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

Stephen Sondheim Award Winner On Stage In Denver

Reviewed by Tom Jones

January 27 2019

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

Photo by Olga Lopez

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

Photo by Olga Lopez

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

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

Photo by Olga Lopez

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

Photo by Olga Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Little Night Music”

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

When: Through February 17, 2019

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

        

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“Nunsense” is Loony Delight At Candlelight”

Samantha Jo Staggs Is Truly Superior As The Mother Superior

Reviewed by Tom Jones

January 20, 2019

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

Photo by RDG Photography

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

Photo by RDG Photography

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

Photo by RDG Photography

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

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

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

Photo by RDG Photography

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

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

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

 “Nunsense”

Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

              4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown

To: March 3, 2019

For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747

Online:ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“My Way – A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra”

Midtown Arts Features Music Of “Old Blue Eyes”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 18, 2019

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

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

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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