On Theater: Playhouse's year of powerful talent

Editor's note: This is the first of two columns reviewing the year 2010 in Huntington Beach theater. Next week's column will spotlight Golden West College.

The Huntington Beach Playhouse enjoyed a banner year in 2010, with most of its productions reflecting a high enough quality to top the list in most other year-end retrospectives.

There was a thunderous drama ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") and a pair of superbly staged musicals ("Gypsy," "Annie"). But the show that left the year's most indelible impression was a comedy based on actual events from more than 70 years ago.

"Moonlight & Magnolias," Ron Hutchinson's "gleefully entertaining and often sharply satirizing account that shakes some of the trappings off Tinseltown," as this column put it at the time, was the number-one production of 2010.

Further quoting this column's review, "Director Gigi Fusco Meese has taken these intriguing elements (of the rewriting of the 'Gone With the Wind' movie script) and fashioned a production that sizzles both with acerbic wit and good old-fashioned slapstick comedy."

Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" finished a strong second in the best production derby, with director Michael Serna delivering "a brutally strong interpretation of Williams' treatise on deception and sexual tension."

"Gypsy," directed by Larry Watts, placed third in a talent-heavy year. The show "may be an antique as Broadway musicals go, but its terrific score still radiates when warbled by a talented cast such as this one," this column observed at the time. "It's frantic, funny and fierce, with the incomparable Adriana Sanchez leading the way."

Sanchez, as the indomitable Mama Rose, easily scored the year's best actress honors with her acting and vocalizing talents rivaling those of the late, great Ethel Merman, who created the role. "Sanchez makes a dynamic Rose and brought a nearly SRO opening night audience to its feet with her powerful singing voice and razor-sharp acting ability," this column observed.

"Think King Lear on a Mississippi plantation" is how this column described the performance of Mark Everett as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The actor tackled the bombastic role "with operatic gusto" and tied for best actor honors with Bob Fetes in "Moonlight & Magnolias," who "renders a superb portrayal of David O. Selznick, a diminutive dynamo who virtually wills 'Gone With the Wind' into existence. Fetes wades into this Napoleonic role with both feet."

Four other individual performances at the Huntington Beach Playhouse stood out during 2010. They were those of Darcy Porter and Kip Hogan as Maggie and Big Mama, respectively, in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; Karen Merrill, the egregiously riotous Miss Hannigan in "Annie," and Skip Blas excelling in a smaller supporting role in "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."

Also earning critical attention at the playhouse during 2010 were Christopher Peduzzi and Amanda Shay in "Gypsy," Cort Huckabone, Sabrina Zellars and Garrett Chandler in "Leading Ladies," Kristen Powell and Nona Watson in "Annie," Huckabone again in "Moonlight & Magnolias" and Liza A. Rios in "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

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