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Jules Becker's 'Best of Theater' 2012

Diversity found a substantial place on Hub stages in 2012. Several of the best efforts- on small and large area stages- gave compelling voice to a variety of LGBT and African – American points of view. Demanding theatergoers could find such compelling options as a Centastage production of a world premiere from out playwright Joe Byers and a Huntington Theatre Company revival of a modern classic from the late great black dramatist August Wilson.  Herewith, in alphabetical order, are this critic’s choices of the best of 2012, small and large stage:

Small Stage

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Avenue Q-Lyric Stage Company of Boston- Sublime area premiere of this Tony Award –winning musical celebration of neighbors-gay, straight, black and white-as a kind of extended family; with inspired puppetry, all sharply helmed by artistic director Spiro Veloudos.

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Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson-SpeakEasy Company 9 (Boston Center for the Arts). Rocking premiere of provocative Broadway musical look at Jackson as a bank-fighting populist who targeted native- American tribes, with Gus Curry a standout as Jackson.

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The Fakus: A Noir – Centastage(BCA). Life as a competition of cons in Joe Byers’ vivid new homage to 1950’s films and ambience; fiery Bobbie Steinbach and crisp Joe Antoun direction. Paul Melendy and Craig Mathers have strong chemistry as con artists drawn to each other as much as to their work.

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Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde- Bad Habit Productions (BCA). Brilliant work by John Geoffrion as Wilde in Moise Kaufman’s moving portrait of tormented Wilde and telling look at homophobia.

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Love Person-Company One. Trilingual play- American Sign Language, English and Sanskrit – by Aditi Brennan Kapti with uncommon insights about love and language-influenced perceptions. Breakthrough performance by Sabrina Dennison as an emotionally rich deaf lesbian named Free.

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Master Harold and the Boys- Gloucester Stage Company. Johnny Lee Davenport viscerally majestic as Cape Town, South Africa tea house black waiter Sam in Athol Fugard’s masterful anti-apartheid drama.

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Parade- F.UD.G.E. Theatre Company (Arsenal Center).Smartly intimate revival of the honored Broadway Jason Robert Brown-Alfred Uhry musical (Tonys respectively as composer and author) about the early 1900’s blood libeling and murder case framing of Jewish defendant Leo Frank.

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The Pillowman-Flat Earth Theatre(Factory Theatre). Audience members on the threshold of the interrogation room in director Sarah Gazdowicz’s powerfully intense revival of the Kafkaesque Martin McDonagh play. Superb puppet design by Matthew Woellert for visualized tales.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll-The Longwood Players (Cambridge YMCA Theatre). A strong production of the Cambridge and Prague-set Stoppard drama that made the play’s insights about music, dissent and freedom more compelling than they seemed in an earlier Huntington Theatre Company effort.

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Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play -Circuit Theatre Company(seen at YMCA Theatre;also staged at Davis Square Theatre and Oberon, A.R.T.) Transcendent production by an ambitious and talented young company of Ruhl’s time (1575,1934,1969) and place (England, Germany,U.S.A.) –spanning triptych on religion, hatred, fear, courage and love. Justin Phillips a standout as a gay German soldier and a traumatized American veteran.

Runners–up –The Diary of Anne Frank (the Wendy Kesselman adaptation)- Roxbury Repertory Theatre; The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity-Company One(BCA); Of Mice and Men, Moonbox Productions (BCA); Our Class ,Tufts University Drama Department; Time of My Life- Zeitgeist Stage Company(BCA).

Large Stage

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The Andersen Project- Arts/ Emerson(Paramount Center) Multi-media rich and envelope-pushing odyssey by gifted author-director Robert Lepage inspired by the title writer’s tales. Superb solo work by Yves Jacques.

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Billy Elliot The Musical-Broadway Across America-Boston (Opera House). Strong tour of the Tony Award Elton John-Lee Hall show about dance, youthful dreams, father-son understanding and straight-gay friendship.

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Daddy Long Legs-Merrimack Repertory Theatre(by arrangement with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and others).Affecting musical adaptation by Paul Gordon and John Caird of the Jean Webster novel (Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in the movie).

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FELA!-tour presented in association with Arts/Emerson at Cutler Majestic Theatre. Out director-choreographer Bill T. Jones’ heartfelt and vibrant tribute- with co-author Jim Lewis- to the late Nigerian Afro-beat music maker and activist Fela Anikulapo –Kuti, played with commanding authority by Sahr Ngaujah.

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Guys and Dolls -North Shore Music Theatre.Stylish revival of the Frank Loesser musical.

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The Luck of the Irish-Huntington at Calderwood(BCA). Forceful world premiere of Kirsten Greenidge’s thoughtful Hub –based drama about African-American homeowners, family tranquility and personal integrity.

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom-Huntington. Huntington’s tenacious completion of August Wilson’s Century Cycle plays-here Wilson’s first Broadway play. Yvette Freeman is formidable as songstress Rainey , traveling with a young female love. Jason Bowen is electrifying as iconoclastic musician Levee.

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Our Town-Huntington. David Cromer, dazzlingly ingenious as director and disarmingly low-key as Stage Manager(in December) in this landmark Off-Broadway revival of the Thornton Wilder gem. Premier Boston actor Joel Colodner (the rabbi in Lyric Stage’s recent “The Chosen”) continues as Stage Manager through January 27.

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Ragtime The Musical-The Strand Theatre. Very moving revival of the immigrant and minority championing musical by out author Terrence McNally, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens. Fiddlehead artistic director Meg Fofonoff gave a new radiance to the historic Boston theater.

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War Horse-Boston Across American-Boston (Opera House). National tour of the Lincoln Center World War I-set powerhouse that was virtually as magnificent as its Tony Award predecessor.The puppetry that brought title horse Joey and his buddy Topthorn to life was once again breathtakingly taut.

Runners-up - Betrayal-Huntington;Festen-Gamm Theatre; Green Day’s American Idiot-Broadway Across America(Opera House) ; Hamlet- Arts/Emerson(Paramount Center); Lily’s Revenge-Oberon/A.R.T.;Sequence 8-Les 7 doigts de la main (Cutler Majestic); South Pacific-Ogunquit Playhouse. (Our Town, Huntington Theatre at Calderwood Pavilion, BCA, through January 27. 617-266-0800 or huntingtontheatre.org.)