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The best of the year: our contributors pick the outstanding shows of 2019

This year's picks come from the world of theatre, dance and music

Each year, the contributors at Vancouver Presents take a look back at the previous twelve months to identify those shows that impacted them the most, both artistically and personally.

Traditionally featuring only the best in theatre productions, this year we are mixing things up and expanding our list to include music and dance as chosen by our contributors Katie Gartlan-Close, David C Jones, Andrea Loewen, Christine Pilgrim, Mark Robins, and Chelsey Stuyt.

Rather than any attempt at ranking, we simply list the ten best in alphabetical order. And to once again prove how difficult it is to pick only ten, we also present a bonus ten also deserving of special mention.

As always, we remain grateful to the arts groups who continue to invite us to see their shows. Between us, we saw more than 100 shows in 2019, and we only managed to scratch the surface of what is an enormous amount of creative work being produced in our city.

We encourage you to make a New Year’s resolution to go see some live theatre, dance, and music in 2020. Vancouver is lucky to have such a vibrant arts scene, but they cannot do it without an audience.

All’s Well That Ends Well (Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival)

Britsh rules: All’s Well That Ends Well (Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival) – Set during the final year of British rule in India, Shakespeare’s sexist, classist romp was reimagined into a poignant piece of theatre.

Sarena Parmar and Bernard Cuffling in the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of All's Well That Ends Well. Photo by Tim Matheson.
Sarena Parmar and Bernard Cuffling in the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of All’s Well That Ends Well. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Le Soulier (Théâtre la Seizième)

If the shoe fits: Le Soulier (Théâtre la Seizième) – in a year of solid productions from Vancouver’s French-language theatre company it was the world premiere of David Paquet’s boundary-stretching play which left the biggest impression.

Members of the cast of the Théâtre la Seizième production of Le Soulier. Photo by Gaëtan Nerincx.

Company (Raincity Theatre)

Happy birthday Bobby: Company (Raincity Theatre) – proving themselves masters of the site-specific musical, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more talented group gathered on a single-stage this year.

Jonathan Winsby as Robert in the Raincity Theatre production of Company.

Disney’s Newsies (Theatre Under the Stars)

Dance dance revolution: Disney’s Newsies (Theatre Under the Stars) – Julie Tomaino’s choreography made this the summer show to see.

The cast of Disney’s Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

Faust (Vancouver Opera)

The full meal deal: Faust (Vancouver Opera) – with impactful performances and great singing this was the highlight from this year’s Vancouver Opera Festival.

Vancouver Opera presents Faust as part of its 3rd annual festival.

Gathering Light (Raven Spirit Dance)

Intimate and connected: Gathering Light (Raven Spirit Dance) – part of this year’s Vancouver International Dance Festival, this uncomplicated and beautiful work provided a sense of communal transformation that you want to take home with you.

Vancouver’s Raven Spirit Dance presents Gathering Light at the 2019 Vancouver International Dance Festival. Photo courtesy Raven Spirit Dance.

Lungs (Saint FiFi Collective)

A breath of fresh air: Lungs (Saint FiFi Collective) – blink and you probably missed it but this was the highlight of the summer theatre season with two outstanding performances.

Alec Santos and Fei Ren in Lungs. Photo by Christy Webb.

Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule (Music in the Morning)

Sweet music: Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule (Music in the Morning) – bringing some fine musical concerts to get your day started throughout the year, it was this husband and wife team whose delicate harmonies made the biggest impression.

Canadian baritone Russell Braun (above) was joined by Canadian pianist Carolyn Maule in a concert inspired by water.

Seminar (Alex&Main Productions)

An exciting debut: Seminar (Alex&Main Productions) – Vancouver’s indie theatre scene is alive and well with one of the newest proving it with a production that was honest, poignant and riveting.

Members of the cast of the Alex&Main Productions presentation of Seminar.

The Father (The Search Party)

Mind. Blown: The Father (The Search Party) – Kevin McNulty gives a stellar performance in this first outing for Mindy Parfitt’s new theatre company.

Kevin McNulty and Emma Slipp in The Search Party production of The Father. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Five More that Deserve Mention

Here are five more shows from 2019 that also deserve mention:

  • Amelie (West Moon Theatre) – this beautifully realized production was one of our top picks from this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival
  • How I Killed My Nan (Dion Arnold) – a heartfelt story with huge laughs, it was our top pick from this year’s Vancouver Fringe.
  • Never The Last (Delinquent Theatre) – this dance theatrical hybrid was a beautiful portrait of both art and artist
  • Peter Pan (Carousel Theatre for Young People) – this one received the ultimate kid recommendation
  • Superior Donuts (Ensemble Theatre Company)some delicious empty calories

A Bonus Five

We don’t usually mention remounts or touring shows in our annual list, but there were five such shows in 2019 that really stood out:

  • Adieu Monsieur Haffmann (Atelier Théâtre Actuel presented by Théâtre la Seizième) – a poignant reminder of where negative concepts can lead and how they can be overcome
  • Come From Away (Presented by Broadway Across Canada) – this 9/11 musical was as genuine as the Newfoundlanders it portrays
  • Mrs. Krishnan’s Party (Indian Ink Theatre Company presented by The Cultch) – this is one party you didn’t want to end
  • Spirit (Bangarra Dance Theatre presented by DanceHouse) – a spiritual experience
  • The Shipment (Speakeasy Theatre presented by the Firehall Arts Centre & Presentation House Theatre) – originally making our top ten list in 2017 this unflinching story deservedly received a remount at two different venues this year
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