'Prince of Egypt' deserves royal accolades

Regardless of your views on theology, or even the merits of musical theater, one thing is clear after witnessing the visual spectacular of Tuacahn’s The Prince of Egypt, the Tuacahn canyon has never looked more majestic.

While few things can dwarf the towering red rock canyon in which the amphitheater sits, and even fewer can improve upon its regal beauty, there is something about watching Moses part the Red Sea in our own desert wilderness that left me with a renewed sense of wonder.

Suffice it to say, if you have to pick just one production to see at Tuacahn this season, this is the one.

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Even if you based the decision solely on the technical merits of the show, you would not be disappointed. I mean, we’re talking the plagues of Egypt, right in front of you on stage!

The miracles wrought by Moses at the hand of God are, in this case, a result of a combination of pyrotechnics, LED screens, lighting, beautiful set design and the water feature that can flood the entire stage. These elements all combine to dramatically, and effectively, show the turmoil in which the Egyptians found themselves after the Pharaoh refused to free the Hebrew slaves.

However, this smorgasbord of technical triumph is certainly not the only reason to run, not walk, to get tickets to this play.

While accolades surely must go to Jacob Dickey who does a phenomenal job in the role of Moses, and Roderick Lawrence as his brother Ramses, they are just one of many bricks comprising this carefully designed pyramid.

The ensemble cast was unbelievable — particularly when it came to dancing strength. Using modern dance maneuvers this talented group became the river that carried baby Moses to his Egyptian life, the sand that threatened to bury him as he wandered lost in the desert, and the slaves for whom Moses was desperate to free.
The costume design is an artistic component all its own. Seeing the contrast between the colorfully adorned Midianites and the dirty grey garb of the Hebrews served as a stark reminder of the differences in their lives. Each of these worlds are set against the backdrop of the gold-laced Egyptian clothing, which underscores the worlds Moses was forced to straddle before ultimately making his choice.

And then there is the set design.

Brad Shelton, set designer at Tuacahn, says The Prince of Egypt is by far the largest show they’ve ever done.

“Ever year we set the bar a little higher,” he says.

And that is definitely true in this case.

Having recently re-watched the Dreamworks film, I was happily familiar with some of the powerful music in the play, including “Deliver Us” and “When You Believe.” As is often the case, the stage version has several additional songs which add even greater depth to some of the characters and their relationships than you see in the film. For example, Moses and Ramses. Their worlds are so interconnected and yet so far apart. It’s easy to see why their separation would be painful. The beautiful rendition of “Footprints On the Sand” is one powerful example.

And the sorrow displayed by Nefertari (Ramses wife played by Santini Umbach) when her oldest child dies is painfully beautiful to witness when she sings “Heartless.”

Finally, the story itself is, of course, biblical in size. While the play is there to entertain, one can definitely see the lessons to be learned from the many layers of this story. It was particularly fascinating to see Moses so humanized as he truly struggled with the aftermath of the plagues — particularly the deaths of the firstborn children, which is something he abhorred about his Pharaoh father’s reign.

There are times when stories from the Bible, and other literature, become so commonplace we fail to remember that they are more than just lines on a page of an ancient manuscript. They were people. Complex people with thoughts, fears and dreams. If nothing else, watching this well-known tale unfold on stage is a reminder of these complexities and the lessons to be learned.

You simply cannot find a more majestic backdrop for this classroom.

For ticket dates, prices and more information log onto www.tuacahn.org

Find out more about the local theater scene, and everything else that needs to be seen in the Southern Utah Scene, by following @SoUtahScene on Instagram.

A wave of talent in Brigham's Playhouse 'South Pacific'

When it comes to community theater, one generally has to adjust their expectations to fit the amateur lens. And while there is plenty to fit the quaint, hometown experience of community theater in the Brigham's Playhouse production of "South Pacific," several aspects far exceed that expectation.  

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Two prime examples are the leads Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque (played by Adam Cheney). The role of Nellie is double cast, played by Jasmine Anderson and Heidi Lee on alternating performances. During my viewing, Jasmine Anderson played the part and I couldn't be more happy with how it all turned out. 

From the opening scene, Anderson owned the stage. The ease with which she seemed to drape herself in the character of Nellie Forbush helped the audience get lost immediately in this poignant tale of love, war, prejudice and triumph. In fact, Anderson's natural stage presence came close to casting a shadow on her love interest, Emile de Becque, but Cheney quickly warmed to his role and by the second scene the two were in sync, making their love, and their heartache an almost tangible experience for the audience. Especially during moving numbers like "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine." 

The enthusiasm of supporting characters, including the ever-popular Bloody Mary (played by Susi Lafaele) and Luther Billis (Aaron Flores) gave the show an energy that went beyond the small stage and filled the auditorium. I was impressed Flores was even able to pull off the belly rolling maneuver at the conclusion of "Honey Bun." Between his physical comedy and eager on-stage presence, he was definitely believable in the Luther Billis role. 

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Same goes for the vocals and dancing of the ensemble cast. It was hard not to be excited as the C.B.s put their hearts into singing "Nothing Like A Dame" and the nursing staff crowed about their plans to "Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair." 

Quick and seamless scene changes helped move the story along, despite the show's three-hour run time. And I was quite impressed with the set designs as well. Simple. But effective. From the moment you enter the theater the cast is doing its best to make you feel like you've already transported to an island on the South Pacific. The music. Costumed actors assisting patrons to find their seats. Warm temperatures in the auditorium... though I don't think that last part was intentional. :) 

The racially charged love story between Lt. Joseph Cable (Caleb Christensen) and Liat (Gloria Morin) offers up some of the other classic songs from this well-known play, including "Younger Than Springtime" and "Happy Talk." But the decision (whether made by the director or the actor, I don't know) to have Cable remain desperately sick with malaria in the latter part of the play (rather than weak, but otherwise recovered as in the film production) was distracting at best. We need to see him rising from his sickbed strong enough to handle the imminent military assignment that serves as the show's climactic end. Instead, his sickly, cracking voice nearly overshadowed the vital moments in "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" and was distracting during Emile's "This Nearly Was Mine." 

Looking at the show overall however, it is not difficult to see the waves of talent covering the entirety of this thought-provoking tale. If you have never been to Brigham's Playhouse (this was my first time!) "South Pacific" is definitely a show worth seeing in this intimate theater. 

"South Pacific" continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 29 at Brigham's Playhouse. Tickets are $17-$23. Log onto www.brighamsplayhouse.com for more information. 

 

Truths from an old cabin

When you leave something unattended too long, the earth eventually reclaims its land. 

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Somewhere beneath the concave remnants of this old cabin is a metaphor for life. Whether you consider yourself a spiritual person, or whether you feel you are making the sojourn on this planet purely on your own, there is truth in the notion that if you aren't building, you are decaying. 

Wait! You say. I'm tired. I just need a rest. Can't I just coast for a while? Life can be so relentless. But that's just it: Life is relentless in every sense of the word. Time marches onward. It doesn't stop. You change and grow and age without even trying. Sometimes without even noticing. But if you want to withstand the pressures of life, if you want to truly succeed, you have to keep building, fixing, cleaning, maintaining. 

Trying. Failing. Trying again. Progressing. 

Giving up and standing still simply isn't an option for those who hope to achieve. The planet never stops turning, even when we need a break. And when you abandon your goals, or your life, well, this cabin shows what can happen. 

"Million Dollar" talent

When I booked tickets to see Tuacahn’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet”, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I figured it would be an enjoyable evening out. I also figured my husband would like it more than I did. After all, he’s the more musical one of our little duo.  Even still, I’ve always liked oldies music. My parents raised us up right with the Beach Boys, “At the Hop” and such as a regular part of our musical diet.

But I wasn’t prepared to like the show as much as I did.

From the opening scene the absolutely incredible musical talent taking over the stage at the indoor Hafen Theater at Tuacahn, left me with my mouth agape.

No really. There were several times I had to remind myself to close it.

We were definitely among the youngest in the crowd that night — something I imagine is pretty standard at a show featuring the music of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. My favorite overheard conversation during intermission featured the following: “Take your hearing aids out, then it won’t be so loud.”

But this music was definitely meant to be enjoyed by old and young alike, hearing aids or not.

I was pleased when I studied the program to see that the actors would be playing their own musical instruments. It makes sense, but you don’t always find actors who can also perform well on a particular instrument.  Apparently I hadn't counted on the remarkable ability of Kavan Hashemian (Elvis), Benjamin Hale (Johnny Cash), Gabe Aronson (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Colin Summers (Carl Perkins).

As a side note, it was so fun to see Ben Hale — an old friend I hadn't expected to see — tearing it up as a very believable Johnny Cash. 

The show kicked off with high energy “Blue Suede Shoes” and I was immediately hooked.

Let me just say: Jerry Lee Lewis (played by Gabe Aronson) was astounding. Awe-inspiring. His antics at the piano were positively astonishing. For a moment I wondered how the other actors/musicians would keep up. But I did not wonder for long. The four men of the quartet, as well as Sun Records owner Sam Phillips (played by John Gardiner) and the backup musicians each brought their own brand of vivacious energy and unbelievable talent to their respective roles.

Like I said, my jaw dropped more than once.

In addition to loads of fun, familiar music including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, the script was filled with little nuggets of musical history. It left me wondering which pieces were true. Did Carl Perkins really learn to play while working as a share cropper. Subsequent research left me to believe the majority of the pieces of history are accurate.

I loved the incorporation of Dyanne — the show’s lone female — whose voice was as strong as it was sultry. With the scales tipped against her in terms of gender representation in the show, Kyli Rae completely held her own. 

I realize there are only a few dates left to see “Million Dollar Quartet” at Tuacahn. If I were you, I’d get on the phone right now to see if you can make it happen because you do not want to miss this show. 

Disconnect to connect

Sometimes in order to connect, you have to unplug. 

Believe me, the irony of my first blog post to accompany my Instagram page being about the need to disconnect is not lost on me. I love the idea of connecting with people on my web site and on social media. But truth be told, I'm also a little bit old school.

I am fueled by interpersonal interaction; I'm social in the non-electronic sense. Sure, I love my alone time, but I feel energized after being with people. So this weekend, it was time to disconnect in order to connect. 

One of my favorite places in the SoUtahScene may not look like much. And, it's not accessible to everyone. It's a piece of property about 15 minutes up Right Hand Canyon in Cedar City, Utah where my maternal grandparents built a small, rustic cabin back in the 1960s. 

After more than 50 years, despite the technological advances of the rest of the world, the cabin remains unchanged. Well, except for the indoor plumbing which was added later. I mean, seriously. Flushing toilets are, in my mind, a necessity. But beyond that, it's the same. No cell service. No Internet. No TV. Just the sound of the wind in the aspen trees, the water gurgling in the creek as it makes its way downstream, and me, surrounded by the people I love. 

Playing games. Hiking. Reading. Sleeping. Eating.

Relaxing. Rejuvenating. Reconnecting.

You may not have this magical place, but I bet you have your own way to recharge. And I bet it has very little to do with an electrical cord.