GSC’s “Winter’s Tale” Will Warm You Right Up!

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By Joel Applegate

Grassroots Shakespeare Company cannot fail to inform, delight or otherwise energize anyone lucky enough to be in its audience. GSC is once again housed in the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake for the holidays. This venue is a treat to visit, and provides great viewing on comfortable benches and chairs.

The Winter’s Tale showing now through January 6th for only a few performances should be seen just because it’s seldom performed, and because it’s not altogether light nor dark, and because the cast doesn’t just wink at the audience, they embrace it. And they’re so happy you’ve come to see their tale play out.

A jealous King Leontes (Benjamin James Henderson), turns tyrant when he visits an injustice both upon his friend, King Polixenes (George Lucero), and upon his Queen (Jessamyn Svensson), who must wait a generation to be exonerated.

In the meanwhile, a princess grows up in a rustic setting, not even knowing how far away from home she is, nor even who she is. Perdita (Kailey Azure Green) is held in anonymity, adopted by a Shepherd whose wisdom is held in secret, attended by a pickpocket and a clown and spiced by the incongruous appearance of a man-eating bear.

The play skates so close to both tragedy and farce, but the themes are redemption and patience. What makes this more interesting, I think, is that this play came about late in the canon, when the light of Shakespeare’s own life was fading. The pickpocket’s line makes me think more than any other: “Blessed are we that are not simple men”. Is morality a debate only among the intelligent?

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Simple tricks of stagecraft are another hallmark of this Shakespearean troupe. The use of a curtain for a reveal was so simple, but so cleverly effective as a device. There was no trickery, but absolute transparency, just as GSC strives to be. There’s no attempt at special effects – the actors’ skills augment our imagination.

As Leontes, Henderson leads the ensemble during the first half. He is so wonderfully adept at the language – and so terrible in drag as Mopsa. But I say that smiling in remembrance. And his bear-in-a-onesy is barely scary. Svensson achieves a big contrast of character in both Hermione and later the Shepherd who finds the princess tossed upon the shore. She has a nice versatility playing both the open-hearted Hermione (“Patience standing before tyranny”) and the old Shepherd, whose foolish exterior hides a nurturing father. Lucero as Polixenes has a clear, upright manner, and Green’s Perdita shows the same strength of character as the mother from whom she was separated so long ago.

Nick Grossaint, as Autolycus, is clearly enjoying himself, executing an excellent bit of pick-pocketing stage business. Though a larcenist, his performance renders himself harmless, and, in fact, he does some good for the young lovers of our tale without meaning to. The lovers are played by Green and Jack Kyle Oram as Florizel. We’ve seen Oram already in the first half, persuasive as Leontes’ just and fair adviser, Antigonus. Now he softens to the role of the loving prince. Alex Rettie as the clown and Perdita’s adoptive brother is sweetly daffy with a charming energy. Amber Dodge as Paulina and Phil Varney as Camillo become able foils to Leontes’ ferocity. Dodge is a passionate advocate, solid in her defense and a very worthy adversary.

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There are varying levels of skill here, and the doubling of characters may confuse those who don’t know the outline of the story. In the second half of the performance, GSC didn’t quite succeed in helping the audience differentiate between new characters being introduced. But that’s quickly forgotten because the second half is very playful and romantic. I was soothed by the use of the Elizabethan tune, “Greensleeves”. It is better known in modern times as the Christmas hymn, “What Child is This?”. Originally composed as a romantic theme, it was played and sung in lovely interludes.

GSC’s actors, all of whom double (some triple!) roles, seemingly know nothing of the fourth wall – that theatrical convention dictating actors and audience must keep their distance from each other. Never have I seen Grassroots’ actors engage with the audience so directly. They exchange words, urge us to cheer or hiss and their soliloquies do not go out into empty air – they are shared with the audience as honestly as the characters are true.

Tickets $12 adults, $6 children

Remaining Performances Dec 30, and Jan 4 and 6 at 7:30. Doors open at 7 PM for pre-show and opening act – usually some great musicians to delight you and warm you up.

Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City – 650 East South Temple

 

Covey’s “Joyful Noise” Brings Christmas Joy to its Audiences!

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By Jennifer Mustoe

I am rushing writing this review as I am stressing right now, GO SEE ONE OF THE FINAL PERFORMANCES OF JOYFUL NOISE at the Covey in Provo! This production not only gives you the warmth of the Christmas season, it is a touching, powerful message about love, passion, forgiveness, heartache and redemption, not to mention the simple brilliance of Handel’s “Messiah,” which is so prevalently played during this time of the year.

I went with a friend who is a singer in Utah’s new Millenial Choir. I, too, am a singer and have done my share of singing “The Messiah.” To find out the story behind this amazing piece of work still has me teary eyed.

The simple set works well for this play in the Covey’s Brinton Black Box Theater. It has enough to provide the actors to move around, but is understated enough so the actors in their amazing costumes (bravo costume designer Pam Davis) are highlighted.

This is Handel’s story–how he overcomes the hurt and pride he feels at London’s rejection of him. But it also winds into it each story of each character in a fascinating, multi-layered way that my friend and I found marvelous.

Adam Argyle plays Charles Jennens, librettist to “The Messiah.” Did you know that at first he didn’t like what Handel had done with his work? Neither did I. Argyle plays with heartfelt passion and the sneaky bit he participates in (which of course I will not tell you–I’m no spoiler) is shown in Argyle’s understated but wily smile. Just one smile and we KNOW.

John Christoper Smith, Handel’s business manager and right hand man is played delightfully by M. Cameron Bench. Smith is one part nag, one part champion to Handel and I loved Bench’s portrayal of both sides of his character.

Lynne D. Bronson’s Mary Pendarves is probably the funniest character in the play and she does this so well. Watch her face as she whips out her poems to defend Handel. Bronson’s protection of those she loves is impressive. We all love her from start to finish.

King George II is played wonderfully and poignantly and comically by Travis Hyer. I LOVED Hyer and was pretty much transfixed whenever he was onstage. The finale is so amazing when Hyer is doing what he did (again, no spoilers), I cried. Yep, Joyful Noise passed the cry test for me.

The bad guy, Bishop Henry Egerton, was played so convincingly by Patrick W. Kintz. Kintz was every bit the puffed up, pontificating, proud bishop. Oooh, I wanted to slap him at times. His version of Christianity in the form of a lack of forgiveness made me so mad. But again, his epiphany at the end is amazing. Bravo to Kintz.

The two beautiful-voiced young actresses in the show are Kat Webb, who plays Kitty Clive, a Cockney, coarse over acting actress and is HILARIOUS. She is part devious, part diva, all funny, but really sings like an angel. She stole the scenes she was in.

Anna Daines Rennaker played the tender, tragic Susanna Cibber. Rennaker’s face showed her sadness and there always seemed to be almost a tear in her eye. However, when she and Kitty finally have it out, Rennaker was no victim. She, too, sings beautifully and we loved her.

I am leaving Handel for last. J. Scott Bronson was brilliant. His accent was great, his physicality was spot on, and his fierce anger and utter despair were absolutely convincing. So so so good. That’s all I can say.

Bravo to director David Hanson. He has assembled a stellar cast, but gave them all such subtle but powerful direction. If I had time, I’d go see the show again. As it is, I’ve insisted my son come see it. Thank you, Mr. Hanson.

There are only a few more performances and I’m sure Friday and Saturday will sell out. Go tonight or Thursday if you can, but buy tickets early if you don’t have time until the weekend.

If you love “The Messiah”, wonderful, tender stories, Christmastime, or just great productions, DO NOT MISS Joyful Noise.

(As I wrote this review, I listened to the “Hallelujah Chorus” and got a lump in my throat.)

December 5-21, each night this week. 7:30 PM but please be in your seats by 7:20.

Provo Covey Center for the Arts, 425 W. Center St, Provo

801-852-7007 www.coveycenter.org

The Empress’s “12 Days of Christmas” is Family Fun for All!

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By Erin Orr

  The 12 Days of Christmas tells the story of Robby, an 11-year-old boy that received a note from the cutest girl in the class. With the help of his friends, Robby decides to show his affection by singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” to her in her front yard with the help from his friends, family and neighbors, for 12 days.

            The beautifully restored Empress Theatre is located in Magna. You are warmly greeted by staff when you first walk in to the building. And sitting in the lobby waiting for guests is the man himself, Santa Claus!

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            This is a pretty big cast of about 17-20 people, and director Bryan McNabb did a great job bringing this story to the stage. 12 Days has a cast compiled of mostly kids from the ages of 9 to 11. And these kids are the cutest! The four main boys (Robby played by Ravin Johnson, Paul played by Jaxon Walk, Jack played by Cameron Christensen and Charlie played by Triston Tharp) played off each other really well. Madison Carpentier played Victoria, the 5th grade love interest to Robby. Madison was cute as a button and fun to watch. Carrie Johnson and David Pack played Robby’s parents, and their chemistry together was wonderful.

            The set design by Devin Johnson and Jake Anderson set the mood for the play when you first walk in. It felt like Christmas was in the air! The only thing that seemed to miss the mark for me was the fact that there were a few scene changes that did not have music.

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If you are looking for a show for you and your family, and you have kids, this is a great show. I would come back to see another show!

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 The Empress Theatre

12 Days of Christmas, By: Jake M. Anderson

9104 West 2700 South, Magna, UT 84044

November 30 to December 21 @ 7:30 PM

(Matinee December 7 & 14 @ 2 PM)

Tickets – $10

801.347.7373

http://www.empresstheatre.com/