In Review: Top Valley Theater Moments of 2010

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Oh, 2010, how is it that you can have gone by so quickly, yet we can still be so glad to see you go? What I will miss, even though they're already all a blur, are the many great shows the year brought -- and even the dozens of just okay ones. There were more than ten transcendent moments to remember and choose from, and for that I'm extra-grateful. Let's count it down!

10. The chemistry between the leads in Arizona Broadway Theatre's Footloose. Even from our not-super-close table in ABT's massive dinner-theater mainstage space, there was no denying the simultaneously radiant and wholesome sparks given off by David Errigo Jr. and Jessica Kaufman -- a flame that (among other fine performances and production elements) helped make a mainstream, vanilla musical a lot more interesting.

9. Unnecessary Farce at Desert Foothills Theater. Just about a year ago, on a cold, rainy day much like today, a completely typical hotel-room sex comedy at a completely typical community arts center blew me out of the water. Books, covers -- don't be judging 'em.

8. Zanna, Don't! at Scottsdale Desert Stages. This musical, which seems to have wound up getting Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed, deserves to move out of development hell and get its big, shiny Broadway wings. And the Desert Stages company mixed it up like a super-antioxidizing smoothie.

7. Mesa Encore Theater's Once on This Island. This cast's hips didn't lie, as they did more with community-theater choreography than the camera work on an average Glee episode. The production also hit all the right notes of sweet innocence and mythic power.

6. Actors Theatre's Shipwrecked! This epic, fringey, somewhat historical three-person show reminded us what miracles theater can do, which sort of seemed to be AT's mission this year (see #2 below).

5. The Play About the Baby from iTheatre Collaborative. At the same time it was a cozy, leisurely evening with two Valley stage veterans (Charles Sohn and Jacqueline Gaston), Baby was prickly and exasperating in all the right ways, just as playwright Edward Albee intended.

4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Soul Invictus. If you were somehow not yet convinced that genuine, loud, live rock music, violence, and LGBTQ issues are vital parts of contemporary drama, this production would have won you over.

3. Phoenix Theatre's Hairspray, especially D. Scott Withers. I didn't get to review this show, but I was fortunate enough to see it as a private citizen, and it fired on all cylinders as much as any musical ever has, including having a beautiful, inspiring message, a genius cast, spiffy designs, and perhaps the best drag performance since the first male actor put on the first female costume, whenever and wherever that was.

2. Actors Theatre's No Child. One person telling a story about something that really happened -- how does Nilaja Sun make that into one of the most gripping experiences ever? More important, how does she share that gift with disadvantaged, at-risk public-school students, and how can we make it happen more?

1. ASU's Big Love. Apparently we weren't necessarily high when we thought our college shows were the awesomest thing ever -- and universities are almost the only places with realistic production budgets where you can see shows this innovative and passionate. Also, Galvin Playhouse does not smell terrible after all.

And finally, "because top-10 lists are for cowards," the news we heard in 2010 that's most exciting for 2011: Greg Kotis, internationally lauded author of Urinetown and Eat the Taste, is writing The Unhappiness Plays, a group of brand-new one-acts, just for Space 55. They open next month! That's the kind of thing that happens in a town with real theater. Boo-yah!

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