“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

 

 

“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

 

Classical Greek Theatre Festival’s “Ion” in SLC is Engaging and Entertaining

By Shianne Gray

The Classical Greek Theatre Festival opened their annual touring production of a classical Greek play with Euripides’ Ion at the Courage Theatre at Westminster College on Thursday, September 7th. Since 1971, the Classical Greek Theatre Festival has kept Greek theatre alive in Utah by producing a classic play each year. Ion, the story of a young orphan (Brandt Garber) discovering his family, heritage, and destiny hasn’t been seen at the CGTF since 2000, and it’s back in a powerful, engaging, and entertaining production, directed by Alexandra Harbold and assistant directed by Emilio Casillas.

As an alumna of Westminster’s theatre program, I’ve been familiar with the CGTF since 2011’s Iphigenia in Tauris. I was thrilled to see a full house on opening night, with familiar faces—of Westminster professors and theatre-loving community members—and unfamiliar faces—of new Westminster students, attending the production as part of studying the play in class—alike. The festival is the oldest Greek theatre festival in the country, and it’s exciting to have such a unique theatrical tradition based in Salt Lake City.

Among the pantheon of Greek plays, Ion is one of the lesser-produced. CGTF producer, founder, and dramaturg Jim Svendsen, in his half-hour pre-show lecture (absolutely worth attending), explains that one cause of the relative unpopularity of this play is its inability to fit neatly into the traditional genres of Greek drama. Although considered a tragedy, Ion has elements of comedy and romance that set it apart from the more oft-produced Greek plays. It also employs a multiple-plot structure, following both the titular character, an orphan seeking his parentage, and Creusa, a woman seeking the child she lost eighteen years ago, until their paths finally cross, with the help of a traditional Greek chorus and the interference of the gods Hermes, Apollo, and Athena.

Harbold places the action in a more contemporary and highly-stylized 1950s Delphi. David Lan’s translation beautifully updates the text, making it easily accessible by a modern audience while retaining the heightened quality of language that characterizes classical Greek drama. The chorus begins the play as a tour group exploring the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and Creusa (Tamari Dunbar), the royal daughter of Athens, evokes the poise of Grace Kelly. The set is stark and unmoving, consisting of Greek pillars, a temple doorway, and not much else, creating an interesting dichotomy between the ancient stillness of the Apollonian temple and the colorful, bustling characters that inhabit it.

One of Ion’s biggest strengths is its fast-paced and varied structure. Greek theatre is known for long expository monologues, and Ion has its fair share, but they are presented in creative and engaging ways—there is no boredom in this production. The first speech of the play has the messenger god Hermes (Tyler Palo) setting the scene for what’s to come. He bounds energetically around the stage, inviting the rest of the cast to participate and act out the story of his exposition. This first monologue ends in a gorgeous tableau, with each chorus member atop a pillar in a perfectly statuesque pose.

Other long monologues are transformed into song. These musical interludes allow actors to find new emotional depths in their words while moving the action along in an upbeat, exciting way. Dunbar is especially impressive in her musicality—her voice is sweet and pitch-perfect, but unafraid to go to heavier and more anguished places when the music and text demands it. Still other scenes make great use of the play’s frequent stichomythia, a stylistic device in which characters speak alternating lines of verse. These scenes play like verbal ping-pong, and the strength of the chorus is on display as they patter back and forth without missing a beat.

Ion owes much of its success to an incredibly strong ensemble cast, from the lead characters to the always-shifting chorus. As Ion, Garber is confident, youthful, and fiery—distrustful, but quick to embrace the changes in his life. Although not the strongest singer, his opening song is well-acted and imbued with the charm and ease of the ephebe—the Greek archetype of the 18-year-old man. Dunbar is magnificent as Creusa. Her character arc is meticulously acted, from her opening moments as a poised noblewoman to her journey into the emotional and dramatic climax of the play. Her performance is layered and magnetic, with every line fascinating to watch.

Other standouts include the Old Servant (Holly Fowers), who deftly navigates both comic relief and dramatic instigation, and Apollo’s priestess Pythia (Stacey Jenson), whose presence is both powerful and soothing in her role as Ion’s adopted mother. As Creusa’s husband Xuthus, Aaron Adams is also strong, playing a role that might usually be portrayed more stoically with enthusiasm and energy.

The entire chorus works together well in a variety of roles, from a tour group including a delightfully excitable bus driver (Alec James Kalled), an adorable and impressionable young woman (Katelyn Limber), an aloof traveler (Sydney Shoell) and a gossip-loving busybody (Merry Magee) setting the scene in Delphi, to a group of servants plotting revenge for their master.

The production’s design serves the story well. Shannon McCullock’s costumes are gorgeous, crisp and stylish. The picture-perfect looks of Creusa, Xuthus, and the chorus are the perfect foil to the simple garb worn by Ion and Pythia, and Ion’s costume changes are an interesting reflection of his character’s journey. Jen Jackson’s sound design and original compositions are less consistent. At best, the music provides a steady underscore that moves the action along, but the songs are sometimes directionless and difficult to follow. Technical difficulties on opening night meant that some songs were performed a capella by the chorus, who handled it admirably but occasionally struggled with pitch and timing. Adriana Lemke’s fight choreography was well-rehearsed and naturalistic, flowing easily with the rest of the play’s blocking.

CGTF’s Ion is a strong, clear, and well-acted production, well worth a trip to any of its upcoming tour locations. Although the varying stylistic choices sometimes give the play a sense of disjointedness, the upbeat pace means that the action is always changing, and there is bound to be something for everyone. For me, the moments of true communication between Creusa and Ion at the crux of the play were moving and worth the price of admission alone. I was thrilled to see nuanced, naturalistic acting in a stylized, classical work. The opportunity to see this excellent production of a rarely-produced play shouldn’t be missed.

Classical Greek Theatre Festival presents Ion by Euripides

  • Westminster College, Jay W. Lees Courage Theatre, September 7–9, 14–16 7:30 PM
  • Weber State University, Wildcat Theatre, September 19, 7:30 PM
  • West Valley City, UCCC Amphitheater, September 22, 7:30 PM
    This performance will be held in the outdoor amphitheater and will include wine and beer sales, a brief pre-show lecture, and a post event meet and greet reception with the cast.
  • Brigham Young University, de Jong Concert Hall, September 25, 5:00 PM              An orientation lecture will precede each performance 30 minutes before the show starts.

Tickets: $8-$18
Contact: 801-832-2457                                                                                                       Study Guide
Westminster College Website
Classical Greek Festival Facebook page
Ion Facebook event

 

SLAC’s “Surely Goodness and Mercy” is Surely More Than Merely Good

By Suzanna Whitman

Salt Lake Acting Company is known for its thought-provoking theatre, and their production of Chisa Hutchinson’s new play Surely Goodness and Mercy is no exception. The play is part of the National New Play Network’s rolling premiere program, which mounts several productions of the same new play at theatres across the nation.

According to the narratives all around us, benevolent white people are always swooping in to save poor Black people. But playwright Hutchinson knew that in reality, poor Black people are pretty darn good at solving their own problems. When she was commissioned to write Surely Goodness and Mercy, the only criteria she was given was that it “had to be relevant to New Jersey in some way.” So she created the story of Tino (Clinton Bradt, Devin Losser), a recently orphaned 12-year-old boy and Bernadette (Yolanda Wood Stange), the lunch lady at his school, and the unlikely friendship they form. As they encounter struggles of home and health, the two find ways to help each other through.

Hutchinson’s moving script feels like a movie. The story is told in short scenes and moments, and Alicia Washington’s direction (with assistance from Dee-Dee Darby Duffin) embraces this cinematic feeling. The entire production feels lyrical, from the sound to the lighting to the acting.

As the awkward, Bible-toting Tino, Bradt is perfect. Bradt’s performance is endearing, and his body language was especially expressive—he perfectly captures the awkwardness of someone who is no longer a child but not yet a man, who has too much integrity to be anything but himself, even if it makes him an outsider. (The role of Tino is double cast, with Bradt and Losser trading off nights.)

Stange is positively electric as the cantankerous Bernadette. But her salty exterior falls away in poignant moments to reveal a woman who both hurts, and who is strong in the face of that hurt. Her performance is riveting, even in the silent moments when she is simply clearing away lunch trays or turning off her alarm clock.

Tino’s cruel aunt Alneesa is played by Michelle Love-Day. But her cruelty isn’t vindictive—Love-Day’s performance makes it clear that this is a woman who has worked hard all her life and never gotten far enough. Her meanness is born of the kind of pain and weariness that a lifetime of dealing with poverty and racism can create. Love-Day’s performance as Alneesa is balanced by humor, making her a sympathetic character.

Jenna Newbold plays Deja, a fellow middle-school student who befriends Tino. (The role is also double-cast, with Kiara Riddle.) Newbold is funny and strong, and her own cantankerous moments are softened by her obvious affection for Tino. The character of Deja walks the line between wanting to belong in the world of middle school, and wanting to be appreciated for exactly who she is. Newbold balances those sometimes conflicting desires with honesty.

Voiceover provided by Bijan Hosseini (Principal), James Jamison (Preacher), and Sammee Lydia James (Teacher) was wonderful. It’s difficult to create an entire character by voice alone, and each actor brought life and honesty to their characters.

The show is being performed in Salt Lake Acting Company’s smaller venue, the Chapel Theatre. The audience is arranged in six rising rows, surrounding three quarters of the set. Seating is general, but there isn’t a “bad” seat in the house. Thomas George’s set design (with the assistance of Megan Branson), combines multiple locations into one small theatre space—we move seamlessly between cafeteria and bedroom, church and living room, classroom and hospital bed. The effect is far from disjointed. A rainbow-colored chain link fence echoes the stained glass of the church space, and the bright beauty of both remind audiences that beauty can come from challenges. William Peterson’s lighting design enhanced the visual power of George’s set, and seamlessly aided in storytelling.

Sound design by Jessica Greenberg (with the assistance of Kyle Lawrence) sets the tone right out of the gate with pre-show music: modern R&B, with soul and hip hop influences. Music accompanies scene changes and occasionally underscores scenes, elevating the show. Literary themes are connected to musical themes, and to the careful listener, it’s a powerful storytelling tool. Katie Rogel’s costume design is perfect. For the first half of the show, none of young Tino’s clothes quite fit him—his pants are a little too short, or his shirt is a little too big. We get the sense from his appearance that he doesn’t quite “fit in” himself. But by the second act, Tino has grown into himself more, and his clothes fit him well.

The show as a whole is moving, funny, heartbreaking, and a powerful reminder that people have the power to overcome challenges if we are willing to reach out and help one another. One of the greatest strengths of this show is its focus on Black folks and their own stories and experiences, without white folks’ influences. So often, the mass art produced around Black lives focuses on explicit racism—the Black folks on movie posters are often either slaves or domestics, and the plot is based on their relationship to white folks. And while these stories of slavery (historical or modern) are important, they are incomplete. We need plays like Hutchinson’s to give us a fuller picture of what it means to be Black in America. And I’m so glad theatres like Salt Lake Acting Company facilitate those stories.

Salt Lake Acting Company presents Surely Goodness and Mercy by Chisa Hutchinson, (A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere)                               Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 West 500 North, Salt Lake City, UT 84103                       Free parking is offered across the street from the theatre at Washington Elementary School                                                                                                                   September 6-October 15, Wednesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 PM, Sundays, 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM                                                                                                                   Tickets: $28-$34, available online, via phone, or at the door, (early purchase recommended—shows tend to sell out)                                                                   Contact: 801-363-7522                                                                                              SLAC Facebook Page                                

 

Find the Desire to See the Sting & Honey Company’s “Desire Under the Elms” in Salt Lake City

By Perry S. Whitehair

Accompanied by my father, I had the real treat to see The Sting & Honey Company’s Desire under the Elms at the new Regent Street Black Box at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. Let me tell you—we were blown away by the Sting & Honey Company and their production of Desire under the Elms. It was a nice change of pace to see a theatre company do something other than musical theatre and do something as emotional and heavy of piece like a play written by Eugene O’Neill.

Desire under the Elms is based on Euripides’ Greek tragedy, Hippolytus. Widower Ephraim Cabot (Bob Nelson) abandons his New England farm so that he may go into the neighboring village while his three sons watch the farm in his absence. Peter (Cam Deaver), Simeon (Daniel Beecher), and Eben (Topher Rasmussen), though they hate their father, they have inherited his greed. Eben, the youngest and brightest sibling, feels the farm is his birthright, as it originally belonged to his deceased mother, who was his father’s second wife. Eben convinces his half-brothers to go off in search for gold in “Californ-I-A” and sell him their shares of the farm with money that was stolen from their father. Peter and Simeon initially hesitate to sell, but head off to seek their fortune. Later, Ephraim returns from his travels with a new wife, the beautiful and headstrong Abbie (Melanie Nelson), who seeks a home and a farm of her own. Abbie and Eben meet each other and there is a plenty of tension over each other’s desire to own the farm after the death of Ephraim. While discussing the farm with Abbie, it is revealed that Ephraim would rather set fire to his own farm and release his livestock than to have someone else inherit what is his property, Abbie conjures a way for her to get the farm and she and Ephraim make a deal that if Abbie has a child with Ephraim, he will give the farm to her.  However, in the next scene it is soon discovered that Abbie does not care for Ephraim sexually and in fact she has feelings for Eben, her stepson. Abbie and Eben enter into an adulterous affair. Act 2 of this production is wonderful twist that I will let you experience for yourself showing how Abbie and Eben try to get the farm from Ephraim.

The play was written in 1924 by Eugene O’Neill. O’Neill is a popular name in the theatre community. writing plays such as Ah, Wilderness, The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night. However, this play, Desire Under the Elms, is O’Neill’s attempt at adapting plot devices and utilizing themes from Greek tragedy and putting them into his realm of writing. This play has had productions on Broadway and several other places around the world after making its off-Broadway debut in 1924.

The new Eccles Black Box  has the perfect vibe for a nice formal night at the theatre The seats are fairly comfortable.  Parking is pretty easy if you don’t have a preference of where to park and don’t mind walking. My father and I simply walked over from City Creek and paid only $2 for parking for the entire evening.

While this show has an intimate cast of eight people the show largely follows three individuals throughout the play: Eben, Ephraim, and Abbie. Desire Under the Elms is extremely emotional and it is outstanding to watch the journey that these actors take us on. Nelson as Abbie walks the audience through as her character cunningly tries to get the farm. She is magnificent as, later in the play, she wants to  understand, help, love, and protect Eben in the complicated role as stepmother and lover. Eben is our story’s protagonist as we follow his story the most and I wanted to cheer for him to get the farm so he may honor his mother’s memory. I was enthralled with Rasmussen’s performance—could feel his conflict, his pain, his passion.  Nelson as Ephraim never hints at the surprise ending of the play, and while Ephraim is painted as very abusive, greedy, poor father figure and husband, you feel start to feel sorry for him.  Nelson made me hate him, then feel compassion for him.

The rest of the cast is just as strong as leads even with their short time out onstage that they made the best of their stage time. Tim Coray, Kylee Reynolds, Juliana Scheding, Rain Tanner, Beecher, and Deaver portray various townspeople characters. All members of this ensemble make sure not to upstage one another and live in the moment that the director (Javen Tanner) created.

Javen Tanner, one of the founding members of The Sting & Honey Company and its artistic director does a great job in utilizing his stage well and creating stage pictures that help tell the story while subtly hinting what would happen next. The theatre company’s mission, as listed in their bio on the back of the playbill, states that, “theatre should be a place of creation and soul, beauty and astonishment through the process of producing classical and contemporary works.” In short, their project is to please and Tanner with the help of his assistant director, Kathryn Atwood, do great job of doing just that with this Desire Under the Elms.

While there may not have been a lot choreography or fight choreography in this play,  props to Tamari Dunbar (choreography) and Roger Dunbar (fight choreography) for putting their mark on the show in a big way with not many opportunities.

There isn’t much in terms of sound design or sound effects at all really but there the use of real live fiddle is fantastic. Playing different renditions of songs including an elegant rendition of “Amazing Grace,” the character simply named The Fiddler, Tim Coray plays his fiddle beautifully. It is haunting and lovely and sets the mood perfectly.

The costumes (Tara Tanner), set (Javen Tanner), and lighting design (Matt Taylor) help solidify this already great production by creating a world in which the director’s vision and the characters of the story thrive. These elements make use of the tall black box with a two-level set, the use of lights to make it seem a character is looking through a window, and costumes that suit the time period and location of the story.

This show does have few things that may not be suitable for kids under 14 as the theatre company has stated: mild profanity, intense kissing, mature themes.

Desire Under the Elms is a great production in a great space with a great cast who do a fantastic job. It really shouldn’t be missed. Find the desire to see Desire Under the Elms and be prepared for an emotional, deep, and passionate evening of excellent theater.

Sting & Honey Company presents Desire Under the Elms, written by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill.                                                                      The Regent Street Black Box at the Eccles Theater, 131 S Main St, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111                                                                                                           Thursday, Friday and Saturday through September 16. Evening performances begin at 7:30 PM and there are additional Saturday matinees at 2:00 PM.
Tickets:  $18, online ticketing                                                                                     Contact: 801-355-2787                                                                                                Sting & Honey Company Facebook Page                 Facebook Event

 

 

Desert Star Playhouse’s “Wicked-er” in Murray is Wickedly Funny

By Marci Sayers

If you have never taken the time to see a show at Desert Star Playhouse, it’s time to repent of your WICKED-er ways. Located in Murray, the average person driving past the venue might never know what they’re missing inside. Once you walk in the door, though (either from the front entrance on State Street, or more commonly from the parking lot entrance to the east), you immediately know you are in for a night of fun.

An adorable mix of modern and nostalgia, Wicked-er is a delightful musical parody that introduces our Dorothy as a washed-up Lady Gaga (Kerstin Davis) from the set of “Jeopardy”, as she is transported to Oz. She meets both the Mostly Good Witch Glinda(Melissa Cecala) and the Wicked Witch Alphabette (Hillary Akin Carey) when her dressing room falls from the sky killing Alphabette’s beloved sister. Of course, the ruby red slippers that make an appearance as wish-granting Converse, quickly become the disputed property of Gaga and Alphabette. She meets a trio of fellow travelers Chris, Ronald Gump, and Justine Bieber, and follow their adventures as they travel the Yellow Brick Road, which leads to a remarkably Salt Lake City appearing Emerald City. On paper, the plot may seem a bit confusing when you reference the original Wizard of Oz character, their Wicked counterpart, and then match up their role in Wicked-er, but Desert Star is known for combining just the right recipe of old and new, original and parody, along with masterfully witty pop culture references, and comments with a distinctly Utah flavor. The show ending was hilarious. I really felt like “how did I not see that coming?”, but the overwhelming audience reaction assured me I was not alone in the surprise.  Artistic Director Scott Holman and Musical Director Ben Mayfield have put together a great show for their audiences.

One of the most amazing things about Desert Star is how accessible they make theater. This is not a stuffy theater, where you need to threaten your children and your husband with their lives if they misbehave. It’s also nice to know you don’t have to dress in a particular way for the theater.   The script itself is not AP English test literature or Shakespeare, where you feel you need to read the CliffsNotes ahead of time or be a true theater aficionado to understand. You can bring Grandma (without offending) and your six-year-old nephew (without boring) and anyone in between, and they would all have an equally enjoyable evening. There are opportunities for booing the villain, cheering on the hero, all accompanied by a brilliant pianist to make sure new theater-goers catch the cues for participation. After the show, they recognize and celebrate those special events and have a little audience participation sing-along. Be sure you don’t check out too soon, or you might miss the after-show Olio. Wicked-er mixes the Broadway mega hit Wicked, with a little more emphasis on The Wizard of Oz, so even if you have never seen Wicked, you will easily be able to follow the plot line and references. The adrenaline jolt when you hear the opening bars of favorites like “Popular”, “For Good”, and several other Wicked songs, will be enough to satisfy any true Idina Menzel junkie and make you want to sing along and wish for another chorus of “Depravity” (“Defying Gravity”).

Davis as Lady Gaga is definitely “On the right track, baby…” as she sings, dances, and poses along the Yellow Brick Road, with Siri giving befuddling driving directions that I swear I have actually followed on my own GPS. Davis is best when she is in full Gaga mode because her regular speaking voice occasionally left me a bit perplexed about the accent. However, her enthusiasm, dance moves, and humor fully made up for it.

It took me a minute to realize that Andrew Nadon as Chris is channeling Chris Farley, but as soon as the “Down by the River” reference came out, I almost had to slap myself on the forehead. He may not be the most current pop culture reference, but us old timers appreciate the old SNL references.

My favorite actor ,Daniel Akin as Ronald Gump has voice impersonation every bit as good as Alec Baldwin’s, and the writers have some absolute winners for tweets and hashtag lines. While Akin may not have the Hollywood makeup/hair that Baldwin has access to, his physical appearance is still very good, and the voice could not be any better. Of course, the show pokes some fun at our president, but not in the same mean-spirited vein as most political impersonators. It is funny and silly and done in a way that Conservatives and Liberals can both enjoy.

The token Millennial Justine Bieber (Brittany Shamy) has the physicality down perfectly. I would have been happy to see more of Carey as Alphabette and Cecala as Glinda. I love that Carey is able to perfectly capture the nostalgia of the voice of the original Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz. When the lighting effect (designed by Eric Jensen and run by Jenna Farnsworth) spins on the walls, it totally brought back the whimsy of the black and white original movie, and made me whisper to my husband, “Ah!” Carey and Cecala were also my favorite vocals of the night, playing off of each other with beautiful mix of harmony, humor, and sentimentality during “For Now”. I would have to award a very close runner-up for the Chris/Trump/Bieber trio. Obviously, it is not the same level of vocals as Glinda and Alphabette’s songs (nor is it intended to be), but it is oh so funny.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Todd Michael Thompson as Cameo Man. He plays a parade of various characters throughout the show, from Tom Cruise in Live. Die. Repeat. to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. It is really difficult to play the minor but very comedic parts without either being unmentioned or stealing the show. Thompson does such a fantastic job, so much so that even when you could only see his face as one of the castle guards, his facial expression changes had me laughing out loud. I could not even count the number of characters he plays, and didn’t realize until I talked to the box office that it was all the same person, giving new meaning to no small parts, only small actors. He has small parts, lots of them, which are essential to the show. He is like the salt to the show, seasoning it throughout, and bringing out the true flavor of each of the other parts and actors. This is a small cast, only seven onstage actors, but they make the cast seem much larger with their ability to connect with people even on the back row.

The choreography by Allison Cox is well done enough that even the un-hip (like me) can enjoy the references. I appreciated that it was not so complex that it took over the show. It is a perfect fit and felt like just the right amount of dance and movement, and represented the characters well. David Slack is an excellent accompanist–my husband even made sure that we had his name, because he is such an integral part of the show.

One thing I cannot fail to mention in any review of Desert Star is the food. While many dinner theaters leave a lot to be desired in the dinner part of the equation, the food here is not only good, affordable, and on par with the show—it’s great. They also have a new bar menu with alcoholic beverages ranging from $3.25 for a Budweiser Beer to $6.00 for a show-themed mixed drink such as “Yellow Brick Road”.

If you love Wizard of Oz, Wicked, fun live theater, or great food, Wicked-er at the Desert Star Playhouse will fit your bill nicely.

Desert Star Playhouse presents Wicked-er, by Ben E. Millet 2017, revision by Scott Holman with additional lyrics by Ben Mayfield.                                                           Desert Star Playhouse, 4861 S. State Street Murray, UT 84107                                     Tickets: Adults $24.95 Children 11 and under $14.95 (special events may have special pricing)                                                                                                                               August 24-November 4 Monday, Wednesday*, Thursday 7 PM, Friday and Saturday 6:00 PM, 8:30 PM, Saturday 11:30 AM*, 2:30 PM *as scheduled—check the website. Contact: (801) 266-2600

Desert Star Playhouse Facebook Page

 

 

There Ain’t NUN better than “Sister Act” at The Empress Theatre in Magna

By Becky Evans

I had the pleasure to attend a sneak peak of Sister Act at the Empress Theatre in Magna which opens Friday, Sept 1. The Empress Theatre is a cozy intimate venue that has undergone some nice improvements including new paint and very comfy seats. Sister Act is a Broadway-style musical based on the 1992 movie starring Whoopie Goldberg. This show has a great message that is very much needed today–a message of acceptance and growth no matter where a person comes from. Deloris Van Cartier (played by Cheryl Cripps) is a lounge singer who needs to hide in a convent as part of a witness protection program. She learns to love the convent sisters even though they dress differently, talk differently, and basically view the world so very differently than herself.

The talent in the Empress Theatre’s production of Sister Act cast is impressive.  From the moment Cripps steps on stage with her amazing hair and big voice, it is obvious that she and her character are both “fabulous.”   Mother Superior (Alisa Woodbrey) has a beautiful warm alto voice and the way she phrases her lyrics makes her endearing and relatable.  Woodbrey’s gentle vibrato and warmth contrast perfectly with Cripps’ edgy bright sound as their personalities clash with each other in the first act.

When you think of Sister Act, you usually think about a bunch of women dressed as nuns, but one of my favorite moments in the show is when the men come out and sing “When I Find My Baby.” Alex  Richardson, Ben Tutor, Jose Hernandez, and Whitaker Olsen bring so much energy and huge personalities to the stage. They are hilarious and everything about them, even down to their sleazy looks and mannerisms, is on pointe.  Another male lead, Sweaty Eddie (Glen Reber) is also excellent. His character, along with Deloris and Mother Superior make the biggest character arc and make the biggest changes in the course of the show.

All of the sisters are fun and display their various personalities well. Sister Mary Robert (Ehlana Gifford) has theatrical maturity and shines in her role as the convent novice. Sister Mary Patrick (Candice Jorgenson) caught my eye on multiple occasions as she exudes positivity and sparkles as the happy, somewhat boisterous sister.

Ty Whiting added some fun as a Drag Queen throughout the show and as costumer I admired the way he made it obvious that some characters have sordid pasts without the immodesty that would make an audience uncomfortable in such an intimate setting. Skyler Bluemel and Lindy Bowthorpe-Davis did great as Music Director and Choreographer. As we left to intermission, everyone was singing “Take Me to Heaven.” I overheard some teenagers talking about how much they loved the choreography, especially the “Dumbo move” performed by the nuns with their veils.

This was my first time seeing a non-black Deloris but Cripps won my heart. As Director Glen Carpenter wrote in his Director’s note, ” This isn’t a story about race–it’s a story about two worlds coming together and figuring out how they can make it work. It’s a story about women finding out they are far more than what they believed themselves to be. That’s something we can all relate to and need to learn to deal with.”   This is a show that many people can enjoy. There are a few swear words and the presence of guns onstage but my own children enjoyed it with me. Go experience Sister Act for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel the guilt of original sin. Fridays and Saturdays Sept 1-16 at 7:30 PM. Saturday matinees at 2:00 PM. Family Night Sept 11.

 

The Empress Theatre presents Sister Act, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner and additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane.                                                                                                                 The Empress Theater, 9104 W 2700 South, Magna, UT 84044                                         Contact: 801-347-7373, empress@empresstheatre.com                                                 Sept 1-2, 8-9, 11, 15-16, 7:30 PM, Saturday Matinee at 2:00 PM                               Tickets: $10                                                                                                                         Facebook Page                                         Facebook Event

 

 

 

Grand Theatre’s “Always…Patsy Cline” in Salt Lake City is Plumb Amazin’

By Kari Work

I’m gonna be honest with you.  I’m a Texas girl, y’all.  So, when I walked into Always…Patsy Cline at the Grand Theatre on SLCC campus in Salt Lake City, I was already excited about the prospect of listening to some classic country tunes and getting back to my roots.  I was NOT disappointed.

Based on a true story, we watch Patsy Cline come into her own as a country music star through the perspective of one of her most ardent fans, Louise Seger. We follow the friendship they cultivate after meeting at a honky-tonk in Houston, Texas, while Patsy is on tour. Director Richard Scott is blessed with the return of veteran, Erica Hansen, for her seventh run as Patsy at the Grand Theatre and the casting of Dawn Veree as Louise.  Scott draws out the strength of both women in their individual performances.

The scenic design (Keven Myhre) is minimal, which in no way takes away from the show.  Instead, the perfect simplicity of it, as well as the lighting direction (Jim Craig), magnifies the performances and allows us to focus on the players. The costuming (Thad Hansen and Shannon McCullock) along with hair and make-up design (Lindsea Garside) transport us back to the late 50s/early 60s time period with ease.

Sound Designer, Adam Day, and Music Director, Dave Evanoff’s work is excellent.  The show has musical numbers, transitions, or dialogue almost nonstop throughout. The sound and music is handled at the highest level of professionalism so all these events flow smoothly.

Veree’s portrayal of the very persistent yet likeable Louise, with her flamboyant mannerisms and genuine passion for Patsy’s music called out the fangirl in me. Veree plays Louise with enthusiasm, “salt of the earth” goodness and heart.  Her interactions with the audience are met with applause and laughter.  She is the friend we all would be so lucky to have.

Throughout the narrative, Hansen serenades us with Cline’s collection of hits. Some of my favorites are “Come On In (And Sit Right Down),” “Sweet Dreams,” and “Crazy.” Hansen’s vocals are impeccable and she sings with conviction and presence.  Her ability to transition her voice, as is necessary with Country Western music, is impressive.  She maintains the same rich and full sound throughout the show.  This is no mean feat considering she performs more than 25 of Cline’s beloved songs.

Hansen’s representation of Patsy comes naturally to her and her rapport with Veree’s Louise is palpable. With only two actors in the show, there is no room for half-hearted presentations or a lack of chemistry.    It is easy to believe that they are best friends forever.  The depth of this friendship is felt as Louise stares at a lone microphone after learning of Patsy’s death.  Bravo to Mr. Scott for that poignant moment.

I also need to give mad props to the band, which was onstage for the entire show. The Bodacious Bobcats Band is comprised of Evanoff (conductor/piano), Kendal White (drums), Davin Tyler (bass), Tom Hewitson (guitar), Alexander Drysdale (fiddle) and Mark Maxson (steel guitar.)  These talented musicians create a vital third character in the show. Their band becomes the glue that holds it all together.  Their sweet sounds provide Louise a backdrop for her memories and Patsy a foundation for her vocals.

Always…Patsy Cline is superb.  The quality of entertainment is fantastic.  It left this two-steppin’, “deep in the heart of Texas” girl ready to dance!

The Grand Theatre presents Always…Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley                             The Grand Theatre, 1575 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115                     Contact: 801-957-3322, grandtheatre@slcc.edu                                                        Sept. 1-2 14-16, 21-22 7:30 PM, Sept. 2, 16 2:00 PM                                                 Tickets: $9-$23                                                                                                                   Facebook Page                                         Facebook Event

Sandbox Theatre Company’s “Complete Works” in Midvale is Fulleth of Delighteth

By Mary Brassard

The Complete works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) from the Sandbox Theatre Company is being produced at the Midvale Performing Arts Building—and I commandeth you to do your part, brave knave, and answer this query: To go, or not to go to the Sandbox Theatre Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)–that is the question. Whether it be nobler in the mind to vieweth a comedy from Sandbox Theatre Comedy, or suffer the slings and arrows of the misfortune of staying home and missing this ruckus night of hilarity. Feareth not, gentle reader. I can help you answer this question.

Sandbox Theatre Company is offering you an amazing opportunity to attend a live show that is intended to promote an understanding and appreciation for live theatre while having a good laugh over the works of Shakespeare. This hilarious play was born when 3 inspired, charismatic comics, having honed their pass-the-hat act at Renaissance fairs, premiered their comedic masterpiece at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987. It quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, earning the title of London’s longest-running comedy after a decade at the Criterion Theatre. The show is one of the world’s most frequently produced plays and has been translated into several dozen languages. Featuring are all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, meant to be performed in 97 minutes, by 3 actors. The show is fast-paced, witty, physical, full of laughter and can equally entertain those who love Shakespeare and those who dread live theater.

Directed by Jeff Davis, Shakespeare (Abridged)(Abridged) lives up to these promises. All 37 plays are represented, and the show is a frantic whirl of hilarity. Davis leads this 3-person cast in a triumphant night of Shakespearean fun. Davis’s direction displays an adept hand at comic timing and he really gels the cast into a tight team.

They begin with Romeo and Juliet. And from the beginning, I was hooked. They move quickly from play to play, grouping some into themes, such as all of the tragedies interpreted as a football game. The show is full of many gags and jokes. One of my favorites is the interpretive ribbon dance. It’s the closest thing to a Chippendale show that you are likely to see in Midvale, Utah.

The 3 men taking on this Herculean task are Director Davis), Madman Madriaga (yes, his name is Madman and he lives up to it), and Scott Moore (and yes, I have a little crush on him even though I’m a married woman.) All three men are phenomenal. First off, as a fellow actor, I cannot even fathom learning this amount of lines, blocking, and prop wielding, let alone doing it well. This is a show requiring much work and dedication from the cast and this cast is up to the task. They are polished in their chaos and I never felt they were reciting memorized lines. They made me feel as though this was the first time they had done this, and as though it was all by the seat of their pants, which is how it is meant to be presented.

Davis is hilarious in this role. He has an absolute childlike charm, like a man learning and performing Shakespeare with an innocent wonder. He is tasked with playing most of the female parts (Juliet, Ophelia), and he does it with a delightful flare and enjoyment. It feels new and fresh, and not like an old joke. I loved his moments of juvenile excitement. For example, his delight in learning Ophelia drowns, and his portrayal of this nightmarish and wet event, is very laugh out loud funny.

Madriaga has enough energy to light the state of Utah! (Though exclamation points are not considered appropriate in modern writing, trust me, this calls for one.) If a star can be a luminous ball of burning stream and energy, then Madriaga certainly is one. He shines in this part. He is the member of the troupe that really starts off looking for the depth in Shakespeare. He prances around the stage, trying to live up to the panache of Shakespeare. Madriaga gave me many belly laughs through the night. His emotional breakdown in the final act is pathetically riotous. He makes the audience feel sad for him, but we somehow continue to laugh, too. He is very genuine in all that he does.

Moore is the straight man, who isn’t very straight. He portrays many of the romantic leads. As Romeo, he is charming and silly. As Polonius, he is strong and Elizabethan. But where I liked him the most was as Scott Moore. These actors are really the characters of themselves and Moore has such a radiating charm. He seems proud of his fellow actors and appreciative of the audience. He was wonderful to watch in all of his subtleties. One of my favorite parts of the night is when Moore is abandoned onstage and left to vamp with the crowd. He is so delightfully funny. I was really rooting for him in this impossible situation. Moore is the most natural of the three, bringing the perfect balance to the trio.

As an ensemble, these men are intoxicating. They are very convincing as a close-knit group with long-standing dynamics and relationships. This adds to the fun, as I felt like I was watching a group of friends that I would love to hang out with.

Another area where this group shines is the audience interaction. There are several moments in the evening where the audience is drawn into the show. Sometimes in small ways, being mentioned and waved to, and other times, in large immersive ways, such as a lengthier bit where we all dive into the psychology of Ophelia. Our cast of men shows an adept hand at breaking the fourth wall and getting us all to participate that it feels inclusive and inviting without crossing the line into forced and uncomfortable. I felt able to participate at the level I would most enjoy.

The stage crew is also wonderful. They are excellent at juggling and handling the many props of the night, and they add some humor and fun without overdoing it and stealing focus from our leads. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chester, who adds a great deal of depth as lighting crew, supporting cast, and many other things.

The one blaring problem with this show, the major misstep, the tragic shame, was that there weren’t nearly enough people in the audience. A comedy is best served with a crowd full of laughing, happy patrons. The audience they did have was appreciative and plentiful with their laughter, nevertheless, they should be playing to a full crowd. Go see this show, and afterwards, spread the word to family and friends. You’ll definitely want to once you’ve seen it. I hope that by closing night, Sandbox Theater’s fabulous version of Shakespeare (Abridged) is done for a busting-at-the-seams, sold out, excited, deserving group of theater-goers. Good night, good night, parting is such sweet sorrow from this wild ride of a play, that I shall say goodnight, and go see-eth this show, till it be morrow. Get thee to this play!

(Note: This show is rated PG-13. Teenagers will laugh their heads off in Shakespeare (Abridged), but parents may want to be aware that this is definitely in the PG-13 category.)

The Sandbox Theater Company presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)                                                                                                                           Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 West Center Street, Midvale, UT 84047           August 25-26 September 8-9, 15-16 7:30 PM                                                           Tickets: $10.00, $7.50 students with ID, tickets can be purchased at the door             Facebook Page                                                 Facebook Event