The Top 10 Toronto theatre artists of 2017

For the past couple of decades, my late colleague Jon Kaplan would lovingly compile this list, and hed run the.


For the past couple of decades, my late colleague Jon Kaplan would lovingly compile this list, and hed run the names by me so we could discuss them. Of course, Jon loyally monitored all of these artists careers sometimes (as is the case with the number-one artist) from their first show. Im following his rule that to be considered for inclusion, an artist has to have presented at least two shows in the year.

Not only did Crows Theatres artistic director oversee the opening of the companys handsome new east-end space, which has already altered the geography of our theatre scene, but he helmed a huge range of shows, from the farcical The Wedding Party (RSVP for its return next month!) and the poignant The Boy In The Moon to a pair of pieces that wooed the indie music crowd (True Crime and A&R Angels). He also found a way to theatricalize Claude Viviers haunting Musik Fur Das Ende for Soundstreams. Meanwhile at Stratford he directed an elegant yet gut-bustingly funny production of Tartuffe that had up-to-the-minute Trump jokes.

Theres no question that Rooney is one of the countrys best actors. Whats incredible is how effortless he makes his craft look, whether hes tossing back Tartuffes ridiculous mane, bitching out juicy bons mots while wearing a ridiculous wig in The School For Scandal or most memorably playing contrasting twins in The Wedding Party.

Horne got lots of press last year when she wrote in Intermission magazine about not being able to pay her rent at the same time that she was on the cover of NOW Magazines Fall Stage Guide and starring in lots of plays. Lets hope the ecology has changed enough so she can keep giving us performances as varied as her ones this year. In Vimy, she played a nurse numbed to the horrors of war, while in Asking For It she morphed into various women (and one delightful tween) wrestling with the consent issue. Most impressive was her scruffy but soulful Prince Hamlet that made you think about the characters conflicts, not gender.

Twelve months ago, Bitter was on NOWs list of promising young artists, and this year he delivered on that promise. In the imaginative, physical Our Town, he brought great focus and vivid character work to the ensemble. In El Retorno/I Return, he expertly played both a whimsical child and a sober adult navigating the world of a Chilean exile. And in Rope Running Out, he brought mystery and vulnerability to his photographer testing the limits of his unconventional relationship. Cant wait for his solo show, CHICHO, at Theatre Passe Murailles BUZZ in February.

Musicals can take years to develop, so what a treat that we got to see two Johnson shows in 2017. First came Stupidhead! A Musical Comedy, about co-writer/performer Katherine Cullens dyslexia, with a score that was quirky and whimsical. Then came Life After, a musically complex and deeply moving look at grief and guilt that had every critic in the city comparing Johnson to her idol, Stephen Sondheim. Lets hope Trap Door, Johnsons collaboration with her sister Anika and Morris Panych, workshopped at Theatre Sheridan, finds a home soon.

In a year where powerful, middle-aged men were finally held accountable for their heinous deeds, Roberts got deep inside two of theatres most disturbing abusers. Watching his cagey, libidinous Claudius square off against Christine Hornes Prince Hamlet was thrilling, while his Pozzo in Waiting For Godot was both terrifying and, in the second act, pitiable.

I have no idea what Doyle looks like (well, before we posted her above picture), but many of her designs are permanently etched in my mind: that deceptively playful, balloon-strewn set in Im Doing This For You the limbo-like bare stage for The Boy In The Moon with its suggestions of the outside world and a familys internal turmoil a concert area full of broken dreams for Hedwig And The Angry Inch and Johns tchotchke-filled bed-and-breakfast parlour that was both enchanting, claustrophobic and sinister.

After what seemed like a long absence from the theatre, Tova brought two unforgettable mothers to the stage: the controlling, seen-it-all matriarch who put the tough in Tough Jews, then the woman caught between devout husband and restless artistic son in The Jazz Singer. As ACTRAs Toronto president, she also proved an effective spokesperson about the groups zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the industry.

A passionate, persuasive performer in Rob Kempsons Trigonometry, Napoli also mounted two of her own plays this year: the quirky Ten Creative Ways To Dispose Of Your Cremains, in which she played a young woman grieving her fathers death, and Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells), a gripping two-hander about sex, power and control between a high school teacher and his protege/lover that added interesting notes to the consent debate.

Improv artists dont usually get the respect they deserve in theatre, but Bruce whether playing a tough yet flirtatious cafe owner in Hookup or a murder suspect with links to organized crime in Undercover has the dramatic instincts of the best thesps. She got to show that as a controlling mom in the hit Fringe comic murder mystery Murder In The Cottonwoods.

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