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.

SCERA’s The Scarlet Pimpernel is a Visual and Vocal Masterpiece

By Larisa Hicken

ScarletPimpernel+11x17+Poster_OL+1The Scarlet Pimpernel based on the work by Baroness Orczy, with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Nan Knighton, is Director Jerry Elison’s 28th show at the SCERA theater in Orem,  Utah.  It is also one of my all-time favorite shows, so I was eagerly anticipating seeing this production.

The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place during the French Revolution and is full of romance, intrigue, and humor.  On his wedding night, Sir Percy Blakeney discovers that his bride, actress Marguerite St. Just,  provided information that led to the capture and execution of St. Cyr so he turns away from her and together with his friends decides to save as many aristocrats from the guillotine as he can through disguise and trickery.  Percy becomes the Scarlet Pimpernel and he and his bounders rescue many nobles from the guillotine and Chauvelin, a leader in the French Republican guard.  Eventually Chauvelin captures the brother of Marguerite and threatens to kill him if Marguerite doesn’t help him capture the Scarlet Pimpernel, but she has no idea that the famous hero is her own husband.

I was worried that I would miss the performance due to storms that lasted most of the day.  Just in time the sky cleared up and the show went on.  Thank goodness it did because the set designed by Teri Griffin is truly something amazing that made the whole night truly unforgettable.  I was in awe of the genius and planning that must have gone into such a brilliant design.  If you get a chance to see the show, it’s worth every penny of the ticket price just to see the set.

Of course, the show would be nothing without the actors, particularly the three lead roles of Percy, Marguerite, and Chauvelin.  Sir Percy, played by Stephen Gashler, has excellent comedic timing and I really enjoyed the scenes with his bounders and the interaction between him and Chauvelin, played by Bryan Thacker.

marguerite-chauvelin-webThacker has an incredible voice and his singing was by far the best of the night.  Chauvelin’s song, “Falcon in the Dive,” is not traditionally one of my favorites, but it was one of the highlights of this particular show.

The role of Marguerite was played by the lovely Kelsey Mariner Thacker.  Her spunky portrayal of Marguerite was delightful and I really liked her character choices.  Her French accent was a little distracting at times – mostly because nobody else in the show had one, but her French during the reprise of the song “Storybook” was “incroyable.”

The music was very well done throughout the show, particularly by the very talented ensemble.  Martha Glissmeyer, the Music Director, did a nice job and the harmonies were spot-on in the chorus numbers.  The solos in “Madame Guillotine” were all very nicely done.

The most fun characters in this show are, of course, the Scarlet Pimpernel’s bounders and the actors Kristian Huff, Eric Glissmeyer, Justin Stockett, Duncan Johnson, Brodee Ripple, and Sawyer Griffin were highly entertaining.  They each had well developed character relationships and interactions.  My favorite bounder was Elton played by Stockett.  He had me laughing out loud several times throughout the night.

marguerite-percy-chauvelin-webThe most entertaining moment of the night was when Choreographer Penny Colvin and Costumer Kelsey Seaver showed off their style in the song “Creation of Man.”  The bounders truly looked hilarious in fringe-covered pastels and their dance was perfect!  Seaver also impressed me again with the costumes for the King’s Ball in Act II.  When Percy and Marguerite entered in their matching outfits, I was wishing for my camera.

I’m glad the weather cooperated and allowed me to see this well-done production of my favorite show.  If you get a chance to see it, bring a blanket or jacket and enjoy an evening of quality entertainment with stunning visual elements that make this show a true visual and vocal masterpiece.

Photos by Mark A. Philbrick

SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058
In the middle of SCERA Park

General Admission: $10 Adult, $8 Child/Senior/Student
Reserved Section B: $12 Adult, $10 Child/Senior/Student
Reserved Section A: $14 Adult, $12 Child/Senior/Student

August 2-17 @ 8:00pm
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Gates open @ 7:00pm

Enjoy Seven Years of Plenty with Merit Academy’s Joseph

A Utah Theater Review by Ben Christensen

Utah has no shortage of talented youth, and that definitely shows in Merit Academy’s finely-tuned production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Judging by the performance I saw tonight, I expect to see many of these cast and crew members continue to shine in both community and professional theater. Continue reading