Daybreak's best of 2013: The year on stage

Bruno Mars earned a spot on Daybreak's list of best stage shows of 2013.

Daybreak's annual year in review is one of my favorite things to assemble. This is when we review our clips, search the archives and stand amazed at how much truly amazing art happens here in the region quite regularly.

We cover a lot of ground during the year, as we pored through a year's worth of arts and entertainment coverage, it became a challenge to fit in all the worthy performances in a given section. Today's breakdown of the best live stage shows of the year reflects that conundrum: from plays, stand-up and symphonies to Beyonce, Yes and Green Day, there were so many opportunities to take in live art in all its splendid forms, we had to create more than one list to ensure we gave as many performers as possible an encore in these pages.

Over the next week we'll also offer our picks for best television, restaurants, recorded music, exhibits and more. While we might not all agree on what we've deemed the best, one thing is certain: we live in a time and place where art is thriving.

- Marisa Nadolny


Bruno Mars; Mohegan Sun Arena

Bruno Mars? Great. His band? Out of this world! They were an Earth-Wind-and-Fire-ish, dancing-and-singing funk machine. They were as much as part of the concert as Mars was - and as much a part of why it was so damned fun.

- Kristina Dorsey

I AM Festival; downtown New London

What a great pre-Autumn day/evening in rockin' NL. Local impressarios Sean Murray and Rich Martin pulled out all the stops with an incredible variety of bands and musical styles grouped at various stages in the downtown area. Headliners Death and Cymbals Eat Guitars provided "touring band" cred - and performed righteously - and the only problem for fans was how to blast from stage to stage to keep up with all of the great local and regional acts.

- Rick Koster

Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet; Oasis Room, Garde Arts Center, New London

Perhaps it's just me, but does the vibraphone seem a sort of forgotten instrument in modern jazz? Well, not if Jason Marsalis has anything to do with it. This youngest of New Orleans' immortal Marsalis clan - a much in-demand drummer, by the way - mastered vibes out of, first, curiosity, and then love. His virtuosity and enthusiasm came through over two 45-minute sets, and his empathetic band roared along with him as they explored all manners of post-bop, blues, gospel and fusions thereof.

- Rick Koster

Beyonce versus Pink; Mohegan Sun Arena

Who runs the world? Girls! The race is neck-and-neck to crown which female artist wowed the most with her 2013 concert at Mohegan Sun. So we bow to you both, Beyonce and Pink. Beyonce rules with charisma and old-school showmanship. Well, that and power pipes and the best hair flip in the business. Pink out-Cirques all those performers who would try to fly through the air with the greatest of ease; she pings and pongs and spins and somersaults. Oh, and she sings while she's doing it, too, and gives off sparks of attitude.

- Kristina Dorsey

Yes; MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods

If a tree falls on Jon Anderson and no one is around to hear him scream, does he still make a sound? Who knows - but can Yes still be Yes without Anderson? I thought not until I saw the epic British prog band perform with new singer Jon Davison. He was note-perfect and didn't try to upstage iconic members Chris Squire, Alan White and Steve Howe (with legendary keyboardist WHO also onboard). Most important, the band played astounding back-to-back versions of what are arguably their two greatest albums, "The Yes Album" and "Close to the Edge."

- Rick Koster

Maneli Jamal; Spindrift Guitars, New London

More than one person in attendance for this show, featuring the virtuoso acoustic guitar player, couldn't believe Jamal wasn't using loop pedals or some type of backing tracks. He's that fluent and creative on his instrument - you simply can't tell how he's making all those sounds - and his fusion of Western pop and jazz with Eastern tonalities and hands-on percussive technique stupified a roomful of total guitar nuts.

- Rick Koster

Green Day; Mohegan Sun Arena

Green Day had to postponed its scheduled January concert at Mohegan Sun when Billie Joe Armstrong went into rehab. But the April show was an explosion of punk energy, and Armstrong looked as though he was enjoying himself immensely. So was the audience.

- Kristina Dorsey

Muse; Mohegan Sun Arena

Other than to burn down a church as per those Norwegian Black Metal bands, Muse effectively uses every possible high-end/dazzling/pyrotechnique production technique ever brought to any performance stage. This alone is sufficient spectacle to please an audience. But, for all the bombast, Muse is a really great and ambitious band, and a flawless two-hour recitation of their catalog, beautifully structured for maximum momentum, was a high point.

- Rick Koster

Kathy Mattea; Garde Arts Center

Kathy Mattea has spent the last few years focusing on songs inspired by coal-mining history and by the Appalachian folk music of her native West Virginia. Her concert blended that music with her country hits, and it was wonderfully evocative. Her alto remains one of the richest, most expressive voices around. If you missed Mattea at the Garde, you can see her when she plays Connecticut College on Jan. 31.

- Kristina Dorsey

New West Guitar Group; The Telegraph, New London

On a Saturday afternoon in December, Los Angeles' New West Guitar Group stopped by the Telegraph for a free in-store performance - and driving snow outside limited the crowd to about 10 folks. It was like having the NWGG play a private party. The instrumental trio - all virtuosos schooled in jazz, classical and rock and each versatile on acoustic and electric - staggered the fortunate few with complex but hooky originals and crafty arrangements of tunes by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Webb and Tears for Fears.

- Rick Koster


Paula Poundstone

No one can take audience interaction and turn it into a riotous riff better than Poundstone. Her show at the Garde Arts Center was a droll pleasure.

- Kristina Dorsey

Seth Meyers

His show at MGM Grand at Foxwoods was so witty and endearing that I wish I could see his comedy every night. Oh, wait! Once he starts hosting "Late Night" in February, I can!

- Kristina Dorsey

'Most Happy Fella'

"Hello, Dolly" might have been the biggest crowd pleaser of Goodspeed's 50th anniversary season, but this Frank Loesser musical couldn't have been far behind. It had heart and sophistication.

- Kristina Dorsey

'Front Page Girl'

The Spirit of Broadway Theater staged a really wonderful production of this rollicking musical by Peter Kellogg and David Friedman about newspaper reporter Nellie Bly, who was a trailblazer in the late 1800s.

- Kristina Dorsey

Steven King; Bushnell Performing Arts Center, Hartford

For 90 minutes, a sold out hall enjoyed every word uttered by mega-bestselling author Stephen King in a rare public appearance. Well, almost every word: it's true that folks in the mezzanine and upper balcony struggled with the PA volume all evening, which was a true shame. But that's not King's fault. Interviewed onstage by Hartford Courant columnist Colin McEnroe, King responded to broadstroke questions about his expansive career with wit and charm.

- Rick Koster

Tim Dorsey; RJ Julia, Madison

You've got to love Dorsey's decidedly informal approach to book signings. Despite the winter night, the Florida resident and author of the hilarious set of crime novels starring beloved psychopath Serge A. Storms, Dorsey arrived in a DayGlo Hawaiian shirts and, without more than a few sentences of commentary, threw the session open to the crowd. "Ask me anything you want," he said, "and we'll take it from there."

- Rick Koster


Chamber music performance of the year: Musical Masterworks, January 2013

When last-minute mishaps and scheduling conflicts forced Musical Masterworks to substitute musicians for its January concert, the fates were kind indeed. The substitute violinist, a young Kentucky native named Tessa Lark, made us forget the big-name star who didn't show up. Lark stood alone, utterly commanding in a highly personal and emotional reading of one of the most challenging of masterpieces, Bach's Chaconne from the D Minor partita for solo violin. This alone was unforgettable, but then she joined cellist and series Artistic Director Edward Arron and his favorite pianist, his wife, Jeewon Park, for an ardent performance of the Schubert E Flat Piano Trio. In the Bach, Lark showed interpretive powers beyond her 23 years, and in the Schubert, she played with a freshness that breathed youth into a standard. Years from now, we may well tell our friends where we were when we first heard Tessa Lark.

- Milton Moore

Orchestral performance of the year: Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Fall 2013

In its opening concert this fall, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra was at its best in a beautifully detailed, yet powerful performance of Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, the "Inextinguishable." This long, complex symphony wrestles with a single motif through a maze of harmonic struggles, and Music Director Toshi Shimada gave it a keen sense of direction. Even in its densest scoring, the many principal voices rang through, the transitions felt inevitable, and the sectional playing was inspired. The ECSO is justifiably proud of this performance and has posted a recording at its website, The encore is well-deserved.

- Milton Moore

Opera performance of the year: Connecticut Lyric Opera, November 2013

To start its eleventh season, the Connecticut Lyric Opera stepped up, moving past the standard repertoire of Donizetti, Mozart and Puccini to play with one of the big boys: Wagner. The company's November production of "The Flying Dutchman" was more than a fine evening at the opera, it was a rite of passage. The orchestra was bigger, the stage direction by Andy Ottoson was the company's finest yet, and the chorus was full of strong voices. All the parts added up perfectly, and in the center of it all was Music Director Adrian Sylveen, who had the audience at the Garde riding wave after wave of Wagner's complex and relentless score.

- Milton Moore

Day critic Milton Moore dubbed Connecticut Lyric Opera's
Day critic Milton Moore dubbed Connecticut Lyric Opera's "The Flying Dutchman" the local opera performance of the year.
Stand-in violinist Tessa Lark impressed audiences this year when she performed with Musical Masterworks.
Stand-in violinist Tessa Lark impressed audiences this year when she performed with Musical Masterworks.


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