By Mary Alderson
As 2023 fades behind us, Entertain This Thought has a round-up of favourite shows we saw. With nominations from our team, Vicki Stokes, Sookie Mei, Deb Lord, Holly Wenning, and Eden Eidt, I have collected a list of those we felt were among the best. To read our reviews, just click the link on the show title.
Outstanding Musical – Rent at the Stratford Festival. (OK, I know you’re going to say I’m biased as my son, Thomas Alderson, was the assistant director on this production. I’ve lost sleep over this – how do I know I’m not being influenced subliminally?) Nope. I really think that this is the best musical I saw last year, and Eden is in agreement. With seasoned stars like Robert Markus, Erica Peck and Lee Seigal, how could it not be a great show?
Honourable Mention goes to Spamalot, also at Stratford Festival, and SIX, still running at the Royal Alexandra in Toronto.
Outstanding Comedy – The funniest thing I saw this year was the spoof 39 Steps at the County Stage Company, at The Eddie Hotel & Farm, Prince Edward County. Each person in the cast played many roles, each part more hilarious than the last.
Honourable Mention goes to Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) now playing at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, a British take-off on the Jane Austen classic. Sookie says there were laughs at The Beaver Club at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre. It is a new Canadian play, well-written, beautifully acted, and expertly directed. And Vicki tells us that The New Canadian Curling Club at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend was outstanding. Penned by Mark Crawford, it’s a hit, a thoughtfully written, and well-performed comedy.
Outstanding Drama – Casey and Diana at the Stratford Festival. Eden and I both picked this one. No contest. Nothing even comes close. The visit of Diana, Princess of Wales to Casey House, an AIDS hospice where young men were dying, is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Never have I been so moved by a play. There weren’t just tears in people’s eyes, there was full out sobbing. Casey and Diana is coming to Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto January 23 to February 4. Get tickets now. It will sell out completely, the run is far too short. After that, it should go to Broadway.
Outstanding Dramedy – Mending Fences at the Globus Theatre near Bobcaygeon. This show has playwright Norm Foster’s usual quick wit but also shows the pain of a dysfunctional family. The estranged father-son relationship covers the problems of divorce, distance and drinking, but also offers some laughs.
Outstanding Performance in a Musical – Michael Vanhevel as King Arthur in Camelot at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia. His crooner voice is always an audience favourite. This was a newer version of the old musical which proved popular.
Outstanding Performance in a Comedy – A tie between Thomas Alderson and Matt Pilipiak for their performances in Bed and Breakfast at the Orillia Opera House. These two men played 22 parts which in itself is outstanding. This is another of Mark Crawford’s excellent collection of comedies with a message. (And yes, that’s my kid again.)
Outstanding Performance in a Drama – Sean Arbuckle in Casey and Diana at the Stratford Festival. Arbuckle dies little by little before our eyes, and makes us feel every emotion he is going through. Brilliant acting.
Outstanding Cast in a Musical – The cast of Chris, Mrs. at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, in a Hallmark-like Christmas movie created live on stage. The creators assembled some of the best in musical theatre performers in Canada. With such talent on stage the show was a delight. The cast prevented it from being a mushy, predictable live Christmas movie. I will also give kudos to the ensemble for marvelous dancing and Sarah Vance deserves recognition for Outstanding Choreography.
James Barrett and Sarah Quick as Henry and Alice in Sexy Laundry.
Outstanding Cast in a Comedy – James Barrett and Sarah Quick in Sexy Laundry, Globus Theatre, Bobcaygeon. This pair, a real-life couple, gave us plenty of laughs – the kind of chuckles you have when you recognize yourself on stage. Both are skilled and seasoned comic actors who do it so well.
Honourable mention goes to Jonas and Barry in the Home, Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia. Keith Savage is a comedy great, and with the father-daughter team of Patrick Masurkevitch and Emily Masurkevitch, Holly says they were perfect in this Norm Foster play.
Outstanding Cast in a Drama – Again, it’s the cast of Casey and Diana. I’m sorry if this seems repetitious but I still can’t get over how moving and memorable this play was. Sean Arbuckle, Sophia Walker, Linda Kash, Laura Condlln, Davinder Malhi, and Krystin Pellerin were all excellent, each delivering unforgettable roles. They took my breath away.
Outstanding Trilogy – The Donnelly Trilogy on the Harvest Stage at Blyth Festival Theatre has been a long-time favourite. Deb says, as a Huron County resident, she has heard and read much about the Donnellys. But the three plays, Sticks and Stones, St. Nicholas Hotel, and Handcuffs gave her a fascinating new vantage point for this often-told story. The talented performers and their musical and theatrical prowess made the show captivating. The outdoor stage created the right ambiance and thunder and sheet lightening at one performance added an eerie feeling to the show.
Outstanding Improv – The Great Palm Tree Beach Tiki Bar Tragedy at Globus Theatre, Bobcaygeon. Well known for their silly improv dinner theatre, the Globus did it again. They have a team of improv actors who know how to involve the audience for maximum hilarity.
Matt Pilipiak as White Rabbit, Tess Benger as Alice and Aisha Jarvis as Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.
Outstanding Children’s Show – Alice in Wonderland at the Yonge Centre, Toronto. This modernization of the classic story, with Tess Benger in the title role, has been a hit three years running, taking several Dora Awards last year.
Honourable Mention – Jack – a Beanstalk Panto at the Capitol Theatre, Port Hope shows the skill of writer/director Rebecca Northan. Famous for having both naughty and nice versions, the Capitol’s panto is highly anticipated. It was so good my 3-year-old granddaughter sat spellbound throughout the nice show, and yes, there were hearty laughs in the naughty version.
Outstanding One-Person Show – Mickey and Judy at the Capitol’s Sculthorpe Theatre in Port Hope was the coming-of-age story of Michael Hughes, known as Mickey as a youngster, and his love of Judy Garland. The show was part story-telling, part stand-up comedy, and part concert with great singing.
Outstanding Audience Response – This is a tie, and yet it goes to the same person! Leisa Way is loved by her fans, and it shows whenever she steps on stage. Her Rhinestone Cowgirl: Celebrating Dolly Parton at the Globus in Bobcaygeon got big cheers throughout, and her Early Morning Rain at Port Stanley Festival Theatre was especially poignant following the death of Gordon Lightfoot, making her audience even more appreciative.