With the curtains about to close on the 2019 theatre season, it’s time to reflect on some of the outstanding productions that graced our stages this past year.
The 12 shows I’ve selected from the past 12 months stand as a reminder of the exceptional talent in our city and the dedication of our local theatre companies to showcasing it.
The world-class quality of theatre here is evident in every aspect of these productions, from the acting and directing to the technical excellence that too often goes unheralded.
These 12 shows, listed alphabetically, are far from the only outstanding achievements of 2019 but they each impressed me in a specific way.
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER — Stage West
When it comes to producing musicals it never ceases to amaze me what Stage West can accomplish with so little, and by that I mean the restrictions of the tiny stage the directors, designers and performers have to work with. A Gentleman’s Guide is a prime example of the magic that Stage West can create when it puts shows in the right hands. David Fraser’s set design made it possible for the action of the play to glide effortlessly from one location to another. Mark Bellamy brought in top talent from Toronto to compliment our local actors and his direction ensured high spirited fun permeated the entire production.
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL — Theatre Calgary
From the moment Theatre Calgary’s artistic director Stafford Arima announced he would be producing this crowd-pleasing musical, he promised it would showcase Calgary singers, dancers and actors and he was true to that promise. TC’s Billy Elliot was a joyous celebration, not only of the show’s theme of being true to oneself but of the unbridled enthusiasm of its talented performers.
BRIGHT STAR — Rosebud Theatre
The experience of attending a show in Rosebud can often begin with the drive into the town itself, especially with a play like the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell musical Bright Star. It’s almost as if such quaint plays and their characters are an extension of this beautiful little town nestled in the prairie farmland. Rosebud Theatre’s artistic director Morris Ertman has a knack for sleuthing out and producing shows that are genuinely heartfelt and inspirational.
CROSSING SWORDS — StoryBook Theatre and Forte Musical Theatre Guild
Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s artistic director Joe Slabe is one of our genuine treasures. His cabaret musicals Naughty but Nice and Touch Me: Songs for a Dis(connected) Age are unrivalled both in concept and execution, but it’s with more traditional musicals such as Crossing Swords that his talents really shine. His riff on Cyrano de Bergerac is simultaneously a poignant coming of age and coming out story and it is to StoryBook Theatre’s credit that we had the opportunity to see the latest version of it.
HAMLET: A GHOST STORY — Vertigo Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
The Shakespeare Company’s Haysam Kadri is Calgary’s equivalent of the Hugh Jackman character in The Greatest Showman. He knows how to put on a popular show and his reputation reaches far beyond our city. This is what allows him to attract such top talent as Seana McKenna to play Shylock in his The Merchant of Venice. But his decision and ability to coax former Calgarian and now Pakistani TV and film superstar Ahad Raza Mir to return to headline Hamlet attracted not just accolades but enthusiastic audience members who’d never seen a Shakespeare play before this.
KOHKUM AND ME — The Rest of Us Theatre Company
In this story of Tommy, a young man searching for his birth mother and spiritual meaning to his life, Indigenous artist Zach Running Coyote crafted and performed a play that is both personal and universal. On a bus journey from Calgary to Vancouver in search of his mother, Tommy sits beside an elder who might just be Jesus and who is determined to help Tommy cleanse himself of his demons. Running Coyote not only wrote the script but also the 12 songs that link the narrative, proving he is a genuine triple-threat artist.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN — Vertigo Theatre
Vertigo Theatre’s version of Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 psychological thriller about a deadly bargain two men form when they meet on train proved to be theatrical dynamite. All the pieces came together to make it a riveting evening of thrills and chills. From superlative acting, especially from Stafford Perry and Nathan Kay, to direction by Anita Rochon and Scott Reid’s simple but theatrically mesmerizing set design, this Stranger was no stranger to Vertigo audiences. It set attendance records for the opening play of any previous Vertigo season.
THE BADLANDS PASSION PLAY — The Canadian Badlands Passion Play Society
Entering its 27th year in 2020, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is world-famous as one of the largest and most popular outdoor theatre experiences. Set in a natural amphitheatre in Drumheller, the Passion Play tells the story of Christ’s ministry, betrayal, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. This past summer, the creators of this epic theatrical experience presented it as a musical with a full original score by Luke Ertman and a book by Barrett Hileman, which made it even more enthralling and memorable.
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE — Alberta Theatre Projects
ATP’s version of C.S. Lewis’s beloved children’s classic proved to be a magical experience not just in its storytelling but in the boost it has given the company itself. This production, directed by ATP’s artistic and executive producer Darcy Evans, has become the bestselling play in the company’s history and for good reason. It’s just as engaging and delightful for adults as it is for children.
THE PINK UNICORN — Lunchbox Theatre
This production of Elise Forier’s story of a highly religious Texas mother trying to come to terms with her daughter’s sexuality was an emotional roller-coaster ride producing not just tears of joy but of compassion. From Forier’s candid, insightful script to Trevor Schmidt’s economical staging and Elinor Holt’s riveting solo performance, The Pink Unicorn was a tour de force in choice and execution for Lunchbox, which is the world’s longest-running lunchtime theatre.
WAITING FOR GODOT — Black Radish Theatre
Don’t let anyone tell you that Samuel Beckett’s 70-year-old existential tragicomedy is an easy experience for actors, directors or audiences. This is a puzzle play whose pieces only fit together in the most precarious of ways, which is why Black Radish’s version, under the direction of Denise Clarke, was such a remarkable achievement. Andy Curtis, Tyrell Crews, Christopher Hunt and Duval Lang have been trying to mount this production for almost two decades and the wait was worth it — not just for them but for the enthusiastic audiences it attracted.
WOLF ON THE RINGSTRASSE — Spirit Fire Production
This story of the tumultuous final years of 19th century Austrian composer Hugo Wolf’s life is a triumph for everyone involved, beginning with David Haysom, artistic director of Spirit Fire Production, who commissioned and produced this original Calgary work and starred as its tragic hero. Haysom had been intrigued with Wolf’s life for years and had originally envisioned it as a film. He turned the project over to local playwright Michaela Jeffery, who delivered a bold, powerful script that director Alexandra Prichard and a talented cast brought to life with shattering intensity.
Originally posted by the Calgary Herald. https://calgaryherald.com/entertainment/theatre/standing-ovation-for-2019-theatre