toronto theatre review 2013

The top Toronto theatre productions & news from 2013

Toronto theatre productions from 2013 told a wide range of intriguing and diverse stories, presented on stages large and small and from a collection of dedicated artists who call our fair city home. Here are some of the memorable theatre highlights from 2013:

Early bird gets the worm
While the old guard of Toronto independent theatres (Tarragon, Factory, Passe Muraille) continue to chug along, there's a new generation of permanent venues underway for established companies. Chief among them is Crow's Theatre, which gave us the first real story of 2013 with the announcement of its new theatre in the east end. It's been a banner year for Artistic Director Chris Abraham, who took home the country's largest theatre prize, the Siminovitch, and directed three incredible shows: Othello at Stratford, Someone Else with Canadian Stage, and, one of the best of 2013, Winners and Losers.

Lord of the Sings: The Three Towers
The David Mirvish-Frank Gehry development, an ambitious, large-scale plan to transform the entertainment district, faced a number of challenges in 2013 that have stalled the current design. The demolition of the Princess of Wales isn't exactly the source of the controversy, but rather the four heritage buildings -- Eclipse Whitewear, Anderson, Gillett, and Reid -- all erected during the first 15 years of the 20th century. With city council having recently voted down the current proposal, the project has come to represent two visions of the city's future: embracing contemporary city-transforming design or preserving Toronto's architectural heritage.

Missionary accomplished
The religious satire The Book of Mormon tore up Broadway in 2011, winning 9 Tony Awards along the way. It arrived in Toronto this spring as part of the Mirvish season. The show proved to be everything that it was touted to be — funny, irreverent, and innovative. In addition to a storyline chock full of clever jabs, the numbers "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" and "Hasa Diga Eebowai" are not easily forgotten. While the length of the engagement was a disappointment, a mere six weeks for a theatre hungry city, Mirvish will bring back the crowd-pleaser later next year.

Campbell House doors open
In the past few years, the Campbell House Museum has opened its doors widely, establishing itself as one of the most intimate and popular site-specific theatre spaces in the city. Originally built in 1822, the building was home to Chief Justice William Campbell before being saved from demolition in 1972 and moved to its current location. The performances featured at the museum this year include, Elizabeth - Darcy, Nightmare DREAM, Lady Julie, You Can Sleep When You're Dead, A Room of One's Own, and an installation as part of Nuit Blanche.

The year of queer
Of the memorable productions on Toronto stages this year, a number of the most successful featured queer themes. Leading the crowd was Soulpepper's ambitious mounting of Tony Kushner's gay fantasia, Angels in America. It showcased strong performances from Damien Atkins and Diego Matamoros, as well as spot-on staging from director Albert Schultz. It'll return next year just in time for World Pride. The highlight of Buddies' year was Arigato, Tokyo from Daniel MacIvor, an artistic, nuanced approach to the foreigner in a strange land archetype which muddied an easy reading of gender and sexuality. Add in solid productions of Entertaining Mr. Sloane and The Gay Heritage Project and it was a good year for queer theatre.

Summer Passion
A community of theatre companies—Outside the March, Convergence Theatre, Sheep No Wool, Crow's Theatre—came together to present the sprawling epic Passion Play from Sarah Ruhl. The result was the summer's most talked about performance; no easy feat among the many seasonal indie and Shakespeare festivals. It's a testament to the collaborators involved, directors Mitchell Cushman, Alan Dilworth and Aaron Willis, as well as performers Maev Beaty, Andrew Kushnir, Jordan Pettle, and Julie Tepperman. The three part series, following an amateur troupe as they re-enact a passion play in Elizabethan England, Nazi Germany and Reagan-Era America, was one of the year's highlights.

Valjean 2.0
Toronto is musical crazy when it comes to Les Misérables, a city favourite since it first appeared here in the late 80s. The success of the latest re-envisioning from Cameron Mackintosh, featuring visual projections inspired by Victor Hugo's paintings, can be attributed to a rousing performance from Iranian-Canadian actor Ramin Karimloo in the role of Jean Valjean. As a result, he's been anointed the role when the production heads to Broadway, alongside clown Cliff Saunders as Monsieur Thenardier. Early in the new year, Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role, will pass the ceremonial candlesticks when he appears alongside Karimloo in a charity performance.

Canadian Stage shines
I've been a fan of the international, contemporary vision put forth by Artistic and General Director Matthew Jocelyn since he took over at Canadian Stage four years ago. 2013 is the year that promise blossomed into progress. Through a number of co-productions and relationships with national and international artists, the company built a strong portfolio of diverse, contemporary productions this year, including Someone Else, This, Needles and Opium, Macbeth, Winners and Losers, and the crowd-pleaser of the year, the currently remounted Venus in Fur. 2014 looks just as promising with direction from Jackie Maxwell (London Road) and co-productions with Theatrefront (Tribes) and the Company Theatre (Belleville).

Performance Luminaries - Joni Mitchell and Marina Abramović
Jorn Weisbrodt has brought international stature to the Luminato Festival as its Artistic Director. This year, he enticed two of the most respected artists of their generation, Joni Mitchell and Marina Abramović, to take part. The real coup was the participation of the Canadian music legend who has faced health problems in recent years. While Abramović has been on the circuit since the success of her MoMA retrospective and subsequent documentary, Toronto was lucky enough to host two of her projects: The Life and Death of Marina Abramović and the MAI Prototype, the international premiere of a two-hour performance experience.

Honourable Mentions: After Miss Julie, Clybourne Park, Of a Monstrous Child, Nijinsky, Tristan und Isolde

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