Theater Critic Picks
Last year, it was a little easier to write this list. That may sound strange, considering the theatrical world was so out of the norm due to COVID, but it was still a welcoming environment for experimental productions. One way or another, art continued on in Dallas-Fort Worth.
And so it did this year, though in many different ways. We weren't restricted to streaming only, and several theaters opted for outdoor productions. National tours even resumed, though extra precautions were often taken.
What follows below are the six theatrical experiences from 2021 that have stuck with me:
Come From Away, Performing Arts Fort Worth
This 9/11-based musical was the last show I saw before the pandemic shutdown in early 2020, and one of the first "normal" theatergoing experiences I had this year. Of course, the audience wore masks throughout, but besides that it felt like we had never been gone. That was also the case for the cast, which had been "on hold" for the previous 18 months and was overjoyed to return to the stage. A special treat at this performance was the chance to hear from Capt. Beverley Bass herself, the pilot portrayed in the musical. She currently lives near Fort Worth, and regaled the audience with further stories from her career as the first female commercial pilot.
Southern Boys, Jubilee Theatre
Another special guest surprised audiences at Bass Hall, this time before Jubilee Theatre's debut production there: Opal Lee, the teacher and activist who helped Juneteenth be recognized as a federal holiday. Giving this hero a standing ovation before settling into Kathy D. Harrison's play with music about recently emancipated men and women in the post-slavery South added an extra layer.
The Cube, Ruben Carrazana and Jeffrey Bryant Moffitt
Nearly a year to the day of the shutdown, I was doing something that felt unthinkable: I was entering a theater to watch a show. Indoors. Granted, the only other person seeing the show with me was my plus-one, and the original work was performed in such a way that whenever Carrazana spoke his dialogue, he was facing away from us, but still. Theater! Indoors! Unheard of! Carrazana and Moffitt created a piece that dealt with the loneliness, uncertainty, and fear we were all experiencing, yet emerged triumphant in its uniqueness.
The Music Man, Theatre Three
Jeffrey Schmidt likes taking risks, and Joel Ferrell likes delivering feel-good musical moments. Combined, they created a scaled-down, let's-put-on-a-show version of Meredith Willson's Golden Age musical that's pretty much the exact opposite of the splashy, by-the-book revival that's about to open on Broadway. Good. From its three different al fresco settings to its versatile cast (and multi-hyphenate champion Cody Dry), this production was fresh, funny, and full of feelings — no extra frills required.
Lucha Teotl, Prism Movement Theater
After more than a year of Netflix and streaming from home, some theaters knew we wouldn't be able to just go back to sitting primly in the audience and not making a sound. So Chris Ramirez and Prism Movement Theater said, "Great, please make some signs, stomp your feet, and holler until you're hoarse." They recreated the atmosphere of a luchador tournament, rowdy spectators and all, for this original play that was part telenovela, part ancient myth, and all excitement. The fact that it was in the Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center just made it all the better.
Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare Dallas
It's no secret that I was a big fan of Jenni Stewart's 1980s setting for Shakespeare's most tragic romance. The big hair matched the big emotions, and the rockin' soundtrack channeled nostalgia while moving the Bard's story along. But I adored how the periphery characters stole the show, from Marcus Stimac's metal Mercutio to Constance Gold Parry's wacky Nurse. This was Shakespeare for everyone.