By: Jessica West, Associate Production Manager
I recently remarked to a friend that Superior Donuts just might make it into my “Arden Top 10” list. He replied, “Well if YOU say Donuts is in the top 10 that means something to me.” That one small comment got me thinking. How many Arden productions have I seen over my 10½ years with the company? Could I distill those 73 productions into a tidy list of ten shows?
Jessi’s Arden Top 10 List – in no particular order
1. Opus (2005-2006 Season)
Words. Words. Words. This play is all about the words for me. The dialogue and language are lovely and markedly relatable. You really care about the quartet members and their relationships as you follow their story.
2. History Boys (2009-2010 Season)
It’s an amazing story with engrossing characters and some truly fantastic dialogue. In addition to those top notch elements, I loved the elegance of the scene transitions in this piece. Jorge Cousineu’s musical selections coupled with the dance-like choreography and the wheeled desks gave the scene changes that feeling of in between class hustle and bustle that I remember so vividly from my own experiences in private school.
3. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (2009-2010 Season)
The kids in preview performances were so excited that they were quite literally quivering in their seats as the Mouse wrecked havoc on the Boy’s kitchen. In a world where everything was 1.42 times bigger than real life, big props and furniture translate into big fun for actors and audiences alike.
4. Superior Donuts (2010-2011 Season)
It isn’t the amazing set, the super talented cast or the fantastic script that puts Donuts on my list. It is the collective and commanding reaction of the audiences to the piece. There are moments during the play when the entire audience laughs, sighs and gasps together. Now that shows some personal investment in the characters you’re watching.
5. Sweeney Todd (2004-2005 Season)
Epic is the word that comes to mind when I think of our production of Sweeney Todd. The entire room was integrated. Lines between audience member and participant were blurred. Oh and there is also the sweeping score and the astounding amount of blood to consider. Bloody great show!
6. Go, Dog. Go! (2007 – 2008 Season)
This show exudes joy and enthusiasm from start to finish. The feeling you get from an audience of energized, engaged kids makes producing children’s theatre profoundly rewarding. This candy colored tour de force had them tittering from the time MC Dog rolled onstage in skates until the Big Dog party at the end. Silliness was celebrated and my heart was won many times over by MC Dog, Blue Dog, Yellow Dog, Green Dog, Spotted Dog, Backstage Dog and Red Dog (or as I like to call him Tall Dog).
7. Stinky Cheeseman (2005-2006 Season)
If Go, Dog. Go! was pure joy realized on stage than Stinky Cheeseman was pure chaos. Well executed and highly choreographed chaos, mind you, but chaos nonetheless. Jack never stopped running around and neither did the crew!
8. Sideway Stories From the Wayside School (2003-2004 Season)
Gym teachers that scale buildings, evil teachers who turn students into apples and dancing pigtails…what’s not to love? I still have one of the pictures from Mrs. Gorp’s classroom hanging in my office.
9. A Year with Frog and Toad (2004-2005 Season & 2008-2009 Season)
There are 3 things you can’t dispute. Both Frog and Toad shows were beyond cute, the design teams were really quite astute and Toad looks funny in a bathing suit. The second iteration of this show holds special meaning for me. I took friend Stephen and his kids (Evan, Age 6 ½ and Aliyah, Age 3 ½) to the show. I was skeptical that Aliyah would be able to make it until the end but she sat in her dad’s lap transfixed by the actors. They now have what their father calls “a strong love for anything theatre”. That is exactly the kind of effect we hope to have on our young audience members and it’s humbling to know that we can and do just that.
10. Caroline, or Change (2006-2007 Season)
The set, lights, costumes, music, voices, acting…everything was beautifully executed and made me stand in awe of the group who collaborated to create the production. There is a moment when the radio girls descend the stairs during “Salty Teardrops “; their dresses seeming to emanate sparks of light from within. The backlight is practically electrifying the air while illuminating the rain drops falling to the stage floor. As their voices swelled, that moment made my breath catch in my chest and I realized that…this is why I do theatre.
Honorable Mentions: Baby Case (2001-2002 Season), Assassins (2007-2008 Season), Peter Pan (2009-2010 Season), All My Sons (2002-2003 Season), The Dinosaur Musical (2005-2006 Season), and The BFG(2006-2007 Season)
***I know the challenge was to limit the list to only 10 shows but since these were all strong contenders, I’ve included some honorable mentions.
Stay tuned for “Arden Top 10” lists from other staff members that have been working at the Arden more than 10 years.