Nestled against enormous red-rock canyon walls, the 1,900 seat Tuacahn Ampitheatre is unquestionably one of the most picturesque and unique performance venues in the world. For years, I’ve told people that they had to go there while in Southern Utah just to experience the stunning atmosphere, and that the plays were “pretty good” as well. In recent years, it must be said, the quality of the productions themselves has jumped tremendously, with performances of Tarzan, Grease, The Little Mermaid, and others rivaling the entertainment value of anything off-Broadway in any venue.
The cast and crew have outdone themselves this year, with two popular musicals, Hairspray and Disney’s Aladdin, offering what I feel may be the strongest lineup they’ve ever had, not just because of the source material but in the stunning way they pull the shows off. Fans of the movies should approach these versions with an open mind: while they retain the DNA of the film versions (including your favorite musical numbers), they also make some changes to the stories and characters to facilitate stage adaptation. In most cases the changes don’t detract from the experience, and in others they provide welcome variety (as demonstrated by multiple new musical numbers).
The music and dancing will have you tapping your toes and grinning incessantly, while the stage design and wardrobes are impressive. Aladdin, in particular, stuns with its visual effects, including a nifty 3D trip into the Cave of Wonders and a soaring carpet ride over the audience, both of which had adults and children “oooo-ing” in delight (and I say this as someone who’s usually unimpressed by 3D).
The casts are excellent for both productions, with too many players to list and praise here (and not a bad voice in the bunch). It must also be said that both shows are very funny, with Hairspray offering a witty flashback to the 60’s civil rights movement that is both a respectful treatment of the issues and hilarious send-up of the era. Aladdin, for its part, wisely allows actor Edward Juvier to place his own unique stamp on the Genie, retaining the celebrity-impersonating, manic energy of the Robin Williams version but giving Juvier room to explore and breathe. He’s brilliantly silly, and it’s a testament to the rest of the cast that he doesn’t overshadow them. The performances are uniformly solid, especially by Dan Domenech and Haley Carlucci, who have a lovely chemistry as Aladdin and Jasmine, respectively.
The shows aren’t flawless: Hairspray at times struggles to settle on a tone and Aladdin occasionally over-reaches with groan-worthy meta-humor (three narrators, though well-performed and funny, reflect too often on their status as narrative devices). For productions this strong, however, such glitches are minor and easily forgiven, especially when there’s so much fun to be had.
Both shows are family-friendly, which is to say that if you consider the film versions to be appropriate, you’ll find nothing to change your mind here. Hairspray has some very mild language. Aladdin’s title character displays a bare chest and Arabian dancing girls show a mild amount of skin, but their dancing isn’t overly provocative or sensual. Honestly, you’d see more hip-shaking at BYU-Hawaii’s Polynesian Cultural Center, so not to worry.
Parents may want to use the plays as springboards for Gospel discussions about God loving people of all races and body sizes equally (Hairspray; see 2 Nephi 26:33 and Jeffrey R. Holland’s “To Young Women“) as well as honor not coming from riches and fame but from honesty and integrity (Aladdin; see Hebrews 13:18 and 2 Corinthians 13:7).
For ticket information, please visit tuacahn.org.
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