“Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

WizardofOz-SMALLMunchkins are a Marvel as “Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 12, 2016

The Wizard of Oz” has been around forever. In 1900 L. Frank Baum wrote the American children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which turned up as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie musical in 1939 and immortalized Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film shows up regularly on television; and many in the current audience grew up knowing that Dorothy was swept away in a tornado – or just a bad dream, after her beloved dog, Toto, was taken by a mean-spirited neighbor. The movie begins in black and white, turning to dazzling Technicolor when Dorothy arrives in Oz.

Rachel Graham Photography
Rachel Graham Photography

Dorothy emerges from the tornado believing she is in a mysterious, but beautiful place, surrounded by friendly folk who greatly resemble her aunt and uncle and Kansas farmers. Even the mean-spirited neighbor who took away her beloved Toto is in Dorothy’s new life – this time as an evil witch. Dorothy wants to go “home” to Kansas.

Sound familiar? The current production on the stage of Candlelight Dinner Theater in Johnstown will certainly jog many memories of hearing the tale or seeing the movie.

Kent Sugg has directed a particularly large cast in this look at Dorothy’s adventures. Her aunt and uncle and workers from the family farm appear as friendly folk in Dorothy’s travel to Oz. The cast includes many young people, some on stage for the first time, mixing them in the ensemble with experienced CDP performers. Dorothy is played by Christy Oberndorf, a newcomer to local Playhouse audiences. She is a sophomore at University of Northern Colorado and makes an impressive debut. She can sing, dance, and act. And is very convincing as the young girl who truly just wants to go “home.”

Rachel Graham Photography
Rachel Graham Photography

I must be cautious, however, as the overture was limp, with no outstanding melodies. The famous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is sung early in the show. The first act is slow in getting our attention, as there is so much dialogue. Evidently the show’s authors decided they needed to lay a lot of not-so-interesting background early in the show so that some of the characters would make sense later on.

I was, however, ready for another yawn, when suddenly Dorothy had arrived in Munchinkland, and the stage was awash with delight! Chorographer Stephen Bertles has a very creative mind, and his view of dancing Munchkins is the show’s highlight. They are a large combination of young performers standing up and older performers on their knees, so as to have everyone more or less the same height. The total effect created by Bertles is enormous fun, with “Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead.”

Costuming through the show is also first-rate. The Munchkins, Poppies, Ozians, Monkeys, Winkies and Jitterbugs all look terrific. The sets are colorful. The cast is uniformly good. It appears that it is the show’s basic material which is lacking.

Rachel Graham Photography
Rachel Graham Photography

Annie Dwyer is excellent as the mean-spirited neighbor in Kansas, and as Wicked Witch of the West. Melissa Swift Sawyer is believable as the Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and as Dorothy’s Aunt Em in Kansas. David Wygant is terrific as the Emerald City Guard (and as Dorothy’s Uncle Henry). His antics in refusing Dorothy and her friends entrance into Oz are reminiscent of the zaniness of Nathan Lane roles. Deylan Dean is without bones as the Scarecrow, Stephen Bertles has no heart as the Tinman, and Markus Warren is the Cowardly Lion whose search of courage is the highlight of the second act. Patrick Sawyer is in fine voice as the traveling professor and as The Wizard of Oz.

Well known songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead, “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and the cowardly lion’s anthem “If I Were King of the Forest.”

Everyone in the cast appears to be thoroughly enjoying the show. Their enthusiasm is infectious. The young cast was especially appealing to younger persons in the audience who had a great time.

Arriving at the theatre, there was a menacing storm threatening over the mountains to the West of town. Was a Cyclone/Tornado on its way? If the audience was knocked out by its force, as was Dorothy in Kansas, would we be able to get back to Johnstown? Yes. Glinda, the Good Witch, will show us the way.

The Wizard of Oz
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: September 11, 2016
For Tickets:  970/744-3747 or ColoradoCandlelight.com

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Creede Repertory Theatre Continues to Amaze Audiences

“Kind of Red” and “The History Room” Provide Super Diversity To Theatre-Goers

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 9, 2016

Tiny Creede, Colorado, (year-round population of less than 400) continues to make theatre history by being home to the terrific Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT). This summer the highly respected company basically has seven different shows running, including the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Noel Coward’s classic comedy, “Private Lives,” and the improv “Boomtown.” My wife and I were able to see two productions this summer, coming away delighted with each — “Kind of Red” and “The History Room.” Both were world premieres this summer, and both received acclaim a year ago when the company was looking at not-yet-produced shows at the Annual Headwaters New Play Festival.

Kind_of_Red“Kind of Red”

Is a spot-on reincarnation of the antics of Lucille Ball and her “I Love Lucy” of the 1950s. John DiAntonio, Associate Artistic Director of CRT, has written this as a love letter to his incredibly talented and zany wife, Caitlin Wise. His imagination is in full throttle as the story revolves around a trumpet player, Rick (played by DiAntonio), living in a shabby New York Apartment, overlooking the church were his latest girlfriend is set to be married. He is down on his luck, no musical prospects in sight, and hiding stashes of alcohol throughout the place to use “as needed.”

Photo Credit John Gary Brown
Photo Credit John Gary Brown

The plot is wild, with Rick being struck by lightning while on the apartment fire escape, and winding up in a world of “I Love Lucy” sitcoms. Lucy physically emerges from the TV set, and sets about to put Rick’s life in order. During Rick’s delusions, his neighbors Frank and Esther turn up as Mertz-like neighbors, complete with canned TV laughter. Anne Butler and Logan Ernstthal are both in great form as Frank and Esther.

Photo Credit John Gary Brown
Photo Credit John Gary Brown

No canned laughter is required in this delightful farce, however. Mehry Eslaminia is basically a riot as the former girlfriend who storms the stage with unyielding energy and enthusiasm. There is an over-the-top scene when everyone takes on Latin American costumes, salsa music, and accents, emerging from the set’s closet.

The cast is uniformly excellent, with everyone having substantial experience with CRT. We first became entranced with Wise and Butler several years ago in the marvelously silly “Fools.” DiAntonio is so talented that a couple of seasons ago he tricked me into not realizing that he was actually playing two leading roles in the same show. When the cast took their curtain calls, I asked my wife what happened to the “other man.” She looked at me in amazement noting: “DiAntonio played both roles!” Mehry was a super Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” a year ago. Ernstthal was the wonderful Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum a few years ago, and is at CRT this for his tenth season

History_Room“The History Room”

It takes great talent to tackle such a somber subject as Alzheimer’s, and keep the audience completely entertained, as well as educated. Playwright Charlie Thurston, is up to the task. He is only 32 years old, but shows enormous skills as a writer and humanitarian. One of his former teachers was Ron Clark, who now takes center stage in this incredibly interesting look at disease, making promises, keeping promises, and struggling to retain memories that want to vanish! Many in the audience were emotionally affected during much of the show!

Photo Credit John Gary Brown
Photo Credit John Gary Brown

The show’s star, however, is the incandescent Christy Brandt. She is brilliant as the ageing Helen who is sometimes quite aware of what is going on, sometimes completely lost. One by one she retrieves incidents from her past to share with family and friends, before sending them out of her memory. Many years ago when Helen was younger, her mother was stricken with Alzheimer’s, and she made her close friend, Steve, promise that he would kill her if she ever became as ill as her mother. Kate Berry plays the young Helen, with Graham Ward as the young Steve. Helen and Steve are now older, and Helen is in the same sad situation her mother faced. Steve realizes the promise he made to his friend so many years ago, and struggles with his long-ago decision. Steve is very well played by Stuart Rider, with Ron Brown as Robert, the older man now married to Helen.

This is marvelous theatre. Everyone is in excellent form, with some comedy relief provided by Graham Ward as the Young Steve, and a young friend, Peter. Graham is a wonder, sitting deformed in a wheelchair, then rollicking the audience with a “dying scene” which goes on forever, taking over the entire stage.

Helen. Brandt, however, is the show’s true wonder. She has been part of CRT for 42 years, and I have never seen her better! At the conclusion of the show, while greeting the cast, I asked Brandt if she was physically exhausted. She looked up ever-so-brightly, and noted, “No, I am invigorated!”

“Kind of Red” and “The History Room”
And other shows playing in repertory to September 17, 2016

Creede Repertory Theatre
124 Main Street, Creede, CO 81130
719/658-2540
info@creederep.com
www.creederep.com

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Utah Shakespeare Festival Wows Audiences

UT Shakespeare FestivalVariety of performances offers something for everyone in Southern Utah

My wife and I had not been to Cedar City for twelve years! We were impressed at the quality of plays during that long-ago visit. We were concerned then to learn that a massive project was underway by the Utah Shakespeare Festival to upgrade the facilities to the tune of several million dollars. We did not believe the goal could be reached. Woe be unto us. Twelve years later — the project IS completed! And excellently so! The Utah Shakespeare Festival itself is a mini (or maxi) miracle. The facilities are first rate. The performances are first rate. The whole project appears to work like clockwork, with visitors coming from throughout the nation and abroad. We were amazed at what we found this year on the campus of Southern Utah University.

The Festival is recognized as one of the nation’s top professional theaters. We had forgotten, that while Shakespeare continues to be the primary draw, his works are only a portion of the offerings. About one-half of the productions each year are dramas, comedies, and musicals written by a wide range of authors. This summer there are three Shakespearean productions: “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Henry V,” and “Julius Caesar.” Rounding out the bill are “Mary Poppins,” the musical, written by Richards and Robert Sherman and Julian Fellowes, “Murder for Two” with book and lyrics by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, “The Three Musketeers” adapted by Ken Ludwig from the novel by Alexander Dumas, Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” and “The Cocoanuts,” Marx Brothers romp with book by George S. Kaufman. Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin.

There are free seminars and study projects going on continually, from pre-show discussions, to talks about costuming, choreography, and children’s workshops. The audiences are unique. It appears that virtually everyone is in Cedar City to see from two or more shows per visit. The theatre schedules are devised, so that it is easy to see six shows in three days. A family sitting next to us at one show noted that they drove down from Salt Lake City last year, and were so pleased that they returned this year, and plan to do so next. A couple from Southern California told us they have been coming to Cedar City for a few days every year for the past ten years. There is something for every taste! I asked one of the Festival staff if she had seen many of the shows. She answered quickly. “Most of them,” And I plan to see them all!” When queried about her favorites, she paused and said: ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘Henry V.’ I know they are as opposite as possible, but they are both great!” Three stages are kept busy during the summer months –the outdoor Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, which is based on and inspired by  Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and primarily features plays by Shakespeare; the indoor Randall J. Jones Theatre, a modern facility that offers contemporary works, and the more intimate Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre.

We could only stay two nights this year, so opted to see three plays, attend one pre-show discussion, and see two of the Greenshow performances. The Greenshows are great fun and free — on an outdoor stage, each taking about 30 minute prior to the evening theater performances, and comprising of songs and dances. There are three of them that play on a rotating basis all season: English Country Faire, an Irish Pub Night, and the third set in a Paris Bistro.

We attended the pre-show discussion prior to “Much Ado About Nothing.” This was a highlight of the visit, as the Festival’s Founder Fred C. Adams, led the discussion. He created the Festival 55 years ago, and remains actively involved. The night he led our group discussion, he appeared in a minor role in “Much Ado.” He noted this was the first time he had ever actually been in a Shakespearean production. Direction has been his forte, and in the 55 years since he founded the Festival, he has only appeared in three plays, one being Shakespeare’s “Much Ado” the night we attended. As he has directed nearly 40 productions, he warned us not to become overly concerned about play plots. He helped us realize that the “child” in us can usually figure out what is going on without become bogged down by the dialogue.

There is something infectious about the Festival, whether you are there as part of the artistic staff, the administration, or the excited patrons who travel from play to play for their annual “pilgrimage” to Cedar City! Many performers return to Cedar City to delight audiences year after year. As they are seen in more than one play, the audiences become “friends” with them.

The shows we saw:

"Much Ado About Nothing" 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival
“Much Ado About Nothing” 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival

“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s most-popular comedies. Fred Adams at his pre-show discussion reminded us that the title is actually “Much Ado About ‘Noting.'” This “noting” meaning bits and pieces of hearsay overheard and not correctly “noted” when passed from one person to another. This gave us an enormous boost to our appreciation of the show.

"Much Ado About Nothing" 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival
“Much Ado About Nothing” 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival

The cast was flawless, headed by Kim Martin-Cotton, Leslie Lank, Luigi Sottile, and Ben Livingston. Conversations were sometimes incorrectly overheard, and often repeated as “truth,” confusing everyone as to what was real and what was created by casual untruths.

"The Cocoanuts" 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival
“The Cocoanuts” 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival

“Cocoanuts” is based on a 1929 movie featuring the famous Marx Brothers. This family of comedians reigned sublime in vaudeville, Broadway, and the movies from 1905 to 1949, giving us such crazy tales as “Duck Soup” and “Animal Crackers.” There were four brothers, with Groucho becoming the quick-talking leader. He was supported by his brothers Zeppo, Chico, and the non-speaking Harpo. The “brothers” turn up in Cocoanuts as Groucho being Mr. Hammer, Zeppo being Robert Jamison, Chico becomes Willie Wony Diddydony, and Silent Red, taking on Harpo’s wild characteristics.

"The Cocoanuts" 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival
“The Cocoanuts” 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival

The performers playing these zany roles were John Plumpis as Mr. Hammer, John Wascavage as Robert Jamison, Jim Poulos as Willie Wony Diddydony, and Tasso Feldman as Silent Red. They are all delightful, but special recognition must be made to Feldman as the non-speaking “Silent Red.” He is a hoot as the speechless loony who appears to have no bone in his body. He is absolutely beguiling.

The scene takes place in a Miami Hotel on its last legs. The owner is desperate to sell it. The bellman is begging to be paid his salary, the hotel guests are a crazed bunch, one with lots of diamonds, ready to be stolen. This is a mad-cap romp, with music and lyrics furnished by Irving Berlin. Timing is flawless, as characters arrive and depart through various adjacent hotel room doors, acting naive as if nothing is amiss. Everything IS amiss. This is a comedy gem.

"Three Musketeers" 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival
“Three Musketeers” 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival

“The Three Musketeers” is a swash-buckling yarn with some of the most exciting swordplay possible. Luigi Sottile who was a delight in “Much Ado About Nothing” turns up this time as D’Artagnan, and 18-year old Frenchman from the rural countryside who heads to Paris with the lofty goal of becoming one of the King’s famed Musketeers.” His parents bid him a fond farewell, and tell him at the last moment that he is not going alone — D’Artagnan is to accompany his 17-year-old sister, Sabine, to her school in Paris. He is bummed, but willing to give it a try. Sabine is a bit of a tom-boy with impressive sword-playing skills. The Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, are not initially impressed with the naive rural D’Artagnan, but soon realize his potential. They eventually include him – in their “All for one and one for all” motto.

"Three Musketeers" 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival
“Three Musketeers” 2016. Courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival

Sottile is a genuine “find,” as he can charm, romance, be silly, be commanding, and is in complete charge as a swordsman. Author of this version of the musketeer tale is Ken Ludwig who gave us the crazed farce, “Lend Me a Tenor” several years ago. I was eager to be laugh-out-loud-amused by Ludwig. He does not provide that in “Musketeers,” but weaves an interesting yarn about D’Artagnan’s travels to Paris, and on to England on an assignment from the French King. The plot does become a bit burdensome. Swordsmanship reigns sublime, however, and this play is highly entertaining.

For more information:
Utah Shakespeare Festival
351 West Center Street
Cedar City, UT 84720
Telephone 435/586-7880.
Ticket information: Call 435/586-7878 or I-800PLAYTIX
E-mail:  guestservices@bard.org
Online: www.bard.org

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Colleen Johnson Shines as “Practically Perfect” Mary Poppins

MaryPoppins“Mary Poppins” is great charmer at Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones, June 20, 2016

Colleen Johnson is a wonder. From the moment she arrives on stage, umbrella on her arm, shoes pointing outward from the heels, she is completely in charge. I first became enchanted by Johnson when she dashed from the MAC stage through an exterior exit as the frenzied Fiona in “Shrek.” This time around she arrives at the Banks household on London’s Cherry Tree Lane after the recent Nanny has departed in great haste. She immediately announces that she is “Practically Perfect in every way!” And we believe her. She has great (pointed) shoes to fill. Julie Andrews received the Academy Award as Best Actress for the 1964 movie – which has become one of the most-loved movies of all time.

Colleen Johnson and Vince Wingerter as Mary Poppins and Bert. Photo credit: Christina Gressinau.
Colleen Johnson and Vince Wingerter as Mary Poppins and Bert. Photo credit: Christina Gressianu.

Johnson stars in a cast that has many leading characters playing to perfection. John Sosna is in great form as the demanding George Banks, a banker who appears to have no time for his children. He requires that they be under the supervision of an organized and strict Nanny, just like the supervision he received as a child. Sosna has super stage presence and an excellent voice. He becomes the stern Mr. Banks, with little obvious care for his children. Realizing that there is some hidden humanity in her husband is Lisa Kay Carter, convincing as Mrs. Banks. Vince Wingerter is new to MAC, and is a winner — with his impressive voice and athletic dancing skills — as Bert, the chimney sweep. Johnson and Wingerter are both exceptional playing the roles of longtime London friends, and appear to enjoying every moment of the show.

MIdtown Arts Mary Poppins Cast Christina Gressianu.
MIdtown Arts Mary Poppins Cast Christina Gressianu.

The four comprise quite a team which has terrific support from the entire cast. I saw Lucas Moir and Haley Bart as the Banks children. They alternate in these roles with Elijah Walker Brandt and Rylee Vogel. Cynthia Vaughn has double-duty playing the heart-warming Bird Woman on the steps of St. Paul’s early in the show, and turning up as an outrageous possible replacement Nanny later on. The entire ensemble provides all kinds of musical magic. Several turn up in double (or multiple) roles. Taylor Marin from MAC’s “The Fantasticks” is back in fine singing and dancing form. The multi-talented Benjamin Roeling is on stage nearly non-stop, only out of sight when changing costumes and make-up for yet another character. I last saw him about eight years ago as the youthful boy courting the mayor’s daughter in “The Music Man” at The Candlelight. He has subsequently completed college and has toured the world as a performer, recently returning home to the area.

Early in the performance the cast announces the show is going to be a “Jolly Holiday,” and the fun music continues through “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and Poppins can sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – even saying the title backwards! We learn that “Anything Can Happen” — if we let it.

This is an endearing story, with great lessons about what is important in life, and explaining that “magic” can happen almost anywhere. “Magic” best describes the “Step in Time” dance number late in Act II when virtually everyone in the cast dances flawlessly to near exhaustion! The direction and chorography are by Michael Lasris assisted by Charity Ruth Haskins, with “flying” by Troy Trinkle. Yes, Mary does fly. Briefly, but delightfully!

The production that I saw was late in starting, as a nearby automobile accident damaged a local electrical transformer. The theater needing to rely on alternate power just to keep the lights on. The air conditioning, sound effects, and lighting were eventually restored. The intermission was unusually long – probably due to getting everything back into final working order. The audience was very calm, and remained “practically enchanted” from the show’s beginning to end.

Scenery includes a super backdrop showing the various chimneys on the London skyline. Costumes are excellent. The entire show is great fun, with super performances, and a reminder to every potential pessimist that a “Spoonful of Sugar” can ultimately cure most ills.

Mary Poppins
Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: Through August 28, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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The “Shrew” Becomes The “Tamer” at OpenStage Outdoors

Shrew-OSShakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” is Rollicking Tale

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 11, 2016

Baptista is a wealthy gentleman of Padua whose younger daughter, Bianca, has many suitors. Unfortunately for the wooing young men, Baptista will not promise her to anyone until her older sister, Katherine is wed. Problem. Katherine, known as “Kate” is a semi-monster whose miserable temperament is well known throughout Italy. It is going to be a hard sell to wed her before allowing Bianca to follow suit.

James Burns as Petruchio and Andrew Cole as Grumio in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography
James Burns as Petruchio and Andrew Cole as Grumio in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

Shannon Nicole Light is calmly demure as Bianca, toying with the affections of three suitors while Kate rages in the background. And rage she does! Sydney Parks Smith is terrific as the rebellious Kate; and when Petruchio comes from Verona to woo her, they unleash an amazing stage battle where it is questionable who will win. James Burns is equally excellent as Petruchio, the gentleman of Verona. He has a slight physical advantage to the raging Kate, and appears to be having the time of his life bringing her under some sort of control.

James Burns as Petruchio and Sydney Parks Smith as Katharina in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography
James Burns as Petruchio and Sydney Parks Smith as Katharina in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

In fact, everyone in the show appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself/herself. Denise Burson Freestone has directed this out-of-doors production in the park. The plays works well in the natural surroundings. And the evening we saw it, the possibility of rain or wind turned into a very calm evening with an amazing sunset. The show begins at 7:00 p.m. and is slightly more than 90 minutes in length. The sun has gone down enough for stage lighting to be used near the end of the evening. The audience is spread on blankets or in camp chairs they brought – eating their earlier-prepared picnics, or snacks from nearby food trucks. The sound was not as clear as in past shows.

Sydney Parks Smith as Katharina and James Burns as Petruchio in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography
Sydney Parks Smith as Katharina and James Burns as Petruchio in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

Shakespeare wrote this Italian romp more than 400 years ago, and it has become one of his most popular works. It has appeared as a stage play, movie, ballet, and as a Broadway show – Cole Porter’s famous “Kiss Me, Kate.” The costumes are excellent, the set is very functional, and the cast provides high energy as they come to grips with Shakespeare’s clever writing.

Standouts, in addition to Sydney Parks Smith, James Burns, and Shannon Nicole Light, include Steve Right as Baptista, Kiernan Angley, as Tranio, Benjamin Means, as Lucentio, and Bruce K. Freestone in a couple of roles.

There is a lot going on in 90 minutes, with mistaken identities, plot twists, and the ever-wonderful dynamics between Kate and Petruchio. In the end, it isn’t quite clear if Kate has been “tamed,” are has just allowed Petruchio to believe he is in command.

“The Taming of the Shrew”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, outside in the Park at Columbine Health Systems. Corner of
Centre Avenue and Worthington Circle in Fort Collins.
When: Through July 2, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
Online: www.ltix.com

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“Footloose” is a High Energy Delight in Boulder

Footloose-Mainstage-logo1985 movie turns up as exciting look at teenagers in the 1970s

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 7, 2016

Jean-Luc Cavner is a very talented performer! A graduate of The University of Northern Colorado, Jean-Luc is making his BDT Stage debut as “’Ren” in “Footloose” after substantial experience in various roles and delighting audiences travelling on Holland America Cruise Lines. He controls the stage from his first dancing scene, and retains command for the entire show. Ren is a street-smart rock-and-roll phenomenon in his native Chicago. When his father walks out on the family, Ren and his mother are uprooted and take refuge with her sister in a tiny western town known as Bomont. His street-wise actions are taken as hostile by many in the little town, and he has a difficult time fitting in. He is adrift without a father figure for guidance.

In 1984 the movie “Footloose” lit up America’s movie screens and immediately found success among millions of young persons who felt oppressed by the older generation! “What? Dancing is a sin?” The idea that young persons might have a say in rules that were established to keep them squeaky-clean hit a nerve.

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com
© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

The movie rocketed Kevin Bacon to superstardom, and the movie’s soundtrack reached Number One on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1984. The story was turned into a Broadway musical in 1998, and has found a home at BDT Stage, playing through September 3, 2016.

Ren and his mother, excellently portrayed by Joanie Brosseau, face a dreadful situation in Bomont. Five years earlier the town met with tragedy, as four teenagers were killed in an automobile accident on the town’s bridge, following a night of carousing. The town decided to try to come to terms with their grief by forbidding any dancing or rock and roll music. The idea was formulated with the urging of the town Reverend Shaw Moore; whose son was among those killed.

Seles VanHess plays Ariel Moore, the daughter of Reverend Moore. She is a hormonally-charged young woman whose boyfriend has more on his mind than “dancing” with Ariel. Her Reverend father isn’t happy with Ariel’s choice of a boyfriend, but is at least pleased that she is not going out with the Chicago-bred dancer!

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com
© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

Ren makes quite an impact on the local community, urging his peers to try rock and roll and dancing. The town’s officials are in an uproar as to how to handle a sudden challenge to their authority.

The story is told through great music and choreography. “Almost Paradise” is an Act I highlight when Ren and Ariel decide to be friends. Satya Jnani Chavez as Rusty rocks the room with “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Alejandro Roldan, as Rusty’s boyfriend shakes the rafters with his “Mama Says” when he learns to dance. And “Footloose” itself is a joyful memory. The conclusion of Act I is a great romp as well-toned athletes David Miller, Danielle Sheib, Brian Cronan and Bussy Gower compete with non-stop Jump Rope while singing “I’m Free.” And Rae Leigh Case is amazing in an aerial dance routine on the hanging rope.

The plot is trite, but there are enough bumps in the ride to keep the evening exciting. The cast is infectiously entertaining. One of the show’s highlights is the talent of Brian Burron. He is one of Northern Colorado’s most gifted directors and performers. He shows a new side to his talent as the Reverend Moore, especially in a heartfelt sermon to his congregation in Act II. Burron has rarely been better, as the emotionally adrift father longing for the son he lost.

© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com
© Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com

The cast is large and talented. One-half of the cast are new to BDT audiences, including the leads Jean-Luc Cavner as Ren and Seles Van Huss as Ariel. Director and Choreographer for the production is Matthew D. Peters, with Scenic Design by Amy Campion. The set is especially interesting, as locations change from the church, to the Moore home, to the Burger Blast hangout, the high school gym and the Town Hall.

“Footloose” is a heartfelt look at small-town American society in the last century, as the story is based on some actual events which reportedly took place in Oklahoma. Exciting music and excellent performances combine for an energy-charged production.

“Footloose”
To September 3, 2016
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
For Information: Telephone: 303/449-6000
Online: BDTStage.com

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“Good People” at Bas Bleu is close inspection of role of luck in life’s game.

Good-People-BB

Bas Bleu Drama Looks at Difficulty in Rising Above Inherent Social Implications

Reviewed by Tom Jones, May 29, 2016

Wendy Fulton-Adams is excellent as Margie, a down-on-her-luck cashier in a Dollar Store who is laid off from her job in South Boston. She is not particularly likeable, and gives the impression that she has done nothing wrong, except for constant tardiness. She argues with her employer, unsuccessfully pleading with him to let her keep her job. Her two adult friends, Dottie and Jean, commiserate with her, going so far as to say that Margie is such a “good person,” and should not be treated so harshly at work. Miriam Chase and Jeanne Nott are convincing as the two foul-mouthed “Southie” friends. While wanting to say how “good” Margie is, they are not willing to admit that the cause of her dismissal has a lot to do with them. Margie doesn’t have much going for her. She is a single mother, raising a handicapped daughter who was born shortly after Margie finished high school. Her husband subsequently left her.

Natalie Davis-Smith, Tom Auclair and Wendy Fulton-Adams, Photo Credit Steve Finnestead Photography
Natalie Davis-Smith, Tom Auclair and Wendy Fulton-Adams, Photo Credit Steve Finnestead Photography

The three friends are all trapped in a time-warp of class and culture mores, with no apparent means of escape. They were all raised in a tough part of town, and none of them has found a way “out.” Their idea of excitement is playing Bingo in the basement of the local church. They chat about another Bingo player, a young adult, Stevie, claiming that he is probably gay, as he is just about the only male bingo player. Stevie, unfortunately, is the Dollar Store boss who fired Margie. Brian Fritz is a welcome newcomer to the Bas Bleu stage, portraying Stevie with compassion. Could it be that he is actually a “good” person?

In their Bingo conversations Margie learns that an old flame has turned up, someone she dated for a couple of months at the end of her high school education. One of her friends saw him at a special program, reporting that he is now a successful fertility doctor in Boston. Margie’s eyes light up – just maybe this old flame. Mike, could be a “good” person and open some doors to her finding a job. She turns up at Mike’s office without an appointment, and refuses to leave until she finagles an invitation to the birthday party for Mike’s child. This might be a chance for her to hobnob with Mike’s professional friends in an effort to find employment. Margie is one tough cookie, and she is now so low on the economic totem pole, that she will do nearly anything to find a job.

Tom Auclair and Natalie Smith-Davis. Photo Credit Steve Finnestead Photography
Tom Auclair and Natalie Smith-Davis. Photo Credit Steve Finnestead Photography

Prior to the date of the party, Mike calls to say the party has been cancelled. Margie believes he is lying, and finds her way to Mike’s Chestnut Hill doorstep to crash the party. She is greeted by Mike’s wife, Kate who initially thinks that Margie is someone from the catering company who has dropped by to pick up tables and chairs from the cancelled party. Tom Auclair and Natalie Davis are both remarkable in their portrayal of Mike and Kate, persons who may have started out with enormous social challenges, but who have now arrived at the top of their game. Kate claims she wants to hear more about Mike’s teenage years. Mike is horrified, but Margie is most willing to oblige. Telling too much. The scene is highly uncomfortable for Mike, for Margie, for Kate, and ultimately for the entire audience.

Miriam Chase and Brian Fritz, Photo Credit Steve Finnestead Photography
Miriam Chase and Brian Fritz, Photo Credit Steve Finnestead Photography

This is tough stuff, and director Cheryl King has carefully guided her cast through a labyrinth of challenges, looking at “goodness,” and what part sheer luck plays in everyone’s journey. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Good People” premiered in New York City in 2011 and was nominated for two Tony Awards – Best Play and Best Leading Actress in a Play. Frances McDormand won that award. The play has subsequently been performed in many theatres in the United States, Australia, and Europe. Lindsay-Abaire’s earlier play, Rabbit Hole,” won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The set is ambitious, as scenes change from the alley behind the Dollar Store, to Margie’s kitchen, to Dr. Mike’s office, to the Church Basement Bingo, and to Mike’s home in Chestnut Hill. The Chestnut Hill set is particularly interesting, and quite elaborate. Susan Crabtree is credited for scenic design, with Conwell Dickey as master carpenter.

Acting is very good throughout, with Wendy Fulton-Adams and Tom Auclair carrying most of the load as Margie and Mike. Mike wants to think they have outgrown their challenges from high school days. Margie has reason to believe they never will. This is a well-told tale!

“Good People”
When: Through June 26, 2016
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
For Tickets: 970/498-8949
Online: basbleu.org

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Sondheim Musical Triumph “Into The Woods” at Candlelight

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

What Happens When Fairy Tales Don’t End “Happily Ever After”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, May 21, 2016

(Note: “Into the Woods” and I are like old friends – getting together after nearly 30 years of friendship, but not seeing each other all that often in the interim. I first found “Woods” on New York’s Broadway in 1987 when it was in previews just prior to its opening. Saw it again a few weeks later when it had become a full-fledged hit. We have visited again a few times over the years – listening to the CD, seeing the taped DVD of the Broadway show. Sometimes it was as delightful and friendly as ever, sometimes –as is the case with the movie version – it had become kind of dreary. So I was a little apprehensive before catching up with my musical friend at the Candlelight this week. I should not have worried, it was as fun — and as serious — as I remember from the first time we met.)

Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography

The first number sets the stage – as we are introduced to such familiar faces as Jack and his mother from “Beanstalk” fame, Cinderella cleaning the house for her dreadful stepmother and more-miserable stepsisters, Rapunzel locked high in her tower, alone except when she lets down her long hair for the witch-mother to climb up for a visit. The spitfire Little Red Riding Hood, stuffing herself with goodies enroute to visit the sick grandmother, and stopped by the lecherous wolf. And there are a couple of new ones – a kindly baker and his wife, longing to have a child. Oh yes, and the witch. She has put lots of curses on this little kingdom, and appears to delight in being so evil. But behind that witch nose, witch chin and witch hat there is a truly beautiful person – this time it is Debby Boone! She sings well as a witch, and is completely beautiful when transfigured into her true self – the charmer who brought us “You Light Up My Life” a few decades ago — even before “Into the Woods” became famous.

Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography

The first act is a joy – becoming acquainted with the ditsy characters, and some with more substance. Sarah Grover is terrific as the spunky Little Red Riding Hood, prancing off to Grandmother’s house only to be eaten by the wolf. Markus Warren is very clever as the wolf, and also as Cinderella’s Prince. Kalond Irlanda is a real find as Jack, the somewhat slow young man who trades his white cow for a handful of “magic” beans. Rachel Turner is winning as Cinderella whose shoe gets caught in the tar on the steps of the palace, and who brings clarity to Sondheim’s amazingly difficult lyrics. Matt LaFontaine and Tracy Warren portray the Baker and his Wife. They are convincing, and have the audience entranced when they realize “It Takes Two” to accomplish most everything.

Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography

Sarah DeYong is physically-trapped in the door-less tower as Rapunzel, so longing to have company that she is willing to “let her hair down.” James Francis is her prince. Francis and Warren are a crazy pair as the princes who think they are more charming than reality permits. They prance around the stage with rare élan. Alisha Winter-Hayes is the haughty stepmother, with Allison Hatch and Katie Burke as her dreadful daughters looking for mates. Melissa Swift-Sawyer is a delight as Jack’s mother. Maggie Tisdale changes costumes all evening, appearing as Cinderella’s Mom, Granny, and the Giant’s wife. Eric Heine is in stately form as The Royal Steward. We see Taylor Lang and Lindsay Krausa only briefly, as they turn up as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, having married the two princes when life for them hasn’t turned out so well. And Debby Boone lights up the stage whenever her costumes allow – when not hidden beneath the prosthetic chin and nose, and forever-long fingernails.

Keeping the audience informed of the goings-on is David Wygant who also changes costumes frequently. He appears as the Narrator, and also as the “Mysterious Man” who turns up to bewilder everyone in the woods. His interpretation is greatly appreciated, as the information provided in sung lyrics can sometimes be missed.

Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography

The first act revolves around the baker and his wife trying to locate items required by the witch to remove a curse she has put on them, not permitting them to have a child. The curse is reversed. Cinderella has married her Prince Charming. Rapunzel has escaped from her tower. Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf has been killed. Jack and his mother are rich. It appears that everyone’s lives will be “happy ever after.”

Then reality sets in. It is almost as if we receive two musicals for the price of one. The second act has glorious music, but serious implications as the characters face challenges they were not expecting. The beans that Jack planted have resulted in his ability to climb to a higher kingdom, only to end up killing a menacing giant. The giant’s wife then takes her anger out on everyone in the woods. Cinderella’s prince turns out to be a louse, but notes that he was “raised to be ‘charming’ not sincere.” Rapunzel’s life is in shambles, Little Red Riding Hood is saved (along with her grandmother) from the belly of the wolf, only to realized that there is more to life than romping through the woods.

The giant’s wife puts terror into everyone’s existence, leaving only a handful of the original characters to bond to face life together. Through this mayhem, however, Sondheim has included some of his more wonderful music: “Stay with Me,” “No More,” and “No One is Alone.” Sondheim was a family friend of Oscar Hammerstein II, who was somewhat of a mentor. Sondheim’s “No One is Alone” has shades of Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit Rachel Graham Photography

Putting together this ambitious production is credited to Don Berlin who has brilliantly staged and directed the show. Choreography is by Bob Hoppe. Scenic designer is Michael R. Duran, with Dave MacEachen as technical director. Excellent lighting was designed by Shannon Johnson, with sound by Mark Derryberry. Phil Forman serves as music director and conductor. The entire production is a wonder. The scenic design is probably the most comprehensive in the history of Candlelight. There are terrific props – large and small. Such as a horse, a high tower, and a white cow that lives and dies. There is one musical highlight after the next, with possibly the most stirring piece “No More,” sung by Matt LaFontaine as the baker and David L. Wygant as the narrator and “Mysterious Man.” When the two daffy princes get together to compare notes, they delightfully sing of their “Agony” in falling in love with such unusual women, only to reprise the song in the second act when they have found married life to be quite dreadful.

Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” then wrote lyrics and music for a host of award winning shows including “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Company,” “Follies, “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Sunday in the Park with George.” His musical talents are never-ending, and his lyrics are so intricate that they continue to be a challenge for most musicians.

I have never met Stephen Sondheim. But what he composed and wrote for “Into The Woods” has resulted in one of my favorite shows – one of my best “friends.” Meeting up with my “friend” after several years of no contact, was delightful. There was instant rapport and appreciation for a friendship that endures – just like the show itself teaches.

It was great fun to see the talented Debby Boone in person on stage. She plays the role of the Witch through June 5, with Beth Beyer taking the role from June 9 to July 10.  Read my interview with Debby Boone here.

“Into the Woods”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: July 10, 2016
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Lost in Yonkers” Finds a Home at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

YonkersPulitzer Prize Winning Play by Neil Simon Earns its Honors

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 20, 2016

With minimal fanfare and unknown to most theatregoers, “Lost in Yonkers” arrived on the stage of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins this spring. “Word of mouth” has traveled quickly, and the highly-honored show is receiving great local acclaim. The talented cast is a wonder, headlined by Morgan Howard in a bravura performance as Bella, an emotionally challenged woman in her mid-30s – desperately longing for someone to love her. Neil Simon wrote this touching play in 1991, and received the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his work.

Simon is best known for his comedies, such as “The Odd Couple.” This time around, his approach is more serious, albeit with comedic highlights that keep the audience completely involved. Setting is Yonkers, New York, in 1941, in the home above the family business where Grandma lives with her daughter, Bella.

Yonkers2It might be difficult to find a more dysfunctional family. The matron of the crew is Grandma who was born in Germany, and has survived terrible situations. She has become an embittered old woman — highly disliked by her family and with no local friends. The naturally warm and loving Wendy Moore has put on a gray wig and a harsh demeanor to bring Grandma to life as the unhappy woman.

Grandma has two adult sons – Eddie and Louie, with whom she has had minimal contact in recent years. The brothers are both played by John Jankow, excellent in the roles. Eddie’s wife has died, and has substantial financial problems. He brings his two sons, ages 13 and 15, to Grandma’s house, asking his stern mother if she will let them live with her for several months while he travels cross-county to sell scrap iron metal. While Eddie is away selling, the brother Louie turns up as a mini gangster on the lam, arriving at the mother’s house seeking temporary asylum from the mob.

Grandma initially refuses to accept the two young boys, Arty and Nicholas, but finally permits them to stay with her, as Bella has been so positive with the idea of having some company in the house. Bella already has difficulty finding her place – in life itself, as well as in her mother’s home, but is enthusiastic about accepting the presence of her two young nephews.

Photo Courtesy of Jalyn Webb
Photo Courtesy of Jalyn Webb

Elijah Walker Brandt and Nicholas Dunnigan are super as the young boys. Brandt has a sly look of someone who has figured out how to get by in life by his smarts and basically-pleasant demeanor. Jay is older and wants “out” of the entire family situation, hoping the wily uncle Louie will take him away from the home. Dunnigan is convincing as the boy on the cusp of manhood, and is marvelous in a confrontational scene with the lawbreaking uncle.

Added to the mix is Gert, Bella’s sister who does not live with Grandma. Gert is played by Charity Ruth Haskins, and is a vocal riot. She has her own emotional problems, which show up when she becomes anxious and loses verbal control.

Billie McBride has directed the production with great care, making certain that the audience is actually sympathetic to the crazed family. Scenic design is by Joel Adam Chavez, with set constructed by Justin Hermanek. The set is a wonder on its own, with careful details of a lifetime of Grandma’s mementos.

Family dynamics are a wonder to observe — from a distance. Grandma has been miserable virtually all of her life, basically showing meanness to her children. She cannot understand, however, why they have no desire to be around her, but turn up on her doorstep when they have nowhere else to turn. The cast of “Lost in Yonkers” is a great display of ensemble acting. Some of the characters are not likeable. Some make us nervous. All are in great need of some sort of acceptance, love, and support. They all turn up in the same house to hopefully be rescued from each other and themselves. The entire production is an insightful look at the dynamics of the “family.” Curiously, it is the most-dysfunctional Bella who brings some cohesion to the group. Actress Morgan Howard is up to the task with a performance of enormous humanity. “Lost” is a super production, yet another highlight in Midtown Arts Center’s banner year of excellent shows.

“Lost in Yonkers”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To May 22, 2016
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Internet: boxoffice@midtownartscenter.com

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Debby Boone continues to “light up lives!”

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Photo credit Garland Photography

Debby Boone is starring in “Into the Woods” this Spring at The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Interviewed by Tom Jones, April 28, 2016

Debby Boone found fame as a young singer in 1977 with “You Light Up My Life.” The song spent ten weeks as No.1 on Billboard charts that year, and she received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist the following year. While she hasn’t been in such great limelight in past years, she has continued to “light up lives” wherever she goes. She is an accomplished performer, writer, wife, mother, and even a grandmother. Her first granddaughter is not yet a year old, and a sibling is expected in the next few months. While in Colorado, she is staying part of the time with her younger sister, Laury, in Fort Collins.

Boone is in Colorado for a few weeks this spring, headlining the cast of “Into the Woods” at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown. My wife and I were able to sit down with her at the theatre this afternoon, following several hours of rehearsals. And yes, she does “light up” the area wherever she goes. She has no pretense, and showed no signs of weariness after several hours of rehearsal. She visited with us about her life’s highs and lows, and how challenges have only served to fortify her!

She was born into a musical family. Her father, Pat Boone, continues to perform. She is obviously very proud of her father and reported that he is good health. We saw him two weeks ago in the movie, “God is Not Dead-2,” and Debby noted she had not yet seen the film.

She was born in New Jersey, but grew up primarily in California, graduating from a Catholic girls’ school. She was surrounded by show business families. Perry Como was her god-father. She married Gabriel Ferrer, son of famed actor Jose Ferrer and equally famous singer, Rosemary Clooney. She and Gabriel have four children, three daughters and one son. They all live in Southern California, and have kept close family ties. “We try to get together frequently for Sunday lunch,” she notes. She remarks that her greatest challenges and greatest satisfactions have revolved around her family

Into-the-Woods-Cast-List1She speaks with respect of her famous family, noting that she and her mother-in-law Rosemary Clooney got along very well. “I was always a little shy with my father-in-law, Jose Ferrer, however, as he was so well known and so very intelligent.” Her husband, Gabriel is a priest in the Episcopal Church, and is cousin of actor George Clooney. She and her husband collaborated on several children’s books, which were all illustrated by her husband.

Subsequent to her amazing entrance into show business nobility with “You Light Up My Life,” Boone has been very successful as a television performer, and musical favorite with pop, country and Christian music. She has extensive experience starring in Broadway musicals across the country; headlining casts in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Sound of Music,” “South Pacific,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Grease,” “Camelot,” and “The King and I.”
“Which was your favorite?” No hesitation: Anna in the “The King and I.”

At Candlelight she is playing the lead role of the witch in “Into the Woods.” This is the first time she has played this role, and noted that she was fitted for a prosthetic nose and chin just today – items which must be whipped off quickly when the witch is transformed into a beautiful woman. The transformation should not be difficult, as Debby has a natural beauty. It is creating make-up for her to look like an evil witch which may take some doing.

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Photo credit Garland Photography

She commented on the delightful challenge she has in stepping “Into the Woods,” noting that composer Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are so terrific that she feels she must work hard to accurately portray the part. Debby Boone is a great talent on her own, and will shine at the Candlelight, continuing to “light up” everything she touches.

Debby will be singing Sondheim’s great lyrics at Candlelight from May 19 to June 5. When she leaves the show in early June the role of the witch will be played by Beth Beyer.

“Into the Woods”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: May 19-July 10 (Debby Boone stars May 19 to June 5, with Beth Beyer from June 6 to July 10)
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com
Online:  ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Death Takes a Holiday” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

PrintRegional Premier of Maury Yeston Musical Greeted with Great Enthusiasm and Awe

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 27, 2016

The standing ovation at the show’s conclusion wasn’t enough. It was as if the audience was in reverent awe of what they had seen, and wanted to do more than merely stand and applaud. They were supporting not only the amazing cast, but supporting the director, the orchestra, the show’s authors. And maybe even delighted that “Death” had passed them by, so they could continue with the excitement of their own lives.

Photo P. Switzer Photography Pictured: Kristen Hahn (Grazia) and Peter Saide (Prince Sirki / Death)
Photo P. Switzer Photography
Pictured: Kristen Hahn (Grazia) and Peter Saide (Prince Sirki / Death)

“Death” itself has probably never sounded better or looked more appealing. Peter Saide is a wonder as “Death.” He has been given a few days off, becoming a mere mortal. He takes the form of Prince Nikolai Sirki, a Russian Prince who has recently committed suicide. He arrives at the villa of Duke Victoria Lamberti and his Italian family, requesting that he be their weekend guest. As “Death,” he has already taken a Lamberti son who died in combat in World War I. A few hours earlier he inexplicitly spared the Duke’s daughter, Grazia, in what could have been a fatal car crash.

Photo P. Switzer Photography Pictured L-R: Kristen Hahn (Grazia), Megan Van De Hey (Duchess Stephanie), Mark Rubald (Duke Vittorio Lamberti), Tessa Elyse (Daisy), Emily Van Fleet (Alice) and Paul Curran (Lorenzo)
Photo P. Switzer Photography
Pictured L-R: Kristen Hahn (Grazia), Megan Van De Hey (Duchess Stephanie), Mark Rubald (Duke Vittorio Lamberti), Tessa Elyse (Daisy), Emily Van Fleet (Alice) and Paul Curran (Lorenzo)

Kristen Hann is transcendent as the beautiful Grazia, who is engaged to be married to another. When Prince Sirki and Grazia meet, it is as if time has stopped for each of them. Their chemistry is apparent and when they sing, time nearly does stop.

Following the carnage of World War I, Italian playwright, Alberto Casella put an interesting spin on death in a 1920 play, “La Morte in Vacanza.” In that play death takes on a human form for a little rest. The story turned up as an American movie in 1934 as “Death Takes a Holiday,” starring Fredric March. The play was the premise for the 1998 Brad Pitt film, “Meet Joe Black.”

Photo P. Switzer Photography Pictured: Megan Van De Hey (Duchess Stephanie) and Mark Rubald (Duke Vittorio Lamberti)
Photo P. Switzer Photography
Pictured: Megan Van De Hey (Duchess Stephanie) and Mark Rubald (Duke Vittorio Lamberti)

Maury Yeston was intrigued by the idea. And following his Broadway successes — “Nine” and “Titanic” — created music and lyrics for the musical. The book is by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan. “Death Takes a Holiday” is now on stage at the Arvada Center, under the inspired direction of Rod A. Lansberry. This production is the Regional Premier of the show.

Few at the Italian villa realize what is happening. “Death,” himself, isn’t quite sure. He is suddenly, and briefly, given mortality and has become childlike in his learning such basics as eating eggs for breakfast, feeling the touch of someone’s hand. He learns that mortals can have a loving and kind nature. The feelings of love and caring highlight the story. Love of man and wife, of brother and sister, of children and parents. At one point “Death” is amazed and ultimately greatly appreciative that a mortal being would give up everything for the well-being of someone else.

Photo P. Switzer Photography Pictured: Erica Sarzin-Borrillo (Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli) and James Van Treuren (Baron Dario Albion)
Photo P. Switzer Photography
Pictured: Erica Sarzin-Borrillo (Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli) and James Van Treuren (Baron Dario Albion)

Yeston’s music is beautiful. A First Act highlight is the “Alone Here With You” duet sung by Hahn and Saide. The Second Act is one tremendous song after the other. Megan Van DeHey is completely convincing as the mother of the son killed in combat, singing about him (“Losing Roberto”). Saide and Hahn provide sparks and melody with their “More and More.” Saide nearly stops the show with his emotional “I Thought That I Could Live.” “December Time” is a lilting duet by Erica Sarzin-Borrillo and James Van Treuren as an aging Baron and Contessa, coming to terms with growing older. In a somewhat lighter moment Hahn as Grazia, Tessa Elyse as Daisy, and Emily Van Fleet as Alice share experiences of loves lost and found in “Finally to Know.”

While the basic subject is serious business, and songs are sometimes overly dramatic, the writers have been very clever in inserting moments of levity. There are interesting observations of young women looking for mates, and a few delightful musings as how “death” creeps into our language quite inappropriately. The two days “Death” is vacationing in Italy, there are no deaths worldwide. A would-be suicide victim jumps from the top of the Eiffel Tower, only to land upright and unscathed.

The cast is impeccable. Mark Rubald is very good as Duke Vittorio Lamberti, Grazia’s father. He is horrified and terrified at what hosting “Death” might do to his family. Gregory Price is clever as the family servant who is aware from the outset that the weekend visitor is not who he claims to be.

Everything about this production is perfection. The orchestra, the costumes, the set, the sound and lighting, the entire cast. “Death” isn’t to be feared. In fact, this show is something to be seen, admired, and to awaken some senses that might be passing us by.

“Death Takes a Holiday”
Where: Arvada Center For the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through May 15, 2016
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online: www.arvadacenter.org

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“Love, Loss and What I Wore” Hides No Secrets in Bas Bleu Charmer

Love-Loss-1Five women tell their tales, and yes – what they wore.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, April 23, 2016

There is an interesting species currently roaming the world. I believe they are called “women.” They tend to be somewhat clannish, and have an uncanny knack for remembering every dress or outfit they wore in every happy and troublesome situation. A delightful look at this group is currently on stage at Bas Bleu, and just might be called “Ehpronites,” as their play is by Delia and Nora Ephron, based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. “Love, Loss and What I Wore” runs through May 1 at Bas Bleu, directed by Graciela Marin.

Photo Courtesy Steve Finnestead Photography
Photo Courtesy Steve Finnestead Photography

Six women explain to the audience in a reader’s format their various tales of what they wore on a variety of occasions. They recant wondrous examples of being fitted for “The Bra,” finding the “Prom Dress.” Looking like “Madonna.” Of being “Fat and Thin,” and finding the right “Shoes,” and telling why “I Hate My Purse.” And they explain why they are all dressed in “Black,” not because they are in mourning, but basically because brighter colors are not fashionable, except maybe in Dallas or in California.

Their stories resonated with great affection from the women in the audience. Curiously, there were several men also present, who appeared to be sometimes in shock when learning why their wives and girlfriends find so much joy and turmoil in determining just what to wear. (I am quick to remember where, I was, for instance, when man landed on the moon, when I proposed to my wife, and when our three children were born. I have absolutely no idea, however, of what I was wearing!)

Photo Courtesy Steve Finnestead Photography
Photo Courtesy Steve Finnestead Photography

Deb Note-Farwell heads the cast as Gingy, the lead story-teller. Note-Farwell is a Northern Colorado audience favorite, and retains her charm, winding through the highs and lows of women’s fashion, as originally outlined in Beckerman’s book. Telling a wide variety of happy and heartfelt adventures are Elizabeth Baugh, Miriam Chase, Karen Christopersen, Wendy Fulton-Adams and Maggie Hayes. They are all very good.

Ilene Beckerman wrote the book in 1995, and the Ephrons turned it into the reader’s play in 2008. It turned up Off-Broadway at year later and made history as the second-longest running show at New York’s Westside Theatre. The production won several awards in New York and has been produced in more many foreign countries.

` Nora Ephron was an acclaimed writer, director and producer. Her movies included “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” She co-authored “You’ve Got mail” with her sister, Delia.

“Love, Loss and What I Wore” is a charmer, taking the audience back through emotional memories of loss, and crazily-happy times of finding “just the right dress.”

“Love, Loss and What I Wore”
When: Through May 1
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
For Tickets: 970/498-8949
www.basbleu.org

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OpenStage provides riveting theatre with “Orphans.”

OrphansDysfunctional Brothers Kidnap a Businessman for Whom No One Will Pay Ransom

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 17, 2016

Treat and Phillip are adult dysfunctional brothers, living in a run-down area of Philadelphia. Their father abandoned them, and their mother has died. Treat has taken the role of family protector, going out each day to rob and steal. He has convinced his younger, mentally-challenged brother that he must never leave the house. As a result, Phillip spends his days either in the closet where his mother’s clothes were left, or watching “The Price is Right” on television in his upstairs bedroom. He is completely at the mental and physical mercy of his brother. He has no idea what it is like to go outside, and has never even learned to tie his shoes. He has, however, been teaching himself to read and has some books and newspaper stashed in secret places around the house, hoping Treat will not find them.

Dan Muth as Phillip in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography
Dan Muth as Phillip in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

One evening Treat brings home Harold, a drunk Chicago businessman, he has picked up in a local bar. Harold is carrying lots of cash, and a briefcase stuffed with financial offerings. The financial possibilities appear to be endless, so Treat decides to kidnap him – tying him up and putting tape across his mouth – leaving him for Phillip to watch, while Treat goes out to negotiate ransom for his new acquaintance.

It isn’t as easy as it looks. As was the case years ago in O’Henry’s wild “The Ransom of Red Chief,” the tables are turned. Harold comes across as being absolutely fearless, bewildering the vicious Treat with his non-responsive approach to Treat’s threats. Harold takes charge of the “family,” offering Treat a job to actually protect him, and giving encouragement to the wide-eyed Phillip. He tries to teach Treat how to better handle himself in public, as outbursts of anger should not be allowed.

Steven P. Sickles as Harold in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography
Steven P. Sickles as Harold in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

The OpenStage cast is a wonder. Hath Howes portrays Treat; whose violent outbursts are so real that the audience itself feels threatened. Dan Muth is flawless as the simple Phlliip who wants only to be loved. Steven P. Sickles is convincing as the mysterious Chicago Businessman who apparently is absolutely fearless. Chemistry between the three is eerie, as if we are actually in the company of three real and very disparate characters. With the absence of their father, Treat and Phillip are now orphans. Harold was raised in an orphanage, learning that the basic cry of all orphans is “mother.”

The show is billed as a comedy. “Tis not.” Playwright Lyle Kessler’s script does include some very clever observations, but the evening is of intense suspense – wondering just what is going to happen next.

Heath Howes as Treat in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography
Heath Howes as Treat in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

The play has been around more than 30 years. It premiered in Los Angeles in 1983, was at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 1985, and premiered Off-Broadway in New York where it ran from May to January that year with the Chicago cast. The play finally reached New York’s Broadway in 2013 starring Alex Baldwin as Harold. It received two tony Award Nominations, but did not find public support, running for only 37 performances. Critics around the world have been fascinated by this shocking and profane tale, but it has not yet received great support from the public.

Peter Anthony directed and created the scenic design and sound for the OpenStage production. I found the first act to be enormously interesting, and even a tad scary. The second act results in some frightening outburst, themed with the need for family security. Late in the second act is an emotional scene between the two brothers and Harold. Unfortunately, I could not understand much of what was said in that pivotal scene. At the show’s conclusion, I asked persons sitting near to me if they could explain that scene’s dialog, and they were in the same situation as me – very interested, but a bit bewildered.

OpenStage has long been admired as providing excellent theatre, often with productions that have not been seen previously in Northern Colorado. The company is a master of comedic farce. Their terrific “Noises Off” a few years ago remains as one of my all-time stage delights. Their moving the locale of “Romeo and Juliet” a season or two ago resulted in one of my favorite Shakespearean performances. “Orphans” is not of that caliber, but is a very interesting evening of theatre. Heath Howes, Dan Muth, and Steven P. Sickles are a terrific trio of talent.

“Orphans”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through April 20, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.lctix.com

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Candlelight Provides an Enchanted Evening of “South Pacific “

SouthPacific-SMALLBussy Gower is the “Cockeyed Optimist” Nellie Forbush in Revival of World Famous Musical

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 19, 2016

Bussy Gower is delightfully introduced as “A Cockeyed Optimist” early in the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse production of “South Pacific.” Gower portrays Nellie Forbush, a self-proclaimed hick from rural Arkansas. She is serving as an American nurse on a tiny Pacific Island during World War II, and is naively amazed with how different life can be from one part of the planet to another.

“A Cockeyed Optimist” is just one of the numerous song standards that emerged from the award-winning musical “South Pacific,” written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II nearly 70 years ago! The show premiered on Broadway in 1949 and was an immediate hit. Plot is based on “Tales of the South Pacific,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by James A. Michener. Michener’s stories are of soldiers, sailors, natives, and residents of South Pacific Islands – tales of love, heroism, and racism.

The musical introduced me to Broadway shows when I was barely a teenager. Some neighbors had a 45 RPM cast album of the show, before I had ever heard of a place called “Broadway.” I was infatuated by the songs, and ended up buying the album myself. “Younger Than Springtime,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “Bali Ha’i” became my songs. They still are, but I am willing to share them with others.

Director Patrick Sawyer has assembled a remarkable cast of vocalists for the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse production. First and foremost are Bussy Gower as Nellie and Markus Warren as Emile DeBeque, a French planter who moved to the islands after he killed a bully in France many years ago. They both have remarkable voices, and enhance the well-known melodies. The young “hick” from Little Rock, and the older French planter fall in love.

Annie Dwyer, is quite wonderful as the local islander, Bloody Mary. She is a foul-mouth native whose profanity-riddled English was learned from the wild sailors. She is heart-wrenching as she sings of “Bali Ha’i,” the off-limits island across the bay. Tony White, is great fun as the fast-talking Luther Billis, always available to offer some kind of “deal” to any takers. He and the Seabees remind us “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” James Francis plays Lt. Joseph Cable, who arrives on the island to take on a dangerous assignment. His “Younger than Springtime” is one of the show’s greatest highlights.

It is interesting how well the musical has withstood changes of time. Its message of racism is perhaps even more relevant now than ever. The beauty of the songs keeps the story moving towards the ideals of hope and happiness. Many of the show’s most-fun and best-known songs are in the First Act. The Second Act turns more serious with more plot and less melody.

The enormously attractive set was designed by Aaron Sheckler. Mark Derryberry is credited as sound designer. The clarity of the voices and music are excellent – probably the best I’ve heard at Candlelight. Excellent lighting is designed by Shannon Johnson, with orchestra conducted by Josh lively. The orchestra does have its challenge to keep pace with the quality of the vocalists. There were some difficulties with music for the performance I saw. Lively choreography is provided by Sky Cash. Vocal music director is Melissa Swift-Sawyer, with costumes designed by Judith Ernst.

The cast is large, with many excellent supporting players, including Kent Suug at Captain Brackett, Tess Victoria as Liat, and T.J. Mullin as Commander Harbison. The roles of Emile DeBeque’s Polynesian children are alternated between Brekken Wald and Annagrace O’Connor, or Kaden Dolph and Mika Fish. I saw Dolph and Fish who were both convincing and showed great self-confidence.

“South Pacific” is a beautiful show. It looks and vocally sounds terrific. How many shows have such time-honored classics as “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” Some Enchanted Evening,” “Happy Talk,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” and the always positive – “Cockeyed Optimist!”

“South Pacific”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: May 8, 2016
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Try to Remember” is Hard to Forget in “The Fantasticks” at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

Fantasticks-L“The Fantasticks” is a Heartwarming Memory Piece of Young Love

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 19, 2016

The lyrics of “Try to Remember” have long been my anthem of growing older and wiser – at the same time:

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart will hollow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Then follow. Follow.”

Another Tom Jones chap created and immortalized those words for the 1960’s Off-Broadway show, “The Fantasticks.” The entire show struck a chord with audiences, and it ran for 42 years — a total of 17,162 performances, making it the world’s longest-running musical. The show has circled the globe, with productions in nearly 70 foreign countries, and more than 200 new productions each year.

Photo credit  Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Photo credit Jalyn Courtenay Webb

It is a tale of a young girl and young boy falling in love, much to the excitement of their neighboring parents. Then reality strikes, with the young couple realizing that moonlight enchantment can fade by morning’s sun; and the best desires of parents to arrange a romance can be foiled.

The set is minimal. The cast is minimal. The story is minimal. The total effect is delightfully charming! Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt were friends for several years before their collaboration of “The Fantasticks” came to fruition. Jones was just 32 years old when they hit gold with their show. He was wise beyond his years, as the lyrics he wrote of love desired, love gained, love lost, and wisdom discovered have made great impact on audiences worldwide.

While the show has been through a multitude of incarnations over the years, the production now on stage at Midtown is probably the most rewarding version I have seen. The show can be found on stages everywhere, as a television show, and on film as a DVD. It is at its best, however on the set of Midtown Arts Center, with simple tale of neighboring fathers who want their children to meet up and fall in love. They cleverly build a wall supposedly to keep their children apart – knowing that such a wall will only tempt them to find what is “on the other side.”

Photo credit  Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Photo credit Jalyn Courtenay Webb

Marissa Rudd as Luisa and Taylor Martin as Matt are both convincing as the young lovers. Marissa charmed MAC audiences in “Merry and Bright” during the Holiday Season. She has a beautiful voice, and is a delight to watch! Taylor Martin has an especially strong singing voice and the gee-whiz look of a love-struck young man. Steven J. Burge and Michael Lasris are in great form as the neighboring fathers. Daniel Harkins and Sean Wilcox play a “team” of actors hired to provide an abduction of Luisa that the young Matt can easily thwart – giving him even greater honor in Luisa’s eyes. Emily Valley has an unusual role as The Mute, always helping as needed but never saying a word.

Sonia Daggett and Alaina Bonge provide excellent accompaniment on piano and harp.

Beginning the show’s narration, and carrying the tale throughout is Damon Guerrasio as El Gallo. Guerrasio has great appeal and stage presence, but his singing voice lacked strength in the performance I saw. I wished that his “Try to Remember” could have been amplified, so that the audience could be enthralled with the entire message, including:

“Try to Remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.”

The first act is liltingly beautiful, with all the innocence of first love. Reality and dissonance strike in the Second Act, in stark contrast to what has transpired. The message then becomes one of substance and interest. There are some super scenes and fine music in the Second Act, but a couple of the songs go on too long while the writers stress their point. Not to worry, however, as moonlight and hope win the evening; and everyone goes home happy — and wiser than they were two hours earlier.

The production is directed by Lisa Kay Carter, with choreography by Michael Lasris and music direction by Jalyn Courtney Webb. A Scenic design is by Paul Luna with scenic painting by Joel Adam Chavez. Falon Wilson provides lightning tech, lighting design by Ben Danielowski.

The show is in Midtown’s smaller theater which becomes a picnic barbecue buffet for this show. While I prefer the audience to face a stage, the setting for “The Fantasticks” does provide playgoers with an exceptionally up-close and personal relationship with the talented performers.

“The Fantasticks”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To May 29, 2016
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Website: www.midtownartscenter.com

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Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage Introduces Young Orphan in the Highly-Imaginative “Peter and the Starcatcher”

PeterAudience Meets Unhappy Young Boy Before He Became High-Flying “Peter Pan”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 18, 2016

A generation before Peter Pan flew into Wendy’s London bedroom window, he was a very sad young orphan, abused by the British system, with only a couple of orphan friends. Life was hard and un-relenting until he met the sassy and spirited Molly who was enroute on the Neverland ship to meet up with her father in Rundoon. After Molly and Peter meet on the ship, their two lives would never be the same.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ross
Photo Credit: Glenn Ross

Humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson came up with the prequel to Peter Pan, in the form of a children’s book in 2004. The story they wrote has been expanded, and is now playing on the stage of Boulder’s Dinner Theatre as “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Staging is very clever, and the talented cast is in full gear taking the audience on a wild tale with several stops enroute.

I felt as if I were sometimes “lost at sea,” as I was required to pay very close attention to what was being said as well as what was being shown. There are two ships on land, on the sea, and back on land. And there is a wild island inhabited by very strange Mollusks, and some crazy mermaids wishing to enchant and lead everyone astray.

Nick Sugar is director and choreographer of this wild storm-tossed tale. He has assembled a terrific cast, giving them explicit instructions as to just where to be and just how to move to keep the show (and ships) afloat. Standouts are many, headed by Sarah Grover as Molly and Scott Beyette as Black Stache. Sarah Grover is totally “in charge” for most of the show, but giving space to Scott Beyette to provide great fun as the over-the-top pirate. Especially in the second act when he loses his hand, and will eventually be known as “Captain Hook.” Jack Barton is very good as the doleful “Boy” with no name – who eventually becomes Peter. Bob Hoppe is crazed, playing Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s shipboard nanny, and several other bits and pieces.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ross
Photo Credit: Glenn Ross

Brian Burron is in fine form as Lord Aster, Molly’s ambassador father, who is trying to confuse pirates by shipping two cargos on two different ships, one with star stuff (magical stardust), the other with sand. The star stuff is dust that falls from shooting stars and possesses magical properties. The Starcatcher is an individual appointed by the Queen of England to dispose of star stuff so people with evil intentions are unable to use it. It is up to the pirates, and the audience to figure out which container is which. After a while I gave up trying to keep track, and just traveled along for the fun of the voyage.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” was the most-honored play in the 2011-2012 Tony Award Season. It is a play with music. The music is pleasant, and more would have been helpful, as the story sometimes drags. While the book was written as a children’s story, the play is directed to adults.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ross
Photo Credit: Glenn Ross

This is a show for imagination. The creative team has great imagination, putting together high hilarity one moment, fear and pathos the next. The audience is required to use its imagination, accepting a piece of rope as a wall, a window, and a staircase. A ladder becomes a mountain, and flickers of stardust become Tinker Bell.

This is one of the most unusual productions you may see this year. Bring your enthusiasm for clever theatre, your creative thoughts, and your willingness to accept the unexpected, and you’ll be in for a joyous evening. You’ll even find an enraged crocodile who has swallowed a clock!

“Peter and the Starcatcher”
Through May 14, 2016
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
For Information: Telephone: 303/449-6000
Or visit online: www.BDTStage.com

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“Riverdance” Audience Gives Warm Welcome at Denver Center for the Performing Arts

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

Buell Theatre Hosts 20th Anniversary Tour of famed “Riverdance

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 9, 2016

Where to begin? What can be singled out to be the “best” of the show? Is it the opening “Reel Around the Sun”, which held the audience in awe? Or the flamenco “Firedance”? Probably the best-remembered number is “Riverdance” itself. No, the “best” has to be the “Russian Dervish.” Or the square dance take-off where partnered dancers were in a circle within a circle, with each circle rotating in different directions. There are just too many highlights to say one was the absolute “best.”

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

“Riverdance” has been touring the world for 20 years. Although seven years have passed since the show was last at the Buell, the audience’s enthusiasm for the production has not waned in the interim. Each standout number was greeted by sustained applause.

“Riverdance” is an unusual phenomenon, and is probably Ireland’s best-known export. It is a multi-media production featuring Irish dancing and music. Music and dancing from other nations are also highlighted. Amazing dancing skills are first and foremost. Dancers’ feet and legs move, but everything above the waist appear to be motionless. Dancers glide and swoop and even tumble across the enormous stage with virtuoso skill. The show includes skillful vocals and instrumental music by fiddle, drums, Uilleann Pipes, low whistle, and saxophone.

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

In 1994 one of Europe’s most famous music competitions was the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. For that year’s program a seven-minute interval was a musical piece known only as “Riverdance.” The performance was such a success that John McColgan and Moya Doherty decided to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece, with music by Bill Whalen. The show “took off” as do the dancers performing the incredible footwork.

I first became acquainted with the show 21 years ago when I was visiting London. There were billboards on the route from Heathrow to the city proclaiming, “Riverdance”. I had no idea what this was all about, but soon found myself in line to purchase a ticket. I was thunderstruck with the dancing, and the sheer enthusiasm of the show. I saw it twice the same week.

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

The current exuberant cast is a combination of award-winning dancers and musical performers. Their skills are impeccable, as they thoroughly enchant everyone in the cavernous Buell. The show is so wonderful, however, that the audience might be awarded too much of a good thing. The first act flashed by in a whirlwind of excitement. After intermission the dancing continues to be wondrous. But a tap competition between American and Irish tappers goes on too long, as does an extended piece featuring remarkable drumming. I began to wonder if I was seeing “Riverdrum”.  Audience enthusiasm did not cease, however, and the standing ovation at the show’s conclusion reminded me that a remarkable presentation had been experienced, with most everyone wanting “More”!

“Riverdance”
Where: The Buell Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: Through March 13, 2016
Tickets: 303/893-4100
For more information: denvercenter.org

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“The North Plan” is a wild and thought-provoking tale of civil unrest and martial law possibilities.

North_Plan_logoRebecca Spafford is riveting as a not-so-dumb woman living on the fringes of society

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 6, 2016

Tanya Shepke is a character to be reckoned with. She is a sassy gum-chewing barmaid in rural Missouri who ends up at the police station – turning herself in before she can be arrested for drunk driving. She is a wild woman, who is amazingly street savvy. Her education is minimal, as she talks as if she might have learned her “basic ABCs,” but needs to include “f bombs” in every sentence. Rebecca Spafford is a wonder as the wild woman who claims, among other things, that her husband tried to drown her in the bathtub.

Sitting outside Tanya’s cell is Shonda Cox, an employee of the jail, played by Saja Butler. She is attempting to study, but is continually interrupted by the obnoxious Tanya, eager for conversation and the assurance that she will soon be released. Another supposed felon soon arrives — Carlton Berg, a State Department bureaucrat in a neighboring cell.

Photo Courtesy of Open Stage Productions
Photo Courtesy of Open Stage Productions

He is desperate for some help in getting word to his superior where he is located, and where he has hidden a list of the new regime’s top Most Wanted list. A revolution is in the making, and martial law has been imposed, putting everyone at risk of being a suspected traitor – either to the government, or to the revolutionary cause. Cary Klataske is very good as the imprisoned man. His current hope for help appears to be the foul-mouthed lowlife Tanya in the opposite cell, with only the jail employee Shonda between them. Marlin May portrays Police Chief Swensen. He appears to be a good man, not knowing what to make of the revolution, but wants to do his job to maintain order in his little piece of the world.

Photo Courtesy of Open Stage Productions
Photo Courtesy of Open Stage Productions

Berg is tracked down by two revolutionaries from the Department of Homeland Security — Dale Pittman and Bob Lee. Dale is portrayed by Briana Sprecher-Kinneer and Lee by Steven G. Fox. Dale is another tough-as-nails woman, now in a position of authority who believes use of explicit language gives her an aura of toughness. The two are a haughty pair, believing that they are now on the team running the country, and not hesitating to use physical torture to aid their cause.

The “North Plan” in the title refers to a master military contingency plan credited to Oliver North to be used in the event of national emergency. The results of effectuating the plan provide for two hours of amazing theatre. This is a roller-coaster ride of high hilarity and a frightening realization of “what might happen”

The set is a terrific piece of claustrophobia, where everyone wishes he/she was someplace else. Lighting is very good, and the banter between the inmates, local authorities, and Homeland Security is riveting. The play was written by Jason Wells, and directed by David Austin-Groen.

This is a highly entertaining and thought-providing production where three of the cast of six end up riddled by bullets at the show’s frightening conclusion. The cast is uniformly excellent, as they provide the audience with a very exciting theatrical experience. The story presented has lingered with me for several days, sometimes with chills, sometimes with great chuckles.

“The North Plan”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center. 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through March 19, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.ltix.com

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“Anything Goes” Wows Audience at Mountain View High School Production in Loveland

AGMountain View High School Students Shine in Cole Porter Musical “Anything Goes”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, March 3. 2016

If you were in the Loveland area around 8:00 p.m. you may have heard an enormous roar. It wasn’t an explosion, nor a low flying airplane. It was the thunderous applause provided by the audience at the conclusion of the first act of Mountain View High School’s production of “Anything Goes!” The entire cast is on stage tap dancing their hearts out with a remarkable display of talent and exuberance! This is one of the most delightful first act finales of a show in recent memory.

 Reno and the Angels (Dakota Parker, Abby Porter, Bailey Friar, Cydney Kutcipal, Savannah Wood, Rachel Miller, Autumn Harshorn, Kira Minter, Evan DeBord) Photo Credit: Kyla Suit
Reno and the Angels (Dakota Parker, Abby Porter, Bailey Friar, Cydney Kutcipal, Savannah Wood, Rachel Miller, Autumn Harshorn, Kira Minter, Evan DeBord) Photo Credit: Kyla Suit

“Anything Goes” is a sophisticated musical comedy about the high-flyers and low-lifes of socialites and gangsters in the 1930s, all put on the same ship headed from New York to London. Many passengers are on board just to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. The ship’s captain is desolated when he learns that two of his famous potential passengers have cancelled. When he learns that two famous gangsters are on board, he is delirious with joy! The passengers are thrilled. The audience is wowed!

Lindsay Ranz, Seth Riley, Casey Likes, Bailey Billingsley, Dakota, Brinker and Travis Pflock. Photo Credit: Kyla Suit
Lindsay Ranz, Seth Riley, Casey Likes, Bailey Billingsley, Dakota, Brinker and Travis Pflock. Photo Credit: Kyla Suit

It is a challenge to have high school students come across as persons double their age. Under outstanding direction of Katie Marshall, the students at Mountain View High School are up to the task. Owen Whitman is a charmer as the stow-away passenger who is trying to convince his socialite girlfriend that she should marry him instead of the English Earl; to whom she is engaged. Whitman has great stage presence, a pleasant voice, and is a marvelous dancer. He spars with Reno Sweeney, immaculately portrayed by Savannah Wood. Wood sings, dances, entrances, and is a marvel to watch. Whitham and Wood are especially convincing in their “You’re The Top.”

Scott Sipes nearly steals the show with his crazed portrayal of gangster Moonface Martin who is masquerading as a respected minister. Sipes is an excellent comedian who lights up every scene where he appears. Not to be outdone, however, are several supporting characters including Owen Arranow, Raegan DeBord, Lyndsey Rantz, and Brynn Ledermann. The cast is enormous, with many students playing more than one role in the ensemble.

Savannah Wood as Reno and Owen Whitham as Billy. Photo Credit: Kyla Suit
Savannah Wood as Reno and Owen Whitham as Billy. Photo Credit: Kyla Suit

And everyone can dance! Tammy Johnson was named as the production’s choreographer last fall, and has put the group through their dancing drills for nearly six months. The effort pays off with great success. Persons participating in athletics must go through substantial rigorous training to be at the top of their game. Students in “Anything Goes” have been through similar training to come out on top in their achievement on stage. The training will probably prove to be greatly rewarding as they face life’s challenges beyond high school.

The entire show is a winner. The costumes look as if they came from designers of the 30s. The shipboard set is great fun, as performers run up and down the stairs, and in and out of the staterooms. Lighting is effective, and the orchestra is amazing. When the overture was played, I was under the impression that the excellence was a recording. Not so — the show is entirely “live.” And what a lively one. The orchestra was conducted by Peter Toews. Technical Director was Phil Forman, with Bryan Kettlewell as Musical Conductor.

Photo Credit: Kyla Suit
Photo Credit: Kyla Suit

The story is a zany tale of shipboard antics. There is a chance for several performers to show their individual musical talents as well as high-comedy skills.

Much of the Cole Porter music is familiar with such favorites as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-Lovely” “All Through the Night,” “You’re The Top,” “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” and the show-stopping “Anything Goes.” The original show premiered in New York in 1934, and has gone through several revivals, two movies, and thousands of local productions. The Mountain View production is a winner. The students on stage are front and center, but have excellent back-up with the technical crew, and adults who have spent incredible hours to bring the show to such a delightful conclusion.

"Anything Goes" finale. Photo Credit: Kyla Suit
“Anything Goes” finale. Photo Credit: Kyla Suit

And as the first act looks like it is winding down, sit up straight and let yourself be awed by the don’t-let-it-ever end rendition of “Anything Goes.”

 

“Anything Goes”
When: March 2016
Where: Mountain View High School, Loveland, CO

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Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” is Rollicking Tale in Loveland

Pirates LogoLoveland Opera Theatre Provides Pure Fun on the Rialto Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2016

Daffy cops are in full chase as down-on-their-luck pirates try to woo a herd of the Major General’s daughters. Gilbert and Sullivan provided several delightful comic operettas, with “Pirates of Penzance” probably being the most entertaining, and containing wondrous melodies.

Setting is the coast of southern England where want-to-be-macho pirates have put ashore and are excited to find a group of sprightly young maidens frolicking on the beach. The young maids frolic. The pirates rollick. And everyone has a grand time! Except perhaps the Major General whose daughters and wards are smitten by the pirate band. The band is down on its luck, not realizing the reason they haven’t found pirating to be successful. This group of pirates will not harm anyone who claims to be an orphan. Word is out, and now all ships seem to be manned solely by orphans.

Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography
Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography

One of the pirates is young Frederic, portrayed with great charm by Christian Mark Gibbs. Gibbs was a highlight of Midtown Arts Center’s “Merry and Bright” this past Holiday Season. He has a wonderful voice, and is convincing as the pirate about to celebrate his 21st birthday. He has been indentured to the pirates for many years, having been under the care of the kindly Ruth. He does not conceal his plans for the future. He tells the Pirate King that while he loves his pirate friends, he loathes what they do, and vows to spend the rest of his life putting pirates to death.

Joel Sutliff is great fun as the somewhat dim-witted Pirate King. Nothing dim-witted about his powerful voice, as he announces “Better Live than Die” early in the show. Robert Hoch is zany as the Sargeant of Police whose daffy officers can’t put their military training into action.

Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography
Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography

The Pirate King and the Sargeant of Police don’t appear to have a combined IQ of 30 and are pitted together against the over-the-top Major General, played by Adam Ewing. Ewing has a booming baritone voice, and he struts around the stage as if he is truly in command. His “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” is the personification of musical comedy madness.

The soon-to-be-free Frederic is smitten by the Major General’s daughter, Mabel, played by Phoenix Gayles. At first glance Gayles does not appear to be a dainty damsel-in-distress looking for a husband. By the time she concluded her heart-felt anthem, “Poor Wandering One,” however, she had the audience in the palm of her hand. A person sitting in the audience behind me noted in awe, “Where did that voice come from?”

Frederic’s care-giver Ruth, however, is dismayed Frederic is about to abandon her. Kristyn Christman-McCarty is very good as Ruth, a woman growing older, and not wanting Frederic to leave.

Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography
Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography

Ruth and the Pirate King realize that while Frederic is about to enjoy his birthday, his contracted indenture is in effect until his 21st birthday! Luck would have it that he was born on February 29, having celebrated only five actual birthdays!

These super-silly goings on are a sight to hear and see. The production is directed by Timothy Kennedy, who is an absolute master! He helps the cast to articulate their crazy lines and keeps everything moving at break-neck speed. Except for the very beginning. Most musical productions have an overture before the show itself actually begins. For this production, the excellent orchestra begins the overture with the stage curtains opening to see the pirates landing on shore. Nothing is sung or spoken while the overture continues. As excellent as the overture is, it does not help to have the audience waiting so long for someone to speak or sing. The result is an off-putting start to what turns out to be a dazzling delight of a show.!

Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography
Photo Credit Darlene St. John Photography

The set is effective, lighting very good, costumes are colorful. The whole show looks great. The cast is very, very large with a hard-to-believe ensemble of trained voices hitting every right note!

Once the show begins, there is non-stop enjoyment as the pirates, the damsels, the police, and everyone else involved appears to have the time of their lives, for the benefit of a greatly-appreciative audience. The “pure” pirates perform to perfection – and so does the rest of the cast!

March First and Second, 1,100 Second Graders from the Thompson School District will be bused to the Rialto for a shortened version, “Pirates for Kids.” Juliana Bishop Hoch, Producer and Artistic Director for the Loveland Opera Theatre notes that this event is a “dream come true” for her, as the project has been in the making for eight years. Grants have been received to make the show a reality for the school district students.

“Pirates of Penzance”
February 6 to March 6, 2016
Loveland Opera Theatre on the stage of the Rialto Theater in Loveland
For tickets or information visit www.lovelandopera.org

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder Wows Buell Theatre Audiences

gglogoThere is delightful murder in the air at the Buell with super musical comedy.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 17, 2016

A young, British chap, Monty Navarro, is an acknowledged romantic. The night before a possible execution for a murder he didn’t commit, he writes his memoirs about murders he did cause. And what a tale he tells. Two and one-half hours later the audience has chuckled and laughed out loud at the antics of the beguiling Monty. He recounts his own “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

Denver Center National Touring Company. (L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D'Ysquith in a scene from A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder. Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Denver Center National Touring Company. (L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D’Ysquith in a scene from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

At the beginning of his story, Monty is a penniless young man in the Clapham area of London. His mother has just died, and he is living in somewhat shabby conditions. He doesn’t have money, but does have an abundance of charm. He is smitten by Sibella, a socialite who finds Monty interesting, but way below her desired station in life. She is ready to marry handsome man who will give her money and status, but not much else. A mysterious family friend, Miss Shingle, turns up at the flat and tells Monty that he is actually heir to a wealthy estate in England. Being an “heir” doesn’t present the immediate wealth desired, as he is reportedly ninth in line to the D’Ysquith family fortunes. He presents himself to the family’s financial leader who rebuffs him, and claims he wants nothing more to do with him, denying that Monty’s mother was a family member cut off from the group.

Monty visits the family’s Highhurst Castle, where the D’Ysquith ancestors’ portraits encourage him to find his place in life among them. Only problem being the eight living descendants who are in line ahead of him. They are an unusual brood of aristocrats. Could it be possible for Monty to take them each to task, taking him to the family title and money?

Denver Center_National Touring Company. The cast with John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (red) in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
Denver Center_National Touring Company. The cast with John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (red) in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The National Touring Company of this zany story is at the Buell Theatre until the end of the month. They are a talented group, headed by Kevin Massey as Monty, Kristen Beth Williams as the seductress Sibella, Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D’Ysquith, the sister of one of the heirs. And John Rapson who has the wondrous opportunity of playing all eight of the soon-to-be deceased D’Ysquiths. He is super as a reverend, a banker or two, a weight lifter, even as a wealthy aunt in need of a cause.

It is Massey as Monty who weaves his tale of mayhem. Massey is a gem. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” having Maria confess, “It’s alarming, how charming I feel.” In “Gentlemen’s Guide,” Monty looks and acts disarmingly charming as he plots his next murder. No evil is apparent, just a down-on-his-luck chap wishing to take his rightful place in the family tree. He isn’t angry with any of his victims, just wants them out of the way.

Staging is excellent, as a stage on a stage provides Monty with the set to put his activities into motion. There is the colorful ice skating sequence where Monty cuts a hole in the pond instead of using the “poison in his pocket.” A kindly reverend gets blown from atop a church when a sudden gust of wind, and perhaps a little push from Monty, causes him to tumble to his death. There is the bee-keeper who is chased to death by the bees he keeps, the weight lifter who loses his head when too many pounds are added to his weights. Surely audiences haven’t been provided with so much fun while observing murder after murder – all to put Monty in the rightful line for the family fortune.

In early Act II Sibella and Phoebe turn up in adjoining rooms of Monty’s apartment, each claiming love for the now-wealthy Monty. The “I’ve Decided to Marry You” rendition is among Broadway’s most delightful sequences in many-a-season.

As most of the family has been dispensed with early-on, the second act doesn’t maintain the earlier murder madness. An unfortunately long scene at a family dinner late in the show slows the pace even further. The overall production, however, remains a jewel.

“The Guide” was several years in the making before opening on Broadway in November of 2013. It received the Tony Award as Best Musical, and repaid investors in full within 18 months. It closed on Broadway just this past January. This is not a chorus-line type musical with enormous musical sequences, but an “alarmingly charming” evening of extremely clever lyrics, sensational music, and a set that provides non-stop delight. “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a rollicking romp. One critic noted that the show is “morbidly hilarious.” I wish I had coined that phrase myself!

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
Where: The Buell Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: Through February 28, 2016
Tickets: 303/893-4100
For more information: denvercenter.org

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“All The Way” Looks at LBJ and MLK as The Civil Rights Bill is Presented to Congress.


All the wayDenver Center presents remarkable Award Winning Play to Entertain and Enlighten Audiences

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 6, 2016

Lyndon Baines Johnson had been President of the United States less than a year when he faced an uphill battle in congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He had no vice president, and appears to have been a loose cannon, ready for combat to pass the legislation. He needed all the help he could muster, as he would be up for nomination at the Democratic Party National Convention in late summer, and he was using every trick in the book to move his legislation forward.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King was impatient. His desires for equal rights were nearly doomed with the death of President Kennedy. He was eager for LBJ to press forward with legislation, but didn’t know if he could actually trust the new leader, the man that was considered to be the “Accidental President.”

C. David Johnson is triumphant as the beleaguered president, holding the audience enthralled in a nearly three-hour tutorial of history. Terence Archie is excellent as Reverend Martin Luther King. He portrays the man as a very likable role-model, complete with human frailties.

I felt as if I had been admitted to an exclusive cram course to learn about the government in action in the 1960s.

“All the way with LBJ” was Johnson’s election chant. And he had a long way to go! The play produced this winter on stage at DCPA was written by Robert Shenkkan. It was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and premiered there in 2012. It opened on Broadway in March of 2014 and received the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding play that year. Bryan Cranston, currently of television’s “Breaking Bad” fame received the Tony Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of President Johnston. Cranston is re-creating his LBJ role for a PBS television production scheduled for May.

The set for the Denver show has the look of a legislative coliseum, with spectators surrounding the center scene, watching every move of the combatants. The cast is large and effective. My recollections of the actual Civil Rights fight are few. But many of the major players became household names: Senator Hubert Humphrey, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, J. Edgar Hoover, George Wallace, Robert McNamara, Lady Bird Johnson, Senator Richard Russell, Walter Jenkins, and Lurleen Wallace, Roy Wilkins, and Katherine Graham.

Senator Hubert Humphrey, then senator from Minnesota and Democratic Majority Whip, was Johnson’s “go-for” man – even though LBJ is portrayed as treating Humphrey with disdain. He was subsequently Johnson’s choice for Vice President in the elections that year. Curiously, there was no actual Vice President of the United States from the time President Kennedy was killed until the inauguration of President Johnson in 1965.

The play is riveting. Some cast members play more than one role. With such a large cast, I had a difficult time keeping track of who was who. LBJ is center stage, however, with MLK and Hubert Humphrey easily identifiable as integral leaders fighting for Civil Rights legislation.

C. David Johnson’s portrayal of LBJ is terrific. He can be delightfully charming one moment, frightfully ruthless the next. The political, system itself is a fearful operation – with egos fighting egos fighting egos, and good men stripped to shreds by unfortunate actions. I’m not certain how much has changed in the political arena in the more-than-fifty years that have passed since the 1964 election.

A look at that crucial time of history, as presented in “All The Way” is a birds-eye view of politics and of great and not-so-great men and women. DCPA must be applauded for bringing to Denver audiences such a mesmerizing production of ground-breaking legislation.

“All The Way”
Where: Stage Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: Through February 28, 2016
For Tickets: 303/893-4100
Denvercenter.org

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“Hide Sky” Features three talented performers portraying a family at loose ends.

Hide-Sky-Logo
Hide Sky at Bas Bleu

Bas Bleu hosts world premiere of “Hide Sky” by Caridad Svich

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 5. 2016

“Home is where the heart….is or isn’t.” Three now-adult siblings get together at the Rawlins family home after the funeral of their suicidal mother. The eldest daughter, Shawn, appears to be taking on the role of the family matriarch. She is a take-charge woman whose own marriage is on the rocks, and her husband has moved on. The younger daughter Maureen (“Mo”) is a hippie who returns to the family home with enough baggage to fill several volumes of tribulations. Ray is the n’er-do well son who is basically a drunk, and has no desire to build relationships with his sisters.

Photo courtesy of Steve Finnestead
Photo courtesy of Steve Finnestead

Corinne Wieben as Shawn, Kryssi Jeaux Miller as Mo, and Kiernan Angley as Ray skillfully display the problems the Rawlins family have faced and are facing. There is ongoing animosity, regrets for past behavior, and the realization that they really don’t have much in common – except their mother who ruled the roost and seems to have abandoned the three in so doing.

In the space of less than 90 minutes (with no intermission) we are present as the three meet at the family home after the mother’s. death. They are disgusted with how much “junk” their mother accumulated over the years, as she evidently had a continual desire to “shop for more.” The “junk” they discover isn’t only their mother’s possessions but includes emotional memories of growing up in the same home, and how they tried to distance themselves from each other. Each made choices the others didn’t approve of. Even the feeling of the way each looks at religion causes rifts in the family group. But it remains “the family” that brings them together.

This is the world premiere of “Hide Sky,” and is one of four plays the author has created, looking at various sections of the country, and how families relate. Playwright Caridad Svich is an award winning author, and her plays look at disparate family feelings.

Director Sarah Zwick-Tapley has carefully brought this current story to life on the stage of Bas Bleu. The set is basic, but very effective, on the shores of water in Florida, with excellent lighting, and sound convincing the audience that it is raining, and that a storm can rage both in the skies and on the stage. The playwright’s language can be offensive and off-putting; but she is able to bring across the basic background and verbiage of the play’s Rawlins family in Florida.

The three performers are convincing: Corinne Wieben as the daughter who has messed up her marriage and wants to decide how her siblings should look at religion. Kryssi Jeaux Miller is a winner as the renegade daughter who fled the area when in her early teens, due to bullying and physical violence she faced from girls as well as boys. Kiernan Angley’s portrayal of the drunken Ray is a wonder, as he ambles around the stage, not wanting to show that he had hidden religious feelings. He is a talented performer who brought great life to the role of “Romeo” last season at OpenStage.

Photo courtesy of Steve Finnestead
Photo courtesy of Steve Finnestead

“Hide Sky” is not a happy tale. But it is a serious and heart-felt look at relationships, and the need to “move on.” There is a wonderful scene near the end of the show when the three are huddled together by candlelight after a storm, unwilling to verbalize such, but each realizing the importance of the family, and of “home.”

“Hide Sky”
When: Through February 28, 2016
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
For Tickets: 970/498-8949
www.basbleu.org

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“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is insightful look at relationships!

Love ChangeMidtown Arts production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” evokes memories of dating, marriage, and all….

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 29, 20

The show’s title tells it all as fun and foibles of dating and marriage take center stage in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now change” current at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins. The popular review has been charming audiences worldwide since its inception Off-Broadway in New York twenty years ago. The show has something for just about every dating or married couple.

We see a couple on their first date. They claim they are uncomfortable in early dates, and opt to fast forward to second, third and all dates, concluding their friendship with no dates! Then there is the senior couple whose spouses have died, and the remaining widow and widower spend their days attending funerals of persons they don’t know — looking for possible match-up dates with other funeral-goers.

Photo credit Mikeal Macbeth.
Photo credit Mikeal Macbeth.

Current cast in the Midtown production is very good, headlined by Joel Adam Chavez who is an instant charmer with his wonderful facial expressions and ability to take on roles from the dating movie-goer to the senior citizen at the funeral home. He is a familiar face to local audiences. He is especially heart-warming as the macho date, dragged to a chick flick tear jerker. He prefers action westerns, heavy on violence; but ends up sobbing hysterically being reduced to mush at the two-hanky sob story his date insisted on seeing.

Also well known to local audiences is Anne Terze-Schwarz, a tall beauty with an equally beautiful voice. Rounding out the quartet of performers are Morgan Howard and Sean Wilcox, both newcomers to MAC productions. Each of the four players has an individual moment to shine, as well as playing multiple roles for other sketches. Morgan amazes as she jumps to a full dancing split! Sean Wilcox has very good stage presence and is enormously charming. His singing voice is very good, and his acting skills are effective.

Music is by Jimmy Roberts, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro. The songs are pleasant, but not particularly memorable. The sketches range from great fun to heartfelt somber memories. Among the highlights, in addition, to those mentioned earlier, are Wilcox visiting some married friends whose entire existence is currently revolving around their new baby; the family “traveling” around the stage reminding us how dreadful family trips by car can be; the husband who is bogged down with Macy shopping bags while his wife runs around the store trying to find a restroom; and a super sketch where married parents are hosting a dinner for their son and his girlfriend of two years, expecting the couple is about to announce their engagement. The parents are horrified as the young friends announce they are splitting up – with the mother tossing the gift she had brought thinking a wedding announcement was soon to be made.

Seth Caikowski directs the goings-on. He is highly respected for his acting skills, having received the Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award a few years ago for his looniness in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Boulder Dinner Theatre. This is the third production of “I Love You…” that Caikowski has directed.

Midtown Arts Center is presenting the show in their smaller cabaret-style room. This is a slightly different format from shows featured on their main stage. No meal is provided, but appetizers and drinks are available prior to the show, with dessert at Intermission.

The show premiered Off-Broadway in New York in 1996 and closed in 2008, after more than 5,000 performances. It has been produced worldwide and translated into at least 17 languages. The themes presented are universal. Playwright DiPietro touches on romantic themes that are instantly relatable – sometimes with discomfort, sometimes with outright joy!

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 4 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“Mrs. Mannerly” is great fun at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

MannerlyLogoWild and wonderful days in an etiquette class are recalled by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 27, 2016

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher wasn’t wild about athletics. In fact, at nine he was happily enrolled in a local etiquette class to get him away from playing little league baseball! He excelled in etiquette school, with his goal to receive a perfect “100” grade upon course completion. Hatcher’s memories of his youth in the class are wild tales now on display at the Arvada Center.

Pictured: Graham Ward (Jeffrey) and Leslie O'Carroll (Mrs. Mannerly) Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2016
Pictured: Graham Ward (Jeffrey) and Leslie O’Carroll (Mrs. Mannerly)
Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2016

His two-character play is a delight. Leslie O’Carroll portrays Mrs. Mannerly, etiquette teacher with 30 years of experience teaching manners to the citizens of Steubenville, Ohio. Graham Ward is the precocious student, Jeffrey, and also portrays other students in the class. O’Carroll is a longtime favorite of Colorado audiences; and Ward should soon be a name to be reckoned with, as he is basically a comedic riot in the making.

The etiquette class has seen better days, and appears to be on its last leg as Jeffrey’s session begins. By now it has only five students, including Jeffrey. They are a mixed bag, with only Jeffrey having any intention of completing the course, hopefully receiving the perfect “100” score. He is well on his way as the class brown-nose who is the instant teacher’s pet. O’Carroll is convincing as the teacher who as “seen it all,” and is discouraged as basic values and manners appear to be diminishing in Steubenville. Ward is a sight to behold. He appears to have no bones in his body, and he bounces from playing one character to the next, throwing himself from one end of the stage to the other. He is also a devious chap, partially responsible for the exit of other students from the class.

Pictured: Graham Ward (Jeffrey) and Leslie O'Carroll (Mrs. Mannerly) Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2016
Pictured: Graham Ward (Jeffrey) and Leslie O’Carroll (Mrs. Mannerly)
Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2016

Want to learn how to properly set a table? Ask Mrs. Mannerly. Want to know how to use a fork and a knife in Europe vs in America? Ask Mrs. Mannerly. Want to know how to foil the class’s best table-setting student? Ask Jeffrey.

Mrs. Mannerly’s instructions include more than manners. She also teaches values, and telling truth from fiction. Jeffrey has reason to believe that his teacher hasn’t been teaching with a clean slate, and sets out to prove his theory.

Edith Weiss has skillfully directed this delightful tale, that ends up looking at the value of values as well as the value of manners. She has skillfully held O’Carroll in tight control as the teacher in charge, and skillfully lets Graham Ward let loose to delight the audience.

The set is pleasant, as the class is held upstairs in a building which formerly contained a basketball court, with the basketball markings still present.

Jeffrey Hatcher grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, so is well acquainted with the goings-on in his hometown, and gently reflects upon his interesting youth in this part of Ohio before moving on to New York and then Minneapolis after attending Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He is an award-winning playwright, with the wild and crazy class of Mrs. Mannerly just one of his compositions.

“Mrs. Mannerly” is played without intermission, with a running time of about 80 minutes – with the audience obviously entertained and “instructed” throughout!

“Mrs. Mannerly”
Arvada Center For the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
Runs through February 21, 2016
Box Office 720/898-7200

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OpenStage’s “Outside Mullingar” is by award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley, about rural life in Ireland

Bruce K. Freestone as Tony Reilly and Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley. Photo by Steve Finnestead photography.
Bruce K. Freestone as Tony Reilly and Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon in
OpenStage Theatre’s production of Outside Mullingar . Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography.

Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone share the stage as farming neighbors in production in Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Theatre.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 24, 2016

It is always a treat to see Bruce and Denise Burson Freestone on stage. The couple founded OpenStage Theatre in 1973, but rarely perform together in a local production. Seeing them share the stage is but another welcoming delight in “Outside Mullingar” at the Magnolia Theatre of Lincoln Center through February 6.

Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon and Todd Hoven as Anthony. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography
Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon and Todd Hoven as Anthony. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography

The Freestones appear as Tony Reilly and Aoife Muldoon, Irish neighbors who own adjacent farms. Muldoon’s husband has just died, and she stops in to visit with Reilly, a widower, on her way home from the funeral. They appear to be longtime friends who have probably cared more for each other than either is willing to admit. They talk about their farms, about their children, and appear to have a special bond. Their children, Anthony and Rosemary, are about the same age, but have barely been civil to each other since Anthony shoved Rosemary to the ground, when they were children, more than 20 years ago. The chemistry between the married-in-real-life Freestones is rewarding as they spar and chat as Irish neighbors.

Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon, and Bruce K. F reestone as Tony Reilly and Denise Burson Freestone as Aoife. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography
Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon, and Bruce K. Freestone as Tony Reilly and Denise Burson Freestone as Aoife. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography

Todd Hoven is believable as Tony’s son whose love of the farm is not apparent to his father. Because of this concern, his ageing father has decided to give the farm to a nephew living in New York. The father claims that the son is not manly enough. Hoven is great to watch as the sometimes insecure son who dearly loves the farm’s “earth,” and continues to be at loose ends since his girlfriend rejected his marriage proposal several years ago and married another man.

Completing the quartet of semi-lost souls is Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon. She is the now-grown girl that Anthony caused to fall many years ago. She is a feisty pipe smoking dynamo with little self-esteem and no potential love interest. Even though she well remembers the time Tony pushed her to the ground, she has been holding herself in contempt for not letting the grown Tony realize she cares for him.

John Patrick Shanley is a highly-respected playwright. He received the Academy Award in 1988 for the movie, “Moonstruck,” and the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2005 for “Doubt: A Parable.” He was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie version of his play now known as “Doubt.”

His “Outside Mullingar” opened in New York in January, 2014. His latest play, “Prodigal Son” is scheduled to open Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City next month.

Directing “Outside Mullingar” for OpenStage is Matthew G. Smith. In the program notes, Smith comments how important it is to take a leap of faith and explore what it means to love someone though they may not love us in return. Anthony Reilly and Rosemary Muldoon find themselves living alone and lonely in adjacent farms, each with their insecurities and neither realizing his/her own potential. The cast is uniformly excellent. “Mullingar” is an enchanting tale of persons growing older, finding faith in themselves, and hopefully finding the ability to “move on.”

“Outside Mullingar”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production
Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through February 6, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.lctix.com

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Ring of Fire” at“ Midtown Arts Center is a Mid-Winter Winner!

Ring of FireMusic written or performed by Johnny Cash keeps audience enthusiasm high!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 21, 2016

Within a few moments of the show’s beginning I realized I was seeing something quite special. The setting is minimal, but very inviting and effective, the lighting is very good, and the voices performing the more-than-30 numbers are amazing! “Ring of Fire” results in an evening of super music. The show itself is just two hours, making the entire event, including dinner, not much more than a well-spent three or so hours

The musical was created by Richard Maltby, Jr., and conceived by William Meade. It had a test run in Buffalo, New York, 2005, and opened on Broadway the following winter.

This is not retelling of the life of Johnny Cash, but a story which could belong to thousands of persons – solid family tired in harsh economic background. Most of us can relate to much of the music as a retelling of parts of our own lives. The difficult times Johnny Cash faced are not related as history, just read-between-the lines in the various songs. And such great songs: “Five Feet High and Rising,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” The Man in Black,” “I Walk the Line (briefly),” and the signature “Ring of Fire.” While all of the music for the show was performed at one time or other by Cash, many of the pieces were written by others.

Photo credit to Malia Stoner
Photo credit to Malia Stoner

The five performers on stage at MAC are super musicians, each playing a variety of instruments, and each with super voices. A standout is Colin Summers whose deep bass voice goes through the floor. His curtain-call retelling of “A Boy Named Sue” had the audience cheering. On stage with Summers are Brittany Brook, Davey Rosenberg, Austin Hohnke and Kaine Riggan. Each has a moment to shine, as they share the wealth of terrific music.

Unfortunately, the show’s printed program does not include a list of songs, so I can’t recall the name of an early romantic piece where Cash and his wife, June Carter, tell of the love they shared.

Mathew Leland directs the show, keeping the audience excited by the flow of non-stop music.

As a routine, I do not read reviews of shows I have not seen prior to my seeing them for my own review. This was an especially good thing in regard to “Ring of Fire.” The original production was well-received by local critics, but less so by Broadway reviewers. A movie about Johnny Cash, “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, had been an enormous success the previous year, receiving five Academy Award nominations. The “little” stage production was not to be compared with the movie, and was nearly lost in the shuffle. The stage show was re-conceived in 2013 and is now finding great success on stages throughout the country.

If I had read early Broadway reviews, I may have been turned off; and might have decided not to see the show. This would have been my loss. While the current production doesn’t begin to retell Cash’s life, it has a basic reverence for the human condition, and enchants the audience with terrific music!

“Ring of Fire”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 25, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“Dolly is Back and Feisty as Ever at The Candlelight

Hello DollyBeth Beyer shines as Dolly Levi in terrific retelling of the matchmaker musical!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 16, 2016

Beth Beyer is a great charmer as the brassy matchmaker whose marriage she most desires to arrange is her own.  Dolly has business calling cards for every eventuality, and puts them all to use in arranging everything from dancing lessons to marriage proposals. Beth Beyer is well known to Candlelight audiences, and she maintains center stage as the conniving but ever-delightful “Dolly.”

Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography
Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography

While Beyer reigns as queen of the stage, Kent Sugg is another revelation as the curmudgeon Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers’s famous “half a millionaire” who has hired Dolly to find a wife for him.  Sugg is another audience favorite in Johnstown, and is at his best in “Hello Dolly.” He is in fine voice and great gruffness as the penny-pinching Horace Vandergelder, not willing to give his staff even an afternoon off work.  

“Hello Dolly” lit up the stage on Broadway in 1964 receiving 10 Tony Awards that year, including being named as Best Musical.”  Competition was strong as that was the season that Barbra Streisand stormed the Broadway stage in “Funny Girl.”  Dolly was triumphant, however, as critics and audiences were captivated by its vitality, sensational music, and basic charm. Music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman, based on the Thornton Wilder play, “The Matchmaker.”  Carol Channing was the original “Dolly.”  The performance made her a legend, and she played the role in many different productions over many years.  Original direction and choreography were by Gower Champion, who also went on to become a legend, due in great part to his work on “Dolly.”  The musical was released as a movie in 1969 with Barbra Streisand playing the lead.

The action takes place at the turn of the century in Yonkers, New York, where Horace Vandergelder is getting ready to board the train to New York City with Dolly to meet Irene Molloy, a widow who owns a hat shop in the city.  Dolly has arranged a meeting with the concern that Horace may actually find Molloy to be of interest.  The stage becomes alive thanks to Pat Payne who has staged and directed this delight.  Bob Hoppe provides the excellent chorography.  Well-known music begins with “Call on Dolly” and continues in the first act to include “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” where the stage is in constant motion as locals prepare to travel to the city in time for an important 14th Street Parade, and Dolly’s plea to her deceased husband, “Before the Parade Passes By.”

Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography
Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography

The production is a scenic wonder.  Lighting is exciting, costumes, and set are brilliant.  Voices and dancing share the kudos of an evening of musical fun.  Vocal Music Director is Melissa Swift-Sawyer, with Costumes by Debra Faber and Judith Ernst.  Lighting is by Shannon Johnson with Sound by Mark Derryberry.  Casey Kearns has designed an attractive set.

While Beyer and Sugg are the shows stars, they are given excellent support by several performers.  First and foremost is Barret Harper as Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s assistant manager.  He has been in several regional productions, but has not enjoyed the spotlight he earns as Cornelius.  He sings.  He dances, He is a super comedian. Isaac J. Sprague is also very good as Cornelius’ 17-year-old sidekick Barnaby Tucker, who accompanies his friend to New York with the promise to see a stuffed whale!  Hackl and Tucker find a reason to abandon their work, also traveling to New York.  They find Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop only nearly to be discovered on the premises by Vandergelder.  Alisha Winter-Hayes is very good as Mrs. Molloy ad Melissa Morris s great fun as Molloy’s employee, Minnie Fay.   The hat shop scene is a Broadway favorite that becomes more bizarre with each performance.  Timing is wondrous, as Hackl and Tucker are hidden by Molloy under the table, in the cupboard, and under the table again – hopefully to hide from their employer who they are trying to avoid.  Molloy’s assistant Minnie Fay is naively super, a perfect foil for the also-naïve Barnaby Tucker.  Added to this delightful mix are Eric Heine as Ambrose Kemper and Bussy Gower as an always-wailing Ermengarde who wants only to get married.  And then there is the off-the-wall loony Enestina Money, played by Annie Dwyer.  Ernestina is a wild-looking woman in need of Dolly’s services as a matchmaker.

Act Two is centered around the goings-on in the Harmonia Gardens where everyone ends up after the parade and a long, long walk to the restaurant.  The Gardens were Dolly’s old stomping grounds, and the staff is excited to have her return with the famous welcome “Hello Dolly.”  This scene is sometimes too frenetic, and the split-second timing to make the dancing more effective will be a result of more experience.

Dolly is returning to the Harmonia Gardens, this time in Johnstown, through March 6, 2016.  It is rare that dinner theatre patrons rise to the occasion of giving a show a standing ovation.  The “Dolly” performance that I saw was the exception, as the theater audience seemed to be as welcoming to Dolly as the Harmonia Gardens patrons, with a well-deserved standing ovation.  

“Hello Dolly”

Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To:  March 6, 2016
For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747
Email:  info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

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Two Terrific Tiny Tims and Scrooges Wow Northern Colorado Audiences

"A Christmas Carol"
“A Christmas Carol”

“A Christmas Carol” Offered on Two Northern Colorado Stages!
Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 2015

A year ago I was knocked out by an incredible production of “A Christmas Carol” as performed on the Stage Theatre of Denver Center for the Performing Arts. This year two different productions based on the Charles Dickens story are charming audiences in the area! The Denver Center performance is again brilliant, and the Johnstown production at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is proving to be an incredible crowd-pleaser!

I won’t attempt to report which is the better show, but will mention some of the highlights of each show. You cannot “lose” by seeing either one, and it may just be a decision of going to the show nearest to your home. Both shows provide heart-warming “joys” of the season.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown offers the musical with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens. This version premiered in 1994, and has been a popular attraction for several holiday seasons at New York City’s Madison Square Garden Paramount Theatre. This is a very family-friendly production.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

T.J. Mullin is remarkable as the miserable tightwad, Scrooge. He is in great form, gleefully making the season as dreadful as possible for himself and everyone around him. Mullin was former owner/producer of the Heritage Square Music Hall and has been performing on stage for over 40 years. He played Kris Kringle last year at Candlelight’s “Miracle on 34th Street.”

2Carol 2015 ghost past
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

Kent Sugg is wonderful as the tortured Marley. His voice is excellent, as he warns Scrooge that he is about to be visited by ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. Also in fine voice is Christopher Walton as Tiny Tim. Young performers are sometimes difficult to understand. Walton’s stage presence, combined with the Candlelight’s remarkable sound system, make him an immediate miniature “star.” Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as Bob Cratchit, the Scrooge employee who is hesitant to say an evil word about his boss.

The set is very good, as are costumes, lighting, and, as mentioned earlier, the wonderful sound. The music is pleasant, but the audience doesn’t leave humming the songs.   Choreography by Michelle Sergeeff is very good. The entire production is staged and directed by Patrick Sawyer. This is a heart-felt rendition of the Dickens saga.

"A Christmas Carol" at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
“A Christmas Carol” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
The company of "A Christmas Carol" at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
The company of “A Christmas Carol” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.

A few miles south of Johnstown is Denver Center’s production, directed by Bruce K. Sevy. This time the story was adapted by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry. The unhappy Scrooge is played by Philip Pleasants, in his tenth version of “A Christmas Carol” on the Denver stage. He first played the role in 1978 on a stage in Alaska, and has indicated that this production is his “farewell” to the role which he has immortalized. He is wonderfully greedy, but has enough sense to realize that his life can make some great changes if he heeds the advice of the “ghosts” appearing to him.

The Denver cast is enormous, highlighted by performances by Pleasants, as well as James Michael Reilly as Bob Cratchit, Jeffrey Roark as the ghost of Jacob Marley, Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Cratchit, and Annie Dwyer as Mrs. Fezziwig. The entire cast is flawless.

"A Christmas Carol" at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
“A Christmas Carol” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.

The total production is a wonder. The set is terrific, as are costumes, lighting, and sound. This is a more solemn telling of the story, but is an extremely rewarding experience as the show looks and sounds so amazing. This might just be the definitive staging of “A Christmas Carol.”

The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is a dinner theatre in a beautiful venue, with good food and complimentary parking. The Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is a super theatre with nary a bad seat in the house. There is a fee for parking.

“A Christmas Carol” whether seen in Denver or in Johnstown this Holiday Season is a “Carol” well told and sung – and seen!

“A Christmas Carol”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
Box Office: 970/744-3747
www.coloradocandlelight.com

“A Christmas Carol”
Stage Theatre, Denver Center of the Performing Arts
Through December 27. 2015
Tickets: 303/893-4100
denvercenter.org 800/641-1222, Telephone 303/893-9582

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“The Addams Family” Comes to Haunt the Stage in Boulder

AddamsFamilyBoulder Dinner Theatre Stage Offers Good Food and Ghosts with “The Addams Family”

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 3, 2015

A very strange “family” has moved into Boulder.  There is the father, Gomez, his luscious bride, Morticia, their two children – the very strange Pugsley and his sister, Wednesday, who has potential of being somewhat normal.  Then Grandma comes with the group, as does Gomez’s brother, Uncle Fester.  The family’s servant is an extremely tall chap, Lurch, who doesn’t say much but brings an air of frightening delight to the going’s on.

© 2015 Glenn Ross

We meet the family on stage in “The Addams Family,” a musical version of the death-defying antics of cartoon characters created by Charles Addams.  The cartoons resulted in a very successful TV run about the strange family.  The gang was assembled for a Broadway production in 1960.  The Broadway team had great credentials, but were not successful in giving life to the family.  Even the amazing talents of Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth could not surmount the script and music difficulties, however.  The show was subsequently rewritten, and is finding a new life of it own in local productions, such as the current Boulder show.

The set is clever – the spooky mansion, the cemetery crypt, the ever-present trees!  This is a cartoonish set design that is very effective.

© 2015 Glenn Ross
© 2015 Glenn Ross

Wednesday realizes that her family is not normal, but confides in her father that she has fallen in love with a regular guy – Lucas Beineke.  She has an “uncharacteristic desire to marry a square kid from Ohio!”  She has invited Lucas and his parents to the family home, so that everyone can meet over dinner.  There hasn’t been such a stage dinner since “La Cage Aux Folles” when a gay couple invited the Mayor of Paris and his wife to meet their heterosexual son who was about to marry the Mayor’s daughter.  This time around there are not questions of gender, but problems of living and dead!  Uncle Fester enlists the help of the dead ancestors who emerge from the family crypt for guidance and support at the family dinner.

Wednesday has evidently worn black for 18 years, but turns up in a bright yellow outfit the the family party.  Her father is aghast, noting, “You look like a crime scene!”

© 2015 Glenn Ross
© 2015 Glenn Ross

Scott Beyette has directed the show and stars as Gomez.  Alicia King plays his wife, Morticia, with Sara Grover taking the role of their daughter, Wednesday.  Wayne Kennedy is a delight as Uncle Fester, as is Casey Andree playing the solemn servant, Lurch.  Barb Reeves plays the daffy grandma, and the role of Puglsey is double-cast, with Ethan Leland  and Owen Leidich sharing the part.  I saw Leland who is very good, especially when attached to his adored torture machine, giving him the opportunity to cream loudly in wonderful pain!

© 2015 Glenn Ross
© 2015 Glenn Ross

Brett Ambler is convincing as the naive young suitor, Lucas Beineke, who finds the zany Wednesday to be someone special.  Scott Severtson and Joanie Brosseau are effective as Lucas’ bewildered parents strangely horrified by the goings-on in the Gomez household.

Scenery is terrific, as are the lighting, and costumes.  The sound system did not permit me to understand some of the characters as easily as I had hoped.  Songs are pleasant, but not after-the-show hummable.  There is an especially fun scene when Fester declares that he is in love with the moon, singing, “the Moon and Me.”  Dancing is spotty – with some good numbers, but an overly-long Tango near the show’s end.

© 2015 Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com
© 2015 Glenn Ross

An interesting part of the production’s effectiveness is the presence of many dead ancestors who meander through the show, silently and effectively “commenting” on what is happening among the live folk.  This is a blissfully ghoulish little show!

Affectionadoes of early incarnations of “The Addams Family” will have a field day noting some of the comedic touches which have been handed from from cartoon format, to TV series, to the stage.  The dark and brooking “look” of the family has been remarkably transferred in this goofy tale.  And the food is very good!

“The Addams Family”
Through February 27, 2016
BDT Stage –Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
4401 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
For information: Telephone 303/449-6000
Or online at www.BDTStage.com

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“White Christmas” is Melodic Look at Holidays Gone by!

whiteXmas-200x200-final-1-201503261015

Even an unhappy Scrooge could not say “Bah Humbug” to the “White Christmas” Charmer in Arvada

 By Tom Jones

November 29, 2015

Ben Michael and Cody Williams take center stage early in Arvada Center’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” The scene is an army entertainment show for servicemen at Christmastime of 1944. Michael is Captain Bob Wallace, and Williams is Private Phil Davis, putting on a vaudeville-type routine for the amusement of the attending soldiers in Europe, as the war there is winding down. As the scene concludes they learn that their commanding officer, General Henry Waverly is being relieved of his duty, and is set to return to the United States. Soldiers under his command are evidently very fond of him, and give him high respect, as he notes that “Ten years from now our lives will have changed!”

Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015 Pictured: Cody Wiliams (Phil Davis) and Erica Sweany (Judy Haynes)
Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured: Cody Wiliams (Phil Davis) and Erica Sweany (Judy Haynes)

Michal and Williams are talented performers – song and dance men. The characters they play have remained friends and have become respected entertainers in New York, ten years after the battlefront show. Thus sets the stage for an evening of Irving Berlin music, remarkable choreography, and a nostalgic look at what patriotism meant to America’s citizens and soldiers.

Songwriter and composer Irving Berlin was born in Russia in 1888, moved to America with his family and is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His songs include such hits as “Easter Parade,” “This is the Army, Mr. Jones,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “A Pretty Girl is Like Melody,”and the immortalized “God Bless America.” Berlin was raised in poverty and was forever in love with America and the opportunities it provided to him!

WhiteChristmas2His song, “White Christmas” first appeared in a 1942 movie musical, “Holiday Inn” about a country inn opened only on holidays. The song was performed by a crooner named Bing Crosby. It was an instant hit, and resulted in being the theme of a l954 Paramount Pictures movie musical, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” again starring Bing Crosby. His recording of the song continues to be the most-sold single in recorded music history.

The movie was the biggest money maker in 1954, and generated the stage version which premiered in San Francisco in 2004 and has played in various venues including Broadway in 2008 and revived again in 2009. New York theatre critics were not impressed with the stage musical version, but audiences have been enthusiastic. The Arvada production is excellent – bringing to life the mood of the 1950s, and showcasing some of Berlin’s well-known standards.

Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015 Pictured: Darrow Klein (Susan Waverly) and Ben Michael (Bob Wallace)
Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured: Darrow Klein (Susan Waverly) and Ben Michael (Bob Wallace)

The creation of the show revolves around using many of Berlin’s hit songs to advance a basic boy loves girl, girl loves boy story. They spar, leaving doubt as to how their relationship will conclude. The show can be a bit too talky, but once the music takes off, the show is very pleasant. Some of the musical numbers sometimes don’t quite fit into the plot line, but the “I Love a Piano” routine which begins the second act is as terrific as any in recent memory. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck is credited as choreographer. She brought down the house with her disco action recently in Arvada Center’s “Saturday Night Fever,” and brings her clever ideas to “White Christmas.” The entire production is under the direction of Gavin Mayer who has put together a very talented cast in providing holiday cheer to Northern Colorado.

Ben Michael and Cody Williams are the production’s stars, assisted greatly by Lauren Shealy and Erica Sweany, as their love interests, Paul Page as General Henry Waverly, the enthusiastic Sharon Kay White as the Vermont Inn Manager, and Darcey Keating as the General’s granddaughter.   The granddaughter role is double cast, with Keating and Darrow Klein sharing the role. I saw Keating who was super, and very convincing as a young wannabee actress..

The song and dance team are ready to travel south by train from New York to Miami for some rehearsals for a new show, but end up going north to the “Snow” of Vermont, following two girls they just met.. Coincidentally they end up in the country inn owned by the now-retired General Waverly. Lack of Vermont snow is currently a great problem to Waverly’s maintaining ownership of the Inn. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are concerned about the financial plight of their former commander. So, as Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland used to say in early movie musicals, “Let’s put on a show.” Unbeknownst to the General, the two soldiers from his past put together a show for the Inn, inviting everyone from their former army days to bring revenue to the resort.

Very good performances, excellent sets, costumes, lighting, and super dancing overcome any plot flaws, and provide the audience with the “feel good” memories of a “White Christmas.”

“White Christmas”
Through December 23, 2015
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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“A Tuna Christmas” is a Holiday Charmer on Stage of Bas Bleu

Tuna-Christmas-Slide

Tall Tales from Tuna, Texas, are Terrifically Told!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 20, 2015

This was my first “Tuna.” Tales of the fictitious small Texas town, Tuna, have been around for several years. The series, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, began in 1981 with “Greater Tuna,” followed by “Red, White and Tuna,” and “Tuna Does Vegas.” The current “A Tuna Christmas” debuted in 1989 in Texas. The plays are performed frequently across the nation.

Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

This week, provided me with my first glimpse of the quirky little town. The program lists only two performers. Very curious, as I saw something like 20 characters come to life in 90 minutes of fun. Jay Benedict Brown and David Austin-Goen are remarkable, as they breath life into a variety of characters telling their tales of life in tiny Tuna!

Although fictitious, the town is reportedly the “third-smallest” town in Texas. Tuna is inhabited by a host of different citizens, each with his/her own charm and concerns. They are introduced by Thurston and Leonard, at the town’s radio station, dropping hints as to what is happening in Tuna this Christmas Season. We meet lots of strangely wonderful persons. We learn that a mysterious Christmas phantom is on the loose, causing mischief. There is the by-the-book bureaucrat who threatens to cut the electricity on the town’s Christmas party at the school unless the school district pays its over-due electrical bill.

Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

There is Bertha Bumiller, the ditsy mother whose son, Stanley, has just been released from jail and is on probation for a few more days. Her daughter, Charlene, is having a difficult time fitting into Tuna’s citizenry. Charlene’s idea of “decorating” the Christmas tree is to toss handfuls of tinsel, letting them land where they may. Bertha’s husband, Frank, is somewhere in town, but no one knows where. Vera Carp is the town snob who pays a call on Bertha to admire what a wonderful “view” Bertha has of Vera’s home just across the street. Vera has won the town’s Christmas outdoor decorations contest for 14 years, and will be furious if she should lose this time around.

There’s the mismatched couple who own a used weapons and ammunition shop. Didi is furious with the husband she chose. He is excited only with the sight of UFOs. Her shop’s motto: “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal!”

Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

The list goes on and on. But not too long. The audience becomes highly involved in the lives of these townsfolk, their pitfalls, phobias, and human interest. Brown and Groen change costumes, wigs, and personas at the drop of a hat, and are a wonder to see. We see lots of costume and wig changes, along with lots of Christmas trees in the space of 90 minutes

The goings-on are directed by Nancy Roy, whose credentials are impressive, including direction of “The Will Rogers Follies” at Candlelight a few seasons ago. In the Director’s Notes on the “Tuna” program she cleverly says. “Tis a grand tradition for the director of fine theatrical literature to wax philosophical in the playbills, guiding the audience to a deeper and richer understanding of the play. In the case of this play, “A Tuna Christmas,” I got nothin.’”

Not so, her direction is as brilliant as the characters the two actors bring to life. “A Christmas Tuna” is a super introduction to the area’s Christmas Season.

“A Tuna Christmas”
Through December 27, 2015
For information: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit: www.basbleu.org

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“Superior Donuts” is the tale of a man of the 70s, who hasn’t progressed much since!

Superior_Donuts_1480Playing characters in OpenStage production Charlie Ferrie and Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye light up the stage in their efforts to change each other!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 7, 2015

Police have already been alerted and are on the scene by the time Arthur Przbyszewski arrives at his “Superior Donuts” shop to find it has been vandalized. The front window is broken. Tables and chairs have been tipped over and a nasty graffiti has been spray painted on the wall.

Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye as Franco Wicks and Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka
Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye as Franco Wicks and Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka

Charlie Ferrie portrays Arthur and is believable as the 60ish man who was a product of the free-spirited 1970s. He hasn’t yet quite grasped the reality that he just might be able to do something more
with his life than sit alone in his shop and smoke pot.

Even learning of the vandalism in his business doesn’t seem to upset Arthur. He accepts the situation as just one more distraction in his semi-reclusive life. He inherited the shop from his father, a
Polish immigrant who died while Arthur was hiding out in Canada, showing his opposition to the Vietnam War. He has subsequently returned to Illinois to take care of the shop, still maintaining his 70s
pony-tale and hippie attire. Arthur’s space is next door to a DVD store whose owner is eager to buy Arthur’s deteriorating space.

Duane Sawyer as Max Tarasov, Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski, and Sean Coffman as Kiril Ivakin in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka
Duane Sawyer as Max Tarasov, Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski, and Sean Coffman as Kiril Ivakin in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka

Arthur doesn’t like the idea. Why? Hard to explain, as “Superior” doesn’t appear to have much of a clientele and Arthur is not a congenial attraction! He just seems to feel safe and content in his situation. He his located on the North Side of Chicago, an area that has been down on its luck for many years, but might be on the verge of revitalization.

Shortly after the vandalism, and before Arthur has done anything to remove the graffiti, a tall black man, Franco Weeks, arrives,  indicating he wants Arthur to hire him to help out in the shop.

Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye is a revelation as the self-assured, smooth talking young man who appears to have a lot more going for him than even he might realize. Arthur questions him as to why
he wants to work there, and the interview process is reversed with Franco asking why Arthur doesn’t want to make the shop more functional and appealing He wants interesting pictures on the walls, music in the air, a more congenial atmosphere, and more than just donuts and coffee on the menu.

Louise F. Thornton as Lady Boyle in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka
Louise F. Thornton as Lady Boyle in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka

Amazingly, Arthur decides to hire Franco, at $8.00 per hour, which includes painting over the graffiti, mopping the floor and maybe eventually learning how to bake donuts. Franco accepts the
position, and by Intermission I expected to return to find the “Superior Donuts” look substantially changed. This does not happen, as the story evolves into the Arthur-Franco friendship, with some sub-plots along the way.

“Superior Donuts” is by playwright Tracey Letts who received the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and Drama Desk Award as best play a few seasons ago with his highly-acclaimed “August, Osage
County.” That was considered by many to be some sort of “masterwork” even though the language was disturbing.

Letts didn’t use all of his disturbing language in “Osage,” as he appears to be comfortable having swear words in English coming from lips of persons with several different native tongues in “Donuts.” These include Americans, Polish, Russians, and Italians!

The set and lighting are great, and Emelie Borello provides very good direction. The play looks like it was written to be a television sit-com series – complete with strong leading roles, and a variety of supporting players, showcasing several different characters: The kindly policeman and his devoted female co-worker, the quirky bag lady who drops in for freebies, the man desirous of buying the shop, and two mob men who are on the lookout for payoff.

The end result is an interesting play,made better than its writing by the talent of the two leading men – Charlie Ferrie and Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye. Their interchange is remarkable, as friendship grows and changes are contemplated.

“Superior Donuts”

Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.

417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.

When: Through November 28, 2015

Tickets: 970/221-6730

For more information: www.ltix.com

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“Rock of Ages” is High Energy Wonder at Midtown Arts Center      

Midtown Arts Center
Midtown Arts Center

Dynamic music and enthusiastic cast brings 1980s to life in “Rock of Ages. Audience enthusiasm results in show extension to January 2!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 15, 2015

Justin Luciano is his name, and music is his game. Anne Terze-Schwarz is her name, and music is her game. Justin and Anne find each other as “Drew” and “Sherrie” and combine talents to wow audiences in the brilliant “Rock of Ages” now on stage at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins. They headline a super cast in a production of non-stop music and dancing. It is doubtful that even the energizer bunnies can outdo them!

Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

“Rock of Ages” was an enormous hit on Broadway, running for 2,328 performances in six years. It closed earlier this year, and Kurt Terrio’s Midtown Arts was the first company to obtain rights to produce the show in Colorado! The audience is warned at the outset, that noise might just “melt your face.” That doesn’t happen, and I found myself swept up in the excitement of an extremely well-crafted production.

Amazingly, I recognized many of the songs by several composers, and was captivated by the show. The 80s were considered the Golden Age of synthesizer music – ant this show has that along with big hair, tight, skimpy clothes and epic guitar solos – along with incredible voices! The show was originally scheduled to run through late November. Audience response has been so enormous that the show has now been extended to run to January2!

Justin Luciano and Anne Terze-Schwarz. Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Justin Luciano and Anne Terze-Schwarz.
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

Plot is somewhat basic: Boy and girl looking for girl and boy. Beyond this oft-told premise is a crazed German entrepreneur wanting to remove the rock music territory in downtown Los Angeles, with a plan for urban renewal. He is accompanied by his hapless son, who follows like a puppy dog. Rock venue music owners don’t want to lose their music club and enlist the help of local social activists to stop demolition.

Sherrie’s efforts to find love in Southern California are thwarted and she falls into hard times, including an experience with a famous rocker who casts her aside, leaving her minimal choices. She finds help in a stripper night club, owned by a wise and caring woman, who has past problems of her own.   All of the goings on are played out with very loud and very energetic music, performed by a terrific band comprised of Jason Tyler Vaughn, Jeremy Girard, Angela Steiner, Ryan Millard, Larry Bridges, and Alan Skowron.

Michael Lasris and Barret Harper play the millionaire German and his son. They appear to be an evil force to be reckoned with. Sean Allen Riley and Joel Adam Chavez portray owners of the rock club. They are a delight! Jon Tyler Heath is super as the rock idol Stacee Jaxx whose dreadful hair is a character all its own. Morgan Howard is a hoot as Regina, the city planner turned spirited activist. And Jalyn Courtenay Webb holds center stage on her own, as the madame/owner of the stripper club where Sherrie seeks shelter. Webb is a continual show-stopper. Whenever she arrives on stage, all eyes move to her. And when she begins to sing, the audience is in awe!

The cast is not as large as it appears, as persons listed as part of the “Ensemble” are seen so frequently that they become featured players. These include Courtney Blackmun, Alexa Bernal, Terra Scott, Chris Bober, and Frankie Shin. There is not a slacker in the entire cast!

The show is produced and directed by Kurt Terrio, with musical staging and ingenious choreography by Michael Lasris. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, costumes by Alisa Metcalf, lighting by Chad Bonaker, sound by Mat Leland, set by Justin Hermanek and Jared Stuteville. Vocal direction by Jalyn Courtenay Webb.

Seeing “Rock of Ages” on stage at MAC is not unlike reading a children’s book by Richard Scarry, where there is always so much going on that it is sometimes difficult to zoom in on the central story. Terrio’s stage is one of constant movement with Lasris’ dancers and singers knowing exactly where they are go at every instant, and letting the audience figure out what parts of the stage and show they wish to direct their attention. This is a kaleidoscope of movement. Never a dull moment!

The cast is providing enormous entertainment to the audience. They also appear to be having an enormously fun time on stage. The show is well written with very clever situations and dialogue to keep the cast and audience in a state of near-continual joy!

By show’s conclusion, the cast must be exhausted. The audience is somewhat worn out also – with that continual applause! “Rock of Ages” is a show of the “Ages!” Curiously that “age” is now!

“Rock of Ages”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through January 2, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“The Outgoing Tide” at Bas Bleu takes us on a thought-provoking ride about the effects of Alzheimer’s on the victims and their families

Outgoing-Tide

A Well-Told Harrowing Tale with No Happy Ending in Sight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 8, 2015

Tighten your seat belts. The ride is bumpy, and there isn’t much hope of a happy landing! Fortunately the journey is well done, and provides opportunity for some introspection as we think — “what if we are ultimately afflicted as the victim or a family of someone faced with Alzheimer’s.”

Photo credit William A. Cotton
Photo credit William A. Cotton

Playwright Bruce Graham wrote “The Outgoing Tide” in 2010. This interesting, and sometimes frightening story made its way to the Bas Bleu stage this year. Bas Bleu must be heralded as a provider of plays not frequently found in local theatres. The subject matter is a reality that we are eager to sweep under the carpet, not talk about, and hope it will “just go away.”

Deb Note-Farwell has directed “Tide” with great care. The show’s star is Jonathan Farwell, Deb’s husband in real life. The Farwells are a team to be reckoned with. Jonathan is a veritable “treasure,” one of the finest actors in Colorado. Deb is a “treasure” in her own right, providing a host of memorable performances on stage, and directing many others were great acclaim.

Photo credit William A. Cotton
Photo credit William A. Cotton

In “Tide” we meet Jonathan as Gunner, a man in his late 70s or 80s, fishing outside his home on Chesapeake Bay, and realizing that his life has become a fright. He is losing his mind, losing his memory, and he realizes it. This is a terrifying prospect for him (or for anyone else with Alzheimer’s). Farwell is an acting miracle in virtually every character he portrays, and he has rarely been better than in this current role. He is feisty, kind, irritating, and wise –sometimes within the same sentence!

Farwell toe-to-toe, however, is Ann Whiteman, portraying Gunner’s wife, Peg. She is living on the edge herself, devoting her entire life to her declining Gunner. Truth be told, however, maybe that is all she truly wants to do! Whiteman is absolutely convincing as the fractured wife, and the conclusion she faces is virtually unbearable.

Photo credit William A. Cotton
Photo credit William A. Cotton

Rounding out the family trio is the couple’s son Jack, superbly portrayed by L. Michael Scovel. Jack has turned up at the family’s home, evidently at the request of his father. The two men have had virtually no closeness. The son is more interested in cooking than in fishing or playing ball. He believes his father has no use for him. The father cannot figure out his son, nor does he want to think much about it, beyond giving him some financial help in the event the son is left fatherless. The son and his wife are divorcing, and Gunner wants to make certain the divorce arrangement is clean and final. He also has ideas of his own about how to possibly end his own life with a boat “accident” while he retains the capability of so doing. This could leave his wife and son with substantial insurance funds.

The right to life. Death with dignity. The possibility of choosing how and when one might die. Tough topics to cover in a two and one-half hour production. But the thoughts linger long after the play’s conclusion – leaving the audience with incredible memories of a show superbly well done.

“The Outgoing Tide”
Through October 11, 2015
For information: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Web:  www.basbleu.org

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Riveting “West Side Story” musical is a wonder at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

WestSideStoryThe ‘Jets’ and ‘Sharks’ spar for territory on the streets of Manhattan in superb retelling of “West Side Story” at Candlelight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 10, 2015

Local gangs continue to be at war, each marking its ‘territory’ on the city streets.” Immigrants and local residents have difficulty getting along. Police officers can be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ – depending upon your side of the argument. And all of this set to the brilliant music composed by Leonard Bernstein nearly 60 years ago – with brilliant dances based on choreography of Jerome Robins, and some of the finest voices in the area!

The original “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957. Leonard Berstein’s music was heralded as among the most exciting written for a Broadway show.   His composing career included Broadway musicals, “Candide” and “On the town” plus numerous symphonies and choral classics. Music critic Donal Hehahan wrote,”Bernstein became one of the most talented and successful musicians in American History.”  Lyricist for “West Side Story” was a newcomer by the name of Stephen Sondheim who was 26 years old. The story is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and the dark mood it portrays was overshadowed by the cheerful “The Music Man” which won the Tony Award that year as Best Musical!

Scott Severtson and Kimberly Crawford star in West Side Story at the Candlelight Donner Playhouse.  Photo Credit Garland Photography
Scott Severtson and Kimberly Crawford star in West Side Story at the Candlelight Donner Playhouse. Photo Credit Garland Photography
“West Side Story,” however, went on to triumph in London and was made into a movie musical in 1961, receiving ten Academy Awards, including that for Best Movie. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for this show and later for “Gypsy,” then went on to write words and music for a host of Broadway shows, receiving eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer) and described by Frank Rich of The New York Times as “now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater.”

The production now at the Candlelight is among the most sensational shows seen on the Johnstown stage! Heading the cast are Scott Severtson as Tony and Kimberly Ann Crawford as Maria. They are unforgettable! When they combine voices to sing on the balcony of Maria’s tenement house, and later when they sing “One Hand and One Heart” in the bridal shop, the audience is in reverent awe! Their chemistry is palatable! The “Dance in the Gym” sequence is one of Broadway’s most memorable scenes — when Tony and Maria first meet, dance, and fall in love.

Not to be outdone, however, are supporting players Jessica Hindlsey and Bob Hoppe. Hindlsey is terrific as Maria’s friend, Anita, and Bob Hoppe as Riff, the Jet’s gang leader, is superb.

Story looks at rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, in the 1950s on the streets of New York. The actual locale of the street gangs of the 50s was cleared in an urban renewal project, and is now home of the the city’s cultural triumph – Lincoln Center!

Choreography for the original production was created by Jerome Robbins. Matthew D. Peters based his choreography for the Candlelight production on the original work of Robbins. The current show is staged and directed to perfection by Donald Berlin. Casey Cropp is music director and conductor. The orchestra under his change is extremely good, especially considering the requirements of performing the near-classical Bernstein music!

Many of the songs of the original show have lasted as mainstream popular music for nearly 60 years – “I Feel Pretty,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Tonight, “ and “Something’s Coming.” Vocal music direction is expertly provided by Melissa Swift-Sawyer.

Technical aspects of the show are flawless. Scenic design by Glenn Grassi, lighting by Katie Gruenhagen, sound by Colin Hardesty, costumes by Judith Ernst combine to provide a spell-binding evening of theater.
A word of caution. While Candlelight’s most recent production was the delightful family show “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “West Side Story” covers more serious themes and situations – but brilliantly so!

“West Side Story” has fortunately been passed from generation to generation, since its inception in the 1960s. Its message of potential hope does not fade – nor does the incredible music and choreography!

“West Side Story”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: November 15, 2015
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com
Website:  ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Saturday Night Fever”” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

SNF LogoEnthusiasm Soars in Excellent “Saturday Night Fever – The Musical” at Arvada Center!

By Tom Jones
September 16, 2015

Ian Campayno takes no hostages. From the moment he swaggers onto the stage as Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever, The Musical” the audience is in the palm of his hand. He exudes self-confidence, and is a wonder to behold! The entire show is a wonder, but Campayno is a triumph!

Photo P. Switzer
Photo P. Switzer

The Regional Premiere of the show provided reason for the standing ovation at the show’s end at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Front and center was Campayno who sings dances, acts, and swaggers. And oh, that swagger. The role he plays is a 19-year-old young man in Brooklyn. He has close friends, and the ability to attract any girl who interests him. His home life isn’t great, as his parents don’t give him much support or attention. Their devotion is set on Tony’s older brother, Frank, who has become a Catholic Priest, giving the family a special social status in the neighborhood. Thomas Borrillo and Sharon Kay White are very good as the parents, as is Adam Estes, as Frank, Jr., the religious son who is questioning his own beliefs.

When Tony is not wooing the local girls or dancing his heart out at the local disco, he works in a paint store. This just gives him enough funding to learn incredible disco moves and to look over the girls eager to share his spotlight. Emma Martin can equal his disco moves, but Tony believes that something is missing. She adores him, but he is more interested in a beautiful woman he finds at the local dancing studio. McKayla Marso is brilliant as the willowy dancer who appears to have no interest in the younger and less-sophisticated Tony. Tony can’t quite figure her out and finally asks her if she thinks he is “interesting,” realizing that he doesn’t have her basic smarts.

Photo P. Switzer
Photo P. Switzer

This love story is background for the disco “fever” with such Bee Gees music of the 70s. “Disco Inferno” early in the First Act just about burns down the theater with enthusiasm. The “Fever” is obvious! Other familiar songs include “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive, and “You Should Be Dancing.”

Based on the 1970s film, the Arvada stage comes alive with the “look” of the era – hot pants, white suits, and platform shoes. Everyone looks about three inches taller than reality! The musical, directed by Rod A. Lansberry is based on the Paramount movie, adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oakes.

The breathtaking choreography is by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, with Brian Mallgrave credited for the impressive set. Mondo Guerra is costume designer, recreating the memories we have of how the “70s “looked.”

Everything about this show works! The cast is enormous, with special attention given to Tony’s friends Dan Reardon, Andrew Russell, Andrew Keeler, and Steven Burge. Musical Director and Conductor is David Nehls, backed by Keith Ewer, David DeMichelis, Harry Grainger, Wade Sander, Bradley Goode, and Jon Cullison.

This is a disco show – but emphasis moves from the ballroom to the lives of Tony and his friends. Tony’s swagger initially provides him with just about everything he wants. But he has a wonderful vulnerability. His final solo, “Tragedy” provides as much gut wrenching empathy, as did his incredible turns as the disco king.

“Saturday Night Fever” is a must-see production!

“Saturday Night Fever – The Musical”
Tuesday through Saturday through October 4, 2015
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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“Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper” at Creede Repertory Theatre

Creede’s acclaimed Repertory Theatre Celebrates 50 Years of Excellence – we saw two of this summer’s shows – “Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper” – Both terrific!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 10, 2015

Many years ago my wife and I began summer visits to Pagosa Springs in Southern Colorado. We had spent a few summer visits there before we “discovered” Creede – a tiny town about 90 minutes north of Pagosa. Much to our amazement, we learned that Creede hosts one of America’s most respected theatre companies – Creede Repertory Theater (CRT). In recent years we have made a point of driving over Wolf Creek Pass to see delightful shows offered at CRT! We have rarely been disappointed, and some of our very favorite theatre experiences have been seeing Creede productions: “Fools,” “The 39 Steps,” and last summer’s amazing “Hope and Gravity” – just to mention a few. This year CRT celebrated its 50th Anniversary in providing great theater and was honored by the Colorado Theatre Guild as Outstanding Regional Theatre.

Creede has been home to some of our favorite performers, who have been part of the company’s summer theatre productions. We have seen Christy Brandt, Anne F. Butler, John Arp, John DiAntonio, Caitlin Wise, and John S. Green so many times that we are surprised when they don’t become as excited to see us when visiting with performers following the show – excited as we are to see them. We were miffed when John DiAntonio and Caitlin Wise didn’t invite us to their wedding last year – how could they not include us, when we thought we KNEW THEM so well– having seen them in so many different shows! But we are adult enough, however, to realize that unknown persons smiling from the audience do not provide opportunities for lasting friendships with the actors we admire!This summer we missed, “Ghost Light,” ”August: Osage County,” and “Our Town, but did see ”Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper.” Driving back to Pagosa Springs late one evening after seeing the two shows the same day, we mused that it was a shame we did not have the time to see all of this summer’s productions!

Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre

Guys and Dolls” is a charmer from the opening chords of “Runyonland” to the final “Marry the Man Today!” Rarely have the leading roles been in better hands than this year’s Tosin Morohunfola as Nathan Detroit, Sean Thompson as Sky Masterson, Emily Van Fleet as Sarah Brown, and Mehry Eslaminia as Miss Adelaide.

Sky Masterson is a sure-bet gambler who takes on a bet many think he cannot win – that he can take the humble Salvation Army worker on a date to Havana! He wins the bet, and almost loses the girl – but not quite! Sean Thompson is excellent as the no-frills Masterson, and Emily Van Fleet is his equal, initially fighting off Masterson’ advances, only to succumb to the potential “good” Masterson has to offer. The show’s “star, “ however is the zany Mehry Eslaminia as the wide-eyed Adelaide. She is “center stage” whether it be leading the under-dressed and over-exuberant girls in “Bushel and a Peck,” or in determining that a boyfriend’s hesitancy to marry can result in a bad cold! She is a very talented performer! The score includes “I’ll Know When my Love Comes Along,” “If I Were a Bell,” ”Luck Be Lady Tonight, “ and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Supporting players are quite wondrous: Brian Kusic doesn’t miss a beat as Harry the Horse, Joey Biltmore and others. Keep your eye on Graham Ward as he switches persona in the flick of an eye between Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Big Julie. Caitlin Wise is super as one of the Hot Box girls, and plays other roles as well!.

Costumes, lighting, sound, choreography and a terrific cast combine to make “Guys and Dolls” a must-see!

– – – – –

Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre

Good on Paper” is not a splashy musical, but a terrific piece of theatre, outlining the challenges of finding that “perfect” mate! Caitlin Wise plays Peg, a lovelorn police-sketch artist whose drawings come to life. She rejects all suitors, as no one can match up to her standards. That is until “Guy” springs from her paper sketch and into her apartment as a live person! Guy is played by John DiAntonio whose self-assured swagger and incredible good looks, make him the “perfect man” of Peg’s dreams. Peg’s sister, Sandy, has her own imaginary friends, as she writes trash books about forbidden love, etc. Mehry Eslaminia plays Sandy. We saw her earlier in the day as the super Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” and realized her extensive range of talent in bringing to life an entirely different character in the evening’s “Good on Paper.”

DiAntonio and Wise are married in real life – tying the knot a year ago in Creede. They are super together on the stage as sparring romantics. Completing the cast are Brian Kusic and Logan Ernstthal portraying two of the crooks shown in Peg’s police sketches. They also come to life in Peg’s apartment, with her fearing that more of her sketches may come in person to haunt her! Kusic is particularly amusing, as he wants to “expose” himself to everyone at every turn, whereas Ernstthal’s Vincent is a complete “tough.”

This is a fun and thought-provoking play making its Creede debut this summer!

For information, prices and dates of this summer’s CRT productions:’
www.creederep.org
Telephone 719/658-2540

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” musical based on popular family film at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is Family-friendly Entertainment Running the Gamut from Slapstick to Serious at Candlelight.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, August 13, 2015

Photo credit Garland Photography.
Photo credit Garland Photography.
The car flies! Well, not quite “flies,” but it does rise up from the stage – much to the delight and amusement of everyone in the theatre. The car itself is quite amazing – a terrific highlight to its production namesake “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” now on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown.

Special effects have long been used by movies. Now, they are becoming wonderfully commonplace on the stage! We saw Peter Pan fly away with Wendy on the stage at Candlelight. We saw Mary Poppins fly away from the stage at Boulder Dinner Theatre. Now we have an entire car that is airborne, occupied by David Wygant, Alisha Winter Hayes, Rebecca Hyde and Brekken Wald as they fly from England to Vulgaria – and back! Wygant plays Caractacus Potts, the car’s inventor. Alisha Winter Hayes is Truly Scrumptious, a delightfully self-assured woman who is willing to get on board. Hyde and Wald play Pott’s children with no fear of where the amazing car just might take them.

The show did take a little time for me to become enchanted by the goings-on! The script seems to be two shows. The first act introduces us to the Potts family, to the wonderful Truly Scrumptious, and tells us that Potts is a somewhat daffy inventory, who has yet to make it big. The second act is more interesting, as Potts and group fly the car-plane to Vulgaria, a mythical country whose loony Baron is trying to steal Pott’s car and other inventions.

This is the regional premiere of Richard and Robert Sherman’s musical adventure based on the 1968 movie, a version of an Ian Fleming book for children. The premise is that Potts is a kind-hearted but down-on-his luck father of two who has terrific ideas,with little financial success. . Alisha Winter Hayes turns up as Truly Scrumptious, the motorized bicyclist who claims to know more than she does about engines. She is great fun and is quick to charm Pott’s children. Young stage actors are sometimes difficult to understand. Not so with Rebecca Hyde and Brekken Wald. They are delightful from the outset – each has a very good singing voice, stage presence, and speaking voice.

This is specially important in “Chitty,” as the audience included a large number of well-mannered young persons who appeared to be completely in love with the show – even when the evil “Childcatcher” appears in the second act with plans to capture every child in the dreadful country of Vulgaria. Markus Warren was in great form as the Childcatcher! His job is to pick up any children and to “send them away,” as the country’s Baron and his wife claim they hate children and have them banned from the country. Bob Hoppe became drenched in Candlelight’s “Singing in the Rain” and is back for more abuse as the goofy Baron. Alicia King is deliciously wicked as the Baroness Bomburst who claims that she hates “little things.”

There are many young persons in the cast who provide vitality to the production. Of the supporting cast adults, Scott McCoppin is especially endearing as The Toymaker in Vulgaria who makes toys only for the silly Baron, as children have all been exiled or are in hiding! Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as Grandpa Potts. Eric Heine and Jack Barton provide comedy relief as Vulgarian spies who are trying to hijack Potts’ ideas. They provide over-the-top slapstick, but their interaction with the audience is substantial, and the young people watched their every move!

The music is reminiscent of the Sherman brothers’ earlier “Mary Poppins,”and includes some fun pieces, “Toot Sweets” in the candy factory, “Hushabye Mountain” in the children’s bedroom, “Truly Scrumptious” at the countryside and seaside, and the always hummable “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Sets are very good, as is the orchestra, conducted by Casey Cropp. Choreography by Alicia King is first rate, as are costumes by Judith Ernst. Melissa Swift-Sawyer is credited as Vocal Music Director – with excellent results! The show is staged and directed by Pat Payne who directed Candlelight’s recent hit, “Hairspray.”

I left the theater with my first-act concerns completely gone, as the ultimate tale of the importance of helping each other came through loud and clear, and I was humming the super “Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” all the way home!

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To September 13, 2015.
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.com
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Secret Garden” and Tarzan” at Thingamajig Theatre Company, Pagosa Springs Center of the Arts

Pagosa Springs is site of delightful productions year-round, with “Tarzan” and “The Secret Garden” among summer 2015 offerings

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 9, 2015

My wife and I have been going to Pagosa Springs for several years, but did not take the time last year to see live theatre which was offered by Thingamajig Theatre Company. The shows we saw advertised earlier were well known, but we brushed off seeing them, in what appeared to be a tiny theatre. We were wrong. This month we corrected the error of our ways, and stopped in to see two delightful shows there this summer! The theatre plays year-round and their ambitious summer 2015 season includes such popular offerings as “Damn Yankees,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.,” “Tarzan,” and “The Secret Garden.” The shows change daily, so you could spend a week in the area, and see all four different shows this summer! Further information about the history of the Theatre company, etc., is found at the conclusion of this article.

Thingamajig Theatre Company
Thingamajig Theatre Company

Our first venture was “Tarzan, the Stage Musical.” Yes, this is the basic show that was Broadway’s most expensive offering a few years ago. The Broadway sets and staging were so incredible that it took longer than usual to work out the problems, and a near-forever series of previews raised doubts about the production’s ultimate success. The version that is appearing in Pagosa Springs does not have the glitz and glamour of the New York version, but is an up-close-and-personal charmer. Marek Zurowski plays the young man raised by gorillas in a far away jungle. Zurowski is remarkable. He is every bit the Tarzan hunk that fans imagine, and has a terrific voice and stage presence. His “Jane” is played by Annie Jenness, who arrives on the scene fully clothed and prim and proper, shedding some of her clothes, but none of her academic skills by show’s end.

Their Pagosa stage home is actually the foyer of the theatre – all decked out with the looks of a jungle, complete with lots of hanging lines, bamboo shoots, and trees for everyone to climb around. It is enormously interesting. We sat next to a couple who had seen the original production in New York. They commented that the set cannot begin to match that of New York, but the play was substantially more interesting and entertaining this time around as everything was so close-up!

The actors and actresses playing gorillas are appropriate attired and made up to look like wild beasts, and costuming is excellent. Giving support to Zurowski and Jenness are Michael E. Martin as the gorilla leader (Kerchak), Heather McCall is Kala, his wife who decides to raise Tarzan over her husband’s objections, Rodney Holmes as Terk, a gorilla who befriends Tarzan, and Samaya Dunn as the young Tarzan. They are all talented performers! The cast is quite large and provide delightful aerial acrobatics with the vines!

“Tarzan” is well worth a visit. Tickets are extremely reasonable, and there are no reserved seats. Seating, however, is a problem. The theater in the foyer is not large, and only a few rows of folding chairs, are elevated on two sides of the theater. We opted for top row on the back side, only to learn that we could not see the set directly above our heads, which included scenes of Tarzan’s family arriving on the island. We were further hampered by tall persons directing in front of us, so we feel we visually missed some interesting parts of the show. As there is no reserved seating, audience needs to assemble outside the theatre around 6:30 for the 7:00 p.m. production of “Tarzan.”

 

Thingamajig Theatre Company
Thingamajig Theatre Company

The Secret Garden” includes some of the most beautiful songs in recent Broadway memory. They are not, however, immediately recognizable to those not familiar with the show. The music is all here in Pagosa, however, with such amazing pieces as “A Girl in the Valley,” “A Bit of Earth,” “Lily’s Eyes,” and “How Could I Ever Know.” The songs are wonderfully performed! The show itself is excellent!

This is the popular children story of a young girl, Mary Lennox who is living with her family in India, where her relatives all suddenly die of cholera. Mary is sent to live with two uncles – brothers on the moors of Northern England. One brother, Archibald, was married to Mary’s aunt, Lily. Archibald and Lily were expecting a child, only to have Lily die after the child was born. The child survived, and is kept hidden in the English house, supposedly in ill health. Archibald can’t reconcile himself to life without his beloved Lily. He does read to his ill son, Colin nearly nightly. Archibald has a deformed shoulder, and is terrified that Colin will face the same deformity.

Hanna Hawson is remarkable as the orphaned Mary Lennox. She has acting and musical capabilities well beyond her actual years. Tyler D. Collins is convincing as her uncle Archibald. He was a somewhat daffy professor in “Tarzan,” and makes the switch to leading role in“The Secret Garden” to taking command of the stage!

Lily in this show is played by Annie Jenness who was super as Tarzan’s Jane! Her portrayal as Lily is a triumph when she combines voices with Tyler Collins in “How could I Ever Know” at the show’s end.

Archibald’s brother, Neville, is played by Michael E. Martin. We saw him as the gorilla pack leader in “Tarzan” and were amazed when he dressed up as a proper Englishman for “Garden.” Among the show’s highlights is the duet of Martin and Collins reminding each other that Mary Lennox appears to have “Lily’s Eyes” – the eyes of the girl both loved many years ago.

The entire cast of “the Secret Garden” is flawless. This show is performed in a little theater behind the foyer. Seating is better here than for “Tarzan” as there is not a bad seat in the room!

The persons who died of Cholera, including Mary’s parents, turn up frequently in the show, interspersed with the persons playing characters in the English home. Their appearances are a tad confusing.

The musical as a whole, however, is a super, heartfelt retelling of the popular story. Some of the audience sitting near us appeared to be a little confused with the story line, but joined the audience in an inspiring, and well deserved standing ovation.

– – – –

Thingamajig Theatre Company was started in 2010 by Producing Artist Director Tim and Executive Director Laura Moore. It’s board is comprised of arts and business professionals in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada that were looking for a small town in which to have a big impact.

Thingamajig renovated the new Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts and opened in the spring of 2011. They have been a volunteer run organization committed to bringing in professional artists for the past four and one-half years, producing 41 professional productions, including several Colorado premiers, original scripts by Colorado writers and other works ranging from major musicals to small dramas as well as 13 children’s theater shows. original dance shows and 13 Free Concerts.

#

For information:
Thingamajig Theatre Company
In residence at
The Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts
2313 Eagle Drive
Pagosa Springs, CO
Telephone: 970/731SHOW (7469)
Web: www.pagosacenter.org
E-mail: info@pagosacenter.org

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Award Winning Drama “Side Man” Well Portrayed at Bas Bleu

Sideman-logo-BasBleauDysfunctional Family as Remembered by an Only Child in Moving “Side Man”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 4, 2015

Clifford Glimmer is front and center in Bas Bleu’s moving “Side Man,” as he reviews growing up with dysfunctional parents in New York City. Will Ferrie is convincing as the Glimmer son, telling the audience of trying to be the family peacemaker, as his father thinks only of his music and his buddies, and his mother is becoming a hopeless alcoholic. Dan Tschirhart and Corinne Wieben are brilliant in their difficult roles. Tschirhart is emerging from his excellence in comedic roles to become the hapless father who virtually disintegrates before our eyes. Wieben becomes a foul-mouthed, chain smoking drunk.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

A “side man” in music parlance is a musician for hire who can blend in with the band or star as a solo performer. Gene Glimmer is such a performer when the story begins in the fifties. He is a terrific musician (a jazz trumpeter), but can’t seem to be in the right place at the right time to truly be a success. His wife, Terry, becomes increasingly irritated with Gene’s inability to find a regular job, and finally goes to work as a waitress to help make ends meet.

Gene and Terry had no skills as parents, and are seen through the bewildered eyes of their son, Clifford, over the years covered by the play. The story begins at the unemployment office where Gene and his buddies meet each week or two to pick up their unemployment checks. Gene is strangely proud of his now-adult son, Clifford who is picking up his very first check at the Unemployment Office. It is as if Clifford is being honored for some sort of unearned graduation or achievement!

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

“Side Man” was written by Warren Leight and received Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Drama in 1998. Leight’s memory play, inspired by his father, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Bas Bleu founder Wendy Ishii noted that the play has long been one of her favorites, as she lived in the New York depicted by the story, living across the street from jazz artist Miles Davis.

The stage set by Jared Grohs, constructed by Cathy Dietz is very effective, as the play’s action moves from the Glimmer’s apartment to the Melody Lounge, the unemployment office, and various other areas of New York City.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Director Laura Jones first directed “Side Man” in 2004 at CSU. That production received First Place honors at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Region VII Festival in Ashland, Oregon. Jones notes the show is one of her top ten favorite plays.

Giving excellent support to the three lead players are Cara Buckley, Chaz Grundy, Karl Perry and James Burns. Ian Schmid performs selected trumpet solos through the production.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

“Side Man” tells of a life foreign to most of us, and is a moving experience looking at the challenges faced, but not always overcome. Cast is an awesome ensemble of gifted actors moving through a particularly interesting time when Rock and Roll was beginning to take over big-band lives and jobs. Due to the strong language, the show is sometimes difficult to watch/listen to, but unquestionably well done!

“Side Man”
Through June 28, 2015
Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524
For Information: Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Web:   WWW.BASBLEU.ORG

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Mary Poppins is “Practically Perfect” at Boulder Dinner Theatre!

MP BDTEnchantment Abounds in Boulder Dinner Theatre’s Delightful “Mary Poppins”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 29, 2015

When lyricists Richard and Robert Sherman collaborated on “Mary Poppins,” it is as if they had every reviewer in mind – creating lyrics that reviewers would use with great aplomb as they lavished praise on the show. I find myself using their great lyrics when writing my own review. I can’t refrain from saying that Mary Poppins is, just as she sings — “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” The entire production is nothing sort of Super! That is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography
Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography

From the moment the impressive set appears and the cast begins to assemble, there is magic in the air. Somewhere early in the show something is said about “enchanted,” or “enchantment.” I can’t recall precisely what was said, but the entire production is delightfully “enchanting!”

Scott Beyette oversees a terrifically talented group of performers, as the show’s director and male lead. There are several persons on the stage at the same time, as many play several roles – resulting in the cast appearing to be substantially larger than it is! They sing. They dance. They act. They move around the stage making the audience think we might be seeing a movie!

Heading the group is director Scott Beyette as Bert, the chimney-sweep. This is the role that Dick Van Dyke played in the movie. Scott is a remarkable talent. He is very much at ease as the enormously likable man who cleans chimneys, and seems to know everyone in town. My wife and I saw the original musical when it first opened in London several years ago and were thunderstruck when the Bert character tap-danced up one side of the stage, across, the top, and back down the other side. We were alerted beforehand that Bert in this show wouldn’t be doing that – but he does something nearly as challenging. He dances part way up the side of the stage, then flies out over the audience!

Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography
Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography

Mary Poppins also flies over the audience! She lands at the home of George and Winifred Banks, just as yet another nanny has given notice – saying the children are beyond hope. Tracy Warren is a miraculous “Mary Poppins.” Undaunted by anything, she can pull a large coat rack from her tiny handbag, can put a damaged kitchen back into shape with a snap of her fingers, and cheerfully reminds us that “A Spoonful of Sugar” truly makes the medicine go down!

Scenery is particularly effective – showing us the Banks home, Mr. Bank’s office, The Park near Cherry Tree Lane, the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the rooftops of London. Dancing needs to be seen to be believed, including when the amazing statues in the park come to life – after we have long-thought they were scenery made of stone! When Bert and his chimney-sweep friends pull out all stops with “Step in Time” in the second act, the audience is basically breathless with the athletic expertise of the dancers!

The movie began charming us in 1964, based on the P. L. Travers books. The stage version was developed in collaboration with Disney Theatrical and Cameron Mackintosh, opening in London in 2004 when I first saw it. It has subsequently become enormously successful on Broadway. Michael J. Duran is Producing Artistic Director for the Boulder production.

Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography
Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography

Among those responsible for various areas of delight are Neal Dunfee (as music conductor), Linda Morken (costume design), Amy Campion (scenic design), Brett Maughan (lighting design), choreography by Matthew D. Peters, and aerial choreography by Troy Trinkle. Space does not permit giving suitable praise for everyone in the exciting cast. Mention must be made, however, of Joanie Brosseau who plays multiple roles including the Bird Woman who sings the wonderful “Feed the Birds” on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, McKayla Marso as Mrs. Corry, and Brian Burron who turns up in nearly every scene, playing a variety of characters, without the audience realizing it is the same person – just different hair! Amanda Earls is a hoot as the proposed replacement nanny. Wayne Kennedy and Shelly Cox-Robie are convincing as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, who try to keep the chaotic house in order! Their two children are played by Katie Phipps, Rylee Vogel, Kaden Hinkle, and Max Eugene Raabe, rotating the parts at various performances. The orchestra is yet another “plus.”

A cast member reported that the show is a “technical nightmare.” There are so many interesting challenges that could go wrong — from mini-magic tricks to changing the large sets, to see kites and people flying! The performance I saw was without problem, however, and left me feeling I had just seen something quite Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

“Mary Poppins”
Through September 5, 2015
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
For Information: Telephone: 303/449-6000
Or visit the Webb: BDTStage.com

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“Singin’ in the Rain” drenches the stage with exuberant  performances at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Singing In The RainActual Rain Doesn’t Dampen Enthusiasm of Delighted Johnstown Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones,  May 21, 2015

Yes it rains.  Not just a mild sprinkle, but a torrential rain falls upon the stage, thoroughly drenching the dancing lead actor, as well as some of the audience in front rows! At the conclusion of Act I,  Don Lockwood, enthusiastically played by Bob Hoppe, has returned from walking Kathy Selden to her home after 24 hours of  deliberation concerning what to do with a very problematic movie-in-the making.  He is joyful with the plans they have made, and also enthused, as he has fallen in love. A little rain doesn’t dampen his joy.  In fact a lot of rain can’t even stop him.  The scene from the movie became immortalized by the legendary Gene Kelly more than 50 years ago.  The excitement has been transferred to the stage with Don Hoppes’ display of talent, as he sings and  dances through a delightfully drenching rain!  Hoppe not only stars in the show as Don Lockwood, but choreographed it, carefully re-creating much of the movie’s magic.

SITR Press photo 1Don Lockwood’s love interest is Kathy Selden,.  His friend and performing partner is Cosmo Brown.  I saw Michelle Sergeeff in her first performance as Selden.  The role is played by Rachel Turner in various performances. David Miller portrays the loose-limbed Cosmo.  The three appear to be having the times of their lives on stage, as the performance demands of singing, dancing, and  comedic routines are non-stop’.  The original movie roles were played by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.  Their portrayals have been so ingrained in our movie memories, that it must be a daunting task for anyone to fill their shoes.  Hoppe, Sergeeff, and Miller work exceedingly hard to make the roles come to life on stage!  Sergeeff is an incredible dancer.  Whereas she has a lilting voice in some songs, dancing is her forte!

SITR 2Donald Berlin is credited with staging and direction of the show.  He had his work cut out, putting the incredible production together.  The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse management team does not shy away from challenges.  Executive Director Dave Clark notes that “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the two most technically challenging shows the theatre has produced, the other being the audience charmer “Peter Pan”   — where the leads flew above the stage, suspended by thin wires.  No thin wires this time around, but lots and lots of moisture.  I am anticipating a future Candlelight announcement that the Red Sea will be parted as a someday-stage-version of  “The Ten Commandments!”

As a plot catch-up – the year is 1927, when silent films were the the entertainment rage.  Hollywood’s Monumental Studios is just opening another successful silent film,  “The Royal Rascal,” starring Hollywood’s favorite couple – Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.  This is yet another in a string of successful Lockwood-Lamont films with basically the same plot told over and over and over..  Lockwood cannot abide Lamont who claims they are a  romantic couple. .  When a competing studio comes up with a movie with sound,  “The Jazz Singer,” the industry goes into shock.  Monumental boss, R.F. Simpson realizes that his studio must face the opposition, and the movie, “the Dueling Cavalier,” they had just begin to film will be turned into a “talkie” – eventually a musical talkie to be known as “The Dancing Cavalier.”  So far, so good.  Lockwood has a good speaking, singing voice, but the Lina Lamont is a disaster.  She has a horrific speaking voice and can’t begin to carry a tune. Newcomer Kathy Selden is brought in to provide the “voice” of the crazed Lamont, and mayhem ensues.

SITR 3Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as the studio executive, trying to create order out of chaos.  Beth Beyer is an enormous delight as the raucous Lina Lamont who everyone believes is incredibly stupid.  Not so.  She is not only in love with Don Lockwood, trying to hold his affection for Kathy Selden at bay, but is found to be substantially more clever than anyone had imagined..  She is also a wonder to see in action.  Her scenes are brilliant – overshadowed only by the amazing dancing which fills much of the evening’s moments.

Among the show’s musical highlights are Don Lockwood and Cosmos Brown entertaining as Vaudeville performers to “Fit as a Fiddle,” Lockwood, Brown, and Selden realizing they have talked the night away with, “Good Morning,” and Brown pulling out all the stops in “Make ‘Em Laugh,.”  The show’s greatest triumph, however,  remains the “Singin’ in the Rain” finale to Act I.

David MacEachen is credited as being Technical Director.  I  am not certain what this entails, but the show includes several black-and-white movie scenes where problems are faced in synchronizing the film and soundtrack.  One of these technical displays is a flawless laugh-out-loud charmer where  Lamont’s inability to be understood is enormous fun.

Photo Credit is Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit is Rachel Graham Photography
The cast is large, including good performances by Scotty Shaffer, Samantha Jo Staggs, Thomas Castro, Melissa Morris and Markus Warren, as well as those mentioned earlier.  Jack Barton holds center stage for a few moments with his super tenor version of “Beautiful Girl.”  The featured dancers at performance I saw were the always-talented Broc Timmerman and Alisha Winter-Hayes.   The orchestra, under direction of Angela Steiner as conductor, had some problems, especially early in the performance.  This is unfortunate, and will hopefully be fine-tuned for shows later in the run.

The set and costumes are effective, as are lighting and sound., and the set.  I wonder how long it takes to dry-out the stage after the heavy rain.

Whereas the movie was released in 1952, the stage version did not appear until 1983 when it opened at the London Palladium, starring Tommy Steele.  The stage version has gone through several incarnations including a Broadway run in 1986 starring Don Coreia as Don.  I saw both of those productions, and was a bit hesitant to see it this time around on a local stage.  I erred.  The large cast is immensely talented and the show looks terrific.

And for outright exuberance, Bob Hoppe cannot be matched.  His joy is infectious as he sings and dances  “Singin’ In The Rain” in the thoroughly-drenching downpour.

“Singing in the Rain”
Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534
When:  To July 12, 2015.
For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747
Email:  info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

 

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“A Man of No Importance” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

No Importance Logo

By Tom Jones
May 13, 2015

When entering the auditorium of the Arvada Center to see “A Man of No Importance,” I was immediately transported into a bar in the working class area of Dublin in 1964 – complete with its dart throwing, semi-drunken patrons, and a feeling of persons losing themselves for a few moments of safety from the outside world. Colorado’s legendary Irish-folk band, Colcannon, was there to provide super music. What more could one ask for? For this production Director Rod A. Lansberry has surrounded himself with some of Colorado’s finest talents – actors, musicians, set designers, costumers, etc. – most with extensive experience working with the Arvada Center. They appear to be armed with a conviction that they are going to give Colorado a brief taste of Ireland. It works!

P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Peter Gosik (Robbie Fay) and Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne)
P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Peter Gosik (Robbie Fay) and Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne)

Pre-show music by the on-stage group, Colcannon, welcomes the audience to the bar, but the action quickly moves to other areas of town. The terrific set gives everyone a feeling of “being there,” as action takes place in the basement theater of a local church, a kitchen of an Irish apartment, the bar, and the streets of Dublin. Best of all is a streetcar that magically appears on stage, making the audience feel they are seeing a moving vehicle, only to realize that it does not move at all, and has no signs of an actual bus. It is all done by the magic of excellent direction and choreography!

The “man of no importance” is Alfie Byrne, a streetcar ticket-taker by day, and director of an amateur theatrical group in his church by night. He lives with his sister in Dublin, and looks in the mirror to find “nothing of importance” there. Kevin Loreque is excellent as Alfie.   He appears to be a man with no comprehension of the joy he provides to others, reading to the travelers on the streetcar and encouraging them to do their best in his little theater group. He remains a very lonely person, but finds joy in the shows he directs. Alfie is a great fan of writer Oscar Wilde, and his world is shaken when church authorities balk at his producing an Oscar Wilde play, “Salome,” which just might provide some erotic movement – even dancing! Other than his sister, Lily, his only apparent friend is Robbie, the driver of the bus who he sees only at work. Heather Lacy and Peter Gosik are convincing as the sister and streetcar-driving friend.

P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne) and Emily Van Fleet (Adele Rice).
P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne) and Emily Van Fleet (Adele Rice).

To add conflict to his life, a new person begins riding his streetcar. Alfie cannot understand the effect this beautiful young woman seems to have on him. Emily Van Fleet is remarkable as this mysterious addition to the streetcar travelers, who ultimately accepts the invitation to join the theater company as “Salome.”

In the course of nearly three hours we meet and become very interested in many characters. The cast is large and includes the wonderful persons traveling on the streetcar, in the theatre group, leaders of the church, and staff and patrons of the sometimes raucous bar.

The story revolves around Alfie and his realization of sexual desires and their hazards. He is conflicted to the point of even dressing as Oscar Wilde for a night on the town, with disastrous results.

Suddenly many of his friends appear to turn on him, and he questions if he has been of worth to anyone.

“A Man of No Importance” was written by Terrence McNally, one of America’s most respected playwrights. His productions include “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Master Class,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and “Ragtime.” Music and lyrics are by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Their acclaimed productions include “Ragtime,” “Once on this Island,” “Seussical the Musical” and the animated movie, “Anastasia.” The music is awesome, but there are no melodies to provide after-show humming.

Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck is choreographer, Brian Mallgrave scenic designer, Shannon McKinney lighting designer, David Thomas sound designer, Sally Anne Burke, costumes. David Nehls is musical director. Substantial credit for the entire production must be given to Colcannon, the on-stage band featuring Mick Bolger, Jean Bolger, Cynthia Jaffe, Brian Mullins and Michal Fitzmaurice. Colcannon began as a house band in a Boulder pub in the 1980s and has subsequently created a tremendous following with their concert performances, television specials and numerous CDs.

The cast is universally excellent, headed by Kevin Loreque, Heather Lacy, Peter Gosik, Emily Van Fleet, and supported by a large cast of professionals. Nearly everyone has substantial credits in Arvada Center involvement. This is the first time local audiences have seen Kevin Lorecque, however. Hopefully he will be back as a man of “great” importance. He is terrific.

“ A Man of No Importance” is Rod. A. Lansberry’s 31st production as director in 23 years with the Arvada Center! A personal concern was my inability to understand all of the Irish accent. I was wearing myself out trying to understand every word, but finally realized that I could grasp the enormity of the message even if I did not understand everything.

The entire production is a rewarding experience of theatre working at its peak in every aspect. The well written play concludes with themes of tolerance and respect for others.

It was a shock to leave the auditorium and re-enter the theater lobby, as I expected we’d be walking out of the show and onto the rainy streets of Dublin. This show has magic!

“A Man of No Importance”
Through May 17, 2015
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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OpenStage Theatre Provides Terrific Version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet!”

RNJ logo
Harper Point Photography

Kiernan Angley and Abbey Featherston shine as star-crossed lovers in retelling of classic story!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April, 2015

The oft-told-tale of young love in Italy is given a successful new look as Verona, Italy, becomes Verona, Missouri, in OpenStage’s excellent version of “Romeo and Juliet.” The story’s location has changed, as has the time of the play. For this production the time is after the US Civil War, where families continue to feud.

Kate Austin Groen Photography

Kiernan Angley and Abbey Featherston play the young lovers whose relationship faces dreadful opposition from their families. Angley and Featherston are remarkable, and the chemistry between them is palatable! Whereas most of the angry families oppose the romance, only the kindly Parson Lawrence and the Nurse to Juliet give them any support. Jacob Offen and Judith Allen are both excellent in these supporting roles.

This is an exciting retelling of the tale, and looks great with the scenic design by Lori Rosedahl. Costumes are also wonderful, as designed by Rebecca Spafford. Ambrose Ferber is credited with fight direction. It, too, looks like every punch hits the mark! Lighting by Grant Putney is particularly effective. R. Todd Hoven, who directed this production, comes from a family line in Missouri where his ancestors found peace with neighboring families, instead of re-fighting the Civil War in their actions.

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

In his Director’s Statement, Hoven notes, “My hope is to raise awareness of those moments of intense conflict in life when we can each choose to take a breath, converse and solve and prevent the kind of regrettable escalations that our misguided and sometimes intractable characters chose and experienced.”

Shakespeare wrote the play about 1594-96, more than 400 years ago! The story has become as timeless as many of Shakespeare’s quotes from the play. Yes, we heard “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are thou Romeo?” And “Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow. That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

The country dance sequence, choreographed by Jessica V. Freestone, where the two lovers meet is delightful – looking as if could have come from Broadway’s “Oklahoma.” The shy Juliette is just 18, and emotionally swept away by the charm of Romeo. Kiernan Angley displays enormous confidence as he dances and romances. His moves are not unlike a young Gene Kelly.

The cast is numerous and effective. Highlighting some of the supporting roles are Dan Tschirhart as Count Paris who wants to marry Juliet, Heath Howes as Benvolio, Mark Terzani as Lord Capulet and Con Woodall as Lord Montague. Finola Doyle is only 13, and makes an excellent contribution to the play as Petra.

This is a flawless production where every aspect of the show works to perfection. It is also somewhat of a “family” affair. Director Hoven is married to Jessica V. Freestone, the choreographer, and daughter of OpenStage founders. Director Hoven’s son, Kimber, is sound designer and he performs as Balthazar. The director is son-in-law to OpenStage founder Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone. If only every family could have such talent!

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

There is always risk involved when a director moves a production to a different time period, or to a different location than the original play. Everything works here in Director Hoven’s favor – and the show looks as if it was created for the post-Civil War setting, with the problems relevant then, and just as relevant now – when love crosses boundaries of social structures.

It has been several years since I have seen a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” Perhaps I have never seen it portrayed so remarkably as presented this month on the stage of the Magnolia Theater by OpenStage.

“Romeo and Juliet”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through April 25, 2015
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.ltix.com

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“Juno and The Paycock” – Drama at Bas Bleu Theatre

Juno-Logo-7001“Super Acting Highlights Bas Bleu’s Production of Irish Play, “Juno and The Paycock.”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 2, 2015

Wendy Ishii and John Devaney are a pair to behold as the Irish couple in Sean O’Casey’s tragedy, “Juno and he Paycock.” Wendy is the family matriarch, “Juno” whose life is falling apart with familiar problems – not the least being her drunken husband, “Captain” Jack Boyle. Boyle is played by John Devaney, whose character is failure, who feels he can do nothing to change.

Juno acquired her nickname because so many events in her life occurred in June: Her birth, meeting her husband, marriage, and giving birth to her son, Johnny – – all in June. “Paycock,” the nickname Juno gives her husband, Jack, is appropriate; as Juno claims he struts around like a “peacock” without doing anything useful!

Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle), Eva Wright, (the Neighbour) and Kate Colby (seated, Mrs. Tancred). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle), Eva Wright, (the Neighbour) and Kate Colby (seated, Mrs. Tancred). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

When Jack Boyle receives word that a possible job may await him, he falls into his “forever” story of how badly his legs hurt – making it impossible to work. Juno is fed up with him, and is the only one in the family with any kind of income in this Irish tale of poverty in Dublin in the 1920s. Their daughter, Mary, is on strike from her job, and
demonstrating for better working conditions. Their son, Johnny, recently had an arm shot off when on maneuvers in the fight for Ireland to receive its independence. His mental and physical health are precarious, and much of his time is spent alone in his bedroom. Johnny is played by Cory Garcia, very believable in his situation. He is also suspected of alerting the warring opposition as to the whereabouts of a neighbor who is subsequently killed.

Most of Captain Boyle’s time is spent in local pubs with a drinking buddy, “Joxer” Daly, played with great aplomb by Ken Brenda. Boyle and Daly are not good for each other, as neither has any desire to make anything of his life, and doesn’t want the other to have any success, either.

Elizabeth Kirchmeier (Mary Boyle) and Troy Matthew Lescher (Jerry Devine). Photocourtesy of William A. Cotton.
Elizabeth Kirchmeier (Mary Boyle) and Troy Matthew Lescher (Jerry Devine). Photocourtesy of William A. Cotton.

Excitement comes to the family with news that the death of a cousin has resulted in the family about to receive a substantial inheritance. Everyone is delighted, and the family begins to purchase new furniture, and to receive loans from neighbors, with the idea that the inheritance will arrive soon. No one is more excited than Mary, wonderfully portrayed by Elizabeth Kirchmeier. She has been courted by Jerry Devine, another tenement dweller who is active in the labor union. Her attention quickly turns to Charles Bentham, however, a school teacher who prepared the cousin’s will. It appears that Mary and Bentham will soon “be a pair.”

The large cast is uniformly excellent, with major supporting roles played by Corbin Albaugh as Charles Bentham, Laurel Devaney as the chatter-box neighbor Maisie Madigan, and Troy Matthew Lescher as Jerry Devine.

The “stars” however are Wendy Ishii and John Devaney. They are so believable that the audience leaves the theatre, wishing to possibly give funds to the desperate Juno, and to escort her good-for-nothing husband, “Captain” Boyle out of town! Ishii and Devaney are longtime friends who have played the roles together in past productions. Ishii is especially brilliant in the earlier scenes of Juno trying to provide some sort of normalcy to the tragic family. Her despair in later scenes is powerful!

John Devaney (Captain Jack Boyle).  Seated, L-R, Laurel Devaney (Maisie Madigan) and Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton.
John Devaney (Captain Jack Boyle). Seated, L-R, Laurel Devaney (Maisie Madigan) and Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton.

By the end of Act Three, any hope for the family is fast-fading. No inheritance is coming, as Bentham erred in completing the will. Bentham has deserted the family, leaving Mary pregnant and unwed. Johnny is killed as retribution to the ambush which killed the neighbor. Captain Boyle continues to drink his way to destruction.

Dennis Madigan provides excellent direction to this epic of Irish sorrow, intertwined with humor. In his director’s statement of the play’s program, Madigan notes concerning the family’s despair, ”With this litany pf problems it’s a wonder we, as an audience, don’t turn to the whiskey bottle for relief.”

“Juno” is considered to be Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece. It is one of the most often-performed plays in Ireland and was first staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1924. It is second in what is known as O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy.” The first play was “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923), and “The Plough and the Stars” completed the trilogy in 1926. I was not familiar with any of the plays. But after becoming involved with the Boyle family in “Juno,” I am eager to find out what ultimately happens to them in “The Plough and the Stars.” Maybe Bas Bleu will someday bring the tale to us!

“Juno and The Paycock”
Through May 3, 2015
Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
For Information: Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Webb: www.basbleu.org

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“The Archbishop’s Ceiling” – Drama at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

archbishopsceiling-web

“The Archbishop’s Ceiling” just might be bugged by the secret police!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 28, 2015

Cast members look upward as they speak, feeling that the room’s ceiling is probably concealing a hidden microphone. Or maybe it is by the fireplace, or under a table. Life in Central Europe is not a pleasant experience. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is hosting the regional premiere of Arthur Miller’s story of political intrigue in “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” through April 19.

The Archbishop's Ceiling Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Heather Lacy (Maya) and William Hahn (Marcus)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Heather Lacy (Maya) and William Hahn (Marcus)

Espionage and Cold-War politics of the 1970s are dissected in Miller’s drama. The story takes place in an ornate room of a former Archbishop’s palace in Eastern Europe,, probably bugged by the secret police. The Arvada set is very impressive, with scenic design credited to Brian Mallgrave.

An American, Adrian, turns up at the apartment to see a writing friend, Marcus – only to find that Marcus is currently out of town. Looking after the apartment in Marcus’ absence is Maya, Adrian’s former lover! Adrian is well-played by Rodney Lizcano. Adrian and Maya begin guarded, somewhat stilted conversation, each believing the room is probably bugged, and caution is necessary. They can’t talk directly about their past relationship, or about their friendship with other writer friend such as Marcus, or another friend, Sigmund, who might be the object of secret police hunt. It appears that writers are of particular interest to the secret police, looking for anyone who might oppose the current government. Heather Lacy is excellent as Maya, an intelligent woman caught in a web of politics and political intrigue. She gets around and has romantic history with Adrian and Sigmund and Marcus!

The Archbishop's Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: William Hahn (Marcus), Rodney Lizcano (Adrian) and Michael Morgan (Sigmund)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: William Hahn (Marcus), Rodney Lizcano (Adrian) and Michael Morgan (Sigmund)

The visit is uncomfortable, with added intrigue when Sigmund and Marcus turn up, with Marcus bringing along a new love, Irina! William Hahn is terrific as Marcus. He is a take-charge personality, whose character has spent seven years in prison for political crimes. Sigmund, played by Michael Morgan is terrified, as someone has just stolen the only copy of a manuscript that he has been working on for five years, and just might include information that could incriminate him! Marcus’ new friend, Irina, is played by Adrian Egolf. She appears to understand very little of the English spoken by the others, and spends most of the play lounging on a couch, and looking through issues of “Vogue” magazine.

Marcus has ties with the government and understand their system of dealing with writers, having spent years in prison. He suggests that his writer-friend, Sigmund, seek political asylum and immediately leave the country All of this is conveyed in hush tones, or in meetings in the apartment hallway which might not be bugged. Everyone is afraid to say much to or about anyone else, leaving the audience in doubt as to what should or should not be said. It is a confining and uncomfortable situation.

The Archbishop's Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Adrian Egolf (Irina) and William Hahn (Marcus)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Adrian Egolf (Irina) and William Hahn (Marcus)

Arthur Miller was one of America’s most-prolific writers. His plays include “Death of a Salesman,” “A View from the Bridge,” “All My Sons,” “The Price,” and “The Crucible.” He also wrote screenplays, including “The Misfits,” which turned out to be Marilyn Monroe’s final movie. Monroe was Miller’s second wife, with their divorcing before her death.

“The Archbishop’s’ Ceiling” was written in 1977, and has not been frequently produced. Miller was very interested in the subject matter, however, spending substantial time in Eastern Europe and becoming well aware of the Cold-War espionage tactics. The play becomes tense, as Sigmund’s friends all encourage him to flee the country, whereas he is so strongly tied to his homeland that he cannot bear the thought of leaving, even with a prison sentence being a real possibility.

Acting is flawless. Direction by Brett Aune is very good. Set is excellent. Only real problem is the play itself, which becomes repetitive with so much “talk. “How does it end? I’m not “telling.” My secret remains with an apartment ceiling, which may or may not hold a hidden microphone!

“The Archbishop’s Ceiling”
Where: Arvada Center. For the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To April 19, 2015
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online: www.arvadacenter.org

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“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” in Phelps Theatre of Union Colony in Greeley

Ballyhoo Logo“The Last night of Ballyhoo” is charming look at a Jewish family at Christmastime in Atlanta.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 31, 2015

It is December of 1939. Hitler recently conquered Poland, Atlanta, Georgia, is abuzz as the World Premier of “Gone With the Wind” is about to take place there. And equally exciting to persons in Atlanta’s Jewish community is the upcoming cotillion ball, the concluding event of their celebration “Ballyhoo.” The play’s action takes place in the home of Adolph Freitag who is the family patriarch. He is a bachelor, living with widowed sisters, Reba and Boo. Reba’s husband was Adolph’s brother. Yes, it is a tad complicated.

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

The Jewish Freitags are so highly assimilated that they have a Christmas tree in the living room; and Boo is only slightly concerned when her daughter, Lala, places a Christian symbol star at the top of the tree. Boo has other concerns. Lala has returned early from her first try at college. She is a a flighty girl who has dreams of making something of herself, but has no follow-through. She is also attracted to anything wearing pants, and becomes particularly obnoxious when Joe Farkas, an employee of her Uncle Adolph appears at the home. Boo is a very pretentious woman who doesn’t seem to care about anything except what people might think about her!

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

Sunny Freitag is Lala’s cousin She is Reba’s daughter, and is excelling in her first semester of college in the Northeast. She returns to Atlanta for the Christmas break. She has the class and wisdom that Lala lacks! She could care less about the upcoming “Ballyhoo” ball, whereas Lala is desperate to attend but having difficulty finding a date.

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

Adolph’s employee, Joe, is somewhat horrified with the advances of Lala. He is Jewish, from New York, and takes faith and background more seriously than do the Freitags. He is, however, impressed with the academic and beautiful Sunny!

The cast is very good. Adolph is obviously in charge of the group, but doesn’t rule with an iron fist, letting the widowed sisters bicker among themselves while Lala is off to hopefully meet Clark Gable at the “Gone With the Wind” premier in town. Maggie Hayes is a hoot as the over-the-moon Boo Levy. Linda Johnston is subdued excellence as Reba. She is proud of her accomplishing daughter, Sunny, but doesn’t rub Boo’s nose in the daughter’s success. Lydia Carswell is delightful as the somewhat-crazed Lala, and Sunny Freitag is as “sunny” and charming as her role implies. Luke Corliss is convincing as Joe, the New Yorker who is somewhat appalled at the lack of Jewish understanding displayed by the Freitag family.. Near the show’s conclusion Evan Bo appears as Peachy Weil, the young man that has been coerced into taking Lala to the cotillion. He is a wonder – with flashy red hair, wild tales, and a “wow” to the entire family (and audience).

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

Offstage there are substantial family connections. Noel Johnston and Linda Johnston who play Adolph and Reba are married in real life, as are Luke and Brittany Corliss, who play Joe and Sunny.

The play was written by Alfred Uhry, who also penned “Driving Miss Daisy. “ “Ballyhoo” received the Tony Award for Best Play 1997. The Greeley production is directed by Thomas P. McNally and presented by The Stampede Troupe. This is a very effective play, with a handsome set, excellent costumes, lighting, and sound.

The play has aged well, and is successful nationwide, presented by local theater groups. This is a thoughtful production requiring the audience to test its own belief system while being tolerant of others.

“The Last Night of Ballyhoo”

March 2015
Presented by The Stampede Troupe on the stage of the Hensel Phelps Theatre of The Union Colony Center in Greeley.

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The Catamounts in Boulder present a Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

DISNEY_POSTERsml“Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney is an Interesting“ Look at the Creator of “Micky Mouse.”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 23, 2015

Just the mention of the name “Walt Disney” conjures up impressions of “The Magic Kingdom,” family entertainment, nature documentaries, “Disneyland,” “Mary Poppins,” and yes – “Mickey Mouse!.” Some of these warm and fuzzy ideas about the motion picture genius are about to be threatened by The Catamounts’ interesting take on Disney’s later years. The Boulder-based company staged “A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,” as written by Lucas Hnath.

Paul Borrillo as Walt. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

This was my first opportunity to see The Catamounts. The evening was an adventure by itself – having difficulty finding the theater’s entrance, then being warmly welcomed into the theater, separated from the parking area by a curtain and a nondescript door. The night I saw the show, the production was arranged for theater-industry guests. It was as if I was attending a private party of long-time friends, delighted to see one another, and welcoming some new faces to their crowd – my wife and I attended the show with friends – none of us having any idea what we were about to see!

The reading’s title is nearly as long as the performance , that is actually about 70 minutes, with no intermission. The length was about right, as four persons seated on a table facing the audience as if they were reading a screenplay could become a tad tedious if it were longer. As currently constructed, however, the show is a fascinating look at author Hnath’s take on what may have developed if Disney had written the show as his final production.

Paul Borrillo is mightily impressive as the famous Disney. His portrayal doesn’t create new fans for the animation genius, as we learn he was an egomaniac, usually treating his family and close associates with great disdain. His daughter’s memories of being raised by him resulted in her reminding him he was such an awful father, that she didn’t want any of his children to be named after him. He used anyone to achieve his personal aims, treating his brother Roy, as if he barely existed, and actively disliking his daughter’s husband, Ron.

Paul Borrillo as Walt, Mark Collins as Roy. Photo credit Michael Ensminger
Paul Borrillo as Walt, Mark Collins as Roy. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

Mark Collins is very good as the brother, who appears to keep Walt appearing as somewhat normal, while taking the brunt of Disney’s idiosyncrasies and unpleasantness. Jason Maxwell portrays Ron, his daughter’s husband. He appears as a none-too-bright chap, eager to do anything to please his father in law, or at least have a job! Lindsey Pierce plays the daughter. She has the gumption to confront her father about his meanness, but the confrontation does nothing to change her father’s intents.

Some looks behind the Disney productions are delightfully revealing. Disney insisted on making a live-action documentary which included a sequence about Lemmings jumping to their deaths by suicide. The Lemmings tale was eventually shown to be completely false, and Disney required his brother to take responsibility for the “error.”

The “Unproduced Screenplay” reading concludes with Disney’s head being purportedly cryonically frozen the idea that he’d eventually return to life. This is the tale that author Hnath proposes Disney would have written, had he authored his own story! In reality, Disney died at age of lung cancer 65 and his remains were cremated.

Amanda Berg Wilson directed this fascinating piece of theatre. I was intrigued with what I saw, and the show did result in my wanting to “know more” – spending time with Google to decipher Disney fact from fiction! The “Public Reading” generated substantial discussion among those in attendance, trying to figure out what was fact and what was fantasy – and how we might wish to write our own story for future posterity!

“A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney”
March 13-28 2015, The Catamounts in the madelife building, 20001 21st Street, (East entrance), just off Pearl Street in Boulder.
For tickets: 702/468-0487
For information about The Catamounts: www.thecatamounts.org

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“Memphis” is Mesmerizing at Midtown Arts Center!

Memphis at Midtown Arts CenterMusical “Memphis” pleases audience in Fort Collins!

By Tom Jones
Reviewed March 20, 2015

Memphis, Tennessee, was a racially divided city in the 1950s. Blacks had their own schools, as did whites. Each had its own music, with crossovers quite rare. Along came Dewey Phillips, one of he first white disc jockeys to play black music, and life began to change! The terrific musical “Memphis,” now on stage at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins is loosely based on the efforts of Dewey Phillips, known as “Huey Calhoun” in the show.

Photo credit  Anne Terze-Schwarz
Photo credit Anne Terze-Schwarz

Huey is a young, virtually illiterate, man in Memphis who has felt an inexplicable draw to black music ever since he was a child. While his formal education is limited, he dreams of becoming a disc jockey, having his own show. He dares to show up at an underground black Rock and Roll bar, where he becomes attracted to Felicia, a talented performer who is under the careful eye of her brother, Delray! Kurt Terrio, owner of Midtown Arts Center, and the show’s producer has lined up an amazing group of performers and technicians to bring “Memphis” to light.

Evan Buckley Harris is a wonder as Huey. This is Harris’ first appearance on stage in Northern Colorado. He is not to be missed. He is completely at ease as Huey, with an instant attraction to Felicia, who would like to return his interest, but is cautious do so, because of her watchdog brother. Danielle J. Summons is excellent as Felicia, as is Michael (MJ) Jones as the brother, Delray.

Photo credit  Anne Terze-Schwarz
Photo credit Anne Terze-Schwarz

Huey is not easily assimilated in the underground bar, but becomes less of a threat when the black patrons realize he is truly interested in their music. Harris, Simmons, and Jones are very effective in their roles, each attracting audience sympathy to the difficulties they face in a segregated society. They have powerful voices and can dance up a storm! Another standout is Michael Wordly, a black man so traumatized by the lynching of his father that he has not spoken since the horrific event. When he finally does speak, the moment is breathtaking and Wordly has a singing voice that MUST be heard!

Huey doesn’t have much formal education. But he understands people, what they like, and how to find his way with them – black or white! When he is given his first opportunity as a disc jockey, the station manager gives him a commercial to read. Huey cannot read, and elicits the help of the station’s black janitor.

Huey’s mother, Gladys, begins the story as a hardline racist, but begins to empathize with her son and his black friends after attending a black church choir and realizing that “Change Don’t Come Easy.” Jalyn Courtenay Webb portrays the mother. She continues her non-stop journey of inhabiting every role she portrays, and is well known to local audiences. She is the only local lead in the cast, with others coming from Las Vegas, New York, etc..

Everyone in the cast is very talented, whether as a singer or a dancer! Among the other supporting leads are Marc-Anthony Lewis, an over-sized man with equally-oversized abilities, and Daniel Harkins, as Calhoun’s boss who finally realizes that Huey is a force to be reckoned with, and ultimately backs his plans. Harkins is originally from New York City, but is known to local Midtown audiences for his performances in several shows and he also currently solves mysteries in Midtown’s “The Dinner Detective.”

“Memphis” is directed by Jordan Nichols a native of Memphis. Nichols directed the hilarious “Spamalot” at Midtown Arts Center last year. This time around he is into more serious subject-matter. He is enormously successful – choreographing the dances as well as directing the entire show. The dancing is every bit as terrific as are the remarkable voices. Paul Falk and Jalyn Courtenay Webb provide vocal direction to the show, with Travis Bradley as assistant choreographer, and Julia Smith as assistant director. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, with costumes by Anthony Mattivi, lighting by Chad Bonaker, sound by Kurt Terrio, and set construction by Justin Hermanek and Aaron Sheckler. The excellent orchestra is conducted by Casey Cropp, and includes efforts of Larry Bridges, Larry Currey, Sonia Daggett, Marty Rein, Jeremy Girard, Andy Kropp and Dave Lunn

“Memphis” as currently produced, was developed over several years, finally turning up on Broadway in 2009. The production won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It ran in New York for more than a thousand performances, and was filmed in 2011 for presentation to nationwide audiences in April and May of that year. The current London production has received rave reviews.

Music was written by David Bryan, lyrics by Bryan and Joe DiPietro, and book by DiPietro. The music is exciting, but the audience doesn’t leave the theater humming a tune. They were so enamored with the show, however, that they just didn’t want to leave the theater. Standing ovations are rare at dinner theaters, but when it became apparent that “Memphis” was reaching its finale, the audience made certain that all tables and dishes were out of the way to stand and cheer!

“Memphis”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins
When:Through May 30, 2015
Information: Box Office at 970/225-2555, or online 24/7 @ www.midtownartscenter.com

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Enjoying Theater Across Our Great State