The year in Dawn

For my 2014 retrospective, I’ve chosen two shows from the past year that are returning in 2015 and that really shouldn’t be missed by NY-based-and-visiting parterriani.

An Octoroon. This was the best show I saw in 2014 and I’m really glad it’s returning for another run. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has taken a seemingly unrevivable melodrama from 1861 by Dion Boucicault called The Octoroon and made it the basis of a stunning play. This work digs through the artifice, coincidences, vicious stereotypes, plot contrivances and mustache-twirling to find genuine pain, heartbreak, and unhealed racial wounds.

The author and director, Sarah Benson, have some special surprises in store for those audience members who think the only way to appreciate a melodrama is to snark at it.

I wish a creative team would apply a similar approach for Il Trovatore and show the racial suffering and abuse that make Azucena’s hysteria more than just an easy target for know-it-all directors. While we’re at it, I wish a golem in the form of Joseph Kerman would smite any critic that insists that the plot of Il Trovatore is claptrap.

Fun Home. Composer Jeanine Tesori’s career has generated lots of fodder for the pedants who like to draw bright lines between musicals and operas. This piece is, I believe, her best work, whichever genre you want to slot it into. The work, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel packs an operatic emotional wallop, and even has a mad scene!

Tesori and her gifted librettist/lyricist Lisa Kron deal with the discovery of one’s sexuality with creativity and insight. The piece is smart without being clever and devastating without being cloying, that is to say it is the antithesis of whatever Jeremy Sams is likely to inflict on The Merry Widow. This will cleanse you of all that slimy residue.

As far as the Met was concerned my highlight of the current season was arguing with anti-Klinghoffer protesters outside Lincoln Center.