Titus’ Christmas Carol is a Holiday Treat

xmas carolBy Rebecca Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Carol

Sorensen Unity Center

Salt Lake City, UT

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

$10.00

Titus Productions Facebook Page

A Christmas Carol Facebook Event page

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

itsawonderfulBy Jennifer Mustoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Wonderful Life

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

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

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

 

The Covey’s Joyful Noise is Pure Joy

jn1By Jennifer Mustoe

There are two seasons when Utah truly ramps up its theater productions: summertime and Christmastime. It is fun to see what is produced every year, and I’m always happy to see that there are some shows that are produced year after year. And by far, my favorite is Joyful Noise at the Covey Center for the Arts Brinton Black Box Theater in Provo. The Covey has consistently given us excellent shows, and its annual Christmas offering is no exception.

Joyful Noise tells the story of Handel’s writing his masterpiece The Messiah. Before I saw this show, I knew very little about Handel. No, let me amend that. I knew nothing. Joyful Noise is not only a lovely Christmas story about a famous piece of music, it is about Handel as a real person, with rather unpleasant flaws including a terrible temper, many struggles and finally, the courage to create The Messiah.

J. Scott Bronson plays Handel with enough power and a believable German accent to suspend your disbelief and convince you that you are watching the real thing (if Handel was still alive, that is.) Bronson deftly portrays the troubled composer, and I especially liked his scenes with Smith, played by Joel Applegate. Smith is Handel’s assistant, but ends up being a valet, confidante and friend. The banter and connection between Bronson and Applegate is delightful.

Set in England, Handel has lost popularity and experiences what seems like writer’s block. He meets Susannah Cibber, played by Julianna Blake. Susannah, too, has had hard times and Handel decides to cast her in The Messiah as one of his soloists. Blake has a wonderful voice and her Susannah is fragile, downtrodden and filled with despair. Blake takes her character through trials and triumphs convincingly. Her scenes with Handel are tender, but her best scenes are with her enemy Kitty Clive, played hilariously by Kat Webb.

Clive is a Cockney actress who will never have the chops that Cibber does, but also does not have the sullied reputation, either. Webb is great in this role, with a lovely voice and much tossing of her head and flouncing about. She is fun to watch.

jnLynne Bronson plays Mary Pendarves, Handel’s champion and biggest fan. Ms. Bronson’s stage business with her poems is darling. And when she begins to truly defend Handel, you’d better watch out. She is pretty fiery.

The Bishop (and Handel’s enemy), played by Jeffrey Hanson, is a commanding character. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, but it’s very nice to see what happens to the Bishop at the end of the play, and Hanson handles this with dignity and some humor. Very nice. Adam Argyle plays Charles Jennens, Handel’s lyricist. Argyle fills the role well and shows some spunk when, again, not willing to reveal any spoilers, we find out what he’s really up to.

Travis Hyer plays King George II and I admit, he is one of my favorite character in the whole show. Hyer is a nuanced actor and I completely bought his portrayal of King George II. All the actors in this show are superb, but I especially love the humor and sweetness this foreign king has. Excellent job!

Director David Hanson has his actors moving constantly but with purpose. Each scene is a moving tableau that helps the story progress interestingly. The set is simple and is changed by bringing in trays of writing paraphernalia, a tea set, etc to show the different settings. Hanson gives his actors something to do (I’m a big fan of stage business) and creates a pleasing amount of activity and interest for the audience.

Joyful Noise is a lovely Christmas story because it has amazing music, a heroic story, but one of the reasons I love it is it’s not sappy or repetitive. Yes, I love the more traditional Christmas fare, but I can miss watching those shows for a few years running. I make sure I see Joyful Noise every year. It is how my Christmas season really starts.

I would recommend this show to any audience from maybe age 9 and up, especially if your kids, tweens or teens are interested in classical music and/or The Messiah. The story is amazing, the acting precise and satisfying and the conclusion is superb.

Joyful Noise

Covey Center for the Arts

425 W Center St, Provo, Utah 84601

Dec 4-6, 11-13, 15-20 7:30 PM

Admission: $14 (Student/Senior $12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SCERA’S Christmas Musical is Filled with Holiday Joy

likenBy MH Thomas

Throughout LIKEN’s The First Christmas the lyrics, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. . . ” kept going through my head. The season has kind of sneaked up on me, and seeing this show was a good way to start my own Christmas season celebration.
The set designer (who doubles as the director), Jan Shelton Hunsaker, made the cozy living room on one corner of the stage work with the massive walls of an ancient village. The story of the nativity of Jesus Christ is told by a modern family. Each segment is started in the living room and progresses into the Biblical setting.

We meet this little family as the show begins. Parents and two recalcitrant children arrive at the home of their joyous grandparents. The friend who attended with me remarked that, “those teenagers were just like real teenagers”—a compliment to Olivia Keating and Wesley Hadfield. Grandpa (Jerry Ferguson) has a very natural way about him as he jokes around with his grandchildren. Grandpa starts the Christmas story with the Shepherds. Omar (Kyle Baugh) has a pleasing voice as he leads the song, Everything We Need. He, along with the other five shepherds, make a very enjoyable singing group. Kudos to the music director, Kathryn Little.

liken 2We are taken through the Christmas story, from Elizabeth and Zacharias to Mary and Joseph. The story continues with the Shepherds and Angels and the Inn Keepers, Wise Men and King Herod. The songs are lovely and carry the story along to the conclusion where all meet the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

The singers in this production are very well cast. Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luone Ingram) complement one another as they sing the touching, A Hand to Hold. Other standout singers are Caroline Chauncey as Mary and Jason Case as Joseph. The angelic choir also sings very nicely—and I enjoyed seeing the many smiling faces as they sang their songs. At times, the angels perform the equivalent of a Mormon gospel choir. A bit subdued, compared to the real thing, but well done. The Angel Gabriel, seen throughout the show, is expertly portrayed by Daniel Beck. He has a commanding speaking and singing voice and his costume is impressive. He plays the part with just the right amount of humor, when the scene calls for it, and he is a bright spot (literally and figuratively) in the production. The joy on his face and in his voice is contagious and spreads to the rest of the cast. His lively performance really adds a special something to the show.

For the modern family, the costuming had to be able to work as contemporary clothing and then with a few additions work into the ancient clothing style of the rest of the cast. At times, especially with the Wise Men, this gave the impression of a family Christmas pageant—but that just added to the charm of the show. Kelsey Seaver did an impressive job of costuming this large cast.

liken 1This show is appropriate for all ages and for any who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. After the main part of the cast leaves the stage, don’t rush to get up. There is a beautiful little vignette at the end. It is a sweet reminder of the meaning of Christmas.

Nov 21 – Dec 13, 2014 Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm

$12 Adult, $10 Child (age 3-11), $10 Senior (age 65+),
GROUP RATES
$10 Family/Corporate groups of 20 or more, $6 Church/Non-profit groups of 20 or more

SCERA Center: Showhouse II
745 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

 

The OBT’s X-Mas Men Will Give you Some Super Holiday Spirit

obt4By Cindy Whitehair

They had me at “hello” – or in this case, walking into the theater. We walked into the OBT to the strains of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which always puts me in the mood for Christmas. Given that we have a couple of die hard Marvel fans in the family, OBT’s X-Mas Men seemed like a great way to kick off the Christmas season.

Written by Eric R. Jensen, X-Mas Men takes the classic Claymation Christmas cartoons “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and “The Santa Clause 3″ with a hefty helping of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The X-Mas Men (Chris Harvey as Lionwing, Andrea Kile Peterson as Snowstorm and Chance Le Prey as Loco) were formed when evil Jack Frost (Mike Brown) bombed the Island of Misfit Toys with gamma radiation in an effort to kill Santa aka Father Xmas (Bus Riley). The X-Mas Men have to protect Father Xmas from Jack Frost’s attempts to ruin Christmas. The only denizen of the Island of Misfit Toys that did not appear to get any super powers was Kirby the dentist Elf (Clarence Strohn).

obt3Director Jillene Stark ably directed this show, but we felt that there were times when the action on the stage was too loose. We understand that with an improv troupe-type show, that is often a fine line to walk, but there were times when the actors needed to be reined in just a little.

The OBT set design crew (Eric R. Jensen, Clint Lehmberg, Rob Reins and Lee Wailes) have certainly been having fun lately trying to throw in as many random pop culture references (this time it was “Lion King”, “The Incredible Hulk” and “Titanic”) into the set design as they can. That creativity draws you in so that you can see the details of the rest of the set. Our son and his friend (both theater majors in college who joined us for the show) immediately pointed out the Winter Throne and the detail there-in.

obt2 We really enjoyed the costumes (Eric R. Jensen and Janice Jensen). You could tell that there was a lot of effort put into the costumes, especially for Jack Frost, Kirby, Rudolph (Tenisha Hicks), Mistaque and the Narrator (Jim Stark).

Sound (Cali Anderson, Jackson Maestas, Dave Cooke and Eric R.Jensen) had a few issues this time around, but leave it to OBT to turn a crackling mic into a three-minute long skit! It was hysterical! That said, I would have mic’d the elves for their opening song. The kids were just not confident enough in themselves to really project and the jokes were lost. There were also a couple of times mics did not come on in time for the actors to speak so some lines were not very easily heard.

As leads, Santa and Jack Frost were wonderfully cast. They did a great job anchoring the show. However, the show was stolen by Clarence Strohn (Kirby), Kyle Larson (Ice Guard) and Alisa Rodgers Spafford (Mistaque the Jell-o). Even when they were not speaking, their movement on the stage kept drawing your eyes toward them. The choreography (Jillene Stark) for Santa, Loco and Lionwing when they are really Mistaque was also hysterical. All three actors threw themselves into the movement with gusto.

The biggest complaint that all four of us had was we wished there was more from the three title characters – the X-Mas men. It seemed like more thought was put into the lines for more minor characters (Ice Guard and Elfis Sean B. King). It would have been nice to see these characters have a little more to do than just pose and fight one another.

obt 1 All in all, this was a very enjoyable show and a fantastic way to kick off the holiday season.

Off Broadway Theater

272 S Main St, Downtown Salt Lake City, UT 84101

(801) 355-4628

November 21st – December 27th 7:30 pm on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays

Adults = $16
Students (13+)/Seniors (65+)/Military Members = $12
Children (2-12) = $10

Salem Hill High’s Footloose is Tight and Great!

By Coulsen Bingham

Salem Hills High School has a legacy of great shows since the school was built several years ago. They are constantly wowing audiences with their productions and their most recent show, Footloose, was no exception.

Footloose, the energetic, emotional, comedy-filled musical originated as a movie that was filmed in 1984 here in Utah. It focuses on the life of Ren McCormick, a senior in high school moving to a new town and getting a new life and the trouble that ensues. While realizing more about himself and the small town of Bomont, he causes trouble with the community by bringing his “Rebellious city boy attitude” to their small town where dancing is illegal.

Ren is played by the remarkable and charismatic Joey Shearer, who truly brought a believable life and emotion to the character. Outside of school, he has not been in any musicals but he trained with Center Stage Dance in Orem for two years and the training definitely showed onstage. His movements were very real to the character and especially impressive in large group numbers. He was able to lead the show with grace and you could see that he actually put the time and thought into the development of his character. His opposite is played by Junior, Erica Gebert and wow, is she stunning! When I say that, I not only mean it with looks but voice as well. With her training from world renowned vocal coach Dean Kaelin and Jeff Archuleta (Yes, David Archuleta’s father and his incredible vocal coach) she has a voice that will blow anyone who hears it out of the water! There are so many great moments for you when you expect the song get too high or the notes to not get there and then she does it. It is exhilarating to witness.

The show starts with the ensemble dancing to the show theme song and partying. From the first moment, the show was very impressive vocally. Justin Bills, the music director, always does an incredible job with his shows. The ensemble harmonies were incredibly tight and the entire ensemble was strong but did not have much volume or projection. From the 8th row, I could barely hear the company. However, what I could hear was lovely. Rusty, Arleen, and Wendy Jo had incredible harmonies that gave me chills multiple times. They had beautiful moments in the spotlight and did a great job using those to their advantage.

The choreography by Erin Boothe along with the Salem Hills dance company was creative and fresh but kept the familiar style of the movie. It was simple but that allowed all the cast members to get it down and make it look good. In numbers where the dancing was a little bit more advanced it was not quite as clean but was still entertaining and you could tell the cast had worked hard at it. One of the greatest things about musical theatre is the small, intimate numbers with only a couple actors and the movement in those scenes played wonderfully. The actors moved with each other and embraced the uniqueness inside them to enhance their energy and performance.

As with any high school performance, the audio side of things was a little on the rocky side. However, that being said, this show was actually better than a lot of the shows Salem has done in the past at keeping mics running, screeching to a minimum and not missing cues. The tech crew has really been working hard on that and it showed. The immobile set was very simple but it did its purpose at filling the stage and providing the backdrop for the show. It kept the integrity of the show all the way through with the clever designs and graffiti markings. I was extremely impressed upon seeing Reverend Moore’s home and the intricacy put into painting and designing it all the way down to the shading on the cupboards and tile floor. It looked incredible from an audience point of view and did its job as well as all the other flats and moving set. Great job set designer and construction, Scott Winn and set dressing, Dayna Hughes.

However, the stage crew on the stage in the middle of scenes doing changes was a little distracting and unfortunately pulled me out of the moment. Perhaps, if they were dressed as cast members or something to that effect it would be less distracting.

The show’s director Jana Lee Stubbs, who currently moved up from Salem Junior High School, said, “When I was picking the musical, I had it down to two options: The Sound Of Music or Footloose. Well, I could’ve gone classic, but in all honesty, Footloose is so much more fun! From start to finish this show has been incredible. When the kids came in to auditions they performed their guts out and became who you saw tonight onstage! Obviously, this has grown from a vision in my head to be something completely different but it has found its place. The kids have worked so hard and I couldn’t be more proud. It has been great to go with them on this journey. Sometimes, the process is just as important as the product.”

And she couldn’t be more correct.

Footloose has one more showing. It is playing Monday November 24 at 7:00 at Salem Hills High School. Tickets are $8 for Adults and general admission, $6 for students and seniors, and $30 for a family pass.

Salem Hills High School is located at 150 Skyhawk Blvd, Salem, UT 84653. (801) 423-3200

Payson High’s West Side Story is a Story You’ll Like

By Coulson Bingham

West Side Story, the classic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, comes to life at Payson High School filled with all the love, drama, and fighting you could hope for out of this Grammy award winning musical. With music from Leonard Bernstein, lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, and script by Arthur Laurents, this show is brought to life with dozens of actors and actresses all in their teen years dazzling the stage with their talents and love for theatre. Directed by Dane Allred with musical direction by Marilyn Morgan, this show tugs at your emotions, gets your heart racing and showcases hours and hours of work from many different hands.

Allred has directed more than 100 shows at Payson for 25 years. He is very familiar with the space he is using and did a wonderful job at ensuring that it was adequately used. From having actors right in front of you with the extended landing from the lip of the stage out into the audience to having people racing up and down the aisles. The idea of the chase between the gangs and their struggle for power was obvious from the very beginning of the show and added a level of exhilaration.

Lighting was minimal but for the most part it did its job to keep the actors in view and provide a feel for the emotion of the scene. There were a few dark spots but with the limited lights available they did a very good job ensuring that every scene was placed where it could be enjoyed. There were a few times when the lights were brought up accidentally during a scene change and it was very distracting. I was surprised at the complexity and intricacy of the immobile set. It was well-designed and provided the ability for actors to enter from the front of the proscenium and from the first wing. The mobile sets however looked a little rushed and untidy but did the job they needed to do.

As this musical was based in the 1950’s, the attire was very much like that of Grease. Very simple. However, a few of the costumes were way too modern to fit the appearance of the show. As with most high school productions, the microphones did not work the greatest. There were times when even straining to hear the actors they could not be heard from the sixth row.

Tony was played by junior Jalon Watts. Watts has been singing for years and has even the honor to be accompanied by David Foster while performing solo in Washington DC. This guy knows how to give chills to a crowd with his voice. However, this young actor is still a newbie to the acting world as this is his second show. He has a long way to go but is definitely growing and going to go far.

Doing a show such as West Side Story in a high school setting has got to be very hard. I am very impressed with the decision by the musical director and the director to attempt this particular piece. One of the biggest problems when faced with this musical in a high school is the accents. I was extremely impressed with the accents of the actors and their ability to stay in character even when singing. Especially, having seen West Side Story performed by high schools multiple times before, and not being very thrilled with the outcome, I was pleased. Very few of the students were actually ethnic and so for the most part it was out of their norm.

The second problem usually faced is finding enough males to make two decent sizes gangs to face off and carry the show vocally and visually. From the moment they took the stage, the male ensemble was one of the strongest I have ever seen at a high school. They vocally got the music out there and when they filled the stage they actually FILLED the stage. There were moments when these teenagers were able to actually bring the magic of theatre forward and propel the show with their performance and actually make me laugh out loud and bring a tear to my eye.

That brings me to another point. The fight choreography for the men was ridiculously cool. From the audience, I was really able to enjoy watching those encounters and get into the action. It took the show way up in energy and performance quality. In talking to cast members afterward, I was informed that all the fights were self-choreographed, which is great for high school students to do and it’s even better that it was good. The dance choreography and movement was interesting but brought the message across. It was interesting to see because most of the cast obviously were not dancers but they were mostly able to do what they were instructed and make it look good.

This was a very good showcase of Payson’s ability and it proved that they really do have talent and can do a show and do it well.

This high-energy show is playing through Monday November 17 at 7:30 at Payson High School.

The Babcock Theater’s Three Penny Opera is Worth Far More!

3 penny 1 By Nancy Roche

The Three Penny Opera, playing at The Babcock Theater in Salt Lake City, is a fantastic musical: Book & Lyrics by Bertholt Brecht, Music by Kurt Weill. If you’ve never been to a Brecht production, or even if you have, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

The story isn’t complicated, though it does squirm a bit. It’s set in London with a very colorful collection of accents. Polly Peachum (played by Connor Norton), is the daughter of the leader of a beggar’s syndicate. She marries the local crime king Macheath (played by local professional Mark Fossen.) Her marriage angers her parents (McKenna Kay Jensen and Michael S. Johnson) who scheme with Mack the Knife’s former and current lovers to destroy the slimy but charismatic leader. There are no heroes, but there is a fascinating narrator (Street Singer Austin John Smith.) Watch him. He’s hard to miss. All actors do an amazing job and truly sold their parts. I was entranced. Director Denny Berry uses a deft hand with this cast and it shows, brilliantly.

I will never forget this first experience in the Babcock Theater, the small space under the Pioneer Theater on the University of Utah campus. We laughed, learned and had a good time. The space and atmosphere are compact, but artfully used.

The largely undergraduate cast was supplemented from local professionals, but all of the vocal talents (Musical Direction by Alex Marshall) were striking and impressive. It is an amazingly energetic production. Everything fit the play’s ultimate purpose, which is to say, nothing fits. My favorite aspects of this production, besides all of the clever Brechtian elements, are definitely the costumes by costume designer Megan Jensen. I have never been in such a heaven of black leather, zippers, and safety pins. Very Punk. Amanda French’s hair and makeup also dazzle.

3 penny 2Dan Evans designed the set, which is amazing, but I am giving no details about it as to do so would spoil the surprise. You are going to have to trust me on this one and go see it yourself to find out what I’m talking about. Props to Jack Roach, the lighting designer. His lighting adds to the show in a way that, again, you need to see to understand why I say this.

If anything lacked, it was perhaps the kind of grace and body control that comes with experience. Enjoy the ballet for what it is: disturbed by the ghost of Bertholt Brecht.

Let me explain: the production notes make much of Elisabeth Hauptmann’s input as the play was written and performed in 1928. The notes also mention that it was already an adaptation from an 18th Century production called The Beggar’s Opera, a play cobbled together of popular tunes with common characters. This is all true and very meaningful. It is a symptom of, but does not explain the crazy things that go on in a Brechtian production. And this is an unmistakably Brechtian production. A very brave and well-funded one.

Bertholt Brecht had a singular philosophy about theater. Unlike the greater trend in the 20th Century, which is to create an escapist, immersive experience (falling chandeliers, helicopters, etc.), Brecht held that a theater is useless unless it changes the world outside. He believed the only way to succeed at bettering the world was to constantly remind the audience that they are watching a play, and that everything is fake so that they would understand that we’re all actors: we’re all fake, and the people on the stage are the only ones being honest about it. He created a long list of techniques for this purpose, and this production uses as many as possible. It’s an impressive display of intentionality.

3 pennyWhen you see this production (and I think you should), do enjoy the story. Enjoy the characters: appreciate their energy, humor, and voices. The writing is VERY funny at times, and the cast have a great sense of comic timing and irony, but the ladies’ ballads are also tragic, and the finales bitterly angry. Pay attention to the showy and anachronistic elements. Some of them seriously (figuratively) reach out and hit you on the head, but others are more subtle. Count how many times a character refers to the title of the play. Watch for the moments when you are distracted by the lights that have been carefully turned to be visible to the audience. Brecht even borrows a page from Shakespeare, and stages small plays within the play.

Oh, and the punchline: straight to the gut.

I’m going to include a strong content warning for this play. Consider it a very edgy PG-13, or an R for some thematic and visual content. Young children will not be admitted.

November 7 – 23, 2014 | 7:30 PM (Dark Mon-Wed)
Matinees November 15, 16, 22 & 23 | 2:00 PM

POST PRODUCTION TALKBACK
Please join us for talkbacks with members of the cast, creative team, and U of U professors immediately following the performances on the following dates:
Friday, November 14
Saturday, November 15
Friday, November 21
and Saturday, November 22.

U of U students FREE with Arts Pass or Ucard
Other students: $8.50, Public: $21.00
For group discounts of 20 or more call 801-585-3816.
Tickets available now at Kingsbury Hall www.kingtix.com or by calling 801-581-7100.

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UVU’s R&J Project brings the Tragic Love Story Alive and Current

romeo

By MH Thomas

Everyone has heard of Romeo and Juliet—William Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedy. You think you know Romeo and Juliet? As you enter Utah Valley University’s Noorda Theatre, the set is the first clue that you are in for a different Shakespearean experience. There is a grittiness to the scenery that foreshadows a grittiness in this production. Kudos to Stephen Purdy for his well-planned and executed set.

This version of the oft-performed play has more than one twist. As the show begins, you discover that there are no actors on stage yet. The action is on the screen that is cleverly built into the set. This section of film sets the scene. We come to understand the gang like competitiveness that exists between the Montagues and the Capulets.

Romeo at this moment is enamored with Rosaline. As he visits with his friends, Benvolio (Topher Rasmussen) and Mercutia (Maddy Forsyth), they are given invitations to a party given by their rival Capulets. Rasmussen and Forsyth do an excellent job playing off one another. They exhibit a charming yet edgy humor as they banter together as they proceed to the party.

The party is projected on the screen and the scenes proceed seamlessly from stage to screen. I think the smooth transitions are largely due to the live musician on stage who sings a running narrative throughout the show. The performer (Trenton McKean) has a soothing voice and seems to blend right into each scene. Romeo and Juliet meet and sparks quickly fly. Dallin Major (Romeo) and Devin Marie Neff (Juliet) play the sweet-faced young lovers. The innocence of their romance is in stark contrast to the hard atmosphere surrounding them. They are clearly in a world of their own.

This cast is particularly strong. From Friar Laurence (Brian Kocherhans) to Lady Capulet (Kaitlyn Dahl), they all put in the effort to create strong and believable characters. Laurie Harrop-Pursor plays an eccentric but loving aunt to Juliet. Two more standouts are Shawn Francis Saunders with his fierce portrayal of Tybalt and Jacob Theo Squire as a cocky, young Paris.

Another twist in this version of Romeo and Juliet is that we get to see it from two perspectives. As it appears that the show may be coming to a close, everything backs up and we find Juliet and her family on stage. I found the characterization of Lord Capulet (Christopher Clark) as an abusive husband and father to be very effective. The can of Coke that was in his hand often could very well have been a can of beer. He seemed to be playing an angry drunk.

In this production, we see the ready availability of drugs that can harm and kill. The stage director (D. Terrie Petrie) states in his notes: “It is my wish that this production will raise the social consciousness and awareness of pernicious drug use in Utah and Salt Lake Counties and initiate a discussion concerning this growing problem.” The multimedia director (Joel Petrie) helps create an atmosphere on screen that takes us into the lives of people living with dangerous addictions.

The use of various film locations, from the church where Romeo and Juliet are married to the car where they spend the night, brings a sense of reality to the production. We don’t just imagine day and night, we see day and night on the screen.

Hair, makeup and costumes had to be tailored to meet the needs of both film and stage. This was done impressively. It was interesting to see a costume portrayed on screen appear on the stage as the movement of one scene led to another in smooth succession. Costume Designer Nancy Cannon did a fine job in creating designs which fit the feel of the production. Hair and makeup for stage and screen were designed by Estee Parker and Jyllian Petrie (film). There was an impressive consistency between the two mediums.

As we know, this is a tragedy. The many members of the two families that are lost parallel those who are tragically lost right here in our local area. I do hope that the director’s wish comes true and we look for real solutions to real problems that exist right within our midst. Let’s show the love and compassion to help those who need our understanding and assistance.

The Romeo and Juliet Project

UVU Noorda Theater

800 West University Parkway, Orem, UT 84058

801-863-4636

Nov 6-8, 13-15, 17, 20-22 7:30 PM. Nov 22 2 PM

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Zion Theater Company’s Evening Eucalyptus is an Australian Holiday

ee-1By Kristin Perkins

The set is the first thing you see entering the beautiful historic building that houses the Echo Theatre to see Evening Eucalyptus, Mahonri Stewart’s newest play, set in Australia. The stage design (Jason Sullivan) is intriguing, evocative and hints at the journey that is to come. It is cleverly constructed and it suggests the layout of a worn down porch, a small tree and the hint of a house without feeling like it is necessary to be obvious. The colors are expressive of the Australian landscape and of a house with a history. The effectiveness of the set ends up being key to the success of the play since the setting itself becomes a character impacting the movement of the play in real ways. The lights grow dim, actors move into the space, the story begins.

It is a story that operates around that idea of place and belonging. Arthur Stevenson (David Lasseter) returns to the land of his birth from England to try and find new meaning after a traumatic experience. Arthur meets Abigail (Anna Hargadon), whom he hires to help around his house, but as they fall in love he is tormented by his past. His memories become intensified when an old Aboriginal friend, Pindari (Robert Burch), comes into his life. Meanwhile, two “swag men” named Zeek (Stephen Geis) and Jody (Bryn Dalton Randall ) arrive purportedly to dig out some eucalyptus stumps and end up causing more harm than help. This is a new script written by Mahonri Stewart and it does a good job of weaving together several story lines with a sense of magic. While the dialogue sometimes becomes stilted or on-the-nose, the last lines of the play linger in the mind long after curtain call.

The acting proved to be solid throughout. David Lasseter plays the protagonist and he capably handles the enigmatic mood changes of Arthur. Anna Hargadon as the tough but feminine Abigail Baker, matches his performance with her own energy. She is a joy to watch when she is onstage–a refreshingly honest character. Robert Burch’s, Pindari, the Aboriginal man, is filled with wisdom and magic. I enjoyed his character so much that I was especially disappointed when I couldn’t hear what he was saying some of the time. Bryn Dalton Randall’s performance of Jody manages to be both alternatively heartbreaking and hilarious and Neal Hooper as the Trooper does a good job of physicalizing the several characters he plays.

However, for me, Stephen Geis’ amoral conman Zeek was the scene-stealer. Geis brings an intensity and commitment to a disturbing role but also gives the audience glimpses into the torn psyche of his character, making him feel relatable like all the best villains are. During the last few scenes, Zeek’s quiet and barely-contained energy drives the plot forward into the inevitable fight, expertly choreographed by Adam Argyle.

As far as the technical elements go, while the set was superb, the lighting design was lacking. I applaud Mandy Lyons for creating a very complicated light design, and in certain scenes the use of dramatic lighting helped build the tension. Sometimes though, the flashing colored lights were distracting and the transitions between scenes was often jarring.

All the other technical elements were handled by Mahonri Stewart as director, playwright and also in charge of costumes, props and sound. The costumes and props helped establish the period. The night I went, the sound was having issues that made it difficult to hear. Hopefully, they can sort this problem out because the way music is incorporated to help the audience follow the transitions between reality and the fantastical is important. The direction left an occasional scene dragging in pace but finishes strong with an exciting climax and compelling resolution.

There is a lot to recommend Evening Eucalyptus for a night of thought-provoking entertainment. Who knows? Perhaps the magic of theatre can combine with the magic of the story and transform your world for an evening. It doesn’t have a long run, so make sure to check it out soon!

Evening Eucalyptus, Zion Theatre Company play premiere

Friday Saturday, Money, November 7-9, 14-15 at 7:30 PM. Saturday matinees, 2 PM.

The Echo Theatre, 15 N. 100 E., Provo

Tickets: $14. Students and seniors, $12.

Info: (801) 358-6623

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