There really was a time when I could legitimately claim to have seen every theatre production that Charlotte had to offer. So when I tell you that I saw 67 comedies, dramas, and musicals during 1988 — the first full calendar year that the Loaf was dispensed in our ugly green boxes — well, that’s pretty close to all there was, folks. Even among that manageable number of productions, a few from Concord, Davidson, Winthrop, and UNC Charlotte padded the total.
Nowadays, I can’t really keep up with it all. When the ball drops in Times Square later this week, I will have seen upwards of 85 events in the Metrolina area that exhibited the spark of live theatre. And I will have missed at least 46 more — not counting productions in Concord, Winthrop, and UNC Charlotte.
On rare occasions, I get the feeling that quality of local presentations has grown as lushly as quantity. Just after Labor Day, when the 2015-16 season unofficially launched, our most professional adult company in town, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, was running The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep, winner of their second nuVoices New Play Festival competition. It was arguably no better than the fourth-best homegrown show opening that week, behind Theatre Charlotte’s La Cage aux Folles, Queen City Theatre Company’s The Money Shot, and — up yonder in Cornelius — The Warehouse’s Wonder of the World.
The latter three are among my picks for the 50 Best Charlotte Theatre Productions of 2015 that you’ll find posted online at our website. We need not shed crocodile tears for Actor’s Theatre as their lease on Stonewall Street lapses, for you’ll find four or five of their other productions on that list, with strong candidates for top comedy, drama, and musical among them.
But when have we ever been able to say the same thing about Theatre Charlotte, CPCC Theatre, and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte all in the same year? Yup, 2015 was pretty historic hereabouts for its theatrical excellence.
Sure, these companies are filling the voids left by the implosions of Charlotte Repertory Theatre in 2005 and CAST in 2014. But they’re just part of the story.
Rep was the resident company at Booth Playhouse while they were twisting in the last throes of their death spiral. In the years since they left, Blumenthal Performing Arts has dramatically augmented their theatrical offerings. While top-tier tours are playing at Belk Theater in their longstanding Broadway Lights series, the Blumenthal is increasingly importing Off-Broadway attractions to their smaller venues, including the Booth, whose exterior often sports an authentic Broadway vulgarity these days.
50 Shades! The Musical Parody, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Menopause the Musical Survivor Tour, Evil Dead The Musical and Love, Loss, and What I Wore are among the pint-sized theatricals that Blumenthal brought to us in 2015. Meanwhile, they’ve grown more proactive in other performing arts, most notably in jazz and dance. Although their Jazz Room series is already in full swing, Blumenthal PA’s biggest jazz splash is yet to come, with the debut of the new Charlotte Jazz Festival set for April 22-23.
With visits from Martha Graham Dance Company, Momix, and this week’s Hip Hop Nutcracker, you might infer that Blumenthal has designs on establishing Charlotte as a hub for modern dance, anchored by our own Charlotte Ballet. But when they staged the first Breakin’ Convention at Levine Avenue of the Arts and Knight Theater for two days in October — with commitments to reprise the Sadler’s Wells import twice more through 2017 — we could heartily declare a mission accomplished.
Up in NoDa, where CAST left its void, the scenario has been subtler. When we broke the story of how another rogue theater board of directors wimped their way to oblivion — on the same real estate where Rep’s administrative offices and rehearsal space had stood — we recapped the final hours when CAST founder Michael Simmons had reached out to UpStage impresario Michael Ford. Simmons’ scheme to partner with Ford in leasing the 2424 N. Davidson St. site never came to fruition.
Yet the overflow demand for bookings at UpStage, fueling Ford’s interest in extra space at CAST’s multiple stages, didn’t evaporate. How could Appalachian Creative Theatre, Charlotte’s Off-Broadway, Citizens of the Universe, FroShow Productions, Innate Productions, PaperHouse Theatre, Quixotic Theatre, TAPROOT, Three Bone Theatre, and XOXO all create in peace and harmony in the spacious grunge of Ford’s trendy NoDa landmark?
Even with the formation of the League of Independent Theatres (LIT), such coordination was impossible. The overflow of booking demand took a migratory turn, and the geographical overflow irrigated sites in NoDa and the surrounding area that hadn’t hosted theatre before or recently. Led by visionary eccentric James Cartee, Citizens of the Universe (COTU) did most of the groundbreaking. First they tilled 100 Gardens on 36th Street, transplanted one of their staples to Tommy’s Pub in Plaza-Midwood, took a Beowulf detour to Spirit Square, overran NoDa’s streets in a second annual pursuit of Jack the Ripper, and occupied NoDa’s signature consignment shop, Salvaged Beauty, for a suitably retro Halloween.
Other explorations were auspicious. Nicia Carla took Oscar Wilde to the vintage Frock Shop on Central Avenue, Brianna Smith’s TAPROOT and Caroline Renfro’s FroShow reclaimed the 1212 Studio on E. 10th St., and Donna Scott Productions revived the Charlotte Art League in SouthEnd as a theatre destination. Finally, the COTU odyssey weighed anchor in the desolation of 2424 N. Davidson. Yes, The Woolgatherer was staged on the same property where CAST had decamped. Actually, their most recent effort played out at the 28th Street entrance to the site, where the lobby to Charlotte Rep’s offices had once been. How’s that for tying the essence of 2015 into a neat little bow?
I’ll do the same by naming my choices for best comedies, dramas, and musicals for 2015. Winners are shown in bold with Show of the Year in caps.
Comedies: Bad Jews (Actor’s Theatre), Boeing Boeing (CPCC), The Book of Liz (Donna Scott Productions), Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse (Children’s Theatre), The Money Shot (Queen City), A Woman of No Importance (PaperHouse), Wonder of the World (The Warehouse)
Dramas: Detroit (Actor’s Theatre), 4000 Miles (Three Bone), Jackie & Me (Children’s Theatre), Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (CPCC), The Lion in Winter (COTU), The Normal Heart (Theatre Charlotte), Seven Guitars (On Q Performing Arts)
Musicals: Chicago (Davidson Community Players), Ella’s Big Chance (Children’s Theatre), La Cage aux Folles (Theatre Charlotte), The Phantom of the Opera (CPCC), Rock of Ages (Actor’s Theatre), Spunk (On Q), Young Frankenstein (CPCC)
And what about those touring productions that invaded Belk Theater? The best were Newsies, Pippin, and Kinky Boots. The winner is pretty obvious, since the Kinky Boots is back at the Belk this week.
50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR SOFA: Roll the Credits!
Here are the best shows Charlotte theater companies had to offer in 2015, listed alphabetically by company. Where more than one show is listed for a company, shows are given chronologically.
Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte
Caesar’s Blood [staged reading]
*Rock of Ages
Appalachian Creative Theatre
Children’s Theatre of Charlotte
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
*Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
*Jackie & Me
*Ella’s Big Chance
‘Twas the Night Before…
Citizens of the Universe
*The Lion in Winter
*Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
The Trip to Bountiful
*The Phantom of the Opera
What You Will
Davidson Community Players
Donna Scott Productions
*The Book of Liz
Three Tall Women
On Q Performing Arts
*A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Queen City Theatre Company
Buyer & Cellar
*The Money Shot
The Picture of Dorian Gray
*The Normal Heart
Jesus Christ Superstar
*La Cage aux Folles
The Avant Guardians
The Playworks Group
Lunch at the Piccadilly
*Wonder of the World
Three Bone Theatre
* – category nominees
Bold – category winners
Bold caps – Show of the Year.