My Top 5 Touring and Original Productions in LA/Orange County of 2018

Conrad Ricamora, left, and Francis Jue star in "Soft Power," a David Henry Hwang play with Jeanine Tesori music having its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Conrad Ricamora, left, and Francis Jue star in "Soft Power," a David Henry Hwang play with Jeanine Tesori music having its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Michael L. Quintos

  • Associate LA/Orange County Critic

1. “HAMILTON”

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Touring Production ("Philip Tour")

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

All that hype and endless accolades and awards? Completely justified. A work of genius from start to finish “HAMILTON” will certainly go down in history not only for its incredible music and storytelling but also for its purposeful vision of depicting America's past with the faces of America's present. As I stated in my review earlier this year, this production not only successfully reignited my love for this show (after years of just spinning the cast album on repeat), but it has also promptly solidified it as, in my humble opinion, one of the best musicals of all time. HAMILTON is one of the most deeply moving, creative and shrewdly intelligent stage musicals I have ever experienced.

Click here to read review

2. “DEAR EVAN HANSEN”

Touring Production

CTGLA Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa --- January 1 - 13, 2019

Though this Tony award-winning musical doesn't arrive in my neck of the orchards until the first two weeks of 2019, I cannot let my year-end, best-of list go without mentioning one of the most impactful, emotionally affecting shows I have ever seen in my life. I'm glad that I was able to catch it at nearby Los Angeles this past fall, allowing me to finally experience the show that has been on my cast album rotation for two years now. It’s a contemporary, very of-the-moment theatrical work, but its themes of teen angst and debilitating loneliness are timelessly resonant, particularly for those of us who suffer from social anxiety, low self-esteem, or perhaps even a combination of both. My tears flowed early and often, even as I watched a young man do something pretty bad (well, morally ambiguous, at best).

3. “WAITRESS”

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Touring Production

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

Can you recall the last time you were truly enamored by a stage musical? Well, that is exactly what transpires while watching the all-together endearing hit stage musical adaptation of “WAITRESS,” which finally came to the O.C. this Fall. Like the warmest of embraces, the yummiest of comfort food, and the most cherished camaraderie of dear friends or loved ones, “WAITRESS” is, overall, quite an adorable, extremely likable show. There’s a noticeable improvement on its source material, I dare say, not only with the addition of Sara Bareilles' perfectly fitting songs, but also with the mesmerizing staging of Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus.

4. “CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND”

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World Premiere Regional Theater Production

South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa

The tragic events surrounding the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime in mid-70's Cambodia serves as the overarching backdrop that links the past and the (near) present in Lauren Yee's stunning new play “CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND”—which received its World Premiere production at Orange County's Tony Award-winning regional theatre South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa last Spring. This powerful and searing new drama—sprinkled with welcome bits of comedy and, yes, head-shaking rock concert music interludes---had its initial staged reading at SCR’s own Pacific Playwright's Festival and has since been brilliantly transformed into an absorbing, full-fledged production under the admirable direction of Chay Yew. Look for this show to soon rock out a city near you.

Click here to read review

5. “SOFT POWER”

World Premiere Regional Production

CTGLA Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles

Heartbreaking, snarky and humorously triumphant, “SOFT POWER” surprised me quite a bit this year. A sharp, biting satire that straddles a heightened fantasy and a present-day cautionary tale, the musical-within-a-play attempts a "what if" scenario by combining a real-life incident involving Tony award-winning playwright (and book author) David Henry Hwang re-imagining the events of the 2016 Election—in which Hillary Clinton wins—through a revisionist Chinese viewpoint many decades into the future via musical numbers by Tony award winning composer Jeanine Tesori. How To Get Away With Murder's Conrad Ricamora turns in a superb performance, surrounded by a wonderful cast. The show had a brief run in San Francisco, so only time will tell whether the show will make its way to Broadway.

 

Photo credits (from top collage): HAMILTON by Joan Marcus/Segerstrom Center for the Arts; WAITRESS by Tim Trumble/Segerstrom Center for the Arts; CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND by Jordan Kubat/South Coast Repertory.