Puppets from SLAC's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood pose in a postcard image as part of the show's promotion.

SLAC’s Summer Show: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Performance & Theatre

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Salt Lake Acting Company

July 12–August 20
Wednesday–Saturday 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Accessible performances:
Open Captioned Performance: July 30 at 6 p.m.=.
Audio Described Performance: August 6 at 6 p.m.
Sensory Performance: July 22 at 2 p.m.
ASL Interpreted Performance: August 5 at 2p.m.

With a cult following and critical acclaim, Salt Lake Acting Company’s (SLAC) satirical look at Utah’s year-in-review rarely disappoints, and this year is no different. Audiences are reminded of all the topics that made headlines in Utah, and this year in SLAC’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood explores Utah’s stance on drag queen story hours, book bans, LDS news, the housing crisis, and the rapid depletion of the Great Salt Lake. 

When SLAC announced in 2020 that they were no longer producing their highly anticipated, annual summer show Saturday’s Voyeur, many fans of the playhouse were disappointed. In its place came the idea of a more inclusive show created by multiple artists both local and national that would speak to a more diverse Utah. While this may have been the case for the last two SLAC cabarets, I will be quite honest in acknowledging that I didn’t find too many differences between this year’s show and Saturday’s Voyeur other than a name and brand change. 

All of the elements of Saturday’s Voyeur are here: commentary on Utah politics, poking fun at the LDS religion and a critical analysis on Salt Lake City culture. The SLAC website warns that even though this year’s performance, SLAC’s Summer Show: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, has a fun tagline and promises “Sesame Street”–style puppetry, this is a show for adults only, and viewer discretion is advised. 

Written by local artist Olivia Custodio and directed by SLAC’s creative artistic director Cynthia Fleming, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood follows a public broadcasting channel called UBS at risk of losing funding for another year unless they make enough money through donations. The television studio puts on a telethon donation event hosted by two hosts who facilitate skits and pre-recorded content.  During their telethon, the TV station highlights several public programs, each one speaking to a different, hot Utah headline from the past year. The audience watches as the telethon skits portray various scenarios such as a non-copyrighted version of Sesame Street that highlights Utah’s scary statistics and demographics, a Mr. Rogers–style neighborhood where Salt Lake City’s rapidly increasing rent prices were addressed and even a Reading Rainbow–library featuring a drag queen–reading hour and addresses the recent book bans. With a song during each small skit to popular tunes such as Born This Way and the Sesame Street Pinball Counting song, this show is broken up into several connected skits and two acts with a 15-minute intermission (in which green Jell-O was handed out to the audience). 

There was an interesting element of external, real-life media used that I have mixed opinions about, though I was moved to tears once or twice by them. Between the live bits, there were also pre-recorded skits performed by the cast as well as clips of actual public broadcasting or real-life political Utah leaders. Some were well within the tone of the show such as Governor Spencer Cox’s plea for Utahns to join him in a day of prayer for rain, but others contrasted the live performance in a way that probably wasn’t the most necessary to include. The two in particular they played were from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’s final statement to the ending of his show, the latter moving me to tears. While they were meant to instill hope in the audience and continue to remind us why public programming is important, their impact felt diminished when they were immediately followed up by something vulgar or comedic. 

One of the many elements I adored was the show’s set, designed by Erik Reichert, which was simple and consisted of three digital screens and one large moving house piece, all of which worked great aesthetically. The house was foldable and sturdy, which made the transitions clean.

I also can’t overlook the incredible work puppeteers Linda and Glenn Brown did. The duo are SLAC alumni and well known in Utah for their puppet fabrication and characterization, and their larger-than-life take on the classic Sesame Street puppets were spectacles of craftsmanship.

Typical of a SLAC show, the company, the resident staff and the cast were stacked with talent. You have New York actors, up-and-coming University of Utah Actor Training Program actors and the very best the local art scene has to offer. Notably, the show’s dramaturg (who does all of the research for a show to ensure its accuracy) was Latoya Cameron, who recently won the Mayor’s Artist Award, and she had her work cut out for her with this show’s emphasis on current events. Cameron’s dedication and attention to detail felt evident and immaculate, and local drag queen Sequoia consulted on the show and its use of drag, which shows SLAC’s dedication to diversity and inclusion.

Highlights within the cast itself include David Knoell, Madison Archibald, Trevor Bird and Sean J. Carter. Each one of them contributed to the show’s overall sparkle, but James Wong and Wendy Joseph? Absolutely dazzling. Their vocals, their comedic timing and their stage presence especially stood out. If I were a casting director, I would keep my eye on them. I am still thinking about some of the notes Joseph hit.

Salt Lake Acting Company’s intelligent and comedic take on Utah culture is scary at times (isn’t reality always hard to face?), but it makes for a fun night out. The atmosphere and the staff make you feel welcome, and the topics are approached in a way that is factual, endearing and a strong reminder to register to vote. –Payton Rhyan Wright

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