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.