It was a very good year for area theaters and regional troupes. From dramas to comedies to rousing musicals, there were plenty of star-worthy options for audiences to enjoy. Here's a look at the top 10 theater productions for 2012:
1. Sierra Repertory Theatre's "Time Stands Still," October, Sonora. Gripping play about a photojournalist and her longtime reporter boyfriend who have trouble adjusting to life in New York after returning from covering the war in Iraq. The show was remarkably relevant, with characters who talk and think like people you know today. The production featured authentic performances and a gorgeous set.
2. Prospect Theater Project's "Grapes of Wrath," May, Gallo Center for the Arts, Modesto. Deeply moving presentation of John Steinbeck's novel about the desperate circumstances migrant farmworkers, including countless many who lived here in the Central Valley, encountered in the 1930s. Featuring an all-local cast, the production was as good as any of the professional touring shows, at a fraction of the cost (ticket prices were $8-$15).
3. Sierra Repertory Theatre's "Carousel," June-August, Fallon House Theatre, Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia. Poignant musical about a troubled carnival barker and his long-suffering wife, with powerful acting that made audiences cry and gasp. The show also featured glorious singing of Rodgers and Hammerstein's time-tested score.
4. Modesto Junior College's "Metamorphoses," June, Modesto. This was a magical experience. The show featured a magnificent onstage pool filled with nine tons of water and equipped with a waterfall, tunnel and rain shower. The actors didn't just perform they swam, floated and cavorted in the pool a few feet from the audience in this presentation of Ovid's collection of ancient Greek myths.
5. Stage 3 Theatre's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," November-December, Sonora. Rarely do you find a community theater production in which every cast member is good, but that is the case in this moving production, which closes Sunday. Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical show of a financially struggling family in the 1930s offered an uplifting message about the power of love and forgiveness. Ki'i Kellerman, the 13-year-old who plays lead character Eugene, is so good it's almost scary. He is completely comfortable on stage and makes audiences laugh and cry.
6. Prospect Theater Project's "Three Days of Rain," September-October, Modesto. Smart without being stuffy, this drama offered tour-de-force performances, humor, romance, madness, mystery and literary references. It centered on who was most responsible for the groundbreaking buildings designed by two architects and the troubled family of one of the architects.
7. Sierra Repertory Theatre's "Gypsy," March-April, Sonora. Magnetic star Heather Orth turned in a powerful performance as stage mother-from-hell Mama Rose. The actress had the special talent to be pushy and obnoxious yet sympathetic and vulnerable. She had a voice that could blow windows out and the stamina to solo in half the show's numbers.
8. California State University, Stanislaus' "The Shape of Things," October, Turlock. Sophisticated, funny and more than a little shocking production about an unlikely relationship between a nerdy art gallery security guard and a beautiful, sharp-witted artist. Not only did all four cast members begin the show naked, it featured one of the most surprising twists ever seen in theater.
9. Townsend Opera's "Mikado," January, Gallo Center for the Arts, Modesto. One of the most fun Townsend shows in recent memory. The Three Little Maids in this Gilbert and Sullivan comic classic wore miniskirts, high-heel white boots and long hair in hip colors not found in nature. The show featured nods to modern culture ranging from cell phones to Segway scooters.
10. Bespoke Theatricals' national touring production "Mamma Mia," April, Gallo Center for the Arts, Modesto. This musical provided a much-needed disco-fueled escape in these gloomy times of unemployment and budget cuts. The show sold a record 5,500 tickets and was the Gallo Center's most successful show ever.