“There’s a scene in Act I of Neil Simon’s ‘Broadway Bound,’ now in a first-rate production at Curtain Call when aspiring comedy writers Eugene Jerome (Anthony Halloway) and older brother Stanley (Sam Reilly) try to figure out what every good sketch needs. 

Conflict, one says. Yes, and that’s because what one person wants might not be what another person wants. Bingo! 

Of course, Simon knew that conflict is also the source of drama, and there’s plenty of that in this final installment of the “Eugene” trilogy. Put a bunch of people at different times of life in the same Brooklyn household — 49-year-old Kate (Pamela O’Connor); her 55-year-old husband, Jack (Steve Leifer); Kate’s 77-year-old father, Ben (Gary Maggio); and the two 20-something sons — and there are bound to be competing goals. . . . Based on Simon’s life, “Broadway Bound” is a memory play; thus, Eugene speaks directly to the audience, massaging our understanding of certain moments and tying up loose ends. Rodrigo Hernandez Mtz’s two-level scenic design beautifully reinforces the concept of a memory play, with see-through walls that suggest Eugene’s imperfect recollection of this insubstantial home.”

The Schenectady Civic Players brought out the best of themselves in “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which ran in October: 

“The 2017 script, by Lucas Hnath, is a rich imagining of what would happen if Ibsen’s Nora returned home after closing the door on her way out 15 years before. And the production at SCP could not be better. With a cast of four superb actors spooling out pages of stimulating dialogue that bring the characters to vivid life, on a stripped-down set (by Joseph Fava) and under Fava’s point-perfect direction, the experience is like listening to a string quartet, with each voice having its say in the service of the larger piece.

Fava’s notes in the program summarize the Ibsen play just enough to help us recognize the four members of the Helmer household: Nora (Cristine M. Loffredo), husband Torvald (Michael Schaefer),  daughter Emmy (Maddie Illenberg), and housemaid Anne Marie (Carol Charniga).”

“Lobby Hero,” a production that was spotlighted this year by Capital Repertory Theatre, received an honorable mention by Lamar: 

“Jeff (Kenny Toll) is a security guard during the graveyard shift in the lobby of a NYC apartment house. 

But he’s not so secure. 

Neither are the other three characters who come in and out of the lobby. Though Dawn (Sarah Baskin) and Bill (Mark W. Soucy) are members of the police force, and William (Jonathan Louis Dent) is Jeff’s supervisor, wearing a uniform of authority doesn’t guard against uncertainty about who you really are.

With crackling good dialogue by playwright Kenneth Lonergan and a fast-paced, technically perfect production under the direction of Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the moral dilemmas these four face have us wondering about their choices and ours, were we in their places. ‘Lobby Hero’ is an absorbing (and occasionally quite funny) evening in the theater.”

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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