Category Archives: Review

“Elephant’s Graveyard’ Is Based On Actual Events Of 100 Years Ago

A small Tennessee town is witness to the tragic demise of a circus elephant.

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
September 9, 2017

“The circus is coming town” was usually the shout meaning an exciting event was about to make small-town life more interesting. Especially to a muddy Tennessee town whose main claim to fame was that they had a railroad station, where a trainload of circus performers and animals could stop for a day or two to provide entertainment from the outside world.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” August 30, 2017.

Such was the case in 1916 when a struggling circus arrived in Erwin, Tennessee. The circus prided itself on owning a few elephants, including the enormous “Mary” that lead the team in the parade and under the big top at every performance. Upon arrival in Erwin, however, a newcomer to the circus crew requested that he be “in charge” of Mary, not realizing that experience in elephant training was a basic requirement. This resulted in the death of the naïve animal trainer, and ultimately of the elephant itself – reportedly the only elephant to be ever lynched.

The play is a staggeringly interesting mix of the excitement of the circus arrival, the subsequent tragic events, and the resulting conflict of reactions of the local populous. This is a haunting tale, and the cast on the dirt-laden stage of the Bas Bleu Theatre is up to the task of providing 75 minutes of non-stop interest. There is no intermission, as various townspeople and circus performers relate what they believe transpired. The mood is amazing, with the feeling of being inside a circus tent, watching the performances of humans playing out their reaction to the tragedy.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” August 30, 2017.

There is more going on than the tragic tale told. The author is dealing with the “elephant” in each of our closets – how bigoted we are, how unwilling to overcome racial discrimination. Our lust for blood payment. Although not mentioned in the play, there was a situation in tiny Erwin, Tennessee two years after the elephant was lynched – the lynching of a black person. The “circus” in the play is used as a tool to show how insular we can become – whether it be to our “fellow performers” or our neighbors in insular situations.

The story begins with the Ring Master looking back (from the circus ring) as to what has happened. The show ends with him sitting in the circus ring on an upside-down pail, discussing what he thinks he has seen, and whether it has or has not changed him.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” August 30, 2017.

The 14-member cast is flawless, as they individually relate where they fit into the story – never speaking to one another, but always addressing the audience. Nick Holland is the Ring Master, Liam Kelley is the experienced animal trainer who has gained the confidence of the animals. Kate Lewis is the ballet girl, often announcing that she is a “ballet” performer, and not a tawdry novelty. Scott McCoppin is the tour manager, Ken Benda is the strongman who can’t lift much. Elizbeth Kirchmeier is the acrobatic clown who has probably the most challenging time in accepting the death of her dear animal friend. Greg Clark is the local marshal. Jim Valone, the local preacher, desperately wanting some member of his congregation to seek solace in the church. Kaya Rudolph, Tabitha Tyree, and Holly Wedgeworth are local townspeople. Wesley Longacre is a local shovel operator; Drew Cuthbertson, the engineer. Paul Brewer is the guitarist and drummer. The entire cast is on stage the entire time, except when the train engineer is confined to his office. We never meet the red-head youth whose lack of training resulted in his own death.

This is heavy stuff, with no one singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The audience is left to figure out its own reaction to what has transpired, and how it may fit into our own life and world.

Author George Brant received the 2008 Keene Prize for Literature and the 2008 David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award. The writing is impressive. We do not see the lynching of the animal, but are told so vividly what has happened, that we feel as if we were present. The current production is directed by Garrett Ayers who notes ‘…the writer reaches inside the imaginations of the audience. What could be more theatrical and dramatic than that?”

The current art exhibit of Elephant Watercolors by Kimberly Lavelle and Bristlecone Photography by Brian Miller is a beautiful complement to the story being told on the Tom Sutherland Stage.

“Elephant’s Graveyard”
Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80554-2433
970/498-8949
Bas Bleu Website
To October 8, 2017

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

Award Winning Drama Amazes Denver Center Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 30, 2017

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

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

Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone (c)Joan Marcus

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

Adam Langdon, Maria Elena Ramirez (c)Joan Marcus

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

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

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

Gene Gillette, Adam Langdon (c)Joan Marcus

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

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

Adam Langdon and company (c)Joan Marcus

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

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

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

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Mary Lennox finds the key to “The Secret Garden” at DCPA

Artwork by Kyle Malone

Incredible Music And Sets Highlight The Enchanting Tale.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 18, 2017

The ultimate joy of overcoming adversity rules the stage in the enchanting “Secret Garden.” Finding redemption is given enormous help with incredible music and amazing sets. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, written in 1911, has become a popular standard for young women worldwide. The story of loss of loved ones, at any age, has resonated over the years. The heartwarming tale includes the delight of a little robin helping a girl discover the door to a decaying garden, the excitement of teaching a bed-ridden young boy to walk, and the thrill of bringing a decaying garden back to life.

Emily Walton, Liam Forde, Sean Reda, Zoe Manarel. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

The musical version of the story opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for more than 700 performances. When seeing the original show with friends while in previews, I was knocked out by the wonderful music, but had a reality check when a friend noted, “That show isn’t going to go anywhere. It’s just too confusing.” Some of the confusion concerning who is alive and who is portrayed as ghosts remains, but is vastly overshadowed by the beauty of the story, the amazing sets, and the unforgettable music.

Zoe Manarel. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

The story revolves around a young English girl, Mary Lennox, living with her parents in India, awakening one morning to find her parents and just about everyone else she knows has died in a cholera epidemic. She is sent to the Yorkshire Moors of England to live with two uncles she has never met. The uncles have grief of their own, and are initially unhappy with the arrival of the sad girl.

Liam Forde and Zoe Manarel. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

There isn’t much for the young Mary to do in the large ancestral home, and she has difficulty coming to terms with the idea that she is no longer living a privileged life in India. Mary, as portrayed by Zoe Manarel, does have enormous spunk, and substantial help from a chambermaid Martha, and Martha’s young brother, Dickon.

Martha, excellently portrayed by Emily Walton, offers encouragement with “Hold On.” Liam Forde, playing Dickon nearly steals the show with his insightful information about “Wick” – the joy of bringing life to everything. Forde is a marvel!
Sean Palmer and Michael Halling are both very good as Mary’s Yorkshire uncles, Archibald and Neville Craven. They have problems of their own, as they were both in love with the same woman, Lily, who the young Mary greatly resembles. Among the show’s memorable moments is the heartfelt duet the brothers sing, “Lily’s Eyes.”

The entire score is among Broadway’s best. In addition to the delightful “Wick,” and the moving “Lily’s Eyes,” and “Hold On,” there are “A Bit of Earth,” “Race You to the Top of the Morning,” “Where in the World,” “How Could I Ever Know,” and the brilliant “Come to My Garden.”

Carey Rebecca Brown and Sean Palmer. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

“A Bit of Earth” is a wake-up call to the two uncles, as they don’t know what to do with Mary, only to learn that all she wants is a bit of earth to bring plants to life. Archibald’s “Race You to the Top of the Morning” is sung to his sleeping young son, fearing that he cannot provide the boy with the emotional love required. “Where in the World” and “How Could I Ever Know” come near the show’s end as Archibald and the spirit of his deceased and beloved, Lily, share their feelings for each other.

The company of The Secret Garden. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Marsha Norman wrote the book and lyrics, with Lucy Simon providing the music. The Denver production is directed by Jenn Thompson with music directed by Gregg Coffin, choreography by Patricia Wilcox, and scenic design by Wilson Chin.

The entire show looks sensational – the set, the costumes, the lighting. A word of caution – figuring out who is related to whom, who is alive and who is portrayed as ghosts can be a daunting task. Just relax and enjoy the beauty of the show, and everything will ultimately fall into place before the joyous conclusion.

“The Secret Garden”
Where: The Stage Theatre of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
When: To May 28, 2017
Information: denvercenter.org
Box Office: 303/893-4100

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OpenStage’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner” Is A Delectable Farce In The French Countryside!

Steller Cast Provides Laugh-Out-Loud Situations In This Bawdy Tale.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 2, 1017

Bernard, a successful Frenchman living with his wife, Jacqueline, in a country home, has taken careful precautions to plan the weekend to perfection. Jacqueline is set to go away by train for a few days to visit her mother. He has arranged with a catering service to provide a delectable dinner to share with his mistress, Suzanne, who is due to arrive for a blissful weekend of love making. Bernard learns that a longtime buddy, Robert, is also in the area, and can see no worry about also inviting him to the home, at least for dinner.

Bernard’s plans fall apart in quick order. When Jacqueline learns that the friend, Robert, is coming to stay the night, she cancels plans to visit her mother. Bernard does not know that his wife, Jaqueline, is Robert’s mistress. Continue reading OpenStage’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner” Is A Delectable Farce In The French Countryside!

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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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The Merry Wives of Windsor” have moved from England to Scarsdale, New York

Loveland Opera Theatre Provides Great Fun – Greatly Sung

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2017

Two neighboring wives in Scarsdale, New York, receive letters from the town lecher – John Falstaff, indicating his desire for rendezvous. He is a not very bright lecher, as the women receiving the letters live side by side in the community, and are most eager to share the silly request with each other. They decide to teach him a lesson by inviting him to their homes, with further plans to make him realize his foolishness.

PHOTO CREDIT: D. St. John Photography

So begins a delightful recounting of Shakespeare’s 1602 play, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” now set to music. Shakespeare’s merry wives have seen many transformations. Italian composer Otto Nicolai wrote and conducted the music for a German language opera in 1849, with libretto by Salomon Hermann Munsenthal, first performed in Berlin. Forty-four years later, Italy’s Giuseppe Verdi took his turn with the play with his opera, “Falstaff,” premiering in Milan in 1893.
Continue reading The Merry Wives of Windsor” have moved from England to Scarsdale, New York

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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“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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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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OpenStage’s “The Flick” is heart-wrenching look at the staff of a movie theater on its last legs.

the-flickActing excellence keeps audience awake in longer-than-usual production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 13, 2016

A dying Massachusetts movie theater is portrayed as an aging artifact, one of the state’s few remaining movie houses using 35mm projection. The “digital” age is taking over movie theaters across the country, and The Flick’s three staff members continue their boring work of keeping the theater alive. The three manage the box office, the refreshment stand, run the projector, clean messy restrooms, and most of the time are seen sweeping up spilled popcorn and discarding boxes, cups, and candy wrappers after each film. For nearly three hours the audience watches as two of the three sweep bucket after bucket of refuse while maintaining their sanity with mundane conversation, spiked with “tests” they provide each other about past movie memories. As they chat and sweep, and chat and sweep, they reveal how difficult it is for them to become close to anyone – each other included.
Continue reading OpenStage’s “The Flick” is heart-wrenching look at the staff of a movie theater on its last legs.

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Not much glitz and glamour working for high end fashion magazine in New York City.

ultimate_logo

Talented cast in OpenStage, etc. production of “Ultimate Beauty Bible”.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 15, 2016

Three young millennials, working for the same high-end fashion magazine, get together for cocktails; with the idea they are renewing friendships which began when they interned together at the magazine following college. They are an unusual trio: a blond, a brunette, and a redhead, sitting in a bar or cocktail lounge, dressed to the nines, and attempting to be gracious and loving while their friendship, if there ever was one, is shallow as a saucer.
Continue reading Not much glitz and glamour working for high end fashion magazine in New York City.

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“Tartuffe” cons his way to high hilarity at Arvada Center

tartuffe-logoFamily has hilarious time in exposing plan to steal the families jewels

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 9, 2016

Beware of scams. Hang up when a supposed IRS agent threatens to take away your home. Don’t offer your social security number or other information that could be used to defraud you. And be especially on the lookout for Tartuffe. He is the pious beggar at the doorstep with mystifying charm – promising eternal salvation. Orgon, the family patriarch, believed him, took him into his home; and the scammer soon had Orgon and his doting mother under his spell. The rest of the family was aghast.
Continue reading “Tartuffe” cons his way to high hilarity at Arvada Center

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“Motones vs Jerseys” musicians are in fine form as Midtown audience cheers

mvjAbout 50 songs are included in the “war” of opposing performers at MAC

Reviewed by Tom Jones

It is “Fight Night” at Midtown Arts Center. All gloves are off, but two teams of amazing vocal cords are in combat as “Motones vs. Jerseys” offer the audience a grand duel for more than two hours of superb music.
Continue reading “Motones vs Jerseys” musicians are in fine form as Midtown audience cheers

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OpenStage’s “La Bete” is Two Hours of Bravura Acting on Lincoln Center Magnolia Theatre

la_bete_logoA knockout of theatre when an obvious bore becomes enchantment

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 9, 2016

How long has it been since you’ve been “trapped” in the same room with someone who talks non-stop about himself, believes he (or she) is the center of wisdom, and stops talking only to stuff bits of food in his mouth, spewing much of it on the floor. This might be in classroom, a car, in a business environment, or (heaven-forbid) at a family reunion.
Continue reading OpenStage’s “La Bete” is Two Hours of Bravura Acting on Lincoln Center Magnolia Theatre

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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.
Continue reading Colleen Johnson Shines as “Practically Perfect” Mary Poppins

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The “Shrew” Becomes The “Tamer” at OpenStage Outdoors

Shrew-OSShakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” is Rollicking Tale

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 11, 2016

Baptista is a wealthy gentleman of Padua whose younger daughter, Bianca, has many suitors. Unfortunately for the wooing young men, Baptista will not promise her to anyone until her older sister, Katherine is wed. Problem. Katherine, known as “Kate” is a semi-monster whose miserable temperament is well known throughout Italy. It is going to be a hard sell to wed her before allowing Bianca to follow suit.
Continue reading The “Shrew” Becomes The “Tamer” at OpenStage Outdoors

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“Footloose” is a High Energy Delight in Boulder

Footloose-Mainstage-logo1985 movie turns up as exciting look at teenagers in the 1970s

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 7, 2016

Jean-Luc Cavner is a very talented performer! A graduate of The University of Northern Colorado, Jean-Luc is making his BDT Stage debut as “’Ren” in “Footloose” after substantial experience in various roles and delighting audiences travelling on Holland America Cruise Lines. He controls the stage from his first dancing scene, and retains command for the entire show. Ren is a street-smart rock-and-roll phenomenon in his native Chicago. When his father walks out on the family, Ren and his mother are uprooted and take refuge with her sister in a tiny western town known as Bomont. His street-wise actions are taken as hostile by many in the little town, and he has a difficult time fitting in. He is adrift without a father figure for guidance.
Continue reading “Footloose” is a High Energy Delight in Boulder

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“Lost in Yonkers” Finds a Home at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

YonkersPulitzer Prize Winning Play by Neil Simon Earns its Honors

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 20, 2016

With minimal fanfare and unknown to most theatregoers, “Lost in Yonkers” arrived on the stage of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins this spring. “Word of mouth” has traveled quickly, and the highly-honored show is receiving great local acclaim. The talented cast is a wonder, headlined by Morgan Howard in a bravura performance as Bella, an emotionally challenged woman in her mid-30s – desperately longing for someone to love her. Neil Simon wrote this touching play in 1991, and received the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his work.
Continue reading “Lost in Yonkers” Finds a Home at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

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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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OpenStage provides riveting theatre with “Orphans”.

OrphansDysfunctional Brothers Kidnap a Businessman for Whom No One Will Pay Ransom

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 17, 2016

Treat and Phillip are adult dysfunctional brothers, living in a run-down area of Philadelphia. Their father abandoned them, and their mother has died. Treat has taken the role of family protector, going out each day to rob and steal. He has convinced his younger, mentally-challenged brother that he must never leave the house. As a result, Phillip spends his days either in the closet where his mother’s clothes were left, or watching “The Price is Right” on television in his upstairs bedroom. He is completely at the mental and physical mercy of his brother. He has no idea what it is like to go outside, and has never even learned to tie his shoes. He has, however, been teaching himself to read and has some books and newspaper stashed in secret places around the house, hoping Treat will not find them.
Continue reading OpenStage provides riveting theatre with “Orphans”.

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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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“Try to Remember” is Hard to Forget in “The Fantasticks” at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

Fantasticks-L“The Fantasticks” is a Heartwarming Memory Piece of Young Love

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 19, 2016

The lyrics of “Try to Remember” have long been my anthem of growing older and wiser – at the same time:

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart will hollow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Then follow. Follow.”
Continue reading “Try to Remember” is Hard to Forget in “The Fantasticks” at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

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Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage Introduces Young Orphan in the Highly-Imaginative “Peter and the Starcatcher”

PeterAudience Meets Unhappy Young Boy Before He Became High-Flying “Peter Pan”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 18, 2016

A generation before Peter Pan flew into Wendy’s London bedroom window, he was a very sad young orphan, abused by the British system, with only a couple of orphan friends. Life was hard and un-relenting until he met the sassy and spirited Molly who was enroute on the Neverland ship to meet up with her father in Rundoon. After Molly and Peter meet on the ship, their two lives would never be the same.
Continue reading Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage Introduces Young Orphan in the Highly-Imaginative “Peter and the Starcatcher”

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“Riverdance” Audience Gives Warm Welcome at Denver Center for the Performing Arts

The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal
The 20th Anniversary World Tour, Photographer Rob McDougal

Buell Theatre Hosts 20th Anniversary Tour of famed “Riverdance

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 9, 2016

Where to begin? What can be singled out to be the “best” of the show? Is it the opening “Reel Around the Sun”, which held the audience in awe? Or the flamenco “Firedance”? Probably the best-remembered number is “Riverdance” itself. No, the “best” has to be the “Russian Dervish.” Or the square dance take-off where partnered dancers were in a circle within a circle, with each circle rotating in different directions. There are just too many highlights to say one was the absolute “best.”
Continue reading “Riverdance” Audience Gives Warm Welcome at Denver Center for the Performing Arts

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, March 3. 2016

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

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Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” is Rollicking Tale in Loveland

Pirates LogoLoveland Opera Theatre Provides Pure Fun on the Rialto Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2016

Daffy cops are in full chase as down-on-their-luck pirates try to woo a herd of the Major General’s daughters. Gilbert and Sullivan provided several delightful comic operettas, with “Pirates of Penzance” probably being the most entertaining, and containing wondrous melodies.
Continue reading Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” is Rollicking Tale in Loveland

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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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“All The Way” Looks at LBJ and MLK as The Civil Rights Bill is Presented to Congress.


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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 6, 2016

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

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OpenStage’s “Outside Mullingar” is by award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley, about rural life in Ireland

Bruce K. Freestone as Tony Reilly and Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley. Photo by Steve Finnestead photography.
Bruce K. Freestone as Tony Reilly and Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon in
OpenStage Theatre’s production of Outside Mullingar . Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography.

Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone share the stage as farming neighbors in production in Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Theatre.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 24, 2016

It is always a treat to see Bruce and Denise Burson Freestone on stage. The couple founded OpenStage Theatre in 1973, but rarely perform together in a local production. Seeing them share the stage is but another welcoming delight in “Outside Mullingar” at the Magnolia Theatre of Lincoln Center through February 6.

Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon and Todd Hoven as Anthony. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography
Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon and Todd Hoven as Anthony. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography

The Freestones appear as Tony Reilly and Aoife Muldoon, Irish neighbors who own adjacent farms. Muldoon’s husband has just died, and she stops in to visit with Reilly, a widower, on her way home from the funeral. They appear to be longtime friends who have probably cared more for each other than either is willing to admit. They talk about their farms, about their children, and appear to have a special bond. Their children, Anthony and Rosemary, are about the same age, but have barely been civil to each other since Anthony shoved Rosemary to the ground, when they were children, more than 20 years ago. The chemistry between the married-in-real-life Freestones is rewarding as they spar and chat as Irish neighbors.

Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon, and Bruce K. F reestone as Tony Reilly and Denise Burson Freestone as Aoife. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography
Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon, and Bruce K. Freestone as Tony Reilly and Denise Burson Freestone as Aoife. Photo by Steve Finnestead Photography

Todd Hoven is believable as Tony’s son whose love of the farm is not apparent to his father. Because of this concern, his ageing father has decided to give the farm to a nephew living in New York. The father claims that the son is not manly enough. Hoven is great to watch as the sometimes insecure son who dearly loves the farm’s “earth,” and continues to be at loose ends since his girlfriend rejected his marriage proposal several years ago and married another man.

Completing the quartet of semi-lost souls is Jessica Emerling Crow as Rosemary Muldoon. She is the now-grown girl that Anthony caused to fall many years ago. She is a feisty pipe smoking dynamo with little self-esteem and no potential love interest. Even though she well remembers the time Tony pushed her to the ground, she has been holding herself in contempt for not letting the grown Tony realize she cares for him.

John Patrick Shanley is a highly-respected playwright. He received the Academy Award in 1988 for the movie, “Moonstruck,” and the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2005 for “Doubt: A Parable.” He was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie version of his play now known as “Doubt.”

His “Outside Mullingar” opened in New York in January, 2014. His latest play, “Prodigal Son” is scheduled to open Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City next month.

Directing “Outside Mullingar” for OpenStage is Matthew G. Smith. In the program notes, Smith comments how important it is to take a leap of faith and explore what it means to love someone though they may not love us in return. Anthony Reilly and Rosemary Muldoon find themselves living alone and lonely in adjacent farms, each with their insecurities and neither realizing his/her own potential. The cast is uniformly excellent. “Mullingar” is an enchanting tale of persons growing older, finding faith in themselves, and hopefully finding the ability to “move on.”

“Outside Mullingar”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production
Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through February 6, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.lctix.com

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Ring of Fire” at“ Midtown Arts Center is a Mid-Winter Winner!

Ring of FireMusic written or performed by Johnny Cash keeps audience enthusiasm high!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 21, 2016

Within a few moments of the show’s beginning I realized I was seeing something quite special. The setting is minimal, but very inviting and effective, the lighting is very good, and the voices performing the more-than-30 numbers are amazing! “Ring of Fire” results in an evening of super music. The show itself is just two hours, making the entire event, including dinner, not much more than a well-spent three or so hours

The musical was created by Richard Maltby, Jr., and conceived by William Meade. It had a test run in Buffalo, New York, 2005, and opened on Broadway the following winter.

This is not retelling of the life of Johnny Cash, but a story which could belong to thousands of persons – solid family tired in harsh economic background. Most of us can relate to much of the music as a retelling of parts of our own lives. The difficult times Johnny Cash faced are not related as history, just read-between-the lines in the various songs. And such great songs: “Five Feet High and Rising,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” The Man in Black,” “I Walk the Line (briefly),” and the signature “Ring of Fire.” While all of the music for the show was performed at one time or other by Cash, many of the pieces were written by others.

Photo credit to Malia Stoner
Photo credit to Malia Stoner

The five performers on stage at MAC are super musicians, each playing a variety of instruments, and each with super voices. A standout is Colin Summers whose deep bass voice goes through the floor. His curtain-call retelling of “A Boy Named Sue” had the audience cheering. On stage with Summers are Brittany Brook, Davey Rosenberg, Austin Hohnke and Kaine Riggan. Each has a moment to shine, as they share the wealth of terrific music.

Unfortunately, the show’s printed program does not include a list of songs, so I can’t recall the name of an early romantic piece where Cash and his wife, June Carter, tell of the love they shared.

Mathew Leland directs the show, keeping the audience excited by the flow of non-stop music.

As a routine, I do not read reviews of shows I have not seen prior to my seeing them for my own review. This was an especially good thing in regard to “Ring of Fire.” The original production was well-received by local critics, but less so by Broadway reviewers. A movie about Johnny Cash, “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, had been an enormous success the previous year, receiving five Academy Award nominations. The “little” stage production was not to be compared with the movie, and was nearly lost in the shuffle. The stage show was re-conceived in 2013 and is now finding great success on stages throughout the country.

If I had read early Broadway reviews, I may have been turned off; and might have decided not to see the show. This would have been my loss. While the current production doesn’t begin to retell Cash’s life, it has a basic reverence for the human condition, and enchants the audience with terrific music!

“Ring of Fire”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 25, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“The Addams Family” Comes to Haunt the Stage in Boulder

AddamsFamilyBoulder Dinner Theatre Stage Offers Good Food and Ghosts with “The Addams Family”

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 3, 2015

A very strange “family” has moved into Boulder.  There is the father, Gomez, his luscious bride, Morticia, their two children – the very strange Pugsley and his sister, Wednesday, who has potential of being somewhat normal.  Then Grandma comes with the group, as does Gomez’s brother, Uncle Fester.  The family’s servant is an extremely tall chap, Lurch, who doesn’t say much but brings an air of frightening delight to the going’s on.

© 2015 Glenn Ross

We meet the family on stage in “The Addams Family,” a musical version of the death-defying antics of cartoon characters created by Charles Addams.  The cartoons resulted in a very successful TV run about the strange family.  The gang was assembled for a Broadway production in 1960.  The Broadway team had great credentials, but were not successful in giving life to the family.  Even the amazing talents of Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth could not surmount the script and music difficulties, however.  The show was subsequently rewritten, and is finding a new life of it own in local productions, such as the current Boulder show.

The set is clever – the spooky mansion, the cemetery crypt, the ever-present trees!  This is a cartoonish set design that is very effective.

© 2015 Glenn Ross
© 2015 Glenn Ross

Wednesday realizes that her family is not normal, but confides in her father that she has fallen in love with a regular guy – Lucas Beineke.  She has an “uncharacteristic desire to marry a square kid from Ohio!”  She has invited Lucas and his parents to the family home, so that everyone can meet over dinner.  There hasn’t been such a stage dinner since “La Cage Aux Folles” when a gay couple invited the Mayor of Paris and his wife to meet their heterosexual son who was about to marry the Mayor’s daughter.  This time around there are not questions of gender, but problems of living and dead!  Uncle Fester enlists the help of the dead ancestors who emerge from the family crypt for guidance and support at the family dinner.

Wednesday has evidently worn black for 18 years, but turns up in a bright yellow outfit the the family party.  Her father is aghast, noting, “You look like a crime scene!”

© 2015 Glenn Ross
© 2015 Glenn Ross

Scott Beyette has directed the show and stars as Gomez.  Alicia King plays his wife, Morticia, with Sara Grover taking the role of their daughter, Wednesday.  Wayne Kennedy is a delight as Uncle Fester, as is Casey Andree playing the solemn servant, Lurch.  Barb Reeves plays the daffy grandma, and the role of Puglsey is double-cast, with Ethan Leland  and Owen Leidich sharing the part.  I saw Leland who is very good, especially when attached to his adored torture machine, giving him the opportunity to cream loudly in wonderful pain!

© 2015 Glenn Ross
© 2015 Glenn Ross

Brett Ambler is convincing as the naive young suitor, Lucas Beineke, who finds the zany Wednesday to be someone special.  Scott Severtson and Joanie Brosseau are effective as Lucas’ bewildered parents strangely horrified by the goings-on in the Gomez household.

Scenery is terrific, as are the lighting, and costumes.  The sound system did not permit me to understand some of the characters as easily as I had hoped.  Songs are pleasant, but not after-the-show hummable.  There is an especially fun scene when Fester declares that he is in love with the moon, singing, “the Moon and Me.”  Dancing is spotty – with some good numbers, but an overly-long Tango near the show’s end.

© 2015 Glenn Ross | www.glennrossphoto.com
© 2015 Glenn Ross

An interesting part of the production’s effectiveness is the presence of many dead ancestors who meander through the show, silently and effectively “commenting” on what is happening among the live folk.  This is a blissfully ghoulish little show!

Affectionadoes of early incarnations of “The Addams Family” will have a field day noting some of the comedic touches which have been handed from from cartoon format, to TV series, to the stage.  The dark and brooking “look” of the family has been remarkably transferred in this goofy tale.  And the food is very good!

“The Addams Family”
Through February 27, 2016
BDT Stage –Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
4401 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
For information: Telephone 303/449-6000
Or online at www.BDTStage.com

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“White Christmas” is Melodic Look at Holidays Gone by!

whiteXmas-200x200-final-1-201503261015

Even an unhappy Scrooge could not say “Bah Humbug” to the “White Christmas” Charmer in Arvada

 By Tom Jones

November 29, 2015

Ben Michael and Cody Williams take center stage early in Arvada Center’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” The scene is an army entertainment show for servicemen at Christmastime of 1944. Michael is Captain Bob Wallace, and Williams is Private Phil Davis, putting on a vaudeville-type routine for the amusement of the attending soldiers in Europe, as the war there is winding down. As the scene concludes they learn that their commanding officer, General Henry Waverly is being relieved of his duty, and is set to return to the United States. Soldiers under his command are evidently very fond of him, and give him high respect, as he notes that “Ten years from now our lives will have changed!”

Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015 Pictured: Cody Wiliams (Phil Davis) and Erica Sweany (Judy Haynes)
Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured: Cody Wiliams (Phil Davis) and Erica Sweany (Judy Haynes)

Michal and Williams are talented performers – song and dance men. The characters they play have remained friends and have become respected entertainers in New York, ten years after the battlefront show. Thus sets the stage for an evening of Irving Berlin music, remarkable choreography, and a nostalgic look at what patriotism meant to America’s citizens and soldiers.

Songwriter and composer Irving Berlin was born in Russia in 1888, moved to America with his family and is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His songs include such hits as “Easter Parade,” “This is the Army, Mr. Jones,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “A Pretty Girl is Like Melody,”and the immortalized “God Bless America.” Berlin was raised in poverty and was forever in love with America and the opportunities it provided to him!

WhiteChristmas2His song, “White Christmas” first appeared in a 1942 movie musical, “Holiday Inn” about a country inn opened only on holidays. The song was performed by a crooner named Bing Crosby. It was an instant hit, and resulted in being the theme of a l954 Paramount Pictures movie musical, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” again starring Bing Crosby. His recording of the song continues to be the most-sold single in recorded music history.

The movie was the biggest money maker in 1954, and generated the stage version which premiered in San Francisco in 2004 and has played in various venues including Broadway in 2008 and revived again in 2009. New York theatre critics were not impressed with the stage musical version, but audiences have been enthusiastic. The Arvada production is excellent – bringing to life the mood of the 1950s, and showcasing some of Berlin’s well-known standards.

Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015 Pictured: Darrow Klein (Susan Waverly) and Ben Michael (Bob Wallace)
Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured: Darrow Klein (Susan Waverly) and Ben Michael (Bob Wallace)

The creation of the show revolves around using many of Berlin’s hit songs to advance a basic boy loves girl, girl loves boy story. They spar, leaving doubt as to how their relationship will conclude. The show can be a bit too talky, but once the music takes off, the show is very pleasant. Some of the musical numbers sometimes don’t quite fit into the plot line, but the “I Love a Piano” routine which begins the second act is as terrific as any in recent memory. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck is credited as choreographer. She brought down the house with her disco action recently in Arvada Center’s “Saturday Night Fever,” and brings her clever ideas to “White Christmas.” The entire production is under the direction of Gavin Mayer who has put together a very talented cast in providing holiday cheer to Northern Colorado.

Ben Michael and Cody Williams are the production’s stars, assisted greatly by Lauren Shealy and Erica Sweany, as their love interests, Paul Page as General Henry Waverly, the enthusiastic Sharon Kay White as the Vermont Inn Manager, and Darcey Keating as the General’s granddaughter.   The granddaughter role is double cast, with Keating and Darrow Klein sharing the role. I saw Keating who was super, and very convincing as a young wannabee actress..

The song and dance team are ready to travel south by train from New York to Miami for some rehearsals for a new show, but end up going north to the “Snow” of Vermont, following two girls they just met.. Coincidentally they end up in the country inn owned by the now-retired General Waverly. Lack of Vermont snow is currently a great problem to Waverly’s maintaining ownership of the Inn. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are concerned about the financial plight of their former commander. So, as Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland used to say in early movie musicals, “Let’s put on a show.” Unbeknownst to the General, the two soldiers from his past put together a show for the Inn, inviting everyone from their former army days to bring revenue to the resort.

Very good performances, excellent sets, costumes, lighting, and super dancing overcome any plot flaws, and provide the audience with the “feel good” memories of a “White Christmas.”

“White Christmas”
Through December 23, 2015
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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“A Tuna Christmas” is a Holiday Charmer on Stage of Bas Bleu

Tuna-Christmas-Slide

Tall Tales from Tuna, Texas, are Terrifically Told!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 20, 2015

This was my first “Tuna.” Tales of the fictitious small Texas town, Tuna, have been around for several years. The series, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, began in 1981 with “Greater Tuna,” followed by “Red, White and Tuna,” and “Tuna Does Vegas.” The current “A Tuna Christmas” debuted in 1989 in Texas. The plays are performed frequently across the nation.

Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

This week, provided me with my first glimpse of the quirky little town. The program lists only two performers. Very curious, as I saw something like 20 characters come to life in 90 minutes of fun. Jay Benedict Brown and David Austin-Goen are remarkable, as they breath life into a variety of characters telling their tales of life in tiny Tuna!

Although fictitious, the town is reportedly the “third-smallest” town in Texas. Tuna is inhabited by a host of different citizens, each with his/her own charm and concerns. They are introduced by Thurston and Leonard, at the town’s radio station, dropping hints as to what is happening in Tuna this Christmas Season. We meet lots of strangely wonderful persons. We learn that a mysterious Christmas phantom is on the loose, causing mischief. There is the by-the-book bureaucrat who threatens to cut the electricity on the town’s Christmas party at the school unless the school district pays its over-due electrical bill.

Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

There is Bertha Bumiller, the ditsy mother whose son, Stanley, has just been released from jail and is on probation for a few more days. Her daughter, Charlene, is having a difficult time fitting into Tuna’s citizenry. Charlene’s idea of “decorating” the Christmas tree is to toss handfuls of tinsel, letting them land where they may. Bertha’s husband, Frank, is somewhere in town, but no one knows where. Vera Carp is the town snob who pays a call on Bertha to admire what a wonderful “view” Bertha has of Vera’s home just across the street. Vera has won the town’s Christmas outdoor decorations contest for 14 years, and will be furious if she should lose this time around.

There’s the mismatched couple who own a used weapons and ammunition shop. Didi is furious with the husband she chose. He is excited only with the sight of UFOs. Her shop’s motto: “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal!”

Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

The list goes on and on. But not too long. The audience becomes highly involved in the lives of these townsfolk, their pitfalls, phobias, and human interest. Brown and Groen change costumes, wigs, and personas at the drop of a hat, and are a wonder to see. We see lots of costume and wig changes, along with lots of Christmas trees in the space of 90 minutes

The goings-on are directed by Nancy Roy, whose credentials are impressive, including direction of “The Will Rogers Follies” at Candlelight a few seasons ago. In the Director’s Notes on the “Tuna” program she cleverly says. “Tis a grand tradition for the director of fine theatrical literature to wax philosophical in the playbills, guiding the audience to a deeper and richer understanding of the play. In the case of this play, “A Tuna Christmas,” I got nothin.’”

Not so, her direction is as brilliant as the characters the two actors bring to life. “A Christmas Tuna” is a super introduction to the area’s Christmas Season.

“A Tuna Christmas”
Through December 27, 2015
For information: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit: www.basbleu.org

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Superior Donuts”

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

417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.

When: Through November 28, 2015

Tickets: 970/221-6730

For more information: www.ltix.com

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

Midtown Arts Center
Midtown Arts Center

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 15, 2015

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

Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rock of Ages”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through January 2, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“The Outgoing Tide” at Bas Bleu takes us on a thought-provoking ride about the effects of Alzheimer’s on the victims and their families

Outgoing-Tide

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Guys and Dolls” and “Good on Paper” at Creede Repertory Theatre

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 10, 2015

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

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

Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 9, 2015

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

Thingamajig Theatre Company
Thingamajig Theatre Company

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

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

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

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

 

Thingamajig Theatre Company
Thingamajig Theatre Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – –

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

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

#

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Importance Logo

By Tom Jones
May 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Man of No Importance”
Through May 17, 2015
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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OpenStage Theatre Provides Terrific Version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet!”

RNJ logo
Harper Point Photography

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April, 2015

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

Kate Austin Groen Photography

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

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

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

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

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

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

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

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

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

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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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