Tag Archives: Musical

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

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

“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