With the end of the year upon us, it is time for one of UTBA’s greatest traditions: the annual post where our reviewers commend the Utah theatre community’s excellent work on the stage in the previous year. In 2021, a lot of Utah theatre companies were bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic. It would have been so easy for companies to mount small, unambitious shows after being shut down for so long. Instead, the vast majority of Utah theatre companies created productions that matched—or even surpassed—their pre-pandemic quality.

While it is not feasible to recount every good show that UTBA members saw in 2021, we did compile their opinions about some of the year’s most commendable shows. We hope that you enjoy this walk down memory lane.


Background: Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Tateh and Melinda Pfundstein as Mother; foreground: Andrew Ezekiel as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 production of Ragtime. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2021.)

Ragtime at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was the greatest thing on stage in Utah this year. Its combination of inspired direction (by USF artistic director Brian Vaughn) and transcendent acting stands shoulder to shoulder with the best theatrical experiences of my life. It was emotionally and artistically overwhelming. People left that theater different from when they went in. This is as good as it gets, folks. Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker Jr. went from musical ladies’ man to lovesick puppy dog to violent revolutionary; Andrew delivered a singular performance, the best in the state in 2021. Matching his virtuosity was Melinda Pfundstein as Mother whose strong voice and character work made for two hours of compelling drama. Every member of the Ragtime cast made it what it was—a masterpiece.  —B. F. Isaccson, UTBA staff member [Editor’s note: Two other UTBA members commended Ragtime for excellence. In a decade of these year-end posts, we have never before had three UTBA members independently single out the same show as representing excellence in theatre in the state.]

Gerald Steichen as Cosme McMoon and Joy Hermalyn as Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir at Utah Festival Opera.

Souvenir at the Utah Festival Opera was phenomenal. The performers (Joy Hermalyn and Gerald Steichen) were a delight to watch. Both had such a command of the show that I easily got lost in the story of Florence Foster Jenkins. Amidst the laughter and tears, I enjoyed the ride to the end. I will never forget this performance, and the actors left me with the best souvenir anyone could ask for. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member


Always . . . Patsy Cline at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy was a treasure. Tamari Dunbar, as Louise, was probably my favorite female performer that I saw in 2021. Her energy was infectious, and she was down-to-earth funny. Corri Cable Kidder had a voice that perfectly captured Patsy Cline and still has me listening to Patsy Cline more than six months later. This production ranks in my top 10 all-time favorites. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member

Hale Center Theater Orem’s last two productions were commendable for different reasons. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was impressive because director David Paul Smith succeeded in putting a big, sweeping story onto the intimate HCTO stage. I reviewed HCTO’s A Christmas Carol again this year, and I am pleased in how that show has metamorphosized in recent years. The changes that the producers have made to the script in the past few years, coupled with Shawnda Moss‘s skillful direction, have improved the show immensely to bring depth and beauty to the traditional Christmas fable. —Russell Warne, UTBA president


Something’s Afoot at Weber State University.

Something’s Afoot at Weber State University was one of my favorite productions for the year. The cast, set, and entire production were superb. Jaycee Harris’s portrayal of Mrs. Tweed carried the night with great comedic mystery delight. My only regret was that it only ran for a couple weekends, and I wasn’t able to get my family back to see it. —Danica Francom, UTBA member

In my review of Julius Caesar at BYU, I said it was a “glorious production.” And I stand by that assessment now. This was an actors’ show, and this cast excelled. For days afterwards, all my wife and I talked about how stunning the performances were. The standout actor was Sadie Veach as a brutal Cassius. Veach is a whirlwind of talent who crafts her performance carefully to deliver a maximum emotional punch. (Give her a one-woman show!) I loved nearly every aspect of this show, including Michael Krazeck‘s set, Dennis Wright‘s costumes, and especially Linda Hartzell‘s direction. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Sympathizer at the University of Utah.

Sympathizer is the first play by a promising young playwright at the University of Utah. Serena Collins has built a play with distinct characters, a realistic flow of dialogue, and approaches the important conversation about accountability for sexual assault with fresh ideas and nuance. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member


Newsies popped up all over the state this year, and while I will usually say I am tired of the same show over and over again, I was downright shocked by the level of professionalism in the Terrace Plaza Playhouse of Newsies. Much like the underdogs themselves, this production at Terrace was victorious over productions with more money and better known actors. It was the best production of Newsies that I have seen in Utah. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Something Rotten at Heritage Theatre.

Something Rotten at the Heritage Theatre was a very fun evening of theatre for theatre people. For anyone who knows Shakespeare and musical theatre, Something Rotten is a comedy made in heaven, as there are hundreds of jokes that reference one or the other. All of the leads were very strong in this community theatre production, but Tyler O’Bagy as William Shakespeare was hilarious.  —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

I gave some of my most glowing reviews this year to amateur productions, including Spanish Fork Community Theater’s The Foreigner, Herriman Arts Council’s Newsies, and Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board’s The Star-Spangled Girl. All of these shows were delightful and reminded me of why I have a long-running love affair with amateur stage productions in Utah. But the show that takes the cake this year was Spamalot at the SCERA. Even if I tried for a year, I would not be able to find a way to improve on the work of director Michael Carrasco, his designers, and the cast. Bravo! —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Emma Duffin as Cinderella in the Four Seasons Theatre production of Cinderella.

Cinderella produced by the Four Seasons Theatre Company had all the music that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for the original version of the show. The singing in this production was heavenly, but I was very impressed with the technical elements that make the night feel magical. The horse and carriage was breathtaking as well as several magical dress transformations. Some of the script updates are debatable, but the way that director Kody Rash staged the show felt flawless. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member


It’s so refreshing to see large casts of professionals simultaneously performing at a high level. And that refreshment maxed out at the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s The Pirates of Penzance, which was awash with pirates, ladies and policemen delivering comedic gold. I wish I could have watched it 30 times to catch every little glance and gesture from the excellent cast. Plus, Pirate King Rhett Guter delivered a dance-off for the ages (and was also a captivating Houdini in USF’s Ragtime). —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA staff member

The West Valley Arts production of Sweeney Todd this fall was perhaps the best Sweeney Todd I have seen in Utah, and second only to the off-Broadway production I saw a few years ago. The technical elements, musicality, costuming, and every other element of this production in West Valley was so flawless and executed with such a seamless flair that it was a chilling and haunting reminder of everything that the late, great Sondheim wanted to teach us all with his 1979 hit. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Casey Matern as Mrs. Lovett and J. Michael Bailey as Sweeney Todd in the West Valley Arts production of Sweeney Todd.

The Drowsy Chaperone at the SCERA was so much fun! I loved the acting, Julie Bonifay‘s directing, and the set. The actors were fantastic in their comedic timing and in bringing out the joy of that show. They kept me laughing the whole time! —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

The Ziegfeld Theater’s production of Bright Star in Ogden was such a beautiful, yet quiet, standout production that I still find myself thinking about it from time to time. I had the pleasure a few years back of seeing most of the original Broadway Cast when they came to Pioneer Theatre, and it was shocking to find myself enjoying a show at the Ziegfeld as much as the same play at an Equity house. But I honestly did. From the Caleb Parry‘s set (simple, but surprisingly connected to the action throughout the show), to the heartfelt cast that really gave their all to the story, this may have been one of the best moments in Utah theatre in 2021. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president


Left to right: Michael Doherty as Dromio of Syracuse, Mauricio Miranda as Antipholus of Syracuse, Marco Antonio Vega as Antipholus of Ephesus, and Andrew Plinio as Dromio of Ephesus in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 production of The Comedy of Errors. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2021.)

I needed some escapism this year, and two companies gave me the ideal Shakespeare comedy to help me forget my troubles. The Utah Shakespeare Festival’s The Comedy of Errors was a 90-minute romp, thanks to Vincent J. Cardinal‘s fast-paced action and the frantic performances of the two Dromios (Michael Doherty and Andrew Plinio) and Antipholuses (Marco Antonio Vega and Mauricio Miranda). The next month, the Parker Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing was a gorgeous delight. Director Joanne M. Parker found the humor and the heart in this timeless Shakespeare play. Both of these productions bridged the centuries since Shakespeare to bring some comfort during the 21st century pandemic, and I will fondly treasure both for a long time. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

I know that when I originally saw and reviewed Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s recent performance of Richard III, I wasn’t particularly happy with how a lot of the story got lost, but the show has been on my mind a lot. Relentlessly studying theater in college has made me very pro-script analysis and pro-director’s vision, but Grassroots has come to make me appreciate the beauty of a group-led and almost devised process. Sure, there are countless scholars that argue what the “True Interpretation” of Shakespeare is supposed to be, but I think a small group of young theater-obsessed people getting together with an extremely limited budget to create theater because they enjoy it is really the foundation of theater. It’s what Shakespeare and his friends were doing, and for that reason, Grassroots does charmingly capture the essence of Shakespeare the way Shakespeare did Shakespeare. —Sam Rust, UTBA member

Hands down, the best Shakespeare production I’ve seen in a while was Tooele Valley Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night Dream. I don’t naturally gravitate to Shakespeare productions but I absolutely loved this Midsummer. The cast had so much fun with this production and it was obvious. Chad Henwood was a fantastic director for this production, making the show a good fit for Shakespeare lovers and Shakespeare novices. Also, Tooele Velley Theatre is the best new theatre company I’ve yet to encounter, with very strong outdoor shows. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member


Mitchell Morgan as Narrator #2 in the Ogden Musical Theatre production of Into the Woods.

Director Maddie Tarbox gave Into the Woods at Ogden Musical Theatre to a unique and new perspective. Tarbox’s inventive take on the narrator added such a touching perspective that the story is forever changed for me for the better. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Freaky Friday at the Ziegfeld Theatre! I am giving this show a shout out because I saw it back in February of 2021, and it was the first play I had seen in a while. Director Morgan Perry took the challenge of doing a big musical, added on all the challenges of the COVID regulations at the time, and still managed to put together a really great production. There were face shields and masks on the actors, temperature checks and social distancing, and it felt intense to be there. But I left feeling happy to be back at the theatre watching a really fun and well done musical that rose to the challenge. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Adam Dyer’s choreography was the best part of 1820: The Musical. Besides being dazzlingly modern and entertaining, I appreciated how it expressed characters and moved the plot forward. I also learned from writing this that Dyer was the aerialist performing Spider-Man in Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, so that’s pretty awesome. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA staff member


Jordan Kramer (lying down) as Hedwig and Laura Elise Chapman as Yitzhak in the 2021 An Other Theater production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Two of the best performances I have ever seen in my life were (1) Hedwig and the Angry Inch at An Other Theater in 2019 and (2) Hedwig and the Angry Inch at An Other Theater in 2021. This time around I got to see Jordan Kramer as Hedwig and Laura Elise Chapman as Yitzhak, and the talent the both of them carry is insane. I could rambling about their stellar performances for pages, and that’s without even mentioning the rest of the talented people involved in the production. As fun as it is to see Hedwig rock out on a big, normal proscenium, she works so well inside that little Radio Shack-turned-black box. It is a beautifully intimate venue, and you get to feel the emotion of the show in such a unique way. And An Other’s portrayal of Tommy Gnosis is also one of my favorite versions of the character. I would have gone to see the show many more times had it not been an hour drive both ways for me. —Sam Rust, UTBA member

I was able to see Les Misérables at the Hale Centre Theatre, and I have to highlight Kyle Olsen as Jean Valjean and Preston Taylor as Javert for giving some of the best performances of the year. These two both portrayed their iconic characters and left me in ugly-crying in the theatre multiple times. Olsen’s “Bring Him Home” and Taylor’s “Stars” stabbed at my heart with their exquisite beauty and sadness. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Jonathan Wagner was a ton of fun as Dewey in Tuacahn’s School of Rock and a total pro at covering the production’s technical mishaps. Any time you get to see someone perform a role they did 140 times on Broadway, it’s a good day. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA staff member


The new musical In Pieces was expertly performed at Weber State University in the regional premiere of this new play. With a small cast of just 11 actors and a simple set (designed by Porter Lance) this show was anything but plain. The music, singing, and acting was heartfelt and catching. It affected me so much that I downloaded some of the songs and still have them caught in my head every day. —Danica Francom, UTBA member

The powerful emotion behind Vincent Terrell Durham’s Polar Bears, Black Boys, and Prairie Fringed Orchids, was read as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s New Works series, left me a human wreck with it’s tight script and urgent message. I can’t wait for this play to receive a full performance in Utah so it can have the size of audience it deserves. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member


The 2021 production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Hale Centre Theatre.

The best technical theatre I saw this year was Hale Centre Theatre’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. All of the special effects surrounding the magical car were as grand as I had hoped. I felt the technical staff at the Sandy Hale truly used their facilities and resources to the best of the advantages and didn’t rely excessively on projections. The whole production featured solid designs in the costuming (from Joy Zhu), set (by Kacey Udy), props (by Michelle Jensen), lighting (by Jaron Hermansen) and technical effects. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member

I’ve never seen anything like The Count of Monte Cristo at Tuacahn. The onstage work with live animals and costumes was impressive by itself, but what really blew my mind was their second set on a hill behind the main stage. The timing between the two was impeccable as was the lighting and set design of the prison tower. The way scenic designer Brad Shelton integrated red rock into his stone arch design made me honestly wonder if the stage was an extension of the canyon. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA staff member


SONDERimmersive’s The Lost Generation.

Hemingway & The Byrd (reviewed as The Lost Generation), by SONDERimmersive is the most exciting theatrical experience I’ve had since the pandemic began. Through a partnership with CytyByrd Caf!, this full sensory, small audience, immersive experience is not to be forgotten. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

Did you know West Valley Arts is doing plays in the old Hale location? I didn’t until I saw the Utah Shakepeare Festival’s Gold Mountain. While I haven’t seen any of their stuff, they seem like they could use some more publicity. The 2022 season includes mostly family classics like Beauty and Beast, The Foreigner, Little Women, In the Heights and Little Shop of Horrors. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA staff member

The last two years have been some of the hardest we have seen in theatre across the country, and I have been so proud to be a part of the Utah theatre community. I have been impressed with how we continue to weather the storm, and I know that we will continue to innovate and come through with stronger and better productions than ever before. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

I second Maren’s comment. I am so proud of the theatre companies in this state that have mounted productions under difficult circumstances. Whereas most of the country’s stages are still completely dark or operating at low capacity, most Utah theatre companies are on their feet and back as strong as ever. This state should take pride in its producers, directors, actors, technicians, and designers. They give me hope that the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely behind us and that one day we will all be back applauding the Utah theatre community in person again. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 20112012201320142015201620172018, 2019, and 2020. As usual, we ask readers to remember that this is not a “best of the year” post, but rather an informal response to our members to discuss shows that they thought were excellent. There were many other productions in the state that were commendable.