Year in Theater: Staged right

Changing of the local guard
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 22, 2008

081226_theater_main
ANGELS IN AMERICA: Boston Theatre Works’ blisteringly natural revival couldn’t keep the company solvent.

It's been a Buckingham Palace season on the local rialto, with a changing of the guard at both the Huntington Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theatre and another under way at New Repertory Theatre, whose artistic director, Rick Lombardo, heads for California to lead San Diego Rep. There's no word on Lombardo's successor, but Peter DuBois took over in July for HTC honcho Nicholas Martin (who moved to the helm of the Williamstown Theatre Festival before suffering a stroke in September, from which he is expected to make a full recovery).

Across the river at the ART, Obie winner Diane Paulus took over in October, after a protracted search for a successor to Harvard-ousted visionary Robert Woodruff. The acclaimed director of theater and opera is currently manning the moving van that will transport her hit Public Theater revival of Hair from Central Park to Broadway. She has yet to announce her first ART season, which will commence in the fall of 2009. But there is hope that the downtown New York theater star will reprise — or add to — the genre-busting crossover works that have made her name, among them The Donkey Show, a 1970s disco riff on A Midsummer Night's Dream that ran for six years Off Broadway. Roll over, Shakespeare; tell Donna Summer the news.

On a more frustrating note: the 10-year-old Boston Theatre Works followed its blisteringly natural revival of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer-winning Angels in America by . . . going out of business. In financial straits, the feisty troupe cancelled the rest of its season, and artistic director Jason Southerland has moved to Chicago's Next Theatre Company. But lest we get either pissed off or maudlin, the beat does go on. Among the bangs and whistles were these.

Regards from Broadway
If the street where you live is Washington, on which the Opera House resides, February brightened it with the Trevor Nunn–directed National Theatre of Great Britain revival of the sparkling Shavian musical MY FAIR LADY. Pygmalion couldn't have asked for better than Lerner & Loewe, whose 1956 classic was elegantly reproduced right down to the towering architecture of Covent Garden. More obscure but just as charming is Jerry Bock & Sheldon Harnick's evanescent 1963 show SHE LOVES ME, which Nicholas Martin made his warm, lavish swan song at the Huntington. And Broadway shows don't get more iconic than the 1927 SHOW BOAT, which Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II built on Edna Ferber's novel. Like the Mississippi, the gorgeous score just keeps rolling along, and the North Shore Music Theatre made the full-throated most of it.

Acting Shakespeare
Hamlet had some things to say about the thespian art, and works by the Bard are a great place to show it off. The highlight of Shakespeare & Company's season was a powerful OTHELLO manned by John Douglas Thompson's breaking heart of a Moor, Michael Hammond's hail-fellow Iago, and Merritt Janson's fatally naive Desdemona. Melia Bensussen directed Actors' Shakespeare Project's money-mad THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, which was dominated by Jeremiah Kissel's Shylock — in the beginning a crafty kibitzer you might meet at a bar mitzvah, later an avenger you might meet in a nightmare.

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