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