Category Archives: Arvada

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“A Christmas Carol, The Musical”

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

Three Couples – Same Suite

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 13, 2019

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

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

Photos courtesy Matthew Gale Photography

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

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

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

Photos courtesy Matthew Gale Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bright Star” Illuminates Arvada Stage

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2019

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

Mirth On The Moors?

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2019

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

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

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

Annie Barbour (Marjory) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

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

Jessica Robblee (Huldey) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

“The Moors”
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
To May 18, 2019
Box Office 720/898-7200