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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Year in review: Best professional presentations of 2020 in our region

Critic At Large

Led by top five

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In a year that lasted barely 2½ months in most cases for live professional theater in Northeastern Wisconsin, bright spots were like flickers of fireflies.

In a normal year, I see 155 productions for review in the 75-mile broadcast radius of WFRV-TV, Channel 5.

This year, I saw 80, with 43 being live, in-person performances and the rest virtual.

Below I start with a special mention and then list my top five picks, followed by honorable mentions.

SPECIAL MENTION

Green Bay’s unique show troupes toughed out a super-tough year while keeping a game face in live, in-person shows in front of reduced crowds. Let Me Be Frank Productions and Daddy D Productions even performed in parking lots in summer. Talk about drive and fight, these groups are right out front. Led by Frank Hermans and his wife, Amy Riemer, Frank’s poured out clever shows with a sense of fun – like “Hamilton, Ltd.” in Revolutionary War costuming. Led by Darren Johnson and his wife Shelley Johnson, Daddy D’s musical showcases included a teaming with its historical roots in the form of the Knights on Broadway of St. Norbert College for “Knights and Daddy D’s Broadway Hits!” The Christmas show of each company was a reminder of how good each is and how wonderful live entertainment is.

***

One. The touring “Miss Saigon” delivers punches with soaring voices and dynamic acting at Fox Cities PAC in Appleton. Conflicting emotions run rampant in the Vietnam War super-saga. The production is physical, aggressive and splashy.

Two. Plan B turned out pretty darn good when artistic director Mary Ehlinger’s Play-by-Play Theatre of greater Green Bay presented William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in Allouez. The production was originally scheduled for Whitney Park in downtown Green Bay, but managing social distancing became a problem. Wearing clear masks and performing on cement in the open air, the players eager responded to director Carolyn Silverberg’s keen direction to pull off a feat.

Three. The touring Russian National Ballet Theatre presents “Cinderella” as a ballet at Fox Cities PAC in Appleton, and the performance is of the elevated level of Russian ballet – precise, clean, crisp, physical, splashy, with dashes of trickery and/or risky moves delivered smoothly.

Four. Let Me Be Frank Productions Dinner Theatre offered a lustrous “Girls on Thin Ice” at Backstage at the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay, just beating the pandemic cutoff by a hair. Plugged into clever story, the show unleashes the singing talent of Amy Riemer Hermans, Lisa Andre Borley, Kelly Haddad Gusloff, Kasey Corrado Schumacher and Sarah Hibbard Galati.

Five. In a tribute to tech, “Blue Man Group: Speechless New Tour” visiting Fox Cities PAC in Appleton is an all-out blitz. It’s oh-so-clever-fun… with a beat.

***

Honorable mention (online)

+ Play-by-Play Theatre of Green Bay goes exploring in four involving plays in “One-Act Weekend.”

+ Peninsula Players Theatre of Door County supports an adventure by two company members, Neil Brookshire and Cassandra, in their original, engaging “It Sounds Like a Christmas Carol.”

+ Northern Sky Theater of Door County digs into its archives and puts together the illuminating “Lipstick Optional,” featuring

+ Husband and wife Michael Rector and Sylvia Hong of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music pour on pianistic compatibility in “American Romantics.”

+ A video blending environmental dance by women is a beacon of artistry in the midst of a Lawrence University “New Music Series” concert featuring works of faculty member Asha Srinivasan (music of India and Western music).

+ Door Shakespeare of Door County imagines an evening with William Shakespeare by time-traveling actors of today “Dream Upon Avon.”

Monday: The best local productions of 2020. While my focus is on live, in-person performances, I will give notice to online productions that have sprouted because of the coronavirus.

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