Category Archives: Midtown Arts Center

“Lady” Continues To Be Fairest In The Land!

A Look Again At “My Fair Lady” At Midtown Arts Center

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in the audience for opening night of the marvelous “My Fair Lady” at Midtown Arts Center.  I was in awe of the entire production.  Staff of the show noted that one of the supporting characters, Michael Lasris, was out of town for that opening night, and could I possibly return later in the run to see him perform as Eliza Doolittle’s father.

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Lasris has become a highlight of nearly every show he has been associated with, either as a performer, director, or choreographer.  One of my earlier memories was his on-his-knees dancing as the diminutive Lord Farquaad several seasons ago in “Shrek.”  Lasris is older now and probably won’t want to dance “on his knees” in future productions, but is as delightful as ever as Doolittle in this current “My Fair Lady.”  It was bittersweet to see him perform, as Doolittle is his final role in Colorado before moving to New York in a few weeks.

For opening night I saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father.  He was very good, so it was somewhat with caution that I returned to see Lasris this week in the role.  No need to worry.  Lasris is nearly untouchable as the likeable do-nothing Doolittle who wants “everything” in return…  

Also “delightful as ever” are the shows leads – Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza, John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  This entire show is every bit as excellent as it was when I first saw it a few weeks ago.  Not to be missed.

************

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!  She’s got it. By George, I believe she’s got it! Again – The rain in Spain lies mainly in the plain?  And where does it rain? On the plain, on the plain. And where’s that soggy plain? In Spain. In Spain.”

Yes, she’s got it! After weeks of sometimes difficult turmoil, the poorly-educated flower market salesgirl has shown she CAN be educated, and CAN learn to speak like a well-born sophisticate.  The “she” is Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza Doolittle. And yes, she’s got it! In fact everyone in the cast has “got it” in this masterful Midtown Arts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

More than sixty years have passed since the show triumphed on Broadway.  Curiously, it has maintained its absolute charm and freshness in this MAC wonder.

The excellent skills of Harmon are joined by those of John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins, as Colonel Pickering.  The trio are on stage most of the time as Higgins places a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the guttural persona displayed by the lowly Doolittle into a woman of charm and wisdom.  They are a trio to behold. The two men educate, but sometimes ignore the object of their effort.

The Henry Higgins role was originated on Broadway by Rex Harrison who needed to “speak” most of his songs.  In this production John Jankow is in excellent singing and speaking voice as the professor, as is Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  Harkins had the additional responsibility of welcoming everyone to the theatre with the pre-show announcements on opening night. He was particularly good in that role as well, keeping the audience amused and entertained, and reducing time of the sometimes- lengthy pre-show announcements.

Julie Andrews zoomed to stardom as Eliza in the original Broadway production in 1956.  That show became the longest-running Broadway musical to that time, and went on to similar fame in London.  For the Academy Award winning movie version in 1964 Julie Andrews was overlooked for starring role, with that part given to Audrey Hepburn. The movie’s producers felt that Hepburn would be better-known to the movie-going public.  Andrews got her just rewards at the Academy Awards the next year, receiving the Best Performance by an Actress Award for her beguiling charm as “Mary Poppins.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

It would be difficult to find a better performer to play the role today than the excellent Hannah Marie Harmon.  She is convincing as the rough Cockney girl with ambitions to “be somebody.”

While Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza Doolittle are center stage, Eliza’s hapless father “Doolittle” is a wonder on his own.  For the opening night performance we saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father, understudy to Michael Lasris who normally plays the role.  Lasris will be hard-pressed to fill the boots of Sanders whose performance is beyond “memorable.” I may find my interest in seeing Lasris, however, as my excuse to return to MAC for another look as this delightful event.

In fact, what is not to like about this show?  The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, and the recorded orchestra accompaniment are exceptional.  (There is no live orchestra.) Where in my bag of adjectives can I find words to adequately report my reaction to this production?  The supporting cast members are as effective as the leads. Many in the ensemble take on several roles – always completely in step to the music and always in tune with their British accents.

Director Joseph Callahan has a long track record of excellent performances at Midtown Arts Center.  This time around he is displaying his remarkable abilities, directing and choreographing this production of “My Fair Lady.”

While “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” ”the cast is vast and….” completely delightful!

“My Fair Lady”
Where:
Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center,
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When:
To May 25, 2019
Information:
970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com


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“Lady” Is More Than “Fair” – She’s Exceptional!

Cast Is Joyous In Broadway Classic

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in the audience for opening night of the marvelous “My Fair Lady” at Midtown Arts Center.  I was in awe of the entire production.  Staff of the show noted that one of the supporting characters, Michael Lasris, was out of town for that opening night, and could I possibly return later in the run to see him perform as Eliza Doolittle’s father.

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Lasris has become a highlight of nearly every show he has been associated with, either as a performer, director, or choreographer.  One of my earlier memories was his on-his-knees dancing as the diminutive Lord Farquaad several seasons ago in “Shrek.”  Lasris is older now and probably won’t want to dance “on his knees” in future productions, but is as delightful as ever as Doolittle in this current “My Fair Lady.”  It was bittersweet to see him perform, as Doolittle is his final role in Colorado before moving to New York in a few weeks.

For opening night I saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father.  He was very good, so it was somewhat with caution that I returned to see Lasris this week in the role.  No need to worry.  Lasris is nearly untouchable as the likeable do-nothing Doolittle who wants “everything” in return…  

Also “delightful as ever” are the shows leads – Hannah Marie Harmon as Eliza, John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  This entire show is every bit as excellent as it was when I first saw it a few weeks ago.  Not to be missed.

—–

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!  She’s got it. By George, I believe she’s got it! Again – The rain in Spain lies mainly in the plain?  And where does it rain? On the plain, on the plain. And where’s that soggy plain? In Spain. In Spain.”

Yes, she’s got it! After weeks of sometimes difficult turmoil, the poorly-educated flower market salesgirl has shown she CAN be educated, and CAN learn to speak like a well-born sophisticate.  The “she” is Hannah Marie Hartman as Eliza Doolittle. And yes, she’s got it! In fact everyone in the cast has “got it” in this masterful Midtown Arts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

More than sixty years have passed since the show triumphed on Broadway.  Curiously, it has maintained its absolute charm and freshness in this MAC wonder.

The excellent skills of Hartman are joined by those of John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins, as Colonel Pickering.  The trio are on stage most of the time as Higgins places a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the guttural persona displayed by the lowly Doolittle into a woman of charm and wisdom.  They are a trio to behold. The two men educate, but sometimes ignore the object of their effort.

The Henry Higgins role was originated on Broadway by Rex Harrison who needed to “speak” most of his songs.  In this production John Jankow is in excellent singing and speaking voice as the professor, as is Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  Harkins had the additional responsibility of welcoming everyone to the theatre with the pre-show announcements on opening night. He was particularly good in that role as well, keeping the audience amused and entertained, and reducing time of the sometimes- lengthy pre-show announcements.

Julie Andrews zoomed to stardom as Eliza in the original Broadway production in 1956.  That show became the longest-running Broadway musical to that time, and went on to similar fame in London.  For the Academy Award winning movie version in 1964 Julie Andrews was overlooked for starring role, with that part given to Audrey Hepburn. The movie’s producers felt that Hepburn would be better-known to the movie-going public.  Andrews got her just rewards at the Academy Awards the next year, receiving the Best Performance by an Actress Award for her beguiling charm as “Mary Poppins.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

It would be difficult to find a better performer to play the role today than the excellent Hannah Marie Hartman.  She is convincing as the rough Cockney girl with ambitions to “be somebody.”

While Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza Doolittle are center stage, Eliza’s hapless father “Doolittle” is a wonder on his own.  For the opening night performance we saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father, understudy to Michael Lasris who normally plays the role.  Lasris will be hard-pressed to fill the boots of Sanders whose performance is beyond “memorable.” I may find my interest in seeing Lasris, however, as my excuse to return to MAC for another look as this delightful event.

In fact, what is not to like about this show?  The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, and the recorded orchestra accompaniment are exceptional.  (There is no live orchestra.) Where in my bag of adjectives can I find words to adequately report my reaction to this production?  The supporting cast members are as effective as the leads. Many in the ensemble take on several roles – always completely in step to the music and always in tune with their British accents.

Director Joseph Callahan has a long track record of excellent performances at Midtown Arts Center.  This time around he is displaying his remarkable abilities, directing and choreographing this production of “My Fair Lady.”

While “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” ”the cast is vast and….” completely delightful!

“My Fair Lady”
Where:
Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center,
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When:
To May 25, 2019
Information:
970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com


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Michael Lasris Choreography Provides Great Fun In “Dames At Sea”

Off-Broadway Delight Is Two-Hour Treasure At Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2019

Ruby is the standard naïve talent traveling alone to New York to find fame and fortune on Broadway.  Sound familiar?  “Dames at Sea” currently on the Midtown Arts Stage in Fort Collins is the tried and tested Broadway fable that flashed onto movie screens in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  This delightful little show plays homage to those stories, with every cliché possible.  Michael Lasris provides excellent direction and choreography for this heartfelt look at the past.  Seeing it this season just might be the remedy we need to face mid-winter blahs.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Paige Smith is a newcomer to MAC audiences, and she is terrific as Ruby, the Broadway star wannabe – with nothing going for her except raw talent.  Alisa Metcalf is the ever-threatening diva, Mona, who will stop at nothing from preventing anyone taking stardom from her hands.  Sarah Ledtke McCann is in great shape as the “friend to all” chorus girl.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Every Broadway fable includes guys with over-the-top talent, taking on roles of friend, talented performer, and all around good (or bad) guy.  In this show Joe Callahan takes on the role of a sailor song-writer, “Dick.”  Callahan is well known to MAC audiences.  He sings.  He dances.  His comedic talents are very well-honed.  And his timing is impeccable.  Giving him a run for his money are Tyler Baxter and Tezz Yancey.  Baxter plays another talented sailor, Lucky.  Yancey switches caps to play two roles, the show-within-a-show director, and that of the ship captain.

All six are involved in staging a little review called “Dames At Sea” set to open that night, only to find the theatre bulldozed out from under them.  They desperately try to find a place to stage the show. 

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The world holds its breath:  Will Ruby replace Mona as the show’s star?  Will the show find a place to open?  Will Joe Callahan wow the stage with his every scene?  Will Sarah Ledtke McCann radiate charm and talent?  Will the audience leave the theatre with great smiles? 

This is not a “big” show, but one with enormous empathy and fun.  Book and lyrics are by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller.  Music is by Jim Wise. It originally opened Off-Broadway in 1968 starring Bernadette Peters as Ruby, and has subsequently found nationwide audiences.  Local theatre-goers enjoyed a very good production of it a few seasons ago at University of Northern Colorado.

The six performers are all very good.  Michael Lasris’s excellence as director and choreographer is obvious throughout, and particularly with the “Raining in My Heart” antics in Act II.  Musical accompaniment is also excellent.  Musical director and pianist is Victor Walters, with Dean Vlachos on percussion, Phillip Kramer, on bass.

“Dames at Sea” is a joyful, midwinter pick-me-up!

“Dames at Sea”
Where: Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2019
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

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“My Way – A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra”

Midtown Arts Features Music Of “Old Blue Eyes”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 18, 2019

Frank Sinatra became a legend. Beginning as a scrawny teen crooner from Hoboken, New Jersey, he subsequently ruled the musical world until his death at 82 in 1988. He was virtually adored by music-lovers, looked at with dismay by some others — because of his personal life. He didn’t write his own music; but gave voice to a host of songwriters. He reportedly recorded something like 1,500 songs – some over-the-top wonderful.

About four dozen of the songs he recorded are featured this season at Midtown Arts Center production of “My Way – a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” on stage in Fort Collins.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Jalyn Courtenay Webb stars in and directs this tribute. She, too, has become a legend in her time, as the vocal stylist and director of many productions in the area. This year she received the prestigious Colorado Theater Guild Henry award as best performance by an actress for her work at MAC in “Always, Patsy Cline.” But as in the world of sports, even the world’s most successful baseball player doesn’t hit a home run every time he comes to bat.

I am an unabashed theatre fan. I usually get an adrenaline rush each time I await the beginning of a show. Some have criticized me, noting “Oh, he likes everything he sees.” Unfortunately “everything” does not include this current Sinatra tribute.

The Sinatra songs are there; such great memories provided with “Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “It Was a Very Good Year,” “Summer Wind,” and the list goes on and on. The instrumental background is flawless. The four vocal performers are talented. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be participating in the same show. There is minimal chemistry between then. Some of the Act One vocal harmonies are wondrous. As the show continued, however, either the performers could not find the pitch, or the sound system let them down. I could understand very little of the spoken tidbits of Sinatra history.

Productions in the MAC Ballroom setting are always problematic as there is no one center of focus. The Sinatra tribute is staged as if in a 1950s nightclub, with the cast sometimes mingling with the audience, with a drink in hand. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it is distracting.

“My Way — A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” has become a phenomenon of its own, currently playing in dozens of venues worldwide. If you are eager to hear such standards as “All of Me,” “My Kind of Town,” “Young at Heart,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” rush to Midtown Arts Center this season.

If not, don’t cross the theater off your list of places to go. While the Sinatra tribute is playing in the MAC Ballroom, the terrific “Dames at Sea” is on the main stage.

I saw Bernadette Peters tap-dancing her way to stardom many, many years ago when she created the leading role in New York. I was delighted with a production of it at University of Northern Colorado a few years ago, and already have my tickets to see the MAC version. I’m not going to let my unhappiness with the current “Tribute” dampen my enthusiasm for the theatre. The adrenalin rush will always be there for me.

And all is not lost with “Sinatra.” Old Blue Eyes provided more than one generation happy memories with his incredible styling of some wonderful music. Many in the audience appeared to be enchanted with the memories brought to life on stage at MAC. I learned that the performance I attended was rife with subsequently-repaired technical problems, and that earlier audiences have given the show standing ovations.

“My Way – a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To March 17, 2019
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Midtown Arts Center Provides the “Heart Of The Holiday”

Choreography & Excellent Voices Bring New Story To Life!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 15, 2018

The Second Act of “Heart of the Holiday” provides one of the most satisfying musical offerings this holiday season,  JC McCann, Anne Terze-Schwarz, Taylor Marrs, and Jalyn Courtenay Webb are a quartet of perfection singing a terrific combination of “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.”  While some parts of the performance may be a tad plodding, this specific number is worth the price of admission. And worth the effort of getting out of the house on a wintry night to see a show.

This is the final Holiday Season for Midtown Arts Center, as it is joining forces in 2019 with Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.  For this final Holiday show, Kenny Moten and Jessica Hindsley have put together homage to theatre performers everywhere. Emphasis is on those whose lives have been affected in providing entertainment to Fort Collins audiences for many years.  Musical arrangements are the work of John Seaberry who plays bass/guitar in the accompanying band under direction of Victor Walter. The band is especially good.

Photo Courtesy MAC

The show’s writer joined forces with Joseph Callahan to provide the namesake song, “Heart of the Holiday,” performed late in the show.  That song is very nice, but just can’t compare with the “O Holy Silent Night” opening the Second Act.

Moten and Hindsley have leaned heavily on Michael Bennett’s original Broadway direction of “A Chorus Line” in 1975.  In that landmark musical, dancers are auditioning for a show, and are asked to tell about their lives and what dancing means to them.  They strike dancers “poses” which have become Broadway trademarks. In “Heart of the Holliday” Jalyn Courtenay Webb is auditioning dancers for a holiday show.  The final cast is chosen. But before they can relax, she quizzes them on what “The Holidays” mean to each of them. She is especially interested in memories of the performer’s past shows.  This is a clever precept, as the MAC performers strike the “Chorus Line” poses — interesting at first, but becoming a bit tiring by show’s end.

Photo Courtesy MAC

The cast has interesting reports about their love of dancing, with some tidbits of past shows.  One especially zany sequence is a review of a 40-performance run of a show that included non-stop syncopation to “A Sleigh Ride” music.  The choreography is great fun, as the dancers become more and more exhausted with each performance. By the run’s final night, they have expelled all energy and fall into an immoveable heap.

Sometimes the “true meaning of Christmas” becomes trite.  This is cleverly countered when a vignette of going “home for the Holidays” turns out to be a “hate for the Holidays” adventure.

Everyone in the cast has extensive musical experience.  They are excellent dancers and singers. Jalyn Courtenay Webb leads the cast. She also provides musical direction for the production.  She has a wonderful voice. Charlotte Campbell, Anne Terze-Schwarz, Sarah Ledtke McCann, Taylor Marrs, JC McCann, Tezz Yancey, Tyler Baxter, Delany Garcia and Stephanie Garcia are all on stage for nearly the entire show – with each having an opportunity to “shine” as they recall holiday memories.

Stage set includes impressive snow trees on both sides of the stage.  Costumes are very good. The entire production includes excellent choreography, excellent voices, and excellent band support.  The “heart” of the Holiday is felt throughout. It reminds us that even the “wondrous” Holidays can provide some challenges. Sounds like life in general.

And there is that Act Two wonder of “O Silent Holy Night” that leaves the audience thunderstruck.

“Heart of the Holiday”

Midtown Arts Center

3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525

To December 24, 2018

Telephone 970/225-2555

ONLINE: midtownartscenter.com

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“Orbison” Leaves Audience Cheering

There’s Dancing In The Aisles At Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 14, 2018

Open the floodgates, and let the adjectives flow. “The Roy Orbison Experience” has arrived in Fort Collins. And that voice. Where did Chris Trimboli come from? Bespectacled with the Roy Orbison trademark dark glasses, Trimboli began to sing – and what a voice! The audience went crazy. This was an evening of absolute joy.

While acquainted with some of Orbison’s music, I did not have an appreciation of his voice and talent until seeing this production. According to the program, several years ago Trimboli was approached by a producer who asked him if he knew who Roy Orbison was. He did not, so that night he went home and started listening to Orison music and researching the man behind the glasses.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Product of that introduction is the musical now premiering in Fort Collins. Trimboli had done his work learning about Orbison and is now portraying the musical legend in the show that he wrote. Trimboli may just become a legend himself, as his voice, like that of Orbison, is one of a kind.

The format is interesting — on one end of the ballroom is a slightly-raised platform where the band plays, including enough space for singers to perform from time to time. The other end also has a raised platform with three or four microphones for the performers to use to tell of Orbison’s life and to sing some of the music. I was sitting very near to the orchestra, and found myself continually craning my neck to find which end of the room I needed to be watching. This also led to some difficulty in understanding the story itself. The band frequently played (although softly) during some of the narrative, and I had difficulty understanding what was being said.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Roy Orbison was born in the Texas oil fields town of Wink. He began composing music early and was a contemporary of the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and other musicians of the era. Although he died 30 years ago, he remains one of the most respected musician and composers in the annals of American music history. His career had substantial highs and lows, as did his personal life. His first wife died in a motorcycle accident, followed two years later by the death of his two eldest sons in a fire that destroyed his Tennessee home. He remarried, and his career was having a tremendous rebirth, only for him to die of a heart attack at age 52. He left a remarkable legacy of achievement. – Not only music he performed, but also music he composed for others.

John Seaberry provided musical arrangements for the current Orbison show. He plays bass in the band, with Victor Walter on the piano, Ryan Millard on guitar, and Dean Vlachos on percussion. Chris Trimboli is music director.

The musical showcases many of Orbison’s classics, using the voice of Trimboli, as well as voices of three very talented back-up performers. Anthony Weber looks and sounds like he might be another Trimboli or Orbison in the making. Emily Erkman has extensive experience as a lead singer for several bands. Delany Garcia brought the house down with her “Blue Bayou.” This is the now-grown-up version of the young girl who charmed me as young Mary Lennox years ago at Greeley’s Union Colony Dinner Theatre’s production of “The Secret Garden.” I could hardly believe my eyes and ears.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

Northern Colorado has great credentials with this show, as Weber studied OperaPerformance at CSU, Chris Trimboli is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, and Delany Garcia is a senior there this year. Erkman spent the early years of her career in New York and in Colorado

The excellent skills of Michael Lasris are apparent as he directs the show – keeping the audience’s attention moving from one side of the room to the other while creating such memorable moments of Roy Orbison’s legacy, with such magic music as “Blue Bayou, “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely,” “Crying,” and a host of others.

The audience was not eager for the show to end. They were clapping, cheering, and dancing in the aisles. This is super entertainment.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

And what a year this is for the show’s producer, Jalyn Courtenay Webb. She sings. She acts. She performs. She teaches. This past summer the Colorado Theatre Guild honored her as Best Actress in a Musical for her role in “Always, Patsy Cline” at MAC. Webb is the founder of the new divabee Productions, and can now add “producer” to her resume. This is her first venture producing a show. And what a winner it is.

“The Roy Orbison Experience”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 18, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“West Side Story” is Wondrous at Midtown Arts

Leonard Bernstein Music Is As Glorious As Ever

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2018

Early in Act I Kyle Smith, as Tony, musically tells the audience that “Something’s coming and it’s gonna be great.” That promise is wondrously fulfilled in this excellent production of the Broadway classic, “West Side Story.”

Tony has been leader of a youth gang, the Jets. When his gang swoops onto stage in an amazing display of choreography, they set the tone for an especially rewarding evening of talent. The Jets are not a happy group, as their “territory” is being threatened by the sudden emergence of Puerto Rican immigrants, The Sharks.

Choreographer Jerome Robbins had the idea of putting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the context of the teenage gang warfare in New York City of the 1950s. He worked with composer Leonard Bernstein to produce a near-ballet telling of the turmoil. Lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim who was then just 26 years old. The collaboration opened in New York in 1957, and went on to fame worldwide as a stage musical and later as an Academy Award winning movie. Their efforts have stood the test of time, and the story is every bit as relevant now as it was 60 years ago. The Leonard Bernstein score has become a classic, and the MAC orchestra provides an excellent rendition.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

When Tony, former Jet leader, meets Maria, the sister of the Shark leader, all interest in gang rivalry vanishes. He is immediately smitten, and so is the audience. Chemistry between Kyle Smith as Tony and Josy Soriano as Maria is palpable. The introduction of the two amidst the dance at the high school gym is one of Broadways most rewarding scenes, with Tony singing the ever-beautiful, “Maria.” Stage musicals don’t get much better than this! Soriano is especially impressive as the young Puerto Rican immigrant, Maria

Jill Godfrey is credited for directing and choreographing this current marvel. She has the Jets and Sharks displaying their physical manliness while erupting in near-classical ballet. The fight scenes are staged with great believability, and the dancing is continually exciting. Substantial preparation and training are evident in providing such effective results. Jalyn Courtenay Webb is musical director, reminding the audience that the songs continue to be as enchanting as ever – “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” and the delightful “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Some in the cast are beyond their teenage years, but talent abounds. Samuel Rene Damare doesn’t miss a beat as the Jet’s “Riff.” Dorian O’Brien” is excellent as his Shark nemesis, “Bernardo.” Demi Ahlert holds center stage in the palm of her hand as Maria’s friend, “Anita.” Sara Kowalski is sheer delight as the young girl who doesn’t yet fit into any group, and so desires to “belong.” Christopher Alvarado as Chino is convincingly heart-broken with his actions. In reality, there is not a weak link in the entire group of accomplished actors, singers, and dancers. Special note must be paid to Daniel Harkins as the mean-spirited cop who would like to erase the Puerto Ricans from the area, and to John Jankow, owner of the local drug store, desperately trying to retain some sort of peace and order between the rival toughs.

Set, lighting, and costumes are all very effective.

Beautifully portrayed, “West Side Story” is not a happy tale. This is a gritty production, with an undercurrent of continued fear and apprehension, laced with the desire of hope for a better future. As the show ended, the audience was in stunned silence for several seconds before reality of the excellence they had witnessed set in. Then virtually everyone stood up to cheer and express appreciation.

Prior to the beginning of the Opening Night performance, the cast and crew honored Kurt Terrio, owner of The Midtown Arts Center.” This production of “West Side Story” is the 100th show Terrio has produced over the years in various venues. Work on an earlier version of “West Side Story” was one of his first efforts.

“West Side Story”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 11, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Grease” Performers Younger Than Ever

The Academy at Midtown Arts Center Provides Three Versions Of The Teenage Classic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 19, 2018

Three weeks! Three weeks from first read-through to standing ovation performance. Must be some sort of record! Staff of The Academy at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins worked in overdrive all summer to provide three separate versions of “Grease.” Two of the versions were designed for younger performers, third through eighth grades. The third one was comprised of high school age students.

Each section session lasted three weeks, each providing an entire production of “Grease” after three weeks at the Academy. The performance I saw was enormous fun – the youngest section of this summer’s Academy offerings. Sizes went from mini to maxi, with some diminutive performers displaying some enormous potential. And the attitudes were great. Youngsters with greased hair and black leather jackets strutted with great élan. Girls, some tough as nails, some shy as mice, came through with great vim as the school’s Pink Ladies clique. Everyone on stage was obviously having a great time. So was the audience – most friends and families of the performers.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

The only “adults” in evidence on stage were the super band of experienced “Grease” music providers. Some were the same as performing at Midtown Arts Center’s “Grease” production this summer that runs to August 26. They provided excellent background for the young stars to shine.

This was the first stage experience for most of the performers I saw. There are already some standouts. Ella Tremblay is the show’s star as Sandy Dumbrowski, the wide-eyed innocent who transfers to the rowdy Rydell High School in 1959 without knowing anyone. Tremblay is great. She has excellent stage presence, a very good voice, and looks terrific.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

Giving Tremblay great support were Zoe Glenn as the rough and tumble Rizzo; Katie Brown, as the overly-enthusiastic and universally disliked cheerleader Patty. Ellie Swain was the continually-eating Jan whose daily highlight is going through everyone’s sack lunches. Maya Stanley was excellent as Cha Cha. Gillian McCreery was convincing as “Frenchie” the beauty school dropout, who had everyone routing for her to succeed. Kathryn Attkisson was in fine form as Marty, singing of her “Freddy, My Love.”

Across the school’s cafeteria from the girls Pink Ladies clique, are the tough-guy wannabees. They become angry when one of their pack, Danny Zuko, might want to change his ways and hook up with the innocent Sandy. Zach Pickett is in good voice for the role, but does come across as too-kind for the pack. Cameren Torres has great fun as Kenickie, standing atop his new car to sing, “Greased Lightning.” Maisen Theisen was the guitar thumping Doody. Amy Smith nearly stole the show as Sonny, the sunglass-wielding, swaggerer.

Photos Courtesy of Leah Allen

While the cast isn’t quite yet ready for prime-time, such just may be on the horizon for several. And in the meantime, it appears that everyone was having a swell time on stage. And all after only three weeks from first-read to final curtain! The cast for each show is large, with more than 50 performers participating in each of the Academy’s three sections this summer.

Michael Lasris directed the show, with Jalyn Courtenay Webb as producer and artistic director, Emily Erkman was musical director, and original choreography was by Joshua Buscher. Instructors for the three show-providing sessions were Katie Burke, Abbie Hanawait, and Kyle Smith. Interns included Max Allan, Emily Hevelone, Sky Hume, Aliyah Kirkes, Zoe Maiberger, Naomi Roberts, Melanie Smith, Evan Wilusz, and Marion Yager, with Alyssa Ankney and Jon Collins as tech crew. Britni Girard was costumer.

Photo Courtesy of Leah Allen

The friendly audience was awed by the choreography, with more than 50 young performers on stage at the same time in many scenes – singing and their dancing their hearts out. “Grease is the word” this year at Midtown Arts Center.

The Academy concluded its “Grease” shows August 19, and the professional version of the show continues on stage to August 26.

The Academy at Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Telephone:  970/225-2555

Registration is now open for fall classes at the Academy. Classes begin September 10. Use code “early bird” for $50 off any class.
Register at www.midtownartcsenter.com/education.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“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.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“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.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Love Lost and Found in Dublin

Award Winner “Once” Charms Midtown Arts Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 8, 2017

Before the story begins, the audience is entertained to some spirited Irish music, performed by the talented cast, in the setting of a Dublin bar. At the show progresses the performers sing to us, sing to each other, talk to us, and talk to each other. They tell us what they look for, what is important and what is not. It is early apparent that the characters portrayed are good and caring people – albeit with rough edges of language.

The first person we meet is “Guy,” who is emotionally in the dumps. His girlfriend has moved to New York, he lives upstairs above his dad’s vacuum repair shop where he works. And sings for coins on street corners. He has written lots of music, but has decided to give it up and has no idea what he truly wants in life. Fortunately, the for the audience, Guy is portrayed by Barry DeBois, who is very good looking and has an amazing voice. Whenever he sings, the audience is enthralled.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Guy is on the verge of abandoning his guitar and whatever coins were tossed in his hat that day when along comes “Girl.” Elena Juliano is a delight as the feisty woman, a Czech by birth, now living in Dublin with her daughter, and her mother. Her husband has gone. She is a take-charge, no nonsense gem who immediately takes Guy under her wing, and convinces him that he has something going for him – his talent. She immediately realizes that he is a good “Guy.” She is in no hurry for romance, but needs a challenge to bring some joy into her semi-dreary life. She can play the piano and knows good music when she hears it.

How Guy and Girl look at life, what they want from life, and from each other are central to the story. “Once” began as a movie in 2007. The stage musical and the movie include music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The score incudes the haunting Acadamy Award winning song, “Falling Slowly.” Music ranges from delightful Irish pub songs to heartful suggestions of desire.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The Broadway musical version opened in 2012 and received eight Tony Awards including those for Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. It has subsequently been seen by audiences in England, Ireland, Australia, Korea, Canada, South Korea, and throughout the United States. It is a very interesting show. The is no high-kicking chorus line, but is a thoughtful musical tracing the ups and downs of potential romance.

In addition to the beautiful “Falling Slowly,” some highlights include the opening “Leave,” and an especially beautiful “Gold.” With musical accompaniment of the cast, Guy sings this at the conclusion of Act 1, noting “And I love her so. I wouldn’t trade her for gold.” It becomes even richer late in Act 2 when the entire ensemble sings with without accompaniment.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The cast includes twelve incredibly talented persons, all taking acting parts, all playing a variety of musical instruments, and dancing their hearts out. The cast includes the young girl, Ivanka, who is “Girl’s” daughter. The role is double cast, with Stella Seaman or Kassidy Terrio taking the role for various performances. I saw Stella Seaman. She is a joy! Most of the cast are new to the MAC stage. Familiar to local audiences, however, are John Jankow, Charity Ruth Haskins, and John Seaberry,

All the music is provided by performers on the stage. The set is an attractive bar that can become a music store, a vacuum repair shop, a hillside overlooking Dublin, and wherever the story goes. Kurt Terrio produced and directed the show, with Michael Lasris providing the terrific choreography. Barry DeBois, who is so excellent as “Guy,” also serves as music director.

The music, although beautiful, is not familiar. The audience does have difficulty understanding what is being said and sung. Accents are Irish and Czech. Sometimes the dialogue is flashed on the stage in Czech with the idea that it is clever to see what the persons are saying. Unfortunately, it just makes the situation more difficult, as we often can’t understand what is being said in Czech or in English. When Girl sings to her own piano accompaniment, the piano sometimes is too loud to hear Elena Juliano’s pleasant voice.

It is not difficult to follow the show’s basic premise. Twists along the way, however, can be difficult to understand. The conclusion is an emotional one with Guy and Girl singing the same song of love – with an ocean separating them. Maybe a second viewing would be helpful to better understand the lyrics, as “Once” may just not be enough. It is basically a heartfelt and beautiful show.

“Once”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To: November 11, 2017
For Tickets: Phone: 970/225-2555
MAC’s WebsiteFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Ground-breaking “Hair” arrives at Midtown Arts Center

Those “Days of Aquarius” Amaze Local Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones

July 9, 2017

Broadway audiences and critics either cheered or were aghast in the late ‘60s when a hippie musical about the sexual revolution, profanity, using mind-bending drugs, and opposition to the Viet Nam War opened in New York. Most agreed that the music was nothing short of phenomenal, but an ever-so-brief glance at full nudity caused concern. Following an off-Broadway opening in 1967 at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, the show opened on Broadway the next year with substantial revisions More than a dozen 13 new songs were added and the show ran for an amazing l,750 performances. Music is by Galt MacDermot, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.

Living in the West, I had read about the New York show, but was curious as to why such a controversial look at America had spared such interest. I bought the cast recording, and was knocked out with what I heard. I dashed to see it the next time I was in London to determine if the production was worth the hoopla it generated. It was.

The terrific music is currently on stage at Midtown. The score is as pulsating as ever. The show looks terrific, sounds even better. The plot continues to revolve around hippies protesting — protesting virtually everything in their lives. The hippies have created a “tribe” where they can emotionally and physically love one another and rant and rave about everyone else. Claude, played by Tyler Hodges, is one of the group, but is hesitant to commit to burning his draft card – the ultimate act of defiance of the time. Hodges, a newcomer to Midtown Arts, is a sensation. He is torn between his basic decency and the encouragement of his friends to completely immerse himself in their group love and anger.

Tyler Hodges as Claude
Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

At the conclusion of Act I, Claude sings of his tribulation with an incredibly heartfelt, “Where Do I Go?” While he is emotionally torn, other members of the tribe are eager for him to join them with their “bare it all” approach. Unlike the production in London where “baring it all” was not all-inclusive and brief, in Midtown it is a prolonged view of nearly the entire cast. I am not certain why this idea is important to the total message of the show. It is disarming and shocking.

The anti-everything message does become annoying. Act II is a rehash over why everyone is protesting, and includes some over-the-top mind-bending scenes with the tribe “high” on whatever drugs they can find. Claude’s war experiences are seen through hallucinogenic visions brought on by drugs gone bad. Group orgies are the mode.

The music, however, remains as wonderful as ever. Many melodies continue to be well known – some 50 years after they were introduced: “Aquarius” “I Got Life,” “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Where Do I Go,” “What a Piece of Work is Man,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” and ultimately, “Let the Sun Shine In.”

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

Many of the performers are new to MAC. They are an enormously talented group with Hodges, Michael Hajjar, Stephanie Wasser, Bryan Staggers and Devin J. Hall in leading roles. Nine others successfully complete the “Tribe.” Of particular interest are the aerial acrobatics. Director/choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker worked with Cassidy Cousineau and Adam Bourque to dangle from two silks (rope-like cloths hanging from the ceiling) which become an integral part of the set. The effect is like seeing a mini Cirque Du Soleil on stage!

Dinner theatre patrons are accustomed to a “down” time between completing the meal and the beginning of the show. There are the usual commercials and announcements of birthdays, anniversaries, welcoming specific groups, etc. “Hair” itself took several minutes to get into gear. Cast members wandered around the stage. Hodges as Claude sat center stage without saying anything. Tribe Leader Berger (Michael Hajjar) chatted with the audience – nothing being heard beyond the first couple of rows. The pulsating music finally arrived. The long delay between dinner and actual music, however, resulted in my initial interest lagging in what turns out to be a brilliantly-interesting show.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

“Hair” continues to be a show for the ages – now celebrating its 50th year with the exuberant version on Stage at Midtown through August 26. Ryan Hazelbaker directed and choreographed the production, with music direction by Paul Falk. The cast is very talented. The orchestra, lighting, and costumes are all excellent. This is a “tough” show – not the family oriented “The Sound of Music” or “Mary Poppins,” but in a style on its own, verging on soft porn. “Hair” the American tribal love-rock musical is in town, on stage this summer at Midtown Arts Center.

“Hair”
Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To: August 26, 2017
Phone: 970/225-2555
Online: midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Popular Movie “Sister Act” Transfers With Great Enthusiasm To Stage At Midtown Arts Center

Marissa Rudd Is Sensational As Deloris, Becoming A Nun Against Her Will.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 8, 2017

Shakespeare’s Hamlet (the famous Dane) warned his love, Ophelia, to “get thee to a nunnery” to ward off his advances. In “Sister Act” a wanna-be nightclub performer is whisked off to a convent for her own protection after she sees her gangster boyfriend shoot a man.

Marissa Rudd is a wow as the talented singer, Deloris, whose boss boyfriend claims she is not yet ready for the big time. In disgust, she leaves the club, being in the wrong place at the wrong time to witness a murder.

Photography Credit: Dyann Diercks Photography

With the gangster and his mob-of-three on the trail, police hide Deloris in a local convent. The Mother Superior wants nothing to do with the idea, but is advised she must assist. Deloris’ background included several years in a parochial, followed by some street-smart adventures. She is no happier pretending to be a nun than the Mother Superior is in hiding her. The nuns in the convent are confused by the sudden arrival who doesn’t appear to truly be one of the sisterhood. Continue reading Popular Movie “Sister Act” Transfers With Great Enthusiasm To Stage At Midtown Arts Center Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Million Dollar Quartet” – Incredible Music Based on Actual Event

Big Talent = Big Bucks as Presley, Cash, Lewis, and Perkins Get Together for Jam at Midtown Arts

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 27, 2017

On December 4, 1956, some already-famous entertainers get together for an evening of conversation and a chance to record some music in the Sun Records studio in Memphis Tennessee. Headliners Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash were all put on the road to fame by producer Sam Phillips. They turn up at the studio to exchange pleasantries – hesitant to talk about the future, as some may have already made plans to leave Sun Records. New on the scene is an off-the-wall talent wild man by the name of Jerry Lee Lewis. Phillips sees his potential. The others aren’t quite so sure. Continue reading “Million Dollar Quartet” – Incredible Music Based on Actual Event Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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 Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Colleen Johnson Shines as “Practically Perfect” Mary Poppins

MaryPoppins“Mary Poppins” is great charmer at Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones, June 20, 2016

Colleen Johnson is a wonder. From the moment she arrives on stage, umbrella on her arm, shoes pointing outward from the heels, she is completely in charge. I first became enchanted by Johnson when she dashed from the MAC stage through an exterior exit as the frenzied Fiona in “Shrek.” This time around she arrives at the Banks household on London’s Cherry Tree Lane after the recent Nanny has departed in great haste. She immediately announces that she is “Practically Perfect in every way!” And we believe her. She has great (pointed) shoes to fill. Julie Andrews received the Academy Award as Best Actress for the 1964 movie – which has become one of the most-loved movies of all time.
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“Lost in Yonkers” Finds a Home at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins

YonkersPulitzer Prize Winning Play by Neil Simon Earns its Honors

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 20, 2016

With minimal fanfare and unknown to most theatregoers, “Lost in Yonkers” arrived on the stage of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins this spring. “Word of mouth” has traveled quickly, and the highly-honored show is receiving great local acclaim. The talented cast is a wonder, headlined by Morgan Howard in a bravura performance as Bella, an emotionally challenged woman in her mid-30s – desperately longing for someone to love her. Neil Simon wrote this touching play in 1991, and received the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his work.
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“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is insightful look at relationships!

Love ChangeMidtown Arts production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” evokes memories of dating, marriage, and all….

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 29, 20

The show’s title tells it all as fun and foibles of dating and marriage take center stage in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now change” current at Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins. The popular review has been charming audiences worldwide since its inception Off-Broadway in New York twenty years ago. The show has something for just about every dating or married couple.

We see a couple on their first date. They claim they are uncomfortable in early dates, and opt to fast forward to second, third and all dates, concluding their friendship with no dates! Then there is the senior couple whose spouses have died, and the remaining widow and widower spend their days attending funerals of persons they don’t know — looking for possible match-up dates with other funeral-goers.

Photo credit Mikeal Macbeth.
Photo credit Mikeal Macbeth.

Current cast in the Midtown production is very good, headlined by Joel Adam Chavez who is an instant charmer with his wonderful facial expressions and ability to take on roles from the dating movie-goer to the senior citizen at the funeral home. He is a familiar face to local audiences. He is especially heart-warming as the macho date, dragged to a chick flick tear jerker. He prefers action westerns, heavy on violence; but ends up sobbing hysterically being reduced to mush at the two-hanky sob story his date insisted on seeing.

Also well known to local audiences is Anne Terze-Schwarz, a tall beauty with an equally beautiful voice. Rounding out the quartet of performers are Morgan Howard and Sean Wilcox, both newcomers to MAC productions. Each of the four players has an individual moment to shine, as well as playing multiple roles for other sketches. Morgan amazes as she jumps to a full dancing split! Sean Wilcox has very good stage presence and is enormously charming. His singing voice is very good, and his acting skills are effective.

Music is by Jimmy Roberts, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro. The songs are pleasant, but not particularly memorable. The sketches range from great fun to heartfelt somber memories. Among the highlights, in addition, to those mentioned earlier, are Wilcox visiting some married friends whose entire existence is currently revolving around their new baby; the family “traveling” around the stage reminding us how dreadful family trips by car can be; the husband who is bogged down with Macy shopping bags while his wife runs around the store trying to find a restroom; and a super sketch where married parents are hosting a dinner for their son and his girlfriend of two years, expecting the couple is about to announce their engagement. The parents are horrified as the young friends announce they are splitting up – with the mother tossing the gift she had brought thinking a wedding announcement was soon to be made.

Seth Caikowski directs the goings-on. He is highly respected for his acting skills, having received the Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award a few years ago for his looniness in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Boulder Dinner Theatre. This is the third production of “I Love You…” that Caikowski has directed.

Midtown Arts Center is presenting the show in their smaller cabaret-style room. This is a slightly different format from shows featured on their main stage. No meal is provided, but appetizers and drinks are available prior to the show, with dessert at Intermission.

The show premiered Off-Broadway in New York in 1996 and closed in 2008, after more than 5,000 performances. It has been produced worldwide and translated into at least 17 languages. The themes presented are universal. Playwright DiPietro touches on romantic themes that are instantly relatable – sometimes with discomfort, sometimes with outright joy!

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 4 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
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Ring of Fire” at“ Midtown Arts Center is a Mid-Winter Winner!

Ring of FireMusic written or performed by Johnny Cash keeps audience enthusiasm high!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 21, 2016

Within a few moments of the show’s beginning I realized I was seeing something quite special. The setting is minimal, but very inviting and effective, the lighting is very good, and the voices performing the more-than-30 numbers are amazing! “Ring of Fire” results in an evening of super music. The show itself is just two hours, making the entire event, including dinner, not much more than a well-spent three or so hours

The musical was created by Richard Maltby, Jr., and conceived by William Meade. It had a test run in Buffalo, New York, 2005, and opened on Broadway the following winter.

This is not retelling of the life of Johnny Cash, but a story which could belong to thousands of persons – solid family tired in harsh economic background. Most of us can relate to much of the music as a retelling of parts of our own lives. The difficult times Johnny Cash faced are not related as history, just read-between-the lines in the various songs. And such great songs: “Five Feet High and Rising,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” The Man in Black,” “I Walk the Line (briefly),” and the signature “Ring of Fire.” While all of the music for the show was performed at one time or other by Cash, many of the pieces were written by others.

Photo credit to Malia Stoner
Photo credit to Malia Stoner

The five performers on stage at MAC are super musicians, each playing a variety of instruments, and each with super voices. A standout is Colin Summers whose deep bass voice goes through the floor. His curtain-call retelling of “A Boy Named Sue” had the audience cheering. On stage with Summers are Brittany Brook, Davey Rosenberg, Austin Hohnke and Kaine Riggan. Each has a moment to shine, as they share the wealth of terrific music.

Unfortunately, the show’s printed program does not include a list of songs, so I can’t recall the name of an early romantic piece where Cash and his wife, June Carter, tell of the love they shared.

Mathew Leland directs the show, keeping the audience excited by the flow of non-stop music.

As a routine, I do not read reviews of shows I have not seen prior to my seeing them for my own review. This was an especially good thing in regard to “Ring of Fire.” The original production was well-received by local critics, but less so by Broadway reviewers. A movie about Johnny Cash, “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, had been an enormous success the previous year, receiving five Academy Award nominations. The “little” stage production was not to be compared with the movie, and was nearly lost in the shuffle. The stage show was re-conceived in 2013 and is now finding great success on stages throughout the country.

If I had read early Broadway reviews, I may have been turned off; and might have decided not to see the show. This would have been my loss. While the current production doesn’t begin to retell Cash’s life, it has a basic reverence for the human condition, and enchants the audience with terrific music!

“Ring of Fire”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 25, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
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“Rock of Ages” is High Energy Wonder at Midtown Arts Center      

Midtown Arts Center
Midtown Arts Center

Dynamic music and enthusiastic cast brings 1980s to life in “Rock of Ages. Audience enthusiasm results in show extension to January 2!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 15, 2015

Justin Luciano is his name, and music is his game. Anne Terze-Schwarz is her name, and music is her game. Justin and Anne find each other as “Drew” and “Sherrie” and combine talents to wow audiences in the brilliant “Rock of Ages” now on stage at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins. They headline a super cast in a production of non-stop music and dancing. It is doubtful that even the energizer bunnies can outdo them!

Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

“Rock of Ages” was an enormous hit on Broadway, running for 2,328 performances in six years. It closed earlier this year, and Kurt Terrio’s Midtown Arts was the first company to obtain rights to produce the show in Colorado! The audience is warned at the outset, that noise might just “melt your face.” That doesn’t happen, and I found myself swept up in the excitement of an extremely well-crafted production.

Amazingly, I recognized many of the songs by several composers, and was captivated by the show. The 80s were considered the Golden Age of synthesizer music – ant this show has that along with big hair, tight, skimpy clothes and epic guitar solos – along with incredible voices! The show was originally scheduled to run through late November. Audience response has been so enormous that the show has now been extended to run to January2!

Justin Luciano and Anne Terze-Schwarz. Photo credit Christina Gressinau
Justin Luciano and Anne Terze-Schwarz.
Photo credit Christina Gressinau

Plot is somewhat basic: Boy and girl looking for girl and boy. Beyond this oft-told premise is a crazed German entrepreneur wanting to remove the rock music territory in downtown Los Angeles, with a plan for urban renewal. He is accompanied by his hapless son, who follows like a puppy dog. Rock venue music owners don’t want to lose their music club and enlist the help of local social activists to stop demolition.

Sherrie’s efforts to find love in Southern California are thwarted and she falls into hard times, including an experience with a famous rocker who casts her aside, leaving her minimal choices. She finds help in a stripper night club, owned by a wise and caring woman, who has past problems of her own.   All of the goings on are played out with very loud and very energetic music, performed by a terrific band comprised of Jason Tyler Vaughn, Jeremy Girard, Angela Steiner, Ryan Millard, Larry Bridges, and Alan Skowron.

Michael Lasris and Barret Harper play the millionaire German and his son. They appear to be an evil force to be reckoned with. Sean Allen Riley and Joel Adam Chavez portray owners of the rock club. They are a delight! Jon Tyler Heath is super as the rock idol Stacee Jaxx whose dreadful hair is a character all its own. Morgan Howard is a hoot as Regina, the city planner turned spirited activist. And Jalyn Courtenay Webb holds center stage on her own, as the madame/owner of the stripper club where Sherrie seeks shelter. Webb is a continual show-stopper. Whenever she arrives on stage, all eyes move to her. And when she begins to sing, the audience is in awe!

The cast is not as large as it appears, as persons listed as part of the “Ensemble” are seen so frequently that they become featured players. These include Courtney Blackmun, Alexa Bernal, Terra Scott, Chris Bober, and Frankie Shin. There is not a slacker in the entire cast!

The show is produced and directed by Kurt Terrio, with musical staging and ingenious choreography by Michael Lasris. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, costumes by Alisa Metcalf, lighting by Chad Bonaker, sound by Mat Leland, set by Justin Hermanek and Jared Stuteville. Vocal direction by Jalyn Courtenay Webb.

Seeing “Rock of Ages” on stage at MAC is not unlike reading a children’s book by Richard Scarry, where there is always so much going on that it is sometimes difficult to zoom in on the central story. Terrio’s stage is one of constant movement with Lasris’ dancers and singers knowing exactly where they are go at every instant, and letting the audience figure out what parts of the stage and show they wish to direct their attention. This is a kaleidoscope of movement. Never a dull moment!

The cast is providing enormous entertainment to the audience. They also appear to be having an enormously fun time on stage. The show is well written with very clever situations and dialogue to keep the cast and audience in a state of near-continual joy!

By show’s conclusion, the cast must be exhausted. The audience is somewhat worn out also – with that continual applause! “Rock of Ages” is a show of the “Ages!” Curiously that “age” is now!

“Rock of Ages”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through January 2, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
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“Memphis” is Mesmerizing at Midtown Arts Center!

Memphis at Midtown Arts CenterMusical “Memphis” pleases audience in Fort Collins!

By Tom Jones
Reviewed March 20, 2015

Memphis, Tennessee, was a racially divided city in the 1950s. Blacks had their own schools, as did whites. Each had its own music, with crossovers quite rare. Along came Dewey Phillips, one of he first white disc jockeys to play black music, and life began to change! The terrific musical “Memphis,” now on stage at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins is loosely based on the efforts of Dewey Phillips, known as “Huey Calhoun” in the show.

Photo credit  Anne Terze-Schwarz
Photo credit Anne Terze-Schwarz

Huey is a young, virtually illiterate, man in Memphis who has felt an inexplicable draw to black music ever since he was a child. While his formal education is limited, he dreams of becoming a disc jockey, having his own show. He dares to show up at an underground black Rock and Roll bar, where he becomes attracted to Felicia, a talented performer who is under the careful eye of her brother, Delray! Kurt Terrio, owner of Midtown Arts Center, and the show’s producer has lined up an amazing group of performers and technicians to bring “Memphis” to light.

Evan Buckley Harris is a wonder as Huey. This is Harris’ first appearance on stage in Northern Colorado. He is not to be missed. He is completely at ease as Huey, with an instant attraction to Felicia, who would like to return his interest, but is cautious do so, because of her watchdog brother. Danielle J. Summons is excellent as Felicia, as is Michael (MJ) Jones as the brother, Delray.

Photo credit  Anne Terze-Schwarz
Photo credit Anne Terze-Schwarz

Huey is not easily assimilated in the underground bar, but becomes less of a threat when the black patrons realize he is truly interested in their music. Harris, Simmons, and Jones are very effective in their roles, each attracting audience sympathy to the difficulties they face in a segregated society. They have powerful voices and can dance up a storm! Another standout is Michael Wordly, a black man so traumatized by the lynching of his father that he has not spoken since the horrific event. When he finally does speak, the moment is breathtaking and Wordly has a singing voice that MUST be heard!

Huey doesn’t have much formal education. But he understands people, what they like, and how to find his way with them – black or white! When he is given his first opportunity as a disc jockey, the station manager gives him a commercial to read. Huey cannot read, and elicits the help of the station’s black janitor.

Huey’s mother, Gladys, begins the story as a hardline racist, but begins to empathize with her son and his black friends after attending a black church choir and realizing that “Change Don’t Come Easy.” Jalyn Courtenay Webb portrays the mother. She continues her non-stop journey of inhabiting every role she portrays, and is well known to local audiences. She is the only local lead in the cast, with others coming from Las Vegas, New York, etc..

Everyone in the cast is very talented, whether as a singer or a dancer! Among the other supporting leads are Marc-Anthony Lewis, an over-sized man with equally-oversized abilities, and Daniel Harkins, as Calhoun’s boss who finally realizes that Huey is a force to be reckoned with, and ultimately backs his plans. Harkins is originally from New York City, but is known to local Midtown audiences for his performances in several shows and he also currently solves mysteries in Midtown’s “The Dinner Detective.”

“Memphis” is directed by Jordan Nichols a native of Memphis. Nichols directed the hilarious “Spamalot” at Midtown Arts Center last year. This time around he is into more serious subject-matter. He is enormously successful – choreographing the dances as well as directing the entire show. The dancing is every bit as terrific as are the remarkable voices. Paul Falk and Jalyn Courtenay Webb provide vocal direction to the show, with Travis Bradley as assistant choreographer, and Julia Smith as assistant director. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, with costumes by Anthony Mattivi, lighting by Chad Bonaker, sound by Kurt Terrio, and set construction by Justin Hermanek and Aaron Sheckler. The excellent orchestra is conducted by Casey Cropp, and includes efforts of Larry Bridges, Larry Currey, Sonia Daggett, Marty Rein, Jeremy Girard, Andy Kropp and Dave Lunn

“Memphis” as currently produced, was developed over several years, finally turning up on Broadway in 2009. The production won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It ran in New York for more than a thousand performances, and was filmed in 2011 for presentation to nationwide audiences in April and May of that year. The current London production has received rave reviews.

Music was written by David Bryan, lyrics by Bryan and Joe DiPietro, and book by DiPietro. The music is exciting, but the audience doesn’t leave the theater humming a tune. They were so enamored with the show, however, that they just didn’t want to leave the theater. Standing ovations are rare at dinner theaters, but when it became apparent that “Memphis” was reaching its finale, the audience made certain that all tables and dishes were out of the way to stand and cheer!

“Memphis”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins
When:Through May 30, 2015
Information: Box Office at 970/225-2555, or online 24/7 @ www.midtownartscenter.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

“Sweeney Todd” is Harrowing Tale of Seeking revenge at Midtown Arts Center

Sweeny-logo

“Sweeney Todd” is that Fiendish Barber on Fleet Street in Terrific Midtown Show!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 31, 2015

By the time “Sweeney Todd” ends, the stage of the Midtown Arts Center includes a pile of corpses, and an astonished audience, realizing they experienced a truly memorable production! “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim opened on Broadway in 1979 with the usual trappings of a Broadway show – a large stage, the audience seated behind the usual orchestra, etc. The show was a critical favorite, received major awards, including the Tony Award as Best Musical. It sometimes left the audience a bit stunned, by the starkness of the story, and the brutality of the show. It has gone on to become a virtual classic – both as a Broadway musical and as an opera!

Kurt Terrio, owner of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, has a great track record of providing Fort Collins audiences with wonderful musicals. He does take risks, however, and has produced “Sweeney Todd” in a small new theater known as Studio 2 of the Midtown Arts Center. The production is more of an adventure than a show! The audience huddles around tables, with barely enough room to move. The orchestra is placed around the room, some elevated, and some on ground floor. The performers are also found throughout the room, mixed with the theater patrons. Some are at tables, some wandering around the elevated platform, and some on the small stage in the middle of the room.

To the audience’s amazement, the performers seem to find their way around the cramped quarters, and present the show as if they had all the room in the world. Brandon Schraml is a wonder as the demonic Sweeney Todd, returning to London after being exiled for many years on trumped-up charges. He is rescued at sea on his return to London by a young sailor, Anthony.

Brandon Schraml as Sweeney Todd and Jalyn Courteny Webb as Mrs. Lovett. Photo credit Marco A Robinson
Brandon Schraml as Sweeney Todd and Jalyn Courteny Webb as Mrs. Lovett. Photo credit Marco A Robinson

Todd returns to London to learn that his beloved wife, Lucy, has died, and that his child, Johanna, is now a young women living as a virtual prisoner in the home of London’s Judge Turpin. He ends up at the pie shop of Mrs. Lovett, who is a bit daft, and perhaps knows more than she wants to tell about Todd’s wife and child. She does offer him a place to stay, however, above her pie shop which isn’t doing very well, as she claims they are the “Worst Pies in London.”

Todd subsequently strangles a man in the Barber Shop when he learns the man was partially responsible for Todd’s exile many years ago. “What to do with the body?” Mrs. Lovett comes up with the idea of turning him into pies….. Lovett and Todd take off on a delightfully grizzly plan to turn men of various occupations into special pies! As Todd’s revenge results in more bodies, the pie shop business flourishes. Todd learns that Anthony, the sailor that saved his life, has accidentally found Todd’s daughter, Johanna, and wishes to marry her. Judge Turpin becomes outraged, wanting to marry the beautiful young girl himself; and thus begins plots for Joanna and Anthony to run away together, for Judge Turpin to find Johanna, and for Todd to ultimately find revenge for Turpin’s actions.

Terrio and his staff have assembled performers with incredible voices. Schraml as Sweeney Todd is re-united with Jalyn Courtney Webb as the somewhat-crazed Mrs. Lovett. They both had important roles in MAC’s not-to-be-forgotten “Les Miserables last Season. Also from that earlier triumph is Michael Lasris, who plays Judge Turpin in “Sweeney.” Webb and Lasris continue to provide inspired performances, adding to the work of Schraml’s “Todd.” They are joined by a cast which seems much larger than it actually is. Anthony is played by Taylor Martin who nearly stops the show with his lilting hymn to the young woman he has just found, “Johanna.” Lisa Kay Carter plays Johanna. Her voice is crystal clear, especially when she sings of her birds, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” Michael Spaziana as Toby, the young assistant Lovett and Todd have hired, is believable, as he promises he will protect Mrs. Lovett in “Not While I’m Around.”

Also outstanding are Napoleon Douglas as Beadle Bamford, Allen Dorsey as Adolfo Pirelli, and Anne Terze-Schwarz who has a thankless job of stumbling through the show as a beggar woman, mumbling oaths. Casey Cropp directs the orchestra, placed throughout the theater.

Michael Lasris and Julia Smith directed the terrific show with the vocal direction by Jalyn Courtney Webb. Scenic design is by Aaron Sheckler, with costumes by Anthony Mattivi.

Sondheim was born in 1930 and wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” before branching out to provide lyrics and music for many shows. He is currently considered to be the most talented living Broadway creator. His first production providing both music and lyrics was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with the delightful opening song, “Comedy Tonight.” He has subsequently thrilled audiences with such shows as “A Little Night Music, “ “Company, “ “Follies,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “Into the Woods” which is now shown as a movie!

Many years ago my wife and I were living in New York, and The New York Times ran a small ad, soliciting producers for a “new” show by Stephen Sondheim. This was before Sondheim became so incredibly popular. Persons were offered to “buy” a portion of the new production “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” for $1,000 per share. I didn’t have the $1,000, so did not invest. I have subsequently wondered if I’d now be independently wealthy if I had invested!

The Midtown Arts Center production includes all of the acclaimed music, and the cast is uniformly excellent. The room where it is performed does present problems, however, as the cast is scattered throughout the room and it is difficult to always locate who is speaking/singing. The story is easier to follow when seen on a traditional stage setting. That does not, however, provide the excitement, interest, and sometimes nervousness as provided in the current format. Word of mouth has resulted in many sold-out performances, as the show appears to have found great audience appeal, especially for dating couples, and couples of all ages eager to enjoy an unusual experience.

. The plot, as noted above, is complicated. Reading a synopsis of the show prior to going to the theater is highly recommended. This should help you to better understand what an incredible performance you are seeing!
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“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Where: Midtown Arts Center
When: Through March 7, 2015
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
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Miss Saigon at Midtown Arts Center

MissSiagon-sm“Miss Saigon” at Midtown Arts Center Wows Audience with Tale of the Fall of Vietnam!

Reviewed by Tom Jones

“What do you do for an encore?” Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Alain Boublil found worldwide fame with their incredible stage production “Les Miserables” in London in 1985, and in New York in 1987. They were not content to sit back and count their money, however, as they launched “Miss Saigon” in London in 1989, on Broadway in 1991 with Schoenberg again providing the music; lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.  “Saigon” went on to receive an enormous following, and a London revival in 2014 set a new world record for opening day ticket sales.
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