Top 10 theater shows of 2012

Writer Russell Florence Jr. ranks them and says that The Human Race reaped multiple successes.

From the depths of an African-American odyssey to the meticulous dissection of a haunting hate crime, the most outstanding productions of 2012 were remarkably diverse. Here is a look at the shows that stood out from an array of worthy offerings.

1. “Gem of the Ocean” (Directed by Mark Clayton Southers)

The local premiere of August Wilson’s Tony Award-nominated spiritual and whimsical journey of redemption, set within the Pittsburgh home of a 285-year-old former slave, was the hallmark of The Human Race Theatre Company’s stellar 25th anniversary season. Wilson’s powerful, remarkably rhythmic language never felt more alive or exhilarating.

2. “Oliver!” (Directed by Alan Souza)

Intimately conceived for 10 actors and phenomenally choreographed, Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” vibrantly expanded the possibilities of stagecraft and storytelling courtesy of the Human Race. The absolutely excellent ensemble, an impressive assortment of triple threats, will be remembered as one of the most versatile ever assembled on a local stage.

3. “Red” (Directed by Richard E. Hess)

John Logan’s thought-provoking, Tony Award-winning two-hander about the life and work of Russian-American abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko soared in its local premiere at the Human Race thanks to the inspired pairing of Michael Kenwood Lippert as the formidable Rothko and Oakwood High School graduate Will Allan as Rothko’s earnest assistant Ken.

4. “Wicked” (Directed by Joe Mantello)

Stephen Schwartz’s blockbuster “Wicked” returned courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association heightened by the dynamic presence of vocal powerhouse Christine Dwyer, one of the finest actresses to play the misunderstood, green-toned Elphaba. The national tour also raked in $4.5 million, a great boost to the city during a tough economic climate.

5. “Spring Awakening” (Directed by Joe Deer)

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Tony Award-winning rock opus concerning repressed German teenagers was electrifying, introspective and soulful at Wright State University with striking morsels of originality, particularly Drew Helton’s unique reinterpretation of the disillusioned Moritz Stiefel.

6. “The Laramie Project” (Directed by Scott Stoney)

Sinclair Community College provided a deeply engrossing, strikingly cohesive production of Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project’s emotional account chronicling the tragic death of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. The final image, a pensive glimpse of the Laramie landscape dissolving into a shot of Dayton’s skyline, took my breath away.

7. “Dracula” (Directed by David Shough)

This wonderfully atmospheric and inventive take on Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire, adapted by William McNulty and incorporating Puccini’s “Turandot” for melodramatic underscore, was a hit for the Dayton Playhouse. The elegantly evil Alex Carmichal seductively led the spooky fun in the title role.

8. “Managing Maxine” (Directed by Marya Spring Cordes)

Presented in its Midwest premiere by the Human Race, Janece Shaffer’s refreshingly adult comedy wonderfully examined the joys and trepidation of falling in love during the golden years. Hopefully the luminous Jana Robbins will reprise her marvelous portrayal of the feisty Maxine Levine whenever this play reaches New York City as it should.

9. “The Pearl” (Directed by Sharon Leahy)

The consistently imaginative Zoot Theatre Company struck a quietly compelling chord with this John Steinbeck tale of a poor pearl diver’s brush with wealth and its repercussions. Beautifully accented with music, dance and mesmerizing moments of stillness, “The Pearl” featured an assortment of eye-catching masks designed by Zoot artistic director D. Tristan Cupp.

10. “Band Geeks!” (Directed by Greg Hellems)

The Human Race, a staunch advocate of new musicals, supplied the Midwest premiere of this delightfully tuneful showcase about a group of high school marching band outcasts. Sure, some of the characters and situations seemed ripped from the latest “Glee” script, but this best new work of last season benefited from enormous charm and heart with a positive, uplifting message of self-acceptance.

Honorable mentions: “A Grand Night for Singing,” Dayton Playhouse; “Berlin to Broadway With Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage,” Wright State; “Children of Eden,” Playhouse South; “The Color Purple,” Springfield Arts Council; “Eleemosynary,” University of Dayton; “Going to St. Ives,” Dayton Theatre Guild; “The Hobbit,” Zoot Theatre Company; “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” Victoria Theatre Association; “Jersey Boys,” Victoria Theatre Association; “The Miracle Worker,” Wright State; “Rent,” Wright State; “Souvenir,” Brookville Community Theatre; “The Sound of Music,” Dayton Playhouse; “The Story of My Life,” Dayton Theatre Guild; “Urinetown: The Musical,” University of Dayton; “Wishful Drinking,” Victoria Theatre Association; “Wittenberg,” Dayton Theatre Guild

WSU announces season

Looking ahead to next season, Wright State University is among the first arts organizations to announce its 2013-14 lineup. The mainstage offerings will consist of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy “Harvey” (co-directed by W. Stuart McDowell and a director TBA), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” (directed by Greg Hellems and choreographed by Teressa Wylie McWilliams), the local premiere of Lillian Groag’s Argentinean drama “The Magic Fire” (directed by Lee Merrill) and the regional collegiate premiere of Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s “Les Miserables” (directed by McDowell). The local premiere of Andrew Lippa’s musical “The Wild Party” (directed by Jamie Cordes) in addition to Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” (directed by Marya Spring Cordes) will be presented in the downstairs, black box Herbst Theatre.

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