SALT LAKE CITY — When you have the opportunity to venture a little ways off the beaten path of professional theater in Utah I hope you take it.  Most of the big names in Utah theater right now started out as a small company just trying to meet their expenses with no hopes of paying themselves or the artists involved.  When you do stumble into an old movie theatre, civic center, or warehouse and discover Utah theater at the grassroots level I guarantee you’re going to find a little unexpected magic.

The Academy of the Performing Arts is one of those companies that host a little unexpected magic.  Started in 1995, the group has pushed along with classes and productions despite not having a permanent home.  These trying economic times continue to make it difficult to produce shows but the heart and efforts of Artistic Director Collin Kreuzer, his volunteers and students continue to encounter tiny miracles along their path.  One of these miracles was happening into the opportunity to perform their most recent production, The Masque of Beauty and the Beast, in the beautiful auditorium of the Masonic Temple in downtown Salt Lake City.

Though it took a little courage to wander through the darkened hallways when we walked into the theater my jaw dropped a little, my eyes widened, and then I looked up.  The dome overhead is dotted with stars in the night sky while the stage is framed by three stands of seats.  I never expected to find such a beautiful auditorium in this building.  The opportunity to be introduced to this space was worth the ticket price for me.  While there is limited stage lighting there were plenty of rails to bring in your own.  The sound reinforcement was limited to two speakers on either side of the stage, but the natural acoustics in the space make it easy for any projecting actor to be heard and understood.

The script was new to me.  Though it’s not the version made familiar by Disney, this version of the script (adapted by Colin Kreuzer but written by Michael Brill) seemed to ring of an earlier adaptation.  The dialogue was in verse and the action was guided by a narrator who in this production was aided by a chorus of elements.

The use of the chorus was very inventive when standing in for the fireplace or the dinner table, and I particularly loved when the chorus became the forest in which the merchant was getting lost.  However, the extended interludes of dance didn’t feel wholly supported by the production, but I think that’s because the chorus’ roles in the world of the play weren’t entirely defined.  The narrator, it was evident, was presenting this tale to the audience for a reason.  Was she using the elements to assist in her storytelling?  I think to a certain measure, yes.  They added a magical appeal to the evening but again, lacked clear definition.  If their purpose could be more clearly communicated then I think they definitely will prove an element of the production I couldn’t do without.

The actors are volunteers and students of the Academy of Performing Arts.  These are not professional actors, but that doesn’t leave their performance without appeal.  There were quite a few moments where I was sincerely caught up in the emotion of the show and even if I couldn’t connect with the presentation, I was definitely able to connect with the actors’ relationship to the text.  There was a whole lot of heart in the production.  That, for me, was perhaps the most enjoyable element.  This production was created out of a love for the theatre.  That love was very clear.

I enjoyed this production.  Its use of dance and design showcases a type of theater not often attempted by our Utah community of musical classics.  The show was a labor of love.  If this production is the first step towards opening up this exciting venue to future performing groups then I urge all who are able, to attend the show.  I’m looking forward to seeing how director Collin Kreuzer’s company continues to grow and even more invested in seeing what happens with the theater space itself.

The Masque of Beauty and the Beast plays through March 6 (Mon, Fri, Sat). Performances take place in auditorium of the Salt Lake Masonic Temple, located at 650 East South Temple in Salt Lake City. Tickets are $10-12 and are available for purchase at the door.