Next Stage’s Arabian Nights has Fun Times 1001!

arabian nightsBy Tracy Goertzen
“Once upon a time . . .” Four simple words with mesmerizing power.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful Arabic maiden named Scheherazade, who knew that the power of words could change a life—or save one. There was also a tormented Sultan who put his wife to death for her infidelity with a palace slave. Fearing to trust again, he would give each new bride only one night and then have her put to death in the morning. As the Sultan’s new bride, Scheherazade had one night to save her life. She used the power of words to weave a story so enthralling that when morning came, the Sultan could not bear to have her killed. Each night, for one thousand and one Arabian nights, Scheherazade told story after story to win the love and trust of the Sultan. Next Stage Productions, in collaboration with Clearfield High School, brings a new telling to Scheherazade’s tales in a charming original production, directed by Anthony Buck.

Told in a series of eight vignettes, the audience enters the world of Arabian Nights through the nightmares of the Sultan, who is haunted by the memory of his dead wife. Used as a means of exposition, the scene is meant to provide insights into the Sultan’s past and motives for his current actions. Although well executed by the ensemble, some key pieces of information were obscured and left me a bit puzzled as the story progressed.
As Scheherazade tells the Sultan her nightly tales of adventure, the stage comes alive with the stories of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, and Aladdin. Interwoven with these stories are the nightmares of the Sultan as he struggles to come to grips with his past, and the blossoming love story of Scheherazade and the Sultan.

The storytelling scenes are action-packed, entertaining romps. The cast employs a melodramatic tone that was hesitant and unsure in the Tale of Ali Baba, but by the Tale of Sinbad the tone was more rollicking and humorous. Ensemble standouts included Katie Stong, with a clever portrayal of Morgiana, the slave girl who saves Ali Baba’s life, and Justin Lee as a dashing and sardonic Sinbad. As Captain of Sindbad’s sailing ship, Brandon Garlick, provided some laugh-out-loud comic moments. Austin Burt was a captivating Aladdin and Phil Tuckett was outrageously evil as the sorcerer, Sakar. Elinor Smith shone onstage with her confident performance of Mahin, the genie of the ring.
Backed by a versatile and talented ensemble, Liz Christensen as Scheherazade and Eric Millward as the Sultan carried the leads admirably. They carefully developed the relationship of the characters as they transitioned from adversaries to friends to lovers. Although Millward relied too often on yelling to demonstrate anger, he was successful in creating a character that was sympathetic and believable.

Cleverly staged as a black box theatre on the Clearfield High School auditorium stage, the sets and lighting were instrumental in creating the world of the Arabian Nights. The set was minimal, which allowed the lighting and prop pieces to successfully create the worlds of Scheherazade, from the magical cave of wonders to a genie in a bottle. The costume design by Nita Smith was rich and colorful and added texture and opulence to the stories.

Dance choreography by Phil Tuckett was effective and well-integrated, and Justin Lee’s combat choreography was exciting and well executed by the ensemble. Unfortunately, the technical aspects of the production often outstripped a weaker script.

Next Stage Productions is a collaborative theatre company whose goal is to create original theatre works with quality production values. Cast members and the production team work together to build a dynamic and interactive creative process. Forming a partnership with Clearfield High School provides opportunities for alumni and current students to work together in producing entertaining and quality shows. This atmosphere is evident in the sense of fun and collaboration you feel in their productions.

Be aware that there is mild portrayal of violence that may be upsetting to small children. If you’re thinking you’ll need a sweater in an overly air-conditioned theatre, don’t worry. Dress in light clothes as the stage is not air-conditioned at all. Arabian Nights is family-friendly fun with modest ticket prices, so take the whole family.

Next Stage Productions is presenting Arabian Nights, an original play by Anthony Buck, Kellie Chapman, Liz Christensen, Justin Lee and Elinor Smith
Tickets: students and children $5, Adults $8 Tickets may be purchased in advance in the Clearfield High front office
Performances are August 27, 28, 29 and 31 at 7:30 PM with a matinee performance on August 29th at 2:00 PM
Performances at Clearfield High School Auditorium, 931 South 1000 East, Clearfield, UT, 84015
Email: info@nextstageproductions.org
http://www.nextstageproductions.org/arabiannights

Rocking out in a Hipster Haven: A Modern Midsummer Night’s Dream

-Review by Megan Graves

Sarah Butler and Dallin Halls as Hermia and Lysander

Sarah Butler and Dallin Halls as Hermia and Lysander

One of my favorite hidden places in Provo is the Castle Amphitheater, so I was excited to see a show there. It has a beautiful view and feels a bit like you’ve been transported back to earlier times, with its quaint turrets, thick rock walls, and tall stone seats. Even though I’d been to the castle before, it was a little tricky to find. But they do have signs directing the way, and since the characters in the play spend most of their time in the forest (or in this modern adaptation, in Central Park), I felt a bit like I was a part of the play while I made my way through the small groves of trees to find the castle.

 

Music and Magic

Sarai Davila and Archie Crisanto sing with fireworks in the background.

Sarai Davila and Archie Crisanto sing with fireworks in the background.

The play starts out with high energy at a rock concert by “The Duke” Theseus (Archibald Crisanto), in Hipster-era New York. Many of the actors, humans and fairies alike, surprised us by coming out of the audience after the concert as they joined the scene, which was very clever staging, making it more interactive with the audience.

Crisanto entertains with tunes from his guitar throughout the play, singing with his character’s fiancé Hippolyta (Sarai Davila), whose wedding both human and fairy characters come together to celebrate at the end of the play. At one point, when Crisanto and Davila started singing “Stars shining bright above you…” someone in Provo set off fireworks in the distance, and it was almost magical timing, or like a fairy’s doing.

Fairies dancing at a New York club - one of the clever modernizations of this version

Fairies dancing at a New York club while “google geeks” rehearse a play- two of the clever modernizations of this version

The creativity of music in the show and the mixture of modern songs with old lyrics was one of the major highlights of this particular theater company’s portrayal. Instead of just speaking Shakespeare’s famous ballads from this play, the cast sang the poetic words along to popular tunes instead, like when the fairy attendants (Esther Pielstick, Stacy Wilk, Mccall Iorg, and Sierra Docken – who was a great soloist, by the way) sang their Queen Titania (Peggy Matheson) to sleep with the rock song “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics.

Fairies and Fortune

Puck (Carter Peterson) giving a sword to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz).

Puck (Carter Peterson) giving a sword to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz).

One thing that might take you aback about the fairies in this particular portrayal is that they are truly mischievous and try to influence behaviors, not just by confusing the four human lovers or by changing a silly man’s head to a donkey (which led of course to many funny Shakespearean puns), but also by controlling movement at times or putting swords in their hands, etc.. I thought this was an interesting choice by the director Kathy Biesinger Curtiss and the actors, and this and other plot twists in the play prompted consideration of the question…how much of our lives is fate, how much is interference by another power, how much is choice, or how much is luck?

Midsummer Mischief: Audience Interaction

Puck (Carter Peterson) mimicking one of the audience members behind him.

Puck (Carter Peterson) mimicking one of the audience members behind him.

As the biggest fairy mischief-maker – who causes the lovers’ confusions and dilemmas in the play – Robin Goodfellow/ Puck (Carter Peterson) has great stage presence and physical comedy that commands the audience’s attention, as well as a no-holds-barred approach when he rocks out and dances to scene transition music, etc. He and other actors in the play, such as Oberon (Rick Macy) and Thisby (Bradley __) in particular, interacted in fun ways with people in the audience, whether it was mimicking the way audience members were sitting or discussing their character’s dilemma to the audience directly.

Walls to Love and Room for Laughter 

Dane Allred in a stand-out performance as "The Wall"

Dane Allred in a stand-out performance as “The Wall”

While the rest of the play was engaging and entertaining, I have to say the best and most hilarious parts for me were 1) when the characters Helena (Kat Webb), Hermia (Sarah Butler), Lysander (Dallin Halls), and Demetrius (Patrick Kintz) are in a confusing mix of two love triangles and crack the audience up with believable and varied stage combat choreography, and 2) when the silly “google geeks” and “1st time actors” over-acted their parts with hysterical voices and made the audience laugh over and over, especially with Dane Allred’s portrayal of the Wall and Thisby’s (Bradley _) acting in drag. Their “play within a play” seemed to be scripted by Shakespeare as a satire of his own tragic Romeo & Juliet, and these players stole the show with their dramatic deaths, screams, mess-ups, and sometimes minion-like voices.

A surprisingly hilarious rendition of Romeo & Juliet in the middle of the play.

A surprisingly hilarious rendition of Romeo & Juliet in the middle of the play.

Previously, when I had read the play out loud with my sister, or studied the play in class, or even seen it performed professionally, I hadn’t seen the hilariousness or significance these seemingly minor characters were capable of, so I was super impressed at how they kept the audience laughing at their antics. I was told they do some different funny thing every night of the show!

Overall, this production of a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was so good I would see it again, even just to get more friends to see Shakespeare’s comedy portrayed so well and creatively, and to share a laugh with you.

Educational Entertainment for Adults and Children Alike

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Oberon (Rick Macy) justifying his antics to the audience.

Some people are hesitant to go to Shakespeare plays because the old English can make them hard to understand, but with excellent actors – who know the intent and meaning of their lines, and portray their character’s purpose deliberately and with confidence – the plays can be a pure joy to watch, and that was the case here. If you are not familiar with the plot of a Midsummer Night’s Dream yet, it doesn’t matter! Even the children in the audience were cracking up at the on-stage antics and listening intently to the actors. After the play ended my friends and I were still laughing about some of the scenes and discussing Shakespeare’s poignant references to unrequited love, such as Helena’s line in Act II, Scene 1, line 613 when Demetrius refuses her entreaties to come back and love her again:
Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius!
Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:
We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
We should be wood and were not made to woo.

In this play as well as in others, Shakespeare seems more progressive and succinct in portraying women’s plights and cultural inequalities than today’s pundits on the subject.

Character Complexities & Backstories

Helena (Kat Webb) listening to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz) try to woo her.

Helena (Kat Webb) listening to Demetrius (Patrick Kintz) try to woo her.

Helena & Hermia: In my opinion, Helena’s character is the most complex in the show, and Kat Webb did an excellent job of portraying the heartache, longing, and confusion of her character when the man who broke up with her and said he loved another woman suddenly changes his tune and wants to marry her. However she doesn’t portray Helena just as an insecure person; she seems to portray her as someone who knows her worth and therefore fights for the person that she loves and who had loved her previously. The director, Kathy Biesinger Curtiss, said: “Helena is often portrayed as really pathetic – oh woe is me, nobody likes me, etc. – and we think it’s just not a modern idea… Instead, I cast [Kat] in particular so [the character Helena] would have backbone, strength, and really represent the women of today. All that exploration of love in the middle section where [the two male leads] are fighting over [Helena] instead, I think we take that seriously…because this woman [Helena] has a lot of value. So [Kat] plays it very modern, the way she uses the modern language, and the way she steps up and plays a powerful woman.” Helena’s character (and Kat’s portrayal of her) is extremely relatable to those who have felt the pangs and desperation of unrequited love and who strive to achieve their goals despite their insecurities.

The Queen Fairy Titania wooing "Bottom" despite his Donkey head.

The Queen Fairy Titania wooing “Bottom” (Ben Hopkin) despite his Donkey head.

The part that I was disappointed by was Shakespeare’s lack of lines for Helena and Demetrius in the closing of the play to show more resolution, and his leaving us wondering whether Demetrius is actually really in love with Helena at the end or if he’s still just under the fairy’s spell. Even if the fairies help open the eyes to people you truly love, then there’s an inconsistency in the plot, because Titania falls in love with Bottom (a stranger and half-man half-donkey) because of Puck’s flower potion. If it was intentionally left unresolved, then it leaves us wondering if the character of Helena is actually following a false hope, which thought diminishes the strong feminist lines she had earlier. Anyway, the point is, though the actors did an excellent job, we left feeling like this part of the plot was unresolved or slightly disappointing, and dare I say this is mostly Shakespeare’s fault.

Helena, Demetrius, Lysander, and Hermia mixed up in intersecting love triangles while Puck and Oberon look on.

Helena, Demetrius, Lysander, and Hermia mixed up in intersecting love triangles while Puck and Oberon look on.

Hermia also experiences unrequited love for a much shorter length of time (not intended as a joke about the character’s height, by the way, like the bard would do), 😉 and Sarah Butler portrays that sudden confusion and despair of refused love extremely well, even with those scenes being mostly comedic. Speaking of which, Butler’s stage combat dives in those scenes were awesome, and her sitting on Lysander’s foot and refusing to let go was hilarious.

Oberon & Titania: Another interesting artistic choice was the portrayal of Oberon and Titania’s relationship. They start out treating each other like a separated couple barely tolerating each other’s presence when they’re together, and then gradually seem to realize throughout their interactions and the purposeful confusions of the play that they miss each other’s company. I thought this emotional distance and then ensuing gradual realization was excellently portrayed by the actors. The fault I saw was actually in Shakespeare’s too truncated resolution of the couple’s original stated conflict in the script; the original reason for their squabble is resolved somehow off stage and barely gets a mention from Oberon.

The couples reunited and Puck giving his closing monologue.

The couples reunited and Puck giving his closing monologue.

Colorful Costumes & a Star-studded Set

I loved the hipster, rocker personas that the characters chose and which were emphasized by their costumes. However, of all the costumes in the play, the fairy costumes fit their characters’ names and personalities the best. Oberon, the dark fairy king, has punk rock eyeliner on and dark feathers on his shoulders. Titania wears a colorful peacock cape, while her fairy attendants all have creative details on their costumes that help you remember their names: Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed. One audience member, Carrie Cox, who had directed this play previously, thought the play and the costumes were great, but mentioned that it would be nice to have something unifying in the four fairies’ costumes or makeup, etc. to signify they were all Titania’s attendants. All the fairies definitely seemed to have unique personalities, though, which made their characters more interesting than they typically could be portrayed.

Fairies guarding Queen Titania (Peggy Matheson) as she sleeps.

Fairies guarding Queen Titania (Peggy Matheson) as she sleeps.

The natural outdoor theater background of a sunset and stars, the amphitheater’s castle walls and turrets, and the huge trees helped make the perfect authentic set for a “midsummer’s night,” so there wasn’t much need to add anything else to the set. Other than the paintings of flowers (which seemed a little oddly placed at the top of wooden beams), and weren’t really necessary because of the natural scenic background, the props and set they did use were simple and appropriate, and didn’t detract from the crux of the play.

Critiques

Because the performance was so enjoyable and well played, and mistakes were minimal and could probably have been fixed by now, I hesitate to present any possible semblance of “flouting [any] insufficiencies,” but there were a few small things I (and others) noticed. The donkey head is a difficult costume to make work, and they did a clever job by making it out of cloth just surrounding the actor’s face. However, after Oberon changed back Bottom’s donkey head into his human head again, the donkey head was left on the stage throughout the entire next scene or two, and it was distracting us with the question of whether it was intentional to leave it or not. Sometimes in certain scenes the fairies seemed to be wandering around without purpose, or trying to manipulate the other characters by their arm movements but with nothing happening as a result, especially in the argument scene, so that was a little confusing and distracting.

The stage combat was clever, believable, and funny, but in one or two scenes the constant movement and struggle to the side made it more difficult to either hear the actors’ lines, or to know who exactly they were talking to, because the other actors were constantly moving in that scene and they didn’t always address each other specifically. Lastly, some actors had accents, and while it lent very well to the diversity of background of the characters, the accents were also inconsistent at times, used in one line but not in another.

Thoughts Overall

The other players watch the play within the play. Excellent entertainment!

The other players watch the play within the play. Excellent entertainment! All the players were great, and Kristin Perkins shined as the “light of the moon and stars” in the hilarious parody.

Overall, the most difficult part of performing Shakespeare was achieved very well – the actors obviously had a backstory, knew the intent and meaning of everything they said, and portrayed it very well to a mixed audience of Shakespeare newbies and aficionados, to make for a pleasant and thought-provoking night of entertainment. It sparked laughter, contemplation, and lively discussions. I highly recommend you go.

Sensitivity rating: When the character Bottom is turned into a donkey, he calls himself an a** a few times. It’s a common word in Shakespeare’s plays that I think is spoken in a hilariously clever way in this play, as well as a common name for a donkey in that time period, but some of you might not want your kids to hear that word. Some of the costumes are rock/punk style with mini skirts, etc., but the actors still kept it appropriate.

Performance Details For When You Go:
Where: Historic Castle Amphitheater, 1300 E. Center St., Provo (behind the State Hospital building).
When: Saturday, Aug. 8, at 8pm, and Sept. 10 – 12, 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $7, $5 for seniors, $20 for family pass, $25 for group rate (up to 4 people) and can be bought on this website:  http://smithstix.com/…/venue/castle-amphitheater/venue/16729 
Info: (801) 344-4400, esc_arts@hotmail.com
Other Things to Know: The seats are literally rock hard, so bring a chair to sit in and/or blankets so you can be comfortable. They sell a great variety of concessions for a very reasonable price. Head East on Center Street till the end, then follow the signs to the parking lot just North of the State Hospital.

***Megan Graves has directed, produced, written, and performed in various community plays in Utah (http://www.singforsomething.org/), and also enjoys being a freelance arts critic. She particularly loves watching and performing in Shakespeare plays and in musicals, and is grateful for the chance she had to study and critique theatrical performances in London for 7 weeks in an undergrad theater program at BYU.

Crazy About The SCERA’S Crazy for You

cfy1By Joel Applegate

The Summer of 2015 provided the perfect night for opening a delightful musical under a blue, blue moon. SCERA Shell’s outdoor production of Crazy For You, directed by Jerry Elison, is a pastiche of Gershwin favorites specifically chosen to make a plot work. But who cares about a plot when you’ve got nineteen back-to-back Gershwin favorites to listen to and a platoon of chorus girls?

Think Gershwin, and you probably think New York – or the hoi-polloi of Eastern literati. On the SCERA’s big stage, Nat Reed’s set evokes classic New York sophistication; a stroll down Broadway and 42nd Street. We find ourselves in a story that takes place during the 1930’s, one of the most fertile eras of American Theatre – led by the glorious Gershwin’s.

But wait! We’re not in New York. We’re in – Nevada? Crazy for You is Ken Ludwig’s clever brainchild incorporating classic 1930’s Gershwin standards into the Tony Award winning Best Musical of 1992. Ludwig wrote the book, and the script is very witty with way more of a plot here than you might expect. Sure, it’s a little corny; Boy meets girl; girl hates boy; boy disguises himself; girl falls in love with disguise – oh, never mind.

Bobby just wants to dance, preferably in New York. But his fate and his bank inheritance depend upon the mortgage of the old Gaiety Theatre out West in Deadrock, Nevada (no such place; I already looked.) You see, Bobby’s mommy, who owns the bank, wants to foreclose on the theatre, and she wants Bobby to man up and be the villain.

So we’re off on a cross-country road trip of song and dance! Things turn out differently for Bobby when he gets to Deadrock. First, he falls in love with Polly at first sight, and decides if he can’t dance his heart out in New York, he’ll make do with an old run-down theatre: The Gaiety – now converted into a post office. But Polly and her Dad won’t let the old palace go without a fight. They fight back with – what else? – song and dance! In the best tradition of Hollywood cheese, Polly and the now disguised Bobby decide the best way to save the theatre is to “put on a show!” with a tip-o-the-hat to Mickey Rooney.

There’s plenty of Cowboys on hand – and Follies Girls to talk them into auditioning – and it’s all hands on deck. The denizens of the town of Deadrock are a spectacle in front of a set doing double-duty rotating from drab New York to the colorful landscape of the West – the best achievement of Reed’s design. The set changes are integrated into the action, and I’ll refrain here from giving away the visual surprises.

Director Jerry Elison and the production crew pay tribute to the spirit of Golden Age Broadway in so many ways, with the staging, the costumes, the dancing and the pacing. A taxi pulls on stage and before you know it, 19 – count’em! – 19 chorus girls burst out of it singing and high stepping. There’s hardly a dull moment in two and a half hours.

cfy2

Deborah Bowman’s costumes exhibit a pleasing variety of style and interest. The chorus line is cleverly and cutely outfitted, a delightfully designed mash-up of old Burlesque, slyly accented with nods to the western plaid.

There are some HUGE numbers in Crazy For You to choreograph, and SCERA clearly made a wonderful choice with choreographer, Sam Alva. This is a highly energetic cast and crew – THIRTY tap dancers all dancing in sync is a massive accomplishment. It might not seem so on paper, but to watch it happening is like watching a giant engine of many gears working perfectly. It’s rather amazing and you won’t be able to look away. This took a LOT of good old fashioned work to accomplish, deserving of hearty applause. “Slap That Bass” was among my favorites of the night.

Meanwhile, back on the buckboards with Bobby and Polly, their romance is inevitable, no matter how much they annoy each other. As Bobby, Christopher Gallacher has obvious chops as a trained dancer. He’s a great tapper and his jete ain’t too shabby neither – for a city slicker. Gallacher’s voice is clear and good – we don’t miss a single word. T’Naiha Ellis brings our Polly to life with a confident belt when she’s showing who’s the boss. There’s a beautiful clarity to her voice in “Someone To Watch Over Me.” A pas-de-deux with some sweet moves brings Polly and Bobby together: the dance number that starts the romance.

Our two protagonists, Michael DuBois as Bella Zangler in New York and Tyler Scott Mitchell as Lank in Deadrock, are both won over by the end. (It IS a musical, folks.) Lank’s clumsy attempts to win Polly’s hand (and take over her theatre!) lack finesse, but not humor. Dubois has a truly fine voice, and he commiserates with Bobby in a number that is an act in itself, combining some tricky business in a well-blended, over-the-top, and drunken duet.

Julia Sanchez plays the jilted and clingy Irene. Once freed of her engagement, Sanchez has a chance to show her true colors; a beautiful smooth tone on “Naughty Baby.” She might have dared to insinuate even more.

The Cowboy Trio composed of Neil Ellsworth, Max Sneary and Andrew Walsh, lives up the harmonies the Gershwins crafted. It’s great music to listen to – sure wish we could have heard them more.

As A Chorus Line so famously reminds us, the core of any musical is the company. Crazy For You’s chorus filled the entire stage with well-coordinated action. You can bet a lot of hours went in to their performances. Some of the troop stood out, not least of whom was Jasmine Petrell as Tess, assistant to the impresario Mr. Zangler. She was out front on most big numbers and took the lead with confidence and a smile as big as the West.

You simply can’t lose with the Gershwins. Together, George and Ira wrote American tunes that are among the most beloved – and hummable – in the lexicon.

Crazy For You
Scera Shell Outdoor Theatre – 699 S. State St., Orem, Utah (East of the Scera Pools)
~ July 31 – Aug 15, 2015; Mon, Thur, Fri, Sat at 8:00 PM ~
General Admission: Adults: $12 Children & Seniors $10 [Children: Ages 3 – 11]
Reserved Seating, Section B: Adults: $14 Children & Seniors $12 [Seniors: 65+]
Reserved Seating, Section A: Adults: $16 Children & Seniors $14
www.scera.org Phone 801-225-ARTS (2787)

Note: Crazy For You is two and a half hours long. You may want a light jacket or blanket by the end of the night. You can rent a seat for a dollar in certain areas of the amphitheater, and there’s lots of room on the grass. On Opening Night there were plenty of empty seats up front, and it’s worth the little extra you pay to be close. There’s a lot to see here and it’s more rewarding to watch the principal roles interact with each other. You will definitely enjoy the show more.