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2016 in Review: Top 10 local plays

Edmonton has a vibrant theatre scene and 2016 proved to be an exceptional showing year. Whether from Broadway or at the Citadel, local audiences had the opportunity to view world class performances, with many of them produced right here in Edmonton. Here is The Gateway’s top 10 local theatrical productions from 2016.

10. A Christmas Carol

Image Courtesy of Ian Jackson

Adapted by: Tom Wood
Based on the story by: Charles Dickens
Directed by: Bob Baker

As the holiday season approached, the Citadel Theatre presented the Christmas classic, based on the story by Charles Dickens. It illustrates the transformation of a Christmas scrooge into a joyous man. In its 17th season, this play has become a festive tradition for many families. Because it was performed on a thrust stage, it brought the evolution of Scrooge even closer to the audience and their hearts. Every performance spread Christmas cheer through its convincing portrayals, and substantial donations gathered for the Edmonton Food Bank.

9. Kill Hard

Starring: Jamie Northan and Quinn Contini

Borrowing only the name of Bruce Willis infamous “Christmas” flickKill Hard was part of this year’s Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Each night the improvised tale was spun in a different way, creating an engaging and one of a kind performance. The ridiculous plots and unending clichés were a source of generous laughter. The explosive action was enhanced by the use of comedic sound effects.

8. Newsies

Music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein

Learning to seize each day was one of the many heartfelt lessons theatre-goers had bestowed upon them in 2016, thanks to Newsies. The Broadway Across Canada touring production of the not-so-popular 1992 Disney movietook audiences on a journey back to the late 1800s, depicting the life of young New York paper boy.  The movie may have flopped, but the play’s spirited tunes and catchy lyrics can still be heard ringing in the audience’s ears today.

7. Potted Potter

Written by and starring: Daniel Clarkson & Jefferson Turner

Not everyone knows what a horcrux or Quiditch are, but say “Harry Potter” and you will likely still send tons of people swarming. Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience did just that, while condensing all seven of the J.K. Rowling novels into one stage performance. The parody play involves just two actors, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. The role of Potter was played singularly by Turner, while Clarkson seamlessly switched between 360 other characters. Never before has young Hermione been so tall.

6. Alice Through the Looking-Glass

Directed by: Jillian Keiley (Original) and Christine Brubaker
Written by: Lewis Caroll; adapted for stage by James Reaney

Be careful when you use the mirror in the morning, or you may find yourself magically transported into a reverse world. At least, that was the case for Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass. Audiences partook in a strange journey alongside Alice, giggling through her adventures with Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Jabberwocky poem, and the wacky tale of “Walrus and the Carpenter.” Brimming with hilarious performances by local actors John Ullyatt and Andrew MacDonald-Smith, the show proved to be a perfectly silly affair.

5. Anxiety

Directed by: Ali Joy Richardson
Created by: Heather Inglis and Murray Cullen
Written by: Cat Walsh

It’s not every day a theatre production immerses and pushes its audience into the action. Just as the name suggests, this play explored how people deal with apprehensiveness, literally creating anxiety for the audience in a number of ten minute “plays”/scenarios. Edmonton playwright Cat Walsh and local YES Theatre collaborated with six other guest theatre companies from across Canada in order to craft this truly inventive experience. Escape from one scene was always welcomed with a relieved sigh — if only until the next segment began.  

4. Off Book – The Improvised Musical

Making up entire songs and accompanying choreography on the spot sounds like a recipe for a cringe-worthy disaster. Fortunately, the talented improvisers from Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre made this hard work look simple, as they took audience suggestions and moulded them into theatrical stories from scratch. Regardless of whether the songs were genius or trivial, the audience clapped along in amusement. No performance was alike, and many provided plenty of witty catch phrases as unique souvenirs.  It was common symptom to leave the theatre with aching stomach muscles — from all the laughter, of course.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time  

Image Courtesy of David Cooper

Book written by: Mark Haddon
Adaptation by: Simon Stephens
Directed by: Heidi Malazdrewich

There is an unfortunately stigma surrounding developmental autistic spectrum disorders and mental illnesses. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tackled this head on with a production highlighting the perspective of a young autistic person. The play gave some needed insight into how even the simple task of boarding a subway train can be challenging with such disorders. A play within a play, the mysterious story followed the protagonist in his quest to unravel the murder of his neighbour’s dog. This Citadel Theatre performance proved to make excellent use of props and sets to simulate the constant bustle and changing nature of the world around us.

2. Love’s Labour’s Lost

Courtesy of Alexa Tonn

Directed by: Jim Guedo
Written by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Cayley Thomas, Hunter Cardinal, Jesse Gervais, Nathan Cuckow, Kristi Hansen, Louise Lambert, Mary Hulbert, and Sheldon Elter

The unlikely combination of William Shakespeare and everything 60s proved to be a special combination in this colourful adaptation. Considered to be one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, this production was part of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival at Hawrelak Park. Centering on the themes of love, desire, and rationalization, the play was incredibly funny. The wild mannerisms, extreme flirting, and neon costumes all enhanced the already rowdy and boisterous performance. The outdoor ambience of an Edmonton summer added to the heat of the play. Never before had people seen knights armoured in neon.

1. The Book of Mormon

Image Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Book, Music, and Lyrics by: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone
Starring: Ryan Bondy, Cody Jamison, and Candace Quarrels

Many can relate to having their dinner interrupted by well-dressed Mormon missionaries with free books. But few, I’m sure, could relate any of their prior theatre experiences to what they saw in the The Book of MormonCombining the religion with a musical in order to satirically discuss a lack of interest in faith proved to be a stellar decision. This travelling musical as part of Broadway Across Canada dazzled with a hilarious story. A highlight was the song “I Am Africa,” with an ironic all white choir singing about how they are the heartbeat of Africa.  The Book of Mormon, written by the creators of the television show South Park, delivered a power performance with a comedic punch. 

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