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.

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

PoP

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

Check their Facebook page for promotions: https://www.facebook.com/valleycenterplayhouse

Backstage Brings Fun Center Stage

A Utah Theater Review by Rachel Summerhalder

Valley Center Playhouse is a locally owned theater that prides itself on bringing family-friendly shows to the community. For nearly 40 years, they have been doing exactly that. Valley Center Playhouse is located in Lindon, and although it has a small parking lot, I’ve never had problems parking there. The theater itself is quite small, and is a theater in the round, which lets the audience see more of the action and feel like they are a part of the show. Backstage, written by theater owner Jody Renstrom, is a play within a play, giving us a look at what happens behind the scenes of a show when everything goes hilariously wrong.

Tyler Renstrom, who also happens to be the director of Backstage, plays the director, David, who is trying to cast his latest show, No More Tears, with the help of his assistant director, Connie, played by understudy Jennifer Mustoe (the role is usually played by Sherri Webb). As the show opens, we see several actors reading different parts from the show, and it becomes apparent early on that there are some very distinct and clashing personalities among them. Vying for the leading lady role are Barbara, played by Rebekah Osmond, Jennifer played by Alyssa Christensen, and Paula played by Josie Layton. Looking to land the leading man roles are Bruce, played by Andrew Whittaker, Jonathan, played by Tyrone Svedin, and Ken, played by Jordan Stout. After some very bad yet funny readings, the play is cast and rehearsals begin.

Continue reading

“See How They Run” is Jolly Good Fun

Because the show is almost through its run and because I want to encourage people to come see this fun show, I’m jamming through my review quickly. I want to post this soon so all my community theater-loving friends will go see See How They Run before it’s over.

Here’s what I liked about the production:

Director Dana Anquoe (who also plays Miss Skillin) has wisely and winningly used tons of physical comedy, a few consistent hilarious physical gags, and has encouraged her talented cast to play it big. I heartily approve. The VCP has a decent-sized theater in the round, and it would be tempting to just play it safe. Dana does not and there is sound, movement, doors slamming, people falling all over the place and other mayhem going every scene. You’d think it would be distracting, but it isn’t. It’s fun, fast, and fulfilling.

 

The costumes are wonderful and quite authentic. The set is as good as a theater in the round can be. There is a rather large couch that occupies one side of the theater, but it is necessary to the plot. The sound (by Jack Brannelly) is perfect (music and sound effects), and I love that the space is intimate enough that no microphones are required.

The cast all work well together, and I know they’ve pulled this show together quickly, so it’s impressive that they all are so cohesive, especially with so much physical comedy.

 

The cast is: Eric Ramaekers as Clive Winston, Brooklyn Poulter as Penelope Toop, William McAllister as Lionel Toop (David Henry understudy), Madeline Brannelly as Ida, Andrew Whittaker as Bishop of Lax (Patrick Brannelly understudy), Joseph Smith as Arthur Humphreys, Bruce Blackman as Sgt. Towers, and Tyler Renstrom as The Intruder. All actors did a fine job, though there were slips and glitches in the English accents at times. But I want to highlight two of the performers who absolutely lit up each scene they were in. One is Madeline Brannelly, who played Ida the Maid. She did a fabulous job and I look forward to seeing her in many future productions. The other is Tyler Renstrom, who had one of the smaller parts, but made every movement, every word, every joke as clear and perfect as they should be.

See How They Run is a farce, and as I said, Anquoe’s direction was spot on for this show. However, I was slightly disappointed when The Intruder makes his entrance that the characters who interact with him aren’t more afraid. The Intruder threatens them all with a gun, but I really saw no fear. I’m not sure if this was a directional choice, an actor’s choice, or what. My take on farce is that the people on stage are dead serious (slight pun, sorry) while we audience members basically see their antics as silly. The more serious the actors, the funnier it gets. Having that one more layer of fear when The Intruder appears would have created an interesting tension that would have given the audience even more to laugh at.

 

However, there are hundreds of laughs in this show. I myself just finished a show that was very intense and I was pleased that See How They Run was just plain fun. I was able to sit back, watch and hear all the fun plot twists and hilarious antics, and just enjoy myself.

Grab your friends, your grandma, your kids, and treat yourself to See How They Run. You’ll be glad you did.

See How They Run

Valley Center Playhouse
780 N 200 E
Lindon, Utah

http://valleycenterplayhouse.com/

Jan 25 – Feb 18

Tickets: Adult $7.00, Children/Seniors/Students $5.00, Family pass $25.