“Waitress” Now Serving Patrons of Buell Theatre

First National Touring Company Is Delicious Entertainment

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 29, 2017

Three waitresses working in a diner somewhere in America’s South have become good friends. They are the “Three Musketeers” of food service. They ignore their boss, and try to fix each other’s problems. Becky is a heavy-set woman who has a heart as large as her frame, and who claims her husband has not shown her sexual attention for 15 years. Dawn is a social misfit, eager to find romance but with no idea of how to go about it. Jenna appears to be the most challenged of the three. She is in an incredibly unhappy marriage, but is afraid of doing anything to change her situation.

Their woes are effectively brought to life this month in the national touring company of “Waitress” now on stage of the Buell Theatre.

Desi Oakley, Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman in the National Tour of WAITRESS  Credit Joan Marcus

Whereas Charity Angel Dawson as Becky and Lenne Klingaman as Dawn are great fun, they basically provide the comedy relief to the concerns of Jenna played by Desi Oakley. Early in the show Jenna learns that she is pregnant by her louse of a husband, Earl, whom she intensely dislikes. Larry Marshall is so convincing as Earl, that the audience at curtain call were eager to boo him. His performance is so menacing that he sustains the threat of violence throughout the show.

Jenna is the product of a family with its share of unhappiness. She was helpless in protecting her mother from the abuses of her father. Her memories of her mother sustain her. Her mother taught her how to bake a pie, but not how to choose a man. Jenna is probably the best pie maker in the area, and is thinking about entering a pie-baking contest with financial rewards.

Desi Oakley as Jenna in the National Tour of WAITRESS  Credit Joan Marcus

She is also considering running away, leaving her husband and her job, when she learns that she is pregnant with Earl’s child. Her life appears to be in shambles. She has no idea what to do, and wants nothing to do with the forthcoming child. The results provide an evening of great interest. There are no high-kicking chorus girls, or glittering Broadway/Hollywood scenery. There is, however., thought-provoking courage in the making. The set is effective, and clever choreography of movement keeps the action flowing. Timing is flawless.

Jenna’s gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, is new to the area. He is a new doctor, and provides an enormous innocence and insecurity which become wisdom and know-how, as the show (and Jenna’s pregnancy) progress. Bryan Fenkart is excellent as the bewildered and helpful Dr. Pomatter. His own marriage isn’t the greatest, and he finds enormous support just being with his patient, Jenna.

The development of their friendship is the basis of “Waitress.” Events in the lives of the other waitresses provide terrific counterpoint to the feelings shared by Jenna and Dr. Pomatter. Becky becomes physically interested in Cal, the diner boss. Dawn finds a date – and potential of a happy future with Ogie. Ogie, played by Jeremy Morse, is one of the show’s most energetic enjoyments. He is every bit as socially adrift as is Dawn, and they make a hard-to-resist couple. Ogie steals the first act with a delightful “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” after a five-minute first date.

The musical is based on the 2007 film of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly. Music is good. No melodies become embedded in the brain for future humming. The second act, however, is particularly interesting as Jenna sings “She Used to Be Mine,” and is joined by the company for “Everything Changes.” Music and lyrics are by Sara Bareilles with the book of Jessie Nelson. The show’s director, Diane Paulus, was one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2014.

Paulus directed the original production at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge in 2015, and the Broadway opening in 2016. The show received several awards, and is the first musical in Broadway history to have four women in primary functions: Director, writer, composer, and choreographer. The national touring company on stage at the Buell this year began its tour this past October.

Pies are in abundance throughout the show. My first desire when leaving the theatre, was to find a slice of warm pie. Perhaps a-la-mode. “Waitress” provides a deep dish of wisdom and entertainment looking at Jenna and her friends in the diner.

“Waitress”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: December 31,2017
Online:  www.denvercenter.org

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“A Christmas Carol” Is Excellent Holiday Gift At DCPA

Dickens Classic Retains Its Heartwarming Charm

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 4, 2017

What? Back again? Is it possible that the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge continues to find enthusiastic response whenever he growls “Bah Humbug” year after year at Christmastime? He is not someone looking for friends, and is cranky and “crochety” year after year. Yet, he succeeds in fascinating thousands of readers and theatregoers worldwide. He is back on stage at Denver Center for the Performing Arts this season, and continues to be an ill-tempered charmer.

Sam Gregory. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Sam Gregory plays the unhappy character this year at DCPA. He is an impressive entertainer. Memories of past Scrooges have left me with trepidation about enduring his wrath again and again. Gregory’s interpretation is a pleasant change. Yes, he is still scary and mean, but his portrayal of the role, as directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, has given him more humanity, and more earnest desire to make personal changes than seen in many past productions. This is Gregory’s second year as Scrooge on the Denver stage.

The Company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Charles Dickens was down on his luck in London in 1843. He needed a financial success to follow “The Pickwick Papers” and “Oliver Twist.” He began to work on a novella that would become “A Christmas Carol,” writing it in just six weeks. The published work appeared a week before Christmas in 1843, and the first edition was sold out immediately. The story was a tremendous success, 13 more editions were printed within the next year.

Dickens went on to further renown with many of his works becoming classic literature, including “David Copperfield” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” His themes touched on the social problems of England, and the ongoing need for kindness and hope. A movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is currently playing in movie theatres in Colorado, looking at Dicken’s life at the time he wrote the “Carol” novella.

This is DCPA’s 25th season of “A Christmas Carol.” It has proved to be a landmark show – a must-see every year. The Center continues its success in presenting the story in a beautiful setting, with skilled performers. The well-known set is as glorious as ever. The large cast is without flaw, and the Dicken’s tale has become even more relevant through the years.

The Company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom.

One of this year’s highlights is the convincing portrayal of Brian Vaughn as Bob Cratchit. In the second act, Cratchit reminds his family of the importance of Christmas. (See quotes following review.) Vaughn’s performance is inspiring. In fact, the entire production is inspiring. The audience left the theater with a desire to be more helpful to family, friends, and those in need.

The script for this year’s production is by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry, interspersed with familiar Christmas melodies. Christine Rowan provides excellent choreography.

The story is the same as ever – the wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge has only one employee, a kindly Bob Cratchit who is poorly paid. It is Christmas Eve. Scrooge grumbles that the impoverished London citizens have no right to find joy in the holiday season. He does, however, begrudgingly grant Cratchit permission to leave the office to be with his wife and children, including the crippled Tiny Tim.

Michael Fitzpatrick, Leslie O’Carroll. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom.

Scrooge returns to his apartment, and is roused from restless sleep by the startlingly arrival of his former partner, Jacob Marley. Marley died seven years previously and is now an after-life spirit prisoner shackled by the chains of his past errors. Marley warns Scrooge that he will face the same torment when he dies, unless he changes his ways. He says that he will be visited that night, and in nights to come by three spirits representing the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come.

The ghosts appear, with each apparition providing Scrooge with memories of his past – some joyous, some fearful and sad, and each with a warning that he must do something now to improve his life for the future. This could be scary stuff. Some of it is. But there is always the realization that lives can change, when there is an earnest desire to do so.

This is a beautiful, heart-warming, “feel good” show. The entire production is a jeweled treasure.

“A Christmas Carol”
Where: The Stage Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: December 24, 2017
For Information Online Click Here

Note from Hellesen Script Adaption: In the second act, Bob Cratchit is at home advising his family:

“When I listen to you talk about your hopes, I can’t but think how Christmas changes as we grow older. Time was, when I was young when Christmas Day was like a magic ring around the world. It bound together all enjoyments, affections, hopes…And seeing everything and everyone around a Christmas fire was all I ever wanted.

…” As we grow older, let us be thankful that the circle of our Christmas memories expands. Welcome, our old aspirations, which we may yet think impossible. We have not outlived you yet! And welcome, new projects and new loves, to their place by the hearth. Welcome what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be—all our bright visions of Christmas Day For it is the season of immortal hope, and the birthday of immoral mercy—and we will shut out nothing.

“Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.”

Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

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