All posts by Tom

“Anything Goes” Wows Audience at Mountain View High School Production in Loveland

AGMountain View High School Students Shine in Cole Porter Musical “Anything Goes”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, March 3. 2016

If you were in the Loveland area around 8:00 p.m. you may have heard an enormous roar. It wasn’t an explosion, nor a low flying airplane. It was the thunderous applause provided by the audience at the conclusion of the first act of Mountain View High School’s production of “Anything Goes!” The entire cast is on stage tap dancing their hearts out with a remarkable display of talent and exuberance! This is one of the most delightful first act finales of a show in recent memory.
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Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” is Rollicking Tale in Loveland

Pirates LogoLoveland Opera Theatre Provides Pure Fun on the Rialto Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2016

Daffy cops are in full chase as down-on-their-luck pirates try to woo a herd of the Major General’s daughters. Gilbert and Sullivan provided several delightful comic operettas, with “Pirates of Penzance” probably being the most entertaining, and containing wondrous melodies.
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A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder Wows Buell Theatre Audiences

gglogoThere is delightful murder in the air at the Buell with super musical comedy.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 17, 2016

A young, British chap, Monty Navarro, is an acknowledged romantic. The night before a possible execution for a murder he didn’t commit, he writes his memoirs about murders he did cause. And what a tale he tells. Two and one-half hours later the audience has chuckled and laughed out loud at the antics of the beguiling Monty. He recounts his own “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
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“All The Way” Looks at LBJ and MLK as The Civil Rights Bill is Presented to Congress.


All the wayDenver Center presents remarkable Award Winning Play to Entertain and Enlighten Audiences

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 6, 2016

Lyndon Baines Johnson had been President of the United States less than a year when he faced an uphill battle in congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He had no vice president, and appears to have been a loose cannon, ready for combat to pass the legislation. He needed all the help he could muster, as he would be up for nomination at the Democratic Party National Convention in late summer, and he was using every trick in the book to move his legislation forward.
Continue reading “All The Way” Looks at LBJ and MLK as The Civil Rights Bill is Presented to Congress.

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“Hide Sky” Features three talented performers portraying a family at loose ends.

Hide-Sky-Logo
Hide Sky at Bas Bleu

Bas Bleu hosts world premiere of “Hide Sky” by Caridad Svich

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 5. 2016

“Home is where the heart….is or isn’t.” Three now-adult siblings get together at the Rawlins family home after the funeral of their suicidal mother. The eldest daughter, Shawn, appears to be taking on the role of the family matriarch. She is a take-charge woman whose own marriage is on the rocks, and her husband has moved on. The younger daughter Maureen (“Mo”) is a hippie who returns to the family home with enough baggage to fill several volumes of tribulations. Ray is the n’er-do well son who is basically a drunk, and has no desire to build relationships with his sisters.
Continue reading “Hide Sky” Features three talented performers portraying a family at loose ends.

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“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is insightful look at relationships!

Love ChangeMidtown Arts production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” evokes memories of dating, marriage, and all….

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 29, 20

The show’s title tells it all as fun and foibles of dating and marriage take center stage in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now change” current at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins. The popular review has been charming audiences worldwide since its inception Off-Broadway in New York twenty years ago. The show has something for just about every dating or married couple.

We see a couple on their first date. They claim they are uncomfortable in early dates, and opt to fast forward to second, third and all dates, concluding their friendship with no dates! Then there is the senior couple whose spouses have died, and the remaining widow and widower spend their days attending funerals of persons they don’t know — looking for possible match-up dates with other funeral-goers.

Photo credit Mikeal Macbeth.
Photo credit Mikeal Macbeth.

Current cast in the Midtown production is very good, headlined by Joel Adam Chavez who is an instant charmer with his wonderful facial expressions and ability to take on roles from the dating movie-goer to the senior citizen at the funeral home. He is a familiar face to local audiences. He is especially heart-warming as the macho date, dragged to a chick flick tear jerker. He prefers action westerns, heavy on violence; but ends up sobbing hysterically being reduced to mush at the two-hanky sob story his date insisted on seeing.

Also well known to local audiences is Anne Terze-Schwarz, a tall beauty with an equally beautiful voice. Rounding out the quartet of performers are Morgan Howard and Sean Wilcox, both newcomers to MAC productions. Each of the four players has an individual moment to shine, as well as playing multiple roles for other sketches. Morgan amazes as she jumps to a full dancing split! Sean Wilcox has very good stage presence and is enormously charming. His singing voice is very good, and his acting skills are effective.

Music is by Jimmy Roberts, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro. The songs are pleasant, but not particularly memorable. The sketches range from great fun to heartfelt somber memories. Among the highlights, in addition, to those mentioned earlier, are Wilcox visiting some married friends whose entire existence is currently revolving around their new baby; the family “traveling” around the stage reminding us how dreadful family trips by car can be; the husband who is bogged down with Macy shopping bags while his wife runs around the store trying to find a restroom; and a super sketch where married parents are hosting a dinner for their son and his girlfriend of two years, expecting the couple is about to announce their engagement. The parents are horrified as the young friends announce they are splitting up – with the mother tossing the gift she had brought thinking a wedding announcement was soon to be made.

Seth Caikowski directs the goings-on. He is highly respected for his acting skills, having received the Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award a few years ago for his looniness in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Boulder Dinner Theatre. This is the third production of “I Love You…” that Caikowski has directed.

Midtown Arts Center is presenting the show in their smaller cabaret-style room. This is a slightly different format from shows featured on their main stage. No meal is provided, but appetizers and drinks are available prior to the show, with dessert at Intermission.

The show premiered Off-Broadway in New York in 1996 and closed in 2008, after more than 5,000 performances. It has been produced worldwide and translated into at least 17 languages. The themes presented are universal. Playwright DiPietro touches on romantic themes that are instantly relatable – sometimes with discomfort, sometimes with outright joy!

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 4 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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“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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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.”

2Carol 2015 ghost past
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!

whiteXmas-200x200-final-1-201503261015

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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“Superior Donuts” is the tale of a man of the 70s, who hasn’t progressed much since!

Superior_Donuts_1480Playing characters in OpenStage production Charlie Ferrie and Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye light up the stage in their efforts to change each other!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 7, 2015

Police have already been alerted and are on the scene by the time Arthur Przbyszewski arrives at his “Superior Donuts” shop to find it has been vandalized. The front window is broken. Tables and chairs have been tipped over and a nasty graffiti has been spray painted on the wall.

Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye as Franco Wicks and Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka
Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye as Franco Wicks and Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka

Charlie Ferrie portrays Arthur and is believable as the 60ish man who was a product of the free-spirited 1970s. He hasn’t yet quite grasped the reality that he just might be able to do something more
with his life than sit alone in his shop and smoke pot.

Even learning of the vandalism in his business doesn’t seem to upset Arthur. He accepts the situation as just one more distraction in his semi-reclusive life. He inherited the shop from his father, a
Polish immigrant who died while Arthur was hiding out in Canada, showing his opposition to the Vietnam War. He has subsequently returned to Illinois to take care of the shop, still maintaining his 70s
pony-tale and hippie attire. Arthur’s space is next door to a DVD store whose owner is eager to buy Arthur’s deteriorating space.

Duane Sawyer as Max Tarasov, Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski, and Sean Coffman as Kiril Ivakin in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka
Duane Sawyer as Max Tarasov, Charlie Ferrie as Arthur Przybyszewski, and Sean Coffman as Kiril Ivakin in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka

Arthur doesn’t like the idea. Why? Hard to explain, as “Superior” doesn’t appear to have much of a clientele and Arthur is not a congenial attraction! He just seems to feel safe and content in his situation. He his located on the North Side of Chicago, an area that has been down on its luck for many years, but might be on the verge of revitalization.

Shortly after the vandalism, and before Arthur has done anything to remove the graffiti, a tall black man, Franco Weeks, arrives,  indicating he wants Arthur to hire him to help out in the shop.

Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye is a revelation as the self-assured, smooth talking young man who appears to have a lot more going for him than even he might realize. Arthur questions him as to why
he wants to work there, and the interview process is reversed with Franco asking why Arthur doesn’t want to make the shop more functional and appealing He wants interesting pictures on the walls, music in the air, a more congenial atmosphere, and more than just donuts and coffee on the menu.

Louise F. Thornton as Lady Boyle in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka
Louise F. Thornton as Lady Boyle in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Photo by Joe Hovorka

Amazingly, Arthur decides to hire Franco, at $8.00 per hour, which includes painting over the graffiti, mopping the floor and maybe eventually learning how to bake donuts. Franco accepts the
position, and by Intermission I expected to return to find the “Superior Donuts” look substantially changed. This does not happen, as the story evolves into the Arthur-Franco friendship, with some sub-plots along the way.

“Superior Donuts” is by playwright Tracey Letts who received the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and Drama Desk Award as best play a few seasons ago with his highly-acclaimed “August, Osage
County.” That was considered by many to be some sort of “masterwork” even though the language was disturbing.

Letts didn’t use all of his disturbing language in “Osage,” as he appears to be comfortable having swear words in English coming from lips of persons with several different native tongues in “Donuts.” These include Americans, Polish, Russians, and Italians!

The set and lighting are great, and Emelie Borello provides very good direction. The play looks like it was written to be a television sit-com series – complete with strong leading roles, and a variety of supporting players, showcasing several different characters: The kindly policeman and his devoted female co-worker, the quirky bag lady who drops in for freebies, the man desirous of buying the shop, and two mob men who are on the lookout for payoff.

The end result is an interesting play,made better than its writing by the talent of the two leading men – Charlie Ferrie and Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye. Their interchange is remarkable, as friendship grows and changes are contemplated.

“Superior Donuts”

Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.

417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.

When: Through November 28, 2015

Tickets: 970/221-6730

For more information: www.ltix.com

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“Rock of Ages” is High Energy Wonder at Midtown Arts Center      

Midtown Arts Center
Midtown Arts Center

Dynamic music and enthusiastic cast brings 1980s to life in “Rock of Ages. Audience enthusiasm results in show extension to January 2!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 15, 2015

Justin Luciano is his name, and music is his game. Anne Terze-Schwarz is her name, and music is her game. Justin and Anne find each other as “Drew” and “Sherrie” and combine talents to wow audiences in the brilliant “Rock of Ages” now on stage at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins. They headline a super cast in a production of non-stop music and dancing. It is doubtful that even the energizer bunnies can outdo them!

Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

“Rock of Ages” was an enormous hit on Broadway, running for 2,328 performances in six years. It closed earlier this year, and Kurt Terrio’s Midtown Arts was the first company to obtain rights to produce the show in Colorado! The audience is warned at the outset, that noise might just “melt your face.” That doesn’t happen, and I found myself swept up in the excitement of an extremely well-crafted production.

Amazingly, I recognized many of the songs by several composers, and was captivated by the show. The 80s were considered the Golden Age of synthesizer music – ant this show has that along with big hair, tight, skimpy clothes and epic guitar solos – along with incredible voices! The show was originally scheduled to run through late November. Audience response has been so enormous that the show has now been extended to run to January2!

Justin Luciano and Anne Terze-Schwarz. Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Justin Luciano and Anne Terze-Schwarz.
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

Plot is somewhat basic: Boy and girl looking for girl and boy. Beyond this oft-told premise is a crazed German entrepreneur wanting to remove the rock music territory in downtown Los Angeles, with a plan for urban renewal. He is accompanied by his hapless son, who follows like a puppy dog. Rock venue music owners don’t want to lose their music club and enlist the help of local social activists to stop demolition.

Sherrie’s efforts to find love in Southern California are thwarted and she falls into hard times, including an experience with a famous rocker who casts her aside, leaving her minimal choices. She finds help in a stripper night club, owned by a wise and caring woman, who has past problems of her own.   All of the goings on are played out with very loud and very energetic music, performed by a terrific band comprised of Jason Tyler Vaughn, Jeremy Girard, Angela Steiner, Ryan Millard, Larry Bridges, and Alan Skowron.

Michael Lasris and Barret Harper play the millionaire German and his son. They appear to be an evil force to be reckoned with. Sean Allen Riley and Joel Adam Chavez portray owners of the rock club. They are a delight! Jon Tyler Heath is super as the rock idol Stacee Jaxx whose dreadful hair is a character all its own. Morgan Howard is a hoot as Regina, the city planner turned spirited activist. And Jalyn Courtenay Webb holds center stage on her own, as the madame/owner of the stripper club where Sherrie seeks shelter. Webb is a continual show-stopper. Whenever she arrives on stage, all eyes move to her. And when she begins to sing, the audience is in awe!

The cast is not as large as it appears, as persons listed as part of the “Ensemble” are seen so frequently that they become featured players. These include Courtney Blackmun, Alexa Bernal, Terra Scott, Chris Bober, and Frankie Shin. There is not a slacker in the entire cast!

The show is produced and directed by Kurt Terrio, with musical staging and ingenious choreography by Michael Lasris. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, costumes by Alisa Metcalf, lighting by Chad Bonaker, sound by Mat Leland, set by Justin Hermanek and Jared Stuteville. Vocal direction by Jalyn Courtenay Webb.

Seeing “Rock of Ages” on stage at MAC is not unlike reading a children’s book by Richard Scarry, where there is always so much going on that it is sometimes difficult to zoom in on the central story. Terrio’s stage is one of constant movement with Lasris’ dancers and singers knowing exactly where they are go at every instant, and letting the audience figure out what parts of the stage and show they wish to direct their attention. This is a kaleidoscope of movement. Never a dull moment!

The cast is providing enormous entertainment to the audience. They also appear to be having an enormously fun time on stage. The show is well written with very clever situations and dialogue to keep the cast and audience in a state of near-continual joy!

By show’s conclusion, the cast must be exhausted. The audience is somewhat worn out also – with that continual applause! “Rock of Ages” is a show of the “Ages!” Curiously that “age” is now!

“Rock of Ages”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through January 2, 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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“The Outgoing Tide” at Bas Bleu takes us on a thought-provoking ride about the effects of Alzheimer’s on the victims and their families

Outgoing-Tide

A Well-Told Harrowing Tale with No Happy Ending in Sight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 8, 2015

Tighten your seat belts. The ride is bumpy, and there isn’t much hope of a happy landing! Fortunately the journey is well done, and provides opportunity for some introspection as we think — “what if we are ultimately afflicted as the victim or a family of someone faced with Alzheimer’s.”

Photo credit William A. Cotton
Photo credit William A. Cotton

Playwright Bruce Graham wrote “The Outgoing Tide” in 2010. This interesting, and sometimes frightening story made its way to the Bas Bleu stage this year. Bas Bleu must be heralded as a provider of plays not frequently found in local theatres. The subject matter is a reality that we are eager to sweep under the carpet, not talk about, and hope it will “just go away.”

Deb Note-Farwell has directed “Tide” with great care. The show’s star is Jonathan Farwell, Deb’s husband in real life. The Farwells are a team to be reckoned with. Jonathan is a veritable “treasure,” one of the finest actors in Colorado. Deb is a “treasure” in her own right, providing a host of memorable performances on stage, and directing many others were great acclaim.

Photo credit William A. Cotton
Photo credit William A. Cotton

In “Tide” we meet Jonathan as Gunner, a man in his late 70s or 80s, fishing outside his home on Chesapeake Bay, and realizing that his life has become a fright. He is losing his mind, losing his memory, and he realizes it. This is a terrifying prospect for him (or for anyone else with Alzheimer’s). Farwell is an acting miracle in virtually every character he portrays, and he has rarely been better than in this current role. He is feisty, kind, irritating, and wise –sometimes within the same sentence!

Farwell toe-to-toe, however, is Ann Whiteman, portraying Gunner’s wife, Peg. She is living on the edge herself, devoting her entire life to her declining Gunner. Truth be told, however, maybe that is all she truly wants to do! Whiteman is absolutely convincing as the fractured wife, and the conclusion she faces is virtually unbearable.

Photo credit William A. Cotton
Photo credit William A. Cotton

Rounding out the family trio is the couple’s son Jack, superbly portrayed by L. Michael Scovel. Jack has turned up at the family’s home, evidently at the request of his father. The two men have had virtually no closeness. The son is more interested in cooking than in fishing or playing ball. He believes his father has no use for him. The father cannot figure out his son, nor does he want to think much about it, beyond giving him some financial help in the event the son is left fatherless. The son and his wife are divorcing, and Gunner wants to make certain the divorce arrangement is clean and final. He also has ideas of his own about how to possibly end his own life with a boat “accident” while he retains the capability of so doing. This could leave his wife and son with substantial insurance funds.

The right to life. Death with dignity. The possibility of choosing how and when one might die. Tough topics to cover in a two and one-half hour production. But the thoughts linger long after the play’s conclusion – leaving the audience with incredible memories of a show superbly well done.

“The Outgoing Tide”
Through October 11, 2015
For information: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Web:  www.basbleu.org

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Riveting “West Side Story” musical is a wonder at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

WestSideStoryThe ‘Jets’ and ‘Sharks’ spar for territory on the streets of Manhattan in superb retelling of “West Side Story” at Candlelight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 10, 2015

Local gangs continue to be at war, each marking its ‘territory’ on the city streets.” Immigrants and local residents have difficulty getting along. Police officers can be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ – depending upon your side of the argument. And all of this set to the brilliant music composed by Leonard Bernstein nearly 60 years ago – with brilliant dances based on choreography of Jerome Robins, and some of the finest voices in the area!

The original “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957. Leonard Berstein’s music was heralded as among the most exciting written for a Broadway show.   His composing career included Broadway musicals, “Candide” and “On the town” plus numerous symphonies and choral classics. Music critic Donal Hehahan wrote,”Bernstein became one of the most talented and successful musicians in American History.”  Lyricist for “West Side Story” was a newcomer by the name of Stephen Sondheim who was 26 years old. The story is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and the dark mood it portrays was overshadowed by the cheerful “The Music Man” which won the Tony Award that year as Best Musical!

Scott Severtson and Kimberly Crawford star in West Side Story at the Candlelight Donner Playhouse.  Photo Credit Garland Photography
Scott Severtson and Kimberly Crawford star in West Side Story at the Candlelight Donner Playhouse. Photo Credit Garland Photography
“West Side Story,” however, went on to triumph in London and was made into a movie musical in 1961, receiving ten Academy Awards, including that for Best Movie. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for this show and later for “Gypsy,” then went on to write words and music for a host of Broadway shows, receiving eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer) and described by Frank Rich of The New York Times as “now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater.”

The production now at the Candlelight is among the most sensational shows seen on the Johnstown stage! Heading the cast are Scott Severtson as Tony and Kimberly Ann Crawford as Maria. They are unforgettable! When they combine voices to sing on the balcony of Maria’s tenement house, and later when they sing “One Hand and One Heart” in the bridal shop, the audience is in reverent awe! Their chemistry is palatable! The “Dance in the Gym” sequence is one of Broadway’s most memorable scenes — when Tony and Maria first meet, dance, and fall in love.

Not to be outdone, however, are supporting players Jessica Hindlsey and Bob Hoppe. Hindlsey is terrific as Maria’s friend, Anita, and Bob Hoppe as Riff, the Jet’s gang leader, is superb.

Story looks at rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, in the 1950s on the streets of New York. The actual locale of the street gangs of the 50s was cleared in an urban renewal project, and is now home of the the city’s cultural triumph – Lincoln Center!

Choreography for the original production was created by Jerome Robbins. Matthew D. Peters based his choreography for the Candlelight production on the original work of Robbins. The current show is staged and directed to perfection by Donald Berlin. Casey Cropp is music director and conductor. The orchestra under his change is extremely good, especially considering the requirements of performing the near-classical Bernstein music!

Many of the songs of the original show have lasted as mainstream popular music for nearly 60 years – “I Feel Pretty,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Tonight, “ and “Something’s Coming.” Vocal music direction is expertly provided by Melissa Swift-Sawyer.

Technical aspects of the show are flawless. Scenic design by Glenn Grassi, lighting by Katie Gruenhagen, sound by Colin Hardesty, costumes by Judith Ernst combine to provide a spell-binding evening of theater.
A word of caution. While Candlelight’s most recent production was the delightful family show “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “West Side Story” covers more serious themes and situations – but brilliantly so!

“West Side Story” has fortunately been passed from generation to generation, since its inception in the 1960s. Its message of potential hope does not fade – nor does the incredible music and choreography!

“West Side Story”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: November 15, 2015
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com
Website:  ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Saturday Night Fever”” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

SNF LogoEnthusiasm Soars in Excellent “Saturday Night Fever – The Musical” at Arvada Center!

By Tom Jones
September 16, 2015

Ian Campayno takes no hostages. From the moment he swaggers onto the stage as Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever, The Musical” the audience is in the palm of his hand. He exudes self-confidence, and is a wonder to behold! The entire show is a wonder, but Campayno is a triumph!

Photo P. Switzer
Photo P. Switzer

The Regional Premiere of the show provided reason for the standing ovation at the show’s end at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Front and center was Campayno who sings dances, acts, and swaggers. And oh, that swagger. The role he plays is a 19-year-old young man in Brooklyn. He has close friends, and the ability to attract any girl who interests him. His home life isn’t great, as his parents don’t give him much support or attention. Their devotion is set on Tony’s older brother, Frank, who has become a Catholic Priest, giving the family a special social status in the neighborhood. Thomas Borrillo and Sharon Kay White are very good as the parents, as is Adam Estes, as Frank, Jr., the religious son who is questioning his own beliefs.

When Tony is not wooing the local girls or dancing his heart out at the local disco, he works in a paint store. This just gives him enough funding to learn incredible disco moves and to look over the girls eager to share his spotlight. Emma Martin can equal his disco moves, but Tony believes that something is missing. She adores him, but he is more interested in a beautiful woman he finds at the local dancing studio. McKayla Marso is brilliant as the willowy dancer who appears to have no interest in the younger and less-sophisticated Tony. Tony can’t quite figure her out and finally asks her if she thinks he is “interesting,” realizing that he doesn’t have her basic smarts.

Photo P. Switzer
Photo P. Switzer

This love story is background for the disco “fever” with such Bee Gees music of the 70s. “Disco Inferno” early in the First Act just about burns down the theater with enthusiasm. The “Fever” is obvious! Other familiar songs include “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive, and “You Should Be Dancing.”

Based on the 1970s film, the Arvada stage comes alive with the “look” of the era – hot pants, white suits, and platform shoes. Everyone looks about three inches taller than reality! The musical, directed by Rod A. Lansberry is based on the Paramount movie, adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oakes.

The breathtaking choreography is by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, with Brian Mallgrave credited for the impressive set. Mondo Guerra is costume designer, recreating the memories we have of how the “70s “looked.”

Everything about this show works! The cast is enormous, with special attention given to Tony’s friends Dan Reardon, Andrew Russell, Andrew Keeler, and Steven Burge. Musical Director and Conductor is David Nehls, backed by Keith Ewer, David DeMichelis, Harry Grainger, Wade Sander, Bradley Goode, and Jon Cullison.

This is a disco show – but emphasis moves from the ballroom to the lives of Tony and his friends. Tony’s swagger initially provides him with just about everything he wants. But he has a wonderful vulnerability. His final solo, “Tragedy” provides as much gut wrenching empathy, as did his incredible turns as the disco king.

“Saturday Night Fever” is a must-see production!

“Saturday Night Fever – The Musical”
Tuesday through Saturday through October 4, 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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“Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper” at Creede Repertory Theatre

Creede’s acclaimed Repertory Theatre Celebrates 50 Years of Excellence – we saw two of this summer’s shows – “Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper” – Both terrific!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 10, 2015

Many years ago my wife and I began summer visits to Pagosa Springs in Southern Colorado. We had spent a few summer visits there before we “discovered” Creede – a tiny town about 90 minutes north of Pagosa. Much to our amazement, we learned that Creede hosts one of America’s most respected theatre companies – Creede Repertory Theater (CRT). In recent years we have made a point of driving over Wolf Creek Pass to see delightful shows offered at CRT! We have rarely been disappointed, and some of our very favorite theatre experiences have been seeing Creede productions: “Fools,” “The 39 Steps,” and last summer’s amazing “Hope and Gravity” – just to mention a few. This year CRT celebrated its 50th Anniversary in providing great theater and was honored by the Colorado Theatre Guild as Outstanding Regional Theatre.

Creede has been home to some of our favorite performers, who have been part of the company’s summer theatre productions. We have seen Christy Brandt, Anne F. Butler, John Arp, John DiAntonio, Caitlin Wise, and John S. Green so many times that we are surprised when they don’t become as excited to see us when visiting with performers following the show – excited as we are to see them. We were miffed when John DiAntonio and Caitlin Wise didn’t invite us to their wedding last year – how could they not include us, when we thought we KNEW THEM so well– having seen them in so many different shows! But we are adult enough, however, to realize that unknown persons smiling from the audience do not provide opportunities for lasting friendships with the actors we admire!This summer we missed, “Ghost Light,” ”August: Osage County,” and “Our Town, but did see ”Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper.” Driving back to Pagosa Springs late one evening after seeing the two shows the same day, we mused that it was a shame we did not have the time to see all of this summer’s productions!

Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre

Guys and Dolls” is a charmer from the opening chords of “Runyonland” to the final “Marry the Man Today!” Rarely have the leading roles been in better hands than this year’s Tosin Morohunfola as Nathan Detroit, Sean Thompson as Sky Masterson, Emily Van Fleet as Sarah Brown, and Mehry Eslaminia as Miss Adelaide.

Sky Masterson is a sure-bet gambler who takes on a bet many think he cannot win – that he can take the humble Salvation Army worker on a date to Havana! He wins the bet, and almost loses the girl – but not quite! Sean Thompson is excellent as the no-frills Masterson, and Emily Van Fleet is his equal, initially fighting off Masterson’ advances, only to succumb to the potential “good” Masterson has to offer. The show’s “star, “ however is the zany Mehry Eslaminia as the wide-eyed Adelaide. She is “center stage” whether it be leading the under-dressed and over-exuberant girls in “Bushel and a Peck,” or in determining that a boyfriend’s hesitancy to marry can result in a bad cold! She is a very talented performer! The score includes “I’ll Know When my Love Comes Along,” “If I Were a Bell,” ”Luck Be Lady Tonight, “ and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Supporting players are quite wondrous: Brian Kusic doesn’t miss a beat as Harry the Horse, Joey Biltmore and others. Keep your eye on Graham Ward as he switches persona in the flick of an eye between Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Big Julie. Caitlin Wise is super as one of the Hot Box girls, and plays other roles as well!.

Costumes, lighting, sound, choreography and a terrific cast combine to make “Guys and Dolls” a must-see!

– – – – –

Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre

Good on Paper” is not a splashy musical, but a terrific piece of theatre, outlining the challenges of finding that “perfect” mate! Caitlin Wise plays Peg, a lovelorn police-sketch artist whose drawings come to life. She rejects all suitors, as no one can match up to her standards. That is until “Guy” springs from her paper sketch and into her apartment as a live person! Guy is played by John DiAntonio whose self-assured swagger and incredible good looks, make him the “perfect man” of Peg’s dreams. Peg’s sister, Sandy, has her own imaginary friends, as she writes trash books about forbidden love, etc. Mehry Eslaminia plays Sandy. We saw her earlier in the day as the super Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” and realized her extensive range of talent in bringing to life an entirely different character in the evening’s “Good on Paper.”

DiAntonio and Wise are married in real life – tying the knot a year ago in Creede. They are super together on the stage as sparring romantics. Completing the cast are Brian Kusic and Logan Ernstthal portraying two of the crooks shown in Peg’s police sketches. They also come to life in Peg’s apartment, with her fearing that more of her sketches may come in person to haunt her! Kusic is particularly amusing, as he wants to “expose” himself to everyone at every turn, whereas Ernstthal’s Vincent is a complete “tough.”

This is a fun and thought-provoking play making its Creede debut this summer!

For information, prices and dates of this summer’s CRT productions:’
www.creederep.org
Telephone 719/658-2540

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” musical based on popular family film at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is Family-friendly Entertainment Running the Gamut from Slapstick to Serious at Candlelight.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, August 13, 2015

Photo credit Garland Photography.
Photo credit Garland Photography.
The car flies! Well, not quite “flies,” but it does rise up from the stage – much to the delight and amusement of everyone in the theatre. The car itself is quite amazing – a terrific highlight to its production namesake “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” now on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown.

Special effects have long been used by movies. Now, they are becoming wonderfully commonplace on the stage! We saw Peter Pan fly away with Wendy on the stage at Candlelight. We saw Mary Poppins fly away from the stage at Boulder Dinner Theatre. Now we have an entire car that is airborne, occupied by David Wygant, Alisha Winter Hayes, Rebecca Hyde and Brekken Wald as they fly from England to Vulgaria – and back! Wygant plays Caractacus Potts, the car’s inventor. Alisha Winter Hayes is Truly Scrumptious, a delightfully self-assured woman who is willing to get on board. Hyde and Wald play Pott’s children with no fear of where the amazing car just might take them.

The show did take a little time for me to become enchanted by the goings-on! The script seems to be two shows. The first act introduces us to the Potts family, to the wonderful Truly Scrumptious, and tells us that Potts is a somewhat daffy inventory, who has yet to make it big. The second act is more interesting, as Potts and group fly the car-plane to Vulgaria, a mythical country whose loony Baron is trying to steal Pott’s car and other inventions.

This is the regional premiere of Richard and Robert Sherman’s musical adventure based on the 1968 movie, a version of an Ian Fleming book for children. The premise is that Potts is a kind-hearted but down-on-his luck father of two who has terrific ideas,with little financial success. . Alisha Winter Hayes turns up as Truly Scrumptious, the motorized bicyclist who claims to know more than she does about engines. She is great fun and is quick to charm Pott’s children. Young stage actors are sometimes difficult to understand. Not so with Rebecca Hyde and Brekken Wald. They are delightful from the outset – each has a very good singing voice, stage presence, and speaking voice.

This is specially important in “Chitty,” as the audience included a large number of well-mannered young persons who appeared to be completely in love with the show – even when the evil “Childcatcher” appears in the second act with plans to capture every child in the dreadful country of Vulgaria. Markus Warren was in great form as the Childcatcher! His job is to pick up any children and to “send them away,” as the country’s Baron and his wife claim they hate children and have them banned from the country. Bob Hoppe became drenched in Candlelight’s “Singing in the Rain” and is back for more abuse as the goofy Baron. Alicia King is deliciously wicked as the Baroness Bomburst who claims that she hates “little things.”

There are many young persons in the cast who provide vitality to the production. Of the supporting cast adults, Scott McCoppin is especially endearing as The Toymaker in Vulgaria who makes toys only for the silly Baron, as children have all been exiled or are in hiding! Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as Grandpa Potts. Eric Heine and Jack Barton provide comedy relief as Vulgarian spies who are trying to hijack Potts’ ideas. They provide over-the-top slapstick, but their interaction with the audience is substantial, and the young people watched their every move!

The music is reminiscent of the Sherman brothers’ earlier “Mary Poppins,”and includes some fun pieces, “Toot Sweets” in the candy factory, “Hushabye Mountain” in the children’s bedroom, “Truly Scrumptious” at the countryside and seaside, and the always hummable “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Sets are very good, as is the orchestra, conducted by Casey Cropp. Choreography by Alicia King is first rate, as are costumes by Judith Ernst. Melissa Swift-Sawyer is credited as Vocal Music Director – with excellent results! The show is staged and directed by Pat Payne who directed Candlelight’s recent hit, “Hairspray.”

I left the theater with my first-act concerns completely gone, as the ultimate tale of the importance of helping each other came through loud and clear, and I was humming the super “Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” all the way home!

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To September 13, 2015.
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.com
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Secret Garden” and Tarzan” at Thingamajig Theatre Company, Pagosa Springs Center of the Arts

Pagosa Springs is site of delightful productions year-round, with “Tarzan” and “The Secret Garden” among summer 2015 offerings

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 9, 2015

My wife and I have been going to Pagosa Springs for several years, but did not take the time last year to see live theatre which was offered by Thingamajig Theatre Company. The shows we saw advertised earlier were well known, but we brushed off seeing them, in what appeared to be a tiny theatre. We were wrong. This month we corrected the error of our ways, and stopped in to see two delightful shows there this summer! The theatre plays year-round and their ambitious summer 2015 season includes such popular offerings as “Damn Yankees,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.,” “Tarzan,” and “The Secret Garden.” The shows change daily, so you could spend a week in the area, and see all four different shows this summer! Further information about the history of the Theatre company, etc., is found at the conclusion of this article.

Thingamajig Theatre Company
Thingamajig Theatre Company

Our first venture was “Tarzan, the Stage Musical.” Yes, this is the basic show that was Broadway’s most expensive offering a few years ago. The Broadway sets and staging were so incredible that it took longer than usual to work out the problems, and a near-forever series of previews raised doubts about the production’s ultimate success. The version that is appearing in Pagosa Springs does not have the glitz and glamour of the New York version, but is an up-close-and-personal charmer. Marek Zurowski plays the young man raised by gorillas in a far away jungle. Zurowski is remarkable. He is every bit the Tarzan hunk that fans imagine, and has a terrific voice and stage presence. His “Jane” is played by Annie Jenness, who arrives on the scene fully clothed and prim and proper, shedding some of her clothes, but none of her academic skills by show’s end.

Their Pagosa stage home is actually the foyer of the theatre – all decked out with the looks of a jungle, complete with lots of hanging lines, bamboo shoots, and trees for everyone to climb around. It is enormously interesting. We sat next to a couple who had seen the original production in New York. They commented that the set cannot begin to match that of New York, but the play was substantially more interesting and entertaining this time around as everything was so close-up!

The actors and actresses playing gorillas are appropriate attired and made up to look like wild beasts, and costuming is excellent. Giving support to Zurowski and Jenness are Michael E. Martin as the gorilla leader (Kerchak), Heather McCall is Kala, his wife who decides to raise Tarzan over her husband’s objections, Rodney Holmes as Terk, a gorilla who befriends Tarzan, and Samaya Dunn as the young Tarzan. They are all talented performers! The cast is quite large and provide delightful aerial acrobatics with the vines!

“Tarzan” is well worth a visit. Tickets are extremely reasonable, and there are no reserved seats. Seating, however, is a problem. The theater in the foyer is not large, and only a few rows of folding chairs, are elevated on two sides of the theater. We opted for top row on the back side, only to learn that we could not see the set directly above our heads, which included scenes of Tarzan’s family arriving on the island. We were further hampered by tall persons directing in front of us, so we feel we visually missed some interesting parts of the show. As there is no reserved seating, audience needs to assemble outside the theatre around 6:30 for the 7:00 p.m. production of “Tarzan.”

 

Thingamajig Theatre Company
Thingamajig Theatre Company

The Secret Garden” includes some of the most beautiful songs in recent Broadway memory. They are not, however, immediately recognizable to those not familiar with the show. The music is all here in Pagosa, however, with such amazing pieces as “A Girl in the Valley,” “A Bit of Earth,” “Lily’s Eyes,” and “How Could I Ever Know.” The songs are wonderfully performed! The show itself is excellent!

This is the popular children story of a young girl, Mary Lennox who is living with her family in India, where her relatives all suddenly die of cholera. Mary is sent to live with two uncles – brothers on the moors of Northern England. One brother, Archibald, was married to Mary’s aunt, Lily. Archibald and Lily were expecting a child, only to have Lily die after the child was born. The child survived, and is kept hidden in the English house, supposedly in ill health. Archibald can’t reconcile himself to life without his beloved Lily. He does read to his ill son, Colin nearly nightly. Archibald has a deformed shoulder, and is terrified that Colin will face the same deformity.

Hanna Hawson is remarkable as the orphaned Mary Lennox. She has acting and musical capabilities well beyond her actual years. Tyler D. Collins is convincing as her uncle Archibald. He was a somewhat daffy professor in “Tarzan,” and makes the switch to leading role in“The Secret Garden” to taking command of the stage!

Lily in this show is played by Annie Jenness who was super as Tarzan’s Jane! Her portrayal as Lily is a triumph when she combines voices with Tyler Collins in “How could I Ever Know” at the show’s end.

Archibald’s brother, Neville, is played by Michael E. Martin. We saw him as the gorilla pack leader in “Tarzan” and were amazed when he dressed up as a proper Englishman for “Garden.” Among the show’s highlights is the duet of Martin and Collins reminding each other that Mary Lennox appears to have “Lily’s Eyes” – the eyes of the girl both loved many years ago.

The entire cast of “the Secret Garden” is flawless. This show is performed in a little theater behind the foyer. Seating is better here than for “Tarzan” as there is not a bad seat in the room!

The persons who died of Cholera, including Mary’s parents, turn up frequently in the show, interspersed with the persons playing characters in the English home. Their appearances are a tad confusing.

The musical as a whole, however, is a super, heartfelt retelling of the popular story. Some of the audience sitting near us appeared to be a little confused with the story line, but joined the audience in an inspiring, and well deserved standing ovation.

– – – –

Thingamajig Theatre Company was started in 2010 by Producing Artist Director Tim and Executive Director Laura Moore. It’s board is comprised of arts and business professionals in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada that were looking for a small town in which to have a big impact.

Thingamajig renovated the new Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts and opened in the spring of 2011. They have been a volunteer run organization committed to bringing in professional artists for the past four and one-half years, producing 41 professional productions, including several Colorado premiers, original scripts by Colorado writers and other works ranging from major musicals to small dramas as well as 13 children’s theater shows. original dance shows and 13 Free Concerts.

#

For information:
Thingamajig Theatre Company
In residence at
The Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts
2313 Eagle Drive
Pagosa Springs, CO
Telephone: 970/731SHOW (7469)
Web: www.pagosacenter.org
E-mail: info@pagosacenter.org

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Award Winning Drama “Side Man” Well Portrayed at Bas Bleu

Sideman-logo-BasBleauDysfunctional Family as Remembered by an Only Child in Moving “Side Man”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 4, 2015

Clifford Glimmer is front and center in Bas Bleu’s moving “Side Man,” as he reviews growing up with dysfunctional parents in New York City. Will Ferrie is convincing as the Glimmer son, telling the audience of trying to be the family peacemaker, as his father thinks only of his music and his buddies, and his mother is becoming a hopeless alcoholic. Dan Tschirhart and Corinne Wieben are brilliant in their difficult roles. Tschirhart is emerging from his excellence in comedic roles to become the hapless father who virtually disintegrates before our eyes. Wieben becomes a foul-mouthed, chain smoking drunk.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

A “side man” in music parlance is a musician for hire who can blend in with the band or star as a solo performer. Gene Glimmer is such a performer when the story begins in the fifties. He is a terrific musician (a jazz trumpeter), but can’t seem to be in the right place at the right time to truly be a success. His wife, Terry, becomes increasingly irritated with Gene’s inability to find a regular job, and finally goes to work as a waitress to help make ends meet.

Gene and Terry had no skills as parents, and are seen through the bewildered eyes of their son, Clifford, over the years covered by the play. The story begins at the unemployment office where Gene and his buddies meet each week or two to pick up their unemployment checks. Gene is strangely proud of his now-adult son, Clifford who is picking up his very first check at the Unemployment Office. It is as if Clifford is being honored for some sort of unearned graduation or achievement!

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

“Side Man” was written by Warren Leight and received Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Drama in 1998. Leight’s memory play, inspired by his father, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Bas Bleu founder Wendy Ishii noted that the play has long been one of her favorites, as she lived in the New York depicted by the story, living across the street from jazz artist Miles Davis.

The stage set by Jared Grohs, constructed by Cathy Dietz is very effective, as the play’s action moves from the Glimmer’s apartment to the Melody Lounge, the unemployment office, and various other areas of New York City.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Director Laura Jones first directed “Side Man” in 2004 at CSU. That production received First Place honors at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Region VII Festival in Ashland, Oregon. Jones notes the show is one of her top ten favorite plays.

Giving excellent support to the three lead players are Cara Buckley, Chaz Grundy, Karl Perry and James Burns. Ian Schmid performs selected trumpet solos through the production.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton
Photo Credit William A. Cotton

“Side Man” tells of a life foreign to most of us, and is a moving experience looking at the challenges faced, but not always overcome. Cast is an awesome ensemble of gifted actors moving through a particularly interesting time when Rock and Roll was beginning to take over big-band lives and jobs. Due to the strong language, the show is sometimes difficult to watch/listen to, but unquestionably well done!

“Side Man”
Through June 28, 2015
Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524
For Information: Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Web:   WWW.BASBLEU.ORG

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Mary Poppins is “Practically Perfect” at Boulder Dinner Theatre!

MP BDTEnchantment Abounds in Boulder Dinner Theatre’s Delightful “Mary Poppins”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 29, 2015

When lyricists Richard and Robert Sherman collaborated on “Mary Poppins,” it is as if they had every reviewer in mind – creating lyrics that reviewers would use with great aplomb as they lavished praise on the show. I find myself using their great lyrics when writing my own review. I can’t refrain from saying that Mary Poppins is, just as she sings — “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” The entire production is nothing sort of Super! That is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography
Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography

From the moment the impressive set appears and the cast begins to assemble, there is magic in the air. Somewhere early in the show something is said about “enchanted,” or “enchantment.” I can’t recall precisely what was said, but the entire production is delightfully “enchanting!”

Scott Beyette oversees a terrifically talented group of performers, as the show’s director and male lead. There are several persons on the stage at the same time, as many play several roles – resulting in the cast appearing to be substantially larger than it is! They sing. They dance. They act. They move around the stage making the audience think we might be seeing a movie!

Heading the group is director Scott Beyette as Bert, the chimney-sweep. This is the role that Dick Van Dyke played in the movie. Scott is a remarkable talent. He is very much at ease as the enormously likable man who cleans chimneys, and seems to know everyone in town. My wife and I saw the original musical when it first opened in London several years ago and were thunderstruck when the Bert character tap-danced up one side of the stage, across, the top, and back down the other side. We were alerted beforehand that Bert in this show wouldn’t be doing that – but he does something nearly as challenging. He dances part way up the side of the stage, then flies out over the audience!

Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography
Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography

Mary Poppins also flies over the audience! She lands at the home of George and Winifred Banks, just as yet another nanny has given notice – saying the children are beyond hope. Tracy Warren is a miraculous “Mary Poppins.” Undaunted by anything, she can pull a large coat rack from her tiny handbag, can put a damaged kitchen back into shape with a snap of her fingers, and cheerfully reminds us that “A Spoonful of Sugar” truly makes the medicine go down!

Scenery is particularly effective – showing us the Banks home, Mr. Bank’s office, The Park near Cherry Tree Lane, the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the rooftops of London. Dancing needs to be seen to be believed, including when the amazing statues in the park come to life – after we have long-thought they were scenery made of stone! When Bert and his chimney-sweep friends pull out all stops with “Step in Time” in the second act, the audience is basically breathless with the athletic expertise of the dancers!

The movie began charming us in 1964, based on the P. L. Travers books. The stage version was developed in collaboration with Disney Theatrical and Cameron Mackintosh, opening in London in 2004 when I first saw it. It has subsequently become enormously successful on Broadway. Michael J. Duran is Producing Artistic Director for the Boulder production.

Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography
Photo credit Glenn Ross at Glenn Ross Photography

Among those responsible for various areas of delight are Neal Dunfee (as music conductor), Linda Morken (costume design), Amy Campion (scenic design), Brett Maughan (lighting design), choreography by Matthew D. Peters, and aerial choreography by Troy Trinkle. Space does not permit giving suitable praise for everyone in the exciting cast. Mention must be made, however, of Joanie Brosseau who plays multiple roles including the Bird Woman who sings the wonderful “Feed the Birds” on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, McKayla Marso as Mrs. Corry, and Brian Burron who turns up in nearly every scene, playing a variety of characters, without the audience realizing it is the same person – just different hair! Amanda Earls is a hoot as the proposed replacement nanny. Wayne Kennedy and Shelly Cox-Robie are convincing as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, who try to keep the chaotic house in order! Their two children are played by Katie Phipps, Rylee Vogel, Kaden Hinkle, and Max Eugene Raabe, rotating the parts at various performances. The orchestra is yet another “plus.”

A cast member reported that the show is a “technical nightmare.” There are so many interesting challenges that could go wrong — from mini-magic tricks to changing the large sets, to see kites and people flying! The performance I saw was without problem, however, and left me feeling I had just seen something quite Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

“Mary Poppins”
Through September 5, 2015
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
For Information: Telephone: 303/449-6000
Or visit the Webb: BDTStage.com

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“Singin’ in the Rain” drenches the stage with exuberant  performances at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Singing In The RainActual Rain Doesn’t Dampen Enthusiasm of Delighted Johnstown Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones,  May 21, 2015

Yes it rains.  Not just a mild sprinkle, but a torrential rain falls upon the stage, thoroughly drenching the dancing lead actor, as well as some of the audience in front rows! At the conclusion of Act I,  Don Lockwood, enthusiastically played by Bob Hoppe, has returned from walking Kathy Selden to her home after 24 hours of  deliberation concerning what to do with a very problematic movie-in-the making.  He is joyful with the plans they have made, and also enthused, as he has fallen in love. A little rain doesn’t dampen his joy.  In fact a lot of rain can’t even stop him.  The scene from the movie became immortalized by the legendary Gene Kelly more than 50 years ago.  The excitement has been transferred to the stage with Don Hoppes’ display of talent, as he sings and  dances through a delightfully drenching rain!  Hoppe not only stars in the show as Don Lockwood, but choreographed it, carefully re-creating much of the movie’s magic.

SITR Press photo 1Don Lockwood’s love interest is Kathy Selden,.  His friend and performing partner is Cosmo Brown.  I saw Michelle Sergeeff in her first performance as Selden.  The role is played by Rachel Turner in various performances. David Miller portrays the loose-limbed Cosmo.  The three appear to be having the times of their lives on stage, as the performance demands of singing, dancing, and  comedic routines are non-stop’.  The original movie roles were played by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.  Their portrayals have been so ingrained in our movie memories, that it must be a daunting task for anyone to fill their shoes.  Hoppe, Sergeeff, and Miller work exceedingly hard to make the roles come to life on stage!  Sergeeff is an incredible dancer.  Whereas she has a lilting voice in some songs, dancing is her forte!

SITR 2Donald Berlin is credited with staging and direction of the show.  He had his work cut out, putting the incredible production together.  The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse management team does not shy away from challenges.  Executive Director Dave Clark notes that “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the two most technically challenging shows the theatre has produced, the other being the audience charmer “Peter Pan”   — where the leads flew above the stage, suspended by thin wires.  No thin wires this time around, but lots and lots of moisture.  I am anticipating a future Candlelight announcement that the Red Sea will be parted as a someday-stage-version of  “The Ten Commandments!”

As a plot catch-up – the year is 1927, when silent films were the the entertainment rage.  Hollywood’s Monumental Studios is just opening another successful silent film,  “The Royal Rascal,” starring Hollywood’s favorite couple – Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.  This is yet another in a string of successful Lockwood-Lamont films with basically the same plot told over and over and over..  Lockwood cannot abide Lamont who claims they are a  romantic couple. .  When a competing studio comes up with a movie with sound,  “The Jazz Singer,” the industry goes into shock.  Monumental boss, R.F. Simpson realizes that his studio must face the opposition, and the movie, “the Dueling Cavalier,” they had just begin to film will be turned into a “talkie” – eventually a musical talkie to be known as “The Dancing Cavalier.”  So far, so good.  Lockwood has a good speaking, singing voice, but the Lina Lamont is a disaster.  She has a horrific speaking voice and can’t begin to carry a tune. Newcomer Kathy Selden is brought in to provide the “voice” of the crazed Lamont, and mayhem ensues.

SITR 3Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as the studio executive, trying to create order out of chaos.  Beth Beyer is an enormous delight as the raucous Lina Lamont who everyone believes is incredibly stupid.  Not so.  She is not only in love with Don Lockwood, trying to hold his affection for Kathy Selden at bay, but is found to be substantially more clever than anyone had imagined..  She is also a wonder to see in action.  Her scenes are brilliant – overshadowed only by the amazing dancing which fills much of the evening’s moments.

Among the show’s musical highlights are Don Lockwood and Cosmos Brown entertaining as Vaudeville performers to “Fit as a Fiddle,” Lockwood, Brown, and Selden realizing they have talked the night away with, “Good Morning,” and Brown pulling out all the stops in “Make ‘Em Laugh,.”  The show’s greatest triumph, however,  remains the “Singin’ in the Rain” finale to Act I.

David MacEachen is credited as being Technical Director.  I  am not certain what this entails, but the show includes several black-and-white movie scenes where problems are faced in synchronizing the film and soundtrack.  One of these technical displays is a flawless laugh-out-loud charmer where  Lamont’s inability to be understood is enormous fun.

Photo Credit is Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit is Rachel Graham Photography
The cast is large, including good performances by Scotty Shaffer, Samantha Jo Staggs, Thomas Castro, Melissa Morris and Markus Warren, as well as those mentioned earlier.  Jack Barton holds center stage for a few moments with his super tenor version of “Beautiful Girl.”  The featured dancers at performance I saw were the always-talented Broc Timmerman and Alisha Winter-Hayes.   The orchestra, under direction of Angela Steiner as conductor, had some problems, especially early in the performance.  This is unfortunate, and will hopefully be fine-tuned for shows later in the run.

The set and costumes are effective, as are lighting and sound., and the set.  I wonder how long it takes to dry-out the stage after the heavy rain.

Whereas the movie was released in 1952, the stage version did not appear until 1983 when it opened at the London Palladium, starring Tommy Steele.  The stage version has gone through several incarnations including a Broadway run in 1986 starring Don Coreia as Don.  I saw both of those productions, and was a bit hesitant to see it this time around on a local stage.  I erred.  The large cast is immensely talented and the show looks terrific.

And for outright exuberance, Bob Hoppe cannot be matched.  His joy is infectious as he sings and dances  “Singin’ In The Rain” in the thoroughly-drenching downpour.

“Singing in the Rain”
Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534
When:  To July 12, 2015.
For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747
Email:  info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

 

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“A Man of No Importance” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

No Importance Logo

By Tom Jones
May 13, 2015

When entering the auditorium of the Arvada Center to see “A Man of No Importance,” I was immediately transported into a bar in the working class area of Dublin in 1964 – complete with its dart throwing, semi-drunken patrons, and a feeling of persons losing themselves for a few moments of safety from the outside world. Colorado’s legendary Irish-folk band, Colcannon, was there to provide super music. What more could one ask for? For this production Director Rod A. Lansberry has surrounded himself with some of Colorado’s finest talents – actors, musicians, set designers, costumers, etc. – most with extensive experience working with the Arvada Center. They appear to be armed with a conviction that they are going to give Colorado a brief taste of Ireland. It works!

P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Peter Gosik (Robbie Fay) and Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne)
P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Peter Gosik (Robbie Fay) and Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne)

Pre-show music by the on-stage group, Colcannon, welcomes the audience to the bar, but the action quickly moves to other areas of town. The terrific set gives everyone a feeling of “being there,” as action takes place in the basement theater of a local church, a kitchen of an Irish apartment, the bar, and the streets of Dublin. Best of all is a streetcar that magically appears on stage, making the audience feel they are seeing a moving vehicle, only to realize that it does not move at all, and has no signs of an actual bus. It is all done by the magic of excellent direction and choreography!

The “man of no importance” is Alfie Byrne, a streetcar ticket-taker by day, and director of an amateur theatrical group in his church by night. He lives with his sister in Dublin, and looks in the mirror to find “nothing of importance” there. Kevin Loreque is excellent as Alfie.   He appears to be a man with no comprehension of the joy he provides to others, reading to the travelers on the streetcar and encouraging them to do their best in his little theater group. He remains a very lonely person, but finds joy in the shows he directs. Alfie is a great fan of writer Oscar Wilde, and his world is shaken when church authorities balk at his producing an Oscar Wilde play, “Salome,” which just might provide some erotic movement – even dancing! Other than his sister, Lily, his only apparent friend is Robbie, the driver of the bus who he sees only at work. Heather Lacy and Peter Gosik are convincing as the sister and streetcar-driving friend.

P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne) and Emily Van Fleet (Adele Rice).
P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Kevin Loreque (Alfie Byrne) and Emily Van Fleet (Adele Rice).

To add conflict to his life, a new person begins riding his streetcar. Alfie cannot understand the effect this beautiful young woman seems to have on him. Emily Van Fleet is remarkable as this mysterious addition to the streetcar travelers, who ultimately accepts the invitation to join the theater company as “Salome.”

In the course of nearly three hours we meet and become very interested in many characters. The cast is large and includes the wonderful persons traveling on the streetcar, in the theatre group, leaders of the church, and staff and patrons of the sometimes raucous bar.

The story revolves around Alfie and his realization of sexual desires and their hazards. He is conflicted to the point of even dressing as Oscar Wilde for a night on the town, with disastrous results.

Suddenly many of his friends appear to turn on him, and he questions if he has been of worth to anyone.

“A Man of No Importance” was written by Terrence McNally, one of America’s most respected playwrights. His productions include “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Master Class,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and “Ragtime.” Music and lyrics are by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Their acclaimed productions include “Ragtime,” “Once on this Island,” “Seussical the Musical” and the animated movie, “Anastasia.” The music is awesome, but there are no melodies to provide after-show humming.

Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck is choreographer, Brian Mallgrave scenic designer, Shannon McKinney lighting designer, David Thomas sound designer, Sally Anne Burke, costumes. David Nehls is musical director. Substantial credit for the entire production must be given to Colcannon, the on-stage band featuring Mick Bolger, Jean Bolger, Cynthia Jaffe, Brian Mullins and Michal Fitzmaurice. Colcannon began as a house band in a Boulder pub in the 1980s and has subsequently created a tremendous following with their concert performances, television specials and numerous CDs.

The cast is universally excellent, headed by Kevin Loreque, Heather Lacy, Peter Gosik, Emily Van Fleet, and supported by a large cast of professionals. Nearly everyone has substantial credits in Arvada Center involvement. This is the first time local audiences have seen Kevin Lorecque, however. Hopefully he will be back as a man of “great” importance. He is terrific.

“ A Man of No Importance” is Rod. A. Lansberry’s 31st production as director in 23 years with the Arvada Center! A personal concern was my inability to understand all of the Irish accent. I was wearing myself out trying to understand every word, but finally realized that I could grasp the enormity of the message even if I did not understand everything.

The entire production is a rewarding experience of theatre working at its peak in every aspect. The well written play concludes with themes of tolerance and respect for others.

It was a shock to leave the auditorium and re-enter the theater lobby, as I expected we’d be walking out of the show and onto the rainy streets of Dublin. This show has magic!

“A Man of No Importance”
Through May 17, 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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OpenStage Theatre Provides Terrific Version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet!”

RNJ logo
Harper Point Photography

Kiernan Angley and Abbey Featherston shine as star-crossed lovers in retelling of classic story!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April, 2015

The oft-told-tale of young love in Italy is given a successful new look as Verona, Italy, becomes Verona, Missouri, in OpenStage’s excellent version of “Romeo and Juliet.” The story’s location has changed, as has the time of the play. For this production the time is after the US Civil War, where families continue to feud.

Kate Austin Groen Photography

Kiernan Angley and Abbey Featherston play the young lovers whose relationship faces dreadful opposition from their families. Angley and Featherston are remarkable, and the chemistry between them is palatable! Whereas most of the angry families oppose the romance, only the kindly Parson Lawrence and the Nurse to Juliet give them any support. Jacob Offen and Judith Allen are both excellent in these supporting roles.

This is an exciting retelling of the tale, and looks great with the scenic design by Lori Rosedahl. Costumes are also wonderful, as designed by Rebecca Spafford. Ambrose Ferber is credited with fight direction. It, too, looks like every punch hits the mark! Lighting by Grant Putney is particularly effective. R. Todd Hoven, who directed this production, comes from a family line in Missouri where his ancestors found peace with neighboring families, instead of re-fighting the Civil War in their actions.

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

In his Director’s Statement, Hoven notes, “My hope is to raise awareness of those moments of intense conflict in life when we can each choose to take a breath, converse and solve and prevent the kind of regrettable escalations that our misguided and sometimes intractable characters chose and experienced.”

Shakespeare wrote the play about 1594-96, more than 400 years ago! The story has become as timeless as many of Shakespeare’s quotes from the play. Yes, we heard “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are thou Romeo?” And “Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow. That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

The country dance sequence, choreographed by Jessica V. Freestone, where the two lovers meet is delightful – looking as if could have come from Broadway’s “Oklahoma.” The shy Juliette is just 18, and emotionally swept away by the charm of Romeo. Kiernan Angley displays enormous confidence as he dances and romances. His moves are not unlike a young Gene Kelly.

The cast is numerous and effective. Highlighting some of the supporting roles are Dan Tschirhart as Count Paris who wants to marry Juliet, Heath Howes as Benvolio, Mark Terzani as Lord Capulet and Con Woodall as Lord Montague. Finola Doyle is only 13, and makes an excellent contribution to the play as Petra.

This is a flawless production where every aspect of the show works to perfection. It is also somewhat of a “family” affair. Director Hoven is married to Jessica V. Freestone, the choreographer, and daughter of OpenStage founders. Director Hoven’s son, Kimber, is sound designer and he performs as Balthazar. The director is son-in-law to OpenStage founder Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone. If only every family could have such talent!

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

There is always risk involved when a director moves a production to a different time period, or to a different location than the original play. Everything works here in Director Hoven’s favor – and the show looks as if it was created for the post-Civil War setting, with the problems relevant then, and just as relevant now – when love crosses boundaries of social structures.

It has been several years since I have seen a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” Perhaps I have never seen it portrayed so remarkably as presented this month on the stage of the Magnolia Theater by OpenStage.

“Romeo and Juliet”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through April 25, 2015
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.ltix.com

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“Juno and The Paycock” – Drama at Bas Bleu Theatre

Juno-Logo-7001“Super Acting Highlights Bas Bleu’s Production of Irish Play, “Juno and The Paycock.”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 2, 2015

Wendy Ishii and John Devaney are a pair to behold as the Irish couple in Sean O’Casey’s tragedy, “Juno and he Paycock.” Wendy is the family matriarch, “Juno” whose life is falling apart with familiar problems – not the least being her drunken husband, “Captain” Jack Boyle. Boyle is played by John Devaney, whose character is failure, who feels he can do nothing to change.

Juno acquired her nickname because so many events in her life occurred in June: Her birth, meeting her husband, marriage, and giving birth to her son, Johnny – – all in June. “Paycock,” the nickname Juno gives her husband, Jack, is appropriate; as Juno claims he struts around like a “peacock” without doing anything useful!

Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle), Eva Wright, (the Neighbour) and Kate Colby (seated, Mrs. Tancred). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle), Eva Wright, (the Neighbour) and Kate Colby (seated, Mrs. Tancred). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

When Jack Boyle receives word that a possible job may await him, he falls into his “forever” story of how badly his legs hurt – making it impossible to work. Juno is fed up with him, and is the only one in the family with any kind of income in this Irish tale of poverty in Dublin in the 1920s. Their daughter, Mary, is on strike from her job, and
demonstrating for better working conditions. Their son, Johnny, recently had an arm shot off when on maneuvers in the fight for Ireland to receive its independence. His mental and physical health are precarious, and much of his time is spent alone in his bedroom. Johnny is played by Cory Garcia, very believable in his situation. He is also suspected of alerting the warring opposition as to the whereabouts of a neighbor who is subsequently killed.

Most of Captain Boyle’s time is spent in local pubs with a drinking buddy, “Joxer” Daly, played with great aplomb by Ken Brenda. Boyle and Daly are not good for each other, as neither has any desire to make anything of his life, and doesn’t want the other to have any success, either.

Elizabeth Kirchmeier (Mary Boyle) and Troy Matthew Lescher (Jerry Devine). Photocourtesy of William A. Cotton.
Elizabeth Kirchmeier (Mary Boyle) and Troy Matthew Lescher (Jerry Devine). Photocourtesy of William A. Cotton.

Excitement comes to the family with news that the death of a cousin has resulted in the family about to receive a substantial inheritance. Everyone is delighted, and the family begins to purchase new furniture, and to receive loans from neighbors, with the idea that the inheritance will arrive soon. No one is more excited than Mary, wonderfully portrayed by Elizabeth Kirchmeier. She has been courted by Jerry Devine, another tenement dweller who is active in the labor union. Her attention quickly turns to Charles Bentham, however, a school teacher who prepared the cousin’s will. It appears that Mary and Bentham will soon “be a pair.”

The large cast is uniformly excellent, with major supporting roles played by Corbin Albaugh as Charles Bentham, Laurel Devaney as the chatter-box neighbor Maisie Madigan, and Troy Matthew Lescher as Jerry Devine.

The “stars” however are Wendy Ishii and John Devaney. They are so believable that the audience leaves the theatre, wishing to possibly give funds to the desperate Juno, and to escort her good-for-nothing husband, “Captain” Boyle out of town! Ishii and Devaney are longtime friends who have played the roles together in past productions. Ishii is especially brilliant in the earlier scenes of Juno trying to provide some sort of normalcy to the tragic family. Her despair in later scenes is powerful!

John Devaney (Captain Jack Boyle).  Seated, L-R, Laurel Devaney (Maisie Madigan) and Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton.
John Devaney (Captain Jack Boyle). Seated, L-R, Laurel Devaney (Maisie Madigan) and Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton.

By the end of Act Three, any hope for the family is fast-fading. No inheritance is coming, as Bentham erred in completing the will. Bentham has deserted the family, leaving Mary pregnant and unwed. Johnny is killed as retribution to the ambush which killed the neighbor. Captain Boyle continues to drink his way to destruction.

Dennis Madigan provides excellent direction to this epic of Irish sorrow, intertwined with humor. In his director’s statement of the play’s program, Madigan notes concerning the family’s despair, ”With this litany pf problems it’s a wonder we, as an audience, don’t turn to the whiskey bottle for relief.”

“Juno” is considered to be Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece. It is one of the most often-performed plays in Ireland and was first staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1924. It is second in what is known as O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy.” The first play was “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923), and “The Plough and the Stars” completed the trilogy in 1926. I was not familiar with any of the plays. But after becoming involved with the Boyle family in “Juno,” I am eager to find out what ultimately happens to them in “The Plough and the Stars.” Maybe Bas Bleu will someday bring the tale to us!

“Juno and The Paycock”
Through May 3, 2015
Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
For Information: Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Webb: www.basbleu.org

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“The Archbishop’s Ceiling” – Drama at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

archbishopsceiling-web

“The Archbishop’s Ceiling” just might be bugged by the secret police!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 28, 2015

Cast members look upward as they speak, feeling that the room’s ceiling is probably concealing a hidden microphone. Or maybe it is by the fireplace, or under a table. Life in Central Europe is not a pleasant experience. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is hosting the regional premiere of Arthur Miller’s story of political intrigue in “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” through April 19.

The Archbishop's Ceiling Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Heather Lacy (Maya) and William Hahn (Marcus)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Heather Lacy (Maya) and William Hahn (Marcus)

Espionage and Cold-War politics of the 1970s are dissected in Miller’s drama. The story takes place in an ornate room of a former Archbishop’s palace in Eastern Europe,, probably bugged by the secret police. The Arvada set is very impressive, with scenic design credited to Brian Mallgrave.

An American, Adrian, turns up at the apartment to see a writing friend, Marcus – only to find that Marcus is currently out of town. Looking after the apartment in Marcus’ absence is Maya, Adrian’s former lover! Adrian is well-played by Rodney Lizcano. Adrian and Maya begin guarded, somewhat stilted conversation, each believing the room is probably bugged, and caution is necessary. They can’t talk directly about their past relationship, or about their friendship with other writer friend such as Marcus, or another friend, Sigmund, who might be the object of secret police hunt. It appears that writers are of particular interest to the secret police, looking for anyone who might oppose the current government. Heather Lacy is excellent as Maya, an intelligent woman caught in a web of politics and political intrigue. She gets around and has romantic history with Adrian and Sigmund and Marcus!

The Archbishop's Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: William Hahn (Marcus), Rodney Lizcano (Adrian) and Michael Morgan (Sigmund)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: William Hahn (Marcus), Rodney Lizcano (Adrian) and Michael Morgan (Sigmund)

The visit is uncomfortable, with added intrigue when Sigmund and Marcus turn up, with Marcus bringing along a new love, Irina! William Hahn is terrific as Marcus. He is a take-charge personality, whose character has spent seven years in prison for political crimes. Sigmund, played by Michael Morgan is terrified, as someone has just stolen the only copy of a manuscript that he has been working on for five years, and just might include information that could incriminate him! Marcus’ new friend, Irina, is played by Adrian Egolf. She appears to understand very little of the English spoken by the others, and spends most of the play lounging on a couch, and looking through issues of “Vogue” magazine.

Marcus has ties with the government and understand their system of dealing with writers, having spent years in prison. He suggests that his writer-friend, Sigmund, seek political asylum and immediately leave the country All of this is conveyed in hush tones, or in meetings in the apartment hallway which might not be bugged. Everyone is afraid to say much to or about anyone else, leaving the audience in doubt as to what should or should not be said. It is a confining and uncomfortable situation.

The Archbishop's Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Adrian Egolf (Irina) and William Hahn (Marcus)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Adrian Egolf (Irina) and William Hahn (Marcus)

Arthur Miller was one of America’s most-prolific writers. His plays include “Death of a Salesman,” “A View from the Bridge,” “All My Sons,” “The Price,” and “The Crucible.” He also wrote screenplays, including “The Misfits,” which turned out to be Marilyn Monroe’s final movie. Monroe was Miller’s second wife, with their divorcing before her death.

“The Archbishop’s’ Ceiling” was written in 1977, and has not been frequently produced. Miller was very interested in the subject matter, however, spending substantial time in Eastern Europe and becoming well aware of the Cold-War espionage tactics. The play becomes tense, as Sigmund’s friends all encourage him to flee the country, whereas he is so strongly tied to his homeland that he cannot bear the thought of leaving, even with a prison sentence being a real possibility.

Acting is flawless. Direction by Brett Aune is very good. Set is excellent. Only real problem is the play itself, which becomes repetitive with so much “talk. “How does it end? I’m not “telling.” My secret remains with an apartment ceiling, which may or may not hold a hidden microphone!

“The Archbishop’s Ceiling”
Where: Arvada Center. For the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To April 19, 2015
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online: www.arvadacenter.org

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“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” in Phelps Theatre of Union Colony in Greeley

Ballyhoo Logo“The Last night of Ballyhoo” is charming look at a Jewish family at Christmastime in Atlanta.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 31, 2015

It is December of 1939. Hitler recently conquered Poland, Atlanta, Georgia, is abuzz as the World Premier of “Gone With the Wind” is about to take place there. And equally exciting to persons in Atlanta’s Jewish community is the upcoming cotillion ball, the concluding event of their celebration “Ballyhoo.” The play’s action takes place in the home of Adolph Freitag who is the family patriarch. He is a bachelor, living with widowed sisters, Reba and Boo. Reba’s husband was Adolph’s brother. Yes, it is a tad complicated.

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

The Jewish Freitags are so highly assimilated that they have a Christmas tree in the living room; and Boo is only slightly concerned when her daughter, Lala, places a Christian symbol star at the top of the tree. Boo has other concerns. Lala has returned early from her first try at college. She is a a flighty girl who has dreams of making something of herself, but has no follow-through. She is also attracted to anything wearing pants, and becomes particularly obnoxious when Joe Farkas, an employee of her Uncle Adolph appears at the home. Boo is a very pretentious woman who doesn’t seem to care about anything except what people might think about her!

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

Sunny Freitag is Lala’s cousin She is Reba’s daughter, and is excelling in her first semester of college in the Northeast. She returns to Atlanta for the Christmas break. She has the class and wisdom that Lala lacks! She could care less about the upcoming “Ballyhoo” ball, whereas Lala is desperate to attend but having difficulty finding a date.

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

Adolph’s employee, Joe, is somewhat horrified with the advances of Lala. He is Jewish, from New York, and takes faith and background more seriously than do the Freitags. He is, however, impressed with the academic and beautiful Sunny!

The cast is very good. Adolph is obviously in charge of the group, but doesn’t rule with an iron fist, letting the widowed sisters bicker among themselves while Lala is off to hopefully meet Clark Gable at the “Gone With the Wind” premier in town. Maggie Hayes is a hoot as the over-the-moon Boo Levy. Linda Johnston is subdued excellence as Reba. She is proud of her accomplishing daughter, Sunny, but doesn’t rub Boo’s nose in the daughter’s success. Lydia Carswell is delightful as the somewhat-crazed Lala, and Sunny Freitag is as “sunny” and charming as her role implies. Luke Corliss is convincing as Joe, the New Yorker who is somewhat appalled at the lack of Jewish understanding displayed by the Freitag family.. Near the show’s conclusion Evan Bo appears as Peachy Weil, the young man that has been coerced into taking Lala to the cotillion. He is a wonder – with flashy red hair, wild tales, and a “wow” to the entire family (and audience).

Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo
Photo Credit Tylene Gagnon and Sean Pedigo

Offstage there are substantial family connections. Noel Johnston and Linda Johnston who play Adolph and Reba are married in real life, as are Luke and Brittany Corliss, who play Joe and Sunny.

The play was written by Alfred Uhry, who also penned “Driving Miss Daisy. “ “Ballyhoo” received the Tony Award for Best Play 1997. The Greeley production is directed by Thomas P. McNally and presented by The Stampede Troupe. This is a very effective play, with a handsome set, excellent costumes, lighting, and sound.

The play has aged well, and is successful nationwide, presented by local theater groups. This is a thoughtful production requiring the audience to test its own belief system while being tolerant of others.

“The Last Night of Ballyhoo”

March 2015
Presented by The Stampede Troupe on the stage of the Hensel Phelps Theatre of The Union Colony Center in Greeley.

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The Catamounts in Boulder present a Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

DISNEY_POSTERsml“Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney is an Interesting“ Look at the Creator of “Micky Mouse.”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 23, 2015

Just the mention of the name “Walt Disney” conjures up impressions of “The Magic Kingdom,” family entertainment, nature documentaries, “Disneyland,” “Mary Poppins,” and yes – “Mickey Mouse!.” Some of these warm and fuzzy ideas about the motion picture genius are about to be threatened by The Catamounts’ interesting take on Disney’s later years. The Boulder-based company staged “A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,” as written by Lucas Hnath.

Paul Borrillo as Walt. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

This was my first opportunity to see The Catamounts. The evening was an adventure by itself – having difficulty finding the theater’s entrance, then being warmly welcomed into the theater, separated from the parking area by a curtain and a nondescript door. The night I saw the show, the production was arranged for theater-industry guests. It was as if I was attending a private party of long-time friends, delighted to see one another, and welcoming some new faces to their crowd – my wife and I attended the show with friends – none of us having any idea what we were about to see!

The reading’s title is nearly as long as the performance , that is actually about 70 minutes, with no intermission. The length was about right, as four persons seated on a table facing the audience as if they were reading a screenplay could become a tad tedious if it were longer. As currently constructed, however, the show is a fascinating look at author Hnath’s take on what may have developed if Disney had written the show as his final production.

Paul Borrillo is mightily impressive as the famous Disney. His portrayal doesn’t create new fans for the animation genius, as we learn he was an egomaniac, usually treating his family and close associates with great disdain. His daughter’s memories of being raised by him resulted in her reminding him he was such an awful father, that she didn’t want any of his children to be named after him. He used anyone to achieve his personal aims, treating his brother Roy, as if he barely existed, and actively disliking his daughter’s husband, Ron.

Paul Borrillo as Walt, Mark Collins as Roy. Photo credit Michael Ensminger
Paul Borrillo as Walt, Mark Collins as Roy. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

Mark Collins is very good as the brother, who appears to keep Walt appearing as somewhat normal, while taking the brunt of Disney’s idiosyncrasies and unpleasantness. Jason Maxwell portrays Ron, his daughter’s husband. He appears as a none-too-bright chap, eager to do anything to please his father in law, or at least have a job! Lindsey Pierce plays the daughter. She has the gumption to confront her father about his meanness, but the confrontation does nothing to change her father’s intents.

Some looks behind the Disney productions are delightfully revealing. Disney insisted on making a live-action documentary which included a sequence about Lemmings jumping to their deaths by suicide. The Lemmings tale was eventually shown to be completely false, and Disney required his brother to take responsibility for the “error.”

The “Unproduced Screenplay” reading concludes with Disney’s head being purportedly cryonically frozen the idea that he’d eventually return to life. This is the tale that author Hnath proposes Disney would have written, had he authored his own story! In reality, Disney died at age of lung cancer 65 and his remains were cremated.

Amanda Berg Wilson directed this fascinating piece of theatre. I was intrigued with what I saw, and the show did result in my wanting to “know more” – spending time with Google to decipher Disney fact from fiction! The “Public Reading” generated substantial discussion among those in attendance, trying to figure out what was fact and what was fantasy – and how we might wish to write our own story for future posterity!

“A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney”
March 13-28 2015, The Catamounts in the madelife building, 20001 21st Street, (East entrance), just off Pearl Street in Boulder.
For tickets: 702/468-0487
For information about The Catamounts: www.thecatamounts.org

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“Memphis” is Mesmerizing at Midtown Arts Center!

Memphis at Midtown Arts CenterMusical “Memphis” pleases audience in Fort Collins!

By Tom Jones
Reviewed March 20, 2015

Memphis, Tennessee, was a racially divided city in the 1950s. Blacks had their own schools, as did whites. Each had its own music, with crossovers quite rare. Along came Dewey Phillips, one of he first white disc jockeys to play black music, and life began to change! The terrific musical “Memphis,” now on stage at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins is loosely based on the efforts of Dewey Phillips, known as “Huey Calhoun” in the show.

Photo credit  Anne Terze-Schwarz
Photo credit Anne Terze-Schwarz

Huey is a young, virtually illiterate, man in Memphis who has felt an inexplicable draw to black music ever since he was a child. While his formal education is limited, he dreams of becoming a disc jockey, having his own show. He dares to show up at an underground black Rock and Roll bar, where he becomes attracted to Felicia, a talented performer who is under the careful eye of her brother, Delray! Kurt Terrio, owner of Midtown Arts Center, and the show’s producer has lined up an amazing group of performers and technicians to bring “Memphis” to light.

Evan Buckley Harris is a wonder as Huey. This is Harris’ first appearance on stage in Northern Colorado. He is not to be missed. He is completely at ease as Huey, with an instant attraction to Felicia, who would like to return his interest, but is cautious do so, because of her watchdog brother. Danielle J. Summons is excellent as Felicia, as is Michael (MJ) Jones as the brother, Delray.

Photo credit  Anne Terze-Schwarz
Photo credit Anne Terze-Schwarz

Huey is not easily assimilated in the underground bar, but becomes less of a threat when the black patrons realize he is truly interested in their music. Harris, Simmons, and Jones are very effective in their roles, each attracting audience sympathy to the difficulties they face in a segregated society. They have powerful voices and can dance up a storm! Another standout is Michael Wordly, a black man so traumatized by the lynching of his father that he has not spoken since the horrific event. When he finally does speak, the moment is breathtaking and Wordly has a singing voice that MUST be heard!

Huey doesn’t have much formal education. But he understands people, what they like, and how to find his way with them – black or white! When he is given his first opportunity as a disc jockey, the station manager gives him a commercial to read. Huey cannot read, and elicits the help of the station’s black janitor.

Huey’s mother, Gladys, begins the story as a hardline racist, but begins to empathize with her son and his black friends after attending a black church choir and realizing that “Change Don’t Come Easy.” Jalyn Courtenay Webb portrays the mother. She continues her non-stop journey of inhabiting every role she portrays, and is well known to local audiences. She is the only local lead in the cast, with others coming from Las Vegas, New York, etc..

Everyone in the cast is very talented, whether as a singer or a dancer! Among the other supporting leads are Marc-Anthony Lewis, an over-sized man with equally-oversized abilities, and Daniel Harkins, as Calhoun’s boss who finally realizes that Huey is a force to be reckoned with, and ultimately backs his plans. Harkins is originally from New York City, but is known to local Midtown audiences for his performances in several shows and he also currently solves mysteries in Midtown’s “The Dinner Detective.”

“Memphis” is directed by Jordan Nichols a native of Memphis. Nichols directed the hilarious “Spamalot” at Midtown Arts Center last year. This time around he is into more serious subject-matter. He is enormously successful – choreographing the dances as well as directing the entire show. The dancing is every bit as terrific as are the remarkable voices. Paul Falk and Jalyn Courtenay Webb provide vocal direction to the show, with Travis Bradley as assistant choreographer, and Julia Smith as assistant director. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, with costumes by Anthony Mattivi, lighting by Chad Bonaker, sound by Kurt Terrio, and set construction by Justin Hermanek and Aaron Sheckler. The excellent orchestra is conducted by Casey Cropp, and includes efforts of Larry Bridges, Larry Currey, Sonia Daggett, Marty Rein, Jeremy Girard, Andy Kropp and Dave Lunn

“Memphis” as currently produced, was developed over several years, finally turning up on Broadway in 2009. The production won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It ran in New York for more than a thousand performances, and was filmed in 2011 for presentation to nationwide audiences in April and May of that year. The current London production has received rave reviews.

Music was written by David Bryan, lyrics by Bryan and Joe DiPietro, and book by DiPietro. The music is exciting, but the audience doesn’t leave the theater humming a tune. They were so enamored with the show, however, that they just didn’t want to leave the theater. Standing ovations are rare at dinner theaters, but when it became apparent that “Memphis” was reaching its finale, the audience made certain that all tables and dishes were out of the way to stand and cheer!

“Memphis”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins
When:Through May 30, 2015
Information: Box Office at 970/225-2555, or online 24/7 @ www.midtownartscenter.com

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“Always…Patsy Cline” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Always Patsy ClineMusical Memories Highlight an Enchanting “Always… Patsy Cline” in Johnstown

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2015

For fans of the late, great Patsy Cline, “Always… Patsy Cline” will invoke fond memories. For those not acquainted with Cline, the show provides a charming evening of music – country, gospel, and rock and roll! Accompanied by an immensely talented on-stage band that adds to the show’s welcoming ambiance, Melissa Swift-Sawyer is in excellent voice, as Patsy Cline, singing nearly 30 songs made famous by the song stylist in the 60s.

From the moment the house lights dimmed and spotlights were focused on the inviting set set and the terrific band, the audience realized they were in for a treat at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse!

Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

“Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “You Belong to Me,” San Antonio Rose,” “Crazy,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and even Hollywood’s “True Love” are all included in more than two hours of entertainment.

The show was created by Ted Swindley who also directed the original production of the show in 1968 when it became one of the top ten shows produced across the country. Swindley’s credentials are impressive, and his work on “Always, Patsy Cline” is evident, as he has woven an interesting tale to highlight the many songs. It would have been acceptable to have just a show with a talented singer singing songs Cline made famous – for a two-hour concert. Swindley, however, brings Cline to life through the tale related by an adoring fan, Louise Seger, who became a close friend of the singer.

Seger first saw Patsy Cline perform in 1957 on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts TV Show. She was immediately impressed by the voice that she heard and followed Cline’s career to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Seger was driving a Houston disc jockey crazy with her never-ending requests to play Cline’s music. He did alert Seger, however, that Cline was coming to Houston for a performance. Seger was there!

She introduced herself to Cline, and there was instant rapport between the two! Seger even took her home for the night, to share her son’s bedroom and to cook some bacon and eggs! This was just the beginning of a deep friendship between the single mother, Louise, and the now-becoming-famous, but unhappily married, Patsy Cline!

Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

This friendship story intermingled with the wonderful songs. Cline did not write her own music or lyrics for the songs she immortalized. But she had great success in selecting songs that amplified her talents and were appreciated by her audiences. Many of the songs explore lost loves, accepting rejection when a lover moves on, and finding peace with one’s self!

For the next two years, following their meeting in Houston, they exchanged many letters and telephone calls, with Cline always signing off with “Always…Patsy Cline.”
The friendship ended tragically when Cline was killed in an airplane crash at age 30 in 1963. By that time she had become one of country music’s greatest vocalists and was a switchover success in other musical milieus. In 1973 she became the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Melissa Swift-Sawyer as Patsy and Alicia Dunfee as Louise Seger are both excellent performers and have great chemistry. Swift-Sawyer sings the wonderful songs, and Dunfee provides a spark that is enthusiastic and rewarding.

Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

Swift-Sawyer knows the songs! She has played the role in more than 2500 performances, singing the songs probably more than Cline did in live shows! Patrick Sawyer directed this “Always…Patsy Cline” production. When asked how many time he had seen his wife as Cline, he noted, “Probably 1500 or more, with my directing many of them.”

Patrick and Melissa just might be the currently-reigning “King and
Queen of Northern Colorado Musicals!” He concluded his bravura performance as Edna Turnblad in Candlelight’s delightful “Hairspray” just in time to direct his wife in this heart-warming version of “Always…Patsy Cline.”

“Always…Patsy Cline”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnson, CO 80534
Through April 19, 2015
Information: Box Office: 970/744-3747. Email: info@ColoadoCandlelight.com

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“Kismet” Operetta at Loveland Opera Theatre

Kismet“Kismet” provides some of most rewarding melodies in recent memory!

 

Reviewed by Tom Jones

March 1, 2015

It is the fault of the Loveland Opera Theater!  For the past 24 hours the amazing melodies of “Kismet” are firmly imbedded in my memory, and I can’t seem to rid myself of them.  Not that I want to.  As where can more incredible songs be found — “Stranger in Paradise,” “This is My Beloved,” “Night of My Nights,” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.”

The Loveland Opera Theatre has enjoyed audience enthusiasm while presenting such productions as “The Mikado,” “HMS Pinafore,” and “La Boheme” in past seasons.  Juliana Bishop Hoch and her artistic team took a risk by presenting “Kismet,” an amazing, but less familiar show!

Senhica Klee as Caliph. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography
Senhica Klee as Caliph. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography

Prior to the opening curtain, when welcoming the audience to the Rialto, Dr. Hoch noted that the show has rarely been seen in Colorado, with the last production provided several years ago by the CU Boulder School of Music!  The rarity of productions is our our loss.  I first became acquainted with the music when it opened on Broadway, winning the Tony Award as best musical in 1954 and ran for more than a year  starring Doretta Morrow and Richard Kiley.  It transferred to London where it ran for 648 performances.  I bought the original record then and have found two subsequent concert CD versions of the show.  An MGM movie was released in 1955 starring Howard Keel, Ann Blythe, and Vic Damone.

The show has music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forest, with melodies derived from Alexander Borodin’s collection of works including “Prince Igor.””  The story is based on a 1911 play by Edward Knoblock.  I first saw the show as an excellent London revival many years ago. .

Lindsey French as Marsinah and Senhica Klee as Caliph. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography
Lindsey French as Marsinah and Senhica Klee as Caliph. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography

On the stage of the Rialto, the Loveland Opera Theatre production begins on the streets of ancient Baghdad, where beggars plead with the locals for enough coins to feed their families!  Some beggars have staked out claims to specific areas of the marketplace, with the most desired place occupied by Hajj.  A poet turns up, finding that Hajj is out of town and immediately sets up shop to beg and to hopefully sell his rhymes.  Benjamin Wood is terrific as the Poet.  His voice is excellent, as he sings and tells of his abilities to not only create rhymes but to cast and reverse spells (cast by others), as needed.  He is accompanied by his beautiful daughter, Marsinah!  Lindsey French is a terrific “find” portraying Marsinah.  She has the moves of a ballet dancer, and a voice that is as clear as rare crystal!

Lindsey French as Marsinah and Senhica Klee as Caliph. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography
Lindsey French as Marsinah and Senhica Klee as Caliph. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography

The Poet’s timing in occupying  the beggars place is unfortunate, as he is mistakenly thought to be the real Hajj, is kidnapped and taken to the desert dwelling of the leading criminal in all Mesopotamia, “Jawan”’  It appears that the original Hajj put a curse on Jawan many years ago, and  Jawan is eager to have the curse reversed.

The Poet displays his effectiveness with words, and convinces the evil Jawan that he can reverse the curse put on him, and return his son to him – all for an amazingly sum of coins.  The romp continues as The Poet is delighted to share his wealth with anyone of interest, and sends his daughter Marsinah to look at a palace to buy!

Marsinah is looking in the garden of a prospective palace and finds The Caliph, who she believes to be the local shirtless gardener.  He is actually trapped by his staff to look through a group of women to select a bride.   Senhica Klee is excellent as the wealthy Caliph. When French and Klee combine their voices in “Stranger in Paradise,” the chemistry is seductively enchanting!  This is one of the finest scenes in Northern Colorado in recent memory!

Rob Hoch as Wazir. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography
Rob Hoch as Wazir. Photo credit Darlene St. John Photography

The road to love is not easy, and all manner of interventions appear, with everything eventually working out so that the young lovers can be united!  In the interim, the incredible music continues!

The cast is large and includes great performances by Boni McIntyre as Lalume, Rob Hoch as Wazir, Trevor Valdez as Omar, Bryan Grosbach as Chief of Police and Greg Fischer as Jawan.

Costuming is good.  Lighting is impressive.  Set is nice, although a bit cumbersome in moving features to create various locations.

“Kismet” in Loveland is directed by Timothy Kennedy, Conducted by Nicholas Gilmore, with Choreography by Sarah Wilhelm, and Scenic and Lighting Design by Peter F. Muller.  Don Reidy is credited as Master Carpenter.  There are over 150 costumes in the show, with 80% of them designed and hand stitched by Davis Sibley and his team of three other costumers.

My wife and I saw the Loveland production with a few friends who noted they had substantial difficulty in understanding what was being said and sung especially in the first act.  This is unfortunate, as the lyrics are delightful!

This is a major production, and kudos must be given to Dr. Hoch and the entire team of the Loveland Opera Theatre for providing such a remarkable show!  The voices are outstanding.  And no, I still can’t get the melodies out of my mind!

 “Kismet”

February 20 to March 1, 2015

Loveland Opera Theatre on the stage of the Rialto Theater in Loveland

For information about Loveland Opera Theatre, contact www.lovelandopera.org

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Timing is impeccable in crazy “Unnecessary Farce”

Farce LogoMagnolia Theatre at Lincoln Center hosts delightful OpenStage Farce with two cops, three crooks and eight doors!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 22, 2015

I wonder what was going through the mind of playwright Paul Slade Smith when he wrote the zany show, and what must have been going through the mind of Director Judith Allen, as she mentally mapped out what would transpire in “Unnecessary Farce” on the Magnolia Stage of Lincoln Center!

Dan Tschirhart as Eric and Kirby Anderson as Frank in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith. Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography
Dan Tschirhart as Eric and Kirby Anderson as Frank in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith. Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography

The French reportedly created “farce,”only to have it refined and embellished into a true art form by the crazy British and their neighbors across the pond, the Americans! Paul Slade Smith has elevated the genre to even greater heights with his truly silly “Unnecessary Farce.” Director Judith Allen has assembled a sublime group of talented loonies, and whipped them into amazing shape as seen at the Lincoln center this month.

Police officers Eric Sheridan and Billie Dwyer have been assigned by their boss to carry out a sting operation to entrap the local mayor in an embezzlement scheme, with everything to be set up in two adjoining rooms of a local hotel. Dan Tschirhart and Jessica MacMaster portray the police officers. They are a hoot. Eric is a basic softy, and Billie has just completed her police training – but is not yet proficient enough to carry a loaded weapon, and not skillful enough to toss anyone around. They do appear to have substantial bravado as they review plans for the sting. Karen Brown, an accountant, is set up in the room adjoining the police officers, with a not-quite-so-hidden camera focused on the room’s bed, to be certain to capture everything that the mayor tells the accountant. The camera records and relays the goings on to the officer’s room where Billie can just lounge on the bed and enjoy herself watching the activities in the next room.

Unnecessary Farce #1
Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography

Jessica Emerling Crow is delightful as the stern accountant, suddenly overwhelmed with the idea of becoming romantic with officer Sheridan. Don Kraus is also excellent as the ever-trustworthy mayor. Added to the mix are Kirby Anderson as Agent Frank, head of security at the town hall, and David Austin-Groen as a menacing hit man, “Todd.” Before Todd can complete any assignment he dresses in Scottish kilts, hopefully to scare his clients to death, after wearing them out with non-understandable Scottish! Then Louise F. Thorton turns up as Mary Meekly, the mayor’s wife, with secrets of her own.

True to form, the now-necessary farce is complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, persons locked up in the closet, handcuffed, and wrapped in blankets, as clothes are taken off, replaced and everyone threatens everyone else with guns that may or may not function. One scene of high hilarity in Act Two has virtually the entire case circling around the room, up and over the beds, with guns draw forward and backward, trying to decide who is to shoot whom and …..why!

This is not “Our Town.” And it does not quite match the hysteria of another great farce, “Noises Off” as produced by OpenStage a year or so ago. Perhaps I am basically a hedonist, as I take delight in seeing such silliness. One reviewer noted the show “certainly isn’t food for thought, but its unsophisticated charm is a good taste of unabashedly crude comedy done right.”

“Unnecessary Farce” is a necessary “must-see” this season!

“Unnecessary Farce”
Where: OpenStage, at Magnolia Theater of The Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through March 14, 2015
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays Matinees March 1 and 8 at 2:30 p.m.
For Tickets: 970/221-6730, lctix.com.
For more information: visit Openstage.com

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“Luv” at Bas Bleu takes an unusual look at love via New York of the 1960s

Luv Logo“Luv” searches for meaning – absurdist comedy, or just irritating?

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 21, 2015

Three characters search for life’s meaning at Bas Bleu this season in Murray Schisgal’s “Luv.” Schisgal wrote the play in 1964, and it ran for nearly 1,000 performances on Broadway and received several awards. The original show, directed by Mike Nichols, starred Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach, and Anne Jackson. Great credentials!

I was not familiar with the play prior to seeing the Bas Beu version this month. What did I miss? The set does look terrific, a path along a New York bridge where Harry Berlin (played by Daryl Branson) is writing a farewell note before a planned suicide leap into the river below. Life has not been easy for Berlin, and he has decided to end it all – only to be stopped by a former college roommate who turns up as Berlin readies his leap. The roommate, Milt Manville, is well portrayed by Kevin Reifel. The two have not seen each other for 15 years and compare stories of youthful terror. Manville appears to be quite financially successful, not helping the ego of the unhappy Berlin. Manville’s current problem is that he is tired of his wife, and wants to run off with his mistress. The wife, Ellen, turns up and Milt is eager to match her up with the beleaguered Berlin, so that he can go forward with his life – wifeless! Karina Yager plays Ellen Manville, the wife who appears to have a keen mind, but not much common sense.

Luv_00059There is some basic craziness! The wife, Ellen, turns up to confront her husband with a large chart mapping the success and failure of their marriage. The unhappy Berlin loses his ability to see, or to hear, or to speak, or to walk – all without warning, and leaving him rigid as a board for others to toss around!

The premise has potential, but gets lost with so much talk talk talk about “Luv,” “Luv,” “Luv.” The characters never can claim “Luv” is “Love” and leave the audience wondering why this was such a successful show 50 years ago! Robert E. Braddy directed the Bas Bleu version and his Director’s Statement in the program acknowledges that the show is very much a play of the 1960s and was borrowed unashamedly from the great “Absurdists” notably Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and Eugene Ionesco. The absurdity has now become irritating, and by show’s end (and after three tumbles in the water, only to be rescued) I was cheering for everyone to jump from the bridge, so the audience could go home.

Bas Bleu has been terrific for many years in providing local audiences with sometimes-unusual challenges. As a basic romantic, however, I did not grasp what “Luv” was trying to tell me!

“Luv”
Through March 8, 2015
For information: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Webb: www.basbleu.org

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“Harvey” at Arvada Center

Harvey Logo“Harvey is the unseen star of delightful Arvada Production

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 8, 2015

Elwood P. Dowd is an affable chap – entirely without guile, and a friend to everyone. His very best friend, however, is a 6 foot one and one-half inch rabbit named “Harvey.” Harvey is actually a pooka, conjured from Irish folklore. Elwood takes Harvey with him wherever he goes, searches for him when he becomes lost and the two are evidently great drinking buddies.

Harvey is less appreciated by Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons.  It appears that Elwood was extremely close to his mother and would do anything for her. When his parents died, the family home was left to Elwood much to the dismay of his sister, and her marriage-age daughter, Myrtle Mae

Elwood has now transferred his love for his mother to the less appreciative sister.  Veta Louise is an avid social climber, longing to host parties and to be invited to others. Everything must be properly perceived. She is viciously afraid that Elwood will turn up with his unseen friend Harvey, and proceed to introduce him to everyone .

Her daughter, Myrtle Mae has her own challenges, as she believes that everything wearing pants might be the love of her life.

Veta Louise decides that she has had “enough” of the kindly Elwood and his tall rabbit friend and arranges to take him to a nearby sanitarium where she will admit him to stay forever. This also provides a path for her to gain ownership of the house.

Photo Credit: P. Switzer Photography 2015  Pictured L-R: Torsten Hillhouse (Elwood P. Dowd), Kate Gleason (Veta Louise Simmons), Missy Moore (Myrtle Mae Simmons).and Mark Rubald (Judge Omar Gaffney),
Photo Credit: P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured L-R: Torsten Hillhouse (Elwood P. Dowd), Kate Gleason (Veta Louise Simmons), Missy Moore (Myrtle Mae Simmons).and Mark Rubald (Judge Omar Gaffney),
Gavin Mayer and Ron A. Lansberry, director and artistic producer for the show, have assembled a delightful cast of wonderfully talented performers to bring this sometimes frenzied tale to life on the Stage of Arvada Center. Torsten Hillhouse is a jewel as the mild mannered Elwood Dowd. He has no desire to cause anyone any trouble and is quite willing to do whatever his sister suggests.

Elwood’s sister, Veta Louise, is in a delightful frenzy, as played by Kate Gleason. She is eager to have Elwood and his rabbit out of the house, and wants her daughter Myrtle Mae, to similarly disappear, hopefully with a husband!

Missy Moore is a delight as the awkward daughter, Myrle Mae. She is a fine comedian, while not letting the part become camp!

Insanity reigns as Elwood’s sister,Vera Louise, is erroneously admitted to the sanitarium instead of Elwood. Staff cannot believe that someone as kind and caring as Elwood might need psychiatric care, where as his sister appears to be completely nuts!

The cast is universally believable. Graham Ward is a fine physical comedian as the sanatorium doctor who is trying to figure out who needs mental care and who doesn’t. His boss, played by Jeffrey Roark prefers not to be bothered with any details of activity in the sanitarium, but does become intrigued with the idea that Elwood’s rabbit friend just might provide a two week out-of-this-world experience to be with someone more exciting than his wife.

The only person not worried with problems is the affable Elwood Dowd, who wants nothing more than to please everyone!

It is finally arranged for Elwood to receive an injection that will make him “normal.” A taxi driver who turns up at the sanitarium tries to bring the group to their senses noting, that while the “injection will make Elwood a perfectly normal human being, you know what bastards they are!”

“Harvey” was one of America’s best-loved plays in the 1940s and Marcy Chase received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945. It has been adapted for film and television several times, best remembered from the James Stewart performance as Elwood in the 1950 movie. Chase has roots to Colorado, graduating from Denver’s West High School, and later studied at the University of Denver and University o Colorado Boulder.

Everything involved with this production is flawless. The amazing set by Brian Mallgrave is changed before our eyes from the Dowd home to the Sanitarium in Act One and again in Act Two — each time receiving applause as if it were a character in the show!

By show’s end it just may be that Elwood (and his rabbit friend) are the only truly normal characters around. Veta Louise even admits that she just may have seen the the pooka !

“Harvey”
Where: Arvada Center For the Ats and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To February 22, 2015
Website: www.arvadacenter.org
Box Office 720/898-7200

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“Hairspray” is Pleasant ‘Welcome to the 60’s at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Hairspray LogoCandlelight’s “Hairspray” is an Enthusiastic Delight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2015

Marketing staff of Candlelight Dinner Playhouse got it right when preparing the show’s program announcing, “BIG hair, BIG heart. Big HIT!” Director Pat Payne has put together one of Candlelight’s most delightful shows – ever – “Hairspray.”

Bailey Peyton Walton is a real find, playing the leading role as Tracy Turnblad. Tracy is a Baltimore teenager in the early ’60s whose dream is to be a singer/dancer on a local television station show “Good Morning Baltimore.” Trouble is, while she realizes that she is a terrific singer and dancer, she lacks self confidence, as she is ….. fat! The only “enormous” thing about Walton, playing the role, however, is her incredible talent. She is a delightful marvel, glued to the TV set daily, not wanting to be a problem to her mother, but desperately wanting to be her own person. And she has an enormous crush on the young star of the Baltimore show – Link Larkin.

Hairspray press photoTracy talks her nerdy friend, Penny, into going to a tryout for the show, when one of the stars announces she is leaving. Michelle Sergeeff is great fun as the bespectacled, knock-need friend. The audition is a virtual disaster, but Tracy ultimately finds a spot in the television show, and becomes even more smitten by Link Larkin. Jordan Centeno doesn’t make a false move as the teen idol, Larkin. He is every bit as in love with himself as are his fans! Centeno has become an audience favorite with his local performances as Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” and as the talented dancer in “Swing” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” When, as Link Larkin, he brushes shoulders with TV newcomer Tracy, she is thrilled beyond belief, projecting what her life might be with him, in “I Can Hear the Bells.”

“Good Morning Baltimore” (think an “American Bandstand”)is produced by Velma Von Tussle, a woman approaching middle age, resting on the laurels of fame many years ago when crowned, “Miss Baltimore Crab!” She now wants fame and fortune for her snobby daughter, Amber, a member of the TV show’s cast. Alicia Dunfee and Alisha Winter-Hayes are super as the snobby mother and spoiled daughter!

While initially worried that her mother might be angry about her being on television, Tracy is relieved when her mother, Edna, becomes very supportive, as does her father, well-portrayed by Kent Sugg! Edna is a riot, played in a cross-dressing role by Patrick Sawyer! “Hairspray” the musical is based on a John Waters 1988 movie. The original movie included a man playing the mother role, and than gender-bending has continued through the movie to the Broadway musical again as a movie – John Travolta playing the role of Edna. In various incarnations of the show, the mother’s role played by a man has been off-putting to me. My feeling has now changed, as Patrick Sawyer is a sight to behold. He makes no effort to make the role seem quirky – turning the part into a thought-provoking experience!

Of special note in an astonishing talented cast is Lisa Young as Motormouth Maybelle. She rocks the room with “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

Tracy comes through with a mind of her own, announcing that she is for acceptance of blacks as equals – much to the horror of the television show’s producer! A local demonstration for fairness gets out of hand, resulting with many of the demonstrators on both sides of the issue being put in jail. Racial tolerance now becomes the theme as Tracy and her friends begin to enlighten others, with super dancing and music making the whole idea become more acceptable.

The entire show is a joy to see. Set is great. Costumes are wonderful, Performances are universally excellent. The orchestra, under direction of Angela Steiner is very good. Michelle Sergeeff provides the rewarding choreography – she is a super choreographer as well as being the believable nerd, Penny! Music is great fun throughout, especially “Good Morning Baltimore,” “I Can Hear the Bells” “Welcome to the 60s’s, and the Finale that the audience doesn’t want to end: “You Can’t Stop the Beat!”

While everything about “Hairspray”is perfection, the star is Bailey Peyton Walton as Tracy Turnblad. She makes if very clear that an incredibly talented person, irregardless of physical size, can become exactly what she wants to be!

This is a classy show, looking with great affection on the 1960s when “popularity” was determined by the height of a beehive hairdo, a hickey on a dating girl’s neck, being crowned “Miss Baltimore Crab,” or even becoming a dancer on nation-wide TV!

“Hairspray”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534
When: To March 8, 2015.
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com
Website: www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Sweeney Todd” is Harrowing Tale of Seeking revenge at Midtown Arts Center

Sweeny-logo

“Sweeney Todd” is that Fiendish Barber on Fleet Street in Terrific Midtown Show!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 31, 2015

By the time “Sweeney Todd” ends, the stage of the Midtown Arts Center includes a pile of corpses, and an astonished audience, realizing they experienced a truly memorable production! “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim opened on Broadway in 1979 with the usual trappings of a Broadway show – a large stage, the audience seated behind the usual orchestra, etc. The show was a critical favorite, received major awards, including the Tony Award as Best Musical. It sometimes left the audience a bit stunned, by the starkness of the story, and the brutality of the show. It has gone on to become a virtual classic – both as a Broadway musical and as an opera!

Kurt Terrio, owner of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, has a great track record of providing Fort Collins audiences with wonderful musicals. He does take risks, however, and has produced “Sweeney Todd” in a small new theater known as Studio 2 of the Midtown Arts Center. The production is more of an adventure than a show! The audience huddles around tables, with barely enough room to move. The orchestra is placed around the room, some elevated, and some on ground floor. The performers are also found throughout the room, mixed with the theater patrons. Some are at tables, some wandering around the elevated platform, and some on the small stage in the middle of the room.

To the audience’s amazement, the performers seem to find their way around the cramped quarters, and present the show as if they had all the room in the world. Brandon Schraml is a wonder as the demonic Sweeney Todd, returning to London after being exiled for many years on trumped-up charges. He is rescued at sea on his return to London by a young sailor, Anthony.

Brandon Schraml as Sweeney Todd and Jalyn Courteny Webb as Mrs. Lovett. Photo credit Marco A Robinson
Brandon Schraml as Sweeney Todd and Jalyn Courteny Webb as Mrs. Lovett. Photo credit Marco A Robinson

Todd returns to London to learn that his beloved wife, Lucy, has died, and that his child, Johanna, is now a young women living as a virtual prisoner in the home of London’s Judge Turpin. He ends up at the pie shop of Mrs. Lovett, who is a bit daft, and perhaps knows more than she wants to tell about Todd’s wife and child. She does offer him a place to stay, however, above her pie shop which isn’t doing very well, as she claims they are the “Worst Pies in London.”

Todd subsequently strangles a man in the Barber Shop when he learns the man was partially responsible for Todd’s exile many years ago. “What to do with the body?” Mrs. Lovett comes up with the idea of turning him into pies….. Lovett and Todd take off on a delightfully grizzly plan to turn men of various occupations into special pies! As Todd’s revenge results in more bodies, the pie shop business flourishes. Todd learns that Anthony, the sailor that saved his life, has accidentally found Todd’s daughter, Johanna, and wishes to marry her. Judge Turpin becomes outraged, wanting to marry the beautiful young girl himself; and thus begins plots for Joanna and Anthony to run away together, for Judge Turpin to find Johanna, and for Todd to ultimately find revenge for Turpin’s actions.

Terrio and his staff have assembled performers with incredible voices. Schraml as Sweeney Todd is re-united with Jalyn Courtney Webb as the somewhat-crazed Mrs. Lovett. They both had important roles in MAC’s not-to-be-forgotten “Les Miserables last Season. Also from that earlier triumph is Michael Lasris, who plays Judge Turpin in “Sweeney.” Webb and Lasris continue to provide inspired performances, adding to the work of Schraml’s “Todd.” They are joined by a cast which seems much larger than it actually is. Anthony is played by Taylor Martin who nearly stops the show with his lilting hymn to the young woman he has just found, “Johanna.” Lisa Kay Carter plays Johanna. Her voice is crystal clear, especially when she sings of her birds, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” Michael Spaziana as Toby, the young assistant Lovett and Todd have hired, is believable, as he promises he will protect Mrs. Lovett in “Not While I’m Around.”

Also outstanding are Napoleon Douglas as Beadle Bamford, Allen Dorsey as Adolfo Pirelli, and Anne Terze-Schwarz who has a thankless job of stumbling through the show as a beggar woman, mumbling oaths. Casey Cropp directs the orchestra, placed throughout the theater.

Michael Lasris and Julia Smith directed the terrific show with the vocal direction by Jalyn Courtney Webb. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, with costumes by Anthony Mattivi.

Sondheim was born in 1930 and wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” before branching out to provide lyrics and music for many shows. He is currently considered to be the most talented living Broadway creator. His first production providing both music and lyrics was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with the delightful opening song, “Comedy Tonight.” He has subsequently thrilled audiences with such shows as “A Little Night Music, “ “Company, “ “Follies,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “Into the Woods” which is now shown as a movie!

Many years ago my wife and I were living in New York, and The New York Times ran a small ad, soliciting producers for a “new” show by Stephen Sondheim. This was before Sondheim became so incredibly popular. Persons were offered to “buy” a portion of the new production “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” for $1,000 per share. I didn’t have the $1,000, so did not invest. I have subsequently wondered if I’d now be independently wealthy if I had invested!

The Midtown Arts Center production includes all of the acclaimed music, and the cast is uniformly excellent. The room where it is performed does present problems, however, as the cast is scattered throughout the room and it is difficult to always locate who is speaking/singing. The story is easier to follow when seen on a traditional stage setting. That does not, however, provide the excitement, interest, and sometimes nervousness as provided in the current format. Word of mouth has resulted in many sold-out performances, as the show appears to have found great audience appeal, especially for dating couples, and couples of all ages eager to enjoy an unusual experience.

. The plot, as noted above, is complicated. Reading a synopsis of the show prior to going to the theater is highly recommended. This should help you to better understand what an incredible performance you are seeing!
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“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 7, 2015
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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“The 39 Steps” at Midtown Arts Center

The 39 Steps At Midtown Arts Center“The 39 Steps” is Clever Farce at Midtown

Reviewed by By Tom Jones

Four persons become a cast of nearly 100 characters in Midtown Arts Center’s farce, “The 39 Steps.” The show gained fame Off-Broadway in New York a few seasons ago when theatergoers found great joy in an amazingly-different version of a 1935 movie! “The 39 Steps” movie was directed in all seriousness by Alfred Hitchcock, based on a thriller written by John Buchan in 1915. The story and movie were a serious look at British intelligence during World War I. A few years ago an English actor, Patrick Barlow, came up with the idea of transferring the spy book and movie to the stage as a comedy.
The results are the zany spoof where four persons play a cast of many, with amazingly clever changes of costumes, dialects, and props! I first saw the show a few summers ago at the Creede Repertory Theatre in southern Colorado, and was knocked out by brilliance of the production.

Within the past year Kurt Terrio and his crew at Midtown Arts Center have provided terrific shows for local audiences – especially the wonderful versions of “Les Miserables” Monty Python’s Spamalot,” and “Miss Saigon!” Those productions were awesome with large casts, impressive sets, etc.

The “wow” of those successes, however, takes a back seat as a substantially smaller show now on the Midtown stage. The farce is fun, with many bits of clever staging, and with a hard-working cast of four who appear to be enjoying the challenge. Nate Huntley plays just one role in the show, the bored debonair Richard Hannay who wants nothing more than a quiet evening in his London flat. He is wrongfully accused of a murder and begins the caper of chasing (and being chased) on foot, by train, and by car to Northern Scotland to hopefully free himself from injustice. The remaining cast includes Nicki Casseri who plays roles of some of the women in the show. Andy McCain and Daniel Harkins play everyone else, including some crazy turns at cross-dressing. McCain is especially delightful as he seems to enjoy chewing up the scenery every time he appears – whether it be as a man, a woman, a farmer, a newspaper salesman, a police officer, and just about everybody imaginable.

Eric Mather directed the production. He has past experience with the show, having played the role of Nate Huntley last year at Littleton Town Hall. The direction includes several bits of lunacy where cast members try to crawl over a fence while being handcuffed, a stroll down several hallways with never-ending doors opening and closing, escaping from buildings by crawling through window frames, and chasing through (and on top of) a fast-moving train, and riding in cars of various types on bad roads, etc.. The bits are clever to a point, but became tiring after the repetitious fun goes on too long.

Knowledge of the 1935 Hitchcock movie is helpful, as there are references to later Hitchcock standards such as “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” and others. I rented the DVD prior to seeing the show the first time a few years ago. It is not mandatory to know the original story, but makes the show substantially more fun when realizing how the lunacy was inspired!

This “The 39 Steps” is not a glorious musical with great sets, etc. but is a well-acted non-stop farce spoofing serious espionage and spy movies in general!

“The 39 Steps”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins
When:Through March 13, 2015
Information: Box Office at 970/225-2555, or online   www.midtownartscenter.com

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“A Christmas Carol” at Stage Theater, Denver Center of the Performing Arts

Christmas Carol logo“A Christmas Carol” is Top Notch Holiday Show at Denver Center“

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 14, 2014

In an article reviewing an entirely different show December 13, Denver Post Theatre Critic Lisa Kennedy wisely noted, “”The Denver Center’s version of Charles Dickens’ tale remains an edifying, possibly perfect holiday tale of hubris and redemption.”

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.
Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.

I can only add, “Right on!” In the DCPA’s 35-year history, the Company has presented two different adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” totaling 22 productions! By now, the Company has it down pat! The scenery, lighting, sound, costumes, cast – all to perfection! Why, oh, why has it taken me so long to drive to Denver to see this terrific production?

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.
Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge has already played the role in nine different productions, but keeps the performance alive, as if it were his first time pleasing an audience. He is the Humbug that we love to hate, the man who believes any happiness around him is misplaced, and lives only to count his money and make life as miserable as possible for everyone – including his nephew, his only relative! His only employee, Bob Cratchit, has the audacity to ask Scrooge for a day off for Christmas. He is aware that his boss is a dreadful sort, but asks anyway, and is nearly rebuffed. James Michael Reilly plays Cratchit to perfection. His performing credentials are substantial, and he brings a great charm to the role – that of a very good man, trying his best to take of his family in difficult times, and putting up with Scrooge, as his only source of income.

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.
Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.

The London in the 1840s was a difficult place to live, especially for the many with limited financial resources. Charles Dickens published his story “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 and it has become the epitome of a Christmas classic.

Ebenezer Scrooge’s only option of refuge is his bedroom, after Cratchit has gone to be with his wife and children. Scrooge is confronted by a dream of his former financial partner, Jacob Marley, now shackled in chains to endure the eternities because of his devious deals while alive. Scrooge is horrified, only to learn that he is to receive visits of three more ghosts in the days to come: The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Each one frightens Scrooge with promise of a future as dreadful as that faced by Marley unless he does something worthwhile with his life.

This is not a sugar-coated Christmas tale, but one of Christmas carolers, of families in poverty – of ghosts raging to frighten some sense into Scrooge. The set is terrific, as if everything else in this wonderful version of Dickens’ story. There is lots of music and dancing. Thought-provoking insight of the idea of “sharing,” and basically the encouragement of helping those less fortunate.

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.
Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen.

The enormous cast includes several in supporting roles. Especially noteworthy are Colin Alexander as Scrooge’s Nephew, Fred; Charlie Korman as Ebenezer as a child; M. Scott McClean as Ebenezer as a young man; Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Cratchit, and Stephanie Cozart, terrifically adorned as the Ghost of Christmas Past. There are many children in the cast, making the production of special interest to younger theater-goers.

The production is flawlessly directed by Bruce K. Sevy. Adaptation of Dickens’ story was done by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry.

The end result is the desired realization that Scrooge can become teachable. He can learn some basic goodness, and realize the need of “sharing.” And while Scrooge is learning, the audience is treated to a visual feast of Christmas!

“A Christmas Carol” at DCPA in December of 2014 is a production to be cherished!

“A Christmas Carol”
Stage Theatre, Denver Center of the Performing Arts
Through December 28. 2014
Tickets: 303/893-4100
denvercenter.org
800/641-1222, TTY 303/893-9582

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“King o’ The Moon” at Bas Bleu in Fort Collins

“King o' The Moon” at Bas Bleu in Fort Collins
“King o’ The Moon” at Bas Bleu in Fort Collins

Heartwarming and Chaotic Pazinski Family Returns to Bas Bleu in “King o’ The Moon”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 9, 2014

We first met the chaotic Pazinski family last year in Bas Bleu’s production of “Over the Tavern.” Ten years have transpired in the family’s history when we meet them this year in “King o’ The Moon.” The bullying father has died, and his wife and children are planning a get-together to honor his memory. Why? Virtually no one really liked him — but “family is family is family!”

The Pazinskis still live in the apartment above the bar their father owned. The tavern is now managed by a friend of the father, and the family has become older. Not necessarily wiser, but seemingly more comfortable with their own situations. Jonathan Farwell has returned to direct the sequel whose story takes place at the time of the Apollo moon landing. His direction is particularly rewarding!

Deb Note-Farwell is terrific as Ellen, the widowed wife. She provides a wondrous portrayal of survival, trying to help put sense in the lives of her children and of herself. Note-Farwell has never been better!

"Courtesy of William A. Cotton"
“Courtesy of William A. Cotton”

Remaining at home is the youngest son, Georgie, with Down syndrome. Ben Means is convincing as the challenged Georgie. His older sister, Annie, is played by Lauren E. Jenkins. Annie has married, but returns home frequently, as her marriage is in turmoil. Her anti-social husband apparently spends most of his time in the couple’s basement, working with his collection of toy trains. The oldest son is Eddie, well-portrayed by Marshall Spring is married, but is at home on leave before being deployed to Vietnam The remaining son is Rudy, played by Jason R. Jenkins. Rudy remains conflicted since he promised his dying father that he would become a seminarian. He has suddenly left the seminary and turns up at home actively involved with a peace movement. He wants his military brother, Eddie to abandon the armed forces and his country, and take refuge in Canada!

Joining the frenzied family is Eddie’s pregnant wife, Maureen, played by Jessica MacMaster. MacMaster is a wow! She plays Maureen, a girl who came from the “wrong side of the tracks,” and her younger days included seriously-wrong choices. MacMaster is terrific, and she lights up the stage whenever she appears!

Bas Bleu Theatre's Production of "King O' The Moon"
“Courtesy of William A. Cotton”

Rounding out the cast is Al Dominguez as Walter. He was a close friend of the deceased husband, and works hard to keep the tavern financially afloat. He is romantically interested in his friend’s widow, Ellen, the family matriarch.

Tales of the individual characters are interestingly woven into the radio broadcast of the moon landing, with a portrait of the moon hovering overhead on the theater wall. “King o’ the Moon”was written by Tom Dudzick and is the second of his trilogy of plays concerning the Pazinksi family. The very interesting back-yard set is designed by Jeff Tish, with lighting by Jimmie Robinson and sound by Grant Putney.

"Courtesy of William A. Cotton"
“Courtesy of William A. Cotton”

The first act is overly frenetic, with a lot of family yelling. Once we realize why everyone is so angry with everyone else, the tone softens, and the play concludes with a feeling of understanding and acceptance. Few of the individual challenges are resolved, but the need for a feeling of family unity is apparent – making it clear that such a unit can provide a great source of healing and comfort.

“King o’ the Moon” runs through January 4, 2005, with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening and matinees on Sundays.

For information:
Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Webb: www.basbleu.org

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“She Loves Me” at Arvada Center

She Loves Me Logo

Hungarian Parfumerie is Delightful Locale for “She Loves Me!”

By Tom Jones
November 30, 2014

Maraczek’s Parfumerie in the 1930s Budapest is an attractive location for the entertaining “She Loves Me” now on stage at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities! The parfumerie is initially shown from the outside beginning with a warm summer day, and continuing through the falling of autumn leaves, and the welcome snow of the Christmas Season. When the set’s interior opens the audience is drawn into the splendid interior. No detail is missing in the shop’s displays.

The set alone is worth the price of admission, enhanced by the delightful show! “She Loves Me” is based on a 1937 play by Miklos Laszlo, “Parfumerie.” Many years later the story became the basis for a 1940 movie, “The Shop Around the Corner starring Jimmy Stewart. The basic plot turned up again in 1949 in the Judy Garland musical, “In the Good Old Summertime, and again in 1988 in the Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks hit, “You’ve got Mail.”

Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2014
Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2014

The current musical version, “She Loves Me” (as seen in Arvada this season) is based on the 1963 Broadway musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Life was somewhat more simple than the world of today. Girl and boy meet, fall in “hate” – or is it just thinly disguised “love”? The shop’s staff is a well-trained group of clerks, when looking-for-work Amalia Balash arrives on the scene, in search of a job. Julia Jackson is heartwarming as the eager Amalia. Mark Rubald is very good as the shop owner, Mr. Maraczek. He isn’t interested in any new staff, but finds Amalia so capable that he gives her a chance!

Amalia’s arrival on the scene is not warmly received by clerk George Nowack, excellently played by Andrew Russell. He finds her particularly offensive, as he lives in a dream world. He has been responding to lonely-hearts ads in the newspaper and believes he is in love with a “Dear Friend” that he has never met!

Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2014
Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2014

An especially talented cast has been assembled for this wintertime/Christmas gift to the community. Joining with Julia Jackson, Mark Rubald and Andrew Russell are supporting leads and each is given a chance to shine! Clerks in the shop include Ilona Ritter, delightfully played by Jennifer Lorae teamed opposite Gregory Gerbrandt as Steven Kodaly, a snake-in-the grass lech who believes that he can charm his way to whatever he wants. Parker Redford plays the young Arpad Laszlo, wanting to be more than a delivery boy. And Rob Costigan is a marvel as the experienced and insecure elder clerk, Ladislov Sipos. A comic delight is Stephen Day as the waiter in the cafe where the two “Friends” are set to meet. The”meeting” turns into a great scene where the waiter is trying to keep some sort of decorum, reminding everyone that the cafe presumes to provide a “Romantic Atmosphere” while chaos reigns!”The entire cast is flawless, with not a mis-step anywhere!

There are no “hit” songs in the show, but the music is very rewarding “Dear Friend” “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “She Loves Me” are especially memorable!

Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2014
Photo Credit P. Switzer Photography 2014

The production is directed by Gavin Mayer, with David Nehls as musical director. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck provides the excellent choreography. Lighting is by Vance McKenzie, with sound by David Thomas. The beautiful set is credited to Brian Mallgrave, as scenic designer. The set not only includes interior and exterior of the perfume shop, but also a hospital room, Amalia’s bedroom, and a super cafe – scene of raucous of comedy.

The cast is large and all are excellent, as is the orchestra under direction of David Nehls.

“She Loves Me” is a very rewarding look at life in Europe nearly 100 years ago. The show has many delightful minor treasures – the woman walking her dog – each dressed appropriate to the season, the falling autumn leaves, and the first snow! Everything comes together at the frenzy of Christmas shopping – with a fun, somewhat unusual look at “The 12 Days of Christmas!”

“She Loves Me” is a charming addition to the Holiday Season!

“She Loves Me”
Tuesday through Saturday through December 21, 2014
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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“Miracle on 34th Street” at Candlelight

Miracle“Miracle on 34th Street” is Reminder that Christmas is Nearly Here!

By Tom Jones
November 16, 2014

With the arrival of Macy’s televised Thanksgiving Day Parade, can Christmas be far behind? The famous Parade is front and center at the beginning of “Miracle on 34th Street” on the stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown through December 31. The curtains open to a terrifically appealing view of the front of Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street in New York City. The created mood is delightful – parade lovers looking skyward at the large balloons, the clown-costumed technicians doing their best to hold onto the ropes of the balloons. Even the high=-kicking Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall are there!
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“Spring Awakening” (OpenStage) at Magnolia Theatre

Spring Awakening Open Stage“Spring Awakening” is Harrowing Look at Pubescent Teens’ Search for Understanding!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 15, 2014

Wendla is a teenager in a provincial German town in the late 1800s. She realizes that her body is going through some changes, but has no idea what they might mean! Nicole Olson is very good as the anxious young teen who goes to her mother for help. The austere mother refuses to give her daughter any guidance about the sexual awakening her daughter is facing – throwing her to the mercy of her young friends, many as confused as Wendla!

“Spring Awakening” produced by OpenStage in the Magnolia Theater of Lincoln Center is a harrowing look at the situation many teenagers face as they reach puberty – in the Victorian Germany or in present day-America. The original play, written by Frank Wedekind in 1891, was considered a scandal for its time, and was not produced on stage until several years later. The musical adaptation arrived on the Broadway scene in 2007 and received several Tony Awards that year, including being named Best Musical.
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The Last Romance, Creede Repertory Charmer on stage at Arvada Center

TheLastRomance

Tear ducts open as senior citizens find friendship on a New Jersey Park Bench

By Tom Jones, October 19, 2014

“The Last Romance” Creede Repertory Charmer on stage at Arvada Center

Hoboken, New Jersey is on the banks of the Hudson River overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Ralph Bellini, an 80-year-old widower, has recently recovered from a stroke, and has gone to a park to relax, and possibly to make some human contact with persons who are walking their dogs. He lives nearby with his sister, Rose, who has been taking care of him for several years. Her husband left her for another woman 22 years ago, but she refuses to divorce him, with the naive hope that he will someday return to her.
Continue reading The Last Romance, Creede Repertory Charmer on stage at Arvada Center

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Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Ricketson Theatre, DCPA

Vanya logoTerrific Comedy looks at a Chekhov-like dysfunctional family in Bucks County, PA

By Tom Jones, October 17, 2014

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Ricketson Theatre, DCPA

Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, are getting on each other’s nerves. Their “day” consists of a morning coffee, watching for the heron on the pond outside their window, and … not much else. They have lived singular lives in this routine of nothingness for several years – ever since the parents they were taking care of died. They might actually like to do something with their lives, but just can’t get around to it. The spark in their existence is the housekeeper, Cassandra, who drops in once a week, claiming she can foresee the future – and it doesn’t look good!
Continue reading Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Ricketson Theatre, DCPA

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Unsinkable Molly Brown at Stage Theater, Denver Center of the Performing Arts

Molly BrownUnstoppable Beth Malone wows audience in “Unsinkable Molly Brown”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 16, 2014

“Unsinkable Molly Brown” at Stage Theater, Denver Center of the Performing Arts

She’s barely five feet tall, but she just can’t be stopped! The miners in Leadville are in awe of her, including J. J. Brown who marries her, but can’t control her! Denver society look down their noses at her, and European nobility are in delighted by her. Also in awe are the audiences at The Stage Theatre of the Denver Center of Performing Arts as Beth Malone proves to be unstoppable as the tough Molly Brown!
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Journey to the West at OpenStage Theatre

Heavenly Exiles Make 16-year “Journey to the West” in Search of Clues to Immortality!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

Journey LogoYes, an orphaned Buddhist monk and three disciples are on a quest – searching to find sacred scrolls that hold the key to immortality. They are currently on the stage of Lincoln’s Center’s Magnolia Theater, in OpenStage’s impressive production of “Journey to the West.” Man’s search for the meaning of life, for immortality, and to bring enlightenment to the world have been themes of literature and theatre for centuries. The “search” occurs in “the Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” in “Pippin,” and even in “The Wizard of Oz!”
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Miss Saigon at Midtown Arts Center

MissSiagon-sm“Miss Saigon” at Midtown Arts Center Wows Audience with Tale of the Fall of Vietnam!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

“What do you do for an encore?” Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Alain Boublil found worldwide fame with their incredible stage production “Les Miserables” in London in 1985, and in New York in 1987. They were not content to sit back and count their money, however, as they launched “Miss Saigon” in London in 1989, on Broadway in 1991 with Schoenberg again providing the music; lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.  “Saigon” went on to receive an enormous following, and a London revival in 2014 set a new world record for opening day ticket sales.
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The Year of Magical Thinking at Bas Bleu

Bas Bleu's Production of "The Year of Magical Thinking"Reviewed by Tom Jones

“Wendy Ishii Triumphs as Joan Didion in “The Year of Magical Thinking” at Bas Bleu

Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, were both respected writers  living in New York City, but with strong ties to California. Their only child, a recently-married adult daughter, had been hospitalized for five days, and was in a coma in a New York hospital. Her parents had just returned to their apartment, after visiting with the daughter, when Mr. Dunne slumped over the table at dinnertime and died.
Continue reading The Year of Magical Thinking at Bas Bleu

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