Theater Critic Picks
This year, Dallas-Fort Worth theater companies really doubled down on local work, a trend that only seems to be growing in 2020. Before we get there, though, let's take a look back at some of the biggest moments of 2019 in the DFW performing arts world.
There were two notable departures, starting with associate artistic director Joel Ferrell leaving Dallas Theater Center in August and continuing with artistic director Alex Organ announcing in October that he'll step down from his leadership position at Second Thought Theatre at the end of 2020.
The theater community lost two more important leaders with the deaths of Circle Theatre co-founder Bill Newberry and Katherine Owens, co-founder and artistic director of the Deep Ellum-based Undermain Theatre.
Owens' husband, actor and executive producer Bruce DuBose, is taking her place but will be supported by new associate artistic director Danielle Georgiou, whom many know as a powerhouse choreographer, dancer, and teacher around town.
Georgiou joined Christie Vela in the "females killing it in leadership roles" group, as Vela was announced as Theatre Three's associate artistic director in March.
The hiring spree actually started a week earlier with Shane Peterman, formerly the artistic director of Lyric Stage, assuming the artistic director role at WaterTower Theatre. He succeeded Joanie Schultz, who resigned in late 2018 and made her mark on DFW with several of my favorite moments of that year.
Speaking of the new and now, Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas opened a new performance space while Cara Mía Theatre Co. and Teatro Dallas made history by becoming the first two Latinx theater companies to be granted residency in a municipal arts building, the Latino Cultural Center (which will also open a second theater space slated for completion in 2021).
The city upped its commitment to getting butts in seats by offering free tickets to theaters, museums, concerts, films, and other arts and culture events — all a Dallas resident has to do is use their library card.
And plenty more people on both coasts saw Self-Injurious Behavior, the searing play by Jessica Cavanagh about raising a child with autism. It traveled first to Off-Broadway in New York and then North Hollywood a few months later — thanks to actor and producer Joe Mantegna — where it partnered with the nonprofit Autism Works Now.
Earlier in the year, the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum (of which I am a member) announced its top picks for the September-August season, but this list below tackles a few of my own favorite onstage moments of 2019.
Proud of our boys
DFW's own Major Attaway and Clinton Greenspan returned home in the national tour of Disney's Aladdin. Attaway had previously played the Genie on Broadway (and returned to the Great White Way following his stint in the tour), while Greenspan graduated from ensemble member to leading man on the road. We talked to both about what it meant it be performing onstage at the Music Hall at Fair Park, where each had grown up seeing shows, and to have friends, family, and teachers in the audience. Witnessing the love and support they received at the stage door was the very definition of heartwarming.
Lizzie Borden took an axe...
Imprint Theatreworks continues to push the envelope with innovative programming and mostly flawless execution, and that was certainly on display in November with the rock musical Lizzie. Based on the true story of alleged murderer Lizzie Borden, this hardcore, concert-esque production of Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt's musical was chilling, sexy, raw, and dangerous. The quartet of women (plus mostly female onstage band) were mesmerizing, but none more so than Devin Berg as the titular daughter who was pushed too far. When she discovered the pigeons she loved to visit in her family's barn all slaughtered, the wild look in her eyes and blood smeared on her hands and face as she mourned gave a terrifying glimpse at her actions to come.
Take a leap
Echo Theatre excels at intimate shows, and Leslie Ayvazian's comedy High Dive was the very definition of immediate and up-close. Actor Kristin McCollum played a woman celebrating her 50th birthday in Greece, paralyzed with fear at the idea of leaping off the high dive into the pool where her daughter is waiting below. But she wasn't the only person in the cast — the audience itself played a role (or several) each performance, being handed snippets of scripts on their way in and tasked with a line here and there to help move the story along. Not only was it a bonding moment for those watching the show, but it added an exciting layer of immersion and "what might happen next?" to live theater.
In the holiday spirit
While Dracula was busy damning souls upstairs, the basement of Theatre Three played host to another set of ghouls and ghosts with Danielle Georgiou Dance Group's Bippy Bobby Boo Show. Patterned after a 1960s variety show and hosted by the ultra-suave yet entirely kooky Justin Locklear, the groovy good time let the spirits of the theater run wild for the night. There was killer comedy, devilish dancing, a spooky seance, and a warm-up to Christmas with a bloody twist on "Jingle Bell Rock" from Monet Lerner that's still making me giggle months later.
The worst (best) pies in London
Circle Theatre tackled Stephen Sondheim's classic musical Sweeney Todd in a whole new way, with a dark, gritty staging and aura of menace that began before you even entered the theater. Director Joel Ferrell purposefully let the seams show in his production, with found objects making up most of the set and costumes and actors playing instruments in lieu of a lush, full orchestra. Overall, it was a glorious gothic romp but Sarah Gay, as the immoral baker Mrs. Lovett, was truly revelatory in a role that so many before her have made their mark.
We did not throw away our shot
Hamilton finally came to Dallas, and it did not disappoint. Even better, the sound at the Music Hall — something most were very, very worried about — was crystal clear. Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece ignited an excitement among Dallas theatergoers that we hadn't seen in a long time, and it brought together fans of all ages and backgrounds. Y'all were so excited, in fact, that you made our Hamilton review the most-read arts story of the year. If you missed the magic this year (or just want to experience it again), Hamilton is coming to Bass Hall in Fort Worth June 9-28, 2020.