Midvale Main Street Theatre’s “Andrew Lloyd Sondheim” is a Lovely Tribute Filled with Song

Andrew Lloyd Sondheim cast pic by Antonio Garcia

By Susan Knight

I’ve lived in Midvale for a few years now and was pleased when asked to review Andrew Lloyd Sondheim at the Midvale Main Street Theatre, right in the heart of Midvale.

Featuring the talents of Karli Rose Lowry, Jim Dale, Eve Speer Garcia, John C. Speer, Matthew Carter Speer, the cast sang, cabaret style, songs from Follies, Cats, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy, and more.

This production, held only one night, August 5, to celebrate the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim was, what Garcia called, a passion project—very aptly named. The passion for the songs and for each other was easy to see. Most of the audience consisted of family and friends—nice support for the quintet onstage where the fourth wall was broken many times for laughs.

There was no particular set. The stage held props that were probably used from other shows. The cast sat on stools with music on stands, and occasionally got up and walked or danced around and interacted with each other.

ALS Unexpected Song Garcia and son

Beginning together with “Broadway Baby” from Sondheim’s Follies, the singers broke off into solos, duets, and trios for the other songs—23 altogether—with an intermission in the middle.

The show was billed as hilarious, moving, and thrilling. Some parts were definitely hilarious, especially when Lowri and Dale sang “The Priest Song” from Sweeney Todd. Their timing was impeccable and Lowry is a natural for Mrs. Lovett. I enjoyed watching her facial expressions and gestures. Dale has played Sweeney Todd previously and was at ease and convincing in the part.

ALS Marry Me A Little Lowry

I laughed out loud at “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” from Sondheim’s Company. Lowry, John C. Speer, and Garcia sang the song to Matthew Carter Speer, who stood and took all the ridicule of the song sung to him with aplomb. Great moments.

Moving happened when Garcia brought her young son, Dan, onstage so she could sing “Unexpected Song” from Webber’s Song and Dance to him. Her voice has an incredible range, reaching the high notes with ease and ending on one of the lowest notes a woman could be expected to reach. I was also impressed with her range when she sang “Buenos Aires” from Evita. And when Lowery sang “Marry Me a Little” from Sondheim’s Company, I had to hold onto my hat because she filled the whole room with her voice and then quietly mesmerized us with her angelic soprano with perfect vibrato—all in the same song. Heaven.

Thrilling occurred during the very last song when the ensemble created five-part harmony singing “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George. Describing George Seurat’s Impressionistic paintings in a song was so poignant and full of metaphor. Now I want to see that musical. I’ll have to look for it. It really touched my heart. I felt privileged to hear their heartfelt interpretation and it was a wonderful farewell song to cap the show.

ALS Macavity MC Speer, JC Speer, Garcia

At the beginning of the performance, the elder Speer told the audience there’s a line about Andrew Lloyd Sondheim in the show “Rock of Ages” and that’s what gave the cast the idea to sing the wonderful songs composed by these talented men in cabaret style. And for trivia lovers, serendipity that Webber and Sondheim were both born on March 22, though 18 years apart.

This show was suitable for all ages, especially for those who love Broadway and ballads, and the evoking of our favorite memories of the theater. There were children in the audience and sometimes the cast graciously acknowledged them and sang to them. Garcia’s son was given cat ears and interacted with his Uncle Matthew who played Macavity in the song of the same name from Webber’s Cats. Cute.

I think my favorite song of the evening—if I could pick a favorite from so many superb renditions—was the elder Speer singing “Love Changes Everything” from Webber’s Aspects of Love. The words were so moving and really touched me. Speer’s voice was spot on and my friend commented how much she liked his voice.

ALS Being Alive-Lowry, Garcia, Dale, JC Speer, MC Speer

My friend had never heard most of the songs so it was all new to her. We were both a little confused why women were playing men’s parts when the men could have done it. For instance, Garcia sang “We Do Not Belong Together” from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George to Lowry, who played George. It was also confusing when Lowry sang “Gethsemane” from Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Her rendition was amazing, but we scratched our heads at the casting choice. There were other songs she could have sung from that show.

Otherwise, the parts were appropriate for the person, even including when the men parodied the women in Sondheim’s Gypsy while singing “Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

The theater was small and intimate; the seating was comfortable with small tables in between every two or three chairs. It was sometimes hard to hear the voices over the piano, but this was not the case in all the songs.

Produced by John C. Speer, the performance was directed by his daughter, Garcia, and choreographed by Lowry. Musical orchestrations were by Alex Marshall. Tammy and Cassidy Ross of the Midvale Main Street Theatre controlled the board with light and sound.

The cost of the performance was “pay as you will.” As I said, this was a passion project and not done for the money, but for the love of the theater and the music. Here’s hoping there will be another cabaret-style performance in the future from these talented actors.

Andrew Lloyd Sondheim was performed one night only, August 5, at 7:30 PM at the Midvale Main Street Theatre, 7711 South Main Street (700 West), Midvale, Utah 84047. 801-566-0596      midvaletheatre@gmail.com                                                         Tickets were “pay what you will.”                                                                                        The next show at the Midvale Main Street Theatre is The Rocky Horror Show, October 5-21, 2017.                                                                                                           Facebook Page    Facebook Event

 

 

Midvale Main Street’s Spring Awakening is Unashamedly Envigorating

Spring CoupleWritten by Larissa Villers Ferre

Winter is a dreary, lonely few months at the beginning of every year. Sometimes we feel an ache, knowing there is more out there for us in the sunshine of spring. Our senses are  teased and titillated with the changing sights, smells, sounds, and sensations the change of seasons brings. Take yourself back to the days of your adolescence around the time your body began to feel things it had never felt, your mind began to dream of things you didn’t understand, and you started feeling desires to be in the companionship of a certain girl or boy in a way you didn’t quite understand. The winter of the body had turned into spring.

Spring Awakening, being produced at Midvale Main Street Theatre, is an aptly named rock musical based on the banned 1891 German play of the same title. Child abuse, rape, suicide, incest, abortion, and homosexuality are all contributors to the banning of the play and the deep substance of the production. Set in 19th-century Germany, one may think the time-period’s approach to a sexual awakening of youth to be antiquated, but it is alarmingly frightening how true the show resonates with the youth of today.

As I write this, I think of how perhaps I shouldn’t use a word like “sexual” because it makes audiences and readers uncomfortable. However, the discomfort of this topic is exactly what has lead to the plague of misunderstanding regarding the wonderful gifts of life, creation, and sexuality that our creator gave us. Instead, we have turned the mere topic of intimacy into something shameful and to be avoided. If an audience member learns nothing else, I hope they learn that they are not alone in their struggles and that we need to be open in our communications with our children to hopefully bring about a much-needed understanding and change.

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First-time director, Cassidy Ross, put together an amazing group of production team and cast members, orchestrating a great blend of creative vision. Your eyes are immediately treated to one of Sean McLaughlin’s most bright and beautiful set designs. He has lined most of the stage with old wood slats, even creating a tree. His set works perfectly in conjunction with the lighting design of Jennifer Hairr to help us feel the innocence and darkness at integral times. In one number, the flashing of the lights was a little much, but definitely conveyed chaos. Aaron Ford’s choreography is clean and stylistic in a way that adds energy, but does not detract from the overall feel of the show. The only weak points for me, technically, were the over-modulated mic’s of Wendla and Georg.

The characters are introduced to us in a schoolroom setting or frolicking about town. As with most shows, the audience needs a few songs to warm up to the actors and feel the energy of the show. We meet Wendla (Erica Renee Smith) as she is trying to get her mother (Kelsey Lyn Hoskins) to tell her how babies are made. Hoskins portrayed the mother as amused in an almost comical way, which I enjoyed, but that amusement didn’t quite mesh with her harsh treatment of her daughter later in the show. For me and my company, the show finally clicked with the song, “Touch Me.” The actresses rocking out at the very beginning of the show had the staging and movement energy, yet something wasn’t quite clicking – like if you took classical singing and tried to set it to rock music. Thankfully, that was the only song that felt that way. In contrast, the beautiful vocals transferred well  in the strongest vocal song of the show, “Purple Summer.”

I will not spoil the show for those who have yet to experience it, but there is a scene that had me fighting back tears as much as any show ever has shortly after intermission. The blackout after this particular scene seemed intentionally longer than the typical split-second changes to let the audience have a moment to reflect. You could have heard a pin drop as sniffles and tears swept through the darkness.

For me and my company, the stand-out performance (if there can be one amongst this group) of the evening was Brock Dalgleish as Moritz. You can see he is slightly neurotic at the beginning of the show, which transitions into a slow and steady spiral downward until he finally breaks. His crystalline vocals and physical antics contributed to his powerful and believable lost soul performance. Even down to the sparkle in his eye, you could see this character’s fear-based yearning for some sort of truth and hope in his existence.

Carolyn Crow is also forever professional and haunting in her performances, not the least of which is Martha, a young girl suffering the full span of abuse from her father. You can see the hurt, anger, and fear in her eyes as she shares her story, yet her longing to hold onto the innocence of youth and childhood of her friends. Thomas Kulkus as Georg filled the house with soaring tenor notes when he wasn’t creating cleverly crafted comic relief with as little as the widening of an eye. Smith’s Wendla shows us naivete in her sheltered life and how her innocence leads to her downfall, all the while not understanding what she had even done wrong. Cody Jensen is the brave, yet stoic leader, Melchior. The youth look to him because he is wise beyond his years and not tied down with the traditional beliefs of society, while the adults look to him as a shining, intellectual hope for their future.  Jensen’s voice and acting fit his role so impeccably that I cannot imagine much better talent or fit exists.

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Each and every actor deserves accolades for their performances, as I honestly felt that, even if an audience member might have made a different acting decision, there was not a weak player among them. Filling out the cast is: Jim Dale as Adult Man, Allie Duke as Ilse, Ashlee Brereton as Anna, Garrett Grigg as Ernst, Kelsey Lyn Hoskins as Adult Woman, Michael Anthony Howell as Otto, Terry Lee McGriff as Hanschen, and Mikael Short as Thea.

Audiences need to be aware of the adult language and sexual content of Spring Awakening – if a song titled, “Totally F***ed,” (the best overall song performance in the show) makes you squirm, then this show is not for you.  I typically don’t gravitate towards “edgy,” but I absolutely recommend this show.  In speaking with theater owner, Tammy Ross, she shared with me that she does blockbuster, family friendly sell-out shows like Hairspray so that she can also produce the non-Utah traditional pieces like Spring Awakening and Next to Normal.

Everyone will find something that resonates within them regarding the struggle of these characters. You will be brought to the point of tears or goosebumps because of these actors and what they are sharing with you. Spring Awakening helps you realize the unashamed concerns of youth, and, as Melchior states, “Shame is nothing but a product of education.”

Spring Awakening performs at 7:00 pm on June 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, and 6:00 pm on June 22.  Tickets are $15 for general admission from their website or at the box office or $12 for students at the box office one hour before showtime.

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