Without question, my most memorable theater experience was a disaster. Such works are special because few people have or will see the work. Generally you go without knowing the show will be bad. (I saw it in preview, the weekend before it opened.) The only people who willingly decide to see something they know is painfully bad are called masochists.
The musical version of "Gone With the Wind" I saw in London in April, had a tediously bad score and the never-ending story-line was endless and boring. This was not your typical bad show. It had barely a redeeming virtue. The total and complete badness of show show gave it a special significance above the quality of the work as it was directed by Trevor Nunn. Nunn is a former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He co-directed the original production of "Nicholas Nickleby" and gained commercial success with"Phantom of the Opera," "Cats" and "Sunset Boulevard"- amongst so many others. He is a giant in the world of theater/
If a man with the background of Trevor Nunn could not see that a 4 1/2 hour musical-production of "Gone With the Wind" was a potential disaster, it proves that we all have blind spots. There are lessons to be learned even in failure.
Another great theater memory of 2008 was "Jerry Springer: the Opera," which I saw last January in a concert-version at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Though the concept seems exploitive, the material was anything but. The music was great, while the lyrics supported the theme of the piece - which is, we have the right to decide who we want to be. However, the show went on to say - you made the choice, live with it. Stop blaming others (especially God) if you are unhappy about the fall-out from your choice.
My best dramatic experience of the year was the Tony Award winning "August: Osage County." Brilliant writing and excellent acting. I'm not sure how many local regional or community theaters will attempt this large cast, three act, three and a half hour play. More to the point, I don't know how many will do the material justice. I have a rule of thumb that says - the better the material, the more difficult it is to perform. "August" is a great play.
Another great piece of theater I experienced in London was at the National Theater. I don't agree that British actors are by birth better classical actors than Americans. However, I do think they have a natural affinity for the work of George Bernard Shaw. The national production of Shaw's "Major Barbara" was brilliant, insightful and so relevant to the world today. An added bonus was superior technical support that did not overpower the material or the performances.
This is not a Top Ten list but I could make it a Top Six by adding the overlooked musical "Catered Affair" that closed too soon on Broadway and "God of Carnage" a new play by the author of "Art" that should be a big hit when it arrives in the US.
I hope 2009 permits me to travel to London again, and I know I'll be making regular trips to Broadway.