SLAC’s Saturday’s Voyeur stays robust, spicy, naughty enough in 41st year

0
417

If there ever was a congregational vote to sustain the creative leadership that has made Saturday’s Voyeur, the annual summer theatrical tradition of the Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC), a resilient success year to year, it would be merited for the team of Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht.

The 41st edition, which runs through Sept. 1, is spot on at nearly every turn with its satirical content. The newest production hits the current ‘holy trinity’ of Utah’s religious conservative foundation with penetrating humor: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly known as Mormon), Mitt Romney and the current occupant of the White House. No question, the challenge of making the annual musical event fresh for the large, loyal following of this local theatrical tradition is formidable. However, the two writers continue to invigorate a format that keeps its youthful vibe in its longevity: Nevins (since 1992), producing the book, and Borgenicht (since it started), penning the lyrics for the songs.

3. Justin Ivie, Annette Wright, and Robert Scott Smith in Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography

An audience that has treasured Saturday’s Voyeur for its cathartic pleasure is rewarding the latest song offerings for their urgent topical relevance. For example, Seasons of Love, the song from the 1996 original soundtrack for Rent, became Season of Lies, the perfect cohort, to sing about the current president’s 12,250 lies, a number that metastasizes steadily and may well reach “five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred” before his single term is finished. As one audience member mentioned, “I want it to be in a campaign ad for Elizabeth Warren [the Massachusetts U.S. Senator running for the Democratic Party nomination].”

Paul Simon’s 1975 hit Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover is translated seamlessly into 50 Ways to Name Your Gender, a clever nod to the blossoming recognition that one’s identity is even more diverse than non-binary, as it spreads across a canvas as vast as Utah’s unique landscapes.

One can appreciate how Saturday’s Voyeur still hews broadly to the spirit of the original inspiration for its satire: “the family friendly yet challenging” genre of Mormon musicals that targeted LDS pop culture for many young people during the 1970s and 1980s. The most prominent, of course, was Saturday’s Warrior, the Mormons’ 1970s answer to Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.

9. Julie Silvestro Waite, Jacob Weitlauf, Daisy Allred and Cast of Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography

Those quirky, cheesy Mormon musical spectacles always ended with chasteness winning over rebellion and temptation. Inverting the epiphany as it religiously has done so in every preceding edition, Saturday’s Voyeur opens during the time of last fall’s LDS general conference – of course, accurately following the events. Choir members learn that the shorthand Mormon term will no longer be acceptable, as the church leadership announces that all references should be in the formal, full title.

This disturbs the choir members — especially the women, at first — who expound upon their frustrations to criticize politics and the church’s hesitation to act in spiritual courage. They realize their protests could land them in a celestial spirit prison but, nevertheless, they persevere. Hoping to thwart the inevitable march toward the “dark light,” as exhorted by the dutiful brethren, some church members hope Mitt Romney (or, in this case, Mitt Rom-i-ney, played by Robert Scott Smith) will fulfill the white horse prophecy that will save the country and its constitution. In this toxic quagmire of confusion, blame-game tactics and misery, the distressed Saints also must contend with Vladimir Putin (Dan Larrinaga, sporting an uncanny bare-chested resemblance to the Russian president) and his bosomy femme fatale, Natasha (Smith, bringing to life the animated character in the classic Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons). Natasha sashays with the allure of enticing the most naïve ones to engage in collusion.

10. Cast of Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography

Alas, Mitt, dashing as he appears in his impeccably tailored suit, might satisfy finally the archetypal hero but the real protagonist is Mary Pop-in (Annette Wright, executed with impeccable timing). However, unlike the pleasant, magical Disney version, this straight-talking, profane Mary tosses aside the spoonful of sugar going down in a most delightful way. Instead, make it a stiff shot of medicine going down to awaken the trembling flock to the realities of their church family and the patriarchal, heteronormative politics that have constricted them.

The riff on the Mary Poppins character is brilliant. The nation and the White House need a nanny with magical powers. To wit: Daniel Drezner, Fletcher School scholar of international relations at Tufts University, who has curated a thread of 836 tweets and counting (as of press publication) with the hashtag #ToddlerinChief since the president took office. (“I’ll believe that Trump is growing into the presidency when his staff stops talking about him like a toddler.”)

7. Cast of Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography

And, it isn’t just the aforementioned song 50 Ways to Name Your Gender that subverts gender role conventions. Mary Pop-in is fierce, uncompromising and clear, seeing through the condescending tones of civility. Rom-i-ney is effete and genteel, just to the proper nuance of shade in character. Rom-i-ney is as ambivalent, cautious in his word choice and as cowardly as the real-life, so-called Never Trump voice of reason and moral courage.

His supporters wait to see if finally this is the “Mormon Moment” they have expected (reference the 2012 and 2013 editions of the show; follow the news and the answer is clear). This transpires during a marvelous sequence featuring the classic Queen song rendered as the Beehive Rhapsody and the finale Do You Hear Us Mormons Sing, adapted, of course, from the musical Les Misérables. This is the call to overcome adversity, as Mary Pop-in stresses, by voting, damn it.

The satirical arc in narrative in Saturday’s Voyeur inverts the unexpectedly hilarious, quaint elements that marked the old Mormon musicals: the clash of earthly and celestial planes of being and the moral resolve to be on the right side of the battlefield to claim the reward of eternal enlightenment. In Saturday’s Voyeur, the beleaguered women seek spiritual and ideological relief. They are fed up with a misogynistic, racist president and cannot abide how church leaders continue to entertain his despicable behavior. There are astute, serious political jabs as well as biting critiques of the church’s morally conflicted stance on numerous issues and crises. These punctuate scenes throughout the production but do not disturb the satirical tone. These include immigration, the usual state legislature antics, alcohol laws, local political figures stuck in their antediluvian ways (Gayle Ruzicka, represented here as Gayle Godzicka) and acceptance of LGBTQ+ citizens. There are many moments reminding enlightened Utahns in the audience of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s famous 19th century quip: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (“the more things change, the more they continue to be the same thing’). Saturday’s Voyeur writers will never lack for material, for sure. The challenge is giving the new iteration its bracing impact.

5. Fiona Hannan, Aalliyah Ann, Madi Cooper and Cast Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography

Good satire speaks truthfully, and it shows, thanks to additional research Topher Rasmussen provided to assist the work of Nevins and Borgenicht. The production is directed and choreographed by Cynthia Fleming and William Richardson, with musical direction by Michael Leavitt.

The performances galvanize the show with excellent singing and musicianship and the two hours, which includes intermission, is paced nicely. Salt Lake City’s bench of well-trained musicians and singers is deeper per capita than many other communities and it shows in Saturday’s Voyeur. Joining Leavitt on keyboards were Nick Fleming (guitar) and Spencer Kellogg (woodwinds, banjo and guitar) and they enriched the atmosphere tremendously and provided solid support to the singers who gave Borgenicht’s lyrics their full value.

2. Cast of Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography

Wright’s performances as Mary Pop-in and Mattie led the way. And, who wouldn’t refuse the dapper appearance of Joseph Smith or the icy sexuality of the Russian Natasha, as rendered by Smith. Larrinaga followed accordingly – not just with his shirtless Putin but also as Gayle Godzicka and the appropriately creepy take of Cardinal Pedo, the Roman Catholic prelate who is intrigued by what Mormon’s two most famous historical figures have proffered.  

Justin Ivie completed the quartet of veteran cast members (including Wright, Smith and Larrinaga). Also notable for this year’s cast is the number of new Saturday’s Voyeur performers: Daisy Allred, Aalliyah Ann, Bradley Hatch, Matthew Tripp, Julie Silvestro Waite and Jacob Weitlauf. Rounding out the cast are Fiona Hannan and Madi Cooper, who made their SLAC debuts earlier this season.

1. Fiona Hannan, Annette Wright, Madi Cooper, and Aalliyah Ann in Salt Lake Acting Company’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2019. Photo by dav.d daniels/ dav.d photography.

This year’s edition of Saturday’s Voyeur is robust, spicy and just naughty enough to keep the long parade of summer audiences satisfied.

The show continues through Sept. 1 at the SLAC’s Upstairs Theatre (168 West 500 North). Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., with additional performances slated for Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 24, 2 p.m. and Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. The Aug. 10 performance also is part of the company’s annual fundraiser, which will include food, drinks, auctions (live and silent) and other activities.

For Saturday’s Voyeur tickets and information, see the SLAC website.

Previous articleSanctuary, an immersive art installation, deepens the visitor’s experience with Damn These Heels LGBTQ+ Film Festival
Next articleUMFA’s Power Couples exhibition magnificently stretches imagination in exploring pendant format in art
Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

Leave a Reply