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.