Apline Community Theater’s Mary Poppins is Practically Perfect in Every Way

mary-poppins-01By Deven Skaggs

I had the opportunity to be treated by Alpine Community Theater as they presented Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins in the beautiful Covey Center for the Arts in Provo.

The story begins with the Banks family which lives in London on Cherry Lane, and things are not going well for them. With an angry and aloof father, a heartbroken mother, and two ill-behaved children it seems the household is falling apart. But when a mysterious woman named Mary Poppins appears at their doorstep, the family finds that she’s the answer to their prayers, but in the most peculiar way. Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical adventures involving singing and dancing statues, talking toys, and of course all the toe-tapping tunes we remember from the classic Disney film.

Sarah Ogden graced the stage majestically as the whimsical nanny who flew in from the east. From the moment she stepped on stage I knew she would not disappoint. Throughout the show she gave a lovely performance, full of the whit, sass, and cheeky personality that the audience expects and loves from this practically perfect nanny. Although Ogden played the part well, I would have loved to see the depth of some of Mary’s decisions. Ogden’s performance was a bit emotionally aloof. Also, as well as Ogden did in the role she still couldn’t discount the fact that she didn’t fly. Let me repeat myself. During the entirety of the show, Mary Poppins didn’t leave the ground. To say I was disappointed in that would be gracious.

Opposite Ogden, in the iconic role of Bert, was Jonathan Snyder. Snyder’s boyish face and happy demeanor played well as charming, but he seemed a bit young and inexperienced for Bert. However, his wonderful voice and strong acting choices were a delight to watch and Snyder and Ogden played off of each other very well. Snyder also had the additional challenge of speaking with a Cockney accent (one of the hardest to perform if you ask me.) Although this was clearly a struggle for him, his energy and enthusiasm carried the role.

mary-poppins-02In the roles of Jane and Michael Banks were Allyssa Shar Buckner and Asher Reynolds. These children stole the show! Both of them were constantly engaged in what was happening around them, full of energy and life, and really connected with the rest of the cast on stage. These kids captured the hearts of the audience and took us for a beautiful and emotional ride. These kids are stars on the rise!

Mr. Banks was wonderfully played by Andrew Lambert. Lambert is the only principle actor who is not double cast, and it’s not hard to see why. His strong character and demanding stage presence aided him well as he portrayed the stubborn father. At first glance he looked young and ill fitted for the role, but his ability to command the stage won me over. The journey Lambert took us on was one of many emotions and at the end touched the hearts of all in the audience.

Mrs. Banks was played by Neena Warburton who has a stunning singing voice and glided about the stage beautifully. She is also young and at times she seemed out of place in the motherly role. However, Warburton’s performance made it impossible for me to have ill feelings toward Mrs. Banks. Her performance was obviously heartfelt, which made “Being Mrs. Banks” a very moving song.

The show was directed by Laura Snyder and it was clear the whole way through that she had a vision for this show. I really appreciated that Snyder gave us nods to the Disney film such as costumes, props, and sets that were easily recognizable.

Another one of Snyder’s directorial decisions was to have ensemble members run through the audience in two different spots in the show. I was very confused during “Let’s go Fly a Kite” because the ensemble had no business being in the audience and they distracted from the more important action happening on the stage. In contrast, having the ensemble run amok in the audience as chimney sweeps during the “Step in Time” playoff was genius, fun, exciting, and engaging.

Throughout the show I couldn’t help feeling that the choreography lacked consistent movement choices and styles (probably due to having a total of five choreographers and three dance assistants). I was never sure what to expect with each number, but there were moments of beauty and true entertainment and the cast performed it full out and was a joy to watch.

mary-poppins-03The sets for the show, designed by Daniel James, were wonderfully crafted. I was floored with each new location we ventured into. The colors, patterns, and styles were stunning and aided very well in telling the story.

Pair these sets with the costumes and you have a spectacle for the eyes. From the statues in the park, the ensembles’ plethora of colors and patterns, to Mary’s iconic dresses, Amanda Burke’s costume design was a job well done! All of this under a lighting design by Pam Davis made for a night full of incredibly beautiful visuals.

The scene changes were long and distracting, and jarred me out of the wonderful world the actors were working so hard to create.

Overall, I would gladly recommend this show to anyone wanting to have a truly fun and magical evening at the theater. But you must act quickly! The show only runs until August 15th and tickets are selling fast. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy this beautiful story that is practically perfect in every way.

Please Note: The show is double cast, separated into the “Red” and “Blue” casts. The show I enjoyed was performed by the blue cast.

LOCATION:
Performances will be at the Covey Center for the Arts at 425 W. Center Street, Provo, Utah.

DATES:
July 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, August 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15
All shows begin at 7:30PM.

PRICING:
$12 Adults
$10 Students, Seniors and Children (2+)

Tickets are for reserved seating and can be purchased online, by phone or at the door.  More information can be found at alpinecommunitytheater.org.

Sundance’s Wizard is Wonder-ful!

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By Marnie Thomas

I would hazard a guess that there are very few people who have not seen The Wizard of Oz on film. It is a classic. I remember being terrified of the flying monkeys whenever the yearly television showing would come around. Still, I loved it. Who would not love a sweet, sincere girl and her loving family and her bumbling but affectionate friends?

Going up to Sundance to attend a show is always an inspiring event. Driving into the mountains, parking and then making our way up to the beautiful amphitheater just adds to the excitement of the evening. The trees, the cool evening air and the anticipation make for an enchanting evening.

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The initial set, like in the movie, is stark and colorless. Even the costumes are subdued. We are in Kansas. If you have ever driven through miles and miles of cornfields, you know what I mean. Hannah Pyper’s Dorothy gives a pleasant rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and all the singing is well performed—thanks to the music director Korianne Johnson. Dorothy wants to be happy—but how can she with the evil Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch (Kim Abunuwara) making her life a misery? Abunuwara’s performance reveals a suitably nasty villain. Dorothy and Toto (played by the adorable “Marvel”) pack up and head away from home. Soon after, they meet the very amusing Professor Marvel (Tyrell Clement.) This character was a standout for me. He played the character with a sort of innocent charm. Coupled with the excellent costume, hair and makeup design (Nancy Susan Cannon, Carla Summers, Janell Turley), the whole package made for and endearing performance. As Dorothy leaves the gypsy camp, a twister blows in—and we are transported to Oz.

There were a lot of clever tricks and devices used to create the illusion of a tornado and to transform Kansas into the land of Oz. The ensemble does an impressive job of performing a myriad of characters, from the Munchkins to apple trees to a field of poppies—and many more. The set is almost constantly moving. The stage hands most certainly get a good workout making things run smoothly. Kudos to director, Laurie Harrop Purser and to choreographer Addison Welch and to technical director Daniel Whiting.

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As the performance went on, the energy of the actors only got stronger. Their characters seemed to bloom with each new scene. Their voices became fuller and their movements more vigorous. I think having a responsive and appreciative audience only added to that.

Cleveland McKay Nicoll, Maxwell Higbee and Wade Robert Johnson play the Scarecrow, Timan and Cowardly Lion with warmth and emotion. We particularly appreciated Nicoll’s fine voice, Higbee’s sincerity and Johnson’s comedic style. They were the perfect trio to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City.

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Korianne Orton-Johnson and Reese Purser are well-cast as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. However, they really shine in their roles as Glinda and the City Guard. They both display humor and concern for Dorothy and her compatriots. This is in great contrast to the wicked and unfeeling Miss Gulch/Wicked With of the West. Tyrell Clement’s performance as the Wizard continues in the same vein as his performance as Professor Marvel.

There was a lot of flying in this musical. All that aerial activity went off without a hitch. So much goes into creating a performance like this. There is so much technical expertise and creative talent in all areas. All the artistic and production staff are to be commended for their excellent work.

You can see The Wizard of Oz at Sundance on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM through August 15th.

For more information, go to the website:

http://www.sundanceresort.com/summer-theatre-en.html

 

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Spanish Fork’s Tarzan is Wildly Wonderful

tarzan5.gifBy Joel Applegate

From the first visual of Spanish Fork Community Theatre’s Tarzan – a beautiful projection of a fully-rigged ship tossed toward Africa on the waves – the audience knows they are in for a sumptuous journey of sight and sound.

tarzan4A beautifully crafted and mounted production, Disney’s animated film blossoms on the stage under the direction of Cami and Ken Jensen at Spanish Fork High School. With set by Ken Jensen, costumes by Larisa Hicken and Mareen Robinson, and makeup design by Fawn and David Christopher, this is an ambitious undertaking that hits all the marks.

The cast is a great ensemble of characters, from the perfect pairing of soprano Shannon Eden as Jane to Richie Trimble’s muscular Tarzan, to David Henry’s lumbering alpha male, Kerchak, and Vanessa Leazenby’s motherly Kala, everything works.

This is a family affair about love and connections. In fact, whole families from the community are cast in this production, adding atmosphere and interest to every moment on stage. Half the cast does double-duty in performance and crew, making costumes, building the gorgeous set and contributing to hair and make-up.

tarzan2Ginger Christopher’s choreography is sharp and makes sense uniting a large troop of gorillas in well thought-out movements. And that’s to say nothing of the aerial work! Thrilling to watch, the stagecraft is well executed whether it’s Tarzan or Jane swinging in on their entrances or the hold-your-breath acrobatics of Natalie Jackman’s silks. The musical direction under Brooklyn Gabbitas uses the orchestral track in a great balance with the live vocals. Although I wondered why the whole chorus didn’t chime in on the opening number, nevertheless, the solo voice during the opening was very well performed by Jason Gabbitas.

When in the jungle, expect to hear jungle sounds; expect to see the jungle move. The ensemble cast makes the crouch position seem natural. The credit for natural movement – without being distracting or cartoonish – goes to the Ms. Christopher. I must commend the young apes and even the toddler apes, too, on the discipline it took to stay focused and in character throughout the two-act production. Chelsea Kennedy’s leopard is lithe and lethal, slinking around in a beautiful costume. I think this animal world could have been a little more vocal during key scene moments, but their roles are clear.

tarzan-03The lead characters had it all going on. Although we don’t see Jane until later in the first act, Shannon Eden’s entrance is jaw-dropping. What a beautiful voice! It was matched by a lush set she explored festooned with flora and fauna, a rainbow display of set decoration and costume. When she meets Richie Trimble’s grown-up Tarzan, romance is on the ground and in the air. Trimble’s take on Tarzan is both bold and exploratory, containing as much thought as muscle. He’s the whole package. Eden’s and Trimble’s voices blend very well – the best songs of the night.

David Henry’s first entrance on a swinging vine as Kerchak, the gorilla troop’s leader, takes him all the way across the stage giving the audience its first gasp of the night. Henry’s baritone is both smooth and emotional, giving Kerchak a palpable gravitas. As his mate, Kala, Vanessa Leazenby’s mellifluous alto is very pleasant for the ears, though her mic should have been bumped up a little louder.

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Deven Skaggs as Terk is Tarzan’s childhood friend. Skagg’s off-the-cuff performance is a great balance to Tarzan. His character struck me as a hip anachronism, but it still played well. He is an important touchstone in this play, because next to Kala, Terk is Tarzan’s tie to family and tribe.

Rounding out the named characters, Bryan Cardoza as Mr. Porter proved an endearing Daddy to Jane. Their duet was a compliment to each. Jacob Keele as our villain, the smarmy Clayton, brought treachery to his work. Though I found him more officious than threatening, he had a business-like focus on his payday.

Finally, high fives to the younger members of the cast that had solos: Connor Phillps as Young Tarzan and Elise Claire Jones as Young Terk.

tarzan1This play is about finding family. Tarzan finds his. I hope you find time to take your family to this not-to-be-missed, beautiful production. Adults will recognize the message and the kids will be wowed. It’s a great tribute to Pioneer Day and appropriate for your family, too.

Spanish Fork Community Theater

July 16 – 18, 20, 23, 25 and 27 at 7:00 pm; Matinee Only on July 24 at 4:00 pm

www.sfctonline.org ~ davidhenry79@gmail.com or purchase at the Box Office

$10 Adults; $8 Students and Seniors; $6 for Children under 12.

At Spanish Fork High School Auditorium, 99 North 300 West (& Center), Spanish Fork, Utah

Photography by Kara Hicken, Kerry Keith Murdock, and Ring Lite Photography.

 

 

Midvale’s “Once Upon A Mattress” Production takes you back to the 1300s with the Musical Adaptation of the Princess & the Pea

-Reviewed by Megan Graves

Considering the huge popularity of the TV series Once Upon a Time, with its backstories of famous fairy tale characters, Midvale Art Council made a well-timed choice in producing the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” this summer. Though the plot isn’t quite obvious from the title, the play is a creative and hysterical musical retelling of the “true story” of the Princess and the Pea. I had already seen another production of this musical a few years ago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the characterizations, talent, and energy exhibited by the Midvale cast in this particular production. You and your family will surely enjoy the unique portrayal of the characters in the classic fairy tale, along with the inventive backstories for those characters.

Creative set and costumes

Creative set and costumes

 Reviews by Kids

Perhaps the best indication of whether this is a play that your whole family will enjoy is the positive reviews given by children who attended the play itself, and the fact that they were quoting specific lines from the play afterwards, for example “She swam the moat!? Is that all she ever says?!! – She swam the moat!?!” (said by Princess Winnifred, quoting Queen Aggravain, her possible future mother-in-law).

Grace Barlow (9), from Spanish Fork who watched the play, said “I liked the Princess [Winnifred]. The funniest part was when she was trying to sleep.”

Her brother Sam Barlow (12) chimed in and said, “It was so funny! I liked the king (Kevin Gwynn) and his impressions of the queen (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn). The prince (Tanner Tate) was funny. I liked his voice. And the funniest part was when the prince kisses [Winnifred] and he goes ‘Woooo!’ Another funny part was when the princess was talking to the bird [while she was trying to sleep] and she was like ‘Shhh!’”once upon a mattress cast

Superb Acting by the Supporting Cast

Nephi Barlow (12) said, “I think they chose the cast well; I think they chose the right people for their parts.” I completely agree. The supporting cast was full of excellent actors, especially the kids! All the actors were more than just extras on the stage; they had personality the whole time and were involved in what was happening even if they did not have speaking parts. Audiences don’t just watch the main characters, thus the cast’s enthusiasm made the play much more enjoyable to watch. They made use of levels as well, using the stage steps, etc., so that the different cast personalities could shine even more. It was adorable when the kids were dancing and when they ‘fell asleep’ on the stage steps. A few kids in the audience said that they loved that children were in the play, and they thought they did an excellent job. Having been a music teacher for eight years, I was impressed at how well the littler children had memorized the song lyrics for their musical numbers!

The little children in the play were especially adorable.

The little children in the play were especially adorable.

From the lead roles, there were some super standout vocal performances by Lady Larkin (Allison Klippel) and Princess Winnifred (Alyssa Koontz). Their voices were both pleasant to listen to and fitting to their characters’ personalities. The Jester (Matthew Maag) also sang well. Though his solo song seems to be a completely random part of the play, kind of like the song “Put on a Happy Face” in the musical “Bye,Bye, Birdie,” he pulled it off well. It’s not always easy to act out the character everyone fears, but Queen Aggravain (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn) lived up to her name and definitely portrayed the hawkish mother-type well. Princess Winnifred and Prince Dauntless (Tanner Tate) had great onstage chemistry, especially in the song “Happily Ever After.”

My personal favorite little bit of creativity added to the play was when the Wizard character said “Lumos!” as he entered the stage in one scene. It drew quite a few laughs from Harry Potter fans, and showed the actor knew his audience!

Stephanie Chatterton, the director, described the essence of Community Theater and the benefits of the actors working together when she said after the show, “To me the production is the icing on the cake. It’s the cherry on top. It’s really about the camaraderie that they get – it’s about the experiences they have during the rehearsal process. As they go from being scared to death at auditions or coming in with expectations at auditions, to going through and ending up being like a family by the time they’re done.  They’ll love each other and miss each other because they’ve grown together as a cast. They’ve worked together, they’ve sacrificed together, they’ve developed their characters together, and every single one of them has a backstory. So to me, that’s why we do Community Theater. It’s not about putting on a Broadway production; it’s about the people that are involved with it.” From the production that we saw, it was obvious that was true and that the cast and the audience were all having a wonderful time and experiencing the joy of live, true community theater.

Some of the actors were all tuckered out.

Some of the littlest actors were all tuckered out.

 Great Set Design, Costumes, and Choreography

Though the set and props were sparse and simple, they were time-period appropriate and effective. It is no small feat to build a 20-mattress-high moving bed. The minstrel had an authentic old mandolin, and other props were period-appropriate as well. The costumes were varied and colorful, and went together well when the whole cast was on stage. The leaves in the Swamp Princess Winnifred’s hair were a nice added touch as well.

The choreographed dance numbers with the cast were lively and fun, though the ballet opening number was an interesting artistic choice. We were worried at first the whole play might be ballet, but it wasn’t. You might learn a fun new creative line dance or two from the cast, though, so be prepared!once upon a mattress cast 2

 Pleasant Setting Overall

The performance was in a beautiful park, with tall trees by the stage, and everything you need for a pleasant night out. We brought a picnic dinner because we didn’t know the food trucks would be there (yum!), but we did take advantage of the candy concessions at the ticket table for dessert. We brought blankets which were great to have near the end of the play as it got colder, and though we were fine, it probably would have been good to bring chairs as well. Also, there is a bathroom right by the parking lot, so no worries in that regard.

Be advised, make sure to get a spot where you can easily see the center of the stage. (*Spoiler alert: What some of us in the audience did miss was the pulling out of a bunch of ragtag random items from under the princess’s bed; we were looking forward to seeing the crazy items put there to help keep her awake but we couldn’t see because we weren’t facing the center of the stage, and it didn’t look like anything too odd was under the bed either, but the kids in the audience still found that scene to be hilarious!)

The show plays in Midvale Park Stage tomorrow, June 17, and Saturday, June 18, and starts at 7:30pm, so if you are in the area, here are more details: http://www.nowplayingutah.com/event/detail/441927265/Once_Upon_a_Mattress

 

Sensitivity and Appropriateness Rating

I must say — though the community theater actors did a great job on their production and it was enjoyable to watch, and I support community theater, including this one, wholeheartedly — that the script of this play might shock and offend some patrons, because of the words G-d and h_ll, and some sexual innuendos being spoken in various parts of the play, as well as the 1300s-like chauvinist language and acts portrayed on stage. Though some children might be oblivious to the following, some sexist language and behavior is the unfortunate bane, dare I say plague, of some older musicals, including this one. Let’s just say it is not surprising this play was written in 1959. An example of this is when Sir Harry finds out Lady Larkin is pregnant and says: “We don’t have to both suffer because YOU had a moment of weakness.” The only saving grace is that he’s saying it before he goes on a quest so they can get married sooner. He also partly saves his character’s reputation later by saying in his apology to Lady Larkin that “[he] was out of [his] mind” after he was cavorting with other women, but it’s a weak apology at best.

I was particularly shocked, though, especially when thinking about it more afterwards, at the behavior of the married King in the play (flirting with and even goosing other women, etc.) and what seemed like the acceptance/ excusing of such behavior by some members of the court that I saw on stage. This was an artistic choice by the people involved, as it was not written in the script. 

The only redeeming quality of seeing and hearing these sometimes shocking things portrayed on stage is the knowledge that at least our civilization has improved since the 1300s, though 600+ years apparently didn’t improve it quite well enough (as evidenced by the outdated 1950s script, for one). The other advantage was that it led to some lively and interesting discussion on the ride home with the people (children included) who attended. 

Midvale’s Grease is the Word

grease 1By Larissa Villers Ferre

Grease. Who isn’t familiar with the 1959 story of young summer love at the beach, an awkward reunion in mixed social groups in high school, and the ultimate makeover to help that teenage love survive?

Midvale Main Street Theatre has stepped into a nostalgic show and era to bring audiences a decades-long fan-favorite. Interestingly enough, they combine elements of the original Broadway version, the movie, and the subsequent Broadway revival to create a version of Grease they feel those who favor any of those productions will enjoy.

We are introduced to the entire cast with a rousing, full-cast belted version of the Frankie Valli hit, “Grease.” In true Jersey-boy Valli style, as each of the characters begins to speak, Jersey accents pop out, although not consistently within each character or the group as a whole. I never thought of Grease as being located in New Jersey instead of Chicago (Broadway) or California (movie), but they have beaches there, so why not make a new directing decision for a fresh feel?

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Midvale Main Street’s facility is an intimate space, which can lend itself to innovative staging and the use of multiple levels for scene blocking and choreography. The cast does run into some challenges when taller members, such as Seth Tippetts as Danny Zuko, are dancing or staged on the upper level, cutting off their heads from the audience point of view and the lighting leaves them in the shadows. Even our leading lady was entirely shadowed on her upper half during, “Raining on Prom Night.”

The facility also has acoustics that give the ensemble a great sound, however, they can also overpower the soloists at times. All of the leads were pleasant vocally, yet the most powerful vocals are dispersed in a manner audiences might not expect. The cast also makes a modernized choice to sing most of the solo numbers in a pop-style that veers from the traditional musical theater sound.

Aesthetically, the casting was unique and original, with the director steering away from stereotypes in most characters. Allie Duke’s Sandy, however, is visually the most picture-perfect representation of everything you have ever imagined her to be that you have ever seen. She is Sandy.

The most stand-out scene acting-wise is the Pink Lady sleepover. Dialogue flew naturally between the characters, delivered precisely in such a manner as to create the overwhelming chaos and confusion that culminates in Sandy’s retreat to the bathroom to get sick. As the cherry on top of this scene, Taylor Lawrence gifts us with the adorable highlight of a number- “Freddy My Love.”

As far as costuming goes, the look was colorful and created a lovely picture, yet was more modern-vintage than actual vintage. Most skirts were too short above the knee for the time period and the pants on the males weren’t appropriately cuffed or tailored.   The outfits for the cheerleaders looked to be more like tennis outfits, which may or may not be accurate, but certainly not like anything one might find in a quick Google search of “1959 cheerleaders.”

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In mentioning the cheerleading scene, I also have to point out the inaccuracy of the use of the batons for twirling. The odds that one of the audience members is an expert in the field of baton twirling is slim to none, yet there I sat. Sandy’s baton is the size made for an 8-year old and Patty makes fun of her twirling, yet clearly can’t twirl herself. This does, however, add humor for those in-the-know. Still, I would rather the appearance of a baton be eliminated and the dialogue merely mentioning a baton than to see it executed inaccurately.

Simple and clean are the words to best describe the choreography. You could tell the stronger dancers were holding back. I wish they could have been given more opportunity to shine other than the few counts of 8 in “Greased Lightning” where Todd McRae’s Kenickie busts a move and the dance competition in “Hand Jive” for several other featured performers. Johnny Casino, played by Dallon Thorup, sets the bar for the energy level in “Hand Jive” to which the dancers backing him up need to match his level of spunk, energy, and pizzazz physically – vocally they have those elements.

The best number of the show – with vocals and physical energy matching- is “We Go Together,” leading into intermission. The cast produced a great sound and electricity. Kristina Rene Stone as Jan and Matthew Carter Speer as Roger stole the show in their rendition of “Mooning.” Be forewarned, there is a partial moon at the conclusion of the number, but (see what I did there?) I don’t feel this number can be executed with the hilarity it deserves without this gesture and I laughed more at this scene than any other. One more performer I would kick myself for not mentioning is JJ Bateman as Teen Angel – his vocals were on point and he kept this shtick of a scene alive to keep the audience in giggles the entire number.

grease 8 Grease is for those long-time lovers of the show. You’ll reminisce as your heart fills with nostalgia, and you will enjoy what the performers at Midvale have to offer. Please note this is an uncensored version, so children under the age of 13 are not the target audience. You can catch the show at Midvale Main Street Theatre July 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th, and 18th for evening performances at 7:30pm and a matinee on Saturday at 2pm.   Tickets are $15 – $18 and can be purchased online or at the box office.

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The Empress’s 1776 is a Patriotic Nod to the Season

1776 1By Michael Todd
1776 opened at the Empress Theatre July 3rd, just in time for our observance of Independence Day–the day where this country the United States of America declared our independence from Great Britain by signing the Declaration of Independence. This is what 1776 is all about, bringing to light what struggles, demands, desires, compromises and hopes each of the 13 colonies had.
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to 1776—I’d heard it was long and boring. But under the direction of Michelle Groves, I was soon proven wrong. In the three-sided Empress Theater, Groves used the space to make sure that every side was able to see each actor. In 1776, even when the actors are sitting down in their assigned seats at their Congress meetings, there is still movement, which kept me interested and engaged.
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For this show, the costumes are very effective in transporting us back to 1776. However, the talented actors in this production help us look beyond what might not be complete historical accuracy.
First honorable mention is Curtis Nash as John Adams. I have seen Curtis Nash in many a different capacities, onstage and off. I am always impressed with his talent and depth of character. His emotion and depth of understanding of John Adams is so profound. A shout out to the two female actors, who did so well, I’d hoped they played bigger roles. Melissa Lawyer Alston and Megan Smyth are both outstandingly talented and a complete joy and pleasure to watch onstage. It was hard to look away when they were onstage and the both sing like angels.
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Even though everyone cast in the show was quite amazing, I need to highlight Rand Johnson who steals the show as Edward Rutledge. Johnson portrays his character so well that I honestly felt taken back to 1776 and felt the turmoil of that time. Rand Johnson sings “Molasses to Rum to Slaves”, and I have never seen a more perfect, mesmerizing performance. This is Johnson’s second time onstage, but you’d never have known. He was excellent.
I would recommend 1776. Go learn about the history of how we became the United States of America. You won’t be disappointed in this show.
The Empress Theatre Presents 1776!
July 3rd – July 25th
Monday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee July 11th at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $10.00
The Empress Theatre

9104 West 2700 South, Magna, Utah 84044

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Utah Rep’s Ordinary Days is Anything But

ordinary daysBy Cindy Whitehair

New York, New York – it’s a wonderful town – and Utah Rep’s Ordinary Days lets you see the romantic side of the city through the eyes of two couples. Ordinary Days is a delightful operetta that will keep you enthralled.

The Sugar Space Studio Theater in Sugarhouse is a cozy little black box. Even though space was limited, the space fit the feel for the show.   The set (designed by director Chase Ramsey) was simple yet bold. Scenic Arts Designer Amanda Ruth Wilson’s use of bright bold colors really welcomed you in.

The couples – Jason (Matthew Wade) and Claire (Mandi Barrus), the romantic couple, and Warren (Thomas Kulkus) and Deb (Brighton Hertford), the friends, were delightful and well fleshed out. Warren was a wide-eyed optimist with a way of looking at the world with an almost child-like innocence. Deb is New York cynicism in a skirt – who is always looking for a “big picture” that is just over the horizon.   Jason is the boy next door, somewhat new to the Big Apple, who is madly in love with Claire who clearly loves Jason but a mystery in her past is holding her back.

This show is fast-paced. Director Chase Ramsey found a balance between each story line and couple. He made great, imaginative use of a small space. The vision and music of the playwright (Adam Gwon) and his love for the city shone through.

The actors make this show. Thomas Kulkus’ Warren was sweet, silly, dreamy and lovable and a marvelous counter to Deb’s frenetic fast paced ways. Brighton Hertford’s Deb was sharp, sassy yet never satisfied with her life–until she meets Warren. Mandi Barrus and Matthew Wade had such chemistry – you really pictured them as a couple. What really broke my heart and brought a tear to my eye was during “I’ll Be Here” as Clair’s mysterious past is finally revealed. Matthew Wade brought a sweet earnestness to Jason that was just adorable.

The entire cast, but especially Brighton Hertford, should be commended on is their diction. So many times, in community theater, fast paced songs end up slurred and mumbled. But as fast paced as this show was – you could understand every word sung. It allowed you to enjoy the music in the way it was written and it was really a joy to watch.

A special shout out must go to pianist/music director Jeanne McGuire. The music for this production is very difficult and she was amazing.

Utah Rep’s production of Ordinary Days is the 100th production of the show. Since this is a milestone production, we were treated to a Q&A after the show with playwright/composer Adam Gwon. He gave the audience a nice insight into his background and what inspired him with this show.

The Sugar Space Studio Theater is a small space, so get your tickets in advance as this show will sell out quickly.

Utah Repertory Theater Company presents Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days at the Sugar Space Studio Theater 616 Wilmington Ave Salt Lake City UT. Performances are July 10-26 and can be purchased online at http://utahrep.org/tickets/ . Tickets are $10.00 but there is a “pay what you can” matinee at 2pm on Sunday July 19.

Rumours Shouldn’t be Kept Secret

By Cindy Whitehair

It’s July–at part of the summer when people get bored – it’s hot, you’ve already been to Lagoon, Seven Peaks and Cowabunga Bay a couple of times, so what’s next? Well, ask that question of a handful of talented actors, give them 10 days and you could end up with Titus Productions’ Rumors by Neil Simon.   Rumors is a farcical tale of a dinner party where nothing goes as planned.

Director Jake Andersen put this show together in 10 days – a feat in its own right. The blocking was complex and well planned out, with complex stage pictures that belie the short time frame the show was put together in.

Lately, the trend in theater seems to have been to really emphasize tech and the big razzle dazzle. The set for Rumors was minimalist, and that minimalism really allowed the actors to be the focus of the stage. The costumes were fantastic and were all provided by the cast.

The show opens on Ken Gorman (Michael Thrall) and his wife Chris (Rebecca Waite) in the living room of New York City Deputy Mayor Charlie Brock. It’s the Brock’s 10th anniversary party and Mrs. Brock is missing and Mr. Brock is upstairs in the bedroom with a gunshot wound to the ear. As the other guests arrive, the rumors swirl about why their hosts are missing. What starts off as a well-meaning attempt to save a good friend from embarrassment turns into a difficult to maintain fable. Each couple that arrives (Jennica Galloway and Jake Andersen as Claire and Lenny Ganz, Quinn Nielsen and Rebecca Walk as Ernie and Cookie Cusack and Stephen Chucay and Sasha Nutger as Glenn and Cassie Cooper) have their own issues that seep into the events of the night to hilarious ends.

The actors were all fantastic in their own ways. Jake Andersen’s physicality (how many times can one man throw himself to the floor without injury?), Jennica Henderson’s body language throughout the show, Michael Thrall’s ability to command your attention whenever he stepped on stage, Rebecca Waite’s characters confused innocence, Quinn Nielsen’s overly gooey devotion to his wife, the ditzy innocence that Rebecca Walk gave her character and the combativeness of a married couple coming apart for Chucay and Nutger. And one simply cannot forget to mention JoAnn Galloway (Officer Welch) and Marie Nutger as Officer Pudney. These two are not on stage long, but when they are Galloway commanded the audience’s attention, while Nutger stole it away with looks and glances. All the way around, the comic timing was spectacular, which is hard to do with a cast this size.

There is strong language in this show—and this is not a typical Utah theater production where offensive language is rewritten to fit Mormon sensibilities. Due to copyright laws, Mr. Simon refuses to allow any language to be cut or altered from the play. So if strong language bothers you, take a Valium before you see the show (you’ll get the joke after you see it) but go anyway. This show is slapstick physical comedy at its best and you will be missing out on a theatrical treat if you don’t see it.

Rumors by Neil Simon performs THIS Thursday, Friday and Saturday July 9, 10, and 11 at 7:00pm at the Northwest Community Center downtown Salt Lake 1255 Clark Ave. (300 North and 1255 west). Tickets are $10 and available at the door. Tickets are only available at the door and are cash only.

The SCERA’s Joseph is a Dream!

josephBy Tyler Smith

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’ve never seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat before. I was pleased to find that the SCERA’S production was everything I had hoped for and more.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, written by playwright Tim Rice and composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber is the SCERA’s July production in their outdoor venue. Joseph, played by Corey Morris, the favorite son, is given an expensive many-colored coat. He is then sold into slavery out of jealousy by his brothers unbeknownst by their father. Joseph is bought by Potiphar (played by Andy Kelson), a rich man, to which he becomes a good servant until he is caught being seduced by the man’s wife (played by Jennifer Wright.) Joseph is thrown into chains which gives him the opportunity to interpret the Pharaoh’s (played by Tyson Wright) dream. Famine consumes the land and leads Joseph’s brothers to beg Pharaoh for food. They, thinking Joseph dead, didn’t recognize him when they came to beg. Joseph, being the man he was, had become second only to the Pharaoh; a position of great power. In the end, Joseph and his family are reunited. The play, perfected by the SCERA team, gave an extraordinary new view to biblical history through emotion, interactions, and song, all with a visually impacting scenery.

Emotion from the cast was incredible. The over-dramatized actions and dramatic body language portrayed the feelings wonderfully, so kudos to director/choreographer Shawn Mortensen. The brothers of Joseph were an amusing bunch with much exuberance in all movements and sounds. Each new song was an adventure to itself with the actors showing the emotion wrought within. The changes between moods were abrupt and drastic, such as the playful infidelity between Joseph and his Potiphar’s wife (“Go away! …nasty woman!” Joseph says while hiding under a blanket) to the great anguish and somber mood of being locked in chains. The scene changed fast and brought my emotions with it. I was laughing in one second and on the verge of tears in the next. Joseph kept me wanting more, no matter if I knew the story he’d always surprise me by the emotions he set. Joseph, even when running frivolously around and throwing pillows, could show the loyalty he has for his master and his moral standards by getting away from the wife. A master of his trade, Joseph took his part as a character in a play to an ideal role model.

The interactions with the audience kept the flow of this fast-paced play to a new level. Actors and background singers alike included audience members by using them in the story and sometimes as a clapping metronome. A great show came from the ‘Elvis Presley’ of a Pharaoh. Pharaoh showed the crowd a good time by dancing through them in a showy experience that kept the energy flowing! Pharaoh fits his role perfectly from the outrageous costume (kudos to costume designer Kelsey Seaver) to his dramatic body language, there is no one better to play this character than actor Tyson Wright.

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The music was great—due to music director DeLayne Dayton’s direction. Each song was memorable and brought back the good times of years past. Very relatable, especially through performances of each. Modern music styles such as disco, reggae, and even pop were used to narrate and move the story along in an entertaining way fit for child and adult alike! Beautifully harmonized, the musicality of this production was greatly combined with a wonderful choreography. Each dance made each song even more memorable than the last.
None of this would have the effect that it did without the use of scenery, costumes, background and props, and lighting. All were used and shown with an artistic yet professional manner. The background was wonderfully well done and realistically made. The pillars especially gave a nice touch to the scene with their great paint job. Costumes were unique to each character and very well made. The lights were used strategically and professionally. I couldn’t have asked for a better light show than what the SCERA provided!

The production brought on new feelings about the biblical history to all the audience. It showed a deep understanding of the troubles and good times that brought the world to the moment it is now. This play kept me at the edge of my seat and really, there is no other way to describe what was felt. The only way is to go see for yourself! SCERA, you’ve mastered yet another great production.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater
SCERA Park, 699 S State St, Orem, UT 84058
(801) 225-2787
Times:
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 8:00pm
No show on Saturday, July 4th
Prices: $10-$14
GROUP RATES
$6.00 – Non-profit or church groups purchased in advance, no refunds or exchanges
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