With the end of the year upon us, it’s time for one of our favorite annual traditions: the UTBA post about excellence on the Utah stage in the past year! These shows are not necessarily the “best” Utah stage productions of the year. Rather, they are plays that stick out in our reviewers’ minds for various reasons. There are plenty of excellent productions that do not appear on this list, and most reviewers were forced to limit the number of plays they talked about.

Excellent professional (Equity) productions

Some of the ensemble of Pioneer Theatre Company’s Newsies.

Some day, Newsies might replace Joseph… as Utah’s favorite musical. The show radiates wholesome, positive vibes, and is packed end-to-end with unforgettable music. Pioneer Theater Company’s production had a concrete foundation in lead actor Jonathan Shew, and all the strong supporting pieces I expect at a PTC show. Shew was a lantern-jawed vision as strike-leading ragamuffin Jack Kelly. The stage vet (who has played Fiyero in the national tour of Wicked) perfectly embodied the masculine character who also bares a great deal of humanity throughout the show. Tade Biesinger, who starred as Billy Elliot on Broadway and the West End, also stood out as minor character(!) Specs. In a stage filled with practically flawless professionals, the Bountiful High senior’s dancing and acting were simply tremendous to behold. Thanks for slumming it at PTC during your senior year, Tade! —Bryce Isaacson, UTBA reviewer

Excellent semi-professional productions

McKenzie Steele Foster as the Little Prince and Alex Ungerman as the Aviator in Sackerson’s production of The Little Prince.

Sackerson Company’s The Little Prince, though billed as a children’s play, was one of those productions that transcends all boundaries. It was simplistic in nature, though by no means simple in message. Solid acting, trust in audience, and clever movement work made this a standout piece for me. I’m not often emotionally moved by theatre; The Little Prince served to gently ease through emotional barriers and plant a tender message in my heart. I was left changed by this piece, and look forward to Sackerson’s growth as a fixture in the Utah theatre community. —Kat Webb, UTBA board member

Excellent college/university productions

Sariah Hopkin as Mary Poppins in the BYU production of Mary Poppins. Photo by Jaren Wilkey.

BYU’s Mary Poppins was amazing. As I said in my review last January, “This production was everything I had hoped for and more. . . .  It is the best musical production I’ve seen recently, and I know I’d love to see it again.” I adored the acting (especially Sariah Hopkin in the title role), the choreography, and the designs. Mary Poppins is—by far—one of my favorite university musical productions I’ve ever attended. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA reviewer

Excellent amateur productions

I also loved Brigadoon at the SCERA, which was the most surprising for me because I didn’t think I liked the script. In my review, I praised the acting from leads Logan Bradford, Aubrey Rose JacksonMaggie Warren, and more. Add to that Christopher Gallacher‘s great choreography and Kelsey Seaver‘s beautiful costuming, and SCERA had all the ingredients for a wonderful stroll through the heather. —Darby Turnbow, UTBA reviewer

Mindy Smoot Robbins as Eliza Doolittle and Marvin Payne as Henry Higgins in the SCERA production of My Fair Lady. Photo by Mark A. Philbrick.

At the risk of being repetitive, I must join with my fellow reviewer and give kudos to the SCERA. Three different productions this year (My Fair Lady, Hairspray, and Noises Off) had me gushing far more than I normally do at amateur shows. In fact, My Fair Lady and Noises Off could have easily been mistaken for semi-professional productions. The SCERA has stepped up their game in the past year or two, and they often have the best shows around for under $15. —Russell Warne, UTBA board member

Excellent productions of musicals

BYU’s Into the Woods combined excellent singing, superb sound design, and brilliant performances by stars Channing Weir and Joseph Swain—as the Baker’s Wife and the Baker, respectively—for the best realization of a score I saw on any Utah stage this year. —C. T. Lewis, UTBA reviewer

Excellent productions of Shakespeare

Kelly Rogers (left) as Puck and J. Todd Adams as Oberon in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2017.)

It’s not easy to make an old standby unique and memorable, but the Utah Shakespeare Festival did it twice this year, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. Both productions were so good that I did not want them to end, mostly because of the gorgeous designs and excellent direction. When I wrote my reviews of both productions, I couldn’t find anything negative to say about either show. I already gushed enough about the shows this summer, so re-read my reviews to see why both productions deserve the highest praise.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Comedy of Errors at the Utah Children’s Theatre. I usually find this play tiresome because so many scenes just seem to prolong the action and delay the inevitable ending. But by trimming the script down and ensuring that the plot is clear (not an easy task with four characters who are two sets of identical twins), director Joanne M. Parker won me over. I adored so much of this production: the silliness, the physical comedy, the clarity of the direction, and more. —Russell Warne, UTBA board member

Excellent directing and choreography

Ashley Gardner Carlson as Dolly Levi in Hale Center Theater Orem’s production of Hello, Dolly! Photo by Suzy Oliveira.

Thank you, Hale Center Theater Orem, for giving me a reason besides nostalgia to love Hello, Dolly! I was in the show as a teenager, but had never seen a production that justified my love for that show—until this year. Dolly is a harder show to execute than most people realize, but nearly everything in the Orem Hale production was perfect, especially Marcie Jacobsen‘s unforgettable performance as the title character. David Morgan‘s direction was exquisite and gave equal attention to the spectacle and the heart of the show. —Russell Warne, UTBA board member

Excellent acting performances

Left to right: Stephanie Howell as Judy, Harrison Bryan as Christopher, and Tom O’Keefe as Ed in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time boasted an exquisite performance of Harrison Bryan in the difficult role of Christopher, a young man with autism. Having the opportunity to attend the production with a man who is raising a similar son, I was truly impressed with the attention to detail and understanding of mannerisms that this young actor exhibited in this role. —Maren Scriven, UTBA staff

Chuck Gilmore gave the best performance of Scrooge that I’ve seen on stage or film in CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. In a role often reduced to a caricature, he wasn’t an actor playing a character, he was a human inhabiting a person so relatable we can all see him in ourselves. I also thought Megan Cash and Melissa Lawyer were sisterly perfection in Hopebox Theater’s White Christmas. Cash has a serious set of pipes, and both had big-stage acting and dancing chops. Like twin suns in a solar system, they obliterated all the other actors onstage. —Bryce Isaacson, UTBA reviewer

Excellent new plays

Betsy Mugavero as Viola de Lesseps and Quinn Matfeld as William Shakespeare in the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Shakespeare in Love. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2017.)

Although not a world premiere, the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Shakespeare in Love was one of the first American productions of the play. I was expecting a soulless adaptation of a hit movie, but instead Brian Vaughn gave the show its own life by emphasizing the story’s theatricality. Casting real-life husband and wife Quinn Matfeld and Betsy Mugavero as the leads only added to the joy of the production. Each one is a treat to watch on stage, but together they created the most dynamic stage couple I saw on stage this year. —Russell Warne, UTBA board member

Excellent technical designs

Aubri Devashrayee-Woodward as Ariel and Dan Bigler as Sebastian in Spanish Fork Community Theater’s production of The Little Mermaid. Photo by Kendra Leigh Photography.

Hale Centre Theatre did not disappoint with the technical aspects of their new theater in Sandy.  The versatility of the stage and movement were matched by the lighting and extremely impressive projections during their current production of Aida. It should also be noted that for those with hearing loss, Hale has used some state of the art technology to help the sound connect directly to hearing aids to the sound system. I attended the production with an audiologist who said that several of her customers have expressed joy in being able to attend and hear theater for the first time in ages. —Maren Scriven, UTBA staff

I said it in my review, but I feel like I have to reiterate the thought here: Ken Jensen gave the Spanish Fork Community Theater’s The Little Mermaid the best technical directing I have ever seen in an arts council production. Whether it was a shipwreck, Zac Lambson‘s beautiful lighting designs, or the dazzling undersea costumes from Kristal Thompson, I was surprised that an arts council production with a limited budget could look so good. —Russell Warne, UTBA board member

Other excellence in Utah theatre

When we write on UTBA, we try to keep the focus on the plays. But as we transition to a non-profit organization, we think that one of the best things about the Utah theatre community is our readers. UTBA readers are passionate about the arts, and we feel lucky to share our viewpoints about theatre productions with such a knowledgeable, savvy group. Please stick around with us in 2018 as we make the changes we need to in order to serve you—and the artists—better. —UTBA staff and board

What do you think? Did we miss any companies or productions that you thought were excellent in 2017? Let us know by commenting on this post.

You can also read our previous posts about excellence in 20112012201320142015, and 2016.