You’ve probably heard the old adage about actors avoiding working with children or animals, lest they be overshadowed by cuteness or dragged down in their unpredictability. But what about puppets? And further, what about puppets of animals?
Sure, the human element of the Broadway in Salt Lake City production of War Horse is plenty impressive. There is some fine acting, gorgeous singing, and intricate stage choreography among a huge cast to move the action-packed story along. But there is no denying the fact that the amazing puppets, and the lead “horse” Joey, dominate the proceedings and absorb the audiences’s attention throughout.
That is not a bad thing. The Broadway hit, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel and later adapted into a feature film by Steven Spielberg, is a riveting tale, with a winning story that is only enhanced by the visual feast on stage.
It’s a love story of sorts, between Joey and his human caretaker Albert, who raises him from a foal into a spirited steed who ends up on the front lines of World War I. Over the course of War Horse, the audience sees the beginning of their affair, the “breakup” at the hands of Albert’s father, and their ultimate reunion, and it all works. As someone who never read the book or saw the movie, I was hooked by the story quickly.
The amazing visuals on stage, though, are what makes War Horse a remarkable piece of live theater. The intricate puppets designed by Handspring Puppet Company and controlled by a small troupe of puppeteers on stage are the calling card of the show, for sure. The movements of the horses are incredibly lifelike and fluid, and the presence of the human puppeteers alongside them is never a distraction.
But the puppetry is just part of the excellent production’s visual appeal. The animated line drawings on a screen suspended above the stage add incredible detail to the proceedings below in setting the scenes and pushing the story forward. Smaller puppets of birds in the sky and geese on Albert’s farm add to the realism–which is all the more impressive given that the stage is relatively bare-bones in terms of props and sets. The horses and the humans carry this tale. And it’s a tale well worth seeing.
War Horse plays at Capitol Theatre through April 27. Visit the Broadway in Salt Lake City website for showtimes, tickets and more information. (Photo courtesy Broadway in Salt Lake City)
FASTER PUSSYCAT, THE ROYAL, Wednesday, April 23, 8 p.m., $12
Among the sleazy hair-metal bands of the ’80s, Faster Pussycat stood out for a few reasons. They had a prominent spot dedicated to their music and story in the classic rock-doc The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years. They co-owned a Sunset Strip nightclub called The Cathouse with former MTV VJ Riki Rachtman. And, like so many other bands of their ilk, they enjoyed their greatest commercial success with a power ballad, “House of Pain.” They also happen to be one of my personal favorites of the glam-rock bands of the era, blazing a magnificent-if-brief path through the public eye over the course of three albums, a few high-profile tours (like opening for Motley Crue on the Dr. Feelgood tour here in Salt Lake City) and some memorable videos for songs like “Bathroom Wall.” Now they’re still touring on the fumes of that long-ago success, kicking out the old jams for the old fans. Red Light Saints open the show in SLC.
CHVRCHES, THE DEPOT, Tuesday, April 22, 8 p.m., $26
Scottish synth-pop trio Chvrches (pronounced “churches,” but that just doesn’t look as cool, right?) has made quite a quick reputation for itself since forming just three years ago. The vocals of Lauren Mayberry are the first thing that drew me in to the band’s sound, and she and bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty combine to create an impressive batch of densely produced, hook-filled songs on the band’s debut, The Bones of What You Believe. Armed with an arsenal of synthesizers, samplers and more traditional rock instruments, the trio built a strong full-length after their March 2013 EP Recover landed them a spot on the BBC’s “Sound of 2013″ list as one of the UK’s most promising bands. Now that we’ve had a few months to absorb the Chvrches debut, we can see the BBC was on to something. And now you can see them headline their own show Tuesday night in SLC. The Range opens the show.
When it comes to musical ambassadors, New Orleans certainly has an incredible array of worthy artists to choose from, but I can’t imagine there are any better than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Taking their name from the venerable venue in the French Quarter, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band deliver all manner of Big Easy sounds, and even someone unfamiliar with jazz (like myself) can easily find themselves sucked into the band’s music as they perform. Not only are they ace musicians playing insistent, horn-heavy grooves; they are also a remarkably entertaining set of personalities.
Monday at the Capitol Theatre, those personalities came through on songs old and new, including a few from the band’s first set of all-original music, the new That’s It album. Ben Jaffe’s parents originated the New Orleans venue, and now the man with the Sideshow Bob hair is creative director of the touring band, occasionally taking the microphone as emcee between his stints on bass and sousaphone.
Surrounding him Monday were joyful players like the 81-year-0ld Charlie Gabriel, who focused on clarinet and occasionally took over for some spoken/sung lead vocals; when Gabriel sings “come with me to New Orleans,” you want to go. Trombone man Freddie Lonzo is a character, twisting and turning in his chair while blasting some tasty tones from his instrument.
Drummer Joseph Lastie plays a compact kit with style and a remarkably economical style. The solo he took after Jaffe flashed his own bass-solo skills was one of the highlights of the show.
I couldn’t tell you the name of many of the songs, as I had some difficulty hearing some of the between-song banter from my seats, but I can say “Panama Rag” and “Basin Street Blues” were both excellent. As you would expect, because Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been great the three or four times I’ve been fortunate enough to see them. Catching them at a sweet space like Capitol Theatre was quite a bonus.
Red Butte Garden has a tasty batch of shows filling its summer schedule in 2014, running the gamut of genres and generations.
Any regular readers of this space will not be shocked to hear that many of the highlights in my book come early in the season with the first three shows: Emmylou Harris, Janelle Monae and Jason Isbell. Later on, dance-friendly gigs by the likes of Santana, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Galactic co-headlining with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are not to be missed.
Here’s the rundown to date; information about the new ticketing system for Red Butte Garden is below the schedule:
June 3: EMMYLOU HARRIS, $42 for Red Butte Garden members/$45 public
One of the best voices in music, Emmylou Harris just won the 2014 Grammy for Best Americana Album for her collaboration with Rodney Crowell on Old Yellow Moon. Now she’s touring in support of a reissue of her excellent Wrecking Ball album.
June 8: JANELLE MONAE, $57/$62
A fast-rising star, Monae is the show I’m personally most excited about this season. I’m seen her in clubs and arenas, and her charismatic stage presence and incredible attention to detail in her live concerts are always a treat. Think of a female Prince, Outkast or James Brown with a flair for fashion and leading a monster band. I can’t think of anything similar that’s ever been at Red Butte Garden.
June 17: JASON ISBELL/THE LONE BELLOW, $30/$35
Isbell is an excellent singer/songwriter of the roots-rock ilk, and his 2013 album Southeastern earned the former Drive-by Trucker much-deserved hype from all corners. The Lone Bellow crafted a great debut album themselves last year, and Red Butte audiences might remember their gig opening for Brandi Carlile.
June 20: ROBERT CRAY/MAVIS STAPLES, $35/$40
Cray is one smooth blues dude, and Staples is simply a soul music legend who has made regular visits to the garden in the past.
June 24: NATALIE COLE, $42/$47
The pop vocalist most recently delivered a critically praised album sung in Spanish.
June 29: GAVIN DEGRAW/MATT NATHANSON/MARY LAMBERT, $45/$50
This evening is full of pop-oriented singer/songwriters taking the stage.
June 30: FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS/MAX FROST & HOLY CHILD, $30/$35
This American indie rock-meets-neo-soul crew has become a festival favorite the past few years, and their tourmate Max Frost fits that description pretty well, too.
July 1: SARAH MCLACHLAN, $60/$65
More recently seen on Portlandia and animal-rights commercials than the charts lately, the founder of Lilith Fair is still sure to pack the place for her lush pop songs.
July 9: THE AVETT BROTHERS, $47/$53
The high-energy quartet has grown both creatively and commercially since they first played Red Butte a few years back.
July 10: BOB WEIR & RATDOG, $50/$55
Deadheads will rejoice at the idea of a night of Bob Weir and his Ratdog pals jamming at Utah’s best summer concert venue.
July 21: PAT METHENY UNITY GROUP/BRUCE HORNSBY, $42/$47
The guitar ace Metheny brings his latest band to town for a show pairing him with another instrumental master–pianist Bruce Hornsby.
July 22: TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND, $45/$50
The bluesy, worldbeat-influence sounds of guitarist Derek Trucks, his wife/guitarist/vocalist Susan Tedeschi and their crack band have become a regular part of Red Butte’s summer series.
July 25: LYLE LOVETT & HIS LARGE BAND, $47/$52
Lovett and his consistently excellent Large Band are old favorites at Red Butte.
July 27: GARY CLARK, JR., $32/$37
If you’re looking for incendiary guitar work and a star on the rise, Texan Gary Clark, Jr. fits the bill just fine.
July 28: AMOS LEE, $37/$43
Lee traded in a career as a school teacher to pursue his blend of folk, rock and soul music.
July 29: SANTANA, $95/$100
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has been thrilling audiences of his live shows for more than four decades.
Aug. 3: JOHN HIATT & THE COMBO/TAJ MAHAL, $37/$42
Two old favorites join forces for a show sure to please blues-rock fans who have seen both Hiatt and Taj Mahal come to Red Butte for years.
Aug. 5: CHRIS ISAAK, $49/$54
An ace band he’s been playing with for years allows Isaak to put on remarkably entertaining roots-rock concerts with a retro vibe.
Aug. 6: JOHN BUTLER TRIO, $35/$40
The endlessly creative Butler is a live wonder.
Aug. 8: RAY LAMONTAGNE/THE BELLE BRIGADE, $47/$53
Neo-folkie LaMontagne is touring in support of his new Supernova set.
Aug. 10: TROMBONE SHORTY & ORLEANS AVENUE/GALACTIC, $38/$43
Talk about a serious dose of New Orleans in one night, this double-bill is sure to be one of the sweatiest shows of the summer.
Aug. 12: MICHAEL MCDONALD/TOTO, $57/$62
McDonald is one of the most recognizable voices in pop music thanks to his solo success and years with the Doobie Brothers; Toto is a band that I thought broke up around 1983. I bet they play “Rosanna.”
Aug. 14: SHERYL CROW, $69/$74
A Red Butte favorite in recent years, Crow’s most recent music skews towards country more than rock.
Aug. 19: PORTUGAL. THE MAN/GROUPLOVE, $35/$40
A fine combination of young rock acts–Portugal. The Man is a rock band hailing from the hometown of Sarah Palin; Grouplove is an L.A. crew with a dance vibe to their music.
Aug. 21: DAVID GRAY, $48/$53
The British singer/songwriter’s popularity in the states has remained intact far longer than I thought it would.
Aug. 24: BRANDI CARLILE, $39/$44
The charismatic folk-rocker is a regular at Red Butte these days, delivering spirited performances there nearly every summer in recent memory
Aug. 29: EARTH, WIND & FIRE, $60/$65
After having to cancel last fall, the soul and funk pioneers bring their show of familiar hits to town.
Sept. 11: AN ACOUSTIC EVENING WITH BEN HARPER, $48/$53
This man is a wicked player on any guitar he chooses, acoustic or electric, and a winning storyteller as well.
Sept. 14: CONOR OBERST, $35/$40
The alt-rock wunderkind is all grown up, and while most remember the 34-year-old Oberst for his Bright Eyes records, his recent work in his own name has been excellent. His new release, Upside Down Mountain, comes out in May.
HOW TO GET YOUR RED BUTTE GARDEN TICKETS
Red Butte Garden recently announced a change to its ticket-sales operation, one that is sure to streamline the process from the past years. Here’s the lowdown:
1. Tickets go on sale to members of Red Butte Garden on Monday, April 28 at 7 p.m., and will only be sold online until 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 29, when in-person sales and phone sales at Red Butte Garden, as well as online sales via Ticketfly, will be available. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on May 5 at 9 a.m. So it remains advantageous to secure a membership to the garden to have a chance at your preferred shows. You can get a membership here.
2. Online ticket sales will now be handled by Ticketfly.com, which also has a phone-order option. To be able to act fast when you want to buy tickets online, set up a Ticketfly profile in addition to securing that Red Butte membership.
3. Red Butte Garden will be providing Ticketfly with its list of members at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 27, so be sure to get your membership by then if you want to get in on the members-only on-sale date April 28. Red Butte Garden will not be renewing memberships between 6 p.m. April 27 and 9 a.m. April 29.
4. Ticketfly purchases will have a ticket fee of $4.50 per ticket for online sales; in-person and phone-order sales at Red Butte Garden have no ticket fees. Buying through Ticketfly allows you to print your tickets at home, pick them up at Will Call, pick them up at the Red Butte Garden Visitor Center or have them mailed to your home.
5. There are no longer season-ticket packages available.
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND, CAPITOL THEATRE, Monday, April 14, 7:30 p.m., $33.50
While I knew of the existence of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for years before I heard them, I truly got into the group led by creative director Ben Jaffe in the post-Katrina focus on the struggles of New Orleans musicians after the hurricane. An album of collaborations between the traditional Big Easy jazz players and folks like My Morning Jacket, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco and other non-jazz artists lured me in to the band’s sound. a later collaboration with the Del McCoury Band, my favorite bluegrass outfit, only made me more of a Preservation Hall Jazz Band fan. And my unabashed love was sealed when I saw them at one of the Jazz at the Sheraton shows a few years back, turning a hotel ballroom into a frenzied feast of soulful excellence. Now more than 50 years into its existence, the band just released That’s It, its first collection of all-original material, produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Expect to hear a heavy dose of it Monday night at the Capitol Theatre, along with the traditional faves that make Preservation Hall Jazz Band a must-see whether you’re visiting New Orleans or they’re appearing in your town.
Playwright Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles tackles the generation gap and family politics in a way that makes it easily one of the most engaging and gratifying scripts in recent memory. After seeing Salt Lake Acting Company’s production on opening night, it’s no surprise it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013, or winner of a 2013 Obie Award for Best American Play.
Perfectly balancing laugh-out-loud comedy and deeply emotional terrain in nearly every scene, 4000 Miles jumps right into the action at the moment when college-aged Leo (Austin Grant) shows up at the Manhatten doorstep of his elderly grandmother Vera (Joyce Cohen) at the tail-end of a cross-country bike trip. It’s 3 a.m., and Vera is both a bit leery and pleasantly surprised at seeing the young man for the first time in many years in her apartment–a fine example of the uneasy back-and-forth between the two characters that continues throughout.
While Leo claims he intends to stay for just one night, a traumatic incident during his journey makes a longer visit both necessary and inevitable, and Vera is pleased to reconnect with him. As the days pass, the two compare notes on their favored brands of lefty politics–she’s an old-school Communist while his leanings are more informed by hippie free-love tendencies. Another common link is both characters’ uneasy relationship with Leo’s mother, a woman who doesn’t share either of the duo’s more radical inclinations.
A series of scenes divided by regular fades to darkness on stage show the struggle each character has to understand the other. While they are clearly affectionate toward each other and looking out for each other’s best interests–a pot-smoking session they share to “celebrate the autumnal equinox” is a hilarious example–Leo and Vera have some struggles to overcome. For her, it’s the difficulty of aging gracefully as she struggles to “find her words” and deal with the loss of aging friends that seems to happen with increasingly regularity. For Leo, it’s dealing with the emotional weight of losing his girlfriend Bec (Shelby Andersen) before he started the trip, as well as the family issues he left behind back home.
Cohen, so good in so many Utah theater roles through the years, digs in to her role as the elderly Vera with aplomb; it’s a truly excellent performance from the opening scene to 4000 Miles‘ conclusion 90 minutes later. And Grant is a revelation as Leo, the 20-year-old theater newbie going toe-to-toe with Cohen and doing more than holding his own.
Likewise, two minor but vital characters help the audience, and playwright Herzog, flesh out the main characters. Andersen’s Bec is first the brunt of non-stop jokes from Vera about her “build,” but her scenes with Leo help illustrate both his stunted adolescence and maturation over the course of his time in New York. And Lily Hye Soo Dixon does a lot in the role of Amanda, a New York City hipster and rich kid who Leo brings home for an intended one night stand. What’s starts out as an over-the-top stereotype of a big city party girl quickly evolves into a thoughtful character who reveals how shallow the generally affable Leo can be at times–a necessary step for the audience to appreciate his evolution by show’s end.
Strung together gracefully by director Adrianne Moore, the collection of episodic scenes spanning three weeks’ time equate to a whole story that is remarkably satisfying. And with a script performed so well by all involved, 4000 Miles is a must-see spring production for Utah theater lovers.
4000 Miles runs at Salt Lake Acting Company through May 4. Visit the SLAC website for showtimes, tickets and more information. Photo courtesy Salt Lake Acting Company.