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Boo and hiss at Tom Cruise at the Desert Star

Published: Friday, September 22, 2006

Updated: Monday, August 9, 2010 14:08

The Salt Lake Valley has no shortage of legitimate theater. However it's unlikely that many theaters actively encourage their audiences to boo the actors onstage, or that they would interact with the audience regularly throughout a performance, announcing audience members' birthdays and anniversaries.

The Desert Star Playhouse has sought out a unique niche in the Salt Lake theater scene by advertising itself as the "theater for people who don't like theater," said Desert Star's Managing Director Ben Millet.

The theater was originally renovated from an apartment building and opened as a movie theater named The Gem in1923. Since then it has been remodeled multiple times and operated under several different owners. Desert Star remodeled the old theater and expanded the stage into a playhouse and opened in 1989 (according to cinematreasures.org and www.utahtheaters.info).

Desert Star Playhouse, located in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley in Murray, has two stages, the Cabaret Theatre and the Dinner Theatre, that feature two very different types of plays. Millet said the Dinner Theater was opened at Desert Star about two years ago to offer a more adult atmosphere and Broadway-style plays.

Millet said the Cabaret Theatre, the original theatre opened in 1989, has developed the playhouse's reputation for comedic theater that has earned it many loyal patrons and season ticket holders. This stage plays comedic melodramas complete with performers acting out incredible parodies and spoofs; dramatic piano accompaniment that cues the audience to cheer, boo or sigh; and cabaret-style seating where each party has its own table (and a complimentary basket of popcorn).

The Cabaret Theater plays, which are entirely written by theater operators, are produced for families and audiences of all ages. They are parodies of current events and Utah culture-often taking jabs at everything from Mormon customs to politics. For example, recent productions include: "My Big Fat Mormon Wedding" (which ran for a Utah record 74 weeks according to the Deseret News), "Bi-Polar Express," "CSI: Provo," and "Kicking the Hobbit: Bored of the Rings."

Currently, Desert Star is producing the "Little Shop of Horrors" in the Dinner Theater and "Mission: Incredibles," in the Cabaret Theater. "Little Shop of Horrors," a Broadway comedy musical about a musically gifted man-eating plant, opens today and plays Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. until Nov. 4.

"Mission: Incredibles" is a parody of both the "Mission Impossible" movies and the "The Incredibles." The play centers on John and Marsha, two coworkers with an interest in each other who both, unknown to the other, have a secret nightlife as superheros. John is Captain Cricket, Insect Extraordinaire, and Marsha is Emotional Girl (whom Desert Star described as "Sigmund Freud, Dr. Phil, and your mother all rolled into one guilt-ridden package"). They get recruited by the ACME government agency to fight the evil super-villain Tom Cruise, who, along with other unusual super-villains, is trying to force the world to love him by drugging people with popcorn butter.

Millet, who is also part of the cast of "Mission: Incredibles" (playing Captain Cricket's evil nemesis, the Seagull), says that many longtime patrons have commented that it is one of their favorite plays that they have seen at the theater.

Each performance also features an olio - variety show - after the play in which cast members perform additional song, dance and comedy routines.

"The olios are my favorite part of the show because you really get to see the actors be themselves," said Jessica Johnson, an employee at Desert Star for two years.

Refreshments are available in both theaters, including pizza, vegetable trays and drinks. The Dinner Theater also has the option of attending an Italian Buffet an hour before the show.

Desert Star Playhouse is located at 4861 South State Street in Murray, Utah just north of the 5300 South Exit on I-15. "Mission: Incredibles" plays Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:00 P.M., on Fridays at 7:00 and 9:30 and on Saturdays at noon, 3:00, 7:00, and 9:30. Ticket prices range from $12 to $15.95 and student discounts are available for the 9:30 shows.

-tliljegren@cc.usu.edu

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