Category Archives: Holiday

Newcomer John 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

John 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 John 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 John 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

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“A Christmas Carol” Is Excellent Holiday Gift At DCPA

Dickens Classic Retains Its Heartwarming Charm

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 4, 2017

What? Back again? Is it possible that the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge continues to find enthusiastic response whenever he growls “Bah Humbug” year after year at Christmastime? He is not someone looking for friends, and is cranky and “crochety” year after year. Yet, he succeeds in fascinating thousands of readers and theatregoers worldwide. He is back on stage at Denver Center for the Performing Arts this season, and continues to be an ill-tempered charmer.

Sam Gregory. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Sam Gregory plays the unhappy character this year at DCPA. He is an impressive entertainer. Memories of past Scrooges have left me with trepidation about enduring his wrath again and again. Gregory’s interpretation is a pleasant change. Yes, he is still scary and mean, but his portrayal of the role, as directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, has given him more humanity, and more earnest desire to make personal changes than seen in many past productions. This is Gregory’s second year as Scrooge on the Denver stage.

The Company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom

Charles Dickens was down on his luck in London in 1843. He needed a financial success to follow “The Pickwick Papers” and “Oliver Twist.” He began to work on a novella that would become “A Christmas Carol,” writing it in just six weeks. The published work appeared a week before Christmas in 1843, and the first edition was sold out immediately. The story was a tremendous success, 13 more editions were printed within the next year.

Dickens went on to further renown with many of his works becoming classic literature, including “David Copperfield” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” His themes touched on the social problems of England, and the ongoing need for kindness and hope. A movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is currently playing in movie theatres in Colorado, looking at Dicken’s life at the time he wrote the “Carol” novella.

This is DCPA’s 25th season of “A Christmas Carol.” It has proved to be a landmark show – a must-see every year. The Center continues its success in presenting the story in a beautiful setting, with skilled performers. The well-known set is as glorious as ever. The large cast is without flaw, and the Dicken’s tale has become even more relevant through the years.

The Company of A Christmas Carol. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom.

One of this year’s highlights is the convincing portrayal of Brian Vaughn as Bob Cratchit. In the second act, Cratchit reminds his family of the importance of Christmas. (See quotes following review.) Vaughn’s performance is inspiring. In fact, the entire production is inspiring. The audience left the theater with a desire to be more helpful to family, friends, and those in need.

The script for this year’s production is by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry, interspersed with familiar Christmas melodies. Christine Rowan provides excellent choreography.

The story is the same as ever – the wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge has only one employee, a kindly Bob Cratchit who is poorly paid. It is Christmas Eve. Scrooge grumbles that the impoverished London citizens have no right to find joy in the holiday season. He does, however, begrudgingly grant Cratchit permission to leave the office to be with his wife and children, including the crippled Tiny Tim.

Michael Fitzpatrick, Leslie O’Carroll. Photo Credit: AdamsVisCom.

Scrooge returns to his apartment, and is roused from restless sleep by the startlingly arrival of his former partner, Jacob Marley. Marley died seven years previously and is now an after-life spirit prisoner shackled by the chains of his past errors. Marley warns Scrooge that he will face the same torment when he dies, unless he changes his ways. He says that he will be visited that night, and in nights to come by three spirits representing the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come.

The ghosts appear, with each apparition providing Scrooge with memories of his past – some joyous, some fearful and sad, and each with a warning that he must do something now to improve his life for the future. This could be scary stuff. Some of it is. But there is always the realization that lives can change, when there is an earnest desire to do so.

This is a beautiful, heart-warming, “feel good” show. The entire production is a jeweled treasure.

“A Christmas Carol”
Where: The Stage Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: December 24, 2017
For Information Online Click Here

Note from Hellesen Script Adaption: In the second act, Bob Cratchit is at home advising his family:

“When I listen to you talk about your hopes, I can’t but think how Christmas changes as we grow older. Time was, when I was young when Christmas Day was like a magic ring around the world. It bound together all enjoyments, affections, hopes…And seeing everything and everyone around a Christmas fire was all I ever wanted.

…” As we grow older, let us be thankful that the circle of our Christmas memories expands. Welcome, our old aspirations, which we may yet think impossible. We have not outlived you yet! And welcome, new projects and new loves, to their place by the hearth. Welcome what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be—all our bright visions of Christmas Day For it is the season of immortal hope, and the birthday of immoral mercy—and we will shut out nothing.

“Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.”

Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

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Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Lavish Production is Holiday Delight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 24, 2017

Belle enjoys reading. She is evidently a rarity in her tiny village, as many of the townspeople find her to be “odd.” “Odd” also applies to her eccentric father, an inventor on his way to a local competition. He makes a wrong turn, ends up in a scary forest and ultimately in chains in the basement cell of a legendary castle owned by an unhappy beast. Sound familiar? This is just for starters in Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s current lavish holiday musical.

Courtesy RDG Photography

Katie Jackson is a winner as the charming Belle. She is understandably “the most beautiful girl in the village” and has a voice to match. The local bully and womanizer, Gaston, has decided he wants Belle as his wife. He is an egotistical dimwit, and Belle wants nothing to do with him. Eric Heine is in fine voice as Gaston, and becomes increasingly menacing as the show continues.

The Broadway musical premiered in 1994, based on the incredibly popular 1991 Walt Disney movie. Disney’s movie had roots as a classic French fairytale. A cold-blooded prince was magically transformed into an ugly “beast” as punishment for his unwillingness to help a woman in need. The curse is transferred to the servants in the beast’s castle. They are slowly becoming household objects instead of human beings. There is Lumiere, the candelabra; Mrs. Potts, the teapot; Cogsworth, the standing clock; Chip the teacup son of Mrs. Potts; Madame Grand de la Bouche, the wardrobe cupboard; and Babette, the feather duster. Everyone is hopefully awaiting the time when the curse might be lifted. This will happen only when the beast falls in love with a beautiful girl, and she loves him in return. There is a deadline for the curse to be reversed: when the last petal falls from a rose kept under glass in the beast’s castle.

Courtesy RDG Photography

The Candlelight production is remarkable. The sets, music, costumes, lighting, cast, and choreography are excellent. The music contains several well-known songs from the original movie. When the beast sang “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act One, the audience erupted in enthusiastic appreciation. Another standout is when the inanimate household objects warmly welcoming Belle to the castle with “Be Out Guest.” Bob Hoppe is particularly good in this musical segment, playing Lumiere. The beautiful melody, “Beauty and the Beast” is very well performed by Joanie Brosseau-Rubald as Mrs. Potts.

Courtesy RDG Photography

Supporting roles include Kent Sugg as Belle’s father, Samantha Jo Staggs as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Harmony Livingston as Babette, David L. Wygant as Cogsworth, and Ethan Knowles as Lefou. Brekken Wald and Christopher Walton alternate in the role of Chip.

There are dozens of clever additions to the story. Some characters fly. One becomes a human chandelier rising above the stage. Chip glides in and out on roller-sneakers. The snarling wolves with flashing eyes are frightening.

Courtesy RDG Photography

When I learned that Kalond Irlanda had been cast as The Beast,” I was apprehensive. I thought he was very good as the young Tommy in Candlelight’s recent production of “the Music Man.” He was then playing a teenager. What a transformation he has made in becoming the beast. Irlanda is excellent. His voice is powerful. He can be menacing. He can be kind. He rules the production.

Direction and choreography are by Jessica Hindsley and Kate Vallee. Music director is Victor Walters, with Casey Kearns as scenic designer. Choreography is especially good, as are all the special effects. Technical Manager Shauna Johnson mentioned that the special effects for this production are among the most challenging ever staged by Candlelight staff and crews.

The story and its outcome are so well known that the show does lag a little in the second act. It was as if “I know what is going to happen, just let it happen – instead of providing last-minute unnecessary intrigue.” The total production, however, is an evening of immense talent in a joyous production where everyone involved (on stage or off) is operating at full throttle.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: February 14, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online: ColoradoCandlelight.com

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Remarkable Cast Brings Great Holiday Joy to Fort Collins

“A Christmas Story – the Musical” is Delightful Tale of a Youth Longing for a Red Ryder BB Gun.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 9, 2016

The beguiling charm of “A Christmas Story – The Musical” does not wait to enchant, little-by- little. The magic is there from the moment the author, Jean Shepherd, begins his story of growing up in the 1940s. Daniel Harkins is terrific as Jean Shepherd, narrating the semi-fictitious tale of himself – the young “Ralphie” of the play.
Continue reading Remarkable Cast Brings Great Holiday Joy to Fort Collins

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“A Wonderful Life” onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

A Wonderful Life Logo Final1940s Family Fare Film Classic turns up as Holiday musical in Johnstown

Review by Tom Jones
November 30, 2016

The year is 1928. George Bailey is a bright young man on the threshold of making his mark on mankind. He has been raised in a loving family. His kind father owns a savings and loan company, and has taught George what is right and wrong, what is good and what is evil, and how to treat everyone with respect and kindness. George has finished high school and is set to go to Europe to begin life’s experiences away from his home in Bedford Falls. He plans to enter college upon his return from Europe. Then a lifetime of “skids” begins.
Continue reading “A Wonderful Life” onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

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