Best local presentations of 2020 in our region: "Beast on the Moon"
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In a way, 2020 was a great year in performances in Northeastern Wisconsin.
At the start, production after production delivered the goods.
I was amazed by the consistency and wondered if the quality would last.
That didn’t have to do with any theater or musical organization. It had to do with the coronavirus COVID-19, which essentially slammed the door on everything in mid-March.
In a normal year, I see 155 productions for review in the 75-mile broadcast radius of WFRV-TV, Channel 5.
This year, I saw 80, with 43 being live, in-person performances and the rest virtual.
Below, I start with a special mention and then list my top five picks, followed by honorable mentions.
Rogue Theater with co-artistic directors Stuart Champeau and Lola DeVillers put on “Drive-In Theater” in a church parking lot in Sturgeon Bay. Nifty productions included “Great Americans” of famous speeches and patriotic words on July 4 and “Susan and Elizabeth: A Friendship of Consequence” near the time of the 100th anniversary of the approval of the 19th Amendment for the women’s right to vote. How cool are those connections? Shows continued through summer in the remarkable idea for keepin’ on keepin’ on. Husband and wife, Stuart Champeau and Lola DeVillers, attended services the rear parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and put the idea into theatrical form. Local actors climbed aboard. In normal times, theater is like breathing and “just is” – just is part of what makes a community a community. Rogue Theater applied some CPR when so many live performances were gasping for breath. And then Stuart Champeau and Lola DeVillers announced they are building a theater facility from scratch!
– One. The award-winning “Beast on the Moon” has been performed in 25 countries in 19 languages. Its performances by University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre are special because playwright Richard Kalinoski is of the faculty, and he gets the chance to direct the play again. His strength in directing comes through in performances as he influences the players to develop the many nuances of their characters. It’s a beautiful play made from seeds of ugliness, and it continues to resonate as it brings remnants of a genocide into a home in Milwaukee. I felt an honor being in the presence of a widely meaningful play being created by its creator.
– Two. Birder Players’ “Chicago” razzle-dazzles ’em all around in a sensational production in Broadway Theatre in De Pere. The musical struts as it savors the blood-thirsty, sex-craving big-city headlines of the 1920s. Director and co-choreographer Alicia Birder makes the thing move, which is her trademark with big-title shows from Broadway.
– Three. Lawrence University Opera Theatre in Appleton went all out with a famous title, “The Marriage of Figaro.” Colorful singing in Italian dominated the story from the 1780s that’s filled with love and marriage and lust. The orchestra was with the singers (double-cast!) every step of the way with fluid companionship. A full-scale opera – orchestra, costuming, staging, the whole nine yards – is a rarity around these parts except at Lawrence.
– Four. “Shrek: The Musical” is a step beyond special in a community-campus production for Fox Theatre (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus Theatre) in Menasha. Leading the way as hits with the audience are Lorenz “Larry” Marcus as Shrek, the green, mean ogre who is a sensitive soul at heart; Chelsey Burke as Princess Fiona, singing like a lark and tossing in some tap-dancing to fire up the action; and Ericka Wade as Donkey, with her way of being expressive and cheery and a joy to be around. Overall, it’s an all-out production.
– Five. Presented by the unique, student-run Knight Theatre of St. Norbert College in De Pere, the musical “Tuck Everlasting” is filled with meaning and movement. Along with matters of life and death and time, the production has an artful aura as dance is woven in to enhance scenes. The climax is a dance representation of life, and it is fine, fine lump-in-the-throat stuff.