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The Best of Utah Theater 2022 Part 2

Earlier this year I gave my awards for the best of Utah theater in the first 6 months of the year. You can read that post here. Now I would like to present my favorites from the bottom half of the year. As I said in that post, I did not get a chance to see everything and I only saw one cast of the shows in question but I did see 50 shows in that part of the year including one Broadway trip. So here we go…

Best Play– A Christmas Carol at Parker Theater

One of the great things about writing for Utah Theater Bloggers Assoc is it has encouraged me to see more plays. Musicals will always have my heart but it’s a great experience to see plays as well. One show that I reviewed for UTBA is A Christmas Carol at Parker Theater. I was introduced to this theater by UTBA seeing their extraordinary Hamlet this summer but was even more blown away by their A Christmas Carol. I liked it so much I saw it twice- bringing my parents and aunt with me for the second viewing.

Everything from the script, to the acting, to the luminous visual effects were outstanding. You can read my full review here.

Best Musical Comedy- Little Shop of Horrors (West Valley Performing Arts Center)

The folks at West Valley Performing Arts Center have continually impressed me with the quality of their productions. I loved their In the Heights in July, Beauty and the Beast in February and closing out the year with Little Shop of Horrors. Now I saw Little Shop on off-Broadway in March so the bar was set high for this production and they completely met it. This was every bit as good as the production I saw in New York if not better. The singing was outstanding. The puppetry and production design immersive and realistic. More people should be going to this theater as they are routinely beating their old owners Hale Sandy for a fraction of the price.

Best Musical Drama- Bright Star at CenterPoint Legacy Theater

Perhaps it is unfair to give CenterPoint Legacy this prize for their production of Bright Star because I absolutely adore this musical. In fact, I gave this prize to the Ziegfeld Theater last year for their production of Bright Star. What can I say? It’s an amazing show that gives you everything you could want: beautiful music, laughter, tears, wonderful story. This production by CenterPoint was outstanding- as usual. I was stunned when the couple next to me left at intermission! How dare they!

Best Actress- Reagan Fausett as Betty in White Christmas at the Regalo Theater, Lehi Utah

I absolutely loved White Christmas at the Regalo. I think the adaptation actually improves upon the movie in almost every way. The whole cast was excellent but Reagan Fausett stole the show as Betty . Her voice has a beautiful, rich quality to it and could take on the jazzy and classical Broadway tunes in the show. She was also up for the dancing numbers- something that Rosemary Clooney couldn’t do in the movie! This was a Broadway level performance in my opinion.

Best Actor- Darrin Burnett as Paul in A Chorus Line at the Empress Theatre in Magna Utah

I had never seen A Chorus Line until this Fall and I had never been to the Empress Theatre as it’s a good drive from my house. Fortunately I enjoyed both the theater and the musical and the standout was Darrin Burnett as Paul San Marco. He has a monologue where he shares his coming out story with his parents disowning him that was completely devastating. You could tell Burnett put his heart and soul into the performance and after he is carried off stage with a busted knee we all sat there absorbing what we’d just seen. Outstanding.

Best Ensemble- Entire cast of The Addams Family (Scera Theater, Orem Utah)

The Addams Family was all the rage this Fall in Utah but unfortunately I only saw 1 of the many productions because I was traveling so much in September and October. However, the one I did see at Scera in Orem was so good. The whole cast and production was on a Broadway level quality for a fraction of the price. The choreography was energetic and delightful, the sets interactive and surprising. But mostly the cast felt like a real family. Garrett Smit and Lauren Billings had wonderful chemistry as Gomez and Morticia and Sydney Swalberg and Luli Peters are great as Wednesday and Pugsley Addams.

Best Choreography- Matilda (Payson Community Theatre, Payson Utah)

I had the chance to review Matilda for UTBA at the Payson Community Theatre and I must say I was blown away. To be honest, the first time I saw the show I wasn’t that impressed. The fantasy elements of the script don’t work well and the whole thing felt bloated. However, the folks at PCT did such a great job those problems went away. I’m not over-stating it when I say the sets and the costumes were Broadway level quality. The performances were also all outstanding but what impressed me the most was how large the cast was and how great they executed the choreography. You can read my full review here. They truly made this show come alive and I just wish more people had the chance to see such a wonderful show. (They also had a married couple in real life playing Miss Honey and Trunchbull!)

So there you have it. That’s the best of 2022 Utah Theater in my opinion. What have you seen? What are your favorites? I’d love to hear!

An Everything Update… August and September Happened

Hi everyone! I hope you are doing well. This is post is most delayed, which I apologize for. It’s kind of a vicious cycle when you get behind on a blog. The more behind you get, the more you have to cover until even attempting to write feels overwhelming. I guess I am glad to be living such a life that my August and September were so full of incredible experiences. It really isn’t too bad to be Rachel Wagner in 2022.

August

The highlight of August was my epic trip to Los Angeles. I was in California for 10 days (too long a trip honestly!). The first part was covering Christmas Con for Hallmarkies Podcast. This was an amazing experience where I got to meet co-hosts Megan and Ann and we covered the red carpet together.

It was a surreal experience to cover the red carpet and interview the stars in between outlets like People Magazine and E! News.

Then Megan and I had an incredible, surreal experience where we went to the beach for a few days and I got bit by a stingray! To recover we splurged and spent one day at the incredible Ritz Carlton in Santa Barbara and I will honestly never forget it. I’m dreaming of it daily.

The epic trip continued with my first visit to Universal Studios Hollywood (do the VIP tour. It is so worth it). I also did the tour of Warner Bros studio, saw Jaws with my LA friends, and spent a lot of time at my amazing AIR BNB with an incredible pool.

The trip was finished off with a 2 day HCA TV awards event where I was privileged to get to present Arcane with the Best Animated Series Streaming prize. I’ll never forget it.

Other fun stuff that happened in August includes seeing 8 shows that were all a lot of fun with the highlight being Matilda at Payson Community Theater and Hamlet at the Parker Theatre. I’m constantly blown away by the Broadway-level quality of so many of these local productions. You can read many of my theater reviews on utba site.

September

The big highlight for September was attending the D23 expo in Anaheim and 4 days of Disneyland. I debated about attending the expo this year because it can be a bit of a mixed bag of an experience. All the lines can be grueling especially when you are sitting for hours with no back support hoping to get it. This time it was a better experience because I knew what I was getting into and only waited for one Hall D23 line. The highlights were the Muppets Christmas Carol panel and the Encanto Celebration panel.

I also spent 2 days in Disneyland, 1 day in California Adventure and went to the Oogie Boogie Bash twice. My friend Jen was there with her family and I got to meet her adorable niece Ellie and we had a great time together. She is such a sweet little girl. It was super hot during this trip so it was beyond nice to go to Jen’s hotel room at the Grand Californian (and go in the pool!). Because I had a longer trip I could pace myself and not feel like I had to kill myself each day. This is the way to do it in my opinion.

My only major complaint is the portion sizes on the food have gotten outrageous. I paid $10 for a tiny cup of chili at the Carnation Cafe. I paid $30 for a meager portion of Chinese food at California Adventure. The food is always over-priced at Disneyland (delicious but overpriced) but this is at a new level.

Still I had a great time at both D23 and Disneyland and I hope you are all following me on instagram to see all the photos and more details.

Even with my D23 trip I still managed to see 7 shows in September. They were all very enjoyable but the highlight has to be Bright Star at Centerpoint Legacy and Addams Family at Scera. These are both Broadway level quality productions that are still playing. I can’t recommend them more highly (I think 5 local theater companies are doing Addams Family this year. It’s a phenomenon and I wish I had time to see them all). I also enjoyed seeing A Chorus Line for the first time at the Empress Theatre in Magna (loved it there!). I wish I had time to write up my thoughts on the touring company of To Kill a Mockingbird because Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation takes many liberties from the book and I had mixed feelings on the result. Didn’t hate it but didn’t love the changes.

So there is as quick a look-back of August and September as I could come up with. What a ride! I feel so blessed to have had such incredible experiences. And the fun continues in October going to New York for NYFF and the beginning of Christmas coverage on Hallmarkies Podcast (yes before Halloween). If you enjoy what I do and feel like you can support an independent podcaster and critic check out my patreon which has tons of great benefits and helps me more than I can say. Thanks so much and hope you all have a great October!

Summer Travel Recaps and Swims

I hope you have been enjoying my theater reviews. I didn’t have any this week because I was still recovering from my trip and getting ready to cover the Toronto International Film Festival TIFF. You can read my daily TIFF logs here.

Theater and movies aren’t the only thing I’ve been enjoying this summer. After getting vaccinated I decided to rejoin the world of the living and began traveling and open water swimming. Here are some highlights.

Virginia

I started my summer visiting my sister in Virginia for a long weekend. It was a trip to dip my toe into travel so the focus was on family time vs activities (most of the activities were closed or limited anyway. We did have some yummy food, visited a beautiful rose garden, went to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and went to the 2nd Air and Space Museum.

One of the highlights was getting to visit with my college friend Joni who I haven’t seen in many years. After a year of barely seeing anyone it was nice to see an old friend.

Great Salt Lake Swim

Next up I completed my 6th finish of the Great Salt Lake Marathon Swim. I hadn’t done it in a while because the salt is so hard on my body but I wanted to embrace life this year so I went for it! It was very challenging and I didn’t think I could do it throughout but I finished! This year marks 10 years since my first marathon swim.

Family Reunion Torrey Utah

We had a nice family reunion in beautiful Torrey, Utah at the end of June. It was with my Moms side of the family and I got to see my cousins in a relaxed style reunion where we got to decide how to use our time and what we wanted to do. This is an ideal family reunion especially in a time of social distancing when some are still uncomfortable with large groups. It’s a beautiful part of Utah and I was glad to get to spend some time in the good old red rock!

Oceanside Visit

As an open water swimmer there is nothing I love more than being at the ocean. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to see the ocean in a long time. This summer I fulfilled a dream of not only taking a beachside vacation but also taking a trip with my podcast friend Dory who hosts the All the Feels podcast which covers Hallmark movies. She has been on Hallmarkies Podcast many times so it was so much to actually meet and see the ocean together. The great Air BandB we rented had one of the most incredible pools I’ve ever seen. It was a fantastic trip! I hope to go back again soon.

Deer Creek Swim

In August I finished my 8th time at the Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim. I always get super nervous before these swims but it’s always a great experience in the end. This time my friend Stefani was kind enough to paddle for me. She is the perfect person for such an assignment- so kind and encouraging.

Austin, Texas Trip

My last trip of the Summer was my first trip to Texas! I’ve long wanted to meet my friends Sean and Jennifer Chandler (I was thinking of going last year but then 2020 happened LOL). We had a great time together including getting to go the Barton Springs natural pool in Austin! I have never seen a natural pool quite like it (very cold at 65 degrees) and it was so much fun. We also had some good food and watched some questionable movies (the new Cinderella LOL). I went to church with Sean and Jennifer and got to listen to him speak here. I also got to see my best friend from college Emily. It made me realize how much I miss spending time with friends IRL. Aside from my friend Jen (who I value so much) I don’t do much with friends these days. I hope I get to go back soon.

Thanks to everyone who made this summer so memorable for me. Combined with all the shows I got to see it really has been a special time I will never forget. Fall and the holiday season will be very busy for me in my podcasting but I have a New York trip planned and hopefully there will be other neat experiences. I am very blessed.

What have you been doing this summer? I hope you have been able to get out safely and have some great times with family and friends.

[THEATER REVIEW] Mamma Mia! (Draper Amphitheater)

There is perhaps no musical that embodies the feel of summer more than Mamma Mia. It’s not the most sophisticated or profound but it is escapist fun. (I enjoy both of the movies as well!). Last Friday I had the chance to see Mamma Mia at the Draper Amphitheater with my friend Jen and we had a great time. I love outdoor theater and this production had it all.

One of my favorite parts was the set that captured the feel of a Greek island so well. I also liked the costumes and energetic choreography. There was a sense of family and chemistry amongst the cast that was contagious. I think even the most grumpy patron would smile at the antics on stage.

The music is of course loads of fun based on the songs of ABBA composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. My favorite number is probably ‘Dancing Queen’ as well as ‘Take a Chance on Me’. Stay around for the curtain calls because you get to hear ‘Waterloo’ which is a blast.

The plot is a bit of a stretch and the romantic in me wishes Sky and Sophie got married in the end but it’s still loads of fun along the way. I can’t believe this was my first show at the Draper Amphitheater but it definitely won’t be the last. I hope to return soon.

7.5 out of 10

Ranking My First 10 Live Theater Shows of 2021

With the world reopening in 2021 I made a goal to support local live theater as much as possible. Since I was 3 weeks post dose 2 of the vaccination in April I have attended 10 live shows (amazing right?) and I thought it would be fun to rank all of the shows. In truth I have enjoyed every single show and am so happy to be back at the theater that even a less good show is still a show! I also know much of the world is not as fortunate as I am here in Utah and don’t have the option of live entertainment yet, so please don’t see this as ungrateful. It’s just a fun exercise to look back on the shows I’ve been able to see, so here goes:

10. Emma– Hale Center Theater Orem

While I always enjoy the intimacy of HCTO, and I love Jane Austen the music and lyrics for this show were disappointing. It was all performed well but the songs were forgettable and bland. It just didn’t do much for me as a show, which is surprising because it was done by Paul Gordon who penned Daddy Long Legs, which I adore. Oh well!

9. The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber Live at the Eccles Theater

Seeing a big spectacle concert like this was a lot of fun, and I had a great time. The reason it comes so low is there were some production problems with the microphones that were frustrating particularly with David Osmond. If I hadn’t known the songs, I would have had no idea what he was saying. For $45 I expect those kinds of problems to be dealt with. However, it was still a very enjoyable evening of music and gravitas that only ALW can bring.

8. Aint Misbehavin- West Valley Performing Arts Center

This was a fantastic concert of jazz musician Fats Waller songs. The live orchestra was so much fun especially the piano player who put in a workout throughout the show. It comes lower on the list just because I like showtunes more than jazz, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I hope they keep making interesting shows at this new venue.

7. Thoroughly Modern Millie– Alpine Community Youth Theatre

These teens deserve a ton of credit for this production. The performances and energy were outstanding and whoever made the costumes did an incredible job. It’s not easy to perform outdoors but they did a great job and it was a terrific night of theater. However, the show itself isn’t my favorite. The whole plotline involving human trafficking is uncomfortable. I will definitely go to see this group again but hopefully next time it is for a show I like better (although ‘Not for the Life of Me’ and ‘Gimme Gimme’ are incredible songs!)

6. Matilda– Jaks Youth Theatre Company

Matilda is a show I had long heard about but never gotten the chance to see it until yesterday. This group of children and teens did a great job and the whole production had an energy I really enjoyed. The show is stolen by the 3 villains- The Trunchbull, and Mr and Mrs Wormwood. I’m not sure who the actors were in those roles but they did a great job and they had my favorite songs. The second act isa lot stronger than the first with all the memorable songs in the latter part of the show. I can definitely see Matilda becoming to a new generation what Annie was for my generation.

5. Annie Jr-Hale Center Theatre Orem

Speaking of Annie I thoroughly enjoyed the youth production of that show at Hale Center Theatre in Orem. I’m not sure what gets taken out from Annie vs Annie Jr but the young cast did a great job and the adults playing Miss Hannigan and Daddy Warbucks (as well as others) were fantastic as well. I have a fondness for Annie (I think it’s underrated!) and love any chance I get to see it performed live. Such a hopeful sweet show.

4. Les Miserables– Hale Center Theatre Sandy

Some people might be shocked to see Les Miserables in 4th place because I adore the show and have seen it 3 times on Broadway. Make no mistake I absolutely loved this show and it was such kismet that the first show I would see back from my break would be Les Mis which is so special to me. I love all of the songs and the story. However, I feel HCT could have used their stage more effectively and had it rotating so we could see all the sides of the barricade. Les Mis was known for a rotating stage and since they have the ability to move the stage I’m not sure why they kept it so static. That said, I still had a great time and would go see it again if I could.

3. She Loves Me– PG Players

Talk about a contrast from a big Hale production to this small production of She Loves Me. I adore She Loves Me to begin with and this was such a wonderful show. It was made better by being small and intimate with a cast that had great chemistry (the leads were a married couple which was fun). The quality of the singing and acting was fantastic and I will definitely be seeing more shows at the PG Library by the PG Players. Delightful

2. Daddy Long Legs- Hale Center Theatre Sandy

If I had to pick an underrated Broadway show this would be it. Daddy Long Legs is a 2 person show that is a completely charming love story. I enjoy all the songs and the staging at Hale was very inventive and fun. I also got to see my old teacher David Smith play the lead. It is my 3rd time seeing him in the role and he and costar Kelly Coombs had great chemistry. If you get a chance to see Daddy Long Legs at a theater near you do. It’s so good.

  1. Music Man– Center Point Legacy Theatre

To see Music Man at Center Point theater I had to drive all the way to Bountiful about 35 minutes but it was completely worth it. I love Music Man and this was a great production of the iconic show. I love the message of hope and that there are no lost causes- even a conman like Harold Hill can be redeemed. I love the songs especially ‘Trouble’, ’76 Trombones’ and ‘Till There Was You’. The performances were fantastic as well as the wonderful sets, costumes and shoutout to my friend Camille on the sound! It was a magical night of theater.

So there you have it! The first 10 shows I have seen! What an incredible experience I’ve had and I look forward to a summer of many more shows. If you know of shows I should check out please let me know. I know not everyone can support live theater right now but if you can I encourage you to do so. The arts are a treasure that makes life rich and powerful. Thank you to all the performers and teams that made all of these shows possible. It has been so fun!

[THEATER REVIEW] ‘Matilda’ (Jaks Youth Theatre Company)

Previous to tonight I had heard a lot about the musical Matilda based on the Roald Dahl novel I loved as a little girl. Today I finally go the chance to see it at the Jeanne Wagner Theater at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts Downtown. It was part of the Jaks Youth Theater Company which is a new group to me. New show, new group means lots of fun!

Like I said, Matilda is based on the Dahl book with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly. (If you want to see another fun show by Minchin check out Groundhog Day. You wouldn’t think it would work but it does!). Minchin brings a lot of humor into the songs especially the villain songs. That is definitely his strength.

Matilda tells the story of a little girl who just might be a genius named Matilda. When she starts school she’s already doing hard math and reading Dickens. Unfortunately she gets no help from her parents nor is her headmistress The Trunchbull any help. In fact, they are about as mean as you get.

Trunchbull singing ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ is one of the highlights of the show.

I also really enjoyed Mr and Mrs Wormwood (the program didn’t have who was who in the various casts). They sing a song called ‘Telly’ that was another highlight of Act 2

There were some audio and microphone issues that you always have with youth theater, but that was a small problem. For most of the show the production values were strong and the kids seemed to be having a great time, which is always the most important factor in youth productions.

When we got to intermission I wasn’t feeling the show. The songs were pretty bland, but the 2nd Act moved everything up a notch. It ended up being a really fun show that kids will have a blast starring in or helping to put on behind the scenes.

Everything else was done well by Jaks Youth Theatre and I’d definitely see one of their shows again.

7 out of 10

[THEATER REVIEW] ‘She Loves Me’ (PG Players)

One of my goals in this summer of theater is to check out playhouses I haven’t visited before. One such venue is the PG Players which host their shows at the Pleasant Grove City Library in Pleasant Grove Utah. This is a small venue with tickets at $15 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. I love the show She Loves Me (and You’ve Got Mail and Shop Around the Corner!). There’s just something so appealing about the idea of 2 people falling in love over letters!

She Loves Me is a musical with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Book by Joe Masteroff. It is based on The play Perfumerie which also is the basis for The Shop Around the Corner and then Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

The story, if you aren’t aware, is about 2 people who work at a department store and dislike each other. All the while they are writing each other as secret pen pals and falling in love as they do it. It’s charming and the songs are very entertaining especially ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘She Loves Me’

The PG Players production did a very good job taking advantage of the small stage they having using a folding set that moved and adapted to different scenes. The costumes worked and the leads were not only talented but had great chemistry. It stars a real life couple Alex and Melinda DeBirk as Georg and Amalia respectively (which explains the chemistry).

For the most part all the technical aspects were well done and it was a very enjoyable night of theater. I love small intimate theaters. I also loved the community spirit of this production. The directors, Howard and Kathryn Little, have been producing for PG Players for many years and several of the castmates have been in multiple productions together. It honestly makes me want to participate in a show someday. Such fun!

I definitely will see future shws at the PG Players. It was a great show!

9 out of 10

[THEATER REVIEW] ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ (West Valley Performing Arts Center)

One of the things I’ve missed the most in quarantine is live performance, live music. It’s just not the same over zoom as much as we try to make it so! So it was with great anticipation I made my way to the West Valley Performing Arts Center (former home of Hale Center Theater West Valley) to see their production of Ain’t Misbehavin’. This show is new to me and it was a rollicking good time!

Ain’t Misbehavin’ isn’t really a musical in the traditional sense. It’s billed as a musical revue and is made up of 30 songs from the jazz musician Thomas ”Fats” Waller. Previous to this show I had only heard of a couple of Fats songs particularly ‘I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ and ‘I Can Give You Anything but Love’. However, part of the fun of an experience like this getting to know and enjoy new songs.

The production at West Valley is small with only 6 actors who are very talented and put their all into the singing and dancing. I particularly enjoyed Krispin Banks as Ken and Daysha as Nell Carter. My favorite part of the evening though was the pianist Mark Johnson who gives a marathon of a performance along with the live jazz orchestra! What a treat!

West Valley has Footloose next on their roster and it probably would have been wise to start their season out with something more accessible and popular (a known IP and all). I went to Ain’t Misbehavin’ opening night and the audience was pretty sparse. Hopefully the word will get around and people will give it a try because it deserves to have an audience.

COVID-wise this was a very safe evening at the theater. They went above and beyond to ensure distancing, masks and even checked my temperature upon arrival. It was much better than what I experienced at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. So if you are concerned in that regard this one is the way to go.

8 out of 10