MURRAY — The wonderful thing about going to a production at the Desert Star Playhouse is that you not only get a great performance, you get a great experience. The experience part of the night starts as your server guides you to your checkerboard-cloth table, topped with a basket of fresh popcorn. Seated nearby are couples and families ordering pizza, wraps and root beer floats. A piano patters away in the corner. Large pieces of scenery decorate the side stages, and a back drop gives clues to the night’s events. This is not the quiet, read your program, dimmed light, setting of most theatres. And that is what makes it so unique and fun!
The terrifically talented pianist Mindi Stevens prompts us to join in singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, as we wait for the production start time. She teaches us the musical cues to listen for in order to blurt out “Ooo”, “Yea”, and “Boo” at appropriate times during the show. We are prepared, and on come the actors.
The performance now playing through July 10, is Sheik of Persia, a parody of any number of Egypt-set movies from old time cinema. The cast of characters include goofy British explorers Dame Dimwitty and Percy (Kerstin Davis and Cory Brandenburger). Along with Percy’s lovely fiance Alice Hastings (Samantha Bird). A handsome protector-of-the-people Sheik (Scott Holman), and his side-kick servant Omir (Bryan Dayley). A team of evil power usurpers: Yakmid (Todd Thompson), and The Wazir (Justin Berry). And a ditzy, sexy girlfriend, Jasmine (Megan Rees) complete with a New York accent.
The show is funny, fast moving, musical, and clever. All of the best expected, slapstick gags and plot devices are here: Mistaken identity, love at first sight, treasure opening ancient artifacts, sleeping potions, and plenty of physical hilarity. What elevates this show beyond the expected are the talented performers and clever regional and contemporary jokes.
Scott Holman stands out as the Sheik. His presence is commanding and comfortable. His comic timing is impeccable. He not only moves the show along at a perfect pace, he makes the most of every punch line, and improvises through live performance surprises. He delivers jokes about pioneer trek, casseroles, the Shane Company, and a president with a valid birth certificate. He also has a gift for drawing out the best in other actors. Especially enjoyable were his scenes with Omir, because the two actors had a real camaraderie and played off each other well. Omir used a fabulous Mid-Eastern accent that lead to any number of jokes with words that sounded like something else when he pronounced them. He was energetic and earnest, and was especially fun to watch as he glided back and forth across the stage on his magic carpet, producing an airsick bag to the guffahs of the audience.
The wonderful deep, sinister voice of Justin Berry was ideal for his characterization of The Wazir. He played the audience perfectly as he directed Jasmine and Yakmid in his diabolical schemes. His skill with physical humor was hilariously displayed when he grabbed the wrong end of a red hot poker and sword.
The most memorable musical number came from Percy and Jasmine as they acknowledged their desires to come together. Both voices were strong on the humorous high notes as Percy belted out a stellar falsetto!
Another bonus experience at Desert Star is the Olio, (a term meaning a medley of musical selections) that is performed after the featured production. The actors quickly changed costume and makeup as Scott spotlighted birthdays and anniversaries in the audience. Once ready, they presented a short musical review entitled; “Vacation Time Olio”.
The vocal talents of the actors shined as they sang such smile inducing numbers as “Oh Tooele”, set to the tune of Oklahoma. “On the Road Again”, which followed a family on a road trip to Disneyland. And my personal favorite moment of the night: “Don’t Fence Me Out”, sung by Holman as an Arizona-boarder-crossing “vacationer”. It was so very clever.
Other than a few brief moments when broad characterization got the better of clear diction, the night was perfect.
Kudos also need to go to the inventive props, wonderful costumes and great sound and lighting designers and operators. The able and cheery staff of servers were right on time with orders and worked so hard to keep out of sight lines as they brought items to the tables.
I have not been to a production at Desert Star for a few years because I somewhat forget to make the drive from Davis County. I vow not to let it happen again. Dessert Star is a gem, and well worth the drive from any part of the state to enjoy this funny and fun performance and experience!