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 970/498-8949

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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.com

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“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.com

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“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.org

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