The setup: It's that time of year to look back and remember what the most amazing and marvelous experiences of 2013 were. (You don't have to, but it's our job.)
I am filled with a sense of personal development when I realize that at least three times this year I concluded I'd seen one of the best plays ever, ever, ever, and all three times it was a musical. (It's far more likely that musicals are getting better than that I've learned anything. If anyone wants a tip, though, they all featured live music.)
So turn the page and let's go!
Like some of my colleagues, I'm giving up on putting these in order. They were all great. Links to the original New Times reviews appear in the headings.
Nearly Naked Theatre's Equus I bet it's possible to really fuck up a production of this play, but NNT has done it twice perfectly, from what I hear. This year's, which I did see, was gorgeous and sincere and used stylized theatricality to take us to painfully real places, with a script that is genius but which, all by itself, might seem a bit dated thematically if it weren't for the troupe's passionate commitment.
Mesa Encore Theatre's Next to Normal I thought a lot about whether I only liked this show because it had me gushing tears all over Mesa Arts Center's nice carpet by the curtain call. That might be why it's in my top three, but, weeping aside, it was objectively fantastic (as much as anything ever actually can be). Despite not having the strongest score ever, the play deserves its Pulitzer, and the script respects the characters and situation by leaving unresolved things that must be left that way.
Theatre Artists Studio's Maple and Vine Now that this show closed, we can spoil it and tell you that the stressed-out couple from the big contemporary city moves to a constructed town in which everything is like the '50s. The cast did a remarkable job of depicting the nuances of why that doesn't work better (or, to be fair, worse) than anything else to solve one's personal problems. The nature of the script and its precise execution made this a truly compelling show.
Hale Centre Theatre's Damn Yankees Historic downtown Gilbert's getting pretty darn sexy, which has a lot to do with Cambrian James' choreography, the talented eye-candy cast in this show, and the new Postino. It has nothing to do with the fresh and unmedicated fibula fracture with which I watched Damn Yankees. Imagine how much better it probably was than I thought!
Space 55's Uncle Vanya Miserable characters in a great play is infinitely better than miserable characters in a boring, crappy play. Uncle Vanya, when presented thoughtfully, will take you to your own limits without pushing you over the edge, and director/adaptor Charlie Steak and his luminous cast did just that here. You could enjoy it entirely on that level or also fold in the Stanislavkian work ethic and subtle, yet effective visual symbolism for an even richer experience.
Gammage Hosted the National Tour of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert It's no gay-marriage-in-Utah, but this roof-raising disco-jukebox musical about being onself, as fabulously as possible, no matter what happens, was a super-feel-good way to start the 2013-2014 season and, yes, one of my top three. And those designs! Holy kitsch with an airbrush.
Nearly Naked Theatre's A Devil Inside This rather absurd homage to Russian literature was over the top in so very many ways. Conveniently, if you peed yourself laughing, there was a laundromat right on stage. Though it seemed to need frequent repairs.
Stray Cat Theatre's The Flick Watching this very long play about three losers working in a struggling second-run movie house was an experience that was life-changing to have and almost impossible to describe. It took courage, talent, and heart to bring this to the stage, and Stray Cat was basically the second company in the whole damn world to do it.
Phoenix Theatre's White Christmas We sometimes think of writing about holiday events as a favor you do for you. You know, a sort of passive-aggressive gift you've given us no reason to think you even want. Old habits die hard, so I stuck on the ugly Christmas sweater and went to this musical, full of Irving Berlin songs (a good thing) to which playwrights often do horrible things, and I was not expecting much. I was wrong.
The show (another top-three-er) was as energetic and joyous as a flash mob, with the addition of die-hard professionalism at every turn and some of the finest traditional musical theater dancing I've ever seen. It was a huge hit, and I can understand why, for a change.
Orange Theater Group's Blood Wedding I just saw this and I'm still kind of woozy. Orange Theatre Group is full of talented people who I assume must have paintings of themselves getting old, ugly, and weak in an attic somewhere. Or else they chug a lot of wheatgrass juice and channel, in a kundaliniesque way, all the world's light and passion through their navels in order to accomplish what they do, which is to make you less sure of the definition and/or meaning of more and more things the more shows they do. While making it also fun to watch at least 75 percent of the time.
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Honorable mentions: These shows were all very, very good at being what they were:
and several others that we didn't mention in this list were also absolutely worth your time. In retrospect. If you missed them. Which you shouldn't have. So work on that.