As 2016 approaches, it's a great time to take stock of what the previous year in theater provided — like these five bold shows that wowed us in 2015 — and also to start looking forward to what promising theater the new year might bring. Though many companies have only announced their shows for the first half of 2016, here are some productions to be excited about in the coming year, from a political-religious dramedy to a comedy based on an Internet meme.
Disgraced at the Mark Taper Forum
The Taper had a strong season this past year, and that winning streak should continue into 2016, when Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Disgraced arrives in late spring. The play is plenty relevant in today’s political climate, touching on topics such as Islamophobia and the challenges of being Muslim in a post-9/11 (and now also post–San Bernardino) America. The one-act, 90-minute show takes place over the course of an evening as a formerly Muslim lawyer and his WASP artist wife host a dinner party for her Jewish art dealer and his African-American wife, and the foursome explores the very thing you're not supposed to talk about at a dinner party: religion. The off-Broadway, Broadway and Chicago runs were all well received by critics, so the good news is that the L.A. run is being helmed by the same director, Kimberly Senior, as all the others. Runs June 8-July 17; Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org/tickets/disgraced.
The Boy From Oz at Celebration Theatre
After a few years in limbo, Celebration Theatre is back, now making its home at Hollywood’s Lex Theatre. Following its triumphant return in 2015 with the biting satire Bootycandy, Celebration will stage The Boy From Oz, a musical about Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen. He was married to Liza Minnelli for several years in the 1960s and '70s despite being gay (Hugh Jackman famously starred as Allen on Broadway in 2003). Musicals aren’t easy to pull off, especially in small, black-box theaters, but we're inclined to believe that Celebration, a company dedicated to telling LGBTQ stories, is up to the task. Opens April 29; Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com.
Cabaret at the Pantages
OK, so this is a touring production of a really well-known show, but Sam Mendes' and Rob Marshall's Tony-winning revival of Cabaret is still a beautiful, haunting gem, marrying fantastic material (including Kander & Ebb’s inimitable score, which features classics like “Maybe This Time,” “Wilkommen” and, of course, “Cabaret”) with strong direction, which adds to the text and moments that remain relevant to this day. Runs July 19-Aug. 7; Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 468-1770, hollywoodpantages.com.
The Geffen Playhouse’s spring season
Last year, the Kilroys — an L.A.-based group of female playwrights and theater producers — got a lot of attention when they called out the lack of gender parity in today’s theatrical scene, where most companies’ seasons are overwhelming male and white. It looks as if the Geffen took note, as four of the five plays that make up the first half of its 2016 season — Barcelona, Sex With Strangers, Stage Kiss and Big Sky — were written by women, including playwrights like Bess Wohl and Sarah Ruhl. Barcelona runs Feb. 2-March 13; Sex With Strangers runs March 1-April 10; Stage Kiss runs April 5-May 15; Big Sky runs June 7-July 17; Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.
Women Laughing Alone With Salad at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
I’m not the biggest fan of acclaimed playwright Sheila Callaghan (who wrote Everything You Touch, which premiered at the Theatre @ Boston Court before a well-received off-Broadway run), but I’m intrigued by her newest work, which tackles the issue of modern femininity from the perspectives of three very different women. Callaghan, who writes for Shameless and wrote for The United States of Tara, has made the first 20 pages of the play available on her website. Runs March 6-April 3; Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (213) 972-4444, centertheatregroup.org/tickets/women-laughing-alone-salad.