MEMPHIS’s Music and Message are Mesmerizing!

memphis7By Michael Nielsen

Some musical theatre simply entertains. Some productions inform. Some shows move you. MEMPHIS, at the Capital Theater as part of the Broadway Across America program, May 27th – June 1st, does ALL THREE, and does them very well!

The synopsis on their official website says, “Take a deep breath as the curtain rises, because the exuberance doesn’t stop!” and it holds true. The sensuous, emotional and inspiring Rhythm and Blues music dominates the production while telling an important story. Set in Memphis in the 1950’s, the show makes the “race card” relevant again … especially in this day (and state) of the battle for equality. Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose) is a young, innocently color-blind white man who loves the music he hears coming from the underground clubs in downtown Memphis. Despite his being warned by his now deceased father to stay away from downtown and the “colored people and music” (the terms Colored, Negro and even Nigger are all used in this show, as it WAS the terminology of this racist time), he finally gets the nerve to go in to one of the clubs, where he is not kindly welcomed. Huey then falls in love with not only the music, but with the young black woman, Felicia (Jasmin Richardson) who is the singer at her brother, Delray’s (RaMond Thomas) club. Huey vows to “put her on the radio” and that all he wants in return–is a kiss.

As time and the show progress, smooth talking, energetic, endearing Huey works his way in to being a DJ on the local station “smack in the middle of the dial (“this is a White station.” “Well, I’m White!”) where he introduces “Race Music” to the white youth of Memphis. Ratings soar, records sell, and eventually Huey hosts the first Negro Music show on television. Moving and telling scenes occur when Huey has put speakers outside the studio so the white youth (not allowed to view or come to the show) can listen and dance, and the speakers are torn down and shots fired.

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Later, a white mother tells her husband to “do something” about the music their daughter is listening to, and the father slaps the girl. Both Huey and Felicia later get a strong beating for being seen together, causing more fear in their relationship. Huey makes good on his promise to get Felicia on the radio and then on his TV show and gets his kiss, and eventually “more.”

I could go on and tell you all of the events that occur and how things progress, but you will see that when you see the show (and you SHOULD!)

Interestingly, both the Black people and the White people throughout the show often say they are “Good Christian People” (“Why do good Christians always annoy me?”), using that to justify their fear of becoming a part of the other’s world. Over the radio, Huey even invites the white youth to visit the “Colored Church” to witness for themselves the moving and amazing spiritual music, and the kind, loving people, causing his mother to say, “You sent innocent, white children to a Colored church?”

Technically, the show is brilliant … which is why it was a winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and four more nominations. There was not a weak performance, from the leads to the ensemble. It was obvious that the actors had discovered their characters and never strayed from them as they performed or reacted to events. Each of the leads had at least one song to let their talents shine, causing many enthusiastic reactions from the enthralled audience, who jumped to their feet at the end of the show. The character of Bobby (Jerrial T. Young), who shows us that all shapes and ages can move and sing, is a Utah native who has joined the traveling tour, and rightfully so. Oyoyo Joi Bonner is a graduate of BYU and is one of multi-talented and totally involved ensemble.

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The sets were simple, yet powerful in their portrayal of life in the times and situations. The show flowed smoothly from scene to scene with the help of performers moving the simple set pieces. The brilliant lighting design made each intimate scene intimate, yet the actors seemed to never be out of light or walk through shadows as they flowed from scene to scene. Costumes were perfectly in line with the period and demographics of the wearers. Sometimes period pieces have great individual outfits but the show doesn’t seem “designed,” however, these costumes all set the feel of each scene, while complementing each other and staying true to the personalities of the characters. Musically,whether you are a Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues and Gospel fan or not (“All rock and roll is Negro music sped up”), you will find yourself tapping your toes and enjoying the music while being able to clearly hear the stories and feeling the messages. I personally mourn the loss of live orchestra in theatre, and the requisite goose bumps appeared when the live music began. The small “orchestra” is on stage throughout the show and lit appropriately to show how important the music and the talent are to the story.

On a personal note, I have to mention the “lessons” learned and how they resonate even today. LOVE IS LOVE, we are all beautiful and talented in our own ways, hate and bigotry are taught and learned emotions and attitudes and we can all make beautiful music together. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the Utah audience members would walk out due to the story, sensual dancing and costumes, and lessons on stage, yet was happy to see there were not many. I also felt, during and after the show that unfortunately, the people who really need to see this won’t.

Find the time to see this short run of a show (only here for one week!) You WILL be entertained, informed and moved.

Memphis — Salt Lake City

Capitol Theatre

May 27–Jun 1, 2014

Call 800.259.5840 to speak with a Ticketing associate. $32.50-$55.00

35MM the Musical at Good Company Theatre is AWESOME!

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By Austin Archer

If you haven’t heard of Good Company Theatre in Ogden, do yourself a favor by looking them up and buying tickets to one of the three closing performances of their current musical, 35MM. Good Company is a dynamite new theatre company committed to shattering the mold of the typical Utah theatre scene. Their home space is a small studio above an adult novelty shop on historic 25th Street in the heart of downtown Ogden, (I know, right?) Artistic Director Alicia Washington has only had GCT up and running for a little over a year, and has already showcased several original theatrical works: a gritty Sam Shepard piece, theatre discussing religion and atheism, and a standing commitment to do an annual presentation of The Vagina Monologues.

In 35MM, Washington has found another gem and has graciously shared it with her community. It’s a new musical with absolutely gorgeous music and lyrics by Ryan Scott Oliver structured around 15 photographs from Matthew Murphy. The show does not follow a linear narrative, but is rather a collection of imagined stories inspired by the photographs. Everything about the GCT production felt absolutely right for the piece. The space itself seemed almost too perfect with its pseudo art-gallery vibe and wonderful minimalist set design.

Director Randall Eames made excellent use of Good Company’s very small space, which only seats about 40 people. Employing a unique audience set-up, Eames was able to create several playing areas for the actors which allowed the audience to mentally change the channel from one story to the next. The show moved with a wonderful pace, running one act with no intermission and left the audience truly wanting more. And there were even several moments of very unique and original staging/choreography that added tremendously to the indie pop art feel of the production.

Perhaps the most ticket-worthy thing about this incredibly worthwhile event was the stellar ensemble that brought Oliver’s technically difficult music to life with their incredible vocals, nuanced storytelling and complete commitment to the material. The cast was composed of three men and two women. The men: Derek Gregerson, Sean Knuth-Bishop, and Taylor Knuth-Bishop (two real life spouses who, at one point, share a duet that will literally stop your heart and make you cry fountains of tears.) The women: Jennifer Hughes and Karli Rose Lowry. I could dissect each performance and tell you specifically why they were all brilliant, but then this review would be about six pages too long. Suffice it to say that there is not a weak link among them. They are honest, funny, touching, and poignant in their delivery of the words, and you will want to listen to them sing to you every day for the rest of your life.

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Music director Anne Puzey was on point (not that I can recall ever seeing a show of hers that wasn’t.) I feel like a trademark of hers is the deftness with which she creates dynamics in volume and mood with her singers and in the small intimate setting of Good Company this trademark was shown off wonderfully. The actors could come all the way down to almost a whisper at times, making their eventual shifts to full voice all the more powerful. Her band was also near-perfect in their accompaniment.

At any rate, I think it’s clear to see that I was obsessed with this show and that I am and have been obsessed with this theatre company. The long and short of it is this, go see 35MM. And if you can’t go see it, go see the next show they do, and the next one after that. In fact, just buy yourself a season ticket for 2015 and thank me later.

Good Company produces sophisticated and thought-provoking theatre that is generally intended for adults, so parents use your discretion. 35MM: the musical does contain some adult language. It will conclude its run this Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets and show times available at www.goodcompanytheatre.com

Grassroots Presents a Perfect Evening of Shakespeare Under the Stars

Written by Eve Speer

“This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;”

                                     Henry V, Act 4:3

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Friday night, I went to see the first performance of Grassroots Shakespeare’s production of Henry V. It was a gorgeous spring evening in May. There were no chairs–so we settled happily on the grass at the beautiful Scera Park in Orem. (See http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/now-playing.html for more performance dates and places.) The more experienced audience members spread out blankets and pulled out lawn chairs. At the back of the clearing was a sign announcing the evening’s performance. It invited everyone to enjoy the performance–and then donate whatever they wanted after the show. Before the show opened, musicians (Rob Starks, Betty Starks, etc.) came out onto the stage and set the tone for the performance.

As the cast came forward to talk about the original staging practices–I leaned forward. The original performers had no director, there were no fancy lights, no big sets, minimal rehearsals, and creative casting. And most importantly, the audience was an important part of the performance. This cast does it like Shakespeare did–no director, little rehearsal, nothing fancy. Just brilliant.

The cast was young and filled with energy. The moment that Kailey Azure Green hit the stage, the audience was captured. She took the audience on a splendid ride from England to France, and back again.

“There is the playhouse now, there must you sit:
And thence to France shall we convey you safe,
And bring you back, charming the narrow seas
To give you gentle pass;”  Prologue

One of my favorite aspects of original staging practices is the opportunity for each actor to express his or her character with their own costume choices. The actor understands the character better than anyone and they can convey so much about the character’s status and disposition in their costume. The pompous dauphin, played with perfection by Dallin Halls, came out in skinny jeans.

 

henry v 1Jason Sullivan (Henry himself) was the perfect combination of wit, courage, and vulnerability. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more perfect Harry.  Harry has all the words in the world for his soldiers, giving one inspiring speech after another. But for his French princess, played magically by Charlotte Martell Andrews, he seemed lost for words.

“I know no ways to mince it in love, but
directly to say ‘I love you:’ then if you urge me
farther than to say ‘do you in faith?’ I wear out
my suit. Give me your answer; i’ faith, do: and so
clap hands and a bargain: how say you, lady?”

                                                   Henry V, Act 5:2

The conversation between Henry and the Princess Katherine brought up all sorts of thoughts about objectifying women and feelings about how I am really happy to be a woman of this time and place. But then again, if a bumbling conqueror, with such sincerity ever asked to bargain for my person, I don’t know that I could resist.

The quality of a Shakespearean production is not measured by princes and princesses, but by the clowns. Incorporating comedia masks, Addison Radle (Nym), Steven Pond (Bardolph), and Brooks Lindberg (Pistol), wore their whole character in every part of their carriage. The audience roared with laughter as the actors found fleshy humor in every movement and word. Jessica Myer’s Hostess was perfectly awkward and radiant as each man said their goodbyes to her as they headed off to France for the wars. Myers returned to the stage as the fiery Welsh Fluellen.

Alexandra Russell was barely recognizable as she played the waiting woman/bad interpreter Alice and a French nobleman.  The dear French. How horrible to play a Frenchman in Henry V. Tim Peay, Dominic Zappala, and Dallin Halls did their best, but when Harry comes out into the crowd to raise up the whole audience to fight against the French, you don’t stand a chance of winning our love.

The whole show was fast-paced, energetic, and the audience loved every minute. They cut the show down to a respectable 90-minute performance. There’s nothing quite so beautiful as a summer night in Utah. Do yourself a favor and go sit out on the grass and see a well performed production. Bring cash or credit and donate generously so the company will be able to continue creating beautiful shows for audiences to enjoy. (Suggested donation is only $3…but I encourage you to be prepared to give at least as much as you would to see a movie.) The company is touring throughout Utah this summer, for information on showtimes and places, visit their website http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/now-playing.html. They will be performing Henry V and As You Like It in repertory all summer long.

 

 

The Echo Theatre’s New Take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream - The Echo Theatre

A Utah Theater Review by B.J. Wright

                I have seen Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream many times.  Echo Theatre’s version of the play is not your typical run-of-the mill production. In her director notes, Hailey Nebeker notes that she wasn’t exactly excited about the production until the idea of a post-apocalyptic version presented itself. Taking a classic, and adding a new twist isn’t an easy thing to do. There were a couple of things in this production that didn’t quite work for me, however, there were many things that did.

                The set designed by Jeffery Blake is quite simple, but effective for the space in the theater. I especially enjoyed the subtle skyscrapers in the background. It gave me the impression that this play could be taking place in a place similar to Central Park in the future. Another element that adds to the post-apocalyptic feel are the costumes designed by Cherie Julander. The classic renaissance attire and flowing fairy dresses you would typically see have been replaced with pants, boots and jackets that belong in worlds where Divergent or Hunger Games would take place. I felt each costume was pieced together in a way to tell a little more of the characters back story, I enjoyed using the costumes to make my own back story for each character.

                Apart from the set and costumes, this cast brought a lot of talent to the stage.  I often enjoy reading Shakespeare more than watching a play, as the lines often sound fake and rehearsed. This cast did a wonderful job of making the words their own. If you aren’t familiar with the play, there are three main groups on the stage at different times. Often there is one group that is stronger than the others. I did not feel that way in this production. No matter which group was on stage, I was entertained.  For the purpose of this review, I’ll call the groups the citizens, the actors and the fairies. Continue reading

The last days of JUDAS ISCARIOT— Bravo!

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Reviewed by Michael Nielsen

Full disclosure …I was asked to jump in as Costume Designer for this show when they lost their original designer, so while I am quite proud of the costumes and feel they added to the characterizations, I will not be giving them any more time in this review.  That said, I also had no time to actually see any rehearsals, so my seeing the show last night was my first exposure to this thought-provoking production and it didn’t disappoint!

THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT takes place entirely in a place called “HOPE”, in “downtown purgatory”.  As the Angel (wings and all) GLORIA (Natalie Keezer) explains, HOPE changes with the times, and is currently reminiscent of a New York Subway Station. Set Designer/Director Lucas Bybee created this station with worn tiles, makeshift furniture and walls covered with graffiti and posted notices.  The station serves as an ad-hoc courtroom with a judge’s bench of crates and lawyer stations of boxes, garbage cans and discarded chairs.  The audience sits on both sides of the station and are made to feel as part of the “jury.”

The whole concept of the show seems simple–a go-getter defense lawyer, CUNNINGHAM (Ana Lemke) has a writ signed by God to have the case of Judas Iscariot reviewed in hopes of his being moved from Hell to Heaven. ISCARIOT himself (Nick Diaz) is unable to defend himself since he is in a “catatonic state.”

This becomes more complicated and thought-provoking as Defense and Prosecutor, EL-FAYOUMY (Eric Leckman) call in their witnesses: Judas’ mother, HENRIETTA (Tiffany Greathouse), PONTIUS PILATE (Chris Harvey), MOTHER TERESA (Natalie Keezer again), CAIPHAS THE ELDER (Mark Macey who also plays ST. MATTHEW), Simon the Zealot (Sam McGinness when he isn’t THE BAILIFF), SIGMUND FREUD/St. THOMAS (Daniel Romero) and of course, SATAN (Cooper Howell).  With flashbacks of JESUS (Brandon Pearson), St. MONICA (Paris Hawkins), St. PETER/MATHIAS of GALILEE (Jenna Hawkins) and MARY  MAGDELENE/SISTER GLENNA (Elizabeth Steiner.) Our co-jury members are LORETTA (Elizabeth Steiner) and BUTCH HONEYWELL (Jared Greathouse).

As we hear the stories of what really happened, and character witnesses for Judas, the very talented cast played each character with intensity and humor. Those playing more than one role making each totally different, with obvious research about the “familiar” characters.  While there were no weak performances, special mention must be made of SATAN (Howell), with his slimy yet convincing speech patterns and body language that made us love and hate him. Prosecutor EL-FAYOUMY (Leckman) kept us engaged with his energy and constantly new ways of complimenting and flirting with judge and witnesses.  St. MONICA (Hawkins) was brassy and foul-mouthed in a way that only endeared us to her.  JESUS (Pearson) and JUDAS (Diaz) gave us sensitivity and hurt without milking for emotion, making it difficult to care for one more than the other.

Direction (Luke Bybee) was simple yet strong, ignoring the impulse to have the actors constantly moving, but letting them stand strong and make their points.  Sound design by George Plautz was minimal, but effective. (Ever wonder what dancing camels sound like?)  My only technical misgiving was the lighting by Danny Dunn. While I realize this venue doesn’t allow a lot of lighting effects, the characters on the main floor were quite shadowed while those at either end (judges bench and “flashback stage”) were fully lit.  However, the lighting set the mood beautifully for each scene. Costumes by Al Miller were effective and added to the production.

While the language is quite strong, and some might find some of the arguments and speeches a bit blasphemous, this production makes us realize there are two sides to every story, and maybe things and people aren’t always what they are made out to be. I am still finding myself thinking about some of the arguments well after the show has ended.

Rose Wagner Studio Theatre
138 West Broadway (300 South)
Salt Lake City, UT

Performances will run:
May 1 – 17 (with matinees on 10th & 17th)
8:00pm curtain (2:00pm matinee)

**PLAY CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE AND ADULT THEMES**

 

 

Noises Off Is a Grand Farce

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By John Speer

Salt Lake Community College’s production of Michael Frayn’s farcical masterpiece Noises Off opened Thursday night at the Grand Theatre to a warm response. The audience laughed throughout the evening.

I have to say, I have been very impressed with the productions I have seen at SLCC and the Grand Theatre of late. SLCC has one of the finest theater programs in the region, if not the nation. The theater itself is as grand as its name, the seating is comfortable, the ushers more than accommodating and helpful.

As many of you already know, Noises Off is a farce within a bigger farce, a play within a play. There’s the actual play, Noises Off, which is the story of the on and off-stage shenanigans surrounding the  sex farce within the play called Nothing On. So literally every actor plays two roles, their role in Noises off, and the character they play in Nothing On. This is the scenario that is the fodder for some hysterical mishaps.

Director Anne Stewart Mark proves herself a real lover of the work, throwing in comedy bit after bit, most all of which were quite brilliantly conceived, although not quite executed to the point of being hilarious. Playwright Michael Frayn’s antics can be funnier, and I am chalking up this performance’s problems to opening night jitters.  Whether it was because the able cast needed more time to get the timing right or worse, the delivery of Frayn’s lines and bits  fell just a little short of the comedy mark Thursday night.

But the problems with the show are profoundly fixable because the actors are top notch. They include Lloyd, the Director of Nothing On, played by David Marsden, the lead “actors” played  by Sallie Cooper,  Jared Evans,  Maggie Goertzen, Daniel Beecher,  and Lauren Rathburn and the “stage hands” played by Haley McCormick and Dusty Heyrend. The best and funniest of the lot was Doug Vandegrift who played the bungling, drunken Selsden– playing the bungling drunken burglar in Nothing On. When Vandegrift was on, I was smiling and laughing.

On the technical side, the set was brilliantly rendered from Frayn’s original plan and nicely constructed and manipulated by Kyle Becker and his crew.  Lighting was well-designed by Ashley Barentine. Joe Killian’s sound was great but for one small faux pas at the “dress rehearsal” where an obviously non existent audience is heard “applauding.”

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Costumes were nicely designed by Amanda Reiser, except for one of Brooke’s Nothing On costumes.  Brooke plays the sex  kitten who is seen with nearly “Nothing On.” In her sexy scenes, instead of looking like a funny sex kitten as Frayn intended, she wasn’t sexy. Maybe this was played down due to this show being performed in Utah?  It is obvious that the director, actors, and technical designers all put everything they had into this work–there are some great performers and talent in this production.

Note: Noises Off has some language and sexual innuendo so I wouldn’t recommend this show for under teens.

The show plays at the beautiful Grand Theatre, May 8-24 at 7:30 PM. The Grand Theatre is located at 1575 S. State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah. For tickets, call 801-957-3322 or visit the website: http://the-grand.org/events

Plan on Seeing Once in Salt Lake City Next Spring

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By Cindy Whitehair

While we were in Phoenix packing up our son from college, we got the opportunity to see closing night of the touring production of  the musical Once at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium. Gammage Auditorium is a great space with a wonderful staff.  There was a mix up in our tickets and the box office staff not only worked with us to get us replacement tickets, they ended up getting us better tickets than we had purchased for the show.  That set the tone for what ended up being one of those most magical of theatre nights.

Once is the Tony Award winning story of a down and out Dublin street musician who has given up on his dream until he meets a fiery Czech pianist who inspires him to reclaim his dream.  As the chemistry between them grows, the music takes flight.  Based on the 2007 film of the same name (written by Dubliner John Carney, book by Irish born playwright Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova), Once takes you on an emotional journey through life in Dublin’s working class streets. Continue reading

Shrek Entertains Kids of All Ages at the Empress

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By Larissa Villers Ferre

Have you ever wished that someone would get to know you before judging you? Have you ever wished you had a chance to show someone who you are inside?  Shrek the Musical at The Empress Theatre in Magna is one of those stories that everyone can relate to – the exterior is exuberant characters and jokes, while the interior shows us that the very best parts of us are those that make us different.

Shrek is an ogre, which, if you didn’t know, you’ve probably been living in his swamp for the past decade. The evil Lord Farquaad displaced all of the fairytale characters from the city of Duloc into Shrek’s swamp. In order to regain his swamp as his solitary sanctuary, Shrek agrees to rescue the Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower on behalf of Farquaad, who needs to marry a princess to become king. Continue reading

Oh, The Humanity in Glendale, AZ, is Oh So Good!

By Cindy Whitehair

“We’re here to tell the story of the Furies”…..thus begins Brelby Theatre Company’s world premier Oh, The Humanity.  The Furies have spent several millennia in prison for, in Zeus’ opinion, wreaking havoc on Earth.  However, Zeus has a problem – his son Clark (Jordan Davis) is in a mental hospital for believing that he is the son of a god. Zeus (Brian Maticic) offers the Furies a deal – spring Clark from the mental hospital and Zeus will free them from prison.  Naturally the Furies are suspicious – why would they ever want to cut a deal with the god who imprisoned them? But eventually Megaera (Allison Bauer) and Alecto (Melody  Chrispen) convince Tisiphone (Aubrie Gast) that it is worth taking the risk to gain their freedom and they agree.  Megaera goes in as personal physician Dr. Meg for Clark, and Alecto and Tisiphone go in as patients. Their interactions with staff and patients ensure that hilarity ensues. Continue reading

I LOVE GSC’S As You Like It

ayli9By Jennifer Mustoe

Every time I go see a Grassroots Shakespeare Company production, I know it will be good. But that’s where I am always wrong. Not only are they better than good, they are great, but they are getting greater and greater. I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I believe they are improving. I mean, can you improve upon perfection? In the case of GSC’s As You Like It, one of the summer’s two free productions, the improvement may be in my own experience.

I am seeing a more raucous audience experience overall–which I love! At GSC, you are encouraged to boo, hiss, clap, answer the actors’ questions. You get the idea. And we had an enthusiastic audience who jumped in to hoot and holler throughout the whole play.

As You Like It was performed at the Orem Scera Park. They have their own traveling stage that they put in their lovely GSC truck and carry from place to place, just like the actors did in Shakespeare’s day. That is also the reason we are encouraged to participate. That’s how it was done back in 1600s. Grassroots Shakespeare Company also begin the show with a trio of musicians who sing and play, and music is played throughout the show. (And to be honest, it was a little loud in scenes and some of the actors’ lines were a little overshadowed.) Continue reading