Top 15 NJ Theater productions of ’22: ‘The Metromaniacs,’ ‘The Wanderer,’ ‘Three Sisters’ and more

top 15 nj theater 2022

SARAH HALEY

Ty Lane, left, and Brent Harris co-starred in “The Metromaniacs” at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison.

With more-or-less full schedules, ever-changing mask policies and productions that, in many cases, were postponed from 2020 or 2021, New Jersey’s theaters got back to normal this year. I can’t really say I detected much of a theme beyond that, but I saw a lot of excellent shows in a lot of different styles.

Here are my 15 favorite productions, in order of preference, with brief descriptions and links to my original reviews.

Of course, I didn’t see everything presented in the state this year, and I’m sure I missed some great productions. If you feel this list omits a worthy play, please feel free to write about it in the Comments section, below.

1. “The Metromaniacs” at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University, Madison. David Ives’ translation/adaptation of French playwright Alexis Piron’s 1738 “La Métromanie” is completely in rhymed verse, but his dazzling wordplay and the willingness of the actors to embrace the unabashedly cartoonish silliness at the play’s core made this production more than two hours of fizzy fun.

JERRY DALIA

Mike Wartella and Joey McIntyre in “The Wanderer.”

2. “The Wanderer” at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn. The world premiere of a jukebox musical featuring the songs of the rock pioneer Dion. In addition to offering an opportunity to revisit a lot of great songs, it succeeded as a love story, a redemption story and a gritty slice of life (set almost entirely in the Bronx neighborhood where Dion grew up).

3. “Three Sisters” at Two River Theater, Red Bank. This consistently surprising production of the 1901 Anton Chekhov classic featured non-traditional casting, anachronistic props and costumes (one character wears a Joy Division T-shirt), puppetry, and recordings by Talking Heads, Heart, Queen and others. A bit gimmicky, maybe, but also, at its best, genuinely electrifying.

4. “The Bridges of Madison County” at Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal. Great singing by Kate Baldwin and Aaron Lazar as an Iowa housewife and a National Geographic photographer who fall in love powered this polished but heartfelt production of the Jason Robert Brown musical (based on Robert James Waller’s popular novella).

5. “The Forest” at New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch. A heartbreaking look at a retired professor suffering from dementia that memorably shows how she — and those around her — suffer as they get pulled deeper and deeper into its “forest.”

nj theater listings august

JOHN POSADA

Charlotte d’Amboise in “The Last Supper.”

6. “The Last Supper” at South Orange Performing Arts Center. This new musical was a truly biting political satire with great performances by Charlotte d’Amboise (as a wily TV pundit) and Mark Evans (as a number of different right-wing nuts killed by a group of self-righteous liberal grad students).

7. “A Walk on the Moon,” presented by George Street Playhouse at New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. A sturdy, well-crafted musical about a family spending the summer of ’69 in The Catskills, and the way societal revolution affects their little corner of the world.

8. “The Wolves” at McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton. In this unconventional drama, members of a high school soccer team gossip, fight, endure tragedy and, ultimately, bond, over the course of a season. All the scenes are set during practice sessions and pre-game warmups.

9. “Enchanted April” at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University, Madison. A group of women escape dreary England and find rejuvenation and romance during a sunny Italian holiday, with a lot of light comedy along the way.

10. “Life’s Work” at Vivid Stage, Summit. Do you follow your dream or hold tightly onto a steady paycheck? This play, written by Vivid Stage artistic director Laura Ekstrand, brings that question, a minor issue in some romantic comedies, into the forefront, looking at four people — two couples — who have different perspectives on the subject, and how that affects their relationships.

scab review

MIKE PETERS

Monica Wyche and John Anthony Torres in “Scab.”

11. “Scab,” presented by Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union. Gino Diiorio’s new play about two paper-factory employees has a lot to say about modern working class life — and the hard choices faced by both immigrants trying to get ahead, and company loyalists who feel the system has failed them.

12. “The Giant Void in My Soul” at Luna Stage, West Orange. Playwright Bernardo Cubría takes on the biggest of subjects — man’s search for meaning — with a winningly impish sense of humor in this play filled with fools, clowns, religious charlatans, those who strive to be politically correct, and more.

13. “Rent” at Vanguard Theater, Montclair. Featuring actors who, mostly, were not yet born when “Rent” premiered in 1996, this explosive production served as a testament to the landmark musical’s enduring relevance.

14: “The Play About the Baby” at Black Box Performing Arts Center, Englewood. A typically adventurous effort by Black Box PAC, featuring a minimal set and a cast that embraced the black humor and random craziness of Edward Albee’s absurdist comedy/drama so deeply you could feel their gleeful delight.

15 (tie): “The Hummingbirds”/“Eden Prairie, 1971” at New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch. This theater had a very good year. In addition to “The Forest” (see No. 5) there were these two winners, the former a vividly imagined, Orwellian look at what may be in store for humanity in the future, and the latter a touching tale about a Vietnam War deserter, a young woman from his hometown he may be in love with, and the way the war tore both their families apart.

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One thought on “Top 15 NJ Theater productions of ’22: ‘The Metromaniacs,’ ‘The Wanderer,’ ‘Three Sisters’ and more

  1. It’s too bad you don’t venture south of Monmouth County. If you had come to Ocean County you would have discovered Surflight Theatre, putting excellence onstage night after night, show after show. New Jersey has 21 counties, and you only visit about half of them. This is the top 15 productions in the northern half of New Jersey.

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