Timing is impeccable in crazy “Unnecessary Farce”

Farce LogoMagnolia Theatre at Lincoln Center hosts delightful OpenStage Farce with two cops, three crooks and eight doors!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 22, 2015

I wonder what was going through the mind of playwright Paul Slade Smith when he wrote the zany show, and what must have been going through the mind of Director Judith Allen, as she mentally mapped out what would transpire in “Unnecessary Farce” on the Magnolia Stage of Lincoln Center!

Dan Tschirhart as Eric and Kirby Anderson as Frank in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith. Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography
Dan Tschirhart as Eric and Kirby Anderson as Frank in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith. Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography

The French reportedly created “farce,”only to have it refined and embellished into a true art form by the crazy British and their neighbors across the pond, the Americans! Paul Slade Smith has elevated the genre to even greater heights with his truly silly “Unnecessary Farce.” Director Judith Allen has assembled a sublime group of talented loonies, and whipped them into amazing shape as seen at the Lincoln center this month.

Police officers Eric Sheridan and Billie Dwyer have been assigned by their boss to carry out a sting operation to entrap the local mayor in an embezzlement scheme, with everything to be set up in two adjoining rooms of a local hotel. Dan Tschirhart and Jessica MacMaster portray the police officers. They are a hoot. Eric is a basic softy, and Billie has just completed her police training – but is not yet proficient enough to carry a loaded weapon, and not skillful enough to toss anyone around. They do appear to have substantial bravado as they review plans for the sting. Karen Brown, an accountant, is set up in the room adjoining the police officers, with a not-quite-so-hidden camera focused on the room’s bed, to be certain to capture everything that the mayor tells the accountant. The camera records and relays the goings on to the officer’s room where Billie can just lounge on the bed and enjoy herself watching the activities in the next room.

Unnecessary Farce #1
Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography

Jessica Emerling Crow is delightful as the stern accountant, suddenly overwhelmed with the idea of becoming romantic with officer Sheridan. Don Kraus is also excellent as the ever-trustworthy mayor. Added to the mix are Kirby Anderson as Agent Frank, head of security at the town hall, and David Austin-Groen as a menacing hit man, “Todd.” Before Todd can complete any assignment he dresses in Scottish kilts, hopefully to scare his clients to death, after wearing them out with non-understandable Scottish! Then Louise F. Thorton turns up as Mary Meekly, the mayor’s wife, with secrets of her own.

True to form, the now-necessary farce is complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, persons locked up in the closet, handcuffed, and wrapped in blankets, as clothes are taken off, replaced and everyone threatens everyone else with guns that may or may not function. One scene of high hilarity in Act Two has virtually the entire case circling around the room, up and over the beds, with guns draw forward and backward, trying to decide who is to shoot whom and …..why!

This is not “Our Town.” And it does not quite match the hysteria of another great farce, “Noises Off” as produced by OpenStage a year or so ago. Perhaps I am basically a hedonist, as I take delight in seeing such silliness. One reviewer noted the show “certainly isn’t food for thought, but its unsophisticated charm is a good taste of unabashedly crude comedy done right.”

“Unnecessary Farce” is a necessary “must-see” this season!

“Unnecessary Farce”
Where: OpenStage, at Magnolia Theater of The Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through March 14, 2015
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays Matinees March 1 and 8 at 2:30 p.m.
For Tickets: 970/221-6730, lctix.com.
For more information: visit Openstage.com

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“Luv” at Bas Bleu takes an unusual look at love via New York of the 1960s

Luv Logo“Luv” searches for meaning – absurdist comedy, or just irritating?

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 21, 2015

Three characters search for life’s meaning at Bas Bleu this season in Murray Schisgal’s “Luv.” Schisgal wrote the play in 1964, and it ran for nearly 1,000 performances on Broadway and received several awards. The original show, directed by Mike Nichols, starred Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach, and Anne Jackson. Great credentials!

I was not familiar with the play prior to seeing the Bas Beu version this month. What did I miss? The set does look terrific, a path along a New York bridge where Harry Berlin (played by Daryl Branson) is writing a farewell note before a planned suicide leap into the river below. Life has not been easy for Berlin, and he has decided to end it all – only to be stopped by a former college roommate who turns up as Berlin readies his leap. The roommate, Milt Manville, is well portrayed by Kevin Reifel. The two have not seen each other for 15 years and compare stories of youthful terror. Manville appears to be quite financially successful, not helping the ego of the unhappy Berlin. Manville’s current problem is that he is tired of his wife, and wants to run off with his mistress. The wife, Ellen, turns up and Milt is eager to match her up with the beleaguered Berlin, so that he can go forward with his life – wifeless! Karina Yager plays Ellen Manville, the wife who appears to have a keen mind, but not much common sense.

Luv_00059There is some basic craziness! The wife, Ellen, turns up to confront her husband with a large chart mapping the success and failure of their marriage. The unhappy Berlin loses his ability to see, or to hear, or to speak, or to walk – all without warning, and leaving him rigid as a board for others to toss around!

The premise has potential, but gets lost with so much talk talk talk about “Luv,” “Luv,” “Luv.” The characters never can claim “Luv” is “Love” and leave the audience wondering why this was such a successful show 50 years ago! Robert E. Braddy directed the Bas Bleu version and his Director’s Statement in the program acknowledges that the show is very much a play of the 1960s and was borrowed unashamedly from the great “Absurdists” notably Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and Eugene Ionesco. The absurdity has now become irritating, and by show’s end (and after three tumbles in the water, only to be rescued) I was cheering for everyone to jump from the bridge, so the audience could go home.

Bas Bleu has been terrific for many years in providing local audiences with sometimes-unusual challenges. As a basic romantic, however, I did not grasp what “Luv” was trying to tell me!

“Luv”
Through March 8, 2015
For information: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Webb: www.basbleu.org

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“Harvey” at Arvada Center

Harvey Logo“Harvey is the unseen star of delightful Arvada Production

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 8, 2015

Elwood P. Dowd is an affable chap – entirely without guile, and a friend to everyone. His very best friend, however, is a 6 foot one and one-half inch rabbit named “Harvey.” Harvey is actually a pooka, conjured from Irish folklore. Elwood takes Harvey with him wherever he goes, searches for him when he becomes lost and the two are evidently great drinking buddies.

Harvey is less appreciated by Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons.  It appears that Elwood was extremely close to his mother and would do anything for her. When his parents died, the family home was left to Elwood much to the dismay of his sister, and her marriage-age daughter, Myrtle Mae

Elwood has now transferred his love for his mother to the less appreciative sister.  Veta Louise is an avid social climber, longing to host parties and to be invited to others. Everything must be properly perceived. She is viciously afraid that Elwood will turn up with his unseen friend Harvey, and proceed to introduce him to everyone .

Her daughter, Myrtle Mae has her own challenges, as she believes that everything wearing pants might be the love of her life.

Veta Louise decides that she has had “enough” of the kindly Elwood and his tall rabbit friend and arranges to take him to a nearby sanitarium where she will admit him to stay forever. This also provides a path for her to gain ownership of the house.

Photo Credit: P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Torsten Hillhouse (Elwood P. Dowd), Kate Gleason (Veta Louise Simmons), Missy Moore (Myrtle Mae Simmons).and Mark Rubald (Judge Omar Gaffney),
Photo Credit: P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Torsten Hillhouse (Elwood P. Dowd), Kate Gleason (Veta Louise Simmons), Missy Moore (Myrtle Mae Simmons).and Mark Rubald (Judge Omar Gaffney),
Gavin Mayer and Ron A. Lansberry, director and artistic producer for the show, have assembled a delightful cast of wonderfully talented performers to bring this sometimes frenzied tale to life on the Stage of Arvada Center. Torsten Hillhouse is a jewel as the mild mannered Elwood Dowd. He has no desire to cause anyone any trouble and is quite willing to do whatever his sister suggests.

Elwood’s sister, Veta Louise, is in a delightful frenzy, as played by Kate Gleason. She is eager to have Elwood and his rabbit out of the house, and wants her daughter Myrtle Mae, to similarly disappear, hopefully with a husband!

Missy Moore is a delight as the awkward daughter, Myrle Mae. She is a fine comedian, while not letting the part become camp!

Insanity reigns as Elwood’s sister,Vera Louise, is erroneously admitted to the sanitarium instead of Elwood. Staff cannot believe that someone as kind and caring as Elwood might need psychiatric care, where as his sister appears to be completely nuts!

The cast is universally believable. Graham Ward is a fine physical comedian as the sanatorium doctor who is trying to figure out who needs mental care and who doesn’t. His boss, played by Jeffrey Roark prefers not to be bothered with any details of activity in the sanitarium, but does become intrigued with the idea that Elwood’s rabbit friend just might provide a two week out-of-this-world experience to be with someone more exciting than his wife.

The only person not worried with problems is the affable Elwood Dowd, who wants nothing more than to please everyone!

It is finally arranged for Elwood to receive an injection that will make him “normal.” A taxi driver who turns up at the sanitarium tries to bring the group to their senses noting, that while the “injection will make Elwood a perfectly normal human being, you know what bastards they are!”

“Harvey” was one of America’s best-loved plays in the 1940s and Marcy Chase received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945. It has been adapted for film and television several times, best remembered from the James Stewart performance as Elwood in the 1950 movie. Chase has roots to Colorado, graduating from Denver’s West High School, and later studied at the University of Denver and University o Colorado Boulder.

Everything involved with this production is flawless. The amazing set by Brian Mallgrave is changed before our eyes from the Dowd home to the Sanitarium in Act One and again in Act Two — each time receiving applause as if it were a character in the show!

By show’s end it just may be that Elwood (and his rabbit friend) are the only truly normal characters around. Veta Louise even admits that she just may have seen the the pooka !

“Harvey”
Where: Arvada Center For the Ats and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To February 22, 2015
Website: www.arvadacenter.org
Box Office 720/898-7200

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“Hairspray” is Pleasant ‘Welcome to the 60’s at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Hairspray LogoCandlelight’s “Hairspray” is an Enthusiastic Delight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2015

Marketing staff of Candlelight Dinner Playhouse got it right when preparing the show’s program announcing, “BIG hair, BIG heart. Big HIT!” Director Pat Payne has put together one of Candlelight’s most delightful shows – ever – “Hairspray.”

Bailey Peyton Walton is a real find, playing the leading role as Tracy Turnblad. Tracy is a Baltimore teenager in the early ’60s whose dream is to be a singer/dancer on a local television station show “Good Morning Baltimore.” Trouble is, while she realizes that she is a terrific singer and dancer, she lacks self confidence, as she is ….. fat! The only “enormous” thing about Walton, playing the role, however, is her incredible talent. She is a delightful marvel, glued to the TV set daily, not wanting to be a problem to her mother, but desperately wanting to be her own person. And she has an enormous crush on the young star of the Baltimore show – Link Larkin.

Hairspray press photoTracy talks her nerdy friend, Penny, into going to a tryout for the show, when one of the stars announces she is leaving. Michelle Sergeeff is great fun as the bespectacled, knock-need friend. The audition is a virtual disaster, but Tracy ultimately finds a spot in the television show, and becomes even more smitten by Link Larkin. Jordan Centeno doesn’t make a false move as the teen idol, Larkin. He is every bit as in love with himself as are his fans! Centeno has become an audience favorite with his local performances as Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” and as the talented dancer in “Swing” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” When, as Link Larkin, he brushes shoulders with TV newcomer Tracy, she is thrilled beyond belief, projecting what her life might be with him, in “I Can Hear the Bells.”

“Good Morning Baltimore” (think an “American Bandstand”)is produced by Velma Von Tussle, a woman approaching middle age, resting on the laurels of fame many years ago when crowned, “Miss Baltimore Crab!” She now wants fame and fortune for her snobby daughter, Amber, a member of the TV show’s cast. Alicia Dunfee and Alisha Winter-Hayes are super as the snobby mother and spoiled daughter!

While initially worried that her mother might be angry about her being on television, Tracy is relieved when her mother, Edna, becomes very supportive, as does her father, well-portrayed by Kent Sugg! Edna is a riot, played in a cross-dressing role by Patrick Sawyer! “Hairspray” the musical is based on a John Waters 1988 movie. The original movie included a man playing the mother role, and than gender-bending has continued through the movie to the Broadway musical again as a movie – John Travolta playing the role of Edna. In various incarnations of the show, the mother’s role played by a man has been off-putting to me. My feeling has now changed, as Patrick Sawyer is a sight to behold. He makes no effort to make the role seem quirky – turning the part into a thought-provoking experience!

Of special note in an astonishing talented cast is Lisa Young as Motormouth Maybelle. She rocks the room with “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

Tracy comes through with a mind of her own, announcing that she is for acceptance of blacks as equals – much to the horror of the television show’s producer! A local demonstration for fairness gets out of hand, resulting with many of the demonstrators on both sides of the issue being put in jail. Racial tolerance now becomes the theme as Tracy and her friends begin to enlighten others, with super dancing and music making the whole idea become more acceptable.

The entire show is a joy to see. Set is great. Costumes are wonderful, Performances are universally excellent. The orchestra, under direction of Angela Steiner is very good. Michelle Sergeeff provides the rewarding choreography – she is a super choreographer as well as being the believable nerd, Penny! Music is great fun throughout, especially “Good Morning Baltimore,” “I Can Hear the Bells” “Welcome to the 60s’s, and the Finale that the audience doesn’t want to end: “You Can’t Stop the Beat!”

While everything about “Hairspray”is perfection, the star is Bailey Peyton Walton as Tracy Turnblad. She makes if very clear that an incredibly talented person, irregardless of physical size, can become exactly what she wants to be!

This is a classy show, looking with great affection on the 1960s when “popularity” was determined by the height of a beehive hairdo, a hickey on a dating girl’s neck, being crowned “Miss Baltimore Crab,” or even becoming a dancer on nation-wide TV!

“Hairspray”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534
When: To March 8, 2015.
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com
Website: www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Sweeney Todd” is Harrowing Tale of Seeking revenge at Midtown Arts Center

Sweeny-logo

“Sweeney Todd” is that Fiendish Barber on Fleet Street in Terrific Midtown Show!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 31, 2015

By the time “Sweeney Todd” ends, the stage of the Midtown Arts Center includes a pile of corpses, and an astonished audience, realizing they experienced a truly memorable production! “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim opened on Broadway in 1979 with the usual trappings of a Broadway show – a large stage, the audience seated behind the usual orchestra, etc. The show was a critical favorite, received major awards, including the Tony Award as Best Musical. It sometimes left the audience a bit stunned, by the starkness of the story, and the brutality of the show. It has gone on to become a virtual classic – both as a Broadway musical and as an opera!

Kurt Terrio, owner of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, has a great track record of providing Fort Collins audiences with wonderful musicals. He does take risks, however, and has produced “Sweeney Todd” in a small new theater known as Studio 2 of the Midtown Arts Center. The production is more of an adventure than a show! The audience huddles around tables, with barely enough room to move. The orchestra is placed around the room, some elevated, and some on ground floor. The performers are also found throughout the room, mixed with the theater patrons. Some are at tables, some wandering around the elevated platform, and some on the small stage in the middle of the room.

To the audience’s amazement, the performers seem to find their way around the cramped quarters, and present the show as if they had all the room in the world. Brandon Schraml is a wonder as the demonic Sweeney Todd, returning to London after being exiled for many years on trumped-up charges. He is rescued at sea on his return to London by a young sailor, Anthony.

Brandon Schraml as Sweeney Todd and Jalyn Courteny Webb as Mrs. Lovett. Photo credit Marco A Robinson
Brandon Schraml as Sweeney Todd and Jalyn Courteny Webb as Mrs. Lovett. Photo credit Marco A Robinson

Todd returns to London to learn that his beloved wife, Lucy, has died, and that his child, Johanna, is now a young women living as a virtual prisoner in the home of London’s Judge Turpin. He ends up at the pie shop of Mrs. Lovett, who is a bit daft, and perhaps knows more than she wants to tell about Todd’s wife and child. She does offer him a place to stay, however, above her pie shop which isn’t doing very well, as she claims they are the “Worst Pies in London.”

Todd subsequently strangles a man in the Barber Shop when he learns the man was partially responsible for Todd’s exile many years ago. “What to do with the body?” Mrs. Lovett comes up with the idea of turning him into pies….. Lovett and Todd take off on a delightfully grizzly plan to turn men of various occupations into special pies! As Todd’s revenge results in more bodies, the pie shop business flourishes. Todd learns that Anthony, the sailor that saved his life, has accidentally found Todd’s daughter, Johanna, and wishes to marry her. Judge Turpin becomes outraged, wanting to marry the beautiful young girl himself; and thus begins plots for Joanna and Anthony to run away together, for Judge Turpin to find Johanna, and for Todd to ultimately find revenge for Turpin’s actions.

Terrio and his staff have assembled performers with incredible voices. Schraml as Sweeney Todd is re-united with Jalyn Courtney Webb as the somewhat-crazed Mrs. Lovett. They both had important roles in MAC’s not-to-be-forgotten “Les Miserables last Season. Also from that earlier triumph is Michael Lasris, who plays Judge Turpin in “Sweeney.” Webb and Lasris continue to provide inspired performances, adding to the work of Schraml’s “Todd.” They are joined by a cast which seems much larger than it actually is. Anthony is played by Taylor Martin who nearly stops the show with his lilting hymn to the young woman he has just found, “Johanna.” Lisa Kay Carter plays Johanna. Her voice is crystal clear, especially when she sings of her birds, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” Michael Spaziana as Toby, the young assistant Lovett and Todd have hired, is believable, as he promises he will protect Mrs. Lovett in “Not While I’m Around.”

Also outstanding are Napoleon Douglas as Beadle Bamford, Allen Dorsey as Adolfo Pirelli, and Anne Terze-Schwarz who has a thankless job of stumbling through the show as a beggar woman, mumbling oaths. Casey Cropp directs the orchestra, placed throughout the theater.

Michael Lasris and Julia Smith directed the terrific show with the vocal direction by Jalyn Courtney Webb. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, with costumes by Anthony Mattivi.

Sondheim was born in 1930 and wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” before branching out to provide lyrics and music for many shows. He is currently considered to be the most talented living Broadway creator. His first production providing both music and lyrics was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with the delightful opening song, “Comedy Tonight.” He has subsequently thrilled audiences with such shows as “A Little Night Music, “ “Company, “ “Follies,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “Into the Woods” which is now shown as a movie!

Many years ago my wife and I were living in New York, and The New York Times ran a small ad, soliciting producers for a “new” show by Stephen Sondheim. This was before Sondheim became so incredibly popular. Persons were offered to “buy” a portion of the new production “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” for $1,000 per share. I didn’t have the $1,000, so did not invest. I have subsequently wondered if I’d now be independently wealthy if I had invested!

The Midtown Arts Center production includes all of the acclaimed music, and the cast is uniformly excellent. The room where it is performed does present problems, however, as the cast is scattered throughout the room and it is difficult to always locate who is speaking/singing. The story is easier to follow when seen on a traditional stage setting. That does not, however, provide the excitement, interest, and sometimes nervousness as provided in the current format. Word of mouth has resulted in many sold-out performances, as the show appears to have found great audience appeal, especially for dating couples, and couples of all ages eager to enjoy an unusual experience.

. The plot, as noted above, is complicated. Reading a synopsis of the show prior to going to the theater is highly recommended. This should help you to better understand what an incredible performance you are seeing!
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“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 7, 2015
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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