Category Archives: Musical

“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee!”

High Energy “Grease Lightning” Lights Up Fort Collins Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 15, 2018

Yep, “Sandra Dee” is musically back in town. And she brought a whole bunch of her famous friends from Rydell High School of 1959. Oh, yea, and also there is the goody two-shoes Sandy, transplanted from a different school, who has a difficult time finding her way in the new environment. The gentle guy she met on vacation on the beach that past summer turns up as head honcho of some not-so-pleasant dudes in the school.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

This month the movie version of “Grease” celebrates its 40th anniversary. In observation of that long-ago date, Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins has assembled the whole gang of teenagers to take us through the paces of what high school life was like in the 1950s.

In those days gone by, songs had lyrics everyone could understand and repeat. Many of those songs are incredibly well known even now – “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightning,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “You’re the One That I Want.”

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

John Travolta swaggered through the movie with great élan as Danny, with Olivia Newton John as the charming innocent, Sandy. For this stage version, Kyle Smith plays Danny Zuko with Lizzy Hinton as Sandy Dumbrowski. This is not the Sandra Dee of 1950s movie fame. Dee was the model of what a “good girl” should be in the era.

That “Sandy” was the epitome of wholesomeness, mocked by the rougher elements of society as someone to be disdained and pitied When Dumbrowski arrives at her new school the Pink Ladies show off their supposed superiority, mocking her with–
“Look, at Me. I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity.
Won’t go to bed ‘til I’m legally wed. I can’t, I’m Sandra Dee.”

On leaving the theatre, a member of the audience noted, “It was like the entire stage was full of leads.” Voices are very good and the dancing is astonishing The MAC production was directed and choreographed by Joshua Buscher with Jalyn Courtenay Webb serving as music director. Buscher was in the Fort Collins Carousel Theatre production of “Grease” 12 years ago while he was a student at UNC. Six months after graduating, he appeared in the revival of “West Side Story” for two years, and has been in Broadway productions of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and “Big Fish.”

Music was furnished by a super group of on-stage musicians, with the minimal props and action going on in front of them. There didn’t initially appear to be much room for choreography, but Director Buscher has provided routines that could be confined into smaller spaces, and the syncopated moves were flawless.

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

The stage musical, as originally conceived, was a raunchy, raw and aggressive tale that was subsequently toned down. It has been further modified to become a landmark of teenage angst. It is basically a look at what peer pressure can do, but taking a sometimes comical look at what teenagers felt they needed to do to be part of a group. “Sandra Dee” in the song becomes a “Sandy” who has potential of being a tough gal in the Pink Ladies clique.

It opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for nearly ten years. When it closed in 1980, it was then the longest run in Broadway history. The production now onstage at MAC has a few very brief moments of toughness, but is generally family oriented, and a true delight to see. Versions of it have played worldwide, and the John Travolta movie turned up in 1978, resulting in virtual adoration.

Jalyn Courtenay Webb is convincing as Miss Lynch, the high school teacher who tries to help the students maneuver through the pitfalls of adolescence – pitfalls that she has not yet personally overcome. Tara Fitzgerald is the tough-as-nails, Rizzo, the unofficial leader of the Pink Ladies clique. Abigail Hanawalt is delightful as the non-too-bright Frenchie, a “Beauty School Dropout.”

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

Stuart Rial is great fun as the nerdy Eugene, who can do virtually anything, except find his way into the “in” crowd. Rakeem Lawrence is very good as Roger, the high schooler whose main claim to fame is that he “moons” every chance he gets. Taylor Marrs turns up in two crazed roles – the disc jockey Vince Fontaine and also as the Teen Angel performer. Mid way through Act I. Corbin George provided his personal dynamite as Kenickie with his over-the-top vocalizing of “Greased Lightning.”

Christy Oberndorf, Stephanie Garcia, Amy Dollar, Timothy Canali, Peyton Schoenhofer, Carley Ingold, Anthony Weber, and Delany Garcia complete the roster of talents on stage – several with individual moments to shine. Even Kenickie’s cherished convertible becomes a featured performer as “Greased Lightning.”

The total show is a delightful romp of looking at the teenagers of the last century, making us wonder how we might behave if we could be temporarily transplanted into the rock and roll generation. Then every guy wanted his greased hair slicked back, his own “Greased Lightning” convertible, and every girl wanted to be “Hopelessly Devoted” to someone.

“Grease”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To August 25, 2018
Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

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

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

Reported by Tom Jones
June 12, 1018

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

Matthew Peters, Choreographer
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

Pat Payne, Director
Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Tom Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Hans Christian Andersen’s Underwater Tale Surfaces With Great Beauty

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 10, 2018

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

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

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

– – – – –
Illusion vs. reality

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

Matt Gale Photography 2018

Jatte” painting, completing it two years later.

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

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

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

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

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“Ragtime” Is An Explosion Of Talent At MAC

Sheer Brilliance Is Key In This Powerful Production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 13, 2018

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones,
February 20, 2018

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

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

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

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

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

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

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

Photo Courtesy of D. St. John Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent Performances Highlight This Regional Premier

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 2, 2018

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Photo Credit: Dyann Diercks Photography

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

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

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

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“Waitress” Now Serving Patrons of Buell Theatre

First National Touring Company Is Delicious Entertainment

Reviewed by Tom Jones

December 29, 2017

Three waitresses working in a diner somewhere in America’s South have become good friends. They are the “Three Musketeers” of food service. They ignore their boss, and try to fix each other’s problems. Becky is a heavy-set woman who has a heart as large as her frame, and who claims her husband has not shown her sexual attention for 15 years. Dawn is a social misfit, eager to find romance but with no idea of how to go about it. Jenna appears to be the most challenged of the three. She is in an incredibly unhappy marriage, but is afraid of doing anything to change her situation.

Their woes are effectively brought to life this month in the national touring company of “Waitress” now on stage of the Buell Theatre.

Desi Oakley, Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman in the National Tour of WAITRESS  Credit Joan Marcus

Whereas Charity Angel Dawson as Becky and Lenne Klingaman as Dawn are great fun, they basically provide the comedy relief to the concerns of Jenna played by Desi Oakley. Early in the show Jenna learns that she is pregnant by her louse of a husband, Earl, whom she intensely dislikes. Larry Marshall is so convincing as Earl, that the audience at curtain call were eager to boo him. His performance is so menacing that he sustains the threat of violence throughout the show.

Jenna is the product of a family with its share of unhappiness. She was helpless in protecting her mother from the abuses of her father. Her memories of her mother sustain her. Her mother taught her how to bake a pie, but not how to choose a man. Jenna is probably the best pie maker in the area, and is thinking about entering a pie-baking contest with financial rewards.

Desi Oakley as Jenna in the National Tour of WAITRESS  Credit Joan Marcus

She is also considering running away, leaving her husband and her job, when she learns that she is pregnant with Earl’s child. Her life appears to be in shambles. She has no idea what to do, and wants nothing to do with the forthcoming child. The results provide an evening of great interest. There are no high-kicking chorus girls, or glittering Broadway/Hollywood scenery. There is, however., thought-provoking courage in the making. The set is effective, and clever choreography of movement keeps the action flowing. Timing is flawless.

Jenna’s gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, is new to the area. He is a new doctor, and provides an enormous innocence and insecurity which become wisdom and know-how, as the show (and Jenna’s pregnancy) progress. Bryan Fenkart is excellent as the bewildered and helpful Dr. Pomatter. His own marriage isn’t the greatest, and he finds enormous support just being with his patient, Jenna.

The development of their friendship is the basis of “Waitress.” Events in the lives of the other waitresses provide terrific counterpoint to the feelings shared by Jenna and Dr. Pomatter. Becky becomes physically interested in Cal, the diner boss. Dawn finds a date – and potential of a happy future with Ogie. Ogie, played by Jeremy Morse, is one of the show’s most energetic enjoyments. He is every bit as socially adrift as is Dawn, and they make a hard-to-resist couple. Ogie steals the first act with a delightful “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” after a five-minute first date.

The musical is based on the 2007 film of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly. Music is good. No melodies become embedded in the brain for future humming. The second act, however, is particularly interesting as Jenna sings “She Used to Be Mine,” and is joined by the company for “Everything Changes.” Music and lyrics are by Sara Bareilles with the book of Jessie Nelson. The show’s director, Diane Paulus, was one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2014.

Paulus directed the original production at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge in 2015, and the Broadway opening in 2016. The show received several awards, and is the first musical in Broadway history to have four women in primary functions: Director, writer, composer, and choreographer. The national touring company on stage at the Buell this year began its tour this past October.

Pies are in abundance throughout the show. My first desire when leaving the theatre, was to find a slice of warm pie. Perhaps a-la-mode. “Waitress” provides a deep dish of wisdom and entertainment looking at Jenna and her friends in the diner.

“Waitress”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: December 31,2017
Online:  www.denvercenter.org

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

Lavish Production is Holiday Delight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

November 24, 2017

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

Courtesy RDG Photography

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

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

Courtesy RDG Photography

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

Courtesy RDG Photography

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

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

Courtesy RDG Photography

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

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

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

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

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“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Arvada

Aaron Young Struts and Sings Sensationally as the Favored Son of Biblical Fame

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 19, 2017

“Yes,” he claims, “I look handsome. I look smart. I am a walking work of art, such a dazzling coat of many colors. How I love my coat of many colors.” So sings Aaron Young as Joseph, as he unabashedly taunts his 11 brothers with his new robe. Seems Joseph is the favorite son of his father, Jacob, and wears his new coat with great élan. Too much élan, as the brothers devise a plot to not only rid themselves of Joseph’s coat, but of Joseph himself. Joseph does more than annoy his brothers with his fancy coat, he sings about it with an “amazing” voice. Rarely has Joseph sounded so good.

Pictured: Aaron Young as Joseph
Photo M. Gale Photography 2017

Sound familiar? The story of Jacob and his 12 sons has been around since the Bible began. There were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, Judah, and Joseph – his father’s “favorite son.” The musical version, crafted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, seems to have been around “forever.” But it has been less than 50 years since they worked on a little show for a boy’s school in London – a little musical fable which originally lasted about 20 minutes.

The “little show” has been expanded substantially and has become one of the most successful musicals in history. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities has produced the show six times in previous years, but not since 2009. When I learned it was to be the Center’s Holiday Musical, my initial reaction was “Ho Hum. Not very Christmassy.” How wrong I was. No, it does not have a Holiday theme, but is perhaps the best “present” that the Center could provide to audiences this season. It is a joy to see and to hear.

Aaron Young (Joseph) and ensembe
M. Gale Photography 2017

The show has sometimes been stylized so severely to be hardly recognizable. Director Gavin Mayer has wisely gone back to the more traditional performance, and has provided a show for the ages. The excellent performer Aaron Young is in great company, as the entire cast is talent to be reckoned with. Sarah Rex played the Narrator several years ago in Arvada, and has returned to charm the socks off the audience and to raise the roof with her voice. Stephen Day is excellent in two roles – that of Jacob and as Potiphar. Norrell Moore is an alluring and temping Mrs. Potiphar. James Frances gets “all shook up” as the (Elvis Presley) Pharaoh.

Sarah Rex (Narrator) and ensemble
M. Gale Photography 2017

The crazy diversions of song and dance styles are more fun than ever. P. Tucker Worley is the country western voice as Levi in the “One More Angel in Heaven Hoedown.” Jake Mendes is Reuben as a French charmer looking back on “Those Canaan Days” while the family is on the verge of starvation. Emma Martin and Michael Russell give even more excitement to the French Cabaret of “Those Canaan Days” in a French Apache Dancers routine. Michael Canada is excellent as he rouses the brothers in Egypt with his “Benjamin’s Calypso.”

Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck provides the delightful chorography, with Roberto Sinha as Musical Director, and Brian Mallgrave as Scenic Designer. Lighting is by Sean Mallary, sound by David Thomas, and Costumes by December Mathisen.

The entire show is less than two hours, including intermission. The audience was having such a terrific time, however, that no one was eager to leave. But they could go home humming such great melodies as “Any Dream Will Do,” and remembering just how handsome and how smart was Joseph as a walking work of art in his “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through December 23, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Click Here For More Information:

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Monty Python is Alive and Well in OpenStage’s “Spamalot”

Choreography Excels In This Daffy Delight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 29, 2017

Life isn’t easy in 932 A. D. for King Arthur in England. He is trying to round up a group of gallant and valiant men to serve as knights for his round table. Trouble is, not many people have even heard of this Arthur chap, and the French are outright hostile to him.

Charlie Ferrie as King Arthur in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

Charlie Ferrie is in fine form as the befuddled king. He IS in command, but can’t seem to easily round up followers. Except for his ever-faithful “trotting” servant, “Patsy.” Dan Tschirhart is a standout as the not terribly bright aid-de-camp whose primary role to knock coconuts together to create the sound of trotting horses. Tschirhart never loses character, even when the thoughtless king ignores his presence while trying to get sympathy with “I’m All Alone.”

Carl Buchanan, Larry Linne and Kiernan Angley as Taunting Frenchmen in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

While the local citizens aren’t eager to go to war, or to search for the Holy Grail, they are amazingly willing to sing and dance! The dancing is terrific. The “Laker Girls” cheerleading the knights, “His Name is Lancelot,” and “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” are all show-stopping routines. Choreographer Cole Emarine even includes a clever Jewish folklore “bottle dance” with Grail Goblets atop each dancer.

Direction of the continually-delightful mayhem is by Emelie Borello, with music direction by Joseph Perron.

In 1975 The Monty Python Comedy Group (including Eric Idle) created the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It immediately became a worldwide favorite and developed a cult following — the group that I refer to as “Pythonites.” Idle expanded the movie’s idea, writing book and lyrics for the 2005 musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Clever bits of the movie have become comedy standards. Many of them turn up on the Fort Collins stage. Some work brilliantly, others not so well.

Dan Tschirhart as Patsy and Charlie Ferrie as King Arthur in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Spamalot by Eric Idle and book by John Du Prez, photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

Stage highlights include the creation of the Trojan Horse in the shape of a large rabbit that the knights forget to enter before placing it into a local castle. Then there is the incredibly mean rabbit who tears anyone to shreds who dares challenge him. The highwayman challenging the knights loses his arms and legs to King Arthurs’s men, noting with each limb-severing blow, “merely a flesh wound.”

And the goofy Knights Who Say Ni, who request a bit of shrubbery (with their virtually incomprehensible language) before anyone can continue the trail. Language is one of the few problems with the OpenStage production. From the welcome to the show through much of the dialogue emitting from the tops of castles the audience is often in a bewildered state of wondering just what is going on. Fortunately, the audience was packed with Monty Python fans (my “Pythonites”) who seemed to catch every nuance of craziness.

In addition to King Arthur and his ever-trotting servant, Patsy, another creative wonder is Kiernan Angley’s performance of Sir Lancelot. The role is just one played by versatile Angley. One moment he is the gay Sir Lancelot. The next moment he becomes a French Taunter, a Knight of Ni, or Tim the Enchanter. He is extremely masculine-heroic one moment, a fey delight, the next. Nikki Gibbs is the Lady of the Lake, the woman supposedly responsible for Arthur becoming the king. Gibbs is a very attractive addition to the scruffy crew, and is a good actress. She does not, however, have the raucous bravura of the desired diva. She sings her songs — doesn’t delightfully “belt” them.

Most of the performers play multiple roles, each with daffy-timing skills.

The 2005 “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” directed by Mike Nichols, received Tony Award for Best Musical. It has subsequently become a worldwide attraction. Currently on stage in Fort Collins, it is a brilliantly acted performance of non-stop lunacy, with only a modicum of sense. Just what we need right now.

“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through November 25, 2017
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information: www.lctix.com

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Nothing “Rotten” In This Giddy Delight!

A Shakespearean Wannabee Tries To Write A Play

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 18, 2017

Welcome to the Renaissance! It is 1590. The Dark Ages are over. There is a rebirth of creative activity in Elizabethan England. The arts are flourishing, and William Shakespeare is the rock star of the era. He is the toast of the town and his play “Romeo and Juliet” is about to open. Everyone in London is enamored with the new author. Everyone except playwright Nick Bottom. He is incredibly jealous of Shakespeare’s success, and openly announces in song, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” Nick and his brother, Nigel, are about to lose the patronage of a local artistic funder, unless they can come up with a substantial hit — immediately. Even the author brother, Nigel, is impressed with Shakespeare’s success, much to the dismay of his brother.

Something Rotten! Cast of the National Tour ©Jeremy Daniel

Nick is desperate for an idea for the potential play, and goes to the teller of the future Nostradamus, for help. Unfortunately, this is not THE Nostradamus, but Nostradamus’ nephew, Thomas Nostradamus. Thomas can also see the future, but not particularly clearly. He does advise Nick Bottom that the future is going to be in musical comedy, and outlines the idea in one of theatre’s most recent delights, “A Musical.” Thomas Nostradamus has Bottom intrigued with what might happen on the stage if performers could sing, and dance, and act — all possibly at the same time. The audience is likewise enthralled, and Bottom goes to work with Nigel to provide a show that will save them from financial ruin.

Something Rotten! Cast of the National Tour ©Jeremy Daniel

Thomas Nostradamus then advises that Shakespeare’s next show may be the most widely acclaimed play in history. If Bottom works now, he can have Shakespeare’s success even before Shakespeare can write his own play. Nostradamus advises that the play is to be “Omelette.” Seems that Nostradamus didn’t quite see the future, confusing “Hamlet” with “Omelette.” The ensuing result is hysteria as “Omelette, The Musical” is being prepared. “Something Rotten” then becomes a Broadway show to be reckoned with. There are bits of Shakespeare’s most quotable lines and snippets from Broadways most-seen musicals.

The theatre-savvy Denver audience was in awe with the hijinks, audibly delighted when they recognized each show or lyric mentioned. This is enormous fun.

Something Rotten! Cast of the National Tour ©Jeremy Daniel

The touring cast on stage at the Buell this month is terrific. Bob McClure is a gem as Nick Bottom, with Josh Grisetti equally impressive as Nigel Bottom. Trying to pilfer what he can from the new authors is Shakespeare, played by Adam Pascal. McClure, Pascal, and Grisetti, have extensive Broadway credentials. Pascal was the original Roger Davis in “Rent.” and Rob McClure received the Theatre World acting award for his performance in “Chaplin.” Grisetti was also honored with a Theatre World Award for his work in “Enter Laughing.”

Supporting players are equally as talented with Blake Hammond as Nostradamus, Jeff Brooks as Shylock, Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah, Maggie Lakis as Bea, and Autumn Hurlbert as Portia. Hurlbert has the look and sound of Kristin Chenoweth, as she plays the daughter of the stern Puritan leader who literally falls head over heels for Nigel Bottom. The cast is large. The sets, costumes, and lighting impressive. The dancing is first rate.

In addition to the show-stopping “Welcome to the Renaissance, ““God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” and “A Musical” is the lilting “To Thine Own Self” — an impressive plea for everyone to take responsibility for the way they behave.

There is nothing “Rotten” about this delightful transfer from Broadway. It opened in New York in 2014, receiving rave reviews. It is a rewarding, rollicking evening of energy, silly sophistication, and charm. In addition, it involves the audience, trying to figure out which Shakespeare quotes are from which plays, and which crazy bits and pieces are from Broadway musicals.

“Something Rotten”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: October 29, 2017
Online: Click Here For the Denver Center for the Performing Arts

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“Frozen” at DCPA is Broadway Bound

Frozen’s Transfer From Movie To Stage Boggles The Senses

Reviewed by Tom Jones

September 15, 2017

Ten years from now it will be interesting to read how many gazillion persons worldwide have seen the stage musical, “Frozen.” The animated movie was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2013 and generated $1.3 billion in worldwide box office revenue. It is the highest-grossing animated film of all time. What could be done for an encore? What could a stage version do that the movie could not? For starters, it can provide a visual feast of enormous proportions. Then, the excitement of the audience experiencing a live performance right in front of them cannot be replicated.

Denver Center – Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) and Patti Murin (Anna) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

The sets for Frozen” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts are beyond description. The creative team must have spent endless joyful and laborious creative hours figuring out what would excite the audience: a set that would be so incredible on its own without detracting from the show’s basic story. They were not always successful in this regard, as in some instances the set IS the show. Near the end of the First Act, I was so enthralled with what I was seeing and hearing, that I felt as if I were on an amusement park ride of never-ending amazement

Denver Center – Patti Murin (Anna) and Caissie Levy (Elsa) with Jacob Smith in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s the Snow Queen,” the basic story remains intact. Two sisters, Anna and Elsa, enjoyed wonderful childhood experiences together. When it was discovered that Elsa had magical powers and could accidently cause injury to her sister, the two are separated for Anna’s protection. Upon the death of their parents, Elsa is to be crowned queen, and her sister Anna attends the coronation as the princess.

Denver Center – The Company of FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

A dispute at Elsa’s coronation results in her becoming angry with Anna, and she accidentally releases some of her magical powers. The causes temperatures to drop throughout the kingdom, as ice was replacing sunshine. Anna flees from the palace, bewildered by what has happened.

Anna’s memories of her happy times with Elsa as a child encourages her to find a way to approach her sister, now ensconced in an ice incrusted palace. Along the way she enlists the help of Kristoff, (an ice deliveryman), his reindeer (Sven), and Olaf, everybody’s favorite snowman.

Patti Murin plays Anna, with Caissie Levy as Elsa. They are both excellent performers, and Elsa’s “Let it Go” is a triumphant conclusion to Act 1.

Denver Center – Patti Murin (Anna) and John Riddle (Hans) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

Music and lyrics (for the movie and the stage production) are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez, with the book by Jennifer Lee. In the 2014 Academy Awards, the film was honored as Best Animated Feature, and “Let It Go” was given award for Best Song.

Enthusiasm for the production in Denver was enormous. Based on obvious audience enjoyment, it will be difficult for theatre-goers to let the show leave Denver to continue its journey to Broadway. The stage at the Buell is impressive, and it will be interesting to see how the enormous sets can be accommodated in other venues. The production is not without problems, and messages are sometimes confusing, and over-powered by the magnificence of the set. It does have all the hallmarks of a Disney production, designed to entertain.

Denver Center – Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) and Andrew Pirozzi (Sven) in FROZEN. Photo by Deen van Meer

The story has been expanded from the movie, and includes substantially more music. Performances are universally excellent. Jelani Alladin is a very helpful Kristoff. Andrew Pirozzi is a marvel as Sven, the delightful reindeer. Robert Creighton is in fine form as Weseltoln and Greg Hildreth is a talented charmer as the snowman puppeteer.

Based on the assumption that the stage version will move on to becoming a mega hit, ten years from now this season’s audience can look back on their memories of “Frozen” at the Buell, with great satisfaction of having “been there when it all began.”

“Frozen”
Where: Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
To: October 1, 2017
Buell Theatre’s Website

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“A Chorus Line” — Better Than Ever!

Groundbreaking Musical at Arvada Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 13, 2017

Is it possible for a musical to turn up now, looking even more vibrant and exciting than when it was the toast of Broadway 40 years ago? Yes! The Arvada Center continues its run of providing excellence to Colorado theatregoers.

The show’s director, Rod A. Lansberry, has produced or directed more than 100 productions. When, oh when is he going to get it right? Just about always! “A Chorus Line” is a marvel. Lansberry does have help. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s success choreographing or directing more than 40 shows is evident as she has the dancers performing at their peak. There is evidence of work of the show’s original director Michael Bennett, but she has personally provided most of the current production’s terrific dancing.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2017

In the summer of 1975 an unusual musical opened on Broadway. For years the backbone of New York shows had been the singers and dancers who were highly entertaining, but not the stars. This changed when some Broadway dancers hosted some workshops about their efforts. Performer Michael Bennett became involved and took over the effort. The dancers’ personal stories were put into a format which ultimately became “A Chorus Line.” Bennett went on to direct the Broadway production, with Bob Avian as co-choreographer.

The book was by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicolas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Response to the show was electric and immediate. It tells of dancers auditioning for an upcoming Broadway production. The tough director Zach puts the wannabee performers through a series of tryouts. The group is narrowed down to 17 dancers, of which only four males and four females will be selected.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – L-R: Matthew Dailey (Don), Jordana Grolnick (Maggie), Joe Callahan (Mike, understudy), Rae Leigh Case (Connie), Ron Tal (Greg), Dayna Tietzen (Cassie), Katie Mitchell (Sheila), Parker Redford (Bobby), Jennifer Arfsten (Bebe), Kristen Paulicelli (Judy), Michael Canada (Richie), Zac Norton (Al), Seles VanHuss (Kristine), Lexie Plath (Val), Tyler Jensen (Mark) and Natalie…

Zach asks the finalists to tell their stories, why they want to dance, where they come from, and anything they want to talk about. The results are an intriguing two hours of incredible dancing and soul-searching memories. Stephen Cerf is excellent as Zach, the director and choreographer auditioning the potential performers. Jean-Luc Cavnar-Lewandowski is also very good as his assistant, Larry. They are both talented performers, and keep the action moving.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Dayna Tietzen (Cassie) Matt Gale Photography 2017

The finalists tell their stories. These are not heart-warming Hallmark Cards family tales; but are looks at the dancers’ feelings as outsiders in society, or success yet to be obtained, and of unrequited love for dance. Some male dancers were tormented in coming to terms with their sexuality. Some of the tales are too long, but most are riveting. The same can be said for the entire production. After hearing such gut-wrenching personal stories and seeing such brilliant dancing, there is a late-in-the show lag when too much chatter takes too long to introduce one of the show’s most memorable songs, “What I Did for Love.”

Many of the songs have become Broadway classics, including “One,” “What I Did for Love,” ”At the Ballet,” and “Hello Twelve.” Interwoven with the dancers’ stories is the past romance between director Zach, and Cassie, one of the auditioning dancers. A highlight is Cassie’s breath-taking, “The Music and the Mirror.” The “mirror” is used frequently as a backdrop to reflect the dancing brilliance. Cassie, played by Dayna Tietzen, has the largest role of the group, as her relationship with Zach is an integral part of the show.

A Chorus Line at the Arvada Center, 2017 – Ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2017

The original “A Chorus Line” ran in New York City for 6,137 performances – the then-longest-running musical in Broadway history. It has been seen worldwide, and was made into a movie in 1985. Unfortunately, the movie version lacked the incredible spark a live performance can provide. When I saw the original Broadway show, I was impressed. I was more impressed this season with the current presentation on stage in Arvada.

This is more than “One Singular Sensation.” It is a two-hour display of brilliant talent. The current production in Arvada is every bit as thrilling as that presented on Broadway in 1975.

A Chorus Line
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through October 1, 2017
Tickets: 720/898-7200
Arvada Center’s Website 

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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 Website

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The Music Man Triumphant

“The Music Man” Has Triumphant Return To Candlelight

Reviewed by Tom Jones

September 10, 2017

He’s back! That smooth-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill is back in town. He can still charm the socks off anyone he meets, even going so far as to sell musical instruments (and uniforms) to the parents of youth in River City, Iowa. He claims that his “Think System” of instruction will result in their children becoming accomplished musicians. But he must collect the fees and get out of town before the first concert.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

Hill’s tale, “The Music Man” remains the quintessential Broadway Musical! The show that just plain “has everything.” There is the rollicking opening scene on the train when we meet traveling salesman bouncing along to the train’s rhythm, and becoming amazed with tales of the fast-talking “Hill” guy who is taking the area by storm.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

There is the smart, but oh-so-very careful librarian, Marian, whose mother believes is going to end up as an aging spinster. There is the crazy mayor with his more-crazy wife, with the wonderful name – Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn. And the School Board members who can’t abide one another and end up as a harmonizing quartet, under direction of Harold Hill. And there are the youngsters without goals or ambitions, who end up being the joy of the midwestern city.

Bob Hoppe is the conniving music man on stage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse this autumn. He is a fast-talking wizard who warns the citizens of River City of the potential dangers that the local pool hall can inflict upon the town’s morals. He can sing. He can dance. He can charm the town’s ladies with the wink of an eye, and can make himself scarce when his credentials are sought. He has his eye on Marion the librarian who demands silence in the library, and has her own wall of personal silence. Alisha Winter-Hayes plays Marian. She is beautiful, with a beautiful singing voice, and is immediately wary about what this fast-talking Harold Hill might truly be up to.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

The leads are very good, but are nearly overpowered by some of the supporting cast. TJ Mullin and Annie Dwyer are a combined hoot as the town mayor and his nutty wife. Especially in the first act, Dwyer rules the stage. For much of the show the four men on the school board are a site to see and hear. They suddenly find a common bond, singing their way through life. Kent Sugg, Ethan Lee Knowles, Anthony Weber, and David L. Wygant are the quartet of school board members.

“The Music Man” opened on Broadway in 1957, winning a host of awards, and being an international favorite ever since. Music and lyrics are by Meredith Wilson who drew upon memories of his youth in Iowa. He knew first-hand about the Iowa-stubborn mentality, the role of the traveling salesman, and the delights of small-town foibles and celebrations. Robert Preston and Barbara Cook created the leading roles on Broadway, with Preston and Shirley Jones taking the leads in the 1962 movie version.

PHOTO CREDIT: RDG Photography

The tale is the epitome of small-town America of a century ago. The excitement of a newcomer showing up, the arrival of the Wells Fargo wagon with its treasure of items the townspeople ordered, the fun of summertime picnics, complete with patriotic pageants, and the idea that boundless joy and comfort can be realized on a local basis, without travelling beyond the immediate area.

“The Music Man” continues to be a delight. The set is colorful, the syncopated movement of everyone on stage is impressive, and the familiar songs continue to sound terrific: “76 Trombones,” “Til There was You,” “Goodnight my Someone,” “Gary, Indiana,” and on and on. The orchestra is very good and lets the entire cast have a delightful “try” at Hill’s “Think System” as part of the rousing finale

The cast is huge, carefully directed and choreographed by Ali K. Meyers. Victor Walters serves as music director as well as leader of the orchestra. There are numerous young persons in the show. The entire cast appeared to be having great fun, and the audience showed its appreciation with a standing ovation – a rarity at a dinner theatre.

“The Music Man”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: November 5, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
CDP’s Website

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“Newsies –The Musical” Lights Up Huge Tuacahn Stage

Tale of Real-Life Newsboys Strike in New York City in 1899 is Enormously Endearing

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 8, 2017

A rag tag group of young newspaper sellers made their own headlines in 1899 in New York City. They fought the establishment, demanding slightly higher wages, and respect. Their exuberant story has found an equally-exuberant audience in Padre Canyon outside St. George, Utah, this summer.

This is the 22nd season for Tuacahn Center for the Arts – with its enormous stage and open-air backdrop of the red cliffs of Southern Utah. This summer their audiences are treated to “Shrek The Musical,” “Mamma Mia!,” and the terrific Disney’s “Newsies.” I didn’t plan to see all three shows, so selected the one I knew the least about, and ended up being swept away with “Newsies” this summer.

What a great choice. In 1992 the musical film “Newsies” turned up in movie theatres. Music is by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Firestein. The movie became a cult favorite, and became a Broadway musical in 2012, playing 1,005 performances. The Broadway production reportedly cost about five million dollars to stage, and recouped the initial investment in seven months. At that time, it was the fastest of any Disney musical on Broadway to turn a profit. A movie version of the theatrical production had a three-day release this past February, grossing more than three million dollars

As produced at Tuacahn there is an underlying feeling of ultimate joy, as the young boys struggle for survival in the tough streets of early New York. Their story could have resulted in a dreary look at dreary lives, but has succeeded in rising above the dire circumstances to become an anthem of survival for the city of New York and ultimately for the nation.

The production’s success relies not only on the basic story, but on the amazingly athletic dancing of the performers, the heartfelt music of the composers, and the story itself. Newspaper delivery boy Jack Kelly tells his disabled friend, Crutchie, of his desire to someday leave New York City, and move to find his dreams in the faraway western town of Sante Fe. He is a talented artist, with no family, no money, and has his share of troubles with the law. His story could be replicated throughout the entire cast of orphans and homeless young men of the time living on the edge of society in hostile New York City.

The leads in “Newsies” include Ryan Farnsworth as Jack Kelly, Jordan Aragon as his friend, Crutchie, Daniel Scott Walton as Davey, Will Haley as Davey’s brother Les, and Whitney Winfield as Katherine, the newspaper reporter who comes to their aid. The cast is enormous and featured roles include Matthew Tyler as Joseph Pulitzer and Jennifer Leigh Warren as Medda Larkin. Pulitzer has become immortalized by his financial success, and by the literary awards bearing his name. In “Newsies” he is shown in a very different light, with the audience wanting to “boo” his every appearance.

There is always a danger of performing a show outside on summer evenings. There were two (or maybe three) drops of light rain following the intermission, but the total effect of an evening outside on a wonderful summer night was one of sheer wonder. A visit to Tuacahn becomes an “event” all its own. At the top of the huge set are the living quarters of the young newsies. Their laundry was hanging out in windows, being blown slightly by a southern Utah breeze, and the incredible dancing on the stage beneath, providing its own storm of delight. A woman in the audience noted she had already seen the show more than ten times. That might be overdoing it a little, but “Newsies” is a true triumph.

Disney’s “Newsies”
Where: Tuacahn Center for the Arts, the base of Padre Canyon,1100 Tuacahn, Ivins, Utah, 84738
Website: www.tuacahn.org

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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.com

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A Twist On The Cinderella Story Offered At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Annie Dwyer Provides Magic As Warm & Chatty Fairy Godmother

Reviewed by Tom Jones

June 17, 2017

Director Don Berlin has assembled an extremely experienced cast now performing on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown. It is a “Who’s Who” of top talent in Northern Colorado. Matt LaFontaine wooed and wowed audiences with a string of outstanding performances in recent months. In the Arvada Center, he was Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” At Candlelight, he was Che in “Evita,” and the Baker in “Into the Woods.” He is Cinderella’s Prince Charming this time, but doesn’t come into his own as the desirable man of Cinderella’s dreams until late in the show with his “I Can’t Forget the Melody.”

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

Sarah Grover is Cinderella, coming from a variety of acclaimed performances such as the spunky Little Red Riding Hood in “Into the Woods” at Candlelight. Cinderella in this version of the tale is more downtrodden than ever. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, however, her raggedy dress magically changes into an illuminated blue gown to wear to the ball.

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

Tom Mullin is the king. He’s been on Colorado stages for 44 years, and is a daffy delight as the befuddled ruler of the kingdom. Scotty Shaffer and Kent Sugg, David L. Wygant, and Broc Timmerman are back! Shaffer as the over-the-top Montague in the King’s Court, and Kent Sugg bewigged as the King’s mother tottering around in high heels. Timmerman and Wygant are not featured predominately, but are familiar faces and talents.

Ethan Knowles is effective as the prince’s friend, John, and Samantha Jo Staggs plays the long-suffering wife of the king. Melissa Morris makes quick costume changes to be Lady Caroline and other women in the ensemble.

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

One of the newcomers to the stage is Furby, an amazingly-trained dog, accompanying Annie Dwyer’s “Fairy Godmother.” Dwyer is very good, and has the good sense to let the dog occasionally steal her spotlight. The magic she weaves and Furby who obeys her every command provide great fun, especially to the many young people in the audience. Whenever she appears, some sort of magic is just around the corner. Visual effects are great, as the Fairy Godmother can prepare a full meal in the “twinkling” of an eye and can transform tacky dresses into beautiful gowns for the dreadful stepsisters.

The basic story is so familiar that I felt I was seeing stereotypes of characters I’ve known for generations. Heather McClain portrays the awful stepmother and with Katie Jackson and Rebekah Ortiz as the equally-dreadful daughters. All are talented performers but were unfortunately shrill and annoying as they tormented the hapless orphan, Cinderella.

Photo Courtesy of Don Berlin

The set, not to be outdone by the experience of the performers, becomes a character on its own. Casey Kearns is credited as scenic designer, with Joel Adam Chavez as scenic artist. The look is very impressive, as are the costumes designed by Debbie Faber, and the lighting by Emily Maddox. Sound by Mark Derryberry is excellent as is the music, under direction of Nicholas Gilmore. Stephen Bertles provides the choreography, including an especially charming ball at the conclusion of Act l.

The movie version of this Cinderella story was released as a British musical in 1976. Songs were provided by the Sherman Brothers – Richard and Robert — who also wrote the scores for “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” The Jungle Book,” and others. When England’s Queen Mother saw the Royal Command Performance of the movie musical in 1976, she noted to the songwriters, “The waltz you wrote for the ballroom scene is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.” There is a super sequence in the second act of the current production when the prince, his friend John, and palace servants compare everyone’s role in life, “Position and Positioning.” While the audience doesn’t leave the theatre humming the score, the music has an enchantment of its own.

The stage version was created in 1984 in England. It premiered in the USA in 2004 at the Hale Center Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah, but has not been produced frequently in the United States. Acclaimed Candlelight Director Don Berlin is respected for his work on a wide variety of productions, with a special interest in bringing little-known musicals to local theatre audiences.

This Cinderella version was created 40 years ago. As in other older musicals, this show sometimes becomes bogged down in dialogue — no fault of this very good production but of the play itself.

The total effect is a pleasant theatre experience. The show looks and sounds terrific. The experienced cast works hard. The mood swings from being a crazy comic opera in the befuddled kingdom, to the sad tale of Cinderella, to the hope that she and her Prince Charming will ultimately get together — all under the magical spell of the chatty Godmother with her mystical wand.

“Cinderella – the Slipper and the Rose”
Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To:  August 27, 2017
For Tickets:  Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online:  ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is highly charged delight on stage in Boulder

BDT Stage

Joseph, Jack Barton, shows off his many-colored finery while his eleven brothers plot to get even.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 7, 2017

Jack Barton is in great form as Joseph when he flaunts the notion that he is the “favorite” son. He has a delightfully naïve superiority when he shows off the coat his dad (Jacob) has given him. He just can’t help himself when he struts around the stage noting, “I look handsome. I look smart. I am a walking work of art – in my coat of many colors.” The audience is joyfully ecstatic. His brothers on stage want to kill him. This is Joseph from the Bible’s book of Genesis. He and his brothers are terrific this spring in the Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

This has long been one of my favorite musicals. Upon arriving at the theatre in Boulder this week, however, I was dismayed to see the artwork for the show – not a bright colored coat from biblical times, but a poster of a Michael Jackson wannabe, complete with a white hat and glove. The basic story wonderful, and I was worried that this “fresh look” wouldn’t wear well with me. Once the show began, however, I tossed my concerns aside, and enjoyed one of the most delightful evenings this year. The “new look” at Joseph is great fun. It is a high energy show, highlighted with amazing choreography, generally not so prominent in other productions.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice brought this tale to the stage in 1968 as a 25-minute pop cantata in a London school. The show expanded to become a concert album in 1969, and opened in London’s West End in 1973. It was modified and performed in a variety of locations before arriving on Broadway in 1982. A version starring Donny Osmond was filmed in 1999, with the DVD becoming very popular.

Joseph and his famous coat have become one of the greatest hits of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaborations. They went on to create “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Evita.” Webber continued providing music, working with different lyricists, to give audiences a continual string of mega-successes: “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Starlight Express,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Aspects of Love” and on and on and on.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

“Joseph” in Boulder is wondrously portrayed by Jack Barton. He is a handsome young man with a remarkable voice, and with an awe-shucks appeal to the audience, while his brothers rage against him. They dislike him so intensely that they toss him into a pit, and finally sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites heading for Egypt. Tracy Warren is equally excellent as the show’s narrator. She was a memorable “Mary Poppins” a few shows ago, and has great charm and a powerful voice.

The music provides a variety of styles. There is a crazed “One More Angel in Heaven” country western provided by Brian Burron as one of the brothers, dishonestly claiming how much sorrow the brothers feel when Joseph disappears. There is the French ballad “Those Canaan Days” later in the show when the starving brothers think of past wealth, and are amazed at how well life seems to be in prosperous Egypt. There is the Elvis Presley take with black-wigged, hip-grinding Scott Severtson as the Pharaoh singing “Song of the King.” “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” looks like at a disco hit of the 50s – a roaring finale to First Act. Near the show’s end there is “Benjamin’s Calypso” when the brothers are in Egypt, humbled and pleading for help.

The rest of the music is disarmingly memorable, including “Any Dream Will Do.” (While I continue to be enchanted by this song, I have no idea what it means.)

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

The fresh look at the story is credited to director Matthew D. Peters and choreographer Alicia K. Meyers. They pay homage to Michael Jackson throughout. No mention is made of him, but the choreography is straight from Jackson “moonwalking” days, and the costuming is complete with the signature Jackson white hat and glove.

The supporting cast is flawless. Wayne Kennedy is a hoot as Potiphar, putting up with the antics of Mrs. Potiphar, played by Alicia K. Meyers. Scott Severtson is black-wigged to come across as the Elvis Presley Pharaoh. The eleven other brothers are unanimously super dancers and singers. The total music presentation, choreography and vocals, is brilliant. The cast includes many young persons who appear as “audience” initially to the narrator, then come back frequently, adding to the vocal delight of the production

The finale is complete with the high energy review of the major songs – an ending that has become standard with most productions of the show

Costuming, sets, and orchestra are extremely good. What is missing? Not much. Some of the show’s basic humanity has been lost by the sheer energy portrayed. Some of the lyrics are not as clearly understood as desired. The total effect, however, is dazzling. Yes, Joseph is handsome. He does look smart. He is a walking work of art — wearing his amazing coat of many colors. “It was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and …… “

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Where: Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage,
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO 80303-1391
When: To August 19, 2017
Information: Box Office: 303/449-6000,
Online: www.bdtstage.com

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Lone Tree Production of “Evita” is a Marvel of Sight and Sound

Lauren Shealy Soars as The High Flying, Adored “Evita”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, April 14, 2017

Eva Duarte had a miserable early life in Argentina. Poverty and parental abandonment hardened her, giving unrelenting resolve to do something with her life. By the time she was 15, as reflected in the classic musical, she had learned substantial street smarts, including manipulation of many lovers. She had some professional success as a radio personality and as a movie star.

Eva meets General Juan Peron at a local reception, and immediately discards her date, going off with Peron. Peron is no saint. He has been with a string of women since his divorce, and has become an important officer in the military. His military progression has been by careful stratagem, and by force. He is not daunted to have Eva go to his apartment, finding a mistress in his bed. Eva isn’t the least bit fazed. She matter-of-factly demands the woman leave the bed, get dressed, get packed, and get out. The surprised mistress provides one of the show’s early musical moments, sadly commenting on what might be next for her with “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

Photo Credit Danny Lam

Eva Duarte becomes” Evita” Peron; and the musical traces the next 18 years of her life. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music, with Tim Rice providing the lyrics. Webber had collaborated with Rice earlier, with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in 1968. They teamed up again in 1970 for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” In 1976 they created a rock album, “Evita,” which turned into a full production in London in 1978. That year it received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and transferred to Broadway the next year to become the first English musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Webber has subsequently worked with a variety of lyricists to provide a string of such acclaimed musicals as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Starlight Express,” “Aspects of Love,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and a slew of others. A movie version of “Evita” was released in 1996 starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.

Photo Credit Danny Lam

The “Evita” production at Lone Tree is a winner. Director Gina Rattan has done her homework on studying Eva’s life, bringing it vividly to the local stage. She has modified some aspects of the original show, now emphasizing Eva’s many early lovers. She takes care to show how the young woman’s vulnerability transferred to her becoming hard as steel, while enjoying the adoration of the Argentine populous.

At the beginning of Act Two Lauren Shealy’s “Eva” is on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. She is at the microphone, looking out over the cheering audience below, and begins with some humbleness to explain her role as wife of the country’s leader. As she moves more deeply into the song, her persona changes, and she displays an amazing self-confidence. The adoring fans appreciate her newfound brilliance, and regard her as their personal saint. This is the show’s triumphant, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Shealy’s rendition may just be the song’s definitive interpretation.

The population continues its adoration of the “Santa Evita” while she is busy emptying the country’s coffers, and publicly tossing money to a few from her bogus charity fund.

Photo Credit Danny Lam

Looking on in bemused cynicism, watching Eva’s rise to the top, is Miles Jacoby, as the protagonist narrator, Che. His role is reportedly based on the revolutionary Che Guevara. There is no evidence that Evita and Che ever met. Jacoby is a show-stopper on his own, with a strong presence and commanding voice. He is substantially taller than anyone else in the show, but has an uncanny ability to fade into the crowd to become just one of the masses, when he is not the center of attention.

The music remains as exciting as ever, and now includes Eva singing, “You Must Love Me.” This is one of the second act’s most touching moments, and was not part of the original score. It was written for the Madonna movie, and is a rewarding addition to the stage version

Jesse Sharp is good as Juan Peron, as is Seth Dhonau as Magaldi, a local musician who served his time as Eva’s lover. It is Lauren Shealy as Eva and Miles Jacoby as Che who star in the show. They are flawless.

Another character, not as effective, is in the form of two staircases. They are moved around with great fluidity, but eventually become more distracting than effective. The show is also hampered with so much movement of tables and chairs early in the production. These are minor diversions, however, as the total effect is sensational.

Lone Tree’s commitment to excellence is clearly displayed here. The music is difficult, requiring substantial vocal ranges. The staging, lighting, costumes, choreography are remarkable, with excellent results. Someone leaving the theatre following the performance I saw, noted to a companion, “I had no idea it would be that good!”

“Evita” is a history lesson while providing such memorable music as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “High Flying, Adored”, “You Must Love Me,” and the exquisite “Don’t cry for Me Argentina.”

“Evita”
Where: Lone Tree Arts Center
10075 Commons Street
Lone Tree, CO 80124
To: April 29, 2017
Online: www.lonetreeartscenter.org

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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

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Direct your dancing feet toward “42nd Street” at Candlelight

Lisa Carter Shines as Broadway Ingenue Peggy Sawyer

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 24, 2017

Peggy Sawyer arrives in New York City by train from her home in Allentown. Allentown, PA. She has great naivete, and immense talent, ready to show New York what Pennsylvania can produce. Within a few minutes, Lisa Kay Carter has made the audience realize what a talent they are seeing. As Peggy Sawyer, Carter shows that she can sing. That she can dance. When does she have time to breathe?

“42nd Street” is the proverbial musical about New York City’s favorite area – Broadway and 42nd Street. Talents from throughout the world arrive by bus and train each day, hoping to make their mark as performers. Few of them realize their dreams. But those that do are immortalized by delightful productions like this one, on stage at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Courtesy of Rachel Graham Photography

Director Pat Payne has a substantial record of directing successful shows, including “Hello Dolly,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Hairspray.” He continues his run of hits with “42nd Street.” There is every cliché in the showbiz vocabulary: The Broadway ingenue, the ageing diva who everyone loves to hate, the young male dancer and singer who befriends the ingenue, the producer and director who want a hit irrespective of what a toll it may take to create such, the show that is doomed to close before opening unless the right star can be found. And the show’s incredible opening night when everything works to perfection and the audience goes home happy.

Courtesy of Rachel Graham Photography

In the meantime, we are enchanted with non-stop singing and dancing. Tap dancing rules the evening – with every step heading in the direction of 42nd Street. Choreography under care of Kate Vallee, is particularly effective. She has been worked with seven different productions of the show, and her excellence as a choreographer is manifest. She has expert help with the bevy of dancers to provide enormous fun with “Dames,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” and an especially interesting “42nd Street Ballet” late in the second act.

Set is not particularly interesting until everyone ends up at the Broad Street Station. Lack of scenery is made up for, however, with sensational costuming. Sound and lighting are good, as is the orchestra, under direction of Nicholas Gilmore.” Choral work is also memorable.

While Lisa Kay Carter as Peggy Sawyer is the show’s star, excellent support is provided by Parker Redford as Billy, David L. Wygant as Julian Marsh, Samantha Joe Staggs as Maggie, Kent Sugg as Abner, and Heather McClain as Dorothy Brock. McClain has a challenging task. She is cast as a comic cliché of the traditional stage prima donna. Her talents are substantial, but she is so likeable that it is difficult to become angry with her character as the over-the-hill diva.

“42nd Street” was produced by David Merrick and opened in New York City in 1980. It became an immediate showbiz legend of its own. Choreography was by Gower Champion who had become incredibly successful with ‘Hello Dolly” and other shows. He was ill the last week of rehearsals and died the afternoon before “42nd Street” opened. Following a standing ovation by the opening night audience, Merrick came on stage to tearfully announce that Champion had died that afternoon. Merrick not told the cast before the show, even withholding the news from Champion’s girlfriend Wanda Richert who played Peggy Sawyer. The show went on to receive numerous awards and ran for several years in New York City, and worldwide.

The story is based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, and had been made into a 1933 movie, before showing up as Broadway hit about a Broadway hit in 1980.

The opening night audience in Johnstown was slow to warm up to the production. By show’s end, however, it was as if they could relax, enjoy super talent, and hear familiar music. They ultimately found boundless joy in the delightful Broadway fable.

“42nd Street”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: June 4, 2017
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Online:www.ColoradoCandlelight.comhttp://www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

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“Jesus Christ Superstar” Leaves Audience Breathless at Arvada Center

Familiar Show Has Never Sounded or Looked Better!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 25, 2017

From the moment the audience sees the incredible set, until the story concludes, there is a reverent awe with the never-better production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Director Rod A. Lansberry has outdone himself with this brilliant show.

Ensemble and Jesus of Nazareth (Billy Lewis Jr.)
P. Switzer Photography 2017

Release of a single song, “Superstar,” in 1969 encouraged composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice to expand their work to a 1970 rock concert concept album which had an immediate following. The album ultimately resulted in a full-scale production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” opening on Broadway in October of 1971. The original Broadway show and subsequent productions met with enormous fan support, but were rejected by some religious groups. I saw the original New York production and was alarmed. My memory of that introduction is hazy, with my recalling that it was primarily “loud screeching.” What must I have been seeing? A few years ago, composer Webber appeared to agree with me noting that the original New York production was “a vulgar travesty” and opening night was “probably the worst night of my life.” Continue reading “Jesus Christ Superstar” Leaves Audience Breathless at Arvada Center

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An American in Paris Is Right at Home in Denver

Flawless Ballet Performances Reign In Gershwin Musical Masterpiece
Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 10, 2017

When Mary Poppins arrives on stage, she is helped with wires holding her up. Dancers in “An American in Paris” need no wires, as sheer grace and athleticism have them literally flying through the air. Garen Scribner as Jerry Mulligan and Sara Esty as Lise Dassin are both incredible in the brilliant production now on stage at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Lots of adjectives are in order, as this performance is a must-see. Now known as “An American in Paris – a New Musical.”

Loosely based on the 1951 film, the stage version opened in New York in 2015 with tremendous reviews. It went on to win four Tony Awards including those for choreography, lighting, orchestrations, and scenic design. This is George and Ira Gershwin’s love letter to Paris. The movie starred Gene Kelly as the American serviceman who decides to remain in Paris following World War II. He meets and falls in love with a young French girl, Lise. Garen Scribner takes the role of Jerry in the touring company production, with Sara Esty as Lise. They are wonderful to watch and wonderful to hear.
Continue reading An American in Paris Is Right at Home in Denver

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“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

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“Forbidden Broadway” is Great Fun for Theatre Audiences of All Ages

Midtown Arts Center dishes up highlights of well-known shows.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 22, 1017

Broadway show fans will be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining venue than “Forbidden Broadway,” as presented by Midtown Arts through March 18. Local performers take on personas of the famous and not-so famous entertainers from the New York stages. Jalyn Courtenay Webb becomes Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly.” Scotty Shaffer is a wow portraying a tall feline from “Cats.” Lisa Kay Carter is a crazed over-the hill “Annie” longing for another role. Rob Riney is spot-on with his announcement that “This Is the Song That Goes Like This”” from “Spamalot.” Paul Falk keeps everyone on pace with his excellent piano accompaniment.

Scotty Shafffer, Photo Courtesy Jalyn Webb

Continue reading “Forbidden Broadway” is Great Fun for Theatre Audiences of All Ages

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“Forever Plaid” is forever fun!

Candlelight Brings Memory-Laden Music of Bygone Days

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 20, 2017

How long has it been since you heard a song on the radio that you could sing-along with, or saw a show that was full of long-ago memories? Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is offering a trip down memory lane this winter with the forever-popular “Forever Plaid. Remember when Johnnie Ray instructed us to “Cry,” or when Perry Como” suggested we “Catch a Falling Star,” when we were told to throw “Three Coins in a Fountain,” or when we watched the craziness on The Ed Sullivan TV Show? Continue reading “Forever Plaid” is forever fun!

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Remarkable Cast Brings Great Holiday Joy to Fort Collins

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 9, 2016

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

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“A Wonderful Life” onstage at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

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

Review by Tom Jones
November 30, 2016

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

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Millie Goes Thoroughly Modern in New York City

thoroughly-modern-millie-mainstage-page-newSeles VanHuss shines in 1920s musical at Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 27, 2016

Millie Dillmount, delightfully played by Seles VanHuss, is the traditional mid-western young woman who arrives in New York City without fear, and with aspirations of a great change in her life. Some girls travel to the Big Apple to make it big in show business. Millie’s plans are much more defined. She wants to marry a rich man.
Continue reading Millie Goes Thoroughly Modern in New York City

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Arvada Center Provides World Premiere of Christmas Season Musical

home-logoTalented cast and excellent choreography highlight “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 19, 2016

Based on the assumption that “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” a creative team has been working for nearly a year to bring “I’ll be Home for Christmas” to the stage at Arvada Center. This is the first time the Center has provided a world premiere of an original production. Book is by Kenn McLaughlin, with lyrics and original music by David Nehls. Some of the music includes familiar Christmas tunes – arranged to provide opportunity for excellent dancing. Gavin Mayer directed the show with Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck providing the choreography.
Continue reading Arvada Center Provides World Premiere of Christmas Season Musical

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Deb Note-Farwell Amazes as Maria Callas

put-master-class-logoPopUp Theatre’s “Master Class” is in a class by itself!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 22, 2016

Deb Note-Farwell has long-been one of Colorado’s most talented performers. This season she has outdone herself. She not only plays a role, but becomes opera diva Maria Callas on a tiny Fort Collins stage. The actress has completely moved her own persona out of the way in the performance of a lifetime.
Continue reading Deb Note-Farwell Amazes as Maria Callas

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“The Blue Flower “is Fascinating Display of Unusual Theatre, with Super Music

blue-flower-graphicFour characters at Bas Bleu face challenges of existence in and after two world wars.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 9, 2016

Four characters are at loose ends before, during, and after world wars in Europe in Bas Bleu’s challenging, and fascinating tale – with wonderful music. Caution is involved, as experienced theatre-goers may be over-the-top excited. Persons coming in off the street may wonder what in the world they are seeing. I was somewhere between the two with The Blue Flower.
Continue reading “The Blue Flower “is Fascinating Display of Unusual Theatre, with Super Music

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“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” highlights “Evita” at Candlelight

evita-square-logo-final-web-231x230Andrew Lloyd Webber’s excellent music is a reason to see this sobering tale of political intrigue

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 7, 2016

Among Broadway’s most memorable moments is one from “Evita” when Eva Peron, immaculately clad and coiffed, appears before the microphones on the balcony of The Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her dramatic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” is a plea for the masses to stick with her – claiming that everything she has done is “for the people.”
Continue reading “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” highlights “Evita” at Candlelight

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“Sister Act” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

sister-act-logoThose nuns and a “novice” make rock and roll habit-forming!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 10, 2016

Getting into the “habit” can be risky business. Staying there has difficulties of its own! Many nuns in this show face a variety of challenges. One possible new addition, Deloris Van Cartier, has a specific concern — being “chased” (by the mob). Deloris is a flashy vocalist longing to become a pop star. Her boyfriend/manager is a mob boss, Curtis Jackson, who is watching her perform in a Philadelphia nightclub. Deloris is a glamorous woman with a huge voice, but the evening doesn’t go well. Curtis advises Deloris that she is just not yet ready for the big time.
Continue reading “Sister Act” at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

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“Phantom of The Opera” returns to haunt Buell Theatre audiences

Phantom LogoDenver welcomes an opulent “Phantom” for 25th Anniversary.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 28, 2016

Seven years have passed since the last “Phantom” haunted the stages of Denver’s Buell Theatre! And 25 years have passed since Denver audiences first saw the amazing show! The mind-controlling Phantom is back in a glorious production, now through September 11.
Continue reading “Phantom of The Opera” returns to haunt Buell Theatre audiences

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“Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

WizardofOz-SMALLMunchkins are a Marvel as “Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 12, 2016

The Wizard of Oz” has been around forever. In 1900 L. Frank Baum wrote the American children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which turned up as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie musical in 1939 and immortalized Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film shows up regularly on television; and many in the current audience grew up knowing that Dorothy was swept away in a tornado – or just a bad dream, after her beloved dog, Toto, was taken by a mean-spirited neighbor. The movie begins in black and white, turning to dazzling Technicolor when Dorothy arrives in Oz.
Continue reading “Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

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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.
Continue reading Colleen Johnson Shines as “Practically Perfect” Mary Poppins

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Sondheim Musical Triumph “Into The Woods” at Candlelight

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

What Happens When Fairy Tales Don’t End “Happily Ever After”

Reviewed by Tom Jones, May 21, 2016

(Note: “Into the Woods” and I are like old friends – getting together after nearly 30 years of friendship, but not seeing each other all that often in the interim. I first found “Woods” on New York’s Broadway in 1987 when it was in previews just prior to its opening. Saw it again a few weeks later when it had become a full-fledged hit. We have visited again a few times over the years – listening to the CD, seeing the taped DVD of the Broadway show. Sometimes it was as delightful and friendly as ever, sometimes –as is the case with the movie version – it had become kind of dreary. So I was a little apprehensive before catching up with my musical friend at the Candlelight this week. I should not have worried, it was as fun — and as serious — as I remember from the first time we met.)
Continue reading Sondheim Musical Triumph “Into The Woods” at Candlelight

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Debby Boone continues to “light up lives!”

Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
Debby Boone at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Photo credit Garland Photography

Debby Boone is starring in “Into the Woods” this Spring at The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Interviewed by Tom Jones, April 28, 2016

Debby Boone found fame as a young singer in 1977 with “You Light Up My Life.” The song spent ten weeks as No.1 on Billboard charts that year, and she received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist the following year. While she hasn’t been in such great limelight in past years, she has continued to “light up lives” wherever she goes. She is an accomplished performer, writer, wife, mother, and even a grandmother. Her first granddaughter is not yet a year old, and a sibling is expected in the next few months. While in Colorado, she is staying part of the time with her younger sister, Laury, in Fort Collins.
Continue reading Debby Boone continues to “light up lives!”

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Candlelight Provides an Enchanted Evening of “South Pacific “

SouthPacific-SMALLBussy Gower is the “Cockeyed Optimist” Nellie Forbush in Revival of World Famous Musical

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 19, 2016

Bussy Gower is delightfully introduced as “A Cockeyed Optimist” early in the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse production of “South Pacific.” Gower portrays Nellie Forbush, a self-proclaimed hick from rural Arkansas. She is serving as an American nurse on a tiny Pacific Island during World War II, and is naively amazed with how different life can be from one part of the planet to another.
Continue reading Candlelight Provides an Enchanted Evening of “South Pacific “

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder Wows Buell Theatre Audiences

gglogoThere is delightful murder in the air at the Buell with super musical comedy.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 17, 2016

A young, British chap, Monty Navarro, is an acknowledged romantic. The night before a possible execution for a murder he didn’t commit, he writes his memoirs about murders he did cause. And what a tale he tells. Two and one-half hours later the audience has chuckled and laughed out loud at the antics of the beguiling Monty. He recounts his own “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
Continue reading A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder Wows Buell Theatre Audiences

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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
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“Dolly is Back and Feisty as Ever at The Candlelight

Hello DollyBeth Beyer shines as Dolly Levi in terrific retelling of the matchmaker musical!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 16, 2016

Beth Beyer is a great charmer as the brassy matchmaker whose marriage she most desires to arrange is her own.  Dolly has business calling cards for every eventuality, and puts them all to use in arranging everything from dancing lessons to marriage proposals. Beth Beyer is well known to Candlelight audiences, and she maintains center stage as the conniving but ever-delightful “Dolly.”

Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography
Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography

While Beyer reigns as queen of the stage, Kent Sugg is another revelation as the curmudgeon Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers’s famous “half a millionaire” who has hired Dolly to find a wife for him.  Sugg is another audience favorite in Johnstown, and is at his best in “Hello Dolly.” He is in fine voice and great gruffness as the penny-pinching Horace Vandergelder, not willing to give his staff even an afternoon off work.  

“Hello Dolly” lit up the stage on Broadway in 1964 receiving 10 Tony Awards that year, including being named as Best Musical.”  Competition was strong as that was the season that Barbra Streisand stormed the Broadway stage in “Funny Girl.”  Dolly was triumphant, however, as critics and audiences were captivated by its vitality, sensational music, and basic charm. Music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman, based on the Thornton Wilder play, “The Matchmaker.”  Carol Channing was the original “Dolly.”  The performance made her a legend, and she played the role in many different productions over many years.  Original direction and choreography were by Gower Champion, who also went on to become a legend, due in great part to his work on “Dolly.”  The musical was released as a movie in 1969 with Barbra Streisand playing the lead.

The action takes place at the turn of the century in Yonkers, New York, where Horace Vandergelder is getting ready to board the train to New York City with Dolly to meet Irene Molloy, a widow who owns a hat shop in the city.  Dolly has arranged a meeting with the concern that Horace may actually find Molloy to be of interest.  The stage becomes alive thanks to Pat Payne who has staged and directed this delight.  Bob Hoppe provides the excellent chorography.  Well-known music begins with “Call on Dolly” and continues in the first act to include “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” where the stage is in constant motion as locals prepare to travel to the city in time for an important 14th Street Parade, and Dolly’s plea to her deceased husband, “Before the Parade Passes By.”

Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography
Beth Beyer as Dolly Levi, PHOTO CREDIT: Garland Photography

The production is a scenic wonder.  Lighting is exciting, costumes, and set are brilliant.  Voices and dancing share the kudos of an evening of musical fun.  Vocal Music Director is Melissa Swift-Sawyer, with Costumes by Debra Faber and Judith Ernst.  Lighting is by Shannon Johnson with Sound by Mark Derryberry.  Casey Kearns has designed an attractive set.

While Beyer and Sugg are the shows stars, they are given excellent support by several performers.  First and foremost is Barret Harper as Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s assistant manager.  He has been in several regional productions, but has not enjoyed the spotlight he earns as Cornelius.  He sings.  He dances, He is a super comedian. Isaac J. Sprague is also very good as Cornelius’ 17-year-old sidekick Barnaby Tucker, who accompanies his friend to New York with the promise to see a stuffed whale!  Hackl and Tucker find a reason to abandon their work, also traveling to New York.  They find Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop only nearly to be discovered on the premises by Vandergelder.  Alisha Winter-Hayes is very good as Mrs. Molloy ad Melissa Morris s great fun as Molloy’s employee, Minnie Fay.   The hat shop scene is a Broadway favorite that becomes more bizarre with each performance.  Timing is wondrous, as Hackl and Tucker are hidden by Molloy under the table, in the cupboard, and under the table again – hopefully to hide from their employer who they are trying to avoid.  Molloy’s assistant Minnie Fay is naively super, a perfect foil for the also-naïve Barnaby Tucker.  Added to this delightful mix are Eric Heine as Ambrose Kemper and Bussy Gower as an always-wailing Ermengarde who wants only to get married.  And then there is the off-the-wall loony Enestina Money, played by Annie Dwyer.  Ernestina is a wild-looking woman in need of Dolly’s services as a matchmaker.

Act Two is centered around the goings-on in the Harmonia Gardens where everyone ends up after the parade and a long, long walk to the restaurant.  The Gardens were Dolly’s old stomping grounds, and the staff is excited to have her return with the famous welcome “Hello Dolly.”  This scene is sometimes too frenetic, and the split-second timing to make the dancing more effective will be a result of more experience.

Dolly is returning to the Harmonia Gardens, this time in Johnstown, through March 6, 2016.  It is rare that dinner theatre patrons rise to the occasion of giving a show a standing ovation.  The “Dolly” performance that I saw was the exception, as the theater audience seemed to be as welcoming to Dolly as the Harmonia Gardens patrons, with a well-deserved standing ovation.  

“Hello Dolly”

Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To:  March 6, 2016
For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747
Email:  info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

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Two Terrific Tiny Tims and Scrooges Wow Northern Colorado Audiences

"A Christmas Carol"
“A Christmas Carol”

“A Christmas Carol” Offered on Two Northern Colorado Stages!
Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 2015

A year ago I was knocked out by an incredible production of “A Christmas Carol” as performed on the Stage Theatre of Denver Center for the Performing Arts. This year two different productions based on the Charles Dickens story are charming audiences in the area! The Denver Center performance is again brilliant, and the Johnstown production at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is proving to be an incredible crowd-pleaser!

I won’t attempt to report which is the better show, but will mention some of the highlights of each show. You cannot “lose” by seeing either one, and it may just be a decision of going to the show nearest to your home. Both shows provide heart-warming “joys” of the season.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown offers the musical with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens. This version premiered in 1994, and has been a popular attraction for several holiday seasons at New York City’s Madison Square Garden Paramount Theatre. This is a very family-friendly production.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

T.J. Mullin is remarkable as the miserable tightwad, Scrooge. He is in great form, gleefully making the season as dreadful as possible for himself and everyone around him. Mullin was former owner/producer of the Heritage Square Music Hall and has been performing on stage for over 40 years. He played Kris Kringle last year at Candlelight’s “Miracle on 34th Street.”

2Carol 2015 ghost past
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse photo credit Rachel Graham Photography

Kent Sugg is wonderful as the tortured Marley. His voice is excellent, as he warns Scrooge that he is about to be visited by ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. Also in fine voice is Christopher Walton as Tiny Tim. Young performers are sometimes difficult to understand. Walton’s stage presence, combined with the Candlelight’s remarkable sound system, make him an immediate miniature “star.” Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as Bob Cratchit, the Scrooge employee who is hesitant to say an evil word about his boss.

The set is very good, as are costumes, lighting, and, as mentioned earlier, the wonderful sound. The music is pleasant, but the audience doesn’t leave humming the songs.   Choreography by Michelle Sergeeff is very good. The entire production is staged and directed by Patrick Sawyer. This is a heart-felt rendition of the Dickens saga.

"A Christmas Carol" at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
“A Christmas Carol” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
The company of "A Christmas Carol" at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
The company of “A Christmas Carol” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.

A few miles south of Johnstown is Denver Center’s production, directed by Bruce K. Sevy. This time the story was adapted by Richard Hellesen, with music by David de Berry. The unhappy Scrooge is played by Philip Pleasants, in his tenth version of “A Christmas Carol” on the Denver stage. He first played the role in 1978 on a stage in Alaska, and has indicated that this production is his “farewell” to the role which he has immortalized. He is wonderfully greedy, but has enough sense to realize that his life can make some great changes if he heeds the advice of the “ghosts” appearing to him.

The Denver cast is enormous, highlighted by performances by Pleasants, as well as James Michael Reilly as Bob Cratchit, Jeffrey Roark as the ghost of Jacob Marley, Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Cratchit, and Annie Dwyer as Mrs. Fezziwig. The entire cast is flawless.

"A Christmas Carol" at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.
“A Christmas Carol” at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Adams Visual Communications.

The total production is a wonder. The set is terrific, as are costumes, lighting, and sound. This is a more solemn telling of the story, but is an extremely rewarding experience as the show looks and sounds so amazing. This might just be the definitive staging of “A Christmas Carol.”

The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is a dinner theatre in a beautiful venue, with good food and complimentary parking. The Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is a super theatre with nary a bad seat in the house. There is a fee for parking.

“A Christmas Carol” whether seen in Denver or in Johnstown this Holiday Season is a “Carol” well told and sung – and seen!

“A Christmas Carol”
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive
Johnstown, CO 80534
Box Office: 970/744-3747
www.coloradocandlelight.com

“A Christmas Carol”
Stage Theatre, Denver Center of the Performing Arts
Through December 27. 2015
Tickets: 303/893-4100
denvercenter.org 800/641-1222, Telephone 303/893-9582

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“White Christmas” is Melodic Look at Holidays Gone by!

whiteXmas-200x200-final-1-201503261015

Even an unhappy Scrooge could not say “Bah Humbug” to the “White Christmas” Charmer in Arvada

 By Tom Jones

November 29, 2015

Ben Michael and Cody Williams take center stage early in Arvada Center’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” The scene is an army entertainment show for servicemen at Christmastime of 1944. Michael is Captain Bob Wallace, and Williams is Private Phil Davis, putting on a vaudeville-type routine for the amusement of the attending soldiers in Europe, as the war there is winding down. As the scene concludes they learn that their commanding officer, General Henry Waverly is being relieved of his duty, and is set to return to the United States. Soldiers under his command are evidently very fond of him, and give him high respect, as he notes that “Ten years from now our lives will have changed!”

Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015 Pictured: Cody Wiliams (Phil Davis) and Erica Sweany (Judy Haynes)
Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured: Cody Wiliams (Phil Davis) and Erica Sweany (Judy Haynes)

Michal and Williams are talented performers – song and dance men. The characters they play have remained friends and have become respected entertainers in New York, ten years after the battlefront show. Thus sets the stage for an evening of Irving Berlin music, remarkable choreography, and a nostalgic look at what patriotism meant to America’s citizens and soldiers.

Songwriter and composer Irving Berlin was born in Russia in 1888, moved to America with his family and is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His songs include such hits as “Easter Parade,” “This is the Army, Mr. Jones,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “A Pretty Girl is Like Melody,”and the immortalized “God Bless America.” Berlin was raised in poverty and was forever in love with America and the opportunities it provided to him!

WhiteChristmas2His song, “White Christmas” first appeared in a 1942 movie musical, “Holiday Inn” about a country inn opened only on holidays. The song was performed by a crooner named Bing Crosby. It was an instant hit, and resulted in being the theme of a l954 Paramount Pictures movie musical, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” again starring Bing Crosby. His recording of the song continues to be the most-sold single in recorded music history.

The movie was the biggest money maker in 1954, and generated the stage version which premiered in San Francisco in 2004 and has played in various venues including Broadway in 2008 and revived again in 2009. New York theatre critics were not impressed with the stage musical version, but audiences have been enthusiastic. The Arvada production is excellent – bringing to life the mood of the 1950s, and showcasing some of Berlin’s well-known standards.

Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015 Pictured: Darrow Klein (Susan Waverly) and Ben Michael (Bob Wallace)
Photo P. Switzer Photography 2015
Pictured: Darrow Klein (Susan Waverly) and Ben Michael (Bob Wallace)

The creation of the show revolves around using many of Berlin’s hit songs to advance a basic boy loves girl, girl loves boy story. They spar, leaving doubt as to how their relationship will conclude. The show can be a bit too talky, but once the music takes off, the show is very pleasant. Some of the musical numbers sometimes don’t quite fit into the plot line, but the “I Love a Piano” routine which begins the second act is as terrific as any in recent memory. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck is credited as choreographer. She brought down the house with her disco action recently in Arvada Center’s “Saturday Night Fever,” and brings her clever ideas to “White Christmas.” The entire production is under the direction of Gavin Mayer who has put together a very talented cast in providing holiday cheer to Northern Colorado.

Ben Michael and Cody Williams are the production’s stars, assisted greatly by Lauren Shealy and Erica Sweany, as their love interests, Paul Page as General Henry Waverly, the enthusiastic Sharon Kay White as the Vermont Inn Manager, and Darcey Keating as the General’s granddaughter.   The granddaughter role is double cast, with Keating and Darrow Klein sharing the role. I saw Keating who was super, and very convincing as a young wannabee actress..

The song and dance team are ready to travel south by train from New York to Miami for some rehearsals for a new show, but end up going north to the “Snow” of Vermont, following two girls they just met.. Coincidentally they end up in the country inn owned by the now-retired General Waverly. Lack of Vermont snow is currently a great problem to Waverly’s maintaining ownership of the Inn. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are concerned about the financial plight of their former commander. So, as Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland used to say in early movie musicals, “Let’s put on a show.” Unbeknownst to the General, the two soldiers from his past put together a show for the Inn, inviting everyone from their former army days to bring revenue to the resort.

Very good performances, excellent sets, costumes, lighting, and super dancing overcome any plot flaws, and provide the audience with the “feel good” memories of a “White Christmas.”

“White Christmas”
Through December 23, 2015
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO
For information go to www.arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200

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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
www.midtownartscenter.com

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“Singin’ in the Rain” drenches the stage with exuberant  performances at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Singing In The RainActual Rain Doesn’t Dampen Enthusiasm of Delighted Johnstown Audience

Reviewed by Tom Jones,  May 21, 2015

Yes it rains.  Not just a mild sprinkle, but a torrential rain falls upon the stage, thoroughly drenching the dancing lead actor, as well as some of the audience in front rows! At the conclusion of Act I,  Don Lockwood, enthusiastically played by Bob Hoppe, has returned from walking Kathy Selden to her home after 24 hours of  deliberation concerning what to do with a very problematic movie-in-the making.  He is joyful with the plans they have made, and also enthused, as he has fallen in love. A little rain doesn’t dampen his joy.  In fact a lot of rain can’t even stop him.  The scene from the movie became immortalized by the legendary Gene Kelly more than 50 years ago.  The excitement has been transferred to the stage with Don Hoppes’ display of talent, as he sings and  dances through a delightfully drenching rain!  Hoppe not only stars in the show as Don Lockwood, but choreographed it, carefully re-creating much of the movie’s magic.

SITR Press photo 1Don Lockwood’s love interest is Kathy Selden,.  His friend and performing partner is Cosmo Brown.  I saw Michelle Sergeeff in her first performance as Selden.  The role is played by Rachel Turner in various performances. David Miller portrays the loose-limbed Cosmo.  The three appear to be having the times of their lives on stage, as the performance demands of singing, dancing, and  comedic routines are non-stop’.  The original movie roles were played by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.  Their portrayals have been so ingrained in our movie memories, that it must be a daunting task for anyone to fill their shoes.  Hoppe, Sergeeff, and Miller work exceedingly hard to make the roles come to life on stage!  Sergeeff is an incredible dancer.  Whereas she has a lilting voice in some songs, dancing is her forte!

SITR 2Donald Berlin is credited with staging and direction of the show.  He had his work cut out, putting the incredible production together.  The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse management team does not shy away from challenges.  Executive Director Dave Clark notes that “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the two most technically challenging shows the theatre has produced, the other being the audience charmer “Peter Pan”   — where the leads flew above the stage, suspended by thin wires.  No thin wires this time around, but lots and lots of moisture.  I am anticipating a future Candlelight announcement that the Red Sea will be parted as a someday-stage-version of  “The Ten Commandments!”

As a plot catch-up – the year is 1927, when silent films were the the entertainment rage.  Hollywood’s Monumental Studios is just opening another successful silent film,  “The Royal Rascal,” starring Hollywood’s favorite couple – Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.  This is yet another in a string of successful Lockwood-Lamont films with basically the same plot told over and over and over..  Lockwood cannot abide Lamont who claims they are a  romantic couple. .  When a competing studio comes up with a movie with sound,  “The Jazz Singer,” the industry goes into shock.  Monumental boss, R.F. Simpson realizes that his studio must face the opposition, and the movie, “the Dueling Cavalier,” they had just begin to film will be turned into a “talkie” – eventually a musical talkie to be known as “The Dancing Cavalier.”  So far, so good.  Lockwood has a good speaking, singing voice, but the Lina Lamont is a disaster.  She has a horrific speaking voice and can’t begin to carry a tune. Newcomer Kathy Selden is brought in to provide the “voice” of the crazed Lamont, and mayhem ensues.

SITR 3Stephen Charles Turner is convincing as the studio executive, trying to create order out of chaos.  Beth Beyer is an enormous delight as the raucous Lina Lamont who everyone believes is incredibly stupid.  Not so.  She is not only in love with Don Lockwood, trying to hold his affection for Kathy Selden at bay, but is found to be substantially more clever than anyone had imagined..  She is also a wonder to see in action.  Her scenes are brilliant – overshadowed only by the amazing dancing which fills much of the evening’s moments.

Among the show’s musical highlights are Don Lockwood and Cosmos Brown entertaining as Vaudeville performers to “Fit as a Fiddle,” Lockwood, Brown, and Selden realizing they have talked the night away with, “Good Morning,” and Brown pulling out all the stops in “Make ‘Em Laugh,.”  The show’s greatest triumph, however,  remains the “Singin’ in the Rain” finale to Act I.

David MacEachen is credited as being Technical Director.  I  am not certain what this entails, but the show includes several black-and-white movie scenes where problems are faced in synchronizing the film and soundtrack.  One of these technical displays is a flawless laugh-out-loud charmer where  Lamont’s inability to be understood is enormous fun.

Photo Credit is Rachel Graham Photography
Photo Credit is Rachel Graham Photography
The cast is large, including good performances by Scotty Shaffer, Samantha Jo Staggs, Thomas Castro, Melissa Morris and Markus Warren, as well as those mentioned earlier.  Jack Barton holds center stage for a few moments with his super tenor version of “Beautiful Girl.”  The featured dancers at performance I saw were the always-talented Broc Timmerman and Alisha Winter-Hayes.   The orchestra, under direction of Angela Steiner as conductor, had some problems, especially early in the performance.  This is unfortunate, and will hopefully be fine-tuned for shows later in the run.

The set and costumes are effective, as are lighting and sound., and the set.  I wonder how long it takes to dry-out the stage after the heavy rain.

Whereas the movie was released in 1952, the stage version did not appear until 1983 when it opened at the London Palladium, starring Tommy Steele.  The stage version has gone through several incarnations including a Broadway run in 1986 starring Don Coreia as Don.  I saw both of those productions, and was a bit hesitant to see it this time around on a local stage.  I erred.  The large cast is immensely talented and the show looks terrific.

And for outright exuberance, Bob Hoppe cannot be matched.  His joy is infectious as he sings and dances  “Singin’ In The Rain” in the thoroughly-drenching downpour.

“Singing in the Rain”
Where:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534
When:  To July 12, 2015.
For Tickets:  Box Office:  970/744-3747
Email:  info@ColoradoCandlelight.com

 

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