Payson Community Theater’s Les Miserables Hits a High Note

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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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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