• Andrew G. Cooper

Top 10 Shows I Saw in 2017


2017 was a pretty good year in theatre. In total I saw thirty-three shows this year, which, compared to my over fifty in 2016, is a bit of a slower year for me.

Before we get started with the list, I should explain a bit about what I like in theatre. I really like shows that make audience question the form of theatre itself. For this reason, site-specific shows and immersive shows are of particular interest to me. I enjoy shows that are creative in their use of space, costumes, props, lights, and set as storytelling tools. I think shows that use tech effectively and let the audience use their imagination are very fun to watch.

If a show makes me feel, I'm on board. Whether I'm connecting with the characters because of shared experience, or I'm on the edge of my seat as they are making decisions, I want to feel something when I go to the theatre. I know this should be obvious, but there's a lot of theatre that seems to forget about this. As a counterpoint, I also like a show that makes me think afterwards; makes me question things.

I'm a sucker for music and dance/physical theatre, so musicals often go over well with me and it makes me a bit bias. Lastly, I love seeing something on stage that I've never seen before. I love to be surprised when I'm watching a performance.

It should also be mentioned that living in Kamloops makes my theatre going a bit limited and makes me much more likely to see shows in or around this area. I do, however, occasionally travel to nearby cities (Vancouver and Calgary mostly) to see other productions.

So let's get into the list. Here it is in ascending order.

10. The Gift of the Magi by Maristella Roca (Caravan Farm Theatre)

I warned you that I have an affinity for for immersive and site-specific theatre. This show was both of those things and it's something this company is well-known for. The real appeal of Caravan Farm Theatre's shows, including this quaint adaptation of the O. Henry short story, is the full experience. In the winter it's loading up into a two-horse open sleigh and caroling with strangers between scenes. It's taking in the beauty of the British Columbia interior on a winter evening as the sun goes down. It's the whole Christmas spirit of the production. The acting was lovely, the music was great (a common theme at Caravan), and there was a nice little bit of magic at the end that both surprised and delighted.

9. Laser Kiwi by Colossal Productions (Calgary Fringe Festival)

This show is basically an embodiment of (half of the reason) why I love Fringe Festivals. Colossal Productions are a devised theatre group out of New Zealand and I'm so glad they were in Calgary at the same time I was. I went to it without knowing anything about it (let alone what the title meant) and was delighted by how bizarre, charming, interactive, and funny it was. They had great ideas, wonderful chemistry, and the performance was executed very well. Laser Kiwi was packed full of absurd things, some hilarious and some downright impressive, that I had never seen or even dreamed of seeing on stage before. I loved their use of the audience and audience interaction. When it was over, it left me wanting more.

8. Th'owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish by Joseph A. Dandurand (Axis Theatre)

Some people don't like Theatre For Young audiences, but I love it and try and see as much of it as I can. Not only do I think it's important for young people to be attending the theatre (and so I want to support that), I often find TYA productions have a lot of heart to them and, though sometimes didactic in nature, do a good job of including the audience in their performance that I think more styles of theatre should strive to emulate. This play did a good job of all those things. I particularly loved the masks and costumes in the show and think the production team needs a special congratulations. As a bonus, I got to learn a First Nations story that I hadn't heard before, a nice change from the typical western fairy tales that fill up much of TYA theatre.

7. Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella by (you guessed it) Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (Work Light Productions)

So I saw the North American Tour production of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. There are some people who will *tisk tisk* at me for adding such a commercial blockbuster to my list, but I really did enjoy it and I think it deserves a place here. If you're one of those people, skip the #2 show on this list. All said, it was a wonderful production. It was both moving and funny. Some of the acting was very "musical theatre" or over-the-top, but I can overlook that because of the beautiful transitions and choreography and amazing singing.

6. The Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor (Western Canada Theatre)

I'm a big fan of Daniel MacIvor. I don't know many Canadian theatre people who aren't. This show is a great example of why he's so well-liked as a writer. It had me laughing at one moment and then 20 seconds later with a lump in my throat. The performers (just two!) did a great job with the script and made the whole production very enjoyable.

5. The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw by Peter Andrson & John Millard (Caravan Farm Theatre)

Hey, remember when I said I really enjoyed Caravan Farm Theatre because of their site-specific and immersive style and then went on to say how lovely it is to see theatre outside and their productions always have great music? Well, that all goes for The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw as well, but double. I was fortunate enough to see this show during a dress rehearsal, so although it was not perfect at the time, I saw that it had a lot of potential. This show was just fun, and it had some great music. The story itself was an interesting twist on the classic deal with a devil plot and it had me leaving the "theatre" (the farm) humming along and with a smile on my face. It's the best Caravan show I've seen in many years.

4. My Love Lies Frozen in the Ice by Alex Byrne (Dead Rabbits Theatre)

This show is basically an embodiment of (the other half of the reason) why I love Fringe Festivals. This show was beautiful and full of surprises. The small ensemble of Dead Rabbits Theatre (from the UK) did an excellent job of filling the stage, including the audience, and physical storytelling. A highlight for me, second to the beautiful story itself, would be the puppetry and object manipulation. Their use of the set and the props was captivating from beginning to end.

3. Medea by Euripides (Performing Arts Westsyde)

How did a high school production make it into my top three shows for the year? Let me tell you. This show was, in a word, beautiful. Everything from the costumes, set, and lights, to the acting, to the heartbreaking story. I'm a sucker for movement choruses and, in true Greek Theatre fashion, this show did an wonderful job of filling the stage with bodies, movement, and life. Not all the actors were amazing (most of them were high school students after all), but when the moments were important, the acting was there. The staging of this show was so interesting and full of surprises. It reminded me why I love theatre.

2. The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber et al. (The Really Useful Group)

There's a reason this is the longest running show on Broadway and I'm so glad that I finally got to experience it. I, like with Cinderella, saw the North American Tour production of the show and I was in love. From a technical theatre point of view, it was stunning; the very definition of a mega-musical. The staging and spectacle were superb. What really did it for me though was the performers. Among all the elaborate costumes, special effects, and massive set changes, the performers still shined through. Simply put, this was some of the best dancing and singing I had ever seen and heard. I had the pleasure of meeting Eva Tavares, who is currently playing Christine Daae with the NA Tour, at a workshop (in Kamloops, of all places) and was delighted to hear she'd be performing when I saw the show in Calgary. I knew going in that to play such a big role you have to be insanely talented, but even so, she blew me away. It was an amazing piece of theatre.

1. Onegin by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille (The Arts Club Theatre Company)

Remember that list of things that I like to see in theatre? (Besides being site-specific) This show did them all and so much more. Unlike The Phantom of the Opera, where I could pick what part of the show I liked the best, I don't really know where to begin with this show. The staging was remarkable and innovating. The music was moving, infectious, and tenacious (I bought the soundtrack and have been listening to it everyday since I saw the show two weeks ago). The story was great and there were so many fun and interesting moments, both visually and in the acting. Plus, performers were right there with you, talking to you, joking with you, interacting with you, serving you vodka...This show had everything about live performances that makes theatre exciting! It's the antithesis of the dull, dime a dozen theatre that seems to plague Canadian stages today. Bravo to all who were involved!

So I saw thirty-three shows in 2017 and I'm hoping to see at least fifty in 2018. It's bound to be an exciting year! Here's a full list of the shows I saw (in chronological order):

The Comedy of Errors • Ring of Fire • The Liar • Rock 'n' Rail: Ghost Trains • The Way of All Fish • Caught in the Act • A Bench on the Edge • Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella • Let's Murder Marsha! • Medea • Allen's Nine Murder • Rapunzel • American Crown Circus • The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw • Conduit • My Love Lies Frozen in the Ice • Booked in, Booked off, Booked up • Laser Kiwi • Truth or Dare? • As You Like It • The Phantom of the Opera • The Garage Sale • The Best Brothers • Fresh Horses • Million Dollar Quartet • Th'owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish • Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker • Laundry and Bourbon • Lone Star • Onegin • Disney's Beauty and the Beast • O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi

#top10shows #caravanfarmtheatre #fringefestival #axistheatre #broadway #deadrabbitstheatre #performingartswestsyde #theartsclubtheatrecompany

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