By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association
By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

Once again, it’s that time for recapping live theatrical productions of the Coachella Valley as the curtain of the ‘teen decade’ decends.  Who knows what the decade of the ’20s will bring to our desert audiences.   After all, theatre productions, as well as our culture and our society, are constantly evolving both in subject matter, style, and in their technical skills presentations.   

We leave the awarding of individual performances from our many talented performers and the creative technical teams who support them to the Desert Theatre League (DTL) to pass out trophies.  However, it’s a time-honored tradition in the world of theatre that journalists, reviewers, and critics also get the opportunity to chime in with their opinions, which may or may not reflect DTL’s honorees. 

With that being said, I humbly offer my list, in no particular ranking or order of outstanding and memorable productions that impressed me in 2019.  

Coyote StageWorks, of Palm Springs, produced the rip-roarin’ musical comedy “Honky Tonk Laundry” that starred Bets Malone and Misty Cotton;  CVREP of Cathedral City,  scored with its production of the musical “CHESS,” and CVREP’s excellent’s “Good People”; Dezart Performs, of Palm Springs also scored with two of their productions: “Maytag Virgin” with Joel Bryant and Kay Capasso, in star turns and “Hand to God” with a stunning performance by Eddie Vona as puppet-master Jason and his “X” rated puppet creation Tyrone;  Desert Rose Playhouse of Rancho Mirage, starred our desert’s National Treasure actress and director extraordinaire, Judith Chapman as Tallulah Bankhead in “Looped.” Their production “Ruthless,” directed by Loren Freeman, was a campy-hoot and crowd-pleaser that starred theatre artistic director Robbie Wayne, in a role he was born to play.  

Desert Theatreworks’ production of “12 Angry Men, ” directed by Michael Pacas, was taut and intensely performed by his cast.  Also memorable was “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” directed by Rebecca Havely. The Palm Canyon Theatre, of Palm Springs, produced several musical productions but excelled in “The King and I” that sparkled throughout under the wonderful staging and costume designs of Derik Shopinski and the singing of Se Layne as Anna, the English tutor to the King of Siam’s children. The haunting Palm Canyon Theatre production of The “Diary of Anne Frank,” lovingly directed by Dr. William Layne, and a cast of inspired performers was especially memorable.  Fine work was performed by many in the Coachella Valley, but the above-listed productions really stood out for me in 2019.    

I also review many theatre venues outside of our Valley, which one can read every Wednesday in issues of the Desert Star Weekly. It’s my way of alerting our desert residents that if you travel to cities in Southern California, such as San Diego, Solana Beach, La Jolla, Los Angeles, or Pasadena, there are always theatre productions worth your time and money.

In 2019, LA theatres produced a boat-load of plays.  Some revivals of musicals, road shows and touring companies, comedies and drama’, and of course new originals, hoping to hit the jackpot with a Broadway theatre willing to produce it.  

The most recent outstanding LA production I reviewed in December was Matthew Bourne’s sensational, reimagined Tchaikovsky ballet production “Swan Lake”; still on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre for its limited run in LA.   Last summer’s triumphant revival of “Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward, at the 70-year-old Westchester Playhouse, was lovingly and creatively directed by Coward expert Gail Bernardi who pleased sold-out audiences during its six-week run. 

The Old Globe Theatre of San Diego is a longtime favorite venue of mine. They have been staging plays since 1935.  This 2019 season The Old Globe staged two outstanding and impressive productions: “Romeo and Juliet,” a brilliant, modern-dress reimagining by The Old Globe’s Erna Finci Viterbi artistic director Barry Edelstein, who staged it in the Outdoor Festival Theatre.  Also memorable was the Old Globe’s musical production of “Almost Famous,” based San Diego’s native son Cameron Crowe, on the Globe’s Shiley main stage venue.

San Diego Rep Theatre, located in Horton Plaza, produced a stunning production of Lucas Hnath’s imagined sequel based on Henrik Ibsen’s iconic ground-breaking drama “A Doll’s House” titled “A Doll’s House, Part 2”, directed by Sam Woodhouse, that starred New York actress Sofia Jean Gomez as Nora.

North Coast Repertory Theatre of Solana Beach, produced three outstanding productions during their 38thSeason:  “Amadeus,” the riveting story of musical genius Mozart and his jealous rival Antonio Solieri was brilliantly directed by Richard Baird; who also directed the triumphant “A Walk in the Woods” by playwright Lee Blessing; talky but terrific.  “The Sunshine Boys,” one of Neil Simon’s best comedies was solidly helmed by Jeffery B. Moss and terrifically performed by Lenny Wolpe and James Sutorius. It was quite a season of theatre for Southern California audiences. 

 Year 2019 has left the building.  It’s now 2020.  It’s also the beginning of a new decade.  The above comments and selections were viewed through my lenses as I saw them as a member of the audience.  I hope I selected some of your favorite theatrical productions, performers, and memorable moments as well during 2019.  See you at the theatre in 2020. 

FYI:  ATTENTION MOVIE FANS. … The 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival begins on Thursday, January 2nd, and runs through January 12th.  For information on how to purchase tickets go online to or call their Box Office at 800-898-PALM.   

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