Payson Community Theater’s Les Miserables Hits a High Note

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A Utah Theater Review by: B.J. Wright

I have had the pleasure of seeing Payson Community Theater’s presentation of Les Miserables multiple times, and have not walked away disappointed. Opening night, I brought along a friend of mine who was excited to see one of his favorite shows.  When he found out it was a community theater production in a small town, performed on a high school stage, he wasn’t shy to share his reservations. As we exited the theater he commented, “I was pleasantly surprised. That was by far the best community theater I have ever seen.” As we drove home, my friend commented that he was surprised at how much talent such a small community was able to pull together, and I agree. The cast of this show is amazing!

Scott Johnson as Javert had a commanding voice. His diction was superb. While some of the other actors were difficult to understand, I was able to understand his words at all times. Steve Dunford (who always delivers a great performance for Payson) gave a strong vocal performance. With his voice alone, Dunford  helped the audience to feel the range of emotions Valjean experiences. Kristen Quist brought some of that same emotion to Fantine. I enjoyed her interpretation of Fantine’s fall from grace. I could feel the heartache of not being able to care for a child, and the joy knowing that someone else would care for her after Fantine is gone. Continue reading

August: Osage County is a Must See

By Eve Speer

Silver Summit Theatre and Utah Rep have joined forces to bring Utah audiences the first production of Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County. The play takes place in Oklahoma. Letts himself was born in Tulsa. His mother was a writer and his father was a college professor. He worked at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in his 20s and won a Tony Award for his portrayal of George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? According to the handy little chart on Wikipedia, the show won just about every award out there when it came to Broadway in 2008, including the Pulitzer.

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Teresa Sanderson as Violet Weston

Last week was a difficult week. Robin Williams’ passing rocked all of us. And then a dear friend lost her young son on the same day, in the same way. Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted to do was go and see a dramatic play about hard times on the Plains Friday night. I have criticized plays for being too long. I have complained to directors for not cutting the play. Frankly, as theatre goers, we get a little lazy—wanting faster, funnier, bigger dance numbers, lights, cameras, lots and lots of action! As a spoiled little brat, I showed up at the theatre in my yoga pants and bought candy in order to keep myself satisfied throughout the production. I expected no surprises. I had seen a brilliant production of the play at the Kennedy Center back in 2010 with the magnificent Estelle Parsons. I had seen the movie. I expected no surprises and hoped that I would be able to enjoy the show enough to write a courteous and thoughtful review.

The time flew by. I was carried away. I was surprised. I was touched. I laughed, I gasped, I cried. It was an incredible evening of theatre.

The set, designed by Kevin Dudley, was sparse and functional. It was utilitarian and the levels allowed the actors the room they needed to run to and from one another. The lighting, designed by Martin Alcocer, was limited, but not limiting. The focus flew from one scene on a bench upstairs, to the kitchen table—helping our eyes put together the pieces of the story. The costumes, designed by Nancy Susan Cannon, were a perfect contribution to the story. Producers David Hanson, Michelle Rideout, and Johnny Hebda assembled a talented team of designers.

I had never seen a show directed by Mark Fossen, but dagnabbit, I loved him from the start. The beginning of this show sets the tone for the entire production. It requires a light touch. The events themselves are sad, the characters are not. More than anything, the characters are fighting for that lightness of being we all imagine everyone else possesses. It is this struggle against the dark that makes the time fly by for the audience. We see ourselves and we laugh at the darkness, in the darkness. And only sweet Johnna looks on at our shared insanity with a little touch of horror. Richard Scharine, playing Beverly Weston, brought just the right amount of levity to the opening scene. Tamara Howell was perfectly down to earth as the new housekeeper Johnna. The first time you see Teresa Sanderson’s Violet Weston, I promise you will find yourself on the edge of your seat, just anticipating some sort of surprise. She is both mysterious and obvious. And she never lets up. Every scene is a revelation.

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Daniel Beecher as Bill Fordham, Michele Rideout as Ivy Weston

As the play unfolds, we meet the Weston sisters—practical Barbara, played by April Fossen, lost Ivy, played by Michele Rideout, and dreaming Karen, played by Melanie Nelson. These actors delivered performances that were complicated and provoking. You hate and love each of them for everything they remind you about yourself and all your favorite women.

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The whole family around the table.

Sallie Cooper and Daniel Torrence play the visiting aunt and uncle. Their comedic timing was absolutely perfect at the beginning, which only grew into a beautiful cocktail of passion and regret. (Please realize I could type this about every single character on the stage.)

The men in this play covered the gamut of American men in the same way that the sisters appear to cover every particular type of American woman you’ll come across. Bill Fordham plays Barbara’s husband, the professor; intelligent, charming, and flawed. Joe Crinch plays Karen Weston’s fiancée Steve Heidebrecht, a driven entrepreneur playboy. Stein Erickson plays Little Charles Aiken, a well-intentioned disappointment. Allen Smith plays Deon Gibeau, the trusty sheriff.

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Allen Smith as Sheriff Deon Gibeau and April Fossen as Barbara

 

Barbara and Bill’s daughter Jean is played with vivacity and intelligence by Anne Louise Brings. Her storyline is complicated and she doesn’t make it easier for us by making simple choices.

Nothing about this production is simple. In every moment, they make the difficult choice. They choose funny, when the obvious answer is pathos. As a result, audience members are carried away in the story as we try to unravel and understand.


The story is perfect. This cast is brilliant, and the director leads us on an unexpected journey. I encourage everyone to see this beautiful piece of American Theatre in this intimate new space. There’s nothing better than good theatre. And this is good theatre. If you’re a theatre practitioner of any kind—make time to see this show. Good theatre will beget good theatre.

As a warning to parents: the play isn’t for kids. There is strong language and it has adult themes.

If you go, the show is playing at the new Sugar Space Warehouse, 130 S 800 West, not to be confused with the Sugar Space location in Sugarhouse. The show runs August 15-31st. For showtimes, visit http://silversummittheatre.org/. The space is small. It will sell out, so get your tickets online ahead of time.

 

The Zig’s The Producers is One Fun Production

producersBy Michael Nielsen

Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS

Bigger than life characters and great productions numbers make THE PRODUCERS a fun theatrical experience.

One might think a story about a couple of men trying to produce a Broadway flop would be just that–a flop. But of course, the brilliantly funny and irreverent Mel Brooks has taken this unusual plot and made it in to a laughter- and music-filled extravaganza.

Max Bialystock (exuberantly played by Cameron Kapetanov) has produced a few hits, but mostly a long line of failures on Broadway; productions mostly financed by little old ladies with whom he has “dalliances” to obtain the checks. Enter CPA Leo Bloom (Daniel Pack), a neurotic and quietly shy counter to Max, who has always dreamed of being a producer. While looking at the books, Bloom offhandedly notes that one could make more money producing a “flop” than a hit. Together they decide “WE CAN DO IT” and set out to find the worst script ever written (SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER), the worst director, Roger De Bris (played a bit inconsistently yet hilariously by Quinn Kapetanov) and swindling little old ladies out of their checks.

producers4Technically, the production had a few minor flaws, most of which I have no doubt have already been remedied, worst of which was the volume of Max’s microphone. Cameron Kapetanov plays the character loud and frenetic, so the volume on his mic sometimes became bothersome. Pack’s hand-wringing quietness plays off Kapetanov nicely. Really, all the characters are much bigger than life, which makes this show work. Ulla (Talese Hunt) uses her height, long legs and impressive body language beautifully as the new arrival hoping to make it big on Broadway, instantly winning over both men. Owning the stage any time he is on, BJ Whimpey’s Franz Liebkind is a joy to watch as the writer of this love story to Hitler. Later, Quinn Kapetanov actually plays Hitler in a Ziegfeld style musical number which will leave you rolling in the aisles.

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The true stars of the show, however, were the musical numbers staged and choreographed by director Rick Rea with Kacee Neff. The entire ensemble (some playing several roles) and leads OWNED the stage and not only danced, strutted and sang beautifully, but convinced us they were having fun doing it. Nothing beats a chorus line of “old ladies” dancing with their canes and finishing with a rousing “tap” number using walkers. SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER used brilliant costuming (Becky Jean) and staging to give the feel of a Ziegfeld number, and made the show all the more hilarious. Another fun aspect of the production was the use of video on the back of the stage to take us to Broadway and used as a marquee for the theatre.

Overall, the entire cast and production team did a remarkable job of bringing the fun and silliness to a show with large production numbers and intimate moments, a difficult thing to do well in a small theatre. Director Rick Rea should be proud of being able to keep this larger than life story and characters under control while giving the audience an escape to a fun night of theatre.

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Note: On their website, they include this–

Reccomended for ages 18+ (or 12+ with parental guidance)

Content: Contains brief strong language, moderate sexual humor and innuendos (no nudity), and mild comic violence.

 

The Ziegfeld Theatre

Playing Fridays and Saturdays

Through Sept. 6th at 7:30 pm

With 2:00 pm Matinees the 30th and the 6th

Ticket Pricing
Adult: $15
Student (With valid ID): $12
Senior (65 and up): $12
Child (12 and under): $12

http://www.theziegfeldtheater.com/