By Nancye Tuttle

Sun Correspondent

2012 was a banner year for theater fans in Greater Lowell and beyond. Here are highlights as we pause to reflect between Christmas and New Year's.

-- Merrimack Repertory Theatre treated audiences to a refurbished Liberty Hall in September, including new box office, lobby, seating, lighting, carpeting and ticketing system, and accomplished it in three short months. MRT is now in search of a new executive director with Steven Leon's departure in November for health reasons.

-- Lowell Memorial Auditorium launched its 90th anniversary season in September. In the fall, Mill City Management, a partnership made up of Tom McKay, Leo Creegan and Terry McCarthy, announced they would not seek a new contract from the city when the current one expires in June 2013 to manage the building and bring shows here. Who'll take over remains a mystery for now, although Pete Lally, LMA's current general manager, is interested. The city plans to issue an RFP (request for proposal) on Jan. 1 so bidding can begin.

-- Merrimack Repertory Theatre and UMass Lowell partnered in the successful staging of the world premiere of Jack Kerouac's only play Beat Generation at MRT in October. Directed as a staged reading by MRT artistic director Charles Towers, it generated international interest 80 years after the iconic Beat author's birth in Lowell.

-- Image Theater continued its successful run in Lowell, under Ann Garvin and Jerry Bisantz's direction, expanding its City Stories, and Femnoire Festival programs.

-- Boston enjoyed an invigorated theater scene with the reopening of the 112-year-old Colonial Theatre -- now called the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre -- for the first time in 18 months. Several musicals are booked here now, including Jersey Boys in January.

-- Emerson College's ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage continued bringing cutting-edge theater and film from around the world to its refurbished Paramount Center theater space and Emerson Majestic theaters.

-- American Repertory Theatre earned a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical for its production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess on Broadway. The show closed in September but will tour nationally.

-- The Huntington Theatre Company announced an extension through Jan. 26 of its landmark production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

Nancye Tuttle's email is nancyedt@verizon.net.