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  • Writer's pictureAndrew G. Cooper

The Top 10 Theatre Shows I Saw in 2023

It's that time of year again! I love diving into a new year and reflecting on that last one. That also means it's time for my sixth annual list of my favourite theatre shows from the past twelve months.

This year, I saw thirty-two theatre production. Some very big, some very small. You can find my previous reviews/lists here: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017.

10. Teenage Dick by Mike Lew (Alberta Theatre Projects)

The Cast of Alberta Theatre Project's Teenage Dick
Photo by Ben Laird

A remarkable contemporary adaptation of Richard III, which—I must admit—is my favourite of Shakespeare's history plays. It was a fresh take on the story and the performers were top-notch.

9. Richard III by William Shakespeare, adapted by Vanessa Porteous (The Shakespeare Company, Hit & Myth)

Bruce Horak in Richard III The Shakepseare Company
Photo by Tim Nguyen

Remember how I said Richard III is one of my favourites from the bard? This production did the script justice! The adapting of the original text by Vanessa Porteous really helped to streamline things for today's audiences. There were really nice design and staging elements as well. Best of all was Bruce Horak, who truly shined in the titular role.

8. Naughty...but Nice! Xmas! by Joe Slabe & JP Thibodeau (Forte Musical Theatre Guild)

The Cast of Naughty but Nice Xmas Forte Musical Theatre Guild
Photo curtesy of Forte Musical Theatre Guild

This show has become a holiday tradition for me here in Calgary. It's been on my Top 10 list for three years in a row now and for good reason. Every year the production gets better and better. Xmas (as in "Ten"mas) featured wonderful music, both new and old, and stunning performers, both new and old. This is the show's final year, and I'll miss it. I'm very excited to see what Joe Slabe has in store for 2024.

7. Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer by Kevin Loring (Theatre: Calgary presentation of The Belfry Theatre in a joint production with Savage Society, in association with NAC Indigenous Theatre and Making Treaty 7)

Little Red Warrior and his Lawyer Theatre Calgary
Photo by Trudie Lee

To be honest, it took me a while to warm up to the over-the-top farce style of this show, but once I did, I was totally along for the ride. There was a lot going for this show. The performers were totally zany and committed and the entrance of the Queen near the end had me slack-jawed and clapping along. The script has fun comedic twists and made for a really enjoyable evening at the theatre.

6. Struck by Eric Rose (Ghost River Theatre)

Ghost River Theatre Struck Eric Rose
Photo courtesy of Ghost River Theatre

Eric Rose and Ghost River really know how to make theatre! I was familiar with the show coming (I still worked for the company when it was being developed), but this production really took things to the next level. There were so many innovative moments and stunning visuals. In addition to killer lighting and music, the use of live video and projections is unlike anything I've seen on stage elsewhere. On top of that, the production had a lot of heart and the actors brought real pathos to their characters.

5. The Extractionist by Michaela Jeffrey (Vertigo Theatre)

The Extractionist by Michaela Jeffrey Vertigo Theatre

Damn, this was a great production! Technically, it was marvelous, and the design elements were intricate and interesting. I really loved seeing neon noir on stage. The script was tight and cinematic, actors were all on fire, and the direction was exciting. I hope to see more of this world from Michaela Jeffrey in the future.

4. Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto, Stage adaptation by Hiro Kanagawa (Theatre: Calgary, Arts Club Theatre Company)

Forgiveness at Theatre Calgary
Photo Courtesy of Theatre Calgary

In any other year, Forgiveness could have been at the top of my list. What an ride! It was emotional, raw, and very Canadian—unveiled the horrors that Canada dealt to the Japanese and that the country's young soldiers endured. The show was also funny, poignant, and beautiful. With a brilliant script and sharp direction by Stafford Arima, this is a momentous production for Canadian theatre.

2/3. Corteo and Kooza (Cirque du Soleil)

I'm counting Corteo and Kooza together as my second and third pick because they were outstanding. If you remember, I've seen one Cirque du Soleil show before (O was my #1 pick in 2019 out of 156 shows that year), but these were each unique and utterly delightful in their own ways. My cheeks literally ached from laughing and smiling so much. The acrobats, the aerialists, the clowns! There's a reason Cirque du Soleil is one of the premiere entertainment companies in the world: they really know how to wow an audience. I already want to see all the rest of their shows. Thank you for bringing the circus to Alberta!

1. Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by Jonathan Christenson (Vertigo Theatre, Catalyst Theatre)

Nevermore at Vertigo Theatre, Catalyst Theatre
Photo by Tim Nguyen

I first encountered this show in 2017 when I heard its soundtrack. I was hooked immediately by the pulsing music and lyrics that burst with emotions. It was the leading reason I pursued working with Catalyst Theatre and became of fan of Jonathan Christenson's work. Seeing Nevermore on stage was such a fantastic experience, and I'm so glad to have witnessed the original cast after ten years! Bretta Gerecke is one of the premiere designers in the country—her costumes, puppets, ghosts, and everything are so evocative and visually-striking. I got swept away in the music, the characters, and the story. I already can't wait to see what this company does next.

That is the list for the year! As always, here's the list of all the shows I saw in 2023 in chronological order:

One Hit Wonders: A Musical Revue • 10-Minute Play Festival • STRUCK • Raising Stanley/Life With Tulia • The Extractionist • The F Word • Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer • 100 Years of Darkness • tick, tick...Boom! • Bombay Black • Forgiveness • Frankenstein • Countries Shaped Like Stars • Elvis Has Left the Building • Gaslight • Nightingale Alley • The Ministry of Grace • Teenage Dick • Richard III • Makambe Speaks • Jimmy Buffet's Escape to Margaritaville • Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe • 9 to 5 The Musical • Cottagers and Indians • Taylor's Version • Sleuth • Kooza • Naughty...but Nice! Xmas! • Odditorium • Christmoose Case • The Nutcracker • Corteo


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