Friday, July 17, 2015

The 2015 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Reviews of Charley's Aunt, South Pacific, and Amadeus

I go to the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah, almost every year.  (I missed 2012 when I had two surgeries and a relative's wedding taking up my summer.)  I love it.
And every year I post reviews, all of which end up getting many hits, so I know people are searching  for this information.
I usually go to the Festival during preview week, which means my reviews are up just as the true season opens, but this year I was in Iceland at that time, so I went to the Festival this week.  But it's still early in the season, so I'm going to review the plays anyway.  Today it will be the non-Shakespeare plays, tomorrow the Shakespeare plays, and Sunday or Monday I hope to have a review of other things to do at the Festival.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1961 by Fred Adams (who's still going strong and very visible at the Festival).  Now in its 54th season, it offers a mix of Shakespeare, a musical, and comedy, and a non-Shakespeare drama most years.  (This will change next year, as they will have new facilities and will be offering a slightly different mix.)  All play and ticket information may be found at the Festival website, (Hint: if you wish to buy tickets online, the new website still has a lot of issues with Safari, so either call them or use Firefox if you get desperate, although it's beyond me why website developers cannot seem to make pages work for more than one browser.)

The non-Shakespeare comedy for 2015 is Charley's Aunt.
The new festival website will not allow me to post a photo to this blog, so all I can do is give you a link to see photos.  (Can you tell that I don't like the new website?  It won't let me pin the photos to Pinterest, either.)
Ah, ha!  The Salt Lake Tribune had this one photo I managed to get off their site -- not the best one from the play, but at least it's a photo!

This play was written in the 1890s as a farce.  I expected it to be as funny as the festival's 2014 production of Boeing, Boeing or their 2011 Noises Off! or 2010's 39 Steps, but it wasn't.  I suppose a big part of the reason for this is that Michael Doherty, who has the biggest comic role in the play as Babbs, plays it in a way that my grandmother would call "soft."  He acts like a 12-year-old showing off, and it's just nowhere near as funny as the humor we've come to expect at the festival from actors like Brian Vaughn, David Ivers, Quinn Mattfield, and Aaron Galligan-Stierle.
The basic plot is that two Oxford students, Jack and Charley, are in love with a couple of girls and want the girls to come to lunch so they can declare their feelings of love before both girls must leave town.  The problem is that the girls will need a chaperone.  Charley's aunt, the Lady Lucia, an English woman who married a Brazilian man of wealth and who is now a widow, is coming to visit Charley.  The boys arrange the lunch, assuming that the aunt will be a fine chaperone, but she sends a telegram announcing her delayed arrival.  The boys are desperate -- until they realize that their buddy Babbs just happens to have a woman's costume for a play he's in.....  Babbs has to be Charley's aunt -- even when the real Lady Lucia shows up.
Even though this production is not as funny as it could be, it is still delightful.  Lady Lucia, played by the lovelyChristine Jugueta, and Sir Francis Chesney (Jack's father) are both very funny.  It is still very well worth the price of the ticket.

The musical this year at the Festival is South Pacific -- and they've done a practically perfect job.  (The only downside is that the director chose to cut the song "Happy Talk," which leaves an obvious and gaping hole in the show.)

(Again, this photo is courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune, the only one I could get to work on blogger.)
The set, lighting, and sound of this production are done very well.  I was very impressed.  (Can I tell you how fun it was to see the chair in the military office scene be identical to the chair I have used at school for years?  My chair was a vintage 1950, and this set piece looked just like it!)
Nearly every character in this has been cast very well.  Nellie, Emile, Joe Cable, and Bloody Mary are perfect!  And they sing so well!  Luther is hilarious.  The officers are convincingly rough.  The only casting that doesn't work is Liat.  For Emile's two children, the festival managed to get local Tongan children to play the roles, and Bloody Mary is played by a woman of color who looks possibly African American in the interviews but who makes a fine "Tonkenese" woman in the play.  But Liat, her daughter, looks Korean.  In no way does she look Polynesian.  It's not a big deal, but since they tried hard to get a Polynesian look for the others, Liat looks off.
Anyway, this is a fabulous version of this play -- and I've seen numerous versions.  Don't miss this one!

The serious, non-Shakespearean drama for 2015 is Amadeus.

(Photo from the Tribune again, because is not letting me use their photos.)
Like most people, I'd seen the movie Amadeus years ago.  But this is not the movie.
In the movie, Mozart is still the focus of the play, and his rival composer Salieri is a Disney-esque villain.  The movie is, as described by David Ivers, Festival artistic director and the actor who plays Salieri, a "thriller."
But the play at the Festival has evolved; it's now a tragedy.
According to Ivers this is the fourth new version the playwright has created since the movie.  The end is very different.
And this is Salieri's story now, not Mozart's.  Salieri has Hubris and the tragic flaw of not realizing that the contract he's made with God is one-sided; God is not part of the equation.
David Ivers is fantastic in this!  And Tasso Feldman is a superb Mozart with an amazing array of emotions.  This is a gem of a production.  Do not miss it!

There you have my reviews of the three non-Shakespeare plays.  Drop by tomorrow for the rest.

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