Foreigner Fun with the Pleasant Grove Players

By Larisa Hicken

TheForeigner2The Foreigner, written by Larry Shue, is one of those shows that everyone seemed to be talking about lately, but somehow I kept missing opportunities to see it.  When I heard it was being directed by Howard and Kathryn Little and performed by the Pleasant Grove Players, I seized the opportunity – and now I understand what all the hype is about!

The Foreigner tells the story of Charlie, a shy, proper, and boring Englishman who has a fear of speaking to strangers. When Charlie is brought by his friend Froggy to a lodge in rural Georgia, Charlie panics at the idea of interacting with strangers because he thinks he doesn’t have a real personality.  Froggy decides to tell everyone that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn’t speak English so that they won’t talk to him.

Unfortunately, everyone is excited about this “foreigner” and they enthusiastically begin confiding in him since they think he can’t understand what they’re saying. Charlie finds himself in the middle of a dangerous adventure and realizes that he must find a way to save the day – without revealing his true identity!

The part of Charlie Baker is played by Jason Purdie.  I was exhausted just watching him throughout the night as he pantomimed and paraded around the stage.  His gestures and movements were hilarious and I was in awe of his creativity.  Purdie is a true master of the stage and I would go see any show just because it has him in it.

The chemistry between Purdie and actress Kara Henry who played Catherine was terrific and I really enjoyed their interactions.  Henry is a beautiful actress who makes it hard to look anywhere else when she is on the stage.  I found her facial expressions very entertaining and her character was well-developed.

Kara Henry’s real-life husband, David Henry, plays her fiancé in the show, Reverend David Marshall Lee.  He is the perfect villian because he has such an innocent look about him.  He did a terrific job of portraying a believable con man.  His accent was flawless and his timing was perfect.

the-foreigner3Charlie’s buddy Froggy is played by Marty Cooper.  We didn’t see a lot of Cooper, but he was a delightful character.  I wondered about his accent which seemed to come and go at times, but I appreciated his energy and strong physical presence.

The quirky Betty Meeks is played by Donna Bingham and she was quite amusing with her intensity and passion for the foreigner.  I felt like she might have been reaching for lines a few times due to some small pauses, but she covered it well and kept the momentum up anyway. Her interactions with Froggy were a lot of fun.

Kyle Vorkink plays Ellard Simms, Catherine’s young brother.  He was quite talented for such a young actor.  He seemed a little nervous at first, but as the show progressed he really found his character and impressed me with his polished performance.

the-foreigner4I was truly frightened by Dennis Purdie who played the ignorant and evil Owen Musser.  He nailed the backwater hillbilly so well that I made sure to speak with him after the show to see whether he was actually playing a part.  I’m relieved to say that he really is that good of an actor!  At times, he reminded me of comedy great Norman Fell with his zany facial expressions and crazy antics.

The set was well-designed by Wendy and Kelly Rosenlof as it presented just enough obstacles that it provided for fun blocking.  Costumes were fun, particularly those worn by Kara Henry.  Costume designer, Luone Ingram, did a good job of setting the time period in a natural way.

Overall this was a memorable and entertaining show that I wouldn’t mind seeing again before it’s through.  I’m so glad that I finally got to know The Foreigner.  If you haven’t met The Foreigner before, you don’t want to miss this one!

LOCATION:
Keith Christenson Little Theater, PG Library, 30 East Center, Pleasant Grove, Utah
DATES:
April 18 – May 12 on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m.
PRICE:
$9.00 – $10.00
Please no babes-in-arms or children under 5.

Forever Plaid, Forever Fun at The Covey

By Larisa Hicken

Forever PlaidWhat a fun evening full of laughter and amazing music at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, Utah!  I was excited to see this show because Forever Plaid has long been one of my favorites.  I love the bee-bop sounds of the 50s!  Forever Plaid, an off-Broadway musical revue written by Stuart Ross, is the story of a quartet of young men on their way to harmonic stardom when they are struck by a bus of Catholic school girls and their dreams are brought to an untimely end.

The show they are presenting to the audience is their last chance to perform before they make their way to whatever lies beyond.  While still technically dead, the boys have their voices, bodies, and white dinner jackets – they were on their way to pick up their plaid ones when they were killed.

I have to give a round of applause to directors Sky Cummins and Ben Cummins.  They obviously know how to cast a show and they did a terrific job of using the small space provided.  I could tell that a lot of work was done to develop the history and personalities of the characters.  The music was great – although the harmonies weren’t as tight as they could be at times – but it was the relationships of the actors and the physical movements and humor that really made the show special.  The show also had great pacing and kept me involved the entire time.

My favorite voice of the night was Logan Bradford playing Frankie.  He has a rich, smooth vocal quality that I could listen to for hours.  He also has a great look and I could believe that he had stepped right out of the audio visual club in 1956.

Daniel Fifield, playing Sparky, was by far the most entertaining actor with his various facial expressions and physical humor sending the audience into fits of laughter.  I also felt like his character was the most well-developed.

Smudge, played by Daniel’s brother Jonathan Fifield, was the bass in the quartet and I thoroughly enjoyed his low voice in “Chain Gang.”  I also really enjoyed his confusion of left and right throughout the show.  He rightly stole the spotlight during “Scotland the Brave.”

The character of Jinx was played by Scott Sackett who has an astonishing vocal range.  His high notes were absolutely effortless and I couldn’t believe how long he could sustain it!  It nearly gave me a nose bleed, so I could understand why his character frequently got them.  He is a seriously talented young man and I hope to see a lot more of him in future shows.

forever-plaid2During the show I was grateful that I had chosen to sit on the side near the pianist, Adam Fifield, and bass player, Peter Burnett.  Both musicians were very talented and one of the songs is sung completely around the piano, so make sure you choose a seat on that side if you can.  However, young women sitting on the front row can plan on some serious personal crooning and maybe even a few moments in the spotlight.

The older people in the audience seemed to have the most fun due to the many references to the Ed Sullivan Show and other iconic elements from the 50s.  But the actors had a great connection and excellent comedic timing that kept everyone snickering, chuckling, and even roaring with laughter whether they were 15 like my daughter who came with me or old enough to remember when….  It was truly a splendid night!

LOCATION: Covey Center, 425 W Center St, Provo, UT 84601
DATES: April 17 -  26 @ 7:30 PM and MAY 8 – MAY 17 @ 7:30 PM
PRICES: $12 – $14
Ages 8 and upPlease no babies or babes in arms.

The SCERA’S Drowsy Chaperone is Alive with Talent and Fun

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By Jennifer Mustoe and Chelsea Benjamin

The SCERA’s The Drowsy Chaperone is one of those shows you don’t want to miss. I wanted to get that out right away, so if you only have time to read a few sentences, you know the deal.

I’d never seen the show, but Chelsea had and was eager to see what I thought. I’d read a little about it, but really was unprepared for how awesome it was. Okay, I’ll explain more.

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It’s the story of Man in Chair, played winningly, perfectly by Brett Merritt, who shares his love for the musical The Drowsy Chaperone by playing its record. (And some funny bits in the show when the record skips and the dancers stop, stop, stop and another when the second act starts playing and it’s the wrong record and a completely different show’s song is acted out. Clever and hilarious.) About Man in Chair. He is awkward, funny, sweet and you feel a little sorry for him. Though the show is a comedy, Man in Chair brings us down to earth with his rather poignant story of his divorce–though when he told it was funny and I felt a little guilty about laughing but then you know it’s supposed to be funny so you laugh and then sort of sigh and think, gosh, what a sad man. Merritt had perfect timing and his eating the breakfast bar was classic. He can make chewing look funny.

The Drowsy Chaperone that he is telling us about is a screwball comedy set in the 1920s. Janet DeGraaff, played by Erin Lee Brown, wants to marry Robert Martin, played by Michael Shepherd. Janet is a famous theater star and her producer Feldzieg, played by Kyle Baugh, is angry that she is leaving. Feldzieg is being threatened by two hilarious gangsters posing as chefs, played by Jared Arnell and Nate Brogan.  All three of these actors were in sync and I loved their scenes.

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Erin Lee Brown was wonderful as the slightly diva-esque Janet, who claims she wants to leave the stage and then does a huge, glitzy number “Show Off.” Ms. Shaw’s voice is clear, her movement and dancing smooth and graceful and she embodied the diva fantastically. Her love interest Robert Martin had his own charm and self-appreciation, especially in “Cold Feets” where Shepherd mugs and preens delightfully with his best man George, played with style by Nathaniel Brown.

Here’s what was awesome about the show. First, the acting. Each actor did a fine job and was very believable. I think the SCERA consistently pulls in fine talent and this show proves it. The dancing, choreographed by director David Smith, was spot on. Nothing too fancy but all very tight. I love shows where the director is also the choreographer because there is such a connection with all the movement onstage. Bravo to Smith, who is also a brilliant actor in his own right. I know this because I’ve seen him perform and he is amazing. The costumes were wonderful, very 20s and simple for the Ensemble (who were all GREAT–wonderful dancers, actors, and the perfect rounding out of the cast) and fancier for the stars. The set, by M’Liss Tolman, was spectacular.

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As I said, the Ensemble was great and so were the co-stars of the show. Dane Allred as Underling (aka the butler) had some funny bits, which were executed with great timing. And though the show is called The Drowsy Chaperone, Delayne Dalton’s Chaperone wasn’t in as many scenes as I had expected. Dalton had great timing and I especially liked her physical comedy acting. I admit, I wanted her drunker, as that’s what “drowsy” really means. I had expected her to stumble and sway a bit more. McKell Shaw as Kitty was also a scream–with her typical ditzy blonde character complete with squeaky voice. Ellie Gallagher as the loopy Mrs. Tottendale was cute and funny and there is a surprise with her at the end. But I’m no spoiler teller so go see the show to see what it is. One of the best performances of the night was by Wes Tolman as Adolpho. Whoa. That guy is hilarious. One more mention: Rebecca Roberts’ Trix has some serious pipes. What a gorgeous voice.

Since I’ve never seen the show, I didn’t know if the big, huge spaces where there is silence and breaks in the show, especially during songs that had the audience laughing out loud are scripted or not. But what Smith does with this is really what makes the show over the top. And the cast responds and plays these all so well. It’s hard to explain these so again, just go see the show and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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This show is completely appropriate for all ages. There’s enough going on for kids to stay entertained, nothing too out there for parents to fret about when they take their kids, and enough laughs for everyone.

 

SCERA Center for the Arts

745 S. State St, Orem

Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat 7:30 PM

April 18-May 10

$12 Adults, $10 Children, Students and Seniors

UVU’s Short Attention Span is Worth Paying Attention To!

Front Row Reviewers Utah apologizes for not getting this review up on time! This hardly ever happens!

BY MH Thomas

Short Attention Span Theatre 2014
Ah, Spring. With it comes UVU’s annual student written, directed and performed ten minute play festival. This is the twelfth year that UVU has put on SAST. The venue for SAST is small and intimate. The Exbox Theatre holds just over sixty audience members and everyone has a good seat. The set is just a few tables and chairs and the actors are costumed in black and white. It is simple, but effective. The motto for the show is: “If you don’t like this one, wait ten minutes”. There are eight short shows in the production. Many actors play multiple parts. It is a challenge to go from one play to another with little to no time to adjust to a new character, but these UVU performers are up to the task. From comedy to drama and back again, the versatility of the actors is impressive.
God is Great is the first show and is written by Jared Bridegan. The student director is Amber M. Cummings. Javi Ybarra plays a nervous, Middle Eastern terrorist. The other passengers on the train are played by Jessie Lynn Pusey, Erika Ovuoba, Kacey Spadafora and Angela Nibley. As a result of the acting and directing, I was surprised at where my sympathies lay. “Through the Lens” is a show about a family that is coming apart. It is written by Romona Brown and directed by Emily Griffith. Jason Evans shows great emotion as a father who is struggling to know what his role in the family has been. Kayley Azure Green is the angry, adult daughter who cannot accept what is happening in her family. “Tax Dollars”, written by Daniel Paredes and directed by David Beach, is a political piece, complete with a corrupt, Southern politician and scandalous liaisons. Don’t let that fool you, it is hilarious. Javi Ybarra jumps from a dramatic role to a comedic one in this show. He and Collin Thomas play self serving, irreverent congressmen. Ann Thomas’ performance as the intern is spot on. She is a young woman in control. Scott Twitchel and Wade Johnson are the tough guys in the show. Tim Peay is the yes man. This is just a very funny cast who work together and make the script come alive. “Rank” brings us back into drama again. It is written by Daniel Paredes and directed by Jordan Cummings. This time Collin Thomas is coming directly from a comedy role into a very serious role. He and Paige Porter are parents who are manipulated by their ecclesiastical leader (Lucas Stewart). To save their family and themselves, they do things that are inconsistent with their beliefs and morals. It is powerful show that is powerfully acted. Written by Chantel Ficklin and directed by Lisa Edwards, “Between the Pages” is a story about a young man (Tim Peay) who has run into trouble and lands in jail. His friend (Alex Rettie) and his little sister (Kayley Azure Green, in her second role) visit him there. While there are many things the guard (Collin Thomas) does not notice, there are some that he does. “Mobsters” is a show directed by Jacob Squire and written by Trevor Newsome. While other shows have a message—this one is just absurd and funny. Javi Ybarra gets another chance to use his skill with accents, as a Mexican detective. His daughter (Rachel Bigler) has unknowingly gotten in with mobsters (Tony Soriano and Kacey Spadafora). Tim Peay plays. . . well, you’ll just have to go see the show to find out his third role. Written by Teresa Thomas and directed by Ben Henderson, “Guidance Program” is about young women who feel they are miles apart but come to understand each other better through the course of the show. Maddy Forsyth and Emma Robinson play two popular girls. I was particularly appreciative of Hannah Scharman’s thoughtful performance as the girl who is sent for guidance. The young women discover that they have more to offer one another than they first believed.
Another funny show, “Mad, Mad Love”, is written by David Pate and directed by Cameron Garcia. Two young friends (Erika Ovouba and Wade Johnson, in their second roles) call their friends together to explain “the elephant in the room”. The two are not on the same page about what the elephant is, though. The two main characters worked very well together. In his third role, Kacey Spadafora is quite creepy as the creepy friend. Clarissa Knotts and Lucas Stewart (second role) are amusing as the other two friends. This play is unique in that it has a bit of audience participation. Utah Valley University is really coming up in the theatre world. They are earning more and more awards and well deserved accolades. To get a taste of the kind of theatre UVU puts on, try Short Attention Span Theatre. There are four more performances in UVU’s Exbox Theatre (in the Gunther Trades Building). You can see it Friday the 28th and Saturday the 29th of March. Two shows each night at 7 pm and 9 pm.

Echo’s Bielzy and Gottfried Poses Questions of Morality Without Moralizing

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

I admit I was a little hesitant going into Echo Theatre’s production of J. Omar Hansen’s original play, Bielzy and Gottfried. It’s described as “a modern morality musical” and directors’ notes in the program refer to Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, sermons, Job, and the War in Heaven. I find the psychology of religious belief fascinating, but I do not go to plays (or read books or watch movies) to be preached at. If I wanted that, I could go to Sunday School. I had been assured by a cast member ahead of time that this show does not preach, though, and I was not disappointed by my choice to trust his recommendation. Bielzy and Gottfried is a fascinating show that asks difficult questions without spoon-feeding the answers–in short, the type of show that Echo Theatre is becoming known for here in Utah Valley.

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The Empress’s “Kiss Me, Kate” is one Big Smooch of Fun!

By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

Last night Perry and I went to see Kiss Me Kate at the Empress Theatre in Magna.   Kiss Me Kate is one of those plays within a play.  The music and lyrics by Cole Porter, tells the story of a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew.  The onstage conflict is matched off stage by stars Fred Graham/Pertruchio (Josh Astle) and Lilli Vanessi /Katherine (Emily Wells) who are celebrating the one year anniversary of their divorce.  Fred is interested in Lois Lane/Bianca (Emily Preston) who is dating Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (Curtis Nash) and Lilli is engaged to General Harrison Howell (Nate McDonald).  When flowers from Fred, meant for Lois are delivered Lilli in error the off stage drama quickly boils over onstage to hilarious results.

The interactions between the two romantic couples (Josh Astle/Emily Wells and Curtis Nash/Emily Preston) were spot on.  The couples were well matched vocally and visually.  You really had no problems believing that they were couples.

The relationship between Fred/Pertruchio and Lilli/Kate was well played.  One of the things that struck me the most about both characters is that it was not just established by lines and lyrics.  You really believed that they were an off and on couple.  Ms. Well’s body language during her scenes as Kate was big but not over the top.  It really paid off as her facial expression often spoke louder than her lines.  Her rendition of “I Hate Men” was riotously funny as a result.   Mr. Astle ranged from ego-driven to dejected in a manner of a few seconds and even fewer words.

The relationship between Lois/Bianca and Bill was not quite as tight but it was still quite good.  Nash’s cocky gambler was matched by Ms. Preston’s spunky dancer holding on for her big break.

Troy Larsen and Kevin Pope positively stole the show however, as gangsters hanging around the show to make sure that a $10,000 gambling debt gets repaid.

One of the things that we noted is just how much this cast truly loved one another and this show.  They put their all into this show.  Nothing was done by rote.  Scene changes were done in character and with a lot of the usual banter you would expect in a situation where you have to get a lot done in a hurry.  It created a purpose and a flow that made scene changes something that held your attention.

The set, designed by director Nancy Jensen, is sparse and perfect considering the majority of the show’s action takes place back stage.  As you walk in, the ghost light and Pops (the stage doorman played by Kelly Oveson) greet you, giving the audience the feel that they too are part of the backstage action.  The show lets the audience in on the behind the scenes action including more than a few backstage jokes – the off stage cast responses to the stage manager’s (Robbie O’Kelley) call of “PLACES” had the actors in the audience roaring with laughter.

Speaking of the direction, Nancy Jensen’s direction was marvelous.  There were clear breaks between the Shakespearean and the non- Shakespearean dialog.  The stage pictures were all fabulous – there were no distractions and you were able to see all of the action without having to swivel back and forth.

The choreography by Chalese Craig was outstanding.  The dancing in second act opener “Too Darned Hot” was worth the price of admission alone.

Curtis Bailey is one of the many unsung heroes at the Empress.  His lighting and sound design was up to his usual standard.  Although we did overhear an interesting discussion about the sound at intermission.  One audience member complained that he thought the music was a little too loud (we were sitting right under one of the main stage speakers.  One of his companions explained that it had to be a little loud so that the actors could hear it on stage.  If there was anything to take from it, maybe the cast could have sung out a little more?

Costuming by Mary Ellen Smith and Diane Pope was fantastic.  They had their work cut out for them – essentially costuming two shows at once but they rose to the occasion.

All in all, the Empress’ Kiss Me Kate is not just another show.  It is a bright, shining star…a truly “wunderbar” experience.

Full disclosure – Perry and I are season ticket holders at the Empress and the Empress is our family’s “home” theater.  Until recently, I was in charge of marketing at the Empress (now I am Public/Community Relations for the theater).  Our son discovered his love of theater here and we had many friends on the stage last night.  The Empress holds a very special place in our hearts.

Kiss Me, Kate plays Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM through April 12 at the Empress Theatre (9104 West 2700 South, Magna). Tickets are $10. For more information, visit www.empresstheatre.com.

Covey’s Jimmy Stewart is Golden!

By Chelsea Benjamin and Robert Craig

Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood, an original play by Mahonri Stewart, opened Fri and our advice is GET TO THIS SHOW QUICKLY! It only plays two more times–a Saturday matinee at 2 PM and an evening performance at 7:30 PM.

Directed by Scott Bronson, this play reveals the sometimes harrowing, always interesting journey Jimmy Stewart made on his way to fame and fortune. What we find in Jimmy Stewart is that though Jimmy had some bumps and bumbles along the way, he really was that nice of a guy–just the guy you have seen on the silver screen.

Will McCallister plays Jimmy Stewart and has obviously done his homework–he has the mannerisms, the drawl and the stuttering down. He brings the genuineness to the role that is almost uncanny. Tall and lanky, McCallister makes a convincing Stewart–a difficult role to do well and Will nails it.jimmy

Kate Forsythe plays Margaret Sullavan–Jimmy’s Stewart’s first friend, and first love in his acting career. Forsythe is an strong actress who portrays Jimmy’s friend with passion and spunk.

The rest of the cast all play more than one character and this may be the only glitch in the show, and it is a small glitch. But it did get a little difficult that from scene to scene, the same actor would play two completely different characters. However, to their credit, every actor was able to portray those various roles with personality, variety and distinction.

Director Bronson created an effective set with all the actors sitting in a half circle on the stage with varying platform to show different levels. The actors all stayed onstage all the time except during costume stages. This gave us the idea that these were ACTORS in a show (or movie.) Each actor held their script on their lap or read through the script throughout the show, which gave it the feel of an elaborate rehearsal–except it was a play, or a movie, or…life? Bronson also kept the pace high and did a fun, effective bit that each scene had a clap of sticks, like the cut of a film scene. The show began and ended with the film slating as well.

Bronson also played Alexander Stewart (and several other smaller parts.) The relationship between Jimmy and his father was difficult and both men created this tension well without it becoming unbearably uncomfortable or awkward. Just a comfortable level of discomfort.

Jason Hagey played Henry Fonda (and Donald Stuart) and his Fonda was very good. He had a quiet dignity and humor, just like Fonda! Clayton Cranford played Josh Logan–Jimmy’s bisexual friend that got him into tgheater in the first place. Cranford’s drunk scene is hilarious. Don’t miss it.

Jennifer Mustoe plays Bessie Stewart, Jimmy’s mother. Her love for her son was very believable, as well as McCallister’s caring for his mother, as well. Alex Diaz plays a variety of characters, most epeically Frank Capra and Cary Grant. This young actor has a nice range, a great look and an ease on stage that makes him fun to watch. One of the most powerful moments in the play is Diaz’s portrayal of “Pilot.” It gave us chills and heard several audience members start to sniffle.

Rebecca Minson plays several characters as well, but her Katherine Hepburn is almost hauntingly realistic, in looks, mannerisms and spunk. Adam Argyle plays Jimmy’s rather inoccuous brother-in-law and the rather creepy Louis B. Mayer–creating totally different, effective personas with each role. Jessica Myer plays Jimmy’s sister Doddie and Ginger Rogers, another challenge to play two such opposite women. And does it flawlessly.

Because we have an insider track with Jennifer Mustoe, who is one of the co-founders of Front Row Reviewers Utah and a member of this cast, we learned that this ensemble performed this production tonight having never had a dress rehearsal with costumes ever, had never performed on this stage until the performance as they didn’t have access to the Covey’s facility until Friday morning and still pulled off what was a polished product.

Because this is such a short run, we can’t stress enough how you really are missing out if you don’t come see this touching, insightful, entertaining play about one of movie’s true icons.

Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood

Covey Center for the Arts

425 West Center, Provo

The best way to buy tickets is to simply arrive up to an hour early and buy the tickets at the box office.

Saturday March 29, 2014 2 PM and 7:30 PM $14/$16

BYU’s Pride and Prejudice Would Make Austen Swoon–With Delight! A Must See!

By Ashley Kelly

200 years ago, Jane Austen published a novel, which in years to come would be one of the most beloved romantic tales of all time. Brigham Young University, in celebration of the Pride and Prejudice’s anniversary, presents a new stage adaptation by Melissa Leilani Larson, directed by Barta Lee Heiner. Being a Jane Austen fan myself, I lost no time making sure I found a place in my schedule to see this show – and I am so glad that I took the effort.

                The story follows the life of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters, whose romantic lives are given a fresh twist upon the arrival of a young gentleman named Mr. Bingley, his sister, and his good friend Mr. Darcy. While the youngest sisters flirt with officers and the eldest sister Jane falls for the bumbling, well-mannered Bingley, Elizabeth must endure the advances of her excruciatingly awkward cousin Mr. Collins and interact with the proud and serious Mr. Darcy, who seems so unpleasant next to the dashing militia officer Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth must put aside her prejudices and learn that first impressions are not what they seem as she discovers what it means to fall in love.

                One of the primary concerns with doing such a well-known story is that the audience will compare it too closely to the novel or the very popular BBC and Focus Features film versions. I am pleased to say that Larson did a remarkable job in making her adaptation fresh, and even though I have read the story and watched the films countless times, I delighted in the execution of this production. Not only was the script a breath of fresh air, the technical elements and the staging created a unique version of the story.

                Each of the 17 cast members brought their own personality and life to the characters, working together with great chemistry and timing that can surely be owed in part to Heiner’s directing prowess. Karli Hall brings just the right amount of vivacity and spunk to the quick-witted Elizabeth. She did not shrink from the task of playing such an iconic role, and I think one of the reasons that I was so drawn in to this production was how comfortable she seemed walking around in the shoes of Elizabeth Bennet. A few of my other favorites included Austen Jensen – who perfectly embodied the love-struck, yet charmingly awkward Charles Bingley that we all know and love – and Jacob Swain’s portrayal of Mr. Collins, whom we can categorize as awkward on a whole different level and who provided some great comic moments to the production. The cast all worked together very well, and of course we cannot forget Ted Bushman’s wonderful portrayal of Mr. Darcy, who has a chemistry with Hall that brought the show to a wonderful conclusion that had the girls sitting next to me literally on the edge of their seats and clutching each other in anticipation (I’m not exaggerating!).

                One thing I cannot resist commenting on is the use of projection technology with this production. I am personally not a big fan of projections because I have seen productions where they do not work quite right, but I was pleasantly surprised with the simple, yet effective way that projection technology was implemented for this show. As each of the primary characters was introduced during the play, they would stand in front of a strip of fabric, strike a pose, and a projected image of a picture frame would appear around them. These “portraits” really helped with the establishment of each character, and there was a delightful twist of events in which new portraits are created when two characters joined hands in marriage. Without saying much more, these projections were a unique and sometimes funny addition to the production.

                I appreciated the simplicity of the set, and since the actors did not have body mics, there were microphones placed at strategic points around the set. This worked for the most part, but there was one microphone which picked up the sounds of the actor’s feet and the rustling of their clothing as they walked by it, which was distracting at times. If there were only a way to fix that issue without dangling a microphone from the ceiling! Fortunately, the actors were engaging enough to draw attention back to the story whenever this microphone picked up too many noises.

The Pardoe Theatre in BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center provides a surprisingly intimate setting for the production, although I had a bit of trouble finding parking because of the current popular Sacred Gifts exhibit at the neighboring art museum and the Men’s Chorus concert that was happening the same evening. However, the concert is now over, so parking should not be as much of a problem for future performances. Attendees are still advised to arrive around 15 minutes early to provide cushion time for parking, walking to the building, and taking your seat.

Overall, I found this production a delight to watch. Jane Austen fans will not be disappointed, and there is something for audience members of all ages to enjoy. It will be running for two more weeks, but tickets are going quickly – do not procrastinate getting yours!

Show info:

Brigham Young University presents Pride and Prejudice – a new adaptation by Melissa Leilani Larson and directed by Barta Lee Heiner, showing in the Pardoe Theatre at the BYU Harris Fine Arts Center.

1200 North Campus Drive, Provo, UT 84602

March 21-22, 25-29, 31 April 1-4 at 7:30 PM, Matinees March 22, 29 2:00 PM

$15-$17 ($5 off on weeknights/$4-5 off on weekends for students, $2 off for seniors and BYU alumni)

$9-$10 Matinees

801-422-BYU1

Order tickets online at http://arts.byu.edu/events/2655/

Go Find “Love’s Labour Lost” at the Brelby in AZ!

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Every once in a while, we do things a little different here at Front Row Reviewers Utah. Meaning if we have a reviewer who sees something OUT of Utah, we are happy to post a review of the show, should the reviewer want to write something up. Such is the case here!

By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

Perry and I traveled down to Phoenix to visit our son Perry who is there attending college.  Being the theater family that we are, the visit would not have been complete without a show.  Since the community theatre that Perry has become attached to here was opening a show, it was a natural for us to check it out.  The Brelby Theatre Company, located in Glendale, AZ, is the brain-child of Brian (Br) and Shelby  (elby) Maticic.  It was designed to be a place to provide directors, writers, designers and actors with a safe environment to enhance their creative abilities and explore their talents through the creation of live theatre.  They are an outlet for local playwrights to showcase their talents as well, but Friday, we were there for the Bard.

The cozy black box only seats 60-70 (advance ticket purchase are highly recommended) is a converted storefront in old downtown Glendale.  Parking is on the street and in a lot half a block away from the theatre. We were greeted by Executive Director Brian Maticic who was working box office and Shelby (Artistic Director) was ushering. When talking about love’s labors, these two show it as this theatre is a labor of love for the couple.

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The Brelby Theatre’s Love’s Labor’s Lost was a delicious romp set in the Roaring ‘20s. The King of Navarre and his three companions have sworn an oath to devote themselves to three years of study and fasting – forsaking all outside pleasures, especially romance.  hey unfortunately took that vow, forgetting that the Princess of France and her attendants are due to visit to negotiate the return of Aquitaine to France.  Because of the decree, the Princess and her attendants must camp outside of the court.  During the course of negotiations, the King and his companions fall in love with the Princess and her attendants, wherein comedy ensues.

King Ferdinand (William Wilson) and his companions (Mat Vansen as Biron, Daniel J. Hall as Longaville and Dylan Kim as Dumain) and the Princess of France (April Rideout) and her ladies (Emily Heald as Rosaline, Melissa Kamel as Katherine and Anna Katen as Maria) each had a very tight group dynamic.  You really believed that each gendered grouping was its own little tight knit clan.  The interactions between the lovers (Ferdinand and the Princess, Biron and Rosaline, Longaville and Maria and Dumain and Katharine) were at times completely comfortable with one another, and sometimes strained – which was appropriate given the context of the relationships within the show.

The action was moved along by the supporting characters – Don Armando of Spain (Luke Gomez), his page Moth (played to hysterical perfection by Simon Faddoul), local villagers Costard (David Magadan) and Jaquenetta (Corinne Tachuk) and Boyet (Tatiana Gil).  Boyet, charge d’affaires for the Princess, and Don Armando, advisor to Ferdinand helped their respective patriarch with hysterical unintended consequences.  Costard and Moth were part of the straw that stirred the drink – passing notes between the lovers.  Costard and Moth were particularly fun to watch.  Their physicality, especially the fight scenes and their facial expressions at times said more than any words could.

It was nice to see that each role in the show was perfectly age appropriately cast. Whether it was the young lovers or Sir Nathaniel and Madame Holofernes (the curate and school mistress respectively) each person was believable at the age played.

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Given that the Brelby space is compact, set design (Brian Maticic) and space usage has to be economical and the set for Love’s Labours Lost was creative and economical.  The stem of the “I” shaped stage (the audience sat on either side of the stem of the “I”) created a nice space between the ends where the library of the castle and the garden where the Princess and her attendants camped were.  The space is also very tough to light.  The space has a drop ceiling but by strategically removing panels in the ceiling, Brian Maticic lit the space perfectly.

Dance choreography (Shelby Maticic) and fight choreography (Brian Maticic) were well done. The dancing was era appropriate and still managed to stay within the small space. Same thing with fight choreography – it’s hard to “duke it out” in a small space without collateral damage, but it stayed well contained.  My only complaint about the fight choreography is that there was too much wrestling around on the floor that could not be seen beyond the front row.

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Costuming by Carolyn McBurney, assisted by Melissa Kamel was fantastic.  I particularly loved the red dress that they had for Jaquenetta. She had minimal lines, but you could not help but notice every time she came on stage. Of course, some of it could have been the fact that her entrances were accompanied by the song “The Stripper.”   The women’s hair by Melody Chrispen was also perfect for the era.

Speaking of music, I have to give special credit to the sound design by April Rideout.  The music chosen for the pre-show music was perfect for setting the mood.   The Cole Porter selections–lots of Anything Goes– and a jazzed up version of “Call Me Maybe” and “The Stripper” were absolutely perfect.

Love’s Labour’s Lost was a fun introduction to a theater that is going to be a regular stop on our trips to Arizona.  If you are ever down in the Phoenix area and you are a theater lover, a show at the Brelby Theatre Company is worth the drive to Glendale.

Brelby Theatre Company presents Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare.  Performances are Thursday thru Sunday March 14-29.  Showtimes are Thursday and Friday 7:30 PM, Saturday 2 PM and 7:30 PM and Sunday 2 PM.  The Brelby Theatre Company is located at 6835 N 58th Ave. Glendale, AZ 85301.  Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased online (http://www.showclix.com/event/3776650), by phone at 602-282-2781 or in person at the box office.

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http://brelby.com/

The Grand’s “Once on This Island” is Tropically Terrific!

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By Christopher Bradford

Once on This Island has been performed numerous times in the past few years in both Salt Lake and Utah valleys, but somehow I had never seen it until Friday night’s performance at the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College. The Grand is a stately theater that was once part of South High and has been refurbished as part of SLCC.

As my wife Luc, and I entered the theater, we were greeted by jungle sounds and the sight of the entire set with tree trunks sparsely populated with large leaves. We noted that the grand curtain is set quite far back from the front of the stage, which probably contributed to decisions made about the staging of the play. We were surprised to see that the audience Friday night filled less than a quarter of this handsome theater’s main floor.

The play opens with a great storm on an island in the French Antilles peopled by native islanders, called peasants, and the French rulers, called grandes hommes. One of the peasant girls (6th-grader Malia Nixon) is frightened by the storm, and her villagers try to calm her fears by telling her the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who loved a grande homme named Daniel. The play is characterized as a retelling of the original tale of the Little Mermaid and relates the tragic impossibility of love between a peasant and a grande homme. When Ti Moune dies of her love for Daniel when he weds another, the island gods are so moved that they transform her into a tree that cracks the gates separating the peasants from the grande hommes, allowing the two societies to mingle.

The entire 90-minute play is presented without pause; there are no scene changes and no intermission. The curtain never closes and the set never changes. Rather, the set is transformed in the minds of the storytelling villagers and their audience to represent settings as varied as the seashore, the hotel where the grandes hommes live, and the demesne of the island gods of earth, water, love, and death. We felt that this decision made the show flow very smoothly and maintained the feel of storytelling throughout.

After a few balance issues with the microphones in the opening minutes of the show, the cast of 13 had an excellent vocal blend. We noted in the program that several of the cast members are regular performers at the Grand and had recently performed in other shows together. This seems to have created a rapport that was evident throughout the play.

In my view, while all the cast had good voices, the standout voices were Ali Bennet in the role of Erzulie, goddess of love, and JD Dumas in the role of Agwe, god of water. They had excellent tone, though I wished for more power from Dumas as he seemed to hold back quite a bit during his solo planning the meeting of Daniel and Ti Moune. Similarly, Lucy and I looked for more energy from the cast at times. Perhaps this was due to the relatively small size of the cast in a proscenium theater. I thought Sean J. Carter in the role of Papa Ge, god of death, was the standout actor, switching impressively between the role of a villager and the crafty Papa Ge.

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Steven Shoemaker in his theatrical debut as Daniel did best vocally in “Forever Yours,” a group number duetting with Erica Nicole Walter in the role of Ti Moune. His solo, “Some Girls,” wasn’t as confident and we noticed a few pitch issues. Generally speaking, the few pitch issues we noticed among the cast were corrected quickly and did not seriously detract from the very enjoyable music of the show.

Several members of the cast, including Walter (Ti Moune), Angela Trusty (Mama), and James Titus (Tonton) affected island accents, while most of the rest of the cast didn’t. I would have appreciated more consistency throughout the cast in the choice whether to use an accent or not. James Titus did a good job switching between a village storyteller and Tonton, Ti Moune’s adopted father, but I wondered whether an older actor would have fit the part of the aging parent better. Despite this, both Titus and Trusty had strong performances.

The lighting was excellent and added greatly to the show. This was particularly noticeable in the opening storm scene, with lightning flashes, but contributed to the mood of each scene very well.

Erica Nicole Walter as Ti Moune did an excellent job portraying her relationship as an orphaned girl adopted by “foster” parents Tonton and Mama, as well as the love-struck girl determined to seek out her Daniel. Her performance emphasized her love for Daniel, consistent with the message of the show’s ending, but we would have liked to see more conflict as she finds herself betrayed by Daniel and his father (Douglas Irey) when Daniel weds Andrea (Natale McAneney), and most especially when she holds a knife over him, but decides not to kill him for his betrayal. This seemed too abrupt and almost anti-climactic. The ending of the show felt similarly short and consequently a bit strained, though this may be more due to the writing of the show than this performance.

This impression of abruptness in the ending stayed with us as we drove home, but as we discussed the show, we had mostly very positive impressions. This performance certainly deserves a better audience showing than we saw Friday night. We would encourage you to go see Once on This Island at the Grand Theatre.

Once on This Island

Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty

Thursdays through Saturdays March 6-22, 7:30 PM plus Saturday matinees at 2 PM

The Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College, 1575 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115

801-957-3322

http://the-grand.org/events/current-season/once-on-this-island

Tickets $10-$24