[Free Lance-Star Year in Review] 2018: a big and bright journey to the past

The biggest star in 2018’s local theater offerings was without a doubt “Hamilton.” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical powerhouse finally came to Washington, D.C., becoming summer’s hottest theater ticket in a year packed with scorching dramas, feel-good musicals and reinvigorated Broadway classics.

In 2018, I saw nearly 30 area productions (not to mention “Frozen” on Broadway and “West Side Story” sung entirely in Spanish while on vacation). That number is only a small dent in the incredible theater that was presented on local stages.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“HAMILTON”: It was a very good year for “Hamilton.” Not only did Miranda’s hip-hop juggernaut play to huge crowds at the Kennedy Center, but the musical’s creators—also known as “The Cabinet” (composer Miranda, director Thomas Kail, music director Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler)—were saluted at last month’s Kennedy Center Honors. The musical about our nation’s founding fathers felt right at home and was dazzling in every way, from its razor-sharp lyrics to its whirlwind choreography. If you missed out, cheer up: The musical will join Altria Theater’s 2019-20 season.

“SAINT JOAN”: This story about a simple farm girl who became a national heroine of France was brought to Folger Theatre by New York’s acclaimed Bedlam troupe without any bells and whistles. This stripped-down approach of George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play put all the focus on this tiny and talented ensemble, which included a fearless and moving performance by Dria Brown as “The Maid of Orleans.”

“BILLY ELLIOT”: Lee Hall’s charming movie about a boy who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes got the Signature Theatre treatment. The Arlington company has a unique way of reimagining big musicals for the smaller stage, and audiences felt as though they were part of this tight-knit community, who had been rocked by a coal miners’ strike in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. It’s a touching show, featuring breathtaking choreography from show director Matthew Gardiner and terrific triple-threat performances from the two young Billys (Owen Tabaka and Liam Redford).

“BORN YESTERDAY”: Aaron Posner directed some of D.C.’s finest actors in this spirited comedy about a tough-talking tycoon trying to take over Washington. Garson Kanin’s 1940s-set political satire sparkled on the Ford’s Theatre’s stage in a flawless production with stellar performances from stars Edward Gero and Cody Nickell and especially Kimberly Gilbert as the dimwitted blonde who eventually smartens up and gets the last laugh.

“ANASTASIA” AND “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”: Both of these fairy-tale musicals had very special places in my heart and made a 1990s me very happy. “Anastasia,” inspired by the 1997 animated film, was sumptuously staged at the Kennedy Center. With dreamy songs such as “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past,” it’s hard not to fall in love with this sweet-sad tale about a poor amnesiac who discovers she’s the “lost” Romanov princess.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts absolutely enchanted audiences with its production of Disney’s beloved classic “Beauty and the Beast,” featuring a perfectly cast Nicki Elledge and Wyn Delano as its stars. And seeing Helen Hayes Award winner Sherri Edelen, who served as director for a few shows at Riverside, onstage as Mrs. Potts was a real treat.

Other standouts

An exuberant and fun “The Wiz” at Ford’s Theatre, a romantic and relevant “Camelot” at Shakespeare Theatre and “Anything Goes,” starring a ridiculously charming Corbin Bleu, at Arena Stage.