All posts by Tom

Ethan Walker Amazes As A Transplanted Teenager Who Wants To Dance!

“Footloose” Comes Alive At The Candlelight!

By TOM JONES

Ethan Walker portrays Ren McCormack who is at loose ends – yep.  He is footloose.  He and his mom have moved from exciting Chicago to “Bomont” in the middle of nowhere USA when his father abandons the family. Ren and his mom, Ethel, are forced to move to Bomont, as his mom’s sister and her husband have offered them a place to live.  Walker is wondrous as the out-of-place Ren.  He can sing.  He can dance.  He can act.  He creates excitement wherever he goes.

Unfortunately for Ren and his mom, Bomont is not excited to have them arrive in town.  It appears that a few years ago there was a tragic automobile accident that killed four youths, including the son of Reverend Shaw Moore, the local preacher.  The preacher continues his deep morning the loss of his son and has expanded his grief to exclude any type of normal teenage activity – including dancing.  Thomas Castro is well known to Candlelight audiences, and he is especially good as the preacher who has not only excluded the town teenagers from happiness, but has alienated his wife, Vi, and their teenage daughter, Ariel.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

Heather McClain is convincing as the wife, Vi, and Susanna Ballenski dazzles as Ariel, their daughter.  Like Ethan Walker playing Ren, Ballenski is sensational as Ariel.  She, too, can dance, act, sing, and light up the stage.  Unfortunately she is dating the town trailer trash Chuck Cranston making her preacher father especially unhappy.  Hugh Butterfield also well known to Candlelight audiences is very good as Cranston, and he brings a roughness to the boy from the wrong side of town.

“Footloose” at the Candlelight is a wonderful story- one of forgiveness and hope  that doesn’t come along very often.  It has a beautiful storyline, some comedy relief, and some phenomenal dancing.  Music is pleasant, with a few songs that are hummable favorites from the past, including “Mama Says” and “Footloose.” Ren and Ariel make their own magic with “Almost Paradise;” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” in the second act is just about as rollicking a dance number as seen in recent memory.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

Ren learned his dancing skills in Chicago and wants everyone in Bomont to enjoy such an opportunity. He even rallies the town around the idea of over-riding the Preacher’s anger, hoping to have an actual school dance.  He faces obstacles.

Everyone associated with his production appears to be first class!  The trio of leads is amazing, as are all of the supporting players. In addition to the persons listed above other standout performances are provided by Ethan Lee Knowles as Willard Hewitt,  Allison Hatch as Ren’s mother, and Sarah Forman as “Rusty.” The extent of talent is remarkable.

Putting the production together must have been a Herculean task!  The planned production was to be a version of “Peter Pan,” but that was pulled from the list only about two weeks prior to opening night.  Cast and crew decided upon “Footloose” and put the entire production together in only about two weeks.  A mini miracle on its own.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

Much of the credit for the success is the work of Cole Emarine, (Director and Choreographer), Phil Forman Music Director), Heather McClain (Associate Choreographer), and Jalyn Courtenay Webb (Associate Music Director).  The set, lighting, costumes, and sound are all excellent.

Footloose the Musical is based on the 1984 movie that sky-rocketed Kevin Bacon to stardom.  Bacon portrayed Ren who has moved to Bomont with his mother and just plain doesn’t fit into the crowd.  The musical stage version opened on Broadway in 1998 and versions of the show have toured worldwide.

Photo Credit to RDG Photography

I saw the final dress rehearsal prior to opening night at Candlelight and was blown away with the excellence of the entire production.  Seeing it again a week later only heightened my appreciation for the efforts made to make “Footloose” such great entertainment.

As a bonus to “Footloose” is the current Candlelight meal!  Dinner theaters are not highly regarded as great places to eat.  That has changed as Rode Roberts is now Head Chef at the Candlelight.  The meal with “Footloose” was a super addition to an already exceptional evening!

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
970/744-3747
www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

Johnstown Becomes Magical As Fairy Tale Creatures Continue To Thrive

A Two-Night Youth Production Of “Shrek” In July Was A Charmer And Regular Show Continues At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Stage Through August 22

 

By Tom Jones
July 22, 2021

Johnstown, Colorado, is a magical place this summer. On the Main Stage of The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, a terrific production of “Shrek” opened to enthusiastic response in June. Separate from the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is The Academy By Divabee, a production organization headed by Candlelight performing favorite, Jalyn Webb. While the current “Shrek” production continues on the Candlelight stage until August 22. The youthful performers of The Academy participated in the school’s summer program and put together their own “Shrek” version for two performances in July.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

I thoroughly enjoyed opening night of the primary “Shrek,” production in June. So much so, that I asked if I could return to see the young persons of The Academy at a rehearsal of the same show a few days later. The rehearsal was an eye-opener. The cast was substantially larger than the main-stage production, and there as a feeling of camaraderie that is remarkable. The young people had bonded to the extent that they were cheering each other on, with every rehearsal number becoming a show-stopper.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

The result was my return again to Candlelight July 19 for the second (of two) performance of The Academy youth group. What a show! “Shrek” is basically tale of fairytale characters who have experienced difficulty in accepting themselves in a harsh world – now being evicted from their Duloc homeland to live in a swamp, home of an angry and sorrowful ogre. The fairytale creatures consider themselves as “freaks,” having difficulty in coming to terms with their individual value. Being a fairytale character isn’t as wondrous as we might imagine.

The youthful performers were definitely not fairytale “freaks,” but talented teenagers perhaps realizing for the first time what amazing performance gifts they possess. The Academy has provided a terrific environment to realize the extent of their talents. They bonded under the guise of the wondrous “Shrek,” to provide a magical evening of entertainment for each other, for family, and for friends. In future shows they will become stars on the main stage, just as they are currently “stars” in student Academy.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

The original Broadway “Shrek” production had a cast of about two dozen performers, whereas the original Candlelight show has just 13 – requiring each performer to play more than one roll. The situation was reversed for The Academy show, with about four dozen performers taking on the two dozen rolls. This has resulted in a particularly interesting evening, as some of the fairytale characters are played by more than one performer. Gillian McCreery, Hannah Schorr, and Aly Toews were equally convincing and professional as Fiona, the princess locked in a tower waiting for a prince charming to rescue her. Alden Vieira and Ali Steen took turns as the loveable Ogre, Shrek, who wants the fairytale creatures to get out of his swamp and return to their homes in The Kingdom of Duloc. Nathan Moss and Jack Ham took turns as Donkey, the fast-talking animal whose main desire is to be somebody’s “friend.’ The six performers were delightful as they wove their own personalities into the three primary characters. Laura Caikowski was a show on her own, taking on the role Duloc’s Lord Farquaad, the diminutive character sired by “Grumpy” of Seven Dwarf’s fame who was never accepted by his father. Caikowski was a wow, as she performed on her knees as the dwarf her “Grumpy” father sired. Another stand-out was Leta Peret singing the role of the somewhat ferocious but lovable dragon.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

Jalyn Webb organized and directed the production, dividing directorial duties with Abigail Hanawalt, Rylee Vogel and Allison Hatch overseeing specific segments. Lincoln Brandt was Music Director, with Susanna Ballenski as chorographer.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

The choreography was excellent, as were sound, lighting and costumes. Scenery used by the regular show continued to be super. The Academy performers were amazing. They all danced. They all sang. They became a single unit of great talent. And they put the show together from introduction to final curtain in just three weeks! This was rehearsing for four days a week for three weeks – for a total of only 12 days! The audience in the shows’ final performance did not want to show to end. The standing ovation of was prolonged. Webb announced that instead of greeting cast in the lobby of the theatre after the show, the cast was so large, that they would be greeting family and friends outside in front of the building This turned into a love-fest of performers, families and friends in a near hero-worship jubilation. It was an exciting night. One that all of the cast and crew can remember with great fondness. In the future, if they ever have the slightest inkling that they are not super individuals, they can look back on this experience with great affection.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks Photography

And with such great memories still fresh, I’m returning to the original Candlelight production again this week, knowing that the joy of the story remains intact. Waiting in the wings for future stardom are four dozen members of this year’s Academy.

(Information for the upcoming season of The Academy classes can be found on their website )

The ongoing production of “Shrek” continues at
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse to August 22, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
970/744-3747
www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

The Magic of Make Believe Is Alive And Well At Candlelight

Shrek And His Pals Combine For An Enchanted Evening

By Tom Jones
June 18, 2021

An ogre, an isolated princess, a talking donkey, an egotistical duke, and an unhappy dragon join forces with an amazing ensemble to provide an evening of absolute wonder! Mystery, intrigue, mayhem and a host of fairytale characters merge to provide nearly three hours of craziness this season in Johnstown.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The hi-jinks are non-stop as 13 performers take on more than two dozen characters in this look at the misadventures of Shrek and his friends (and enemies). Many of our fairy tale friends are there, including the Three Little Pigs, the Three Bears, Peter Pan, Humpty Dumpty, the Gingerbread Man, the Pied Piper, The Mad Hatter, The White Rabbit, Three Blind Mice, Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf (wearing grandma’s nightgown), and Pinocchio whose nose grows when he announces that he is “A real boy.”

The characters have been living in the Kingdom of Duloc and have been forced into exile by Lord Farquaad — sent to live in a swampy land currently inhabited by a grumpy ogre, Shrek. Already isolated in a castle somewhere in the area is Princess Fiona who has great problems of her own, changing persona as the sun sets each day. And along for laughs and pronouncements of wisdom is the wise-cracking, talking, Donkey.

We learn that Shrek was sent away from home at age seven, to fend for himself in a hostile world. Princess Fiona was also “sent away” at age seven, to spend her years in an isolated castle, counting the days until her prince would come to save her.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Meanwhile in the kingdom of Duloc, Lord Farquaad can’t become king until he marries a princess to become his queen. Shrek convinces Farquaad that he can find the isolated princess to become queen if the fairy tale chums can return to their homes in Duloc to get them out of his swamp. Donkey turns up to provide support, guidance, and non-stop jabbering.

Scott Hurst Jr. brings his powerful voice to portray Shrek. He provides pathos (as well as some fear) in the role of the misunderstood ogre. Matching talents with Hurst is Kelly Maur as the fabulous and feisty Fiona. Maur is new to Colorado audiences and is a real “find.” She can sing, dance, and act. She is terrific.

Oscar Whitney, Jr. is Donkey. He appears to have no bones in his body, as he has every “move” known to mankind, with a voice to go along with his athletic skills. Rounding out the leads is Ethan Lee Knowles as the diminutive Lord Farquaad, barely three feet tall. Knowles spends the show bouncing around on his knees, giving no indication that he is really about six feet tall. Every moment he is on stage is great fun.

There are two other “lead” characters. One is the entire cast ensemble. They take on numerous roles, changing costumes in a flash, with remarkable dancing skills. The other “lead” is the sad dragon, wanting only to be loved. This is a combination of three persons manipulating the huge dragon designed by Cory Gilstrap. Sophia Ruiz provides the strong dragon voice.

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

The show itself is a visual charmer. The initial backdrop of the forest is beautiful, and the set changes effectively to turn the stage into Shrek’s swamp, a castle, the Kingdom of Duloc, and trails throughout the woods. Lighting, sound, and costumes are all excellent.

Piper Lindsay Arpan has directed and choreographed this musical treat. It would be interesting to look into her mind to see how she figures out how to make everything “happen” on stage, and put the performers into their paces as skilled dancers. Phil Forman is music director, and participates with Heather Holt Hall, Gabriela Meriwether, Christopher Norwood and John Meriwether as the orchestra.

“Shrek’s” tale turned up as an animated film in 2001 and immediately caught the fascination of kids of all ages. It was turned into a stage musical opening on Broadway in 2008, and has subsequently been seen throughout the world. Music is by Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Opening night at The Candlelight was exciting. The cast and crew were in great form, and obviously looking at a long run. My only concern was understanding all that was said and sung. The diction will undoubtedly improve as the cast becomes more experienced. Opening night, however, there were no grumbles heard from departing patrons. I only heard, “We’ve got to look at our schedules and see when we can return to bring the entire family.”

This production is great medicine to help cure the pandemic ails of the past many months. As the audience is reminded — “This is a ‘Big, Bright Beautiful World.”

“Shrek – The Musical”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
June 17 – August 22, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
970/744-3747
www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

“Little Women” Is A Heart-Warming Tale At Candlelight

A Mother And Four Daughters Are At Home In Concorde, MA — Far From The Warfront

By Tom Jones
April 18, 2021

Reverend March is away from home, serving as a chaplain for the Union during the Civil War. His wife, Marmee, has remained in Concorde to, MA, look after the couple’s four daughters – each on the brink of adulthood.

Jalyn Webb is excellent as the concerned Marmee, trying to keep her daughters in line while facing challenges of her own. The girls have their share of sibling rivalry as well as familial love!

The eldest is Jo, a bit of a tomboy who is always eager to show her rough and tumble side while not quite knowing how to accept neighborhood boy, Laurie, into the group. She is a writer who has already received numerous rejections from several publishers. “Little Women” is basically Jo’s tale, with memories of her childhood and family and fanciful stories interspersed throughout the show. Jo is portrayed by Emery Hines, a newcomer to the Candlelight stage. She is excellent.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Sara Kowalski portrays Amy, a romantic, with issues of her own – very unhappy to be in Jo’s shadow, claiming that she has nothing on her own. Meg is portrayed by Elaina Osburn, a more traditional woman eager to take on the role of a caring mother. Beth, played by Charlotte Movizzo, is the more timid of the family, willing to stay somewhere in the shadows of her more outgoing sisters. One of the show’s highlights, however, occurs when Beth sits at the piano with a cranky neighbor, Mr. Laurence, making delightful music together with “Off to Massachusetts.”

Almost a part of the family is the neighborhood boy, Laurie, very well portrayed by Eric Heine. Laurie lives with his grumpy grandfather, Mr. Laurence, who the March family feels is aloof and unpleasant until Beth’s music softens him. Todd Resseguie is convincing as the dour grandfather, touched by Beth’s music.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Michelle Jeffres is a wonderfully-annoying as a somewhat stereotyped Aunt March, eager to irritate everyone. She announces she will take Jo to Europe to give her culture and refinement. When Jo doesn’t meet her idea of perfection, however, she takes Amy instead. Chris Bain is Professor Bhaer who Jo meets in a boarding house when she is living in New York, and is interested in her potential as a writer. Ethan Lee Knowles is Mr. Brooke who meets Meg March at her first ball and immediately woos her.

The set is minimal, and is particularly effective. The lighting is also very good as are the costumes and choreography. Scenic design and lighting are by Shauna Johnson, costumes by Liz Hoover and Judith Ernst; scenic arts by Joel Adam Chavez; wardrobe by Judith Ernst; and sound by Kyle Harper.

Pat and Payne and Phil Forman have co-directed the production, with chorography by Susanne Houdesheldt, and music direction by Phil Forman. Orchestra consists of Mr. Forman, Heather Holt Hall, and Joshua Margheim.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Little Women” was written by Louisa May Alcott of Concorde, and appeared in print as a semi-autobiographical two-volume novel in 1868-69. It went on to become a literary classic, appreciated throughout the world.

The stage musical version opened on Broadway in 2005, starring Sutton Foster as Jo. Foster received excellent reviews, and the production ran for 137 performances. The Candlelight production looks very good and the cast is universally eager to please. Music is by Jason Howland with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The audience does not leave the theatre humming the music, which sometimes gets in the way of the story. The story itself is well told and will provide those familiar with the story a great opportunity of seeing how the characters they well remember are currently portrayed.

Two songs are particularly good. Emery Hines as Jo sings a wonderful “Astonishing” at the end of an overly-long first acts and arrives too late to be fully appreciated. Jalyn Webb’s Marmee pulls out all the stops in “Days of Plenty,” mid-way in Act II.

The total production comes through with a tender tale of family love. This is a warmly effective look at the March family’s life in Concorde during the Civil War. It is set to be on stage at Candlelight to June 6.

“Little Women”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
April 8-June 6, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
970/744-3747
www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

“Little Women” — The March Family Sisters Move into Johnston

Alcott’s Little Women To Open Candlelight

By Tom Jones, April 6, 2021

Jo is there. So are Amy, Meg, and Beth – under the careful watch of their mother, Marmee March . A musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women” opens this week at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse this week for a two-month run.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

I dropped in to see much of the show in one of its final rehearsals this week, and was charmed by the excellence of the performance! Returning to the Playhouse, after more than a year of absence, was an eye-opener for me – reminding me of the wonder of seeing a live performance. The theatre industry has been among the hardest hit groups suffering from the pandemic. The Candlelight has been extremely careful in preparation for the few shows that have graced their stage in the past 14 months.

It now looks like the dinner theatre world might be back in full action, beginning now with minimum inconvenience to patrons while observing social distancing.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

I’ll review the full show in a couple of weeks. My comments here are just a look at a virtually flawless run-through shortly before opening. Alcott’s semi-biographical novel was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869 and went on to international fame. The musical version, now on the Candlelight stage is based on the Broadway production that opened on Broadway in 2005 with Sutton Foster as Jo and Maureen McGovern as Marmee.

This time around Emery Hines appears as Jo, with the always-excellent Jalyn Webb as the mother, Marmee. Hines is a newcomer to the Candlelight stage and is a marvel as the tomboyish Jo. She has great stage presence and a super voice. The remaining sisters are Sara Kowalski as Amy, Elaina Osburn as Meg, and Charlotte Movisso as Beth. Longtime Candlelight favorite Eric Heine is at his best as the family friend, Laurie. Each performance is very good. Pat Payne and Phil Forman co-direct the show, with music directed by Phil Forman and choreography by Susanna Houdesheldt.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The sparring siblings are often at odds, but eventually always willing to be “family.” Setting is Concord, MA. The four sisters are at home while their father is serving in the Civil War. Intercut with a look at the family, are vignettes where their lives are unfolded in the melodramatic short stories Jo has written. The most important of these interjections takes place at the beginning of the Second Act where the sisters appear in wild reincarnations of Jo’s fantasies. Whereas I was familiar with the basic story, I was not adequately prepared for the wild insert, but it IS entertaining.

“Little Women” has been a young-girls favorite since it first appeared, and holds up well in its heartwarming look at life in Concord during the Civil War. I’m looking forward to “officially” seeing it in the next few weeks, especially with the hope that I can make more sense of the interjections of Jo’s fantasies.

“Little Women”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
April 8 – June 6, 2021
4747 Market Place Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
970/744-3747
www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

Robert Louis Stevenson Story Results In Triumphant Candlelight Musical

Robert Louis Stevenson Story Results In Triumphant Candlelight Musical

“This is the Moment” As Two Talents Take Turns In Leading Role

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 2, 2020

There’s substantially more than the soft glow of “candlelight” in Johnstown this season, as the “Jekyll and Hyde” musical is sheer brilliance. The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has raised the bar so high with this triumphant production that it may be nearly impossible to beat!
Continue reading Robert Louis Stevenson Story Results In Triumphant Candlelight Musical

The Best Brothers Are Not Best Of Friends

Bas Bleu Explores The Lunacy Of Burying A Loved One

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 26, 2020

Bunny Best has taken her beloved dog out for a walk in time to see the Gay Day Parade. A probably drunk chanteuse on one of the floats reaches out to the dog, tipping over the 500-pound amplifier and herself on top of Bunny Best, who does not survive. The dog survived as did the chanteuse who has named herself “Pina Colada.”
Bunny’s two adult sons, Hamilton and Kyle, take the news with very different responses. Hamilton appears to be heartbroken. The more practical Kyle, a realtor, is too busy trying to sell a condo to concern himself with much else. And perhaps he is not so grief stricken as his mother has confided in him alone that her health is deteriorating. Thus we meet the Best Brothers, Hamilton portrayed by Jeffrey Bigger and Kyle, played by Kevin Crowe.
Continue reading The Best Brothers Are Not Best Of Friends

One-Armed Explorer Takes his Expedition to Western Rivers – By Way Of OpenStage In Fort Collins

Wild Tale Of John Wesley Powell And His Men Makes For Intriguing Theatre

Reviewed by Tom Jones,

January 24, 2020

Men on Boats?  Nope.  The OpenStage theatre program for this show wisely notes that the show’s title is not right.  There is neither a man nor a boat in sight.  The “Men on Boats” take the audience on a fascinating journey down the Green and Colorado rivers to the western edge of that “Big” Canyon – the “Grand.”   

Continue reading One-Armed Explorer Takes his Expedition to Western Rivers – By Way Of OpenStage In Fort Collins

It’s A White Christmas At The “Holiday Inn”

The 1942 Movie That Gave Birth To “White Christmas” Has Arrived As A Stage Musical At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 14, 2019

Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon are an entertainment trio. They sing. They dance. They entertain. They are very good performers. Their contract in a New York City nightclub is ending, and Jim believes he is ready to retire. He has found a farmhouse in rural Connecticut in foreclosure and snaps up the buying rights. Now he needs to convince his dancing partner, Lila, to accept his marriage proposal and move to the Connecticut countryside where they could become farmers.
Continue reading It’s A White Christmas At The “Holiday Inn”

“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.

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

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.

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

“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.

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

“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!
Continue reading “Mamma Mia” Is A Must-See-Production

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.

Continue reading Three Couples – Same Suite

“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.

Continue reading “Bright Star” Illuminates Arvada Stage

“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!” 

Continue reading “Hunchback of Notre Dame” Rings A Bell

“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!

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

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

            Continue reading Midtown Arts Center Closes With “Take to the Highway”

“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

Continue reading “Tarzan” Triumphantly Swings Into Town!

“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?

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

“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

Continue reading “Beauty And The Beast” Is Pure Delight In Boulder

“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

Continue reading “Lady” Continues To Be Fairest In The Land!

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!”

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

“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.

Continue reading “Red” – More Than Just A Color

“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.”

Continue reading Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

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

Continue reading Mirth On The Moors?

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.”

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

“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.

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

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