The Best Theater Performances and Productions of 2018

The Arvada Center's Educating Rita topped the Class of 2018 in performance and set design.
The Arvada Center's Educating Rita topped the Class of 2018 in performance and set design. The Arvada Center
Theater in Denver seems always to be coming of age. Year after year, I think we’re about to rival cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis, if not London and New York. We have the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company, with its interest in new playwrights and big money to spend on sumptuous productions, as well as several smaller companies doing serious work. We have acting and directing talent to challenge what you see in major metropolises, in quality if not quantity.

Every year, I think that while we’re not there yet, we’re damn close.

And in 2018, many productions and performances definitely hit the mark. Here are the best theater achievements of the past year:

Best musical, large venue: An all-black production of Oklahoma! by the DCPA Theatre Company featured gorgeous voices, exciting ensemble dancing and wonderful energy. The casting added a whole new dimension to this classic musical as African-American cowboys claimed their rightful place: “We know we belong to the land/And the land we belong to is grand.”

Best musical, small venue: Fun Home at Miners Alley, a musical by Lisa Kron based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel. The protagonist is played at three ages: Adult Alison, Middle Alison and Small Alison. All the performers were terrific, but it’s Sophia Dotson’s heart-rending rendition of “Ring of Keys” as Small Alison that lingers in memory.

Best season for an actress: Adrian Egolf spent the year playing slightly crazy women. In A Kid Like Jake at Benchmark, she was a neurotic mother determined to get her child into the right pre-school. In Lungs at Miners Alley, she played a young wife trying to make up her mind about having a child: She wanted one, but she didn’t. This woman was daft, vulnerable, bullying — and fascinating. And Marie Antoinette in Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists was Egolf’s crowning performance (no pun intended).

Best comedy production: Speaking of The Revolutionists, it earned a nod for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. Under the direction of Allison Watrous, the BETC brought the play to vivid life with a fine cast that included Rebecca Remaly, Maire Higgins and the peerless Jada Suzanne Dixon, as well as Egolf.

Best season for an actor: Only two roles this year, but Michael Morgan was terrific in both. In Benchmark’s darkly dramatic The Arsonists, he played a living corpse. In Curious Theatre’s The Cake, he was the hapless husband of confectioner Della, and what he did to lure her into bed provided the year’s funniest moment.

Best immersion: With Bite-Size, the DCPA Off-Center presented a selection of five short plays by local playwrights, performed in the cozy, book-lined rooms of BookBar. The evening was impressively immersive: Sound bled from room to room, and you were seated so close you could sense the performers’ breath.

Best lead actor: The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Cyrano de Bergerac was fantastic, in large part because of Scott Coopwood’s Cyrano. Cyrano is a fighter, poet, frustrated lover and fast-tongued bullshitter, and it takes one hell of an actor to carry all that off, but Coopwood so did with panache.

Best supporting actor: Sometimes an actor gives a brilliant performance in a role as pinched as Cyrano is showy and capacious. Just watching Randy Moore jabbing at his television remote as angry, elderly Oscar in Meridith Friedman’s Your Best One at Curious Theatre told you everything about the character.

Best song cycle: A quartet of fine voices combined to make Songs for a New World a mesmerizing evening of music at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Leonard Barrett, Randy Chalmers, Sarah Rex and Leiney Rigg are very different performers, but they harmonized beautifully in this program of linked melodies.

Best set design: Brian Mallgrave’s design for the Arvada Center’s Educating Rita was the very picture of a cozy, warm, book-stuffed professorial study.

Best lead actress: I groaned when I heard that the Arvada Center was staging Educating Rita — a play in which the main character is not only a Brit, but a Liverpudlian. Scouse isn’t an easy accent, and I was half-hoping Emily Van Fleet wouldn’t even try it. But she did, and she nailed it. Her acting was close to perfect, too.

Best new play: Buntport’s The Book Handlers was everything we love about this company — funny, silly and deep. The actors were terrific, the action weirdly surprising, and the convoluted Rube Goldberg set almost a character in itself.

Best sign that we’re getting there: New talent kept popping up in 2018. Leiney Rigg, whose beautiful soprano brought tears to your eyes. Rebekah Goldberg, who showed up in The Arsonists and BETC’S The Wolves. And rising to the surface: The stars of BDT Stage’s lovely The Little Mermaid, university seniors Cole LaFonte and Lillian Buonocore.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman