“Noises Off!” Takes Center Stage at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem

By Angela Dell

I made a last minute dash to the SCERA to see their latest production, Noises Off!. I admit, I was unprepared for this show in every way. You see, maybe I was late to the party. Maybe I’m just “not with it” when it comes to theater stuff (even though I love participating in shows.) But, I admit, I had never seen the play. I knew it was a comedy. I knew it was about a play within a play. That’s it. Even tonight, when I confessed I had never seen the show before to the folks sitting around me, a few of them said, “Really?” So here I was, a naïve, unwitting participant, asked to cover for a reviewer  and see this show that was happening just up the street from me.

Here’s what I have to say: Noises Off!, produced by the SCERA Indoor Theater in Orem, was the show that made me ugly laugh in public amongst nobody but strangers for the first time in all of my adult years. I couldn’t help it–this show is hilarious. There was a point where I was taking a drink of my Coke and realized it was a mistake because I was pretty sure I was either going to inhale it or it was going to come out my nose, I was laughing that LOL hard. My throat hurts from laughing as I write this review. You know how people say their sides are sore from laughing. The struggle is real, friends.

Noises Off! follows a small company of actors who are putting on a touring production called Nothing On!. You watch the director struggle to get through their first technical rehearsal before they have a full-dress rehearsal and then go on tour. You watch the actors complicate their lives with relationships with each other. You watch the stage manager and her assistant stage manager struggle to keep the show together. You watch the show crumble because the actors and director have just about completely given up and are barely hanging by a thread.

The real director of the show, Chase Ramsey (who is soon to move to CA full-time and will be sorely missed in Utah theater) clearly worked incredibly hard to get the timing absolutely perfect for his actors. The pace never feels slow or dragging, and the blocking is spot on to create the different type of levels needed to make the show visually interesting and engaging. I was never bored and never wondered once how much longer the show had. The director in the show, Lloyd Dallas (Rex Kocherhans) does a marvelous job channeling the directors we all know, love, and loathe. He is both validating and condescending. The audience can’t help but roll their eyes as well as feel a little sorry for him that his production is falling apart. Dotty Otley (Delayne Bluth Dayton) is the first one onstage and it’s not until we hear the difference in her dialect that we realize she’s onstage as part of the play within the play. Bluth Dayton’s charm comes through in her character, which makes her completely relatable. We see her struggle with stage directions in ways all actors have when putting a play together. Her dialect is absolutely on par and the times she chooses to use it and not use it are completely appropriate and help tell the story of this wacky production. David Paul Smith completely commits to his character, Garry Lejeune. His physical choices add a very dramatic comedy to the situations he gets himself into that keeps the audience’s eyes on him whenever he’s on-stage. Brittni Bills Smith plays Brooke Ashton, the tart the director is “secretly” involved with. Watching her power through her lines as Vicki while her scene partner is worrying about other things is charming and hilarious. We all know that actor that is more concerned with getting their lines out that they just power through even though their scene partner isn’t quite caught up to where they are. She plays it so sincerely and endearingly that we all love her just a little more for it. Janessa Ramsey plays the stage manager, Poppy, and does a fantastic job playing the patient, sensitive stage manager we all pray for when putting together a production. Clearly, she’s been in a few productions before and knows the pain some of these stage managers go through. Shawn M. Mortensen plays actor Frederick Fellowes, the actor that always seems to make rehearsal last an eternity by nitpicking the play to pieces. Mortensen delivers his lines sincerely and commits to his character choices to create a sweet and sensitive character that is easy to love. Shannon Follette plays Belinda Blair, the cast member that seems to know everyone’s business and just wants everyone to feel loved and important.  Her devotion to the play comes through with her ability to stay in character, even when things get hard. Because of that, her comedic timing is spot on. Zack Elzy plays Tim Allgood, the frantic assistant stage manager who seems to visually struggle the most with the cast. His vocal and physical comedy are perfection. I’m impressed that with the rather spectacular amount of shouting he does, he has a voice at all at the end of the night. Last, but not least, Robert Holcombe plays the older, drunk actor that is not quite mentally there with the rest of the cast members. In the show, he has a spry energy that keeps the audience engaged whenever he’s on. He’s a very warm, charismatic actor that plays a very dilapidated, uninspiring actor, which takes real talent.

I mention each of these actors separately with their individual talents, but they work so well as an ensemble that it was truly hard to find individual things to say about them. They all played off each other quickly and comfortably. All of their physical choices were made so meaningfully and in time with each other, it was like watching a hilarious and well-coordinated dance. Their characters interacted with each other so sincerely, it felt natural watching them transition from their character in Noises Off! to their character in Nothing On!. They were all a pleasure to watch.

Cole McClure’s set is so simple and well-organized that we all knew exactly where everything was. It makes it all about the actors and what they are doing. If there were more color on set or on the walls or in the furniture, it would have made the show feel too busy and stressful, instead of focusing on the comedy of the situations. His design is flawless and clean. Deborah Bowman’s costume design is fitting for each of the characters and adds a comfortable variety to the stage that also allows for the words and actions of the play to speak for themselves instead of making a bold statement to distract us from what is happening on-stage.

The SCERA Indoor Theater is a conveniently located playhouse. It is right off of State Street in Orem, which makes it familiar and visible, and the parking is conveniently placed behind the theater and to the north of 750 S right next to the swimming pool. They also have a drop off area for those who need it and have ramps for those with wheelchairs or struggle with stairs. Their concessions are reasonably priced and available throughout the play and during both intermissions. They are a clean and accommodating playhouse.

I was told that the SCERA doesn’t often produce straight plays and that Noises Off! was a sort of test run to see how well-received plays would be at the SCERA. If this is the caliber of play they produce when it comes to a non-musical, I hope they continue to explore and introduce more plays to this part of Utah Valley. It was a pleasure I wish I could have shared with more of my friends and family. Go see Noises Off! at the SCERA Indoor Theater in Orem before it’s too late!

SCERA presents Noises Off! by Michael Frayn                                                         SCERA Indoor Theater 745 S State St, Orem, Utah 84058                                       September 15–October 7 Mondays, Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30 PM                                 Tickets $14 Adults; $12 Children/Seniors                                                                   Contact: 801-225-ARTS                                                                                           SCERA Facebook Page                                                                                       SCERA’s Noises Off! Facebook Event

Brigham Playhouse’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in Washington is the Bee’s Knees!

By Miranda Pugh

Take a step back in time with Brigham Playhouse’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie in Washington, Utah. The colossal talent in such an intimate setting is beyond impressive. At Brigham’s Playhouse, there truly isn’t a bad seat in the house. Thoroughly Modern Millie is the story of a small town girl Mille (Aubree Harper), who ventures off on her own into the big city. Millie has a plan. And like anyone who has a plan, life throws at her many curveballs. She first meets Jimmy (Jadon Webster), a well-dressed, witty gentleman who reluctantly helps her find a place to stay. Meers (Grace Wells), the owner of the hotel, takes Millie in and has you laughing with her facial expressions and her complete embracing of her role. Dorothy (Malory Myers), the girl from California who plays a key role in this delightful adventure, is absolutely darling. I had never seen Thoroughly Modern Millie before so I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns of events, as well as the unexpected ending.

Everyone involved made this production very memorable. Graydon (Nathan Myers) and Flannery (Carmie Golightly) are the bosses you dream of. I kept thinking, wow, I’d work for those two, for sure. Muzzy (Kelly Hicken) made me wish there was a nightclub that showcased her talent on a regular basis. Ching Ho (Porter Christensen) and Bun Foo (Aaron Flores) are the guys you want on your side. And the ensemble, Karissa Young, Sadie Brinkeehoff, Courtney Chalmers, Kelli Christensen, Samantha Cummings, Gloria Morin, Abbey Searle, Derek Robinson, Easton Watts, and Ben Wouden brilliantly brought it all together. Directors Jamie Young and Dale Hoopes certainly created a sensational production. They have harnessed a great cast for a Thoroughly Modern Millie.

I had the joy of being accompanied by my 9-year-old daughter who had surprisingly already seen the show. She was quick to tell me that it was okay for her to see it again because it’s simply “awesome.” And boy, was she right. Being a swing dancer myself, I love that this play takes place in the 1920s. Not only did the performers have incredible voices and acting skills, their dancing ability made me wish I could join them. Choreographer Dale Hoopes should be proud. The production is filled with great dance numbers, my favorite being the dance number in the club scene. As for costumes, Tina Forsyth, Costume Designer, and the costume crew, Grace Wells and Marilyn Wells, successfully transport us back in time to the1920s era. Grace Wells, who plays Meers superbly, is also the talent behind the hair and makeup. Talk about multi-talented.

Although those onstage are the ones we remember most, we can’t forget the other individuals who are behind the scenes making this production of Thoroughly Modern Millie worthy of being on Broadway. Set designers Tonya Christensen and Doug Knapp fully utilize the charming theater and take us flawlessly from scene to scene. Porter Christensen, Marinda Young, Kelli Christensen, Aaron Flores, Vanessa Knapp, Craig Golightly, and Dallin Suman, all part of the paint/build crew, did an astonishing job with the scenery. Annick Tolman, Stage Manager/ Props/Sound Board Operator did an exceptional job. Because what would a play be without quality sound? Music Director/Sound Designer Taylor Williams brings us music that is phenomenal. My personal favorite was Harper and Myers singing “The Speed Test.” Very impressive and my daughter and I were laughing at its exuberance. The mood of the entire production is felt not only through the music, but also through the lighting. Jamie Young, Light Designer, Marinda Young, Aaron Justvig, Sabrina Wayt, Elizabeth Mackey, and Steve Mohan, Light Board and Spotlight Operators, all add so much to this production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Brigham’s Playhouse is such a quaint theater–a rare gem in Southern Utah for sure. I love how we were greeted by the actors and actresses before the play even began. It’s even more fun after the show when we were been able to see what these talented people gave to us with their great production. My daughter loves being able to tell those involved what a fabulous job they did. And I can’t forget the desserts—they were to die for. You just can’t go wrong. House manager Rebecca Monson knows exactly how to treat her guests. Parking is very accessible. And the prices are affordable. We look forward to seeing many more productions here in the future.

Overall, I would highly recommend Brigham Playhouse’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It would make for a perfect date night for couples as well as families with older children. My 9-year-old daughter absolutely loved it, so I would recommend this for tweens and up.  The production ran right around three hours with one intermission, which seemed perfect, but could be a little too long for younger children. Thanks to all involved for the quality entertainment.

Brigham’s Playhouse presents Thoroughly Modern Millie by Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan, and Jeanine Tesori                                                                                 Brigham’s Playhouse, 25 N 300 W, Washington, UT 84780                                         August 17-23 Thurs-Sat 7:00 PM, Sat 2:00 PM                                                         Tickets: $17-23                                                                                               Contact: 435-251-8000                           

Brigham’s Playhouse Facebook Page 

 

 

 

“Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody” at ImprovBroadway in Provo is Super Effective!

By Caden Mustoe

Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody at the ImprovBroadway in Provo is a fun, cute musical about the Pokémon video game, cartoon, and trading card sensation. IT was one part nostalgia as a part of my childhood, while making fun of the logical inconsistences of Pokémon. But, in essence, Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody is a big love letter to this international phenomenon.

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of Pokémon, here’s a little background information. Pokémon (short for pocket monsters, and thus the name of the musical) are creatures that are prevalent in the region of Kanto, where the first installment of the franchise as well as our story is set. These creatures resemble those we would find in real life, though often amalgamated with something else. For instance, the recognizably yellow Pokémon species Pikachu are large mice with electrical powers. Children, when they become old enough, go out into the world to capture and train these Pokémon in order to battle with other trainers, leading to fun and exciting adventures. I will say, however, that even if you know little to nothing about this fantastic universe, the story, humor, and energy of Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody will still keep you captivated.

Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody is the brainchild of Sam Wright, who also starred in the show as one of the local gang members, O.J. The story, like most Pokémon tales, starts with a boy (whose name is chosen by the audience, which pleased my friends and me) and some other children in his town embarking on a journey to see what it means to become the very best. Unlike other Pokémon sagas, however, this journey is accompanied by outbreaks of song, unconventional Pokémon battles, and philosophical commentaries about the world of Pokémon, which is often little more than some good-natured razzing.

Along the way, we will meet some old and familiar characters. Red (Brad Witbeck) is a boy filled with dreams of becoming the very best, like no one ever was. Brad Witbeck was charming and fun to watch. At the beginning of the show, he is encouraged by the local Prof. Oak (Lucas Proctor) to begin his journey. At the same time, Prof. Oak’s grandson Blue, played convincingly by Thad Gillespie and new-girl-in-town Green (Rylee Witbeck), who is a talented and energetic actress, are also given starter Pokémon and head out for adventure. Soon after departing, our hero finds and captures Pikachu (Tanner Urmston).

One of the things I find very impressive about Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody is how many members of the cast also were a part of the crew. For instance, Teresa Jack and Wright both played members of the gang Team Rocket and also were in charge of costumes. They found a good balance between staying true to the look of the characters they were parodying and being visually amusing. Also from the cast was Cameron Wright who did choreography and, along with ensemble member Jason Hansen, sound design. While the space in the theater is limited, those in charge of props (Nick Welsh) and tech (Allen Bentley and Chris Schmutz) did an excellent job of using the stage to its fullest capacity. This obviously was a production that was a labor of love for all involved and this passion showed throughout Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody.

It is the theater’s first musical (normally only having improv acts) and they couldn’t have had a better start. One of the aspects I really liked is there was a lot of improv and everyone was very tight and quick with their timing.

Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody is definitely funny and definitely for Pokémon aficionados. But perhaps this could be the introduction people need to become familiar with something that is so ingrained in our culture.

It does run more than two hours, so though your tween or teen may love Pokémon, make sure they can sit still for a significant amount of time. But let me be clear,  Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody is family friendly and would be a great activity for those who love video games or improv. Come see the world premiere of this fun, original production. I know I will be following the group that created Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody and see what they are bringing to Utah theater for us to enjoy.

ImprovBroadway presents Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody by Sam Wright             ImprovBroadway, 496 900 E, Provo, UT 84606                                                       September 15, 22, 29 at 7:00 PM, 16, 23 at 2:00 PM, and 16, 23, 30 at 9:45 PM           Ticket Price: $5 online, $8 at door                                                                                     ImprovBroadway Facebook Page                                                                           Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody Facebook Event

 

 

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” are Staying Put at An Other Theater Company in Provo

By Angela Dell

An Other Theater Company’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in Provo is a sincere pleasure to experience. The theater company is brand new and it’s clear they worked very hard to make their flagship production an absolutely stellar performance. Their attention to detail and their devotion to theater with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike shines through in this charming black box theater.

For those unfamiliar with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, it is a recently written play (2012) that takes Chekov’s plays and puts them in a blender with the present day. It follows Vanya (Brett Merritt) and Sonia (Cathy Ostler), a middle-aged brother and sister duo who are stuck living in the home they grew up in while their sister Masha (Brooke Wilkins), a famous actress, pays for the house so they don’t have to work. Masha brings her much younger boyfriend, Spike (Tyler Fox), to show off to her siblings. Spike hilariously ends up shaking things up for the siblings. They challenge each other in ways that force them to see past regrets, accept certain truths, grow up a little more, and grow closer to each other.

If I were forced to write only one word to describe this production, I would use: Committed. I don’t think there is one actor on that stage that doesn’t sincerely devote themselves to their character. Director Kacey Spadafora has once again gathered a cast of honest and generous people and worked with them to compile the final product that exists. The ensemble is honest and open with each other during each of their performances, which is such a treat to behold when, often in theater, we can see an actor is being selfish and not listening to their scene partner. Spadafora clearly worked hard with his actors to make sure they gave each other the gifts they needed to make a sincere and hilarious performance. His blocking and pacing is flawless and adds interesting levels and layers to the characters and dialogue. He gives his actors room to be the characters they need to be in order to give us this production. Merrit is Vanya. The delivery of his lines is so sincere and realistic, you really do believe he is struggling with the same things Vanya struggles with. He is quick and funny and has impeccable comedic timing. Fox mentioned that each night Merritt delivers a line slightly different and every time it’s still hilarious. Merritt delivers a five-page (eight-minute(!)) monologue but it feels like it flies by. His delivery is flawless and complex and varied enough that the audience wants to know more of how he feels about the way this earth is going. Ostler’s brave, bold choices keep her scene partners’ attention while making the audience feel enthralled with what she’s going to say next. The emotion she feels is relatable and endearing, we’ve all felt as sad and forgotten as Sonia. Wilkins makes Masha easy to hate, and then absolutely easy to love in the end. She reminds us how complex we all are and how loved we are even when we don’t feel lovable. Fox is a great sport playing the brainless Spike. He throws himself into the role of being such a selfish and vain creature, it’s almost hard to watch. We see a bit of ourselves in his vanity and pride and it looks ugly and real. Nina (Kaitlin Lemon) is a direct foil to Spike. Lemon embodies the honesty and sincerity that is Nina. Nina is generous and kind. She builds instead of destroys. Vanya and Sonia are better for knowing her and we are better for watching her. Lemon obviously puts a bit of herself in the role and it’s beautiful and enchanting to watch. Cassandra (Kiersten Zundel) is Vanya and Sonia’s maid who manages to completely dominate the stage whenever she’s on it. She is hilarious. She puts so much physical movement into her character, you can’t help but watch her whenever she’s on stage. Zundel manages to devote herself to her character so much that she miraculously doesn’t break character at all while doing the hilariously eccentric things her character does. She owns the stage and the audience’s attention.

The set design by Madeline Ashton creates the perfect amount of simple chaos to the mood of the play. She gives the characters the feel of kitschy but charming people with enough hanging art and knickknacks to make the house feel like a home. Paige Porter’s lighting design is well-crafted to encompass both simplicity and quality. The lights are well-distributed to bring a comfortable glow and create a very homey atmosphere. Mel Howarth’s costume design perfectly balances out the characters on the stage in a small space. Nina is obviously in light, innocent-looking colors while Vanya and Sonia are often in comfortable neutral colors. That, mixed with Masha’s stark blacks and whites provide a fun balance of wild and comfortable to each of the characters.

The theater itself is located inside the Provo Towne Centre Mall on the second floor near Dillards. It’s an unconventional theater space, but they organized it well. There is often lots of parking in the parking lot if you park in front of the main entrance between Dillards and JC Penny. Inside the theater, the friendly staff will greet you and allow you to choose your own seat. The seating is a set of padded yellow pews they managed to snag from a gentleman up in Idaho. They are arguably more comfortable than some of the seats I’ve had to sit in during shows, and those seats made it hard to enjoy the shows. Isn’t it easy to enjoy a show when you’re not shifting around in your seat, trying to get comfortable? The space is neat and organized and they clearly worked hard to transform that space from a Radio Shack into the sweet black box theater they have now.

A final note: This show is not for younger audiences. There is language and some adult themes that would not be suitable for younger audiences. It is a wildly entertaining and hilarious show, but for adults that can understand the themes and conversation that is being introduced.

Please come and see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and keep an eye out for the new and fascinating things that An Other Theater Company is bringing to our humble little Utah Valley. I know I’ll be back for more shows.

An Other Theater Company presents Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang                                                                                                     Provo Towne Center Mall 1200 Towne Centre Blvd, Suite 2008, Provo, Utah 84601       September 15-October 14, 2017 Fridays and Saturdays in September, and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in October 7:30 PM                                                                   Ticket Price: $15                                                                                                              An Other Theater Facebook Page                                                                                Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Facebook Event

Springville Playhouse’s “Noises Off!” is Jolly Funny

By Mary Garlitz

Friday night my husband and I had the chance to go see Noises Off! in Springville.  The long running Springville Playhouse, now approaching 70 years of productions, always does a fantastic job and Noises Off was no exception.

Noises Off, written by Michael Frayn, is the story of a group of actors getting ready to produce a play, a farce known as Nothing On!.  I don’t want to spoil anything if you are unfamiliar with the show, but the plot centers around producing this play and the hilarious and oftentimes chaotic things that happen in and around making a play come to life for a live audience. Noises Off!, first produced in 1982, has long been a fan favorite for its fast pace and laugh out loud moments. This being a British based farce, there are some things inappropriate for younger audiences.  Having grown up on British comedy, I adored it.

Springville Playhouse currently uses Merit Academy, a local charter high school as their performance venue, and it works well for them for now. Plenty of parking and a short walk inside make this its best attribute.   It’s unfortunate that in place known as “Art City” that they do not have a permanent performance venue.  But that’s another story, not for today.  I mention it only as a review of the venue itself.  Although a nice building, it’s still in a cafetorium and it’s hard to get away from the feeling that you are walking into a junior high production.  However, don’t let that stop you from attending. It was not uncomfortable and everyone had a pleasant view of the stage. The playhouse crew has done a fantastic job with seating and lighting, and the venue did not distract from the wonderful acting I was able to witness.  I would love to see this team with a venue they deserve.

Noises Off! was co-directed by Robinne Booth and Connie Warensky and I think they worked well together to let their actors really dig into the characters.  As I mentioned, this is a familiar work and one I imagine would be hard to have actors make their own, but they managed to bring their vision to life well in that each character was believable and I think this was a direct reflection on the directing they were given.

The ensemble had great chemistry together and the work they put into creating the “play within a play” I think that synergy comes through.

Booth’s first entrance as Dotty set the tone for the rest of the show.  Her comedic timing really plays right into her character’s batty nature. Lon Keith plays Lloyd the Director and having worked in theater many years myself, I felt that he really channels the exasperated director we’ve all worked with. I think one of my favorite parts near the beginning was Starr Williamson’s portrayal of Brooke and how she was “acting.” It’s difficult to be a good actor pretending to be a bad actor and she pulls it off well. Poppy, (Michelle McManus) turned out be one of my favorite characters for her long suffering and slow breakdown.  McManus does a respectable job keeping it real without become overly frantic. Nate Warensky and Joni Newman have great chemistry together as the not a couple/couple.  When they are “in the play” they connected well and their backstage friendship is spot on. Along with Poppy, the long-suffering Tim Allgood, played by a very versatile Gregory Duffin is one of the most empathetic characters for me. He portrays well the frantic and demanding pace every theater technical person goes through to bring a production to life. And I can’t forget to mention Eric Johnson as Selsdon Mowbray.  Just go see the show.  Eric is the icing on the cake.

Overall, this production is well done and very well cast.  Springville Playhouse pulls in some notable talent both on and off stage and it is well worth the time to see any production they do. We really enjoyed the comedy and pacing of Noises Off!. It did get a little hysterical in the middle as it is written, but I think as they settle into the run, this will smooth out without losing the frantic pace that is supposed to be part of the backstage hilarity. It does run just about 2 ½ hours with two intermissions so plan accordingly. Also, if you go, I would leave younger children at home as there is quite a bit of double entendre, although this group has done well to not make it overtly cheap or tawdry just for laughs.

We really enjoyed Springville Playhouse’s Noises Off! and it is well worth the $10 ticket price.  This would be a great date night or friends outing for anyone.  Who doesn’t love to laugh out loud?

Springville Playhouse presents Noises Off by Michael Frayn                                           Merit College Preparatory Academy, 1440 W Center St, Springville, UT 84663               Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 for students/seniors                                               Sept 15-October 7 Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 PM.  Doors open at 7:00 PM   Springville Playhouse Facebook Page

“Steel Pier” Stands Solid in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah

By Brian Thomas

The choice the University of Utah Theater Department made to produce Steel Pier at the Marriott Center for Dance in Salt Lake City seems like a bold one. Of course, I should start by saying, I don’t usually enjoy musicals. I’m the type of person that remains unimpressed with La La Land. I think West Side Story is okay. Nevertheless, I found the University of Utah Theater’s production of Steel Pier absolutely charming, intriguing, and captivating. I believe the reason this production appealed to me is not because of the catchy songs, amazing dance choreography, or the adept portrayal of humor, but the alluring whimsical elements woven into the story and brought out in the direction.

Steel Pier is a lively musical that takes place at a dance marathon at the Steel Pier in Jersey City. As The Great Depression has set its claws firmly into the American economy, scores of young people desperately seek any means to gain fortune to survive. From this desperation arose the popularity of dance marathons. As their name implies, these endurance events involved couples dancing for several days or even weeks, where contestants were fed and sheltered at a time when much of America was struggling to find basic amenities. The radio broadcasts of these events were recognized as some of the earliest “reality shows” as audiences listened to the struggle through their long agony.

It is at one of these dance marathons, held on the renowned Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that we find “Lindy’s Lovebird,” the moniker of Rita Racine (Mikki Reeve), a well-known veteran of these dance marathons used as the face of marathons organized and produced by Mick Hamilton (Robert Scott Smith). The musical revolves around the relationship between Rita and Mick as well as a mysterious stunt air pilot, Bill Kelly (Bailey Cummings). Bill holds a raffle ticket entitling him to a dance and a kiss from the dance marathon glamour girl, to whom he has fallen in love with. They find themselves partnered together in the marathon, and throughout the event Rita finds herself falling for Bill. Their love is ephemeral, however, as Mick pulls the strings of the event, leaving everyone questioning what is real and what is not in the delirium of the rigorous event.

What I thoroughly enjoyed about the play was a dive into magical realism typical of the South American literature of Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The characters are certainly as large, as Mick represents a devilish puppet master, stripping the contestants of their free will by manipulating them with money, food, and shelter. Diametrically opposed to Mick is Bill, the all-American stunt pilot, who literally falls from the sky in his plane to offer Rita a way out of the maniacal world of the dance marathon circuit. This magical realism is reinforced as time becomes subjective and the stage is visited with ethereal dancers. The fantastical nature of the play is bolstered with incredible dance numbers, choreographed by Denny Berry, who doubles as the Director.

The acting is strong in this production, carried by Smith. While not the central character of the show, the performance as a manipulative, anger-filled tyrant is powerful as demonstrated in the number “A Powerful Thing” Smith’s character dominates every aspect of the story and is careful not to overpower Reeve’s performance. Reeve has her work cut out for her as she must portray a character experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions and multiple facades. Reeve does this well, generating a shy charisma with Cummings in the number “Wet” while still able to swing back to the tortuous ambivalence of Mick as portrayed in the song “Running in Place.” Cummings plays a subdued Bill Kelly, timid when in the sights of Reeve’s character, but this nevertheless serves as a counterbalance to Smith’s bold portrayal of Mick.

The show was nearly stolen by the chorus of other characters on stage. As every character in the dance marathon is struggling to gain attention and sponsorship that will hopefully lift them above the Great Depression, there is no shortage of mesmerizing songs and dances. Jamie Landrum’s portrayal of Shelby Stevens, a former cook in a lumberjack camp, in the song “Everybody’s Girl” is one such instance, describing her sultry past. Alice Ryan’s performance of “Two Little Words” as Precious McGuire is another such instance that portrays the desperation of the times and the yearning to rise up out of poverty as she defies Mick to drag out her performance as long as possible.

Despite these near upstages, Rita and Mick regain command of the show in the final minutes. As it becomes more apparent how much Mick needs Rita and Rita needs Mick, not for love but for show business, their animosity towards each other plays out in public. This powerful back-and-forth between an angry Mick and a defiant Rita culminates in a tense climax through the duet version of “Steel Pier.”

The real show-stealer, though, was myself. Before the beginning of the show, audience members were asked if they wanted to be seated onstage as part of the play. Eager for the more intimate theatrical experience, I hastily volunteered. The onstage audience was encouraged to throw prop coins at the actors’ feet whenever prompted by Mick (another example of Mick’s control, not only manipulating the characters but also the audience.) During one scene, Happy and Precious debate about staying or leaving, slamming their hands down upon my table, immediately making me an unwitting collaborator in the musical. Happy placed a suitcase in my lap, and I did my best to improvise appropriate facial expressions in response to their argument. Needless to say, I received many accolades and expect to be nominated for a Tony.

The songs and choreography of this musical are a natural fit for a play about dancing and singing. They fit the usual catchy showtunes of many musicals while incorporating the jazz of the era. A full orchestra sits beneath the pier onstage, conducted by Alex Marshall. The live band performance certainly adds a heightened level of authenticity to the production. The songs range from catchy and upbeat, to morose and are carried strongly by the cast and chorus, leaving an indelible impression on this audience member. As I write this, the chorus of the title number, “Steel Pier” still resonates through my head.

Lastly, Christa Didier’s choice of costumes fit the time and era of the early 30s, influenced by the late 20s leading into the Depression and would certainly make any vintage clothes collector swoon. The outfits mix modesty with seduction, and lively prints that defy the lean years of those times. The real standout in costume selection would have to be the cellophane dresses worn as an advertising gimmick revealing the bodies of the recalcitrant dancers forced to wear them, as they turn their bodies into objects.

 Steel Pier really fits the bill for those seeking an exciting and visually appealing production that one might expect from a musical about singing and dancing. This play is also captivating in its commentary on fame and show business by portraying the lengths people will go to to attain just a little bit of it, particularly in desperate times. The elements of surrealism and magical realism give the production an extra dose of intrigue, adding depth to the story as a whole. The balance between humor and tragedy is well-maintained and conveyed. Some of the humor might be a bit racy for younger audiences, such as “Everybody’s Girl,” as well as “Wet,” and there may be more skin than more conservative audiences may be accustomed to, but none of these elements should be cause to prevent all audiences from enjoying this production. Finally, if you go to see Steel Pier at the University of Utah, I encourage you to volunteer to sit on stage. You just might become a part of it all.

The University of Utah Theatre Department presents Steel Pier by John Kander and Fred Ebb.                                                                                                                       Marriott Center for Dance 330 S 1500 E #106 (across from the Marriott Library on the University of Utah Campus)                                                                                             Sept. 15-17, 21-25, 7:30 PM Matinee: Sept. 16, 17, 23, 24, 2:00 PM                       Tickets: $18 GA / $15 Seniors, Military / $8.50 Students                                       Contact: 801-585-3816                                                                                                    The University of Utah Theater Department Facebook Page                                      Steel Pier Facebook Event

Pioneer’s “Curious Incident” in Salt Lake is a Bright Message of Hope to All

by Jennifer Mustoe and Craig Mustoe

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Pioneer Theater in Salt Lake City is a mouthful of a title. It seems fitting that so many words are used to title this one play, as Curious Incident has a big message for its audience. When I mentioned to Craig that we were seeing this play, he said, “All I remember is it’s about a dog who dies.” After seeing this memorable play, we will remember far more than a dead dog.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the story of Christopher Boone (Harrison Bryan), a 15-year-old young man with autism who is brilliant in maths and has a pet rat, Toby. Christopher has a rough time of it with unhappy parents, an obvious disability, and the natural disillusionment of a teenager. When his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed (by a pitchfork–ick—the dog on stage is a stuffed animal, though, so don’t worry), Christopher decides he will do some detective work, like his hero Sherlock Holmes. As he investigates this rather insignificant mystery, he finds out far more, and much that he finds out is far more distressing than a dead dog. However, he is also able to discover much in the world that is beautiful. And curious.

Based on the novel by Mark Haddon and written for the stage by Simon StevensThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is presented as a book by Christopher himself that he often narrates. Siobhan (Melissa Miller), his mentor, also narrates as if reading the book. Craig felt this device was superfluous, but I actually liked it. The synergy between Bryan and Miller is palpable and perfect. They are so in sync and yet so separate. With all that Christopher had to go through (and I am purposely revealing little of the plot because it will really be spoilers all over the place), I was so grateful for Siobhan–a friend and refuge, a comfort and a guide in the storm that is Christopher.

Bryan is brilliant as Christopher in Curious Incident. Like others who have played men with autism (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Leonardo DeCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? come to mind), I was completely convinced that Bryan did indeed have autism. To handle stress, Christopher relies on prime numbers, chanting them over and over to help him calm down. (And it works.) There are so many interesting and profound monologues, so many laughs, and so much math! Every moment he is onstage is stellar.

The cast is small, with only four of the actors playing single characters. All other ensemble members (Sarah Shippobotham, John Fork-Dunker, Michael Keyloun, Michael Rudro, Sam Bruce, Tia Speros) play several characters, and with costume and acting choices, carry it off handsomely. We especially liked the scenes in the train station, with all characters dressed in trench coats, whirling around Christopher or rumbling along in the tube. These are all excellent directing choices by Director Karen Azenburg and costuming choices by Costumer K.L. Alberts. 

Azenburg brings much movement to the stage, even though the scene often only required Christopher and his father, Ed (Tom O’Keefe) or Siobahn, or his mother, Judy (Stephanie Howell). Azenburg does this by including ensemble members, standing on the glorious set by Daniel Meeker, almost as part of the scenic design. Craig didn’t like this device until Act Two, but I loved it. It offers an insight into the mechanisms of Christopher’s mind by postulating that perhaps this is how Christopher sees life: with all these people at the edge of his existence, all the time.

O’Keefe has a difficult role to play as Christopher’s father, Ed: is he kind or is he awful? I loved how he kept me guessing on this–he is a sympathetic character, but clearly one with flaws. Howell as Christopher’s mother Judy has some of the most powerful scenes with her son. Her love and frustration with this delicate, demanding, and often violent teenager is real and raw. I also found myself wondering: is she a loving mother or a horrible parent? I liked that she might be both. I liked the layers of the story and I liked that both the parents had serious flaws. Dealing with a child with these issues takes it out of a person–I’ve seen this with friends who have children with autism (though in the play it is never called this–Christopher’s diagnosis is vague.) These two actors do a fine job–it is painful and it is meant to be.

Sound Design by Joe Payne and Lighting Design by Paul Miller play a huge role in this production and brought out the emotion, the singularity, the beauty, and the pain of this piece. Pioneer always does a great job with the technical aspects of their productions, but I noticed it particularly in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and you will, too. 

There are two adorable scenes in this show that brought a huge sighing, “Aw,” from the audience. I wish I could tell you what they are, but I’m no spoiler revealer. But really, I’ve never seen an audience get that sweet and giggly. You’ll see what I mean.

While heartfelt and moving, there are some things audience members should be aware of when deciding whether or not to attend the show. There is a fair amount of violence (excellently choreographed by Fight Choreographer Christopher Duval) and some profanity, so this is a PG-13 show–sort of. Because it has such a hopeful message, and because the harsh parts (except for the F words) aren’t really in your face, this show may be okay for tweens who are insightful and interested in seeing people with disabilities in a different light. And honestly, anyone who likes math (“maths”, because this takes place in England) should see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Pioneer Theater.

The ending of the show is startling and had everyone cheering for awkward, lovable Christopher. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a triumph. All theater lovers in Utah, Idaho, or anywhere else need to experience this fabulous, internationally acclaimed 2015 Tony winner. You will leave with a curious mind and eyes that are open to the beauty of the world.

Pioneer Theater Company presents The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stevens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon                                               Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, The University of Utah, 300 1400 E #205, Salt Lake City, UT 84112                                                                                                 September 15-30, 2017, Mondays-Thursdays 7:00 PM, 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturday Evenings, 2:00 PM Saturday Matinees                                                                           Tickets: $40-62, $5.00 more if you buy the day of the show.                                 Contact:  801-581-6961                                                                                               Facebook Page                                                                                                             The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Facebook Event

 

 

Spanish Fork Community Theater’s “See How They Run” in Spanish Fork is a Comedic Riot

By Jo Schaffer

Good luck catching your breath with this one. Spanish Fork Community Theater surprises and delights with their production of See How They Run at Spanish Fork High School in Spanish Fork. My companion was  my niece who is a theater major, and we laughed all the way through this fast-paced comedy of mistaken identity and hijinks. See how they run, indeed.

See How They Run is set in the 1940s in an English vicarage. The stuffy vicar, Reverend Lionel Toop (Craig Applegate) is married to spirited American actress, Penelope (Elizabeth Phipps). They are an unlikely pair who meet the disapproval of one particularly nosy parishioner, Miss Skillon (LoriAnne Poulsen).

See How They Run in Spanish Fork

The hilarity begins when Penelope’s old friend, Corporal Clive Winton (Brigham Bennett) takes a brief military leave and comes to visit her. He ditches his uniform for the vicar’s clothes to dodge Army regulations and they spend an innocent night out. Upon returning to the vicarage, the two friends reenact a scene from the play “Private Lives” they once performed together. Unfortunately, Miss Skillon walks in on it and reads all of the wrong things into what she sees. Full of self-righteous outrage, Skillon wants to expose Penelope for the wanton she is believes her to be.

Meanwhile, Reverend Toop is attacked by an escaped Russian spy (Damien Parente), who steals the vicar’s clothes and is hiding at the vicarage. Mix in the visiting Bishop of Lax (Daniel Mesta), anxious Reverend Humphrey (Chantry Knox), cute cockney maid (Sydney Christensen), and frustrated policeman Sergeant Towers (Ben Gleason), who is chasing the convict and everyone else dressed like a cleric. Even with no set changes this play really moves. I was entertained and riveted to the action onstage the whole time.

See How They Run in Spanish Fork

See How They Run, written by Phillip King, was first staged as entertainment for the troops before its British stage premier in 1944. The title is a line taken from the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice”. Originally, King wrote the first act in 1942 under the title Moon Madness. The Spanish Fork High School Theater is comfortable and intimate. The parking is free and accessible. Because it is a smaller venue, all of the seats are good seats.

With a cast of only nine, each character really has a chance to shine in this witty and fast-paced comedy. As the vivacious American among Brits, Phipps gives a sparkling performance, making an engaging comedy team with the only other American character, played by the rakishly handsome, Bennet. Poulsen slays as the nosy prudish neighbor who becomes unexpectedly brazen when intoxicated. I quite enjoyed Knox’s quiet humor as the timid, befuddled Humphrey amidst the other blustering and frantic characters. The whole cast does an excellent job, keeping up the high energy and comedic timing that makes a play like this work.

See How They Run in Spanish Fork

Director Polly K. Dunn with the assistance of Jill Broadhead orchestrated this well-cast and fun production. The set (Dayna Hughes)—a typical English country living room, costumes (Larisa Hicken) and lighting design and sound (Brock Larson) do not draw undue attention to themselves, but provide a good, setting for the chaos of the onstage action.

As part of Spanish Fork City’s Harvest Moon Hurrah, See How They Run is fun for the whole family, with only some mild innuendo and language, and one comedic intoxication. Catch this hilarious classic farce if you can. It will make you want to jump up on stage and run around too. Don’t glance away—you’ll miss something. And just to let you know, my theater major niece is going back to see See How They Run. It’s that good.

See How They Run in Spanish Fork

Spanish Fork Community Theater presents See How They Run
Spanish Fork High School Little Theater– 99 North 300 West, Spanish Fork, UT 84660
September 15, 16, 18, 22 and 25 at 7:00 PM.
Tickets: $8. Seats are general admission. Ask about discounts for groups of 15 people or more. Purchase tickets at the door or online at SFCityTix.
SFCT Facebook Page
See How They Run Facebook Event

The Egyptian Theater’s “Next to Normal” in Park City is Insanely Marvelous

By Steven Williams

Next to Normal, presented by Ziegfeld Theater Company in Park City, is a rock style musical that tells the story of a family rocked by tragedy, loss, illness, drug abuse, and suicide. A specific emphasis on the loss of a child and the fight with mental illness is the central theme around Next to Normal. With so many themes at work and such heavy topics, Next to Normal excels at being clear, easy to follow, and honest. Ziegfeld Theater Company knocked this one out of the park in every aspect of impactful theater.

Rick Rea (Director) led this cast and crew to a real work of art. Rea has been instrumental in several notable works presented here in Utah. His talent and knowledge are front and center in this presentation of Next to Normal.

The set is a stroke of genius. Caleb Parry and Rea (Set Design) welcome us into a home that is a 3D blueprint, with writing on the walls indicating the necessary dimensions and intended layout. This is a minimalist set design that evokes a complete atmosphere for the narrative. This decision works for me on so many levels. These visuals echo the questions that are raised throughout the production. How did what we are seeing come from the original plans and intentions? Are there specific dimensions and plans behind where we are now? What makes a building a home? Where are things supposed to be?

Alicia Kondrick (Costume Design) enhances the passing of time and circumstance with a modern wardrobe that allows the characters to look like real people while also hinting at the changes that are taking place within them. We see the characters appearances slowly getting darker while attempting to look normal. This type of attention to detail and meticulous planning helps me to understand why it takes my wife multiple attempts in getting dressed before we can eventually leave the house.

Kyle A. Lawrence (Props Design) includes a few superman Easter eggs while providing the essential items to allow us to believe that we are watching something real happen. Not an overwhelmingly prop heavy production, so a perfect marriage to the minimal set.

The sound and lighting designs by Eliza Haynie, Hyrum Summerhays and Peter Mayhew provide clear dialogue, a powerful live music environment and color tones to amplify the emotions being displayed on stage. These elements create a very professional look and feel that elevate the show to such a professional level that the tickets feel underpriced. The Band is incredible, their timing is flawless. I witnessed Jonathan McDonald (Conductor and Piano), Christine Warren (Violin), Yian Chi (Cello), Jacob Lambros (Guitar), Ivy Augusta Smith (Bass) and Justin Lord (Drums) earn a spontaneous applause when they returned to the stage after intermission, well deserved.

The following review on the cast will be real and honest. It’s only fair to tell the truth and name names. I can honestly say that this cast has no weak link. No performances were phoned in. I’m easy to pull out of the theater experience by anything that reminds me that I’m watching a performance and not real life. It’s like Somewhere in Time for me, one reminder of what time I’m really in and the magic is gone. But the ENTIRE cast became and stayed the characters, truly talented group. Let’s get specific.

Shawnee Kennington (Diana) portrays a mother, wife, and woman who has undergone extraordinary loss and struggles with illness throughout her life. Kennington made me feel that the struggle is real, and that the issues of mental illness are very complicated and deserve a deeper focus. Kennington shows how truly impossible it is to be everything to everyone while holding yourself together. Her time on stage is not only plot driving but also heartbreaking.  Kennington’s vocals are both powerful and able to express a great amount of vulnerability.

Jake T. Holt (Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden) reveals that the science of medicine is more of a trial and error system. His attempts to treat or free Diana from her burdens, shed an uncomfortable light on the lack of knowledge and precision that we have in the field of mental illnesses. Holt brings very needed levity to several tough scenes via his rock star persona and his authentic bedside manner. His vocal ability is solid and made me wish that he had additional songs.

Tanner Horan (Gabe) was probably born to play  the part of Diana’s lost son. Horan is both a delightful teenager and a twisted evil curse that has us completely torn between wanting him gone and wanting him back. His musical number “I’m Alive” is both catchy and haunting. Horan’s voice is a surprising strength in several of the musical numbers that he is featured in, including “I am the One”, “Super Boy and the Invisible Girl” and “There’s a World”. Horan’s strong vocal presence is required to drive home the duality of his character and he delivers.

Craig Williams (Dan) Diana’s husband is the man that attempts to keep all the plates spinning. His struggle is so similar to Diana’s in that his world is slipping away from him despite his best efforts. Williams shows us how alone we can be while trying to keep a family together. His desperation and frustration in palatable, especially in “Who’s Crazy”.

Cooper Lavallee (Henry) is the loveable pothead that we don’t want our daughters to date until we really get to know how good he is to her. Lavallee is the outsider, whose journey into the family is both a welcome bit of sanity and a surprising parallel. His ability to portray integrity with a touch of innocence is the stuff great leading protagonists are made of.

Hailee Olenberger (Natalie) is the teenage daughter that is perfect until you let her slip through the cracks through neglect. Olenberger is a true double-barreled shotgun when it comes to performance and vocals. Her attention to detail is amazing, I noticed that when her character played the piano, I could have sworn that her fingers were actually playing the notes, even though there was a band on stage and her prop was an air piano. Olenberger’s “Super Boy and the Invisible Girl” was the musical number that I still can’t get out of my head, and her flawless execution of it is certainly the reason why.

What this show truly deserves is a packed audience every  showtime. It is a powerful story with an insanely talented cast and crew. This show is for adult audiences, there is adult language that adds to the show in a natural and realistic way. The message and questions that Next to Normal raises are relevant and completely worth taking in.

The Ziegfeld Theater presents Next to Normal, by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt             The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main Street, Park City, Utah 84060                                 Through September 16th Thursdays through Sundays 8:00 PM                                 Tickets: Thursday $19/$23/$29    Friday-Sunday $23/$29/$35                                     Contact: 435-649-9371

The Ziegfeld Theater Facebook Page                                                                               The Egyptian Theater Facebook Page                                                                           Next to Normal Facebook Event

“Daddy-Long-Legs” in Draper is Long on Talent, Long on Entertainment

By Steven Witkowski

Daddy-Long-Legs is a hit musical set in the early 20th century. Its beautiful message has traveled from Broadway to London’s West end to Tokyo and now here in Utah for a regional premiere. Based off the novel of the same name published in 1914 by Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs this American tale of charity and love is a real gift from Draper Arts Council and Director Kristen Hickman.

Jerusha Abbott (Sarah Ogden) is a teenage girl living and working at the John Grier Home Orphanage. She struggles with her daily chores overseen by her cold, harsh head matron Mrs. Lippett until the day one of the home’s trustees agrees to send her to college to study writing, paying all education expenses, including  room and board. Jerusha must simply write to her benefactor Jervis Pendleton (Chris Kennedy) keeping him up to date on her writing improvements. Oh, one more thing, Mr. Pendleton has chosen to remain anonymous. The letters to be addressed to a mysterious “Mr. Smith.”

Jerusha explains in her first letter she will call him “Daddy Long Legs”. Each letter written from Jerusha to Daddy is delivered by one of two beautiful voices. Ogden and Kennedy don’t disappoint as they sit, pen pals, onstage singing to one another from first impression to final number. One song in particular beginning each line with a “P.S.” was definitely a favorite until the magical number which ends the play. Cute one-liners are not overpowered by several moving musical performances by the cast of two as they work magnificently, reading through a young woman’s letters detailing her struggles as an orphan away at college in 1914 America.

I can’t compliment the production enough on the set design and the actors’ use of the stage, thanks to Hickman’s flawless directing. As we watch young Jerusha grow older and wiser in her college dorm, we have a constant parallel storyline to follow as Jervis Pendleton sits in his lonely New York work space. Both rooms are simple but perfect, divided by a wall that becomes increasingly significant as we track their relationship. Wall between them Jerusha and Pendleton are at times so close they can feel it and other times they’re an entire stage apart. The lighting, along with clever use of some large, true to the era trunks allowed for the creation of several other spaces beyond the two separate rooms we focus on for most of the production. No matter where your eye may fall throughout the two hour performance, you’ll be hard pressed to look away. Ogden and Kennedy both look spectacular in their costumes, also a changing of costumes onstage is a uniquely done, rarely seen, feature of this director’s carefully managed work. I really enjoyed their look throughout.

I must give kudos to the musical talent that drives this production. The incredible “young” (inside joke) two voices accompanied by the piano, guitar, and cello. And the symphony of crickets that only add to the experience you’ll share at Draper Amphitheater. Check the weather and maybe bring a blanket to snuggle up in and get down to this beautiful theater in Draper and enjoy one of the best productions you’ll see there this year.

Draper Arts Council presents Daddy Long Legs, by John Caird and Paul Gordon           Draper Amphitheater 944 vestry Rd, Draper, UT 84020                                           September 8, 9, 11, 14, 15 7:30 PM                                                             Tickets: Adults $10.00; Children 12 and under $7.00                                           Contact: 385-351-9468                                                                                                 Draper Arts Council Facebook Page