From the reported American premiere of Noel Coward's 1951 comedy, "Relative Values," to knock-out performances by longtime festival favorites Sheridan Crist and William Leach and newcomer Joseph Heninger-Potter, Utah Shakespearean Festival patrons will find an abundance of theatrical riches on the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre stage.
There are also noteworthy appearances by several actors familiar to Salt Lake audiences - Rene Thornton Jr., Conan McCarty and Libby George among them.
RELATIVE VALUES, directed by Charles Morey; 8:30 p.m. Mondays & Thursdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays & Saturdays; running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (two intermissions)
First produced in the early 1950s in London, where its stance on British manners was blasted by the critics, this play, Noel Coward vowed, would never be produced in America. Then, USF founder/producer Fred C. Adams saw a new West End production a couple of years ago in London and was able to negotiate this Utah Shakespearean Festival coup.
Coward's deliciously wry wit is bandied back and forth during one weekend in Marshwood House in East Kent, England. The forthcoming wedding of Nigel, the earl of Marshwood, to a superficial Hollywood movie star, Miranda Frayle, turns the genteel estate upside down.
It seems that Moxie, Countess Felicity's personal maid, just happens to be Miranda's older sister - a fact not likely to be found in Miss Frayle's studio publicity.
Pioneer Theatre Company patrons are well aware of director Charles Morey's knack for staging finely tuned British comedies - and this hilarious romp through 1950s manners (or lack thereof) is no exception.
Relatives and values - both social and political - are fair game for Coward's sharply barbed dialogue. The comedy is handled with the well-timed precision of a Wimbledon Tennis match.
Morey is blessed with a first-rate cast, some of whom he has worked with before (Salt Lakers should remember Libby George and Conan McCarty from previous PTC work). Festival fans are also finding that the return of William Leach to the acting company is an additional welcome treat.
Leach portrays Crestwell, the household's knowledgable butler, who is given to flippant commentary on the ever-evolving status of things at Marshwood House. Libby George plays Dora Moxton (Moxie), the maid; Patricia Fraser is Felicity, the countess who's none too pleased about her son's upcoming marriage; and Sheridan Crist is Felicity's impeccably attired nephew, Peter Ingleton.
Jeannie Naughton and Conan McCarty, as Miranda and her Hollywood boyfriend, raise eyebrows with their decidedly non-British demeanor.
Raymond L. Chapman is properly stuffy as Nigel; William Metzo and Kristin Bennett are the Haylings, a couple of visitors drawn into the fray; and April Hall is Alice, an ill-at-ease housemaid.
George Maxwell's splendid period set, Bill Black's stylish costumes and Christine Frezza's original music score add even more sparkle to the finely polished comedy.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, directed by Fred C. Adams; by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber; 2 p.m. Tuesdays & Fridays; 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays & July 11, then 7:30 & 10 p.m. on Saturdays; running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (one intermission).
Cedar City's "Mr. Shakeseare" - Fred Adams - is sporting a spiffy new tie this season, custom-sewn by the festival's costumers and created from the same colorful, iridescent material used for Joseph's shorts.
Adams has taken one of this generation's most popular musicals and added some clever spins of his own - jazzy, Fosse-esque choreography, Ishmaelites on motorcycles (with "Ishmael Lite" logos on their leather jackets), Potiphar and his seductive wife on a black-and-white Cecil B. DeMille silent movie set (doing some sizzling Theda Bara/Rudolph Valentino tangos) and a few more surprises.
There's even an Osmond in the playbill - but not on stage. This
David Osmond plays drums in Brian William Baker's orchestra.
Adams found a talented young Utahn to play the title role: Joseph Heninger-Potter. A student at Utah State University, he was seen by theatergoers last year just 45 miles down the road, playing Jacob Hamblin in the Tuacahn Amphitheater, where he was pinch-hitting for an actor who was thrown off a horse.
This year it's Heninger-Potter's turn to get thrown . . . into a pit . . . by his angry siblings.
It's easy to see why Adams let him don the famous coat - this one featuring Color Country scenery stitched onto the back. Heninger-Potter has a great voice, an endless amount of energy and "surfer dude" good looks.
Another terrific piece of casting is Russ Benton as Pharaoh. You first see just his face and his hands behind two small holes carved into an upright Egyptian sarcophagus - which opens up into a scene that's right out of an Elvis Presley rockfest. Just like Presley, Benton's Pharaoh really knows how to work the audience.
Other standouts: Jenny Bennett as the Narrator; former University of Utah student Rene Thornton Jr. as Reuben, who heats up the "Benjamin Calypso" number; Brent T. Barnes as Napthali ("Those Canaan Days"); Matt Bomer as Isaacher ("One More Angel in Heaven"); Tom Parker as Poti-phar/Valentino and Kristen Bennett as Mrs. Potiphar/Theda Bara.
Derryl Yeager's choreography includes a styish routine reminiscent of Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" for one of the brothers' early numbers. Another of Adams' surprises comes during "Those Canaan Days," which is given a Last Supper look, rather than utilizing the French "Apache dance" style used in most productions.
ROMEO AND JULIET, directed by Kathleen F. Conlin; 2 p.m. Mondays & Thursdays; 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays & Fridays; running time: 3 hours (one intermission).
George Maxwell's stage-filling set, with its vine-covered balcony on one side and two levels of Romanesque arches and columns, set the tone for Shakespeare's dark drama of star-crossed lovers caught up in the cross fire between the feuding Montague and Capulet families in Verona.
Kathleen F. Conlin has mounted a straightforward version of this oft-told tale. No prewar German concrete bunkers. No turntables. No modern dressing.
There are stunning performances with Tom Parker and Brandy McClendon perfectly cast in the title roles.
There are also fine performances by those playing their parents - Rene Thornton Jr. (probably best known to Salt Lake audiences for his role as Belize in "Angels in America") and Jenny Bennett as the Montagues, and Hassan El-Amin and Angela Iannone as the Capulets.
Other noteworthy players include Libby George as Juliet's Nurse; Raymond L. Chapman as Mercutio, David Janoviak as Tybalt, Lady Capulet's nephew, and Robert Gerard Anderson as Friar Laurence, a Franciscan priest who unwittingly brings about the tragic conclusion.
Fight director Robin McFarquhar's choreographed swordplay is another of this production's pluses, along with Helen Q. Huang's costumes, Linda Essig's sound, Christine Frezza's music, Kennedy's hair designs, M. Anthony Reimer's sound and Derryl Yeager's choreography.
- Sensitivity rating: The drama's bawdy gesturing is intact.