Ebenezer Scrooge (Tom Stephenson, seated) tries to make sense of Jacob Marley (David McBean) in Cygnet Theatre Company's “A Christmas Carol,” playing through Dec. 28 at The Old Town Theatre.
Exclusive of highly touted turkeys, it’s a fact that created critters were among the most impressive things seen on San Diego stages in 2014.
Most jaw-dropping of all were the multitude of puppets created by designer Michael McKeon for Cygnet Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.” McKeon, who calls himself “a maker of things,” created and made the puppets and then trained the actors to use them! He recently became “stagecraft technician” at Grossmont College, where he will design several productions each year and also do some teaching. The fully staged “A Christmas Carol,” with a tightened adaptation by artistic director Sean Murray and a fine score by Billy Thompson, was the best of the holiday fare.
Additional critters, including mice and raptors, also had their day in MOXIE Theatre’s splendid production of “Enron.” Elaine Smith and costume designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings created these critters. Cygnet and MOXIE presented impressive ensemble work in these shows, and lead-role standouts included Tom Stephenson as Scrooge and Max Macke as the corrupt Enron CEO.
Macke is a co-founder of the late, lamented Poor Players, which was resurrected this year as New Fortune Theatre Company by actor-director Richard Baird. New Fortune presented an excellent “Henry V” at ion theatre with Baird in the title role. Let’s hope for more from them.
The Old Globe/USD MFA actors presented an excellent “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” at the White Theatre in November. My favorite Globe productions were “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which was to have been staged here by Globe associate artist Nicky Martin, who got a Tony nomination for the Broadway production. Sadly, Martin died before Globe rehearsals began, but those who knew him recognized his sensibility hovering over the work.
The other outstanding Globe production was “Time and the Conways,” just the kind of complicated, old-fashioned work that delights this theatergoer, who expected joy to proceed from La Jolla Playhouse’s “Ether Dome” and “Orphan of Zhao” as well. Alas, they proved Thanksgiving birds.
There is much for which to give thanks, however. Big kudos to the Playhouse and San Diego Rep for one of the year’s most exciting and unexpected delights, Herbert Siguenza’s “El Henry,” which played outdoors at Maker’s Corner in East Village and featured some of my favorite Southern California Chicanos, including John Padilla and Luis Valdez’s sons Kinan and Lakin. So much machismo was unleashed that it’s a good thing it played outdoors. All this and low-riders, too. Sam Woodhouse directed.
Other bests include San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Next to Normal”; San Diego Rep’s “Pianist of Willesden Lane” and “Honky”; New Village Arts’ “To Kill a Mockingbird”; North Coast Rep’s “Mandate Memories”; and Intrepid Shakespeare’s “I Hate Hamlet.”
Then there were the extended musicals, Lamb’s Players Theatre’s “Les Misérables,” featuring a magnificent performance by Brandon Joel Maier as Jean Valjean, and the highly touted U.S. premiere of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” made glorious musically by San Diego’s vocal group, Sacra / Profana. Even if the Playhouse/Disney Theatricals show goes to Broadway, because of the high quality of the choir used here, Broadway may not see the like of the Playhouse production.
Let us not forget ion theatre’s brave production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion,” which featured the unforgettable performance of Sandy Campbell as Fosca. From the smallest to the largest, all the aforementioned musicals were notable for fine ensemble work.
For the survival of San Diego Opera, their production of Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” at the Civic Theatre and, at the Balboa Theatre, joint fundraising recitals by tenor Stephen Costello and his wife, soprano Ailyn Pérez, and Stephanie Blythe and Craig Terry in “We’ll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith”;
For the second annual San Diego Fringe Festival, which experienced phenomenal growth over the inaugural 2013 version (among the new works by San Diego playwrights, my favorites were Eddie Yaroch’s “Nightingale” and Tim West’s “Olivia Bolivia”). Speaking of San Diego playwrights, Circle Circle dot dot’s holiday productions “Naughty” and “Nice” gave eight of them a chance to shine;
For the continuing presence of music director Steven Schick and choral director David Chase at La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, which presented a memorable performance of Beethoven’s ninth in December;
For Mainly Mozart’s selection of Michael Francis as music director of Mainly Mozart Festival;
For the two years that remain to hear San Diego Symphony under the baton of departing music director Jahja Ling. If his longed-for performances of Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” don’t come about, it will be a crying shame.
Here’s to the health of all artistic directors, designers, actors, playwrights and musicians everywhere. May 2015 be a magnificent year!