"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" - a rollicking, raucous rock 'n' roll musical - began the theater year last Jan. 2.

It was an indication of what was to come over the next 12 months: plays, straight or musical, that were packed with energy, heart, and talent.

Sure, there were a few clunkers along the way. But not many.

Still, we did have our favorites. And it is those that we present with our 2009 Mac Awards, named for the late Mary MacMurtrie, who, with her Tucson Children's Theatre, spent much of the last century turning Tucson children into actors, directors, stage technicians and audiences who appreciate courage, honesty and intent as well as excellence.

Our 2009 Mac Awards:

Best Musical

There were some gems staged this year. Arizona Onstage's production of a little-known Andrew Lloyd Webber one-woman musical, "Tell Me On a Sunday," was funny and poignant. The UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre did a bang-up production of a mediocre musical, "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." And Arizona Theatre Company's "Ain't Misbehavin' " was a jumpin', jivin' piece of joy.

Yet it is "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" that we can't get out of our mind. The production from Etcetera, Live Theatre Workshop's late-night arm, was imperfect, loud and raw. But it was packed with more heart, more commitment and more joy than many musicals we've seen in some time. It is well deserving of the 2009 Mac for Best Musical.

Best Drama

Arizona Theatre Company's production of "A Raisin in the Sun" was a powerful one. Rogue Theatre, which is quickly establishing a reputation as a company that rarely misses, staged a lovely (and most difficult to do) "Orlando" and an almost breathtaking presentation of "A Delicate Balance." Beowulf Alley Theatre's "Proof" and "Seascape" showed what a small company is capable of doing, as did "Lemon Sky" for Live Theatre Workshop.

Arizona Theatre Company's production of "The Kite Runner" was noteworthy for so many reasons - a tight, true script, wonderful ensemble acting, incredible costumes and lighting, among them. And especially for translating a sprawling, deeply felt story to the stage without ever robbing it of its soul or intent. ATC takes the Mac for Best Drama for its production of "The Kite Runner."

Best Comedy

Invisible Theatre had a couple of over-the-top comedies, "Don't Talk to the Actors" and "Leaving Iowa," that allowed its audiences to guffaw loudly and often. Arizona Onstage's production of the irreverent "Jewtopia" hit all the right notes. Winding Road Theatre Ensemble's "Dorothy Parker's Last Stand" gave new life to the 20th-century acerbic wit. Live Theatre Workshop's production of "Shirley Valentine" was a good reason to stick around in the summer.

And Sacred Chicken Productions' "Anton in Show Business" was a hilarious look at life behind the curtain in a small theater.

But it was the totally ridiculous, and totally hilarious, production of Arizona Repertory Theatre's "Leading Ladies" that takes the Mac for Best Comedy. While it's (almost) always funny to see men dress as women, there was more to this romp than that, and these student actors embraced the characters with a deep sense of commitment, making it all the more funny.

Best Actress

Patty Gallagher gracefully transitioned from an Elizabethan Romeo to a Victorian maid in Rogue's "Orlando." Franchelle Stewart Dorn did a potent piece of acting in her role as the matriarch in "A Raisin in the Sun."

Daria Berg brought a heartbreaking sweetness to her young Amaryllis in Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of "The Music Man." Lesley Abrams showed pristine timing and a deep understanding of her character in Winding Road's "Dorothy Parker's Last Call."

Danielle Dryer's turn as a misunderstood and heartbroken musician in Etcetera's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" was memorable. Kristé Belt's flawless voice and acting chops gave the one-woman show "Tell Me On a Sunday" an unexpected depth. Rhonda Hallquist was a deeply rooted actor in Sacred Chicken Productions' "Anton in Show Business."

And we will long remember Lori Hunt's multiple characters - each one a gem - in Invisible Theatre's "Leaving Iowa."

But it was the one-woman show, Live Theatre's "Shirley Valentine," that snags the 2009 Mac for star Carlisle Ellis. Ellis found the heart and the humor in her character, who starts out suppressed and ends with her wings spread. She's done a lot of good work in this town, but we think her "Shirley Valentine" is her best.

Best Actor

Oh my, did we have some exciting performances this year.

Christopher Johnson's young man in search of a father who understands and accepts him in Live Theatre's "Lemon Sky" was a heartbreaker, and Johnson's turn as the sexually confused and lovesick Hedwig in Etcetera's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" was full of life, hope and pain.

Doug Mitchell was a complete stitch as the aging, egocentric actor in Invisible Theatre's "Don't Talk to the Actors." Brad Kula and Steve Gaeto as the cross-dressing, desperate-for-work actors in Arizona Rep's "Leading Ladies" upped the play's hilarity. John Shartze gave new meaning to cad in Now Theatre's production of "Some Girl(s)."

ATC's "Raisin in the Sun" was chock-full of stellar acting, especially from David Alan Anderson, who makes a powerful transition.

And we loved Terry Erbe's multiple characters in Invisible Theatre's "Leaving Iowa."

Joseph McGrath gave depth and nuance to the ineffectual Tobias in Rogue's "Delicate Balance." It's a difficult role because the character has a deep, troubled inner life. McGrath did it full justice, and then some. He gets the 2009 Mac for Best Actor.

Best Director

Glen Coffman kept the focus clear and the action moving in Live Theatre's "Lemon Sky." Lou Bellamy's "A Raisin in the Sun" at ATC reminded us why the play has had such a long life.

Susan Claassen managed to make a very complicated play, "Leaving Iowa," which frequently jumps time and locales, understandable and very, very funny. Shana Nunez let Etcetera's "Hedwig" breathe with outrageousness and generosity. Kevin Johnson's "Tell Me On a Sunday" for Arizona Onstage was a heartfelt triumph.

David Morden showed a deep understanding of Edward Albee with his direction of "A Delicate Balance." Samantha K. Wyer tackled two big jobs for the UA in 2009 - "Leading Ladies" and "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." In both, she brought out the humor in the plays and the best in the student actors.

But David Ira Goldstein had the mammoth job of wrestling "The Kite Runner" into a stage piece that retained the story and the heart of the best-seller. He did it with grace, wit and insight, which wins him the 2009 Mac for Best Director.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.