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Originally published December 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 28, 2008 at 9:57 AM

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The best, worst in 2008 of Seattle theater scene

Misha Berson's Footlight Awards: The best and worse of Seattle's theater scene in 2008.

Seattle Times theater critic

Looking back at 2008, I'm struck first by the stunning abundance of productions, companies and venues in Seattle theater — many more, it seems to me, than in 2007.

Yes, some venues closed shop (Capitol Hill Arts Center, Edge of the World Theater). But others sprang up (NextStage, Edmonds' Phoenix Theatre) or relocated (Freehold, New City Theatre).

Impressive new portable troupes emerged (New Century Theatre, Implied Violence), and came into their own (Our American Theatre).

The level of artistic ambition rose too, with semipro groups tackling challenging existing works and developing new scripts (often by gifted local writers) more than the larger theaters.

Fans of big-deal Broadway musicals, on tour and not, had their pick, too.

Can the Puget Sound area sustain all this activity? Does the quality justify the quantity?

That first question will get a trial-by-fire answer in 2009, as our flagship outfits (ACT, Intiman, Seattle Rep, Seattle Children's Theatre), and valued midsize troupes (Book-It Rep, Taproot, et al.) try to stay afloat in the most perilous economy in decades.

And as for quality? That's not primarily an offshoot of finances.

Big-budget Seattle Rep had another spotty year artistically. And replacing departed artistic head David Esbjornson with the right leader will be one of the most critical hires in its history. Intiman gained creative juice from new artistic hand Sheila Daniels, as hot honcho Bartlett Sher took more gigs in faraway places.

But ACT was the most consistently daring and creative of the major theaters in 2008, with Seattle Children's Theatre excelling often, too.

The Seattle scene's greatest blessing remained its deep pool of excellent actors. They deserve a big ovation for their skill and dedication, as do the local education institutions training them.

And now, for the best and most-dubious achievements in Seattle theater in 2008:

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Top Main-stage Plays

"A Streetcar Named Desire" (Intiman Theatre); "Boom" (Seattle Repertory Theatre); "Becky's New Car" (ACT Theatre); "The Highest Tide" (Book-It Repertory Theatre); "The Adding Machine" (New Century Theatre); "Eurydice" (ACT).

Best Premiere Play

"Becky's New Car," by Steven Dietz (ACT)

Swell Solo Shows

Mike Daisey's "Monopoly" (Capitol Hill Arts Center); David Natale's "Westerbork Serenade" (Eclectic Theatre); Charlayne Woodard's "The Night Watcher" (Seattle Rep).

Best "Off Broadway"

"BFE" (SiS); "Three Hotels" (Our American Theatre); "Leni" (Strawberry Theatre Workshop); "my new friends (are so much better than you)" (New City); "Arabian Nights" (Balagan Theatre).

Sexiest Shakespeare

Hana Lass and Michael Place steamed it up good in Wooden O's fine, outdoor "Romeo and Juliet."

Musicals with the Mostest (Local)

"The Wizard of Oz" (Seattle Children's Theatre);"Beauty and the Beast" (Village Theatre); "Zanna Don't" (Contemporary Classics), "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (5th Avenue)

Top Tours

"Spring Awakening" (Paramount Theatre) and "The Drowsy Chaperone" (5th Avenue).

Best for Kids

"The Hundred Dresses" (SCT).

Top New Troupes

New Century Theatre and Young Americans' Theatre Company.

Freshest Holiday Treat

Taproot Theatre's folksy "The Christmas Foundling."

Zestiest Zombies

"Night of the Living Dead," a ghoul-fest based on the classic horror film. Encore! (SCT)

Best Play Inspired by Britney Spears

Elizabeth Heffron's "Foxy Populi" (Annex).

Coolest Theater Party

On the Boards' season-opening Tailgate Party.

Esteemed Visitors

Australia's Back to Back Theatre (On the Boards); Tashkent's Ilkhom Theatre (ACT); France's Aurélia Thierrée (Seattle International Childrens' Festival).

Big-Top Oohs & Aahs Medal

Cirque du Soleil's dazzling circus fantasia, "Corteo."

Bravo Acting (Plays)

Megan Cole ("Vesta" at CHAC); Angela Pierce ("A Streetcar Named Desire"); Kimberly King and Charles Leggett ("Becky's New Car"); Todd Licea ("Three Hotels"); Walayn Sharples (ReAct's "Well"); Kellan Larson and Sylvie Davidson ("Highest Tide"); Lucy DeVito (Intiman's "Diary of Anne Frank"); Nick Garrison ("Boom"); Zoe Winters ("Imaginary Invalid" at Seattle Rep); Armando Duran ("By the Waters of Babylon" at Seattle Rep); Evan Whitfield ("Three Days of Rain" at Seattle Public Theater); Sharia Pierce ("Hundred Dresses").

Standout Musical Turns

Felicia B. Fields ("The Color Purple," Paramount); Brian d'Arcy James and Sutton Foster ("Shrek"); Tanesha Ross and Cynthia Jones ("Saint Heaven," Village Theatre); Nick Garrison ("Cabaret," 5th Avenue).

Best Busy-Acting Babes

Suzy Hunt ("Cabaret," Seattle Rep's "You Can't Take It With You"); Amy Thone ("Leni," "Adding Machine"); Annie Lareau (Book-It's "My Antonia," ArtsWest's "The Vertical Hour"); Chelsey Rives ("Streetcar Named Desire," "Boom").

Top She-Devil

Christa Scott-Reed (Intiman's "The Little Dog Laughed").

Mamma Mia!

Gretchen Douma's grandma in Taproot's charmer "Over the River and Through the Woods."

Biggest Little Knee Slapper

Christopher Sieber's vertically challenged Prince Farquaad performed on bended knee in "Shrek."

Go With the Flow Prize

Actor John Aylward, water-bound in "The Breach," Seattle Rep's soggy Hurricane Katrina play.

Superlative Designs

Carey Wong (multiple SCT shows); Etta Lilienthal ("God's Ear"); Bliss Kolb ("My Antonia"); Melanie Taylor Burgess ("Hundred Dresses")

Go Green Badge

Annex Theatre's "Keep the Lights On," with electric power generated by actors pedaling bicycles.

Seven Sibs A-Leapin'

Patti Colombo's dances for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

Best Merger

Seattle Shakespeare Company and Wooden O Theatre.

Yuckiest Stage Prop

Poison pesto, in "Bright Ideas" (Art Attack).

Lamest Puppet

The disjointed, Pepto-Bismol-pink "Shrek" dragon.

Swiftest Exit

David Esbjornson departs Seattle Rep a year before his four-year contract ends.

Karate-chop That Concept

Seattle Shakespeare's "Chamber Julius Caesar," set in a martial-arts dojo.

Feminine-Hygiene Nightmare

Book-It's "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."

Swashbuckling Stupor

Seattle Rep's "Three Musketeers."

Thanks for the Memories

Closed Café de Paris; sold Oddfellows Building; moved-on Capitol Hill Arts Center.

R.I.P.

Fond adieus to local theater artists Mark Sheppard; Gregory Morales; Douglas N. Paasch; and Jim Orr.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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