Long-Time Favorite Characters Brought to Life in The Addams Family at The Empress – And They Sing and Dance!

By Michael Nielsen

addams-family-04We’ve seen them in black and white on TV and on the big screen in living color … Now they are seen singing and dancing on stage at The Empress Theatre in Magna, Utah.

The story follows the Addams family as their daughter Wednesday falls in love and tries to introduce her boyfriend’s family to hers, worrying that her family members are not “normal.”  As both families are explored, we learn to question what normal really means.

The TV show and movies were entertaining because this abnormal family considers itself to be normal, so their oddities and funny lines are simply presented as part of who they are.  There are times this works well in this production, but often we are fed the joke as if to say “this is funny!” instead of just letting it be funny.

The performers all have many moments of great fun and talent, and they especially shine when they are singing their songs.  I saw the “A” cast (there is no listing of when the “A” or “B” cast perform, so if you know someone in the show, you may want to call and find out when they are performing) who put their all in to the show and were obviously having a great time, and the audience definitely enjoyed itself.

addams-family-02The ensemble presented themselves from the very start as past relatives of the Addams’ as they came out of the cemetery singing and dancing.  The costumes by Melissa Buxton, Amy Burton, Michele Brown, Carrie Johnson, Jake Anderson and the cast were very clever as each relative was a white clad version of what they had been in life; including a caveman, cowboy, saloon girl, flapper, bride, American Indian Princess, Hippie and even a flight attendant.  I couldn’t help but feel that each cast member was greatly responsible for their character and costume, and each stayed in character throughout the show as they waited to be released to their graves by love.  Many of the most enjoyable scenes included the ensemble.

Gomez (Matt Green) was lovable and fun to watch, as was Moticia (Chisanne Sueltz) in her own, macabre way.  Both certainly shined in their musical numbers. Uncle Fester (Nathan Unck) brought lightness, love and fun to the show as did the ever-in-character Grandma (JoAnn Galloway).  Love-struck Wednesday (Jennica Henderson) gave a great musical performance, although her acting was a bit self-conscious.  Pugsly (Gaven Suelt) charmed the audience even though his acting was a little less polished.  Lurch (Garret Sueltz) was oddly charming, even with only grunts and moans.

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At times the performance seemed a little off and the actors seemed to be trying too hard. I felt like the director, Jake Anderson, could have worked with the actors a little more to perfect their comic timing and help them to feel more comfortable and natural on the stage.  There were times of brilliance when the actors forgot they were trying to be funny and that there was an audience.  These moments made the show a lot of fun.

There is not a lighting designer listed, which may be the reason the actors were often in the dark without their faces being visible.  I do believe that part of the darkness was an attempt to keep the show “dark” and may have simple been a lack of lights available in the theatre.

Overall, the audience couldn’t help but be caught up in the enthusiasm of the cast, the moments of brilliance, and the joy of seeing characters we know and love on stage singing and dancing.

The Empress Theater
9104 West 2700 South, Magna, UT 84044
empress@empresstheatre.com

June 20th – July 26th
Monday, Friday, Saturday 7:30 PM
Matinee June 28 and July 12 at 2:00 PM
Tickets $10. Group Discounts Available.

Pinnacle’s Virginia Woolf is Disturbing and Brilliant

 

WoolfMainReviewed by Michael Nielsen

Whether you’ve read it, seen the stage play, watched the movie, or none of the above–everyone is aware that WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is a classic. PINACLE ACTING COMPANY’s production of the Edward Albee work shows us why it is a classic. As a reviewer and fellow theatre person, I find I am overly critical at times of a show’s performances and technical aspects. But try as I might, I couldn’t find a flaw in this production.

Being performed in the round, director L.L. West doesn’t pander to the audience using staging that would never happen in real life to keep the actors always facing out. The entire production happens in the living room of Martha (Teresa Sanderson) and George (Jared Larkin) and West has kept it moving and real, making us feel almost voyeuristic as we watch the action. The lighting (Natalie Colony), set (Geoffrey Michael Eastman), sound (Todd Olson) and costumes (Sean Bishop) are real and relatively simple, yet perfectly complement the mood and period of the show. But honestly, the real reason to see this show, are the performances of Teresa Sanderson and Jared Larkin.

It’s 2:00 AM and Martha and George are returning home from a faculty party for the university where George is “in History” and Martha is the daughter of the president. (“There are easier things than being married to the daughter of the president” bemoans George at one point.) Right from the beginning you know that this couple has always had a relationship of sarcasm and bickering. While it starts out mild and even at times teasingly, the fireworks are really just waiting to start. Martha has invited a young couple, a new member of the faculty who is “in Biology” and his wife to come to their home after the party. Nick (Mike T. Brown) is a handsome, up and comer–everything that George used to be and is jealous of now. Honey (Marin Kohler) is the
perfect wife, who is “fragile” and claims to not really drink, then proceeds to get quite drunk–something I sense she has done many a time.

As Martha and George continue to bicker and insult and it escalates, Brown shows us the discomfort we have all felt when witnessing family arguments and we as the audience feel. He continues to grow more and more disturbed and finally proves himself strong and cunning as he stands up to George and Martha. As Honey gets drunker, we see her vulnerabilities and her weaknesses, which, of course, George and Martha take full advantage of.

It is impossible to explain in this review the story and the depth and emotions that this production brings. There are many times that something is “hinted at” in the bickering. While some are explained, some leave you to decide what they meant and why they were important. We learn much about each of the characters, yet there are many unanswered questions that leave us trying to fill in the pieces and meanings.

The roles of Martha (“I have a fine sense of the ridiculous, but no sense of humor,”) and George (“We are merely exercising–merely walking what’s left of our wit,”) could easily be played as unlikeable and just mean-spirited, but Sanderson and Larkin bring humanity, reality and many levels to the characters. The highs and lows are perfectly timed. There are moments you totally understand why they love each other and are still together. There are moments when you wonder why they are together at all. Both have found the frailties and insecurities and let them occasionally slip out from under their fierce and biting facades. You honestly cannot take your eyes off of them, as they are as strongly in character when they are not speaking as they are when delivering the insults and asides. I can’t imagine that these characters have ever been portrayed as well as in this production. When all four are speaking, the difficult dialogue is so real and on top of (or even over) each other that you know they feel and believe what they are saying (“Anyone who comes here gets testy–it is expected.”)
During the intermission (one of two during this long but fast-moving show) I heard the director say it is a “light-hearted domestic comedy” and at one point George points out that Martha feels, “Unless you bust a gut, you aren’t enjoying yourself.” That said, there are some funny and very clever lines and moments in this show, but it is definitely not a comedy. I found myself trying to reason out different meanings and realities long after leaving the theatre. My partner and I even had different opinions as to past events that were hinted at throughout the show and all were plausible. To me, this type of audience involvement and emotion is what makes a classic a classic.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF
Pinnacle Acting Company
Remaining performances: June 20, 21, 27 and 28 7:30 PM, matinee 2 PM June 28
It runs Fridays and Saturdays through June 28th at the Westminster College Jewett Center.

Pinnacle Acting Company
Westminster College
Jewett Center for the Performing Arts
1250 E 1700 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84105

http://www.pinnacleactingcompany.org/

 

Babcock’s The Last Five Years is Brilliantly Poignant

5 years1

By Joel Applegate

The Last Five Years is a musical meditation on love and disappointment. It begins at the end and it took me down two diverging rails. I hope for reconciliation by the time the last word is written. That’s because the music soars – and so do the performances – but it took me to some thorny places.

This musical is a love story, naturally – an operetta firing on all cylinders that takes an economical 80 minutes to play out. The play is double cast, and after one viewing, you’ll understand why. It is a grueling operetta for one man and one woman. Performing the night I saw it were Tia Galantis as Cathy and Taylor J. Smith as Jamie, employing surety and magnificent voices with an obvious chemistry flowing between them. The other cast features Smith’s twin brother, Austin John Smith in Taylor’s role and Sara Kae Childs as Cathy. As performing partners, they are interchangeable depending on the night you go. And you should go.

You get a live orchestra, precise in its fulsome sound, tightly conducted by Alex Marshall, musical director. They make their way through a fascinating cycle of 14 songs. I wasn’t sure whether the actors were miked at first because the sound was so well modulated for the black box Babcock Theatre. Turns out they are miked, but in that space it doesn’t sound like they need to be – which I think is a testament to the excellent sound design by Jennifer Jackson.

You also get a set designed by Kevin Dudley that was curiously soothing. It consists of blue-green translucent panels flown from the ceiling, metal scaffolding and a switchback staircase standing against the back wall, behind which the live orchestra played. Time and place were easily evoked by the actors themselves and a crew of impressively nimble stage hands dressed in black. I can also apply nimble to Denny Berry’s direction. When you have a two-person script, it’s a challenge to make sure the actors don’t fall into inertia. I never once wondered why an actor was placed where he or she was. Movement was all logically organic.

But most of all you get two actors at the top of their game – and in excellent voice. Together they spin out the five-year arch of their relationship with each other and with their careers. They are on divergent paths from the beginning.  Cathy is an actor often touring during the summer and Jamie is a writer whose career takes off with a successful bestseller. Jamie pursues his career and friends, leaving his wife alone a lot. He is focused on himself, not the bond into which he entered.

There is some strong language here, but it’s a story for grown-ups anyway. A story with equal shares of humor and hurt. It’s not all anger. There are lots of funny moments. Cathy on touring in Ohio: “A root canal in Hell.” Jamie on infidelity: “Resisting temptation is not a problem, it’s a challenge.” Cathy on the angst of auditioning: “Why does the pianist hate me?”

Ms. Galantis and Mr. Smith had ample opportunity to show off their comic chops, but let’s get to the good part: their singing. Galantis has a voice like a bell – powerful, easy, clear. Her singing is versatile, almost conversational. She hits the top of her range effortlessly. I muttered “wow” more than a few times at Tia’s breath control and the soaring ease of her top notes and at how easily she turns the notes in her head. She’s really using her voice – breaks and all – to tell a painful story. I’m pushed to happy and pulled to sad by great music that accompanies disintegrating lovers. I sympathized with Cathy’s hurt. It’s tough to be in the shadow of your partner or spouse; the perennial second priority.

Jamie’s frustrated too, being pulled in the direction of home while his career is taking off. “I will not fail so you can feel comfortable.” Smith brings it with a big tenor. He’s real good, with comic timing that had the audience spontaneously laughing out loud, totally charming them with his sheer relish of performance. Taylor must have some range as an actor. Among his credits in the program is a turn as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet(!) Here, though, both he and Galantis handle a very complex, demanding and beautiful score that requires a high level of skill. They’ve accomplished a wonderful feat making copious lyrics tunefully heard and so achingly understood.

As the show nears its close, a violinist arcs a tune over the back of the set. Our couple shares a slow waltz. It made me think dancing is sex idealized. (Spoiler alert next) But what was ideal ends in poignant still life: Jamie’s gold ring on Cathy’s white laptop. Sharp thorns rounded by a melody.

Postscript:

In the lobby before the show I was lucky to meet and chat with one of the original founders of Salt Lake Shakespeare Company.  Gage Williams is the executive producer for this show and Chair of the department. It was he and other theatre faculty that started the company as an offshoot of the U of U’s theatre program 20 years ago. At first they mounted only one production a year. The last few seasons have seen them expand to two productions in the summertime; usually a drama and a comedy or musical. They draw their actors from university students and occasionally have guest professionals, as will be the case for their second production this season, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening July 17th. All performers are paid. “Not much” demurs Mr. Williams, but it’s a blessing to have resources enough to do the right thing. Salt Lake “Shake” is also supported by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation and grants from the Zoo Arts and Parks (ZAP) program.

The Last Five Years

Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown

Salt Lake Shakespeare Company at the Babcock Theatre, University of Utah

300 South 1400 East, SLC 84112

June 13 – 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Matinees June 21, 22, 28, & 29 at 2:00 PM

Box Office 801-581-7100

General: $18
U of U Faculty, Staff, Seniors age 60 and over: $15
Military and their immediate families: $15
U of U students FREE with Arts Pass
Other students: $8.50
For group discounts of 20 or more call 801-581-6406

No refunds or exchanges

Midvale Main Street’s Spring Awakening is Unashamedly Envigorating

Spring CoupleWritten by Larissa Villers Ferre

Winter is a dreary, lonely few months at the beginning of every year. Sometimes we feel an ache, knowing there is more out there for us in the sunshine of spring. Our senses are  teased and titillated with the changing sights, smells, sounds, and sensations the change of seasons brings. Take yourself back to the days of your adolescence around the time your body began to feel things it had never felt, your mind began to dream of things you didn’t understand, and you started feeling desires to be in the companionship of a certain girl or boy in a way you didn’t quite understand. The winter of the body had turned into spring.

Spring Awakening, being produced at Midvale Main Street Theatre, is an aptly named rock musical based on the banned 1891 German play of the same title. Child abuse, rape, suicide, incest, abortion, and homosexuality are all contributors to the banning of the play and the deep substance of the production. Set in 19th-century Germany, one may think the time-period’s approach to a sexual awakening of youth to be antiquated, but it is alarmingly frightening how true the show resonates with the youth of today.

As I write this, I think of how perhaps I shouldn’t use a word like “sexual” because it makes audiences and readers uncomfortable. However, the discomfort of this topic is exactly what has lead to the plague of misunderstanding regarding the wonderful gifts of life, creation, and sexuality that our creator gave us. Instead, we have turned the mere topic of intimacy into something shameful and to be avoided. If an audience member learns nothing else, I hope they learn that they are not alone in their struggles and that we need to be open in our communications with our children to hopefully bring about a much-needed understanding and change.

Spring 3

First-time director, Cassidy Ross, put together an amazing group of production team and cast members, orchestrating a great blend of creative vision. Your eyes are immediately treated to one of Sean McLaughlin’s most bright and beautiful set designs. He has lined most of the stage with old wood slats, even creating a tree. His set works perfectly in conjunction with the lighting design of Jennifer Hairr to help us feel the innocence and darkness at integral times. In one number, the flashing of the lights was a little much, but definitely conveyed chaos. Aaron Ford’s choreography is clean and stylistic in a way that adds energy, but does not detract from the overall feel of the show. The only weak points for me, technically, were the over-modulated mic’s of Wendla and Georg.

The characters are introduced to us in a schoolroom setting or frolicking about town. As with most shows, the audience needs a few songs to warm up to the actors and feel the energy of the show. We meet Wendla (Erica Renee Smith) as she is trying to get her mother (Kelsey Lyn Hoskins) to tell her how babies are made. Hoskins portrayed the mother as amused in an almost comical way, which I enjoyed, but that amusement didn’t quite mesh with her harsh treatment of her daughter later in the show. For me and my company, the show finally clicked with the song, “Touch Me.” The actresses rocking out at the very beginning of the show had the staging and movement energy, yet something wasn’t quite clicking – like if you took classical singing and tried to set it to rock music. Thankfully, that was the only song that felt that way. In contrast, the beautiful vocals transferred well  in the strongest vocal song of the show, “Purple Summer.”

I will not spoil the show for those who have yet to experience it, but there is a scene that had me fighting back tears as much as any show ever has shortly after intermission. The blackout after this particular scene seemed intentionally longer than the typical split-second changes to let the audience have a moment to reflect. You could have heard a pin drop as sniffles and tears swept through the darkness.

For me and my company, the stand-out performance (if there can be one amongst this group) of the evening was Brock Dalgleish as Moritz. You can see he is slightly neurotic at the beginning of the show, which transitions into a slow and steady spiral downward until he finally breaks. His crystalline vocals and physical antics contributed to his powerful and believable lost soul performance. Even down to the sparkle in his eye, you could see this character’s fear-based yearning for some sort of truth and hope in his existence.

Carolyn Crow is also forever professional and haunting in her performances, not the least of which is Martha, a young girl suffering the full span of abuse from her father. You can see the hurt, anger, and fear in her eyes as she shares her story, yet her longing to hold onto the innocence of youth and childhood of her friends. Thomas Kulkus as Georg filled the house with soaring tenor notes when he wasn’t creating cleverly crafted comic relief with as little as the widening of an eye. Smith’s Wendla shows us naivete in her sheltered life and how her innocence leads to her downfall, all the while not understanding what she had even done wrong. Cody Jensen is the brave, yet stoic leader, Melchior. The youth look to him because he is wise beyond his years and not tied down with the traditional beliefs of society, while the adults look to him as a shining, intellectual hope for their future.  Jensen’s voice and acting fit his role so impeccably that I cannot imagine much better talent or fit exists.

Spring 4

Each and every actor deserves accolades for their performances, as I honestly felt that, even if an audience member might have made a different acting decision, there was not a weak player among them. Filling out the cast is: Jim Dale as Adult Man, Allie Duke as Ilse, Ashlee Brereton as Anna, Garrett Grigg as Ernst, Kelsey Lyn Hoskins as Adult Woman, Michael Anthony Howell as Otto, Terry Lee McGriff as Hanschen, and Mikael Short as Thea.

Audiences need to be aware of the adult language and sexual content of Spring Awakening – if a song titled, “Totally F***ed,” (the best overall song performance in the show) makes you squirm, then this show is not for you.  I typically don’t gravitate towards “edgy,” but I absolutely recommend this show.  In speaking with theater owner, Tammy Ross, she shared with me that she does blockbuster, family friendly sell-out shows like Hairspray so that she can also produce the non-Utah traditional pieces like Spring Awakening and Next to Normal.

Everyone will find something that resonates within them regarding the struggle of these characters. You will be brought to the point of tears or goosebumps because of these actors and what they are sharing with you. Spring Awakening helps you realize the unashamed concerns of youth, and, as Melchior states, “Shame is nothing but a product of education.”

Spring Awakening performs at 7:00 pm on June 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, and 6:00 pm on June 22.  Tickets are $15 for general admission from their website or at the box office or $12 for students at the box office one hour before showtime.

Spring 5

Centerpoint’s Odd Couple Is Even a Must See!

oc2By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehair

There are some names in theater that define their genre – for dance, it’s Bob Fosse. For musical theater, it’s Andrew Lloyd Weber. For comedies, it’s Neil Simon and the Simon play that everyone knows best is The Odd Couple.  The Odd Couple is the story of two friends, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, who become roommates after Felix’s wife throws him out after filing for divorce.  Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s The Odd Couple takes a classic that everyone knows – mostly because of the television series (starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) – and makes it fun all over again.

Oscar Madison (played beautifully by Rusty Bringhurst) is a crusty, sloppy, poker playing sports reporter.  Felix Ungar (played by Patrick Harris) is a neurotic, slightly whiny news writer who was OCD before OCD was cool. These two opposites end up bringing out the best in each other while simultaneously driving each other certifiably insane. They are friends who understand each other better than anyone else – for better or for worse.

There are not enough superlatives to describe how well the two leads brought out the dichotomy that is New York (Bronx versus Manhattan, downtown versus the financial district) and pulled the audience into their world and their lives.  Rusty’s naturally expressive acting style (not to mention the physicality that he brings to a role) was matched nicely by Patrick in every scene.  In many scenes, more was said with a raised eyebrow or a 3-count expression change.  These two were a treat to watch play off of one another.

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The rest of the gang, Murray the police office (played by Rob McArthur), Speed (Jason Unruh), Vinnie (Mark Green) and Oscar’s accountant Roy (Christopher Kennedy) are pulled along on the roller coaster ride that is Felix and Oscar sharing an apartment.  They want to be (at times) mere bystanders, because bystanders aren’t involved in the drama and there are times when they want to want to kill Felix and Oscar themselves.  However, in the end, the friends all pull together to be there for one another.  Throw in a pair the British sisters from upstairs (Katie Plott and Sunny Bringhurst) and the chaos is complete.

The chemistry of this cast is what made this show.  The sychronicity of the cast made the show shine and much of that has to do with the brilliant direction of Eric Jensen.  In his director’s notes, he talks about how much he loves Simon as a playwright and this show in particular and it shows in every scene.  And while you don’t necessarily expect this show to be “physical,”, but he made great use of his leads’ physicality.  One cast member (after the show) said that they didn’t learn blocking for this show as much as they learned choreography.  Jensen took the talents of his cast and pulled them together to create an artistic vision that made this show well worth the audience members’ time.

Jay Clark’s sound and light design were lovely.  As a child of the ’60s/’70’s walking into the theater to the strains of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass was like walking back into my childhood.  Jennie Richardson’s costumes were perfect for the era.  Perry loved the NY Met’s “Bat Boy” T-shirt.  He said it was absolutely perfect for Oscar as a sportswriter.  I was more taken with authenticity of the props – a real coup for Raquel Davis.

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The set design overall was wonderfully a 1960’s bachelor pad – clothing strewn everywhere, empty pizza boxes littering the room and the remains on the last poker game still on the table. The only thing I would have done differently had to do with the typewriter and the desk. They were tucked into a niche created by the scenery meeting the wall of the space. The wall was black so the black desk and black typewriter pretty much disappeared into the niche. Given that both Felix and Oscar are writers by trade, I would have either done something different with that black wall or moved the typewriter more center.

Centerpoint’s Leishman Performance Hall was a perfect space for this American classic.  Its clean lines and open space helps you feel like you are in an “eight room apartment” in New York.

Start your summer off right. Go see The Odd Couple.

CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s Leishman Performance Hall presents The Odd Couple.  Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday nights at 7 PM.  Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased at the box office 801-298-1302  or online http://centerpointtheatre.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=3197&ActCode=97803

Centerpoint Legacy Theatre

525 N 400 W

Centerville UT, 84014

Springville’s Fiddler is a “Traditional” Favorite

By Joel Applegate

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the old Fiddler. Fiddler on the Roof has always been one of my favorite musicals because of its realism (within the milieu), its soaring score and a storyline that’s still important for all to know. At least two of the hit songs remain popular: “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man.”

Springville Playhouse’s cast was clearly committed to having fun. A couple of technical glitches with mics off when they should have been on didn’t spoil the fun too much. That great opening number, “Tradition,” boasted a chorus that sounded full and in tune.

Our patriarch of the show, Tevye, played by Karl Young, sets up the scene – and his dilemma: a surfeit of marriageable daughters – and a wife who has come to see him as all too laconic and unserious.

Young looks the part, bringing to this iconic character the rolling eye and the shrugging shoulder that audiences who love Tevye have come to expect. Young has a nice voice, which is smooth but not booming. My preference would have been to see him use his voice throughout in a more robust manner. That may have helped, too, with the timing of some of his jokes that didn’t quite sell. Young’s Tevye has a relaxed approach to his Maker, whom he brings into the conversation often, and great chemistry with Golde, his wife played by Robinne Booth, who does double duty as the director of this production. Booth played big with her role, ladling on a nice touch of the sardonic – just what we’ve come to recognize in this loveable character over the years.

The show really got off the ground with its second song, “Matchmaker,” sung by Tevye’s three eldest daughters: Joni Newman as Tzeitel, Amber Lee Roberts as Hodel, and Elizabeth Bird/Michelle Squire (it is double cast) as Chava. All three of these women were well cast, bringing pleasant voices and harmonies to our ears. Newman hits the right emotional pitch in the critical scene when she pleads with Tevye to allow her to marry whom she loves. I could directly feel her energy. Roberts brought a smile to my face with her clear, clean melodic voice. And her Hodel had a lightness supporting her dialogue and complimenting her spirit. Bird/Squire had one of the more pleasant voices in the cast with a tone round and sweet.

Let’s talk about guys, man. Hodel’s squeeze, Nate Warenski in the person of Perchik was well-connected to what he was doing. His lively energy gave him a natural cadence. As Motel, Gregory Duffin was fun to watch, wooing his Tzeitel in tailored befuddlement. Bryan Cardoza as the Constable was as authoritative as he needed to be, sporting a pretty darn decent Russian accent.

Fiddler on the Roof is a long show, even by mid-20th century musical standards. That’s why I wanted to briefly mention the one overall adjustment I would apply to the whole production, and that is the all-important pacing. The tempo needed to be ramped up considerably in all the musical numbers, especially “If I Were a Rich Man,” and including even the quieter pieces, such as “Evening Prayer.” In the scenes where dialogue is critical to moving the story forward, cues weren’t picked up and actors took too much time, with the result that some jokes didn’t land. In Fiddler, we have some of the musical theater’s best snappy writing here that didn’t get its due. These gaps can kill the moment. Though I was watching invested performances, I felt this show took too much time to tell the story.

Especially for a small troupe with limited resources, the production values here really look good. Great job by the set and costume crews – too many to name here (the actual designers are not credited in the program.) The very nicely detailed set fills up the small proscenium stage. Kudos to the costumers who achieved authentic looks all around – especially with the slightly whimsical accent they gave to the character of the matchmaker, Yente, played by Karen Amsden. The staging of Gramma Tzeitel’s dream sequence filled the stage and was delightful to look at. Connie Jackson Warenski as Fruma Sarah bedecked in ridiculous pearls haunted the scene frightfully in that way that makes it fun to be scared.

I learned something I didn’t know before about Springville Playhouse. After losing their previous venue, they are now being generously housed at the recently built Merit College Prep Academy. This company has a legacy. According to our host for the evening, Kathy Llewellyn, Springville Playhouse is the longest running community theater in Utah County, established in 1947. By that effort alone, they deserve your support. I’ve always loved Fiddler on the Roof for its very tuneful melodies and the glimpse of real history it gives to the audience. Accordingly, sight and sound are the outstanding strengths of Springville Playhouse’s production of Fiddler.

Note: Because this is a long production, I would recommend not bringing children under 10 or 11 years old unless they are serious musical theater fans.

Springville Playhouse at Merit Academy, 1440 West Center St, Springville, Utah
Friday, Saturday and Monday at 7:30 pm, June 6th through the 28th, 2014
Box Office: 888-799-7469
Tickets are $8 per person, $7 for students and seniors, and a family pass can be purchased for $40.
http://www.springvilleplayhouse.org/

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE Delights Audiences at The Ziegfeld Theater

Reviewed by Michael Nielsen

drowsy

The lights go down and the MAN IN CHAIR (Tim White) prays in the dark, “Dear Lord, please let it be a good show…” And the fun of Musical Theater begins. When the lights DO come up, after a few more insights and thoughts from MAN IN CHAIR, we see him sitting in his comfortable chair next to an old record player… “Yes, records”… in a somewhat dingy apartment that fills the stage.

While no one is listed as set designer in the program, Ziegfeld Theater set constructors Brandon Bills, Erica Choffel and Quinn Kapetanov (also the theater’s technical director) have done a great job of filling the stage with essential apartment needs while leaving room for the action of the show, which is no small task when an entire musical is to be staged within the apartment. A nice touch to the set were the theater posters tacked to all the walls, immediately establishing the MAN’s love for theater. When telling people about THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, I am always tempted to say, “It’s just a good old-fashioned musical,” but in truth, it’s not. DROWSY opened on Broadway in May of 2006 and was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning 5 of them, including Best Book, Musical Score and Costumes. The costumes, unfortunately, were the weakest part of this production, but designer Becky Cole didn’t have a Broadway budget. She did manage to portray each character and stay within the era.

The show is a parody of American musical comedy of the 1920s. The story concerns a middle-aged, musical theater fan as he plays the record of his favorite musical, the (fictional) 1928 hit THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, which then comes to life onstage as he wryly comments on the music, story and actors. I love this show, and the Ziegfeld’s production has made me love it even more. I mean, what’s not to love? You have the excitement and glamour of the 1920s, the thrill of full ensemble musical numbers and a love story(s) complete with angst and suspense–well, musical theater suspense. After all, as the MAN says, “Whenever a character is in crisis, they just dance and sing–that’s the glory of a musical.” The Zig’s production makes you wish all of life was like that.

Director Trent Cox, choreographor and assistant director Kacee Neff and assistant choreographer Josh White brought the goosebumps of a  Broadway stage into the confines of a small apartment. They cleverly used the refrigerator as a main entrance for the characters. Characters also entered through doors, cupboards and closets. The Murphy style bed was transformed into a lounge chair and a bedroom, each time with the actor “riding” the bed as it was pulled down, then returned to the wall after the scenes.

Often reviews neglect to mention the people “backstage” who make the show work. In theater, it truly takes a village. One often overlooked, yet essential area, is stage management–the people who make the whole process run during rehearsals and the run of the show. Stage Manager Jessica Hilton and Assistant Stage Manager Chelsea Winters obviously ran a tight ship. There were a few glitches in the microphones, a couple of times it seemed they were just late in being turned on, but overall the technical aspects (sound: Samuel Coleman, Lights: Derek Walden – design, Chelsea Winters on board, Props: Kelly Wideman, Makeup: Alina Gatrell) were spot on, and accented the show well.

There are no weak performances, though some did shine through a bit stronger than others. Breann Johnson as Janet, has the pipes and dance moves to make us believe she could be a Broadway star. The Gangsters/Bakers (Matt Baxter and Colton Ward) provided laughs with their stylized moves and comic timing. Paul Calvo as Adolpho, the broadly characterized Spanish lover, was an audience favorite, shining in his scenes with THE CHAPERONE, played to perfection by Becky Cole. Ms. Cole has the stage presence, voice and comic timing needed to really make the title character shine. Lindsey Blackman as Kitty, the ditzy wanna-be star, also stood out with her consistent performance. Each character and the Ensemble (playing multiple characters) gave us moments of brilliance. I could list them all, (and wish I had the space to do so) but you will see their names when you head to Ogden to see the show.

Tim White, as MAN IN CHAIR, won our hearts as he guided us through this show, which we later find he never saw, but which changed his life. It did take a little while for me to warm up to him, but once I did, I was always anxious to hear his asides and insights to the “actors” playing the roles and how the show affected him. While relatively mousy, there were moments where White lost his reserve and showed his passion, and moments where he moved us, especially when he speaks of that special scene that he has “listened to over and over,” leaving us with quite a deep interpretation of life.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE runs through the 28th in this intimate, well-managed theatre (everyone is so nice and welcoming), and, as MAN IN CHAIR says, it “DOES WHAT A SHOW IS SUPPOSED TO DO–IT TAKES US TO ANOTHER WORLD.”

For more information about the Ziegfeld Theater, visit http://www.theziegfeldtheater.com/

The Ziegeld Theater is located at 3934 South Washington, Ogden, Utah 84403. For tickets, call 855-ZIG-ARTS. The show runs Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM until June 28th. Tickets are only $12/$15.

 

 

 

Witness A Riveting New Play at The Grand Theatre

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Written by Joel Applegate

I want my ice cream. And television.  Don’t intrude into my life with the details of your injustice. Too much nuance. Too complicated. Even those who are discriminated against will sometimes discriminate against others. Even if it’s their own people.  Can I help that? I don’t know. If you’ve experienced discrimination or injustice yourself, it feels inescapably intimate.

Intimacy is happily the emphasis of The Grand Theatre’s production of Aden Ross’s Rings. This harsh tale of discrimination and injustice is told sparingly. For the audience – virtual witnesses in this play- a set of comfortable chairs is arranged on four tiers, and perched on the apron of the stage facing the back wall.  Director Richard Scott’s smoothly transitioned action takes place directly in front of us at mid-stage. There is no set – just the judge’s podium and furniture on risers to indicate different playing areas. The actors sit on the sidelines when not performing.

Rings uses its theatrical conventions in a sort of parallel exercise of how a courtroom works. As the friend of the judge, K.C. – played with natural ease by Toni Byrd – functions at points almost as a chorus. Aptly, K.C. is directing a school production of The Merchant of Venice.  The playwright has chosen a nice setup: Juxtapose the friendship of a judge and her friend having a days-end tete-a-tete about events in a courtroom and in a theater, both being venues for justice.  This liberal conceit justifiably employs Shakespeare’s classic examination. It’s interesting to think how it affected me as I looked into this reflective mirror. Like a courtroom, we want theater to give us the truth, but we are glad to be one step removed from it.

Why are they called “maids” instead of “women”?  Class differences are exposed in a court trial that centers around a nasty incident out on the desert. Ruby and her wealthy friend, Karen, have subsumed justice in order to kidnap and punish Ruby’s housekeeper, Vera, for the theft of an elaborately jeweled ring. Ruby’s certainty that she is right leads to consequences none of the women anticipated. Playgoers will be rewarded for their attentiveness by a couple of unforeseen twists – no spoilers here!

 

Despite the play’s obvious courtroom artificiality, the whole transfer of public courtroom jargon into the private dialogue between Judge Maddie and K.C. skirts a touch toward too precious. It was a tad overused as far as the script is concerned, and therefore seemed more contrived than natural. As the play’s two de facto narrators, Tracie Merrill as the Judge and Byrd as her friend, K.C., are skillful, and in Byrd’s case, humorous, tour guides for the audience.  Merrill is technically good, but for me, the emotional connection she makes with her past could have been stronger, more deeply felt. But Merrill is great at conveying a sense of business and fairness: “A judge is supposed to impose order out of chaos.” And this she does for the audience. Judge Maddie cites a neurological study that exposes how human we are when we come into conflict. The study found that as witnesses, we often can’t tell the difference between what we see – and what we want to see.

The arch and tempo of a scene is so important. A director should let actors work, as he does here in Rings. But the director should also do more. And that is to help his or her actors to shape the scene. Find the point where it stings – especially in drama. While Richard E. Scott’s staging was capable and balanced, I felt he could have set up and paced key moments more precisely. This is especially noticeable in the one violent scene of the play. Though it is staged violence, this shocking moment needed to be much more authentic. This is the apex of the play’s emotions. This is the event from which all other discussion derives.  The action here was marked rather than executed, and because of this, it seemed to me that the production missed its chance to reach its pitch and so may have been robbed of some its punch. However, there are many strong performances here local theater goers will not want to miss.

As the principal defendant, Deena Marie Manzanares gives us a chilling character in Ruby. Her strong performance is direct and arrogant, shifting easily from coolness to pointed rage. Manzanares captures power. And she uses it unhesitatingly to keep her privileged position in the community. Ruby’s racism is at times shocking.

April Fossen as Karen makes an excellent showing of the internal conflict she is having. Goaded by Ruby’s bullying, it is clear that she wishes she could do the right thing by the woman they abused. Remarkably, Fossen does this subtly, without telegraphing or emoting. But Karen is bound by class – a strong theme in this play – into protecting Ruby.

Men aren’t meant to be the center of the play, so their roles perhaps did not receive the attention needed in order to be as solid as they could have been. They are important, however, as when the plaintiff’s lawyer played by Stephen Williams voices another theme of the play: “Money gives you power – that’s reality.” As Ruby’s defense lawyer, Medina, Dave Galvan didn’t quite rise to the intensity clients like his, in my mind, would have demanded of him.

Back in the courtroom, Yoah Guerrero as Concepcion Flores, speaking both English and Spanish, translates for, and ably defends her sister, Vera, played by Iris Salazar. I enjoyed this element of Rings because it bespoke of the playwright’s respect for the audience’s intelligence. Without the need for literal translation, both Guerrero and Salazar quite capably fully round out their grief.

Finally, though she spoke only Spanish, for my money, Iris Salazar as the wronged Vera, delivers the most emotionally charged performance of the night.  Her testimony before the judge – even as short as it is – is riveting. And when she struggles and pleads during the crime at the center of the play, her plight is heartbreaking. For those bilingual in English and Spanish, her performance will certainly add an extra dimension to the experience of seeing this production. Looking toward the future, it now appears that English/Spanish bilingual entertainment is an inevitability in the United States.

You might want to arrive early to give yourself time to take in this beautiful venue at SLCC. For generations it served as South High School up until the 80’s. The friezes in the front lobby were restored in the 90’s and the wood paneling has been buffed to a rich luster.

Thoughtful audiences will enjoy this telling examination of pain for its emotional core and some very strong performances.  Performances last only until June 21st, so make your reservations today.

The Grand Theatre, Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), South Campus at 1575 S. State St., SLC

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, June 5 – 21, 2014. 7:30pm

Tickets $10 to $24.00

Box Office:  801-957-3322

Or online at:  http://the-grand.org/events/backstage/rings

 

SCERA’s Cinderella is Magical and Delightful

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By Jennifer Mustoe

I admit, I’ve always been kind of a Cinderella fangirl. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t start out a princess and instead is treated unfairly by the world’s meanest stepmother and stepsisters ever, dresses in rags and is befriended by animals. I am not going to share the story here. If you don’t know Cinderella by now, watch Disney and you’ll pick it up quick.

Chase Ramsey, the SCERA’s director for this production has done a fabulous job of keeping the show moving and this is important because there were a lot of kids who came to this show. I even saw a few with tiaras (and was sorry I hadn’t worn mine, if you want to know the truth.) The evidence of older children (and older than children types) was apparent when Cinderella and the prince kiss. Oops! Was that a spoiler? I hope not. But yes they do kiss (and way to go Cinderella in this scene!) and the crowd cheered and ooohed and I admit, it was pretty darling.

And that is really the best word I can come up with for this show: darling. The show starts with an introduction by the Fairy Godmother played by Lauren Wade. My image of Fairy Godmother is someone kind of pudgy and old. Ms. Wade is neither and she is awesome. She has a great set of pipes and throws some comedy into her role. Nice work.

Cinderella, played spunkily by Jaymie Lambson, was perfect. When she was the drudge stepdaughter, she complained (while singing) without whining, but this girl has some grit. Once she is in her ballgown, there was a collective sigh from the audience. We all couldn’t wait to see her sparkle.

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The stepmother was one of my favorite characters. Kathryn Little has this throaty voice and such a way with her body language. I delighted in hating her. Her two horrible daughters are just as hate-inducing. The two wonderful brats are played by McKelle Shaw and Alana Jeffrey. I admit, I’d love to see a show with just these three as the main characters. I mean, if they can have a movie about Malificent, can’t they have a wicked stepmother and her horrible daughters show, too? The harmonies of these women’s songs were spot on. Cinderella joins these three for “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight” and “A Lovely Night,” and these were my favorite numbers in the show. Seeing Cinderella finally accepted by her stepsisters and then completely thrust away again by the stepmother was painfully poignant and fabulous.

Billy Hagee’s Lionel was wonderful. I’ve seen Hagee in other productions and he is always great to watch–good timing, great voice, spot on acting. I actually would have preferred to see him as the prince, simply because he seemed a little older and therefore more mature. However, Parker Harmon’s Prince Christopher was very good. He has a nice voice and was definitely someone Cinderella could easily fall for.

The set by Shawn Mortensen was lovely, as all sets are at the SCERA. I haven’t seen a show there that doesn’t dazzle. The pumpkin carriage was adorable. Lighting by Michael Gray was quite good, though the spot didn’t always cover the people it was supposed to be lighting. Deborah Bowman’s costumes were delicious. Very royal and wonderful.

Director Ramsey also did most of the choreography and it was good–biggish cast and more women than men, as is the case with most summer musicals. He made good choices in that there was nothing too difficult. If there’s one thing I really don’t like, it’s a dance number where only some of the people get the moves right. This didn’t happen in Cinderella.

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Music director Korianne Orton-Johnson brought her singers to life. Great harmonies, lots of volume. A very satisfying musical. Sound Engineer Kendall Bowman did well, too, though there was one missed cue. That will be fixed by tonight. But isn’t it nice to go to a theater where the actors are miked and there isn’t any static? If this is what you like, go to see this show. NO STATIC. Yay!

For those of you who’ve never been to the Outdoor SCERA Shell–a few tips. First, either buy the seats that have chairs or bring a blanket to sit on. You can also bring your own food, which is sort of cool. I saw picnicking going on and thought that was pretty neat. Also, if you do not want to be bothered by children who, even though they aren’t supposed to, run up and down the grassy hill, buy the more expensive seating with chairs, don’t do the grass seating. Finally, though I didn’t see any skeeters last night, spray yourself with bug spray. (I prefer Listerine and yes, you read that right. It works and isn’t poison. You smell a little mediciney but you don’t get bit.)

Also, the show runs until 10 PM. This may be a little late for some youngsters, but I saw a be-crowned and be-jeweled three-year-old pluckily trotting along with her mom after the show and she seemed just fine. Though I did not hear a lot of bored whiny children, unless your kids are REALLY into princess stuff, you may want to leave them home. There isn’t a whole lot of action in this show.

That being said, I would very much recommend the SCERA’s Cinderella. It’s the first summer show I’ve reviewed and it’s a good place to start. The weather was great, the show was great. It’s worth going to.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA is the opening musical of our 2014 summer season at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre. Don’t miss it under the stars June 6-21 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 PM. Call (801) 225-ARTS or www.scera.org for tickets and information. $10-$16

 

The Pavillion Is Theatre Magic At Its Best

Written by Eve Speer

Silver Summit Theatre Company invited me to see their final dress rehearsal for their upcoming production of The Pavillion. The show opens tonight and runs through June 22. As the dramaturg Brian Powell shares in the program, the play is “a tribute to the form, intention, and innovations of Our Town.”

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Craig Wright wrote The Pavilion in January 2003. It premiered Off-Broadway at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in September 2005. It has been produced 40 times since then.

 

In 2003, Craig Wright was 37, the same age as The Pavillion’s Peter. Early in 2003, Wright wrote this episode entitled “Timing and Space” for the acclaimed television show Six Feet Under.   This scene takes place on the edge of a body of water. Two ex-lovers talk about their past, their present, their love, how their past together made them who they are today… Cosmic conversations between simple people, living simple lives. I’m showing you this scene so you can enjoy a glimmer of the kind of writing and themes you’ll enjoy while watching The Pavillion.

The play tells us that each of us is the center of the universe. As the play progresses, each minor character shares their pangs and joys and we sense the universe they occupy. Every moment is the start of a new universe. But time always goes forward. You cannot go back. You cannot undo. You can only let go. If you hold too tightly to the past, it will rip you into shreds. Because time always goes forward.

The story is about a girl and a boy, a man and a woman who return to a pavilion on the edge of a lake for their twenty-year high school reunion. Simple people, simple lives. And cosmic things happen.

At the start of the play, I settled into my chair and warmed as I saw the simple set. Two benches. Two narrators stood on opposite sides of the stage and shared in telling me the history of the universe from the first drop of rain to the birth of Peter’s great-great-grandmother. My head whipped back and forth, following one narrator, then the other, as they shared Wright’s poetry. I felt a little like I was watching tennis. I finally just looked straight ahead and just allowed the words and the intoned music sink into my consciousness. I felt my mind expand, like I was being carried into the heart of the play. And then, without fumbling, the story transitioned into a hilarious scene between two guys returning home for their reunion. And another funny scene played out. And another. The entire play was peppered with humor, intermingled with magic, and touched with pathos and passion.

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Allen Smith plays Peter. Cami Rozanas plays Kari. Brian Pilling and Julie Mylan Simonich play everyone else at the reunion, in addition to narrating the entire history of the universe. In the middle of the reunion, Peter gets up to sing a song he wrote. He needs to play it on the guitar—and Mr. Smith doesn’t exactly play the guitar—but his character Peter does. So Mr. Smith muddles through it, but we forgive him because his voice is strong and soft all at once. He presents this confident man, undone by secret regret. Strong and soft. Outside of this small town, no one would ever see his flaws. Mr. Smith balances this vulnerability and power effortlessly. Cami Rozanas rides this line between caricature of a Minnesota small town girl and complicated leading lady. There are moments where she hides behind the voice and the fixed expressions, almost afraid of the emotion of the play. But then there are these safe moments when she lets go of the isms and just embodies Wright’s delicate language. I was enthralled.

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Mr. Pilling and Ms. Simonich are both hilarious. Because they both play several different people—sometimes at once—they go to a few outrageous places to delineate and define the different men and women at the reunion, but they both find these kernels of truth. There’s a moment where one of Pilling’s characters is having a hilarious fit of crying and I found myself tearing up in this tiny little moment that’s meant to be funny.

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The program tells me that the costumes were designed by the players—well done. And the set was designed by the playwright—kudos. The bulk of the design work was done by lighting designer Austin Stephenson. He gives us a night sky covered in stars, and at other times he warms the stage with shades of lilac at dusk. He reminded me why I adore The Sugar Space as a venue. The soundscape was designed by Mikal Troy Klee. The meditative tones at the beginning melt into the sounds of the reunion, complete with songs from the 90s. Jamie S’ua is the stage manager.

 

Overall, directors Michele Case Rideout and Amy C. Allred have created an incredible play. Please do not miss this opportunity to see an exquisite play, done exquisitely. The show is an adult show that mature audiences will enjoy. As such, you’ll enjoy the touch of profanity. And if you don’t enjoy that, come anyway and ignore it! The poetry alone is worth the trip! The Sugar Space is located at 616 Wilmington Avenue, Salt Lake City. (Just one block west of 700 East and a couple blocks south of 2100 South.) For tickets, visit www.buyyourtix.com . For more information about Silver Summit Theatre, visit their website at http://silversummittheatre.org/