“War and Peace” ….about 70 pages of it….”Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

Arvada Center Brings Tolstoy Epic To The Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 19, 2024

The cast opens the show singing, “There’s a war going on out there somewhere. There’s a war going on out there.” These are Moscow aristocrats in 1812 whose main concerns about the war appear to be that they aren’t happy at home. And one of their group, Andrey is “out there somewhere, and Andrey isn’t here!” No one knows when he’s coming home.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Andrey will hopefully return soon. He has left a grumpy father who is losing control of his faculties, and a sister who is devoting her entire dreary life to the care and keeping of her uncaring and unkempt father.

Andrey has a friend, Pierre, who is not involved in the war. He has remained in Moscow, living with a wife, Helene, who he basically detests, drinking himself to oblivion, and wallowing in self-pity. Helene, has lovers of her own and has no inclination to enjoy her husband. She has a brother, Anatole, living in Moscow, who is an absolute rake, always looking for women to enjoy. He, too, is unhappily married, anxious to find romance wherever he can.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography

Into this dismal group come Natasha and her cousin, Sonya. They are best friends, outwardly sunny and happy. Natasha is engaged to Andrey, and has come to town to officially meet Andrey’s father and sister. This is not family match made in heaven. The father decides at first glance that he does not like Natasha. Mary, Anatole’s sister, decides at first glance that she doesn’t like Natasha. Oh well, for the time being, “There’s a war going on and Andrey’s is not in town.” Maybe when he returns everything can be just hunky dory.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography
Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography

Such is the premise of this unusually interesting sung-through musical adventure, now on stage at the Arvada Center, “”Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” This not an ordinary “Let’s put on a show” type of production. The setting at first glance is like entering into a lavish Russian home, only to find that the stage is completely surrounded by audience. The cast and musicians wandered on and off the stage, out into the audience, winking as some, singing and playing instruments as if they were enjoying an evening at a Russian cabaret. Then I realized that I was more than just a spectator, I was part of the show. Unlike the missing Andrey, I was “ there!” Why in the world had I gone to Moscow in 1812? And who were these people sitting by me? Did they already know Natasha and Pierre, or were they meeting them for the first time? This is quite an effect!

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography

The “story” is taken from 70 pages, near the middle of Leo Tolstoy’s 2000-plus pages historic novel, “War and Peace.” The entire production is sung. The music has the feeling of what just might be Russian folk music, with a touch of present-day pop/rock. Although there are no hummable melodies, the total experience is enormously entertaining. The set is glorious, the costumes are terrific, and the show is a sight to behold. The continually moving band/orchestra performers are flawless. This is more like going on a two- and one-half-hour amusement park ride than going to an actual musical. And unlike the missing Andrey, “I was there!”

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography
Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography

Tolstoy published “War and Peace” in 1869, about 50 years after the time reflected in the production. This segment of the novel touches on the romance of Natasha and Anatole, while Pierre searches for meaning in his life, and everyone else just tries to cope.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography

While Natasha is in town to meet Andrey’s parents, she meets Anatole, unaware that he is already married. Romantic sparks fly and Natasha decides she will throw her love for Andrey to the wind and run off with her new-found jerk, Anatole, much to the dismay of everyone in the show, and my now-friends in the audience.

The cast is universally talented. Brett Ambler as Pierre and Bella Anaya Hawthorne as Natasha are great performers, as are Jack Wardell as Anatole, Aynsley Upton as Sonja, Neyla Pekarek as Mary, Nicole deBree as Helen e, Bryce Baxter as Dolokhov, Anna Maria High as Marya D, Brian Watson as Old Prince Bolkonsky and as Balaga, and David Otto as Andrey. The supporting cast is equally flawless – Elleon Dobias, Penina Eisenberg, Drew Horwitz and Ronald MacQueen.

The incredible goings-on are directed by Lynne Collins, with David Nehls as music director and Grady Soapes as choreographer

Versions of the musical had limited performances, before premiering on Broadway in November of 2016. The production received excellent reviews and was nominated for 12 awards – the highest number of nominations in the 2017 season. Josh Groban performed as Pierre in the Broadway show.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography | FB- Amanda Tipton-Photographer | IG – @amandatiptonphotography

This is not a traditional theatrical production – but an unusually interesting one, extremely well done by a wonderfully talented cast. Near the end the “Comet of 1812” appears in the sky. Some see it as a portent of good things to come. Others are fearful, but we are left unknowing. As the performance ended, I felt amazed at the talent of the performers, but I really didn’t like the characters they were portraying. By the time I reached home, however, I realized that the show was so effective that I ended up really “caring.” The first thing I did upon returning home was to head to my computer. I Googled to learn how Tolstoy continued his story of Pierre and Natasha, and Sonja, and Anatole and Andrey, and Helena, and my other friends from the evening. This is wonderful entertainment. Or maybe I was just enlightened by the comet!

“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
Through March 31, 2024
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard
Arvada, CO 80003

“Crazy for You” Is Enormous Fun!

Award Winning Musical Is Ablaze With Crazy Corniness And Terrific Choreography

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 9, 2024

Bobby Child is the son of a rich banking family in New York. He is a talented showbiz wannabee whose dreams of stage stardom are thwarted with a bad mistake in an early audition. His mother (fierce guardian of the family fortune) wants to exile her stagestruck son, sending him to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a rundown theater bank loan.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Looks like Bobby Child of New York might be following in the footsteps of Joseph of biblical Canaan whose brothers sent him to Egypt to get him out of the way in Candlelight’s recent “Dreamcoat” hit. Like the biblical Joseph, Bobby lands isolated in a place extremely foreign to him – going from the excitement of Manhattan to the forlorn wilderness of nowhere Nevada.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Bobby’s misfortune, however, is to the benefit of current theatergoers, as this delightful tale provides an evening of showstopping delight. Yes, it is basically a show-biz fable with the appropriate cliches of the theatrical world. But it is a wow. After the first act I realized I was experiencing the charm of naïve silliness.

Matthew Dailey and Sara Kowalski are terrific as New Yorker Bobby Child and Nevadan Polly Baker. They are both great singers and dancers. Together they dazzle. They have great opportunity to bring life to such George and Ira Gershwin songs as ”Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and join the talented ensemble to announce “I Got Rhythm.”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Candlelight continues to assemble remarkable talent. In addition to Dailey and Kowalski, Patric Case and Hugh Butterfield also shine. Case as the Broadway entrepreneur Bela Zangler and Hugh Butterfield as Lank Hawkins, a Nevada saloon owner.

Mid-way through the second act Dailey and Case are on stage together, each portraying Bela Zangler, much to the amazement of the audience trying to figure out who is who. The timing is flawless. I began to wonder if they even wondered who was who. This result is one of the most clever sequences in recent memory.

Steve Wilson has directed this stunner, with choreography by Shawna Walker, set design by Brian Watson, and Chas Lederer as assistant director. Music director and conductor is Richard Shore. The orchestra under his direction is as terrific as the performers it accompanies.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The Broadway production opened at the Shubert Threatre on February 1, 1992, and was met with excellent reviews. It went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical that year, followed by accolades wherever it went. Curiously, “Crazy” has not continued to be an often-seen show. It was based on the Broadway review “Girl Crazy” of the 1930s, incorporating music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin from that show, as well as from other songs from other Gershwin shows.

Before the final curtain I began to weary. The show is nearly too good to be true and is a bit long. But in the interim the audience is treated to a wonder of excellent dancing, singing, stage set, costumes, lighting and sound. Just about everything dazzles in this evening of charming music and comedic lunacy. It has now been several hours since I left the theater, delightfully musing on what I saw!

“Crazy for You”
Through April , 2024
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

Joseph Has A Dreamcoat. Yes, It Is Amazing!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Hits Yet-Another Home Run with Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 26, 2023

The narrators singingly open the story with “Jacob lived in the land of Canan many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began …a fine example of a family man.” He has twelve sons, with the latest one, Joseph, being his favorite. Jacob provides Joseph with a fancy new coat, and when Joseph puts it on, he flaunts his place in the family singing, “I look handsome, I look smart. I am a walking work of art.” This doesn’t rest well with his 11 peers. Sound familiar? Yes, the story is familiar, but this telling-in-song on stage in Johnstown this season is an “amazing” evening of enormous talent, great fun, and glorious entertainment.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

This production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a continual delight from the moment the narrator begins to sing the story until the lights go out after a dancing/singing mix of the entire show. The stage is ablaze with color, the air is enlightened with clever music The audience is in continual awe as choreography has to be seen to be believed.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Part of the show’s enchantment is the inclusion of a variety of musical styles – country/western, Parisian cabaret, swinging calypso, and rock and roll disco. The sound system provides clarity to everything sung, and the orchestra is a sensation of its own.

Jalyn Courtenay Webb and Sarah Forman share the Narrator role on alternating performances. I have seen both of them in action. They are both sensational as they appear to love the story they are telling – that of an “awe-shucks” young man who looks at his life as a dream. Both have experience at the Candlelight, both with great voices. They openly seem to nourish Joseph as he goes from being the favorite son in Canaan to being a prisoner in Egypt and finally being the Pharaoh’s right- hand man later in life.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Although he has every right to become ostentatious and an ego-maniac, Caleb Wenger portrays Joseph as a somewhat low key young man who subsequently realizes his potential and becomes successful. Wenger’s voice is very good as the dreamer whose dreams come true.

While Joseph and the Narrator are the show’s leads, the supporting cast is brilliant on their own. Many are familiar to Candlelight audiences, including Ryne Haldeman who delights the audience in three different roles—Jacob, Potiphar, and the Baker. He is in fine voice and clever in every role and in every costume.

Chas Lederer is a winner as one of the sons, Levi, who delightfully tells Jacob “There is One More Angel in Heaven” in a raucous Country/Western hoe-down. Elton Tanega has all the right moves as Judah, taking the audience on a pulsating Calypso journey. Hugh Butterfield has a history of believability in a variety of roles over the years. This year he is the brother Issachar, and stepped in at the last moment to take the role of Pharaoh a few days before the show opened. He brought the house down with his Pharoah/Elvis impression.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Choreography is outstanding. The brothers’ dancing is extremely skillful. Cory Michael Klements and Jessie May Hobson are spellbinding, taking the audience to see them as French cabaret dancers.
Hobson is also an inventive Potiphar’s wife trying to seduce Joseph. Klements also portrays one of the brothers (Zebulon) and is the show’s dance captain.

Everything is in great shape for this show. Bryan Bell is the Director and shares choreography responsibilities with Matthew Dailey as Associate Choreographer. Bell is returning to Candlelight after 13 years of amazing audiences in a variety of theaters. Janice Vlachos is Music Director and conducts the excellent orchestra. Dailey wowed Candlelight audiences in “Singin’ in the Rain” and recently directed the theater’s “The Little Mermaid.” Vlachos recently retired from teaching at Boulder’s Fairview High School and has conducted music for more than 30 musicals, including “Joseph.”

Joseph’s tale has been around for centuries. Basic story comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible’s Old Testament, verses 37-50. This musical version began as a 15-minute boy’s school cantata in England in 1968. It was the work of musician Andew Lloyd Webber and his schoolmate, lyricist Tim Rice. It took a back seat in their priorities as they gained great acclaim with the release of the concert album recording of ”Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1971. They then returned to their “Joseph” cantata, opening it in expanded version London’s West End in 1973, and the next year at the Haymarket Theatre as a full musical. It opened on Broadway in 1982 and has been a worldwide favorite for more than 40 years.

Andrew Lloyd Webber went on to further acclaim as musical composer of “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Starlight Express,” “Aspects of Love,” “Evita,” “Love Never Dies,“ “Tell Me on a Sunday,” ”Whistle Down the Wind,” “The Beautiful Game ”and more!

There is even a talking camel! Joseph will be wearing his technicolor dreamcoat through January 28, 2024. Tickets will be difficult to obtain for this heartwarming spectacle.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
To January 26, 2024
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Johnstown, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

The Candlelight Rocks with Great Memories of Early Jukebox Music

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis & Carl Perkins Are All Back In Town

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 22, 2023

It is December 4, 1956. Sam Phillips, founder and owner of Sun Record in Memphis, Tennessee, has lined up a couple of his back-up performers and three of the stars that he helped become famous to hopefully spend a few hours reminiscing and perhaps creating more musical memories. Jerry Lee Lewis is a newcomer to the group and his arrival was not anticipated, as he just wants an audition. The premise of the get-together is already in jeopardy. Phillips has become known as the Father of the Rock and Roll Genre, but the jukebox industry has its challenges.

Photo Credit: Creative AgencyElvis Presly gained instant stardom when he signed with Sam Phillips at Sun Records, but has said goodbye to Sun and signed with RCA. Sun Records is floundering. Unbeknownst to Phillips, Johnny Cash has signed with Columbia Records when his contract with Sun is up. There is still friction between Presley and Perkins. Presley soared to fame with a song written by Perkins – “Blue Suede Shoes” and Perkins is still ticked that Presley got the fame that Perkins sought. All is not sunny and bright, but there is an obvious comradery among the group whose music was taking the world by storm.

Photo Credit: Creative AgencyThat December get-together is the interesting basis of reviving great music of the ‘50s and sharing some of that era’s musical history with today’s audiences. The show is a wow! The music was famous more than 60 years ago, and much of it remains amazingly familiar.

The Candlelight cast is a group with enormous talent. Although they are not yet familiar to Candlelight audiences and do not have the physical appearance of the icons they portray, each has an obvious background of the music they produce. Wyatt Andrew Brownell is an over-the top Jerry Lee Lewis. His keyboard ability is phenomenal whether he is sitting on the piano bench, or upside down on the piano itself. Jesse Plourde’s voice is so close to that of Elvis Presley that it is kind of spooky. Steven Lasiter’s Bass is as if Johnny Cash were standing on stage. Tarif Pappu has a more difficult role. He portrays Carl Perkins who is less known to local audiences than the first three performers, but Pappu is such a talent that he lights up the stage of the Candlelight. Charlotte Campbell Parrott portrays Dyanne, a girlfriend Presley brings to the recording studio. She is given her chance to wow the audiences, even though she is not part of that era’s history. Kyle Wells Lahr and Robert Brandon are the excellent back-up musicians portraying Brother Jay and Fluke.

Photo Credit: Creative AgencyChas Lederer is Sam Phillips, the Sun Record owner/founder. He doesn’t sing or dance, but is effective in moving the story along and keeping the audience well-informed between the terrific musical memories. The set is an interesting look at Phillip’s recording studio, an very impressive look at the1950s, abounding memorabilia and a touch of tackiness.

Christopher Wren directed this production, and is new to Candlelight audiences. This is twelfth time he has directed “Million Dollar Quartet” in various locations in the past eight years. His familiarity with the show is obvious, as his direction results in a sparkling production of great talent, and an historic resume off the Rock and Roll era in general!

Photo Credit: Creative Agency“Quartet” was written by Coln Escott and Floyd Mutrux and opened on Broadway in 2010 after several tryouts and regional productions. It has subsequently been produced in several venues in the United States, England and Canada.

“Quartet” provides a great evening of musical memories with outstanding talent! As the evening drew drawing to an end, much of the audience was on its feet singing and dancing. They didn’t want the show to end – until the announcer proclaimed, “Elvis has left the building!”

“Million Dollar Quartet”
Through November 12, 2023
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Tickets: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“The Little Mermaid “ Is A Beauty!

Greatness On Stage At The Candlelight

Reviewed by Tom Jones
July 10, 2023

An overabundance of rain put a damper on many people this late spring and early summer. Any such unhappiness was swept away in just one evening, however, when “The Little Mermaid” reminded us how delightful life can be under the sea. And above it!

Magicians appear to be in great supply in Northern Colorado this year as the entire “Mermaid” production is a magical delight. Director, cast, orchestra, technicians all spell “Talent” these days at Candlelight. Matthew Dailey wowed audiences a few months ago singing and dancing as Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain.” This time he is not seen, but his brilliant skills are obvious, as director of “The Little Mermaid.”

Amazingly, Dailey’s talent is not the only brilliance involved with his show. It is rare to have an entire group of leading and supporting performers that are so strong. From the time the audience arrives in the foyer of the theater to be greeted by colorful reminders of life “Under the Sea” to the final standing ovation they are beguiled by magic in a variety of forms!

Photo Credit: RDG PhotographySusanna Cathryn Ballenski and Jack Wardell head the cast. Ballenksi is the beautiful mermaid, living under the sea, but interested by the “humans” she has seen on her visits to the shore. Wardell is the handsome, human, Prince Eric. He is onboard a ship when cast into the sea in a violent storm. Under the water Ariel finds him and takes him to the surface to survive. Ballenksi and Wardell are flawless. They are beautiful, handsome, excellent performers.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Equally excellent, however, are the performers in supporting roles. Stars on their own. Scott Hurst Jr. portrays King Triton, ruler of Atlantica. He is Ariel’s loving, but overly-strict father. He has an enormous dislike for humans, due to the accidental death of his wife several years prior. Hurst brings enchantment to any role. I am looking forward to the day when he makes an album which includes his “There But For You Go I” from Candlelight’s “Brigadoon” production.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Ethan Knowles provides super comic relief as Ariel’s seagull friend, Scuttle. Jack Olson, a newcomer to Candlelight, is impressive as Flounder, Ariel’s best underwater friend. Ghandia Johnson is a wow as Sebastian, Ariel’s practical guardian. She nearly steals the show with her great enthusiasm and talent. Kelly Maur is the wicked Ursula, sister of King Triton, and evidently Ariel’s Aunt. Maur’s Ursula is a squid with tentacles in abundance. And she is a meany – claiming if Ariel gives her voice to her, she will make Ariel human. Nathan Petit and Chas Lederer are Flotsam and Jetsam, two of Ursula’s slippery henchmen.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Stephen Charles Turner is in great form as Chef Louis who provides Ariel with her first out-of-the-water meal, unfortunately choosing a menu of fish! Brian Adams is believable as Grimsby, faithful servant to Prince Eric.

Put them all on stage together – they amaze!

The Candlelight production is a stage musical based on the animated 1989 Disney film. This Hans Christian Andersen’s story is about a mermaid who has such love of creatures above the water that she is willing to give up her beautiful voice to become “human.” The show’s pre-Broadway tryout was in Denver in 2007 with six weeks of sold-out performances. Nearly 100,000 theatergoers saw that production. I was among them. I liked the show, but was not as impressed as I am with the current local wonder. The Denver tryout-show moved to Broadway officially open in 2008 where it ran for 685 performances. It has enjoyed several productions worldwide.

The current Mermaid, under direction of Matthew Dailey, provides great beauty. The gorgeous choreography is by Kate Vallee who also serves as Artistic Director. The excellent orchestra is under direction of Jerimiah Otto. Brian Watson’s under-water set transitions smoothly to the above-sea scenes. Debra Faber and Peter West provide the enchanting consumes.

Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. A few of the songs are delightfully familiar – “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl,’ and “Under the Sea.” Not so well known is “If Only” a heartwarming charmer featuring Ariel, Eric, Sebastian, and Triton late in Act Two.

Will Ariel get her voice back? Will Prince Eric ever kiss the girl? What does life “under the sea” look like? Don’t hesitate to be amazed. Head to Candlelight for tickets before they are gone.

“The Little Mermaid”
Through September 10, 2023
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“Cats” Is A Brilliant Display Of Incredible Talents!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Triumphs Yet Again!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 14, 2023

Several months ago when I learned that the Candlelight was bringing “Cats” to its Johnstown stage I was non-plussed. I saw the show in London when it first opened in 1981 and was not impressed. My memory is of a somewhat drab show that made no sense. As a Candlelight Season Ticket patron, I decided to go ahead and see the show again this month to see if my memories of 42 years ago were correct. What a difference those intervening years have made!

Entering the Candlelight Theater at the same time we did on opening night an elderly couple mentioned they had already seen the show twice, in other venues, and were looking forward to seeing it again. The woman noted, “I love this show.” As we sat down to order dinner, we asked the waiter if he had seen the preview the previous night. He said, “Yes. I still don’t know what it was all about, but it is sensational.” I realized that maybe I had been missing something that first time around so many years ago and decided to give it my best attention.

No “best attention” was necessary. This production of “Cats” dazzles from the opening music to the final standing ovation! The costumes, set, makeup, lighting, orchestra, and entire cast are a wonder to see and hear. And the choreography! At one point I felt like I had paid to see a first rate, two-act classical ballet, set to delightfully fun music! The cast is large and all performers move together as one great wave of talent. What a show!

British musical genius Andrew Lloyd Webber became acquainted with the poems of T. S. Elliot when he was very young, being especially enamored with his “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Webber’s musical theatre success began in 1968 with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” followed by “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1970, and” Evita” in 1976. Shortly thereafter he began setting Elliot’s feline poetry to music. This became a difficult process, involving other lyricists and writers to possibly make a coherent musical out of the Elliot poems. Everything began to fall into place and he went full speed ahead to produce the musical – only to find backers not as interested as he was. Despite his early successes, he mortgaged his own home to finally come up with funds needed for “Cats.” It opened in London in 1981 to mixed reviews, but audiences were enchanted and began to tell their friends, who evidently liked it better than I did.

“Cats” subsequently began garnering every award possible, including “Best Musical” in London and America’s “Tony Award for Best Musical” in New York City. As of last year, “Cats” has turned out to be an incredible financial success – worldwide gross of 4.5 billion dollars. Webber didn’t stop writing, but went on to provide the world with such amazements as “Phantom of the Opera” in 1986 and “Sunset Boulevard” in 1993. He currently has a new version of “Cinderella” playing in London.

Why is “Cats” such a phenomenon? Basically it is about 15 of T. S. Elliot poems set to music. There is no dialogue, as everything is either “sung” or “spoken” as choral readings. The story takes place in a junkyard inhabited by a host of cats who have become longtime friends, several into more than one of their estimated “nine lives.” Each year they have a Jellical Ball the night of a full moon when the longtime leader, “Old Deuteronomy,” will make an appearance and declare which cat will receive the honor that year to be reborn into a new life on the “Heaviside Layer.”

During the space of about two hours the cats sing and dance about themselves, several indicating why they should be chosen for the “reborn honor” that year. There are cats with all manner of different occupations, personalities, and traits. Probably the oldest and least-liked is Grizabella who is somewhat ignored by others when she comes into the yard. She is probably the most mis-understood, and it takes some support from Old Deuteronomy to result in the other cats better appreciating their “old” friend.

As cats sing about themselves, they provide some of the most delightful cat-like choreography imaginable. The costumes and makeup are wonderful. The overall effect is amazing! The staging is brilliant, moving the many performers smoothly on stage with great care and grace.

Everyone on stage is extremely talented. Some of the “names” I remember from past Candlelight shows include Chris Bain, Alisha Winter-Hayes, Cory Michael Klements, Ryne Haldeman, Sara Kowalski, Chas Lederer, and Patric Case. Scott Hurst, Jr. is among the best-known performers, taking on the role of Old Deuteronomy. Rachel Miller makes her first Candlelight appearance with great wonder as Victoria.

The remarkable production team is headed by Kurt Stamm, Director/Choreographer; Shawna Walker, Associate choreographer; Richard Shore, Music Director; and Jalyn Courtenay Webb as Vocal Director. Longtime Candlelight favorite, Webb, portrays “Grizabella’ and provides the musical’s most familiar song, “Memory.” Her rendition just might be the definitive offering and the audience was virtually stunned with what they heard. Interestingly, “Memory” didn’t become part of the original show until it was well into previews.

And no, I did not understand everything that was sung and choral-reading spoken. The sound system is very good, but the lyrics weren’t always clear. That is a problem. But once I figured I knew enough about what was happening, I could just sit back, relax and enjoy the marvel of the show itself! What a treat!

Through June 25, 2023
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“Brigadoon” is Pure Magic at Candlelight

Mystical Village in Scottish Highlands comes to life.  It is a beauty!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 11, 2023

By 1947 World War Two had been over for two years. Harry S. Truman was President of the United States. In New York, two virtually unknown writers finished work on their latest Broadway endeavor. Even though America was recovering from the effects of the war, money to produce Broadway musicals was not plentiful. Lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe had written two shows that were not hits. They auditioned their new show 50 times before successfully finding investors to provide funds for their new offering. This was a fantasy about a mystical village in the Highlands of Scotland. They named it “Brigadoon.” It opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City and went on to receive the Drama Critics Award for Best Musical that year. It opened in London two years later, and has subsequently experienced several successful revivals as well as the l954 movie starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Could the original show have been as exciting as the production now on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown? This year “Brigadoon” is a marvel in the hands of local performers, choral director, choreography, set designer, music directors – everyone associated in bringing this joyous show to the local stage.

Scott Hurst, Jr., and Sara Kowalski are in peak form in the leads as the American tourist, Tommy, and a kindly Scottish woman, Fiona, They can act. They can dance. They can sing. Their renditions of “Heather on the Hill,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” and “From this Day On” are breathtaking. Hurst’s “There But for You Go I” is one of the most beautiful solos in recent memory.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Tommy and his friend, Jeff, are American tourists hiking through the Highlands of Scotland, stumbling onto a mysterious village, “Brigadoon” which reportedly comes to life for just one day every 100 years. The villagers are not eager to explain the mystery of this enchanted village. But by the time the town’s history is revealed, Tommy has lost his heart to a local woman, and Jeff has lost any sense of soberness wanting only to return to his favorite bar in New York City.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

This is remarkable stuff. Everything about this show works to perfection. The set, lighting, and sound provide an undeniably pleasant mood rarely seen on stage. The audience sees the village of Brigadoon for a couple of hours – but long enough to experience the joy of a marriage, the sadness of a funeral, the happiness of spending time gathering heather on the hill. It has appreciation for good people doing their best to lead good lives, but with the understanding that everyone is not going to be happy all of the time. There will be jealousies, temptations, as well as joy and romance.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The set by Mike Grittner and Heath Howes is brilliant, bringing life to the Scottish Highlands and providing a welcoming and heartwarming look at village life. The direction (Steve Wargo), orchestra and music direction (Jerimiah Otto), choreography (Shawna Walker), costumes (Debra Faber), sound (Mark Derryberry) and lighting (Vance Mackenzie) are all wondrous.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The cast includes Charlotte Lafonte as the delightful over-the top, man-hungry Meg. Chas Lederer is the affable, but continually-drunk Jeff. The entire ensemble is brilliant. Is it rare to see so many talented dancers and singers sharing the stage. The weather outside was the only chill for the entire evening.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

It would have been interesting to be in the initial meetings of the persons involved with staging this current show. Candlelight Theatre productions have become a home base of an increasingly large number of genuinely talented persons – performers and technicians. A great new addition to the Candlelight for this show is a new sound system which clarifies virtually everything said or sung. As was the case in Broadway shows of that era, there is sometimes more dialogue than desired. But the enchanting music and choreography make up for such detraction.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

I’m eager to learn how the cast and crew feels at the conclusion of each performance, as fog rolls in to hide the mystical village from the rest of the world They do have the great fortune, however, of visiting there for a couple of hours for several more days of performances (through April 2)!

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The original financial backers found that their faith in Lerner and Loewe was not misplaced. Some went on to toast success to the writing team in their future megahits: “Paint Your Wagon,” “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi” and “Camelot.” Quite a list. Candlelight staff and crew are making history with “quite a list” of their own with one continuous delight after the next. I’m already planning my schedule to see one of my all-time favorites, “Then Secret Garden” on tap for later this season.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

In the meantime, “Brigadoon” at the Candlelight is brilliance not to be missed!

Through April 2, 2023
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“White Christmas” Bodes Well For A Great Holiday Season

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Continues Its Triumphant Runs Of Excellence In Johnstown

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 18, 2022

Opening night of “White Christmas” was amazing. As light snow was falling outside, but didn’t make it into the theater until the last few moments of this theatrical delight. For starters, the plotline is pleasant without surprises. I had seen a production of the show several years ago at Midtown Theatre in Fort Collins and was nonplussed. I easily could have opted to stay home and let opening night take place without me.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

So very glad that I headed to the theater. From the moment Scott Hurst sang “White Christmas” early in the show, I was hooked! The entire production is not to be missed. Hurst, as Bob, shares the stage with a remarkable cast. It appears that Candlelight has rounded up every super talent in Colorado to perform for its audiences. Nathan Petit is excellent as Bob’s friend who joins Hurst for some delightful showstoppers throughout the event. They have terrific voices and are seasoned dancers. What a duo. Their love interests are Maryann Dutcher as Betty Haynes, and Sara Kowalski as her sister, Judy Haynes. Kent Sugg is excellent as General Waverly, as are Samantha Jo Staggs as Martha Watson and Kate Trainor as Susan Waverly. The role of Susan Waverly is shared with alternating performances by Alianna Glorioso and Adleleia Odekirk as well as Kate Trainor. Kate was a real “find” as the General’s granddaughter!

While the plot is trite, the performances are not! Kate Vallee as director and co-choreographer and Matthew Dailey as associate director and co-choreographer have pulled out all the tops to provide some of the most entertaining tap dancing imaginable, with “Blue Skies” in act one, and “I Love a Piano” opening act two. The choreography defies belief, completely wowing the audience with displays of talent hard to top.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The song “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin first appeared in the movie “Holiday Inn.” The song became an instant classic and became even more popular with the release of the 1954 movie musical “White Christmas.” The move starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Ver-Ellen, and became a classic on its own.

The story didn’t turn up as a Broadway musical until 2008. It was not an immediate stage sensation, but has enjoyed increasing success in England, Australia, and on various USA tours. I would be hard pressed to find a cast as brilliant anywhere as currently on stage in Johnstown. The show looks great. Orchestra is great. Costume and design are great. And the direction and choreography = A+

“White Christmas”
Through January 8, 20923
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“The Scarlet Pimpernel” Is A Swash-Buckling Beauty Of French Revolution Intrigue

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse begins 15th Anniversary With Great Swordplay, Music, Romance & Deceit

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 17, 2022

It is 1792 and current French leaders have found a new way to get rid of persons they don’t like, and the English are finding ways to stop the slaughter. Sounds grim? It could have been, but Candlelight’s latest triumph is a remarkable look at England and France during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution.

Acclaimed French actress, Marguerite St. Just, is performing in her final show in Paris at La Comedie Francaise. Her announcement to her audience that she is planning to marry a wealthy English aristocrat is disrupted by French government authority Chauvelin who announces the immediate closure of the entire theatre. The wickedness of Chauvelin is obvious as he then oversees the execution by guillotine of two of Marguerite’s friends.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Marguerite and her fiancé, British aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney, leave immediately for England, horrified by the guillotine deaths. In England Percy perceives a plan to make amends for the deaths by saving other innocents from the guillotine. He doesn’t tell Marguerite what he is up to, as he puts together a group of friends to return to France for vengeance. The group of friends are well-trained English military men. Percy needs to provide a disguise for them, and they become elegant British ninnies – off to battle in Paris their finest over-the-top clothing! Percy sets himself up as a mysterious “Scarlet Pimpernel,” with only his band of “warriors” aware of who he is and what he is up to.

Sarah Forman portrays Marguerite St. Just, with Patric Case as Percy Blakeney, and Scott Hurst Jr. as Chauvelin. It would be difficult to come up with three more talented performers than Forman, Case, and Hurst. They have incredible voices, terrific acting skills and are just plain “excellence in action.”

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Based on 1905 novel by British author Baroness Orczy, the musical began as a concert album in 1992, and some of the music became fairly well known, including “Into the Fire,” and “When I Look at You.” It didn’t turn up as a Broadway musical until 1997 and played in various Broadway theaters for nearly three years. It subsequently had National Tours, and has been seen in dozens of cities worldwide. The music is by Frank Wildhorn with lyrics and book by Nan Knighton. Wildhorn music is highly respected, especially his wondrous score for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He made history in 1998 as one of only a handful of composers to have three shows running on Broadway at the same time: “Pimpernel,” “Jekyll,” and “Civil War.”

The current Candlelight production succeeds on every level. The entire cast is excellent. Forman, Case and Hurst are given great support by a uniformly remarkable cast, including Ethan Walker and Kelsey McKelfresh in supporting roles. The set is effective; the costumes outstanding, lighting., orchestra, and sound are flawless. Steve Wilson directs the show, with Carrie Colton overseeing choreography and fight direction. Swordplay on stage has never been more exciting. Vocal direction is by Jalyn Courtenay Webb.

The Candlelight is to be admired for providing a variety of theatrical productions and especially for bringing such little-known shows as “Scarlet Pimpernel “to the attention of local audiences. A member of the audience, sitting near to me, noted on leaving the theatre, “This is the best production I’ve seen at Candlelight in the eight or so years we have been seeing their shows.”

This is remarkable theatre – providing the audience with terrific sights and sounds, and even a bit of history tossed it. Did you realize that the guillotine, Robespierre, and Madame Tussaud’s wax figures had anything in common?

“The Scarlet Pimpernel”
Through November 6, 2022
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970-744-3747
Online: http://www.coloradocandlelight.com

“Cinderella” Loses Her Shoe – But Not When You Expect!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Dazzles Yet Again

Reviewed by Tom Jones
July 10, 2022

Candlelight continues its roll of providing first-rate productions!  A somewhat new version of the age-old fairy tale is visually wowing audiences this summer.  Emery Hines and Ian Black star as the mentally abused Cinderella and her handsome prince charming.  They are both very talented performers, and charm the audience, especially in Act One’s “Ten Minutes Ago I Met You” and in Act Two’s “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful.”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The starring roles are a tad weakly written, however, and the wondrous fairy god mother (played by Sarah Forman) and the crazed stepmother (played by Annie Dwyer) nearly steal the show.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Also dazzlingly delightful are Sara Kowalski and Kelly Maur as the evil stepsisters, Damon Guerrasio as Sebastian, Brian Wilcox as Lord Pinkleton, and Brian Adams as Jean-Michel. In a switch with tradition, one of the “evil” stepsisters turns out to be a courageous friend!

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The supporting cast is particularly interesting in this production, as the choreography requires nearly everyone to amaze with great athletic skills.  Choreography is credited to Susanna Cathryn Ballenski, with Phil Forman as the show’s director. They have Eli Emming and Lori Newsom nearly flying across the stage (as leaping fox and raccoon) and first rate technical staff keeping the audience alert with creative costume changes and special effects. 

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The set, lighting and costumes are excellent!  The show is a beauty!

Photo Credit The Creative Agency

“Cinderella” fairy tale has been around forever.  Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein turned it into a musical written for television in 1957 starring Julie Andrews.  That production was viewed by more than 100 million people.  It was subsequently remade for television twice with different stars (in 1965 and 1997).  A 2013 adaptation for Broadway had a new book by Douglas Carter Beane production.  It ran for 770 performances on Broadway and was nominated for nine Tony Wards. It is 2013 production that has been recreated on the Candlelight Stage this season.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Rodgers and Hammerstein are credited for writing many of Broadway’s most famous shows, including “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I.”  Music for “Cinderella” does not have the famous music as their other shows, but local audiences may remember hearing “Ten Minutes Ago, “ “In My Own Little Corner,” “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” and “Impossible.”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Impossible” is nearly a theme for the entire production, as it is a scenic wonder providing never-ending “impossible” delights.  The new story line was written with social correctness in mind.  Sometimes that doesn’t quite fit the fairy tale.  Also a tad disturbing to the opening night audience was the end of the first act when the glass slipper did NOT fall from Cinderella’s foot as she leaves the ball.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Through the ages, a giddy delight in having the shoe finally “fit” has been a mainstay of the Cinderella fable.  Not to worry, the shoe does eventually need to find its owner.  And, triumphantly, does fit!

Enormous fun!

Through September 4, 2022
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“Singing in the Rain” – Not To Be Missed!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Dazzles The Audience And Even Rains On Some!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 29, 2022

Standing ovations are rare in dinner theater shows, and applause during an actual dance routine is nearly unheard of. Audience response to “Singing in the Rain” opening night at Candlelight was remarkable as applause nearly stopped a dance routine and a standing ovation completed the final curtain call. But in fact, everything about this production is “remarkable.

Kate Vallee brings excitement to the stage as director and choreographer. Her talents are enormous, with a background that includes performing as part of the famous New York City Radio City Rockettes. Timing in outstanding in this jewel of a production. Dancing is about as impressive as anything previously provided on local stages.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Denver native Matthew Dailey stars as silent movie star Don Lockwood in 1927 Hollywood. Dailey is a newcomer to Candlelight, and hopefully he will return frequently. He is a polished performer with super skills as an actor, singer, and dancer. He is a treasure to see in motion, so light on his feet that even Gene Kelly could be in awe. Rachel Turner, a Candlelight favorite, is teamed with Dailey as Kathy Selden, a performing newcomer with potential. She continues to bring joy to the stage each time she appears. She and Dailey have great chemistry and believability.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Stephen Turner is Cosmo Brown, Lockwood’s longtime friend and burlesque partner with no bones in a body that can move in every direction – at the same time. The flashbacks of him and Don Lockwood’s burlesque days are enormous fun. Another longtime Candlelight wonder, Alisha Winter Hayes, sparkles as the over-the-top diva, Lina Lamont, who photographs well, but has few other skills. Hayes, who plays Lina, on the other hand, is enormously skillful with sly winks, an impossibly obnoxious voice and a commanding presence

This quartet of talents is backed by a glorious ensemble with some taking more than one part. Michele Jeffres keeps backstage crew busy as she changes wigs and costumes to appear in at least three roles—all delightful.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The movie version of “Singing in the Rain” was a 1952 American musical romantic comedy film. It starred Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner, and Debbie Reynolds (who was only 19 at the time)! Choreography was by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. The movie was not a run-away hit when first released. It has subsequently become a classic, however, now on many lists as one of the best musical films ever made. A Broadway stage version opened in 1985 and enjoyed only a limited run.

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are stars of Hollywood’s silent move era. Lockwood is multi-talented, and has no desire to be Lamont’s boyfriend. Lamont is an unabated love-crazed movie partner to Lockwood. She has no talents except for being photogenic. Her “romance” with Lockwood is a fantasy created by the gossip columnists and motion picture back-offices to maintain the public’s interest in showbiz. Unassuming Kathy Selden comes into the mix, meeting Lockwood while getting away from the crowds following a Lockwood movie premiere. She is a warm hearted, honest individual who immediately clashes with the wild over-the-top Lina Lamont.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The plans to transfer an ill-fated silent film into a full length musical with sound are filled with terrific dancing and singing. The costumes are especially interesting, as is the set that has pieces moving on and off effortlessly, as if they are a moving picture. There is so much going on in this super production that it is impossible to lose interest. Among the technical wonders are the black and white film clips of the silent movies – starring the cast we see in real life on stage and prepared by the impressive team at The Creative Agency. Lighting, sound, costumes, dancing and singing combined to provide an unusually awesome evening. The orchestra is very good, under direction of Phil Forman.

“Singing in the Rain” provides exciting entertainment. Much of the music is well-known. The first few rows of the audience are provided with ponchos to keep dry while Matthew Dailey pulls out all the stops to sing and dance, and stomp in the rain-drenched stage at the conclusion of Act One.

Based on audience response on opening night, tickets might soon be gone to experience this delight.

“Singing in the Rain”
Through June 26th, 2022
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: coloradocandlelight.com

“Murder on the Orient Express” Reigns As Whodunit Delight In Johnstown

Agatha Christie mystery is, simply said, “Enormously fun entertainment”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 18, 2022

Passengers congregate in Istanbul, to board the famous “Orient Express” train to travel to Western Europe in the 1930s. They are a disparate group, a mixture of unusual characters, with one of them (Mr. Ratchett) to turn up dead not long after departure from Istanbul. Who could have killed Ratchett? And was his name really ”Ratchett?” Fortunately, one of the train’s passengers is the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Can he solve the mystery?

Raja Salaymeh as Poirot. Photo Credit: The Creative Agency

For several years Raja Salaymeh was a talent to be reckoned with, primarily as owner of the Union Colony Dinner theatre in Greeley. He has been absent from local stages for much too long. His return to the stage as the detective Poirot is a reminder of how much he has been missed. He is excellent as the careful detective. Welcome back, Raja! And I am not giving away any secrets — he does solve the mystery before the train arrives in Western Europe!

The Cast Photo Credit: The Creative Agency

Candlelight is highly respected for its super musical productions and has taken a risk with producing a music-less show. It succeeds in every way. While Salaymeh is the show’s “star,’ he shares the stage with a super cast of talents. These “talents” are not only the performers, but the staging itself. The cars of Orient Express train fit nicely onto the stage with a great rendition of the train designed by Casey Kearns, with Master Carpentry by Dave MacEachen, and Scenic Painting by Joel Adam Chavez and Lelah Radostis. Lighting, costumes, and sound are excellent. For most Candlelight productions mention is made of “Choreographer.” As “Murder” is not a musical, it has no dancing, but credit is given to Miranda Guettlein as “Dialect Coach.” She has done a great job with the cast’s diction. The sound system is at its best, and there was no problem in understanding virtually everything that was spoken in the entire show.

Playwright Ken Ludwig has done a very good job transferring Agatha Christie’s 1934 worldwide favorite “Murder” story to the stage. Director Kenny Moten has taken the Ludwig work and wondrously transferred it to the Candlelight stage. Moten is one of those theatrical magicians who appear to be able to do just about everything from performing to directing.

“Hugh Butterfield and Sarah Gibson, as the train departs Istanbul.” Photo Credit: The Creative Agency

The train’s passengers include a super cast of Candlelight favorites and new faces playing roles secrets that make them possible murderers. But not to worry, Poirot will find who dunnit! In the meantime, the audience can watch the goings-on while the train is partially stalled in the mountains due to a freak snowstorm.

“Alexander Watson in the Istanbul fog” Photo Credit: The Creative Agency

Elliot Clough portrays Bouc, a longtime friend of Poirot who is Director of the Wagon Lits train Company. Chris Bain has two roles – Colonel Arbuthnot as well as the murdered Samuel Ratchett. Alexander Watson plays McQueen, secretary and translator for Ratchett. Hugh Butterfield, who has turned out to be one of Candlelight audiences’ favorites, turns up this time as Michel the train Steward, trying to take care of everyone on board when the train becomes snowbound. Samantha Jo Staggs is regal as Russian Princess Natalia, with Charlotte Lafonte as her travelling secretary, Mary. New to Candlelight audiences is Emily Valley, who portrays Greta, a Swedish missionary. Another new is Sarah Gibson as American widow, Helen. Her role is one of the show’s most interesting, and she is excellent!

Everything works to perfection in this clever tale. It is a one-of-a-kind theatrical delight. It does appear, however, that the show might be completely sold out for its entire run, so speed is required to check for tickets. Yes, this Agatha Christie mystery is, simply said “Enormously fun entertainment.”

Murder on the Orient Express
Through April 16, 3022
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online: www.coloradocandlelight.com

“Curtains” is a showbiz tale of crazy backstage intrigue.

Candlelight spotlights the goings-on of a theater company in disarray with “Curtains”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 17, 2022

Jessica Cranshaw is a supremely untalented star of “’Robbin’ Hood of the Old West.” She drops dead at her opening night curtain call in Boston. Was she just worn out for being such a horrific performer, or did someone in the cast or crew do her in? The show’s cast is delighted that the star is gone, but what now will happen to them? Do they say, “The show must go on,” or do they take the next train out of Boston?

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Boston detective Cioffi arrives on the scene, announces that Cranshaw has been murdered and demands that everyone in the cast remain in the theatre until the mystery is solved. Damon Guerrasio, a newcomer to Candlelight audiences, plays the theatre-struck detective. He is very good, and will hopefully turn up in future Candlelight productions. He has great stage presence, is an excellent dancer, and will hopefully find himself in center-stage in future shows.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Curtains” is a clever mix of stage stereotypes. There is the over-the-top child-star mother, the evil producer, the hassled director, and the cast doing whatever they can to become “stars.” Detective Cioffi is in his element, surrounded by the people he adores -– “Show People.” He just might make his mark in finding the murderer and finding a way for the show to go on.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

While the mics were sometimes problematic, the sets, costumes, lighting, orchestra and most of the cast were in fine form. The staging and direction are very good and the excellent choreography under direction of Kate Vallee, with orchestra directed by Phil Forman.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Candlelight has a large pool of excellent performers, many taking the stage for “Curtains.” Standouts include Scott Hurst, Jr., Sara Forman, Abigail Kochevar, and Hugh Butterfield. Musical highlight of the production is “I Miss the Music” as performed by Hurst, and again as “Thinking of Missing the Music” assisted by Kochevar. Butterfield continues to be a wonder. It appears he can do everything – dance, sing, play comedy or tragedy. He continually lights up the stage.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Curtains” is a musical mystery comedy with a book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander, with additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes. It opened on Broadway in March of 2007, receiving mixed reviews. David Hyde Pierce received the Tony Award that year for his performance as Detective Cioffi.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

A show-biz hymn, “A Tough Act to Follow” is the production’s pleasant finale. It is somewhat telling, as the “Curtains” production arrived on the Candlelight stage immediately following the enormous success of the wondrous “Sound of Music.” “Curtain’s” performers are a hard-working team, highlighted by excellent sets, lighting and costumes, and super choreography. Great fun!

Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To March 13, 2022
Information or tickets:
Box Office: 970/744-3747 or

“Sound of Music” Is Pure Magic In Johnstown

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Has Pulled Out All Stops To Provide An Incredible Entertainment

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 3, 2021

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”  That’s what the nuns in an Austrian Abbey are asking, concerning the actions of a new postulant who claims she wants to become a nun, but doesn’t yet fit into the mold they have hoped for.  The postulate, Maria, is late for dinner (yet again) as she has immersed herself in the scenery of her beautiful nearby mountains.  The beauties of the mountains have been her lifelong happiness. She soon has the entire audience of “Sound of Music” equally in love with them, just as they become in love with Maria.

Photo Credit The Creative Agency

Emery Hines is brilliant as the singing nun.  When the curtains open, a wondrous scene of the Alps unfolds, and the magic begins as Maria sings, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”  Suddenly, the stage, the audience, the cast, and all of Johnstown become “alive” with the sounds and sights of this wonderful show. 

The pandemic has changed many of us, sometimes to the point of not particularly caring about returning to a theatre for a live show.  What a tragic mistake.  From the moment the curtain opened to show the mountains and Hines began to sing, I was “hooked.”  This is truly one of the finest productions to be seen in recent memory!

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The Abbess tells Maria that while everyone truly loves her, she does not seem to fit into the convent’s routine.  She has arranged for the young woman to become a governess for a family in a nearby village, to oversee the lives of seven children who have recently lost their mother, and whose father is choosing to be away frequently.

Maria accepts the challenge.  She arrives at the luxurious Von Trapp family home to find seven delightfully mischievous young children marching to the orders of their strict military father and desperately in need of love and affection.

Based on a true story, the Von Trapps are facing many problems, the least of which is that their beloved Austria is soon to be annexed by the Nazi regime in Germany.  Captain Von Trapp is a highly respected retired military officer the Nazi regime needs to help in their war effort.  This is very somber stuff to end up as a joyous musical classic.

Maria’s arrival at the family home is met with interest from the children, resentment from their father whose means of fathering consists primarily of blowing a horn whenever he wants the family to assemble, and to make certain they march for health each day.  Maria, on the other hand, loves to gather the children around the comfort of her bed, sing to them, tell them stories of her “favorite things,” resulting in their adulation of the new governess.

Music by Richard Rodgers and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II were the final effort of the world-famous Rodgers and Hammerstein team.  It opened on Broadway in 1959, and was an instant hit.  Hammerstein died just nine months after the opening.  It was filmed as a movie in 1965, again receiving great reviews including “Best Picture” starring Julie Andrews.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

While Emery Hines as Maria is the show’s star, the entire cast is remarkable.  Scott Hurst has an excellent voice as Captain Von Trapp.  Near the show’s conclusion he solos “Edelweiss”as the family is in an Austrian music competition.  He then asked the audience to sing along with him, and the result is a heart-warming realization that this man is singing about his beloved Austrian homeland, as he is about to try to hike his family to safety in Switzerland to get away from the Nazis.  The Candlelight audience participation is heart-felt!

Steve Wilson has directed this show, with Carrie Colton as choreographer and Phil Forman as music director.  The entire artistic team at Candlelight has combined efforts to provide a production that will be hard to equal.  The scenic design is a marvel of beauty.  Sound, light, and choreography are wondrous.  The orchestra and entire cast are flawless.  

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The cast is comprised of seasoned Candlelight talents, combined with delightful young newcomers, some making their first stage appearances, serving as the Von Trapp children. Families who see the show must be warned that any young people they bring with them will immediately set their sights on performing arts careers.

Jalyn Courtenay Webb is spellbinding as the Mother Abbess who stops the show with her instructions to Maria, “Climb Every Mountain.”  Hugh Butterfield is convincing as Max Detweiller, Von Trapp’s friend who is trying to help them flee from Austria.  Heather McClain is very good as the highly successful Austrian business woman who would like to become the next Mrs. Von Trapp.  Susanna Ballenski and Ethan Walker shine as the teenagers being introduced to romance.  Ballenski is the 16year-old Von Trapp daughter. Walker is the “older by one year” messenger boy who wants to take Liesl under his protective wing.  

Rodgers and Hammerstein provided the world with an amazing array of wonderful productions including “Oklahoma!”  “South Pacific,”  “The King and I,”  “Carousel” “Flower Drum Song,”  and concluding with the beautiful “Sound of Music” as on stage this autumn at the Candlelight.  The Candlelight has a wonderful track record of providing great family entertainment.  There is something unique to this particular show, however.   It provides the audience with a rare emotional experience seldom found on stage.  This is a production not to be missed!

“The Sound of Music”
Through January 30, 3022
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown,, CO 80534
Box Office 970/744-3747
Online:  www.coloradocandlelight.com

Ethan Walker Amazes As A Transplanted Teenager Who Wants To Dance!

“Footloose” Comes Alive At The Candlelight!


Ethan Walker portrays Ren McCormack who is at loose ends – yep.  He is footloose.  He and his mom have moved from exciting Chicago to “Bomont” in the middle of nowhere USA when his father abandons the family. Ren and his mom, Ethel, are forced to move to Bomont, as his mom’s sister and her husband have offered them a place to live.  Walker is wondrous as the out-of-place Ren.  He can sing.  He can dance.  He can act.  He creates excitement wherever he goes.

Unfortunately for Ren and his mom, Bomont is not excited to have them arrive in town.  It appears that a few years ago there was a tragic automobile accident that killed four youths, including the son of Reverend Shaw Moore, the local preacher.  The preacher continues his deep morning the loss of his son and has expanded his grief to exclude any type of normal teenage activity – including dancing.  Thomas Castro is well known to Candlelight audiences, and he is especially good as the preacher who has not only excluded the town teenagers from happiness, but has alienated his wife, Vi, and their teenage daughter, Ariel.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

Heather McClain is convincing as the wife, Vi, and Susanna Ballenski dazzles as Ariel, their daughter.  Like Ethan Walker playing Ren, Ballenski is sensational as Ariel.  She, too, can dance, act, sing, and light up the stage.  Unfortunately she is dating the town trailer trash Chuck Cranston making her preacher father especially unhappy.  Hugh Butterfield also well known to Candlelight audiences is very good as Cranston, and he brings a roughness to the boy from the wrong side of town.

“Footloose” at the Candlelight is a wonderful story- one of forgiveness and hope  that doesn’t come along very often.  It has a beautiful storyline, some comedy relief, and some phenomenal dancing.  Music is pleasant, with a few songs that are hummable favorites from the past, including “Mama Says” and “Footloose.” Ren and Ariel make their own magic with “Almost Paradise;” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” in the second act is just about as rollicking a dance number as seen in recent memory.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

Ren learned his dancing skills in Chicago and wants everyone in Bomont to enjoy such an opportunity. He even rallies the town around the idea of over-riding the Preacher’s anger, hoping to have an actual school dance.  He faces obstacles.

Everyone associated with his production appears to be first class!  The trio of leads is amazing, as are all of the supporting players. In addition to the persons listed above other standout performances are provided by Ethan Lee Knowles as Willard Hewitt,  Allison Hatch as Ren’s mother, and Sarah Forman as “Rusty.” The extent of talent is remarkable.

Putting the production together must have been a Herculean task!  The planned production was to be a version of “Peter Pan,” but that was pulled from the list only about two weeks prior to opening night.  Cast and crew decided upon “Footloose” and put the entire production together in only about two weeks.  A mini miracle on its own.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

Much of the credit for the success is the work of Cole Emarine, (Director and Choreographer), Phil Forman Music Director), Heather McClain (Associate Choreographer), and Jalyn Courtenay Webb (Associate Music Director).  The set, lighting, costumes, and sound are all excellent.

Footloose the Musical is based on the 1984 movie that sky-rocketed Kevin Bacon to stardom.  Bacon portrayed Ren who has moved to Bomont with his mother and just plain doesn’t fit into the crowd.  The musical stage version opened on Broadway in 1998 and versions of the show have toured worldwide.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

I saw the final dress rehearsal prior to opening night at Candlelight and was blown away with the excellence of the entire production.  Seeing it again a week later only heightened my appreciation for the efforts made to make “Footloose” such great entertainment.

As a bonus to “Footloose” is the current Candlelight meal!  Dinner theaters are not highly regarded as great places to eat.  That has changed as Rode Roberts is now Head Chef at the Candlelight.  The meal with “Footloose” was a super addition to an already exceptional evening!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534

Johnstown Becomes Magical As Fairy Tale Creatures Continue To Thrive

A Two-Night Youth Production Of “Shrek” In July Was A Charmer And Regular Show Continues At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Stage Through August 22


By Tom Jones
July 22, 2021

Johnstown, Colorado, is a magical place this summer. On the Main Stage of The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, a terrific production of “Shrek” opened to enthusiastic response in June. Separate from the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is The Academy By Divabee, a production organization headed by Candlelight performing favorite, Jalyn Webb. While the current “Shrek” production continues on the Candlelight stage until August 22. The youthful performers of The Academy participated in the school’s summer program and put together their own “Shrek” version for two performances in July.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

I thoroughly enjoyed opening night of the primary “Shrek,” production in June. So much so, that I asked if I could return to see the young persons of The Academy at a rehearsal of the same show a few days later. The rehearsal was an eye-opener. The cast was substantially larger than the main-stage production, and there as a feeling of camaraderie that is remarkable. The young people had bonded to the extent that they were cheering each other on, with every rehearsal number becoming a show-stopper.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

The result was my return again to Candlelight July 19 for the second (of two) performance of The Academy youth group. What a show! “Shrek” is basically tale of fairytale characters who have experienced difficulty in accepting themselves in a harsh world – now being evicted from their Duloc homeland to live in a swamp, home of an angry and sorrowful ogre. The fairytale creatures consider themselves as “freaks,” having difficulty in coming to terms with their individual value. Being a fairytale character isn’t as wondrous as we might imagine.

The youthful performers were definitely not fairytale “freaks,” but talented teenagers perhaps realizing for the first time what amazing performance gifts they possess. The Academy has provided a terrific environment to realize the extent of their talents. They bonded under the guise of the wondrous “Shrek,” to provide a magical evening of entertainment for each other, for family, and for friends. In future shows they will become stars on the main stage, just as they are currently “stars” in student Academy.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

The original Broadway “Shrek” production had a cast of about two dozen performers, whereas the original Candlelight show has just 13 – requiring each performer to play more than one roll. The situation was reversed for The Academy show, with about four dozen performers taking on the two dozen rolls. This has resulted in a particularly interesting evening, as some of the fairytale characters are played by more than one performer. Gillian McCreery, Hannah Schorr, and Aly Toews were equally convincing and professional as Fiona, the princess locked in a tower waiting for a prince charming to rescue her. Alden Vieira and Ali Steen took turns as the loveable Ogre, Shrek, who wants the fairytale creatures to get out of his swamp and return to their homes in The Kingdom of Duloc. Nathan Moss and Jack Ham took turns as Donkey, the fast-talking animal whose main desire is to be somebody’s “friend.’ The six performers were delightful as they wove their own personalities into the three primary characters. Laura Caikowski was a show on her own, taking on the role Duloc’s Lord Farquaad, the diminutive character sired by “Grumpy” of Seven Dwarf’s fame who was never accepted by his father. Caikowski was a wow, as she performed on her knees as the dwarf her “Grumpy” father sired. Another stand-out was Leta Peret singing the role of the somewhat ferocious but lovable dragon.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

Jalyn Webb organized and directed the production, dividing directorial duties with Abigail Hanawalt, Rylee Vogel and Allison Hatch overseeing specific segments. Lincoln Brandt was Music Director, with Susanna Ballenski as chorographer.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

The choreography was excellent, as were sound, lighting and costumes. Scenery used by the regular show continued to be super. The Academy performers were amazing. They all danced. They all sang. They became a single unit of great talent. And they put the show together from introduction to final curtain in just three weeks! This was rehearsing for four days a week for three weeks – for a total of only 12 days! The audience in the shows’ final performance did not want to show to end. The standing ovation of was prolonged. Webb announced that instead of greeting cast in the lobby of the theatre after the show, the cast was so large, that they would be greeting family and friends outside in front of the building This turned into a love-fest of performers, families and friends in a near hero-worship jubilation. It was an exciting night. One that all of the cast and crew can remember with great fondness. In the future, if they ever have the slightest inkling that they are not super individuals, they can look back on this experience with great affection.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

And with such great memories still fresh, I’m returning to the original Candlelight production again this week, knowing that the joy of the story remains intact. Waiting in the wings for future stardom are four dozen members of this year’s Academy.

(Information for the upcoming season of The Academy classes can be found on their website )

The ongoing production of “Shrek” continues at
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse to August 22, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534

The Magic of Make Believe Is Alive And Well At Candlelight

Shrek And His Pals Combine For An Enchanted Evening

By Tom Jones
June 18, 2021

An ogre, an isolated princess, a talking donkey, an egotistical duke, and an unhappy dragon join forces with an amazing ensemble to provide an evening of absolute wonder! Mystery, intrigue, mayhem and a host of fairytale characters merge to provide nearly three hours of craziness this season in Johnstown.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The hi-jinks are non-stop as 13 performers take on more than two dozen characters in this look at the misadventures of Shrek and his friends (and enemies). Many of our fairy tale friends are there, including the Three Little Pigs, the Three Bears, Peter Pan, Humpty Dumpty, the Gingerbread Man, the Pied Piper, The Mad Hatter, The White Rabbit, Three Blind Mice, Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf (wearing grandma’s nightgown), and Pinocchio whose nose grows when he announces that he is “A real boy.”

The characters have been living in the Kingdom of Duloc and have been forced into exile by Lord Farquaad — sent to live in a swampy land currently inhabited by a grumpy ogre, Shrek. Already isolated in a castle somewhere in the area is Princess Fiona who has great problems of her own, changing persona as the sun sets each day. And along for laughs and pronouncements of wisdom is the wise-cracking, talking, Donkey.

We learn that Shrek was sent away from home at age seven, to fend for himself in a hostile world. Princess Fiona was also “sent away” at age seven, to spend her years in an isolated castle, counting the days until her prince would come to save her.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Meanwhile in the kingdom of Duloc, Lord Farquaad can’t become king until he marries a princess to become his queen. Shrek convinces Farquaad that he can find the isolated princess to become queen if the fairy tale chums can return to their homes in Duloc to get them out of his swamp. Donkey turns up to provide support, guidance, and non-stop jabbering.

Scott Hurst Jr. brings his powerful voice to portray Shrek. He provides pathos (as well as some fear) in the role of the misunderstood ogre. Matching talents with Hurst is Kelly Maur as the fabulous and feisty Fiona. Maur is new to Colorado audiences and is a real “find.” She can sing, dance, and act. She is terrific.

Oscar Whitney, Jr. is Donkey. He appears to have no bones in his body, as he has every “move” known to mankind, with a voice to go along with his athletic skills. Rounding out the leads is Ethan Lee Knowles as the diminutive Lord Farquaad, barely three feet tall. Knowles spends the show bouncing around on his knees, giving no indication that he is really about six feet tall. Every moment he is on stage is great fun.

There are two other “lead” characters. One is the entire cast ensemble. They take on numerous roles, changing costumes in a flash, with remarkable dancing skills. The other “lead” is the sad dragon, wanting only to be loved. This is a combination of three persons manipulating the huge dragon designed by Cory Gilstrap. Sophia Ruiz provides the strong dragon voice.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The show itself is a visual charmer. The initial backdrop of the forest is beautiful, and the set changes effectively to turn the stage into Shrek’s swamp, a castle, the Kingdom of Duloc, and trails throughout the woods. Lighting, sound, and costumes are all excellent.

Piper Lindsay Arpan has directed and choreographed this musical treat. It would be interesting to look into her mind to see how she figures out how to make everything “happen” on stage, and put the performers into their paces as skilled dancers. Phil Forman is music director, and participates with Heather Holt Hall, Gabriela Meriwether, Christopher Norwood and John Meriwether as the orchestra.

“Shrek’s” tale turned up as an animated film in 2001 and immediately caught the fascination of kids of all ages. It was turned into a stage musical opening on Broadway in 2008, and has subsequently been seen throughout the world. Music is by Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Opening night at The Candlelight was exciting. The cast and crew were in great form, and obviously looking at a long run. My only concern was understanding all that was said and sung. The diction will undoubtedly improve as the cast becomes more experienced. Opening night, however, there were no grumbles heard from departing patrons. I only heard, “We’ve got to look at our schedules and see when we can return to bring the entire family.”

This production is great medicine to help cure the pandemic ails of the past many months. As the audience is reminded — “This is a ‘Big, Bright Beautiful World.”

“Shrek – The Musical”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
June 17 – August 22, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534

“Little Women” Is A Heart-Warming Tale At Candlelight

A Mother And Four Daughters Are At Home In Concorde, MA — Far From The Warfront

By Tom Jones
April 18, 2021

Reverend March is away from home, serving as a chaplain for the Union during the Civil War. His wife, Marmee, has remained in Concorde to, MA, look after the couple’s four daughters – each on the brink of adulthood.

Jalyn Webb is excellent as the concerned Marmee, trying to keep her daughters in line while facing challenges of her own. The girls have their share of sibling rivalry as well as familial love!

The eldest is Jo, a bit of a tomboy who is always eager to show her rough and tumble side while not quite knowing how to accept neighborhood boy, Laurie, into the group. She is a writer who has already received numerous rejections from several publishers. “Little Women” is basically Jo’s tale, with memories of her childhood and family and fanciful stories interspersed throughout the show. Jo is portrayed by Emery Hines, a newcomer to the Candlelight stage. She is excellent.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Sara Kowalski portrays Amy, a romantic, with issues of her own – very unhappy to be in Jo’s shadow, claiming that she has nothing on her own. Meg is portrayed by Elaina Osburn, a more traditional woman eager to take on the role of a caring mother. Beth, played by Charlotte Movizzo, is the more timid of the family, willing to stay somewhere in the shadows of her more outgoing sisters. One of the show’s highlights, however, occurs when Beth sits at the piano with a cranky neighbor, Mr. Laurence, making delightful music together with “Off to Massachusetts.”

Almost a part of the family is the neighborhood boy, Laurie, very well portrayed by Eric Heine. Laurie lives with his grumpy grandfather, Mr. Laurence, who the March family feels is aloof and unpleasant until Beth’s music softens him. Todd Resseguie is convincing as the dour grandfather, touched by Beth’s music.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Michelle Jeffres is a wonderfully-annoying as a somewhat stereotyped Aunt March, eager to irritate everyone. She announces she will take Jo to Europe to give her culture and refinement. When Jo doesn’t meet her idea of perfection, however, she takes Amy instead. Chris Bain is Professor Bhaer who Jo meets in a boarding house when she is living in New York, and is interested in her potential as a writer. Ethan Lee Knowles is Mr. Brooke who meets Meg March at her first ball and immediately woos her.

The set is minimal, and is particularly effective. The lighting is also very good as are the costumes and choreography. Scenic design and lighting are by Shauna Johnson, costumes by Liz Hoover and Judith Ernst; scenic arts by Joel Adam Chavez; wardrobe by Judith Ernst; and sound by Kyle Harper.

Pat and Payne and Phil Forman have co-directed the production, with chorography by Susanne Houdesheldt, and music direction by Phil Forman. Orchestra consists of Mr. Forman, Heather Holt Hall, and Joshua Margheim.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Little Women” was written by Louisa May Alcott of Concorde, and appeared in print as a semi-autobiographical two-volume novel in 1868-69. It went on to become a literary classic, appreciated throughout the world.

The stage musical version opened on Broadway in 2005, starring Sutton Foster as Jo. Foster received excellent reviews, and the production ran for 137 performances. The Candlelight production looks very good and the cast is universally eager to please. Music is by Jason Howland with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The audience does not leave the theatre humming the music, which sometimes gets in the way of the story. The story itself is well told and will provide those familiar with the story a great opportunity of seeing how the characters they well remember are currently portrayed.

Two songs are particularly good. Emery Hines as Jo sings a wonderful “Astonishing” at the end of an overly-long first acts and arrives too late to be fully appreciated. Jalyn Webb’s Marmee pulls out all the stops in “Days of Plenty,” mid-way in Act II.

The total production comes through with a tender tale of family love. This is a warmly effective look at the March family’s life in Concorde during the Civil War. It is set to be on stage at Candlelight to June 6.

“Little Women”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
April 8-June 6, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534

“Little Women” — The March Family Sisters Move into Johnston

Alcott’s Little Women To Open Candlelight

By Tom Jones, April 6, 2021

Jo is there. So are Amy, Meg, and Beth – under the careful watch of their mother, Marmee March . A musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women” opens this week at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse this week for a two-month run.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

I dropped in to see much of the show in one of its final rehearsals this week, and was charmed by the excellence of the performance! Returning to the Playhouse, after more than a year of absence, was an eye-opener for me – reminding me of the wonder of seeing a live performance. The theatre industry has been among the hardest hit groups suffering from the pandemic. The Candlelight has been extremely careful in preparation for the few shows that have graced their stage in the past 14 months.

It now looks like the dinner theatre world might be back in full action, beginning now with minimum inconvenience to patrons while observing social distancing.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

I’ll review the full show in a couple of weeks. My comments here are just a look at a virtually flawless run-through shortly before opening. Alcott’s semi-biographical novel was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869 and went on to international fame. The musical version, now on the Candlelight stage is based on the Broadway production that opened on Broadway in 2005 with Sutton Foster as Jo and Maureen McGovern as Marmee.

This time around Emery Hines appears as Jo, with the always-excellent Jalyn Webb as the mother, Marmee. Hines is a newcomer to the Candlelight stage and is a marvel as the tomboyish Jo. She has great stage presence and a super voice. The remaining sisters are Sara Kowalski as Amy, Elaina Osburn as Meg, and Charlotte Movisso as Beth. Longtime Candlelight favorite Eric Heine is at his best as the family friend, Laurie. Each performance is very good. Pat Payne and Phil Forman co-direct the show, with music directed by Phil Forman and choreography by Susanna Houdesheldt.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The sparring siblings are often at odds, but eventually always willing to be “family.” Setting is Concord, MA. The four sisters are at home while their father is serving in the Civil War. Intercut with a look at the family, are vignettes where their lives are unfolded in the melodramatic short stories Jo has written. The most important of these interjections takes place at the beginning of the Second Act where the sisters appear in wild reincarnations of Jo’s fantasies. Whereas I was familiar with the basic story, I was not adequately prepared for the wild insert, but it IS entertaining.

“Little Women” has been a young-girls favorite since it first appeared, and holds up well in its heartwarming look at life in Concord during the Civil War. I’m looking forward to “officially” seeing it in the next few weeks, especially with the hope that I can make more sense of the interjections of Jo’s fantasies.

“Little Women”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
April 8 – June 6, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534

Robert Louis Stevenson Story Results In Triumphant Candlelight Musical

Robert Louis Stevenson Story Results In Triumphant Candlelight Musical

“This is the Moment” As Two Talents Take Turns In Leading Role

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 2, 2020

There’s substantially more than the soft glow of “candlelight” in Johnstown this season, as the “Jekyll and Hyde” musical is sheer brilliance. The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has raised the bar so high with this triumphant production that it may be nearly impossible to beat!
Continue reading Robert Louis Stevenson Story Results In Triumphant Candlelight Musical

The Best Brothers Are Not Best Of Friends

Bas Bleu Explores The Lunacy Of Burying A Loved One

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 26, 2020

Bunny Best has taken her beloved dog out for a walk in time to see the Gay Day Parade. A probably drunk chanteuse on one of the floats reaches out to the dog, tipping over the 500-pound amplifier and herself on top of Bunny Best, who does not survive. The dog survived as did the chanteuse who has named herself “Pina Colada.”
Bunny’s two adult sons, Hamilton and Kyle, take the news with very different responses. Hamilton appears to be heartbroken. The more practical Kyle, a realtor, is too busy trying to sell a condo to concern himself with much else. And perhaps he is not so grief stricken as his mother has confided in him alone that her health is deteriorating. Thus we meet the Best Brothers, Hamilton portrayed by Jeffrey Bigger and Kyle, played by Kevin Crowe.
Continue reading The Best Brothers Are Not Best Of Friends

One-Armed Explorer Takes his Expedition to Western Rivers – By Way Of OpenStage In Fort Collins

Wild Tale Of John Wesley Powell And His Men Makes For Intriguing Theatre

Reviewed by Tom Jones,

January 24, 2020

Men on Boats?  Nope.  The OpenStage theatre program for this show wisely notes that the show’s title is not right.  There is neither a man nor a boat in sight.  The “Men on Boats” take the audience on a fascinating journey down the Green and Colorado rivers to the western edge of that “Big” Canyon – the “Grand.”   

Continue reading One-Armed Explorer Takes his Expedition to Western Rivers – By Way Of OpenStage In Fort Collins

It’s A White Christmas At The “Holiday Inn”

The 1942 Movie That Gave Birth To “White Christmas” Has Arrived As A Stage Musical At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 14, 2019

Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon are an entertainment trio. They sing. They dance. They entertain. They are very good performers. Their contract in a New York City nightclub is ending, and Jim believes he is ready to retire. He has found a farmhouse in rural Connecticut in foreclosure and snaps up the buying rights. Now he needs to convince his dancing partner, Lila, to accept his marriage proposal and move to the Connecticut countryside where they could become farmers.
Continue reading It’s A White Christmas At The “Holiday Inn”

“Last Train To Nibroc” Is On Track To New York

Bas Bleu Offers A Thoughtful Tale Of 1940s Americana

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 8, 2019

In late December of 1940 a young man, Raleigh, and a young woman, May, meet on an overcrowded train heading east from Los Angeles. Although both are from rural Kentucky, they have never met before and are enroute to a lifetime of change. Raleigh is still wearing his uniform, after leaving the service just a few hours before boarding the train. He received a military discharge after having been diagnosed as an epileptic.

Continue reading “Last Train To Nibroc” Is On Track To New York

Arvada’s “Christmas Carol – The Musical” Is Pure Holiday Joy

Larry Cahn – Much More To This Scrooge Than The “Bah Humbug” Meany Of Productions Past.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 23, 2019

Arvada Center’s early-holiday gift to the community is a rare treasure.

Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows how it is going to end. But getting there this time around is ingenious entertainment. Director Gavin Mayer and Choreographer Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and the entire artistic team have put together a “Carol” version of rare excitement. There is so much going on all the time that it was a delightful challenge to know where to look.

Continue reading Arvada’s “Christmas Carol – The Musical” Is Pure Holiday Joy

“Driving Miss Daisy” At Bas Bleu Theatre In Fort Collins

Wendy Ishii In Peak Form In Award Winning Drama

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 20, 2019

Times they are a changing! Or are they? Playwright Alfred Uhry received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1988 for “Driving Miss Daisy, “dealing with the relationship between an elderly Jewish widow and her black chauffeur. Uhry’s semi-biographical play begins in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948 and is based on the later years of Uhry’s grandmother, Daisy.

Continue reading “Driving Miss Daisy” At Bas Bleu Theatre In Fort Collins

“Mamma Mia” Is A Must-See-Production

“Thank You for the Music” – And The Entire Show!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2019

Early in Act 1, the cast of “Mamma Mia” provides a captivating rendition of “Thank You for the Music.” I have not enjoyed such a “feel good” moment in a musical for a long time. And that is just a part of the show! “Mamma Mia” on stage this season at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre Stage is an entire joy!
Continue reading “Mamma Mia” Is A Must-See-Production

Three Couples – Same Suite

Neil Simon Comedy Arrives At Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 13, 2019

Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” takes place in Number 719 of the famed Plaza Hotel in New York City. Three different couples inhabit the rooms during the course of a couple of hours in Simon’s clever comedy now on stage in Arvada through November 10.

The couples, each played by the same actors, have nothing in common except being guests (at different times) in the same suite in the Plaza. The audience, however, gets to know all three couples with varying degrees of bemusement during the three-act production.

Continue reading Three Couples – Same Suite

“Bright Star” Illuminates Arvada Stage

Award Winning Musical Is Set In The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2019

Near the end of the show Merideth Kaye Clark takes central stage as Alice Murphy, providing the audience with one of the most thrilling and poignant moments in local stage history.  Her character’s life has just taken a turn for the better and everyone is in awe.  “Star” isn’t just “bright.”  It is dazzling.

Continue reading “Bright Star” Illuminates Arvada Stage

“Hunchback of Notre Dame” Rings A Bell

Hugo’s Classic Story Is Set To Music At The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 6, 2019

That famed Parisian landmark was in the news recently, as Notre Dame suffered serious fire damage and is currently closed for repairs.  The Victor Hugo’ famed cathedral story has remained intact, and is now glowing on the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse stage, with a very impressive fire scene of its own.

Dinner theatre has reached new heights with this masterwork production.  The set is remarkable, the choral work outstanding, the performers in great shape.  This is not the standard for-the-children Walt Disney musical. It is virtually a tragic opera with themes of goodness and evil, haves and have-nots, and accepting others “not like us!” 

Continue reading “Hunchback of Notre Dame” Rings A Bell

“Matilda” Is A Mini-Miracle On Stage At Midtown Arts Center

Award Winning Musical Hits All The Right Notes With Youthful Cast!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
July 26, 2019

How does it happen?  Mini-miracles are happening this summer in Divabee productions of “Matilda” and “Tarzan.”  What magical charm do persons involved with Divabee possess to produce four completely separate full-length musicals, using students from the Academy – with only three weeks of rehearsal?

When Midtown Arts Center opted to provide James Taylor “Highway” instead of “Matilda”  to close their current season, I was somewhat discouraged. So, it was with interest that I ventured back MAC this past weekend to see a student production of the show that I missed.  And what a production!

Continue reading “Matilda” Is A Mini-Miracle On Stage At Midtown Arts Center

Midtown Arts Center Closes With “Take to the Highway”

Popular Theatre Venue Celebrates Music of James Taylor

Review by Tom Jones
June 20, 2019

Four remarkably talented singers combine with an equally professional band to provide a fond farewell to audiences of Midtown Art Center this month.  Their renditions celebrating the music of the legendary James Taylor, Carole King, and Carly Simon were warmly received by audience members making their final visits to the theatre.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            Continue reading Midtown Arts Center Closes With “Take to the Highway”

“Tarzan” Triumphantly Swings Into Town!

Tarzan and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Greets The Jungle Man With Great Enthusiasm

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 6, 2019

It’s a jungle in Johnstown this summer as Tarzan literally swings on a vine into town!  And what a Tarzan he is. Tyler Fruhwirth is enormous fun as the young Tarzan, being raised by a pack of gorilla following the death of his parents.  He is a young actor – delightful with great enthusiasm.

Tarzan – Barret Harper Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Continue reading “Tarzan” Triumphantly Swings Into Town!

“Harvey” Is Back In Town, But Only A Few Can See Him!

David Siever and Kathy Leonard Shine As Siblings Who See Life Differently.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 2, 2019

Hard to believe that the classic Broadway comedy “Harvey” has been around for 75 years!  The play is due to celebrate its 75th birthday this fall – but how does one honor a tall white rabbit that only a few can see?

Continue reading “Harvey” Is Back In Town, But Only A Few Can See Him!

“Beauty And The Beast” Is Pure Delight In Boulder

Elaborate Sets And Great Costumes Add To The Magic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 14, 2019

What a treat.  Belle is a beauty, the Beast is beastly, and Gaston is everyone’s over-the-top egomaniac.  The only persons who like him better than he likes himself are the audience.  Scott Severtson as Gaston is a crazed delight as he kisses his biceps and struts around the stage with every girl in the village (except Belle) falling at his feet.  He is a remarkable sight.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Continue reading “Beauty And The Beast” Is Pure Delight In Boulder

“Lady” Continues To Be Fairest In The Land!

A Look Again At “My Fair Lady” At Midtown Arts Center

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in the audience for opening night of the marvelous “My Fair Lady” at Midtown Arts Center.  I was in awe of the entire production.  Staff of the show noted that one of the supporting characters, Michael Lasris, was out of town for that opening night, and could I possibly return later in the run to see him perform as Eliza Doolittle’s father.

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Continue reading “Lady” Continues To Be Fairest In The Land!

Local Talent Provides Hometown Charm To Broadway Favorite – “The Music Man”

Felicity Slade and Tyler Grasmick Shine in Windsor High School Production

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 4, 2019

Beware, that smooth talking salesman, Harold Hill, is back in town.  His reputation as a less-than-honest salesman precedes him, as he arrives in River City, Iowa, with a new gimmick.  This season he is selling band instruments AND uniforms to naïve townspeople, eager to give their youngsters something to do while out of school.

The tale takes place over a hundred years ago – July of 1912.  Citizens of Iowa were known to be stand-offish, and one lyric notes —

“And we’re so by God stubborn
We can stand touchin’ noses
For a week at a time and
Never see eye-to-eye.
(But you) ought to give Iowa a try!”

Continue reading Local Talent Provides Hometown Charm To Broadway Favorite – “The Music Man”

“Red” – More Than Just A Color

Award Winning Drama Opens At Bas Bleu

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 29, 2019

“What do you see?”  Painter Mark Rothko is looking towards the audience, as if looking at his recent artwork, asking the audience what we see.  He is an egotistical man, believing that he just might be the only living painter with such talent.  Owners of the then-new Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City have commissioned the painter to complete a set of very large murals for the restaurant in the 1950s, providing him with more than $30,000 for his efforts.

Continue reading “Red” – More Than Just A Color

“Lady” Is More Than “Fair” – She’s Exceptional!

Cast Is Joyous In Broadway Classic

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in the audience for opening night of the marvelous “My Fair Lady” at Midtown Arts Center.  I was in awe of the entire production.  Staff of the show noted that one of the supporting characters, Michael Lasris, was out of town for that opening night, and could I possibly return later in the run to see him perform as Eliza Doolittle’s father.

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Lasris has become a highlight of nearly every show he has been associated with, either as a performer, director, or choreographer.  One of my earlier memories was his on-his-knees dancing as the diminutive Lord Farquaad several seasons ago in “Shrek.”  Lasris is older now and probably won’t want to dance “on his knees” in future productions, but is as delightful as ever as Doolittle in this current “My Fair Lady.”  It was bittersweet to see him perform, as Doolittle is his final role in Colorado before moving to New York in a few weeks.

For opening night I saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father.  He was very good, so it was somewhat with caution that I returned to see Lasris this week in the role.  No need to worry.  Lasris is nearly untouchable as the likeable do-nothing Doolittle who wants “everything” in return…  

Also “delightful as ever” are the shows leads – Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza, John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  This entire show is every bit as excellent as it was when I first saw it a few weeks ago.  Not to be missed.


Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!  She’s got it. By George, I believe she’s got it! Again – The rain in Spain lies mainly in the plain?  And where does it rain? On the plain, on the plain. And where’s that soggy plain? In Spain. In Spain.”

Yes, she’s got it! After weeks of sometimes difficult turmoil, the poorly-educated flower market salesgirl has shown she CAN be educated, and CAN learn to speak like a well-born sophisticate.  The “she” is Hannah Marie Hartman as Eliza Doolittle. And yes, she’s got it! In fact everyone in the cast has “got it” in this masterful Midtown Arts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

More than sixty years have passed since the show triumphed on Broadway.  Curiously, it has maintained its absolute charm and freshness in this MAC wonder.

The excellent skills of Hartman are joined by those of John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins, as Colonel Pickering.  The trio are on stage most of the time as Higgins places a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the guttural persona displayed by the lowly Doolittle into a woman of charm and wisdom.  They are a trio to behold. The two men educate, but sometimes ignore the object of their effort.

The Henry Higgins role was originated on Broadway by Rex Harrison who needed to “speak” most of his songs.  In this production John Jankow is in excellent singing and speaking voice as the professor, as is Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  Harkins had the additional responsibility of welcoming everyone to the theatre with the pre-show announcements on opening night. He was particularly good in that role as well, keeping the audience amused and entertained, and reducing time of the sometimes- lengthy pre-show announcements.

Julie Andrews zoomed to stardom as Eliza in the original Broadway production in 1956.  That show became the longest-running Broadway musical to that time, and went on to similar fame in London.  For the Academy Award winning movie version in 1964 Julie Andrews was overlooked for starring role, with that part given to Audrey Hepburn. The movie’s producers felt that Hepburn would be better-known to the movie-going public.  Andrews got her just rewards at the Academy Awards the next year, receiving the Best Performance by an Actress Award for her beguiling charm as “Mary Poppins.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

It would be difficult to find a better performer to play the role today than the excellent Hannah Marie Hartman.  She is convincing as the rough Cockney girl with ambitions to “be somebody.”

While Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza Doolittle are center stage, Eliza’s hapless father “Doolittle” is a wonder on his own.  For the opening night performance we saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father, understudy to Michael Lasris who normally plays the role.  Lasris will be hard-pressed to fill the boots of Sanders whose performance is beyond “memorable.” I may find my interest in seeing Lasris, however, as my excuse to return to MAC for another look as this delightful event.

In fact, what is not to like about this show?  The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, and the recorded orchestra accompaniment are exceptional.  (There is no live orchestra.) Where in my bag of adjectives can I find words to adequately report my reaction to this production?  The supporting cast members are as effective as the leads. Many in the ensemble take on several roles – always completely in step to the music and always in tune with their British accents.

Director Joseph Callahan has a long track record of excellent performances at Midtown Arts Center.  This time around he is displaying his remarkable abilities, directing and choreographing this production of “My Fair Lady.”

While “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” ”the cast is vast and….” completely delightful!

“My Fair Lady”
Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center,
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To May 25, 2019

Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

Dickens Classic At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2019

Indeed.  WHERE is love?  Charles Dickens explored the impoverished lives of London’s lower class in the mid 1800s.  The result was his classic “Oliver Twist.” The tale has received worldwide fame as dramas, movies, and musicals. It is now in a triumphant musical production on the Johnstown stage of Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Please sir, may I have some more?”   Such is the never-before-made request of eleven-year-old orphan, Oliver, in line for his daily gruel at the parish workhouse.  The request is met with a very loud and angry tirade,”No,” from Mr. Bumble, the greedy workhouse caretaker.  Bumble is so angered that he takes Oliver onto the street announcing, “Boy for Sale.”

Continue reading Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

Mirth On The Moors?

Arvada Center Provides Zany Tale Of Life In The Bleakness Of The Yorkshire Countryside.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2019

Regina Fernandez is naively cheerful as Emilie, the young English woman who arrives at a home in the Yorkshire Moors as the family’s newly hired governess.  Although she knows no one in the family, she was impressed with the kindness and love she felt in letters she received during the application process.  She is eager to be of service to the family.

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) and Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Continue reading Mirth On The Moors?

Mozart meets Manet and Mayhem (and others) in Loveland Opera Theatre’s Delight

“Cosi Fan Tutte” Is A Wonder Of Sight & Sound

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 21, 2019

For starters, some persons were already on the stage prior to showtime looking at a large illuminated representation of impressionist painter Edouard Manet’s “A Bar at the Follies Bergere.” I was ready to join them on the stage to see the painting close-up, when I realized that this was just part of the show — a room in an Impressionist art gallery where viewers of the painting were actual cast of “Cosi Fan Tutte.”

Continue reading Mozart meets Manet and Mayhem (and others) in Loveland Opera Theatre’s Delight

“The Waverly Gallery” Is A First-Class Telling Of A Difficult Subject

Wendy Ishii “Becomes” A Bewildered Alzheimer Victim In Lonergan Drama

Reviewed by Tom Jones

February 8, 2019

            Gladys Green is on the cusp of old age, and is often bewildered with what is going on around her.  Her hearing is impaired.  Her mind is progressively deteriorating.  Wendy Ishii is a marvel as she portrays Gladys Green, a victim of Alzheimer disease.  Her eyes become wide and wild, as she looks with despair to figure out what she has become.  This is a bravura performance.  Ishii has portrayed a variety of roles, and this is one of her finest productions.  She gets into the skin of the art gallery owner, and holds the audience spellbound.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

Continue reading “The Waverly Gallery” Is A First-Class Telling Of A Difficult Subject

Michael Lasris Choreography Provides Great Fun In “Dames At Sea”

Off-Broadway Delight Is Two-Hour Treasure At Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2019

Ruby is the standard naïve talent traveling alone to New York to find fame and fortune on Broadway.  Sound familiar?  “Dames at Sea” currently on the Midtown Arts Stage in Fort Collins is the tried and tested Broadway fable that flashed onto movie screens in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  This delightful little show plays homage to those stories, with every cliché possible.  Michael Lasris provides excellent direction and choreography for this heartfelt look at the past.  Seeing it this season just might be the remedy we need to face mid-winter blahs.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Paige Smith is a newcomer to MAC audiences, and she is terrific as Ruby, the Broadway star wannabe – with nothing going for her except raw talent.  Alisa Metcalf is the ever-threatening diva, Mona, who will stop at nothing from preventing anyone taking stardom from her hands.  Sarah Ledtke McCann is in great shape as the “friend to all” chorus girl.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Every Broadway fable includes guys with over-the-top talent, taking on roles of friend, talented performer, and all around good (or bad) guy.  In this show Joe Callahan takes on the role of a sailor song-writer, “Dick.”  Callahan is well known to MAC audiences.  He sings.  He dances.  His comedic talents are very well-honed.  And his timing is impeccable.  Giving him a run for his money are Tyler Baxter and Tezz Yancey.  Baxter plays another talented sailor, Lucky.  Yancey switches caps to play two roles, the show-within-a-show director, and that of the ship captain.

All six are involved in staging a little review called “Dames At Sea” set to open that night, only to find the theatre bulldozed out from under them.  They desperately try to find a place to stage the show. 

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The world holds its breath:  Will Ruby replace Mona as the show’s star?  Will the show find a place to open?  Will Joe Callahan wow the stage with his every scene?  Will Sarah Ledtke McCann radiate charm and talent?  Will the audience leave the theatre with great smiles? 

This is not a “big” show, but one with enormous empathy and fun.  Book and lyrics are by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller.  Music is by Jim Wise. It originally opened Off-Broadway in 1968 starring Bernadette Peters as Ruby, and has subsequently found nationwide audiences.  Local theatre-goers enjoyed a very good production of it a few seasons ago at University of Northern Colorado.

The six performers are all very good.  Michael Lasris’s excellence as director and choreographer is obvious throughout, and particularly with the “Raining in My Heart” antics in Act II.  Musical accompaniment is also excellent.  Musical director and pianist is Victor Walters, with Dean Vlachos on percussion, Phillip Kramer, on bass.

“Dames at Sea” is a joyful, midwinter pick-me-up!

“Dames at Sea”
Where: Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2019
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

Impeccable Direction And Impeccable Cast Combine For A Wondrous “A Little Night Music”

Stephen Sondheim Award Winner On Stage In Denver

Reviewed by Tom Jones

January 27 2019

Fredrik Egerman and Desiree Armfeldt have reached middle age.  They are at the crossroads, neither completely content with their lives. They have no plans to change anything. A summer weekend in the Swedish countryside with a sun that won’t set is about to change all that.

Photo by Olga Lopez

Stephen Sondheim, America’s most respected living composer of musical theatre, provided audiences with “A Little Night Music” on Broadway in 1973.  The show has gone on to worldwide acclaim.  Some productions boast lavish sets and large casts.  The show arrived this month in Denver with minimal set, but more than makes up for that by providing excellent costumes, excellent voices and excellent direction.  Director Kelly Van Oosbree’s clever staging even includes a rotating stage – power-operated by the performers.

Photo by Olga Lopez

 Brian Merz-Hutchinson and Susie Roelofsz are sensational as Egerman and Armfeldt.  Fredrik Egerman is a Swedish attorney, a year into his second marriage – this time with an 18-year-old girl who prefers to remain a virgin.  Desiree Armfeldt is a highly respected actress who spends her time touring the country, leaving her young daughter, Fredrika, in the countryside estate of her ageing mother. This all takes place in a Swedish summer around 1900 when the sun lingers so long in the sky that some claim “It just won’t set.” 

 Everyone in the cast is in top form as they take on the show’s roles. Egerman is a somewhat stuffy lawyer with great memories of a liaison many years ago with the actress Armfeldt.  He takes his young wife to a local performance of the touring company.  Seeing Desiree on stage renews memories of his past love for her, and he succumbs to her allure.  Their lives are about to change, but not without affecting several others – some deliciously bizarre.

Photo by Olga Lopez

Rachel Turner is in delightful form as the young wife – happy to be married and have nice clothes and to go to elaborate balls; but horrified about losing her virginity.  Jeremy Rill is enormous fun as the over-the top self-assured Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, the military man currently dallying with the actress.  His character has an ego as big as all outdoors, but reportedly has the “brain of a pea.” Sparring toe to toe with this army dragoon is his wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm, brilliantly portrayed by Megan Van de Hey.

Photo by Olga Lopez

Susan Long is the Armfeldt family matriarch – Desiree’s mother, and Fredrika’s grandmother.  The country weekend takes place on her estate.  She hasn’t much use for her actress daughter, dotes on her granddaughter, and lives in a dreamworld of the past, recounting her various “liaisons” with the rich and famous. Adding even more craziness to the goings-on are Frid and Petra played by Ryan Belinak and Lindsey Falduto, both worldly-wise servants. They are well acquainted with the upper crust, but appear to accept their roles in the lower echelons of society.  Lindsey Falduto’s “The Miller’s Son” is especially poignant, as Petra realizes that she can serve the wealthy, but will end up marrying someone in her level of society.  On the other hand, Lawyer Egerman’s adult son, Henrik, is a seminary student, with no idea of where he fits into the life of his family, or life anywhere for that matter.  Barret Harper is superb on his own, as the bewildered, cello-playing Henrik.

 Excellent accompaniment is provided by Deborah Fuller (violin), David Short (cello) with Trent Hines and Angela Steiner (piano) — Hines for first three weekends, Steiner for final weekend.

The musical was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman 1955 movie, “Smiles of a Summer Night.”  Playwright Hugh Wheeler wrote the book, with Stephen Sondheim providing music and lyrics. The music is written as waltzes in three-quarters time.

Sondheim was in peak form as a composer and as a lyricist when writing “A Little Night Music.”  This is especially evident in the “Weekend in the Country” scene where various persons are looking at attending a weekend party on the Armfeldt estate – some invited, some not.  The lyrics include the Count and Countess thinking about going (without an invitation), singing: 

“A weekend in the country…
How I wish we’d been asked.
A weekend in the country
Peace and quiet. We’ll go masked.”

This is beguiling production.  Everything about it is first-rate.  As the theatre is small, the audience can hear nearly everything said or sang, and becomes infatuated with the characters, their foibles, their frolics, and is with them every step of the way.  The show even includes the classic, “Send in the Clowns.”

“A Little Night Music”

Where:  The Pluss Theatre, Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 S. Dahlia Street, Denver, CO 80246

When: Through February 17, 2019

For more information:  Cherry Creek Theatre, 303/800-6578, cherrycreektheatre.org


“Nunsense” is Loony Delight At Candlelight”

Samantha Jo Staggs Is Truly Superior As The Mother Superior

Reviewed by Tom Jones

January 20, 2019

            Caution.  Finding great fun in “Nunsense” just may become habit forming. (Sorry, but I just could not stop myself).   Did you ever look at nuns with suspicion and perhaps with caution that they just might be an overly-stern and pious group of somewhat “older” women.  Forget all that.  Those on stage this season in Johnstown are a merry band, providing pure entertainment.  It would be interesting to meet the show’s creator, Don Coggin in person. He is the chap that put the show together. The book, music and lyrics are all due to his unique ideas.  He has excellent help with this production, under the skilled direction of Pat Payne, with choreography by Stephen Bertles.  They must be clever drill sergeants, as the entire cast is a whirlwind of energy, precision, and talent.

Photo by RDG Photography

            The musical, as performed, is supposedly a benefit performance to raise money to bury four deceased sisters from the Little Sisters of Hoboken religious order.  I may have the details slightly confused as to how this came about.  Something about the nuns running a leper colony on an island south of France.  Their cook (Sister Julia, Child of God) accidently killed 52 of the sisters by cooking up an ill-fated vichyssoise.  Only five nuns remained healthy after the food poisoning.  They now live in Hoboken, NJ, and were able to find financial resources to bury 48 of the deceased.  They have kept the remains of the final four in the freezer, and the health officials are becoming suspicious. Now they are trying their darndest to come up with funds to “plant” the remaining four.  Thus the benefit.

Photo by RDG Photography

            What a benefit they put together.  The five nuns are a whoop and a holler, under the stern direction of the over-the-top Mother Superior, superiorly portrayed by Samantha Jo Staggs.  This woman has no bones in her body.  At the conclusion of Act I she has a tour-de-force rendition of a naïve sister becoming high while sniffing a little bottle of “Rush.” She is a former circus performer who can’t resist the spotlight.  In reality, the spotlight just can’t resist her.

Photo by RDG Photography

            Each of the five sisters is given a moment to shine. Lisa Kay Carter is sensational as Sister Amnesia, with no idea who is she or where she is. She lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.  Before she became a nun, her name was “Sister Mary Paul,” destined to be a country western star.  Now she wanders around the convent with wide-eyed oblivion, and provides great delight with her foul-mouthed puppet.

Sarah Grover is Sister Robert Anne, a streetwise nun from Brooklyn, continually regretting that she is never “first” in anything.  She laments with great offerings of “The Biggest Ain’t the Best” and “I Just Want to Be a Star.”

            Abigail Hanawalt dazzles as Sister Mary Leo, a novice whose desire is to be the world’s first ballerina nun. Heather McClain becomes Sister Hubert, the dignified, but competitive second-in-command – always causing the Mother Superior to watch her back.  Sister Hubert is waiting.

Photo by RDG Photography

            These are five enormously talented women who completely lose themselves in the lunacy of the moment.  They can sing.  They can dance.  They can whoop.  They can holler.  They can completely enthrall the enthusiastic audience.

            “Nunsense” turned up off Broadway in 1985 and ran for 3,672 performances, becoming the second-longest running Off-Broadway show in history, second only to “”The Fantasticks.”  It became an international sensation and reportedly 25,000 women have played in the show’s productions worldwide.

            Patrons at Candlelight are in the “habit” of enjoying excellent shows.  “Nunsense” keeps this tradition alive and well with five zany Little Sisters of Hoboken.


Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

              4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown

To: March 3, 2019

For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747


“My Way – A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra”

Midtown Arts Features Music Of “Old Blue Eyes”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 18, 2019

Frank Sinatra became a legend. Beginning as a scrawny teen crooner from Hoboken, New Jersey, he subsequently ruled the musical world until his death at 82 in 1988. He was virtually adored by music-lovers, looked at with dismay by some others — because of his personal life. He didn’t write his own music; but gave voice to a host of songwriters. He reportedly recorded something like 1,500 songs – some over-the-top wonderful.

About four dozen of the songs he recorded are featured this season at Midtown Arts Center production of “My Way – a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” on stage in Fort Collins.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Jalyn Courtenay Webb stars in and directs this tribute. She, too, has become a legend in her time, as the vocal stylist and director of many productions in the area. This year she received the prestigious Colorado Theater Guild Henry award as best performance by an actress for her work at MAC in “Always, Patsy Cline.” But as in the world of sports, even the world’s most successful baseball player doesn’t hit a home run every time he comes to bat.

I am an unabashed theatre fan. I usually get an adrenaline rush each time I await the beginning of a show. Some have criticized me, noting “Oh, he likes everything he sees.” Unfortunately “everything” does not include this current Sinatra tribute.

The Sinatra songs are there; such great memories provided with “Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “It Was a Very Good Year,” “Summer Wind,” and the list goes on and on. The instrumental background is flawless. The four vocal performers are talented. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be participating in the same show. There is minimal chemistry between then. Some of the Act One vocal harmonies are wondrous. As the show continued, however, either the performers could not find the pitch, or the sound system let them down. I could understand very little of the spoken tidbits of Sinatra history.

Productions in the MAC Ballroom setting are always problematic as there is no one center of focus. The Sinatra tribute is staged as if in a 1950s nightclub, with the cast sometimes mingling with the audience, with a drink in hand. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it is distracting.

“My Way — A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” has become a phenomenon of its own, currently playing in dozens of venues worldwide. If you are eager to hear such standards as “All of Me,” “My Kind of Town,” “Young at Heart,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” rush to Midtown Arts Center this season.

If not, don’t cross the theater off your list of places to go. While the Sinatra tribute is playing in the MAC Ballroom, the terrific “Dames at Sea” is on the main stage.

I saw Bernadette Peters tap-dancing her way to stardom many, many years ago when she created the leading role in New York. I was delighted with a production of it at University of Northern Colorado a few years ago, and already have my tickets to see the MAC version. I’m not going to let my unhappiness with the current “Tribute” dampen my enthusiasm for the theatre. The adrenalin rush will always be there for me.

And all is not lost with “Sinatra.” Old Blue Eyes provided more than one generation happy memories with his incredible styling of some wonderful music. Many in the audience appeared to be enchanted with the memories brought to life on stage at MAC. I learned that the performance I attended was rife with subsequently-repaired technical problems, and that earlier audiences have given the show standing ovations.

“My Way – a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2019
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

Midtown Arts Center Provides the “Heart Of The Holiday”

Choreography & Excellent Voices Bring New Story To Life!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 15, 2018

The Second Act of “Heart of the Holiday” provides one of the most satisfying musical offerings this holiday season,  JC McCann, Anne Terze-Schwarz, Taylor Marrs, and Jalyn Courtenay Webb are a quartet of perfection singing a terrific combination of “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.”  While some parts of the performance may be a tad plodding, this specific number is worth the price of admission. And worth the effort of getting out of the house on a wintry night to see a show.

This is the final Holiday Season for Midtown Arts Center, as it is joining forces in 2019 with Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.  For this final Holiday show, Kenny Moten and Jessica Hindsley have put together homage to theatre performers everywhere. Emphasis is on those whose lives have been affected in providing entertainment to Fort Collins audiences for many years.  Musical arrangements are the work of John Seaberry who plays bass/guitar in the accompanying band under direction of Victor Walter. The band is especially good.

Photo Courtesy MAC

The show’s writer joined forces with Joseph Callahan to provide the namesake song, “Heart of the Holiday,” performed late in the show.  That song is very nice, but just can’t compare with the “O Holy Silent Night” opening the Second Act.

Moten and Hindsley have leaned heavily on Michael Bennett’s original Broadway direction of “A Chorus Line” in 1975.  In that landmark musical, dancers are auditioning for a show, and are asked to tell about their lives and what dancing means to them.  They strike dancers “poses” which have become Broadway trademarks. In “Heart of the Holliday” Jalyn Courtenay Webb is auditioning dancers for a holiday show.  The final cast is chosen. But before they can relax, she quizzes them on what “The Holidays” mean to each of them. She is especially interested in memories of the performer’s past shows.  This is a clever precept, as the MAC performers strike the “Chorus Line” poses — interesting at first, but becoming a bit tiring by show’s end.

Photo Courtesy MAC

The cast has interesting reports about their love of dancing, with some tidbits of past shows.  One especially zany sequence is a review of a 40-performance run of a show that included non-stop syncopation to “A Sleigh Ride” music.  The choreography is great fun, as the dancers become more and more exhausted with each performance. By the run’s final night, they have expelled all energy and fall into an immoveable heap.

Sometimes the “true meaning of Christmas” becomes trite.  This is cleverly countered when a vignette of going “home for the Holidays” turns out to be a “hate for the Holidays” adventure.

Everyone in the cast has extensive musical experience.  They are excellent dancers and singers. Jalyn Courtenay Webb leads the cast. She also provides musical direction for the production.  She has a wonderful voice. Charlotte Campbell, Anne Terze-Schwarz, Sarah Ledtke McCann, Taylor Marrs, JC McCann, Tezz Yancey, Tyler Baxter, Delany Garcia and Stephanie Garcia are all on stage for nearly the entire show – with each having an opportunity to “shine” as they recall holiday memories.

Stage set includes impressive snow trees on both sides of the stage.  Costumes are very good. The entire production includes excellent choreography, excellent voices, and excellent band support.  The “heart” of the Holiday is felt throughout. It reminds us that even the “wondrous” Holidays can provide some challenges. Sounds like life in general.

And there is that Act Two wonder of “O Silent Holy Night” that leaves the audience thunderstruck.

“Heart of the Holiday”

Midtown Arts Center

3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525

To December 24, 2018

Telephone 970/225-2555

ONLINE: midtownartscenter.com

“The Flea and the Professor” Is An Event Of Delightful Fantasy.

Hans Christian Andersen Tale For Children Lights Up The  Bas Bleu Stage.

Reviewed by Tom Jones,

June 22, 2018

            With guileless delight six talented performers take stage this season having great fun explaining why they are NOT“The Greatest Show on Earth.”  No, there is nothing “great” or even “showy” in this charming silliness recounting of a Hans Christian Andersen tale.  “The Flea and The Professor” is reportedly his last creation.  He was nearly 70 when he came up with this story that few have read.  I wonder what he might have been smoking at the time, as there is neither rhyme nor reason why this should ever see the light of day as a story, let alone as a stage musical.  That said, Bas Bleu has produced a beguiling evening of fun.  The cast has no worries about staying on key or in step, allowing the audience to have as much fun as they appear to be having. 

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “The Flea and the Professor,” November 21, 2018. Photo by Bill Cotton

            Graeme Schultz has a gee-whiz charm that grabs the audience from the outset as The Professor.  He has big ideas, but nothing that can amount to much.  He longs to follow in his father’s footsteps in the air as a hot air balloonist.  But first must find some means of employment, trying his luck as a carnival magician without much talent, and without much magic. His story is told by Sarah Paul-Glitch who begins the show as the story teller and ends up as The Professor’s wife.  They are quite a pair.  As his magician’s assistant, she is not willing to always disappear on stage or be sawed in half, so disappears from his life.

            When The Professor’s luck and abilities have completely vanished, he scratches himself to find he has a flea.  Not just any flea, but a flea with great ideas and a desire to be “a friend.”  John Kean is probably six and one-half feet tall, and he emerges as the flea in The Professor’s life.  He is a goofy wonder on his own.  They develop an incredible friendship, making a pinky-pact to be lifelong buddies.  They even develop a stage act that becomes unbelievably popular.

            No, it makes no sense.  But that is the charm of the entire 80-minute show of friendship and acceptance.  And it is a musical.  No melodies to carry you home, but they do provide winsome joy on stage.   The show is a charmer.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “The Flea and the Professor,” November 21, 2018. Photo by Bill Cotton

            Joining the three are Jennifer Brayas a 12-year-old spoiled and pouting Cannibal Princess, Kelly Forester as an over-the top Cannibal Queen, Michael Anthony Tatmon as the Cannibal King, and showing up everywhere doing everything is Paul Brewer as the Sea Captain, Loyal Subject, and everybody else.  It is quite a troupe of rag-tag players, dressed in fashions that befit no one, but exuding delight at every silly moment.  The Professor and his flea take their popular “show” around the world. They end upin an out-of-the-way island inhabited by cannibals – including the crazed cannibal royal family hungry for a human meal.

            The total production is bizarre, and I found myself immersed in the infectious delight of the cast. Jordan Harrison wrote the script, and Director Jeffrey Bigger has done an amazing job of presenting the off-the-wall story. The show provides a sense of wonder, rarely found in current society.

            Andersen was born in 1834 and became Denmark’s most famous author.  His fairy tales include “The Emperor’s New Clothes, “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,”  “The Ugly Duckling”, “Frozen.”  And the list goes on and on“The Flea” is rarely mentioned, but came to light as a stage musical written by Jordan Harrison.  It received acclaim in 2011 receiving Barrymore Awards as Best Production of a Musical and Best Leading Man in a Musical.             In the current Bas Bleu delight the“Not the Greatest” tackiness theme is apparent everywhere – the set, the costumes, the story.  But the production itself is a real winner.  Not the “Greatest,”but a real heartfelt winner.

“The Flea and The Professor”

Where:  Bas Bleu Theatre Company

 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524

When:  To December 23, 2018

For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949

Newcomer Josh Houghton Is Brilliant As “Buddy” The Elf

“Elf – The Musical” Is Joyous Christmas Treat At Arvada Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 21, 2018

The elves in Santa’s North Pole Workshop are a happy and busy crew, preparing toys for Santa to distribute worldwide. The fun begins. They are a clever sight to behold – all about three feet tall, spinning and dancing with glee. They are an efficient lot, all except one unusually tall and maybe not overly bright chap, Buddy. He overhears other elves discussing why he is not as efficient as they are. Speaking in hushed tones, they comment that Buddy’s probable problem is that he is “Human.” Buddy confronts Santa who confirms that he arrived at the North Pole after crawling into one of Santa’s bags as a baby on a long ago Christmas delivery. Santa has raised him as his own, but shares information as to where his true father lives. Buddy says “Goodbye” to the North Pole and heads for Manhattan to find his dad.

Josh Houghton (Buddy)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Josh Houghton is enormously talented as the six-foot-six inch elf, Buddy. Houghton can sing. Houghton can dance. Houghton can mime. Is there anything this wonder cannot do? His timing is impeccable. He is a non-stop whirlwind of delight, as he becomes the naïve, enormously tall, and wonderfully kind Buddy.

Josh Houghton (Buddy) and elves
Matt Gale Photography 2018

When he reaches the New York City office of his father, Buddy is every bit as charming, fun, and nutty as he was among the elves at the North Pole. His father, well portrayed by Mark Devine, is not amused.

The basic story is familiar to those who saw the 2003 movie starring Will Farrell as Buddy. A few changes have occurred in transferring the movie to the stage, but it is every bit as charming and endearing as that first glimpse we had of Buddy many years ago. This stage musical version first appeared on Broadway in November of 2010 and has become a popular holiday season show.

Mark Devine (Walter Hobbs) and Josh Houghton (Buddy)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Arvada is giving this great gift to audiences this season. Opening night enthusiasm was high, and a sold-out season may be in store. Gavin Mayer directs this charmer, especially using the skills of Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s choreography and Laura K. Love’s scenic design. The stage turns into a large children’s book of colorful artwork – the North Pole, the Manhattan Skyline, Rockefeller Plaza Skating Rink, The Tavern on the Green Restaurant in Central Park, and others. There is nonstop action – a wondrous rotating Christmas tree decorated before our eyes, a believable skating moment on the rink at Rockefeller Center, a host of not-so-happy off-duty dancing Santas as seen away from their work.

Leslie Hiatt (Jovie) and Josh Houghton (Buddy)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

“Elf” is truly Josh Houghton’s show. He does, however, have excellent assistance. Leslie Hiatt is enchanting as Jovie, the Macy’s employee who becomes Buddy’s love interest. Hiatt is especially good in her “Never Fall in Love with an Elf” rendition in Act II. Also in that second act is the musical report that “Nobody Cares about Santa” provided by the dancing Santas.

Maria Couch is very good as Buddy’s stepmother. Sharon Kay White is delightful as the Hobbs office employee who becomes a Buddy fan upon first meeting. Colin Alexander plays two rolls. He is a jolly and kind Santa; and a less-than jolly and less-than-kind, Mr. Greenway. The role of Buddy’s younger brother, Michael is played in various performances by Tyler Fruhwirth, Austin Golinksi and Harrison Hauptman. I saw Fruhwirth who was particularly good.

Josh Houghton (Buddy) and Colin Alexander (Santa)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin are pleasant and warm-hearted. There are no melodies that the audience hums when leaving the theatre, but “A Christmas Song” hits home. This is an anthem to family, love, memories, and the Christmas spirit.

While the audience doesn’t go away humming, they do leave the theatre chuckling, when thinking of the total experience — especially incredible antics performed by Josh Houghton and entire cast in this seasonal charmer.

“Elf — The Musical”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through December 23, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Online: Arvadacenter.org

Enjoying Theater Across Our Great State