Before you run out of time, take time to see Utah Rep’s Production of “The Last Five Years.”

By Megan Graves

At 7:15pm on Friday night, instead of leisurely sauntering into the small Sugar Space Theater to choose the perfect seats for the musical The Last Five Years, my friends and I were sitting in my car on the shoulder of the freeway median, waiting for the tow truck to come because the car’s timing belt had suddenly broken. It was slightly ironic that we were going to be late to a show in which the wear and tear of time was a main theme, and in which one of the main characters Cathy sings “I will be waiting for you” repeatedly, but the effort we made to still see the show was totally worth it.

In a month or so, most of you will be at least familiar with the story of The Last Five Years, since the movie adaptation with the popular Anna Kendrick is coming soon to theaters in Utah, and is already playing in select theaters in the U.S. But if you skip the play and only watch the movie, you would be missing out on a fresh, versatile, aesthetic experience, as well as symbolism and metaphors that, on a stage three feet away from you, are more poignantly obvious than they would be on any screen.

If you go see the Utah Repertory Theater’s performance of this play (and I highly recommend you do!) be aware this is not your typical conquer-the-villain, rescue-the-princess, happily-ever-after musical. You will experience a sometimes too close-to-home, possibly cathartic, emotional roller coaster; you’ll laugh and cry and worry and stare in shock at the choices that the characters (and that everyday people!) make. Director John Sweeney said, “The musical brings out the heart of what people are going through at…points of time [in a relationship]—the young youthful of excitement of when you’re first in love…and the wearing down of life.”* It’s a reflection of how two people could go from romance found to romance lost.

Rhett Richins and Julia Carlson are a powerful duo in Utah Rep's production of "The Last Five Years."

Rhett Richins and Erin Royall Carlson are a powerful duo in Utah Rep’s production of “The Last Five Years.”

Yet despite the emotional roller coaster, being able to view a romance from the perspectives of both Jamie—played by Rhett Richins, and Cathy—played by Erin Royall Carlson, as he travels forward and she travels backward through their 5-year relationship, brings the realization that their relationship could have worked out, and that they both contributed to its demise with seemingly small yet significant choices. This makes the play truly like a paradoxical tragedy. We see the hope and very real possibility for a strong, equally-yoked, lasting relationship at the same time we see a relationship crumbling before us.

Richins told us, “when Jason R. Brown wrote this musical, it was an autobiographical portrayal of five years of his life.”* Because of this personal attachment the writer/ composer had to the plot, every aspect of the musical has significance. Similarly, the Utah Rep director and actors made thoughtful artistic choices to portray the themes and disconnect of time and perspectives in the musical. They rotated the middle of the set clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on whether they were going backwards or forwards in time, respectively. Cathy was wearing a lot of white or bright colors, perhaps alluding to the hope she still felt that things would work out, contrasting with Jamie’s cooler colors. They also added some contemporary elements that made us laugh and brought us in to the story, like Cathy saying Jamie “doesn’t have to like Taylor Swift” for her to like him, and poking fun at the people who cast Russell Crowe in a musical.

Lighting choices were also significant, and descriptive of their relationship. When Jamie is literally jumping around the stage telling his story of a fictional character Schmuel, Cathy is sitting in the shadows. Sweeney said this was a deliberate choice, “to have one actor sometimes be in the shadows during the other’s song, representing the aloofness of the two and causing the audience to question what’s going on in their relationship and why they are not fully engaged in the main action on the stage.”* “The Schmuel Song,” as told by Jamie, was surprisingly one of my favorite parts, because of Richins’ energy and amazing use of character voices, and because of my wonderment at Cathy’s apparent indifference to his enthusiasm. It is a kind of play within a play, as Jamie tells Cathy the story of a man and a woman who had to learn to value the time they had with each other.

Another of my favorite parts was Cathy’s audition scene. It was not only hilariously performed, with snarky side comments about the accompanist going too fast, and also excellent changes in voice timbre, etc., but I’m sure most actors can also relate to the anxiety of auditions gone awry. Not only that, for her auditions she sang the song “If you come home to me, I’ll wear a sweeter smile” to empty chairs on the stage, which to me was a poignant reminder of the fact that Jamie and her were slowly becoming absent from each other’s lives.

The small, live band was an unexpected treat, and an integral part of the show, under the direction of Anne Puzey. They added to the dramatic effect, because they could follow the actors’ changes in tempo.  They were right on the same level of the stage with the actors as well, which made them almost a part of the cast, especially in the scene where Cathy is auditioning for a musical (another play within a play, if you will).

Also, because the musicians were on stage with the actors, we paid more attention to repeated musical themes that accentuated the story. In a lot of the songs, the strings used percussive techniques, like playing col legno (on the wood of the bow) or tapping the wooden backs of their instruments, to make the songs sound more mechanical—like a clock. In the song “The Next Ten Minutes,” the two actors blended perfectly on “I do” when they said their vows. It was one of the most romantic and beautiful parts, especially from three feet away, and the only part in the play where they actually look in each other’s eyes, but the minor chords in the music playing during the ceremony gave a sad, almost foreboding tone, with multiple repeated phrases, kind of like an alarm clock, or a reminder that time was running out.

They couldn’t have chosen a better cast. For two actors to keep the audience enthralled at every minute, when they are basically singing multiple monologues and changing emotion with every scene, is an incredible feat. Carlson said they couldn’t look at each other in certain scenes, and they had to keep acting with sometimes completely different emotions than each other. “Going from being emotionally scarred to portraying being blissfully in love…Reversing my timeline… was one of the hardest things. Vocally it’s been trying, but so fun and rewarding.”*

Not only did the actors’ emotional energy and involvement of the audience keep us engaged, I was amazed at how fast their costume changes were. On top of that they helped move the set as well! One thing I noticed was that this need for speed, and their involvement in every aspect of the play, sometimes caused minute wardrobe malfunctions and probably contributed to their need to adjust their mics during a few of the scenes. Regardless of these small technical distractions, for an opening night, it was superb.

The actors’ alternating use of their fourth wall seemed incredibly well thought-out and deliberate. At times they seemed to be talking to us in the audience when they were defending their position or telling their side of the story, as if we were a silent jury.

My friends and I were talking about the musical’s themes and what we loved about the story and songs for a long time afterward, and I would recommend this play to anyone. Whether you are in the throes of a budding romance or experiencing the painful pangs of a lost love, everyone has something to learn from the story of “The Last Five Years.” Hurry and see it before you, or your car, get caught up in the wear and tear of life and run out of time.

We made it to the show! *In the foyer of the Sugar Space Art Studio in Salt Lake

We made it to the show! *In the foyer of the Sugar Space Art Studio in Salt Lake

*(As I only had small spaces in the margins of my program in which to write, and no voice recorder, the actors and directors quotes are paraphrased, with some punctuation added, and written to the best that my shorthand and my memory could offer. I apologize for any missing articles or other essential parts of speech, but am willing to take small partial credit for anything that made it sound poetic.) ;-)

Utah Repertory Theater Company is presenting The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown Feb. 27-March 14, varying showtimes, at Sugar Space Studio Theater; and March 20-22 at Ogden Ziegfeld Theater, varying showtimes. Tickets are $10-18 depending on the showtime and place. ***Content is PG-13 (some swear words, difficult/strong emotional themes). See websites for more details.

Sugar Space Studio Theater 616 Wilmington Ave, Salt Lake City, UT 84106 (888) 300-7898

Ogden Ziegfeld Theater 3934 Washington Blvd, Ogden, UT 84403 (855) 944-2787!last-5-years/cr5x

Let the Empress Theatre Lead you Into the Woods

We all know the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel – complete with their evil nemeses.  But what happens when you flip these fairy tales on their heads?  Into the Woods happens, that’s what.  Lucky for you, Nancy Jensen is directing a lovely production for audiences to see this inside-out tale at The Empress Theatre.

The opening number introduces us to all of the main characters (except the charming princes, who bound in just in time for some great comic relief) and introduces us their plights from wanting a child to wanting to escape to wanting money.  Jensen created a wonderful vision in this 3/4 of a theater-in-the-square.  

What I loved most about the show was the actors’ dedication to their characters and roles.  I did not see a single person break character, even in light of other mistakes.  This is community theater, which means you enter with a certain reservation of expectations.  In this show, in spite of some actors being strong or weak in certain areas, everyone was quite good overall!  Trust me, I say that with a huge sigh of relief.  

I particularly enjoyed Cinderella’s lovely soprano as she enchantingly sang to her origami birds, the youthful vigor of our actual teenager Little Red, and the over-the-top prancing of the charming princes. 

Our Narrator, Nathan Unck, truly helped us feel as if he were telling us a story that he was more than amused with.  He was excited to share the successes and plunders of each scene, wrapping us in to what part of the story he created for us next.  I’ve seen Unck perform before and this was my favorite role for him.  

Cinderella’s Mother is a role that often gets left in the shadows, but Christin Saling performed with love and compassion while dressed in a beautiful gown.  I only wish that half the audience weren’t missing out on her stunning face because of a tree branch blocking her.  

Skye Davis is a mature adult, yet used this adorable Pinocchio-esque character voice to successfully portray the youthful, adolescent Jack.  At first I thought it may grow old, but by the end of the show he had me chuckling every time he opened his mouth.  

As far as improvements, The Empress needs a new lighting and sound system.  They work so hard with what they have, however, I’ve not seen a show in recent memory, other than The Addams Family, where the dark lighting and hard-to-adjust spotlights work (in reading my show notes, I mentioned the troublesome lighting four different times).  Often times actors were out of the spots and difficult to see.  The sound is spotty, so they accommodate through only mic’ing those who “need” it or are main roles.  The problem with this is that our ears have to readjust every time we switch from one to the other, or preventing us from hearing certain singing over the minus tracks.  I do prefer having to adjust my ears over the screeching and popping that occurs with some of the mics.  I truly feel the Empress could have much more community support with these technical issues resolved.  The historic theater and the talent deserve as much.     

The two biggest laughs of the evening came from our charming princes and Little Red’s Granny.  During the reprise of “Agony,” sung by Rapunzel’s Prince, Geoffrey Greogry) and Cinderella’s Prince (Christopher Kennedy).  Those two hammed it up, the lyrics hammed it up, and we ate it up entirely!  Thank you, men, for making us laugh.  Speaking of…another big big laugh of our came from reading the bio of Rapunzel’s Prince/The Wolf, where he mentions he is single, ladies…again apparently.   Granny (Chalese Craig) was performed in a way I have never yet scene this typical “throw away character” played.  She was fierce – you just have to see her for yourself.   

Into the Woods is at the peak of popularity due to the recent cinematic release.  If you and your little ones enjoy the film, I highly recommend venturing to the empress to take in the live production.  They won’t disappoint you and I promise you will leave with a smile on your face, thinking of loves lost and found, fairy tales coming true, and handsome princes.  

Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office now through January 31 for $10.  For more information, visit The Empress Theatre’s website here.  

Entire Cast List:   Narrator: Nathan Unck

Cinderella: Valerie Packer

Jack: Skye Davis

Jack’s Mother: Jamie Crane

Baker: Brett Johnson

Baker’s Wife: Sarah Johnson

Cinderella’s Stepmother: Kimberly Wicker

Florinda: Sunny Watts

Lucinda: Melissa Head

Cinderella’s Father: Perry Whitehair

Little Red: Alexis Shaw

Granny: Chalese Craig

Witch: Diane Nebeker

Cinderella’s Mother/Giant: Christin Saling

Mysterious Man: Steve Hedman

Wolf/Rapunzel’s Prince: Geoffrey Gregory

Cinderella’s Prince: Chris Kennedy


Payson Community Theater’s Les Miserables Hits a High Note


A Utah Theater Review by: B.J. Wright

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

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

The Echo Theatre’s New Take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream - The Echo Theatre

A Utah Theater Review by B.J. Wright

                I have seen Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream many times.  Echo Theatre’s version of the play is not your typical run-of-the mill production. In her director notes, Hailey Nebeker notes that she wasn’t exactly excited about the production until the idea of a post-apocalyptic version presented itself. Taking a classic, and adding a new twist isn’t an easy thing to do. There were a couple of things in this production that didn’t quite work for me, however, there were many things that did.

                The set designed by Jeffery Blake is quite simple, but effective for the space in the theater. I especially enjoyed the subtle skyscrapers in the background. It gave me the impression that this play could be taking place in a place similar to Central Park in the future. Another element that adds to the post-apocalyptic feel are the costumes designed by Cherie Julander. The classic renaissance attire and flowing fairy dresses you would typically see have been replaced with pants, boots and jackets that belong in worlds where Divergent or Hunger Games would take place. I felt each costume was pieced together in a way to tell a little more of the characters back story, I enjoyed using the costumes to make my own back story for each character.

                Apart from the set and costumes, this cast brought a lot of talent to the stage.  I often enjoy reading Shakespeare more than watching a play, as the lines often sound fake and rehearsed. This cast did a wonderful job of making the words their own. If you aren’t familiar with the play, there are three main groups on the stage at different times. Often there is one group that is stronger than the others. I did not feel that way in this production. No matter which group was on stage, I was entertained.  For the purpose of this review, I’ll call the groups the citizens, the actors and the fairies. Continue reading

Plan on Seeing Once in Salt Lake City Next Spring


By Cindy Whitehair

While we were in Phoenix packing up our son from college, we got the opportunity to see closing night of the touring production of  the musical Once at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium. Gammage Auditorium is a great space with a wonderful staff.  There was a mix up in our tickets and the box office staff not only worked with us to get us replacement tickets, they ended up getting us better tickets than we had purchased for the show.  That set the tone for what ended up being one of those most magical of theatre nights.

Once is the Tony Award winning story of a down and out Dublin street musician who has given up on his dream until he meets a fiery Czech pianist who inspires him to reclaim his dream.  As the chemistry between them grows, the music takes flight.  Based on the 2007 film of the same name (written by Dubliner John Carney, book by Irish born playwright Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova), Once takes you on an emotional journey through life in Dublin’s working class streets. Continue reading

Shrek Entertains Kids of All Ages at the Empress


By Larissa Villers Ferre

Have you ever wished that someone would get to know you before judging you? Have you ever wished you had a chance to show someone who you are inside?  Shrek the Musical at The Empress Theatre in Magna is one of those stories that everyone can relate to – the exterior is exuberant characters and jokes, while the interior shows us that the very best parts of us are those that make us different.

Shrek is an ogre, which, if you didn’t know, you’ve probably been living in his swamp for the past decade. The evil Lord Farquaad displaced all of the fairytale characters from the city of Duloc into Shrek’s swamp. In order to regain his swamp as his solitary sanctuary, Shrek agrees to rescue the Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower on behalf of Farquaad, who needs to marry a princess to become king. Continue reading

Oh, The Humanity in Glendale, AZ, is Oh So Good!

By Cindy Whitehair

“We’re here to tell the story of the Furies”…..thus begins Brelby Theatre Company’s world premier Oh, The Humanity.  The Furies have spent several millennia in prison for, in Zeus’ opinion, wreaking havoc on Earth.  However, Zeus has a problem – his son Clark (Jordan Davis) is in a mental hospital for believing that he is the son of a god. Zeus (Brian Maticic) offers the Furies a deal – spring Clark from the mental hospital and Zeus will free them from prison.  Naturally the Furies are suspicious – why would they ever want to cut a deal with the god who imprisoned them? But eventually Megaera (Allison Bauer) and Alecto (Melody  Chrispen) convince Tisiphone (Aubrie Gast) that it is worth taking the risk to gain their freedom and they agree.  Megaera goes in as personal physician Dr. Meg for Clark, and Alecto and Tisiphone go in as patients. Their interactions with staff and patients ensure that hilarity ensues. Continue reading

I LOVE GSC’S As You Like It

ayli9By Jennifer Mustoe

Every time I go see a Grassroots Shakespeare Company production, I know it will be good. But that’s where I am always wrong. Not only are they better than good, they are great, but they are getting greater and greater. I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I believe they are improving. I mean, can you improve upon perfection? In the case of GSC’s As You Like It, one of the summer’s two free productions, the improvement may be in my own experience.

I am seeing a more raucous audience experience overall–which I love! At GSC, you are encouraged to boo, hiss, clap, answer the actors’ questions. You get the idea. And we had an enthusiastic audience who jumped in to hoot and holler throughout the whole play.

As You Like It was performed at the Orem Scera Park. They have their own traveling stage that they put in their lovely GSC truck and carry from place to place, just like the actors did in Shakespeare’s day. That is also the reason we are encouraged to participate. That’s how it was done back in 1600s. Grassroots Shakespeare Company also begin the show with a trio of musicians who sing and play, and music is played throughout the show. (And to be honest, it was a little loud in scenes and some of the actors’ lines were a little overshadowed.) Continue reading

Fly to Orem Hale’s Peter Pan!


A Utah Theater Review Kendra Hill

This weekend I had the privilege of (even though I am a full grown adult) being whisked away to Neverland by the jovial Peter Pan, care of Hale Center Theater Orem’s newest production Peter Pan! Peter Pan has enough fun to keep the kids entertained through the whole show so the whole family can enjoy it.

Peter Pan is a show is about a boy, Peter, who loves to be a kid and having fun. He lives in Neverland with his fairy Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys. There are also others on the island with them, including Indians and Pirates. Peter meets Wendy, John, and Michael Darling and teaches them to fly with him to Neverland where they go on an entertaining adventure, and learn about what it means to grow up. Continue reading

Ut Rep’s Grace is a Thought-Provoking, Introspective Piece

grace 1

By Eve Speer

Theatre is a collaborative art. It requires artists of varying backgrounds, dogmas, and experience to come together to tell a story. It’s fitting that Utah Rep joined forces with Around the Globe Theatre to present Craig Wright’s play Grace.
The play takes place in two different apartments at the same time in Florida. Steve and Sara just moved from Minnesota to open a chain of Jesus-loving motels. Next door, their neighbor Sam is recovering from an accident that killed his fiancée. Two sets of lives unfold in front of us, occupying the same space. Through an elderly exterminator Karl, Steve and Sara learn about their neighbor Sam’s misfortune and soon their stories start to interweave. Steve and Sara, played by Johnny Hebda and Emilie Eileen Starr, are devout Christians who genuinely enjoy living their beliefs. In the first scene, they giddily thank God in a prayer that reveals both their faith and their dynamic as a couple. Karl, played by Jeffrey Owen, chooses a cynical life of disbelief because his father believed in God before and during the terrors of Nazi Germany, and now Karl sees his father’s beliefs as foolish. Sam, played by JayC Stoddard is a scientist at NASA who grew up Unitarian.
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