The Music Man Corners the Market in Charm at Heritage Community Theatre

By Steve Odenthal

Harold Hill and Marian in The Music Man at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah

The Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah has apparently NOT run out of charm—it is literally spilling off the stage in the form of actors, young and old in their newest production, The Music Man by Meredith Willson.  Don’t worry about them, however, as no one is injured and as they mingled amongst the audience members, each of us felt we were in good hands at all times. This very strong cast provides a fast-paced, and completely enjoyable evening of laughs all around. From top to bottom Marilyn Olsen Whipple, as she seems to have a knack to do, has assembled a dynamite production of a classic making it hard to even begin to tell of this experience. Whipple is at ease directing large casts on small stages it seems and pulls that feat off flawlessly in this show. Choreography (Ellie Jensen, Brianna Farr Taylor, and Drew N. Angelovic–who also was Assistant Director) is tight, not forced, creative, and obviously fun for the cast. Each of the dancers appeared confident, poised, and very natural in each number.

                Let me rephrase that last line. In the numbers where confidence, poise, and natural-ness is expected this cast delivers. But, well… let me introduce you to one “Eulalie MacKeeknie Shinn” (Noelle Willes Sadler) and the “Pick a little, talk a little” girls (Janine Mickelson, Stacey Keller, Jenn Christensen, Rebecca Genther, Maren Bishop, Jessica Busby, Makayla Thornley) as they reach the heights of hilarity throughout the show, but achieve superstardom during their Grecian Urns turn.  A word of warning, although the theatre does sell concessions, don’t be drinking when these ladies hit the stage, lest you inadvertently share with your friends. A perfect bit of casting, right there.

                For those who are not familiar with this show, The Music Man brings us to River City, Iowa—a pleasant bump along the rail line that features one of the most unique sets of characters in Broadway history. The citizens here are stubborn to the point of an artform and so very patriotic that the red, white and blue is on display at every gathering of townsfolk. Local politicians rule the roost here, so very little is accomplished, but every decree is made in a big way.  The Mayor (Greg Lemke) and his first-lady Eulalie Shinn top the social charts while he is in office and his City Councilmen have never seen eye-to-eye in true Iowa tradition. That is about to change as a stranger comes to town in the form of Professor Harold Hill (Tad Wilson), a slick salesman who has bottled his snake oil in his own revolutionary “Think” system. As Hill, Wilson works his magic and spins his webs into River City, uniting the Mayor and City Council against him and yet for him at the same time. They never quite know if they are coming or going. The good Professor has an ability to unite, divide, and sidestep any matter or situation which is not to his advantage. There were times that Wilson took his character into total control—like forming a barbershop quartet of local politicians (Craig Whitaker, Roger Ellis, Michael Clark, and Eric Sadler) who previously had nothing good to say to one another and then slip-sliding away undetected in some impressive stage blocking. Hill absolutely gets this town out of its rut for a few weeks as he organizes a boy’s band to avert the “Trouble” in River City represented by the presence of a Pool table in the community. Trouble ensues as the Mayor owns the Billiard Parlor and demands the Professor’s credentials. Undeterred, Harold Hill has pursuits of his own in wooing the local librarian/piano teacher Marian Paroo (Karlie Clark). The con is on and the only one who can see clearly soon has her vision obscured by love. But not before she has done her research on Professor Harold Hill and his professed credentials. You will like the exchanges, confidence, and facials that Clark brings to her character. You will also absolutely love her voice as it clears the typical standards of local theatre and fills the room. She brings a genuine touch to every castmate relationship she shares. Everyone was first and foremost rooting for Marian.

                The Paroo household, where Marian teaches her piano lessons boasts a couple of other characters in the story—neither will be easy for you to forget. Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s mother (Marsha Holmes) and Winthrop (Joey Benson) bring delight with them as they entertain the audience. Benson brings an age-appropriate and endearing shyness mixed with early Iowan stubborn as he navigates life in this small town and eagerly awaits the Wells Fargo wagon. Winthrop as well as the whole town realizes that good things in the form of change come from the outside, deposited by either train, wagon, or something completely foreign like the “Think” system. Benson is fun to watch in this part which is double cast with his younger brother. We are definitely coming back to see how Joey’s brother Hyrum performs the role. It will be a treat.

                Holmes, in her role as the Irish mother of Marian, is a fun watch and shows off her comedic chops in this production. Although we have seen Holmes before on this stage in other roles, this is a side of her that seems such a comfortable fit.  She lays out guilt well and keeps the librarian in line while hinting that she should color outside the lines just a bit more often. The elder Paroo may well be the only citizen ally Professor Hill has at times.

                Now for the love stories unfolding on stage—and there are a few. Harold and Marian are the main event with Wilson and Clark making a very nice blend of voices and talent, but I got a real kick out of some of the minor romances. The pairings on stage for the dances seemed quite natural and the actors seemed rightly involved in each other. Well, perhaps not young Winthrop and Amaryllis (Sadie Jeppsen on this night, double cast with Annie Neslen). Theirs is more of a one-sided flirtation, with Jeppsen taking the lead easily, while Benson is quite convinced that he is much more interested in worms, given a choice. Very age appropriate. Zaneeta (Rachel Hunt) and Tommy (Caderik Wilson), are teen-aged, energetic, angsty, and twitter-pated all at once. They light up the stage from the background and each is fun to watch. Again, very age appropriate in this small town.

Mentioning the quiet charisma Hunt brings to the stage is needed, but she also acted as the Costume Mistress for the production. She seems to have had exceptional help with Samantha Merkley, Brianna Farr Taylor, Abby Payne-Peterson, and Marilyn Olsen Whipple all pitching in. This is a huge cast of over forty and Iowa, even in the early 1900s is not known for setting fashion standards—but make no mistake that they would have tried. A huge assortment of gowning went into this show. Hats were the thing, apparently as each lady had several it seemed and wore them well. It got to the point that I looked forward to the scene changes to see what’s next.

                I also looked forward to each appearance of Marcellus Washburn (Quinton Geilman) as the comedic sidekick of the con-man Hill. Wilson and Geilman had an easy comradery in a Big guy/Little guy way. They complimented each other nicely and made their character’s history with each other come alive.  Geilman took the on-stage relationship seriously and brought his character’s great concern and caring for Harold Hill to the forefront without losing the humor.  Marcellus’ romance with Ethel Toffelmier (Rebecca Genther) is one for the ages, these two play off each other well.

There are several “glue” characters throughout the production that capture us for an instant in a scene and then return to their Iowa ways, but we are richer for sharing the moment with them. Megan Keller portrays the youngest Shinn, Gracie and gives us hope for that particular family’s next generation. Jordan Gardner as Constable Locke and Jackson Neslen as the Conductor of the train that brings the Professor to town in the opening scene, both do a nice job with their roles. In fact, to watch the train ride into River City is a delight with all the men giving a convincing performance during a very demanding Rock Island song. Very well done. Even the Anvil salesman (the designated bad guy if there is one in this show) played by Dave McKenzie had me in stitches at times.

                Rounding out the cast is a virtual army of townspeople and dancers who make this show feel whole and complete. They all do an extraordinary job and you will be cheering for them like a true Iowan at a Boys Band concert—without the stress of the “Think” system. Those actors are: Alli Bradford, Amanda Bradford, Hannah Christensen, Denver Ellis, Abby Findlay, Jordan Gardner, Jet Jensen, Tyson Lemke, Austin Lemke, McKenzie Nay, Jackson Neslen, Jordan Neslen, Sydney Neslen, Easton Sadler, Isaac Sadler, Logan Sadler, McKayla Thornley, and Trayson Wilson.

If you are lucky enough to be a regular patron at Heritage Community Theatre you have no doubt been spoiled by the fine voices and musical direction that each production delivers–that doesn’t change with this show. The voices solo and united are excellent and the obvious hours of preparation that the actors and Musical Directors (Kelli Morris and Annette Whitaker) put in are on display freely throughout the show. A huge highlight of the night is the Barbershop Quartet pieces throughout. Clark, Ellis, Sadler, and Whitaker blend so nicely together that it amazes–plain and simple. Well done is deserved to one and all.

                This production of The Music Man is excellent. It flows nicely, thanks to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Stage Manager, Amanda Bradford, and her assistant McKenzie Nay. Props are a sizeable chore in a show this massive but are done well by Stacey Keller—especially finding a trombone the size of young Hyrum Benson. That is a laugh all its own. The Set artist was Grant Wilson.

                This is a great entertainment value for the whole family, full of fun and talent. You won’t be disappointed by this cast which is strong from top to bottom. The Music Man playing at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah is a charmer. You should catch it during its run May 31st – June 22nd. As the song says, “…You ought to give Iowa a try…”You will not be disappointed. We’ll see you there!

Abby Findlay, Abby Payne-Peterson, Alli Bradford, Amanda Bradford, Annette Whitaker, Annie Neslen, Austin Lemke, Brianna Farr Taylor, Caderik Wilson, Craig Whitaker, Dave McKenzie, Denver Ellis, Drew N. Angelovic,  Easton Sadler, Ellie Jensen, Eric Sadler, Grant Wilson, Greg Lemke, Hannah Christensen, Heritage Community Theatre, Hyrum Benson, Isaac Sadler, Jackson Neslen, Janine Mickelson, Jenn Christensen, Jessica Busby, Jet Jensen, Joey Benson, Jordan Gardner, Jordan Neslen, Logan Sadler, Karlie Clark, Kelli Morris, Makayla Thornley, Maren Bishop, Marilyn Olsen Whipple, Marsha Holmes, McKenzie Nay, Megan Keller, Meredith Willson, Michael Clark, Noelle Willes Sadler, Quinton Geilman, Rachel Hunt, Rebecca Genther, Roger Ellis, Sadie Jeppsen, Samantha Merkley, Stacey Keller, Steve Odenthal, Sydney Neslen, Tad Wilson, The Music Man, Trayson Wilson, Tyson Lemke

Barrymore

By Dave McKensie

The theater has the power to heal. With each new role, I have the opportunity to undertake, this belief is strengthened. I believe it is true whether one participates on stage or in the audience. The opportunity to be immersed in a whole new world, a new time and place. Theater tells stories; fictional or historical, fantasy or reality, drama, romance, tragedy, triumphant or comic. Occasionally a show comes along that provides a good balance of each. Such is the case of “I Hate Hamlet” written by Paul Rudnick.

“I Hate Hamlet” is a ghost story. It has at its core, a reality based in the former life of John Barrymore, “actor, legend, seducer, corpse” to quote the play.

John Barrymore, an American actor of both stage and screen is critically acclaimed as America’s greatest tragedian based largely on his portrayal of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. His life was large, on stage and off. And then he was gone. In the play, a young television actor, Andrew Rally, wants to do something more with his life, possibly be something more. He moves to New York from Los Angeles. With the encouragement of a new girlfriend, Dierdre, and his persistent agent, Lillian, he finds himself auditioning for Shakespeare in the Park, Hamlet. After five auditions he is cast in the lead role, Hamlet. The story begins in the former apartment of John Barrymore, the critically acclaimed greatest Hamlet of all time. My story begins here as well—

As an older actor, I often have the opportunity to use my life’s experiences to help build each character I play. I look for hints of what is going on with others within the play and how my character would react or interact within each scene. It has been a great journey and often quite introspective. This show was a heart stopper of epic proportions. More emotional content than I had experienced in any prior role, a challenge to channel an extraordinary actor, yes, but even more an opportunity to face my own questions of my past…my children, will they be all right? Did I do enough? Make a difference? These thoughts also haunt the ghost of John Barrymore as he is assigned to help poor Andrew Rally become the actor and person he is looking to become. I cherish my moments in finding my version of John Barrymore.

John Barrymore’s ghost returns to his apartment to help the struggling television actor. He is summoned “as a link in a proud theatrical tradition” to mentor a new “Hamlet” in this role. While reading this play, specifically the words and lines of my character, I felt an overwhelming melancholy remembering my attempts as a father to help my children experience life to its fullest, to grasp each moment and recognize it as the opportunity that it is, that it represents. Over and over I found Barrymore expressing his own wishes that he had lived his time more wisely, experienced it more deeply, cherished it more dearly.

In the beginning of the play, Barrymore is still full of himself and acts the part of a cad. A life-sized portrait of his self-possessed, egoist persona—this was a fun experience to portray—but as I thought more and more on his growth towards helping this struggling young man, I couldn’t help but feel a strong paternal and parental pull to comfort him, to support him, to guide him, to love him.

One speech resonates powerfully in my heart and mind: “but there is more, so much more I wanted Andrew to learn…From all that he accuses me of! From my sorry excuse of a life! I was offered the planet. Every conceivable opportunity. Andrew is my last vain hope. My cosmic lunge at redemption.” I found a powerful, underlying determination to do better for him than I did for myself, for my own children. It was cathartic. I struggled with my emotions. Keeping them in check each night was a battle between my heart and mind. I struggled, at times, to remember I also had to be the self-possessed, egoist, the womanizer and matinee idol. Fortunately, the role was written with humor in mind—and that saved me on many an occasion. Healed me. And yet, there was the constant nagging reminder; “Have I done any good, will he be all right?”

In the end, with Andrew, I felt success. The story leads to this conclusion and the emotions I felt were complete in the transition. I realized that I had given the role my best, and in turn, found within myself the courage and willingness to accept, that in real life I had done the same.

But wait, there is more to the story. This one is a bit tougher when compared to real life, but it too had its healing effect on me. In one of the most endearing scenes I have experienced as an actor, Barrymore must also face his “womanizing” past. He is confronted by Lillian, the agent, as Andrew heads off to his first performance. She is now in her eighties but remembers her time spent with Barrymore in her youth. She states firmly to the ghost: “Yes, I can see you! I am old, I see everything!” Again, as an older actor, this moment calls forth the experiences of life, of love gained and lost. This moment in the play was packed with emotions—the scene is deeply moving. The constant struggle to manage emotions was difficult, not letting real-life loss alter the performance was painful. I loved the challenge. It became healing. Rather than seeing the moment through sorrowful eyes, I chose to see it as a moment of redemption. An opportunity to let love lost, be found, and to understand the value of that love, that moment. To find peace in what was. To allow myself to feel the depth and reality that I have not let many see within me. A “reality” that I had not allowed myself to show in real life. The real-life emotions had to be contained, but the healing, the deep healing occurred. This was an opportunity to throw off the façade and be vulnerable. As a result, I believe for Barrymore, this last encounter was more than just a “lustful spree of days gone by” but instead, a tender moment, the fulfillment of a wish, a dream—a chance to be more than one was and become more than what one is… To Be or Not to Be!

New World Shakespeare Company’s King Lear Plays Nicely Upon the Heath

A Review by Steve Odenthal for Playwrightsalley.com

King Lear – New World Shakespeare Company and Kallisti Theatre Company present King Lear as a literary spotlight on The Road Home. theroadhome.org

A talented and diverse cast has been assembled by the New World Shakespeare Company and Kallisti Theatre Company hosted by the Wasatch Theatre Company’s performance space at the Gateway (124 S 400 W Salt Lake City, UT). Under the able direction of Elise C. Hanson-Barnett, this production spares us the pomp and ceremony of royalty and court and cuts straight to the words and lyrics of this Shakespearean classic tragedy. This well-assembled, yet somehow vagabond troupe shows that an empty space combined with the Bard’s telling of an old, historic King-well past his prime and grasping at straws of sanity-can still captivate and entrance an audience. Time well spent with this group.

The tragedy is alive and well and so very close to us as we watch the play unfold and the body count rise. Many have deemed the story the most depressing of Shakespeare’s works. I have always found the play to be extremely melodramatic, I believe Hanson-Barnett and her able cast sees a bit of this as well. The intermixing of families, legitimate and not, is paramount in this telling and rivals any plot twist we might see on a soap opera. Certainly, there are Divas-in the very best meaning of the word. Two of the old King’s daughters, Goneril (Megan Chase) and Regan (Sierra Trinchet) are spot on in their self-serving, put-upon, and evil ways. Not an opportunity is missed to pout, strut, and demonstrate just how out of touch King Lear (Jon Turner) is with his offspring. Turner is a master at capturing the indulgence of an old man of power turned gray. His portrayal is one that I will long remember and list as great. Turner brings humanity, spry energy (to a too-tired man), a flair for pathos, and, at appropriate times, a glint of thriving mischievousness to the old man who has decided to rid himself of the burden-but, not the perks of a crowned existence.

As the play opens we find Lear joyfully about to split his kingdom between his three daughters. Yes, daughters-for he has no sons. He has chosen to take care of this business before his death so that he can ramble and revel along with his posse made up of one hundred of his most loyal and no-doubt rowdy knights. He foresees a great may nights of revelry while his daughters take care of the heavy lifting and day-to-day affairs. His perception is that his is a devoted family-essentially the three are merely an extension of himself in every way. It is apparent to us groundlings however, that this is far from the case as the good King/Father gives a simple challenge to each of his heirs to proclaim their love for his majesty. With the two oldest prompted first, neither disappoints in their honey dripping and gush. As we are appalled, so too is the youngest of the siblings, fair Cordelia (Suni Gigliotti), who is the designate heroine, of sorts, to the noble family. She has gone through the proper betrothal to the King of France, putting the good of country and alliance before her own choices, perhaps. Perhaps not. At any rate, Gigliotti plays fully the dutiful daughter expecting no less or more than her station has her entitled to. She loves her father, the King, as well as she is able and although she is his most favored, she might well not know it. Gigliotti enhances her sisters’ diva-ness by contrast and her eyes tell many stories on stage. A nice portrayal by the actor. Gigliotti is also one of the Fight Choreographers along with Kailey Azure Green. Complete with daggers and broad swords the staging of the skirmishes in this small venue is worth a ticket on its own.

Some mention needs to be made of Technical Director David Bruner who also handled Sound and Lighting for the production.  There are no frills here but no beats missed at all, in fact, I even noted the exceedingly fitting music pre-show and throughout, which included so many rough-edged and accurate classics that I wanted a copy of the soundtrack. So well chosen-Tom Waits, indeed.

King Lear – featuring Wendy Dang as The Fool and Jon Turner as King Lear.

As mentioned earlier, the stage is essentially black-box with a minimum of distraction and fuss, for what really do you need with a tight cast and classic story. Hanson-Barnett took an open space and filled it with heart, soul, and a hint of comic nods mixed in here and there. Whether it is Kent (Andrew Slaughter) paying quiet homage to Marty Feldman with an eye-patch, or The Fool (Wendy Dang) mopping blood or taking a selfie, this cast finds ways to entertain with subtlety. They accomplish this feat without distortion or destruction to a great work.   

Both Slaughter and Dang move amongst the more vital characters, holding their own in each scene, immersing themselves in their roles, and thereby not allowing any slight. I have seen these roles in other productions over-blown or underdone. This is definitely not the case in this production, as both actors seem to have a full grasp of their character and the function of the role.

 The Oswald character (Kallie Filanda) is well-portrayed in this telling of King Lear as is Albany (Bryce Kamryn). Filanda has the unenviable task of playing a scoundrel who serves Regan and does her evil but never quite rises to the challenge; even deceiving himself that he has spared the life of an old man (Kent) when quite the opposite is true. The character is a necessary and noteworthy part of the tragedy and Filanda brings the full character forth. As for Kamryn, his character walks tall upon the stage from the very outset but seems to be puzzled and pained by the story unraveling before him. What he searches for is some semblance of good in both his wife, Regan and the world itself. Kamryn is well cast in this role and we find ourselves searching with him. It is confusing to see how much of a doormat he is as the evil daughter walks over him in the first act. In the second act, Albany rises a bit but even as the good one, the character is written to not be strong or dominant. Kamryn makes choices that allow us to see nobility even when the character holds no hope for the future. Well played.

What would a Shakespearean excursion be without sub-plotted characters? Well, don’t worry about that in this work. The Gloucester clan brings their own version of dysfunctional to the Lear saga. With legitimacy as a lynchpin in the relationship of a father and his two sons, the illegitimate Edmund (Carlos Nobleza Posas) has taken his last abuse at his father’s hand. Gloucester (Christopher Taylor) has been free with an acid tongue and language aimed at Edmund and his mother to devastating effect in the village. Meanwhile, the “good” son, Edgar (Adam McGrath) seems anything but a hero, listening almost like a student to his younger brother Edmund and generally blending in with his surroundings for the first part of the play. That ability actually serves him well as Edmund has plotted revenge upon Gloucester, which will end the father’s life and frame his older brother Edgar for the crime. Posas brings great stride and dominance to the role of Edmund as he portrays him a master puppeteer and a tremendous antagonist. Posas is at once menacing and alive with ill intent, which spills not only upon the other characters but also upon the audience as well with full-consent of Hanson-Barnett.  I found Posas a fine actor and his performance commanding. Just what you want in your villain.

McGrath has a challenge playing a character (Edgar) that when the smoke has cleared and the bodies are piled high, you say to yourself-“Well, I guess he was the hero?”  In fairness, the character Edgar, although Godson to the old King, finds himself taking flight for his life and seeking to not be recognized or even noticed-so blending in is a good thing. But once his own father is blinded cruelly by the evil royals, he assumes an identity of “Poor Tom” and gives aid and counsel to both his own father as well as the now mad King Lear. McGrath dishevels well and since he and Turner approximate the nakedness of their time on the heath, they make us look past their circumstance and into the substance of their message. As it should be.

Gloucester starts a bad but lowly nobleman. His rank has allowed him certain sway in his village and surrounding regions which no doubt led him to be an adulterer with a strong sense of entitlement. He is not unknown but not of much worth other than his title of earl and like King Lear he chooses poorly in which child to give his trust. Only after his eyes are plucked out does his vision and place start to clear and focus. Taylor gives a very strong performance throughout the production. Whether sighted or blind the actor takes the character through his paces. It will be difficult to forget his screams as the character’s eyes are individually taken. Strong stuff but so is this play.

Catherine Mortimer (King of France/Gentleman/Servant/Old Man) and Kristina Wilson (Cornwall/Doctor) do very well with each of their assignments, asserting well when called upon and fulfilling movement and language needed to keep vital parts on task. In many ways, they were hard to not watch as they brought a different bit of themselves to each individual character. Both also had their time with the sword and dagger and were most valuable to the performance.

I have spoken relatively little about the two actors I most enjoyed. Jon Turner seems poured from a mold of Lear and yet brings such vitality and depth to the role-I was astounded.  Carlos Nobleza Posas is one of the first in this role where I believed each of his relationships. He captures the manipulative and menace that embodies Edmund who has no care of the world or its inhabitants and yet we still love him. Without question a great portrayal.

This is my first experience with the New World Shakespeare Company and I don’t intend for it to be my last. This is their sixteenth production-I have been missing out. I would strongly recommend this show to those patrons 18 and older that can handle a play that depicts acts of violence and sexual situations. These events and issues are handled with what I believe to be a strong but sensitive directorial hand but be aware this is not a Disney brand of royalty. This is Shakespeare – and really good Shakespeare at that.

Adam McGrath, Andrew Slaughter, Blayne Wiley, Bryce Kamryn, Carlos Nobleza Posas, Catherine Mortimer, Christopher Taylor, David Bruner, Dustin Kennedy, Gateway, Elise C. Hanson-Barnett, n Turner, Kailey Azure Green, Kallie Filanda, Kallisti Theatre Company, King Lear, Kristina Wilson, Marty Feldman, Megan Chase, New World Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare, Sierra Trinchet, Steve Odenthal, Suni Gigliotti, Wasatch Theatre Company, Wendy Dang

King Lear by William Shakespeare

New World Shakespeare Company — NewWorldShakespeare.com

Staged at Wasatch Theatre Company – 124 S 400 W Salt Lake City, Utah

April 25-28 & May 2-4, 2019

I Hate Hamlet: A Grown-Up Night of Fun

By Steve Odenthal

I Hate Hamlet cast Heritage Community Theatre – Perry, Utah 2019 Season

            Do you hate Shakespeare? Perhaps hate is too strong a word. Whether you love the Bard or find his words, shall we say slumber-some, the Heritage Theatre in Perry Utah has a play for you. Oh sure, you might hear a few “get thee to a nunnery” quotes and there will be the talk of “outrageous fortune” tossed about, but you can be sure that this is a modern play with language, and situations to match. For that reason, be sure that you are up to a grown-up night of Theater fun complete with a ghost, codpieces, and tights. The play written by Paul Rudnick, originated on Broadway on April 8, 1991 and features swordplay, wordplay, and general frolicking about a young television actor Andrew Ralley (Quin Geilman) finds himself in New York on involuntary hiatus as his popular, and high-paying series is no more. His well-seasoned agent Lillian Troy (Gena Lott) has, of course, signed him to play Hamlet in the park to keep his name out there and her commissions coming in. A return to his Theatre roots would seem to be exactly what the doctor ordered—in the old days; but not so much now for Ralley who trod the boards only in University productions and only a handful of them at that. To say that the young man had fame thrust upon him would be an understatement and Geilman plays the overmatched and doubtful youngster well, giving the audience enough boyishness to be endearing while still maintaining a tepid determination that glimmers and grows throughout the play. When the time is right for the challenge to be answered, we, like him, kinda figure he can do it. In the role of Lillian, Lott comes across as wise, weathered but not worn of the world. She has firm control of her situation and client and holds her own with the Ghost.

            Oh yes, you will like this—there is a ghost. However, not just any ghost. This is the ghost of John Barrymore of the Barrymore—first family of Theatre fame. He now is the famous one. While Lionel and Ethyl his siblings soaked up the applause and awards in their time, John is the one with the lasting fame it seems, capitalizing on his Matinee Idol image and career. John’s conquests were not entirely on the stage and Barrymore’s New York apartment is where young Ralley now finds himself as he begrudgingly sets to his preparation for the role of Hamlet. Little does the young actor know as he moves in that a roommate in tights waits–none other than John Barrymore, himself. Could there be a better roomie and mentor?

            The role of Barrymore is double cast in this production with Matthew Dickerson, and Dave McKensie offering excellent, but slightly different performances. Mckensie captures a slightly older, more fatherly interpretation of the lusty fellow, while Dickerson regularly pulls himself up to a poised, posed, and prominent master thespian in short-pants and tights. Both will have you in the aisles as they put John Barrymore through his paces, however, the Barrymore I witnessed this night was portrayed by Dickerson. His facial antics and reactions mixed with a little body language made the role tremendously fun to watch. Dickerson brings the matinee idol to life and when the opportunity arises to play the mentor, he delivers without losing the ghost’s comedic persona.

            Director Justin “Spot” Beecher has handpicked this play to delight audiences and deliver a message that we all should not fear “trying” new things. It is obvious that he has allowed some experimentation and interpretation by his actors and welcomes the little extras that this cast can deliver. One such choice Beecher made was in the casting of Aubrey Dickey who more than adequately handles the role of Regina Lefkowitz. Traditionally, this role is a hard-charging male Hollywood type, dropping names here and there and not above using any angle that isn’t nailed down to advance his own career. Beecher asks the question on stage of why can’t this be a driven professional woman? The answer Dickey delivers is definite and sure. The Regina character is on task and on target as well as being a lot of fun to watch.

            Carisa Barker in the role of Deirdre McDavey pulls off a treat of a performance as the starry-eyed innocent love interest of Andrew Ralley. She is in love with love and Andrew but their romance is stuck in a low gear as far as the young Thespian is concerned—again discussion of adult things ensues. Those discussions are handled without specifics or lewdness, but may not be appropriate for a young crowd. The story seems to be in the PG-13 range. Even so, Geilman and Barker capture for us as the story unfolds a certain sweetness.

            Gena Lott owns her character in a way that I have not seen in other productions of this show. Most play the aging agent in a harsher tone, defining the role with an extreme cough from too many cigarettes over the years, but Lott and Beecher chose to portray the toughness but with some slight traces of elegance that for me made the discovery of her past history with Barrymore a bit easier to believe. She is still a tough cookie, but fun to watch.

There will be swordplay…

             Makayla Thornley as Felicia Dantine, the real estate broker who finds Andrew his apparition-filled apartment is well cast as she leads séances, and generally is on the edge of all things Greenwich Village and New York. Thornley brings to us a bit of ditz and style at the same time. She controls Andrew nicely as he squirms a bit at the history of the apartment and she gives off a vibe that tells us she is our friend—she could be a deadly customer service rep on a phone in this day and age.

            I laughed a lot during this show. I also was glad that I was sitting a few rows back when the actual sword play began, having read a bit about the original 88 performances of this show on Broadway. I don’t think that the Ghost in this Heritage production will actually stab young Andrew nor cause the ruckus that the fellow originally cast as Barrymore in Rudnick’s first production did, which, by the way, caused the playwright to pen a 2007 New Yorker article entitled “I Hit Hamlet.”  No, I think you will be safer in this Justin “Spot” Beecher production—except for the laughs. There is no protection from that as the Barrymore ghost and indeed the whole cast plays to “the second balcony” in true Theater style!  Enjoy the show.

Aubrey Dickey, Carisa Barker, Dave McKensie, Gena Lott, Heritage Community Theatre, I Hate Hamlet, Justin “Spot” Beecher, Makayla Thornley, Matthew Dickerson, Paul Rudnick, Quin Geilman

I Hate Hamlet

April 12 – May 4, 2019 Friday, Saturday & Monday – Curtain 7:30 PM

Matinee: Saturday, April 20th 2:00 PM

Heritage Community Theatre 2505 South Hwy 89 Perry, Utah 84302

Tickets by phone or online at www.heritagetheatreutah.com

$12 Gen Admission $10 Seniors/Children

Phone: (435) 723-8392

Flamboyant Occasion: A Workshop of Love

By Steve Odenthal

                One of the very best things that can occur in a Theatre environment is the development of new voices and the emotional adventures those new voices beckon us to. That process always starts with a need, and then an exploration of possible answers, better put, a Workshop. Our community, like so many across the nation, has been affected by unnecessary loss of life through tragedies that we, those left behind, have difficulty coming to terms with. Many “if only” and “I should have” sentiments are expressed in the sorrowful times that follow and then we, like time, march on. We never quite fully re-address the real issue–for a thought unspoken is still a thought and thereby a trigger for action in a moment of despair.

                In an effort to open a dialogue and address the situation which crashed down upon them, three young playwrights collaborated on a workshop of their new work, Flamboyant Occasion at the Brigham City Fine Arts Center March 7,8,9 & 11 2019 with the performance starting at 7:00 PM each night. For Colton Kraus, Anni Molgard, and Heather Karren life became distorted last year as one of their own, a fellow student and beloved friend who seemed to have it all, Jeremy Shipp, chose to depart, leaving them to question and grasp. Their script is a result of what they came to grips with in this situation. It is not a drama or angst-ridden exploration, but almost a comedic celebration and certainly an event that their friend Jeremy would have enjoyed being a part of. This piece is a work by teens, for teens—but it gives insight that their elders will benefit from as well. It will open some doors that need to be opened as appropriate discussions are bound to continue through the evening.

                I spoke with Kraus throughout this process as the three Playwrights built the script and assembled the Cast of over 30 young actors who are presently involved in this workshop production. He has specific goals for this production and hopes audiences will attend this first staging of the courtroom comedy. Flamboyant Occasion is a show meant for a broad audience, is a little out of the box, and uses glitter liberally. That does not mean you will have to dust yourself off after the production, but you will see that everyone, all of us, has at least the beginnings of a special sparkling streak inside. What we chose to do with it is very much a choice we make as our lives go on.

               In Colton’s own words, “So basically it’s a courtroom comedy. With everything that is going on in the world, I feel like it is important for an audience and a cast to be able to escape for a little bit. Especially with things specific to Box Elder in the last year, there have been about 4-5 deaths that have affected people I know and even more accidents. The one that affected me the most was Jeremy Shipp. He committed suicide at the end of July. This sent a shock wave of emotions throughout Box Elder due to the large involvement Jeremy had in theatre and sports. I do not know what caused Jeremy to do the things he did, but I do know that a lot of it could have been pressure to choose between Theatre and Lacrosse. Often times in high school, guys that do theatre are seen as showy, weird, and flamboyant. I do not necessarily find that to be a bad thing. I wanted to create a show for actors that would give them a chance to go against the status quo. To show an audience that it is okay to be different. Not everything has to fit inside a little box due to other people’s standards. It should be okay to be a bit crazy now and again and show off what you got.”

                I applaud these young authors and the cast who are inviting you to be part of the discussion of teen suicide. Although the atmosphere is light in this production the bigger picture and issue is still with us. The troupe invites you as an audience to be entertained but also to hear their voices and be mindful of the rifts and ravines that clutter our conversational landscapes. Let us talk about these things.

Thanks to the following authors, actors and technicians who have contributed their time and talent to this production. More importantly, let’s support them by filling the seats and taking an active part in this exercise. No one knows where this script may head, but it is enough to know that in this community these Teens took the time to raise their voices for both entertainment and love.

Sam Merrill Lissie Gunnerson Molly Glover Tolman Walker
Jackson Gibbons Kaylee Whipple Daniel Chambers Emily Daugherty
Sarah Peck Corbin Backman Gwen Evans Alex Jeppesen
Jett Johnson Lily Evans Cru Andreasen Tanner Johnston
Gavin Southern Jacob Millsap Rain Evans Joshua Phillips
Sydnee Norman Logan Stuart Sydnee Madsen Corbin Andreasen
John Whipple Hailey Karren Larisa Foresgren Gavin Southern
Emma Parkin Colton Kraus Anni Molgard Heather Karren

Once Upon A Mattress Charms at Heritage Community Theatre

By Steve Odenthal

                Something good is happening at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah—something that can take captive and flat run away with your imagination. That Imagineering is a good thing because Once Upon A Mattress was written just to do that very thing—break some barriers.  When Mary Rodgers (Music), Marshall Barer (Lyrics), and Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer (Book) put their heads together and opened the Broadway version in 1959 they had a very different vision of a Princess in mind, and a young Carol Burnett was the actress perfectly selected to debut in the role.  Yes, this was to be a less frosty and not-so-porcelain portrayal of a royal—a more relatable, loud, and common princess who could command, conquer, and achieve her heart’s desire on her own terms and in her own good time–even if that requires a quick dip in the moat. This adapted romp retelling and twisting the classic Princess and the Pea ran for 244 performances in its original Broadway run, garnering several Tony nominations along the way.

                If, perchance, it is a good time that you are after between March 1st and the 23rd (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights at 7:30 PM), you would do well to find a seat and a smile at the Heritage Theatre on Highway 89 in Perry, Utah and let this veteran cast take your imagination and run with it.  Don’t worry; you’re in good hands–from the evil Queen Aggravain (Amber Kacherian) right down to the Jester (Nicole Atkinson) in this Court, although it may not seem so at first. The story opens with the cruel dismissal of the beautiful, young Princess No. 12 (Courtney Fairbourn) who is every bit of charm and grace in her role yet shows us a definite knack for comedy, by the Queen in front of a disappointed Prince Dauntless (Caderik Wilson) and the entirely crestfallen Court of the Kingdom of Drab. We soon find out that the mother-Queen has decreed that her Prince of a son is to be married before any of the other members of her court will be allowed to take someone’s hand.  Wilson’s initial portrayal of Dauntless immediately informs us that this could be a long wait and we can see that the natives are getting restless. Some of the Ladies in Waiting have been… waiting a bit longer than normal in this Kingdom of Drab. We also quietly find out that more than a hand has been held in one case and now the community is united in finding a bride/Princess for the young Prince. At the urging of Lady Larken (Sarah Johnson), her Knight, Sir Harry (Jordan Martineau) sets out to find the most special Princess and right this world.

                Does Sir Harry succeed? I won’t tell you here, but it’s safe to say that a Knight usually does. He brings home a prize beyond the hopes of our young Prince Dauntless and certainly the Queen’s imagination anyway. Someone is needed in this Kingdom to hold their own with the Queen and set things right, after all. Princess Winnifred (Rebecca Genther), or Fred for short, fits the bill exactly. With her fine voice and expressive facials, Genther takes us on her journey with an easy smile and down-home charm—maybe we aren’t up to swimming a moat just yet but we are captured enough by her that we would at least splash around a bit. And certainly, Prince Dauntless is ready to take the plunge.  (Queen-Mom is another story.)

                Charming is a word that gets thrown around easily in fairy tales but you won’t find a single Prince by that name in this show. No. Charming is best used when talking about this veteran cast, some new to the Heritage, but most are easily recognizable and comfortable performers. You can tell that this cast assembled by Director Meg Clawson (in her Directorial debut at HCT) is at home with one another and know how to deliver a show. I have no doubt that rehearsals must have been absolutely delightful. This is not to say that Clawson had a life of ease in her role, as delivering an even show is a challenge even with a veteran group of actors. If she had any spare time at all pre-production it would be a surprise as she also handled the chores of Choreographer and Costume Designer. She also envisioned the staging which is accomplished simply and efficiently so as not to interfere with portrayals in the Kingdom of Drab. A big part of this efficiency is under the guidance of Stage Manager Mikenzee Howie as she coaches the troupe through the scene changes with a professional manner. Notable in the effort are Nancy Baker (Emily the Chambermaid), and Melissa Jones (Kate the Kitchen Wench) who in addition to their singing and acting roles were essential in the execution of so many scenes. They did things that I noticed and you won’t, because they are that good. They should have T-Shirts made that say “Mikenzee’s Minions”. I mention it here, but you should just enjoy the show. Good job.

                Drab is not the feeling you come away with when you visit this production. You experience quite a few smiles and lot of laughter—never hard to take.  Tad Wilson (King Sextimus), Nicole Atkinson (Jester; The Nightingale of Samarkand), and Abby Payne-Peterson (Minstrel) are each delightful individually and collectively as they serenade us with “The Jester, The Minstrel and I”. As much as I enjoyed their rendition, I have to admit that as far as I am concerned the heavy lifting on the vocals is handled by Payne-Peterson and Atkinson–Wilson, not so much. (You will understand when you see the show.)

                  Every Kingdom worth its salt has a Wizard on staff and Drab is no backwater- slacker in this regard as its resident Wizard (Troy Hone) commands the stage at all the right times but also is perfecting a magic act—maybe as a fallback career, before our very eyes. Perhaps Vegas is in his future?

                The Ladies in Waiting [Lady Rowena (Marsha Holmes), Lady Lucille (Alanna Christensen), Lady Merrill (Brooke Wardle), Lady Mabelle (Rachel Hunt), Lady Sythia (Courtney Fairbourn)] each are given opportunity to dance, frolic and express their talents for comedy and each toes up to the line admirably. There were so many times in this show where my eyes wandered just to see what treat was in store for me, as each of these ladies kept in character but fully embraced the funny situation they found themselves in.

                A special note needs to be made about the one lady who waited most anxiously, LadyLarken and her beau Sir Harry. Their situation is well acted by the pair (Martineau and Johnson) without belittling or getting heavy-handed in the show. I enjoyed how they handled their roles, especially after I came to grips with seeming age difference. I would prefer a little more aging on Sir Harry. Maybe a bit of grey.

                I would think that a Music Director (Martineau) would have at least a little grey to his hair—at least if they were working with me, but in this case, with the fine voices that abound on this stage—maybe not. In any case, the voices are rich and pure in their portrayal of the story.

                   Not to be outdone by their counterparts, the Knights of the Kingdom [Sir Studley (Trayson Wilson), Sir Luce (Jordan Gardner), Sir Racha (Ashton Bossa)] run a gamut of incredulous looks all the way to a full Spanish Panic (you will know after you see the show) with Knightly grace.

                Some of my favorite moments in the show came as I watched Princess Winnifred exasperate the Queen. These two, Genther and Kacherian have a special way of disconnecting from each other in such a masterful way, I was entranced. Kacherian has her role nailed and the actress is hard not to watch at every moment she occupies the stage. (But, what else would you expect from the Queen?) Let’s just say that she adds deliciousness to her evil. Genther on the other hand, gives a performance that is firmly not intimidated by the Queen and is very comfortable in her own skin. That is the way it should be. She is very much a role model for today and a welcome treat.

                I really also enjoyed the Wilson family connection as I watched a spirited and tender scene between father and son (Tad and Caderik) as the King, in his own quiet way, explained the birds and bees in “Man to Man Talk” to his son Dauntless.                 Another highlight to this show for me is Nicole Atkinson as the Jester. She brings certain strength to each scene she is in and a strong sentiment as she sings lead with the Ladies on “Very Soft Shoes”.  With a very strong cast, this show is definitely a pleaser and one that you will want to see this season. I know you will enjoy it.

You will have an extraordinary time with this show and if you attend on Opening Weekend (Friday, Saturday, Monday) the Theatre is offering a buy one get one special if you use the BOGO code at the box office or online.  You should go. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Warm and Witty, Anne of Green Gables is a Delight at the Heritage Theatre in Perry

by Steve Odenthal

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Anne of Green Gables which opened tonight, January 18th, 2019 at the Heritage Community Theatre. With the curtain rising at 7:30 PM on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights through March 9th, this show will transport you to a simpler and warmer time when plain-speaking was a virtue, and a vivid imagination was a rarity. This stage play, adapted from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel, by Alice Chadwicke subtly combines all the charm of an adolescent fish out of water story with a rigid and rural country setting and simply delights under the direction of Mahonri Stewart in his first production at HCT.

Thomas Spencer, Makenzie Zundel, and Janine Tueller Mickelson

For those unfamiliar with the story and I was counted among that number-Anne of Green Gables has at its core an honest young girl, Anne Shirley (Makenzie Zundel), who is given to flights of fancy and storytelling sent from an orphanage to a homestead in need of a child to attend to a boy’s chores on the farm. A gentle soul by the name of Matthew Cuthbert (Thomas Spencer) and his strait-laced sister, the unmarried Marilla Cutberth (Janine Tueller Mickelson) are in for a surprise and test in rearing the young Anne whose spirit, as should be in any good heroine, cannot easily be tamed.  This trio, Anne, with eyes darting with excitement and intrigue all around, Matthew, whose quiet indecision somehow maneuvers his unspoken decision to become the path taken; and Marilla whose sense of right and proper teamed with dogged determination, give their all to the performance. As the Cuthbert dynamic takes Anne into their household, much of Anne countenance seeps slowly into Matthew and Marilla. Matthew is a push-over, or so we think, but the battle of wills between Marilla and Anne is surprisingly touching as it enfolds us in witty one-liners and genuine caring dialogue from both sides-just expressed with contrasting tones by the two women.

                Under Stewart’s hand we see this trio of characters excel and in this normally dialogue-driven production, the director introduces small vignettes to help the audience envision the action. They help tremendously in keeping the story fresh and well-paced as the scene within a scene enhances our understanding and love for Anne and her cohorts. We see Anne’s interaction with her school chums at key times and events, such as when the two schoolboys played by Grant Christensen (Gilbert Blythe), and Joshua Adams (Moody Spurgeon) square off each wishing for a victory to impress young Anne. Christensen and Adams, who are double cast in each other’s roles, show the appropriate determination and hometown grit to win the day, but this side-story only adds to the Anne Shirley mystique which reaches out and grabs us from the start.

                Traditionally, Anne of Green Gables is considered a quiet story. That’s not to say that any of the sparks are missing. No, quite to the contrary, the pacing of the dialogue (quick and even giddy for Anne and her friends versus slow, determined and certain for the older generations-except for Matthew, he is a different case entirely) form a natural barrier and at times a bridge between generations. For a story like this to succeed, we must buy into each of the characters and be able to sit back and let their relationships wash over us. No one in the cast seeks to make their character bigger than life, nor a larger piece of the puzzle than was originally intended by the author.  Rebekah Sorenson (Diana Barry), Amanda Mayne (Mrs Barry), Sheri Riser (Rachel Lynde), Sydney Neslen (Josie Pye), Ashlee Allred (Florence Remsen), and Hannah Harding (Minnie Stearn/Mrs Allan) all show well but not obtrusively in this production and move the story along quickly.

                This production enjoys a double cast in the role of Anne Shirley (Cheigny Merkley/Makenzie Zundel). Zundel was on for the performance I attended and she was very good. She expressed so much with her facials and eyes that I was totally impressed. We are looking forward to another performance to catch the other side of the cast, as Cheigny Merkley is no stranger to this stage. I especially liked the contrast of locals and their effect on Marilla as Mayne brought a country-worn smile to her role of devoted, determined mother to Anne’s best friend Diana, contrasted by the neighborhood gossip/power mistress/home invader played by Sheri Riser. These two, at least for me, represented the best and worst shoulder imps for Marilla as they warred to influence Matthew’s sister’s treatment of young Anne. Spoiler alert – the right influence wins. But chances are you knew that if you have read this far. You may have loved Anne Shirley for quite a while now, and I am not telling you anything new.

The HCT Cast of Anne of Green Gables

                If you love this story, bring a friend-you won’t be disappointed. If, by chance, there is someone in your life who has never dipped into the waters of Green Gables, take him by the hand and let him see this show. Make it a dinner and a date night out and let him discover this warm and witty story for himself, as I did. I’m not saying that he will love it as much as I did, but I’m not saying he won’t. (Here is where the dinner before-hand comes in-at least he will be well-fed.)  But, I do know that this show made me realize that my oath as a 4th grader to never read Anne of Green Gables because of an older sister that incessantly prattled on about it, may have been a bit hasty. The story is insightful and witty and probably would have stood me in good stead while raising a bit of Anne in each of my two daughters. This story and staging is a family-pleasing portrayal of a simpler time and place. You will enjoy it. 

Be sure to use the buy one-get one promo code BOGO for opening weekend!    

Production Team:

Director                Mahonri Stewart                                            

Set         Tevin Coburn, Mahonri Stewart

Costumes            Samantha Merkley, Briana Taylor           

Props    Becca Genther

Stage Mgr           Tevin Coburn