Much lively theater in list of best stagings of 2013

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 2014 4:25 p.m. MST

There was a surprising number of vibrant theater productions along the Wasatch Front during 2013. Even more astonishing was the even distribution of outstanding productions across the area’s many theater companies.

Of course, I was not able to see all that Utah has to offer. There were productions I missed that I now regret not making a larger effort to include in my busy schedule.

(Out of full disclosure, one good reason I saw two productions — "Evita" and "Elf the Musical" — is because my son was in the cast. I also volunteer for the nonprofit Utah Repertory Theater Company, which produced "Carousel" and "Side Show," both of which were among my favorites.)

So here are this critic's favorite stage and musical offerings from a very enjoyable year:

Egyptian Theatre Company: “Evita”

Amber Hansen’s splendid direction was focused on the essential story elements of “Evita,” and Rebecca Joy Raboy’s choreography kept the plot moving energetically forward. The universally strong cast was led by Erin Royall Carlson, who wrapped her formidable instrument around the challenging title role with ease.

The Grand Theatre: “Death of a Salesman”

One of the great American plays of the 20th century, and perhaps the great American play, received a poignant and genuinely satisfying staging under assured direction from Mark Fossen. The fine performances — with Richard Edward Scott’s masterful portrayal of Willy Loman at the firm center — made the production captivating.

Hale Center Theater Orem: “Urinetown”

Direction by the richly inventive Dave Tinney and zesty performances made “Urinetown” a droll, blissful delight. Kelly Coombs Johnson as the starry-eyed Hope Caldwell and Chase Ramsey as the revolutionary Bobby Strong displayed vocal prowess and fine comic acting skills.

Close second place: HCTO’s “The Civil War." Standout performances by Cody Hale, Carleton Bluford and Mackenzie Seiler made this show memorable.

Hale Centre Theatre: “Ragtime”

With expert singer-actors in the lead roles and the large, impressive ensemble, HCT’s “Ragtime” was several notches above standard fare. The behind-the-scenes artistry of director Chris Clark, choreographer Marilyn May Montgomery and musical director Kelly DeHaan was evident.

Pioneer Theatre Company: “Elf the Musical”

Listening to the recorded score before the show opened, it seemed impossible that this show could ever be staged as full of charm as PTC’s production was. With spirited direction by the Tony-nominated Dan Knechtges and a very gifted Quinn VanAntwerp as Buddy, “Elf the Musical” was a “sparkle, jolly, twinkle, jingley” surprise.

Close second place: PTC's "The Odd Couple." Artistic director Karen Azenberg’s deft background with Neil Simon contributed deeply to the success of this wonderful production.

Salt Lake Acting Company: “Good People”

The brilliance of Pulitzer Prize-winning David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” was strengthened by SLAC’s expert staging. The fascinating play explores what characteristics “good people” should have. “Good People” was smartly directed by Robin Wilks-Dunn and featured a searing performance by Nell Gwynn as Margaret Walsh that had nuance, heart and honesty.

Close second place: SLAC's "The Cat in the Hat." Audiences were transported into the fantastical world of Dr. Seuss. The spry direction of Penelope Caywood and the highly animated six actors vividly re-created the amusing menagerie of characters Seuss imagined.

These were not fully staged productions, but these two concert events featured prominent theater artists and merit inclusion:

BYU Bravo! Performing Arts Series: Audra McDonald

Blessed with a lush, emotive, incredibly clear soprano, McDonald effortlessly yet forcefully expresses astonishing joy. This peerless quality demonstrates why she is the most highly decorated contemporary Broadway artist.

Utah Symphony’s Pop Concert Series: Brian Stokes Mitchell

There is a tangible joy in Mitchell’s personality that bursts forth on stage. Radiating genuine happiness and unabashed glee, the Broadway leading man and vivacious soloist gave a truly spectacular performance.

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