All across North Texas, 2012 was a stellar year for theater.
In Fort Worth, Stage West had its best year ever, financially speaking. Artistically, it was one of the group's best years in memory, too. Circle Theatre and Casa Mañana also had solid years, Jubilee and Pantagleize took risks, and new, small groups like L.I.P. Service proved their worth.
Memorable tours, such as Young Frankenstein and Les Miserables, swung through Bass Hall; and our Tony-winning star Betty Buckley performed her incredible concert Ah, Men: The Boys of Broadway! in her hometown (the CD was also released, and it's a must-have).
The story of the year has to be Amphibian Stage Productions, though, which ended its 13th season by moving into a lovely new home -- and one that they own! -- on the near south side of Fort Worth. Here are the top 10 shows in Tarrant County. We could have easily put another 10 on the list of shows that won't be forgotten any time soon.
1. 'The True Story of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World'
Amphibian Stage Productions (October)
Amphibian showed off its new space on South Main Street by keeping the audience (and this show) completely in the dark. It was an odd choice, but this touching drama based on a 19th-century Mexican woman whose facial deformities led her to become a sideshow freak, was brilliantly presented by director Jonathan Fielding, sound designer David Lanza and a fine, unseen cast.
2. '42nd Street'
Casa Mañana (November)
This musical about doing a musical was awash in talent and energy in every aspect of its performances. All the decisions made by director Tim Bennett and choreographer Dontee Kiehn were exactly right. Tammy Spenser's costumes were dazzling, and the tap dancing, especially, was stunningly good. It was a glorious celebration of musical theater in every detail.
3. 'The Whipping Man'
Circle Theatre (March)
Matthew Lopez's searing play about a two slaves and a white man in the shell of their former home immediately after emancipation still haunts. It raised some interesting parallels between the slaves' journey and the Jews' delivery from Egypt, thanks to Harry Parker's direction and stellar turns from Bill Ray, David Jeremiah and Montgomery Sutton.
4. 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'
Trinity Shakespeare Festival (June)
Trinity Shakes kept up its solid record with Merchant, a tough play to pull off, thoughtfully directed by Stephen Fried; and a madcap Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by T.J. Walsh. As usual, the cast (all actors performed in both shows, which played in rotating rep) was top-notch, and the design is unparalleled on Fort Worth stages.
5. 'New Jerusalem'
Stage West (January)
Another thought-provoking play, this one deep in philosophy, as it presents Baruch de Spinoza being questioned for his radical ideas in 1656 Amsterdam. Under the direction of Jerry Russell, it drew you in and didn't let go for two hours.
6. 'The Diviners'
L.I.P. Service and Big Nose Productions at Arts Fifth Avenue (June)
This modest production may not have had much of a budget, but it had a heart as big as a mountain. Jason Levya delivered a beautifully natural and nuanced performance in the lead role of C.C. Showers. But the real star of this show was Bill Sizemore's incredibly sensitive and insightful direction.
7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Casa Mañana Children's Theatre (October)
Casa's director of theater for youth, Joe Sturgeon, did a terrific job of adapting Mark Twain's classic for the stage, and then put together a superb cast to bring his well-chosen scenes to life. This show more than did justice to its timeless source material.
8. 'Around the World in 80 Days'
Stage West (August)
This whimsical play by Mark Brown wonderfully captured the essence of Jules Verne's novel about the hectic travels of Phileas Fogg. Stage West's production, directed by Jerry Russell, was delightfully clever, breezy and fun. Cliff Stephens, playing a number of roles, stood out in a first-rate cast.
Jubilee Theatre (September)
Charlayne Woodard's poetic play about a slave who is sold and taken away from her young son brings together a community to tell stories about family, freedom and the importance of upholding tradition. Directed by Tre Garrett.
10. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
Stolen Shakespeare Guild (October)
All of this comedy's magic and charm was fully realized in this production by a company that knows the Bard so well. Troupe founders Jason and Lauren Morgan vividly created a world where fairies ruled and mortals stumbled, and told the story with verve and economy. There wasn't an ounce of fat on it.