Tag Archives: Live Theater

It’s A White Christmas At The “Holiday Inn”

The 1942 Movie That Gave Birth To “White Christmas” Has Arrived As A Stage Musical At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 14, 2019

Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon are an entertainment trio. They sing. They dance. They entertain. They are very good performers. Their contract in a New York City nightclub is ending, and Jim believes he is ready to retire. He has found a farmhouse in rural Connecticut in foreclosure and snaps up the buying rights. Now he needs to convince his dancing partner, Lila, to accept his marriage proposal and move to the Connecticut countryside where they could become farmers.

Oops – Lila doesn’t want to go. She wants to stay as part of the entertainment world and go on dancing with Jim’s best friend, Ted Hanover. Yes, “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn“ is a variation of lots of showbiz fables. The better known musical “White Christmas” has been around forever. That 1954 show’s famous song was actually created for the 1942 movie, “Holiday Inn,” — basis for this current wonder at Candlelight.

Maybe I was grumpy before going to the theatre. The weather had been dismal and the show’s overture was not exciting. Although it contains some famous Berlin melodies, the orchestra wasn’t sounding perfect. I began to wonder why I was spending a holiday night in Johnstown. Shortly into the show, however, something began to click with me.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

I asked myself, “Self, why are you enjoying this show so much?” I pondered my response. Was it because the performers were so talented and so earnestly sincere? Was it because the costumes (all 240 of them) are so incredible? Was it because the dancing is some of the best seen on Colorado stages? Was the orchestra suddenly sounding brilliant? Were the stage set and lighting so very interesting? Perhaps all of the above. This is super entertainment.

Cole Emarine, Ben Griffin and Susanna Ballenski Houdesheldt are the entertaining trio — Ted, Jim, and Lila. They can all sing and dance. Jim leaves showbiz to Ted and Lila and heads to his newfound farm. He finds the property isn’t in very good shape. He is not disillusioned, however, as the daughter of the previous owner stops by to say hello and offer any help he may need. Sarah Kowalski is in great form as Linda Mason, the Connecticut neighbor, a local school teacher. Fortunately for Jim, she has some musical background, and the two are an instant duo. One of the show’s most charming scenes is when Ted and Linda (Kowalski and Griffin) sing “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk.” There is magic in the air.

Jim realizes that he just can’t provide income from farming. He and Linda hatch a plan, heavily supported by Jim’s entertainment friends to turn the farmhouse into a theatre – with shows emphasizing the various holidays. Yep, it becomes “Holiday Inn”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

This turns out to be a beguilingly innocent story, set to the music of Irving Berlin. The music includes such Berlin hits as “Stepping Out with My Baby,” “Blue Skies,” “Let’s Start the New Year Right,” “Easter Parade,” “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk,” “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” and even “White Christmas.”

The four leads are very talented and enthusiastic performers. They are given great support from Annie Dwyer as the crazed farm maintenance worker who apparently “comes with the house.” Eli Emming and Hayden McDonald alternate in the role of Connecticut neighbor Charlie Winslow, a young man with wisdom beyond his years. David L. Wygant is Danny, the entertainers’ friend who wants them to try for the big time in showbiz. The ensemble is also very talented. The dancing skills are amazing.

The show’s “star,” however, is Kate Vallee who serves as director and choreographer. Vallee has put the entire cast through what must have been a non-stop boot camp in making certain every move made was done to perfection. She has extensive background as a director, choreographer, tap dance champion, and four years as a Radio City Rockette in New York City. What she and her well-honed cast provide is sheer brilliance. There is even a jump rope sequence set to music where no one missed a beat. Alissa Spooner is credited as Associate Choreographer. Music is under direction of Phil Forman.

All of the dance routines are excellent. Cole Emarine is given an opportunity to dazzle, as a soloist, and also shines in a great dancing duet with Susanna Ballenski Houdesheldt. The dancing ensemble nearly defies description, as they are all so very good.

This is a light-hearted Holiday treat. For great Holiday cheer this year – go to the “Inn.”

“Holiday Inn”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To January 19, 2020 (Many performances prior to Christmas are already sold out)
Information or tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
ColoradoCandelight.com

“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

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