(in)Divisible is an Eye-Opening Look at Society and Politics

by Amanda Berg

(in)divisible at Rose Wagner TheaterAn original performance by 12 local playwrights, (In)divisible is a unique, bipartisan commentary about the everyday person’s response to the November 2016 election. It will be at the studio theater of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center until June 18th. Each playwright wrote two five-minute monologues or dialogues (one Liberal and one Conservative) as responses to various aspects of our current political climate, without ever mentioning a politician’s name. I decided to go with my fiancé, who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum as I, because I knew this would result in great discussions about the content of the plays.

The casual atmosphere was quite comfortable—only about 75 seats in the theater, no props, no sets, no costumes—only 16 actors in everyday clothes, a small, black theater, some lights, and two music stands for the readings. The theater is in a great location downtown—the only downside that if you have a vehicle, parking is not free anywhere in the vicinity.

(in)divisible Plan B

© JJ Neward, Plan-B Theater Company

Since tickets were free, we did not realize it was necessary to have a ticket via email, but we were still able to get into the performance. Though tickets are free, attendees are encouraged to give a donation to The Children’s Center, which is a mental health facility for the birth-to-five population, many of whom are refugees and survivors of trauma—a very worthy cause and an organization I’d be happy to donate to any day.

The quality of the performance was wonderful; the playwrights wrote the pieces with the actors in mind (e.g., a Jewish actress speaking about her experiences as a Jewish woman, a Filipino actress speaking about her experiences as a Filipino woman, etc.). Between the caliber of acting talent, wonderful directing (Jerry Rapier), and excellent writing by the playwrights, it seemed as though the actors were honestly recalling their personal experiences. Though they were reading the scripts, they showed genuine emotion and rarely looked down, which I was happy about with since I personally find looking down at the script constantly to be quite bothersome.

There were 24 stories altogether, though I found it amazing how a few of the playwrights were able to connect their two skits, so one could see two perspectives to the same story. This was not a series of rants about politics, but sincere recollections about personal experiences and interactions.

Some content was eye-opening and new; other content was not as much, but the overall experience was an oddly satisfying combination of heart-wrenching, painful, beautiful, and joyful. My own viewpoints were challenged and validated, and the cognitive dissonance had me thinking about society and politics for the rest of the night. It also resulted in conversations about the content during the entire drive home!

(in)divisible plan b

© JJ Neward, Plan-B Theater Company

Fortunately, the goal of the performance was not to change one’s thinking, but open the viewer up to a wider variety of information. Because it was written by local playwrights, there were aspects of the show that were especially personal to people in our Utah community, which made the performance even more profound. That being said, the quantity of profanity was great enough for even me to feel slightly uncomfortable at times, so if you are sensitive to swearing, this may not be the show for you.

Austin Archer
Matthew Ivan Bennett
Carleton Bluford
Rachel Bublitz
Elaine Jarvik
Julie Jensen
Jennifer A. Kokai
Melissa Leilani Larson
Jenifer Nii
Eric Samuelsen
Morag Shepherd
Debora Threedy

Joe Debevc
Lily Hye Soo Dixon
Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin
April Fossen
Mark Fossen
Bijan Hosseini
Bryan Kido
Tito Livas
Jayne Luke
Shane Mozaffari
JJ Neward
Nicki Nixon
Isabella Reeder
Matthew Sincell
Darryl Stamp
Jason Tatom
Alicia Washington

(In)Divisible is a show for an open-minded audience, a closed-minded audience, really an anything-minded audience, and I would suggest anyone who is interested at all in politics go see it at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center before it ends on the 18th.

Free tickets are available through Evenbrite. Patrons are encouraged to contribute
to The Children’s Center while at the theatre.

(in)divisible with Plan-B Theater
June 8-18, 2017
Th & F @ 8, Sat @ 4 & 8, Sun @ 2
Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner
In partnership with The Children’s Center

“Cinderella” at The Eccles is Pure Magic

By Larisa Hicken

Cinderella Broadway Tour

Brian Liebson, Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is part musical, part magic show. If you’re lucky enough to find tickets, throw on your glass slippers and get yourself to the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City now through June 4, 2017. Better yet, bring along the little princess in your life for an unforgettable night of vivid costumes, spectacular sets, and elegant dancing that will have you believing in happily ever after.

Ball gowns in Cinderella

The company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

If you’ve ever dreamed of dancing in a gown that moves the world, don’t miss this opportunity to see the dazzling Tony award-winning costume design by William Ivey Long in action. The onstage costume transformations are astonishingly beautiful and not easily forgotten. During the lush ballroom scenes, you’ll find yourself longing to dance in a ballgown, no matter what your age. The ballgowns appear to be inspired by a variety of flowers and plants, and the fairy godmother is clearly a butterfly.

The spectacular costume design is complemented by an impressive set designed by Anna Louizos. An entire house changes from inside to out completely seamlessly and the forest design is a nice contrast to the marble staircase of the royal kingdom.

The Cast of Cinderella

The company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Cinderella’s first Broadway version of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical underwent a rewrite of the book by Douglas Carter Beane. Instead of a helpless chamber maid, in this plot, Cinderella is a kind, but strong-willed and politically-minded young lady who wants to wear the gown and change the world all at the same time. The prince is called Prince Topher (short for Christopher and a host of other names, including Herman.) The new prince is college educated, but completely clueless to the actions of his villainous mentor who is approving oppressive legislation with a casual borrowing of the royal ring. Now, Cinderella must win the heart of the prince while also opening his eyes to the injustices of the kingdom. Thankfully, the talent of the cast overshadows the awkwardness of some of the new dialogue, which has a few corny one-liners and sarcastic zingers.

The angelic Tatyana Lubov plays an endearing and innocent Cinderella. Her voice is reminiscent of Paige O’Hara who voices Belle in the animated version of Beauty and the Beast. She is well matched with Hayden Stanes as Prince Topher, who manages to turn a dopey character into a charming and dreamy prince. Stanes has a rich voice that will leave you breathless. The two leads have terrific chemistry and their kiss was worth the wait.

Cinderella Kiss

Hayden Stanes and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Other standout performers are Vincent Davis as Lord Pinkleton, who acts as herald to announce the royal ball and banquet, and Leslie Jackson as Marie (the Fairy Godmother). Davis’ gorgeous tenor voice was made for opera and adds a lot of dazzle and sparkle to his solo numbers. Jackson skillfully portrays the fairy godmother with an infectious smile and vocal acrobatics that will leave you slightly dizzy. Utah native and Utah State University alum, Joanna Johnson plays a sassy and hilarious stepsister, Charlotte.

Heralding the Ball in Cinderella

Vincent B. Davis and the company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Tour orchestration by Bill Elliott (based on the original Broadway orchestration by Danny Troob) is phenomenal. The score includes the best-known songs from the original version of Cinderella and four additional songs from the R + H library.

This production of Cinderella is the perfect example of the magic that happens when all of the production and design elements come together in perfect harmony with a talented cast and crew.

I spoke with a few enthusiastic young audience members after the show and they agreed with my assessment. “When she came to the ball, that was my favorite,” said Katie Zabriskie, age 8. “I thought it was really fun. I really liked it. The people who played, like, the two animals, they were funny. Yeah, and like the [costume] where she only had the torn pink one up here and suddenly it turned into gold!” said Emma Ball, age 9. Total magic.

I recommend dressing lightly as the theater is warm. The show ends well before the stroke of midnight (around 10:00 PM) and includes a 20-minute intermission. Concessions are available. Visit Broadway.com for more details, to view Cinderella show photos, and to purchase tickets. Prices start at $65.00.

Broadway at the Eccles Presents Cinderella
610 E. South Temple, Suite 20, Salt Lake City, UT 84102
(801) 355-5502
5/30-6/1 7:30 PM, 6/2-6/3  8:00 PM, 6/3 2:00 PM, 6/4 1:00 PM, 6/4 6:30 PM

Note: When putting the address in your GPS, be sure to put the THEATER in (610 E. South Temple, Suite 20, Salt Lake City, UT 84102) and not the Box Office.

Anything Goes at UVU is De-Lovely

By Larisa Hicken

Anything Goes at UVUThe UVU Department of Theatrical Arts for Stage and Screen’s performance of Anything Goes in the small Noorda Theater in Orem, Utah is delightful.

Anything Goes is a classic Cole Porter masterpiece of silly romance and comedy that allows you to escape into the early 1930s on board an ocean liner. Anything Goes is full of cheesy one-liners and double entendres as characters try to talk their way out of a tight spot. The show is definitely not kid-friendly material, but there’s nothing too over-the-top risqué in this production.

This silly love story is about Billy Crocker who has fallen in love with a debutante, Hope Harcourt, whom he met in a taxi. When he discovers she’s boarding the same London-bound ship that his boss and friend Reno are boarding, he sneaks aboard the ship himself. Unfortunately, Hope’s mother has arranged an engagement for Hope to a stuffy British aristocrat named Lord Evelyn to restore the family fortune. With the help of other passengers, including a couple of barely disguised gangsters, Billy seeks to capture the heart of his dream girl – all without getting caught by his boss.

Since all of this hilarity takes place on board an ocean liner, the production team has a real challenge in squishing this typically huge show into the small Noorda Theater at UVU. The set (designed by Stephen Purdy) isn’t lavish, but it’s pleasantly functional and provides some nice levels for story telling.

The director, UVU resident artist Rob Moffat, uses the space well and does a nice job keeping the story moving forward at a quick pace (almost too quickly during a couple of scene transitions). The character interactions are delightful and clever. In particular, the songs “You’re the Top,” and “Friendship” stand out as terrific examples of mini stories that make the silly characters more tangible and loveable.

Excellent blocking is supported by choreography that is quite “de-lovely.” Choreographer Raymond Interior has created movement that exactly matches the capability of the dancers and adds a lot of dazzle to the musical numbers. The show starts right off with the Charleston which actually looks easy when performed by this talented cast. The much anticipated tap number “Anything Goes” is high-energy fun and “The Gypsy in Me” is simply spectacular.

The dancing and characterization in this production are closely matched by the great singing. For the most part, every actor in the show has a nice voice and is fully capable of knocking the audience over, (as proven by the ending notes of the show) but sometimes the actors seem to be just a little bit too “careful” in their harmonies. A touch more confidence would make great singing into fantastic singing.

Anything Goes at UVUThe role of Reno Sweeney is played by Briana Hulme. Briana is a beautiful young actress with a strong stage presence and a lovely voice. At times she has some trouble switching between her different vocal registers, but she is a powerhouse singer and has terrific chemistry with Tyler Fox as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Ardon Smith as Moonface Martin. She portrays a sincere and sensitive Reno with a lot of spunk.

Carter Walker plays an endearing Billy Crocker. There are a few moments where Carter could “cheat out” a bit to face the audience more, especially in the beginning of the show. His facial expressions are awesome, but sometimes hard to see in the first few numbers. His vocal inflections and characterizations are definite strengths. His singing voice is rich and strong, and once his vocal range expands a bit more, I expect this actor to be a regular on the local stages.

Carter has some really cute moments with McKell Peterson as Hope Harcourt. McKell plays a demure and graceful Hope and her sophistication is just right for this role.

Standout performances are given by McKelle Shaw as Erma and Tyler Fox as Evelyn. Both actors deliver high-caliber, polished and professional performances. Their comedic timing is flawless and their physical movements are hilarious. Both actors have exceptional voices and facial expressions and keep the audience enthralled every moment they’re on stage.

The actors are supported by excellent costume design by Lara Beene. It’s not every day you get to see actors take a bow wearing only their unmentionables, but it almost seems natural in this show because the costumes are so perfectly aligned with the characters and story.

If you can find your way through the construction, this show is worth the ticket price. Anything Goes at UVU is a delicious show with delightful actors and de-lovely storytelling. You’ll get a kick out of this fun production!

Anything Goes performed by UVU Department of Theatrical Arts Production

$12.00 – $16.00
Seating commences approximately 30 minutes prior to performance. No one under the age of 8 admitted, including babes-in-arms..

Fri. April 14, 2017 – Sat. April 29, 2017

UVU Noorda Regional Theatre

Rob Moffat and Amanda Crabb

Payson Community Theater’s Peter Pan is an Imaginative Adventure for the Whole Family

By Larisa Hicken

peter-pan-3As part of Payson Golden Onion Days, Payson Community Theater is performing the beloved musical classic Peter Pan based on J.M. Barrie’s original tale with popular music written by Morris Charlap and Jule Styne with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Most people are familiar with the Disney animated film version about a boy who can fly and refuses to grow up and Payson’s version stays pretty true to this beloved tale of pirates, Indians, and fairies.

Keeping with tradition set by the original cast of 1954, the role of Peter Pan is played by a petite woman. Tia Trimble tackles the role with tremendous enthusiasm (at times maybe a bit too much) and gives a high energy performance. She definitely commands the stage with her larger-than-life physical antics and when she flies in over the audience and straight into Wendy, John, and Michael’s window, it’s a moment of sheer theatrical beauty.

Her flying techniques and facial expressions throughout the show are an absolute delight.  Her singing is magnificent in the scene with Captain Hook where she gets to pretend to be a lady during the song “Oh, My Mysterious Lady.”

peter-pan-2Trimble’s counterpart, Captain Hook, played by Darren Poulsen, absolutely steals the show with his interactions with the audience and hilariously perfect comedic timing. I haven’t laughed that hard during a live performance in a long time and he received a standing ovation from several audience members during the curtain call. The show would be worth the price of the ticket just to see his performance.

Along with Poulsen, Smee (Evan Nielson) and the other pirates perform the best numbers of the night. They are greatly aided by fabulous choreography by Katie Wiscome and amusing costumes designed by Miranda Duke. A ridiculously funny crocodile on a scooter board (played by Ethan Nielson) gets a lot of laughs, too.

peter-pan-4The other highlights in the show are the dance numbers performed by the Indians, particularly Necia Poulsen as Tiger Lily.  Her coordination and grace are unmatched by anyone else on the stage and I hope to see her again in another show soon.

Peter Pan’s lost boys are absolutely adorable, although I would like to see more individual characters and interactions from them. Admittedly they are much younger than the rest of the cast members, but I think they are definitely capable of even more characterization.

The show is well-directed by Steve Poulsen, assisted by his wife Kara Poulsen. The only suggestion I would have would be to accelerate the pacing of the first act a little. Since audience members are so familiar with the show, we are quite anxious to get to Never Land!

Wendy is played by the beautiful Mariah Webber, a sophomore at Payson High School. She stays away from the stereotypical whiny and demanding Wendy and emphasizes the adventurous and patient side of the character which makes for a lighter interaction between her and Peter Pan. Her brothers John and Michael are played by real life brothers Talon Maurin and Carter Maurin. They are both sweet boys and I would like to have seen more tenderness between the three siblings. The children in the audience were delighted by a full-sized Nana dog played by Thane Kennedy.

peter-pan-1I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the terrific set design by Craig Zeeman, Richard Lindsey, and Steve Poulsen.  The stage rotates around for several entertaining effects and the flying throughout the entire show is downright stunning.

If you’re looking for a great way to spend your Labor Day weekend, bring the family to see Peter Pan in Payson.  With an interactive Tinkerbell Tracker for kids, incredible flying effects and stunts, and full-belly laughs, you won’t be disappointed in this top-quality show.

The show runs August 27-29 and September 1-5 at 7:30PM, and matinees September 5 and 7 at 3PM. Tickets available at paysoncommunitytheater.com and NAPA Auto Parts in Payson.

Apline Community Theater’s Mary Poppins is Practically Perfect in Every Way

mary-poppins-01By Deven Skaggs

I had the opportunity to be treated by Alpine Community Theater as they presented Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins in the beautiful Covey Center for the Arts in Provo.

The story begins with the Banks family which lives in London on Cherry Lane, and things are not going well for them. With an angry and aloof father, a heartbroken mother, and two ill-behaved children it seems the household is falling apart. But when a mysterious woman named Mary Poppins appears at their doorstep, the family finds that she’s the answer to their prayers, but in the most peculiar way. Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical adventures involving singing and dancing statues, talking toys, and of course all the toe-tapping tunes we remember from the classic Disney film.

Sarah Ogden graced the stage majestically as the whimsical nanny who flew in from the east. From the moment she stepped on stage I knew she would not disappoint. Throughout the show she gave a lovely performance, full of the whit, sass, and cheeky personality that the audience expects and loves from this practically perfect nanny. Although Ogden played the part well, I would have loved to see the depth of some of Mary’s decisions. Ogden’s performance was a bit emotionally aloof. Also, as well as Ogden did in the role she still couldn’t discount the fact that she didn’t fly. Let me repeat myself. During the entirety of the show, Mary Poppins didn’t leave the ground. To say I was disappointed in that would be gracious.

Opposite Ogden, in the iconic role of Bert, was Jonathan Snyder. Snyder’s boyish face and happy demeanor played well as charming, but he seemed a bit young and inexperienced for Bert. However, his wonderful voice and strong acting choices were a delight to watch and Snyder and Ogden played off of each other very well. Snyder also had the additional challenge of speaking with a Cockney accent (one of the hardest to perform if you ask me.) Although this was clearly a struggle for him, his energy and enthusiasm carried the role.

mary-poppins-02In the roles of Jane and Michael Banks were Allyssa Shar Buckner and Asher Reynolds. These children stole the show! Both of them were constantly engaged in what was happening around them, full of energy and life, and really connected with the rest of the cast on stage. These kids captured the hearts of the audience and took us for a beautiful and emotional ride. These kids are stars on the rise!

Mr. Banks was wonderfully played by Andrew Lambert. Lambert is the only principle actor who is not double cast, and it’s not hard to see why. His strong character and demanding stage presence aided him well as he portrayed the stubborn father. At first glance he looked young and ill fitted for the role, but his ability to command the stage won me over. The journey Lambert took us on was one of many emotions and at the end touched the hearts of all in the audience.

Mrs. Banks was played by Neena Warburton who has a stunning singing voice and glided about the stage beautifully. She is also young and at times she seemed out of place in the motherly role. However, Warburton’s performance made it impossible for me to have ill feelings toward Mrs. Banks. Her performance was obviously heartfelt, which made “Being Mrs. Banks” a very moving song.

The show was directed by Laura Snyder and it was clear the whole way through that she had a vision for this show. I really appreciated that Snyder gave us nods to the Disney film such as costumes, props, and sets that were easily recognizable.

Another one of Snyder’s directorial decisions was to have ensemble members run through the audience in two different spots in the show. I was very confused during “Let’s go Fly a Kite” because the ensemble had no business being in the audience and they distracted from the more important action happening on the stage. In contrast, having the ensemble run amok in the audience as chimney sweeps during the “Step in Time” playoff was genius, fun, exciting, and engaging.

Throughout the show I couldn’t help feeling that the choreography lacked consistent movement choices and styles (probably due to having a total of five choreographers and three dance assistants). I was never sure what to expect with each number, but there were moments of beauty and true entertainment and the cast performed it full out and was a joy to watch.

mary-poppins-03The sets for the show, designed by Daniel James, were wonderfully crafted. I was floored with each new location we ventured into. The colors, patterns, and styles were stunning and aided very well in telling the story.

Pair these sets with the costumes and you have a spectacle for the eyes. From the statues in the park, the ensembles’ plethora of colors and patterns, to Mary’s iconic dresses, Amanda Burke’s costume design was a job well done! All of this under a lighting design by Pam Davis made for a night full of incredibly beautiful visuals.

The scene changes were long and distracting, and jarred me out of the wonderful world the actors were working so hard to create.

Overall, I would gladly recommend this show to anyone wanting to have a truly fun and magical evening at the theater. But you must act quickly! The show only runs until August 15th and tickets are selling fast. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy this beautiful story that is practically perfect in every way.

Please Note: The show is double cast, separated into the “Red” and “Blue” casts. The show I enjoyed was performed by the blue cast.

Performances will be at the Covey Center for the Arts at 425 W. Center Street, Provo, Utah.

July 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, August 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15
All shows begin at 7:30PM.

$12 Adults
$10 Students, Seniors and Children (2+)

Tickets are for reserved seating and can be purchased online, by phone or at the door.  More information can be found at alpinecommunitytheater.org.

Discover the “Incompleat Works” of Shakespeare at The Echo

incompleat-works-01By Larisa Hicken

Incompleat Works is an original play written by local playwright, Dennis Agle, Jr.  It is being featured as part of The Echo Theatre’s Writers Showcase in Provo, Utah.

The show tells the story of several Shakespearean characters trapped in a “Groundhog Day” type existence – doomed to repeat the first act of the show forever – due to the fact that Shakespeare never finished their script.  Eventually the characters set off on an adventure to find their creator and discover the ending of their stories.

The script is quite clever and Shakespeare fans will delight in the many references to Shakespeare’s famous lines and beloved characters.  Although many of the phrases and words are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Early Modern English, the script is written in a more natural and modern speech pattern and audience members should have no problem understanding the dialogue.

Dialect coach, Jason Sullivan, can be proud of his work on this production.  The actors all did an excellent job overall with their diction and various accents, but the best accents came from Sean Hunter.  He showed a lot of versatility as an actor, playing eight different characters throughout the night.

incompleat-works-02Jessie Lynn Pursey also played multiple roles and gave a solid performance as each character.  Stephen Gashler played the lead role of Geoffrey and I enjoyed his sincerity and passion.  He had a great look which was aided by costumer Isabelle Anderson.  There was also a nice connection with his romantic interest, Gillian, played by Hannah Scharman.

Jake Robertson provided most of the comedy as the Earl of Bedford and his timing and facial expressions were terrific.  In spite of being the comedic relief, he still managed to deliver many of the most meaningful lines of the night with just the right amount intensity.  Hailey Nebeker was another stand-out performer in the role of Celia. Her character was well-developed and believable and she really kept the play moving forward with her high-energy performance.

Nick Estrada as Rowland and Kyle Baugh as Valet also gave genuine, natural performances that helped the audience focus on the deeper meaning of the lines they delivered.  Sophie Agle was adorable as Eliza.  She has a sweet voice and seemed quite comfortable on stage for someone so young.

incompleat-works-04There were a few technical problems with the show, mainly in blocking and pacing.  The script presents a challenge with several scenes where the actors are on a journey – meaning they are actually walking around.  In a small theater, this is obviously tricky.  The director (playwright Dennis Agle, Jr.) chose to use the audience space for many of these walking scenes, which meant that a lot of the time I simply couldn’t see the actors over the other audience members or because there was no lighting on the actors.

The short scenes which take place in a variety of locations meant frequent blackouts for scene changes and it created a problem for the pacing of the show, giving it a choppy feeling which pulled me out of the world of the show and I struggled to get back into it every time the lights came back up.

I suspect that the director and stage crew were well aware of these challenges and attempted to shorten scene change time by keeping the set very uncomplicated and using a special “box” which was used in inventive ways to transform the scenes.  I really enjoyed seeing how they managed to pull off so many different effects with one simple box.  However, I would’ve liked to see the actual stage and set used to create visually interesting levels and locations.

Since this was part of a writer’s showcase, I found myself focused quite intensely on the actual script over the production aspects of the show.  Religious themes run deep which will certainly appeal to local audiences.  There were several moments where the playwright spoke right to my heart and I gained powerful insights into my own life journey.  After all, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…”

I’m anxious to see more from playwright, Dennis Agle, Jr. This is a delightful new script with a lot of potential and I would sincerely like to see it developed even further. I applaud The Echo for supporting original work by local artists.  If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you’ll appreciate seeing the Incompleat Works.

Show Dates: June 13,16,19,20,22,25, and 27 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $8-12
Location: Echo Theatre, 15 N 100 E, Provo Utah

SCERA’s Guys & Dolls is a Sure Bet

By Larisa Hicken

Guys and Dolls 11x17 Poster_OLAs the final show of their indoor season in Orem, Utah, SCERA’s production of Guys & Dolls was sensational.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys  & Dolls is a classic lighthearted musical about girls who fall for the wrong guys and gamblers who can’t seem to find their lucky break – except when it comes to love. The original production was an instant hit and many of the songs from the show will be familiar favorites for anyone who loves classical Broadway.

All of the design elements of the show worked together flawlessly to present a caricature of the stereotypical gangsters, gamblers, and missionaries from New York City in the 1950s. The brightly colored costumes by Kelsey Seaver and flashy set design by Shaun M. Mortensen added a lot of visual appeal and helped create a comic strip feel to the show that was downright awesome.

It was obviously opening night and there were a few blunders with actors dropping or missing props or getting slightly tangled in their costumes, but other technical aspects of the show were absolutely perfect.  I didn’t notice a single mistake with the sound and the lights (designed by Elizabeth Ottley Griffiths) were “spot on.”  Scene changes were quick and efficient and kept the rhythm of the show moving right along.

guys-n-dolls-05It was a lot of fun to see actor Bryan Thacker in a comedic role as Nathan Detroit since his last few roles have included much darker characters.  Thacker is a dynamic performer with amazing singing talent.  I lost a few of his words in the beginning due to the fast pacing of the show, but his accent was great, too.

His fiancé Adelaide was played by Alyssa Orme who seemed a little nervous in the beginning of the show, especially during “Adelaide’s Lament,” but she got better and better as the night went on.  Her vocals were very nice for someone so young and her physicality and comedic timing is fabulous. I would like to have seen a few more moments of affection and chemistry between Nathan and Adelaide, but they seemed natural and comfortable together.

guys-n-dolls-03Corey Morris made a sincere and charming Sky Masterson and I appreciated the rich quality of his voice. Cheyenne Lee, as Masterson’s love interest Sarah Brown, was hilarious with her physical gestures and facial expressions.  It was almost disturbing how well she played both an uptight missionary and a drunk person.

Together Morris and Lee made a visually interesting pair and there were some really nice tender moments between the two actors.  However, the stage blocking in their love song “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” felt a little off and prevented me from really seeing their connection in that particular moment.

One of the best scene’s of the night was “Marry the Man Today” between Adelaide and Sarah.  Their energy, timing, and interactions made the scene laugh-out-loud hilarious.

As Director and Music Director, David Smith and Choreographer Brittini Bills Smith should be particularly proud of their work with the chorus.  Their vocals were spectacular and their pantomimes and dancing were fabulous.  I especially enjoyed the tight harmonies of the gamblers during the first scene and the uniquely creative choreography in “Luck be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The ensemble deserves a lot of the credit for the high-energy performance and some of the best character interactions took place in the hustle and bustle of the background.  Stand outs were the amazing vocals of Michael Young as “Nicely Nicely Johnson” and the exceptional dancing of Jayson Shipley as “Rusty Charlie.”  The Hot Box Dancers absolutely stole the show with their “Bushel and a Peck” number.  That scene alone was worth the price of a ticket.

If you’re looking for an upbeat and fun show, you can bet you’ll enjoy Guys & Dolls at the SCERA Center for the Arts.

SCERA Center for the Arts
745 South State Street, Orem Utah
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Adult – $12, Child (ages 3-11) – $10, Senior (ages 65+) – $10

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Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Titus Andronicus is a Bloody Good Time

By Larisa Hicken

If you’re looking for a way to get into the Halloween spirit, there’s no better way than attending Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s presentation of Titus Andronicus at the Castle Ampitheater in Provo.  Just follow the dark winding path up behind the State Mental Hospital.

Titus Andronicus is certainly not Shakespeare’s most well-known play and for good reason – the plot revolves around a whole lot of killing, rape, and most importantly, revenge.  And that’s about it.

I have a bit of a weak stomach, so I was nervous when I read the teaser on their website: “You know you’re dying for some blood, sweat, and tears to spray, drip, and splatter on you and your date.”  Um… what?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Grassroots Shakespeare Company, they began five years ago with the mission to perform Shakespeare plays in the original format of Shakespeare’s day. That means the actors only rehearse for a couple of weeks, the set is basically a simple platform, and costume pieces are whatever the actors can throw together in that time.  In fact, they were still screwing in set pieces five minutes before start time.

In true Shakespeare tradition, the Grassroots players chose to play to their audience, who they obviously understand very well.  They did indeed splatter and splash their way through each grisly murder in a delightful dark comedy style.  Instead of gagging, the audience was laughing and groaning as cast members were, well, dismembered.  I never could have imagined how much fun I would have with such a gruesome show!

I’m sure the “groundlings” who stood at the front of the stage felt like they were an integral part of the show.  I certainly enjoyed watching them all jump back while I sipped my hot cocoa in my super comfy lawn chair toward the back row.

The show is accompanied by a live band. There were a few moments where I wasn’t sure why they were still playing since it was a bit difficult to hear what the actors were saying – mainly in scenes where there wasn’t a lot of action and the plot was simply being explained. But overall the band really added to the intensity of some scenes and the absurdity of others.

Mark Oram plays the title role of Titus Andronicus and he is an absolute delight.  I kept thinking to myself, “I’m watching a true master of the Shakespearean stage.”  He’s one of those actors that you figure must have been born burping in Elizabethan cadences and pooping out sonnets because he performs Shakespeare so naturally.  It came as no surprise to find out he was one of the founding members of the Grassroots company.

Fellow Grassroots founder Alex Ungerman plays Titus’ son Lucius Andronicus, the surprise hero of the show.  His character was well-developed and the interplay between Oram and Ungerman was one of the best parts of the show.

Andy Hansen was thrown off a bit by a few dropped lines at the beginning, but once he found his rhythm again, he gave a solid performance as Titus’ brother Marcus Andronicus.  Claire Wilson is a dynamic actress who gave the character of Lavinia more depth than most of the other characters.  Her love relationship with Nick Gledhill as Bassianus seemed comfortable and natural.

Shawn Saunders plays the villainous role of Aaron the Moor with so much raw vehemence and delight that I was a bit nervous passing him on my way out of the ampitheater after the show.  Aaron’s lover and evil cohort, Tamara the Goth, was played by Jessamyn Svensson.  She was terrific in her interactions with the groundlings as they booed and hissed at her when she came on stage.

Jessica Myer is double cast as Tamara and during the show I watched, she played the nurse.  Without too much of a spoiler (because everyone dies in this show) she gave a stellar performance in her death scene.

The two evil buffoons Chiron and Demitrius (Tamara’s sons) were played by AJ Taysom and Eric Geels.  Their physical humor and bawdy gestures were highly entertaining and the audience loved to hate them.

My favorite character of the night was Saturninus played by Nick Groussaint.  Groussaint was simply awesome as he whined and pouted his way through the night.  At several points in the show, I was wishing for some rotten fruit to throw at him.

Don’t wait another minute.  Grab a group of your rowdiest friends and buy tickets online to save a few bucks.  Put on your rain poncho and get over to see this show before Halloween.  Your friends will thank you – after they wipe the entrails out of their hair.

Titus Andronicus
plays October 17 – November 1, 2014, 8:00 PM at the Castle Amphitheatre, 1300 East Center Street, Provo Utah.

Ticket Prices
October 17 – 27, 2014
$10 Yard Tickets (standing)
$18 Gallery Tickets
October 30 – November 1, 2014
$12 Yard Tickets (standing)
$20 Gallery Tickets
Discount tickets available online.

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An Aside…
Before the show started, we were lucky enough to hear the band Echo Era.  They have a fun alternative sound with strong roots in jazz.  Each band member played a dizzying number of instruments and their original songs were very cool.  I was delighted to find out that you can download some of their music on their website!

Springville Playhouse’s Steel Magnolias is the Ideal Ladies Night Out

By Larisa Hicken

steel-magnolias-springvilleSteel Magnolias, written by Robert Harling, is a charming story of six southern women who gather together in the local beauty shop to gossip and laugh. The story spans several years with each scene moving time forward several months.  The audience gets to laugh and cry along with these women as they support each other through personal heartaches and triumphs.

The story begins on the wedding day of Shelby, the youngest woman of the group. Shelby, played by Joni Newman, is a type 1 diabetic and has a hypoglycemic episode in the opening scene.  I have a son who has type 1 diabetes and Joni did a masterful job of portraying a person suffering from severe low blood sugar.

The ladies quickly handle the emergency situation and as the issue is resolving, we find out from Shelby’s mother M’Lynn, played by Robinne Dutson Booth, that Shelby’s doctor has told her she shouldn’t have children.  I enjoyed the relationship between Booth and Newman and felt like their mother-daughter character relationship was dynamic and interesting.  The final scene is where Booth really shines and I appreciated her polished and professional performance.

My favorite actress of the night was Kaye Fugal-Arnold who played the owner of the salon, Truvy.  Although she was reaching for her lines a bit in the beginning, she quickly found her pacing and had the most well-developed character and a great southern accent.  She even showed off her miming skills in the beginning where she established that the “invisible wall” that the audience is looking through is really a large mirror.  I was really impressed with how the cast members used the mirror to look at the “reflection” of each other which allowed us to see their expressions clearly.

The other stand-out performer of the night was Karen Davis who played the newest member of the group, Annelle.  Her hair alone is worth the price of the ticket!  Her character had a really quirky personality and her excellent comedic timing created a lot of laughs.  She also created an astonishing number of crazy hair styles throughout the show.

Vicki Wheeler plays Clairee and she did a really nice job showing her character’s evolution over the course of the show.  Although she occasionally seemed to forget a line, she quickly recovered and I really enjoyed her facial expressions and physical humor.

The grump of the group, Ouiser, was played by Arlene McGregor.  I felt like she created a refreshingly unique Ouiser and I enjoyed her antics.

Director Kathy Llewellyn obviously knows how to create an atmosphere where her artists can truly shine and the relationship between the actors was clearly a close one.  There were a few times during the second act where I felt like some of the action was lost in the back of the stage, but overall the blocking was nicely done and told a really nice story.

I have to give props to the prop master, Dawn Douglass.  There were truly an astonishing number of authentic 80s props on a spectacular set designed by Kathy Llewellyn and Mark Taggart.  I felt like I could step on up and get a manicure if I really wanted to.  The Christmas scene in act 1 was the only place where the props and set were actually a little distracting as the “business” of the scene was more captivating than the character interactions, but overall I loved the realistic setting.  The sound and lights, by Technical Director Greg Duffin, were virtually flawless.

If you’re looking for the perfect ladies night out, plan a trip to Merit Academy to see Springville Playhouse’s Steel Magnolias.  You’ll laugh and cry and find yourself with a strange desire to eat chocolate afterward.  This show is a great celebration of what it means to be a woman at every stage of life.

Steel Magnolias by Springville Playhouse
Showing from September 12th to October 6th on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays
Merit Academy in Springville
1440 West Center Street
Shows start at 7:30, tickets are $8 at the door.

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.

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

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

Tickets available online at scera.org.