Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Homemade Oreo Recipe

Homemade Oreos with Cream Cheese Frosting rolled in Holiday M&Ms for an extra seasonal flare
Over the years, I've been asked for my Homemade Oreo Recipe more times than I can count.  So much so, in fact, that I have an email draft all saved and ready to go anytime someone asks.  Why not share this secret with the world?

I had my first go at these with my friend, Jon Scott, in 2008 and have been tweaking it ever since.  At my highest, I was making three batches per week for about two years. Enjoy!

For those of you who need EXACT, overly ridiculously precise instructions, this recipe provides.

1 box Betty Crocker Devil's food cake mix (has to be Betty Crocker, has to be Devil's Food)
2 eggs
Whatever amount of oil the cake mix box says
Roll into quarter-sized balls and bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes
You will be able to tell if the cookies are cooked enough because they will have cracks in the top of them and when you lift the pan up and let it drop down, the cookies will sink a little.

Cream Cheese Frosting (enough for two batches):

1 stick real salted butter
1 8 oz. block cream cheese
blend until smooth
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
blend until smooth
1.5 cups - 3 cups powdered sugar - this is the one where you have to trust your taste buds.  Some people like really cream-cheesey frosting, others like it very sweet.  I typically put in 2-2.5 cups.  It's up to you.  

Blend until smooth and refrigerate.
This keeps in the fridge in a sealed container until the expiration date of the cream cheese.  I usually have a tub of frosting in my fridge ready to go, that way I only have to worry about making the cookies and I can do that super fast.  

Let the cookies cool completely before you frost them.
Put however much or little frosting in the middle that you want.  I find that most people like more frosting.
Once I have them all frosted, I typically keep them refrigerated until ready to serve.  I also find that most people prefer these chilled.  

Each box of cake mix makes about 20 oreos.  That's why my frosting recipe is for a double batch - I almost always double up on the cookie recipe when I'm taking them somewhere.
If you roll the Oreos in M&Ms or other candies, simply dip the top half of one ball of dough in the topping, then bake.  Only the top half of each completed cookie needs dipped, which will help your garnish last longer.  
You can use any kind of cake mix and duplicate this recipe for a variety of flavors.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Carrie The Musical: Utah Repertory Theater Company

I walked into Utah Repertory Theater Company's space at the Gateway for Carrie: The Musical, and was immediately submersed in a world that felt like a Haunted Gymnasium.  The sounds,the lighting, the smells, the "dead" people walking around were all on par.  I'm not a big fan of interactive casts when the production wasn't originally designed to be interactive, so I was a little leery until I realized this was not an interactive production, but an immersive one.  The "dead" students simply existed to create the atmosphere, which perfectly pulled me into the spell of Carrie: The Musical. 

Carrie: The Musical, directed by Johnny Hebda, is based off the famous Stephen King novel and subsequent film, Carrie.  The plot follows the title character as she matures in high school, as she is bullied relentlessly, as she learns to trust and distrust, as she is abused by her religious zealot of a mother, and as she discovers her powers which ultimately lead to her demise and the demise of almost all of her classmates.  

Immediately, I was impressed with the strong choral ensemble sound and great acoustics in combination with superbly-executed dance moves.  In spite of the fact that the actors are often directly in front of you or surrounding you, the blending is fantastic and, because of the intimate atmosphere, even if an actor's mic wasn't on as quickly as it should have been, you could still hear the actor.  Vocally, the strongest numbers for me were anything sung by Rachel Shull as the terrifying Margaret White, "Unsuspecting Hearts" - a duet between Natalia Noble's Carrie White and Megan Shenefelt's Miss Gardner, and "Shine"- a duet between Emilie Starr's Sue Snell and Brock Dalgleish's Tommy Ross.  I was impressed with how healthy of a belt sound the leading actors produced with an exception of a few pushed lines on the title song "Carrie."  Skye Dahlstrom's sassy, insecure bully, Chris Hargensen, on "The World According to Chris" had a strained, forced sound to her belt, but melted my heart with her crystal clear angelic, gentle sound when singing in her higher register head voice as she introspectively sings alone after the rest of the cast exits the stage. 

Acting-wise, Dahlstrom is a stand-out in her portrayal of Chris - she shows us the insecurities deep within that manifest into cruelty.  We watch all of the character relationships develop throughout the show, but the best relationship chemistry, surprisingly, is at the beginning of the show between "best friends" Sue (Starr) and Chris (Dahlstrom).  I also enjoyed the loving, protective relationship between Carrie (Noble) and Miss Gardner (Shenefelt).   

Natalie Noble will absolutely knock your socks off as she becomes Carrie White - from her posture to her mannerisms to her awkward glances to her unsure-come-unstoppable metamorphosis.  Margaret (Shull) was truly the most terrifying character in the show, with her religious-zealot mind frame and the way she loves and simultaneously abuses her daughter.  My notes actually said, "Shull as Margaret - YIKES!" Miss Gardner (Shenefelt) is Carrie's inspiration in a voice of love and reason.  There was a certain melody missing to her southern accent, but nothing can stop the warmth you feel emananting from her and her love for the students.  Emilie Eileen Starr's Sue is the heart of this production, covering every emotion from joyous to tearfully traumatized to love to fear to hate - and bringing the audience along with her on the ride. 

As a whole, the ensemble characters are fantastically convincing in character, never breaking even though at times they are practically on top of the audience.  They precisely and energetically execute Ashley Gardner Carlson's ambitious choreography.  One female ensemble member lacked the electricity to her character the others portrayed, while none of the male ensemble members convincingly portrayed the heterosexual males they are intended to be (one is written as being "confused).  But don't take what I'm saying the wrong way - the ensemble was absolutely at a level at which any director would be more than pleased.   To both ensemble and leads - most of the cast has rock-star physiques that the best of trainers would be proud of, so I must point out there is no need to fidget or adjust the costumes while on stage. 

Speaking of the ensemble, the staging of many of the scenes, full of chaos and running, was precisely portrayed the performance I attended.  I can see how one wrong step could lead to a collision or injury, but the cast seemed acutely aware of each other, in spite of darkness, flashing lights, and screaming.   

The lighting, by Geoffrey Gregory, with precise spots, color changes, creation of the tone for the special effects, etc, was also exactly what I would hope for in a production in this space.  The magic of the special effects shared with the audience were spot-on.  Many of the effects were implied for the audience to use our imaginations with sound and light, which absolutely worked because the imagination is often times more vivid than reality, yet because the effects we saw were so enthralling, we were left wanting more of the magic show.  

Also a huge help in creating the atmosphere was the makeup by Kelly Donahue.  Characters change from dead to alive at the beginning of the show through the flashback story-telling of Starr's Snell.  I was amazed at the quickness of that change.  Carrie is a girl who doesn't know how to take care of herself, but I don't see her as absolutely wretched, which is what her harsh makeup at the beginning of the show creates with the red tones on her eyes and flesh tone on her lips.  Her color tones were more blended by half-way through Act 1.  The aging makeup on Shull worked well, considering the very small venue and how close we were, but I wish I had been twenty feet further away so I wouldn't have noticed.  To save the best mention for last - the blood.  The Blood!  The blood looked real, created gore without being over-the-top, and smelled delicious.  Yes, I understand the creepiness of that statement.  Very well done.

The music was perfection.  I didn't realize the orchestrations were live until part-way through the show because they were precisely executed and at such a perfect balance sound-wise with the vocals.  Balance may seem a given, but in most shows there is almost always one over-powering the other.  Hats off to music director Kevin Mathie.  

Director Hebda's vision for the show was original and well-executed.  Many of the props, as we experience this story through the flashbacks of Sue Snell, were left to the imagination, except vital pieces such as The Bible.  In flashbacks, we remember only integral details, not every minute object.  The missing pieces added to the atmosphere, creating a disturbing element visually.  Hebda's vision also leant itself to leaving out some of the vulgar bullying aspects at the beginning of the show that weren't necessary.  He wisely re-imagined the beginning of the show to have the characters first appear as deceased, then a close-up on the living Sue, creating the full-circle of the story. You will also notice that Sue never changes costumes, which makes sense as the audience is experiencing this story through her narration of her memories.   She flawlessly transitions from telling the story to being part of the story.

There wasn't any better place to be this past Halloween weekend than watching this production.  The talent impressed, the atmosphere transported, and the message touched hearts to the point of tears from both audience members and cast alike.  If you are intrigued by the idea of Carrie as a musical, go check it out and you will walk away with your heart more full, whether for your love of people or horror.*  Carrie is the perfect choice for entertainment to haunt you with the ghosts of your past, as every audience member will be able to connect with one of the characters as someone they knew, or were, in their youth.  

You can buy tickets for shows Wednesday at 7:30pm - Sunday, November 8 at 7:30pm.  There is a 2pm Matinee on Saturday and a 3pm matinee on Sunday.  This Wednesday is "pay as you may" day at the door (Gateway Mall, 90 S. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City) as long as tickets remain.  Prices are $18 for adults pre-purchased, $15 for students/seniors, and $20 for adults at the door.

*Content Advisory:  This production contains adult language, with several uses of "the F-word."  There is also physical violence, although it is purely theatrical, it is staged convincingly.    

Directed by Johnny Hebda
Musical Direction by Kevin Mathie
Choreography by Ashley Gardner Carlson
Assistant Directed by JayC Stoddard
Produced by Cylie Hall

Sound Design by James Hansen
Lighting Design by Geoffrey Gregory 
Makeup by Kelly Donahue 
CARRIE WHITE- Natalia Noble
SUE SNELL- Emilie Starr
TOMMY ROSS- Brock Dalgleish
BILLY NOLAN- Derek Gregerson
MISS GARDNER- Megan Shenefelt
NORMA- Giovanna Doty
HELEN- Kellie Rodriguez
KIM- Micki Martinez
LISA- Jenny Bauman
FRIEDA- Morgan Michel
GEORGE- Todd McRae
STOKES- Tommy Kulkus
FREDDIE- Garrett Grigg
STEVE- Dallon Thorup
RICKY- Paul Calvo

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Unfriend


I simply want to share how this strangest of all verbs has affected my life and my desire to change that.

The only thing that will cause me to "unfriend" a person on the book of faces is if someone is offending me in an extreme manner with a personal attack, cruelty, or mega stalkage.  You see, in my world, someone has to have gone so far past the tolerable zone, that I will go out of my way to hunt down the "unfriend" button and consciously make the effort to click it with a sigh of good riddance.  Most often, the unfriend is not worth my time.  I've "unfollowed" here and there when someone loves to talk about a topic not of interest to me too often, but it takes a lot to get me to truly feel someone is not worth being in my life any longer and actively make the cut. 

This, my friends, is why I hurt more than I should when I haphazardly discover someone I have loved at some point in my life (friends, old roommates,cast mates, ultimate frisbee buddies, the list goes on) has gone out of their way to unfriend me.  This usually happens when I go to send a message or type on their wall that something made me think of them.  I know there are many, many reasons someone could have chosen to unfriend, but because I know why I do, it hurts.  I think, "How sad is it that I'd still be thinking of them and they have cut me from association?"  I find myself going through stages of denial.  Then I spend way more time than I should looking over my own Facebook page trying to figure out what the heck I did that was so offensive to them that they wanted to cut me out of their lives.  If I knew, I would absolutely apologize, but I come up blank every time.  (All ex's have a get out of jail free card in the unfriend...I understand those).

Maybe a picture of myself in my latest theater production that a friend tagged is too much?  Maybe my bi-monthly status updates are too much?  Maybe they can't handle my awesomeness?  *sigh*  I really don't know.  I have tried over and over to not let it bug me, but it does because I love so deeply and so permanently.  Every person I have associated with has left an imprint in my life - helping me become the person I am today.

I'll never know.  It will probably always bug me.  But that's okay.  Life is great and I can consider myself blessed to have had a friend in the first place and then even more blessed for the ones who keep me around. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ordinary Days: Utah Repertory Theater Company

I entered Sugar Space at 616 Wilmington Avenue in Salt Lake City expecting an ordinarily charming, eccentric, entertaining show from Utah Repertory Theater Company.  What I received in Ordinary Days was so much more.

We are introduced to the characters on a chaotic New York City street, which is hard to imagine with only four cast members and a piano as accompaniment, but the pandemonium was real.  Inspirational quotes are shared (both in delivery and on flyers handed to audience members) through the refreshingly, adorably optimistic Warren (Thomas Kulkus), having the audience in giggle fits from the first moment we see the expression on his face.   There is a delicate balance in the use of breaking the fourth wall in theater, which this cast utilizes with perfection.  They interact to let us know they are telling us their story, yet pull back to the art of story-telling at precisely the right moments.

For those who have been to an Off-Broadway show in New York City, they know the intimate setting and feel of only those tiny theaters where the performers are practically in your lap, the set pieces that become a wall or a car or a coffee shop so imaginatively flawlessly, and the feeling at the end of the show that you are part of something bigger than when you entered.   Sugar Space was the perfect venue to create that exact sort of feeling for Salt Lake audiences - a larger venue simply would not do. 

Audiences will have an innate knowledge that these four characters are destined to intertwine into each others' lives by the show's conclusion.  I have already mentioned Warren (Thomas Kulkus).  We have Deb (Brighton Hertford), the ever-agonizing intellectual graduate-school hipster.  Next is Jason (Matthew Wade), the sparkly-eyed man in love.  Finally, is Claire (Mandi Barrus), a charismatic woman with an initially awesomely Ingrid Michaelson-style sound, obviously trying to let go of something to make room for a man she knows loves her.

As each character shares with us bits of their ordinary days in their ordinary lives, we see how truly humorous and devastating even the smallest of daily events can be.  In each of their stories, we can clearly see our own lives - from the ever-present twinkle in Wade's eye as Jason, to the angst of a lost school assignment, to the extreme desire for human connection.    

One of the songs presents the concept that we keep things as mementos as proof that our past life was real.  My mind spiraled out of control thinking of all of the ways my past seems a distant, fictional creation that I truly might not believe if there weren't tangible evidence.  I think of my life in Ohio growing up - the barn, the My Little Ponies, the gymnastics t-shirts galore...all things that seem so far removed, yet I can open one box and an entire world is there before me of which I never want to let go. 

Just as you might feel as if you will succumb to the aching of nostalgia, Warren and Deb's interactions have us again grinning ear-to-ear.  The one exception to this is Claire's number, "I'll Be Here."  I publicly proclaim to the world that I have never cried at a movie.  Even crazier, I had never cried at a theater production, unless I was performing on stage.  Friends, I had tears rolling down my cheek (just the left one) to the point that I could not believe Barrus was able to complete her performance without breaking down.  The sniffles echoing through the audience let me know I was not alone.

About twenty minutes into Utah Rep's Ordinary Days, I quit taking notes.  Each performer had such fine-tuned nuances, such intricately enunciated lyrics, that I wanted to drink in every moment undistracted and let my mind take me away to their world in New York City.  Each performer sings their soul with such honesty and character that you almost forget there are notes written on a page instead of a tune you've somehow always known.

I have always tried to put into words what a crazy miracle life can be.  What if I had moved to a different neighborhood?  What if I hadn't met up with a heartbroken friend one night for improv comedy?  What if a dear friend hadn't reached out to me to attend this production?  I don't have answers.  I don't want answers.  What I do know is that Adam Gwon presents us with a brief glimpse into how the lives of four people changed forever because of several "fortuitous coincidences."  Which leads me to wonder - is our life full of an endless stream of "coincidences," or "miracles," or both?

If you have a chance, any chance at all, I suggest you eliminate one "What if?" from your life and see this production.  So often I share that a show is for a particular target audience.  Ordinary Days, however, will resonate with everyone.  Everyone.  You will see yourself in its honest compilation of ordinary events that add up to create a legacy for each or our lives. 

Some performances have sold out, so you will want to make sure to get your tickets as soon as possible here.   Take a date, take a best friend, take yourself.  You can find more information on Utah Rep's website or on the Facebook Event.   The show is only 75 minutes, which is just long enough to fully develop each story, while leaving you wanting more.  The rating would be PG-13 for some language only.  Remaining available performances dates are as follows:
Saturday, July 25, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 26, 3 p.m.

Cast and Production List
Director: Chase Ramsey
Music Director:Jeanne McGuire

Claire: Mandi Barrus
Deb: Brighton Hertford
Jason: Matthew Wade
Warren: Thomas Kulkus

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Taylorsville Arts: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Every once in awhile something magical happens with a cast both on and off the stage.

In years past, I have had a rough go at teaching my choreography.  The ideas are all beautifully harmonious in my head, but due to my little voice disorder, it becomes painful to project/yell (yes, even with a microphone) for three hours at a time.  Don't worry, voice therapy and medicine mostly keep my vocal chords strong and can now last a two-hour show no problem.  Most community theater participants are performing for many reasons - one of them being social.  I love it when my casts love each other, but the anxiety that grips my heart when I realize they love talking, and loudly, is pure dread.

I love to perform as well as choreograph.  The two most often can't go hand-in-hand because I have to dedicate my voice to one or the other.  Yet, when director Wendy Dahl-Smedshammer approached me to choreograph Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I could not say no in spite of the stifling fear of facing a painful and not-as-successful-as-I-would-have-hoped experience like I've sometimes had in the past.  To cover all my bases, I found a wonderful choreographer friend in Natalie Fortie Adams for 5 of the bigger of 21 numbers who also covered some of the rehearsals I could not attend and the best dance captain a girl could hope for in Aubrielle Johnson. 

Miracle of miracles - everything fell into place to choreograph and perform all while successfully pleasing both groups.  But this is not the point of the story.

The point is, I was scared going into this experience.  I didn't know if I could do it.  I didn't want to let down my performers or myself, but could I get them to successfully bring to life the dancing visions in my mind?

YES!  The answer is a resounding, "YES!"  The 70-ish performers in Taylorsville's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat work incredibly hard.  They love each other and talk, but also respect all of the production team members when they are talking.  They remember all of the notes they are given for a better performance.  They practice.  They ask for tips on how to be better.  They help each other.  The list goes on and on.  I could not be more impressed with this group.

In fact, for the first time I have teared up watching them dance.  This is the first time I can say, "Yes, that is the vision that was in my head and there it is on stage just as I imagined!"  I tear up watching how much they have grown to love each other the past couple of months.  I tear up thinking about how there is no way we could have known when we were casting the show the first weekend in May that these performers would step up to a level they were not near two months ago.  There is no way we could have known the magic that would happen.

I love this cast.  I would work with them time and time again.  There is an air of love floating around that stage I have no doubt the audience feels.  There is laughter and joy every night.  Mingling in the crowds after the show, I see nothing but smiles.  We don't have a budget for fancy technology or sets or costumes, but we've got magic.  What more do you need?

Closing night is tonight.  I truly hope lives have changed this summer.  I also truly hope I have been a part of that.

Alder Amphitheater SLCC Campus off 4600 Redwood Road.  8:00 pm.  $7 or $5 for groups larger than 6.

All photos courtesy of Janel Williams. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Larissa's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

I learned today that a picture really is worth 1,000 words.  All I did was post a photo of some cookies I baked for a friend and - *BAM* - dozens of requests for a recipe.  They do look amazing, right?  I promise they taste even better!

  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks room temperature butter (aka softened, not melted)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup flour (or just do 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 regular flour)
  • 1/3 bag Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Chips or Trader Joe's Chocolate Chips
  • 1/3 bag Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunks
  • 1/3 bag Nestle Mini Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (the only time I ever use Nestle, as I don't prefer their chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Combine sugars and butter until integrated/fluffy (too much mixing will melt the butter = bad)
  • Mix in extracts, soda, powder, salt, and eggs (again, do not mix too much)
  • Mix in bread flour until just integrated
  • Mix in flour until just integrated (the dough may seem as if it is not going to stick together, but it will once you knead)
  • Knead in chocolate chips with freshly washed hands
  • Refrigerate dough for at least* an hour.  I prefer to let it set overnight, which is why I love this recipe- you can whip it together right before bed in ten minutes, then bake the next day (or three days later!).
  • Roll dough into balls - I usually do about a 50-cent piece size just slightly smaller than a golf ball, but it works for larger sizes too
*I promise you if you don't let these set/chill, they will turn out very flat and crispy, which is not at all what you want.

  • Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Some ovens may take 11.  You want them to only have the lightest of brown on the higher points of the cookies.
  • Let cookies develop on sheet for two or three minutes.
  • Use spatula to remove and place on whatever surface you use for cooling - I use a sheet of wax paper or tin foil.  Nothing fancy.
  • The cookies may seem to be gooey or more likely to fall apart, but they will solidify upon cooling.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Noises Off: Midvale Arts Council

Noises Off, by Michael Frayn, is an absolutely wacky show-within-a-show where nothing happens, yet everything happens.

In act one, the characters are learning their lines and blocking for an actual production.  Act two leads us backstage to see the antics of the performers as they make their entrances and exits.  The closing act shows us the absolute deterioration of the performances on stage due to the crazy mishaps off stage. 

There are shows that make you think and shows that make you laugh.  I love the opportunity to sit back with a smile plastered across my face as my brain goes on vacation.  All of the performances were perfectly flawed to fit the absurd antics of the characters designed to be larger-than-life.   

The true genius of Noises Off is found in the set design.  Wow.  In between each act, the crew and cast take apart the set and reconstruct it to show the backstage/on stage dynamic.  You can see what a feat Midvale has produced in this 15-second hyperlapse video.  

Midvale Arts has also been doing an entertaining campaign with their Instagram account, which I suggest you follow here.  Each day, a different cast or crew member takes over the instagram to show you what a day in their life is like, as well as their character's view from on stage.  Talk about getting the inside scoop! 

I don't have anything eloquent to say except that this show is exactly what you need to cure the winter blues.  I found myself with my hands on my face, watching with disbelief at the "I can't believe this is happening" moments in the third act.  Each move is something straight out of America's Funniest Home Videos.  You will end the night breathless from laughter and feeling like you got a great workout simply from watching the actors and actresses command the zaniness on stage.  

You have three chances left to see this show: 7:30pm March 5, 6, and 7 at Midvale Performing Arts Center (695 W. Center Street, Midvale).
Ticket prices are $7 for general admission, $5 for seniors and children, family passes are available for $25 (one household.) Group discounts are available by contacting Producer, Stephanie Johnson.

Cast List:
Director: Aaron Sparks
Producer: Stephanie Johnson
Dotty/Clackett: Carrie Simper
Lloyd: Chris Kucera
Gary/Roger: Scott Millet
Brooke/Vicki: McKenzie Stanworth
Poppy: Megan Smyth
Frederick/Phillip: Madman Madriaga
Belinda/Flavia: Nichole Keddington
Tim: Mark Hanson
Selsdon: Dain Percifield

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Last Five Years: Utah Repertory Theater Company

Every story is told from the point of view of the person sharing the story.  Utah Repertory Theater Company shares with us a musical masterpiece of composer Jason Robert Brown in The Last Five Years.  Audiences experience a love story, told alternately through the eyes of Jamie and Cathy, Jamie recalling from the beginning of the relationship, Cathy from the end, and meeting in the middle.   

Utah Rep's website sums up our characters best: "Jamie Wellerstein (Rhett Richins) is a young, talented up-and-coming Jewish novelist who falls in love with Cathy Hiatt (Erin Royall Carlson), a struggling actress and shiksa goddess."   Audiences spend the next hour and a half with the talents of Richins and Carlson alone on stage, as directed by John Sweeney.

Rhett Richins' nuances as Jamie Wellerstein were natural, convincing, and often hilarious.  He conveyed every nuance of an emotion through one simple look, one pronunciation.  I loved the way he wove accents in and out of his singing as he talked about his Jewish mother and an old clock maker named Schmuel.  Actors are often directed that every movement has a purpose, which Richins personifies as he tells a story in each look, movement, and musical note. 

Erin Royall Carlson as Cathy Hiatt evoked a strong stoicism and warped sense of humor that being a theater professional requires.  We see such weight on her shoulders as she begins the show at the end of her story and relationship, with each scene seemingly lifting off another emotional brick to unveil the light, energetic, radiant Cathy that Jamie fell in love with. 

Live orchestrations grant these two performers the ability to interpret the lyrics and musicality with emotion and depth, helping transfer those feelings to the audience.  Music director, Anne Puzey, created a remarkable atmosphere with her ensemble of talented musicians.  Composer Jason Robert Brown is known for intricate work, and these musicians created a feeling of intricacy that could have shared the story even if the songs had no lyrics.   

The set, lighting, and sound were all very simply designed as we focused on a three-point turning set piece in the middle of the stage, with side pieces and use of shadows to direct or focus to a certain character or scene.  I agree with these decisions strongly, as this story is about two people and their relationship, stripped bare of the world around them.  

Watching the decisions of Jamie and Cathy, my heart wrenched with the agony of my own choices and where they were leading my life and the life of my relationships.  Cathy and Jamie made these seemingly insignificant choices that became more and more substantial until their relationship was ruined.  We can choose our path, but we cannot choose our consequences.  I became keenly aware of how important each moment is.  When Jamie asks Cathy if she will share her life with him for the next ten minutes, then ten more minutes, I thought about how many times the present ten minutes would not leave my friend or husband to ask me for another ten minutes. Jamie gifts Cathy a watch at one point, saying, "You get to be happy...I give you unlimited time."  Watching The Last Five Years stress the importance of time and its correlation with happiness drives home the invaluable importance of every moment.  It's in the moments that life is made or broken.

As a passionate theater-goer, yet not someone who researches beyond plot-points to the intricate nuances of a show before I attend, I can confidently say that The Last Five Years can be confusing even if you know there are two timelines that meet in the middle.  Perhaps a talkback session would have explained the answer to our questions, but my companion and I both had a difficult time understanding why there would be a Jamie scene where he is singing to Cathy and she is present, then the next Jamie scene where he is singing to Cathy, she is not present.  We didn't notice a correlation between his temperament or the stage of their relationship and her presence or lack thereof.  The one correlation we found was between her presence/his presence and costume changes.  For such a minimalistic production, the elaborate costume changes seemed a bit much.  Yes, it did help tell the story and create clear "this is a different scene" moments, but I would have liked to see both characters on stage at all times (which I know is more exhausting than a marathon for performers), with simple costume changes, like the addition of a jacket, a change of shoes, a scarf, etc.  This would have fit the overall minimalistic feel for me.  I also wondered if perhaps the age in the lyrics could have been changed to more accurately reflect the age of the performers. 

Some of you may question whether to see the live theater production or the movie that is hitting wide-release in theaters.  My suggestion is you must see both.  There is beautiful story-telling in the movie, however, live theater has an electricity in the air that makes the experience undeniably more real.  The raw vibrancy of a person standing in front of you shedding real tears and real sweat while singing their heart out to you, to tell you a story, cannot be recreated on film.

If you have a heart, it will break watching Utah Rep's performance of The Last Five Years - it will break with joy, mourning, inspiration, and appreciation of the beautiful work of art in front of you.  You will see scenes from your own relationships played out before you, giving you the cherished feelings of each loving moment while your gut wrenches with pangs from loss.  Should you choose to use your time at The Last Five Years, that time will be incredibly well spent.  As Jamie sings, "Take a breath.  Take a step.  Take a chance." 

The Last Five Years runs at various times, with varying admission prices, until March 15 at Sugar Space Studio Theater in Sugarhouse, then March 20-22 at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Ogden.  Please refer to the website for more information.  Please also note that the movie version of this production is rated PG-13 for language and adult themes, which echoes the stage production. 

Image from

*Disclaimer*  I've heard it said, and fully agree, "Reviewers don't write about theater, they write about themselves at the theater." 

Empress Theatre: Into the Woods

I recently reviewed Into the Woods at the Empress Theatre for Front Row Reviewers Utah.

We all know the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel - complete with their evil nemeses.  But what happens when you flip these fairy tales on their heads?  Into the Woods happens, that's what.  Lucky for you, Nancy Jensen is directing a lovely production for audiences to see this inside-out tale at The Empress Theatre.

If you'd like to read more, please do so here. 

Narrator: Nathan Unck
Cinderella: Valerie Packer
Jack: Skye Davis
Jack's Mother: Jamie Crane
Baker: Brett Johnson
Baker's Wife: Sarah Johnson
Cinderella's Stepmother: Kimberly Wicker
Florinda: Sunny Watts
Lucinda: Melissa Head
Cinderella's Father: Perry Whitehair
Little Red: Alexis Shaw
Witch: Diane Nebeker
Cinderella's Mother/Giant: Christin Saling
Mysterious Man: Steve Hedman
Wolf/Rapunzel's Prince: Geoffrey Gregory
Cinderella's Prince: Chris Kennedy

Photo Courtesy of Empress Theatre

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment

Due to the promise I made after my second adjustment regarding not purchasing milkshakes, I was pretty darned excited for adjustment number 3.  I mean, c'mon - MILKSHAKE!

This time has actually been okay, folks.  I expected to not be able to eat much for a couple of days, so I prepped for more than my fair share of soft foods with not a lot of pain.  I won't be munching tortilla chips anytime soon, but it's okay.

I received two new wires (top and bottom), as well as some pretty blue rubberbands on the bottom.  My next visit will bring me a "claw" (I asked, they told me it meant bending wires to close the spaces that were created to turn/straighten certain teeth) and all the other prep work for adjustment number five.  What is happening on adjustment five?  *gulp*  Springs.  This option is better than head gear, but I also fear the side effects.

I listened to myself on the show in podcast form that I help with - The Cultural Hall - and heard this weird "sh" every time I said an "s."  It was very weird listening to my intonation and enunciation be so different than recordings in the past.  C'est la vie, it'll only last another year and a half-ish.

Until adjustment number 4, chew lightly.

Adult Braces: Making the Decision
Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work
Adult Braces: Getting Braces On
Adult Braces: Learning to Eat with Braces
Adult Braces: My First Adjustment
Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement (the first few)
Adult Braces: My Second Adjustment
Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Past Year's Resolutions: 2014

What did I accomplish this year?

Every year I ask myself this question and make my retrospective resolutions for the year.  Hindsight is 20/20.  And I think it is much more uplifting to reflect and think, "Wow- I did that!" than to think, "I didn't meet two of my ten goals.  I'm a failure."  Know what I'm saying?

In no particular order:
  1. Stay married!  Apparently this is a pretty big deal.
  2. Visit NYC for 2 weeks, seeing 16 shows (My favorite was Beautiful, thanks for asking)
  3. Be on David Letterman.  For real.  Here's the story and video.
  4. Buy a new new car.  2014 Honda Civic EX.  Probably never going to happen again in my life. 
  5. Choreograph Hairspray for Taylorsville Arts
  6. Choreograph Broadway My Way for Taylorsville Arts
  7. Choreograph for Murray elementary schools
  8. Perform as Vi Moore in Sandy Arts Guild's Footloose - I guess I play adults now?
  9. Perform in a dream show Marvelous Wonderettes for Sandy Arts Guild as Betty Jean Reynolds - Wait, I'm 18 again?  
  10. Audition for my first show at Hale Centre Theatre and get called back!  
  11. See Frankie Valli perform live at Niagra Falls - that's one off my bucket list
  12. Increase my husband's business, Life of the Party Entertainment, another 20%, meaning his business has doubled since I began working with him 
  13. Maintain my six-times weekly dates with Gym
  14. Be in a movie - Don Verdean.  I was just an extra, but we are seeing the final product at Sundance Film Festival Saturday
  15. Win "best couple that never actually hooked up" in the costume contest at Pepper Nix's Halloween Spooktacular for our "A League of Their Own" costumes, we've been trying to win for three years
  16. Become a redhead (for a show, but I kept it).
  17. Get braces, a wish in the making for 17 years
  18. Visit Rochester, Niagra Falls, Ohio, NYC, Moab, Las Vegas (twice), Phoenix, Shakespeare Festival, Goblin Valley
  19. Throw the greatest "A Christmas Story" party (creatively speaking) yet
  20. Read the Fablehaven and Under the Never Sky series
  21. Finish watching Twin Peaks, How I Met Your Mother, The Carrie Diaries (don't judge), Sherlock, and Breaking Bad
  22. Continue helping beautiful brides plan and implement their weddings
  23. Continue helping with The Cultural Hall Show Podcast

Resolutions of Year's Past