Three plyas in four days - over one extended weekend.
From Friday, Feb. 16, through President's Day on Monday, I saw three completely different plays.
Diverse as they were, these productions also had several things in common. All were outside the Salt Lake metropolitan area, all had guest performers or directors and all were top-notch quality.
They proved to me that, much as we smugly like to gloat that Utah's very finest theater is right here in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, there are outstanding performing arts to be found up in Cache Valley, over Parley's Summit in Park City and in Weber County as well.
And, if I'd had the time to travel south to Provo, Cedar City and St. George, I'm sure I would have found equally excellent drama there as well.
- SOMETIMES ALL THE RIGHT elements just fall into place at the right time.
Utah State Theatre's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which played to sold-out and held-over performances in the Morgan Theatre of Utah State University's Chase Fine Arts Center, is a case in point.
It helped, of course, that the project was shepherded by one of the region's most gifted directors, Gary R. Bird. And it also helped, immensely, that just the right combination of extraordinary talent - both on and off the stage - happened to be in Logan this winter.
For instance, Brad Whitaker, a graduate of the USU theater department who has gone on to forge a career in New York City, was back in town for an extended family visit. He contacted USU to see if there was anything coming up in which he might be able to perform. Bird had himself a dynamite Pharoah/Simeon.
Crossing over into the school's music department, Bird acquired some performers with exceptionally strong voices and stage presence - notably John Mauldin (Joseph) and Linda Mugleston, as one of the narrators.
The rest of the cast, playing Joseph's jealous brothers, Ishmaelites and Egyptians, were just as good as any of the leads.
One of them, Mike Humberstone, is a multi-talented chap - not only did he portray both Asher and Potiphar, whose vixenish wife tempts Joseph, he also designed the show's posters. This artwork was so dazzling, it was also utilized for T-shirts, sold to the public during intermission and after the show.
Bird is one director who knows how to put the fun in funky.
If you haven't seen it, "Joseph" is the kind of show that directors can have a great time with - almost as much fun as the audiences. The possibilities in costuming and staging are nearly limitless.
Which is why Loganites saw Jacob (Steven Dunn) doing wheelies on neon-colored in-line rollerskates in one scene, and astride a bright red motor scooter in another.
Those all-business Ishmaelites were dressed to make a killing - on Wall Street. Their attache cases came complete with cellular phones and portable fax machines. (After some hasty negotiations with Joseph's brothers and a quick call to their leaders, the faxed reply came right back: "BUY JOE.")
I suspect that it's probably impossible to put on a boring production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." But, Bird's version was by far the best I've seen. Everything really clicked.
- I DON'T OFTEN DRIVE to Park City, especially during the winter when the weather is "iffy." (OK, I admit it, I don't ski. When it comes to seats, I much prefer those in a theater, not on a ski lift.)
But Park City Performances' latest production, "Daddy's Dyin' . . . Who's Got the Will?" had so much going for it, that we couldn't pass it up.
It was the regional premiere of a play that probably won't be mounted in Salt Lake anytime soon, certainly not this season. It had Edward J. Gryska at its helm. Like Bird, Ed is highly regarded as one of the area's best directors.
And it had what looked like (and turned out to be) a fine cast of experienced performers.
I discovered that the audience inside is as interesting as the stores and skiiers outside. Seated directly behind me during the play's first Sunday performance were three visitors who had come to Park City for a week of skiing - a gentleman from Great Britain, a woman from Connecticut and another woman from Florida (but formerly from the New Haven area), all of whom had enjoyed the wonderful theater that surrounds the New York and London areas.
They had a great time experiencing theater in Park City and vowed that they'll sample it again when they return next year.
- THERE ARE GOOD THINGS happening in Ogden, too, in the theater department at Weber State University.
Since the musical theater program at the University of Utah has dwindled down to next-to-nothing, WSU's department of performing arts has picked up the slack. By the time this column hits print, its excellent production of "Man of La Mancha" will be history. (It ended Saturday night.)
But it's probably not too late to start marking your calendars for the school's annual Utah Musical Theatre series, scheduled for this summer.
Four shows are on the docket: "Camelot," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Into the Woods" (also being done at Sundance, in repertory with "Big River"), and "My One and Only."
In developing "Man of La Mancha," director Larry L. West took his cue from author Miguel Unamuno's quote, "Only he who attempts the ridiculous may achieve the impossible."
"La Mancha" is not an easy show to mount. It demands powerful singers and a large setting. But WSU pulled it off.
The more theater I see around Utah, both along and beyond the Wasatch Front, the more I am impressed at the quality.
Productions are getting better and audiences are becoming more sophisticated. They're expecting (and usually getting) excellent shows and professional presentations.
Now, if we could just get "Les Miserables" for two or three more weeks. . . .