“Driving Miss Daisy” At Bas Bleu Theatre In Fort Collins

Wendy Ishii In Peak Form In Award Winning Drama

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 20, 2019

Times they are a changing! Or are they? Playwright Alfred Uhry received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1988 for “Driving Miss Daisy, “dealing with the relationship between an elderly Jewish widow and her black chauffeur. Uhry’s semi-biographical play begins in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948 and is based on the later years of Uhry’s grandmother, Daisy.

Uhry’s memory tale looks at the complexity of relationships in the Atlanta of 1948 immediately following World War II.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Wendy Ishii is stunning as the very independent Daisy Werthan. She is depicted as a somewhat “older lady,” at 72

Ishii’s “Daisy” is a highly independent woman of means who wants to remain highly independent, and doesn’t want anyone to know anything about her “means.” As the play opens, she has just wrecked another car, and is being told by her adult businessman son, Boolie Werthan, that she can no longer drive. He is eager to hire an African-American, Hoke Coleburn, to take his mother to the grocery store, to church, etc. Daisy will have none of that. Hoke turns up at Daisy’s home with instructions to take her wherever she wants to go. He just sits in the kitchen for several days waiting for the signal to drive – a request that is slow in coming.

“Time” does have a good effect on the situation, as Daisy finally accepts the reality that she is to be driven around. In slightly more than 90 minutes (with no Intermission,) Uhry’s Daisy Werthan and Hoke Coleburn create an enlightening, and thought provoking relationship.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Ishii is at her best. The transition she makes in the 15 years covered by the story shows great empathy, along with incredible acting skills. When the audience met the actors in the lobby following the performance, I was extremely relieved to find a youthful Ishii. The brightness returned to her eyes, and so did her naturally healthy and happy demeanor. Towards the conclusion of the play, Daisy’s mind has become trapped in her ageing body, and she is barely able to move her twitching arm. Ishii did comment that the portrayal is substantially more work than she realized it would be when she decided to take the role.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Herman Gabin Gaddy portrays Hoke. He has a remarkable theatrical background. He has produced radio programs, danced in musicals, sung, acted, or assisted with direction of dramas, comedies, operas as well as starring in a one-man show on Broadway. He is a force to be reckoned with and is a welcome addition to the Bas Bleu stage.

Kristopher Erickson plays Daisy’s son, Boolie. He is new to Bas Bleu audiences. He is very good, comfortable on stage, and convincing as Daisy’s successful son trying to find his own way in the Atlanta business and social scene of 1948.

The stage set is very good, including a revolving stage that takes Daisy and Hoke out driving. Jeffrey Bigger has directed the show with great care. He has kept the original tone of the thoughtful play while providing the audience with a great history lesson.

The original Off-Broadway production premiered in 1987 and was an enormous success. It was a highly respected movie in 1989.

Have compassion, understanding, appreciation, and acceptance of others changed since Uhry’s grandmother lived in Atlanta in the 1940s? I’d like to say, “But of course they have.” Seeing “Driving Miss Daisy,” however, is troublesome. Perhaps society has not made the great strides we’d like to think we’ve made. Many more friendships like that of Daisy and Hoke might be the answer

“Driving Miss Daisy”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To October 20, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

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“Mamma Mia” Is A Must-See-Production

“Thank You for the Music” – And The Entire Show!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2019

Early in Act 1, the cast of “Mamma Mia” provides a captivating rendition of “Thank You for the Music.” I have not enjoyed such a “feel good” moment in a musical for a long time. And that is just a part of the show! “Mamma Mia” on stage this season at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre Stage is an entire joy!

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Christy Oberndorf is a delight as the coming-of-age Sophie Sheridan living on an idyllic Greek island. She has found the diary her mother kept, of three summer romances 20 years ago – the summer Sophie was conceived. Sophie is engaged and would like nothing more than to have her father walk her down the wedding aisle. Problem is that she does not know who her father is – possibly one of mother’s three romantic liaisons those many years ago. Unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie has tracked down the three men, and has invited them to her wedding.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Such is the premise of this worldwide favorite, “Mamma Mia,” now on stage at the Boulder Dinner Theater Stage through February 22, 2020. That looks like a long run; but when local audiences hear how terrific this production is, sold-out performances will be on the horizon. While Oberndorf is a wonderful Sophie, Tracy Warren is astonishing as Sophie’s mother, Donna. Near the show’s end, Warren is triumphant with her “The Winner Takes It All.” I would not have been surprised if the audience had not stopped the show with a standing ovation for that rendition.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Music and lyrics were not originally written for a musical story. They are the work of the world famous Swedish pop/dance/disco group, ABBA. Their songs topped music charts worldwide from 1974 to 1982, respected for their unique sound. ABBA disbanded in 1983, but their music continued to find success. Producer Judy Cramer became infatuated with the idea of putting the ABBA songs by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus into a story, completely un-related to the singles that had become famous. Anderson and Ulvaeus were reportedly not initially interested in the concept. Undaunted, producer Cramer went on to commission Catherine Johnson to write the book for a potential musical, and the rest is history.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Since opening in London in 1999, the musical has subsequently been seen by an estimated 60 million theatregoers worldwide. It became a movie musical in 2008, with a sequel in 2018. I was one of the stage production’s initial fans when I saw it in London while in previews, just before it opened. I was aware of some of the ABBA music, but had no idea the songs would bring such excitement to a live audience. The London production I enjoyed resulted in some of the audience dancing in the aisles.

They’re still dancing! Who can just sit still when the theater pulsates with “Money, Money, Money,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” “I Had a Dream,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “I Do, I Do, I Do.” Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters share the direction and choreographer roles for this marvel, produced by Michael J. Duran. The set and lighting are impressive as are the costumes. Particularly terrific is the work of music director who also directs the excellent orchestra. Sound has probably never been better in BDT Stage, as off-stage background voices are added to some of the solos.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Oberndorf and Warren as Sophie and her mother, Donna, are not alone with their starring excellence. Alicia K. Meyers and Joanie Brosseau-Rubald are enormous fun as Donna’s longtime friends who show up to support their friend at the wedding. Scott Severtson, Scott Beyette and Bob Hoppe duel-it-out as to which one might be Sophie’s father. Everyone on stage is in fine form – displaying technical perfection in sound and in movement.

The show goes from one musical highlight to the next, taking the audience along on this unusual journey of long-lost love and newly found joy, exhibiting perfection at every turn.

Mamma Mia!
Where: Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage.
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
When: Through February 22, 2020
Tickets: Box Office (303) 449-6000
For more information: www.BDTStage com

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Three Couples – Same Suite

Neil Simon Comedy Arrives At Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 13, 2019

Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” takes place in Number 719 of the famed Plaza Hotel in New York City. Three different couples inhabit the rooms during the course of a couple of hours in Simon’s clever comedy now on stage in Arvada through November 10.

The couples, each played by the same actors, have nothing in common except being guests (at different times) in the same suite in the Plaza. The audience, however, gets to know all three couples with varying degrees of bemusement during the three-act production.

Photos courtesy Matthew Gale Photography

Kate Gleason and Gareth Saxe are in fine form as different characters in each act. Gleason is a favorite among Arvada audiences and Saxe makes an auspicious first appearance on the Arvada stage. Hopefully he will be back again and again to bewitch future audiences.

In Act One they are a couple (Karen and Sam Nash) from Mamaroneck who turn up in the Suite to celebrate their 23rd or 24th year of marriage – they aren’t quite sure which, using the same room where they began their honeymoon. Or were they in room 819? They aren’t sure. In reality they aren’t so sure of much of anything. Their communication skills are non-existent. And there seems to be little interest in each other. Their home is being painted, and they turn up at the hotel as a refuge away from the odor of fresh paint, when it is their marriage that needs a fresh coat of something else.

Gleason and Saxe turn up in the suite on a spring day in Act Two. In this act they are Jesse Kiplinger and Muriel Tate who had a teenage romance in Tenafly, New Jersey, many years ago. They have gone their separate ways. He went on to Hollywood to gain fame, fortune, and self-loathing as a producer in Hollywood’s hippie years. She stayed in Tenafly to mother two (or maybe three) children with a husband she claims she likes, but no one else does. It appears that she has done nothing with her life except keep track of Kiplinger’s every move and marriages. He is in town for a few days and calls his girlfriend of long ago to join him at the Plaza, looking for an afternoon of passion. She turns up, ill at ease. She can find no reason to let Kiplinger become amorous unless he talks non-stop about his friendship with the Hollywood rich and famous.

Photos courtesy Matthew Gale Photography

In Act Three Gleason and Saxe as Norma and Roy Hubley. They are at the Plaza for the wedding of their daughter, Mimsey. Mimsey has locked herself in the suite’s bathroom, refusing to come out for the wedding. Her parents rant and rave, each blaming the other for not providing the parenting Mimsey evidently needed — resulting in her current situation. They claim to be worried about Mimsey, but are apparently angrier with each other than with their daughter. This scene is the most “fun” of the evening. It borders on farce, as the parents become more and more crazed with the refusal of their daughter to come out and get on with her wedding.

Acting is first rate. Kate Gleason’s three women are all a tad ditsy, while Gareth Saxe’s males run the gamut of misplaced libido, misplaced ego, and misplaced caring. The two stars are joined by J. C. Williams, Devon James, and Jihad Milhem in supporting roles.

The set is impressive, suggesting that anyone wishing to get away from it all in luxury needs only to head to the Plaza.

Playwright Neil Simon is regarded as one of the most successful playwrights in the world. Among his acclaimed successes are “Lost in Yonkers,” “Barefoot in the Park” “The Odd Couple,” “Sweet Charity,” and a host of others. He has received virtually every award honoring writers, including the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize.

Simon reportedly noted, “How sad and funny life is. I can’t think of a humorous situation that does not involve some pain.” Lynne Collins, director of the Arvada production notes that “Suite” has been one of her favorite Simon plays. Her direction is very good, as she keeps the laughter and pathos of Simon’s writing intact. She lets the audience decide what is funny, and/or what is too close to reality to even smile about.

The audience was enthusiastic with its end-of-show ovation. The original production opened in New York in 1968 and received favorable reviews. A Broadway revival of it is set for March of 2020 starring a couple-in-real-life – Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker.

“Plaza Suite”
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To November 10, 2019
Information: Box Office 720/898-7200
www.arvadacenter.org

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