‘Shrek!’ performances to begin, boosters tout Ogden Musical Theatre
OGDEN — A community’s health isn’t strictly defined by dollars and cents, things like jobs, business growth and economic development.
Arts figure in the mix, and since 2016, Ogden Musical Theatre, funded in part by Weber County government and part of the government apparatus, has added luster to Ogden and the county, boosters say.
“It’s work, life and play,” said Kassi Bybee, the Ogden Musical Theatre producer and general manager of Peery’s Egyptian Theater, the county-owned home for the arts organization, which puts on its big summer performance, “Shrek! The Musical,” starting Friday. That is, people are drawn to a locale that has arts and entertainment — the “play” Bybee spoke of — and Ogden Musical Theatre contributes to that side of things, the dynamism that helps make the community a magnet in tandem with basics like jobs.
“People like communities that offer a variety of things, and arts and entertainment are part of that,” said Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey. He was on board when county commissioners approved creation of Ogden Musical Theatre, which launched in 2017.
As “Shrek!” performances begin — 15 shows are planned in all through Aug. 13 — Bybee, Harvey and others involved in Ogden Musical Theatre offered insights into its evolution. It’s not the only theater operation in the county by any stretch, but being housed at Peery’s, it occupies a high-profile spot in the community.
“I would say that it has actually grown and evolved nicely,” said Bybee. “I can see it growing more.”
Indeed, from just one performance in its first year in 2017, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Ogden Musical Theatre now puts on three performances a year. The original summer musical is still the most elaborate production, but a spring concert musical and late-year Christmas program have been added to the mix.
“We want to be a serious performing musical company that’s in Northern Utah,” Bybee said. The group also hosts a summer theater camp geared to kids, Kids Act Up, which has grown in popularity.
One of the big distinguishing elements of Ogden Musical Theatre is that it pays its performers — those who are 16 and older, anyway — aiming for higher-caliber productions. That also gives theater students at Weber State, one of the pools for performers, reason to stick around over the summer. Many community theaters rely on volunteers.
“The talent we have within Northern Utah to be able to do performances at this professional level is outstanding,” Bybee said. “You don’t get that in other areas.”
Maurie Tarbox, artistic director for Ogden Musical Theatre, said she came on board with the stipulation that actors get paid, as a show of respect for performers and to draw solid talent.
“We love community theater, but we wanted to take it a step higher than that,” she said. “I would say we are on the high end of semi-professional.”
The support of Weber County figures big in the ability to pay performers, who typically come from Northern Utah, including Salt Lake City. Tarbox, an instructor in Weber State’s Department of Performing Arts, lauded the backing. “It is very unusual to have that kind of support from the county,” she said.
Bybee estimates the Ogden Musical Theatre activities cost around $200,000 a year to put on, with funding coming from the county, ticket sales and donations from corporate sponsors and others.
BJ Whimpey plays Shrek in the performances starting Friday, Samantha Allen plays Princess Fiona and Dre’lan Evans plays Donkey. “Shrek is a three-dimensional fairy tale bursting through a two-dimensional frame. The characters are flat on the surface but the musical quickly exposes that things aren’t always as they seem,” Director Andrew Barratt Lewis said in the “Shrek!” program notes.
Tarbox said the dragon is a highlight and noted that it takes two hours to get the makeup on Whimpey, who plays Shrek. Then there’s the music. Audience members “will want to get up and dance in the aisles by the end of the show,” she said.
Tickets may be purchased at ogdenpet.com/events.