“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.

            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.

            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

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Newcomer John 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

John 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 John 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 John 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.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Frankenstein” Is A Triumph at OpenStage

Timothy Ackerman Is Brilliant As The Misunderstood Monster

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 10, 2018

What do you remember about “Frankenstein?” My memory bank did not pull up much information. Was he a monster, a monster’s creation, or just someone to terrorize children at Halloween? OpenStage continues its wonderful trend of providing excellent theatre. “Frankenstein” just may be one of the best! In addition, it helped me fill in the blanks about that Frankenstein chap!

For starters, “Frankenstein” is NOT the monster! The monster/creature is the nameless creation of a brilliant scientist and mathematician, Victor Frankenstein. The deformed and frightening creation comes to life, initially only grunting and struggling. Timothy Ackerman is spellbinding as the creature, wanting only to find some joy in a world that finds him frightening. Heath Howes is excellent as Victor Frankenstein, the genius, who abandons his “creation,” leaving it to fend for itself. He does not yet realize that the creative success of his lifetime will become his lifetime’s torment.

Photo by Brian Miller

Peter Anthony is a highly respected director who has received numerous accolades. Among his recent successes was “The Crucible.” I wondered then, “What can he do for an encore?” What he has “done” is provide local audiences with yet another evening of unparalleled wonder. The actors are remarkable, and his direction has succeeded in making it possible for the audience to understand virtually every word spoken. The set he created is an “experience” all its own, as the audience is transported through the various seasons in Europe of the 1790s.

The production opens with a virtual monster terrorizing the local community. He is so deformed that he frightens anyone who sees him. He has no one to care for him. No one to feed him. The first few minutes he is on stage I wondered what the script “dialogue” must show, as there are only howls and grunts. Fortunately, the creature turns up at the forest wilderness home of De Lacey, a blind man who is taken care of by his son. The son and his new wife are away much of the time. De Lacey cannot see the creature, but does touch his deformed head, realizing that he needs help. He invites the creature into his home and ends up feeding him, befriending him, and ultimately teaching him. The creature is wild looking, but has an amazing mind, and is a quick learner.

Photo by Brian Miller

The leading players are especially good. Howes is convincing as the mathematical and scientific genius who has created “life” and has no way to explain what he has done. Ackerman as the creature is a wonder. He was recently excellent as John Proctor in “The Crucible.” His skills there were enormous, but nothing of the magnitude he exhibits as the creature this season at OpenStage. Charlie Ferrie is very good as the blind De Lacey. Teal Jandrain is believable as Victor’s fiancée, who cannot understand why her desired husband wants to put off marriage yet again. Luke Stephens and Kiere Gilbertson are also effective as the son and daughter-in-law of the blind teacher.

Photo by Brian Miller

The entire cast is flawless. In addition to those mentioned above, special notice must be made of Dominique Mickelson’s appearance as the not-yet-complete female creature; Jacob Sadow as William Frankenstein, the young member of the family who fears the creature, but is somewhat willing to help him; and Steven P. Sickles as Victor Frankenstein’s father. Several persons play multiple roles, but Director Anthony has carefully let the audience know who is who throughout the entire show. The “entire show,” incidentally, takes place in less than two hours — no-intermission. The production is so very interesting that a person sitting near to me echoed my thoughts, “It is over already? What happened to the time?”

What “happened” to the time was the result of a script by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley. Shelley was only 21 when she wrote her Gothic novel, “Frankenstein,” based on Prometheus of Greek mythology. The book, published in England in 1818, has been widely read and has been adapted into hundreds of movies, plays and other books. The production at OpenStage this season is Playwright Dear’s interpretation of the story, as premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London in 2011.

The novel and the current play continue to touch on many themes. Fear of creating something beyond our capacity to care for it. Fear of the unknown. Fear of others foreign to us. And, our unwillingness to accept anyone “different” from us in appearance or in ideas. The audience experiences an entire gamut of emotions. This spellbinder is enthralling and thought provoking to the very end.

“Frankenstein”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through November 24 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
Online: OpenStage.com  www.lctix.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“I Love You, You’re Perfect . . . Now Change” Is Delightful Entertainment In Boulder

Fun And Foibles Of Romantic Relationships Are Spot On!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 13, 2018

While dating: “I love you. You’re perfect!
Day after wedding: “Now change.”

Four talented and likeable performers are on stage this season at BDT Stage taking the audience on a sentimental journey of love, happiness, and even a touch of despair. The longest-running off-Broadway review in history has been revised slightly for the 21st century. Some of the modifications are great fun.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Bob Hoppe, Brian Jackson, and Heather Marie Doris are familiar faces to BDT Stage audiences. Anne Terze-Schwarz is new to BDT Stage, but has extensive experience, is a UNCO alum, and a native of Colorado. They are all very good.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Hoppe can change characters in the twitch of an eyebrow, and takes the entire family on a not-so-joyous afternoon drive. Choreography in this scene is especially clever, with the family of four cruising around the stage with their self-propelled automobile.

Brian Jackson does not want to budge from the couch for the final 32 seconds of the football game on TV, even though his wife, Heather Marie Doris, is trying every tease she can come up with to share some romance. Jackson is also remarkable as the breakfast-time husband, who realizes his love for his wife is as deep as ever, even though they speak nary a word while reading the morning paper over cups of coffee. Anne Terze-Schwarz is effectively somber as the wronged woman trying to make a video to post on a dating network. Doris is terrific of the dreadfully-dressed bridesmaid who laments “Always a Bridesmaid” after catching the bride’s bouquet.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Hoppe and Jackson are zany and obnoxious as parents who can think or talk about nothing but the soundly-sleeping child in the other room.

And so it goes, from first dates, marriage, raising a family, remaining in love, looking for a mate after a divorce, and even going to funerals to find dates after spouses die.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

The review has been around for many years, and has not lost its charm. Coming up with ideas for the current generation are problematic. A generation or so ago, when the production first appeared off-Broadway, the thrill of love was usually culminated with an exciting wedding and honeymoon. This has become somewhat passé, as pre-marital co-habitation is now the norm in many situations, and the resulting current scene of Selfie-texting in the review more off-putting than funny.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Directing and choreographing the review is Seth Caikowski who is well known to local audiences as a delightful comedian. He received the Henry Award for best supporting actor a few seasons ago in BDT Stage production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Neal Dunfee conducts the on-stage orchestra, providing excellent support to the goings-on.

The audience had no difficulty relating to most of the show’s sequences. They were thinking, “That is you.” That is me.” “That is us!” “And neither of us has changed….much”

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
Where: BDT Stage
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
When: Through November 3, 218
Tickets: Box Office (303) 449-6000
For more information: BDTStage.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Orbison” Leaves Audience Cheering

There’s Dancing In The Aisles At Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 14, 2018

Open the floodgates, and let the adjectives flow. “The Roy Orbison Experience” has arrived in Fort Collins. And that voice. Where did Chris Trimboli come from? Bespectacled with the Roy Orbison trademark dark glasses, Trimboli began to sing – and what a voice! The audience went crazy. This was an evening of absolute joy.

While acquainted with some of Orbison’s music, I did not have an appreciation of his voice and talent until seeing this production. According to the program, several years ago Trimboli was approached by a producer who asked him if he knew who Roy Orbison was. He did not, so that night he went home and started listening to Orison music and researching the man behind the glasses.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Product of that introduction is the musical now premiering in Fort Collins. Trimboli had done his work learning about Orbison and is now portraying the musical legend in the show that he wrote. Trimboli may just become a legend himself, as his voice, like that of Orbison, is one of a kind.

The format is interesting — on one end of the ballroom is a slightly-raised platform where the band plays, including enough space for singers to perform from time to time. The other end also has a raised platform with three or four microphones for the performers to use to tell of Orbison’s life and to sing some of the music. I was sitting very near to the orchestra, and found myself continually craning my neck to find which end of the room I needed to be watching. This also led to some difficulty in understanding the story itself. The band frequently played (although softly) during some of the narrative, and I had difficulty understanding what was being said.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Roy Orbison was born in the Texas oil fields town of Wink. He began composing music early and was a contemporary of the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and other musicians of the era. Although he died 30 years ago, he remains one of the most respected musician and composers in the annals of American music history. His career had substantial highs and lows, as did his personal life. His first wife died in a motorcycle accident, followed two years later by the death of his two eldest sons in a fire that destroyed his Tennessee home. He remarried, and his career was having a tremendous rebirth, only for him to die of a heart attack at age 52. He left a remarkable legacy of achievement. – Not only music he performed, but also music he composed for others.

John Seaberry provided musical arrangements for the current Orbison show. He plays bass in the band, with Victor Walter on the piano, Ryan Millard on guitar, and Dean Vlachos on percussion. Chris Trimboli is music director.

The musical showcases many of Orbison’s classics, using the voice of Trimboli, as well as voices of three very talented back-up performers. Anthony Weber looks and sounds like he might be another Trimboli or Orbison in the making. Emily Erkman has extensive experience as a lead singer for several bands. Delany Garcia brought the house down with her “Blue Bayou.” This is the now-grown-up version of the young girl who charmed me as young Mary Lennox years ago at Greeley’s Union Colony Dinner Theatre’s production of “The Secret Garden.” I could hardly believe my eyes and ears.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Northern Colorado has great credentials with this show, as Weber studied OperaPerformance at CSU, Chris Trimboli is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, and Delany Garcia is a senior there this year. Erkman spent the early years of her career in New York and in Colorado

The excellent skills of Michael Lasris are apparent as he directs the show – keeping the audience’s attention moving from one side of the room to the other while creating such memorable moments of Roy Orbison’s legacy, with such magic music as “Blue Bayou, “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely,” “Crying,” and a host of others.

The audience was not eager for the show to end. They were clapping, cheering, and dancing in the aisles. This is super entertainment.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

And what a year this is for the show’s producer, Jalyn Courtenay Webb. She sings. She acts. She performs. She teaches. This past summer the Colorado Theatre Guild honored her as Best Actress in a Musical for her role in “Always, Patsy Cline” at MAC. Webb is the founder of the new divabee Productions, and can now add “producer” to her resume. This is her first venture producing a show. And what a winner it is.

“The Roy Orbison Experience”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 18, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Educating Rita” – Student And Professor Switch Roles

Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Hosts British Favorite

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2018

Rita wants in. John wants out. This is Liverpool, England in the 1980s. Class distinction is at its peak. The upper class holds all the cards. The working class struggles to stay afloat. Frank is an upper crust, cranky professor, disillusioned with the education system. He accepts a tutoring job just for the money. Rita is a minimally educated 26-year-old hairdresser in an unhappy marriage, eager to improve her social status. The two are just about as opposite as two persons can be.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

Rita has an insatiable desire to learn. Learn everything. She is outgoing, cheerful, optimistic and chatty. Frank is a solemn curmudgeon, consigned to his office, no longer writing poetry, and unhappily awaiting the arrival of the student he has been assigned to tutor. Rita wants to get in to the world of the educated, and out of her common worker status. She hopes to improve herself under the direction of a tutor. Frank wants to get out of the educational world, but does not make any effort to do so – just spending his days feeling sorry for himself and drinking and drinking and drinking.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

John Hutton and Emily Van Fleet play the two characters this season in “Educating Rita” on stage at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. John’s dismal existence is disturbed when the delightful Rita arrives, to “be taught.” She is miles below the professor’s social status, and finds the failed poet to be the most interesting person she has ever met. Frank is initially appalled by the new student in his charge. Beguiled by her naivety, he becomes interested in actually turning her into a British woman of status. She has no self-esteem. This is similar to Henry Higgins trying to make a duchess out of the flower market girl (Eliza Doolittle) in “My Fair Lady.”

British playwright Willy Russell lives in Liverpool. His “Educating Rita” “Blood Brothers,” and “Shirley Valentine” were international hits. “Rita” became a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Waters. His idea about educating Rita is loosely based on the Pygmalion myth, which was also the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” as well as the musical “My Fair Lady,” the “Pretty Woman” movie, and even the “Frankenstein” story. They all have in common the notion of a mentor-student/creation relationship.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

The Arvada Center has an amazing record of providing terrific sets. This excellence continues with Brian Mallgrave’s creation of Frank’s office. The cluttered desk, the stacks here and there and everywhere. The hidden bottles of his Scotch. The plants that die from having no care. Jon Olson has again excelled with his lighting design.

Director Lynne Collins’ credentials are impeccable. The two leads are both very convincing. The story evolves into a switching of roles. Frank becomes concerned that perhaps he has taught the delightful Rita too much, resulting in her becoming a somewhat unpleasant upper class woman. Rita perceives that she needs to help Frank get back to his poetry writing, give up the booze, and turn his life into something happy and productive. There is much of value in the lessons playwright Russell develops. The suggestion that everyone makes some effort to reach his/her potential and the value of helping others are always desired goals.

The total experience is an interesting look at British class distinctions of 40 years ago, as well as a study of how we perceive ourselves and others. I did find the production too long, and did have difficulty understanding everything the delightful fast-talking Rita had to say. However, I came away with a great appreciation of the acting effort, the time that was spent learning the roles, and the total “look” of the show.

The play’s worldwide acclaim strikes chords with audiences, as everyone needs a “nudge to action” sometime in life. The Arvada audience gave the performers a standing ovation at show’s end.

“Educating Rita”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through November 11, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Educating Rita” – Student and Professor Switch Roles

Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Hosts British Favorite

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2018

Rita wants in. Frank wants out. This is Liverpool, England in the 1980s. Class distinction is at its peak. The upper class holds all the cards. The working class struggles to stay afloat. Frank is an upper crust, cranky professor, disillusioned with the education system. He accepts a tutoring job just for the money. Rita is a minimally educated 26-year-old hairdresser in an unhappy marriage, eager to improve her social status. The two are just about as opposite as two persons can be.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

Rita has an insatiable desire to learn. Learn everything. She is outgoing, cheerful, optimistic and chatty. Frank is a solemn curmudgeon, consigned to his office, no longer writing poetry, and unhappily awaiting the arrival of the student he has been assigned to tutor. Rita wants to get in to the world of the educated, and out of her common worker status. She hopes to improve herself under the direction of a tutor. Frank wants to get out of the educational world, but does not make any effort to do so – just spending his days feeling sorry for himself and drinking and drinking and drinking.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

John Hutton and Emily Van Fleet play the two characters this season in “Educating Rita” on stage at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Frank’s dismal existence is disturbed when the delightful Rita arrives, to “be taught.” She is miles below the professor’s social status, and finds the failed poet to be the most interesting person she has ever met. Frank is initially appalled by the new student in his charge. Beguiled by her naivety, he becomes interested in actually turning her into a British woman of status. She has no self-esteem. This is similar to Henry Higgins trying to make a duchess out of the flower market girl (Eliza Doolittle) in “My Fair Lady.”

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

British playwright Willy Russell lives in Liverpool. His “Educating Rita” “Blood Brothers,” and “Shirley Valentine” were international hits. “Rita” became a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Waters. His idea about educating Rita is loosely based on the Pygmalion myth, which was also the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” as well as the musical “My Fair Lady,” the “Pretty Woman” movie, and even the “Frankenstein” story. They all have in common the notion of a mentor-student/creation relationship.

The Arvada Center has an amazing record of providing terrific sets. This excellence continues with Brian Mallgrave’s creation of Frank’s office. The cluttered desk, the stacks here and there and everywhere. The hidden bottles of his Scotch. The plants that die from having no care. Jon Olson has again excelled with his lighting design.

Director Lynne Collins’ credentials are impeccable. The two leads are both very convincing. The story evolves into a switching of roles. Frank becomes concerned that perhaps he has taught the delightful Rita too much, resulting in her becoming a somewhat unpleasant upper class woman. Rita perceives that she needs to help Frank get back to his poetry writing, give up the booze, and turn his life into something happy and productive. There is much of value in the lessons playwright Russell develops. The suggestion that everyone makes some effort to reach his/her potential and the value of helping others are always desired goals.

The total experience is an interesting look at British class distinctions of 40 years ago, as well as a study of how we perceive ourselves and others. I did find the production too long, and did have difficulty understanding everything the delightful fast-talking Rita had to say. However, I came away with a great appreciation of the acting effort, the time that was spent learning the roles, and the total “look” of the show.

The play’s worldwide acclaim strikes chords with audiences, as everyone needs a “nudge to action” sometime in life. The Arvada audience gave the performers a standing ovation at show’s end.

“Educating Rita”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through November 11, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Exploration of the Colorado River Results In Exciting Theatrical Experience

Wild Tale Of The Powell Exploration Is The Catamounts Gem in Boulder

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
October 9, 2018

Alright, already – the men aren’t men. The cast is entirely female, dressed as male frontier explorers, excellently guiding the audience through the saga of John Wesley Powell’s first trip down the Colorado River in1869. What a trip!

The Civil War had concluded five years earlier. The transcontinental railroad had just begun operation, sufficient to transport boats for the Powell expedition to enter the river at what is now Green River, Wyoming. The entire expedition down the Green, connecting to the Colorado, and concluding at the western edge of the Grand Canyon was fraught with peril. The telling of the story is fraught with peril of its own as the amazing cast is jostled through rapids, over waterfalls, with sometimes brief stretches of calm on the three-month journey.

Photo by Michael Ensminger. Pictured GerRee Hinshaw

Staging is remarkable. There is no water in sight, but the production has been incredibly choreographed and directed to have the audience feel we are actually with the group on the river, and on the dry land for campfire meals, and local explorations. When boats are capsized, the audience wants to reach out to “grab” the expedition members to save them from drowning. Fortunately no one drowned on the expedition, although four of the original ten members did leave the group before journey’s end as the river emerges from the cliffs of the “Grand” canyon.

This is theatre at its most remarkable success. Director Amanda Berg Wilson has done an excellent job in putting the actors through their paces, to bring a feeling of raw courage and realism in the production. The women become the “men” they portray, as gender becomes unimportant.

GerRee Hinshaw portrays the one-armed Major John Wesley Powell. He lost his arm in a Civil War battle, but that has not reduced his ability to explore rivers. By the time the expedition begins, he is already one of the most river-travelled men in America. He is portrayed in “Men on Boats” as a stern leader, with great knowledge of river travel, less knowledge of how to deal with men under his command. Near-mutinies result. He has been hired by the U. S. Government to head the expedition, and intends to succeed – despite frequent criticisms by the men in his charge.

Photo by Michael Ensminger. Pictured McPherson Horle, Ilasiea Gray, Missy Moore, Karen Slack, GerRee Hinshaw, Joan Brummer-Holden

The group is a motley crew. There William Dunn, convincingly played by Karen Slack. Dunn is a hunter and trapper, excited when Powell decides to name a mountain peak after him. Joan Bruemmer-Holden portrays John Colon Sumner, a former soldier in the Civil war, and now a western explorer. Edith Weiss becomes Old Shady, another Civil War vet and older brother of the expedition’s leader. Erika Haase is Bradley, a youthful part of the team sometimes with more courage than sense. Ilasiea Gray is O. G. Howland, a printer and hunter, with Joelle A. Montoya playing Howland’s younger brother Seneca. Jessica Austgen is the British Frank Goodman, initially so very excited to be part of the group, but with a desperate longing to be back somewhere in Europe, preferably on the beaches near Marseilles. McPherson Horle is Hall, the mapmaker; and Missy Moore is Hawkins, the cook whose role becomes increasingly challenging as rations run dangerously low.

The show’s program notes that “The Catamounts create audacious contemporary theatre … believing in the necessity of new work, the power of collaborative creation, the constant innovation of artistic forms.” They succeed in all endeavors with this uniquely creative production. Author is Jaclyn Backhaus. The show’s thrilling endeavors are the action on the stage, as the river tests the courage of the expedition. The script does beg for more information about what is not told. I did race home to “Google” more about the expedition and the characters portrayed.

Last week my wife and I went through a few areas mentioned on the expedition story. We stopped briefly in Green River, Wyoming, where the group began the journey on the Green River. Just outside Moab, Utah, we found a plaque about the Expedition on one of the overlooks of Canyonlands National Park. We then stopped in Green River, Utah, to visit the John Wesley Powell Museum.

Photo by Michael Ensmginer.Pictured Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Jessica Augsten, Karen Slack

Today’s views of the canyon from above are remarkable. There is “civilization” with motels and stores, only to look down the canyon to see still-forbidding landscape of the Green and Colorado rivers that merge just outside Moab. The incredible story of traversing the rivers, thanks to Powell and his “Men on Boats,” has become fascinating history.

The Catamounts theatre company is making fascinating history on its own with this exhilarating production.

“Men on Boats”
Through October 13, 2018
Where: The Catamounts Theatre Company
Dairy Arts Center, 2500 Walnut Street, Boulder CO
Tickets: www.thecatamounts.org , or 303/444-seatFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Bas Bleu Opens Delightfully Clever “Mr. Perfect”

Even Some “Thinking” Is Included In The High Hilarity

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
September 14, 2018

What are the chances? What are the chances that I’d decide to see a play this week, something I’d never heard of before, and something that did not pique my interest before sitting down in the theatre? What are the chances that I’d be thoroughly amused and idea-challenged in two hours of watching four characters tell their tales? What are the chances that the chocolate mints I purchased before the show would not melt in my pocket before the intermission?

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses for its production of “Mr. Perfect,” August 29, 2018.

What “chances” is life all about? Do we have any input into who we are, where we are, and what we are doing at any one time? In the clever and thought-provoking “Mr. Perfect,” an off-the-wall flight attendant makes her move on an unsuspecting, and unwilling passenger in mid-air in this daffy delight on the Bas Bleu stage this month.

Local playwright William Missouri Downs reportedly lives in a cabin somewhere near Fort Collins. How does he spend his time in the cabin? Is his world a whirlwind of thought, putting clever ideas into the mouths of characters he creates? And are we just “characters” in plays of our own, needing an itinerary for life’s path?

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses for its production of “Mr. Perfect,” August 29, 2018.

Brikai Cordova is a ditsy delight as Zooey, a stewardess (oops—an “airline attendant”) who has created her own fantasy world, listening non-stop to romance novels on tape, receiving her joys and sadness completely from the books she listens to. She persuades Jeffrey, a passenger on her flight, to join her in the airplane bathroom, hoping to seduce him high over Ohio. In order to have any kind of romantic satisfaction, she needs to be wearing ear-phones, listening to her current romance novel, or have her conquest tell stories in the verbiage tense she requires.

Jeffery, wondrously played by Adam Verner, finds Zooey exciting to a point, then realizes that she has no life beyond what she hears on tape. He is more grounded, earning his living as narrator/reader of the romance tape novels that Zooey enjoys. Zooey is in no hurry with her amorous adventures, as long as she can be occupied listening to something on her ear-phones. She notes that she is in no hurry, commenting “When I make love, I like to listen to the ‘1812 Overture.’ If that intimidates you, I’ve got ‘The Minute Waltz.’” She is, however, a whiz at math, and can immediately compute the statistical odds of a couple’s “chance encounter” not being more than a “chance.”

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses for its production of “Mr. Perfect,” August 29, 2018.

Cordova and Verner are beguilingly-talented performers. She with her wide eyes and perfect delivery, and he with his narrator-trained voice and perfect delivery.

Playwright Downs then introduces us to two other strangers on the planet who also meet my chance encounters: Ralph and Donna. Ralph is a student working on his thesis at Columbia University, masquerading as a religious parishioner to gain statistics for his thesis. Donna is a published author, a self proclaimed authority on human relationships. She turns out to be someone who might be human, but doesn’t have a clue about relationships. Graeme Schulz and Dominique Mickelson are both convincing as Ralph and Donna, whose lives intersect with the stewardess (oops – airline attendant) and her voice-over book narrator.

The four are just about as unique as can be imagined. Playwright Down’s mind is on a trajectory to somewhere in the universe to have four people so uniquely different meet up “by chance” to provide two hours of non-stop fun in “Mr. Perfect.” He is a highly-respected playwright and director. His plays have received several honors and have been produced widely in the United States as well as in Spain, Canada, South Africa, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Austria, India, and South Korea. His words travel well.

By play’s conclusion, there is no “truth” or “error.” There is, however, the chance of enjoying a great experience, exploring the minds of four persons. They could be any of us, trying to determine our own fact and fantasy, and living out our own itinerary. What are the chances?

“Mr. Perfect”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To September 30, 2018
For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Mary Poppins Flies & Bert Turns Things Upside Down in Johnstown

Disney’s Delight Lands Onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 9, 2018

That ever-efficient nanny, Mary Poppins, is flying in and out of Johnstown this season. Harmony Livingston is delightful as the ingenious Poppins who proclaims that she is “Practically Perfect” in every way as she arrives at the George Banks household in London. The family has not been successful in finding a good nanny, as the two children have run off a string of would-be-governesses. Mary is a no-nonsense dynamo that knows just what children need, and how to make them enjoy the transformation.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

Livingston is given great help by Bert, her longtime friend in fantasy. Cole Emarine is super as the mysterious friend who turns up here and there and everywhere as a friend to all. We originally meet him as an artist displaying paintings in a public park. He then turns up at a local fair, and finally as a chimney sweep who promises good luck to anyone who shakes his (dirty) hand.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

Livingston as Mary and Emarine as Bert make a very impressive duo. They are both multi- talented, have great singing voices and can dance up a storm. Emarine’s athletic skills have him performing a maneuver that needs to be seen to be believed, dancing with his chimney-sweeping friends late in Act Two.

The action takes place in London, on Cherry Tree Lane, at a local park, and at the bank where George Banks works. There is a bit of mysterious magic permeating the show, mostly due to Poppins’ extra-ordinary abilities. When the show begins to lag, a mind-blowing evil Miss Andrew turns up. Referred to as “The Holy Terror,” when serving as George Banks’ childhood nanny years ago, she continues to be an evil and brutal tyrant. When the now-adult George sees her, he immediately flees the home. He has never fully recuperated from being under her care. Victoria Pace briefly steals the show in her performance as the dreadful Miss Andrew, appalled that Poppins’ kindness can have any effect on the home.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

Everyone in the cast is skillful. Scott Hurst is believable as George Banks, the family head who has virtually traded his family for his job. Alisha Winter-Hayes is convincing as the ever-suffering kindly wife who is not pleased with the way her husband treats her and the children, but doesn’t know how to do anything about it. Scotty Shaffer and Annie Dwyer are the household servants whose jobs appear to entail ignoring anything unpleasant going on, and merely do their work. The roles of the two Banks children are double-cast, with Julia Gibson and Gwyneth Bohl trading places as Jane; and Ryan Fisher and John Miley portraying Michael. I saw Bohl and Miley. They both appeared to be at ease on the large stage, mixing well with experienced performers.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

A well-designed and crafted set displays great detail of the buildings and park. Costumes and lighting are also excellent. Choreography is by Kate Vallee who excels with the chimney sweepers “Step in Time” and with everyone in incredible synchronization for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (twice!). Director Pat Payne has assembled a spirited cast of performers and has carefully used the talents of set designers, costumers, lighting and technicians. He appears to have figured out how to cast a magic spell on the entire show.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

“Mary Poppins,” as seen this season in Johnstown, has music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and his brother Robert B. Sherman, with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Script is by Julian Fellowes. The musical is based on children’s books by P. L. Travers and the 1964 Disney film, using various elements from both sources.

The original West End production opened in London in December of 2004, and subsequently transferred to Broadway two years later. It received numerous awards on both sides of the Atlantic and has been performed world-wide. The music has become classic Disney: “Practically Perfect,” Jolly Holiday with Mary,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds,” Chim Chim Cherr-ee,” “Step in Time,” and the forever challenging “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Can you spell it backwards?)

Just like the nanny portrayed, the musical “Mary Poppins” is “practically perfect in every way’”

“Mary Poppins”

Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To November 11, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Website: ColoradoCandlelight.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“West Side Story” is Wondrous at Midtown Arts

Leonard Bernstein Music Is As Glorious As Ever

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2018

Early in Act I Kyle Smith, as Tony, musically tells the audience that “Something’s coming and it’s gonna be great.” That promise is wondrously fulfilled in this excellent production of the Broadway classic, “West Side Story.”

Tony has been leader of a youth gang, the Jets. When his gang swoops onto stage in an amazing display of choreography, they set the tone for an especially rewarding evening of talent. The Jets are not a happy group, as their “territory” is being threatened by the sudden emergence of Puerto Rican immigrants, The Sharks.

Choreographer Jerome Robbins had the idea of putting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the context of the teenage gang warfare in New York City of the 1950s. He worked with composer Leonard Bernstein to produce a near-ballet telling of the turmoil. Lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim who was then just 26 years old. The collaboration opened in New York in 1957, and went on to fame worldwide as a stage musical and later as an Academy Award winning movie. Their efforts have stood the test of time, and the story is every bit as relevant now as it was 60 years ago. The Leonard Bernstein score has become a classic, and the MAC orchestra provides an excellent rendition.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

When Tony, former Jet leader, meets Maria, the sister of the Shark leader, all interest in gang rivalry vanishes. He is immediately smitten, and so is the audience. Chemistry between Kyle Smith as Tony and Josy Soriano as Maria is palpable. The introduction of the two amidst the dance at the high school gym is one of Broadways most rewarding scenes, with Tony singing the ever-beautiful, “Maria.” Stage musicals don’t get much better than this! Soriano is especially impressive as the young Puerto Rican immigrant, Maria

Jill Godfrey is credited for directing and choreographing this current marvel. She has the Jets and Sharks displaying their physical manliness while erupting in near-classical ballet. The fight scenes are staged with great believability, and the dancing is continually exciting. Substantial preparation and training are evident in providing such effective results. Jalyn Courtenay Webb is musical director, reminding the audience that the songs continue to be as enchanting as ever – “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” and the delightful “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Some in the cast are beyond their teenage years, but talent abounds. Samuel Rene Damare doesn’t miss a beat as the Jet’s “Riff.” Dorian O’Brien” is excellent as his Shark nemesis, “Bernardo.” Demi Ahlert holds center stage in the palm of her hand as Maria’s friend, “Anita.” Sara Kowalski is sheer delight as the young girl who doesn’t yet fit into any group, and so desires to “belong.” Christopher Alvarado as Chino is convincingly heart-broken with his actions. In reality, there is not a weak link in the entire group of accomplished actors, singers, and dancers. Special note must be paid to Daniel Harkins as the mean-spirited cop who would like to erase the Puerto Ricans from the area, and to John Jankow, owner of the local drug store, desperately trying to retain some sort of peace and order between the rival toughs.

Set, lighting, and costumes are all very effective.

Beautifully portrayed, “West Side Story” is not a happy tale. This is a gritty production, with an undercurrent of continued fear and apprehension, laced with the desire of hope for a better future. As the show ended, the audience was in stunned silence for several seconds before reality of the excellence they had witnessed set in. Then virtually everyone stood up to cheer and express appreciation.

Prior to the beginning of the Opening Night performance, the cast and crew honored Kurt Terrio, owner of The Midtown Arts Center.” This production of “West Side Story” is the 100th show Terrio has produced over the years in various venues. Work on an earlier version of “West Side Story” was one of his first efforts.

“West Side Story”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 11, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Mamma Mia!” At Its Best As Live Theatre!

The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities Hosts Delicious ABBA Treat

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 8, 2018

Sophie is in a bind. She is about to be married, and wants to invite her father to walk her down the aisle. Problem is that she does not know who her father is. Raised by a single parent mom who runs a guesthouse on a tiny Greek island, Sophie finds her mother’s diary, learning that her mother had liaisons with three different men who just might be her father.

What to do? Invite all three to the wedding!

Mariah MacFarlane (Sophie) and Shanna Steele (Donna)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Such is a premise of the delightful “Mamma Mia!” on stage this autumn at The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. It is a joy from beginning to end. Mariah MacFarlane and Shannan Steele are both excellent as Sophie, and her mother, Donna Sheridan. Worth billing as a “cast” member is the incredible set designed by Brian Mallgrave. It is as sunny and inviting as a sunny day on a Greek island, and as warm and comfortable as a guest bedroom in a charming vacation villa.

Mariah MacFarlane (Sophie) and Shanna Steele (Donna)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

The Arvada Center was honored this past July as the Colorado Theatre Guild for Outstanding Season for a Threatre Company. Included in its list of recent wonders are “Sense and Sensibility,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “All My Sons.” What to do for an encore? Have Director Rod A. Lansberry put together a production of “Mamma Mia!”

“Mamma” burst onto the stage in London in 1997 and was an instant success. The idea was interesting. Take some of the Swedish group ABBA’s already-existing hit songs, weave them into a basic story of young love, and magic pops out of the magician’s hat! Music and lyrics are by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with book by Catherine Johnson. It premiered in London in 1999 and became a worldwide sensation. It opened in New York City in 2001 and played 5,773 performances before closing 14 years later. The 2008 movie version is reportedly the most successful movie ever shown in England.

Glenn DeVar (Sky) and Mariah MacFarlane (Sophie)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

As wedding guests arrive, we meet several young friends of the engaged couple, two of Donna’s longtime “best friends,” and the three possible fathers, not realizing why they are invited, and not realizing they may have fathered a beautiful daughter – about to be wed.

Then there is the ever-welcome music – “I Have a Dream,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes All,” “I Do, Do, I Do,” and many more.

MacFarlane and Steele headline the always-entertaining cast, with additional sensational performances by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and Piper Lindsay Arpan as Donna’s friends, Rosie and Tanya, with Daniel Robert Sullivan, Mark Devine and Jeffrey Roark as the unsuspecting potential father of the bride. Hilsabeck also provided the highly appreciated toe-tapping choreography.

The set, direction, and performances are not the only marvels. The orchestra, lighting and costumes are all equally impressive.

If the thunderous applause from the opening night Arvada audience is any indication, tickets to “Mamma Mia!” are going to be difficult to find. This is a joyful experience, and the audience was hesitant to let the performers leave the stage.

“Mamma Mia!”
Where: Main Stage, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through September 30, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Grease” Performers Younger Than Ever

The Academy at Midtown Arts Center Provides Three Versions Of The Teenage Classic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 19, 2018

Three weeks! Three weeks from first read-through to standing ovation performance. Must be some sort of record! Staff of The Academy at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins worked in overdrive all summer to provide three separate versions of “Grease.” Two of the versions were designed for younger performers, third through eighth grades. The third one was comprised of high school age students.

Each section session lasted three weeks, each providing an entire production of “Grease” after three weeks at the Academy. The performance I saw was enormous fun – the youngest section of this summer’s Academy offerings. Sizes went from mini to maxi, with some diminutive performers displaying some enormous potential. And the attitudes were great. Youngsters with greased hair and black leather jackets strutted with great élan. Girls, some tough as nails, some shy as mice, came through with great vim as the school’s Pink Ladies clique. Everyone on stage was obviously having a great time. So was the audience – most friends and families of the performers.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

The only “adults” in evidence on stage were the super band of experienced “Grease” music providers. Some were the same as performing at Midtown Arts Center’s “Grease” production this summer that runs to August 26. They provided excellent background for the young stars to shine.

This was the first stage experience for most of the performers I saw. There are already some standouts. Ella Tremblay is the show’s star as Sandy Dumbrowski, the wide-eyed innocent who transfers to the rowdy Rydell High School in 1959 without knowing anyone. Tremblay is great. She has excellent stage presence, a very good voice, and looks terrific.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

Giving Tremblay great support were Zoe Glenn as the rough and tumble Rizzo; Katie Brown, as the overly-enthusiastic and universally disliked cheerleader Patty. Ellie Swain was the continually-eating Jan whose daily highlight is going through everyone’s sack lunches. Maya Stanley was excellent as Cha Cha. Gillian McCreery was convincing as “Frenchie” the beauty school dropout, who had everyone routing for her to succeed. Kathryn Attkisson was in fine form as Marty, singing of her “Freddy, My Love.”

Across the school’s cafeteria from the girls Pink Ladies clique, are the tough-guy wannabees. They become angry when one of their pack, Danny Zuko, might want to change his ways and hook up with the innocent Sandy. Zach Pickett is in good voice for the role, but does come across as too-kind for the pack. Cameren Torres has great fun as Kenickie, standing atop his new car to sing, “Greased Lightning.” Maisen Theisen was the guitar thumping Doody. Amy Smith nearly stole the show as Sonny, the sunglass-wielding, swaggerer.

Photos Courtesy of Leah Allen

While the cast isn’t quite yet ready for prime-time, such just may be on the horizon for several. And in the meantime, it appears that everyone was having a swell time on stage. And all after only three weeks from first-read to final curtain! The cast for each show is large, with more than 50 performers participating in each of the Academy’s three sections this summer.

Michael Lasris directed the show, with Jalyn Courtenay Webb as producer and artistic director, Emily Erkman was musical director, and original choreography was by Joshua Buscher. Instructors for the three show-providing sessions were Katie Burke, Abbie Hanawait, and Kyle Smith. Interns included Max Allan, Emily Hevelone, Sky Hume, Aliyah Kirkes, Zoe Maiberger, Naomi Roberts, Melanie Smith, Evan Wilusz, and Marion Yager, with Alyssa Ankney and Jon Collins as tech crew. Britni Girard was costumer.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

The friendly audience was awed by the choreography, with more than 50 young performers on stage at the same time in many scenes – singing and their dancing their hearts out. “Grease is the word” this year at Midtown Arts Center.

The Academy concluded its “Grease” shows August 19, and the professional version of the show continues on stage to August 26.

The Academy at Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Telephone:  970/225-2555

Registration is now open for fall classes at the Academy. Classes begin September 10. Use code “early bird” for $50 off any class.
Register at www.midtownartcsenter.com/education.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Enthusiastic Audience Greets Disney’s “Newsies”

Very Large Cast At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Hits All The Right Notes

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 29, 2018

Dancing is terrific! Director Pat Payne and Choreographer Matthew D.  Peters have rounded up an amazing group of dancers to soar and leap nearly non-stop for two and one-half hours. Opening night audience broke into applause a couple of times during the routines – not even waiting until the end of the dance.

RDG Photography

Alan Menken wrote the “Newsies” music, but it is not every-day familiar. Most of the audience appeared to know it better than I did. Many noted they were fans of the 1992 movie musical starring Christian Bale. One woman in the Candlelight opening night audience mentioned that when she was a teenager, the weekly slumber parties usually included their favorite movie – “Newsies.” She claims to have seen it 14 times. The movie was a critical and financial failure, but subsequently developed a surprisingly large fanbase. Bale noted, “You say something bad about “Newsies” and you have an awful lot of people to answer to.”

When the movie became a Broadway show, it became a hit and ran for more than 1,000 performances, gaining a whole new generation of fans. The production was highly honored, especially for the choreography, and has transferred to the Candlelight stage with great enthusiasm.

RDG Photography

Some of the older patrons, such as me, who grew with Broadway’s “Sound of Music,” “South Pacific,” and “The King and I” initially had a difficult time. Diction was not perfect early in the show. But once the story line began to make sense, the audience was more appreciative. By the time Act II concluded, everyone appeared to be “aboard,” and curtain call acclaim was exciting.

Story is loosely based on an actual strike event in New York City in1899. Newspapers were sold by young men and women, “Newsies,” who had to buy the papers each day, making money only on the papers they sold, as none were returnable. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, realized the paper would make more money if he increased fees the Newsies needed to pay. Kent Sugg is very good as the heartless Pulitzer. Pulitzer went on to great fame and glory with creation of the “Pulitzer Prizes” in later years. In 1899, however, such generosity was not on the horizon. Even New York Governor Teddy Roosevelt, well portrayed by David L Wygant, was not happy with Pulitzer at the time.

RDG Photography

The plight of the Newsies was made even darker, as the police would pick up young boys for a variety of supposed crimes and have them incarcerated in “The Refuge.” This was a horrific situation, as the boys suffered while the police made government money for each boy they placed.

“Newsies” Jack Kelly is the ring leader of the unhappy young newspaper hawkers, encouraging then to go on strike to reverse the fee increase. Logan Traver sings well as the unhappy Jack, desperately wanting to escape the plight of New York City, and wishing to re-locate to the site of his dreams, Santa Fe. Traver has a very good singing voice and is an exceptional dancer. Harmony Livingston plays Katherine Plumber, a journalist who is interested in the Newsies plight. It turns out that she has more to offer than Jack Kelly ever imagined.

While the cast is universally talented, several performances stand out, including newcomer Hugh Butterfield as Romeo making his Candlelight debut, Ben Welch as the unfortunately handicapped “Crutchie” who is taken to the dreadful Refuge, and Cole Emarine who serves as dance captain. There are 28 performers in the large cast. The role of the young Les is played by Tyler Fruhwirth and Hayden McDonald in alternating performances. Tyler performed the role opening night and was delightful as the spunky young boy.

Choreography continues to be “Newsies” primary claim to fame. Early in Act 2, the audience broke into applause during the “King of New York” routine. Choreographer Matthew D. Peters put dancers through a “boot camp for dancers” early in the rehearsal schedule, making certain the already-talented performers could maintain their stamina through an exhaustive production. They have learned well, and stamina they have! Pat Payne’s direction of the entire production is excellent.

“Newsies” is a joy for fans of the movie, as well as for the older audiences, delighted to learn what all the fuss is about from the younger generations.

“Newsies”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To August 26, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: www.ColoradoCandlelight.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Award Winning “Equus” Arrives At Bas Bleu

Peter Shaffer Masterwork is a Marvel of Acting and Direction

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
June 22, 2018

There should be a sign outside the stage of Bas Bleu this month – “Quiet, Genius at Work.”

On stage is a spell-binding production of Peter Shaffer’s masterwork, “Equus,” a tour-de-force production of excellent acting and direction.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

The Tony Award-winning drama looks at the turmoil of an emotionally disturbed young man and the tired and bored psychiatrist who is trying to treat him. There are strong wills at work, as the doctor tries to reach the heart of the boy’s mental suffering. By show’s conclusion, I felt as if the audience should carry David Siever and Koby Adams aloft, showering them with accolades for their performances as the boy and the psychiatrist. They did receive a standing ovation.

For nearly three hours the audience is treated to a production so cleverly staged that the audience is mentally transferred out of the bounds of normal theatre. There are the concerned doctor and his patient, the bewildered mother, the horrific father, the doctor who has brought her patient to the psychiatrist, the young girl infatuated with the disturbed boy, the attending nurse, and five amazing horses that come to life with the clicking of their hoofs and impressive stature.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

We learn from the outset that a very disturbed young man has blinded five horses in his care in a stable in England. A psychiatrist is contacted with the hope that he can find the cause of the emotional suffering, and bring the boy some kind of relief. Koby Adams is a revelation as the tormented Alan Strang, with equally excellent David Siever, as Dr. Martin Dysart. They are given great support from Jim Valone and Gale McGaha Miller as Alan’s bewildered (and bewildering) parents, Hesther Salomon as a magistrate and close friend, Teal Jandrain as the charming young girl in the village, Steven Wright as Harry Dalton the stable owner. And those horses – they have personalities of their own – portrayed by Ryan Volkert, Blake Roberts, Cas Landman, Sheppard Braddy, and Brett Sylvia.

Director Robert Braddy worked as Scenic Designer for the production of the play at CSU in 1976, and has long been interested in directing the show.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

Playwright Shaffer’s production was introduced to the London stage in 1973 and arrived on Broadway in 1974, where it ran for more than 1200 performances and received numerous honors. Several issues turn up – religion, ritual sacrifices, sexual attraction, conflict between personal values and social mores. There is “a lot going on” in the telling of the young man’s torment. Wikipedia notes that Alan Strang has” a pathological religious fascination with horses.” The characters surrounding him have issues of their own, some bewildered by where they personally belong.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

Caution is required. This is not a play for young persons. Subject matter is mature. There is nudity. There are some scenes that become tiring.

Late in Act 2, the doctor makes a breakthrough in reaching the tormented Koby. In that scene, it is as if all the air has been sucked from of the theatre. The audience barely breathed — realizing they were witnessing brilliance on the stage.

“Equus”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To July 1, 2018
For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949
Online: www.basbleu.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee!”

High Energy “Grease Lightning” Lights Up Fort Collins Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 15, 2018

Yep, “Sandra Dee” is musically back in town. And she brought a whole bunch of her famous friends from Rydell High School of 1959. Oh, yea, and also there is the goody two-shoes Sandy, transplanted from a different school, who has a difficult time finding her way in the new environment. The gentle guy she met on vacation on the beach that past summer turns up as head honcho of some not-so-pleasant dudes in the school.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This month the movie version of “Grease” celebrates its 40th anniversary. In observation of that long-ago date, Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins has assembled the whole gang of teenagers to take us through the paces of what high school life was like in the 1950s.

In those days gone by, songs had lyrics everyone could understand and repeat. Many of those songs are incredibly well known even now – “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightning,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “You’re the One That I Want.”

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

John Travolta swaggered through the movie with great élan as Danny, with Olivia Newton John as the charming innocent, Sandy. For this stage version, Kyle Smith plays Danny Zuko with Lizzy Hinton as Sandy Dumbrowski. This is not the Sandra Dee of 1950s movie fame. Dee was the model of what a “good girl” should be in the era.

That “Sandy” was the epitome of wholesomeness, mocked by the rougher elements of society as someone to be disdained and pitied When Dumbrowski arrives at her new school the Pink Ladies show off their supposed superiority, mocking her with–
“Look, at Me. I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity.
Won’t go to bed ‘til I’m legally wed. I can’t, I’m Sandra Dee.”

On leaving the theatre, a member of the audience noted, “It was like the entire stage was full of leads.” Voices are very good and the dancing is astonishing The MAC production was directed and choreographed by Joshua Buscher with Jalyn Courtenay Webb serving as music director. Buscher was in the Fort Collins Carousel Theatre production of “Grease” 12 years ago while he was a student at UNC. Six months after graduating, he appeared in the revival of “West Side Story” for two years, and has been in Broadway productions of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and “Big Fish.”

Music was furnished by a super group of on-stage musicians, with the minimal props and action going on in front of them. There didn’t initially appear to be much room for choreography, but Director Buscher has provided routines that could be confined into smaller spaces, and the syncopated moves were flawless.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The stage musical, as originally conceived, was a raunchy, raw and aggressive tale that was subsequently toned down. It has been further modified to become a landmark of teenage angst. It is basically a look at what peer pressure can do, but taking a sometimes comical look at what teenagers felt they needed to do to be part of a group. “Sandra Dee” in the song becomes a “Sandy” who has potential of being a tough gal in the Pink Ladies clique.

It opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for nearly ten years. When it closed in 1980, it was then the longest run in Broadway history. The production now onstage at MAC has a few very brief moments of toughness, but is generally family oriented, and a true delight to see. Versions of it have played worldwide, and the John Travolta movie turned up in 1978, resulting in virtual adoration.

Jalyn Courtenay Webb is convincing as Miss Lynch, the high school teacher who tries to help the students maneuver through the pitfalls of adolescence – pitfalls that she has not yet personally overcome. Tara Fitzgerald is the tough-as-nails, Rizzo, the unofficial leader of the Pink Ladies clique. Abigail Hanawalt is delightful as the non-too-bright Frenchie, a “Beauty School Dropout.”

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Stuart Rial is great fun as the nerdy Eugene, who can do virtually anything, except find his way into the “in” crowd. Rakeem Lawrence is very good as Roger, the high schooler whose main claim to fame is that he “moons” every chance he gets. Taylor Marrs turns up in two crazed roles – the disc jockey Vince Fontaine and also as the Teen Angel performer. Mid way through Act I. Corbin George provided his personal dynamite as Kenickie with his over-the-top vocalizing of “Greased Lightning.”

Christy Oberndorf, Stephanie Garcia, Amy Dollar, Timothy Canali, Peyton Schoenhofer, Carley Ingold, Anthony Weber, and Delany Garcia complete the roster of talents on stage – several with individual moments to shine. Even Kenickie’s cherished convertible becomes a featured performer as “Greased Lightning.”

The total show is a delightful romp of looking at the teenagers of the last century, making us wonder how we might behave if we could be temporarily transplanted into the rock and roll generation. Then every guy wanted his greased hair slicked back, his own “Greased Lightning” convertible, and every girl wanted to be “Hopelessly Devoted” to someone.

“Grease”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To August 25, 2018
Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Another Opening – Another Show! 17 days until Disney’s “Newsies” sweeps into Johnstown!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Offers Acclaimed Show “Newsies” For Summer Run.

Reported by Tom Jones
June 12, 1018

I am an unabashed theater fan. I continue to get an adrenalin rush each time I sit in an audience, waiting to be amazed as the lights go down and the show begins, especially musicals. I take for granted the extensive work that has usually gone into making a play or musical succeed.

This has been an especially rich season for Colorado theatre, including such wonders as “Ragtime” at Midtown Arts Center, “The Little Mermaid” at Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage, ”Sunday in the Park with George” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, and the upcoming “Grease” at Midtown Arts. I decided to look into the “making” of a show, and received permission to attend a rehearsal of Disney’s “Newsies,” now in preparation at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Tuesday, June 12, the entire cast of “Newsies” assembled for what looked to be a marathon rehearsal. The show doesn’t open until June 29, but cast and crew were in full preparation of what has potential of being a seasonal winner.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

I arrived at the theatre’s rehearsal hall to spend a couple of hours watching the cast go through their paces. There were about 15 ensemble dancers – 12 guys and three girls, plus about ten other performers, all acting, singing, and dancing. “Five, six, seven, eight. Again — one, two, three, four….” Choreographer Matthew D. Peters was counting as the dancers went through the steps time and time again. He knows what he is looking for. He appeared to be a patient man. And no one seemed to complain when he said, “Ok, let’s try it again.” He choreographed, directed, and is in the cast of the currently-running “The Little Mermaid” in Boulder.

I did not see the”Newsies” movie on which the theater production was based. Nor did I see the original Broadway production or subsequent touring company. I did see a version of the show last summer at Tuacahn in Southern, Utah, and was thunderstruck by the ten minutes of opening-scene dancing.

The current “Newsies” director, Pat Payne advised me a few weeks ago that the dancers were going through a couple weeks of “dancing boot camp.” He noted, “The show is so physical that the dancers must have great stamina to make it through the full two and one-half hours each performance.”

Matthew Peters, Choreographer
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

We are aware that professional athletes train unmercifully, but seldom realize the theater performers have similarly arduous training. The performers I saw rehearsing had already passed the “tryout” period and had been cast for the show. Everyone was doing his or her darndest to hit the steps correctly as Peters counted, “One, two, three, four…” The rehearsal was set to continue for possibly eight more hours that day.

The first scene I saw being rehearsed consisted of just a few bars of an Act Two song and dance, “King of New York.” The routine was being rehearsed as a “soft shoe.” The floor of the rehearsal room cannot withstand the strain of tap shoes which will be featured when the show opens on stage. Visibly helpful during the rehearsal was Stage Manager Malia Stoner who appeared to be everywhere, when needed.

On hand to watch the initial dance routine were Harmony Livingston and Logan Traver who are the production’s leads. When they took their places in the rehearsal for the Act Two run-through, they stunned the viewing cast. Their voices are excellent, and their physical chemistry is dynamic.

Pat Payne, Director
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

Director Pat Payne has impeccable credentials. He appears to be as patient as choreographer Peters, and the two seem to have utmost respect from the assembled cast. Payne and Peters have put together an incredibly talented group of performers of many ages for this based-on-an actual event show. I didn’t see the set, which is to be a replica of lower Manhattan in 1899. The “orchestra” consisted of a man at a keyboard, and another hitting a soundbox for some recording helps.

Lack of scenery, costumes, or orchestra, did not appear to affect the rehearsing performers, who acted, sang and danced as if they were on a stage in front of a large audience. I was in awe of the natural talent in evidence. Some of the faces (and dancing feet) were familiar to me, including Leo Battle, Elliot Clough, Sarah Grover, Eric Heine, Sara Kowalski, Heather McClain, Kent Sugg, Broc Timmerman, and David Wygant. Many have extensive experience at Candlelight and in other theatres in the area.

No one appeared to be trying to outdo others in the cast. That afternoon it was as if I was attending a large family reunion where everyone was actually happy to see each other and share their talents! Tempers may have flared later in the day; but while I was watching, the experience could not have appeared more pleasant and normal. And extremely interesting.

“Newsies” began as a Disney movie in 1992 based on a real-life newsboys strike in New York City. The musical stage version arrived on Broadway in 2012 receiving great acclaim, including Tony Awards for choreography and original score.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

While choreographer Mathew D. Peters and his assistant Cole Emarine were counting dancing moves with “five, six, seven eight,” the entire group was counting down the 17 days prior to the show’s opening night at Candlelight.

Colorado’s theatergoers’ percentages rank among the nation’s highest. In 2015, 59% of all Coloradoans attended a visual arts event, vs. 39% nationwide. I will be interested to see how I and the thousands of Colorado theatre fans respond to the based-on-reality and soaring choreography of “Newsies,” opening at the Candlelight June 29.

An incredible amount of work and extensive rehearsals have already gone into the production. I’ve seen some of it, meticulously counted out – “Five, six, seven, eight. Again, one, two, three four…….”

“Newsies”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: June 29 to August 26, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: www.ColoradoCandlelight.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“The Little Mermaid” Is Feast Of Sight & Sound!

Hans Christian Andersen’s Underwater Tale Surfaces With Great Beauty

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 10, 2018

Roll out the adjectives. Last night I saw opening night of “The Little Mermaid” at the Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage. I don’t know quite how to adequately report the wonders of that five-star theatrical feast without sounding sappy in my affection for the show.
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the mermaid who longs to be human remains intact, but the “telling” becomes a wonder of talent and stagecraft. The staging is nothing short of amazing. The entertainment “feast” has so many courses, that it is hard to know what to include and what to leave out, to further surprise the audience.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

For starters, there is the underwater sequence where mermaid Ariel swims up to rescue the drowning Prince Eric who has fallen overboard from a storm-tossed ship. There is the continuing story shift from land above the ocean, to a ship on the ocean and to the sea beneath. The underwater scenes are incredible, as the cast continually move their “fins” enough to remind the audience that we are seeing something under the sea, while not becoming annoying with the movement.

There are the puppets portraying underwater delights, again moving as if with the flow of the tide. The Act One “Under the Sea” production number is one of the most visually dazzling sequences in memory. I did not want the scene to conclude, as the stage was alive with the excitement of being beneath the sea’s surface. Not to be outdone is an Act Two “Kiss the Girl.” This time the action is on a lagoon above the water, with puppet birds and creatures coming to enchant Ariel and Eric in a rowboat.

I am in awe at what the entire creative team at BDTS has accomplished. The direction, choreography, music, scenic design, audio, costumes and wigs, lighting, puppetry, projections, and flying design are impeccable. I can’t fathom what producing this production has entailed. Matthew D. Peters is the show’s director and choreographer who put together this wonder, produced by Michael J. Duran, with Alicia K. Meyers as assistant director.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Lillian Buonocore is charming as the confused Ariel. It is her voice the sailors hear when she emerges from the water. Buonocore’s background in classical ballet is on full display, as she is the continually moving fish under the sea, and the woman who can’t initially figure out how to use her legs when such becomes a possibility. Cole LaFonte is equally charming as Prince Eric. His voice and stage presence are impressive, and the audience and assembled cast encourage him to “Kiss the Girl” to hopefully end the evil spell cast upon her by the witch of the sea.

Supporting roles include the over-the-top evil Ursula, played by Alicia K. Meyers. Ursula is the evil witch of the sea, sister of King Triton, who will stop at nothing to win the kingdom’s title for herself. Chaz Lederer becomes Flounder the fish in love with Ariel. Bob Hoppe is non-stop delight as he taps and swims and flies as Scuttle. Scott Severtson is the underwater King Triton, with Brian and Jackson and Matthew D. Peters portraying the underwater Flotsam and Jetsam. Scott Beyette has his moments to shine as Chef Louis the above-ground chef preparing a fish meal for Ariel, without realizing that the mermaid has no desire to “eat her own.” Brian Burron is excellent as the ever-present servant Grimbsy who tries to make some order out of chaos. Sometimes stealing the show is Sebastian, the puppet crab played by Anthony P. McGlaun in the performance I saw. He is eager to help Ariel whenever possible, not so eager to be her meal when the palace chef prepares fish for dinner.

Ariel’s visits to the seashore have encouraged her to sing to the waters, with her voice beguiling many. She is also fascinated by “humans” and has created an underwater display of everything she has found in the ocean, including discarded forks that she assumes must be hair combs. Her father King Triton, is dismayed with his youngest daughter’s interest in humans, and refuses permission for her to “surface.”

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Hans Christian Andersen’s original story appeared in an 1837 collection of his fairy tales. The collection also included “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The collection was not immediately successful, as Andersen’s prior successes had been as a travel writer and novelist. His fairy tales, however, resulted in his becoming the best known Danish writer. He was only 32 when “The Little Mermaid was published in the series of stories.

The animated movie version of “The Little Mermaid” was created by the Disney Corporation and released in 1989. The stage musical came to life in Denver in 2007 prior to opening on Broadway the next year. It ran for nearly 700 performances on Broadway and has subsequently been produced worldwide. The Broadway version was adapted for the touring company in 2015, with that version now being seen on stage in Boulder.

And what a sight to see! The sets, the lighting, the costumes, the flying, and the incredible beauty of the entire production. Seeing it nearly becomes gluttonous. I had visually consumed so much that I was somewhat overfull. Act Two is too long, and a slightly-reduced offering would be preferred. It took me a few post-show hours to properly digest and reflect on what I had seen, appreciating the wonder of it all.

“The Little Mermaid”
To September 8, 2018
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
Telephone: 303/449-6000
Online: BDTStage.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Comedy of Errors” Offers An Evening Of Sublime Silliness

OpenStage’s Production Of Shakespearean Tale Provides Smiles For A Summer Evening

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 3, 2018

The printed program announces that there are two chaps in the story named Antipholus: Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. Each has a manservant, each named Dromio — one of Syracuse and one of Ephesus. Shakespeare’s family reportedly included a set of twins. Twins are everywhere in “The Comedy of Errors.” Figuring out who is who is the audience’s task in the park this spring.

The two sets of twins were separated at birth, neither knowing of the other’s existence as the story begins in ancient Ephesus, Greece. When Antipholus of Syracuse and his manservant arrive in town, the current citizens find themselves in a fit of frenzy, not realizing the “new faces” are twin brothers of their local friends. Even the Ephesus wife is in turmoil.

The weather cooperated brilliantly for opening night, as the talented OpenStage cast of players entertained the audience with this crazy story under the stars. To make the story even more challenging, women play all of the roles. In Shakespeare’s time, men portrayed all the roles. Director Denise Burson Freestone has taken a risk in switching genders in her version of the tale. And it works! Julie Kaye Wolf and Sydney Parks Smith take on roles of the two Antipholus characters. Molly McGuire and Corinne Webber are the two Dromios.

Women playing the men characters was initially confusing and a tad disturbing. When I figured out who was who, the gender gyrations were great fun and the women “became” the men they portrayed. By the show’s end, I had completely forgotten that the Antipholus twins were actually women, and that their “father,” was really Louise F. Thornton.

The plot is a maze of craziness. As is the case with many Shakespearean plays, it can be helpful to read a brief synopsis of the story before settling in to see a production. This is further complicated when a production is performed outside, with the audience seated on the grass or on chairs they personally furnished, resulting in sometimes-difficult views of the stage. The sound was quite good, including inclusion of sound effects that highlight the lunacy.

Denise Burson Freestone’s excellence as a director is evidenced as the entire cast provided very clever action. The moments of farce are genuinely funny, including an over-the-top swordfight late in the show. Performances were exceptionally good. The actors were very well rehearsed.

Again – a caution. If you are not acquainted with the story, take a few moments to check the synopsis on Google before heading to the park. Bring your folding chairs, a light jacket, maybe a blanket, and perhaps a snack and beverage. The street-side food truck offers a limited amount of good food at good prices. Show is about an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

“The Comedy of Errors”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, outside in the Park at Columbine Health Systems,
947 Worthington Circle in Fort Collins (Corner of Worthington Circle and Centre Avenue)
When: Through June 30, 2018
Tickets: 970/221-6730
Online: www.openstage.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“The Impossible Dream” Is A Spell-Binding Success On Stage At “Candlelight”

David Wygant’s Enormous Talent Brings Don Quixote To Life In “Man of La Mancha”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 18, 2018

For starters, the set is beautiful. The show opens at a Spanish prison dungeon at the time of the Spanish Inquisition where inmates have minimal chance of survival. The show concludes with that same set, but with the background opening on a sky of stars offering a tiny glimpse of hope. In between, the audience is provided with a feast of talent, glorious music, clever visual effects and some inspiration of what humankind just might become.

That “glorious music” includes the forever wondrous “Impossible Dream,” as well as thoughtful advice, and clever comedy relief with “I’m Only Thinking of Him” “I Really Like Him,” “What Does He Want of Me,” “Little Bird, Little Bird,” “Golden Helmet of Mambrino,” “A Little Gossip,” and my personal favorite “Dulcinea.”

David L. Wygant rules the stage as the poet-actor-tax collector Cervantes. He and his friend, Sancho, are thrown into the Spanish prison awaiting trial, charged with foreclosing on a monastery. The prisoners are a mixed-bag of criminals, eager to steal everything they can from the new inmates, and making fun of their naïve optimism of ever being released.

The prisoners decide to provide their own “trial” for the poet and his friend. Cervantes produces a manuscript that he has written, hoping to convince the group of his innocence. The manuscript is his tale of a befuddled knight of the woeful countenance, “Don Quixote de La Mancha.”

Cervantes then provides his “case,” using the prisoners to play the various roles. His story comes to life in this play within a play. There are sinners, merchants, barmaids, clergymen, government officials and even two amazing horses with personalities of their own.

Central to the story Cervantes relates are the woeful Don Quixote and the guttural Aldonza. She is a barmaid used for sexual pleasure by every man in the area. She is hard as nails, but Quixote looks through the exterior, and sees what she could be – a woman of great warmth and intelligence, with the beautiful name – “Dulcinea.” Heather McClain is rough-and-tumble excellent as the shrill Aldonza, not initially believing that she could ever be as wonderful as the Dulcinea of Cervantes’s imagination.

Cervantes’s skill as a writer lets him see beneath the surface of everyone – not accepting them at face value, but what they could become. It is a great lesson.

The musical was inspired by “Don Quixote,” a classic story by Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th Century. The book is by Dale Wasserman with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. Wasserman has repeatedly reported that the show should not be taken as a faithful rendition of author Cervantes nor of his story “Don Quixote.”

The original 1965 Broadway production ran for more than 2,000 performances and received several Tony Awards, including that for Best Musical. It has been revived four times on Broadway and has become one of Broadways’ most cherished shows.

Scott Beyette has brilliantly directed the Candlelight production, with great choreography by Bob Hoppe. The wonderful set was designed by Halea Coulter, with Joel Adam Chavez as scenic artist. Lighting is by Vance McKenzie, costumes by Liz Hoover, sound by Mark Derryberry. Dave MacEachen is technical director; Victor Walters is music director.

The large cast is uniformly excellent. David L. Wygant and Heather McClain are the stars, but receive impressive support from the entire company, including Ethan Knowles as Sancho, Kent Sugg and Thomas P. Castro each in dual roles, Eric Heine as Padre, Ben Griffin as the Barber, George Lemmon as Pedro, and Leo Batlle as Anselmo – just to mention a few.

Late in Act 2, Eric Heine (as Padre) beautifully sings, “To each his Dulcinea that he alone can name…to each a secret hiding place where he can find the haunting face to light his secret flame. For with his Dulcinea beside him so to stand, a man can do quite anything, outfly the bird upon the wing, hold moonlight in his hand.”

The total effect is a display of brilliance which is becoming the “norm” in Colorado theatres. This past season alone has produced such great productions as “Sunday in the Park with George” at The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, “Ragtime” at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, and now the gorgeous “Man of La Mancha” at Candlelight. This is one of Candlelight’s finest productions in its ten years of providing quality entertainment to the area.

“Man of La Mancha”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: June 17, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Sunday in the Park with George” Is Beauty At Its Best

Sondheim Prize-winning musical arrives in full splendor at Arvada Center for the Art and Humanities

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 18, 2018

On a wall of the Art Institute of Chicago hangs an enormous work – “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The painting by George Seurat is about eight feet by ten feet, and is his view of Parisians relaxing in a park on an island in the Seine in the late 1800s.

Seurat was a 25-year old Parisian painter who worked the next two years to complete the project. He did not use the traditional brush strokes, but affixed each speck of paint dot-by-dot, spearheading the pointillism movement. The painting did not meet with great acclaim, but has subsequently been accepted as one of the art masterpieces of the 1800s.

“Sunday in the Park with George” is a remarkable fictitious account of what constitutes art, reminding us that “art isn’t easy,” and showing the torment Seurat went through, causing grief for himself and all those around him while completing the painting.

Cole Burden is excellent as the tormented and tormenting George Seurat. He has no patience with himself or with his models as his “art” is everything. He is also a perfectionist who toils endlessly over getting his “dots” just right to create appropriate color in the eyes of the beholder. His “Finishing the Hat” is among the finest Broadway scenes in memory.

Object of much of his ranting is his model, Dot. Emily Van Fleet is a wonder as the not-very-educated young model who wants more than anything to be a dancer in the “Follies,” and complains incessantly that “It’s hot out here,” standing still in the French park while George immortalizes her on canvas. She wants to be educated and does retain a book of her notes about grammar.

Matt Gale Photography 2018

“Sunday in the Park with George” was originally written as a one-act musical, expanding to two acts shortly before opening on Broadway in 1984. Act I revolves around Seurat’s work on the project, and his relationship with his model/mistress “Dot,” and the Sunday park visitors who wander through his painting

At the conclusion of Act I, George realizes that his “white canvas” has now become full of glorious color, and stops painting with the cast and models freezing into one of Broadways most glorious Act I conclusions: “Sunday.”

Any act would be difficult to follow what transpired before the curtain fell on Act I. Rod A. Lansberry, director of the current Arvada production, has done wonders in bring Act II to life, instilling it with emotion and beauty that were lacking in the original show. This act takes place 100 years after conclusion of the painting. George’s great grandson, also named “George,” is living in Chicago and has become an artist. Not with oils but with mechanics and lights.

He is being honored at a reception at the Chicago Art Institute, home of the “Grand Jatte” painting, and is surrounded by persons wishing to be seen near him, even some who might honor him with a commission for future work. The original George was not honored in his lifetime, and none of his paintings sold while he was alive. At the base of the now-considered masterpiece “A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” his great grandson explains how the concept of art has changed so dramatically in past years, with the artist now having to devote too much of his time in finding funds.

Matt Gale Photography 2018

Emily Van Fleet, Dot in Act I, now returns to the stage as the wheelchair bound grandmother, Marie. She has come to the Art Institute where George is being honored and lapses in and out of reality in her memories of the past. Again, Van Fleet is mesmerizing.

“Sunday in the Park with George” opened on Broadway in 1984 and in London two years later. It has gone on to productions worldwide and major revivals in New York and London. It received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in1985, the ninth musical in history to be so honored.

Stephen Sondheim wrote music and lyrics for the show, including some of his most thoughtful ideas. Near the end of the show, as the great-grandson George explains that it might now be time to “Move On,” making decisions that may or may not work out as you wish. Sondheim’s lyric suggests, “The choices may be mistaken, but the choosing is not.”

Matt Gale Photography 2018

The current production at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is full of beauty; the music, the lyrics, the staging, the lighting, and the costumes.

The finale of Act I remains as glorious as ever, but now Act II provides its own beauty. As the story concludes, George looks back and notes, “White, a blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.” “Sunday in the Park with George” is a treasure all its own.

– – – – –
Illusion vs. reality

George Seurat was actually only 25 years old when he began work on his “Grande

Matt Gale Photography 2018

Jatte” painting, completing it two years later.

His model/mistress was Madeleine Knobloch (known as “Dot” in the musical). She did not marry another and move to America as Dot does in the musical.

George and Madeleine had a son. The son and George died within two weeks of each other when George was only 31. Madeleine was pregnant when George and their first son died. The second son died shortly after birth.

The “George” of Act II in the musical, supposedly the great-grandson of the painter, is an invention and never existed.

“Sunday in the Park with George”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through May 6, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

World Premiere of Colorado Playwright Laura Pritchett’s “Dirt, a Terra Nova Expedition”

Bas Bleu Delivers An Alarming Reminder Of The Six Inches Of Soil Beneath Us

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 15, 2018

Wendy Ishii, founding artistic director of Bas Bleu theatre, acknowledges that she is a risk taker. Creating a theatre company in Fort Collins was one. She took another risk (or challenge) several months ago in her living room after viewing a documentary film “Symphony of the Soil” in the company of Colorado author, Laura Pritchett. The two exchanged ideas and came upon the possibility of Pritchett writing a play about the soil – “Dirt.” Pritchett is a successful writer, publishing five novels and two works of non-fiction. She had not (yet) written a play.

The idea was “planted” and fertile soil appeared in the form of a commission by Bas Bleu to turn Pritchett’s ideas about soil science and planet concerns into a full-length play. The world premiere of “Dirt. A Terra Nova Expedition” opened April 5, 2018, at Bas Bleu, and continues its local run through May 6.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

The result provides fascinating and frightening observations concerning the future of life on our planet. At the beginning of “Dirt,” we are introduced to Estella and Leo (played by Tabitha Tyree and Jacob Richardson) living in an underground bunker beneath the surface of Fort Collins 20 years in the future. Life above ground is disappearing, and the young couple has reserved enough provisions to live for only a few months. Estella is pregnant, and due to have her baby soon. They spend their days observing scientific data, reviewing global histories, and are now writing a play about their lives beneath the ground. Leo takes the role of sacrificing his own life for the benefit of others by leaving enough provisions for Estella to survive beneath the surface until the baby is born.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

He instructs Stella to remain in the underground bunker until time for the child to be born, at which time she must climb the ladder to escape with the hope that the planet’s ecological system will have been successful modified. Leo reminds Stella of the sacrifice that explorer Robert Scott made for men in his charge on an expedition to Antarctica in 1912, and he climbs up the ladder to face the hostile world by himself.
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The pregnant Estella is left alone in the bunker. She continues writing the play that she and Leo had discussed. She becomes immersed in scientific studies, alarmed at what has happened to the soil, and pained by results of perceived global warning. Her mind is beginning to unravel to the point that she does not clearly understand what is happening to her. She conjures up memories of the past, including instructions her professor father gave to her. She muses over the “mentors” that have been around for centuries to help scientists and artists “create.” She gives thought to the philosophy that we “truly do not realize all that we do not know.”

Her mental wanderings introduce her to scientists, medical personnel, philosophers and eventually to Persephone, the Greek goddess of harvest and fertility, who arrives to help Estella at the time of childbirth. The play’s voice sounds alarms about what we need to do in order to save our own existence. Action of the plot takes place just 20 years in the future giving, the reminder that time is running out.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Jennifer Bray, Kevin Coldiron, and Maya Jairam, playing multiple roles in and out of Estella’s mind, join Tyree and Richardson on stage. Myths of past philosophies and isms are produced in dance, as are the appearance of scientific Nematodes (roundworms). Aleah Black, Francis Lister, and Holly Wedgeworth are the musical dancers who are sometimes enchanting, sometimes spookily reminiscent to the ghoulish “walking dead,

The show’s director, Jeffrey Bigger, writes in the show’s program, “I will be forever changed by what I have learned working on this show. Coming to the realization that there are just six inches between life and death was a very cathartic moment.”

Playwright Pritchett grew up on a small ranch in northern Colorado. She received her BA and MA in English a Colorado State University, and has a PhD in English from Purdue University. Her writings have garnered many awards, with subject matter focusing on ecology, conservation, climate change, and social justice issue.

“Dirt, a Terra Nova Expedition”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: Through May 6, 2018
Tickets: 970/498-8949
For more information: www.basbleu.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Ragtime” Is An Explosion Of Talent At MAC

Sheer Brilliance Is Key In This Powerful Production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 13, 2018

Some musicals have outstanding overtures. Some have incredible finales. “Ragtime” has one of my all-time favorite introductory scenes. In the show’s first ten minutes three diverse cultures vividly come to life in the New York of 1906. There are the privileged upper class whites living in the New York suburb of New Rochelle; African Americans living in downtown Harlem; and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who have found space in lower-Manhattan tenements.

The New Rochelle family consists of Mother, Father, Younger Brother, Grandfather, and Little Boy. Father is leaving the home to travel for a year with Admiral Peary’s expedition to the North Pole. He is leaving Mother at home to be “in charge” for the first time in their marriage.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The Harlem citizens are Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (a man-about-town musician), his girlfriend (Sarah), and their friends. Sarah has become pregnant by Coalhouse, and flees to New Rochelle, where no one will know her to give birth to the baby, hiding it in a local garden.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Coming from Latvia are Tateh, a Jewish widower, who is bringing his daughter from poverty-stricken Eastern Europe, with the desire of finding some degree of happiness in the New World.

Characters in each of the cultures initially appear unaware of the other culture’s existence, preferring to live only in their immediate sphere. This is about to change when Mother finds the newborn black baby in her garden, and shows innate caring and capabilities by bringing mother and baby into her home to give them refuge. Coalhouse frantically looks for his beloved Sarah and ultimately finds her in the upper-class neighborhood of New Rochelle. The local citizens there are openly racist, especially men in the fire department, even though some of them have faced discrimination in their new surroundings, having come from Ireland. They want nothing to do with anyone of color.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

While waiting for a train at the New Rochelle train station Mother meets Tateh and his frightened daughter. He is equally frightened, and has placed a rope around the daughter’s waist, pulling her along with fear he might lose her. This is a chance encounter that will ultimately be rewarding.

These divergent characters have difficulty co-existing, accepting other cultures, and meshing into a single society. They initially appear to be ignorant of the other cultures’ existences, preferring to live only in their immediate sphere.

Performances are universally excellent. Brian Boyd has an outstanding voice as the in-charge Coalhouse. Marissa Rudd matches his talent as Coalhouse’s girlfriend, Sarah. Alisa Metcalf is heartwarming as Mother, whose first major independent decision is to rescue Sarah and the newborn child. Father (Taylor Marrs) returns from the North Pole, appalled at what his wife as done. Chris Trimboli is believable as the Jewish immigrant with his daughter in tow. Marrs, Metcalf, and Trimboli also have excellent voices. The musical has become a heartwarming opera with English dialogue

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

”Ragtime” first appeared in 1975 as an historical novel by E. L. Doctorow. A movie version of the book appeared in 1981. The intertwined stories of the three cultures were then set to the impressive music and lyrics of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, with book for the musical by Terrence McNally. The show was introduced in Canada in 1996, but did not arrive on Broadway until January of 1998. It was very successful, received great audience acclaim, honored with several awards, and ran for 834 performances.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The story is successfully told to continually-interesting music: marches cakewalks, gospel, and the ever-enduring syncopated ragtime. The music has rarely, if ever, sounded better than currently heard on the MAC stage. Among the musical highlights are “Journey On,” “Gettin’ Ready Rag,” “Wheels of a Dream,” “Sarah Brown Eyes,” and “He Wanted to Say.” The format itself is not perfect. The overly-long Act I seems to be ready to happily conclude two or three times before some unpleasant situations must be faced.

Most performers in the large cast play multiple roles, including the impressive Daniel Harkins who turns up as Grandfather, J. P. Morgan, and Admiral Peary, switching roles, costumes and wigs something like 15 times in the course of the evening. The show’s author cleverly inserted the lives of several famous people to the story. We meet Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Brooker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry K. Thaw, Admiral Peary and Emma Goldman –all historical New York figures of the early 1900s.

Supporting players include Jalyn Courtenay Webb, impressive as Emma Goldman, Kyle Smith as Younger Brother, Hugh Buttterfield as Willie Conklin, and Charlotte Campbell as the saucy Evelyn Nesbit.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Produced by Kurt Terrio, the MAC production is flawlessly directed and choreographed by Joseph Callahan, with Jalyn Courtenay Webb as Music Director. Scenic design and lighting by Chad Bonaker, costumes by Charlotte Campbell and Alisa Metcalf, sound by Patrick Lapinski. The set is not attractive, but is cleverly functional. The orchestra is successfully conducted by Casey Cropp. Choral music and stage movement are extremely impressive throughout.

The costumes, the choral work, the directions, the acting, the music, sound and lighting all work to perfection, resulting in one of Midtown Arts most triumphant productions, maybe even matching their “Les Miserables” wonder of a few seasons ago.

Unfortunately, the basic themes of social injustice and intolerance remain as disturbing as ever, with little true advancement since the New York of 1906.

“Ragtime”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To May 26, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Website / Tickets:  www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“And Then There Were None” (Except For The Audience & One Actor)

OpenStage Delivers Agatha Christie’s Famed Tale On Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 1, 2018

Invited guests begin arriving by boat at Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, England. They are a mixed bag with no one knowing the others, and not knowing why he/she has been invited. Their host doesn’t show up, and the guests begin to die – to the sounds of the sinister nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers.” There is only one house on the tiny island, no harbor, and just a small boat dock where groceries and passengers are dropped off. Does this sound creepy enough? Who is doing the killing – one of the guests, the hired help, or perhaps someone hiding on the island?

OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie James Burns as Philip Lombard, Mark Terzani as General Mackenzie, Dan Tschirhart as Dr. Armstrong, Jack Krause as Rogers, Debbie Swann as Mrs. Rogers, Brikai Cordova as Vera, David Austin-Groen as William Blore, Kiernan Angley as Anthony Marston, Jessica Emerling Crow as Emily Brent, and Greg Clark as Sir LawrenceWargrave in OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photograph

As the corpses mount, there is concern that the audience just might be included among the carnage. Agatha Christie’s famous whodunit has been around since 1939, turning up as a novel, several movies and plays. It is Christies best seller, with 100 million copies sold. It is the world’s best-selling mystery, and one of the best-selling books of all time. The story has held up well, and the current OpenStage cast is in fine form.

Even better than “fine form.” All eleven of the formers are familiar to Northern Colorado audiences. Each has his/her moment to shine in this cleverly crafted sinister scenario. Kiernan Angley, who delighted audiences in “Romeo and Juliet” a few seasons ago, is great fun as an over-the-top young man, Anthony Marston, with an enormous ego. Other favorites includes James Burns as Philip Lombard (the only guest with a gun), Brikai Cordova as Vera Claythorne (secretary to the host she has never met), and Greg Clark as Sir Lawrence Wargrave.

Kiernan Angley as Anthony Marston in OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

As the guests arrive and learn that their host isn’t going to show up that night, a voice recording of the unknown host advises that his presence is there to haunt the guests. Each is reportedly concealing a death they caused earlier in their lives, but for which they were never punished. On the mantel above the fireplace is a reading of the poem “Ten Little Soldiers Boys,” as well as ten soldier figurines that begin to tumble to their deaths as the cast is reduced.

Dan Tschirhart is excellent as Dr. Armstrong; Jessica Emerling Crow is wonderfully annoying as the religious fanatic who knits incessantly. Mark Terzani is the mysterious General Mackenzie; David Austin-Grӧen is William Blore who may or may not be who he claims to be. Jack Krause and Debbie Swann are very good as the servants, hired by the mysterious host. They are a husband and wife who have secrets of their own. Andrew Cole is Fred Narracott, the man to bring supplies and passengers by boat to the island, never returning as a storm makes transportation to and from the island too hazardous.

Dan Tschirhart as Dr. Armstrong Wargrave, Jessica Emerling Crow as Emily Brent, James Burns as Philip Lombard, Kiernan Angley as Anthony Marston, Mark Terzani as General Mackenzie, Brikai Cordova as Vera and Jack Krause as Rogers in OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The impressive set design is by James Brookman, with properties and set dressing by Carla Brookman. It is very attractive vacation home with modern conveniences, and a fine view overlooking the stormy seas. When the storm causes the electricity to fail, the guests hover in the semi-light of candles, fearful of each other and of what just might be outside the door. The fear of the unknown turns to near comic melodrama a few times, especially at the conclusion of Act 1 and again at the end of Act 2, when more deaths are announced. Total performance length is less than two and one-half hours, including two ten-minute intermissions. Cast needs time to change costumes and three-act plays were the norm when the play was written in the 1930s. The total experience is a well-produced crowd pleaser. Highly honored performer and director Sydney Parks Smith has directed a spooky telling of the Christie tale. Parks is assisted by the work of James and Paula Brookman (set design and set dressing), Grant Putney (lighting), Victoria Villalobos (sound), Kirsten Hovorka (hair design), Maggie Cummings (makeup design). and Maile Hӧrger-Speetjens (costumes).

Audiences can find out what happened to the eight guests and two housekeepers on the Magnolia Stage through April 28.

“And Then There Were None”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through April 28, 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
Online: www.lctix.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Arthur Miller’s First Triumph Arrives in Arvada

“All My Sons” Packs Emotional Wallop

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 11, 2018

At the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities performance’s conclusion, there were a few seconds of stunned silence before the audience jumped up to provide thunderous applause. The audience was in complete awe and could not immediately respond to the magnificence of the performance.

Arthur Miller was still a struggling playwright when he completed his first success, “All My Sons.” He had decided to abandon writing if that work did not succeed. His worry was unnecessary. Subsequent to the January 1947 opening of “All My Sons,” Miller went on to complete a string of successes including “The Crucible,” “A View from the Bridge,” “Death of a Salesman,” “An Enemy of the People,” “After the Fall,” “Incident at Vichy,” “The Archbishop’s Ceiling,” and “The Price.” He is considered to be among the greatest American playwrights of the 20th Century.

L-R: Emma Messenger (Kate Keller) and Sam Gregory (Joe Keller)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

The characters he created for “Sons,” are on brilliant display this season at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Front and center are Sam Gregory and Emma Messenger as Joe and Kate Keller, a couple in their early 60s. Joe’s business has survived the transition from World War II wartime to peacetime. He is an arrogant, confident, and wealthy man. His wife, Kate, has remained in wartime distress of never accepting the possibility that her son, missing in action, may never return.

Pictured L-R: Regina Fernandez (Ann Deever), Abner Genece (Dr. Jim Bayliss), Emma Messenger (Kate Keller), and Lance Rasmussen (Chris Keller). Photo – Matt Gale Photography 2018

The ravages of war have become the ravages of peace where the family appears to be unable to accept the post-war American Dream. Neighbors believe that Joe and his partner overtly provided malfunctioning supplies to the military effort, supplies that ultimately resulted in the deaths of at least 21 pilots. Joe’s partner, and former next-door-neighbor, Mr. Deever, is currently in prison for the crime, whereas Joe claimed innocence and has remained a free man.

He is the father of two sons, Larry, who has never returned from the war, and Chris, who has returned and is working at his father’s business. He is still single and living at home two years after the war ended.

Pictured L-R: Geoffrey Kent (George Deever) and Emma Messenger (Kate Keller). Photo – Matt Gale Photography 2018

Chris has carried on communication with Ann Deever, daughter of the former neighbor who is now in prison. She was Larry’s girlfriend before the war, and Chris is in love with her. He invites her to visit the Keller home with the plan to propose to her. Regina Fernandez and Lance Rasmussen are in excellent form as Chris and Ann, apparently smitten with each other, with neither wanting to confront the past. When Ann’s attorney brother, George, arrives from New York, there is incredible malice in the air – anger on George’s part for the role he believes Joe Keller played, resulting in his own father becoming imprisoned. George is horrified with the idea that his sister may want to marry the son of the man whose actions put their father in jail.

It would be difficult to imagine a cast as talented as those on stage this season at the Arvada Center. The cast is part of the theatre’s current repertory company. They are stunning audiences not only with “All My Sons,” but also in “The Electric Baby” and “Sense and Sensibility.” To add to the amazement is the realization that Lynne Collins directed both “All My Sons” and “Sense and Sensibility” — two plays this season of entirely different focus and genre.

The set is a thought-provoking image of what might be in store for the audience. A home is completely topsy-turvy behind a well-maintained outdoor patio. It is clear that the Keller household may be in complete disarray, while trying to maintain a sunny appearance of normality.

This is a stunning display of incredible talent. It is rare that I am not ready to leave a theatre after two and one half hours. I was in no rush this time, however, as “All My Sons” kept me spellbound. The show is more than about just a family in distress. It touches on themes of guilt and innocence, right and wrong, greed, morality, and actions of those who served in the war and those who chose not to. It comes back to being able to move on, taking responsibility for our own actions.

“All My Sons”
Where: Black Box Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through May 3, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Online at Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Loveland Opera Theatre Is A Winner As That “Merry Widow” Waltzes Onto Rialto Stage

Terrific Voices, Lavish Costumes & New Libretto Combine For Delightful Production of Lehar’s Famous Operetta!

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
February 20, 2018

More than 100 years ago Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” premiered in Vienna. Audiences and critics were quick to realize the charm of the operetta, and productions quickly spread across Europe, and ultimately throughout the world. It just might be the most popular operetta in history.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This winter Loveland audiences were becoming aware that something special was happening with the arrival of the show. Stage Director Timothy Kennedy has worked on various productions of The Merry Widow” for many years, and went to work writing a new libretto for this production, adding to the wonders of the Lehar music. The result is a winner. Costuming is excellent, as Davis Sibley designed them specifically for this production.

Tale is very loosely based on a real situation, although names and locations have been changed. Pontevedro, an imaginary country near Paris is in a financial crisis. The country’s most wealthy citizen has died leaving his fortune to his widow, Hanna. If she should marry someone outside the country, Pontevedro would be in financial ruin.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This problem comes to a head when the Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris is giving a ball at the embassy in Paris to celebrate the birthday of his king, and the arrival in Paris of the widowed Hanna Glawari. The Ambassador learns that he must do everything in his power to keep the widow from marrying anyone not a local Pontevedrian.

Mayhem ensues. The Ambassador’s wife is smitten by the charm of a Frenchman who just might be on the lookout to marry the wealthy widow. The Pontevedrian king’s nephew, Count Danilo, is on the short list of possible candidates and is currently working in the Parisian embassy. Danilo had been in love with Hanna many years ago. His uncle refused the request for the two to marry, and sent Danilo away. He is embittered by what happened to him and refuses to be party to the idea of marrying the now-wealthy widow. There is comic relief as the Ambassador goes through a ritual of calling the roll each time he meets with his goofy three-man staff.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This is all going on to the lilting Lehar music. “The Merry Widow Waltz” is front and foremost, instantly recognizable. Equally charming, however, is “Vilja Song” which is so beautifully performed that I wanted the audience to stop the show with a standing ovation. That didn’t happen, but the sequence remains rich in my mind as the show’s most brilliant scene. “You’ll Find Me at Maxims,” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” are also familiar songs. The operetta is performed in English.

Some of Colorado’s most powerful voices are front and center for this production. Leads are Phoenix Gayles as Hanna, Josh DeVane as Danilo Danilovitsch, Emily Morris as The Ambassador’s wife Valencienne, Nathan Snyder as Camille de Rosillion, and Rob Hoch as the Ambassador.

The cast is large, nearly 50 performers on stage plus an orchestra of 13 plus keyboard. Set is designed by Noel Johnston, lighting by Peter F. Muller. Orchestra is conducted by Adam Torres with choreography Sarah Wilhelm.

Director and libretto writer Timothy Kennedy has assembled a very talented ensemble, with standout performances by the lead performers, chorus, and orchestra at every turn.

Dr. Juliana Bishop Hoch, Executive and Artist Director of the Loveland Opera Theatre is to be applauded for her work, not only providing excellent productions to Northern Colorado, but for making it possible for school-age students to go to the shows. “The Merry Widow for Kids” is a one-hour instructive introduction to opera and what goes on behind the scenes. Families are invited to attend performances of this abbreviated performance Saturdays February 24 and March 3 at 2:30 p.m. In addition, many schools in the Loveland and Fort Collins area bring students to one-hour versions of the show in late February and early March during school hours.

“The Merry Widow” is a Loveland look at the “lost and found” of love, highlighted by incredible individual, orchestral, and choral talents. The show is a somewhat naïve look at romance of a century gone by, displayed with great charm. And that brilliant music.

“The Merry Widow”
Where: Presented by Loveland Opera Threatre, on the Rialto Theatre Stage
228 West 4th Street
Loveland, CO 80537
When: February 23, 24, and 25, March 2, 3, and 4
For information: www.lovelandopera.org, 970/593-0085
Rialto Theatre Box Office: Telephone 970/962-2120Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Waiting For The Parade” Provides Very Good Theatre At Bas Bleu

Five Canadian Women Are Poignantly Portrayed On The “Home Front” During World War II

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
February 6, 2018

“Waiting for the Parade.” What is this? I was not aware of this moving story. This was my loss. Canadian playwright, John Murrell, was commissioned by the Alberta (Canada) Theatre Projects to write a play about Canada’s involvement in the Second World War. The result was his 1977 look at the war through the eyes of five women in Calgary who saw the conflict from a variety of prospectives.

Murrell’s play was not an instant hit, but went on to become probably the most-produced Canadian play in history.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses their production of “Waiting for the Parade,” January 31, 2018.
© 2018 William A. Cotton

We meet five women who gather as volunteers to work for the war effort while Canadian men are away, fighting in the war. They are not a gaggle of best friends, but five women who have ended up together rolling bandages, preparing sanitation kits, and other items they hope will help sustain the far-away soldiers.

Their “boss” is the incredibly unlikeable, Janet. She is well portrayed by Lou Anne Wright as a no-holds-barred taskmaster, more interested in being self-important than really helping her staff. Her military-age husband has opted to stay home, working for a news agency that reports the war news over the radio.

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses their production of “Waiting for the Parade,” January 25, 2018.
© 2018 William A. Cotton

Wendy Ishii is a jewel as Margaret, who openly remarks, “I can’t stand that Woman,” (Janet, the boss) as the bandages must be rolled again –if they are not “perfectly tight.” Margaret is a widow with a son in the military, and another son at home who opposes the war.

Lauren Scott is wonderful as Catherine, whose husband Billy is “somewhere” overseas, but she has minimal news of his whereabouts. He has been gone so long that she begins to wonder how much she cares for him – noting that she really can’t even remember what he looks like.

Eve is well-portrayed by Dominique Mickelson. Eve’s husband is older than she is, and is not currently serving in the military. She is a young school teacher who agonizes that her young male students are more interested in joining the army than completing their studies.

Rounding out the intriguing group is Ellen Badger as Marta. Marta is a near-outcast in the town, as her father was taken away to live in an internment camp after German propaganda was found in their basement.

Playwright Murrell has produced a moving story, keeping the audience enthralled with each revelation of the five women. Not one “of the five,” but every bit a “character” in the show is the music. Some of the music, such as “White Cliffs of Dover,” is familiar, and is effectively used to provide various moods of the war as seen from afar. The women even take time out from the conflict to dance together!

© 2018 William A. Cotton

Direction of the Bas Bleu presentation is by Ami Dayan and Lou Anne Wright. Together they have provided an evening of great entertainment. The set and lighting are very effective. The set has been designed to be a “home” for each of the five women, as well as the meeting place for their volunteer bandage-rolling. Set and props detail are especially effective.

“Waiting for the Parade” is a warmly moving and educational production. News of American citizens on the home-front has been depicted often. This is a rare look at the lives of our Canadian neighbors to the north. Wendy Ishii, who is very good as “Margaret,” notes, “Part of the fun of these characters is that their stories are laced with humor, pathos, and resiliency as they live in the uncertainty of the future.”

“Waiting for the Parade”
Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To March 4, 2018
Telephone 970/498-8949
Online:  www.basbleu.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Award Winning “Fun Home” On Stage At Midtown Arts Center In Fort Collins

Excellent Performances Highlight This Regional Premier

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 2, 2018

The last time I saw Vince Wingerter on stage, he was Bert, the affable chimney sweep in the heartwarming, “Mary Poppins.” He was very good in that role, but soars this season as Bruce, the tormented father in “Fun Home.” He rules the roost over a family in turmoil in their restored Victorian “House on Maple Avenue” that doesn’t quite fit into the All-American happy façade.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This is a no-holds-barred look at a slice of the Americana dream that has rarely been so carefully dissected. Bruce, an English teacher in the local Pennsylvania town, took over the family funeral home (the “fun” home of the title) at the death of his father. He is confusion in motion, sometime playful and loving to the children, seen in fits of near rage the next, when the family doesn’t do precisely at he wants at the precise moment he desires.

The children are bewildered by him. His wife, Helen, unhappily endures what is happening, not wanting to cause further wrath. Bruce is a closeted gay man, in his personal hell of having no idea how to accept himself. His daughter, Alison has turmoil of her own. When she was very young she realized that she was attracted to women. She has no idea of where she fits in, until she goes to college and becomes aware of a society within a society which may actually accept her for who she is.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This is a sometimes uncomfortable realization, but is very well portrayed by a talented cast. The story is based on the memories of the real Alison Bechdel. She is shown in three stages of her life: Small Allison (the young girl), a Middle Alison (college student), and as an adult, recording and drawing what has happened to the “House on Maple Avenue” in mid-Americana, USA. The young Alison is double cast, with Julia Gibson and Ella Sokolowski playing in alternating performances. The Small Alison I saw was Julia Gibson. She is a star in the making. It will be exciting to watch her develop over the years.

Photo Credit: Dyann Diercks Photography

Sarah Lewis is very convincing as the college-age Alison, carefully taking notes of what she sees in life, and transferring her ideas to artwork. She has the challenge of accepting herself as a lesbian, initially having no idea of what such a label entails.

Monica Howe is the protagonist, playing the adult Alison. “Fun Home” is basically her story, looking at the family life as she saw it. The real life Alison Bechdel created the comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For” which ran in lesbian and gay publications for many years. She gained a wider readership with the publication of “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” a graphic memoir about her relationship with her gay father.

Alisa Metcalf is very good as the bewildered wife, having no idea of where to turn in the family confusion. She takes refuge with her piano. Her song, “Helen’s Etude” is one of the most memorable scenes in the show. Zulfiya Asquino is effective as the college-age Alison’s first lover. Corbin Payne is seen as the local handyman and other characters. Matthew Farley and Ryan Fisher are the family’s young boys. They are good dancers, and bring some comedy relief to the heavy story, climbing in and out of the “fun home” caskets.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The musical was developed through several readings and performances, culminating with the Broadway opening in the spring of 2015. It is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, and the original New York run was extended several times. It was nominated for many awards, and was named as Best Musical in the 2015 Tony Awards.

Music is by Jeanine Tesori; book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. The Midtown Arts Center production was produced and directed by Kurt Terrio. The music is pleasant, with thought-provoking lyrics. The score received many awards.

This is a very well-acted production. It is NOT “The Sound of Music” or “Mary Poppins,” but a disquieting rendition of a family trying to come to terms with reality. The set is terrific. The cast is terrific. The show is an eye-opening glimpse into the challenging world of gay and lesbian persons coming to terms with themselves, their families, and society as a whole.

“Fun Home”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2018
Box Office: 970/225-2555
Online at  www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Jane Austen Heroines Are Alive & Well on Arvada Stage

“Sense and Sensibility” Is Whirlwind of Activity

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 26, 2018

The Dashwood sisters are in unfortunate circumstances. They are suddenly poor and have no options other than finding a husband. This is England of the late 1700s. A woman without a dowry is a woman to be ignored. When Henry Dashwood died, he left a son, John, and John’s three half-sisters –Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. John’s self-centered and arrogant wife wants nothing to do with the three sisters and their mother — sending them from the family home to live in a tiny cottage with minimal means of support.

Regina Fernandez (Marianne Dashwood) and Geoffrey Kent (Colonel Brandon)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Plight of the Dashwood sisters is Jane Austen’s novel published in 1813. It has gone on to become one of the world’s best-loved classics. The production on stage this winter at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is a visual comedy delight. Direction and acting are flawless. Not only the Dashwood family “moves” out of the home, everything on stage moves – continually. This is very clever chorography without music. Scenery (and people on furniture) rolls on and off stage, characters play a variety of roles including dogs and chickens. There are horse-drawn carriages and even a two-person clock with one actor to portray the minute hand, the other to display seconds. Genders are continually switched solely by changing the style of a hat.

L-R: Zachary Andrews, Jessica Robblee, Emma Messenger, Abner Genece, Geoffrey Kent, Jessica Austgen, and Emelie O’Hara.
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Amid this flurry of fun, the Dashwood sisters futures remain in jeopardy. There are two marriageable-age Dashwood daughters, Elinor and Marianne. They are very pretty and bright women – but without family money, they must rely on charm and charity of others to get by. Jessica Robblee is convincing as Elinor, the more orderly of the sisters. Regina Fernandez is very good as Marianne, a younger sister who appears to be delighted with everything around her, and susceptible to any advances from the opposite sex. In the space of a couple of hours, their persona switches from “sense” to “sensibility” and back, stopping somewhere in the middle each accepting traits from the other.

Robblee and Fernandez are the only cast members who do not play more than one role. There is a frenzy of entrances and exits played by everyone in the Arvada Repertory Company. They change their characters by the drop of a hat, by the swish or stagger in their walk, and by the tone of their voice. This is terrific theatre, but somewhat challenging to the audience trying to figure out just who is now who and how they now fit into the story.

Jessica Austgen, for example, plays two large roles to perfection. She has a distinct look, and moves with ease while portraying Lucy Steele, Fanny Dashwood, and several animals! At one point, with split-second timing, she has a frenzied fight with herself. The Company’s performers include Zachary Andrews, Abner Genece, Kate Gleason, Geoffrey Kent, Emma Messenger, Emelie O’Hara and Lance Rasmussen.

The performances are a miracle of movement. A woman sitting near to me in the theatre commented, “How in the world did the director get this show to work. It must have taken months and months of preparation.” Lynne Collins has directed this marvel.

Lance Rasmussen (Edward Ferrars/Robert Ferrars) and Jessica Robblee (Elinor Dashwood)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Over the years, the novel has been transferred to movie screens and to the stage in a variety of telling. The version now on stage in Arvada is a playful adaptation by Kate Hamill. Her spinning of the tale, directed by Erik Tucker, opened in 2016 at the Bedlam Theatrical Troupe received great acclaim. On critic noted this is “the greatest stage adaptation of this novel in history.” The Arvada production is the Hamill play’s regional premiere.

While delightful in every respect, appreciation of the production is enhanced if threatre-goers take the time to read a synopsis of the story to refresh memories of the plot, and to better figure out which characters are being portrayed, as actors switch roles. The show is so very good, however, that the audience can follow along this wild and crazy whirlwind of the Austen tale.

“Sense and Sensibility”
Where: Black Box Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through May 6, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information:   Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

OpenStage’s “The Crucible” Is Riveting Production

Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 Are Frightful Reminder Of Society Going Amuck.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 20, 2018

Last year’s OpenStage production of “August: Osage County” was among the finest Colorado productions of the year. Not to be outdone, they have again achieved brilliance with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” now onstage at Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Theatre.

Settlers reached Cape Cod in 1620, and about seventy years later the Puritan citizens of the Massachusetts Bay Colony face ongoing strife. Their theocratic society, isolated from most of the world, needed to rely on everyone in the village to be supportive and helpful. Unfortunately, the small society was rife with greed, selfishness, hypocrisy and now even rumors of witchcraft.

The community’s spiritual leader is Reverend Samuel Parris. He is horrified one night to find his daughter, Betty, and other young women of the village dancing in the woods, maybe naked, and seemingly involved in some kind of witchcraft activity. Betty has fallen ill. Is she in a trance? Is she ill from having taken an evil potion? Or is it something else? Parris is hesitant to make any waves about the incident, as his religious responsibilities to the community are not on solid footing. L. Michael Scovel is very good as Reverend Parris.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

As Betty remains bedridden, only sometimes coherent, some members of the community are questioned. One is Abigail Williams, reportedly the young women’s ringleader. She proclaims her innocence, reporting that someone else in the group once tried to force her to drink blood. She lives in the Parris home, following the death of her parents. She and the Reverend do not get along, and Parris does not believe the stories she tells.

This sets the mood for two and one-half hours of the fearful tale. Teal Jandrain is terrific as Abigail, beguiling one moment, thrown into fits of delirium the next. Confused by Abigail’s mood changes is John Proctor, a married neighbor with whom Abigail had a brief affair in the past. Timothy Ackerman is outstanding as Proctor, with Corinne Wieben providing a similarly excellent portrayal of his wife, Elizabeth.

Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor and Corinne Wieben as Elizabeth Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The fireworks are non-stop, with the community in turmoil, not only with rumors of witchcraft, but with greed, selfishness, questionable real estate deals, and hypocrisy against those who are less than active in their religious devotion. Some are convinced that the devil’s influence is everywhere. As a result, several women and one man are hanged, to supposedly rid the community of evil. Another man is “pressed” — squeezed to death.

The soul-searching John Proctor is tormented by his own frailties. His wife, Elizabeth, appreciates that her husband is a truly honorable man, but is having difficulty putting his past indiscretion out of her mind. Abigail is amazement in action. One moment I am convinced that she is a truly wonderful person, the next I am convinced that she and Teal Jandrain (who portrays her) are both consumed by the devil. This is a disquieting experience.

Arthur Miller’s play opened in New York in 1953. Even though it received largely negative reviews, it did win the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later, a new production received great acclaim and went on to become a classic.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams and Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The current OpenStage production succeeds on every front. Director Peter Anthony is widely respected for his continual work. He not only directed this production, but also designed the excellent scenery and sound. Lighting is by Brian Miller. The effective costumes are the work of Rebecca Spafford.

The cast is large and impressive. Acting is remarkable throughout. In addition to the leads mentioned, great work is also done by Heath Howes as Reverend John Hale, Ken Fenwick as Deputy Governor Danforth, Katie Houser as Mary Warren, Alicia Myers as Tituba, Brien Fletcher and Giles Corey, Steven Wright as Thomas Putnam, Kathy Leonard as Rebecca Nurse, Duane Sawyer, as Ezekiel Cheever, Joe Vader as John Willard, Hailey Goebel as Betty Parris, Shelby Taylor as Mercy Lewis, Kalie Allyn Lanik as Susanna Walcott, Quinn Bringelson, Lauren Gorman, and Rocky Eisentraut as girls in the village.

OpenStage was honored last year by the Colorado Theatre Guild as the Theatre Company of the Year. The year is starting in great style with “The Crucible,” a brilliantly staged and performed reminder of how a cauldron of hysteria can destroy society.

Arthur Miller’s excellent writing, the cast’s remarkable performances, and Peter Anthony’s brilliant work as director combine to provide a must-see performance at OpenStage.

“Crucible” definitions:

  • Purification through ordeals
  • The New Oxford American Dictionary in 2001: “A container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. A place or occasion of severe test or trial.”
  • At one time, the U.S. Marine Corps had a test known as “The Crucible” where members of the group were put through an ordeal of physical activity with no sleep — not everyone succeeding in the activity.

“The Crucible”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through February 17, 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
For more information: Visit Open StageFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Waitress” Now Serving Patrons of Buell Theatre

First National Touring Company Is Delicious Entertainment

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 29, 2017

Three waitresses working in a diner somewhere in America’s South have become good friends. They are the “Three Musketeers” of food service. They ignore their boss, and try to fix each other’s problems. Becky is a heavy-set woman who has a heart as large as her frame, and who claims her husband has not shown her sexual attention for 15 years. Dawn is a social misfit, eager to find romance but with no idea of how to go about it. Jenna appears to be the most challenged of the three. She is in an incredibly unhappy marriage, but is afraid of doing anything to change her situation.

Their woes are effectively brought to life this month in the national touring company of “Waitress” now on stage of the Buell Theatre.

Desi Oakley, Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman in the National Tour of WAITRESS  Credit Joan Marcus

Whereas Charity Angel Dawson as Becky and Lenne Klingaman as Dawn are great fun, they basically provide the comedy relief to the concerns of Jenna played by Desi Oakley. Early in the show Jenna learns that she is pregnant by her louse of a husband, Earl, whom she intensely dislikes. Larry Marshall is so convincing as Earl, that the audience at curtain call were eager to boo him. His performance is so menacing that he sustains the threat of violence throughout the show.

Jenna is the product of a family with its share of unhappiness. She was helpless in protecting her mother from the abuses of her father. Her memories of her mother sustain her. Her mother taught her how to bake a pie, but not how to choose a man. Jenna is probably the best pie maker in the area, and is thinking about entering a pie-baking contest with financial rewards.

Desi Oakley as Jenna in the National Tour of WAITRESS  Credit Joan Marcus

She is also considering running away, leaving her husband and her job, when she learns that she is pregnant with Earl’s child. Her life appears to be in shambles. She has no idea what to do, and wants nothing to do with the forthcoming child. The results provide an evening of great interest. There are no high-kicking chorus girls, or glittering Broadway/Hollywood scenery. There is, however., thought-provoking courage in the making. The set is effective, and clever choreography of movement keeps the action flowing. Timing is flawless.

Jenna’s gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, is new to the area. He is a new doctor, and provides an enormous innocence and insecurity which become wisdom and know-how, as the show (and Jenna’s pregnancy) progress. Bryan Fenkart is excellent as the bewildered and helpful Dr. Pomatter. His own marriage isn’t the greatest, and he finds enormous support just being with his patient, Jenna.

The development of their friendship is the basis of “Waitress.” Events in the lives of the other waitresses provide terrific counterpoint to the feelings shared by Jenna and Dr. Pomatter. Becky becomes physically interested in Cal, the diner boss. Dawn finds a date – and potential of a happy future with Ogie. Ogie, played by Jeremy Morse, is one of the show’s most energetic enjoyments. He is every bit as socially adrift as is Dawn, and they make a hard-to-resist couple. Ogie steals the first act with a delightful “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” after a five-minute first date.

The musical is based on the 2007 film of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly. Music is good. No melodies become embedded in the brain for future humming. The second act, however, is particularly interesting as Jenna sings “She Used to Be Mine,” and is joined by the company for “Everything Changes.” Music and lyrics are by Sara Bareilles with the book of Jessie Nelson. The show’s director, Diane Paulus, was one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2014.

Paulus directed the original production at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge in 2015, and the Broadway opening in 2016. The show received several awards, and is the first musical in Broadway history to have four women in primary functions: Director, writer, composer, and choreographer. The national touring company on stage at the Buell this year began its tour this past October.

Pies are in abundance throughout the show. My first desire when leaving the theatre, was to find a slice of warm pie. Perhaps a-la-mode. “Waitress” provides a deep dish of wisdom and entertainment looking at Jenna and her friends in the diner.

“Waitress”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: December 31,2017
Online:  www.denvercenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“A Christmas Carol” Is Excellent Holiday Gift At DCPA

Dickens Classic Retains Its Heartwarming Charm

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 4, 2017

What? Back again? Is it possible that the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge continues to find enthusiastic response whenever he growls “Bah Humbug” year after year at Christmastime? He is not someone looking for friends, and is cranky and “crochety” year after year. Yet, he succeeds in fascinating thousands of readers and theatregoers worldwide. He is back on stage at Denver Center for the Performing Arts this season, and continues to be an ill-tempered charmer.

Sam Gregory. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Sam Gregory plays the unhappy character this year at DCPA. He is an impressive entertainer. Memories of past Scrooges have left me with trepidation about enduring his wrath again and again. Gregory’s interpretation is a pleasant change. Yes, he is still scary and mean, but his portrayal of the role, as directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, has given him more humanity, and more earnest desire to make personal changes than seen in many past productions. This is Gregory’s second year as Scrooge on the Denver stage.

The Company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Charles Dickens was down on his luck in London in 1843. He needed a financial success to follow “The Pickwick Papers” and “Oliver Twist.” He began to work on a novella that would become “A Christmas Carol,” writing it in just six weeks. The published work appeared a week before Christmas in 1843, and the first edition was sold out immediately. The story was a tremendous success, 13 more editions were printed within the next year.

Dickens went on to further renown with many of his works becoming classic literature, including “David Copperfield” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” His themes touched on the social problems of England, and the ongoing need for kindness and hope. A movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is currently playing in movie theatres in Colorado, looking at Dicken’s life at the time he wrote the “Carol” novella.

This is DCPA’s 25th season of “A Christmas Carol.” It has proved to be a landmark show – a must-see every year. The Center continues its success in presenting the story in a beautiful setting, with skilled performers. The well-known set is as glorious as ever. The large cast is without flaw, and the Dicken’s tale has become even more relevant through the years.

The Company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom.

One of this year’s highlights is the convincing portrayal of Brian Vaughn as Bob Cratchit. In the second act, Cratchit reminds his family of the importance of Christmas. (See quotes following review.) Vaughn’s performance is inspiring. In fact, the entire production is inspiring. The audience left the theater with a desire to be more helpful to family, friends, and those in need.

The script for this year’s production is by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry, interspersed with familiar Christmas melodies. Christine Rowan provides excellent choreography.

The story is the same as ever – the wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge has only one employee, a kindly Bob Cratchit who is poorly paid. It is Christmas Eve. Scrooge grumbles that the impoverished London citizens have no right to find joy in the holiday season. He does, however, begrudgingly grant Cratchit permission to leave the office to be with his wife and children, including the crippled Tiny Tim.

Michael Fitzpatrick, Leslie O’Carroll. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom.

Scrooge returns to his apartment, and is roused from restless sleep by the startlingly arrival of his former partner, Jacob Marley. Marley died seven years previously and is now an after-life spirit prisoner shackled by the chains of his past errors. Marley warns Scrooge that he will face the same torment when he dies, unless he changes his ways. He says that he will be visited that night, and in nights to come by three spirits representing the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come.

The ghosts appear, with each apparition providing Scrooge with memories of his past – some joyous, some fearful and sad, and each with a warning that he must do something now to improve his life for the future. This could be scary stuff. Some of it is. But there is always the realization that lives can change, when there is an earnest desire to do so.

This is a beautiful, heart-warming, “feel good” show. The entire production is a jeweled treasure.

“A Christmas Carol”
Where: The Stage Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: December 24, 2017
For Information Online Click Here

Note from Hellesen Script Adaption: In the second act, Bob Cratchit is at home advising his family:

“When I listen to you talk about your hopes, I can’t but think how Christmas changes as we grow older. Time was, when I was young when Christmas Day was like a magic ring around the world. It bound together all enjoyments, affections, hopes…And seeing everything and everyone around a Christmas fire was all I ever wanted.

…” As we grow older, let us be thankful that the circle of our Christmas memories expands. Welcome, our old aspirations, which we may yet think impossible. We have not outlived you yet! And welcome, new projects and new loves, to their place by the hearth. Welcome what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be—all our bright visions of Christmas Day For it is the season of immortal hope, and the birthday of immoral mercy—and we will shut out nothing.

“Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.”

Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

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Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Lavish Production is Holiday Delight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 24, 2017

Belle enjoys reading. She is evidently a rarity in her tiny village, as many of the townspeople find her to be “odd.” “Odd” also applies to her eccentric father, an inventor on his way to a local competition. He makes a wrong turn, ends up in a scary forest and ultimately in chains in the basement cell of a legendary castle owned by an unhappy beast. Sound familiar? This is just for starters in Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s current lavish holiday musical.

Courtesy RDG Photography

Katie Jackson is a winner as the charming Belle. She is understandably “the most beautiful girl in the village” and has a voice to match. The local bully and womanizer, Gaston, has decided he wants Belle as his wife. He is an egotistical dimwit, and Belle wants nothing to do with him. Eric Heine is in fine voice as Gaston, and becomes increasingly menacing as the show continues.

The Broadway musical premiered in 1994, based on the incredibly popular 1991 Walt Disney movie. Disney’s movie had roots as a classic French fairytale. A cold-blooded prince was magically transformed into an ugly “beast” as punishment for his unwillingness to help a woman in need. The curse is transferred to the servants in the beast’s castle. They are slowly becoming household objects instead of human beings. There is Lumiere, the candelabra; Mrs. Potts, the teapot; Cogsworth, the standing clock; Chip the teacup son of Mrs. Potts; Madame Grand de la Bouche, the wardrobe cupboard; and Babette, the feather duster. Everyone is hopefully awaiting the time when the curse might be lifted. This will happen only when the beast falls in love with a beautiful girl, and she loves him in return. There is a deadline for the curse to be reversed: when the last petal falls from a rose kept under glass in the beast’s castle.

Courtesy RDG Photography

The Candlelight production is remarkable. The sets, music, costumes, lighting, cast, and choreography are excellent. The music contains several well-known songs from the original movie. When the beast sang “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act One, the audience erupted in enthusiastic appreciation. Another standout is when the inanimate household objects warmly welcoming Belle to the castle with “Be Out Guest.” Bob Hoppe is particularly good in this musical segment, playing Lumiere. The beautiful melody, “Beauty and the Beast” is very well performed by Joanie Brosseau-Rubald as Mrs. Potts.

Courtesy RDG Photography

Supporting roles include Kent Sugg as Belle’s father, Samantha Jo Staggs as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Harmony Livingston as Babette, David L. Wygant as Cogsworth, and Ethan Knowles as Lefou. Brekken Wald and Christopher Walton alternate in the role of Chip.

There are dozens of clever additions to the story. Some characters fly. One becomes a human chandelier rising above the stage. Chip glides in and out on roller-sneakers. The snarling wolves with flashing eyes are frightening.

Courtesy RDG Photography

When I learned that Kalond Irlanda had been cast as The Beast,” I was apprehensive. I thought he was very good as the young Tommy in Candlelight’s recent production of “the Music Man.” He was then playing a teenager. What a transformation he has made in becoming the beast. Irlanda is excellent. His voice is powerful. He can be menacing. He can be kind. He rules the production.

Direction and choreography are by Jessica Hindsley and Kate Vallee. Music director is Victor Walters, with Casey Kearns as scenic designer. Choreography is especially good, as are all the special effects. Technical Manager Shauna Johnson mentioned that the special effects for this production are among the most challenging ever staged by Candlelight staff and crews.

The story and its outcome are so well known that the show does lag a little in the second act. It was as if “I know what is going to happen, just let it happen – instead of providing last-minute unnecessary intrigue.” The total production, however, is an evening of immense talent in a joyous production where everyone involved (on stage or off) is operating at full throttle.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: February 14, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Arvada

Aaron Young Struts and Sings Sensationally as the Favored Son of Biblical Fame

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 19, 2017

“Yes,” he claims, “I look handsome. I look smart. I am a walking work of art, such a dazzling coat of many colors. How I love my coat of many colors.” So sings Aaron Young as Joseph, as he unabashedly taunts his 11 brothers with his new robe. Seems Joseph is the favorite son of his father, Jacob, and wears his new coat with great élan. Too much élan, as the brothers devise a plot to not only rid themselves of Joseph’s coat, but of Joseph himself. Joseph does more than annoy his brothers with his fancy coat, he sings about it with an “amazing” voice. Rarely has Joseph sounded so good.

Pictured: Aaron Young as Joseph
Photo M. Gale Photography 2017

Sound familiar? The story of Jacob and his 12 sons has been around since the Bible began. There were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, Judah, and Joseph – his father’s “favorite son.” The musical version, crafted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, seems to have been around “forever.” But it has been less than 50 years since they worked on a little show for a boy’s school in London – a little musical fable which originally lasted about 20 minutes.

The “little show” has been expanded substantially and has become one of the most successful musicals in history. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities has produced the show six times in previous years, but not since 2009. When I learned it was to be the Center’s Holiday Musical, my initial reaction was “Ho Hum. Not very Christmassy.” How wrong I was. No, it does not have a Holiday theme, but is perhaps the best “present” that the Center could provide to audiences this season. It is a joy to see and to hear.

Aaron Young (Joseph) and ensembe
M. Gale Photography 2017

The show has sometimes been stylized so severely to be hardly recognizable. Director Gavin Mayer has wisely gone back to the more traditional performance, and has provided a show for the ages. The excellent performer Aaron Young is in great company, as the entire cast is talent to be reckoned with. Sarah Rex played the Narrator several years ago in Arvada, and has returned to charm the socks off the audience and to raise the roof with her voice. Stephen Day is excellent in two roles – that of Jacob and as Potiphar. Norrell Moore is an alluring and temping Mrs. Potiphar. James Frances gets “all shook up” as the (Elvis Presley) Pharaoh.

Sarah Rex (Narrator) and ensemble
M. Gale Photography 2017

The crazy diversions of song and dance styles are more fun than ever. P. Tucker Worley is the country western voice as Levi in the “One More Angel in Heaven Hoedown.” Jake Mendes is Reuben as a French charmer looking back on “Those Canaan Days” while the family is on the verge of starvation. Emma Martin and Michael Russell give even more excitement to the French Cabaret of “Those Canaan Days” in a French Apache Dancers routine. Michael Canada is excellent as he rouses the brothers in Egypt with his “Benjamin’s Calypso.”

Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck provides the delightful chorography, with Roberto Sinha as Musical Director, and Brian Mallgrave as Scenic Designer. Lighting is by Sean Mallary, sound by David Thomas, and Costumes by December Mathisen.

The entire show is less than two hours, including intermission. The audience was having such a terrific time, however, that no one was eager to leave. But they could go home humming such great melodies as “Any Dream Will Do,” and remembering just how handsome and how smart was Joseph as a walking work of art in his “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through December 23, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Click Here For More Information:Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Chekhov meets Snow White in Award Winner

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Shine at Bas Bleu Theatre

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 16, 2017

Vanya and Sonia have reached middle age, with very little going for them. They live in the family home in Bucks County, PA, and have spent most of their adult lives looking after their now-deceased parents. Vanya and Sonia have been unhappy for so long it seems that they have forgotten what happiness is. A day’s highlight might be their bickering over whether the coffee is hot enough. Their boring lives are interrupted by the arrival of their world-famous actress sister, Masha, who breezes into town much to her peers’ annoyance.

The stage is set for two and one-half hours of clever intrigue, family squabbles, and a rich coming-to-realization of what is important in life.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

Jeffrey Bigger as Vanya, and Kelly Foerster as Sonia, are convincing as the brother and sister inhabiting the family home. Vanya is a gay man with no apparent close friends. Sonia was adopted into the family as a young girl, has grown to middle-age with no apparent friends, and no apparent interests. Neither of them is employed, and their successful sister, Masha, pays all the bills.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

The arrival of Lee Osterhout-Kaplan as Masha lights up the stage. Masha, is an over-the-hill actress who is accustomed to having her own way with everything she does, and with everyone she touches. She arrives from her New York home with Spike, her latest gigolo, in tow. She has been through five husbands, and is currently hanging out with a young hunk half her age. Marcus Turner is super as Spike – a handsome dimwit whose main claim to fame has been to have auditioned for a bit part in a tv sitcom. Masha not only rules her young lover, but rules the stage as well. She is impressive.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

Her reason to travel to the family home is to find a realtor to sell the property. While she is in town she’ll take the family to a neighborhood costume party where she plans to reign supreme as Snow White. The family balks at being assigned to supporting roles – dwarfs.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha were given names from Anton Chekov stories beloved by their parents. The Chekhov references are abundant, from names to family discord, even to the fading cherry orchard now reduced to just nine trees. Knowledge of Chekhov is not required, but is an added delight to playwright’ Christopher Durang’s clever story.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opened on Broadway in 2013. Critics praised the show, and it proved to be an immediate commercial success — recouping its initial investment in less than four months. In 2013 it received the Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and numerous other honors.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

Direction for this production is by Graham Lier. This is his directorial debut, and he fills the roll admirably. I saw the first Bas Bleu public performance and was impressed with how the entire cast became better and better as the play progressed. I can only imagine how accomplished everyone will be in future performances.

Among the initial standouts: Lee Osterhout-Kaplan as Masha who is already brilliant every moment she is on stage. Jeffrey Bigger’s Vanya provides a tender monologue review of what life was like in the 1950s. Kelly Foerster as Sonia is heart-wrenching when speaking to a gentleman caller by telephone the morning after the costume ball. She came to life that previous evening, and can’t believe that someone was interested in knowing her better. Alexandra Bunger-Pool is a warm-hearted charmer as the neighbor girl who can find happiness everywhere she goes. Jasmine Winfrey is the voodoo-operating housekeeper who is able to put the household in order. Marcus Turner is the not-so bright Spike who has more brawn than brains, and is bewildered by the entire family.

© 2017 William A. Cotton

This production includes high hilarity and poignant pathos. Masha is terrified that her successful life as a sought-after actress may have peaked, and can’t face the reality of being asked to portray the role of a grandmother. Her young lover is happiest when parading around in his undies not caring what anyone around him might think. Vanya and Sonia can’t fathom what life might be like if the house is sold. This is a particularly-well-crafted play. The dreary lives are enhanced to the extent that “hope” is not just around the corner — it is on the doorstep. “There is always hope.”

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (and Nina and Cassandra) are all in fine form, with this delightful fairly-tale of a family in turmoil.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To December 17, 2017
For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949 or Click HereFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Monty Python is Alive and Well in OpenStage’s “Spamalot”

Choreography Excels In This Daffy Delight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 29, 2017

Life isn’t easy in 932 A. D. for King Arthur in England. He is trying to round up a group of gallant and valiant men to serve as knights for his round table. Trouble is, not many people have even heard of this Arthur chap, and the French are outright hostile to him.

Charlie Ferrie as King Arthur in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

Charlie Ferrie is in fine form as the befuddled king. He IS in command, but can’t seem to easily round up followers. Except for his ever-faithful “trotting” servant, “Patsy.” Dan Tschirhart is a standout as the not terribly bright aid-de-camp whose primary role to knock coconuts together to create the sound of trotting horses. Tschirhart never loses character, even when the thoughtless king ignores his presence while trying to get sympathy with “I’m All Alone.”

Carl Buchanan, Larry Linne and Kiernan Angley as Taunting Frenchmen in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

While the local citizens aren’t eager to go to war, or to search for the Holy Grail, they are amazingly willing to sing and dance! The dancing is terrific. The “Laker Girls” cheerleading the knights, “His Name is Lancelot,” and “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” are all show-stopping routines. Choreographer Cole Emarine even includes a clever Jewish folklore “bottle dance” with Grail Goblets atop each dancer.

Direction of the continually-delightful mayhem is by Emelie Borello, with music direction by Joseph Perron.

In 1975 The Monty Python Comedy Group (including Eric Idle) created the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It immediately became a worldwide favorite and developed a cult following — the group that I refer to as “Pythonites.” Idle expanded the movie’s idea, writing book and lyrics for the 2005 musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Clever bits of the movie have become comedy standards. Many of them turn up on the Fort Collins stage. Some work brilliantly, others not so well.

Dan Tschirhart as Patsy and Charlie Ferrie as King Arthur in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

Stage highlights include the creation of the Trojan Horse in the shape of a large rabbit that the knights forget to enter before placing it into a local castle. Then there is the incredibly mean rabbit who tears anyone to shreds who dares challenge him. The highwayman challenging the knights loses his arms and legs to King Arthurs’s men, noting with each limb-severing blow, “merely a flesh wound.”

And the goofy Knights Who Say Ni, who request a bit of shrubbery (with their virtually incomprehensible language) before anyone can continue the trail. Language is one of the few problems with the OpenStage production. From the welcome to the show through much of the dialogue emitting from the tops of castles the audience is often in a bewildered state of wondering just what is going on. Fortunately, the audience was packed with Monty Python fans (my “Pythonites”) who seemed to catch every nuance of craziness.

In addition to King Arthur and his ever-trotting servant, Patsy, another creative wonder is Kiernan Angley’s performance of Sir Lancelot. The role is just one played by versatile Angley. One moment he is the gay Sir Lancelot. The next moment he becomes a French Taunter, a Knight of Ni, or Tim the Enchanter. He is extremely masculine-heroic one moment, a fey delight, the next. Nikki Gibbs is the Lady of the Lake, the woman supposedly responsible for Arthur becoming the king. Gibbs is a very attractive addition to the scruffy crew, and is a good actress. She does not, however, have the raucous bravura of the desired diva. She sings her songs — doesn’t delightfully “belt” them.

Most of the performers play multiple roles, each with daffy-timing skills.

The 2005 “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” directed by Mike Nichols, received Tony Award for Best Musical. It has subsequently become a worldwide attraction. Currently on stage in Fort Collins, it is a brilliantly acted performance of non-stop lunacy, with only a modicum of sense. Just what we need right now.

“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through November 25, 2017
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information: www.lctix.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Even Charlie Finds Himself To Be Magnificently Boring in The Foreigner

Sammie Joe Kinnett Is Brilliant As “The Foreigner”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 20, 2017

Charlie Baker is a well-meaning copy editor in London. He hasn’t had much of a marriage. His wife of many years has found him to be incredibly boring, so boring that he is beginning to agree with her. She is seriously ill in a hospital, but doesn’t care to have him around, and is glad to have him out of the way for a few days while he accompanies a friend on a trip to the USA.

Pictured L-R: Lance Rasmussen (Ellard Simms) and Sammie Joe Kinnett (Charlie Baker). Photo Matt Gale Photography

Charlie’s friend, Froggy, is an explosives expert in the British military and takes Charlie with him to Georgia, leaving him in a rural hunting lodge while he goes to on his explosive training assignment. Charlie is traumatized by the thought of being left alone, perhaps requiring him to engage in even minimal conversation. Froggy hatches a plan, telling the lodge owner that Charlie is a “foreigner,” does not speak or understand ANY English, and must be left alone.

Unfortunately, while pretending to not understand nor speak any English, Charlie overhears some conversations among the lodge’s guests that he should not have heard. The “foreigner” ruse is beginning to have serious implications. The ensuing two and one-half hours are a delightful, and sometimes-sobering look, at how we feel about foreigners amongst us. Charlie goes through the machinations of understanding nothing, and becoming involved in pantomiming what he needs, while the guests speak louder and louder, as if that will help him understand.

Sammie Joe Kinnett as Charlie Baker Photo credit Zachary Andrews 2017

Sammie Joe Kinnett is astonishing as the boring Charlie Baker. He becomes incredibly alert in his silence, and ultimately has positive effects on everyone around him. Josh Robinson is believable as Froggy, Charlie’s military friend who creates the “foreigner” image for his friend. A great foil for the speechless Charlie is Ellard Simms, the maybe-mentally-challenged brother of a guest in the lodge.

Lance Rasmussen is super as Ellard. Ellard and Charlie have great scenes together including an over-the-top breakfast when they try to outdo each other in figuring out what the other is trying to relate. Their hijinx end up with each holding a glass on their heads – for no apparent reason except to enjoy the incredible happiness of finding friendship. Ellard believes that Charles might just be smarter than he appears to be, and vice versa. Ellard decides to teach Charlie how to read English – in just three days! And while immersed in his own bubble of disbelief, Charlie realizes that he is not so boring – and that he actually has a personality.

Pictured L-R: Jessica Robblee (Catherine Simms), Sammie Joe Kinnett (Charlie Baker), Standing – Lance Rasmussen (Ellard Simms) and Edith Weiss (Betty Meeks).
Matt Gale Photography 2017

The entire cast is uniformly excellent. Edith Weiss is very good as Betty Meeks, the lodge owner who has no knowledge of anything outside her bit of rural Georgia. Greg Ungar is the mean-spirited county inspector, eager to condemn the lodge property. Zachary Andrews and Jessica Robblee are the Reverend David Marshall Lee and his pregnant girlfriend Catherine. Lee has designs to buy the lodge and turn it into a White Supremacy headquarters, using money from his heiress girlfriend. The girlfriend, Catherine, is accompanied by her half-witted brother Ellard, who just might be brighter than appears.

The clever play, written by Larry Shue, premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater and opened off-Broadway in 1984, directed by Jerry Zaks. Initial response was not overly-enthusiastic, but gained word-of-mouth momentum. It received Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best New American Play. Playwright Shue died in a plane crash in 1985, not realizing the success the play would ultimately receive. The play has gone on to receive worldwide acclaim.

The Arvada production is directed by Geoffrey Kent, with the set designed by Brian Mallgrave. The mood of the production is in constant flux – from high hilarity to somber realization that evil remains among us. The ultimate result is one of inspiration and hope – with the understanding that each of us has potential of being an influence for good – often when we least expect it.

“The Foreigner”
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through November 18, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Online:  Arvadacenter.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Nothing “Rotten” In This Giddy Delight!

A Shakespearean Wannabee Tries To Write A Play

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 18, 2017

Welcome to the Renaissance! It is 1590. The Dark Ages are over. There is a rebirth of creative activity in Elizabethan England. The arts are flourishing, and William Shakespeare is the rock star of the era. He is the toast of the town and his play “Romeo and Juliet” is about to open. Everyone in London is enamored with the new author. Everyone except playwright Nick Bottom. He is incredibly jealous of Shakespeare’s success, and openly announces in song, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” Nick and his brother, Nigel, are about to lose the patronage of a local artistic funder, unless they can come up with a substantial hit — immediately. Even the author brother, Nigel, is impressed with Shakespeare’s success, much to the dismay of his brother.

Something Rotten! Cast of the National Tour ©Jeremy Daniel

Nick is desperate for an idea for the potential play, and goes to the teller of the future Nostradamus, for help. Unfortunately, this is not THE Nostradamus, but Nostradamus’ nephew, Thomas Nostradamus. Thomas can also see the future, but not particularly clearly. He does advise Nick Bottom that the future is going to be in musical comedy, and outlines the idea in one of theatre’s most recent delights, “A Musical.” Thomas Nostradamus has Bottom intrigued with what might happen on the stage if performers could sing, and dance, and act — all possibly at the same time. The audience is likewise enthralled, and Bottom goes to work with Nigel to provide a show that will save them from financial ruin.

Something Rotten! Cast of the National Tour ©Jeremy Daniel

Thomas Nostradamus then advises that Shakespeare’s next show may be the most widely acclaimed play in history. If Bottom works now, he can have Shakespeare’s success even before Shakespeare can write his own play. Nostradamus advises that the play is to be “Omelette.” Seems that Nostradamus didn’t quite see the future, confusing “Hamlet” with “Omelette.” The ensuing result is hysteria as “Omelette, The Musical” is being prepared. “Something Rotten” then becomes a Broadway show to be reckoned with. There are bits of Shakespeare’s most quotable lines and snippets from Broadways most-seen musicals.

The theatre-savvy Denver audience was in awe with the hijinks, audibly delighted when they recognized each show or lyric mentioned. This is enormous fun.

Something Rotten! Cast of the National Tour ©Jeremy Daniel

The touring cast on stage at the Buell this month is terrific. Bob McClure is a gem as Nick Bottom, with Josh Grisetti equally impressive as Nigel Bottom. Trying to pilfer what he can from the new authors is Shakespeare, played by Adam Pascal. McClure, Pascal, and Grisetti, have extensive Broadway credentials. Pascal was the original Roger Davis in “Rent.” and Rob McClure received the Theatre World acting award for his performance in “Chaplin.” Grisetti was also honored with a Theatre World Award for his work in “Enter Laughing.”

Supporting players are equally as talented with Blake Hammond as Nostradamus, Jeff Brooks as Shylock, Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah, Maggie Lakis as Bea, and Autumn Hurlbert as Portia. Hurlbert has the look and sound of Kristin Chenoweth, as she plays the daughter of the stern Puritan leader who literally falls head over heels for Nigel Bottom. The cast is large. The sets, costumes, and lighting impressive. The dancing is first rate.

In addition to the show-stopping “Welcome to the Renaissance, ““God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” and “A Musical” is the lilting “To Thine Own Self” — an impressive plea for everyone to take responsibility for the way they behave.

There is nothing “Rotten” about this delightful transfer from Broadway. It opened in New York in 2014, receiving rave reviews. It is a rewarding, rollicking evening of energy, silly sophistication, and charm. In addition, it involves the audience, trying to figure out which Shakespeare quotes are from which plays, and which crazy bits and pieces are from Broadway musicals.

“Something Rotten”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: October 29, 2017
Online: Click Here For the Denver Center for the Performing ArtsFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Frozen” at DCPA is Broadway Bound

Frozen’s Transfer From Movie To Stage Boggles The Senses

Reviewed by Tom Jones

September 15, 2017

Ten years from now it will be interesting to read how many gazillion persons worldwide have seen the stage musical, “Frozen.” The animated movie was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2013 and generated $1.3 billion in worldwide box office revenue. It is the highest-grossing animated film of all time. What could be done for an encore? What could a stage version do that the movie could not? For starters, it can provide a visual feast of enormous proportions. Then, the excitement of the audience experiencing a live performance right in front of them cannot be replicated.

Denver Center – Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) and Patti Murin (Anna) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

The sets for Frozen” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts are beyond description. The creative team must have spent endless joyful and laborious creative hours figuring out what would excite the audience: a set that would be so incredible on its own without detracting from the show’s basic story. They were not always successful in this regard, as in some instances the set IS the show. Near the end of the First Act, I was so enthralled with what I was seeing and hearing, that I felt as if I were on an amusement park ride of never-ending amazement

Denver Center – Patti Murin (Anna) and Caissie Levy (Elsa) with Jacob Smith in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s the Snow Queen,” the basic story remains intact. Two sisters, Anna and Elsa, enjoyed wonderful childhood experiences together. When it was discovered that Elsa had magical powers and could accidently cause injury to her sister, the two are separated for Anna’s protection. Upon the death of their parents, Elsa is to be crowned queen, and her sister Anna attends the coronation as the princess.

Denver Center – The Company of FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

A dispute at Elsa’s coronation results in her becoming angry with Anna, and she accidentally releases some of her magical powers. The causes temperatures to drop throughout the kingdom, as ice was replacing sunshine. Anna flees from the palace, bewildered by what has happened.

Anna’s memories of her happy times with Elsa as a child encourages her to find a way to approach her sister, now ensconced in an ice incrusted palace. Along the way she enlists the help of Kristoff, (an ice deliveryman), his reindeer (Sven), and Olaf, everybody’s favorite snowman.

Patti Murin plays Anna, with Caissie Levy as Elsa. They are both excellent performers, and Elsa’s “Let it Go” is a triumphant conclusion to Act 1.

Denver Center – Patti Murin (Anna) and John Riddle (Hans) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

Music and lyrics (for the movie and the stage production) are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez, with the book by Jennifer Lee. In the 2014 Academy Awards, the film was honored as Best Animated Feature, and “Let It Go” was given award for Best Song.

Enthusiasm for the production in Denver was enormous. Based on obvious audience enjoyment, it will be difficult for theatre-goers to let the show leave Denver to continue its journey to Broadway. The stage at the Buell is impressive, and it will be interesting to see how the enormous sets can be accommodated in other venues. The production is not without problems, and messages are sometimes confusing, and over-powered by the magnificence of the set. It does have all the hallmarks of a Disney production, designed to entertain.

Denver Center – Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) and Andrew Pirozzi (Sven) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

The story has been expanded from the movie, and includes substantially more music. Performances are universally excellent. Jelani Alladin is a very helpful Kristoff. Andrew Pirozzi is a marvel as Sven, the delightful reindeer. Robert Creighton is in fine form as Weseltoln and Greg Hildreth is a talented charmer as the snowman puppeteer.

Based on the assumption that the stage version will move on to becoming a mega hit, ten years from now this season’s audience can look back on their memories of “Frozen” at the Buell, with great satisfaction of having “been there when it all began.”

“Frozen”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: October 1, 2017
Buell Theatre’s WebsiteFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“A Chorus Line” — Better Than Ever!

Groundbreaking Musical at Arvada Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 13, 2017

Is it possible for a musical to turn up now, looking even more vibrant and exciting than when it was the toast of Broadway 40 years ago? Yes! The Arvada Center continues its run of providing excellence to Colorado theatregoers.

The show’s director, Rod A. Lansberry, has produced or directed more than 100 productions. When, oh when is he going to get it right? Just about always! “A Chorus Line” is a marvel. Lansberry does have help. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s success choreographing or directing more than 40 shows is evident as she has the dancers performing at their peak. There is evidence of work of the show’s original director Michael Bennett, but she has personally provided most of the current production’s terrific dancing.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2017

In the summer of 1975 an unusual musical opened on Broadway. For years the backbone of New York shows had been the singers and dancers who were highly entertaining, but not the stars. This changed when some Broadway dancers hosted some workshops about their efforts. Performer Michael Bennett became involved and took over the effort. The dancers’ personal stories were put into a format which ultimately became “A Chorus Line.” Bennett went on to direct the Broadway production, with Bob Avian as co-choreographer.

The book was by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicolas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Response to the show was electric and immediate. It tells of dancers auditioning for an upcoming Broadway production. The tough director Zach puts the wannabee performers through a series of tryouts. The group is narrowed down to 17 dancers, of which only four males and four females will be selected.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – L-R: Matthew Dailey (Don), Jordana Grolnick (Maggie), Joe Callahan (Mike, understudy), Rae Leigh Case (Connie), Ron Tal (Greg), Dayna Tietzen (Cassie), Katie Mitchell (Sheila), Parker Redford (Bobby), Jennifer Arfsten (Bebe), Kristen Paulicelli (Judy), Michael Canada (Richie), Zac Norton (Al), Seles VanHuss (Kristine), Lexie Plath (Val), Tyler Jensen (Mark) and Natalie…

Zach asks the finalists to tell their stories, why they want to dance, where they come from, and anything they want to talk about. The results are an intriguing two hours of incredible dancing and soul-searching memories. Stephen Cerf is excellent as Zach, the director and choreographer auditioning the potential performers. Jean-Luc Cavnar-Lewandowski is also very good as his assistant, Larry. They are both talented performers, and keep the action moving.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Dayna Tietzen (Cassie) Matt Gale Photography 2017

The finalists tell their stories. These are not heart-warming Hallmark Cards family tales; but are looks at the dancers’ feelings as outsiders in society, or success yet to be obtained, and of unrequited love for dance. Some male dancers were tormented in coming to terms with their sexuality. Some of the tales are too long, but most are riveting. The same can be said for the entire production. After hearing such gut-wrenching personal stories and seeing such brilliant dancing, there is a late-in-the show lag when too much chatter takes too long to introduce one of the show’s most memorable songs, “What I Did for Love.”

Many of the songs have become Broadway classics, including “One,” “What I Did for Love,” ”At the Ballet,” and “Hello Twelve.” Interwoven with the dancers’ stories is the past romance between director Zach, and Cassie, one of the auditioning dancers. A highlight is Cassie’s breath-taking, “The Music and the Mirror.” The “mirror” is used frequently as a backdrop to reflect the dancing brilliance. Cassie, played by Dayna Tietzen, has the largest role of the group, as her relationship with Zach is an integral part of the show.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2017

The original “A Chorus Line” ran in New York City for 6,137 performances – the then-longest-running musical in Broadway history. It has been seen worldwide, and was made into a movie in 1985. Unfortunately, the movie version lacked the incredible spark a live performance can provide. When I saw the original Broadway show, I was impressed. I was more impressed this season with the current presentation on stage in Arvada.

This is more than “One Singular Sensation.” It is a two-hour display of brilliant talent. The current production in Arvada is every bit as thrilling as that presented on Broadway in 1975.

A Chorus Line
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through October 1, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Arvada Center’s Website Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Love Lost and Found in Dublin

Award Winner “Once” Charms Midtown Arts Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 8, 2017

Before the story begins, the audience is entertained to some spirited Irish music, performed by the talented cast, in the setting of a Dublin bar. At the show progresses the performers sing to us, sing to each other, talk to us, and talk to each other. They tell us what they look for, what is important and what is not. It is early apparent that the characters portrayed are good and caring people – albeit with rough edges of language.

The first person we meet is “Guy,” who is emotionally in the dumps. His girlfriend has moved to New York, he lives upstairs above his dad’s vacuum repair shop where he works. And sings for coins on street corners. He has written lots of music, but has decided to give it up and has no idea what he truly wants in life. Fortunately, the for the audience, Guy is portrayed by Barry DeBois, who is very good looking and has an amazing voice. Whenever he sings, the audience is enthralled.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Guy is on the verge of abandoning his guitar and whatever coins were tossed in his hat that day when along comes “Girl.” Elena Juliano is a delight as the feisty woman, a Czech by birth, now living in Dublin with her daughter, and her mother. Her husband has gone. She is a take-charge, no nonsense gem who immediately takes Guy under her wing, and convinces him that he has something going for him – his talent. She immediately realizes that he is a good “Guy.” She is in no hurry for romance, but needs a challenge to bring some joy into her semi-dreary life. She can play the piano and knows good music when she hears it.

How Guy and Girl look at life, what they want from life, and from each other are central to the story. “Once” began as a movie in 2007. The stage musical and the movie include music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The score incudes the haunting Acadamy Award winning song, “Falling Slowly.” Music ranges from delightful Irish pub songs to heartful suggestions of desire.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The Broadway musical version opened in 2012 and received eight Tony Awards including those for Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. It has subsequently been seen by audiences in England, Ireland, Australia, Korea, Canada, South Korea, and throughout the United States. It is a very interesting show. The is no high-kicking chorus line, but is a thoughtful musical tracing the ups and downs of potential romance.

In addition to the beautiful “Falling Slowly,” some highlights include the opening “Leave,” and an especially beautiful “Gold.” With musical accompaniment of the cast, Guy sings this at the conclusion of Act 1, noting “And I love her so. I wouldn’t trade her for gold.” It becomes even richer late in Act 2 when the entire ensemble sings with without accompaniment.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The cast includes twelve incredibly talented persons, all taking acting parts, all playing a variety of musical instruments, and dancing their hearts out. The cast includes the young girl, Ivanka, who is “Girl’s” daughter. The role is double cast, with Stella Seaman or Kassidy Terrio taking the role for various performances. I saw Stella Seaman. She is a joy! Most of the cast are new to the MAC stage. Familiar to local audiences, however, are John Jankow, Charity Ruth Haskins, and John Seaberry,

All the music is provided by performers on the stage. The set is an attractive bar that can become a music store, a vacuum repair shop, a hillside overlooking Dublin, and wherever the story goes. Kurt Terrio produced and directed the show, with Michael Lasris providing the terrific choreography. Barry DeBois, who is so excellent as “Guy,” also serves as music director.

The music, although beautiful, is not familiar. The audience does have difficulty understanding what is being said and sung. Accents are Irish and Czech. Sometimes the dialogue is flashed on the stage in Czech with the idea that it is clever to see what the persons are saying. Unfortunately, it just makes the situation more difficult, as we often can’t understand what is being said in Czech or in English. When Girl sings to her own piano accompaniment, the piano sometimes is too loud to hear Elena Juliano’s pleasant voice.

It is not difficult to follow the show’s basic premise. Twists along the way, however, can be difficult to understand. The conclusion is an emotional one with Guy and Girl singing the same song of love – with an ocean separating them. Maybe a second viewing would be helpful to better understand the lyrics, as “Once” may just not be enough. It is basically a heartfelt and beautiful show.

“Once”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To: November 11, 2017
For Tickets: Phone: 970/225-2555
MAC’s WebsiteFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Music Man Triumphant

“The Music Man” Has Triumphant Return To Candlelight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

September 10, 2017

He’s back! That smooth-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill is back in town. He can still charm the socks off anyone he meets, even going so far as to sell musical instruments (and uniforms) to the parents of youth in River City, Iowa. He claims that his “Think System” of instruction will result in their children becoming accomplished musicians. But he must collect the fees and get out of town before the first concert.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

Hill’s tale, “The Music Man” remains the quintessential Broadway Musical! The show that just plain “has everything.” There is the rollicking opening scene on the train when we meet traveling salesman bouncing along to the train’s rhythm, and becoming amazed with tales of the fast-talking “Hill” guy who is taking the area by storm.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

There is the smart, but oh-so-very careful librarian, Marian, whose mother believes is going to end up as an aging spinster. There is the crazy mayor with his more-crazy wife, with the wonderful name – Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn. And the School Board members who can’t abide one another and end up as a harmonizing quartet, under direction of Harold Hill. And there are the youngsters without goals or ambitions, who end up being the joy of the midwestern city.

Bob Hoppe is the conniving music man on stage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse this autumn. He is a fast-talking wizard who warns the citizens of River City of the potential dangers that the local pool hall can inflict upon the town’s morals. He can sing. He can dance. He can charm the town’s ladies with the wink of an eye, and can make himself scarce when his credentials are sought. He has his eye on Marion the librarian who demands silence in the library, and has her own wall of personal silence. Alisha Winter-Hayes plays Marian. She is beautiful, with a beautiful singing voice, and is immediately wary about what this fast-talking Harold Hill might truly be up to.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

The leads are very good, but are nearly overpowered by some of the supporting cast. TJ Mullin and Annie Dwyer are a combined hoot as the town mayor and his nutty wife. Especially in the first act, Dwyer rules the stage. For much of the show the four men on the school board are a site to see and hear. They suddenly find a common bond, singing their way through life. Kent Sugg, Ethan Lee Knowles, Anthony Weber, and David L. Wygant are the quartet of school board members.

“The Music Man” opened on Broadway in 1957, winning a host of awards, and being an international favorite ever since. Music and lyrics are by Meredith Wilson who drew upon memories of his youth in Iowa. He knew first-hand about the Iowa-stubborn mentality, the role of the traveling salesman, and the delights of small-town foibles and celebrations. Robert Preston and Barbara Cook created the leading roles on Broadway, with Preston and Shirley Jones taking the leads in the 1962 movie version.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

The tale is the epitome of small-town America of a century ago. The excitement of a newcomer showing up, the arrival of the Wells Fargo wagon with its treasure of items the townspeople ordered, the fun of summertime picnics, complete with patriotic pageants, and the idea that boundless joy and comfort can be realized on a local basis, without travelling beyond the immediate area.

“The Music Man” continues to be a delight. The set is colorful, the syncopated movement of everyone on stage is impressive, and the familiar songs continue to sound terrific: “76 Trombones,” “Til There was You,” “Goodnight my Someone,” “Gary, Indiana,” and on and on. The orchestra is very good and lets the entire cast have a delightful “try” at Hill’s “Think System” as part of the rousing finale

The cast is huge, carefully directed and choreographed by Ali K. Meyers. Victor Walters serves as music director as well as leader of the orchestra. There are numerous young persons in the show. The entire cast appeared to be having great fun, and the audience showed its appreciation with a standing ovation – a rarity at a dinner theatre.

“The Music Man”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: November 5, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
CDP’s WebsiteFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
September 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fiddler on the Roof” Is A Winner

Student Production Wows Audience at Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones

August 19, 2017

Twenty or so years from now the star performers at local theatres just might look back at this year, and say, “Remember when we received a standing ovation at MAC when we were young students in ‘Fiddler on the Roof?” That same group of performers may continue to receive “standing ovations” wherever they go, as they possess boundless talent and enthusiasm. Today they are the stars of tomorrow.

PHOTO CREDIT: Leah Allen

Forty-six students at the Academy at Midtown Arts Center provided three performances of their student training achievement in mid-August of 2017. At the “welcome” provided prior to the curtain opening, the audience learned that the production this season is a result of just three weeks of rehearsals. Jalyn Courtenay Webb and Michael Lasris, the show’s producer and director noted that finalizing the show is actually a miracle, with unbelievable odds that a show of this caliber could be completed in so little time, and with a cast of not-yet-professionals. The show itself echoes one of the productions songs, “Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Leah Allen

“Fiddler” is the tale of the Jewish milkman, Tevye, the kindly father of five daughters, questioning why God has made life so difficult for him in Russia of 1905. He and his wife of 25 years, Golde, live in a tiny village of Anatevka, accepting their poverty as a way of life, handed to them by “Tradition.” Tim Watson is amazing as the middle-age Tevye. He has a marvelous voice, and incredible stage presence. He will begin his college studies this year in Laramie. It will be interesting to follow his career, and I am curious how long before he will turn up as a brilliant Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” or as Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” Avree Linne is a student at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins. I was slow to warm up to her. But midway through the production either she became brilliant, or I just began to appreciate her talents, and I came away from the show with awe for her skills.

The list goes on and on (and on and on, as there are 46 young persons in the show). Among the standout supporting players are Meg Brown as Yente, the matchmaker; Lexi Reese, Daye Waldner and Zoe Maiberger as the oldest of the five daughters, and Jack Bramhall-Heck as the shy tailor, Motel, in love with the oldest daughter, Tzeitel. Meg Brown (Yente) and Jack Bramhall-Heck (Motel) have the flashiest roles, and light up their every scene. Also of particular interest is Nic Rhodes who is the “Fiddler” at the beginning of the show and turns up frequently to provide the inner feelings of the show’s leading man, Tevye.

“Fiddler” is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a book by Joseph Stein. The original Broadway production opened in 1964, and was the first musical theater run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. It received numerous awards, became basis for a highly successful movie in 1971, and continues to play on stages throughout the world.

The August 2017 production is the conclusion of this summer’s youth Academy endeavors. It is a winner in every respect. The sound and lighting are excellent, the costuming is very good. Perhaps the highlight of the production is the movement of the performers – getting so many persons on and off the stage so frequently and efficiently, and have them performing so many choreographic skills throughout the entire show. Director Lasris credits Dominique Atwater, Adam Bourque, Cassidy Cousineau, and Emily Erkman, for their work as choreographers and musical directors. Artistic Director is Jalyn Courtenay Webb, who also produced the show. Webb commented that she is personally impressed with the vocal skills of the ensemble, noting that she has rarely heard the show sound so good.

I have been a little hesitant to see student productions at local schools. Shame on me. Whenever you have a friend or family member that you know is performing in a local student production, find out more about it, and dash to the auditorium. The Academy at Midtown Arts Center is one of the most imminent theatre schools in the area. Enrollment for their next season is open now, with the Fall Schedule set from September 11 to November 16.

Congratulations to everyone connected with this delightful “Fiddler” production. I’ll be on the lookout to see where so many of you will be performing next!

“Fiddler on the Roof”
Where: The Academy of Midtown Arts Center
750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Online: Midtown Art CenterFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Newsies –The Musical” Lights Up Huge Tuacahn Stage

Tale of Real-Life Newsboys Strike in New York City in 1899 is Enormously Endearing

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 8, 2017

A rag tag group of young newspaper sellers made their own headlines in 1899 in New York City. They fought the establishment, demanding slightly higher wages, and respect. Their exuberant story has found an equally-exuberant audience in Padre Canyon outside St. George, Utah, this summer.

This is the 22nd season for Tuacahn Center for the Arts – with its enormous stage and open-air backdrop of the red cliffs of Southern Utah. This summer their audiences are treated to “Shrek The Musical,” “Mamma Mia!,” and the terrific Disney’s “Newsies.” I didn’t plan to see all three shows, so selected the one I knew the least about, and ended up being swept away with “Newsies” this summer.

What a great choice. In 1992 the musical film “Newsies” turned up in movie theatres. Music is by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Firestein. The movie became a cult favorite, and became a Broadway musical in 2012, playing 1,005 performances. The Broadway production reportedly cost about five million dollars to stage, and recouped the initial investment in seven months. At that time, it was the fastest of any Disney musical on Broadway to turn a profit. A movie version of the theatrical production had a three-day release this past February, grossing more than three million dollars

As produced at Tuacahn there is an underlying feeling of ultimate joy, as the young boys struggle for survival in the tough streets of early New York. Their story could have resulted in a dreary look at dreary lives, but has succeeded in rising above the dire circumstances to become an anthem of survival for the city of New York and ultimately for the nation.

The production’s success relies not only on the basic story, but on the amazingly athletic dancing of the performers, the heartfelt music of the composers, and the story itself. Newspaper delivery boy Jack Kelly tells his disabled friend, Crutchie, of his desire to someday leave New York City, and move to find his dreams in the faraway western town of Sante Fe. He is a talented artist, with no family, no money, and has his share of troubles with the law. His story could be replicated throughout the entire cast of orphans and homeless young men of the time living on the edge of society in hostile New York City.

The leads in “Newsies” include Ryan Farnsworth as Jack Kelly, Jordan Aragon as his friend, Crutchie, Daniel Scott Walton as Davey, Will Haley as Davey’s brother Les, and Whitney Winfield as Katherine, the newspaper reporter who comes to their aid. The cast is enormous and featured roles include Matthew Tyler as Joseph Pulitzer and Jennifer Leigh Warren as Medda Larkin. Pulitzer has become immortalized by his financial success, and by the literary awards bearing his name. In “Newsies” he is shown in a very different light, with the audience wanting to “boo” his every appearance.

There is always a danger of performing a show outside on summer evenings. There were two (or maybe three) drops of light rain following the intermission, but the total effect of an evening outside on a wonderful summer night was one of sheer wonder. A visit to Tuacahn becomes an “event” all its own. At the top of the huge set are the living quarters of the young newsies. Their laundry was hanging out in windows, being blown slightly by a southern Utah breeze, and the incredible dancing on the stage beneath, providing its own storm of delight. A woman in the audience noted she had already seen the show more than ten times. That might be overdoing it a little, but “Newsies” is a true triumph.

Disney’s “Newsies”
Where: Tuacahn Center for the Arts, the base of Padre Canyon,1100 Tuacahn, Ivins, Utah, 84738
Website: www.tuacahn.orgFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Colorado Theatre Guild Honors Excellence in Theatre

OpenStage in Fort Collins named Outstanding Theatre Company

2016-2017 Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards were divided among many state-wide theatres. OpenStage Theatre and Company was honored for Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company, and also received awards for Dulcie Willis (outstanding direction), Sydney Parks Smith (outstanding actress in a play) for their work in””August, Osage County.” Steven P. Sickles, also of OpenStage, received award for outstanding actor in a play for his work in “La Bete.”

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company and DCPA Theater Company each received five awards — “Man of La Mancha” at Colorado Springs, and “The Book of Will” at DCPA.

Established in 2006, the Henry Awards honor outstanding achievements during the past season and serves as the Colorado Theatre Guild’s annual fundraising event. The awards are named in honor of longtime local theatre producer Henry Lowenstein.

The Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards Recipients for 2016-2017

Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company
OpenStage Theatre & Company

Outstanding Production of a Play
“The Game of Love and Chance,” TheatreWorks, Murray Ross, Director

Outstanding Production of a Musical
“Evita,” Lone Tree Arts Center, Gina Rattan, Director; Max Mamon, Musical Direction

Outstanding Direction of a Play
Dulcie Willis, “August: Osage County,” OpenStage Theatre & Company

Outstanding Direction of a Musical
Scott RC Levy, “Man of La Mancha,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company

Outstanding Musical Direction
Max Mamon, “Evita,” Lone Tree Arts Center

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Steven P. Sickles, “Le Bête,” OpenStage Theatre & Company

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Sydney Parks Smith, “August: Osage County,” OpenStage Theatre & Company

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Stephen Day, “Man of La Mancha,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Colby Dunn, “The Toxic Avenger,” Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play
Triney Sandoval, “The Book of Will,” DCPA Theatre Company

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play
Miriam A. Laube, “The Book of Will,” DCPA Theatre Company

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical
Matt LaFontaine, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical
Megan Van De Hey, “The Toxic Avenger,” Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
“The Book of Will,” DCPA Theatre Company, Davis McCallum, Director

Outstanding New Play or Musical
“The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson – Directed by Davis McCallum; Produced by DCPA Theatre Company

Outstanding Choreography
Matthew D. Peters, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” BDT Stage

The Colorado Theatre Guild has created two categories, or tiers, for our technical awards. The breakdown is for productions, of larger and smaller scale, based upon production budgets.

Outstanding Costume Design Tier 1
Camille Assaf, “The Book of Will,” DCPA Theatre Company

Outstanding Costume Design Tier 2
Jesus Perez, “The Little Mermaid,” Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design Tier 1
Holly Anne Rawls, “Man of La Mancha,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company

Outstanding Lighting Design Tier 2
Jen Kiser, “Evita,” Lone Tree Arts Center

Outstanding Scenic Design Tier 1
Christopher L. Sheley, “Man of La Mancha,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company

Outstanding Scenic Design Tier 2
Sean Jeffries, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Thunder River Theatre Company

Outstanding Sound Design Tier 1
Benjamin Heston, “Man of La Mancha,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company

Outstanding Sound Design Tier 2
Sean Jeffries, “The Tempest,” Thunder River Theatre Company

Special Awards were presented to:

Lifetime Achievement in Theatre
Ed Baierlein and Sallie Diamond

Outstanding Theatre Benefactors
Les Crispelle & Glenn Tiedt

Outstanding Improvisational Theatre
SCRIPTprov

Excellence in Special Makeup Effects
Todd DebreceniFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Ground-breaking “Hair” arrives at Midtown Arts Center

Those “Days of Aquarius” Amaze Local Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones

July 9, 2017

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

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

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

Tyler Hodges as Claude
Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

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

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

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

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

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

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

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

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

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

A Twist On The Cinderella Story Offered At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Annie Dwyer Provides Magic As Warm & Chatty Fairy Godmother

Reviewed by Tom Jones

June 17, 2017

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

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

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

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BDT Stage

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 7, 2017

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Coca Photography

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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