Tops and flops

“Hey mister, we want our money back.”

“Hey mister, we want our money back.”

On the whole, 2007 was a pretty good year for theater, including several shows we’ll long remember. So, the year-end recognition goes to …

Comeback Kid: Director Frank Condon took a long break after the death of his wife, Kim, in 2005, and understandably so. He returned to directing in April of this year, with a gutsy, dark production of Urinetown—technically a musical comedy, but done here with a tinge of revolutionary zeal.

Most Unusual Performance: Karyn Casl really went “outside the box” with her portrayal of a French-American nature girl in The Story of Opal. Casl’s performance involved idiosyncratic use of language and stylized movement—linked to a script that was driven more by moods and tableaux than a conventional plot.

Best New Venture: the B3 series at the B Street Theatre. Artistic director Buck Busfield ran into some audience resistance when he staged more “serious” pieces in his main space. So he created the B3 series, which opened with Rabbit Hole, a tragic drama in everyday circumstances, and continued with the quirky Underneath the Lintel, about a librarian sent on a worldwide quest after he checks in a library book that’s returned 113 years overdue.

Best New Script, with the Right Actor: Evermore, written by Gary Wright, and featuring Eric Wheeler as Edgar Allen Poe. Wright’s script caught the spirit of the man’s unhappy life, as well as his strange and frightening fiction. Wheeler’s performance was excellent, and when he read “The Raven” (all 17 stanzas!), it was a showstopper.

Best Revival, with the Right Actor, and Best Solo Show: Vivien, written by Rick Foster, and featuring Janis Stevens as Vivien Leigh. The show played briefly at California Stage in 2000, and it was impressive then. The show returned in 2007 at the Sacramento Theatre Company, with a rewritten ending and new direction. It’s a tour de force performance by Stevens, and Foster’s script is beautifully layered. Powerful stuff.

Best Evolution: Capital Stage, from the handsomely mounted period drama Les Liaisons Dangereuses to the spiky, high-risk geopolitical comedy Dirty Story, this determined little company has emerged as a worthy contender, putting up quality productions, show after show.

The Great Wrath of Grass Valley: The other Foothill Theater Company, Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts, honored John Steinbeck with a powerful production of Grapes of Wrath. The large 30-member cast presented this Depression-era odyssey through memorable performances, inventive staging and sentimental music. Haunting images and dialogue seeped through the pores and remained for days.

Best Passages at Garbeau’s: When Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre audiences leaving Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat did double takes of sweet transvestites arriving for the midnight show of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it clearly signaled a change of direction for the dinner theater. The new owners have slowly but surely steered the productions from a strictly “family friendly” religious bent to more mainstream with a bit of edge thrown in every once in a while …

Most Versatile Musical Theater Performer: Jerry Lee, who wowed audiences with a traditional performance in The Importance of Being Earnest, then donned some religious drag for a rubber-faced turn as the memory-impaired Sister Amnesia in Nunsense, A-men! Then Lee grew out his locks for a quick change into ’60s icon Berger in Artistic Differences’ fantastic production of Hair, where he belted out pop hits and dropped his drawers. As if that wasn’t entertaining enough, he next donned a crown to play the Prince in Fair Oaks Theater Festival’s production of Cinderella. Lee has gone south to pursue advanced theatrical training; we look forward to his return because he certainly knows his way around a stage.Best Scene for 10 Year Olds: The hilarious, extended series of synchronized spit-takes in B Street Theatre’s production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This delightful show would have convinced any fourth grader that theater’s not boring even without this wonderful slathering of saliva and water, but when the front row’s wiping spray off their faces, giggles are bound to follow.

Most Original Staging of Shakespeare: If the bard knew feudal Japan, he’d have thought of it himself. Sacramento Shakespeare Festival’s production of the kabuki Macbeth brought new life to the Scottish play, under the able direction of the Kim McCann in her last show before retiring. Not only did the ritual elements of kabuki bring more opportunity for the weird sisters to strut their diabolical stuff, but the stage itself was set up to resemble the head of a taiko drum.

The Show We Hope We Never Have to Review Again: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind, hosted locally by Broadway Sacramento. Some shows have so many things wrong with them that they aren’t worth fixing.