UVU’s You Can’t Take it with You is Charmingly Amazing!

you can'tBy Cleve and Lana Horrocks

We walked into UVU’s Noorda theater right as You Can’t Take It With You was starting. Up on the balcony of the set was a reproduction of an old style radio broadcasting studio. Before the show, between acts, and at the end of the show, they had a well-done whimsical look back at the radio shows of the 1930′s. Kudos to Taylor Drummer–set designer. With a couple of trios, duets, and soloists all singing numbers as well as doing period commercial ditties, it was a fun-filled look at yesteryear. I especially enjoyed the women’s trio and Wade Johnson’s solo piece. The sound was a perfect rendition of what you would have heard in your living room on an old Victrola radio—that slightly tinny sound with muted bass and treble notes.

The play itself was a fun look at family life that is suitable for all ages, with several standout performers. The relationship between Alice Sycamore (Rachel Bigler) and Tony Kirby (Alexander Woods) was believable and with just the right touch of nerves that you would expect from a young couple getting engaged and worrying about merging their families. The mother (Penny Sycamore) was perfectly played by Katrina Luthi, who showed whimsy, care and nurturing as if it really were her own family she was looking over. The maid Rheba was given life by Emma Christopherson, and her secret love and Essie’s dance teacher Kolenkhov played by Wade Johnson, as well as Donald played by Alex Rettie, not to forget Essie herself (Chantel Ficklin) and her husband Ed Carmichael (AJ Taysom), all gave life to the love story of Alice and Tony. I thought that Mr. DePinna (Javier Ybarra) upstaged Paul Sycamore (Kacey Spadafora) a bit, but overall the two played off each other well as a couple of absent-minded professor types.

But the real standout performance was that of Grandpa played by Jason Evans. He was truly believable in this role, with even what might have been a mistake or two played right into the lines in such a way that I really could not tell if they were accidental or deliberate. This was as good a performance as many that I have seen that in productions that cost substantially more.

With a set that was period perfect, lighting by Lawson Bendall that illuminated, but did not upstage the performers, sound by Keving Crimen that was clear and yet typical of the period, and costumes that were very well done overall, this is a play that you really should not miss. Hats off to the costume designer, Estee Parker, who made costumes with whimsy and glamour that matched perfectly this romantic period. The bling was not spared on the Grand Duchess for her dress matched perfectly her dynamic personality. When Tora Truax came onto the stage she was a show stopper as she lit up the entire room with her vivacious personality and thick accent.

Bravo to everyone involved. I enjoyed myself so much that I’m thinking of coming back later in the run to see it again.

You Can’t Take it with You

Utah Valley University Noorda Theater

800 West University Parkway, Orem, UT 84058 (801) 863-INFO (4636)

April 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 7:30 PM Sat April 25 2:30 PM matinee

Tickets $12.00



SCERA’s Guys & Dolls is a Sure Bet

By Larisa Hicken

Guys and Dolls 11x17 Poster_OLAs the final show of their indoor season in Orem, Utah, SCERA’s production of Guys & Dolls was sensational.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys  & Dolls is a classic lighthearted musical about girls who fall for the wrong guys and gamblers who can’t seem to find their lucky break – except when it comes to love. The original production was an instant hit and many of the songs from the show will be familiar favorites for anyone who loves classical Broadway.

All of the design elements of the show worked together flawlessly to present a caricature of the stereotypical gangsters, gamblers, and missionaries from New York City in the 1950s. The brightly colored costumes by Kelsey Seaver and flashy set design by Shaun M. Mortensen added a lot of visual appeal and helped create a comic strip feel to the show that was downright awesome.

It was obviously opening night and there were a few blunders with actors dropping or missing props or getting slightly tangled in their costumes, but other technical aspects of the show were absolutely perfect.  I didn’t notice a single mistake with the sound and the lights (designed by Elizabeth Ottley Griffiths) were “spot on.”  Scene changes were quick and efficient and kept the rhythm of the show moving right along.

guys-n-dolls-05It was a lot of fun to see actor Bryan Thacker in a comedic role as Nathan Detroit since his last few roles have included much darker characters.  Thacker is a dynamic performer with amazing singing talent.  I lost a few of his words in the beginning due to the fast pacing of the show, but his accent was great, too.

His fiancé Adelaide was played by Alyssa Orme who seemed a little nervous in the beginning of the show, especially during “Adelaide’s Lament,” but she got better and better as the night went on.  Her vocals were very nice for someone so young and her physicality and comedic timing is fabulous. I would like to have seen a few more moments of affection and chemistry between Nathan and Adelaide, but they seemed natural and comfortable together.

guys-n-dolls-03Corey Morris made a sincere and charming Sky Masterson and I appreciated the rich quality of his voice. Cheyenne Lee, as Masterson’s love interest Sarah Brown, was hilarious with her physical gestures and facial expressions.  It was almost disturbing how well she played both an uptight missionary and a drunk person.

Together Morris and Lee made a visually interesting pair and there were some really nice tender moments between the two actors.  However, the stage blocking in their love song “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” felt a little off and prevented me from really seeing their connection in that particular moment.

One of the best scene’s of the night was “Marry the Man Today” between Adelaide and Sarah.  Their energy, timing, and interactions made the scene laugh-out-loud hilarious.

As Director and Music Director, David Smith and Choreographer Brittini Bills Smith should be particularly proud of their work with the chorus.  Their vocals were spectacular and their pantomimes and dancing were fabulous.  I especially enjoyed the tight harmonies of the gamblers during the first scene and the uniquely creative choreography in “Luck be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The ensemble deserves a lot of the credit for the high-energy performance and some of the best character interactions took place in the hustle and bustle of the background.  Stand outs were the amazing vocals of Michael Young as “Nicely Nicely Johnson” and the exceptional dancing of Jayson Shipley as “Rusty Charlie.”  The Hot Box Dancers absolutely stole the show with their “Bushel and a Peck” number.  That scene alone was worth the price of a ticket.

If you’re looking for an upbeat and fun show, you can bet you’ll enjoy Guys & Dolls at the SCERA Center for the Arts.

SCERA Center for the Arts
745 South State Street, Orem Utah
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Adult – $12, Child (ages 3-11) – $10, Senior (ages 65+) – $10

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The Echo’s And Then There Were None is Whodunit at its Finest!

attwn2By Jennifer Mustoe

I love Agatha Christie and The Echo’s production of Christie’s And Then There Were None is about as good as it gets. It has interesting characters, thrills, chills, murder, some laughs and in this production, some amazing talent. What more could you ask for?

Director Hillary Straga keeps her performers moving around the beautifully designed stage (Jeffrey Blake.) Because the entire production takes place in the one room, nothing needs to be moved around. In the Echo’s cozy space, this is a good thing. Straga has encouraged all of her actors to round out their characters and it was fun to see the quirks and mannerisms particular to each “suspect.” I was pleased that all actors did veddy veddy well with their English accents, in their varying types. I’m something of an accent snob, so I was happy that each actor used tight, authentic accents. A+, cast!

It’s very hard to write a review about a whodunit because the last thing I want to do is write any spoilers. So I am simply going to give a rundown of each character and let you come see the play to see who lives and who dies and who did the dirty deeds. One small spoiler—people do die in this play. There, I said it. And here’s the plot in a nutshell. Ten people are brought to a creepy mansion on an island and one by one, they start to die. Each death follows the poem of The Ten Little Indians, a rather grisly poem with a variation used for this play.

Matthew Carlin’s Judge Wargrave is deliciously creepy. Everything about him cries icky, oily, superior creeper. Amy Carlin, Matthew’s real life wife (but not in the play) plays spinster, tightly wrapped religious zealot Emily Brent. I loved what these two did with their characters—totally believable and completely delightful—the two most hateful, disagreeable characters in the play, in my opinion. I loved what they did.

Lombard, played by smooth-voiced Ben Hess was one of my favorites. When Mr. Hess has a one-man show, I’ll be the first to see it. His mannerisms, his facial expressions and that silken voice made me root for him to not be The Bad Guy. (But whether he is or not is for you to find out.)

attwn1Mariah Bowles plays the secretary Vera. Bowles was darling in this show—sexy, flirty, vulnerable but strong. I loved watching her and she seemed very comfortable in her role.

Christian Lambert’s Blore was amazing! Blore is a blowhard and you know he’s up to something. Lambert’s chuckly characterization was completely believable and charming. Did he do it? I’m not saying.

Dr. Armstrong, played by Timothy Keaton Otto, was creepy in its own way. I wasn’t sure if the good doctor was the bad guy or not (and I’ve seen the movie and listened to this book on CD but I couldn’t remember) but Otto certainly played his character with enough mystery to make me think that Armstrong was a likely suspect.

attwn3General Mackenzie, played by Matt Dobson, was absolutely spot on brilliant. Dobson completely milks every scene he’s in. His doddering old man, the rage he displays in one particular scene and the unexpected comedy he has is awesome. One of my favorites in the show.

Rogers, played by Will McAllister is another one that I kept thinking, did he do it? MacAllister has this innocent face and I thought, with that sweet expression and that excellent accent, surely Rogers was the murderer. Was he? Sarah Butler plays Mrs. Rogers with a sassy, spitfire attitude that I loved. Spencer Grierson plays the boatman Narracott, with little time onstage, but looked and acted the part. And no, he wasn’t the murderer or a victim. One eensy spoiler.

Costumes by Sadie Nagle-Perkins were great. Everyone looked period, and very in character. You have to get a load of what the religious zealot Emily Brent wears. It’s a hoot. Makeup and hair by Megan Brisbee was amazing. Really.

Lighting (Joshua Fawcett) and Sound (Franco Acosta) was great.

The action moved quickly, and though the play was 2 ½ hours long, it flew by. This was one of The Echo’s best productions yet—a tight, enjoyable whodunit. There is nothing too scary for kids maybe eight years old or older to see, but because it’s long, unless you have a child who is really able to sit still, you may want to bring tweens and teens to this one.

Don’t miss this fun, exciting, surprise-ending show. And no, I’m not going to do any spoilers, but seriously, the last scene is really dramatic, with so much physical movement, I got worried—it looked really really real! Yikes!

And Then There Were None

The Echo Theater, 15 N 100 E St, Provo, UT 84606 (801) 358-6623

Performances: Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm from April 3 – 18.
Matinee: 2:30pm on Saturday, April 18.

Tickets $8-$12

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Draper’s Mary Poppins is Chim Chimeny Chereelicious!


By Cindy Whitehair

When you talk about live action Disney with magical characters that transform lives, the conversation needs to start with Mary Poppins. The Draper Historic Theatre has brought this show’s transformation to the stage with energy and inspiration.

Mary Poppins the musical is NOT Mary Poppins the movie. There are nods to parts of the movie (not going to give any hints), but there is more plot and character development in the musical than there is in the movie – something that director Jake Anderson ably navigated. Jake managed to take some of the darker aspects of the story and tone them down so that they wouldn’t scare the younger members of the audience.

Costuming (Amy Martinez) was one of the highlights for us. The costumes were “Practically Perfect in every way.”

Choreography (Jake Anderson, Emily Preston and Sasha Nutger) was another highlight. It was fast, often frenetic and a lot of fun. You could tell that the dancers had put a lot of work into perfecting their steps and that work paid off.

I was disappointed in the scenic design (Lily Ito). The underlying story in Mary Poppins is teaching Jane and Michael about the fact that there is a world outside of their upper middle class home and their first world problems in the seedier world of the sweeps and the scullery maids. You simply did not get that differentiation between the Banks’ drawing room and the rooftops. The majority of the drawing room were black curtains at the back of the stage and a seemingly out of place brick wall. There seemed to be more thought put into the rooftop world of the sweeps than there was into the upper middle class Banks’ drawing room – where the majority of the action takes place.

Speaking of the action, having seen Jeff Erickson was absolute perfection as Bert. His quirky, carefree portrayal was at once similar and completely different to character in the movie. Every time he was on the stage, your eyes were drawn to him because you knew that something was going to happen.


The Banks family – George (Brian Douros), Winifred (Chandler McArthur), Jane (AnnDee Belliston) and Michael (Gabriel Thomas) were spectular. The kids were especially amazing – this is a story that revolves around them and they carried it off, which is especially stunning when you consider that this is Gabriel’s very first show. Winifred’s “Being Mrs. Banks” was fantastic and for as little as he had to sing, the power that Mr. Duros brought to George Banks made him the lynch-pin of the show. If we do not see George Banks transform, the play falls flat.

Andrea Byron had the difficult job of portraying Mary Poppins. The easy route to this role would be to try to be a Julie Andrews knock off, but instead she was her own Mart. You got more of feel that she honestly cared about what happened to the family in her care and how determined she was to make a positive change in these peoples lives.

A couple of standouts in the ensemble were Robbie O’Kelly (who played the “holy terror” nanny Miss Andrew), Lisa Clayton (Katie Nana and Frau von Hussler) and Chareese Carter (Mrs. Cory). Ms. O’Kelly and Ms. Clayton have fun playing the two “villians” in this show and Ms. Carter just lit up the stage in the lead up to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

We experienced some of the usual opening night issues – a couple of quirky mics, uneven sound, music sometimes drowned out their actors, inconsistent British accents, the kind of things always seem to be worked out over opening weekend, but overall this is a wonderful show for the whole family. There is a lot of heart for the family in this show and there is a lot of heart IN the show from the production staff on down to the stage and you felt it in the far back of the theater.


Mary Poppins at the Draper Historic Theater is a must see for familys of all ages.

A side note for parents of small children – this is a three hour long show. Younger children may not be able to last through the second act. We saw a few sleepy heads resting on parental shoulders leaving the theater last night.

Draper Historic Theatre Presents
Mary Poppins
Apr 10-17 (no performances Sunday the 12th or Thursday the 16th) 7:30 PM
Two performances April 18 – 2:00 and 7:30
Monday, Friday and Saturday Apr 20, 24 and 25 at 7:30PM
Tickets can be purchased online at tickets and are $12.00 for reserved seats and $9.00 for general admission


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Draper Historic Theatre
12366 S 900 E, Draper, Utah 84020
(801) 572-4144

I LOVE I Hate Hamlet–You Will, Too

hamlet 2By Joel Applegate

The jazzy opening music may have evoked a “New York State of Mind” but what is evoked by I Hate Hamlet – in hilarious detail – is the entire history of acting as we knew it to be in the 20th Century. The acclaimed satirist Paul Rudnick’s 2007 farce is both his homage and a gleefully wicked offering.

The homage comes in a recitation of Hamlet’s famous advice to actors – [“speak the speech, I pray you…”] – as calmly and stirringly, delivered by J. Paul Boehmer as Lionel Barrymore, who, according to some, was his generation’s greatest Hamlet.

But I’m getting ahead of the story …

Andy, a modern TV actor, played by Ben Rosenbaum, feels he’s through being a hack. He auditions for Hamlet – not just any Hamlet, but Joseph Papp’s Hamlet, for New York’s storied and enviable Shakespeare in the Park – yes, THAT Central Park. To his knee-knocking horror, he wins the role.

Coincidentally – or is it his destiny? – Andy’s move from Hollywood to take on the role pairs him with a slightly over-dressed for day-wear real estate agent who lands him in Barrymore’s old digs. And what digs they are. Pioneer Theatre’s set designer, Tom Buderwitz, has spectacularly recreated the legendary 1920’s 2-story Brownstone penthouse in soaring detail: wood beams and paneling, a turning staircase preening for grand entrances and a realistic marble fireplace. I was in the 4th row center. The main curtain towered above us, and upon the set reveal, complete with a back wall of rain-spattered windows, I was flat-out floored. Lighting designer Paul Miller created moods that were perfectly supportive. [Funny story: Rudnick was inspired to write this play when he moved in to the actual penthouse in the late 80’s.]

This opulent apartment is now reputed to be inhabited by the great Barrymore’s ghost, the instigator of all that ensues. Just as the set is bigger than life, so it is with Boehmer’s Barrymore. And how could it be any other way? It is his task to turn a TV pitchman into none other than Hamlet, the ultimate challenge. Rosenbaum as Andy arrives on scene somewhat defeated; he thinks he may be burning out as an actor, and yet he has been offered a terrifying challenge. He worries his casting as Hamlet is a gimmick because he is a TV star. It takes Barrymore/Boehmer to reawaken Andy/Rosenbaum’s inner actor, and they do so in a dazzling bit of excellent swashbuckling.

But haters gonna hate, and Gary, Andy’s manager, can’t fathom why Andy is taking his career into a dive doing Shakespeare, whom he unselfconsciously describes as “algebra on stage.” As Gary, Todd Cerveris browbeats Andy with a TV Pilot and a moral choice: art or money? With Shakespeare, Gary complains, “Andy, you’ll probably be great, but how can you tell?” Cerveris is the perfect Philistine.

We could not have asked for a Barrymore surer and more resoundingly clear than J. Paul Boehmer gives us. Boehmer’s presence is large – more real than a ghost. It is through his lens that Rudnick takes down modern acting. We watch as Andy “prepares” for rehearsal by executing odd exhalations and mood massage. Barrymore sits bemused. Here we get the bit of send-up I was expecting from a work called I Hate Hamlet. The whole “sense-memory” exercise of the modern actor indulging his angst is justly skewered. “Be quiet, I’m going to Act” says Barrymore as he ribs Andy. Barrymore’s chortle scorns the new “truth” in theater. The real Barrymore died just as the “method” began sweeping New York acting schools, and taking over their training.

Whatever the “method”, however, Pioneer Theatre’s cast is all pro no matter how they got there. Nell Gwynn is well known to Salt Lake audiences. As Felicia the “psychic” real estate agent, she works her famous comic timing perfectly. She’s sincerely phony. We don’t see much of Alyssa Gargarin as the deliberately virginal Deidre, but as Andy’s spritely girlfriend caught between two Hamlets, there’s a thaw.

hamlet 1As Lillian, Andy’s New York agent, Sybil Lines brings in class and that wonderful sensibility known during the Mid-Century Moderne era as “madcap.” Line’s program bio reads like a dream and she dazzles in David Kay Mickelsen’s elegant costuming. She deftly goes two directions at once telling us that old people making love is “distasteful and creates jealousy.”

I Hate Hamlet is richly textured for drama-phones in love with the capital “T” Theatre. Here we get both satire and swordplay. It’s goofy intellectual fun which director Art Manke makes the most of, including the great fight sequence on the architectural set. It’s theatrical to the last – specialty theater for theater lovers. I was surprised at how fast the first act’s hour went. With Manke’s pacing, we didn’t even think about time going by, though I think he could have afforded more time to the moment when Barrymore poignantly admits he became a sold-out alcoholic in his last years.

Thank you to the Pioneer Theatre and Front Row Reviewers Utah for letting me cover this production. It is a wonder watching a full Equity cast representing immense experience and thousands of roles convincing us that seeing is believing.

Lillian: “Should I be afraid of Death?’

Barrymore: “No – only of Life.”


Pioneer Memorial Theatre – March 20 – April 4, 2015

7:30 pm Mon – Thurs; 8:00 pm Fri & Sat; 2:00 pm Saturday matinees

FREE parking north of the Rice-Eccles Stadium, one block south of the theatre.

Tickets: $38 – $44. Rush tickets available; call the box office for details: 801.581.6961

University of Utah Campus – 300 South 1400 East, SLC, UT 84114


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Draper’s Hairspray is Full of Doo Wap Fun


By Joel Applegate

The chorus is big and in tune, the choreography by Ashley Rader Ramsey is oh-so-doo-wop and the action flows swiftly under the direction of David Beach, completing his senior project for UVU.

That’s Hairspray at The Draper Historic Theatre, an apt venue for this throw-back dance party. The good crowd at last night’s opening evinced jitters in the house by excited friends of the cast, an emotion reflected back to them from stage. Corky Collins, well-voiced by Jared Daley, got the mirror-ball spinning at the center of Hairspray’s set piece, a teenage dance show on TV reminiscent Dick Clark’s old “Bandstand.”

Draper Historic Theatre (DHT) is a small old movie house, kind of charming, if worn, but I don’t care. I’ve always had a soft spot for old movie houses. This spunky troupe is a non-profit house, eligible for your tax-deductible donations, and worth every one of your heavenly pennies.

DHT gives us a Hairspray a little stiff in places (see what I did there?), but the important themes of acceptance and equality are never lost even when we wish we could just be dancing up there with the kids. An exuberant ensemble is just what Hairspray calls for and DHT delivers. I’d forgotten that this show is so full of lots of good, happy, catchy tunes. The afore-mentioned Jared Daley also does double duty as the music director wrangling a chorus that never misses a note. Ramsey’s complimentary dance moves are especially charming on “Big Girl Now.”


Photos by Ring Lite Photography

The set is simple and representative, designed by Casey Price. He took us to Baltimore, though I felt the set construction itself could have been given a more rigorous execution. While we’re on the subject of production, another designer deserving kudos is Dana Anquoe (doing double duty in the role of Maybelle). This retro show is a challenge for any costumer, and Anquoe pulls off a nifty trick with her hip and flattering wardrobe. I had to laugh when our heroine, Tracy Turnblat, is revealed at the top of the second act in chic, sparkly prison stripes.

Before I get to the performances themselves, a caveat is unfortunately necessary. The soundtrack music accompanying the vocal was over-modulated throughout the show. This is a technical problem I hope will be solved early during this short run. It affected chorus and single voices equally. It was simply too loud throughout the show, in addition to which microphones frequently tended to cut out, leaving the audience unable to hear lyrics critical to plot and character. It was, I guess, just bad luck, but the whole show was marred by this obvious glitch.

That said, as Tracy, Jackki Ryann Ruiz’s opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” came across as a little too tame. We couldn’t hear her, and we don’t get to see Ruiz’s exuberant spirit until later in the show, noticeably when she’s speaking, instead of singing. Under the circumstances, I would advise Jackki to forget about whether her mic is working and just belt it, baby!

When Jared Daley opens the show as Corny Collins, his mic blared with re-verb. Nevertheless, he’s an engaging MC. Using his strong voice, this actor displayed effortless control. Another character we are introduced to early is Edna Turnblat, Tracy’s mom, disguised as Adam Cannon. Cannon has a few great lines and drew a big laugh on “My little girl, regular at last.” Adam is the right fit for the part, but I’d like to have seen him relax a bit more and just commit to the fun of it, belting the tunes and letting the devil care where the notes land. {You got this, Adam!}

hairspray3As Penny, Tracy’s “bestie,” Camille Swenson is just the right combo of ditzy and skill with a line. She really nails the character, plus the girl can sing. “Run and Tell That” is among the better numbers in the show with Penny and DJ Luna as Seaweed. And demonstrating that old theater adage, that there are no small parts, we’re treated to a nice turn by Adrie Twede as Little Inez. Daniel Tomlinson as Tracey’s Dad, Wilbur, is confident and goofy. His duet with Edna, “You’re Timeless to Me”, is fun and sweet, despite bad sound overwhelming both voices.

Tracy’s heart-throb, Link Larkin, genuinely has a great voice. Coulson Bingham is agile and performs at a professional level, delivering great vocals and enjoying sending up his own image – a sincere performance with a knowing wink. As stand-outs, Link and Penny had the right level of energy consistently throughout the show.

hairspray2In a sense, Hairspray is the coming-of-age story of Tracy, who just wants to dance, but has to break down barriers and learn a little about life to do it. But for my money, the show’s moral center is in the person of Dana Anquoe’s Motermouth Maybelle: “You can’t get lazy when things start gettin’ crazy.” Even though it seems Draper’s theater community is not diverse enough to find a woman of color for the role, Anquoe’s great voice paints in all colors. Unfortunately, in trying to be heard above the over-modulated playback, she tended toward sharp on occasion. Despite this, the “Big Doll House” number was a hoot.

Overall, the great message of this show is regrettably timely, since America’s race problems are once again grabbing headlines. Let’s hope Hairspray grabs our conscience, too. As Tracy says, “The kids on the show should look like the kids who watch the show.” But Hairspray is not all seriousness by any means. Come see Draper Historic Theatre’s production and have fun being reminded that all in love is fair.

Draper Historic Theatre

12366 South 900 East, Draper, Utah

March 13, 14, 16, 20, 21, 23, 27 & 28 at 7:00 pm, with a matinee at 2 pm on March 21st.

Box Office 801.572.4144

General Admission: $10; Seniors, Students, Military, Children: $7.

Reserved Seating in 1st Four Front Rows: $12 and $9


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The Echo’s Cinderella Tale is Charming if Flawed


By Maren VonNiederhausern

I recently attended The Echo’s production of This Castle Needs a Good Scouring by J. Omar Hansen, directed by Jacob Chapman. I was intrigued by a charming yellow and purple stage upon entering the cozy Echo Theater. The still-charming Greek chorus (Brady Anderson, Rachel Summerhalder, Zack Harmon, Rachel Banner, led by Greg Belnap) introduced the play. They were amusing in their red caps and quite resembled Smurfs. They kept a consistent presence throughout the show and were an easy strength and solid backbone.

The story spoofed Cinderella, portraying the heroine (played by Abigail Snarr) as a neat-freak who is also just slightly—touched in the head, shall we say? She actually resisted the fairy godmother (Rachel Belt) in the storybook scheme to retrieve a pumpkin and mice and attend the royal ball. J. Omar’s script was cute and sweet and a little quirky. It was the strength of the show.

Oh, that poor fairy godmother. Nothing ever goes her way: A runaway elf, distaste for the chorus, and little sense of dynamic variety. I admit, Belt’s shrill, panicked voice didn’t work for me. Her physicality was funny, but she was too loud.

The Princes Henry and Richard (played by Spencer Thayne and Tanner Gillman) were my personal favorite characters. Henry, the elder prince who was in love with Cinderella, had a very dramatic personality and spent his stage time ranting Shakespearian prose in a British accent. Richard was the most sane character in the cast, and in my opinion the strongest actor. His love interest was, interestingly, the not-so-wicked stepsister Elizabeth (Rachel Ryan). As unexpected as the love-at-first-sight relationship is, the chemistry was convincing and endearing.

The other stepsister, Böbel (played by Bryn Curry– and it’s BURRbel, mind you!), also found love, in the form of the fairy godmother’s perpetually missing elf, Wolfgang (James Peterson). This relationship was less natural, more quirky than anything else, but not necessarily a blemish on the face of the production.

Griselda (Belinda Purdum), the wicked but sorely misunderstood stepmother, also managed to force a relationship for the sake of making sure everybody got paired up. With the King (Nick Estrada), no less!

And, as we all know, the shoe fit and everyone lived happilyeveraftertheend. Spoiler alert.
The play was cute, it really was, but it was also alarmingly chaotic and unmotivated. The actors, with a few momentary exceptions, were fairly casual about their diction, and even imagining myself as a child in the audience I was frustrated. Without the focus, direction, and clarity that separates delivering lines from telling the story, a young’un will surely be lost and confused.

On the whole, this wasn’t one of my favorite productions. Though it had fun moments, what I took away was that every characters has the attitude of “louder is funnier.”
For me, it wasn’t.

Techies get five stars for perfect timing and things of that nature, in all aspects. Lovely work.

This Castle Needs a Good Scouring

The Echo Theater 15 N 100 E Provo, Utah

 (801) 375-2181

Runs through March 21 (Mon, Thur, Fri, Sat) at 7:30 pm. Tickets $8-$12. (Tickets available at the door and online.)

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Before you run out of time, take time to see Utah Rep’s Production of “The Last Five Years.”

By Megan Graves

At 7:15pm on Friday night, instead of leisurely sauntering into the small Sugar Space Theater to choose the perfect seats for the musical The Last Five Years, my friends and I were sitting in my car on the shoulder of the freeway median, waiting for the tow truck to come because the car’s timing belt had suddenly broken. It was slightly ironic that we were going to be late to a show in which the wear and tear of time was a main theme, and in which one of the main characters Cathy sings “I will be waiting for you” repeatedly, but the effort we made to still see the show was totally worth it.

In a month or so, most of you will be at least familiar with the story of The Last Five Years, since the movie adaptation with the popular Anna Kendrick is coming soon to theaters in Utah, and is already playing in select theaters in the U.S. But if you skip the play and only watch the movie, you would be missing out on a fresh, versatile, aesthetic experience, as well as symbolism and metaphors that, on a stage three feet away from you, are more poignantly obvious than they would be on any screen.

If you go see the Utah Repertory Theater’s performance of this play (and I highly recommend you do!) be aware this is not your typical conquer-the-villain, rescue-the-princess, happily-ever-after musical. You will experience a sometimes too close-to-home, possibly cathartic, emotional roller coaster; you’ll laugh and cry and worry and stare in shock at the choices that the characters (and that everyday people!) make. Director John Sweeney said, “The musical brings out the heart of what people are going through at…points of time [in a relationship]—the young youthful of excitement of when you’re first in love…and the wearing down of life.”* It’s a reflection of how two people could go from romance found to romance lost.

Rhett Richins and Julia Carlson are a powerful duo in Utah Rep's production of "The Last Five Years."

Rhett Richins and Erin Royall Carlson are a powerful duo in Utah Rep’s production of “The Last Five Years.”

Yet despite the emotional roller coaster, being able to view a romance from the perspectives of both Jamie—played by Rhett Richins, and Cathy—played by Erin Royall Carlson, as he travels forward and she travels backward through their 5-year relationship, brings the realization that their relationship could have worked out, and that they both contributed to its demise with seemingly small yet significant choices. This makes the play truly like a paradoxical tragedy. We see the hope and very real possibility for a strong, equally-yoked, lasting relationship at the same time we see a relationship crumbling before us.

Richins told us, “when Jason R. Brown wrote this musical, it was an autobiographical portrayal of five years of his life.”* Because of this personal attachment the writer/ composer had to the plot, every aspect of the musical has significance. Similarly, the Utah Rep director and actors made thoughtful artistic choices to portray the themes and disconnect of time and perspectives in the musical. They rotated the middle of the set clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on whether they were going backwards or forwards in time, respectively. Cathy was wearing a lot of white or bright colors, perhaps alluding to the hope she still felt that things would work out, contrasting with Jamie’s cooler colors. They also added some contemporary elements that made us laugh and brought us in to the story, like Cathy saying Jamie “doesn’t have to like Taylor Swift” for her to like him, and poking fun at the people who cast Russell Crowe in a musical.

Lighting choices were also significant, and descriptive of their relationship. When Jamie is literally jumping around the stage telling his story of a fictional character Schmuel, Cathy is sitting in the shadows. Sweeney said this was a deliberate choice, “to have one actor sometimes be in the shadows during the other’s song, representing the aloofness of the two and causing the audience to question what’s going on in their relationship and why they are not fully engaged in the main action on the stage.”* “The Schmuel Song,” as told by Jamie, was surprisingly one of my favorite parts, because of Richins’ energy and amazing use of character voices, and because of my wonderment at Cathy’s apparent indifference to his enthusiasm. It is a kind of play within a play, as Jamie tells Cathy the story of a man and a woman who had to learn to value the time they had with each other.

Another of my favorite parts was Cathy’s audition scene. It was not only hilariously performed, with snarky side comments about the accompanist going too fast, and also excellent changes in voice timbre, etc., but I’m sure most actors can also relate to the anxiety of auditions gone awry. Not only that, for her auditions she sang the song “If you come home to me, I’ll wear a sweeter smile” to empty chairs on the stage, which to me was a poignant reminder of the fact that Jamie and her were slowly becoming absent from each other’s lives.

The small, live band was an unexpected treat, and an integral part of the show, under the direction of Anne Puzey. They added to the dramatic effect, because they could follow the actors’ changes in tempo.  They were right on the same level of the stage with the actors as well, which made them almost a part of the cast, especially in the scene where Cathy is auditioning for a musical (another play within a play, if you will).

Also, because the musicians were on stage with the actors, we paid more attention to repeated musical themes that accentuated the story. In a lot of the songs, the strings used percussive techniques, like playing col legno (on the wood of the bow) or tapping the wooden backs of their instruments, to make the songs sound more mechanical—like a clock. In the song “The Next Ten Minutes,” the two actors blended perfectly on “I do” when they said their vows. It was one of the most romantic and beautiful parts, especially from three feet away, and the only part in the play where they actually look in each other’s eyes, but the minor chords in the music playing during the ceremony gave a sad, almost foreboding tone, with multiple repeated phrases, kind of like an alarm clock, or a reminder that time was running out.

They couldn’t have chosen a better cast. For two actors to keep the audience enthralled at every minute, when they are basically singing multiple monologues and changing emotion with every scene, is an incredible feat. Carlson said they couldn’t look at each other in certain scenes, and they had to keep acting with sometimes completely different emotions than each other. “Going from being emotionally scarred to portraying being blissfully in love…Reversing my timeline… was one of the hardest things. Vocally it’s been trying, but so fun and rewarding.”*

Not only did the actors’ emotional energy and involvement of the audience keep us engaged, I was amazed at how fast their costume changes were. On top of that they helped move the set as well! One thing I noticed was that this need for speed, and their involvement in every aspect of the play, sometimes caused minute wardrobe malfunctions and probably contributed to their need to adjust their mics during a few of the scenes. Regardless of these small technical distractions, for an opening night, it was superb.

The actors’ alternating use of their fourth wall seemed incredibly well thought-out and deliberate. At times they seemed to be talking to us in the audience when they were defending their position or telling their side of the story, as if we were a silent jury.

My friends and I were talking about the musical’s themes and what we loved about the story and songs for a long time afterward, and I would recommend this play to anyone. Whether you are in the throes of a budding romance or experiencing the painful pangs of a lost love, everyone has something to learn from the story of “The Last Five Years.” Hurry and see it before you, or your car, get caught up in the wear and tear of life and run out of time.

We made it to the show! *In the foyer of the Sugar Space Art Studio in Salt Lake

We made it to the show! *In the foyer of the Sugar Space Art Studio in Salt Lake

*(As I only had small spaces in the margins of my program in which to write, and no voice recorder, the actors and directors quotes are paraphrased, with some punctuation added, and written to the best that my shorthand and my memory could offer. I apologize for any missing articles or other essential parts of speech, but am willing to take small partial credit for anything that made it sound poetic.) ;-)

Utah Repertory Theater Company is presenting The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown Feb. 27-March 14, varying showtimes, at Sugar Space Studio Theater; and March 20-22 at Ogden Ziegfeld Theater, varying showtimes. Tickets are $10-18 depending on the showtime and place. ***Content is PG-13 (some swear words, difficult/strong emotional themes). See websites for more details.

Sugar Space Studio Theater 616 Wilmington Ave, Salt Lake City, UT 84106 (888) 300-7898 http://utahrep.org/tickets/

Ogden Ziegfeld Theater 3934 Washington Blvd, Ogden, UT 84403 (855) 944-2787 http://www.theziegfeldtheater.com/#!last-5-years/cr5x

Let the Empress Theatre Lead you Into the Woods

We all know the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel – complete with their evil nemeses.  But what happens when you flip these fairy tales on their heads?  Into the Woods happens, that’s what.  Lucky for you, Nancy Jensen is directing a lovely production for audiences to see this inside-out tale at The Empress Theatre.

The opening number introduces us to all of the main characters (except the charming princes, who bound in just in time for some great comic relief) and introduces us their plights from wanting a child to wanting to escape to wanting money.  Jensen created a wonderful vision in this 3/4 of a theater-in-the-square.  

What I loved most about the show was the actors’ dedication to their characters and roles.  I did not see a single person break character, even in light of other mistakes.  This is community theater, which means you enter with a certain reservation of expectations.  In this show, in spite of some actors being strong or weak in certain areas, everyone was quite good overall!  Trust me, I say that with a huge sigh of relief.  

I particularly enjoyed Cinderella’s lovely soprano as she enchantingly sang to her origami birds, the youthful vigor of our actual teenager Little Red, and the over-the-top prancing of the charming princes. 

Our Narrator, Nathan Unck, truly helped us feel as if he were telling us a story that he was more than amused with.  He was excited to share the successes and plunders of each scene, wrapping us in to what part of the story he created for us next.  I’ve seen Unck perform before and this was my favorite role for him.  

Cinderella’s Mother is a role that often gets left in the shadows, but Christin Saling performed with love and compassion while dressed in a beautiful gown.  I only wish that half the audience weren’t missing out on her stunning face because of a tree branch blocking her.  

Skye Davis is a mature adult, yet used this adorable Pinocchio-esque character voice to successfully portray the youthful, adolescent Jack.  At first I thought it may grow old, but by the end of the show he had me chuckling every time he opened his mouth.  

As far as improvements, The Empress needs a new lighting and sound system.  They work so hard with what they have, however, I’ve not seen a show in recent memory, other than The Addams Family, where the dark lighting and hard-to-adjust spotlights work (in reading my show notes, I mentioned the troublesome lighting four different times).  Often times actors were out of the spots and difficult to see.  The sound is spotty, so they accommodate through only mic’ing those who “need” it or are main roles.  The problem with this is that our ears have to readjust every time we switch from one to the other, or preventing us from hearing certain singing over the minus tracks.  I do prefer having to adjust my ears over the screeching and popping that occurs with some of the mics.  I truly feel the Empress could have much more community support with these technical issues resolved.  The historic theater and the talent deserve as much.     

The two biggest laughs of the evening came from our charming princes and Little Red’s Granny.  During the reprise of “Agony,” sung by Rapunzel’s Prince, Geoffrey Greogry) and Cinderella’s Prince (Christopher Kennedy).  Those two hammed it up, the lyrics hammed it up, and we ate it up entirely!  Thank you, men, for making us laugh.  Speaking of…another big big laugh of our came from reading the bio of Rapunzel’s Prince/The Wolf, where he mentions he is single, ladies…again apparently.   Granny (Chalese Craig) was performed in a way I have never yet scene this typical “throw away character” played.  She was fierce – you just have to see her for yourself.   

Into the Woods is at the peak of popularity due to the recent cinematic release.  If you and your little ones enjoy the film, I highly recommend venturing to the empress to take in the live production.  They won’t disappoint you and I promise you will leave with a smile on your face, thinking of loves lost and found, fairy tales coming true, and handsome princes.  

Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office now through January 31 for $10.  For more information, visit The Empress Theatre’s website here.  

Entire Cast List:   Narrator: Nathan Unck

Cinderella: Valerie Packer

Jack: Skye Davis

Jack’s Mother: Jamie Crane

Baker: Brett Johnson

Baker’s Wife: Sarah Johnson

Cinderella’s Stepmother: Kimberly Wicker

Florinda: Sunny Watts

Lucinda: Melissa Head

Cinderella’s Father: Perry Whitehair

Little Red: Alexis Shaw

Granny: Chalese Craig

Witch: Diane Nebeker

Cinderella’s Mother/Giant: Christin Saling

Mysterious Man: Steve Hedman

Wolf/Rapunzel’s Prince: Geoffrey Gregory

Cinderella’s Prince: Chris Kennedy


The Covey’s Mary Mary will Make you Merry–and Maybe Married!


mary 5By Jennifer and Craig Mustoe

Mary, Mary by Jean Kerre is one of the longest running non-musical productions on Broadway. There is a great reason for this. Though it was originally produced in the 60s, it is as prevalent, current and amusing now as then. The Covey’s current offering, directed by Barta Heiner, is fun, insightful, sweet and delightful.

It is being produced in the Brinton Black Box Theater upstairs—a darling, intimate space that makes you feel almost a part of the actual story. The set for Mary, Mary, set decoration by Dan James,  is amazing with details that will take you back to the early 60s (if you’re old enough to remember that. Think of The Help and Saving Mr. Banks.) This combined with the spot on costuming by Lisa Kuhni take you back to that time in a fantastically reminiscent way. What stays with me is the colors painted in the experience—in the costumes and the set.

mary 2The story is Mary (Becca Ingram) and Bob (Adam Argyle) were married and after five years divorced. Bob is engaged to Tiffany (Taylor Fonbuena), a much younger woman with very organic ideas about food. She insists on drinking a yeast concoction and eats dried apricots, a running joke in the show. (Mary says the apricots look like ears. She makes a good and funny point.)  Tiffany has family money and talks about “Daddy” often. Fine actor Reese Purser plays Oscar, Bob and Mary’s lawyer, and asks Mary to come over to the apartment to talk over some checks that are keeping Bob from being able to pay less taxes. From the beginning, we suspect that (name of lawyer) wants Bob and Mary to reunite. I loved Purser and wished he had been onstage more often.

Mary arrives, looking marvelous after numerous trips to Elizabeth Arden. Oscar is complimentary and Bob is clearly disconcerted by Mary’s transformation. Mary has confidence about her changed look but reveals rather quickly that it may or may not be superficial. She expresses that she may very well still be the mousy wife she believes Bob saw her to be.

mary 2Enter Eric Raemakers as actor cum author Dirk Nelson. Though I got the impression Dirk was supposed to be a dissipated womanizer, Raemakers with his remarkably handsome, fresh face and likeable characterization is really convincing and definitely provides the needed impetus to make Bob jealous and consider that letting Mary go was a mistake.

Becca Ingram is, in a word, phenomenal. Every one of the small, tight cast sparkle with Kerr’s amazing script. There wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. I particularly liked Reese Purser.

mary 1The fun of live theater is seeing actors react to what’s happening in the moment. Oscar started coughing and Argyle jumped to the rescue with a glass of water. Bravo! This is what I love about live theater. Argyle is naturally quick on his feet. When not onstage as the fine actor he is, he’s a master stage fight choreographer/director. Fonbuena is graceful and funny as the quirky Tiffany.

My only issue was the fumbling in a few lines, but Craig said not only did he like that, it seemed very realistic and he wasn’t sure it wasn’t scripted, it was so natural. His only issue was the music that accompanied it wasn’t authentic early 60s. He is a music nut and is pretty precise about authenticity. I didn’t care one fig about that at all. I enjoyed it.

All in all, Mary, Mary is highly watchable and we both recommend it 100%.

Mary, Mary

The Covey Center for the Arts, Brinton Black Box Theater

425 West Center St, Provo 801-852-7007 $12-$14

Thurs-Sat February 27-March 21st, 7:30 PM

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