“Frozen” at DCPA is Broadway Bound

Frozen’s Transfer From Movie To Stage Boggles The Senses

Reviewed by Tom Jones

September 15, 2017

Ten years from now it will be interesting to read how many gazillion persons worldwide have seen the stage musical, “Frozen.” The animated movie was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2013 and generated $1.3 billion in worldwide box office revenue. It is the highest-grossing animated film of all time. What could be done for an encore? What could a stage version do that the movie could not? For starters, it can provide a visual feast of enormous proportions. Then, the excitement of the audience experiencing a live performance right in front of them cannot be replicated.

Denver Center – Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) and Patti Murin (Anna) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

The sets for Frozen” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts are beyond description. The creative team must have spent endless joyful and laborious creative hours figuring out what would excite the audience: a set that would be so incredible on its own without detracting from the show’s basic story. They were not always successful in this regard, as in some instances the set IS the show. Near the end of the First Act, I was so enthralled with what I was seeing and hearing, that I felt as if I were on an amusement park ride of never-ending amazement

Denver Center – Patti Murin (Anna) and Caissie Levy (Elsa) with Jacob Smith in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s the Snow Queen,” the basic story remains intact. Two sisters, Anna and Elsa, enjoyed wonderful childhood experiences together. When it was discovered that Elsa had magical powers and could accidently cause injury to her sister, the two are separated for Anna’s protection. Upon the death of their parents, Elsa is to be crowned queen, and her sister Anna attends the coronation as the princess.

Denver Center – The Company of FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

A dispute at Elsa’s coronation results in her becoming angry with Anna, and she accidentally releases some of her magical powers. The causes temperatures to drop throughout the kingdom, as ice was replacing sunshine. Anna flees from the palace, bewildered by what has happened.

Anna’s memories of her happy times with Elsa as a child encourages her to find a way to approach her sister, now ensconced in an ice incrusted palace. Along the way she enlists the help of Kristoff, (an ice deliveryman), his reindeer (Sven), and Olaf, everybody’s favorite snowman.

Patti Murin plays Anna, with Caissie Levy as Elsa. They are both excellent performers, and Elsa’s “Let it Go” is a triumphant conclusion to Act 1.

Denver Center – Patti Murin (Anna) and John Riddle (Hans) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

Music and lyrics (for the movie and the stage production) are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez, with the book by Jennifer Lee. In the 2014 Academy Awards, the film was honored as Best Animated Feature, and “Let It Go” was given award for Best Song.

Enthusiasm for the production in Denver was enormous. Based on obvious audience enjoyment, it will be difficult for theatre-goers to let the show leave Denver to continue its journey to Broadway. The stage at the Buell is impressive, and it will be interesting to see how the enormous sets can be accommodated in other venues. The production is not without problems, and messages are sometimes confusing, and over-powered by the magnificence of the set. It does have all the hallmarks of a Disney production, designed to entertain.

Denver Center – Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) and Andrew Pirozzi (Sven) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

The story has been expanded from the movie, and includes substantially more music. Performances are universally excellent. Jelani Alladin is a very helpful Kristoff. Andrew Pirozzi is a marvel as Sven, the delightful reindeer. Robert Creighton is in fine form as Weseltoln and Greg Hildreth is a talented charmer as the snowman puppeteer.

Based on the assumption that the stage version will move on to becoming a mega hit, ten years from now this season’s audience can look back on their memories of “Frozen” at the Buell, with great satisfaction of having “been there when it all began.”

“Frozen”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: October 1, 2017
Buell Theatre’s Website

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“A Chorus Line” — Better Than Ever!

Groundbreaking Musical at Arvada Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 13, 2017

Is it possible for a musical to turn up now, looking even more vibrant and exciting than when it was the toast of Broadway 40 years ago? Yes! The Arvada Center continues its run of providing excellence to Colorado theatregoers.

The show’s director, Rod A. Lansberry, has produced or directed more than 100 productions. When, oh when is he going to get it right? Just about always! “A Chorus Line” is a marvel. Lansberry does have help. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s success choreographing or directing more than 40 shows is evident as she has the dancers performing at their peak. There is evidence of work of the show’s original director Michael Bennett, but she has personally provided most of the current production’s terrific dancing.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2017

In the summer of 1975 an unusual musical opened on Broadway. For years the backbone of New York shows had been the singers and dancers who were highly entertaining, but not the stars. This changed when some Broadway dancers hosted some workshops about their efforts. Performer Michael Bennett became involved and took over the effort. The dancers’ personal stories were put into a format which ultimately became “A Chorus Line.” Bennett went on to direct the Broadway production, with Bob Avian as co-choreographer.

The book was by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicolas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Response to the show was electric and immediate. It tells of dancers auditioning for an upcoming Broadway production. The tough director Zach puts the wannabee performers through a series of tryouts. The group is narrowed down to 17 dancers, of which only four males and four females will be selected.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – L-R: Matthew Dailey (Don), Jordana Grolnick (Maggie), Joe Callahan (Mike, understudy), Rae Leigh Case (Connie), Ron Tal (Greg), Dayna Tietzen (Cassie), Katie Mitchell (Sheila), Parker Redford (Bobby), Jennifer Arfsten (Bebe), Kristen Paulicelli (Judy), Michael Canada (Richie), Zac Norton (Al), Seles VanHuss (Kristine), Lexie Plath (Val), Tyler Jensen (Mark) and Natalie…

Zach asks the finalists to tell their stories, why they want to dance, where they come from, and anything they want to talk about. The results are an intriguing two hours of incredible dancing and soul-searching memories. Stephen Cerf is excellent as Zach, the director and choreographer auditioning the potential performers. Jean-Luc Cavnar-Lewandowski is also very good as his assistant, Larry. They are both talented performers, and keep the action moving.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Dayna Tietzen (Cassie) Matt Gale Photography 2017

The finalists tell their stories. These are not heart-warming Hallmark Cards family tales; but are looks at the dancers’ feelings as outsiders in society, or success yet to be obtained, and of unrequited love for dance. Some male dancers were tormented in coming to terms with their sexuality. Some of the tales are too long, but most are riveting. The same can be said for the entire production. After hearing such gut-wrenching personal stories and seeing such brilliant dancing, there is a late-in-the show lag when too much chatter takes too long to introduce one of the show’s most memorable songs, “What I Did for Love.”

Many of the songs have become Broadway classics, including “One,” “What I Did for Love,” ”At the Ballet,” and “Hello Twelve.” Interwoven with the dancers’ stories is the past romance between director Zach, and Cassie, one of the auditioning dancers. A highlight is Cassie’s breath-taking, “The Music and the Mirror.” The “mirror” is used frequently as a backdrop to reflect the dancing brilliance. Cassie, played by Dayna Tietzen, has the largest role of the group, as her relationship with Zach is an integral part of the show.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2017

The original “A Chorus Line” ran in New York City for 6,137 performances – the then-longest-running musical in Broadway history. It has been seen worldwide, and was made into a movie in 1985. Unfortunately, the movie version lacked the incredible spark a live performance can provide. When I saw the original Broadway show, I was impressed. I was more impressed this season with the current presentation on stage in Arvada.

This is more than “One Singular Sensation.” It is a two-hour display of brilliant talent. The current production in Arvada is every bit as thrilling as that presented on Broadway in 1975.

A Chorus Line
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through October 1, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Arvada Center’s Website 

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Love Lost and Found in Dublin

Award Winner “Once” Charms Midtown Arts Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 8, 2017

Before the story begins, the audience is entertained to some spirited Irish music, performed by the talented cast, in the setting of a Dublin bar. At the show progresses the performers sing to us, sing to each other, talk to us, and talk to each other. They tell us what they look for, what is important and what is not. It is early apparent that the characters portrayed are good and caring people – albeit with rough edges of language.

The first person we meet is “Guy,” who is emotionally in the dumps. His girlfriend has moved to New York, he lives upstairs above his dad’s vacuum repair shop where he works. And sings for coins on street corners. He has written lots of music, but has decided to give it up and has no idea what he truly wants in life. Fortunately, the for the audience, Guy is portrayed by Barry DeBois, who is very good looking and has an amazing voice. Whenever he sings, the audience is enthralled.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Guy is on the verge of abandoning his guitar and whatever coins were tossed in his hat that day when along comes “Girl.” Elena Juliano is a delight as the feisty woman, a Czech by birth, now living in Dublin with her daughter, and her mother. Her husband has gone. She is a take-charge, no nonsense gem who immediately takes Guy under her wing, and convinces him that he has something going for him – his talent. She immediately realizes that he is a good “Guy.” She is in no hurry for romance, but needs a challenge to bring some joy into her semi-dreary life. She can play the piano and knows good music when she hears it.

How Guy and Girl look at life, what they want from life, and from each other are central to the story. “Once” began as a movie in 2007. The stage musical and the movie include music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The score incudes the haunting Acadamy Award winning song, “Falling Slowly.” Music ranges from delightful Irish pub songs to heartful suggestions of desire.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The Broadway musical version opened in 2012 and received eight Tony Awards including those for Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. It has subsequently been seen by audiences in England, Ireland, Australia, Korea, Canada, South Korea, and throughout the United States. It is a very interesting show. The is no high-kicking chorus line, but is a thoughtful musical tracing the ups and downs of potential romance.

In addition to the beautiful “Falling Slowly,” some highlights include the opening “Leave,” and an especially beautiful “Gold.” With musical accompaniment of the cast, Guy sings this at the conclusion of Act 1, noting “And I love her so. I wouldn’t trade her for gold.” It becomes even richer late in Act 2 when the entire ensemble sings with without accompaniment.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The cast includes twelve incredibly talented persons, all taking acting parts, all playing a variety of musical instruments, and dancing their hearts out. The cast includes the young girl, Ivanka, who is “Girl’s” daughter. The role is double cast, with Stella Seaman or Kassidy Terrio taking the role for various performances. I saw Stella Seaman. She is a joy! Most of the cast are new to the MAC stage. Familiar to local audiences, however, are John Jankow, Charity Ruth Haskins, and John Seaberry,

All the music is provided by performers on the stage. The set is an attractive bar that can become a music store, a vacuum repair shop, a hillside overlooking Dublin, and wherever the story goes. Kurt Terrio produced and directed the show, with Michael Lasris providing the terrific choreography. Barry DeBois, who is so excellent as “Guy,” also serves as music director.

The music, although beautiful, is not familiar. The audience does have difficulty understanding what is being said and sung. Accents are Irish and Czech. Sometimes the dialogue is flashed on the stage in Czech with the idea that it is clever to see what the persons are saying. Unfortunately, it just makes the situation more difficult, as we often can’t understand what is being said in Czech or in English. When Girl sings to her own piano accompaniment, the piano sometimes is too loud to hear Elena Juliano’s pleasant voice.

It is not difficult to follow the show’s basic premise. Twists along the way, however, can be difficult to understand. The conclusion is an emotional one with Guy and Girl singing the same song of love – with an ocean separating them. Maybe a second viewing would be helpful to better understand the lyrics, as “Once” may just not be enough. It is basically a heartfelt and beautiful show.

“Once”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To: November 11, 2017
For Tickets: Phone: 970/225-2555
MAC’s Website

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The Music Man Triumphant

“The Music Man” Has Triumphant Return To Candlelight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

September 10, 2017

He’s back! That smooth-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill is back in town. He can still charm the socks off anyone he meets, even going so far as to sell musical instruments (and uniforms) to the parents of youth in River City, Iowa. He claims that his “Think System” of instruction will result in their children becoming accomplished musicians. But he must collect the fees and get out of town before the first concert.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

Hill’s tale, “The Music Man” remains the quintessential Broadway Musical! The show that just plain “has everything.” There is the rollicking opening scene on the train when we meet traveling salesman bouncing along to the train’s rhythm, and becoming amazed with tales of the fast-talking “Hill” guy who is taking the area by storm.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

There is the smart, but oh-so-very careful librarian, Marian, whose mother believes is going to end up as an aging spinster. There is the crazy mayor with his more-crazy wife, with the wonderful name – Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn. And the School Board members who can’t abide one another and end up as a harmonizing quartet, under direction of Harold Hill. And there are the youngsters without goals or ambitions, who end up being the joy of the midwestern city.

Bob Hoppe is the conniving music man on stage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse this autumn. He is a fast-talking wizard who warns the citizens of River City of the potential dangers that the local pool hall can inflict upon the town’s morals. He can sing. He can dance. He can charm the town’s ladies with the wink of an eye, and can make himself scarce when his credentials are sought. He has his eye on Marion the librarian who demands silence in the library, and has her own wall of personal silence. Alisha Winter-Hayes plays Marian. She is beautiful, with a beautiful singing voice, and is immediately wary about what this fast-talking Harold Hill might truly be up to.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

The leads are very good, but are nearly overpowered by some of the supporting cast. TJ Mullin and Annie Dwyer are a combined hoot as the town mayor and his nutty wife. Especially in the first act, Dwyer rules the stage. For much of the show the four men on the school board are a site to see and hear. They suddenly find a common bond, singing their way through life. Kent Sugg, Ethan Lee Knowles, Anthony Weber, and David L. Wygant are the quartet of school board members.

“The Music Man” opened on Broadway in 1957, winning a host of awards, and being an international favorite ever since. Music and lyrics are by Meredith Wilson who drew upon memories of his youth in Iowa. He knew first-hand about the Iowa-stubborn mentality, the role of the traveling salesman, and the delights of small-town foibles and celebrations. Robert Preston and Barbara Cook created the leading roles on Broadway, with Preston and Shirley Jones taking the leads in the 1962 movie version.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

The tale is the epitome of small-town America of a century ago. The excitement of a newcomer showing up, the arrival of the Wells Fargo wagon with its treasure of items the townspeople ordered, the fun of summertime picnics, complete with patriotic pageants, and the idea that boundless joy and comfort can be realized on a local basis, without travelling beyond the immediate area.

“The Music Man” continues to be a delight. The set is colorful, the syncopated movement of everyone on stage is impressive, and the familiar songs continue to sound terrific: “76 Trombones,” “Til There was You,” “Goodnight my Someone,” “Gary, Indiana,” and on and on. The orchestra is very good and lets the entire cast have a delightful “try” at Hill’s “Think System” as part of the rousing finale

The cast is huge, carefully directed and choreographed by Ali K. Meyers. Victor Walters serves as music director as well as leader of the orchestra. There are numerous young persons in the show. The entire cast appeared to be having great fun, and the audience showed its appreciation with a standing ovation – a rarity at a dinner theatre.

“The Music Man”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: November 5, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
CDP’s Website

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“Elephant’s Graveyard’ Is Based On Actual Events Of 100 Years Ago

A small Tennessee town is witness to the tragic demise of a circus elephant.

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
September 9, 2017

“The circus is coming town” was usually the shout meaning an exciting event was about to make small-town life more interesting. Especially to a muddy Tennessee town whose main claim to fame was that they had a railroad station, where a trainload of circus performers and animals could stop for a day or two to provide entertainment from the outside world.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” August 30, 2017.

Such was the case in 1916 when a struggling circus arrived in Erwin, Tennessee. The circus prided itself on owning a few elephants, including the enormous “Mary” that lead the team in the parade and under the big top at every performance. Upon arrival in Erwin, however, a newcomer to the circus crew requested that he be “in charge” of Mary, not realizing that experience in elephant training was a basic requirement. This resulted in the death of the naïve animal trainer, and ultimately of the elephant itself – reportedly the only elephant to be ever lynched.

The play is a staggeringly interesting mix of the excitement of the circus arrival, the subsequent tragic events, and the resulting conflict of reactions of the local populous. This is a haunting tale, and the cast on the dirt-laden stage of the Bas Bleu Theatre is up to the task of providing 75 minutes of non-stop interest. There is no intermission, as various townspeople and circus performers relate what they believe transpired. The mood is amazing, with the feeling of being inside a circus tent, watching the performances of humans playing out their reaction to the tragedy.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” August 30, 2017.

There is more going on than the tragic tale told. The author is dealing with the “elephant” in each of our closets – how bigoted we are, how unwilling to overcome racial discrimination. Our lust for blood payment. Although not mentioned in the play, there was a situation in tiny Erwin, Tennessee two years after the elephant was lynched – the lynching of a black person. The “circus” in the play is used as a tool to show how insular we can become – whether it be to our “fellow performers” or our neighbors in insular situations.

The story begins with the Ring Master looking back (from the circus ring) as to what has happened. The show ends with him sitting in the circus ring on an upside-down pail, discussing what he thinks he has seen, and whether it has or has not changed him.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” August 30, 2017.

The 14-member cast is flawless, as they individually relate where they fit into the story – never speaking to one another, but always addressing the audience. Nick Holland is the Ring Master, Liam Kelley is the experienced animal trainer who has gained the confidence of the animals. Kate Lewis is the ballet girl, often announcing that she is a “ballet” performer, and not a tawdry novelty. Scott McCoppin is the tour manager, Ken Benda is the strongman who can’t lift much. Elizbeth Kirchmeier is the acrobatic clown who has probably the most challenging time in accepting the death of her dear animal friend. Greg Clark is the local marshal. Jim Valone, the local preacher, desperately wanting some member of his congregation to seek solace in the church. Kaya Rudolph, Tabitha Tyree, and Holly Wedgeworth are local townspeople. Wesley Longacre is a local shovel operator; Drew Cuthbertson, the engineer. Paul Brewer is the guitarist and drummer. The entire cast is on stage the entire time, except when the train engineer is confined to his office. We never meet the red-head youth whose lack of training resulted in his own death.

This is heavy stuff, with no one singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The audience is left to figure out its own reaction to what has transpired, and how it may fit into our own life and world.

Author George Brant received the 2008 Keene Prize for Literature and the 2008 David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award. The writing is impressive. We do not see the lynching of the animal, but are told so vividly what has happened, that we feel as if we were present. The current production is directed by Garrett Ayers who notes ‘…the writer reaches inside the imaginations of the audience. What could be more theatrical and dramatic than that?”

The current art exhibit of Elephant Watercolors by Kimberly Lavelle and Bristlecone Photography by Brian Miller is a beautiful complement to the story being told on the Tom Sutherland Stage.

“Elephant’s Graveyard”
Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80554-2433
970/498-8949
Bas Bleu Website
To October 8, 2017

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