Last year, we invited our UTBA staff, reviewers, and guest bloggers to tell us what their favorite productions of 2011 were. Not only did we get a favorable response from UTBA members, but our readers loved the blog post, too. So, we’re doing it again this year. Below are our members’ opinions about the strongest productions in Utah in 2012. There aren’t any formal criteria for a production to make this list; it merely had to stick in a UTBA member’s mind until the end of the year. Nevertheless, UTBA reviewed 253 plays in 2012. For a show to stand out from a crowd that large is still impressive.

  • A. J. Nielsen as Seymour and Emily Maria Bennett as Audrey in SCERA’s Little Shop of Horrors. Photo by Mark A. Philbrick.

    I reviewed 34 plays for UTBA this year and saw at least 29 other plays in 2012. Out of all of those, I only went back to attend five of those shows a second time at my own expense. Three of those productions were from the Utah Shakespeare Festival: Scapin, Les Misérables, and Hamlet. The other two were BYU’s Merrily We Roll Along and SCERA’s Little Shop of Horrors. I saw many other excellent productions (and I wrote many positive reviews this year), but these five productions were the only ones that I felt were worth the time, extra expense, and travel to see again. I think that’s the highest compliment that a reviewer can pay a show. An honorable mention goes to Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Richard III. The closing night of that show had a rowdy crowd that cheered, booed, and heckled so much that I felt like I was at a football game instead of a play. I have never seen anything else like it ever at a theater, and it was exhilarating. That evening Grassroots shattered any preconceptions that anyone would have had about Shakespeare being stodgy or boring. —Russell Warne, UTBA Managing Editor

  • Michael S. Johnson (left) as Kevin and Mike T. Brown (right) as Russell in Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club at the University of Utah. Photo by Michele Collins.

    My favorite two shows of 2012 were easily Utah Valley University’s Vincent in Brixton and the University of Utah’s Geography Club. Christopher Clark’s production at UVU was heartrending and beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off James McKinney or Elizabeth Golden, as Van Gogh and his landlord. Their engrossing performances were alternately humorous, touching, and terrifying, and entirely convincing. I couldn’t stop thinking about this play for days after seeing it. Brent Hartinger’s play Geography Club is about a group of high school students who form a geography club as a beard for their gay-straight alliance. I still can’t figure out how the University of Utah Studio 115’s performance of this play—with such an obviously moralistic premise—was never ever preachy. Rather than harping on a special interest issue, this play simply felt human and made it easy for me to sympathize with characters whose experiences were drastically different from my own. —Julia Shumway, guest blogger

  • David Fetzer and Lauren Noll in Plan-B’s The Scarlet Letter.

    One of my favorite productions of 2012 was the University of Utah’s visually stunning staging of Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine, directed by Jerry Rapier. It’s an historically important and thought-provoking piece of American drama, and I thoroughly enjoyed its high production value and performances. Another show I enjoyed immensely was the Mortal Fools Theatre Project’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by David Morgan at the Echo Theatre. Great acting and design combined to make a evening of superbly creepy storytelling. Another great creep-fest (and also staged in Provo’s newest theatre venue, the Echo Theatre) was The Woman in Black, adapted by Stephen Mallatrat and directed by Christopher Sherwood Davis. This production was a fantastic exercise in low budget, independent theatre. Davis used the bare space of the Echo very well, and the simplicity of the piece and its performances were very satisfying, leaving a number of jumps and frights to the viewer’s imagination. Another favorite for me this year was Plan-B’s lean, muscular presentation of The Scarlet Letter, adapted for the stage by Utah-based playwright Jennifer Nii and directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff. Wonderfully performed and paced, I wish this outstanding script and production could be required viewing for literature students everywhere.  Finally, Utah Valley University’s lovely production of Nicholas Wright’s Vincent in Brixton has been selected to travel to the regional KC/ACTF festival in February, and it totally deserves that honor. Directed by Christopher Clark, the performances were wonderfully awkward (in the best sense) and honest. If UVU re-mounts the play in February before it heads to California, be sure to see it. —Melissa Leilani Larson, UTBA reviewer

  • The Adding Machine at the University of Utah.

    The best show I saw in 2012 was The Adding Machine at the University of Utah. This show was something special. Every element of the production was perfect. Jerry Rapier’s detail oriented direction hit every mark. He told a beautiful story by using playwright Elmer Rice’s powerful voice. The language of the piece spoke perfectly in every moment of the play. The design elements were cleverly useful both mechanically and artistically and stood out without detracting from the action or the story. Caroline Haydon and Jordan Saxton both gave heart breaking performances. But Mark Macey‘s Mr. Zero was a standout performance. His connection to the text is something that every actor strives for. All of the elements of theatre came together so seamlessly in this production. It truly was a work of art. —Michael Johnson, guest blogger

  • Jacqueline Antaramian as Mary Stuart. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

    My family had a fun night at SCERA seeing The Wizard of Oz.  Because it’s an outdoor, family friendly theater, my husband and I got a break from the instruction to, “Please leave small children at home.”  The kids loved the show and were talking about it for several days afterward. My second highlight of the year was Jacqueline Antaramian‘s performance of the title character in Mary Stuart at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.  She portrayed the distressed queen with such passion and grace; it was a stunning theatrical experience, and I am now a fan of Ms. Antaramian. —Amber Peck, UTBA staff

  • Marissa Smith and Ben Isaacs in The Fantasticks at the Covey Center.

    Both of my favorite shows this year required a drive to Utah County.  The best show I saw this year was definitely The Fantasticks at the Covey Center for the Arts, and if I try to consider what made it the best, it generally comes down to its lack of fluff.  This show was everything it needed to be without a lot of smoke and mirrors.  I appreciated the honesty and intimacy and being a part of something that felt real. My favorite show on the other hand was The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley at the SCERA Center for the Arts.  As a production intended for young audiences, it is impossible to compare to the more traditional productions I saw.  But as a show that helped foster a love of live musical theater in my young son, it will remain one of my favorites for some time.  The work they are doing at the SCERA is important work, and it makes a difference. —Andrea Fife, UTBA reviewer

  • Patrick Kintz and Cristopher Sherwood Davis in the Echo Theatre’s opening show, The Woman in Black.

    My favorite show this year was The Woman in Black at the Echo Theatre in downtown Provo. Aside from being a wonderful performance from talented people, it was a perfect example of using what you have to its best advantage. I loved seeing the first performance at a brand new theater. The staff at the Echo put on a stellar production without the technological (and financial) advantages other theaters have. The Woman in Black was proof that talented and hardworking artists can create wonderful theatrical performances no matter what the circumstances are. —Elizabeth Oppelt, guest blogger

  • This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long.

    The Covey Center for the Art’s production of The Fantasticks made me fall in love with one of my very favorite musicals again. The intimate space was perfect (I’m not sure that particular show can really work in any other kind of a setting), the sets and costumes wonderfully simple yet theatrical, the direction superb, the music beautiful, and the performances extraordinary. It was a magical, transportive, vulnerable, and redemptive night of theater and one of my favorite productions in a long time. Sting & Honey’s production of This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long was an incredible and utterly unique night of theater and a very meaningful part of my Christmas celebration this year. The sounds and images Javen Tanner and his company assembled to tell the story of the nativity were transfixing, and, like the best religious stories, it felt both familiar and stunningly, electrifyingly new. One reason I love theater is because of its ritualistic qualities—bringing people together in the same space to collectively participate in a cathartic event. More than any other production I saw this year, This Bird of Dawning reminded me of how theater can be a religious experience. —Davey Morrison, guest blogger

  • Part of the swordfighting scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012.)

    I was very impressed by the fight choreography in Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Hamlet. The fight choreography was seamless and the actors mastered the skill of performing it without that pesky little glimmer of “What comes next?” showing in their eyes. Great job! The 39 Steps was a great way to start the year at Hale Center Theater Orem (HCTO). I loved that it was fun and quirky, which is a staple at HCTO, as well as being smart enough to challenge the audience with all of its allusions and contemporary staging. It seemed to add just the right flavor to the HCTO season, and I’m excited to see it at Hale West Valley in a couple weeks. I enjoyed the small student produced/directed shows that came out of BYU this year (Little Shop of Horrors, Merrily We Roll Along, and Comedy of Errors to name a few). I was a part of the latter, but I was also impressed by several of the others that I saw. It is starting to be a great transitional step for the student producer/director and for community to experience the student’s work just before he or she comes into the Utah County theatre scene. —Andrea Gunoe, guest blogger

  • Joseph M. Bosteder as Sweeney Todd and Tia Galanis as the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd at the University of Utah. Photo by Spencer Sandstrom.

    This year has been a fun one personally as I have been able to review a nice variety of productions. My favorite performances of this year are first, Rabbit Hole at Salt Lake Community College’s Black Box Theater. The intimate and touching material was delivered with a needed sensitivity and maturity of acting. Rabbit Hole is a show that I still think about and reflect on because of the power of this production. Second, there was Sweeney Todd at University of Utah’s Studio 115. Interestingly, both of these are university productions of heavy, rarely produced shows. But both were performed wonderfully and both remain with me. Another honorable mention is Hale Centre Theater West Valley’s The Sound of Music, which was uplifting, heartwarming, and nostalgic. —Jocelyn S. Gibbons, UTBA reviewer

  • The 39 Steps at Hale Center Theater Orem. Photo by Pete Widtfeldt ©2011.

    As I look back at the Utah theater of 2012, I’m struck by the sheer number of productions and festivals that happened—and I’m pretty sure I missed a large portion of it. My favorite shows would have to be Mary Stuart at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Xanadu at the Hale Center Theater in Orem, and Woman in Black and the Echo Theatre in Provo. Those three stood out based on acting, fluidity, and overall production quality. I loved the risks each show took, but I’m naming them my favorites because those were the shows that surprised me. I entered each theater not expecting to walk out feeling as if the theatrical standard had just been raised, but that’s exactly how I left. Other shows I loved this year were Sweeney Todd at the University of Utah (chilling), Warboy’s The Tell Tale Heart (also chilling), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Sundance (bravo bringing energy and relatability to what is usually a stale classic), A Second Birth at BYU (a beautiful new script), Les Misérables at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (the production brought new life and meaning to a musical I’ve seen dozens of times), Titus Andronicus at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (a moving production, but also notable because it’s a rarely-produced script), and The 39 Steps that played way back at the beginning of 2012 at the Hale Center Theater in Orem (some of the best ensemble work I’ve seen). —Paige Guthrie, UTBA staff

  • Hale Center Theater Orem’s Crazy for You. Photo by Pete Widtfeldt.

    Of the shows that I personally saw in Utah this year, two stand out as my 2012 favorites. Xanadu and Crazy For You are most likely two of my very favorite shows of this year, and both were produced at the Hale Center Theatre Orem. Xanadu was a smart show for HCTO considering the small casting and the small space. It felt like all the cast and crew understood “the joke” of the show, and they all worked together to create a highly polished and hilarious product. Crazy For You wouldn’t be the first show I’d think of for HCTO, primarily because of the space. After seeing it, however, I have completely changed my mind. Crazy For You was an excellent example of how to make something work for the space that you are in. The choreography and cast were adjusted to work in the small space, and the product was so delightful to watch. These two shows did great work in assessing their space and resources, and adapting to fit their constraints. I can’t wait to see what else might come our way from Hale Center Theatre Orem in 2013! —Carson Wright, guest blogger

Last thoughts from UTBA staff

Clearly, 2012 was a winning year for Utah theatre. What’s most interesting from this list is how many productions originated from universities (e.g., Vincent in Brixton, Sweeney Todd, Rabbit Hole, Geography Club, and more) and how many Utah County productions were named by our reviewers (e.g., The Fantasticks, The 39 Steps, The Woman in Black, and many others). If you don’t make it to Utah County or the campuses of this state’s to watch plays, you may be missing out on some excellent theatre.

But what are your thoughts? Let us know if you agree or disagree with any of these opinions. There’s no way that we could have seen every production in the state, if we missed any, we would love to know!