UVU’s Short Attention Span is Worth Paying Attention To!

Front Row Reviewers Utah apologizes for not getting this review up on time! This hardly ever happens!

BY MH Thomas

Short Attention Span Theatre 2014
Ah, Spring. With it comes UVU’s annual student written, directed and performed ten minute play festival. This is the twelfth year that UVU has put on SAST. The venue for SAST is small and intimate. The Exbox Theatre holds just over sixty audience members and everyone has a good seat. The set is just a few tables and chairs and the actors are costumed in black and white. It is simple, but effective. The motto for the show is: “If you don’t like this one, wait ten minutes”. There are eight short shows in the production. Many actors play multiple parts. It is a challenge to go from one play to another with little to no time to adjust to a new character, but these UVU performers are up to the task. From comedy to drama and back again, the versatility of the actors is impressive.
God is Great is the first show and is written by Jared Bridegan. The student director is Amber M. Cummings. Javi Ybarra plays a nervous, Middle Eastern terrorist. The other passengers on the train are played by Jessie Lynn Pusey, Erika Ovuoba, Kacey Spadafora and Angela Nibley. As a result of the acting and directing, I was surprised at where my sympathies lay. “Through the Lens” is a show about a family that is coming apart. It is written by Romona Brown and directed by Emily Griffith. Jason Evans shows great emotion as a father who is struggling to know what his role in the family has been. Kayley Azure Green is the angry, adult daughter who cannot accept what is happening in her family. “Tax Dollars”, written by Daniel Paredes and directed by David Beach, is a political piece, complete with a corrupt, Southern politician and scandalous liaisons. Don’t let that fool you, it is hilarious. Javi Ybarra jumps from a dramatic role to a comedic one in this show. He and Collin Thomas play self serving, irreverent congressmen. Ann Thomas’ performance as the intern is spot on. She is a young woman in control. Scott Twitchel and Wade Johnson are the tough guys in the show. Tim Peay is the yes man. This is just a very funny cast who work together and make the script come alive. “Rank” brings us back into drama again. It is written by Daniel Paredes and directed by Jordan Cummings. This time Collin Thomas is coming directly from a comedy role into a very serious role. He and Paige Porter are parents who are manipulated by their ecclesiastical leader (Lucas Stewart). To save their family and themselves, they do things that are inconsistent with their beliefs and morals. It is powerful show that is powerfully acted. Written by Chantel Ficklin and directed by Lisa Edwards, “Between the Pages” is a story about a young man (Tim Peay) who has run into trouble and lands in jail. His friend (Alex Rettie) and his little sister (Kayley Azure Green, in her second role) visit him there. While there are many things the guard (Collin Thomas) does not notice, there are some that he does. “Mobsters” is a show directed by Jacob Squire and written by Trevor Newsome. While other shows have a message—this one is just absurd and funny. Javi Ybarra gets another chance to use his skill with accents, as a Mexican detective. His daughter (Rachel Bigler) has unknowingly gotten in with mobsters (Tony Soriano and Kacey Spadafora). Tim Peay plays. . . well, you’ll just have to go see the show to find out his third role. Written by Teresa Thomas and directed by Ben Henderson, “Guidance Program” is about young women who feel they are miles apart but come to understand each other better through the course of the show. Maddy Forsyth and Emma Robinson play two popular girls. I was particularly appreciative of Hannah Scharman’s thoughtful performance as the girl who is sent for guidance. The young women discover that they have more to offer one another than they first believed.
Another funny show, “Mad, Mad Love”, is written by David Pate and directed by Cameron Garcia. Two young friends (Erika Ovouba and Wade Johnson, in their second roles) call their friends together to explain “the elephant in the room”. The two are not on the same page about what the elephant is, though. The two main characters worked very well together. In his third role, Kacey Spadafora is quite creepy as the creepy friend. Clarissa Knotts and Lucas Stewart (second role) are amusing as the other two friends. This play is unique in that it has a bit of audience participation. Utah Valley University is really coming up in the theatre world. They are earning more and more awards and well deserved accolades. To get a taste of the kind of theatre UVU puts on, try Short Attention Span Theatre. There are four more performances in UVU’s Exbox Theatre (in the Gunther Trades Building). You can see it Friday the 28th and Saturday the 29th of March. Two shows each night at 7 pm and 9 pm.

Echo’s Bielzy and Gottfried Poses Questions of Morality Without Moralizing

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

I admit I was a little hesitant going into Echo Theatre’s production of J. Omar Hansen’s original play, Bielzy and Gottfried. It’s described as “a modern morality musical” and directors’ notes in the program refer to Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, sermons, Job, and the War in Heaven. I find the psychology of religious belief fascinating, but I do not go to plays (or read books or watch movies) to be preached at. If I wanted that, I could go to Sunday School. I had been assured by a cast member ahead of time that this show does not preach, though, and I was not disappointed by my choice to trust his recommendation. Bielzy and Gottfried is a fascinating show that asks difficult questions without spoon-feeding the answers–in short, the type of show that Echo Theatre is becoming known for here in Utah Valley.

bgposter Continue reading

The Empress’s “Kiss Me, Kate” is one Big Smooch of Fun!

By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

Last night Perry and I went to see Kiss Me Kate at the Empress Theatre in Magna.   Kiss Me Kate is one of those plays within a play.  The music and lyrics by Cole Porter, tells the story of a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew.  The onstage conflict is matched off stage by stars Fred Graham/Pertruchio (Josh Astle) and Lilli Vanessi /Katherine (Emily Wells) who are celebrating the one year anniversary of their divorce.  Fred is interested in Lois Lane/Bianca (Emily Preston) who is dating Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (Curtis Nash) and Lilli is engaged to General Harrison Howell (Nate McDonald).  When flowers from Fred, meant for Lois are delivered Lilli in error the off stage drama quickly boils over onstage to hilarious results.

The interactions between the two romantic couples (Josh Astle/Emily Wells and Curtis Nash/Emily Preston) were spot on.  The couples were well matched vocally and visually.  You really had no problems believing that they were couples.

The relationship between Fred/Pertruchio and Lilli/Kate was well played.  One of the things that struck me the most about both characters is that it was not just established by lines and lyrics.  You really believed that they were an off and on couple.  Ms. Well’s body language during her scenes as Kate was big but not over the top.  It really paid off as her facial expression often spoke louder than her lines.  Her rendition of “I Hate Men” was riotously funny as a result.   Mr. Astle ranged from ego-driven to dejected in a manner of a few seconds and even fewer words.

The relationship between Lois/Bianca and Bill was not quite as tight but it was still quite good.  Nash’s cocky gambler was matched by Ms. Preston’s spunky dancer holding on for her big break.

Troy Larsen and Kevin Pope positively stole the show however, as gangsters hanging around the show to make sure that a $10,000 gambling debt gets repaid.

One of the things that we noted is just how much this cast truly loved one another and this show.  They put their all into this show.  Nothing was done by rote.  Scene changes were done in character and with a lot of the usual banter you would expect in a situation where you have to get a lot done in a hurry.  It created a purpose and a flow that made scene changes something that held your attention.

The set, designed by director Nancy Jensen, is sparse and perfect considering the majority of the show’s action takes place back stage.  As you walk in, the ghost light and Pops (the stage doorman played by Kelly Oveson) greet you, giving the audience the feel that they too are part of the backstage action.  The show lets the audience in on the behind the scenes action including more than a few backstage jokes – the off stage cast responses to the stage manager’s (Robbie O’Kelley) call of “PLACES” had the actors in the audience roaring with laughter.

Speaking of the direction, Nancy Jensen’s direction was marvelous.  There were clear breaks between the Shakespearean and the non- Shakespearean dialog.  The stage pictures were all fabulous – there were no distractions and you were able to see all of the action without having to swivel back and forth.

The choreography by Chalese Craig was outstanding.  The dancing in second act opener “Too Darned Hot” was worth the price of admission alone.

Curtis Bailey is one of the many unsung heroes at the Empress.  His lighting and sound design was up to his usual standard.  Although we did overhear an interesting discussion about the sound at intermission.  One audience member complained that he thought the music was a little too loud (we were sitting right under one of the main stage speakers.  One of his companions explained that it had to be a little loud so that the actors could hear it on stage.  If there was anything to take from it, maybe the cast could have sung out a little more?

Costuming by Mary Ellen Smith and Diane Pope was fantastic.  They had their work cut out for them – essentially costuming two shows at once but they rose to the occasion.

All in all, the Empress’ Kiss Me Kate is not just another show.  It is a bright, shining star…a truly “wunderbar” experience.

Full disclosure – Perry and I are season ticket holders at the Empress and the Empress is our family’s “home” theater.  Until recently, I was in charge of marketing at the Empress (now I am Public/Community Relations for the theater).  Our son discovered his love of theater here and we had many friends on the stage last night.  The Empress holds a very special place in our hearts.

Kiss Me, Kate plays Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM through April 12 at the Empress Theatre (9104 West 2700 South, Magna). Tickets are $10. For more information, visit www.empresstheatre.com.

Covey’s Jimmy Stewart is Golden!

By Chelsea Benjamin and Robert Craig

Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood, an original play by Mahonri Stewart, opened Fri and our advice is GET TO THIS SHOW QUICKLY! It only plays two more times–a Saturday matinee at 2 PM and an evening performance at 7:30 PM.

Directed by Scott Bronson, this play reveals the sometimes harrowing, always interesting journey Jimmy Stewart made on his way to fame and fortune. What we find in Jimmy Stewart is that though Jimmy had some bumps and bumbles along the way, he really was that nice of a guy–just the guy you have seen on the silver screen.

Will McCallister plays Jimmy Stewart and has obviously done his homework–he has the mannerisms, the drawl and the stuttering down. He brings the genuineness to the role that is almost uncanny. Tall and lanky, McCallister makes a convincing Stewart–a difficult role to do well and Will nails it.jimmy

Kate Forsythe plays Margaret Sullavan–Jimmy’s Stewart’s first friend, and first love in his acting career. Forsythe is an strong actress who portrays Jimmy’s friend with passion and spunk.

The rest of the cast all play more than one character and this may be the only glitch in the show, and it is a small glitch. But it did get a little difficult that from scene to scene, the same actor would play two completely different characters. However, to their credit, every actor was able to portray those various roles with personality, variety and distinction.

Director Bronson created an effective set with all the actors sitting in a half circle on the stage with varying platform to show different levels. The actors all stayed onstage all the time except during costume stages. This gave us the idea that these were ACTORS in a show (or movie.) Each actor held their script on their lap or read through the script throughout the show, which gave it the feel of an elaborate rehearsal–except it was a play, or a movie, or…life? Bronson also kept the pace high and did a fun, effective bit that each scene had a clap of sticks, like the cut of a film scene. The show began and ended with the film slating as well.

Bronson also played Alexander Stewart (and several other smaller parts.) The relationship between Jimmy and his father was difficult and both men created this tension well without it becoming unbearably uncomfortable or awkward. Just a comfortable level of discomfort.

Jason Hagey played Henry Fonda (and Donald Stuart) and his Fonda was very good. He had a quiet dignity and humor, just like Fonda! Clayton Cranford played Josh Logan–Jimmy’s bisexual friend that got him into tgheater in the first place. Cranford’s drunk scene is hilarious. Don’t miss it.

Jennifer Mustoe plays Bessie Stewart, Jimmy’s mother. Her love for her son was very believable, as well as McCallister’s caring for his mother, as well. Alex Diaz plays a variety of characters, most epeically Frank Capra and Cary Grant. This young actor has a nice range, a great look and an ease on stage that makes him fun to watch. One of the most powerful moments in the play is Diaz’s portrayal of “Pilot.” It gave us chills and heard several audience members start to sniffle.

Rebecca Minson plays several characters as well, but her Katherine Hepburn is almost hauntingly realistic, in looks, mannerisms and spunk. Adam Argyle plays Jimmy’s rather inoccuous brother-in-law and the rather creepy Louis B. Mayer–creating totally different, effective personas with each role. Jessica Myer plays Jimmy’s sister Doddie and Ginger Rogers, another challenge to play two such opposite women. And does it flawlessly.

Because we have an insider track with Jennifer Mustoe, who is one of the co-founders of Front Row Reviewers Utah and a member of this cast, we learned that this ensemble performed this production tonight having never had a dress rehearsal with costumes ever, had never performed on this stage until the performance as they didn’t have access to the Covey’s facility until Friday morning and still pulled off what was a polished product.

Because this is such a short run, we can’t stress enough how you really are missing out if you don’t come see this touching, insightful, entertaining play about one of movie’s true icons.

Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood

Covey Center for the Arts

425 West Center, Provo

The best way to buy tickets is to simply arrive up to an hour early and buy the tickets at the box office.

Saturday March 29, 2014 2 PM and 7:30 PM $14/$16

BYU’s Pride and Prejudice Would Make Austen Swoon–With Delight! A Must See!

By Ashley Kelly

200 years ago, Jane Austen published a novel, which in years to come would be one of the most beloved romantic tales of all time. Brigham Young University, in celebration of the Pride and Prejudice’s anniversary, presents a new stage adaptation by Melissa Leilani Larson, directed by Barta Lee Heiner. Being a Jane Austen fan myself, I lost no time making sure I found a place in my schedule to see this show – and I am so glad that I took the effort.

                The story follows the life of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters, whose romantic lives are given a fresh twist upon the arrival of a young gentleman named Mr. Bingley, his sister, and his good friend Mr. Darcy. While the youngest sisters flirt with officers and the eldest sister Jane falls for the bumbling, well-mannered Bingley, Elizabeth must endure the advances of her excruciatingly awkward cousin Mr. Collins and interact with the proud and serious Mr. Darcy, who seems so unpleasant next to the dashing militia officer Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth must put aside her prejudices and learn that first impressions are not what they seem as she discovers what it means to fall in love.

                One of the primary concerns with doing such a well-known story is that the audience will compare it too closely to the novel or the very popular BBC and Focus Features film versions. I am pleased to say that Larson did a remarkable job in making her adaptation fresh, and even though I have read the story and watched the films countless times, I delighted in the execution of this production. Not only was the script a breath of fresh air, the technical elements and the staging created a unique version of the story.

                Each of the 17 cast members brought their own personality and life to the characters, working together with great chemistry and timing that can surely be owed in part to Heiner’s directing prowess. Karli Hall brings just the right amount of vivacity and spunk to the quick-witted Elizabeth. She did not shrink from the task of playing such an iconic role, and I think one of the reasons that I was so drawn in to this production was how comfortable she seemed walking around in the shoes of Elizabeth Bennet. A few of my other favorites included Austen Jensen – who perfectly embodied the love-struck, yet charmingly awkward Charles Bingley that we all know and love – and Jacob Swain’s portrayal of Mr. Collins, whom we can categorize as awkward on a whole different level and who provided some great comic moments to the production. The cast all worked together very well, and of course we cannot forget Ted Bushman’s wonderful portrayal of Mr. Darcy, who has a chemistry with Hall that brought the show to a wonderful conclusion that had the girls sitting next to me literally on the edge of their seats and clutching each other in anticipation (I’m not exaggerating!).

                One thing I cannot resist commenting on is the use of projection technology with this production. I am personally not a big fan of projections because I have seen productions where they do not work quite right, but I was pleasantly surprised with the simple, yet effective way that projection technology was implemented for this show. As each of the primary characters was introduced during the play, they would stand in front of a strip of fabric, strike a pose, and a projected image of a picture frame would appear around them. These “portraits” really helped with the establishment of each character, and there was a delightful twist of events in which new portraits are created when two characters joined hands in marriage. Without saying much more, these projections were a unique and sometimes funny addition to the production.

                I appreciated the simplicity of the set, and since the actors did not have body mics, there were microphones placed at strategic points around the set. This worked for the most part, but there was one microphone which picked up the sounds of the actor’s feet and the rustling of their clothing as they walked by it, which was distracting at times. If there were only a way to fix that issue without dangling a microphone from the ceiling! Fortunately, the actors were engaging enough to draw attention back to the story whenever this microphone picked up too many noises.

The Pardoe Theatre in BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center provides a surprisingly intimate setting for the production, although I had a bit of trouble finding parking because of the current popular Sacred Gifts exhibit at the neighboring art museum and the Men’s Chorus concert that was happening the same evening. However, the concert is now over, so parking should not be as much of a problem for future performances. Attendees are still advised to arrive around 15 minutes early to provide cushion time for parking, walking to the building, and taking your seat.

Overall, I found this production a delight to watch. Jane Austen fans will not be disappointed, and there is something for audience members of all ages to enjoy. It will be running for two more weeks, but tickets are going quickly – do not procrastinate getting yours!

Show info:

Brigham Young University presents Pride and Prejudice – a new adaptation by Melissa Leilani Larson and directed by Barta Lee Heiner, showing in the Pardoe Theatre at the BYU Harris Fine Arts Center.

1200 North Campus Drive, Provo, UT 84602

March 21-22, 25-29, 31 April 1-4 at 7:30 PM, Matinees March 22, 29 2:00 PM

$15-$17 ($5 off on weeknights/$4-5 off on weekends for students, $2 off for seniors and BYU alumni)

$9-$10 Matinees

801-422-BYU1

Order tickets online at http://arts.byu.edu/events/2655/

Go Find “Love’s Labour Lost” at the Brelby in AZ!

brelby1

Every once in a while, we do things a little different here at Front Row Reviewers Utah. Meaning if we have a reviewer who sees something OUT of Utah, we are happy to post a review of the show, should the reviewer want to write something up. Such is the case here!

By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

Perry and I traveled down to Phoenix to visit our son Perry who is there attending college.  Being the theater family that we are, the visit would not have been complete without a show.  Since the community theatre that Perry has become attached to here was opening a show, it was a natural for us to check it out.  The Brelby Theatre Company, located in Glendale, AZ, is the brain-child of Brian (Br) and Shelby  (elby) Maticic.  It was designed to be a place to provide directors, writers, designers and actors with a safe environment to enhance their creative abilities and explore their talents through the creation of live theatre.  They are an outlet for local playwrights to showcase their talents as well, but Friday, we were there for the Bard.

The cozy black box only seats 60-70 (advance ticket purchase are highly recommended) is a converted storefront in old downtown Glendale.  Parking is on the street and in a lot half a block away from the theatre. We were greeted by Executive Director Brian Maticic who was working box office and Shelby (Artistic Director) was ushering. When talking about love’s labors, these two show it as this theatre is a labor of love for the couple.

brelby2

The Brelby Theatre’s Love’s Labor’s Lost was a delicious romp set in the Roaring ‘20s. The King of Navarre and his three companions have sworn an oath to devote themselves to three years of study and fasting – forsaking all outside pleasures, especially romance.  hey unfortunately took that vow, forgetting that the Princess of France and her attendants are due to visit to negotiate the return of Aquitaine to France.  Because of the decree, the Princess and her attendants must camp outside of the court.  During the course of negotiations, the King and his companions fall in love with the Princess and her attendants, wherein comedy ensues.

King Ferdinand (William Wilson) and his companions (Mat Vansen as Biron, Daniel J. Hall as Longaville and Dylan Kim as Dumain) and the Princess of France (April Rideout) and her ladies (Emily Heald as Rosaline, Melissa Kamel as Katherine and Anna Katen as Maria) each had a very tight group dynamic.  You really believed that each gendered grouping was its own little tight knit clan.  The interactions between the lovers (Ferdinand and the Princess, Biron and Rosaline, Longaville and Maria and Dumain and Katharine) were at times completely comfortable with one another, and sometimes strained – which was appropriate given the context of the relationships within the show.

The action was moved along by the supporting characters – Don Armando of Spain (Luke Gomez), his page Moth (played to hysterical perfection by Simon Faddoul), local villagers Costard (David Magadan) and Jaquenetta (Corinne Tachuk) and Boyet (Tatiana Gil).  Boyet, charge d’affaires for the Princess, and Don Armando, advisor to Ferdinand helped their respective patriarch with hysterical unintended consequences.  Costard and Moth were part of the straw that stirred the drink – passing notes between the lovers.  Costard and Moth were particularly fun to watch.  Their physicality, especially the fight scenes and their facial expressions at times said more than any words could.

It was nice to see that each role in the show was perfectly age appropriately cast. Whether it was the young lovers or Sir Nathaniel and Madame Holofernes (the curate and school mistress respectively) each person was believable at the age played.

brelby4

Given that the Brelby space is compact, set design (Brian Maticic) and space usage has to be economical and the set for Love’s Labours Lost was creative and economical.  The stem of the “I” shaped stage (the audience sat on either side of the stem of the “I”) created a nice space between the ends where the library of the castle and the garden where the Princess and her attendants camped were.  The space is also very tough to light.  The space has a drop ceiling but by strategically removing panels in the ceiling, Brian Maticic lit the space perfectly.

Dance choreography (Shelby Maticic) and fight choreography (Brian Maticic) were well done. The dancing was era appropriate and still managed to stay within the small space. Same thing with fight choreography – it’s hard to “duke it out” in a small space without collateral damage, but it stayed well contained.  My only complaint about the fight choreography is that there was too much wrestling around on the floor that could not be seen beyond the front row.

brelby 5

Costuming by Carolyn McBurney, assisted by Melissa Kamel was fantastic.  I particularly loved the red dress that they had for Jaquenetta. She had minimal lines, but you could not help but notice every time she came on stage. Of course, some of it could have been the fact that her entrances were accompanied by the song “The Stripper.”   The women’s hair by Melody Chrispen was also perfect for the era.

Speaking of music, I have to give special credit to the sound design by April Rideout.  The music chosen for the pre-show music was perfect for setting the mood.   The Cole Porter selections–lots of Anything Goes– and a jazzed up version of “Call Me Maybe” and “The Stripper” were absolutely perfect.

Love’s Labour’s Lost was a fun introduction to a theater that is going to be a regular stop on our trips to Arizona.  If you are ever down in the Phoenix area and you are a theater lover, a show at the Brelby Theatre Company is worth the drive to Glendale.

Brelby Theatre Company presents Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare.  Performances are Thursday thru Sunday March 14-29.  Showtimes are Thursday and Friday 7:30 PM, Saturday 2 PM and 7:30 PM and Sunday 2 PM.  The Brelby Theatre Company is located at 6835 N 58th Ave. Glendale, AZ 85301.  Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased online (http://www.showclix.com/event/3776650), by phone at 602-282-2781 or in person at the box office.

brelby 3

http://brelby.com/

The Grand’s “Once on This Island” is Tropically Terrific!

island1

By Christopher Bradford

Once on This Island has been performed numerous times in the past few years in both Salt Lake and Utah valleys, but somehow I had never seen it until Friday night’s performance at the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College. The Grand is a stately theater that was once part of South High and has been refurbished as part of SLCC.

As my wife Luc, and I entered the theater, we were greeted by jungle sounds and the sight of the entire set with tree trunks sparsely populated with large leaves. We noted that the grand curtain is set quite far back from the front of the stage, which probably contributed to decisions made about the staging of the play. We were surprised to see that the audience Friday night filled less than a quarter of this handsome theater’s main floor.

The play opens with a great storm on an island in the French Antilles peopled by native islanders, called peasants, and the French rulers, called grandes hommes. One of the peasant girls (6th-grader Malia Nixon) is frightened by the storm, and her villagers try to calm her fears by telling her the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who loved a grande homme named Daniel. The play is characterized as a retelling of the original tale of the Little Mermaid and relates the tragic impossibility of love between a peasant and a grande homme. When Ti Moune dies of her love for Daniel when he weds another, the island gods are so moved that they transform her into a tree that cracks the gates separating the peasants from the grande hommes, allowing the two societies to mingle.

The entire 90-minute play is presented without pause; there are no scene changes and no intermission. The curtain never closes and the set never changes. Rather, the set is transformed in the minds of the storytelling villagers and their audience to represent settings as varied as the seashore, the hotel where the grandes hommes live, and the demesne of the island gods of earth, water, love, and death. We felt that this decision made the show flow very smoothly and maintained the feel of storytelling throughout.

After a few balance issues with the microphones in the opening minutes of the show, the cast of 13 had an excellent vocal blend. We noted in the program that several of the cast members are regular performers at the Grand and had recently performed in other shows together. This seems to have created a rapport that was evident throughout the play.

In my view, while all the cast had good voices, the standout voices were Ali Bennet in the role of Erzulie, goddess of love, and JD Dumas in the role of Agwe, god of water. They had excellent tone, though I wished for more power from Dumas as he seemed to hold back quite a bit during his solo planning the meeting of Daniel and Ti Moune. Similarly, Lucy and I looked for more energy from the cast at times. Perhaps this was due to the relatively small size of the cast in a proscenium theater. I thought Sean J. Carter in the role of Papa Ge, god of death, was the standout actor, switching impressively between the role of a villager and the crafty Papa Ge.

island 2

Steven Shoemaker in his theatrical debut as Daniel did best vocally in “Forever Yours,” a group number duetting with Erica Nicole Walter in the role of Ti Moune. His solo, “Some Girls,” wasn’t as confident and we noticed a few pitch issues. Generally speaking, the few pitch issues we noticed among the cast were corrected quickly and did not seriously detract from the very enjoyable music of the show.

Several members of the cast, including Walter (Ti Moune), Angela Trusty (Mama), and James Titus (Tonton) affected island accents, while most of the rest of the cast didn’t. I would have appreciated more consistency throughout the cast in the choice whether to use an accent or not. James Titus did a good job switching between a village storyteller and Tonton, Ti Moune’s adopted father, but I wondered whether an older actor would have fit the part of the aging parent better. Despite this, both Titus and Trusty had strong performances.

The lighting was excellent and added greatly to the show. This was particularly noticeable in the opening storm scene, with lightning flashes, but contributed to the mood of each scene very well.

Erica Nicole Walter as Ti Moune did an excellent job portraying her relationship as an orphaned girl adopted by “foster” parents Tonton and Mama, as well as the love-struck girl determined to seek out her Daniel. Her performance emphasized her love for Daniel, consistent with the message of the show’s ending, but we would have liked to see more conflict as she finds herself betrayed by Daniel and his father (Douglas Irey) when Daniel weds Andrea (Natale McAneney), and most especially when she holds a knife over him, but decides not to kill him for his betrayal. This seemed too abrupt and almost anti-climactic. The ending of the show felt similarly short and consequently a bit strained, though this may be more due to the writing of the show than this performance.

This impression of abruptness in the ending stayed with us as we drove home, but as we discussed the show, we had mostly very positive impressions. This performance certainly deserves a better audience showing than we saw Friday night. We would encourage you to go see Once on This Island at the Grand Theatre.

Once on This Island

Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty

Thursdays through Saturdays March 6-22, 7:30 PM plus Saturday matinees at 2 PM

The Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College, 1575 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115

801-957-3322

http://the-grand.org/events/current-season/once-on-this-island

Tickets $10-$24

The OBT’s “Wizard of Ahhs” is Wicked Fun!

oz1

By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

What do you get when you mash up one of America’s favorite musicals with an equally beloved movie musical AND the wild and wacky imagination of Eric R. Jensen?  It could only be Off Broadway Theatre’s Wicked Wizard of Ahhs playing now through April 12 The Wicked Wizard of Ahhs is the wacky story of Dorrie (played by Chelsea Baldwin) whose home in Kamas was swept in to the Land of Ahhs by a tornado.  Desperate to get home to Kamas, Dorrie must traverse Ahhs to Emery City in hopes that the mighty Wizard (Jason Unruh) can help her get home.  Along the way she must battle the Wicked Belva Bub (Mikael Short), but with the help of Gwendolyn the Good Witch (Kris Cox), Straw Man (Austinn Jensen), Tin Can (Justin Bradley) and Lionel the Lion (Clarence Strohn) how can she possibly not get her wish?

 If you’ve never seen a production at OBT, you are missing out on a real treat.  OBT’s space is a renovated old movie theater.  The space has a wonderful 1930/1940’s vintage era feel that reminds me (Cindy) a lot of the lovely old movie house in the town I grew up in. The staff of volunteers are always friendly and quick to offer assistance if you need it.

wiz4

 Writer/Director Eric R. Jensen did an overall great job putting together another fun show.  The script is appropriately cheesy and irreverent and the digs at local culture are always fun.  My only quibble is that at every show I have seen there has taken digs at the same usual places – BYU, Salt Lake Community College, Magna and the Granite School District.  While they are known quantities and rather target rich, there is enough ground in this valley to shake things up and not take shots at the same old targets.

 Chelsea Baldwin’s Dorrie was a spunky go-getter.  Part little girl (the opening scene tantrum was screamingly funny and a little TOO realistic if you are a parent) and part young women, Dorrie was no shrinking Violet content to sit on the sidelines.  No one was getting between her and what she wanted.

wiz3

While Dorrie is the focus of the show the shows stars are, without a doubt, the dueling witches – Gwendolyn and Belva Bub.  Mikael Short was clearly having a blast channeling both her inner diva and her inner witch as Belva Bub.  Her “Kill The Girl” (to the tune of “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked) was positively frightening.  Kris Cox (Gwendolyn) was the perfectly good foil to evil Belva Bub.  The highlight of the show was their first act close “Try Applying Vanity” (sung to “Defying Gravity” from Wicked).  They mastered the tight harmonies the song requires and the body language and eye contact made the relationship between the two characters real.  It truly was one of those moments that make a theater aficionado remember exactly WHY they love theater.

 Straw Man, Tin Can and Lionel were all perfectly cast – as individuals and as a unit.  The three of them truly belonged together and worked well together.  Justin Bradley’s facial expression more than made up for being in a “tin” suit.  I don’t know if it was intentional or not but his vocal patterns and inflections were very reminiscent of Jack Haley, who played Tin Man from the movie.  Clarence Strohn showed why he is an OBT favorite.  While Lionel was not as big of a part as Straw Man or Tin Can, his flair for physical comedy made sure you knew he was there.

Austinn Jensen’s Straw Man without a doubt stole the show.  Naturally loopy and off kilter, Austinn has his father’s knack for knowing when he has the audience in the palm of his hand and he refuses to let go.  We saw a very brief glimpse of this at SPA’s Little Shop of Horrors but it is fully on display here.  He took one simple act–being released from the nail that was holding him up in the cornfield–into a dance that carried him through the rest of the show.

 The supporting cast, Jason Unruh as Uncle Harry, the Wizard and Tree, Kyle Dunshee and Ariana Weiss had to have been costume change dervishes backstage because they were frequently on and off stage as some new character or another.  It was fun watching where these three would pop up next. And I simply cannot forget the Crunchkins.  These kids were fabulous. The Lollipop-Lullaby League/West Side Story Sharks/Jets mash up was seriously funny.  Perry particularly liked Lainey Jackson’s “Maria” in the mash up.  She did a very good job.

The technical aspects of this show were quite good. I know OBT has been working on improving their sound system and last night – it showed.  The sound by Erin Orr was crisp, clear and much improved over previous shows.   The set design by Eric R. Jensen and others made great use of their space.  The design for the Wizard’s Palace was the highlight of the show.  It was beautiful and complex and the mask – awesome.  Lighting design, also Erin Orr, were good for the space as well.  Perry especially loved the lighting for the end of Act 1 where you where you have “offstage” characters looking and interacting with characters onstage.  He felt it really did what it was designed to do.

 All in all, OBT’s Wicked Wizard of Ahhs is one of those shows that you go to when you need a good long belly laugh.

The Off Broadway Theatre presents The Wicked Wizard of Ahhs by Eric R. Jensen.   Performances are every Friday, Saturday and Monday at 7:30 PM from now until April 12, 2014.  The theater is located at 272 South Main Street in Salt Lake City.  Tickets are $10.00 to $16.00 and can be purchased by phone, online or at the box office.

 Call 801-355-4628

 https://www.ezticketlive.com/checkout/eventbdate.asp?id=18

http://theobt.org/

 

Midvale Arts Council’s “Jurors” is Guilty of Exciting Courtroom Drama!

taj

By Larissa Villers Ferre

“…You’ve listened to a long and complex case, murder in the first degree. Premeditated murder is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts. You’ve listened to the testimony, you’ve had the law read to you and interpreted as it applies in this case, it’s now your duty to sit down and try to separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead, another man’s life is at stake, if there’s a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused… then you must bring me a verdict of “Not Guilty”. If, however, there’s no reasonable doubt, then you must, in good conscience, find the accused “Guilty”. However you decide, your verdict must be unanimous. In the event that you find the accused “Guilty”, the bench will not entertain a recommendation for mercy. The death sentence is mandatory in this case. You’re faced with a grave responsibility, thank you, gentlemen.”

And so the audience is introduced to what they will witness in the following hour plus a few minutes of deliberation amongst twelve jurors. Twelve Angry Jurors is adapted from Twelve Angry Men to accommodate the inclusion of both men and women. I’ve seen both versions and it somehow bothers me that angry men are seen as  passionate, while angry women are seen as wenches. Throughout this production, you see that in spite of the stubbornness and preconceived notions of the jurors, they are all somewhat open-minded to possibilities that life exists beyond their prejudices.

I truly found myself sitting there thinking, “Man, everyone is so angry.”  A few of the jurors are more level-headed than others, but this cast excels at living up to the title of the production.  Anyone who has been through the process of accepting something contrary to their beliefs knows how hard it is to let go of what you previously held as the concrete truth. You watch these jurors face those demons and the peace and humility that finally results.

One of the most poignant moments of the show is beautifully enforced through the talents of Jeremiah Wing as Juror #10.  His selfish, racist outburst literally makes every other juror turn their backs on him, which symbolically represents them turning their backs on their own prejudices.

Midvale Arts Council had a huge challenge to face in the pacing of this show because it is entirely conversational with people stepping on each other’s words, arguing, yelling, and whispering all at the same time.  I can hear director Melody Chapman, and producer Stephanie Johnson asserting, “Challenge accepted!”  They definitely won that challenge.  I watched with an eagle eye and there was not a glitch to be had.

The only thing I saw that didn’t strike me as normal (aside from the obvious legal incorrectness of the script) was the physically interaction between jurors.  There was quite a bit of touching and physical force going on.  In reality, even so much as a handshake can sometimes be awkward between strangers, even those who have spent six days in a courtroom together.

The script is dated as the movie debuted in 1957, however, Midvale made some slight changes to keep things modernized – such as a juror mentioning tickets to Wicked, and the evidence displays on an LCD television equipped with an iPad and USB drive.

Another aspect I loved and always do with Midvale indoor productions is the lack of microphones. The actors all project with crystal clarity and the audience is never left cringing from feedback. Speaking of sounds, I have to plead with audience members – turn off your phones!  How terrible is it when a cast member is giving a touching, loving monologue and disco music starts blaring even louder than anyone on stage can project?  It’s pretty terrible.  And rude.  Turn them off!

For all the lovers of courtroom dramas like Law & Order or those who enjoy an intellectually stimulating, well-thought out plot, Twelve Angry Jurors is a must-see.  While there are no colorful musical numbers or car chases to behold, this show will still have you on the edge of your seat.

Twelve Angry Jurors has two remaining showings – tonight and tomorrow, March 7 & 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Midvale Performing Arts Center (MPAC) 695 West Center Street (7720 South) and are presented without intermission. Tickets may be purchased online at www.midvalearts.com. Ticket prices are $7 for general admission, $5 for seniors and children, family passes are available for $25 (one household).

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse–Perfect Fun for Young and Old!

lppp1

By MH Thomas

Being a grandma, I am always looking for fun opportunities to share with my grandchildren. It just so happened that I was watching my three- and four-year-old grandsons on a day when there was a matinee of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse at the Noorda Theatre. We hopped in the car and headed over to Utah Valley University for our adventure together. We were not disappointed.

The theatre was filled with young ones anticipating what was to come. I must say that the audience was very polite and attentive. The stage was colorful and behind the activity going on there was what looked like a giant tablet that was used to advantage during the show. My four-year-old grandson was fascinated with it and loved seeing the different scenes that appeared.

My program did not give the names of the designers (perhaps because we were at a school matinee), but they really set the tone with their designs. The costumes and set were bright and fun and made you feel you were walking right into the books of Kevin Henkes. The hair and makeup designs, by Ann Thomas, were cute and helped to express the personalities of the mouse characters. Oh yes. I will add. Lilly is a mouse.  A mouse with a purple plastic purse.

One of my personal favorite characters was Chester (Alex Rettie.) He performed with an infectious enthusiasm and a touch of goofiness. It made you just want to give him a hug. His friend, Wilson (Ryan Hopkins), was sweet and more reserved than exuberant Chester. They were the first two on stage and their friendship was played in a very believable way.

Soon afterwards, on comes Lilly (Briana Lindsay.) She is a ball of energy from start to finish. She is the self-proclaimed “Queen of the World!” and lets everyone know this in no uncertain terms. Her little crown sits at a jaunty angle and gives the perfect touch to her costume. Lilly loves everything and is excitedly waiting for the birth of a new baby in her family. Let’s just say that after he is born, her enthusiasm wanes. Julius, the baby of the world, is played skillfully by Kailey Green. The children in the audience obviously found the little mouse to be adorable. Lilly’s Mother and Father (Jessie Pusey and Tim Pacy) lend a serious but loving note to the show. Garland (Riley Branning) is Lilly’s self-absorbed cousin.

All the characters love school—and they especially love their new teacher, Mr. Slinger (Dallin Majors.) He was another favorite character of mine. His performance made me want to be a child in his classroom. He portrayed the kindness and understanding that the character is meant to have. He is also “cool” and creative. I loved his colorful shirts. Lilly is at first enamored with her teacher and then has some issues with him. It was enjoyable to see how they worked things out.

lilly 2

Lilly’s new purse is her pride and joy. Her Grammy (Laicey Gibby Brown) bought it for her and it is spectacular in the young mouse’s eyes. The best thing ever! She dreams of how everyone will react when they see it for the first time. She dances to the music it plays. My four-year-old grandson just thought that was hilarious. Her purse kind of takes over her life briefly. People don’t react like she expects them to react. After some unhappiness, Lily learns that there is a time and place for everything.

The boys and I had a wonderful time at the show. When you can get a three- and four-year-old to sit for an hour, that is quite a recommendation! At the end, the characters come down and dance with the audience members. That was a lot of fun for the children. The high fives as we left the theatre were a bonus for the young audience.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is directed by John Newman. It plays at the Noorda Theatre on UVU campus until March 22nd. Showtime is 7:30 PM with Saturday matinees at 2 PM. There may also be some school matinees that are open to the public during the week. You can call  801-863-PLAY from 4-6 PM to get more information. You can also buy tickets online at http://www.uvu.edu/arts/soaevents/soaevents.php?switcher=Theater.