WEST VALLEY — As a child, one of my favorite memories was watching Daisy Eagan win a Tony at 11 years old for her role in the Secret Garden. As a 12-year-old myself, it was a phenomenal realization to me that people just like me could excel in the arts and go so far.

As a writer in the theatre arts for the Utah scene for 13 years now, I have witnessed the exceptional and amazing talent that is in my own backyard, not far away through a TV screen or a plane ride away. Since 2017 I have represented Utah at various events for the American Theatre Critics Association, and have really enjoyed being able to brag about the amazing talent that we have showcased within the Utah theatre scene. So when I learned of the new Hart Awards, an event celebrating local talent much like the Tony Awards celebrate the talent of the Broadway Stage, I reached out to Emily Wells of Hart Theatre company to ask if UTBA could be in attendance.

Emily Wells and Paul McGrew of Hart Theatre Company, one of the new kids on the block when it comes to Utah Theatre, conceived of an award ceremony for Utah Theatre because of the talent they have seen in their short time as a company. In partnership with West Valley Arts, The Parker Theatre, and The Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City, on March 10, 2024, the Hart Awards were born. The Black Tie affair was held at the West Valley Arts Center, where the casts and crew of several shows from these companies had dressed in their finest, as well as interested theatre goers from around the valley, to see what this new award ceremony was all about.

Upon arrival, the lobby of the West Valley Arts had been decked out with signs for the Hart Awards, there was reception refreshments, photographers, and theatre people gathering and discussing the previous season. When the doors opened we all filed in to be welcomed by Brooklyn and Matt Kohler as the hosts of the evening’s festivities. They started the show with a fun parody of Comedy Tonight dubbed the Hart Awards tonight.

What was absolutely wonderful about the Hart Awards was that just like the Tony Awards, there were numbers and scenes from the nominated shows, and even if a person had not seen everything that was celebrated that night, they got a taste of just how much talent we have in the valley. Some of my favorite things to witness was the cast of the Grand Theatre’s In the Heights as they sang Carnival del Bario with such enthusiasm that I felt like I was witnessing it with our reviewer that had attended in May of 2023. I felt that same joy as performances from Harvey, Emma, West Side Story, and Nine amo

ng others graced the stage all while different Utah Theatre personalities presented awards, from best featured actor Jin- Xiang Yu in Hart Company’s Nine (someone who I was stunned by their performance when I reviewed the show in August of 2023) to best choreography by Ben Roeling for West Valley Art’s West Side Story, to a wonderful award for best ensemble, given as well to West Side Story. This is a category that has been removed and reinstated many times from the Tony awards, and is not currently awarded, which is a shame. As someone who frequents the theatre more than most, I will say that it is the ensemble we should be honoring the majority of the time.


Some of my favorite honorees of the night were Anne Puzey for her music direction of Nine, another performance that I truly was enthusiastic about, especially with the live orchestra. Not only does Utah have an excellent theatre scene, it has an excellent music scene and live musicians being a part of the show always makes me thrilled as an audience member. I was pleased to see that among the honorable mentions of the Hart Awards, Nine was also praised for its use of a live orchestra. I was also pleased to see that the Hart Awards had taken the time to find someone in the community to honor with a lifetime achievement award. The video tribute that was made for Marilyn Montgomery, well known Utah-based choreographer, was amazing and touching. It was, however, Montgomery’s speech that made the whole night for me. One of the things she stated was that Theatre people care about each other, and it does not matter which theatre you are at. I have always considered myself to be theatre adjacent, as more of an audience member, on the outside always looking in, if you will. However, I have felt on so many occasions this caring that Montgomery speaks of, theatre people absolutely care about each other.

In a recent conversation with Megan Gutierrez from Utah Theater Lovers, she stated that she estimates that Utah has about 100 different companies that produce around 350 shows a year. I could easily be going to several shows a week and not see them all. The talent that the Hart Awards gathered for this one evening was just as entertaining as an award show in one of the bigger cities. They already have expanded their selections to two more companies for 2025, and hope to continue to grow. I truly hope that we as the Utah Theatre community will support this endeavor, and find more ways to celebrate and award our outstanding talent that we celebrate on our multitude of stages.

The Hart Awards were held on March 10, 2024 at the West Valley Arts Center. They plan to hold them again in 2025. For a complete list of nominees and winners see the Hart Theatre Instagram @HartTheaterCompanySLC 


These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.