People who live in New Jersey have a wide variety of choices for seeing good theater productions. More theaters in the state are offering fine works and the opportunities for seeing New York City productions on Broadway and Off-Broadway are only a short distance away. The highlights of this year were many but these are a few that this reviewer/writer found extra special.
The NJ Shakespeare Theatre in Madison continued to do an outstanding job of presenting quality shows this year as they celebrated their 50th Anniversary. A stand out was “Measure for Measure” which is one of Shakespeare’s plays that is not frequently produced, at least in this area. An outstanding cast led by Bruce Turk demonstrated that the Bard’s themes are still relevant today as they explored how government can become corrupt and unfairly penalize members of society.
Big applause go to the Paper Mill Playhouse for their outreach work with the community after Hurricane Sandy and their tribute to the work of the late Marvin Hamlisch when they presented “A Chorus Line.” The revival of the musical “Once on this Island” starring Syesha Mercado was a refreshing change of pace perfectly placed in their yearly line up. This fantasy tale set to calypso styled music stirred one’s imagination as the tale of the young girl in the tree emerged.
The Revision Theatre in Asbury Park secured a permanent home when they moved to the former St. George Greek Orthodox Church which is just a short distance from their previous venue, the Carousel House on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. The new location, which will be known as Theatre at St. George, survived Hurricane Sandy but sustained some damage to items in a storage area at the old site. Their first show in the new theatre was “Pippin” performed this past August.
The Bickford Theatre in Morristown held a most unusual fundraiser titled “Life Upon the Wicked Stage!” Headlined by Broadway star and Tony Nominee Constantine Maroulis, the cast sang songs from Broadway’s greatest villains, thieves, and ladies of the evening. Songs from shows such as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Oliver!” “The Robber Bridegroom,” and “Chess” were performed convincing the audience that “wicked” can bring good music.
On Broadway, one of the brightest new shows of the year was “Once” which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical. The show is unique in presentation and format. With a cast led by Tony winner Steve Kazee and Christin Milioti it includes the orchestra as an active part of the cast with the stage converting to a pub before the show and during intermission when patrons can come up and buy a drink. But it’s more than that; it’s a heart rendering tale of love with a most unusual slant. This show is doing well with ticket sales but well worth waiting to get to see.
The New York Musical Theatre Festival made some major changes that resulted in what could become a major summer event for New York City. Scheduled during the month of July, the shows were all held within a radius close to the West 42nd Street area that is fast becoming a mecca for Off-Broadway. Over 30 shows were presented on a schedule that allows one to see most if not all of them; provided one has the time. One that is still haunting to think about was “Requiem for a Lost Girl” which examined the problems of the homeless in a poignant and artistic manner.
The holiday season saw Broadway bring “The Christmas Story” to life from the Jean Shepherd story and movie of the same name. Obviously it has a big fan base because it broke attendance records at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre. Off-Broadway, a quiet little sleeper, “Let’s Kill Grandma This Christmas” turned out to be one of the surprises of the year. An ensemble cast took hold of this black comedy and got the crowds roaring with laughter.