SALT LAKE CITY —If you don’t know its there, you may rush down Main Street in Salt Lake City and pass by the Off Broadway Theater. Hidden in between restaurants and shops just near 300 South is an excellent opportunity to enjoy an evening of fun. Salt Lake City’s Off Broadway Theatre, more commonly called The OBT, offers fun original melodramatic comedies, as well as a improv troupe every Friday and Saturday night. The OBT prides themselves in offering “family-friendly original parodies, improvisational comedy, and other wholesome entertainment.” Tonight’s offering did not fail to meet those standards.
The first thing I noticed and quite enjoyed was the ambiance of the theater itself. I had been told that the theater was a bit run down, however I felt that it had character, which is important for shows that are parodies or melodramatic in nature. The look and style of the lobby, the smell of popcorn and other concessions, and the ticket taker (who did not miss an opportunity to throw in his own comedy) helped set the stage for a night of campy good fun.
I attended the opening night of Dracula vs. Jekyll and Hyde. This parody is an imaginative look at what might happen if the worlds of Dracula and Dr. Jekyll had collided. Dr. Jekyll has developed a potion that he believes can have a calming effect on monsters such as vampires, basically ridding them of their powers. He has promised this potion to Queen Victoria. Count Dracula has come to town wanting to get his hands on the potion. Dr. Jekyll is foolishly given some of his own potion, and the unexpected side effects set the stage for an evening of hilarity. Throw in a damsel that our hero is too shy to admit his love to, a crotchety old mother, and several silly side kicks, and you have a classic melodramatic evening.
Eric Jensen, president and artistic director for the theater, also wrote the show with Jon Baty. Baty served as the director of the performance, and Jensen was the assistant director. Jensen was also originally slated to play Dracula, however the audience was told on the evening that I attended that Jensen had too much to drink during the day (actually, he was flu ridden) and that Baty would be assuming the role. I hope that Jensen is able to recover for subsequent performances. However the performance of Baty was quite enjoyable, and the last minute substitution did not seem to hurt the show. Baty had a wonderful way with the audience. When he came on as Dracula, he was able to provide quick comic timing. When there were moments it was evident that a line had been missed Baty covered those moments with some appropriate improv. Baty also had a tendency to make jokes with different accents, using a traditional “Transylvanian” accent, and then throwing in different accents throughout the night just to make the audience chuckle. He also would throw in a wink or a nod to different audience members throughout the night, which helped connect the audience to the show. During a few monologues he would try several different times to get a laugh, and if the joke did not get the laugh he hoped, he continued to improv until the audience complied.
The most entertaining part of the show was by far the clever writing. The jokes about popular media and culture, from parodies of Broadway shows, Sesame Street, The Brady Bunch, and jabs towards Justin Bieber (and other celebrities). There were also many specific jokes on local culture, which helped keep the audience laughing from beginning to end. Perhaps my personal favorite joke is the understanding that Dracula is now a Mormon, because the Mormon church “has no crosses.” The actors were also very clever at mimicking product placement the way a reality show might, and convincing the audience to tell their friends to come see the show, and if we did not enjoy the show, to “keep our mouths shut.”
The two women who played Harlot 1 and Harlot 2, Sunny Simkins and Jenessa Dowe, were phenomenal with their physical comedy. There is a moment in the show where the actors move the women around while they appear dead, and these women were able accomplish these tasks with great comedic output. I could not help but smile every time Luigi, played by Dru, came on stage. There is a moment in the show when something very “tragic” happens to a loved possession of Luigi, and the moment is played with perfect humor. Heather Holmgren as Mary played the perfect seductive yet slightly dimwitted damsel. I enjoyed how she would quickly latch on to a compliment from a cast member, or reaction from the audience, and quickly begin to flirt or gain attention in some way.
The show was not without its flaws. Perhaps my biggest complaint was the volume of the background music. I assume that the majority of songs were just as humorous as the dialog, however, I had a hard time understanding the lyrics. In one particular song, “Stake that Bootie,” the actress playing Holmgren was given a second microphone, and I was able to hear the lyrics clearly. That was the most enjoyable song of the night. The show also seemed to struggle with scene changes and transitions. This is likely to improve throughout the course of the run.
The set was also rather simple, however well done. I was impressed with Jensen’s props. Several little things, from plastic owls to wooden ducks, were often used to add to the comedy, for instance when referring to a foul murder. The show took place both in the lab of Dr. Jekyll as well as in several other locations such as a park and the castle of Count Dracula. The lighting and sound effects were entertaining, allowing for classic melodramatic moments such as ominous music playing whenever the villain is mentioned, to spooky lightening and other sounds that keep the audience engaged.
Overall, the evening was a light-hearted, fun way to start the Halloween season. In the director’s note in the program, Baty takes a moment to get on his self-proclaimed “soapbox.” He pleads with the audience to support this local theatre that provides entertainment to all members of a family. I will echo his plea. This was an entertaining evening, and an affordable way to support local talent.