The social media consensus is that 2016 was a rough year for America. With a surplus of celebrity deaths and a chaotic presidential election, many people are ready to put 2016 behind them. But the Utah theatre community had a great year, with wonderful productions across the entire length of the state. As we do every year, we asked our reviewers and staff members to tell us what excellent productions they saw this year in Utah. Here are the shows that stuck in their minds weeks or months later.

Excellent Professional (Equity) Productions

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Mary Poppins. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.)

Being the only Tony Award winning theatre company in the state, no one should be surprised that some of my favorite productions this year were on the Utah Shakespeare Festival stage. What was surprising were which shows ended up as my favorites of the year. For example, I saw the national tour of Mary Poppins in 2011 when it came to Utah, and I thought it was a mildly interesting show; but in the hands of Karen Azenberg and the Utah Shakespeare Festival, this musical was exciting, magical, and worth seeing twice (as I later did). The Odd Couple also surprised me because it was a genuinely emotional and touching show, even while making me laugh more than any other play this year. That production was yet another reminder of why David Ivers and Brian Vaughn are unstoppable on stage together. —Russell Warne, UTBA staff member

Left to Right: Bryant Martin, Lenny Daniel, Dan Sharkey, Paul-Jordan Jansen, and Cory Reed Stephens in Pioneer Theatre Company’s The Last Ship.

One show I really enjoyed this year was The Last Ship at Pioneer Theatre. The haunting music and beautiful set that I still like to envision months later. Thank you, Karen Azenberg, for bringing this phenomenal show to Utah. —Maren Scriven, UTBA reviewer

Excellent Semi-Professional Productions

Hairspray at Pickleville Playhouse was a pure delight. It’s not a large venue so I was pleasantly surprised that such a big bright musical fit so well.  The show was perfectly cast; they had strong performers for each hilarious character. Pickleville’s show impressed me in every way. —Amber Peck, UTBA reviewer

Excellent College/University Productions

Ben Featherstone as Tuc and Abbie Craig as Maizie in the BYU production of The Taste of Sunrise.

Hands down best university production of the year (and the best production I have ever seen) was this year’s BYU production of The Taste of Sunrise. Amazing! This bilingual production would be incredibly challenging to direct, and Julia Ashworth made it flawless. The Taste of Sunrise set an incredibly high standard for my year. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA reviewer

Excellent Amateur Productions

With two kids in my life now, I don’t see as many amateur productions as I used to. But the best amateur show I saw was SCERA’s Saturday’s Warrior. The strong production showed that this 1970’s Mormon play still has legs in the 21st century, and I had Lex de Azevedo‘s scores stuck in my head for weeks afterwards. Plus, the 1990’s setting of the SCERA’s production was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, even if it did make me feel old because it was the first time I had ever seen a period piece set during my lifetime. —Russell Warne, UTBA staff member

Excellent Productions of Musicals

My favorite production of the year was Ragtime, produced by Utah Festival Opera in Logan. The title of my review says it all: “Powerful, evocative, important.” The relevance of the story to modern America left me overcome with emotion. —Elise Hanson, UTBA staff member

Best musical I saw this year was Hale Centre Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast. In my review of the production, I commended Austin John Smith‘s portrayal of a maturing Beast, Karina Gillette‘s charming Belle, and many of the other cast members. The technical designs were also superb. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA reviewer

Excellent Productions of Shakespeare

Sam Ashdown as Henry V in the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Henry V. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.)

Once again, Utah is a paradise for Shakespeare fans. My favorites this year were the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Henry V and the Utah Children’s Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew. The former production was a fitting conclusion to the Henriad series that the Shakespeare Festival had produced since fall 2013. Henry V was truly the show that had it all: gorgeous costumes, superb acting, and flawless direction. All of these elements combined to strengthen one of Shakespeare’s finest scripts. The Taming of the Shrew at UCT was a delight from beginning to end. I adored the chemistry between James Parker and Emily Trulson Parker, a real-life husband and wife playing Petruchio and Katerina. At just 90 minutes (including intermission), this produciton was much too short. —Russell Warne, UTBA staff member

Excellent Directing and Choreography

Ezekial Andrew as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., and Kearstin Piper Brown as Sarah in the Utah Festival Opera production of Ragtime. Photo by Waldron Creative.

I loved the awesome choreography and stage direction in Ragtime at the Utah Festival Opera. The lengthy prologue included large groups of actors rotating around each other onstage; it was so well planned and executed. That was just the beginning of a memorable and moving show. —Amber Peck, UTBA reviewer

Excellent Acting Performances

All of the four member cast of The 39 Steps at the Covey Center did really amazing, especially the two clowns, Jeremy Showgren and Caitlin Young. I also felt that Meg Flinders‘s performance as Charlotte in BYU Young Company’s production of Charlotte’s Web was heart wrenchingly beautiful. Abbie Craig‘s performance as Maizie in The Taste of Sunrise at BYU and Benjamin Featherstone as Tuc in the same production were both amazing as well. They had the best chemistry and relationship of any performers I saw this year.  —Darby Turnbow, UTBA reviewer

Utah Rep’s Doubt and Sackerson’s Burn showcased the best acting I saw on any Utah stage this year in plays that provoke discomfort in the best possible way. In my review of Burn, I wrote, “[Elizabeth] Golden inhabits Allison with a devastating honesty that both [Olivia] Custodio and [Aaron] Kramer reciprocate in interactions that are thrilling in their authenticity and even, sometimes, their cruelty. [Merry] Magee and [McKenzie Steele] Foster brilliantly realize [Morag] Shepherd’s cuttingly accurate characterization of children and their relationships with siblings and parents. After seeing Doubt, I praised every member of the cast, saying, for example that Roger Dumbar‘s “. . . portrayal of Father Flynn deftly walks the high wire stretched between likability and suspicion. He keeps the connection to each taut, channeling them both at will with remarkable believability.” I commended Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin for her “remarkable performance,” and praised Tracy Callahan for avoiding caricatured zealotry in the performance as Sister Aloysius. —C. T. Lewis, UTBA reviewer

Excellent New Plays

Merry Magee and Shawn Saunders in Sackerson’s production of Burn.

Burn, produced by Sackerson, deeply affected a lot of people. It was a powerful script presented in a unconventional way by a brave and talented cast. The visual elements of lighting, blocking, and the physical space itself, made a lasting impression on my memory. —Amber Peck, UTBA reviewer

I was really impressed by Round², by JayC Stoddard, which he premiered at Fringe. So impressed I saw it twice and would have gone a third time if I could. —Elise Hanson, UTBA staff member

Excellent Technical Designs

The technical achievements in Herakles at the Classical Greek Theatre Festival were the most impressive I saw this year. I mean, giant hand-made puppets in a low-budget production! It was gorgeous. —Elise Hanson, UTBA staff member

Other Excellence in Utah Theatre in 2016

The Eileen and Allan Anes Studio Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival was well organized and orchestrated this year. I love the variety of performers, the location, and the feeling of community. The rating system that was used in the promotional materials (F, FF, or FFF) helped me to know which shows I could bring my kids to. I hope this festival continues to happen as the Utah theatre community supports new and experimental endeavors. —Amber Peck, UTBA reviewer

We’re in the midst of a building boom for theatre companies in Utah. Whether it is the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts in Cedar City, the new Eccles Theare in downtown Salt Lake City, or the new theaters under construction for the Hale Centre Theatre or Utah Valley University, we are extremely lucky that this theatre community has the financial resources for new spaces—and the audience to fill them. —Russell Warne, UTBA staff member

What do you think? Did we miss any companies or productions that you thought were excellent in 2016? Let us know by commenting on this post.

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.