Though 2020 will forever be defined by the many arts events that were canceled or postponed, the year began in the usual vibrant fashion. There were rocking concerts, emotional theater productions and thought-provoking art exhibits.
For a little while, at least.
Dispatch critics selected their favorite arts and entertainment happenings from the past year, including some from before the pandemic hit and several that took place in later months after groups began to adapt to the unique circumstances.
Our reviewers admittedly couldn’t get to everything — such as “My Fair Lady,” a traveling production that was suspended due to the pandemic after just one performance at the Ohio Theatre, and a visit by Christian rockers Casting Crowns to the South Drive-in Theatre in September.
But, upon further reflection, there was more than enough to put together a top 10 list as we await — and hope for — a more fulfilling 2021.
• “Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat” (CATCO Is Kids, Jan. 10-26, Columbus Performing Arts Center)
This delightful production was as slyly witty and briskly paced as the classic Easy Reader, whose text it follows word for word. It benefited from playful sound design and Liz Wheeler’s dynamic direction, as well as Jeremy Hardjono’s deft puppeteering and Scott Douglas Wilson’s exuberant performance as the titular Cat. — Margaret Quamme
• “A Doll’s House, Part 2” (Red Herring Theatre Company, Jan. 22-Feb. 9, Great Southern Shopping Center)
Director Michael Herring elicited excellent performances in the area premiere of the savvy Broadway sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama. All four actors seized key moments for illumination in this brisk one-act, an auspicious debut in a South Side space that evokes the intimacy and flexibility of the troupe’s former Franklinton home. —Michael Grossberg
• King Princess (Feb. 10, Express Live!)
In a relaxed and celebratory sold-out concert that made up in good humor and audience participation what it lacked in production values, the torchy singer, songwriter and guitarist showed off a touch of sass and a fine sense of timing, leaving no doubt of her ability to make a smooth transition from cult idol to mainstream performer. — M.Q.
• “Alice” (BalletMet, Feb. 14-16, Ohio Theatre)
Artistic Director Edwaard Liang’s new version of “Alice in Wonderland” was a marked improvement over BalletMet’s previous version. In the title part, Caitlin Valentine was suitably spritely, while Jim Nowakowski had boundless energy as the White Rabbit and Sophie Miklosovic made a strong impression as the Eaglet. No less distinctive were sets that included a wall of playing cards. — Peter Tonguette
• Columbus Symphony (Feb. 21-22, Ohio Theatre)
The “Mighty Morton” pipe organ, not heard with the Columbus Symphony since 2004, returned to symphony programming in concerts featuring guest organist Cameron Carpenter. Throughout, Carpenter’s playing was free of stunts; he was serious, decisive and compelling. So cohesive was the music-making that, at moments, listeners might have wondered where the organ ended and the orchestra began. — P.T.
• “Art After Stonewall, 1969-1989” (Columbus Museum of Art, March 6-Oct. 4 with run interrupted by pandemic closing)
The largest and most significant exhibition of art marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising included more than 230 pieces in a variety of mediums by 165 artists. The works — by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer artists, as well as straight artists — reflected gay liberation protests, the AIDS crisis, identity struggles and more. — Nancy Gilson
• “She Loves Me” (Gallery Players, March 7-8 with run shortened by pandemic closing, Jewish Community Center)
Director Pamela Hill expertly guided the charming 19-member cast, 10-member orchestra and top-notch design team to shape a lovely, impressively detailed production of a classic Broadway musical. Chris Rusen and Kristen Basore forged genuine chemistry as bickering shop clerks. The gift-boxed scenery, golden lighting and vintage European choreography added grace notes of wit and style. — M.G.
• “John & Jen” (Short North Stage, July 5-12)
Dionysia Williams radiated warmth and Hunter Minor was amusing and endearing in a double role in the rueful off-Broadway musical, ingeniously staged by director Edward Carignan in the company’s first streaming production. Skillful use of split screen, alternating close-ups and superimposed images bridged health-mandated distancing requirements to make characters seem as close as they felt. — M.G.
• “We the People: Portraits of Veterans in America” (National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Sept. 18-March 21, 2021 with run interrupted by pandemic closing)
Artist Mary Whyte spent seven years painting portraits of American veterans — one from every state in the country — but not one appears in military uniforms. Rather, there is a boxer, a trucker, a firefighter, and many more, all depicted in watercolor and showing the breadth and diversity of those who served their country. — N.G.
• “Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals” (Columbus Museum of Art, Dec. 19, 2020-Oct. 3, 2021)
Twice delayed because of the pandemic, the huge exhibit finally opened this month. Included are more than 200 works of visual and literary art by the beloved Columbus artist who died in 2015 at age 75. The first major exhibit of her multimedia work since her death, it is the only one to reveal the plethora of works and artifacts from her house, which the artist bequeathed to the museum. — N.G.