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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones,  May 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

No Importance Logo

By Tom Jones
May 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RNJ logo
Harper Point Photography

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April, 2015

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

Kate Austin Groen Photography

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

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

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

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

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

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

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

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

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

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

archbishopsceiling-web

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Last Night of Ballyhoo”

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 23, 2015

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

Paul Borrillo as Walt. Photo credit Michael Ensminger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Memphis” is Mesmerizing at Midtown Arts Center!

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

By Tom Jones
Reviewed March 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Always…Patsy Cline” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2015

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

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

Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

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

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

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

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

Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

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

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

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

Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

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

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

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

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“Kismet” Operetta at Loveland Opera Theatre

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

 

Reviewed by Tom Jones

March 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Kismet”

February 20 to March 1, 2015

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

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

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Timing is impeccable in crazy “Unnecessary Farce”

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

Unnecessary Farce #1
Photo credit Kate Austin-Groen Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Harvey” at Arvada Center

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweeny-logo

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. The plot, as noted above, is complicated. Reading a synopsis of the show prior to going to the theater is highly recommended. This should help you to better understand what an incredible performance you are seeing!
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“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 7, 2015
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“The 39 Steps” at Midtown Arts Center

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

Reviewed by By Tom Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“She Loves Me” at Arvada Center

She Loves Me Logo

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

By Tom Jones
November 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She Loves Me”
Tuesday through Saturday through December 21, 2014
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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“Miracle on 34th Street” at Candlelight

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

By Tom Jones
November 16, 2014

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

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“Spring Awakening” (OpenStage) at Magnolia Theatre

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 15, 2014

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

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

TheLastRomance

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

By Tom Jones, October 19, 2014

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

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

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

By Tom Jones, October 17, 2014

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 16, 2014

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones

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

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

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

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

bazaar_posterReviewed by Tom Jones, September 6, 2014

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

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

7Brides

Reviewed by Tom Jones

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

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

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