SOUTH SALT LAKE CITY — Walking into the newly renovated Utah Children’s Theatre, purple and bright blue lights slowly rotated odd shapes onto the walls and carpets, while cobwebs hung from the ceiling. Turning the corner, a cast member clothed in a white dress (complete with hollowed-out eyes and an eerie grin) directed the way to the theater seats. It felt like the show had already started the moment I entered the building.
The Haunted Theatre Spooktacular is an original revue written by Joanne Parker and her son, James. While the opening number is the only original piece by Joanne, the rest of the songs come from well-known works like Figaro’s aria from The Barber of Seville, Gus Khan’s Carolina in the Morning,Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and more.
The show begins with the haunted theatre’s manager Mr. Arthur Avalon (played by Tyler Bogler), as he looks for his techie ghost who yearns for a chance in the spotlight, Roscoe (played by Bryson Dumas). These two had a special chemistry on stage, especially as Roscoe determinedly tries for a chance at his own act in the revue. As Roscoe preps the theater, his accidental cross wiring of the tech booth creates a spectacle of flashing lights, fog, slick sound effects, and slapstick humor. The ghosts of the theater enter with their chorus of ghouls, and the show begins.
As a comedic musical revue, The Haunted Theatre Spooktacular is filled with songs, dances, and acts which left many children in the audience chuckling. One moment of note was the presentation of Swan Lake, with the “corpse” de ballet and the prima ballerina, Rosie May Slovinski (played by Lexie Thompsen). Thompsen farcically embodied the “umph” and drive of a ballerina past her prime. Falsely believing that she still had talent, Thompsen flipped and flopped her way across the stage with a look of strange determination across her face. As the music of Tchaikovsky’s finale rose and ended, Thompsen continued to flutter and prance around—looking oddly like a dying chicken—while I couldn’t stop the tears of laughter from running down my face.
Opera star Franco Caruso Domingo Jones (played by Taylor Smith) was enjoyable to watch, especially as he embodied the haughtiness and airs of an opera star during The Barber of Seville segment. Smith had a rich voice, something definitely needed for Figaro’s aria.
Joanne Parker’s direction made the entire cast into a cohesive ensemble that worked well for this production for young audiences. As is expected in community work, there were members of the ensemble that shone and others who faded into the background. However, the ensemble worked best in the bigger numbers, especially the opening and closing, as they worked to tell the story of the haunted theatre and bring a sense of spookiness to the scene.
James Parker and Christina Wilson, the production designer and costumer designer for the revue, deserve special mention. The Utah Children’s Theatre’s thrust-style stage is small, yet surprisingly expansive at the same time. The lower level was painted to resemble an old-timey wooden stage, while a façade and interchangeable backdrop helped engage the audience, providing different locations for each act or song. The upper level was covered in cobwebs and decrepit suitcases, props, paintings, etc. It almost felt like the attic of an abandoned theatre. The lighting never detracted from the show; rather, it correctly highlighted certain scenes and areas of the stage. The costumes were simple, yet effective; adding to the particular peculiar personalities of each character. Miss Gloria Bloom, for example, was the diva singer and her costume let me know she was in control of the stage. It was large, gaudy, and—of course—demanded attention.
Hats off go to each actor as they performed in the large space with no microphones or amplification. However, there were many times—especially in the opening number—when it was difficult to hear and understand the words of each actor because the music was simply too loud. There were a few other disappointing moments when I struggled to understand the actors as they moved the large, vinyl backdrops offstage. As the vinyl was dragged across the floor, it was nearly impossible to distinguish what the actors were saying over the loud scratching of vinyl against wood.
All in all, whether you’re 12-years-old or 85, Utah Children’s Theatre production of The Haunted Theatre Spooktacular is the show to see if you enjoy spooks, specters, and the occasional surprising technical element. Although there were a few flaws, this show is perfect for the young and young at heart and a great addition to your Halloween season.