The Grand’s “Streetcar” Offers a Beautiful Journey into an Ugly World

 

streetcar

By Ashley Ramsey

Tennessee Williams once said, “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” And there may be no better example of those curving roads then his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Streetcar tells the story of Stella and Stanley Kowalski whose lives are turned upside down by a visit from Stella’s sister, Blanche DuBois. Blanche, who has been in charge of the family estate, reveals that it has now been lost. As Blanche’s tales of back home begin to unravel, so does Blanche’s mental state. Escalated by the unfamiliar and strangeness of the New Orleans French Quarter, Stella’s overbearing husband Stanley, and a string of cleverly-crafted lies, Blanche desperately tries to cling to the sanity that slowly slips from her grasp.

Streetcar has found its way into American culture (Thank you Marlon Brando…Stella….STELLA!”) and is a story familiar to many. Forget what you know, because director Mark Fossen has created a one of a kind, standalone staging of Streetcar. Part of The Grand Theatre’s American Classic series, this familiar story is given new life through creative staging, lights, music, and a brilliantly casted ensemble. From the moment you enter the theatre, you are swept into the noisy and lively streets of New Orleans. The two-story set by Halee Rasmussen is lovely and captures the feel of a young couple starting out. Oftentimes throughout the show, we are given glances into the private moments of the characters’ lives through the use of silhouettes. Rasmussen collaborated with Lighting Designer Spencer Brown to produce a seamless and effective method of storytelling. Brown’s lighting design tells a haunting story on its own and is well worth the cost of a ticket.

It is once in a great while that a truly brilliant ensemble piece is featured on Utah stages, but this is one of those pieces. Each character is thoroughly and carefully crafted with such realism that oftentimes the audience feels as though it has stumbled into somewhere they should not be. Private lives on display for your voyeuristic viewing pleasure. April Fossen’s portrayal of Blanche doesn’t stop from the moment she enters the stage. Her energy seems to burst off the stage and almost smother you as she pulls you into her world. Keeping pace right along with her is Anne Louise Brings’ Stella. Brings has layered Stella in such beautiful way as you watch this new bride and soon-to-be mother try to balance all that she loves in her life. Brings does a beautiful job in connecting with those she shares the stage with. Her portrayal of love becomes almost tangible with her onstage husband, Stanley, played by Robert Scott Smith. I have never loved and hated a character as much as I did Smith’s Stanley. He pinged back and forth, the only source of sanity on the stage and other times the instigator of the insanity. When watching other productions, I could never understand why Stella goes back, but in this production, I did. Smith takes you a devastatingly emotional journey as you watch a man come to grips with the chaos his young family has suddenly been thrown into. The ultimate protector, at the end of the show you find yourself still thinking maybe, just maybe Stanley is the good guy. And possibly insanity is contagious and really no one can judge a single person on that stage for what has happened, for they have all gone mad.

streetcar1

Other noteworthy and beautiful performances are Lonzo Liggins’ Harold Mitchell (Mitch) and upstairs neighbors Vicki Pugmie and Andrew Maizner as Eunice and Steve Hubbell. The entire cast should be praised on such raw and beautiful work. While many cast members assume the smaller roles within the production, they are a part of the many storytelling techniques used by the director which make the show what it is.

Mark Fossen’s brilliant concept engulfs you into a world you cannot escape, but one that you don’t want to. It is important to note that you will find no sugarcoating of the difficult and adult themes of the show. Instead, Fossen challenges you to face them head on and get out of yourself. I could talk about it forever, but to say much more would deny you the experience of what this cast and crew have created. I find myself mentally wandering through the curvy mountainous roads of this production over and over since I went to see it. It is rare that productions like this surface. The Grand’s latest production is one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. I have lived in London and LA, traveled to New York, but rarely does theatre speak to me on the level that this show did. With any production there are always the little things to nitpick, but what they are doing with this show far outweighs any need for that. I hope you will let them take you on this journey.

A Streetcar Named Desire plays now through April 1st at The Grand Theatre with shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays with curtain at 7:30 pm and two 2 pm matinees on March 25th and April 1st. Tickets start at $16 for regular admission and $14 for Seniors.

The Grand Theatre 1575 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84115

Phone: (801) 957-3322

Facebook Page

 

Utah New Works Theatre Project

utnwp

By Jennifer Mustoe

A little over a month ago, my husband and I went to the opening event for the Utah New Works Theatre Project. This new and exciting group had an Open Mic Readers Theater–inviting playwrights, performers, and audience members. Set in The Startup Building in Provo (across from the Frontrunner station), a lovely space, about 50+ people gathered to present their offerings. It was a rather spur of the moment affair in that people showed up with their 10-minute plays, found performers, those performers read over the scripts, and then we got to see the plays performed.

I loved the spontaneity of the event. It felt warm, nurturing, but also exciting, fresh, and fun. Everyone there loved theater. Some of the plays were very “fresh” in that they had been dashed off that day. (Their playwrights shared this, not that they were bad or anything.)
Some of the plays were silly, some needed some revisions, a few were remarkable.

But the vibe of the event and the group itself, a non-profit based in Provo created by and for theater lovers, was what was most impressive. This group will bring something new and wonderful to Utah County.

According to Mark Wiesenberg, one of UNWTP’s founders:

The Utah New Works Theatre Project is a 501(c)(3) organization that inspires, cultivates, and supports Utah playwrights in telling original stories and launching new works to add depth and variety to the artistic voice of American theatre.
 We:
 Inspire and cultivate the writing, development, and production of new and original theatrical works from Utah playwrights that celebrate the human experience.
Present new works that are both thought-provoking and accessible to our community.
Support and expand the diversity of emerging artistic voices and perspectives through educational programs and opportunities; and
Promote and develop partnerships to build resources that enhance the creative process.
Their next exciting event is:
Utah New Works Theatre Project’s
Friday, March 24, 2017
Pioneer Book
7:00 pm
Free
This will be a fun and informative playwriting panel to help aspiring or experienced playwrights ‘tackle the ten’–meaning the 10-minute play. This will be amazing, filled with information and it is FREE!
Please come support Utah County’s newest and most exciting new group.

CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s Mary Poppins Is Enchanting

marypoppins5

By Scott Taylor

If you think you don’t need to go see the stage production of Mary Poppins because you’ve seen the 1964 film and maybe the 2013 biopic Saving Mr. Banks, Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins will change your mind. Yes, you know the music and the characters, but it’s how the characters feel, develop, grow that makes this show not only succeed, but triumph.

If you’re not familiar with Mary Poppins, and maybe there a few souls on the planet who are not, it’s the story of a dysfunctional family where the father, Mr. Banks, is consumed by his job at the bank. Mrs. Banks is consumed with Votes for Women and avoiding her children. The children, Jane and Michael, are consumed with being as bratty as possible and chasing off every nanny that comes to the Banks’ household. Mary Poppins, who is practically perfect in every way, tames and entrances the children and has amazing adventures, sometimes with her beau, Bert. Mary brings the whole family together and everyone lives happily ever after.

As with the past two shows on the Barlow Main Stage, the entire set extends only feet behind the proscenium. The permanent backdrop provides levels that transform from London streets, to Cathedral steps, from a city park, to a rooftop landscape, and of course, the Banks’s home on Cherry Tree Lane. The theatre uses visuals that transform the set walls to expertly match the action on stage—wallpaper in the home, trees for the park, dancing chimney sweeps above. Drops are sparse, but effective. The props that convert to rooms are beautiful, especially the nursery where Mary dazzles the Banks’s children. The set is a delight through every scene of both acts. Director Danny Inkley and his entire team create a world where anything can happen, where magic exists and is only limited by imagination.

marypoppins4

Vocal performances can make or break a musical. I saw the opening night for the M/W/F cast with Sarah Jane Watts in the lead role, Craig Williams as Bert, and Scott Montgomery (who also is the show’s Associate Director) as Mr. George Banks. All three are exceptional in their roles with Watts’s voice combining a sense of joy, confidence, and wisdom all in one (something not easily done.) We expect great vocal talent to fill the featured roles in a musical—the roles beckon for great talent, but when each solo—not just from the leads, but from everyone, almost without exception—is pure, on pitch, beautiful, it’s a treat. Angie Call (Winifred Banks), Shayla Florence (Jane Banks), Ben Royland (Michale Banks) rounds out the family by providing wonderful voices to match their admirable acting skills. I credit Music Director Derek Myler and Danny Inkley for choosing and utilizing the talents of these performers.

Even with strong singers and actors, if the choreography doesn’t pull its weight, a show can definitely lag. Thankfully, Choreographer Addison Welch blends dancing that fills the stage and keeps to the spirit of the show. The dance numbers are difficult, but not too busy to give you a headache. The ensemble (many who doubled as named characters) executes each dance with energy. The show’s signature dance, the second act’s Step In Time has the feel of a Stomp production number. It is so lively, it made me want to jump up on stage and join them.

marypoppins3

The hard work of the costumers cannot be overlooked. We know how Mary and Bert should look, but it was the other characters that surprised. Mrs. Andrew looks (and acts) deliciously vile. Admiral Boom does not disappoint. Dancing toys, birds, and statues add to the visual parade. Each costume matches the world beautifully.

mary poppins2

As an audience member, I was surrounded by many of a younger generation with several of the children dressing as their favorite character. As per the theatre’s custom, after the performance several of the actors came out in costume to greet friends, family, and the rest. It’s heartwarming to see Mary Poppins pose with several young fans dressed as Mary Poppins. It personalizes the art.

On a personal note, I should include an action taken by the theatre before the show began. An actor, involved with Centerpoint Legacy Theatre and its predecessor, Rodger’s Memorial Theatre, passed away last fall. Shelley Davies, Director of Development spoke to us about this actor, his love of performing, and his love of the theatre. She directed our attention to a seat in the front row, decorated with a chimney sweep broom wrapped in a ribbon. Before he died, the actor expressed his desire to be a chimney sweep in the show. He got his wish. It showed to me the heart of the theatre to hold up the curtain for fifteen minutes and let us all know how special he was to them.

Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre runs from February 24 to March 25 with Saturday matinees on March 3 and March 11.

Centerpoint Legacy Theatre is located at: 525 N 400 W, Centerville Utah 84014

Ticket prices: Adult Main Level: $23.25–$25.50, Balcony: $19.50–$21.50, Senior/Student Main Level: $21.25–$23/25, Balcony: $17.50–$19.50

No children under 3. No babes in arms.

Tickets and additional information can be found on their website: www.centerpointtheatre.org, or call: 801-298-1302

mary poppins1

Beautiful at the Eccles Theater is Simply Gorgeous!

home_banner1_2

By Jennifer and Craig Mustoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful, The Carole King Musical

Broadway at the Eccles

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

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

Arttix.artsaltlake.org $50-$100

Find Your Damage at Utah Rep’s Heathers

by Susannah Whitman

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

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

heathers3

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

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

heathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highland’s The Mousetrap is Mysterious Fun for Halloween

mousetrap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hughland Community Center 5378 w. 10400 n. Highland 84003

$8.00-$10.00

 

Save

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

revengers

By Jennifer Mustoe and Craig Mustoe

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

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

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

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

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

revengers1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grassroots Shakespeare Company

Facebook Page

 

Save

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

39s

By Jennifer Mustoe and Mary Garlitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re welcome.

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

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

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

 

 

 

The SCERA’S Nunsense is Heavenly!

nunsense_poster_final

By Rachael Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

nunsense-live2

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

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

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

nunsense-live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phone: (801) 225-ARTS

Tickets are $10-$12

Facebook page

 

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

bydand1

By Teresa Gashler

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

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

bydand

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

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

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

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

Facebook Page

Bydand Theater Company