“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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