Disney “Newsies” Take on Tuacahn!

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By Kendra Hill

At the risk of being brief, all I want to say is, WOW, after I saw Tuacahn’s production of Newsies in St. George.

Oh, does my review need to be more than WOW? I guess I should expound on that.

While the stage version of Newsies is a little different from the movie, it has all of the great songs plus a few more. There are also a couple of slight changes to the characters and story line.

I have seen a few shows at the Tuacahn, and they never disappoint. However, this show is in a league of its own. The dancing is impressive, the harmonies are tight, the acting on point, and the set is amazing.

Ryan Farnsworth as Jack is fantastic. He emits a charisma that had audience members clamoring to join the Newsies. (Though they all stayed in their seats, I’m sure a few wanted to charge the stage–I know I did.) Farnsworth is a great dancer and singer. I dare you not to cry at the last note of “Santa Fe.” But what I loved most was he does a great job at leading the audience through this wonderful story with his acting. When he wants to give up on the Union he’s created and he laments all of the children that were hurt, you feel the pain and regret he feels at leading them into that situation. But you can’t help but cheer for him to do the right thing and take them to victory.Whitney Winfield plays opposite Jack as Katherine, his love interest. I really liked her lovely, “Watch What Happens” near the beginning of the play. She does a great job getting across her trepidation as well as her determination. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. While she doesn’t do as much dancing as the Newsies, she does get the opportunity to strut her stuff in “King of New York.”

Davey (Daniel Scott Walton) plays a pivotal role by helping to inspire the Newsies to stay true to their chosen course, and on more than one occasion helps bolster Jack when he is feeling the pressure to back down. Walton plays the inspirational character well and has a wonderful singing voice. Though little Will Haley as Les, Davey’s younger brother, is surrounded by older actors, he definitely holds his own. I let out my own ‘whoop’ when he yells at the police officer to tell Pulitzer that he’d be, “begging to have a meeting with me by the next morning!”

newsies Jack’s other supporters, Medda (Jennifer Leigh Warren) and Crutchie (Jordan Aragon) were both characters that found a special place in my heart. Warren is funny and a delight to watch as she not only helps the Newsies with their union, but lets her womanly attitudes be known. Aragon just tugged at the heart strings as he hobbles across the stage, singing with Jack about how he would run again one day when they were together in “Santa Fe.”

Pulitzer (Matthew Tyler) is a great villain. Stubborn, unconcerned, and rather grumpy (“He doesn’t know how to do happy”), Tyler does a great job playing a character you love to hate. Slimy and smart, he nearly wipes out the Newsies ‘union’ using his intellect to infect Jack with doubts and fears.

All the Newsies in this production are top notch. There are many solo parts that are sung by different people, and all are fantastic. And the dancing? Oh boy, these folks are beyond amazing. The big dance numbers are filled with tricks and flips and intense choreography that is in sync and wowed the audience with each new song.

I don’t know know if I can say enough about the dance numbers. Choreographer/Director D. Alexander Rovang does a fantastic job with a huge group of amazingly talented dancers. With the larger musical numbers, the stage is filled with Newsies and I can’t imagine the practice hours and choreographing that went into making sure everyone was in sync and safe. The difficult moves and tricks definitely make the show a wonder to behold.

There are a couple of moving set pieces, but the main attraction is the large set that spans the entire stage, is 3-4 levels high, and filled with stairs, ladders, and poles. The nimble actors scurry up and down them as if they’ve been doing it their whole lives. Behind these tall set pieces, towering bridges that will take your breath away. I take my newsboy cap off to the set designer (Brad Shelton), and all those who helped build it.

The lighting and sound are fantastic. One time a mics went out, but it was fixed within moments. I always heard the amazing voices of the actors blend with the music from the live orchestra pit. All is balanced and harmonious.

Rovang has such great vision, and really brings everything together to create a fantastic show. Because he is both director and choreographer, he has been able to truly create a brilliant, tight, amazing production. I can’t image the scope of work that is and almost fell out of my seat when I realized he did both.

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There are so many other people who make this show possible with amazing lighting design, costumes, props, backstage work, and more. Everything is mind-blowing and everyone who works on this show in any capacity should be very proud.

It is always fun to go see shows at the Tuacahn and they really utilize the fact that they are an outdoor theater. Often shows are accented with the use of pyrotechnics, live animals, and additional scenery behind the stage. It is also nice to have fresh air and a slight breeze as you watch. While many things are great with an outdoor theater, please be prepared for the elements. When the show started this weekend, the temperatures were still above 100 degrees. Thankfully, the entire amphitheater is in the shade for the duration of the show. Take water and whatever you need to keep cool. If you forget, they do have bottled water for sale as well as drinking fountains (though the lines are longer for these than even the women’s restroom.) I do recommend buying a frozen lemonade. Those treats are delicious and a nice cold snack for a warm evening. If you don’t make it to one of their concession stands, they have ushers selling water and frozen lemonade in the amphitheater before the show begins and during intermission. One seller in particular was making the audience laugh by selling ‘frozen happiness’ and ‘water so you don’t die.’

While they allow children three and above into the amphitheater, I recommend not taking young children to this show. The dancing and music probably will keep them entertained, however I feel the parts in between can become a little boring as they may not understand what is happening. There is a little bit of violence with some bloody lips and such. I think this show would be best suited for about seven years old and above. They do offer child ‘showcare’ and advanced registration is required.

I live in Utah County and drove the 4 hours to St. George to see this show. Beyond worth it. If you miss this, you will be kicking yourself.

You can see Newsies on various dates until October 18. Ticket prices range from $29-$89. Starting time varies from 8:45 PM to 7:30 PM depending on the performance date. You can buy tickets and find more details at www.tuacahn.org

Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Dr, Ivins, UT 84738 435-652-3200

 

Cobb & Co. Theater Production’s “The Three Musketeers” is a Delightfully Funny Take on a Classic Story

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By Tyler Fox

“All for one and one for all!” This iconic line perfectly sums up the feel of this production. With sword fighting, dancing, witty dialogue, physical comedy, a frying pan or two, and some stolen diamonds, Cobb & Co.’s The Three Musketeers is sure to delight all sorts of audiences.

In this rendition of The Three Musketeers, we follow young d’Artagnon as he leaves his family to join the queen’s guard, the Musketeers. When d’Artagnon meets Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, they toy with him when he challenges them to a duel to earn his place among them, ultimately, the Musketeers overpower him. Meanwhile, the Cardinal and Milady de Winter conspire to disgrace the Queen of France. It is now up to d’Artagnon and the Musketeers, with the help of d’Artagnon’s love Constance and the frying pan-wielding Planchet, to save the queen and discover who is really being this dastardly plot.

This version of The Three Musketeers was written by John Cobb; he has written several other shows and continues to write and produce shows. He and his sister, Ruthie Cobb, created Cobb & Co. Theater Productions and do work all over Utah. This company is special, in that, 10% of all their proceeds from The Three Musketeers will be donated to The Center for Women and Children in Crisis (www.cwcic.org) giving even more meaning to the phrase “All for one and one for all.”

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The lead role, d’Artagnon, was played by Adam Gowers who has a great leading man swagger. Gowers has a great stage presence and a voice that is expressive and easily understandable. He also has wonderful chemistry with his fellow actors. His comedy and physicality will serve him greatly in the years to come.

The Musketeers were played by John Cobb (Athos), Jason Nordin (Porthos), and Michael Mehner (Aramis) who had wonderful chemistry with each other and with the rest of the cast. They had great distinct characters that worked well with each other and their lines rolled effortlessly off each other that they really seemed like a unit.

Kendra Klinkowski played the part of Constance and this young actress has some great instincts. It was really fun to watch her make some really clever and funny choices while she was working with some text that is indeed heightened language.

The two standout roles were those of Aaron Larsen playing Planchet and Meghan Flinders who played Milady de Winter. These two had the audience either laughing out loud or sitting on the edge of their seats. They were in character 100% of the time.

This show was directed by Timothy Isaac Peay and is his directing debut. When asked, he said “My favorite part about this process was when the cast would have ideas about where a scene should go. That collaboration was my favorite part!” and as an audience member, this was evidently a huge part of their process. This was a collaborative process and Peay did a great job of empowering the cast to own their decisions and bring honesty to their roles.

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I’d like to give special kudos to the production staff on their great work on making this show look great. Especially Erin Cobb who was in charge of costumes and John Valdez who was the fight choreographer.

This show was so much fun to watch. There were moments where the plot became a little hard to follow but the actors brought it back. This show had me laughing out loud and also had me wondering what was going to happen next.

Cobb & Co. Theater Productions is presenting The Three Musketeers by John Cobb at the Castle Amphitheater, 1300 E Center St. Provo, UT 84606. The run dates are June 22nd – 30th at 7:30PM with no Sunday performances. Tickets are $10 general admission, $7 senior/veteran/student, and children under 4 are free. You can buy tickets online and checkout future productions at www.cobbcotheaterproductions.com.

Note: take something soft to sit on and some bug repellent. This is an outdoor area, hard stone seating and the bugs can get a little pesky.

 

Tuacahn’s “Shrek the Musical” is Filled with Magic and Fun

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By Bridges Sayers

Nestled amongst the beautiful red rocks of St. George is the stunning outdoor theater, Tuacahn. One comes to expect a great deal from the fantastic company of performers, and when I first saw the season announced, I knew I would not face disappointment.

On Friday evening, my boyfriend, his younger sister, and I went to see Shrek The Musical. This family-friendly show follows a similar plotline to the animated movie, with a few more fun kicks. Shrek, and his unwanted pal Donkey, set off on a journey to rescue the beautiful, spunky Princess Fiona from her dragon-guarded tower. Naturally, the hilarity-filled trek is full of ups and downs, genuinely touching musical moments, and spectacular dances.

I love Shrek and have seen the movie and the live theater version many times. As such, I am fairly picky about the show itself. I can easily say that the Tuacahn’s Shrek not only met, but exceeded my expectations. Director Scott S. Anderson truly worked magic with the cast, bringing out the best of both the show itself and the cast members’ unique talents. I particularly enjoyed the choreography by Mara Newbery Greer. The dances were not only a spectacular fit for the songs, but were very unique and innovative. I loved that they were so different from the typical dances while still remaining true to the show.

Overall, the actors themselves were brilliant. Princess Fiona, played by the wonderful Whitney Winfield, was an absolute hit with the audience. She had that amazing vivacity that the role demands, coupled with phenomenal vocals and effortless dance skills. I think what truly sets her apart, though, was her ability to really engage with the role in terms of her physicality. She was not afraid to use her body, and she owned the stage with her confidence and enthusiasm. She also beautifully played off of Young Fiona (Ellie Felice Seegmiller) and Teen Fiona (Ellee Anderson). Their trio, “I Know It’s Today,” was beautifully done.

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One of the biggest stars of the show, though, was Donkey (Andre Jordan.) Any time he entered the stage, my eyes were drawn straight to him. He brought a unique humor to the role, which was entirely his own, and absolutely deserved the roaring applause he received at the end of the show. His performance during “Make A Move” was nothing short of hysterical, and my whole group was in stiches. It was by far the funniest performance of it that I have ever seen (and I have seen it several times.)

Steve Judkins, who played the role of Shrek was great and I particularly loved his performance of “Build A Wall”—he truly brought the power and passion the song demands. This Shrek was very good, but was surrounded by performers who were amazing.

Other notable cast members include Jennifer Leigh Warren (Dragon, Mama Ogre), Jeffrey Scott Stevens (Lord Farquaad), and Brian Nelson (Pinocchio, Baby Rat). These amazing performers brought phenomenal vocals, truly fun acting, and only served to heighten an already wonderful show. I particularly wanted to comment Jennifer Leigh Warren for her beautiful rendition of “Forever”—it was the first time that I have heard it and understood the words and fell in love with her voice. I’ll admit I was disappointed to not see her on the stage as she sung it though, but that’s a personal preference more than anything. I would have loved to see her sing it in addition to merely hearing it.

The costuming (Janet Swenson) was stunning. I loved the dress on Fiona, and the costumes for all of the leads were just perfect. I really wouldn’t have changed a thing. Everything was vibrant and fun. The scenic design (Doug Ellis) was also outstanding. I loved the set pieces, and I thought using books as a part of the scene made it very fun. The lighting and special effects, typical of a Tuacahn show, were well placed and added to the enjoyment of the performance.

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Overall, the setting was simply perfect for this musical. The Tuacahn is a very large theater, and as such, was able to appropriately tackle this enormous show. The seating is stadium-style, so there’s not a bad seat in the house. I would, however, recommend bringing something soft to sit on, as the chairs can get a little uncomfortable after sitting for so long. They do have pads you can rent there for $2. It is a bit hot out, naturally, but they do all that they can to ensure that the audience members remain comfortable through utilizing enormous fans to keep the air flowing.

They start the show a bit later than most other places would (8:45 PM) to help keep cool. Because of this, the show does not end until around 11:15 PM, so be aware of that when thinking about bringing kiddos. The show is very age appropriate, but the lateness might be hard for some young ones. Because of how big the space is, it’s pretty important to arrive early to get good parking. I recommend arriving around 8:00 at the latest. Don’t worry about just sitting around, though. There’s a huge gift shop (with AC!), places to take pictures, and the gorgeous red rocks to enjoy. Also, if you don’t want to find something to eat before going, you can always eat the show-themed dinner that they have before the show. It’s a little more pricey (about $13 per person this year), but in previous years it has been very fun and yummy. They also offer tours of the backstage area ($5/person) starting at 6:15 before the show.

In all, I would absolutely recommend Shrek the Musical to anyone who’s been hesitant about going to see a Tuacahn show. I have gone two years in a row now, and I am in awe of the talent and sheer pleasure of seeing their productions.

Tuacahn Amphitheater presents Shrek the Musical by David Lindsay-Abaire. Tuacahn Amphitheater is located at 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins, Utah 84738. Shrek runs select evenings until October 20th. Tickets range in price from $24 to $82 per person.

For more information, or to purchase your own tickets, please call the Tuacahn Box Office at 800-746-9882.

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L’Chaim and Mozel Tov Are in Order for the Murray Arts Council’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof”

fiddlerImageBy Micah Campbell

While I’ve never been much for a lot of tradition, Friday nights are usually saved for dates, dinners and movies or time spent with friends. I decided to go to dinner and see a musical by myself. The Murray Arts Council’s production of Fiddler on the Roof at Murray High School was the perfect choice for a night out.

Fiddler on the Roof first opened on Broadway in 1964 and was the first musical theater play to surpass 3,000 showings. The show won 9 Tony awards and is Broadway’s sixteenth longest running show. With music written by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book written by Joseph Stein, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of a Jewish father Tevye, his wife, and their five daughters dealing with life in Anatevka in 1905 Imperial Russia. Tevye must learn to cope with the new outside ideals making their way into the choices of his three oldest daughters. From marrying without the use of a matchmaker, getting engaged without asking permission, and marrying outside the Jewish faith, all the choices of Tevye’s daughters have the possibility to break him.

19400311_1378141442239096_4826724992627793540_o In Director Candace Tippets’ production of Fiddler on the Roof, the use of a live orchestra, conducted by Steve Vorhees, sets the stage for the production. Simple set design and construction by Russ Wimmer and Allen Tippets make fluid transitions between scenes. Combining set with costume design by Alyssa Mary Beth Bell and choreography by Peggy Sherratt, the little village of Anatevka comes to life.

19145913_1368869859832921_2477105657464821704_nTevye, brought forth with a stellar performance by Alan LeFleur, and the village folk of Anatevka greet the audience with “Tradition” as an introduction song into how things have always been. “The papa” is the breadwinner and makes the final decisions; “the mama” makes a home for her family; “the sons” go to school and learn about being a man and about God; and “the daughters” learn how to make a home and take care of their future husbands. The song also introduces the matchmaker, Yente (Allison Jensen) who creates the perfect match for the sons and daughters of the village. However, when the sons and daughters begin to decide for themselves, what happens to tradition?

19390892_1373271882726052_7573783265091256826_oWhen a match for Tevye’s oldest, Tzeitel (Elizabeth Moore) with the village butcher, Lazar Wolf (Kyle Larsen), is overridden by Tzeitel’s shared love for Motel (Peter Rosen), Tevye decides to allow the two to marry for love. Tevye explains his decision to his wife Golde (Keri Hughes) with a creepily, funny dream sequence, involving Granma Tzeitel (Melody Meeks Putnam). The next two daughters, Hodel (Camille Jensen) and Chava (Jill Tobler), following Tzeitel’s example, break with tradition, but Chava forces the break by falling for a Gentile and outsider Fyedka (Jacob Carl Maxfield). With all this outside influence, to match Jewish history, an exodus brings the show to a solemn ending.
Fiddler on the Roof is showing at Murray High School now through the 28th of June at 8pm. Tickets are General Admission ($10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children), so go early to get a good seat. You can purchase tickets online or at the box office. The bathrooms are a slight distance from the auditorium and are minimal, so be prepared for lines or small waits. Fiddler on the Roof is a family friendly production(with mild alcohol use); it starts late and goes until about 10:45pm. Break with your Friday night traditions and support the arts with Fiddler on the Roof.

Sugar Factory Playhouse’s “Curtains” is a Funny Whodunit

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By Jennifer Mustoe

A musical is made up of three types of performing: singing, dancing, and acting. Most Utah community theater shows usually have strong female singers, okay dancing by pretty much everyone, and often really great acting. Most shows have a combination of these three pieces, and often the weakest aspect of a show is the dancing.

Such is not the case for Sugar Factory Playhouse’s Curtains, playing now at the Midvale Performing Arts Center. Most of the cast are not trained dancers. You can tell this because they aren’t as precise and disciplined as trained dancers. However, this cast really did a great job of staying together with moves that weren’t completely simple. There was number after number of really cute dances, and choreographer Kassidy Gull has her actors really bringing movement to the stage in a truly delightful way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but a little bit of Beyonce moves that didn’t seem to work for the show’s time period.

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Curtains is a play within a play. The “inside” play, Robbin’ Hood, is a horrific combination of the Wild, Wild West and Robin Hood. It’s being played in Boston but all the actors are equity and could be on Broadway, working for far more money. Why are they working for such low rates? This is the question that a funny, wanna be actor police lieutenant asks. Deaths happen, people fall in love with each other, songs are sung. And lots of lots of laughs accompany every scene. The crowd last night was great–especially for a Thursday night in Midvale. They loved it and were laughing their heads off.

Kris Karns plays the drama-loving Lieutenant Frank Cioffi. Karns is a funny fellow who had pretty good timing with the many jokes he was given. (Great part.) He loses track of his mystery all through the show because he’s more interested in making suggestions for changes to Robbin’ Hood‘s blocking and songs. Karns was very fun and a great addition to the cast.

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One of the stand outs in this performance was Kelsi Jeffery as Niki Harris. Jefferey is lovely, sweet, graceful, all smiles and a great singer. A huge favorite and her tender budding love with Cioffi is darling. They had the cutest song in the show–just two people onstage.

Choreographer Kassidy Gull also played Bambi Bernet and was completely lovable. Gull knows how to steal a scene. Her facial expressions were a hit. The other standout was class act Carmen Bernstein, played by Jen Crabb. Crabb has such style and spunk as the hard as nails but with a heart of gold producer and had some of the best songs.

Music Director Colyn Quinn had wonderful success with the ensemble numbers that blended beautifully. Director Denise Gull made good use of the rather small stage (and I love this venue, by the way, except it was REALLY, REALLY COLD!) Costumes by Denise Gull were fabulous. The cast looked very professional.

I will say, there are a few risque comments and quite a few “damn’s”, but there’s so much fun going on in this show, I don’t think I can legitimately say, don’t bring your kids. However, don’t bring little ones. This show was a whopping two and a half hours long. And as I said, it’s cold. Bring a jacket.

If you want a night that is seriously inexpensive ($5-8!) and lots of fun, come to Midvale and see Curtains. It’s a fun time.

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Sugar Factory Playhouse presents Curtains

Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 W Center St., Midvale, UT 84047

June 22-24, 26, 29-30, July 1 7:30 PM

For more information, go to their website at: sugarfactoryplayhouse.com

 

Desert Star’s The 3 Amigos is a Western You Don’t Want to Miss

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By Mary Brassard

The Desert Star Playhouse is a stalwart Utah favorite. It’s been in Murray for as long as I can remember. It has a super fun atmosphere with a Western theme, and it’s fun from the moment you walk in. I love the outhouse toilet photo op station. The waiters are dressed in old timey Western attire, and the piano is already going when you are seated at your table. Come early enough to look at the menu. They serve yummy food at Desert Star.

This time around, I saw The 3 Amigos, Showdown at the Del Taco Ranch, a Western spoof of the 80s Steve Martin movie. I am not very familiar with the movie at all, but I had no trouble understanding the jokes and plot, so don’t feel like you need to know the movie to see the show one bit.

The plot is about three cowboy TV stars who no longer have their Spaghetti Western TV show—they are slipping into “has been” status. Some ranchers in need of heroes confuse these three actors for real cowboys ask them to come fight and save the ranch. Unfortunately, a language barrier leads to a misunderstanding, and they think they have been asked to come perform their act for the big villain. Hilarity ensues.

I wouldn’t say the script is close to perfect, or Shakespeare by any means, but where the shows at Desert Star really shine is the comedic talent on stage, and the fun had onstage that flows right back into the audience.

At Desert Star, you are really encouraged to have fun, and immerse yourself in the antics. You are instructed when to boo the villain, and when to cheer the hero, and the actors occasionally react right back to the audience. If you attend a show at the Desert Star, I’d say, get into it. Play along. It will enhance your enjoyment.

The cast was very skilled in their craft. Jake Omer as Deseret Jim, Valerie Packer as Catastrophe Jane, and Todd Michael Thompson as Rusty Spur, are the three amigos. All three were great. I loved Thompson’s soft-hearted portrayal, Packer spoke very clearly, and I could always understand her through her Western accent, and she was very fun. Omer as the closest thing in this show to the romantic lead—funny and charming. I loved his scenes romancing the girl. The three of them worked very well together, and shined when they were riffing together. Jamie Haderlie gave us our villain, Goldilocks Capone. A mix of a Chicago gangster, and a curly-haired sweet child starlet. She even had different voices for each side of her personality. I loved her nasally endearing little girl voice, it was funny, and again, easy to understand. She was tap dancing nearly every time she was on stage, and was the producer of many of the laughs throughout the night. Goldilocks’ sidekicks were Camee Faulk and Miles Broadhead as Pepe Colada and Pacho Chico. Both were over the top and goofy and fun, in just the perfect way. Faulk seemed to have the audience eating out of her hand much of the time. She was very clever with her physical comedy. Rounding out the cast is Matt Mullaney as Rio Del Taco and Melissa Cecala as his daughter, Chalupa Del Taco. Both were great additions to the ensemble. They are the victims of Goldilocks Capone’s plot, and they both hilariously played their parts. They played off of each other very well, and I loved Cecala’s damsel in distress moments. The cast were all well-suited for their parts, and they were all very confident in their portrayals. It is important in this type of performing to be confident, be able to let go of your inhibitions, and just be able to sort of goof off. Any ounce of apprehension can totally throw off the humor, and make the audience uncomfortable on behalf of the actors. Thankfully, none of these actors had that flaw. They all played to their hearts’ content, and it made it a fun mash up of jokes and gags that kept the energy high.

Director Scott Holman did an excellent job of leading this team in a successful melodrama. I especially loved his use of prop humor and sight gags. There are too many to mention them all, but one stand out for me were some toy horse heads on sticks that the amigos were supposed to hilariously ride to their heroic destiny on, but let’s just say it doesn’t exactly go according to plan.

Their tech team seemed to be on point. I could always hear everyone, the volume seemed to be balanced, and there were never any mishaps that distracted me out of the fun.

The piano player was spectacular. Ben Mayfield was absolutely a character in the show.  He played along through all of the action. Not only was it funny, but it gave the whole evening a warm nostalgic feel. He especially shined when he dueled himself on two pianos.

Following the play, there is a fun Desert Star tradition called the olio. This is where the actors give us a musical variety style mini-show, totally separate and independent of the play. This part was great. The men were not spectacular vocalists, but they were so fun in their “selling” of the songs that it didn’t really detract for me. The women all seemed to have great voices. Jamie Haderlie was the vocal stand out for me. A commanding voice that really captivates. I wish we’d had more solos from her. There were also fun audience interactive portions during this section, and plenty of jokes. It sure ended the night on a high note.

Overall, I would definitely recommend The Three Amigos, Showdown at the Del Taco Ranch. I don’t think this style of show is for everyone. There are a lot of Utah specific jokes, a lot of Pop culture references, and it never takes itself very seriously. There are no lessons to be learned, and it won’t make you ponder the meaning of life. But if you like a fun, raucus night of laughs and goofball type entertainment, if you just want to tune out the real world for a night, and cleanse your soul with innocent laughs, well, this is the place to be. We need entertainment like this in a world of hard-to-hear news and social media fights. The Desert Star is doing us a service and reminding us what life can be—fun and carefree at times. A room full of people that probably all come from different backgrounds, different beliefs, different political leanings all sitting together in harmony, laughing together about a slew of Ken dolls raining from the sky.

The 3 Amigos, Showdown at the Del Taco Ranch, playing at the Desert Star through August 19. The Desert Star Playhouse is located at 4861 South State Street in Murray.  Tickets range from $15-25.  They are available for purchase by calling the Box office (801) 266-2600 or online at desertstar.biz

 

“Dirty Dancing” at the Eccles Will Make You Want to Dance All the Way Home

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By Mary Brassard

Dirty Dancing was a movie from 1987 that become an instant cult classic. If you haven’t seen it, I’m shocked and saddened for you. It’s a fun, sexy coming-of-age story, framed by spectacular ballroom dance scenes. Baby, played by Jennifer Gray, is a young, socially-idealistic, innocent girl who finds love, a newfound interest and skill for dancing, and more on a family summer vacation to Kellermans, a sweet 1960s Catskills resort. Patrick Swayze in his prime plays Baby’s love interest and dance instructor, Johnny. Dirty Dancing, the musical version, is brought to Salt Lake as part Broadway at the Eccles Theater and it is fantastic. The onstage musical version does not veer too far from the movie and in fact, the book for the musical was written by the writer of the film Eleanor Bergstein. From music to choreography, costumes and dialogue, the onstage production of Dirty Dancing is very true to the movie. Which I love.

There is no overture. The lights in the Eccles Theater dim, there’s a twinkle light ceiling above you, and then—bam!  The percussion of the music starts at a perfectly loud and exciting. And on the stage, a giant shadow silhouette of two people slowly and sensually dancing to the music. You could feel the excitement rumble through the crowd. I was basically already won over at this point. The young ingenue, Baby, enters the stage, admiring the dancers, and begins to tell her story. “It’s the summer of 1961, before Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, and when I never thought I’d find a guy greater than my dad.” From there, the story takes off.

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The film wasn’t a musical, and I love the way they’ve DIRTY_DANCING_9_15_16_0901_v002adapted Dirty Dancing the musical into one. The lead characters never sing. The songs are either recorded versions of the original songs (example, “Cry to Me”, “Solomon Burke”) or they are sung by one of two singers, who are also minor characters. Virtually all the singing is left two these two, Chante Carmel and Jordan Edwin Andre, billed as their character names, Elizabeth/singer and Billy Kosteci/singer. I love this format. It is the perfect show to use this unconventional style (by Broadway standards anyway), for the following reasons. First, this is a very dance heavy show, and I feel like this benefited casting, as they were able to cast true, trained dancers, without having to worry about voice. And second, it kept the characters very true to their movie versions, and gave a chance for the singers to really shine.

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The female singer, Chante Carmel, was superb. I would have to say the stand out of the two. Every time she sang, it was powerful and stunning. A rich, soulful voice. Jordan Edwin Andre was good as well. He especially shined in “In the Still of the Night.” He hit a powerful note at the end of the number that really had the audience cheering.

I can’t say enough about Dirty Dancing’s amazing casting. I feel like they really nailed the characters. Bronwyn Reed as Baby was everything I hoped she’d be. She appeared to be young, had a fresh, innocent speaking voice. My favorite thing about her, and I imagine this would be difficult for a trained dancer, was her transition from bad dancing to good. Her “bad dancing” was both funny and convincing. I think a real triumph, as it would be easy to overdo the “bad dancing” for laughs, and make it unbelievable. Christopher Tierney as Johnny was also everything I’d hoped for, as well. He was handsome, of course, and a spectacular dancer, but where he really excelled for me was his speaking voice. Johnny is a quintessential man, who shows Baby things about the world she never knew—an Awakening if you will.  Tiernry has a perfectly deep, commanding, clear, sexy speaking voice. It was seriously so perfect, I was wondering if they had manufactured it in a studio with clips of Patrick Swayze’s voice, and a few differences to pull the wool over our eyes, and then had Tierney mouth the words. Ok, I didn’t really consider this as a possibility, but the point is, his deep velvety voice hit just the right tones, and all the right inflections, and it was spot on. It was similar, yet unique enough to the movie that I felt nostalgic but also like I was hearing the lines for the first time. Jennifer Mealani Jones as Penny, Johnny’s dance partner, is amazing. I didn’t know legs could be so long and graceful; she was perfectly cast. The character of Penny goes through a very intense emotional journey and Jones played those moments with sincerity and precision. Jon Edward Powell and Hannah Jane McMurray as Baby’s parents were also fantastic. They showed a maturity and softness in their performances, the script really expands these two characters very well. The mother character is much more developed. I really believed their intricate relationship as husband and wife. They have a great moment at the end of the show that is not in the movie and I don’t want to spoil it, but it made me want to stand up and cheer.DIRTY_DANCING_9_15_16_1048

Matthew Amira as Robby, the egotistical waiter and villain of the piece, was appropriately disgusting. Matt Surges portrayed Neil, soon-to-be-manager of the resort, and pursuer of Baby’s affections.  Surges gave us a slimy manager who was also a real person. Gary Lynch as Max Kellerman, the resort owner, was charming and also commanding when giving orders to employees. He also had fun moments original to the musical that really endeared me to the character. Leaving the show, I was just filled with appreciation for each cast member. No one fell short of what I was hoping for.

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The choreography by Michele Lynch was visually stunning.  Many of the dances were nearly identical to the movie, the final show-stopping number for example.  Some were perfect blends of movie and new. For example, the dance training montage (yes, this is a Broadway show with a montage) featured moments from the movie and fun new stuff.  I loved Baby’s moves on the bridge as she learned to contort her body more and more alluringly.  And some was brand new, and added visual interest in smaller scenes.  One I really liked was a chorus of resort guests in white chiffon dresses learning the mambo, behind a quick mash up of scenes setting up one of the major conflicts.  I would go to this show again, just to see the dance numbers again!

The tech in this show has to be mentioned. I have seen small community shows all the way up to Broadway hits in New York, and one thing is certain. Great tech is hard to do perfectly. Dirty Dancing is a music heavy show, and they hit all the levels perfectly. I was never straining to hear dialogue over the music. Not once. And the music was loud, and got your heart pumping, without crossing the line into ear throbbing. The bass was strong, and it made me want to dance along. The costumes were perfect 60s and a great blend of movie costumes and originals.

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It should be said that this is a sexy show, maybe not right for a lot of kids. There are sexual themes and one brief moment of simulated sex. So, consider carefully about if this is the right show to bring your kids to. But aside from that, I would recommend this show to anyone.

I am a lover of the movie, and for me, this production was the perfect expanded version with everything you love from the movie, plus more, and excellent expansion of the characters. I brought my mom with me, and while she claims to have seen the movie, she seriously asked me if “nobody puts Baby in the corner” was a line from the movie, or a new line. So, I think we can classify her as someone who is not very familiar with the movie, and she loved the show. The Eccles Theater is a beautiful new venue, bringing us quality entertainment. The tickets aren’t cheap, but worth it. Call the box office NOW and get your tickets before this short run is over.

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Dirty Dancing, playing at the Eccles Theater June 20- 25. Arttix.org is the official ticketing source for the Eccles Theater. $35-$105.00

Online at artsaltlake.org
(801) 355-ARTS (2787)
Toll Free: 1 (888) 451-ARTS (2787)

(801) 355-5502

 

Riot Act’s “Houses” is an Imaginative and Immersive Re-Telling of Romeo and Juliet

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by Susannah Whitman

The venue Kilby Court isn’t easy to find. It’s not clearly marked, and you’ve got to walk down an alley to get to it. Often used as a concert venue, the small space feels more like a friend’s backyard than a theatre. There’s a small outdoor stage, a fire pit, and a few benches. Will call is at a small wooden structure next to a gate. Your ticket is a string of plastic mardis gras beads. When the “house opens,” you are welcomed into a small warehouse space, filled with music, party favors, and flashing lights.

And then the actors join the crowd, and Riot Act’s immersive and engaging production of Houses begins.

Writer/director Whit Hertford, together with his cast and crew, has created a stunning retelling of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Riot Act (founded in 2015 in London) focuses on “Ensemble based/avant garde theatre” and “resuscitation of classic texts through incision and excavation” and “innovative new writing.” Don’t expect to sit quietly and watch actors tell a story at Houses—you’re part of the story at Houses.

The show begins during a riotous party. Romeo gets in a fight with her girlfriend Rosalind, while the others dance around them. Mercutio riffs on the microphone about dreams. Silly string flies through the air, and dance music blares through the speakers. And in the midst of all of this chaos, Romeo spots Juliet. The two girls connect, despite Juliet’s engagement and despite Romeo’s recent breakup.

You likely know the story of Romeo and Juliet—how their families would not approve of their romance, and how they have to hide their love. Riot Act’s LGBTQ re-telling allows us to examine what modern-day prejudice may be fueling similar stories of heartbreak in our own day and age. The language of the play is mostly modern, with an occasional homage or quote from the bard.

As the actors move through the familiar story, the audience follows them—literally. When Romeo and Juliet meet outside of the warehouse, you walk out of the warehouse and watch their conversation. When Tybalt and Mercutio get into a fight in the street, you are a spectator in the street. The show lasts for a little over two hours, with no intermission, and the audience is rarely in the same place for longer than 15 minutes at a time. (Note: If you need accommodation or would find it difficult to stand for the entire production, seats can be made available. Talk to the ticket office before the show.)

As night falls, the action is illuminated by everything from string lights to flash lights to head lights. The heartbreaking conclusion of the story takes place in the street outside of the venue. The night I went, a light breeze moved through the trees surrounding us, lending a beauty to the production that could not be recreated in a closed theatre.

The gamine and impossibly talented McKenzie Steele-Foster plays the impulsive Romeo. Her honesty and naturalism “onstage” make us feel not like we are watching an actress, but simply watching a person. Haeleigh Royall (also the managing director of Riot Act) plays the lovely Juliet. She brought a sweetness and a sense of excitement to the role that eventually fell away to reveal a woman of enormous depth of feeling, who chooses courage for as long as she can.

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Ali Kinkade plays the beloved role of Mercutio to perfection. Dressed in tights, shorts, and a loose T-shirt with a large “I love orgasms” button, she is wild and funny and engaging. But one gets the sense, in certain moments, that the colorful face paint and raucous laughter is covering up a greater sense of pain. There is a depth to Kinkade’s performance that brings greater life to the character of Mercutio.

In such an ensemble work, it’s difficult to highlight “stand out performances”—each actor had wonderfully strong moments. Olivia Custodio’s dry humor as the Nurse added a sense of fun to her interactions with Juliet, and Custodio’s strength and vulnerability shone in her moments of heartbreak. Andy Rinclishbach brought a tender innocence to the role of Benvolio that was heartbreaking in the best way. Lane Richins, Adriana Lemke, Ashley Marian Ramos, Daniel McLeod, and PJ Volk each did outstanding work, and they each brought such life and imagination to these characters that have been played for hundreds of years.

One aspect of the production that could have been improved was the fight choreography. There were moments when it simply looked too “choreographed.” There were parts of the “set” that provided opportunities to obscure some of the fighting, which can be very effective, and the actors simply could have used more practice. That said, the actors brought powerful emotion to the various fight scenes that kept the audience engaged, and any weakness in the fight choreography was made up for in the emotions of the actors.

There is a time and a place for “traditional theatre.” To sit in a theatre and watch a big, shiny musical is an uplifting experience. But that’s not all that theatre is limited to. Theatre can tell important stories, stories that hurt, stories that remind us to be alive, stories that change us. Riot Act is a welcome experience in a community that often places emphasis on musicals and children’s shows. Those kinds of productions are valuable, and shouldn’t be decreased. But I’m grateful for the imaginative and unique experience that theatre companies like Riot Act provide. It adds diversity to the theatre experience in Utah. I left the production of Houses feeling deeply moved, both by the story, and by the mode of storytelling. I look forward to future productions.

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Riot Act presents Houses by Whit Hertford and William Shakespeare

Kilby Court, 741 South Kilby Court, (near 700 South and 300 West), Salt Lake City

(limited performances!), Friday, June 23, Monday, June 26, Thursday, June 29, Sunday, July 2

8 pm – 10 pm

Tickets online or at the door, $19 general admission, $17 student admission

http://riotacttheatre.com/#/home

Content: Profanity, drug and alcohol use, sexuality, adult themes.

WVC’s “West Side Story” Has a Short Run, So See It NOW

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By Daniel Wallentine

On Monday night, I decided I needed some tragedy in my life, so I hopped on the Frontrunner and rode up to West Valley City to see their Arts and Culture Division’s production of West Side Story. For those not familiar with West Side Story, this show is a modern adaptation of the famous Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, with a book by Arthur Laurents, Music and Lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins. This particular production, performed at the Utah Cultural Celebration Amphitheater, is directed and choreographed by Margene Conde, with Kenichi Nakashima as an assistant choreographer.

West Side Story is one of those iconic musicals that is well-known amongst artists and non-artists alike, so the challenge of putting together such a show is certainly daunting. However, I was pleasantly surprised over and over again during WVC’s production to see how this particular company brought such an popular piece of art to life.

One of the first things that stuck out to me was the scenic and lighting design, beautifully designed and executed by Garrin Mascaranas and Brio Technologies. Because this is an amphitheater, there are definitely venue-specific challenges to overcome. For the first act, there weren’t opportunities for complete blackouts after scenes because it was still too light outside. Instead, the transitions from scene to scene were blocked in such a way that the transitions didn’t take away from the flow of the storyline. Instead, scene changes seemed very natural and normal part of the world that was being presented onstage. Rather than waiting to be in character until a scene was set up, the performers all worked the scene changes into their dialogue, making the scene changes much more fluid. The lighting scheme also seemed minimalistic, which I really appreciated. As the night progressed and it slowly got darker, the complexity of the lighting scheme changed as well. While this seemed to be a necessary part of performing in an amphitheater, it seemed to play perfectly into the plot of the production. As relationships and conflicts grew more complicated, they were reflected in the growing complexity of the lighting scheme.

The leads in this production were wonderful. The chemistry between Maria (Jessica Sundwall) and Tony (Jacob Nilsen) was tangible and believable. I mean, it’s pretty hard to believe in love at first sight. However, their chemistry pulled the audience in and made believers out of us. I was also very impressed by Kelsey Mariner, who played Anita. She displayed a depth of character that that allowed audience members to see the fire as well as the vulnerability of her personality. Jamie Jackson, who portrayed ”Anybodys”, also gave a wonderful performance. Jamie perfectly captured the impulsiveness and mischievousness of youth, along with the absolute need to belong that all teenagers feel. Her performance really helped reinforce the reality of teenagers fighting and killing each other without fully understanding the repercussions of their actions.

For the most part, I was very impressed by the attention to detail in the production. The costumes (Akemi Nakashima had wonderful little details added to them to give the production even more of an edge. However, there were times that both the Brooklyn Puerto Rican accents were lost, or times that the accents could have been pushed further to better solidify the time and setting of the production. There were also times that the harmonies and really complex rhythms of the show were lost or a little muddy. However, the score for this production is incredibly difficult, so the cast must be applauded for the time and work they have put into learning the complexities of Bernstein and Sondheim.

Overall, I was very impressed by the choreography. West Side Story is known for its iconic choreography, and I felt that the choreographer and assistant choreographer did an excellent job in paying homage to Jerome Robbins while still providing skill-level appropriate choreography for the production. The choreography contained the angst, impulsiveness, and hope associated with youth and teenage years. The choreography also moved the plotline along; it was cohesive and fluid. There were times where the energy level dropped off in some of the big dance numbers, and that tended to interfere with the fluidity of the choreography. However, I was impressed at how as a company overall, there didn’t seem to be a big division between the “singers” and the “dancers.” I believe that is a huge testament to the hard work put in by directors and choreographers.

Is West Valley City’s production of West Side Story worth seeing? Absolutely. Regardless of the genius of the creators of the show, the performers have put their hearts into this production, and their skill sets are obvious. The show is moving, inspiring, and eye-opening. You will leave thinking about the lessons that were taught, specifically, the beauty and strength that comes from accepting others, regardless of their background. And see this like NOW. A very short run for a very good show.

Utah Cultural Celebration Center Amphitheater 
1355 West 3100 South
West Valley City, Utah  84119

 June 19 -22

8:00 PM Curtain Time

$5 admission, $20 for groups of 5
Tickets available at the UCCC front desk starting June 5

Oceans of Fun at LaForge Encore Theatre’s “Little Mermaid”

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By Cindy Whitehair

On Friday, my son and I impulsively decided we needed to see a show, so we decided to run out to Tooele to see LaForge Encore Theatre Company’s The Little Mermaid. We were glad we made the impulsive choice. Directed by Carol LaForge, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was everything you expect from a Disney production – BIG, colorful, and full of heart.

The Little Mermaid with LaForge Encore Theater Company

Copyright © Clay Cammack Photography

The first thing I happily noticed was the live orchestra. There are so few chances to experience live music in this valley and there is something wonderful about live music and theater. That was one of the many wonderful little highlights from the production team (headed by Christin Saling). The sets are stunning. Starting with a projection on a scrim that is so realistic that the only way could tell that it was a projection was because the water was moving. The projections help set the many scenes (Ariel’s grotto, King Triton’s and Prince Eric’s castles, Urusla’s lair, etc) – all that were needed were some well-placed set pieces to add depth to the scene, which this show has plenty of. Many of these set pieces were well done and Prince Eric’s boat…brilliant! Then there was the flying, the puppetry, and the special effects. All in all, the pro team has much to be proud of in this show.

That said, a couple minor production “misses” – there were several times where the microphones cut out, especially Arial’s mic. Also, there were a couple of dark places on the fringes of the stage. Normally that isn’t an issue – unless your lead’s spot to stand is in that dark spot. Lastly, some of the scene changes were a bit slow due to the complexity of some of the set pieces.

The Little Mermaid with LaForge Encore Theater Company

Copyright © Clay Cammack Photography

The makeup (Christin Saling and Emma Thomas) and the costumes (Katie Fowler and Joann Gebs) were outstanding all the way around. The mermaid sisters were especially delightful. Chorographer (Pamela Giles) and her assistant (Emily Rice) certainly had their work cut out for them in this show. All of the sea folk were on wheels (Segway, hoverboards, skates and heelies) so there was that added challenge. Thanks to skating instructor, Juston Ferre, the challenge was conquered.

I could go on and on for a long time about the technical nature of this show, it was so well executed, but we all know the pressing question on everyone’s mind…..Ariel and Prince Eric (Kylee Robinson and Donovan Crane.) They were every bit the Disney Prince and Princess you would expect them to be. Their voices were divine and both showed the growth of character that is necessary for this show. Both on stage and during the after show meet and greet, both were mindful of the their youthful patrons and their interactions with them – something my son (who just came back from working the Disney College Program) really appreciated.

Little Mermaid with LaForge Encore Theater Company

Copyright © Clay Cammack Photography

This cast had a huge ensemble (necessarily) but there were a few standouts. Cassidy Ellenberger (who was also the music director) was a delightfully wicked Ursula. Her husband Tony was a wonderfully regal King Triton, the mermaid sisters (Caroline Crane, Emilee Shinn, Emily Rice, Lily Gebs, Emily Whitehouse and Oakley Allen) were delightful and Sebastian (Michael Young) and Chef Louis (Spencer Peck) were hysterical in “Les Poissons.”

Reading the directors notes, you could see that Ms. LaForge had the younger audiences in mind when she was putting this show together. In Disney parlance, it’s called the “Disney Magic” and based on the reactions of the youngest audience members (her target audience) this show is a grand slam home run. Even if you don’t have littles, this show is a real treat. It’s well worth the drive out to Tooele to see.

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LaForge Encore Theatre presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Performances are at the Tooele High School – 301 W Vine Street Tooele Utah. Tickets are $10.00 each and can be purchased online at http://www.laforgeencore.org/showsmenuItemI.php. Performances are June 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24. Performances start at 7:00PM.