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.

Say “Hello” to “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway at the Eccles

By Ashley Ramsey

The Book of Mormon at The Eccles Theater

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little bit nervous as we approached the Eccles. I had heard the music and I heard the rumors but I was about to come face to face with the acclaimed musical, The Book of Mormon. When I told people I was going to the show, I was met with everything from Jack Mormon jokes to actual concern, and of course, the gushing that befalls any musical winning 9 Tonies.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson), two mismatched, yet eager 19-year-olds ready to embark on their LDS Missions. Elder Price, being the all American golden boy, is sure that God will answer his prayers and call him to serve in the most magical place ever, Orlando. When Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are called to serve in Uganda, Elder Price’s perfect mission plans begin to slowly unravel. Combined with a non-baptizing district, a violent warlord, and the poverty and desolation around them, the two elders find themselves discovering things about themselves they never considered before.

Leading this high energy and extremely talented cast, Gibbs and Peirson are perfectly cast in their roles. From the moment Gibbs sets foot on stage with his big cheesy smile and perfectly parted hair, you know who he is. Gibbs does a wonderful job of balancing the humor and cockiness in his role to bring forward a truly lovable character. Peirson’s Cunningham is brilliant. From the comedic timing to his physicality, he has created such a well-rounded and honest character. There is something so familiar about Elder Cunningham. Whether you are him or know him, you can’t help but fall in love with his pure heart and, although misguided, good intentions.

The Book of Mormon at The Eccles TheaterRounding out the trio of powerhouse leads is Nabulungi (Myha’la Herrold), the sweet, innocent, hopeful villager who becomes the first investigator in their village. Herrold has found a unique balance in the youth and strength of her character. The world around her is a terrifying one, yet unlike the older adults around her, she maintains a kind and unjaded heart. As she pours her heart out to the audience in the song “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” you find that amidst the nightmare of her world she still embraces the hope of good in the world.

It is a rare treat to see a male ensemble as strong in dance as this one and Casey Nicholaw’s choreography is a highlight of the show. From the stylized awkwardness that you would expect from 19-year-old boys, to the passion and rhythm of the African numbers, Nicholaw knows the power of movement in telling the story. The tap number in “Turn It Off” really showcases the skill these actors possess. Highlighted in this number is Utah native and familiar face, ensemble member, Jaron Barney. His clean and precise tap is featured as one of the miked feet in this number. Fans of big Broadway dance number fans will find their cup overflowing in this production.

The Book of Mormon at The Eccles Theater

Scott Pask’s scenic designs are beautiful and poignant from the moment you walk in. From the beautiful scenic backgrounds depicting the heavens and Salt Lake City to the poor village of Uganda, Pask captures the essence and the energy of the production. Most striking as you walk in to the theatre is the beautiful templeinspired proscenium, topped with the Angel Moroni. As the scene changes from colorful Salt Lake to the dark, dingy browns of Uganda, the piercing white and stained glass become a glaring juxtaposition. Combined with Brian MacDevitt’s stunning lighting design, and Ann Roth’s incredible costumes, the show is a visually stunning as it is well acted.

Is the show crude? Yes. Is it funny? Also, yes. But is it offensive? That’s where things muddy for me. If it were a movie, it would have a solid “R” rating. Sex, violence, language, it is all there. But it is also filled with so much good. I often found myself reflecting on my own spiritual journey and my time as an LDS missionary. I was reminded of all the “Elder Prices” and “Elder Cunninghams” I served with. It reminded me of the sweet, yet rough-around-the-edge wards I served in. Where the less than traditional moments occurred on regular basis, but their hearts were so good.

I laughed as the often glazed over silly things about religion were brought dead center and a spotlight shone on them. It caused me to reflect on who I am in this world and what choices I am making now in the service of my fellow men. While it is everything I expected from the writers of “South Park”, it was so much more and I am grateful for that. There was also the incredible experience of seeing this show in Salt Lake City. Our incredible city serves as a background for much of the story and not a single jab or inside joke was lost on this audience. Often times, the cast had to wait for the thunderous applause and laughter to die down from a regionally themed joke. (Did you know that Salt Lake City isn’t an actual place?)

The Book of Mormon at The Eccles TheaterThe Book of Mormon is offering the unique opportunity for a glimpse into another’s perspective. For the LDS community, you get a real good look into how we are perceived and why we are a “peculiar people” to most of the world. For those outside of the LDS religion, it is a small glimpse into a mysterious world. Is the play factual? Not entirely, but no one walking away from this show is going to take it as that. In a lot of ways, it is a perfect show, balanced in comedy and drama, absurdity and reality. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? No. But neither is Oklahoma!. For many of the Salt Lake theatre audience, it’s the perfect time to become an investigator of The Book of Mormon.

Broadway at the Eccles presents The Book of Mormon by Matt Stone, Robert Lopez, and Trey Parker

Delta Hall at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater
Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111

August 1st – 20th, 2017, with both matinee and evening performances.
Ticket Price: $35-185
(385) 468-1030

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Sackerson’s “Do You Want to See Me Naked?” is a Unique, Poignant, Beautiful Experience at the Great Salt Lake Fringe

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By Ashley Ramsey

Do You Want to See me Naked is a one-woman show premiering at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival and is the collaboration of actor Golden and writer/director, Morag Shepherd. It begins with: “I am a fat Woman,” proclaims Elizabeth Golden (Self) as she stands amid a half circle of chairs filled by the fifteen members of this intimate audience. Her naturally curly hair falls around her face as she pleads with the audience: “Do you want to see me naked? Because I want to show you.”

The fourth wall is immediately broken as Golden invites you into her world to tell you her story. From growing up in the LDS church, her marriages, and what it is like to live in a body that our current world has deemed “not beautiful enough”, Golden is offering the audience the rare opportunity to step inside someone else’s story and try them on for a little bit. Carefully and simply underscored by the cry of Ysa Pitman’s violin, and the simple set of fabric, a bench, and a mask, Golden’s world comes to life.

Golden is no stranger to the stage in Utah and has built a reputation as a strong, solid, and giving actor. Her performance in this piece is no different. From the moment Golden steps on stage, there is no doubt how much this piece means to her. Her presence is commanding and stern, yet warm and inviting. She easily manages the ebb and flow in the moments of comedy and the moments of heartache in Shepherd’s script. Shepherd’s script is full of beautiful and poetic language and Golden’s performance breathes life into every syllable. The physicality of her performance is carefully woven throughout and she has an incredible grasp on the power of stillness alongside the power of movements like gyrations and thrusting. She uses her body to organically create the emphasis, the emotion in her story. Even in her moments of just standing on stage, she is full of purpose. She is unapologetically unafraid of sharing her story. She has incredible moments of vulnerability and grace. But above all she is real. She is telling you her story, but you will find moments where you sit uncomfortable. Not for her, but for yourself, because it’s your story too. And she is asking you to look at it. Stare at it. To take a breath, and start again.

Salt Lake Fringe is the perfect opportunity to get to know new works and this show is everything that a fringe production should be. It is hard to put into words to justify the experience I had at this show. At one point in the production, Golden tells the audience that she thinks it would be funny if we all left and said her show was terrible. And to be honest there is part of me that wants to. Not because the show is anywhere near terrible, but because I want to buy up every ticket and sit in the production over and over again. Absorbing what Golden is so freely and lovingly giving away. Theatre like this doesn’t happen often. To experience emotion so deeply was freeing. To feel hot tears on my cheeks and I wasn’t even aware that I was crying. I hope you will find yourself here because I promise, you do want to see her naked.

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival  presents Do You Want to See Me Naked by Elizabeth Golden and Morag Shepherd

The Fringe Factory 2234 Highland Dr, Salt Lake City, UT 84106

July 28-August 6 various afternoon and evening times

Tickets: $5 festival entrance fee with tickets ranging from $7-15.

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Advisory: Please note that this show does include adult language, the possibility of nudity, and the acknowledgment that sex exists.

 

 

 

 

A Traditional “Romeo and Juliet” Will Move You at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City

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By Ashley Ramsey

Arguably, William Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo and Juliet, has been told countless times and in countless different ways. From the song and dance of West Side Story to the visually stunning film version by Baz Lurhman, the tale of the two doomed star-crossed lovers has found its way into popular culture in many different forms. Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Romeo and Juliet will give you a new perspective to a classic tale of woe.

Set in Verona, our story begins as the household servants of the Montague’s and Capulet’s discuss their roles in the ancient feud. As the servants exchange insults back and forth, a fight breaks out in the marketplace, which grows to include the heads of each household in the chaos. Escalus, the prince of Verona (Taylor Harris) having had enough of the feud decrees that the next member of either household to start a fight will be put to death. Lady Montague (Susanna Florence) bemoans the events of the day and is grateful that their son Romeo was not there to be amongst the fight. Romeo (Shane Kenyon) had resigned himself to a life of loneliness and depression due to his unrequited love by his heart’s desire, Rosaline. Romeo’s friend, Mercutio (Jeb Burris) suggests the two young, virile lads attend the party where they know Rosaline will be, even if that party is hosted by the family of their enemy, the Capulets. As Romeo and his friends arrive at the party, Rosaline is quickly forgotten as Romeo is smitten with Juliet (Betsey Mugavero.) As the party ends, both Romeo and Juliet devise a plan to be married in secret the next day. Shortly after the wedding, Tybalt (Quinn Mattfeld), cousin to the Capulets, seeks out Romeo for disgracing his family’s house by attending their party. Romeo, in an attempt to calm the anger of his soon-to-be new family member, unintentionally causes Tybalt and Mercutio to duel. As Mercutio is slain by Tybalt and Tybalt slain in revenge by Romeo, the two newlyweds now must navigate the difficult roads of banishment, promises of marriage, and loyalty to family while trying to save their love.

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Romeo and Juliet is performed on the outdoor Englested Shakespeare Stage on the SUU campus. Sets are very minimal and move on and off stage on flats when they are needed. Scenic Designer Scott Davis’ design is simple and clear with the one of my favorites being Friar Lawrence’s cell with so many odds and ends and trinkets. It is a great representation of the slightly odd and mysterious Friar. Bill Black’s traditional Elizabethan costume design is beautiful and lends itself to the tragic beauty of the piece. Dressing the Capulets in shades of red and the Montagues in shades of blue makes it easy to distinguish the two households, especially in the opening fight scene when the characters are newly introduced. Robert Westley’s fight choreography is exciting and well-executed by the actors. The fight between Romeo and Tybalt is so fast-paced and so intense, it took my breath away as it felt so real.

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Romeo and Juliet is a companion production to Shakespeare in Love, and plays in repertory with many of the same performers in their counter-piece roles. Mugavero’s Juliet is sweet and innocent. Her performance weaves together the complexities of a teenager in love, but also a teenager experiencing grief and heartache. Mugavero’s delivery of the language is smooth and she is able to play with timing to deliver some great comedic moments as well. Mugavero’s Juliet and Kenyon’s Romeo share a nice chemistry that showcases young, passionate, new love. They both infuse a youthful excitement into their roles that really does give a different feel to the characters than I have seen in other productions of Romeo and Juliet. The roles can often feel like adults playing children, but not in this production. Keyon also plays incredibly well off of Burris’ Mercutio and the scene in the marketplace with the Nurse (Leslie Brott) is full of teenage boy mischief and well-executed dirty jokes. Burris brings a nice depth to Mercutio that leaves you wanting to know more about him. We know very little about his character and Burris adds additional layers that leave you wondering what pain has his character suffered that shaped him into the sarcastic showmen that we know. Paris (Brandon Burk) is played with a gentle sincerity that is often lacking from the role. Burk also appears to be younger and closer to Juliet’s age than most productions I have encountered. In the final scene when Paris requests to be laid next to Juliet, there is beautiful sincerity in it that left me feeling heartbroken for Paris, as he really did care for Juliet.

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Director J.R. Sullivan gives a nice flow to the show, allowing the audience to feel the strong emotion that this play showcases. Romeo and Juliet is an exploration of grief and the hardening of hearts and this is showcased very well in this production. Sullivan’s casting is near perfection and allows the audience to be fully enthralled in the piece as each actor lives in their character. Sullivan’s blocking fits the space well and he utilizes the audience space as a way to tie them into the action.

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I have seen Romeo and Juliet many times and this production spoke to me on a different level. There is so much death and heartache in this piece, but what struck me this time was the lack of being allowed to grieve for the losses that the characters have been dealt. How often they are asked why they are still mourning when it has been hours, and even sometimes moments, after the loss of a loved one. I always ask myself at the end of this show how it fell apart so terribly for the families. And this time, part of that question was answered in the removal of the necessary mourning one needs when grieving. The pain that these characters go through as they lose their kin in such a violent manner adds some explanation to the extremes that these characters go to. When your heart hurts the way it does in the loss of a dear one, you will do anything to make it stop. And while the attempts are ill-conceived in actually ending that pain, it does give some why to the madness it produces.

This is why we keep coming back to Romeo and Juliet and why we tell it over and over. Somewhere in our minds, we hope that the madness will stop. That someone will tell a parent, that the messenger will actually make it to Romeo, or that Friar Lawrence will arrive just a little bit earlier and head off Romeo at the crypt. That at some point, logic will win in such an illogical chain of events. But it doesn’t. And we sit in the tragic and blood-stained ending with the families, empty and heartbroken. There are so many lessons in this tragic tale, but above all of them, this time I heard the lesson of love. Not romantic love, but love in caring for one another before it is too late.

Romeo and Juliet is recommended for teenagers and older. Full of Shakespeare’s puns and innuendo, along with the violence and death, the production may be too mature for preteens and children. It also carries about a three-hour run time, which could be too long for a younger audience.

Though you’ve probably seen Romeo and Juliet in some form, do not miss Utah Shakespeare’s version of this loving, tragic, cathartic play. You will love it, and learn to love in a new and enlightened way.

Utah Shakespeare Festival presents Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, 200 W College Ave, Cedar City, UT 84720

July 1-September 9 8:00 PM, with no matinee showings

Tickets: $17-68

Please visit www.bard.org for ticket availability, show dates, and times.

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Fall head over heels with Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “Shakespeare in Love”

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By Ashley Ramsey

It’s hard to imagine a world in which William Shakespeare is not the brilliant and crafty wordsmith that the world now adores. But imagine instead a struggling common playwright who currently has writer’s block. This is the Will that we find upon the opening of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s regional premiere of Shakespeare in Love, opening in Cedar City. Based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, it tells the a fanciful story of the muse that would inspire one of the greatest writers the world has ever known.

Set in London in 1593, we find a young William Shakespeare (Quinn Mattfield) composing his latest work, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, for a struggling theatre currently in debt to its producers. Will confides in his friend and fellow playwright, Kit Marlowe (Shane Kenyon), that the inspiration is gone from his life and he has lost the passion to write. Across town, a competing theatre company has staged a production of Will’s Two Gentleman of Verona for Queen Elizabeth. Also in attendance to the show is the beautiful and fiery Viola De Lesseps who loves Will’s works and dreams of being onstage. As auditions move forward for Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, Viola decides to disguise herself as Thomas Kent and auditions for the production. Enamored with Master Kent’s performance, Will and Kit bring notice to the De Lesseps of Master Kent’s casting as Romeo. As they arrive at the home, Will meets the now not cross-dressing Viola and is instantly smitten. With his wingman Kit by his side, he sneaks onto Viola’s balcony and the very familiar scene begins to unfold. As Will’s real life love for Viola begins to inspire his writing, Will discovers Viola’s disguise as Master Kent and their romance continues despite the complication that Viola has been promised to Virginian tobacco farmer, Lord Wessex. Supported by a cast of wonderful friends and enemies, the story of their ill-fated romance takes center stage both in script and reality.

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Utah Shakespeare Festival attracts some of the best talent from all across the nation and this production is no different. It showcases this talent in all aspects of the production. Scenic Designer Scott Davis and Lighting Designer Donna Ruzika create a beautiful environment that simply and stunningly contributes to the world around us. Bill Black’s costume designs are beautiful, highlighting each character’s personality and contribute in building a better understanding of each character’s background. The movement of the actors is showcased in Choreographer Christine Kellogg’s beautiful, historical dances as well as Fight Director Geoffrey Kent’s fanciful, exciting, and even comical fight scenes.

Leading the cast in the roles of William Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps are real-life husband and wife Mattfield and Betsy Mugavero. The chemistry between the two on stage is fierce and palpable. Their delivery and pacing in their lines and actions quickly enfolds you into their world and doesn’t let go until the final bow. It is such a treat to see actors who live in their roles instead of just playing them and Mattfield and Mugavero, along with other members of the cast, showcase this the entire show. Kenyon’s Kit Marlowe is smart, passionate, sexy, and intriguing every time he enters the stage. Kenyon and Mattfield’s onstage friendship has a beautiful depth to it and Kenyon’s Marlowe is incredibly giving to his fellow actors onstage. While Marlowe is the lesser known of the two authors, Kenyon’s performance feels so familiar, for those who are not familiar with Marlowe’s work will no doubt be intrigued now. All three leads are powerhouses that are not to be missed.

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The entire cast makes for a remarkable ensemble with such well-rounded roles and performances that every single one of them was a delight on stage. There is such an ease and comfort among the cast that it invites and draws the audience in. The Nurse (Leslie Brott) brings a intense motherly protection to her role. Brott’s presence onstage could not be ignored and when she has something to say, you listen. Lord Wessex (Geoffrey Kent) is a terrifying villain because he is the villain we all know–that person who will do anything to preserve their needs and power, no matter what hurt is caused along the way. Kent is towering and dignified onstage and vocally so strong and clear. I did not miss a single word from Lord Wessex. Other stand outs include Wabash (John Harrell), the tender and kind tailor turned actor (he made me cry!); the charismatic, fiercely confident, and talented Ned Alleyn (Jeb Burris); and the noble, beautiful and brilliant Queen Elizabeth (Susanna Florence.) Also I would be amiss to not mention the wonderfully quirky Boatman (Redge Palmer), and the scene-stealing moments of Spot played by Titus.

Director Brian Vaughn (also the festival’s artistic director), has created a beautifully flowing piece through clear staging, beats, and pacing. Through his direction, the imaginary world of Romeo and Juliet and the reality of William and Viola flow seamlessly back and forth, blurring the lines of real life and art. Vaughn’s use of music, both live and recorded, helps to set the mood and brought the emotions to a heightened state of existence. Most notable is the wonderful use of the highlight of comedy and the low light of drama. You always knew what you were supposed to be feeling as the rise and falls of the scene were so real and natural. With a cast and production as unified as this is one, it is no doubt that Vaughn’s clear vision, expertise, and creativeness led them to it.

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While much of Shakespeare’s early life is unknown, Shakespeare in Love weaves together fact, speculation, and some wonderfully imagined events. It is a great introduction to the world and language of Shakespeare’s plays as it uses both verse and more modern English language. One of its greatest strengths is it breaks down the often feared wall of Shakespeare plays and places it firmly in a relatable reality and makes the connection to the realism that is sometimes missed in Shakespeare’s works.

Shakespeare in Love is tender, funny, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking. It will leave you asking yourself what limits do we place on our passions? Are rules worth breaking in pursuit of true happiness? Although the world that we live in today is different than the strange traditions of Shakespeare’s world, I don’t think the human spirit has changed much and maybe neither has society. The feelings of lost passions and inspirations are not feelings that are lost on our culture today. As Viola proclaims, “I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all.” Is this not what many (or all of us) search for today? Shakespeare in Love will ask you what or who is your muse. It is my hope that I will also find mine, just as Will found his in Marlowe and Viola, and as many today now find in the Bard himself.

This show has nothing that a tween or teen (or their parents) would find objectionable. But it is a solid two hours.

Utah Shakespeare Festival presents Shakespeare in Love by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall

Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, 200 W College Ave, Cedar City, UT 84720

July 7-September 8 2:30 PM, 8:00 PM

Tickets: $17-68

Please visit www.bard.org for ticket availability, show dates, and times.

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HCTO’S “Big River” Flows with Beautiful Music and Fantastic Acting

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By Ashley Ramsey

 As a child, my father read us bedtimes stories. Never simple little tales, but chapters from the classics. Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows, and of course my favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In a time where classic characters of literature are lost to contemporary superheroes, the Hale Center Theater Orem’s latest production reintroduces some o fliterary history’s greatest adventurers.

Big River is the musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s famous book. The play begins with Huck Finn (Andrew Robertson) lamenting about being  “civilized” by his caretaker Widow Douglas (Cecily Ellis-Bills) and her sister Miss Watson (Hannah Gassaway.) When his drunk Father (Daniel Fenton Anderson) comes back to claim him, Huck is thrilled to be back living in the back woods. Then one night in a drunken stupor, his Father comes after Huck, causing Huck to run away to a nearby uninhabited island where he surprisingly ends up meeting Miss Watson’s runaway slave, Jim (Conlon Bonner.)

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Director Christopher Clark’s vision for the show utilizes every workable space in the theater. The show requires a trip aboard a raft to several locations in which the story plays out, and the blocking gives us clarity to what is happening. This is supported and enhanced by the beautiful set designed by Bobby Swenson and lighting by Cody Swenson.

Oftentimes, Big River is is produced as larger cast musical, but this production includes a smaller cast tackling several roles (Bryan Matthew Hague and Spencer Thomas Carter tackle six roles!) as well as the live music. Clark’s guidance is evident in making sure that these characters remained grounded as they move the story along.

 Andrew Robertson’s Huck Finn and Conlon Bonner’s Jim are highlights of the show. While the two of them have strong and developed characters individually, it is when the two of them are onstage together that the energy and talent blows through the roof. The musical number “Muddy Water” was a favorite as the adventure really took off and the raft ride began. As well as “River in the Rain,” which showcased beautifully the blending of the two actors’ voices. The scene itself contained a rawness to it that almost made the audience feel as voyeurs peering in on very private moment.

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 Another favorite of the evening was the character of Tom Sawyer, skillfully executed by Jason Sullivan. His boyish charm and charismatic excitement pull you in every time he comes on stage. Daniel Fenton Anderson’s “Pap” rendition of “Guv’ment” is one of the best of the evening, dripping with characterization from entrance to exit. Also, keep your eyes out for a very funny pregnant tart courtesy of baby Wyatt Bills making his stage debut with his mom, Cecily Ellis Bills. There is something positive and outstanding to say about every member of this cast. Bravo.

One of the unique aspects of this production–and it is the first time I have seen it at HCTO–is live music! Oh, what a treat! Under the guidance and leadership of Justin Bills, the live music added so much to the overall production. The energy that comes from a live band (and a band made up by cast members no less) is thrilling. I really hope this is trend that will continue for the Hale.

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Big River is a treat and a must see. It is a perfect blend of fun and asking you the right questions. As Huck learns about and questions the world around him, it will challenge you to think, too. In a world where we are so quick to dismiss the value of another person because they are different than us, Big River challenges us to think how different the world would be if we replaced that dismissal with love and understanding. A message truly needed in our world where too often, lines are being drawn. Mark Twain’s adventurous tale on the Mississippi is a reminder that though we may be different, trying to see the world through one another’s eyes will bring two worlds closer in finding a place to stand together.

Big River

Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 West 400 North, Orem

Feb. 20 – April 12 7:30 PM, Sat matinee 3 PM

Weeknights – $19 “A seats”         $16 “B seats”

Weekends –   $21 “A seats”         $18 “B seats”

Children (ages 4-11) – $5 less for “A seats” and $4 less for “B seats”

*Price includes processing fee

Purchase tickets 3 ways:

1) Online by clicking the button below

2) By phone by calling 801.226.8600

3) In person by stopping by the theater at 225 West 400 North in Orem

 

Utah Valley University’s production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is truly “Epic”

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By Ashley Ramsey

 UVU’s latest production, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a brave and innovative production. One of L. Bertolt Brecht’s most famous plays, it is a retelling of a Chinese play called The Circle of Chalk, but is also very similar to the story of King Solomon found in the Bible. The play follows the story of young kitchen maid named Grusha (Devin Neff) who when her hometown erupts into war is faced with the decision of fleeing with the young baby prince, Michael, who has been left behind by his mother, or leaving the child behind to the soldiers who seek to take his life.  She has recently been engaged to a young solider, Simon (Brian Kocherhans) who has now left with the armies to fight in battle. We watch as Grusha and Michael fight to survive while meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way.

Playwright Brecht produced theatre with a concept called “Epic Theatre”. “Theatre consists in this: in making live representations of reported or invented happenings between human beings and in doing so with a view to entertainment. The artists’ object is to appear strange and even surprising to the audience. He achieves this by looking strangely and himself and at his work”. Brecht wants you to be aware that you are watching a play. He didn’t want viewers to be swept away in emotions. If you watch from a distance, you can more easily analyze the situation in front of you. It is theatre with a message.

 Director Laurie Harrop-Purser does a wonderful job in creating the world in which this production takes place. Purser has used many different tactics to make this show come to life. Music, multi-media, and innovative staging beautifully blend. One of the strongest elements of this show is the ensemble’s performance, which can only come from a strong director at the helm.

Each member of the ensemble in this play takes on at least 3-4 roles. The cast has done an amazing job of building entertaining and engaging characters. Jon Liddiard who plays the role of Azdak, delivers a performance that does not quit from the moment he enters to the curtain call.  His energy and commitment to his character is a highlight of the show. Other stand out performances are Devin Neff as Grusha and Maddy Forsythe as Singer/Governor’s wife. Both do a superb job in carrying much of the show. Brian Kocherhans as Simon/Sergeant is perfectly balanced in his delivery of two very different characters.

 Costume Designer Natasha Hoffman and scenic designer Jason Sullivan have truly created works of art in their prospective designs. The costumes and set were as much a character as the actors on stage. Their designs are some of the best I have seen in awhile.

 Caucasian Chalk Circle is a fantastic theatre-going experience and there are very few that come along like it. Is weird? Yes. Are there moments that will completely pull you out of the show? Yes.  Is that what it is designed to do? Absolutely yes. I walked out of the theatre wanting to turn right back around and make the actors do it again for me. The level of commitment and talent that it takes to put on a show of this caliber is high.  It may not be your favorite show ever, but it you will not walk out of the theatre the same as you walked in. The cast and crew will ask you to make a choice. It truly is theatre with a message and it is one worth hearing and experiencing.

 Caucasian Chalk Circle

The performances will be January 23rd – January 25th, and January 27th – February 1st at 7:30 PM. There will be matinee showings on January 29th and February 1st at 2:00 PM

$8.00 Students, $12.00 Adults

Tickets can be purchased at the UVU Noorda Box Office, or online here: http://goo.gl/FH1yLb

UVU’s “Dialogues” Will Speak to You Poignantly

dialogues 1By MH Thomas

As I walked in to view Utah Valley University’s Dialogues, the first thing I noticed is the subdued, grey makeup of the characters on stage at the amphitheater in the quad at UVU. Kudos to Lauren Wagstaff and her assistant, Clarissa Knotts, for their thoughtful makeup and hair design. The makeup was skillfully applied by the makeup crew, supervised by Ann Thomas. As the show proceeds, you see that the makeup must be understood on more than one level. “God dances in the grey” is an interesting line from the show. The costumes, designed by Carolyn Urban, carry on in the grey theme—with some interesting things happening as the show proceeds.

Dialogues was written by Ashley Ramsey, who directed the show, and Amber Cummings and was based on the dialogues of Plato. They put together many emotionally charged monologues and vignettes to set the audience to thinking. What is a martyr? Are the causes of the characters worthy? Do we feel admiration, confusion, sympathy? This piece is really what each audience member chooses to make of it in their own minds.

Crito (Clarissa Knotts) narrated the activity on stage. Her costumes were a contrast to the rest of the cast. Overall she did a good job, but sometimes her voice got lost in the outdoor venue. She interacted with each character and helped put cohesion into the piece.

Wiilliam Kalmar showed a strong stage presence in his portrayal of Socrates. It would help to have some knowledge of Socrates—but the character was well played. There is a page available that explains a little about each character. I would advise looking at this before the show begins. I felt the information about Socrates was a little sparse.

Anne Frank (Briana Lindsey) is a beloved character from my youth. The dream scene where Anne imagined a touching relationship with a young man (Lucas Stewart) is well done. It brought back to my mind reading about young Anne Frank’s dreams and imaginings while she was in hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

I really liked hearing some of the words of Malcolm X. Christian Tyler did an admirable job of delivering the speeches of the human rights leader and in making us feel his humanity and passion for his causes. He made me want to know more about the man he portrayed.

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Joan of Arc was a woman of strength and was played with strength by Amanda Wilson. Her voice carried and was clear and audible to the entire amphitheater. She expressed her passion without overacting. A very well done performance. She and Lucas Stewart did some singing which added a nice touch to the show.

Lucas Stewart played Joseph Smith, Jr. and did double duty as a young Dutchman in Anne Frank’s imagination. He portrayed the Mormon leader with reserve and yet with fortitude and resolve as well. He gave the impression of a man true to his beliefs and calm in the face of his detractors.

I was not very familiar with the character of Roza Robota, but I had a vague recollection of having heard her name before. Kaela Hernandez portrayed the character and gave us a feeling for her strength and her vulnerability. She got across to the audience how Roza displayed her courage in the face of fear. She did not want to die. Still, she did what needed to be done. That came across very clearly in her performance.

Bobby Sands was a young Irish nationalist. Javi Ybarra did an excellent job of capturing his strength and his Irish swagger. I especially enjoyed when the other characters exhorted him to sing an Irish drinking song. He proceeded to deliver the song (about himself) in a really pleasing and very natural way. I felt we could have been in a pub in Belfast.

The set was simple, as would be expected for an outdoor show, and very effective. It kept the focus on the characters on the stage. The sound added to the atmosphere of the show without being distracting.

The show runs just an hour. In that hour the writer, directors, cast and crew do so much to help the audience stop and think. As the show ends, it is not really a conclusion but the beginning of thinking about, and perhaps researching, the stories of these characters portrayed on the stage.

Dialogues

UVU Courtyard

September 12-14 & 16 5 PM, 2 PM matinee Sept 14

$5.00 general admission. $3.00 students

“Deseret – The Musical” –Just Like the Early Saints is a work of Heart

deseret the musical

By Ashley Ramsey

             Deseret – The Musical is the latest and newest musical to hit the stage at Provo’s Covey Center for the Arts. Playwright Carl Bell brings to life the stories of frontier families after settling in the Salt Lake Valley. Bell by profession practiced Family Medicine with obstetrics and is a father of ten who only “dabbled in playwriting”, but now semi-retired hopes to devote more time to his passion.

             Deseret’s main story follows Allyson (Summerisa Bell Stevens), a young lady of 20 who is almost engaged to the town catch, Jacob (Spencer Stevens). Allyson and Jacob, who have grown up in the small town together decide to announce their proper engagement at the town social. That same day the train comes bringing old friends, the Adams Family, back to town. Handsome and brooding, Daniel Adams (James Bounous) quickly attracts the attention of the young ladies of the town, while Daniel only has eyes for Allyson. Allyson is then faced with the decision of whether her heart lies in the safety and comfort she has always known or in the far off and exciting places Daniel promises. This dual romance is buoyed by many other small storylines which provide us with knock out performances by supporting characters Niner (Peter Layland) and Hilda (Shandra Harper).

deseret the musical1

             The talent in this cast blows the roof off the theatre.  Summerisa’s Allyson is charming and believable. She does a superb job at handling the chemistry with both of her love interests, creating a real tension as to who she will pick. Both Spencer and James do a lovely job in creating two exciting and lovable characters that any girl would be lucky to have. Also the exceptional vocal quality of these three deserves special recognition. Rex Kocherhan’s interpretation of Papa was beautiful to watch as he figured out dealing with two young adult daughters on the frontier. His beautiful and powerful voice was a highlight of the show. You will also get to see a fantastic children’s ensembles. I challenge you to not want to adopt little John Perkey by the end of the show. Crowd favorites, Hilda and Niner were absolute knockouts due to Peter and Shandra’s hard work and dedication to their characters. Every time they came on stage, they raised the excitement and energy and brought the crowd back into the story. Fingers crossed for a Hilda and Niner sequel.

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             La Beene’s costume design lends wonderfully to the overall feel of the production. The natural colors with splashes of brightness tied in wonderfully with the set and Michael Gray’s lighting design. There are many fun dance numbers in which the prairie skirts fill the stage with a kaleidoscope of color.

             Deseret does struggle in a few areas. There were some sound issues that made it hard to hear and the music track was oftentimes far too loud to hear the singing. While Daniel Whiting’s set design is absolutely beautiful, the show involves many elaborate set changes involving large set pieces which are mostly done during blackouts. They tended to be long and extremely noisy. Director Kymberly Mellen helped relieved the wait on some of the blackouts with keeping conversations going or silhouetted movements. The biggest struggle the show faces is the script itself. It is quite long (nearly 3 hours) and there are oftentimes so many storylines happening it is easy to get lost. Throughout the show, there were so many high stake things happening, I wasn’t sure which one I was supposed to be emotionally investing in. The writing at times was also a little bit cheesy and predictable.

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 Overall, Kymberly and her cast have done a great job with this production. It is very rare that show comes along you can take the whole family to. So load up the handcart (or mini-van) and head down to a great evening of uplifting and fun entertainment.  

Deseret – The Musical

Covey Center for the Arts

425 West Center St., Provo, UT 84601     801.852.7007

7:30 p.m.; $15, $22
September 5-7, 9, 12- 14, 16, 19-21
2:00 p.m. matinee September 14th and 21st

Why I Love “I Love You Because”

A Utah Theater Review by David Henry

Utah Repertory Theater Company presents I Love You Because, with music by Joshua Salzman, book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham, orchestration by Larry Hochman, and directed by Ashley Ramsey at the Historic Murray Theater. I have to admit that I was skeptical of a Pride and Prejudice adaptation. There are a lot of inherent risks in taking such a classic story and making it modern, not to mention making it into a musical as well. I was very pleasantly surprised to sit down at this show and be thoroughly entertained by the story line, the music and the excellent production in general.

I Love You Because is the story of Austin Bennet and Marci Fitzwilliams, who are initially drawn to each other specifically because they are horrible for each other, since neither of them is actually interested in a real relationship. They are prodded on by their brother and friend, Jeff Bennet and Diana Bingley, respectively, who also follow a similar romantic story line. As their relationships progress, they find themselves developing deeper feelings for these people who are totally wrong for them. All the characters are forced to examine what it is they truly see in their partners, and if they can love them in spite of their differences, or even better, because of them. Continue reading