Newcomer Josh Houghton Is Brilliant As “Buddy” The Elf

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 21, 2018

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

Josh Houghton (Buddy)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

Josh Houghton (Buddy) and elves
Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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.comFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather