Utah Rep’s “Rent” is Worth Purchasing a Ticket–and Much More!

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By Daniel Brassard

This Friday, I had the opportunity to see the musical Rent put on by the Utah Repertory Theater Company at The Project in downtown Salt Lake City. I came with an understanding of the plot, having seen the movie and was accompanied by a guest who had seen the closing cast on Broadway. If I had been uninformed of the content that I would be immersed in, the company had an excellent pre-show that made the adult content level clear. I was in store for a raw, uncensored view into the beauty and struggles of being in and out of love in a sexually diverse culture with the obstacles of poverty, self discovery and HIV/AIDS ever present.

The space, plywood walls with cityscape graffiti on them, was filled with mismatched plastic lawn and folding chairs for the audience. The very well characterized indigenous homeless population sets the stage and tone of the show mingling in a very close quarters pre-show. Their use of very realistic “hobo-banter” (profanity, drug and alcohol conversation, and unintelligible ramblings), spot-on homeless attire and confrontational nature almost fully convinced me that I had accidentally stumbled into the ghetto. The pre-show lacked only one authentic detail — smell, thank goodness. The specific venue (The Project) seems perfect for this show, or any show that needs a weathered industrial look. Continue reading

Don’t Be a Stranger to Harvest Moon Hurrah’s “The Foreigner” in Spanish Fork

A Utah Theater Review By Jennifer Mustoe

I had never seen The Foreigner, a fun comedy with some deeper meaning in there, so I was excited to go see Spanish Fork’s Harvest Moon Hurrah Theater’s presentation of this play.

The first thing you see when you come in is a delightful set, designed by Cami Jensen (also one of the show’s producers along with her husband Ken Jensen) and constructed by Chris Cannon. There is detail in every inch, and because the show takes place in Spanish Fork High School’s Little Theater, packing such delight into a smaller space only adds to it. It didn’t look cramped, just detailed. And awesome.

To give you a small summary of the story: Charlie Baker is a quiet man with little confidence. We find out his dying wife has had 23 affairs. His friend Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur brings Charlie to Betty Meeks’ Fishing Lodge in Georgia. Because Charlie is so shy, the two men cook up a plan that Charlie is a foreigner and can’t understand English, thus saving him from having to interact with any of the other guests.

The other people at the Lodge don’t let Charlie’s lack of understanding deter them, though. They envelop him in their naivete, their love, and their life. Continue reading

SCERA’s Shrek the Musical Has Layers

Shrek the Musical Poster Review

Shrek the Musical is a story about looking beyond the outside façade that people present, seeing that people (and ogres!) have layers (like onions!) in order to find true love and friendship. The SCERA’s production in Orem, UT, takes this theme and brings it vividly to life. My husband and I went to see the show. Shrek the Musical is a much loved show in our house—our four children know all the songs—and we were thrilled to be able to see the show again on stage.

Shrek follows the story of its title character as he tries to get his swamp back from the draconian and perfection-obsessed Lord Farquaad who has thrown a bunch of fairytale creatures into it and out of Duloc for being “freaks.” Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona in exchange for the swamp with the help of his unwanted tag-along friend Donkey. Adventures ensue.

Shrek (BJ Oldroyd) had both a beautiful voice and the acting ability to pull off Shrek, being both lovable and off-putting when necessary. I believed he could scare people off by yelling in their face. His comic timing was also quite good. He sometimes let the unique Shrek accent drop, but not in a hugely noticeable way. He also had great chemistry with Wes Tolman, who played Donkey. Tolman cracked the audience up with his well-timed jokes, and nailed the character of Donkey without feeling like an Eddie Murphy copy-cat. He brought his unique take on the character, and I looked forward to every scene he was in.Shrek the Musical

Madeline Weinberger played an incomparable Fiona. I’ve seen her in several shows before, thought she would be perfect for the role of Fiona, and was expecting great things. Let me tell you, I should have set my expectations higher, because she was hilarious, her singing was perfection, and she had the attitude of a slightly crazed princess down perfectly. I was delighted by “I Know It’s Today” and “Morning Person.”

Carson Davies brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the role of Farquaad. I’m not sure if it was opening night jitters or what, but sometimes he said his lines so quickly he seemed out of breath. Also, I was disappointed with the directing decision to have him often ride in and out on set pieces and remain relatively static during most scenes. Farquaad is played with the actor on his knees with fake legs attached to the front of his thighs, to make Farquaad seem very short. This can be played for a ton of laughs, and I thought this production failed to capitalize on it.

Marshall Madsen brought a great character voice to Pinocchio. His intermission jokes had everyone laughing and groaning in their seats. I would have liked to see a bit more from him physically (how would a boy made out of wood move?), but that’s nitpicking a solid performance. Gingy was played by Shelley Young, and she shone in “Freak Flag.” I would have liked to see a bit more sense of leadership brought to the role, but Young also had four other roles to play, so perhaps she didn’t get the chance to develop Gingy as much. Another distracting thing was that her puppeteering was a little out of sync, so the words didn’t match the opening and closing of the puppet’s mouth (sometimes being directly reversed of what they should be).

Shrek the Musical Princess Fiona Donkey

The set was mostly simple sets of stairs and rolling platforms. Most of the time, it worked well. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done. However, some of the set movement felt unnecessary. The pieces were big and looked extremely awkward for the cast to move around, and often moving them didn’t accomplish anything except for the stairs now being in a slightly different spot. Since the set was so simple, I wish they had embraced that and kept it even simpler by not moving it nearly so much. It was exhausting to watch. There were however, some very clever and fun pieces, like the shadow puppetry in “Ballard of Farquaad” and the brilliant use of the stairs as Fiona and Shrek battle it out in “I Think I Got You Beat.”

The costumes were well-done, although sometimes very minimalistic. I loved the look of Fiona’s dress and the fun choice for Shrek’s pants. The makeup worked very well. It had to be very versatile for the ensemble, as the cast had to quickly transform from fairy tale creatures to Dulocians. I was impressed with how well the makeup translated as cast members played up to five roles each. Donkey was probably my favorite look. Shrek, which is very important to get right, looked just right.

I highly recommend this production of Shrek. It had so much heart, and the acting, singing and directing were superb. Shrek is not an easy musical to put on, but the SCERA manages to do it and hit all the right notes. Hats off to director Chase Ramsey for a great show!

SCERA Center for the Arts

Shrek the Musical

Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

SCERA, 745 South State, Orem, UT

Sept 13-Oct 15 Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat. 7:30 PM

$12 Adults, $10 Child (3-11), Student (w/ID), Senior (65+)

(801)225-ARTS

www.scera.org

UVU’s “Dialogues” Will Speak to You Poignantly

dialogues 1By MH Thomas

As I walked in to view Utah Valley University’s Dialogues, the first thing I noticed is the subdued, grey makeup of the characters on stage at the amphitheater in the quad at UVU. Kudos to Lauren Wagstaff and her assistant, Clarissa Knotts, for their thoughtful makeup and hair design. The makeup was skillfully applied by the makeup crew, supervised by Ann Thomas. As the show proceeds, you see that the makeup must be understood on more than one level. “God dances in the grey” is an interesting line from the show. The costumes, designed by Carolyn Urban, carry on in the grey theme—with some interesting things happening as the show proceeds.

Dialogues was written by Ashley Ramsey, who directed the show, and Amber Cummings and was based on the dialogues of Plato. They put together many emotionally charged monologues and vignettes to set the audience to thinking. What is a martyr? Are the causes of the characters worthy? Do we feel admiration, confusion, sympathy? This piece is really what each audience member chooses to make of it in their own minds.

Crito (Clarissa Knotts) narrated the activity on stage. Her costumes were a contrast to the rest of the cast. Overall she did a good job, but sometimes her voice got lost in the outdoor venue. She interacted with each character and helped put cohesion into the piece.

Wiilliam Kalmar showed a strong stage presence in his portrayal of Socrates. It would help to have some knowledge of Socrates—but the character was well played. There is a page available that explains a little about each character. I would advise looking at this before the show begins. I felt the information about Socrates was a little sparse.

Anne Frank (Briana Lindsey) is a beloved character from my youth. The dream scene where Anne imagined a touching relationship with a young man (Lucas Stewart) is well done. It brought back to my mind reading about young Anne Frank’s dreams and imaginings while she was in hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

I really liked hearing some of the words of Malcolm X. Christian Tyler did an admirable job of delivering the speeches of the human rights leader and in making us feel his humanity and passion for his causes. He made me want to know more about the man he portrayed.

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Joan of Arc was a woman of strength and was played with strength by Amanda Wilson. Her voice carried and was clear and audible to the entire amphitheater. She expressed her passion without overacting. A very well done performance. She and Lucas Stewart did some singing which added a nice touch to the show.

Lucas Stewart played Joseph Smith, Jr. and did double duty as a young Dutchman in Anne Frank’s imagination. He portrayed the Mormon leader with reserve and yet with fortitude and resolve as well. He gave the impression of a man true to his beliefs and calm in the face of his detractors.

I was not very familiar with the character of Roza Robota, but I had a vague recollection of having heard her name before. Kaela Hernandez portrayed the character and gave us a feeling for her strength and her vulnerability. She got across to the audience how Roza displayed her courage in the face of fear. She did not want to die. Still, she did what needed to be done. That came across very clearly in her performance.

Bobby Sands was a young Irish nationalist. Javi Ybarra did an excellent job of capturing his strength and his Irish swagger. I especially enjoyed when the other characters exhorted him to sing an Irish drinking song. He proceeded to deliver the song (about himself) in a really pleasing and very natural way. I felt we could have been in a pub in Belfast.

The set was simple, as would be expected for an outdoor show, and very effective. It kept the focus on the characters on the stage. The sound added to the atmosphere of the show without being distracting.

The show runs just an hour. In that hour the writer, directors, cast and crew do so much to help the audience stop and think. As the show ends, it is not really a conclusion but the beginning of thinking about, and perhaps researching, the stories of these characters portrayed on the stage.

Dialogues

UVU Courtyard

September 12-14 & 16 5 PM, 2 PM matinee Sept 14

$5.00 general admission. $3.00 students

“Deseret – The Musical” –Just Like the Early Saints is a work of Heart

deseret the musical

By Ashley Ramsey

             Deseret – The Musical is the latest and newest musical to hit the stage at Provo’s Covey Center for the Arts. Playwright Carl Bell brings to life the stories of frontier families after settling in the Salt Lake Valley. Bell by profession practiced Family Medicine with obstetrics and is a father of ten who only “dabbled in playwriting”, but now semi-retired hopes to devote more time to his passion.

             Deseret’s main story follows Allyson (Summerisa Bell Stevens), a young lady of 20 who is almost engaged to the town catch, Jacob (Spencer Stevens). Allyson and Jacob, who have grown up in the small town together decide to announce their proper engagement at the town social. That same day the train comes bringing old friends, the Adams Family, back to town. Handsome and brooding, Daniel Adams (James Bounous) quickly attracts the attention of the young ladies of the town, while Daniel only has eyes for Allyson. Allyson is then faced with the decision of whether her heart lies in the safety and comfort she has always known or in the far off and exciting places Daniel promises. This dual romance is buoyed by many other small storylines which provide us with knock out performances by supporting characters Niner (Peter Layland) and Hilda (Shandra Harper).

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             The talent in this cast blows the roof off the theatre.  Summerisa’s Allyson is charming and believable. She does a superb job at handling the chemistry with both of her love interests, creating a real tension as to who she will pick. Both Spencer and James do a lovely job in creating two exciting and lovable characters that any girl would be lucky to have. Also the exceptional vocal quality of these three deserves special recognition. Rex Kocherhan’s interpretation of Papa was beautiful to watch as he figured out dealing with two young adult daughters on the frontier. His beautiful and powerful voice was a highlight of the show. You will also get to see a fantastic children’s ensembles. I challenge you to not want to adopt little John Perkey by the end of the show. Crowd favorites, Hilda and Niner were absolute knockouts due to Peter and Shandra’s hard work and dedication to their characters. Every time they came on stage, they raised the excitement and energy and brought the crowd back into the story. Fingers crossed for a Hilda and Niner sequel.

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             La Beene’s costume design lends wonderfully to the overall feel of the production. The natural colors with splashes of brightness tied in wonderfully with the set and Michael Gray’s lighting design. There are many fun dance numbers in which the prairie skirts fill the stage with a kaleidoscope of color.

             Deseret does struggle in a few areas. There were some sound issues that made it hard to hear and the music track was oftentimes far too loud to hear the singing. While Daniel Whiting’s set design is absolutely beautiful, the show involves many elaborate set changes involving large set pieces which are mostly done during blackouts. They tended to be long and extremely noisy. Director Kymberly Mellen helped relieved the wait on some of the blackouts with keeping conversations going or silhouetted movements. The biggest struggle the show faces is the script itself. It is quite long (nearly 3 hours) and there are oftentimes so many storylines happening it is easy to get lost. Throughout the show, there were so many high stake things happening, I wasn’t sure which one I was supposed to be emotionally investing in. The writing at times was also a little bit cheesy and predictable.

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 Overall, Kymberly and her cast have done a great job with this production. It is very rare that show comes along you can take the whole family to. So load up the handcart (or mini-van) and head down to a great evening of uplifting and fun entertainment.  

Deseret – The Musical

Covey Center for the Arts

425 West Center St., Provo, UT 84601     801.852.7007

7:30 p.m.; $15, $22
September 5-7, 9, 12- 14, 16, 19-21
2:00 p.m. matinee September 14th and 21st