The SCERA’s “Hairspray” Shows Comedy’s Power to Enrich an Audience

hairspray sceraBy Jason Evans

 SCERA’s current production of Hairspray proves once again that comedy has great power to enrich an audience when approached from a serious position, leaving us feeling like our lives are made better by experiencing it. But the rich comedy can still entertain and we find us leaving the theater filled with sheer joy.

As director Jan Shelton Hunsaker states in her director’s notes: back in 1962, when Hairspray takes place, America was in the midst of a great civil rights struggle. Today, we are fighting an even greater one.

Our country is often on opposite sides on how to deal with important issues: Muslims, immigration, the LGBTQ community, modern society’s views of beauty, obesity, and the list goes on and on. It seems that in every way, this country is polarizing and people are becoming more distant from one another. Hairspray celebrates love, life, family, community, and through the heroic and optimistic eyes of the shows heroine, Tracy Turnblad (Chelsea Lindsay), we see that we are all alike, and that diversity, acceptance, tolerance are traits that should be admired and encouraged, not ridiculed and discouraged.

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Thank goodness for excellent productions like the SCERA gives our community. An audience is much more receptive to soul-searching and looking at itself when presented through the rose-colored glasses of musical comedy. All great musical comedies throughout the history of theater have done this, and Hairspray is no exception.

Jan Shelton Hunsaker and her brother Brad’s scenic design captured the heart of the 60s with great musical theater style but simple in its presentation. Deborah Bowman’s wonderful costumes were bright, colorful, and a feast for the eyes as well as a great way to distinguish between characters. This is especially helpful because the Shell’s stage is large. Bowman is a master at this and her designs never disappoint. Elizabeth Griffith’s lighting was the most elaborate I’ve ever seen on the Shell stage; it helped to convey the energy and excitement of this show.

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First and foremost, the ensemble work in this show was great. The energy was there and I know will continue to expand and increase in energy each night of the run. The energy of the ensemble was infectious.

Lindsay’s Tracy Turnblad was unique and was the first time I had seen an actress play this role with equal optimism but also realistic expectations.. From the opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” I was hooked and rooting for her the entire evening. Her infectious laugh was endearing and I just wanted to be up on stage with her taking the journey with her.

Hairspray at the SCERA

Michael Thomas as Seaweed Stubbs and Tearza Leigh Foyston as Penny Pingleton in the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre’s production of “Hairspray.”

Tearza Foyston’s Penny Pingleton was the surprise of the evening. Unlike other performances I’ve seen, Foyston was bright, funny, endearing. She and Tracy were a force to be reckoned with. Her journey from innocence to allowing herself to have fun and take more risks was believable and a joy to watch.

What can I say about Andrew Lloyd Hunsaker and his incredible, hilarious, moving portrayal of Tracy’s mother, Edna? Hunsaker is an actor I’ve admired and loved for a very long time. He embodies each of his roles with professionalism and a love for each character he portrays, and Edna is no exception. He took command of the stage every time he was on and I fell in love with the relationship between Edna and Tracy from the start. Hunsaker played this role as it should be, a complex and beautiful wife and mother who would do anything for her family. There were many times throughout the evening I forgot Hunsaker was playing the role, I only saw Edna.

SCERA's Hairspray 2017

Andrew Hunsaker as Edna Turnblad and Chelsea Lindsay as Tracy Turnblad in the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre’s production of “Hairspray.”

The male leads, Dennis Wright (Wilbur Turnblad), Jaxon Dayton (Link Larkin), Kristian Huff (Corny Collins), and Michael Thomas (Seaweed J. Stubbs) were all fun to watch and each portrayed their characters with integrity and honesty. Our villains, Leslie Preator-Keckley (Velma Von Tussle) and Sasha Sloan (Amber Von Tussle) were hilarious and fun and I loved the fact they didn’t portray them as cardboard villains. In this production of Hairspray, they are human, a product of their time, and in the end, join the community, so there is some hope for them.

Last but not least, the incredible Luseane Pasa as Motormouth Maybelle is a shining star. This is my favorite character in the show and Pasa brought such integrity and compassion to the role. She is the one that brings the message of the show to the audience, the great 11 o’clock number, “I Know Where I’ve Been.” A final compliment to Daisy Allred as Little Inez; what a wonderful character and her energy was infectious the entire evening.

Finally, Tiffany Winkel Nutter did such a wonderful job with the music and her choreography was unique and added so much to the production. There was dance in portions of the show that I have never seen dance in before, and it added so much to those scenes and to the portrayal of the story. It’s a big job to handle such a large ensemble, and she did it with professionalism and great style. Welcome back to Utah, Ms. Nutter. Utah Theater has missed you.

The SCERA has produced a great piece of musical theater and this is a show not to be missed. If you’ve never seen it before, get yourself down to Orem and experience what is Hairspray. If you’ve seen the movie, or have seen another live production, still attend this one. There is enough that’s fresh and new that you will love this show even more.

Note: If you’ve never been to the SCERA shell theater—it’s outdoors. Take a blanket or camp chair to sit on, a jacket (it gets chilly once the sun goes down), and maybe some bug spray.

The show plays Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 PM at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in SCERA Park in Orem, Utah. 699 S State St. Gates open at 7:00PM with the box office opening at 6:30PM on the north side of the Shell. You can also purchase tickets online at www.scera.org, in person at the SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S State St in Orem, Utah; Monday-Friday (10:00  AM-8:00PM), Saturday (Noon-8:00 PM) or call 801-225-ARTS.

Crazy About The SCERA’S Crazy for You

cfy1By Joel Applegate

The Summer of 2015 provided the perfect night for opening a delightful musical under a blue, blue moon. SCERA Shell’s outdoor production of Crazy For You, directed by Jerry Elison, is a pastiche of Gershwin favorites specifically chosen to make a plot work. But who cares about a plot when you’ve got nineteen back-to-back Gershwin favorites to listen to and a platoon of chorus girls?

Think Gershwin, and you probably think New York – or the hoi-polloi of Eastern literati. On the SCERA’s big stage, Nat Reed’s set evokes classic New York sophistication; a stroll down Broadway and 42nd Street. We find ourselves in a story that takes place during the 1930’s, one of the most fertile eras of American Theatre – led by the glorious Gershwin’s.

But wait! We’re not in New York. We’re in – Nevada? Crazy for You is Ken Ludwig’s clever brainchild incorporating classic 1930’s Gershwin standards into the Tony Award winning Best Musical of 1992. Ludwig wrote the book, and the script is very witty with way more of a plot here than you might expect. Sure, it’s a little corny; Boy meets girl; girl hates boy; boy disguises himself; girl falls in love with disguise – oh, never mind.

Bobby just wants to dance, preferably in New York. But his fate and his bank inheritance depend upon the mortgage of the old Gaiety Theatre out West in Deadrock, Nevada (no such place; I already looked.) You see, Bobby’s mommy, who owns the bank, wants to foreclose on the theatre, and she wants Bobby to man up and be the villain.

So we’re off on a cross-country road trip of song and dance! Things turn out differently for Bobby when he gets to Deadrock. First, he falls in love with Polly at first sight, and decides if he can’t dance his heart out in New York, he’ll make do with an old run-down theatre: The Gaiety – now converted into a post office. But Polly and her Dad won’t let the old palace go without a fight. They fight back with – what else? – song and dance! In the best tradition of Hollywood cheese, Polly and the now disguised Bobby decide the best way to save the theatre is to “put on a show!” with a tip-o-the-hat to Mickey Rooney.

There’s plenty of Cowboys on hand – and Follies Girls to talk them into auditioning – and it’s all hands on deck. The denizens of the town of Deadrock are a spectacle in front of a set doing double-duty rotating from drab New York to the colorful landscape of the West – the best achievement of Reed’s design. The set changes are integrated into the action, and I’ll refrain here from giving away the visual surprises.

Director Jerry Elison and the production crew pay tribute to the spirit of Golden Age Broadway in so many ways, with the staging, the costumes, the dancing and the pacing. A taxi pulls on stage and before you know it, 19 – count’em! – 19 chorus girls burst out of it singing and high stepping. There’s hardly a dull moment in two and a half hours.

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Deborah Bowman’s costumes exhibit a pleasing variety of style and interest. The chorus line is cleverly and cutely outfitted, a delightfully designed mash-up of old Burlesque, slyly accented with nods to the western plaid.

There are some HUGE numbers in Crazy For You to choreograph, and SCERA clearly made a wonderful choice with choreographer, Sam Alva. This is a highly energetic cast and crew – THIRTY tap dancers all dancing in sync is a massive accomplishment. It might not seem so on paper, but to watch it happening is like watching a giant engine of many gears working perfectly. It’s rather amazing and you won’t be able to look away. This took a LOT of good old fashioned work to accomplish, deserving of hearty applause. “Slap That Bass” was among my favorites of the night.

Meanwhile, back on the buckboards with Bobby and Polly, their romance is inevitable, no matter how much they annoy each other. As Bobby, Christopher Gallacher has obvious chops as a trained dancer. He’s a great tapper and his jete ain’t too shabby neither – for a city slicker. Gallacher’s voice is clear and good – we don’t miss a single word. T’Naiha Ellis brings our Polly to life with a confident belt when she’s showing who’s the boss. There’s a beautiful clarity to her voice in “Someone To Watch Over Me.” A pas-de-deux with some sweet moves brings Polly and Bobby together: the dance number that starts the romance.

Our two protagonists, Michael DuBois as Bella Zangler in New York and Tyler Scott Mitchell as Lank in Deadrock, are both won over by the end. (It IS a musical, folks.) Lank’s clumsy attempts to win Polly’s hand (and take over her theatre!) lack finesse, but not humor. Dubois has a truly fine voice, and he commiserates with Bobby in a number that is an act in itself, combining some tricky business in a well-blended, over-the-top, and drunken duet.

Julia Sanchez plays the jilted and clingy Irene. Once freed of her engagement, Sanchez has a chance to show her true colors; a beautiful smooth tone on “Naughty Baby.” She might have dared to insinuate even more.

The Cowboy Trio composed of Neil Ellsworth, Max Sneary and Andrew Walsh, lives up the harmonies the Gershwins crafted. It’s great music to listen to – sure wish we could have heard them more.

As A Chorus Line so famously reminds us, the core of any musical is the company. Crazy For You’s chorus filled the entire stage with well-coordinated action. You can bet a lot of hours went in to their performances. Some of the troop stood out, not least of whom was Jasmine Petrell as Tess, assistant to the impresario Mr. Zangler. She was out front on most big numbers and took the lead with confidence and a smile as big as the West.

You simply can’t lose with the Gershwins. Together, George and Ira wrote American tunes that are among the most beloved – and hummable – in the lexicon.

Crazy For You
Scera Shell Outdoor Theatre – 699 S. State St., Orem, Utah (East of the Scera Pools)
~ July 31 – Aug 15, 2015; Mon, Thur, Fri, Sat at 8:00 PM ~
General Admission: Adults: $12 Children & Seniors $10 [Children: Ages 3 – 11]
Reserved Seating, Section B: Adults: $14 Children & Seniors $12 [Seniors: 65+]
Reserved Seating, Section A: Adults: $16 Children & Seniors $14
www.scera.org Phone 801-225-ARTS (2787)

Note: Crazy For You is two and a half hours long. You may want a light jacket or blanket by the end of the night. You can rent a seat for a dollar in certain areas of the amphitheater, and there’s lots of room on the grass. On Opening Night there were plenty of empty seats up front, and it’s worth the little extra you pay to be close. There’s a lot to see here and it’s more rewarding to watch the principal roles interact with each other. You will definitely enjoy the show more.

 

The SCERA’s Addams Family is Fun for your whole Family

af2By MH Thomas

The Addams Family: A NEW MUSICAL COMEDY  (a Utah Valley premiere) is a creepy, kooky way to usher in the Halloween season. Director Shawn M. Mortensen had fun with his spooky subject. It is evident throughout the production that he paid attention to detail in every way so those of us who grew up watching The Addams Family on television would be pleased. For me, this show is kind of a walk down memory lane. They are all there: from Morticia and Gomez and the children to Lurch, Fester and Grandmama. Cousin It and Thing even make brief appearances. The plot of this new musical comedy introduces us to some new characters that make the fun times really begin.

Yes, there is the expected finger snapping as the curtain goes up. Lurch (played by David Henry) presents a very imposing figure with fog swirling around him in the moonlight. He is standing in the graveyard with the members of the Addams Family.

It seems that there is something going on in the family and daughter Wednesday (Morgan Flandro) speaks to her father about her romance with a young man who is not like them, Lucas played by Brandon Haden. Gomez (Jack Stokes) does not know what to do. He is pulled between keeping his daughter’s confidence and wanting to confide the secret to his wife. Pugsley (Mitch Bandley) does not like the thought of losing his sister to this stranger. Their father Gomez is not the only who is confused. Wednesday is discovering things and feelings that are foreign to the way that she grew up. As Wednesday sings about her feelings, you can’t help but admire her strong voice and impressive facial expressions. Lucas and his parents are invited to spend the evening in the Addams’ Mansion. Alice (Delaybe Bluth Dayton) and Mal (Spencer Powell) Beineke are not altogether certain they want to go through with dinner with the Addams Family. Mal blusters and Alice recites silly little off the cuff poems. Dayton‘s Alice is convincingly ditzy. Fester (Patrick Brannelly) is a character who is all about love. He enlists the help of the ancestors to assist the young couple as they come to terms with each other and try to win over the support of their respective families. Fester is played with a light-hearted innocence and a sense of fun.

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Shelly Stewart Truax does a fine job of portraying Morticia. We found her performance to be the creepiest of the evening. She also displays a sense of her own awareness of her place as the undeniably desirable (at least in the minds of she and her husband) queen of the family. All kinds of hilarity ensues as the dinner party progresses. We learn of secret loves and secrets kept. The young couple struggles to understand each other. The families have a hard time accepting all that is going on around them. The ancestors do their best to keep the lovers on track. Will the families accept this unorthodox union?

Grandma (Brandi Washburn) is a delightful and funny part of the musical. Her sense of timing and her movement are quirky and charming—in a spooky way. We enjoyed her interactions Pugsley. Through the show, Lurch (David Henry) mutters and grunts incoherently. As the show is coming to an end, we discover that he actually has a lovely voice and that he can sing real, understandable words.

The ensemble is made up of Addams ancestors from various times in the past. They are an integral part of this performance. Their singing is spot on and truly impressive. Their costumes and makeup are excellent and their singing and dancing very enjoyable.

Congratulations to music director, Kellsey Mariner Thacker for an excellent job. The costumes (Deborah Bowman) and hair and makeup (Danielle Berry) are exceptional. We cannot forget the choreographer, Shawn M. Mortensen, who brought creepily fun movement to the production. The technical director, Nat Reed, also does a great job with all the special effects. The set by M’Liss Tollman is stunning.

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One thing we found confusing was the use of Gomez’s Spanish accent. Sometimes it was there and sometimes it was not. We wondered if this was a deliberate choice, but we did not see a clear pattern.

Our assessment of this production can be expressed in two words: Girl Power! Although we enjoyed all the performances, we felt that the women were stronger in their acting and singing. Way to go, ladies. You are very talented.

There were many children in attendance and for the most part, this is a family show, with a few suggestive comments. If you like fun, creepy Halloween plays, go the the SCERA. You won’t be disappointed.

September 12 – October 4
Times: Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays. Show starts @ 7:30 PM Doors open @ 7:00 PM

AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETATION: The show will be interpreted in American Sign Language on Thursday, September 18th. If you know someone who might need this service, please help us spread the word. Seating for this show is reserved, so please let us know you will be attending and how many are in your group at least 24 hours in advance by sending an email to april@scera.org.

Prices: ALL SEATS RESERVED To purchase tickets, call (801) 225-ARTS or click the BUY TICKETS button at the bottom of this page. If seating is available, you may also purchase tickets at the door 30 minutes prior to each show. $12 Adult $10 Child (age 3-11) $10 Senior (age 65+) Location: SCERA Center: Showhouse II 745 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

Les Misérables at the SCERA Should Have No “Empty Chairs”

By Larisa Hicken

les-miserables-05The SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, Utah has a hit on their hands.  To celebrate the SCERA’s 30th year, they are showing Utah Valley’s Premiere of the beloved musical Les Misérables, by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.

Les Misérables is an epic musical adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo which takes place on the brink of revolution in 19th century France.  The plot follows Jean Valjean as he is released after being in prison for 19 years.  Through a generous act of mercy, he is changed forever and vows to do as God would want him to do, even if that means breaking his parole.  His commitment leads him to save a young girl names Cosette and raise her as his own – all while running from the ruthless Javert who is determined to see Jean Valjean punished for being a wicked man.

les-miserables-02Director Jeremy Showgren does an excellent job of exploring the deep themes of Les Misérables  – sacrificing for that which we love and giving mercy versus demanding justice.  Showgren is obviously a talented director with the potential to be one of Utah’s best.

Showgren was also the Music Director and the tremendous vocal performances of the actors are a tribute to his abilities.  There were a few times that I felt like the theatrical aspects of the show were sacrificed for the vocal quality, but the sound was so spectacular that I didn’t really mind.

There were also a few times during the night where I felt like the storyline was a little unclear, due to distractions on the stage, so if you are unfamiliar with Les Misérables, you may want to read through a summary before you come.

les-miserables-04Matthew Krantz gave a rich heart-felt performance as Jean Valjean.  I liked his unique characterization and genuine expressions and his voice is magnificent.  “Bring Him Home” was a highlight of the night.  My only critique of his acting would be that he didn’t seem to age physically.  Even at the end of the night he had a little bounce in his step that didn’t seem to fit an older man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Jeffrey Smith created a very believable and interesting Inspector Javert and gave a solid musical performance.  His final “Soliloquy” was phenomenal.

les-miserables-06The leading women were every bit as talented as the leading men.  Kelsey Mariner Thacker is a power house as Fantine and her gut-wrenching “I Dreamed a Dream” was something I won’t soon forget.  It was refreshing to see Cosette played by a truly powerful Soprano, Morgan Flandro and Kira Knorr, playing Eponine, gave an endearing performance of “On My Own”.  Allison Books, playing Madame Thenardier, also gave a polished performance.

I enjoyed BJ Oldroyd’s portrayal of Thenardier, but I would like to have seen his relationship with Madame Thendardier taken a little deeper.  These characters seemed a little flatter than the others in the show and I felt like there were some missed opportunities for comic relief between these two, particularly in “Master of the House.”

During “Dog Eats Dog” in the sewers, Thenardier snaps the neck of a fallen soldier which I felt was a little over-the-top.  Showgren made a clear effort to keep the show family-friendly during the rest of the show, so I was a little confused as to why that graphic moment was included.

The stand-out performer of the night was Bryan Thacker as the young revolutionary leader, Enjolras.  He has the stage presence and power to dominate a scene and I was ready to stand up and join his group as he sang “The People’s Song.”

les-miserables-03Christian Jones gave an earnest performance as Marius Pontmercy and there were a lot of tears during his moving solo, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.”  His character relationship with Morgan Flandro as Cosette seemed natural and genuine.

The cast of Les Misérables is made up of some of the best talent in Utah valley.  Every soloist was incredible and the ensemble brought the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation in the closing “Do You Hear The People Sing?”

les-miserables-01I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the outstanding hair and make-up designed by Samantha Dunford and the costumes by Kelsey Seaver, Deborah Bowman, and Danielle Berry.  The visual aspects of the show were some of the best I’ve ever seen at the SCERA.

Les Misérables is a show that the SCERA and all of Utah can be proud of.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see this terrific show performed by a uniquely talented cast.

LOCATION:
SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

DATES: July 3-19 @ 8:00 PM
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

ADMISSION: $10-16
Tickets available online at scera.org.

SCERA’s Cinderella is Magical and Delightful

cinderella

By Jennifer Mustoe

I admit, I’ve always been kind of a Cinderella fangirl. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t start out a princess and instead is treated unfairly by the world’s meanest stepmother and stepsisters ever, dresses in rags and is befriended by animals. I am not going to share the story here. If you don’t know Cinderella by now, watch Disney and you’ll pick it up quick.

Chase Ramsey, the SCERA’s director for this production has done a fabulous job of keeping the show moving and this is important because there were a lot of kids who came to this show. I even saw a few with tiaras (and was sorry I hadn’t worn mine, if you want to know the truth.) The evidence of older children (and older than children types) was apparent when Cinderella and the prince kiss. Oops! Was that a spoiler? I hope not. But yes they do kiss (and way to go Cinderella in this scene!) and the crowd cheered and ooohed and I admit, it was pretty darling.

And that is really the best word I can come up with for this show: darling. The show starts with an introduction by the Fairy Godmother played by Lauren Wade. My image of Fairy Godmother is someone kind of pudgy and old. Ms. Wade is neither and she is awesome. She has a great set of pipes and throws some comedy into her role. Nice work.

Cinderella, played spunkily by Jaymie Lambson, was perfect. When she was the drudge stepdaughter, she complained (while singing) without whining, but this girl has some grit. Once she is in her ballgown, there was a collective sigh from the audience. We all couldn’t wait to see her sparkle.

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The stepmother was one of my favorite characters. Kathryn Little has this throaty voice and such a way with her body language. I delighted in hating her. Her two horrible daughters are just as hate-inducing. The two wonderful brats are played by McKelle Shaw and Alana Jeffrey. I admit, I’d love to see a show with just these three as the main characters. I mean, if they can have a movie about Malificent, can’t they have a wicked stepmother and her horrible daughters show, too? The harmonies of these women’s songs were spot on. Cinderella joins these three for “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight” and “A Lovely Night,” and these were my favorite numbers in the show. Seeing Cinderella finally accepted by her stepsisters and then completely thrust away again by the stepmother was painfully poignant and fabulous.

Billy Hagee’s Lionel was wonderful. I’ve seen Hagee in other productions and he is always great to watch–good timing, great voice, spot on acting. I actually would have preferred to see him as the prince, simply because he seemed a little older and therefore more mature. However, Parker Harmon’s Prince Christopher was very good. He has a nice voice and was definitely someone Cinderella could easily fall for.

The set by Shawn Mortensen was lovely, as all sets are at the SCERA. I haven’t seen a show there that doesn’t dazzle. The pumpkin carriage was adorable. Lighting by Michael Gray was quite good, though the spot didn’t always cover the people it was supposed to be lighting. Deborah Bowman’s costumes were delicious. Very royal and wonderful.

Director Ramsey also did most of the choreography and it was good–biggish cast and more women than men, as is the case with most summer musicals. He made good choices in that there was nothing too difficult. If there’s one thing I really don’t like, it’s a dance number where only some of the people get the moves right. This didn’t happen in Cinderella.

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Music director Korianne Orton-Johnson brought her singers to life. Great harmonies, lots of volume. A very satisfying musical. Sound Engineer Kendall Bowman did well, too, though there was one missed cue. That will be fixed by tonight. But isn’t it nice to go to a theater where the actors are miked and there isn’t any static? If this is what you like, go to see this show. NO STATIC. Yay!

For those of you who’ve never been to the Outdoor SCERA Shell–a few tips. First, either buy the seats that have chairs or bring a blanket to sit on. You can also bring your own food, which is sort of cool. I saw picnicking going on and thought that was pretty neat. Also, if you do not want to be bothered by children who, even though they aren’t supposed to, run up and down the grassy hill, buy the more expensive seating with chairs, don’t do the grass seating. Finally, though I didn’t see any skeeters last night, spray yourself with bug spray. (I prefer Listerine and yes, you read that right. It works and isn’t poison. You smell a little mediciney but you don’t get bit.)

Also, the show runs until 10 PM. This may be a little late for some youngsters, but I saw a be-crowned and be-jeweled three-year-old pluckily trotting along with her mom after the show and she seemed just fine. Though I did not hear a lot of bored whiny children, unless your kids are REALLY into princess stuff, you may want to leave them home. There isn’t a whole lot of action in this show.

That being said, I would very much recommend the SCERA’s Cinderella. It’s the first summer show I’ve reviewed and it’s a good place to start. The weather was great, the show was great. It’s worth going to.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA is the opening musical of our 2014 summer season at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre. Don’t miss it under the stars June 6-21 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 PM. Call (801) 225-ARTS or www.scera.org for tickets and information. $10-$16

 

SCERA’s Shrek the Musical Has Layers

Shrek the Musical Poster Review

Shrek the Musical is a story about looking beyond the outside façade that people present, seeing that people (and ogres!) have layers (like onions!) in order to find true love and friendship. The SCERA’s production in Orem, UT, takes this theme and brings it vividly to life. My husband and I went to see the show. Shrek the Musical is a much loved show in our house—our four children know all the songs—and we were thrilled to be able to see the show again on stage.

Shrek follows the story of its title character as he tries to get his swamp back from the draconian and perfection-obsessed Lord Farquaad who has thrown a bunch of fairytale creatures into it and out of Duloc for being “freaks.” Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona in exchange for the swamp with the help of his unwanted tag-along friend Donkey. Adventures ensue.

Shrek (BJ Oldroyd) had both a beautiful voice and the acting ability to pull off Shrek, being both lovable and off-putting when necessary. I believed he could scare people off by yelling in their face. His comic timing was also quite good. He sometimes let the unique Shrek accent drop, but not in a hugely noticeable way. He also had great chemistry with Wes Tolman, who played Donkey. Tolman cracked the audience up with his well-timed jokes, and nailed the character of Donkey without feeling like an Eddie Murphy copy-cat. He brought his unique take on the character, and I looked forward to every scene he was in.Shrek the Musical

Madeline Weinberger played an incomparable Fiona. I’ve seen her in several shows before, thought she would be perfect for the role of Fiona, and was expecting great things. Let me tell you, I should have set my expectations higher, because she was hilarious, her singing was perfection, and she had the attitude of a slightly crazed princess down perfectly. I was delighted by “I Know It’s Today” and “Morning Person.”

Carson Davies brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the role of Farquaad. I’m not sure if it was opening night jitters or what, but sometimes he said his lines so quickly he seemed out of breath. Also, I was disappointed with the directing decision to have him often ride in and out on set pieces and remain relatively static during most scenes. Farquaad is played with the actor on his knees with fake legs attached to the front of his thighs, to make Farquaad seem very short. This can be played for a ton of laughs, and I thought this production failed to capitalize on it.

Marshall Madsen brought a great character voice to Pinocchio. His intermission jokes had everyone laughing and groaning in their seats. I would have liked to see a bit more from him physically (how would a boy made out of wood move?), but that’s nitpicking a solid performance. Gingy was played by Shelley Young, and she shone in “Freak Flag.” I would have liked to see a bit more sense of leadership brought to the role, but Young also had four other roles to play, so perhaps she didn’t get the chance to develop Gingy as much. Another distracting thing was that her puppeteering was a little out of sync, so the words didn’t match the opening and closing of the puppet’s mouth (sometimes being directly reversed of what they should be).

Shrek the Musical Princess Fiona Donkey

The set was mostly simple sets of stairs and rolling platforms. Most of the time, it worked well. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done. However, some of the set movement felt unnecessary. The pieces were big and looked extremely awkward for the cast to move around, and often moving them didn’t accomplish anything except for the stairs now being in a slightly different spot. Since the set was so simple, I wish they had embraced that and kept it even simpler by not moving it nearly so much. It was exhausting to watch. There were however, some very clever and fun pieces, like the shadow puppetry in “Ballard of Farquaad” and the brilliant use of the stairs as Fiona and Shrek battle it out in “I Think I Got You Beat.”

The costumes were well-done, although sometimes very minimalistic. I loved the look of Fiona’s dress and the fun choice for Shrek’s pants. The makeup worked very well. It had to be very versatile for the ensemble, as the cast had to quickly transform from fairy tale creatures to Dulocians. I was impressed with how well the makeup translated as cast members played up to five roles each. Donkey was probably my favorite look. Shrek, which is very important to get right, looked just right.

I highly recommend this production of Shrek. It had so much heart, and the acting, singing and directing were superb. Shrek is not an easy musical to put on, but the SCERA manages to do it and hit all the right notes. Hats off to director Chase Ramsey for a great show!

SCERA Center for the Arts

Shrek the Musical

Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

SCERA, 745 South State, Orem, UT

Sept 13-Oct 15 Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat. 7:30 PM

$12 Adults, $10 Child (3-11), Student (w/ID), Senior (65+)

(801)225-ARTS

www.scera.org

SCERA’s Little Shop of Horrors Captivates Audiences

A Utah Theater Review by B.J. Wright 

 As a reviewer, sometimes you go into a show with high expectations. SCERA Center for the Arts’ production of Little Shop of Horrors was one of those shows for me. I was running through all of my favorite songs from the show as I drove up State Street in Orem to the theater. If you are not familiar with the show, it’s a story of an unfortunate florist’s assistant named Seymour who becomes a local celebrity when he discovers an exotic plant that has a secretive craving for human blood. In a press release SCERA explains that even though the show does not seem family friendly, director Jeremy Showgren has “made it like watching a cartoon, and focused more on the style than the horror of a man-eating plant.” I found this approach to the show to be very captivating.

                 As I walked into the theater, the set before me (designed by Daniel Whiting) was a signal that I was not going to be disappointed. As I made my way down the aisle, I was stricken with the barren graffitied wall of Skid Row, a rundown part of town where the play takes place.  Characters were walking across stage, entertaining the audience as we waited for the show to begin. There were several stories that would unfold in pantomime every few minutes, from a lonely “cat lady” who is curious what kitty treats taste like, to a drunk rummaging through the trash to find food. I was having so much fun anticipating what would come next, I barely noticed it was time for the show to begin. Continue reading

SCERA’s Fiddler on the Roof is Fun for the Whole Family

A Utah Theater Review by Jennifer Mustoe

Utah Community theater fires up in the summer. One of the truly great venues to enjoy a good musical is Orem’s SCERA Shell Theater. This year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof is worth seeing and I’d like to tell you why.

But I need to start at the beginning. My companions, my son Caden and our friend Corena, both 16-year-old thespians, were in Diamond Fork Junior High’s production of Fiddler a few years ago. All three of us came to last night’s performance with excitement, but a little concern. Would it be similar enough to Caden’s (who played Tevye) and Corena’s (who was an ensemble member) performances to help us feel “comfortable” but different enough to delight us? It’s always a little awkward when you see a show that you’ve invested in personally, and why being a reviewer as well as an actor makes my job fun and a little bit tricky at times, as well.

For those who’ve never been to the SCERA, it is an outdoor theater with a huge expanse of lawn to sit on. The first third has space for chairs that you can rent for a dollar a piece. On the sides and behind the chair area is open to anyone who has a blanket and is willing to sit on the ground. My companions and I chose the blanket option, not because we’re cheap, but because it’s really the only way to do the SCERA Shell. Continue reading