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.”

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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!

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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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