Salem Hill High’s Footloose is Tight and Great!

By Coulsen Bingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she couldn’t be more correct.

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

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

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

By Coulson Bingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 penny 1 By Nancy Roche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and the punchline: straight to the gut.

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

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

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

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

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

romeo

By MH Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Romeo and Juliet Project

UVU Noorda Theater

800 West University Parkway, Orem, UT 84058

801-863-4636

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

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Zion Theater Company’s Evening Eucalyptus is an Australian Holiday

ee-1By Kristin Perkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evening Eucalyptus, Zion Theatre Company play premiere

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

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

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

Info: (801) 358-6623

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Utah Rep’s [title of show] is Uniquely Brilliant

title1By Jennifer Mustoe, Craig Mustoe and Caden Mustoe

[title of show] is based on a very simple premise. So simple it may seem almost silly and trivial at first. But it isn’t. Here’s the plot: best friends Hunter and Jeff want to submit a musical to a festival in New York. They have three weeks. Very soon, they begin to realize that the only real story they have is the one about them writing a musical to submit to the festival. (The word “festival” a la Into the Woods, is mentioned–funny!) As these two guys keep writing, a few silly plot lines emerge. See the song “Monkeys and Playbills” for instance–a hilarious piece with action and laughs and lots of twists.

So [title of show] tracks the progress of Hunter (played by Austin Archer) and Jeff (played by Jonathan Scott McBride) and their friends Heidi (Megan Shenefelt) and Susan (Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin), who’ve been invited to be part of the production.

What IS the production? This is what’s so fascinating about [title of show]. Yes, we see the minutiae of Hunter and Jeff’s process: at times it’s hilarious and at times, it’s rather mundane. But it’s always totally believable and relatable. I think anyone who’s ever tried to write anything–music, a book, a theater review (meaning yours truly–right now), using the creative process can relate to this production. As I discussed with Caden, my 18-year-old son, who attended with me, we realized this show is as much about process as it is about story or music or even acting. So much to love about [title of show]!

Not to give anything away, but [title of show] does have some success and then, it sort of just fades off. We see the four actors and Larry, the keyboardist, played so adorably by Kevin Mathie (also the show’s musical director), try to get their show back on track. In the meantime, we watch a very honest, funny–no make that VERY funny story of four people who are trying to get a show on Broadway.

The music by Jeff Bowen, is incredible, using a variety of musical genres for the songs. The book by Hunter Bell is amazing. It’s really Hunter’s story we see.

title-of-showThe actors are so spot on, I’d swear they were the original people in the show. However, I knew this wasn’t the case as the real Hunter Bell (who wrote and then starred in the show when it opened) came to this production. I met him and he’s as sweet as pie, and I could see from the twinkle in his eye and huge enthusiasm for this particular production that the Hunter in the show is a totally authentic Hunter from real life. This is refreshing.

Austin Archer does a fantastic job as Hunter, and how awkward might it be to play the guy who wrote the book and then played it when [title of show] was first performed? If Archer was nervous, I couldn’t tell. Instead, he was funny, very physical, had great timing with all the comedy and sold every moment as Hunter.

Jonathan Scott McBride has a voice that I could listen to all day long–strong, clear, delightful. His acting chops are just as impressive. As the composer Jeff Bowen, he is funny, but when he sees Hunter begin to sell out to make sure [title of show] is a success no matter what, McBride shows a fierce dedication to make sure Hunter stays true to the original concept. I could feel his alarm and even anger that Hunter was making selfish and even foolish choices.

The women in the show were awesome and one of my favorite songs was “Montage Part 2: Secondary Characters.” For anyone who’s been *almost* a lead role, this song is especially meaningful. Shenefelt’s clear, multi-layered pipes and incredible range brought great drama and delight to this production. Darby-Duffin’s voice and her hilarious facial expressions made her so real, it made me feel like she was every fun friend I’ve ever had. Both women were believable and a real delight.

Director Jason Bowcutt has his actors moving all over the simple stage and it made the show (90 minutes with no intermission) really clip along. I felt really happy during the production and I know it was in part to how Bowcutt had so much movement going all the time. With only four players, it could get stagnant and boring really quickly.

The set, and the costumes (by Nancy Susan Cannon) also became topics of discussion in the show. I won’t tell you about them because it’s a funny bit and I don’t want to spoil it. But you’ll like it, I promise.

I don’t want to give away the ending of the story, but if you search Wikipedia, you’ll know what happens to [title of show]. Do yourself a favor and don’t look it up on Wikipedia. Just come see the show and you’ll find out on your own.

The Sugar Studio Theater in Salt Lake City (Sugarhouse) is smallish and opening night sold out, so I would recommend getting your tickets quickly. This is a top-quality show, very tight, very enjoyable, and I suspect the shows will sell out.

Note: if this was a movie, I’d rate it R. Don’t let this dissuade you from coming to the show, but there are a lot of F-bombs and discussion of adult themes–probably not for less than mature teenagers and up. This is actually one of the topics examined in the show–should it be “cleaned up”, and one I felt was explored rather interestingly. I’m not sure I would have made all the same choices Bell made, but I see where he’s coming from and those decisions are part of what make [title of show] a completely unique production.

[title of show] runs November 7-16 in Salt Lake City and then on November 21-22 in Provo.

Sugar Studio Theater

616 Wilmington Ave, Salt Lake City, UT 84106

The Covey Center for the Arts

425 West Center St., Provo, UT 84601

$16-$18 TICKET INFO

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Invite your friends to Silver Summit’s Company

companyBy Jason Evans

Company, with music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth, premiered on Broadway on April 26, 1970 at the Alvin Theatre. It was highly successful and ran a total of 705 performances; it won the 1971 Tony award for Best Book of a Musical, Best Score, Direction (Harold Prince), Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson) and Best Musical.

The basic story involves a series of vignettes involving a bachelor named Robert, Bobby to all of his friends (played by Rick Rea) and how he learns about the joys and perils of love, marriage, dating and divorce from his married friends. This show radically changed musical comedy when it premiered. It is not plot driven, but psychologically driven; in a nutshell, it brought existentialism to the American musical. Existentialism was basically a philosophical movement focused on the existence of the individual. It is a musical examination of the institution that is matrimony, which is both piercing with its psychological clarity, and buoyed by the comic appreciation of human frailty. This musical includes some of the best and most beloved songs by Sondheim including “Another Hundred People,” “Not Getting Married Today,” “Sorry-Grateful,” “Ladies Who Lunch,” and “Being Alive.”

This particular production is being staged at the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse in downtown Salt Lake City. It is basically an old warehouse that has been converted to a theatre space, quite nicely I might add. Michelle Rideout, founder of The Silver Summit Theatre Company, has done a nice job of converting this space into a theatre. I have only seen one other production in this space and that was their joint production with Utah Repertory Theatre Company of August: Osage County. At first it may seem like a huge space, but it grows on you and I personally am very comfortable there. This is their very first musical and I feel it is a triumph.

Director Kate Rufener states in her director’s notes that her approach to this piece is based on the notion that even though we crowd ourselves with love, relationships, and gain comfort in those, we yearn for a life where nothing is missing, no empty spaces, basically avoiding the voids in our lives. Ironically and unfortunately, those relationships often end up focusing on all that is missing in our lives, causing us to fill the void with all “the little things.” We need to go after what we really want in life. Know what we really want. As one of the characters at the end of the show tells Bobby, “Want something. Want something.” This is a very nice jumping off point for this particular musical and it served it well in this production. We watch as Bobby jumps through three relationships throughout the course of the show and how he tap dances between them, looking to fill that void but not willing to fully commit to someone. His friends’ lives and relationships are all at different levels of dysfunction, but at the same time, there is much love there in those relationships.

I really loved the personal touch that Rufener brought to this piece. During moments of personal reflection with Bobby, she featured all of these couples on stage showing their relationships with each other and how being with someone, “Company,” can enhance a person’s life tremendously when pursued with a personal passion and vigor. The other personal touch was at the end of Act One, when Bobby goes through a personal epiphany and realizes he is ready for marriage but doesn’t want to fully commit. The director has this reflection, the song “Marry Me A Little,” being sung during individual dates with the three girls he is currently going out with. This added a very personal flavor to the portrayal of Bobby and supported the song very well. I really felt as if I was in Bobby’s head.

Bobby, portrayed by Rick Rea, did an outstanding job in portraying a lost young man in the prime of his life searching to fill that void. I felt for him and was rooting for him from the very beginning. This is solely due to Rick’s very honest portrayal of Bobby. By the time we near the end of the show with his final realization of “What he really wants,” portrayed in one the of the most famous songs of the show, “Being Alive,” we feel a sort of catharsis with Bobby and we come out of this production better people and understanding of knowing what we want in life and going after it.

The rest of the ensemble was outstanding. The ensemble consisted of: Sarah (Eve Speer) & Harry (Brandon Rufener); Peter (Ricky Parkinson) & Susan (Lindsay Bateman); Jenny (Natalie Easter) & David (Natalie Easter); Amy (Ali Bennett) & Paul (Mason Holmstead); then the three girlfriends, Kathy (Rachel Schull); April (Heather Shelley); and Marta (Natalia Noble). Each couple only has brief moments to portray their respective stories, but each of them was unique and completely honest in their portrayals. There was never a false moment in the show. I fell in love with each of these couples and that is not an easy thing to do, but it is what makes the difference between a mediocre production and an exciting, fresh look at a classic, which is what Kate Rufener’s production does very well. The pinnacle of the show comes at the end when Bobby is out for dinner and drinks with the oldest couple of the group, Larry (Brian Gardner) and Joanne (Marcie Jacobsen). When after a long time friendship with this couple, Joanne offers to have an affair with Bobby, it forces Bobby to really look at himself and his life, and Marcie Jacobsen’s performance of Joanne beautifully provides the catalyst for that change in Bobby. I have seen Marcie Jacobsen deliver powerhouse performances before, but this one was truly a showstopper. Anyone familiar with the show knows about the most famous song from this show, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Marcie knocks this number out of the ballpark in a heartbreaking rendition that left me totally speechless. There was no applause at the end of the song, which I personally feel is a huge compliment to this wonderful actress.

I love this musical with all of my heart. I love Stephen Sondheim. I keep asking myself every time I see one of his shows, “How does he know what it’s like?” “How does he know what I’m struggling with in my life?” “How does he know so much about the human condition?” He just does. This incredible piece of musical theater is living proof that Stephen Sondheim is one of the greatest living composers of the American Musical Theater. Congratulations to director Kate Rufener, her incredible cast, the wonderful Anne Puzey (Musical Director), and Michelle Rideout and Silver Summit Theater Company for putting on a wonderful testament to Stephen Sondheim’s genius alongside George Furth’s incredibly touching and insightful script. I truly walked away from this production, moved and my mother and I couldn’t stop talking about it all through the drive home. Everyone needs to see this production!

Company by the Silver Summit Theater Company plays Fridays & Saturdays (November 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 at 7:30 PM, and Sundays, November 9, 16, 23 at 4:00 PM.)

Where: The new Sugar Space Arts Warehouse, 130 S 800 W in Salt Lake City. The easiest route is to travel to the exit off I-15 (600 S); turn left on 400 W; left on 200 S; right on Jeremy Street; right on 100 S; right on 800 W; the warehouse will be on your right (it is a red roofed warehouse amongst residential homes); you can access the driveway to the immediate north of the building and the parking lot is behind the space as well as on the street. I had no problems finding it.

Tickets: $15 in advance online (BuyYourTix.com), click on the Silver Summit Theatre Company link; or $18 at the door.

Content Advisory: Does contain adult subject matter, mild language, onstage theatrical depiction of marijuana use and one scene of mild sexuality. If this were a movie, it would be rated PG-13.

Website: www.silversummittheatre.org

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Who Should See The Owl Girl? Everyone.

owl girl

By Lorrinda Christensen

What happens when two families in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who both have keys to the same house try to live in it together? The Owl Girl is a story of two families living in a time of unrest: one displaced, removed from their home and now living in a camp, the other, living in the house formerly occupied by the first family. The fathers (Brad Davis and Torin Scoffield) play chess; the mothers (Kalika Rose and Kate Lanphier) cook together; the lovers (Napsugar Hegedus and Ibraim Quraishi) dream of a better future; and war mad children (Breean Taylor and Laura Witkop) play doctor and murder.

When I decided to go see The Owl Girl at the University of Utah’s Studio 115, I had no idea what to expect. I tried to research the play and find out more, but found little in reference to the show. It is fairly new – I could only find one other instance of it being performed anywhere – and from what I later found out, has only been staged readings, not performed. It is a thought-provoking play about these two families: both very different, yet very much the same.

Most of the play takes place in the house, which uses the theatre space very efficiently. The set is divided into three levels: the roof, a bedroom, and the kitchen/family area of the home. I really enjoyed how set designer Haley Nowicki used this space. There were minimal pieces being moved on and off between scenes, if any, which made things flow very well. The costume design by Sarah Rogers was timeless. I particularly liked that, along with the lack of mention of a specific time period for setting the play, the costumes could have been from a wide time range as well, thus making the show as relevant today as twenty years ago.

Director Alexandra Harbold did an exceptional job telling the story of these two families and their struggles to get past their differences and learn to get along and ultimately become their own kind of family.

The entire cast played their parts with passion and conviction and kept me wondering what was going to happen next. Breean Taylor, who played Capi the younger brother of Stel, kept up her energy the entire show spinning around in circles, shooting other family members while playing war and dying dramatically on the floor. That, combined with Laura Witkop’s prowling and pouncing across the stage as Anja, who believed she was an array of different animals including a lion, a leopard and an owl, made the play more entertaining and brought a bit of humor to an otherwise austere subject.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys thought provoking and intense theatre. The Owl Girl runs through Sunday November 2, and has a talkback session with the cast following the performance on Oct. 31.

At 7:30 PM

240 South 1500 East, Room 206, Salt Lake City, Utah 84020

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Tickets available now at Kingsbury Hall www.kingtix.com or by calling 801-581-7100.
General: $18
UofU Faculty, Staff, Seniors age 60 and over: $15
Military and their immediate families: $15
U of U students FREE with Arts Pass
Other students: $8.50
For group discounts of 20 or more call 801-581-6406.

Covey’s Much Ado About Zombies is Steampunk, Spooky Shakespeare!

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By Chance Young

As my friend Shelby and I pulled into the parking lot of the Covey Center for the Arts to attend Much Ado About Zombies, an adapted version of Shakespeare’s classic Much Ado About Nothing directed by Eric Samuelsen, I was unsure of what to expect. Being unfamiliar with the full story of Much Ado About Nothing, I was unsure what this would be. Shakespeare’s original Much Ado is a romantic comedy involving the story of Beatrice and Benedict, two headstrong, brilliant people who are duped into loving each other by their friends. They are joined by Claudio and Hero, whose young, unstable love is broken (by infection!) and then reconciled. I sat in my seat quietly hoping that the original story would not be lost amongst the gears and cogs and various pipes that sprung out as I observed the set, delighted at the idea of a steampunk setting. For those of you who are unfamiliar, steampunk is a genre of science fiction that is set in the Industrial Revolution. I was very impressed by this choice of setting, as it allowed Samuelsen to bring very modern nuances and highly original ideas to the Shakespearean text and language.

The inventive, appropriate setting, provided by Daniel James’ amazing stage design greets patrons with huge (and I mean HUGE) gears and pipes all over the stage. The set is further enhanced with the ingenious lighting design by Pam Davis. This stage is stunning.

I must commend the actors on a fantastic job in contributing to the overall idea of a steampunk zombified world. I personally enjoyed the portrayal of both Benedict by Barrett Odgen and Bronx-accented Friar Francis by Archie Chrisanto. I felt as though they were able to really capture the attention of the audience and keep us highly engaged in the idea of a steampunk zombie world without breaking the concept and idea of the Shakespearean work and language. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Hero by Emily Siwachok, especially as an Undead. Her sweetheart, Claudio, played by Carter Peterson, is a zombie almost from the beginning and his growls and his wild dance to “Cry No More” are hilarious. Ashley Lammi as the strong but loving Beatrice is stupendous.

As a whole, I feel that the cast did an excellent job of character, even when it was intermission, which helped me stay submersed in the concept of the world and the idea of the infection spreading throughout the characters as the story developed. Even between scenes, the actors stayed in character as zombies as they shuffled on and off carrying set pieces on and off.

The musical aspect of the performance greatly enhanced the overall ambiance of the piece; however, I feel that in a few areas it dragged out slightly, which sometimes drew me out of the story more than added to it. The dance numbers were great and the last number (to Wide Awake) especially was an edgy, fun close to the show.

The costume design is to be absolutely applauded, as Lisa Kuhni did a fantastic job in dressing the performers to fit the world of steampunk. The detail she provides is a delight. Everyone has their “thing”, which helps to identify who goes with who, and everyone has a rather cool, edgy look. Make up also stands out. In all theater productions, make up is important, but Ogden’s gold glittered face in Act Two certainly helps us see his transformation from dedicated bachelor to loopy lover. The zombie make up is great—not too gory, and the black light effect is amazing.

Further, as a rather small but important note, you should go to the show just to see their amazingly spooky programs. Fantastic!

I would recommend this to anyone as it was a grand performance that I would gladly see over and over again. Well done and highly appropriate for this all Hallows Eve season.

Note: Though this show has zombies, there is no gore except for one rather bloody-faced zombie. I would recommend this show to kids maybe 11 or older if they are able to follow the Shakespearean text. The show runs about two hours, so bring children who can sit still that long. There is plenty to see, so kids who like acting will probably love this show.

Covey Center of the Arts presents Much Ado About Zombies
Written by William Shakespeare, Adapted by Becky Baker
425 W Center St, Provo, UT
Monday, October 27 -Saturday, November 1, 2014 @7:30 PM
Tickets: $16, $14
Call: 801-852-6000
http://www.provo.org/community/covey-center-for-the-arts

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UVU’s OTHER DESERT CITIES Should be Seen by Everyone in Our City

By MH Thomas

OTHER DESERT CITIES is a play written by Jon Robin Baitz, originally produced by Lincoln Center Theater, New York in 2010 and won the Outer Critics Circle Award in 2011. It is an interesting title—and as you watch the show, you will soon discover where that title came from.

I can never say enough about how UVU theatre has progressed over the years. Their program has become truly impressive. This production is the senior project of student, Jason R. Evans, who directed and designed this version and  is to be congratulated on his efforts. This is a heart-wrenching play filled with powerful performances.

As this is a student run production, the set is very spartan. There are several chairs arranged to suggest various seating areas in a family living room in Palm Springs. A table with glasses and bottles of alcohol, which is visited often in the course of the evening, are the other set pieces.

As the story begins, the two adult children of a former actor turned politician/ambassador have come home for the Christmas season and are visiting pleasantly with their parents. The mood is fairly light in the beginning. Polly (Megan Ann Bisbee) and Lyman (Collin Thomas) Wyeth joke with their children Brooke (Abigail Snarr) and Trip (Kristopher Miles.) The mood becomes a bit tense as they discuss Brooke’s soon-to-be published book. Aunt Silda, Polly’s sister and a recovering alcoholic, performed by Melissa Anderson Brinkerhoff, appears a bit later and distracts everyone for a short time.

Brooke Wyeth seems reluctant to reveal the topic of her new book to her family. When she does, emotions run high and the tension in the theatre is palpable. These actors do an excellent job of portraying the gamut of emotions. Polly is very driven to maintain a certain appearance within the community–she is all about appearances. Megan Ann Bisbee’s performance left me with little love for this anger-filled character. Still, there is a sense that there is something going on behind her hard exterior. Collin Thomas does a fine job of displaying Lyman’s frustration, confusion and despair over the situation that the book has dredged up, and the issues they must all confront and examine after many years. There is a tenderness between father and daughter that comes through in their performances. Even as he is upset, it is clear that he is a caring parent. Kristopher Miles plays the part of Trip with the unsure cockiness of someone who is used to being in control and feels caught in the middle. He is goofy, serious and unsettled all in the same moment. Melissa Anderson Brinkerhoff’s Silda is in a fog much of the time—but sparks of wisdom and compassion break through. The performance could seem forced but is done in a very natural way.

The second act is where everything comes to a head. The high emotions of the first act run even higher. The pain of every member of the family is apparent in the performance of each actor. Secrets are revealed as they all struggle to understand the others’ insistence that their wishes and desires concerning the book are the appropriate ones. Lyman reaches a breaking point and the biggest secret is revealed.

As the play concludes, Abigail Snarr shows versatility in the way her character is portrayed from beginning to end. It is clear that Brooke has been affected by the events of that Christmas season when so much was revealed within this troubled family

This show has a lot of messages to present about family life and about life in general. You will not leave this play untouched by the emotions portrayed by these talented actors. Well done, Jason R. Evans. The show was so well cast and the actors directed in a way that truly brought this production to life. OTHER DESERT CITIES only plays for three days. Don’t miss it, if it is at all possible for you to attend.

Utah Valley University – Gunther Trades Building – ExBox Theatre (6th Floor)

Directions: Park in either lot # M23 or M24 (see UVU Parking Map). Enter door located North of the Noorda Theatre (see Gunther Trades Map), the entrance is by rooms 635 & 636; Turn Left at the end of the Hallway. The ExBox Theatre will be on your left (Room 627). Look for signs showing you the way as well as on the entrance door.

UVU Parking Map: http://www.uvu.edu/parking/permits/maps.html

UVU Gunther Trades Building Map:
http://www.uvu.edu/asd/maps/gt_building.html
CLICK ON SIXTH FLOOR SOUTH BUTTON

FOR VISITORS: You will not be ticketed if you park in the above lots. The parking is open to the public after 5. If you do get ticketed, take the ticket to Parking Services and make them aware that you were attending an event in the GT Building.

This show has some profanity, so young children and tweens are probably not appropriate audience members.

Thursday, October 23, Friday, October 24, 2014, & Saturday, October 25, 2014 @ 7:30 p.m. – Doors open @ 7:00 p.m.

Free Admission. Seating is very limited. Arrive early!

Written by Jon Robin Baitz

Directed by Jason Evans
Starring: Megan Ann Bisbee, Collin Thomas, Kristopher Miles, Abigail Snarr & Melissa Anderson Brinkerhoff