Payson Community Theater’s Les Miserables Hits a High Note

Les-Mis-Poster-proof-468x585

A Utah Theater Review by: B.J. Wright

I have had the pleasure of seeing Payson Community Theater’s presentation of Les Miserables multiple times, and have not walked away disappointed. Opening night, I brought along a friend of mine who was excited to see one of his favorite shows.  When he found out it was a community theater production in a small town, performed on a high school stage, he wasn’t shy to share his reservations. As we exited the theater he commented, “I was pleasantly surprised. That was by far the best community theater I have ever seen.” As we drove home, my friend commented that he was surprised at how much talent such a small community was able to pull together, and I agree. The cast of this show is amazing!

Scott Johnson as Javert had a commanding voice. His diction was superb. While some of the other actors were difficult to understand, I was able to understand his words at all times. Steve Dunford (who always delivers a great performance for Payson) gave a strong vocal performance. With his voice alone, Dunford  helped the audience to feel the range of emotions Valjean experiences. Kristen Quist brought some of that same emotion to Fantine. I enjoyed her interpretation of Fantine’s fall from grace. I could feel the heartache of not being able to care for a child, and the joy knowing that someone else would care for her after Fantine is gone. Continue reading

August: Osage County is a Must See

By Eve Speer

Silver Summit Theatre and Utah Rep have joined forces to bring Utah audiences the first production of Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County. The play takes place in Oklahoma. Letts himself was born in Tulsa. His mother was a writer and his father was a college professor. He worked at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in his 20s and won a Tony Award for his portrayal of George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? According to the handy little chart on Wikipedia, the show won just about every award out there when it came to Broadway in 2008, including the Pulitzer.

august teresa

Teresa Sanderson as Violet Weston

Last week was a difficult week. Robin Williams’ passing rocked all of us. And then a dear friend lost her young son on the same day, in the same way. Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted to do was go and see a dramatic play about hard times on the Plains Friday night. I have criticized plays for being too long. I have complained to directors for not cutting the play. Frankly, as theatre goers, we get a little lazy—wanting faster, funnier, bigger dance numbers, lights, cameras, lots and lots of action! As a spoiled little brat, I showed up at the theatre in my yoga pants and bought candy in order to keep myself satisfied throughout the production. I expected no surprises. I had seen a brilliant production of the play at the Kennedy Center back in 2010 with the magnificent Estelle Parsons. I had seen the movie. I expected no surprises and hoped that I would be able to enjoy the show enough to write a courteous and thoughtful review.

The time flew by. I was carried away. I was surprised. I was touched. I laughed, I gasped, I cried. It was an incredible evening of theatre.

The set, designed by Kevin Dudley, was sparse and functional. It was utilitarian and the levels allowed the actors the room they needed to run to and from one another. The lighting, designed by Martin Alcocer, was limited, but not limiting. The focus flew from one scene on a bench upstairs, to the kitchen table—helping our eyes put together the pieces of the story. The costumes, designed by Nancy Susan Cannon, were a perfect contribution to the story. Producers David Hanson, Michelle Rideout, and Johnny Hebda assembled a talented team of designers.

I had never seen a show directed by Mark Fossen, but dagnabbit, I loved him from the start. The beginning of this show sets the tone for the entire production. It requires a light touch. The events themselves are sad, the characters are not. More than anything, the characters are fighting for that lightness of being we all imagine everyone else possesses. It is this struggle against the dark that makes the time fly by for the audience. We see ourselves and we laugh at the darkness, in the darkness. And only sweet Johnna looks on at our shared insanity with a little touch of horror. Richard Scharine, playing Beverly Weston, brought just the right amount of levity to the opening scene. Tamara Howell was perfectly down to earth as the new housekeeper Johnna. The first time you see Teresa Sanderson’s Violet Weston, I promise you will find yourself on the edge of your seat, just anticipating some sort of surprise. She is both mysterious and obvious. And she never lets up. Every scene is a revelation.

august bill

Daniel Beecher as Bill Fordham, Michele Rideout as Ivy Weston

As the play unfolds, we meet the Weston sisters—practical Barbara, played by April Fossen, lost Ivy, played by Michele Rideout, and dreaming Karen, played by Melanie Nelson. These actors delivered performances that were complicated and provoking. You hate and love each of them for everything they remind you about yourself and all your favorite women.

august uncle charlie

The whole family around the table.

Sallie Cooper and Daniel Torrence play the visiting aunt and uncle. Their comedic timing was absolutely perfect at the beginning, which only grew into a beautiful cocktail of passion and regret. (Please realize I could type this about every single character on the stage.)

The men in this play covered the gamut of American men in the same way that the sisters appear to cover every particular type of American woman you’ll come across. Bill Fordham plays Barbara’s husband, the professor; intelligent, charming, and flawed. Joe Crinch plays Karen Weston’s fiancée Steve Heidebrecht, a driven entrepreneur playboy. Stein Erickson plays Little Charles Aiken, a well-intentioned disappointment. Allen Smith plays Deon Gibeau, the trusty sheriff.

August April

Allen Smith as Sheriff Deon Gibeau and April Fossen as Barbara

 

Barbara and Bill’s daughter Jean is played with vivacity and intelligence by Anne Louise Brings. Her storyline is complicated and she doesn’t make it easier for us by making simple choices.

Nothing about this production is simple. In every moment, they make the difficult choice. They choose funny, when the obvious answer is pathos. As a result, audience members are carried away in the story as we try to unravel and understand.


The story is perfect. This cast is brilliant, and the director leads us on an unexpected journey. I encourage everyone to see this beautiful piece of American Theatre in this intimate new space. There’s nothing better than good theatre. And this is good theatre. If you’re a theatre practitioner of any kind—make time to see this show. Good theatre will beget good theatre.

As a warning to parents: the play isn’t for kids. There is strong language and it has adult themes.

If you go, the show is playing at the new Sugar Space Warehouse, 130 S 800 West, not to be confused with the Sugar Space location in Sugarhouse. The show runs August 15-31st. For showtimes, visit http://silversummittheatre.org/. The space is small. It will sell out, so get your tickets online ahead of time.

 

The Zig’s The Producers is One Fun Production

producersBy Michael Nielsen

Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS

Bigger than life characters and great productions numbers make THE PRODUCERS a fun theatrical experience.

One might think a story about a couple of men trying to produce a Broadway flop would be just that–a flop. But of course, the brilliantly funny and irreverent Mel Brooks has taken this unusual plot and made it in to a laughter- and music-filled extravaganza.

Max Bialystock (exuberantly played by Cameron Kapetanov) has produced a few hits, but mostly a long line of failures on Broadway; productions mostly financed by little old ladies with whom he has “dalliances” to obtain the checks. Enter CPA Leo Bloom (Daniel Pack), a neurotic and quietly shy counter to Max, who has always dreamed of being a producer. While looking at the books, Bloom offhandedly notes that one could make more money producing a “flop” than a hit. Together they decide “WE CAN DO IT” and set out to find the worst script ever written (SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER), the worst director, Roger De Bris (played a bit inconsistently yet hilariously by Quinn Kapetanov) and swindling little old ladies out of their checks.

producers4Technically, the production had a few minor flaws, most of which I have no doubt have already been remedied, worst of which was the volume of Max’s microphone. Cameron Kapetanov plays the character loud and frenetic, so the volume on his mic sometimes became bothersome. Pack’s hand-wringing quietness plays off Kapetanov nicely. Really, all the characters are much bigger than life, which makes this show work. Ulla (Talese Hunt) uses her height, long legs and impressive body language beautifully as the new arrival hoping to make it big on Broadway, instantly winning over both men. Owning the stage any time he is on, BJ Whimpey’s Franz Liebkind is a joy to watch as the writer of this love story to Hitler. Later, Quinn Kapetanov actually plays Hitler in a Ziegfeld style musical number which will leave you rolling in the aisles.

producers1

The true stars of the show, however, were the musical numbers staged and choreographed by director Rick Rea with Kacee Neff. The entire ensemble (some playing several roles) and leads OWNED the stage and not only danced, strutted and sang beautifully, but convinced us they were having fun doing it. Nothing beats a chorus line of “old ladies” dancing with their canes and finishing with a rousing “tap” number using walkers. SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER used brilliant costuming (Becky Jean) and staging to give the feel of a Ziegfeld number, and made the show all the more hilarious. Another fun aspect of the production was the use of video on the back of the stage to take us to Broadway and used as a marquee for the theatre.

Overall, the entire cast and production team did a remarkable job of bringing the fun and silliness to a show with large production numbers and intimate moments, a difficult thing to do well in a small theatre. Director Rick Rea should be proud of being able to keep this larger than life story and characters under control while giving the audience an escape to a fun night of theatre.

producers3

Note: On their website, they include this–

Reccomended for ages 18+ (or 12+ with parental guidance)

Content: Contains brief strong language, moderate sexual humor and innuendos (no nudity), and mild comic violence.

 

The Ziegfeld Theatre

Playing Fridays and Saturdays

Through Sept. 6th at 7:30 pm

With 2:00 pm Matinees the 30th and the 6th

Ticket Pricing
Adult: $15
Student (With valid ID): $12
Senior (65 and up): $12
Child (12 and under): $12

http://www.theziegfeldtheater.com/

Salty Dinner Theater’s Robin Hood is a Rousing Tale of Fun

SDT1

By Jennifer Mustoe

If you have never been to Salty Dinner Theater before, you must understand one thing. Yes, it is a dinner theater, but the focus isn’t necessarily on DINNER. It’s on THEATER, and interactive theater at that. If you are hoping for a sedate meal where a few people sort of wander around and juggle but not much else, I suggest you just go to McDonald’s and watch the kids fight–I mean play–in the play area. Salty Dinner Theater gives you FUN with a capital F.

I have been to many of SDT’s productions, but the idea of fun must be catching on, because the crowd that was at Orem’s Spaghetti Factory was the coolest one yet. MANY of the patrons became participants, dancing in a conga line, clapping merrily, getting into it completely. And SDT has a portion of their production where they have a contest–this one being who is the best Merry Man to be with Robin Hood–and the three men chosen from the audience were hilarious. They were supposed to put on green “tights” (a huge pair of scrubs) and one man tied the pair on his head like a hat, one man put them completely over his head so he couldn’t see (and then danced around in place–hysterically funny), and one man actually shrugged on the pants. I mean, these guys really got into the spirit of fun. They don’t actually finish out the show as a Merry Man. But it’s a bit of fun contest fun Salty Dinner Theater does in every show.

The food at Spaghetti Factory is good. You choose from three entrees, all very good and very affordable. Around 10 bucks. And waiters bring you the food.

Before the show, the actors in the play come table to table and introduce themselves and interact with the patrons. During this time, there is “Robin Hood-like” music playing and that is one of the dings I give this show. The music was too loud and I had to shout to chat with my friend and with the actors before the show. Music is also part of the production, as there is a singer who performs in between acts while the meal is being served. Again, too loud. But Maid Marian (Michelle Moore) has a gorgeous voice and again, the crowd participated.

The show is fun and SDT did their homework by talking about the real Robin Hood’s (played by Scott Moore–who was awesome) background–being in the Holy Wars before coming home, having his land taken by the evil Sheriff (played winningly by Jeremy Preston Jonsson–an excellent bad guy and a regular player for the company.) Then Robin became the hero we are familiar with, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Tania Hall Sayer, another SDT regular, played Little Jane. Sayer is really comfortable in this genre of improv performing: singing and goofing around with the patrons. She really goes all out and is super fun. Jason H. Jones played Friar Tuck and he, too, did a great job. A tight group that interacted well with each other and the goofy folks that came to the show.

The script of the show includes a lot of funny comments that deal with contemporary issues, so there are lots of laughs. It wasn’t as tight as some of the shows I’ve seen this theater company do in the past and there were gaps, as if the actors were unsure of their exits and entrances or unfamiliar with their lines. But that is me being picky. The couple at our table raved about the show and had actually driven from north of SLC to come. They are season ticket holders and wanted to try the Spaghetti Factory. Almost every show I’ve gone to has this–season ticket holders who come from far away to try out the venues. I find this impressive.

Salty Dinner shows are family friendly, though this show had a rather odd reference that only adults would understand that fell rather flat. It may have been the conservative Utah County crowd. However, all in all, the show was very enjoyable and my friend who accompanied me, an actor as well, said he could NEVER do the improv that is required by the SDT company–that they are truly great performers. I agree–heartily.

After the show, be sure to get your photo snapped with the cast and then check the Salty Dinner Theater’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/saltydinnertheater) to find the photos.

For information about shows and the many venues they play in, please go to their website:

http://www.saltydinnertheater.com/

 

 

 

Spanish Fork’s Tom Sawyer is Homegrown Fun

ts1By Jennifer Mustoe

When I was young, my family and I went camping and in the evenings, my mother read us Tom Sawyer. I don’t remember every bit of the story, but I do remember the highlights. It is these highlights that make up the storyline of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, performed by Spanish Fork Community Theater.

First, I must say, I have never seen so many adorably dressed, talented, spunky kids onstage for a production that wasn’t just for children’s theater. From small to tall, there seemed like there had to be around 50 kids–or more! And all of them looked like they were having a blast. They definitely added to the show, as they provided a moving, living background, just like the small town life Mark Twain created for Tom Sawyer.

To summarize the story: Tom is incorrigible, lives with his maiden Aunt Polly, has an annoying brat of a younger brother Sid and falls in love with the new girl in town, Becky Thatcher. Huck Finn, the son of the town drunk, is Tom’s best friend. There’s a couple of bad guys, Injun Joe being the baddest of them, who provide the conflict.

Tom Sawyer is played by Coulsen Bingham and I really can’t say enough about the talent this young man possesses. He can sing–my, can he sing–but he also has graceful, athletic movement. And about a ton of stage presence. I have honestly rarely seen someone take the stage like he did. Excellent casting choice by director Adam Cannon. I also laud Cannon for being able to block, inspire and motivate so many actors in one production! Tom’s love is Becky, played by Ondine Morgan. She is a lovely actress with a beautiful voice and worked fabulously with Bingham. My only disappointment is she had so few songs. She needs a vehicle where she sings more often. She is a delight. Huck, played by Beau Wilson, was a wonderful best pal for Tom and the two actors cuff each other and goof around very believably–as if they really are good friends.

ts2

Dana Keller’s Aunt Polly is very good. When she’s supposed to be crabby and stern, she does it well. But during her lullaby she sings to Tom as he goes to sleep, she is so kind and sweet. A very lovely moment. Bad guy Injun Joe, played by Jarom Loch, was delightfully despicable. He was really greasy/creepy. I say this as a compliment. Widow Douglas, played by Debbie Maurin, was also good–with a fun dance with Huck and a beautiful, clear voice.

The production ran mostly smoothly, with only a few sound blips. But the lighting seemed a little off, like the spotlight wasn’t bright enough or something. The set was minimal until the cast went to the spooky cave and then set designer/master carpenter David Henry (who also played a likeable Judge Thatcher) went all out. The cave was magnificent.

The music, with the dozens of children and adult ensemble, sounded great–kudos to music director Krystal Bigler. I can only imagine what some of those rehearsals were like with all those kids! There were A LOT of songs and each one was really good. The solos by Tom and his duets with Huck and Becky were the highlights.

The real stars in this show besides the three leads, however, were the costumes by Maureen Robinson, who made everyone look homespun but gorgeous, too, and the magnificent live band that accompanied the entire production. I don’t usually name the players in bands in shows, but I am in this review because these people were really amazing. Band leader/drums/percussion: Jesse Christopher; Guitar/mandolin/banjo: Mark Geslison; Bass/guitar: Isaac Geslison; Piano: Andrew Tyler and Fiddle: Sarah Insalaco.

This is a family show, but I am giving this show a PG rating. Injun Joe stabs someone. And though there isn’t blood spurting or anything, if your child is very sensitive, don’t bring him or her. However, this show with its many, many fun musical numbers, many cast members and fun storyline is really pretty much a show everyone will love. It also isn’t remarkably long, or it didn’t seem like it to me.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

July 24, 25, 26, 28, 31, Aug. 1, 2  7:00 PM

Spanish Fork Community Theater

Spanish Fork High School, 99 N 300 West, Spanish Fork, 84660

$6.00 and $8.00 http://sfctonline.org/

Sundance’s Fiddler is filled with Traditional Beauty

fiddler1

By Marnie Thomas and Kendall Harris

Fiddler on the Roof is a well-loved musical about Tevye, a Jewish milkman in Tsarist Russia, and his family and town. The music is familiar to most, as are the characters. The Broadway production first opened in 1964 and won nine Tony Awards. In 1971, it was made into a highly successful screen adaptation.

The Sundance venue is undeniably gorgeous. Could this production of Fiddler on the Roof, directed by James Arrington, stand up to the beauty of the Sundance amphitheater in the mountains? As we sat waiting for the performance to begin, we enjoyed the scenery around us and anticipated the opening strains of “Tradition.”

As the opening song began, we could tell that this was going to be a musically satisfying experience. “Tradition” is the big opening number, including the entire cast. Tevye, played by David Stensrud, has the perfect look for the part. Everything about him is grand—from his voice to his stage persona. His wife Golde, played by Marcie Jacobsen, is a good match. Together they make an impressive couple. This is evident as they sing “Do you Love Me?”.

The daughters, particularly the eldest three, are delightfully played by Danica Donaldson, Kaitlyn Dahl, Sariah Hopkin, Grace Garn and Mattea Denney. They sing “Matchmaker” with an exuberance and joy that can’t help but bring a smile. Hodel and Chava (Dahl and Hopkin) perform with just the right level of emotion as they challenge their father’s traditional ways.

Although Yente, the matchmaker, is not a huge part of the production, she is a very memorable character. The show really centers around the idea of making matches for the daughters—and the daughters challenging that tradition. Melany Wilkins’ Yente has the attitude and the accent down pat.

The daughter’s suitors are played by Jon Rose (Motel), Jack Shapiro (Perchik) and Chase Ramsey (Fyedka). Each match challenges the Jewish traditions of the time more strongly. Although all were performed very well, Perchik’s personality came across most clearly.

The rabbi and his son (Curtis Adams and Javier Ybarra) have a stabilizing effect on the village. They are there encouraging, celebrating and sympathizing with the villagers. They also look the parts. The son truly expressed a solicitous feeling toward his father, the rabbi.

Lazar Wolf (Jake Suazo) is another standout in the show. He has a great presence and look, as does Tevye. This made their performance of “To Life” very enjoyable. A big, classic show like Fiddler on the Roof calls for strong characters, and these two actors definitely deliver.

“Tevyes’s Dream” was done in a unique way and kudos to Arrington for this choice. The characters in the dream are portrayed differently than you might expect. It adds an interesting and amusing twist to this comedic part of the show. Fruma Sarah’s (Hannah Gassaway) costume is something to behold. In fact, the skill of the costume designer (Becca Klepko) is evident, not only in this, but in the costuming of the entire troupe. Grandma Tzeital (Laura Warr) played her part with a mischievousness that really added a special something to the scene.

fiddler2

A word about the set and lighting. Both are simple but very effective. The set designer (Stephen Purdy) did an excellent job creating a set that could be manipulated to accommodate the various settings in the show. The buildings look very cozy with the warm lighting showing through in the nighttime scenes.

Fiddler on the Roof really runs the gamut of emotion. From joy to sorrow and contentment to frustration, this cast does not fail to pull the audience in and make us feel what the characters are feeling. Another triumph for UVU theatre, so again, kudos to director James Arrington. With the beautiful location and the talented actors and technicians, you will be glad that you went to see this show!

Sundance Resort
8841 North Alpine Loop Rd, Provo, Utah 84604
July 24-August 16th; performances will be held each Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM
Ticket prices $21-$30

 

Go Into the Echo to See Into the Woods!

ITW2By Jennifer Mustoe

I have seen Into the Woods, Steven Sondheim’s sometimes fun, often dark take on familiar fairytales, several times. The Echo’s latest offering of Into the Woods, directed magnificently by Melissa Leilani Larson, is worth seeing, if you have seen this show before, or if you haven’t.

If you haven’t been to The Echo Theatre before, you will find a lovely space and within this space is a remarkably cool set, designed and constructed by Jeffrey Blake. I really don’t want to give anything away, so I will simply say that when you see the set, you will understand immediately that Into the Woods gets its roots (and yes, that is a pun) from storybooks.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s basically a bunch of fairy tale characters that you have read about (or seen in Disney movies ~sigh~) are all clumped together in one musical. So, let’s see–we’ve got Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and his mother and his cow, a witch and many other characters who all interact with one another at some point. Steven Sondheim’s haunting music is perfect for this story, as there are highs and lows, dark songs and happy songs and whole bunch of irony and reality thrown in. If you are picking up that I think Into the Woods has some philosophical meaning to it, you would be right. Fairytale or not, this play is very relate-able.

In Act One, all the characters are introduced and the Mysterious Man/Narrator, played by Matthew R. Carlin, keeps us apprised of the story. Carlin does a fine job. He has a good voice and many of his acting choices not only help the story move along, but he generates many of the laughs with his facial expressions and movement.

Though everyone did a fine job, there are a few performers in this show that I want to highlight. The Baker, played by Ben Cummins really touched me–he showed me a caring Baker who loves his wife. The Baker’s Wife, played by Julianna Blake, was one of my favorites. Not only does she have an amazing voice, she put some fun spunk into her role that I haven’t really seen before. And her enthusiasm for anything royal was so palpable, I wanted to slap her. This is good, I promise. Paige Guthrie’s Cinderella was charming (another pun!) but I couldn’t hear her very well in places. My companion said she had no trouble hearing her, so maybe it was just me. Guthrie’s acting choices in Act Two are especially poignant. Jack, played by Jordan Kramer, was sweetly hilarious. I’ve seen Kramer in many performances and it doesn’t seem to matter what he is in, he brings something new and fresh to his roles.

Little Red Riding Hood, played by Hannah Roskelley, was amazing. I loved her interpretation of this role. Yes, she’s supposed to be a smart alecky kid, but I saw something new and more mature and far more believable with Roskelley’s performance. The Witch, played by Briana Shipley, is fantastic. She has an amazing voice and because she goes from horridly mean OLD witch to a beautiful mean YOUNGER woman, Shipley was able to make this switch very nicely.

By far, my favorite numbers in this show are the ones that have the princes singing. This production has two very princely actors: Carson Smith Davies and Ben Hess (who also plays the Wolf.) These two actors had the swagger and the pipes to really make these songs shine and I admit, I would have been really disappointed if they hadn’t been all that I wanted. They didn’t leave me wanting at all.

ITW1

This show had a live band: Zach Hansen on piano and Tyler Smith on violin. This was perfect for the show. Jennifer Stott Madsen was music director and as I said, the singing was great. Madsen did an excellent job.

Sadie Nagle-Perkins was in charge of costumes and the costumes were fantastic! This is a heavily costumed show as there is royalty, your average townspeople and the cow, Milky White. All the costumes were amazing, but I really giggled when I saw what Milky White was dressed in. The cow (meaning she is female) was played by bearded Spencer Grierson, who chewed his/her cud very realistically. To show that Milky White was a girl and not a boy, the costume had a pink fanny pack with water bottles in it. Voila! An udder. I cracked up. Super cute.

Melissa Leilani Larson did a wonderful job taking a rather dark play (everything pretty much falls apart in Act Two and it’s like a Shakespearean tragedy, there are so many deaths) and brings in lots of laughs. Her interpretation was fresh and that is a good thing. I love this play, but it is really dark.

And while I’m on the topic of dark, I will simply say, if you have kids who want to see a show, I would recommend this for many 12 or older unless your child thoroughly loves musicals. And because there is death and a brief fling, you’ll want kids who are rather mature to see the show. There is NOTHING offensive like profanity, etc. But it’s just pretty much a grown up version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which have been very cleaned up for Disney.

Into the Woods is a very important commentary and The Echo brings a fresh perspective to an already great show. Go see it!

The Echo Theatre, 15 N. 100 East, Provo

Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $12-$15

Info: (801) 358-6623, theechotheatre.com

Les Misérables at the SCERA Should Have No “Empty Chairs”

By Larisa Hicken

les-miserables-05The SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, Utah has a hit on their hands.  To celebrate the SCERA’s 30th year, they are showing Utah Valley’s Premiere of the beloved musical Les Misérables, by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.

Les Misérables is an epic musical adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo which takes place on the brink of revolution in 19th century France.  The plot follows Jean Valjean as he is released after being in prison for 19 years.  Through a generous act of mercy, he is changed forever and vows to do as God would want him to do, even if that means breaking his parole.  His commitment leads him to save a young girl names Cosette and raise her as his own – all while running from the ruthless Javert who is determined to see Jean Valjean punished for being a wicked man.

les-miserables-02Director Jeremy Showgren does an excellent job of exploring the deep themes of Les Misérables  – sacrificing for that which we love and giving mercy versus demanding justice.  Showgren is obviously a talented director with the potential to be one of Utah’s best.

Showgren was also the Music Director and the tremendous vocal performances of the actors are a tribute to his abilities.  There were a few times that I felt like the theatrical aspects of the show were sacrificed for the vocal quality, but the sound was so spectacular that I didn’t really mind.

There were also a few times during the night where I felt like the storyline was a little unclear, due to distractions on the stage, so if you are unfamiliar with Les Misérables, you may want to read through a summary before you come.

les-miserables-04Matthew Krantz gave a rich heart-felt performance as Jean Valjean.  I liked his unique characterization and genuine expressions and his voice is magnificent.  “Bring Him Home” was a highlight of the night.  My only critique of his acting would be that he didn’t seem to age physically.  Even at the end of the night he had a little bounce in his step that didn’t seem to fit an older man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Jeffrey Smith created a very believable and interesting Inspector Javert and gave a solid musical performance.  His final “Soliloquy” was phenomenal.

les-miserables-06The leading women were every bit as talented as the leading men.  Kelsey Mariner Thacker is a power house as Fantine and her gut-wrenching “I Dreamed a Dream” was something I won’t soon forget.  It was refreshing to see Cosette played by a truly powerful Soprano, Morgan Flandro and Kira Knorr, playing Eponine, gave an endearing performance of “On My Own”.  Allison Books, playing Madame Thenardier, also gave a polished performance.

I enjoyed BJ Oldroyd’s portrayal of Thenardier, but I would like to have seen his relationship with Madame Thendardier taken a little deeper.  These characters seemed a little flatter than the others in the show and I felt like there were some missed opportunities for comic relief between these two, particularly in “Master of the House.”

During “Dog Eats Dog” in the sewers, Thenardier snaps the neck of a fallen soldier which I felt was a little over-the-top.  Showgren made a clear effort to keep the show family-friendly during the rest of the show, so I was a little confused as to why that graphic moment was included.

The stand-out performer of the night was Bryan Thacker as the young revolutionary leader, Enjolras.  He has the stage presence and power to dominate a scene and I was ready to stand up and join his group as he sang “The People’s Song.”

les-miserables-03Christian Jones gave an earnest performance as Marius Pontmercy and there were a lot of tears during his moving solo, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.”  His character relationship with Morgan Flandro as Cosette seemed natural and genuine.

The cast of Les Misérables is made up of some of the best talent in Utah valley.  Every soloist was incredible and the ensemble brought the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation in the closing “Do You Hear The People Sing?”

les-miserables-01I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the outstanding hair and make-up designed by Samantha Dunford and the costumes by Kelsey Seaver, Deborah Bowman, and Danielle Berry.  The visual aspects of the show were some of the best I’ve ever seen at the SCERA.

Les Misérables is a show that the SCERA and all of Utah can be proud of.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see this terrific show performed by a uniquely talented cast.

LOCATION:
SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

DATES: July 3-19 @ 8:00 PM
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

ADMISSION: $10-16
Tickets available online at scera.org.

Long-Time Favorite Characters Brought to Life in The Addams Family at The Empress – And They Sing and Dance!

By Michael Nielsen

addams-family-04We’ve seen them in black and white on TV and on the big screen in living color … Now they are seen singing and dancing on stage at The Empress Theatre in Magna, Utah.

The story follows the Addams family as their daughter Wednesday falls in love and tries to introduce her boyfriend’s family to hers, worrying that her family members are not “normal.”  As both families are explored, we learn to question what normal really means.

The TV show and movies were entertaining because this abnormal family considers itself to be normal, so their oddities and funny lines are simply presented as part of who they are.  There are times this works well in this production, but often we are fed the joke as if to say “this is funny!” instead of just letting it be funny.

The performers all have many moments of great fun and talent, and they especially shine when they are singing their songs.  I saw the “A” cast (there is no listing of when the “A” or “B” cast perform, so if you know someone in the show, you may want to call and find out when they are performing) who put their all in to the show and were obviously having a great time, and the audience definitely enjoyed itself.

addams-family-02The ensemble presented themselves from the very start as past relatives of the Addams’ as they came out of the cemetery singing and dancing.  The costumes by Melissa Buxton, Amy Burton, Michele Brown, Carrie Johnson, Jake Anderson and the cast were very clever as each relative was a white clad version of what they had been in life; including a caveman, cowboy, saloon girl, flapper, bride, American Indian Princess, Hippie and even a flight attendant.  I couldn’t help but feel that each cast member was greatly responsible for their character and costume, and each stayed in character throughout the show as they waited to be released to their graves by love.  Many of the most enjoyable scenes included the ensemble.

Gomez (Matt Green) was lovable and fun to watch, as was Moticia (Chisanne Sueltz) in her own, macabre way.  Both certainly shined in their musical numbers. Uncle Fester (Nathan Unck) brought lightness, love and fun to the show as did the ever-in-character Grandma (JoAnn Galloway).  Love-struck Wednesday (Jennica Henderson) gave a great musical performance, although her acting was a bit self-conscious.  Pugsly (Gaven Suelt) charmed the audience even though his acting was a little less polished.  Lurch (Garret Sueltz) was oddly charming, even with only grunts and moans.

addams-family-05

At times the performance seemed a little off and the actors seemed to be trying too hard. I felt like the director, Jake Anderson, could have worked with the actors a little more to perfect their comic timing and help them to feel more comfortable and natural on the stage.  There were times of brilliance when the actors forgot they were trying to be funny and that there was an audience.  These moments made the show a lot of fun.

There is not a lighting designer listed, which may be the reason the actors were often in the dark without their faces being visible.  I do believe that part of the darkness was an attempt to keep the show “dark” and may have simple been a lack of lights available in the theatre.

Overall, the audience couldn’t help but be caught up in the enthusiasm of the cast, the moments of brilliance, and the joy of seeing characters we know and love on stage singing and dancing.

The Empress Theater
9104 West 2700 South, Magna, UT 84044
empress@empresstheatre.com

June 20th – July 26th
Monday, Friday, Saturday 7:30 PM
Matinee June 28 and July 12 at 2:00 PM
Tickets $10. Group Discounts Available.

Pinnacle’s Virginia Woolf is Disturbing and Brilliant

 

WoolfMainReviewed by Michael Nielsen

Whether you’ve read it, seen the stage play, watched the movie, or none of the above–everyone is aware that WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is a classic. PINACLE ACTING COMPANY’s production of the Edward Albee work shows us why it is a classic. As a reviewer and fellow theatre person, I find I am overly critical at times of a show’s performances and technical aspects. But try as I might, I couldn’t find a flaw in this production.

Being performed in the round, director L.L. West doesn’t pander to the audience using staging that would never happen in real life to keep the actors always facing out. The entire production happens in the living room of Martha (Teresa Sanderson) and George (Jared Larkin) and West has kept it moving and real, making us feel almost voyeuristic as we watch the action. The lighting (Natalie Colony), set (Geoffrey Michael Eastman), sound (Todd Olson) and costumes (Sean Bishop) are real and relatively simple, yet perfectly complement the mood and period of the show. But honestly, the real reason to see this show, are the performances of Teresa Sanderson and Jared Larkin.

It’s 2:00 AM and Martha and George are returning home from a faculty party for the university where George is “in History” and Martha is the daughter of the president. (“There are easier things than being married to the daughter of the president” bemoans George at one point.) Right from the beginning you know that this couple has always had a relationship of sarcasm and bickering. While it starts out mild and even at times teasingly, the fireworks are really just waiting to start. Martha has invited a young couple, a new member of the faculty who is “in Biology” and his wife to come to their home after the party. Nick (Mike T. Brown) is a handsome, up and comer–everything that George used to be and is jealous of now. Honey (Marin Kohler) is the
perfect wife, who is “fragile” and claims to not really drink, then proceeds to get quite drunk–something I sense she has done many a time.

As Martha and George continue to bicker and insult and it escalates, Brown shows us the discomfort we have all felt when witnessing family arguments and we as the audience feel. He continues to grow more and more disturbed and finally proves himself strong and cunning as he stands up to George and Martha. As Honey gets drunker, we see her vulnerabilities and her weaknesses, which, of course, George and Martha take full advantage of.

It is impossible to explain in this review the story and the depth and emotions that this production brings. There are many times that something is “hinted at” in the bickering. While some are explained, some leave you to decide what they meant and why they were important. We learn much about each of the characters, yet there are many unanswered questions that leave us trying to fill in the pieces and meanings.

The roles of Martha (“I have a fine sense of the ridiculous, but no sense of humor,”) and George (“We are merely exercising–merely walking what’s left of our wit,”) could easily be played as unlikeable and just mean-spirited, but Sanderson and Larkin bring humanity, reality and many levels to the characters. The highs and lows are perfectly timed. There are moments you totally understand why they love each other and are still together. There are moments when you wonder why they are together at all. Both have found the frailties and insecurities and let them occasionally slip out from under their fierce and biting facades. You honestly cannot take your eyes off of them, as they are as strongly in character when they are not speaking as they are when delivering the insults and asides. I can’t imagine that these characters have ever been portrayed as well as in this production. When all four are speaking, the difficult dialogue is so real and on top of (or even over) each other that you know they feel and believe what they are saying (“Anyone who comes here gets testy–it is expected.”)
During the intermission (one of two during this long but fast-moving show) I heard the director say it is a “light-hearted domestic comedy” and at one point George points out that Martha feels, “Unless you bust a gut, you aren’t enjoying yourself.” That said, there are some funny and very clever lines and moments in this show, but it is definitely not a comedy. I found myself trying to reason out different meanings and realities long after leaving the theatre. My partner and I even had different opinions as to past events that were hinted at throughout the show and all were plausible. To me, this type of audience involvement and emotion is what makes a classic a classic.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF
Pinnacle Acting Company
Remaining performances: June 20, 21, 27 and 28 7:30 PM, matinee 2 PM June 28
It runs Fridays and Saturdays through June 28th at the Westminster College Jewett Center.

Pinnacle Acting Company
Westminster College
Jewett Center for the Performing Arts
1250 E 1700 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84105

http://www.pinnacleactingcompany.org/