Next Stage’s Arabian Nights has Fun Times 1001!

arabian nightsBy Tracy Goertzen
“Once upon a time . . .” Four simple words with mesmerizing power.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful Arabic maiden named Scheherazade, who knew that the power of words could change a life—or save one. There was also a tormented Sultan who put his wife to death for her infidelity with a palace slave. Fearing to trust again, he would give each new bride only one night and then have her put to death in the morning. As the Sultan’s new bride, Scheherazade had one night to save her life. She used the power of words to weave a story so enthralling that when morning came, the Sultan could not bear to have her killed. Each night, for one thousand and one Arabian nights, Scheherazade told story after story to win the love and trust of the Sultan. Next Stage Productions, in collaboration with Clearfield High School, brings a new telling to Scheherazade’s tales in a charming original production, directed by Anthony Buck.

Told in a series of eight vignettes, the audience enters the world of Arabian Nights through the nightmares of the Sultan, who is haunted by the memory of his dead wife. Used as a means of exposition, the scene is meant to provide insights into the Sultan’s past and motives for his current actions. Although well executed by the ensemble, some key pieces of information were obscured and left me a bit puzzled as the story progressed.
As Scheherazade tells the Sultan her nightly tales of adventure, the stage comes alive with the stories of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, and Aladdin. Interwoven with these stories are the nightmares of the Sultan as he struggles to come to grips with his past, and the blossoming love story of Scheherazade and the Sultan.

The storytelling scenes are action-packed, entertaining romps. The cast employs a melodramatic tone that was hesitant and unsure in the Tale of Ali Baba, but by the Tale of Sinbad the tone was more rollicking and humorous. Ensemble standouts included Katie Stong, with a clever portrayal of Morgiana, the slave girl who saves Ali Baba’s life, and Justin Lee as a dashing and sardonic Sinbad. As Captain of Sindbad’s sailing ship, Brandon Garlick, provided some laugh-out-loud comic moments. Austin Burt was a captivating Aladdin and Phil Tuckett was outrageously evil as the sorcerer, Sakar. Elinor Smith shone onstage with her confident performance of Mahin, the genie of the ring.
Backed by a versatile and talented ensemble, Liz Christensen as Scheherazade and Eric Millward as the Sultan carried the leads admirably. They carefully developed the relationship of the characters as they transitioned from adversaries to friends to lovers. Although Millward relied too often on yelling to demonstrate anger, he was successful in creating a character that was sympathetic and believable.

Cleverly staged as a black box theatre on the Clearfield High School auditorium stage, the sets and lighting were instrumental in creating the world of the Arabian Nights. The set was minimal, which allowed the lighting and prop pieces to successfully create the worlds of Scheherazade, from the magical cave of wonders to a genie in a bottle. The costume design by Nita Smith was rich and colorful and added texture and opulence to the stories.

Dance choreography by Phil Tuckett was effective and well-integrated, and Justin Lee’s combat choreography was exciting and well executed by the ensemble. Unfortunately, the technical aspects of the production often outstripped a weaker script.

Next Stage Productions is a collaborative theatre company whose goal is to create original theatre works with quality production values. Cast members and the production team work together to build a dynamic and interactive creative process. Forming a partnership with Clearfield High School provides opportunities for alumni and current students to work together in producing entertaining and quality shows. This atmosphere is evident in the sense of fun and collaboration you feel in their productions.

Be aware that there is mild portrayal of violence that may be upsetting to small children. If you’re thinking you’ll need a sweater in an overly air-conditioned theatre, don’t worry. Dress in light clothes as the stage is not air-conditioned at all. Arabian Nights is family-friendly fun with modest ticket prices, so take the whole family.

Next Stage Productions is presenting Arabian Nights, an original play by Anthony Buck, Kellie Chapman, Liz Christensen, Justin Lee and Elinor Smith
Tickets: students and children $5, Adults $8 Tickets may be purchased in advance in the Clearfield High front office
Performances are August 27, 28, 29 and 31 at 7:30 PM with a matinee performance on August 29th at 2:00 PM
Performances at Clearfield High School Auditorium, 931 South 1000 East, Clearfield, UT, 84015
Email: info@nextstageproductions.org
http://www.nextstageproductions.org/arabiannights

Rocking out in a Hipster Haven: A Modern Midsummer Night’s Dream

-Review by Megan Graves

Sarah Butler and Dallin Halls as Hermia and Lysander

Sarah Butler and Dallin Halls as Hermia and Lysander

One of my favorite hidden places in Provo is the Castle Amphitheater, so I was excited to see a show there. It has a beautiful view and feels a bit like you’ve been transported back to earlier times, with its quaint turrets, thick rock walls, and tall stone seats. Even though I’d been to the castle before, it was a little tricky to find. But they do have signs directing the way, and since the characters in the play spend most of their time in the forest (or in this modern adaptation, in Central Park), I felt a bit like I was a part of the play while I made my way through the small groves of trees to find the castle.

 

Music and Magic

Sarai Davila and Archie Crisanto sing with fireworks in the background.

Sarai Davila and Archie Crisanto sing with fireworks in the background.

The play starts out with high energy at a rock concert by “The Duke” Theseus (Archibald Crisanto), in Hipster-era New York. Many of the actors, humans and fairies alike, surprised us by coming out of the audience after the concert as they joined the scene, which was very clever staging, making it more interactive with the audience.

Crisanto entertains with tunes from his guitar throughout the play, singing with his character’s fiancé Hippolyta (Sarai Davila), whose wedding both human and fairy characters come together to celebrate at the end of the play. At one point, when Crisanto and Davila started singing “Stars shining bright above you…” someone in Provo set off fireworks in the distance, and it was almost magical timing, or like a fairy’s doing.

Fairies dancing at a New York club - one of the clever modernizations of this version

Fairies dancing at a New York club while “google geeks” rehearse a play- two of the clever modernizations of this version

The creativity of music in the show and the mixture of modern songs with old lyrics was one of the major highlights of this particular theater company’s portrayal. Instead of just speaking Shakespeare’s famous ballads from this play, the cast sang the poetic words along to popular tunes instead, like when the fairy attendants (Esther Pielstick, Stacy Wilk, Mccall Iorg, and Sierra Docken – who was a great soloist, by the way) sang their Queen Titania (Peggy Matheson) to sleep with the rock song “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics.

Fairies and Fortune

Puck (Carter Peterson) giving a sword to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz).

Puck (Carter Peterson) giving a sword to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz).

One thing that might take you aback about the fairies in this particular portrayal is that they are truly mischievous and try to influence behaviors, not just by confusing the four human lovers or by changing a silly man’s head to a donkey (which led of course to many funny Shakespearean puns), but also by controlling movement at times or putting swords in their hands, etc.. I thought this was an interesting choice by the director Kathy Biesinger Curtiss and the actors, and this and other plot twists in the play prompted consideration of the question…how much of our lives is fate, how much is interference by another power, how much is choice, or how much is luck?

Midsummer Mischief: Audience Interaction

Puck (Carter Peterson) mimicking one of the audience members behind him.

Puck (Carter Peterson) mimicking one of the audience members behind him.

As the biggest fairy mischief-maker – who causes the lovers’ confusions and dilemmas in the play – Robin Goodfellow/ Puck (Carter Peterson) has great stage presence and physical comedy that commands the audience’s attention, as well as a no-holds-barred approach when he rocks out and dances to scene transition music, etc. He and other actors in the play, such as Oberon (Rick Macy) and Thisby (Bradley __) in particular, interacted in fun ways with people in the audience, whether it was mimicking the way audience members were sitting or discussing their character’s dilemma to the audience directly.

Walls to Love and Room for Laughter 

Dane Allred in a stand-out performance as "The Wall"

Dane Allred in a stand-out performance as “The Wall”

While the rest of the play was engaging and entertaining, I have to say the best and most hilarious parts for me were 1) when the characters Helena (Kat Webb), Hermia (Sarah Butler), Lysander (Dallin Halls), and Demetrius (Patrick Kintz) are in a confusing mix of two love triangles and crack the audience up with believable and varied stage combat choreography, and 2) when the silly “google geeks” and “1st time actors” over-acted their parts with hysterical voices and made the audience laugh over and over, especially with Dane Allred’s portrayal of the Wall and Thisby’s (Bradley _) acting in drag. Their “play within a play” seemed to be scripted by Shakespeare as a satire of his own tragic Romeo & Juliet, and these players stole the show with their dramatic deaths, screams, mess-ups, and sometimes minion-like voices.

A surprisingly hilarious rendition of Romeo & Juliet in the middle of the play.

A surprisingly hilarious rendition of Romeo & Juliet in the middle of the play.

Previously, when I had read the play out loud with my sister, or studied the play in class, or even seen it performed professionally, I hadn’t seen the hilariousness or significance these seemingly minor characters were capable of, so I was super impressed at how they kept the audience laughing at their antics. I was told they do some different funny thing every night of the show!

Overall, this production of a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was so good I would see it again, even just to get more friends to see Shakespeare’s comedy portrayed so well and creatively, and to share a laugh with you.

Educational Entertainment for Adults and Children Alike

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Oberon (Rick Macy) justifying his antics to the audience.

Some people are hesitant to go to Shakespeare plays because the old English can make them hard to understand, but with excellent actors – who know the intent and meaning of their lines, and portray their character’s purpose deliberately and with confidence – the plays can be a pure joy to watch, and that was the case here. If you are not familiar with the plot of a Midsummer Night’s Dream yet, it doesn’t matter! Even the children in the audience were cracking up at the on-stage antics and listening intently to the actors. After the play ended my friends and I were still laughing about some of the scenes and discussing Shakespeare’s poignant references to unrequited love, such as Helena’s line in Act II, Scene 1, line 613 when Demetrius refuses her entreaties to come back and love her again:
Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius!
Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:
We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
We should be wood and were not made to woo.

In this play as well as in others, Shakespeare seems more progressive and succinct in portraying women’s plights and cultural inequalities than today’s pundits on the subject.

Character Complexities & Backstories

Helena (Kat Webb) listening to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz) try to woo her.

Helena (Kat Webb) listening to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz) try to woo her.

Helena & Hermia: In my opinion, Helena’s character is the most complex in the show, and Kat Webb did an excellent job of portraying the heartache, longing, and confusion of her character when the man who broke up with her and said he loved another woman suddenly changes his tune and wants to marry her. However she doesn’t portray Helena just as an insecure person; she seems to portray her as someone who knows her worth and therefore fights for the person that she loves and who had loved her previously. The director, Kathy Biesinger Curtiss, said: “Helena is often portrayed as really pathetic – oh woe is me, nobody likes me, etc. – and we think it’s just not a modern idea… Instead, I cast [Kat] in particular so [the character Helena] would have backbone, strength, and really represent the women of today. All that exploration of love in the middle section where [the two male leads] are fighting over [Helena] instead, I think we take that seriously…because this woman [Helena] has a lot of value. So [Kat] plays it very modern, the way she uses the modern language, and the way she steps up and plays a powerful woman.” Helena’s character (and Kat’s portrayal of her) is extremely relatable to those who have felt the pangs and desperation of unrequited love and who strive to achieve their goals despite their insecurities.

The Queen Fairy Titania wooing "Bottom" despite his Donkey head.

The Queen Fairy Titania wooing “Bottom” (Ben Hopkin) despite his Donkey head.

The part that I was disappointed by was Shakespeare’s lack of lines for Helena and Demetrius in the closing of the play to show more resolution, and his leaving us wondering whether Demetrius is actually really in love with Helena at the end or if he’s still just under the fairy’s spell. Even if the fairies help open the eyes to people you truly love, then there’s an inconsistency in the plot, because Titania falls in love with Bottom (a stranger and half-man half-donkey) because of Puck’s flower potion. If it was intentionally left unresolved, then it leaves us wondering if the character of Helena is actually following a false hope, which thought diminishes the strong feminist lines she had earlier. Anyway, the point is, though the actors did an excellent job, we left feeling like this part of the plot was unresolved or slightly disappointing, and dare I say this is mostly Shakespeare’s fault.

Helena, Demetrius, Lysander, and Hermia mixed up in intersecting love triangles while Puck and Oberon look on.

Helena, Demetrius, Lysander, and Hermia mixed up in intersecting love triangles while Puck and Oberon look on.

Hermia also experiences unrequited love for a much shorter length of time (not intended as a joke about the character’s height, by the way, like the bard would do), ;-) and Sarah Butler portrays that sudden confusion and despair of refused love extremely well, even with those scenes being mostly comedic. Speaking of which, Butler’s stage combat dives in those scenes were awesome, and her sitting on Lysander’s foot and refusing to let go was hilarious.

Oberon & Titania: Another interesting artistic choice was the portrayal of Oberon and Titania’s relationship. They start out treating each other like a separated couple barely tolerating each other’s presence when they’re together, and then gradually seem to realize throughout their interactions and the purposeful confusions of the play that they miss each other’s company. I thought this emotional distance and then ensuing gradual realization was excellently portrayed by the actors. The fault I saw was actually in Shakespeare’s too truncated resolution of the couple’s original stated conflict in the script; the original reason for their squabble is resolved somehow off stage and barely gets a mention from Oberon.

The couples reunited and Puck giving his closing monologue.

The couples reunited and Puck giving his closing monologue.

Colorful Costumes & a Star-studded Set

I loved the hipster, rocker personas that the characters chose and which were emphasized by their costumes. However, of all the costumes in the play, the fairy costumes fit their characters’ names and personalities the best. Oberon, the dark fairy king, has punk rock eyeliner on and dark feathers on his shoulders. Titania wears a colorful peacock cape, while her fairy attendants all have creative details on their costumes that help you remember their names: Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed. One audience member, Carrie Cox, who had directed this play previously, thought the play and the costumes were great, but mentioned that it would be nice to have something unifying in the four fairies’ costumes or makeup, etc. to signify they were all Titania’s attendants. All the fairies definitely seemed to have unique personalities, though, which made their characters more interesting than they typically could be portrayed.

Fairies guarding Queen Titania (Peggy Matheson) as she sleeps.

Fairies guarding Queen Titania (Peggy Matheson) as she sleeps.

The natural outdoor theater background of a sunset and stars, the amphitheater’s castle walls and turrets, and the huge trees helped make the perfect authentic set for a “midsummer’s night,” so there wasn’t much need to add anything else to the set. Other than the paintings of flowers (which seemed a little oddly placed at the top of wooden beams), and weren’t really necessary because of the natural scenic background, the props and set they did use were simple and appropriate, and didn’t detract from the crux of the play.

Critiques

Because the performance was so enjoyable and well played, and mistakes were minimal and could probably have been fixed by now, I hesitate to present any possible semblance of “flouting [any] insufficiencies,” but there were a few small things I (and others) noticed. The donkey head is a difficult costume to make work, and they did a clever job by making it out of cloth just surrounding the actor’s face. However, after Oberon changed back Bottom’s donkey head into his human head again, the donkey head was left on the stage throughout the entire next scene or two, and it was distracting us with the question of whether it was intentional to leave it or not. Sometimes in certain scenes the fairies seemed to be wandering around without purpose, or trying to manipulate the other characters by their arm movements but with nothing happening as a result, especially in the argument scene, so that was a little confusing and distracting.

The stage combat was clever, believable, and funny, but in one or two scenes the constant movement and struggle to the side made it more difficult to either hear the actors’ lines, or to know who exactly they were talking to, because the other actors were constantly moving in that scene and they didn’t always address each other specifically. Lastly, some actors had accents, and while it lent very well to the diversity of background of the characters, the accents were also inconsistent at times, used in one line but not in another.

Thoughts Overall

The other players watch the play within the play. Excellent entertainment!

The other players watch the play within the play. Excellent entertainment! All the players were great, and Kristin Perkins shined as the “light of the moon and stars” in the hilarious parody.

Overall, the most difficult part of performing Shakespeare was achieved very well – the actors obviously had a backstory, knew the intent and meaning of everything they said, and portrayed it very well to a mixed audience of Shakespeare newbies and aficionados, to make for a pleasant and thought-provoking night of entertainment. It sparked laughter, contemplation, and lively discussions. I highly recommend you go.

Sensitivity rating: When the character Bottom is turned into a donkey, he calls himself an a** a few times. It’s a common word in Shakespeare’s plays that I think is spoken in a hilariously clever way in this play, as well as a common name for a donkey in that time period, but some of you might not want your kids to hear that word. Some of the costumes are rock/punk style with mini skirts, etc., but the actors still kept it appropriate.

Performance Details For When You Go:
Where: Historic Castle Amphitheater, 1300 E. Center St., Provo (behind the State Hospital building).
When: Saturday, Aug. 8, at 8pm, and Sept. 10 – 12, 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $7, $5 for seniors, $20 for family pass, $25 for group rate (up to 4 people) and can be bought on this website:  http://smithstix.com/…/venue/castle-amphitheater/venue/16729 
Info: (801) 344-4400, esc_arts@hotmail.com
Other Things to Know: The seats are literally rock hard, so bring a chair to sit in and/or blankets so you can be comfortable. They sell a great variety of concessions for a very reasonable price. Head East on Center Street till the end, then follow the signs to the parking lot just North of the State Hospital.

***Megan Graves has directed, produced, written, and performed in various community plays in Utah (http://www.singforsomething.org/), and also enjoys being a freelance arts critic. She particularly loves watching and performing in Shakespeare plays and in musicals, and is grateful for the chance she had to study and critique theatrical performances in London for 7 weeks in an undergrad theater program at BYU.

Crazy About The SCERA’S Crazy for You

cfy1By Joel Applegate

The Summer of 2015 provided the perfect night for opening a delightful musical under a blue, blue moon. SCERA Shell’s outdoor production of Crazy For You, directed by Jerry Elison, is a pastiche of Gershwin favorites specifically chosen to make a plot work. But who cares about a plot when you’ve got nineteen back-to-back Gershwin favorites to listen to and a platoon of chorus girls?

Think Gershwin, and you probably think New York – or the hoi-polloi of Eastern literati. On the SCERA’s big stage, Nat Reed’s set evokes classic New York sophistication; a stroll down Broadway and 42nd Street. We find ourselves in a story that takes place during the 1930’s, one of the most fertile eras of American Theatre – led by the glorious Gershwin’s.

But wait! We’re not in New York. We’re in – Nevada? Crazy for You is Ken Ludwig’s clever brainchild incorporating classic 1930’s Gershwin standards into the Tony Award winning Best Musical of 1992. Ludwig wrote the book, and the script is very witty with way more of a plot here than you might expect. Sure, it’s a little corny; Boy meets girl; girl hates boy; boy disguises himself; girl falls in love with disguise – oh, never mind.

Bobby just wants to dance, preferably in New York. But his fate and his bank inheritance depend upon the mortgage of the old Gaiety Theatre out West in Deadrock, Nevada (no such place; I already looked.) You see, Bobby’s mommy, who owns the bank, wants to foreclose on the theatre, and she wants Bobby to man up and be the villain.

So we’re off on a cross-country road trip of song and dance! Things turn out differently for Bobby when he gets to Deadrock. First, he falls in love with Polly at first sight, and decides if he can’t dance his heart out in New York, he’ll make do with an old run-down theatre: The Gaiety – now converted into a post office. But Polly and her Dad won’t let the old palace go without a fight. They fight back with – what else? – song and dance! In the best tradition of Hollywood cheese, Polly and the now disguised Bobby decide the best way to save the theatre is to “put on a show!” with a tip-o-the-hat to Mickey Rooney.

There’s plenty of Cowboys on hand – and Follies Girls to talk them into auditioning – and it’s all hands on deck. The denizens of the town of Deadrock are a spectacle in front of a set doing double-duty rotating from drab New York to the colorful landscape of the West – the best achievement of Reed’s design. The set changes are integrated into the action, and I’ll refrain here from giving away the visual surprises.

Director Jerry Elison and the production crew pay tribute to the spirit of Golden Age Broadway in so many ways, with the staging, the costumes, the dancing and the pacing. A taxi pulls on stage and before you know it, 19 – count’em! – 19 chorus girls burst out of it singing and high stepping. There’s hardly a dull moment in two and a half hours.

cfy2

Deborah Bowman’s costumes exhibit a pleasing variety of style and interest. The chorus line is cleverly and cutely outfitted, a delightfully designed mash-up of old Burlesque, slyly accented with nods to the western plaid.

There are some HUGE numbers in Crazy For You to choreograph, and SCERA clearly made a wonderful choice with choreographer, Sam Alva. This is a highly energetic cast and crew – THIRTY tap dancers all dancing in sync is a massive accomplishment. It might not seem so on paper, but to watch it happening is like watching a giant engine of many gears working perfectly. It’s rather amazing and you won’t be able to look away. This took a LOT of good old fashioned work to accomplish, deserving of hearty applause. “Slap That Bass” was among my favorites of the night.

Meanwhile, back on the buckboards with Bobby and Polly, their romance is inevitable, no matter how much they annoy each other. As Bobby, Christopher Gallacher has obvious chops as a trained dancer. He’s a great tapper and his jete ain’t too shabby neither – for a city slicker. Gallacher’s voice is clear and good – we don’t miss a single word. T’Naiha Ellis brings our Polly to life with a confident belt when she’s showing who’s the boss. There’s a beautiful clarity to her voice in “Someone To Watch Over Me.” A pas-de-deux with some sweet moves brings Polly and Bobby together: the dance number that starts the romance.

Our two protagonists, Michael DuBois as Bella Zangler in New York and Tyler Scott Mitchell as Lank in Deadrock, are both won over by the end. (It IS a musical, folks.) Lank’s clumsy attempts to win Polly’s hand (and take over her theatre!) lack finesse, but not humor. Dubois has a truly fine voice, and he commiserates with Bobby in a number that is an act in itself, combining some tricky business in a well-blended, over-the-top, and drunken duet.

Julia Sanchez plays the jilted and clingy Irene. Once freed of her engagement, Sanchez has a chance to show her true colors; a beautiful smooth tone on “Naughty Baby.” She might have dared to insinuate even more.

The Cowboy Trio composed of Neil Ellsworth, Max Sneary and Andrew Walsh, lives up the harmonies the Gershwins crafted. It’s great music to listen to – sure wish we could have heard them more.

As A Chorus Line so famously reminds us, the core of any musical is the company. Crazy For You’s chorus filled the entire stage with well-coordinated action. You can bet a lot of hours went in to their performances. Some of the troop stood out, not least of whom was Jasmine Petrell as Tess, assistant to the impresario Mr. Zangler. She was out front on most big numbers and took the lead with confidence and a smile as big as the West.

You simply can’t lose with the Gershwins. Together, George and Ira wrote American tunes that are among the most beloved – and hummable – in the lexicon.

Crazy For You
Scera Shell Outdoor Theatre – 699 S. State St., Orem, Utah (East of the Scera Pools)
~ July 31 – Aug 15, 2015; Mon, Thur, Fri, Sat at 8:00 PM ~
General Admission: Adults: $12 Children & Seniors $10 [Children: Ages 3 – 11]
Reserved Seating, Section B: Adults: $14 Children & Seniors $12 [Seniors: 65+]
Reserved Seating, Section A: Adults: $16 Children & Seniors $14
www.scera.org Phone 801-225-ARTS (2787)

Note: Crazy For You is two and a half hours long. You may want a light jacket or blanket by the end of the night. You can rent a seat for a dollar in certain areas of the amphitheater, and there’s lots of room on the grass. On Opening Night there were plenty of empty seats up front, and it’s worth the little extra you pay to be close. There’s a lot to see here and it’s more rewarding to watch the principal roles interact with each other. You will definitely enjoy the show more.

 

Apline Community Theater’s Mary Poppins is Practically Perfect in Every Way

mary-poppins-01By Deven Skaggs

I had the opportunity to be treated by Alpine Community Theater as they presented Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins in the beautiful Covey Center for the Arts in Provo.

The story begins with the Banks family which lives in London on Cherry Lane, and things are not going well for them. With an angry and aloof father, a heartbroken mother, and two ill-behaved children it seems the household is falling apart. But when a mysterious woman named Mary Poppins appears at their doorstep, the family finds that she’s the answer to their prayers, but in the most peculiar way. Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical adventures involving singing and dancing statues, talking toys, and of course all the toe-tapping tunes we remember from the classic Disney film.

Sarah Ogden graced the stage majestically as the whimsical nanny who flew in from the east. From the moment she stepped on stage I knew she would not disappoint. Throughout the show she gave a lovely performance, full of the whit, sass, and cheeky personality that the audience expects and loves from this practically perfect nanny. Although Ogden played the part well, I would have loved to see the depth of some of Mary’s decisions. Ogden’s performance was a bit emotionally aloof. Also, as well as Ogden did in the role she still couldn’t discount the fact that she didn’t fly. Let me repeat myself. During the entirety of the show, Mary Poppins didn’t leave the ground. To say I was disappointed in that would be gracious.

Opposite Ogden, in the iconic role of Bert, was Jonathan Snyder. Snyder’s boyish face and happy demeanor played well as charming, but he seemed a bit young and inexperienced for Bert. However, his wonderful voice and strong acting choices were a delight to watch and Snyder and Ogden played off of each other very well. Snyder also had the additional challenge of speaking with a Cockney accent (one of the hardest to perform if you ask me.) Although this was clearly a struggle for him, his energy and enthusiasm carried the role.

mary-poppins-02In the roles of Jane and Michael Banks were Allyssa Shar Buckner and Asher Reynolds. These children stole the show! Both of them were constantly engaged in what was happening around them, full of energy and life, and really connected with the rest of the cast on stage. These kids captured the hearts of the audience and took us for a beautiful and emotional ride. These kids are stars on the rise!

Mr. Banks was wonderfully played by Andrew Lambert. Lambert is the only principle actor who is not double cast, and it’s not hard to see why. His strong character and demanding stage presence aided him well as he portrayed the stubborn father. At first glance he looked young and ill fitted for the role, but his ability to command the stage won me over. The journey Lambert took us on was one of many emotions and at the end touched the hearts of all in the audience.

Mrs. Banks was played by Neena Warburton who has a stunning singing voice and glided about the stage beautifully. She is also young and at times she seemed out of place in the motherly role. However, Warburton’s performance made it impossible for me to have ill feelings toward Mrs. Banks. Her performance was obviously heartfelt, which made “Being Mrs. Banks” a very moving song.

The show was directed by Laura Snyder and it was clear the whole way through that she had a vision for this show. I really appreciated that Snyder gave us nods to the Disney film such as costumes, props, and sets that were easily recognizable.

Another one of Snyder’s directorial decisions was to have ensemble members run through the audience in two different spots in the show. I was very confused during “Let’s go Fly a Kite” because the ensemble had no business being in the audience and they distracted from the more important action happening on the stage. In contrast, having the ensemble run amok in the audience as chimney sweeps during the “Step in Time” playoff was genius, fun, exciting, and engaging.

Throughout the show I couldn’t help feeling that the choreography lacked consistent movement choices and styles (probably due to having a total of five choreographers and three dance assistants). I was never sure what to expect with each number, but there were moments of beauty and true entertainment and the cast performed it full out and was a joy to watch.

mary-poppins-03The sets for the show, designed by Daniel James, were wonderfully crafted. I was floored with each new location we ventured into. The colors, patterns, and styles were stunning and aided very well in telling the story.

Pair these sets with the costumes and you have a spectacle for the eyes. From the statues in the park, the ensembles’ plethora of colors and patterns, to Mary’s iconic dresses, Amanda Burke’s costume design was a job well done! All of this under a lighting design by Pam Davis made for a night full of incredibly beautiful visuals.

The scene changes were long and distracting, and jarred me out of the wonderful world the actors were working so hard to create.

Overall, I would gladly recommend this show to anyone wanting to have a truly fun and magical evening at the theater. But you must act quickly! The show only runs until August 15th and tickets are selling fast. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy this beautiful story that is practically perfect in every way.

Please Note: The show is double cast, separated into the “Red” and “Blue” casts. The show I enjoyed was performed by the blue cast.

LOCATION:
Performances will be at the Covey Center for the Arts at 425 W. Center Street, Provo, Utah.

DATES:
July 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, August 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15
All shows begin at 7:30PM.

PRICING:
$12 Adults
$10 Students, Seniors and Children (2+)

Tickets are for reserved seating and can be purchased online, by phone or at the door.  More information can be found at alpinecommunitytheater.org.

Sundance’s Wizard is Wonder-ful!

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By Marnie Thomas

I would hazard a guess that there are very few people who have not seen The Wizard of Oz on film. It is a classic. I remember being terrified of the flying monkeys whenever the yearly television showing would come around. Still, I loved it. Who would not love a sweet, sincere girl and her loving family and her bumbling but affectionate friends?

Going up to Sundance to attend a show is always an inspiring event. Driving into the mountains, parking and then making our way up to the beautiful amphitheater just adds to the excitement of the evening. The trees, the cool evening air and the anticipation make for an enchanting evening.

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The initial set, like in the movie, is stark and colorless. Even the costumes are subdued. We are in Kansas. If you have ever driven through miles and miles of cornfields, you know what I mean. Hannah Pyper’s Dorothy gives a pleasant rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and all the singing is well performed—thanks to the music director Korianne Johnson. Dorothy wants to be happy—but how can she with the evil Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch (Kim Abunuwara) making her life a misery? Abunuwara’s performance reveals a suitably nasty villain. Dorothy and Toto (played by the adorable “Marvel”) pack up and head away from home. Soon after, they meet the very amusing Professor Marvel (Tyrell Clement.) This character was a standout for me. He played the character with a sort of innocent charm. Coupled with the excellent costume, hair and makeup design (Nancy Susan Cannon, Carla Summers, Janell Turley), the whole package made for and endearing performance. As Dorothy leaves the gypsy camp, a twister blows in—and we are transported to Oz.

There were a lot of clever tricks and devices used to create the illusion of a tornado and to transform Kansas into the land of Oz. The ensemble does an impressive job of performing a myriad of characters, from the Munchkins to apple trees to a field of poppies—and many more. The set is almost constantly moving. The stage hands most certainly get a good workout making things run smoothly. Kudos to director, Laurie Harrop Purser and to choreographer Addison Welch and to technical director Daniel Whiting.

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As the performance went on, the energy of the actors only got stronger. Their characters seemed to bloom with each new scene. Their voices became fuller and their movements more vigorous. I think having a responsive and appreciative audience only added to that.

Cleveland McKay Nicoll, Maxwell Higbee and Wade Robert Johnson play the Scarecrow, Timan and Cowardly Lion with warmth and emotion. We particularly appreciated Nicoll’s fine voice, Higbee’s sincerity and Johnson’s comedic style. They were the perfect trio to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City.

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Korianne Orton-Johnson and Reese Purser are well-cast as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. However, they really shine in their roles as Glinda and the City Guard. They both display humor and concern for Dorothy and her compatriots. This is in great contrast to the wicked and unfeeling Miss Gulch/Wicked With of the West. Tyrell Clement’s performance as the Wizard continues in the same vein as his performance as Professor Marvel.

There was a lot of flying in this musical. All that aerial activity went off without a hitch. So much goes into creating a performance like this. There is so much technical expertise and creative talent in all areas. All the artistic and production staff are to be commended for their excellent work.

You can see The Wizard of Oz at Sundance on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM through August 15th.

For more information, go to the website:

http://www.sundanceresort.com/summer-theatre-en.html

 

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Spanish Fork’s Tarzan is Wildly Wonderful

tarzan5.gifBy Joel Applegate

From the first visual of Spanish Fork Community Theatre’s Tarzan – a beautiful projection of a fully-rigged ship tossed toward Africa on the waves – the audience knows they are in for a sumptuous journey of sight and sound.

tarzan4A beautifully crafted and mounted production, Disney’s animated film blossoms on the stage under the direction of Cami and Ken Jensen at Spanish Fork High School. With set by Ken Jensen, costumes by Larisa Hicken and Mareen Robinson, and makeup design by Fawn and David Christopher, this is an ambitious undertaking that hits all the marks.

The cast is a great ensemble of characters, from the perfect pairing of soprano Shannon Eden as Jane to Richie Trimble’s muscular Tarzan, to David Henry’s lumbering alpha male, Kerchak, and Vanessa Leazenby’s motherly Kala, everything works.

This is a family affair about love and connections. In fact, whole families from the community are cast in this production, adding atmosphere and interest to every moment on stage. Half the cast does double-duty in performance and crew, making costumes, building the gorgeous set and contributing to hair and make-up.

tarzan2Ginger Christopher’s choreography is sharp and makes sense uniting a large troop of gorillas in well thought-out movements. And that’s to say nothing of the aerial work! Thrilling to watch, the stagecraft is well executed whether it’s Tarzan or Jane swinging in on their entrances or the hold-your-breath acrobatics of Natalie Jackman’s silks. The musical direction under Brooklyn Gabbitas uses the orchestral track in a great balance with the live vocals. Although I wondered why the whole chorus didn’t chime in on the opening number, nevertheless, the solo voice during the opening was very well performed by Jason Gabbitas.

When in the jungle, expect to hear jungle sounds; expect to see the jungle move. The ensemble cast makes the crouch position seem natural. The credit for natural movement – without being distracting or cartoonish – goes to the Ms. Christopher. I must commend the young apes and even the toddler apes, too, on the discipline it took to stay focused and in character throughout the two-act production. Chelsea Kennedy’s leopard is lithe and lethal, slinking around in a beautiful costume. I think this animal world could have been a little more vocal during key scene moments, but their roles are clear.

tarzan-03The lead characters had it all going on. Although we don’t see Jane until later in the first act, Shannon Eden’s entrance is jaw-dropping. What a beautiful voice! It was matched by a lush set she explored festooned with flora and fauna, a rainbow display of set decoration and costume. When she meets Richie Trimble’s grown-up Tarzan, romance is on the ground and in the air. Trimble’s take on Tarzan is both bold and exploratory, containing as much thought as muscle. He’s the whole package. Eden’s and Trimble’s voices blend very well – the best songs of the night.

David Henry’s first entrance on a swinging vine as Kerchak, the gorilla troop’s leader, takes him all the way across the stage giving the audience its first gasp of the night. Henry’s baritone is both smooth and emotional, giving Kerchak a palpable gravitas. As his mate, Kala, Vanessa Leazenby’s mellifluous alto is very pleasant for the ears, though her mic should have been bumped up a little louder.

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Deven Skaggs as Terk is Tarzan’s childhood friend. Skagg’s off-the-cuff performance is a great balance to Tarzan. His character struck me as a hip anachronism, but it still played well. He is an important touchstone in this play, because next to Kala, Terk is Tarzan’s tie to family and tribe.

Rounding out the named characters, Bryan Cardoza as Mr. Porter proved an endearing Daddy to Jane. Their duet was a compliment to each. Jacob Keele as our villain, the smarmy Clayton, brought treachery to his work. Though I found him more officious than threatening, he had a business-like focus on his payday.

Finally, high fives to the younger members of the cast that had solos: Connor Phillps as Young Tarzan and Elise Claire Jones as Young Terk.

tarzan1This play is about finding family. Tarzan finds his. I hope you find time to take your family to this not-to-be-missed, beautiful production. Adults will recognize the message and the kids will be wowed. It’s a great tribute to Pioneer Day and appropriate for your family, too.

Spanish Fork Community Theater

July 16 – 18, 20, 23, 25 and 27 at 7:00 pm; Matinee Only on July 24 at 4:00 pm

www.sfctonline.org ~ davidhenry79@gmail.com or purchase at the Box Office

$10 Adults; $8 Students and Seniors; $6 for Children under 12.

At Spanish Fork High School Auditorium, 99 North 300 West (& Center), Spanish Fork, Utah

Photography by Kara Hicken, Kerry Keith Murdock, and Ring Lite Photography.

 

 

Midvale’s “Once Upon A Mattress” Production takes you back to the 1300s with the Musical Adaptation of the Princess & the Pea

-Reviewed by Megan Graves

Considering the huge popularity of the TV series Once Upon a Time, with its backstories of famous fairy tale characters, Midvale Art Council made a well-timed choice in producing the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” this summer. Though the plot isn’t quite obvious from the title, the play is a creative and hysterical musical retelling of the “true story” of the Princess and the Pea. I had already seen another production of this musical a few years ago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the characterizations, talent, and energy exhibited by the Midvale cast in this particular production. You and your family will surely enjoy the unique portrayal of the characters in the classic fairy tale, along with the inventive backstories for those characters.

Creative set and costumes

Creative set and costumes

 Reviews by Kids

Perhaps the best indication of whether this is a play that your whole family will enjoy is the positive reviews given by children who attended the play itself, and the fact that they were quoting specific lines from the play afterwards, for example “She swam the moat!? Is that all she ever says?!! – She swam the moat!?!” (said by Princess Winnifred, quoting Queen Aggravain, her possible future mother-in-law).

Grace Barlow (9), from Spanish Fork who watched the play, said “I liked the Princess [Winnifred]. The funniest part was when she was trying to sleep.”

Her brother Sam Barlow (12) chimed in and said, “It was so funny! I liked the king (Kevin Gwynn) and his impressions of the queen (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn). The prince (Tanner Tate) was funny. I liked his voice. And the funniest part was when the prince kisses [Winnifred] and he goes ‘Woooo!’ Another funny part was when the princess was talking to the bird [while she was trying to sleep] and she was like ‘Shhh!’”once upon a mattress cast

Superb Acting by the Supporting Cast

Nephi Barlow (12) said, “I think they chose the cast well; I think they chose the right people for their parts.” I completely agree. The supporting cast was full of excellent actors, especially the kids! All the actors were more than just extras on the stage; they had personality the whole time and were involved in what was happening even if they did not have speaking parts. Audiences don’t just watch the main characters, thus the cast’s enthusiasm made the play much more enjoyable to watch. They made use of levels as well, using the stage steps, etc., so that the different cast personalities could shine even more. It was adorable when the kids were dancing and when they ‘fell asleep’ on the stage steps. A few kids in the audience said that they loved that children were in the play, and they thought they did an excellent job. Having been a music teacher for eight years, I was impressed at how well the littler children had memorized the song lyrics for their musical numbers!

The little children in the play were especially adorable.

The little children in the play were especially adorable.

From the lead roles, there were some super standout vocal performances by Lady Larkin (Allison Klippel) and Princess Winnifred (Alyssa Koontz). Their voices were both pleasant to listen to and fitting to their characters’ personalities. The Jester (Matthew Maag) also sang well. Though his solo song seems to be a completely random part of the play, kind of like the song “Put on a Happy Face” in the musical “Bye,Bye, Birdie,” he pulled it off well. It’s not always easy to act out the character everyone fears, but Queen Aggravain (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn) lived up to her name and definitely portrayed the hawkish mother-type well. Princess Winnifred and Prince Dauntless (Tanner Tate) had great onstage chemistry, especially in the song “Happily Ever After.”

My personal favorite little bit of creativity added to the play was when the Wizard character said “Lumos!” as he entered the stage in one scene. It drew quite a few laughs from Harry Potter fans, and showed the actor knew his audience!

Stephanie Chatterton, the director, described the essence of Community Theater and the benefits of the actors working together when she said after the show, “To me the production is the icing on the cake. It’s the cherry on top. It’s really about the camaraderie that they get – it’s about the experiences they have during the rehearsal process. As they go from being scared to death at auditions or coming in with expectations at auditions, to going through and ending up being like a family by the time they’re done.  They’ll love each other and miss each other because they’ve grown together as a cast. They’ve worked together, they’ve sacrificed together, they’ve developed their characters together, and every single one of them has a backstory. So to me, that’s why we do Community Theater. It’s not about putting on a Broadway production; it’s about the people that are involved with it.” From the production that we saw, it was obvious that was true and that the cast and the audience were all having a wonderful time and experiencing the joy of live, true community theater.

Some of the actors were all tuckered out.

Some of the littlest actors were all tuckered out.

 Great Set Design, Costumes, and Choreography

Though the set and props were sparse and simple, they were time-period appropriate and effective. It is no small feat to build a 20-mattress-high moving bed. The minstrel had an authentic old mandolin, and other props were period-appropriate as well. The costumes were varied and colorful, and went together well when the whole cast was on stage. The leaves in the Swamp Princess Winnifred’s hair were a nice added touch as well.

The choreographed dance numbers with the cast were lively and fun, though the ballet opening number was an interesting artistic choice. We were worried at first the whole play might be ballet, but it wasn’t. You might learn a fun new creative line dance or two from the cast, though, so be prepared!once upon a mattress cast 2

 Pleasant Setting Overall

The performance was in a beautiful park, with tall trees by the stage, and everything you need for a pleasant night out. We brought a picnic dinner because we didn’t know the food trucks would be there (yum!), but we did take advantage of the candy concessions at the ticket table for dessert. We brought blankets which were great to have near the end of the play as it got colder, and though we were fine, it probably would have been good to bring chairs as well. Also, there is a bathroom right by the parking lot, so no worries in that regard.

Be advised, make sure to get a spot where you can easily see the center of the stage. (*Spoiler alert: What some of us in the audience did miss was the pulling out of a bunch of ragtag random items from under the princess’s bed; we were looking forward to seeing the crazy items put there to help keep her awake but we couldn’t see because we weren’t facing the center of the stage, and it didn’t look like anything too odd was under the bed either, but the kids in the audience still found that scene to be hilarious!)

The show plays in Midvale Park Stage tomorrow, June 17, and Saturday, June 18, and starts at 7:30pm, so if you are in the area, here are more details: http://www.nowplayingutah.com/event/detail/441927265/Once_Upon_a_Mattress

 

Sensitivity and Appropriateness Rating

I must say — though the community theater actors did a great job on their production and it was enjoyable to watch, and I support community theater, including this one, wholeheartedly — that the script of this play might shock and offend some patrons, because of the words G-d and h_ll, and some sexual innuendos being spoken in various parts of the play, as well as the 1300s-like chauvinist language and acts portrayed on stage. Though some children might be oblivious to the following, some sexist language and behavior is the unfortunate bane, dare I say plague, of some older musicals, including this one. Let’s just say it is not surprising this play was written in 1959. An example of this is when Sir Harry finds out Lady Larkin is pregnant and says: “We don’t have to both suffer because YOU had a moment of weakness.” The only saving grace is that he’s saying it before he goes on a quest so they can get married sooner. He also partly saves his character’s reputation later by saying in his apology to Lady Larkin that “[he] was out of [his] mind” after he was cavorting with other women, but it’s a weak apology at best.

I was particularly shocked, though, especially when thinking about it more afterwards, at the behavior of the married King in the play (flirting with and even goosing other women, etc.) and what seemed like the acceptance/ excusing of such behavior by some members of the court that I saw on stage. This was an artistic choice by the people involved, as it was not written in the script. 

The only redeeming quality of seeing and hearing these sometimes shocking things portrayed on stage is the knowledge that at least our civilization has improved since the 1300s, though 600+ years apparently didn’t improve it quite well enough (as evidenced by the outdated 1950s script, for one). The other advantage was that it led to some lively and interesting discussion on the ride home with the people (children included) who attended. 

Midvale’s Grease is the Word

grease 1By Larissa Villers Ferre

Grease. Who isn’t familiar with the 1959 story of young summer love at the beach, an awkward reunion in mixed social groups in high school, and the ultimate makeover to help that teenage love survive?

Midvale Main Street Theatre has stepped into a nostalgic show and era to bring audiences a decades-long fan-favorite. Interestingly enough, they combine elements of the original Broadway version, the movie, and the subsequent Broadway revival to create a version of Grease they feel those who favor any of those productions will enjoy.

We are introduced to the entire cast with a rousing, full-cast belted version of the Frankie Valli hit, “Grease.” In true Jersey-boy Valli style, as each of the characters begins to speak, Jersey accents pop out, although not consistently within each character or the group as a whole. I never thought of Grease as being located in New Jersey instead of Chicago (Broadway) or California (movie), but they have beaches there, so why not make a new directing decision for a fresh feel?

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Midvale Main Street’s facility is an intimate space, which can lend itself to innovative staging and the use of multiple levels for scene blocking and choreography. The cast does run into some challenges when taller members, such as Seth Tippetts as Danny Zuko, are dancing or staged on the upper level, cutting off their heads from the audience point of view and the lighting leaves them in the shadows. Even our leading lady was entirely shadowed on her upper half during, “Raining on Prom Night.”

The facility also has acoustics that give the ensemble a great sound, however, they can also overpower the soloists at times. All of the leads were pleasant vocally, yet the most powerful vocals are dispersed in a manner audiences might not expect. The cast also makes a modernized choice to sing most of the solo numbers in a pop-style that veers from the traditional musical theater sound.

Aesthetically, the casting was unique and original, with the director steering away from stereotypes in most characters. Allie Duke’s Sandy, however, is visually the most picture-perfect representation of everything you have ever imagined her to be that you have ever seen. She is Sandy.

The most stand-out scene acting-wise is the Pink Lady sleepover. Dialogue flew naturally between the characters, delivered precisely in such a manner as to create the overwhelming chaos and confusion that culminates in Sandy’s retreat to the bathroom to get sick. As the cherry on top of this scene, Taylor Lawrence gifts us with the adorable highlight of a number- “Freddy My Love.”

As far as costuming goes, the look was colorful and created a lovely picture, yet was more modern-vintage than actual vintage. Most skirts were too short above the knee for the time period and the pants on the males weren’t appropriately cuffed or tailored.   The outfits for the cheerleaders looked to be more like tennis outfits, which may or may not be accurate, but certainly not like anything one might find in a quick Google search of “1959 cheerleaders.”

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In mentioning the cheerleading scene, I also have to point out the inaccuracy of the use of the batons for twirling. The odds that one of the audience members is an expert in the field of baton twirling is slim to none, yet there I sat. Sandy’s baton is the size made for an 8-year old and Patty makes fun of her twirling, yet clearly can’t twirl herself. This does, however, add humor for those in-the-know. Still, I would rather the appearance of a baton be eliminated and the dialogue merely mentioning a baton than to see it executed inaccurately.

Simple and clean are the words to best describe the choreography. You could tell the stronger dancers were holding back. I wish they could have been given more opportunity to shine other than the few counts of 8 in “Greased Lightning” where Todd McRae’s Kenickie busts a move and the dance competition in “Hand Jive” for several other featured performers. Johnny Casino, played by Dallon Thorup, sets the bar for the energy level in “Hand Jive” to which the dancers backing him up need to match his level of spunk, energy, and pizzazz physically – vocally they have those elements.

The best number of the show – with vocals and physical energy matching- is “We Go Together,” leading into intermission. The cast produced a great sound and electricity. Kristina Rene Stone as Jan and Matthew Carter Speer as Roger stole the show in their rendition of “Mooning.” Be forewarned, there is a partial moon at the conclusion of the number, but (see what I did there?) I don’t feel this number can be executed with the hilarity it deserves without this gesture and I laughed more at this scene than any other. One more performer I would kick myself for not mentioning is JJ Bateman as Teen Angel – his vocals were on point and he kept this shtick of a scene alive to keep the audience in giggles the entire number.

grease 8 Grease is for those long-time lovers of the show. You’ll reminisce as your heart fills with nostalgia, and you will enjoy what the performers at Midvale have to offer. Please note this is an uncensored version, so children under the age of 13 are not the target audience. You can catch the show at Midvale Main Street Theatre July 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th, and 18th for evening performances at 7:30pm and a matinee on Saturday at 2pm.   Tickets are $15 – $18 and can be purchased online or at the box office.

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The Empress’s 1776 is a Patriotic Nod to the Season

1776 1By Michael Todd
1776 opened at the Empress Theatre July 3rd, just in time for our observance of Independence Day–the day where this country the United States of America declared our independence from Great Britain by signing the Declaration of Independence. This is what 1776 is all about, bringing to light what struggles, demands, desires, compromises and hopes each of the 13 colonies had.
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to 1776—I’d heard it was long and boring. But under the direction of Michelle Groves, I was soon proven wrong. In the three-sided Empress Theater, Groves used the space to make sure that every side was able to see each actor. In 1776, even when the actors are sitting down in their assigned seats at their Congress meetings, there is still movement, which kept me interested and engaged.
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For this show, the costumes are very effective in transporting us back to 1776. However, the talented actors in this production help us look beyond what might not be complete historical accuracy.
First honorable mention is Curtis Nash as John Adams. I have seen Curtis Nash in many a different capacities, onstage and off. I am always impressed with his talent and depth of character. His emotion and depth of understanding of John Adams is so profound. A shout out to the two female actors, who did so well, I’d hoped they played bigger roles. Melissa Lawyer Alston and Megan Smyth are both outstandingly talented and a complete joy and pleasure to watch onstage. It was hard to look away when they were onstage and the both sing like angels.
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Even though everyone cast in the show was quite amazing, I need to highlight Rand Johnson who steals the show as Edward Rutledge. Johnson portrays his character so well that I honestly felt taken back to 1776 and felt the turmoil of that time. Rand Johnson sings “Molasses to Rum to Slaves”, and I have never seen a more perfect, mesmerizing performance. This is Johnson’s second time onstage, but you’d never have known. He was excellent.
I would recommend 1776. Go learn about the history of how we became the United States of America. You won’t be disappointed in this show.
The Empress Theatre Presents 1776!
July 3rd – July 25th
Monday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee July 11th at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $10.00
The Empress Theatre

9104 West 2700 South, Magna, Utah 84044

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Utah Rep’s Ordinary Days is Anything But

ordinary daysBy Cindy Whitehair

New York, New York – it’s a wonderful town – and Utah Rep’s Ordinary Days lets you see the romantic side of the city through the eyes of two couples. Ordinary Days is a delightful operetta that will keep you enthralled.

The Sugar Space Studio Theater in Sugarhouse is a cozy little black box. Even though space was limited, the space fit the feel for the show.   The set (designed by director Chase Ramsey) was simple yet bold. Scenic Arts Designer Amanda Ruth Wilson’s use of bright bold colors really welcomed you in.

The couples – Jason (Matthew Wade) and Claire (Mandi Barrus), the romantic couple, and Warren (Thomas Kulkus) and Deb (Brighton Hertford), the friends, were delightful and well fleshed out. Warren was a wide-eyed optimist with a way of looking at the world with an almost child-like innocence. Deb is New York cynicism in a skirt – who is always looking for a “big picture” that is just over the horizon.   Jason is the boy next door, somewhat new to the Big Apple, who is madly in love with Claire who clearly loves Jason but a mystery in her past is holding her back.

This show is fast-paced. Director Chase Ramsey found a balance between each story line and couple. He made great, imaginative use of a small space. The vision and music of the playwright (Adam Gwon) and his love for the city shone through.

The actors make this show. Thomas Kulkus’ Warren was sweet, silly, dreamy and lovable and a marvelous counter to Deb’s frenetic fast paced ways. Brighton Hertford’s Deb was sharp, sassy yet never satisfied with her life–until she meets Warren. Mandi Barrus and Matthew Wade had such chemistry – you really pictured them as a couple. What really broke my heart and brought a tear to my eye was during “I’ll Be Here” as Clair’s mysterious past is finally revealed. Matthew Wade brought a sweet earnestness to Jason that was just adorable.

The entire cast, but especially Brighton Hertford, should be commended on is their diction. So many times, in community theater, fast paced songs end up slurred and mumbled. But as fast paced as this show was – you could understand every word sung. It allowed you to enjoy the music in the way it was written and it was really a joy to watch.

A special shout out must go to pianist/music director Jeanne McGuire. The music for this production is very difficult and she was amazing.

Utah Rep’s production of Ordinary Days is the 100th production of the show. Since this is a milestone production, we were treated to a Q&A after the show with playwright/composer Adam Gwon. He gave the audience a nice insight into his background and what inspired him with this show.

The Sugar Space Studio Theater is a small space, so get your tickets in advance as this show will sell out quickly.

Utah Repertory Theater Company presents Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days at the Sugar Space Studio Theater 616 Wilmington Ave Salt Lake City UT. Performances are July 10-26 and can be purchased online at http://utahrep.org/tickets/ . Tickets are $10.00 but there is a “pay what you can” matinee at 2pm on Sunday July 19.