Titus’ Christmas Carol is a Holiday Treat

xmas carolBy Rebecca Walk

A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic that has been performed many times over the years, has had many different versions written, and many movies made from this text, all based on the novel by Charles Dickens. I had the opportunity to attend the Titus Productions Theatre Co. version written by Jake Andersen. It had many light-hearted and witty moments, and involved the cast in singing many Christmastime favorites. Mr. Andersen, who also directed the show, had a vision to carry out the story’s message that “transcends all social barriers and reminds us to cherish every moment of life and treat everyone as equals, not just at Christmas time, but always.”

Most people know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a greedy man who won’t empty his pockets for anyone. When he is visited by three spirits the night before Christmas they proceed to show Ebenezer his past, present, and what the future may be. Of course, who could forget little Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, with their ability to love and find happiness even with the poverty-stricken life they lead.

Especially in a family show, I like to see characters of all ages and families participating in a show together. This production was filled with actors young and old, and I was impressed with the abilities of the young ones to project and stay in character. It was also nice to hear the mature voices along with the children’s, singing the Christmas Classics loved this time of year.

In the scenes with the Cratchit family, Tiny Tim (played by Mason Johnson) definitely steals your heart away with his sweet little voice and smile. I especially enjoyed the duet, Stars I Shall Find between Bob Cratchit (Quinn Nielsen) and Mrs. Cratchit (Kimberly Johnson). As Mr. Cratchit sang from the gravesite of Tiny Tim and Mrs. Cratchit from her kitchen, it portrayed their struggles alone at losing their son. Yet they would get through it together. It was a tender moment and you could feel the sadness from the characters.
Another touching moment that sticks out in my mind is the duet between Ebenezer (Curtis Johnson) and Belle (Eleisha Keen), Moving On. As he revisits his past and the love he once had, the soprano melody tugs at the heart strings.

Curtis Johnson’s depiction of Ebenezer was well thought out. He started out a greedy, ornery old man. You could sense his heart changing slowly throughout the show. The gradual transition made it easier to believe the character in the end as he changed into a giving, loving man.

Other standout performances were Ghost of Christmas Present (Rossy Thrall), her character was fun and clever. She added much delight to the stage. Also Jacob Marley (Carl Smith), a definite contrast to Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, the other character played by the same actor. His portrayal of Marley was creepy and captivating.

I enjoyed many aspects of this production. Jake Andersen’s direction worked well for this stage. The music and choreography (Emily Preston) was enjoyable and added to the enchantment of this story. I especially enjoyed the period costumes (Mary Ellen Smith, Jake Andersen, Glenna Silvan) that transported you to the old streets of London. The set construction (Lorrinda Christensen) and art (Lily Ito) were simple and perfect to set the scene. I encourage all to take time out of your busy holiday schedule and take your family to this heartwarming show.

A Christmas Carol

Sorensen Unity Center

Salt Lake City, UT

December 15-20, 22 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on the 20th at 2:00 p.m.

$10.00

Titus Productions Facebook Page

A Christmas Carol Facebook Event page

The Echo’s Wonderful Life is, well–Wonderful!

itsawonderfulBy Jennifer Mustoe

Every once in a while, I see a play that is so unusual in its format, I find it difficult to write about it properly and describe what I’ve seen. And The Echo’s Christmas offering, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show, is such a show. This doesn’t mean it’s icky or weird. It’s just nothing like I’ve ever seen and that’s a good thing.

You see, the familiar movie starring Jimmy Stewart is being portrayed in this current show as a radio play, ala 1940s. The script itself is almost identical to the movie. But done as radio.

What I liked most about this play is what appeared to me as an authentic radio show format and script. And the actors who played the parts of the actors playing the parts in the radio broadcast were great.

See, here’s the thing. All the actors come in, displaying their own personalities: John Jolly as the radio announcer and then with a completely different voice as the evil Potter; Jamie Gritton as George Bailey; Lauren Ketch as Mary Bailey; and Cimony Greenhalgh, easily one of my favorites, as Violet and darling Zuzu. (You need to see the show just for her Zuzu. Seriously.) Lucas H. Proctor played Clarence and several other characters, and was really convincing in all roles. He was really a show stealer, in a cast of brilliant, character-hopping performers.

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Jolly came out and greeted my husband and I, shaking hands, asking us how we liked the set, etc. Very fun. I will say, he stumbled over his lines as the announcer but not as any other character, so I think that may have been a directorial choice or Lolly’s own take. Whatever–it didn’t work well, as it made this actress just concerned that he didn’t learn his lines. That’s what my husband assumed. But as he championed all his other parts and lines, I wondered if he just was making an acting choice.

wonderfulThat is really THE ONLY GLITCH and it’s a small one in this delightful show. With tall mics that the actors approached and spoke into, the sounds of clomping shoes, etc as sound effects (which I LOVED) and the ubiquitious APPLAUSE sign, along with so many other fun aspects I’ve never seen, namely at a radio show in the 40s, I loved it. Director Adam Cannon did a fabulous job of transporting us from now to then.

Steven Loper played the piano and did have one line, which got a laugh, and we all sang Christmas songs as we waiting for the radio show. Nice touch.

Costumes and hair were by Greenlaugh and were authentic and fun. The minimal but effective set design was by Jeffrey Blake, The Echo’s owner and manager.

This show is a fun introduction for the holiday season and unusual enough to not miss. I would recommend it for tweens and up. There is nothing offensive in the least about this show, but it is really just a bunch of actors standing onstage, so the lack of movement might bore little ones. And it’s at 7:30 and plays for two hours, so leave the young ones at home.

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I did wonder if those who’ve never seen the movie would enjoy it or follow it was well as I did. I anticipated what would happen next–would they be able to portray it with just their voices and minimal movements (though EVERYONE had cute, effective facial expressions)? I can’t answer that for myself, as I’ve seen the movie many times. My husband, however, closed his eyes for most of the show and told me it worked well to do this. He could see the show by the voices alone. And all the actors had different voices, and were–wonderful.

I would highly recommend this fun show. It is enjoyable and unique. And Merry Christmas!

It’s a Wonderful Life

Dec 4- 20, Mon, Thurs-Saturday at 7:30 PM

The Echo Theater, 15 N 100 E, Provo, Utah 84606

Tickets are available at the door or online at TheEchoTheatre.com

 

The Covey’s Joyful Noise is Pure Joy

jn1By Jennifer Mustoe

There are two seasons when Utah truly ramps up its theater productions: summertime and Christmastime. It is fun to see what is produced every year, and I’m always happy to see that there are some shows that are produced year after year. And by far, my favorite is Joyful Noise at the Covey Center for the Arts Brinton Black Box Theater in Provo. The Covey has consistently given us excellent shows, and its annual Christmas offering is no exception.

Joyful Noise tells the story of Handel’s writing his masterpiece The Messiah. Before I saw this show, I knew very little about Handel. No, let me amend that. I knew nothing. Joyful Noise is not only a lovely Christmas story about a famous piece of music, it is about Handel as a real person, with rather unpleasant flaws including a terrible temper, many struggles and finally, the courage to create The Messiah.

J. Scott Bronson plays Handel with enough power and a believable German accent to suspend your disbelief and convince you that you are watching the real thing (if Handel was still alive, that is.) Bronson deftly portrays the troubled composer, and I especially liked his scenes with Smith, played by Joel Applegate. Smith is Handel’s assistant, but ends up being a valet, confidante and friend. The banter and connection between Bronson and Applegate is delightful.

Set in England, Handel has lost popularity and experiences what seems like writer’s block. He meets Susannah Cibber, played by Julianna Blake. Susannah, too, has had hard times and Handel decides to cast her in The Messiah as one of his soloists. Blake has a wonderful voice and her Susannah is fragile, downtrodden and filled with despair. Blake takes her character through trials and triumphs convincingly. Her scenes with Handel are tender, but her best scenes are with her enemy Kitty Clive, played hilariously by Kat Webb.

Clive is a Cockney actress who will never have the chops that Cibber does, but also does not have the sullied reputation, either. Webb is great in this role, with a lovely voice and much tossing of her head and flouncing about. She is fun to watch.

jnLynne Bronson plays Mary Pendarves, Handel’s champion and biggest fan. Ms. Bronson’s stage business with her poems is darling. And when she begins to truly defend Handel, you’d better watch out. She is pretty fiery.

The Bishop (and Handel’s enemy), played by Jeffrey Hanson, is a commanding character. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, but it’s very nice to see what happens to the Bishop at the end of the play, and Hanson handles this with dignity and some humor. Very nice. Adam Argyle plays Charles Jennens, Handel’s lyricist. Argyle fills the role well and shows some spunk when, again, not willing to reveal any spoilers, we find out what he’s really up to.

Travis Hyer plays King George II and I admit, he is one of my favorite character in the whole show. Hyer is a nuanced actor and I completely bought his portrayal of King George II. All the actors in this show are superb, but I especially love the humor and sweetness this foreign king has. Excellent job!

Director David Hanson has his actors moving constantly but with purpose. Each scene is a moving tableau that helps the story progress interestingly. The set is simple and is changed by bringing in trays of writing paraphernalia, a tea set, etc to show the different settings. Hanson gives his actors something to do (I’m a big fan of stage business) and creates a pleasing amount of activity and interest for the audience.

Joyful Noise is a lovely Christmas story because it has amazing music, a heroic story, but one of the reasons I love it is it’s not sappy or repetitive. Yes, I love the more traditional Christmas fare, but I can miss watching those shows for a few years running. I make sure I see Joyful Noise every year. It is how my Christmas season really starts.

I would recommend this show to any audience from maybe age 9 and up, especially if your kids, tweens or teens are interested in classical music and/or The Messiah. The story is amazing, the acting precise and satisfying and the conclusion is superb.

Joyful Noise

Covey Center for the Arts

425 W Center St, Provo, Utah 84601

Dec 4-6, 11-13, 15-20 7:30 PM

Admission: $14 (Student/Senior $12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SCERA’S Christmas Musical is Filled with Holiday Joy

likenBy MH Thomas

Throughout LIKEN’s The First Christmas the lyrics, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. . . ” kept going through my head. The season has kind of sneaked up on me, and seeing this show was a good way to start my own Christmas season celebration.
The set designer (who doubles as the director), Jan Shelton Hunsaker, made the cozy living room on one corner of the stage work with the massive walls of an ancient village. The story of the nativity of Jesus Christ is told by a modern family. Each segment is started in the living room and progresses into the Biblical setting.

We meet this little family as the show begins. Parents and two recalcitrant children arrive at the home of their joyous grandparents. The friend who attended with me remarked that, “those teenagers were just like real teenagers”—a compliment to Olivia Keating and Wesley Hadfield. Grandpa (Jerry Ferguson) has a very natural way about him as he jokes around with his grandchildren. Grandpa starts the Christmas story with the Shepherds. Omar (Kyle Baugh) has a pleasing voice as he leads the song, Everything We Need. He, along with the other five shepherds, make a very enjoyable singing group. Kudos to the music director, Kathryn Little.

liken 2We are taken through the Christmas story, from Elizabeth and Zacharias to Mary and Joseph. The story continues with the Shepherds and Angels and the Inn Keepers, Wise Men and King Herod. The songs are lovely and carry the story along to the conclusion where all meet the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

The singers in this production are very well cast. Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luone Ingram) complement one another as they sing the touching, A Hand to Hold. Other standout singers are Caroline Chauncey as Mary and Jason Case as Joseph. The angelic choir also sings very nicely—and I enjoyed seeing the many smiling faces as they sang their songs. At times, the angels perform the equivalent of a Mormon gospel choir. A bit subdued, compared to the real thing, but well done. The Angel Gabriel, seen throughout the show, is expertly portrayed by Daniel Beck. He has a commanding speaking and singing voice and his costume is impressive. He plays the part with just the right amount of humor, when the scene calls for it, and he is a bright spot (literally and figuratively) in the production. The joy on his face and in his voice is contagious and spreads to the rest of the cast. His lively performance really adds a special something to the show.

For the modern family, the costuming had to be able to work as contemporary clothing and then with a few additions work into the ancient clothing style of the rest of the cast. At times, especially with the Wise Men, this gave the impression of a family Christmas pageant—but that just added to the charm of the show. Kelsey Seaver did an impressive job of costuming this large cast.

liken 1This show is appropriate for all ages and for any who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. After the main part of the cast leaves the stage, don’t rush to get up. There is a beautiful little vignette at the end. It is a sweet reminder of the meaning of Christmas.

Nov 21 – Dec 13, 2014 Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm

$12 Adult, $10 Child (age 3-11), $10 Senior (age 65+),
GROUP RATES
$10 Family/Corporate groups of 20 or more, $6 Church/Non-profit groups of 20 or more

SCERA Center: Showhouse II
745 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058