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South Valley Riverton Journal

Global production of ‘All Together Now!’ aims to revive arts and theater industry

Dec 06, 2021 03:22PM ● By Dylan Wilcox

Cast members perform "Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray. (Brook Bowen/Riverton City)

By Dylan Wilcox | [email protected]

The hustle and bustle of Broadway came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. A once-in-100-year pandemic single-handedly closed theaters in communities across the globe, even in New York City, the heart of the theatrical world itself. For the past 19 months, the arts community has been on an extended hiatus due to the global health issues driven by the spread of COVID-19. To jump-start the arts and theater industry, Music Theatre International launched "All Together Now!," a global production. 

“MTI’s "All Together Now!" is designed as a fundraiser for local theatres to perform live, over the same four-days Nov. 12-15, 2021. The past year-and-a-half has been extremely challenging for theatrical organizations and MTI is offering this exclusive musical revue as a way to support the thousands of theatres who are persevering under trying circumstances,” according to the MTI website. Drew Cohen, President and CEO of MTI Worldwide cited the growing enthusiasm for "All Together Now!" as a “truly collaborative effort…that any and every type of theatre from schools to the pros has the opportunity to produce "All Together Now!" in their communities.” 

Riverton Arts Council Director, Vicki Wartman, and Production Director, Valaura Arnold spear-headed the effort to bring the global production to Riverton. The duo had a total of seven weeks to put together a cast, choreograph various musical classics and facilitate rehearsals to perform with thespians across the world. In total, 2,500 theaters in over 40 countries participated in the world-wide production.

Having received word from MTI, Wartman and Arnold saw this as an opportunity to restart the theater program in Riverton. Wartman, who has been part of the Riverton Arts Council for many years said that the theater sector in Riverton was on its last legs financially. Thankfully the council had ample savings to keep the production going. Wartman’s goal with "All Together Now!" was to raise $10,000. All proceeds will go to funding similar future plays in the community. Arnold added that the Riverton Arts Council gave her artistic leeway from choosing the songs to directing the choreography. “They were very kind in how I wanted to interpret [the set list],” she said. 

As part of "All Together Now!" MTI waived the rights to dozens of crowd-favorite songs from nearly 20 musicals, which allowed schools and theaters to bypass need for permission to use the music for localized productions. Wartman and Arnold knew participating in this global production would be the best way to jump-start the community’s arts and theater program again.

“This cast rose to the occasion,” Arnold said. “Lots of intense practice at home as well as [on stage]. I am so proud of them. They really rose to the occasion, that’s for sure,” she added. According to Wartman, the production’s opening night on Friday, Nov. 12 was a full house, so much so “there weren’t enough seats.” There were droves of spectators who attended on Saturday evening as well.

Focusing the audience’s attention from the past year and a half of COVID, cast members asked the audience what their favorite part of 2021 was so far. Some said planning trips, visiting family, finishing school among other milestones. The message in each song was related to how despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic, everyone has something to look forward to.

Opening the production on a light note, parents and children performed “Pure Imagination” from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to show the closer bond parents have developed with their children while in isolation for many months during work-from-home and remote learning. 

Cast members then performed “Writing Down the Story of My Life” from  "Junie B. Jones, The Musical," which referenced the odd times teenagers currently find balancing themselves between home and school while looking forward to what the future holds.

Another number from High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together” echoed the often-heard phrase from emergency responders and medical professionals on the frontline of COVID. Donning Riverton High School sports regalia, cast members performed the song as a reminder that we’re all experiencing these unusual circumstances at the same time, but we’ll eventually get through it together.

Riverton High School senior, Skyler Nguyen said, “We wanted to convey togetherness, to invite people to come together. After being separated for so long, this is finally our moment to all be in this together.”

Another song, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from "Les Misérables" referenced the long period of mandated shut down for movie theaters, schools, churches and restaurants, leaving whole cities and towns with empty chairs and empty tables.

“The Human Heart” from "Once on This Island"  was a somber number which recalled those we have lost to COVID. Cast members each held a lit candle; members of the audience were also invited to raise a candle as a brief vigil and moment of pause for the hundreds of thousands that lost their battle to COVID around the world. Lead female vocalist, and Riverton High School graduate, Makenna Dibble performed the number. “[It shows] how resilient we are as mankind and we always bounce back no matter what we go through,” Dibble said. “Although COVID was such a terrible thing, we’re bringing theater back, we’re spending time together again. We’re all part of the human heart, we’re all part of the human race,” she added.

A unique feature of this production in Riverton is the presence of American Sign Language interpreters. Bethany Clewett, Brooklyn Paxman, Emma Keith, and Shay Underwood are all interpreters participating in an internship which allows students to translate plays for members of the deaf community. This program, which is sponsored by the Riverton Arts Council, is the only one in the state of Utah.

Anne Fife, a student in the Theater Arts Education program at Utah Valley University, and is deaf, attended the production in support of her friend, Shay. “I really enjoyed [the production],” Fife shared through an interpreter. “There have been some limitations, but I can enjoy the play my own way.” Fife acknowledges that it’s not common to see members of the deaf community attend musicals, but through the lively and expressive way the four ASL interpreters translated the songs, it made the performance enjoyable to watch.

“I am really impressed with Riverton and that they have set up this program,” Fife signed. She noted that more awareness is needed for members of the deaf community to have opportunities to enjoy the arts. “Do you have deaf community members that would appreciate this access? If you offer [the ASL interpretation services] to them, they will come.”

Another well-known song was “Let It Go” from Disney’s "Frozen" which was performed by Arnold. The main message Arnold wanted to express with this number is for people to let go of the divisiveness and hate many have experienced because of COVID. “I just wanted everybody to understand that it’s time to let go of all the negativity that was put upon us,” Arnold said.

The final number of the evening was “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from "Hairspray," an upbeat and whimsical number which left the entire audience with smiles on their faces. A lesson that could be gathered from the final number is that although the pandemic did cause the arts world to briefly skip a beat, it couldn’t truly stop the beat. And we hope this worldwide showing revives the much-needed beat of the arts community in Riverton and abroad.