Standing, Still Standing: Simply Sensational!

By Maren VonNiederhausern

Hello Seattle, I am a manta ray
Deep beneath the blue waves
I’ll crawl the sandy bottom of Puget Sound
And construct a summer home…”

The words of Owl City set a sleepy, yet urban tone. The stage, set up in a corner and very like a black-box theater, brings to life a newlywed’s apartment, complete with a Nintendo Game-Cube on the bookshelf. It’s clean and cozy, and just intimate enough to make it very easy to place yourself in the shoes of the characters and experience, rather than simply watch, the story.

So begins Standing, Still Standing, a play by Melissa Leilani Larson, local playwright, and directed by Adam Cannon with the Highland Community Theater.

Now, who here has complained about something you have little to no intention of finding a solution to?

It’s okay. Me too. And everyone else.

So has Ben– but he has a medical excuse. Plagued by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since college, he has inadvertently learned to rely on sympathy and rather dislikes what has become a bad habit and a dependent/codependent relationship. He along with his wife are fighting their way through the “In sickness and in health” side of their marriage.

Our first interaction with Ben (played by Lucas Proctor) is watching him stagger across the apartment and collapse into bed. Later, his wife Grace (Caitlyn Lunceford) walks in, headed to work, and as he wakes the two exchange words that introduce his CFS, his unemployment, her wish to make their family grow, and their utterly romantic relationship (which, refreshingly, remains G-rated throughout the play).

In following scenes, Ben struggles with finding a source of motivation to find a job, often confiding in a fellow CFS victim online who we know as @Azure_Skies_80 (Miranda Maurin.) He admires her, a graduate student, but still can’t seem to push himself hard enough to follow her example. Grace works and works, and her best friend Jen (played tonight by Anne Perkins) begs and begs her to take some time for herself, even buying tickets to a Billy Joel concert for New Year’s Eve. Ben and Grace both struggle with finding their niche in a relationship that is starting to feel stagnant. Looking for work, living in cramped quarters, keeping secrets, and trying to manage symptoms are no help either. And, as Ben learns that no matter how far into the future you plan yourself, it’s eventually going to be time to put those plans into action. And let’s face, it, that’s a whole new ballpark.

Add a generous dose of convincing dream sequences concerning a nonexistent Buick and goat cheese, and whattaya got? Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo: A terrifically sweet, soul-searching, and bewitchingly surreal story.

This production is a brilliant combination of spectacular writing and exquisite casting. Ben and Grace were lovable, relatable, and even when Caitlyn/Grace was swallowing several words, the emotion was clear. My only real complaint about these two was that the overuse of both exasperated hand-to-head motions and sighs of frustration were such that I became a bit self-conscious about my own breathing patterns.

Now, lets talk a bit about the importance of a solid supporting cast. If I had to choose one thing that this company did darn near perfectly, it’s the miscellaneous characters played by a few very flexible talents. Highlights: Emily McClure as the woman with the cheese, Facebook, and Ben’s Mom; Debbie Maurin as a presumably high hippie named Peaches, Twitter, and a real estate saleswoman; Mike Maurin as Gmail, Billy Joel, and Ben’s friend Matt; and Dan Stratton as the new baby, a police officer, and military general.

Intrigued? You should be. You should also go see what the heck I’m talking about because I simply can’t describe in words the absolute genius behind the hilarity. Bravo to Mr. Cannon for bringing to life the more abstract ideas in this script.

Now, on a more serious note, one simply can’t ignore the running theme to Standing, Still Standing. All the above craziness is peppered with an all-too-common ailment: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Some might, and do, see those suffering like Ben as a schmoozing couch bum and leave it at that. The story, however, especially in the small space and curtain-free set, practically force-feeds the audience a certain amount of empathy for people with CFS. It’s really hard. You and your wife are house hunting and you’ve just got to go home and rest, even if she’s upset because there are still three promising properties in the lineup. You need a job and you know it, but committing to that kind of stress level is seriously overwhelming.

These problems aren’t restricted to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, either. That’s the best part of stories like this: Any single person in the room can relate to the issues, and no person is wrong in doing so. Ben is a character that contains a little bit of everyone. We can all identify with the feeling of inadequacy, or having internal conflicts, or what have you.

By far the production’s greatest weakness was with the technicians. Understandably, the space, which is not actually a theater, is not conducive to Broadway-caliber effects, yet on occasion I caught a glaring whiff of distinct unprofessionalism (namely the smell of fast food… by the sound board? Really?) The design was nearly flawless, especially considering the complete lack of a real booth and backstage/wing area, but the theory did not quite carry over into execution quite the way I think it was supposed to. The makeshift ‘backstage’ area behind a curtained doorframe was brightly lit from behind and never quite closed all the way. A few of the props were cheaply made. One or two of the dream-state costumes crossed the line between amusingly random to just strange. I was, however, consistently impressed with how well the space was used.

Honestly, though, if that’s the only thing I can legitimately shake my finger at, we have on our hands a truly wonderful show. The perfect balance between comedy and raw emotion, a dream-team of supporting roles, and a hero we can all relate to who rises to glory in such a way that he stays real and human? It almost seems too good to be true. And yet it exists in the form of Standing, Still Standing. The intensity of the dialogue provoked both thought and feeling for me. I undoubtedly left the theater with a heaping plate full of food for thought: And, ultimately, this is what makes the show worth seeing. I’m sure I’ll be thinking on these characters that I discovered in myself for a long time, and figuring out what I can do right now to change the circumstances in my own life that don’t seem right to me: because things get done by people who do them.

Hello Seattle, I am an old lighthouse
Throwing beams of bright lights
Red in the morning, blue in the evening sun
Taking heed from everyone

Standing, Still Standing runs through Saturday at the Highland Community Center at 7:30pm. Tickets $8

The Empress’s Earnest is Charmingly Fun

earnest 1By Cindy Whitehair

Everyone, it seems, loves a musical, but every now and then I love a good comedy.  Tonight, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Empress filled the bill.

Earnest takes a satirical look at Victorian society and the desire to impress all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.  Directed by Heather Oberlander, Earnest follows the misadventures of Jack Worthing (Eric Shelley) and Algernon Moncrieff (Jeff Erickson) as they court Gwendolyn Fairfax (Heather Shelley) and Cecily Cardew (Rebecca Waite).  Throw in a status conscious mother, Lady Bracknell played by Joanne Galloway, an uptight governess with a past (Andria Cameron), a affable Reverend (Bryan McNabb) swept up in the pecularities of the rich, and a pair of put upon butlers (Clay Cammack and Jason Wixam) and you have a gentle night of light-hearted laughs.
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Earnest was a uniformly well-acted show.  There were a couple of times where a couple of actors were a little hard to hear but that was really the only issue we had.  We loved the interactions between Algie and Jack and Gwendolyn and Cecily (especially at the end of Act 2).  They were a joy to watch.

Being as the Empress is our “home” theater (disclosure – Perry and I are both volunteers at the Empress and Perry acts and is construction manager there, but neither of us were directly involved in this show) we were both quite impressed with director Heather Oberlander’s use of the Empress’ intimate stage.  Her set design (set construction by Connie Beatty, Skye Davis and Michelle Brown – scenic art by Devin Johnson) was simple and perfect for the space.  It was also great to see a show set in England that had a dialect coach to help the actors sound authentic.  Coral Chambers did a fantastic job preparing the actors for their roles.  Lighting designer Stefan Oberlander did a great job minimizing the Empress’ dark spots on stage so that everyone was properly lit.  Costumes (Connie Beatty and Heather Oberlander) were fantastic and I simply loved Lady Bracknell’s hats.
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The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic, but it is not dated.  It is a comedy that is just as timely today as it was when Wilde wrote in the late 1800′s.  If you are looking for a night of frivolity, you really should see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Empress.

The Importance of Being Earnest
The Empress Theatre, 9104 W 2700 S, Magna, UT
Tickets are $10.00
http://www.empresstheatre.com/
801-347-7373

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Hamlet in Salt Lake is Stupendous!

hamletBy Cindy and Perry Whitehair

I will admit – Shakespeare is not always the first thing I rush toward when looking for a date night out, especially on Valentine’s weekend. Bringing it into modern times makes it a little easier, but radically changing the title character (from male to female in this case) brings it back into the category of not first choice. I say all this to set up what New World Shakespeare Company overcame in their production of Hamlet playing at the Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City.

Elise Hanson, who is the director and star of the tragedy, has a vision that seems to be to keep things simple and let the story speak for itself. I say seemed, because in lieu of Director’s Notes in the program, there was a lovely quote from Robin Williams – more on that later. I thought that the sparse stage worked for the story and the small space. Perry disagreed and was hoping for a little more from a scenery standpoint to help tell the story. The choices of music for pre-show (Lion King the Movie) and intermission (“Roundabout” by Yes) was fresh and it worked.

For the most part, this was a well-acted show. Hanson’s Hamlet showed a restrained revenge instead of the crazy that the script implies he is. Claudius (played by G. Morgan Walton) and Gertrude (played by Judith Hutchinson) did a good job showing the range of emotion that one expects from an uncle/step-father and mother as they watch the insane desire for revenge take over young Hamlet. The ambassador Polonius (Jon Turner), his son Laedes (Michael Calecino) and his daughter Ophelia (Natalia Noble) were all able to make the stage theirs when they appeared. The ensemble bobbled a couple of lines, but that can be forgiven because it is Shakespeare and it is opening weekend.

Costuming (Elise Hanson) was the aspect of the show that left Perry flat. He would have liked to have seen more differentiation between classes using costumes and props. Lighting (David Bruner) was the thing that bothered me. There were times when the stage was a little too dark – especially during Hamlet’s soliloquy. While their lead actor was bathed in an eerie red light on a black stage, all my eye was drawn to was the light from the hallway because the door was open for actors to enter and leave the space. That light was ultimately too distracting during the pivotal point of the first act.
The pacing of the show was also a little uneven. Because of the sparse stage, most scene transitions were instantaneous – giving the audience no time for applauding what they had just seen. Then, when they did have to move their few set pieces into place the transition seemed to be awkward.

All of that said, we both loved this show. The portrayal of Hamlet as a woman was a huge risk and we both thought it was a risk well taken. Natalia Noble’s Ophelia absolutely stole the second act and watching Ms. Hutchinson silently react in horror to the events as they unfold around her was fantastic. I was really feeling her pain watching her family being taken from her.

Back to the Robin Williams quote. New World Shakespeare Company donates a portion of the proceeds of each show to a charity that they feel relates to the theme of the show. For Hamlet, they chose the Utah Suicide Prevention Center. This was something that really hit home with me because I have had friends deal with the suicide of a loved one in recent years. Losing a loved one is hard and as when it comes from their own hand (as we see in this show) it often seems overwhelming. The show deals with Laedes’ reaction to Ophelia’s suicide as many of us would. The utter brokenness it causes in the survivors comes through poignantly.

It is not often that people enjoy the marriage of message and entertainment – they usually want one or the other. But in the case of Hamlet, message and entertainment come together in a thought provoking, gentle manner that left the audience feeling empathy for the characters. New World Shakespeare Company did a wonderful job portraying a normally dark subject and treating it with great compassion and tenderness. As Hamlet says, “the play’s the thing” and this play was a beautiful dive into deceit, revenge, madness and dysfunction that is really a must see – even if you are not the biggest Shakespearean fan in the world.

New World Shakespeare Company Presents Hamlet
Feb. 12-22, 2015
Sorenson Unity Center Black Box Theater
1383 South 900 West – Salt Lake City UT
Tickets are $10.00 for General Admission
Phone: 801-719-7998
newworldshakespearecompany.com

My First Time Is Storytelling At Its Best

My First Time Pic

Review written by Eve Speer

I went to see My First Time alone. I could see the brightly colored lamps and throw pillows from the street. Mod A Go Go is like a jewel that hovers over East South Temple. Parking was easy to find behind the building—but there was also plenty of parking on the street as I approached the designer second hand store. Michele Case Rideout, one of the producers, greeted me as I walked in the door.  We chatted about the beautiful space and she gave me a survey to fill out, asking me general questions about my first time.  What first time are we talking about? First time at the park? First time driving a car? My first time having SEX!  As a 37 year old, unmarried woman, I felt scandalous as I filled out my little form. I felt vulnerable and apologetic. It was all very confidential—and completely non-judgmental—but it was frightening answering such questions as, “If you were to see this person today, what would you say?” Even as a mature woman, comfortable with myself, I giggled at the forbidden nature of the entire topic.

 

During the show, four actors share a variety of stories from the thousands of people who privately posted on the website created by Peter Foldy and Craig Smart called www.myfirsttime.com .  As a result of surveying the audience members—we felt we were in the thick of the vulnerability, rather than just observing like voyeurs. Intermingled with funny and thoughtful stories—we’d read projected statistics from different countries, local statistics—and statistics from the audience that night. The average first time age in our audience was 19.4 and there were 4 virgins in attendance.

 

The stories were complicated and simple. As each actor would start a story, the audience would listen attentively, trying to figure out if this story was going to be funny, tender, shocking, sad, embarrassing, awkward, or horrifying. Each experience shared held a rainbow of possible reactions. Sex is this incredibly simple act when it comes down to it. Teenagers find ways to have it, despite parents’ best efforts to thwart their efforts. And yet, it’s so complicated. The power lost, the power gained. The love shared, the fear, the laughter, the tears—all of these feelings well up based on how and why we approach this single simple act.

 

The stories, assembled into a play by Ken Davenport, were presented by Rachel Shull, Austin Stephenson, Mia Tate, and David Evanoff. Each actor brought a different color to their stories. Rachel Shull was polite, sweet, and a bit reserved.  Her stories were like fairy tales—told through a beautiful rose colored glass. Sometimes, I was put off by the distance she seemed to place between me and her stories. Her vocal affectation put me off—but as the presentation continued—I realized she was representing the stories told by people who were themselves distancing me from their stories.  I felt suspicious at first—not entirely believing the tale—and then she’d throw a curve ball of warm gooey honesty.

 

Austin Stephenson designed the lights and played the young, dumb, sweet naïve guy. During one of the tales—he and David Evanoff told their stories in tandem.  Austin’s sweet story was about his friend’s rape. David Evanoff’s story was about raping a young girl.  David Evanoff’s smarmy story, told from the point of view of someone who believed they were just having a good time, and Austin Stephenson’s broken hearted story, paralleled how much men can both care and how much they can hurt.

 

Mia Tate was matter of fact in her telling. There was no affectation in her presentation. As she shared, I began to wonder if the story she was telling was in fact her own story. And then she’d share another first time that left me with the same feelings. Her performance was pure and riveting.

 

The entire production created a range of emotions and left me at peace with my own past.  When I went to the show, I wondered why directors Amy Allred and David Hanson would choose to share this play. I got my answer.   Your answer might be different.  It is storytelling at its best.  Obviously, these stories are told by adults for adults.  Granted, I think there are some teenagers who would benefit from some of the lessons found in the stories. Hindsight is a comfort and I am delighted to no longer be a confused teenager.

 

The show is produced by A-Muses and Silver Summit Theatre Company.  The performance takes place at Mod A Go Go, located at 242 E South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah. For more information on the show, visit www.silversummittheatre.org.

 

Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 PM, one weekend only. The house is open at 7 PM, but come early and browse Mod A Go Go’s amazing showroom.  General seating is almost sold out, but limited reserve table seating is still available by calling 801-541-7376.

 

 

Revenge and Redemption at BYU

countofmontecristo_web_580x200By K.P. Muma

The Count of Monte Cristo is a story of revenge and redemption written by the Tony Award winning Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy and currently playing at BYU. It is a familiar and beloved story, which began as a novel by Alexandre Dumas and has since been made into multiple movies and adapted into several television shows. It follows the sea captain Edmund Dantes who he is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes and then seeks a perverse kind of justice against the men who imprisoned him so long ago. The most recent movie version came out in 2002 and, in the interest of full disclosure, this musical is a more an incarnation of that movie than of the novel, which changes notable things like some of the characters’ motivations and the resolution. The story calls for elements of the dramatic and spectacular and, on this level, BYU certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The set is made up of two huge towers and two equally impressive staircases that move around the stage. This allows for flexibility as the story expands from a cramped tunnel to the ocean floor to a Carnival in Rome. The other most notable technical element was the use of projections. The projections similarly help orient the audience to the setting and I thought they were most effective when doing this. The projections were also used extensively to address the themes or draw connections between scenes, and there were times when these flourishes felt over-the-top and were distracting. The other technical elements, costumes (Laura Beene), hair/makeup (Mary Beth Bosen, Celena Kurogi Peterson), lighting (Michael Krazeck), and sound (Jeff Carter), all came together to create a unique aesthetic that blended post-Napoleonic France with modern attitude. The pirate women’s costume and makeup is particularly striking.

This blend of the classic with the modern also came out in the music, which drew on musical theatre melodies and styles but added a rock-and-roll feel throughout in a way those familiar with Frank Wildhorn’s other work will recognize. All these elements combine in the closing number of Act One called “Hell to Your Doorstep” when Dantes plots his revenge. The projections become symbolic and flaming, while the lights turn to the use of spots for extra drama and Preston Yates belts out his new convictions in amoral sensibilities. Some may remember Preston Yates’s performance as the Phantom when BYU did Phantom of the Opera in 2013. Mr. Yates plays tortured baritones with a complexity and honesty that shines through the melodramatic script. Playing his opposite, the lovely and desirable Mercedes, Shae Robins exemplifies the grace necessary for the role and has a voice that flows between classical and belt easily.

cristoThe talent throughout was great but a few performers were especially eye-catching. Cameron Smith played one of the three villains, Baron Danglars, and was infinitely entertaining to watch as he swaggered around stage. Brian Clark played the wise Abbe Faria, adding an important element of humor. Maybe the most impressive is Cassie Austin who comes midway through the second act as Valentine, the innocent daughter of a corrupt prosecutor. She gets one solo, “Pretty Lies”, and even though the audience has barely been introduced to her, she manages to win us over to her side. Her portrayal makes Valentine one of the most relatable characters in the show.

Tim Threlfall, the director, makes no attempt to pretend this isn’t a melodrama, even mentioning it in the Director’s Note. While this style might not be for everyone, it is action-packed, romance-packed and filled with impressive spectacle so it has something for most. It is currently sold out but tickets are released every day and there is always the standby option. My insider at the ticket office assures me that in a venue as big as the De Jong, standby isn’t a bad option. It runs through this Saturday so act soon!

Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. (preview performance)
Jan. 23–31, 7:30 p.m., Tuesdays – Saturdays
Saturday matinees Jan. 24 & 31, 2:00 p.m.
ASL interpreted performance Thurs., Jan. 29
DeJong Concert Hall

Tickets at:
http://ev9.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetEventList?groupCode=MC&linkID=byu&shopperContext&caller&appCode

Tickets are $12-28
For more information go to byuarts.com

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Utah Rep’s Bare Strips Away Stereotypes Beautifully

bare1By Coulson Bingham

Bare, written and composed by Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo was originally performed in October of 2000 at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles. It is about the coming-of-age senior year of five high school students at a Catholic boarding school. Knowing their stay in the insular world they’ve always known is drawing to a close, each of them question where they are in their lives and what their futures hold. The story focuses on the hidden love and relationship of two boys: the introverted, artistic Peter, and Jason, the popular jock/golden boy. The story gets up close and personal with the struggles, trials and hardships they push through to keep their relationship hidden but alive, and how their love affects their friends and the people around them.

Director Johnny Hebda cannot think of a better place than Utah to share this incredible story. In so many parts of the country these issues are in the past and in so many religions, homosexuality has been accepted as people’s views change. But here in Utah, the topic couldn’t be more current and applicable. He says, “with debates and conflicts surrounding gay marriage, from the LDS Church’s focus and stance on homosexuality, to the religious influences in the education system–it’s as if Bare was handcrafted specifically for us.”

With much of the emphasis on homosexuality, this remarkable show also addresses current topics such as depression, underage use of drugs and alcohol, teenage pregnancy, bullying and ignorance.

Hebda has known for years that this show needed to come to Utah in order to tell the story in this particular environment. As with any director, he has spent much of the past couple years on the lookout for his perfect cast and encouraged people to audition because the show is not widely known and provided the innate possibility for a difficult casting turnout. After finding his perfect cast, rehearsals began in late October in the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse in Salt Lake. By Thanksgiving, the show was blocked, choreographed and they were well on their way to a strong show. The blocking was creative and used the space to its best ability and provided some chilling moments with something as simple as a turn of the head, sending the audience into tears. There were subtle hand touches and stolen glances that were true to the characters and the unfortunate, hidden reality of the story. That being said, there were also quite a few times when the blocking felt impersonal to the audience and cut us out of the flow of the story, making it hard to experience certain scenes authentically.

Choreography by Michael Hernandez was a great combination of musical theatre with a hip hop flavor bringing the up-to-date, high school atmosphere into perspective. One of the greatest dance subtleties was directly after witnessing the teens taking drugs before going to the club. The choreography showed the drugs taking effect in their systems and the hallucinations the students were experiencing through their movement, which directly came into play later in the story so you, as an audience member, were able to reflect on the past scenes and the outcome of those situations. In such a small space, it is hard to do choreography with a large cast and not make the audience fear for the performers or make the movement seem small and clumped. At times, the choreography was far too big and moved too much to be safe, making me fear for the actors. It sometimes felt abrasive and very in-your-face, when perhaps the message would have been stronger if the actors implemented more movement instead of actual dancing.

Musical director Anne Puzey flooded the stage with strong vocal moments from the entire cast, as well as provided a large pop ensemble sound that was thrilling to hear. It was incredible to see such a small cast create a large, enjoyable, emotional sound. They were very invested in the music and in telling the story through the vocals, which are the most important part of any pop opera. Erin Royall Carlson, the vocal coach, worked quite a bit with some of the main vocalists and it was very obvious. They had powerful moments of pain and joy that were relayed deep into the audience with the intensity of their performances. However, the music was oftentimes very repetitive and sometimes bits and pieces could have been slowed down for a more emotional effect. While it was beautiful and wonderfully done, there were times, as with the choreography, that the music felt abrasive and as if it was being attacked instead of enjoyed. Many funny or beautiful moments were lost due to speed and a lack of diction from the entire ensemble as well as some lead roles.

Everything from the risers the audience sat on to the light rigging above was built and custom designed for this show with help from master carpenter, Marc Navez. The set, designed by Chase Ramsey, remained for the most of the performance, except for small mobile pieces such as lockers, benches and beds, but every piece was used in multiple ways, providing more efficiency to scene changes and an overall better flow. Amanda Ruth Wilson’s scenic arts design brilliantly portrayed a high school. Dorm room scenes were a simple bed embellished by lights, allowing the freedom to paint a personal picture, adding doors, windows, posters and whatever else to make it feel ultimately more intimate. While lights embellished some scenes, they did not make it easy to enjoy others. The lighting in the theater was very limited due to space and budget and for the most part was adequately used by lighting designer Joe Jenkins. However, there were scenes when the dark spots and shadows on the stage were distracting from the scene and some blocking moments were placed in darkness, pulling away from beautiful scenes. The lights were able to show off the costumes by Nancy Susan Cannon, and she did a great job ensuring that all the pieces were appropriate to the mood and fit the look of the story as well as today’s fashion standards. Everything from the school uniforms to clubbing outfits were well-fitting and described the attitude of each individual character, enhancing their actions.

One of Hebda’s strongest moves was bringing in Bobby Gibson to create a stunning special effect that really brought the audience right into the story. Upon walking in to the theater, one of the first things you notice in the set are flat screen televisions strategically placed with the Bare logo on them. They took the audience right into the middle of the story with photos, tweets, texts, school bulletin announcements, scene and light effects and much more. Being able to participate in the story without having to lift a finger was an interesting and incredible tactic I have never seen. It was definitely an idea that paid off for Hebda.

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The role of Peter was played by Ogden native, John Patrick McKenna. Growing up in Utah, serving an LDS Mission and attending Brigham Young University all came as a package deal to McKenna. As with most gay teenagers, his parents knew well before he did and proceeded to put him in counseling and find other avenues to cure him before it got too serious. This caused him to have a lot of issues with depression. While attending BYU as a musical theatre major, he had a very similar experience to his character, finding himself in love with someone behind closed doors because it couldn’t be a public relationship. “We had to pretend it wasn’t a thing and it…It was kind of a nightmare. Not being, you know, who we were…” he said, trailing off. The pain and emotion that he was able to vividly show in his performance came from a real place of heartache and trials. McKenna’s beautiful tenor voice left the audience awestruck from the moment he first graced the stage. He constantly left us wanting more and pulled at every emotion he possibly could. This was his first return to the stage in six years, after switching his major to music production, and it’s amazing that he was ever able to leave. The way he carried himself was custom fit to his part and that of a senior in high school. You’d never guess that this talented man was in his late twenties.

His opposite, Jason, was played remarkably by Brock Dalgleish. In my interview with him, I discovered that not only was Jason his character, but that he is his life story. Growing up in the LDS church with a 4.0 GPA and being Student Body President, he always had to live up to others’ expectations. Reflecting, he said, “I had to live a double life, and it was awful. It got to the point where I got kicked out of my house and so Jason is very close to home.” Casting Dalgleish was a very obvious choice. The very first time he enters the stage into the locker room to change his clothes, an audible gasp spreads through the audience. He IS the everything you would imagine a golden boy/jock to be. He captured that essence not only with his body but with the way he carried himself around his friends and in his private moments. His movements were graceful but masculine and very thought through. As you get into the story, his acting is so well played out that you just want to scream and cry at the fear Jason has of himself, of Peter, and of his “Best Kept Secret.” He enhances the emotion and makes every caressing movement mean more. Both of these incredibly talented actors share a number of duets with one another and each one is better than the first. The chemistry and love felt between them real, bare and so strong it seems that nothing could pull them apart.

What is the Football Captain without the most popular girl in school? We see this question brought to life by Ivy (Emilie Starr), the quick-witted, mean girl of Saint Cecillia’s Boarding School. Behind every bully is a person and inside that person is a hardship, and that is really the message Starr brings to this character. From the moment she is introduced, I saw her character laid out like a magazine. Her character development was so thorough that I really could see the thought behind every move. “I just drew the character from the text of the play and just filled in the blanks. Ivy is a little bit of all of us. Trying to be better than everybody because that’s what you want to be even though you know that you’re not,” she said, getting emotional. Along with that incredible depth to her character, her vocals were stunning. She opened up her mouth and her soul came pouring out in a river of sweet melodies and harsh pain. As the story develops, she lets down her guard as the queen and starts to reveal a layer of insecurities and the tortured pain she feels from Jason’s deceit. As a professional actress, she has had years of training it shows.

The ensemble was one of the strongest I have ever seen. They constantly had a motive and something to be doing that was true to the story and to each individual character while not upstaging the action. They had a remarkable diversity and energy. Every single actor was a different person at that school with a different story to tell and those really came across. Being able to get involved in the whole picture instead of just always focusing on one small group really enhanced the high school atmosphere.

This story is funny, emotional, relatable and 100% worth going to. As with any show, there were some rough moments, but those were limited. The heart and soul of this show is played so well it is next to impossible to walk away without tears. Hebda certainly was right when he said Utah needed this one. I strongly endorse this show and will most definitely be in the audience again. Everyone, no matter who they are, needs to learn that “if you hide from yourself or be someone else for someone else’s sake, that is the greatest mistake.”

This production of Bare has partnered with the OUTreach resource center, a non-profit collection of youth resource centers dedicated to transforming communities and saving lives through programs promoting positive outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness, family rejection, or victimization. Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT and anyone under the age of 18 cannot stay at a normal homeless shelter past 5:00 PM. OUTreach is devoted to not just bringing kids and teens in and giving them a place to stay, but teaching them and turning them into healthy adults with jobs and degrees and actually bringing them out of homelessness for good. Fifteen percent of ticket sales will go directly to OUTreach and continuing to help Utah teens back on their feet.

Bare continues to play through January 31 at the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse 130 South 800 West, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Visit www.utahrep.org/tickets/ to purchase tickets.
Visit OUTreach at http://www.outreachresourcecenters.org/ to donate or for more info.

Due to profanity, sexual content and crude humor, I give this show an “R” rating. While I do think it could be appropriate for people over 16 it is best suited for mature audiences.

The Echo’s Twelfth Night is One Good Long Laugh

12th-4By Jennifer Mustoe

The Echo has given us several excellent Shakespeare offerings and its current offering, Twelfth Night, has much to recommend it. Directed by Eve Speer, the show has many laughs and my companions and I had a good time watching the frivolity onstage.

As you walk into the Echo’s lovely space, you will really be blown away by the gorgeous set designed by Antonio Garcia. It may be one of the loveliest sets I’ve ever seen. Really. It has a big wave and fabric on the walls like sails. Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck. The set is covered with nautical-looking boxes and such, and with a nod at alcoholic Sir Toby, bottles all over the place.

The show begins with music and the array of musical instruments that the actors play is quite impressive: an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, played by Archelaus Crisanto (Duke Orsino), who is also the musical director, a French horn, a cello and vocals by all actors. There are several songs and I liked the way the actors slowly entered and joined the songs. However, there were too many songs and they each seemed too long. The energy and sound were great, but since the show is 2.5 hours long, the music slowed the show down.

The show itself, as many Shakespeare plays are, is about confusion. Two characters, a brother and a sister, each think the other is dead. Viola (Sarah Butler) portrays her brother Sebastian (Carter Peterson), whom she thinks has died in a shipwreck. Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino, but he thinks she’s a boy and he is already in love with Olivia (Sophie Determan) who can’t stand Orsino. However, she is quite taken with Viola masquerading as a man.

The funniest parts of the show were when Sir Toby Belch, played winningly by Matthew Carter Speer, is onstage. He is brilliant, willing to make lots of physical choices that are hilarious. His scenes with Parker Forest Olson (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) are a delight. Lots of movement, the scenes zip by and I laughed the whole time they were onstage.

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One of my favorite choices by director Speer is she divided the role of Feste the fool between two talented actresses: Celene Anderson and Robbin Ivie. These two young women are similar in looks and build and combined with almost identical costumes (costumes by Mandee Wilcox) and amazing timing, this was one of my favorite parts of the show. The actresses sang in harmony, but it was their lines, all on top of each other and sometimes in unison that I found the most enjoyable. An excellent directorial choice and bravo to the two actresses.

Archalaus Crisanto’s Duke Orsino was impressive in that Crisanto’s voice filled the space the best, though I had no trouble hearing anyone in the cast. Crisanto is a talented actor and his singing was also a delight. The other standout is Leah Hodson who plays the unfortunate and much maligned Malvolio. Hodson is brilliant in this role. Because this version of the play is not gender specific, Hodson playing what is written as a male character makes the role even funnier.

This show is played for laughs and you will laugh a lot! I saw many moments of brilliance in this show and I don’t remember laughing this hard in a show in a very long time. It is, as I said, two and a half hours long, so be prepared for that. Though there is nothing that is overtly inappropriate for children, I would say that older teenagers and up, especially those who like Shakespeare, will enjoy this show.

Twelfth Night

The Echo Theatre, 15 N 110 East, Provo, 801-375-2181

January 15 – February 13, M, Th, F, S 7:30 PM, Matinee Jan 24, 2:30 PM

$8.00-$12.00

TheEchoTheater.com

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Come Experience the Story in PTC’s Alabama Story

alabama1By Joel Applegate

It’s a pleasure to have the chance to see another professional production at the Pioneer Theatre. For this reviewer, at least, that opportunity doesn’t come around often enough. And professional and polished is what you get in Pioneer’s latest production, Alabama Story, which opened January 9th.

If you have a love of reading and a love of justice, this is the play for you. Alabama Story had a reading at the U of U last year, and this is its world premier production. The play by Kenneth Jones is largely factual, and chronicles a little-known slice of the Civil Rights struggle that took place in Montgomery, Alabama in 1958. This play sheds light on the lovely story of an illustrated children’s book by Garth Williams, famous as the illustrator of Charlotte’s Web. His book, meant for three- to seven-year-olds, is called The Rabbits’ Wedding and featured two rabbits surrounded by their friends in a moonlit setting. The controversy stemmed from the fact that the rabbits were different colors – black and white.

Structurally, this play made a lot of sense. It would seem the playwright took a prompt from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. There is a “stage manager” type opening with Stephen D’Ambrose as Williams playing the author of the book, telling us that “somewhere between the lines is a true story.” D’Ambrose is vastly likeable as he captures the easy drawl of an archetypal Southern gentleman. He is excellent as well in several smaller roles, each clearly distinct from one another, disappearing into each one.

As the progenitor of this battle on a bookshelf, Garth Williams steadfastly maintains that his fuzzy creatures were never intended as a race allegory, but simply invented as an artistic choice to make a distinction between his characters through the use of color and texture. As the seed for Alabama Story, The Rabbits’ Wedding is written with no frills, but the playwright has exercised a beautiful use of language in many of the passages. Kenneth Jones has managed to incorporate the signs of the times in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, when movies were the latest Bible epics; when Marilyn Monroe was at the height of her stardom. But things were different in Montgomery. Conservative attitudes linked segregationists to their other favorite cause: the Red Scare, notoriously exploited by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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As the only African American in the play, Joshua Moore, played eloquently by Samuel Ray Gates, demonstrates why reminiscences mean quite different things to different people. The parallel story of Joshua and Lily highlight the differences in what was expected back in the day, and more importantly, why things had to change. Lily had a crush on Joshua when they were children. But Lily is white and her father caught them. Now years later, Lily looks back at her hometown and asks, “Why would anyone leave?” Joshua has a different recollection: “I saw my blood in your mother’s garden.” Joshua has come back to volunteer in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church, but not to worship. His interest is to “improve this world, not the next.” He tells Lily, “You should know about the world beyond your world.”

As Lily, Kate Middleton has a role that is difficult to appreciate. Hers is not a particularly sympathetic character, but Middleton ably takes her from denial to understanding.  When Kate, as an adult, asks for forgiveness, it’s too late for Joshua to grant it, “but we can travel past it.”

As an English major myself, having a Librarian as the leading character is delicious. Emily Reed is played by Greta Lambert with authority and calm assurance. When the local papers attack the book under scrutiny, Reed renders their argument impotent with a simple, “No byline, no credibility.” Lambert is a great choice to elucidate the playwright’s words, delivering values cherished by scholars: Kindness, amity, respect for others, interest in the natural world; “all this is given to us by books.” Lambert is assured and letter-perfect. “Reading rescues people from the shadows of the unenlightened night.” It is refreshing to see that rare occurrence in the theater: the leading character is a mature woman.

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The modern Civil Rights struggle is now currently marking events that happened fifty years ago. Back then, Alabama’s state legislature passed laws specifically targeting Emily Reed. They also took a long time approving the library budget when in prior years it was a matter of course. But the parallels in the 21st century continue. Today we see state legislatures passing laws establishing a “state firearm,” curtailing voter rights pretending they are preventing runaway fraud, and gerrymandering districts beyond recognition – a mixture of pettiness and malice that civil rights activists must still use their resources to oppose. Fifty years since the civil rights struggle was first televised, this play is relevant.

The opposition is in the person of State Senator Higgins, played by William Perry, intimidating in both his power and paternalism. He prefers the boyish Tom Sawyer to the prescient Huck Finn. Perry’s performance was relaxed and well-matched to Lambert’s Reed. Higgins, too, is not sympathetic, but Perry lets us see why he is a hero to some, a fool to others, attempting to “maintain the strongest grasp on the past.” An older colleague tells him that The Rabbits’ Wedding has become his tar baby – a snare that holds him and Alabama up to ridicule.

Amid the misspelled epithets, the senator and librarian agree only on one thing: The future is important. For vastly different reasons as the audience shall see. The librarian calls the senator’s efforts “saber rattling” – the very term I remember from the political snark of the early 60’s.

As Thomas Franklin, Miss Reed’s assistant, Seth Andrew Bridges is her protector. In a moving scene, Bridges’ Franklin quietly reveals himself to be a warrior, protecting the protector of books. Here we learn why bravery is the uppermost value of the Civil Rights movement.

The actors in this production know how to tell a story, but director Karen Azenberg’s use of the stage, and the big set, designed by James Noone, really brought us inside. The set featured tall photographic flats that majestically open up into a beautifully detailed mid-century office. This room rolls toward the audience on a platform, where a large portion of the action takes place. Posters on the wall include book covers for Atlas Shrugged and other contemporary novels. The design deftly takes us from the library archival office to the Alabama state house and back. Added to that is Brenda Van Der Weil’s costuming which is perfectly and stylishly designed for the period.

I love how language itself is so important in this play. It was a powerful reminder to me of why I love books. Come discover the “hot, bright light of the real world” of Alabama Story.  Miss Reed says it best: “My four favorite words: Tell me a story.”

[The Rabbits’ Wedding is currently on sale for $14.95 (regularly $17.95) on Amazon. It was on the American Library Association’s list of recommended books for children in 1958.]

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January 9 – 24, 2015

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

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

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

Pioneer Theatre Company

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

801.581.6961

www.pioneertheatre.org

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Titus’ Christmas Carol is a Holiday Treat

xmas carolBy Rebecca Walk

A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic that has been performed many times over the years, has had many different versions written, and many movies made from this text, all based on the novel by Charles Dickens. I had the opportunity to attend the Titus Productions Theatre Co. version written by Jake Andersen. It had many light-hearted and witty moments, and involved the cast in singing many Christmastime favorites. Mr. Andersen, who also directed the show, had a vision to carry out the story’s message that “transcends all social barriers and reminds us to cherish every moment of life and treat everyone as equals, not just at Christmas time, but always.”

Most people know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a greedy man who won’t empty his pockets for anyone. When he is visited by three spirits the night before Christmas they proceed to show Ebenezer his past, present, and what the future may be. Of course, who could forget little Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, with their ability to love and find happiness even with the poverty-stricken life they lead.

Especially in a family show, I like to see characters of all ages and families participating in a show together. This production was filled with actors young and old, and I was impressed with the abilities of the young ones to project and stay in character. It was also nice to hear the mature voices along with the children’s, singing the Christmas Classics loved this time of year.

In the scenes with the Cratchit family, Tiny Tim (played by Mason Johnson) definitely steals your heart away with his sweet little voice and smile. I especially enjoyed the duet, Stars I Shall Find between Bob Cratchit (Quinn Nielsen) and Mrs. Cratchit (Kimberly Johnson). As Mr. Cratchit sang from the gravesite of Tiny Tim and Mrs. Cratchit from her kitchen, it portrayed their struggles alone at losing their son. Yet they would get through it together. It was a tender moment and you could feel the sadness from the characters.
Another touching moment that sticks out in my mind is the duet between Ebenezer (Curtis Johnson) and Belle (Eleisha Keen), Moving On. As he revisits his past and the love he once had, the soprano melody tugs at the heart strings.

Curtis Johnson’s depiction of Ebenezer was well thought out. He started out a greedy, ornery old man. You could sense his heart changing slowly throughout the show. The gradual transition made it easier to believe the character in the end as he changed into a giving, loving man.

Other standout performances were Ghost of Christmas Present (Rossy Thrall), her character was fun and clever. She added much delight to the stage. Also Jacob Marley (Carl Smith), a definite contrast to Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, the other character played by the same actor. His portrayal of Marley was creepy and captivating.

I enjoyed many aspects of this production. Jake Andersen’s direction worked well for this stage. The music and choreography (Emily Preston) was enjoyable and added to the enchantment of this story. I especially enjoyed the period costumes (Mary Ellen Smith, Jake Andersen, Glenna Silvan) that transported you to the old streets of London. The set construction (Lorrinda Christensen) and art (Lily Ito) were simple and perfect to set the scene. I encourage all to take time out of your busy holiday schedule and take your family to this heartwarming show.

A Christmas Carol

Sorensen Unity Center

Salt Lake City, UT

December 15-20, 22 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on the 20th at 2:00 p.m.

$10.00

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The Echo’s Wonderful Life is, well–Wonderful!

itsawonderfulBy Jennifer Mustoe

Every once in a while, I see a play that is so unusual in its format, I find it difficult to write about it properly and describe what I’ve seen. And The Echo’s Christmas offering, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show, is such a show. This doesn’t mean it’s icky or weird. It’s just nothing like I’ve ever seen and that’s a good thing.

You see, the familiar movie starring Jimmy Stewart is being portrayed in this current show as a radio play, ala 1940s. The script itself is almost identical to the movie. But done as radio.

What I liked most about this play is what appeared to me as an authentic radio show format and script. And the actors who played the parts of the actors playing the parts in the radio broadcast were great.

See, here’s the thing. All the actors come in, displaying their own personalities: John Jolly as the radio announcer and then with a completely different voice as the evil Potter; Jamie Gritton as George Bailey; Lauren Ketch as Mary Bailey; and Cimony Greenhalgh, easily one of my favorites, as Violet and darling Zuzu. (You need to see the show just for her Zuzu. Seriously.) Lucas H. Proctor played Clarence and several other characters, and was really convincing in all roles. He was really a show stealer, in a cast of brilliant, character-hopping performers.

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Jolly came out and greeted my husband and I, shaking hands, asking us how we liked the set, etc. Very fun. I will say, he stumbled over his lines as the announcer but not as any other character, so I think that may have been a directorial choice or Lolly’s own take. Whatever–it didn’t work well, as it made this actress just concerned that he didn’t learn his lines. That’s what my husband assumed. But as he championed all his other parts and lines, I wondered if he just was making an acting choice.

wonderfulThat is really THE ONLY GLITCH and it’s a small one in this delightful show. With tall mics that the actors approached and spoke into, the sounds of clomping shoes, etc as sound effects (which I LOVED) and the ubiquitious APPLAUSE sign, along with so many other fun aspects I’ve never seen, namely at a radio show in the 40s, I loved it. Director Adam Cannon did a fabulous job of transporting us from now to then.

Steven Loper played the piano and did have one line, which got a laugh, and we all sang Christmas songs as we waiting for the radio show. Nice touch.

Costumes and hair were by Greenlaugh and were authentic and fun. The minimal but effective set design was by Jeffrey Blake, The Echo’s owner and manager.

This show is a fun introduction for the holiday season and unusual enough to not miss. I would recommend it for tweens and up. There is nothing offensive in the least about this show, but it is really just a bunch of actors standing onstage, so the lack of movement might bore little ones. And it’s at 7:30 and plays for two hours, so leave the young ones at home.

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I did wonder if those who’ve never seen the movie would enjoy it or follow it was well as I did. I anticipated what would happen next–would they be able to portray it with just their voices and minimal movements (though EVERYONE had cute, effective facial expressions)? I can’t answer that for myself, as I’ve seen the movie many times. My husband, however, closed his eyes for most of the show and told me it worked well to do this. He could see the show by the voices alone. And all the actors had different voices, and were–wonderful.

I would highly recommend this fun show. It is enjoyable and unique. And Merry Christmas!

It’s a Wonderful Life

Dec 4- 20, Mon, Thurs-Saturday at 7:30 PM

The Echo Theater, 15 N 100 E, Provo, Utah 84606

Tickets are available at the door or online at TheEchoTheatre.com