Cedar Valley Community Theater’s Once Upon a Mattress is Something You’ll Want to See at Least Once!

By Wendy Sorensen (Guest Reviewer)

My fourteen-year-old companion and I thoroughly enjoyed Heritage Center Theater’s production of Once Upon A Mattress.

In all famous fairy tales, good triumphs over evil. This rings true in Cedar Valley Community Theater’s (in Cedar City) Once Upon A Mattress–this fun-filled musical does not disappoint.  The misguided Queen Aggravain has decreed that any potential bride for her son must pass a test (designed by the Queen) in order to marry him. Not only can her son not find a bride worthy of him because no one has been able to pass her test, but NO ONE else in the kingdom may marry until the Prince marries his princess.  Enter Sir Harry and Lady Larken, who must be married quickly because Larken is pregnant.  If they cannot be married quickly, Larken will have to leave the kingdom.  With haste, Sir Harry embarks on a quest to find a bride for Prince Dauntless. He returns with Princess Winifred.  The queen does not approve of her and is determined to keep Princess Winifred from passing her “test” in order to marry her son.  Dauntless and Winifred fall in love.  The queen is determined to make her test unpassable.  She places one tiny pea amongst 20 mattresses to see if the princess is delicate enough to feel the pea.  If Princess Winifred sleeps peacefully without finding the pea in the mattresses, she fails the test.  Will King Sextimus be able to speak once the curse is lifted? Will “the mouse devour the hawk”? Will Princess Winifred pass the test and marry the Prince?  Will they all live happily ever after?

Queen Aggravain (Tamara Reber) did a great job as the “evil” queen who does everything she can to keep her son single. Reber’s accent was consistent through the entire performance. I think my favorite song that she and the wizard sang, was Sensitivity. She has a great voice and stage presence. King Sextimus (Danny Hansen) did such a good job as the “mute” king.  I’m sure it was really difficult to play charades for most of his performance.  He didn’t miss a step, even when one of the jewels fell off his crown.  Making the queen hop, skip and jump at the end stole the scene.  He did a great job teaching his son, Prince Dauntless about the birds and bees.

Prince Dauntless was a very likable character.  He played the mommy’s boy prince perfectly.  His Man to Man talk number was my favorite. Princess Winifred (Kelsea Burton) was delightful in her role as the chosen fiancee. Her voice was spot on the entire performance and her physical comedy matched her acting ability.  The favorite song she did tonight was Happily Ever After.  Great stage presence.  All eyes were on her when she was on stage.

Sir Harry (Devin Anderson) has a wonderful voice–he didn’t miss a note. He and Lady Larken had great chemistry.  Way to go on his kissing scenes! Lady Larken (Katie Tremelling) has a beautiful voice and great chemistry with Sir Harry.  She did a great job in all of her scenes and played off the other characters in the story with a fearless loveliness.

Minstrel (Indiana Jones) was really cute with the kids in his Prologue. Jester (Meghann Eide) can really dance and sing and was great in scenes with the King and Minstrel and is a very likable character. Wizard (Dee Rich) was fun to watch and played off the queen very well. The two actors made you think something else might be going on there in their relationship with each other.

The choreography by Heather Shurtleff had all her players moving well together. As with most community theater productions, the dancing was basic and very effective. Hair and make up by Jessie Bailey and costuming by Janice Ruesch and Debbie Grimm made for a very pretty and royal-looking production. Scenic Design by director/producer Noel Perry was wonderful. We especially loved the huge mattress construction. Music director Trevor Walker has given his performers excellent instruction, as the principles all had clear, lovely voices and we enjoyed it a great deal.

Perry has created a lovely production for this community and I would recommend all who can attend make it a priority. He uses his actors well and keeps them moving from scene to scene with energy and fun.

A small note about the lack of theater etiquette: My only “negative” comment is that for an opening night there wasn’t very much family or community support.  We counted about 50 people. There was also a little girl who was literally rolling down the aisle during the performance.  It was VERY distracting.  Until another audience member said: “This child’s mother better take care of their friggin kid or I’m going to” loud enough for the mother to hear, thankfully. She finally required her child to stay seated, but the show was almost over. The Heritage Center Theatre is a very nice venue.  If the place would have been full, I would hope that the mother of that small child would have done something sooner.

That being said, I hope that the community will come enjoy this show. It is really fun!

The Heritage Center Theatre May 27th, 28th, 30th & June 3rd, 4th, 6th  2016

General Admission – $12, Seniors, Students, Children 12 and under – $8

The Heritage Center is located to the North of the parking garage

http://www.heritagectr.org/

Facebook Page for Venue

Pioneer Theater’s The Count of Monte Cristo is an American Debut Smash!

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count3By Joel Applegate

Design and vision triumph in The Count of Monte Cristo. Salt Lake’s glitterati turned out in force for Pioneer Theatre’s opening night. Turns out they were not overdressed (I certainly wasn’t!). As the American premiere of this new musical – already seen in Europe and Asia – it deserves everyone turning out in their finest because the company of Monte Cristo certainly gave theirs. The creators of the piece were on hand and stated they were thrilled to finally hear their creation sung in English, having assisted directly with Pioneer’s production team.

And what a night it was. The sheer stagecraft of Pioneer Theatre’s artisans has amazed me before, but this production surpasses everything I’d seen. Fascinating stage pictures on rotating stairs are not only a masterful achievement for the designer, Michael Schweikardt, but a distinguished credit to the craftspeople as well. Together with the director/choreographer, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, they pulled off an awesome creative vision.

count2The towering stairs create many environments with occasional assists from a ship mast, a hot air balloon and columns flying in from all directions. The live orchestra led by Michael Sebastian stirred us up with an excitingly executed overture and supported a beautiful score throughout, modulated perfectly to enhance the operatic numbers.

One would not think that one of the world’s best known revenge stories would lend itself to musical theatre, but really, Murphy and Wildhorn’s creation is more lyric opera. There are a total of 28 numbers in the two-hour show. Among the first to delight the opening night crowd was “A Story Told”, a jaunty tune sung by the villains of the piece, Mondego, Danglers, and Villefort, played, respectively, by Darren Ritchie, Brandon Contreras, and John Schiappa. The three plot our hero’s downfall with a gleeful toast. As one of the best prominent supporting characters, Schiappa’s work was clearly menacing, supported by his powerful, yet tonally pleasing vocals. Ritchie and Contreras each had their own moments with increasingly challenging material, their tenors delighting our ears.

count1Vocals were, of course, critical to telling this story and no one disappoints. As the lead, Matt Farcher as Edmund Dantes, the Count, seemed to soar ever higher and more powerfully with each successive song. His erstwhile love, Mercedes, was played by Brenda Carlson-Goodman with a strong, wide range at her disposal. But perhaps one of the greatest voices on that stage truly belonged to Dathan B. Williams as the Abbe Faria, the old prisoner who befriends and becomes a teacher to the hapless Edmund. Williams’ honeyed baritone is controlled and purposeful in everything it does, from the rhythmic “Lessons Learned” to the redemptive “When We Are Kings.”

The music by Frank Wildhorn (Composer of Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlett Pimpernel) is suited to a story that features daring escapes, swordplay, and our challenged lovers within its visual feast. I couldn’t help but think that this show can stand proudly alongside Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera for its epic scope. The Count of Monte Cristo will be long remembered by patrons of the Pioneer Theatre who negotiated for years to bring this show to America and are justifiably proud of being the first.  The box office has told us that this show is selling out at a record pace, so be sure to get tickets before it ends May 21st.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Pioneer Theatre Company

May 6 – 21, 2016

Prices vary upon day and section–ticket prices range $40-$62, plus $5 if day of show. Call or go on line for times and prices. 801-581-6961

https://tickets.pioneertheatre.org/TheatreManager/1/online

On the University of Utah campus, 300 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City. Free parking off 4th South near the theatre.

7:30 pm Mon – Thurs, 8:00 pm Fri & Sat, 2:00 pm Saturday matinees

Rush tickets available; call the box office for details.

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Wasatch Theater Company’s Stage Kiss is Delicious

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stage kissBy Joel Applegate

Theater goers have become too sophisticated for escapism. The mirror has become transparent to the audiences of this new century. While we accept the given conceit of a piece, we then fall silent as a pin when the actors reveal who they really are: Humans telling a story. The sets may be fake, the story even absurd, but in Wasatch Theatre Company’s production of Stage Kiss, the actors could not have been more real.

On the bare set of a stage audition, the nervous energy of our lead actress, the fragile confidence of April Fossen’s “She” aka Ada, reveals an actress facing her maturity; questioning what is left of her future.  All the marks of a disaster present themselves: late to the audition, asking too many questions, admitting to not knowing the piece – in short, the actor’s nightmare revisited. Ms. Fossen strikes such a true chord with the “minor humiliations of life” that we wince with her. Still, first audition jitters give way to an energy inside the Rose Wagner Studio that is so right for this play. Director Mark Fossen bridges both the unnatural nature of 4th wall theater and the reality of actors’ lives with the seams barely showing.

The accidental meeting with Ada’s old lover at the first read-through of a new play unsettles a life she had settled for. Reality blurs as the former lovers must play lovers. Neither “He”, aka Johnny, played by Daniel Beecher, nor Ada is too happy about the casting. Mr. Beecher is so clear in his focus and intentions, and together with Ms. Fossen, they are attentive and awkward as they rehearse a terrible play called The Last Kiss. Inevitably, the former lovers become entangled again.The script is bad; the acting is tortured. As Johnny notes, “It’s a bad sign when a play is written by three people.” Nevertheless, how deliciously earnest are these actors’ attempts at the play within the play.

stage kiss 1 Sarah Ruhl’s script is indicative of a playwright who knows the tropes of theater only too well.

Packed with humor throughout, in Stage Kiss, Ruhl winks at the synthetic absurdity of plays and playacting. As if to emphasize the point, most of the actors in this uniformly excellent cast play dual roles.  Ann Cullimore Decker as the director feigns indulgence; she’s a little unctuous and even sly; “I’ll play the pimp.” Testifying to Utah audience’s admiration of her storied career in theater, Ms. Decker was cast despite the fact that the role was written for a man.

Throughout the performance the sense of faux reality is still so clear, that when the actors as themselves come to grips with their lives, and the inherent pretension of their profession, the shift between worlds is fascinating. I was captivated by a sense of both reality and irony as Ms. Fossen relates a Buddhist parable about, of all things, a ghost.

Our theater has become so Brechtian – modern theater is always reminding you that you’re watching something. But at the same time it touches reality in so many different places, despite the artificiality that is no longer hidden from audiences. In that sense, the art of WTC’s Stage Kiss thoughtfully succeeds in reflecting our lives.

This play contains Adult Themes and Language. Recommended for more mature teens and older.

April 30th – May 14th Thur, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, Matinees at 2 pm on May 7th, 8th and 14th

38 W Broadway, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

Adults $20 General Admission Seating ~ Box Office: 801-355-2787 On Line: http://arttix.org/

Tags: Mark Fossen, Sarah Ruhl, April Fossen, Daniel Beecher, Anne Cullimore Decker, Tristan Johnson, David Hanson, Ali Kinkaid, Brenda Hattingh