Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Lavish Production is Holiday Delight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 24, 2017

Belle enjoys reading. She is evidently a rarity in her tiny village, as many of the townspeople find her to be “odd.” “Odd” also applies to her eccentric father, an inventor on his way to a local competition. He makes a wrong turn, ends up in a scary forest and ultimately in chains in the basement cell of a legendary castle owned by an unhappy beast. Sound familiar? This is just for starters in Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s current lavish holiday musical.

Courtesy RDG Photography

Katie Jackson is a winner as the charming Belle. She is understandably “the most beautiful girl in the village” and has a voice to match. The local bully and womanizer, Gaston, has decided he wants Belle as his wife. He is an egotistical dimwit, and Belle wants nothing to do with him. Eric Heine is in fine voice as Gaston, and becomes increasingly menacing as the show continues.

The Broadway musical premiered in 1994, based on the incredibly popular 1991 Walt Disney movie. Disney’s movie had roots as a classic French fairytale. A cold-blooded prince was magically transformed into an ugly “beast” as punishment for his unwillingness to help a woman in need. The curse is transferred to the servants in the beast’s castle. They are slowly becoming household objects instead of human beings. There is Lumiere, the candelabra; Mrs. Potts, the teapot; Cogsworth, the standing clock; Chip the teacup son of Mrs. Potts; Madame Grand de la Bouche, the wardrobe cupboard; and Babette, the feather duster. Everyone is hopefully awaiting the time when the curse might be lifted. This will happen only when the beast falls in love with a beautiful girl, and she loves him in return. There is a deadline for the curse to be reversed: when the last petal falls from a rose kept under glass in the beast’s castle.

Courtesy RDG Photography

The Candlelight production is remarkable. The sets, music, costumes, lighting, cast, and choreography are excellent. The music contains several well-known songs from the original movie. When the beast sang “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act One, the audience erupted in enthusiastic appreciation. Another standout is when the inanimate household objects warmly welcoming Belle to the castle with “Be Out Guest.” Bob Hoppe is particularly good in this musical segment, playing Lumiere. The beautiful melody, “Beauty and the Beast” is very well performed by Joanie Brosseau-Rubald as Mrs. Potts.

Courtesy RDG Photography

Supporting roles include Kent Sugg as Belle’s father, Samantha Jo Staggs as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Harmony Livingston as Babette, David L. Wygant as Cogsworth, and Ethan Knowles as Lefou. Brekken Wald and Christopher Walton alternate in the role of Chip.

There are dozens of clever additions to the story. Some characters fly. One becomes a human chandelier rising above the stage. Chip glides in and out on roller-sneakers. The snarling wolves with flashing eyes are frightening.

Courtesy RDG Photography

When I learned that Kalond Irlanda had been cast as The Beast,” I was apprehensive. I thought he was very good as the young Tommy in Candlelight’s recent production of “the Music Man.” He was then playing a teenager. What a transformation he has made in becoming the beast. Irlanda is excellent. His voice is powerful. He can be menacing. He can be kind. He rules the production.

Direction and choreography are by Jessica Hindsley and Kate Vallee. Music director is Victor Walters, with Casey Kearns as scenic designer. Choreography is especially good, as are all the special effects. Technical Manager Shauna Johnson mentioned that the special effects for this production are among the most challenging ever staged by Candlelight staff and crews.

The story and its outcome are so well known that the show does lag a little in the second act. It was as if “I know what is going to happen, just let it happen – instead of providing last-minute unnecessary intrigue.” The total production, however, is an evening of immense talent in a joyous production where everyone involved (on stage or off) is operating at full throttle.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: February 14, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Arvada

Aaron Young Struts and Sings Sensationally as the Favored Son of Biblical Fame

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 19, 2017

“Yes,” he claims, “I look handsome. I look smart. I am a walking work of art, such a dazzling coat of many colors. How I love my coat of many colors.” So sings Aaron Young as Joseph, as he unabashedly taunts his 11 brothers with his new robe. Seems Joseph is the favorite son of his father, Jacob, and wears his new coat with great élan. Too much élan, as the brothers devise a plot to not only rid themselves of Joseph’s coat, but of Joseph himself. Joseph does more than annoy his brothers with his fancy coat, he sings about it with an “amazing” voice. Rarely has Joseph sounded so good.

Pictured: Aaron Young as Joseph
Photo M. Gale Photography 2017

Sound familiar? The story of Jacob and his 12 sons has been around since the Bible began. There were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, Judah, and Joseph – his father’s “favorite son.” The musical version, crafted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, seems to have been around “forever.” But it has been less than 50 years since they worked on a little show for a boy’s school in London – a little musical fable which originally lasted about 20 minutes.

The “little show” has been expanded substantially and has become one of the most successful musicals in history. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities has produced the show six times in previous years, but not since 2009. When I learned it was to be the Center’s Holiday Musical, my initial reaction was “Ho Hum. Not very Christmassy.” How wrong I was. No, it does not have a Holiday theme, but is perhaps the best “present” that the Center could provide to audiences this season. It is a joy to see and to hear.

Aaron Young (Joseph) and ensembe
M. Gale Photography 2017

The show has sometimes been stylized so severely to be hardly recognizable. Director Gavin Mayer has wisely gone back to the more traditional performance, and has provided a show for the ages. The excellent performer Aaron Young is in great company, as the entire cast is talent to be reckoned with. Sarah Rex played the Narrator several years ago in Arvada, and has returned to charm the socks off the audience and to raise the roof with her voice. Stephen Day is excellent in two roles – that of Jacob and as Potiphar. Norrell Moore is an alluring and temping Mrs. Potiphar. James Frances gets “all shook up” as the (Elvis Presley) Pharaoh.

Sarah Rex (Narrator) and ensemble
M. Gale Photography 2017

The crazy diversions of song and dance styles are more fun than ever. P. Tucker Worley is the country western voice as Levi in the “One More Angel in Heaven Hoedown.” Jake Mendes is Reuben as a French charmer looking back on “Those Canaan Days” while the family is on the verge of starvation. Emma Martin and Michael Russell give even more excitement to the French Cabaret of “Those Canaan Days” in a French Apache Dancers routine. Michael Canada is excellent as he rouses the brothers in Egypt with his “Benjamin’s Calypso.”

Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck provides the delightful chorography, with Roberto Sinha as Musical Director, and Brian Mallgrave as Scenic Designer. Lighting is by Sean Mallary, sound by David Thomas, and Costumes by December Mathisen.

The entire show is less than two hours, including intermission. The audience was having such a terrific time, however, that no one was eager to leave. But they could go home humming such great melodies as “Any Dream Will Do,” and remembering just how handsome and how smart was Joseph as a walking work of art in his “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through December 23, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Click Here For More Information:

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Chekhov meets Snow White in Award Winner

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Shine at Bas Bleu Theatre

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 16, 2017

Vanya and Sonia have reached middle age, with very little going for them. They live in the family home in Bucks County, PA, and have spent most of their adult lives looking after their now-deceased parents. Vanya and Sonia have been unhappy for so long it seems that they have forgotten what happiness is. A day’s highlight might be their bickering over whether the coffee is hot enough. Their boring lives are interrupted by the arrival of their world-famous actress sister, Masha, who breezes into town much to her peers’ annoyance.

The stage is set for two and one-half hours of clever intrigue, family squabbles, and a rich coming-to-realization of what is important in life.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

Jeffrey Bigger as Vanya, and Kelly Foerster as Sonia, are convincing as the brother and sister inhabiting the family home. Vanya is a gay man with no apparent close friends. Sonia was adopted into the family as a young girl, has grown to middle-age with no apparent friends, and no apparent interests. Neither of them is employed, and their successful sister, Masha, pays all the bills.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

The arrival of Lee Osterhout-Kaplan as Masha lights up the stage. Masha, is an over-the-hill actress who is accustomed to having her own way with everything she does, and with everyone she touches. She arrives from her New York home with Spike, her latest gigolo, in tow. She has been through five husbands, and is currently hanging out with a young hunk half her age. Marcus Turner is super as Spike – a handsome dimwit whose main claim to fame has been to have auditioned for a bit part in a tv sitcom. Masha not only rules her young lover, but rules the stage as well. She is impressive.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

Her reason to travel to the family home is to find a realtor to sell the property. While she is in town she’ll take the family to a neighborhood costume party where she plans to reign supreme as Snow White. The family balks at being assigned to supporting roles – dwarfs.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha were given names from Anton Chekov stories beloved by their parents. The Chekhov references are abundant, from names to family discord, even to the fading cherry orchard now reduced to just nine trees. Knowledge of Chekhov is not required, but is an added delight to playwright’ Christopher Durang’s clever story.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opened on Broadway in 2013. Critics praised the show, and it proved to be an immediate commercial success — recouping its initial investment in less than four months. In 2013 it received the Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and numerous other honors.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

Direction for this production is by Graham Lier. This is his directorial debut, and he fills the roll admirably. I saw the first Bas Bleu public performance and was impressed with how the entire cast became better and better as the play progressed. I can only imagine how accomplished everyone will be in future performances.

Among the initial standouts: Lee Osterhout-Kaplan as Masha who is already brilliant every moment she is on stage. Jeffrey Bigger’s Vanya provides a tender monologue review of what life was like in the 1950s. Kelly Foerster as Sonia is heart-wrenching when speaking to a gentleman caller by telephone the morning after the costume ball. She came to life that previous evening, and can’t believe that someone was interested in knowing her better. Alexandra Bunger-Pool is a warm-hearted charmer as the neighbor girl who can find happiness everywhere she goes. Jasmine Winfrey is the voodoo-operating housekeeper who is able to put the household in order. Marcus Turner is the not-so bright Spike who has more brawn than brains, and is bewildered by the entire family.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

This production includes high hilarity and poignant pathos. Masha is terrified that her successful life as a sought-after actress may have peaked, and can’t face the reality of being asked to portray the role of a grandmother. Her young lover is happiest when parading around in his undies not caring what anyone around him might think. Vanya and Sonia can’t fathom what life might be like if the house is sold. This is a particularly-well-crafted play. The dreary lives are enhanced to the extent that “hope” is not just around the corner — it is on the doorstep. “There is always hope.”

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (and Nina and Cassandra) are all in fine form, with this delightful fairly-tale of a family in turmoil.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To December 17, 2017
For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949 or Click Here

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Monty Python is Alive and Well in OpenStage’s “Spamalot”

Choreography Excels In This Daffy Delight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 29, 2017

Life isn’t easy in 932 A. D. for King Arthur in England. He is trying to round up a group of gallant and valiant men to serve as knights for his round table. Trouble is, not many people have even heard of this Arthur chap, and the French are outright hostile to him.

Charlie Ferrie as King Arthur in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

Charlie Ferrie is in fine form as the befuddled king. He IS in command, but can’t seem to easily round up followers. Except for his ever-faithful “trotting” servant, “Patsy.” Dan Tschirhart is a standout as the not terribly bright aid-de-camp whose primary role to knock coconuts together to create the sound of trotting horses. Tschirhart never loses character, even when the thoughtless king ignores his presence while trying to get sympathy with “I’m All Alone.”

Carl Buchanan, Larry Linne and Kiernan Angley as Taunting Frenchmen in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

While the local citizens aren’t eager to go to war, or to search for the Holy Grail, they are amazingly willing to sing and dance! The dancing is terrific. The “Laker Girls” cheerleading the knights, “His Name is Lancelot,” and “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” are all show-stopping routines. Choreographer Cole Emarine even includes a clever Jewish folklore “bottle dance” with Grail Goblets atop each dancer.

Direction of the continually-delightful mayhem is by Emelie Borello, with music direction by Joseph Perron.

In 1975 The Monty Python Comedy Group (including Eric Idle) created the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It immediately became a worldwide favorite and developed a cult following — the group that I refer to as “Pythonites.” Idle expanded the movie’s idea, writing book and lyrics for the 2005 musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Clever bits of the movie have become comedy standards. Many of them turn up on the Fort Collins stage. Some work brilliantly, others not so well.

Dan Tschirhart as Patsy and Charlie Ferrie as King Arthur in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

Stage highlights include the creation of the Trojan Horse in the shape of a large rabbit that the knights forget to enter before placing it into a local castle. Then there is the incredibly mean rabbit who tears anyone to shreds who dares challenge him. The highwayman challenging the knights loses his arms and legs to King Arthurs’s men, noting with each limb-severing blow, “merely a flesh wound.”

And the goofy Knights Who Say Ni, who request a bit of shrubbery (with their virtually incomprehensible language) before anyone can continue the trail. Language is one of the few problems with the OpenStage production. From the welcome to the show through much of the dialogue emitting from the tops of castles the audience is often in a bewildered state of wondering just what is going on. Fortunately, the audience was packed with Monty Python fans (my “Pythonites”) who seemed to catch every nuance of craziness.

In addition to King Arthur and his ever-trotting servant, Patsy, another creative wonder is Kiernan Angley’s performance of Sir Lancelot. The role is just one played by versatile Angley. One moment he is the gay Sir Lancelot. The next moment he becomes a French Taunter, a Knight of Ni, or Tim the Enchanter. He is extremely masculine-heroic one moment, a fey delight, the next. Nikki Gibbs is the Lady of the Lake, the woman supposedly responsible for Arthur becoming the king. Gibbs is a very attractive addition to the scruffy crew, and is a good actress. She does not, however, have the raucous bravura of the desired diva. She sings her songs — doesn’t delightfully “belt” them.

Most of the performers play multiple roles, each with daffy-timing skills.

The 2005 “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” directed by Mike Nichols, received Tony Award for Best Musical. It has subsequently become a worldwide attraction. Currently on stage in Fort Collins, it is a brilliantly acted performance of non-stop lunacy, with only a modicum of sense. Just what we need right now.

“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through November 25, 2017
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information: www.lctix.com

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