Best of Calgary theatre in 2019

Writer Caroline Russell-King takes a look back at the best that was on the boards during Calgary’s 2019 theatre season.

Best Overall Show: Ayad Akhtar’s Tony Award-winning script Disgraced at Alberta Theatre Projects was brilliant for its contraction and explosion. It made me think the old ATP I loved and missed was back.

Best Direction: Nigel Shawn Williams, who conducted like a maestro, with nary a wrong note in Disgraced.

Best Female Actor: Seana McKenna was sublime as Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice produced by The Shakespeare Co., Hit and Myth and UCalgary Drama. 

Best Male Actor: While I was impressed by the ensemble of talent in Waiting for Godot, it was Nathan Kay who left an impression with his creepy menace in Vertigo’s Stranger on the Train. This production also happily set attendance records! 

Best One Act: Lunchbox theatre’s revival of Last Christmas written by Calgary’s Neil Fleming, directed by Shari Wattling featuring Robert Klein bonding with Griffin Cork.

Best Community Theatre: Simply Theatre’sproduction of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross was a treat with special kudos to Fadi Saghir. Also, a nod to Rosebud Theatre’s A Christmas Story, written by Philip Grecian, which was well worth the drive.

Best Musical: Stage West’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Robert L. Freedman/Steven Lutvak) directed by Mark Bellamy was one of the best shows I’ve seen there, and hat’s off to David Fraser’s set which provided the multiple, music hall-esque backdrops. So much fun.

Best Original New Work: Confession time — I didn’t go to the Fringe this year. I did hear some buzz about some new work, but I didn’t see them. Calgary playwrights – invite critics to your shows!

Best Design: Though it may have upstaged the cast, Scott Reid pulled out all the stops for Geoffrey Simon Brown’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol at Theatre Calgary. And equally full of Xmas magic was the set and costume design by Hanne Loosen for ATP’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Best Choreographyor Fight Direction: Usually relegated to sword fights and dance numbers this year it goes to Denise Clarke, Canada’s answer to Twyla Tharp (assisted by Mark Kunji Ikeda), who gave us a dry synchronized swimming, mosh pit, ASL, chorus line in One Yellow Rabbit’s The Hamlet Frequency.

Newcomer Award: Shawn Lall making his professional stage debut was fantastic in Disgraced, produced by Alberta Theatre Projects.

Somebody Give Them Their Own Show Award: Bruce Horak the actor, painter and puppeteer who gave gravitas and humour in ATP’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and great charm in his one-man show Assassinating Thomson at Lunchbox Theatre (co-presented with Inside Out Theatre).

Gone But Not Forgotten: John Murrell, one of Canada’s finest playwrights and librettist left us with his incredible legacy, and his plays will be forever cemented in the Canadian canon.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Louis B. Hobson Calgary’s tireless theatre critic who turned 75 years old this year has been a supporter and promoter of Calgary’s theatre scene for decades. 

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here at