It's easy to come up with 10 winners from among the year's stage productions in the metro area. The hard part is stopping there, blessed as Omaha is with theatrical talent in direction, design and acting.
Further complicating the task were several shows with strong word of mouth that this reviewer simply couldn't get to. I'm thinking especially of “Female Transport” at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, “Much Ado About Nothing” at Creighton University and “Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol” at the Blue Barn Theatre.
Among the dozens of plays and musicals I did see, here's my list of the year's best. Shuffle the order any way you like. In my book, they were all standout theater.
1. "Les Misťrables" (Omaha Community Playhouse)
With more than 350 auditioners, directors Susan Baer Collins and Carl Beck had great singer-actors to cast. The result was one of the best (and most expensive) musicals in Playhouse history. Broadway actor Timothy Shew starred.
2. "Next to Normal" (SNAP Productions)
This Pulitzer-winning musical about bipolar disorder came to vivid life in the hands of director Michal Simpson, music director Keith Hart and a stellar cast led by Echelle Childers and Jeff Pierce. Winner of last season's best-musical Theatre Arts Guild award.
3. "Clybourne Park" (SNAP Productions)
The Pulitzer-winning play about race relations and real estate, set in a Chicago house from Lorraine Hansberry's classic 1959 drama “A Raisin in the Sun,” deservedly won a best-comedy TAG award. Great set, great ensemble acting, great writing.
4. "Gertrude Stein and a Companion" (Circle Theater)
The inspired pairing of Barb Ross and Laura Marr as the literary innovator and her longtime lover, Alice B. Toklas, meant transcendent moments of both humor and sadness. Daena Schweiger directed.
5. "The Wizard of Oz" (Omaha Community Playhouse)
Scenery, costume, video and lighting designers outdid themselves in staging the beloved musical. Director Susan Baer Collins, music director Jim Boggess and a fine cast managed to satisfy fans of the movie version while making this show their own.
6. "Tribes" (SNAP Productions)
Noah Diaz gave a stellar performance as a deaf young man in this play about the need to belong. The deaf community's hierarchy clashes with the hierarchy of family, and hearts must break as love and loyalties are sorted out.
7. "Evil Dead: The Musical" (Omaha Community Playhouse)
Profane, gory and over the top, this satire of a horror-movie franchise scored huge laughs, thanks to Carl Beck's direction, Jim Othuse's scenic surprises, a cast led by Brian Zealand and gallons of fake blood.
8. "The Heiress" (Brigit St. Brigit Theatre)
Joseph Miloni and Katlynn Yost shone brightly as a father and daughter at odds in this drama set in 1850 New York City, adapted from a Henry James novel. Director Cathy Kurz smartly staged the play at First Central Congregational Church.
9. "Twelfth Night" (Nebraska Shakespeare Festival)
Director Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek's calculated gamble of incorporating contemporary tunes in Shakespeare's comedy worked like gangbusters. Streaked hair, smartphones and hip-hop proved compatible with the Bard.
10. "Other Desert Cities" (SNAP Productions)
A contemporary tale of secrets and disintegrating family loyalties, this intriguing script mixed national politics, personal politics and the politics of coping with mental illness. Daena Schweiger, Kevin Barratt and Connie Lee starred.
An extra tip of the hat to:
• “A Behanding in Spokane” (Blue Barn Theatre)
• “The Cripple of Inishmaan” (University of Nebraska at Omaha)
• “God of Carnage” (Blue Barn Theatre)
• “A Little Night Music” (Chanticleer Theater)
• “Noises Off” (Chanticleer Theater)
• “The 39 Steps” (Blue Barn Theatre)
• “The Weir” (Circle Theater)