The year just concluded was a bad one for the economy but a very good year for artistic performances in and around Sacramento. We’ll let others decide if these two facts are causally connected. Our job, as the calendar changes yet again, is to rank the top performances we experienced in 2009.
Ten is such an arbitrary number; we’ll go with twelve this year. But here are eight more that merit honorable mention:
The Music Circus production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” in July;
The Capital Stage production of young playwright Reina Hardy’s “Erratica: An Academic Farce” in August;
The San Francisco Symphony’s annual performance at the Mondavi Center that was highlighted by a sparkling Prokofiev concerto that introduced pianist Yuja Wang;
The splendid performance by the legendary Emerson String Quartet at Mondavi in October;
The Music Circus production of “Guys and Dolls” in July;
The Capital Stage “surreal” production of Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene” in January;
The March Mondavi performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, South Africa’s all-male a cappella chorus; and,
The November Mondavi performance by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, with another stirring turn by Yuja Wang, this time on Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto.
And now for those twelve absolute gems, presented, as is our custom, in reverse order.
12. Patti LuPone’s one-woman “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” show at the Mondavi Center (on the campus of U.C. Davis) last May. Ms. LuPone performed two dozen showstoppers and enthralled the capacity audience with her singing and her stage banter.
11. Mavis Staples’ inspirational Mondavi performance last January in honor of Martin Luther King and the triumphs of the civil rights movement. Backed by a strong three-piece band, Ms. Staples offered a dozen gospel-tinged R&B songs from her “We’ll Never Turn Back” CD.
10. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s November Mondavi performance that focused on the works of Henry Purcell. The concert was highlighted by the full presentation of “Dido & Aeneas,” with the great Susan Graham singing the lead under the direction of conductor Nicholas McGegan.
9. The Munich Symphony Orchestra’s February performance. Led by conductor Philippe Entremont, who also handled the keyboard duties on Beethoven’s first piano concerto, this superb orchestra also offered a perfect account of Beethoven’s seventh symphony before closing with a touch of Mendelssohn to the delight of the Mondavi throng.
8. The Music Circus production of “Man of La Mancha” last August. Directed by Guy Stroman, the performance in the round featured a superb cast, led by Walter Charles as the idealistic knight errant, whose quest is to reach the unreachable star. He and his story soared close to those heights.
7. Joyce Yang’s performance of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto at Mondavi in March. Backed by the 100 musicians of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Yang, a Van Cliburn International silver medalist four years ago at the age of 19, was nothing less than riveting.
6. The December Mondavi recital by Emanuel Ax. Proving that he deserves his status as one of the world’s premier classical pianists, Mr. Ax put his softest of soft hands and most unassuming of unassuming personalities on full display in a dazzling performance of works by Schubert and Chopin.
5. The intimate and personal testimony offered by Ishmael Beah in a Mondavi appearance in April. The handsome 28-year old immigrant, who survived a childhood of unspeakable horrors in his native Sierra Leone, was articulate and inspirational in describing the human spirit that has lifted him from a life of despair to one of hope and fulfillment.
4. “Forever Plaid,” the Cosmopolitan Cabaret’s inaugural production that ran for a full year at the cozy K Street venue that opened just as the economy was beginning its nose-dive. No matter, this show, directed and choreographed by the obviously talented Guy Stroman, was a pure delight, with a terrific cast of four guys singing blasts from the past.
3. “Wild Party,” the Runaway Stage Productions presentation of the Andrew Lippa written, R-rated, very off-Broadway show that played at the 24th Street Theater in January and February. Directed by Bob Baxter and choreographed by Darryl Strohl, with a terrific 22-member ensemble cast, this production was one of the boldest, most impressively conceived, locally produced theatrical productions Sacramento has probably ever seen.
2. The Globe Theater’s thoroughly delightful and professional presentation of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” that was performed with full Elizabethan period production values, right down to the costumes and musical instruments on the Mondavi stage in November. The 16-member cast was perfect, as was the set design, the lighting and the climactic food fight. Oh, and the script was pretty good, too.
1. The Broadway touring production of “Spring Awakening” that shocked more than a few in attendance at the Community Center Theater performances in November. The Tony Award winning musical that explores the perils of post-pubescent youth in an intolerant and unforgiving society featured rock music and choreography that was akin to the tightly controlled mayhem the story depicts. With a unique set design and a powerhouse cast, this production was the highlight of a year with many.
May the offerings of this new year be as grand and as memorable!