Arsenic and Old Lace Buries the Audience (in Laughter) at Orem’s Hale Theater

A Utah Theater Review by Joel Applegate

The American stage classic Arsenic and Old Lace, which currently is being performed at the Hale Center Theater in Orem, has achieved its status honestly. It’s full of very clever writing – and there’s a wonderful conceit within the play where our reluctant protagonist, Mortimer Brewster, is a theater critic who hates his job. Of the twelve plays Joseph Kesselring wrote, Arsenic and Old Lace remains his most popular and seals his place in American theater.

The play opened in New York on January 10, 1941 and played for three and a half years closing on June 17, 1944, having played 1,444 performances, an amazing run for a non-musical of that era. The opening night review in The New York Times called the play “so funny that none of us will ever forget it.”

For those unfamiliar with this comedy, it’s the tale of Mortimer Brewster’s sweet old aunties, Abby and Martha. Their charity of choice leads them to “help” lonely old men to their reward with a nice homemade glass of elderberry wine; perfect for masking the taste of the three deadly poisons with which it is laced. Continue reading

Valley Center Playhouse’s Conflict Turns to Love Is a Fun Look at, Well, Love

A Utah Theater Review by Tyrone Svedin
     Saturday night, I headed over to the Valley Center Playhouse (VCP) to check out the opening weekend of Conflict Turns to Love. I was in this show eight years ago at the same theater, so I’ve never seen the show before. I was excited to be on the other side of the performance and watch the show. The directors were the same as when I did this show. They were enjoyable to work with. This show is by no means an award-winning show but if you enjoy a night of fun, for $7 this live performance is worth it. The VCP has been around for over 30 years treating the community with family friendly shows. They are known for producing clean and fun productions for the whole family. No need to worry about what your kids are going to see at this theater.

This play was set in 1897 in uptown New York. Two families living next door to each other, the Morrises and the Fosters, have had a family feud for several years and don’t even know why. As both men are running for mayor of this town, their feelings toward each other are very apparent. The women have the same feelings as well but they try to keep the fighting down. What the parents don’t realize is that their kids are secretly in love with each other.

One interesting phenomenon of live theater is that opening night can be better than the second night. When actors have a good opening night they often think that they are good to go and don’t review their lines. This letdown leads to a lot of mistakes the second night. I saw this play on the second night and I noticed that there were several lines forgotten. Continue reading

An Hour of Fun with Improv Friends

A Utah Theater Review by B.J. Wright


                What do robot legs, the attempted assassination of an alien ambassador, and a plot to blow up the railway system of Southern Europe have in common?  Give up? Those were all elements of a show I was able to sit back and enjoy during an hour of fun with Improv Friends, a theater improv group performing at the Echo Theater in Provo.  As I walked in the theater I could tell this would be a different experience than I was used to as the room was smaller than I expected. There were a few rows of chairs around the edges of the room, with most of the action taking place in the center.

                 As the show started one of the actors explained that this would be a night of storytelling, and indeed it was.  First we were treated to the never before seen, never before written sci-fi  play called The Run of Blahzingoh, followed by several short improv scenes, and finally were entertained by an Alfered Hitchcock-style thriller entitled The Expedition of Judy Spears.  The plotlines were a little cheesy, but kept me chuckling throughout the night.  Just what I would expect from an improv show. The proximity of the audience to the actors made it fun to watch the scenes unfold.  It was fun to see the actors think on the run as they were in the spotlight, as well as plot quietly together while they were on the sidelines.

                As I sit back and try to think of individual performers that stood out to me, not a whole lot comes to mind. These actors work well together, and have a great chemistry as they work together to create a story on the stage. One scene in particular I remember comes from The Expedition of Judy Spears. One actor pretends to slap another. Off stage one of the actors decides to add a slapping sound effect, though timed it a little late. Without skipping a beat, the actor on stage tells his victim that was only a practice slap, and tries again. This time the sound effect was timed correctly and the crowd cheered.

                It wasn’t the best improv show I have ever been to, though it is definitely not the worst I have seen either.  It is a show that I would go to again for an enjoyable evening, and based on the show I saw I would even feel comfortable taking my children.  You can see Improv Friends perform on Friday and Saturday next week.  Don’t miss your chance to see Jeffery Blake, Juliana (Jules) Blake, Jared Lynton, Hailey Nebeker, Patrick Newman, Melanie Stone Thomason, and Riley Workman perform several never-before-seen stories on stage!

Improv Friends at  EchoTheater

145 N University, Provo

Friday, August 31 and Saturday, September 1

 8:00 PM

Tickets $8  (But you can get in  2 for $12 if you tell them you “brought a friend” at the door)


Musings about a weekend filled with theater

Here at Front Row Reviewers Utah we not only want to share reviews of local theater with you, but give you a glimpse into different experiences we have with theater as well. In this post, Jennifer Mustoe reflects on a weekend full of theater.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been rehearsing for a 10-minute play called Hope as a Leak. It was a cute play. I played a nurse. Her name? Nurse. It was the story of man, Tom, a young woman, named Young Woman, and me. Nurse. It takes place in a hospital room, and there is comedy, drama, laughter, tenderness, me in pediatrician office scrubs, armed with a bedpan. Oh yes.
To read more about Jennifer Mustoe’s weekend filled with theater, click here!


Mahonri Stewart’s Swallow the Sun Will Inspire You – And Make you Laugh

A Utah Theater Review by Jennifer Mustoe and Caden Mustoe

Zion Theater Company‘s playwright Mahonri Stewart’s plays can always promise you a few things:

  1. You’ll laugh. He has wit and humor in even the most serious of shows.
  2. You’ll think. He uses themes and subjects that require further reflection after the show is over.
  3. You’ll like the show.

In Stewart’s latest offering, Swallow the Sun, which is about C.S. Lewis, you will laugh, you will think, and you will enjoy it.

Lewis (Foody) and Dyson (Davis)

I am saying the best first. Ken Foody, who plays C.S. “Jack” Lewis is amazing. I loved his characterization, his confidence onstage, his sensitivity. I am going to do all I can to see any show this actor is in. I can’t wait to see what he does with any part he’s cast in.When Jack and his brother, Warnie, played winningly by Sam Schofield, interact, the stage clicks. These two work so well together – every one of their scenes was perfect. Frankly, all the scenes that had Foody in them were great, but his supporting cast was amazing, too. Continue reading

The Art of Being, by Douglas Caputo

Douglas Caputo from St. George’s The Space Between Teaches

a Creativity Trouble-Shooting

On August 16th I took a shot in the dark. I had no idea who would be there or what was in store, but nevertheless, attended a group meeting at the Salt Lake Arts Hub located on West 10th South in Salt Lake City. Before I had arrived, I had only exchanged a couple of e-mails and a phone call with the facilitator.

The meeting was billed as a “Creativity Troubleshooting Session” with one of the founding members of a local St. George Utah theater, The Space Between. Douglas Caputo was generous enough to offer his time at no charge to us, even though he was in town preparing for a paid weekend acting intensive that began the next day. His “The Art of Being” workshop is based on the work of famed acting coach, Eric Morris. I was very interested in this workshop, but since I had other commitments that weekend, I decided I wanted to meet this man when the opportunity presented itself.

Not really a workshop, the evening was more of a discussion on the nature of creativity and what blocks may prevent us from getting where we want to go. By “us”, I don’t mean just the theater community. This wasn’t focused on acting so much as freeing up your thinking, recognizing obstacles and taking steps to move forward. Continue reading

Payson Community Theatre Achieves Xanadu

A Utah Theater Review compiled by Ben Christensen

Payson Community Theatre’s production of Xanadu is quite the experience. As appropriate for such a unique play, this review is going to veer from the norm a bit—or at least as much as we can veer from the “norm” when we’ve only had a week to establish any kind of norm. Tonight several of us from Spanish Fork Community Theater went to Payson to show support for our sister theater and, since many of us are also reviewers for Front Row Reviewers Utah, to review the play. As such, this review is written collectively by Ben Christensen, Shannon Eden, Becca Gunyan, David Henry, Kara Henry, Ann-Marie Mair, and BJ Wright.

The first thing you need to know about Xanadu is that it’s hilarious. We all thought it was a lot of fun, and, as Kara puts it, “like eating cotton candy—fun and fluffy.” Becca calls it “cheesy, but engaging.” The play satirizes the 1980 film of the same name, in which aspiring artist Sonny Malone (B.J. Oldroyd) falls in love with the muse Clio (Alyssa Claunch), who appears to him in the guise of Kira, an Australian roller skater. The plot is somewhat silly, but it’s supposed to be. Ben notes, “I couldn’t stop laughing!”

Xanadu is being shown at Payson High School, which has a recently-renovated theater. Kara says, “It looks super nice and the seats were really comfortable.” “It’s a little out of the way,” David says, “but comfortable and nice.” The theater was not very full tonight—a problem that we hope is remedied in coming nights—but the audience was engaged. The auditorium was filled with laughter through most of the show. At one point, a character onstage walked into an empty room and asked, “Is anybody in here?” and a child in the audience yelled out, “There’s an audience!” This interruption might be viewed as disrespectful in another context, but in this case it was a sign of how engaged the audience was, and a fun addition to the running motif of fourth-wall breaking that pervades the entire show. Continue reading

Valley Center Playhouse Lights Up the Stage with Lights Out

A Utah Theater Review by Jennifer Mustoe

Lindon’s Valley Center Playhouse presents Lights Out, directed by Karla Hernandez. I am sorry to report that Monday, August 20th is its last date. But if you like mystery theater, you may want to head over to Lindon, Utah and try to solve the whodunit before it’s too late.

Though, I will say, nobody dies. This is a family theater and produces family shows. With a fair amount of blackouts, screams, a few flashlights, and a spooky voice that shouts in the dark, this is a good time for mystery and theater lovers.  But there are several plot twists and I didn’t really know who was doing what until the end. And I liked it that way.

Agnes Harwood, played by Lynn Bauman, needs to sell her father’s estate. She has the mansion and grounds but no money, so she and her lovely daughter, played almost to perfection by Jennie Martin, have a weekend party and invite some potential buyers. Continue reading

Provo’s Echo Theatre Delights with the Echo 10

A Utah Theater Review by Jennifer Mustoe and Caden Mustoe

I’m reluctant to call the Echo Theatre’s Echo 10 project “community theater.” It is, but it’s so much more.

Let me explain.

The Echo 10 is a group of eleven 10-minute plays. They are bundled into two groups, A and B. I was in a play in Group B. And before you think, um, hey, how can she review a show she’s in? I can’t. Last night when I went to the show, it was the first time I’d met the other actors in those shows, even those in my group. We were all little pockets of drama unto ourselves.

The Echo 10 project started with the Echo Theatre’s board putting a call out for 10-minute plays. Last night after Group A’s plays were through, the actors and some of the directors had a question and answer session with the audience members. (And I’m sad to say that for Group A’s performances, there were a sorry 17 people in the seats. More on this later.)

Jeff Blake, Echo’s Artistic Director, revealed that this project received 70 script submissions! That’s impressive! A group of six people read the scripts and chose the ones that they felt were most possible to produce, with the criteria being how much money they would cost to produce, how many actors the piece needed, and the appropriateness of the work for this community. They chose 18 plays, but 7 of them didn’t end up being performed. Some of them lost actors, directors, or both, which is a shame. If those plays were as good as what I saw last night, they deserve an audience. Continue reading

Sandy Art Guild’s Aida Is What Makes Utah Community Theater Great

A Utah Theater Review by Kara Henry

My husband, David, and I left our four children in capable hands, and I was fluttering with excitement as we drove up from Spanish Fork to see The Sandy Arts Guild’s production. As we’ve come to expect, Utah community theater delighted us. I’m a bit of a romantic at heart. Maybe a lot of a romantic. There is nothing so romantic as forbidden love, and Aida’s story of a hopeless love affair does that as well as any story can. We are both actors ourselves, and we appreciated all the hard work and talent that went into this production. It was a delight to watch it unfold before our eyes. It was easy to forget that we were there to review the show and simply immerse ourselves in a wonderful story.

The story of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida was adopted from an opera originally written in the late 1800s. It tells of a Nubian princess, Aida, captured by an Egyptian captain as their countries are at war. She impresses him immediately with her courage and intelligence, and instead of sending her to the copper mines as his father suggests, he gives her to his betrothed, an Egyptian princess, to be her handmaid. Soon, however, Aida and the captain find themselves in love and caught in up in a country torn by war.

Britani Cavaness in the opening scene

The musical opens in a museum, and I had goosebumps from the first note as Britani Cavaness as Amneris (the Egyptian princess) sings “Every Story is a Love Story,” although David wasn’t sure about her until she exploded in “My Strongest Suit.” We agree that she was a delight as she opened up with abandon and put on the character of the princess who hides behind her love of fashion. She dug into the role here, and the stage rang with her energy. The live orchestra added to the immediacy in every number, a touch we really appreciated. Continue reading