2019 was a great year for UTBA! This year we published 231 reviews, which is our highest total in several years. With so many shows to look back on, it is difficult to say what rises to the top. But this is our best attempt to identify the shows that we thought represented excellence in Utah theatre for 2019.

Just as in previous years, UTBA gives no firm criteria to its members for selecting shows from the list. We merely request members to write a paragraph about a show that sticks out in their memory. Do not be alarmed if your favorite show of 2019 was left out; we are blessed in Utah to have so many wonderful theatrical productions, and a post that mentions all of them in detail would be unwieldy.

Excellent Professional (Equity) Productions

The cast of The Lion in Winter. Photo by BW Productions for Pioneer Theatre Company.

I am a Lion in Winter super-fan and I went into Pioneer Theatre Company’s production with high expectations, and almost all my expectations were met. Nearly a year later, the production still stands out as vibrant and rich in both design and performance. Many plays from the mid-20th century haven’t aged well, but I think Lion in Winter is still relevant and PTC’s production embraced all of the opportunities a banter-filled royal fantasy presents. —Megan Crivello, UTBA vice-president

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at Tuachan was the best show in the state and the funniest comedy to boot! I adored the songs with witty lines, the innuendos, and the ridiculous facial expressions. The cast was so in sync throughout the production, and the dances by Peggy Hickey were highly entertaining. I loved how the set design added to the humor, and best of all was how the many villains were expertly played by James Taylor Odom. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

Quinn Mattfeld as Hamlet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of Hamlet. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2019.).

The pinnacle of my 2019 Utah theatre experience was Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet Even with the greatest piece of literature in the English language as the script, this production still managed to entirely exceed all expectations.  Brian Vaughn as director brought a fresh interpretation to the beloved classic.  I was curious as to how the Russian setting and costume would play out, but there was a method to Vaughn’s madness—and it was a complete success.  As a cherry on top, Quinn Mattfeld was an intriguing Hamlet with exceptional delivery and a convincing introspection that penetrated the whole theatre. I loved Mattfeld’s dynamic depiction of the sweet prince as it was funny, moving, and likable despite the character’s flaws.  This was a Hamlet for the old and young alike that translated across generations and I never felt the age of the length of this play. Thanks you, USF, for keeping Shakespeare alive and interesting; and for delivering each production with such innovation that is feels like the first time I am seeing the play. —Alissa Frazier, UTBA member

Excellent Semi-Professional Productions

Two cast members from The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Pinnacle Acting Company.

Pinnacle Acting Company’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane was extremely moving. It showed the human plight of dealing with the need for connection in our modern day while simultaneously trying to fulfill responsibility and obligations that are less desirable. I could relate so well to these feelings and throughout this year have come to realize the joy of helping when there is no reward, and of looking for the moments of peace that the characters in this play were aching for. This performance was fantastic work from actors, director, and designers. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

An Other Theater Company’s production of Doubt: A Parable was the perfect showcase of just how impactful local, talented performers can be on an audience. The simplicity of the set (designed by Kacey Spadafora with a mural created by Lyndee Bauman) and the costumes (designed by Mel Howarth) beautifully complemented the complex conflict between the basic concepts of certainty and doubt. Kim Abunuwara, who played the principal o the play’s Catholic school, was particularly convincing in her quest to uncover the truth and personify certainty, until the final moments when real doubt creeps in. Under the direction of Taylor Jack Nelson, An Other Theater Company truly produced something marvelous, and retold the thought-provoking story masterfully. —Ryan Gurr, UTBA member

Excellent College/University Productions

Some of the cast of The Rivals at the University of Utah.

The Rivals at the University of Utah was extremely memorable, and one of the reasons was spectacular costumes and set design. In my review of the production, I said that seeing Amanda French‘s hair and makeup and Heather Parsell Rogers‘s 18th century costumes were worth the ticket price and made the actors look gorgeous. Add in the fantastic performances from a disciplined, highly trained ensemble cast, brisk pacing and clever direction from Alexandra Harbold, and The Rivals was one of my favorite productions of the year. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

Excellent Amateur Productions

My favorite amateur production this year was SCERA’s production of Newsies, directed by Michael Carrasco, who has a great knack for making the sung and spoken parts of any musical flow together naturally. The leads (Paul Cave as Jack Kelly, Avonlea Simons as Katherine, and Mike Handy as Joseph Pulitzer) had real emotional conflict among them and pulled real characters out of Harvey Fierstein‘s script. One strength of this production was Tyne Valgardson Crockett‘s decision to have a “dance corps” within the ensemble, with the other ensemble members supporting these star dancers. This allowed her to have advanced choreography for the actors who could handle it without diminishing the contributions from other actors. The strategy worked well and showcased Newsies as a dance musical. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent Productions of Musicals

Hedwig and the Angry Inch at An Other Theatre Company.

Earlier this year in March, I gushed about An Other Theatre Company’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in my UTBA review. Being a fairly new theatre company located in Provo, AOTC has proven that they certainly have what it takes to succeed and are exactly the addition that we need in Utah county. The company’s passion and dedication for the theatre shines through in their productions, and they unapologetically promote inclusivity and equality to best serve our Utah Theatre community. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is just one example; it just happens to be my favorite. I had the privilege of seeing both lead performers who played the lead character Hedwig, Cleveland McKay Nicoll and Jordan Kramer. Both were captivating, bringing their own magic to their performances and creating a role that was not exactly like the other. Laura Chapman as Yitzhak was brilliant and I would watch her in this role again and again. In fact, I would pay to see this production at AOTC again and again. I cannot say the same for when I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway in 2015. —Tara Haas, UTBA secretary

The best production I saw this year was West Side Story at the Grand Theatre. The biggest surprise on stage in that production was Kailey Azure Green as Anybodys. As the tomboy who so desperately wants to be a part of the gang, Green as Anybodys was convincing. The moment Green as Anybodys truly shined was when she sang during the song, “Somewhere.” Green’s voice was so strong and powerful and seemed to come out of nowhere, because she had blended so well with the rest of the cast during the ensemble numbers. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member

Excellent Productions of Shakespeare

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of Macbeth, with Wayne T. Carr as Macbeth in the foreground (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2019.)

The Shakespeare productions in Utah this year were especially strong, but Macbeth, took the prize for the company’s best production this year. In Macbeth, Wayne T. Carr cemented his place as a great tragedian actor with his psychologically deep, piercing performance and his rich command of Shakespeare’s language. And everything about Melissa Rain Anderson‘s directing in Macbeth was perfect, with wonderful stage pictures and an eerie mood permeating the production. But the strong Shakespeare was not just in Cedar City. I adored the Utah Children’s Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its southern setting and cohesive cast that made it the perfect first Shakespeare show for my kindergartener. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent Directing and Choreography

SONDERimmersive’s Thank you Theobromine, “a multi-sensory dance-theatre experience within a 2-story bean to bar chocolate shop” is delicious. I love immersive theatre and praise SONDERimmersive for providing these opportunities for our local community. Not only staging dramatic action within the Chocolate Conspiracy, but incorporating chocolate into every facet of the production was done excellently. Choreography by Graham Brown was stunning and the cast used the space creatively. Thank You Theobromine provides excitement and intrigue, as well as meaningful themes that kept me in thought for days. I hope to see more impressive productions from SONDERimmersive. —Tara Haas, UTBA secretary

The Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Twelfth Night was the most delightful production I have ever seen of the play, and I adored the vision from director Sam White. She is a master of character, pacing, and comedy. White goes beyond the text of the play to add actions that added layers to the characters from Shakespeare’s classic play. White also had me breathlessly awaiting the next visual joke, which kept the production fresh, lively, and relentlessly fun. Please bring her back to Utah! —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent Acting Performances

Alexis Bitner in The Post Office at Plan-B Theatre.

In Plan-B Theatre’s The Post Office, Alexis Bitner pulled off a performance that is beyond her years. She brought believable relationships and joy to a production that I’m glad I saw. A superb supporting actress was Mack as the fairy godmother in Hale Centre Theatre’s Cinderella. Not only was she sassy, but she the perfect voice for the role: capable of blending with the ensemble during the group songs, but also strong and memorable in her solo numbers. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member

Morgan Hekking’s unpredictable and multi-faceted portrayal of Dot in Weber State’s Sunday in the Park with George was not just a master class in subtext, but her dynamic rendition of “Sunday in the Park with George” was the best opening number I had the privilege of seeing all year at any level. —C. T. Lewis, UTBA member

Betsy West in Salt Lake Acting Company’s production of The Cake was one of the best things on stage this year. Her effervescent and broad performance made her perfectly believable as the small-town baker who thinks that every problem can be solved by sharing a slice of cake. I found it easy to get swept away into West’s performance and the conflict that it later creates in the play. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

Excellent New Plays

Jennifer Fouche as Mom, Lexi Walker as Malia, and Thom Miller as Dad in Fly More Than You Fall at Utah Valley University.

Fly More Than You Fall was one of the most phenomenal musicals in Utah of 2019. After being workshopped elsewhere, the first full production appeared on the Noorda stage at Utah Valley University. From Eric Holmes‘s and Nat Zegree‘s catchy, hilarious, and heartfelt score, to the incredible acting talent each performer so beautifully portrayed (including, but not limited to, Jennifer Fouché, Cairo McGee, and Seth Foster), Fly More Than You Fall was a theatrical masterpiece under Jeff Whiting‘s superb direction. To all of Fly More Than You Fall’s creators, I cannot wait to see your show again—hopefully on Broadway. —Ryan Gurr, UTBA member

Camille Washington‘s Oda Might at Plan-B Theatre was such an expertly crafted piece, both on part of script and acting. It was the sort of theater that makes me excited for the future of Utah’s artistic scope, and was utterly transformative. How wonderful to see more representation in our state, and how powerful this story was. I look forward to seeing what else Plan-B turns out. —Kat Webb, UTBA board member

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival is really hit or miss for me. The Night Witches by Rachel Bublitz, directed by Alexandra Harbold, and produced by YouTheatre at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City is the best example of ensemble work I have seen in a very long time. This story of female teenage pilots in WWII did not shy from the heartache and risk of combat and celebrated the abilities of young women without qualifying anything. The youth performers were top notch and the design was far more sophisticated than most Fringe fare. Everyone should do their best to see it when it is remounted by the company. —Megan Crivello, UTBA vice-president

Excellent Technical Designs

Thomas George‘s paper walls for the set of Pygmalion Theatre Company’s Sweetheart Come were supremely clever. Both functional and symbolic, these set pieces were one of the main reasons the production was so successful.  —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

Other Excellence in Utah Theatre

Sackerson’s A Brief Waltz in a Little Room.

Sackerson has been redefining innovation since their conception. This year’s new A Brief Waltz in a Little Room is no exception, pushing boundaries in design and subject matter specific to our culture. A Brief Waltz in a Little Room was created for our specific time and place, providing needed messages for our community. This is done in an epically creative way, using multiple media forms and being staged in what used to be dressing rooms for a clothing store. Sackerson was able to make incredible use of the space, each dressing room designed dramatically different than the others. The production provided me with profound introspection like I have never quite experienced from the theatre before, touching me deeply. If theatre holds the power to positively change the world, it would be from productions like this. —Tara Haas, UTBA secretary

The cast of Pioneer Theatre Company’s Cagney.

I would like to point out how Utah has lead the way this year in world premieres and cutting edge shows.  I saw Cagney on its way to Broadway at Pioneer Theatre Company, Fly More Than you Fall at the Noorda on the UVU campus, a beautiful production of The House of Edgar Allan Poe at Weber State, a staged reading of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle at Good Company in Ogden, and even a reading of The Great Society at the Lyric Company in Logan before the play opened on Broadway this fall. As a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, I got to go to New York City this fall for a conference, and I got a lot of questions about what the theatre scene in Utah was like.  I was proud to talk about how innovative and impressive we are here.  From the outside of the box shows at Sackerson to the new works being produced in theatres throughout the Wasatch Front, I am proud to be a part of the community here in Utah. —Maren Swenson, UTBA staff member

That’s this year’s roundup! Hopefully you saw some of these great shows. What excellent shows did we miss?

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 201120122013201420152016, 2017, and 2018. (It’s amazing how many companies crop up on the list year after year.)