I remember this time last year when it came time to review the theater season in Connecticut. I felt pretty discouraged. Sure there was plenty of fine work but few shows really knocked my critical socks off with the kind of productions that you immediately want to tweet your friends about, the shows that you would actually see again — and pay. The works that stay in your memory for years.
This season those kinds of productions easily filled up the Top 10 — and then some. The only difficult part was what order to place the shows I most loved and which ones couldn’t make the list — but would have easily made it in another less-terrific season. So, in order of affection and regard:
1. Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “Water By the Spoonful” at Hartford Stage. Something extraordinary happens when you see a show introduced to an audience for the first time and it takes your breath away. There were only 6,000 people in the world who saw this year’sPulitzer Prize-winning play (the freak snow storm and power outages reduced what would have been a much larger number). Those lucky ones Lucky them who saw a heart-felt play about people seeking to reach out beyond their dreams and demons, through the Internet and within themselves.
2. “February House,” music by Gabriel Kahane, book by Seth Bockley at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Like Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” this show lets you peek into the private lives of cultural icons. Not since “Sunday in the Park with George” has a musical work explored so movingly the intersection between art and real life. It also introduced a terrific theater composer with Kahane and gave director Davis McCallum a stunning one-two punch following his direction of “Water by the Spoonful.” The entire cast was superb but a special shout out to Kristen Sieh as Carson McCullers.
3. Will Eno’s “The Realistic Joneses” at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven. This was the toughest show to explain but the more I did the more my feelings toward it deepened. A remarkable ensemble cast make the minute of every day life seem to epic and profound.
4. “Fräulein Maria” at Hartford Stage. Simply put, one of the most joyous experiences I’ve ever had. seated. Taking the film soundtrack to “The Sound of Music,” Doug Elkins’ amalgam of music, dance, movies and theater was bliss.
5. William Somerset Maughm’s “The Circle” at Westport Country Playhouse. Nicholas Martin’s smooth-as-silk direction of this comedy of manners with a cast working in synch like a Swiss watch. Special mention to John Horton, a theater veteran who showed how the biggest laughs and character detail can come with the subtlest of gestures.
6. “Show Boat,” music by Jerome Kern, lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. Twenty minutes into the show, you forgot how incredible it was for the theater with its tiny stage to pull off this epic. It wasn’t about the logistics of staging but the intimacy of the music and storytelling.
7. “Into the Woods,” music by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine at Westport Country Playhouse.Director Mark Lamos centered on the story-telling aspect of this rich mash-up of fairy tales in which resulted in presenting in their lessons and the result was not only in the lessons of the tales but the pure theatricality. of the telling. Dana Steingold was just terrific as Little Red Riding Hood.
8. Mike Reiss’ “I’m Connecticut” at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, UConn at Storrs. I was wary at first about this freshman theater effort by one of the writer-producers of “The Simpsons,” but this satire of all things Connecticut was both hilarious and sweet. The state tourism department might not to be thrilled, but audiences howled with delight.
9. William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” at Yale Repertory Theatre. This problematic play by the Bard was given a beautiful production with a solid cast, beautiful design (sets by Michael Yeargan), thoughtful staging by Liz Diamond and a riveting performance by Rob Campbell as King Leontine.
10. William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at Hartford Stage. The theater’s new artistic director Darko Tresnjak showed his affinity for the Bard in this with a gorgeously designed production starring Daniel Davis as Propsero and a wonderful debut performance by Ben Cole from the Hartt School as Caliban.
The last few slots were especially difficult to determine and several of these runners-up could have just as easily made the Top 10: Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” at Hartford Stage; Brian Dennehy in Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at Long Wharf Theatre; the tours of “Fela!” at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven and “Les Misèrables” at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford; HartBeat Ensemble’s “FlipSide,” Westport’s “Suddenly Last Summer,” “TheaterWorks’ “Sty of the Blind Pig” (and Brenda Thomas’ terrific performance), “A Doctor in Spite of Himself” at Yale Rep and “City of Angels” at Goodspeed Opera House.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times