Midtown Arts Center Closes With “Take to the Highway”

Popular Theatre Venue Celebrates Music of James Taylor

Review by Tom Jones
June 20, 2019

Four remarkably talented singers combine with an equally professional band to provide a fond farewell to audiences of Midtown Art Center this month.  Their renditions celebrating the music of the legendary James Taylor, Carole King, and Carly Simon were warmly received by audience members making their final visits to the theatre.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            The visit was more than a nostalgic memory of shows past, but a telling reminder of how much talent can be found locally!  Anne Terze-Schwarz, Joe Callahan, Emily Erkman, and Jacob Villarreal are all talents to be reckoned with.  Each has a sensational voice, and together they work wonders.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            With no knowledge of what went on behind the scenes when decision was made to cancel “Matilda.”  I can only imagine that several of “Colorado’s Best” put their creative heads together.  Just like the characters that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland portrayed in the show-biz fables of the past, they decided, “Let’s Put on a Show!”

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            Produced Divabee Productions, involved in putting the show together were Kenny Moten (concept, creation and direction), John Seaberry (music and vocal arrangements), Webb (vocal arrangements and vocal direction) , and Jessica Hindsley (choreography).They wisely combined efforts and worked with experts they know in providing the narrative, set, sound, light, and costumes. 

            I was sorry to learn that MAC is closing its doors this summer. Their most recent production, the terrific “My Fair Lady,” was one of the company’s best shows ever. “Matilda” was originally set to be the theatre’s final production this season.  When I learned that this was being replaced by an unknown review, I didn’t rush to the theatre with great expectations.  I was in error.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            It appears they all have extensive knowledge of James Taylor.  I did not.  I did not realize until this week that he is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide.  His life wasn’t easy, fighting drug addiction and mental illness, but he has provided such  musical memories as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “You’re So Vain,” “”How Sweet It Is,” “California, on my Mind, “‘Fire and Rain,”  “You’ve Got a Friend,” and the list goes on and on.   Each of the songs mentioned is included in the show, along with many, many others that were not as familiar to me, but which the audience appeared delighted to hear.  At show’s end, there was an unusual-for-dinner- theatre-patrons standing ovation for the performers.

            The excellent on-stage band is under direction of guitarist John Seaberry and includes Chelsea Hansen, Crystal Pellham, Rachel England, and Larry Bridges.

            This is a lavishly talented group of performers, charming the socks off James Taylor music, and bringing the audience to its feet.  Not “Matilda,” but a “wow” on its own.

“Take to the Highway”
Where: Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To August 3, 2019
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

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“Tarzan” Triumphantly Swings Into Town!

Tarzan and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Greets The Jungle Man With Great Enthusiasm

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 6, 2019

It’s a jungle in Johnstown this summer as Tarzan literally swings on a vine into town!  And what a Tarzan he is. Tyler Fruhwirth is enormous fun as the young Tarzan, being raised by a pack of gorilla following the death of his parents.  He is a young actor – delightful with great enthusiasm.

Tarzan – Barret Harper Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Then Tarzan grows to manhood.  The adult Tarzan, as portrayed by Barrett Harper, rides on a zip line from the back of the audience to the top of the stage where he grabs a vine to swing into action. What an entrance.  What a find! Barret has been performing in the area for a few years, but appears to come out of nowhere to command attention as the super athletic and super singing Tarzan. It is as if he has actually been raised by gorillas, as he moves with enormous skill though the jungle, jumping on and off rocks, walking on his hands, and swinging with his gorilla friends.  

Jane – Katie Jackson Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Edgar Rice Burroughs put “Tarzan” on the map through a series of 24 adventure novels beginning in 1912 and continuing through 1965.  His Tarzan tales have been the source of several films, including the 1999 animated musical produced by Walt Disney Pictures. The stage musical, based on that film opened on Broadway in 2006 and is now being seen worldwide.

This production now on stage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is quite a show.  Director and choreographer Piper Lindsay Arpan had the wisdom and skill to put the cast through tough training as wild beasts in the jungle.  Now, surrounded by great scenery, she lets them swing on vines to the great amusement of the audience. Then she tones down the action to reflect a mood of courage, familial love, and acceptance of others.  She succeeds with great success.

The production in Johnstown this summer stays close to the original story of the English couple and their infant son surviving a shipwreck and temporarily finding safety off the coast of Africa.  A leopard is on the prowl, however, and kills the English couple as well as the young son of a gorilla mother, Kala. The heartbroken Kala hears the sound of the orphaned human and decides to love and raise him as her own.

Kerchak – Scotty Shaffer Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Kala’s gorilla mate, Kerchak, is the group leader, and strongly disapproves of Kala’s action, but protect the young human.

While Barret Harper as Tarzan is the star of the production, he is in very good company.  The scenery nearly becomes a character of its own. Musical direction by Phil Forman is excellent.  Choreography is terrific, and the vine-swinging is enormously entertaining. Director and choreographer Arpan has a great challenge in directing actions of gorillas as well as humans, showing their similar inbred animosities, as well as inherent abilities of loving and caring.

Heading the supporting cast are Harmony Livingston, convincing as the gorilla mother Kala; Katie Jackson, as Jane, the daughter of the English scientist whose expedition to the Congo results in their finding Tarzan living among gorillas; and Scott Shaffer, as Kala’s gorilla mate, Kerchak.  Shaffer is well known to local audiences as a talented and versatile performer. He is more interesting than ever as the gorilla leader, unwilling to let harm come to the human while realizing his gorilla tribe is in immense danger.

Terk – Tim Howard Photo Credit – RDG Photography

While Tyler Fruhwirth is excellent as the young Tarzan, Gabriel Waits is impressive as Tarzan’s young gorilla friend, Terk.  Tim Howard comes into his own with equal conviction as Terk when a few years older.

Music and lyrics are by Phil Collins and include the beautiful and haunting “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

This is a show for the entire family.  I did have difficulty from time to time understanding everything the gorillas had to say.  But then, I don’t speak gorilla — nor does anyone I know. That, however, did not hamper my appreciation for the entire production.  It makes for a wonderful night out!

“Tarzan”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To August 25, 2019
Information or Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747 or online at
ColoradoCandelight.com

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“Harvey” Is Back In Town, But Only A Few Can See Him!

David Siever and Kathy Leonard Shine As Siblings Who See Life Differently.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 2, 2019

Hard to believe that the classic Broadway comedy “Harvey” has been around for 75 years!  The play is due to celebrate its 75th birthday this fall – but how does one honor a tall white rabbit that only a few can see?

David Siever is a wonder as the confused brother, now in his 70s.  He is incredibly amicable to everyone he meets, and is eager to introduce the six-foot-tall Harvey, to everyone he meets.  His sister, Veta Louise, (convincingly portrayed by Kathy Leonard) however, is at loose ends. She is an avid social climber, horrified of what society might “think” of the family where one’s best friend is a rabbit. Veta Louise decides everything would be just fine if Elwood was out of the house, confined to a mental hospital.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

When the mother of Elwood P. Dowd died, she left ownership of the comfortable home to her unusual but kindly son.  This resulted in problems for Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons, who now lives in the home along with Elwood and her nearly-spinster daughter, Myrtle Mae. They are not a close-knit family.  Elwood has a best friend, a tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood takes Harvey with him wherever he goes, searches for him when he becomes lost; and the two are evidently great drinking buddies.  Harvey is evidently actually a pooka, conjured from Irish folklore.

Insanity reigns under direction of Morris Burns. Veta Louise is erroneously admitted to the sanitarium instead of Elwood.  Staff cannot believe that someone as kind and caring as Elwood might need psychiatric care, when his sister appears to be completely nuts! Many appear to be a tad loony in this look at normal, next-to-normal, and just plain abnormal behavior.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Comedies and dramas of the 1950s were usually two and one-half hour productions.  Social media has subsequently changed interest of many theater-goers who want more action and less word-play.  This is apparent in “Harvey,” as there appears to be too much “talk” in the second act. That said, however, realizing that Harvey is seeing his tall white furry, friend, is highly entertaining. The set is terrific – a rotating look at the Dowd home and the mental hospital office.  David Siever and Kathy Leonard are near-classics on their own as Elwood and Veta Louise.

Mary Chase wrote this daffy but poignant tale which has become one of America’s best-loved plays.  She received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 for her “hare” raising story. Chase has Colorado roots, having graduated from Denver’s West High School and later studying at the University of Denver and University of Colorado Boulder.  When the story was transferred to film in 1950, James Stewart played the affable Elwood.

By show’s end it just may be that Elwood (and his rabbit friend) are the only truly normal characters around.  Veta Louse even admits that she just may have seen the pooka!

“Harvey”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To June 9, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949


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