Utah Valley University and Sundance’s “Annie Get Your Gun” has Its Hits and Misses


By Briana Lindsay

Annie Get Your Gun follows the adventures of real-life sharpshooter Annie Oakley (MacKenzie Skye Pederson) and her rise to fame with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, as well as the competition between herself and Frank Butler (Ben Henderson) for the title of “Champeen” Sharpshooter of the World. The stakes continuously climb for Oakley and Butler with their blossoming and lovable flirtation for each other, making for some fun duets.

 While waiting for the production to start, the audience is greeted by the performers of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Although this was a fun entrance to the show, it would have been more successful if the actors interacted with audience members more, instead of each other. The show began with the beloved number “There’s No Business Like Show Business” performed by the traveling company. The number had fun choreography, but lacked energy. This deficit of exuberance was probably due to the cold weather. After the slow first number, audience members immediately perked up and tuned in as Annie Oakley made her stage debut.  Pederson’s stage presence was outstanding and electrified the crowd.


 During Oakley and Butler’s first shooting match, there was tangible tension that filled the air as both shooters hit their targets. As an audience member, I leaned forward in my seat waiting to see who would win. The outcome of the scene made it clear that this was a pivotal moment in the legend of Annie Oakley to everyone watching.

 Pedersen’s performance as Annie Oakley was endearing and the highlight of the entire production.  Her quirky, rough, tomboy character was charming and instantly won over the audience. Pedersen was particularly delightful during the number, “An Old-Fashioned Wedding,” a number left off the program.  There was just enough sass and innocence that made me invest in Oakley’s happiness and success.

 Henderson’s portrayal of the overly confident ladies’ man, Frank Butler, made for an admirable antagonist to Oakley. Because I was rooting for Oakley to succeed in her conquest to marry Butler, I desperately wanted to like Henderson’s character. However, it wasn’t until one of the final numbers, “Anything You Can Do” that Henderson showed the laughable loveable desperate side to Butler, letting the audience care for him and root for the couple to end up together.


 The leads did an excellent job at fulfilling their roles, as well as standout performances from Coral Chambers and Jordan Cummings in their supporting roles. Chambers’ performance as Dolly Tate was full of attitude and every entrance was grand and over the top.  I enjoyed Cummings’ performance as the wisecracking businessman Charlie, who also served as an onstage “stage manager” announcing the number and location of the upcoming scene.

 The forbidden romance between Winnie Tate (Hanna Cutler) and Tommy (Chase Elwood) served as a subplot to the major story of Oakley and Butler. The performers did an adequate job singing and dancing, but had an absence of chemistry between them. This made for a lack of investment in their storyline and made their scenes drag. The lack of tension was particularly apparent during the number “Who Do You Love, I Hope.” I was more involved in the background characters and their costumes than what was happening between the couple. Sundance’s beautiful landscape made for the perfect location to tell the story of Annie Oakley. The majority of the simple set was dressed in drops designed by Stephen Purdy, with excellent lighting designs for the difficult space by Brian Healy. The set changes flowed smoothly, except between “Act I Finale” and “Act II” possibly due to the intermission being moved up because of weather. Becca Bailey Klepko’s costume design for the production was stunning. The color palette was beautiful and complimented the time period. The makeup and wig designs by Lara Beene enhanced the show, although the half naked Indian could have used some blending.


 I enjoyed this show immensely and it was a great first experience to the legend of Annie Oakley, never having seen a previous production of Annie Get Your Gun. The production was a delight and audience members left the theatre singing their favorite numbers from the show, especially the well-known tune “Anything You Can Do.”   I would highly recommend bringing warm blankets and coats, because it can get very chilly up the mountain, especially when it’s dark.

 The Sundance Summer Theatre  – Utah Valley University

Annie Get Your Gun

Sundance Resort (8841 N. Alpine Loop Road Sundance, UT)

Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM through August 17


(866) 734-4428


Ancient Greek + Christian + Mormon = Zion Theatre Company’s Prometheus Unbound

A Utah theater review by Ben Christensen

What do you get when you take ancient Greek mythology and retell it with Christian themes filtered through the lens of twenty-first century Mormonism? You get the Zion Theatre Company’s production of Mahonri Stewart’s Prometheus Unbound. Using the story of Prometheus as a vehicle, director Sarah-lucy Hill and her cast and crew examine concepts such as atonement, faith, and agency, shedding new light on these age-old Sunday school topics.

Prometheus0 Continue reading

Grab your Golden Ticket to Spanish Fork’s Wonka!


By Shannon Eden

Willy Wonka, put on by Spanish Fork Community Theater, brings you into the pure imagination of director Andrea Johnson, assisted by Larisa Hicken. The play, based on the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and adapted for the stage, follows the story of poor Charlie Bucket – poor in money, worldly comforts, and pretty much everything except a family who loves him and does their best to remind him that, no matter what. “Bucket’s think positive!” With a little bit of that positive thinking and a lotta bit of luck, Charlie is one of five children who get the rare privilege of being invited into the very exclusive and delicious world of the Candy Man himself – Willy Wonka. When your competition is a gluttonous German, a pampered princess, a gum-chewing guru, and a TV techie – Charlie’s odds of winning more than just a life-time supply of chocolate is looking pretty good.

 Willy Wonka, played by Robert Kinghorn, opens the show. I felt like Kinghorn was a little stiff at first. As he sang, he was missing the whimsy that his purple velvet jacket required. However, once his spoken lines began, his demeanor lightened and he relaxed into the character. He served as the narrator throughout the first act, really bringing out Wonka in the second act when the children show up at the factory. He had a strong voice and portrayed a likable candy-maker. There were times when he’d give one of those eccentric laughs – for those familiar with the recent film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – it was reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the not-completely-there Willy Wonka. It didn’t really fit with the way Kinghorn played Wonka throughout the majority of the show. His character would have flowed better if he had chosen either the light-hearted dreamer or the kooky, disconnected Wonka, and not tried to do them both.

 Charlie, played by Jake Blonquist, interacted naturally with his fellow Bucket’s and the other characters. Blonquist made Charlie someone you easily wanted to root for. The only time he lost his spark was occasionally during his songs and, ironically enough, when he found the golden ticket. The light glinted beautifully off that ticket, and the reaction of a boy given a one in a million chance just wasn’t quite there. But Blonquist’s performance was overall relaxed and enjoyable. His relationship with his grandparents (Grandpa Joe – Chris Bradford, Grandma Josephine – Lucy Bradford, Grandpa George – Steve Whitehead, Grandma Georgina – Liesel Polichette) was companionable; especially with Grandpa Joe (Bradford) who gave a consistent and amusing interpretation of the chocolate-loving, former Wonka employee.

 The other children – Augustus Gloop (Mckay Hicken), Veruca Salt (Fatima Reedy), Violet Beauregarde (Shay Swenson), and Mike TeaVee (Ridge Leach) – were all properly horrid in their own way. I enjoyed Hicken’s portrayal of Augustus in his garbled German accent that made you feel like he always had a piece of chocolate stuffed in his cheeks. I was disappointed that his mic struggled so much during the night. Many of his lines were lost and I felt like he didn’t have an opportunity to really let his character shine because of technical difficulties. Reedy was properly spoiled as Veruca. Her tantrums got a little over the top for me sometimes. Where it was a shame that Augustus’ mic was rarely on, it seemed Veruca’s always worked – a little too well during some particularly loud screams! Swenson brought a very snarky tone to Violet and Leach delivered the fast and frenzied attitude of Mike Teavee very well; although, I wished they had each given their factory scenes as much enthusiasm as when we first met their characters.

 The children’s parents – Mrs. Gloop (Mariana Adams), Mr. Salt (Andrew Cannon), Mrs. Beauregarde (understudy Lauree Roberts), and Mrs. Teavee (Kara Henry) – showed us everything a parent should not be. Adams was over the top and in your face as she stuffed more and more food into Augusts’ little piggy cheeks. Cannon played the role of Mr. Salt well, though I had a hard time believing his character simply because of his youth (he’s in his teens). He and Veruca looked too close to the same age to be a convincing father/daughter duo. Mrs. Beauregarde had potential as a character, but like Augustus, her mic rarely worked and I lost most of her lines. Henry, as Mrs. TeaVee, was my favorite with her vapid expression and spacey demeanor that never wavered. She could dominate a scene just by standing still and staring like a 1950’s inspired deer in the headlights.

 The supporting cast of ‘Wonka’ is dominated by children, making up the Oompa Loompas, Candy Kids, and Squirrels. The Squirrels were the youngest of the bunch, and I challenge anyone who sees them to not join into the collective, “Aww!” of the audience. The Candy Kids and Oompa Loompas are decked out in an array of crazy costumes, done by costumer Mareen Robinson. They are bright and fun to watch. Being in the wildly imaginative world of Wonka, I’d encourage them to let loose even more and to bring the stage to life with their choreography, done by Bethany Taylor, and not concentrate so hard on each step and movement. I mentioned whimsy before – and a lot of the show needed an extra punch of that. It is a show that is meant to have more fun than depth, and it is up to the ensemble to bring that. There were many times where the cast kept their reactions very muted – for example:w Willy Wonka’s crippled exit from his factory that turns out to be only a joke. The audience was driven by the reactions of the cast, and since they stayed silent, so did the audience.

 The set, done by David Henry and Ann-Marie Mair, was full of bright colors and brought an animation to the large stage. Touches like the cotton candy boat, gumball machine, and glass elevator were cleverly done. The technical aspects of the show, run by Sara and Brent Harvey, struggled a bit during the night. As mentioned, many of the mics had issues and some of the music cues seemed to lag behind a bit. I enjoyed the special attention giving to different usage of lighting during the show. A golden ticket appeared at the top of the stage as each one was found, and they subsequently disappeared as one by one the children met their ‘sticky’ ends in the factory. I would like to have had more sound effects at key moments in the show. Augustus’ fall into the chocolate river had everyone laughing, but then, as he sat hanging in the tube and eventually got sucked upward, the silence left me with the feeling of anti-climax. The same happened with Veruca’s falling into the nut incinerator and Mike TeaVee’s shrinking.

 Overall, Willy Wonka is a fun community show geared toward families who are looking to see something simply fun. I brought my kids – ages six, four, two, and six weeks. While the baby slept through most of it (that’s good theater etiquette for an infant), the other three were engaged throughout the show and singing “oompa loompa…” as we left. It was definitely a ‘sweet’ night that we all enjoyed.

*The show runs July 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 26, and 27 with the rolls of Charlie, Augustus, Mike, Veruca, and Violet double cast.

Spanish Fork Community Theater

Spanish Fork High School, 99 N 300 W  Spanish Fork, UT 84660

Tickets are available online at https://www.xpressbillpay.com/portal/?refer=sfrodeo

$6.00 children and seniors, $8.00 adults, $35.00 for immediate families.

Lehi’s “Once Upon a Mattress” is a Fairytale of Fun

By Chelsea Benjamin

 I recently had the opportunity to watch Once Upon a Mattress with my friend Brittany.  This wonderful little show was one we had both seen on different occasions and we were excited to see Lehi City Arts’ version of Once Upon A Mattress.

 Walking into the Lehi Arts Center I was welcomed into a very warm and laid-back environment. Music was playing and excitement grew as the show began.  As the lights came up on the first scene we were greeted by the Minstrel, played by Max Durrant, and his lovely tenor voice (and stylistic choice of always moving his hands to the gentle music) as he told the tale of the princess and pea. Of course the Mistrel’s three-minute tale of the fairytale was a short and sweet version of what truly happened as he had lived it.

 As the characters were introduced, the audience soon finds out that no one in the kingdom is allowed to marry until the prince does. But the queen does not want her son to marry, and claims it is because not  any old princess will do. Once Upon A Mattress really gets going as the twelfth princess is taking the Queen’s obviously unfair test. Like all the eleven princesses before her she fails, and Sir Harry takes it upon himself to go find another available princess.  The princess he finds is not one anyone expects, and the castle is turned upside down upon the arrival of Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, or Fred for short.  With the Prince taking an instant liking to Fred (because she is the girl who swam the moat) it will take extra effort from the Queen to get this rambunctious princess away from her son.

 Queen Aggravain, played by Anne-Marie DeOllos, was frightening but at times in the most funny way.  She held herself in a very royal manner. She gave a  powerful and strong performance that filled the room and demanded attention any time she entered the stage. There was no turning away, especially once the plot thickened and the audience finds out that she is scheming with the Wizard, played by John Fletcher, who had very good projection and a strong presence, that she planned on making Winnifred’s test impossible to pass.

 King Sextimus the Silent, played by Scott Aaron, was not very silent at all using pantomime and a Jester, played by Tim Merkley, to get his feelings across, he even sang a whole song to his son while silent.  I enjoyed his character as the silent king and was refreshed by the fact that he did not come off as perverted as I have seen in other productions as the king chases around the Ladies of the Court.  His facial expressions as a mute were great and once the King, Jester, and Minstrel paired up to sing “The Minstrel, the Jester, and I” they gave a very fun performance that had me giggling.

 Dauntless the Drab, played by Mark Nott, was certainly a momma’s boy but that did not stop him from wanting to win Winnifred’s heart.  Mark Nott’s ability to play a wimpy prince was spot on.  He was bashful but very determined and very much in love.  His acting and singing was great and I enjoyed laughing with him at his character’s awkward moments as he was swept off his feet by his love for a girl named Fred.

 Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, played by Deb Nott, was not at all shy as her character claims but was a delight to watch.  From the moment she climbed over the castle wall after swimming the moat, she captured the attention of both Prince Dauntless and the audience.  The instant spark shown on stage between Prince and Princess was apparently not all theatre magic, one look in the program shows that their love connection goes beyond the stage since the two have been married for several years. Deb Nott had plenty of spunk needed to play a girl named Fred and a beautiful singing voice that went well with the quirky songs.

 Sir Harry, played by Tanner Perelle, and Lady Larken, played by Temera Merkley, were paired perfectly and played very well off each other in their melodramatic acting style.  Temera’s soprano was very pretty and a joy to listen to, and Tanner’s acting was strong.  The two were opposites and yet the same, their acting styles matched and were very silly characters and extremely expressive, while one was large and robust and the other small and bird-like.

Director Robert Smith kept his many ensemble members and principles in high energy, which made it fun for the audience to watch. Ensemble member Amber Heap, who played Nightingale of Smarkand, was able to show off her gorgeous singing voice in a solo that was both lovely and hilarious at the same time.  There was also Sean Aaron as Sir Studley who did an excellent job of living up to his name and dancing the Spanish Panic.

The costumes were  sumptuous and very fairytale like, which enhanced the fairytale feel of the show. Kudos to costume designer Lynnea Kartchner. Set designers Jerry Hatch, Robert Brian Smith, and Max Durrant created a set that worked well in this space. Music director Andrea Chapman and Sound by Jean Hatch helped this musical really pop. Choreographer Melissa Aaron Chapman’s dances were great for the space and the level of dancing ability for this cast. They were lovely and easy to watch.

 My one issue with Lehi’s production of Once Upon A Mattress was the amount and pace of the scene changes.  The show ended up being two and a half hours long, and with half of the audience being around the age of six I found it to be a little drawn out.  If the scene changes could happen quicker, the show would be able to be reduced closer to a two-hour more reasonable time limit.

 The whole cast had so much energy throughout the run of the show and seemed delighted to act and interact with the children and nearest audience members.  One part that I enjoyed so much was that everyone was excited to be there.  From the leads down to the ensemble members they were all in the moment and full of energy that translated well to the audience.  I would recommend children of all ages to come see Lehi City Art Council’s production of Once Upon A Mattress.

July 11-20  7:30 p.m.
Lehi Arts Center   685 North Center, Lehi
Tickets Available Online
Adults $10.00,Students $8.00,65 & older $8.00
For information call     801-369-8806



Salty Dinner Theater’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” Shines with Great Performers


By Jennifer Mustoe

I asked my niece Kerisa to come see Salty Dinner Theater’s latest production, The Emperor’s New Clothes, which was at the University Mall’s The Old Spaghetti Factory. SDT always promises a fun time, and as Kerisa is one of my zaniest friends, I knew she’d enjoy herself.

For those unfamiliar with dinner theater, you go to the restaurant and the performers banter with the guests, in character, while everyone gets settled. It helps the crowd anticipate what they will see. The play starts, we eat salads, the play keeps going, then takes a break while we eat dinner, and then the play finishes. All this happens in amongst the crowd, wending and winding through tables, though there are a few boxes the actors stand on. A good staging move as sometimes it’s hard to see who is where.


During the eating breaks, SDT has a new singer, who plays The Fool. Johanna Blair may play a fool, but she sings like an angel. She is cute, perky, and fun, and her vocals were the bomb. I was not completely happy with the songs she was given to sing as they weren’t the typical SDT fare, oldies that everyone knows and jumps up to dance to. Instead, there were some lesser known oldies, that, while cute, weren’t recognizable enough for everyone to clap to, and Disney songs, which were nice, but weren’t necessarily fun. Also, Blair needs to insist she get a tie for her really cute hat as she spent a considerable amount of her time with the mic in one hand and her other hand on top of the hat to keep it on her head.

The plot (scripted and directed by Beth Bruner) for The Emperor’s New Clothes was sort of a morphing of the original story by Hans Christian Anderson (played by Joseph Thompson) and a king-looking-for-a-worthy-prince-for-his-daughter aspect. The script was funny in bits, but it actually seemed slightly risque and not as tight as I would have liked. It may have been that what seemed like an awful lot of moving around with no real reason might have distracted me.


What I liked about this production was a lot, however. First, each actor was amazing. There was Tonia Sayer, a SDT regular, and can play a good and bad fairy like nobody’s business. She goes from a horrible crone to a stately Advisor with just a little costume changing but some awesome acting chops. Thompson, as HC Anderson was delightful. He was quick with some one-liners, and very approachable and affable. I enjoyed whenever he was onstage. Clayton Barney’s Prince Eric was wonderful. Barney can sing, act, and is in every way adorable. Kerisa said he was “very cute” and she is right. His love interest, Princess Penelope, played by Marion Strobell, did a great job and their musical duets were nice, the second one more than the first, which was slightly out of Barney’s range. Strobell gave Penelope an innocent wonder layered with a “hey, I’m ready to live my life, Dad” attitude that I really enjoyed. The self-absorbed Emperor was played convincingly by Jason Jones. He was so fun to watch. You could tell that Jones loved this silly, preening, and completely blind to parenting Ruler. And hey, when your last scene is in a (spoiler alert!) pair of red long johns, you gotta have some fun with it, right?


Salty Dinner Theater has grown dramatically since I started seeing their productions several years ago and in fact, often sells their shows out, and has added several venues. These are fun family shows that get the audience involved and are high energy. I have seen more audience interaction at other productions, and as I said, I think this show’s musical choices are responsible for fewer people just spontaneously (meaning me and my guests among others, usually) getting up and dancing and acting crazy generally.

I will say, too, that I haven’t been to all the venues and can’t say whether the food is great or only passable at all places, but The Old Spaghetti Factory is really only slightly better than fair. It took forever for me to get a refill on my water and their lasagna is really horrible. I say this from experience and the opinion of one of the people at my table. In their favor, though, I did notice several of the wait staff not only handily moving out of the way, but actually sort of hamming it up with the guests, as well. Hey, they work for tips, right?

All in all, I would recommend this show, though you may want to consider going to one of the Salt Lake venues if possible.

For more information, please go to their website: http://www.saltydinnertheater.com/



Orem Hale’s “Guys and Dolls” is for Guys, Dolls, and Kids, too!

guys and dolls 1

By Jennifer Mustoe

Friday night, my friend Cynthia and I went to the Hale Center Theater Orem’s Guys and Dolls. My friend, who doesn’t see many shows, was just excited to be there. I, a little more seasoned, went with high hopes and many expectations.

Neither of us was disappointed.

The Hale usually does an awesome job with their shows, so it’s not startling that Guys and Dolls would be up to their usual caliber. However, their stage isn’t what you’d call huge, so I was particularly interested in how they would take what can be a musical with a cast of many down to few and not make it look either smooshy with too many performers, or silly with only a few. Hale got it just right.

For those unfamiliar with this classic musical, it’s about, well, you know guys, most of them gamblers, and dolls, usually in the form of dance hall dancers. The other men and women belong to a tea totaling save your souls group who hope to bring the guys and dolls back to God. There are two romances, so there is the rom-com atmosphere, lots of music, and a little bit of wisdom thrown in for good measure.

The show begins with Nicely-Nicely Johnson, played winningly by Scott Rollins. Cynthia and I loved his physicality, his jovial nature, and his spot on Brooklyn accent – which was the best in the show. He is joined by a couple of gambling types, and then in come the Save-A-Soul group, led by Sarah Brown, played by the lovely Brittni Smith, whose darling face and lovely singing voice make her perfect for this part.

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Sky Masterson, The Best Gambler Ever, played by Equity Actor Blake Barlow is slated to be the unlikely sweetheart to Sarah and so the story goes. Their connection onstage was great, though their musical duets were not as strong, which was workable considering Sarah’s character (until she gets drunk!) is rather repressed.

The other lovers are Nathan Detroit, played by Carter Thompson, and his fourteen-year fiancee Miss Adelaide, played by Kelly Hennesey. I will say right now that these two were my favorites, I drank in whenever they were onstage and if there was a show that had just these two characters, or these two fine, fine performers, I would try to see them multiple times. Thompson is so likeable, so genuine, has a great voice, amazing charisma…. Okay, I’m sort of gushing. And Hennesey? Oh. My. Gosh. Her squeaky voice, her mincing around, her sweet, innocence that then explodes when she gets sick of Nathan’s dawdling marriage plans are beautiful and delightful. (Do NOT get near her when she is carrying that big long purse!) This girl is going places. I’d like to be there to see her on her journey.

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All the musical numbers were very good, but by far the best were any that included all the gamblers and male principles. Their harmonies were a thing of beauty. Kudos to Music Director David Smith. The sweetest number was “More I Cannot Wish You,” sung to Sarah by Arvide Abernathy, the father figure grampa in Save-A-Soul. This number wasn’t the best vocally, but Lon P. Keith’s gentle way with the sorrowing Sarah was tender and made me a little teary, a nice juxtaposition to all the silliness that Guys and Dolls is about.

The other number that stands out to me is the duet between Sarah and Adelaide. These two women, from opposite sides of the track, have one goal in mind: “Marry the Man Today.” This duet was adorable, very tight, and a pleasure to watch. The two actresses couldn’t be more dissimilar, which made it even more fun.

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The production was tight, tight, tight and Director David Morgan had each of his actors doing a lot of very delightful stage business: lots of banter, movement, interacting with one another. There was a lot of energy, everyone stayed in character, and my suspension of disbelief was complete.

I had a few issues with the production, though they are small and remarkably picky. One is that there were some rather strange choreography numbers. All the ones that included Adelaide and her Hot Box Girls were a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e. Choreographer Jennifer Hill-Barlow made those girls shine – their numbers were spunky, a little sexy, and super fun. However, I can only guess that most of the gamblers were not dancers because when the men’s musical numbers came up, there seemed to be only two featured dancers. In this show, it’s not completely necessary for that much dancing, especially in the smaller space. But during “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” with all the gamblers throwing dice, there were two men sort of slicing through the craps game and it was distracting rather than artistic.

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The other issue is even more minor, but it bothered me, so I’m mentioning it. As many people know, the Hale is famous for its costumes, and Guys and Dolls has some of the most gorgeous, colorful costumes around. Maryann Hill, Costume Designer, is a genius. However, for some reason, all the actresses in Guys and Dolls were wearing wigs. I can understand why, as this is a period piece and not everyone has hair that will work with these types of hairdos. But the wigs looked kind of fake and coupled with the fantastic costumes looked even stranger. And, I know this is my own freak-outedness, but I kept worrying that when the wonderful dancers moved, their wigs would come flying off. It could be I have little experience with wigs, I say drily…

All in all, I heartily recommend you go see Guys and Dolls. The kids will love it and so will you. It’s a fun experience in a lovely air-conditioned space with some of the nicest patrons around, and I am not even making that up. The Hale crowd is really affable and friendly, and I love going there.

Hale Center Theater Orem,225 West 400 North, Orem UT, 84057

801.226.8600 Evening Performances at 7:30 P.M. Saturday Matinees at 3:00 P.M. Weeknights – $18 “A seats”         $16 “B seats” Weekends –   $20 “A seats”         $18 “B seats” *Children $4 less *Price includes processing fee




“The Box invites you to accept the hand that is reaching out”

the box 1

By Briana Lindsay

Before attending the opening night performance of Warboy Theatre Projects’ production of The Box, I was familiar with their previous work, such as Shackled and Tell-Tale Heart. Both of these productions were written by local playwrights and put together in short amounts of time.  These pieces were thought provoking and outside the norm of what one might see in Utah Valley. I had enjoyed myself at both of these previous works, and their newest project is nothing short of amazing.

The Box is a short, less than an hour, original play written by award-winning Christian Swenson, with script supervision by Jake Ben Suazo and Brian Grob. This original piece delves into the psyches of two men and their interactions with one another.

 As I entered the theater, I was greeted by the soft sound of instrumental music playing from a record player. As the title suggests, there is a small white set that “boxes” in the actors. It  consists of open wall frames, just large enough for the actors to stand with a few feet to walk about.

 Man One, played by Daniel Anderson, and Man Two, played by Andrew Robertson, are confined to this box-like environment and have only a mirror and record player to keep them company. Man Two is working on escaping the space, while Man One is content in his living arrangements knowing that he is an “I.” An early conflict in the piece comes from Man One referring to Man Two as an “appendage.” Man Two is thought to be just an extension of Man One’s own mind. Later, Man One is surprised to see another person appear in the mirror and offer another explanation for Man One and Two’s existences. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not these men will take the help from an offered hand.

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Anderson’s performance as Man One was incredibly believable and sincere. His comfort in the use of words such as “appendage” when referring to Man Two as a friend brought comedy to the piece, especially how Anderson would emphasize certain words.  There was an endearing awkwardness and subtlety to the character. I highly enjoyed Anderson’s reactions to the person in the mirror. His expressions and disbelief that someone else existed outside the box was fun and caused an interesting change in the character. I also loved when Man One takes the woman’s advice and tries to strike up a conversation with Man Two. The awkward and clever use of trying to imitate Man Two’s motions made for a fun and lovable bit.  Each gesture was specific and Anderson’s strong understanding of the piece made for an endearing character.

 Only being thought of as an extension of another person’s mind doesn’t sit well with Man Two. Robertson’s performance as a man dealing with this idea was genuine and heartfelt. The sadness and disbelief as he fails to try and express himself was relatable. Robertson also brought comic relief to the heavy subject. I enjoyed Robertson’s argument in why he couldn’t be just another figment of Man One’s imagination. His reasoning was logical as well as cleverly funny. There was a clear character arc in how Robertson portrayed this man dealing with the subject matter of existence. Robertson had defined confusion, denial, and later, a slight acceptance of what he is being told. The character of Man Two was a distinct character from Man One.

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 I appreciated the subtlety of director Chase Ramsey in the direction of the actors. Being boxed up, the actors were in a small space with little room for movement. The actors’ placement was always motivated and visible to the audience. The confidence in Man One’s idea that he was the maker of Man Two made for an interesting and complex dynamic between the two men. Kudos to Ramsey in how this piece was cast. The acting styles of Anderson and Robertson were very different, and their physical appearances also played a role in how these men were unique from one another.

 Although the men are arguing and having a difficult time expressing themselves, I felt a strong connection and trust between the actors. The two men go through these discussions of what life is and what creates life. Both are very confident in their argument at the beginning, but become more shaken and unsure as the piece continues. The placement of Man Two as Man One speaks with the woman was excellent. Man Two was still visible and a part of the scene, but didn’t distract from the conversation at the mirror. As these philosophical changes are happening, the body language of both men made the importance of the text understood to the audience.

 A surprise entrance made by Jessamyn Svenssen made for an interesting change in the dynamic. Svenssen played an audience member who decides to interact with Man One and offer advice. I had seen production photos featuring Svenssen, but her entrance and character still caught me off guard. Even as the play continued and Svenssen returned to her seat, I kept an eye out to see her reactions for commentary on what was happening on stage.  Her distinct character lent a hand to the production in a beautiful and charismatic way.

the box 3

 After the play was finished, there was a short twenty-minute talkback with the director, actors and the playwright. Swenson spoke to the audience about his inspiration for the piece and how it derived from his own dealings with Asperger’s Syndrome. He shared what it felt like when interacting with others outside his own “box.”  The struggle and intimate details that Swenson wrote into each of these characters made this script very personal and charming. I look forward to seeing a full-length production of the playwright’s insightful story. Although the inspiration came from dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome, the hardship and hope to overcome and step outside the box is relatable to every audience member.

 Dan Whiting designed the simple set. The simplicity serves its purpose in boxing in the actors and separating them from the audience. The lighting was very helpful in the distinction of where the focus should be in the piece. Michael Gray did an excellent job in designing the lovely lights.

 This is production that has a very limited run and seating. The story is insightful, clever, and heartfelt. I would recommend this poignant piece to anyone dealing with personal hardships, as well just a night out to see something that offers food for thought.




THE ECHO THEATER – 145 Univ. Ave, Provo, UT

Runs July 12th  and 13th at 7:30 PM (Only 60 seats a night)




The Hills Are Alive at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater

scera_somBy Larisa Hicken

I grew up watching the film version of The Sound of Music over and over again and I’ve had several opportunities to see the show performed on the stage.  When I heard that the SCERA Theater in Orem, Utah was producing The Sound of Music, I couldn’t pass up another chance to hear some of my all-time favorite songs from Rogers and Hammerstein.

Most people are familiar with the story of Maria who doesn’t quite fit in at the Abbey and is assigned as the governess for the von Trapp family.  She wins the hearts of the seven neglected and unruly children and eventually the heart of the widower Captain Georg von Trapp.  Eventually they are all forced to leave their beloved homeland of Austria in order to evade the Nazis.

Chelsea Hendrickson quickly won my heart as Maria.  Hendrickson’s version of Maria is more dramatic than I’ve seen before and even silly at times, but it worked for me.  Her smile lit up the stage, her voice is bright and beautiful, and her vocal range is fabulous.

mark_buffingtonCaptain von Trapp was played by Mark Buffington.  I struggled to see him as the harsh captain who runs his family like a military troop, but part of it may have been that he was looking down at the stage and away from the other actors a lot.  I wanted to see him more engaged in the scene and more dominant in his posture and movements.  However, there were moments when he really shined. The scene when he was sang “Edelweiss” was very touching.

The elegant Rebekah Osmond was delightful as Elsa Schraider.  Her dancing was as lovely as her voice.  I also really enjoyed Phil Varney as Max Deitweiler.  He had excellent characterization and a rich vocal sound, especially for someone so young.

All of the younger actors were an absolute joy to watch.  Little Olivia Sundwall as Gretl von Trapp was as talented as she was adorable.  She executed every dance move and line with perfection.  McCall Hope Brainard (Marta von Trapp) is a beautiful actress, and Austin Bigelow was endearing as Friederich von Trapp.  Seth Kelson had perfect pitch and amazing volume on his famous high note as Kurt von Trapp.  Chloe Rodgerson had just the right amount of spunk as Louisa von Trapp.  My favorite of the von Trapp children was Grace Grimmer as Brigitta.  Her acting talent is incredible for her age and I loved her voice.

SOM-9104Jessica Sundwall plays every young girl’s favorite character, Leisl von Trapp.  Sundwall is a gorgeous young lady and her voice is terrific.  However, I would like to have seen more clear character development from her.  She seemed to be playing Leisl as slightly ditzy and shallow, which just didn’t work for me.

Another problem was the lack of chemistry between Sundwall and Corey Morris in the role of Rolf.  Their “kiss” was as awkward for the audience as it was for the actors.  During their secret rendezvous, when Leisl and Rolf sing the famous “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” the actors barely made eye contact with each other.  I had a really hard time believing that they had ever met, let alone had feelings for each other.  I did enjoy seeing how Morris’ character of Rolf developed over the course of the show.  His characterization was unique and it definitely grew on me.

vontrapp-family500Another unique character was the Mother Abbess played by Michelle Sundwall.  I confess that as a child I fast forwarded through the song “Climb Every Mountain” and most of the time when I see this show on stage, I wish I could do the same thing.  However, Sundwall was no boring, stately nun.  She had spunk and fire and I finally understand why her character is so important to the story.  And her song was magnificent!

I also have to applaud the supporting actors who played the other nuns, party attendees/dancers, Nazis, and the winning performers in the music festival.  Some of these actors simply stole the show with their fun character choices.

The set design by Nat Reed was a little clunky at times and the cloud texture on the walls was odd, but I really appreciated the beautiful stained glass windows and the garden gazebo which I would love to have seen used more, but it was banished to the back of the stage.  I also loved the use of the hills surrounding the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater.  And the use of the Nazi flags throughout the audience during the final scene actually made my skin crawl.

I was very impressed by the choreography of the show.  Choreographer Nichole Ortega used fluid dance formations to fill the stage and make some really nice pictures.  It’s also obvious that she really took the time to learn about the characters and tell a story with the dancing.  My only concern was that Chelsea Hendrickson as Maria was often out of breath and gasping for air during her scenes, so I wondered if her dancing required a bit too much movement to allow for her singing.

maria-vontrappOne of the biggest problems with The Sound of Music is that all of the fun stuff happens in the first half of the show and we’re stuck with the gloomy stuff for the entire second half.  I was very impressed that director Jeremy Showgren managed to keep the pacing up for the second half and finished the show with a flourish.  I have to admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever truly enjoyed the entire show from the beginning all the way to the end.

Grab your bug spray and lawn chairs and head over to the SCERA for a fun night with the family.  You’ll be singing “The Hills Are Alive” the whole way home.

July 5-20 @ 8:00pm
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
GENERAL ADMISSION: $10 Adult, $8 Child/Senior/Student
RESERVED SECTION B: $12 Adult, $10 Child/Senior/Student
RESERVED SECTION A: $14 Adult, $12 Child/Senior/Student
SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058
In the middle of SCERA Park

Grassroots Shakespeare Co’s Three-Fer is Triple Amazing!


By Jennifer Mustoe (and friends)

I am sorry to tell you that the review you are about to read is about shows that closed on Saturday night, the evening I watched them. So as jazzed as you will be in reading this review, the possibility of witnessing this splendor for these plays is past. However, read on and I will whet your appetite Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s fall line up, which is sure to be spectacular.

I have been a big fan of GSC for several years. If you like fun, you like Shakespeare, you like being part of an active audience or watching people who like to interact with the performers onstage… If you like watching brilliant actors take Shakespeare and make it an organic experience that all can understand and enjoy… If you like watching shows in unusual venues… If you like to see free shows… Grassroots Shakespeare Company is for you. I insist.

My companions and I, all Front Row Reviewers Utah reviewers (Joel Applegate, my son Caden Mustoe and my husband, Craig Mustoe) got to the Provo Castle Amphitheater right before the 6 PM curtain for Much Ado About Nothing. It. Was. Hot. As in the sun was beating down, I went to sit on the side stones (it’s all stone–bring a blanket to sit on if you don’t pay for the chaired seats.) Soon, however, the clouds covered the sun, and before we knew it, the rain came pattering and then slightly pouring down. But the show played on!


Front Row Reviewers Utah has already reviewed the final comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, in this grouping of three shows, so I will only discuss it briefly later in the review. The first play, Much Ado About Nothing, shares some of the cast with the second and sometimes the third play. The actors that were only in Much Ado are: Ronnie Stringfellow who played Beatrice with some real sass and lovely, hilarious Kayla Smith as Hero (loved the hair swoop) (she also did a bit as Boy.)The multi-talented Topher Rasmussen (who makes a gorgeous blonde in Shrew) and the extraordinary Davey Morrison Dillard (also the star of Shrew) added to the cast of Much Ado.


The second play was Henry IV, Part 1. I admit, I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare’s histories simply because I don’t know that much English history. However, in this particular play we find Falstaff, who has been reputed to be one of Shakespeare’s finest characters. The young man who played Falstaff (Levi Brown) (who also played a woman, fully red bearded and all in one of the comedies) did such an amazing performance. Falstaff is a comic figure, a very rotund one! But Brown showed Falstaff’s vulnerability and love for Prince Hal in such a warm and nuanced way. Bravo! The delightful Eric Geels; the haunting and multi-talented James Bounous; gifted Jessamyn Svennson (who can juggle as we saw in the pre-show); skilled Jarom Blunt; the lovely, accomplished Bianca Morrison Dillard (in all three shows, she plays men more than women and does a fine job); funny and canny Lily Hye Soo Dixon; the winning Dominic Zappala; capable Cameron Thredgold; the talented Eric Geels; amazing Trevor Christensen (with his great laugh at each entrance in Much Ado; and Steven Pond finish out the cast of Henry IV, Part 1, and most were in Much Ado as well. As I’ve said, though I’m not a fan of histories, GSC made this enjoyable and understandable. The funny parts were really funny and the difficult (for me) parts were made clear.

For me, nobody does Shakespeare’s comedies better than Grassroots Shakespeare Company. I asked my husband, who’d never seen one of their performances, what he thought. He said, “It was as great as you said, but I didn’t think it was that going to be that silly and fun. If I could describe it in one word, I’d say “madcap”.” (He’s an English teacher. He actually says words like that.)

GSC’s comedies are like a delicious melding of song, dance, amazing blocking, terrific interpretations (and for me, they’re more like translations–regularly through their shows I think, Oh, so that’s what Shakespeare meant!) and color, words, and frivolity. They never cease to delight me.


The final show, The Taming of the Shrew can be described in one word: HI-LAR-I-OUS! Though all the players did fantastic, huge applause to Davey Morrison Dillard for being the crabbiest, most cantakerous, unlikeable female I’ve ever seen in a show. This is an all-male cast (as Shakespeare did in the old days) and Dillard plays one mean lady. The other person in the cast that deserves serious props is Jack Kyle Oram. He wasn’t originally cast in this show and jumped in at the last minute. Though at times he quite obviously held the script in his hand (and that made it just funnier), he did excellent character development and blithely handled this task. Good job!

The most amazing thing about the GSC system and also its actors is (this is from their website):

What we (don’t) do:

  • No Director: Actors stage the show themselves.
  • No Costumer: Actors bring their own costumes.
  • No Lighting Designer: Actors play to a visible audience.
  • No Tech Week: Only a few days for rehearsal.
  • No Fourth Wall: The audience is part of the play.
  • No Concept: The story tells itself.

They need to add something about how they are all crazy good memorizers, as many of these actors were in all three plays. Have you ever tried to memorize Shakespeare? For me, one monologue is enough to make me burn up an enormous amount of gray cells. But these actors are spot on with their lines. They also bring in players they’ve had in the past to step in at the last, last minute.

GSC has an excellent fall season. Please check their website (http://bit.ly/13HnYnI) and Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/183YLDl) for more info.



The Egyptian’s Evita is Magnifico!


By Joel Applegate

The art of the possible puts art and politics in bed together. That’s what’s so compelling about Evita, the 1978 musical that maybe some might think is past its time, but no; the marriage of politics and power is still as relevant as it ever was.

For those unfamiliar with the historical record, a brief primer: Following a career in radio and film, Eva Duarte was married to Argentine Army Colonel Juan Peron in 1945. The colonel was elected president the following year and Eva served as First Lady until her death in 1952 from cancer. Evita tells the story of how she rose from poverty to “Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina”. What is extraordinary about her life is that her influence was monumental – even mythic now – despite her never holding political office. Thus, the whole story is subject to opposing interpretations and is not the stuff of sainthood. More than a musical, this fascinating operetta explores all of that.

The story begins at the end. The ensemble cast makes a stirring entrance carrying Eva’s casket down the center aisle, ending in tableau. From there, the narrator of the piece, Che, takes us back to a teenage Eva; ambitious, pretty and already eager to leave her short past behind her.

Historic newsreels appear on the screen at the back of the stage. This device is used throughout, deftly incorporated into the set design by Justin Jenkins. The video idea mostly works, placing us in context and history. The projections worked really well in cafe scenes and other interiors. However, there were moments where less would have been more. The moving images of the newsreels stole focus a few times, especially in Eva and Peron’s last scene together. A still would have worked better, instead of the film clip that took our attention away from a critical moment in these actors’ really great performances.

And great they are. As Eva Duarte Peron, Erin Royall Carlson possesses a fantastic, throaty voice over which she maintains excellent support and control. Carlson’s great accomplishment here is that she doesn’t lose her character in her beautiful voice. Her first trio with two of the excellent ensemble is bright and lovely to listen to. Carlson’s amped ambition builds throughout the first act as she sets about assuming power’s mantle. Eva’s signature song is, of course, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”. If ever Broadway produced a pop aria, this is it. Carlson’s uncluttered voice soared in this and I wasn’t disappointed in the moment I was most looking forward to. I think I was holding my breath the whole time. I am entirely impressed with Carlson as both actor and singer in equal measure.

Leading the men, William Cooper Howell as Che got the attitude really right. Maybe he sneered a little too often, but his tenor is clear and his range is broad, though perhaps a little challenged in the falsetto range. Howell proves to be an athletic and nuanced dancer as well. David Weekes as Juan Peron has an operatic clarity to every note. His excellent vocals are both profound and tender.

Two steps on Eva’s ladder upward deserve special mention. As Migaldi, a popular singer, Monte Garcia sings in a soothing, strong tenor. “Night of a Thousand Stars” was really a pleasure – I wish it had lasted longer. Erica Walters as Peron’s jilted mistress shines in her one moment singing “Another Suitcase, Another Hall” clearly and with poignancy.

Let me make it clear that I think Evita gave us some of Broadway’s best music ever written. The score is majestic, the melodies unforgettable and the lyrics informative and passionate. And these performers are exceedingly talented and more than fit for their roles. Anne Puzey’s musical direction and conducting is superb.

But. This production has some serious sound problems. They can, I hope, be fixed quickly. The vocal gain was almost too high on the personal mics. Yet the orchestration, in the opening numbers anyway, overwhelmed vocals. The whole volume level was a touch too loud for the medium-sized theatre. Everything seemed too loud for the space. Che’s mic seemed calibrated wrongly for his voice. And as excellent as the work of the ensemble is, it was odd that some of the individual solo lines tossed out could barely be heard. The criticism I have is not about performance, but purely technical. The balance between the vocals and the very capable, small live orchestra just wasn’t right. A sound engineer needs to thoroughly check over the mix.

The direction by Amber Hansen is well suited to the theatre. The spare staging works very well with the action taking place among set pieces easily accommodating scene changes. They lend intimacy to the story, while the film sequences projected on the back wall give it its context in the world. The lighting by Peter Mayhew took an active role, using the instruments to focus attention and add enhanced dramatics.

I loved the choreography. It was fascinating, balletic and acrobatic. I do have to concede a point to my seat companion though; the Generals in their “Art of the Possible” number reminded him of oompa loompas rather than the militaristic moves usually highlighted in other versions of this number.

Costumers Jaxine Rogers and Jeanne McGuire did a magnificent job costuming Eva’s nearly one dozen outfits. I’ll never forget the picture of perfection as Eva sang her signature piece clad in bare-shouldered white accented only in a serene blue sash.

Two men in the ensemble – you know who you are: Guys, you need haircuts. You could make it a guys’ afternoon out – a bro-date – or invite a barber to your man cave. Doodz, I’m doin’ you a solid here… the hair simply ain’t right for the historical period or the military uniforms you wear in many scenes. When compared to the other guys on stage, the floppy coifs are weird and distracting.

For all of that, I loved this show. I really did. I can’t stop humming the tunes, and what I do to them in the shower shouldn’t be discussed. But bear with me for one more beef: Why aren’t the musical numbers listed in the program? I’ve never seen them omitted before for a stage musical.

The Egyptian Theatre is a venerable venue (my bad, I couldn’t help that) on Main Street in Park City.  It opened on Christmas Day, 1926, and has been wonderfully restored. The space’s Egyptian motif is charmingly evoked and the seats are old-style, but comfortable. It’s a great place to see a play. And you really ought to see this one.

Evita July 5 – 28, 2013. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 6:00 pm.
Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Park City, Utah 84060
Phone: 435-649-9371

Website: www.egyptiantheatrecompany.org

TICKETS: Reserved $39 Advance/ $44 Door
Front-of-House $ 49/ $54 Door