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

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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 place 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. But it’s a fun bit 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 sings 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 acting, 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 saw 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 on stage for a production that wasn’t just for kids. From small to tall, there seemed like there had to be around 50–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.

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Dana Keller’s Aunt Polly is very good. When she’s supposed to be crabby and stern, she does it well. But during her song that 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

 

Babcock’s The Last Five Years is Brilliantly Poignant

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By Joel Applegate

The Last Five Years is a musical meditation on love and disappointment. It begins at the end and it took me down two diverging rails. I hope for reconciliation by the time the last word is written. That’s because the music soars – and so do the performances – but it took me to some thorny places.

This musical is a love story, naturally – an operetta firing on all cylinders that takes an economical 80 minutes to play out. The play is double cast, and after one viewing, you’ll understand why. It is a grueling operetta for one man and one woman. Performing the night I saw it were Tia Galantis as Cathy and Taylor J. Smith as Jamie, employing surety and magnificent voices with an obvious chemistry flowing between them. The other cast features Smith’s twin brother, Austin John Smith in Taylor’s role and Sara Kae Childs as Cathy. As performing partners, they are interchangeable depending on the night you go. And you should go.

You get a live orchestra, precise in its fulsome sound, tightly conducted by Alex Marshall, musical director. They make their way through a fascinating cycle of 14 songs. I wasn’t sure whether the actors were miked at first because the sound was so well modulated for the black box Babcock Theatre. Turns out they are miked, but in that space it doesn’t sound like they need to be – which I think is a testament to the excellent sound design by Jennifer Jackson.

You also get a set designed by Kevin Dudley that was curiously soothing. It consists of blue-green translucent panels flown from the ceiling, metal scaffolding and a switchback staircase standing against the back wall, behind which the live orchestra played. Time and place were easily evoked by the actors themselves and a crew of impressively nimble stage hands dressed in black. I can also apply nimble to Denny Berry’s direction. When you have a two-person script, it’s a challenge to make sure the actors don’t fall into inertia. I never once wondered why an actor was placed where he or she was. Movement was all logically organic.

But most of all you get two actors at the top of their game – and in excellent voice. Together they spin out the five-year arch of their relationship with each other and with their careers. They are on divergent paths from the beginning.  Cathy is an actor often touring during the summer and Jamie is a writer whose career takes off with a successful bestseller. Jamie pursues his career and friends, leaving his wife alone a lot. He is focused on himself, not the bond into which he entered.

There is some strong language here, but it’s a story for grown-ups anyway. A story with equal shares of humor and hurt. It’s not all anger. There are lots of funny moments. Cathy on touring in Ohio: “A root canal in Hell.” Jamie on infidelity: “Resisting temptation is not a problem, it’s a challenge.” Cathy on the angst of auditioning: “Why does the pianist hate me?”

Ms. Galantis and Mr. Smith had ample opportunity to show off their comic chops, but let’s get to the good part: their singing. Galantis has a voice like a bell – powerful, easy, clear. Her singing is versatile, almost conversational. She hits the top of her range effortlessly. I muttered “wow” more than a few times at Tia’s breath control and the soaring ease of her top notes and at how easily she turns the notes in her head. She’s really using her voice – breaks and all – to tell a painful story. I’m pushed to happy and pulled to sad by great music that accompanies disintegrating lovers. I sympathized with Cathy’s hurt. It’s tough to be in the shadow of your partner or spouse; the perennial second priority.

Jamie’s frustrated too, being pulled in the direction of home while his career is taking off. “I will not fail so you can feel comfortable.” Smith brings it with a big tenor. He’s real good, with comic timing that had the audience spontaneously laughing out loud, totally charming them with his sheer relish of performance. Taylor must have some range as an actor. Among his credits in the program is a turn as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet(!) Here, though, both he and Galantis handle a very complex, demanding and beautiful score that requires a high level of skill. They’ve accomplished a wonderful feat making copious lyrics tunefully heard and so achingly understood.

As the show nears its close, a violinist arcs a tune over the back of the set. Our couple shares a slow waltz. It made me think dancing is sex idealized. (Spoiler alert next) But what was ideal ends in poignant still life: Jamie’s gold ring on Cathy’s white laptop. Sharp thorns rounded by a melody.

Postscript:

In the lobby before the show I was lucky to meet and chat with one of the original founders of Salt Lake Shakespeare Company.  Gage Williams is the executive producer for this show and Chair of the department. It was he and other theatre faculty that started the company as an offshoot of the U of U’s theatre program 20 years ago. At first they mounted only one production a year. The last few seasons have seen them expand to two productions in the summertime; usually a drama and a comedy or musical. They draw their actors from university students and occasionally have guest professionals, as will be the case for their second production this season, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening July 17th. All performers are paid. “Not much” demurs Mr. Williams, but it’s a blessing to have resources enough to do the right thing. Salt Lake “Shake” is also supported by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation and grants from the Zoo Arts and Parks (ZAP) program.

The Last Five Years

Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown

Salt Lake Shakespeare Company at the Babcock Theatre, University of Utah

300 South 1400 East, SLC 84112

June 13 – 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Matinees June 21, 22, 28, & 29 at 2:00 PM

Box Office 801-581-7100

General: $18
U of U Faculty, Staff, Seniors age 60 and over: $15
Military and their immediate families: $15
U of U students FREE with Arts Pass
Other students: $8.50
For group discounts of 20 or more call 801-581-6406

No refunds or exchanges

Midvale Main Street’s Spring Awakening is Unashamedly Envigorating

Spring CoupleWritten by Larissa Villers Ferre

Winter is a dreary, lonely few months at the beginning of every year. Sometimes we feel an ache, knowing there is more out there for us in the sunshine of spring. Our senses are  teased and titillated with the changing sights, smells, sounds, and sensations the change of seasons brings. Take yourself back to the days of your adolescence around the time your body began to feel things it had never felt, your mind began to dream of things you didn’t understand, and you started feeling desires to be in the companionship of a certain girl or boy in a way you didn’t quite understand. The winter of the body had turned into spring.

Spring Awakening, being produced at Midvale Main Street Theatre, is an aptly named rock musical based on the banned 1891 German play of the same title. Child abuse, rape, suicide, incest, abortion, and homosexuality are all contributors to the banning of the play and the deep substance of the production. Set in 19th-century Germany, one may think the time-period’s approach to a sexual awakening of youth to be antiquated, but it is alarmingly frightening how true the show resonates with the youth of today.

As I write this, I think of how perhaps I shouldn’t use a word like “sexual” because it makes audiences and readers uncomfortable. However, the discomfort of this topic is exactly what has lead to the plague of misunderstanding regarding the wonderful gifts of life, creation, and sexuality that our creator gave us. Instead, we have turned the mere topic of intimacy into something shameful and to be avoided. If an audience member learns nothing else, I hope they learn that they are not alone in their struggles and that we need to be open in our communications with our children to hopefully bring about a much-needed understanding and change.

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First-time director, Cassidy Ross, put together an amazing group of production team and cast members, orchestrating a great blend of creative vision. Your eyes are immediately treated to one of Sean McLaughlin’s most bright and beautiful set designs. He has lined most of the stage with old wood slats, even creating a tree. His set works perfectly in conjunction with the lighting design of Jennifer Hairr to help us feel the innocence and darkness at integral times. In one number, the flashing of the lights was a little much, but definitely conveyed chaos. Aaron Ford’s choreography is clean and stylistic in a way that adds energy, but does not detract from the overall feel of the show. The only weak points for me, technically, were the over-modulated mic’s of Wendla and Georg.

The characters are introduced to us in a schoolroom setting or frolicking about town. As with most shows, the audience needs a few songs to warm up to the actors and feel the energy of the show. We meet Wendla (Erica Renee Smith) as she is trying to get her mother (Kelsey Lyn Hoskins) to tell her how babies are made. Hoskins portrayed the mother as amused in an almost comical way, which I enjoyed, but that amusement didn’t quite mesh with her harsh treatment of her daughter later in the show. For me and my company, the show finally clicked with the song, “Touch Me.” The actresses rocking out at the very beginning of the show had the staging and movement energy, yet something wasn’t quite clicking – like if you took classical singing and tried to set it to rock music. Thankfully, that was the only song that felt that way. In contrast, the beautiful vocals transferred well  in the strongest vocal song of the show, “Purple Summer.”

I will not spoil the show for those who have yet to experience it, but there is a scene that had me fighting back tears as much as any show ever has shortly after intermission. The blackout after this particular scene seemed intentionally longer than the typical split-second changes to let the audience have a moment to reflect. You could have heard a pin drop as sniffles and tears swept through the darkness.

For me and my company, the stand-out performance (if there can be one amongst this group) of the evening was Brock Dalgleish as Moritz. You can see he is slightly neurotic at the beginning of the show, which transitions into a slow and steady spiral downward until he finally breaks. His crystalline vocals and physical antics contributed to his powerful and believable lost soul performance. Even down to the sparkle in his eye, you could see this character’s fear-based yearning for some sort of truth and hope in his existence.

Carolyn Crow is also forever professional and haunting in her performances, not the least of which is Martha, a young girl suffering the full span of abuse from her father. You can see the hurt, anger, and fear in her eyes as she shares her story, yet her longing to hold onto the innocence of youth and childhood of her friends. Thomas Kulkus as Georg filled the house with soaring tenor notes when he wasn’t creating cleverly crafted comic relief with as little as the widening of an eye. Smith’s Wendla shows us naivete in her sheltered life and how her innocence leads to her downfall, all the while not understanding what she had even done wrong. Cody Jensen is the brave, yet stoic leader, Melchior. The youth look to him because he is wise beyond his years and not tied down with the traditional beliefs of society, while the adults look to him as a shining, intellectual hope for their future.  Jensen’s voice and acting fit his role so impeccably that I cannot imagine much better talent or fit exists.

Spring 4

Each and every actor deserves accolades for their performances, as I honestly felt that, even if an audience member might have made a different acting decision, there was not a weak player among them. Filling out the cast is: Jim Dale as Adult Man, Allie Duke as Ilse, Ashlee Brereton as Anna, Garrett Grigg as Ernst, Kelsey Lyn Hoskins as Adult Woman, Michael Anthony Howell as Otto, Terry Lee McGriff as Hanschen, and Mikael Short as Thea.

Audiences need to be aware of the adult language and sexual content of Spring Awakening – if a song titled, “Totally F***ed,” (the best overall song performance in the show) makes you squirm, then this show is not for you.  I typically don’t gravitate towards “edgy,” but I absolutely recommend this show.  In speaking with theater owner, Tammy Ross, she shared with me that she does blockbuster, family friendly sell-out shows like Hairspray so that she can also produce the non-Utah traditional pieces like Spring Awakening and Next to Normal.

Everyone will find something that resonates within them regarding the struggle of these characters. You will be brought to the point of tears or goosebumps because of these actors and what they are sharing with you. Spring Awakening helps you realize the unashamed concerns of youth, and, as Melchior states, “Shame is nothing but a product of education.”

Spring Awakening performs at 7:00 pm on June 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, and 6:00 pm on June 22.  Tickets are $15 for general admission from their website or at the box office or $12 for students at the box office one hour before showtime.

Spring 5

Centerpoint’s Odd Couple Is Even a Must See!

oc2By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

There are some names in theater that define their genre – for dance, it’s Bob Fosse. For musical theater, it’s Andrew Lloyd Weber. For comedies, it’s Neil Simon and the Simon play that everyone knows best is The Odd Couple.  The Odd Couple is the story of two friends, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, who become roommates after Felix’s wife throws him out after filing for divorce.  Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s The Odd Couple takes a classic that everyone knows – mostly because of the television series (starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) – and makes it fun all over again.

Oscar Madison (played beautifully by Rusty Bringhurst) is a crusty, sloppy, poker playing sports reporter.  Felix Ungar (played by Patrick Harris) is a neurotic, slightly whiny news writer who was OCD before OCD was cool. These two opposites end up bringing out the best in each other while simultaneously driving each other certifiably insane. They are friends who understand each other better than anyone else – for better or for worse.

There are not enough superlatives to describe how well the two leads brought out the dichotomy that is New York (Bronx versus Manhattan, downtown versus the financial district) and pulled the audience into their world and their lives.  Rusty’s naturally expressive acting style (not to mention the physicality that he brings to a role) was matched nicely by Patrick in every scene.  In many scenes, more was said with a raised eyebrow or a 3-count expression change.  These two were a treat to watch play off of one another.

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The rest of the gang, Murray the police office (played by Rob McArthur), Speed (Jason Unruh), Vinnie (Mark Green) and Oscar’s accountant Roy (Christopher Kennedy) are pulled along on the roller coaster ride that is Felix and Oscar sharing an apartment.  They want to be (at times) mere bystanders, because bystanders aren’t involved in the drama and there are times when they want to want to kill Felix and Oscar themselves.  However, in the end, the friends all pull together to be there for one another.  Throw in a pair the British sisters from upstairs (Katie Plott and Sunny Bringhurst) and the chaos is complete.

The chemistry of this cast is what made this show.  The sychronicity of the cast made the show shine and much of that has to do with the brilliant direction of Eric Jensen.  In his director’s notes, he talks about how much he loves Simon as a playwright and this show in particular and it shows in every scene.  And while you don’t necessarily expect this show to be “physical,”, but he made great use of his leads’ physicality.  One cast member (after the show) said that they didn’t learn blocking for this show as much as they learned choreography.  Jensen took the talents of his cast and pulled them together to create an artistic vision that made this show well worth the audience members’ time.

Jay Clark’s sound and light design were lovely.  As a child of the ’60s/’70′s walking into the theater to the strains of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass was like walking back into my childhood.  Jennie Richardson’s costumes were perfect for the era.  Perry loved the NY Met’s “Bat Boy” T-shirt.  He said it was absolutely perfect for Oscar as a sportswriter.  I was more taken with authenticity of the props – a real coup for Raquel Davis.

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The set design overall was wonderfully a 1960′s bachelor pad – clothing strewn everywhere, empty pizza boxes littering the room and the remains on the last poker game still on the table. The only thing I would have done differently had to do with the typewriter and the desk. They were tucked into a niche created by the scenery meeting the wall of the space. The wall was black so the black desk and black typewriter pretty much disappeared into the niche. Given that both Felix and Oscar are writers by trade, I would have either done something different with that black wall or moved the typewriter more center.

Centerpoint’s Leishman Performance Hall was a perfect space for this American classic.  Its clean lines and open space helps you feel like you are in an “eight room apartment” in New York.

Start your summer off right. Go see The Odd Couple.

CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s Leishman Performance Hall presents The Odd Couple.  Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday nights at 7 PM.  Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased at the box office 801-298-1302  or online http://centerpointtheatre.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=3197&ActCode=97803

Centerpoint Legacy Theatre

525 N 400 W

Centerville UT, 84014