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You should have been there

Rogue Valley theater and music venues offered much to remember in 2008 and will undoubtably continue to do so as we move into the new year.

On the theater scene, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival enjoyed a near-record year highlighted by several acclaimed plays even if marked, inevitably, by a disappointment or two. Elsewhere in the Rogue Valley, smaller theaters continued to put out high-quality drama in the face of daunting challenges.

The OSF's "A View from the Bridge," by Arthur Miller and directed by Libby Appel returning in the season after her retirement, was one of those rare productions in which all the elements came together to achieve a beautiful whole. Tautly directed and beautifully acted, it was one of the bright spots of the OSF's year.

Also at OSF, William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was given a disco-like production much praised for its energy, and the Bard's "A Comedy of Errors" returned to the outdoor Elizabethan Stage as a musical adaptation set in the American West. Thornton Wilder's venerable "Our Town" became the first American classic to appear on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage.

August Wilson's "Fences" and Jeff Whitty's "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" dazzled audiences by stretching the barriers of stage design while serving up substantial stories. Speaking of dazzling, "The Clay Cart" was splendid looking, if more confusing than convincing for contemporary Western audiences. The festival also premiered a new topical piece, "Welcome Home Jenny Sutter," by Marie Myatt.

Ashland's Oregon Stage Works hit box office gold with "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," music and lyrics by David Nehls, book by Betsy Kelso. It was a production that had fun with its subjects without looking down on them. OSW also put on a nuanced version of Horton Foote's modern classic "The Trip to Bountiful" and an audience-delighting "Little Women" adapted by Marisha Chamberlain.

The theater is to be commended for launching two new plays in a single season. First up was an original musical western, "Tales of Fannie Keenan Better Known as Dora Hand," with music and lyrics by Mark Turnbull and book by Mark Turnbull and Doug Rowe. Local playwright Molly Best Tinsley had the first production of her cautionary tale about global warming, "Glacial Genes."

Camelot Theatre Company in Talent continued to pack in audiences to see a mix of musicals, comedies and dramas. Jeffrey Hatcher's "Sockdology" offered a very different look at the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Camelot once again in 2008 did one of those warning shots about a dystopian future, this time a chilling "1984." It did material to make you think (Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa") and material to just make you smile ("Brigadoon," with music by Frederick Loewe, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner).

Southern Oregon University staged an absolutely stunning production of "Urinetown," featuring music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. In a completely different vein, the drama department offered its youngest patrons James Thurber's fairy tale gem, "Many Moons."

Ashland Community Theatre hosted a number of readings of short new plays by local writers at Paschal Winery in Talent.

The Ashland New Plays Festival and 10-Minute Plays festival worked their magic again. And a street-wise version of "Twelfth Night" presented in a parking lot drew a large audience and much-deserved applause.

At the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford audiences got a taste of Broadway with touring musical companies serving up the likes of "Chicago." Comedian Martin Short even stopped by for an evening.

For music lovers there were some terrific performances. At the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville, there was the incomparable Bonnie Raitt, doing a show that was vintage Raitt, with heart-stopping blues, a little pop, and bone-crunching rockers featuring her always great band.

She even brought out Oregon stalwart Curtis Salgado, whose band had opened the show with a strong set in which Salgado sounded as good or better than ever.

One of the sleeper Britt concerts was a show called "Under the Radar," with Krista Detor playing songs that defied categorization and singing phrases that made you think a bit of Leonard Cohen or maybe Laura Nyro. And the Wailin' Jennys bounced achingly pure three-part harmonies around the hillside and played a whole bunch of instruments, many of the stringed variety. In Britt's classical season, there was Ingrid Fliter joining Peter Bay and the orchestra in Stanislavski versions of Chopin.

Bella Hristova joined the Rogue Valley Symphony for three performances of violin pyrotechnics, courtesy of Tchaikovsky.

Over at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, "A Brief History of White Music" gave folks a very different take on popular music. So did "Plaid Tidings" and "Altar Boyz."

"A Celtic Christmas" at the Craterian proved once again how much people like stories and traditional music.

Local treasure Gypsy Soul released its new album "Wanderlust" and performed selections from it at several regional sites.

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble performed a masterful concert as part of the Chamber Music Concerts.

Makes you wonder how 2009 could possibly top 2008. But it just might.

Martin Short's performance at the Craterian was one of the highlights of 2008 in the Rogue Valley's performing arts scene.