It’s time for the annual UTBA retrospective, where our reviewers send kudos to all the excellent productions they saw in the state this year. There are no firm criteria for inclusion in this list; we just ask UTBA members to write a paragraph about shows that have stayed with them through the end of the year. Many excellent shows do not make this list because of space constraints or because we limit our members in how many productions they can talk about. With that in mind, take a look at some of the excellence our members saw on stage this year in Utah.

Excellent professional (Equity) productions

The cast of The Wolves at Salt Lake Acting Company.

I want to express how amazing Million Dollar Quartet was at Tuacahn. The music was so intricate and the talent necessary for each performer to do their part was insanely overwhelming. I loved watching such excellent performers who had worked so hard their entire lives up to this point to deserve such demanding roles. The way they looked so natural on stage together brought me into that beautiful nostalgia of the past.” —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

The Wolves at Salt Lake Acting Company was an amazing production that highlighted the power of young women. It did not shy away from the rawness of adolescence and the gravity of the situations young people find themselves in. It was visceral and gut-wrenching in its accuracy. Director Alexandra Harbold cast beautifully and allowed features actresses Ireland Nichols and Alison Jo Stroud to shine. Nichols and Stroud are performers to watch for, and I hope to see them featured onstage again soon. —Megan Crivello, UTBA vice-president

Excellent semi-professional productions

The Rocky Horror Show at the Grand Theatre was the most fun experience I’ve had from a Halloween show. I’m going to see it every year onstage now because I need that in my life. The cast and director Anne Stewart-Mark were fantastic at creating the cult fiction feel. And not only was the acting terrific, but the singing was so fun. It was like going to a dance party!” —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

Some of the cast from Caroline, or Change at the Good Company Theatre in Ogden.

The Good Company Theatre in Ogden has done well this year to push boundaries and try new shows to give variety to the Utah audience.  Their production of Caroline, or Change was the best thing I saw on the Utah stage this year. I also appreciated the live musicians and the work that they put forth to make this production so moving and successful. As an emerging semi-professional theatre in Ogden, I feel the Good Company is making strides in ways that other companies in the area should emulate. —Maren Swenson, UTBA staff

Excellent college/university productions

In November, I was fortunate enough to take 41 of my high school senior English students to Utah Valley University to see Much Ado About Nothing. For many of my students, this was the first play performance they had ever seen. It was an amazing experience. UVU created a production that engrossed teenagers for almost two full hours with  talented performers who successfully fought through some unfortunate construction noise to maintain my students’ attention. Set at the end of World War II, director and adapter Dr. John Newman created a production that was tied to the moment (gender roles and #MeToo) but still ensured that the language was clear and the direction effective—especially the treatment of Balthaser as an Andrews Sisters-esque chanteuse. My students were talking about it for weeks after. Well done, UVU. —Megan Crivello, UTBA vice-president

Mikah Vaclaw as Grace Fryer in BYU’s production of Radium Girls.

As a psychologist in my day job, I have a bias towards plays that expose their characters’ inner struggles and show believable relationships on stage. Therefore, I was pleased to no end by Brigham Young University’s production of Radium Girls. Mikah Vaclaw made her character, Grace Fryer, simultaneously vulnerable and strong in a way that could please my 21st century sensibilities while still being true to the culture of the 1920’s. As factory boss Arthur Roeder, Dylan Wright was a believable antagonist whose awful actions were so plausible because of his character’s motivation to protect the company. The play is painfully relevant to today, and I appreciate Stephanie Breinholt for staging such an important work. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent amateur productions

The cast of How I Became a Pirate at the SCERA.

Never judge a play by the first production you see. As proof, I point to my review of SCERA’s production of How I Became a Pirate. After seeing a production that underwhelmed me in 2011, I was expecting much the same this time. But director/choreographer Shawn M. Mortensen and his delightful cast of 8 made me change my mind about this musical for young audiences. Each pirate was unique to watch, and the colorful costumes (by Deborah Bowman and Kelsey Seaver) and versatile set (by Chad Mortensen) kept my 4-year-old’s interest for the entire play. —Russell Warne, UTBA president


Excellent productions of musicals

As it’s written, Tuck Everlasting is a good musical with a good book, good songs, and the distinctive whiff of a family-friendly Broadway musical. But as produced by Hale Centre Theatre, Tuck Everlasting is a great musical. Hale spun an enchanting evening, with an outstanding cast highlighted by a world-beating performance by young actress Aimee Johnson as Winnie Foster. I doubt the original Broadway actress could improve much on her performance. The music and characters were delightful and memorable. The ending was heartbreaking. Even the stage managing was outstanding: “How did that scene change just happen?!” I kept thinking. My review had a few mild critiques, but as time has passed all has faded into a riotous, passionate admiration. It was glorious, magical, and unforgettable. Gosh darn you, Hamilton, for blowing it out of Broadway. And heaven bless you, Hale, for bringing it to Utah. —Bryce Isaacson, UTBA member

Excellent productions of Shakespeare

Brian Vaughn as Iago (background) and Wayne T. Carr as Othello. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2018.)

Othello at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was so good that it was the only play I saw twice this year. Kate Buckley‘s staging in the intimate Ames Studio Theatre made it impossible to hide from Othello’s pain, and I found myself emotionally bonding to the character, thanks to Wayne T. Carr‘s riveting performance. Moreover, Brian Vaughn as the most devious Iago I have ever seen and Betsy Mugavero the picture of perfection as the devoted Desdemona gave unforgettable performances that will be the standard for every Iago and Desdemona I see in the future. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent directing and choreography

Hale Center Theater Orem’s Anything Goes was amazing all around. Jennifer Hill-Barlow‘s choreography was intense and packed so much dancing into such a small space with delicate care. The result was explosive scenes of joy. As Reno Sweeney, Ashley Gardner Carlson was so good, I thought they’d stole her from Broadway.” —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

A director must be superb when they can take a play that I don’t really care for and stage it so well that I rave about it. Joanne M. Parker has now done this two years in a row at the Utah Children’s Theatre’s annual Shakespeare festival. This year’s Twelfth Night was set in the old west, and Parker used the setting to create wonderful physical comedy. Parker also has a knack at helping her actors create enjoyable characterizations; as a result, I struggle to pick a cast member that I enjoyed the most. Was it Meighan Smith as the stalwart Maria? Or was it Zach Vayo as the hilarious fop Malvolio? Or Robert Fernandez as the observant Feste? These are the problems a critic wants to have, and I thank Parker for creating a show I can enjoy so much. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent acting performances

Benjamin J. Henderson as Daddy Warbucks and Madilyn Terry as Annie in the Hale Center Theater Orem production of Annie.

I admitted in my review, “It’s embarrassing how much a hardened 30-something-year-old critic could enjoy the Orem Hale’s production of Annie.” The main reason I loved this show was its cast. From the six young orphan girls to Benjamin J. Henderson as the venerable Daddy Warbucks, to Bonnie Wilson Whitlock as the spiteful Miss Hannigan, everyone brought life and joy to this old chestnut of a show. Of course, at the center of it all was Madilyn Terry as Annie, who gave a delightful performance that had me wanting to adopt her. And in charge of all of them was David Morgan, whose perfect direction made the show a perfect 10. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

So much of the cast of Hale Centre Theatre’s Tuck Everlasting deserves recognition. Due to time on stage alone, I’ll restrict this to Aimee Johnson as Winnie Foster, Kooper Campbell as Jesse Tuck, and Marshall R. Madsen as Miles Tuck. Johnson has a magnificent voice, and perfectly embodied the 11-year old character with just the right mixture of sweetness and earnestness. Her acting was tremendous, and her songs from solo “Good Girl Winnie Foster” to duet “Partner in Crime” with Campbell were delightful. Madsen’s solo number “Time” was also a masterpiece of emotional storytelling. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. —Bryce Isaacson, UTBA member

Excellent new plays

Brian Kocherhans as Eli and Scout Smith as Oskar in An Other Theater Company’s production of Let the Right One In.

Let the Right One In at An Other Theater Company demonstrated the best kind of collaboration between directors (Chris Clark and Morag Shepherd) and a choreographer (Graham Brown). The movement heightened my connection to the emotional lives of the characters and added depth, beauty and meaning enhancing the overall storytelling. Without the choreography this would have been and dynamic and enjoyable production, but with the choreography it became the theatrical highlight of my year. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member


Excellent technical designs

Hale Centre Theatre’s A Christmas Carol was phenomenal. I loved the decorations, all differing by scene, but all so profound. Kacey Udy‘s set pieces were huge and detailed to perfection! And the costumes designed by Kristy Draper were magnanimous, especially the ghosts! —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

Kacey Udy’s set design for Hale Centre Theatre’s Tuck Everlasting was the most impressive set I’ve seen in the state . . . ever. The set did hero’s work in creating the show’s tangible, magical aura. First, there were the “ladder” trees which allowed the young actors to explore the vertical forest. Then there was the attic where the floorboards were bursting hundreds of years of accumulated treasures. The inventiveness and attention in both these sets in particular were astounding. I read an interview with Udy about how the set reflected themes of the show: the ladders meant that everything has a beginning and an end, and the wood crates reflected how mortals gather memories and stories through a lifetime. The set was emotionally, practically and visually stunning. —Bryce Isaacson, UTBA member

Other excellence in Utah theatre

Tyler Harris as a transformed Nick Bottom (with accompanying fairies) in the Grassroots Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Ellen Nicole Allen.

The year just can’t go by without praising the Utah treasure that is Grassroots Shakespeare Company. How are we so fortunate to have such a cracking troupe of troubadours performing for free in our local parks? This year I saw the uniformly excellent Two Noble Kinsmen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet—each wonderfully cast, interpreted, acted and paced. The fact that Grassroots can take an obscurity like Two Noble Kinsmen and turn it into an enjoyable play for a modern audience is quite the feat. And one of my dearest theater memories this year was Sharah Meservy as Puck. Energetic, mischievous, and spritely as the sprite she was playing, Meservy gave an endearing performance in one of theater’s most endearing roles. I also loved how she used puppets to perform the roles of her fellow fairies. We don’t deserve you, Grassroots! —Bryce Isaacson, UTBA member


What do you think? Did we miss any companies or productions that you thought were excellent in 2018? Let us know by commenting on this post.

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 201120122013201420152016, and 2017.