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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Year in review: Best local presentations of 2019 in our region

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Led by top five

Program covers for local productions in 2019. (Warren Gerds)


A new vista in theater, actors acting from within, a trifecta of key roles, the voice of the leader of a slave rebellion and a remarkable venue for a new troupe’s premiere lead my list of best local presentations of 2019.

The “at large” part of my title carried me far and wide to 155 productions for review in 2019.

Below are the top five (the station broadcasts on Channel 5, thus five picks) with a healthy list of honorable mentions.

“Best of” lists always split hairs, so I create two lists – one for professional and one for local productions.

My top choices in the local category:

One. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” takes theater to a unique level for this region in a production at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus. On top of terrific lead acting by Braden Cooper and stage design by Frank Tower, director Susan Rabideau puts the cast in motion. The players not only act, they move as if they are a dance ensemble. The story flows, along with everything else within the production. I have never seen anything quite like it. (Menasha) Link:

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” scene. (UW-Fox Theatre)

Two. “Rabbit Hole” presented by The Forst Inn Arts Collective. The players often seem to draw from within – a layer above acting a role – in the powerful play by David Lindsay-Abaire. It’s the story of a child killed by accident by a car in front of his home and how family members deal with the question, what next? The naturalist way Kristen Bustrak, Ian Wisnewski, Elizabeth Szyman, Vicki Svacina and Cole Egger embrace their roles makes their storytelling feel real. (Tisch Mills) Link:

“Rabbit Hole” cast. (The Forst Inn Arts Collective)

Three. Guinevere Casper in University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance productions of “Women Playing Hamlet” (in a focal role akin to cliff diving), “Julius Caesar” (as the dangerous Cassius) and “Mary Jane” (in the title role with Casper especially pliable in expression, intonation and soulfulness). Casper has a way of scanning the audience and looking at individuals in the eye and commanding attention.  (Green Bay) Links:

Guinevere Casper, left, in “Caesar.” (UWGB)

Four. Bryan Carter leaves it “all on the court,” so to speak in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh production of “Nat Turner in Jerusalem.” In the story about a deadly slave rebellion in 1833, Bryan Carter portrays the leader of the revolt on the night before Nat Turner is to be hanged. The play gets to the crux than Nat Turner was impassioned… to a relentless degree. (Oshkosh) Link:

Bryan Carter, left, in “Nat Turner in Jerusalem.” (UW-Oshkosh)

Five. “The Last Five Years” as the first production of the Coastal Players in an aged opera house, with players Brittany Welch (founder) and James Porras II delivering the goods. Author Jason Robert Brown finds out about the project and writes, “I couldn’t be happier that this troupe wanted to bring my show to life, and found such a special and unique way to do it.” (Menominee, Mich.) Link:

“The Last Five Years” program covers.

Honorable mention (chronologically)

+ Attic Theatre, Inc.: “Our Town.” Director Berray Billington senses the special in the enduring play and passes that along to his players. (Menasha)

+ “Doctors in Recital” at Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. A special, class community event that has grown to be a highlight on the calendar. (Green Bay)

+ St. Norbert College Knight Theatre production of “The Addams Family.” The satirical, dark, camp musical is right in the wheelhouse for the student company. (De Pere)

+ Birder Players production of “Mamma Mia!” Behind producer/director/choreographer Alicia Birder, the production feels complete. (De Pere)

+ Evergreen Productions presentation of “Sense and Sensibility.” Much is stylishly and deftly offered in the adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel. (De Pere)

+ In The Masquers, Inc. production of “Sex Please, We’re Sixty,” a scene with Jim Liddle and Paul Hacker, with Hacker’s gift with eyes that are “on” in surprise, shock, suffering and more. (Manitowoc)

+ Thomas Beabeau as a dynamic, and tall, Hamlet in Hysterical Productions’ “Hamlet.” (Oshkosh).

+ Next-generation singers in “Beethoven Choral Fantasy: Bridging the Generations” by the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College performing in the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. (Green Bay)

+ “Silent Sky” at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fond du Lac Campus finds the story of visionary astronomer Henrietta Leavitt treated with great respect. (Fond du Lac)

+ Elizabeth Szyman is the branding-iron leading character in The Forst Inn Art Collective production of the concept play “The Shape of Things.” (Tisch Mills)

+ St. Norbert College Theatre Studies presentation of “Bronte,” a think-minded play about three artistic sisters of fame. (De Pere)

+ Oshkosh Community Players production of “The Tin Woman.” The cast delivers an inspirational, beautiful piece of theater. (Oshkosh)

+ University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus presentation of “Noises Off.” A nifty, rotating set helps keep the humor whirling. (Menasha)

+ The Green Bay Community Theater cast catches the wild woolly fun spirit of “Farce of Habit.” (Green Bay)

+ Sheboygan Theatre Company’s Studio Players cast hits hard and often in a special presentation of “columbinus.” (Sheboygan)

+ “The Diary of Anne Frank” presented by Evergreen Productions. Realistic and well-developed. (De Pere)

+ Hysterical Productions presentation of “Little Women the Musical.” The atmospheric production is armed with strong voices. (Oshkosh)

+ “Death of a Salesman” presented by The Forst Inn Arts Collective. Jeremy Pelegrin (Willie Loman), et al, helps deliver the punch of this heavyweight Arthur Miller drama. (Tisch Mills)

+ “Subaverage Explorers” launches the fun of the new-concept, original Cardboard Theatre. (De Pere)

+ Oshkosh Community Players unleashes a spicy production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” (Oshkosh)

+ Attic Theatre, Inc. features “just so” comedy of Tom Stadler in “Jeeves Intervenes,” an adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse stories. (Menasha)

+ Joshua Bernhardt as the dynamo title character in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” of Birder Players. (De Pere)

+ Trent Hoffman comically woeful in the title role of “The Wedding Singer” presented by Kaukauna Community Players. (Kaukauna)

+ The sparkling leads for “Singin’ in the Rain” (rain included) by St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Summer Stage. (De Pere)

+ The splashy light show in the Calumet County Community Theatre presentation of “Mamma Mia!” (Chilton)

+ A wonderful tale, “A Girl of the Limberlost,” is brought to life by Rogue Theater. (Baileys Harbor)

+ Two choir teachers (Tara Huber and Amanda Hein) fire up “Sister Act” by Clintonville’s Phoenix Players on an out-of-town gig in Oconto Falls. (Oconto Falls)

+ “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” presented by Abrams Spotlight Productions. The players hit a rhythm, and the humor rolls, don’t cha know? (Abrams)

+ Evergreen Productions’ “Little Women” creates a look and feel of the late 1860s in the classic Louisa May Alcott tale. (De Pere)

+ Isadoora Theatre Company leaps into another probing production, this time with Carrie Counihan, Edward DiMaio and Dan Sallinen exploring family mysteries and oddities in “Three Days of Rain.” (Sturgeon Bay)

+ Theatre on the Bay artistic director Rebecca Stone Thornberry shows how pliable acting is done in “Reckless.” (Marinette)

+ Alex Sabin, among many roles in the year, grabbing hold of the lead in “The Rocky Horror Show” presented by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Music. (Green Bay)

+ Mark A. Jackson as a steady force and Ethan Brockman as a runaway create telling, poignant moments in the Evergreen Productions presentation of the oddball comedy “FrUiTCaKes.” (De Pere)

+ Phil Gospodarek, Santa whiskers and hat, looks like he takes great pleasure in being Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street” presented by The Green Room Players. (De Pere)

+ Sanctity of the season is applied by the skilled newVoices choir in its “Christmas at the Cathedral/Chapel: Light of the World” concerts. (Green Bay and Appleton)

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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