RFKRFK at Vintage Theatre (credit: vintagetheatre.org)

2013, once again, proved the theater community in Denver is robust and full of tremendous talent of all kinds. There were huge mega-musicals wowing audiences at the Denver Center, The Arvada Center and Town Hall Arts Center. But there were also tender and moving smaller performances from companies like Vintage Theatre, The Edge and Miners Alley Playhouse. Narrowing the top shows of the year down to just five is a difficult task, However, in a year that included some huge touring productions and some truly surprising hits, here are the five shows that really stood out in 2013.

Vintage Theatre
1468 Dayton St.
Aurora, CO 80010
(303) 856-7830

“RFK” at Vintage Theatre was a one-man show directed by Terry Dodd. This powerhouse production, written by Jack Holmes, told the story of Robert Kennedy through speeches, statements and imagined conversations. It painted a picture of the life of Robert Kennedy, from his early days through the years after his brother’s assassination in 1963. What made this production work so well was the incredible performance by James O’Hagan Murphy as Robert Kennedy. He grabbed the role with both hands, diving into the world of the famous Kennedy, nailing the speech patterns and the physicality while welcoming the audience in on the journey of this fascinating man. There is a reason this show has returned several times throughout 2013. Audiences simply loved it.

“Sordid Lives”
Illumination Theatre Productions
John Hand Theatre
7653 E. 1st Place
Denver, CO 80230
(303) 562-3232

“Sordid Lives” was the inaugural production for a new theatre company in Denver. Illumination Theatre Productions announced its presence in the community with a splash, bringing this hilarious and touching comedy to many sold-out houses. “Sordid Lives” was the story of a Southern family that comes together after the passing of the family matriarch, exposing a lot of family secrets along the way. Del Shores’ script is rooted in realism, with brash and bold comedic bits that had the audience in stitches. Several standout performances from Todd Black, Emma Messenger, Shahara Ostrand, Boni McIntyre, Ken Leonard and Patrick Brownson made the production really shine, while tender direction by Bernie Cardell made the show the success that it was.

Related: Top Directors in the Local Theater Scene in Denver

“Fiddler on the Roof”
Space Theatre
1101 13th St.
Denver, CO 80204
(303) 575-0005

Phamaly productions are always worth seeing and its 2013 production of “Fiddler on the Roof” was no exception. Phamaly is the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League, the only company of its kind, providing theatrical opportunities exclusively to performers with any kind of disability. The performers range from hearing challenges to physical handicaps to emotional disabilities and pretty much everything in between. The brilliance of this company is the performers include their disability in their character, they don’t try to mask it or perform “in spite of it.” When it came to “Fiddler,” there were several performances that really stood out and made the show the emotional journey it was. Mark Dissette’s Tevya was picture perfect, with a strong front and an exposed emotional side. Daniel Traylor, Jeremy Palmer, Ashley Kelashian, Lyndsay Palmer, Kenzie Kilroy and Rachel Van Scoy were also all standouts in this large ensemble work.

“War Horse”
Denver Center Touring Attractions
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
1101 13th St.
Denver, CO 80204
(303) 893-4100

When a large touring production comes to town, it is easy to get excited about the spectacle and the big-budget production numbers you are about to see. However, “War Horse” was a show of a different color. This large touring production was a simple story, told effectively, with brilliant acting and eye-popping puppetry. It was the story of a horse, purchased at auction by a farmer and his son, Albert. The boy becomes fast friends with the horse until it is sold to the British Army and becomes a war horse during World War I. The play follows Albert’s journey as he goes to war, hoping to find his beloved pal in the midst of the carnage.
The real star of this incredible production was the puppetry work by Handspring Puppet Company, who made the amazing horse puppets that brought this world to vivid life.

Related: Top College Productions To See This Year In The Denver Area

“The Book of Mormon”
Denver Center Touring Attractions
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
1101 13th Street
Denver, CO 80204
(303) 893-4100

The big show on everyone’s mind in both 2012 and 2013 (is certain to be again in 2015) was “The Book of Mormon” by Colorado’s own Trey Parker and Matt Stone. This big-budget bonanza could easily have gone the wrong way and been too over the top, too mean or too campy. Instead, Parker and Stone wrote a very smart script, kept their famous “South Park” irreverence and infused it with a huge dose of classic Broadway storytelling techniques. “The Book of Mormon” skewers it all. Nothing is safe from Parker and Stone, as they go as far as they can with each and every joke and huge production number. The real surprise, however, was the heart that crept in around the cheeky edges, bringing a surprising warmth to the mega-hit musical.

Deborah Flomberg is a theater professional, freelance writer and Denver native. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.