Musing: Plays in Plays: Noises Off, Backstage, and Play On! in Utah County

backstage 3 backstage 1

By Jennifer Mustoe

Not often is there a possibility of seeing three similar, play-within-a-play productions within one month of one another, in the same county. However, I was able to do this and want to write a little about it. I was able to see Play On!, Backstage, and Noises Off, in that order.

I saw Play On! at a wonderful theater in Pleasant Grove, Utah. What Play On!’s has going for it:

  • Two conflicts: A bossy, ever-rewriting playwright who graces rehearsals with his presence as he slogs in with new, updated scripts regularly, and a cast who has worked together so often they bicker constantly, in a funny, we’ve seen this in families sort of way
  • Diverse characters: a teenager who finds out she is stage struck on opening night (hilariously), a long-suffering director, the diva who is superior than all the rest, her long-suffering co-star and husband, the know-it-all techie, and the bad guy, who is deliciously evil.
  • The play within a play is in British accent, which gives some interesting and easily discernible layers to the show.

What this production also had going for it were decent performers and a fun, tight set. The directors kept the stage looking clean and uncrowded, even though there were several actors and little space. The show itself was a little slow and, in typical community theater fashion, had some actors who were amazing and one, in particular, who was really quite awful. On its own, Play On! was a cute show and one the whole family could see, which is in its favor.

Next I saw, and yes, acted in Backstage. I was in Backstage last year and was able to understudy for the part I created last year. I went to see the show this year to get a feel for how this year’s show is being run, and it was interesting to see scenes I never saw before. It will probably seem like I favor this show because I love the part I play and the opportunity to do a lot of ad lib. I do favor the show. I admit it.

Jody Renstrom, Backstage’s playwright, saw Noises Off years ago and loved it, but felt it was too racy for Valley Center Theater’s (a community theater Jody and her husband Keith started 36 years ago) family audience. I am amazed at how different Backstage is from Noises Off and have to pat Jody on the back. She took the play-within-a-play theme, but built an entirely new show. Some of the basic characters are slightly similar, but the plotline is very different.

Backstage begins with the auditions, then goes through the show’s early rehearsal period in Act One. In Act Two, we see dress rehearsal with the set pieces what would be onstage, and then the stage is returned to the backstage. What the audience sees onstage in front of them is actually the backstage where the actors wait to go onstage, which is behind the curtains. I hope this makes sense. Where Jody took a completely different track is we see the actors backstage, having costume issues, mental breakdowns, a few love stories, an allergy to flowers, and some insistent phone calls, while onstage (behind the curtain), we hear the actors go through the lines we saw them rehearsing in Act One. It is layered on top of one another, timed so that when things are said onstage (backstage), the actors backstage, in front of the audience, reply but it is happenstance. It’s really quite brilliant. And funny.

What it has going for it:

  • An inventive two plays going on at once device
  • A few cute love stories
  • Physical comedy
  • Fun characters: a bossy, opinionated and sometimes cruel director; downright mean diva, a funny, perky assistant director, a somewhat geeky techie, and a very quirky German costumer. The other characters were nothing that brilliant, but were appropriate to complete an ensemble.
  • Because this is an original play, Backstage’s playwright Jody, and her grandson Tyler, who is in the show and its director/producer, have given the actors permission to ad lib and push their characters every performance. This may be Backstage’s best feature, as the play evolves every night.
  • It, too, is family-friendly.

Noises Off, reputed to be one of the top ten play-within-a-play format productions, was the best final play-in-a-play production I saw. What it has going for it:

  • There is tightly choreographed action almost 100% of the time.
  • It has very precise, well-drawn characters, whose relationships with the other members of the cast are clear and scripted, so each part is very finely defined.  Those characters include an almost ridiculously dictatorial director; a frumpy, shy stage manager; a man who’s eager to get a rather dim but sexy young thing into bed – this man being my favorite and says, “You know,” rather than ever finishing as sentence; a husband and wife team who are hilarious, awkward, and, in the case of the husband, a nose-bleed victim; a alcoholic, rather eccentric older actor; and a middle-aged somewhat has-been  diva who just wants to make enough money to get a little cottage somewhere.
  • The actual set pieces move and the moving of them is another fun device, as the actors scurry, talk, sweat and occasionally bicker.
  • The love stories all fall flat.

What was similar  and contrasting in all three plays:

Diva: all three plays have a diva, but Backstage’s is written so their diva is sexy, mean, and a rather bad overly-dramatic actress. Play On!’s diva was more the I’ve-been-here-forever-and-you’d-better-respect-me type. She, too, was a horrible actress. Noises Off’s diva was something of a has-been, but she was still a great actress. Out of the three divas, I have a hard time saying which one I liked best. The actresses doing these parts were all very good, very convincing and very funny.

One thing that Backstage  and Noises Off have that Play On! did not is a lot of physical comedy, a few love stories, and a crazed, megalomaniac director.  And it is the physical comedy that I think brings Play On! down a notch for me. I noticed the audience very involved while all that physical hilarity went on in both plays. The audience for Play On! was delighted, but not as involved.

I could expound about the spaces the plays were produced in, but they are really not germane to the actual scripts of each show, nor the essence of the performances for me.

In closing, I will say I love all three shows. But, even though I am in Backstage and therefore, remarkably in tune and invested with that show, the winner for me is Noises Off. As of this writing and posting, it is still in production—TONIGHT – so I suggest you go.

Backstage has one and a half more weeks of shows. Please come see it. It is worth it!

Congratulations on a job well done to all productions. Keep up the good work, keep your wonderful, talented selves onstage, and keep us laughing. Thank you sincerely.

Info about Noises Off: https://www.facebook.com/events/473406002726837/

(Our Review: http://frontrowreviewersutah.com/?p=1024)

Info about Backstage: https://www.facebook.com/valleycenterplayhouse

(Our review: http://frontrowreviewersutah.com/?p=1018)

 

Enjoy Seven Years of Plenty with Merit Academy’s Joseph

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

Utah has no shortage of talented youth, and that definitely shows in Merit Academy’s finely-tuned production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Judging by the performance I saw tonight, I expect to see many of these cast and crew members continue to shine in both community and professional theater. Continue reading

Argh! Watch Acting Up! in “The Pirates of Penzance”

A Utah Theater Review by Shannon Eden

The Pirates of Penzance, put on by the SCERA’s High School Company, Acting Up! tells the tale of naive Frederick, a now twenty-one-year-old young man who has been indentured to the Pirate King and his crew since he was eight years old due to a mistake made by his hard of hearing nursemaid, Ruth, who was supposed to deliver him into the hands of a ship’s pilot! Ever the slave of duty, Frederick has remained with the band because of his contract, but bids his friends and their detestable career farewell as soon as he is free, leaving behind the only world he has known, the only woman he has known, and embarks on a ridiculous adventure full of beautiful maidens, a cunning Major-General, and a slew of cowardly policemen, all the while being pursued by his former comrades.

An operetta written by Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance has always been, and always will be, one of my very favorite shows. It is light-hearted and silly, and just plain fun to watch. The characters are all over the top and full of whimsy – it is an escape into a world where even the ‘bad guys’ have a happy ending. I grew up watching the movie production of it, have been in the show twice, and have seen many renditions done in many different theaters.

I will admit that I entered the SCERA theater expecting a mediocre performance. How much can you expect from a group of high school students? High school level talent…right? I’m happy to say that I was very much wrong. I was prepared to edit my review in accordance to an audience’s lower expectations when going to see a youth theater production, but – and I hope the cast will take it as a most sincere compliment – the show, having been just as good as most community plays I have been to, I feel, deserves an honest critique from a critic who truly enjoyed the show. Continue reading

Why I Love “I Love You Because”

A Utah Theater Review by David Henry

Utah Repertory Theater Company presents I Love You Because, with music by Joshua Salzman, book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham, orchestration by Larry Hochman, and directed by Ashley Ramsey at the Historic Murray Theater. I have to admit that I was skeptical of a Pride and Prejudice adaptation. There are a lot of inherent risks in taking such a classic story and making it modern, not to mention making it into a musical as well. I was very pleasantly surprised to sit down at this show and be thoroughly entertained by the story line, the music and the excellent production in general.

I Love You Because is the story of Austin Bennet and Marci Fitzwilliams, who are initially drawn to each other specifically because they are horrible for each other, since neither of them is actually interested in a real relationship. They are prodded on by their brother and friend, Jeff Bennet and Diana Bingley, respectively, who also follow a similar romantic story line. As their relationships progress, they find themselves developing deeper feelings for these people who are totally wrong for them. All the characters are forced to examine what it is they truly see in their partners, and if they can love them in spite of their differences, or even better, because of them. Continue reading

It’ll be a Hard Knock Life if you Don’t Go see Salem Hill Junior High’s Production of Annie Jr.

By Jarom Loch

Only a year old, Salem’s out-of-the-box theatre facility at Salem Hills Junior High sports all of the bells and whistles required for a top notch junior high production: a healthy assortment of lights, a few microphones, and plenty of room for an intended audience.

As I was soon to find out, the equipment isn’t the only thing worth bragging about– the talent pool is considerable as well. Charles Strouse’s Annie, currently undergoing a successful revival on Broadway, graced the junior high’s brand new stage in its Jr. form under the direction of Jana Stubbs. Unfamiliar with the play myself, I settled into a seat with program in hand devoid of expectations.

It took me all of half a second to find Annie thanks to her red hair as soon as the curtains opened to admit a very sorry looking group of orphans. Aspin Ruiz, portraying the fiery spirited little girl, quickly established herself as reigning presence throughout the following scene. Continue reading

Whatever You Do–Go to Anything Goes!

By George Loch
My wife and I had the opportunity to attend the Empress Theater’s performance of Anything Goes, which just opened this week. It was our first time at the Empress Theater and we were impressed indeed. As you walk into the downtown Magna facility, you are immediately transported back in time to the days when live theater was the place to be. Once we were ushered into the theater proper, we stepped into the production itself. It feels as though you just walked onto the deck of a cruise ship. They have done a wonderful job with the space that allows for full-immersion and a theater-in-the-round feeling that was cozy and comfortable. Overall, the facility choices add to the performance and delighted the both of us.

 

 

 

Anything Goes is a wonderful romp that carries you across the Atlantic ocean with a collection of characters that provide a lot of laughs and entertainment. Cole Porter’s music is happy, touching and light-hearted. This musical produced a number of classics hits like “You’re the Top”, “I Get a Kick Out of You” and the lead number “Anything Goes”. The music combined with solid dance numbers, an amusing plot and great characters make for a theatrical escape. Continue reading

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Delightful Bunbury-ing in the Orem Public Library

A Utah Theater Review By Jarom Loch

Quaint piano music, English accents, pretty women, and a top hat or two– all of my favorite things, and all in one play!  If I were a hedonistic female, Oscar Wilde would be my soulmate. Seriously.

The Importance of Being Earnest, put on by the newer program Spyglass Theater in the Orem Public Library, had all the laughs in all the right places, just as every comedy should have. I found myself caught up in the ingenious character interaction and the ensuing hilarity throughout the story despite the cramped stage and feeble costumes.

The script was written by Oscar Wilde, therefore I might as well try to sum up the plot of Richard II or something else frighteningly complex rather than provide a quality blow-by-blow account of it.  I just hope you don’t get lost. Continue reading

The Echo’s Noises Off is the Place to Go for Laughs

A Utah Theater Review                                 by Becca Gunyan

Noises Off is a hilarious look at life on the stage and behind the scenes.  From the moment I sat down and began thumbing through the program, I knew I was in for an amusing night.  How do I explain the plot of Noises Off?  It’s basically a play, within a play, within a play…?  However you look at it, the play showcases the comedy and drama that goes on to produce a play.

The comedy starts with the entrance of Poppy, the shy, awkward stage manager who apologetically asks the audience to turn off their cell phones, because, like, they didn’t exist in the 80’s and they might throw off the cast.  Julianna Blake owned the role, making me believe that if I met her in real life, I’d see some of the goofy mannerisms she exhibited in the play.

As the play began, Luone Ingram took the stage as Dotty/ Mrs. Clackett.  She ran through a few lines, only to be interrupted by the director Lloyd (Patrick Newman), who expressed his frustration with Dotty’s forgetfulness.  I realized that the audience was watching the final rehearsal of the “cast” getting ready to perform Nothing On. Continue reading

Backstage Brings Fun Center Stage

A Utah Theater Review by Rachel Summerhalder

Valley Center Playhouse is a locally owned theater that prides itself on bringing family-friendly shows to the community. For nearly 40 years, they have been doing exactly that. Valley Center Playhouse is located in Lindon, and although it has a small parking lot, I’ve never had problems parking there. The theater itself is quite small, and is a theater in the round, which lets the audience see more of the action and feel like they are a part of the show. Backstage, written by theater owner Jody Renstrom, is a play within a play, giving us a look at what happens behind the scenes of a show when everything goes hilariously wrong.

Tyler Renstrom, who also happens to be the director of Backstage, plays the director, David, who is trying to cast his latest show, No More Tears, with the help of his assistant director, Connie, played by understudy Jennifer Mustoe (the role is usually played by Sherri Webb). As the show opens, we see several actors reading different parts from the show, and it becomes apparent early on that there are some very distinct and clashing personalities among them. Vying for the leading lady role are Barbara, played by Rebekah Osmond, Jennifer played by Alyssa Christensen, and Paula played by Josie Layton. Looking to land the leading man roles are Bruce, played by Andrew Whittaker, Jonathan, played by Tyrone Svedin, and Ken, played by Jordan Stout. After some very bad yet funny readings, the play is cast and rehearsals begin.

Continue reading

The Grand’s Death of a Salesman is Alive with Beauty and Tragedy

A Utah Theater Review by Jennifer Mustoe

I have given myself some time to mull over last night’s performance of Death of a Salesman at The Grand Theater in Salt Lake City, and I’m finding myself just as challenged in putting my thoughts and feelings into words. You see, I’m an author/editor as well as an actress, so seeing this remarkable piece is thrumming not only my theatrical sense, but my interest in it as a literary work. I took my high school English teacher husband, who is also a sometimes actor with me, so our conversation on the way home was riddled with both aspects as well.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. If you read nothing else of this review, understand this: Death of a Salesman is not to be missed. And you young folks out there, get your tails to see it. The audience was average age around 60+. There is something – a lot of good things – to be said about seeing a classic that has nothing that resembles a car chase or a perky musical number in it. Death of a Salesman is timeless and spans all generations. Okay, I am stepping off my soapbox. Perhaps temporarily.

Let me tell you about The Grand Theater first. It is now on my bucket list of Places to Perform. What a gorgeous, well-preserved, proper theater. Spacious, clean, restored – it is a marvel. There is even a balcony. (I’m sort of squealing that last bit of information. I love me a balcony.) Continue reading