During 2011, UTBA reviewed over 200 productions from Logan to Cedar City. Moreover, there were likely hundreds of other productions that didn’t receive a UTBA review for a variety of reasons. Instead of trying to systematically evaluate all these productions, we invited our reviewers to reminisce about the year in Utah theatre and tell us what the productions that they thought represented artistic excellence in Utah theatre during 2011.

Excellent Professional (Equity) Productions

  • I really need to attend more shows at Salt Lake Acting Company, because I am always impressed when I do.  This year, I was engulfed by Circle Mirror Transformation.  For such a simple set and concept, I was impressed at how much the characters grew and changed.  It was touching and funny; I look back on it as a fond memory. – Amber Peck, UTBA staff
  • I discovered theater when I was 13 and my parents took me to Les Miserables at Capitol Theater.  Since then, this show has firmly held my number one spot of all time.  So of course, when it came through this year with Broadway Across America, I had to attend. Despite the trimmed down version (which I didn’t like), this show still had the ability to capture my heart and soul.  With the new 25th anniversary tour, the projections were an added favorite of mine.  A timeless production that always seems to please the Utah audience. – Megan B. Pedersen, UTBA Reviewer
  • There are 3 equity productions that stand out to me this past year. First, SLAC’s Persian Quarter delighted me like only a Kathleen Cahill script could. Matthew Ivan Bennett’s Mesa Verde at Plan-B was beautifully directed, and Eric Samuelsen’s Borderlands (also Plan-B) featured such relevant and local themes within simple and strong characters framed by excellent direction. In fact, that’s what all three of these shows had in common: strong characters, timely themes, and beautiful direction and acting. We may not have many Equity Houses here in Utah, but the few we do make me proud to live in Utah. – Dave Mortensen, UTBA Founder

Excellent Semi-Professional Productions

  • I thoroughly enjoyed The Sting & Honey Company’s production of Waiting for Godot. I was sad to see Samuel Beckett’s “endless” play come to an end. Well directed by Javen Tanner, this simple production was both funny and smart. If the run had been longer, I might have gone a second time. – Melissa Leilani Larson, UTBA Reviewer
  • There are two shows that I could not recommend enough to other patrons: Sting & Honey’s Waiting for Godot  and Pygmalion’s production of Well. Goodness. I am never one to see a play more than once, but I returned to Well not once, but two more times with new patrons each night. Such an incredible script and brilliant performances by both Cheryl Gaysunas and Anne Cullimore Decker. I will return to Pygmalion every chance I get. – Dave Mortensen, UTBA Founder

Excellent College/University Productions

  • Elephant’s Graveyard at UVU. Incredible script. Great acting. Brilliant music and sound design. Excellence all around. – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer
  • BYU’s production of The Elephant Man was one of the best university-level productions I’ve seen in years. Director David Morgan’s choices were theatrical and exciting, and the script itself is intriguing and moving. The production wasn’t perfect, sure; but the good stuff was just so good, including Graham Ward’s performance in the title role. Without relying on make-up and costuming,  Ward made me completely believe he was the disfigured, childlike John Merrick, and he broke my heart in the process. – Melissa Leilani Larson, UTBA Reviewer
  • I like theater that makes me think.  I also enjoy a production that dares to challenge long held beliefs and thoughts.   The University of Utah’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the Babcock Theater did just that!  With an awesome set, great direction and solid acting, the Babcock came onto the radar for me this year. – Megan B. Pedersen, UTBA Reviewer

Excellent Amateur Productions

  • UTBA doesn’t review high school productions, but I saw two productions at Lehi High School (Curtains and Titanic: the Musical) in the past few months that were unbelievably great. They definitely were on par with anything BYU produced this year. I have to wonder what other high schools are producing high-quality theater that we aren’t aware of? – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer

Excellent Productions of Musicals

  • I felt like a kid again seeing Hale Center Theater in Orem’s Seussical: The Musical. There was so much magic, I actually saw it twice. It was one of the most polished and well-done productions I’ve seen–and I include every Broadway, West End, and national tour production. From the acting to the lighting design to the direction, every element created a world full of childhood wonder. I still think about this show months later, and wish I could see it again! – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer

Excellent Productions of Shakespeare

  • I don’t know if it was the best Shakespeare I saw this year, but the most memorable production of the Bard’s work for me was Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth. I loved being a “groundling” and watching the show as I leaned up against the stage. I thought that the simple special effects and somewhat modern costuming focused attention on the script, which is one of Shakespeare’s strongest. With its unique production process (inspired by Renaissance-era practices) Grassroots gives you a Shakespeare experience that you won’t find anywhere else in the state. – Russell Warne, UTBA Staff
  • Another post about Grassroots. They just do Shakespeare right! They make it accessible and entertaining no matter how serious or light the subject matter. I love that everyone involved–from actor to back-row audience member–has a blast and leaves with a totally unique, totally memorable experience. Back in July, Grassroots tried something rather daring; they produced three shows in one night, back to back. It was five hours of Shakespeare, and I was expecting to burn out quickly. On the contrary, I stayed all five hours and loved every minute of it. They even produced an all-male production of Midsummer that I loved. (I’m not a fan of Midsummer.) Grassroots does it right: from the music to the costumes to their own style of humor and cleverness. I never want to miss a Grassroots production. – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer
  • We can’t forget the only Tony Award winning theater in the state: the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I was pleasantly surprised by their production of Romeo & Juliet. I thought I had explored all the depth of R&J and I didn’t expect how much new insight I would gain into the characters, their motivations, and the consequences of their actions. Bravo to director David Ivers and his performers for making something old seem new again. – Russell Warne, UTBA Staff

Excellent Experimental Works

  • Oedipus the King, produced at BYU in March, was an interesting piece, adapted and directed by Graham Ward. Classical works are difficult to make accessible to modern audiences, but Ward’s production seemed to overcome those obstacles. I loved the simplicity and that the production relied on good acting to carry it instead intense technical elements. – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer

Excellent Directing and Choreography

  • Jeremy Mann’s direction and Rhett Guter’s choreography for the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Music Man still awes me, six months later. Mann’s direction pulled more emotion out of The Music Man than I ever thought possible. (There were even people crying at intermission!) And I adored Guter’s choreography, as I clearly wrote in my original review. Together, Mann and Guter have a production by which I’ll be judging all future versions of The Music Man that I see. – Russell Warne, UTBA staff

Excellent Acting Performances

  • For whatever reason, UTBA missed reviewing Yellow, a BYU Experimental Theater production back in April, but it deserves recognition. It was by far one of the best and most moving plays I saw this year. The play was beautifully directed by Jenny Huffman and Brighton Sloan, and starred the incredible talents of Ronnie Stringfellow, Cameron Bench, Mari Toronto, and Kent Lloyd. Yellow was a show that let its actors absolutely shine with clever writing and deep relationships. Bench and Stringfellow played husband and wife dealing with (spoilers!) the husband’s schizophrenia and wife’s cancer, which sounds like the play was a downer. But it wasn’t. The play was really about kissing. (Get your hands on the script and read it!) Both Bench and Stringfellow gave incredible performances and have got to be some of the most talented actors coming out of BYU. I could rave on and on about this production, but the point is: it was a gorgeous, moving story masterfully executed by all involved. – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer
  • Seeing Shakespeare performed at the Utah Shakepearean Festival in Cedar City is… quite simply… dessert.  Oh yummy!  Watching those exquisite actors perform Richard III and Romeo and Juliet this year was magical to me.  Under those lights, each actor knowing exactly what every word meant to them personally, I was absolutely taken away.  It was a privilege.  (Wish I hadn’t missed Midsummer.) – Amber Peck, UTBA Reviewer and Staff

Excellent New Play

  • A reason I go to the theatre is to discover things about myself. When a moral or a statement is shoved down my throat I find myself learning less about myself and more about whoever wrote or directed the show. That is why I loved The Plan, written and directed by Eric Samuelson, which was performed at the Covey Center. Samuelson didn’t come at the us as an audience with a list of everything we’re  doing wrong. Instead he crafted a simple and touching script that asked the audience questions that commanded thought and had me discovering things I’d never thought about before. The acting was great, the staging was good, and the writing was brilliant. – Andrea Gunoe, guest blogger
  • I saw over 115 shows in 2011; from New York City to The Utah Shakespeare Festival.  Borderlands, a new play produced by Plan-B Theater Company, not only sits firmly in my top 3 of the year but in my top 3 plays of all time as well. Written by Eric Samuelson and directed by Jerry Rapier, Borderlands took me out of the theater, away from costume design, lighting, acting and sets. As I sat in the darkened theater I was whisked away in emotion, introspection and tears.  I loved this show for its simplicity. There was no overwrought dialogue and posturing to be profound. It was simple, to the point and honest. – Megan B. Pedersen, UTBA Reviewer

Excellent Technical Design

  • There were many amazing things about A Midsummer Night’s Dream at USF but one element that has stayed with me months later is Janet Swenson’s costume design. Her costumes swept me from the real world and into the fantasy immediately. One costume, particularly, has stayed on my mind and it was that of the lion. I don’t think I’ve ever been as delighted by a costume. I usually find them dazzling or beautiful but I couldn’t look at the lion without giggling. Swenson never fails to be inventive and she always brings things out of characters that I never knew could be there. – Andrea Gunoe, guest blogger
  • BYU’s spring production of The Diary of Anne Frank was gorgeous in so many ways. The story, of course, is always a moving one; the acting was of an especially high quality for a BYU off-season production; but it was the technical design that I found most striking. The set design was incredible–three stories of completely detailed attic space, complete with numerous light sources and running water, enterable from the stage floor–washed in beautiful lights at all times. The sound design included effects to mimic street sounds the Frank family might have heard and music written and performed by cellist Jennifer Chandler. Chandler’s underscoring provided specific tone and urgency to the script that brought the production to a whole other level. (BYU isn’t letting Chandler’s talents to go waste, either, as she was just seen again writing and performing her cello underscoring in The Elephant Man.) – Paige Guthrie, UTBA Reviewer

Other Excellence in Utah Theatre in 2011

  • It was not strictly a theatre production, but I thought that one of the best developments in theatre in the state was the live broadcast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on BYUtv in August. Although not my favorite production at the Festival this year, I thought it was an excellent choice for introducing USF and the Bard to a wider audience. The broadcast was an unqualified artistic and technical success and I even tuned in for the December rebroadcast. I hope that BYUtv and USF continue this partnership. – Russell Warne, UTBA Staff

Excellent Theater Company

  • I know that when I go to Pioneer Theater Company, I’m going to be impressed.  They seem to have struck the perfect balance of thought provoking, fun, beautiful and daring all with the professionalism and talent that exceeds a majority of productions I’ve seen in Utah and in New York.  This year we saw Black Comedy, In, Diary of Anne Frank, Sunset Boulevard, Rent, Next to Normal, Tempest and Annie. If you saw any of these, you know what I’m talking about.  I can hardly pick one, so I’m highlighting the whole lineup.  From the new to avid theater lover, Pioneer Theater Company stands out as an Excellent Theater Company. – Megan B. Pedersen, UTBA Reviewer

One last note from our founder, Dave Mortensen:

There are well over 50 theater companies in our state and it amazes me how much theater we produce. It’s safe to say a patron could see over 20 shows each month. While we’ve picked a handful of productions and companies to highlight, I really want to emphasize the greatness of our theater community as a whole. If we keep producing good works, and keep defining and sticking to our artistic mission statements I have no doubt awards will abound. Salt Lake City (and the rest of the State) has what it takes to become a national theater destination. I don’t doubt that for a second. Thank you for the excellent work you do and for letting us experience it with you. Here’s to another great year of theater in 2012!

What were some of your favorite moments in Utah theater in 2011?