Category Archives: 2018

“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

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

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

Reported by Tom Jones
June 12, 1018

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

Matthew Peters, Choreographer
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

Pat Payne, Director
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Hans Christian Andersen’s Underwater Tale Surfaces With Great Beauty

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 10, 2018

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

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

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“Comedy of Errors” Offers An Evening Of Sublime Silliness

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

– – – – –
Illusion vs. reality

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

Jatte” painting, completing it two years later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 15, 2018

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

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

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

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

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

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

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

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

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

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

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

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

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“Ragtime” Is An Explosion Of Talent At MAC

Sheer Brilliance Is Key In This Powerful Production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 13, 2018

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arthur Miller’s First Triumph Arrives in Arvada

“All My Sons” Packs Emotional Wallop

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Loveland Opera Theatre Is A Winner As That “Merry Widow” Waltzes Onto Rialto Stage

Terrific Voices, Lavish Costumes & New Libretto Combine For Delightful Production of Lehar’s Famous Operetta!

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
February 20, 2018

More than 100 years ago Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” premiered in Vienna. Audiences and critics were quick to realize the charm of the operetta, and productions quickly spread across Europe, and ultimately throughout the world. It just might be the most popular operetta in history.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This winter Loveland audiences were becoming aware that something special was happening with the arrival of the show. Stage Director Timothy Kennedy has worked on various productions of The Merry Widow” for many years, and went to work writing a new libretto for this production, adding to the wonders of the Lehar music. The result is a winner. Costuming is excellent, as Davis Sibley designed them specifically for this production.

Tale is very loosely based on a real situation, although names and locations have been changed. Pontevedro, an imaginary country near Paris is in a financial crisis. The country’s most wealthy citizen has died leaving his fortune to his widow, Hanna. If she should marry someone outside the country, Pontevedro would be in financial ruin.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This problem comes to a head when the Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris is giving a ball at the embassy in Paris to celebrate the birthday of his king, and the arrival in Paris of the widowed Hanna Glawari. The Ambassador learns that he must do everything in his power to keep the widow from marrying anyone not a local Pontevedrian.

Mayhem ensues. The Ambassador’s wife is smitten by the charm of a Frenchman who just might be on the lookout to marry the wealthy widow. The Pontevedrian king’s nephew, Count Danilo, is on the short list of possible candidates and is currently working in the Parisian embassy. Danilo had been in love with Hanna many years ago. His uncle refused the request for the two to marry, and sent Danilo away. He is embittered by what happened to him and refuses to be party to the idea of marrying the now-wealthy widow. There is comic relief as the Ambassador goes through a ritual of calling the roll each time he meets with his goofy three-man staff.

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

This is all going on to the lilting Lehar music. “The Merry Widow Waltz” is front and foremost, instantly recognizable. Equally charming, however, is “Vilja Song” which is so beautifully performed that I wanted the audience to stop the show with a standing ovation. That didn’t happen, but the sequence remains rich in my mind as the show’s most brilliant scene. “You’ll Find Me at Maxims,” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” are also familiar songs. The operetta is performed in English.

Some of Colorado’s most powerful voices are front and center for this production. Leads are Phoenix Gayles as Hanna, Josh DeVane as Danilo Danilovitsch, Emily Morris as The Ambassador’s wife Valencienne, Nathan Snyder as Camille de Rosillion, and Rob Hoch as the Ambassador.

The cast is large, nearly 50 performers on stage plus an orchestra of 13 plus keyboard. Set is designed by Noel Johnston, lighting by Peter F. Muller. Orchestra is conducted by Adam Torres with choreography Sarah Wilhelm.

Director and libretto writer Timothy Kennedy has assembled a very talented ensemble, with standout performances by the lead performers, chorus, and orchestra at every turn.

Dr. Juliana Bishop Hoch, Executive and Artist Director of the Loveland Opera Theatre is to be applauded for her work, not only providing excellent productions to Northern Colorado, but for making it possible for school-age students to go to the shows. “The Merry Widow for Kids” is a one-hour instructive introduction to opera and what goes on behind the scenes. Families are invited to attend performances of this abbreviated performance Saturdays February 24 and March 3 at 2:30 p.m. In addition, many schools in the Loveland and Fort Collins area bring students to one-hour versions of the show in late February and early March during school hours.

“The Merry Widow” is a Loveland look at the “lost and found” of love, highlighted by incredible individual, orchestral, and choral talents. The show is a somewhat naïve look at romance of a century gone by, displayed with great charm. And that brilliant music.

“The Merry Widow”
Where: Presented by Loveland Opera Threatre, on the Rialto Theatre Stage
228 West 4th Street
Loveland, CO 80537
When: February 23, 24, and 25, March 2, 3, and 4
For information: www.lovelandopera.org, 970/593-0085
Rialto Theatre Box Office: Telephone 970/962-2120

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Award Winning “Fun Home” On Stage At Midtown Arts Center In Fort Collins

Excellent Performances Highlight This Regional Premier

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 2, 2018

The last time I saw Vince Wingerter on stage, he was Bert, the affable chimney sweep in the heartwarming, “Mary Poppins.” He was very good in that role, but soars this season as Bruce, the tormented father in “Fun Home.” He rules the roost over a family in turmoil in their restored Victorian “House on Maple Avenue” that doesn’t quite fit into the All-American happy façade.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This is a no-holds-barred look at a slice of the Americana dream that has rarely been so carefully dissected. Bruce, an English teacher in the local Pennsylvania town, took over the family funeral home (the “fun” home of the title) at the death of his father. He is confusion in motion, sometime playful and loving to the children, seen in fits of near rage the next, when the family doesn’t do precisely at he wants at the precise moment he desires.

The children are bewildered by him. His wife, Helen, unhappily endures what is happening, not wanting to cause further wrath. Bruce is a closeted gay man, in his personal hell of having no idea how to accept himself. His daughter, Alison has turmoil of her own. When she was very young she realized that she was attracted to women. She has no idea of where she fits in, until she goes to college and becomes aware of a society within a society which may actually accept her for who she is.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This is a sometimes uncomfortable realization, but is very well portrayed by a talented cast. The story is based on the memories of the real Alison Bechdel. She is shown in three stages of her life: Small Allison (the young girl), a Middle Alison (college student), and as an adult, recording and drawing what has happened to the “House on Maple Avenue” in mid-Americana, USA. The young Alison is double cast, with Julia Gibson and Ella Sokolowski playing in alternating performances. The Small Alison I saw was Julia Gibson. She is a star in the making. It will be exciting to watch her develop over the years.

Photo Credit: Dyann Diercks Photography

Sarah Lewis is very convincing as the college-age Alison, carefully taking notes of what she sees in life, and transferring her ideas to artwork. She has the challenge of accepting herself as a lesbian, initially having no idea of what such a label entails.

Monica Howe is the protagonist, playing the adult Alison. “Fun Home” is basically her story, looking at the family life as she saw it. The real life Alison Bechdel created the comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For” which ran in lesbian and gay publications for many years. She gained a wider readership with the publication of “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” a graphic memoir about her relationship with her gay father.

Alisa Metcalf is very good as the bewildered wife, having no idea of where to turn in the family confusion. She takes refuge with her piano. Her song, “Helen’s Etude” is one of the most memorable scenes in the show. Zulfiya Asquino is effective as the college-age Alison’s first lover. Corbin Payne is seen as the local handyman and other characters. Matthew Farley and Ryan Fisher are the family’s young boys. They are good dancers, and bring some comedy relief to the heavy story, climbing in and out of the “fun home” caskets.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The musical was developed through several readings and performances, culminating with the Broadway opening in the spring of 2015. It is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, and the original New York run was extended several times. It was nominated for many awards, and was named as Best Musical in the 2015 Tony Awards.

Music is by Jeanine Tesori; book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. The Midtown Arts Center production was produced and directed by Kurt Terrio. The music is pleasant, with thought-provoking lyrics. The score received many awards.

This is a very well-acted production. It is NOT “The Sound of Music” or “Mary Poppins,” but a disquieting rendition of a family trying to come to terms with reality. The set is terrific. The cast is terrific. The show is an eye-opening glimpse into the challenging world of gay and lesbian persons coming to terms with themselves, their families, and society as a whole.

“Fun Home”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2018
Box Office: 970/225-2555
Online at  www.midtownartscenter.com

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OpenStage’s “The Crucible” Is Riveting Production

Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 Are Frightful Reminder Of Society Going Amuck.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 20, 2018

Last year’s OpenStage production of “August: Osage County” was among the finest Colorado productions of the year. Not to be outdone, they have again achieved brilliance with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” now onstage at Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Theatre.

Settlers reached Cape Cod in 1620, and about seventy years later the Puritan citizens of the Massachusetts Bay Colony face ongoing strife. Their theocratic society, isolated from most of the world, needed to rely on everyone in the village to be supportive and helpful. Unfortunately, the small society was rife with greed, selfishness, hypocrisy and now even rumors of witchcraft.

The community’s spiritual leader is Reverend Samuel Parris. He is horrified one night to find his daughter, Betty, and other young women of the village dancing in the woods, maybe naked, and seemingly involved in some kind of witchcraft activity. Betty has fallen ill. Is she in a trance? Is she ill from having taken an evil potion? Or is it something else? Parris is hesitant to make any waves about the incident, as his religious responsibilities to the community are not on solid footing. L. Michael Scovel is very good as Reverend Parris.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

As Betty remains bedridden, only sometimes coherent, some members of the community are questioned. One is Abigail Williams, reportedly the young women’s ringleader. She proclaims her innocence, reporting that someone else in the group once tried to force her to drink blood. She lives in the Parris home, following the death of her parents. She and the Reverend do not get along, and Parris does not believe the stories she tells.

This sets the mood for two and one-half hours of the fearful tale. Teal Jandrain is terrific as Abigail, beguiling one moment, thrown into fits of delirium the next. Confused by Abigail’s mood changes is John Proctor, a married neighbor with whom Abigail had a brief affair in the past. Timothy Ackerman is outstanding as Proctor, with Corinne Wieben providing a similarly excellent portrayal of his wife, Elizabeth.

Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor and Corinne Wieben as Elizabeth Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The fireworks are non-stop, with the community in turmoil, not only with rumors of witchcraft, but with greed, selfishness, questionable real estate deals, and hypocrisy against those who are less than active in their religious devotion. Some are convinced that the devil’s influence is everywhere. As a result, several women and one man are hanged, to supposedly rid the community of evil. Another man is “pressed” — squeezed to death.

The soul-searching John Proctor is tormented by his own frailties. His wife, Elizabeth, appreciates that her husband is a truly honorable man, but is having difficulty putting his past indiscretion out of her mind. Abigail is amazement in action. One moment I am convinced that she is a truly wonderful person, the next I am convinced that she and Teal Jandrain (who portrays her) are both consumed by the devil. This is a disquieting experience.

Arthur Miller’s play opened in New York in 1953. Even though it received largely negative reviews, it did win the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later, a new production received great acclaim and went on to become a classic.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams and Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The current OpenStage production succeeds on every front. Director Peter Anthony is widely respected for his continual work. He not only directed this production, but also designed the excellent scenery and sound. Lighting is by Brian Miller. The effective costumes are the work of Rebecca Spafford.

The cast is large and impressive. Acting is remarkable throughout. In addition to the leads mentioned, great work is also done by Heath Howes as Reverend John Hale, Ken Fenwick as Deputy Governor Danforth, Katie Houser as Mary Warren, Alicia Myers as Tituba, Brien Fletcher and Giles Corey, Steven Wright as Thomas Putnam, Kathy Leonard as Rebecca Nurse, Duane Sawyer, as Ezekiel Cheever, Joe Vader as John Willard, Hailey Goebel as Betty Parris, Shelby Taylor as Mercy Lewis, Kalie Allyn Lanik as Susanna Walcott, Quinn Bringelson, Lauren Gorman, and Rocky Eisentraut as girls in the village.

OpenStage was honored last year by the Colorado Theatre Guild as the Theatre Company of the Year. The year is starting in great style with “The Crucible,” a brilliantly staged and performed reminder of how a cauldron of hysteria can destroy society.

Arthur Miller’s excellent writing, the cast’s remarkable performances, and Peter Anthony’s brilliant work as director combine to provide a must-see performance at OpenStage.

“Crucible” definitions:

  • Purification through ordeals
  • The New Oxford American Dictionary in 2001: “A container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. A place or occasion of severe test or trial.”
  • At one time, the U.S. Marine Corps had a test known as “The Crucible” where members of the group were put through an ordeal of physical activity with no sleep — not everyone succeeding in the activity.

“The Crucible”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through February 17, 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
For more information: Visit Open Stage

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