Both figuratively and literally, the theatrical year just passed proved to be a blockbuster.
Of the 136 productions I viewed in 2018 on local stages – including professional, community and college – the following list revisits the first six of the 11 productions that achieved a perfect “5 out of 5” in the Ladue News rating system.
In ascending order, retrospectives of those first six productions follow, with the remaining five revisited in next week’s edition:
11: End of the Rainbow from Max & Louie Productions. Angela Ingersoll packed a powerful wallop in a sizzling, astounding performance as Judy Garland, the diminutive and tragic talent who loved her audiences but, in her own words, “often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people.” This drama is a remarkable work that was given due respect under director David New’s meticulous and affecting guidance. Max & Louie Productions’ performance was truly over the rainbow in its heartbreaking brilliance.
10: All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 from Mustard Seed Theatre. Back for a fifth rendition at Mustard Seed since its 2013 presentation won five St. Louis Theatre Circle awards, this year’s a cappella ensemble featured a cast whose crystal-clear voices and handy way around accents and dialects once again made All Is Calm an affecting experience. Based on letters and observations of men who served in the trenches in World War I, All Is Calm is an excellent choice for a holiday show, as it underscores what the spirit of Christmas was meant to be. Impeccably directed by Mustard Seed artistic director Deanna Jent along with musical director Joe Schoen, this hauntingly beautiful musical was masterfully performed.
9: The Little Foxes from St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Lillian Hellman’s expertly crafted drama is as superior today as when she wrote it in the 1930s. It was old-fashioned theater at its finest as St. Louis Actors’ Studio unveiled its season, titled “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” with this three-act treasure in a finely paced, well-wrought interpretation under John Contini’s meticulous direction. This impeccable rendition of Hellman’s thoroughly engaging drama about a conniving, money-loving Southern family made a suitable bookend for Regina, presented by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis earlier in the year.
8: Hedda Gabler from Stray Dog Theatre. Gary Bell, artistic director of Stray Dog Theatre, reunited the cast from Stray Dog’s 2017 presentation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House for this excellent interpretation about another famous Ibsen character. Nicole Angeli in the title role led a stellar cast in one of the truly great plays of Western literature. Stray Dog’s presentation, based on a new adaptation by Jon Robin Baitz, did handsome justice to this landmark drama.
7: Into the Breeches! from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. To kick off its “fourth pillar of programming,” titled “In the Works,” Shakespeare Festival St. Louis unveiled this poignant and engaging production of a new play by George Brant that had debuted from Providence, Rhode Island’s Trinity Repertory Company earlier in 2018. The Midwestern premiere about a community theater whose women decide to go forward with a production of Henry V, despite most of its male members being off to war, was wonderfully funny, thought-provoking and resonant all at once under director Nancy Bell’s incisive guidance. There were lessons to be learned in this witty and astute play that exhorted its audiences to accompany its characters “into the breeches.”
6: Jersey Boys from The Muny. The world regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning jukebox musical about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame quartet The Four Seasons was the best presentation in The Muny’s centennial season. The first licensed production of Jersey Boys anywhere in the world was everything one could hope to see carrying the banner for this biographical look at pop singer Frankie Valli and friends. People of a certain age recalled when “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and other hits were fresh on the charts, while the younger set could see history in action in The Muny’s rousing version of the Best Musical from 2006.
There you have the commencement of the top 11 “5 out of 5” productions of 2018. For the conclusion, including perhaps the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, watch for the Jan. 4 Ladue News!