Disney’s The Lion King at the Eccles Theater is Royally Spectacular!

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By Kendra Hill

Disney’s The Lion King at the Broadway at the Eccles is spectacular! I have only praises for this show. The play brings depth to the story and the characters that you don’t get from watching the movie. While it stays very faithful to the movie and the original screenplay, there are additional songs and dialogue that add a new dimension to the story. This is a great opportunity to see it presented this way on the stage, and I highly recommend you going to get tickets NOW if you don’t have them yet!

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it is the Hamlet of the African Savannah. The king (of the jungle) is killed by his evil brother, who is then crowned king. The young prince knows of his uncle’s treachery, and struggles with the knowledge. Simba (Hamlet) eventually becomes king, but not before he goes through harrowing trials.

The actors are all top notch. The children who played Young Simba and Young Nala had so much energy and enjoyed being on stage. I have seen shows where children get bored halfway through the performance, or become distracted. That was not an issue here. They both were adorable and did a wonderful job.

Gerald Ramsey (Mufasa) and Sophia Stephens (Sarabi) brought great heart to the performance. I will admit I was worried I would miss James Earl Jones’ deep voice, but Ransey was amazing! He was a wonderful father, and I really felt a connection to his character and the love he had for Simba.

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I loved watching the adult Nala (Dashaun Young) and Simba (Nia Holloway)  and was particularly impressed with their voices. When Young first comes onstage, he only has a couple of lines to sing, but he definitely ends Act 1 on a wonderful note (haha, see what I did there?) and really makes you excited to see the rest of the show after intermission. Also, when Holloway and the lionesses sang their song “Shadowland” it was very powerful and made me really feel ‘woman power.’ (I may or may not have pumped my fist and told my husband, ‘that is how you do it.’) Good job women! You rock!

Zazu (a red-billed hornbill who serves the king) was played and puppeted by Drew Hirshfield. This character is lots of fun, and much more comical than in the movie. It was very enjoyable to watch and listen to him, and the puppet was just as much a character as the actor controlling it.

One couldn’t help but loathe Scar (played by Mark Campbell) as he plots and wreaks havoc on Pride Rock. Prideful and murderous, Campbell makes you want to hate him. 

The three wicked hyenas (Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Keith Bennett, Robbie Swift) were the perfect trio, and played homage to the Disney movie.

Pumbaa and Timon were a great jovial pair who really brought a lighthearted, fun aspect to the show that really helped juxtapose the wasteland that had become Pride Rock after the death of Mufasa. Pumbaa played by Ben Lupitz, and Timon, while usually played by Nick Cordileone was played by standby actor Tony Freeman. The puppets for these two were amazing! And the actors did a wonderful job not only in performing their characters, but in using their puppets.

While all of the actors in this production are absolutely incredible, there is one in particular that really stood out to me and wowed me with her performance. This was Buyi Zama as Rafiki (a mandrill who plays a Shaman-like character.) She has an amazing voice, and really devoted herself to the character. She had a great sense of comedy, but also had a great feeling of authority as a wise woman and storyteller.

While there were many amazing aspects, one thing that stands out in particular are the amazing costumes and puppets. The actors were able to control many different parts of their costumes, from heads, eye movement, limbs, mouths, and more. They are all very detailed, and really match the movement of the animals they represent. Tony Award-winning Julie Taymor is the director, costume designer, mask/puppet do-designer, and more. Her vision really comes through, and wow, is it amazing.

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Most of the sets appear quite simple, but often move, or have unseen elements that come out later in the scene. They make great use of the sets to tell the story, and give it additional movement. They also use many of the curtains as pieces to help draw the eye, and create more interest, which I really enjoyed.

The music draws you in and really helps you feel the emotion of the characters and the story. A lot of African rhythms and language are also used and really drive the amazing beats. I loved every single song, crafted by Tony-award winning artists Tim Rice and Elton John.

One of my favorite parts of the whole show was the dancing, choreographed by Tony-award winning Garth Fagan. It was INCREDIBLE! I also loved that they not only used it during dance breaks, or songs, but when characters would feel intense emotion they were often express it through dance. I especially admired the use of traditional African dance. Not only was it amazing to watch and experience, it gave The Lion King one more layer of authenticity.

Probably the best part of the whole play for me was the culture that blazed throughout the whole show. Beautiful colors engulf you in every scene, the makeup and costumes have amazing designs and patterns, and the dance (as mentioned before) has a great tribal feel. African languages are even used throughout the show, alongside English. These are things that we don’t often get to witness in Utah, and it was amazing. I was truly transported to the other side of the world.

One word of warning, if you have never been to the Eccles Theater before, do not search The Eccles Theater on Broadway on your phone GPS, but search for The Eccles Theater. We were sadly late because that location is an office about a mile away from the actual theater. We missed the opening number (which I bet was so amazing) and also spoke with others in the lobby who had the same thing happen to them. The address to the theater is 131 Main Street in Salt Lake City. Again, even though it is advertised as Broadway at the Eccles, DO NOT use that title to navigate on your GPS or phone.

This show is completely appropriate for children, but because curtain is at 8:00 PM, I’d advise bringing older children, tweens and up, so they can stay awake, enjoy the show, and not get fussy or whiny. There is PLENTY to enjoy!

Disney’s The Lion King at the Eccles Theater

131 Main Street, Salt Lake City (801) 355-5502

March 23 – April 16, 2017. Curtain times vary, so check the website.

Week 1: THUR March 23 at 7:30PM, FRI March 24 at 8:00PM, SAT March 25 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN March 26 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Week 2: TUES March 28 at 7:30PM, WED March 29 at 7:30PM, THUR March 30 at 2:00PM & 7:30PM, FRI March 31 at 8:00PM,SAT April 1 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN April 2 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Week 3: TUES April 4 at 7:30PM,WED, April 5 at 7:30PM, THUR, April 6 at 7:30PM,FRI, April 7 at 8:00PM,SAT, April 8 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM,SUN, April 9 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Week 4
TUES, April 11 at 7:30PM,WED April 12 at 7:30PM,THUR April 13 at 7:30PM, FRI April 14 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM,SAT April 15 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN April 16 at 1:00PM

Tickets start at $35.00

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The Grand’s “Streetcar” Offers a Beautiful Journey into an Ugly World

 

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By Ashley Ramsey

Tennessee Williams once said, “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” And there may be no better example of those curving roads then his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Streetcar tells the story of Stella and Stanley Kowalski whose lives are turned upside down by a visit from Stella’s sister, Blanche DuBois. Blanche, who has been in charge of the family estate, reveals that it has now been lost. As Blanche’s tales of back home begin to unravel, so does Blanche’s mental state. Escalated by the unfamiliar and strangeness of the New Orleans French Quarter, Stella’s overbearing husband Stanley, and a string of cleverly-crafted lies, Blanche desperately tries to cling to the sanity that slowly slips from her grasp.

Streetcar has found its way into American culture (Thank you Marlon Brando…Stella….STELLA!”) and is a story familiar to many. Forget what you know, because director Mark Fossen has created a one of a kind, standalone staging of Streetcar. Part of The Grand Theatre’s American Classic series, this familiar story is given new life through creative staging, lights, music, and a brilliantly casted ensemble. From the moment you enter the theatre, you are swept into the noisy and lively streets of New Orleans. The two-story set by Halee Rasmussen is lovely and captures the feel of a young couple starting out. Oftentimes throughout the show, we are given glances into the private moments of the characters’ lives through the use of silhouettes. Rasmussen collaborated with Lighting Designer Spencer Brown to produce a seamless and effective method of storytelling. Brown’s lighting design tells a haunting story on its own and is well worth the cost of a ticket.

It is once in a great while that a truly brilliant ensemble piece is featured on Utah stages, but this is one of those pieces. Each character is thoroughly and carefully crafted with such realism that oftentimes the audience feels as though it has stumbled into somewhere they should not be. Private lives on display for your voyeuristic viewing pleasure. April Fossen’s portrayal of Blanche doesn’t stop from the moment she enters the stage. Her energy seems to burst off the stage and almost smother you as she pulls you into her world. Keeping pace right along with her is Anne Louise Brings’ Stella. Brings has layered Stella in such beautiful way as you watch this new bride and soon-to-be mother try to balance all that she loves in her life. Brings does a beautiful job in connecting with those she shares the stage with. Her portrayal of love becomes almost tangible with her onstage husband, Stanley, played by Robert Scott Smith. I have never loved and hated a character as much as I did Smith’s Stanley. He pinged back and forth, the only source of sanity on the stage and other times the instigator of the insanity. When watching other productions, I could never understand why Stella goes back, but in this production, I did. Smith takes you a devastatingly emotional journey as you watch a man come to grips with the chaos his young family has suddenly been thrown into. The ultimate protector, at the end of the show you find yourself still thinking maybe, just maybe Stanley is the good guy. And possibly insanity is contagious and really no one can judge a single person on that stage for what has happened, for they have all gone mad.

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Other noteworthy and beautiful performances are Lonzo Liggins’ Harold Mitchell (Mitch) and upstairs neighbors Vicki Pugmie and Andrew Maizner as Eunice and Steve Hubbell. The entire cast should be praised on such raw and beautiful work. While many cast members assume the smaller roles within the production, they are a part of the many storytelling techniques used by the director which make the show what it is.

Mark Fossen’s brilliant concept engulfs you into a world you cannot escape, but one that you don’t want to. It is important to note that you will find no sugarcoating of the difficult and adult themes of the show. Instead, Fossen challenges you to face them head on and get out of yourself. I could talk about it forever, but to say much more would deny you the experience of what this cast and crew have created. I find myself mentally wandering through the curvy mountainous roads of this production over and over since I went to see it. It is rare that productions like this surface. The Grand’s latest production is one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. I have lived in London and LA, traveled to New York, but rarely does theatre speak to me on the level that this show did. With any production there are always the little things to nitpick, but what they are doing with this show far outweighs any need for that. I hope you will let them take you on this journey.

A Streetcar Named Desire plays now through April 1st at The Grand Theatre with shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays with curtain at 7:30 pm and two 2 pm matinees on March 25th and April 1st. Tickets start at $16 for regular admission and $14 for Seniors.

The Grand Theatre 1575 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84115

Phone: (801) 957-3322

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Utah New Works Theatre Project

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By Jennifer Mustoe

A little over a month ago, my husband and I went to the opening event for the Utah New Works Theatre Project. This new and exciting group had an Open Mic Readers Theater–inviting playwrights, performers, and audience members. Set in The Startup Building in Provo (across from the Frontrunner station), a lovely space, about 50+ people gathered to present their offerings. It was a rather spur of the moment affair in that people showed up with their 10-minute plays, found performers, those performers read over the scripts, and then we got to see the plays performed.

I loved the spontaneity of the event. It felt warm, nurturing, but also exciting, fresh, and fun. Everyone there loved theater. Some of the plays were very “fresh” in that they had been dashed off that day. (Their playwrights shared this, not that they were bad or anything.)
Some of the plays were silly, some needed some revisions, a few were remarkable.

But the vibe of the event and the group itself, a non-profit based in Provo created by and for theater lovers, was what was most impressive. This group will bring something new and wonderful to Utah County.

According to Mark Wiesenberg, one of UNWTP’s founders:

The Utah New Works Theatre Project is a 501(c)(3) organization that inspires, cultivates, and supports Utah playwrights in telling original stories and launching new works to add depth and variety to the artistic voice of American theatre.
 We:
 Inspire and cultivate the writing, development, and production of new and original theatrical works from Utah playwrights that celebrate the human experience.
Present new works that are both thought-provoking and accessible to our community.
Support and expand the diversity of emerging artistic voices and perspectives through educational programs and opportunities; and
Promote and develop partnerships to build resources that enhance the creative process.
Their next exciting event is:
Utah New Works Theatre Project’s
Friday, March 24, 2017
Pioneer Book
7:00 pm
Free
This will be a fun and informative playwriting panel to help aspiring or experienced playwrights ‘tackle the ten’–meaning the 10-minute play. This will be amazing, filled with information and it is FREE!
Please come support Utah County’s newest and most exciting new group.

CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s Mary Poppins Is Enchanting

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By Scott Taylor

If you think you don’t need to go see the stage production of Mary Poppins because you’ve seen the 1964 film and maybe the 2013 biopic Saving Mr. Banks, Centerpoint Legacy Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins will change your mind. Yes, you know the music and the characters, but it’s how the characters feel, develop, grow that makes this show not only succeed, but triumph.

If you’re not familiar with Mary Poppins, and maybe there a few souls on the planet who are not, it’s the story of a dysfunctional family where the father, Mr. Banks, is consumed by his job at the bank. Mrs. Banks is consumed with Votes for Women and avoiding her children. The children, Jane and Michael, are consumed with being as bratty as possible and chasing off every nanny that comes to the Banks’ household. Mary Poppins, who is practically perfect in every way, tames and entrances the children and has amazing adventures, sometimes with her beau, Bert. Mary brings the whole family together and everyone lives happily ever after.

As with the past two shows on the Barlow Main Stage, the entire set extends only feet behind the proscenium. The permanent backdrop provides levels that transform from London streets, to Cathedral steps, from a city park, to a rooftop landscape, and of course, the Banks’s home on Cherry Tree Lane. The theatre uses visuals that transform the set walls to expertly match the action on stage—wallpaper in the home, trees for the park, dancing chimney sweeps above. Drops are sparse, but effective. The props that convert to rooms are beautiful, especially the nursery where Mary dazzles the Banks’s children. The set is a delight through every scene of both acts. Director Danny Inkley and his entire team create a world where anything can happen, where magic exists and is only limited by imagination.

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Vocal performances can make or break a musical. I saw the opening night for the M/W/F cast with Sarah Jane Watts in the lead role, Craig Williams as Bert, and Scott Montgomery (who also is the show’s Associate Director) as Mr. George Banks. All three are exceptional in their roles with Watts’s voice combining a sense of joy, confidence, and wisdom all in one (something not easily done.) We expect great vocal talent to fill the featured roles in a musical—the roles beckon for great talent, but when each solo—not just from the leads, but from everyone, almost without exception—is pure, on pitch, beautiful, it’s a treat. Angie Call (Winifred Banks), Shayla Florence (Jane Banks), Ben Royland (Michale Banks) rounds out the family by providing wonderful voices to match their admirable acting skills. I credit Music Director Derek Myler and Danny Inkley for choosing and utilizing the talents of these performers.

Even with strong singers and actors, if the choreography doesn’t pull its weight, a show can definitely lag. Thankfully, Choreographer Addison Welch blends dancing that fills the stage and keeps to the spirit of the show. The dance numbers are difficult, but not too busy to give you a headache. The ensemble (many who doubled as named characters) executes each dance with energy. The show’s signature dance, the second act’s Step In Time has the feel of a Stomp production number. It is so lively, it made me want to jump up on stage and join them.

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The hard work of the costumers cannot be overlooked. We know how Mary and Bert should look, but it was the other characters that surprised. Mrs. Andrew looks (and acts) deliciously vile. Admiral Boom does not disappoint. Dancing toys, birds, and statues add to the visual parade. Each costume matches the world beautifully.

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As an audience member, I was surrounded by many of a younger generation with several of the children dressing as their favorite character. As per the theatre’s custom, after the performance several of the actors came out in costume to greet friends, family, and the rest. It’s heartwarming to see Mary Poppins pose with several young fans dressed as Mary Poppins. It personalizes the art.

On a personal note, I should include an action taken by the theatre before the show began. An actor, involved with Centerpoint Legacy Theatre and its predecessor, Rodger’s Memorial Theatre, passed away last fall. Shelley Davies, Director of Development spoke to us about this actor, his love of performing, and his love of the theatre. She directed our attention to a seat in the front row, decorated with a chimney sweep broom wrapped in a ribbon. Before he died, the actor expressed his desire to be a chimney sweep in the show. He got his wish. It showed to me the heart of the theatre to hold up the curtain for fifteen minutes and let us all know how special he was to them.

Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre runs from February 24 to March 25 with Saturday matinees on March 3 and March 11.

Centerpoint Legacy Theatre is located at: 525 N 400 W, Centerville Utah 84014

Ticket prices: Adult Main Level: $23.25–$25.50, Balcony: $19.50–$21.50, Senior/Student Main Level: $21.25–$23/25, Balcony: $17.50–$19.50

No children under 3. No babes in arms.

Tickets and additional information can be found on their website: www.centerpointtheatre.org, or call: 801-298-1302

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