You’re Only a Day Away From “Annie” in American Fork

Annie in American Fork UtahBy Larisa Hicken and Jen Mustoe

Performing in the beautiful American Fork Amphitheater, Annie, directed by Adam Cannon, is presented by the American Fork Community Theater in association with the Timpanogos Arts Foundation.

Winner of 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Annie is a beloved favorite based on the popular 1930s comic strip by Harold Gray. Abandoned on the steps of a New York City orphanage in the 1920s, Annie and her fellow orphans are left to the cruelty of Miss Hannigan, an attention-starved alcoholic. Possessing equal measures of grit and optimism, little orphan Annie is determined to find her real parents. With her bright red hair and spunky personality, Annie charms her way into everyone’s hearts and she eventually finds a new home and family with billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, and his personal secretary, Grace Farrell.

The opening scene, with all the orphans sprawled on bunks and mattresses on the floor is darling, and as the littles start to sing and interact, their darling orphan costumes really set the tone for the show. The big stars in this show are the kids, and there seemed to be about 50 of them (not really but there are a lot) and they do pretty well. Director Cannon had his hands full with this pack, but they shine. After the show, all the young actors are hugging family and friends and there is a charm and a delight seeing so many new actors getting a chance to perform on a real stage with a real audience.

Nikki Merrell definitely steals the show with an enthusiastic and sweet portrayal of the orphan Annie. Her voice is lovely enough to rival the best of the adults in the cast and her intonation was great for one so young. Her smile is contagious and her rendition of “Tomorrow” is adorable.

The best interactions in the show are between Merrell and Mindy Eckroth playing Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ assistant. Eckroth has a powerhouse voice and a terrific vocal range. She is also a talented dancer (who doubles as choreographer) and has a stage presence that is impossible to ignore.

I would like to see a little more chemistry between Eckroth and Andrew Whittaker as Oliver Warbucks, but the romance takes a backseat in this production. Whittaker does a good job of owning the larger-than-life Warbucks and his affection for Annie is endearing.

Everyone’s favorite villain, Miss Hannigan, is played by a gorgeous and lithe Anne Perkins. Her over-the-top costumes, designed by Emma Otteson and her hair by Ashley Ramsey are fantastic.

Other standout performers include the tiniest cast members Theo Barratt and Nibley Duffin. Their sweet voices and adorable acting immediately capture your heart. Savannah Carrasco as the orphan Duffy was exceptional and Cambry Wangsgard as orphan Tessie has a promising young voice that I hope to hear again in future shows.

The production suffers from complications that come from working in an outdoor theater with sound problems, limited lighting options and scene changes without the benefit of curtains, but the cast and crew give it their all and their enthusiasm is contagious. This production of Annie is a bit rough around the edges, but manages to steal your heart just the same.

At three hours, this show may be a bit long for younger children. There are also several mild swear words that may offend some audience members and no one stops people from smoking during the show. Bring your bug spray and a flashlight for safety because the theater steps are unlit. The show is double cast, so make sure you check to see if your favorite actor is performing on the night you plan to attend!

American Fork Community Theater presents Annie by Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Thomas Meehan.
August 3-5, 8-12 8:00 PM Doors open at 7:30 PM Open seating                                       American Fork Amphitheater, 851 E 700 N, American Fork, UT 84003
Tickets are $10, except for family nights on Tuesday August 8 and Wednesday August 9 when all tickets are only $5.
Handicap parking is at the bottom of the amphitheater, but the main entrance is at the top. Lawn chairs may be used along the top row. Bring a blanket or stadium chair to sit on. Concessions are available.

Spanish Fork’s Tom Sawyer is Homegrown Fun

ts1By Jennifer Mustoe

When I was young, my family and I went camping and in the evenings, my mother read us Tom Sawyer. I don’t remember every bit of the story, but I do remember the highlights. It is these highlights that make up the storyline of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, performed by Spanish Fork Community Theater.

First, I must say, I have never seen so many adorably dressed, talented, spunky kids onstage for a production that wasn’t just for children’s theater. From small to tall, there seemed like there had to be around 50 kids–or more! And all of them looked like they were having a blast. They definitely added to the show, as they provided a moving, living background, just like the small town life Mark Twain created for Tom Sawyer.

To summarize the story: Tom is incorrigible, lives with his maiden Aunt Polly, has an annoying brat of a younger brother Sid and falls in love with the new girl in town, Becky Thatcher. Huck Finn, the son of the town drunk, is Tom’s best friend. There are a couple of bad guys, Injun Joe being the baddest of them, who provide the conflict.

Tom Sawyer is played by Coulsen Bingham and I really can’t say enough about the talent this young man possesses. He can sing–my, can he sing–but he also has graceful, athletic movement. And about a ton of stage presence. I have honestly rarely seen someone take the stage like he did. Excellent casting choice by director Adam Cannon. I also laud Cannon for being able to block, inspire and motivate so many actors in one production! Tom’s love is Becky, played by Ondine Morgan. She is a lovely actress with a beautiful voice and worked fabulously with Bingham. My only disappointment is she had so few songs. She needs a vehicle where she sings more often. She is a delight. Huck, played by Beau Wilson, was a wonderful best pal for Tom and the two actors cuff each other and goof around very believably–as if they really are good friends.


Dana Keller’s Aunt Polly is very good. When she’s supposed to be crabby and stern, she does it well. But during her lullaby she sings to Tom as he goes to sleep, she is so kind and sweet. A very lovely moment. Bad guy Injun Joe, played by Jarom Loch, was delightfully despicable. He was really greasy/creepy. I say this as a compliment. Widow Douglas, played by Debbie Maurin, was also good–with a fun dance with Huck and a beautiful, clear voice.

The production ran mostly smoothly, with only a few sound blips. But the lighting seemed a little off, like the spotlight wasn’t bright enough or something. The set was minimal until the cast went to the spooky cave and then set designer/master carpenter David Henry (who also played a likeable Judge Thatcher) went all out. The cave was magnificent.

The music, with the dozens of children and adult ensemble, sounded great–kudos to music director Krystal Bigler. I can only imagine what some of those rehearsals were like with all those kids! There were A LOT of songs and each one was really good. The solos by Tom and his duets with Huck and Becky were the highlights.

The real stars in this show besides the three leads, however, were the costumes by Maureen Robinson, who made everyone look homespun but gorgeous, too, and the magnificent live band that accompanied the entire production. I don’t usually name the players in bands in shows, but I am in this review because these people were really amazing. Band leader/drums/percussion: Jesse Christopher; Guitar/mandolin/banjo: Mark Geslison; Bass/guitar: Isaac Geslison; Piano: Andrew Tyler and Fiddle: Sarah Insalaco.

This is a family show, but I am giving this show a PG rating. Injun Joe stabs someone. And though there isn’t blood spurting or anything, if your child is very sensitive, don’t bring him or her. However, this show with its many, many fun musical numbers, many cast members and fun storyline is really pretty much a show everyone will love. It also isn’t remarkably long, or it didn’t seem like it to me.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

July 24, 25, 26, 28, 31, Aug. 1, 2  7:00 PM

Spanish Fork Community Theater

Spanish Fork High School, 99 N 300 West, Spanish Fork, 84660

$6.00 and $8.00

Utah Rep’s “Bonnie and Clyde” Gives a Utah Premiere with a Bang!


By Daniel Brassard

The names Bonnie and Clyde go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. They are familiar to most people and are a part of American history. The musical Bonnie and Clyde, presented by Utah Repertory Company, introduces us to the specifics of their story and reveal the human element behind the infamy.

Young Clyde (Kimball Bradford) was well performed and showed no fear of singing to the audience or battling imagined foes with his rifle. The adult Clyde, played by Johnny Hebda goes from an adventurous and mischievous kid to a tortured and desperate man in the span of two hours. His anguish and desire for more—more life, more love, more fun– can be keenly felt from the back row of the theater. Though Hebda’s musical talent is noticeably eclipsed by his supporting cast, he acts the part and was believable.


Young Bonnie (Abigail Parkinson) was a very talented signer and captured the essence of a precocious girl. Grown up Bonnie (Madeline Weinberger) falls from childhood dreams of fame to the adult roller coaster of infamy. Weinberger’s singing voice and acting talent certainly brought life to the role. Her solos and duets were as soulful as her dramatic scenes. Bonnie’s mother (Kara Henry) and Clyde’s mother and father (Lisa Clayton, Perry M. Whitehair) were effective at helping us understand the strong bond of family that were ever-present during the outlaws’ struggles by realistically portraying the family dynamic. Buck (Johnny Wilson) was very believable as the man torn between his brother and his wife. Blanche (Michelle Moore/Twyla Wilson) gave the most memorable performance of the show for me. Her vocals were spot on as was her portrayal of the duly devoted wife and believer. Ted Hinton (Dallin Major) did a wonderful job at making me believe the divided nature of his character’s heart–one side with affection toward Bonnie and the other as dutiful lawman. And his singing voice was probably the best male vocals in the show. I would have liked to see more of the character Hammer (David Henry), both due to Henry’s charismatic stage presence and the historical significance of his part in the true story.

The other standout role was the Minister, by Christopher Bradford. He gave a powerful performance with great vocals and provided some of the more entertaining aspects of a rather dark show.

The musical Bonnie and Clyde is a PG-13 show with adult themes including sex, violence and death, which director Adam Cannon dealt with sensitively and appropriately. Instances of smoking, profanity, gun violence and undress (though no nudity) are present and addressed on the website ( and before the start of the show. I found the content to be completely appropriate for the subject matter and tastefully done by the theater company. As an example, there are weapon props with blank ammunition used. We as an audience were warned about them before the show and the cast seemed to avoid pointing them at the audience. While the loud nature of the gun props was intense, it was not too intense and certainly added to the drama and severity of the scenes in which they were used.

The costumes, including the amazing amount of costume changes by Weinberger, were incredible—all very period, detailed and fabulous. Kudos to costume designer Nancy Susan Cannon.  Anjanette Mickelsen amassed a remarkably talented orchestra—the live music in this show is fantastic. Lighting by Michael Gray and set design by Steve Twede is effective in Lehi Art Center’s small space.


As I have seen several shows from the Utah Repertory Theater, I feel that two things are generally true. One is that this company has a surprisingly large group of talent, actors who can sing and act with rare high caliber. Two is that tech problems like microphone feedback and a lack of consistent sound quality remind me that there is still room and necessity for growth here.

It seems to me that this is a rare opportunity to see this show based on the narrow window of performances and the single company offering the experience. I would absolutely recommend seeing it and would say that the troupe did a powerful job at putting it on.

The Utah premiere of Bonnie and Clyde by the Utah Repertory Theater Company is playing at the Lehi Arts Center at 685 North Center Street in Lehi from Jan 17th through Feb 1st. Performances on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm with matinees at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased at or at the door.

Valley Center Playhouse’s Pirates of Penzance has Big Laughs in a Small Space


By Shannon Eden

Welcome to the Valley Center Playhouse in Lindon – it’s been around for 40 years and yet I’ve never heard of it! It is a little tucked away – I was afraid Map-quest had led me totally astray when we started into a distinctly residential neighborhood, but lo and behold – there amid the homes was a hidden theater. The Valley Center Playhouse is a smaller venue, with ancient seats that scream, “You don’t want to sit in me for three hours!” but are actually pretty comfortable. (This coming from a seven months pregnant person who can’t sit anywhere for three hours.) They add to the very nostalgic feel of the theater itself. I brought my family with me to see the show and found out that they usually don’t allow children under four; however, they were kind enough to let my two-year-old stay so long as she behaved herself, which, as a great compliment to the cast, she did. This is a show geared for families with lots of fun swashbuckling and silliness, so bring your kids – the loudest laughs of the night came from the children in the audience.

Pirates of Penzance, a classic operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan, follows the tale of Frederick – a lad of twenty-one who is, in fact, only five. He’s a pirate, but doesn’t want to be, and loves Mabel, but is going to have to kill her father. Confused? So is he. Ever the slave of duty, poor Frederick is pulled from one world to another, then back again, and finds himself interacting with some very colorful characters along the way.

Directed by Patrick Brannelly, with the assistance of musical director Brooklyn Poulter, the Valley Center Playhouse has put together a fun production that brings the audience a little closer to the show than usual. Pirate has the capability of having a rather large cast, but the theater here was simply too small to accommodate, it is a theater in the round – the stage being the center floor with seats surrounding. There were a few times that the actors became a little too aware of the audience while trying to not block anyone’s view, but for the most part, the blocking rotated often enough that the characters were able to be seen by all sides. One difficulty I found with the theater set up and blocking was that the corners seemed to be utilized quite frequently as an ‘escape’ for the actors. If they weren’t a key part in the scene, they stood in a designated corner until it was time to return to the stage. Understanding that, with a limited space people need to be moved in order for the focus to be on the right characters, I wished that those ‘escaping’ to the corners had seemed like they had a reason to go as opposed to just following their blocking. Or a few times, the aisles and audience seats were used to great success – the police hiding from the pirates amongst theater patrons was really a fun interaction, and it would have been nice to see some more blocking choices like that.

The costumes were creative, done by M’liss Tolman. My favorites being that of the Pirate King and Ruth as a pirate. Tolman also managed the set and props, keeping them very minimal in order to leave ample space for the actors to maneuver. She made yet another appearance as the homely Ruth, Frederick’s devoted yet elderly nursemaid. Her portrayal was a little more subdued than some of the other characters. So although she did a good job with the character, she got a little lost amid the others – especially vocally. In a theater small enough to not require microphones, I wished she had had one. She was also…dare I say? Too pretty! I loved her transition to sultry pirate sidekick after being discarded by Frederick, but I felt like she needed a little more help being homely in the beginning. I hope I look so good at forty-seven!

The Pirate King, played charismatically by David Henry, had very ample projection and stage presence. His pitch faltered every so often during the musical numbers, but he had a strong performance overall. Cameron Fullmer as Frederick brought a silliness to the character that went a little too far sometimes for me, but gave a likeableness as well. It may not be fair for me to review this show since I’ve been in it twice and grew up on the music – I know it too well! Fullmer did miss a lot of his lines though he filled them in enough to keep things going. My husband never noticed, and most in the audience probably were of the same mind. Mabel, played by Amber Lee Roberts had an exceptional singing voice. She, as well as most of the actors, seemed to struggle with the music tracks however. I’m not sure if they had difficulty hearing the music, but the timing seemed off for everyone all evening. The music, to me, seemed very fast and offered little flexibility for the cast to emphasize the humor of the show. They barely had time to take a breath between lines, let alone allow for comedic timing. As a result, we lost much of the fun of the show.

The Major General, played by Andrew Whittaker, and Sergeant of Police, Gary Taylor, had the strongest entrances of the night. From their first introduction, both established their characters and maintained good connections with the audience throughout the show. The Sergeant was able to manipulate the music well on the parts that were too low for him and made the awkward, silly actions of the Sergeant seem natural to his character. Whittaker had a unique voice that fit well with the Major General and, though he struggled a bit with “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” (let’s be honest, who wouldn’t with lyrics like that!), he pushed through without breaking character.

The rest of the ensemble could have been stronger musically – the group numbers seemed to fall apart a bit, again mostly due to inability to stay with the tracks. They also seemed to be waiting for cues and choreography, concentrating on the steps instead of following naturally. Bethany Taylor’s choreography had much potential and had many elements that were very enjoyable – at one point the circling pirates have the tables turned on them and find themselves being instead surrounded by the daughters, which was a great tactic and used the space and music well. The Pirate ensemble shone even more when they transferred to the roles of Policemen, and the choreography for them was some of the best of the night.

The lighting and sound for the show, done by Adam Cannon, seemed to run smoothly. The only piece of the technical aspects of the show that I didn’t like was the final fight scene’s use of a noise track. Having not had any additional ‘din’ added to the rest of the show, it seemed out of place and sounded far from natural. I would have much rather heard more from the actors and avoided the track.

All in all, the show was good, but with performances running through May, I’m sure the cast will continue to improve with each night and that further experience with the show will iron out the insecurities and hiccups of opening weekend.

Valley Center Playhouse presents Pirates of Penzance

780 N 200 E, Lindon, UT

April 12th through May 20th Mon/Fri/Sat at 7:30

Tickets $7, $5, $25 for a family pass

Call 801-785-1186 for reservations

Tickets available at the door

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