Category Archives: Johnstown

“Hunchback of Notre Dame” Rings A Bell

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 6, 2019

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

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

Ethan Knowles as Quasimodo Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Grover as Esmeralda Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Tarzan” Triumphantly Swings Into Town!

Tarzan and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Greets The Jungle Man With Great Enthusiasm

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 6, 2019

It’s a jungle in Johnstown this summer as Tarzan literally swings on a vine into town!  And what a Tarzan he is. Tyler Fruhwirth is enormous fun as the young Tarzan, being raised by a pack of gorilla following the death of his parents.  He is a young actor – delightful with great enthusiasm.

Tarzan – Barret Harper Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Then Tarzan grows to manhood.  The adult Tarzan, as portrayed by Barrett Harper, rides on a zip line from the back of the audience to the top of the stage where he grabs a vine to swing into action. What an entrance.  What a find! Barret has been performing in the area for a few years, but appears to come out of nowhere to command attention as the super athletic and super singing Tarzan. It is as if he has actually been raised by gorillas, as he moves with enormous skill though the jungle, jumping on and off rocks, walking on his hands, and swinging with his gorilla friends.  

Jane – Katie Jackson Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Edgar Rice Burroughs put “Tarzan” on the map through a series of 24 adventure novels beginning in 1912 and continuing through 1965.  His Tarzan tales have been the source of several films, including the 1999 animated musical produced by Walt Disney Pictures. The stage musical, based on that film opened on Broadway in 2006 and is now being seen worldwide.

This production now on stage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is quite a show.  Director and choreographer Piper Lindsay Arpan had the wisdom and skill to put the cast through tough training as wild beasts in the jungle.  Now, surrounded by great scenery, she lets them swing on vines to the great amusement of the audience. Then she tones down the action to reflect a mood of courage, familial love, and acceptance of others.  She succeeds with great success.

The production in Johnstown this summer stays close to the original story of the English couple and their infant son surviving a shipwreck and temporarily finding safety off the coast of Africa.  A leopard is on the prowl, however, and kills the English couple as well as the young son of a gorilla mother, Kala. The heartbroken Kala hears the sound of the orphaned human and decides to love and raise him as her own.

Kerchak – Scotty Shaffer Photo Credit – RDG Photography

Kala’s gorilla mate, Kerchak, is the group leader, and strongly disapproves of Kala’s action, but protect the young human.

While Barret Harper as Tarzan is the star of the production, he is in very good company.  The scenery nearly becomes a character of its own. Musical direction by Phil Forman is excellent.  Choreography is terrific, and the vine-swinging is enormously entertaining. Director and choreographer Arpan has a great challenge in directing actions of gorillas as well as humans, showing their similar inbred animosities, as well as inherent abilities of loving and caring.

Heading the supporting cast are Harmony Livingston, convincing as the gorilla mother Kala; Katie Jackson, as Jane, the daughter of the English scientist whose expedition to the Congo results in their finding Tarzan living among gorillas; and Scott Shaffer, as Kala’s gorilla mate, Kerchak.  Shaffer is well known to local audiences as a talented and versatile performer. He is more interesting than ever as the gorilla leader, unwilling to let harm come to the human while realizing his gorilla tribe is in immense danger.

Terk – Tim Howard Photo Credit – RDG Photography

While Tyler Fruhwirth is excellent as the young Tarzan, Gabriel Waits is impressive as Tarzan’s young gorilla friend, Terk.  Tim Howard comes into his own with equal conviction as Terk when a few years older.

Music and lyrics are by Phil Collins and include the beautiful and haunting “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

This is a show for the entire family.  I did have difficulty from time to time understanding everything the gorillas had to say.  But then, I don’t speak gorilla — nor does anyone I know. That, however, did not hamper my appreciation for the entire production.  It makes for a wonderful night out!

“Tarzan”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To August 25, 2019
Information or Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747 or online at
ColoradoCandelight.com

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Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

Dickens Classic At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2019

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

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