OREM — April Ann is what the Hale Center Theater calls a “Vintage Hale Musical” – the production was written by Ruth and Nathan Hale, the founders of HCT, over 40 years ago. In light of the HCT’s 20th Anniversary Season, they decided to break out some old favorites to honor the Hales, April Ann being the first.
The Hales based the play on a family they stumbled upon during a vacation in British Columbia; the family had a daughter who had never met a man her own age. This girl is the star of April Ann, a story about a family who lives in the backwoods of an area almost impossible to reach. The family’s solitude is broken after many years by not one, but two eligible bachelors whom April Ann must choose between.
Directing: 4 (out of 5). To take a previously performed piece and spin it to fit the space, time, etc. must be hard; so I give Jayne Luke hats off for organizing a Hale Center classic into something families will still enjoy. Whether meant to be or not, this is definitely a family play, seemingly intended for children.
The flow of the production was very smooth with the space they had. Although black box style, Luke managed to designate four separate areas and I was impressed with how well the actors used the tiny space to portray the story.
Acting: 3 (out of 5). Overall the cast did a very good job. Ma, played by Ruth and Nathan Hale’s daughter, Tayna Hale Radecaugh, was hilarious. Each of her lines was funnier than the last. The two men that graced the stage, Art (Rhett Gagon) and Larry (Andy Thorne), also did a fabulous job as April Ann’s love interests. Thorne was especially good as Larry; his performance was sincere and his solos were my favorite part of the play. Jerry Eliason made a surprising entrance at the end of the play as Pa, tying the show to a close. But it was April Ann’s three younger siblings—Verda (Tessa Norman), Maudie (Mallory Madsen) and Joey (Cagen Ashby Tregeagle)— who stole the show in my opinion. They were funny, believable characters who were obviously enjoying themselves. They kept the audience laughing and moved the plot along when it was dragging.
However, I was disappointed in the leading lady, April Ann, played by Megan Jones. Jones is double cast with Brittani Bills Smith; the night I attended the performance, April Ann was supposed to be played by Smith. Perhaps the sudden schedule shift affected Jones’ presentation. I couldn’t connect with her performance because (1) she seemed to have trouble getting into the character and (2) she was having pitch problems. When you attend a play, you want to be swept up in the story, and the leading lady plays a huge role in that. If I could have seen Jones enjoying herself, I’m sure her performance would have been much better.
Script/Other: 3 (out of 5). The story line of April Ann was a bit dull at the beginning. In fact, I think you could cut out the entire first act and still enjoy the show with what remained. The second act was funny, upbeat, and romantic with fun songs, totally redeeming the entire play. I also enjoyed the strong morals interlaced throughout the dialogue. It is rare to see any sort of entertainment (even in Utah!) that makes you leave with warm fuzzies. During one scene, April Ann stands up against Art’s advances, saying that she knows what he wants of her isn’t right. The message behind the plot is simple yet solid and I appreciated it.
Overall: 3 (of 5) Despite my grievances with the plot and the leading lady, I would still wholeheartedly recommend seeing this production of April Ann, especially if you have young kids. Your children will enjoy the dancing, entertaining characters and the catchy songs. You may even find yourself singing along with your kids on the way home!
April Ann plays through February 13 with multiple show times, in the Hale Centre Theatre, located at 225 West 400 North, Orem. Tickets range from $13.50-$17.50. For more information, call (801) 266-8600 or visit www.haletheater.org.