You’re Only a Day Away From “Annie” in American Fork

Annie in American Fork UtahBy Larisa Hicken and Jen Mustoe

Performing in the beautiful American Fork Amphitheater, Annie, directed by Adam Cannon, is presented by the American Fork Community Theater in association with the Timpanogos Arts Foundation.

Winner of 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Annie is a beloved favorite based on the popular 1930s comic strip by Harold Gray. Abandoned on the steps of a New York City orphanage in the 1920s, Annie and her fellow orphans are left to the cruelty of Miss Hannigan, an attention-starved alcoholic. Possessing equal measures of grit and optimism, little orphan Annie is determined to find her real parents. With her bright red hair and spunky personality, Annie charms her way into everyone’s hearts and she eventually finds a new home and family with billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, and his personal secretary, Grace Farrell.

The opening scene, with all the orphans sprawled on bunks and mattresses on the floor is darling, and as the littles start to sing and interact, their darling orphan costumes really set the tone for the show. The big stars in this show are the kids, and there seemed to be about 50 of them (not really but there are a lot) and they do pretty well. Director Cannon had his hands full with this pack, but they shine. After the show, all the young actors are hugging family and friends and there is a charm and a delight seeing so many new actors getting a chance to perform on a real stage with a real audience.

Nikki Merrell definitely steals the show with an enthusiastic and sweet portrayal of the orphan Annie. Her voice is lovely enough to rival the best of the adults in the cast and her intonation was great for one so young. Her smile is contagious and her rendition of “Tomorrow” is adorable.

The best interactions in the show are between Merrell and Mindy Eckroth playing Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ assistant. Eckroth has a powerhouse voice and a terrific vocal range. She is also a talented dancer (who doubles as choreographer) and has a stage presence that is impossible to ignore.

I would like to see a little more chemistry between Eckroth and Andrew Whittaker as Oliver Warbucks, but the romance takes a backseat in this production. Whittaker does a good job of owning the larger-than-life Warbucks and his affection for Annie is endearing.

Everyone’s favorite villain, Miss Hannigan, is played by a gorgeous and lithe Anne Perkins. Her over-the-top costumes, designed by Emma Otteson and her hair by Ashley Ramsey are fantastic.

Other standout performers include the tiniest cast members Theo Barratt and Nibley Duffin. Their sweet voices and adorable acting immediately capture your heart. Savannah Carrasco as the orphan Duffy was exceptional and Cambry Wangsgard as orphan Tessie has a promising young voice that I hope to hear again in future shows.

The production suffers from complications that come from working in an outdoor theater with sound problems, limited lighting options and scene changes without the benefit of curtains, but the cast and crew give it their all and their enthusiasm is contagious. This production of Annie is a bit rough around the edges, but manages to steal your heart just the same.

At three hours, this show may be a bit long for younger children. There are also several mild swear words that may offend some audience members and no one stops people from smoking during the show. Bring your bug spray and a flashlight for safety because the theater steps are unlit. The show is double cast, so make sure you check to see if your favorite actor is performing on the night you plan to attend!

American Fork Community Theater presents Annie by Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Thomas Meehan.
August 3-5, 8-12 8:00 PM Doors open at 7:30 PM Open seating                                       American Fork Amphitheater, 851 E 700 N, American Fork, UT 84003
Tickets are $10, except for family nights on Tuesday August 8 and Wednesday August 9 when all tickets are only $5.
Handicap parking is at the bottom of the amphitheater, but the main entrance is at the top. Lawn chairs may be used along the top row. Bring a blanket or stadium chair to sit on. Concessions are available.

Anything Goes at UVU is De-Lovely

By Larisa Hicken

Anything Goes at UVUThe UVU Department of Theatrical Arts for Stage and Screen’s performance of Anything Goes in the small Noorda Theater in Orem, Utah is delightful.

Anything Goes is a classic Cole Porter masterpiece of silly romance and comedy that allows you to escape into the early 1930s on board an ocean liner. Anything Goes is full of cheesy one-liners and double entendres as characters try to talk their way out of a tight spot. The show is definitely not kid-friendly material, but there’s nothing too over-the-top risqué in this production.

This silly love story is about Billy Crocker who has fallen in love with a debutante, Hope Harcourt, whom he met in a taxi. When he discovers she’s boarding the same London-bound ship that his boss and friend Reno are boarding, he sneaks aboard the ship himself. Unfortunately, Hope’s mother has arranged an engagement for Hope to a stuffy British aristocrat named Lord Evelyn to restore the family fortune. With the help of other passengers, including a couple of barely disguised gangsters, Billy seeks to capture the heart of his dream girl – all without getting caught by his boss.

Since all of this hilarity takes place on board an ocean liner, the production team has a real challenge in squishing this typically huge show into the small Noorda Theater at UVU. The set (designed by Stephen Purdy) isn’t lavish, but it’s pleasantly functional and provides some nice levels for story telling.

The director, UVU resident artist Rob Moffat, uses the space well and does a nice job keeping the story moving forward at a quick pace (almost too quickly during a couple of scene transitions). The character interactions are delightful and clever. In particular, the songs “You’re the Top,” and “Friendship” stand out as terrific examples of mini stories that make the silly characters more tangible and loveable.

Excellent blocking is supported by choreography that is quite “de-lovely.” Choreographer Raymond Interior has created movement that exactly matches the capability of the dancers and adds a lot of dazzle to the musical numbers. The show starts right off with the Charleston which actually looks easy when performed by this talented cast. The much anticipated tap number “Anything Goes” is high-energy fun and “The Gypsy in Me” is simply spectacular.

The dancing and characterization in this production are closely matched by the great singing. For the most part, every actor in the show has a nice voice and is fully capable of knocking the audience over, (as proven by the ending notes of the show) but sometimes the actors seem to be just a little bit too “careful” in their harmonies. A touch more confidence would make great singing into fantastic singing.

Anything Goes at UVUThe role of Reno Sweeney is played by Briana Hulme. Briana is a beautiful young actress with a strong stage presence and a lovely voice. At times she has some trouble switching between her different vocal registers, but she is a powerhouse singer and has terrific chemistry with Tyler Fox as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Ardon Smith as Moonface Martin. She portrays a sincere and sensitive Reno with a lot of spunk.

Carter Walker plays an endearing Billy Crocker. There are a few moments where Carter could “cheat out” a bit to face the audience more, especially in the beginning of the show. His facial expressions are awesome, but sometimes hard to see in the first few numbers. His vocal inflections and characterizations are definite strengths. His singing voice is rich and strong, and once his vocal range expands a bit more, I expect this actor to be a regular on the local stages.

Carter has some really cute moments with McKell Peterson as Hope Harcourt. McKell plays a demure and graceful Hope and her sophistication is just right for this role.

Standout performances are given by McKelle Shaw as Erma and Tyler Fox as Evelyn. Both actors deliver high-caliber, polished and professional performances. Their comedic timing is flawless and their physical movements are hilarious. Both actors have exceptional voices and facial expressions and keep the audience enthralled every moment they’re on stage.

The actors are supported by excellent costume design by Lara Beene. It’s not every day you get to see actors take a bow wearing only their unmentionables, but it almost seems natural in this show because the costumes are so perfectly aligned with the characters and story.

If you can find your way through the construction, this show is worth the ticket price. Anything Goes at UVU is a delicious show with delightful actors and de-lovely storytelling. You’ll get a kick out of this fun production!

Anything Goes performed by UVU Department of Theatrical Arts Production

$12.00 – $16.00
Seating commences approximately 30 minutes prior to performance. No one under the age of 8 admitted, including babes-in-arms..

Fri. April 14, 2017 – Sat. April 29, 2017

UVU Noorda Regional Theatre

Rob Moffat and Amanda Crabb

Spanish Fork’s Joseph is New, Fresh and Worth Seeing

joseph2By Mary Garlitz

So you think, okay someone is doing Joseph again in Utah Valley.  Not a big surprise as this is a favorite among this area. However, I went into Spanish Fork Community Theater’s version with an open mind and excitement to hear all of my favorite songs again.  I was not disappointed.  I was delighted and enchanted by their take on what can sometimes be a pedantic retelling.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tells the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Joseph is his father’s favorite son and a boy blessed with prophetic dreams. After being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and taken to Egypt, Joseph is purchased by Potiphar and eventually thrown into jail. When news of Joseph’s gift to interpret dreams reaches the Pharaoh, Joseph ends up as his second in command. Eventually his brothers, who are starving from the famine Joseph predicted, come to beg for mercy and food from Joseph, whom they no longer recognize. After testing them, Joseph reveals himself and is reunited with his family.

Daniel Fifield in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat 2016Director Rock White and his production staff took this familiar story and really took it up a notch.  Mr. White did his homework and went along with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original vision for the show; not to spoil anything but it is a great trip through time.  I could tell the cast enjoyed this fresh take on a classic.

There are many that stand out in this production but two that I especially liked were the costumes (over 300 of them!) and the dancing.   I can’t imagine putting together that many costumes, let alone the logistics of having all of those people change so quickly, but Larisa Hicken and her crew did a tremendous job getting everyone outfitted and back onstage for their cues.

Costumes in SFCT's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat 2016

SFCT Joseph 2016 ChoreographyBethany Taylor has been choreographing on and off for Spanish Fork for many years and I think she may have outdone herself this year.  The variety, style and complexity of the dancing literally had me on the edge of my seat just waiting to see what would be next.

All of the vocals in the show were good as well. And the live band that accompanies the show is good enough to get your toes tapping. They rock! At first I was not sure about their take on the narrator, but by the end I loved what they chose to do and felt it complimented the show well.  I would give a shout out to them for this device, but won’t say any more as I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I will say the blending and harmonies were fantastic.

Daniel Fifield seemed a little unsure at first in his role as Joseph, but by the stirring, “Close Every Door” I felt like he really stepped into Joseph’s shoes and made it his own. Jordan Toney as Pharaoh also was a standout in his role, and really owned the stage. All of the brothers and their “wives” were great as well.  Each brought something different to the role and really danced their little hearts out. An especial standout would be Producer Ken Jensen in the role of Simeon performing the Canaan days number with equal humor and tragedy.

Ken Jensen in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Children's Chorus SFCT Joseph 2016The entire cast was fantastic from the adorable Children’s chorus with their spot on vocals to the ensemble that filled in admirably and brought just the right fill to round out the scenes.

Go see this show.  Yes it’s community theater, but they do fantastic job, and some of the best shows I’ve seen have come from the humble casts and crews of local theater.

Performances run tonight through Saturday July 23rd at 7:00 pm at Spanish Fork High School with a Matinee Monday July 25th at 4:00pm. The address is 99 North 300 West in Spanish Fork. Tickets are $10 for adult. $8 for students and seniors. $6 for children. Purchase tickets online.

SCERA’s Guys & Dolls is a Sure Bet

By Larisa Hicken

Guys and Dolls 11x17 Poster_OLAs the final show of their indoor season in Orem, Utah, SCERA’s production of Guys & Dolls was sensational.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys  & Dolls is a classic lighthearted musical about girls who fall for the wrong guys and gamblers who can’t seem to find their lucky break – except when it comes to love. The original production was an instant hit and many of the songs from the show will be familiar favorites for anyone who loves classical Broadway.

All of the design elements of the show worked together flawlessly to present a caricature of the stereotypical gangsters, gamblers, and missionaries from New York City in the 1950s. The brightly colored costumes by Kelsey Seaver and flashy set design by Shaun M. Mortensen added a lot of visual appeal and helped create a comic strip feel to the show that was downright awesome.

It was obviously opening night and there were a few blunders with actors dropping or missing props or getting slightly tangled in their costumes, but other technical aspects of the show were absolutely perfect.  I didn’t notice a single mistake with the sound and the lights (designed by Elizabeth Ottley Griffiths) were “spot on.”  Scene changes were quick and efficient and kept the rhythm of the show moving right along.

guys-n-dolls-05It was a lot of fun to see actor Bryan Thacker in a comedic role as Nathan Detroit since his last few roles have included much darker characters.  Thacker is a dynamic performer with amazing singing talent.  I lost a few of his words in the beginning due to the fast pacing of the show, but his accent was great, too.

His fiancé Adelaide was played by Alyssa Orme who seemed a little nervous in the beginning of the show, especially during “Adelaide’s Lament,” but she got better and better as the night went on.  Her vocals were very nice for someone so young and her physicality and comedic timing is fabulous. I would like to have seen a few more moments of affection and chemistry between Nathan and Adelaide, but they seemed natural and comfortable together.

guys-n-dolls-03Corey Morris made a sincere and charming Sky Masterson and I appreciated the rich quality of his voice. Cheyenne Lee, as Masterson’s love interest Sarah Brown, was hilarious with her physical gestures and facial expressions.  It was almost disturbing how well she played both an uptight missionary and a drunk person.

Together Morris and Lee made a visually interesting pair and there were some really nice tender moments between the two actors.  However, the stage blocking in their love song “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” felt a little off and prevented me from really seeing their connection in that particular moment.

One of the best scene’s of the night was “Marry the Man Today” between Adelaide and Sarah.  Their energy, timing, and interactions made the scene laugh-out-loud hilarious.

As Director and Music Director, David Smith and Choreographer Brittini Bills Smith should be particularly proud of their work with the chorus.  Their vocals were spectacular and their pantomimes and dancing were fabulous.  I especially enjoyed the tight harmonies of the gamblers during the first scene and the uniquely creative choreography in “Luck be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The ensemble deserves a lot of the credit for the high-energy performance and some of the best character interactions took place in the hustle and bustle of the background.  Stand outs were the amazing vocals of Michael Young as “Nicely Nicely Johnson” and the exceptional dancing of Jayson Shipley as “Rusty Charlie.”  The Hot Box Dancers absolutely stole the show with their “Bushel and a Peck” number.  That scene alone was worth the price of a ticket.

If you’re looking for an upbeat and fun show, you can bet you’ll enjoy Guys & Dolls at the SCERA Center for the Arts.

SCERA Center for the Arts
745 South State Street, Orem Utah
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Adult – $12, Child (ages 3-11) – $10, Senior (ages 65+) – $10

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Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Titus Andronicus is a Bloody Good Time

By Larisa Hicken

If you’re looking for a way to get into the Halloween spirit, there’s no better way than attending Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s presentation of Titus Andronicus at the Castle Ampitheater in Provo.  Just follow the dark winding path up behind the State Mental Hospital.

Titus Andronicus is certainly not Shakespeare’s most well-known play and for good reason – the plot revolves around a whole lot of killing, rape, and most importantly, revenge.  And that’s about it.

I have a bit of a weak stomach, so I was nervous when I read the teaser on their website: “You know you’re dying for some blood, sweat, and tears to spray, drip, and splatter on you and your date.”  Um… what?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Grassroots Shakespeare Company, they began five years ago with the mission to perform Shakespeare plays in the original format of Shakespeare’s day. That means the actors only rehearse for a couple of weeks, the set is basically a simple platform, and costume pieces are whatever the actors can throw together in that time.  In fact, they were still screwing in set pieces five minutes before start time.

In true Shakespeare tradition, the Grassroots players chose to play to their audience, who they obviously understand very well.  They did indeed splatter and splash their way through each grisly murder in a delightful dark comedy style.  Instead of gagging, the audience was laughing and groaning as cast members were, well, dismembered.  I never could have imagined how much fun I would have with such a gruesome show!

I’m sure the “groundlings” who stood at the front of the stage felt like they were an integral part of the show.  I certainly enjoyed watching them all jump back while I sipped my hot cocoa in my super comfy lawn chair toward the back row.

The show is accompanied by a live band. There were a few moments where I wasn’t sure why they were still playing since it was a bit difficult to hear what the actors were saying – mainly in scenes where there wasn’t a lot of action and the plot was simply being explained. But overall the band really added to the intensity of some scenes and the absurdity of others.

Mark Oram plays the title role of Titus Andronicus and he is an absolute delight.  I kept thinking to myself, “I’m watching a true master of the Shakespearean stage.”  He’s one of those actors that you figure must have been born burping in Elizabethan cadences and pooping out sonnets because he performs Shakespeare so naturally.  It came as no surprise to find out he was one of the founding members of the Grassroots company.

Fellow Grassroots founder Alex Ungerman plays Titus’ son Lucius Andronicus, the surprise hero of the show.  His character was well-developed and the interplay between Oram and Ungerman was one of the best parts of the show.

Andy Hansen was thrown off a bit by a few dropped lines at the beginning, but once he found his rhythm again, he gave a solid performance as Titus’ brother Marcus Andronicus.  Claire Wilson is a dynamic actress who gave the character of Lavinia more depth than most of the other characters.  Her love relationship with Nick Gledhill as Bassianus seemed comfortable and natural.

Shawn Saunders plays the villainous role of Aaron the Moor with so much raw vehemence and delight that I was a bit nervous passing him on my way out of the ampitheater after the show.  Aaron’s lover and evil cohort, Tamara the Goth, was played by Jessamyn Svensson.  She was terrific in her interactions with the groundlings as they booed and hissed at her when she came on stage.

Jessica Myer is double cast as Tamara and during the show I watched, she played the nurse.  Without too much of a spoiler (because everyone dies in this show) she gave a stellar performance in her death scene.

The two evil buffoons Chiron and Demitrius (Tamara’s sons) were played by AJ Taysom and Eric Geels.  Their physical humor and bawdy gestures were highly entertaining and the audience loved to hate them.

My favorite character of the night was Saturninus played by Nick Groussaint.  Groussaint was simply awesome as he whined and pouted his way through the night.  At several points in the show, I was wishing for some rotten fruit to throw at him.

Don’t wait another minute.  Grab a group of your rowdiest friends and buy tickets online to save a few bucks.  Put on your rain poncho and get over to see this show before Halloween.  Your friends will thank you – after they wipe the entrails out of their hair.

Titus Andronicus
plays October 17 – November 1, 2014, 8:00 PM at the Castle Amphitheatre, 1300 East Center Street, Provo Utah.

Ticket Prices
October 17 – 27, 2014
$10 Yard Tickets (standing)
$18 Gallery Tickets
October 30 – November 1, 2014
$12 Yard Tickets (standing)
$20 Gallery Tickets
Discount tickets available online.

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An Aside…
Before the show started, we were lucky enough to hear the band Echo Era.  They have a fun alternative sound with strong roots in jazz.  Each band member played a dizzying number of instruments and their original songs were very cool.  I was delighted to find out that you can download some of their music on their website!

Springville Playhouse’s Steel Magnolias is the Ideal Ladies Night Out

By Larisa Hicken

steel-magnolias-springvilleSteel Magnolias, written by Robert Harling, is a charming story of six southern women who gather together in the local beauty shop to gossip and laugh. The story spans several years with each scene moving time forward several months.  The audience gets to laugh and cry along with these women as they support each other through personal heartaches and triumphs.

The story begins on the wedding day of Shelby, the youngest woman of the group. Shelby, played by Joni Newman, is a type 1 diabetic and has a hypoglycemic episode in the opening scene.  I have a son who has type 1 diabetes and Joni did a masterful job of portraying a person suffering from severe low blood sugar.

The ladies quickly handle the emergency situation and as the issue is resolving, we find out from Shelby’s mother M’Lynn, played by Robinne Dutson Booth, that Shelby’s doctor has told her she shouldn’t have children.  I enjoyed the relationship between Booth and Newman and felt like their mother-daughter character relationship was dynamic and interesting.  The final scene is where Booth really shines and I appreciated her polished and professional performance.

My favorite actress of the night was Kaye Fugal-Arnold who played the owner of the salon, Truvy.  Although she was reaching for her lines a bit in the beginning, she quickly found her pacing and had the most well-developed character and a great southern accent.  She even showed off her miming skills in the beginning where she established that the “invisible wall” that the audience is looking through is really a large mirror.  I was really impressed with how the cast members used the mirror to look at the “reflection” of each other which allowed us to see their expressions clearly.

The other stand-out performer of the night was Karen Davis who played the newest member of the group, Annelle.  Her hair alone is worth the price of the ticket!  Her character had a really quirky personality and her excellent comedic timing created a lot of laughs.  She also created an astonishing number of crazy hair styles throughout the show.

Vicki Wheeler plays Clairee and she did a really nice job showing her character’s evolution over the course of the show.  Although she occasionally seemed to forget a line, she quickly recovered and I really enjoyed her facial expressions and physical humor.

The grump of the group, Ouiser, was played by Arlene McGregor.  I felt like she created a refreshingly unique Ouiser and I enjoyed her antics.

Director Kathy Llewellyn obviously knows how to create an atmosphere where her artists can truly shine and the relationship between the actors was clearly a close one.  There were a few times during the second act where I felt like some of the action was lost in the back of the stage, but overall the blocking was nicely done and told a really nice story.

I have to give props to the prop master, Dawn Douglass.  There were truly an astonishing number of authentic 80s props on a spectacular set designed by Kathy Llewellyn and Mark Taggart.  I felt like I could step on up and get a manicure if I really wanted to.  The Christmas scene in act 1 was the only place where the props and set were actually a little distracting as the “business” of the scene was more captivating than the character interactions, but overall I loved the realistic setting.  The sound and lights, by Technical Director Greg Duffin, were virtually flawless.

If you’re looking for the perfect ladies night out, plan a trip to Merit Academy to see Springville Playhouse’s Steel Magnolias.  You’ll laugh and cry and find yourself with a strange desire to eat chocolate afterward.  This show is a great celebration of what it means to be a woman at every stage of life.

Steel Magnolias by Springville Playhouse
Showing from September 12th to October 6th on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays
Merit Academy in Springville
1440 West Center Street
Shows start at 7:30, tickets are $8 at the door.

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.

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

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

Tickets available online at

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

Grab your Golden Ticket to Spanish Fork’s Wonka!


By Shannon Eden

Willy Wonka, put on by Spanish Fork Community Theater, brings you into the pure imagination of director Andrea Johnson, assisted by Larisa Hicken. The play, based on the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and adapted for the stage, follows the story of poor Charlie Bucket – poor in money, worldly comforts, and pretty much everything except a family who loves him and does their best to remind him that, no matter what. “Bucket’s think positive!” With a little bit of that positive thinking and a lotta bit of luck, Charlie is one of five children who get the rare privilege of being invited into the very exclusive and delicious world of the Candy Man himself – Willy Wonka. When your competition is a gluttonous German, a pampered princess, a gum-chewing guru, and a TV techie – Charlie’s odds of winning more than just a life-time supply of chocolate is looking pretty good.

 Willy Wonka, played by Robert Kinghorn, opens the show. I felt like Kinghorn was a little stiff at first. As he sang, he was missing the whimsy that his purple velvet jacket required. However, once his spoken lines began, his demeanor lightened and he relaxed into the character. He served as the narrator throughout the first act, really bringing out Wonka in the second act when the children show up at the factory. He had a strong voice and portrayed a likable candy-maker. There were times when he’d give one of those eccentric laughs – for those familiar with the recent film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – it was reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the not-completely-there Willy Wonka. It didn’t really fit with the way Kinghorn played Wonka throughout the majority of the show. His character would have flowed better if he had chosen either the light-hearted dreamer or the kooky, disconnected Wonka, and not tried to do them both.

 Charlie, played by Jake Blonquist, interacted naturally with his fellow Bucket’s and the other characters. Blonquist made Charlie someone you easily wanted to root for. The only time he lost his spark was occasionally during his songs and, ironically enough, when he found the golden ticket. The light glinted beautifully off that ticket, and the reaction of a boy given a one in a million chance just wasn’t quite there. But Blonquist’s performance was overall relaxed and enjoyable. His relationship with his grandparents (Grandpa Joe – Chris Bradford, Grandma Josephine – Lucy Bradford, Grandpa George – Steve Whitehead, Grandma Georgina – Liesel Polichette) was companionable; especially with Grandpa Joe (Bradford) who gave a consistent and amusing interpretation of the chocolate-loving, former Wonka employee.

 The other children – Augustus Gloop (Mckay Hicken), Veruca Salt (Fatima Reedy), Violet Beauregarde (Shay Swenson), and Mike TeaVee (Ridge Leach) – were all properly horrid in their own way. I enjoyed Hicken’s portrayal of Augustus in his garbled German accent that made you feel like he always had a piece of chocolate stuffed in his cheeks. I was disappointed that his mic struggled so much during the night. Many of his lines were lost and I felt like he didn’t have an opportunity to really let his character shine because of technical difficulties. Reedy was properly spoiled as Veruca. Her tantrums got a little over the top for me sometimes. Where it was a shame that Augustus’ mic was rarely on, it seemed Veruca’s always worked – a little too well during some particularly loud screams! Swenson brought a very snarky tone to Violet and Leach delivered the fast and frenzied attitude of Mike Teavee very well; although, I wished they had each given their factory scenes as much enthusiasm as when we first met their characters.

 The children’s parents – Mrs. Gloop (Mariana Adams), Mr. Salt (Andrew Cannon), Mrs. Beauregarde (understudy Lauree Roberts), and Mrs. Teavee (Kara Henry) – showed us everything a parent should not be. Adams was over the top and in your face as she stuffed more and more food into Augusts’ little piggy cheeks. Cannon played the role of Mr. Salt well, though I had a hard time believing his character simply because of his youth (he’s in his teens). He and Veruca looked too close to the same age to be a convincing father/daughter duo. Mrs. Beauregarde had potential as a character, but like Augustus, her mic rarely worked and I lost most of her lines. Henry, as Mrs. TeaVee, was my favorite with her vapid expression and spacey demeanor that never wavered. She could dominate a scene just by standing still and staring like a 1950’s inspired deer in the headlights.

 The supporting cast of ‘Wonka’ is dominated by children, making up the Oompa Loompas, Candy Kids, and Squirrels. The Squirrels were the youngest of the bunch, and I challenge anyone who sees them to not join into the collective, “Aww!” of the audience. The Candy Kids and Oompa Loompas are decked out in an array of crazy costumes, done by costumer Mareen Robinson. They are bright and fun to watch. Being in the wildly imaginative world of Wonka, I’d encourage them to let loose even more and to bring the stage to life with their choreography, done by Bethany Taylor, and not concentrate so hard on each step and movement. I mentioned whimsy before – and a lot of the show needed an extra punch of that. It is a show that is meant to have more fun than depth, and it is up to the ensemble to bring that. There were many times where the cast kept their reactions very muted – for example:w Willy Wonka’s crippled exit from his factory that turns out to be only a joke. The audience was driven by the reactions of the cast, and since they stayed silent, so did the audience.

 The set, done by David Henry and Ann-Marie Mair, was full of bright colors and brought an animation to the large stage. Touches like the cotton candy boat, gumball machine, and glass elevator were cleverly done. The technical aspects of the show, run by Sara and Brent Harvey, struggled a bit during the night. As mentioned, many of the mics had issues and some of the music cues seemed to lag behind a bit. I enjoyed the special attention giving to different usage of lighting during the show. A golden ticket appeared at the top of the stage as each one was found, and they subsequently disappeared as one by one the children met their ‘sticky’ ends in the factory. I would like to have had more sound effects at key moments in the show. Augustus’ fall into the chocolate river had everyone laughing, but then, as he sat hanging in the tube and eventually got sucked upward, the silence left me with the feeling of anti-climax. The same happened with Veruca’s falling into the nut incinerator and Mike TeaVee’s shrinking.

 Overall, Willy Wonka is a fun community show geared toward families who are looking to see something simply fun. I brought my kids – ages six, four, two, and six weeks. While the baby slept through most of it (that’s good theater etiquette for an infant), the other three were engaged throughout the show and singing “oompa loompa…” as we left. It was definitely a ‘sweet’ night that we all enjoyed.

*The show runs July 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 26, and 27 with the rolls of Charlie, Augustus, Mike, Veruca, and Violet double cast.

Spanish Fork Community Theater

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

Tickets are available online at

$6.00 children and seniors, $8.00 adults, $35.00 for immediate families.

The Hills Are Alive at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater

scera_somBy Larisa Hicken

I grew up watching the film version of The Sound of Music over and over again and I’ve had several opportunities to see the show performed on the stage.  When I heard that the SCERA Theater in Orem, Utah was producing The Sound of Music, I couldn’t pass up another chance to hear some of my all-time favorite songs from Rogers and Hammerstein.

Most people are familiar with the story of Maria who doesn’t quite fit in at the Abbey and is assigned as the governess for the von Trapp family.  She wins the hearts of the seven neglected and unruly children and eventually the heart of the widower Captain Georg von Trapp.  Eventually they are all forced to leave their beloved homeland of Austria in order to evade the Nazis.

Chelsea Hendrickson quickly won my heart as Maria.  Hendrickson’s version of Maria is more dramatic than I’ve seen before and even silly at times, but it worked for me.  Her smile lit up the stage, her voice is bright and beautiful, and her vocal range is fabulous.

mark_buffingtonCaptain von Trapp was played by Mark Buffington.  I struggled to see him as the harsh captain who runs his family like a military troop, but part of it may have been that he was looking down at the stage and away from the other actors a lot.  I wanted to see him more engaged in the scene and more dominant in his posture and movements.  However, there were moments when he really shined. The scene when he was sang “Edelweiss” was very touching.

The elegant Rebekah Osmond was delightful as Elsa Schraider.  Her dancing was as lovely as her voice.  I also really enjoyed Phil Varney as Max Deitweiler.  He had excellent characterization and a rich vocal sound, especially for someone so young.

All of the younger actors were an absolute joy to watch.  Little Olivia Sundwall as Gretl von Trapp was as talented as she was adorable.  She executed every dance move and line with perfection.  McCall Hope Brainard (Marta von Trapp) is a beautiful actress, and Austin Bigelow was endearing as Friederich von Trapp.  Seth Kelson had perfect pitch and amazing volume on his famous high note as Kurt von Trapp.  Chloe Rodgerson had just the right amount of spunk as Louisa von Trapp.  My favorite of the von Trapp children was Grace Grimmer as Brigitta.  Her acting talent is incredible for her age and I loved her voice.

SOM-9104Jessica Sundwall plays every young girl’s favorite character, Leisl von Trapp.  Sundwall is a gorgeous young lady and her voice is terrific.  However, I would like to have seen more clear character development from her.  She seemed to be playing Leisl as slightly ditzy and shallow, which just didn’t work for me.

Another problem was the lack of chemistry between Sundwall and Corey Morris in the role of Rolf.  Their “kiss” was as awkward for the audience as it was for the actors.  During their secret rendezvous, when Leisl and Rolf sing the famous “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” the actors barely made eye contact with each other.  I had a really hard time believing that they had ever met, let alone had feelings for each other.  I did enjoy seeing how Morris’ character of Rolf developed over the course of the show.  His characterization was unique and it definitely grew on me.

vontrapp-family500Another unique character was the Mother Abbess played by Michelle Sundwall.  I confess that as a child I fast forwarded through the song “Climb Every Mountain” and most of the time when I see this show on stage, I wish I could do the same thing.  However, Sundwall was no boring, stately nun.  She had spunk and fire and I finally understand why her character is so important to the story.  And her song was magnificent!

I also have to applaud the supporting actors who played the other nuns, party attendees/dancers, Nazis, and the winning performers in the music festival.  Some of these actors simply stole the show with their fun character choices.

The set design by Nat Reed was a little clunky at times and the cloud texture on the walls was odd, but I really appreciated the beautiful stained glass windows and the garden gazebo which I would love to have seen used more, but it was banished to the back of the stage.  I also loved the use of the hills surrounding the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater.  And the use of the Nazi flags throughout the audience during the final scene actually made my skin crawl.

I was very impressed by the choreography of the show.  Choreographer Nichole Ortega used fluid dance formations to fill the stage and make some really nice pictures.  It’s also obvious that she really took the time to learn about the characters and tell a story with the dancing.  My only concern was that Chelsea Hendrickson as Maria was often out of breath and gasping for air during her scenes, so I wondered if her dancing required a bit too much movement to allow for her singing.

maria-vontrappOne of the biggest problems with The Sound of Music is that all of the fun stuff happens in the first half of the show and we’re stuck with the gloomy stuff for the entire second half.  I was very impressed that director Jeremy Showgren managed to keep the pacing up for the second half and finished the show with a flourish.  I have to admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever truly enjoyed the entire show from the beginning all the way to the end.

Grab your bug spray and lawn chairs and head over to the SCERA for a fun night with the family.  You’ll be singing “The Hills Are Alive” the whole way home.

July 5-20 @ 8:00pm
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
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
SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058
In the middle of SCERA Park