Tag Archives: Tom’s Reviews

“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

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