Today is New Year’s Eve, and that means is time for UTBA’s annual post where our members discuss the excellent shows they saw in the past year. From Logan to St. George, UTBA reviewed 248 theatre productions in 2022. (That is an average of one review every 1.47 days!) With so many shows to consider, it is impossible to spotlight every show we loved. But here are some of the productions that have stayed with us throughout the year.

Excellent Professional (Equity) Productions

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2022 production of Clue. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2022.)

Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Clue was full of inventive blocking and movement. The zany direction kept the audience guessing, just like the game the play was based on. Sometimes director Hunter Foster had the actors running in 90 degree angles, like on a game board. Sometimes they would run in circles until they ended up dancing the Horah. Additionally, the set design by Jo Winiarski for Clue was very cool: a stunning Victorian mansion outline with rooms that opened and closed like a doll house. The lighting (designed by William Kirkham) and sound (designed Melanie Chen Cole) also set the mood wonderfully for a dark, stormy, and madcap night. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

Every moment of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Utah Festival Opera was phenomenal. The music was superb, and Timothy Stewart was excellent as Joseph. But what made the whole show particularly captivating was director Valerie Rachelle‘s vision. She balanced these excellent performances with stunning choreography and striking technical designs. The diversity of dance styles and the high level of difficulty in each number was more than I have ever seen in any musical production. The visual designs of this show were unsurpassed. The set (by Patrick Larsen), costumes (by Amanda Profaizer), and lights (by Chris Wood) were all designed to be bold and striking. These designers blew me away with their craft just as much as the actors did. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2022 production of Trouble in Mind. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2022.)

Trouble in Mind at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was the best straight play I saw all year. Nearly six months later, I am still taken aback by the power of Yvette Monique Clark‘s performance as Wiletta. Clark knows how to make a character strong and vulnerable simultaneously, and I was spellbound by her work. Antonio TJ Johnson gave a complex portrayal of Sheldon; every time I felt like I understood the character, Johnson would surprise me with another layer to Sheldon. Thanks to the entire cast, Trouble in Mind was everything I could hope for in a play: relevant, entertaining, thought-provoking, moving, and funny. Director Melissa Maxwell is a master of her craft, and if she ever directs a play in Utah again, I will be the first to buy a ticket. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent Semi-Professional Productions

The Little Mermaid at Hale Centre Theatre was absolutely stunning. This production was daring and adventurous technically, and it had beautiful singing with a strong ensemble. Just walking into the space was visually mesmerizing. Sophia Marie Guererro perfectly conveyed the willful hopeless romantic of Ariel that is impossible to not be in love with. “Under the Sea” was a bop. Watching the mersisters and performers swinging and twirling through the sky was thrilling. Writing my review of this show was difficult because I just got so lost in watching it. It is going to be tough for HCT to make a show that equals it in 2023, but I am excited to see them try.  —Scott Savage, UTBA member

The 2022-2023 production of The Little Mermaid at Hale Centre Theatre.

Elf the Musical at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre was as mystical as it was magical. I would gladly see it again, thanks to the great impression it made on me. The performers certainly knew how to bring on the Christmas ambiance with this one! —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

It is very difficult to infuse new life into an old classic like A Christmas Carol, but that’s what they did at the Parker Theatre. The script focused on themes of ignorance and want and added elements I have not seen in most versions, such as Jacob Marley in pre-ghost form. I was also very impressed by the wire aerial work and dazzling lighting effects especially for the Ghost of Christmas Past. —Rachel Wagner, UTBA member

A Christmas Carol at the Parker Theatre.

The Pumpkin Giant at the Parker Theatre was a TYA (theatre for young audiences) play so good that major TYA companies across the country should be doing it. The script by Joanne Parker and Reuben Fox was well written and playful — just as good TYA should be. It was accessible to children and enjoyable for adults, both in terms of story and the dialogue. The highlight, however, was the puppet for the title character, which was one of the greatest puppets I have ever seen. The Pumpkin Giant was a smashing success. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

Excellent College/University Productions

Eurydice at Weber State University was a thought-provoking evening. It was a very cerebral production, designed to make the audience reflect on the somewhat strange telling of the ancient Greek tale. While all of the performers were excellent, I must recognize Spencer Sanders in particular for his committed and quirky performance as A Nasty Interesting Man/Child, who is a character full of contradictions. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Ghost Quartet at Utah State University.

One of the most memorable shows I saw in 2022 was Ghost Quartet, produced by Utah State University Opera Theatre. Although I saw this show in January, the creative production, chilling storyline, and breathtaking songs have haunted me throughout this year. The entire show was an immersive experience in a small black box theatre with elaborate drapes and golden lanterns set up in an eccentric, yet elegant, way by scenic designer Dennis Hassan. The small cast (consisting of Taylor WoolfPatrice Densley, Gideon Benge, and Hayden Höglund) meandered throughout the theatre performing around the audience, creating a very inclusive feel. The actors interacted with audience members and even helped to explain the complicated storyline during intermissions.  This exquisite show was a treat to attend. —Danica Francom, UTBA member

Excellent Amateur Productions

Left to right: Emme Casper as Little Red Ridinghood, Daniel Clegg as Jack, Sydney Dameron as Cinderella, and Daniel Clegg as the Baker in the Lehi Arts production of Into the Woods.

Into the Woods by Lehi Arts impressed on many levels. First, the singing—goodness gracious—in the individual and group numbers was wonderful. The show was also packed with great acting performances, led by a tremendous Emily Duncan as the Baker’s Wife. Both my wife (who had never seen it) and I (an Into the Woods vet) were dying to go a second time, but the run sold out, darn it! —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

The combination of quality acting and high-caliber humor makes St. George Musical Theater’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels one of the best community theatre shows of 2022. The natural chemistry between David Stanley and Abe Hegewald (as the title swindlers) was a delight to behold. Hegewald, as Freddy, could give a master class in sacrificing oneself for his craft (he even held a live goldfish in his mouth during one scene), but the entire cast brought a level of professionalism to the community theatre stage. —Lisa Larson, UTBA member

The Herriman Arts Council production of Cinderella. Photo by Tonia McPeak.

I got spoiled this year seeing some of the most prominent shows in the state, but one of the few shows I returned to see was Herriman Arts Council’s production of Cinderella. It was such a masterful use of a large ensemble by director Kristin Housley, and the city produced a show that spared no detail. Amber Lee Roberts was as fun and engaging a Fairy Godmother as I have seen on stage and brought new depth to a character that has been played so well so many times. The highest praise I can give it is that it seemed like the kind of show I would have wanted to be in. What more could anyone want from an amateur production? It was fun and brilliant. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

The Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board production of Guys and Dolls was a huge undertaking for an arts council. Not only did they pull it off well, they had such a great spirit of community doing so. It was wonderful to see so many budding actors given challenging parts that allowed them to grow and to see the talent put in by directors Julie Fox and Melinda Severn to make the show shine. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

Excellent Productions of Shakespeare

Left to right: Isabella Giordano as Guildenstern, Spencer Hohl as Hamlet, and Josh Egbert as Rosencrantz in the Parker Theatre production of Hamlet.

The most enjoyable Shakespeare I saw in 2022 was Hamlet at the Parker Theatre. My review was a rave, and I stand by every word of it. The gorgeous costumes by Paige Burton, the masterful directing by Brinton Wilkins, and the superb lighting by James Parker made the production a visual treat. But what I appreciated most was the achingly human performances by the cast, led by Spencer Hohl in the title role. It had been two years since I had seen Hamlet (and three years since I had seen a good Hamlet), and I missed the characters deeply. I am grateful to the Parker Theatre for reuniting me with my old friends Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and others. It was wonderful to see these characters portrayed vividly as real people for a few hours on stage. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Excellent Productions of Musicals

When I think of excellence in theatre this year, my mind immediately goes to West Valley Arts production of In The Heights. Everything about that production was excellent, from the cast, to the set designed by Jason Baldwin, to the directing by Juan Hector Pereira. From the moment I walked into the auditorium, I was transported to Washington Heights. The choreography by Izzy Arrieta, the costume design, the music . . . all of it was exactly what I love most about theatre. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Micki Martinez as Vanessa and Pedro Flores as Usnavi in the West Valley Arts production of In the Heights.

I had been familiar with Hello, Dolly! for over 20 years, but I never understood how it was such a megahit in the 1960s — until I saw Pioneer Theatre Company’s production. Paige Davis was a delightful Dolly who could effortlessly deliver wisecracks, tug at the heartstrings, and “raise the roof” with a powerful anthem. Karen Azenberg‘s directing and choreography made this old chestnut spring to life with energy and vitality. The designs were beautiful, and the supporting cast and ensemble were second to none. Thank you to everyone at Pioneer Theatre Company for opening my eyes and helping me see the full potential of this classic from the golden age of musical theatre. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

I was greatly impressed with the improvement in quality at Murray City Arts this year. Their Matilda, directed by Candy Tippetts, was delightful and strong as any production of the musical that I have seen in the state. The staging of “School Song” with block letters stuck into the gate of the school was so smart. I laughed myself silly when little Lavender (played by Gwenyth Nielsen) was tossed offstage by the Trunchbull (played by Brinton Wilkins) and then proceeded to run around the entire circumference of the venue. Maevah Hiatt was a powerhouse as Matilda, and supporting leads like Brinton Wilkins and the Wormwoods (played by Alina Mower and Adam Wilkins) were excellent. The ensemble songs by the children were solid, and I love that they had a live orchestra. Way to go, Murray Arts! —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

Excellent Directing and Choreography

While I always like productions at Utah Valley University, I loved Charlotte’s Web. The story is near and dear to my heart, and the characters are timeless. However, what really stood out to me was the staging. The production utilized five brilliant actors performing in the round with many puppets and costume changes to convey all of the story’s many characters. It was not grandiose, as the show needed to tour local schools. But I was so taken with it that I requested that it travel to the school where I teach. Charlotte’s Web served a full slate of emotions through five brilliantly strong performances from Leah Carr, Kaitlin LeBeau, Andrew Schindler, Max Jennings, and Lillian Gibb. Teresa Love is the best director of theatre for young audiences in the state and knows how to have actors interact with audience in authentic and engaging ways. It was a show that I saw twice and wish I had seen more. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

Dirty Birdy Theatre’s intense psychological horror Misery succeeded in every way possible. Staged in a residential basement and paired with jaw-dropping special effects, Misery was a genuinely thrilling production. Excellent direction from M. Chase Grant and acting performances from Kacey Spadafora and Liz Golden kept me on the edge of my seat, creating an immersive and intimate production unlike anything I have yet to see on a Utah stage. —Tara Haas, UTBA secretary

Excellent Acting Performances

Aidan O’Reilly as the Fool in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2022 production of King Lear. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2022.)

The best acting requires knowing exactly how a character fits into a show. The strongest acting performance I saw this year was Aidan O’Reilly‘s portrayal of the Fool in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s King Lear. The opening scene of Lear, O’Reilly’s character does not say a word. Yet, he gave such an expressive physical performance through the whole scene that he was the embodiment of the audience’s deeper understanding of the turmoil developing. He began leaning over the bannister and laughing at jokes related to the gentry, but as he watches the action (division of lands, the daughter’s false adulation of their father and the banishment of Cordelia, he drops back and presses against the wall in agony and despair). O’Reilly embodied the whole scene without a single word. Incredible stuff. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

Icarus by Klouns was the best thing I saw on stage this year. It was raw passion and young genius performing an outstanding range of original physical skits. I am amazed at how clever, engaging and universal the bits were. My favorite performances of the year were McKell Peterson and Marguerite Morgan in Icarus. Not only were their physical comedy skills on point, the original skits they dreamed up were inventive and delightful. The sold-out audience laughed themselves silly and leapt to their feet at the end. Who knows what the future holds for this young company, but the show will always be a golden memory for me. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2022 production of The Sound of Music. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2022.)

The depth of performances in The Sound of Music at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was astounding. Both of the leads — Daria Pilar Redus as Maria and Michael Sharon as Captain von Trapp — mined the familiar script and score and found new places to take their characters. In this production, Maria was as psychologically strong as her future husband, and the Captain was dealing with deep grief as a widower. Casting Melinda Parrett as the Baroness was a stroke of genius. Parrett is good in everything, but her cosmopolitan demeanor and elegance made her a real candidate for the Captain’s heart. This was the first time ever that I had seen a real love triangle on stage in this play. It would be so easy for talented actors to sleepwalk through these roles, but the entire cast brought their A-game to make this version of The Sound of Music unlike any other. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

There was only one show this year I enjoyed so much that I saw three times: Singin’ in the Rain at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. I hold the Hale to a higher standard than other theaters, and this production was one of the best they have ever done. I saw both casts of the show, but Zack Wilson and Dale Hoopes as Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown (respectively) were especially brilliant. The dancing including the iconic rain dance was unbelievable. The singing was flawless, and all the filmed movie scenes were very well done. —Rachel Wagner, UTBA member

Excellent New Plays

Left to right: Taylor Trensch as Storyteller 2, Ashley D. Kelley as Storyteller 1, and Kevin Cahoon as Peanut in Shucked at Pioneer Theatre Company. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Seeing Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Shucked was an experience of a lifetime. I was skeptical of its Broadway aspirations when I entered the theatre. I was not when I left. Shucked was funny in a way that was both predictable and jarring. It has a tight script (by Robert Horn) with strong and engaging characters. While there is still some minor reworking to do, I genuinely cared about the characters and my ears loved the corny jokes. I found myself wanting more stage time for Andrew Durand as Beau, and I have rarely seen the intense stage presence that Alex Newell brought to Lulu. Shucked is fun and the show grows on you as it goes. I hope that it is a success and that future Broadway-bound shows to start out in Utah. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

Mother, Mother at Pygmalion Productions was a powerful illustration of the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. Performed in a smaller theatre allowed for a more intimate experience in which one could really appreciate Julie Jensen‘s script. The technical aspects including sound, light and setting were minimal but impactful. Over a month after writing my review, I still find myself thinking about this play. —Emily Clark, UTBA member

The rock opera Pleasant Grove was my favorite live production that I saw this year in Utah. The talent of the cast, and the clever soundtrack created a rich world that I was easily immersed in. Ian Webb as the lead was so tragically lovable. I feel so grateful for local theatre-makers who invest their talents and time into producing a local story. Excellent work! —Thomas Jenson, UTBA member

Excellent Technical Designs

An publicity photo for the 2022 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Tuacahn.

Whether you witnessed David Archuleta‘s wildly popular performance as the title role in Tuacahn’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, or you were privileged to see Josh Strickland’s version of this well-known role, the entire production was as energetic and beautifully designed as could be. Under the direction of Michael Heitzman, with Cory Pattak as the lighting designer, Adam Koch‘s set design, Ryan Moller as the costume designer and Robbie Roby‘s choreography, Joseph had a veritable creative dream team that made a show that will be remembered fondly for years. —Lisa Larson, UTBA member

Other Excellence in Utah Theatre

The representation of community in Clearfield City’s production of The Addams Family really cheered me up at a time when I needed cheering. It reminded me that theatre is an art form that requires collaborative effort. Watching my friends and neighbors work together to create something beautiful is exactly why I became a critic in the first place. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Logan Reid as Count Danilo Danilovitch and Cristy Ruiz as Hana Glawari in the BYU production of The Merry Widow. Photo by Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson.

In my seven years of writing for UTBA, I have never experienced such a response from a theatre company as I did with Tooele Valley Theatre. As a young theatre company, they face the challenges that come with performing in spaces they do not own. Their production of Little Women had some sound issues that made it difficult for cast members to hear each other and the music, which resulted in struggles to stay in key. After receiving feedback from the review, the company went to work to fix the problems with their sound system. They later informed me that the issue had been resolved, and they expressed gratitude for the feedback which helped them become better. It was such a refreshing experience. As a reviewer, I do not seek to tear down a company. I try to give critiques that I believe would help the company. I appreciate TVT’s professionalism and their dedication to bettering their show. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member

I wrote more raves this year than I usually do. In addition to the shows I have highlighted earlier in this post, I raved about Fiddler on the Roof and The Merry Widow at BYU, Creekside Theatre Festival’s As You Like It, La Bohème at UVU, and A Christmas Story: The Musical at the SCERA. Here’s the common bond among those shows: I don’t really care for these stories. Yet, these productions were so stellar that I felt like I had to rave about the shows anyway. There is so much talent in the Utah theatre community that excellence on stage regularly becomes undeniable. To every company big and small: keep up the good work. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 20112012201320142015201620172018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. As usual, we ask readers to remember that this is not a “best of the year” post, but rather an informal forum for our members to discuss shows that they thought were excellent. There were many other productions in the state that were commendable.