All posts by Tom

“Last Train To Nibroc” Is On Track To New York

Bas Bleu Offers A Thoughtful Tale Of 1940s Americana

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 8, 2019

In late December of 1940 a young man, Raleigh, and a young woman, May, meet on an overcrowded train heading east from Los Angeles. Although both are from rural Kentucky, they have never met before and are enroute to a lifetime of change. Raleigh is still wearing his uniform, after leaving the service just a few hours before boarding the train. He received a military discharge after having been diagnosed as an epileptic.

He is headed “east” – not certain just where he is going, but maybe New York, as he is wary about being accepted back home in Kentucky.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

May has her own wariness. She had wanted to be a missionary, to help others, but ended up chasing a not-so-great boyfriend to California. Now she is returning home, concerned about how she might be received and wondering just what she should do with her life.

Also on the train, but tucked away safely in the baggage compartment, not saying a word, are the remains of two famous American writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaneal West). They died within a day or two of each other and their remains are enroute east for burial. This is to be the final trip for the deceased writers who have provided the public with great observations of the America they chronicled. The two young people are just beginning their journey of life – in an era that will ultimately be unlike any other.

The train is overcrowded; and Raleigh is delighted to find a seat, when the place next to May becomes empty. He has been standing for most of the journey so far, and is exhausted. He is eager, however, to make some conversation with the attractive young woman. May is snippy. She appears to have no interest in speaking with Raleigh or anyone, as she is engrossed in a novel, and appears to care less about how tired Raleigh is, and has minimal interest about the famous authors sharing their train.

Playwright Arlene Hutton has created a uniquely interesting couple. They are strong but needy, and yet inquisitive creatures. They find themselves in this 95 minute convincingly beautiful piece of theatre. Hutton is from Kentucky and her plays include memories of people and events of her past. She has found success as an educator as well as a writer.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

While the play begins on the train heading east, the audience subsequently looks at the changes faced by the young people from a change-resistant rural area. They are seen as if in a lengthy tribal mating dance, about to be buffeted by the war, and with enormous changes on the horizon. These changes are particularly unusual for the country’s women.

The couple starts a conversation on a train and wind up finding lasting companionship with each other – for better or worse. By play’s end, they have gained insight, wisdom, acceptance, and the realization that they truly can become what they want to be.

This is heartwarming stuff from a potentially health-damaged serviceman whose desire was to fly; and from a well-meaning woman wanting to soar providing help to others as a missionary. Will they fall in Love? Will they find happiness? Or will they become copies of the prejudiced families that produced them?

Steve Keim has directed a heartwarming vision of persons becoming secure enough in themselves to share their observations with others. This is a simple piece of theatre. Lovingly told, beautifully written, and acted with sincerity.

World War II is in the background of their lives. The stories written by Fitzgerald and West were to be replaced by others looking at life in the 40s – such as Ernest Hemingway, Ernie Pyle, James Michener, and maybe even that epileptic serviceman, Raleigh, and others like him.

A production of the show earned a rave review in the Chicago Tribune a few seasons ago. Critic Chris Jones (no relation) commented that the play “is the surprise, a don’t miss of summer.” I don’t share his adoration, but found it to be a very interesting look at a time gone by. It is very worthwhile, very well done, poignant and thought provoking.

“Last Train to Nibroc”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To December 22, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

Arvada’s “Christmas Carol – The Musical” Is Pure Holiday Joy

Larry Cahn – Much More To This Scrooge Than The “Bah Humbug” Meany Of Productions Past.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 23, 2019

Arvada Center’s early-holiday gift to the community is a rare treasure.

Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows how it is going to end. But getting there this time around is ingenious entertainment. Director Gavin Mayer and Choreographer Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and the entire artistic team have put together a “Carol” version of rare excitement. There is so much going on all the time that it was a delightful challenge to know where to look.

Larry Cahn (Scrooge) and ensemble Toy Soldiers
Matt Gale Photography 2019

Larry’s Cahn’s portrayal of the miserly Scrooge provides the legendary grump with a touch of humanity. Yes, he is frightened by the visit of the three ghosts, but realizes that he does have the power to modify his situation. Cahn is a performer to be reckoned with. He is excellent in every respect. His voice is a marvel. By show’s end the audience wants to stand up and cheer when Scrooge figures what makes life meaningful. He understands that basic kindness and caring might be more important than wealth. What a lesson!

Charles Dickens wrote his novella “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. It has surfaced in hundreds of productions with various interpretations over the years. The delight currently on stage in Arvada is the musical that was presented annually in New York City’s Madison Square Garden for several years. Music is by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Book is by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens.

Kieran O’Brien (Tiny Tim) and Aaron Vega (Bob Cratchit)
Matt Gale Photography 2019

I have seen many versions of the Scrooge tale, including the beautiful offering by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. I have never, however, found the experience to be as rewarding and ultimately joyous as that on the Arvada Stage this season. Director Gavin Mayer has used his “Midas Touch” in providing another charmer to his repertoire. The total endeavor is flawless. The set is a beautiful. The music first-rate. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s choreography is brilliant, including impeccable precision to wind-up marching soldiers.

There is never a dull moment. Scrooge is continuing his Groundhog Day experience of recurring dreams. There are delightful, special effects, nearly a “Where’s Waldo” wonder of trying to see everything. It is as exciting as a circus, and the impeccable timing and syncopation are first rate. At its root, the Scrooge story is a somber tale with an important message. This version provides that, but includes great excitement, warmth and humor. The result is impressive.

Larry Cahn (Ebenezer Scrooge) with Zayaz Da Camara (L – Ghost of Christmas Present) and Megan Van De Hey (R – Ghost of Christmas Past)
Matt Gale Photography 2019

Dickens’s famous characters are all alive and well. Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Cahn) is as cantankerous as ever as he is confronted in a nightmare by his former partner, Jacob Marley, portrayed in chains by Wayne Kennedy. The kindly but poor employee Bob Cratchit is convincingly portrayed by Aaron Vega. Scrooge’s warm-hearted nephew comes to life by Joe Callahan. The three visiting ghosts are in rare form. Megan Van De Hey is having a romp as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Zayas Da Camara looms as the warm-hearted Ghost of Christmas Present. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck is nothing short of incredible as the diminutive, frightful Ghost of Christmas Future who takes to the sky while taunting the frightened Scrooge. The young performer Kieran O’Brien is very well cast as the poignant Tiny Tim.

The music is much more interesting than I had anticipated, with several excellent songs and dances. The total impact is highly interesting. I began to imagine what I might learn if ghosts of my past, my present, and my future may paid me visits. How would I react, and what might I do to change.

Director Mayer has spelled out the options Scrooge faces, resulting in an unusually beguiling tale.

There was a sincere and warm standing ovation opening night. I can only imagine that once word of mouth gets around, there won’t even be “room to stand” as the show nears its final run. Enough adjectives. Maybe. But if I give it more thought, even more might surface. This musical “A Christmas Carol” is just plain wonderful!

 

“A Christmas Carol, The Musical”

Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To December 22, 2019
Information: Box Office 720/898-7200
Online: www.arvadacenter.org

“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

“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

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

“Bright Star” Illuminates Arvada Stage

Award Winning Musical Is Set In The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2019

Near the end of the show Merideth Kaye Clark takes central stage as Alice Murphy, providing the audience with one of the most thrilling and poignant moments in local stage history.  Her character’s life has just taken a turn for the better and everyone is in awe.  “Star” isn’t just “bright.”  It is dazzling.

Several months ago listening to Sirius XM Satellite radio while driving, I heard a delightful song, “Bright Star.” When I returned home I tracked it down on the internet to find it was written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and was part of a show with the same name.  I bought the CD and have become enchanted with the music.

Matt Gale Photography 2019

When I learned the show was to be produced at the Arvada Center, I was eager to see it.

I had no idea that a chance encounter with a song on the radio would result in one of my finest theatrical experiences in recent memory.

Alice Murphy is an enthusiastic young girl in the Blue Ridge Mountains, believing she might be in love with the local town mayor’s son, Jimmy.  They are a mis-matched pair – the bright but lowly daughter in a rural town, the bright but down-trodden son of a pompous, too powerful mayor.

Matt Gale Photography 2019

They court.  They love.  Alice becomes pregnant and her life and those of many in the area are to “pay the price for sin.”  This is a beguiling story, portrayed with great conviction by a team of talented performers, set to the wonderful blue grass/country music.  Inspired by a true story (maybe folklore?), the show shifts between 1923-4 and 1945-6 in North Carolina.

The true “Star” of the show is Merideth Kaye Clark as Alice.  She is given enormous support with an especially interesting cast of characters.  Jake Mendes has his own spark as Billy Cane, the young man, a wannabees writer, just back from the war. Steph Holmbo is charming as Billy’s local girlfriend, Margo. Dieter Bierbrauer portrays Jimmy Ray Dobbs, the handsome son under the finger of his father (the mayor), heartlessly and convincingly portrayed by Larry Cahn.

Matt Gale Photography 2019

Families spar over what should be done with the new baby, and the dreadful Mayor decides he will take ruthless charge of the situation.  This is a horrific and heartless moment. The audience is aghast; and the soulful, enchanting music goes on.

Alice goes on with her life, becomes a highly respected writer and editor in Asheville.  Billy Cane is eager to become an established writer and submits some of his writings to Alice who is not impressed.  He is not easily deterred however, and when she finally accepts one of his creations, he becomes delightfully delirious to rush back to his rural town to tell is girlfriend Margo that he is just about famous and that they should get married.

The plot takes some wondrous turns.  The music is continually warm and loving.  This is a story not to be missed.

Matt Gale Photography 2019

“Bight Star” the musical premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2014 and ran for a couple of months.  It opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. a year later and began preview on Broadway in February of 2016.  Despite receiving substantial critical acclaim, New York audiences didn’t rush to see it.  The production ran for only 30 preview and 109 regular performances, closing in June of 2016.  That December a reunion concert was held in New York’s Town Hall with members of the original Broadway cast and Steve Marina and Edie Brickell both hosting and performing.

I cannot accurately explain my attraction to this wonderful show.  The music is excellent.  The performances are believable.  The set is charming.  Director Rod A. Lansberry is a brilliant director.  And there is Merideth Kaye Clark in the performance of a lifetime.  Perhaps not her lifetime, but my own!  I cannot remember ever having been so mesmerized by a performance such as she provides as Alice Murphy in “Bright Star.”

“Bright Star”
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To September 29, 2019
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online: arvadacenter.org

“Hunchback of Notre Dame” Rings A Bell

Hugo’s Classic Story Is Set To Music At The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 6, 2019

That famed Parisian landmark was in the news recently, as Notre Dame suffered serious fire damage and is currently closed for repairs.  The Victor Hugo’ famed cathedral story has remained intact, and is now glowing on the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse stage, with a very impressive fire scene of its own.

Dinner theatre has reached new heights with this masterwork production.  The set is remarkable, the choral work outstanding, the performers in great shape.  This is not the standard for-the-children Walt Disney musical. It is virtually a tragic opera with themes of goodness and evil, haves and have-nots, and accepting others “not like us!” 

Ethan Knowles as Quasimodo Photo Credit RDG Photography

Victor Hugo wrote “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” nearly 200 years ago.  The story has been presented in 13 films, five television productions, five non-musical dramas, eight musicals, six operas, five ballets and even a video game.  The current production’s printed program notes: “This universal story of unrequited love and a yearning for acceptance resonates as powerfully today as it did when Hugo created it.”

Two brothers have become estranged.  One has gone far away from his Catholic upbringing, has become involved with a gypsy who gives birth to a hopelessly deformed child.  When both parents die, the unfortunate child in left in the care of his uncle, Dom Claude Frollo, archdeacon of the Notre Dame Cathedral.  

David L. Wygant as Dom Claude Frollo Photo Credit RDG Photography

Frollo has named the child, Quasimodo, and has kept him a virtual prisoner as the bell ringer in the tower of Notre Dame. Quasimodo knows only what the somewhat deranged Frollo wants him to know.  His only “contacts” are with the stone statues in the cathedral, with whom he converses on a regular basis. He can see humanity far below him on the streets of Paris but is never permitted to leave his cathedral sanctuary.

His life changes dramatically at the annual “Festival of the Fools,” when the city is “open” to the dangers of gypsies, the antics of free-roaming animals, and all manner of foolish mayhem permitted for the specific days of the Festival.  Quasimodo ventures outside the cathedral, is harassed because of his deformity, but defended by a beautiful outcast gypsy, Esmeralda.  

Sarah Grover as Esmeralda Photo Credit RDG Photography

What ensues is sheer drama as three stars in the show (Quasimodo, Frollo and Captain of the Guard Phoebus) want Esmeralda as their own.  This is not theatrical comedy, but a serious test of wills, friendship, and longings to belong. I have not seen the Walt Disney movie musical, but understand that this stage version is somewhat darker, as it does not end up with an “everyone-is-happy” conclusion.  The Disney movie, although pegged for a more-adult audience, went on to receive enormous financial success and critical acclaim. This live production includes songs from the Disney film, as well as new music. Music is very good and is interestingly mood-setting.

Ethan Knowles as Quasimodo, Sarah Grover as Esmeralda, Scott Hurts, Jr. as Phoebus, and Scotty Shaffer as Clopin are all very good and with excellent voices.  David L. Wygant, however, is so very evil that he nearly “steals” the show as Dom Claude Frollo.

Director Richard Cowden comes to Candlelight with long list of successful shows — more than 50 productions over a 25-year-career.  Music Director Phil Forman has enjoyed great success with Candlelight and other venues worldwide. Excellent choreography is provided by Heather McClain, and the remarkable set is the work of Ranae Selmeyer, Dave MacEachen, and Joel Adam Chavez, with bells designed and built by the The Stampede Troupe.

This musical stage version was first produced in Germany in 2014, and has not yet appeared on Broadway

With all my enthusiasm for the excellence of the production, there remains something unsettling about it.  There is a bit too much obvious “drama!” At the conclusion of the first act, everyone is searching for Esmeralda who seems to have disappeared.  It became somewhat farcical. I wanted to run to the lobby, to the outside parking lot, and even to the gentlemen’s restroom to see if I could “find” Esmeralda. 

Despite the sometimes overly-dramatic obvious clichés there is so much to be enjoyed.  Director Cowden notes, “This classic source material is as relevant to us today as it was when published 1831.  It contains profound messages of tolerance, morality, and what it truly means to be human.” 

The creative team has worked wonders.  The powerful voices are remarkable. The liturgical choral work, some sung in Latin, is especially rewarding. The show currently at Candlelight is a masterwork of sight and sound.  Opening Night audience awarded the company an unusually-enthusiastic standing ovation.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To November 17, 2019
Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: coloradocandlelight.com

“Matilda” Is A Mini-Miracle On Stage At Midtown Arts Center

Award Winning Musical Hits All The Right Notes With Youthful Cast!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
July 26, 2019

How does it happen?  Mini-miracles are happening this summer in Divabee productions of “Matilda” and “Tarzan.”  What magical charm do persons involved with Divabee possess to produce four completely separate full-length musicals, using students from the Academy – with only three weeks of rehearsal?

When Midtown Arts Center opted to provide James Taylor “Highway” instead of “Matilda”  to close their current season, I was somewhat discouraged. So, it was with interest that I ventured back MAC this past weekend to see a student production of the show that I missed.  And what a production!

“Matilda,” based on the 1988 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, opened on Broadway in 2013 after receiving incredible acclaim in Stratford-upon-Avon and London.  In reality it is a somewhat involved story of an incredibly bright and incredibly unhappy young girl in England, who discovers (late in the show) that she has powers that can actually improve her situation, and that of those around her.

Matilda, as portrayed by Naomi Roberts, is a spunky but likeable little girl who realizes her parents basically want nothing to do with her.  They ignore her interest in reading every book she can find, and delight in the dullness of their son whose sole interest is watching television.  Alden Vieira and Shelby Baker portray the deranged parents, and they are a marvel to watch. I’ll look forward to see Baker stop shows in years to come, as she just plain dazzles.  Alden Vieira has an unusual attraction on his own, as he can be daffy and deceptive, as needed.

Much of the charm in seeing this production of “Matilda” is the realization that the performers are all young persons in junior and senior high school!  Most appear very comfortable on the stage. The cast includes substantial talent in dancing, singing, as well as being emotionally convincing.

Very good in supporting roles are Corina Hedahl as the imposing and very mean Trunchball, Maggie Bishop, as the financially impoverished but morally rich teacher, Miss Honey, and Emma Terpstra as the kind and welcoming Mrs. Phelps.

The Academy offered four productions this summer.  Three of “Matilda” with various age groups, and one of “Tarzan” (on stage at Candlelight).  It is hard to believe that these groups for 30 to 40 young persons can be coached and trained in just three weeks to put together an entire two and one-half hour musical – complete with acting, sets, lights, costumes, and very effective choreography.  Director is Michael Lasris, with, musical direction by Jalyn Courtenay Webb and Emily Erkman, and choreography by Abbie Hanawalt and Taylor Marrs.

These productions are not Broadway-quality transplants, but are delightful.  And extremely worthwhile when considering how quickly the young performers can be guided to provide such pleasant entertainment in just three weeks of preparation.  It will be interesting to see how many performers return to local stages in future shows.

“Matilda” is the last youth production taking the stage at Midtown Arts.  The Academy, under direction of Jalyn Courtenay Webb offers classes beginning this fall, in a building near to the current MAC.  Further information is on line — Divabee Productions.

“Matilda”
Where: Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center, July 2019


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

“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

“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


“Beauty And The Beast” Is Pure Delight In Boulder

Elaborate Sets And Great Costumes Add To The Magic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 14, 2019

What a treat.  Belle is a beauty, the Beast is beastly, and Gaston is everyone’s over-the-top egomaniac.  The only persons who like him better than he likes himself are the audience.  Scott Severtson as Gaston is a crazed delight as he kisses his biceps and struts around the stage with every girl in the village (except Belle) falling at his feet.  He is a remarkable sight.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

But just one of the “remarkable sights.”  BDT Stage has gone all-out to create a virtual spectacle of sight and sound.  The scenic design by Amy Campion, Tom Quinn and Jeff Rusnak is terrific in every respect.  The orchestra conducted by Neal Dunfee is very good.  The choreography by Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters, assisted by Danielle Scheib, is enormous fun.  What’s not to like in this fun-for-the-entire family show?

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Lillian Buonocore is convincing as the charming “Belle.”  She feels out of place in her French village, as her primary interest is in books.  She is not interested in the unwanted attention given to her by the handsome town bachelor buffoon, Gaston.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

When Belle ends up in the spooky castle of the mysterious “Beast,” her life has turned into turmoil.  She has gone in search of her kidnapped father and ends up imprisoned in the Beast’s Castle for what might be her home for the rest of her life.

The Beast was put under a magic spell many years ago when he was an uncaring, self-centered younger man.  The spell will not be lifted until he finds love for someone who offers love in return.  The castle’s beast is truly formidable.  Belle, however, is not alone with her problems.  The castle is staffed by a host of formerly human characters now becoming more and more mechanized as the spell continues.  Unlike the angry beast, the staff is a pleasant and clever lot – Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Madame de la Grande Bouche, Le Fou, Babette and Chip.  Chip is the amazing young man who has ended up as a teapot, turning in every direction just to speak.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

They are happy to have the company of Belle, the new addition to the castle, but fear for her future.  She is destined to end up in the same tragic circumstances they have found.  The delightful “Be our Guest” brings all the staff to life, as they welcome Belle to the castle.

These “spell-bound” charmers are Bob Hoppe as Lumiere, Scott Beyette as Cogsworth, Tracy Warren as Mrs. Potts, Alicia K. Meyers as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Leo Batlle as Le Fou, and Danielle Scheib as Babette.  The teapot Chip is portrayed by various young performers on a rotating schedule – Markus Hollekim, Hayden McDonald, and Miles Shaw.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

The cast does not stop there, as several other performers play various characters in this two and one-half hour extravaganza of sight and sound.  Cole LaFonte has the difficult role of the angry Beast, imprisoned in his remarkable make-up.  One unfortunate aspect of the show is that the Beast is so beastly and physically unappealing that it is difficult to warm up to him.  LaFonte’s excellent voice is hampered by his costume, resulting in an un-appreciated rendition of the beautiful “If I Can’t Love Her.”

“Beauty and the Beast” has been around as a story virtually since time began.  It turned up as a 1991 American animated movie musical released by Walt Disney Pictures.  It received numerous awards and has been a worldwide audience favorite.  The movie was turned into a stage musical in 1994.  The stage version was not initially praised by critics, but became an enormous audience success.  Another movie version, this time live action, was a recent success as well.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

BDT Stage continues the string of “Beauty” success with this season’s masterwork.  The story comes alive for a long run – to September 21, 2019.  Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters have co-directed and co-choreographed this charmer for the ages. 

“Beauty and the Beast”
Where: Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage.
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
When: Through September 21, 2019
Tickets: Box Office (303) 449-6000
For more information: www.bdtstage.com

“Lady” Continues To Be Fairest In The Land!

A Look Again At “My Fair Lady” At Midtown Arts Center

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in the audience for opening night of the marvelous “My Fair Lady” at Midtown Arts Center.  I was in awe of the entire production.  Staff of the show noted that one of the supporting characters, Michael Lasris, was out of town for that opening night, and could I possibly return later in the run to see him perform as Eliza Doolittle’s father.

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Lasris has become a highlight of nearly every show he has been associated with, either as a performer, director, or choreographer.  One of my earlier memories was his on-his-knees dancing as the diminutive Lord Farquaad several seasons ago in “Shrek.”  Lasris is older now and probably won’t want to dance “on his knees” in future productions, but is as delightful as ever as Doolittle in this current “My Fair Lady.”  It was bittersweet to see him perform, as Doolittle is his final role in Colorado before moving to New York in a few weeks.

For opening night I saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father.  He was very good, so it was somewhat with caution that I returned to see Lasris this week in the role.  No need to worry.  Lasris is nearly untouchable as the likeable do-nothing Doolittle who wants “everything” in return…  

Also “delightful as ever” are the shows leads – Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza, John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  This entire show is every bit as excellent as it was when I first saw it a few weeks ago.  Not to be missed.

************

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!  She’s got it. By George, I believe she’s got it! Again – The rain in Spain lies mainly in the plain?  And where does it rain? On the plain, on the plain. And where’s that soggy plain? In Spain. In Spain.”

Yes, she’s got it! After weeks of sometimes difficult turmoil, the poorly-educated flower market salesgirl has shown she CAN be educated, and CAN learn to speak like a well-born sophisticate.  The “she” is Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza Doolittle. And yes, she’s got it! In fact everyone in the cast has “got it” in this masterful Midtown Arts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

More than sixty years have passed since the show triumphed on Broadway.  Curiously, it has maintained its absolute charm and freshness in this MAC wonder.

The excellent skills of Harmon are joined by those of John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins, as Colonel Pickering.  The trio are on stage most of the time as Higgins places a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the guttural persona displayed by the lowly Doolittle into a woman of charm and wisdom.  They are a trio to behold. The two men educate, but sometimes ignore the object of their effort.

The Henry Higgins role was originated on Broadway by Rex Harrison who needed to “speak” most of his songs.  In this production John Jankow is in excellent singing and speaking voice as the professor, as is Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  Harkins had the additional responsibility of welcoming everyone to the theatre with the pre-show announcements on opening night. He was particularly good in that role as well, keeping the audience amused and entertained, and reducing time of the sometimes- lengthy pre-show announcements.

Julie Andrews zoomed to stardom as Eliza in the original Broadway production in 1956.  That show became the longest-running Broadway musical to that time, and went on to similar fame in London.  For the Academy Award winning movie version in 1964 Julie Andrews was overlooked for starring role, with that part given to Audrey Hepburn. The movie’s producers felt that Hepburn would be better-known to the movie-going public.  Andrews got her just rewards at the Academy Awards the next year, receiving the Best Performance by an Actress Award for her beguiling charm as “Mary Poppins.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

It would be difficult to find a better performer to play the role today than the excellent Hannah Marie Harmon.  She is convincing as the rough Cockney girl with ambitions to “be somebody.”

While Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza Doolittle are center stage, Eliza’s hapless father “Doolittle” is a wonder on his own.  For the opening night performance we saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father, understudy to Michael Lasris who normally plays the role.  Lasris will be hard-pressed to fill the boots of Sanders whose performance is beyond “memorable.” I may find my interest in seeing Lasris, however, as my excuse to return to MAC for another look as this delightful event.

In fact, what is not to like about this show?  The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, and the recorded orchestra accompaniment are exceptional.  (There is no live orchestra.) Where in my bag of adjectives can I find words to adequately report my reaction to this production?  The supporting cast members are as effective as the leads. Many in the ensemble take on several roles – always completely in step to the music and always in tune with their British accents.

Director Joseph Callahan has a long track record of excellent performances at Midtown Arts Center.  This time around he is displaying his remarkable abilities, directing and choreographing this production of “My Fair Lady.”

While “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” ”the cast is vast and….” completely delightful!

“My Fair Lady”
Where:
Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center,
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When:
To May 25, 2019
Information:
970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com


Local Talent Provides Hometown Charm To Broadway Favorite – “The Music Man”

Felicity Slade and Tyler Grasmick Shine in Windsor High School Production

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 4, 2019

Beware, that smooth talking salesman, Harold Hill, is back in town.  His reputation as a less-than-honest salesman precedes him, as he arrives in River City, Iowa, with a new gimmick.  This season he is selling band instruments AND uniforms to naïve townspeople, eager to give their youngsters something to do while out of school.

The tale takes place over a hundred years ago – July of 1912.  Citizens of Iowa were known to be stand-offish, and one lyric notes —

“And we’re so by God stubborn
We can stand touchin’ noses
For a week at a time and
Never see eye-to-eye.
(But you) ought to give Iowa a try!”

Harold Hill has a good salesman’s eye to see how he can get rich quick in each town he visits.  This time he learns that a pool table has appeared as a public diversion, and is quick to alert the townspeople that there is “Trouble” in River City.  His suggested remedy is to keep the young men away from the “dangerous” pool hall after school. He wants to provide them with musical instruments and uniforms, all marching to the excitement of ”76 Trombones.”

Photo Credit Kalea Marie Photography

Windsor’s Tyler Grasmick holds the River City townspeople (and the Windsor audience) in the palm of his hand as Harold Hill, weaving his magic.  One skeptic citizen is the not-yet-married town librarian, Marian Paroo. She has set herself up as being intellectually ahead of everyone in the town.  After all, she is well read. When town philanthropist Madison died, he left River City the library, but he left all the books to her.

Felicity Slade casts her own magic spell as Marian.  She has a wondrous voice, and acting skills to match.  Harold Hill might have just found his opposite match with the clever Marian.

Photo Credit Kalea Marie Photography

What ensues are slightly more than two hours of absolute joy.  The show has been around a long time – premiering in New York in 1957, turning up as movie in 1962 and subsequently surfacing worldwide.

Meredith Wilson wrote the music and lyrics for this award-wining wonder.  The tale holds up very well since its arrival on stages more than 50 years ago.  In the current production nearly every song is a stand-out on its own, but several are nothing short of amazing.  Amie Tyler’s choreography is excellent, especially in the library sequence when Marian (the librarian) tries to keep Hill quiet and at bay.  Then there is the delightful picnic “Shipoopi,” and the town board quartet who Harold finds can sing together. even if they can’t find harmony in anything else they do.    

Grasmick and Slade as Harold Hill and Marian have especially wonderful scenes together, and on their own.  Marion sings of her not-yet-found” My White Knight,” and “Goodnight my Someone.” Hill lights up the stage with “Trouble” and “76 Trombones.” Near the show’s conclusion the two make magic with a very romantic “Till There Was You.”

Photo Credit Kalea Marie Photography

While Grasmick and Slade are the show’s stars, they have excellent support from a very large cast.  Some supporting cast members include Tiernan Cox as Winthrop Paroo, Tyler Cox as Tommy Djilas, Lillie Pooler as Mrs. Paroo, Christopher Wagnitz as Marcellus, Sydnee Glassier as Zaneeta Shinn, Jacob Naffziger as Mayor Shinn and the train conductor, and Alecia Marquardt as Eulalie McKechnie Shinn, over-the-top wife of the mayor.  

There are five sets of siblings involved with the production, including Tiernan and Tyler Cox.  Lillie Pooler (12th grade), plays Mrs. Paroo and her second-grade brother Ryan is among the town’s kids.  Jasmine Perry-Grice (11th grade) plays Alma Hix.  Her sister, Jade, plays Amaryllis.  Their mother, Jennifer Grice is the pit conductor.  Logan Vienhage (11th grade) is part of the board member quarter, and his brother, Landon, is a props master.   Twins Aidan and Ajay Lyons are a stagehand and sound board operator respectively.

The orchestra is excellent throughout.  Director Julie Estrada has assembled an especially talented staff to bring the show to life.  This is a difficult production, with a very large cast, wondrous costumes, and great technical support.

Photo Credit Kalea Marie Photography

At show’s end the standing ovation was not just the friends and families of the cast. It was as if the entire town was cheering for what might be a look at themselves as a town of loving and caring citizens.  They were offering a great “thank you” for everyone involved in this production. Harold Hill came to town to conquer. He conquered, the town conquered, and the audience cheered.

“The Music Man”
Windsor High School, Windsor, CO
May 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, 2019


“Red” – More Than Just A Color

Award Winning Drama Opens At Bas Bleu

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 29, 2019

“What do you see?”  Painter Mark Rothko is looking towards the audience, as if looking at his recent artwork, asking the audience what we see.  He is an egotistical man, believing that he just might be the only living painter with such talent.  Owners of the then-new Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City have commissioned the painter to complete a set of very large murals for the restaurant in the 1950s, providing him with more than $30,000 for his efforts.

No matter what our response may have been to his question of “What do you see,” he would have found it to be just folly.  Only he can see what he believes is in the abstract painting.  Only he can determine what is good or bad.  Only he knows everything.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Such is this semi-historical look at a point in the painter’s life, on display this season at Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins.  Playwright John Logan has taken some liberties in his quick look at the creative giant whose ego has taken over his ability to function in society.  Jeffrey Bigger is nearly “bigger” than life in his portrayal of the painter at work on the restaurant murals in his studio. 

He has hired Ken (played by Nick Holland) as his assistant, whose primary responsibility is to answer to every demand of his tormented and tormenting boss.  Holland is excellent as the hired hand, a painter on his own right, hoping to learn something from this famous artist.  Ken’s kindness and mild-manner are the total opposites of the bombastic personality of painter Rothko.  Ken hopes to gain creative input from his famous employer.  He receives nothing but unrelenting opinions about what is art.  What is not?  And who knows the difference?  Rothko is dismissive of everyone who sees his paintings, feeling they are somehow unworthy of viewing his work.  He is also dismissive of new artists of the time such as Andy Warhol who had the gall to think that a painting of a soup can could be “art.” And of Ken.

What about color?  Is black only for death?  Is the white of snow really a depressing nothing?  And red?  What is red?  Is it joy, love, lust?  What is life?  Whoa! Too difficult to get into.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Rothko’s rantings provide an interesting 90 minutes of exploring the mind of a creative genius, at the expense of his cautious and curious assistant who exhibits surprising strengths of his own.  By the show’s end, Rothko questions his own choices and motivation.  Should he consider cancelling his contract for the murals that he feels are too wondrous to be appreciated by restaurant patrons?

Wesley Longacre has directed the local production with great skill.  Although there is minimal actual action, he has maintained a high level of tension and interest.  Intense conversations between Rothko and Ken are the nuts and bolts of the script.

Artist Mark Rothko was an American of Russian descent who rose to fame in New York art circles in the last century.  He refused to claim identification with any art movement, but is generally considered to be an abstract expressionist.  His tortured mind resulted in his suicide about ten years after working on the Four Seasons Restaurant murals.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

“Red” was first produced in the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2009, starring Alfred Molina as Rothko, and Eddie Redmayne as Ken.  It transferred to Broadway for a limited engagement in 2010 with the same actors.  The show received the Tony Award that year for Best Play with Redmayne receiving the award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.

There is much fascination in watching the overbearing painter and his wise assistant exchange ideas.  Not much action, but always-interesting takes on the world of creativity — why people buy and sell art, what is art.  And what is “red?”  At show’s end, Rothko (again looking at the unseen mural) asks, “What do you see?”   

“Red”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To April 14, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

“Lady” Is More Than “Fair” – She’s Exceptional!

Cast Is Joyous In Broadway Classic

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in the audience for opening night of the marvelous “My Fair Lady” at Midtown Arts Center.  I was in awe of the entire production.  Staff of the show noted that one of the supporting characters, Michael Lasris, was out of town for that opening night, and could I possibly return later in the run to see him perform as Eliza Doolittle’s father.

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Lasris has become a highlight of nearly every show he has been associated with, either as a performer, director, or choreographer.  One of my earlier memories was his on-his-knees dancing as the diminutive Lord Farquaad several seasons ago in “Shrek.”  Lasris is older now and probably won’t want to dance “on his knees” in future productions, but is as delightful as ever as Doolittle in this current “My Fair Lady.”  It was bittersweet to see him perform, as Doolittle is his final role in Colorado before moving to New York in a few weeks.

For opening night I saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father.  He was very good, so it was somewhat with caution that I returned to see Lasris this week in the role.  No need to worry.  Lasris is nearly untouchable as the likeable do-nothing Doolittle who wants “everything” in return…  

Also “delightful as ever” are the shows leads – Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza, John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  This entire show is every bit as excellent as it was when I first saw it a few weeks ago.  Not to be missed.

—–

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!  She’s got it. By George, I believe she’s got it! Again – The rain in Spain lies mainly in the plain?  And where does it rain? On the plain, on the plain. And where’s that soggy plain? In Spain. In Spain.”

Yes, she’s got it! After weeks of sometimes difficult turmoil, the poorly-educated flower market salesgirl has shown she CAN be educated, and CAN learn to speak like a well-born sophisticate.  The “she” is Hannah Marie Hartman as Eliza Doolittle. And yes, she’s got it! In fact everyone in the cast has “got it” in this masterful Midtown Arts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

More than sixty years have passed since the show triumphed on Broadway.  Curiously, it has maintained its absolute charm and freshness in this MAC wonder.

The excellent skills of Hartman are joined by those of John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins, as Colonel Pickering.  The trio are on stage most of the time as Higgins places a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the guttural persona displayed by the lowly Doolittle into a woman of charm and wisdom.  They are a trio to behold. The two men educate, but sometimes ignore the object of their effort.

The Henry Higgins role was originated on Broadway by Rex Harrison who needed to “speak” most of his songs.  In this production John Jankow is in excellent singing and speaking voice as the professor, as is Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  Harkins had the additional responsibility of welcoming everyone to the theatre with the pre-show announcements on opening night. He was particularly good in that role as well, keeping the audience amused and entertained, and reducing time of the sometimes- lengthy pre-show announcements.

Julie Andrews zoomed to stardom as Eliza in the original Broadway production in 1956.  That show became the longest-running Broadway musical to that time, and went on to similar fame in London.  For the Academy Award winning movie version in 1964 Julie Andrews was overlooked for starring role, with that part given to Audrey Hepburn. The movie’s producers felt that Hepburn would be better-known to the movie-going public.  Andrews got her just rewards at the Academy Awards the next year, receiving the Best Performance by an Actress Award for her beguiling charm as “Mary Poppins.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

It would be difficult to find a better performer to play the role today than the excellent Hannah Marie Hartman.  She is convincing as the rough Cockney girl with ambitions to “be somebody.”

While Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza Doolittle are center stage, Eliza’s hapless father “Doolittle” is a wonder on his own.  For the opening night performance we saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father, understudy to Michael Lasris who normally plays the role.  Lasris will be hard-pressed to fill the boots of Sanders whose performance is beyond “memorable.” I may find my interest in seeing Lasris, however, as my excuse to return to MAC for another look as this delightful event.

In fact, what is not to like about this show?  The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, and the recorded orchestra accompaniment are exceptional.  (There is no live orchestra.) Where in my bag of adjectives can I find words to adequately report my reaction to this production?  The supporting cast members are as effective as the leads. Many in the ensemble take on several roles – always completely in step to the music and always in tune with their British accents.

Director Joseph Callahan has a long track record of excellent performances at Midtown Arts Center.  This time around he is displaying his remarkable abilities, directing and choreographing this production of “My Fair Lady.”

While “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” ”the cast is vast and….” completely delightful!

“My Fair Lady”
Where:
Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center,
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When:
To May 25, 2019
Information:
970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com


Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

Dickens Classic At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2019

Indeed.  WHERE is love?  Charles Dickens explored the impoverished lives of London’s lower class in the mid 1800s.  The result was his classic “Oliver Twist.” The tale has received worldwide fame as dramas, movies, and musicals. It is now in a triumphant musical production on the Johnstown stage of Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Please sir, may I have some more?”   Such is the never-before-made request of eleven-year-old orphan, Oliver, in line for his daily gruel at the parish workhouse.  The request is met with a very loud and angry tirade,”No,” from Mr. Bumble, the greedy workhouse caretaker.  Bumble is so angered that he takes Oliver onto the street announcing, “Boy for Sale.”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The orphaned Oliver is in an incredibly sad situation.  Eli Emming is convincing as Oliver, plaintively singing “Where Is Love?” early in the show. He is fated to go from one bad situation to the next, as evil and greed reign among the lower caste system of London.

Director Shannon Steele, Choreographer Bob Hoppe, and Music Director Phil Forman have combined their talented forces to provide a wondrous production, bringing enthusiasm and humanity to what could be a dismal event.  The set is a great success, showing the back streets and alleys of old London.  Costumes are another triumph, as are the spot-on performances from an unusually large and effective cast

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Joining Emming’s Oliver, are impressive performances by some newcomers to Candlelight audiences, including Charlotte Campbell and Axel Manica.  Campbell is excellent as the downtrodden Nancy, trying to help Oliver when her own situation is increasingly dreadful.  Manica is a star in his own right as the Artful Dodger, a pick-pocket who takes Oliver under his wing.  Manica’s performance skills are spot-on. Some might say he even “steals” the show.

Well-respected by Candlelight audiences is Kent Sugg, returning to the stage as the fiendishly evil Fagan, who rules his youthful gang of pickpocket thieves with unbridled lunacy.  Many young persons are seen in various roles, portraying everyday London citizens and members of Fagan’s gang.  Perhaps the youngest is Kieran O’Brien who is in his second Candlelight production, and stands out as not only the smallest of the performers, but as a young performer with enormous enthusiasm.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Much of the music is familiar, as Oliver’s life takes several turns for the better and back to the worse, and maybe back again to the better.  An exuberant “Consider Yourself at Home” livens up the show tremendously  Other musical highlights include “Food, “Glorious Food,”  “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,”  “I’d Do Anything,”  “It’s a Fine Life,”  “Oom-Pah-Pah, “Reviewing the Situation” and Charlotte Campbell (as Nancy) singing a gut-wrenching rendition of  “Whenever He Needs Me.”  The choreography is particularly terrific.

Playwright and composer, Lionel Bart, wrote lyrics and music for his version of the tale, opening in London in 1960.  It was highly honored there, and made its way to Broadway in 1963.  When filmed as a movie musical in 1968, it received the Academy Award for Best Picture. 

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The tale continues its heartfelt desire for good to triumph over evil. There is sadness.  There is some violence.  Despite the darker aspects of the story, the result is a heartwarming, but not sugar-coated, production.

“Oliver!”
Where:
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When:
To May 26 2019
Information or tickets:
970/744-3747
ColoradoCandelight.com

Mirth On The Moors?

Arvada Center Provides Zany Tale Of Life In The Bleakness Of The Yorkshire Countryside.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2019

Regina Fernandez is naively cheerful as Emilie, the young English woman who arrives at a home in the Yorkshire Moors as the family’s newly hired governess.  Although she knows no one in the family, she was impressed with the kindness and love she felt in letters she received during the application process.  She is eager to be of service to the family.

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) and Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Governess beware!  The two sisters, Agatha and Huldey, who greet her, are a duo to behold.  Agatha is stern and tough as nails with no apparent kindness.  The other, Huldey, is an overly-outgoing woman eager to find some cheerful companionship in her dreary life. She wants to have someone in the house with whom she can create a diary of their lives, someone who can make her feel important.  The brother who hired Emilie via the mail is nowhere to be found.  The “child” the nanny has come to take care of is nowhere to be found.  Two unfriendly housekeepers, Marjory and Madeline, want nothing to do with this new governess.

Annie Barbour (Marjory) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Emilie is undaunted, however, and cheerfully asks what she might do for amusement in the area.  She learns that a possible activity might include, “Taking a long walk in the dreary Moors, to be sucked up in quicksand or to be savagely attacked by wild animals.”  Welcome to the Moors.

Fans of the literary works of the Bronte Sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) may have a field day with playwright Jen Silverman’s take on what the sisters’ lives might have included.  Early in her life, Silverman became hooked on the writing of the Bronte Sisters, especially “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre.”  Somewhere along the way she began to fantasize what life might have been like for the sisters in their isolated childhood.  Her imagination has gone rampant, and the very quirky and clever “The Moors” is a result.

Geoffrey Kent (The Mastiff) and Emily Van Fleet (The Moor-Hen) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Announcement about the show claims “Wuthering Heights meets The Addams Family, with a romantic twist.” Well said.  There is unabashed lunacy at every turn.  The entire cast works wonders.  Emma Messenger and Jessica Robblee are both convincing as the two sisters, Agatha and Huldey.  Daniel Crumrine and Annie Barbour are wildly odd as the two housekeepers, Madeline and Marjory.  Come to think of it, “Madeline” played by Daniel Crumrine doesn’t say a word.  On the other hand, Annie Barbour’s housekeeper role is known as “Marjory” when she is handling some tasks in one room, as “Mallory” when working in another room.   She has a lot to say, even suggesting that Huldey might just be happier if she killed her sister, Agatha.  The maid convinces Huldey that if she got rid of Agatha, she would find the world-wide acclaim she so desires, noting.  “Imagine the publicity of being a murderer?” So Huldey lurks around the house, meat cleaver in hand, eager to get Agatha out of the way.

Jessica Robblee (Huldey) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Then there are the two animals: a family dog, and a fallen Moor-Hen.  The dog is wondrously portrayed by Geoffrey Kent who quickly obeys every command given.  He finds a fallen crow (a Moor-hen or a Mud-hen), who was injured in her tumble onto the property.  He wants only to take care of her, and for her to love him in return.  Emily Van Fleet is a near riot in her portrayal of the ditsy Moor-Hen who has no sense, and is cautious of the dog’s wanting to take her under his “wing.”

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) Matt Gale Photography 2019

This is crazy.  A bewildered new nanny, dreadfully unpleasant household employees, a bird and a dog that talk and have ideas of their own, two house-bound sisters – one being especially unpleasant, the other being too eager to find a friend.  And a never-seen brother, and a never-again-mentioned child.  The brother is reportedly locked up in the attic of the home, fed through an opening in the wall’s bricks. And did the stern Agatha plan Emilie’s arrival to provide her with someone to love?  There are some adult themes here not suitable for young audiences.

Director Anthony Powell has done great work in putting together this mélange of activity created by playwright Silverman.  Powell lets Jessica Robblee pull out all the stops as Huldey, finding her ten minutes of fame – not in the English countryside, but as a rock star performer.  The tables are turned on most of the cast, and the audience is kept wondering just what might happen next.

Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

No clues given here to “what happens,” but a suggestion that “the Moors” has more going for it than craziness.  There is some clever insight on what makes us tick.  Why do we want to feel important?  Why do we long for friendships?  Why do we need to find love?  Why do we want to be in charge?   And ultimately, what is life truly all about?

“The Moors”
Where:
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When:
To May 18, 2019
Information:
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online www.arvadacenter.org

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.

Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography

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.

Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography

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

“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

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

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

        

“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

“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.com

Midtown Arts Center Provides the “Heart Of The Holiday”

Choreography & Excellent Voices Bring New Story To Life!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 15, 2018

The Second Act of “Heart of the Holiday” provides one of the most satisfying musical offerings this holiday season,  JC McCann, Anne Terze-Schwarz, Taylor Marrs, and Jalyn Courtenay Webb are a quartet of perfection singing a terrific combination of “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.”  While some parts of the performance may be a tad plodding, this specific number is worth the price of admission. And worth the effort of getting out of the house on a wintry night to see a show.

This is the final Holiday Season for Midtown Arts Center, as it is joining forces in 2019 with Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.  For this final Holiday show, Kenny Moten and Jessica Hindsley have put together homage to theatre performers everywhere. Emphasis is on those whose lives have been affected in providing entertainment to Fort Collins audiences for many years.  Musical arrangements are the work of John Seaberry who plays bass/guitar in the accompanying band under direction of Victor Walter. The band is especially good.

Photo Courtesy MAC

The show’s writer joined forces with Joseph Callahan to provide the namesake song, “Heart of the Holiday,” performed late in the show.  That song is very nice, but just can’t compare with the “O Holy Silent Night” opening the Second Act.

Moten and Hindsley have leaned heavily on Michael Bennett’s original Broadway direction of “A Chorus Line” in 1975.  In that landmark musical, dancers are auditioning for a show, and are asked to tell about their lives and what dancing means to them.  They strike dancers “poses” which have become Broadway trademarks. In “Heart of the Holliday” Jalyn Courtenay Webb is auditioning dancers for a holiday show.  The final cast is chosen. But before they can relax, she quizzes them on what “The Holidays” mean to each of them. She is especially interested in memories of the performer’s past shows.  This is a clever precept, as the MAC performers strike the “Chorus Line” poses — interesting at first, but becoming a bit tiring by show’s end.

Photo Courtesy MAC

The cast has interesting reports about their love of dancing, with some tidbits of past shows.  One especially zany sequence is a review of a 40-performance run of a show that included non-stop syncopation to “A Sleigh Ride” music.  The choreography is great fun, as the dancers become more and more exhausted with each performance. By the run’s final night, they have expelled all energy and fall into an immoveable heap.

Sometimes the “true meaning of Christmas” becomes trite.  This is cleverly countered when a vignette of going “home for the Holidays” turns out to be a “hate for the Holidays” adventure.

Everyone in the cast has extensive musical experience.  They are excellent dancers and singers. Jalyn Courtenay Webb leads the cast. She also provides musical direction for the production.  She has a wonderful voice. Charlotte Campbell, Anne Terze-Schwarz, Sarah Ledtke McCann, Taylor Marrs, JC McCann, Tezz Yancey, Tyler Baxter, Delany Garcia and Stephanie Garcia are all on stage for nearly the entire show – with each having an opportunity to “shine” as they recall holiday memories.

Stage set includes impressive snow trees on both sides of the stage.  Costumes are very good. The entire production includes excellent choreography, excellent voices, and excellent band support.  The “heart” of the Holiday is felt throughout. It reminds us that even the “wondrous” Holidays can provide some challenges. Sounds like life in general.

And there is that Act Two wonder of “O Silent Holy Night” that leaves the audience thunderstruck.

“Heart of the Holiday”

Midtown Arts Center

3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525

To December 24, 2018

Telephone 970/225-2555

ONLINE: midtownartscenter.com

“The Flea and the Professor” Is An Event Of Delightful Fantasy.


Hans Christian Andersen Tale For Children Lights Up The  Bas Bleu Stage.

Reviewed by Tom Jones,

June 22, 2018

            With guileless delight six talented performers take stage this season having great fun explaining why they are NOT“The Greatest Show on Earth.”  No, there is nothing “great” or even “showy” in this charming silliness recounting of a Hans Christian Andersen tale.  “The Flea and The Professor” is reportedly his last creation.  He was nearly 70 when he came up with this story that few have read.  I wonder what he might have been smoking at the time, as there is neither rhyme nor reason why this should ever see the light of day as a story, let alone as a stage musical.  That said, Bas Bleu has produced a beguiling evening of fun.  The cast has no worries about staying on key or in step, allowing the audience to have as much fun as they appear to be having. 

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “The Flea and the Professor,” November 21, 2018. Photo by Bill Cotton

            Graeme Schultz has a gee-whiz charm that grabs the audience from the outset as The Professor.  He has big ideas, but nothing that can amount to much.  He longs to follow in his father’s footsteps in the air as a hot air balloonist.  But first must find some means of employment, trying his luck as a carnival magician without much talent, and without much magic. His story is told by Sarah Paul-Glitch who begins the show as the story teller and ends up as The Professor’s wife.  They are quite a pair.  As his magician’s assistant, she is not willing to always disappear on stage or be sawed in half, so disappears from his life.

            When The Professor’s luck and abilities have completely vanished, he scratches himself to find he has a flea.  Not just any flea, but a flea with great ideas and a desire to be “a friend.”  John Kean is probably six and one-half feet tall, and he emerges as the flea in The Professor’s life.  He is a goofy wonder on his own.  They develop an incredible friendship, making a pinky-pact to be lifelong buddies.  They even develop a stage act that becomes unbelievably popular.

            No, it makes no sense.  But that is the charm of the entire 80-minute show of friendship and acceptance.  And it is a musical.  No melodies to carry you home, but they do provide winsome joy on stage.   The show is a charmer.


The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses its production of “The Flea and the Professor,” November 21, 2018. Photo by Bill Cotton

            Joining the three are Jennifer Brayas a 12-year-old spoiled and pouting Cannibal Princess, Kelly Forester as an over-the top Cannibal Queen, Michael Anthony Tatmon as the Cannibal King, and showing up everywhere doing everything is Paul Brewer as the Sea Captain, Loyal Subject, and everybody else.  It is quite a troupe of rag-tag players, dressed in fashions that befit no one, but exuding delight at every silly moment.  The Professor and his flea take their popular “show” around the world. They end upin an out-of-the-way island inhabited by cannibals – including the crazed cannibal royal family hungry for a human meal.

            The total production is bizarre, and I found myself immersed in the infectious delight of the cast. Jordan Harrison wrote the script, and Director Jeffrey Bigger has done an amazing job of presenting the off-the-wall story. The show provides a sense of wonder, rarely found in current society.

            Andersen was born in 1834 and became Denmark’s most famous author.  His fairy tales include “The Emperor’s New Clothes, “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,”  “The Ugly Duckling”, “Frozen.”  And the list goes on and on“The Flea” is rarely mentioned, but came to light as a stage musical written by Jordan Harrison.  It received acclaim in 2011 receiving Barrymore Awards as Best Production of a Musical and Best Leading Man in a Musical.             In the current Bas Bleu delight the“Not the Greatest” tackiness theme is apparent everywhere – the set, the costumes, the story.  But the production itself is a real winner.  Not the “Greatest,”but a real heartfelt winner.

“The Flea and The Professor”

Where:  Bas Bleu Theatre Company

 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524

When:  To December 23, 2018

For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949

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

“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.com

“I Love You, You’re Perfect . . . Now Change” Is Delightful Entertainment In Boulder

Fun And Foibles Of Romantic Relationships Are Spot On!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 13, 2018

While dating: “I love you. You’re perfect!
Day after wedding: “Now change.”

Four talented and likeable performers are on stage this season at BDT Stage taking the audience on a sentimental journey of love, happiness, and even a touch of despair. The longest-running off-Broadway review in history has been revised slightly for the 21st century. Some of the modifications are great fun.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Bob Hoppe, Brian Jackson, and Heather Marie Doris are familiar faces to BDT Stage audiences. Anne Terze-Schwarz is new to BDT Stage, but has extensive experience, is a UNCO alum, and a native of Colorado. They are all very good.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Hoppe can change characters in the twitch of an eyebrow, and takes the entire family on a not-so-joyous afternoon drive. Choreography in this scene is especially clever, with the family of four cruising around the stage with their self-propelled automobile.

Brian Jackson does not want to budge from the couch for the final 32 seconds of the football game on TV, even though his wife, Heather Marie Doris, is trying every tease she can come up with to share some romance. Jackson is also remarkable as the breakfast-time husband, who realizes his love for his wife is as deep as ever, even though they speak nary a word while reading the morning paper over cups of coffee. Anne Terze-Schwarz is effectively somber as the wronged woman trying to make a video to post on a dating network. Doris is terrific of the dreadfully-dressed bridesmaid who laments “Always a Bridesmaid” after catching the bride’s bouquet.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Hoppe and Jackson are zany and obnoxious as parents who can think or talk about nothing but the soundly-sleeping child in the other room.

And so it goes, from first dates, marriage, raising a family, remaining in love, looking for a mate after a divorce, and even going to funerals to find dates after spouses die.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

The review has been around for many years, and has not lost its charm. Coming up with ideas for the current generation are problematic. A generation or so ago, when the production first appeared off-Broadway, the thrill of love was usually culminated with an exciting wedding and honeymoon. This has become somewhat passé, as pre-marital co-habitation is now the norm in many situations, and the resulting current scene of Selfie-texting in the review more off-putting than funny.

Photo Credit Glenn Ross Photography

Directing and choreographing the review is Seth Caikowski who is well known to local audiences as a delightful comedian. He received the Henry Award for best supporting actor a few seasons ago in BDT Stage production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Neal Dunfee conducts the on-stage orchestra, providing excellent support to the goings-on.

The audience had no difficulty relating to most of the show’s sequences. They were thinking, “That is you.” That is me.” “That is us!” “And neither of us has changed….much”

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
Where: BDT Stage
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
When: Through November 3, 218
Tickets: Box Office (303) 449-6000
For more information: BDTStage.com

“Orbison” Leaves Audience Cheering

There’s Dancing In The Aisles At Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 14, 2018

Open the floodgates, and let the adjectives flow. “The Roy Orbison Experience” has arrived in Fort Collins. And that voice. Where did Chris Trimboli come from? Bespectacled with the Roy Orbison trademark dark glasses, Trimboli began to sing – and what a voice! The audience went crazy. This was an evening of absolute joy.

While acquainted with some of Orbison’s music, I did not have an appreciation of his voice and talent until seeing this production. According to the program, several years ago Trimboli was approached by a producer who asked him if he knew who Roy Orbison was. He did not, so that night he went home and started listening to Orison music and researching the man behind the glasses.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Product of that introduction is the musical now premiering in Fort Collins. Trimboli had done his work learning about Orbison and is now portraying the musical legend in the show that he wrote. Trimboli may just become a legend himself, as his voice, like that of Orbison, is one of a kind.

The format is interesting — on one end of the ballroom is a slightly-raised platform where the band plays, including enough space for singers to perform from time to time. The other end also has a raised platform with three or four microphones for the performers to use to tell of Orbison’s life and to sing some of the music. I was sitting very near to the orchestra, and found myself continually craning my neck to find which end of the room I needed to be watching. This also led to some difficulty in understanding the story itself. The band frequently played (although softly) during some of the narrative, and I had difficulty understanding what was being said.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Roy Orbison was born in the Texas oil fields town of Wink. He began composing music early and was a contemporary of the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and other musicians of the era. Although he died 30 years ago, he remains one of the most respected musician and composers in the annals of American music history. His career had substantial highs and lows, as did his personal life. His first wife died in a motorcycle accident, followed two years later by the death of his two eldest sons in a fire that destroyed his Tennessee home. He remarried, and his career was having a tremendous rebirth, only for him to die of a heart attack at age 52. He left a remarkable legacy of achievement. – Not only music he performed, but also music he composed for others.

John Seaberry provided musical arrangements for the current Orbison show. He plays bass in the band, with Victor Walter on the piano, Ryan Millard on guitar, and Dean Vlachos on percussion. Chris Trimboli is music director.

The musical showcases many of Orbison’s classics, using the voice of Trimboli, as well as voices of three very talented back-up performers. Anthony Weber looks and sounds like he might be another Trimboli or Orbison in the making. Emily Erkman has extensive experience as a lead singer for several bands. Delany Garcia brought the house down with her “Blue Bayou.” This is the now-grown-up version of the young girl who charmed me as young Mary Lennox years ago at Greeley’s Union Colony Dinner Theatre’s production of “The Secret Garden.” I could hardly believe my eyes and ears.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Northern Colorado has great credentials with this show, as Weber studied OperaPerformance at CSU, Chris Trimboli is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, and Delany Garcia is a senior there this year. Erkman spent the early years of her career in New York and in Colorado

The excellent skills of Michael Lasris are apparent as he directs the show – keeping the audience’s attention moving from one side of the room to the other while creating such memorable moments of Roy Orbison’s legacy, with such magic music as “Blue Bayou, “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely,” “Crying,” and a host of others.

The audience was not eager for the show to end. They were clapping, cheering, and dancing in the aisles. This is super entertainment.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

And what a year this is for the show’s producer, Jalyn Courtenay Webb. She sings. She acts. She performs. She teaches. This past summer the Colorado Theatre Guild honored her as Best Actress in a Musical for her role in “Always, Patsy Cline” at MAC. Webb is the founder of the new divabee Productions, and can now add “producer” to her resume. This is her first venture producing a show. And what a winner it is.

“The Roy Orbison Experience”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 18, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

“Educating Rita” – Student And Professor Switch Roles

Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Hosts British Favorite

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2018

Rita wants in. John wants out. This is Liverpool, England in the 1980s. Class distinction is at its peak. The upper class holds all the cards. The working class struggles to stay afloat. Frank is an upper crust, cranky professor, disillusioned with the education system. He accepts a tutoring job just for the money. Rita is a minimally educated 26-year-old hairdresser in an unhappy marriage, eager to improve her social status. The two are just about as opposite as two persons can be.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

Rita has an insatiable desire to learn. Learn everything. She is outgoing, cheerful, optimistic and chatty. Frank is a solemn curmudgeon, consigned to his office, no longer writing poetry, and unhappily awaiting the arrival of the student he has been assigned to tutor. Rita wants to get in to the world of the educated, and out of her common worker status. She hopes to improve herself under the direction of a tutor. Frank wants to get out of the educational world, but does not make any effort to do so – just spending his days feeling sorry for himself and drinking and drinking and drinking.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

John Hutton and Emily Van Fleet play the two characters this season in “Educating Rita” on stage at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. John’s dismal existence is disturbed when the delightful Rita arrives, to “be taught.” She is miles below the professor’s social status, and finds the failed poet to be the most interesting person she has ever met. Frank is initially appalled by the new student in his charge. Beguiled by her naivety, he becomes interested in actually turning her into a British woman of status. She has no self-esteem. This is similar to Henry Higgins trying to make a duchess out of the flower market girl (Eliza Doolittle) in “My Fair Lady.”

British playwright Willy Russell lives in Liverpool. His “Educating Rita” “Blood Brothers,” and “Shirley Valentine” were international hits. “Rita” became a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Waters. His idea about educating Rita is loosely based on the Pygmalion myth, which was also the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” as well as the musical “My Fair Lady,” the “Pretty Woman” movie, and even the “Frankenstein” story. They all have in common the notion of a mentor-student/creation relationship.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

The Arvada Center has an amazing record of providing terrific sets. This excellence continues with Brian Mallgrave’s creation of Frank’s office. The cluttered desk, the stacks here and there and everywhere. The hidden bottles of his Scotch. The plants that die from having no care. Jon Olson has again excelled with his lighting design.

Director Lynne Collins’ credentials are impeccable. The two leads are both very convincing. The story evolves into a switching of roles. Frank becomes concerned that perhaps he has taught the delightful Rita too much, resulting in her becoming a somewhat unpleasant upper class woman. Rita perceives that she needs to help Frank get back to his poetry writing, give up the booze, and turn his life into something happy and productive. There is much of value in the lessons playwright Russell develops. The suggestion that everyone makes some effort to reach his/her potential and the value of helping others are always desired goals.

The total experience is an interesting look at British class distinctions of 40 years ago, as well as a study of how we perceive ourselves and others. I did find the production too long, and did have difficulty understanding everything the delightful fast-talking Rita had to say. However, I came away with a great appreciation of the acting effort, the time that was spent learning the roles, and the total “look” of the show.

The play’s worldwide acclaim strikes chords with audiences, as everyone needs a “nudge to action” sometime in life. The Arvada audience gave the performers a standing ovation at show’s end.

“Educating Rita”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through November 11, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.org

“Educating Rita” – Student and Professor Switch Roles

Arvada Center Black Box Theatre Hosts British Favorite

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2018

Rita wants in. Frank wants out. This is Liverpool, England in the 1980s. Class distinction is at its peak. The upper class holds all the cards. The working class struggles to stay afloat. Frank is an upper crust, cranky professor, disillusioned with the education system. He accepts a tutoring job just for the money. Rita is a minimally educated 26-year-old hairdresser in an unhappy marriage, eager to improve her social status. The two are just about as opposite as two persons can be.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

Rita has an insatiable desire to learn. Learn everything. She is outgoing, cheerful, optimistic and chatty. Frank is a solemn curmudgeon, consigned to his office, no longer writing poetry, and unhappily awaiting the arrival of the student he has been assigned to tutor. Rita wants to get in to the world of the educated, and out of her common worker status. She hopes to improve herself under the direction of a tutor. Frank wants to get out of the educational world, but does not make any effort to do so – just spending his days feeling sorry for himself and drinking and drinking and drinking.

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

John Hutton and Emily Van Fleet play the two characters this season in “Educating Rita” on stage at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Frank’s dismal existence is disturbed when the delightful Rita arrives, to “be taught.” She is miles below the professor’s social status, and finds the failed poet to be the most interesting person she has ever met. Frank is initially appalled by the new student in his charge. Beguiled by her naivety, he becomes interested in actually turning her into a British woman of status. She has no self-esteem. This is similar to Henry Higgins trying to make a duchess out of the flower market girl (Eliza Doolittle) in “My Fair Lady.”

Photo courtesy McLeod9 Creative

British playwright Willy Russell lives in Liverpool. His “Educating Rita” “Blood Brothers,” and “Shirley Valentine” were international hits. “Rita” became a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Waters. His idea about educating Rita is loosely based on the Pygmalion myth, which was also the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” as well as the musical “My Fair Lady,” the “Pretty Woman” movie, and even the “Frankenstein” story. They all have in common the notion of a mentor-student/creation relationship.

The Arvada Center has an amazing record of providing terrific sets. This excellence continues with Brian Mallgrave’s creation of Frank’s office. The cluttered desk, the stacks here and there and everywhere. The hidden bottles of his Scotch. The plants that die from having no care. Jon Olson has again excelled with his lighting design.

Director Lynne Collins’ credentials are impeccable. The two leads are both very convincing. The story evolves into a switching of roles. Frank becomes concerned that perhaps he has taught the delightful Rita too much, resulting in her becoming a somewhat unpleasant upper class woman. Rita perceives that she needs to help Frank get back to his poetry writing, give up the booze, and turn his life into something happy and productive. There is much of value in the lessons playwright Russell develops. The suggestion that everyone makes some effort to reach his/her potential and the value of helping others are always desired goals.

The total experience is an interesting look at British class distinctions of 40 years ago, as well as a study of how we perceive ourselves and others. I did find the production too long, and did have difficulty understanding everything the delightful fast-talking Rita had to say. However, I came away with a great appreciation of the acting effort, the time that was spent learning the roles, and the total “look” of the show.

The play’s worldwide acclaim strikes chords with audiences, as everyone needs a “nudge to action” sometime in life. The Arvada audience gave the performers a standing ovation at show’s end.

“Educating Rita”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through November 11, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.org

Exploration of the Colorado River Results In Exciting Theatrical Experience

Wild Tale Of The Powell Exploration Is The Catamounts Gem in Boulder

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
October 9, 2018

Alright, already – the men aren’t men. The cast is entirely female, dressed as male frontier explorers, excellently guiding the audience through the saga of John Wesley Powell’s first trip down the Colorado River in1869. What a trip!

The Civil War had concluded five years earlier. The transcontinental railroad had just begun operation, sufficient to transport boats for the Powell expedition to enter the river at what is now Green River, Wyoming. The entire expedition down the Green, connecting to the Colorado, and concluding at the western edge of the Grand Canyon was fraught with peril. The telling of the story is fraught with peril of its own as the amazing cast is jostled through rapids, over waterfalls, with sometimes brief stretches of calm on the three-month journey.

Photo by Michael Ensminger. Pictured GerRee Hinshaw

Staging is remarkable. There is no water in sight, but the production has been incredibly choreographed and directed to have the audience feel we are actually with the group on the river, and on the dry land for campfire meals, and local explorations. When boats are capsized, the audience wants to reach out to “grab” the expedition members to save them from drowning. Fortunately no one drowned on the expedition, although four of the original ten members did leave the group before journey’s end as the river emerges from the cliffs of the “Grand” canyon.

This is theatre at its most remarkable success. Director Amanda Berg Wilson has done an excellent job in putting the actors through their paces, to bring a feeling of raw courage and realism in the production. The women become the “men” they portray, as gender becomes unimportant.

GerRee Hinshaw portrays the one-armed Major John Wesley Powell. He lost his arm in a Civil War battle, but that has not reduced his ability to explore rivers. By the time the expedition begins, he is already one of the most river-travelled men in America. He is portrayed in “Men on Boats” as a stern leader, with great knowledge of river travel, less knowledge of how to deal with men under his command. Near-mutinies result. He has been hired by the U. S. Government to head the expedition, and intends to succeed – despite frequent criticisms by the men in his charge.

Photo by Michael Ensminger. Pictured McPherson Horle, Ilasiea Gray, Missy Moore, Karen Slack, GerRee Hinshaw, Joan Brummer-Holden

The group is a motley crew. There William Dunn, convincingly played by Karen Slack. Dunn is a hunter and trapper, excited when Powell decides to name a mountain peak after him. Joan Bruemmer-Holden portrays John Colon Sumner, a former soldier in the Civil war, and now a western explorer. Edith Weiss becomes Old Shady, another Civil War vet and older brother of the expedition’s leader. Erika Haase is Bradley, a youthful part of the team sometimes with more courage than sense. Ilasiea Gray is O. G. Howland, a printer and hunter, with Joelle A. Montoya playing Howland’s younger brother Seneca. Jessica Austgen is the British Frank Goodman, initially so very excited to be part of the group, but with a desperate longing to be back somewhere in Europe, preferably on the beaches near Marseilles. McPherson Horle is Hall, the mapmaker; and Missy Moore is Hawkins, the cook whose role becomes increasingly challenging as rations run dangerously low.

The show’s program notes that “The Catamounts create audacious contemporary theatre … believing in the necessity of new work, the power of collaborative creation, the constant innovation of artistic forms.” They succeed in all endeavors with this uniquely creative production. Author is Jaclyn Backhaus. The show’s thrilling endeavors are the action on the stage, as the river tests the courage of the expedition. The script does beg for more information about what is not told. I did race home to “Google” more about the expedition and the characters portrayed.

Last week my wife and I went through a few areas mentioned on the expedition story. We stopped briefly in Green River, Wyoming, where the group began the journey on the Green River. Just outside Moab, Utah, we found a plaque about the Expedition on one of the overlooks of Canyonlands National Park. We then stopped in Green River, Utah, to visit the John Wesley Powell Museum.

Photo by Michael Ensmginer.Pictured Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Jessica Augsten, Karen Slack

Today’s views of the canyon from above are remarkable. There is “civilization” with motels and stores, only to look down the canyon to see still-forbidding landscape of the Green and Colorado rivers that merge just outside Moab. The incredible story of traversing the rivers, thanks to Powell and his “Men on Boats,” has become fascinating history.

The Catamounts theatre company is making fascinating history on its own with this exhilarating production.

“Men on Boats”
Through October 13, 2018
Where: The Catamounts Theatre Company
Dairy Arts Center, 2500 Walnut Street, Boulder CO
Tickets: www.thecatamounts.org , or 303/444-seat

Bas Bleu Opens Delightfully Clever “Mr. Perfect”

Even Some “Thinking” Is Included In The High Hilarity

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
September 14, 2018

What are the chances? What are the chances that I’d decide to see a play this week, something I’d never heard of before, and something that did not pique my interest before sitting down in the theatre? What are the chances that I’d be thoroughly amused and idea-challenged in two hours of watching four characters tell their tales? What are the chances that the chocolate mints I purchased before the show would not melt in my pocket before the intermission?

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses for its production of “Mr. Perfect,” August 29, 2018.

What “chances” is life all about? Do we have any input into who we are, where we are, and what we are doing at any one time? In the clever and thought-provoking “Mr. Perfect,” an off-the-wall flight attendant makes her move on an unsuspecting, and unwilling passenger in mid-air in this daffy delight on the Bas Bleu stage this month.

Local playwright William Missouri Downs reportedly lives in a cabin somewhere near Fort Collins. How does he spend his time in the cabin? Is his world a whirlwind of thought, putting clever ideas into the mouths of characters he creates? And are we just “characters” in plays of our own, needing an itinerary for life’s path?

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses for its production of “Mr. Perfect,” August 29, 2018.

Brikai Cordova is a ditsy delight as Zooey, a stewardess (oops—an “airline attendant”) who has created her own fantasy world, listening non-stop to romance novels on tape, receiving her joys and sadness completely from the books she listens to. She persuades Jeffrey, a passenger on her flight, to join her in the airplane bathroom, hoping to seduce him high over Ohio. In order to have any kind of romantic satisfaction, she needs to be wearing ear-phones, listening to her current romance novel, or have her conquest tell stories in the verbiage tense she requires.

Jeffery, wondrously played by Adam Verner, finds Zooey exciting to a point, then realizes that she has no life beyond what she hears on tape. He is more grounded, earning his living as narrator/reader of the romance tape novels that Zooey enjoys. Zooey is in no hurry with her amorous adventures, as long as she can be occupied listening to something on her ear-phones. She notes that she is in no hurry, commenting “When I make love, I like to listen to the ‘1812 Overture.’ If that intimidates you, I’ve got ‘The Minute Waltz.’” She is, however, a whiz at math, and can immediately compute the statistical odds of a couple’s “chance encounter” not being more than a “chance.”

The Bas Bleu Theatre Company rehearses for its production of “Mr. Perfect,” August 29, 2018.

Cordova and Verner are beguilingly-talented performers. She with her wide eyes and perfect delivery, and he with his narrator-trained voice and perfect delivery.

Playwright Downs then introduces us to two other strangers on the planet who also meet my chance encounters: Ralph and Donna. Ralph is a student working on his thesis at Columbia University, masquerading as a religious parishioner to gain statistics for his thesis. Donna is a published author, a self proclaimed authority on human relationships. She turns out to be someone who might be human, but doesn’t have a clue about relationships. Graeme Schulz and Dominique Mickelson are both convincing as Ralph and Donna, whose lives intersect with the stewardess (oops – airline attendant) and her voice-over book narrator.

The four are just about as unique as can be imagined. Playwright Down’s mind is on a trajectory to somewhere in the universe to have four people so uniquely different meet up “by chance” to provide two hours of non-stop fun in “Mr. Perfect.” He is a highly-respected playwright and director. His plays have received several honors and have been produced widely in the United States as well as in Spain, Canada, South Africa, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Austria, India, and South Korea. His words travel well.

By play’s conclusion, there is no “truth” or “error.” There is, however, the chance of enjoying a great experience, exploring the minds of four persons. They could be any of us, trying to determine our own fact and fantasy, and living out our own itinerary. What are the chances?

“Mr. Perfect”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To September 30, 2018
For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949

Mary Poppins Flies & Bert Turns Things Upside Down in Johnstown

Disney’s Delight Lands Onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 9, 2018

That ever-efficient nanny, Mary Poppins, is flying in and out of Johnstown this season. Harmony Livingston is delightful as the ingenious Poppins who proclaims that she is “Practically Perfect” in every way as she arrives at the George Banks household in London. The family has not been successful in finding a good nanny, as the two children have run off a string of would-be-governesses. Mary is a no-nonsense dynamo that knows just what children need, and how to make them enjoy the transformation.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

Livingston is given great help by Bert, her longtime friend in fantasy. Cole Emarine is super as the mysterious friend who turns up here and there and everywhere as a friend to all. We originally meet him as an artist displaying paintings in a public park. He then turns up at a local fair, and finally as a chimney sweep who promises good luck to anyone who shakes his (dirty) hand.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

Livingston as Mary and Emarine as Bert make a very impressive duo. They are both multi- talented, have great singing voices and can dance up a storm. Emarine’s athletic skills have him performing a maneuver that needs to be seen to be believed, dancing with his chimney-sweeping friends late in Act Two.

The action takes place in London, on Cherry Tree Lane, at a local park, and at the bank where George Banks works. There is a bit of mysterious magic permeating the show, mostly due to Poppins’ extra-ordinary abilities. When the show begins to lag, a mind-blowing evil Miss Andrew turns up. Referred to as “The Holy Terror,” when serving as George Banks’ childhood nanny years ago, she continues to be an evil and brutal tyrant. When the now-adult George sees her, he immediately flees the home. He has never fully recuperated from being under her care. Victoria Pace briefly steals the show in her performance as the dreadful Miss Andrew, appalled that Poppins’ kindness can have any effect on the home.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

Everyone in the cast is skillful. Scott Hurst is believable as George Banks, the family head who has virtually traded his family for his job. Alisha Winter-Hayes is convincing as the ever-suffering kindly wife who is not pleased with the way her husband treats her and the children, but doesn’t know how to do anything about it. Scotty Shaffer and Annie Dwyer are the household servants whose jobs appear to entail ignoring anything unpleasant going on, and merely do their work. The roles of the two Banks children are double-cast, with Julia Gibson and Gwyneth Bohl trading places as Jane; and Ryan Fisher and John Miley portraying Michael. I saw Bohl and Miley. They both appeared to be at ease on the large stage, mixing well with experienced performers.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

A well-designed and crafted set displays great detail of the buildings and park. Costumes and lighting are also excellent. Choreography is by Kate Vallee who excels with the chimney sweepers “Step in Time” and with everyone in incredible synchronization for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (twice!). Director Pat Payne has assembled a spirited cast of performers and has carefully used the talents of set designers, costumers, lighting and technicians. He appears to have figured out how to cast a magic spell on the entire show.

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale

“Mary Poppins,” as seen this season in Johnstown, has music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and his brother Robert B. Sherman, with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Script is by Julian Fellowes. The musical is based on children’s books by P. L. Travers and the 1964 Disney film, using various elements from both sources.

The original West End production opened in London in December of 2004, and subsequently transferred to Broadway two years later. It received numerous awards on both sides of the Atlantic and has been performed world-wide. The music has become classic Disney: “Practically Perfect,” Jolly Holiday with Mary,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds,” Chim Chim Cherr-ee,” “Step in Time,” and the forever challenging “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Can you spell it backwards?)

Just like the nanny portrayed, the musical “Mary Poppins” is “practically perfect in every way’”

“Mary Poppins”

Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To November 11, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Website: ColoradoCandlelight.com

“West Side Story” is Wondrous at Midtown Arts

Leonard Bernstein Music Is As Glorious As Ever

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2018

Early in Act I Kyle Smith, as Tony, musically tells the audience that “Something’s coming and it’s gonna be great.” That promise is wondrously fulfilled in this excellent production of the Broadway classic, “West Side Story.”

Tony has been leader of a youth gang, the Jets. When his gang swoops onto stage in an amazing display of choreography, they set the tone for an especially rewarding evening of talent. The Jets are not a happy group, as their “territory” is being threatened by the sudden emergence of Puerto Rican immigrants, The Sharks.

Choreographer Jerome Robbins had the idea of putting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the context of the teenage gang warfare in New York City of the 1950s. He worked with composer Leonard Bernstein to produce a near-ballet telling of the turmoil. Lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim who was then just 26 years old. The collaboration opened in New York in 1957, and went on to fame worldwide as a stage musical and later as an Academy Award winning movie. Their efforts have stood the test of time, and the story is every bit as relevant now as it was 60 years ago. The Leonard Bernstein score has become a classic, and the MAC orchestra provides an excellent rendition.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

When Tony, former Jet leader, meets Maria, the sister of the Shark leader, all interest in gang rivalry vanishes. He is immediately smitten, and so is the audience. Chemistry between Kyle Smith as Tony and Josy Soriano as Maria is palpable. The introduction of the two amidst the dance at the high school gym is one of Broadways most rewarding scenes, with Tony singing the ever-beautiful, “Maria.” Stage musicals don’t get much better than this! Soriano is especially impressive as the young Puerto Rican immigrant, Maria

Jill Godfrey is credited for directing and choreographing this current marvel. She has the Jets and Sharks displaying their physical manliness while erupting in near-classical ballet. The fight scenes are staged with great believability, and the dancing is continually exciting. Substantial preparation and training are evident in providing such effective results. Jalyn Courtenay Webb is musical director, reminding the audience that the songs continue to be as enchanting as ever – “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” and the delightful “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Some in the cast are beyond their teenage years, but talent abounds. Samuel Rene Damare doesn’t miss a beat as the Jet’s “Riff.” Dorian O’Brien” is excellent as his Shark nemesis, “Bernardo.” Demi Ahlert holds center stage in the palm of her hand as Maria’s friend, “Anita.” Sara Kowalski is sheer delight as the young girl who doesn’t yet fit into any group, and so desires to “belong.” Christopher Alvarado as Chino is convincingly heart-broken with his actions. In reality, there is not a weak link in the entire group of accomplished actors, singers, and dancers. Special note must be paid to Daniel Harkins as the mean-spirited cop who would like to erase the Puerto Ricans from the area, and to John Jankow, owner of the local drug store, desperately trying to retain some sort of peace and order between the rival toughs.

Set, lighting, and costumes are all very effective.

Beautifully portrayed, “West Side Story” is not a happy tale. This is a gritty production, with an undercurrent of continued fear and apprehension, laced with the desire of hope for a better future. As the show ended, the audience was in stunned silence for several seconds before reality of the excellence they had witnessed set in. Then virtually everyone stood up to cheer and express appreciation.

Prior to the beginning of the Opening Night performance, the cast and crew honored Kurt Terrio, owner of The Midtown Arts Center.” This production of “West Side Story” is the 100th show Terrio has produced over the years in various venues. Work on an earlier version of “West Side Story” was one of his first efforts.

“West Side Story”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 11, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

“Mamma Mia!” At Its Best As Live Theatre!

The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities Hosts Delicious ABBA Treat

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 8, 2018

Sophie is in a bind. She is about to be married, and wants to invite her father to walk her down the aisle. Problem is that she does not know who her father is. Raised by a single parent mom who runs a guesthouse on a tiny Greek island, Sophie finds her mother’s diary, learning that her mother had liaisons with three different men who just might be her father.

What to do? Invite all three to the wedding!

Mariah MacFarlane (Sophie) and Shanna Steele (Donna)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Such is a premise of the delightful “Mamma Mia!” on stage this autumn at The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. It is a joy from beginning to end. Mariah MacFarlane and Shannan Steele are both excellent as Sophie, and her mother, Donna Sheridan. Worth billing as a “cast” member is the incredible set designed by Brian Mallgrave. It is as sunny and inviting as a sunny day on a Greek island, and as warm and comfortable as a guest bedroom in a charming vacation villa.

Mariah MacFarlane (Sophie) and Shanna Steele (Donna)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

The Arvada Center was honored this past July as the Colorado Theatre Guild for Outstanding Season for a Threatre Company. Included in its list of recent wonders are “Sense and Sensibility,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “All My Sons.” What to do for an encore? Have Director Rod A. Lansberry put together a production of “Mamma Mia!”

“Mamma” burst onto the stage in London in 1997 and was an instant success. The idea was interesting. Take some of the Swedish group ABBA’s already-existing hit songs, weave them into a basic story of young love, and magic pops out of the magician’s hat! Music and lyrics are by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with book by Catherine Johnson. It premiered in London in 1999 and became a worldwide sensation. It opened in New York City in 2001 and played 5,773 performances before closing 14 years later. The 2008 movie version is reportedly the most successful movie ever shown in England.

Glenn DeVar (Sky) and Mariah MacFarlane (Sophie)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

As wedding guests arrive, we meet several young friends of the engaged couple, two of Donna’s longtime “best friends,” and the three possible fathers, not realizing why they are invited, and not realizing they may have fathered a beautiful daughter – about to be wed.

Then there is the ever-welcome music – “I Have a Dream,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes All,” “I Do, Do, I Do,” and many more.

MacFarlane and Steele headline the always-entertaining cast, with additional sensational performances by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and Piper Lindsay Arpan as Donna’s friends, Rosie and Tanya, with Daniel Robert Sullivan, Mark Devine and Jeffrey Roark as the unsuspecting potential father of the bride. Hilsabeck also provided the highly appreciated toe-tapping choreography.

The set, direction, and performances are not the only marvels. The orchestra, lighting and costumes are all equally impressive.

If the thunderous applause from the opening night Arvada audience is any indication, tickets to “Mamma Mia!” are going to be difficult to find. This is a joyful experience, and the audience was hesitant to let the performers leave the stage.

“Mamma Mia!”
Where: Main Stage, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through September 30, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.org

“Grease” Performers Younger Than Ever

The Academy at Midtown Arts Center Provides Three Versions Of The Teenage Classic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 19, 2018

Three weeks! Three weeks from first read-through to standing ovation performance. Must be some sort of record! Staff of The Academy at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins worked in overdrive all summer to provide three separate versions of “Grease.” Two of the versions were designed for younger performers, third through eighth grades. The third one was comprised of high school age students.

Each section session lasted three weeks, each providing an entire production of “Grease” after three weeks at the Academy. The performance I saw was enormous fun – the youngest section of this summer’s Academy offerings. Sizes went from mini to maxi, with some diminutive performers displaying some enormous potential. And the attitudes were great. Youngsters with greased hair and black leather jackets strutted with great élan. Girls, some tough as nails, some shy as mice, came through with great vim as the school’s Pink Ladies clique. Everyone on stage was obviously having a great time. So was the audience – most friends and families of the performers.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

The only “adults” in evidence on stage were the super band of experienced “Grease” music providers. Some were the same as performing at Midtown Arts Center’s “Grease” production this summer that runs to August 26. They provided excellent background for the young stars to shine.

This was the first stage experience for most of the performers I saw. There are already some standouts. Ella Tremblay is the show’s star as Sandy Dumbrowski, the wide-eyed innocent who transfers to the rowdy Rydell High School in 1959 without knowing anyone. Tremblay is great. She has excellent stage presence, a very good voice, and looks terrific.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

Giving Tremblay great support were Zoe Glenn as the rough and tumble Rizzo; Katie Brown, as the overly-enthusiastic and universally disliked cheerleader Patty. Ellie Swain was the continually-eating Jan whose daily highlight is going through everyone’s sack lunches. Maya Stanley was excellent as Cha Cha. Gillian McCreery was convincing as “Frenchie” the beauty school dropout, who had everyone routing for her to succeed. Kathryn Attkisson was in fine form as Marty, singing of her “Freddy, My Love.”

Across the school’s cafeteria from the girls Pink Ladies clique, are the tough-guy wannabees. They become angry when one of their pack, Danny Zuko, might want to change his ways and hook up with the innocent Sandy. Zach Pickett is in good voice for the role, but does come across as too-kind for the pack. Cameren Torres has great fun as Kenickie, standing atop his new car to sing, “Greased Lightning.” Maisen Theisen was the guitar thumping Doody. Amy Smith nearly stole the show as Sonny, the sunglass-wielding, swaggerer.

Photos Courtesy of Leah Allen

While the cast isn’t quite yet ready for prime-time, such just may be on the horizon for several. And in the meantime, it appears that everyone was having a swell time on stage. And all after only three weeks from first-read to final curtain! The cast for each show is large, with more than 50 performers participating in each of the Academy’s three sections this summer.

Michael Lasris directed the show, with Jalyn Courtenay Webb as producer and artistic director, Emily Erkman was musical director, and original choreography was by Joshua Buscher. Instructors for the three show-providing sessions were Katie Burke, Abbie Hanawait, and Kyle Smith. Interns included Max Allan, Emily Hevelone, Sky Hume, Aliyah Kirkes, Zoe Maiberger, Naomi Roberts, Melanie Smith, Evan Wilusz, and Marion Yager, with Alyssa Ankney and Jon Collins as tech crew. Britni Girard was costumer.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

The friendly audience was awed by the choreography, with more than 50 young performers on stage at the same time in many scenes – singing and their dancing their hearts out. “Grease is the word” this year at Midtown Arts Center.

The Academy concluded its “Grease” shows August 19, and the professional version of the show continues on stage to August 26.

The Academy at Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Telephone:  970/225-2555

Registration is now open for fall classes at the Academy. Classes begin September 10. Use code “early bird” for $50 off any class.
Register at www.midtownartcsenter.com/education.

Enthusiastic Audience Greets Disney’s “Newsies”

Very Large Cast At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Hits All The Right Notes

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 29, 2018

Dancing is terrific! Director Pat Payne and Choreographer Matthew D.  Peters have rounded up an amazing group of dancers to soar and leap nearly non-stop for two and one-half hours. Opening night audience broke into applause a couple of times during the routines – not even waiting until the end of the dance.

RDG Photography

Alan Menken wrote the “Newsies” music, but it is not every-day familiar. Most of the audience appeared to know it better than I did. Many noted they were fans of the 1992 movie musical starring Christian Bale. One woman in the Candlelight opening night audience mentioned that when she was a teenager, the weekly slumber parties usually included their favorite movie – “Newsies.” She claims to have seen it 14 times. The movie was a critical and financial failure, but subsequently developed a surprisingly large fanbase. Bale noted, “You say something bad about “Newsies” and you have an awful lot of people to answer to.”

When the movie became a Broadway show, it became a hit and ran for more than 1,000 performances, gaining a whole new generation of fans. The production was highly honored, especially for the choreography, and has transferred to the Candlelight stage with great enthusiasm.

RDG Photography

Some of the older patrons, such as me, who grew with Broadway’s “Sound of Music,” “South Pacific,” and “The King and I” initially had a difficult time. Diction was not perfect early in the show. But once the story line began to make sense, the audience was more appreciative. By the time Act II concluded, everyone appeared to be “aboard,” and curtain call acclaim was exciting.

Story is loosely based on an actual strike event in New York City in1899. Newspapers were sold by young men and women, “Newsies,” who had to buy the papers each day, making money only on the papers they sold, as none were returnable. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, realized the paper would make more money if he increased fees the Newsies needed to pay. Kent Sugg is very good as the heartless Pulitzer. Pulitzer went on to great fame and glory with creation of the “Pulitzer Prizes” in later years. In 1899, however, such generosity was not on the horizon. Even New York Governor Teddy Roosevelt, well portrayed by David L Wygant, was not happy with Pulitzer at the time.

RDG Photography

The plight of the Newsies was made even darker, as the police would pick up young boys for a variety of supposed crimes and have them incarcerated in “The Refuge.” This was a horrific situation, as the boys suffered while the police made government money for each boy they placed.

“Newsies” Jack Kelly is the ring leader of the unhappy young newspaper hawkers, encouraging then to go on strike to reverse the fee increase. Logan Traver sings well as the unhappy Jack, desperately wanting to escape the plight of New York City, and wishing to re-locate to the site of his dreams, Santa Fe. Traver has a very good singing voice and is an exceptional dancer. Harmony Livingston plays Katherine Plumber, a journalist who is interested in the Newsies plight. It turns out that she has more to offer than Jack Kelly ever imagined.

While the cast is universally talented, several performances stand out, including newcomer Hugh Butterfield as Romeo making his Candlelight debut, Ben Welch as the unfortunately handicapped “Crutchie” who is taken to the dreadful Refuge, and Cole Emarine who serves as dance captain. There are 28 performers in the large cast. The role of the young Les is played by Tyler Fruhwirth and Hayden McDonald in alternating performances. Tyler performed the role opening night and was delightful as the spunky young boy.

Choreography continues to be “Newsies” primary claim to fame. Early in Act 2, the audience broke into applause during the “King of New York” routine. Choreographer Matthew D. Peters put dancers through a “boot camp for dancers” early in the rehearsal schedule, making certain the already-talented performers could maintain their stamina through an exhaustive production. They have learned well, and stamina they have! Pat Payne’s direction of the entire production is excellent.

“Newsies” is a joy for fans of the movie, as well as for the older audiences, delighted to learn what all the fuss is about from the younger generations.

“Newsies”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To August 26, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

Award Winning “Equus” Arrives At Bas Bleu

Peter Shaffer Masterwork is a Marvel of Acting and Direction

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
June 22, 2018

There should be a sign outside the stage of Bas Bleu this month – “Quiet, Genius at Work.”

On stage is a spell-binding production of Peter Shaffer’s masterwork, “Equus,” a tour-de-force production of excellent acting and direction.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

The Tony Award-winning drama looks at the turmoil of an emotionally disturbed young man and the tired and bored psychiatrist who is trying to treat him. There are strong wills at work, as the doctor tries to reach the heart of the boy’s mental suffering. By show’s conclusion, I felt as if the audience should carry David Siever and Koby Adams aloft, showering them with accolades for their performances as the boy and the psychiatrist. They did receive a standing ovation.

For nearly three hours the audience is treated to a production so cleverly staged that the audience is mentally transferred out of the bounds of normal theatre. There are the concerned doctor and his patient, the bewildered mother, the horrific father, the doctor who has brought her patient to the psychiatrist, the young girl infatuated with the disturbed boy, the attending nurse, and five amazing horses that come to life with the clicking of their hoofs and impressive stature.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

We learn from the outset that a very disturbed young man has blinded five horses in his care in a stable in England. A psychiatrist is contacted with the hope that he can find the cause of the emotional suffering, and bring the boy some kind of relief. Koby Adams is a revelation as the tormented Alan Strang, with equally excellent David Siever, as Dr. Martin Dysart. They are given great support from Jim Valone and Gale McGaha Miller as Alan’s bewildered (and bewildering) parents, Hesther Salomon as a magistrate and close friend, Teal Jandrain as the charming young girl in the village, Steven Wright as Harry Dalton the stable owner. And those horses – they have personalities of their own – portrayed by Ryan Volkert, Blake Roberts, Cas Landman, Sheppard Braddy, and Brett Sylvia.

Director Robert Braddy worked as Scenic Designer for the production of the play at CSU in 1976, and has long been interested in directing the show.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

Playwright Shaffer’s production was introduced to the London stage in 1973 and arrived on Broadway in 1974, where it ran for more than 1200 performances and received numerous honors. Several issues turn up – religion, ritual sacrifices, sexual attraction, conflict between personal values and social mores. There is “a lot going on” in the telling of the young man’s torment. Wikipedia notes that Alan Strang has” a pathological religious fascination with horses.” The characters surrounding him have issues of their own, some bewildered by where they personally belong.

© 2018 William A. Cotton

Caution is required. This is not a play for young persons. Subject matter is mature. There is nudity. There are some scenes that become tiring.

Late in Act 2, the doctor makes a breakthrough in reaching the tormented Koby. In that scene, it is as if all the air has been sucked from of the theatre. The audience barely breathed — realizing they were witnessing brilliance on the stage.

“Equus”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To July 1, 2018
For Information: Telephone 970/498-8949
Online: www.basbleu.org

“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee!”

High Energy “Grease Lightning” Lights Up Fort Collins Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 15, 2018

Yep, “Sandra Dee” is musically back in town. And she brought a whole bunch of her famous friends from Rydell High School of 1959. Oh, yea, and also there is the goody two-shoes Sandy, transplanted from a different school, who has a difficult time finding her way in the new environment. The gentle guy she met on vacation on the beach that past summer turns up as head honcho of some not-so-pleasant dudes in the school.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This month the movie version of “Grease” celebrates its 40th anniversary. In observation of that long-ago date, Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins has assembled the whole gang of teenagers to take us through the paces of what high school life was like in the 1950s.

In those days gone by, songs had lyrics everyone could understand and repeat. Many of those songs are incredibly well known even now – “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightning,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “You’re the One That I Want.”

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

John Travolta swaggered through the movie with great élan as Danny, with Olivia Newton John as the charming innocent, Sandy. For this stage version, Kyle Smith plays Danny Zuko with Lizzy Hinton as Sandy Dumbrowski. This is not the Sandra Dee of 1950s movie fame. Dee was the model of what a “good girl” should be in the era.

That “Sandy” was the epitome of wholesomeness, mocked by the rougher elements of society as someone to be disdained and pitied When Dumbrowski arrives at her new school the Pink Ladies show off their supposed superiority, mocking her with–
“Look, at Me. I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity.
Won’t go to bed ‘til I’m legally wed. I can’t, I’m Sandra Dee.”

On leaving the theatre, a member of the audience noted, “It was like the entire stage was full of leads.” Voices are very good and the dancing is astonishing The MAC production was directed and choreographed by Joshua Buscher with Jalyn Courtenay Webb serving as music director. Buscher was in the Fort Collins Carousel Theatre production of “Grease” 12 years ago while he was a student at UNC. Six months after graduating, he appeared in the revival of “West Side Story” for two years, and has been in Broadway productions of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and “Big Fish.”

Music was furnished by a super group of on-stage musicians, with the minimal props and action going on in front of them. There didn’t initially appear to be much room for choreography, but Director Buscher has provided routines that could be confined into smaller spaces, and the syncopated moves were flawless.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The stage musical, as originally conceived, was a raunchy, raw and aggressive tale that was subsequently toned down. It has been further modified to become a landmark of teenage angst. It is basically a look at what peer pressure can do, but taking a sometimes comical look at what teenagers felt they needed to do to be part of a group. “Sandra Dee” in the song becomes a “Sandy” who has potential of being a tough gal in the Pink Ladies clique.

It opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for nearly ten years. When it closed in 1980, it was then the longest run in Broadway history. The production now onstage at MAC has a few very brief moments of toughness, but is generally family oriented, and a true delight to see. Versions of it have played worldwide, and the John Travolta movie turned up in 1978, resulting in virtual adoration.

Jalyn Courtenay Webb is convincing as Miss Lynch, the high school teacher who tries to help the students maneuver through the pitfalls of adolescence – pitfalls that she has not yet personally overcome. Tara Fitzgerald is the tough-as-nails, Rizzo, the unofficial leader of the Pink Ladies clique. Abigail Hanawalt is delightful as the non-too-bright Frenchie, a “Beauty School Dropout.”

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Stuart Rial is great fun as the nerdy Eugene, who can do virtually anything, except find his way into the “in” crowd. Rakeem Lawrence is very good as Roger, the high schooler whose main claim to fame is that he “moons” every chance he gets. Taylor Marrs turns up in two crazed roles – the disc jockey Vince Fontaine and also as the Teen Angel performer. Mid way through Act I. Corbin George provided his personal dynamite as Kenickie with his over-the-top vocalizing of “Greased Lightning.”

Christy Oberndorf, Stephanie Garcia, Amy Dollar, Timothy Canali, Peyton Schoenhofer, Carley Ingold, Anthony Weber, and Delany Garcia complete the roster of talents on stage – several with individual moments to shine. Even Kenickie’s cherished convertible becomes a featured performer as “Greased Lightning.”

The total show is a delightful romp of looking at the teenagers of the last century, making us wonder how we might behave if we could be temporarily transplanted into the rock and roll generation. Then every guy wanted his greased hair slicked back, his own “Greased Lightning” convertible, and every girl wanted to be “Hopelessly Devoted” to someone.

“Grease”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To August 25, 2018
Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

Another Opening – Another Show! 17 days until Disney’s “Newsies” sweeps into Johnstown!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Offers Acclaimed Show “Newsies” For Summer Run.

Reported by Tom Jones
June 12, 1018

I am an unabashed theater fan. I continue to get an adrenalin rush each time I sit in an audience, waiting to be amazed as the lights go down and the show begins, especially musicals. I take for granted the extensive work that has usually gone into making a play or musical succeed.

This has been an especially rich season for Colorado theatre, including such wonders as “Ragtime” at Midtown Arts Center, “The Little Mermaid” at Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage, ”Sunday in the Park with George” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, and the upcoming “Grease” at Midtown Arts. I decided to look into the “making” of a show, and received permission to attend a rehearsal of Disney’s “Newsies,” now in preparation at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Tuesday, June 12, the entire cast of “Newsies” assembled for what looked to be a marathon rehearsal. The show doesn’t open until June 29, but cast and crew were in full preparation of what has potential of being a seasonal winner.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

I arrived at the theatre’s rehearsal hall to spend a couple of hours watching the cast go through their paces. There were about 15 ensemble dancers – 12 guys and three girls, plus about ten other performers, all acting, singing, and dancing. “Five, six, seven, eight. Again — one, two, three, four….” Choreographer Matthew D. Peters was counting as the dancers went through the steps time and time again. He knows what he is looking for. He appeared to be a patient man. And no one seemed to complain when he said, “Ok, let’s try it again.” He choreographed, directed, and is in the cast of the currently-running “The Little Mermaid” in Boulder.

I did not see the”Newsies” movie on which the theater production was based. Nor did I see the original Broadway production or subsequent touring company. I did see a version of the show last summer at Tuacahn in Southern, Utah, and was thunderstruck by the ten minutes of opening-scene dancing.

The current “Newsies” director, Pat Payne advised me a few weeks ago that the dancers were going through a couple weeks of “dancing boot camp.” He noted, “The show is so physical that the dancers must have great stamina to make it through the full two and one-half hours each performance.”

Matthew Peters, Choreographer
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

We are aware that professional athletes train unmercifully, but seldom realize the theater performers have similarly arduous training. The performers I saw rehearsing had already passed the “tryout” period and had been cast for the show. Everyone was doing his or her darndest to hit the steps correctly as Peters counted, “One, two, three, four…” The rehearsal was set to continue for possibly eight more hours that day.

The first scene I saw being rehearsed consisted of just a few bars of an Act Two song and dance, “King of New York.” The routine was being rehearsed as a “soft shoe.” The floor of the rehearsal room cannot withstand the strain of tap shoes which will be featured when the show opens on stage. Visibly helpful during the rehearsal was Stage Manager Malia Stoner who appeared to be everywhere, when needed.

On hand to watch the initial dance routine were Harmony Livingston and Logan Traver who are the production’s leads. When they took their places in the rehearsal for the Act Two run-through, they stunned the viewing cast. Their voices are excellent, and their physical chemistry is dynamic.

Pat Payne, Director
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

Director Pat Payne has impeccable credentials. He appears to be as patient as choreographer Peters, and the two seem to have utmost respect from the assembled cast. Payne and Peters have put together an incredibly talented group of performers of many ages for this based-on-an actual event show. I didn’t see the set, which is to be a replica of lower Manhattan in 1899. The “orchestra” consisted of a man at a keyboard, and another hitting a soundbox for some recording helps.

Lack of scenery, costumes, or orchestra, did not appear to affect the rehearsing performers, who acted, sang and danced as if they were on a stage in front of a large audience. I was in awe of the natural talent in evidence. Some of the faces (and dancing feet) were familiar to me, including Leo Battle, Elliot Clough, Sarah Grover, Eric Heine, Sara Kowalski, Heather McClain, Kent Sugg, Broc Timmerman, and David Wygant. Many have extensive experience at Candlelight and in other theatres in the area.

No one appeared to be trying to outdo others in the cast. That afternoon it was as if I was attending a large family reunion where everyone was actually happy to see each other and share their talents! Tempers may have flared later in the day; but while I was watching, the experience could not have appeared more pleasant and normal. And extremely interesting.

“Newsies” began as a Disney movie in 1992 based on a real-life newsboys strike in New York City. The musical stage version arrived on Broadway in 2012 receiving great acclaim, including Tony Awards for choreography and original score.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

While choreographer Mathew D. Peters and his assistant Cole Emarine were counting dancing moves with “five, six, seven eight,” the entire group was counting down the 17 days prior to the show’s opening night at Candlelight.

Colorado’s theatergoers’ percentages rank among the nation’s highest. In 2015, 59% of all Coloradoans attended a visual arts event, vs. 39% nationwide. I will be interested to see how I and the thousands of Colorado theatre fans respond to the based-on-reality and soaring choreography of “Newsies,” opening at the Candlelight June 29.

An incredible amount of work and extensive rehearsals have already gone into the production. I’ve seen some of it, meticulously counted out – “Five, six, seven, eight. Again, one, two, three four…….”

“Newsies”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: June 29 to August 26, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

“The Little Mermaid” Is Feast Of Sight & Sound!

Hans Christian Andersen’s Underwater Tale Surfaces With Great Beauty

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 10, 2018

Roll out the adjectives. Last night I saw opening night of “The Little Mermaid” at the Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage. I don’t know quite how to adequately report the wonders of that five-star theatrical feast without sounding sappy in my affection for the show.
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the mermaid who longs to be human remains intact, but the “telling” becomes a wonder of talent and stagecraft. The staging is nothing short of amazing. The entertainment “feast” has so many courses, that it is hard to know what to include and what to leave out, to further surprise the audience.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

For starters, there is the underwater sequence where mermaid Ariel swims up to rescue the drowning Prince Eric who has fallen overboard from a storm-tossed ship. There is the continuing story shift from land above the ocean, to a ship on the ocean and to the sea beneath. The underwater scenes are incredible, as the cast continually move their “fins” enough to remind the audience that we are seeing something under the sea, while not becoming annoying with the movement.

There are the puppets portraying underwater delights, again moving as if with the flow of the tide. The Act One “Under the Sea” production number is one of the most visually dazzling sequences in memory. I did not want the scene to conclude, as the stage was alive with the excitement of being beneath the sea’s surface. Not to be outdone is an Act Two “Kiss the Girl.” This time the action is on a lagoon above the water, with puppet birds and creatures coming to enchant Ariel and Eric in a rowboat.

I am in awe at what the entire creative team at BDTS has accomplished. The direction, choreography, music, scenic design, audio, costumes and wigs, lighting, puppetry, projections, and flying design are impeccable. I can’t fathom what producing this production has entailed. Matthew D. Peters is the show’s director and choreographer who put together this wonder, produced by Michael J. Duran, with Alicia K. Meyers as assistant director.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Lillian Buonocore is charming as the confused Ariel. It is her voice the sailors hear when she emerges from the water. Buonocore’s background in classical ballet is on full display, as she is the continually moving fish under the sea, and the woman who can’t initially figure out how to use her legs when such becomes a possibility. Cole LaFonte is equally charming as Prince Eric. His voice and stage presence are impressive, and the audience and assembled cast encourage him to “Kiss the Girl” to hopefully end the evil spell cast upon her by the witch of the sea.

Supporting roles include the over-the-top evil Ursula, played by Alicia K. Meyers. Ursula is the evil witch of the sea, sister of King Triton, who will stop at nothing to win the kingdom’s title for herself. Chaz Lederer becomes Flounder the fish in love with Ariel. Bob Hoppe is non-stop delight as he taps and swims and flies as Scuttle. Scott Severtson is the underwater King Triton, with Brian and Jackson and Matthew D. Peters portraying the underwater Flotsam and Jetsam. Scott Beyette has his moments to shine as Chef Louis the above-ground chef preparing a fish meal for Ariel, without realizing that the mermaid has no desire to “eat her own.” Brian Burron is excellent as the ever-present servant Grimbsy who tries to make some order out of chaos. Sometimes stealing the show is Sebastian, the puppet crab played by Anthony P. McGlaun in the performance I saw. He is eager to help Ariel whenever possible, not so eager to be her meal when the palace chef prepares fish for dinner.

Ariel’s visits to the seashore have encouraged her to sing to the waters, with her voice beguiling many. She is also fascinated by “humans” and has created an underwater display of everything she has found in the ocean, including discarded forks that she assumes must be hair combs. Her father King Triton, is dismayed with his youngest daughter’s interest in humans, and refuses permission for her to “surface.”

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Hans Christian Andersen’s original story appeared in an 1837 collection of his fairy tales. The collection also included “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The collection was not immediately successful, as Andersen’s prior successes had been as a travel writer and novelist. His fairy tales, however, resulted in his becoming the best known Danish writer. He was only 32 when “The Little Mermaid was published in the series of stories.

The animated movie version of “The Little Mermaid” was created by the Disney Corporation and released in 1989. The stage musical came to life in Denver in 2007 prior to opening on Broadway the next year. It ran for nearly 700 performances on Broadway and has subsequently been produced worldwide. The Broadway version was adapted for the touring company in 2015, with that version now being seen on stage in Boulder.

And what a sight to see! The sets, the lighting, the costumes, the flying, and the incredible beauty of the entire production. Seeing it nearly becomes gluttonous. I had visually consumed so much that I was somewhat overfull. Act Two is too long, and a slightly-reduced offering would be preferred. It took me a few post-show hours to properly digest and reflect on what I had seen, appreciating the wonder of it all.

“The Little Mermaid”
To September 8, 2018
BDT Stage – Boulder’s Dinner Theatre
5501 Arapahoe Avenue
Boulder, CO 80303
Telephone: 303/449-6000
Online: BDTStage.com

“Comedy of Errors” Offers An Evening Of Sublime Silliness

OpenStage’s Production Of Shakespearean Tale Provides Smiles For A Summer Evening

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 3, 2018

The printed program announces that there are two chaps in the story named Antipholus: Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. Each has a manservant, each named Dromio — one of Syracuse and one of Ephesus. Shakespeare’s family reportedly included a set of twins. Twins are everywhere in “The Comedy of Errors.” Figuring out who is who is the audience’s task in the park this spring.

The two sets of twins were separated at birth, neither knowing of the other’s existence as the story begins in ancient Ephesus, Greece. When Antipholus of Syracuse and his manservant arrive in town, the current citizens find themselves in a fit of frenzy, not realizing the “new faces” are twin brothers of their local friends. Even the Ephesus wife is in turmoil.

The weather cooperated brilliantly for opening night, as the talented OpenStage cast of players entertained the audience with this crazy story under the stars. To make the story even more challenging, women play all of the roles. In Shakespeare’s time, men portrayed all the roles. Director Denise Burson Freestone has taken a risk in switching genders in her version of the tale. And it works! Julie Kaye Wolf and Sydney Parks Smith take on roles of the two Antipholus characters. Molly McGuire and Corinne Webber are the two Dromios.

Women playing the men characters was initially confusing and a tad disturbing. When I figured out who was who, the gender gyrations were great fun and the women “became” the men they portrayed. By the show’s end, I had completely forgotten that the Antipholus twins were actually women, and that their “father,” was really Louise F. Thornton.

The plot is a maze of craziness. As is the case with many Shakespearean plays, it can be helpful to read a brief synopsis of the story before settling in to see a production. This is further complicated when a production is performed outside, with the audience seated on the grass or on chairs they personally furnished, resulting in sometimes-difficult views of the stage. The sound was quite good, including inclusion of sound effects that highlight the lunacy.

Denise Burson Freestone’s excellence as a director is evidenced as the entire cast provided very clever action. The moments of farce are genuinely funny, including an over-the-top swordfight late in the show. Performances were exceptionally good. The actors were very well rehearsed.

Again – a caution. If you are not acquainted with the story, take a few moments to check the synopsis on Google before heading to the park. Bring your folding chairs, a light jacket, maybe a blanket, and perhaps a snack and beverage. The street-side food truck offers a limited amount of good food at good prices. Show is about an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

“The Comedy of Errors”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, outside in the Park at Columbine Health Systems,
947 Worthington Circle in Fort Collins (Corner of Worthington Circle and Centre Avenue)
When: Through June 30, 2018
Tickets: 970/221-6730
Online: www.openstage.com

“The Impossible Dream” Is A Spell-Binding Success On Stage At “Candlelight”

David Wygant’s Enormous Talent Brings Don Quixote To Life In “Man of La Mancha”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 18, 2018

For starters, the set is beautiful. The show opens at a Spanish prison dungeon at the time of the Spanish Inquisition where inmates have minimal chance of survival. The show concludes with that same set, but with the background opening on a sky of stars offering a tiny glimpse of hope. In between, the audience is provided with a feast of talent, glorious music, clever visual effects and some inspiration of what humankind just might become.

That “glorious music” includes the forever wondrous “Impossible Dream,” as well as thoughtful advice, and clever comedy relief with “I’m Only Thinking of Him” “I Really Like Him,” “What Does He Want of Me,” “Little Bird, Little Bird,” “Golden Helmet of Mambrino,” “A Little Gossip,” and my personal favorite “Dulcinea.”

David L. Wygant rules the stage as the poet-actor-tax collector Cervantes. He and his friend, Sancho, are thrown into the Spanish prison awaiting trial, charged with foreclosing on a monastery. The prisoners are a mixed-bag of criminals, eager to steal everything they can from the new inmates, and making fun of their naïve optimism of ever being released.

The prisoners decide to provide their own “trial” for the poet and his friend. Cervantes produces a manuscript that he has written, hoping to convince the group of his innocence. The manuscript is his tale of a befuddled knight of the woeful countenance, “Don Quixote de La Mancha.”

Cervantes then provides his “case,” using the prisoners to play the various roles. His story comes to life in this play within a play. There are sinners, merchants, barmaids, clergymen, government officials and even two amazing horses with personalities of their own.

Central to the story Cervantes relates are the woeful Don Quixote and the guttural Aldonza. She is a barmaid used for sexual pleasure by every man in the area. She is hard as nails, but Quixote looks through the exterior, and sees what she could be – a woman of great warmth and intelligence, with the beautiful name – “Dulcinea.” Heather McClain is rough-and-tumble excellent as the shrill Aldonza, not initially believing that she could ever be as wonderful as the Dulcinea of Cervantes’s imagination.

Cervantes’s skill as a writer lets him see beneath the surface of everyone – not accepting them at face value, but what they could become. It is a great lesson.

The musical was inspired by “Don Quixote,” a classic story by Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th Century. The book is by Dale Wasserman with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. Wasserman has repeatedly reported that the show should not be taken as a faithful rendition of author Cervantes nor of his story “Don Quixote.”

The original 1965 Broadway production ran for more than 2,000 performances and received several Tony Awards, including that for Best Musical. It has been revived four times on Broadway and has become one of Broadways’ most cherished shows.

Scott Beyette has brilliantly directed the Candlelight production, with great choreography by Bob Hoppe. The wonderful set was designed by Halea Coulter, with Joel Adam Chavez as scenic artist. Lighting is by Vance McKenzie, costumes by Liz Hoover, sound by Mark Derryberry. Dave MacEachen is technical director; Victor Walters is music director.

The large cast is uniformly excellent. David L. Wygant and Heather McClain are the stars, but receive impressive support from the entire company, including Ethan Knowles as Sancho, Kent Sugg and Thomas P. Castro each in dual roles, Eric Heine as Padre, Ben Griffin as the Barber, George Lemmon as Pedro, and Leo Batlle as Anselmo – just to mention a few.

Late in Act 2, Eric Heine (as Padre) beautifully sings, “To each his Dulcinea that he alone can name…to each a secret hiding place where he can find the haunting face to light his secret flame. For with his Dulcinea beside him so to stand, a man can do quite anything, outfly the bird upon the wing, hold moonlight in his hand.”

The total effect is a display of brilliance which is becoming the “norm” in Colorado theatres. This past season alone has produced such great productions as “Sunday in the Park with George” at The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, “Ragtime” at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, and now the gorgeous “Man of La Mancha” at Candlelight. This is one of Candlelight’s finest productions in its ten years of providing quality entertainment to the area.

“Man of La Mancha”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: June 17, 2018
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.com

“Sunday in the Park with George” Is Beauty At Its Best

Sondheim Prize-winning musical arrives in full splendor at Arvada Center for the Art and Humanities

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 18, 2018

On a wall of the Art Institute of Chicago hangs an enormous work – “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The painting by George Seurat is about eight feet by ten feet, and is his view of Parisians relaxing in a park on an island in the Seine in the late 1800s.

Seurat was a 25-year old Parisian painter who worked the next two years to complete the project. He did not use the traditional brush strokes, but affixed each speck of paint dot-by-dot, spearheading the pointillism movement. The painting did not meet with great acclaim, but has subsequently been accepted as one of the art masterpieces of the 1800s.

“Sunday in the Park with George” is a remarkable fictitious account of what constitutes art, reminding us that “art isn’t easy,” and showing the torment Seurat went through, causing grief for himself and all those around him while completing the painting.

Cole Burden is excellent as the tormented and tormenting George Seurat. He has no patience with himself or with his models as his “art” is everything. He is also a perfectionist who toils endlessly over getting his “dots” just right to create appropriate color in the eyes of the beholder. His “Finishing the Hat” is among the finest Broadway scenes in memory.

Object of much of his ranting is his model, Dot. Emily Van Fleet is a wonder as the not-very-educated young model who wants more than anything to be a dancer in the “Follies,” and complains incessantly that “It’s hot out here,” standing still in the French park while George immortalizes her on canvas. She wants to be educated and does retain a book of her notes about grammar.

Matt Gale Photography 2018

“Sunday in the Park with George” was originally written as a one-act musical, expanding to two acts shortly before opening on Broadway in 1984. Act I revolves around Seurat’s work on the project, and his relationship with his model/mistress “Dot,” and the Sunday park visitors who wander through his painting

At the conclusion of Act I, George realizes that his “white canvas” has now become full of glorious color, and stops painting with the cast and models freezing into one of Broadways most glorious Act I conclusions: “Sunday.”

Any act would be difficult to follow what transpired before the curtain fell on Act I. Rod A. Lansberry, director of the current Arvada production, has done wonders in bring Act II to life, instilling it with emotion and beauty that were lacking in the original show. This act takes place 100 years after conclusion of the painting. George’s great grandson, also named “George,” is living in Chicago and has become an artist. Not with oils but with mechanics and lights.

He is being honored at a reception at the Chicago Art Institute, home of the “Grand Jatte” painting, and is surrounded by persons wishing to be seen near him, even some who might honor him with a commission for future work. The original George was not honored in his lifetime, and none of his paintings sold while he was alive. At the base of the now-considered masterpiece “A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” his great grandson explains how the concept of art has changed so dramatically in past years, with the artist now having to devote too much of his time in finding funds.

Matt Gale Photography 2018

Emily Van Fleet, Dot in Act I, now returns to the stage as the wheelchair bound grandmother, Marie. She has come to the Art Institute where George is being honored and lapses in and out of reality in her memories of the past. Again, Van Fleet is mesmerizing.

“Sunday in the Park with George” opened on Broadway in 1984 and in London two years later. It has gone on to productions worldwide and major revivals in New York and London. It received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in1985, the ninth musical in history to be so honored.

Stephen Sondheim wrote music and lyrics for the show, including some of his most thoughtful ideas. Near the end of the show, as the great-grandson George explains that it might now be time to “Move On,” making decisions that may or may not work out as you wish. Sondheim’s lyric suggests, “The choices may be mistaken, but the choosing is not.”

Matt Gale Photography 2018

The current production at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is full of beauty; the music, the lyrics, the staging, the lighting, and the costumes.

The finale of Act I remains as glorious as ever, but now Act II provides its own beauty. As the story concludes, George looks back and notes, “White, a blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.” “Sunday in the Park with George” is a treasure all its own.

– – – – –
Illusion vs. reality

George Seurat was actually only 25 years old when he began work on his “Grande

Matt Gale Photography 2018

Jatte” painting, completing it two years later.

His model/mistress was Madeleine Knobloch (known as “Dot” in the musical). She did not marry another and move to America as Dot does in the musical.

George and Madeleine had a son. The son and George died within two weeks of each other when George was only 31. Madeleine was pregnant when George and their first son died. The second son died shortly after birth.

The “George” of Act II in the musical, supposedly the great-grandson of the painter, is an invention and never existed.

“Sunday in the Park with George”
Where: Main Stage Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through May 6, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information: Arvadacenter.org

World Premiere of Colorado Playwright Laura Pritchett’s “Dirt, a Terra Nova Expedition”

Bas Bleu Delivers An Alarming Reminder Of The Six Inches Of Soil Beneath Us

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 15, 2018

Wendy Ishii, founding artistic director of Bas Bleu theatre, acknowledges that she is a risk taker. Creating a theatre company in Fort Collins was one. She took another risk (or challenge) several months ago in her living room after viewing a documentary film “Symphony of the Soil” in the company of Colorado author, Laura Pritchett. The two exchanged ideas and came upon the possibility of Pritchett writing a play about the soil – “Dirt.” Pritchett is a successful writer, publishing five novels and two works of non-fiction. She had not (yet) written a play.

The idea was “planted” and fertile soil appeared in the form of a commission by Bas Bleu to turn Pritchett’s ideas about soil science and planet concerns into a full-length play. The world premiere of “Dirt. A Terra Nova Expedition” opened April 5, 2018, at Bas Bleu, and continues its local run through May 6.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

The result provides fascinating and frightening observations concerning the future of life on our planet. At the beginning of “Dirt,” we are introduced to Estella and Leo (played by Tabitha Tyree and Jacob Richardson) living in an underground bunker beneath the surface of Fort Collins 20 years in the future. Life above ground is disappearing, and the young couple has reserved enough provisions to live for only a few months. Estella is pregnant, and due to have her baby soon. They spend their days observing scientific data, reviewing global histories, and are now writing a play about their lives beneath the ground. Leo takes the role of sacrificing his own life for the benefit of others by leaving enough provisions for Estella to survive beneath the surface until the baby is born.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

He instructs Stella to remain in the underground bunker until time for the child to be born, at which time she must climb the ladder to escape with the hope that the planet’s ecological system will have been successful modified. Leo reminds Stella of the sacrifice that explorer Robert Scott made for men in his charge on an expedition to Antarctica in 1912, and he climbs up the ladder to face the hostile world by himself.
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The pregnant Estella is left alone in the bunker. She continues writing the play that she and Leo had discussed. She becomes immersed in scientific studies, alarmed at what has happened to the soil, and pained by results of perceived global warning. Her mind is beginning to unravel to the point that she does not clearly understand what is happening to her. She conjures up memories of the past, including instructions her professor father gave to her. She muses over the “mentors” that have been around for centuries to help scientists and artists “create.” She gives thought to the philosophy that we “truly do not realize all that we do not know.”

Her mental wanderings introduce her to scientists, medical personnel, philosophers and eventually to Persephone, the Greek goddess of harvest and fertility, who arrives to help Estella at the time of childbirth. The play’s voice sounds alarms about what we need to do in order to save our own existence. Action of the plot takes place just 20 years in the future giving, the reminder that time is running out.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Jennifer Bray, Kevin Coldiron, and Maya Jairam, playing multiple roles in and out of Estella’s mind, join Tyree and Richardson on stage. Myths of past philosophies and isms are produced in dance, as are the appearance of scientific Nematodes (roundworms). Aleah Black, Francis Lister, and Holly Wedgeworth are the musical dancers who are sometimes enchanting, sometimes spookily reminiscent to the ghoulish “walking dead,

The show’s director, Jeffrey Bigger, writes in the show’s program, “I will be forever changed by what I have learned working on this show. Coming to the realization that there are just six inches between life and death was a very cathartic moment.”

Playwright Pritchett grew up on a small ranch in northern Colorado. She received her BA and MA in English a Colorado State University, and has a PhD in English from Purdue University. Her writings have garnered many awards, with subject matter focusing on ecology, conservation, climate change, and social justice issue.

“Dirt, a Terra Nova Expedition”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: Through May 6, 2018
Tickets: 970/498-8949
For more information: www.basbleu.org

“Ragtime” Is An Explosion Of Talent At MAC

Sheer Brilliance Is Key In This Powerful Production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 13, 2018

Some musicals have outstanding overtures. Some have incredible finales. “Ragtime” has one of my all-time favorite introductory scenes. In the show’s first ten minutes three diverse cultures vividly come to life in the New York of 1906. There are the privileged upper class whites living in the New York suburb of New Rochelle; African Americans living in downtown Harlem; and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who have found space in lower-Manhattan tenements.

The New Rochelle family consists of Mother, Father, Younger Brother, Grandfather, and Little Boy. Father is leaving the home to travel for a year with Admiral Peary’s expedition to the North Pole. He is leaving Mother at home to be “in charge” for the first time in their marriage.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The Harlem citizens are Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (a man-about-town musician), his girlfriend (Sarah), and their friends. Sarah has become pregnant by Coalhouse, and flees to New Rochelle, where no one will know her to give birth to the baby, hiding it in a local garden.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Coming from Latvia are Tateh, a Jewish widower, who is bringing his daughter from poverty-stricken Eastern Europe, with the desire of finding some degree of happiness in the New World.

Characters in each of the cultures initially appear unaware of the other culture’s existence, preferring to live only in their immediate sphere. This is about to change when Mother finds the newborn black baby in her garden, and shows innate caring and capabilities by bringing mother and baby into her home to give them refuge. Coalhouse frantically looks for his beloved Sarah and ultimately finds her in the upper-class neighborhood of New Rochelle. The local citizens there are openly racist, especially men in the fire department, even though some of them have faced discrimination in their new surroundings, having come from Ireland. They want nothing to do with anyone of color.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

While waiting for a train at the New Rochelle train station Mother meets Tateh and his frightened daughter. He is equally frightened, and has placed a rope around the daughter’s waist, pulling her along with fear he might lose her. This is a chance encounter that will ultimately be rewarding.

These divergent characters have difficulty co-existing, accepting other cultures, and meshing into a single society. They initially appear to be ignorant of the other cultures’ existences, preferring to live only in their immediate sphere.

Performances are universally excellent. Brian Boyd has an outstanding voice as the in-charge Coalhouse. Marissa Rudd matches his talent as Coalhouse’s girlfriend, Sarah. Alisa Metcalf is heartwarming as Mother, whose first major independent decision is to rescue Sarah and the newborn child. Father (Taylor Marrs) returns from the North Pole, appalled at what his wife as done. Chris Trimboli is believable as the Jewish immigrant with his daughter in tow. Marrs, Metcalf, and Trimboli also have excellent voices. The musical has become a heartwarming opera with English dialogue

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

”Ragtime” first appeared in 1975 as an historical novel by E. L. Doctorow. A movie version of the book appeared in 1981. The intertwined stories of the three cultures were then set to the impressive music and lyrics of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, with book for the musical by Terrence McNally. The show was introduced in Canada in 1996, but did not arrive on Broadway until January of 1998. It was very successful, received great audience acclaim, honored with several awards, and ran for 834 performances.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The story is successfully told to continually-interesting music: marches cakewalks, gospel, and the ever-enduring syncopated ragtime. The music has rarely, if ever, sounded better than currently heard on the MAC stage. Among the musical highlights are “Journey On,” “Gettin’ Ready Rag,” “Wheels of a Dream,” “Sarah Brown Eyes,” and “He Wanted to Say.” The format itself is not perfect. The overly-long Act I seems to be ready to happily conclude two or three times before some unpleasant situations must be faced.

Most performers in the large cast play multiple roles, including the impressive Daniel Harkins who turns up as Grandfather, J. P. Morgan, and Admiral Peary, switching roles, costumes and wigs something like 15 times in the course of the evening. The show’s author cleverly inserted the lives of several famous people to the story. We meet Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Brooker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry K. Thaw, Admiral Peary and Emma Goldman –all historical New York figures of the early 1900s.

Supporting players include Jalyn Courtenay Webb, impressive as Emma Goldman, Kyle Smith as Younger Brother, Hugh Buttterfield as Willie Conklin, and Charlotte Campbell as the saucy Evelyn Nesbit.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Produced by Kurt Terrio, the MAC production is flawlessly directed and choreographed by Joseph Callahan, with Jalyn Courtenay Webb as Music Director. Scenic design and lighting by Chad Bonaker, costumes by Charlotte Campbell and Alisa Metcalf, sound by Patrick Lapinski. The set is not attractive, but is cleverly functional. The orchestra is successfully conducted by Casey Cropp. Choral music and stage movement are extremely impressive throughout.

The costumes, the choral work, the directions, the acting, the music, sound and lighting all work to perfection, resulting in one of Midtown Arts most triumphant productions, maybe even matching their “Les Miserables” wonder of a few seasons ago.

Unfortunately, the basic themes of social injustice and intolerance remain as disturbing as ever, with little true advancement since the New York of 1906.

“Ragtime”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To May 26, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Website / Tickets:  www.midtownartscenter.com

“And Then There Were None” (Except For The Audience & One Actor)

OpenStage Delivers Agatha Christie’s Famed Tale On Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 1, 2018

Invited guests begin arriving by boat at Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, England. They are a mixed bag with no one knowing the others, and not knowing why he/she has been invited. Their host doesn’t show up, and the guests begin to die – to the sounds of the sinister nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers.” There is only one house on the tiny island, no harbor, and just a small boat dock where groceries and passengers are dropped off. Does this sound creepy enough? Who is doing the killing – one of the guests, the hired help, or perhaps someone hiding on the island?

OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie James Burns as Philip Lombard, Mark Terzani as General Mackenzie, Dan Tschirhart as Dr. Armstrong, Jack Krause as Rogers, Debbie Swann as Mrs. Rogers, Brikai Cordova as Vera, David Austin-Groen as William Blore, Kiernan Angley as Anthony Marston, Jessica Emerling Crow as Emily Brent, and Greg Clark as Sir LawrenceWargrave in OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photograph

As the corpses mount, there is concern that the audience just might be included among the carnage. Agatha Christie’s famous whodunit has been around since 1939, turning up as a novel, several movies and plays. It is Christies best seller, with 100 million copies sold. It is the world’s best-selling mystery, and one of the best-selling books of all time. The story has held up well, and the current OpenStage cast is in fine form.

Even better than “fine form.” All eleven of the formers are familiar to Northern Colorado audiences. Each has his/her moment to shine in this cleverly crafted sinister scenario. Kiernan Angley, who delighted audiences in “Romeo and Juliet” a few seasons ago, is great fun as an over-the-top young man, Anthony Marston, with an enormous ego. Other favorites includes James Burns as Philip Lombard (the only guest with a gun), Brikai Cordova as Vera Claythorne (secretary to the host she has never met), and Greg Clark as Sir Lawrence Wargrave.

Kiernan Angley as Anthony Marston in OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

As the guests arrive and learn that their host isn’t going to show up that night, a voice recording of the unknown host advises that his presence is there to haunt the guests. Each is reportedly concealing a death they caused earlier in their lives, but for which they were never punished. On the mantel above the fireplace is a reading of the poem “Ten Little Soldiers Boys,” as well as ten soldier figurines that begin to tumble to their deaths as the cast is reduced.

Dan Tschirhart is excellent as Dr. Armstrong; Jessica Emerling Crow is wonderfully annoying as the religious fanatic who knits incessantly. Mark Terzani is the mysterious General Mackenzie; David Austin-Grӧen is William Blore who may or may not be who he claims to be. Jack Krause and Debbie Swann are very good as the servants, hired by the mysterious host. They are a husband and wife who have secrets of their own. Andrew Cole is Fred Narracott, the man to bring supplies and passengers by boat to the island, never returning as a storm makes transportation to and from the island too hazardous.

Dan Tschirhart as Dr. Armstrong Wargrave, Jessica Emerling Crow as Emily Brent, James Burns as Philip Lombard, Kiernan Angley as Anthony Marston, Mark Terzani as General Mackenzie, Brikai Cordova as Vera and Jack Krause as Rogers in OpenStage Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The impressive set design is by James Brookman, with properties and set dressing by Carla Brookman. It is very attractive vacation home with modern conveniences, and a fine view overlooking the stormy seas. When the storm causes the electricity to fail, the guests hover in the semi-light of candles, fearful of each other and of what just might be outside the door. The fear of the unknown turns to near comic melodrama a few times, especially at the conclusion of Act 1 and again at the end of Act 2, when more deaths are announced. Total performance length is less than two and one-half hours, including two ten-minute intermissions. Cast needs time to change costumes and three-act plays were the norm when the play was written in the 1930s. The total experience is a well-produced crowd pleaser. Highly honored performer and director Sydney Parks Smith has directed a spooky telling of the Christie tale. Parks is assisted by the work of James and Paula Brookman (set design and set dressing), Grant Putney (lighting), Victoria Villalobos (sound), Kirsten Hovorka (hair design), Maggie Cummings (makeup design). and Maile Hӧrger-Speetjens (costumes).

Audiences can find out what happened to the eight guests and two housekeepers on the Magnolia Stage through April 28.

“And Then There Were None”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through April 28, 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
Online: www.lctix.com

Arthur Miller’s First Triumph Arrives in Arvada

“All My Sons” Packs Emotional Wallop

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 11, 2018

At the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities performance’s conclusion, there were a few seconds of stunned silence before the audience jumped up to provide thunderous applause. The audience was in complete awe and could not immediately respond to the magnificence of the performance.

Arthur Miller was still a struggling playwright when he completed his first success, “All My Sons.” He had decided to abandon writing if that work did not succeed. His worry was unnecessary. Subsequent to the January 1947 opening of “All My Sons,” Miller went on to complete a string of successes including “The Crucible,” “A View from the Bridge,” “Death of a Salesman,” “An Enemy of the People,” “After the Fall,” “Incident at Vichy,” “The Archbishop’s Ceiling,” and “The Price.” He is considered to be among the greatest American playwrights of the 20th Century.

L-R: Emma Messenger (Kate Keller) and Sam Gregory (Joe Keller)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

The characters he created for “Sons,” are on brilliant display this season at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Front and center are Sam Gregory and Emma Messenger as Joe and Kate Keller, a couple in their early 60s. Joe’s business has survived the transition from World War II wartime to peacetime. He is an arrogant, confident, and wealthy man. His wife, Kate, has remained in wartime distress of never accepting the possibility that her son, missing in action, may never return.

Pictured L-R: Regina Fernandez (Ann Deever), Abner Genece (Dr. Jim Bayliss), Emma Messenger (Kate Keller), and Lance Rasmussen (Chris Keller). Photo – Matt Gale Photography 2018

The ravages of war have become the ravages of peace where the family appears to be unable to accept the post-war American Dream. Neighbors believe that Joe and his partner overtly provided malfunctioning supplies to the military effort, supplies that ultimately resulted in the deaths of at least 21 pilots. Joe’s partner, and former next-door-neighbor, Mr. Deever, is currently in prison for the crime, whereas Joe claimed innocence and has remained a free man.

He is the father of two sons, Larry, who has never returned from the war, and Chris, who has returned and is working at his father’s business. He is still single and living at home two years after the war ended.

Pictured L-R: Geoffrey Kent (George Deever) and Emma Messenger (Kate Keller). Photo – Matt Gale Photography 2018

Chris has carried on communication with Ann Deever, daughter of the former neighbor who is now in prison. She was Larry’s girlfriend before the war, and Chris is in love with her. He invites her to visit the Keller home with the plan to propose to her. Regina Fernandez and Lance Rasmussen are in excellent form as Chris and Ann, apparently smitten with each other, with neither wanting to confront the past. When Ann’s attorney brother, George, arrives from New York, there is incredible malice in the air – anger on George’s part for the role he believes Joe Keller played, resulting in his own father becoming imprisoned. George is horrified with the idea that his sister may want to marry the son of the man whose actions put their father in jail.

It would be difficult to imagine a cast as talented as those on stage this season at the Arvada Center. The cast is part of the theatre’s current repertory company. They are stunning audiences not only with “All My Sons,” but also in “The Electric Baby” and “Sense and Sensibility.” To add to the amazement is the realization that Lynne Collins directed both “All My Sons” and “Sense and Sensibility” — two plays this season of entirely different focus and genre.

The set is a thought-provoking image of what might be in store for the audience. A home is completely topsy-turvy behind a well-maintained outdoor patio. It is clear that the Keller household may be in complete disarray, while trying to maintain a sunny appearance of normality.

This is a stunning display of incredible talent. It is rare that I am not ready to leave a theatre after two and one half hours. I was in no rush this time, however, as “All My Sons” kept me spellbound. The show is more than about just a family in distress. It touches on themes of guilt and innocence, right and wrong, greed, morality, and actions of those who served in the war and those who chose not to. It comes back to being able to move on, taking responsibility for our own actions.

“All My Sons”
Where: Black Box Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through May 3, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Online at Arvadacenter.org