BWW Special: 2013 Year in Review
2013 is quickly coming to close, which means it's time for the ever popular year end lists that feature the cream of the crop of the year that was. 2013 was an incredible year for Toronto theatre, with many organizations posting record numbers for attendance and lots of productions quickly becoming critical darlings.
As is always the case, choosing a 'Best Of' list is not only tough, but almost impossible in a year that saw so many wonderful productions. That said, the BWW Toronto Team has compiled a list of some of the favourite shows we were lucky enough to see this year. Some of these are still playing - so we would highly recommend snagging a ticket before it's too late!
While we get to have our say, make sure you have yours and VOTE for your favourites in the BWW Toronto Awards!
Alan Aronshtam @alanaronshtam:
CATS (Nu Musical Productions/Marlene Smith)
This intimate presentation of Cats at the Panasonic theatre was definitely a favorite of mine this year! I had seen the North American tour, a replica of the original production, twice - and was excited to see a new take on the familiar material. Come opening night - the show did not disappoint! I also have to mention Martin Samuel as Rum Tum Tugger, who completely stole the show.
FUNNY GIRL IN CONCERT (Harold Green Jewish Theatre Benefit)
I was so thrilled when I heard that this event was happening. Now it's rare to see some of the older classics produced, because the production values required to pull of something like Funny Girl are expensive. The HGJT didn't let that stop them, and presented what is now one of my favorite shows starring the incomparable Gabi Epstein as Fanny Brice. I had so much fun watching this show, and it is one of my favorite memories of going to the theatre.
Lauren Gienow @WhatLaurenThinx:
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Stratford Festival)
Fiddler on the Roof is such a classic American musical, that most avid theatre-goers have seen a production of it at some point in their lives.
Regardless of how many times they had already seen it, everyone this writer has spoken to who had the opportunity to catch Stratford Festival's production this past 2013 season, has commented that it was the best they had ever seen. Scott Wentworth's heartwarming, and heartbreaking performance as Tevye was lauded as a must-see at the festival, and said performance became even more fascinating when Wentworth ended up taking over the role of Shylock in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. Portraying two of the most famous Jewish characters in literature...sometimes on the same day, Mr. Wentworth's brilliance alone was enough of a reason to see this show. There were many more reasons however. In this production, directed by Donna Feore, the entire cast brought the village of Anatevka to life, and brought a beautiful sense of community to every performance at the Festival Theatre. Then there was the dancing....spectacular is the only word that comes to mind. Some of Canada's top dancers were in this ensemble, and they brought the house down every night!
Mary Stuart (Stratford Festival)
Directed by Stratford Festival Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino; Mary Stuart explored the complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England and her cousin Mary Stuart--the former queen of Scotland-and, and in the eyes of some, a more rightful heir to the English throne. The play was originally written by Friedrich Schiller and this production was based on the adaptation written by Peter Oswald. This play, performed in Stratford's Tom Patterson Theatre, was gripping from start to finish, and its popularity caused the festival to extend its run on three separate occasions, making it the runaway hit of the season. Lucy Peacock and Seana McKenna shone as the feuding cousins in a production that was filled with intrigue and excitement, and provided a social commentary that it many ways is still very relevant in the world today.
ANGELS IN AMERICA (Soulpepper)
This massive undertaking was a huge success for Soulpepper, nearly selling out most of its shows and receiving critical raves across the board. The near seven hour play has only been presented a handful of times in Toronto, and this new production showcased exactly why it's an incredibly difficult show to mount but distinctly rewarding when done well.
Featuring a talented ensemble, brilliant direction and fascinating use of lighting and music, Soulpepper's new take on Angels in America challenged us to think, to feel and to re-examine this important piece of modern day theatre.
LES MISERABLES (Mirvish Productions)
A long-time favourite of Toronto audiences, Les Miserables returned 'home' to Toronto this year with an almost all Canadian cast and 'hometown boy' Ramin Karimloo in the lead role of Jean Valjean. The new '25th Anniversary Production' has been re-imagined with new staging that is largely inspired by original paintings done by Victor Hugo.
Many people expressed trepidation regarding the classic show being 'reinterpreted' or changed in any way, but all fears were assuaged when the production opened in October to rave reviews. Audience members and critics alike have been filling The Princess of Wales and expressing delight over not just the new production, but the incredible cast. Now in its final extension, this is one you don't want to miss!
ON THE ROCKS (Theatre Passe Muraille)
This unique show by Canadian musical theatre legend Louise Pitre kicked off Theatre Passe Muraille's 2013-2014 season and was a departure from what we are used to seeing Ms. Pitre do. A one-woman show conceived and written by Pitre and husband Joe Matheson, the production featured stories from her life and was a gut-wrenching look at the career of a woman who has experienced incredible highs and lows and come out all the better for it. Intimate, personal and yet deeply relatable - this show was a surprise delight and I hope that it has life beyond its short Toronto run.
VENUS IN FUR (Canadian Stage)
David Ives' Venus in Fur was a much buzzed about play on in 2011-2012 - winning a Tony Award for its' star Nina Arianda. For the 2013-2014 theatre season it is the most produced play across North America, and Canadian Stage was the first company to tackle it within Canada. The psychological thriller examines sexual roles and the power struggle between men and women. It's witty, sharp and extremely thought provoking - but much of its success depends heavily on the chemistry and abilities of the cast. Carly Street and Rick Miller did not disappoint, proving not only how critical proper casting is a production like this but also showcasing their impressive acting chops. In fact, the play was so well received that it's back at Canadian Stage for the holiday season with both original members reprising their roles.
Special Mention: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL
This year's Toronto Fringe Festival deserves a special mention for all the wonderful productions that brought the Annex to life this summer. It was an incredible year for the festival, with record attendance numbers in spite of terrible heat waves. The beer tent was back and better than ever, with tons of free and fascinating artistic endeavours for people to watch while mingling with other excited theatre goers. A personal favourite? The 80s themed underground dance party that took over the parking garage of Honest Ed's. Theatre, dance and beer all in one place? Yes please!