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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 21, 2019

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

The painting then came to life, and was even enhanced as the backdrop of the opera’s first scene.  It was just one of several amazing Impressionist jewels that serve as background for this delicious production.

This is a very clever endeavor.  With a secondary title,”The School for Lovers,”  “Cosi” is a delightful tale of true love going wrong and right and wrong and right.  Two soldiers and their fiancés vow their love is “forever” when a wealthy French aristocrat wants to prove them wrong.  He bets substantial funds that the “love” won’t remain intact when absence might not make the heart grow fonder.  He sends the two men off to battle, leaving their loved ones at home to find ways to fill their time and hearts.

Photo Courtesy Loveland Operate Theatre

Whereas the first scene comes from Manet’s view of the bar at the Moulin Rouge, the second scene is even more wondrous as George Seurat’s “Sunday afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte” is featured.  This painting is also the basis for Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” and depicts an afternoon of leisure on the banks of the Seine.  In the Loveland opera, the Seurat painting takes center stage, with all of the characters in place in the painting on the stage.  When the aristocrat sends the two woeful lovers and others in the regiment off to battle, the stage loses its cast and the painting loses its characters – leaving a painting of nature – void of all humans. This is extremely clever stuff.

Phoenix Gayles and Dana Kinney play the two women, Fiordiligi and Dorabella.  The soldiers are Nathan Snyder as Ferrando and Colin Williamson as Guglielmo.  The four have incredible voices and acting charm.  Robert Hoch is in fine form as the scheming aristocrat Don Alfonzo; and Mary Kettlewell nearly steals each scene she is in as Despina, the conniving maid and housekeeper.

Although I can obnoxiously retell plot lines of way-too-many Broadway musicals, I knew very little about Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte Opera.  Correction.  I knew NOTHING about Mozart’s opera.  This was no problem, as the scenes of the impressionists are so amazing that my interest never floundered.  Wonderful subtitles at the top of the stage kept me completely up to date with the arias, sung in English, and the acting is great.

Photo Courtesy Loveland Operate Theatre

The cast is large, with six principal performers plus a large chorus, and an orchestra that played Mozart’s beautiful music to perfection. This opera is produced by Dr. Juliana Bishop Hoch and directed by Timothy Kennedy.  The orchestra and choral work are conducted by Adam Torres.  Set and Lighting is by Peter F. Muller, with costumes by Davis Sibley.  Mary Catherine Gagnon is scenic artist and graphic design is by Matt Myers.

Including the Impressionist period artwork as backdrop and scenery is magic.  In addition to the works mentioned by Manet and Seurat, well-known paintings from Monet, Renoir, Signac, and Van Gogh are highlighted.  The idea of having famous artwork become integral to the show was originated by The Pageant of the Masters production of the opera in Laguna Beach, CA.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera, with lyrics by Lorenzo Da Ponte was first performed in 1790 in Vienna.  The timing was unfortunate, as it was performed only five times when the death of Emperor Joseph II resulted in a period of court mourning.  It did not arrive in the United States until 1922 when produced by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The Loveland Opera Theatre is to be commended for providing opportunities for student groups to become acquainted with the wonders of opera, without possibly being overwhelmed.  Several abbreviated versions of “Cosi Fan Tutte” are performed this month for such groups.

The Opera truly “has it all.”  It is a wonder of sight and sound, with glorious music and great comedy.  Even some thoughtful insights of what “true love” might just be all about.

“Cosi Fan Tutte”
Where:
Produced by Loveland Opera Theatre
On the stage of the Rialto Theatre,
228 East Fourth Street, Loveland, CO
When:
Cosi Fan Tutte-A School for Lovers – 2/22, 3/1, 3/2 at 7:00 p.m. and
2/24, 3/3 at 2:30 p.m.
Cosi Fan Tutte for Families – 2/23 and 3/2 at 2:30 p.m. (shortened version for kids)
Website: www.lovelandopera.org

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones

February 8, 2019

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

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

            Gladys Green owns a small art gallery in Greenwich Village, New York City.  There are very few customers, as it is located in an obscure street-side entrance to a hotel.  The landlord wants to use the space for a hotel café, and is closing the gallery which has been Green’s “life” for many years.  She is alone most of the time.  Alone in the gallery.  Alone in her nearby apartment.  Her contact with the world is limited and she clings to “family” to provide some connection with life in general.  Her family now must tell Gladys that she no longer has the gallery.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

            Author Kenneth Lonergan has created a memory play, based in part on his own experiences watching his grandmother deteriorate.  He has cleverly used Green’s adult grandson, Daniel Reed, as the show’s voice. Daniel is portrayed by Galen Trine-McMahan who is new to Colorado audiences.  He is a very natural actor, terrific as the adult grandson, watching in horror as his grandmother decays.  He tries to give her some support, but realizes that there are limits in what care he can provide.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

Also terrific is Katie Cassis as Ellen Fine, Gladys’s adult daughter.  With minimal “hope” on the horizon, Ellen’s memory of happier times with her mother sustain her in this helpless situation. The audience is in awe, realizing that many may face similar challenges in the years to come. 

Gladys’s hearing is minimal.  Her mind can’t quite grasp what she is being told, repeating the same questions she asked just moments ago.   She appears to have a need to be joyful, to revel on times passed, but feels that even her family is “against” her.  She does not comprehend that they are incredibly self-sacrificing caregivers.  This is difficult stuff.  The performances are so convincing that the audience temporarily believes that they are watching real life, not just characters in a play.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

Laura Jones has skillfully directed the production.  The set is an interesting look at the gallery, at the family apartments, and the hallway connecting Gladys’s apartment with that of her grandson.  Ishii, Cassis, and Trine-McMahan are stars of the show, but are given good support from Kevin Christopher as Ellen’s husband, and from Steven Fox, as an artist who happens into the Gallery and becomes part of everyone’s lives.

“The Waverly Gallery” opened Off-Broadway in 2000 and received several awards.  It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001.  A Broadway production premiered in 2018.

This is a remarkable evening of theatre.  It is not a “happy” play.  Playwright Lonergan has shown wisdom in showing the trials faced by those with deteriorating minds; and great empathy for caregivers who do everything they can to be of help, and even some moments of fun.  At show’s end the narrator grandson gives especially thought-providing insight.  He comments that through all of the heartbreaks and sorrows, the value of life is so precious that we fight hard to maintain it.  The human spirit remains proud and intact.

“The Waverly Gallery”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To February 24, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2019

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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