Category Archives: Musical

A Twist On The Cinderella Story Offered At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Annie Dwyer Provides Magic As Warm & Chatty Fairy Godmother

Reviewed by Tom Jones

June 17, 2017

Director Don Berlin has assembled an extremely experienced cast now performing on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown. It is a “Who’s Who” of top talent in Northern Colorado. Matt LaFontaine wooed and wowed audiences with a string of outstanding performances in recent months. In the Arvada Center, he was Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” At Candlelight, he was Che in “Evita,” and the Baker in “Into the Woods.” He is Cinderella’s Prince Charming this time, but doesn’t come into his own as the desirable man of Cinderella’s dreams until late in the show with his “I Can’t Forget the Melody.”

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

Sarah Grover is Cinderella, coming from a variety of acclaimed performances such as the spunky Little Red Riding Hood in “Into the Woods” at Candlelight. Cinderella in this version of the tale is more downtrodden than ever. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, however, her raggedy dress magically changes into an illuminated blue gown to wear to the ball.

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

Tom Mullin is the king. He’s been on Colorado stages for 44 years, and is a daffy delight as the befuddled ruler of the kingdom. Scotty Shaffer and Kent Sugg, David L. Wygant, and Broc Timmerman are back! Shaffer as the over-the-top Montague in the King’s Court, and Kent Sugg bewigged as the King’s mother tottering around in high heels. Timmerman and Wygant are not featured predominately, but are familiar faces and talents.

Ethan Knowles is effective as the prince’s friend, John, and Samantha Jo Staggs plays the long-suffering wife of the king. Melissa Morris makes quick costume changes to be Lady Caroline and other women in the ensemble.

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

One of the newcomers to the stage is Furby, an amazingly-trained dog, accompanying Annie Dwyer’s “Fairy Godmother.” Dwyer is very good, and has the good sense to let the dog occasionally steal her spotlight. The magic she weaves and Furby who obeys her every command provide great fun, especially to the many young people in the audience. Whenever she appears, some sort of magic is just around the corner. Visual effects are great, as the Fairy Godmother can prepare a full meal in the “twinkling” of an eye and can transform tacky dresses into beautiful gowns for the dreadful stepsisters.

The basic story is so familiar that I felt I was seeing stereotypes of characters I’ve known for generations. Heather McClain portrays the awful stepmother and with Katie Jackson and Rebekah Ortiz as the equally-dreadful daughters. All are talented performers but were unfortunately shrill and annoying as they tormented the hapless orphan, Cinderella.

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

The set, not to be outdone by the experience of the performers, becomes a character on its own. Casey Kearns is credited as scenic designer, with Joel Adam Chavez as scenic artist. The look is very impressive, as are the costumes designed by Debbie Faber, and the lighting by Emily Maddox. Sound by Mark Derryberry is excellent as is the music, under direction of Nicholas Gilmore. Stephen Bertles provides the choreography, including an especially charming ball at the conclusion of Act l.

The movie version of this Cinderella story was released as a British musical in 1976. Songs were provided by the Sherman Brothers – Richard and Robert — who also wrote the scores for “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” The Jungle Book,” and others. When England’s Queen Mother saw the Royal Command Performance of the movie musical in 1976, she noted to the songwriters, “The waltz you wrote for the ballroom scene is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.” There is a super sequence in the second act of the current production when the prince, his friend John, and palace servants compare everyone’s role in life, “Position and Positioning.” While the audience doesn’t leave the theatre humming the score, the music has an enchantment of its own.

The stage version was created in 1984 in England. It premiered in the USA in 2004 at the Hale Center Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah, but has not been produced frequently in the United States. Acclaimed Candlelight Director Don Berlin is respected for his work on a wide variety of productions, with a special interest in bringing little-known musicals to local theatre audiences.

This Cinderella version was created 40 years ago. As in other older musicals, this show sometimes becomes bogged down in dialogue — no fault of this very good production but of the play itself.

The total effect is a pleasant theatre experience. The show looks and sounds terrific. The experienced cast works hard. The mood swings from being a crazy comic opera in the befuddled kingdom, to the sad tale of Cinderella, to the hope that she and her Prince Charming will ultimately get together — all under the magical spell of the chatty Godmother with her mystical wand.

“Cinderella – the Slipper and the Rose”
Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To:  August 27, 2017
For Tickets:  Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online:  ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is highly charged delight on stage in Boulder

BDT Stage

Joseph, Jack Barton, shows off his many-colored finery while his eleven brothers plot to get even.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 7, 2017

Jack Barton is in great form as Joseph when he flaunts the notion that he is the “favorite” son. He has a delightfully naïve superiority when he shows off the coat his dad (Jacob) has given him. He just can’t help himself when he struts around the stage noting, “I look handsome. I look smart. I am a walking work of art – in my coat of many colors.” The audience is joyfully ecstatic. His brothers on stage want to kill him. This is Joseph from the Bible’s book of Genesis. He and his brothers are terrific this spring in the Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

This has long been one of my favorite musicals. Upon arriving at the theatre in Boulder this week, however, I was dismayed to see the artwork for the show – not a bright colored coat from biblical times, but a poster of a Michael Jackson wannabe, complete with a white hat and glove. The basic story wonderful, and I was worried that this “fresh look” wouldn’t wear well with me. Once the show began, however, I tossed my concerns aside, and enjoyed one of the most delightful evenings this year. The “new look” at Joseph is great fun. It is a high energy show, highlighted with amazing choreography, generally not so prominent in other productions.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice brought this tale to the stage in 1968 as a 25-minute pop cantata in a London school. The show expanded to become a concert album in 1969, and opened in London’s West End in 1973. It was modified and performed in a variety of locations before arriving on Broadway in 1982. A version starring Donny Osmond was filmed in 1999, with the DVD becoming very popular.

Joseph and his famous coat have become one of the greatest hits of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaborations. They went on to create “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Evita.” Webber continued providing music, working with different lyricists, to give audiences a continual string of mega-successes: “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Starlight Express,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Aspects of Love” and on and on and on.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

“Joseph” in Boulder is wondrously portrayed by Jack Barton. He is a handsome young man with a remarkable voice, and with an awe-shucks appeal to the audience, while his brothers rage against him. They dislike him so intensely that they toss him into a pit, and finally sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites heading for Egypt. Tracy Warren is equally excellent as the show’s narrator. She was a memorable “Mary Poppins” a few shows ago, and has great charm and a powerful voice.

The music provides a variety of styles. There is a crazed “One More Angel in Heaven” country western provided by Brian Burron as one of the brothers, dishonestly claiming how much sorrow the brothers feel when Joseph disappears. There is the French ballad “Those Canaan Days” later in the show when the starving brothers think of past wealth, and are amazed at how well life seems to be in prosperous Egypt. There is the Elvis Presley take with black-wigged, hip-grinding Scott Severtson as the Pharaoh singing “Song of the King.” “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” looks like at a disco hit of the 50s – a roaring finale to First Act. Near the show’s end there is “Benjamin’s Calypso” when the brothers are in Egypt, humbled and pleading for help.

The rest of the music is disarmingly memorable, including “Any Dream Will Do.” (While I continue to be enchanted by this song, I have no idea what it means.)

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

The fresh look at the story is credited to director Matthew D. Peters and choreographer Alicia K. Meyers. They pay homage to Michael Jackson throughout. No mention is made of him, but the choreography is straight from Jackson “moonwalking” days, and the costuming is complete with the signature Jackson white hat and glove.

The supporting cast is flawless. Wayne Kennedy is a hoot as Potiphar, putting up with the antics of Mrs. Potiphar, played by Alicia K. Meyers. Scott Severtson is black-wigged to come across as the Elvis Presley Pharaoh. The eleven other brothers are unanimously super dancers and singers. The total music presentation, choreography and vocals, is brilliant. The cast includes many young persons who appear as “audience” initially to the narrator, then come back frequently, adding to the vocal delight of the production

The finale is complete with the high energy review of the major songs – an ending that has become standard with most productions of the show

Costuming, sets, and orchestra are extremely good. What is missing? Not much. Some of the show’s basic humanity has been lost by the sheer energy portrayed. Some of the lyrics are not as clearly understood as desired. The total effect, however, is dazzling. Yes, Joseph is handsome. He does look smart. He is a walking work of art — wearing his amazing coat of many colors. “It was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and …… “

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Where: Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage,
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO 80303-1391
When: To August 19, 2017
Information: Box Office: 303/449-6000,
Online: www.bdtstage.com

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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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Popular Movie “Sister Act” Transfers With Great Enthusiasm To Stage At Midtown Arts Center

Marissa Rudd Is Sensational As Deloris, Becoming A Nun Against Her Will.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 8, 2017

Shakespeare’s Hamlet (the famous Dane) warned his love, Ophelia, to “get thee to a nunnery” to ward off his advances. In “Sister Act” a wanna-be nightclub performer is whisked off to a convent for her own protection after she sees her gangster boyfriend shoot a man.

Marissa Rudd is a wow as the talented singer, Deloris, whose boss boyfriend claims she is not yet ready for the big time. In disgust, she leaves the club, being in the wrong place at the wrong time to witness a murder.

Photography Credit: Dyann Diercks Photography

With the gangster and his mob-of-three on the trail, police hide Deloris in a local convent. The Mother Superior wants nothing to do with the idea, but is advised she must assist. Deloris’ background included several years in a parochial, followed by some street-smart adventures. She is no happier pretending to be a nun than the Mother Superior is in hiding her. The nuns in the convent are confused by the sudden arrival who doesn’t appear to truly be one of the sisterhood. Continue reading Popular Movie “Sister Act” Transfers With Great Enthusiasm To Stage At Midtown Arts Center

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Direct your dancing feet toward “42nd Street” at Candlelight

Lisa Carter Shines as Broadway Ingenue Peggy Sawyer

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 24, 2017

Peggy Sawyer arrives in New York City by train from her home in Allentown. Allentown, PA. She has great naivete, and immense talent, ready to show New York what Pennsylvania can produce. Within a few minutes, Lisa Kay Carter has made the audience realize what a talent they are seeing. As Peggy Sawyer, Carter shows that she can sing. That she can dance. When does she have time to breathe?

“42nd Street” is the proverbial musical about New York City’s favorite area – Broadway and 42nd Street. Talents from throughout the world arrive by bus and train each day, hoping to make their mark as performers. Few of them realize their dreams. But those that do are immortalized by delightful productions like this one, on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Courtesy of Rachel Graham Photography

Director Pat Payne has a substantial record of directing successful shows, including “Hello Dolly,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Hairspray.” He continues his run of hits with “42nd Street.” There is every cliché in the showbiz vocabulary: The Broadway ingenue, the ageing diva who everyone loves to hate, the young male dancer and singer who befriends the ingenue, the producer and director who want a hit irrespective of what a toll it may take to create such, the show that is doomed to close before opening unless the right star can be found. And the show’s incredible opening night when everything works to perfection and the audience goes home happy.

Courtesy of Rachel Graham Photography

In the meantime, we are enchanted with non-stop singing and dancing. Tap dancing rules the evening – with every step heading in the direction of 42nd Street. Choreography under care of Kate Vallee, is particularly effective. She has been worked with seven different productions of the show, and her excellence as a choreographer is manifest. She has expert help with the bevy of dancers to provide enormous fun with “Dames,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” and an especially interesting “42nd Street Ballet” late in the second act.

Set is not particularly interesting until everyone ends up at the Broad Street Station. Lack of scenery is made up for, however, with sensational costuming. Sound and lighting are good, as is the orchestra, under direction of Nicholas Gilmore.” Choral work is also memorable.

While Lisa Kay Carter as Peggy Sawyer is the show’s star, excellent support is provided by Parker Redford as Billy, David L. Wygant as Julian Marsh, Samantha Joe Staggs as Maggie, Kent Sugg as Abner, and Heather McClain as Dorothy Brock. McClain has a challenging task. She is cast as a comic cliché of the traditional stage prima donna. Her talents are substantial, but she is so likeable that it is difficult to become angry with her character as the over-the-hill diva.

“42nd Street” was produced by David Merrick and opened in New York City in 1980. It became an immediate showbiz legend of its own. Choreography was by Gower Champion who had become incredibly successful with ‘Hello Dolly” and other shows. He was ill the last week of rehearsals and died the afternoon before “42nd Street” opened. Following a standing ovation by the opening night audience, Merrick came on stage to tearfully announce that Champion had died that afternoon. Merrick not told the cast before the show, even withholding the news from Champion’s girlfriend Wanda Richert who played Peggy Sawyer. The show went on to receive numerous awards and ran for several years in New York City, and worldwide.

The story is based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, and had been made into a 1933 movie, before showing up as Broadway hit about a Broadway hit in 1980.

The opening night audience in Johnstown was slow to warm up to the production. By show’s end, however, it was as if they could relax, enjoy super talent, and hear familiar music. They ultimately found boundless joy in the delightful Broadway fable.

“42nd Street”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: June 4, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online:www.ColoradoCandlelight.comhttp://www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Jesus Christ Superstar” Leaves Audience Breathless at Arvada Center

Familiar Show Has Never Sounded or Looked Better!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 25, 2017

From the moment the audience sees the incredible set, until the story concludes, there is a reverent awe with the never-better production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Director Rod A. Lansberry has outdone himself with this brilliant show.

Ensemble and Jesus of Nazareth (Billy Lewis Jr.)
P. Switzer Photography 2017

Release of a single song, “Superstar,” in 1969 encouraged composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice to expand their work to a 1970 rock concert concept album which had an immediate following. The album ultimately resulted in a full-scale production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” opening on Broadway in October of 1971. The original Broadway show and subsequent productions met with enormous fan support, but were rejected by some religious groups. I saw the original New York production and was alarmed. My memory of that introduction is hazy, with my recalling that it was primarily “loud screeching.” What must I have been seeing? A few years ago, composer Webber appeared to agree with me noting that the original New York production was “a vulgar travesty” and opening night was “probably the worst night of my life.” Continue reading “Jesus Christ Superstar” Leaves Audience Breathless at Arvada Center

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An American in Paris Is Right at Home in Denver

Flawless Ballet Performances Reign In Gershwin Musical Masterpiece
Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 10, 2017

When Mary Poppins arrives on stage, she is helped with wires holding her up. Dancers in “An American in Paris” need no wires, as sheer grace and athleticism have them literally flying through the air. Garen Scribner as Jerry Mulligan and Sara Esty as Lise Dassin are both incredible in the brilliant production now on stage at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Lots of adjectives are in order, as this performance is a must-see. Now known as “An American in Paris – a New Musical.”

Loosely based on the 1951 film, the stage version opened in New York in 2015 with tremendous reviews. It went on to win four Tony Awards including those for choreography, lighting, orchestrations, and scenic design. This is George and Ira Gershwin’s love letter to Paris. The movie starred Gene Kelly as the American serviceman who decides to remain in Paris following World War II. He meets and falls in love with a young French girl, Lise. Garen Scribner takes the role of Jerry in the touring company production, with Sara Esty as Lise. They are wonderful to watch and wonderful to hear.
Continue reading An American in Paris Is Right at Home in Denver

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“Million Dollar Quartet” – Incredible Music Based on Actual Event

Big Talent = Big Bucks as Presley, Cash, Lewis, and Perkins Get Together for Jam at Midtown Arts

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 27, 2017

On December 4, 1956, some already-famous entertainers get together for an evening of conversation and a chance to record some music in the Sun Records studio in Memphis Tennessee. Headliners Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash were all put on the road to fame by producer Sam Phillips. They turn up at the studio to exchange pleasantries – hesitant to talk about the future, as some may have already made plans to leave Sun Records. New on the scene is an off-the-wall talent wild man by the name of Jerry Lee Lewis. Phillips sees his potential. The others aren’t quite so sure. Continue reading “Million Dollar Quartet” – Incredible Music Based on Actual Event

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“Forbidden Broadway” is Great Fun for Theatre Audiences of All Ages

Midtown Arts Center dishes up highlights of well-known shows.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 22, 1017

Broadway show fans will be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining venue than “Forbidden Broadway,” as presented by Midtown Arts through March 18. Local performers take on personas of the famous and not-so famous entertainers from the New York stages. Jalyn Courtenay Webb becomes Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly.” Scotty Shaffer is a wow portraying a tall feline from “Cats.” Lisa Kay Carter is a crazed over-the hill “Annie” longing for another role. Rob Riney is spot-on with his announcement that “This Is the Song That Goes Like This”” from “Spamalot.” Paul Falk keeps everyone on pace with his excellent piano accompaniment.

Scotty Shafffer, Photo Courtesy Jalyn Webb

Continue reading “Forbidden Broadway” is Great Fun for Theatre Audiences of All Ages

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“Forever Plaid” is forever fun!

Candlelight Brings Memory-Laden Music of Bygone Days

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 20, 2017

How long has it been since you heard a song on the radio that you could sing-along with, or saw a show that was full of long-ago memories? Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is offering a trip down memory lane this winter with the forever-popular “Forever Plaid. Remember when Johnnie Ray instructed us to “Cry,” or when Perry Como” suggested we “Catch a Falling Star,” when we were told to throw “Three Coins in a Fountain,” or when we watched the craziness on The Ed Sullivan TV Show? Continue reading “Forever Plaid” is forever fun!

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Remarkable Cast Brings Great Holiday Joy to Fort Collins

“A Christmas Story – the Musical” is Delightful Tale of a Youth Longing for a Red Ryder BB Gun.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 9, 2016

The beguiling charm of “A Christmas Story – The Musical” does not wait to enchant, little-by- little. The magic is there from the moment the author, Jean Shepherd, begins his story of growing up in the 1940s. Daniel Harkins is terrific as Jean Shepherd, narrating the semi-fictitious tale of himself – the young “Ralphie” of the play.
Continue reading Remarkable Cast Brings Great Holiday Joy to Fort Collins

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“A Wonderful Life” onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

A Wonderful Life Logo Final1940s Family Fare Film Classic turns up as Holiday musical in Johnstown

Review by Tom Jones
November 30, 2016

The year is 1928. George Bailey is a bright young man on the threshold of making his mark on mankind. He has been raised in a loving family. His kind father owns a savings and loan company, and has taught George what is right and wrong, what is good and what is evil, and how to treat everyone with respect and kindness. George has finished high school and is set to go to Europe to begin life’s experiences away from his home in Bedford Falls. He plans to enter college upon his return from Europe. Then a lifetime of “skids” begins.
Continue reading “A Wonderful Life” onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

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Millie Goes Thoroughly Modern in New York City

thoroughly-modern-millie-mainstage-page-newSeles VanHuss shines in 1920s musical at Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 27, 2016

Millie Dillmount, delightfully played by Seles VanHuss, is the traditional mid-western young woman who arrives in New York City without fear, and with aspirations of a great change in her life. Some girls travel to the Big Apple to make it big in show business. Millie’s plans are much more defined. She wants to marry a rich man.
Continue reading Millie Goes Thoroughly Modern in New York City

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Arvada Center Provides World Premiere of Christmas Season Musical

home-logoTalented cast and excellent choreography highlight “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 19, 2016

Based on the assumption that “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” a creative team has been working for nearly a year to bring “I’ll be Home for Christmas” to the stage at Arvada Center. This is the first time the Center has provided a world premiere of an original production. Book is by Kenn McLaughlin, with lyrics and original music by David Nehls. Some of the music includes familiar Christmas tunes – arranged to provide opportunity for excellent dancing. Gavin Mayer directed the show with Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck providing the choreography.
Continue reading Arvada Center Provides World Premiere of Christmas Season Musical

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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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“The Blue Flower “is Fascinating Display of Unusual Theatre, with Super Music

blue-flower-graphicFour characters at Bas Bleu face challenges of existence in and after two world wars.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 9, 2016

Four characters are at loose ends before, during, and after world wars in Europe in Bas Bleu’s challenging, and fascinating tale – with wonderful music. Caution is involved, as experienced theatre-goers may be over-the-top excited. Persons coming in off the street may wonder what in the world they are seeing. I was somewhere between the two with The Blue Flower.
Continue reading “The Blue Flower “is Fascinating Display of Unusual Theatre, with Super Music

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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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“Sister Act” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

sister-act-logoThose nuns and a “novice” make rock and roll habit-forming!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 10, 2016

Getting into the “habit” can be risky business. Staying there has difficulties of its own! Many nuns in this show face a variety of challenges. One possible new addition, Deloris Van Cartier, has a specific concern — being “chased” (by the mob). Deloris is a flashy vocalist longing to become a pop star. Her boyfriend/manager is a mob boss, Curtis Jackson, who is watching her perform in a Philadelphia nightclub. Deloris is a glamorous woman with a huge voice, but the evening doesn’t go well. Curtis advises Deloris that she is just not yet ready for the big time.
Continue reading “Sister Act” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

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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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“Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

WizardofOz-SMALLMunchkins are a Marvel as “Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 12, 2016

The Wizard of Oz” has been around forever. In 1900 L. Frank Baum wrote the American children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which turned up as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie musical in 1939 and immortalized Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film shows up regularly on television; and many in the current audience grew up knowing that Dorothy was swept away in a tornado – or just a bad dream, after her beloved dog, Toto, was taken by a mean-spirited neighbor. The movie begins in black and white, turning to dazzling Technicolor when Dorothy arrives in Oz.
Continue reading “Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

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Colleen Johnson Shines as “Practically Perfect” Mary Poppins

MaryPoppins“Mary Poppins” is great charmer at Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones, June 20, 2016

Colleen Johnson is a wonder. From the moment she arrives on stage, umbrella on her arm, shoes pointing outward from the heels, she is completely in charge. I first became enchanted by Johnson when she dashed from the MAC stage through an exterior exit as the frenzied Fiona in “Shrek.” This time around she arrives at the Banks household on London’s Cherry Tree Lane after the recent Nanny has departed in great haste. She immediately announces that she is “Practically Perfect in every way!” And we believe her. She has great (pointed) shoes to fill. Julie Andrews received the Academy Award as Best Actress for the 1964 movie – which has become one of the most-loved movies of all time.
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Sondheim Musical Triumph “Into The Woods” at Candlelight

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

What Happens When Fairy Tales Don’t End “Happily Ever After”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, May 21, 2016

(Note: “Into the Woods” and I are like old friends – getting together after nearly 30 years of friendship, but not seeing each other all that often in the interim. I first found “Woods” on New York’s Broadway in 1987 when it was in previews just prior to its opening. Saw it again a few weeks later when it had become a full-fledged hit. We have visited again a few times over the years – listening to the CD, seeing the taped DVD of the Broadway show. Sometimes it was as delightful and friendly as ever, sometimes –as is the case with the movie version – it had become kind of dreary. So I was a little apprehensive before catching up with my musical friend at the Candlelight this week. I should not have worried, it was as fun — and as serious — as I remember from the first time we met.)
Continue reading Sondheim Musical Triumph “Into The Woods” at Candlelight

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Debby Boone continues to “light up lives!”

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Photo credit Garland Photography

Debby Boone is starring in “Into the Woods” this Spring at The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Interviewed by Tom Jones, April 28, 2016

Debby Boone found fame as a young singer in 1977 with “You Light Up My Life.” The song spent ten weeks as No.1 on Billboard charts that year, and she received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist the following year. While she hasn’t been in such great limelight in past years, she has continued to “light up lives” wherever she goes. She is an accomplished performer, writer, wife, mother, and even a grandmother. Her first granddaughter is not yet a year old, and a sibling is expected in the next few months. While in Colorado, she is staying part of the time with her younger sister, Laury, in Fort Collins.
Continue reading Debby Boone continues to “light up lives!”

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Candlelight Provides an Enchanted Evening of “South Pacific “

SouthPacific-SMALLBussy Gower is the “Cockeyed Optimist” Nellie Forbush in Revival of World Famous Musical

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 19, 2016

Bussy Gower is delightfully introduced as “A Cockeyed Optimist” early in the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse production of “South Pacific.” Gower portrays Nellie Forbush, a self-proclaimed hick from rural Arkansas. She is serving as an American nurse on a tiny Pacific Island during World War II, and is naively amazed with how different life can be from one part of the planet to another.
Continue reading Candlelight Provides an Enchanted Evening of “South Pacific “

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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.”
Continue reading A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder Wows Buell Theatre Audiences

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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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“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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“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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“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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“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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“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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“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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“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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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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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

7Brides

Reviewed by Tom Jones

“Terrific Dancing Lights up Candlelight Stage with “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Before the show began I asked Jordan Centeno, an accomplished dancer who plays Brother Daniel, about the show’s dancing.  His comment, “It is ‘heavy duty’ dancing!”

He was spot-on, as the dancing is nothing short of terrific! It was the dancing that caught the audience’s interest in the original movie musical in 1954, especially the barn-raising scene at the county social. The movie, starring Howard Keel and Jane Powell was honored a few years ago by the American Film Institute as one of the best American musical films ever made. This time around Choreographer Stephen Bertles and Dance Captain Tracey Zimmerman-Dennig have created exuberant dances, showcasing the incredible talents of a seasoned cast!
Continue reading Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

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