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The Best of Cleveland Theater in 2017

Our year-end accounting of the stars of the local stage

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So, we've put one more year of local theater in the can. Who knew we'd still be alive to write this list, let alone read it? No nuclear war yet. But, you know, I'm typing as fast as I can just in case.

Here are some notable winners from 2017 in categories that are random, entirely subjective, and occasionally irrelevant. Enjoy!

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE OF CHARACTERS YOU REALLY DON'T CARE ABOUT

Waiting for Godot, Beck Center

This was the finest ensemble acting performance of the year, featuring Michael Mauldin, William Hoffman, Allan Byrne, Brian Pedaci and Jake Spencer as the people lost in Samuel Beckett's void. It was so good, it beat most other shows in which something actually did happen.

(Close second: A Skull in Connemara directed by Sean Derry at None Too Fragile Theater.)

BEST HUMAN BEINGS OF THE MALE GENDER ACTING THEIR SOCKS OFF AT A SINGLE LOCATION: DOBAMA THEATRE

David Peacock, The Night Alive

Christopher M. Bohan, The Flick and How to Be a Respectable Junkie

Luke Wehner, Hand to God

Jabri Little, brownsville song (b-side for tray)

Ray Caspio, Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars

What the hell got into the water at Dobama? Whatever the cause, these performances by assorted males of the species were terrific.

BEST HUMAN BEINGS OF ANY GENDER ACTING THEIR SOCKS OFF AT DIFFERENT LOCATIONS

Laura Welsh Berg, as Hamlet in Hamlet, Great Lakes Theater

Ashley Aquilla and Sally Groth, as the Maries in Barbecue, Cleveland Public Theatre

Kelly Elliot, as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival

Laura Starnik and Lara Mielcarek as mother and daughter in Well, Ensemble Theatre

DeDe Klein, Salvage, None Too Fragile Theater

Anjanette Hall, A Doll's House, Mamai Theatre

Robert Branch and Paul Floriano, Last of the Boys, None Too Fragile Theater

Joe Milan, The Hairy Ape, Ensemble Theatre

Lisa Louise Langford, brownsville song (b-side for tray), Dobama Theatre

BEST PORTRAYAL OF TWO REAL-LIFE GENIUSES

Robert Hawkes, who played both poet Wallace Stevens (Things As They Are produced by Playwrights Local) and electrical inventor Nikola Tesla (The Chaste Genius and His DeathRay Gun at Convergence-Continuum Theatre).

BEST SHOW PERFORMED ON THE SAME TIRED SET THEY'VE BEEN USING FOR YEARS

As You Like It, Ohio Shakespeare Festival

Okay, so OSF'S outdoor set at Stan Hywet Hall is always the same. (Allwaaayys...) But thanks to the energetic and involved performances by a talented cast under the propulsive direction of Terry Burgler, this show fairly leapt into the audience's laps.

BEST BOLD DIRECTION OF A SHOCKING PIECE

Terrence Spivey, Neighbors, Convergence-Continuum Theater

Spivey made all the right moves in bringing this outrageous, racially provocative script by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins to life, right down to a character named Sambo and his prodigious penis.

BEST WITTY DIRECTION OF PLAYS THAT WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN NEARLY AS GOOD WITHOUT THAT DIRECTION

Laura Kepley, Shakespeare in Love, Cleveland Play House

Joseph Hanreddy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Great Lakes Theater

BEST PRODUCTIONS OF OLD, LITTLE-SEEN WORKS

Rhinoceros, Convergence-Continuum Theater

The Hairy Ape, Ensemble Theatre

Caucasian Chalk Circle, Shahrazad Theatre Company

Thank God some theaters are reaching back for these gems, then turning them into engrossing theatrical experiences.

BEST STAGE DANCING, INDOORS OR OUT

Newsies, Porthouse Theatre

Under the roof of this outdoor stage, energetic and disciplined young performers turned choreographer MaryAnn Black's steps into gold in this rousing production.

BEST STAGE LOVEBIRDS

Pierre-Jacques Brault and Brian Marshall were the feisty but loving couple in the warm and vivacious La Cage Aux Folles at Mercury Theatre Company.

BEST MUSICAL WITH THE WORST BOOK

Rock of Ages, Cain Park

The story was dull and predictable, and those were its strong points. But director Joanna May Hunkins, lead actor Douglas F. Bailey II and the entire ensemble made it all work...splendidly.

BEST MUSICAL WITH THE BEST BOOK (AND MUSIC)

Carousel, Mercury Theater Company

Due to the wonderfully modulated direction by Pierre-Jacques Brault plus a strong and committed cast, this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic glowed.

BEST TOURING SHOW THAT WAS AS GOOD AS SEX

Something Rotten!, Playhouse Square

A great premise (it's about the guys who supposedly invented the Broadway musical, in the 17th century), performed with all the zazz and flash that a touring Broadway show can provide. Plus, it was hilarious!

BEST VISUAL MAGIC

The amazing projection effects conjured by T. Paul Lowry on stages all over town.

BEST RISKS: BECAUSE IT'S VITAL FOR RISKS TO BE TAKEN IN THEATER (whether they actually succeed or not)

Massacre (Sing to Your Children) Convergence-Continuum Theater

Things As They Are*, This is NOT About My Dead Dog*, Playwrights Local

Don't Wander Off*, Who We Used to Be*, Theater Ninjas

Red Ash Mosaic* and The Art of Longing*, Cleveland Public Theatre

(* World premiere, locally-written)

We'll do this again in December of 2018, assuming the creeks don't rise. and the ballistic missiles stay holstered, so we're not all turned into a red ash mosaic ourselves. Happy (gulp!) New Year!

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