“Cinderella” at The Eccles is Pure Magic

By Larisa Hicken

Cinderella Broadway Tour

Brian Liebson, Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is part musical, part magic show. If you’re lucky enough to find tickets, throw on your glass slippers and get yourself to the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City now through June 4, 2017. Better yet, bring along the little princess in your life for an unforgettable night of vivid costumes, spectacular sets, and elegant dancing that will have you believing in happily ever after.

Ball gowns in Cinderella

The company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

If you’ve ever dreamed of dancing in a gown that moves the world, don’t miss this opportunity to see the dazzling Tony award-winning costume design by William Ivey Long in action. The onstage costume transformations are astonishingly beautiful and not easily forgotten. During the lush ballroom scenes, you’ll find yourself longing to dance in a ballgown, no matter what your age. The ballgowns appear to be inspired by a variety of flowers and plants, and the fairy godmother is clearly a butterfly.

The spectacular costume design is complemented by an impressive set designed by Anna Louizos. An entire house changes from inside to out completely seamlessly and the forest design is a nice contrast to the marble staircase of the royal kingdom.

The Cast of Cinderella

The company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Cinderella’s first Broadway version of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical underwent a rewrite of the book by Douglas Carter Beane. Instead of a helpless chamber maid, in this plot, Cinderella is a kind, but strong-willed and politically-minded young lady who wants to wear the gown and change the world all at the same time. The prince is called Prince Topher (short for Christopher and a host of other names, including Herman.) The new prince is college educated, but completely clueless to the actions of his villainous mentor who is approving oppressive legislation with a casual borrowing of the royal ring. Now, Cinderella must win the heart of the prince while also opening his eyes to the injustices of the kingdom. Thankfully, the talent of the cast overshadows the awkwardness of some of the new dialogue, which has a few corny one-liners and sarcastic zingers.

The angelic Tatyana Lubov plays an endearing and innocent Cinderella. Her voice is reminiscent of Paige O’Hara who voices Belle in the animated version of Beauty and the Beast. She is well matched with Hayden Stanes as Prince Topher, who manages to turn a dopey character into a charming and dreamy prince. Stanes has a rich voice that will leave you breathless. The two leads have terrific chemistry and their kiss was worth the wait.

Cinderella Kiss

Hayden Stanes and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Other standout performers are Vincent Davis as Lord Pinkleton, who acts as herald to announce the royal ball and banquet, and Leslie Jackson as Marie (the Fairy Godmother). Davis’ gorgeous tenor voice was made for opera and adds a lot of dazzle and sparkle to his solo numbers. Jackson skillfully portrays the fairy godmother with an infectious smile and vocal acrobatics that will leave you slightly dizzy. Utah native and Utah State University alum, Joanna Johnson plays a sassy and hilarious stepsister, Charlotte.

Heralding the Ball in Cinderella

Vincent B. Davis and the company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Tour orchestration by Bill Elliott (based on the original Broadway orchestration by Danny Troob) is phenomenal. The score includes the best-known songs from the original version of Cinderella and four additional songs from the R + H library.

This production of Cinderella is the perfect example of the magic that happens when all of the production and design elements come together in perfect harmony with a talented cast and crew.

I spoke with a few enthusiastic young audience members after the show and they agreed with my assessment. “When she came to the ball, that was my favorite,” said Katie Zabriskie, age 8. “I thought it was really fun. I really liked it. The people who played, like, the two animals, they were funny. Yeah, and like the [costume] where she only had the torn pink one up here and suddenly it turned into gold!” said Emma Ball, age 9. Total magic.

I recommend dressing lightly as the theater is warm. The show ends well before the stroke of midnight (around 10:00 PM) and includes a 20-minute intermission. Concessions are available. Visit Broadway.com for more details, to view Cinderella show photos, and to purchase tickets. Prices start at $65.00.

Broadway at the Eccles Presents Cinderella
610 E. South Temple, Suite 20, Salt Lake City, UT 84102
(801) 355-5502
5/30-6/1 7:30 PM, 6/2-6/3  8:00 PM, 6/3 2:00 PM, 6/4 1:00 PM, 6/4 6:30 PM

Note: When putting the address in your GPS, be sure to put the THEATER in (610 E. South Temple, Suite 20, Salt Lake City, UT 84102) and not the Box Office.

Park City’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a Beautiful Way to Start the Holiday Weekend

batb9By Amy Baird

The Ogden-based theatre group, the Ziegfeld Theatre, performed a delightful stage adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. It was refreshing to attend a wholesome, family-oriented play at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Park City.

The story begins in a small French town where most of the young girls can only dream of marrying the dashing, arrogant and handsome Gaston. Belle, a charming, well-read, and beautiful-but humble-daughter of a single father is Gaston’s obsession. Her father is mocked for his inventive pursuits. Belle is independent, head strong and shuns Gaston’s self-serving advances. Belle hopes for a life that extends beyond the boundaries of their little village.

Nearby lived a similarly arrogant, self-centered Prince in a beautiful castle. Legend had it that he denied shelter to a poor beggar woman who was actually a beautiful enchantress. As punishment for his cold-hearted refusal, the enchantress cast a spell upon him that turned him into a monstrous Beast. All his servants were relegated to live as semi-inanimate objects. The spell could only be broken if the Beast learned to love and be loved in return.

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Belle’s father accidently stumbled upon the Castle, encountering the Beast-who had only become more monstrous and angry with the passage of time. After the Beast took her father captive in his dungeon, Belle rescues her father by exchanging herself in his place as the Beast’s prisoner. In time, and with the encouragement and support of his servants in the shape of housewares (dishes, clock, etc.), the Beast transitions into a gentleman and Belle (“Beauty”) gradually begins feeling something admirable and desirable within him, looking beyond his ugly appearance. This magical story reminds us not to look on outward appearances in determining the value of an individual. In the process, Beauty is likewise transformed into deeper, more accepting, and understanding woman.

Beauty and the Beast was the 10th longest performance on Broadway and hugely popular. Disney’s popular 1991 animated version  was recently remade and co-produced by Disney into a non-animated adaptation starring Emma Watson.

The Ziegfeld cast is very compelling-drawing from local talent. The unity of the cast came through in their acting. They were able to draw the audience in.

Belle, surprisingly played by 16-year-old Aria Critchley is graceful, showing off her dancing ability and admirable vocal talent. The Beast, Bryant Clair Larsen, plays the part very well. His “beastly” mannerisms, stance, and transition into a polite gentleman are highly convincing.  Gaston is characterized by Daniel Pack- the perfect specimen to represent Gaston’s buff, masculine features. Lefou (Samuel Holdaway), Gaston’s personal sidekick who exists only to serve Gaston’s every need fits the part quite well, and was very humorous and entertaining. The Castle’s servants are excellent and deserve particular praise for their musical, dance, and acting abilities. Of special note is Lumiere (Aaron Gordon), who is the life of the show. He plays the character better than any actor I’ve ever seen, including the screen actors. Cogsworth (Austin Payne) is also superb. Mrs. Potts (Ashley Mordwinow) has a superb voice, along with her son, Chip (played by Isaac Allred and Nicolas Horrocks.) Madame de la Grande Bouche (Jennifer Chadwick) has an amazing operatic tone with very impressive vocal dynamics.

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The choreography was well-adapted for the size of the Cast and stage. Particularly excellent was the “Tavern” scene with Gaston, “Be Our Guest”, “Something There”, and “Beauty and the Beast.” The Magic Carpets were excellent! The acrobatics they performed were a surprising treat! Magic Carpets/ Enchanted Objects were Angel Martinez (Fork), Mejai Perry (Knife), and Devin Turner (Spoon). They also tripled as Townspeople and were fantastic dancers and actors.

Who can resist the charm of Disney’s lyrics and tunes? Music Director Jamie Lynn Balaich had excellent performers to work with in Gaston, Madame de la Grande Bouche, Mrs. Potts, and Lumiere had outstanding voices. For a 16-year-old, Aria Critchley was also very impressive but at times inconsistent in her volume. The Beast, Bryant Clair Larsen, did not sing as often and it must have been difficult with his mask/heavy head of hair, but when he did hit it spot on! Gaston presented a very humorous “Me”.

Costumes by Dee Tua’ One were excellent and well-designed. The “Napkins” and Belle’s dresses were notably gorgeous. Lumiere’s candlestick hands were a superior extension of his personality!

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The Egyptian Theatre is a well-known historical Park City fixture and quite beautiful, though  the stage and size of the theatre was a bit too small for the actors, though Director Morgan Parry made very good use of the space. The seats and temperature were comfortable. It was easy to find. The staff were friendly and accommodating. It has a nice small town atmosphere.

 

My 21-year-old daughter and I attended Park City’s Beauty and the Beast together. We laughed through much of it. She is a former music major and had a far more critical ear than I do. She noted the loudness of the music in relation to the relative smallness of the 300+ seat theatre. I think to the untrained ear such as mine, I was more drawn in by the magic of the story or personality of the acting that I overlooked such things.

Overall, we both felt this was worth attending. The only drawback might be the Park City prices. We noticed tickets were less when Ziegfeld presented it on their Ogden Stage. However, it was refreshing to see wholesome, family entertainment presented on the Park City stage. The audience consisted of many families with small children. The wolves coming up and down the aisles may have been a bit too intense for the youngest child, but I noticed many children in the audience who were probably thrilled to see the animated and non-animated version live onstage. It was a very enjoyable evening and we would recommend and encourage more family entertainment to come to Park City.

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Ziegfeld Theatre group is presenting Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Egyptian Theatre  328 Main Street in Park City UT 84060.

Started Thursday, May 25th and runs through Sunday, June 4th. Showtimes  vary at 6:00 PM or 7:30 PM, with ticket prices from $15 for youth up to $40 for adults in premium seating. (NOTE: $5.00 more 30 minutes prior to show)

Call: 435-649-9371, For information, visit http://www.park#435-cityshows.com.

Easy to find on historic old Main Street, Park City. Free 6-hour covered parking @ China Bridge Parking Garage (behind theatre.) Paid parking on Main St.

 

The Desert Star’s “Captain American Fork” is Heroically Funny

capt american forkBy Scott Phillips

Last Saturday, my family and I went to the Desert Star Playhouse located in Murray to see their original production Captain American Fork: the Worst Avenger. The Desert Star Playhouse has a long history of providing entertainment to Murray and the Salt Lake Valley dating back to the 1930’s.

If you don’t know about this theatrical jewel, you are missing out. Their parodies and spoofs blend the production’s story with local humor performed by great talent. In old-fashioned style, each show is followed by an “olio,” doing fun musical numbers to end the evening of entertainment.

Captain American Fork, the Worst Avenger opens at Salt Lake’s ‘Hero-Con’ where “Zion Man” and “The Homemaker” are looking to recruit their newest member to the Guardians of Utah Valley. Captain American Fork, along with his ward Bingham Copper Man, is selected from among the ranks of hopeful heroes and together they face off against the nefarious Cougar to protect the good citizens of Utah Valley.

Rick Miller plays an excellent albeit bumbling Captain American Fork accompanied with his ever quirky sidekick Bingham Copper Man played by Jacob Barnes. Together with Zion Man, played by Matt Mullaney and The Homemaker, played by Ashley Haslam they join in comedic escapades against Zion Man’s arch enemy the Cougar played by Hillary Carey. Their hilarious hijinks are covered by an intrepid social media reporter, Tennille (get it? Captain and Tennille?), played by Brittany Shamy.

This is acting in its truest form. The cast interact with the occasional comment from the audience and ad lib with often hilarious results. The script is sprinkled with humorous references to current events and pop culture with a leavening of good-natured poking of fun at life in Utah; for example Zion Man uses his cape (the Zion Curtain) to protect people from seeing evil doings. Tennille, who is playing off of her Spanish heritage, ad libbed a joke about American Fork wanting to build a wall and making Spanish Fork pay for it, which wasn’t in the script, This threw Captain American Fork for a loop because he wasn’t sure how to react to it other than laughing and then turning to the audience and saying “that wasn’t in the script!”

Costumes by Lynn Funk and Lee Daily were colorful and fun. Choreographer Allison Cox got her cast moving, and this is important, because there is so much music in Desert Star’s shows–it has to be accompanied by artistic and fun movement.  Artistic Director Scott Holman took playwright Edward Farnsworth’s script and made the show an absolute blast.

Seating is at tables in a tiered floor arrangement, which allows every seat a good view of the stage performance. Each table receives a complimentary basket of popcorn and audience members have the option to order dinner items including pizza, burgers, wraps and finger foods like nachos with an assortment of cake, ice cream, floats and streusel for dessert.

As mentioned above, each show ends with a musical olio, where the play’s cast members perform several musical skits. The olio performance is excellent and provides an entertaining encore to the main performance.

My family thoroughly enjoyed their experience at the Desert Star Playhouse. My 6-year-old was entertained and there were enough subtle jokes and playful pokes at life in Utah to keep my wife and I focused on the dialogue which can be overshadowed at times with the entertaining and varied props and background which offers its own visual subtext to the performance. The best thing about the actors at the Desert Star is that they add Lib based on how the audience is reacting to them. Each showing for every play can be a unique experience; that’s what makes it so entertaining.

Captain American Fork: the Worst Avenger runs through June 3 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays at 6 and 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m.

The Desert Star Playhouse is located at 4861 S. State St., Murray with tickets ($15-$25) available for purchase by calling the box-office at (801) 266-2600 or online at desertstar.biz. (Note: Get your tickets quickly. These shows sell out fast!)

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The Grand Theater’s “Hairspray” is a Grand 60’s Party

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By Andrea Johnson

My husband and I have attended various events at The Grand Theater, and it was fun to return to see The Grand Theater’s production of Hairspray.  Full Disclosure:  I was an assistant director for Hairspray, and I have seen the production additionally in a couple of different venues, including the film versions.  I love this show, and I love to see it done well.

Hairspray is a coming-of-age musical set in the early 1960s in Baltimore, Maryland, and revolves around the life and dreams of Tracy Turnblad, a teenager with a hair bump almost as big as her dreams of singing and dancing on a local TV studios teen dance show.  The pursuit of her dreams is not a smooth one, and along the way she encounters the fears of her mother, the ridicule of the reigning teen dance queen, and lots and lots of prejudice and bigotry.  Tracy faces down all of them with the support of her parents, her best friend, and all of the people who are drawn to Tracy because of her passion for equality and her desire to just be recognized for the talents she possesses, despite her presumed physical constraints.  She makes many friends and gains many allies on her journey, giving that same support in return to them.

Hairspray began as a non-musical film produced in 1988 with Ricky Lake as Tracy Turnblad, but was then reworked in a musical form in 2002, produced on Broadway, and garnered 8 Tony Awards along the way.  It was then redone in the musical form as a film with John Travolta starring in the traditionally male role of Tracy’s ample mother, Edna Turnblad, and Christopher Walken as Tracy’s fun-loving father, Wilbur Turnblad.

 

As my husband and I arrived for the show Friday evening, we found plenty of close and free parking on the east side of the theater.  The east entrance of the theater is very clean, light and modern, and signs direct you around to the west side of the Salt Lake Community College building to the theater box office and lobby of the theater, which is definitely of an earlier era.  Our seats were near the front and, by the familiarity and conversations of the patrons around us, right in the middle of the season ticket holders.  There really isn’t a bad seat in the house.  The theater itself is large and open, complete with a balcony and a breathtaking proscenium.  The seats are comfortable and appropriately spaced.  The contrast of the old and the new was definitely felt as the show started.  The non-profit semi-professional theater group is funded by generous donations, and has used these donations to create a technologically advanced theater experience housed in a beautiful old setting.

The show opens with “Good Morning, Baltimore,” with Tracy waking up and starting a new day.  Tracy, played effortlessly by Emily Woods, sings through the town on her way to school.  Ms. Woods has a lovely vocal quality, clear, pure, and easy on the ears.  Her characterization was on point from the start and never wavered.  It was a delight watching her journey.

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Next, we meet Tracy’s mom, played exquisitely by David Hanson (this role is typically played by a male with a large stage presence), and discover quickly Edna’s sharp wit as well as her crippling fears and self-deprecating issues.  Mr. Hanson chose to keep his natural voice for Edna, avoiding affectation, which I enjoyed greatly.  Later scene, we meet Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s dad and proprietor of his own gag gift and whoopee cushion emporium, played by Stephen Sherman.  Wilbur and Edna have a particularly loving and tender relationship, but I missed it early on.  We are asked to suspend reality in accepting that Edna is actually a woman, and I would have liked to see more interplay between Wilbur and Edna early on, and that needed to be initiated by Wilbur.  Later, we were able to see the full manifestation of their relationship in a charming performance of “You’re Timeless to Me,” but it just made me wish that the repartee had been there sooner.  I would have really enjoyed that expression of affection and gentle teasing earlier.

Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton, was played by Elise Groves Pearce.  As is the nature of the beast of playing younger than your years, I felt that Ms. Pearce’s character read a little too mature.  I would have really liked to see more immaturity and naivety early on, so that I could enjoy her journey as well.  In the later scenes, especially as she interacts with Seaweed (the boy that makes her heart skip a beat) the move from naivety to knowing would have been more pronounced.  I felt like I didn’t get to see her evolve.  Conversely, Seaweed, played by Tristan Johnson, was almost too shy and uncomfortable in the early parts of the show, where I would have liked to see more confidence, but he managed to find his groove by later scenes.  I am not sure if this was a character choice, or just a nerves issue, but either way, “Without Love” in the second act was a particularly stellar performance from Ms. Pearce and Mr. Johnson, and I cannot express how enchanting it was to watch.

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Early in the first act, we also meet the Teen Council, including their stars, Link Larkin (played by Sky Kawai) and Amber Von Tussle (played by Madi Cooper), and Amber’s overbearing mother, Velma Von Tussle (played by Mandi Barrus).  Mr. Kawai was also a joy to watch.  His journey from privilege and status through questioning and fear then into the final action of supporting his true love, Tracy Turnblad, and finding his bravery was sometimes painful, often touching, but very real.  I enjoyed taking that journey with him, and I admit, he sucked me right into his world.

Ms. Cooper and Ms. Barrus both exuded the arrogance that comes from their position, and I was particularly impressed with Ms. Barrus’s portrayal.  Playing an antagonist is sometimes difficult when it goes against your personal nature, but Mr. Barrus created a malevolent foil to push Tracy in her journey.  Kudos to her for being brave in being horrid.  Ms. Cooper did a fantastic job of dancing horribly, well.  Again, the trouble of playing younger felt like an obstacle she could have pushed past more, especially after she is dumped by Link and she starts to feel like her world is collapsing.  I would have loved to see more immaturity for “Cooties,” considering the amount of grade-school insults that song contains, and it would have been completely appropriate in the context of her world being up-ended by someone who she has always been told would never be better than her.

The host of The Corny Collins Show, played expertly by Aaron Ford, was a stand-out for his complete immersion in the part.  Solid talent, solid character, and never missed a beat.  Mr. Ford was smooth and flawless.  Bravo.

A quick note on the ensemble: PERFECTION.  I adore shows where the ensemble is a moving, adaptable, complementary backdrop for the action.  In scenes with the Teen Council, Detention, PE, the Platter Party at Motormouth Maybelle’s, all of the show actually, the singing was on-point, dancing on-point, characters on-point.  Delightful and de-lovely.

Speaking of Motormouth Maybelle, the “Negro Day” host of The Corny Collins Show, she was my standing ovation.  McKenna Jensen gave me a taste at the Platter Party in “Run and Tell That,” and blew me away with her soulful rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”  She commanded the stage whenever she was on it, and her mouth opened wide and strong as she built confidence for Edna in “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful.”  Stellar performance.

Under the direction of Jim Christian, with Jessica Merrill as choreographer, and Derek Myler as musical director, the show was a delight to watch and a pleasure to attend.  The totality of the show, from the tight blocking/scene changes/choreography, all the way to the excellent sound and light quality, and amazing costumes, sets and props, was a masterpiece in the immediate acceptance of this suspended belief and the age-old adage that the mark of an excellent tech crew is the lack of notice.  My husband remarked on the way home that he wasn’t even aware of any scene changes in the first act, and the ones he noticed later were not uncomfortable to sit through.  I mentioned to him that I was well into the first act before I remembered that I was reviewing the show and needed to make some notes.  I was quite literally sucked in.  I still didn’t take many notes, because I didn’t want to break the spell.  This is a well-done show, from beginning to end, and any notes I have made are somewhat nit-picky.

This show is a great family show, date night, or just a wonderful evening at the theater.  There is some innuendo, but nothing blatant that would need explaining, and if kids don’t get the joke, they wouldn’t miss anything for content.  As a further note about the jokes, there are several references to cultural and historical items of the times, and enhancing the theater experience for teens, tweens, millennials, and maybe even Gen X could include a quick Google/Wikipedia search of: Khrushchev, Richard (Dick) Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Wilt “The Stilt,” the Gabor sisters, Green Stamps, and Gina Lollobrigida.  If you don’t want to do that much research, just an awareness of “separate but equal” may spark a great conversation about the struggles of the early 60s against current themes of bullying, prejudice, fear as a motivator, and inclusion/exclusion.  Like Maybelle warns, “There’s a whole lot of ugly coming at you from a never-ending parade of stupid.”

Hairspray runs 2-1/2 hours with intermission, and there are bathroom facilities and a snack bar near the theater lobby.  Do not miss out on this show!  It runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday evenings, with matinee performances on Saturdays through June 3rd.  If you are interested in maybe finding a deal on admission, check out the theater’s modern addition of “The Grand Theater” app, which is a free download for iOS or Android.

THE PARTICULARS:

The Grand Theater Company presents

Hairspray

Book by Thomas Meehan and Marc Shaiman

Music by Mark O’Donnell

Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman

Salt Lake Community College Grand Theater, 1575 South State, Salt Lake City, Utah

Performances Thursday through Saturday through June 3, 2017.

Evening performances at 7:30 PM.  Matinees Saturdays at 2 PM.

Tickets range from $8 to $22, depending on show times and seating.

Contact information – Call 801-957-3322, or online at grandtheatercompany.com.

Pray You Get a Chance to See OPPA’s “Nunsense”

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By Merijo Holley

Davis County is in for a treat with the opening of its newest addition to the arts, The On Pitch Performing Arts (OPPA) Theatre located at the Pitched Perfectly Studios. The new theatre is a 60-seat venue located just off West Hill Field Road. The theatre shares real estate with the Pitched Perfectly Voice Studio, where many of the actors are trained for their debut.

OPPA’s first production is the light-hearted religious comedy, Nunsense. Nunsense has been performed by hundreds of casts since 1985, and the musical holds the prestigious title of Off-Broadway’s second longest running musical. The author, Dan Goggin, adapted the play from his Nun-themed line of successful greeting cards. The play has spawned several sequels and been the showcase for some of Broadway’s most famous voices. Nunsense is the story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, New Jersey who will be sharing their talents and stories in a variety showcase.

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OPPA’s Nunsense opens to a 1950’s Diner theme, and the nuns introduce themselves and announce to the audience that they will be borrowing the set from the musical Grease from the convent’s  8th grade musical. The emergency fundraiser and variety show is needed to collect funds to bury some of the convent residents, who died in a mass food poisoning. The fundraiser participants (and stars of the show) are Mother Superior Mary Regina (Carolyn Stevens), a former circus performer who cannot resist the spotlight; her competitive but dignified rival, second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert (Charlene Adams); Sister Robert Anne (Becky Evans), a streetwise nun from Brooklyn; Sister Mary Leo (Seante Nielsen), a novice who is determined to be the world’s first ballerina nun; and wacky, childlike Sister Mary Amnesia (Amanda Larsen), who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.  With a cast of personalities like that, what could possibly go wrong?

The audience becomes engaged from the beginning, when the nuns tell their curious
story in song. The first musical number, “Prayer,” draws the audience in as the five sisters create a magical harmony. It’s not long before they break out in to hilarious little side stories of playing BINGO with the cheatin’ Relief Society Sisters and inviting audience participation in a quiz.

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Carolyn Stevens as Mother Regina  looks every bit the part, and has perfected the Irish accent. Her voice is strong and her humor was real in her interactions with the audience. She stole the show in a scene in which she becomes intoxicated on contraband essential oils.

Charlene Adams brings Sister Hubert to life. I am told she is the vocal coach for the studio, and her vocal performance was a treat. She takes the stage proudly proclaiming, “I am Holier than thou” and belts out a performance worthy of a much larger professional theater.

Becky Evans adds to the fun factor as Sister Robert Ann. This nun just wants a solo in the show, and she will do anything to prove she is worthy of the spotlight. Robert Ann engages the audience pre-performance and never breaks character. I admit I was so taken by her character that when she explained the Grease set before curtain, I really believed the 8th grade drama class had just finished rehearsal!

Amanda Larsen as Sister Amnesia was comic bravery. She possesses the rare Lucille Ball- like physical comedy that plays well on the smaller stage. The program does not provide a bio, but I would bet she is theatre-trained.

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Seante Nielsen’s sweet young Sister Mary Leo, beautifully shows this nun’s dream to show her love of the Lord by becoming the first ever Ballerina in a Habit.  I would have loved more volume and projection in her voice, but wow, this girl can dance. Clearly, her dance skills had to be showcased, and director Brandon Stauffer found some staging liberties that worked to show her off, toe shoes and all. Musical director Cariel Goodwin gets these nuns all singing as if they are the heavenly choir.

Nunsense provided a fun-filled evening at the theatre. The OPPA version included local religious humor, a little History of Catholic Saints and their causes, one-liners that will make me a hit with the 5th graders in my life, a reminder that sometimes a trip to your dream job will land you in a Hoboken Convent, and the lesson that nothing is ever as black-and-white as it seems.

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On Pitch Performing Arts presents Nunsense

May 8, 2017, 07:30 PM – May 13, 2017, 07:30 PM

Pitched Perfectly Studios – 1558 W 700 N, #8 Layton, UT, United States

Tickets are $15 adults, $12 children and seniors

385-209-1557

 

The Pioneer Theater Company’s “The Will Rogers Follies–A Life in Review” is Filled with Nostalgia, Spectacle, and Delight

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By Jennifer Mustoe, with Amanda Berg

Long before Guardians of the Galaxy and La La Land, from 1907 to 1931 to be exact, Ziegfeld Follies delighted Broadway audiences with remarkable, fun, spectacle-filled entertainment. Long before Dave Barry or even Jon Stewart, Will Rogers (1875-1935) gave America and the world an opportunity to see themselves with humor, warmth, and respect–even when he was poking fun at them all.

In the Pioneer Theater Company’s latest offering, The Will Rogers Follies–A Life in Review (Revue), you will see both of these entertaining options, Ziegfeld Follies and Will Rogers, in one lovely show. The Pioneer always does an amazing job, but this show will knock your socks off. And not in the current in-your-face, gritty, sometimes shocking way that many of today’s plays and musicals are presented. The Will Rogers Follies is just delightful, with enough humor to keep you laughing, enough love story to give you all the feelz, enough wisdom to give you a thing or two to ponder, and enough spectacle to dazzle you. Something for everyone.

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The story is very simple–it tracks the life story of humorist Will Rogers, who began his career doing rope tricks and riding a pony. His cowboy appeal advanced him to Vaudeville and eventually The Ziegfeld Follies. However, there was much more to Rogers and he eventually wrote a newspaper column, books, starred on a radio show and starred in movies, at first in silent films, and then talkies. He traveled all over the world and was loved by all. He truly was adored by millions and millions of fans. Much of his humor was poking fun at politics and politicians, but it was done in such a way that he never really offended them.

Much of The Will Rogers Follies is just that–Will making funny comments, first opening a current paper and making witty comments, and then from The New York Times from the 1920s and surprise! The news was similar to today and his jokes were just as funny now as they were then. The show summarizes bits of his life, but after reading on Wikipedia about Rogers, if the show represented his whole life, I’d be at the theater still. He was a hard worker and his list of accomplishments in his 55 years is admirable.

Each number was a Ziegfeld Follies extravaganza–complete with dancing and singing by the many New Ziegfeld Girls and the four Wranglers. Each of these ensemble performers were marvelous, but their beauty and dazzle was that each was part of one big whole. They were costumes, movement, music as background but so much more.

The costumes were outstanding. Honestly, I was dazzled to the point of Wow. Costume Designer Patrick Holt makes us SEE the Follies. I recently visited NYC and did not go see the Rockettes. One only has so much time. Seeing the New Ziegfeld Girls and the Wranglers in all their glory makes me feel like I haven’t missed a thing.

Often led by Ziegfeld’s favorite, played by Chryssie Whitehead (who’s so cute and funny I just loved her), the ensemble numbers were filled with energy and we loved them all. Our favorite was The Campaign–“Our Favorite Son.” Who would have thought so much could come from a line of people sitting down and just clapping and hitting their knees and hats? This isn’t coming out right. It’s just intricately, perfectly great. When you see the show, you’ll see what I mean. Director/Choreographer DJ Salisbury had his performers moving perfectly in each of the many (21) numbers and this is a BIG Song and Dance Show. Music Director/Conductor Phil Reno honed his singers and players to perfection. This is a Musical with a capital “M.” A rather fun Utah tribute is The Voice of Mr. Ziegfeld (the players look up at the “booth” above the balcony) is played by our own Donny Osmond.

The leads are Norman Large as Will’s father, Clem Rogers. Frankly, if there’s a villain in the show, it’s Clem. He is unsupportive of his son to the point of unkindness. Large does a great job showing some of Clem’s humanity and since Clem dies during the show (he dies during Will’s lifetime in other words), Large is brought back as other characters–contributing to one of the running jokes that Ziegfeld is cheap. Very funny. Will’s four children, Will, Jr. (Kimball Stinger), Mary (Ava Hoekstra), James (Nathan Eliason), and Freddy (Mila Belle Howells) all were very professional, but somehow, up on that big stage, they looked so small–and it was very effective. They were little kids looking small.

Wiley Post (Jim Bennet) has some of the funniest lines–but I grew to dislike him–the character, not the actor. If I tell you why, it’s a spoiler if you don’t read the Wikipedia link I added. Bennet has great timing and it was fun that he did his entire performance from a seat in the audience.

Another fun highlight in the show is there is a real life roper/whip specialist, AJ Silver. Boy, can he crack those whips and fling those lassos. This is the stuff that Rogers started with–these same tricks. I can see why people flocked to his shows. It’s pretty impressive.

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Will’s wife, Betty Blake, “Blake” to Will, is played with heartwarming splendor by Lisa Brescia. She goes from small town farm girl to loving wife and mother and even gets to do the token Ziegfeld vamp song atop a piano. Brescia is perfection, her voice is that of an angel. The synergy she has onstage is lovely. Again, that word lovely. Brescia is all that’s beautiful and kind in this sea of pretty girls and hunky men of the ensemble.

Will Rogers is played with folksy splendor by David M. Lutkin. Lutkin is not one-quarter Cherokee, as Rogers was. Lutkin is tall and Rogers wasn’t particularly tall. But it doesn’t matter one bit. Lutkin has embraced and embodied Will Rogers–from Rogers’ down-to-earth, wry manner to some pretty awesome rope tricks. Throughout the show, all I wanted to do is get onstage and talk with Will Rogers. He was very real to me. Even now as I write this, I found myself wishing I could have met Will Rogers. Lutkin creates this hero with such integrity and precision, I’m still somewhat overwhelmed.

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Even though the show could end sadly, it doesn’t. In the end, Rogers’ witticisms and popular sayings (“I Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” is the final number) bring him to us so he lives on in this delightful show.

The only sad part of this show really was the audience was half-empty. This shouldn’t happen. This show is rated PG and everyone will love this show. Bring your kids! Bring your grandma! Bring your classes, teachers! You will learn something in this show and you will love every minute of it! There are two more weeks of performances. Gather some loved ones and see The Will Rogers Follies–A Life in Review. It is a breath of fresh air right now, and we could use it–just as Rogers was in his life.

Pioneer Theater Company, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, The University of Utah, 300 1400 E #205, Salt Lake City, UT 84112  

Tickets: are $40-62, 5 dollars more if you buy the day of the show.

May 5 TO May 20, 2017

  • 7:00 p.m. Mondays – Thursdays Evenings
  • 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday Evenings
  • 2:00 p.m. Saturday Matinees

(801) 581-6961

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