Good Company Theater’s “In the Heights” at the Ogden Amphitheater is Delicioso y Fantastico

By Jennifer Mustoe

Having never been to the Ogden Amphitheater and never seen In the Heights by the now wildly popular Lin-Manual Miranda—who wrote the music and lyrics, book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, I was pretty excited. I know Director Austin Archer’s work and admit to being a huge fan of his.  The Amphitheater is lovely—spacious with seats in the front and a lovely grassy berm for patrons to spread a blanket on and settle down for a night of theater.

But can one “settle down” for In the Heights? I answer with an emphatic No! As we walked in, spicy Salsa music played. After listening to the opening remarks in Spanish (which I understood but my non-Spanish-speaking family did not), the high-energy show began.

First, this show is Important. It tells the story of a barrio in New York and shows the strife, the poverty, the depression of the place. It also shows the love, the camaraderie, the friendship, the loyalty, the fun. It is a total, pure, untainted picture. This is the story of a certain community—most of them Latinos, though other ethnicities are represented as well.

The music is incredible! The rapping by remarkable Jacob Barnes as Usnavi De La Vega is out of this world. The family closeness (too close?) of the Rosario family: mother Camila (Katie Evans), father Kevin (Stephen Sherman-Mills), and Stanford student daughter Nina (Becca Burdick.)—I was completely convinced of this family’s strong ties. We loved Evans’ fierce motherhood, Sherman-Mills’ “I am the father and what I say goes” attitude (and how the women basically say, whatever.) But Burdick’s pipes, acting—the whole package—blew us away. She is fantastic. Her duets with Benny (Gray McKenzie) are pure gold.

Each principal has an amazing voice. The harmonies of the hairdresser ladies, Daniela (Tamara Howell) and Carla (Erica Walters) are wonderful, and their fun bickering was completely believable.  Abuela Claudia (Tamara Howell) and Piragua Guy (Dee Tuo’one) are also wonderful singers. Gosh—did Archer cast the best or what? Music Director Ginger Bess Simons pulls everything possible out of a truly remarkable set of voices.

And the dancing—the dancing! Archer choreographed all but one number (“96,000” by McKenzie, whose moves are sexy and smooth and sensational.) Dance Captain Emily Bokinski rocked the stage, followed by talent that went from good to perfect.

This show may be considered almost an operetta as much of the dialogue is sung, and there is so much movement on the stage, the show never stops.

I was under the impression that In the Heights may be inappropriate for younger audiences, but really, if your child likes singing and dancing—they will love this show. There are a few swears and some violence, but it’s remarkably tame. They see way more in any of those popular superhero movies. And the messages in this show, often told in awesome rapping, are as I said, important. It is a little late, though, but I saw happy littles at the show.

I knew I was in for a treat with In the Heights, but it exceeded my expectations. I drove from Spanish Fork to see it. It’s worth the drive.

Good Company Theater presents In the Heights, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes                                                                       Ogden Amphitheater, 343 E 25th Street, Ogden, UT 84401                                               August 11-21, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday    8:00 PM                                   Tickets: $20, $15                                                                                                           Contact: 801-917-4969        goodcotheatre@gmail.com                                                     Facebook Page

 

“Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Zig in Ogden is Sprinkled with Magic!

By Jennifer Mustoe

I got a little teary after Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theater’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a play about how Peter Pan becomes the crowing, flying leader of the Lost Boys and battles the sociopathic Captain Hook. Does Peter Pan mean something to you? He does to me—he’s part of my childhood. I have been trying to see Peter and the Starcatcher several times and just didn’t get it together, but wanted to see how it compared to the YA novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Peterson I enjoyed years ago when it first came out. I had preconceived notions of what I thought this production would be. I was right maybe 10% of the show.

And I’m thrilled that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’d never been to the Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden, but it’s a clear, lovely drive coming from Spanish Fork. As I walked into the theater, swarms of folks were in the rather cozy lobby, some buying tickets, some buying fresh popcorn. Yum! The staff is super nice and in fact, during the (rather long) intermission, someone from the staff brought around a teeny tiny treasure chest and gave a pirate treat (a small coin or tattoo) to the children. And me. Yes, I got a tattoo, too. By intermission, these kids were sold on the entire pirate experience and that little treasure chest got all the kids glowing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Based on the YA novel, Peter and the Starcatcher places 13-year-old Molly (Jessica Lewis) (or is it 15? Inside joke—see the show to figure it out) on the slower vessel, Neverland, with a trunk of full of mysterious treasure. It looks like sand, but it isn’t. It’s Star Stuff (aka pixie dust—but this is never said. We who know Peter Pan stories know it, though.) On a faster vessel, the Wasp, sails Molly’s father, Lord Astor (David A. Boice) who has his own treasure chest filled with jewels. In come pirates, led by the ridiculously funny Black Stache (Trent Cox) who may have one of the best performances going on in the state of Utah right now. Trunks are swapped, havoc ensues.

Along with the pirates are three boys: Prentiss, played by a very funny Tyler Howard, Ted, played by a great physical comedian Gabriel Armstrong, and Boy, heart-warmingly played by Wyatt Welch, orphans all, who end up on the ship as slaves and are made to sit in the dark and eat worms. Yes, worms. Ick. These three characters are perfect together. The symmetry and synergy are unbeatable. I thought this was a musical and when I saw the live band at the back of the stage, I was sure. But Peter and the Starcatcher is only a sort of musical. It starts with a lot of exposition—telling the story. For the first few minutes, I felt anxious, like, when are they going to start singing? Then, it didn’t matter. I was involved in the show. However, the fabulous musicians (Piano/conductor Jonathon McDonald, Percussion Richard Marsh, Synthesizer Kyle Lawrence) provide background music throughout—which is marvelous. They play as you walk into the theater, too, and it is sublime. And there are a few ensemble musical numbers and the fish-turned-mermaid piece is absolutely delightfully hilarious. Kids and adults were clapping and whistling during this one. What the cast can do with fans and costuming that makes one piece of stretch fabric down one leg look like a fish fin is fantastic. Kudos to Costume Designer Kelsey Nichols.

Peter and the Starcatcher moves very, very fast—there’s a lot of story in this one little play. And director Jim Christian has his players moving, moving, moving all the time. Not in a weird, frantic way, but one that helps tell the story and keep us up to speed (small pun intended.) Timing is fabulous in this show and every cast member needs to be applauded. I’ve been to too many shows that l-a-g-g-e-d and I thought I would die of boredom. Not in this show. At. All. Thank you, to the director. This could easily have been a train wreck. The Zig’s Peter is anything but.

The cast is small—twelve players in all—and many play multiple roles, which confused me slightly, but not overly so. Everyone was wonderful, great synergy onstage. But shout-outs must go to Welch, whose last moments on the stage brought me to tears. No, I’m not telling you what he did. Go see it. And you probably won’t cry. It’s sweet, not sad. Welch is fabulous—good energy, sweet, vulnerable, strong, active. I bought him in this role completely. Lewis’ Molly is so sweet and brave and strong. Yes, Lost Boys, she’s the leader. This show is so filled with Girl Power all wrapped up in the one female role in all those males and the one brilliant actress in this group of great actors.  Heavily bearded Andrew Cole’s Mrs. Bumbrake makes you laugh just from his physical look—but he’s a great actor, too. The role is written that a man play this character and Cole is darling. Big, hairy, using a falsetto voice (and a Scottish accent as the mermaid Teacher—also great), Cole nails this part.

Cox as Black Stache is so crazy good, I am hoping this review compels you to get to Ogden and see this show. Cox is an amazing comic actor, with deftness, finesse, timing, physicality to die for. I could go on and on. I will be following this actor to see him as often as possible. My husband and I recently went to Utah Shakespeare Festival and watched Guys and Dolls TWICE. Our favorite actor in that show has no more talent, timing, or presence than does Cox. Yes folks, he’s that good.

The set (Caleb Parry) was serviceable in the small space and several rolling pieces are used wisely and effectively. I loved the big golden lake effect with a parachute and a golden light. LOVED. This show is heavy with lights. Often, lighting is just so mundane that you don’t notice it and that’s good. But Peter has so many light cues, so many lights and it was amazing. Parry was the genius behind this technical aspect of the show, too.

I’m not telling much of the story in this review. This is on purpose. Each story detail is delicious and I’m not giving anything away.

About the kiddos. The show is long (two hours?) and there were some very restless toddlers in the audience. This show is too good. Get a babysitter and come and enjoy it without having to worry about the littles. I would think kids over six or seven would like this show, but it isn’t a kids’ show, per se. There is one swear in it (damn, I think) and the mermaid number has only one female mermaid but all the rest only dress like female mermaids. Or mermen. Not sure. It’s funny, but just a heads up. The kids were laughing hysterically. There is a small snip of a scene where Boy is shown to be whipped. It is short and has no real sound effects or him in agony at the beating, but he does cry afterward. If your children are tender-hearted, take them out for a potty break during this scene or leave them at home.

I live a long way away and see lots of shows. If I could make it work, I’d go see this one again. I didn’t see Peter and the Starcatcher when it came around three different times. I am so remarkably glad I waited until I got to see it at the Zig.

The Ziegfeld Theater presents Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice.                          Ziegfeld Theater, 3934 S. Washington Blvd., Ogden, UT 84403                                   August 4-September 2, Mon, Fri, Sat 7:30 PM Saturday matinee August 26, 2:30 PM     Tickets: $17-20                                                                                                                   Call: 855-ZIG-ARTS / 855-944-2787                                                                           Facebook Page          Facebook Event

CenterPoint Keeps Up The Good Work in “9 to 5”

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By Susannah Whitman–reviewing the MWF cast and Jennifer Mustoe–reviewing the TTHS cast

Susannah Whitman

It’s all girl power in the corporate world of 9 to 5 at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre! Based on the 1980 film of the same name, the show is packed with toe-tapping musical numbers written by Dolly Parton, and plenty of girl power to boot.

The year is 1979. Recently divorced Judy (Annie Ferrin), widowed Violet (Wanda Copier), and “Backwoods Barbie” Doralee (Lori Rees) all work for Consolidated Industries. Unfortunately, their boss, Mr. Hart (Mike Brown), is a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” and that makes work pretty miserable. But when Violet makes an innocent mistake, the girls find themselves with more power at work than they bargained for. Joined by a hilarious cast of fellow office workers, Judy, Violet, and Doralee sometimes stumble, and sometimes dance, up the corporate ladder.

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Susan DeMill’s choreography opens the show with energy, and continues to shine throughout the show. Each number had great stage pictures. Scene changes were occasionally accompanied by dancing female secretaries in all their 1970s glory. Ricky Parkinson’s set design was innovative and versatile. An elevator (with working doors!) sits stage right, and a staircase beside it leads to a second level. Two separate office spaces were created by rotating one large set piece around a pole—it starts as the general office space, then swivels to reveal Mr. Hart’s office. Costume design by Janell Roundy was fun, and her work celebrated the late 1970s with everything from plaid skirts to velour tracksuits. I was attending a preview performance, so the sound still had a few wrinkles to iron out, but I’m confident the show will be smooth come opening night. Maurie Tarbox did both the direction and music direction for the show, and her work shone beautifully.

The script for 9 to 5 isn’t the strongest in the world, but in the hands of these capable producers and actors, it shone. Ferrin has a voice of gold, and her number “Get Out” in Act II was a showstopper. As Doralee, Rees is funny and likable—this is the role that Dolly Parton herself played, and it’s almost written as an homage to her. But Rees does her justice and holds her own as a charming “Backwoods Barbie.” In the hands of a capable actress like Copier, we come to love the character of Violet. As the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” Mr. Hart, Brown is two parts creepy, one part pathetic, and one part hilarious, which is exactly what the character needs. One of my favorite performances came from Jan Smith, who plays Roz, a secretary who is hopelessly, inexplicably in love with Mr. Hart. Smith is an incredible comedienne, with fantastic timing. Her number, “Heart to Hart” brought the house down.

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<<Jennifer Mustoe

As Susannah said, the set is wonderful, and the four featured dancers who twirled and danced during scene changes was a wonderful way to deal with those awkward moments in the dark. Not to say the scene changes were slow. They were quick, and with the dancing–delightful. The choreography was fantastic. Whatever sound issues were experienced the first preview were cleared up completely for our preview the next night. Sound was wonderful, though the music was a little too loud for some singers and the lower notes were lost under the soundtrack.

We loved the costumes and my friend said with delight, “There’s a lot of polyester on that stage.” The final number has a fellow in a blue leisure suit and high wedgies shoes and my friends I were laughing pretty loudly at that get up.

The stand out performances for the T, Th, S cast were Jana Plowman as Judy Bernley. Plowman has the biggest character arc–going from mousy to strong, inept to capable, destroyed by her (rather creepy) husband leaving her to a happily single woman. Plowman sold me on Judy completely, has a beautiful voice, and I was happiest when she was onstage. Another stand out was Gary Pimentel as the sleazy, unscrupulous, womanizing Frankin Hart, Jr. Pimentel is hilarious, obnoxiously loud and sexist throughout the play. His cowardly wimpiness once he is trapped is vindicating. Go girls! Finally, Holly Reid‘s Roz in her big musical number “Heart to Hart” is sublime. An unlikely seductress, she simpered and sleazed through this number to the delight of the audience. What utter fun.

Director/Musical Director Tarbox created some lovely harmonies–all the ensemble numbers and when the three main “girls” (to use the horrible Hart’s term), Plowman and Ally Sweeney as Doralee, and Melinda Cole Welch sing, it is inspiring and delightful. >>

Finally, underneath the catchy songs, funny jokes, and polyester of 9 to 5 is a powerful message about transformation. More importantly, there’s a powerful message about the power of women. When women are given respect and space to work on their own terms, incredible changes can take place. It’s a message that was at the forefront of America’s mind when the show was first created, but it’s a message we still need to hear now. We’ve made a lot of progress as a culture, but we’ve still got a ways to go. And if shows like 9 to 5 help pave the way, well then, consider my timecard punched.

Centerpoint Legacy Theatre presents 9 to 5 by Patricia Resnik and Dolly Parton

CenterPoint Legacy Theatre Barlow Mainstage, 525 North 400 West. Centerville, UT

August 4–September 2, Monday–Saturday 7:30 PM, Saturday matinees 2:30 PM

Tickets $14 – $25.50 Available online, by phone, or at the box office

Box Office: 801-298-1302

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Spanish Fork’s “The Little Mermaid” is a Magical Place Under the Sea

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By Jennifer Mustoe

Spanish Fork Community Theater has their annual summer musical in conjunction with the city’s Fiesta Days celebration. This year’s show, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a wonderful addition to the festivities. In a theater that seats over 1000 and half of tonight’s patrons were wide-eyed children, I’d say SFCT has created a hit.

If you are only familiar with the animated version of The Little Mermaid, you’ll notice the live musical has some changes. There are more musical numbers, there is a reason why Ariel is motherless (and I love this storyline addition), and for the most part, the young leads Ariel and Eric aren’t as one-dimensional as they are in the cartoon. I’d never seen the musical until tonight and I love these updates. If you’re unfamiliar with The Little Mermaid, first a story by Hans Christen Andersen and then made into an animated film by Disney in 1989, it’s the story of Ariel (Aubri Devashrayee-Woodward), a mermaid who yearns to be human and be with Prince Eric (Duncan Johnson), whom she has fallen in love with. Her father, King Triton (David Henry), will not allow this. (In the musical, we understand more about why Triton is so angry about Ariel wanting to be around humans and Henry’s poignant sadness about his wife’s disappearance was a good moment for him; sweet and touching.) Ariel allows herself to sign away her voice to the evil Sea Witch Ursula (Krystal Bigler) in exchange for becoming human. She has three days to get Eric to kiss her before she becomes a slave to Ursula forever. Ariel’s friends Flounder (Caden Huish), Scuttle (Seth Hansen), and Sebastian (Dan Bigler) help her in this journey. Eric is accompanied by Grimsby (BJ Wright), who supports him as his guardian and friend.

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Directors Cami Jensen and Ken Jensen have done an amazing job with their very large cast. It seemed like the stage was always full in the ensemble numbers. Of course, ensemble actors are in several scenes and several roles, including palace servants, seagulls, and guests at the palace. And fish, fish, fish! Everywhere fish. And young and old all moved their arms gracefully, reminding us that they are under the sea and need to move through or tread water. From the moment we see a touch of Ariel’s red hair or the flip of her fin in the opening scene, we are transported under the sea. I brought my two granddaughters and daughter-in-law with me, and my three-year-old granddaughter Emily was transfixed by just seeing that little pop of red hair. “There is Ariel,” she whispered. She also was remarkably troubled when Ariel gets feet and kept telling Ariel to say no to the Sea Witch. I mention this because Jensen and her huge crew and cast have created such a believable spectacle that a three-year-old girl felt Ariel’s turmoil when she had to decide to become human or not. This is something, friends—something magical.

All of the sea sets are fabulous, many-layered, and simply magical. Kudos to Jensen and Henry—the sets are luscious. I’m from the beach area in California and I admit, and I know it sounds super hokey, but I felt like I should smell the salt water while sitting in our awesome front row seats when the sea sets were onstage. Lighting by Zac Lambson and sound design by Brock Larson are fabulous and that is saying something. This is a tech heavy show. There are some fun surprises technically, too, and I will say no more. I won’t reveal the fun—you need to see the show. Make up in this show is remarkable, dazzling, sparkly (the mersisters) and scary (Ursula and her two electric eel goons.) Bravo to make up designers Fawn Christopher and David Christopher. Hair by Chelsea Kennedy (who also plays Flotsam) is lovely and fun.

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Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a costume heavy show. You have your mermaids, you have your fish, you have your sailors, your seagulls, your palace servants. And then, you have your jellyfish. Costume Designer Kristal Thompson and her tireless, hardworking staff made these cool jellyfish costumes created from translucent umbrellas with lights in the top and tendrils trailing down. Actors holding the umbrellas waft them up and down and darned if they don’t look like jellyfish floating in the water. And again, I remembered my childhood in Newport Beach, CA and thought: stay away from the jellyfish! They sting like crazy if you step on them! We also loved that the merpeople used wheelie tennis shoes onstage so they glided along and didn’t have to use feet that they’re not even supposed to have. And Trident buzzed regally on a Segway. Pretty cool, I’ll admit.

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In this production of The Little Mermaid, one of the best ensemble pieces were Positoovity, a darling tap dance number, sung and tapped by Scuttle and his flock of gulls. (And a big thank you to Scuttle/Seth Hansen for teaching my granddaughters how to pose like a seagull for a photo after the show.) We also really loved “She’s in Love;” lots of fun girl energy there. Choreographer Ginger Leishman really has her performers shining in these and several other ensemble pieces. The dance between Eric and Ariel “One Step Closer” was magical and made me cry. Music Director Kristi Frei has her singers harmonizing well, but some of the ensemble numbers needed a little more oomph. The group didn’t seem to have enough power and I was on the first row. However, all through the show, there are these bursts of truly remarkable singing and Frei has her cast sounding awesome.

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The show has much to say in its favor, but really, the stars of the show made it over the top amazing. Devashrayee-Woodward’s Ariel is everything you want in a redheaded teenage singing mermaid. This actress can sing, boy can she sing, and can dance, too, which is pretty great considering the entire first act her legs were stuck together so she had a mermaid fin on her bottom half. Devashrayee-Woodward is graceful and her enthusiasm once she gets to be with Eric is completely adorable. I bought her Ariel 100%. Duncan Johnson’s Eric is one part hunk, one part gorgeous voice, one part sweet romantic hero and he nails this completely. In the animated version, Eric seems so flat. In the musical version, Eric’s singing “One Step Closer” as he dances with Ariel, when she has already given away her voice and can’t communicate with words—this piece just defines this prince. He is all that a handsome charming prince should be. Will you swoon when you see Prince Eric? I’m saying yes. Finally, Bigler’s Ursula pretty much blows everyone else out of the water (see what I did there?) whenever she is onstage. She has as much power in her character as Ariel has sweetness and naivety, and yet—these two women have a lot in common. They want what they want and are willing to go to great (and foolish) lengths to get it. They both have a sense of self and even selfishness in them. I love how these two characters and these two actresses play this comparison and contrast in the story. Very nice. It is very palpable in Spanish Fork’s Little Mermaid.

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As I said in my Facebook Live Feed, there were A LOT of kids in this theater tonight. I could hear whispers and giggles and claps from little persons through the whole show. It wasn’t distracting, however, because there was this feeling of awe and anticipation all night. Many of these young audience members had seen the cartoon of this show, so they knew what was coming. But even so, they were delighted. My eight-year-old granddaughter Keira was open-mouthed with surprise or smiling with glee the entire show. And what happens after the show is just as magical as what you see onstage. I took Keira to see the actors after the show (they are all in the sea-themed decorated lobby of Spanish Fork High School around the corner from the theater) and each one of those actors let Keira hug them, take gobs of photos, and it was completely heart-warming. Every show’s cast and crew develops into a family—I’ve been in enough shows to see this for myself. But the cast of Little Mermaid is there for their audience and their love and graciousness after the show makes seeing the show worth it—and the show is worth seeing because it’s great! One of the mermaids asked Keira to move her arms like a mermaid before I snapped a photo of Keira and the mermaid. (Adorbs!) As I said, Scuttle showed my granddaughters how to pose like a seagull. (Cuteness times ten!) Granddaughter Keira pretty much threw herself into the arms of everyone in a costume and these actors warmly received her fan love with actor love of their own. I can’t thank the cast enough. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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Note: If you are bringing your children to a live show for the first time, a few instructions before you go may be helpful. My little three-year-older Emily was quite dismayed every time there was a black out between scenes. She’s been to movies, but they don’t go dark and light again and the back and forth of light kinda threw her. Also, the show got long for Emily, and luckily her savvy mother brought something quiet for Emily to do so she could stay at the show. I know she had a hard time staying still in Act Two because it was quite late for a little one, but if we had tried to take her out, I think she would have had a fit. She knew enough to know there was a happily ever after coming and she didn’t want to miss it.

A nod to the few palace servants who performed a save in one scene. A piece of the set came off and fell to the floor. Two of the maid servants picked it up, waited until all the other dancers weren’t in the way, then popped the piece back on the set, and with servantly nods and curtsies, went on their way. They stayed in character the whole time and it seemed like it had been scripted like that. Good job!

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My family from CO has never been to a Spanish Fork Community Theater show, or any show in Utah for that matter, and all three who came with me, daughter-in-law Brandy and the two granddaughters, were aglow and filled with praises. Honestly, they gushed about it the rest of the night and the next day.

I admit, I am nostalgic when I go to SFCT’s shows—I was in Hairspray years ago, the show that got me back into theater. The Little Mermaid brought back fun memories, seeing lots of old friends, and the fun of watching this magic through the eyes of my granddaughters.

Spanish Fork’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid plays on Pioneer Day and then the next weekend. If you have never seen a SFCT production before, if you’ve never taken your kids to see a show before, or if you never miss a show here and your kids wouldn’t miss a Fiesta Days production no matter what, do not delay. Come make The Little Mermaid part of your world this July in Spanish Fork.

Spanish Fork Community Theater presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Book by Glenn Slater and Doug Wright

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

July 20-22, 27-29, 31 7:00 PM, July 14 matinee only 4:00 PM

Tickets: $10.00 adults, $8.00 students/seniors, $6.00 children under 12, $40.00 family pass—up to 6 immediate family members

Contact: sfctonline@gmail.com

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Little Mermaid Promotional Video

 

 

The Simon Fest’s “Under Construction” is Building a Good Show

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By Jennifer Mustoe

The last show at the Neil Simon Fest was a world premiere of Under Construction: A Blue Collar Musical, by Peter Sham. This was the fourth preview I saw in Cedar City in as many days. Sham wrote the acclaimed Lend Me a Tenor, and is premiering his most recent work, casting people from Cedar City’s repertory company, and directed by himself and Douglas Hill.

The set (Randy Lawrence Seely) is very simple with a raised stage covered with plastic, that soon reveals, voila, musical instruments (keyboard: Norm, (Brandon Scott Grayson), percussion: Fred (Lydia Feild), keyboard ll: Gus (Jacob Lee), and bass: Chet (Sean Militscher) that a band can play. There’s a hole on stage left that has caution tape around it and the show starts when smoke and confetti (fire) comes billowing out.

Because Betsy (Olivia Sham) was distracted with feeling her passed on mother’s scent of lilacs, Betsy wasn’t paying attention and accidentally sold tickets online to a non-existent show and a bunch of people have shown up, expecting a performance. So the blue collar workers who are fixing the problems (the explosion in the basement of the theater that caused the fire and smoke) and a few other folks at the theater gather together and start a musical to appease the audience.

The beginning of the story is a little unclear, but there are a lot of laughs as the people onstage realize there is an audience watching everything they do. As in every musical, the band plays well as if by magic and the singers sing like beautiful birds as if by magic but because we like musicals and are willing to suspend our disbelief, we’re okay with this. The live band, by the way, is amazing. LOVE live music for musicals!

The company of singer/actors is Don (Christopher Whiteside), Janine (Jordyn Aspyn), Steve (Henry Ballesteros), Terry (Nate Marble) and Betsy. All performers are fine actors and have good to very good singing voices.

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The strongest part of this show is its songs. Many are very snappy, and I looked at the audience after each number and many were smiling and laughing as they applauded. The funniest song is “The 9 Commandments for Success,” which has some fun aspects to it and actually has some good advice, too. Many of the numbers have two or more actors harmonizing, and in these songs, the harmonies are just lovely. I wish there had been more of these. There are a variety of song types–some ballads, one Country Western type song, “It’s Only a Moment,” sung very well by Sham. I especially liked this number because Sham’s mic box came off and she handled it like a true professional. I was worried because she is young, she’d panic, but she did great. (Crisis averted!) The rap doesn’t work as well.

The storyline isn’t as smooth as a well-established play, but that is to be expected. All new work has wrinkles to smooth out and Under Construction does, too. Costumes by Aimee Starr Pearson are cute, and the fancy second act costumes are pretty sparkly and fun. Lighting by Rebekah Bugg is great–this stage has a lot of lighting aspects to it and it is fun and vibrant. Sound by Frank Stearns is good, though the band is a little too loud for a few numbers and there were moments when I had a hard time hearing the singers.

The best singers in the group are the ladies. Both women sing with clear, strong, lovely voices. Because there are still some bugs in the show, it would have helped if there had been more movement onstage. Choreographer Kirsten Sham has her actors moving around reasonably well in the dances, but many times, the actors just stand or stroll as they sing. If there was more movement, especially in solos and duets (looking at one another, arm movements, etc), the show would have more energy. I also wanted to see more of a tie between construction as in blue collar work, but also the delicate construction of how relationships work, break, and get repaired. I think that is coming. Sham is a great writer, but this kind of project is big–very big, and developing a story takes time. I look forward to future productions as the show continues to progress.

Construction 1

I have been in independent, up and coming shows and they are a lot of work, from writing, to rehearsal, to performance and the ever-evolving rewrites after the show closes (for the first time, and…?) I would encourage everyone to go see Under Construction:  The Blue Collar Musical because it is in its infancy and Sham and the troupe need to know what is working and what isn’t. This is one of the best ways we can support theater–go to new shows! There is very much to be enjoyed in Construction, especially in the second act. Please go enjoy this show and give this hard-working bunch the support they deserve.

Neil Simon Festival presents Under Construction: The Blue Collar Musical, by Peter Sham

The Heritage Center Theater, 105 North 100 East, Cedar City, UT 84720

$25 or $80 for all four shows.

info@simonfest.org, 435-267-0194

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The Simon Fest’s “Noises Off” in Cedar City Brings Uproarious Laughs

noises off

By Jennifer Mustoe

This is Night #3 at the Neil Simon Festival in Cedar City—Noises Off by Michael Frayn. These performances have been preview nights—their real season begins on Sunday, July 16th and runs through mid-August. Previews can often be train wrecks. None of the Simon Fest’s shows have been anything but great. Tonight’s Noises Off, though it needs tightening, is still very, very good, and very, very funny.

Very simply, Noises Off is a play within a play and shows the problems actors have onstage, backstage, and off stage (with romances within the cast—never a good idea.) In Act One, we see the ridiculous and nonsensical Nothing On, the play within the play, and see what the lines are supposed to be. Act Two, the entire set is turned around (on wheels—kudos to Scenic Designer/Technical Director Randy Lawrence Seely) and we see what happens backstage, where you have to be silent (I know this from personal experience) and what you do to try to communicate anyway.  In Act Three, the set is again turned around and we see how the show is supposed to go, but by then, it’s devolved into something so hard to understand that it is chaotically hilarious.

Director TJ Penrod gets his talented cast moving in a frantic, frenetic way up and down stairs and through the many (5?) doors on the set. Doors open and shut, actors click and clack up and down the stairs, the lines from Nothing On make absolutely no sense (like, they keep talking about sardines!) but Penrod keeps the chaos moving well. I keep mentioning chaos—don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s part of what makes Noises Off so funny. Though this show can easily be appreciated by actors who have been there and done that, tonight’s audience proves you don’t have to be an actor to see why Noises Off’s onstage/backstage flips don’t flop. We all get how horrible and horribly funny things can be when, no matter how hard you try, things just go completely to heck.

Holly Barrick plays Dotty Ottley—an older actress who’s plunged her own money into the production of Nothing On. Ottley’s character plays a Cockney maid who is obsessed with platters of sardines. Dotty is having an affair with Garry Lejeune (Kade Cox) and as can be imagined, when the romance sours, the play, already awful, suffers. Barrick and Cox play their characters well, especially once they are no longer lovers but are enemies. Barrick’s character by Act Three goes completely bananas, and watch what Barrick does across the stage toward the end of the play. I don’t know if this was her choice or a directorial choice by Penrod, but it’s subtle and really funny. Cox’s character has many, many of his sentences end with “you know” because Lejeune is rather thick and can’t think past what’s written in the script. Cox has to be very physical in this part (pretty much everyone does, really) and his physical comedy is really great. He throws himself up and down those stairs, falls down the stairs, mimics all kinds of horrible actions toward Dotty during the backstage scene, and keeps the scenes pretty tight. He is a strong actor.

Lloyd Dallas, the director of Nothing On is played with lots of great timing and precision by Nate Marble. Marble is the only actor with a mic and we hear him best. He also has a very strong English accent. I’ve seen Noises Off several times, and I love what Marble does with his lothario character as his affairs with two women involved in the play is found out. Marble becomes very dopey dog lovey toward the sexy Brooke Ashton (Tammi Colombo) and I liked this choice. Colombo kept her energy high and played the bimbo type with more caring than I’ve seen in other performances. Her little heels she wore clicking up and down the stairs were a little distracting, but she is a hoot as she flips her long ponytail all over and her “pose” got lots of laughs.

Frederick Fellowes (Trevor Messenger) (who brilliantly played Eugene in last night’s Broadway Bound), is one of the funniest parts in the show. He has frequent nosebleeds and becomes faint when there is any violence. Up and down Messenger went as his character struggles with all the mess that goes on in the show. I was happiest when Messenger was onstage. He is filled with a quiet energy that is great to watch.

Belinda Blair (Selena Price) plays her character with warmth and charm. I think the Belinda character often gets overlooked because she doesn’t do anything completely nutty. But Price kept Belinda kind yet fun, and this grounds the piece. Jordyn Aspyn’s Poppy Norton-Taylor has her big moments later in the show and Aspyn carries these moments off with real style. Tim Allgood (Robert F. Wilson) is the ultimate techie, until he has to help the show not completely die. Wilson is very funny—his timing is great and he seems very comfortable with his role. I believed him as Tim. Henry Ballesteros’ Selsdon Mowbray has a depth I haven’t seen before. He plays Selsdon with a real respect, not just some drunken, blithering dope. Selsdon, by the mere fact that he is often AWOL, is often a throw away character, but Ballesteros gives him a slightly off-kilter charm.  

Costumes by Jen Bach were appropriate. This isn’t a costume heavy show. I especially liked Frederick’s beige suit and violet shirt.

Noises Off is a funny show. There is a lot going on and it gets a little harried, but it’s supposed to. However, there are lots of big laughs in this show and, except for one F word, it’s very tame and you could bring tweens to it. Noises Off is a show that is produced regularly locally and every time I see it, I remember how much I laugh in it. The Simon Fest’s production is no exception. Come and laugh (your guts out) at Simon Fest’s silly, crazy, energy-filled Noises Off.

 simon fest

Neil Simon Festival presents Noises Off, by Neil Simon

The Heritage Center Theater, 105 North 100 East, Cedar City, UT 84720

$25 or $80 for all four shows.

info@simonfest.org, 435-267-0194

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Bound Over to Neil Simon Festival’s “Broadway Bound” in Cedar City

broadway bound1

By Jennifer Mustoe

Tonight, I had the opportunity to see brilliance onstage, in the form of Broadway Bound, part of the Neil Simon Festival’s four-play line up in Cedar City. If I could spend the time I’m writing this review to just text everyone and say GET TO CEDAR CITY AND SEE THESE FOUR SHOWS, I would. Since that’s not possible, I’ll just try to explain what I saw tonight.

Last night, I saw Simon’s The Dinner Party. It was good. Sad, but good. Not a happy topic—divorce. I didn’t know what to expect with Broadway Bound, but with Neil Simon, you can expect laughs but also real pain. Tonight’s show was no exception. But it was So. Much. More. Broadway Bound is the final piece in a trilogy about Simon’s rise to fame, starting with Brighton Beach Memoirs, then Biloxi Blues. Because these plays are semi-autobiographical, what we see onstage has more impact. This is the real thing, folks.

Director Clarence Gilyard has taken a fine cast and created a piece that is so delicately sweet, so glaringly harsh, so funny and so bitter, I’m gobsmacked. Really. Broadway Bound, which takes place in the 40s, is the story of Eugene (Trevor Messenger) (or Neil himself) and his brother Stanley (Christopher Whiteside) as they try to make it as comedy writers. I laughed to see the turmoil they went through to find the jokes that would catapult them to fame. As a writer, I get that. Messenger and Whiteside are fantastic—as sweet and horrible to each other as brothers can be. Both shriek, bellow, laugh, tease, work, and plan like two people who’ve been raised together. I found them completely believable.

These brothers live with their mother, Kate (Kirsten Sham), their father Jack (Peter Sham), and their grandfather, Kate’s father, Ben (Richard Bugg.) Kate’s wealthy sister Blanche (Alyson King) appears briefly. Sometimes a character narrates, usually Eugene, and it’s always funny with that Simon snap.  The story is not just of the brothers, who, though they have their struggles, are on their way up. Their parents are on their way down, and it is a slow crash that is sickening and yet, we can’t stop watching.

Sham as Kate, the mother, is so perfectly perfect in this role. Last night in The Dinner Party, she was a divorcee in her 30s. Tonight, in Broadway Bound, she is a Jewish mother in her 50s from Brighton Beach, NY. This transformation is complete because Sham commits to her character completely. She doesn’t use makeup to age herself. She employs mannerisms, a strong mother attitude (she scolds a fully grown Eugene to get back in bed when he’s sick, and though he doesn’t obey, she still tries to boss him), facial expressions that create a more mature woman, and a strident, strong, sometimes oh so controlled voice. There is a scene where she dances with Eugene that almost had me in tears. Messenger, too, is so committed to his role, he completely charmed me. His excitement, his drive, his sense of fun, fear of failure, love for his parents, even his father, who he finds out has cheated on his mother—every scene Messenger nails. It’s that simple. Whiteside also had me convinced. He is so good in this role, his timing so tight, his huge wails and screams when he is frustrated—loved it all.

Gilyard’s directing took this talented cast and truly formed an amazing work. The actors move all over the stage, but it looks natural, not forced.  The mother is always buzzing in and out of the kitchen, because that’s what Jewish mothers in the 40s do. The brothers often mimic the other, lip syncing what the other says, using the same movements in unison. Funny stuff. There is a lot of high drama and wailing going on, often funny, but I was impressed that this show took the chance to overplay it but didn’t. This shows great directing.

Costumes by Jen Bach are great. I especially loved Kate’s costumes. Scenic Designer/Technical Director Randy Lawrence Seely created a set that was simple enough to not look fussy but its two-level design gives the actors space to move.

Broadway Bound has some (as my mother called it) “salty” language. Profanity, often said in anger, is in this show, though I wouldn’t say it’s obnoxious. There were some kids in the audience who laughed at all the right places, and not in embarrassment when someone was swearing. I’d bring a kid age 10 or 11 or over.

The Neil Simon Festival is giving something to the theater community that shouldn’t be missed with Broadway Bound. Is it worth driving hours from Utah or Salt Lake County or Las Vegas to come see it? Yes. An emphatic yes. But to catch the real transformations, see all four shows. You’ll be blown away.

simon fest

Neil Simon Festival presents Broadway Bound, by Neil Simon http://www.simonfest.org

The Heritage Center Theater, 105 North 100 East, Cedar City, UT 84720

$25 or $80 for all four shows.

info@simonfest.org, 435-267-0194

https://www.facebook.com/Neil-Simon-Festival-116333265090790/

Simon Fest in Cedar City Serves Up “The Dinner Party”–Filled with Fare to Ponder

dinner party1

By Jennifer Mustoe

In Cedar City, there are two summer festivals to bring theater lovers lots of different options. You may not know about the Neil Simon Festival, celebrating its 15th anniversary, but you should. The four shows in the Neil Simon Festival take place at the lovely Heritage Center Theater, and this year’s lineup is amazing. Shows include Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party, and Broadway Bound, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, and the world premiere of Under Construction: The Blue Collar Musical, by Peter Sham.

I am reviewing all four shows this year, and all are preview shows. If last night’s performance is any indication of what these people can do with preview nights, they are ready to go for opening night. I am floored by the talent I saw last night.

I’ve never seen Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party, so this was a treat. (See what I did there?) I admit, having done no research about the piece, I was expecting some raucous, uproarious comedy. What I saw instead is a commentary on marriage and divorce, the complexities of relationships, a fun bit of scholarly verbiage and synonyms (my word nerd was duly impressed and delighted), and—well, I’ll save my take away for later.

The Dinner Party takes place on one set only (Scenic Designer Randy Lawrence Seely), a tastefully decorated room in a Paris restaurant. One fun bit is every time the doors to the room opened, the sound of muted hubbub and milling about of a restaurant filters in and the sound (Marty Shurtleff and Selena Price) is always perfect. There was one mic drop, but it was quickly recovered and I couldn’t really even tell because the actress just projected more.

To tell too much of the story is practically a complete spoiler alert fiasco, so I will just give you the bare facts. If you want more of the plotline, you can go to Wikipedia, but you won’t hear it from me. The Dinner Party is a gathering of ex-spouses. None of them know their exes are going to be there, and as they trickle in, at first all they do is shout and snipe at one another. Albert (Richard Bugg) opens the show and is a delight. He is a very subtle yet physical actor, with lots of facial expressions, hand motions and appears nervous and maybe even unhappy. Which we find out, he is. He is joined by Claude (Clarence Gilyard) who, I admit, was my favorite. Gilyard plays the hail fellow well met type, very affable, and as we find out later, a total romantic who adored his ex and still loves her completely. (I’m a romantic at heart, so his story resonated most with me.) Gilyard is funny in a goofy, bumbling, self-deprecating way that utterly charmed me. The third ex-husband, Andre (Peter Sham—playwright of Under Construction) arrives and the three men discuss, spar, and wonder together what they are doing there. They had been supposedly invited by their high-powered divorce attorney, but he and his wife are nowhere to be seen. Andre is a rather schmoozy, slimy character and Sham gives the character desperation rather than perversion and it works well.

The ex-wives arrive. Marriette (Holly Barrick) doesn’t know ex-husband Albert will be there and when they meet, all Albert can do is rant about all the money he lost in the divorce. Marriette has become a successful author of popular, though by no means fine literary novels and Albert, who owns a fine bookstore and is an aspiring author, is envious of his ex and his bitterness is sharp. But soon Albert’s barbs turn to a rather sad wailing of the loss of his wife, not just the money and the dog she got in the divorce. We see Albert weakening. Maybe even forgiving.

Claude’s ex, Yvonne (Kirsten Sham) is darling, with an interesting voice and lots of angst when faced with her ex-husband. It turns out Claude has been following her around in the year since their divorce, but hasn’t spoken one word to her—and this drives Yvonne nuts. I liked Sham’s frustration at dealing with this long-term silent treatment, but was slightly troubled with why Yvonne ever left Claude in the first place. This is a problem in the script, not with Sham or Gilyard and is the only imperfection in the script. If I’d been married to Claude, the only way he’d leave my life is death, and yet Yvonne left him twice—they married, divorced, then married and divorced again. Baffling. However, Sham is wonderful, funny, sweet, and sassy. Another favorite.

Gabrielle (Alyson King) slinks in, and from the moment she addresses her ex Andre, you can tell that this couple has seen it all, done it all, and they were unhealthily forged together and ultimately destroyed by their frantic connection to one another. Gabrielle won’t let go and Andre mourns the loss of their marriage, too. But he is more sure they are not right for one another. I tend to agree. King does a fine job of wounded snob, a mincing, sultry seductress who is so hurt she can’t say anything but hurtful, unkind, and jarring barbs to the entire company. I wanted to see more vulnerability from her and not sure if this was her character choice or director Henry Ballesteros’ but do understand Gabrielle being the foil and also being the lowest benchmark in the piece. The, we can at least be better, do better than Gabrielle benchmark.

As I said before, I don’t really want to give away any of the story, but suffice it to say, things get ugly, they get real, they get beautiful, and there is some hope. There are many really funny moments and I attribute this to not only Simon’s funny, quirky humor, but the talent of those who’ve tackled this piece. Simon is not easy—you need spot on timing to make it work. Most of the time, this cast does this to perfection. There is wrenching pain in the piece, too, but I didn’t cry, so it was more hurtful, angry pain than sorrow. (I know this because at the first glimpse of sorrow in a piece, I cry.)

I spoke to director Ballesteros after the show and told him how much I’d enjoyed The Dinner Party. I told him that it was an introspective piece and my take away was the redemptive quality of gratitude. He said, “Good. That’s what I was going for.”

If you are looking for a lovely little piece of life that can give you a perspective about relationships and will make you think, go see Neil Simon Fest’s The Dinner Party. It’s a lovely work and deserves a big crowd.

Neil Simon Festival presents The Dinner Party, by Neil Simon

The Heritage Center Theater, 105 North 100 East, Cedar City, UT 84720

$25 or $80 for all four shows.

info@simonfest.org, 435-267-0194

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UT Shakespeare Festival’s “Treasure Island” Brings Stevenson’s Rich Pirate Life to Cedar City

Treasure+Island+new+Square

By Jennifer Mustoe

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was published in 1883. Since then, millions of us have been introduced to and have fallen in love with the pirates of old. In Cedar City, Utah Shakespeare Festival brings us a brilliant production of Treasure Island onstage, adapted by Mary Zimmerman.

The story is familiar to many through Disney’s 1950 film and the later Muppet Treasure Island (1996.) Treasure Island is a coming-of-age story about Jim Hawkins (Sceri Sioux Ivers), who leaves his mother’s (Latoya Cameron) side to go to sea as a cabin boy to hunt for buried treasure. Treasure Island was the creator of all we love about all things pirate: X marks the spot, buried treasure, swashbuckling buccaneers, the Black Spot, and a treasure map that leads to a huge pile of gold. Our dreams are set alight with this new production of Treasure Island that weaves much of the text of the book (more than is usually implemented in productions) with music, a marvelous set, and lots of exciting, dastardly pirates. Throw in some greed for the gold by “the good guys”, lots of fighting, and Hawkins’ stellar honor, and you have a show that people were raving about as they walked out of the lovely Randall L. Jones Theatre.

Ivers is wonderful as Hawkins, filled with gumption, energy, honor, and wanderlust. Though most of you probably know the story, I was especially touched by Hawkins’ honor, honesty, bravery, and loyalty. I hadn’t ever recognized before that Hawkins has no real judgmental nature. He is willing to accept any man’s story, from captain to pirate, depending on the man’s need for help, and will help anyone without judgment or fear. I loved that aspect of this production of Treasure Island.

In an introductory talk by Michael Barr (Education and Shakespeare Studies Director) before the opening, we were told that we would see parts of the book that aren’t in most productions. We would see familiar characters,like Billy Bones (Geoffrey Kent), the drunken pirate that first shows the chest containing the map to young Hawkins. I loved Kent’s Billy, and his fight scenes and drunken scenes were fantastic. There are plenty of pirates in this show: a marvelous Long John Silver (Michael Elich), whose energy and black-heartedness were, I admit it, charming. (See? We love pirates.) But some of the characters aren’t as familiar,  and this made this Treasure Island something special. All the actors do a perfect job–scurvy knaves all. But the stand out performances were Dr. Livesey, delightfully executed by a be-wigged Jonathan Haugen. Haugen plays the doctor with the best restraint, but you can hear the merriment in his voice. Another great performance was Andrew May‘s Squire Trelawny. May’s comedic timing, physicality, and glorious (cowardly, pretentious) attitude brings some of the biggest laughs. Captain Smollett (Paul Michael Sandburg) is another performance that brings this story to life. He is one of the “good guys”, but then, he is also all for finding the gold. Does that tarnish him? Finally, I loved the brilliance that Kent brings to his other character, the oft-vomiting servant Redruth. Without giving away any spoilers, Redruth is often hilarious but his devotion to his master is poignant and eventually heart-breaking. Finally, J. Todd Adams as the completely insane Ben Gunn is delightful. Yes, Gunn is mad from years living as a shipwreck survivor (is that a thing?) but I loved Adams’ tenderness. It’s easy to play the nutter. It’s harder to give him some value as a real person.

The set of Treasure Island is a movable ship split in half that swings around to have levels used for rooms, etc. It is a magnificent design by Jason Lajka and sets the tone that this show is BIG. Brenda Van Der Wiel‘s costumes are everything we want in a pirate show–lots of color, lots of dirt, and some blood, too. The ornate costumes for the Captain, the Squire, and the Doctor are luscious.

Director Sean Graney has this cast moving, interacting, and working together as a tight unit. This show uses much of the text from the book as narration and the blocking for this works very well. (And I LOVE that Stevenson’s book provides so much of the text and story in this show. It is a play with literature at its heart, and I can’t applaud it enough.) The other device used in this production of Treasure Island is the live band that accompanies many of the scenes. Fiddle, voice, guitar, drum are interwoven into the show, including a pre-show serenade of sea shanties. Musical Director/Composer Gregg Coffin‘s addition to the show provides a delightful layer to a show that isn’t really a musical. Finally, the ever more talented Kent choreographed some magnificent fight scenes that went on just long enough and had just enough clashing of swords to look–to coin a popular phrase–legit.

I interviewed several kids during intermission and after the show and when asked if they liked the show, they all excitedly shrieked, “Yes!” One little girl said it was her favorite so far and she had seen Guys and Dolls and As You Like It. I asked her if she followed the story well (she had to be no more than five) and she nodded and assured me that she was getting the whole story. Thus, I can with all faith and honesty recommend Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Treasure Island for the whole family. To all those who love pirates (from the Caribbean and elsewhere), this is where it all began. Come see this swashbuckling, sword-clashing, music-filled Treasure Island, fun for the whole family. You won’t be thinkin’ you’re sorry. Argh.

Utah Shakespeare Festival presents Treasure Island, adapted by Mary Zimmerman

Randall L. Jones Theater, 300 W Center St; Cedar City, Utah 84720

July 5 – September 2, 2017, 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM on various days.

$32-75

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

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Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s “Tempest” in Provo is a Storm of Brilliance

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By Jennifer and Craig Mustoe

Long we have been fans of Grassroots Shakespeare Company, and we were delighted to see their end-of-summer-season triple header, performed at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo. This summer’s performances were The Fantasticks, which we reviewed in June, and The Tempest. The third show in last night’s triple header was The Merchant of Venice, which GSC performed throughout the school year to Orem schools, thanks to the Orem Care Grant.

If you aren’t familiar with Grassroots Shakespeare Company, they are a troupe of actors, many who perform in many of their shows, based in Utah. There are three other GSC groups, in AZ, in AL, and in London. To say we are blessed to have such an inventive, talented group right here in Utah is an understatement. The idea behind Grassroots’ creations are they try to duplicate plays as done in Shakespeare’s time: get the part, memorize it, no director, short rehearsal time, construct your portable stage, put on the play. Though this modern-day group does have longer than a few hours of rehearsal, they adhere very carefully to Shakespeare’s format. However, you would never know it by the extravaganza this group puts forth. Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s productions are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, from straight Shakespeare, to a musical, to improv. And indeed, that’s what these shows are–a conglomeration of all three genres. GSC productions do not stay gender specific, and many women play men and vice versa.

The Tempest, considered Shakespeare’s last and perhaps greatest play, is filled with comedy, magic, evil, love, and profound messages. Set on a remote island, sorcerer Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan (Jason Eric Sullivan–also Bellamy in The Fantasticks), creates a great storm (or in other words, a tempest) to facilitate a plan to restore his daughter, Miranda (Paris Abigail Moore–also XXXX in The Fantasticks) as rightful heir to the throne. Prospero magically creates the tempest, delightfully shown by water being splashed in the face of the steering-wheel holding captain and a huge undulating swath of blue fabric being pulled and yanked between four cast members the length of the stage. Does it look like water storming up against a boat? No. Does it add to our delight? Absolutely. GSC’s ingenuity is part of the reason we see their shows every single season. We can’t get enough of what they do.

Prospero’s enemies, his deceitful brother Antonio (Ardon Smith–also (a different) Antonio in Merchant and Hucklebee in Fantasticks) and Alonso, the king of Naples (Levi Brown) and Alonso’s “counselor” Gonzalo (Addison Radle–also Henry in Fantasticks) provide a great and comedic battle between good and evil. Prospero and daughter adopt a monster, Caliban (Benjamin Henderson–also El Gallo in Fantasticks), who feels under appreciated by the father-daughter pair and falls in with Antonio and Alonso, and then befriends Stephano (Smith) and Trinculo (Emma Robinson), who teach him all kinds of shenanigans. Antonio’s son, Ferdinand (Carter Walker–also The Mute in Fantasticks), meanwhile, has met Miranda and in true Shakespeare style, they fall madly in love at first sight. Wending into the plot is the delightful spirit Ariel (Amber Dodge Tinney–also Portia in Merchant and Luisa in Fantasticks), who dances, sings, and connives at the behest of her master, Prospero.

Because there are three subplots, this story gets a little involved. Add to this, many actors play more than one character. But again, this is the beauty of a GSC production. The actors become whatever character they play, by costuming (which they put together themselves), masks, mannerisms, voices, and context.

Often when I write a review, I mention a certain actor’s especial affect in a certain scene or two. I can never do this with a GSC production because they are All. So. Good. Looking back, I’m admiring Sullivan’s stirring monologues. I’m laughing at Henderson’s zany antics as the monster (who is wearing a stuffed animal crab hat and swathed in a net.) I’m sighing with romantic sweetness of the two lovers, whose starry-eyed darling-ness and so many very current, very obvious, very funny mannerisms make this show completely modern. I’m touched with Dodge Tinney’s respectful bow to her master as she hopes he’ll set her free. I think of her singing many of her lines, adding such layers to her character and the piece as a whole. Smith, Brown, and Radle are wonderful as bad guys, filled with delicious malice, but so much comedy, we fight to not love them. Robinson did such a drunken good job, I wanted to see more of her in the play. What talent!

In the background, a live band plays, putting a Ding from a triangle or a Thump from a drum to accentuate a plot twist. The music does not distract, but enhances the organic feel of the show.

Last night’s performance was $15 for the triple header. Throughout the summer, Tempest and Fantasticks have been performed free to audiences all over Utah, though they suggest a $5 donation. When I say that fifteen bucks is worth it to see these three shows, I’ve never spoken a truer statement. And don’t think, whoa, THREE plays, two of them Shakespeare? Should I wear my jammies to the show? The answer is no, though it is a rather longer evening than you may be used to. But they zip along, and in between, the live band plays some original songs and old favorites like “Twist and Shout.”

Tonight is the last night to see these three shows, so really, drop everything and go see Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s triple header. Take a blanket to sit on if you don’t want to sit in their plastic chairs, but the chairs are pretty comfortable. I actually sat in my camp chair that I brought myself, as almost all the chairs were taken and tonight’s final performance may be so full, all the chairs will be taken. The bugs were not bad, but you may want to spritz yourself with bug spray. And take sunglasses and/or a hat. The sun at 8 PM is not yet set. Wear light clothing. It is hot. I would recommend bringing any tween or teen who likes comedy, Shakespeare, and staying up a little late. Though there is very mild sexual innuendo, it is so tame, most kids won’t even get it.

gsc summer

Grassroots Shakespeare Company presents The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, and The Fantasticks.

Summer Tour Finale (Triple Header)

Friday and Saturdsay – July 7 & 8

Castle Amphitheatre, 1300 East Center Street, Provo, UT 84606 (If you’ve never been to this venue, go all the way up Center Street to the roundabout, go around it and turn north. Turn slightly to the right up the hill. Unless you get there really early, don’t even bother trying to find parking at the top of the hill. Just park and walk up.)

$15.00

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