I LOVE I Hate Hamlet–You Will, Too

hamlet 2By Joel Applegate

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

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

But I’m getting ahead of the story …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lillian: “Should I be afraid of Death?’

Barrymore: “No – only of Life.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pioneer Memorial Theatre – March 20 – April 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

www.pioneertheatre.org

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Draper’s Hairspray is Full of Doo Wap Fun

hairspray1

By Joel Applegate

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

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

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

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

hairspray5

Photos by Ring Lite Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draper Historic Theatre

12366 South 900 East, Draper, Utah

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

Box Office 801.572.4144

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

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

www.drapertheatre.org

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The Echo’s Cinderella Tale is Charming if Flawed

scour

By Maren VonNiederhausern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Castle Needs a Good Scouring

The Echo Theater 15 N 100 E Provo, Utah

 (801) 375-2181

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

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

By Megan Graves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the Empress Theatre Lead you Into the Woods

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Entire Cast List:   Narrator: Nathan Unck

Cinderella: Valerie Packer

Jack: Skye Davis

Jack’s Mother: Jamie Crane

Baker: Brett Johnson

Baker’s Wife: Sarah Johnson

Cinderella’s Stepmother: Kimberly Wicker

Florinda: Sunny Watts

Lucinda: Melissa Head

Cinderella’s Father: Perry Whitehair

Little Red: Alexis Shaw

Granny: Chalese Craig

Witch: Diane Nebeker

Cinderella’s Mother/Giant: Christin Saling

Mysterious Man: Steve Hedman

Wolf/Rapunzel’s Prince: Geoffrey Gregory

Cinderella’s Prince: Chris Kennedy

TheEmpressTheaterIntoTheWoods

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

 

mary 5By Jennifer and Craig Mustoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary, Mary

The Covey Center for the Arts, Brinton Black Box Theater

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

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

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Standing, Still Standing: Simply Sensational!

By Maren VonNiederhausern

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

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

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

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

It’s okay. Me too. And everyone else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Empress’s Earnest is Charmingly Fun

earnest 1By Cindy Whitehair

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

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

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

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

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Hamlet in Salt Lake is Stupendous!

hamletBy Cindy and Perry Whitehair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Time Is Storytelling At Its Best

My First Time Pic

Review written by Eve Speer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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