Pioneer Theater’s The Count of Monte Cristo is an American Debut Smash!

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count3By Joel Applegate

Design and vision triumph in The Count of Monte Cristo. Salt Lake’s glitterati turned out in force for Pioneer Theatre’s opening night. Turns out they were not overdressed (I certainly wasn’t!). As the American premiere of this new musical – already seen in Europe and Asia – it deserves everyone turning out in their finest because the company of Monte Cristo certainly gave theirs. The creators of the piece were on hand and stated they were thrilled to finally hear their creation sung in English, having assisted directly with Pioneer’s production team.

And what a night it was. The sheer stagecraft of Pioneer Theatre’s artisans has amazed me before, but this production surpasses everything I’d seen. Fascinating stage pictures on rotating stairs are not only a masterful achievement for the designer, Michael Schweikardt, but a distinguished credit to the craftspeople as well. Together with the director/choreographer, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, they pulled off an awesome creative vision.

count2The towering stairs create many environments with occasional assists from a ship mast, a hot air balloon and columns flying in from all directions. The live orchestra led by Michael Sebastian stirred us up with an excitingly executed overture and supported a beautiful score throughout, modulated perfectly to enhance the operatic numbers.

One would not think that one of the world’s best known revenge stories would lend itself to musical theatre, but really, Murphy and Wildhorn’s creation is more lyric opera. There are a total of 28 numbers in the two-hour show. Among the first to delight the opening night crowd was “A Story Told”, a jaunty tune sung by the villains of the piece, Mondego, Danglers, and Villefort, played, respectively, by Darren Ritchie, Brandon Contreras, and John Schiappa. The three plot our hero’s downfall with a gleeful toast. As one of the best prominent supporting characters, Schiappa’s work was clearly menacing, supported by his powerful, yet tonally pleasing vocals. Ritchie and Contreras each had their own moments with increasingly challenging material, their tenors delighting our ears.

count1Vocals were, of course, critical to telling this story and no one disappoints. As the lead, Matt Farcher as Edmund Dantes, the Count, seemed to soar ever higher and more powerfully with each successive song. His erstwhile love, Mercedes, was played by Brenda Carlson-Goodman with a strong, wide range at her disposal. But perhaps one of the greatest voices on that stage truly belonged to Dathan B. Williams as the Abbe Faria, the old prisoner who befriends and becomes a teacher to the hapless Edmund. Williams’ honeyed baritone is controlled and purposeful in everything it does, from the rhythmic “Lessons Learned” to the redemptive “When We Are Kings.”

The music by Frank Wildhorn (Composer of Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlett Pimpernel) is suited to a story that features daring escapes, swordplay, and our challenged lovers within its visual feast. I couldn’t help but think that this show can stand proudly alongside Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera for its epic scope. The Count of Monte Cristo will be long remembered by patrons of the Pioneer Theatre who negotiated for years to bring this show to America and are justifiably proud of being the first.  The box office has told us that this show is selling out at a record pace, so be sure to get tickets before it ends May 21st.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Pioneer Theatre Company

May 6 – 21, 2016

Prices vary upon day and section–ticket prices range $40-$62, plus $5 if day of show. Call or go on line for times and prices. 801-581-6961

On the University of Utah campus, 300 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City. Free parking off 4th South near the theatre.

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

Rush tickets available; call the box office for details.

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Wasatch Theater Company’s Stage Kiss is Delicious

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stage kissBy Joel Applegate

Theater goers have become too sophisticated for escapism. The mirror has become transparent to the audiences of this new century. While we accept the given conceit of a piece, we then fall silent as a pin when the actors reveal who they really are: Humans telling a story. The sets may be fake, the story even absurd, but in Wasatch Theatre Company’s production of Stage Kiss, the actors could not have been more real.

On the bare set of a stage audition, the nervous energy of our lead actress, the fragile confidence of April Fossen’s “She” aka Ada, reveals an actress facing her maturity; questioning what is left of her future.  All the marks of a disaster present themselves: late to the audition, asking too many questions, admitting to not knowing the piece – in short, the actor’s nightmare revisited. Ms. Fossen strikes such a true chord with the “minor humiliations of life” that we wince with her. Still, first audition jitters give way to an energy inside the Rose Wagner Studio that is so right for this play. Director Mark Fossen bridges both the unnatural nature of 4th wall theater and the reality of actors’ lives with the seams barely showing.

The accidental meeting with Ada’s old lover at the first read-through of a new play unsettles a life she had settled for. Reality blurs as the former lovers must play lovers. Neither “He”, aka Johnny, played by Daniel Beecher, nor Ada is too happy about the casting. Mr. Beecher is so clear in his focus and intentions, and together with Ms. Fossen, they are attentive and awkward as they rehearse a terrible play called The Last Kiss. Inevitably, the former lovers become entangled again.The script is bad; the acting is tortured. As Johnny notes, “It’s a bad sign when a play is written by three people.” Nevertheless, how deliciously earnest are these actors’ attempts at the play within the play.

stage kiss 1 Sarah Ruhl’s script is indicative of a playwright who knows the tropes of theater only too well.

Packed with humor throughout, in Stage Kiss, Ruhl winks at the synthetic absurdity of plays and playacting. As if to emphasize the point, most of the actors in this uniformly excellent cast play dual roles.  Ann Cullimore Decker as the director feigns indulgence; she’s a little unctuous and even sly; “I’ll play the pimp.” Testifying to Utah audience’s admiration of her storied career in theater, Ms. Decker was cast despite the fact that the role was written for a man.

Throughout the performance the sense of faux reality is still so clear, that when the actors as themselves come to grips with their lives, and the inherent pretension of their profession, the shift between worlds is fascinating. I was captivated by a sense of both reality and irony as Ms. Fossen relates a Buddhist parable about, of all things, a ghost.

Our theater has become so Brechtian – modern theater is always reminding you that you’re watching something. But at the same time it touches reality in so many different places, despite the artificiality that is no longer hidden from audiences. In that sense, the art of WTC’s Stage Kiss thoughtfully succeeds in reflecting our lives.

This play contains Adult Themes and Language. Recommended for more mature teens and older.

April 30th – May 14th Thur, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, Matinees at 2 pm on May 7th, 8th and 14th

38 W Broadway, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

Adults $20 General Admission Seating ~ Box Office: 801-355-2787 On Line:

Tags: Mark Fossen, Sarah Ruhl, April Fossen, Daniel Beecher, Anne Cullimore Decker, Tristan Johnson, David Hanson, Ali Kinkaid, Brenda Hattingh

The SCERA’s Saturday’s Warrior is a Nostalgically Modern Prodution

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SaturdaysWarrior_11x17 Poster_OLBy MH Thomas

Opening night. Saturday’s Warrior. As we sat waiting for the show to begin, the SCERA theatre began to fill with families and older couples. Clearly, this was an event. A revival of Saturday’s Warrior in the middle of the Utah Valley. Classic.

Music from the 90s (fast forward twenty years from the original) plays in the theatre and the sounds of young children surround us. We were a bit wary of all the young ones in the seats, but, as my companion noticed, the children were generally more attentive than the adults. The show is fast moving and full of music that holds the attention of young and old alike.

As the show begins, a darling little girl (Annalie Johnson) with a sweet voice intones the iconic lyrics, “Who are these children coming down?”. It is a lovely way to start the show. The scenery and lighting (Elizabeth Griffiths) make this moment one of great expectation for what is to proceed on the stage.

Director, Jeremy Showgren, did a fine job of casting talented singers. The ensemble, consisting of singers of all ages, is strong enough to keep up with the main characters. They harmonize well together and add to the overall musical strength of the show.

The set is effective, thanks to the design of M’Liss Tolman, but large and heavy to move around. Kudos to all (including children) who quickly make the changes. Not an easy task to create a number of different locations on one small stage.

When my children were young, they used to watch the video production of the show and act it out at home. The girls all wanted to be Pam. Pam (McKenna Hixson) in this production does not disappoint. Her voice is beautiful and her presence emotionally gripping. Her relationship with her twin brother, Jimmy (Tanner Perkins), feels very real and natural. Perkins portrays the personality of a moody teenager with skill. His voice, both solo and in his duets, is impressive.

sw2It is great fun to see all of the Flinders family live on stage. So many have seen the production on VHS over the years. Alex Chester and Ashley Ramsey head up the Flinders family as parents to eight lively children. They portray the joys and frustrations that come with such a task. The children are real children and not models of perfection. The middle children (David Johnson, Isabella and Cole Hixson, Bo Chester) add the humor that only middle children can. As Julie, Kelsea Kocherhans sings well and shows a good balance between humor, earnestness and ditziness. Her solos and her duets with Tod (Alex Pierson) are very well done. Emily is the youngest and is the one who opens the show.

Saying that Elder Kestler (Chris Rollins) is high energy would be an understatement. He is definitely a contrast to his subdued companion, Elder Greene (Eric Taylor). Cheesiness is an integral part of this show. The scenes performed by these elders are the ultimate in cheese. They are comic relief personified.

sw3This musical is a charming stroll down memory lane for so many of us. It is serious, funny, cheesy and emotional. The cast and crew handle this show in a way that shows respect to our nostalgia. Well done to all. I’m thinking I need to see it again.
When: Friday through May 7 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Where: SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State St., Orem
Tickets: $12 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-11 and seniors
Info:, (801) 225-ARTS


Highland’s The Curious Savage is a Funny, Sweet Family-Friendly Delight

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By Jessica Johnson

The Highland City Council presents a hilarious ensemble cast for The Curious Savage,directed by Gabriel Spencer and produced by Jordan Long. Watch out! The lights just might go out when you least expect it. The play is set in The Cloisters, a sanitarium for people who are detached from reality. The cast is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a notorious new client Mrs. Ethel Savage. Mrs. Savage is the wife of a wealthy businessman who had recently passed away. She has three conniving stepchildren who would love to get their hands on the family fortune that is rumored to be $10 million dollars.

Florence Williams is played by Shelly Traux. Her constant companion is John Thomas, a doll.  She is the mother figure of The Cloisters and often keeps everyone in line. She reminded me of a classic Mormon mother with her children.  Truax plays her role with delightful fierceness. Though Florence is strident, Truax handles this role deftly, showing the soft, slightly afraid Florence in a beautiful light.

Fairy May played by Leah Bryan is a breath of fresh air! Her high-jinks kept me laughing from the moment she came onstage.  You never knew when she would scream and jump on the furniture.  Her “dress” in the second act was priceless and still full of pins. Very childlike and funny. You love to love her. Bryan is filled with energy and is truly darling in this role. Fairy’s screams were timed perfectly to wake anyone who had fallen asleep (though I don’t think anyone really would fall asleep in this quick, quirky show.) “It’s alive!”

Jeffrey, played by Jordan Long, is a former fighter pilot who was the lone survivor of a plane crash. A talented pianist who believes that his scarred face prevents him from performing for the masses. He reminded me of Phantom of the Opera without the mask.  Long has some really funny bits, especially when he is fooling the stepkids about where the bonds are.

Miss “Willie” Wilhelmina, a nurse, is played by Nicole Allen and is the voice of reason for The Cloisters.  She has a special reason for working there, but I won’t spoil it. Allen has great timing and is a sympathetic character. I won’t give her final scene away, but it is very touching.

Dr. Emmett played by Jake Allen is a kind-hearted doctor trying to rein in the chaos at The Cloisters.  Jake Allen has one of the sweetest scenes when he is questioning Mrs. Paddy and plays his character with warmth and professionalism.

Hannibal played by Alex Diaz, was once a statistician and lost it when he was replaced by an electronic calculator.  He has taken to playing the violin with horrible results. I give him an A for effort. His intelligence is baffling.  You really have to listen to what he says to understand where he is going. My favorite scene with him is the new exercise routine. I love how the cards go flying across the set. Diaz’s scene about staying awake is great–he has great timing and brings a lot of life to Hannibal.

Mrs. Paddy played by Stephanie Tenney gets a lot of laughs with her list of things she hates: everything from rhubarb to politicians. I love her alliterated outbursts! Tenney doesn’t have many lines (you’ll see) but when she does speak it leaves you laughing. Her grin is infectious. You can see that she wants to open up. Many times pursing her lips to try to hold in her words.   Ethel Savage played by Jennifer Mustoe, enters holding her constant companion, her one-eyed teddy bear. Her bright blue hair and fascinator hat are the focal point of her costume. Mustoe shows Mrs. Savage’s dejection at being forced to live at The Cloisters, but also the joy of finding new friends. Mustoe’s quirky timing made the show roll along and she is really fun to watch. The final scene is remarkably touching and I noticed several people in the audience crying. However, Mustoe has some of the funniest lines in the play, too. She got a lot of laughs. (Note: Keep your eye on the bear…)

Titus played by Stephen Miner is the oldest stepson of Mrs. Savage, an unpopular Senator who is disposed to fits of anger, mostly at his stepmother. Miner is a commanding actor, with lots of power behind his words. He looks as sweet as can be, but when he starts yelling, you can see Miner’s acting ability. What a jerk! (I mean that in a good way.) Lilly Belle, played by Jeanelle Long is the spoiled heiress who leaves husbands in her wake. She has had six of them, and has a million dollars each to show for it. Jeanelle Long is a fine actress with her nuanced facial expressions. Her freak out scene about the dartboard is hilarious. Samuel played by Tanner Spear has few lines, so has to rely on facial expressions, physical comedy and attitude to make his presence stand out and Spear does this well. His pouty, sorry for himself looks are awesome.

The set was a little sparse with mixed era pieces.  It was hard to discern the time period being portrayed. Curtains were also needed for the window. The flashing of changing street light was distracting. The costumes were bright and colorful. But again, it was hard to discern the time period. Sometimes it was hard to hear the actors over the radio broadcasts.

One thing that touched me was how careful and safe it was at The Cloisters. The patients there never wanted to leave. It was funny, yes, but there was an undertone of a sad reality–some people aren’t ever willing to face life’s challenges. Such are the patients in The Curious Savage.

One overall theme of the play is Love!  The love that Florence has for her child. Fairy’s love of everything. Tthe love Mrs. Savage has for her husband in fighting to keep her memorial fund. The love shared between Mrs. Savages and the Residents who become more of a family than she ever had with her stepchildren.

Director Gabriel Spencer has a lot of action and physical comedy in this show that keeps the pacing quick, fun and interesting. He has gotten the most out of this talented bunch and the cast work together as a cohesive unit.

The Curious Savage is an excellent piece and family-friendly. The theater is small, so buy your tickets online. This performance will make you laugh and reevaluate what is the most important thing in life. You will learn to love all of the cast!

You can see The Curious Savage at the Highland Community Center at 5378 West 10400 North, Highland on Fri-Sat 2/26-27 and Mon 2/29. Show starts at 8 PM. For more information see the Facebook event below. $10 adults, $8 students.

Live a Little and Join Peter Pan on a Great Adventure!

-by Megan Graves**

“To live is the greatest adventure!”- Peter Pan

Some of the cast of Peter Pan's Great Adventure.

Some of the cast of Peter Pan’s Great Adventure.

For skeptics like I was, who might wonder why the writers Chase Ramsey and David Paul Smith created another Peter Pan musical, you will be pleasantly surprised by the play “Peter Pan’s Great Adventure!” at the SCERA. The play is different than the familiar musical in significant, positive ways. There was more interaction with children in the audience, and that was the key part of the children’s enjoyment who attended the play. Don’t just take my word for it! According to children who came, “it was really fun,” they “liked how [the actors] interacted with the crowd,” and how “[the actors] were good at acting like children.” In the words of one child, “Everything!” about the play was his favorite.* Considering that this is a play written for young audiences, the fact children enjoyed it is a very good thing, but don’t worry, adults – you’ll enjoy it as well.

I’m happy to see the SCERA engaging in a renaissance of the unique essence of live theater  – audience interaction – that has gotten a little lost over the years since Shakespeare’s time, but fortunately is making a popular comeback in some local theaters. In this play, Peter Pan (Dallin Major) gets rid of the ‘fourth wall’ right away and starts interacting with the audience, asking the children, “Can you help me let my friends know the show is starting?” In other parts of the play, the children get to try scaring Captain Hook (Shawn Mortensen) by acting like a crocodile, or bymaking a bird’s call as a signal to the pirates when the Lost Boys were near.  It is also a much shorter play, which along with the constant interaction with the cast, makes it a lot more amenable to bringing young children, though it is even enjoyable for teens and adults who are young at heart.

I like this version a lot better than the original musical, for a variety of other reasons, namely, because it has no racist undertones against Native Americans and it doesn’t have strange melodies in the  songs like the original has. On the contrary it has more than one catchy song, and not only that, all of the songs have an inspirational message of one sort or the other. It doesn’t have as many characters, and at times some of my favorite parts of the Peter Pan story seemed rushed because of time, such as the scene where we all clap in the audience to help Tinkerbell live, and Peter Pan doesn’t really fly across the stage, but overall it was better in general in terms of plot, music, and audience interaction.

Almost every song or part of the story teaches children a simple positive lesson, such as this one, for example: “We can find love in all sorts of places, we just need to know where to look for it.”  So, if you want some wholesome values and life lessons reinforced through music to your children, this is a good play for that!

The first song, Mother’s Lullaby, is an example of lessons within a song, while also containing foreshadowing for the adventures the children will have that night, where they “wake upon the shores” of a strange land. Speaking of which, there is an unintentional lesson in this Peter Pan story in general for parents, and that is this: Don’t leave the dog to babysit children when you leave. 😉 One song sung by Peter Pan teaches kids that “the happier the thought, the deeper the love, the lighter you feel!” and that they “can be up in the sky (and achieve what they want), all they have to do is try!” In that song, the set design and direction was also clever, because the children “flew” by being pulled in tiny carts made to look like the tops of English buildings.

Speaking of design, one of the first things I noticed was the great use of lighting design by Elizabeth Griffiths. Tinkerbell is a hard character to portray on stage, and she was cleverly portrayed by both a green laser and handheld green lights, which the actors did a great job concealing the rest of the time. When Peter Pan is chasing his shadow, the lights change right as he finds it and his shadow appears – it was very clever and good timing for the lighting – kudos also to Stage Manager Danielle Berry for a relatively seamless first night of a world premiere of a new musical.

The set design by Shawn M. Mortensen for the Darling’s house was beautiful, with bay windows and old paintings, and was easily converted to the Lost Boy’s hideout by just hiding the bunk bed under a fabric set piece, or transformed into a pirate ship quickly by taking off a picture to reveal a porthole, for example. It was a little distracting to have some of the same set pieces in all the scenes, but it also connected all of the scenes together in a way that you could say the adventures were a dream that the children had.

I could go on for a long time about everything I loved about the play, from the clever slapstick acting by the three pirates, Smee (Keegan Briggs), Smaug (Delayne Dayton), and Bucky (Ardon Smith) that made the children laugh a lot, or the fairy-like voice of Wendy Darling (McKayla Hansen), or the energy and optimism that Peter Pan instills in the audience, or the way they incorporated my favorite classic lines from the original story along with new ones such as “Forever sounds like an awfully great adventure!” but I’ll just encourage you to go and see the world premiere of this play for yourself. You might even want to go twice.

The book was written by Chase Ramsey, with Music and Lyrics by David Paul Smith, both locals and both co-directors of this show for SCERA’s Theatre for Young Audiences Program.

You can see the play every Monday and Friday through Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. each night. It lasts about an hour and a half at most, so it is an optimal length of a play for kids. Just remember that, like Peter Pan says, “Cell phones make Tinkerbell mad.”

***Advisory: There are a lot of flashing lights on stage during a few scene changes. There is also one instance of crude bathroom humor reference that adults would get and not children, but that is all.

Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for children and seniors, available at (801) 225-ARTS or at this link:

The SCERA is located at 745 S. State St. in Orem.

*Nephi Barlow, Grace Barlow, Sam Barlow, and Owen Whiteley were the children quoted, in order respectively.

**Megan Graves has directed, produced, written, and performed in various community plays in Utah (, and also enjoys being a freelance arts critic. She majored in both English and Music Teaching, and has a Master’s in Public Administration. She particularly loves watching and performing in Shakespeare plays and in musicals, and is grateful for the chance she had to study and critique theatrical performances in London for 7 weeks in an undergrad theater program at BYU as part of her English major.

Ogden’s Ziefield Theater’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a Fun Season Opener

drs3By Michael T. McKinlay

It was opening night for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Book by Jeremy Lane, Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek), that began the season of comedy for Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theater. That is what the show accomplished–a great fun night of good laughs that helps put one’s worries aside for a few hours. A show not to miss this year! You have the opportunity til closing night March 5th.

The Ziegfeld Theater, once a movie theater, now a live theater has that old time movie theatre feel from the outside through the doors into your comfortable new seats with cup holders. I felt like I was ready to watch a classic movie where the credits are displayed over the curtain as the overture played. But at the Ziegfeld they for sure live up to their motto of “Professional Standard, Community Spirit” in all aspects.

Based on the popular 1988 MGM film,  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a comedy about who’s getting conned. Watch closely–you never know who’s conning who!

Lawrence Jameson is posh. Freddy Benson is more mundane. But both know how to swindle and start to battle over a small French town’s pawns. The crack a deal that they will battle for the town by swindling a lovely young heiress–winner takes all.

Contains mild language and some irreverent humor. Appropriate for most audiences.

drs1Great Big Stuff is a wonderful showcase of the show’s brilliance. Where Freddy (Ed Madson) sings about how he wants what Lawrence (Kevin Ireland) has. This number really showed the two men’s showmanship and talent. An outstanding performance by Kelliann Johnson in the role of Jolene Oaks in the number Oklahoma?. I was delighted at her deft performance. Kelliann Johnson had Jolene’s sweet Southern charm shine through but with a wild cowgirl attitude that makes her perfomance pop. All About Ruprecht was hilarious. Watch out for Christine Colgate played by Heidi Potter Hunt–she was funny and a real asset to the show.

The great thing about live theater is you’ll never see the same show twice. This being opening night, there were a little fits and starts and one big pillar falling and a great actor save. But that’s usually to be expected on opening night.

Other honorable mentions Rebecca Marcotte as Muriel Eubanks and Daniel Akin as Andre Thibault during Like Zis/Like Zat.

drs2Wonderful choreography by Joshua Samuel Robinson, beautiful musical direction from Jamie Balaich, and direction by Rick Rea where you made dirty rotten very classy and well done to make sure all have a good laugh.
It is worth the drive (my drive was 50 min) to Ogden to see this show. Because truly you will get a professional standard experience with the warm welcoming of community spirit from the Ziegfeld Theater.

$17-$20 Fridays and Saturdays @ 7:30 PM, Saturday matinees @ 2 PM

Feb 5- March 5th,




Here Comes…The Wedding Singer in Cedar City

Wedding Singer Posterby Zac Trotter

The Wedding Singer? That’s a new one for Cedar City audiences. Cedar Valley Community Theatre’s latest production is a fresh and exciting opportunity to see a show that is uncommon for the area. Based on the hit motion picture of the same name, The Wedding Singer allows its audience to take a trip to another time and to leave its own worries and cares at the door for a couple of hours. The curtain rose at the top of the show to reveal the characters already dancing to the rock-themed music being conducted by Carylee Zwang. That high energy remained onstage for the duration of the performance.

The show stars Cedar City favorite Reece Brown as Robbie, who is trying to find true love for himself while serenading those who have already found it at their own weddings. After he is left at the altar and with a bleak outlook on life, dating and happiness, he enlists the help of his band (played by Indy Jones and Trevor Walker) and two caterers (Emilee Gull and Kelsea Burton) to get himself out of the dumpster and on the track to success.

Kelsea Burton as Holly played her part with so much energy and charisma that it wasn’t a surprise when she is doused with water at the end of the first act. Austin Strine as Glen Guglia portrays the antagonist with such finesse that I wanted to get up and slap him myself. Everyone in the cast is completely committed to their characters and it is clear they understand that ensemble cohesiveness is the key to making a show like this successful. The show is directed by Stephen Wagner and choreographed by Torri Adams, who create a fast and exciting show that puts its audience on the edge of their seats wanting more right up to curtain call.

Cedar City is home to lots of theatres, most of whom have chosen to do dramatic works during this part of the season. The Wedding Singer is comedic, lively and brilliantly acted. It really is a bright spot in the community during this cold winter. I would recommend sitting close to the stage; the mics have a tendency to come on late at the top of scenes. There is some mild language and sexual content and may not be appropriate for small children. It’s basically the same as seeing an Adam Sandler movie. If you’re okay with that, you’ll enjoy this. The show continues February 1, 5, 6, and 8 at the Heritage Theatre and starts at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $12.00.
Heritage Center Theater
105 North 100 East
Cedar City, UT 84720

UVU’s Mother Hicks is Good, Old-fashioned American Magic

mother hicksReviewed by Stephen Gashler
A play for young audiences set in the Great Depression in a small town in Illinois, Mother Hicks (by Suzan Zeder) is the story of an abandoned girl – appropriately named Girl – in search of a home and an identity. This female answer to Huckleberry Finn wanders from place to place, from the rough crowds on the wrong side of the train tracks to the well-off and well-mannered, though she never seems to fit in. She crosses paths with Tuc, a deaf and dumb man who, like Girl, is overlooked and belittled by society. Tuc as something of a guardian ange, looks out for Girl when no one else will. Tuc is also a sign language poet.

Speaking of misfits, there’s no shortage of local gossip about the old hermit, Mother Hicks. Rumor has it that she’s a witch, responsible for virtually every mishap in town from milks cows gone dry to the deaths of young children. Girl is inspired by the way Mother Hicks commands the fear of the town, and wishing to take such power upon herself, rebelliously delves into the dark arts. But when a dangerous ritual goes awry, a wounded Girl is in trouble and Tuc, ever looking out for her, carries her to the home of none other than the elusive Mother Hicks.

Girl finds herself in an eclectic cottage full of wild animals and face-to-face with the town “witch.” Through some hard lessons, she’s forced to learn for herself about real power, real healing, and real identity.

The cast of Mother Hicks is full of rich characters. Girl (Emma Eugenia Belnap) is full of passion and a driving force for the play. It was a delight to discover the personality of Mother Hicks (McKell Petersen), who is at first shrouded in mystery but then commands the show with her matriarchal presence. McKell had me convinced that she was quite a few decades older than she is. Tuc (Matt McGill) has a sweet innocence and honesty that provide a great balance to the more domineering characters. There are many other fun and well-played characters (from the gossiping housewife to the general store clerk to the town drunk) who collectively succeed at painting an iconic Mayberry. I found myself lost in an America long-gone yet nostalgically familiar, a more innocent time when barefoot boys and girls knew that adventure was just around the corner, and witches frequented graveyards.

Suzan Zeder’s play is packed with thoughtful themes in a charming setting. I loved the exploration of an all-American brand of witchcraft that was still alive and well in the twentieth century. I loved the coming of age themes that young audiences will identify with and the tasteful treatment of harder themes like overcoming prejudice and broken relationships. Director John Newman did a great job at bringing out these ideas, giving my two young daughters and I a lot to talk about as we exited the theater.

Visually, the show isn’t lacking in eye candy. The costumes (designed by Scott Edward Twichell) all felt natural, and the set (designed by Stephen Purdy), with a sandy base, gorgeous backdrops, and eclectic yet minimalistic set pieces such as rustic wheels, barrels, and crates, added a lot to the tone of the play and never got in the way. I was especially impressed by the lighting effects (designed by Jaron Kent Hermansen and Laicey M. Giddy-Brown), clouds, and stars. The coolest scene is when Girl is practicing her witchcraft, and it looks as if she’s surrounded by rippling water on a sandy beach. I felt as I was right there with her.

UVU’s Mother Hicks is a quality student production and a great play for young audiences. It takes a little imagination to properly envision some of the actors as their characters’ ages, but such are the natural limitations of student theatre. Thankfully, kids have much better imaginations than adults, and if they’re like my kids, they’ll have a good time watching Mother Hicks. Without being too scary, it’s just heavy enough to get young (and old) minds turning. I look forward to seeing the other plays in this series (known as the Ware Trilogy) by Suzan Zeder.

Performed at the UVU Noorda Theatre

800 West University Pkwy MS 234, Orem, UT 84058

Runs January 14th – 30th
MThFS 7:30 PM
Saturdays at 2:00 PM

NOTE: ASL Interpreters are scheduled be at the following performances!!
Saturday January 16 @ 2p
Thursday January 21 @ 7:30p
Friday January 29 @ 7:30p

Tickets are $8 for students and $12 for general admission

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Utah Rep’s A Little Night Music is a Big Hit!

littleBy Cindy Whitehair

Send in the Clowns has been a very special song to me, for a long time so I jumped at the opportunity to see Utah Rep’s A Little Night Music to see the song in context. We were not disappointed.

A Little Night Music (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler) was inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles on a Summer Night. It was written about a time when affairs were liaisons and people drove cars AND horse and buggies and royalty and title were en vogue—when actors and actresses trod the grand stages and grand salons of Europe with much fanfare. It is the story of three couples of star-crossed lovers and the machinations that they go through to get to where they need to be.

Utah Rep’s staging of the show is as lush as the lifestyle portrayed in the show. They installed a FULL proscenium arch stage into Sorenson Unity Center’s black box theater—a risky move given how small the space is to begin with. However, by making the space so intimate, the audience gets to see every little detail of the brilliant costumes (Nancy Susan Cannon), set design (Daniel Whiting), props and set dressing (Tim Mugridge and Madeline Ashton), lighting design (Geoffrey Gregory) and hair and wig design (Cindy Johnson) that made this show. The period touches through out every little detail (gaslights on the sides of the proscenium) showed the thought that the production team put into this show.

It is a rare thing in this valley to have live (as opposed to an orchestrated recorded track) music and Utah Rep is one of the few theatres that does live music regularly. With a music director like Anne Puzey (who was also the pianist for this show) it’s hard not to take advantage of that talent. Keyboardist Jeanne McGuire filled in the rest of the orchestra beautifully.

Director Christopher Clark did an amazing job balancing the unbelievable talent that he had to work with. You could always see the actors—even when the whole ensemble was on stage at the same time. There was no ensemble hanging in the background—every member of this cast had their moment in the spotlight. This show was cast with a great attention to detail and how the each cast member would fit into the show. The director pulled you into his vision of what this show should be.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this stellar cast. The Quintet (a quasi-Greek Chorus made up of Jim Dale, Raina Larkin Thorne, Natalie Easter, David K. Martin and Tamara Sleight) are used like the Muses of old—to tie a show together, while moving it along. A summer breeze sweeps you up into the story while moving it along. Their voices blended well together and they were cast to show off their individual vocal strengths.

The three generations of Armfeldt women – Madame (Elizabeth Hansen), Desiree (Susan Facer) and Fredrika (Bailee Johnson) are a major focus of the story. Desiree was the toast of Europe as an actress, but as she has aged, she has been relegated to playing the smaller stages of Europe. She is still clinging to “The Glamorous Life” while realizing all she has missed (her daughter Fredrika growing up.) Meanwhile, Madame (who is raising Fredrika) realizes she is not long for this mortal coil. All three actresses did phenomenal jobs letting you know everything about their character, even if they had minimal lines (Ms. Johnson.) The relationships—strained at times, doting at others felt real. Ms. Facer commanded the stage as a diva should—she was the sun that the planets (the rest of the cast) revolved around.

To say that the Egerman’s – Patriarch Fredrik (Doug Irey), son Henrik (Jon Rose) and stepmother Anne (Marissa Smith)—are a dysfunctional family is a wild understatement. Fredrik is written as almost a Shakespearian fool—married to a much younger Anne who knows nothing of marriage. Henrik was Goth, long before Goth was even a thing. They are three individuals occupying the same home but interacting with one another on the fringes. The song triad Now, Later, and Soon sums up the relationships in true Sondheim fashion.

Rounding out the cast are the Count Carl-Magnus (Matt Dobson) and Countess Charlotte (Dianna Graham) Malcolm and servants Frid (Greg Carver) in the Armfeldt household and Petra (Casey Matern) in the Egerman household. Each brings such verve to the show. The Countess and her conniving to get her husband back from the diva, the Count who realizes that he does love his wife, the lusty maidservant and the faithful manservant who steps out of his rigid shell all bring a depth to the show that is necessary.

In a show with so much talent, it is hard to pick a stand out number. Send in the Clowns is the signature song for this show with good reason (more on that shortly) but there were three other songs that (for us) were just as good, but for different reasons. Liaisons (sung by Madame Armfeldt) and The Miller’s Son (sung by Petra) were two of the most technically challenging songs in a musical full of technically challenging music (we are talking Sondheim, after all.) The third, Weekend in the Country had the whole cast singing at least six (that I could count) different parts and with different syncopations, and there was not a dropped lyric or not in the bunch. That is a hard thing to accomplish.

As I said, the signature song for this show is Send in the Clowns. This song is one my mother and I used to play together frequently when I was in high school—it is a very happy memory for me. However, the song is about regrets and loss and mourning. While the piano line had me missing my mom (who died five years ago), Ms. Facer’s emotional connection to the song is what had me in tears at the end (and now as I am writing about it.) For a song that Sondheim admitted was an afterthought, it packs an emotional punch that this seasoned actress wielded deftly.

All in all, A Little Night Music is a well-polished, entertaining, tour de force. It is everything musical theater is supposed to be and was a true joy to watch.

Utah Rep Presents A Little Night Music
Jan 15-30
Sorenson Unity Center
1383 S 900 W, Salt Lake City, Utah 84104
Tickets can be purchased online

Centerpoint Legacy Theater’s The Foreigner Should be Your New Best Friend

foreigner1By Craig and Jennifer Mustoe

Do. Not. Miss. This. Play.
The Foreigner, a hilarious comedy by Larry Shue, focuses on Brit Charlie Baker, played by Rusty Brinkhurst (on some dates—this is double cast), erstwhile science fiction proofreader, boring man and cuckold. He accompanies his friend Froggy LeSueur (played by David F. Marsden), British military explosives expert, to rural Georgia. Froggy leaves Charlie alone at a backwoods fishing lodge owned and operated by his old friend Betty Meeks (Holly Reid) while he goes off for three days on his annual bomb training of U.S. soldiers. Before he leaves, Charlie begs Froggy to find a way so that he won’t have to talk to anyone at the lodge; Charlie believes that he is terminally boring and can never hold an intelligent conversation with anyone. Froggy tells Betty that Charlie is a foreigner, and doesn’t speak a word of English. Betty takes an instant shine to him, as she has always envied the exciting life Froggy leads, traveling around the world and meeting exciting “foreigners.” Now she has one of her own.

Charlie soon encounters a series of characters at the lodge. Catherine (Kari Plott) is young and beautiful and engaged to the Rev. David Marshall Lee (BJ Whimpey.) She has a younger brother, Ellard (Richie Uminsky), who is, well, um … special. He will not receive his half of the inheritance until Catherine certifies that he is intelligent enough to handle it. David has a friend, Owen (Josh Curtis), who is as redneck as they come. He is the new (corrupt) countytax assessor with aspirations to be sheriff. These various characters hold rather private conversations right in front of Charlie, believing that he can’t understand them, and thus, won’t tell their dirty secrets and most personal thoughts and feelings. He is soon known as a great listener.


Soon, Charlie learns of a dastardly plot to steal the lodge and get Catherine’s inheritance. He also learns that she is pregnant by the minister (didn’t we see something like this in The Scarlet Letter?). Ellard goes about teaching Charlie English and he makes re-mark-able progress. Soon Charlie can read Shakespeare like an Oxford master. In the final act the Klan shows up, and we read in another review that she had no idea that the Klan was in the show so we have stated it right here. They are not the good guys by any means, but we wanted you to know.

The set by scenic designer Scott Vandyke was brilliantly designed and quite authentic. It had the hunting-fishing lodge feel to it—complete with mounted fish, poles, nets and other fishing equipment and one set of antlers. There were antique signs all over, too, and a player piano (wait to you see what they do with THIS—was that in the script? I don’t this s–but we loved it.) Jackie Smith as property designer rounds out the set beautifully.

Sound and lighting by Jay M. Clark was spot on (did you see what I did there?). Not one mic failure. Lighting cues perfect. This production had an amazing feature that was used to its best ability—a live band, whose playing helped scene changes fly by. Music director Gary Sorenson’s players: Debbie Cannon on keyboard; Christine Warren and Katie Frandsen on violins, Spencer Hohl—brilliant guitar and banjo; Dan Smith on percussion; Emily Merrill on percussion—was ingenious with his music choices and this alone lent something to this play we’ve never seen before. Authentic downhome Bluegrass at its best.

Costumes by show director Jennie Richardson were simple and believable. Though he doesn’t have much stage time, Froggy’s military outfit was authentic. A nod to Betty’s apron-covered dress, too.

Now, for the actors—we were impressed with how completely solid this performance was. One eensy blip with one line only. Performances were sparkling and startling and smooth. But smooth isn’t what this play is about. Why? Because each actor, led by Jennie Richardson’s deft direction, were exquisitely crafted and brilliantly presented. We love Betty. We hate Owen. We adore Ellard. We feel sorry for Catherine. We giggle with Froggy. We despise the reverend. And we laugh our heads off with the amazing physical acting ability and comic timing of Rusty Bringhurst. His delivery was so perfect, it made our heads spin. We saw audience members guffaw, clap like crazy, practically begging for more.

One last comment—the staff at the Centerpoint Legacy Theater is one of the nicest group of folks we’ve ever interacted with. Kind, helpful, upbeat—total professionalism but so warm—we were very impressed.

This theater is a little out of the way for us in Spanish Fork, though it is right off the freeway. However, we recommend and if we could INSIST you get in your car and get to this show.

The Foreigner

January 11- February 6–dark Sundays 7:30 PM


The Centerpoint Legacy Theater

Address: 525 N 400 W, Centerville, UT 84014