Tender, vulnerable, intimate, and warm, Once was the most unexpected surprise of the year.
You don’t have to spend very long scrolling through social media to see that 2016 has broken too many hearts to count. Thankfully, in the midst of all the mayhem, the St. Louis theater circuit provided the disheartened with plenty of opportunities to escape reality. From dancing down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy to drifting down the mesmerizing Mississippi with American artist John Banvard, audience members like myself were grateful for the many getaways granted this year—and I most enjoyed the following 10!
1. Once | The Fabulous Fox Theatre
I said it once, and I’ll say it again: You know you’re in store for something special when, as an audience member, you’re granted permission to explore the set as the production’s instrumentalists hold a pre-show jam session. Tender, vulnerable, intimate, and warm, Once was the most unexpected surprise of the year. This isn’t simply a show you see; it’s one you can truly savor.
2. If/Then | The Fabulous Fox Theatre
It’s not uncommon to see a show and remember a particular character, but what I find to be rare is remembering a particular performer. That said, when I think back to this show, I first recall how utterly sensational Jackie Burns was in the main role as Elizabeth. I love, love, love Idina Menzel (who originated the part), but girl, watch out! Burns is brilliant and is definitely well on her way to becoming a household name. As for the show itself, the concept alone still gives me goosebumps to this day.
3. Aida | The Muny
I know I said 2016 has broken a lot of hearts, but let’s be honest: so has Aida. Although a classic, this show and almost all of its music was new to me, and the production couldn’t have been more memorable. The Muny pulled out all the stops, including casting former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams to reprise her role as the title character. Aida was captivating and, by the end, took a toll on your tear ducts.
4. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder | The Fabulous Fox Theatre
What a gem! They say laughter is the best medicine, and if that’s the case, this clever, catchy comedy should be required viewing. Sure the premise is dark, but A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder was devilishly delightful. Although every element of the production—from the cast to the set design to the costuming—was superb, John Rapson’s antics were the greatest treat of all. How many actors can say they’ve played an entire family, let alone a family with as many eccentric members as the D’Ysquiths?
5. Fun Home | The Fabulous Fox Theatre
Based on a true story that was originally told in the form of a graphic memoir, Fun Home is lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s coming-of-age story, which she decided to share to honor her late father. In Bechdel’s own words, the memoir is “such a vivid, demonstrative example of the impact of homophobia in real life, on an actual family.” Fun Home was one of the heaviest and most haunting shows of the year, but also one of the most musically memorable. Give this album a listen; the lyrics will linger in your mind long after you hear them.
6. Newsies | The Fabulous Fox Theatre
Way back in January, when I wrote my review for this show, I made a guarantee—“Newsies will be among the top 10 best productions in St. Louis this year”—and here you have it! Based on the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, this show got me fired up. It’s energetic, empowering, and engaging. Newsies will truly inspire you to stand up for what you believe in.
7. Georama | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
As I’ve alluded to, this has been a year of theatrical surprises, and Georama—like Once and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder—was one of them. I tell my husband on a regular basis how much I wish I could go back and see this show again—and this time, with him and my entire family. Georama is one of those shows that is so good, no amount of gushing will do it justice. You just have to see it! (And what an honor it was to see it during its world premiere run.)
8. Young Frankenstein | The Muny
It absolutely blows my mind to think I saw this show a month before the great Gene Wilder, who originated the role of Dr. Frankenstein in the film of the same name, passed away. If you took advantage of the opportunity to see it, then you know the stage adaptation absolutely does the classic film justice, and The Muny brought the monster to life marvelously. Josh Rhodes’ choreography was some of the best I’ve seen all year, and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was one of the theatrical highlights of 2016.
9. The Wizard of Oz | The Muny
We all long to travel to a world where “troubles melt like lemon drops,” and young Dorothy Gale gets her wish, only to be reminded the grass isn’t always greener on the other side—albeit, Oz is certainly more magical! The Wizard of Oz is my absolute favorite story—I’m obsessed—but I promise it’s not bias that prompted me to place this show on my Top 10 list. As noted in my Oz review, what I’ve learned about The Muny is this: “the greater the production challenge, the more marvelous the final execution.” Seriously…I’ll never forget that twister scene.
10. La bohème | Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
This year’s list wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. La bohème first premiered onstage more than a century ago, but its themes are still as relevant as ever. As a longtime fan of the rock musical Rent, I immensely enjoyed seeing the show that inspired it. Still trying to think of one last New Year’s resolution? How about this: See an opera! I’m speaking specifically to those of you who have shied away from them in the past. OTSL’s 2017 lineup looks outstanding. | Megan Washausen