The year is coming to a close, and what a year it has been! At UTBA, we published a record-breaking 259 reviews in 2023, including our first reviews for productions in Idaho and Sanpete County. With so much theatre, we saw a lot of great shows on stage. And that makes compiling this year’s post about excellence in Utah theatre an especially challenging (but pleasant) task. Although most of the productions we saw received positive reviews, there are some that standout as being truly excellent. We are pleased to spotlight these productions in this annual post.

Excellent professional (Equity) productions

Watching The Rocky Horror Show a Pioneer Theatre Company was the most fun I have had in a theater in a long time. Although I did not know about the props for the audience, the engagement was top-tier, and I could still participate in some ways. I loved how the narrator broke the fourth wall, and every scene with Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played by Jeremiah James) was a blast. The rendition of “Time Warp” by Hernando Umana as Riff-Raff lives rent-free in my mind. (I wish this cast had been recorded!) My biggest mistake was not seeing this show again. —Tatiana Christian, UTBA member

Utah Festival Opera’s Lohengrin was astounding. Every element of the production was impressive, including the singers, the musicians, and the technical elements. Modern musicals are written so that a large number of actors and actresses can deliver a good performance of a given score, but Wagner‘s opera written in 1850 was written so that only an elite few could execute the roles successfully. The cast of this performance were among those few with the vocal training to mount the show. Subtitles were provided to translate the German lyrics into English to help tell the story of the opera, which is like a German fairy-tale à la Grimm brothers. But the opera was enjoyable because of the power of the performance and music. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Offering a menu of Sondheim songs, Pioneer Theatre Company’s Putting it Together was a delightful treat and my favorite Utah theatre experience in 2023.  From the melodious orchestra to the exceptionally talented cast, Putting it Together offered an unforgettable night of both emotionally stirring and hysterical moments.  Thank you, Pioneer Theatre, for the flawless execution and perfect choice of show. —Alissa Frazier, UTBA member

The cast of Putting It Together at Pioneer Theatre Company. Photo by BW Productions.

Tuacahn’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical blew me away with sublime acting and smoothly executed technical elements. The four leads of Beautiful were outstanding. Sara Sheperd, Matthew Amira, Taylor Aronson, and Ryan Farnsworth came with years of professional experience in their roles (including national Broadway tours), and we in the audience were the lucky recipients. Each actor created a distinct and relatable character; Amira’s gradual revelation of Gerry Goffin’s bipolar disorder particularly resonated with me. It took me way too long in my life to discover that Tuacahn has some of the best theater in the state. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

Coriolanus at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was very tight and worked well in a modern setting, making it feel very relevant. James Ryen‘s performance as the title character was excellent — he made Coriolanus powerful, yet still vulnerable. It was well staged in the smallest of USF’s theaters, which, despite the show being full of combat (or perhaps because of it), pulls the audience into the battles in a very intimate and compelling way. —Jennifer Hoisington, UTBA member

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Coriolanus. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2023.)

Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Murder on the Orient Express was like watching Simone Biles bend, twist, and flair with charisma. I was floored by how gracefully and how often the play switched from hilarious banter to steely disdain and back. The production had one of the best ensembles I have ever seen, and it was expertly designed and staged. The movement of the train and spacing of the compartments was some of the best set design (by Jason Simms) anywhere this year. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

Excellent semi-professional productions

Of all the productions of A Christmas Carol on stage this year, the Parker Theatre’s version stands out, with their masterfully designed and beautifully written production. If people knew how good it was, it could run from the end of September to the beginning of January. The show has a masterful balance of Christmas spirit and chilling reminders of greed’s dangers. It was truly unlike any other in the state. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

A Christmas Carol at the Parker Theatre.

Titanic at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy was, by far, the best-quality show I have seen in a long time. The majesticallycrafted stage astounded me! The acting was superb, and the history told in such a powerful way. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

Thinking all the way back to January: Wasatch Theatre Company’s Gross Indecency was effective and moving on every level. I am grateful that this production was brought to Utah audiences. The powerful script was given simple poignancy in the simple production design and powerful performance by Luke Harger as Oscar Wilde. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

The Music Man at Hale Center Theater Orem was a perfect production of a classic musical. The greatest delight of this show was that (after a solid and faithful performance) director Jennifer Hill Barlow incorporated a live rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from the onstage River City Boys’ Band. This finale perfectly fits the ending of the show and was such a fun and creative choice — and a testament to the efforts of the performers to bring this show to the stage. —Maggie Dudley, UTBA member

Ryan Shepherd as Harold Hill and Cecily Ellis-Bills as Marian Paroo in The Music Man at Hale Center Theater Orem. Photo by Suzy O Photography.

Not being much of a Jane Austen fan, I did not know anything about Emma before seeing it at the Parker Theatre. But I was so happy I saw it anyway. I walked away absolutely convinced that Emma was a villain, and that Knightley was the true moral compass and correctly called her out for meddling in her simple friend’s affairs. I also loved Emma’s accent, and found myself saying “again” with the same emphasis on the second syllable, a just as Ariana Bagley had done in her performance. And, of course, I enjoyed the costuming and found the story overall very delightful. I plan to see more Austen adaptations at the Parker, and I am looking forward to Pride and Prejudice there in February. —Tatiana Christian, UTBA member

Excellent college/university productions

Who knew that a two hour drive into the middle of Utah could provide such a profound evening? I am a proud Snow College alumna and had a wonderful start to my college experience there. However, I have not seen a play there in over 20 years, and its performing arts department has grown impressively in that time. Besides the amazing new building, the production value of the college’s plays has followed suit. I am so glad UTBA was invited to visit Snow College. If their production of The Crucible that they mounted this year is any indication, audiences and students alike should treasure this department. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

The Crucible at Snow College.

Salt Lake Community College presented an awe-inspiring adaptation of Eurydice. It was simple, elegant, and accessible for me and my young audience member. I have thought about the production all year and how powerful it is to have the voiced and unvoiced actors on stage. It was not enough to just watch one of them because having both characters on stage together was like seeing both sides of a character at once. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

At intermission of BYU’s Godspell, I collapsed into my wife’s shoulder sobbing, “How is it so good?” The show was pure brilliance from beginning to end. I saw it three times. The clarity and execution of director Tim Threlfall’s vision for Godspell were extraordinary. With the help of assistant director Holly Hill, Threlfall perfectly threaded the needle of every facet of the musical—including casting, set, costumes, movement, music and performance—to create a gloriously joyful, wonderfully youthful, and refreshingly global production. It felt like Godspell was written in 1970 to be re-imagined by BYU in 2023. I adored Adam Dyer’s choreography, which brought a tangible joy to the stage for celebratory group numbers. (“Prepare Ye” was particularly brilliant.) Instead of getting sprinkled with water like other productions, Dyer staged a joyous baptism by immersion scene, something that possibly has never been done before. The vocal performances were phenomenal, and every song on the soundtrack is now a cherished memory for me. Special shoutout to the live band which was ingeniously integrated onstage. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

Godspell at Brigham Young University.

Excellent amateur productions

I spent a delightful evening in June watching Something Rotten! at Midvale Arts Council. I was thoroughly entertained by the amazing cast who really understood the show and all of the jokes. The actors were incredibly talented and tight. I had seen the play several times, but this was probably the first time I unabashedly squealed during Shakespeare’s song, “Hard to Be the Bard.” The production understood the job and performed the show as a love letter to theatre. —Marinda Maxfield, UTBA member

As I said in my review in October, Regalo Theater Company’s Amadeus was a masterpiece. The performers were phenomenal and the directing well done. I was amazed to see such a quality performance on a non-professional stage. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

Amadeus at Regalo Theater Company.

A Christmas Story at Four Seasons Theatre Company felt like drinking a warm cup of cocoa. The acting was strong, the singing was great, and the direction was excellent because it leaned into the company’s strengths. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Excellent productions of musicals

West Valley Arts does not have a large stage, and musical theatre in the round presents certain challenges. But Ben Roeling skillfully extended the choreography for West Side Story up and down the stairs and turned entrance spaces into vertical acting space where actors climbed fire escapes. The cast was very talented and musically capable. The choreography, costuming and set were all stellar. —Jennifer Hoisington, UTBA member

West Side Story at West Valley Arts.

Kinky Boots at the Ziegfeld Theater was so hilarious and enjoyable. I loved how well the actors performed, and the story was inspiring. —Sara Claverie, UTBA member

The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Parker Theatre is possibly the funniest show that I have ever seen. Every element of this show deserved a shoutout: the consistently powerful and united vocals of the entire cast, the simple and effective choreography, the clever lighting design, the elegantly flowing set design, the beautiful costumes, the on-stage sound effects, and more. Every actor presented a brilliantly unique and comedic character, which collectively made for an endlessly entertaining show. I cannot sing the praises of this show enough. Even months later, I still think about what an extraordinary performance this was. —Hanna Schneck, UTBA member

The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Parker Theatre.

Utah Valley Players’ production of Next to Normal was breathtaking. It is a hard play to engage with, but this production was so clean and crisp. The emotions were raw without feeling unearned or uncomfortable. The show had a simple set and simple costumes, but expert polish. —Scott Savage, UTBA member

Audience members attending the Lehi Arts Council’s production of Newsies could have been forgiven if they thought they were attending a semi-professional or university production instead. I have so many questions about this show. How did Lehi find such stellar leads in Luke Elison as Jack Kelly and Sydney Dameron as Katherine Plumber? What did choreographer Rebecca Boberg do to get an amateur cast to dance so impressively well? How did directors Kathryn and Howard Little perfectly mix realistic acting with musical theatre grandeur? Who sold their soul to make this production so impressive? Newsies was the best amateur production I saw all year. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

The Lehi Arts Council production of Newsies.

Excellent productions of Shakespeare

I have seen many Shakespeare plays put into different settings with varying degrees of success, but Lyric Repertory Company’s Twelfth Night was one of the best mash-ups I have ever seen. The setting was in a 1920’s nightclub owned by the Duke and the large ensemble cast was full of strong actors who told the mixed-up love story very well through their performances. Director Paul Mitri‘s concept incorporated the music of the big band era into the play and was a delight. The music direction, compositions, and design from Luke Shepherd and Connor Stevens made this production successful because the story was clear while enhancing it through a specific era of music. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was phenomenal. Six months later, I am still dreamy-eyed about the production design of this gorgeous show! The energetic performances are still singing in my heart. This is a production I wish I could show to anyone who says they “just don’t get Shakespeare.” I really never thought I would see a production there that would top their 50th anniversary production of Dream, but this beautiful imagining did, in fact, sweep “the dust behind the door.” —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

Excellent directing and choreography

At Music Theatre West, Jed Broberg took one of my absolute favorite plays, Ragtime, to a new level of profound. Because of our continued societal struggle with racial relations, this show remains so important and timely. Broberg’s direction and staging of the end of act one was so haunting that I can still close my eyes and feel the raw emotion. Ragtime is one of those shows that I feel I know backwards and forwards, and yet Broberg opened my eyes to more, because he certainly had something new to say with this production. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Conlon Bonner as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in Ragtime at Music Theatre West.

The most impressive choreography I saw all year was in Around the World in 80 Days at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. The number of countries’ dance and the circus apparatus that were worked into the production was very impressive. It was a great experience as a critic to learn about all the new performance traditions I was seeing on stage. —Rachel Wagner, UTBA member

I was very impressed with the big tap dance numbers in Tuacahn’s White Christmas. Songs like “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano” showcased massive talent and imagination by the cast and director and choreographer Mara Newbery Greer. I particularly enjoyed the dancing of Ben Lanham, who was in Broadway’s Bad Cinderella mere months ago, throughout the show. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

White Christmas at Tuacahn.

The 39 Steps at the Grand Theatre was perfect. Because it only has a cast of four and a minimal set, the directing and choreography were so important. The actors’ performances had to do the brunt of telling the story, and the Grand’s cast successfully used props, accents and costuming to show who their characters are, the setting of the scene, and more. The play is chaotic in a masterful way, and I wish I had seen it multiple times. —Tatiana Christian, UTBA member

Excellent acting performances

In Hart Theater Company’s production of Maury Yeaston’s Nine, there was a newcomer to the Utah stage, Jin-Xhang Yu. In her performance as Luisa, she absolutely floored me with her impeccable vocals and her stage presence. Moreover, her ability to covey emotion was something that I have not seen portrayed often on any stage not only here in Utah, but anywhere in the country. I truly hope to see her all across the state, as I can only imagine the level of expertise she will take to any role that she is assigned. —Maren Swensen, UTBA vice president

Jillian Joy in Hopebox Theatre’s Wait Until Dark was the best amateur performance I saw this year. Joy gave a spectacular performance in a role that demands subtle acting choices in a performer’s physicality, in addition to communicating all the normal performance needs. Joy was captivating in each scene as Susy Hendrix and interacted well with all the other actors. She portrayed both the vulnerabilities of blindness and the ability to overcome that limitation with intelligence. Overall, the production at the Hopebox was the most intense delivery and was absolutely terrifying in its lights-out finale! —Maggie Dudley, UTBA member

Jillian Joy as Susy Hendrix in Wait Until Dark at the Hopebox Theatre.

Months after my first viewing of the musical Cabaret, I am still reflecting on Jordan Kramer‘s performance of Fraulein Schneider at Daydreamer Theatre. Though this is not a leading role, I was entirely captured by Kramer’s humor, pathos, and physicality in this role as a tragic figure who must decide how far to pursue happiness. —Miranda Giles, UTBA member

Weston Wright was everything I could ask for in a Jack Kelly in Hale Center Theatre’s Newsies: loose, commanding, and delivering an otherworldly “Santa Fe.” I do not remember seeing an actor who made singing look more natural in a role. It was like the music was part of him. Plus, he actually seemed 17. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

Excellent new plays

I was able to go see Matchstick Girl at Weber State University, with book and lyrics by Jennifer A. Kokai and music and additional lyrics by Kenneth Plain. This new musical has a Christmastime feel as it retells the Hans Christian Andersen short story by the same name. What makes this musical stand out is Plain’s impressive score. The compositions are varied and interesting in their construction, perfectly balancing the mood of each number to really tell the story through the feeling of the music. I left wishing I could get ahold of the sheet music or listen to a recording to try and recapture the feels that the music evoked in me as I watched. —Heather Hurd, UTBA member

Matchstick Girl at Weber State University.

The best new play I saw all year was Melissa Leilani Larson‘s new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at Hale Center Theatre Orem. It added just the right new touches to the story without taking anything away from the tale we know and love. It was a perfect adaptation. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it three times. —Rachel Wagner, UTBA member

Break it Down at Lyric Repertory Company was a stunning one-man show. Herb Newsome is the playwright and performer of this new theatre piece billed as a “one-man hip hop journey through time.” Newsome’s performance was totally engaging and sincere in delivering a variety of roles. I commend Lyric Rep for bringing such a unique theatrical experience to Logan. Break it Down was both the most unique theatre piece of the year for this reviewer and was the most singularly impressive acting performance. —Maggie Dudley, UTBA member

The most innovative production that I saw this year was Relative Space: An Atypical Musical, a new play produced by Creekside Theatre Fest that focuses on mental health and generational trauma. The musical features impressive rock and pop music written by 16-year-old Kjersti Long and her father, Jeremy Long. Kjersti acts as the frontwoman of an onstage rock band and sings all of the songs that accompany the drama unfolding onstage, rather than the characters singing the songs themselves. Relative Space, though still in development, has a unique structure that worked well on many levels. Written by Melissa Leilani Larson and starring standout talents Elizabeth Golden (as multiple generations of mothers in the family) and Leah Carr (as the daughters), the musical comes together as a deeply emotional and powerfully moving story about topics that I wish we would explore more on stage. I could see Relative Space having a life outside of Utah with just a little bit of polish to more strongly connect the music and the book. —Tara Haas, UTBA secretary

Relative Space at Creekside Theatre Fest.

Pygmalion Theatre Company is skilled at staging new plays from local writers, and this year’s Mountain Meadows (written by Debora Threedy) was a highlight. Morag Shepherd directed this play in a way that does not vilify or mock, but instead allows audiences to really step back and try and take a balanced look at history. The play allows a fair and thoughtful look at one of the most controversial events in Utah and Latter-day Saint history. —Jennifer Hoisington, UTBA member

Excellent technical designs

The SCERA had two outdoor productions that featured spectacular set designs. I raved about both Cole McClure‘s set for Singin’ in the Rain and Chase Ramsey‘s set Oklahoma! Normally, Oklahoma! does not inspire memorable designs, but the multilevel hillside set and surprisingly realistic two-story house were a great backdrop for the action. For Singin’ in the Rain, McClure created a grand staircase that served as a red carpet, and the embedded LED lights were a wonderful addition treat that worked for both realistic and fantastical moments on stage. —Russell Warne, UTBA president

Utah Shakespeare Festival’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream had the most magical design team of the year. Intentional and effective, Jo Winiarski‘s set and Ann Closs-Farley‘s costumes were in perfect harmony creating a dazzling visual feast. From the glowing columns to the rich and psychedelic costumes, Midsummer created a vivid and vibrant dream audiences are not likely to forget. —Alissa Frazier, UTBA member

Left to right: Aamar-Malik Culbreth as Lysander, Max Gallagher as Puck, and Naiya Vanessa McCalla as Hermia in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2023 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2023.)

Other excellence in Utah theatre

I had the opportunity to see two amazing theatre for young audiences productions this year. The first, was Tooele Valley Theatre’s production of Winnie the Pooh. This was also the best youth performance of the year for me, with solid performers that were united as a cast and worked together to lift each other. The second theatre for young audience production that I want to recognize is Salt Lake Acting Company’s production of Elephant and Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!”. Director Penelope Caywood is one of the best directors for theatre for young audiences in Utah. Every production I have seen of hers has been incredible — and this year’s production of We Are In A Play has been my favorite. SLAC not only entertains all ages in their audience, but they educate new to theatre audience members, giving everyone a solid positive experience with theatre. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA staff member

Left to right: Wendy Joseph as Piggie and Bryce Romleski as Elephant Gerald in Elephant and Piggie’s We are in a Play! at Salt Lake Acting Company.

Congrats to Klouns for taking their show An Act of Seven Ages to Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023! For the past two years, Klouns has taken an art form that (at best) most people do not think much about, and (at worst) are actually afraid of . . . and made something wildly creative, wonderfully fresh, and absolutely hilarious. Do not let another season pass without seeing this troupe’s inventive skits. Utah’s theatre community is better with Klouns. —B. F. Isaacson, UTBA member

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 2011201220132014201520162017201820192020, 2021, and 2022. As we do every year, 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.