The Top Ten Miami Plays and Musicals of 2013

This past year saw a decline in the number of productions mounted by small and mid-sized troupes, so it's only natural that our countdown of 2013's best regional productions is dominated by three of our most consistently rewarding companies. Here it is:

10. Agnes of God

Having seen this ascetic, fact-based play about a novice nun and the dead baby that winds up in her wastebasket a few seasons earlier at Palm Beach Dramaworks, I wasn't frothing for another production so soon. But New Theatre nailed it. Its spartan production felt raw, haunting, and still of-the-moment, with exceptional mood lighting and a psychologically inspired set design.

9. Making God Laugh

This recent winner from Actors' Playhouse, working from an imperfect script by Sean Grennan, rose above its problems to create an engaging and relatable study of a family's mutating relations over four decades. Angie Radosh delivered another performance full of nuance and power, but she was only the head of an exceptional table: Like most of the productions on this list, the casting was key, and words like "perfect" don't do it justice.

8. Savage in Limbo

The Alliance Theatre Lab's only new production of 2013 reminded us how great this company can be, especially when producing material as quick-witted and distinctive as John Patrick Shanley's one-act commune of existential barflies. The atmosphere felt perfectly lived-in, from the bar set to the lurid '80s costuming, and the cast mastered all of the thorny soliloquies with aplomb.

7. Good People

In this never-ending recession of ours, a play like David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People was an especially resonant choice for GableStage, whose potent production explored the every comic crevice and tragic cul-de-sac with biting naturalism. Laura Turnbull delivered one of the year's finest performances, as a desperate Bostonian clinging to the past, and Elizabeth Dimon and Barbara Bradshaw offered impeccable support.

6. All New People

I never laughed harder at any production this year than I did at Zoetic Stage's All New People, back in January. Zach Braff's quirky comedy about a suicidal man and the parade of eccentrics that prevent him from doing the deed came together with casting so sublimely perfect that it approached comic nirvana. Braff was in town for much of it; if he didn't like this production, then he probably doesn't know his play very well.

5. next to normal

What a way to welcome a new company: Slow Burn, a Boca-based company known for its embrace of offbeat musicals, brought its outstanding vision of Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt's next to normal -- about the daily struggles of a bipolar woman and her family -- to vivid life at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center for one weekend only. We saw breakthrough work from Matthew Korinko and Anne Chamberlain, along with one of the year's most inspired set designs, right from the impossible playbook of M.C. Escher.

4. Cock

Working almost without a set design, GableStage's production of Mike Bartlett's minimalist love triangle was a marvelous exploration of sexual tension, withering humor, and emotional unease, all delivered through the magic of word, gesture, and timing. It was the year's most successful experimental work and an annual zenith for Joseph Adler's direction.

3. Other Desert Cities

This production, from Actors' Playhouse, remains inexplicably ineligible for Carbonell Awards this year, but it's their loss. Erin Joy Schmidt and Barbara Bradshaw turned in iconic performances, anchoring this cathartic study of politics, family, and secrets with the sort of naked anguish that was borderline uncomfortable to watch, in the best way.

2. Fear Up Harsh

Zoetic Stage's mounting of local playwright Christopher Demos-Brown's latest work was more than just a fine world premiere. This stunning meditation on honor, war, ethics, friendship, and child-rearing in an age of government-sanctioned torture featured the year's performance to beat, courtesy of Karen Stephens, and Stuart Meltzer's direction wasn't too shabby either.

1. In the Heights

Actors' Playhouse's production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's jubilant musical about life in the Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights was Broadway-ready in every way. Outstanding choreography, a peerless ability to change musical styles on a dime, a keen eye for loving scenic details, and an extraordinary cast helped raise a bar for Miami musicals last March that hasn't been approached since.

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