The Top 5 Shows I Saw in 2020
So 2020 was a bizarre for many reasons. Each year I make a goal to see 52 plays (an average of one per week) but this year I did not...due to a global pandemic which has shut theatres down across the globe. In 2019, I saw a whopping 156 plays (mostly due to a four-city Fringe Festival tour in the summer) and the sheer volume of plays I saw made my 2019 Top Ten List very difficult to compile.
This past year, I seem to have the opposite challenge. In 2020, I watched thirty-one "theatre" production. I'm putting theatre in quotes like that because many of the productions were watched as online presentations, archival videos, and/or digital productions. In total, I took in seventeen digital productions, ranging from community theatre film adaptations of plays to cinematic productions from the largest companies in the world like the Stratford Festival and the National Theatre in the UK. That means I watched only thirteen live theatre productions this year and of those, only two were after March 15th (also known as the Day Alberta Shut Down).
Because of all this, I've decided that my list this year will be a top five list, instead of a top ten list. I will only be considering productions that I saw live and in-person. I'm not going to go into a deep dive of what theatre is and if/how online presentations are theatre (although, that would be a great topic for a future blog post). As a final note, I do not include production on this list in which I was involved, either artistically or administratively.
I think if you look at my list below you'll get a good feel for my taste in theatre: I like musicals, I like storytelling and physical shows, and I like dance shows. If you're interested in my reviews/lists from previous years, you can check them out here: 2019, 2018, and 2017.
Without further ado, here is my list of the top five in-person, live theatre productions that I watched in 2020.
5. SNOWBLIND by Zach Runnning Coyote (Lunchbox Theatre and Making Treaty 7)
I really dig the contemporary mythology/folk lore feel that this show has and that populates much of Zach Running-Coyotes' work. The storytelling was lovely, the performance was great, and I loved the character work and the physicality. A very enjoyable show all around and a treat to watch at Lunchbox Theatre.
4. The Louder We Get with book by Kent Staines, lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal, and music by Colleen Dauncey (Theatre: Calgary)
Oh boy! I do love me some big, flashy, fun musicals and this show delivered. The music and the dance were fantastic and the performers all shined. It has a great message and was a very fun, feel-good musical; an excellent addition to the growing body of contemporary Canadian musical theatre.
3. Dear Evan Hansen with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and book by Steven Levenson (Broadway Across Canada)
There's a reason this show won six Tony Awards back in 2017 (including Best Musical and Best Score). I've been a fan of the music for a while now (the cast recording is great to run to) and the stage production is really wowing. What blew me away most was the show's design; the lighting and video projections were stunning and gave me chills. The music and songs are lovely and everything down to the set movements ran like clockwork. It was a pleasure to watch.
2. Juliet & Romeo adapted by Cory Bowles, artistic direction & choreography by Kim Cooper (Decidedly Jazz Danceworks)
Now this is how you do a Shakespeare adaptation. It was like West Side Story meets contemporary jazz dance and together they re-meet Shakespeare. The writing (even outside of the source material) was very powerful and the dance was nothing short of incredible. It was so creative and unique and so cool. I'm in love with this show.
1. The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare with script and songs by Jonathan Christenson (Catalyst Theatre)
Everything about this show is great. A musical about female spies kicking ass in World War II? Yes, please! The music and lyrics themselves are so moving and so fun and the direction, design, and choreography are brilliant. The added live band element was fantastic and in addition to all that, it's a really awesome story. I had the pleasure of working on the premiere production of this show as an assistant director back in 2019 and to see the show grow so much was really delightful. Catalyst Theatre knows how to theatre right.
It's been so nice looking back at 2020 and seeing how far things have come and how much things have changed. Twice since our initial shutdown of theatres the restrictions lifted enough for me to see a live, in-person show again and twice they shut down...again. As of the beginning of 2021, my home city of Calgary (and my home province of Alberta) is in a state of lockdown so theatres are closed for most of the month of January. After that...who knows? We'll have to wait and see. I'm very excited to see how live entertainment continues to evolve and what sort of productions I'll experience in 2021. I still have a goal of seeing 52 plays this year but if I don't...no big deal. Some things are just out of your control, you know?
Here's a list of all the shows I saw in 2020 in chronological order, including the digital productions:
Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me but Banjos Saved My Life • The Land, The Animals • Juliet & Romeo • The Boy From Oz • The Louder We Get • Whispers in the Dark • Old Man: The Napi Project SNOWBLIND • Dear Evan Hansen • The Neverending Story • The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare • Admissions • An American in Paris • Kinky Boots • Richard III • One Man Two Guvnors • Frankenstein • ONE • The Tempest • Tomorrow's Child • Hamilton • Romeo & Juliet • Much Ado About Nothing • The Hobbit • SensoryBox • The Voice on the Wire • Jawbone • The Hitchhiker • The American • The Wizard of Oz • The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst • What Ever Happened to Bianca Del Rio