Dog Sees God Has the Audience Seeing Beauty, Humor, and Truth

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By Joel Applegate

Funny. We’re warned from the beginning it’s adult language. That’s true. And we will see aAdult situations. That’s true, too. But In Dog Sees God, these are kids onstage. Well, adult actors playing kids. To all of us who’ve grown into adulthood ourselves, wasn’t our first cruelty at their hands? Dog Sees God is a riff on the beloved Peanuts cartoon strip. Seeing how the characters turned out as teenagers (in this version) squeezes the heart a little. Yes, there are many laugh out loud moments, but the poignancy comes right up behind.

 What begins existentially turns into a story that is quite unvarnished. CB is played by Johnny Hebda with an engaging naturalness. But aren’t we watching a parody? Shouldn’t the dramatization be bigger than life size? A burlesque?  But Dog Sees God is not merely a parody.  It winds up searching through a tangle of sexuality, bullying and acting out. Silver Summit Theatre Company’s opening night performance turns into very brave and challenging production where mainstream Utah audiences are concerned.

 “Dear Pen Pal – my dog died.” That’s the front bookend. Though they go by different names, the characters are all identifiable versions of the Charles Schulz characters. The Schulz estate has nothing to do with this play or its genesis. There are some great nods to the old Peanuts landscape, though. We of a certain age all know so well the “squawk, squawk” of adults speaking and the dance moves from the classic 1960’s Christmas animated special.

 Now, as teenagers defining themselves, these kids want to throw off the curse that CB voices:  “When I was a kid, I was a loser.” As CB’s Sister, Carson Kohler refuses to be categorized by anything outside herself. Kohler executes an uproarious send-up of one-woman shows. How can you be taken seriously when your metaphor is a platypus? “Us defines us” she cries, even if it is the childhood detritus of dead dogs, missing sisters, burned blankets.

 I must have been more moved by this play than I let myself at first think. I actually had a moment of deja vu in the second act. CB and Beethoven play a painful scene. In it, Bryce Kamryn as Beethoven aches with vulnerability as many gay kids do even before they are sure – let alone can accept – their sexuality.

 At first, the characters are burlesqued versions of themselves, except for CB, whose spiritual struggles appear to be unsuccessful. “I don’t ever want a clear mind again,” he says. The characters become richer and the play becomes more complicated as it progresses. The bullying issue is treated very seriously. CB is guilty. The faculty doesn’t care. There are no apologies for school shooters, but there is a reasoned explanation for their existence that is chilling. This may be Charlie Brown and friends wised up, but this is full frontal facing of some very serious issues all the same. Soulful kisses have the ability to stun.

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 All that teen angst left me pondering familiar questions. Nevertheless, there’s sharp humor in every scene, and some wonderful, telling moments. How does a successful transition from child to adolescent, from adolescent to adult, happen? Not on purpose. It just does. Pitfalls turn into steps and inspire some wicked laughs. I almost felt guilty for enjoying it so much.

 My enjoyment was especially assisted by the great “Spork” scene. Alison Lente, as Tricia in a very sharp performance, and Aidan Rees as Marcy played off each other expertly and turned in some high-caliber stage business that was flat-out hilarious. Later, Rees turns in a very credible party rap that drewthe audience’s applause.

 I found it curiously satisfying that the bossy Lucy of the old comic strip is now incarcerated. Alexa Rideout (as “Van’s Sister”) in a trenchant but unforced performance, is doing time after setting fire to the Little Red Haired Girl. But she claims she’s still sane. It’s not the institutionalized correction that she credits. It’s the lithium. “People out there are just as crazy as the ones in here.” In an odd sort of contrived acceptance, she tells the self-conscious CB that he’s  “not cool enough to be gay”. She can’t feel sorry for her bad behavior because it was simply honest. She won’t justify. She just won’t apologize for being “outside the norm.”

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 Teens partying is not outside the norm. Frank Castro as Matt and G. Morgan Walton as Van are amped and primed for their blackouts. Both are unapologetic horn-dogs. Walton gets the stoner’s nuance just right without going overboard. Castro is recognizable as the old Pig-Pen ironically turned germophobe.  He is solidly funny as the drunk seducer, but he can turn on a dime. His bully is harrowing and palpably scary. Here is an actor who understands impulse. All this trouble lands the gang in group counseling. As CB, Hebda’s final outburst is the most authentic moment of the play. It is heartbreaking and absolutely raw.

 Production values are simple, but excellent. The set by Michael Rideout is minimal and workable. Painted wall units are flexible, easily moved and clearly tell us where we are. (The set changes could have been a little smoother, but I’ll give first-nighters a pass). I really liked the video screen set up with caption cards for each scene.  I don’t usually comment on sound in a show, but this work is distinguished by its support instead of its intrusiveness. The mood was enhanced, and even commented upon, by the subtle touch of the sound design and mixing by Micheal Troy Klee and Michele Rideout. Just a persnickety note on my part: Actors who have to smoke on stage should know how it’s done – or don’t do it. ‘Nuff said.

 The second bookend is a perfect coda; a reply from CB’s Pen Pal. Voiced by the whole cast as CB crumples in pain, it is supportive, practical and loving. No, this is not a send-up of old familiar characters. It’s what happens when Peanuts meets the Internet. It’s a bawdy, bodacious 21st Century exegesis of childhood.  God Sees Dog is a jump point – the leap from childhood to adolescence is performed without a net. The kids are free falling. Our communication is riddled with sarcasm.  There’s no moral of the story. Only a plea for compassion. If you’re progressive, or wannabe, or if you’re gay, bi or curious, or the parents of such, you owe yourself the visceral experience of Dog Sees God.  Silver Summit Theatre Co.’s production is a cool, revolutionary wind blowing through Salt Lake Valley. It will clear your smog away.

 The Midvale Main Street Theater is a very comfortable venue. Concessions are available and it is air conditioned. You can choose to sit at cafe tables or tiered seating at long tables. I’d recommend seeing this show soon. There are only eight performances through June 30th.

dog sees god 2 Silver Summit Theatre Co. at the Midvale Main Street Theatre

7711 S. Main St. (700 West), Midvale, Utah 84047

Phone 801-566-0596

 http://silversummittheatre.org/

 Performances:

June 21, 22, 28 & 29 at 7:30 pm

Matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 pm on June 22, 23, 29, 30.

Tickets: Adults – $15; Seniors, Military and Students with ID – $12.00 at the box office or on-line at  www.buyyourtix.com

Off Broadway Theater’s Lone Texas Walker Ranger is Rip Roarin’ Fun

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By Mary Brassard

The Off Broadway Theater’s production of The Lone Texas Walker Ranger is scheduled to run through July 13th.  This particular show is a marriage of many things. The “something old” being a reverence to the Walker Texas Ranger played famously by Chuck Norris, the “something borrowed” is perhaps the buzz and excitement for the upcoming Lone Ranger film, and the “something blue” being the Toronto themed side kick… The Toronto Blue Jays, being the forced reference to complete the whole MARRIAGE train of thought. Should you come see this show for the air conditioning provided at no additional charge? Should you come see it for the most reasonably priced snacks? The answer is, YES, but the show is also really good. I was honestly impressed by the clever use of props, the sets were beautiful, and there are several comedy bits that were as clever as they were funny. Now, to prove I actually saw the show, let’s give you some specific details and dig in a little.

 Now, a major point I want to make… Comedy is not easy.  No matter what over inflated theater ego types tell you, comedy is not easier than drama, or doing a straight piece.  Comedy is a difficult to master, intricate ART!  Do not underestimate the talent and skill it takes to put on a show that will make a crowd laugh.  Additionally, do not underestimate the importance of a show that will make a crowd laugh.  Too often, the crew involved in a comedy is put down for their lack of “message” or “political commentary,” but what would the world be like without entertainment to escape to?  Without humor to take our minds off of all the other “messages” we are bombarded with day after day.  To The Off Broadway Theater I say, well done! 

 The Lone Texas Walker Ranger is not only hilarious but extremely creative.  A lot of work went into this show, and there were many elements that added production value to the evening over all.  I will start with pointing out their set and prop use.  From the very beginning of the show, I was struck with their staging in regards to props.  The Lone Texas Ranger enters on a prop that was not only well made and visually impressive, but used hilariously.  I don’t want to give too much away, but what a great use of a second pair of pants!  Many more large set pieces were still to come.  Several versions of prop horses, puppets (not in a worn out, we have seen puppets before type of way, but a very clever and unexpected way).  The opening scene to the second act was extraordinary.  They managed an effect here with black lights that is sure to take you by surprise.  I have never seen a small theater do something like this.  Again, I don’t want to give it away, but it was surely a spectacle.  I also loved the set pieces.  Little Mexico was very cute and looked the part, and their backdrops were not only nice looking, but used (I’m starting to sound like a broken record) cleverly.  At one point, there were two backdrops, and actors in between different layers to achieve a certain “bit”.  Then comes the “chase through the desert scene.”  What a riot!  A horse race right on the stage!  And when the clouds blacked out the sun, I nearly died laughing (you’ll have to go see it to understand what I am talking about).  The show was full of great set pieces, great props, and VERY original visual gags.  It really showed how much work went into this show!

 And now, the actors themselves.  I was also pleased in this arena.  First off, the Hero, The Ranger (Clarence Strohn).  He was hilarious!  He played the part of hero with just the right amount of jerk to make him a dynamically funny character.  Toranto (Scott Butler), played with a brilliant and funny Canadian accent (and I loved all the Canada humor by the way!)  He was charming, inviting, sweet mannered, everything a true Canadian should be.  The Sheriff (Chase Dickerson) was quick on his feet and had excellent comic timing.  He shined especially in his “love scene” with Betty, which brings us to Black Bart (Eric Jensen).  Now, I have seen a few OBT shows where Eric Jensen was a little over the top for my taste.  But in Lone Texas Walker Ranger, he made a fan of me.  He was not only funny, but played many many characters, some with different accents, and all that were a welcome new part of the show.  His comic presence shined in this show.  There is a character that appears, in a blue onesie, knee high, and it was one of the funniest moments of the show, AND I might add, was outlandish, but didn’t take it too far to the point I was waiting for an exit.  Diego (Ricardo Ramirez) and the Female ensemble (Tonya Aikens and Jennifer Halliday) were also charming.  They were stand outs, but they were working very hard, and added to the show.  The male ensemble was played by one man.  Apollo Stephenson.  He was awesome!  He brought so much to a part that could have been a throw away.  As BANKER Joe, he had me laughing.  He also dies with great charisma!  and Amy Asay and Chelsea Baldwinround out the cast as the female leads.  Amy Asay was a good singer and a bad guy you love to hate.  Chelsea was the ingénue, but sadly, I could not hear her most of the time, so I wasn’t able to get to know her character very well.

 This script (by Shawn Zumbrunnen) and the directing (Eric Jensen and Shawn Zumbrunnen) were a big part of what made this show work.  The script was not at all lazy.  Rather than throwing out a lot of canned one liners, or relying on western gags, there is a plethora of very original gags.  I thought the Mexican/Canadian/American standoff scene was very well written, and surprising.  There is also a scene that plays on both edges of the town that was very successful (although again, I wish I could have heard it better).  The sound cues were also very well executed.  Every time a sound effect for a punch came in on exactly the moment of impact, I was impressed with how well timed everything was.

 My only complaints would be the following.  The trouble hearing things occasionally, especially from Chelsea Baldwin, and a few off stage moments.  The other thing I didn’t love was the music.  There were some clever lyrics, but mostly I couldn’t hear the lyrics, and they weren’t particularly well sung.  Comedy was certainly a stronger area.

 Comedy is what The Off Broadway Theater does, and does well.  They have finely crafted their art.  Comedy IS difficult.  Every night, this cast has to interact with a character that they didn’t get to rehearse with, and that hasn’t seen the script.  That character is the audience.  In comedy (unlike a straight play or a drama) the crowd’s reactions can hurt the show or help it.  It is very difficult and important to be able to feel the crowd, and handle them in order to keep the show on course.  This is not to be dismissed as simple, and the OBT cast had us in their hands from the get go.

 To conclude, this particular theater has its own brand of humor and a very homegrown delivery of said humor. To those who have been to a show at OBT and/or attended the Laughing Stock Improv show, you will be forced at tiny cap-gun-point to agree, you can only experience what the OBT is cooking at the OBT. A recipe for a great time with the OBT is to not take yourself too seriously – they don’t, and to be vocal with your enjoyment –  they certainly are. The Lone Texas Walker Ranger can be seen at the Off Broadway Theatre, located at 272 South Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City. As an added bonus, their theater is right across the street from a Trax station. Tickets can be purchased in the lobby or online. The cool AC, the inexpensive snacks and the unique experience awaits.

Off Broadway Theatre, 272 South Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City

(801) 355-4628

http://theobt.org/

The Echo’s Steel Magnolias is Sweet, Strong, and Sincere

By Jennifer Mustoe

Steel Magnolias may be one of the most familiar “plays” I’ve never seen, as I think I may have seen the movie about a half-dozen times or more. So when I went to see last night’s performance at The Echo Theater in Provo, I was curious to see how such an expansive movie could be done on the cozy Echo stage and with only women in the cast, not any men. I was pleased with what I saw. (Of course I know that the play came first and was adapted for the screen, but, like many others, I saw the film first.)

The entire production takes place in Truvy’s Beauty Shoppe, and my hat is off to set designers Hannah Kroff and Matt Boulter. However,  there were a couple of windows that should have full curtains, as we could see the actors walk by backstage and at one point the curtains weren’t completely shut and I could see costume changes from my seat. But it was an attractive set, with balance and interest. I’ve seen Boulter’s designs before and he is definitely one to watch. So very talented.

Costumes by Hailey Nebeker were a delight as well. Who doesn’t like the big shoulder pads, leggings and off the shoulder t-shirt look of the 80s? (Well, who doesn’t like that we don’t wear that stuff anymore? <Grin>)

Hair was a Big Issue in this show, as there is a lot that goes on in the Beauty Shoppe. They discuss hair, they do hair, they all wear their hair in various 80s styles. Truvy especially has the curly perm that is as poofy as it can get. This is truly BIG HAIR. Kudos for the hair by Kat Webb. However, Webb’s make-up was slightly lacking. Truvy looked spectacularly trashy with blue eyeshadow, lots of it. But the other actresses for the most part were too young for their parts, and make-up, though difficult in such an intimate space, would have given us a better suspension of disbelief, as would more gray in M’Lynn’s hair.

However, because the actresses were all too young for the parts was not noticeable in performance because each woman had superior acting chops to make Steel Magnolias work effectively and endearingly.

As I’ve said, unlike the movie, that had men in the cast, the play Steel Magnolias is only women. Raquel Williams, who plays Annelle, has a sincere acting style that made us like her Born Again Christian beliefs and her initial vulnerability as she is accepted into the women’s group that gathers at the beauty shop. Actually the men are “present” by reference, and are some of the funniest characters, especially as their wives/girlfriends/mothers discuss them.

Nicole Reed’s Shelby was particularly affecting and her scenes where she weeps brought me (and my husband) to tears, as well. Her sometimes bitter arguments with her mother, M’Lynn, played by Karli Hall, were amazing. Both women showed the love, the passion and the sometimes brutal issues they struggled with with such professionalism and detail, their’s were some of the strongest moments in the show. When Hall loses it after the death of her daughter (which I realize is something of a spoiler alert, but I figure most people have seen the movie–sorry if you haven’t) I almost lost it myself. So sincere and passionate.

Susan Phelan plays Ouiser (Weezah) with grit, humor and finesse. I admit, I liked the fleshing out of this character that was written into the movie. We never get to see Ouiser in the play flirting with her sweetheart and that is one of my favorite parts of the movie. However, Phelan is a wonderful foil in the show, and does her part well.

Mary Garlitz plays the aging socialite Clairee. She has one of the funniest characters as she and Ouiser have a love/hate relationship that is hilarious to watch. I love Garlitz’s portrayal of a woman who refuses to age into death without a fight. She says she’s getting old in one scene, then becomes a color commentator at the radio station she bought in the next scene. We love Clairee and Garlitz makes her all the more loveable.

Truvy, played magnificently by Rosanna Weeks Ungerman, was the glittering star of the show. My husband who accompanied me said, “I liked her better than Dolly Parton in that role and you can quote me on that.” There is much good in this show, but Ungerman alone would be reason enough to go. I was immediately drawn to her, and found myself looking carefully to find a flaw or mistake in her performance. There was none.

There are a few other issues I need to point out in the show that were less than perfect. One is the venue. The Echo is sandwiched between two music venues and had lots of music playing during the performance that seeped into the space. There was 80s music going on in the background for most of the show, but it didn’t completely block out the hard rockin’ sounds from both sides. It is somewhat distracting when the actors onstage are all crying and there are bass tones pounding all around.

Also, the tech crew was distracting and rather slow. They were dressed in regular street clothes, instead of black or costumes relating to the show, which can be fun and silly. As an audience, we sat in the dark for several minutes between some scenes and it didn’t seem that there was much to move around. Techies would come out empty-handed, pick something up, leave, then come back in holding something. If they can coordinate to spend less time onstage with audience members in the dark, that would be helpful.

That being said, these are ticky little issues. The Echo’s Steel Magnolias is well worth your time. Bring all your friends, some hankies, and sit back and drink in the Mint Julep Southern sweetness of the play.

Perhaps the reason the audience was so small was due to the fact that so many people went to Man of Steel. Too bad, they missed the better work.Luckily everyone still has a chance to this marvelous production as the it runs through July 6th.

Steel Magnolias

The Echo Theater, 145 N University Ave, Provo

Runs from June 13-July 6 Mon, Thurs, Fri & Sat. Tickets are $10 for students, $12 for general public. Thursday $8 student tickets.

 

Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Much Ado about Nothing is Positively Enjoyable!

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By George Loch
In a world full of monetized spectacle, there are still some places we can go that provide jubilant energy and delight with only talent, creativity and enthusiasm. This is what the Grassroots Shakespeare Company brings to its audiences. A wonderful presentation of familiar stories re-told with wit and a high level of accessibility.
From the start, the Grassroots Shakespeare Company set out to bring the heart of the early Elizabethan era practices back into the theater experience – both for performers and the audience. This troupe of performers put on their show with little rehearsal time, little in way of sets or even coordinated costuming and they even leave out the director, in that they don’t have one. The individual actors take it upon themselves to attire their characters both physically and developmentally as they see fit. And as the show begins, you will find them engaging the audience directly and encouraging the cheers and jeers from attendees to create a symbiotic moment in time that is hard to find in today’s entertainment. The result is often a thunderously entertaining.
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In this specific presentation, the company’s rendition of Much Ado about Nothing has many familiar elements as well as some fun surprises. The plot follows the arrival of Don Pedro (Trevor Christensen), a Spanish prince, and his officers, Claudio (James Buonous) and Benedick (Eric Geels), from a successful campaign. They come to the home of Leonato (Bianca Morrison Dillard), the governor of Messina, who has a fair daughter, Hero (Kayla Crystal Smith), with whom Claudio falls in love and seeks her hand in marriage. Leonato also has a niece, Beatrice (Ronnie Andersen Stringfellow), who is a lovely woman who has had “a merry war” with Benedick for many years and their battle of wit and sarcasm continues throughout the story. Don Pedro also brings along his brother, Don John (Topher Rasmussen), who is a jealous malcontent that is always seeking his brother’s undermining. He seeks to disrupt the wedding of Claudio and Hero through the use of deceit effected by his minions, Borachio (Cameron Thredgold) and Conrade (Jessamyn Victoria Svensson), by tricking the soldiers into thinking a hapless Margret (Levi Brown), Hero’s attendant, was in fact Hero herself getting frisky with another man. In the midst of this you have the simpleminded head of police (Davey Morrison Dillard (who was recently nominated for another Grassroots Shakespeare Co performance at the Utah Tonys)) and his witless deputy (Steven Pond) who apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to light.
The performances of the cast were all enjoyable. I found myself delighted with the extra sparkle the actors were bringing to their roles like Don Predo’s affable laugh whenever he entered the stage, Don John’s whiney, nerd-like performance as well his use of his minion like a steed. Claudio and Hero had played the youthful love connection dynamically and both Benedick and Beatrice brought fresh and entertaining performances of their fiery tête à tête. There were standout performances with the smaller roles as well. You can’t keep your eyes off of Marget and the comedic delivery of the constable was always anticipated.
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I loved the staging choices made for the different scenes and am always amazed at what the performers manage to attire themselves with that in the onset seem out of place but, quickly become part of a splendid patchwork quilt that is this colorful production.
When you add the wonderful musicians, a fantastic outdoor setting and an active audience, you are taken to a charming place that is difficult to find in our modern world. A place where story, character and love are all that are and that matter. Make sure you get there early so you can enjoy the pre show and, to get the full experience, you must sit/stand in the mosh pit (in front of the stage). It is so much fun! This will be a highlight of your summer. Don’t miss it!
Grassroots Shakespeare Company
Much Ado About Nothing
William Shakespeare
On tour throughout Utah
See website for dates, times and locations,
Free! Donations are welcomed

Let Your Kids Swing From the Trees to the SCERA’s Tarzan the Musical

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By Joel Applegate

Bring the kids! There’s so much to dazzle them in SCERA Shell’s production of Tarzan the Musical: the designs, the colors, the dancing and the fine costumes. This is a great show befitting an outdoor venue and the production values are very impressive. The amphitheater is a beautiful bowl of grass with seating areas and a large stage. Don’t worry about not being able to hear. The sound was very good for outdoors. I never had any problem hearing spoken or sung vocals.

     Nice direction by Shawn M. Mortensen brought all the production values together. One mark of a good director is the ability to assemble a great crew. In this case, they had a dandy. The set, also designed by Mortensen, is surprisingly elaborate for an outdoor venue. It included multiple levels and staging areas for the safari camp, the revolving tree house, the jungle, the apes’ nesting grounds and a couple of more elements belonging to the realms of trapeze art. It is a great-looking, detailed and functional.set.

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      But Mortensen has more than the set to work with. Characters are seen around the edge of the bowl. Entrances are made through the audience down the long sloping avenues; the “ape” youngsters mimicked real ape behavior very well and some of the real kids directly interacted with them. At intermission we all had fun watching the “apes” trash and play with the objects in the expedition camp, again interacting with the kids, who evidently ate it up.

     Because the entire amphitheater is used, we get to see costumer Kelsey Seaver’s colorful work up close. Seaver should be congratulated for organizing so many varied and elaborate sights. Her work on the flora and fauna characters of the jungle is just beautiful. The colorful shapes combined with Sunny Watts’ choreography keeps the viewer busy trying to catch all the details. As the sun went down, James K. Larsen’s light design came up smoothly and always complemented the space and the mood. Nat Reed’s puppet design of the leopard was very good. I did wonder, though, why it’s quite capable operator, Courtney Ellsworth, was dressed in bright blue and red. The Leopard would have been more effective, I think, as a stand-alone character if its operator had been costumed in black or tan. Another puppet feature that was fun for the kids – and me, too – was a large snake with glowing eyes. Its two handlers slithered through the audience before making its way on stage to attack Jane, who is then – conveniently enough – rescued by Tarzan. Pretty romantic, huh?

     And this musical is, of course, primarily a romance: Ape Man (Tarzan) gets Naturalist (Jane) at the end. It’s a great family outing with a score that is more pop than Broadway. Even though Jane’s father tells her to let go of her “schoolgirl fantasy”, this hint at the “noble savage” archetype was passed over quickly. In giving the Victorian era a make-over, I feel that the Disney folks have given the story too modern a sensibility that is jarring at times. There are some abrupt transitions that are challenging for any director to make sense of. The show has a few of these in which the flora suddenly come to life to – I suppose – illustrate the emotional life of the principles. But this is Disney’s Tarzan – not Burrough’s – and thoroughly family-friendly.

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     I liked the structure of the play, where we’re introduced first to a Young Tarzan, played with vocal surety by Cairo McGee (wonderful name!), and his Ape-BFF, Young Terk, played by a totally committed Lily Shepard. Great choice, by the way, casting females in both Terk roles. Both Young Tarzan and Young Terk moved and danced well. Then we learn of the fate of Tarzan’s parents before being introduced to the grown Tarzan in a crazy dance number. And actually, that was a great choice. The musical ensemble is huge and there’s so much to watch in Watt’s interesting choreography that I missed the moment of his arrival on stage. Suddenly he just seemed to be there.

     Brian Smith in the title role of Tarzan sings with a very nice voice. He belts where belting is needed and emotes in the softer moments with both of his leading ladies. His voice blended real well with Lauren Anderson as his Ape Mom, Kala. Together, they have some moments that surprised me by how touching they were. As Kala, Anderson was in excellent voice on her first number. She is one of the most interesting and nuanced characters on the stage. Likewise, in the number, “Different”, Tarzan’s opening duet with Jane, both actors’ voices blended nicely. Rian Shepard plays Jane with a trained voice. One of her best numbers was a duet with her dad, Professor Porter, played by Jim Murphy, who seemed perfectly cast. Naturally, Smith’s Tarzan is trim and fit and demonstrates some nice acrobatics. What would Tarzan be without a rope swing? Off-stage, Smith was just certified as a personal trainer, thereby fulfilling the casting requirements – and I dare say, audience expectations – for the title character.

     Carson Davies, as Tarzan’s Ape Dad, provides some of the best dramatic tension in the show. He’s got a good strong voice and sings feelingly with his wife Kala on a number of occasions. As the grown Terk, McKelle Shaw’s jazzy scat number at the top of Act 2 really sounded accomplished – the girl has the chops to make it work. As the villain in the piece, Clayton, the big game hunter doesn’t sing, or have a lot to do, but his imposing presence is essential to the plot and well-executed by Patrick Brannelly.

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    Tarzan the Musical is performed with great energy and commitment. However, I feel it’s only fair to mention that many of the principles did have some vocal glitches with off-key harmonies and some sustained notes that never quite found the right pitch. But that’s the challenge of performing outdoors. There were some very brief technical problems with a staticky mic. Great job to the whole cast for giving us a show that never lagged in energy or interest. The audience clapped loud and long at the end and left very satisfied.

     Just a note to producers: I was surprised at the lack of signage on the approach to the outdoor stage. Hopefully this can be remedied for folks going to the Scera Shell for the very first time. I’d recommend more visible marketing for the many patrons of the surrounding pool and parks. Although the night was perfect when I went, you might want to bring a blanket or light cover-up as it gets a little cool by the time the show ends around 10 PM. Bring a blanket if you plan on sitting on the grass. Otherwise, chair rental is available for a dollar.

Tarzan the Stage Musical
Based on the Disney Film

SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 S. State Street in Orem, Utah
in the Scera Park Amphitheater

June 6 – 22, Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
General Admission: $10 Adults, $8 Children
Reserved Seating: $12 – $14 Adults, $10 – $12 Children, Seniors and Students with student I.D.

Website: www.scera.org
Phone 801-225-ARTS (2787)

 

 

 

Poison Ivy’s Western is Rootin’ Tootin’ Fun

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By Laurel Sharette

With all the sentimentality and nostalgia of a long lost love Justice at the Gold Dust: A Wild West Murder Mystery attempts to take the audience on a journey to the Wild West. Poison Ivy Mysteries, a dinner theater production, written and directed by Annelise Murphy with music by Jeff Parkes is staged at Diamond Lil’s in Salt Lake City and Famous Dave’s in Midvale. Essentially, the town of Silvercrest has a gold mine which the audience is led to believe is exhausted. However, the audience soon learns the gold mine is not actually dormant at which point disputes surface surrounding the ownership of the mine.

            I saw the show on a Friday night at Famous Dave’s Restaurant. Upon entering the banquet room you are given a name tag with a fictitious name on it, given appropriate accessories if desired – like a bandana or cowboy hat, asked if you’d like a speaking bit in the show, and shown to your seat. I really like that the crew ascertained whether audience members would like to participate before the show even started. One of the audience members actually memorized his few lines which is pretty cool. Poison Ivy seems to understand that not all audience members want to be included in the show. Plus, the people who did get little bit parts seemed pretty happy to be doing it.

            The banquet room is separated from the rest of the restaurant and contributed a nice sense of intimacy. While waiting for everyone to be seated the actors mingle with the audience in character. Acting in a dinner theater show can be difficult – especially considering the improvisational skills required to interact with audience members. All of the actors were up to the challenge and stayed in character, even when a few of the participants at my table got a little feisty. The food is served banquet style and the idea is you have your food and have begun eating by the time the show begins in earnest. The food is what you’d expect from a steak house, albeit a bit on the cold side. It’s served with forks but no knives so I found it a bit hard to eat bone-in chicken breast with any class, but it is a steak house and the show is wild west themed so perhaps it’s meant to foster an even greater sense of cowboy chic.

The program informs the audience “The town of Silvercrest has dried up along with its gold mine. You are traveling through on your way to greener pastures and have stopped at the local watering hole to rest your weary boots.” The performance, much like the town of Silvercrest, is dried up. The show begins with a lackluster musical number and maintains the same monotonous pace throughout. The weariness of this production may have been due to the script, which seems to be constructed over a thin veneer of tired wild west tropes – the lusty barmaid, the crooked mayor, the ingénue, the tomboy, the leading man, and the town drunk are all present. The lusty barmaid, by the name of Rose Doolan is played by Sonja Jensen. She has a pretty decent singing voice, but her performance lacks enthusiasm.

The crooked Mayor – Duke Mallory – is played by Scott Stone. I really liked Scott’s voice and his portrayal of a statesman. Oftentimes, when the character is attempting diplomacy, he has the confident phony smile of a seasoned politician. Scott is also a joy to interact with during the portions of the show when the cast mingles with the audience. The Mayor’s unhappy wife, Belle Mallory, is played by Tiffani Barney. Her performance lacks depth and most of the time she’s onstage she just looks confused. Whether the blame belongs on the shoulders of the director or the actress is unknown.

Hope Hartman plays Calamity Janet. She is the only actor in the show who seemed to have any clear objectives. She is a great actress and a talented singer. I especially like her song “Woman Enough to Be Your Gal.” She brings complexity to a part that could’ve been easily been misunderstood or overacted. The town’s upstanding young man, Jesse Joe James, who has a hankering to be the town sheriff and a heart of gold, is performed by Mark Bell. While Mark’s performance doesn’t necessarily stand out he imbues Jesse Joe James with a kind of earnest charm. Jeremy Tritchler plays the town doctor turned drunk – Doc Zeke Holyday. Jeremy is a good entertainer, although he appears to have never been drunk as his portrayal of a drunk is cartoonish at best. For a family show, this is probably appropriate anyway.

            For the most part the acting is flat and the pacing is off. I attribute these faults to the director. With a cast of only six the ensemble seems perfectly capable of keeping the show together, but the timing is all wrong and the show really drags. There are also multiple holes in the plot – one of which involves Rose Doolan’s husband dying of black lung when he worked in a gold mine, not a coal mine.

            Toward the end of the show the audience gets the opportunity to interrogate the characters. I enjoyed getting the chance to talk to the actors again and it is fun to work with other audience members trying to piece together clues and guess the killer, motive, and weapon. Like most audience members, I started to tune out after the final applause, plus it doesn’t help that the space is uncomfortably cold. Tickets for the show are $40. This covers admission to the show and the food. Personally, I think $40 is a bit much for a show and food of this caliber, but it is family friendly entertainment and for those needing a light escape this is a great option.

 

Poison Ivy Mysteries presents Justice At The Gold Dust: A Wild West Murder Mystery

Famous Dave’s 7273 South Plaza Center Drive West Jordan, UT 84084 and

Diamond Lil’s 1528 West North Temple Salt Lake City, UT 84116

June 8, 15, 21, and 29. July 12, 19, and 26. August 10, 17, 23, and 31 at 7 PM.

Tickets: $40 (includes cost of food)
call: 801-906-8591

http://www.poisonivymysteries.com/

Set Your Expectations High for Midvale Main Street Theatre’s Avenue Q

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

Back in 2007, a friend introduced me to a handful of songs from the Broadway cast recording of Avenue Q, including “If You Were Gay” and “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” The songs were catchy, clever, and downright hilarious. I’ve been dying to see the show since then, but the stars have not aligned until now. I’m sure you can see how this put the cast and crew of Midvale Main Street Theatre’s Avenue Q in an awkward position: with six years of very high expectations to be fulfilled, either I was going to love this show or I was going to be severely disappointed. Spoiler alert: I loved it.ave-q

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bellhop 5   By Joel Applegate

     Despite contending with electrical power outages in the city’s grid, Utah Rep’s company of What the Bellhop Saw gave its opening night audience a vigorous jolt. I had to hold my laughter so I wouldn’t miss the next gag. And folks – that’s all this is – but let me tell you why that’s important.

     First, it makes you listen. This show is just for laughs as the program says. Be that as it may, it’s the sure-footed performances that make this production work – and worth your time. You will be impressed with the high level of skill shown by each of the actors.

bellhop 1     As the lights go down, the cast parades their characters in a furtive skitter across the front of the seating area. The tone is set. Jack Kyle Oram starts the action as the titular bellhop, Wally, boogying to the radio in a posh hotel suite. He sneaks Georgie, his accountant brother played by James McKinney, into the room for a tryst with a secretary. Their professional voices sounded great right off the bat. Both Oram and McKinney are precise in expression and professional in delivery, and made it look easy – even though it’s not – bringing silliness to such a fine edge. They established a polished breakneck pace. Indeed, from there on out, the whole cast barely catches their breath. That’s great, but it created a small problem for the audience. We are left to catch as much as we can of the hilarity as one bit overcame another before the previous laugh could land.

Bellhop-w-Title

     I found out why this was so in the Q & A with the actors after the show. They rehearsed it that way! Director Chase Ramsey locked them in a closet making them run lines to exhaustion, before opening the door to toss in water bottles which they fought over. OK, I made that up. But not entirely. It’s an exaggeration of what the cast themselves described. In speaking with the dramaturg, Ariel Mitchell, I learned that once they moved to the performance venue, the cast knew they had to even the pace a bit in some places, but were still learning on opening night where to hold for laughs and to make sure that all lines are heard. The cast was still making adjustments for the “bouncy” acoustics of the space. The running time isn’t long, so they can afford to indulge themselves a bit. (In passing, couldn’t we as a community of artists and performers have come up with a far better word for that thing they do than “dramaturg”? I shudder in deep places whenever it’s uttered.)

bellhop 3     “Arlene is not a terrorist”, says George, of his mannish wife. “She’s not a picnic, either, “ says Wally, who’s seen this woman in action.  Well, she’s un-pretty, too. But Jake Ben Suazo’s natural sweetness wins us over as Arlene with vivid descriptions of how he will disassemble your anatomy if “she” doesn’t get what she wants. Namely, a half million bucks. For which she is willing to terrorize the terrorist, the CIA agent, the hunted author and his daughter, the sex-pot maid, the hotel manager, a love-sick secretary and an unfortunate guest all crossing paths in a plot so convoluted and hilarious you will not care how it all fits together in one suite.

     Here are some of the pieces. In the the Q & A, the aforementioned Jake Ben Suazo said “This is nonsense, and [the play] celebrates that.” He should know, decked out in pumps the size of canoes and false bazooms that made his struggling buttons sweat. The real ladies, with Bethany Woodruff in the larger role as the hotel maid, all have their timing down and their perky turned up. Woodruff has fun lusting after anyone who can get her a ticket to tabloid fame. Maddy Belle Forsyth belies a certain slyness as the secretary and Aubrey Bench focuses on being Daddy’s girl. The only thing missing was a lollipop.

     Jason Sullivan is the “beneficiary” of CIA protection as author-in-hiding and the target of Robbie X, Pierce’s preening and prattling terrorist. Pierce’s parody on the stereotype is hardly a threat since he joins Sullivan and others in a very funny harmonic ode to mac and cheese. (Kudos to the director for managing to insert that bit of fluff seamlessly into the narrative.) Sullivan as Roger is the only character trying to play it straight, but he’s thwarted by others’ madness and dogged by law enforcement’s incompetence. It’s great watching him strive to hang on to his scholarly aplomb, only to collapse into panicked jousting.

bellhop 2     CIA Agent Stan, played by Benjamin James Henderson, is physically hilarious. He’s re-wound Dirty Harry too often and you’d be well warned off this loose cannon. Daniel Whiting is slick and and ever-so-slightly smarmy as the game-show-like host of the hotel.

     Although not much is seen of him – well, actually, almost ALL of him is, but not often – M. Chase Grant still makes an indelible impression. I’ll save his outfit for a surprise, but I have seen Chase before and it is apparent to me that he’s continuing to hone his peculiar craft of dropping an audience in their tracks without saying a word.Not only do you get to enjoy a great farce, but you will also enjoy visiting the Historic Murray Theater. The building is an Art Moderne movie “palace” built in 1938 that is charming to see. It was host to Salt Lake’s original run of Gone With The Wind. Kevin Dudley’s set is an homage to the space and is beautiful to look at and furnished with just the right accoutrements to make the action work.

     Chase Ramsey’s direction is logistically sound and choreographed, pantless in places and breathless everywhere. He has succeeded in bringing “madcap” back to comedy for a too sophisticated 21st century. The production winds up sooner than you’re ready for it to be over. Before it is, keep in mind that Utah Rep’s run for this show is quite short, so put it on your calendar now. You won’t want to miss what professional comedy looks and sounds like.

     Utah Repertory Co. at the Historic Murray Theater
4961 S. State St.
Murray, Utah

 

      Performance Dates:
May 31; June 3, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15 at 7:30
Matinee on June 15 at 2:00

Phone 801.358.9673

E-Mail: admin@utahrep.org

 

Tickets: $15-$18 in advance. Monday, June 3 is “Pay What You May Night” and student rush tickets for $5 are available at the door beginning 15 minutes before curtain.

 

 

Website: http://utahrep.org/tickets/