“Turn Off Your Phones,” the opening tune of Ultimate Storytime With Thomas Sanders, a comedic, life-affirming musical created by the Vine superstar, hilariously begs the audience not to film or spoil anything to those who haven’t seen it yet.
That, understandably, makes it a little difficult to explain what transpires in the hour-plus long show for a review’s sake. However, the touring performance, which touched ground at New York City’s Highline Ballroom Friday evening, as noted by Club Zone, and closes out at Playlist Live in Washington, D.C. on September 9, is definitely worth attending, not just to be in the know, but for the overall experience of witnessing several up-and-coming stars before they become the next big thing in entertainment.
Sanders smoothly translates several moments and self-played characters from his Vine videos into the narrative of Ultimate Storytime in both fascinating and educational ways, without ever taking away from the characteristics that made them popular, or overdoing their personality aspects in a way that seem forced. He mostly portrays himself as the narrator to the overall play, much as he does in his well-regarded “Story Time” Vines, but there are also appearances from the khaki-wearing Mr. Sanders, the high school teacher, and even his Disney-inspired Prince Charming character as well.
You might find yourself wondering just how a school instructor and the son of a king could fit into the same story, but as any Fander — a Thomas Sanders fan (get it?) — will tell you when it comes to his six-second videos, anything goes in his world, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone, which Ultimate Storytime doesn’t do in the slightest.
The co-players in Ultimate Storytime are just as strong in talent and importance as Sanders, which proves just how willing he is to share his shine with others. The shy, ornithology enthusiast Preston, played by Terrence Williams, Jr., is a quiet storm of a character who ultimately comes out of his shell in a way that will be relatable to anyone who has ever been afraid to spread their wings, so to speak. Adventure-seeking Emma, portrayed by Nicole Visco (who previously acted alongside Sanders in a Florida production of Heathers), sparkles just as brightly while showing that you don’t always have to stand out to fit in.
And then, we come to the begrudged antagonist of the story, Mr. Contemptible, depicted by a powerhouse of a performer named Jay Harper. It’s almost unfair to say that Harper is the breakout star of Ultimate Storytime, especially since each member of the cast are so amazing in their roles, but there’s something about her that absolutely electrifies. From the moment she steps onto the stage, it’s hard to take your eyes, ears and attention away from her. Harper easily has the most challenging and emotional role out of all the Ultimate Storytime characters, and she owns every bit of it with ease and glory. If she doesn’t go on to win a Tony one day, then Broadway will have done her a great disservice.
Leo Anderson, Thomas’ real-life best friend, also pops up in a role that, unfortunately, cannot be explained at all in this review as it ties together all of the pieces of Ultimate Storytime. What can be said about his performance, however, is that it’s nice to know that his talent as a dancer is just as strong as his previously-unknown vocal prowess. Ironically, during a VIP pre-show segment for Ultimate Storytime, Anderson states that he’s not really a good singer. Let’s just say that he’s definitely lying about that.
With just four more dates to go in the 17-date run of Ultimate Storytime With Thomas Sanders, it would be wise for anyone who hasn’t been able to see the show to grab tickets ASAP. Not only are they selling out fast, but Sanders and his company, including musician and lyricist Jacob Fjeldheim, will surely not be as accessible as they are now if they keep up this momentum. Ultimate Storytime isn’t just a home run for theater — it’s a grand slam that anyone and everyone will cheer for.
[Image via Thomas Sanders/Facebook]