Robert Faires' Top 10 Theatre Treasures of 2019
History came alive and exceptional ensembles propelled the year’s most memorable shows
1) HAMILTON/JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Broadway in Austin/Texas Performing Arts) The 4-year-old phenom of musicals arrived like the juggernaut it is, with a thrilling power that justified the hype and made history into headlines, while the 50-year-old rock opera, in a new national tour, came alive like a new work: fresh, personal, and urgent.
2) PLANO (Paper Chairs) Chekhov's Three Sisters shifted to Texas, with its Moscow the titular burb where no one wants to go. Even with ghosts and evil twins and played at warp speed, the exceptional company made everything real – life brimming with heartache.
3) NOT EVERY MOUNTAIN (Rude Mechs) Even on a repeat viewing, this merging of the geological and theatrical was a marvel: Ingeniously built cardboard boxes maneuvered into mountain ranges that mesmerizingly rose and fell as Kirk Lynn's repetitive and uncannily wise text lapped wavelike at our ears.
4) NOTES FROM THE FIELD (Zach Theatre) Anna Deavere Smith trusted her documentary report on race and the school-to-prison pipeline to four local African American actors, and her faith was rewarded with performances of profound humanity, heart, and truth.
5) ANTIGONICK (Salvage Vanguard Theater) Poet Anne Carson sought to solve the riddle of Antigone in her play, and director Diana Lynn Small, designer Lisa Laratta, and a game cast tapped the work's trickster spirit and still brought home the tragedy.
6) AMERICAN BLOOD SONG (Trouble Puppet Theatre Company) Hamilton wasn't the only history-lesson musical in Austin this year. This operetta about the doomed Donner Party made a powerful, haunting statement about Manifest Destiny and the greed and betrayal that caused an American tragedy.
7) IT IS MAGIC (Capital T Theatre) Mickle Maher's mash-up of The Three Little Pigs and Macbeth riotously laid bare the dark heart of theatre, and Mark Pickell's staging, full of thespian sorcerers, cast a mesmerizing spell.
8) GHOST QUARTET (Penfold Theatre Company) The dead were lively in this take on Dave Malloy's Scheherazade of a musical, with tale after tale spun by spirits with spirits (in a bar). The cast and band were intoxicating, the direction by Liz Fisher invigorating.
9) HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Zach Theatre) Director Dave Steakley gambled on an elaborate concept for this revival, but it paid off as the layers of glam were stripped away to bare the soul of the trans rocker, with a riveting Daniel Rowan owning the role.
10) MÁS CARA (Teatro Vivo/Vortex Repertory Company) In Krysta Gonzales' funny, tender play, the Virgin Mary and the Aztec goddess Coatlicue came to Earth, but we were in heaven watching a charming cast play out tales of one family's strong women.
THE BACK PACK PRESENTS: WEAR AND TEAR (The Back Pack)
RYAN CROWDER IN CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (Penfold Theatre Company)
PATRICK DAVID WHEELER IN CYRANO DE BERGERAC (Archive Theater Company)
NIKKI ZOOK IN SEVEN (Last Act Theatre Company)
JOEY BANKS AND SARAH ZERINGUE IN SHE LOVES ME (Austin Playhouse)