The American theater is being renewed with creative genius, as evidenced on Broadway by “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genre-expanding show about the American Revolution that is told by rapping characters in tailcoats and ballgowns. The achievements in Twin Cities theater in 2015 were not at that high order. Still, there is plenty to celebrate.
1. “Sweeney Todd” (Theater Latte Da): Director Peter Rothstein’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s ghastly masterwork held you from the moment the foghorn blasted to the bloody end. Headlined by Sally Wingert, Tyler Michaels and Mark Benninghofen as the demon barber, the production was alluringly juiced up with malice and murder.
2. “Rodney King” (Penumbra Theatre): With freestyle lyricism and mesmerizing verve, writer/performer Roger Guenveur Smith embodied the poetry, yearning and spiritual miasma of a man whose name became a byword for riot. This one-man play deserves to be an era-reflective part of the canon.
3. “Akeelah and the Bee” (Children’s Theatre): Director Charles Randolph-Wright’s stage adaptation of this story delivered sweetness and light, and introduced the mainstream to the talents of stage phenom Johannah Easley, who was not only a good speller, but also spellbinding.
4. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (Children’s Theatre): What do you get when you stage a show like an interactive video game? Director Ryan Underbakke’s adrenaline-fueled adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic had us running and ducking in the theater’s innards.
5. “Henry IV, Part 1” (Ten Thousand Things): Director Michelle Hensley went for relatability and clarity in her minimalist staging of this Shakespearean history play, and it worked. Her all-female cast, headlined by Michelle Barber, Sha Cage, Anna Sundberg and Karen Wiese-Thompson as the besotted and bawdy Falstaff, packed a visceral punch.
6. “Emilie/Eurydice” (Transatlantic Love Affair): Devised work, in which actors create the story and then mime all the props with their bodies, often gets knocked because it so often fails. But Isabel Nelson’s one-act drawn from Greek myth and a real-life story — about a girl in a coma who comes to because of love — held viewers softly and never let go.
7. “The Crucible” (Guthrie Theater): When he wrote his drama about the Salem witch trials, Arthur Miller ingeniously found a resonant tension in 1950s Communist witch-hunting. Director Joe Dowling’s insightful staging, starring Erik Heger, showed that the drama continues to be relevant, as those seeking scapegoats fulminate with self-righteous certainty.
8. “Extremities” (Dark & Stormy Productions): Sara Marsh is the founder of this nimble company and the star of most of its shows, and for good reason. She was riveting as a would-be rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker in Mel Day’s tense and taut production.
9. “Pussy Valley” (Mixed Blood Theatre): Playwright Katori Hall’s new drama, about the lives of strippers, was notable not only for its taboo subject matter and the playwright’s blunt approach, but also for the virtuosity and courage of its performers. Directed by Nataki Garrett, Jasmine Hughes, Joetta Wright and Megan Rippey went there and never flagged.
10. “Choir Boy” (Guthrie Theater): Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play about a young man’s coming of age in a boy’s boarding school got a stylized production by Rothstein that used music and dance — a departure that worked, thanks to an excellent cast led by John-Michael Lyles.