Good Company Theater’s “In the Heights” at the Ogden Amphitheater is Delicioso y Fantastico

By Jennifer Mustoe

Having never been to the Ogden Amphitheater and never seen In the Heights by the now wildly popular Lin-Manual Miranda—who wrote the music and lyrics, book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, I was pretty excited. I know Director Austin Archer’s work and admit to being a huge fan of his.  The Amphitheater is lovely—spacious with seats in the front and a lovely grassy berm for patrons to spread a blanket on and settle down for a night of theater.

But can one “settle down” for In the Heights? I answer with an emphatic No! As we walked in, spicy Salsa music played. After listening to the opening remarks in Spanish (which I understood but my non-Spanish-speaking family did not), the high-energy show began.

Because another reviewer is writing the “official” review, I will add the impressions of the show from my family and me, and what I observed from audience members.

First, this show is Important. It tells the story of a barrio in New York and shows the strife, the poverty, the depression of the place. It also shows the love, the camaraderie, the friendship, the loyalty, the fun. It is a total, pure, untainted picture. This is the story of a certain community—most of them Latinos, though other ethnicities are represented as well.

The music is incredible! The rapping by remarkable Jacob Barnes as Usnavi De La Vega is out of this world. The family closeness (too close?) of the Rosario family: mother Camila (Katie Evans), father Kevin (Stephen Sherman-Mills), and Stanford student daughter Nina (Becca Burdick.)—I was completely convinced of this family’s strong ties. We loved Evans’ fierce motherhood, Sherman-Mills’ “I am the father and what I say goes” attitude (and how the women basically say, whatever.) But Burdick’s pipes, acting—the whole package—blew us away. She is fantastic. Her duets with Benny (Gray McKenzie) are pure gold.

Each principal has an amazing voice. The harmonies of the hairdresser ladies, Daniela (Tamara Howell) and Carla (Erica Walters) are wonderful, and their fun bickering was completely believable.  Abuela Claudia (Tamara Howell) and Piragua Guy (Dee Tuo’one) are also wonderful singers. Gosh—did Archer cast the best or what? Music Director Ginger Bess Simons pulls everything possible out of a truly remarkable set of voices.

And the dancing—the dancing! Archer choreographed all but one number (“96,000” by McKenzie, whose moves are sexy and smooth and sensational.) Dance Captain Emily Bokinski rocked the stage, followed by talent that went from good to perfect.

This show may be considered almost an operetta as much of the dialogue is sung, and there is so much movement on the stage, the show never stops.

I was under the impression that In the Heights may be inappropriate for younger audiences, but really, if your child likes singing and dancing—they will love this show. There are a few swears and some violence, but it’s remarkably tame. They see way more in any of those popular superhero movies. And the messages in this show, often told in awesome rapping, are as I said, important. It is a little late, though, but I saw happy littles at the show.

I knew I was in for a treat with In the Heights, but it exceeded my expectations. I drove from Spanish Fork to see it. It’s worth the drive.

Good Company Theater presents In the Heights, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes                                                                       Ogden Amphitheater, 343 E 25th Street, Ogden, UT 84401                                               August 11-21, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday    8:00 PM                                   Tickets: $20, $15                                                                                                           Contact: 801-917-4969        goodcotheatre@gmail.com                                                     Facebook Page

 

Ogden Musical Theatre’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Peery’s Egyptian Theatre in Ogden Utah is a Dream That Will Do

By Steve Odenthal

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now playing at The Peery Egyptian Theatre in Ogden, Utah is no stranger to me.  I encountered the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics of Tim Rice early in my college years and quickly discovered the profound effect live theatre can have on those who are in tune with it.  I was very glad that to find that the magic to transform and immerse is still there, or should I say is still available today at the Egyptian Theatre.  You will want to see this one.

It’s all there for you and yours to experience and enjoy as a fully family-friendly performance so real that when you are on your feet after the show, your first instinct is to knock the desert dust from your sandals—even if you are like me and wear loafers.  So, how do they perform this magic? Hey, the play is set in Egypt and we are watching in the Egyptian Theatre, so grab a pith helmet and let’s explore.

The chief spellbinder in this production is the Director (Maurie Tarbox).  It was obvious quite early in the performance that each actor was in love with the show.  That is always what you want from a cast, but sitting in the audience there was something more and it was contagious.  We truly were in Egypt.  The physical facilities we all—cast and audience alike— occupied is an historic restoration of the Egyptian theatre built in 1924; a time the world was entranced by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.  The stage itself is built to be a plaza between two great Egyptian temples stage-right and stage-left.  Tarbox had to walk a very tight rope to not overwhelm, but rather immerse her actors and audience in this shared reality.  With the simplistic choices in set design (Ricky Parkinson) and rich selection in costuming (Joanne Hatch), Tarbox’s production team placed each of us in a comfortable environment from the very start of the show.

The audience needs a great story.  That means a story with some historic truth and strong emotion everyone can relate to—like the biblical story of Jacob (Brett Garlick) and his 12 sons. There is a just bit of sibling rivalry within this family.  The rivalry plays out onstage in this production as the favored Joseph (Jared Morgan) is sold by his brothers into slavery (they had considered worse) and then we track the life changes this little dust-up produces in poor, poor Joseph’s life, as well as the lives of his fine brothers.

And what a rag-tag mob of brothers Joseph has—they manage to keep the undercurrent of disgruntlement and sentiment bubbling right to the surface and it is truly fun to watch them express their heartfelt feelings for Joseph, slyly displaying them from a safe location away from his field of vision.  This feat is accomplished in a very subtle use of triangles and modular groupings of flat levels which give the proper separation and distance to make these asides believable.  This effect played so very well when brother Simeon (Joe Johnson) is trusted with breaking some sad news about Joseph to his father as Johnson emotes through the classic song, “One More Angel” and the brothers & wives intertwine with the festive “HoeDown”, every bit of the stage and every angle or level is incorporated into a masterpiece of choreography (Liz Smith.)   There is definitely no lack of thought or depth to this set and the design only gets better as the show goes on.

For his part, Joseph is well cast with Morgan’s boyish look and pleasant voice but I found that I had to warm to him a bit.  Most Joseph’s I see perform the role are from the start large and in charge, easily believable as a leader.  In this production, Joseph seemed to share an almost too trusting relationship with his brothers, right up until he is sold.  He believes, you can tell, that this is just good fun with the brothers (although it is getting a bit out of hand.)  Then in my mind, I realized that this young man was the second to youngest of the brothers and so his innocent vision of his heroes might just cause him to want to play along, for a while at least.  This might just be the perfect way to play the role.  We see Joseph grow in the show, not just the brothers’ change.

I enjoyed the staging of Potiphar (Brett Garlick) and Mrs. Potiphar (Karllen Johnson) in their mansion with the choice to keep the large separation of husband from wife as he counts money and she attempts to stray.  It was very effective to see their opulence versus the purity and simplicity of Joseph’s attire as a contrast to help us focus on the clash of good and evil.  There were lots of opportunities taken to show the audience emotional contrasts.  For example, the Baker (Austin Toney) sits dejectedly stage-right as his dream as interpreted by Joseph is not going to work out in his favor while the rest of the cast gives their all in a rambunctious “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” number that delights in our hero’s power to decipher hidden meanings.  Never breaking out of his funk entirely, our condemned Baker draws enormous solace from a beautiful cupcake accepting both his fate and a well-frosted beard while entertaining those of us who caught his struggle.

The brothers and their wives in this production really work as a team.  These wives are not your run-of-the-mill appendages to the brothers—they hold their own and seem to have a real relationship with their assigned brother.  At times, the brothers are even brought up short by their wives in a good-natured way, but I will let you find out about that when you attend.  I will say that you must be paying attention to their maneuvers especially in the “Those Canaan Days” number.  You will be delighted by the pay-off to the wives in that number for sure.  My hat (or pith helmet) is off to  Smith for the way she has choregraphed the entire show but especially as she brought these two very talented teams of dancers together.

The Pharaoh (Justin Brown) is beyond good.  In most Josephs, we know well on whom the character is based.  This time, I was not so sure.  I’m thinking that the megastar we knew so well might have styled his persona on Brown.  He seemed so secure in his own skin without letting the impersonation suffer at all.  Good job, there—You will enjoy his portrayal.

The Narrator (Meghan Parrish) is seamless and doesn’t miss a beat.  Being familiar with the show, there were times that I found myself anticipating her arrival a bit, but she always hit her mark and note.  Under her guidance, we were swept into the story completely from the very start.  She took our hands like we were the children on the stage with Joseph.

Speaking of the children in the cast (Childrens Dream Chorus), you could tell that they knew the show and were very aware of the preciseness of the presentation.  They smiled believably at the proper times and every time they were on stage I believed that they were in awe of Joseph.  A good cast, for sure.

The only issue that I experienced during the performance that was at all negative was a few instances where mics and speakers were experiencing sound issues.  The three mishaps were of short (seconds) duration and not during dialog or music.  I am sure the remedy has been attended to as we thoroughly enjoyed the production without further incident.

You should take your family to this show.  I think that there is something for everyone at the Peery’s Egyptian Theatre in the production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  There are laughs, quiet moments (not many), and great joy in store for you.  This show only has four more performances left at this exceptional theatre.  You will be amazed at what you find beyond the lobby and on the stage.  This beautiful restoration of Peery’s Egyptian Theatre holds over 800 patrons and is right downtown in Ogden next to great restaurants and shopping.  Parking is available and mostly free in the area.  Pricing of tickets are $15 and $20 dependent upon your proximity to the stage.

Don’t miss Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Peery’s Egyptian Theatre 2415 Washington Blvd.  Ogden, Utah. This dream will definitely do.

Ogden Musical Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.                                                                               Peery’s Egyptian Theatre, 2415 Washington Blvd, Downtown Ogden, Utah 84401           August 17-19 7:30 PM                                                                                            Tickets:  $15, $20                                                                                                        Call: 801-689-8700                                                                                                        Facebook Page

 

 

“Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Zig in Ogden is Sprinkled with Magic!

By Jennifer Mustoe

I got a little teary after Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theater’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a play about how Peter Pan becomes the crowing, flying leader of the Lost Boys and battles the sociopathic Captain Hook. Does Peter Pan mean something to you? He does to me—he’s part of my childhood. I have been trying to see Peter and the Starcatcher several times and just didn’t get it together, but wanted to see how it compared to the YA novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Peterson I enjoyed years ago when it first came out. I had preconceived notions of what I thought this production would be. I was right maybe 10% of the show.

And I’m thrilled that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’d never been to the Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden, but it’s a clear, lovely drive coming from Spanish Fork. As I walked into the theater, swarms of folks were in the rather cozy lobby, some buying tickets, some buying fresh popcorn. Yum! The staff is super nice and in fact, during the (rather long) intermission, someone from the staff brought around a teeny tiny treasure chest and gave a pirate treat (a small coin or tattoo) to the children. And me. Yes, I got a tattoo, too. By intermission, these kids were sold on the entire pirate experience and that little treasure chest got all the kids glowing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Based on the YA novel, Peter and the Starcatcher places 13-year-old Molly (Jessica Lewis) (or is it 15? Inside joke—see the show to figure it out) on the slower vessel, Neverland, with a trunk of full of mysterious treasure. It looks like sand, but it isn’t. It’s Star Stuff (aka pixie dust—but this is never said. We who know Peter Pan stories know it, though.) On a faster vessel, the Wasp, sails Molly’s father, Lord Astor (David A. Boice) who has his own treasure chest filled with jewels. In come pirates, led by the ridiculously funny Black Stache (Trent Cox) who may have one of the best performances going on in the state of Utah right now. Trunks are swapped, havoc ensues.

Along with the pirates are three boys: Prentiss, played by a very funny Tyler Howard, Ted, played by a great physical comedian Gabriel Armstrong, and Boy, heart-warmingly played by Wyatt Welch, orphans all, who end up on the ship as slaves and are made to sit in the dark and eat worms. Yes, worms. Ick. These three characters are perfect together. The symmetry and synergy are unbeatable. I thought this was a musical and when I saw the live band at the back of the stage, I was sure. But Peter and the Starcatcher is only a sort of musical. It starts with a lot of exposition—telling the story. For the first few minutes, I felt anxious, like, when are they going to start singing? Then, it didn’t matter. I was involved in the show. However, the fabulous musicians (Piano/conductor Jonathon McDonald, Percussion Richard Marsh, Synthesizer Kyle Lawrence) provide background music throughout—which is marvelous. They play as you walk into the theater, too, and it is sublime. And there are a few ensemble musical numbers and the fish-turned-mermaid piece is absolutely delightfully hilarious. Kids and adults were clapping and whistling during this one. What the cast can do with fans and costuming that makes one piece of stretch fabric down one leg look like a fish fin is fantastic. Kudos to Costume Designer Kelsey Nichols.

Peter and the Starcatcher moves very, very fast—there’s a lot of story in this one little play. And director Jim Christian has his players moving, moving, moving all the time. Not in a weird, frantic way, but one that helps tell the story and keep us up to speed (small pun intended.) Timing is fabulous in this show and every cast member needs to be applauded. I’ve been to too many shows that l-a-g-g-e-d and I thought I would die of boredom. Not in this show. At. All. Thank you, to the director. This could easily have been a train wreck. The Zig’s Peter is anything but.

The cast is small—twelve players in all—and many play multiple roles, which confused me slightly, but not overly so. Everyone was wonderful, great synergy onstage. But shout-outs must go to Welch, whose last moments on the stage brought me to tears. No, I’m not telling you what he did. Go see it. And you probably won’t cry. It’s sweet, not sad. Welch is fabulous—good energy, sweet, vulnerable, strong, active. I bought him in this role completely. Lewis’ Molly is so sweet and brave and strong. Yes, Lost Boys, she’s the leader. This show is so filled with Girl Power all wrapped up in the one female role in all those males and the one brilliant actress in this group of great actors.  Heavily bearded Andrew Cole’s Mrs. Bumbrake makes you laugh just from his physical look—but he’s a great actor, too. The role is written that a man play this character and Cole is darling. Big, hairy, using a falsetto voice (and a Scottish accent as the mermaid Teacher—also great), Cole nails this part.

Cox as Black Stache is so crazy good, I am hoping this review compels you to get to Ogden and see this show. Cox is an amazing comic actor, with deftness, finesse, timing, physicality to die for. I could go on and on. I will be following this actor to see him as often as possible. My husband and I recently went to Utah Shakespeare Festival and watched Guys and Dolls TWICE. Our favorite actor in that show has no more talent, timing, or presence than does Cox. Yes folks, he’s that good.

The set (Caleb Parry) was serviceable in the small space and several rolling pieces are used wisely and effectively. I loved the big golden lake effect with a parachute and a golden light. LOVED. This show is heavy with lights. Often, lighting is just so mundane that you don’t notice it and that’s good. But Peter has so many light cues, so many lights and it was amazing. Parry was the genius behind this technical aspect of the show, too.

I’m not telling much of the story in this review. This is on purpose. Each story detail is delicious and I’m not giving anything away.

About the kiddos. The show is long (two hours?) and there were some very restless toddlers in the audience. This show is too good. Get a babysitter and come and enjoy it without having to worry about the littles. I would think kids over six or seven would like this show, but it isn’t a kids’ show, per se. There is one swear in it (damn, I think) and the mermaid number has only one female mermaid but all the rest only dress like female mermaids. Or mermen. Not sure. It’s funny, but just a heads up. The kids were laughing hysterically. There is a small snip of a scene where Boy is shown to be whipped. It is short and has no real sound effects or him in agony at the beating, but he does cry afterward. If your children are tender-hearted, take them out for a potty break during this scene or leave them at home.

I live a long way away and see lots of shows. If I could make it work, I’d go see this one again. I didn’t see Peter and the Starcatcher when it came around three different times. I am so remarkably glad I waited until I got to see it at the Zig.

The Ziegfeld Theater presents Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice.                          Ziegfeld Theater, 3934 S. Washington Blvd., Ogden, UT 84403                                   August 4-September 2, Mon, Fri, Sat 7:30 PM Saturday matinee August 26, 2:30 PM     Tickets: $17-20                                                                                                                   Call: 855-ZIG-ARTS / 855-944-2787                                                                           Facebook Page          Facebook Event