Left to right: Jesse Swimm as Burt, Gail Bennett as Mary Poppins, and Joël René as Mrs. Corry. Courtesy image.

Tuacahn gears up for three outdoor plays, one indoor production

Stage » Classics ready to light up summer season.


First Published May 25 2013 01:01 am
Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:32 pm

St. George • Outdoor amphitheater shows at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts are known for including flying actors, live animals, floods, fireworks and 3-D special effects.

This summer, at least two of the three outdoor repertory productions should live up to the theater’s well-deserved reputation.

Tuacahn’s five-month season opens Thursday with the premiere of "Mary Poppins." The professional regional debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Starlight Express" starts its run a week later. And in a somewhat new twist, Tuacahn has added a third outdoor musical, "Thoroughly Modern Millie," making it possible for theater fans to catch three musicals in three nights.

Artistic director Scott Anderson said Tuacahn performed "Annie," "Aida" and "Footloose" successfully a few years ago, though one of those opened late in the summer. The theater has never opened three plays so close to one another.

About 1,400 actors auditioned for roles in the three outdoor productions, a group that Anderson and his other directors whittled down to 38 Equity actors, the largest number of professionals the theater has ever employed.

Though "Mary Poppins" will feature flying actors, fireworks and a new projection scenery system, the visual stunner of the summer might be "Starlight Express."

Anderson said Tuacahn originally planned to produce "Camelot" this season. But, during a trip to London, he managed to secure the first regional rights for "Starlight Express."

"We’re excited about it," he said. "People don’t realize how popular this show is. It has been running for 25 years in Bochum, Germany, at a beautiful facility built for the show. And there is a revival of it going on in London."

The story involves a little boy who receives a train on Christmas Eve. His mother wants him to go to bed, but he is playing with his new train set. He imagines it coming to life and interacts with the train throughout the show.

"In the original show, the boy is only on tape," said Anderson. "You never see him. In this production, he interacts throughout the show with the trains. It’s quite novel."

The show is best known because it’s performed entirely on roller skates, so actors were required to skate well before being cast.

Anderson took a surface used by roller-derby groups and built a track all over the stage and out into the audience. "Starlight Express" will also use the 3-D technology seen in Tuacahn’s production of "Aladdin" last year, as well as pyrotechnics.

Because more people are familiar with "Mary Poppins" — the story of a magical nanny hired to save a somewhat dysfunctional British family — it might be the most difficult outdoor ticket on some nights.

Anderson, who is directing the play, said that with so many scene changes, the new projection system will offer some stunning effects. Mary Poppins will do a lot of flying, perhaps even from the walls of the red rock that guards the outdoor stage, as Tarzan did two years ago.

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" will be a somewhat more traditional musical production. Tuacahn brought in director and choreographer Jeffry Denman for this Tony Award-winning musical that will feature tap dancing and some clever use of scenery to tell the story of a young woman coming to New York City in the 1920s.

In late June, the more child-oriented "Mulan," a 75-minute, one-act play based on the 1998 Disney movie, will open in the indoor Hafen Theater.

Tuacahn will be one of the first venues where Disney has allowed the use of professional actors. The play, about a young woman and her pet dragon trying to save an empire, features mostly Asian-American actors who are not part of the repertory for the three outdoor productions.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton

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