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It was a very good year

The year 2008 is just ahead and with it a new schedule of plays, concerts and other arts events to feed our souls, quicken our spirits and entertain us along the way.

We are truly blessed to live in a region where there is so much in the way of the arts available to us and at such a high quality. The prospects look exciting. So much so that a quick look in the rearview mirror seems like a good idea before we completely lose sight of what we experienced in 2007. Here are some personal highlights.

In a strong lineup of plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, there were many standout productions. Among my favorites were several newer plays: "Distracted," "Tracy's Tiger" and "The Rabbit Hole." Two of these explored concerns that are not often approached on the stage, and they did so with considerable grace. I wish more people had experienced "The Rabbit Hole," which won the Pulitzer during the play's OSF run.

I liked "Tracy's Tiger" because it was a highly imaginative OSF musical adaptation of a couple of stories by William Saroyan. And just to prove that good comedy and good theater can exist in the same production, OSF served up "The Taming of the Shrew," "Tartuffe" and "On the Razzle" with its clever wordplay and zany energy.

Down the street from OSF, Southern Oregon University's theater department had a busy year that saw the production of the ingenious "Swimming in the Shallows." Again, a newer play. In the "older play" category, the university hit gold with its stylish production of "The Philadelphia Story" and "The Phantom Tollbooth."

Oregon Stage Works staged a compelling version of "The Elephant Man" that relied on the actor's posture and the audience's imagination to create the Elephant Man's disfigured body. I also relished the theatrical artistry of "Talking Heads" and "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris."

Camelot Theatre mounted a terrific production of "The Dresser" that took audiences poignantly backstage with a fading Shakespearean actor and his loyal — and fragile — dresser. Among Camelot's many musical offerings, I especially enjoyed "Spitfire Grill" and "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Ashland Community Theatre staged a production of "Taking Sides" in the downtown Ashland Elks building, a play it had presented as a reading a few years back.

"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" was a five-star production at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in a season that reprised "Guys On Ice," "Cindy Rella" and an exuberant production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe." With great musicians, great performers and Craig Hudson designing your set — how can you go wrong?

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 theatergoers.

A special delight this year at the Britt Festivals 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 Producers" blew people away with both its sets and performers. If you had been to these shows you'd swear that Broadway had been magically transported to Medford. 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, 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 Jacksonville, 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.

And Rogue Opera presented a top- drawer version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" to packed houses.

"Across the Universe" was the movie to see in 2007 — or 2008, or any time. It restored my faith in film as an art form and gave audiences much to ponder and sing about.

All things considered, 2007 gave us much to ponder and sing about.