Saluting standout shows on local stages in 2017

Dayton was treated to an outstanding year in theater from upbeat musicals to serious drama. Here are the shows that ranked among the best in 2017.

1. “Hairspray” (Muse Machine)

Exuberant joy bolstered this sensational production featuring a wonderfully diverse array of talented young people from across the Miami Valley. At a time of great divisiveness, “Hairspray” glowingly reminded us of the power of unity.

2. “The Music Man” (Cedarville University)

Much was said this year about the remarkable nostalgia within the smash hit Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” but Cedarville University provided an equally superb and heartfelt throwback to a simpler time of lovingly kooky Americana.

3. “Fiddler on the Roof” (Wright State University)

Emphasizing the importance of family as well as the plight of refugees, Wright State brought a deeper sensitivity to material already primed for closer inspection.

4. “Motown” (Victoria Theatre Association)

A rip-roaring, vocally stellar cast kept the feel-good grooves and high energy at fever pitch in this hugely entertaining tribute to an American cultural institution.

5. “Gidion’s Knot” (Magnolia Theatre Company)

An uncomfortable parent-teacher conference erupted into a thought-provoking explosion of searing debate. Is it right to justify a child’s behavior for the sake of artistic expression? This riveting play took parental pride to another level.

6. “The Elephant Man” (Dayton Theatre Guild)

Jared Mola’s skillful embodiment and impressive physicality as the disfigured John Merrick, the darling of Victorian society, captivated with astounding awe.

7. “The House” (Human Race Theatre Company)

In this Midwest premiere, chaos about the future of a suburban dream home unleashed humanity’s ugliness in hysterically shocking and startling fashion.

8. “Blues for an Alabama Sky” (Sinclair Community College)

An absolutely engaging presentation centered on the impact of the influential Harlem Renaissance teetering on the verge of the crippling Great Depression.

9. “Fun Home” (Wright State University)

An excellent student-produced regional premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated and Tony Award-winning musical about deception, dysfunction, forgiveness, identity, and embracing one’s truth based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir.

10. “The Puppeteer” (Dayton Playhouse)

The Dayton Playhouse Futurefest of new works hit the relevance jackpot with Desireé York’s blistering and magnetic account of the African-American experience spanning five decades, starring a fabulous Carolyn L. Seymour.

Honorable mentions: "An American in Paris," Victoria Theatre Association; "The Christians," Dayton Theatre Guild; "The Diary of Anne Frank," Cedarville University; "Dogfight," Dare to Defy Productions; "Grease," University of Dayton; "In the Heights," Victoria Theatre Association; "Jesus Christ Superstar," Epiphany Lutheran Church; "Kinky Boots," Victoria Theatre Association; "Legendale," Human Race Theatre; "Little Women," Dare to Defy Productions; "Luna Gale," Dayton Theatre Guild; "Mamma Mia!," La Comedia Dinner Theatre; "Oklahoma!," Brookville Community Theatre; "Radio Plays," Sinclair Community College; "Ragtime," Dayton Playhouse; "Seussical," Dare to Defy Productions; "Sister Act," Dayton Playhouse; "Tape," Playground Theatre; "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," Dare to Defy Productions; "Tuesdays with Morrie," Young at Heart Players; "Urinetown," Wright State University

Special recognition: Dayton Ballet’s marvelous production of “The Great Gatsby,” one of the best shows produced by the organization in its 80-year history, doesn’t necessarily fall within the realm of theater but was unquestionably theatrical. Ron Cunningham’s flavorfully character-driven choreography, Billy Novick’s jazzy music, Jamie Cordes and Felita LaRock’s snazzy vocals, Lyn Baudendistel’s gorgeous period costumes, and the electrifying company of dancers (led by Evan Pitts, Margot Aknin, Paul Gilliam, Nathaly Prieto, knockout newcomer Ivan Braatz, mesmerizing Jocelyn Green, and Case Bodamer) blended into an encore-worthy showcase that will be remembered for years to come.

Beyond the Gem City: 1. “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London; 2. “Once on This Island,” Broadway; 3. “Hello, Dolly!,” Broadway; 4. “Angels in America,” National Theatre, London; 5. “Dreamgirls,” Savoy Theatre, London; 6. “Jitney,” Broadway; 7. “Skeleton Crew,” Studio Theatre, Washington, D.C.; 8. “Sunday in the Park with George,” Broadway; 9. “Guys and Dolls,” Canada’s Stratford Festival; 10. “A Doll’s House Part 2,” Broadway.

Honorable mentions: “A Raisin in the Sun,” Cincinnati Shakespeare Company; “Anastasia,” Broadway; “Angels in America,” Columbus’ Short North Stage; “Dreamgirls,” Columbus’ Short North Stage,” “Into the Woods” national tour, Cleveland; “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” Canada’s Stratford Festival; “Sweat,” Broadway; “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Off-Broadway; “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Harold Pinter Theatre, London

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Photo caption

(left to right) Ana Smith (Penny Pingleton), Mark Antony Howard (Seaweed J. Stubbs) Kyle Bates (Link Larkin) and the cast of Muse Machine’s production of “Hairspray.” (Contributed photo)

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