Category Archives: 2018

Loveland Opera Theatre Is A Winner As That “Merry Widow” Waltzes Onto Rialto Stage

Terrific Voices, Lavish Costumes & New Libretto Combine For Delightful Production of Lehar’s Famous Operetta!

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
February 20, 2018

More than 100 years ago Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” premiered in Vienna. Audiences and critics were quick to realize the charm of the operetta, and productions quickly spread across Europe, and ultimately throughout the world. It just might be the most popular operetta in history.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This winter Loveland audiences were becoming aware that something special was happening with the arrival of the show. Stage Director Timothy Kennedy has worked on various productions of The Merry Widow” for many years, and went to work writing a new libretto for this production, adding to the wonders of the Lehar music. The result is a winner. Costuming is excellent, as Davis Sibley designed them specifically for this production.

Tale is very loosely based on a real situation, although names and locations have been changed. Pontevedro, an imaginary country near Paris is in a financial crisis. The country’s most wealthy citizen has died leaving his fortune to his widow, Hanna. If she should marry someone outside the country, Pontevedro would be in financial ruin.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This problem comes to a head when the Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris is giving a ball at the embassy in Paris to celebrate the birthday of his king, and the arrival in Paris of the widowed Hanna Glawari. The Ambassador learns that he must do everything in his power to keep the widow from marrying anyone not a local Pontevedrian.

Mayhem ensues. The Ambassador’s wife is smitten by the charm of a Frenchman who just might be on the lookout to marry the wealthy widow. The Pontevedrian king’s nephew, Count Danilo, is on the short list of possible candidates and is currently working in the Parisian embassy. Danilo had been in love with Hanna many years ago. His uncle refused the request for the two to marry, and sent Danilo away. He is embittered by what happened to him and refuses to be party to the idea of marrying the now-wealthy widow. There is comic relief as the Ambassador goes through a ritual of calling the roll each time he meets with his goofy three-man staff.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This is all going on to the lilting Lehar music. “The Merry Widow Waltz” is front and foremost, instantly recognizable. Equally charming, however, is “Vilja Song” which is so beautifully performed that I wanted the audience to stop the show with a standing ovation. That didn’t happen, but the sequence remains rich in my mind as the show’s most brilliant scene. “You’ll Find Me at Maxims,” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” are also familiar songs. The operetta is performed in English.

Some of Colorado’s most powerful voices are front and center for this production. Leads are Phoenix Gayles as Hanna, Josh DeVane as Danilo Danilovitsch, Emily Morris as The Ambassador’s wife Valencienne, Nathan Snyder as Camille de Rosillion, and Rob Hoch as the Ambassador.

The cast is large, nearly 50 performers on stage plus an orchestra of 13 plus keyboard. Set is designed by Noel Johnston, lighting by Peter F. Muller. Orchestra is conducted by Adam Torres with choreography Sarah Wilhelm.

Director and libretto writer Timothy Kennedy has assembled a very talented ensemble, with standout performances by the lead performers, chorus, and orchestra at every turn.

Dr. Juliana Bishop Hoch, Executive and Artist Director of the Loveland Opera Theatre is to be applauded for her work, not only providing excellent productions to Northern Colorado, but for making it possible for school-age students to go to the shows. “The Merry Widow for Kids” is a one-hour instructive introduction to opera and what goes on behind the scenes. Families are invited to attend performances of this abbreviated performance Saturdays February 24 and March 3 at 2:30 p.m. In addition, many schools in the Loveland and Fort Collins area bring students to one-hour versions of the show in late February and early March during school hours.

“The Merry Widow” is a Loveland look at the “lost and found” of love, highlighted by incredible individual, orchestral, and choral talents. The show is a somewhat naïve look at romance of a century gone by, displayed with great charm. And that brilliant music.

“The Merry Widow”
Where: Presented by Loveland Opera Threatre, on the Rialto Theatre Stage
228 West 4th Street
Loveland, CO 80537
When: February 23, 24, and 25, March 2, 3, and 4
For information: www.lovelandopera.org, 970/593-0085
Rialto Theatre Box Office: Telephone 970/962-2120

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Award Winning “Fun Home” On Stage At Midtown Arts Center In Fort Collins

Excellent Performances Highlight This Regional Premier

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 2, 2018

The last time I saw Vince Wingerter on stage, he was Bert, the affable chimney sweep in the heartwarming, “Mary Poppins.” He was very good in that role, but soars this season as Bruce, the tormented father in “Fun Home.” He rules the roost over a family in turmoil in their restored Victorian “House on Maple Avenue” that doesn’t quite fit into the All-American happy façade.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This is a no-holds-barred look at a slice of the Americana dream that has rarely been so carefully dissected. Bruce, an English teacher in the local Pennsylvania town, took over the family funeral home (the “fun” home of the title) at the death of his father. He is confusion in motion, sometime playful and loving to the children, seen in fits of near rage the next, when the family doesn’t do precisely at he wants at the precise moment he desires.

The children are bewildered by him. His wife, Helen, unhappily endures what is happening, not wanting to cause further wrath. Bruce is a closeted gay man, in his personal hell of having no idea how to accept himself. His daughter, Alison has turmoil of her own. When she was very young she realized that she was attracted to women. She has no idea of where she fits in, until she goes to college and becomes aware of a society within a society which may actually accept her for who she is.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This is a sometimes uncomfortable realization, but is very well portrayed by a talented cast. The story is based on the memories of the real Alison Bechdel. She is shown in three stages of her life: Small Allison (the young girl), a Middle Alison (college student), and as an adult, recording and drawing what has happened to the “House on Maple Avenue” in mid-Americana, USA. The young Alison is double cast, with Julia Gibson and Ella Sokolowski playing in alternating performances. The Small Alison I saw was Julia Gibson. She is a star in the making. It will be exciting to watch her develop over the years.

Photo Credit: Dyann Diercks Photography

Sarah Lewis is very convincing as the college-age Alison, carefully taking notes of what she sees in life, and transferring her ideas to artwork. She has the challenge of accepting herself as a lesbian, initially having no idea of what such a label entails.

Monica Howe is the protagonist, playing the adult Alison. “Fun Home” is basically her story, looking at the family life as she saw it. The real life Alison Bechdel created the comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For” which ran in lesbian and gay publications for many years. She gained a wider readership with the publication of “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” a graphic memoir about her relationship with her gay father.

Alisa Metcalf is very good as the bewildered wife, having no idea of where to turn in the family confusion. She takes refuge with her piano. Her song, “Helen’s Etude” is one of the most memorable scenes in the show. Zulfiya Asquino is effective as the college-age Alison’s first lover. Corbin Payne is seen as the local handyman and other characters. Matthew Farley and Ryan Fisher are the family’s young boys. They are good dancers, and bring some comedy relief to the heavy story, climbing in and out of the “fun home” caskets.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The musical was developed through several readings and performances, culminating with the Broadway opening in the spring of 2015. It is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, and the original New York run was extended several times. It was nominated for many awards, and was named as Best Musical in the 2015 Tony Awards.

Music is by Jeanine Tesori; book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. The Midtown Arts Center production was produced and directed by Kurt Terrio. The music is pleasant, with thought-provoking lyrics. The score received many awards.

This is a very well-acted production. It is NOT “The Sound of Music” or “Mary Poppins,” but a disquieting rendition of a family trying to come to terms with reality. The set is terrific. The cast is terrific. The show is an eye-opening glimpse into the challenging world of gay and lesbian persons coming to terms with themselves, their families, and society as a whole.

“Fun Home”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2018
Box Office: 970/225-2555
Online at  www.midtownartscenter.com

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OpenStage’s “The Crucible” Is Riveting Production

Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 Are Frightful Reminder Of Society Going Amuck.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 20, 2018

Last year’s OpenStage production of “August: Osage County” was among the finest Colorado productions of the year. Not to be outdone, they have again achieved brilliance with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” now onstage at Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Theatre.

Settlers reached Cape Cod in 1620, and about seventy years later the Puritan citizens of the Massachusetts Bay Colony face ongoing strife. Their theocratic society, isolated from most of the world, needed to rely on everyone in the village to be supportive and helpful. Unfortunately, the small society was rife with greed, selfishness, hypocrisy and now even rumors of witchcraft.

The community’s spiritual leader is Reverend Samuel Parris. He is horrified one night to find his daughter, Betty, and other young women of the village dancing in the woods, maybe naked, and seemingly involved in some kind of witchcraft activity. Betty has fallen ill. Is she in a trance? Is she ill from having taken an evil potion? Or is it something else? Parris is hesitant to make any waves about the incident, as his religious responsibilities to the community are not on solid footing. L. Michael Scovel is very good as Reverend Parris.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

As Betty remains bedridden, only sometimes coherent, some members of the community are questioned. One is Abigail Williams, reportedly the young women’s ringleader. She proclaims her innocence, reporting that someone else in the group once tried to force her to drink blood. She lives in the Parris home, following the death of her parents. She and the Reverend do not get along, and Parris does not believe the stories she tells.

This sets the mood for two and one-half hours of the fearful tale. Teal Jandrain is terrific as Abigail, beguiling one moment, thrown into fits of delirium the next. Confused by Abigail’s mood changes is John Proctor, a married neighbor with whom Abigail had a brief affair in the past. Timothy Ackerman is outstanding as Proctor, with Corinne Wieben providing a similarly excellent portrayal of his wife, Elizabeth.

Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor and Corinne Wieben as Elizabeth Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The fireworks are non-stop, with the community in turmoil, not only with rumors of witchcraft, but with greed, selfishness, questionable real estate deals, and hypocrisy against those who are less than active in their religious devotion. Some are convinced that the devil’s influence is everywhere. As a result, several women and one man are hanged, to supposedly rid the community of evil. Another man is “pressed” — squeezed to death.

The soul-searching John Proctor is tormented by his own frailties. His wife, Elizabeth, appreciates that her husband is a truly honorable man, but is having difficulty putting his past indiscretion out of her mind. Abigail is amazement in action. One moment I am convinced that she is a truly wonderful person, the next I am convinced that she and Teal Jandrain (who portrays her) are both consumed by the devil. This is a disquieting experience.

Arthur Miller’s play opened in New York in 1953. Even though it received largely negative reviews, it did win the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later, a new production received great acclaim and went on to become a classic.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams and Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The current OpenStage production succeeds on every front. Director Peter Anthony is widely respected for his continual work. He not only directed this production, but also designed the excellent scenery and sound. Lighting is by Brian Miller. The effective costumes are the work of Rebecca Spafford.

The cast is large and impressive. Acting is remarkable throughout. In addition to the leads mentioned, great work is also done by Heath Howes as Reverend John Hale, Ken Fenwick as Deputy Governor Danforth, Katie Houser as Mary Warren, Alicia Myers as Tituba, Brien Fletcher and Giles Corey, Steven Wright as Thomas Putnam, Kathy Leonard as Rebecca Nurse, Duane Sawyer, as Ezekiel Cheever, Joe Vader as John Willard, Hailey Goebel as Betty Parris, Shelby Taylor as Mercy Lewis, Kalie Allyn Lanik as Susanna Walcott, Quinn Bringelson, Lauren Gorman, and Rocky Eisentraut as girls in the village.

OpenStage was honored last year by the Colorado Theatre Guild as the Theatre Company of the Year. The year is starting in great style with “The Crucible,” a brilliantly staged and performed reminder of how a cauldron of hysteria can destroy society.

Arthur Miller’s excellent writing, the cast’s remarkable performances, and Peter Anthony’s brilliant work as director combine to provide a must-see performance at OpenStage.

“Crucible” definitions:

  • Purification through ordeals
  • The New Oxford American Dictionary in 2001: “A container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. A place or occasion of severe test or trial.”
  • At one time, the U.S. Marine Corps had a test known as “The Crucible” where members of the group were put through an ordeal of physical activity with no sleep — not everyone succeeding in the activity.

“The Crucible”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through February 17, 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
For more information: Visit Open Stage

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