Best Shakespearean debut
Tantoo Cardinal was wonderfully natural as a casually cruel Regan in the National Arts Centre’s all-Aboriginal production of King Lear, a landmark event that capped Peter Hinton’s up-and-down tenure as artistic director.
Best Shavian performance
Bernard Shaw’s now on the backburner at the Shaw Festival, but Thom Marriott showed how Shaw’s plays can still have enduring appeal in Misalliance, playing a magnate in a bad rug who came off as a bigger blowhard than Trump.
Most scarring solo
Crash, Pamela Sinha’s harrowing one-woman show about a rape survivor who has a flashback during her father’s funeral, was hard to forget. A pleasant surprise when it bested Fringe-hit-turned-Soulpepper-smash Kim’s Convenience at Toronto’s Dora Awards.
Most exciting ensemble
Denis Marleau’s delightful production of Molière’s Les femmes savantes was finely tuned when it arrived at Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde from France.
Character walk of the year
This year, it’s more of a character stumble: Deborah Hay’s Beatrice brought down the house when she slipped down a flight of stairs in Much Ado at Stratford. A perfect pratfall and even more perfect metaphor for the character’s unexpected tumble into love.
Biggest Broadway bust
Stratford Festival’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar failed to find an audience resurrected in New York, while David Read West’s porno rom-com The Performers – the first Canadian-written play on the Great White Way in almost thirty years – closed in a flash.
But Dancap’s hyped plan to premiere a Hal Prince hagiography called Prince of Broadway in Toronto, then take it to New York was the cringeworthy fizzle. It fell apart, followed by his company – leading the New York Post to label unimpressive impressario Aubrey Dan “a dilettante producer who couldn’t get his act together.”
Strangest circus act
Cirque du Soleil usually wows with speed and strength, but Amaluna’s Lara Jacobs captivated big-top crowds in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver with stillness and concentration by balancing one giant stick on top of another. (Coming your way in the new year, Calgary and Edmonton.)
Martha Henry seemed in retirement as a leading actress – she was certainly conspicuously absent from Stratford’s 60th season – but then re-emerged with hurricane force as a drug-addled matriarch in Manitoba Theatre Centre’s production of August: Osage County. A larger-than-life, but still emotionally wrenching performance.
Board that behaved the best
The Stratford Festival board of governors appears to have learned from its past mistakes, even if others in Canada haven’t. They orchestrated an uncontroversial transfer of artistic power from Des McAnuff to former general director Antoni Cimolino this winter – now can Canada’s flagship festival make the old audiences reappear?
Best hip-hop musical performances
Kyle Jesperson and Allison Lynch justifiably walked away with Betty Mitchell Awards for their performances – arrogant and insecure in equal measure – as a suburban gangsta and his girlfriend in the hip-hop musical Ash Rizin’ at Alberta Theatre Projects. If only they were the stars of the show.