For old-fashioned fun and upbeat entertainment, tap your toes over to the Lees Main Stage at the University of Utah and see Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine." This is really a heart-lightening show.
The play's director/-choreographer, Pamela Hunt, describes Act 1 - the scene wherein eight actors portray starstruck ushers at Grauman's Chinese movie theater - as a nostalgic tribute to movies of the '30s and '40s.At the end of the first act, the ushers swing open the theater doors and the audience to a "new Marx Brothers movie." And thus begins Act 2, a parody of that movie, which is itself a parody of a Chekhov play.
That's the outline of the action. But a description of what happens falls short of conveying the magic of the play. It's ironic that watching a live tribute to the movies can be more exciting than watching the old movies themselves. The humor in "A Day/A Night" feels so fresh.
Throughout both productions, but especially the musical tribute, there was an undercurrent of melancholy to the laughter, transporting us back to the bleak days of the Depression and World War II. When fear was a part of daily life, something as sweet and simple as Harpo Marx playing a bicycle wheel like a musical instrument had the power to move an audience. It's a tribute to the PTC production that such a simple pantomime can still be effective.
On opening night, even the younger members of the audience sang along, clapped in rhythm to the beat, and were generally caught up in nostalgia.
For resident designer George Maxwell, the man who brought PTC the sets for "Grapes of Wrath" and "Noises Off," among others, this set is another success. The drawing room of "A Night in the Ukraine" is lush and Byzantine. And the Chinese theater is even more entrancing. Watching the dancers flip in and out of the movie house doors is a visual treat second only to the way the set spotlights their legs and feet.
And now for the actors: They can dance. They can sing. They can play musical instruments. And they are comedians. The supporting musicians were talented, too, but if the eight main actors had not been so talented, this would have been a pitiful performance. (Warning: Do not attempt this play at home. There is nothing more dismal than a bad Groucho Marx imitation.)
Carol Dilley was a delight in the musical revue, especially in the singing role of disappointed starlet. She proved the range of her capabilities in Act 2, when she played Gino/Harpo in pantomime.
Peggy Taphorn and Leslie Middlebrook were also outstanding in the revue. Middlebrook played, to dramatic satisfaction, the overly Chekhovian Mrs. Pavlenko in "A Night in the Ukraine." Taphorn was her daughter, Nina, with amusingly trilling voice.
The men, while more than adequate singers and dancers, distinguished themselves even more in the second act as comics. Scott Schafer plays Groucho's character, Samovar the Lawyer. He leers and jokes in that familiar style and is utterly entertaining. Jim Bracchitta is Carlo the Italian Footman, straightman and charming pianist. Stacey Todd Holt is Constantine, the coachman who would be a playwright and who falls in love with Nina. To Holt falls the role of singing the love songs, proving an excess of turtle doves and angst can be hilarious.