BLUFFDALE — The Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board’s production of The Star-Spangled Girl is a show of firsts. Not only is it the first outdoor play of the 2021 Utah summer theatre season, but it is Bluffdale’s first outdoor production in its 31 years of existence. The production is also the first directed for Bluffdale by Julie Fox, a local charter school theatre teacher. For audiences, though, these factoids are less important than the fun and enjoyment that the production offers.
Written by Neil Simon, The Star-Spangled Girl tells the story of two friends, Andy Hobart (played by McKay Christensen) and Norman Cornell (played by Nathan Whisamore) who run a left-wing extremist magazine out of their San Francisco apartment. Norman falls head-over-heals in love with their new neighbor, Sophie Rauschmeyer (played by Lydia Christensen). Sophie’s presence disrupts Norman’s work, endangering the magazine. But soon the problems move beyond the emotional when her strong patriotism and traditional values undermine Andy and Norman’s message.
While set in 1966, The Star-Spangled Girl is an ideal production for 2021. The cast of three (including two married performers) and single set can be produced safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is difficult to overstate how nice it is to see a light-hearted comedy after a rough year. But the show also has something important to say about how people with opposing political views can come together and coexist—a worthwhile message for 21st century America.
Moreover, the plays is ideal for the outdoor pavilion it was performed in. The stage is about the size of a large living room, and the unit set (designed by Laura Garner) seems just right for the action. Plus, Fox’s direction fills the space with organic, natural movement. Fox also helped her actors master Simon’s trademark comic banter, and the high percentage of jokes that got a laugh from the small audience was tribute to her ability to showcase the script’s humor. The only aspect of the show that I think could be improved have actors (especially McKay Christensen) deliver fewer lines directly to the audience.
Thanks to some nice character work, McKay Christensen and Whisamore are believable as longtime buddies. Because they display some camaraderie in the play’s first scene, Andy and Norman’s endangered friendship takes on a great deal of importance. Whisamore’s performance is especially detailed-oriented; even his entrances and exits are committed enough for me to believe that Norman interacts with a world outside of the apartment walls. I also appreciate how Whisamore’s goofiness made Norman seem sweet (instead of creepy) while dealing with his obsession over Sophie. McKay Christensen is much better than most arts council actors in delivering exposition naturally, and when Andy turns on Norman, the crazed look in his eyes and disheveled hair make seem believably desperate.
As Sophie, Lydia Christensen has a lilting Southern accent and plenty of charm. Her performance exudes sincerity, which is important when Sophie expresses her unwavering patriotism. Some more variety in her interactions with Whisamore would have been nice, but I nonetheless found the change when the character begins to express feelings for Andy to be satisfying.
Every artistic choice from the creative staff of The Star-Spangled Girl contributed to the show’s historic setting. The costume designs (by Elizabeth Lines and Chelsea Otteson) were unmistakably ’60s, including go-go boots for Sophie and shirts with wide collars for the men. The set dressing and props all served as reminders of the era, and nothing seemed anachronistic or out of place. (Where does a person find a steam radiator today?) From a technical standpoint, the only real problems were some microphone cutting out, but this never occurred for long enough for me to struggle to understand the dialogue.
As Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board’s premiere outdoor production, The Star-Spangled Girl would be worthy of local residents’ support. More importantly, though, the show is enjoyable, and no one will regret seeing it to get out of the house, pass an evening, and appreciate the arts. The Star-Spangled Girl may be an amateur production from an arts council, but it is apparent that every person involved with the show gave it their full effort. No one was phoning it in; consequentially, this might be Bluffdale’s best production ever.
If readers do choose to attend, I suggest they bundle up and bring a blanket. The wind was blowing for most of the evening, and when the play ended on opening night, it was 58 degrees. (The free hot chocolate at intermission helped make the cold endurable.) The weather should not deter local residents from enjoying a free night of live theatre, though.