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Weber State University
Weber State University students perform "Musical of Musicals: The Musical." The show will be critiqued by the best in the business.

In a state known more for its skiing, predominant religion and professional basketball team, it can be easy to overlook Utah's healthy theater scene.

This past year three Utah works received nominations for the Steinberg New Play Award, local playwright Elaine Jarvik was honored at the Humana Festival, and now Utah's college students are center stage.

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival is a national program designed to give college theater students a chance to showcase their work and have it critiqued by the best in the business.

According to its Web site, "The KCACTF honors excellence of overall production and offers student artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing and design."

This year, Weber State University and Dixie State College were chosen to participate in the one-of-a-kind festival.

"I'm so excited it hurts," said Guy Smith, a Dixie student. "I already started the nightmare cycles. Before I open a show, I start to get dreams that reoccur about forgetting lines and stuff. That started to happen with the Kennedy Center, about failing horribly. It's scary but it's really, really exciting."

Smith was selected for his creative makeup designs for the school's production of "Sweeney Todd."

Varlo Davenport, Dixie theater professor, said, "I know 'Sweeney Todd' and have loved it. But there were some aspects that I needed to tone down. To deal with the blood and gore, my concept was to make it black and white and model it after old 1920s horror films. That was all I gave Guy. He took it and ran with it."

Deciding that air-brushing was the only way to achieve the look he wanted, Smith "worked on it for months trying to get the levels and things down and I did it all by hand."

Davenport talked about the technique. "We didn't want it to look like bad Dracula makeup. To experiment, he would take a full-color picture of someone then with Photo shop transfer it to black and white. Then with airbrushing he did the same thing and then put them side by side, and when you couldn't tell they were made up, he knew he had the mix right."

Smith, also an accomplished actor and member of the cast, spent 4 1/2 hours every night applying the makeup. "I had to paint myself along with the rest of the cast. All of the showing skin. By doing it myself, I was able to get really, really picky with the designs."

With a new skill under his belt, Smith, happy that he may now have a way to "put Ramen on the table" as an actor, is eager to head back East. "At the Kennedy Center, they actually import some of the best makeup artists in the world, and they work with us for a week. It's overwhelming but it's really exciting."

Joining Smith on his all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., will be members of Weber State University's production of "Musical of Musicals: The Musical."

"Well, when you do the math and you consider that there are 200-300 productions every year and only five or six get to go ... It's like going to the Super Bowl for college theater," said Jim Christian, WSU professor of theater and director the show.

"I think having the selected scenes going is a real accomplishment. The festival tends to be drawn to work that's either new or edgy or a little grittier. For something as fluffy as 'Musical of Musicals' to get to go to the ball, we're ecstatic."

The show consists of five musical scenes that spoof, parody and lovingly pay homage to some of theater's greatest composers.

"I knew this would be a great academic experience for the students as well as artistic. They formed teams, they watched videos, listened to scores. Any way they could get their hands on the show, they did."

But the WSU victory is a little bittersweet. Only two of the five scenes were chosen to attend the festival: Kander and Ebb ("Chicago," "Cabaret") and Stephen Sondheim ("Sweeney Todd" and "Company.")

"Well, there were mixed feelings. We would have loved the entire production to have gone. Once I got the news I spoke to each cast member one on one. The blow was softened with getting to do the show three more times."

The cast of "Musical of Musicals" will perform again Friday night and Saturday night, with a Saturday matinee, as part of a fund-raiser to help defray the extra costs for the trip. In addition to Saturday night's show, Christian will present "Musical Theatre History 101," a free lecture that is open to the public.

In addition to WSU sending its musical, it'll also send its stage manager, Becca Dupaix, who competed in Los Angeles. Dupaix was selected after submitting a portfolio, being interviewed and participating in stage management duties at the competition.

"This has really been a career high point, not just for them but for me," said Christian, who has attended the festival once before with his original work, "Pirated!,". "To find a piece that has such savvy writing, and to have people just catch the fire of it and catch the vision of it and have the audience capture the joy this process has been."

Guy Smith agrees. "It was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had in theater. It's cool to represent an entire department to go back and say this is the quality of work we're doing."

The Kennedy Center Festival is from April 14-19 in Washington, D.C.