MURRAY — Producing original melodramas since 1989, Desert Star has created their own recipe for success: the ragtime prelude and an audience sing along, the original script with plenty of local humor, the audience celebrations (happy birthdays, anniversary highlights, and first date kisses), the lively music revue. Repeat audience members know exactly what to expect. I agree with their slogan, “It’s Always Fun at Desert Star!” but I also personally miss most of their shows, figuring I’ll just go to the next one. The question is, “What makes this show a can’t-miss?”
This Christmas, toy shop owners Mitch (Jeff Jensen) and Dana (Carli Christoffersen) decide to host all of Mitch’s family for a reunion/Christmas celebration. Full of subplots, this musical romp features the robbers Bonnie and Clyde (Lynette Parry and Todd Michael Thompson), Mitch’s grandfather Earl (Richie T. Steadman) and his estranged twin brother Laverl (also Steadman), and a charity drive with the help of Text To Give to teach the children, Tim (Andrew Nadon) and Mathilda (Kerstin Davis) about the true meaning of Christmas.
If I’d given the production a report card, it would have looked something like this:
Ragtime Pianist (Jill Flanagan): A
Lights & Sound (Eric Jensen): A
Costumes (Lynn Funk): A
Comedic Acting: A
Overall Energy: A
In fact, I’d give almost every part of this show a solid A, with many parts exceeding the expectations I’d formed based on previous Desert Star attendance. Thanks to plenty of musical talented aided by music director Flanagan, this show featured a cast whose vocals equaled their comedic talents. And under Scott Holman‘s direction, the staging added to the story and the comedy, especially when transitioning from scene to scene.
As the young Mathilda, Davis delivered a hilariously realistic depiction of a small child. In one scene, both she and Nadon leaped over the side arm of the couch to greet their grandparents, and Davis continued to climb on the side and back of the furniture throughout the scene. In another scene, she placed her hands on the edge of the table and used the leverage to continually bounce throughout the dialogue. The physicality she gave to her part helped me think I was watching one of my own small children on stage.
However, I would have to dock the script a few percentage points, giving it a solid A-. Although titled My Big Fat Utah Christmas, a much more accurate description of the show’s themes would be My Big Fat Mormon Christmas. Part of the in-crowd because of my own religious choices, I got the jokes and felt a part of the humor. But I had to wonder what the show may have felt like to someone who would have enjoyed a bit more sports, politics, or climate humor and a bit less about the local predominant religion. But even with this near 4.0, I couldn’t have said, “You have to go see this show.” But as I contemplated, I realized that what Desert Star actors do well, they do well. But what they do best is what they do wrong. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night was when Steadman exited yet again to complete a quick hat change and become his character’s twin. After an audible, unexpected crash offstage right, Jensen ad libbed, “Guess I should have put more rock salt on that ice.” It is those moments which make each show at Desert Star a can’t-miss, because no matter what they have planned to do, the talented cast will manage to do something better.
Another example of this was the audience highlights during the second intermission. Conducted by Steadman, the audience sang “Happy Birthday,” clapped for those celebrating their anniversaries, and sang the traditional “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to some poor members of the audience singled out by the host. A huge highlight of the night, Steadman’s quick wit saved many potentially awkward moments including the lack of any audience members on an actual first date. He singled out a young couple and teased them that perhaps it was their second date, which turned out to be true. After the couple’s confident kiss, he suggested they might want to be careful, or they may end up in Clearfield with four children, a reference to one of the earlier anniversary couples. Although it lasted for only a few minutes, I laughed far more per minute during this intermission than during the real show.
Still, although I would consider My Big Fat Utah Christmas definitely worth seeing, and I thoroughly enjoyed the comedic freestyling, there was one specific moment at which I changed my mental recommendation to “Don’t miss this show,” and it happened in the most unlikely of moments.
Yes, the fifteen minute music revue at the end of the show is what’s worth the drive to Murray. As I previously mentioned, this cast can sing. The three part harmonies among the women, Christoffersen, Parry, and Davis, were rich and balanced. The arrangements were tight. The (ahem) dance number performed by the male members of the cast evoked plenty of laughter. But the stand out, don’t miss moment featured Jensen, Nadon, and Steadman singing “A Soalin/The Magi” arranged by Alex Marshall and accompanied by Jensen on guitar. If I could buy it on iTunes, I would. And then I would put it on repeat like a teenage girl listening to One Direction. Of all the moments in all of the shows I’ve seen this year, this one stood out as pure musical perfection, and I’m considering it Desert Star’s Christmas gift to me.
So if you’ve been to Desert Star before, go again. This show is worth it. If you’ve never been before, try something new. You’ll probably like it. And if you’re lucky enough to catch the Jensen, Nadon, Steadman trio on the night you attend, Merry Big Fat Utah Christmas to you.