A very good year for the arts

As we move toward 2008 and anticipate the new year of plays, concerts and other arts events ahead of us, a quick look in the rear-view mirror seems like a good idea before we completely lose sight of what we experienced in 2007.

In a strong line up of plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival there were many stand-out productions, among them "Distracted," "Tracy's Tiger," "The Rabbit Hole," "The Taming of the Shrew," and "Tartuffe." The season included OSF Artistic Director Libby Appel's affecting production of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard." Appel will return next season to direct Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" which will open in late July. New artistic director Bill Rauch checked in with a snappy "Romeo and Juliet."

The OSF season posted ticket sales for the year of 404,730, or 90 percent of capacity, and ticket revenues of more than $15 million.

Southern Oregon University's theater department produced a canny, all-woman adaptation of two Euripides plays called "Women of War" and the clever "Swimming in the Shallows" in another strong season for the university.

Oregon Stage Works presented fine productions of "The Elephant Man," "Talking Heads," and "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" proving there is an audience for complex plays, even if it's smaller than for the likes of OSW's successful "To Kill a Mockingbird." Camelot Theatre likewise found an audience for thoughtful drama with a terrific production of "The Dresser" to complement its popular musical offerings such as "Man of La Mancha," "Spitfire Grill" and "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Lacking a permanent home, Ashland Community Theatre found some success presenting "Taking Sides" in the downtown Ashland Elks building.

"I love You, You're Perfect Now Change," was a stellar production at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in a season that reprised "Guys On Ice" "Cindy Rella," and an exuberant production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe."

Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon gave its audiences a treat with its staging of "Peter Pan." Children's Theatre of Ashland also successfully staged "Cranes" for younger theater-goers.

Michael Franti and Spearhead rocked Britt to open the season last summer, with the singer proving to be one of those artists who forges a special connection with his audience. Veterans like Gregg Allman, Indigo Girls, Toto and Herbie Hancock turned in strong shows, and relative newcomer Madeleine Peyroux showed what the buzz was about with a show that mixed original material with classics a la Billie Holiday and Patsy Kline. A special treat this year was a rare visit from The Martha Graham Dance Company that was nothing short of breathtaking.

Bernadette Peters sold out the Craterian in February, and the GRT presented several of the touring Broadway musicals that are so popular, including a run of "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Urban Cowboy" and "Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida" in a single month last March. "The Producers" blew people away with its stunning sets and brilliant performances. And for the family, the Craterian presented the zaniness of Aga Boom as well as Fred Garbo's Inflatable Theater Co.

The Medford Jazz Jubilee clocked in its 19th year of outstanding jazz musicians with musical styles ranging from traditional dixieland sounds to swing, big band and zydeco and practically everything in between.

Rogue Valley Symphony worked its magic performing concerts in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass. Since its move from Washington to Jacksonvile, the duo Gypsy Soul once again calls the Rogue Valley home and presented a summer and a winter concert, much to the delight of its strong southern Oregon fan base.

On a sad note, the Valley saw the demise of the award-winning One World series of shows from around the planet. Guitarist Leo Kottke performed the series' last concert ever in March at SOU's Music Recital Hall. The series was popular in the community but no longer generated enough support among SOU students to keep the plug from being pulled.

But all things considered, 2007 truly was a very good year.

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