“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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