If you have never heard Nina Simone sing “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood,” you need to click here. Dominique Morisseau’s masterpiece script embodies the pain and desperation of Simone’s song (which serves as a backdrop). The struggles Nina (AnJi White), Kenyatta (Phillip Edward Van Lear), and Damon (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) face in escaping crime are all the more heartbreaking with the realization that not all three will find the happiness they seek. Each is a soul whose intentions are… if not “good,” at least essential for survival. A stellar script (second in recent memory only to Bruce Norris’s The Whale) thrives with three award-worthy performances and expert direction from Ron OJ Parson.
With so many phenomenal theater offerings in 2016, I took the easy road and split my “Year’s Best” list into Musicals and Non-musicals.
First, my picks for the top five musicals (check back tomorrow for the non-musicals):
Yes, the leads were fantastic. And, yes, this Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim collaboration delivers one classic number after the next. However, director Jim Conti’s vision for a grittier, more modern West Side Story was the true star of this production. From beginning to end, the actors sizzled with rage, channeling deeply rooted perceptions of injustice into their singing, their choreography, and their fighting with the rival gang. A much needed reboot for a show that has clung stubbornly to the daintier interpretation immortalized 55 years ago by the film version.
Almost every scene in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time inspires a variety of deep emotional reactions, so choosing just one to introduce the brilliance of this script is a challenge. If forced to choose, I would decide upon a relatively quiet scene. Christopher (Adam Jones Langdon), a 15-year-old, has discovered a box of letters addressed to him from his mother Judy (Felicity Jones Latta). Christopher believed that Judy was dead, but her letters reveal that she is alive and residing in London.
Judy dictates the letter from backstage while Christopher pieces together a model train set center stage: “I was not a good Mother, Christopher. Maybe if things had been different, maybe if you’d been different, I might have been better at it. But that’s just the way things turned out.”