DECEMBER 28, 2017 – Call 2017 a banner year for women and diversity at area theaters. On small and large stages alike, rich and well-acted productions ranged from a revived solo work about Golda Meir, to an all-women ‘’Julius Caesar,’’ to a moving look at the developing relationship of a closeted gay Jewish aid worker and an African -American businessman.
The following – in alphabetical order – are my choices for the best offerings this year:
• “Billy Elliot the Musical” (Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston) – A strong multicultural cast brought soaring expression to this Tony Award celebration of solidarity and the inner electricity of a boy born to dance.
• “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (SpeakEasy Stage Company at Calderwood Pavilion, Boston) – Gifted artistic director Paul Daigneault made this Hub edition actually more satisfying than the national tour of the Tony-winning look at the challenges confronting an autistic teen boy.
• “Days of Atonement” (Israeli Stage at Calderwood, Boston) – Four very different sisters seek redemption and respect during a tense holiday reunion in Hanna Azoulay-Hasfari’s poignant drama, sensitively staged by company artistic director Guy Ben-Aharon.
• “Edward II” (Actors’ Shakespeare Project at Charlestown Working Theater) – Maurice Emmanuel Parent, one of Boston’s best actors, was majestic as the title 14th century monarch in Christopher Marlowe’s provocative classic.
• “Faceless” (Zeitgeist Stage Company at Boston Center for the Arts) – Muslim and Jewish lawyers tested their own beliefs and the motivation of a radicalized young woman in Selina Fillinger’s stereotype-free play.
• “Gabriel” (Greater Boston Stage Company, formerly the Stoneham Theatre) – The late Thomas Derrah displayed his great gifts in the role of a Nazi officer in this gripping World War II drama.
• “Julius Caesar” (Actors’ Shakespeare Project at Studio 210) – Bobbie Steinbach and Marya Lowry headed up the stellar all-female cast of director Bryn Boice’s sharp revival, with Marianna Bassham definitive as Marc Anthony.
• “She Loves Me” (Greater Boston Stage Company) – Director/choreographer extraordinaire Ilyse Robbins clearly paid homage to Jewish collaborators Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick of “Fiddler on the Roof” fame with hora and kazatzke dances in this sweet revival.
• “The Little Dog Laughed” (Take Your Pick Productions at Calderwood) – Cassandra Lovering’s taut revival of Douglas Carter Bean’s savvy look at fame, art, and personal integrity proved a remarkable company debut.
• “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Lyric Stage Company of Boston) – Steve Barkhimer and especially Paula Plum captured the fiery vision of Edward Albee’s masterwork.
• “Bullets over Broadway” (Ogunquit Playhouse) – Crime and the theater shared a striking relationship complete with an inspired gangster tap ensemble.
• “Death of a Salesman” (Trinity Repertory Theatre, Providence) – Human dignity cried out for immediate attention in this timely revival.
• “A Guide for the Homesick” (Huntington Theatre Company, Boston) – Writer Ken Urban’s moving advice about love and caring proved the best new play of 2017.
• “Merrily We Roll Along” (Huntington) – Maria Friedman gave lesser Sondheim a revival worthy of his best work.
• “Ragtime” (Ogunquit) – With the fate of Dreamers uncertain, this celebration of the American immigrant experience resonated in a Broadway-caliber revival with a standout performance by Josh Young as Jewish filmmaker Tateh.
• “Silent Sky” (Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell) – The accomplishments of Henrietta Leavitt and her fellow women colleagues soared in this radiant staging.
• “The Royale” (Merrimack) – Thomas Silcott scored a knockout as the conflicted boxer in a championship drama about pain, prejudice, and the price of personal victory.
• “Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women” (American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge) – Paul Lucas’ insightful new look at transgender women was a revelation.
• “Young Frankenstein” (North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly) – Brian Padgett’s song and dance as the Monster in “Puttin’ on the Ritz’’ would make Mel Brooks proud.