From spooky Shakespeare to manipulative masochism, here’s a look back at the shows we loved in 2019.
BEST DIRECTION BY 6 OR MORE PEOPLE
Arrant Knavery – Bard or Bust: False Face, False Heart
In their second theatrical year, Arrant Knavery had an unparalleled season of classical works. This summer, the company produced its second run of Bard or Bust, this time donning the theme “False Face, False Heart” wherein hopeful directors submitted scene concepts from Shakespeare’s repertoire having to do with lies and deception. Among those, an all-female cast of Julius Caesar, exceptionally directed by Becca Fritschle, an artfully staged Richard III with twin King Richards directed by Kay Joyce, and a startling scene from Macbeth, directed by David Carbaugh and Fiama Mastrangelo.
BEST TEEN PRODUCTION ABOUT DEATH & DISEASE
Loudmouth Theatre Company – The Trail to Oregon
This all teen company came out swinging with its very first production this year. The irreverent musical pokes fun at the old game we used to play in school back in the ‘90s. There’s bandits, buffalo, and yes… dysentery. Two high school students, Tori Vinson and Rina Champlin led this cast of teens and crew of parents through months of rehearsals and two packed performances. We can’t wait to see what else this company has in store for the future.
MOST FUN WE HAD AT AN ABBA MUSICAL or
BEST ENSEMBLE THAT SOMEHOW, STRANGELY, IS ALWAYS AROUND EAVESDROPPING ON YOUR GREEK ROMANCE…
Pensacola Little Theatre – Mamma Mia
Already an ABBA fan, I knew the music would be great, but everything about this show screamed “FUN!” Beginning with the beautiful, multi-level set (designed by Shana Soloman), to the costumes, to the energy of the entire cast, Pensacola Little Theatre’s Mamma Mia was a giant bachelorette party and we were all invited! Standout performance by Annette Remitera as Rosie, that fun-loving best friend who always gets us to us finally let loose, much to our chagrin the next day (or few days… or forever).
BEST FEMALE EMPOWERMENT PLAYS (TIE)
PenArts – Into the Breeches
Arrant Knavery – Lysistrata
2019 was the year of the female! Or at least we think so. Pensacola was gifted two hilarious and inspiring productions about the great things women can do when they work together… …during a war… We promise we’re talking about two different productions here: one we got to see, and the other we got to direct!
PenArts’ latest production, Into the Breeches, was a heartfelt story about women who banded together to keep their favorite theatre afloat during the Second World War, by performing an all-female production of Henry V. The play broached issues of inequality based on gender, race, and sexual-orientation that are still, unbelievably, prevalent nearly 80 years later. Standout performances include Michelle Hancock as Winifred Snow (as Falstaff) and Wisdom Harris as Ida Green. Into the Breeches was directed by Christine Kellogg in PenArts’ newly acquired space, The Gordon!
Along the same themes, Ashley and I teamed up to direct Arrant Knavery’s production of Lysistrata and it was an unexpected hit! For Pensacola audiences, we knew Lysistrata would be a hard sell, but we had two nights of fantastic audiences who left the Opera Center still laughing. We are so proud of our cast, which consisted of only six female members… yet they pulled off playing several characters including TWO Greek choruses with the use of traditionally styled masks and Laban efforts to create separate and distinct characters. We were really excited to bring this female-empowerment play to life!
BEST TWO FEMALE CAST PRODUCTION AT A FESTIVAL
Kayla May & Kerry Sandell (Northwest Florida Theatre Festival) – Collected Stories
What is off-limits when it comes to a mentor relationship and success? That is the question Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories poses. Kerry Sandell played the role of respected academic, Ruth Steiner, with an elegance that danced between wisdom and bitterness. Our very own Kayla May played Lisa Morrison, Ruth’s protege. I won’t give away the story but Kayla’s performance had the audience turning over Lisa’s decisions in their head long after the curtain closed. A very well performed piece for the festival circuit this year.
BEST HITCHCOCK COMEDY
Pensacola Little Theatre – The 39 Steps
Mystery! Intrigue! Murder! What more could you want for a night at the theatre? How about classic British humor executed flawlessly by a four-person cast attempting to play hundreds of different roles in one two hour show? Pensacola Little Theatre brought this hilarious show to life this year and it was one of my absolute favorites. Directed by Billy Buff and Barbara Jacobs, this show parodies the classic Hitchcock film of the same name. Performances of note were Kyle Golden and Clayton Habecker as they turned in masterfully sidesplitting performances as the clowns.
BEST GARDEN PERFORMANCE OF AN ELIZABETHAN TRAGEDY
Arrant Knavery – Macbeth
Arrant Knavery’s full fall production was a spooky yet remarkably beautiful rendition of the Bard’s haunting play. Director Ashley McGlothren chose to highlight the familial and war-wrought themes that are often looked over in this story. The run also included ethereal visual and sound effects, absolutely brilliant acting by the cast, and a packed outdoor performance at From the Ground Up Community Garden.
BEST PSYCHOSEXUAL PLAY
Pensacola Little Theatre – Venus in Fur
Rounding out the diverse season was Venus in Fur, a delicate game of cat and mouse well executed by director Maureen McNeill and her cast of two: Christopher Holloway as Thomas Novachek, acclaimed New York City writer/director and Renee Jordan as Vanda Jordan, aspiring actress who doesn’t quite fit Novachek’s idea for the leading lady role he’s been hopelessly attempting to cast in his latest adaptation of a novel that just so happened to inspire the term “masochism.” Foreshadowing? Absolutely! The story unfolds in Novachek’s office. There is an undeniable power-play and it’s obviously he who wields the power. As we, the audience, watch the story unfold, we suddenly realize, with delight, that we’ve reached the end of the show and Jordan has whipped (quite literally) Novachek into submission. The mouse has been caught before our very eyes, yet we can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened. Brilliant work and by far one of my favorites to see at PLT.
SHOWS WE DIDN’T GET TO SEE BUT WISH WE HAD
Improbable Cause Mystery Theatre – Evil Dead the Musical
We didn’t get to see Evil Dead last year, but we’ve already got tickets to this year’s production taking place at the Pensacola Indie Fringe & Comedy Festival!
Pensacola State College – The Producers
We had a few great friends in this show, but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see the production. But we are looking forward to PSC’s spring lineup!
University of West Florida – Othello
Othello is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, so I’m super disappointed we didn’t make it to this one, but I’m very excited to see UWF tackle one of my favorite musicals, Urinetown, in April!