Utah Rep’s Bare Strips Away Stereotypes Beautifully

bare1By Coulson Bingham

Bare, written and composed by Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo was originally performed in October of 2000 at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles. It is about the coming-of-age senior year of five high school students at a Catholic boarding school. Knowing their stay in the insular world they’ve always known is drawing to a close, each of them question where they are in their lives and what their futures hold. The story focuses on the hidden love and relationship of two boys: the introverted, artistic Peter, and Jason, the popular jock/golden boy. The story gets up close and personal with the struggles, trials and hardships they push through to keep their relationship hidden but alive, and how their love affects their friends and the people around them.

Director Johnny Hebda cannot think of a better place than Utah to share this incredible story. In so many parts of the country these issues are in the past and in so many religions, homosexuality has been accepted as people’s views change. But here in Utah, the topic couldn’t be more current and applicable. He says, “with debates and conflicts surrounding gay marriage, from the LDS Church’s focus and stance on homosexuality, to the religious influences in the education system–it’s as if Bare was handcrafted specifically for us.”

With much of the emphasis on homosexuality, this remarkable show also addresses current topics such as depression, underage use of drugs and alcohol, teenage pregnancy, bullying and ignorance.

Hebda has known for years that this show needed to come to Utah in order to tell the story in this particular environment. As with any director, he has spent much of the past couple years on the lookout for his perfect cast and encouraged people to audition because the show is not widely known and provided the innate possibility for a difficult casting turnout. After finding his perfect cast, rehearsals began in late October in the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse in Salt Lake. By Thanksgiving, the show was blocked, choreographed and they were well on their way to a strong show. The blocking was creative and used the space to its best ability and provided some chilling moments with something as simple as a turn of the head, sending the audience into tears. There were subtle hand touches and stolen glances that were true to the characters and the unfortunate, hidden reality of the story. That being said, there were also quite a few times when the blocking felt impersonal to the audience and cut us out of the flow of the story, making it hard to experience certain scenes authentically.

Choreography by Michael Hernandez was a great combination of musical theatre with a hip hop flavor bringing the up-to-date, high school atmosphere into perspective. One of the greatest dance subtleties was directly after witnessing the teens taking drugs before going to the club. The choreography showed the drugs taking effect in their systems and the hallucinations the students were experiencing through their movement, which directly came into play later in the story so you, as an audience member, were able to reflect on the past scenes and the outcome of those situations. In such a small space, it is hard to do choreography with a large cast and not make the audience fear for the performers or make the movement seem small and clumped. At times, the choreography was far too big and moved too much to be safe, making me fear for the actors. It sometimes felt abrasive and very in-your-face, when perhaps the message would have been stronger if the actors implemented more movement instead of actual dancing.

Musical director Anne Puzey flooded the stage with strong vocal moments from the entire cast, as well as provided a large pop ensemble sound that was thrilling to hear. It was incredible to see such a small cast create a large, enjoyable, emotional sound. They were very invested in the music and in telling the story through the vocals, which are the most important part of any pop opera. Erin Royall Carlson, the vocal coach, worked quite a bit with some of the main vocalists and it was very obvious. They had powerful moments of pain and joy that were relayed deep into the audience with the intensity of their performances. However, the music was oftentimes very repetitive and sometimes bits and pieces could have been slowed down for a more emotional effect. While it was beautiful and wonderfully done, there were times, as with the choreography, that the music felt abrasive and as if it was being attacked instead of enjoyed. Many funny or beautiful moments were lost due to speed and a lack of diction from the entire ensemble as well as some lead roles.

Everything from the risers the audience sat on to the light rigging above was built and custom designed for this show with help from master carpenter, Marc Navez. The set, designed by Chase Ramsey, remained for the most of the performance, except for small mobile pieces such as lockers, benches and beds, but every piece was used in multiple ways, providing more efficiency to scene changes and an overall better flow. Amanda Ruth Wilson’s scenic arts design brilliantly portrayed a high school. Dorm room scenes were a simple bed embellished by lights, allowing the freedom to paint a personal picture, adding doors, windows, posters and whatever else to make it feel ultimately more intimate. While lights embellished some scenes, they did not make it easy to enjoy others. The lighting in the theater was very limited due to space and budget and for the most part was adequately used by lighting designer Joe Jenkins. However, there were scenes when the dark spots and shadows on the stage were distracting from the scene and some blocking moments were placed in darkness, pulling away from beautiful scenes. The lights were able to show off the costumes by Nancy Susan Cannon, and she did a great job ensuring that all the pieces were appropriate to the mood and fit the look of the story as well as today’s fashion standards. Everything from the school uniforms to clubbing outfits were well-fitting and described the attitude of each individual character, enhancing their actions.

One of Hebda’s strongest moves was bringing in Bobby Gibson to create a stunning special effect that really brought the audience right into the story. Upon walking in to the theater, one of the first things you notice in the set are flat screen televisions strategically placed with the Bare logo on them. They took the audience right into the middle of the story with photos, tweets, texts, school bulletin announcements, scene and light effects and much more. Being able to participate in the story without having to lift a finger was an interesting and incredible tactic I have never seen. It was definitely an idea that paid off for Hebda.

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The role of Peter was played by Ogden native, John Patrick McKenna. Growing up in Utah, serving an LDS Mission and attending Brigham Young University all came as a package deal to McKenna. As with most gay teenagers, his parents knew well before he did and proceeded to put him in counseling and find other avenues to cure him before it got too serious. This caused him to have a lot of issues with depression. While attending BYU as a musical theatre major, he had a very similar experience to his character, finding himself in love with someone behind closed doors because it couldn’t be a public relationship. “We had to pretend it wasn’t a thing and it…It was kind of a nightmare. Not being, you know, who we were…” he said, trailing off. The pain and emotion that he was able to vividly show in his performance came from a real place of heartache and trials. McKenna’s beautiful tenor voice left the audience awestruck from the moment he first graced the stage. He constantly left us wanting more and pulled at every emotion he possibly could. This was his first return to the stage in six years, after switching his major to music production, and it’s amazing that he was ever able to leave. The way he carried himself was custom fit to his part and that of a senior in high school. You’d never guess that this talented man was in his late twenties.

His opposite, Jason, was played remarkably by Brock Dalgleish. In my interview with him, I discovered that not only was Jason his character, but that he is his life story. Growing up in the LDS church with a 4.0 GPA and being Student Body President, he always had to live up to others’ expectations. Reflecting, he said, “I had to live a double life, and it was awful. It got to the point where I got kicked out of my house and so Jason is very close to home.” Casting Dalgleish was a very obvious choice. The very first time he enters the stage into the locker room to change his clothes, an audible gasp spreads through the audience. He IS the everything you would imagine a golden boy/jock to be. He captured that essence not only with his body but with the way he carried himself around his friends and in his private moments. His movements were graceful but masculine and very thought through. As you get into the story, his acting is so well played out that you just want to scream and cry at the fear Jason has of himself, of Peter, and of his “Best Kept Secret.” He enhances the emotion and makes every caressing movement mean more. Both of these incredibly talented actors share a number of duets with one another and each one is better than the first. The chemistry and love felt between them real, bare and so strong it seems that nothing could pull them apart.

What is the Football Captain without the most popular girl in school? We see this question brought to life by Ivy (Emilie Starr), the quick-witted, mean girl of Saint Cecillia’s Boarding School. Behind every bully is a person and inside that person is a hardship, and that is really the message Starr brings to this character. From the moment she is introduced, I saw her character laid out like a magazine. Her character development was so thorough that I really could see the thought behind every move. “I just drew the character from the text of the play and just filled in the blanks. Ivy is a little bit of all of us. Trying to be better than everybody because that’s what you want to be even though you know that you’re not,” she said, getting emotional. Along with that incredible depth to her character, her vocals were stunning. She opened up her mouth and her soul came pouring out in a river of sweet melodies and harsh pain. As the story develops, she lets down her guard as the queen and starts to reveal a layer of insecurities and the tortured pain she feels from Jason’s deceit. As a professional actress, she has had years of training it shows.

The ensemble was one of the strongest I have ever seen. They constantly had a motive and something to be doing that was true to the story and to each individual character while not upstaging the action. They had a remarkable diversity and energy. Every single actor was a different person at that school with a different story to tell and those really came across. Being able to get involved in the whole picture instead of just always focusing on one small group really enhanced the high school atmosphere.

This story is funny, emotional, relatable and 100% worth going to. As with any show, there were some rough moments, but those were limited. The heart and soul of this show is played so well it is next to impossible to walk away without tears. Hebda certainly was right when he said Utah needed this one. I strongly endorse this show and will most definitely be in the audience again. Everyone, no matter who they are, needs to learn that “if you hide from yourself or be someone else for someone else’s sake, that is the greatest mistake.”

This production of Bare has partnered with the OUTreach resource center, a non-profit collection of youth resource centers dedicated to transforming communities and saving lives through programs promoting positive outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness, family rejection, or victimization. Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT and anyone under the age of 18 cannot stay at a normal homeless shelter past 5:00 PM. OUTreach is devoted to not just bringing kids and teens in and giving them a place to stay, but teaching them and turning them into healthy adults with jobs and degrees and actually bringing them out of homelessness for good. Fifteen percent of ticket sales will go directly to OUTreach and continuing to help Utah teens back on their feet.

Bare continues to play through January 31 at the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse 130 South 800 West, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Visit www.utahrep.org/tickets/ to purchase tickets.
Visit OUTreach at http://www.outreachresourcecenters.org/ to donate or for more info.

Due to profanity, sexual content and crude humor, I give this show an “R” rating. While I do think it could be appropriate for people over 16 it is best suited for mature audiences.

The Echo’s Twelfth Night is One Good Long Laugh

12th-4By Jennifer Mustoe

The Echo has given us several excellent Shakespeare offerings and its current offering, Twelfth Night, has much to recommend it. Directed by Eve Speer, the show has many laughs and my companions and I had a good time watching the frivolity onstage.

As you walk into the Echo’s lovely space, you will really be blown away by the gorgeous set designed by Antonio Garcia. It may be one of the loveliest sets I’ve ever seen. Really. It has a big wave and fabric on the walls like sails. Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck. The set is covered with nautical-looking boxes and such, and with a nod at alcoholic Sir Toby, bottles all over the place.

The show begins with music and the array of musical instruments that the actors play is quite impressive: an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, played by Archelaus Crisanto (Duke Orsino), who is also the musical director, a French horn, a cello and vocals by all actors. There are several songs and I liked the way the actors slowly entered and joined the songs. However, there were too many songs and they each seemed too long. The energy and sound were great, but since the show is 2.5 hours long, the music slowed the show down.

The show itself, as many Shakespeare plays are, is about confusion. Two characters, a brother and a sister, each think the other is dead. Viola (Sarah Butler) portrays her brother Sebastian (Carter Peterson), whom she thinks has died in a shipwreck. Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino, but he thinks she’s a boy and he is already in love with Olivia (Sophie Determan) who can’t stand Orsino. However, she is quite taken with Viola masquerading as a man.

The funniest parts of the show were when Sir Toby Belch, played winningly by Matthew Carter Speer, is onstage. He is brilliant, willing to make lots of physical choices that are hilarious. His scenes with Parker Forest Olson (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) are a delight. Lots of movement, the scenes zip by and I laughed the whole time they were onstage.

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One of my favorite choices by director Speer is she divided the role of Feste the fool between two talented actresses: Celene Anderson and Robbin Ivie. These two young women are similar in looks and build and combined with almost identical costumes (costumes by Mandee Wilcox) and amazing timing, this was one of my favorite parts of the show. The actresses sang in harmony, but it was their lines, all on top of each other and sometimes in unison that I found the most enjoyable. An excellent directorial choice and bravo to the two actresses.

Archalaus Crisanto’s Duke Orsino was impressive in that Crisanto’s voice filled the space the best, though I had no trouble hearing anyone in the cast. Crisanto is a talented actor and his singing was also a delight. The other standout is Leah Hodson who plays the unfortunate and much maligned Malvolio. Hodson is brilliant in this role. Because this version of the play is not gender specific, Hodson playing what is written as a male character makes the role even funnier.

This show is played for laughs and you will laugh a lot! I saw many moments of brilliance in this show and I don’t remember laughing this hard in a show in a very long time. It is, as I said, two and a half hours long, so be prepared for that. Though there is nothing that is overtly inappropriate for children, I would say that older teenagers and up, especially those who like Shakespeare, will enjoy this show.

Twelfth Night

The Echo Theatre, 15 N 110 East, Provo, 801-375-2181

January 15 – February 13, M, Th, F, S 7:30 PM, Matinee Jan 24, 2:30 PM

$8.00-$12.00

TheEchoTheater.com

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Come Experience the Story in PTC’s Alabama Story

alabama1By Joel Applegate

It’s a pleasure to have the chance to see another professional production at the Pioneer Theatre. For this reviewer, at least, that opportunity doesn’t come around often enough. And professional and polished is what you get in Pioneer’s latest production, Alabama Story, which opened January 9th.

If you have a love of reading and a love of justice, this is the play for you. Alabama Story had a reading at the U of U last year, and this is its world premier production. The play by Kenneth Jones is largely factual, and chronicles a little-known slice of the Civil Rights struggle that took place in Montgomery, Alabama in 1958. This play sheds light on the lovely story of an illustrated children’s book by Garth Williams, famous as the illustrator of Charlotte’s Web. His book, meant for three- to seven-year-olds, is called The Rabbits’ Wedding and featured two rabbits surrounded by their friends in a moonlit setting. The controversy stemmed from the fact that the rabbits were different colors – black and white.

Structurally, this play made a lot of sense. It would seem the playwright took a prompt from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. There is a “stage manager” type opening with Stephen D’Ambrose as Williams playing the author of the book, telling us that “somewhere between the lines is a true story.” D’Ambrose is vastly likeable as he captures the easy drawl of an archetypal Southern gentleman. He is excellent as well in several smaller roles, each clearly distinct from one another, disappearing into each one.

As the progenitor of this battle on a bookshelf, Garth Williams steadfastly maintains that his fuzzy creatures were never intended as a race allegory, but simply invented as an artistic choice to make a distinction between his characters through the use of color and texture. As the seed for Alabama Story, The Rabbits’ Wedding is written with no frills, but the playwright has exercised a beautiful use of language in many of the passages. Kenneth Jones has managed to incorporate the signs of the times in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, when movies were the latest Bible epics; when Marilyn Monroe was at the height of her stardom. But things were different in Montgomery. Conservative attitudes linked segregationists to their other favorite cause: the Red Scare, notoriously exploited by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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As the only African American in the play, Joshua Moore, played eloquently by Samuel Ray Gates, demonstrates why reminiscences mean quite different things to different people. The parallel story of Joshua and Lily highlight the differences in what was expected back in the day, and more importantly, why things had to change. Lily had a crush on Joshua when they were children. But Lily is white and her father caught them. Now years later, Lily looks back at her hometown and asks, “Why would anyone leave?” Joshua has a different recollection: “I saw my blood in your mother’s garden.” Joshua has come back to volunteer in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church, but not to worship. His interest is to “improve this world, not the next.” He tells Lily, “You should know about the world beyond your world.”

As Lily, Kate Middleton has a role that is difficult to appreciate. Hers is not a particularly sympathetic character, but Middleton ably takes her from denial to understanding.  When Kate, as an adult, asks for forgiveness, it’s too late for Joshua to grant it, “but we can travel past it.”

As an English major myself, having a Librarian as the leading character is delicious. Emily Reed is played by Greta Lambert with authority and calm assurance. When the local papers attack the book under scrutiny, Reed renders their argument impotent with a simple, “No byline, no credibility.” Lambert is a great choice to elucidate the playwright’s words, delivering values cherished by scholars: Kindness, amity, respect for others, interest in the natural world; “all this is given to us by books.” Lambert is assured and letter-perfect. “Reading rescues people from the shadows of the unenlightened night.” It is refreshing to see that rare occurrence in the theater: the leading character is a mature woman.

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The modern Civil Rights struggle is now currently marking events that happened fifty years ago. Back then, Alabama’s state legislature passed laws specifically targeting Emily Reed. They also took a long time approving the library budget when in prior years it was a matter of course. But the parallels in the 21st century continue. Today we see state legislatures passing laws establishing a “state firearm,” curtailing voter rights pretending they are preventing runaway fraud, and gerrymandering districts beyond recognition – a mixture of pettiness and malice that civil rights activists must still use their resources to oppose. Fifty years since the civil rights struggle was first televised, this play is relevant.

The opposition is in the person of State Senator Higgins, played by William Perry, intimidating in both his power and paternalism. He prefers the boyish Tom Sawyer to the prescient Huck Finn. Perry’s performance was relaxed and well-matched to Lambert’s Reed. Higgins, too, is not sympathetic, but Perry lets us see why he is a hero to some, a fool to others, attempting to “maintain the strongest grasp on the past.” An older colleague tells him that The Rabbits’ Wedding has become his tar baby – a snare that holds him and Alabama up to ridicule.

Amid the misspelled epithets, the senator and librarian agree only on one thing: The future is important. For vastly different reasons as the audience shall see. The librarian calls the senator’s efforts “saber rattling” – the very term I remember from the political snark of the early 60’s.

As Thomas Franklin, Miss Reed’s assistant, Seth Andrew Bridges is her protector. In a moving scene, Bridges’ Franklin quietly reveals himself to be a warrior, protecting the protector of books. Here we learn why bravery is the uppermost value of the Civil Rights movement.

The actors in this production know how to tell a story, but director Karen Azenberg’s use of the stage, and the big set, designed by James Noone, really brought us inside. The set featured tall photographic flats that majestically open up into a beautifully detailed mid-century office. This room rolls toward the audience on a platform, where a large portion of the action takes place. Posters on the wall include book covers for Atlas Shrugged and other contemporary novels. The design deftly takes us from the library archival office to the Alabama state house and back. Added to that is Brenda Van Der Weil’s costuming which is perfectly and stylishly designed for the period.

I love how language itself is so important in this play. It was a powerful reminder to me of why I love books. Come discover the “hot, bright light of the real world” of Alabama Story.  Miss Reed says it best: “My four favorite words: Tell me a story.”

[The Rabbits’ Wedding is currently on sale for $14.95 (regularly $17.95) on Amazon. It was on the American Library Association’s list of recommended books for children in 1958.]

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January 9 – 24, 2015

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

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

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

Pioneer Theatre Company

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

801.581.6961

www.pioneertheatre.org

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Titus’ Christmas Carol is a Holiday Treat

xmas carolBy Rebecca Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Carol

Sorensen Unity Center

Salt Lake City, UT

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

$10.00

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

itsawonderfulBy Jennifer Mustoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Wonderful Life

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

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

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

 

The Covey’s Joyful Noise is Pure Joy

jn1By Jennifer Mustoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyful Noise

Covey Center for the Arts

425 W Center St, Provo, Utah 84601

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

Admission: $14 (Student/Senior $12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SCERA’S Christmas Musical is Filled with Holiday Joy

likenBy MH Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

obt4By Cindy Whitehair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off Broadway Theater

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

(801) 355-4628

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

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

Salem Hill High’s Footloose is Tight and Great!

By Coulsen Bingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she couldn’t be more correct.

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

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

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

By Coulson Bingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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