PROVO — The Principle Wife, directed by Tanya Behunin, is currently having its world premiere at the Covey Center for the Arts. With book and lyrics by Taylor Vaughn and Mark Greenhalgh and music by Jonathan Keith, The Principle Wife examines the lives of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (colloquially called Mormons) who are living the principle of polygamy, or plural marriage, a practice among members of the church in the 1800s. Vaughn and Greenhalgh hoped the musical would help to dispel stereotypes about the practice and pay tribute to their polygamous ancestors, who genuinely believed they were following God’s will. Despite strong principal actors and a beautiful live orchestra, the production felt disjointed and unbalanced.

Show closes July 31, 2023.

Act One begins with the wedding of Benjamin and Rebecca Tanner with the ensemble performing “No Matter What.” The orchestra and ensemble struggled to stay together, and it was noticeable immediately that the sound was unbalanced with the orchestra consistently overpowering those on stage. Additionally, the ensemble did not end the song at the same time with a few voices continuing after the music had stopped – a mishap easily rectified with the ensemble following orchestra conductor Jay Richards or additional instruction from music director Gayle Lockwood.

Scene two opens eight years later in Southern Utah at the home of Benjamin (played by Ethan Kelso) and Rebecca (played by Twyla Wilson) who now have three daughters and an apple orchard that is not thriving due to a drought. Worried about the condition of the orchard, they seek guidance from Bishop McGuire (played by Christopher Higbee) who reluctantly suggests God would provide for them should they enter into a plural marriage. Both Benjamin and Rebecca are strongly against the idea, but when their daughter has an accident and is in danger of losing both of her legs, Rebecca believes she is being punished for not following God’s will and tells Benjamin to take a second wife. While the evolution of Rebecca’s perspective felt rushed, Twyla Wilson’s performance of “Thy Will Be Done” was flawless. She breathtakingly conveyed the angst, sadness and frustration Rebecca felt as she relinquished her will to God’s.

In the meantime, congressman in Washington, D.C. have become aware of the practicing of polygamy and believe such a lifestyle would be distressing to women. It was during the performance of “Damsels in Distress” that I first began to wonder what the identity of this musical really was. Each song seemed to be independent from each other and didn’t quite ebb and flow the way I expected. “Damsels in Distress” was more upbeat and modern, reminiscent of “Hamilton”, while other songs felt more appropriate for the time period. My confusion regarding the style of music was persistent throughout.

The congressmen enlist the help of Captain Erastus Lowe (played by John Donovan Wilson) to watch over the people and to find out if they are practicing polygamy. While the inclusion of Captain Lowe’s character is central to the plot in understanding the conflict between the Mormons and the United States government, the additional storyline that Captain Lowe and Rebecca already know each other and that he harbors romantic feelings for her was completely unnecessary and preposterous.

With Rebecca’s blessing, Benjamin approaches Sarah Bradshaw (played by Erin Wilson), a widow and mother of two rambunctious boys, about becoming his second wife. It is with intention that Sarah is drastically different from Rebecca. Sarah is louder, more outspoken, and less refined. While Erin Wilson expertly portrayed this no-nonsense woman, Behunin’s direction initially resulted in Sarah seeming more like a caricature. Never without a quick-witted response, Sarah provided much of the comedic relief in the script, however, it often felt like it was at her own expense. This was particularly true when Benjamin first proposed the idea of marriage. The understandably awkward exchange between the characters felt less about the absurdity of having two wives and more about the absurdity of marrying someone like Sarah.

Because Benjamin and Sarah’s marriage is more about two families merging to help each other with their respective temporal needs, this union seemed important to highlight as it complimented the authors’ desire to accurately represent that the motivations behind plural marriage weren’t purely sexual in nature. It is curious whether that point was muted when their relationship eventually did become intimate.

As the membership of the church expands, Benjamin is once again asked to take an additional wife much to the chagrin of Rebecca and Sarah who are hesitant to disrupt the status quo but ultimately agree to the change. Elsa Henderwroggen (played by Mattie Grace), an immigrant from Europe whose parents disowned her when she converted to the church, soon joins the family. Grace added a vulnerability to the performance that had thus far been lacking. Her angelic singing voice was a delight to behold, and she represented well the hardships and confusion that must be felt by those who immigrate to a new country.

Tensions naturally arise leading to each wife living under her own roof and Benjamin rotating between households. This new living arrangement leads to the most unfortunate song in the production called “What Does a Woman Want?” which reduces Benjamin to an aloof husband who after years of marriage, many of which were to two women, is just now wondering how he can keep his wives happy. It is obvious that Kelso has immense talent as an actor, but his abilities are lost in the one-dimensional, unlikable character of Benjamin.

After years of turmoil between church members and the United States government, church leaders officially ended the practice of polygamy. Sarah and Elsa moved to California while Benjamin and Rebecca remained living in Utah and continue to be married.

While The Principle Wife felt like a work in progress, with attention needed in the sense of character development and a cohesive musical style, it was not without it’s strengths. Most notably was the harmony felt between the three wives. Twyla Wilson, Erin Wilson, and Mattie Grace were the heart of the production. They performed beautifully together and they were able to convey to a sense of sisterhood that felt organic and tangible.  Hopefully, the creators will be able to rework this show to be more cohesive throughout and more balanced in tone.

The Principle Wife plays Thursday – Saturday and Monday through July 31st at 7:30 at The Covey Center for the Arts 425 West Center Street in Provo. Tickets are $49. For more information visit