Echo’s Bielzy and Gottfried Poses Questions of Morality Without Moralizing

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

I admit I was a little hesitant going into Echo Theatre’s production of J. Omar Hansen’s original play, Bielzy and Gottfried. It’s described as “a modern morality musical” and directors’ notes in the program refer to Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, sermons, Job, and the War in Heaven. I find the psychology of religious belief fascinating, but I do not go to plays (or read books or watch movies) to be preached at. If I wanted that, I could go to Sunday School. I had been assured by a cast member ahead of time that this show does not preach, though, and I was not disappointed by my choice to trust his recommendation. Bielzy and Gottfried is a fascinating show that asks difficult questions without spoon-feeding the answers–in short, the type of show that Echo Theatre is becoming known for here in Utah Valley.

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“Echo Theatre’s Pygmalion is a Fair Lady of a Show”

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

My post-college reintroduction to theater came via a role in a 2012 production of My Fair Lady, so I was excited to see another interpretation of the familiar story in Echo Theatre’s production of Pygmalion. In case you aren’t familiar with Pygmalion, it is the play upon which My Fair Lady is based—the story of Cockney-speaking flower girl Eliza Doolittle who is trained to be a proper lady by linguist Henry Higgins. The story delves into themes of class, personal autonomy and human relationships, and in my opinion these themes are explored more deeply in the original play than in its musical successor. Echo Theatre’s production, directed by Jason Sullivan, does a fine job of treating these complex themes while engaging and entertaining the audience. Continue reading

The Empress Theatre’s “Jekyll and Hyde” Explores the Thin Line Between Good and Bad

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A Utah Theater Review by B.J. Wright

     Jekyll and Hyde is a heart-wrenching story about the good and evil that each man battles inside.  Dr. Jekyll has a noble ambition of separating the good from the evil, and getting rid of man’s evil tendencies. Though he is warned not to play God by many who care for him, Dr. Jekyll is convinced what he is doing is right. As forewarned, his experiments go wrong and the evil Mr. Hyde is released to terrorize London. In his struggle to regain control Dr. Jekyll Asks the question, “Am I a good man? Am I a mad man?” and realizes “It’s such a fine line between a good man and a bad.”

     I had the pleasure of driving to Magna to see this thought provoking musical put on by the Empress Theatre.  I had never been to the Empress before, but will definitely be back in the future. It is a small theater tucked at the end of a quaint street. I felt very at home as I entered the building. The staff greeted me with a friendly hello, and the foyer was filled with pictures of the cast in costume for the upcoming show. The energy in the atmosphere filled me with anticipation for a great show. Continue reading

The Covey’s “An Unexpected Guest” is an Expected Pleasure

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A Utah Theater Review By Jennifer Mustoe and Corena Gunyan

My teenage companion Corena and I had the pleasure of going to see An Unexpected Guest, a delightful Agatha Christie mystery, at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo. I will say, it was a little disconcerting at first as there was a Thriller concert on the big stage (the play was in the wonderful Brinton Black Box at the Covey) and as we walked into the theater, we were greeted by numerous well made up, bloody, shambling zombies. I admit, I hugged one and touched another on the nose and said, “Boop.” When faced with a zombie, these are my suggested responses. The zombies were part of the Thriller concert, which caused some problems for the play later.  The concert, not the zombies. More on this in a bit.

The Black Box theater has seating on three sides and is general seating. There really isn’t a bad seat, but I’d suggest sitting in the middle spot if possible. You’ll see more.

The set design by Daniel James is fabulous. The dead guy (this is a murder mystery so the play basically begins with the murder) was a big game hunter and there are photos of him with all kinds of big animals and trophies all over. (Trophies meaning mounted animal heads.) I wasn’t totally in love with where the furniture was situated. Center upstage was a big desk and chair. Center downstage was a couch that had its back to the center audience members. Two chairs flanked the couch and while they were set at an angle, they still were closed to some audience members’ line of vision no matter where you sat. I thought it would be better if the desk were smaller and in a corner. It’s hardly ever used. Also, the Thriller concert blasted through the wall of the theater a few times and this isn’t the first time that’s happened when I have gone to that theater.

Those are the only negatives for this play, so I got them out of the way early on.

My companion and I loved this play! Her comment was that she never saw any of the actors break character, and she was right. But that wasn’t the only thing this fine troupe of actors did. The cast is as follows: Continue reading

The Grand Theater’s “Fame” Flies High to Exceed Expectations

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By Aleksndr Arteaga

            The year is 1980, set in the final years of New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts. Fame – The Musical follows a group of students through their trials and successes and ultimately reflects on their dreams of fame and fortune. Fame explores many themes that still face our youth, that of: self- identity, literacy, drug abuse, prejudice, sexuality, resilience, and perseverance. Fame is based on the 1980 film of the same title, and ran at The Little Shubert Theatre Off-Broadway for 264 Performances and 40 previews.

            The Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City is nothing short of its name. With traditional balcony opera boxes, it would be the perfect venue for any opera or orchestral concert. The set design for Fame established an urban feel, which assisted in setting the tone of the show. Halee Rasmussen did a wonderful job creating a set, which was simplistic and resourceful. I applaud her set design; it created many strong lines, which aided to create beautiful stage pictures. Another shout out to Amanda Reiser, whose costume design truly captured the early 1980′s, from floral leggings to colorful leg warmers she hit the mark.  Finally, Dan Efros did a magnificent job with lighting design! Efros’ lighting transformed this piece into a spectacle to behold. Continue reading

The Woman In Black Haunts The Echo Theatre’s New Location

A Utah theater review by Ben Christensen

Provo’s Echo Theatre has a new location, and it appears to be haunted. The new theater, located just north of Center Street on 100 East, is a much larger venue than the old one, with rows of seats facing a traditional stage rather than the theater-in-the-round of the previous location. While I was a big fan of the more intimate venue on University Avenue, the larger stage of the new one will give Echo opportunities to do shows that wouldn’t have worked so well in the round—shows like The Woman in Black. This creepy ghost story about a small town in England haunted by a vengeful spirit is well placed at the new Echo Theater, where the stage’s backdrop, the fuller sound system, and the more advanced lighting options are used to full effect to create an atmosphere of suspense.Woman 1

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Spend an Evening In The Heights at Hale Center Theater Orem

A Utah theater review by Ben Christensen

From the very first verse rapped by Usnavi de la Vega (Ben Wille), Hale Center Theater Orem’s production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights pulses with energy. Set in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, In The Heights is the story of a community pulled in different directions. Usnavi, a bodega owner, dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. Vanessa (Shae Robins MWF) is a hair stylist who just wants to get out of the Heights. Nina (Xandra Wille) tried to get out but returns home sheepishly when she loses her scholarship at Stanford. And Benny (Keith Evans), the neighborhood’s token white boy, wants nothing more than to fit in. Like the characters, the play’s music—a mish-mash of hip-hop, salsa, and other styles—comes from many different places and pulls in different directions.

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Utah Rep’s “Rent” is Worth Purchasing a Ticket–and Much More!

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By Daniel Brassard

This Friday, I had the opportunity to see the musical Rent put on by the Utah Repertory Theater Company at The Project in downtown Salt Lake City. I came with an understanding of the plot, having seen the movie and was accompanied by a guest who had seen the closing cast on Broadway. If I had been uninformed of the content that I would be immersed in, the company had an excellent pre-show that made the adult content level clear. I was in store for a raw, uncensored view into the beauty and struggles of being in and out of love in a sexually diverse culture with the obstacles of poverty, self discovery and HIV/AIDS ever present.

The space, plywood walls with cityscape graffiti on them, was filled with mismatched plastic lawn and folding chairs for the audience. The very well characterized indigenous homeless population sets the stage and tone of the show mingling in a very close quarters pre-show. Their use of very realistic “hobo-banter” (profanity, drug and alcohol conversation, and unintelligible ramblings), spot-on homeless attire and confrontational nature almost fully convinced me that I had accidentally stumbled into the ghetto. The pre-show lacked only one authentic detail — smell, thank goodness. The specific venue (The Project) seems perfect for this show, or any show that needs a weathered industrial look. Continue reading

Don’t Be a Stranger to Harvest Moon Hurrah’s “The Foreigner” in Spanish Fork

A Utah Theater Review By Jennifer Mustoe

I had never seen The Foreigner, a fun comedy with some deeper meaning in there, so I was excited to go see Spanish Fork’s Harvest Moon Hurrah Theater’s presentation of this play.

The first thing you see when you come in is a delightful set, designed by Cami Jensen (also one of the show’s producers along with her husband Ken Jensen) and constructed by Chris Cannon. There is detail in every inch, and because the show takes place in Spanish Fork High School’s Little Theater, packing such delight into a smaller space only adds to it. It didn’t look cramped, just detailed. And awesome.

To give you a small summary of the story: Charlie Baker is a quiet man with little confidence. We find out his dying wife has had 23 affairs. His friend Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur brings Charlie to Betty Meeks’ Fishing Lodge in Georgia. Because Charlie is so shy, the two men cook up a plan that Charlie is a foreigner and can’t understand English, thus saving him from having to interact with any of the other guests.

The other people at the Lodge don’t let Charlie’s lack of understanding deter them, though. They envelop him in their naivete, their love, and their life. Continue reading

SCERA’s Shrek the Musical Has Layers

Shrek the Musical Poster Review

Shrek the Musical is a story about looking beyond the outside façade that people present, seeing that people (and ogres!) have layers (like onions!) in order to find true love and friendship. The SCERA’s production in Orem, UT, takes this theme and brings it vividly to life. My husband and I went to see the show. Shrek the Musical is a much loved show in our house—our four children know all the songs—and we were thrilled to be able to see the show again on stage.

Shrek follows the story of its title character as he tries to get his swamp back from the draconian and perfection-obsessed Lord Farquaad who has thrown a bunch of fairytale creatures into it and out of Duloc for being “freaks.” Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona in exchange for the swamp with the help of his unwanted tag-along friend Donkey. Adventures ensue.

Shrek (BJ Oldroyd) had both a beautiful voice and the acting ability to pull off Shrek, being both lovable and off-putting when necessary. I believed he could scare people off by yelling in their face. His comic timing was also quite good. He sometimes let the unique Shrek accent drop, but not in a hugely noticeable way. He also had great chemistry with Wes Tolman, who played Donkey. Tolman cracked the audience up with his well-timed jokes, and nailed the character of Donkey without feeling like an Eddie Murphy copy-cat. He brought his unique take on the character, and I looked forward to every scene he was in.Shrek the Musical

Madeline Weinberger played an incomparable Fiona. I’ve seen her in several shows before, thought she would be perfect for the role of Fiona, and was expecting great things. Let me tell you, I should have set my expectations higher, because she was hilarious, her singing was perfection, and she had the attitude of a slightly crazed princess down perfectly. I was delighted by “I Know It’s Today” and “Morning Person.”

Carson Davies brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the role of Farquaad. I’m not sure if it was opening night jitters or what, but sometimes he said his lines so quickly he seemed out of breath. Also, I was disappointed with the directing decision to have him often ride in and out on set pieces and remain relatively static during most scenes. Farquaad is played with the actor on his knees with fake legs attached to the front of his thighs, to make Farquaad seem very short. This can be played for a ton of laughs, and I thought this production failed to capitalize on it.

Marshall Madsen brought a great character voice to Pinocchio. His intermission jokes had everyone laughing and groaning in their seats. I would have liked to see a bit more from him physically (how would a boy made out of wood move?), but that’s nitpicking a solid performance. Gingy was played by Shelley Young, and she shone in “Freak Flag.” I would have liked to see a bit more sense of leadership brought to the role, but Young also had four other roles to play, so perhaps she didn’t get the chance to develop Gingy as much. Another distracting thing was that her puppeteering was a little out of sync, so the words didn’t match the opening and closing of the puppet’s mouth (sometimes being directly reversed of what they should be).

Shrek the Musical Princess Fiona Donkey

The set was mostly simple sets of stairs and rolling platforms. Most of the time, it worked well. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done. However, some of the set movement felt unnecessary. The pieces were big and looked extremely awkward for the cast to move around, and often moving them didn’t accomplish anything except for the stairs now being in a slightly different spot. Since the set was so simple, I wish they had embraced that and kept it even simpler by not moving it nearly so much. It was exhausting to watch. There were however, some very clever and fun pieces, like the shadow puppetry in “Ballard of Farquaad” and the brilliant use of the stairs as Fiona and Shrek battle it out in “I Think I Got You Beat.”

The costumes were well-done, although sometimes very minimalistic. I loved the look of Fiona’s dress and the fun choice for Shrek’s pants. The makeup worked very well. It had to be very versatile for the ensemble, as the cast had to quickly transform from fairy tale creatures to Dulocians. I was impressed with how well the makeup translated as cast members played up to five roles each. Donkey was probably my favorite look. Shrek, which is very important to get right, looked just right.

I highly recommend this production of Shrek. It had so much heart, and the acting, singing and directing were superb. Shrek is not an easy musical to put on, but the SCERA manages to do it and hit all the right notes. Hats off to director Chase Ramsey for a great show!

SCERA Center for the Arts

Shrek the Musical

Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

SCERA, 745 South State, Orem, UT

Sept 13-Oct 15 Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat. 7:30 PM

$12 Adults, $10 Child (3-11), Student (w/ID), Senior (65+)

(801)225-ARTS

www.scera.org