Desert Star’s “Miracle on 42nd Street” Brought Christmas to Modern Day

By Mary Brassard

It was a Monday night and the playhouse was packed. The saloon style room was complete with full staff and a very organized seating system with a line of hosts ready to show the patrons to their assigned seats. Christmas music set the mood as we got ready for the show. I must say that the Desert Star Playhouse was a very welcoming and well-oiled machine. Consistent with the polished presentation was the fact that the audience consisted of about 50% season ticket holders that night, according to a show of hands solicited by our piano man before the show began. The show started with a Christmas sing-along song and then the curtains opened.

Dan Larrinaga (as C.B. DeVille) was the man in charge with everything on the line. Dan was a very funny and loveable character. Ed Farnsworth (as Billy Gailey) was the leading man who choreographed the dance routines as he also put the moves on Miss Sarah. Ed was both charming and engaging as one the shows’ good guys. Tyrus Williams (as Santa Claws) the most inbred version of Santa that could ever exist. Tyrus showed great versatility in the main and supporting roles that he played in the production. His Judge was a sweet throwback to the “Bewitched” style TV programs. Matthew Mullaney (as Kris Kringle) the jolly man behind the show that just wants more cheer in the world. Matt was truly Kris Kringle in this production, his simplicity and honest performance felt very Christmasy. Dallin Lewis (as Hardy Steele) was slow to commit to his woman but quick to commit to dubious plotting and a hardcore mustache. Dallin was a classic “Rocky and Bullwinkle” style villain who was probably the most interactive character in the cast. Mary Parker Williams (as Joan Quivers) was the celebrity who was 50% plastic and 50% slapstick. Mary nailed this impression of Joan Rivers and did so without it being obnoxious… It was very well done. Laurel Warr (as Laurel Lye) the worldly while clueless lady of Steele. Laurel’s physical comedy was a high point of the show for me. Jen Aguirre (as Sarah) was the Classic leading lady with a loveable kid and a romantic draw to the leading man. Jen was not only a great singer but also a very believable leading lady. Katlin Rose Williams (as Natalie) the explosive and potentially possessed daughter of Miss Sarah. Katlin stole the show with her kid to demon voice changes.

The scenes, actors, musical numbers and atmosphere were all spot on. The item that missed the mark for me was the script. Following several dated references and a short list of repetitive jokes, it seemed apparent to me that I was watching an old script with a few modern headlines thrown in. A nod to the accident that occurred at Hale Centre Theatre back in 2006 was either an odd choice for current comedy or something that slipped through during a light rewrite. If you are a homosexual Jewish lawyer living in Utah county that supported Obamacare and the government bailouts, the repetitive punchlines will seem directed at you.

“Faith is believing in something even though common sense tells you not to” was indeed my favorite line from the show. And in the spirit of that sentiment, although I was disappointed with the script, the troupe made the night very enjoyable. The Desert Star Playhouse production of Miracle on 42ndStreet is playing through January 4th, 2014. The playhouse is located at 4861 South State Street in Murray Utah. This is a Christmas Music Comedy that is family friendly. $15.00-$45.00

“It’s a Wondrous Life” Starts Off With a Laugh!

By Erin Orr 

          It’s a Wondrous Life is the story about George Bailey’s (Clarence Strohn) life: how he grew up, how he met the love of his life, Mary (Erin Saunders). Til the day that his business rival, Mr. Henry Potter (Chase Dickerson) offers him a job, George starts questioning himself, and he makes a wish that he’d never been born. George Bailey will get a peek at Bedford Falls without him when he gets touched by an angel, Clarence (Kasey Sanderson).

             The Off Broadway Theatre always starts off their shows with a cast member introducing the show, bringing audience members who are celebrating their birthday up to the stage and singing to them, and letting the audience know when the heroes and villains are on stage so you can cheer/boo for them.

             Co-Directors Sandy Jensen and Zach Reynolds do an amazing job bringing this wonderfully funny script (written by Eric Jensen) to life with a perfect cast. Clarence’sJimmy Stewart impression is spot on. He portrays George in a delightfully goofy way. His wife Mary is played by Erin Saunders. Playing the straight character while everyone around you is getting most of the laughs is not an easy job, but she does it with grace. Setting up the scenes are Douglas MacKinnon and Kasey Sanderson as Alpha Angel and Clarence Oddbody. These two have great dynamic together as teacher and student as the Alpha (Douglas) tells Clarence (Kasey) about George’s life. They do a great job keeping you entertained while there is a scene change going on so there is no waiting in the dark. Playing the kids to George and Mary are Claire Burnham as Zuzu and Nathaniel Ruesch as Nick. These two made me literally say “Awww!” when they got on stage. And their Uncle Billy, played by Jordan Johnson did a great job covering up a mistake that happened when he was making shadow puppets with the kids. Jordan’s character was very lovable, and there were times where I found myself wanting to walk on stage and hug him.

            The villains of the show, Mr. Henry Potter (Chase Dickerson) and his follower William Knott (Kyle Dunshee) do an amazing job playing off the audience and their boos. I have to say that my favorite characters were the supporting cast. Harriet Goodwin (Tonya Aikens) and Violet Bick (Jamie Haderlie) are friends that have known each other for their whole lives, and that is the vibe I got from these two actresses. I especially loved Bert Swellman (Austinn Jensen) and Ernie Wright (Eli Unruh), two guys who grew up with George and become roommates. A lot of the slapstick comedy came from these two, and it cracked me up every time.

             This cast has a mix of great voices and great chemistry! David Bellis did an awesome job with setting the mood with the lighting design. And the sound cues were right on target! The sets were amazing. Eric Jensen, Clint Lehmberg, Rob Riens and Frank Ackerman really know what they are doing.

             Overall, If you are looking for tons of laughs and great comedy look no further than the OBT! This is a great Christmas musical! There is never a dull moment! This one is a MUST SEE for the whole family!

The Off Broadway Theater

It’s a Wondrous Life

Written By: Eric Jensen

272 S. Main Street, Downtown SLC, Utah

November 22nd – December 28th at 7:30 PM

Reserved tickets: Adult: $16, Students / Seniors: $12, Children 12 years and under: $10

Box Office Phone #: 801-355-4628

www.theobt.org

Spanish Fork High’s “Into the Woods” is Out of this World

By Caden Mustoe, with comments by Jennifer Mustoe and Joel Applegate

As those who regularly see shows would agree, there’s no way to describe a fantastic show. I only hope I can convince you enough to go see Spanish Fork High School’s production of Into the Woods.

Now before you dismiss this as just another high school play, I would like to inform you that SFHS has a reputation for going beyond expectations, and they have the awards to prove it. Over the past few years, they’re won several awards as a program. This isn’t counting eleven of the cast’s actors and actresses who’ve won individually and in pairs at both region and state levels.

If you haven’t seen Into the Woods, I highly recommend this production to introduce you. It’s no small task to take on such a demanding musical — everyone has to be able to sing, it’s long, and it calls for some… interesting things to happen onstage. But it was a risk that paid off greatly. The story is a giant (no pun intended) conglomeration of classic fairy-tales. Now I’ve always been slightly annoyed whenever a movie or TV show tries to do this, but Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the writers of the play, have created something magnificently their own while still sticking to the original stories.

Spanish Fork High School has a beautiful, recently refurbished theater and it is the perfect space to do Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The first thing you see when you walk in is an absolutely gorgeous, lush, layered and beautifully detailed set. And that’s before it’s lit up. Once it’s lit up, with the many twinkling lights all along the scrim, it is fabulous. Because of the way the main set is designed, there are many more entrances and exits than just stage left and stage right, which also helped them to use their entire space, which is rather considerable to begin with. Kudos to set designer Erin Crane. The set is truly remarkable.

One of the interesting things about Into the Woods is that it doesn’t really have leads like you’d expect. Most of the characters are equal in number of lines, time on stage, and vocal solos. That being said, I cannot emphasize enough how well everyone did in their parts. The singing talent ranged from acceptable to astounding, but what was such a pleasant surprise for me is that everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s, individual acting ability rivaled even semi-professional and professional productions I’ve seen. Joel said, “What was so great about this play is all the actors were committed.” Jennifer loved all the actors, but most especially Lizzy Phipps as Little Red Riding Hood and Emily Wilson as the Witch. Says Jennifer: “The physicality of all the actors and willingness to stretch their acting chops was really remarkable.”

The show was directed by Bonnie Beckstead, and along with the help of Shea Bradshaw, the Musical Director, and Choreographer Kamarie Fernandez, they made the show exactly the way it needed to be.

As far as the way everyone looked, the costumes done by Jessica Peabody and the hair and makeup direction by Kayla Koyle and Dani Ferron was both well done and original. The costuming is a clever blend of typified fairy. tale garb and modern day clothing, such as several characters wearing Chuck Taylors for the duration of the show. Several costumes stuck out as being a good way of showing characters, such as for the Wolf and all outfits for the Witch.

The only thing that needs improvement is the sporadic functionality of the microphones. Fortunately, there are quite a few players whose projection can make up for it.

 

As is best, I went to see this play with friends and family. Jennifer said, “I have watched many of these kids grow up in the theater and was thrilled to see how well all of them did.” I also had a pleasantly lengthy conversation about it all with my friend Alex Mendoza as we traveled back to our homes.

In closing, I don’t know how they keep doing it, but the drama program at Spanish Fork High School consistently surprises me in the most wonderful of ways and this year’s Into the Woods is no exception.

Shows Fri and Sat 11-15, 16, and Monday 11-18. Curtain at 7 PM. Tickets $7.00

UVU’s “Next to Normal” Should Be the Next Show You See

As I walked into UVU’s Noorda Theater, there was a blueish haze that made me feel ethereal, unreal, and slightly unsettled. It’s a good way to welcome people into UVU’s production of Next to Normal. Because, without giving too much away, prepare to feel unsettled. Also, if the audience (and I) are any indication, bring tissues. There were lots of sniffles going on all around me.

Next to Normal is about one woman’s fight for “normal” in the form of mental health and how her struggle to be healthy has affected her family. She tries every therapy and pharmaceutical possible, but it seems like nothing’s working.

The set for Next to Normal is open, with a metal feel. It looked like a jail. There is a reason for this, as the mental illness Diana struggles with has jailed her and her family. There were many levels to the set, all connected with stairways, and beneath the middle, highest bit is where the live band is. No, what I mean is, the AWESOME live band is.

Frankly, the whole show was so good that I’m not sure where to start.

The cast is small and tight. We went to a talk back session after the show, and it was clear that the family bonds that can often form when you are in a show definitely formed here. The cast was a cohesive unit and that may have been one of the reasons why Next to Normal is so powerful. I could see all this really happening to this family. I could see this happening in real life. And obviously, this story touched many people in the audience because, as I said, I heard a lot of sniffles and a few sobs.

Jacquelyne Jones plays Diana Goodman so marvelously that when I saw her at the talk back, I really wanted to ask, so just how mentally ill are you? It seemed almost a for sure that she was as nuts as Diana. (She isn’t. She’s just a great actress.) Ms. Jones can sing, act, and look fabulous as she falls farther and farther into madness. Interestingly, during the talkback, few people asked Jones any questions. I got the feeling that she really played her part so well that talking to her might hurt. I know that’s how I felt. She got too close to my own pain and I needed to keep her at a distance.

“Gabe” Gabriel Goodman is played by Topher Rasmussen. I love the casting of this talented young man. He can sing, has a very physical part to play and seems completely comfortable singing right in the face of the other cast members. But there is something rather angelic about Rasmussen and this works in his favor, too, for the part he is asked to play of the boy who never grew up. (I’m trying not to give too much away here.) I loved Rasmussen’s response at the talkback when asked how he prepared for the part of the son. He said, “I spent a lot of time trying to figure out about Gabe. Was he a ghost? Was he a manifestation of Diana’s mental illness? And then I realized I was an idiot. I was just their son.” I appreciated the depth of Rasmussen’s character development and his willingness to share his journey with us.

Diana’s long suffering husband Dan is played by Benjamin J. Henderson. He has a tough role as the One Who Never Gives Up. He loves his wife, loves his daughter but really just wants to move on with life. He doesn’t understand Diana’s problems but just trudges on to doctor after doctor. When Henderson is singing about the young person he was once who fell in love with Diana and then “had” to marry her, I thought my heart would break. Bravo, Mr. Henderson. You nailed Dan.

Zoe Wilde plays the Goodmans’ daughter, Natalie. Ms. Wilde has a good voice, but her acting skills are what truly glowed in this production. Natalie tries to be the Best Child Ever to make up for Gabe’s loss. Natalie does everything but it’s never enough. In one scene where she and her mother are trying to help Diana get her memory back after Diana has had electric shock therapy, the mother and daughter are going through photos and we learn the amount of things Diana has done that are, um, well, a little crazy. Natalie has been through hell and Wilde showed it all. I hurt with Natalie and felt somewhat angry that this poor, innocent kid had to suffer so much.

Andrew Robertson’s Henry was my favorite character, maybe because he was probably the most normal of all of them and didn’t make me wholly uncomfortable. Yeah, the kid smokes dope, but he loves Natalie and may be the only sanity she has during the dark times in her family. Robertson is a fabulous actor, can sing and has the sweetest, hunky teenage face, he would make any girl swoon. And he is so genuinely nice to Natalie. I loved the chemistry between Robertson and Wilde.

Jacob Theo Squire played the two doctors in the show. Though they didn’t need to be remarkably different, Squire showed he can play two similar characters and show their differences. Of course, one is a “scary rock star,” a scene I loved. Squire has a lovely voice and wonderful presence onstage.

There are many scenes and songs in the show that pretty much blew me away, and I knew the show would be amazing because I recently saw director Dave Tinney’s Urinetown at the Hale Center Theater Orem and loved it so much I went twice. Tinney takes the scene where Diana is getting electric shock and to say it was electrifying is totally punny but completely true. A gurney with “Diana” laying on it is wheeled out. On top of the highest part of the set is the real Diana, and she is singing during the “procedure” describing what electroshock feels like. (I am shaking as I type this and I saw this show three days ago. The scene is that powerful that I still am amazed at its force.) The rest of the actors pull long, thin bands of elastic from the top of the set and attach them to the sides of the gurney where “Diana’s” head is, so the elastic looks like long lines of electricity. The other actors go in and out of the bands, sometimes getting caught in them, sometimes overlapping them, all at a frenetic pace. During the height of the song, all the actors hold several bands and twitch them, making them look even more powerful. If Tinney was trying to get us to understand the sadness and horror of electroshock therapy, he got his wish.

I am a big Dave Tinney fan and can only add my undying applause for this production.

Costumes by Heather Michelle Oles were great. Diana always wore grey and often stripes, like a jail costume. The ball gown for Natalie was exquisite.

If you love good music in a musical, good LIVE music, do not miss Next to Normal. Music director Robb Moffatt brought an amazing sound to this production and amassed an amazing bunch of musicians. While there may have been a few blips with the singers, I couldn’t hear a wrong, flat, too loud or too soft note with the players. At. All.

Though I don’t usually write about dramaturgs, I am going to in this review. Heather Oberlander did her homework about mental illness and it was obvious that all who were involved in this production had empathy and compassion for this sad, sick family. We felt it as an audience and Tinney in the talkback made special mention of Oberlander’s research so I am giving her that same nod in this review.

I understand Next to Normal sold out on Saturday, so I suggest you get your tickets ASAP. This show does have some language, but any teenager or older will be fine with this show. In fact, any teenager or older SHOULD go see this show. It’s remarkable, timely, important and amazing.