Top 5 theater productions of 2016

Flat Rock Playhouse's Million Dollar Quartet from 2016.

Another year of great local theater has come to an end, and 2016 proved to be exceptional for audiences who love an evening’s entertainment at one of the many great playhouses and experimental spaces throughout Western North Carolina.

As has become my custom at year’s end, I look back on the five finest productions. These are in no particular order, as choosing the “best” can be subjective to each viewer’s tastes. That said, the following five productions not only exceeded expectations, they elevated the art and craft.

Jeeve’s Intervenes by North Carolina Stage Co.: A great ensemble cast, headed by the talented triumvirate of Scott Treadway, Michael MacCaulley and Charlie Flynn-McIver, set the bar high early in the year with this mannered comedy from the legendary literary tales of Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse from the early- to mid-20th century. This show launched a banner year for N.C. Stage that included notable shows being prepped for Broadway. Still, the most fun was had in this January production.

Flat Rock Playhouse consistently produces shows that come as close to Broadway quality (without the Broadway ticket prices) as one can get anywhere outside of the Great White Way itself. This year’s Million Dollar Quartet scored big with audiences who enjoy high-spirited entertainment with a professional veneer. The tale of a magical night in Memphis with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins was a lean and efficient 90 minutes of pure musical joy.

• Known for a steady flow of inventive and original works, Magnetic Theatre set a consistent high bar in 2016 with its world premieres. Ironically, the most evocative standout of the year goes to the group’s first turn at one of the eminent plays of the 20th century: Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman. The show exceeded expectations inside the cramped staging and intimate performances at the Magnetic, with Steven Samuels giving a near-definitive take on lead character Willy Lowman.

• It may seem odd that, in 2016, two works by Arthur Miller should be standouts on my year end list, but Haywood Arts Regional Theatre’s All My Sons earns its place on this ranking. Not unlike Magnetic, HART’S Steve Lloyd headed up a stellar cast in a harrowing tale of hubris and humanity, set in the post-World War II era. It was another play about a patriarch in moral and emotional decay, and another great reason to revisit classic works of theater.

• From great works of the 20th century to one that serves as a sequel to a great work, Hendersonville Community Theatre’s Clybourne Park helped elevate the plucky company to this list with a brave and unflinching production. The play itself is a follow up to the acclaimed A Raisin In The Sun. Park was a Tony and Pulitzer winning play that most theater companies would hesitate to produce. Its deep look at race relations in relation to the late 1950s and modern times delves deep into controversial topics, and to see a local community theater tackle it without an ounce of reservation was refreshing.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

18 thoughts on “Top 5 theater productions of 2016

  1. boatrocker

    Oh God. Not the stand on the bass trick- I witnessed a guy put his foot through his own bass once and actually felt sorry for him as he couldn’t finish the show.
    Upright Bass Lives Matter.

    Somehow I think Arthur Miller’s work (The Crucible specifically) is about to have newfound relevance. Soon, very soon.

  2. Big Al

    “Death of a Salesman” was impressive and “Jeeves Intervenes” was AWESOME, but how could you even MENTION theater in Asheville without MASSIVE props to “Brave New World: The Musical”. Hands down the BEST live show that I have EVER seen in Asheville.

    • The Real World

      I agree that the production of Brave New World, overall, was good. And I realize it’s essentially a work-in-progress (being the first time it was produced and performed) but the play itself needs some work.

      Those who hadn’t read the book and weren’t familiar with the storyline were easily lost about what they were watching. There needs to be better story articulation at the beginning and that would solve it. A description wasn’t even provided in the playbill. I asked a couple of other people there is they were following it and they said, “not very well”. Easily fixable for future productions but that definitely diminished the experience.

      The recent ‘All is Calm’ production at NC Stage was superb.

      • boatrocker

        Thanks RW for supporting the party that bans A Brave New World in schools. For it being a book about Nazi style eugenics.

        Now I triple dog dare you to tell me Orwell wrote about lefties.
        Please, tell me that his writings can be blamed on Dems or Soros, Alinskyor welfare.

        I await.

          • boatrocker

            “I support no political party and never have”?

            Your critique of our system of gov’t is rather one sided as I’m sure any reader would agree. I have yet to read any of your posts that address anything other than Hillary, the DNC, or your Jewish boogeymen Soros and Alinksy for issues pertaining to national governance.

            Keep cherrypicking your info from blatantly partisan sites (and their comments section) like if it helps you feel better. I rather enjoy a wide variety of sources in order to keep a healthy diet of information, but that’s just me.

          • The Real World

            “I rather enjoy a wide variety of sources” — what a bunch of bunk. Your diatribes are all the same…..indicating that your sources are purely the marbles in your head.

            Look, I’m A-ok with your casting aside of a fact-based analysis of the destruction of the Donkey Party by the biggest creep in it (who most Dems have likely never heard of!…..Hullo, they don’t even understand who is responsible for their programming). As mentioned previously, you’re easy to own because of your wholesale disinterest in facts and reality. Not to mention the party-wide behavior of blaming anything and everyone else for your failures (maturity non-existent). People are beyond done with the lowlife antics of paid-for riots, fake social organizations like BLM, fictionalized assaults like the one here in Asheville by the lady with her phony oxygen tube staging an incident with an innocent, legally-blind man. Consequently the Elephant Party now has a trifecta in 25 states and both chambers in 32 states. Time to grow up. (But you won’t…even with the writing on the wall in ALL CAPS)

            Don’t strain yourself in trying to grasp that there are more than 2 schools of political thought. “Oh, that’s just too hard; it hurts my marbles.”

          • boatrocker

            Ahhh, consistency is a wonderful thing, is it not?

            accusing me for ever supporting the DNC- check
            obsession with the DNC but not any other party- check
            questionable sources- check
            ignoring the fact that my whole raison d’etre for wasting time when I should be working is trying to show there are more than 2 political ideologies- check

            Well, at least you’ve expanded your posts to include threads about
            the ‘theeeeee a tah’.

            I look forward to (hopefully) staged productions of The Crucible, The Handmaid’s Tale, Stuff Happens, etc for 2017.

          • The Real World

            Dear Vegan Friends – Pls do not watch that honey badger video. You’re welcome.

      • Big Al

        You must have seen an early show. I saw the last in the series and it received a well-deserved and unanimous standing ovation from a packed house. The comments of everyone around me were overwhelmingly positive.

    • Jeff Messer

      The list is limited to only shows that I saw AND reviewed in Xpress. There were a great many worthy shows that I did not review, therefore could not include on this list.

      • Jeff Messer

        perhaps one day there will be even more expanded theatre coverage in the Xpress and such a larger list would be warranted.

        • boatrocker

          I agree.
          It would be nice to see something featured other than breweries, hotels, new age ‘medicine’, vegan cultists and angry Tea Party/nouveau altright haters on this site.

          There is so much more to this town.

        • Theatre Lover

          In the meantime, this Theatre Lover and other theatre lovers are grateful for the coverage MX does provide. Citizen-Times seems to have abandoned almost all arts coverage. A full-time food writer but no full-time arts writer for a town that likes to consider itself an “arts destination.”

          • boatrocker

            Gannett Press from SC hasn’t yet figured out Asheville enjoys the arts, hence the ACT’s lack of coverage. Unless craft beer and eating out every meal is considered an art.
            The X for now continues to provide coverage, which is admirable.
            Between this and Calder’s local history articles, I’d say all is not lost.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.