Category Archives: 2019

“Last Train To Nibroc” Is On Track To New York

Bas Bleu Offers A Thoughtful Tale Of 1940s Americana

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 8, 2019

In late December of 1940 a young man, Raleigh, and a young woman, May, meet on an overcrowded train heading east from Los Angeles. Although both are from rural Kentucky, they have never met before and are enroute to a lifetime of change. Raleigh is still wearing his uniform, after leaving the service just a few hours before boarding the train. He received a military discharge after having been diagnosed as an epileptic.

He is headed “east” – not certain just where he is going, but maybe New York, as he is wary about being accepted back home in Kentucky.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

May has her own wariness. She had wanted to be a missionary, to help others, but ended up chasing a not-so-great boyfriend to California. Now she is returning home, concerned about how she might be received and wondering just what she should do with her life.

Also on the train, but tucked away safely in the baggage compartment, not saying a word, are the remains of two famous American writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaneal West). They died within a day or two of each other and their remains are enroute east for burial. This is to be the final trip for the deceased writers who have provided the public with great observations of the America they chronicled. The two young people are just beginning their journey of life – in an era that will ultimately be unlike any other.

The train is overcrowded; and Raleigh is delighted to find a seat, when the place next to May becomes empty. He has been standing for most of the journey so far, and is exhausted. He is eager, however, to make some conversation with the attractive young woman. May is snippy. She appears to have no interest in speaking with Raleigh or anyone, as she is engrossed in a novel, and appears to care less about how tired Raleigh is, and has minimal interest about the famous authors sharing their train.

Playwright Arlene Hutton has created a uniquely interesting couple. They are strong but needy, and yet inquisitive creatures. They find themselves in this 95 minute convincingly beautiful piece of theatre. Hutton is from Kentucky and her plays include memories of people and events of her past. She has found success as an educator as well as a writer.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

While the play begins on the train heading east, the audience subsequently looks at the changes faced by the young people from a change-resistant rural area. They are seen as if in a lengthy tribal mating dance, about to be buffeted by the war, and with enormous changes on the horizon. These changes are particularly unusual for the country’s women.

The couple starts a conversation on a train and wind up finding lasting companionship with each other – for better or worse. By play’s end, they have gained insight, wisdom, acceptance, and the realization that they truly can become what they want to be.

This is heartwarming stuff from a potentially health-damaged serviceman whose desire was to fly; and from a well-meaning woman wanting to soar providing help to others as a missionary. Will they fall in Love? Will they find happiness? Or will they become copies of the prejudiced families that produced them?

Steve Keim has directed a heartwarming vision of persons becoming secure enough in themselves to share their observations with others. This is a simple piece of theatre. Lovingly told, beautifully written, and acted with sincerity.

World War II is in the background of their lives. The stories written by Fitzgerald and West were to be replaced by others looking at life in the 40s – such as Ernest Hemingway, Ernie Pyle, James Michener, and maybe even that epileptic serviceman, Raleigh, and others like him.

A production of the show earned a rave review in the Chicago Tribune a few seasons ago. Critic Chris Jones (no relation) commented that the play “is the surprise, a don’t miss of summer.” I don’t share his adoration, but found it to be a very interesting look at a time gone by. It is very worthwhile, very well done, poignant and thought provoking.

“Last Train to Nibroc”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To December 22, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“A Christmas Carol, The Musical”

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

“Driving Miss Daisy” At Bas Bleu Theatre In Fort Collins

Wendy Ishii In Peak Form In Award Winning Drama

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 20, 2019

Times they are a changing! Or are they? Playwright Alfred Uhry received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1988 for “Driving Miss Daisy, “dealing with the relationship between an elderly Jewish widow and her black chauffeur. Uhry’s semi-biographical play begins in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948 and is based on the later years of Uhry’s grandmother, Daisy.

Uhry’s memory tale looks at the complexity of relationships in the Atlanta of 1948 immediately following World War II.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Wendy Ishii is stunning as the very independent Daisy Werthan. She is depicted as a somewhat “older lady,” at 72

Ishii’s “Daisy” is a highly independent woman of means who wants to remain highly independent, and doesn’t want anyone to know anything about her “means.” As the play opens, she has just wrecked another car, and is being told by her adult businessman son, Boolie Werthan, that she can no longer drive. He is eager to hire an African-American, Hoke Coleburn, to take his mother to the grocery store, to church, etc. Daisy will have none of that. Hoke turns up at Daisy’s home with instructions to take her wherever she wants to go. He just sits in the kitchen for several days waiting for the signal to drive – a request that is slow in coming.

“Time” does have a good effect on the situation, as Daisy finally accepts the reality that she is to be driven around. In slightly more than 90 minutes (with no Intermission,) Uhry’s Daisy Werthan and Hoke Coleburn create an enlightening, and thought provoking relationship.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Ishii is at her best. The transition she makes in the 15 years covered by the story shows great empathy, along with incredible acting skills. When the audience met the actors in the lobby following the performance, I was extremely relieved to find a youthful Ishii. The brightness returned to her eyes, and so did her naturally healthy and happy demeanor. Towards the conclusion of the play, Daisy’s mind has become trapped in her ageing body, and she is barely able to move her twitching arm. Ishii did comment that the portrayal is substantially more work than she realized it would be when she decided to take the role.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

Herman Gabin Gaddy portrays Hoke. He has a remarkable theatrical background. He has produced radio programs, danced in musicals, sung, acted, or assisted with direction of dramas, comedies, operas as well as starring in a one-man show on Broadway. He is a force to be reckoned with and is a welcome addition to the Bas Bleu stage.

Kristopher Erickson plays Daisy’s son, Boolie. He is new to Bas Bleu audiences. He is very good, comfortable on stage, and convincing as Daisy’s successful son trying to find his own way in the Atlanta business and social scene of 1948.

The stage set is very good, including a revolving stage that takes Daisy and Hoke out driving. Jeffrey Bigger has directed the show with great care. He has kept the original tone of the thoughtful play while providing the audience with a great history lesson.

The original Off-Broadway production premiered in 1987 and was an enormous success. It was a highly respected movie in 1989.

Have compassion, understanding, appreciation, and acceptance of others changed since Uhry’s grandmother lived in Atlanta in the 1940s? I’d like to say, “But of course they have.” Seeing “Driving Miss Daisy,” however, is troublesome. Perhaps society has not made the great strides we’d like to think we’ve made. Many more friendships like that of Daisy and Hoke might be the answer

“Driving Miss Daisy”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To October 20, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

“Mamma Mia” Is A Must-See-Production

“Thank You for the Music” – And The Entire Show!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 11, 2019

Early in Act 1, the cast of “Mamma Mia” provides a captivating rendition of “Thank You for the Music.” I have not enjoyed such a “feel good” moment in a musical for a long time. And that is just a part of the show! “Mamma Mia” on stage this season at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre Stage is an entire joy!

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Christy Oberndorf is a delight as the coming-of-age Sophie Sheridan living on an idyllic Greek island. She has found the diary her mother kept, of three summer romances 20 years ago – the summer Sophie was conceived. Sophie is engaged and would like nothing more than to have her father walk her down the wedding aisle. Problem is that she does not know who her father is – possibly one of mother’s three romantic liaisons those many years ago. Unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie has tracked down the three men, and has invited them to her wedding.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Such is the premise of this worldwide favorite, “Mamma Mia,” now on stage at the Boulder Dinner Theater Stage through February 22, 2020. That looks like a long run; but when local audiences hear how terrific this production is, sold-out performances will be on the horizon. While Oberndorf is a wonderful Sophie, Tracy Warren is astonishing as Sophie’s mother, Donna. Near the show’s end, Warren is triumphant with her “The Winner Takes It All.” I would not have been surprised if the audience had not stopped the show with a standing ovation for that rendition.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Music and lyrics were not originally written for a musical story. They are the work of the world famous Swedish pop/dance/disco group, ABBA. Their songs topped music charts worldwide from 1974 to 1982, respected for their unique sound. ABBA disbanded in 1983, but their music continued to find success. Producer Judy Cramer became infatuated with the idea of putting the ABBA songs by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus into a story, completely un-related to the singles that had become famous. Anderson and Ulvaeus were reportedly not initially interested in the concept. Undaunted, producer Cramer went on to commission Catherine Johnson to write the book for a potential musical, and the rest is history.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Since opening in London in 1999, the musical has subsequently been seen by an estimated 60 million theatregoers worldwide. It became a movie musical in 2008, with a sequel in 2018. I was one of the stage production’s initial fans when I saw it in London while in previews, just before it opened. I was aware of some of the ABBA music, but had no idea the songs would bring such excitement to a live audience. The London production I enjoyed resulted in some of the audience dancing in the aisles.

They’re still dancing! Who can just sit still when the theater pulsates with “Money, Money, Money,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” “I Had a Dream,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “I Do, I Do, I Do.” Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters share the direction and choreographer roles for this marvel, produced by Michael J. Duran. The set and lighting are impressive as are the costumes. Particularly terrific is the work of music director who also directs the excellent orchestra. Sound has probably never been better in BDT Stage, as off-stage background voices are added to some of the solos.

Photo courtesy of BDT Stage

Oberndorf and Warren as Sophie and her mother, Donna, are not alone with their starring excellence. Alicia K. Meyers and Joanie Brosseau-Rubald are enormous fun as Donna’s longtime friends who show up to support their friend at the wedding. Scott Severtson, Scott Beyette and Bob Hoppe duel-it-out as to which one might be Sophie’s father. Everyone on stage is in fine form – displaying technical perfection in sound and in movement.

The show goes from one musical highlight to the next, taking the audience along on this unusual journey of long-lost love and newly found joy, exhibiting perfection at every turn.

Mamma Mia!
Where: Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage.
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
When: Through February 22, 2020
Tickets: Box Office (303) 449-6000
For more information: www.BDTStage com

Three Couples – Same Suite

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 13, 2019

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

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

Photos courtesy Matthew Gale Photography

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

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

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

Photos courtesy Matthew Gale Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bright Star” Illuminates Arvada Stage

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2019

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

“Hunchback of Notre Dame” Rings A Bell

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 6, 2019

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

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

Ethan Knowles as Quasimodo Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Grover as Esmeralda Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midtown Arts Center Closes With “Take to the Highway”

Popular Theatre Venue Celebrates Music of James Taylor

Review by Tom Jones
June 20, 2019

Four remarkably talented singers combine with an equally professional band to provide a fond farewell to audiences of Midtown Art Center this month.  Their renditions celebrating the music of the legendary James Taylor, Carole King, and Carly Simon were warmly received by audience members making their final visits to the theatre.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            The visit was more than a nostalgic memory of shows past, but a telling reminder of how much talent can be found locally!  Anne Terze-Schwarz, Joe Callahan, Emily Erkman, and Jacob Villarreal are all talents to be reckoned with.  Each has a sensational voice, and together they work wonders.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            With no knowledge of what went on behind the scenes when decision was made to cancel “Matilda.”  I can only imagine that several of “Colorado’s Best” put their creative heads together.  Just like the characters that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland portrayed in the show-biz fables of the past, they decided, “Let’s Put on a Show!”

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            Produced Divabee Productions, involved in putting the show together were Kenny Moten (concept, creation and direction), John Seaberry (music and vocal arrangements), Webb (vocal arrangements and vocal direction) , and Jessica Hindsley (choreography).They wisely combined efforts and worked with experts they know in providing the narrative, set, sound, light, and costumes. 

            I was sorry to learn that MAC is closing its doors this summer. Their most recent production, the terrific “My Fair Lady,” was one of the company’s best shows ever. “Matilda” was originally set to be the theatre’s final production this season.  When I learned that this was being replaced by an unknown review, I didn’t rush to the theatre with great expectations.  I was in error.

Photo Credit Dyann Diercks Photography

            It appears they all have extensive knowledge of James Taylor.  I did not.  I did not realize until this week that he is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide.  His life wasn’t easy, fighting drug addiction and mental illness, but he has provided such  musical memories as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “You’re So Vain,” “”How Sweet It Is,” “California, on my Mind, “‘Fire and Rain,”  “You’ve Got a Friend,” and the list goes on and on.   Each of the songs mentioned is included in the show, along with many, many others that were not as familiar to me, but which the audience appeared delighted to hear.  At show’s end, there was an unusual-for-dinner- theatre-patrons standing ovation for the performers.

            The excellent on-stage band is under direction of guitarist John Seaberry and includes Chelsea Hansen, Crystal Pellham, Rachel England, and Larry Bridges.

            This is a lavishly talented group of performers, charming the socks off James Taylor music, and bringing the audience to its feet.  Not “Matilda,” but a “wow” on its own.

“Take to the Highway”
Where: Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To August 3, 2019
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

“Tarzan” Triumphantly Swings Into Town!

Tarzan and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Greets The Jungle Man With Great Enthusiasm

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 6, 2019

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

Tarzan – Barret Harper Photo Credit – RDG Photography

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

Jane – Katie Jackson Photo Credit – RDG Photography

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

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

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

Kerchak – Scotty Shaffer Photo Credit – RDG Photography

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

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

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

Terk – Tim Howard Photo Credit – RDG Photography

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

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

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

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

“Harvey” Is Back In Town, But Only A Few Can See Him!

David Siever and Kathy Leonard Shine As Siblings Who See Life Differently.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
June 2, 2019

Hard to believe that the classic Broadway comedy “Harvey” has been around for 75 years!  The play is due to celebrate its 75th birthday this fall – but how does one honor a tall white rabbit that only a few can see?

David Siever is a wonder as the confused brother, now in his 70s.  He is incredibly amicable to everyone he meets, and is eager to introduce the six-foot-tall Harvey, to everyone he meets.  His sister, Veta Louise, (convincingly portrayed by Kathy Leonard) however, is at loose ends. She is an avid social climber, horrified of what society might “think” of the family where one’s best friend is a rabbit. Veta Louise decides everything would be just fine if Elwood was out of the house, confined to a mental hospital.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

When the mother of Elwood P. Dowd died, she left ownership of the comfortable home to her unusual but kindly son.  This resulted in problems for Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons, who now lives in the home along with Elwood and her nearly-spinster daughter, Myrtle Mae. They are not a close-knit family.  Elwood has a best friend, a tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood takes Harvey with him wherever he goes, searches for him when he becomes lost; and the two are evidently great drinking buddies.  Harvey is evidently actually a pooka, conjured from Irish folklore.

Insanity reigns under direction of Morris Burns. Veta Louise is erroneously admitted to the sanitarium instead of Elwood.  Staff cannot believe that someone as kind and caring as Elwood might need psychiatric care, when his sister appears to be completely nuts! Many appear to be a tad loony in this look at normal, next-to-normal, and just plain abnormal behavior.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Comedies and dramas of the 1950s were usually two and one-half hour productions.  Social media has subsequently changed interest of many theater-goers who want more action and less word-play.  This is apparent in “Harvey,” as there appears to be too much “talk” in the second act. That said, however, realizing that Harvey is seeing his tall white furry, friend, is highly entertaining. The set is terrific – a rotating look at the Dowd home and the mental hospital office.  David Siever and Kathy Leonard are near-classics on their own as Elwood and Veta Louise.

Mary Chase wrote this daffy but poignant tale which has become one of America’s best-loved plays.  She received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 for her “hare” raising story. Chase has Colorado roots, having graduated from Denver’s West High School and later studying at the University of Denver and University of Colorado Boulder.  When the story was transferred to film in 1950, James Stewart played the affable Elwood.

By show’s end it just may be that Elwood (and his rabbit friend) are the only truly normal characters around.  Veta Louse even admits that she just may have seen the pooka!

“Harvey”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To June 9, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949


“Beauty And The Beast” Is Pure Delight In Boulder

Elaborate Sets And Great Costumes Add To The Magic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 14, 2019

What a treat.  Belle is a beauty, the Beast is beastly, and Gaston is everyone’s over-the-top egomaniac.  The only persons who like him better than he likes himself are the audience.  Scott Severtson as Gaston is a crazed delight as he kisses his biceps and struts around the stage with every girl in the village (except Belle) falling at his feet.  He is a remarkable sight.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

But just one of the “remarkable sights.”  BDT Stage has gone all-out to create a virtual spectacle of sight and sound.  The scenic design by Amy Campion, Tom Quinn and Jeff Rusnak is terrific in every respect.  The orchestra conducted by Neal Dunfee is very good.  The choreography by Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters, assisted by Danielle Scheib, is enormous fun.  What’s not to like in this fun-for-the-entire family show?

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

Lillian Buonocore is convincing as the charming “Belle.”  She feels out of place in her French village, as her primary interest is in books.  She is not interested in the unwanted attention given to her by the handsome town bachelor buffoon, Gaston.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

When Belle ends up in the spooky castle of the mysterious “Beast,” her life has turned into turmoil.  She has gone in search of her kidnapped father and ends up imprisoned in the Beast’s Castle for what might be her home for the rest of her life.

The Beast was put under a magic spell many years ago when he was an uncaring, self-centered younger man.  The spell will not be lifted until he finds love for someone who offers love in return.  The castle’s beast is truly formidable.  Belle, however, is not alone with her problems.  The castle is staffed by a host of formerly human characters now becoming more and more mechanized as the spell continues.  Unlike the angry beast, the staff is a pleasant and clever lot – Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Madame de la Grande Bouche, Le Fou, Babette and Chip.  Chip is the amazing young man who has ended up as a teapot, turning in every direction just to speak.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

They are happy to have the company of Belle, the new addition to the castle, but fear for her future.  She is destined to end up in the same tragic circumstances they have found.  The delightful “Be our Guest” brings all the staff to life, as they welcome Belle to the castle.

These “spell-bound” charmers are Bob Hoppe as Lumiere, Scott Beyette as Cogsworth, Tracy Warren as Mrs. Potts, Alicia K. Meyers as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Leo Batlle as Le Fou, and Danielle Scheib as Babette.  The teapot Chip is portrayed by various young performers on a rotating schedule – Markus Hollekim, Hayden McDonald, and Miles Shaw.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

The cast does not stop there, as several other performers play various characters in this two and one-half hour extravaganza of sight and sound.  Cole LaFonte has the difficult role of the angry Beast, imprisoned in his remarkable make-up.  One unfortunate aspect of the show is that the Beast is so beastly and physically unappealing that it is difficult to warm up to him.  LaFonte’s excellent voice is hampered by his costume, resulting in an un-appreciated rendition of the beautiful “If I Can’t Love Her.”

“Beauty and the Beast” has been around as a story virtually since time began.  It turned up as a 1991 American animated movie musical released by Walt Disney Pictures.  It received numerous awards and has been a worldwide audience favorite.  The movie was turned into a stage musical in 1994.  The stage version was not initially praised by critics, but became an enormous audience success.  Another movie version, this time live action, was a recent success as well.

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Ross

BDT Stage continues the string of “Beauty” success with this season’s masterwork.  The story comes alive for a long run – to September 21, 2019.  Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters have co-directed and co-choreographed this charmer for the ages. 

“Beauty and the Beast”
Where: Boulder Dinner Theatre Stage.
5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
When: Through September 21, 2019
Tickets: Box Office (303) 449-6000
For more information: www.bdtstage.com

“Lady” Continues To Be Fairest In The Land!

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

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

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

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

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

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

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Red” – More Than Just A Color

Award Winning Drama Opens At Bas Bleu

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 29, 2019

“What do you see?”  Painter Mark Rothko is looking towards the audience, as if looking at his recent artwork, asking the audience what we see.  He is an egotistical man, believing that he just might be the only living painter with such talent.  Owners of the then-new Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City have commissioned the painter to complete a set of very large murals for the restaurant in the 1950s, providing him with more than $30,000 for his efforts.

No matter what our response may have been to his question of “What do you see,” he would have found it to be just folly.  Only he can see what he believes is in the abstract painting.  Only he can determine what is good or bad.  Only he knows everything.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Such is this semi-historical look at a point in the painter’s life, on display this season at Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins.  Playwright John Logan has taken some liberties in his quick look at the creative giant whose ego has taken over his ability to function in society.  Jeffrey Bigger is nearly “bigger” than life in his portrayal of the painter at work on the restaurant murals in his studio. 

He has hired Ken (played by Nick Holland) as his assistant, whose primary responsibility is to answer to every demand of his tormented and tormenting boss.  Holland is excellent as the hired hand, a painter on his own right, hoping to learn something from this famous artist.  Ken’s kindness and mild-manner are the total opposites of the bombastic personality of painter Rothko.  Ken hopes to gain creative input from his famous employer.  He receives nothing but unrelenting opinions about what is art.  What is not?  And who knows the difference?  Rothko is dismissive of everyone who sees his paintings, feeling they are somehow unworthy of viewing his work.  He is also dismissive of new artists of the time such as Andy Warhol who had the gall to think that a painting of a soup can could be “art.” And of Ken.

What about color?  Is black only for death?  Is the white of snow really a depressing nothing?  And red?  What is red?  Is it joy, love, lust?  What is life?  Whoa! Too difficult to get into.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

Rothko’s rantings provide an interesting 90 minutes of exploring the mind of a creative genius, at the expense of his cautious and curious assistant who exhibits surprising strengths of his own.  By the show’s end, Rothko questions his own choices and motivation.  Should he consider cancelling his contract for the murals that he feels are too wondrous to be appreciated by restaurant patrons?

Wesley Longacre has directed the local production with great skill.  Although there is minimal actual action, he has maintained a high level of tension and interest.  Intense conversations between Rothko and Ken are the nuts and bolts of the script.

Artist Mark Rothko was an American of Russian descent who rose to fame in New York art circles in the last century.  He refused to claim identification with any art movement, but is generally considered to be an abstract expressionist.  His tortured mind resulted in his suicide about ten years after working on the Four Seasons Restaurant murals.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton

“Red” was first produced in the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2009, starring Alfred Molina as Rothko, and Eddie Redmayne as Ken.  It transferred to Broadway for a limited engagement in 2010 with the same actors.  The show received the Tony Award that year for Best Play with Redmayne receiving the award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.

There is much fascination in watching the overbearing painter and his wise assistant exchange ideas.  Not much action, but always-interesting takes on the world of creativity — why people buy and sell art, what is art.  And what is “red?”  At show’s end, Rothko (again looking at the unseen mural) asks, “What do you see?”   

“Red”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To April 14, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

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

Cast Is Joyous In Broadway Classic

An Update To My Review!

by Tom Jones, May 9, 2019

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

Michael Lasris, image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

—–

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

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

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

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

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

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

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

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

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

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


Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

Dickens Classic At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2019

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Photo Credit RDG Photography

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

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

Mirth On The Moors?

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2019

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

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

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

Annie Barbour (Marjory) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

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

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

Jessica Robblee (Huldey) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

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

Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

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

“The Moors”
Where:
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When:
To May 18, 2019
Information:
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online www.arvadacenter.org

Mozart meets Manet and Mayhem (and others) in Loveland Opera Theatre’s Delight

“Cosi Fan Tutte” Is A Wonder Of Sight & Sound

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 21, 2019

For starters, some persons were already on the stage prior to showtime looking at a large illuminated representation of impressionist painter Edouard Manet’s “A Bar at the Follies Bergere.” I was ready to join them on the stage to see the painting close-up, when I realized that this was just part of the show — a room in an Impressionist art gallery where viewers of the painting were actual cast of “Cosi Fan Tutte.”

The painting then came to life, and was even enhanced as the backdrop of the opera’s first scene.  It was just one of several amazing Impressionist jewels that serve as background for this delicious production.

This is a very clever endeavor.  With a secondary title,”The School for Lovers,”  “Cosi” is a delightful tale of true love going wrong and right and wrong and right.  Two soldiers and their fiancés vow their love is “forever” when a wealthy French aristocrat wants to prove them wrong.  He bets substantial funds that the “love” won’t remain intact when absence might not make the heart grow fonder.  He sends the two men off to battle, leaving their loved ones at home to find ways to fill their time and hearts.

Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography

Whereas the first scene comes from Manet’s view of the bar at the Moulin Rouge, the second scene is even more wondrous as George Seurat’s “Sunday afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte” is featured.  This painting is also the basis for Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” and depicts an afternoon of leisure on the banks of the Seine.  In the Loveland opera, the Seurat painting takes center stage, with all of the characters in place in the painting on the stage.  When the aristocrat sends the two woeful lovers and others in the regiment off to battle, the stage loses its cast and the painting loses its characters – leaving a painting of nature – void of all humans. This is extremely clever stuff.

Phoenix Gayles and Dana Kinney play the two women, Fiordiligi and Dorabella.  The soldiers are Nathan Snyder as Ferrando and Colin Williamson as Guglielmo.  The four have incredible voices and acting charm.  Robert Hoch is in fine form as the scheming aristocrat Don Alfonzo; and Mary Kettlewell nearly steals each scene she is in as Despina, the conniving maid and housekeeper.

Although I can obnoxiously retell plot lines of way-too-many Broadway musicals, I knew very little about Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte Opera.  Correction.  I knew NOTHING about Mozart’s opera.  This was no problem, as the scenes of the impressionists are so amazing that my interest never floundered.  Wonderful subtitles at the top of the stage kept me completely up to date with the arias, sung in English, and the acting is great.

Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography

The cast is large, with six principal performers plus a large chorus, and an orchestra that played Mozart’s beautiful music to perfection. This opera is produced by Dr. Juliana Bishop Hoch and directed by Timothy Kennedy.  The orchestra and choral work are conducted by Adam Torres.  Set and Lighting is by Peter F. Muller, with costumes by Davis Sibley.  Mary Catherine Gagnon is scenic artist and graphic design is by Matt Myers.

Including the Impressionist period artwork as backdrop and scenery is magic.  In addition to the works mentioned by Manet and Seurat, well-known paintings from Monet, Renoir, Signac, and Van Gogh are highlighted.  The idea of having famous artwork become integral to the show was originated by The Pageant of the Masters production of the opera in Laguna Beach, CA.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera, with lyrics by Lorenzo Da Ponte was first performed in 1790 in Vienna.  The timing was unfortunate, as it was performed only five times when the death of Emperor Joseph II resulted in a period of court mourning.  It did not arrive in the United States until 1922 when produced by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The Loveland Opera Theatre is to be commended for providing opportunities for student groups to become acquainted with the wonders of opera, without possibly being overwhelmed.  Several abbreviated versions of “Cosi Fan Tutte” are performed this month for such groups.

The Opera truly “has it all.”  It is a wonder of sight and sound, with glorious music and great comedy.  Even some thoughtful insights of what “true love” might just be all about.

“Cosi Fan Tutte”
Where:
Produced by Loveland Opera Theatre
On the stage of the Rialto Theatre,
228 East Fourth Street, Loveland, CO
When:
Cosi Fan Tutte-A School for Lovers – 2/22, 3/1, 3/2 at 7:00 p.m. and
2/24, 3/3 at 2:30 p.m.
Cosi Fan Tutte for Families – 2/23 and 3/2 at 2:30 p.m. (shortened version for kids)
Website: www.lovelandopera.org

“The Waverly Gallery” Is A First-Class Telling Of A Difficult Subject

Wendy Ishii “Becomes” A Bewildered Alzheimer Victim In Lonergan Drama

Reviewed by Tom Jones

February 8, 2019

            Gladys Green is on the cusp of old age, and is often bewildered with what is going on around her.  Her hearing is impaired.  Her mind is progressively deteriorating.  Wendy Ishii is a marvel as she portrays Gladys Green, a victim of Alzheimer disease.  Her eyes become wide and wild, as she looks with despair to figure out what she has become.  This is a bravura performance.  Ishii has portrayed a variety of roles, and this is one of her finest productions.  She gets into the skin of the art gallery owner, and holds the audience spellbound.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

            Gladys Green owns a small art gallery in Greenwich Village, New York City.  There are very few customers, as it is located in an obscure street-side entrance to a hotel.  The landlord wants to use the space for a hotel café, and is closing the gallery which has been Green’s “life” for many years.  She is alone most of the time.  Alone in the gallery.  Alone in her nearby apartment.  Her contact with the world is limited and she clings to “family” to provide some connection with life in general.  Her family now must tell Gladys that she no longer has the gallery.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

            Author Kenneth Lonergan has created a memory play, based in part on his own experiences watching his grandmother deteriorate.  He has cleverly used Green’s adult grandson, Daniel Reed, as the show’s voice. Daniel is portrayed by Galen Trine-McMahan who is new to Colorado audiences.  He is a very natural actor, terrific as the adult grandson, watching in horror as his grandmother decays.  He tries to give her some support, but realizes that there are limits in what care he can provide.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

Also terrific is Katie Cassis as Ellen Fine, Gladys’s adult daughter.  With minimal “hope” on the horizon, Ellen’s memory of happier times with her mother sustain her in this helpless situation. The audience is in awe, realizing that many may face similar challenges in the years to come. 

Gladys’s hearing is minimal.  Her mind can’t quite grasp what she is being told, repeating the same questions she asked just moments ago.   She appears to have a need to be joyful, to revel on times passed, but feels that even her family is “against” her.  She does not comprehend that they are incredibly self-sacrificing caregivers.  This is difficult stuff.  The performances are so convincing that the audience temporarily believes that they are watching real life, not just characters in a play.

Photo Credit William A. Cotton.

Laura Jones has skillfully directed the production.  The set is an interesting look at the gallery, at the family apartments, and the hallway connecting Gladys’s apartment with that of her grandson.  Ishii, Cassis, and Trine-McMahan are stars of the show, but are given good support from Kevin Christopher as Ellen’s husband, and from Steven Fox, as an artist who happens into the Gallery and becomes part of everyone’s lives.

“The Waverly Gallery” opened Off-Broadway in 2000 and received several awards.  It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001.  A Broadway production premiered in 2018.

This is a remarkable evening of theatre.  It is not a “happy” play.  Playwright Lonergan has shown wisdom in showing the trials faced by those with deteriorating minds; and great empathy for caregivers who do everything they can to be of help, and even some moments of fun.  At show’s end the narrator grandson gives especially thought-providing insight.  He comments that through all of the heartbreaks and sorrows, the value of life is so precious that we fight hard to maintain it.  The human spirit remains proud and intact.

“The Waverly Gallery”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To February 24, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Jones, February 1, 2019

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

Image by Dyann DIercks Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Impeccable Direction And Impeccable Cast Combine For A Wondrous “A Little Night Music”

Stephen Sondheim Award Winner On Stage In Denver

Reviewed by Tom Jones

January 27 2019

Fredrik Egerman and Desiree Armfeldt have reached middle age.  They are at the crossroads, neither completely content with their lives. They have no plans to change anything. A summer weekend in the Swedish countryside with a sun that won’t set is about to change all that.

Photo by Olga Lopez

Stephen Sondheim, America’s most respected living composer of musical theatre, provided audiences with “A Little Night Music” on Broadway in 1973.  The show has gone on to worldwide acclaim.  Some productions boast lavish sets and large casts.  The show arrived this month in Denver with minimal set, but more than makes up for that by providing excellent costumes, excellent voices and excellent direction.  Director Kelly Van Oosbree’s clever staging even includes a rotating stage – power-operated by the performers.

Photo by Olga Lopez

 Brian Merz-Hutchinson and Susie Roelofsz are sensational as Egerman and Armfeldt.  Fredrik Egerman is a Swedish attorney, a year into his second marriage – this time with an 18-year-old girl who prefers to remain a virgin.  Desiree Armfeldt is a highly respected actress who spends her time touring the country, leaving her young daughter, Fredrika, in the countryside estate of her ageing mother. This all takes place in a Swedish summer around 1900 when the sun lingers so long in the sky that some claim “It just won’t set.” 

 Everyone in the cast is in top form as they take on the show’s roles. Egerman is a somewhat stuffy lawyer with great memories of a liaison many years ago with the actress Armfeldt.  He takes his young wife to a local performance of the touring company.  Seeing Desiree on stage renews memories of his past love for her, and he succumbs to her allure.  Their lives are about to change, but not without affecting several others – some deliciously bizarre.

Photo by Olga Lopez

Rachel Turner is in delightful form as the young wife – happy to be married and have nice clothes and to go to elaborate balls; but horrified about losing her virginity.  Jeremy Rill is enormous fun as the over-the top self-assured Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, the military man currently dallying with the actress.  His character has an ego as big as all outdoors, but reportedly has the “brain of a pea.” Sparring toe to toe with this army dragoon is his wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm, brilliantly portrayed by Megan Van de Hey.

Photo by Olga Lopez

Susan Long is the Armfeldt family matriarch – Desiree’s mother, and Fredrika’s grandmother.  The country weekend takes place on her estate.  She hasn’t much use for her actress daughter, dotes on her granddaughter, and lives in a dreamworld of the past, recounting her various “liaisons” with the rich and famous. Adding even more craziness to the goings-on are Frid and Petra played by Ryan Belinak and Lindsey Falduto, both worldly-wise servants. They are well acquainted with the upper crust, but appear to accept their roles in the lower echelons of society.  Lindsey Falduto’s “The Miller’s Son” is especially poignant, as Petra realizes that she can serve the wealthy, but will end up marrying someone in her level of society.  On the other hand, Lawyer Egerman’s adult son, Henrik, is a seminary student, with no idea of where he fits into the life of his family, or life anywhere for that matter.  Barret Harper is superb on his own, as the bewildered, cello-playing Henrik.

 Excellent accompaniment is provided by Deborah Fuller (violin), David Short (cello) with Trent Hines and Angela Steiner (piano) — Hines for first three weekends, Steiner for final weekend.

The musical was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman 1955 movie, “Smiles of a Summer Night.”  Playwright Hugh Wheeler wrote the book, with Stephen Sondheim providing music and lyrics. The music is written as waltzes in three-quarters time.

Sondheim was in peak form as a composer and as a lyricist when writing “A Little Night Music.”  This is especially evident in the “Weekend in the Country” scene where various persons are looking at attending a weekend party on the Armfeldt estate – some invited, some not.  The lyrics include the Count and Countess thinking about going (without an invitation), singing: 

“A weekend in the country…
How I wish we’d been asked.
A weekend in the country
Peace and quiet. We’ll go masked.”

This is beguiling production.  Everything about it is first-rate.  As the theatre is small, the audience can hear nearly everything said or sang, and becomes infatuated with the characters, their foibles, their frolics, and is with them every step of the way.  The show even includes the classic, “Send in the Clowns.”

“A Little Night Music”

Where:  The Pluss Theatre, Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 S. Dahlia Street, Denver, CO 80246

When: Through February 17, 2019

For more information:  Cherry Creek Theatre, 303/800-6578, cherrycreektheatre.org

        

“My Way – A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra”

Midtown Arts Features Music Of “Old Blue Eyes”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 18, 2019

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

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

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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