My life as a newlywed didn't allow me to see as many theater productions and concerts as I usually do during the course of a year. (I'll get back on track for 2012).
So I asked Journal Star reviewers Pamela Thompson, R.L. Blanton, John Cutler and Elizabeth Govaerts to help me compile this year's lists of top shows and individual performances for 2011.
Our lists spotlight productions that are locally produced, so they don't include touring Broadway shows at the Lied Center for Performing Arts or nationally known artists performing concerts for the Lincoln Association for Traditional Arts. I'll touch on those elsewhere.
Here is a rundown of our favorites, listed alphabetically:
* "The 39 Steps," Nebraska Repertory Theatre. This Monty Python-does-murder send-up of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 noir thriller featured 30-plus careening, frenetic scenes that played like sketch comedy on crack. (Govaerts)
* "42nd Street," Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre. Wesleyan brought in a choreographer to teach the students for this dance-heavy musical, and it showed. (Thompson)
* "Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches," Flatwater Shakespeare Company. Bob Hall outdid himself (again), directing Tony Kushner's complicated drama about the 1980s AIDS crisis. (Korbelik)
* "Becky's New Car," Nebraska Repertory Theatre. The comedy featured a superb ensemble cast led by Becky Key Boesen, who we're pretty sure didn't get the role because of her name. She has become one of the best actresses in town. (Korbelik)
* "Big River," TADA Productions. This excellent show featured cast members -- and the Lincoln Choral Artists -- singing their heart outs. (Cutler)
* "Chiropractical," Haymarket Theatre. Amid the cosmos of adaptations and restaging, Nick Jester's homegrown morsel of wit was both humorous and fun. (Blanton)
* "Cirque de la Symphonie," Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra. Feelings were running high with LSO's move to its new venue. What better way to open than with Cirque dancers/gymnasts teaming with LSO musicians in interpreting classical works? (Cutler)
* "Lady Windermere's Fan," University Theatre. The top-drawer performances from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln production staged a refreshing array of Oscar Wilde's timeless humor and caustic point of view toward the malaise of morals. (Blanton)
* "Marginalia at 40," OmniArts Nebraska. Daniel Kubert's dance piece was original and intricately wrought and used spoken word, including Shakespeare's sonnets and prose written by Kubert himself. (Govaerts)
* "Medea," NWU Theatre. From first light to faded black, "Medea" stood sturdy on its symmetry, sensuous subtlety and supple simplicity. (Blanton)
* "Rent," Playhouse. This was a cast of earnest young performers with gorgeous, juicy voices who overcame a problematic sound system to shine, shine, shine. (Govaerts)
* "Romeo and Juliet," UNL Opera. The singers were magnificent and the orchestra incredibly on top of its game. (Cutler)
* "Spamalot," Nebraska Youth Theatre. "Spamalot" with kids, directed by Fred Stuart, was somehow 10 times funnier. (Govaerts)
* "Twelfth Night," University Theatre. UNL theater Professor Ian Borden staged it as a Western, with his student performers buying in to the concept and having as much fun doing it as audience members did watching it. (Korbelik)
Top individual performances
* Becky Key Boesen, "Becky's New Car" and "The Mercy Seat." Boesen is so skilled that her performances look effortless and real. These were two completely different characters but each so thoroughly fleshed out. (Govaerts)
* Brad Boesen and Amy Jirsa, "Othello." Boesen's acting was on a truly professional level. It's maybe the best performance I have ever seen from a Lincoln actor. As for Jirsa, she played Desdemona with genuineness and an innocent sweetness. (Govaerts)
* Calandra Daby, "Lady Windermere's Fan." She was charming and commanding. Either of these two words alone made her a nice addition. Together, she bound the timeless humor and wit of Wilde. (Blanton)
* Melissa Epp, "String of Pearls." The Angels production featured a solid ensemble cast, but Epp was the scene stealer. We need to see more of her on the stage. (Korbelik)
* Kaitlin Klemencic, "Medea." She rapaciously ravaged the glory of this play. (Blanton)
* Nick Jester, "Chiropractical." His narrative and lyrical writing, along with his performance, delineated for us the purity of innovative homegrown theater. (Blanton)
* Maya Naff, "Sweeney Todd." Her Mrs. Lovett was a revelation: a superb and humorous characterization, with an unfailing accent and a beautiful solo voice. (Thompson)
* Dick Nielsen, "Angels in America." Nielsen's Roy was deliciously unappealing and hateful but somehow wickedly attractive. The dichotomy was genius (Govaerts; as a disclaimer, she appeared in this production).
* Patrick O'Hare, "Enron." The charismatic O'Hare commanded the stage as Jeffrey Skilling, giving us a sense that he really believed he wasn't to blame for Enron's collapse. (Korbelik)
* Eric Ojeda, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." A longtime supporting player, Ojeda took advantage of his starring role, giving the buffoon Bottom a puppy-dog kind of charm. (Korbelik)
* Michael Tully, "Happy Days: The Musical." Tully has one up on the original Fonz, played by Henry Winker: Tully can sing and sing well. (Korbelik)