Category Archives: Drama

Ground-breaking “Hair” arrives at Midtown Arts Center

Those “Days of Aquarius” Amaze Local Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones

July 9, 2017

Broadway audiences and critics either cheered or were aghast in the late ‘60s when a hippie musical about the sexual revolution, profanity, using mind-bending drugs, and opposition to the Viet Nam War opened in New York. Most agreed that the music was nothing short of phenomenal, but an ever-so-brief glance at full nudity caused concern. Following an off-Broadway opening in 1967 at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, the show opened on Broadway the next year with substantial revisions More than a dozen 13 new songs were added and the show ran for an amazing l,750 performances. Music is by Galt MacDermot, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.

Living in the West, I had read about the New York show, but was curious as to why such a controversial look at America had spared such interest. I bought the cast recording, and was knocked out with what I heard. I dashed to see it the next time I was in London to determine if the production was worth the hoopla it generated. It was.

The terrific music is currently on stage at Midtown. The score is as pulsating as ever. The show looks terrific, sounds even better. The plot continues to revolve around hippies protesting — protesting virtually everything in their lives. The hippies have created a “tribe” where they can emotionally and physically love one another and rant and rave about everyone else. Claude, played by Tyler Hodges, is one of the group, but is hesitant to commit to burning his draft card – the ultimate act of defiance of the time. Hodges, a newcomer to Midtown Arts, is a sensation. He is torn between his basic decency and the encouragement of his friends to completely immerse himself in their group love and anger.

Tyler Hodges as Claude
Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

At the conclusion of Act I, Claude sings of his tribulation with an incredibly heartfelt, “Where Do I Go?” While he is emotionally torn, other members of the tribe are eager for him to join them with their “bare it all” approach. Unlike the production in London where “baring it all” was not all-inclusive and brief, in Midtown it is a prolonged view of nearly the entire cast. I am not certain why this idea is important to the total message of the show. It is disarming and shocking.

The anti-everything message does become annoying. Act II is a rehash over why everyone is protesting, and includes some over-the-top mind-bending scenes with the tribe “high” on whatever drugs they can find. Claude’s war experiences are seen through hallucinogenic visions brought on by drugs gone bad. Group orgies are the mode.

The music, however, remains as wonderful as ever. Many melodies continue to be well known – some 50 years after they were introduced: “Aquarius” “I Got Life,” “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Where Do I Go,” “What a Piece of Work is Man,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” and ultimately, “Let the Sun Shine In.”

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

Many of the performers are new to MAC. They are an enormously talented group with Hodges, Michael Hajjar, Stephanie Wasser, Bryan Staggers and Devin J. Hall in leading roles. Nine others successfully complete the “Tribe.” Of particular interest are the aerial acrobatics. Director/choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker worked with Cassidy Cousineau and Adam Bourque to dangle from two silks (rope-like cloths hanging from the ceiling) which become an integral part of the set. The effect is like seeing a mini Cirque Du Soleil on stage!

Dinner theatre patrons are accustomed to a “down” time between completing the meal and the beginning of the show. There are the usual commercials and announcements of birthdays, anniversaries, welcoming specific groups, etc. “Hair” itself took several minutes to get into gear. Cast members wandered around the stage. Hodges as Claude sat center stage without saying anything. Tribe Leader Berger (Michael Hajjar) chatted with the audience – nothing being heard beyond the first couple of rows. The pulsating music finally arrived. The long delay between dinner and actual music, however, resulted in my initial interest lagging in what turns out to be a brilliantly-interesting show.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

“Hair” continues to be a show for the ages – now celebrating its 50th year with the exuberant version on Stage at Midtown through August 26. Ryan Hazelbaker directed and choreographed the production, with music direction by Paul Falk. The cast is very talented. The orchestra, lighting, and costumes are all excellent. This is a “tough” show – not the family oriented “The Sound of Music” or “Mary Poppins,” but in a style on its own, verging on soft porn. “Hair” the American tribal love-rock musical is in town, on stage this summer at Midtown Arts Center.

“Hair”
Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To: August 26, 2017
Phone: 970/225-2555
Online: midtownartscenter.com

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“The Three Musketeers” Are A Dueling Trio In The Park In The OpenStage Production

Joe Coca Photography

Latest Version of Longtime Favorite Provides Great Fun, Great Swordsmanship!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 4, 2017

Eons ago, before the “Star Wars” illuminated sabers came into fashion, the weapon of choice among youngsters everywhere was the sword. Nearly every young man, and many young women learned early how to wield a wicked weapon with a wooden (or sometimes even cardboard) sword. These wondrous weapons are back – in the hands of three of fiction’s most famous: “The Three Musketeers.”

In addition to having great sword-playing skills, the Three Musketeers were known for their trust in each other. Their bond of friendship was never ending, and they swore forever loyalty with “One for All and All for One!”

D’Artagnan, a young Frenchman from the country, has a goal of becoming a Musketeer, to serve the French King. He is traveling to Paris to reach his goal. He is feisty and hot-headed. Within the first few minutes of his arrival on stage, D’Artagnan has challenged duels with three different men, three men that he was not aware are members of the Musketeers. Dan Muth is a site to behold as the ever-dueling, ever-loving, ever reliable D’Artagnan. His swordsmanship is impressive – impressive even to three Musketeers who realize the young man’s potential — and they offer him friendship instead of duels.

Such is the premise of playwright Richard Strahle’s version of “The Three Musketeers.” Alexandre Dumas wrote the original saga, first published in serial form in a French newspaper in 1844. It is fascinating to realize how much of Dumas’ lengthy epistle has been condensed to 90 minutes of fun in Strahle’s play, now outside on stage in Fort Collins. The story is placed in the mid-1600s in France. Intrigue between Comte de Rochefort, Cardinal of the Catholic Church in France, and the French King (King Louis XIII) is coming to a boil.

D’Artagnan is tossed into the turmoil, as he has becoming smitten with Constance, a servant to the queen who lives in the same apartment complex as the would-be Musketeer. The King’s Musketeers are at odds with the Cardinal’s Guards.

Dan Muth as D’Artagnan, Heath Howes as Aramis, Steven P. Sickles as Athos, and Andrew Cole as Porthos. Joe Coca Photography

The Musketeers are a jovial and efficient group of friends. The “three” we meet are Athos, played ty Steven P. Sickles, Aramis, played by Heath Howes, and Porthos, played ty Andrew Cole. They each have their own tales to tell and are well portrayed. Hannah Honegger plays Constance, the queen’s servant and love of D’Artagnan’s life. Casey Thomas becomes Anne of Austria, Queen of France. The leading woman’s role is the evil Milady de Winter. Kate Austin-Groen is very good as the conniving woman working with the Cardinal to bring down the French King.

The entire plot of intrigue and mischief could become dreary, but Strahle’s version is great fun, — more of a melodrama than a drama. The show’s program notes “Family Friendly Theatre in the Park!” This is OpenStage’s annual venue in The Park at Columbine Health Systems. There were several young people in the audience at the performance I saw. They cheered. They booed, and were continually alert during the 90-minute show.

The adults appeared to be equally delighted with the goings-on. The show begins at 7:00 p.m., with patrons urged to arrive early to find good places on the lawn to view the stage. There is no seating provided, so the audience brings their own chairs, or spreads blankets on the lawn. Many brought their own picnics, and there are food trucks where sandwiches and ice cream can be purchased.

The sound system is good, and the set is small, but efficient. Denise Burson Freestone has directed this delightful show, with Benaiah Anderson serving as fight director. The cast is large, and moves flawlessly on and off the tiny stage. There was no evidence of swords in the audience, but those onstage were kept impressively moving throughout the evening.

Playwright Richard Strahle is a Fort Collins native whose scripts are highly respected. The “Three Musketeers” marks the first time he has been commissioned to write a play, and the first time OpenStage has commissioned a playwright for a specific project. In the playbill he suggests, “Please laugh at the jokes.” The audience does.

“The Three Musketeers”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, outdoors in the Park at Columbine Health Systems,
947 Worthington Circle in Fort Collins (Corner of Worthington Circle and Centre Avenue)
When: Through July 1, 2017
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information: www.openstage.com

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“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a display of genius

Award Winning Drama Amazes Denver Center Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 30, 2017

When the creative team was developing “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the sign on their door must have read, “Quiet, Genius at Work.” The result is a triumph. For a couple of hours playwright Simon Stephens opens a window for the audience to glimpse what probably goes on in the mind of the young man. Christopher. He has genius math skills and is tormented with a form of autism. His social skills are trapped in a constrictive labyrinth with minimal entry possible.

Christopher, brilliantly played by Adam Langdon, is a 15-year-old boy living alone with his father in Swindon, England. His only friend is his pet rat, Toby. He was told that his mother died a couple of years ago, and he relies substantially on his teacher/mentor Siobhan for emotional support. Gene Gillette is excellent as the father, helpless to have so much contact with his son as the touch of a hand. Gillette is a Colorado native — born in Evergreen, and growing up in Frankton. Maria Elena Ramirez is equally impressive as Siobhan, the tireless teacher. Teacher and father want nothing more than to help the bewildered and bewildering young man. Felicity Jones Latta skillfully portrays the boy’s mother who has fled her marriage and family, and now lives in London.

Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone (c)Joan Marcus

The set looks like it could be the inside of a computer. Initially, all anyone sees is a large golden retriever-size dog lying mid-stage with the pitchfork that killed him still emerging from the corpse. When the lights come up, an illusion is created that might be the inside of Christopher’s brain – seeing much more than the dead dog. The neighbor’s dog, Wellington, didn’t mean much to Christopher, but he is intrigued with its death and begins a project to find out who killed him.

Adam Langdon, Maria Elena Ramirez (c)Joan Marcus

There is no end to the amazement lying in Christopher’s brain. Video projections are a maze of their own, transporting the young genius into a never-ending explosion of facts, space, and especially numbers. Christopher is a math wizard. When he thinks of becoming an astronaut, the set goes sky bound, taking him with it for a few moments of incredible celestial beauty. The visual effects were created by a British company, Frantic Assembly.

When Christopher learns that his mother has not died, but is living in London, he sets out on a journey to find her. Although he has no experience of going anywhere, he has her address, and his father’s (stolen) bank card. This journey results in one of the most harrowing visual experiences afforded to an audience. His step-by-step autistic skills are put to the test, as he must find the train station, find out how to buy a ticket, how to find and board a train, and how to maneuver the chaos of The London Underground.

Adam Langdon is nothing short of amazing, as he is center stage for the entire performance, routed in his autistic and calculated routine, but held aloft by other members of the cast, being physically passed from group to group. His athletic abilities are in full effect, and he moves with the grace of an experienced ballet artist.

Gene Gillette, Adam Langdon (c)Joan Marcus

There is no dancing per se in the show, but the choreography is brilliant – every gesture and move calculated to reflect the bustle of every-day life and the inner turmoil of the autistic brain. Choreography is credited to Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.

The play is based on a novel by Mark Haddon. Playwright Simon Stephens modified the approach from the first-person narrative of the book to the stage production resulting in a play within a plan, mirroring the book Christopher is writing. The London success of the play has been record-breaking. It opened there in March of 2013. It is set to close June 3 of this year, after providing more than 1,600 performances. The play’s London run was hampered in December of 2013 when part of the Apollo Theatre’s roof collapsed, injuring nearly 80 people. The production re-opened several weeks later at the nearby Gielgud Theatre where its run has continued to this week.

Adam Langdon and company (c)Joan Marcus

The Broadway production opened in October of 2014 and ran for nearly two years. It won virtually every award possible including 7 Olivier Awards (in London), The Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award, and the 2015 Tony Award (all in New York). The UK National Theatre Production is on stage in Denver to June 18.

The son’s struggle for acceptance and survival is mirrored by the immense toll the mother and father face – as individuals, as a couple, and of the parents of a dear and talented son who is unable to accept the outward love offered to him. From the jolting loud noises of the first act, reflecting the extreme distress in Christopher’s mind, to his pleading with his teacher for a promise of success at the show’s end, “Curious Incident” is a marvel.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time”
Where: The Ellie (Ellie Caulkins Opera House Stage of Denver Center for the Performing Art).
When: Through June 18, 2017
Tickets: Prices start at $30 at denvercenter.org. This is the ONLY authorized ticket provider for this
production in Denver.
Online:  denvercenter.org

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Lone Tree Production of “Evita” is a Marvel of Sight and Sound

Lauren Shealy Soars as The High Flying, Adored “Evita”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, April 14, 2017

Eva Duarte had a miserable early life in Argentina. Poverty and parental abandonment hardened her, giving unrelenting resolve to do something with her life. By the time she was 15, as reflected in the classic musical, she had learned substantial street smarts, including manipulation of many lovers. She had some professional success as a radio personality and as a movie star.

Eva meets General Juan Peron at a local reception, and immediately discards her date, going off with Peron. Peron is no saint. He has been with a string of women since his divorce, and has become an important officer in the military. His military progression has been by careful stratagem, and by force. He is not daunted to have Eva go to his apartment, finding a mistress in his bed. Eva isn’t the least bit fazed. She matter-of-factly demands the woman leave the bed, get dressed, get packed, and get out. The surprised mistress provides one of the show’s early musical moments, sadly commenting on what might be next for her with “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

Photo Credit Danny Lam

Eva Duarte becomes” Evita” Peron; and the musical traces the next 18 years of her life. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music, with Tim Rice providing the lyrics. Webber had collaborated with Rice earlier, with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in 1968. They teamed up again in 1970 for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” In 1976 they created a rock album, “Evita,” which turned into a full production in London in 1978. That year it received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and transferred to Broadway the next year to become the first English musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Webber has subsequently worked with a variety of lyricists to provide a string of such acclaimed musicals as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Starlight Express,” “Aspects of Love,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and a slew of others. A movie version of “Evita” was released in 1996 starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.

Photo Credit Danny Lam

The “Evita” production at Lone Tree is a winner. Director Gina Rattan has done her homework on studying Eva’s life, bringing it vividly to the local stage. She has modified some aspects of the original show, now emphasizing Eva’s many early lovers. She takes care to show how the young woman’s vulnerability transferred to her becoming hard as steel, while enjoying the adoration of the Argentine populous.

At the beginning of Act Two Lauren Shealy’s “Eva” is on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. She is at the microphone, looking out over the cheering audience below, and begins with some humbleness to explain her role as wife of the country’s leader. As she moves more deeply into the song, her persona changes, and she displays an amazing self-confidence. The adoring fans appreciate her newfound brilliance, and regard her as their personal saint. This is the show’s triumphant, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Shealy’s rendition may just be the song’s definitive interpretation.

The population continues its adoration of the “Santa Evita” while she is busy emptying the country’s coffers, and publicly tossing money to a few from her bogus charity fund.

Photo Credit Danny Lam

Looking on in bemused cynicism, watching Eva’s rise to the top, is Miles Jacoby, as the protagonist narrator, Che. His role is reportedly based on the revolutionary Che Guevara. There is no evidence that Evita and Che ever met. Jacoby is a show-stopper on his own, with a strong presence and commanding voice. He is substantially taller than anyone else in the show, but has an uncanny ability to fade into the crowd to become just one of the masses, when he is not the center of attention.

The music remains as exciting as ever, and now includes Eva singing, “You Must Love Me.” This is one of the second act’s most touching moments, and was not part of the original score. It was written for the Madonna movie, and is a rewarding addition to the stage version

Jesse Sharp is good as Juan Peron, as is Seth Dhonau as Magaldi, a local musician who served his time as Eva’s lover. It is Lauren Shealy as Eva and Miles Jacoby as Che who star in the show. They are flawless.

Another character, not as effective, is in the form of two staircases. They are moved around with great fluidity, but eventually become more distracting than effective. The show is also hampered with so much movement of tables and chairs early in the production. These are minor diversions, however, as the total effect is sensational.

Lone Tree’s commitment to excellence is clearly displayed here. The music is difficult, requiring substantial vocal ranges. The staging, lighting, costumes, choreography are remarkable, with excellent results. Someone leaving the theatre following the performance I saw, noted to a companion, “I had no idea it would be that good!”

“Evita” is a history lesson while providing such memorable music as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “High Flying, Adored”, “You Must Love Me,” and the exquisite “Don’t cry for Me Argentina.”

“Evita”
Where: Lone Tree Arts Center
10075 Commons Street
Lone Tree, CO 80124
To: April 29, 2017
Online: www.lonetreeartscenter.org

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Wendy Ishii Is Mesmerizing As Middle-Aged Woman Looking Back On Her Life

Colorado Playwright Eric Prince Wrote “Blue Kitchen” To Celebrate Bas Bleu’s 25th Anniversary

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 8, 2017

Ava was born in Ireland. Now living in Colorado, she looks back with joy and sadness on her life. As portrayed by Wendy Ishii in “Blue Kitchen,” Ava is now in her middle years, and she is in emotional torment. Ishii is a marvel as Ava– joyful and happy one moment, facing tearful despair the next. And losing touch with reality.

Wendy Ishii in Bas Bleu Theatre Company’s production of “Blue Kitchen”. William A. Cotton Photography

The role was created specifically for her by longtime friend Eric Prince who also directs the production. Ishii and Prince first met in 1996 at the International Beckett Festival in Victoria, Canada. Their mutual attraction for works of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett has created their longtime friendship. Prince is now a Colorado State University professor whose doctoral thesis for the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, was “The Stagecraft of Samuel Beckett.” He has written extensively on the Irish writer and has directed many of his plays. Continue reading Wendy Ishii Is Mesmerizing As Middle-Aged Woman Looking Back On Her Life

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Confident Cowboy Can’t Rope the Chanteuse of his Dreams

Sean Scrutchins and Emily Van Fleet Shine as Bo and Cherie in William Inge Classic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 25, 2017

Bo Decker is an extremely confident young rancher from Montana. He inherited the family ranch when his parents died, and has created a very successful operation. He is a naïve cowboy at heart, and his exterior bravado might be hiding a more pleasant interior. He remains on the rodeo circuit, and has completed a trip to Kansas City where his skills have earned him substantial awards and glory. That week, while not rodeo roping, he went to a local nightclub and saw the “doe of his dreams,” a worldly chanteuse, “Cherie.”
Continue reading Confident Cowboy Can’t Rope the Chanteuse of his Dreams

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Pulitzer Prize Winner “August: Osage County” triumphs at OpenStage

Denise Freestone is Flawless as Heavily-Flawed, Pill-Popping Family Matriarch

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 19, 2017

The sustained applause at the conclusion of “August: Osage County” was an unusual display of approval. The opening night audience had been in their seats for more than three hours, but was in no hurry to leave the theatre, as the cheering, standing ovation was endless. The play is one of the most interesting productions performed in northern Colorado in recent memory.

Denise Burson Freestone as Violet Weston in OpenStage Theatre’s production of August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone, Founders of OpenStage, took substantial risk in bringing the award-winning play to Colorado. Looking at a family in turmoil is not a particularly pleasant subject. The cast is large. The set is large. The play’s duration is long. The language is foul. And the show is a winner.

Bruce portrays Beverly Weston, a poet whose fame reached its pinnacle many years earlier. He is now an alcoholic, unhappy with life. Denise plays his wife, Violet, who is suffering from oral cancer and is trapped in her own world of pills and cigarettes. They live separate lives under the same roof of their home in Osage County, Oklahoma, not far from Tulsa. The father’s alcoholism and the mother’s addictions have driven two of their three daughters to move far away, leaving only a lonely unmarried daughter nearby.
Continue reading Pulitzer Prize Winner “August: Osage County” triumphs at OpenStage

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“That Championship Season” looks back on a winning team 25 years later – men whose lives are stuck in memories of past glory.

Marlin May and Jim Valone provide gut-wrenching performances in Bas Bleu production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones February 10, 2017

The fictional local Catholic high school basketball team in Scranton, Pennsylvania, won the State Championship 1952. Twenty-five years later four of the team starters gather at the coach’s home to pay him their respects and to relive memories of their long-ago success. Time hasn’t been good to them. Their coach appears to be dying. One of the players is an alcoholic drifter. His brother is a junior high school principal who has helped others throughout his life, and now wants to do something “important,” but has no support. Another is the town mayor desperate to keep his political power. The wealthy player remains wealthy, but has apparently had a romantic dalliance with another player’s wife. The town’s economy is in shambles Political intrigue is rampant. Egos are out of control. Power is the goal. Winning is everything. This is not a group that you would to invite into your home for a quiet evening of pleasant chatter. It is hard to imagine that 25 years earlier the men were a cohesive unit – claiming a last-minute victory from the jaws of defeat.
Continue reading “That Championship Season” looks back on a winning team 25 years later – men whose lives are stuck in memories of past glory.

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OpenStage’s “Bright Ideas” is dark comedy of a couple’s desire to place their three-year-old son in the “best” pre-school.

Jessica Emerling Crow spirals into madness in her desire to climb the social ladder.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 14, 2017

Shakespeare used three witches in “Macbeth” to chant “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” as they stirred poison in their boiling cauldron in a dark cave. Later they had a difficult time with “out damn spot” trying to remove emotional and physical evidence of their potion. Genevra Bradley, excellently portrayed by Jessica Emerling Crow, in “Bright Ideas” uses her Cuisinart to mix up a potion in her kitchen that will hopefully provide the desired poisonous result – pesto sauce. Genevra is the three witches rolled up into one unfortunate housewife, desperately trying to get ahead.
Continue reading OpenStage’s “Bright Ideas” is dark comedy of a couple’s desire to place their three-year-old son in the “best” pre-school.

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Deb Note-Farwell Amazes as Maria Callas

put-master-class-logoPopUp Theatre’s “Master Class” is in a class by itself!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 22, 2016

Deb Note-Farwell has long-been one of Colorado’s most talented performers. This season she has outdone herself. She not only plays a role, but becomes opera diva Maria Callas on a tiny Fort Collins stage. The actress has completely moved her own persona out of the way in the performance of a lifetime.
Continue reading Deb Note-Farwell Amazes as Maria Callas

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“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” highlights “Evita” at Candlelight

evita-square-logo-final-web-231x230Andrew Lloyd Webber’s excellent music is a reason to see this sobering tale of political intrigue

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 7, 2016

Among Broadway’s most memorable moments is one from “Evita” when Eva Peron, immaculately clad and coiffed, appears before the microphones on the balcony of The Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her dramatic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” is a plea for the masses to stick with her – claiming that everything she has done is “for the people.”
Continue reading “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” highlights “Evita” at Candlelight

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“Phantom of The Opera” returns to haunt Buell Theatre audiences

Phantom LogoDenver welcomes an opulent “Phantom” for 25th Anniversary.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 28, 2016

Seven years have passed since the last “Phantom” haunted the stages of Denver’s Buell Theatre! And 25 years have passed since Denver audiences first saw the amazing show! The mind-controlling Phantom is back in a glorious production, now through September 11.
Continue reading “Phantom of The Opera” returns to haunt Buell Theatre audiences

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Creede Repertory Theatre Continues to Amaze Audiences

“Kind of Red” and “The History Room” Provide Super Diversity To Theatre-Goers

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 9, 2016

Tiny Creede, Colorado, (year-round population of less than 400) continues to make theatre history by being home to the terrific Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT). This summer the highly respected company basically has seven different shows running, including the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Noel Coward’s classic comedy, “Private Lives,” and the improv “Boomtown.” My wife and I were able to see two productions this summer, coming away delighted with each — “Kind of Red” and “The History Room.” Both were world premieres this summer, and both received acclaim a year ago when the company was looking at not-yet-produced shows at the Annual Headwaters New Play Festival.
Continue reading Creede Repertory Theatre Continues to Amaze Audiences

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Utah Shakespeare Festival Wows Audiences

UT Shakespeare FestivalVariety of performances offers something for everyone in Southern Utah

My wife and I had not been to Cedar City for twelve years! We were impressed at the quality of plays during that long-ago visit. We were concerned then to learn that a massive project was underway by the Utah Shakespeare Festival to upgrade the facilities to the tune of several million dollars. We did not believe the goal could be reached. Woe be unto us. Twelve years later — the project IS completed! And excellently so! The Utah Shakespeare Festival itself is a mini (or maxi) miracle. The facilities are first rate. The performances are first rate. The whole project appears to work like clockwork, with visitors coming from throughout the nation and abroad. We were amazed at what we found this year on the campus of Southern Utah University.
Continue reading Utah Shakespeare Festival Wows Audiences

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“Good People” at Bas Bleu is close inspection of role of luck in life’s game.

Good-People-BB

Bas Bleu Drama Looks at Difficulty in Rising Above Inherent Social Implications

Reviewed by Tom Jones, May 29, 2016

Wendy Fulton-Adams is excellent as Margie, a down-on-her-luck cashier in a Dollar Store who is laid off from her job in South Boston. She is not particularly likeable, and gives the impression that she has done nothing wrong, except for constant tardiness. She argues with her employer, unsuccessfully pleading with him to let her keep her job. Her two adult friends, Dottie and Jean, commiserate with her, going so far as to say that Margie is such a “good person,” and should not be treated so harshly at work. Miriam Chase and Jeanne Nott are convincing as the two foul-mouthed “Southie” friends. While wanting to say how “good” Margie is, they are not willing to admit that the cause of her dismissal has a lot to do with them. Margie doesn’t have much going for her. She is a single mother, raising a handicapped daughter who was born shortly after Margie finished high school. Her husband subsequently left her.
Continue reading “Good People” at Bas Bleu is close inspection of role of luck in life’s game.

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“Death Takes a Holiday” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

PrintRegional Premier of Maury Yeston Musical Greeted with Great Enthusiasm and Awe

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 27, 2016

The standing ovation at the show’s conclusion wasn’t enough. It was as if the audience was in reverent awe of what they had seen, and wanted to do more than merely stand and applaud. They were supporting not only the amazing cast, but supporting the director, the orchestra, the show’s authors. And maybe even delighted that “Death” had passed them by, so they could continue with the excitement of their own lives.
Continue reading “Death Takes a Holiday” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

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“The North Plan” is a wild and thought-provoking tale of civil unrest and martial law possibilities.

North_Plan_logoRebecca Spafford is riveting as a not-so-dumb woman living on the fringes of society

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 6, 2016

Tanya Shepke is a character to be reckoned with. She is a sassy gum-chewing barmaid in rural Missouri who ends up at the police station – turning herself in before she can be arrested for drunk driving. She is a wild woman, who is amazingly street savvy. Her education is minimal, as she talks as if she might have learned her “basic ABCs,” but needs to include “f bombs” in every sentence. Rebecca Spafford is a wonder as the wild woman who claims, among other things, that her husband tried to drown her in the bathtub.
Continue reading “The North Plan” is a wild and thought-provoking tale of civil unrest and martial law possibilities.

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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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“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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“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 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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“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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“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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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.
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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.
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The Great Goddess Bazaar at Bas Bleu!

bazaar_posterReviewed by Tom Jones, September 6, 2014

Tammy L. Meneghini Becomes Nine Different Women in “The Great Goddess Bazaar” at Fort Collins’ Bas Bleu!

Don’t let the title throw you off! “The Great Goddess Bazaar” is actually a mesmerizing one-woman show where Boulder actress Tammy L. Meneghini virtually inhabits the persona of nine different woman – just by changing shoes!
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