January is sometimes represented by the Roman god Janus, depicted as a two-faced being who can look both ahead and back.
We now find ourselves in that position, looking back on a wonderful year in local performances while also anticipating the art and entertainment to come in 2015.
In 2014, theaters in Anne Arundel County and its environs hosted performances that set new benchmarks. in works from classic Broadway to edgy contemporary, from Shakespeare to obscure comedies. The year brought extraordinary ballet and opera performances showcased at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and beyond.
Outstanding musicals were presented by the gifted volunteers at Colonial Players in Annapolis and by 2nd Star's troupe at Bowie Playhouse.
Colonial Players started off the year with a riveting "Coyote on a Fence," and in April offered a fascinating historical drama, "These Shining Lives," by playwright Melanie Marnich. A strong ensemble brought the story inspired by real people and events to life, with Sarah Wade establishing her acting credentials as a worker squaring off against her employer.
Between those two productions, Colonial Players in March offered the offbeat "Bat Boy," a bizarre tabloid pop-rock musical that had its 2001 off-Broadway debut run at Union Square Theater in New York City. In Colonial Players' in-the-round setting, the production was accessible and compelling as a result of skilled teams on and off stage. Ron Giddings' performance in the title role was worthy of award, underscored in a scene in which he transformed into this creature — Giddings hung upside down while flawlessly delivering a song, a feat not executed in the off-Broadway "Bat Boy."
Another stellar performance came in April in the title role of 2nd Star's production of the 1964 Jerry Herman musical "Hello, Dolly." Nori Morton redefined the title role to create a contemporary matchmaking widow. Morton beguiled capacity audiences with her heartfelt songs and graceful dances performed in a dazzling array of costumes.
In October, 2nd Star again delivered with Stephen Schwartz's "Children of Eden," a musical retelling the story of creation as told in Genesis. The talented ensemble brought Biblical stories to life, including a wonderful animal pageant that saw animals enter from the back of the theater and proceeded down the aisle to ascend the stage at Noah's ark. It was a sequence that added great majesty to this musical.
No focus on outstanding musicals could omit the first-rate Infinity Theatre Company productions brought during the summer to the Children's Theatre of Annapolis complex. Infinity offered an amazing tribute to country music legend Hank Williams in June, and the romantic "I Do I Do" in July.
Comedy also brightened the Arundel scene, notably in April when Dignity Players offered its polished version of an incredibly demanding improvisational production featuring a cast of four. Two of the players, Duncan Hood and Eric Lund, portrayed 120 characters in the stage play of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film "The 39 Steps."
The show, performed over three weekends, served as a farewell for Dignity Players before the company's hiatus. Going out on such a high note left audiences wanting more. Many are aware of the gap Dignity's departure leaves in the theater scene; this company's social message was often delivered in works seldom seen elsewhere.
Another prestigious professional company, Bay Theatre, had been in limbo after leaving its West Street venue, but came to Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio 194 Theatre, where artistic director Janet Luby delivered a brilliant one-woman performance in "Bad Dates." Theresa Rebeck's work depicts a middle-aged woman's return to the dating scene after decades removed. Star power undiminished, Luby attracted capacity audiences to Brooklyn Park for three January weekends.
In September, Luby offered another comedy — this time at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Annapolis as part of Bay's Wine and Words play reading series. Nancy Frick's "Four Weddings and an Elvis" featured an 11-member ensemble of Bay actors. After these four fictional weddings, Luby married longtime love Stephen Strawn in a ceremony onstage.
Annapolis Shakespeare Company continued to offer innovative productions, completing its shared residency at Bowie Playhouse with a brilliantly staged and acted contemporary version of "Hamlet." Annapolis Shakespeare is now searching for a new downtown Annapolis location, and productions are temporarily held at its studio space on Chinquapin Parkway. October's "Macbeth" was starkly splendid in this locale.
A major Annapolis theatrical presence has emerged at Compass Rose Theater, where one unexpected artful triumph follows another. In February, artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne brought audiences "Look Homeward Angel," directed by Patrick Walsh. Merry-Browne's performance as matriarch Eliza was a tour-de-force that was perhaps her finest yet.
Compass Rose's season began with a poetically transporting "Raisin in the Sun" directed by Lottie Porch-Bright, and was followed by "Cats" the one-tune Andrew Lloyd Webber musical brought to magic by Merry-Browne.
May Compass Rose continue to bloom, and all other local theaters flourish during 2015.