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By Vince Mediaa

The 2023 Bay Area theatre community struggled back this season with some amazing plays and musicals. A huge part of the success of theatre “post covid” are the aspiring superb understudies. A group of talented actors who wait in the wings to be called on. As many actors continued to fall ill this season, the understudies kept the lights on and seats filled. New productions and some multiple titles made it difficult to mention the best version. For example; this season staged four productions of HUNCHBACK and five versions of KINKY BOOTS - It was a season of the “the red boots”.

There are so many shows that have stuck with me, from the language of CHINGLISH at the SF Playhouse to the soaring songs in Hillbarn Playhouse “ASSASSINS.” The special eye candy delight of “SPONGEBOB MUSICAL” at The Palo Alto Players to the spellbinding dance and horror tale of romance in Berkeley Rep’s “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.”

Here is my Top Ten list of memorable shows for 2023

Two lists one for musicals and plays 

My pick for best Musical of 2023 is THE WIZARD OF OZ, American Conservatory Theatre’s new brilliant take on the legend of the Ruby Red slippers - with a Gender Fluid cast of the Bay Area’s best - Director SAM PINKLETON made sure to cast locals including DANNY SCHEIE, DARRYL V JONES and CHANEL TILGHMAN

2) SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL -  This eye popping candy coated tail of underwater characters requires sunglasses to avoid the bright fun on stage. Directed by Palo Alto Players Artistic Director Patrick Klein - included a talented cast. PAP continues to be a shining star in the south bay, always producing excellent musical theatre.  

3) ASSASSINS - The Hillbarn Stage went quiet at the beginning of each performance. Artistic director Randy O’Hara pointed out the mass shootings at Half Moon Bay, Monterey Park and other cities have suffered from recent gun violence. He asked for a moment of silence. The Hillbarn Theatre continued their 82nd season with the dark and powerful ASSASSINS Directed by Josh Marx.

4) SIX - Divorced, Beheaded, Died, SIX presents the real queens of Theatre. The National Tour visited San Francisco last winter and wowed Bay Area audiences. The SIX break free of their past and start to change the course of history, by rewriting their happier ever-afters. Great new songs and the perfect new rock musical - directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage.

5) KINKY BOOTS at City LightsTheatre won the Red Boot contest - This musical was staged on so many bay stages this season - It is a lovely heartwarming show and all the productions I saw did well - But City Lights in San Jose had the perfect mix of talent and casting - Directed by Lisa Mallette and Mark Anderson Phillips.

6) THE N LOVERS  a musical/play is Basquiat mixed with Nzosake Shange mixed with Me’shell Ndegeocello. The Magic Theatre continues to stage edgy provocative works - Writer Marc Anthony Thompson says “everybody that has to bend their neck to look up at a cloud is in the Lower Classes. Directed by Bethann Hardison.

7) A CHORUS LINE at San Francisco Playhouse was a sell out run an extended - The SFPH ended their celebrated 20th season with this Broadway classic. ONE THRILLING COMBINATION ‘A CHORUS LINE’ REMAINS THE BEST CATTLE CALL THEATRE EXPERIENCE. Directed by Bill English.

8) SPRING AWAKENING  I saw SA a few times this season, mostly College productions. This concert production of SA at Ray of Light was beautiful and managed to be a fully stage version. Featuring some talented local favorites. Directed by Music Director Ben Price.

9) SOUND OF MUSIC - The Holiday Season was alive this fall at the Hillbarn Theatre.  Hillbarns SOM is one of the best performances of this production I have seen to date. From the nuns to the children, this musical is iconic. Hillbarns team couldn't have imagined that the timing of this play, on the heels of world hostility, from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the tension between Israel - Hamas war and the Gaza strip. What if this timeless masterpiece Sound of Music could bring peace this Holiday Season. Directed by Dennis Licteig.

10) BRIGHT STAR was also a popular musical on Bay stages this season  with four productions this past spring and summer. I  wanted to touch base with the new TMC Arts company based in Castro Valley Ca. Their production of BRIGHT STAR won me over with a talented cast and solid craft team. Under the Direction of Brian Olkowski, and Founder Producer Dayna Speed they cast a superb company. Welcome TMC Arts. 


1) My pick for best play 2023; GARY, A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS ‘The Oakland Theatre Project’ set in the black box at the Flax Arts Studio is covered in corpses; most of the dead also include some bouncing dildo’s. All three actors deliver show stopping comic performances. Man's fall to foolery and becoming God has never been such a mad 90 minutes of flatulence joy. Taylor Mac’s impressive first play wow’d Broadway and now the Bay Area. Directed by Emilie Whelan

2) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the Romeo and Juliet of Vampire love stories. The two leads, Noah Lamanna and Diego Lucano are brilliant. This Vampire and its young friend will sweep the American Theatre when it opens on Broadway. Congratulations Eli you had a delicious time while visiting The Berkeley Rep. You will have a hearty time feeding from New York audiences. Directed by John Tiffany Movement by Steven Hoggett.

3) MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY’ This Bennet family story is a sequel to Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice.” Lauren Gunderson’s clever script showcases the Bennet sisters, this time spending Christmas together at Pemberley. This priceless rom com features sister Mary Bennet as she finds love with Mr. Darcy’s her awkward cousin. The Altarena Playhouse in Alameda Ca had a successful season with other impressive productions including RUTHLESS!, THE BIRDS and A SOLDIERS STORY - and BENNET directed by Jacquie Duckworth.

4) CHINGLISH 中式英语 - San Francisco Playhouse clever production of Tony award winning David Henry Hwang takes on the classic humor of English and Chinese translation. Some have called Hwang the Asian Woody Allen, and in this mosh pit of language and pillow talk, I agree. I found each confrontation with the East and West colliding in the brash dialect of CLINGLISH - Directed by local favorite Jeffery Lo. 

5) HAMLET The Marin Shakespeare company returned this summer with “Hamlet,” Director Jon Tracy brings a brilliant modern toxic version of life in the Danish court. The creative team, some new to the Marin Shakes stage followed Artistic Director Tracy from his other projects and stage companies. The impressive season also includes a new venue in downtown San Rafael. 

6) WOLF PLAY howled at the Ashby stage as Shotgun Players continued their 31st season with “Wolf Play," written by award-winning playwright Hansol Jung. Mikee Loria is brilliant as the Wolf and both moms Laura Domingo and Gabby Momah are polished as a family struggling for acceptance. As the final ring of the boxing bell we are left with a powerful final moment.  Directed by Elizabeth Carter. 

7) GOLDEN GIRLS CHRISTMAS EPISODES The iconic former producer Heklina passed away earlier this year - the news shocked the LGBTQ community. The casting change in this year’s company now features drag queen international favorite Coco Peru in the role of Dorothy. Coco met Bea Arthur and was a great friend of Heklina, and combines both talents. I saw a clear resemblance to Bea Arthur's dry demeanor in the new episodes Director D’Arcy chose to stage for the 18th year of GOLDEN GIRLS. Produced by the SF Oasis; has created an iconic SF Holiday Tradition. 

8) CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND The solid ensemble is a seamless mix of actors from previous productions with newcomers, all of them benefiting from the compassion, humanity and darkside which writer Laurn Yee invests in her most challenging play with music. Staged at The Berkeley Playhouse, directed by Chay Yew.

9) POOR YELLA REDNECKS By Qui Nguyen, directed by Jaime Castañeda for American Conservatory Theater. With a brilliant performance by local favorite Jomar Tagatac. Staged at the Strand Theatre this new play is the perfect follow up to VIET GONE.

10) BLITHE SPIRIT “Anybody can write books, but it takes an artist to make a dry martini that’s dry enough.” City Lights Theatre in San Jose - stages the Noel Coward classic ghost story “Blithe Spirit” with all the perfect spirits and comedy - This is the second mention of this busy theatre company who continues to stage impressive productions year after year. 

OTHER MENTIONS; Harold and Maude Los Altos Theatre, Cashed Out SFPH, The Headlands ACT, Tiny Fires Costume Made Theatre, Citizen Brain The Marsh, Avenue Q Plethos Productions, Road to Mecca Z Space, Bald Sisters San Jose Stage.

To CELEBRATE ASIAN AMERICAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH  Tri Valley Rep in Pleasanton Ca staged Min Kahng's Song of the Nightingale - Directed by Jeff Ramos. The production also honored the late Kathy Breedveld AD of Tri Valley who passed away before Nightingale opened.

For 40 years Kathleen Breedveld was the Artistic Director of Tri-Valley Repertory in the East Bay. She opened many green doors for young local actors and crew that now have gone on to their professional careers. Breedvelds’ passion for producing regional theatre and bringing the best of the Bay Area to East Bay audiences. Sadly, Tri Valley Rep lost Kathy just weeks before this musical was to open after a battle with illness. But with her lives a legacy that will continue on through everyone who has worked with her and she has inspired in the past 40 years. Her production of NIGHTINGALE celebrates Katheen Breedveld’s final production. 


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