Beautiful at the Eccles Theater is Simply Gorgeous!

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By Jennifer and Craig Mustoe

One of the first albums I ever owned was Tapestry, by Carole King. I sang each of her songs over and over, loud and strong. Young as I was, the message of each song resonated with me. Now I realize that’s one of the reasons why this album won many awards and sold over 25 million(!) copies. It clearly resonated with a lot of us. And it is a layered, lovely collection of musical stories.

Now, I need to admit something right here about musicals. I love being in them sometimes more than I love going to see them. You see, the reason for this is in musicals, so much of the story line is sung. You want to tell someone you love them? Sing it. You want to tell someone you hate them? Sing it. Sometimes I just want to scream: Just say it! In Beautiful, the plot points aren’t told in song. The songs, Carole King’s songs, are the story.

Beautiful tells Carole King’s (played by the stupendously talented Julia Knitel) success story, from her many years as a songwriter in New York to her triumph in Los Angeles. My husband, Craig, a rock history enthusiast (nerd) already knew much of King’s story, but it was new to me and it is delightful.

Sixteen-year-old Carole Klein/King sold her first song to Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril) of Aldon Records. She also met the man who would soon be her husband, Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin.) Together, she and Goffin produced many hits together for popular singers of the time, including Bobby Vee, The Chiffons, and the Monkees. One of the major plot points in Beautiful is the friendly competition King and Goffin have with dear friends and rivals Cynthia Weil (Erika Olsen) and husband Barry Mann (Ben Frankhauser) who wrote such hits as: “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”. Beautiful‘s first act shows these two couples’ rise to fame and the sacrifices they need to make to make it. What I loved about this was of course the factual part of this–I had no idea Carole King was anything but a recording star! But the warmth and bounteous humor of this made it a delight to watch. Carole’s mother, Genie Klein (Suzanne Grodner) is comic relief and very funny.

The show has few dance numbers compared to other musicals, which makes sense, as this is a story about a woman who didn’t dance. Most of the dancing was done by the 60s groups The Drifters, The Sharells and The Righteous Brothers. Choreography by Josh Prince was so spot on, I felt like I was watching the real performers all over again. Little vignettes by these performers built the musical layers wonderfully. Music director Susan Draus created a musical masterpiece. And the voices of each performer were perfect. You’d expect nothing less from a Broadway Across America show. Director Marc Bruni has created a lovely, funny, perfect show. The costumes, by Alejo Vietti, are marvelous–especially the sparkly, snappy, chic vintage costumes worn by the 60s bands and singers.

My husband and I found the second act slightly rushed and something of a letdown. King and Goffin divorce and both Knitel and Tobin handle this with aching precision. But then, suddenly, Carole is in Los Angeles and is a big star and the end. So much music and vibrancy and fun and heartache happened in Act One that it felt rushed in Act Two. I researched Carole King for this review and it turns out that a lot happened that wasn’t in the show, and really, you can’t put every experience in a Broadway show or it would be eight hours long. But she did struggle somewhat in California, she did marry again, and I would have liked to see more of her story. And maybe that’s why Beautiful is so wonderful. Maybe after seeing it, like me, people rush to Wikipedia to find out more about Carole King the songwriter, the performer, the wife, the mother, the star.

Because it is the habit of reviewers at Front Row Reviewers Utah to recommend shows to certain audiences, I would say this is a show for tweens and up, especially those who love oldies. The Eccles Theater is a huge, lovely space, so getting good seats is important if you want to see the actors’ expressions.

Finally, do not miss this show. It is Broadway quality and really shouldn’t be missed. It is gorgeous, fun, and inspiring.

Beautiful, The Carole King Musical

Broadway at the Eccles

Eccles Theater Box Office
131 S. Main St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

11.15-17.16 7:30 PM, 11.18.16 8:00 PM, 11.19.16 2:00 and 8:00 PM, 11.20.16 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM.

Arttix.artsaltlake.org $50-$100

Find Your Damage at Utah Rep’s Heathers

by Susannah Whitman

heathers2If you’re looking for rocking music and plenty of teenage angst, look no further than Utah Repertory Theatre’s production of Heathers. Full of 80s throwbacks, dark humor, and great choreography, this show offers an edgy alternative to Utah’s standard Disney fare.

The show opens with Veronica Sawyer wandering the halls of Westerberg High School, 1989—or rather, attempting to navigate its shark-filled waters. High school is tough when you’re not on the top of the food chain, so Veronica makes a decision to find a way in with the most popular girls in the school: Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara, and Heather Duke. If she can become a “Heather” herself, maybe she can survive the rumors, taunts, and bullying that dominate high school life. Things get complicated with the arrival of “bad boy” JD, though. Veronica and JD share a bed and a hatred for high school’s social maze. But while Veronica’s plan is to befriend those who know their way around, JD’s plan is to blow the maze up. JD’s anarchy slowly gets more and more out of hand, and Veronica has to decide how much she’s willing to give up to stay on top.

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The musical is a 2014 adaptation of the 1981 cult classic film Heathers, a predecessor to “Mean Girls,” but with more violence and macabre humor. The adaptation is wildly successful in using songs to expand iconic moments in the film, and playing homage to some of the classic lines of the movie.

Karli Rose Lowry and Derek Gregerson have some big shoes to fill—Winona Ryder and Christian Slater played the roles of Veronica and JD in the 1981 film. But both actors make the characters their own with enormous success. Karli Rose Lowry fills the rafters with a stunning voice, and her humor and honesty make her one of the most likeable protagonists imaginable. In his final number, Derek Gregerson’s eyes communicate so much heartbroken madness, you can’t help but love him, flawed as he is. Other stand-out performances come from Michael Hernandez and Dan Ogden, who play the caveman-esque football players who reside at the top of the high school’s social food chain. Both Hernandez and Ogden gave committed, honest, and hilarious performances. Chaska Johnson as Martha Dunnstock (“Martha Dumptruck”) gave a moving performance as Veronica’s childhood best friend, especially in her song “Kindergarten Boyfriend.” There were no weak cast members at all—every actor created full characters, sang and danced well, and committed fully to every scene.

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The show features a live 5-piece band, placed directly behind the actors onstage. The energy they bring to the music is inspiring. Rick Rea’s musical direction shone, especially in large group numbers, and Michael Hernandez’s choreography was engaging and energetic and perfectly suited to the show.

The venue is a small one, located inside the Sorensen Community Center, but there are no bad seats in the space, it’s got lights and sound to rival any other small theatre. The performance I saw had a few technical glitches, but I could easily see the vision of the designers, and they didn’t distract very much from the show.

While the costumes, by Nancy Cannon, were fun and fitting, many of them seemed to be lifted from the off-Broadway production, without much originality. However, they looked great and definitely gave color and spunk to the show. Nothing seemed out of place, but I was disappointed to not see more creativity. Johnny Hebda’s direction worked well throughout the show. Set pieces were created using acting blocks, and projections were used to signify specific locations. The projections were the weakest aspect of the production—most of the time they were unnecessary, and at worst, they were distracting. Most of what they accomplished could have been done with lighting, sound, and/or music, without causing the audience’s attention to wander away from the actors onstage to the screen above their heads.

Utah Rep is now in its 4th season, and Heathers is exactly the kind of edgy, provocative theatre they’ve become known for. The company offers alternative theatre to audiences who are looking for something more than another production of a Disney musical. Not that there’s anything wrong with Disney musicals—it’s just that variety is valuable. I’d give this show a strong PG-13 rating (language, sexuality, teen suicide), but for those interested in something dark and entertaining and yes, thoughtful, I highly recommend Heathers.

Utah Repertory Theatre presents Heathers: The Musical by Kevin Murphey and Laurence O’Keefe.

Sorensen Unity Center, Black Box Theatre, 1383 S 900 W, Salt Lake City

November 4-5, 11-12, 18-20

7:30 pm, Saturday matinee 2 pm, Sunday matinee on November 20 at 3 pm

Tickets: $20 for adults, $17 for students/seniors

Available at the door or online at http://utahrep.org

Highland’s The Mousetrap is Mysterious Fun for Halloween

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I recently had the opportunity of seeing a murder mystery by Agatha Christie—perfect for the Halloween season! The performance of Mousetrap took place at Highland Community Center in Highland, Utah. I wondered what I was going to encounter when I entered a room that was unlike theaters that I am used to. With a small corner stage and chairs that had to be set up, I was dubious. But I was pleasantly proven that my worries were unnecessary.

Mousetrap takes place at a guesthouse in England in the 1950s. The Ralstons (Nicole Allen and Jake Allen), a newly married couple, have just opened the guesthouse, their first guests arrive, and as luck would have it they are all snowed in. Unluckily, they learn that a murder has taken place in London, and the killer is one of them. Clues roll forth as the audience and the characters try to figure out “whodunit” before one of them becomes the next victim.

The entire cast did a wonderful job in portraying their characters, my personal favorites being Christopher Wren (Tanner Spear) and Mrs. Boyle (Kathy Castleton.)  Some faltering with British accents and a few botched lines—understandable with opening night jitters—did not detract from each character’s personality coming through. Their comedic timing was excellent—I was surprised to find myself laughing as much as I did in a play about murder, but it was a good, even balance. This play requires much from the actors beyond their dialogue, as much of the clues were found in their facial expressions and body language. They did not disappoint. I found myself constantly looking from character to character, trying to see what each actor was doing to see if I could piece together the mystery. I could tell that director Gabriel Spencer helped his actors create believable characters. It’s easy to over-act in a mystery like this.

With this tiny venue, I was especially impressed with the set the cast and crew created. It transformed the room and looked as I would expect a cozy room in a hotel in the 1950s. There were a couple of glitches with the sound and a set piece, but that was easily forgotten as the cast made use of a window as well as their various props. The costuming was ideal for the time period, and fit the characters’ personalities. And the lighting was well done, showing different times in the day and playing its own role, which worked quite well.

Even with a couple of hiccups, I greatly enjoyed this production. The cast worked very well together. The atmosphere with the stage and close audience made me feel a part of the production—a nice touch when I was also trying to solve the mystery. I highly recommend the play to anyone looking for a good mystery, a chance to laugh, and some Halloween-themed entertainment.

It runs October 27-29 7:30 pm, with a special 10:00 performance on Halloween with the murderer revealed at midnight.

Hughland Community Center 5378 w. 10400 n. Highland 84003

$8.00-$10.00

 

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GSC’s The Revenger’s Tragedy is Bloody Good Fun

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By Jennifer Mustoe and Craig Mustoe

We have been to many Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s excellent productions, including the gore-filled Halloween shows, so we knew to expect a great show, filled with lots of energy, movement, interesting characters, and understandable dialogue and plots. (Shakespeare can be confusing.) But we were able to take a friend who’d never seen a GSC production, so it was fun to their current Halloween offering, The Revenger’s Tragedy, through her eyes. This friend doesn’t see many plays, so I was a little worried she’d be bored, confused, or cold. The show is outside at Provo’s Castle Amphitheater, so the fall show can be chilly. None of these issues arose. Our friend loved the show, was thoroughly entertained, followed the plot well and the weather was mild.

The beginning of the show featured a local band, The Echo Era, that actually performed from the stage. They were great–sort of a grungy, bluesy, jazzy rock sound that created an edge before the show. I did find it rather unfortunate that some people got up and left after the band played and didn’t stay for the show. Both acts have equal entertainment value.

GSC has jazzed up its stage a bit, though it’s always been a charming rendition of what we imagine they had in Shakespeare’s day–a stage that can be set up and pulled down (struck) by the players themselves. (And in fact, I know the players did just this and constructed and then tore down the stage so GSC could perform a different piece at UVU recently.) The multi-leveled space was great and gave many options for entrances and exits and action on more than one level. The “set” is completely bare–no set pieces: chairs, couches, tables and so forth. We audience members fill in the blanks. And this is what the GSC players explain. They have no director–it’s a collaborative effort; They create their own costumes; They come memorized to rehearsal and have only 40 hours of rehearsal at all. This is meant to duplicate the experience as it was in Shakespeare’s time. And because back then, all roles were played by men, there were some characters that were played by women for male roles and vice versa. (Yes, GSC has modernized that bit of casting!)

The Revenger’s Tragedy is not, in fact, a Shakespeare play, but written by one of his contemporaries: Thomas Middleton. It takes place in Italy and is, as you can imagine, about revenge. There are multiple bad guys in this show and truth to tell, there are few characters that are completely without guile. Perfect for a Halloween show.

The plot is rather simple. There’s this Duke (played with cunning and darkness by Joel Applegate) who sleeps with everyone, consensually  and otherwise, and kills a woman who won’t sleep with him. Her husband, Vindici, played wonderfully by Mark Oram, exacts revenge. Oram has a difficult role–he needs to be sympathetic enough that when he starts doing really horrible things, we root for him still. Oram visited with audience members before the show, introducing us to his “wife”–a skull. So yes, we did see his side of things. Mostly. Vindici colludes with brother Hippolito (played winningly by Sam Portlock) to get back at the Duke and his super creepy son Lusurioso, played by remarkable actor Daniel Fenton Anderson, who brings to every role he plays such an amazing quality of truth, I’m glad I know Anderson to be a really nice guy. During this show, my stomach turned at his oily lechery. Of course, I mean this in the best way possible. Davey Morrison Dillard and Tyler Harris play the Duke’s second and third sons Ambitioso (an ambitious and ruthless chap) and Supervacuo (a total goofball) and provide some comic relief in this rather dark, gruesome play. I’ve seen Dillard and Harris work together many times and their synergy and timing really is perfection. I wished they had more stage time. Topher Rasmusson plays Spurio, the Duke’s bastard son and as with so many bastard sons in famous plays, is a resentful jerk and starts an affair with his stepmother, the Duchess played by Clarrisa Knotts. This couple is so revolting, each using the other for their own gain and a kick to their egos, and these actors play this out very believably. I felt the pain behind this couple’s affair and though it made me sad, I also felt a righteous disgust regarding these two, so Rasumsson and Knotts did their job well.

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The plot is simple, but what happens onstage, you really need to go see so I’m not going to give details. Blood is spilled (and then some), entrails are pulled from a body (and it isn’t gross as much as funny), and evil is displayed thickly and throughout the show. The groundlings who stand in front of the stage rather than sitting (just as they had in Shakespeare’s time) got sprayed with blood, as is common at GSC Halloween shows. (So note: if you are buying a groundling ticket, dress appropriately, though the “blood” does wash out, we’re told.)

Throughout the show, a band plays background music, also a nod to Shakespeare’s era and it is really great to have that accentuating the highs and lows in the show. This is one of the best aspects of a great theater company–their ability to include music throughout the production.

The only “problems” I saw with this show is that it was not well-attended. I attribute this to it being BYU’s Homecoming weekend and the typical GSC-goers may have been otherwise occupied. But I am sincerely hoping that in the next shows, The Revenger’s Tragedy has huge crowds. It is well worth seeing. However, I wouldn’t bring kids–though the gore isn’t too gross, there is a lot of sexual discussion, owing to the fact that half the males in the cast are rapists and lechers. This does tend to put sexual violence at the forefront of a plot. Also, the Castle Amphitheater is a GORGEOUS space, but it is made of stone. Bring something soft to sit on and a blanket to keep warm. Check the weather–if it’s cold, dress for it. The show is almost two hours long, but it doesn’t seem like it. It is fun and creepy from the first to the last.

The Revenger’s Tragedy, Castle Amphitheatre (above the State Hospital), 1300 East Center Street, Provo, UT (drive up the hill and park by the lawn)

Tickets: $8.00 for Groundlings, $13.00 for seats if purchased online, $15.00 at the door. Mon, Fri, Sat until 10.31.16 7:30 PM.

Extra Halloween late show on 10.29.16 11:30 PM (this is a super fun show!)

Grassroots Shakespeare Company

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Put Your Shoes on and Run to the Covey’s The 39 Steps

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By Jennifer Mustoe and Mary Garlitz

I see a lot of shows, so when I am planning on seeing a show twice, that’s big. I will be taking everyone I can to go see The Covey’s The 39 Steps again before this delightful show’s run is over. I’ve already blabbed all over Facebook to all my cyber friends to get with it and go see this show. And I’m saying it to my Front Row Reviewers Utah people, too.

The 39 Steps is a comedy using plots and characters from Alfred Hitchcock’s work. I didn’t know it was a comedy when I decided to see it, though. So at the beginning, when Richard Hannay, the lead in the show (handsome, curly hair, piercing blue eyes–see the show and you’ll see why I say this) picks up the phone and it still rings, I thought, oh my gosh. The tech person isn’t very good. In the next few minutes, I got it. This is a comedy! And that was supposed to happen! Gotcha!

Eric Geels plays Hannay–the handsome lead–and is the only actor who remains the same character throughout. Geels is a brilliant comedic actor with great timing, excellent nuance and great physicality. The rest of the small, remarkably talented cast are: Clara Richardson, who plays The Females In The Play–all of them a romantic lead for Hannay in the various settings. Richardson uses accents and mannerisms and movement to be Annabella Schmidt (German) and Pamela (Scottish) and Margaret (English.) (These three accents (and more?) are used throughout the play by all players.) Jeremy Showgren and Caitlin Young (also the costumer) play ALL the other characters, and they are many. When I go to the show again, I’m going to count how many each play, but it is a ton. These two actors are wonderful–playing each different character so believably that if you shut your eyes, you’d swear there were way more actors up there. And they change enough with spot on acting skills that they really bring it. Really.

The show has so many fun, clever ways to show the different vignettes, I couldn’t go into even half of them. But let me give you one that can be explained easily. At one point, Hannay is running away from the bad guys and starts running like Jimmy Stewart does in North By Northwest. If you remember that movie, Stewart is being chased by and shot at by a maniac in a bi-plane. In The 39 Steps, the “plane” is a wooden model let down on a string from the ceiling in the Brinton Black Box Theater. Geels is running with big arms and slow mo steps, then suddenly breaks character, walks over to the plane, faces it toward him and then goes back to slow mo running. Absolutely hilarious!

There are dozens of these fun bits with actors changing accents, costume pieces, hats and characters throughout the show. Director David Hanson keeps the production amazingly tight, fast, and funny using the small stage effectively and his actors brilliantly.

I would recommend this show to anyone, but would caution about bringing kids under 8 or 10, mostly because it’s a little long. And you don’t have to be a big Hitchcock fan to laugh your head off in this show, but if you are familiar with his work, you will find yourself waiting for the next movie to be represented. (Mary said, “I wonder how they’ll show The Birds.” And the next bit showed them in a super funny, clever way.)

The only thing I’ll say is a lot of the bits seem to favor stage right, so when you buy your tickets, ask for seats either in the middle section or on the right. Our seats were on the left and we missed some of the action and facial expressions because the actors were fully facing away from us. But promise me you’ll go see this show.

You’re welcome.

The 39 Steps plays Thurs, Fri, Sat and Monday at 7:30 PM $14-$16 until October 29th.

The Covey Center for the Arts 425 W Center St  Provo, UT 84601

Main Office: (801) 852-7007  Box Office: (801) 852-7007

 

 

 

The SCERA’S Nunsense is Heavenly!

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By Rachael Gibson

I have to be honest… I’d never seen the musical Nunsense until Saturday night at the SCERA. I don’t know that I’ve ever really even heard of it.

I had NO idea what to expect so as I sat next to my husband in the theater waiting for the show to start, I searched my program for a synopsis. I couldn’t find one, so I tried my best to recollect what I might remember from some of the social media plugs I had read. So, really, we were both in for a surprise.

First off, I have to say that Michael Carrasco did an immaculate job of choosing who would play each sister. Their personalities, looks and mannerisms were completely on point. I also sensed throughout the show that he let them develop their characters and didn’t seem to be “over” directed, but instead felt, even in its silliness, more real. The performances didn’t feel forced, but more of a natural extension of themselves.

Which leads me to how impressed I was with the women acting in this show. I was so excited to see all the talent abounding in such a small cast as it oozed off the stage. Sometimes, literally, off the stage as they would come and interact with the audience off stage. Their interaction with random audience members proved their natural wit and humor and added to the endearing qualities that vested me into each character.

Allison Books, who plays Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior does a wonderful job of bringing the audience up to speed about the tragedy of a mass poisoning in the convent that, after burials, has left them with four sisters that they have had to put in the freezer until they have the money raised for their proper burials, hence the reason for the show they are putting on at the local school to raise funds. Not only is Books animatedly intriguing, but her accent was so fun and made listening to her explanations even better, but her slapstick, physical humor brought me back to the days of the Carol Burnett show. I was also impressed with her ability to keep her accent even through her songs, which were amazing too.

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Mariah Hatch, who plays Sister Mary Robert Anne, was my ultimate favorite of the night probably because I loved her tomboy demeanor, Jersey accent and her subtle antics poking fun at the Reverend Mother. Can I say though, that it was her voice that sold me? Wow! I could have listened to her all night. She, luckily for me, had several stand-out solo parts that cut to the core of my Broadway geekiness and made me feel like I was in New York, New York instead of the SCERA in Orem, Utah.

Chelsea Lindsey, who plays Sister Mary Amnesia was my husband’s favorite mostly because of her fantastic scene with her puppet, Sister Mary Annette (created by the talented Nat Reed). My husband didn’t laugh as hard as I did, (not many do) but he still got a good chuckle watching her switch seamlessly between the two distinct voices. Lindsey kept her character in her face and body language the entire time and truly made me feel she was made for this part.

Shaylia Johnson plays the part of Sister Mary Leo and her face fit the part of the sweet, cute, dreamy-eyed Nun-Dancer she hopes to be. Her ballet pieces were fun and light-hearted. Shelly Stewart Truax is Sister Mary Hubert. Shelley’s years of being onstage are pronounced as you watch her grace, poise and humor bring to life a serious and sensible, yet lighthearted and comical character. She is believable as the Reverend Mother’s sidekick and she shows that in the duet “Just a Coupl’a Sisters.” The standout moment for me, though, was her solo, “Holier Than thou” in which she let her voice and her spirit loose.

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You may think that with a play of four nuns dressed in black and white would make for a dull stage presence, but Costumer Kelsey Seaver added small, but fabulous touches to the costumes that brought humor, distinction, and color to the Sisters. I especially got a good laugh at one of the small touches that were added to Mother Superior’s accidental apron. Thanks for that, Kelsey.

Nat Reed, as always, brought M’liss Tolman’s scene design to life which reflected a school auditorium with a second level that added depth and interest. The depth of the stage was enhanced by the lighting design of Marianne Ohran. Christy Norton’s prop designs did not disappoint and were thought of in detail right down to the bar stools that would spin to add to the Sisters’ choreography and antics.

Brandalee B. Streeter did a great job musically directing these five women to sound their best. Jillian Ormond brought so much life to the Sisters with their choreography that it felt like a fresh version of some old musicals, but my favorite was the tap dance that was full of creativity and originality. Stage Manager Danielle Berry added her voice to the show by being the “techy” for Mother Superior, but her real talent showed in how smoothly the show went through each scene and song. It was also a treat to hear sound designer, Kendall Bowman add his voice in as the back-up announcer that night, but it’s always nice to know that he is the one running the sound and making sure we never fall short of being entertained with sound.

The SCERA has long been a community gem that not only brings us great theater and entertainment, but  adds to the aura of kindness and service in Orem that bring us all together. We parked along the street for an easy get-away from the crowds for our return home. The volunteers taking tickets were friendly as always and the theatre was clean and smelt of popcorn. We had great seats right in the middle of the floor, which not only had a good view, but also secluded Marc enough that he didn’t feel pressured to participate when the nuns came out to interact with the audience.

At the SCERA, it is one of my favorite things to see and talk with the cast after the show and the nuns were very welcoming. There was even a picture prop in the foyer if you wanted to look like the nuns to post to social media or keep as a souvenir token of the night.

This show runs at the SCERA every Monday, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 until October 8th.

Location: SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

Phone: (801) 225-ARTS

Tickets are $10-$12

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Yellow Umbrellas at Bydand Theater Company Dives Beautifully into the Human Psyche

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By Teresa Gashler

A linear representation of life experiences is frequently inaccurate in portraying the processing tendencies of the human brain. Yellow Umbrellas by Morag Shepherd uses abstract techniques to explore and find meaning in the combination of past experiences. The beautiful paradox is that the abstract can be more real than linear “reality” would be, as the brain works abstractly to comb through experiences out of order. The result is relatable, meaningful, and devastatingly beautiful.

The story centers around Cassandra (Rachelle Elbert) as she maneuvers through the problems in her relationships, particularly with her sister Marie (Alexis Boss), her dad Max (Jeff Kocherhans), and Marie’s fiancée Jon (Tyler Harris). The scenes explore her memories from being 12 to adult in a nonlinear fashion. Cassandra, Marie, and Max frequently mention their mother, who is no longer with the family, as if the problems started with her. Max gives Cassandra and Marie yellow umbrellas that metaphorically prove to be insufficient in sheltering them from the storms they face. Cassandra urges Max to tell her where he secretly visits on a regular basis, though he will never disclose that to her. We discover that Cassandra has developed a romantic relationship with Jon that not only implodes on itself but puts her relationship with Marie at risk. We see many instances where Cassandra and Marie go to play chicken on train tracks, a game that requires them to tell each other when to get off the tracks safely as a train approaches. This train game serves as a metaphor for the family as they make hurtful choices but still long to trust each other. Through many trials of losing trust in each other and feeling hopeless, the play ends with forgiveness and a resolve to start over as much as possible.

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The performance venue was a comfortable space for being small. The smallness is arguably a positive factor as you could feel the presence of the actors and music. The minimalistic approach from the director (Christy Foster) and stage manager (Jake Fullmer) was well executed as each stage direction and prop had defined, meaningful purposes. The accompaniment of a single guitar from the musician (Gary Argyle) played an important thematic role, filling in gaps that would otherwise be filled in with scenery and sound effects. I would love to see more theatrical productions use a musician in the same way to cut down on the spectacle and bring more focus to the story.

The ensemble worked brilliantly together. Elbert dove deeply into Cassandra’s character, allowing the audience to feel her joy and experience the sting of her selfish choices. Boss, Harris, and Kocherhans also succeeded in portraying their characters as flaw-filled human beings that we can’t help but love and root for.

Yellow Umbrellas is a great play for those new to abstract theater and abstract connoisseurs alike. While many brilliant abstract works leave the audience with little direction other than despair for the human condition, I appreciate that Shepherd ends the piece with hope, something we desperately need in our world today.

Yellow Umbrellas has now closed, but was performed at The A-Frame – 883 N 1200 E, Provo, UT 84604

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Wasatch Theater Company’s A Bright New Boise Shines Brilliantly

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By Joel Applegate

I love the Rose Wagner’s black box theater. It was evident from the spare set and two walls that for this production of A Bright New Boise, the play’s the thing. Nothing fancy. What is a play? People in motion telling a story. True to their mission of choosing works that “engage, stimulate and entertain,” Wasatch Theatre Company chose well in telling this poignant, very funny, and harrowing tale of faith gone awry. This play won New York’s OBIE award for playwriting in 2011.

Director Jim Martin and his sound designer, Amy Allred, set the tone with a great playlist of tunes from start to finish, with “My Own Private Idaho” logically winding toward Joan Osborne’s “What If God Was One of Us.” At first, it seems we’re about to watch a sardonically quaint slice of life with some quirky characters in out-of-the-way Boise, Idaho. But the play takes us deeper and deeper into the life of our lead, Will, whose flight from a church scandal undoes more than just himself. Brian C. Pilling takes Will from nondescript to dangerous in a performance that increases in power and carries playwright Sam Hunter’s profound theme of faith bumping up against modern life.

Will, arriving in Boise, gets hired by Pauline in one of Hobby Lobby’s barely urban outposts (at a sinful wage of $7.25 an hour!) Sallie Cooper nails Pauline from her first speech. The interview she conducts only hints at the rough edge and determined pride Cooper so beautifully lashes at later on. Holding on to all she’s built as a store manager, Pauline literally curses her own morality into being. It’s her way of exorcising dysfunction. Pairing conflict resolution with a side of profanity is a hoot.

Will, scrubbed on the outside and the inside, finds us unprepared for the bomb he drops on Alex, a teenage cashier at the store. Is the abuse Alex talks about real or imagined?  CJ Strong as Alex has a great connection with himself, never going over the top, though the role would tempt many an actor to blow it up. He is an interesting performer. Even when he does almost nothing, we see him wrestling to repair his broken soul.

Will encounters others at the store, too: a quietly composed Haley McCormick as Anna. Like Strong, she connects to her inner self with understated skill.  Neither Will nor Anna has anywhere to go. They escape into blogs and books.

Will’s caustic co-worker, Leroy, has no need to hide from anything or anyone. At first, the play fools us into thinking Leroy is a caricature. But Gordon Dunn demands us to “take me as I am,” doing a terrific job hiding Leroy’s deliberately dark commitment to protecting the fragile Alex.

Any play about religion is fraught – especially in Utah. There’s a wonderful natural ease in the performances of most of this highly skilled cast – except Pilling as Will – uptight and tightly wound pleading for Jesus to show up “now – now!” Is it a paradox to try to rebuild a faith once broken by its very practice? After we get to know the characters, the playwright takes us on a deep dive into the meaning of being, a great feat to pull off with such earthily drawn souls. Hunter juxtaposes the irrational events of both faith and the world, exploring not only what we believe, but why we believe it.

And so, A Bright New Boise is more about identity than religion. It’s easy enough to adopt a mythology to explain life or provide purpose. Anna tells a briefly doubting Will, “You can just believe in something else.” But Will has nothing to believe in but a holy fire that will negate the earth he is standing on. It’s a devil of a choice. To him, identity is evangelism. He cannot embrace another way of thinking without the terror of losing his soul. He must believe in greater things than this mere world.  We leave him praying for all of it to be burned to ash.

Here’s a link to learn more about this interesting playwright, Samuel D. Hunter: http://2ndstorytheatre.com/prodigals-samuel-d-hunters-a-bright-new-boise-2011/

Wasatch Theatre Company presents A Bright New Boise

September 1st thru 17th, 2016: Thur, Fri, Sat at 8 pm, with Matinees on Sept 10 & 17 at 2 pm.    General Admission: $20.00

Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West 300 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84101. Phone (801) 446-5657

www.wasatchtheatre.org      Ticketing Information: www.artix.org

Email: wasatchtheatre@hotmail.com

Contains adult language.

 

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UT Rep’s Cabaret Should Not Be Missed

cabaret

By Ashley Ramsey

Utah Rep has quickly made a home for itself in the Utah theatre scene with their rarely done and new theatre productions. When Cabaret was announced as one of their 2016 productions, it seemed a match made in heaven. It was exciting to hear the buzz it created throughout the theatre community as this rarely done, but beloved musical got under way.

Cabaret tells the story of pre-WWII Berlin and the American writer, Cliff Bradshaw who is hoping to find inspiration for his next novel in the city. Cliff quickly finds his world turned upside down when his life becomes intertwined with Sally Bowles, a performer at the seedy Kit Kat Club. The story envelopes the rest of the boarding house residents and Kit Kat Club performers as the rise of the Nazi party begins to change their future forever.

Oftentimes it can be quite daunting taking on a show that is immortalized famously on film, but the UT Rep cast does a phenomenal job making this show their own. Teresa Sanderson’s portrayal of the Emcee is spot on. Traditionally portrayed by a male actor, the use of a female actor brings a new and fresh dynamic that Sanderson fully embraces. It is always a treat to see an actor who embodies the concept and story fully and Sanderson delivers that. Other noteworthy performances are Jane Luke’s portrayal of Fraulein Schneider and Michael Neilsen’s Herr Schultz. Both actors command of the stage is enthralling and they create such a wonderful chemistry onstage.  “It Couldn’t Please Me More” is so sweetly delightful and sets you up to root for the couple the rest of the show.

Anne Louise Brings and Johnny Hebda tell the other half of the love story as Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw. It is no doubt how Cliff falls for Sally as Brings creates such a vivacious,  charismatic character. Brings does a wonderful job of following the character arch of Sally and brings a steady nuance to a role that can easily be overdone.  Both Hebda and Brings were more than capable of handling the vocal requirements of the roles and their voices of blend well to each other’s in “Perfectly Marvelous”. Unfortunately, there was not much romantic chemistry between the two actors, which sometimes left you doubting what their relationship was. Hebda’s physicality seemed somewhat clunky and awkward in romantic moments with Brings.

The ensemble as a whole absolutely shines in this production. Most of them portray multiple roles and their characters were so different it was rarely noticed.  The structure of the play can make it hard to create seamless transitions and keep the action flowing, but the ensemble kept things moving smoothly. Outstanding ensemble members Karli Rose Lowry and Dawn Veree are both so incredibly committed to whenever they were onstage. They both shared an uncanny ability to connect with the audience in key moments through out the show.

Music direction by Anne Puzey was outstanding. Not only does her talent and vision show with the actors onstage, but her live band really added to the ambiance of a night club when needed but also easily faded away in moments where the underscoring gave way to the spotlight of moments on stage,

Director L.L. West sets the mood as soon as your enter the theatre. Upon arrival, do not be surprised to find a young, shirtless German boy eager to help you find a seat. The house is open seating and I recommend arriving early to get good seats. The Sorenson Unity Center Black Box theatre lends itself well to what you would imagine a small seedy night club might feel like. The intimate venue, combined with West’s in your face (and sometimes in your seats) blocking makes you pay attention to the larger questions being asked. The movement of the characters in and out of the scenes is as fluid as the sexuality of our characters and creates a world you can quickly get lost in. It was also incredibly refreshing to see a variety of body types and looks on the stage.  Nancy Cannon does an incredible job at dressing the actors in true to time ensembles that perfectly add to West’s vision. I always appreciate Cannon’s dedication to staying true to her time period and keeping her actors stunning on stage.

Highlighted as well is Ashley Gardner-Carlson’s choreography. While paying homage to the expected Bob Fosse-esque choreography, Gardner-Carlson carves out a movement story that is her own.  Her expertise really shines during the large group numbers in her ability to fill the space. “Two Ladies” was especially fun in the combination of comedy and sex appeal.  Another highlight for dance fans will be the intense moments of “Money”.

Cabaret stands as an incredibly poignant and startling relevant piece for this moment in time. While Utah Rep’s production has a few hiccups here and there, the overall message of the show is not one that should be ignored. This show will make you uncomfortable in the best way. It will challenge you to ask yourself some hard questions. As with all good theatre, it will stay with you and you won’t be able to shake it. But maybe that’s the point.

Cabaret runs 8/26 through 9/11 at the Sorenson Unity Black Box Theatre with both evening and matinee showings available.  General Admission tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for Students and Seniors. Special Cabaret seating which includes mocktails, snacks and the best view of the show are available for $35. 7:30 PM

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Utah Rep Website

Due to the mature nature of the show, it is not recommended for children.

 

 

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Payson’s Into The Woods is a Place You Want to Be

IntotheWoods75By Joel Applegate

Perhaps our virtual reality has outgrown fairy tales. Instead, I think what has been substituted are mash-ups and deconstructions. Fairy tales still do what they originally did: thrill and chill on the surface and use subliminal archetypes to make us think about ourselves and our wants. All this is behind the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Firstly, I believe Into the Woods is a story about want. First lesson: “Be sure what you wish for is what you want.” And Payson Community Theater’s well-paced production makes it fun to follow the needs and hopes of their big cast. The production is visually arresting with lavish costumes by Carisa and Perry Ewell, a detailed set by Richard Lindsey, Craig Zeeman and director, Robinne Booth. Mr Lindsey also contributes a beautiful lighting design. Rapunzel’s tower rotates, Grandma’s house is excellently illuminated, and the dark forest’s deep perspective makes full use of the stage.

Director Robinne Booth takes advantage of Payson High’s wide proscenium, staging many scenes down stage, really engaging with the audience from the opening bars. A great MC as well as a story-teller, our Narrator, Perry Ewell, draws a young girl from the audience to “help” him open the pop-up storybooks that reveal the locales of Into the Woods.  I was charmed by this way of creating a sense of anticipation and wonder.

There are big songs in Into the Woods where the scenes by their nature are presentational, but through a combination of great choreography and wise direction, these numbers are gorgeous to watch and more importantly, they work within the story.

There are many standouts in this cast, both musically and in the acting. Kristin Bauer as The Witch was superb. She brought great timing to her Yiddishness as the ugly witch. After her transformation to her young self, it is surprising how she is able to make us empathize with a witch, losing her daughter and her powers. No matter, Ms. Bauer has plenty of power of her own. Her “Children Will Listen” is sung with grace and conviction, and her “Last Midnight” should become a signature for this actor.

Author Joel with Cinderella played by Amber Lee Roberts

Author Joel with Cinderella played by Amber Lee Roberts

The pairing of voices in this production was another wonder. Amber Lee Roberts as Cinderella with her lovely, high soprano, and Richie Trimble as the well-acted Baker were beautifully matched in their duet turned quartet with Red Riding Hood and Jack. “No One is Alone” is one of the best moments – among many – in the show. Mr. Trimble also forms another great blend with Carisa Ewell, in “Take Two”.  Ms Ewell goes on to deliver a poignant demise as the Baker’s Wife.

Our Princes, Bob Bauer, as Cinderella’s beau, and Dan Bigler as Rapunzel’s, are perfect gallants – charming and shady. Both have skilled control with great voices blending very well. Their duet “Agony” is one of my favorite numbers in the show.

into the woods Kristin and Bob Bauer with Dan Bigler

Red Riding Hood’s Rachel Aylworth is – what? Petulant, comic, precocious sprightly – bringing tons of attitude to a really good voice.  She has a hilarious moment with the Wolf dancing a … ‘wolf-trot’? Jared Gaskill’s Jack (of Beanstalk fame) is effective as a boy on the cusp of manhood and sings earnestly in a clear voice.

Payson’s production was not entirely without flaws. There were some microphone problems at the top of a few songs. Some mics were not cued fast enough. And I thought it mysterious that the costumers built a great Wolf costume, but not one for Milky White, the hapless cow sold for a few beans. The puppet, used as the cow – though cleverly constructed – encumbered scenes with a silent puppet master standing by. It was an odd choice, since the Wolf was so effectively brought to life.

I like this show the more I see it, and this cast – in this production – made me like it all the more. For its dramatic and musical appeal with tunes like “Children Will Listen”, “Agony”, and “No One Is Alone”, Into the Woods is fast becoming one of my favorite musicals.

into the woods Set - Into the Woods

Though there are only six performances left, you still have plenty of time to book a seat for this very deserving production:  Sept 1- 3 at 7:30 pm and Matinees at 3 pm on Sept 3rd and 5th (Labor Day) at Payson High School auditorium, 1050 S. Main, Payson, Utah 84651.

Tickets are just $10. Purchase at the Box Office or online. Discount Codes may still be available online. Use “passalong” or “baker” for $1 off ticket price at www.paysoncommunitytheater.org website.

You may also purchase tickets at NAPA Auto Parts in Payson: 190 East 100 North, phone (801) 465-9268

Payson Community Theater is currently renovating the old Huish Theater in Payson to turn it into their permanent home. A lot of work has already been done on both the outside and inside of the venue. You can contribute to their dream by going to https://gofundme.com/27z6xzr9 . You may also go into any Central Bank location and contribute under the name of Huish PACE, or mail a check to Huish PACE, PO Box 351, Payson, Utah 84651. Huish PACE is a 501(3)(c) corporation, so all donations are tax deductible. Facebook: https:/facebook/huishpace. Website: https://huishpace.com

 

 

 

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