A wrap of 2014’s stage performances
By Charlene Baldridge
You were sitting in a seat facing the stage, I hope, taking advantage of a San Diego production or even a Broadway tour.
Like any year, 2014 had its hits and its misses. Across the broad spectrum of entertainments, your intrepid critic and arts fan attended more than 150 events, including musicals, operas, symphonic or chamber music concerts, and straight theater; okay, some of it not so straight.
Venues ranged from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, to Orange County’s Segerstrom Arts Center, to San Diego County theaters large and small, near and far. Lots of people want my job, but please be assured it’s a pain in the ass sometimes, especially when something you simply must see plays in a folding-chairs venue.
This was a big year for musicals, some highly touted yet bland, others surprisingly rich. It was also a big year for off-pitch singing. Broadway/San Diego’s “Once” was an intriguing and intimate musical mostly lost in the cavernous Civic Theatre.
Some of the biggest, and not necessarily the best, were as follows: La Jolla Playhouse’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” buoyed up and somewhat redeemed by the fine singing of the San Diego choral group, SACRA/PROFANA; The Old Globe’s “Bright Star,” in which an overwrought book was nearly saved by a rolling bluegrass band and one exceptionally talented heroine.
The outstanding musical production of the year was Lamb’s Players Theatre’s much-extended “Les Misérables,” which featured a magnificent company headed by Brandon Joel Maier as Jean Valjean. The other best was ion theatre company’s “Passion,” featuring an indelible performance by Sandy Campbell as Fosca. Cygnet Theatre also produced excellent productions of “Pageant” and “Spring Awakening.”
These were my favorite plays: Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who & the What” at La Jolla Playhouse; ”Time and the Conways” at The Old Globe; “All My Sons” at Intrepid Shakespeare; “Mandate Memories” at North Coast Repertory Theatre; “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at The Old Globe; Herbert Siguenza’s “El Henry” co-produced by La Jolla Playhouse and San Diego Rep at the outdoor Maker’s Quarter; “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” at San Diego Rep; “The Clean House” at New Village Arts; “Honkey” at San Diego Rep; “Enron” at Moxie; and “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” acted by The Old Globe/USD MFA students.
Notable: San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “Next to Normal.” Richard Baird is back with New Fortune Players, which produced a fine “Henry V” at ion theatre, starring himself and a mostly grand company. Sledgehammer also reappeared with a production of “Happy Days” at 10th Avenue Arts Center. Speaking of 10th Avenue, it was one of numerous venues for the second annual San Diego International Fringe Festival, bigger and better this year.
Mercifully and by some kind of miracle, San Diego Opera survived its near closure, and the two recitals performed as fundraisers for the 50th anniversary season — which opens at the end of January with “La Bohème” — were exceptional, sung by soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello and by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, were SRO. All three singers have endeared themselves to San Diego Opera audiences through appearances in previous seasons.
Epic turkeys were “Orphan of Zhao” and “Ether Dome” both at La Jolla Playhouse.
See you next year at the theater!