Live theater was conspicuously absent from New Orleans' most established downtown theaters for most of 2012, but it blossomed in many other spaces, and it was a good year for grand experiments, new beginnings and new plays.
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre remained dark while the theater moved to resolve financial issues and reopen. Dickie Brennan and Company soon will open the restaurant Tableau on the corner spot on St. Peter Street, and Le Petit will open its season later in spring. Southern Rep gave up the lease on its third floor space at The Shops at Canal Place in January. It recently began presenting shows at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) with a holiday run of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But Southern Rep's work on the other side of Elysian Fields was quite successful. Artistic director Aimee Hayes starred as a wonderfully deluded and histrionic Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, staged at Michalopoulos Studio, just blocks from where Tennessee Williams set the play.
One of the year's great surprises was the spectacle of The Lily's Revenge. Hayes and Southern Rep were the prime organizers behind the five-act, five-and-a-half-hour opus involving multiple directors, more than 40 actors and several different stages within the Den of Muses. Evan Spigelman was inspired as the Lily, and the entire cast made the show as pleasing as it was ambitious.
The theater scene in Marigny and Bywater continued to grow. The NOLA Project and Cripple Creek Theatre Company presented Balm in Gilead, a kaleidoscope of 24 colorful characters, most living on the margins and down-but-not-quite-out, in Lanford Wilson's challenging work. The AllWays Lounge & Theatre was a busy house, and it presented outrageous works like Shanghai and a bohemian take on Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. The New Orleans Fringe Festival had a big year, with 70 shows including many fine works by local writers, puppeteers and dancers, as well as some new New Orleanians who moved to the city to be part of the theater community. The Marigny Opera House has been a Fringe venue for several years and has been designated by the city as a church, allowing it to pursue necessary city permits to present theater and music events.
Mid-City Theatre blossomed in 2012, and Ricky Graham and Varla Jean Merman were familiar faces on that stage. Graham directed Varla as a singing nun in Charles Busch's comedy The Divine Sister, a sort of composite of popular nun films. Also cross-dressed but far more serious and nuanced was Graham's lead in Shirley Valentine at the CAC.
In Kenner, Rivertown Rep became Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts and Gary Rucker and Kelly Fouchi of Theatre 13 have a five-year deal to run the space. They started the year at Southern Rep, offering an energetic version of the rock musical adaptation of Spring Awakening, a 19th century German drama about teen sexuality. At Rivertown, they opened with Legally Blonde: The Musical and followed up with Boeing Boeing. At Jefferson Performing Arts Society, John "Spud" McConnell added some body to Hairspray.
Anthony Bean Community Theater revived Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf with a member of the cast of the Broadway revival, Ieasha Prime-Martin. Blues for an Alabama Sky revisited the Harlem Renaissance with cast of characters caught up in the social changes of their era, and the theater closed its year with August Wilson's Seven Guitars.
Original works debuting in the city included a range of approaches. Leigh Fondakowksi (The Laramie Project) presented a workshop production of Spill, her documentary-like drama about the BP oil disaster. Jim Fitzmorris took off the gloves in his one-man show about education reform, Urban Education Smackdown. Lisa D'Amour and ArtSpot Productions presented a partially participatory/experiential work based on August Strindberg's Miss Julie in Kiss Kiss Julie at the Joan Mitchell Center.
The creators of Darwin the Dinosaur, Lightwire Theater (formerly CORBiAN Visual Arts and Dance), barely missed the finals on NBC's America's Got Talent. The group returned to the CAC and presented its new show, The Ugly Duckling.
With its impressive costuming and choreography, The Lion King was one of the bigger touring Broadway shows to hit the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Other popular shows included Stomp and Les Miserables.
Major touring comedians including Lewis Black and Wanda Sykes performed at the Mahalia as well, and The New Movement Theater also established itself as a comedy destination, hosting touring comics and its own Hell Yes Fest.
As the year closed, the Civic Theatre announced its reopening in January 2013, and work continues on the Saenger Theatre, which is expected to reopen in the coming year as well. In theaters of all sorts, 2013 promises to be a busy year on local stages.