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Arts & Culture

2021 A year in review

If you want to be cynical, the best thing you can say about 2021 is that it was better than 2020.

The reality is, at least in terms of arts entertainment, it was a pretty good year.

There were a number of excellent plays offered. Summer festival sites like SPAC and Tanglewood modified their programs to offer classical music and dance in an abbreviated form.

Local pop concerts tended to delay their opening dates, but still managed to put on a slate of free music.

Most venues learned to cope with constantly changing mandated protocols and united to form policies that protected their audiences by insisting audience members be vaccinated and wear masks during performances.

Summer theater companies especially showed ingenuity with their performing spaces as many moved to outside tents that offered further safety to audiences.

As an example, Opera Saratoga was unable to perform in the Little Theatre in Saratoga State Park and instead offered “Man of La Mancha” on the main stage of SPAC. Smaller productions and concerts were at the pavilion of Pitney Meadows Community Farm.

During the winter months Albany Symphony Orchestra streamed live performances from Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs. Though no program used the full orchestra, David Alan Miller created evenings filled with pleasurable music that offered unique insights to smaller musical classics.

Indeed, the theme of resiliency is found throughout the artistic community.

In theater, casts were limited and venues altered. There was an abundance of one and two-person plays and instead of traditional musicals a lot of revues took their place. And tents were constructed and used as performing spaces.

Limited cast size did not mean a loss of quality. One of the better experiences of the summer was a two-man show “Chester Bailey” at Barrington Stage Company.

It was a play about a young man denying his severe disabling injuries in order to live a contented life in his mind. In a sense, a man learning to adapt to isolation was a perfect metaphor for the first year we lived with COVID.

The one-woman play “Shirley Valentine” starring Corinna May at Berkshire Theatre Group and “Eleanor”, a one-woman show about Eleanor Roosevelt with Harriett Harris at Barrington Stage were each spellbinding plays about strong women and how they fought to be independent individuals.

The early pledges of the artistic community to feature diversity was kept. Chester Theater Company performing outdoors at Hancock Shaker Village did a thoughtful production of “The Niceties,” a play about racial prejudice in academia.

The most powerful work about racial injustice was the musical-drama ”Nina Simone: Four Women” at Berkshire Theatre Group. “The Crossing” a world premier dance-musical showing the plight of immigrants at Barrington Stage might have been the single best event of the summer.

Of course, not everything was perfect. Outdoor productions were influenced by weather conditions of heat and rain. In fact, the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of “Row,” a true story play about a woman rowing alone across the Atlantic Ocean had almost as many postponements as it had productions.

And, as in a normal year, not every show was perfect entertainment. I’m thinking “King Lear” at Shakespeare & Company as a prime example.

Summer offerings had the benefit of being outdoors. As fall approached, things moved inside, yet initial results show promise for 2022.

Safety precautions are gaining the trust of audiences. Theaters that were dark through most of 2021 are producing again and people are buying tickets.

Capital Repertory Theatre has produced two successful shows in its new Pearl Street theatre; Bridge Street Theater produced a brilliant “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at its Catskill theater. Curtain Call Theatre in Latham is producing again as are all area community theaters.

The ASO has performed with the full orchestra at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and the Palace in Albany.

Proctors has offered the national touring company show “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” In January, it will offer “Come From Away” and Playhouse Stage Company at Cohoes Music Hall will present “Bright Star” towards the end of the same month.

Music is alive and well throughout the region. The Palace Theatre is hosting touring shows again, as is Proctors. The Egg, and the Troy Music Hall. Smaller music venues like Cohoes Music Hall, Caffe Lena and the many area clubs are offering live music.

Caution is still the name of the game. But the difference between this time last year and now is we have things to be cautious about. Last year there was only a void.

Things will continue to improve only by taking responsibility for our own safety and for the health of others. We can presume 2022 will be even better - if we all do our part.

Have a Happy New Year.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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