2016-2018 Theatre Review Archive

2018, 2017, 2016 Theatre Reviews Archive

2018 Theatre Reviews


REVIEW: 'The Learned Ladies,' through Dec. 23, The Upstart Crow at the Dairy Arts Center, Boulder

Classic French playwright Molière's comedies are performed far too seldom. A contemporary of Shakespeare, the 17th century producer-author-actor's plays can be fast and funny, offer delightful parodies of pretentious characters, and no matter how satirical they get, the audience is left feeling charmed and entertained. Last year's masterpiece Tartuffe, performed by the Arvada Center's Black Box ensemble was a theatrical triumph.

Now we have The Upstart Crow's production of the lesser-known The Learned Ladies, and it doesn't disappoint. Under the nimble direction of French scholar Amy Sonnanstine, this adaptation of Curtis Hidden Page's non-rhyming 1908 translation is silly, witty, and bouncing with literary and comic buffoonery.

The production performs at the Dairy Arts Center's intimate black-box Carsen Theatre through Dec. 23. The show is a prime contender for quick-witted, culturally-minded theatre-goers who aren't especially looking for holiday entertainment.

There's a lot more wit than plot in The Learned Ladies, with scenes and events set up primarily to enable clever repartee and exchanges of ideas worthy of George Bernard Shaw. Even so, there are several entertaining complications and reversals in this variation on the "arranged marriage" formula.

The uncomplicated daughter (Hannah Richards) of a pompous ninny (Alex Markovich) and an overbearing snob (Genevieve Price) has fallen in love with a forthright nobleman (Jeremy Barnes), who had previously been discarded as a suitor by her supercilious sister (Alissa Berdahl). But alas, the course of true love hits a speed bump when the domineering mother decides her youngest daughter should instead marry a poseur poet (Lea Bock) who writes hilariously bad sonnets. 

The older women of the household, including a daffy aunt (Katherine Dubois Reed), have taken to enlightening their minds with philosophy, science, and literature. Far from true Renaissance women, the trio's pursuit of fashionable facts is driven by vanity, ego, and conceit. Furthermore, they are neglecting their household responsibilities, along with disrupting the natural courses of true love, marriage, family, and other stabilizing social institutions.

There are several standout scenes and a couple of truly remarkable performances. Two rival poets (Bock and Tom Mann) first flatter, then excoriate each other. The eldest daughter, who has eschewed "carnality" for higher pursuits, realizes she's condemned herself to becoming an old maid with no comfort beyond her books. The cowardly father flounders about trying to get a spine in time to save his daughter's happiness. Any number of preposterously lofty ideas get holes poked in them, and they sputter around, leaking hot air like punctured balloons.

Reed is especially funny as the goofy maiden aunt who thinks everyone is in love with her, and Markovich delights as the squirming, squishy father who means well but is surrounded by strong-willed and opinionated women.

Also starring in this production are the absolutely gorgeous (and character appropriate) costumes and wigs by Erica Illingworth, along with several pieces of splendid furniture that comprise the set.

This laugh-out-loud comedy is by no means anti-intellectual. But like the Bard's Love's Labours' Lost, those who try to set themselves apart from the world for the rarified realms of the intellect inevitably trip over their own clay feet once love enters the equation.

Tickets for The Learned Ladies start at $25. Seniors and Students (with ID) $21. Performance times, through Dec. 23: Thursday – Saturday 7:30 pm; Sunday 2 pm. Thursdays are Name-Your-Price Night: No set price or suggested donation. Audiences are asked to judge what they feel is an appropriate amount and leave it in an unmarked envelope at the end of the evening (No reservations accepted; first come, first served). To purchase tickets for any performance, visit The Dairy Box Office or call 303-444-7328.

Purchase and read a copy of the script for The Learned Ladies HERE.


'Scrooge,' through Dec. 31, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

Elliot Clough (Ghost of Christmas Present) and Brian Burron (Scrooge.) 
Photo Credit: Garland Photography

There are so many stage adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol playing in the Denver area, how is a person supposed to choose which one to see? This year, I selected Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production of Scrooge! The Musical, based on the 1970 film with book, music, and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.
Personally, I couldn't have made a better choice.

Unlike the admittedly popular and cost-efficient minimalist "radio" show or cleverly staged small ensemble versions, Candlelight's Scrooge! is a full-scale, large cast Broadway-style musical with enormous emotional impact and a hauntingly memorable musical score. Under the inspired direction of Robert Michael Sanders, Scrooge! is far more than a standard, traditional, and predictable holiday retelling of the classic story of a curmudgeonly miser's redemption.

It's a ghost story, first and foremost. Like the Dickens original. It's a story of spiritual warfare, in which the spectral forces of darkness and death contend with spirits of light over a deeply wounded man's immortal soul.

With a lot of singing and dancing.

In this production, Heaven and Hell are real, and the world we tread upon is merely a stage-shaped illusion. Ebenezer Scrooge (in a star-caliber virtuoso performance by Brian Burron) is visited by four spirits on Christmas Eve. They force Scrooge to examine his life and his conscience, subjecting him to painful memories and eliciting palpable remorse for his sins against humanity and his own heart. To bring the stakes of this supernatural intervention home, Sanders has "invisible" skeletal wraiths observing and assisting, ready to haul Scrooge off to perdition at any moment, should he fail this test.

If anything, Candlelight's Scrooge! has most in common with medieval morality plays. It has a theme that is a lot bigger than Kermit or Mickey Mouse Cratchit can handle. In fact, though this is a family-friendly show, the sensibilities are geared much more toward adults than children, and some of it is meant to be scary.

The book, lyrics and music are by Leslie Bricusse, who explored similar themes of reviewing a misspent life in Stop the World I Want to Get Off, and is also responsible for Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Doctor Doolittle, and The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd. His book is not exclusively Dickens. Bricusse interprets and rephrases when necessary, to get to the heart of each scene, but the sequence of events is consistent with most versions. He wisely excises Dickens' social justice diatribes. Scrooge! is about personal redemption and transformation, not social engineering.

In addition to the phantoms, Sanders has done some very imaginative work with casting. Eric Heine ably plays both young Ebenezer and his nephew, emphasizing a family resemblance and the consequences of two different paths taken. Lisa Kay Carter is splendid as not just the ghost of Christmas Past, but a ghost of Ebenezer's Past. Brilliant choice. Elliot Clough is wonderful as the blustery Ghost of Christmas Present, with Annie Dwyer and Scott Hurst, Jr. as the effervescent Fezziwigs. Kent Sugg is truly terrifying in his "jaw dropping" performance as the ghost of Jacob Marley.

With such weighty emotional and spiritual stakes, the music is more than up to the task of carrying us along. Sure, there are the "celebration" numbers, like "Thank You Very Much," "December the 25th," and "The Minister's Cat," but there are many more introspective, thoughtful, achingly lovely tunes, like "Christmas Children," "Happiness," "The Beautiful Day," and "I'll Begin Again." In a stroke of utter genius, Ebenezer has a duet with "himself," in "You--You." Unforgettable.

I own the DVD of the original film and bring it out every year or two, but I intend to get the soundtrack and listen to it over and over again. It's that good. And even better than my recollection of the film's soundtrack.

Sure, some of the costumes look a little anachronistic, and several of the British accents are all over the place (surprising since Candlelight just closed Mary Poppins. Seriously, get some dialect tapes!) But Bricusse's deep themes and rich score, combined with Burron's truly exceptional performance and Sanders' masterful direction brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.

Ultimately, this is a show about repentance and making restitution, but also learning to love again, to forgive others and oneself, and to embrace mankind as family. It's about choosing life instead of death, light instead of darkness.

Scrooge! The Musical is as close to the true Christmas spirit as any secular show is going to get.

SHOWTIMES: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, & Saturday Evenings: Dinner Seating at 6:00 PM, Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday Matinee: Dinner Seating at 12 noon, Show at 1:30 PM; Sunday Matinee: Dinner Seating at 12:30 PM, Show at 2:00 PM. Weekly schedules vary during holidays. For the complete list of performances, visit our website. 

TICKETS: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $55.95 - $64.95 (based on day of the week); Child (5-12) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.95 (any performance); Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.95 (any performance); Adult Show-Only Tickets: $33.95 (any performance, seating restrictions)

WHERE: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534


REVIEW: 'Elf, The Musical,' through Dec. 23, Arvada Center

Mark Devine and Josh Houghton - Matt Gale Photography
ELF—The Musical, based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, is like a holiday plate loaded with Christmas fudge—it’s sweet, sticky, chock full of nuts, and lacking any lasting value, nutritional or otherwise. The musical offers all the sensational delight of a massive sugar rush, complete with the inevitable after effects of fatigue and vague dissatisfaction.

The Arvada Center’s giddy and gorgeous production of the musical about a 30-year-old man child who has outgrown his home at the North Pole and journeys to New York to learn about family and the real world, runs through Dec. 23. ELF—The Musical, based mostly but not slavishly on David Berenbaum’s screenplay, features songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, with book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. 

Josh Houghton and Colin Alexander

Buddy (Josh Houghton) is a former orphan stowaway raised by Santa (Colin Alexander) and his Christmas elves. He’s a misfit in every sense at the North Pole, and his hyperactive immaturity resounds even louder in the Big Apple, where he harasses a depressed Macy’s employee (Leslie Hiatt) into liking him, stalks and torments his unethical biological father (Mark Devine), and sabotages his dad's career. Buddy maniacally disrupts the status quo wherever he goes, yet in the end everything seems to work out, because Christmas.
Fans of the film will be surprised by how many beloved gags, scenes, character developing, and relationship building moments are NOT in this two and a half hour musical. Corners and characters are cut, the plot is simplified, and solutions to conflicts come far too easily.

The second act opener boasts the only truly original scene, a departure from the film version, and features a chorus of disenchanted Santas who just aren’t feeling the Christmas spirit anymore. The number’s a riot, and mostly because it represents the polar (pun intended) opposite of Buddy’s ridiculously optimistic worldview.

While it’s going on, the show is tons of fun. It’s aimed low for the kids, and there’s no shortage of energy, with bright and shiny things abounding. Gavin Mayer stages the musical comedy with an eye to keeping everything fast and light. Laura K. Love’s colorful and animated watercolor picture-book set design is marvelous to behold. 

Naturally, the centerpiece of this confection is Buddy himself, and Houghton is a force of nature, with something reminiscent of Danny Kaye’s manic energy. At approximately six and a half feet tall and skinny as a rail, he towers over the rest of the cast. Houghton works his face and voice and body like a symphony of lanky, gangly comic buffoonery, though I’m not sure I caught a single genuine emotion. It’s almost like his unique talent puts him in the stratosphere, unable to relate to or connect with the rest of the cast, yet shining so brightly you can’t take your eyes off him.

Leslie Hiatt and Josh Houghton

Devine does yeoman’s work as the beleaguered children’s book publisher and sudden father of an odd duck indeed. Alexander also shines both as Santa and a curmudgeonly publisher. Hiatt is given very little to do (but does it well) as the unlikely love interest, and Sharon Kay White has several shining moments as an irrepressibly bubbly secretary.
The audience clearly loved ELF—The Musical. For me, it felt silly and superficial compared to some of the other holiday classics. It’s a lightweight musical comedy with enjoyable songs and a Christmas theme that is suitable for the whole family. 

Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, with matinées on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm, through December 23. Audience engagement events, including a weekly theatre salon, insider talkbacks, and happy hours with the cast, are held throughout the run of the production. To purchase tickets, and for additional details, go to https://arvadacenter.org/elf-the-musical or call 720-898-7200.


REVIEW: 'A Christmas Story, the Musical,' through Jan. 5, BDT Stage, Boulder

The comic-nostalgic holiday film A Christmas Story has been adapted into a stage musical. If you liked the movie, you will love BDT Stage’s heart-warming show about a young boy making that excruciating transition from little boy to tween in 1940s Indiana.

A Christmas Story, the Musical, plays at BDT stage through Jan. 5, 2019. The show is like a secular Advent calendar, where every few moments another window is opened to reveal a tender, mortifying, hilarious, exasperating scene, mostly involving Ralphie (Ned Swartz/Miles Shaw alternating performances), his kid brother Randy (Markus Hollekim/Hayden McDonald), and their parents (Joanie Brosseau-Rubald and Scott Beyette), as narrated by folksy radio personality Jean Shepherd (Wayne Kennedy), who may or may not have lived these adventures once upon a time.

All the favorite scenes from the movie are here, including Ralphie’s ongoing quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, the tongue on the frozen flagpole disaster, the garish leg lamp sweepstakes prize, pink bunny pajamas, and a deranged department store Santa. Naturally, there’s a song for nearly every episode, written by the creative team that brought us La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Greatest Showman.
If you like “dream ballet” sequences in musicals, this show has plenty, as Ralphie imagines various scenarios that would lead to the acquisition and use of the coveted BB gun. Interestingly, one of his first fantasies is being an armed first responder against a homicidal school intruder. Yes, there used to be a time when such an idea seemed innocent and harmless because it was so preposterous.

There’s a recurring theme here, that I especially appreciated. Ralphie’s BB gun is a metaphor for his desire to grow up from toys to something more than a toy, to be a hero, respected, competent, and that theme is revealed in nearly all his scenes, in various circumstances. His father’s quest to win crossword sweepstakes and be declared the “genius of Cleveland Street” reveals a parallel longing for significance and affirmation. The value of the family, with both mother and father, flawed but committed, is a welcome shoutout to traditional values and the stability they provide.

Beyette and Brosseau-Rubald really shine as the entirely sympathetic, fully human yet somehow idealized parents. While Mom is both canny and nurturing, The Old Man is irascible yet fun. Far more than just a narrator, Kennedy’s Jean Shepherd is the consummate storyteller, holding nothing back yet embracing it all, reliving the vagaries of childhood, yet having grown wiser from the experience.
Alicia K. Meyers has several great numbers as the prim teacher Miss Shields, who proves to be far brassier than she at first lets on. There’s an adult ensemble that fills in the spaces. That might have been Bob Hoppe in the Santa suit. Whoever it was, brought the house down.

But really, this show belongs to the kids, and not just Ralphie and Randy. The children are all absolutely terrific, performing several show-stopping numbers and otherwise just being kids. I saw Ned Swartz on opening night, and he easily carried the show. What a trouper!

The songs are fun, the dancing is great, and Beyette’s direction is extraordinary, along with McKayla Marso’s choreography. Beyette in particular has brought tremendous sensitivity to a “traditional” family’s most vulnerable moments, and elicited outstanding performances all around, especially from Kennedy. 

With all the bits and pieces that comprise this musical pastiche, everything holds together remarkably well.

A Christmas Story, the Musical is a funny, heartwarming holiday classic suitable for the entire family. BDT Stage’s excellent production, along with the delicious dinner, is the perfect opportunity to make your own cherished Christmas season memories.

BDT Stage’s production of A Christmas Story, the Musical run through Jan. 5, 2019. Tickets start at $45 and include both the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for information and reservations.


REVIEW: 'Atomic: The New Rock Musical,' through Dec. 1, Equinox Theatre at The Bug Theatre

Equinox Theatre Company has scored a direct hit with the politically and ethically charged regional premiere of Atomic: The New Rock Musical, about the conception, development, deployment, and emotional fallout of the atomic bomb.

Tuneful, thoughtful and emotionally complex, Atomic plays at The Bug Theatre through Dec. 1, with book and lyrics by Danny Ginges, music and lyrics by Philip Foxman, and directed by Patrick Brownson.

Hungarian Jewish physicist Leo Szilard (Brad Wagner) hopes to harness nuclear power for the betterment of mankind, but the rise of Hitler ignites an arms race that quickly redirects Leo and his colleagues, including a by-the-rules Italian scientist (Colin Roybal as Enrico Fermi), a power-crazed zealot (Jack Mariotti as J. Robert Oppenheimer) and more to direct their energies toward military applications. Particularly chilling is the American pilot (Kade Fritzler as Paul Tibbets) who looks forward to flying the Enola Gay and dropping an A-bomb on civilians, for God and country.

Meanwhile, Leo's long-suffering lover (Holly Dalton as Trude Weiss) is an obstetrician who has devoted her career to bringing new life into the world, while following the complicated and conflicted Leo from Berlin, to Austria, to London, and New York.

Over the course of the musical, Leo evolves from political naïveté, to hawkish determination, to anti-bomb protestor, facing resistance, challenges and obstacles along the way. Should they build the bomb simply because they can? To stop Hitler? But once Hitler is defeated, the arms race that had been forged in the furnace of the Holocaust turns into a practical necessity and psychological inevitability. After all, what's the point of building a bomb that isn't used? Finally, devastating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ostensibly to ultimately save lives, leads to a global sense of panic, helplessness, and the dread of imminent annihilation.

Leo, who wanted to improve life on earth, tragically and inexorably helped create the means of destroying it, and must live with the consequences.

Thematically, the show is reminiscent of the political musicals of Bertolt Brecht, while the songs, arranged for keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, violin and cello, sound remotely similar to the likewise political works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Even so, the creators have their own voice, with moments of sublime pathos and irony.

Colin Roybal's abstract "exploded periodic table" set easily accommodates multiple locations over a span of years.

As thoughtful as Atomic may be, the emotional stakes are high throughout. Wagner gives a compelling performance as the endlessly frustrated Leo, a science nerd who isn't comfortable playing God, but can't seem to help himself. Dalton brings the heart to this heady business as Trude, grounding Leo but trying not to hold him back. Most of the other characters are alternately antagonistic or sympathetic, depending on the story's needs.

I can see Atomic: The New Rock Musical finding notable success at small regional and experimental theatres, and especially in college theatre departments. It's important for younger generations to grapple with and grasp the difficulties that were faced in the 1930s and 1940s, and how the fallout from those decisions and events frame and inform the global problems we face today.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, also 7:30 pm Nov. 29. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door/$17 for groups of six or more in advance only. The Bug Theatre is located at 3654 Navajo St, Denver. Tickets and information: www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.


REVIEW: 'Cannibal! The Musical,' through Oct. 27, Bug Theatre

Before South Park, before Team America, before The Book of Mormon, back when they were students at CU Boulder, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (uncredited) wrote and produced a musical comedy film based on the events leading up to the trial and conviction of Alferd Packer for cannibalism during the Colorado Gold Rush. Cannibal! The Musical became a cult classic, and was later adapted for the stage.

The Bug Theatre is presenting this stage version through Oct. 27 at the quaint and period-perfect Bug Theatre, located in north Denver/LoDo.

Despite any dark and gory expectations, Cannibal! is a witty, tongue-in-cheek musical comedy. It almost feels like children's theatre for adults, with R-rated language and a few mature references. Under the capable comic direction of Deb Flomberg and Alex Weimer's whimsical, Minecraft-inspired set design, Cannibal! is a surprisingly life affirming, feel-good show.

There isn't a mean-spirited bone in Alferd's (Mike Moran) body, and he is far from the bloodthirsty maniac of lore. Sure, he survived by consuming the flesh of his traveling companions, but hey, they were already dead and he was really, really hungry.

Anna Sturtz and Mike Moran 

Alferd is roped into leading a group of goofball and doofus miners (Wade P. Wood, Matthew Davis, Jeremy Atkins, Koby Adams and Cam Leonard) from Utah to Breckenridge, and from the outset, everything that could possibly go wrong does. Survival instincts are absurdly lacking, while their hapless guide bounces between woefully incompetent to dangerously distracted by the loss of his beloved (perhaps TOO beloved) horse Liane (Larissa Flemming).

The hungry band's wanderings bring them to an encounter with three mocking trappers (James Crapes, Joseph Graves, Jack Mariotti), a trio of "Klingazonian" warriors (Caroline Fink, Larissa Flemming, Alysha Rowzee), and a cyclops with a disgusting weeping eye (Linn Davidson).

But really, they are their own worst enemies, and weeks of isolation, starvation and desperation bring out the best in some and homicidal tendencies in others. 

Packer tries to explain all this to Polly (Anna Sturtz), an intrepid reporter from Denver.

Several of the songs are deliciously tuneful and memorable, including the hilariously optimistic "Shpadoinkle Day," the character-revealing "That's All I'm Asking For," the inappropriately affectionate equine love song "Ode to Liane," and my personal favorite, the gloriously giddy "Let's Build a Snowman."

Wade P. Wood, Koby Adams and Matthew Davis 

The cast is really strong, but what stands out most for me is Flomberg's direction, and how she takes material that may be construed to be dark or ironic and plays it straight, just as it should be for maximum comic effect. There are some brilliant sight and prop gags, and the timing of the gags is spot on. This show is a real crowd pleaser, and it reveals the seeds of genius that we have come to recognize in America's most courageously subversive and consistently funny conservatives. Between and amongst the nearly non-stop laughs, Cannibal! The Musical gives us plenty of wry and witty observations on human behavior, in easily digestible chunks.

Performances of Cannibal! The Musical are Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM. There will also be a $10 industry night on Thursday, October, 25. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door/$17 for groups of 6 or more in advance only. All performances will be at The Bug Theatre at 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets and more information available online at www.bugtheatre.info.


REVIEW: Funny Girl, Evergreen

The Broadway musical season of 1963-64 had two major contenders for the Tony Awards, and both featured breakout roles for quirky, domineering leading ladies. Hello, Dolly with Carol Channing beat out Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand in every category. But both are terrific musicals with a hit parade of memorable tunes, and deserve to be part of the regular musical theatre repertoire.

Plus, only one of them is based on a remarkably mostly-true story.

Trevor Warren and Colleen Lee 

Ovation West Musical Theatre (formerly Evergreen Chorale) brings the glamorous days of the Ziegfeld Follies back to life at the Center Stage Theatre in Evergreen, through Oct. 7. The show is thoughtfully and creatively directed, features a multigenerational cast, nearly 500 costume pieces, and a stellar performance by Colleen Lee as the original, inimitable Fanny Brice.

In this somewhat biographical musical, Fanny, daughter of Jewish immigrants, has trouble breaking into show biz because she doesn't fit the early 1920s idea of a "classic beauty." (Her bosom is likened to a couple of lentils.) Through determination, grit, luck, and a little influence from a roguish Ken Doll-type professional speculator named Nicky Arnstein (Trevor Warren), the homely songstress leaps from burlesque variety acts to the big time with the Ziegfeld Follies, using goofy comedy bits and an oddball personality to offset her unremarkable appearance.

When she isn't working, all she can think about is being onstage. But when she's onstage, all she desires is a real, family life. Fanny wants it all, but learns, to her own heartbreak and Nicky's, that for celebrities, it's just not possible to truly be both on-the-road and at-home.

Ian Kisluk and Colleen Lee 

The musical also includes the talented Dave Cameron as Eddie, whose unrequited love for Fanny never gets in the way of helping her every step of the way. His is a touching, tragic role. Like he could never just find another good Jewish girl and settle down. Instead, he gives it all to see that she gets ahead. 

Christine Kahane plays Fanny's tough but warm mother, who knows when to comfort and when to challenge her daughter. 

Ian Kisluk is a hoot as the much put-upon producer who gives in to the persuasive Fanny's will at every turn, and develops an ulcer to go with his box office gold. Barb Porreca makes the most of a plum role as the feisty neighbor Mrs. Strakosh, who dispenses wisdom and sass in equal measures.

The real Fanny Brice 

I think it's tremendously ironic that Lee, who is absolutely gorgeous, should be cast as Fanny. Here's the thing. Despite her acting and singing talent, Fanny had trouble getting cast in both chorus and leading roles because of her meeskite face. Lee, because of her superior acting and singing talent, has been cast DESPITE her good looks. She absolutely shines as Brice throughout a detailed and vast character arc and a bunch of show-stopping solos. The only way I could reconcile seeing that lovely face on a character who is treated by everyone as an ugly duckling is to acknowledge that Lee is excellent in the role, sings and acts the dickens out of it, and so her flawless mug is simply a reflection of Brice's inner beauty. I know, that's reaching. But what else can you do?

Special mention goes to director Timothy Kennedy, who creates and maintains an insightful and unifying "back stage" concept for the multi-scened, multi-set musical that extends from the pre-show announcements ("Don't sing along with the songs!"), through a fully staged overture, throughout the set changes, and into the curtain call. This is not a case of just barely getting the show up on the boards and hoping for the best. He has tight control over every scene, every moment. His choices are outstanding and revelatory.

Speaking of songs, there are some terrific standalone hits, including "I'm the Greatest Star," "People," "Don't Rain On My Parade," and more. There's no real effort for the songs to sound true to the period style. It's too bad Brice's biggest hit "My Man," or her other chart buster "Second Hand Rose" didn't make it into the score, even though she introduced both during the Ziegfeld Follies. Fortunately, both are available on YouTube.

The book for Funny Girl is by Isobel Lennart, with music and lyrics by Julie Styne and Bob Merrill. Musical direction for this production is by Christine Gaudreau, with choreography by Rachael McWilliams Lessard. Davis Sibley gets credit for the spectacular costume design. 

If you, as I did, can overlook the star's unfortunate appearance, you'll fall head over tap shoes for Ovation West Musical Theatre's Funny Girl.

Ovation West Musical Theatre (formerly Evergreen Chorale) presents Funny Girl through October 7 at Center Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen, CO, 80439. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $30 Adults; $26 seniors (62+), $20 Youth (18 and under), $25 groups of 10 or more and available by phone 303-674-4002 or online at www.ovationwest.org.


REVIEW: Disney's The Little Mermaid, through Sept. 8, BDT Stage

Cole LaFonte, Alicia K. Meyers, and Lillian Buonocore start in
BDT Stage's enchanting production of Disney's The Little Mermaid 

BDT Stage has pulled out all the stops with its summer production of Disney's The Little Mermaid. The show is bursting with creativity and talent, the design elements are phenomenal, the casting is outstanding, and the direction is endlessly innovative.

Most of all, the production is absolutely magical. Especially for kids...but not only for kids.

All of the Disney Broadway musicals are packed with theatrical magic, but this one adds the extraordinary added dimension of taking place primarily UNDERWATER. The design team dove in head first and created otherworldly undersea sets, props, costumes, wire rigging, and lighting. It's like gazing into a gigantic aquarium.

Except there's also a story.

Winsome Ariel (Lillian Buonocore) is a mermaid who is fascinated by the strange and exotic land above the ocean. Her interest takes a quantum leap when she notices the dashing, seafaring Prince Eric (Cole LaFonte), and curiosity turns to mad love after she saves him from drowning. She'll do anything, sacrifice even her lovely voice for a chance to join Eric on dry land.

Both Ariel and Eric have disapproving parental figures. Ariel's tender yet grave father King Triton (Scott Severtson) is overprotective to the point of paranoia because he believes people with legs killed his wife. Eric's fussy and punctilious advisor Grimsby (Brian Burron) niggles Eric to settle down and rule the land.

Ariel has several allies, including the lovesick Flounder (Chas Lederer), whose character arc takes a very dark turn, cautious Caribbean crab Sebastian (Anthony P. McGlaun), and goofy gull Scuttle (Bob Hoppe).

Purloining a page from Greek mythology, Triton's estranged and tentacled sister Ursula (Alicia K. Meyers), lurking in the dark and dangerous depths with her hench-eels (Brian Jackson, Matthew D. Peters), hatches a nefarious plan to use Ariel as the unwitting instrument to bring about the Sea King's destruction and claim his throne.

Scott Beyette has an uproariously funny cameo as a French chef with an eager cleaver.

The hit songs from the acclaimed animated film are all there, including "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Poor Unfortunate Souls," and "Kiss the Girl," along with many other songs written for the stage version that aren't nearly as memorable, but aren't bad.

The show hit only a couple of snags for me, and they are mostly inconsequential. Since the actors playing the various animals were in full makeup and costume, the use of puppets seemed redundant and even distracting at times. Also, Ursula's tentacles just hung limp, blending in with her dress. A few feet of fishing line and a couple of bracelets could help bring them to life and add to the character's roiling menace.

Other design elements bordered on genius, including the use of wires/flying, projections, light up jelly fish, and soaring sea turtles and stingrays. The gigantic clam shells, Ariel's stash of dubious treasures, and the lateral-sailing ship were marvelous.

Here's a list of some of the designers and artists who contributed to this fully unified vision: director/choreographer Matthew D. Peters, scenic design Amy Campion, costume design Linda Morken, hair and wig design Debbie Spaur, lighting design Brett Maughan, puppet design Karel Hermanson, projections Anna-Marie Monzon, flying design Troy Trinkle, and music director/conductor Neal Dunfee, along with many other artists and technicians. And special thanks also to producer Michael J. Duran who green-lit the ambitious and expensive-looking production.

The show is loads of fun, but a heads up to parents: with a seating time of 6:15 pm, curtain at 7:45, and a running time of more than two and a half hours, it's a very late night for the little ones. The Little Mermaid really is worth staying awake all the way through. And, you can have your picture taken with the stars afterwards. I took a pre-emptive nap and was glad I did.

BDT Stage's gorgeous and giddy production of Disney's The Little Mermaid definitely has legs, and deserves to play to full houses all summer.

Tickets for Disney’s The Little Mermaid start at just $43 and include both the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Group rate tickets and season subscriptions are available for all performances throughout the year. Call (303) 449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations.


REVIEW: Dear Brutus, through June 3, Upstart Crow at the Dairy Arts Center

Joanne Niederhoff as Joanna Trout, Jeremy Barns as Mr. Purdie and
Victoria 'Tory' Green as Mabel Purdie in The Upstart Crow's production of
Dear Brutus by J.M. Barrie. Photo by Paul Campbell. 

The Upstart Crow's production of Dear Brutus is a winsome and romantic period piece, with a touch of melancholy and a measure of mischief.

Eight guests of the mysterious and childlike dreamer Lob (Mark Lewis) gather for a sociable evening that has a current of resentment, regret, jealousy, and disappointment seething just under the faltering facade of good breeding. But all rises to the surface in a topsy turvy night of role reversals, awakenings, and enlightenments when they venture into an enchanted wood on Midsummer's Eve.

Mark Lewis as Lob 

Their host, it seems, is in actuality Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and he does a number on these middle aged couples not unlike what he does to the young lovers in that other fantastic comedy.

But this is post World War I England, not the age of Elizabeth, so isn't so much about couplings, but reevaluating the courses of lives that are well into their middle years. And rather than having all made well at the end, the characters are given the opportunity to actually change--though most realize that they probably won't.

A shameless philanderer (Jeremy Barnes) discovers that it doesn't matter whether he's faithful to his wife (Victoria "Tory" Green) or his mistress (Joanne Niederhoff), he's still a rotter. A pilfering butler (Tom Mann) realizes that whether a servant or a financial tycoon, he'll always be a crook. A husband of thirty years (John W. Roberts) recognizes that though he'll never amount to much, he's found true love with his wife (Cherry Ramsdell-Speich). In the saddest vignette of all, a dissolute artist (Alex Markovich) meets the precocious and quizzical daughter (Lauren White) he might have had except for his loveless marriage to a grasping former model (Kristy E. Pike).

With self-knowledge comes the possibility of change. Barrie isn't particularly optimistic about the outcomes for these characters, but there's always hope.

Alexander Markovich as Mr. Dearth
and Lauren White as Margaret 

The play is insightful and intriguing, but also structurally flawed. The father/daughter scene dominates the second act far out of proportion, and Lob remains a cypher, a device to justify the fantasy rather than a true agent of change. It's possible that all of this could actually be HIS dream.

Dana Padgett's direction excels in both the staging and character development. Richard Bell's set design is perfectly attractive, and his method of bringing an enchanted wood onstage is ingenious. Joan Kuder Bell's costumes are lovely.

Like many early 20th century plays, Dear Brutus (the title is taken from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and refers to how our character determines our fate) is seldom produced. But it's not like other drawing-room comedies from the period. Barrie is experimenting with something more ethereal and sublime. He explores the nature of free will and the possibility of true happiness, but isn't able to escape a vague feeling of missed opportunities tinged with regret.

Performances of Dear Brutus are 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, through June 3. Tickets start at $25. Seniors and Students (with ID) $21. Thursdays are Name-Your-Price Night: No set price or suggested donation. Audiences are asked to leave an amount of their choice (No reservations accepted; first come, first served). To purchase tickets for any performance, visit The Dairy Box Office or call 303.444.7328. For more info email info@theupstartcrow.org or visit www.theupstartcrow.org. The Dairy Center for the Arts is located at 2590 Walnut St. in Boulder.


REVIEW: Ain't Misbehavin, through June 17, Town Hall Arts Center

The Littleton Town Hall Arts Center's stylish production of the Fats Waller musical revue Ain't Misbehavin' is snazzy, saucy, and very, very safe.

As safe as a cruise ship dinner show, and pretty much performed for the same upper middle class, white-haired and white-skinned audience you'd expect to find on a prestigious ocean liner.

Ninety years ago we'd have taken a cab uptown from Manhattan wearing tuxedos and ball gowns and gone "slumming" to listen to these songs in gin joints and the Cotton Club.

Not much seems to have changed other than the dress code.

But I couldn't help wondering how the cast felt performing for a sea of exclusively white faces. I wondered what they enjoyed singing when it wasn't for "The Man."

These singers are tremendously talented. Each seems to effortlessly move from solo artist to blending harmoniously in group numbers.

The cast includes Randy Chalmers, Krisangela Washington, Leonard Barrett Jr., Mary Louise Lee, and Rajdulari Music.

I especially enjoyed Chalmers' dance moves, and Barrett is and always has been the "coolest cat" in Denver. Washington, Lee, and Rajdulari each have their solo specialties, and all five have been assigned the most appropriate songs for their style, which number nearly thirty separate and distinct pieces.

Special mention goes to scenic designer Michael R. Duran for the cabaret club set, Terri Fong for the sparkly, suave and sexy costumes, and music director Donna Kolpan Debreceni who also plays piano and leads the six-piece live band. Director Bob Wells has inserted a lot of comical "shtick" and energetic moments to remind us that this is all in fun, and everyone's here to forget our problems for awhile and have a good time.

And we do.

All the music for Ain't Misbehavin' is by Thomas “Fats” Waller, working with various lyricists. The revue was conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. & Murray Horwitz. Some of the songs are still very familiar: "Honeysuckle Rose," "The Joint is Jumpin'," "Spreadin' Rhythm Around," "Your Feet's Too Big," "Fat and Greasy," "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." Others deserve to be better known.

All the songs, even the "sad" ones are somehow upbeat and lovely. Only once is the audience asked to go a little deeper into potentially uncomfortable territory, as the cast sits motionless on stools and sings about what it's like to wake up "Black and Blue." Wow. It gave me goosebumps, and I had to wonder where else Waller's music could have taken us if he had enjoyed true artistic freedom instead of banging out eight bars of pop music for $50 a song.

As the cast repeatedly asks, "One never knows, do one?"

Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs through Sunday, June 17, 2018. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 6/2 and Sundays at 2 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. on 6/10).

Reserved seat tickets are currently on sale, priced $24.00-$44.00 at the Town Hall Arts Center box office, 303-794-2787 ext. 5 (Monday - Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 Hour prior to Shows) or on-line at townhallartscenter.org/misbehavin. In a continuing effort to make plays at Town Hall Arts Center accessible to all, ten value seats at $10 each will be made available on a first-come-first-served basis one-hour prior to each published curtain time.


REVIEW: District Merchants, through June 24, Miners Alley Playhouse, Golden

Playwright Aaron Posner has taken Shakespeare's problematic The Merchant of Venice, embraced the troubling themes of anti-Semitism and racism, and created a play that is almost entirely his own.

The thoughtful, searingly dramatic, and surprisingly funny regional premiere of District Merchants plays at the intimate Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden through June 24.

The play is set in Washington, DC during the 1870s. Slavery has been abolished, the Civil War is over, and Reconstruction is underway. It's a tumultuous time where America and its people are redefining their identity and place in the world. Immigrants struggle with assimilation and acceptance, and those who were oppressed attempt upward mobility in a society that is not exactly encouraging or welcoming.

Successful yet pessimistic immigrant Jewish businessman Shylock (Chris Kendall) tries to shield his impetuous daughter Jessica (Amy Elizabeth Gray) from the wily world. But she quickly falls prey to the smooth-talking charms of Finneus (Sean Michael Cummings), a predatory vegetable-seller fresh off a boat from Ireland. The Irish Catholic surprises himself by actually falling in love with the girl. But he wants her father's treasure, too.

Born a free black man, Antoine (Cris Davenport) has become prosperous and influential through war-profiteering and re-investing his gains in his own community. He's embraced the American way, but unfortunately that also includes allowing decisions based on emotion to lead him into crushing debt.

The product of the union between a slave and her master, Bassanio (Sinjin Jones) finds that though he identifies as black, he can pass as white, giving him access to an entirely different world of opportunities, including the entitled heiress Portia (Candace Joice). Portia, when not shuffling through her list of suitors, pretends to be a man so she can attend classes at Harvard Law School.

Finally, two black servants (Isaiah Kelley and Kristina Lorice Fountaine) find ways to work within the limitations of their social status to influence others, affirm their own dignity, and even find love.

The primary action of the play, like Shakespeare's version, is built around Antoine's indebtedness to Shylock, and Shylock's insistence on exacting a horrific penalty for Antoine defaulting on the loan.

But Posner is in no hurry to tell the story. He's much more interested in fleshing out every single character so we are sure to understand the complexity of the situation and the motivations behind their choices and behavior. The action is repeatedly paused so all eight characters can explain to the audience where they came from, how they feel about what's going on, and why they feel that way, along with giving regular updates when things change. There are countless instances of these extended expositional inner monologues, and after awhile they become tedious.

I've got to give credit to Posner for thoroughly leaning in to the painful themes of Shakespeare's play, and discovering a palpable nearly-modern equivalent for an American audience. His understanding of Shylock is particularly discerning and sympathetic. The fullness of each character's development is both the strength and the weakness of the script, which feels rough and inconsistent, with too many anachronisms in the dialogue, and gimmicky theatrical interruptions.

The entire Portia/Bassanio conflict is too drawn out, overwritten and overacted. This is basically just a romantic interracial subplot, but the characters writhe in overwrought anguish as Portia tries to overcome incapacitating White Guilt, while Bassanio never stops complaining about how there's some kind of conspiracy unfairly rigging things so black people can never succeed. The character stakes are simply too small for this kind of protracted soapbox rhetoric. Meanwhile Shylock and Antoine are fighting for their very humanity and survival, respectively.

Still, District Merchants is tremendously insightful and thought-provoking. Director Len Matheo has done a tremendous job staging a play that has uncommon depth and emotional complexity. I daresay that District Merchantsis more successful in searching the human condition and facing difficult truths than the more melodramatic Merchant of Venice.

I've made no secret about criticizing "woke" theatre companies (like Colorado Shakespeare Festival and others) that gleefully bend the genders in casting or torture Shakespeare's text to make a political statement and promote their own social justice agenda. My response is usually, "Just write your own damn play." Well, Aaron Posner has, and I applaud his formidable achievement.

Miners Alley Playhouse presents the regional premiere of District Merchantsthrough June 24 in Golden. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30p.m; Sundays at 2:00p.m. Tickets are $15 - $38 and available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com. Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Avenue. Golden, CO 80401.


Review: 'Sunday in the Park With George,' through May 6, Arvada Center

Before I tear Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park With George to shreds and stomp all over the pieces, I want to say, most emphatically, that the Arvada Center's current production is a musical marvel of direction and design. It's both precise and gorgeous to look at, rivaling the painting for which the show is titled. 

If you enjoy Sondheim's distinctive musical style, this is a must-see, a rare and lovely production of a seldom-staged show.

But, from a musical and especially a storytelling perspective, it's no masterpiece.

The performances are excellent, most particularly Emily Van Fleet as the emotionally starved professional mistress Dot, Cole Burden as the obsessive and narcissistic painter George Seurat, Jeffrey Roark as an envious rival and more successful artist, and Robert Michael Sanders as the Boatman, a crusty, profane, and seething voice of realism.

Most of the other characters, while distinctly rendered and given their own brief numbers, are flat suggestions, caricatures of the Parisian bourgeoisie. There's also an anonymous ensemble whose only purpose is to fill in the blank spaces. But as Seurat, consumed with the idea of applying scientific principles of light and color to his work says, "I'm not painting faces."

The first act concerns Seurat's crusade to develop a new, scientific style of pointillism, the creation of his large-canvas painting of a park scene in Paris, and the people who make up the blurry, hand-pixelated figures thereon. His current model and on-again off-again lover Dot is actually the bittersweet protagonist of the show, as she struggles to break through Seurat's obsessive self-involvement and cruel neglect to try and build an actual, real-life human relationship.

But the vigorously anti-social Seurat demonstrates repeatedly that he is incapable of connecting to humanity. The character is entirely unlikeable and unsympathetic, unless you cling to the trite romantic notion of the visionary artist/martyr. Seurat and his vision make him less of a holy victim to his muse, and more akin to Dr. Frankenstein performing suspicious experiments in his basement laboratory, totally regardless of the pain he causes those who care for him.

The second act, which no one ever asked for or wanted, sticks out like a third ear. It begins with a shameless rip-off of the second act "it's hot" opening number from The Fantasticks. Then everyone runs backstage to quickly change hair, makeup, and costumes for what is essentially an entirely different show. Or three.

Set 100 years later, Act II concerns Seurat's grandson (also Burden), whose super-technological work as a creator of loud and obnoxious laser-light sculptures has stagnated. His quest for novelty leads him back to the basics of form and design. The act morphs from a biographical info dump about Seurat's life and career to an urbane art world satire, then a ghostly fantasy. It breaks all its own rules of continuity and left me scratching my head. This is arguably the WORST way to resolve the perfectly fulfilling yet somewhat sad ending of the 90-minute first act.

Sondheim's music is like liver and onions. You either love it or hate it, but there's not much in-between. Perhaps in an attempt to stay true to the pointillist point of view, much of the score is staccato or repetitious, with phrases beginning or ending with the same word ad nauseam. I lost track of how many times the name "George" or "Mama" was used as meaningless punctuation. And the grocery list rhyme scheme of the lyrics felt lazy and hackneyed, like thirty-three-year-old proto-rap.

I've never been a fan of Sondheim's music. To me it sounds like the singer hit the wrong note, and then I realize that it was intended to sound like that. The melodies and harmonies aren't attractive or beautiful. You have to work at listening to them, and just like Seurat's paintings, it's possible to appreciate the complexity without feeling emotionally engaged. For me, the score became tedious, especially once I realized that the plot and characters were going to lockstep through all the cliched "struggling painter and yearning sullied girlfriend" tropes.

Still, I want to give credit to director Rod A. Lansberry. Translating the two-dimensional arrangement and perspective of Seurat's painting to a three dimensional space must have required very precise and detailed measurements along with meticulous staging. And he deserves special thanks for allowing Van Fleet to thoroughly explore and express all the quirks and heart-breaking complexities of Dot, providing us with a stellar and memorable performance.

The design team is also to be highly commended. Brian Mallgrave (scenic design), Shannon McKinney (lighting), Diana Ben-Kiki (wigs and makeup), and Clare Henkel (costumes) have done an outstanding job.

In my opinion, the look of the Arvada Center's version of Sunday in the Park With George is the best reason to see the show.

Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, with matinees on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm, through May 6. Audience engagement events, including a weekly theatre salon (registration required), insider’s talkbacks, and happy hours with the cast, are held through the run of the production. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/sunday-in-the-park-with-george or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. and provides free parking for its patrons.


Review: 'Kiss Me Kate,' through Apr. 15, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

Kiss Me Kate, with book by Samuel and Bella Spewack and music and lyrics by the legendary Cole Porter won the very first Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949. On the surface, it's an old-fashioned, lightweight "backstage" musical comedy about squabbling theatre people putting on a tune-filled version of William Shakespeare's raucous comedy Taming of the Shrew.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's energetic, laugh-filled production of Kiss Me Kate gives the audience everything they could possibly hope for: outstanding performances by the leads and numerous supporting players, lovely costumes, fun choreography, colorful sets, and live musical accompaniment. Also, the food was good.

But under the extraordinary direction of Robert Michael Sanders, there's so much more for the discerning theatergoer to discover.

Like the play it's based on, Kiss Me Kate depicts mature relationships in a way that may make some people squirm. There are no love-at-first-sight romances here. The two couples are struggling to repair damage and move forward through seemingly insurmountable obstacles. 

Leading actor and auteur Fred Graham (Scott Hurst Jr.) hires his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Heather McClain) to play Kate to his Petruchio in a musical version of Shrew. He's still in love with her, even though he'd been unfaithful--most recently with the peroxide blonde, gold-digging chippy Lois Lane (Lisa Kay Carter) who is two (or three or four or five) timing him with the second leading man, hoofer and compulsive gambler Bill Calhoun (Bob Hoppe).

The rough and tumble reconciliation between Fred and Lilli parallels the vigorous wooing of Petruchio and Kate from Shrew. And in an intriguing additional parallel, Lilli's current relationship with an overbearing general (David L. Wygant) also mirrors the Petruchio/Kate dynamic.

Meanwhile, the fiscally irresponsible Bill must decide whether or not to stay with the faithless and philandering Lois, knowing that she will sleep with anyone and everyone who can further her stage career, shower her with gifts, or show her a good time. True love may triumph for one of the couples, but there will be no cozy suburban home with a white picket fence. These are worldly and urbane show people who must continually fight to maintain a balance between their conflicting egos and pride.

Large selections of Shakespeare's play make up a significant portion of the show. So much so, in fact, that I suspect the creators originally considered a musical Shakespeare production before coming to their senses and turning it into a backstage musical. The Shakespearean portions are performed in a declamatory, gesticulating style that could wear thin if that's all there was to the show. Two characters, in particular, Hattie (Sarah Grover) and Paul (Leo Battle) are given big numbers "backstage," even though their participation in the "onstage" musical is marginal. There's also a spectacularly funny subplot involving two comical gangsters (Brian Murray, Eli Stewart).

Nearly all of Cole Porter's songs are lovely and lyrical, though several have way too many verses. But who's going to tell the great Cole Porter to stop coming up with clever lyrics? Not me. Some of the hit songs, which may be better known than the musical itself include "Another Openin' Another Show," "Why Can't You Behave?" "Wunderbar," "So In Love," "I Hate Men," "Too Darn Hot," "Always True To You In My Fashion," "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," and more.

I have a special fondness for Taming of the Shrew, having performed in a college production of the comedy way back when. The tempestuous courtship between Petruchio and Katherine has never been politically correct, and it's always interesting to see how a director interprets and depicts an ultimately happy and mutually respectful relationship that has been forged in exchanges of verbal and physical abuse.

Sanders brings maturity and insight to a production that while not exactly advocating how love wins out, at least presents it honestly and without judgment. 

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's charming, sumptuous, and insightful production of Kiss Me Kate has something for everyone to enjoy, at even the deepest levels.

SHOWTIMES: Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Sunday Matinees -‐ Dinner seating at 12:30 PM; Show at 2:00 PM

TICKETS: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 ‐ $62.95 (based on day of week); Child (5‐12) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.95 (any performance); Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.95 (any performance); Adult Show-Only Tickets: $29.95 (any performance; seating restrictions)

WHERE: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534) I‐25 at Exit 254.

For more information, or to purchase tickets online, visit www.ColoradoCandlelight.com, or call the Box Office at 970-744‐3747.


REVIEW: 'Something's Afoot,' through March 25, Littleton Town Hall Arts Center

Town Hall Arts Center's Something's Afoot is an amusing, attractive musical murder mystery spoof with the body count of a Tarantino film. It's witty, charming, and totally tongue-in-cheek. The cast is so good I was actually sorry to see them go, one at a time, as they were knocked off in succession by ingenious booby traps.

A hit parade of Agatha Christie character types arrives at a secluded mansion, only to discover that their host is quite, quite dead, and all the telephone wires have been cut. A sudden flood prevents their leaving but doesn't stop a handsome and mysterious stranger (Carter Edward Smith) from showing up on the doorstep. Furthermore, each person in the house shares odd connections with the rest.

Coincidence? I think not!

Neither does Tweed (LuAnn Buckstein), who is an aficionado of cozy parlor mysteries and starts gathering clues, motives, opportunities, and alibis.

Matt LaFontaine gives a stellar performance as the dissolute Nigel who sulks, skulks, and swills liquor until locating a missing will. Then he prances, dances, leaps, and spins in song-filled exultation. His charisma is astonishing.

Ben Hilzer is a hoot as Flint, the randy caretaker who's handy when it comes to fixing generators, but can't keep those crafty fingers to himself. Jane Simonds is the lovely but not-terribly-bright maid who is the frequent object of Flint's fixations.

Lynzee Lee Jones plays the ingenue with doe-eyed innocence and blossoming love for the handsome and earnest uninvited guest. But is she too good to be true?

Tim Fishbaugh is particularly funny as the military man with a ginger mustache on his stiff-upper-lip who once had a vaguely-memorable dalliance with a haughty yet obliging noblewoman (Eryn Carman).

Tim O'Connell plays the physician Grayburne, whose primary function is to pronounce a victim's death, right up until he joins the ranks of the expanding room temperature crowd. Eric Fry has an extended cameo as the butler, who most certainly "didn't do it."

Members of the ill-fated weekend getaway drop at an alarming rate. The corpses are dragged off and stacked up in the library. Sure, you're not supposed to tamper with a crime scene, but the survivors need space to be able to stand somewhere, not to mention sing and dance, while they figure out "who's doin' it".

The plot thickens like congealing gravy until a series of "big reveals" that honestly, don't make a whole lot of sense. It doesn't matter, though, because everyone is having so much fun. The onstage murders were so brilliantly staged and performed, I wanted to cry out "Die again! Die again!"

This kind of sly, slightly satirical but still sweet comedy is ideally suited for the talents of longtime Denver comedy director Bob Wells. Susan Ramsdorff-Terry's costumes are period-perfect. Special congratulations to scenic designer Michael R. Duran and props designers Rob Costigan and Bob Bauer for creating an elegant playground filled with mischievous surprises.

With only eleven Music Hall type songs, most of which were there to set up a "muhduh," it was easy to forget Something's Afoot is actually a musical. But the pre-recorded music sounded "canned" anyway, so I suppose that's for the best.

Something's Afoot is much lighter and fluffier than the aggressively comedic Clue: The Musical and not nearly so manic as some other mystery spoofs like The 39 Steps. It demands little from the audience but pays off generously with countless delightful, if ultimately vapid moments, interspersed with vivid and memorably comic death scenes.

Something’s Afoot runs through Sunday, March 25, 2018. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 3/10) and Sundays at 2 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. on 3/18). Reserved seat tickets are priced $24.00-$44.00 at the Town Hall Arts Center box office, 303-794-2787 ext. 5 (Monday - Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 Hour prior to Shows) or online at townhallartscenter.org/somethings-afoot.


Review: 'Sleuth,' through March 11, Vintage Theatre

Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth is one of those thrillers where the less said about the plot, the better. Vintage Theatre and Lowry's Spotlight Theater's whimsical, maniacal production is so good, I don't want to spoil a thing. Suffice to say, that even with a lesser script, this exceptional cast and brilliant director could wring out a must-see show.

Wealthy and successful mystery writer Andrew Wyke (Mark Rubald) invites his wife’s lover Milo Tindle (Brandon Palmer) to his country estate, where their battle of wits quickly turns sinister. The two play an often hilarious, abruptly menacing, and ultimately deadly game of cat-and-mouse, as they seek to turn the tables on one another and walk away with an ephemeral prize. 

The dialogue is loaded with irony and double entendres. It's disconcerting to hear jokes originating from anger, jealousy, and contempt, and laughing anyway.

Oneupsmanship is the order of the day, and yet Rubald and Palmer have such a rapport and are so generous in their performances, it's almost as if the actors are working against their own characters to boost the others' mastery of the game. Wyke begins with the home-court advantage, but Tindle rises to the challenge. Rubald gives a tour de force performance as the seasoned game-player, with malice aforethought. Palmer bides his time and ends up giving as good as he gets.

It's all deliciously wicked fun, with inevitably lethal consequences.

The show has so many twists and turns, the term "Sleuth virgin" has been coined as a way of distinguishing those "in the know" from those who have yet to experience the myriad surprises. This is my third time seeing Sleuth, and it's easily my favorite, beating out even the Laurence Olivier/Michael Caine 1972 film version.

Kudos to director Bernie Cardell for bringing out such layered performances and pacing the show like a fencing match. Alex Polzin's set design in the Vintage Theatre's intimate space is exceptional, and I want to give special mention to whoever arranged the Hollywood-caliber special effects involving gunplay.

Sleuth is about much more than two men butting heads over a patently unworthy trophy woman. It raises questions about racism, class bias, and even the worthiness of mystery fiction. The facts, Tindle warns Wyke, are never as tidy as the fiction. In Sleuth, no one is truly innocent, and the reality of revenge isn't nearly so much fun as the seeking.

Vintage Theatre and Spotlight Theatre present Sleuth through March 11. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays and Monday, February 19 and Thursdays, March 8 at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Tickets are $16 - $32 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


Review: 'Sense and Sensibility,' through May 6, Arvada Center

Kate Hamill's innovative adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is more fun than it ought to be.

Under the ingenious direction of Lynne Collins, the ensemble plays not only the sprawling cast of upwardly and downwardly mobile and painfully eligible middle-class bachelors and bachelorettes, but also dogs, cats, and barnyard animals.

They also wheel the scenery around at a dizzying whirlwind pace.

Austen's tale is the rags to riches story of two single sisters (Regina Fernandez, Jessica Robblee) who are exiled from the upscale social scene of London to the quaint provincial country life after their father dies. Their only hope for restoration to urban bliss is to marry well, and if possible for love. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim amongst the less than idealized romantic heroes (Zachary Andrews, Geoffrey Kent, Lance Rasmussen).

Collins brings a frenetic pace and staging conventions most often associated with children's theatre to the play, which double and triple casts the actors in so many roles that it becomes tricky for all but the most ardent Austen fans to follow who's who at any given moment. Adding to the chaos is how the same actors don neutral top hats and bonnets to change the set, and often sit in the audience, watching and commenting on the action.

It's as much fun as a roller coaster or a Tilt-A-Whirl until we realize that poor Marianne and Elinor really are miserable, and powerless to do anything about it except to either suppress the pain or stand in the rain, catch a fever, and hope a dashing gentleman rides by to save them (which happens twice).

The needs of the story eventually put the brakes on the carnival atmosphere. But since we've never truly cared about the characters as actual flesh-and-blood people with real problems, their emotional outcries seem forced. Why worry about things like marital bliss or wretched spinsterhood when an actor could just lope on stage, wag his tail, roll over, loll his tongue out and let you scratch his belly (which happens several times)?

Personally, I like this presentational-style theatrical trend, which includes The 39 Steps, Peter and the Starcatcher, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I'm a huge fan of children's theatre too, and it's good for adult audiences to get caught up in that same kind of exuberance. 

But it comes at a cost, and in the Arvada Center's version of Sense and Sensibility, it means sacrificing character depth and audience empathy for the thrill of surprise and discovery.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinées on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., through May 6. Post-performance audience talkbacks will be offered on Friday, February, 16 and Wednesday, March, 14. Chats with the Cast are offered before and after every performance. These are informal discussions held in the Black Box Lobby, give patrons the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the play. To purchase tickets go to https://arvadacenter.org/sense-and-sensibility or call 720-898-7200.


Review: 'Rumors,' Spotlight Theater, through Feb. 3

Neil Simon's 1988 comedy Rumors is funny. Really, really funny. But Lowry's Spotlight Theater's current production, under the spectacularly gifted direction of Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry and featuring a dream team cast of some of Denver's most talented comedic and dramatic actors, is even funnier than the script would suggest.

The first act, in particular, is rib-achingly hilarious, as eight rich, well-educated New York professionals stumble through various impediments and awkward situations in an increasingly complicated effort to deflect embarrassment, gossip, rumor, or scandal. Naturally, their efforts have the reverse effect and intensify all four outcomes.

Four couples are invited to a tenth-anniversary dinner party for their friends Charlie and Myra (who are never seen). Myra is inexplicably absent, and Charlie is upstairs in the spacious upscale apartment, having shot himself through the earlobe in an inept suicide attempt.

Chris and Ken (Abby Apple Boes, Mark Collins) are first on the scene but are quickly followed by Claire and Lenny (Haley Johnson, Bernie Cardell). Cookie and Ernie (Katie Mangett, Claude Diener) follow a bit later, while Glenn and Cassie (Andy Anderson, Molly Turner) bring up the rear.

It's so much fun to watch these neurotic socialites agonize over what to do and what not to do. Simon does a superb job of introducing the cast one couple at a time and creating ingenious ways to clear the stage so everyone has a memorable moment to display their quirky and dysfunctional coping mechanisms.

The homogeneity of these middle-aged, upper-middle-class white couples is painfully, hysterically obvious. They all share the same doctor, drive the same type of car, belong to the same clubs, and feel that they are rightfully entitled to their comforts, having actually worked for them. Even their names share odd similarities. Sure, some of the attitudes toward marriage and social status are a bit cynical, (Simon was going through his third divorce at the time of writing) but they really do care about Charlie's health and reputation. These are basically good, albeit incompetent people.

Which makes it all the more hilarious when their elaborate lies become ever more ridiculous and complicated as the evening wears on. And since nearly all are suffering some kind of physical impairment at one time or another, there are plenty of opportunities for laugh-out-loud slapstick humor. My personal favorites were watching Cardell maneuvering with whiplash, Mangett's quirky chirpy back spasms, and Collins' temporary deafness, and there are some funny tipsy real housewives moments, too. Cardell performs a show-stopping monologue that proves that when it comes to comedy, he is Denver's own Nathan Lane. Meanwhile, there are one-liners galore.

The second act sags just a bit, all the way down to the level you would expect from a typical hit comedy. When two police officers (Dan Connell, Kelly Alayne Dwyer) arrive investigating a stolen car and the sound of gunshots, the clueless and confused guests try to work together. It's more fun when they are at odds with each other, but their antics are still highly entertaining.

I know it's way too soon to declare Rumors "The Best Comedy of 2018," but Lowry's Spotlight Theater sure sets the bar, and the laugh quotient high.

Rumors are that the show is selling out quickly. Don't delay. Get your tickets right away. Rumors is the perfect "couple comedy" for people in their "professional" years.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, with additional performances on Jan. 15 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. (No performance Feb. 2). Tickets $12-$25 and available at www.thisisspotlight.com or by calling 720-530-4596. The John Hand Theater is located at 7653 E 1st Pl, Denver, 80230.


Review: 'The King and I,' Buell Theatre, through Jan. 14

At its deepest level, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, like South Pacific, is about a white western woman who finds herself in an exotic locale, fails to understand or respect cultural differences, tries to impose her own morality on others, and unwittingly causes irreparable harm to a soon-to-be-conquered indigenous people.

But there are also adorable children, a love story, memorable songs, spectacular choreography, and large helpings of humor to make the tragedy more palatable. 

The King and I, playing through Jan. 14 at the Buell Theatre, is based on the updated 2015 Lincoln Center Theater revival of the classic musical. It doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of the story and is thoroughly entertaining without dipping too deeply into the reservoir of cuteness, schmaltz, or sentiment. The cast of mostly Asian performers adds an element of authenticity to the production but also highlights some of the weaknesses of the material.

Anna, a British widow in the age of Queen Victoria (Madeline Trumble) agrees to work for the King of Siam (Jose Llana), serving as the tutor for a handful of the monarch's wives and children. Lord only knows what has happened to the multiple wives and nearly six dozen children who displeased the king. Let's just say Amnesty International would have a field day reporting all the human rights abuses committed by this surprisingly likable dictator.

The King has the power of life and death over his subjects and wields it capriciously. He expects to be treated like a god. But he's also curious about the "scientific" approach to understanding the natural world and western style of leadership. The clash of ancient tradition and European modernity proves his undoing, and he dies, leaving a weak, immature Crown Prince (Anthony Chan) to face the onslaught of the French and British Empires, who are quickly divvying up the Far East for their own profit and exploitation.

Meanwhile, a slave/concubine (Q Lim) arrives as a gift to the King from Burma, but she loves another (Kavin Panmeechao). Their ill-fated affair proves to be the King's tipping point, immediately following an extraordinarily staged and palpably political balletic interpretation of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Much of the show is devoted to Anna and the King butting heads and eventually working out a truce based on mutual respect. She's a fighter and won't back down on her Christian British principles, even though they simply don't apply in Buddhist Siam (Thailand), where all men are not created equal, and where polygamy and slavery are the norms. 

Anna, with her hoop skirts and progressive attitudes, is an outsider, almost an interloper amongst the mostly-Asian company dressed in traditional Siamese clothing. The casting of this production emphasizes the "otherness" of Anna among the Siamese. So it's startling when the doomed Burmese couple sing songs that would fit right in with a Nelson Eddy/Jeanette Macdonald film set in the Yukon.

That's the flip side of ethnic-appropriate casting. Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical depiction of the Siamese is uncomfortably akin to Gilbert and Sullivan's treatment of the Japanese in The Mikado. The King of Siam is essentially a cultural descendant of Genghis Khan. He is a tyrant who is to be feared, even worshipped, but never truly loved.

Optimistic sentiments about "whistling a happy tune" and "getting to know you" aren't going to cut it.

I found this production of The King and I to be tremendously thought-provoking, visually stunning, and beautifully performed. Recommended for all ages.

Tickets start at $30. Visit www.denvercenter.org for information and to purchase tickets.


2017 Theatre Reviews

Review: 'Waitress,' Buell Theatre, Dec. 19-31


The promoters of Waitress, the musical based on Adrienne Shelly's film (2007) currently playing at the Buell Theatre, would like you to believe that their Broadway musical production isn't just a theatrical equivalent of a "chick flick," and that it crosses the gender divide with its universal themes.

Don't believe it, guys.

Unless you prefer baking pies to eating them.

And ladies, don't pretend that this is a feminist show about empowerment, either.

Unless that power comes from embracing your biological imperative to reproduce.

But if you can set aside these two extremes, Waitress is fun and entertaining, in the way 9 to 5 and Mamma Mia! are enjoyable. These are female-centric, mid-budget musicals about how women feel about themselves, with some romance and a couple of idiotic men thrown in for good measure.

Newly-pregnant Jenna (Desi Oakley) is stuck in a loveless, stifling marriage to a violent manchild (Nick Bailey). Luckily, she has the support of the other waitresses at Joe's Diner, including a big, bold black woman (Charity Angel Dawson) and a mousey nerd with glasses (Lenne Klingaman). The cook (Ryan G. Dunkin) is a growly teddy bear, and the pie shop/diner's owner (Larry Marshall) is a lovable curmudgeon.

In an appalling breach of medical ethics and common sense, Jenna's neurotic and quirky-cute married gynecologist (Bryan Fenkart) seduces the hormonally challenged waitress by complimenting her pie. But it's okay, because...well, I don't remember why, but the women in the audience cheered their sex scenes on the examination table.

An uber-geek (Jeremy Morse) woos the nerdy waitress with over-the-top goofiness.

The birth of Jenna's baby brings about an instantaneous change to her generally moping, sometimes wistful, occasionally ecstatic, but always erratic mood swings. Even so, Jenna's happy ending is literally handed to her from a completely unexpected, yet entirely predictable source.

Because, after all, she is the queen of goodness and sweetness.

All the major and supporting characters have their spotlight songs. Some of the tunes are really fun and mostly memorable. The most inspiring number actually has the power to induce labor.

A chorus of fashionably dressed and beautiful urbanites inexplicably keep showing up at the remote southern pie and coffee shop that literally screams out "sugar and gluten". Where are the rednecks and truck drivers?

The celebrated all-female creative team (hired by fifteen male and five female producers) is some kind of first. A greater achievement would be for no one to notice, and for there to be no need to make a big deal about it. Still, due credit goes to the book (Jessie Nelson), music and lyrics (Sara Bareilles), director (Diane Paulus), and choreographer (Lorin Latarro).

Waitress is billed as "an uplifting musical celebrating friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie".

And like a delicious pie, it's probably better to just enjoy it and not think about what's really inside along with all those tantalizing ingredients.
Run Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission
Ticket Price: Starting at $25. Prices vary by date and availability.
Age Recommendation: 13+ Contains mature themes
Advisory: No strobe-lights are utilized in this production

BOX OFFICE: 800-641-1222
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 am-8 pm
Sun 10 am-6 pm


Review: 'Annie,' BDT Stage, through Feb. 24

Annie has never been my favorite Broadway musical, with its terminal cuteness, cloying songs, and simplistic plot and characters, but BDT Stage's production won me over.


Based on a politically loaded newspaper comic strip that ran from 1924-2010, the issues of child welfare and Depression-era economics add a welcome layer of substance to the story of a red-headed orphan (Darcy Keating/Lily Gruber) who longs for a family, and a wealthy industrialist (Wayne Kennedy) who regains his humanity in time for Christmas.

It's America's Depression-era version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Or last generation's ELF.

Other than runaway Annie's plucky optimism, and Oliver Warbucks' surly hemming and hawing until his heart softens, there's not a whole lot going on.

A crook (Scott Beyette) and his doxie (Danielle Scheib) hatch a scheme to exploit Annie and defraud Warbucks. Comic kingpins Brian Burron and TJ Mullin seize a couple of memorable moments and laughs as FDR and a butler.  The grubby little orphan girls stomp around the stage and grin. A dog that doesn't care a whit about being in a show begs for treats.

The chorus and other supporting characters mostly stand to the side and gaze admiringly at Annie and Warbucks.

And then there's Annie Dwyer as the gin-besotted, little girl-despising foster mother Miss Hannigan. Dwyer has perfected her frowzy onstage persona, and it's a perfect fit for this role. The audience is right there with her as she lurches around the stage, pulls a flask of gin from her bosom, and scowls at the too-terribly-cute urchins. Genius performance. And casting.

Credit director Alicia K. Meyers for pulling this all together.

Nearly all the songs are hummable: "Maybe," "It's a Hard-Knock Life," "Tomorrow" ... and that's just the first three! Come on. You know them all. "Little Girls," "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "N.Y.C." "Easy Street," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." The hits go on and on, and they burrow their way into our brains like earwigs.

Personally, I don't think this show presents much of a challenge for the extraordinarily talented BDT Stage artistic team and ensemble, but Annie certainly is a family-friendly, holiday-themed crowd-pleaser.

Tickets for Annie start at $43 and include both the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations.

Playing in repertory with Annie is Motones vs Jerseys, a cabaret-style musical revue performing on Sunday evenings, Mondays, and Tuesdays, and featuring music from Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Beach Boys, and more.


Review: 'Beauty and the Beast,' Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, through Feb. 14

I'm guessing that everyone who reads this review already knows the story of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the animated film that became a Broadway musical, then re-booted as a ghastly but insanely profitable CGI-based live action movie, and all of it inspired by a French fairy tale about a woman who ends a curse through unconditional and sacrificial love.

So what's so special about Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production, playing in Johnstown through February 14?

Pretty much everything.

Let's start with Katie Jackson's Belle, the beautiful, book-loving oddball protagonist. Jackson's rich, mellifluous voice can melt butter. While other Disney princesses are busy being cute/chirpy (Little Mermaid), or belting out obnoxious, overwrought empowerment anthems (Frozen, Wicked), or sounding like a hastily trained little girl (Emma Watson), Jackson brings vocal range, warmth, and grace to the role. Her rendition of "Is This Home?" has haunted me for days.

Kalond Irlanda's Beast is an athletic, prowling, leonine presence. He effortlessly skulks and leaps around the castle battlements. The staircases must have been built for the rest of the cast because he has no need of them, and in his transformation scene, eschews gravity altogether. He absolutely nails the Beast's transformation from a brooding baby to a caring individual. It's not enough for him to fall in love. He must sincerely want what's best for Belle, even if it costs him everything, and Irlanda is more than up to the task of bringing the message home.

The superior casting of this production also includes the magnificent Joanie Brosseau-Rubald as Mrs. Potts, the only other character in the show besides Belle who isn't an emotional preschooler or psychopath. Her maturity and gentleness are as reassuring as a cup of warm chamomile tea. Even if the tea is brewed in her abdominal cavity and poured out her arm.

Eric Heine's Gaston is a burly bully, but also a pompous nitwit, which helps lessen the character's brutality. As his punching bag sidekick Lefou, Ethan Knowles adds a bit of Harpo Marx goofiness to the pratfalls and slapstick. Bob Hoppe plays the "flame buoyant" ladies man candlestick Lumiere with panache. He's not just smooth. The superb dancer adds precision and punctuation to his fluid movements, and he literally lights up the stage.

David L. Wygant is amusing as the tightly-wound and supercilious Cogsworth, Harmony Livingston is all fluff and feathers as Babette the frolicsome feather duster, and Samantha Jo Staggs makes a formidable opera-diva chest of drawers.

In addition to a great cast, albeit with an uncharacteristically small ensemble, there are nine live musicians in the orchestra pit. The wigs, costumes, and sets are, as usual, first-rate. Co-directors/choreographers Jessica Hindsley and Kate Vallee have reinterpreted a couple of the numbers, especially "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest," which was a welcome surprise. As an added plus, the theatre is wire-equipped for flying, which will also come in handy when they produce Mary Poppins in September.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast is family-friendly entertainment, and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production is truly outstanding. It's a welcome tonic for those of us who were disappointed with the recent film version. 

Candlelight even sells light-up roses to anyone who wants to participate in the magical moment of the Beast's regeneration.

Would that we all could.

Dinner and show tickets can be purchased by calling Candlelight’s box office at 970-744-3747, or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com.

Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Sunday Matinees -‐ Dinner seating at 12:30 PM; Show at 2:00 PM. Specially added show times in December include select Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday Evenings

Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 ‐ $62.95 (based on day of week); Child (5‐12) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.95 (any performance); Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.95 (any performance); Adult Show-Only Tickets: $29.95 (any performance; seating restrictions)

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534); I‐25 at Exit 254


Theatre Review: 'Disaster!', Equinox Theatre at The Bug Theatre, through Dec. 2

If you love the cheesy "Mother Nature's revenge" movies of the 1970s and 80s, and the disco kitsch music from the same period, Equinox Theatre's regional premiere production of Disaster! is right up your alley. The loud, over-the-top jukebox musical parody, referencing nearly forty hit songs and nearly as many pre-CGI calamity flicks, is crashing through The Bug Theatre like a flaming, flooded, rocking and rolling runaway passenger train through Dec. 2.

It's loads more fun than Geostorm, The 5th Wave, and San Andreas combined, and all the special effects are practical. Cheap and ridiculous, but practical. And that's the key to Disaster!'s irresistible appeal.

In Disaster!, a hodgepodge of colorful, two-dimensional characters winds up on the Barracuda, a hastily constructed casino/disco cruise ship moored precariously to a New York pier. A waiter (Rob Riney) and an investigative reporter (Holly Dalton) try to find their way back together after a bad breakup.

A nun (Jessica Sotwick) with a gambling addiction and a drag queen (Preston Adams) with a purse dog discover they have much in common, especially while playing the slots. A devoted middle-aged couple (Eddie Schumacher and Brooke McNamara) try to enjoy their twilight years as their world is literally turned inside out and upside down. 

A single mom lounge singer (Chelsea O'Grady) wants to find a husband for herself and father for her two squabbling kids (Katelyn Kendrick), but unwisely casts her eye on the lying, cheating, corner-cutting casino developer (Patrick Brownson).

A prophet of doom scientist (Brian Trampler) strives to warn of impending catastrophe.

But where would be the fun if everyone heeded his advice and evacuated in an orderly manner?

Everything that could go wrong goes horribly, hilariously south in a hurry. It begins with a disco-dancing induced earthquake, but there's fire, flood, and any number of deadly creatures to contend with--not to mention the inevitable personal relationship issues. There are chaos and carnage around every corner, and the multiple deaths and near-misses are laugh-out-loud funny in their wig-flipping ingenuity.

The pop songs also bring in big laughs, as they are shoe-horned into scenes with clever lead-ins. Their familiarity adds to the participatory party spirit. Sometimes it's just a chorus for reference, but who doesn't want to hear "I Will Survive" as the piranha-infested waters rise and chandeliers come crashing down around us? And there are more than three dozen of these songs! Good grief, they even found a way to fit "Muskrat Love" in there.

With a budget taken from the petty cash drawer, directors Deb Flomberg and Colin Roybal have achieved a triumph of goofy vision and surprise-filled creativity. Some said it couldn't be done. Some said it shouldn't be done. But Equinox Theatre did it anyway, and it's far from being a Disaster! 

Or, that's exactly what it is, but in a good way.

Disaster! is by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, concept created by Seth Rudetsky and Drew Geraci, additional material by Drew Geraci.

The Bug Theatre is located at 3654 Navajo Street, Denver. For more information, visit http://www.equinoxtheatredenver.com/. Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2706371

Theatre Review: 'The Foreigner,' Arvada Center, through Nov. 18

Larry Shue's The Foreigner is a popular play for school drama programs and amateur productions. The comedy features vivid characters, requires only one large single set, is packed with clever dialogue, and overflows with nearly non-stop physical humor. There's an uplifting theme about accepting people who are different, another against bullying, and the opportunity to watch an underdeveloped personality blossom, unfold and achieve actual heroism.

What's not to like?

Just wait until you see what can happen when this show is performed by consummate professionals! The Arvada Center's Black Box production of The Foreigner is like a master class in how to get everything exactly right.

Milquetoast Englishman Charlie Baker (Sammie Joe Kinnett) dreads spending a weekend at a quaint fishing lodge in Georgia, and the prospect of actually talking to people gives him palpitations. His Army buddy (Josh Robinson) comes up with the ridiculous idea of presenting Charlie as a foreigner who speaks no English and should be left alone.

Naturally, the locals do the exact opposite. The depressed and discouraged lodge owner (Edith Weiss) lights up at the challenge of welcoming a guest who has trouble communicating, becoming a persistent and irresistible force to draw Charlie out, and forcing him to respond in gobbledegook gibberish.

Current lodgers include a workaholic and charismatic pastor (Zachary Andrews), his faded debutante fiancee (Jessica Robblee), and her mentally challenged brother (Lance Rasmussen). Less accepting of the supposed sojourner is the redneck building inspector (Greg Ungar), who has nefarious plans to condemn the lodge.

As Charlie's fledgling personality expands to match the challenges, he brings out the best (and worst) in the others. It's all very funny and satisfying. One of my favorite scenes is a slapstick breakfast that rivals The Miracle Worker as the most complicated and carefully staged eating scene in American theatre.

Well-known and highly regarded local director Geoffrey Kent is the best possible person to helm this production. I've been watching his career for more than twenty years. His solid background in classical theatre, especially Shakespeare, has honed his skills in script analysis, enabling him to eke out every possible insight, interpretation and artistic choice available in the text. He's a certified fight choreographer, which gives him an instinct for staging safe but thrilling physical humor and gags. His direction of Waiting for Godot last season at the Arvada Center proved his talent for combining comedy and pathos. All this and more come together in his masterful staging of The Foreigner.

And of course, you need a clown of massive range for the title role. Sammie Joe Kinnett is the perfect Charlie Baker. He brings gentleness and vulnerability to the early scenes, manic desperation and panicked ingenuity in the middle, warmth and gratitude as his character matures, and even calculated cunning when confronting villainy. He wins the audience over immediately as the timid man who admits to being boring and lacking personality, has us laughing throughout, and by the end, we're cheering. The role has an unusually expansive character arc, and Kinnett doesn't miss a beat.

The supporting cast is rock solid, with special mention going to Andrews as a wolf in sheep's clothing, and Rasmussen as a parallel to Charlie, people who just need a little encouragement to step outside stunted expectations and discover their potential.

Scenic designer Brian Mallgrave had the unenviable task of converting a patently proscenium-style setting to a thrust stage configuration. The result is an oddball floor plan to maximize stage action and movement, dressed up with hyper-realistic props and bric a brac.

Larry Shue was a dinner theatre and regional theatre actor--along with being a playwright--and it shows, in the play's accessibility, popular appeal, and delightful roles. Sadly, he died in a plane crash at the age of thirty-nine, leaving us all to wonder what other scripts besides The Foreigner, and his other hit The Nerd, might have been.

The Arvada Center's Black Box Theatre production of The Foreigner is pure theatrical magic with a message. The show is selling very well. Two additional performances have been added, but don't delay in ordering your tickets.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinées on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., through November 18. Additional performances have been added on November 4 and 18 at 2:00 p.m. Audience talkbacks are held throughout the run of the production. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/the-foreigner or call 720-898-7200.

Theatre Review: 'Taking Tea With the Ripper,' Theatrix USA at Bovine Metropolis, through Oct. 31

Theatrix USA presents...

Taking Tea With the Ripper

through Oct. 31 at the Bovine Metropolis Theater

Jack the Ripper is back, and this time he's out for more than just blood. Taking Tea With the Ripper, Mike Broemmel's deeply disturbing one-man-play, speculates on the the kind of twisted, sexually depraved, rage-filled, misogynistic, and xenophobic madness that might drive a man to brutally murder perhaps as many as eleven women and savagely mutilate their bodies amidst the squalor and desperation of the Whitechapel district in Victorian London.

It's hard to watch, but even more difficult to turn away, thanks to a harrowing and haunting performance by Paul Escobedo as Ripper, and the insightful, unflinching direction of Evgueni Mlodik.

The mono-drama, which has been significantly upgraded since the last production, plays through Halloween at the otherwise giggle-gushing downtown Bovine Metropolis Theater.

Since no one was ever convicted of the legendary Jack the Ripper crimes of 1888, the author has selected one of the most likely suspects, and made passing references to several of the other possibilities. But Taking Tea is no police procedural or cold case exposé. Without contradicting any of the established facts, the play turns inward, painting a disturbing, blood-red portrait of madness run amuck.

In fact, the first act has very little to do with the crimes themselves, as Ripper, currently in between atrocities, waxes horrific on the proper making and serving of tea (the water must be VIOLENTLY boiling), fantasizes being buggered by King Henry VIII, expresses his distaste for "that bloated cow" Queen Victoria and in fact all women, spews venom at the influx of foreigners, and praises sexual liaisons with boy prostitutes.

It's the second act that gets really, really messed up (by comparison), as a blood-smeared, knife-wielding Ripper, hands deep in gore, rants over the corpse of his latest kill.

The subject matter and visuals are hard R-rated. There's a lot of blood, gore, a gaping abdominal cavity and the removal of organs. After the performance, a frightening number of audience members took gleeful selfies with Kevon Ward's crime scene-accurate mannequin. Most of the pornographic language is from the Victorian era and therefore sounds somewhat quaint.

And yet, shocking and horrifying as Taking Tea With the Ripper is, there's artistry in Broemmel's script, with recurring leitmotifs, a strong sense of cohesion despite the raving lunatic character, and even oblique social commentary about what happens when a cultural "melting pot" boils over.

The Director's Notes in the program prove Mlodik to be an astute dramaturg as well as fearless director.

Escobedo's performance as the insane and quite possibly possessed Ripper is scary, unpredictable, yet does not go over the top. There's no ham in this sandwich, which makes it all the more unsettling.

This isn't going to be everyone's "cup of tea," but for those with strong stomachs and a willingness to go way, way down the rabbit hole into the mind of a perverted, rage-filled madman, be ready for this show to come back home with you.

Taking Tea with the Ripper runs through October 31st at the Bovine Metropolis Theater. Remaining performances are at 7:30 pm on October 29 and 31; and 10:15 pm on October 27, 28. Ticket prices are $22 online, seating is limited.


Theatre Review: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' Evergreen Chorale, through Oct. 8

When Disney's animated version of Victor Hugo's classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame came out in 1996, I wasn't impressed. But something wonderful happened along the way to adapting the musical for the stage. Peter Parnell's book, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, was transformed into a medieval-style festival pageant, with lots and lots of choral music.

What a difference!

Evergreen Chorale, an amateur theatre company in a nearby mountain town, has gathered together an intergenerational cast of sixty singers, dancers, and actors to stage the musical's regional premiere, imbuing the production with a community-based spirit and sound that couldn't possibly be duplicated on a Broadway stage.

This is one of those rare musicals that eschews glorifying the individual in favor of celebrating an entire populace. Everyone is fully engaged and involved, and the tragic love story about a gypsy girl who is pursued by three wildly different men but rebuffs them all to her misfortune rises up in that context.

Parnell plays fast and loose with Hugo's text, but so have all the other writers who have tried to make the sprawling novel fit on a stage or the silver screen. (Including me.)

Esmeralda (Hannah Marie Harmon) attracts the unwanted attention of the pious but creepy and brooding archdeacon Frollo (Mike DeJonge). Also vying for her affection is the handsome, dashing soldier Phoebus (Brian DeBaets), who insists he's neither a good nor noble person and then goes on to prove it, despite frequently gazing heroically over the heads of the audience. And then there's Quasimodo (Adam Kinney), the tender-hearted, deformed and disabled bell ringer who mistakes Esmeralda's basic human kindness for affection.

I mean, what's a girl to do?

Really, Esmeralda's just trying to survive, and the unwanted attentions of these three men tragically make that impossible.

Guiding the audience and the Parisian masses through all this convoluted action is Clopin (Brian Trampler), who behaves like a jovial jester, but secretly protects the gypsies and beggars from persecution and pogroms.

That's a pretty sophisticated tale for what Disney originally presented as a show for kids.

But what really gives this musical its unique quality is the idea of presenting it as a pageant, like Jedermann on the steps of the cathedral in Salzburg, the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany, and the popular, amateur pageant plays of the middle ages.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is EVERYONE'S story, and it takes the whole town to tell it. Besides the cathedral backdrop, most of the action takes place in and around a versatile medieval pageant wagon, which becomes a stage within the stage, and stands in for multiple settings with the simple changing of a screen or by rotating the wagon. That was a genius move by set designer Biz Schaugaard, who must have taken theatre history once upon a time, and knew he needed to leave plenty of room for the enormous cast.

Sure, there may be a dozen credited speaking roles, but this show also boasts a chorus of gargoyles and statues, an ensemble of minstrels and storytellers, the choir of Notre Dame Cathedral (singing some glorious sacred music), and even a kids' ensemble.

The cantata-like choral numbers nearly swallow up the leads' occasional solos. And that's okay. They are individual voices arising from the tumult of a city on the verge of revolutionary change, and their passing, while noticed and marked, are mere ripples in the surging tide of Parisian humanity.

There's so much to like about this musical. I'm especially grateful it isn't irreligious. The show affirms being kind to others even if they are different from you and condemns using or exploiting people for selfish desires.

Director Timothy Kennedy and Artistic and Musical Director Christine Gaudreau deserve medals, ribbons, or maybe a parade for coordinating so many crowd scenes, so many singers, and so much music. I'm sure the gratitude of the cast itself will be overwhelming.

This really is an exceptional achievement for a local amateur company. Sure, there's a wide range of talent, experience, and ability, but that's kind of the point. There's room for everybody, and everyone's contribution is valued.

With all the friends and family of the actors, and with a relatively short run, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is likely to sell out. Make reservations for your family right away. This is one you won't want to miss.

The Evergreen Chorale presents the Regional Premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame through October 8 at Center Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen, CO, 80439. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $28 Adults; $24 seniors (62+)/Students, $17 children (12&under), $22 groups of 10 or more and available by phone 303-674-4002 or online at www.evergreenchorale.org.

Theatre Review: 'A Chorus Line,' Arvada Center, through Oct. 1

A Chorus Line, Broadway's self-congratulatory tribute to the nameless, faceless dancers who back up the stars, is now forty-two years old. Significantly, the Arvada Center opens its 42nd season with a perfectly cast, faithful reproduction of a hit musical that, despite the brilliant music and thrilling choreography, now feels a bit dated.

Seventeen hoofers of varying age, experience, and ability audition for eight background roles in an upcoming musical. The sadistic and manipulative director/choreographer (Stephen Cerf) isn't content with merely evaluating their abilities and suitability for his production. Instead, he forces them to publicly disclose their darkest secrets, insecurities, hurts, and aspirations. These "kids," who aren't terribly bright, come from horrendously abusive or dysfunctional childhoods. Several are barely past the confusing and embarrassing pubescent years. They are so desperate for affirmation, validation, and a place to belong, they lay everything on the line, knowing in advance that half of them will be rejected and pushed to the curb with a curt, impersonal "thank you."

The more we learn about these athletic supplicants, the more pathetic they become. With nothing to offer but their physicality, they hurl themselves headlong into an exploitative industry that treats them like cannon fodder, disposable and easily replaced. They have a ten-year window of opportunity to succeed before they become too old to be attractive, or physically break down. By the time they turn thirty-five, they're obsolete. And there's a flood of fresh young blood lining up behind them.

All of these immature and self-centered revelations, which are based on actual interviews with chorus dancers conducted by creator/director Michael Bennett, are set to Marvin Hamlisch's truly outstanding and memorable music, with lyrics by Edward Kleban. From the pulse-pounding cattle call song "I Hope I Get It," to the show-offy "I Can Do That" and "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three," to the lyrically introspective "At the Ballet" and "What I Did For Love," every song is a winner. Even the montages and dance numbers are lovely.

But the more these emotionally damaged characters disclose about their lives, the more it becomes a case of "too much information". This is particularly true of the extended sequences devoted to Cassie and Paul. Cassie (Dayna Tietzen) rose from the chorus into featured roles, squandered two precious years of potential work by going to Los Angeles, and now tries to restart an anonymous career in the chorus at the sunset of her usefulness. In an over-long dance solo, she demonstrates that she clearly isn't any better than the others, and never should have let the director/ex-boyfriend for whom she's now auditioning convince her otherwise.

Unlike the other dancers who wear form-fitting leotards, tights, or skinny jeans, Paul (Jake Mendes) wears the worst possible clothing for a dance audition--a "don't look at me" baggy hoodie, over-sized cargo pants, and sneakers.  He's also carrying horrendous psychological baggage and is instantly branded as the sacrificial lamb. Paul's devastating monologue, which is perhaps longer than the dialogue of all the other characters combined, wallows in shame and misery.

Other characters include a vulgar girl who crudely displays her surgical enhancements, a motor-mouthed preppie narcissist who just wants to be noticed, a tone-deaf dancer and her enabling husband, a pill-popping, sarcastic, nearly burned out chanteuse and more.

None has a viable exit plan or even an idea of what to do with their lives when they're in their mid-thirties and the Broadway dream dies.

Many theatre people love this show because they easily identify with one or more of the characters' background, professional insecurities, or desperate exhibitionism. But I found myself longing for less talk and more of the synchronous dancing and group numbers. As cold as this sounds, I wanted them to get over themselves and behave like a chorus.

Naturally, the dancing is outstanding. At times, breathtakingly beautiful. At other times, it's heart-breaking to watch individual dancers struggle to learn steps in styles they haven't mastered. The voices are all strong, except for the one who isn't supposed to be able to sing, though she never seems to mar the group numbers.

Four decades ago, I saw this show on Broadway. Even then, as an up and coming musical theatre actor, I wondered why anyone with a modicum of self-esteem would subject themselves to this kind of interrogation. Why didn't they just walk away? I figured it had to be a New Yorker/Broadway thing. Now, a generation later, this exact same lineup of broken hopefuls are the ages of my own children.

They still hope to "get it", which amounts to a moment to dance in the spotlight, wearing a golden top hat and tails. I guess this is Broadway's version of a "heavenly chorus". 

My fondest hopes for these damaged kids lies elsewhere.

Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., matinees on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., through October 1. Audience engagement events, including insider’s talkbacks and happy hours with the cast, are held through the run of the production. Please note – A Chorus Line is performed without intermission. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/a-chorus-line or call 720-898-7200.


Theatre Review: 'The Music Man,' Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown, through Nov. 5, 2017

Meredith Willson's hugely popular con-man musical The Music Man is as delicious as Wonder Bread smeared with grape jelly. At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, this unrepentantly old-fashioned war horse offers healthy helpings of songs, dances, corn pone humor, and characters lifted right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Wary of swindlers and wandering road warriors with samples in their valises, the gullible townspeople of River City nevertheless fall under the spell of the irresistibly charming Professor Harold Hill (Bob Hoppe). In classic salesman fashion, he creates a problem and then offers the solution. In this case, protect the young people from moral corruption by creating a marching band, complete with expensive instruments and uniforms.

Unfortunately, Hill provokes the ire of the mayor (TJ Mullin), and the skeptical eye of Marian the Librarian (Alisha Winter-Hayes), herself a victim of small-minded rumors and gossip. Though no one would actually call this motor-mouthed mountebank a savior, everyone Hill meets seems to become happier, more optimistic, and more willing to get along with others.

He may not be much of a band leader, but Harold Hill knows how to read people, appeal to their higher aspirations, and nudge them in the right direction. He simply won't take "no" for an answer, even to the point of stalking Marian. But if everyone wins in the end, what's the harm?

Hoppe's Harold Hill is slick as a greased skillet. His buoyant optimism may be mostly bluff and blather, but he's as irrepressible as a geyser. There's something almost unreal and doll-like about Winter-Hayes' Marian. But when she sings, spirits soar.

Mullin wins huge laughs as the sputtering, blustery mayor, and Annie Dwyer garners guffaws as his pretentiously posing wife. They may be fools, but Hill knows better than to underestimate them, so he keeps the power couple off balance with deflection, distraction, and dance.

Kalond Irlanda makes a strong impression as the eager juvenile delinquent from the other side of the tracks who falls for the porcelain but cutely cussing mayor's daughter (Sara Kowalski). There's a fantastic barbershop quartet, a gaggle of squawking townswomen, and a bunch of super-talented kids, especially Ryan Fisher as Winthrop and Sophia Hammon as Amaryllis. Samantha Jo Staggs' Mrs. Paroo is the most sensible person in town, but she mostly sits on her porch and spouts worldly wisdom with an Irish accent as thick as peat. Scotty Shaffer makes the most of his role as a reformed traveling salesman who revels in the show's most unnecessary, irrelevant, and strangely named song-and-dance number "Shipoopi".

The score is loaded with musical jokes that become memorable hit show tunes. Traveling salesmen chatter like a moving train. Middle-aged biddies cluck like hens. On several occasions, piano exercises and even the scales morph into fully-realized songs. Two songs, strong in their own right, are woven together. Willson, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, shows authentic mastery of the art by how effortlessly he manipulates composition, harmony, and counterpoint. Willson is the Harold Hill of Broadway composers.

Some of the songs are as irresistible and engaging as Harold Hill himself. "Ya Got Trouble" bowls over the townspeople like a runaway beer wagon. "Seventy-Six Trombones," and its seventy-six reprises, marches the audience right along with its enthusiasm. "Marian the Librarian" hits just the right balance between creepiness and social acceptability. "The Wells Fargo Wagon" is much more than product placement. It's the payoff for a full act's build up. "Gary Indiana" is cute but annoying, and "Till There Was You" is a heartfelt romantic duet. There's not a stinker or a clinker in the whole score, and Candlelight's pit full of musicians raises the roof with melodious sound.

Director/choreographer Ali K. Meyers keeps the pace sprightly. Some of the more emotional moments feel rushed, and both Winthrop overcoming shyness and Marian's decision to side with Hill felt skimmed over, but I suspect the relationships will blossom as the production settles in for the run.

Special mention goes to Michael Grittner's scenic design, boasting a veritable parade of wagons depicting Main Street USA at the turn of the 20th century.

The Music Man has earned the right to be as popular and often-produced as it is. Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production, including the most ambitious curtain call I've ever seen (except possibly Joseph/Dreamcoat), is the kind of wholesome entertainment that is the perfect way to extend a bucolic summer a few more months.

Next up in November: Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Dinner and show tickets can be purchased by calling Candlelight’s box office – 970-744-3747 or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com. Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534 (I-25 at Exit 254).

Showtimes:  Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Sunday Matinees -‐ Dinner seating at 12:30 PM; Show at 2:00 PM

Tickets: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 ‐ $62.95 (based on day of week); Child (5‐12) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.95 (any performance); Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.95 (any performance); Adult Show-Only Tickets: $29.95 (any performance; seating restrictions)


Theatre Review: 'In the Heights,' Town Hall Arts Center Littleton, through Oct. 8

NOTE: I will update this post as soon as production photos become available.

In the Heights is a Broadway musical-style celebration of a passionate community's effort to fulfill their dreams, rebound from disappointment, and hold together through love and determination as a flagging economy drains away the very things that give their neighborhood its unique character.

The show started out as a college project created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is Broadway's current golden boy with his hit show Hamilton. His music and lyrics are a fascinating mash-up of freestyle rap, salsa, quirky character numbers and Broadway ballads.

In the formerly Irish but now largely Hispanic Washington Heights, three local businesses are failing, and there's not much anyone can do about it. The little bodega market is a target for taggers, the beauty shop employees have no one to beautify except themselves, and a family-run independent cab service is laying off drivers.

Many of the residents, mostly second or third generation immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and various Caribbean locales, dream of escaping to a better life, fall into nostalgia for the way things used to be, or struggle with the despair that comes from knowing they're on a sinking ship without a lifeboat.

Even a winning Lotto ticket can't do much except offer a respite for a select few, but the spirit, the passion, the joy of life in the people can't be quashed. Everyone is literally dancing in the streets, day and night.

Sure, the characters are romanticized, and the poverty-stricken neighborhood is inexplicably crime- and drug-free, except when people get too worked up, party too much, and fall in love with exactly the wrong person. There's no problem that can't be overcome if people would just come together, claim their identity, affirm their solidarity, and talk it through.

The cast is terrific, and since this is mostly an ensemble show, everyone, even the guy pushing an ice cream cart, gets a solo. The characters are distinct and delightful, though it's sometimes hard to figure out familial relationships. But who cares? It's all about the village. 

Nick Sugar's direction and choreography are outstanding. The action keeps moving, with musical and dance interludes covering transitions between scenes. It really does feel like non-stop song and dance numbers, and the hot-blooded passion of the cast is contagious.

It didn't bother me that several obvious Anglos in the cast were playing Latino characters, even though this is a show about preserving and celebrating cultural and familial identity. One character is forced to confront the dynamic between protecting ethnic purity and committing segregational racism.

It was great fun to watch a mostly white, middle-aged suburban audience, who I imagine residing in gated communities overlooking golf courses, get swept along in the unbridled passions of people who live in run-down apartments with no air conditioning, are chronically underemployed, and carry top-tier smartphones they only pull out to use as flashlights when the power grid collapses.

It's a kind of culture shock. But the good kind.

In the Heights is pure fantasy, following the usual plot and character arcs, but the exotic varieties of music, the hot dancing, and the diverse cast offer a welcome appeal to breaking down barriers and finding our way together.

Town Hall’s production of In the Heights runs through Sunday, October 8, 2017. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 9/23) and Sundays at 2 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. on 10/1). Reserved seat tickets are currently on sale, priced $24.00-$44.00 at the Town Hall Arts Center box office, 303-794-2787 ext. 5 (Monday - Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 Hour prior to Shows) or online at townhallartscenter.org/in-the-heights. Group discounts available for purchasing ten or more tickets, please contact Corey Brown at cbrown@townhallartscenter.org or 303.794.2787 x 213. In a continuing effort to make plays at Town Hall Arts Center accessible to all, ten value seats at $10 each will be made available on a first-come-first-served basis one-hour prior to each published curtain time.


Theatre Review: "Dinner", The Edge Theater, through Sept. 17

Moira Buffini's ragout comedy Dinner is as unappetizing and unappealing as the playwright surely intended. The Edge Theater Company's production, under the direction of Scott Bellot, makes no attempt to render the plot, characters or theme more palatable. 

In other words, this is a very successful production of a play designed to give audiences theatrical indigestion.

Smug, mean-spirited Paige (Carol Bloom) glibly admits she brings nothing to the table in terms of generosity, goodness or compassion. Mostly she goes shopping and thinks of ways to hurt the people she despises. That means everyone, but most especially her husband Lars (Verl Hite), who has just published a successful pop-psychology book expounding the virtues of narcissism.

Paige hosts a dinner to celebrate, inviting a clueless microbiologist (Jack Wefso) his bitter newscaster wife (Samara Bridwell), and an old flame of Lars' (Emily Tuckman) who creates giant paintings of genitalia and calls it erotica.

Except Paige's idea of "celebration" is to serve vile and inedible "food" along with large helpings of passive aggressive insults, topped by a disingenuous smile.

For the most part, everyone else sits there and takes it. Or turns on each other. Which is exactly what Paige intended.

The arrival of a mysterious stranger (Sean Michael Cummings), who is either a delivery man or a burglar, but definitely from the lower classes, sets the pot to boiling. Meanwhile, a nearly silent waiter (Ronan Viard) remains steadfastly at Paige's beck and call, doing whatever she asks.

Bellot tries to make the most of a show that is mostly about people sitting at a table taking turns harping on about each other. Two of the cast spend most of their time with their backs to the audience, and sometimes actors walk toward the audience, stare off into space and act like they're giving a soliloquy--except they're not. This is a good cast. They deserve better.

Yes, the characters are interesting, and many of the insults are real zingers. Dinner holds the audience's interest, with large helpings of devastating revelations and surprises.

But as a playwright, I feel like the script itself is a mess. Yes, it won the British equivalent of a Tony Award for Best Comedy, but I think it's because the bubbling stew of influences from better playwrights made this play seem like familiar comfort food. Just off the top of my head, I saw a lot of the upper middle-class domestic comedy of Alan Ayckbourn, the looming menace of Harold Pinter, Beckett's aggravating impatience for things that never come (in this case a pizza), a weak nod to the erudite psycho-babble of Tom Stoppard, failed attempts to achieve the witticisms of Noel Coward, the morbidity of an Anthony Shaffer thriller, and even Agatha Christie's "stranded by fog" and other mystery tropes--but with an inadequate body count.

Most audience members won't care. But the playwright in me suspects that Buffini is a "pantser," who threw a bunch of characters into a room to see what would develop and had a vague idea for a three-act structure based on the courses of a meal. I'm guessing she wrote a first draft that was at least twice as long as the current version, trimmed and cut and spliced the best bits into a manageable length, and used a tedious "We need drinks" running gag to camouflage several of the obviously unmotivated, abrupt changes in direction. Characters who are on stage are forgotten or ignored by the playwright for long stretches, waiting for their chance to change the subject. That's an amateur's mistake.

Structurally, this play is a collapsed soufflé. Thematically, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I really struggled with this review, because I'm always looking for positive things to say about creative endeavors. Then, gradually, I came to believe that Buffini never intended for audiences to like her characters, or even to leave the theatre feeling satisfied. If that's the case, she delivered. 

But I'm not leaving a tip.


Theatre Review: Godspell, CenterStage Theatre Co. at Louisville Arts Center, through Aug. 6

It was a year later that newbie composer Stephen Schwartz's songs catapulted the show into the record books, launching his storied career, and ensuring that a stage musical with nearly all of its dialogue lifted straight from the Bible, would captivate audiences for generations.

CenterStage Theatre Company's youthful, exuberant production of Godspell, playing through Aug. 6 at the Louisville Arts Center, captures that original joy of discovery and delight in receiving the Good News. Director Jeanie Balch's interpretation is simple, clean, straightforward, and at times revelatory in its surprising insights into The Way.

The show plays like the ideal youth group meeting at the greatest Christian summer camp this side of heaven.

John the Baptist (Sadie Trigg, who also doubles as Judas) rescues a bunch of lost and hurting kids who are bewildered by the conflicting and confusing worldly wisdom bombarding them from their smartphones. She urges them to prepare for initiation into a new life, the Way of the Lord. But before they can be baptized, they must make a tremendous sacrifice--surrender their phones and all that the devices represent.

Cue guitar-playing youth minister/camp counselor/Jesus (Kevin Mackin), who introduces them to the Kingdom by using theatre games and improvisation to enact parables. One by one, his tribe of disciples is transformed by participating in his teachings (but no miracles), with many memorable songs interspersed.

It's all fun and games until the Scribes and Pharisees, threatened by the freedom offered by unconditional love, challenge the Messiah. Jesus gets angry at their heartlessness and legalism. Really, really, angry--like an idealistic young man frisked by the police at a soulless cathedral Easter service--and then things begin to fall apart.

There are a LOT of parables presented, and most of them are cute, imaginative, and insightful. The occasional ad libs and contemporary references don't hold up well in comparison, and a couple are downright off-putting, including a tasteless "priest and altar boy" quip during the Good Samaritan parable, and an unnecessary reference to healthcare.

But the real misstep comes with the Rich Man and Lazarus parable, in which the rich man (purposely unnamed in the Bible) is blatantly portrayed as not-president Donald Trump. It's not just that it garners a cheap, pandering laugh, or that it throws the audience out of the imaginary world the show has worked so hard to create.

The big message of Godspell is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Again and again, we are reminded that we will be judged by the standards by which we judge others, and forgiveness is not optional in the Kingdom of God.

And yet we are incited by the disciples to laugh with wicked pleasure at an actual person who has been condemned to writhe and suffer in Hell forever and who will soon be joined by his entire family. I'm sorry, but that's unacceptable in an otherwise loving and inclusive Christian show.

It took a long time for the musical to win me back. Balch's approach to the problematic crucifixion/resurrection scene, different from any interpretation I'd seen before, is pure genius. This Godspell embraces the truth that all believers are crucified in Christ, and that we share in his resurrection.

Unlike other productions, this Godspell celebrates not just the uniqueness of Jesus, but what it means to be part of his mystical Body. It's the perfect cap to the early community-building scenes.

The enduring appeal of Godspell is in its simplicity, its genuineness, and its message of faith, hope, kindness, and love overcoming the world. CenterStage Theatre Company's production is the truest production of Godspell I've seen in a long, long time.

Godspell performs Aug. 2, 3, 4 and 5 at 7:30 pm, and Aug. 6 at 1:30 pm in the Louisville Center for the Arts, 801 Grant Ave, Louisville. Tickets are $15-$25 and are available at the door or online at http://centerstagegodspell.brownpapertickets.com. For more information, visit www.centerstagetheatrecompany.org.


Theatre Review: Broadway Bound, Miners Alley Playhouse, through Aug. 20

Neil Simon didn't plan to write a semi-autobiographical trilogy. It just happened. The result is that each play stands on its own. But seeing all three, along with his later comedy Laughter on the 23rd Floor, provides rare insights into how humor, sadness, and personal experience can find meaningful artistic expression.

Broadway Bound, the third in the "Eugene" trilogy, is currently playing at the intimate Miners Alley Playhouse. The production, insightfully and empathetically directed by Kate Gleason, zeroes in on the sadness and pain of a disintegrating family. Sure, there are some one-liners, but most of the laughs are poignant, rooted in the suffering of loved ones who mostly just don't "get it," on any level, and probably never will.

The setting is a New York borough, secular Jewish empty nest waiting to happen.

Fledgling comedy writer Eugene (Julian Vendura) is both blessed and cursed with an artist's perspective and a Chekhovian compassion for his dysfunctional family. His Trotskyite grandpa (Tim Fishbaugh) refuses to join his wife in Florida, ostensibly for political reasons, but mainly because he covets privacy. Eugene's mother Kate (Cindy Laudadio-Hill) once loved dancing, but now slaves away in the kitchen in a doomed effort to keep the home intact. She knows her unfaithful husband (Rory Pierce) is about to abandon her, and it's well past time for their two adult sons to move out. In one beautifully written and acted but superfluous scene, Kate's sister Blanche (Jacqueline Garcia) reveals her guilt for marrying a man who subsequently became wealthy, creating a gulf between her and the rest of the family.

Eugene and his brother Stan (James O'Hagan Murphy) make a manically mismatched sketch comedy-writing team. Stan's more inclined to being an agent and manager. Eugene can bang out the gags but finds writing to also be an outlet for his anger and frustration.

When art imitates life, there can be painful consequences.

Broadway Bound is a haunting play, in the bittersweet way introspective people recall, regret, and reshape foundational memories.

Miners Alley's multilayered and deeply moving production opens the treasure box of Eugene's memories, sorts through them, lays them out to view, then tucks them away again. This is a character-driven show, and Gleason has assembled an all-star cast that gently embraces all the right moments.

And then those moments are gone, leaving us to laugh or cry. Take your pick. Then, like Eugene, we sigh and move forward because there's nothing else a person can do.

Miners Alley Playhouse presents Broadway Bound through August 20 in Golden. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30p.m; Sundays at 1:00 p.m.; Sundays July 23 & 30 and Aug 6 & 13 at 6 p.m.  Tickets are $16 - $27 and available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com.  Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, CO 80401. 


Theatre Review: 'The Producers,' Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, through Aug. 6

Corny jokes, off-color humor, witty repartee, crass one-liners, shock, and surprises abound in Mel Brooks' stage musical version of The Producers. The hit musical, winner of twelve Tony Awards, gets the full-scale, top-talent treatment at Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, with performances through Aug. 6.

Based on the film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the musical version is less hysterical (as in everybody doesn't shout all the time), and more tender in the depiction of the developing friendship of Max and Leo, Broadway's original odd couple. It also boasts a cavalcade of memorable hit tunes with immensely clever lyrics.

Any semblance of political correctness is thrown out the window when bold and ballsy Max Bialystock (Scott Rathbun) learns from his timid accountant Leo Bloom (Tim Howard) that he could make an ill-gotten fortune by over-financing a flop. Max goes on a quest to convince Leo to literally double book the enterprise, finds the worst possible script, director, and cast, bamboozles elderly but horny ladies to finance the fiasco, and does everything possible to jinx the production into closing on opening night.

With so much creative energy and ingenuity going into producing a flop, what could possibly go right?

In BBT's stellar, laugh-riot production, just about everything. 

Rathbun is a dynamo as the egomaniacal Max, using sheer force of will, and an unexpectedly lyrical baritone voice to bend reality to his vision of ineptitude. Howard is perfect as the uber-nebbish Leo, who is prone to sweaty hyperventilation under stress, yet is attractive enough to rise to the attentions of the impossibly beautiful, forthright, and sexy Swedish secretary Ulla (Colby Dunn).

Also falling into orbit around Max are the goose-stepping, neo-Nazi, pigeon-preening playwright Franz Liebkind (Brian Jackson), the deliciously vain and ostentatiously gay director Roger De Bris (Christopher Willard) and his even gayer but more sultry assistant Carmen Ghia (Josh Rigo), along with a host of supporting characters, including a randy granny (Mary McGroary), a prodigiously padded choreographer (Barret Harper), and more.

Director Robert Michael Sanders is to be commended for focusing not just on the gags and jokes, but also on Max and Leo's friendship. They accept each others' weaknesses and forge the kind of shared respect and commitment that is truly inspiring.

Another plus is the genuine wholesome innocence of the sexed-up Ulla (perfectly played by Dunn), which suggests that shocking as the material might be, it's all in good fun, and never becomes ugly or nasty or exploitative.

Further, EVERY character, every scene, is imbued with genuine joy, a delight in performing and making the audience laugh. What could become a sarcastic, pessimistic or snarky show--or worse, lightweight and forgettable entertainment--is a life-giving, life-affirming experience. I'm awarding credit to Sanders and the entire cast for this achievement.

Willard appropriately and delightfully mugs up a storm as the easily manipulated, affirmation-craving De Bris. McGroary is outrageously funny as a libidinous granny with a wildly wicked imagination. Jackson's Franz is a big lovable lug who just happens to worship Adolf Hitler and goes psycho at the drop of a hat. Combine Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies and Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, put them in lederhosen, and you get the idea.

Sanders and Willard's set design makes ingenious use of projections (by Tom Quinn), minimalizing scene changes. Cole Mitchell's costume design is spectacular when it needs to be, especially during the 'Springtime for Hitler' showgirl sequence. The production suffers somewhat from having loud canned music, and a somewhat uneven mix of microphone levels, but it's by no means a deal-breaker.

I particularly want to mention one moment from the over-the-top ridiculous 'Springtime for Hitler' sequence, and give credit to choreographer Jessica Hindsley. With all the jokes and gags, the frivolity and foolishness, there's one moment where the brown-shirted, identically wigged Nazi chorus marches on from the wings. Suddenly, and just for a second, it wasn't funny anymore. It was genuinely frightening, an instant of realization that Brooks has gotten us to laugh at something truly horrifying. That moment achieved transcendence, and then silliness regained control of the number.

It's perhaps unusual to call something so tasteless, crude and tongue-in-cheek offensive a "great" musical, but I've seen The Producers half a dozen times at least, and it's great good fun every single time.

If you haven't been to Breckenridge for awhile, note that the city has monetized nearly all on-street parking with credit card-only meters. Plan to come up early and make an evening of it.

The Producers plays at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, 121 S Ridge St, Breckenridge, through Aug. 6. Performances are: Wednesday, July 5, 7:30 pm, Sunday, July 9, 6:30 pm, Friday, July 14, 7:30 pm, Saturday, July 15, 7:30 pm, Thursday July 20, 7:30 pm, Saturday, July 22, 7:30 pm, Sunday, July 23, 6:30 pm, Wednesday, July 26, 7:30 pm, Friday, July 28, 7:30 pm, Sunday, July 30, 6:30pm, Wednesday, August 2, 7:30 pm, Friday, August 4, 7:30 pm, Saturday, August 5, 7:30 pm, and Sunday, August 6, 6:30 pm. Tickets are $23-39. Visit www.backstagetheatre.orgFor info, call (970) 453-0199. Box Office: (970) 547-3100.


Theatre Review: 'The Witches,' Backstage Theatre (Breckenridge), through Aug. 5

It is so very refreshing to find a children's theatre production that isn't afraid to "go dark" in its subject matter. The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre's staging of The Witches is based on an original story by Roald Dahl and adapted for the stage by David Wood. It mixes high comedy, action-packed hi-jinks, and horror for a thoroughly thrilling, entertaining, laugh-out-loud, squirmy hour of fun for all ages.

Granny (Mary McGroary) explains to her grandson Boy (Brody Lineaweaver) that witches are indeed real, and they hate children. You can tell a witch by her wig (which covers her itchy, pustulous scalp), black gloves (to hide her claws), and a curious absence of toes. To witches, children smell like dog droppings, and their primary goal is to eradicate all kids from the face of the earth.

It doesn't take Boy very long to spot one of these foolishly fearsome hags, and soon he stumbles upon the chief witch's (Sheila Swanson McIntyre) conspiracy to use a local coven to transform all the little boys and girls in Britain into mice.

So far so good. We have the makings of a "boy who cries wolf" type adventure. But then the witches capture Boy, with shocking consequences. Sure, the witches are eventually defeated by the intrepid but now inaccurately named Boy, but wow. Just wow.

The youthful Lineaweaver is a marvel as Boy, carrying much of the show with aplomb. Swanson McIntyre is a howling hoot as the wickedest of all possible witches. McGroary is splendid as Granny. She's like the new Angela Lansbury, easily and engagingly playing characters decades older than herself (she also plays a feisty old lady in BBT's The Producers.)

The supporting ensemble, including Barret Harper, Connor Sullivan, Caitlin Conklin and Sydney Harper, also has numerous moments to shine, through a variety of silly and scary characters, and slapstick antics. Most of the cast have professional credits, especially in musical theatre, from Denver's most prestigious companies.

One frantically funny scene, set in a kitchen, is an absolute show stopper. There's a gluttonous bully boy (Sullivan) who is a crackup. The witch convention is a riot, terrific in every sense of the word.

The script is at its best when it's staging Dahl's story. A "traveling troupe of players" prologue and epilogue is tuneful and energetic, but unnecessary. 

Award-winning director Christopher Willard has a remarkable gift for comedy, and moments after staging a scary scene has the audience roaring with laughter. There's some complicated staging, involving two dozen mouse puppets, chase scenes, and theatrical magic. It all goes off without a hitch.

The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, currently celebrating its 43rd season, has been recently renovated and appeals to locals and tourists alike. The Witches is currently running in repertory with the grown-up Mel Brooks musical The Producers.

Breckenridge really isn't so very far from Denver, and both BBT's shows are well worth planning a getaway for the whole family. I stayed overnight at the pet-friendly Wayside Inn (simple, rustic, no-frills, but affordable and clean, with friendly owners). Even with the double theatrical bill, there was plenty of time for an afternoon hike. 

Grand Lake and Silverthorne also have outstanding theatre companies, but my choice this year was Breckenridge and the BBT. 

Performances of The Witches are Fridays at 10 am, Saturdays at 11 am through Aug. 5, also Wednesday, July 12 at 7 pm. Tickets $12. Visit online at  https://www.backstagetheatre.org/the-witchesThe Breckenridge Theater is located at 121 S. Ridge Street, Breckenridge CO 80424. For info, call (970) 453-0199. Box Office: (970) 547-3100.

Theatre Review: The Slipper and the Rose, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, through Aug. 27

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown closes its ninth season with a sumptuously staged musical fairy tale for all ages.The Slipper and the Rose -- The Cinderella Story is lavishly and lovingly produced, with an excellent cast, gorgeous costumes and sets, and a surprisingly robust orchestra of eight musicians. The production has everything going for it -- except it's not the Rodgers and Hammerstein version. 

Comparisons are inevitable. The R&H version is more romantic and magical and boasts a more memorable score. This one is much funnier and also politically aware.

Originally conceived as a 1976 film starring Richard Chamberlain as the Prince and remounted for the stage in 1984, The Slipper and the Rose features music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, best known for Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the maddening "It's a Small World (After All)." The book is by the Sherman brothers and Bryan Forbes.

Most of the essentials from the beloved fairy tale are there, but the emphasis has shifted. The Slipper and the Rose, is as much about the Prince (Matt LaFontaine) as Cinderella (Sarah Grover). 

The musical begins immediately after Cinderella's father's funeral. Without even having a chance to grieve, Cinderella receives a rude awakening when her mean Stepmother (Heather McClain) reduces her to instant poverty and servitude. Cinderella's two bickering stepsisters (Katie Jackson, Rebekah Ortiz) enjoy tormenting her.

Meanwhile, the perpetually peevish Prince argues with his adorably dim-witted father the King (Tom Mullin) about outdated but not obsolete traditions, like arranging marriages to prevent wars with neighboring kingdoms. 

An overworked Fairy Godmother (Annie Dwyer) intercedes on Cinderella's behalf, giving her a makeover and new wardrobe (but no pumpkin carriage or mice footmen), and true love takes care of the rest.

Until it doesn't.

Every Cinderella story builds up to the lost slipper moment, but what do you do for a second act? Delay the inevitable reunion of the Prince and Cinderella. In this version, yet another tradition -- perhaps obsolete -- interferes. Commoners can't marry royalty. 

On the eve of her wedding, Cinderella learns from a sympathetic Chamberlin (David L. Wygant) that the union is forbidden. She gives up, for the second time, without a fight. The frustrated prince begins arbitrarily overruling and countermanding established class systems that have kept the kingdom running in good order, even with a lovable but incompetent monarch, for generations. 

It's going to take a miracle to get them back together and make things around the castle a little more progressive. 

Cue the Fairy Godmother.

LaFontaine and Grover are excellent as the Prince and Cinderella, though they have few scenes together. Both are mainstays in the Colorado musical theatre scene.

Though Cinderella's plight (slipper) and the Prince's political rebellion (rose) stories are a bit on the grim side, there is no shortage of brilliant comic relief. Mullin is a marvel as the badminton birdie-bopping King. Annie Dwyer's supernatural social worker Fairy Godmother is a hoot as she kvetches about a heavy caseload and dwindling magic supply. Kent Sugg is disturbingly funny as the statuesque Dowager, mother of the king. Scotty Shaffer lights up the stage with giddy goofiness as the foppish Montague, a most unlikely hero who saves the day with insouciant panache.

The Slipper and the Rose is not so much about love conquering all, as promoting class equality. You may not go home humming the tunes, but you will chuckle as you recall the characters.

The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse experience is wholesome family fun, with a diverse menu of delicious entrees, and loads of extras. 

Like Cinderella, put on some fancy clothes and have a ball.

Cinderella: The Slipper and the Rose AT CANDLELIGHT
Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM
Saturday Matinees  Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM  
Sunday Matinees - Dinner seating at 12:30 PM; Show at 2:00 PM

Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95  $62.95 (based on day of week)
Child (512) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.50 (any performance)
Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.50 (any performance)
Adult Show-Only Tickets: $29.50 (any performance; seating restrictions)
Family 4-Pack: $120 (any Thursday or Friday evening performance)

Special Family Four Packs are available and start at just $120!
Dinner and show tickets can be purchased by calling Candlelight’s box office – 970-744-3747 or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534
I25 at Exit 254, just south of Historic Johnson's Corner

For more information, or to purchase tickets online, visit www.ColoradoCandlelight.com,

or call the Box Office at 970-7443747.


Theatre Review: 'Rock of Aging,' Firehouse Theater at John Hand Theater, through July 15

In the spirit of the brazen, cheeky Mad Magazine song parodies of yesteryear, Bill Paddock and Deborah Montgomery have set new lyrics to popular songs of the 1960s and 70s and created a high-energy, low-brow celebration of Boomer breakdown. The hilariously pointed and prophetic musical revue is Rock of Aging, produced by Firehouse Theater and performed at the John Hand Theater in Lowry through July 15.

While the show doesn't have a book per se, there is a sense that we are watching a rockumentary (with emcee/narrator Jim Landis) about three aging rock singers whose lack of a retirement plan forces them to reboot their careers by endorsing products geared toward their pre-geriatric generation and launching an A.A.R.P. comeback tour.

Graying hippie Willy Withers (Jay Louden), perky Rickie D. Bones (Deborah Montgomery) and vocal powerhouse Tina Tumor (Ghandia Johnson) cover many (but not all) of the ailments and annoyances of advancing middle age, usually by singing an "updated" verse and chorus (which is plenty) of Big Chill-era greatest hits.

They are joined by youthful singers Tracy Sanderson, Rachel Finley, and Steven Hartman, who grin and go along with it, alternately mocking, humoring, or commiserating with their elders' medical misfortunes.

The revue covers a hit parade of embarrassing topics, like prostrate exams (Your glove has lifted me higher), hemorrhoids (I sat down on a burning ring of fire), erectile dysfunction (Go ask Cialis), hearing loss (Say that to him one more time), and colonoscopies (Snake it up, baby). 

You get the idea.

There are literally dozens of them.

The show, knowingly directed by Lorraine Scott, is funny, outrageous, and offers a welcome stress relief. It acknowledges that we're all in this together and it's probably going to get worse, so let's laugh now and enjoy life as much as we can, as long as we can. 

By the end of the show, the Rolling Emotions, backed by their band consisting of Trent Hines (keyboards), Frank Baier (bass), Andy Whitehead (guitar) and Jay Graham (drums) had everyone up on their Dr. Scholl's arch-supported feet, clapping, dancing, and singing along.

There's nothing like a nostalgic collection of classic oldies but goodies to help keep us from going "gentle into that good night."Rock of Aging administers a healthy dose of humor and hit songs to go with all our other quality of life-enhancing medications, treatments, ointments and assistive devices.
Firehouse Theater presents Rock of Aging through July 15 at the John Hand Theater/Colorado Free University, 7653 East First Place in Lowry. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.  Tickets are $25 Adult; $23 for Students/Seniors and are available by calling 303-562-3232 or online at www.firehousetheatercompany.com

Theatre Review: 'It's Only a Play,' Vintage Theatre and Spotlight Theatre (at Vintage), through July 23

Terrence McNally's It's Only a Play isn't your typical backstage farce. There's no plot to speak of: a group oftheatre people await opening night reviews, get them, and react. 

The charm of this laugh-out-loud, over-the-top comedy is in the characters themselves. Each of the idealistic, ambitious New Yorkers pile their hearts and souls on the back of a newly born theatrical racehorse, hoping its wobbly legs will strengthen and carry them all to glory.

Actually, there's an awful lot of "piling on" in this apoplectic comedy, from the heaps of hilarious coats stacked up on the bed by New York newcomer Gus (Seth Harris), to the emotional baggage brought on by everyone else.

James (Bernie Cardell) is the Broadway actor who took the easy path to Hollywood and wishes to return to the stage after nearly a decade, except that would require the cancellation of his cushy TV series meal ticket.

Virginia (Kelly Uhlenhopp) is the disgraced and drug addled Hollywood starlet who has fled to the stage (along with her court-appointed ankle monitor) as a form of career rehab.

The ridiculously rich dingaling producer (Anne Myers) hilariously misquotes famous lines and doesn't appreciate foul language (which flows in streams, rivers, and geysers of adults-only profanity).

The knighted and benighted, self-loathing British director (Leroy Leonard) pretentiously longs for a flop... until he gets one.

Even a caustic critic (Michael O'Shea) finds his way into the producer's bedroom, hoping to validate his life and move from the periphery of show business by pitching a (gawdawful) play of his own creation.

Finally, and centrally, is the playwright (Perry Lewis), an idealistic and insecure writer who feels the burden of the others' need for success almost as keenly as his own.

With such a volatile mix of characters, emotions run on overload, like those science fiction gauges where the needle bounces around in the red all the time. 

Director Katie Mangett fully understands and appreciates how many theatre people like to think of themselves as special, and gives the talented cast full rein. It's almost as if she told them it is impossible to overact, that no slice of ham is too large, and the bigger the better.

She was right. Just when you think things can't get any crazier, another twist, another turn, another flip flop gets thrown into the mix and sets them all off again, whether at each other's throats or into each other's arms.

As a reviewer, I am appalled at the terribly mean-spirited things often written by New York (and also, I'm told West End) critics. I simply don't understand that kind of abuse of power, where lives, careers, and fortunes can be ruined on a whim, by the twist of a spitefully poisoned pen.

Better to laugh at the whole system, and It's Only a Play offers plenty of guffaws. Only one moment elicits true pathos. The playwright receives a call from his mom and dad, and he has to tell them that his brainchild,The Golden Egg, is rotten. 

Otherwise, it's all about inflated personalities, overblown emotions, and impossible dreams. One character says, "You could stuff an elephant with the egos in this room." 

And then some. 

Vintage Theatre and Lowry’s Spotlight Theatre's It’s Only a Play runs through July 23. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays and Monday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010.  Tickets are $24 - $30 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.com or by calling 303-856-7830. 


Theatre Review: 'The Wedding Singer,' Performance Now Theatre, through June 25

The Wedding Singer is a musical that celebrates the wild and crazy mid-80s pop culture scene. I lived through that era and until last night, never thought there was all that much about it worth celebrating. Performance Now Theatre Company's high-energy, goofy and glittery production completely won me over. It is lightweight and funny and packed to overflowing with upbeat song and dance numbers. It's a thoroughly enjoyable blast from the past, free from morning-after regrets.

And, as I did for much of the mid-80s, you can leave your brain at home. You won't be needing it.

The Wedding Singer takes place in the halcyon days of big hair and tight pants, press-on nails and leg warmers, mullets with terry cloth headbands, and Walkman cassette players. It's also a time of casual hookups and impulsive marriages, so wedding singer Robbie Hart (Caleb Reed) and his band buddies Sammy (Nick Johnson) and Boy George lookalike George (Kris Graves) are getting a lot of gigs.

Robbie is all charm and optimism until his scary-sexy fiancee Linda (Shelby Varra) dumps him, sending the sensitive songwriter into an emotional tailspin. His salvation arrives in wholesome girl-next-door Julia (Emma Maxfield), who literally sings him out of a Dumpster and into her heart. Trouble is, she's engaged to a Delorean driving, coke sniffing Wall Street junk bond dealer scumbag  (Matt Wessel).

Robbie is supported by his feisty Jazzercising Grandma Rosie (Jane Phillips). Julia's best friend (or maybe sister) Holly (Lindsey Falduto) plays the field until she finds the right guy, who's been right there under her thumb all along.

Even though the period was a time of experimentation, the relationships are old-school traditional, and though they are all adults, the emotional maturity of the characters is strictly juvenile. As in middle-school, adolescent juvenile.

One of the greatest delights of this musical is the dance numbers. Acclaimed choreographer Kelly Van Oosbree has outdone herself with every conceivable variation of dance styles from the period, recalling Flashdance, Thriller, Dirty Dancing, and so many more iconic moves. The chorus gets a lot to do, and they also play a variety of very distinctive and comical minor characters.

The costumes and hair are excruciatingly period-perfect. The house band is outstanding, and director Seth Caikowski doesn't just get it, he nails it. This show lacks depth, but there's a lot going on, and he keeps things from becoming confusing.

Sure, the ghost of the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore film version looms over this show, but the nearly non-stop singing and dancing win out in the end.
Oh, and also love.

Performance Now presents The Wedding Singer through June 25 at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway in Lakewood. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 - $35 and are available or online at www.performancenow.org or by calling 303-987-7845.

Theatre Review: ‘Joseph/Dreamcoat’ through Aug. 19, BDT Stage

BDT Stage is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a reboot of its inaugural production, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The musical runs through August 19 in Boulder.
Directed by Matthew D. Peters, with costumes by Linda Morken, this contemporary version of Joseph is a radical departure from traditional “robe and sandal” presentations of the musical. It may actually be closer and truer to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original intent. Peters did this by eradicating any visual, character, or emotional references to the musical’s source, the Bible. 
Often staged as an upbeat, tuneful Sunday School lesson lifted from the final chapters of the Book of Genesis, Jewish and Christian audiences could find a happy balance between edifying their faith and enjoying really fun musical entertainment.
With some effort, they could disregard the show’s essentially secular theme, that “any dream will do.” 
Liberated from all pretense of faith in a higher power or ancient biblical context, BDT Stage’s Joseph becomes a celebration of resilience, opportunism, and achieving wealth, fame, and influence. Sure, Joseph is humbled somewhat by the suffering he endures, but he gladly seizes power when it’s offered, and uses it to take revenge on his family.
A pampered, privileged, somewhat gifted rich kid (Jack Barton) has a run of bad luck because his underachieving brothers and a horny cougar (Alicia K. Meyers) have it in for him. But when another one percenter (Scott Severtson) recognizes Joseph’s innate leadership ability, they cut a deal that makes them both fabulously rich and powerful, while all the rest grovel and submit.
As a secular story, Joseph is undeniably cynical and elitist, so the cast has to work extra hard to give it some razzle dazzle. Instead of the traditional disco influence, choreographers Peters and Alicia K. Meyers find their inspiration in trademark, inwardly focused Michael Jackson moves. Much of the show plays like a staged concert, with backup singers, a gorgeous chorus of singers/dancers, and a beautifully integrated children’s choir. They’ve even brought in state-of-the-art visual projectors for spectacular lighting effects.
Amy Campion’s light-up rainbow staircase set design is impressive, adding to the staged concert feel and providing strikingly vertical arrangements of the cast.
The hipster-urban chic costumes are interestingly anachronistic, emphasizing individuality but compromising visual unity. Only the Pharaoh scene, with a young, vital and savvy “Elvis” (instead of the usually exaggerated impersonators) and a chorus of men in bowling shirts and women in blue jean capris perfectly matches the look with the musical style. 
Tracy Warren as the Narrator, and Jack Barton as Joseph, are outstanding musical theatre artists. There’s no trace of annoying pop singer affectation, and unlike many Narrators, Warren never sounds shrill in the upper ranges. It’s a joy to hear them sing. Wayne Kennedy is a hoot as Jacob and Potiphar, Brian Burron’s “achy breaky” country western singing is spot-on schmaltzy, Scott Severtson’s beautifully sung Pharaoh is surprisingly subtle, Scott Beyette’s Parisian ballad is hilariously plaintive, and Alejandro Roldan’s calypso-style number is delightfully silly. 
Without the covering of “God’s plan unfolding,” Joseph can sometimes feel bleak and undemocratic. But the enthusiasm, energy, and creativity of the cast, along with a hit parade of humorous songs, encourage the audience to embrace the fantasy that maybe we, too, against all odds, might someday “become a star”.
BDT Stage’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through Aug. 19 at 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. Tickets for dinner and show start at $41. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.BDTStage.com.


REVIEW: Spotlight’s ‘Scotland Road’ is maddeningly mysterious, through June 3

MAY 9, 2017

Kelly Alayne Dwyer and Todd Black in ‘Scotland Road’.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s Scotland Road is an intriguing, frustrating, thoroughly researched, and poorly written drama about people who mostly aren’t who they seem to be, caring deeply about something that ultimately makes no sense.
Spotlight Theatre’s current production, running through June 3 at the John Hand Theater in Lowry, looks and sounds terrific. Plenty of emotion is generated, and several interesting themes are tossed about, but the play spins its propellors in its own shadowy, passive aggressive love affair with all things related to the Titanic disaster.

Kelly Alayne Dwyer
If you enjoyed the television series Lost for its lurid drama and vague, inconsistent clues about who and where the characters were, Scotland Road might be right up your alley.
Eighty years after the unsinkable luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank, a mysterious, stubborn, and unnamed young Woman (Kelly Alayne Dwyer), wearing vintage attire, is discovered floating on an iceberg. All appearances suggest she was a passenger on the Titanic. But…that’s…impossible. Right?
A strangely aggressive John (Todd Black) arranges with a marginally ethical medical professional (Mari Geasair) to hold Woman captive for a week so he can interrogate the alleged castaway and determine her true identity. One of his tactics includes producing an actual Titanic survivor (Katie Mangett), in the play’s most interesting confrontation.
Bernie Cardell’s stark arctic set design and Vance McKenzie’s emotionally motivated lighting creates a strangely beautiful and unidentifiable fever dream non-space on which this unresolved mystery of identity plays out.

Katie Mangett
Director Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry capably guides the actors through a maze of misdirection and fraud, but each character is either so self-absorbed or unwilling to cooperate, they mostly just talk themselves into a tizzy without truly listening or communicating with each other.
Hatcher eschews logic and conventional play craft to fashion individually dramatic moments into a pseudo-spiritual thriller where sense, truth, and resolution are impossible. The audience learns volumes about the Titanic disaster itself, but then the play asks why we should care.
Lowry’s Spotlight Theatre’s production of Scotland Road runs through June 3 at the John Hand Theater in Lowry, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, and Monday, May 15 at 7:30.p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.; Saturday, June 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 – $23 and available by calling 720-880-8727 or online at www.thisisspotlight.com.

REVIEW: The Upstart’s Crow’s ‘Dark of the Moon’ is a folksy fantasy for adults, through May 7 in Boulder

APRIL 30, 2017
Dark of the Moon is a supernatural fantasy that revels in the traditions and superstitions of the Appalachian mountain hill folk. At times romantic, charming, and comical, there is also a disturbingly dark side to this tale of a “witch boy” who longs to become human, for the love of a mortal woman.
The Upstart Crow’s production, playing through May 7 at the Nomad Playhouse in Boulder, is expertly directed (Jim Heun) and beautifully mounted (Ricardo Nasciemento), with several strong performances. Colorado’s “classical community theatre,” with it’s devotion to literary drama, high concepts, and challenging material, is ideally suited to stage this play.
John (Joe Illingworth) is a “witch boy,” an Appalachian term for the faery folk. He seduces and falls in love with Barbara Allen (Kristy E. Pike), along with the romantic idea of physical existence. Conjur Man (Alan Doak), a kind of fairy chieftain, refuses his request, while Conjur Woman (Cherrie Ramsdell-Speich) gives him the chance to learn a lesson, but at a price. Two female fairies (Joanne Niederhoff and Scarlett Gabriel) try to dissuade John and lure him back to supernatural-style frolicking.
In the village, Barbara Allen is eager to marry John, and since she’s found to be pregnant, her parents (Katherine Dubois Reed and Chris Hammons) readily agree, though another suitor (Tom Mann) objects to the union. The local preacher (Louis Clark) has his suspicions about the infernal intrusion, especially when John steadfastly refuses to enter a church or be baptized, loudly and frequently proclaiming that he is not a Christian.
John discovers that sustaining a body—not to mention a family—is hard work, and Barbara Allen is subjected to increasing pressure to side with the community against her witch boy husband. Events take a shocking and tragic turn that makes the play unsuitable for children.
The script by Howard Richardson and William Berney is frequently punctuated by traditional Appalachian music, song, and dance, with cast member Hal Landem playing banjo, fiddle, accordion, and more.
Dark of the Moon is rarely produced, but highly theatrical and stage worthy. Sure, there’s some hillbilly humor, but the frankness about sex, the earthy simplicity of the characters, their deep-rooted faith in God and justifiable fear of the supernatural makes them both realistic and sympathetic. This is a particularly unusual and—dare I say—edgy example of mid-twentieth century American drama.
The Upstart Crow’s Dark of the Moon is both a magical and mythic down-home country fantasy.
Performances are April 29, May 4, 5, 6 at 7:30 p.m. and May 7 at 2 p.m. at the Nomad Playhouse, 1410 Quince Ave. in Boulder. Information at 303-442-1415 or www.theupstartcrow.org.

REVIEW: Courtroom drama ‘A Time to Kill’ shocks and thrills through May 21 at Vintage Theatre in Aurora

APRIL 27, 2017
The stage version of John Grisham’s smart legal thriller A Time to Kill may not have the exquisite prose or high-minded idealism of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s a powerful courtroom drama with plenty of twists and turns, and enough emotional firepower to pack a memorable wallop.
Vintage Theatre’s impactful production, running through May 21, brings in the big guns with director Bernie Cardell, leading man Drew Hirschboeck as a savvy street lawyer, and Robert Lee Hardy as a distraught father who mows down the rednecks who raped his ten-year-old daughter.
The play, adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes, has a large cast of supporting characters, including Claude Diener as a disgraced and alcoholic mentor providing welcome comic relief, Miranda Byers as a feisty, resourceful, rich white liberal intern, Cris Davenport as a sympathetic, no-nonsense policeman, Linda Suttle as the vodka-swigging, to-the-point judge, and Perry Lewis as the slick, smooth, and politically ambitious district attorney. There are several well-defined smaller roles, featuring Od Duhu as the overwhelmed wife of the accused, Robert Anderson as an unreliable expert witness, and Rick Williams as another expert witness who’s even worse.
The drama plays hardball with ethics, morality, and idealism. The race card is played because that’s the hand they’ve been dealt, and the KKK is outside burning crosses and blowing up homes. The insanity defense is fielded because it’s the only hope of saving the defendant’s life, even though he’s sane enough to realize that some folks just need killing. Passages from the Bible for and against murder are batted around like a badminton birdie, but the predominant legal strategy on both sides seems to be about discrediting witnesses.
The cast builds up a great deal of suspense before the verdict is read, and the audience is left wondering if the ideals of “liberty and justice for all” are ever truly possible.
A Time to Kill is a no-holds-barred, white knuckling legal thriller for a generation that has grown cynical with a corrupted court system, and for which raw emotion trumps reason and impartiality.
Performances of A Time to Kill are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through May 21 at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Tickets are $24 – $30 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


REVIEW: Arvada Center’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ turns relentless angst, ennui, and cruelty into rollicking good fun, through May 20

APRIL 24, 2017
Pictured L-R: Josh Robinson (Lucky) and Timothy McCracken (Estragon). Photo Credit: M. Gale Photography 2017
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is one of those unpopular masterpieces that is so brilliant, I can’t help but like it–even while hating it. The Arvada Center’s breathtakingly nuanced production of the Absurdist comic-drama is so good, I fear there may be a resurgence of interest in the author’s bitter, pessimistic, and confounding work.
Desperately upbeat and outgoing Vladimir (Sam Gregory) and brooding, anxious Estragon (Timothy McCracken) are stuck in a bleak and lifeless landscape, waiting. This isn’t just Department of Motor Vehicles-style waiting. It’s “the world is terrifying, life makes no sense, death is probably worse than the misery of living, so let’s twiddle our thumbs and try not to commit suicide” waiting.
Didi and Gogo endure the excruciating tedium in numerous ingenious and often entertaining ways, but it doesn’t really help. The arrival of two other sufferers (Josh Robinson and Sam Gilstrap) only makes things worse. They persist, but aren’t sure why, and doubt the answer will ever come.
Timothy McCracken (Estragon) and Sam Gregory (Vladimir) Photo Credit: M. Gale Photography 2017
Then why did I laugh so hard, nearly all the way through?
If it’s not masochism, it must be great theatre.
Credit goes to Geoffrey Kent’s superb direction and the casting of Gregory and McCracken in the lead roles. They have peeled away every layer of meaning, every nuance, every possible revelation from this densely written play, then physicalized it with boundless energy and comedic genius.
Watching these masters at work was a thrilling experience, even as my soul recoiled at the characters’ predicament.
The Lucky/Pozzo interludes spun away into a kind of unpleasant sadism and dementia-like stream of consciousness babbling that made Didi and Gogo seem high-functioning in comparison. The cameos by a Boy (Sean Scrutchins) were maddeningly obtuse.
Brian Mallgrave’s scenic design was at once highly symbolic and post-apocalyptic industrial, and Meghan Anderson Doyle’s grubby, raggedy costumes were appropriately wretched, but made me wonder if they could be laundered after a week of performances, or just thrown away and replaced.
Waiting for Godot might not be everyone’s cup of hemlock, but there’s no denying it’s a masterpiece, and the Arvada Center’s Black Box production knows how to make the most out of it.
Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday matinees at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m., through May 20. Additional performances have been added on Saturday, May 6 at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, May 13 at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Audience engagement events, including insider’s talkbacks and chats with the cast, are held through the run of the production. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/waiting-for-godot or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. and provides free parking for its patrons.


REVIEW: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s ’42nd Street’ is a tap dancing sensation, through June 4 in Johnstown

APRIL 19, 2017
–Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s glitzy, glamorous production of 42nd Street, is a cheery, cheeky, tap dancing sensation, with a dizzying array of hit songs and elaborate production numbers. And a whole lot more.The show runs at the spacious proscenium theatre in Johnstown through June 4.Originally produced in 1980 with Gower Champion as director, the stage version is based on the 1933 Busby Berkeley film. The show, with book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin, and music by Harry Warren, won a Tony Award for Best Musical, and rightfully so.During the Great Depression, strong-willed director Julian Marsh (David Wygant) puts together a magnificent musical, despite all odds, to recoup his own losses from the Crash, but also to provide work for a bunch of talented “kids,” and to liven the spirits of thousands of theatregoers who can scrape together $4.40 for a ticket.
He has plenty of obstacles to overcome, including a peevish diva who sings like an angel but can’t dance (Heather McClain), and a fresh-off-the-bus newcomer (Lisa Kay Carter) who has talent to spare, but seems to clumsily bump into everyone, both on and offstage. The diva has a goofy cowboy boyfriend (Kent Sugg) who is putting up the money for the production, and a secret longtime lover (Stephen Charles Turner) she keeps on the side.
There’s also a feisty chorine (Mary McGroary), a brassy character actress (Samantha Jo Staggs), a conceited leading tenor (Parker Redford), a harried composer (Elliot Clough), and a jaded choreographer (Cole Emarine), along with a bevy of beauties and beaus.
Despite the high-profile rivalry between the two leading ladies, convoluted show-biz infatuations, and various other subplots, all of which get their due, director Pat Payne has brilliantly zeroed in on the true protagonist, the one with the most at stake in the endeavor–Julian Marsh. With all the chaos and silliness going on around him, he holds to his quest with heroic determination. He knows show business but has not given in to cynicism, and carries the burden of dozens of livelihoods and his vision for the masses with grit and ingenuity.
Rarely do I see this kind of wisdom and heart at the core of a frothy confection of a musical comedy.
McClain’s voice is gorgeous, rich and appropriately a cut above the “Betty Boop” period-style voices of the rest of the women. Her character is complex, and the inevitable broken ankle that sidelines her from the show is counted as a blessing in disguise.
There are so many memorable songs, several of them are performed by secondary and even peripheral characters in front of the curtain while the set is being changed for the next big showstopper. Who hasn’t heard of “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” “We’re in the Money” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “Lullaby of Broadway,” along with the title number “42nd Street”?
Only one number, “Dames,” seems hopelessly dated. Basically, it’s a bunch of pretty girls looking in mirrors and giggling while chorus boys ogle them. But oh, those costumes. Credit costume designer Debbie Faber, and her team who are responsible for countless gorgeous costumes and wigs.
One of the major attractions of this show is Kate Vallee’s choreography, which features sensational tap dancing, but also several other styles, including a dream ballet. The dancing is truly outstanding, all around.
Sure, there are a couple of ridiculously improbable but necessary incongruities. The diva with the voice rose up to stardom from Vaudeville, but never learned to dance? Unlikely. And when she breaks her ankle, the entire chorus unanimously insists that the new kid takes on the lead, when any number of the other chorus girls are equally talented, know the material better, and never bump into each other. That’s the fantasy aspect of the musical, I suppose.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Candlelight Dinner Playhouse offers no fewer than nine entree selections, mostly comfort or homestyle favorites, served piping hot.
42nd Street has all the enthusiasm and pizzazz of other “let’s put on a show” musicals, but few have so many great song and dance numbers, built around such an admirable and well-defined central character. By all means, go see the show for the light entertainment, but there’s more there for those of us who enjoying going deeper.

David L. Wygant as Julian Marsh, and Lisa Kay Carter as Peggy Sawyer. Photo Credit: Garland Photography.
Dinner and show tickets can be purchased by calling Candlelight’s box office – 970-744-3747 or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com.
SHOWTIMES: Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings — Dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Sunday Matinees -‐ Dinner seating at 12:30 PM; Show at 2:00 PM
TICKETS: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 ‐ $62.95 (based on day of week); Child (5‐12) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.50 (any performance); Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.50 (any performance); Adult Show-Only Tickets: $29.50 (any performance; seating restrictions)
WHERE: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534) I‐25 at Exit 254, just south of Historic Johnson’s Corner
Re-posted by permission.
Click on the image above to purchase a DVD of the original film version of 42nd Street.


REVIEW: ’The Drowning Girls’ is a true-crime drama with a gleefully ghostly, ghastly twist, at the Arvada Center through May 21

MARCH 14, 2017
For a highly-stylized, experimental play, The Drowning Girls pours in as much information and context as an episode of a true-crime “cold case” documentary.
But it’s much more fun.
The Drowning Girls runs in repertory with Bus Stop and Waiting for Godot through May 21 in the Black Box theatre at the Arvada Center.
Like tragic naiads, the drenched and dripping shades of three murdered women (Kate Gleason, Jessica Robblee, and Emily Van Fleet) emerge from their claw-foot crypts, unable to move on until justice is meted upon the sociopathic swindler who married and murdered them, drowning them in their bathtubs.
Hair plastered to their heads and tastefully covered in saturated turn-of-the-century lingerie, the victims relate the recurring modus operandi of their killer—the wooing, wedding, exploitation and murder, all committed in less than three weeks. Three victims in three years.
There’s much enjoyment in the telling. Sure, they are victims. Victims of a repressive male-dominated early-20th-century society, of their own romantic delusions and willingness to be duped, of discarding sense and family counsel in favor of trusting love, and their absolute vulnerability in the presence of a practiced predator.
Some of the drowning sequences, while brief and stylized, were nevertheless horrifying. I was half inclined to leap from my seat and initiate an unsolicited Baywatch moment.
The play has a deluge of humor, irony, double entendres and asphyxiation puns, matched with simultaneous pantomime and carefully timed physical gags. A great deal of macabre enjoyment is derived from watching the women slog around in their weedy wedding dresses, finding friendship and camaraderie in their mutual embarrassment and distress.
The trio of outstanding and accomplished actresses, primarily play the three women who met identical fates at the hands of the same man, but also numerous other characters who tried and failed to warn them not to trust George Joseph Smith. The women work so well together, they bring light and life to the macabre subject matter.
The play, directed with style and substance by Lynne Collins, was written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic.
Congratulations to scenic designer Brian Mallgrave for a waterlogged set that transforms the theatre into an actual environment. The three bathtubs are immersed in a dark pool of water, a soggy, humid purgatory equipped with showers that inconveniently douse the women to remind them of their misery. What’s even more remarkable is that with a day’s notice, the swampy set becomes a 1950s diner during a blizzard or Beckett’s barren wasteland.
Take the plunge, and check out The Drowning Girls. As the advertising promises, it will “take your breath away”.
Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday matinees at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m., through May 21. An additional performance has been added on Saturday, April 29 at 2:00 p.m. Audience engagement events, including insider’s talkbacks and chats with the cast, are held through the run of the production.
The Drowning Girls is performed without an intermission. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/drowning-girls or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. and provides free parking for its patrons.


REVIEW: Equinox Theatre Co.’s comedy ‘Stage Kiss’ is a funny, tender love letter to theatre people, through April 15 at The Bug

APRIL 8, 2017
Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s love for the theatre and its people, especially actors, runs through her funny and tender backstage comedy Stage Kiss. Equinox Theatre Company’s delightful production of Ruhl’s romantic comedy/drama, playing at The Bug through April 15, is shot through with affection for the sensitive folk who tap into their own identities and emotions to bring life to a script, no matter how corny or cliché.
She (Kristine Blackport) is an actress returning to the terrifying grind of cold auditions after ten years off the boards. The Director (Joey Wishnia) is exceedingly patient with her nervous tics. Lo and behold, She gets the lead role in the reboot of a maudlin and corny 1930s upper-class melodrama. On the first day of rehearsal, she discovers that He (Kenneth Stellingwerf), her first ex-love, has been cast as the leading man and that their roles involve a lot of spit swapping.
At first blush, Stage Kiss delves into how life and art imitate each other. The first act is filled with laugh-out-loud in-jokes and gags about how to stage a kiss, during which a lot of lips lock. It doesn’t mean anything–or does it? Passionate oaths and embraces are dropped in an instant to discuss the scene. It’s a laugh riot, really, until real human emotions–and hormones–get fired up.
The artificial intimacy of the roles He and She are portraying rekindles what had been a tumultuous and torrid relationship. He is ready to pick up where they left off, but She is now married to a financier (Marq Del Monte) and has a rebellious teenage daughter (Emily Ebertz).
Complications ensue, the relationship and the play run their courses, and new levels of emotional maturity are achieved, but not without paying the price of vulnerability, heart-to-heart revelations, and sacrifice.
Blackport and Stellingwerf give tour de force performances. Seldom are actors willing to be so transparent and honest about the essential madness of their craft. There’s powerful chemistry between them–or are they just acting?
Wishnia is a hoot as The Director, drawing on decades of experience with eccentric artistes. Matthew Bausone is especially subtle and funny as an understudy, butler, and killer pimp.
Del Monte is exquisite as the “other man,” both on and offstage. His performance as a stable and mature adult in a world of erratic thespians is understated and yet anchors the play. Ebertz is all in-your-face attitude in the delectable role of an adult cursed by her looks to forever portray belligerent teenagers. Anneliese Farmer provides a counterpoint to the goings-on as the most realistic character in the melodrama, and the least realistic person in real life.
Ruhl’s mastery of a complicated story with multiple levels and two plays-within-a-play is further enhanced by Flomberg’s insightful, unerring and keen direction. There is so much that is knee-slappingly funny in this play, and yet for those who have been there and done that, heartbreaking, too.
Stage Kiss, like first love and loss, leaves a lasting, bittersweet, and tender (as in bruised) impression.
Performances for Stage Kiss are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM, through April 15. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door/$17 for groups of 6 or more in advance only. All performances are at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets and more information available online at www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.


REVIEW: Benchmark Theatre’s futuristic ‘The Nether’ weighs the pros and cons of virtual reality realms for pedophiles and child killers, through April 23 at Buntport Theatre

APRIL 7, 2017
Benchmark Theatre launches onto the Denver theatre scene with Jennifer Haley’s fascinating, shocking, morally complex, and tastefully written The Nether, a futuristic, possibly prophetic, and deeply disturbing drama about virtual reality and those who choose to live vicariously on the internet. Brilliantly directed by Rachel Bouchard, the drama explores the inevitable perfection of virtual reality playgrounds and the kinds of people who inhabit them.
In a not-too-distant, high-tech dystopian future, the world has lost touch with nature, and people are living entire fantasy lives on the internet, now called “The Nether.” In these virtual reality playgrounds, people look any way they wish, conduct real business in virtual offices, attend school, and also act out their most depraved fantasies and compulsions. Some grow so addicted they become “shades,” abandoning the real world, putting their bodies on life support, and plugging permanently into The Nether.
Morris (Haley Johnson) is a thought-police officer, investigating The Haven, a beautiful and alluring virtual reality realm in which customers are invited to have sex with children and then chop them up with an axe. Morris finds and interrogates the site’s creator Sims (Marc Stith) and one of his customers (Jim Hunt), while first-timer Woodnut (Cameron Varner) gradually embraces The Haven’s scenario with a virtual character, nine-year-old Iris (Ella Madison).
This is VERY MATURE subject matter. If you appreciate trigger warnings, especially relating to child rape and murder (implied rather than shown), consider yourself forewarned.
If you are able to tough it out, be prepared for a rigorously dramatic and intellectual examination of the consequences of behavior in a world that seemingly has no consequences. Can a person be prosecuted for what he does in an imaginary world? For some, the consequence of losing their login, and thus their alternate identity, is worse than death. Might it be safer for real children if incurable pedophiles and child murderers could freely express their twisted fantasies privately online? And what of the adults who choose to “play” the victimized children, subjecting themselves to these predators over and over again, for love and money?
Issues of online confidentiality, privacy, and anonymity become paramount, along with the ramifications of leading a double life.
Sixth grader Ella Madison is a wonder as Iris, the virtual little girl with the soul of an adult. I made a point of talking with her (and her parents) after the show, and was relieved to see that she is taking the disturbing role in stride. I had no worries at all for the rest of the cast, most of whom are leading actors in productions all over town.
Most of all, I appreciated the sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and care Bouchard brought to the direction of the show, which is surprisingly lovely to look at, thanks to Christopher M. Waller’s soothing projections and video design. This goes way beyond simply staging scenes for dramatic effect. Bouchard has taken the difficult material to heart, grappled with every possible moral implication, and then encourages us to do the same.
The Nether, which runs 90 minutes without intermission, plays through Sunday, April 23, with performances Thursday-Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday evenings at 6 pm. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $20 for students/seniors/military. The company is partnering with Buntport Theatre and will be utilizing their venue for the run of the show at 717 Lipan Street in Denver. Visit www.benchmarktheatre.com to purchase tickets and send any inquiries to info@benchmarktheatre.com.

REVIEW: Miners Alley Playhouse’s production of ‘A Skull in Connemara’ is a dark comedy about skullduggery, through April 30

APRIL 4, 2017

Martin McDonagh’s dark comedies are filled with moonshine-fueled blather, banter, and bickering amongst mostly-reprehensible characters. A Skull in Connemara, playing through April 30 at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, is one of McDonagh’s finest, bitter as dark ale, and nearly as intoxicating.
In an Irish village that is so small, the bones in the church cemetery must be disinterred and discarded to make room for the recently deceased, brooding alcoholic gravedigger Mick Dowd (Logan Ernsthal) has the unenviable task of exhuming the remains of his own wife, dead these past seven years. He carries the burden of having killed her while driving drunk, but rumors suggest she might have been bludgeoned to death, and the crash staged to cover up the crime.
The truth about Mick’s skullduggery will out.

Young and giddy alcoholic Mairtin Hanson (John Hauser) is supposed to help the older man but mostly dances around the graves, gossiping and annoying the smoldering Mick. Mairtin’s brother Thomas (John Jankow) is the local Garda, and wants to put Mick behind bars in the worst way, but he’s impeded by his gross incompetence. Mairtin and Thomas’s granny (Carla Kaiser Kotrc) is a moonshine-swigging Bingo binger who knows more than she’s letting on.

A Skull in Connemara is a shocking and fascinating (like watching a train wreck fascinating), character driven drama where everyone has a secret, but drunkenness leads to loose lips and unspeakable violence.
Ernsthal is a marvel as the seething, besotted Mick. Hauser may go just a bit over the top as Mairtin, but he does a great job “poking the bear”. Jankow is hilarious as the sputtering, ineffective Garda, western Ireland’s own Barney Fife. Kaiser Kotrc is delightful as MaryJohnny Rafferty, a woman who cadges free drinks, cheats shamelessly at Bingo, and has nothing but malice for a couple of five-year-olds who insulted her, nearly thirty years ago.
Director Billie McBride is truly an actor’s director, helping the characters bring out every nuance and revelation. Jonathan Scott-McKean’s set, which includes a graveyard with two fully-functioning graves and mounds of soil, alongside a grubby cottage, is truly extraordinary.
McDonagh’s plays, aren’t everyone’s cup of poitin, but if you like your dark comedies 90-proof, A Skull in Connemara will shock and delight you to your very bones.
Miners Alley Playhouse presents “A Skull in Connemara” March 24 through April 30 in Golden. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30p.m; Sundays at 1:00p.m.; Sundays April 2, 9, 16 & 23 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $17 – $27 and available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com.  Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Avenue. Golden, CO 80401.

REVIEW: Town Hall Arts Center’s ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ is a lusty, larcenous Bluegrass hootenanny, through April 30

APRIL 3, 2017
THAC’s lively and energetic production of The Robber Bridegroom perpetuates the undeniable yet inexplicable myth of the archetypal “bad boy”. The 1975 musical, with book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry and music by Robert Waldman, is based on a 1942 novella by Eudora Welty, which in turn was adapted from an early 19th century Brothers Grimm folk tale. The high-octane musical comedy, which is shot through with Bluegrass music, plays in Littleton through April 30.
Jamie Lockhart (Ryan Buehler) is a gentleman rogue and thieving scoundrel. He may crawl into bed with you to steal your gold, but he’ll do it with style. And when he does just that to the ridiculously gullible and naive plantation owner Clement (TJ Hogle), he inadvertently thwarts the brutish Little Harp (Benjamin Cowhick), who’s had the same larcenous plan.
Winning Clement’s trust, and sensing an even bigger payday, Jamie agrees to visit Clement’s home and scout out the rich mark’s holdings. In the meantime, he also robs Clement’s lovely and lusty daughter Rosamund (Bekah Ortiz), stripping her naked but not raping her—until their second encounter. She falls in love with the bandit but is repulsed by the gentleman, not realizing until later that they are the same man.
Meanwhile, Rosamund’s evil stepmother Salome (Steph Holmbo) and her hilariously dense but amazingly nimble henchman Goat (Ryan Heidenreich) attempt to do in the winsome wench.
This being a Grimm tale originally, there’s also a talking severed head (Chas Lederer), and an omen quoting raven (Caitlin Conklin), along with a handful of townsfolk to round out the chorus (John Mackey, Cara Lippitt, Leah Nikula, Kris Graves).
The music is upbeat, and some of the numbers are real toe-tappers, but the subject matter is incongruously dark, with murder, rape, theft, conspiracy, swearing and lying running rampant through the small Mississippi town. Sin has seldom seemed like so much fun, but there are consequences.
Denver comic veteran Robert Wells has directed the show at a breakneck pace, adding countless sight gags, split second timing, and slapstick humor. It makes it easier to keep the audience from dwelling on what’s actually happening. And since the style is fully presentational and performed by storytellers, we’re encouraged not to take anything seriously.
Special mention goes to Michael R. Duran’s phenomenal and atmospheric barn set, complete with rafters and pens for the musicians. Choreographer Kelly Kates introduces numerous square dancing variations into the show.
There are several Bluegrass musicals out there, including Big River (my favorite), Southern Comfort, Steve Martin’s Bright StarGolden Boy of the Blue Ridge, and The Cottonpatch Gospel. It’s not quite country/western music. It’s more folksy.
The mostly cheerful yet amoral characters of The Robber Bridegroom are the type of folk you’d love to spend an evening with–but don’t invite them into your bed.
Town Hall’s production of The Robber Bridegroom, opens Friday, March 31 and runs through Sunday, April 30, 2017. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 4/15 and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Here’s a link to a video advertisement for the production: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnUg8_RBcUg
Reserved seat tickets are priced $20.00-$42.00 and are available at the Town Hall Arts Center box office, 303-794-2787 ext. 5 (Monday – Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 Hour prior to Shows) or on-line at townhallartscenter.org/robber-bridegroom.  Group discounts available for purchasing ten or more tickets, please contact Corey Brown at cbrown@townhallartscenter.org or 303.794.2787 x 213. In a continuing effort to make plays at Town Hall Arts Center accessible to all, ten value seats at $10 each will be made available on a first-come-first-served basis one-hour prior to each published curtain time.

REVIEW: Arvada Center’s lavish and thoughtful ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ whets appetite for the truth, through April 16

APRIL 1, 2017
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical Passion Play for those who prefer a mildly prescient Messiah who doesn’t preach or tell parables, works no miracles, is incapable of healing anyone, and fails to rise from the dead.
In other words, non-believers and marginal Christians.
But it’s still an excellent musical for the secular set. While The Arvada Center’s lavish production, thoughtfully directed by Rod A. Lansberry and running through April 16 is no substitute for actually going to church on Easter, it will certainly help get you into the mood to catch up on what you’ve been missing.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has never pretended to be a Christian, was fascinated by charismatic and politically controversial characters. JC Superstar has more in common with Evita than with his other biblically-inspired hit Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. One might argue that he co-opted or committed religious and cultural appropriation by creating his own version of the Greatest Story Ever Told, but he and lyricist Tim Rice did so with honorable intent, and people weren’t so touchy about those things 47 years ago.
The rock opera begins as Jesus (Billy Lewis, Jr.) turns his feet toward Jerusalem one last time, knowing it will result in martyrdom. Once-loyal Judas (Matt LaFontaine) can’t understand the change in what had once been a social/charitable mission and feels things have gotten way out of hand. Mary Magdalene (Jenna Bainbridge) is also confused, but the conflict is based on her love for the man, not the mission. The rest of the disciples are clueless sheep.
Powerful forces are in play, as chief priests Annas (Joe Callahan) and Caiaphas (Stephen Day) plot the would-be messiah’s destruction, for the sake of the nation. Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Markus Warren) is filled with foreboding and becomes a pawn in a larger plan, and King Herod (Wayne Kennedy) has a cameo as a miracle-craving Jimmy Durante-style showman.
The score, blessed by numerous hit songs, in many ways defined a generation, and some of us who are of a certain age, know the words and tunes by heart. Most of the cast weren’t even born when the show first opened in 1970.
The casting of the “big three” is outstanding. Lewis looks like Jesus “should,” thankfully not altogether Scandinavian, and has a magnificent voice. His prayer in Gethsemane, while blasphemous and wildly inaccurate theologically and biblically, is a showstopper. LaFontaine elicits genuine pity and compassion as the man with the worst role in fulfilling God’s marvelous plan ever. Bainbridge is a lovely Mary Magdalene, filled with devotion and a soaring voice. (Jesus’s mom is AWOL.)
Warren likewise is a memorable Pilate, while Day and Callahan make the perfect Mutt and Jeff of villainy.
Several artistic and aesthetic choices have been made for this particular production, all of which will be appreciated by the mostly upper middle class, middle aged Arvada Center audiences. The rock music, under musical director David Nehls is somewhat muted, so as not to hurt our aging ears, and David Thomas’s sound design ensures that everyone will hear and understand every word. This care for communication is further strengthened by a cast of real musical theatre singers, rather than rock singers who aren’t concerned with the eventual surgical removal of nodes. There’s very little vocal abuse going on, and that’s much appreciated.
In fact, the greatest single contribution of this production is that Lansberry and his team have treated JC Superstar more like a venerable musical theatre classic than a loud and rebellious rock opera.
Brian Mallgrave’s set design, complete with multiple levels, rocky ruins and a landscape-transforming turntable, is a visual treat and allows for enormous variety in the staging. The set is complemented by Shannon McKinney’s lush lighting design.
Although the namesake of Jesus Christ Superstar bears only a passing resemblance to the biblical messiah and savior of the world, and his Father in heaven comes off as a sadistic monster who toys with and tortures his children, it’s still a worthwhile musical, mostly because it whets our appetites for the truth.
And it’s the truth that will set us free.
Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. through April 16. Preview performances are March 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. Audience engagement events, including happy hours with the cast, are held through the run of the production. To purchase tickets go to https://arvadacenter.org/jesus-christ-superstar or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd and provides free parking for its patrons.

REVIEW: BDT Stage’s satirical music revue ‘Disenchanted!’ pokes fun at, yet empowers everyone’s inner princess, through May 6

MARCH 16, 2017
BDT Stage, formerly Boulder’s Dinner Theatre just opened Disenchanted!, the funniest and most tuneful all-women musical revue since the Nunsense franchise. A gaggle of Disney-style princesses, having mostly let themselves go since marrying their charming princes, stage an empowerment party so they can kvetch about the myth of “living happily ever after” and support one another as they slide into middle age.
The musical runs through May 6.
The ringleaders of this gathering are the competent Snow White (Jessica Hindsley), ditzy Cinderella (Tracy Warren), and sloppily narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty (Annie Dwyer).
Joining them are beer-guzzling Little Mermaid (Alicia K. Meyers), solitary-black-princess-who-still-has-to-sing as-if-she’s-white-and-doesn’t-even-get-a-real-name The Princess Who Kissed The Frog (Anna High), and the unmarried and must, therefore be a lesbian Hua Mulan (Marijune Scott).
Making cameo appearances are the inappropriately sexualized Pocahontas (Scott), rebellious secondary princess Jasmine from Aladdin (Scott), and stark-raving bonkers Belle from Beauty and the Beast (Meyers).
Any resemblance to the Disney versions of these princesses is purely coincidental, in order to avoid a lawsuit. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Disenchanted! is definitely NOT for children. It is packed to the patootie with adult themes, off-color jokes, and salty references.
Most of the humor derives from bursting the romantic-nostalgic bubble of innocence surrounding these beloved characters. The show is self-obsessed and satirical, but not mean-spirited. References to the princes are superficial at best, and none of these aging princesses appear to have had children or gotten involved in the charitable work we expect of royalty–or done any kind of work whatsoever. They are privileged and pampered, occasionally disgusting, and somewhat pathetic.
But they are a fun bunch.
Sure, time hasn’t been kind to them. But all they have to do is decide they are perfect, and voila, they are—because they’ve lowered the bar for perfection, along with their expectations. They are, after all, disenchanted. And besides, it’s a musical.
The songs themselves are clever, varied in style, and give the cast ample opportunities to display their impressive voices. Dwyer provides most of the comical shtick, though Warren’s perky Cinderella garners numerous laughs through sight gags.
The show is short enough that the shock value doesn’t wear thin, although the material breaks its own rules for cheap laughs. For example, Rapunzel (Seamus McDonough) has a big number. It’s a showy drag role, but the actor’s not invited to the curtain call. I can only assume it’s because his presence wouldn’t support the female empowerment theme.
One number, “Big Tits,” is about how nerdy sex-crazed animation artists endowed them with unlikely proportions. But the princes in those movies are idealized, too. There’s a number about how the princesses have to starve themselves, but only one or two have maintained a Pilates figure. It rings false because the point of the show is that the princesses want to accept and embrace themselves as real women, not fairy tale fantasies.
Linda Morken’s costume design is marvelous, as is Debbie Spaur’s hair and wig design. It’s a gorgeous show to look at, and with a live band backstage, to listen to as well.
Dennis T. Giacino, who wrote the award-winning book, music, and lyrics for Disenchanted! uses surprise, wit and guilty pleasures galore to make the show as entertaining as it is.
Just don’t look too deeply into that magic mirror.
Disenchanted! plays at the BDT Stage through May 6. Prices start at just $41 and include both the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Group rate tickets and season subscriptions are available for all performances throughout the year. Call (303) 449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations. The theatre is located at 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, CO 80303.

REVIEW: DCT’s glorious ‘The Jungle Book’ puts a fresh, athletic, and poetic face on a beloved classic, through April 30

MARCH 13, 2017
Denver Children’s Theatre has offered professionally-staged children’s theatre programs to school children and the general public for twenty years. The current production of The Jungle Book, directed by DCT’s artistic director Steve Wilson, is as polished, poetic, wonderful, and whimsical as anyone, young or old, could ever wish..
Freely adapted from the Rudyard Kipling classic by Greg Banks, the play begins with the ensemble (Rachel Graham, Susannah McLeod, Adrian Egolf, and Ilasiea Gray) relating, then enacting the story of a boy (Trevor Fulton) who wanders into the deepest, darkest jungle, and is adopted by wolves. Far from feral, Mowgli has a knack for charming the most fearsome creatures, except for the fierce man-hating tiger Shere Khan (McLeod).
Befriended by the goofy bear Baloo (Graham), and the circumspect panther Bagheera (Egolf), Mowgli runs into trouble with a mischievous bunch of monkeys but is rescued with the help of the beguiling snake Kaa (Gray). Eventually, Mowgli must decide whether to remain with the animals or live with fellow humans but conceives another alternative.
DCT’s The Jungle Book is a shining example of outstanding professional children’s theatre, with top-notch direction, thrilling performances, imaginative sets and costumes, a mainstage budget, and dedicated use of a comfortable and accessible 400-seat venue.
It’s the kind of show that reaches thousands of school children and gives them a thrilling example of how powerful and entertaining live theatre can be. But this show is loads of fun for adults, too.
What struck me most in this universally superior production, is the physicality of the actors, as they inhabit myriad characters, often with mere seconds between full costume changes. Their timing is impeccable, and they have discovered layers of complexity in familiar characters that breathe new life into the story. All this while performing an array of acrobatics and parkour stunts.
And yet the “humanity” of this talking animal story comes through loud and clear. Perhaps, if we could learn to speak each other’s languages like Mowgli, we might be able to all get along and help one another survive the jungle.
The Jungle Book is presented to the public on Sundays through April 30th at 1 p.m., and to school groups most weekdays through May 5th at 10 a.m. The show is presented in the Elaine Wolf Theatre at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center located at 350 S. Dahlia Street in Denver. Recommended for children ages 6 and up. Tickets for public performances are $9 for children/adults and can be purchased at the box office at 303-316-6360 or online at the Denver Children’s Theatre. For more information regarding weekday school performances call 303-316-6360. Discounts are available for Title I schools.

REVIEW: The BiTSY Stage’s fuses folktale with Steampunk in hilarious ‘The Lass Who Went Out with the Cry of Dawn,’ through April 2

MARCH 6, 2017
The BiTSY stage isn’t “just” a children’s theatre. Though the 25-seat house (including floor cushions) seems intended for the wee bairns, and the performance I attended captivated the attention of at least ten preschoolers, The BiTSY’s folktale-inspired productions are thoroughly entertaining for the whole family.
Opening the BiTSY’s new season is The Lass Who Went Out With The Cry Of Dawn: A Celtic Yarn, based on a Scottish tale about the intrepid Lass (Karin Barnett) who leaves her mother (Veronica Straight0-Lingo) and father (Hannah Carmichael) and undertakes a quest to rescue her older sister (Katie Medved) from the socially inept, dark and mysterious Mischanter (Ryan Barnett). Along the way, she encounters a bewitched tinker (Veronica Straight-Lingo) and tailor (Jessica Hall).
Armed with a sewing needle and thread, a thimble, a twig of cotton, and a penny whistle, along with sage advice from her parents and strangers on the road, Lass faces and overcomes numerous trials, breaks the bonds of the Mischanter’s beguilement, and restores order to the land.
It’s a classic non-violent hero’s journey story, where kindness and determination win the day.
Playwright/Director Patti Murtha, with Samantha McDermott and Jeri Franco, have packed this familiar story structure with non-stop hilarity, goofiness, ingenuity and breathtaking creativity. Performed in “Story Theatre” style, and narrated by the singing Balladeer (Ryan Barnett), The Lass is an imaginative, thrilling, not-too-scary 45-minute adventure. The original Celtic/New Age-style music is performed live by composer/pianist extraordinaire Rekha Ohal.
Special kudos to art director Jeri Franco for the endlessly inventive fabric and Steampunk/mechanical props and set-pieces, half of which would belong in an art gallery if they weren’t also functional. Michal Meyer’s costumes extend the Steampunk/Folk visual metaphor, with peasant costumes augmented by goggles, a top hat, and lots of metallic adornments.
If you love international folktales brought to life by professional actors and large doses of humor, The BiTSY Stage needs to jump to the top of your list. But be sure to call ahead for reservations, as the performances are free (donations accepted) and it doesn’t take more than a couple dozen souls to pack the house.
The BiTSY Stage presents The Lass Who Went Out With The Cry Of Dawn: A Celtic Yarn through April 2 at 1137 S. Huron St. Denver, CO 80223. Performances are Saturdays at 1 & 3 p.m.; Sundays at 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.; Fridays March 10 & 31 at 7:30 p.m. with a special fundraiser performance Saturday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m. All performances are FREE, donations are accepted.  Reservations at www.bitsystage.com, by email at patti@bitsystage.com or by calling 720-328-5294.

REVIEW: Arvada Center’s ‘Bus Stop’ a beguiling and nostalgic drama of America’s heartland, through April 15

FEBRUARY 26, 2017
While the Denver Center Theatre Company seems to be undergoing some kind of shakedown, the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre continues to assert itself as the pre-eminent producer of outstanding classical plays by a resident professional ensemble. The current production of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Inge’s poignant and tender Chekhovian drama Bus Stop, playing through April 15, is a triumph of design, direction, and execution.
Things aren’t always simple in affairs of the heart, and the motley gathering of American Heartlanders stranded in a Kansas diner during a blizzard in 1955 spend the evening revealing, often reluctantly, their hearts’ desires, painful longings, frustrations, hopes, and remorse.
It’s 1 a.m. At Gracie’s Diner, thirty miles west of Kansas City, and the snow is piling up outside. Grace (Kate Gleason) wants to close up for the night and retire to her upstairs apartment. Her bright and tireless teenage waitress Elma (Jenna Moll Reyes) offers to help, when they learn from world-wise and not-too-weary sheriff Will (Geoffrey Kent) that the last bus coming through that night can’t go on to Topeka until the road is cleared.
The bus pulls in, carrying the flirtatious driver Carl (Josh Robinson), reprobate and alcoholic professor Dr. Lyman (Sam Gregory), the harried 19-year-old-but-fading chanteuse Cherie (Emily Van Fleet), and a couple of rodeo cowboys, easy-going Virgil (Michael Morgan) and the boastful, hot-headed Bo Decker (Sean Scrutchins) who carries a chip on his shoulder as big as a Montana sky.
Most of the pyrotechnics happen between Bo and Cherie, as he won’t be dissuaded from marrying the singer, and dragging her off to his ranch, caveman style. She isn’t sure where to go or what to do, other than to run like a frightened little filly.
The sheriff and Bo get into a dust up when the cocky youth refuses to back down and act respectfully. There’s a more subtle mutual seduction going on between Carl and Grace. Dr. Lyman finds his attraction to the under-aged Elma and her innocent responses to his poetic musings a little too beguiling for his own good.
Director Allison Watrous has assembled a top-notch cast of seasoned, classically trained, and seriously talented actors for this production. I suspect that together they examined Inge’s densely-layered script for every possible nuance, every character revelation and insight, then arranged for the audience to share their discoveries to maximum effect. Snow may cover the ground outside the diner, but every heart is painstakingly exposed in a world where love, compassion, humility, understanding, sacrifice, succor, and just plain human goodness still hold sway.
Scrutchins and Van Fleet have all the chemistry needed to set off the fireworks in Bo and Cherie’s incendiary relationship. The painful but necessary taming of the wild mustang Bo symbolizes is entirely credible.
Gregory’s Lyman, potentially the least sympathetic character, is filled with pathos, self-loathing and regret. Though fallen low, he strives for the high road. The moment in which he recites Romeo’s balcony scene speech is absolutely electrifying.
Morgan, as Bo’s even-tempered father figure, though often relegated to the background or providing guitar accompaniment, has the power to either warm our hearts or break them, and accomplishes both.
Reyes’ Elma is almost impossibly upbeat and innocent, but she too experiences an awakening that moves her closer to womanhood. Gleason and Robinson are hilarious in their attempts to keep their affair secret, yet there’s a hint of a darker side to their philandering.
As the peacekeeper, Kent is especially strong in the effortless way of men who have taken beatings in the past, won more fights than lost, and now have nothing to prove. If a body needs a nudge to get back on the straight and narrow or just grow up, he’s the man to step up and do what needs doing.
Brian Mallgrave’s hyper-realistic scenic design is a marvel, from the falling snow to the inlaid wood floor, to the donuts under glass. It hearkens to an Americana at its most nostalgic, after the war but before the revolutionary Sixties.
There’s something inherently dramatic about gathering a bunch of colorful characters, putting them in a room together, and seeing what happens. It sounds simple, but Inge was a master. Now, the master craftsmen and performing artists at the Arvada Center have brought this compelling example of great American Realism to its full potential.
Click on the image above to purchase a DVD copy of the 1956 film version of Bus Stop, starring Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, and Arthur O’Connell.
Performances of Bus Stop are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday matinees at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m., through April 15. An additional performance has been added on Wednesday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. Audience engagement events, including insider’s talkbacks and chats with the cast, are held through the run of the production. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/bus-stop or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. and provides free parking for its patrons.
Bus Stop marks the launch of the Arvada Center’s spring repertory theatre season. It is presented by members of the Center’s new ensemble company of actors, directors, technical artists and designers, and performed as part of the Center’s three-play repertory rotation. For information on upcoming Black Box productions The Drowning Girls and Waiting for Godot, go to http://arvadacenter.org/2016-2017-arvada-center-theatre-season-at-a-glance.

REVIEW: Action-packed, slapstick version of ‘Robin Hood’ is a thrilling adventure for children and adults alike at Miners Alley Playhouse, through March 4

FEBRUARY 19, 2017
Miners Alley Children’s Theatre’s swashbuckling production of Robin Hood is a glorious geyser of action-packed merriment. The script, penned by Lakewood Commissioner Scott Koop, is an absolute hoot, bursting with slapstick humor, puns, lovable characters (yes, including Prince John), chase scenes, magic tricks, stand-up comedy, disguises, sword fights, quarterstaff combat, daring escapes and rescues, a bit of silly-icky romance, and even an archery contest.
In other words, it’s exactly what kids are looking for in a Robin Hood play. Several times, children come onstage to join in the fun. It’s the perfect way for a young family to share a short Saturday afternoon excursion together. Bring along grandma and grandpa, too.
Prince John (the legendary T.J. Mullin) is about as dastardly as a mashup of Daffy Duck and Winnie the Pooh, but he’s currently wearing the crown, so if he wants to raise taxes, it’s up to his bumbling guards, the equivalent of medieval Keystone Kops, to follow orders.
Enter the dashing, debonair Robin Hood (Drew Hirschboeck) and his merry band, including swordsman extraordinaire Friar Tuck (Damon Guerrasio), Much the Miller’s Son (veteran funnyman Alex Crawford), and amateur magician Will Scarlet (Erik Thurston) to confiscate Prince John’s gold and redistribute it to the poor. Little John apparently had the day off, though the most likely candidate, children’s theatre impresario Rory Pierce, is the show’s director, and was running sound cues from the booth.
One look at Robin and Maid Marian (Alaina Beth Reel) ditches Prince John to join the merry band of outlaws, where she displays amazing skill with the quarterstaff.
Naturally, Robin Hood is the equal of all his men and maid put together.
Hirschboeck is the perfect Robin Hood, with a bright smile, easy manner, and strong physical presence. The children in the audience instantly accepted him as their hero, and he moved easily between being confident, cocky, and just a little bit conceited, but never smug. An accomplished singer, Hirschboeck’s rendition of a sappy medieval ditty is made all the more hilarious by feeble and slightly out of tune accompaniment by his fellows on ukulele and recorder.
It’s that kind of show. Each moment is a delight and revelation.
Reel’s Marian is strong and courageous, not afraid to proclaim her love. She’s a worthy match for the matchless Robin.
Mullin’s inimitable vocal acrobatics, treasure trove of shtick, and flawless comedic timing are a marvel. Kids can boo all they wish, but they still like this Prince John. He’s not evil, just a big, selfish baby. If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that we should take care of people who are having a tough time. And every once in awhile, it’s okay for someone else to sit in your chair.
The action never slows, alternating scenes of witty banter and broad farce. One of the show’s highlights is the classic “Three Men and a Plank” gag that is familiar to fans of circus clown routines and silent film comedies. But it’s ALL good. The exciting stage combat is carefully rehearsed, more complicated than you’d expect, character-based, and often funny. It’s almost as if the Princess Bride took place in Sherwood Forest.
The fabric set, which transforms from castle to forest in the blink of an eye, was sewn by Gail Smith and Liz Scott-McKean, and the costumes are likewise gorgeous while permitting all kinds of movement, from pratfalls to chases.
It’s a shame this superior show only runs four weekends, and half of them are already past. Don’t delay. Take your family to see Miners Alley Children’s Theatre’s Robin Hood. Plan to arrive a bit early, as downtown Golden is popular on Saturday afternoons, so parking may be tricky.
The tales of Robin Hood and his merry men will never die, but rarely have they felt this ALIVE.
Robin Hood runs through March 4.  Performances are every Saturday at 1 p.m and February 25 and March 4 at 11:00 a.m.  Tickets are $10 and available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com

REVIEW: The Upstart Crow’s ‘King Lear’ is a smart, straight-forward, and accessible classic, through Feb. 19

FEBRUARY 15, 2017
Mad scenes must have been popular in England when Shakespeare wrote King Lear. Hamlet feigns madness, Lady Macbeth and Ophelia jump the rails, and Othello has a homicidal breakdown.
But nothing beats Lear for raging, ranting, and raving.
The Upstart Crow’s forthright and unembellished production of King Lear, playing at the Longmont Performing Arts Center through Feb. 19, tosses the audience into a maelstrom of madness. Lunacy, while pitiable, is an appropriate response to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” suffered by several characters.
One would think the current political climate of transition and succession might prompt a different interpretation. One with a kingdom divided between blue and red, and the presumed but discarded heir apparent left to wander the woods in confusion and disgrace.
But this is director Joan Kuder Bell’s third go with King Lear for the Upstart Crow, and she trusts the material to speak for itself without a lot of tinkering. Her casting is traditional, and when a character dies (or with The Fool, vanishes sans thought or a mention), the actor recycles into the ensemble. Just like in the days of yore.
Wisely or unwisely, but with tragic (and lethal) consequences for almost all major, supporting, and a few minor characters, mercurial King Lear (Louis Clark) divides his kingdom between two of his three daughters (Kathryn Gourley, Alexis Bell), favoring those who flatter over the one who is honest and true (Joanne Niederhoff).
Meanwhile, Edmund (Will Hunter), the bastard son of Gloucester (Dan Doherty), tires of having his illegitimacy rubbed in his face and becomes a proper villain, forcing his hapless brother Edgar (Joe Illingworth) to flee into the wilderness and run around nearly naked, pretending to be insane.
The two nasty daughters have husbands, one mild and one fiery (John W. Roberts, Russ Nelson). One is oblivious to his wife’s machinations, while the other is a co-conspirator in the war between siblings. The virtuous daughter Cordelia marries the King of France (Alex Boates) and misses most of the play until it’s time to come back and have a pathetic death.
Lear has a faithful friend (Kevin Durkin) who refuses to accept banishment, and there’s a villain-in-training (Roark Thornberry),  a cowardly errand boy who causes much mischief.
All the raging at storms and injustice, rants against suffering and life itself, and the endless cryptic riddles of The Fool (Amy Sonnanstine) and Edgar grow tiresome. They are the verbal equivalent of a Michael Bay explosion film, all sound and fury, signifying the same points over and over.
Of far more interest are the devious and ultimately fatal sibling rivalries. The conspiracy between Goneril and Regan against Lear gets him out of the way and onto the moor, but then they turn on each other. Edmund’s crimes against Edgar prevail for a time until Edgar stops hiding and fights back. Those of us who are of a certain age will identify with Goneril and Regan chafing at having to play host to the homeless Lear—and his retinue of 100 knights. Turns out Lear wanted to stay king. He just didn’t want to rule.
The Upstart Crow’s bare-bones productions, featuring amateur casts, are intelligently staged and performed with conviction. Classics do not need to be tricked out with bizarre innovations or interpretations, casting novelties or expensive eye candy to tell their story. This is what I love about The Upstart Crow. No pretensions, no frills, just works of great drama, staged with appreciation, competence, and devotion.
Performances are February 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 pm and February 19 at 2:00 pm.  The Longmont Performing Arts Center is located at 513 Main St., in Old Town, Longmont. Information:  www.theupstartcrow.org.

REVIEW: Angry musical ‘Billy Elliot’ celebrates solidarity, individuality at The Vintage Theatre, through March 19

FEBRUARY 8, 2017.
In a political climate where outrage seems to be the daily norm, Vintage Theatre presents the regional premiere of Billy Elliot the Musical, an angry show about how only ferocious love can overcome the anarchy of hate.
Set in a financially desperate, hardscrabble mining town in northern England during the tumultuous Thatcher years, Billy Elliot is based on a 2001 film in which a young boy accidentally discovers he has a talent for, of all things, ballet.
While the destitute miners suffer through a year-long strike, scowling and skinny Billy (Kaden Hinkle) receives rough, unsympathetic kindness from a middle-aged, chain-smoking housewife (Adrianne Hampton), who offers a ballet class for giddy girls at 50 pence a lesson.
The police move into the village, morale deteriorates, and demonstrations devolve into skirmishes, then riots. Billy’s father (Andy Anderson) tries to keep his family out of harm’s way, but his eldest son Tony (Brian Robertson) is a hot head just itching for a fight. Billy’s feisty grandma (Deborah Persoff) is alternately addled and shrewd as the plot requires, and the boy is also watched over by his Dead Mum (Becca Fletcher) who jerks a tear from the audience every time she walks onstage.
The situation is bleak, and when Mrs. Wilkinson suggests that Billy might have a chance to escape the doomed village and go off to ballet school, the Elliot family enters crisis mode.
Billy Elliot the Musical is as rough as a coal miner’s lung. It is filled with colorful profanity, relentless verbal abuse, seething anger, crushing disappointment, and characters with enough chips on their shoulders to fill a scuttle. The townsfolk may be crude and uneducated, but they hold together as best they can when things get tough.
Like Billy himself, the book and music feel clumsy and gangly, uneven and unpolished, but the Vintage Theatre’s production takes the problems on one by one and nearly overcomes them all. Director Bernie Cardell, musical director Blake Nawa’a, and especially choreographers Gina Eslinger and Andrew Bates, along with a remarkably gifted intergenerational cast, should be proud of their accomplishment. To my great relief, this version steers clear of a couple fatal mistakes made by the national touring (and presumably Broadway) production.
Hinkle is particularly good as Billy, taking on unusually daunting acting, singing and dancing challenges with appropriately fierce determination and natural talent. Also especially strong is Hampton as the tough-as-nails ballet teacher.
Kris Graves and Eddie Schumacher bring much-appreciated comic relief to the roles of an unlikely ballet fan/piano player and the boxing coach/town spokesman.
Benjamin Dienstfrey performs the potentially cringe-worthy, cross-dressing “pouf-in-training” Michael with gleeful abandon, and Robertson brings frighteningly seething rage into the Elliot home as Tony. Special mention also goes to Will Treat as Older Billy in a dream ballet sequence.
The Ballet Girls, Darrow Klein, Macy Friday, Kat Neuweiler, Audrey Graves, Molly Fickes and Grace Dotson also bring humor and light to the show with their antics.1
There is one number early on in the show, “Solidarity,” that is pure genius. Miners, ballet dancers and strike breaking police challenge each other one second and then dance together in the next, in varying combinations. That was a thrilling theatrical moment.
Too many of the other songs are de rigueur, formulaic musical theatre placeholders: the feisty old lady number, the sad, sung letter, the dad’s moral dilemma and heroic choice, the silly “look at me I’m special and different” routine, the rousing second act opener. They could be lifted out and jammed into a dozen other musicals and serve the same purpose. Also, there’s no intrinsic reason for tap dancing to appear in a show about ballet dancing, but sure enough, there it is, because…Broadway musical.
I couldn’t help but feel that the non-musical film version is the best way to experience this story.
Then, near the end of the show, Billy has a song and dance number, “Electricity,” where he tries to explain what it feels like when he dances. And again, the book and lyrics by Lee Hall and Elton John’s music are pure exhilarating magic.
It’s in those two superior numbers that we get the heart and soul of Billy Elliot the Musical. It’s about how family and community must stick together in adversity, and how we must be faithful to that inner voice that urges us to rise above the slag and create something beautiful.
Vintage Theatre presents the regional premiere of Billy Elliot the Musical through March 19. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Tickets are $28 – $34 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.

REVIEW: Equinox Theatre’s scaled down version of ‘The Who’s Tommy’ actually makes sense, at The Bug Theatre, through Feb. 4

JANUARY 16, 2017
— The Who’s Tommy has run the gamut from concept album, to film, to large-scale Broadway musical, and finally community theatre production. Though Equinox Theatre does a fine job staging a small-scale version, part of me longs for the thrill of huddling over my record player back in 1969, watching the LP record spin round and round, and letting my imagination do the rocking out.
The show has always lent itself to overkill, in part because of its controversial subject matter, but mostly due to Peter Townshend’s rock score, which was groundbreaking in its day.
Visionary filmmaker Ken Russell’s 1975 film version, starring Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, and Elton John, literally wallowed in bloated excess, and the razzle dazzle of the Broadway touring production, with its seizure-inducing backdrop of TV monitors, somehow made it worse.
So this local production, playing at The Bug Theatre through Feb. 4, comes as a welcome relief. The story and visuals actually make sense.
The Who’s Tommy is about a messed up kid from a dysfunctional working class family, feeling his way through to a place of healing and grace, becoming a celebrity, then retreating to a simpler, healthier life.
It’s also about the music. Perhaps MOSTLY about the music. So much so that there are lengthy instrumental sections and frequent repetitions of motifs throughout the rock opera that are more about concert performance and less about musical theatre.
There’s no point in worrying about spoiler alerts for a show that is older than most of the people in the audience, so here is a detailed synopsis:
The musical plays like something one might read in the National Enquirer. An army officer (James Bloom) is captured and presumed dead. His newlywed wife (Emma Maxfield) raises their baby, with the help of a kind and attentive lover (Christian Munck), who is promptly shot to death when Captain Walker unexpectedly returns home.
Four-year-old Tommy (Joey DeLeon) witnesses the murder and falls into an unresponsive state, unable to see, hear or speak. In a tastefully staged but nevertheless cringe-inducing scene, Tommy’s perverted Uncle Ernie (Brandon De Vito) molests the ten-year-old (Carter Novinger).
The boy is subjected to additional physical abuse by Cousin Kevin (Katelyn Kendrick), who repeatedly takes advantage of Tommy’s defenseless, helpless state, but also inadvertently introduces him to pinball machines.
Soon teenage Tommy (Tyler Nielsen) becomes a sensation, gaining praise as a pinball wizard. Others enjoy and profit from his celebrity, but it’s not until a critical moment that Tommy literally “comes to his senses,” having dreamed away his entire childhood.
Tommy’s fans try to turn him into a guru of sorts, but when he rejects the mantle, they turn on him. Still, manages to discover domestic bliss.
There are featured numbers for several unusual characters, including the Acid Queen (Terra Salazar), the creepy and reprehensible Uncle Ernie, Cousin Kevin (who also sings Pinball Wizard), a doctor who determines Tommy’s condition is due to emotional rather than physical causes, and devoted fan Sally Simpson (Ashlynn Bogema).
Director/Choreographer/Set and Lighting Designer Colin Roybal has invested a tremendous amount of creative energy into making the show not just work, but also make sense, with limited resources. I can’t imagine anyone else in town pulling this show off, and he is to be congratulated.
Music Director Adam White and his seven-piece rock band have been placed way in the backstage area and behind an enormous flat to keep from overwhelming the singers. The music is performed well but sounds a bit muted for a show that should rock the historic and venerable Bug Theatre on its foundation. Then again, it’s likely no local theatre’s sound system could handle mixing that level of music with an amateur cast’s voices, singing primarily in their upper registers.
This is one of those situations where you just say, “It works, it’s good enough,” and be grateful the show is happening at all. And I am.
Equinox Theatre has a solid reputation for turning “fringe” musicals into big hits, and not just by throwing a lot of money around. They frequently sell out performances, and the “hipster” generation fans they attract are the envy of many “graying” companies.
The Who’s Tommy never was the greatest show on earth, but this is a worthy production that has the potential of crossing over and appealing to both generations.
And then, there’s that music…
Performances are Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through Feb. 4. There is also a pay-what-you-can industry night on Feb. 2. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door/$17 for groups of six or more in advance only. All performances are at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, Denver. Tickets and information are available at www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.

REVIEW: Performance Now’s uplifting, inspiring ‘Man of La Mancha’ is grimy, but never grim, through Jan. 22

JANUARY 11, 2017
Among musicals, Man of La Mancha is a timeless classic with an inspiring story and a lush musical score, but it has gone through some dark times. After years of being tortured and abused by pessimistic, miserable, groveling “realistic” productions, Performance Now’s current version restores the award-winning Broadway musical to its original optimistic, idealistic glory. Man of La Mancha plays through January 22 at the Lakewood Cultural Center.
Based on Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 literary and satirical masterpiece Don QuixoteMan of La Mancha tells the tale of an elderly gentleman who goes a bit loopy and imagines himself a chivalrous knight, a few hundred years too late. His misadventures are often whimsical and filled with irony, as his determined idealism clashes with a sometimes brutal reality.
The book by Dale Wasserman introduces a “play within a play” structure, in which Cervantes awaits questioning by the Spanish Inquisition, and enlists fellow prisoners to act out the woebegone knight’s story. Unlike the novel, which satirized honor and chivalry, the musical version embraces idealism as the truer reality and shows how seeing the best in people can, with inevitable sacrifices, elevate and even sanctify them. This is good news, reluctantly embraced by people who really could use a boost to regain some semblance of human dignity.
Everything in this production, which is expertly directed and choreographed by Kelly Van Oosbree, emphasizes the power of light to overwhelm the darkness. Thomas Meche’s scenic design is wide open, with what must be the most spacious dungeon in history. Even the portcullis-sized bars have drapes. An enormous and bright stone staircase seems built more for ascending than descending. The look of the show is uplifting all the way. Sure, the prisoners are in rags and live in filth, but though grimy, they are never grim.
Again and again, Van Oosbree chooses to make the show feel “staged,” and that’s a good thing. There are “shadow puppet” scenes, the battle scene is hilariously stylized, and the trickiest part, the chorus of muleteers’ abuse of Aldonza, her whipping and implied gang rape is clearly STAGE combat, not even attempting to be realistic. The idea gets across just fine, and the cast is not subjected to unnecessary PTSD-inducing cruelty and violence.
What a tremendous cast Performance Now has assembled! Daniel Langhoff gives a stellar performance as Cervantes/Quixote. Quixote’s preposterously pretentious dialogue is proclaimed in a kind of melodramatic, declamatory voice so that we always know he’s “acting” the part. Wise choice. This is not a play about geriatric dementia, but about grandiose ideas coming into conflict with the realities and indignities of mortal existence. Besides making a clear distinction between Cervantes and his literary creation, Langhoff’s resonant voice is truly outstanding. I could listen to him sing all day.
Curiously, for the first time, I noticed that there are long stretches of the play, which is performed without intermission, in which Don Quixote himself doesn’t appear. The musical goes to great lengths to develop the supporting cast, especially the kitchen wench Aldonza (Lindsey Falduto), the jolly jester Sancho (Brian Trampler), and even a scholar (Adam Luhrs), the lead prisoner (Jeff Butler), a priest (Vern Moody), a housekeeper (Liz Larsen) and a young woman (Colby Dunn), all of whom have a stake in the battle over one man’s wits.
Everyone in the ensemble gets a moment to shine, and the result is a LOT of light.
Falduto is excellent as the ultimate survivor Aldonza, reluctant to trust after years of mistreatment, but not having completely given up on life. She exerts control over a lusty mob of muleteers…until she doesn’t. Her transformation is gradual, and her singing matches that change, from growly and harsh to full-on operatic by the end. Trampler is a particularly perky Sancho, light on his feet, chipper and doggedly loyal to his master.
Luhrs is a smooth, slick, snakelike antagonist, but like so many others, not altogether unsympathetic. As sneaky as his character can be, at least part of him wants to be a healer, and you feel his sense of defeat when it’s finally time for the priest to step in.
Even the Captain of the Inquisition (Norman “Max” Maxwell) isn’t too bad a guy, all things considered.
The result of all this goodness is to repeatedly reinforce the idea that deep down, despite our wounds, suffering, and unpleasant lot in life, there’s a common decency, goodness, a basic human dignity in each of us. That’s a powerful message that we need to hear, especially with so many people in turmoil over current events.
Last but not least, is Man of La Mancha’s incredible, unforgettable score, with legitimate melodic hits like “The Impossible Dream,” “It’s All the Same,” “Dulcinea,” “To Each His Dulcinea,” and the harmonic counterpoint genius of “I’m Only Thinking of Him” “Little Bird, Little Bird,” and “The Psalm.” There are a couple of strong dance numbers, especially one with thieving Moorish gypsies, sung by Brad Wagner, and punctuated byChelsea Cusack’s spectacular dance solo. And of course, there are silly ditties, like “Barber’s Song” and “A Little Gossip.” Even my least favorite number, “I Really Like Him,” which is usually annoying, becomes irresistibly goofy as performed by Trampler.
Kudos to Music Director Eric Weinstein and a pit band of at least seven musicians for the lush sound.
Man of La Mancha is right up there with Fiddler on the Roof among the great dramatic (as opposed to comedic or romantic) musicals. It’s inspiring and uplifting, even while acknowledging hardships and suffering. In the end, Don Quixote and all he stands for will never die.
Performance Now’s must-see production of Man of La Mancha is presented at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway in Lakewood. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 – $35 and are available or online at www.performancenow.org or by calling 303-987-7845.

2016 Theatre Reviews

2016 Theatre Review Archive

REVIEW: Edge Theater’s ‘A View From the Bridge’ is a powerful foray into American and family tragedy, through Dec. 31

DECEMBER 8, 2016
Playwright Arthur Miller produced nearly half a dozen masterpieces or near-masterpieces from 1947-1957. His plays delve into the conventions of classical tragedy and bring it into the homes of average Americans, with Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible, A View From the Bridge, and others.
The first hour and a half of The Edge Theater Company’s masterful production of A View From the Bridgedemonstrate Miller’s genius for creating complex characters, naturalistic yet lyrical dialogue, and compelling themes that start very personal and become universal by extension. The play has contemporary equivalents of most of the elements you would expect even from  highly stylized Greek tragedy. Then, in the last twenty minutes, the script seems to get away from the playwright, and while still powerful and dramatically effective, tips the balance into melodrama.
That’s okay. It’s still a great script, made even better by an extraordinary production.
A View From the Bridge is superior to almost anything else being written today. Under the delicate yet disciplined direction of John Ashton, his “dream team” cast gives nuanced, gut-punching performances. I don’t hand out awards, but if I did, The Edge Theater’s powerful and indescribably beautiful production would be at the top of my list for best drama of the year.
Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Rick Yaconis) and his wife Beatrice (Abby Apple Boes) have raised their orphaned niece Catherine (Amelia Corrada) since she was very small. She’s blossoming into a woman now, and Eddie’s over-protectiveness is making everyone uncomfortable. Things heat up when the couple agrees to give sanctuary and succor to two illegal immigrants (Benjamin Cowhick and Jonathan Brown) who have escaped starvation in post-war Italy and will do anything for $30 a week.
It turns out the youngest, Rodolpho (Cowhick) and Catherine are attracted to each other, and though Eddie’s objections seem reasonable to him, jealousy and his unnatural attraction to the girl bring them all to ruin.
I can’t even begin to describe the lyrical quality of Miller’s dialogue, and quoting out of context wouldn’t convey the natural and yet poetic language. Out of the mouths of a lower-middle-class Brooklyn family come the most startling and seemingly natural gems.
Yaconis plays the show’s tragic hero with compounding desperation and vicious cruelty. It’s a performance of very high caliber, somewhat reminiscent of James Cagney in his prime. You can almost see his struggle to let go and hold on at the same time eating him up inside. Apple Boes is a master of conveying subtext, which she puts to good use as the “other woman” who rarely gets a chance to have her say. Then when she does, she’s as frank as a slap across the face.
Corrada, who is a senior at Denver School of the Arts, is simply stunning as the young woman who doesn’t understand what’s happening to Eddie, and hasn’t been prepared to go out and start a life of her own. In forty years of covering theatre there have been a few times when I saw exceptional talent in showcase productions and then witnessed their ascension to stardom (Nick Nolte, Annette Bening, Amy Adams, to name three). Mark my words. Amelia Corrada has enormous potential. Someone give that girl an Equity card and an agent. Right now.
There isn’t a weak link in the cast, with Cowhick’s wide-eyed optimism for a better life, Brown’s haunted and brooding performance as the older brother with a wife and children back home, and Kevin Hart as the helpless lawyer who tries a couple of times to steer Eddie away from disaster, recognizes the futility, and like a Greek chorus, witnesses and comments on a hard-working man’s downfall.
I don’t know why The Edge decided to do this show during the holidays, but as far as I’m concerned, any time of year is a good time to see a great American classic drama, flawlessly performed.
A View From the Bridge isn’t Miller’s most perfect play. I would have preferred it if he had found a way for Eddie to have a moment of recognition, of enlightenment, of realization how his tragic flaw brought him to catastrophe. But I also have to assume that Miller knew what he was doing. This show is going to stay with me for a long, long time.
The Edge Theater Company presents A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller through December 31 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays, Monday, December 19 & Thursday, December 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 6:00 p.m. (No performance Dec. 24 & 25). The Edge will ring in the New Year with a party after the December 31 performance! Tickets are $28; $20 on Monday, Dec. 19 and are available online at www.theedgetheater.com or by calling 303-232-0363.   Group rates are available. The Edge Theater, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood CO 80214. Free Parking.
Here’s a video preview of the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DON8IZh-pEI


REVIEW: Phamaly’s kid-friendly ‘Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol’ puts a new spin on an old chestnut

DECEMBER 5, 2016
Except for the countless Nativity pageants being performed in churches this time of year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is easily the most popular holiday story. Not bad, coming in second place to the birth of Jesus!
The story of the reformation and regeneration of the irascible miser Ebenezer Scrooge, thanks to supernatural, if not actual divine intervention, speaks of hope that the universe is working for all our good, that it’s not too late for us to turn away from selfishness and a scarcity mentality, and embrace our place in the human race.
Phamaly, well known and enjoying a sterling reputation as a theatre company that welcomes variously abled performers, knows a thing or two about acceptance, cooperation, and exceeding limitations. Phamaly’s one-hour children’s theatre production of Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol by Ken Ludwig and Jack Ludwig, and directed by Denver’s own comic genius Paul Dwyer, ably demonstrates how ingenuity, vision, and teamwork can literally work miracles.
Tiny Tim (Rachel Graham) recalls the Christmas when he and several street vendors conspired to pull a con job on the curmudgeonly Scrooge (Rob Costigan) so her dad, Bob Cratchit, will get the day off. Tim and his best friend Charlotte (Jenna Bainbridge), along with a pie maker (Laurice Quinn), bookseller (Micayla Smith) and a puppeteer (Jacob Elledge) pull off an elaborate fake haunting to scare Scrooge silly and teach him a lesson about how family and community are more precious than gold.
It’s a splendid scheme and goes off as smoothly as any Mission Impossible scenario. Only a LOT funnier.
The conceit of the play has several advantages in a show for children. It’s not in the least bit scary because we already know the townsfolk are just playing “dress up.” How many of us have actually been traumatized by the spectral arrival of Jacob Marley’s tormented spirit? Here it’s all good fun, and very silly. Even the terrifying Ghost of Christmas To Come is humanized because we can see his face and he speaks. Whew! No ghosts here!
The play is bursting with energy and excitement, and the versatile ensemble plays multiple roles. Costigan is a hoot as Scrooge, dancing tippy-toed on his bed and shrieking like he’s seen a mouse when a “spirit” invades his bedroom. His redemption is appropriately gradual, and it’s not a huge deal. We all knew it was going to happen anyway, so his inevitable repentance and renewal of human values are almost taken for granted.
Interestingly, Scrooge never finds out he’s been tricked. I think it would have been better, more morally appropriate, if he had, and forgiven the conspirators because they meant no harm, only good. After all, from another point of view, this is a story about a gang of street people who break into a senior citizen’s home, kidnap him and use their particular set of skills to subject him to psychological torture and brainwashing until he hands over his life’s savings.
Merry Christmas, indeed!
Graham is a bundle of goofy energy as Tiny Tim, and Bainbridge brings grace and aplomb as Charlotte, helping to ground Tiny Tim’s antics. Elledge, Quinn, and Smith are versatile performers, creating numerous distinct and interesting characters. As the slightly nerdy bookseller, Smith’s delight at being able to make up a ghost story completely won me over. Quinn’s boldness and facility with accents are tremendous strengths, but as the fright-wigged Jacob Marley, she garnered laughter and cheers with just an expression. Elledge was effective as Bob Cratchit, who in his own way is as duped by the whole prank as his employer, and reaps the benefits.
Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol is a reenvisioning of a beloved classic. And yet there are numerous pithy quotes from Dickens’ story that keep the show anchored in the original text. All the essential scenes are there, but they are presented differently, and more kid-friendly. I say if you can tell the story in an hour instead of two, do it. Phamaly did.
It’s one of my curmudgeonly pet peeves that with SO MANY holiday shows playing right now, very few dare to acknowledge the birth of Jesus Christ as the “reason for the season.” Sometimes it seems to me as if we are searching for holiday stories that are about anything else, and I wonder why.
This production has an entire chorus of Christmas carolers (Harper Ediger, Everett Ediger, Jodi Hogle, Phillip Lomeo, Amber Marsh, and Griffin McConnell) who make no apologies for singing the traditional carols. I sat next to a Jewish woman, and you know what? She wasn’t the least bit offended. ‘Cause that’s what you expect in a Christmas celebration.
Anything else would be disingenuous, a humbug.
Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol is presented by Phamaly, in collaboration with Community College of Denver’s Performing Arts Department. The show performs Thurs./Fri./Sat. & Mon. Dec 12 @ 7:30 pm; Sundays @ 2 pm, through Dec. 18 at the Courtyard Theatre, King Center, 855 Lawrence Way, on the Auraria Campus in Downtown Denver. Audio description & Sign Interpretation, Sun. Dec 11 @ 2 pm. Sensory Friendly Thurs. Dec 15 @ 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25. Group tickets of 10+ just $20. Tickets online at phamaly.org/tiny-tim or by calling 303.556.2296


REVIEW: BDT’s ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ is a delightful, frothy, song and dance extravaganza, through Feb. 25

DECEMBER 4, 2016
There are times when I have trouble distinguishing between No, No, Nanette, My One and Only, The Boyfriend, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. All three are frothy throwback shows to the glitz and glamor of the Roaring Twenties, with large casts of featherweight characters, non-stop singing and dancing (especially tap), and silly plots loaded with gags and slapstick comedy.
BDT Stage’s delicious dinner theatre production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, playing in Boulder through February 25, has solved that problem. At least for THIS title. Light and airy as cotton candy, this song and dance extravaganza is so precise, so crisp, so goofy in its sensibilities, the musical comedy is downright irresistible.
The stage version is based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing, with book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, new music by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. BDT Stage’s production is delightfully directed by Scott Beyette and cannily choreographed by Matthew D. Peters, with additional tap choreography by Danielle Scheib.
Wide-eyed but thoroughly modern Millie Dillmount (Seles VanHuss) arrives in the Big Apple, determined to marry for money, not love. She literally bumps into street-wise Jimmy Smith (Burke Walton), who immediately tells her to go back home. Their instant mutual dislike for one another virtually guarantees that romance is in their future, that by the end of Act One a misunderstanding will complicate things almost as soon as they admit their affection, and that they will ultimately succumb to natural attraction, regardless of their financial status.
Meanwhile, ridiculously rich Dorothy Brown (Rebekah Ortiz) decides to go slumming and offers to pay Millie’s expenses in exchange for being shown how to live hand to mouth. Millie’s preternatural expertise at stenography wins her a job, but no romantic interest from, the handsome and wealthy Trevor Graydon (Scott Severtson).

And as if that’s not enough, a wily, wicked white woman (Joanie Brosseau) procures orphans for a kidnap/slavery ring by running a boarding house for young women and pretending to be an over-the-top caricature of an Asian. Trust me, it’s not at all offensive. Brosseau’s portrayal and verbal theatrics are absolutely hilarious, a high point in a show that has already set the bar on the top tier of musical comedy entertainment.
This is the kind of fluff the BDT Ensemble can pull off in their sleep, but in this production, they are wide awake, ultra-alert, and entirely invested in making the audience laugh or be thrilled by strong voices and clever dance moves.Here’s an example: there’s a dance number involving a female chorus of identically dressed and bewigged stenographers. Their dancing is as perfectly synchronized as a Rockette routine, and yet in their faces, in their eyes, each dancer has her own character, her own thoughts, wishes, and dreams. Fully developed characters in an otherwise indistinguishable ensemble. I wanted to give the show a standing ovation right then and there.And of course, if the chorus is remarkable, the leads bring down the house with show-stopping talent. VanHuss, who recently played the lead in BDT Stage’s Footloose, has the flapper thing down perfectly. As Millie, she’s a singing, dancing, acting sensation. As her roommate Dorothy Brown, Ortiz boasts a gorgeous voice more in keeping with light opera, perfect for her privileged, pampered character.The leading men are just as strong, even though the show is told from a female perspective. Tracy Warren seizes her moments as the tyrannical manager Miss Flannery, with a frightful wig and a heart of gold, and Alicia K. Meyers is grand and elegant as the level-headed, nurturing Muzzy. Alejandro Roldan and Matthew D. Peters also deserve special mention for playing characters who speak almost entirely in what sounds to my ignorant ear as actual Chinese. Phonetic transcriptions of their dialogue are available online, so I think it’s the real deal.Some armchair critics may complain that the show’s white slavery “Shanghai” subplot, and the three Chinese characters, in particular, are racist because of stereotypical actions. I can only say that the spirit of the show in no way intends offense, that one of the characters is clearly an impostor (and called out as a bad actress because of her ridiculous accent and inaccurate costume), and the other two characters are treated honorably.
And besides, ALL of the characters, whether from the midwest or native New Yorkers, are essentially stereotypes. It’s a musical comedy and a period piece, so simple, easily identifiable characters are a standard part of accepted theatrical convention.It’s best not to analyze shows like this. Just sit back and be entertained by them. In this regard, BDT Stage’s exceptional production of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Thoroughly Modern Millie is the “bee’s knees.”
Thoroughly Modern Millie plays at the BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, CO, through Feb. 25. Tickets for dinner and show begin at $40. Call 303-449-6000 for information, or visit www.bdtstage.com. Select videos from the production are available at the BDT Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BouldersDinnerTheatre/


REVIEW: Vintage Theatre’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a scaled-down but entertaining, family-friendly musical

DECEMBER 3, 2016
Vintage Theatre’s scaled-down production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast isn’t the grand spectacle you’re probably used to, and much of the magic may be missing, but with solid direction, crisp choreography, and outstanding performances, the musical is still a crowd pleaser. The family-friendly fairy tale musical romance is playing through January 15.
Even when it was an animated film, Beauty and the Beast was a Broadway-caliber musical, with a terrific book, delightful characters, and memorable songs. Much of that visual artistry was then recreated onstage with state-of-the-art special effects and stagecraft.
But the real test of a musical’s enduring quality is how it stands up under unavoidable budget and casting restraints. Vintage Theatre’s production cuts some corners: seven musicians in the orchestra, a chorus of just ten dancers, the elimination of the tumbling rug character, no set changes to speak of, and an absence of stage magic for Chip or the Beast transformation/resurrection scene, for a start.
And yet the show still works, in large part to Clay White’s uncluttered staging and quick pacing, Kelly Van Oosbree’s engaging choreography, and outstanding performances by Angela Mendez as the lovely, compassionate Belle and James Francis as the bullish Beast with an unexpectedly tender heart, both of whom are gifted with stellar voices. Also, the show benefits from having no fewer than nine interesting and enjoyable featured roles.
David Gordon is all basso profundo and bluster as the preening, posing, albeit bantamweight Gaston, and Ben Hilzer offers the perfect Vaudevillian counterpoint as his bumbling stooge Lefou. Craig Ross is Belle’s sympathetic but not particularly absent-minded inventor father. Preston Lee Britton and Jeff Jessmer have a prickly and playful comedic rapport as the rakish Lumiere and stuffy Cogsworth, the Beast’s principal manservants, while Caitlin Conklin is feisty and frolicsome as Babette, and Anna Poeter is a formidable yet nurturing Madame De La Grande Bouche. Suzanne Connors Nepi is comfortingly maternal as Mrs. Potts, and Sullivan McConell is suitably chipper as Chip. An uncredited ensemble member has a menacingly memorable cameo as Monseiur D’Arque.
Credit for the production’s success also goes to musical director Trent Hines for giving the show a sound equal to most dinner theatre productions, and Erin Leonard as costume designer and seamstress. Beauty and the Beast’s music was composed by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton.
The musical’s theme, it’s true and enduring appeal remains undiminished: without love and compassion, people become objectified. The race to reverse the Beast’s curse and restore his entire household back to real life reminds us that selfishness is potentially apocalyptic, and time is running out for humanity.
Even with all this going for it, Vintage Theatre’s thoroughly enjoyable production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast also has an abundance of the most important ingredient: heart.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays through January 15 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.; Monday, December 5, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $28 – $31 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. Group discounts for 6+ are available.


REVIEW: Equinox Theatre’s ‘One Death, Please?’ is a cannibal comedy that likes its meat dark

NOVEMBER 27, 2016
Equinox Theatre has chosen to close their 2016 season with a world premiere play by a local author. Christian Munck’s One Death, Please? is an angry, dark comedy for fed-up, media-saturated progressives.
Recognizing that fame and fortune has trapped her in a declining spiral of creative frustration and pop culture criticism, suicidal singer (Emily Ebertz) decides to end it all. Trouble is, she wants her self-destruction to boost the status of her brand (like Michael Jackson), not as a pathetic has-been (like David Carradine).
Meanwhile, crazy but ambitious Erin (Julie Kaye Wolf) hopes to rise to YouTube stardom as the host of a cooking show for cannibals, preparing her “mystery meat” sandwiches with way too much cilantro. Tired of carving up transients and other “deplorables,” she has a hankering for finer fare.
Fate brings the two deeply disturbed women together…possibly for dinner.
The men in their lives (Kenneth Stellingworth and Seth Dhonau) do their best to protect and cover for them, while a gullible drug dealer (Mike Moran) both helps and hinders the conspiracy. Most of the biggest laughs are provided by Veronica Straight-Lingo as Erin’s imagined personification of “Media,” a gleefully evil voice in Erin’s head that takes on a couple of celebrity personas.
Munck’s writing is reminiscent of playwright Christopher Durang, as it finds bitter humor in the ghastly things people do to each other, rationalizing their psychoses in a crazy world. There are several long, humorless diatribes, and the premise of taking the dog-eat-dog world of consumerism’s frenzied fascination with fresh meat goes stale after awhile.
Only those who have written original, full-length plays know how hard it is to do. Munck is to be commended for creating vivid characters and compelling, unpredictable scenes, with a challenging and timely theme. One Death, Please? is stageworthy and thought-provoking, a harrowing journey into the madness of the media generation.
I can’t wait to see what Munck writes next, and I’m grateful to Equinox Theatre and director Patrick Brownson for preparing and serving the deliciously deviant One Death, Please? at The Bug Theatre with such obvious relish.
Just take it easy on the cilantro.
Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, through December 3 at the Bug Theatre at 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door and just $13 for groups of 6 or more in advance only. There will also be a pay-what-you-can industry night on Thursday, December 1st (suggested donation of $10.) Recommended for mature audiences. www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com


REVIEW: Arvada Center’s world premiere musical ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ is an instant holiday classic

NOVEMBER 22, 2016
The Arvada Center has developed and launched an all new, world premiere musical, and it’s an instant holiday classic. I’ll Be Home For Christmas, with original music by David Nehls, with several familiar musical chestnuts added in for good measure, is rock solid, family-friendly, nostalgic entertainment. Think of it as the White Christmas for the boomer generation. Set in the tumultuous 1960s, this cherry and bright, sweet and sassy, sentimental show plays through Dec. 23.
It’s December 1969, and the Bright Family has been America’s beloved television family for more than twenty years. Song and dance couple Dana and Louise (Noah Racey and Megan Van De Hey) entertained the troops in Korea and came home to raise their kids under the watchful, all-seeing eye of the CBS logo, for weekly broadcasts and Christmas specials. Their son Simon (Jake Mendes) has just returned from Army service in Vietnam with no visible wounds, and their rebellious, anti-war protesting daughter Maggie (Kim McClay) wears mini skirts and smokes cigarettes.
Though their image is squeaky clean and wholesome Fifties fare, the times they are a changing, and the family must confront pressures from within and without–to either put on a false charade for the fans or just let it all hang out. There’s plenty of hilarious “on the air” improvising until they figure things out, mostly during commercial breaks.
Joining the Brights in their larger than life home-style Christmas variety show are a Glen Campbell-type country western singer (Andrew Diessner) and a Rose Marie-esque middle-aged, man-hungry comedienne (Sharon Kay White). Oh, and an eager African American gypsy dancer from the chorus (Darius Jordan Lee) stands in for Simon when plans go awry during the live broadcast, adding yet another interesting angle to the awkwardness.
The jokes are as corny as anyone could hope for, the pathos is predictable but palatable, and the show feels just so darn comfortable…until it makes you squirm. Director Gavin Mayer knows when to speed things up and slow things down and elicits excellent performances from all. The setting is unique among Christmas shows, and the sense of period is palpable in the comic and serious moments, the music, the characters and the costumes. All of it feels just RIGHT.
The performers are superb, with every one of the seven leads perfectly cast, along with a young, beautiful, energetic and bouncy background chorus. Racey and White, in particular, seem especially at home in their roles. The decor is hilariously old-fashioned in its hipness, and Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s choreography is spot on.
Many of Nehls’ original songs are so good, he could sell an original cast soundtrack AND a holiday album with the same material. There’s plenty of variety in this variety show, and the few familiar songs seem entirely appropriate. There’s even a chance for the audience to sing along.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas will be produced again and again, year after year. I’m sure of it. It already feels like I grew up watching the Bright Family Christmas Show as a kid, even though this is a world premiere production. I predict the next generation actually will.
Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. through December 23. Preview performances are November 15, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. Please note, there will not be a performance on Thursday, November 24 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. An additional performance will take place on Sunday, November 27 at 7:30 p.m.  Audience engagement events, including happy hours with the cast, are held through the run of the production. To purchase tickets go to https://arvadacenter.org/about-the-center/ill-be-home-for-christmas  or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd and provides free parking for its patrons.


REVIEW: Upstart Crow’s ‘The Crucible’ is a white-knuckle period thriller, through Nov. 13

NOVEMBER 9, 2016
The Upstart Crow’s smart and solid production of Arthur Miller’s near-masterpiece THE CRUCIBLE is so filled with tension, suspense, and complex characters, it qualifies as a thriller.
The play, which really is more about the Salem witch trials in 1692 than the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings that inspired it’s writing, has been analyzed nearly to death in classrooms for more than 60 years. But when presented live onstage, THE CRUCIBLEbecomes a riveting study in repression, guilt, paranoia and ultimately, tragic heroism.
As with several of Miller’s more socially-minded plays, the community itself is the main character, though various individuals emerge to represent different points of view.
The breakdown of an entire society begins with a single instance of personal sin. In a moment of weakness, farmer John Proctor (Eric Wahlberg) has a fling with his servant Abigail Williams (Deanna Amacker), while his sickly wife Elizabeth (Alexis Bell) is recuperating from a difficult childbirth.
Though John spurns the more-than-willing mistress and seeks to make amends to his aloof wife, there’s a “promise in the sweat,” and Abigail proves that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Feigning hysterical and ecstatic visions, and aided by other impressionable girls, her claims of witchcraft and consorting with Satan bring in outside authorities. At first, only two are accused. Then eleven. Then fifty-nine, and by the time Elizabeth and John come under scrutiny, more than 400 are being investigated.
While the witch hunt continues, John grapples with his conscience, realizing that sacrificing his own good name may be the only way to end the madness. But will it?
Director Joan Kuder Bell has assembled a cast of 20 local actors who take on their roles with energetic urgency. Wahlberg, Amacker, and Bell are especially good as the simple folk who are crushed by social pressures and family secrets. Michael Kennedy makes an outstandingly corrupt Reverend Parris, and Jeffrey William Hill is likewise excellent as the kindly but weak minister who earnestly seeks good but ends up counseling the accused.
Joan Kuder Bell also designed the outstanding costumes, which, along with simple benches, a table, and a bed, establish the period with simplicity and style.
There’s been a trend recently to “update” the script to a contemporary setting, in defiance of the author’s originally stated intention. This is a period piece, and keeping it in its historical context only adds to the play’s impact and relevance.
I highly recommend The Upstart Crow’s thrilling, thoughtful production of THE CRUCIBLE, not just because it’s a great discussion-starter and bears up well under analysis, but because it’s edge-of-your-seat, suspenseful entertainment.
THE CRUCIBLE performs at The Nomad Playhouse in Boulder Thursday-Saturday, through November 13 at 7:30 PM with a 2:00 PM matinee on Sunday, November 13. Admission is $25, seniors and students $21 ($22 and $18 for groups of 10 or more). Thursdays are NAME-YOUR-PRICE-NIGHT: pay as much (or as little) as you want before you leave (really!). For more information, see www.theupstartcrow.org/tickets.
To purchase tickets for any performance, visit the online box office at http://theupstartcrow.org/tickets/purchase_tickets.php or call (303)442-1415.


REVIEW: Mob tyranny and the sadistic torture of a woman brutally staged in The Edge Theater’s ‘Marie Antoinette’, through Nov. 13

NOVEMBER 1, 2016
Marie Antoinette, directed by Robert Kramer and running through Nov. 13 at The Edge Theater, is at times flashy, smart, confused, ugly, and violent, as we witness the systematic psychological dismantling and physical humiliation of a mostly-innocent woman.
Playwright David Adjmi’s contemporary take on the French Revolution and the fall of the woefully mistreated Marie Antoinette tries too hard to have its cake and eat it too. Marie is an unwitting victim of circumstances rather than a tragic heroine. Her suffering denigrates, rather than elevates human dignity.
Missy Moore offers a fully committed, complex and courageous performance as the doomed Marie Antoinette. She’s the center of her own universe and takes full advantage of royal privilege, even though her celebutante lifestyle leaves her feeling restless and unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, forces beyond her understanding and control are rising up to shake the system from the top down.
Heads will roll, and Marie’s is near the top of the hit list.
Marie is an Austrian of the Hapsburg dynasty, married off at age fourteen to the sexually and socially dysfunctional nervous nincompoop Louis XVI (Christian Mast), who would rather tinker with clockworks than continue the royal bloodline.
She was born and raised to rule, but in France, the rules are changing.
Marie’s entourage of “mean girl” aristocratic party pals (Rachel Bouchard, Samara Bridwell) gossip and preen, and are more than happy to spend Marie’s rapidly dwindling fortune, but are quick to betray and abandon the queen when the social pressure cooker starts heating up.
There are other powerful scenes, featuring Marie’s emperor brother (Jihad Milner), a would-be lover/general (Brian Landis Folkins), and the long wished-for but neglected son (Ben Feldman), but they are mere satellites orbiting around Marie, pressuring her in various ways to become something she’s not.
Later, they cause her tremendous pain.
Once Marie, Louis, and their son go on the run, then end up in prison, the play shifts to disturbing and ugly scenes of unrelenting degradation, psychological cruelty, torture, and rape. Kramer appears to have directed this play with the dial turned up to “overkill.”
There’s also a bizarre and disturbing “Sheep” (Ryan Goold), who introduces an element of magic realism to the play that turns from whimsy to horror. An especially sadistic rape scene crossed my personal line, taking me from aesthetic discomfort to outrage.
When I feel that a production does something physically, psychologically or spiritually harmful to the actors or the audience, it “breaks” the play for me.
There’s no coming back from that.
Is this a script that hates women? You’ll have to decide for yourself. I think the vitriol runs even deeper, as the play’s second theme is about the rise of the dehumanizing, destructive tyranny of the mob, a rage-fueled, mindless terrorism that recalls the innate fascism of the Occupy movement and BLM.
In my opinion, and you are welcome to disagree, Marie Antoinette is a truly sadistic, misanthropic play, reveling in the pain it inflicts.
It’s certainly a controversial play, and the actors go “all in,” offering powerful, nuanced performances, at least until the suffering begins to feel too real. Ultimately, I ceased caring about the ideas and characters and just wanted it to stop.
True to its name, The Edge Theater frequently walks a fine line. They don’t play it safe. Ever. It’s good to take artistic risks. And I appreciate being challenged. But there’s a dark precipice on the other side of the guillotine blade’s edge.
Marie Antoinette loses its head to excessive and far too realistic cruelty.
Performances of Marie Antoinette are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 6 pm Sundays, through Nov. 13. The Edge Theater is located at 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood. Tickets are $28 and available online at www.theedgetheater.com or by calling 303-232-0363.


REVIEW: Ignite Theatre’s ‘Nevermore’ is a morbid and macabre musical treat for the Halloween season, through Nov. 13

OCTOBER 26, 2016
Haunted houses and corn mazes are fun in their way, but I prefer Halloween plays and musicals. This year, there’s an autumnal harvest festival of freaky, frightful, scary and silly shows for Denver-area audiences, including Frankenstein (Denver Center), Dracula (Aurora Fox), Night of the Living Dead (Bug Theatre), Wait Until Dark (Avenue Theatre), The Crucible (Firehouse/John Hand Theater) and Sleepy Hollow (closed now, but was at Miners Alley Playhouse).
If you are in the mood for dark and dreary drama this Halloween, I recommend the musical Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, making its regional premiere at Ignite Theatre in Five Points, through Nov. 13.
This macabre musical is a hauntingly ghoulish show mixing fact and fiction related to the master of morbidity, with lyrics taken from many of Poe’s poems, performed in an eerie, 19th century Grand Guignol-style. Six spectral “players” greet Edgar (Seph Hamilton) on his journey to oblivion and assist his life-review, which consists mostly of misery, suffering, and loss.
The sensitive boy with a delicate soul seems to lose all the women in his life to madness, tuberculosis, or both, while the male figures either don’t understand him or don’t care. Withdrawn, prone to brooding and alcoholism, Poe falls into penning short horror stories and poems, and becomes a prolific, though unprofitable author, writing between fits and fevered dreams. Fame is fleeting, and what little money he earns flies away faster than the proverbial raven, while he descends into a maelstrom of madness and despair.
Much of the sung dialogue is underscored recitative, but there are a few notable numbers, reminiscent of everything from Weimar cabaret to rock power ballads.
Imaginatively directed by Peter Dearth and Becky DeLio, the script and music by Jonathan Christenson has a degenerate spirit worthy of the House of Usher. At times malevolent but mostly melancholy, Nevermore is surprisingly entertaining and occasionally charming. The score is at times sadistic in its vocal demands, Elijah Meader’s costumes are uncanny and strange, and Rob Prytherch’s rotting lath scenic design perfectly expresses Poe’s diseased mind, which is the musical’s true setting.
The chorus of players includes Luke North, Brian Trampler, Erik Thurston, Madeline Hebert, Ashley Deuell and Sarah Soltysik, who take turns narrating and playing principal roles in Poe’s tormented life.
Hamilton’s Poe spends much of the show reacting to his unfortunate childhood and tortured adolescent circumstances. He’s passive and powerless except for the occasional outburst, so the doomed writer never becomes master of his fate. Though Poe died at age forty, his character fails to mature past the goth/emo years of late adolescence.
Most of the time I grieve over artists who die too young, their promising talent not fully realized. But if Ignite Theatre’s outstanding production of Nevermore is any indication, perhaps for Edgar Allan Poe, death was a merciful release.
One can only hope.
Ignite Theatre presents Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe through November 13 at the Crossroads Theatre, 2590 Washington St., Denver 80205. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Monday, October 31 at 7:30 p.m. (No performance on Friday, October 28); Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $24 Adult, $22 Senior (65+)/Military, $19 Student, $20 Group (6+) and are available online at www.ignitetheatre.com or by calling 866-811-4111.


REVIEW: DCPA’s brooding ‘Frankenstein’ goes dark and deep, through Oct. 30

OCTOBER 12, 2016
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company has resurrected Mary Shelley’s gothic horror classic Frankenstein. Though it looks, moves and acts alive, this re-animation of the National Theatre’s landmark 2011 production, adapted by Nick Dear and directed by Sam Buntrock, lacks that ineffable quality of life I call a soul.
Which is, I think, the point they intended to make. Or maybe it was an accident, an unexpected consequence of the creative process. Those are the kinds of questions this highly abstracted production continually asks about itself.
The play is certainly visceral, as with his very first breath The Creature (Mark Junek and Sullivan Jones alternating performances) is abandoned by his creator Victor Frankenstein (Junek and Jones alternating) left to survive, adapt, and learn all on his own. The world treats him cruelly, except for a year’s tutelage when the fully grown and hairless caveman-infant is befriended by a blind professor (Kevin McGuire), who manages to get the hideously disfigured Creature quoting Milton’s Paradise Lost in moments, thanks to a guitar strumming training montage.
But that is just a brief respite. Hounded by a terrified and forgettable collection of cruel supernumeraries, The Creature, at last, introduces himself to Victor by strangling the autistic savant’s little brother (Charlie Korman).
Thus begins the legendary showdown between Man and Maker as the titans play a life and death game of hide-and-seek, unmoved by the destruction of innocents around them, torturing and tormenting each other in an archetypal and everlasting battle of seething hatred and self-loathing.
While there’s plenty of passion, some scenes, mostly non-verbal, seem to have evolved experimentally. All references to the science behind Frankenstein’s accomplishment are simply absent, so we are left surmising that he merely willed the Creature into existence with his stupendous brain. This, in order to avoid reproducing the normal way by his attractive and willing fiancée (Jenny Leona) of more than six frustratingly chaste years.
The production seems intent on over-analyzing its premise for the sake of intellectual exercise. This incarnation adds yet another layer of political/intellectual self-stimulation by casting a black and a white actor as the two leads, and having them take turns playing reluctant master and rebellious slave. The show is so busy interpreting themes and their implications, it loses sight of the STORY.
Junek gave an outstandingly committed and physically invested performance as The Creature on the night I saw the play. So much so that Jones’ posturing and detached Victor seemed outclassed and outmatched, always on the defensive. Both are handsome and fit, which is important because The Creature spends a good deal of time stripped down to a loincloth.
Leona’s would-be Mrs. Frankenstein is so appealing, her simple and compelling argument for dropping all the navel gazing and getting down to the business of having a family blows all the clever clouds of social/metaphysical concepts and oh-so-important themes away. McGuire, who plays both the blind teacher and Victor’s grief-stricken father is entirely sympathetic and provides an essential backdrop of basic humanity.
The visuals are tremendous, thanks to Jason Sherwood’s epic pre-Industrial set pieces and cavernous, shadowy depths, Kevin Copenhaver’s darkly detailed gothic costumes, Brian Tovar’s moody lighting, and more. It’s a gloomy look that fits the story, and cries out “we’re going deep, here.”
DCPA’s Frankenstein goes perhaps too deep. It digs itself into a pit of over-analysis, and with characters who are fundamentally self-involved and unable to connect with others, they simply can’t rage their way out. The horror of this Frankenstein isn’t so much about the pitfalls of trying to conquer death so much as objecting to having been given life at all.
Frankenstein performs in The Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm. Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m., through Oct. 30. Tickets start at $35. Student tickets are available Tuesdays and Wednesdays for $16. Call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org. The Denver Center is supported in party by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD).


REVIEW: Arvada Center’s ‘Tartuffe’ is a frenetic, frivolous, fun-for-all French comedy, through Nov. 6

OCTOBER 11, 2016
The only classical French comedy more timeless and enjoyable than Molière’s Tartuffe is Richard Wilbur’s effervescent English translation of Molière’s Tartuffe.
Placed in the hands (and mouths) of an exceptional cast and superb director, The Arvada Center’s current production of the classic comedy is like watching an ornately decorated Mardi Gras float roll by, while outrageously festooned characters toss flowers, candy, and brightly colored beads to the audience. Every word is a delight. Every gesture a revelation. They’re having a raucous party onstage, and the audience is invited to join in the fun.
Orgon’s (Sam Gregory) household is in an uproar because the respectable but gullible businessman has fallen under the Svengali-like influence of Tartuffe (Michael Morgan), a religious fraud and charlatan who uses public displays of absurd personal piety to mask a soul corrupted by avarice and lust.
Orgon’s respectable and loud church lady mother (Leslie O’Carroll) doesn’t recognize the danger, but Tartuffe has targeted Orgon’s wife Elmire (Kate Gleason) for conquest. Orgon intends to break his word and give his bubble-headed, frippery daughter (Emily Van Fleet) to Tartuffe, much to the consternation of her fiance (Anthony Adu), while his hot-headed, asthmatic son (Sean Scrutchins) is all wheezing bluster at the prospective loss of the family fortune.
The voices of reason include Orgon’s brother-in-law (Josh Robinson) and a saucy maid (Jessica Austgen), but it’s going to take drastic action to wake Orgon from his befuddlement and save the household from disaster. That task lies with his wife, in one of the funniest seduction scenes ever staged.
Director Lynne Collins has brought the script into the 21st century with extensive and pointed use of smart phones and other technology. The staging is brilliant, the pace is perfect, and the performances are universally outstanding. A gag involving intermittent construction noises in the first act didn’t work for me, mostly because it interrupted the beautifully timed patter of the text’s rhymed couplets. And the play’s notoriously obvious deus ex machina resolutiondelivered via FaceTime, fell flat.
It’s hard to believe that this comedy was condemned by the Church when it was first performed, and the playwright was even denied Christian burial. It’s patently obvious that his intention was to effect social correction through comedy, but the corrupt and dictatorial aren’t generally known for having a sense of humor. Molière never attacks doctrine, or even organized religion, only an individual layman’s perversion of Gospel priorities. The virtues of compassion, reason and charity are resoundingly upheld.
Productions of Tartuffe are rare because this style of comedy, with lots of physical humor, the need for precise timing, and gobs of tricky language requires extensive training to pull off effectively. Many in the cast are well-known masters of the craft, who have performed at the Denver Center for years. They really do make it look easy, and it’s not.
Apparently, the Arvada Center is building a repertory company in their spacious black box space, and if this is any indication of the quality we may expect, audiences are in for a real treat. They’re off to a grand start.
Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday matinées at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday matinées at 2:00 p.m., through November 6. Audience engagement events, including insider’s talkbacks and chats with the cast, are held through the run of the production. To purchase tickets go tohttps://arvadacenter.org/tartuffe or call 720-898-7200.


REVIEW: Germinal Stage’s ‘The Tracks Home’ is a brilliantly performed symphony of absurd verbal virtuosity, through Oct. 16

OCTOBER 6, 2016
Giovani Paolo Panini was a mid-18th-century Italian painter who specialized in vedute — paintings of vistas that were packed to the frames with depictions of other paintings, sculptures, and architectural works, each a minor masterpiece in its own right. You can check out Panini’s paintings at his Wikipedia page.
Why not enjoy a grilled sandwich while you’re at it?
I’ll wait.
Germinal Stage’s tour de force production of The Tracks Home, written, directed and designed by the company’s founder Ed Baierlein, is the theatrical equivalent of a Panini painting, exchanging Theatre of the Absurd for Roman Antiquity as its subject matter.
Written in the mid-1960s, Baierlein penned The Tracks Home while on a Shubert Playwriting Fellowship at Penn State University, and he proudly acknowledges the influences on his work: Harold Pinter, Luigi Pirandello, German Expressionism,  Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, and the Absurdists, particularly Eugene Ionesco and Edward Albee.
The genius of Baierlein’s play is that he masterfully demonstrates these influences, takes themes, motifs, characters and situations from Absurdism’s luminaries, and weaves them into a work that stands on its own. Next, he cast dynamic, fearless, classically-trained and versatile actors who “get it.” The cast is liberated enough from their own acting styles and mannerisms to give themselves wholly over to material that was considered experimental fifty years ago but has since become a mid-20th-century  “period” piece

Brother (Terry Burnsed) and Adriana (Diane Wziontka) arrange for a reunion of sorts with sister Wilda (Maggie Lamb), Wilda’s former lover Businessman (Owen T. Niland) and her ex-husband The Old Man (Stephen R. Kramer).
This is Theatre of the Absurd, so the location is ambiguous, and the characters are both passively and actively hostile toward each other. The Tracks Home is a symphony of verbal and non-verbal variations on the theme of aggression, as the characters manipulate, maneuver, obfuscate and lie outright to diminish, control, or punish everyone else. And since the dominant theme in Absurdist drama is the meaninglessness and incomprehensibility of life and the impossibility of objective truth, it nearly always devolves into the disintegration of human integrity and ultimately, death.
Which is not to say that the show isn’t funny. It’s VERY funny. And frightening. And perplexing. And terrifying.
Eschewing traditional theatrical conventions and plotting, The Tracks Home is mostly about the language, whether spoken or left unspoken, the contradictions, the shifting “truths” of various confessions, and most of all, about malevolent power-plays between the characters. When language fails, violence is inevitable.
Burnsed’s apparently autistic Brother dominates the first act and is relegated to a corner in the second, but his extended interrogation scene with Niland’s bombastic Businessman is one of the richest and most convoluted scenes of passive aggression in contemporary theatre.
Kramer’s Old Man seems amiable enough until the disgraced botanist pulls out a wicked knife and starts carving slices off a loaf of his “special blend” rye bread. Wziontka’s Adriana is the ambiguous and mostly non-combative enabler of the whole party, and Lamb’s dominatrix Wilda, who comes late to the play, is an embodiment of Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu” archetype.
If you recognize half the names I’ve dropped in this review, then you are the ideal person to appreciate The Tracks Home. I took a graduate class in Experimental Theatre as part of my master’s program at DU, and found it thrilling to be reminded of so many “old friends.” The play is thoroughly enjoyable, but it will require your full attention and engagement.
Germinal Stage is just about the only theatre company in town that could even begin to do justice to this kind of material. Baierlein, of course, both knows and delivers it, like the back of his hand.
How absurd it is for us to thank him and beg for more.
Performances of The Tracks Home are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7:30 pm through Oct. 16. Special 2:00 matinee, Saturday, October 15th. Tickets for all  regular performances $23.00. $15 RUSH TICKETS AVAILABLE AT THE DOOR ALL PERFORMANCES. Germinal Stage is now in residence at the 73rd Avenue Playhouse, 7287 Lowell Blvd, Westminster. Reservations: 303-455-7108. Check out online at http://www.germinalstage.com/


REVIEW: Vintage Theatre’s ‘Willy Wonka’ is a sweet treat for all ages, through Oct. 30

OCTOBER 1, 2016
Ronald Dahl’s modern children’s fable Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an imaginative, post-industrial fantasy with metaphysical overtones. The film version starring the late, great Gene Wilder is a classic, and the Johnny Depp version is, in my opinion, better left forgotten.
There’s a Broadway musical adaptation for the stage as well, with music and lyrics by the phenomenally successful team of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and it is their Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka that is playing at Vintage Theatre in Aurora, through Oct. 30.
The production, directed by Deb Flomberg, with musical direction by Trent Hines, is a sweet treat for all ages, boasting a multi-generational cast, hilarious costumes (by Erin Leonard), a colorful set design (by Gov Landrum) and extensive projections (designed by Rob Rehburg).
The success of the show, in large part, is due to the extraordinary performance of Eddie Schumacher as the reclusive Willy Wonka and his alter ego, the ubiquitous Candy Man. One of Denver’s most beloved, hardest working comic character actors seems to have been born to play this role, and he gives it a spin that is completely his own, entirely different from Wilder’s or Depp’s interpretations. Schumacher commands the stage, whether observing others with wide-eyed, Benny Hill mischievousness, making offhandedly snarky remarks to rude people, or lighting up with irrepressible delight whenever candy–any kind of candy, but especially chocolate–is mentioned.
That’s right. Unlike either Wilder or Depp, Schumacher’s Wonka actually LOVES CANDY, and he’s willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone, no matter how ill-mannered, who loves it, too. Once we realize that, all the absurd statements, surreal demonstrations, and even potentially lethal situations, make sense. It’s not just his BUSINESS that needs a faithful successor, but his LEGACY, and that requires someone with a compatible vision and character.
Wonka finds his perfect match in Ashlynn Bogema’s earnest and never annoying Charlie, a girl who through truthfulness, humility in suffering, compassion, and an abiding love for chocolate, literally breaks through the glass ceiling and becomes Wonka’s future owner of the legendary Chocolate Factory.
With his ridiculous disguises, Willy Wonka rigs a contest, in which five precocious children and their adult chaperones win a tour of the Chocolate Factory. One by one the candidates who have already won a lifetime supply of free chocolate are eliminated—in hilariously grotesque ways—and removed by the not-at-all-creepy Oompa Loompas.
There are lots of very entertaining supporting roles, including Charlie’s grandparents (David Ballew, Brooke McNamara, Bob Mitchell, and Charlie’s favorite Grandpa Joe, played by Brian Walker Smith), the internationally selected and deeply spoiled—but in different ways—kids (Serena Knopf, Elian Martin, Elli Testa, and Sean Whitson), and their parents (Angi Mitchell, Margaret Norwood, Selena A. Numoff, and Bob Mitchell). Also offering moments of delight are John White as an announcer, with Michael Barlow and Jordan Manchego (Oompa Loompas), and Seamus Rollins, Megan Whitson and Gracie Woo as Charlie’s classmates.
But really, the show belongs to the guy whose name is in the title, and Eddie Schumacher has now become my favorite, definitive Willy Wonka. And for the record, I love chocolate, too! Oompa Loompas, not so much.
Performances of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka are 7:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 30. Tickets are $17-31 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. Group discounts are available. Vintage Theatre is located at 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010.


REVIEW: BDT Stage’s ‘Mid-Life 2’ brings all-star hormonal hilarity to Boulder

SEPTEMBER 26, 2016
Nine years ago, BDT Stage (formerly known as Boulder’s Dinner Theatre) staged Mid-Life: The Crisis Musical, a small-scale, smash hit cabaret sketch comedy with all original songs, written and composed by the creative team of siblings Jim and Bob Walton.
The boys are back in town with Mid-Life 2 (#WhatDidIComeInHereFor), a collection of all-new skits and songs inspired by all the things we’ve come to dread about middle age, from erectile dysfunction and decreased libido to hot flashes and high cholesterol, with bizarre medication side effects and senior moments thrown in for good measure.
I didn’t see the  original, but there’s plenty of hormonal hilarity to provide material for a second round, and the seasoned cast, long-time BDT favorites all, knows just how to maximize our enjoyment of a change in life that is just as terrible as puberty, only in reverse.
Scott Beyette, Bren. Eyestone Burron, Brian Burron, Wayne Kennedy, Alicia King, Barb Reeves, and Tracy Warren are each top-notch headliners in their own right. Put them together on the same stage, and it’s hard not to get silly with sentimentality and nostalgia.
Which is pretty much what this show is all about. Though statistically, mid-life covers roughly years 35-50, most of the material focuses on the last half of that, and adds another ten years for good measure, bringing us up to the mixed blessing of now qualifying for senior discounts. The more horrible the prospects of aging, the more the Waltons, who also directed, pour on the outrageous humor, snappy lyrics, and polished, cabaret-style songs.
I suppose misery loves company, but some of the songs and sketches made me squirm with discomfort. There are a lot of TMI (Too Much Information) moments about physical changes and bodily functions. But it’s probably better than the inevitable “senior years” follow up show where people sit around talking about their surgeries and kvetching about ungrateful children.
Mid-Life 2 is a small cast, streamlined budget show that performs the mid-season function of giving BDT time and resources to prepare for their big holiday show, the high-energy tap-dancing extravaganza Thoroughly Modern Millie, which runs Nov. 19-Feb. 25.
Ah, to be young again! Not gonna happen.
Mid-Life 2 plays at the BDT Stage through Nov. 12. Prices start at $40 for dinner and show. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations and/or additional information.


REVIEW: Miners Alley Playhouse Children’s Theatre production of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is all treat and no trick, through Oct. 15

SEPTEMBER 24, 2016
Miners Alley Playhouse Children’s Theatre is among the first Denver-area troupes to set the Halloween-season Jack-O-Lantern rolling with its funny, audience participation-packed, traditional and blessedly non-frightening kids version of Washington Irving’s classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
This family-friendly production, which features storytelling and play-along activities combined with conventional theatre, performs Saturdays at 1 pm through Oct. 15. Which in my opinion, is at least two weeks too short.
Diedrich Knickerbocker (playwright/director Rory Pierce) and his scolding wife (Erin Bell) tell and reenact the legend of the chicken-hearted Ichabod Crane (Kevin Lowry) and his brief, ill-fated tenure as schoolmaster of Sleepy Hollow.
The jumpy dweeb is fascinated by ghost stories and boasts a prodigious appetite. He simply doesn’t belong in Sleepy Hollow, and his behavior practically demands a little harmless social correction.
Rich and lovely farm girl Katrina Van Tassel (Kate Poling) takes a fancy to the buffoon, probably to make the far more suitable and eligible Brom Bones (Myles Juniel) jealous, or perhaps to delay the inevitable, while stirring up a little excitement.
Brom is a fine, solid fellow, a bit of a prankster but neither cruel nor a bully, and can’t understand what Katrina sees in Ichabod. He can’t be blamed for taking action to make sure she sees a lot less of him.
Natural jokester and confirmed grandfather Alex Crawford plays “everyone else” in Sleepy Hollow, miraculous recruiting and blending in with the onstage children.
The fabled Headless Horseman, complete with exploding Jack-O-Lantern substitute skull, makes a remarkably funny appearance, leading to Ichabod’s abrupt and permanent departure.
Along the way, the children become students in a school house, spooky ghostly apparitions, guests at a party, and more. They truly are an integral part of the show, and the more than a dozen kids at the performance I saw repeatedly raised their hands to join in the fun because they instinctively recognized a safe place to play.
Who would have thought that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow could become an entertaining “ghost” story that is also filled with wholesome goodness?
Special congratulations must be given to Jonathan Scott-McKean for the moody, ominous light and sound design, and especially to Gail Smith, Liz Scott McKean and Birdie Plank, for an extraordinary “quilted” haunted forest backdrop set that opens up to reveal full-sized, detailed schoolhouse and farmhouse locales. This fabric art is truly amazing, fully obscuring the set for Miners Alley Playhouse’s current “definitely not for kids” production of Gods of Carnage.
Miners Alley Playhouse Children’s Theatre’s delightful The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is all treat and no trick.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow runs through October 15.  Performances are on Saturdays only at 1 p.m.  Tickets are only $10 and available by calling 303-935-3044 or online atwww.minersalley.com. Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Ave in Golden. Appropriate for ages 12 and under, and the people who love them.


REVIEW: East beats West in thought-provoking sacred drama ‘The Oldest Boy’ at the Vintage Theatre, through Oct. 23

Vintage Theatre, in collaboration with Theatre Esprit Asia, has mounted the thought-provoking, emotionally driven, and visually resplendent regional premiere production of Sarah Ruhl’s religious drama The Oldest Boy. It’s an East beats West smackdown, where irresistibly persuasive wisdom, compassion, and respect for the individual soul (at least advanced ones) trounces the traditional, nuclear, two-parent family.
The play, running through Oct. 23, is the story of a fundamentally self-centered, soul-questing failed academic (Candice Joice) who abandons her shallow and marginal Catholic Christian faith, embraces, then discards the dogmas and devotions of Bertrand Russell-style atheism, and dabbles with Tibetan Buddhism. She dallies with a real, live Tibetan Buddhist (Charlee Chiv), then immediately sabotages his arranged marriage to get her own way, exercising American-style disregard for the long-standing traditions of his family and culture.
But three years later, after finding meditation too distracting, and having devoutly embraced “attachment parenting” with her son, she is caught off guard and essentially defenseless when a couple of giggling, giddy Buddhist monks knock on her door, sure that her offspring is the reincarnation of their recently deceased lama/teacher. They offer to remove the toddler to India to help him relearn all he has forgotten because it takes a monastery to raise a nearly enlightened wonder child.
All of this is sensitively and lovingly presented in the name of tolerance and diversity, but the scenario is not merely a case of expanding our consciousness to embrace differences. For the sake of her child’s soul journey, she needs to quash her maternal instinct and relinquish him to benevolent strangers, then rationalize her way into accepting that she did the right thing.
There is no middle ground, no mutual acceptance of values. Keep the kid or drop him off on the other side of the planet and hope she’s not charged with child abandonment are the only options.
Joice is superb as Mother, a woman for whom finding herself is at the top, middle and bottom of her bucket list. She learns the hard way that you can pick and choose worldviews and religions all you want, but sooner or later, one of them will choose YOU. And even with all the positives, a sacrifice is going to be required.
Rob Payo and Peter Trinh are delightful as the Buddhist monks. They are so happy, so sure of their path, that I almost wanted to shave my head, put on saffron robes and “take refuge” with them. Payo, as the senior monk, is also caring, a good listener and storyteller, the ultimate Happy Budai optimist.
Chiv does an excellent job as Father, even though he has the thankless task of serving as spokesman and advocate for his culture and traditions, including the political oppression the Tibetans have suffered under Communist China, even while betraying them.
The play, despite my obvious disagreement with the theme, is wonderfully staged by director Craig Bond, with a sublime set designed by Douglas Clarke and painted by Julie LeMieux. There are several ceremonies that are performed with deep respect, as befitting sacred drama. The show is perfectly cast and exceptionally well-acted. The production values are entirely attractive and exotic.
The Oldest Boy is actually a life-sized puppet, manipulated by three black-shrouded puppeteers (Deepali Lindblom, Sushma, Kenneth Berba), who come to represent the hands and voice of the deceased lama, and any number of other previous incarnations embodied in the not-quite-real boy. This broad and effective theatrical convention diminishes the Child’s humanity, making it easier to detach from him emotionally and hand him over to the jovial Jedi.
And because the Buddhist universe is so kind, compassionate and generous, Mother can always have another, less extraordinary child…a girl.
Vintage Theatre presents the regional premiere of The Oldest Boy through October 23, at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 1 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 – $30 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. Group discounts for 6+ are available.


REVIEW: Spotlight Theatre’s ‘Suddenly, Last Summer’ mixes Greek tragedy with Southern Gothic

AUGUST 29, 2016
Tennessee Williams was too much a poetic genius to be overly concerned with writing realistic drama. Even so, his most effective and popular plays are rooted in a dynamic present, haunted by a tragic past.
In SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, Williams retreats further backward and inward, resulting in a grotesquely beautiful Southern Gothic horror story that is disturbingly lovely to hear, but lacks true theatricality.
Spotlight Theatre Company’s gorgeously staged, powerfully performed and delicately directed production of SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER demonstrates all the play’s strengths, but isn’t able to overcome its weaknesses. Even so, it’s a harrowing depiction of remorseless cruelty, mental illness, moral decay, and the failure of wealth to protect the so-called civilized from the desperation of poverty.
Dr. Cukrowicz (James O’Hagan-Murphy) is summoned by the domineering, manipulative heiress Violet Venable (Emma Messenger). She’s a gorgon, a vindictive, daiquiri-sipping monster who wants the impoverished doctor to lobotomize her babbling, traumatized niece Catharine (Maggy Stacy), thus silencing once and for all the ugly truth about how her son died on a beach in Cabeza de Lobo.
Violet’s deceased husband’s family, including Catharine’s dowdy mother (Darcy Kennedy) and callous brother (Carter Edward Smith) claim to want what’s best for the severely dysfunctional Catharine, just so long as nothing threatens the timely receipt of their share of the inheritance.
There’s a coldly efficient assistant/butler (Linda Button) because someone needs to get stuff and announce the arrival of visitors, and an impatient nun (Kelly Alayne Dwyer) who can’t contain Catharine and probably prays for a straitjacket to miraculously appear from on high.
Williams provides a compelling motivation for all the characters to be present (however unethically) for Catharine’s psychiatric examination, and each has a stake in the outcome. But what they end up DOING is mostly just stand around listening attentively to long, extensive and fascinating descriptions of poor, sensitive, effete, dead Sebastian’s travels with his mother, and that fateful last trip abroad with Catharine.
Fortunately, they get to stand around in Christopher Waller’s sumptuously stylized set, which emphasizes the symbolism of an encroaching jungle and a crumbling Southern Gothic mansion.
Both Messenger and Stacy are given the mixed blessing of pages and pages (and pages) of speeches that are rich with descriptive language and fueled by powerful emotions, but they pretty much have to pull it all up from inside themselves.
Messenger is terrifying as Violet, who wickedly exposes her ruthless intention to stifle the truth. Stacy rigorously shuns any Ophelia-style willowy mad scenes, fleeing when she can, clenching her jaw, and Cassandra-like, clinging to her few remaining threads of truth and shreds of sanity.
With all the focus on Violet and Catharine’s conflicting recollections, and surrounded by a chorus of interested listeners, the play takes on some of the mood and tone of a Greek tragedy, ending with a disturbing revelation, rather than a decisive conclusion.
Williams wrote SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER fourteen years after THE GLASS MENAGERIE, but well before his terminal descent into the fevered dream of alcohol, drugs, and depression that rendered his last works incomprehensible. The play is flawed but worthy, and in the capable hands of director Bernie Cardell, thoroughly enjoyable.
Performances of SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER are 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, through Sept. 24; also Monday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, Sept. 24 at 2 pm, at the John Hand Theater in Lowry. Tickets are $14 – $22 and available by calling 720-880-8727 or online at www.thisisspotlight.com.


REVIEW: The Edge Theater’s forceful ‘Murder Ballad’ brings light to a sordid tale of misery and moral collapse, through Sept. 25

MURDER BALLAD, a rock soap opera with lyrics by Julia Jordan and music by Juliana Nash, is helping to redefine musical theatre. That’s a good thing. Check out The Edge Theater’s regional premiere production of this fast-paced, emotionally charged, rock infused show, and you’ll see what I mean.
Sultry and self-destructive Sarah (Shannan Steele) is playing the field in the downtown New York club scene. She falls hard and heavy for the smooth, brooding bad boy Tom (Kent Randell). Their addiction to each other is toxic, and they break up when it becomes obvious their night lifestyle is unsustainable.
Enter Michael (Robert Michael Sanders), a nice guy uptown professor who loves poetry and saving promiscuous drunk women. Michael and Sarah try to make a life together until restless, perpetually dissatisfied Sarah recognizes she’s a terrible mom, is bored with her stable, secure life, and decides to hook up with Tom again, just for old time’s sake. It turns out Tom has been carrying a white-hot burning torch for her all this time.
That’s right. She’s torn between two lovers, and when they find out they’re being played, emotions run riot.
There’s also a baseball bat, and as the ferocious redheaded bartending Narrator (Mary McGroary) reminds us, this is a MURDER ballad. It’s not going to end well.
But who’s going to die? And who’s going to become a killer?
Murder ballads, recounting the lurid stories of violent crimes of passion, are a type of popular poems and songs that go back several hundred years. Remnants of them can still be found in country-western and folk music. The murder ballad genre, along with musical theatre, receives a rock reboot with this 85-minute, non-stop, lean and mean show that plays like a sordid “true crime” potboiler on steroids…or maybe Viagra.
Steele gives an absolutely phenomenal performance in the potentially unsympathetic role of the adulterous Sarah. At times she seems numbed, almost somnambulant by too much excess. But then we see the broken heart, her guilt and self-loathing, the recognition of the destruction she has caused.
Randell and Sanders are perfectly cast as rivals from opposite ends of Manhattan, two vastly different, essentially faithful men at war over a woman who deserves neither. McGroary is a malevolent narrator, rubbing our noses in the moral turpitude, suggesting that our fascination with such tawdry subject matter reveals something sinister in our own hearts.
The music is complex and evocative, and the lyrics are often poignant and insightful.
Director Rick Yaconis shows a master’s hand over the story, eliciting brilliant performances from the cast, even when they’re rolling around on a pool table. Seth Maisel’s fight choreography is harrowing (I DID mention the baseball bat, didn’t I?), and kudos to Kenny Storms and Tom Quinn for the excellent sound design.
I also want to mention Justin Lane’s set, because of the effective use of levels and space. Mostly, it’s a night club with a couple of neutral spots. But off in one corner, there’s a bright white pillar. I wondered what that pillar was doing there. As I recall, only Michael, the one truly sinless character, is able to approach it.
Then it hit me. At no time does this show condone the characters’ frisky business. In fact, we’re reminded again and again of the horrible consequences of acting on our urges, of wallowing in unrestrained emotions. The essential component missing in this hip, beat-pounding, guitar wailing, alcohol-fueled lifestyle, is the acknowledgement of any kind of faith, any Higher Power to guide the characters. They are stumbling and fumbling, groping around, lost in darkness.
And yet there’s this pillar of light. It’s ignored by all but the one good man, who at one point clings to it when he is overcome with grief and rage, trying to regain his moral compass.
THAT’S when I thought to myself, “This is a cautionary tale. This musical has something to say about destructive human behavior, and we need to listen. Really, pay attention.”
Thankfully, it’s not just easy, but quite enjoyable and entertaining, to listen to MURDER BALLAD.
MURDER BALLAD plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 6 pm. There’s an Industry Night on Monday, Sept. 12 at 8 pm. Tickets are $32-$40. The show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Call 303-232-0363 or visit online at www.theedgetheater.com.


REVIEW: ‘Frankie & Johnny’ goes deep into the nature of intimacy at Vintage Theatre, through Sept. 4

There’s a big difference between intimacy and vulnerability. Terrance McNally’s unflinching, Tony Award-winning play FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE DE LUNE, playing through Sept. 4 at Vintage Theatre, probes deeply into the wounded human heart, boldly claiming that with real effort and sacrifice, an authentic connection, even love, is possible.
In 1987 New York, waitress Frankie (Kelly Uhlenhopp) and short-order cook Johnny (real-life husband Andrew Uhlenhopp) understand how quick and shallow intimacy can be when they hop into bed on their first date. A bad dinner and a bad movie can still lead to loud and boisterous sex. But then what? After the mindless grunting and moaning and spectacular physical release, what do they have to talk about? Where do they go from there?
As it turns out, late in the night they go everywhere, all around the detritus of the human experience, zeroing in on their deepest hurts, failures, disappointments and regrets, daring one another to care, to connect, to find one another lovable.
Johnny is a chatterbox, veering off into all kinds of subjects—any subjects—to keep from having to put his pants on and go home. Frankie suspects she’s invited a lunatic into her home and wonders what she can say to get him to leave.
But gradually, painstakingly, progress is made. Ever the romantic and terribly intense, Johnny NEEDS to love and be loved. Wary and pragmatic Frankie can tell right off they’re not a good match, despite uncanny commonalities. But could they become a couple? What scars would have to be revealed? What walls would need to be dismantled?
The sex is fine…until it isn’t. So they resort to food as a way of building a tenuous connection that is threatened constantly by fears, withering as they say or do the wrong thing, then they regroup and try again.
It’s worth it. It HAS to be.
FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE DE LUNE is a very mature, deep, challenging play, with R-rated adult language and nudity. The characters are stripped bare from the beginning and only go deeper still.
Kelly and Andrew Uhlenhopp are a revelation in their roles. Their passion, openness, and trust in each other are authentic and palpable. They make those of us in the audience want to open our hearts as well, to go beyond the superficial to the sublime.
I expect live theatre to be entertaining, stimulating, even challenging. Watching these two consummate lovers and actors sharing the fullness of their hearts and craft with utter yet focused abandon filled me with wonder. With awe. With gratitude.
Director Missy Moore has guided this remarkable couple through McNally’s emotional minefield of a script with a steady hand and a clear vision.
Also, special acknowledgement must be given to the phenomenal set, which included a functional sofa couch, electric stove, fully stocked refrigerator complete with insightful magnets and a case of Tab. There are clothes in the closet and a shower curtain in the bathroom. It’s the most habitable set I think I’ve ever seen, and that can only help ground the actors in their emotional journeys.
Are YOU willing to take a chance and connect with FRANKIE & JOHNNY? It will take you to a painful place. But there’s love there if you decide to claim it.
Vintage Theatre presents FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE DE LUNE July 29- September 4, Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.; Monday, August 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $24 – $30 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. Group discounts for 6+ are available. For mature audiences. Contains nudity and sexual situations. Video clip at https://youtu.be/lzrXlGjZDLk


REVIEW: Equinox’s ‘The Toxic Avenger’ is campy, corny, raucous good fun, through Sept. 3

AUGUST 16, 2016
After ten years of producing sleazy, low-budget exploitation movies, Lloyd Kaufman hit pop culture gold in the mid-1980s with The Toxic Avenger, a horror-comedy-superhero spoof that is a lot like the Swamp Thing, except he’s from New Jersey.
After more than 1,000 titles and 40 years of churning out schlock entertainment for direct-to-DVD consumption, Kaufman’s Troma Studios has achieved legendary status. Now, fans can walk away from their VHS players and bongs to enjoy the semi-mythic Toxie’s adventures with actual other, equally high human beings. Equinox Theatre’s ridiculously raucous regional premiere of THE TOXIC AVENGER plays at The Bug Theatre through Sept. 3.
Ceaselessly bullied uber-nerd Melvin Ferd, III (in a stellar performance by Seth Maisel) is roughed up by jocks (Kalond Irlanda and Chris Arneson, who also play pretty much the entire population of Tromaville). Between beatings and wedgies, he hides his love for the sweet, winsome librarian Sara (Miranda Byers). That’s relatively easy to do because she’s blind. The “blind girl” jokes are pretty much continuous throughout the show, so if you are offended by tasteless, tacky, over-the-top humor, you’ve wandered into the wrong theatre.
Melvin stumbles upon the corrupt Mayor Babs’ (Annika Merkel) underhanded dealings with Manhattan to store toxic waste in Tromaville for cash. The populace is suffering from noxious fumes and flames shooting out of faucets, but she doesn’t care. She’ll gladly trade the linings of her constituents’ lungs for those of her own pockets.
Attempting to silence Melvin, Mayor Babs has him tossed into a vat of toxic goo. But instead of corroding, the nerd mutates into a hideous, stinky, bullet-proof, bulbous-headed slimy monster who can’t keep his left eye in its socket. “Toxie’s” main superhero tactic is to dismember polluters, tossing various body parts bouncing across the stage and roaring with glee.
Alas, Toxie must choose between the love of Sara and his crusade to clean up Tromaville, while avoiding the murderous machinations of Mayor Babs. It’s a rare, mature character arc, considering the goofiness of everything else in Tromaville.
THE TOXIC AVENGER is laugh-out-loud funny throughout. There’s no bar too low for this comedy, yet it’s never mean or caustic. Try as it might, the musical just can’t manage to offend. It’s too much fun. The self-aware book by Joe DiPietro, and the upbeat, rock-ish music and lyrics by David Bryan, actually add to the campy, slap-happy spirit, with such memorable tunes as “Get the Geek,” “Hot Toxic Love,” “Thank God She’s Blind,” “Evil is Hot,” and “All Men Are Freaks.”
Maisel is absolutely superb, both as Melvin and Toxie, and Byers is delightful as the not-quite-innocent Sara. Merkel is a standout as both Mayor Babs and Melvin’s Ma and even has a show-stopping duet with herself. Irlanda and Arneson are a riot, a couple of uninhibited clowns who transform into countless characters (mostly female) with innumerable wigs.
There’s a difference between “cheap” and “small scale.” THE TOXIC AVENGER musical is actually superior to the original flick, in exactly the same way the musical version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS transcends its schlock/indie source material. With the right artistic team, as led by director Colin Roybal, it really is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Equinox Theatre’s campy, corny production of THE TOXIC AVENGER plays 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday through Sept. 3 at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo St., Denver. Call 720-984-0781 for information and reservations or visit www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.


REVIEW: Miners Alley Children’s Theatre cobbles comical ‘Shoemaker and the Elves’ through Aug. 20

JULY 28, 2016
Children’s literature has a closet-full of famous footwear. Cinderella and Dorothy love their slippers, an old woman lives in a shoe, and Puss boasts an impressive pair of boots. One of the most neglected shoe-related stories is “The Shoemaker and the Elves,” in which fairy folk rescue a poor but deserving cobbler by taking his last scraps of leather and creating gorgeous shoes that fit his customers perfectly.
The story has always been about mercy and generosity, but writer-director Rory Pierce works an all new twist to the Grimm Brothers classic in his world premiere production of THE SHOEMAKER AND THE ELVES, playing Saturday afternoons at Miners Alley Playhouse through Aug. 20.
Instead of merely making enchanted shoes for an impoverished shoemaker and his wife, a pair of magical folk (Rory Pierce, Lisa Ann Gaylord) play matchmaker for an agreeable young cobbler (Alec Witthohn), helping him win the love of his life (Addy Himle) and her father’s (Clark Bomer Brittain) approval.
That’s a charming premise, but Pierce, who has been writing and directing kids shows for more than 20 years (formerly at the late, lamented Heritage Square Music Hall), adds a totally new and exciting dimension to the story. He develops an actual character arc for the elves, giving them a compelling reason to help the lad become the shoemaker he was always meant to be.
This is very mature play craft, but you’d never know it with all the goofy silliness onstage, not to mention the audience participation that frequently brings children onstage to either join in the fun or just look adorably bewildered.
For those of us who take fairy tales and children’s theatre very seriously, there’s something redemptive in the elves’ half of the story, and delightfully old-fashioned in the human half. Together, they make a marvelous pair of matching stories, that fit together like enchanted footwear.
At first, Pierce’s portrayal of Aelfgar is buffoonish, maddeningly dense and uncooperative. It’s enough to make Gaylord’s Aelfgifu stop up her pointy ears. But gradually, Aelfgar wears Aelfgifu down enough to get her to admit that the cobbler’s inept shoemaking is the result of a curse she put on one of his ancestors and that she has been unable to rescind. Once she is humbled and asks for help, the bumbling Aelfgar begins to reveal wisdom and powers the younger elf never suspected. Before long, and with some hard work, the curse is transformed into a blessing.
Not only that, the play demonstrates how people in love mustn’t keep secrets, that it is better to serve others than ourselves, and cooperation is more productive than stubbornness.
Compared to other local theatre companies, Miners Alley Children’s Theatre is operating with meager funds, and the performance dates, as well as the sets, take a necessary back seat to the “mainstage” production (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS). Even so, Pierce turns a “shoestring” budget into a handsome, uplifting and entertaining small-scale show for kids under 12 and those who love them.
Performances of THE SHOEMAKER AND THE ELVES are Saturdays at 1 p.m., through Aug. 20. Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Ave, Golden, CO. Tickets are $10. Call 303-935-3044 or visit online at www.minersalley.com.


REVIEW: Candlelight’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ is familiar family fun, through Sept. 11

JULY 26, 2016
The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has pulled out all the stops to provide enjoyable, full-scale musical entertainment. The costumes are amazing, the sets are gorgeous, the cast and orchestra are HUGE. It all makes for a very pleasant, if unexceptional evening. The show and the food are really good, but not great.
Candlelight’s current production of THE WIZARD OF OZ, running through September 11, is based on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of the L. Frank Baum classic, which means it’s the version closest to the beloved MGM musical, including all the iconic songs. The book adaptation is by John Kane, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg.
Teenaged Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Christy Oberndorf) runs away, returns just in time to be swept away by a tornado, lands in the colorful, offbeat Land of Oz, makes allies and enemies, and goes on a quest to beg the Wizard (Patrick Sawyer, who doubles as Professor Marvel) to help her get home.
The script puts a little extra effort into establishing the farm hands as stupid, emotional and cowardly to make sure we’ll recognize them later as the Scarecrow (Deylan Dean), Tinman (Stephen Bertles) and the Cowardly Lion (Markus Warren). Auntie Em (Melissa Swift-Sawyer) becomes Glinda the Good, and Uncle Henry (David L. Wygant) enjoys a major overhaul as the Emerald City Guard.
And of course, cruel Miss Gulch (Annie Dwyer) turns a lovely shade of green as the cackling Wicked Witch of the West.
One major surprise is that Toto is played by a dog (Furby) in the “Kansas” scenes, and by a talented little girl (Avery Mendoza) in the Land of Oz. It makes Toto’s actions and heroics much easier to stage, and adds an element of inventiveness to an otherwise traditional production.
Oh, and there’s a delightful children’s ensemble, making this an inter-generational show. That elevates this production to above average.
The tornado sequence is left primarily to the imagination, the Munchkins are laugh-out-loud hilarious, as are the crows who plague the Scarecrow, the singing, apple-throwing trees, and there are some adorable poppies.
Everyone’s going to have their favorite performances, so I’ll share mine. Dwyer is so much fun as the Wicked Witch, it’s hard not to root for her and shout out to just give her the red shoes already. Mendoza is especially fun as the intrepid Toto, Warren is a warm, sympathetic Cowardly Lion, and Bertles, who also choreographed the show, dances up a storm.
Director Kent Sugg deserves special mention for fully incorporating a bunch of local kids into the ensemble, and for giving the audiences exactly what they expected from a dinner theatre production of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Also, congratulations to the audience members who drove a long, long way to get to this theatre, which is just off I-25 between Longmont and Loveland. It’s a trek, but worth the effort.
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, now in its ninth season, is experiencing a major expansion, including an enlarged kitchen, offices, an on-site scene shop, and a conference facility. This is on top of first-rate sets, costumes, furnishings, and stage lighting and sound equipment. Someone is investing heavily to help put Candlelight and Johnstown on the map, and it’s working. I kept thinking, “I’ve never been to Branson, but I think this must be what it’s like.”
Performances are Thursday, Friday & Saturday evenings, with dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Sunday Matinees -‐ Dinner seating at 12:30 PM; Show at 2:00 PM.
Adult Dinner & Show Tickets are $49.50 ‐ $59.50 (based on day of week); Child (5‐12) Dinner & Show Tickets: $29.50 (any performance); Student (13-18) Dinner & Show Tickets: $39.50 (any performance); Adult Show-Only Tickets: $29.50 (any performance; seating restrictions)
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534; I‐25 at Exit 254, just south of Historic Johnson’s Corner
Dinner and show tickets can be purchased by calling Candlelight’s box office – 970-744-3747 or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com.


REVIEW: PHAMALY’S ‘EVITA’ is an inventive, challenging election year musical, through Aug. 7

EVITA is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera concept album (1976) turned stage musical (1978) about the rise and fall of Argentinian First Lady Eva Perón. It’s a dynamic, angry, and ultimately cynical exploration of a charismatic and ruthlessly ambitious woman’s unbridled, corrupt, quest for power, as inflicted on a struggling, third world nation. EVITA’s not a “feel good” kind of musical at all. Instead, it reaches for the grandness of Brechtian tragedy. Ultimately, like it’s determined but flawed protagonist, the musical falls short of true greatness.
PHAMALY Theatre Company, on the other hand, has succeeded wildly in their ambition to produce a thought-provoking, polished summer musical. Thanks to Bryce Alexander’s astute directorial choices, Debbie Stark and Ronnie Gallup’s inventive choreography, and headliner Jenna Bainbridge’s fierce performance in the title role, Denver audiences can revive their love/hate relationship with EVITA. The show plays at the “surgical arena-style” Byron Theatre in the Newman Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Denver Campus, through Aug. 7.
In a well-worn theatrical convention, EVITA begins and ends with a funeral. The bulk of the show offers flashes and glimpses, a musical pastiche of highlights and lowlifes tracing Eva Perón’s emergence from the gutter to her elevation as the sainted “soul” of Argentina.
Throughout, Che (Daniel Traylor) serves as a commentator, sometimes playing the accuser, other times Eva’s conscience, or the voice of the people. It’s hard to tell if he loves her, hates her, wishes her well, or revels in her downfall. He clearly despises himself for his fascination with her. However he’s responding, it serves as a counterpoint to the various achievements and setbacks Eva brazenly experiences in her push to glory.
By the age of 15, Eva is trading her body for upward mobility and increasingly glamorous accessories, first with a sleazy tango singer played by Rob Costigan with vicious grace, then with a chorus of powerful men. At last, she lands on the calculating Perón, played with easy grace by Leonard Barrett, Jr.
Their partnership, which bears some discomforting parallels to the Clintons, is outwardly affectionate but completely conniving, corrupt and utterly ruthless. Eva drives Perón’s rise to the presidency, riding his coattails to become an unelected figurehead, offering false hope to the suffering masses while exploiting them and committing charitable foundation fraud to finance her own goals.
And they love her for it.
The stuck-up aristocrats and military junta don’t. They see Eva for the grasping creature she is but are out-maneuvered by her at every turn.
The victims pile up in the wake of her juggernaut determination.
Meanwhile, the once-prosperous Argentine economy begins to tank, and Evita behaves more and more like a Hollywood starlet celebrity with a cause until, her all-to-human body betrays her.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lengthy sections of recitative are sharp, discordant, angry and generally unpleasant. The occasional melodic power ballad makes up for it, and those are the three or four songs audiences remember.
Costigan’s tango moves as Migaldi are fluid and seductive, even while he sings with venomous disdain, mocks a blind woman and Eva’s gait. Rachel Van Scoy makes a powerful and sympathetic impression as Perón’s Mistress, displaced by Eva and yet surviving through the rise and fall of the legend. For me, this became the most important character, the most truly human of all. Traylor, so memorable in last year’s production of Cabaret, is a force of nature as Che, moving with languid grace through the various mobs, masses, and clutches of disaffected upper classes.
Barrett, Jr., who played Beast to Bainbridge’s captivating Belle a couple of years ago, has perhaps the smoothest, richest voice in town. Too bad the back seat role of Perón doesn’t give him a chance to really display his formidable talent.
The rock opera really belongs to Evita, and thus to Bainbridge, who proves more than capable of carrying the show. Sure, there’s a polished chorus and all, but like Eva, you get the impression she could pull this off through sheer grit and determination, all on her own, if need be.
PHAMALY was created to provide a venue for performers with various disabilities and diseases to have a share of the spotlight. Over the years, it’s been a joy to watch the company turn pro. The various challenges faced by the actors almost always carry over into informed choices by the directors and choreographers, that reveal new insights into familiar material. That’s really exciting for audiences. EVITA boasts numerous “Wow, I never thought of it that way” moments, along with the thrill of seeing dozens of people transcend limitations.
PHAMALY’s inventive and ingenious production of EVITA offers a new angle on the cruelty inherent in the actions of those who are consumed by political ambition, and the toll on human dignity a person’s unrestrained quest for power can take.
And for what?
It’s always going to end wth a funeral.
Tickets are $32-$36, with discounts available for groups. Performances are 7:30 pm Friday/Saturday, 2 pm Sundays. Audio and  Sign Interpretation at 2 pm on July 24, Sensory Friendly at 7:30 pm Aug. 4. Tickets may be purchased online at www.newmantix.com/phamaly or by calling 303-871-7720.


REVIEW: Spotlight Theatre’s ‘Night Watch’ is a riveting psychological suspense thriller

Thirty years after Lucille Fletcher gripped audiences with the classic suspense thriller Sorry, Wrong Number, she wrote Night Watch (1972), which takes the themes of isolation, paranoia and a woman in peril, then doubles the intensity by adding a psychological twist.
Spotlight Theatre’s production, playing at the John Hand Theater through Aug. 13 and starring the incomparable Haley Johnson, is nothing short of riveting. And by “riveting,” I mean “pinned to the seat, unable to move, and scarcely able to breathe.” What an extraordinary performance! Every gesture, every nuance is filled with subtext and peril.
Ridiculously wealthy and mentally unstable Elaine Wheeler (Johnson) is insulated from the world by museum-quality fine art and furs, but outside her window…yes, right THERE, is mind-boggling horror made all the more maddening because NO ONE believes her. Not her strangely distant husband (Todd Black) or her best friend/nurse (Margie Lamb). Not even the remote, high-priced psychiatrist (Renee Sobering).
The local beat cop (AJ Voliton) is more interested in Elaine’s paintings than her safety, and a homicide detective (TJ Hogle) is annoyed that he has to continually placate the spoiled one percent when things are so lousy for regular people out in the real world. Even the quaint yet mysterious neighbor Mr. Appleby (Eddie Schumacher) and the eavesdropping maid Helga (Linda Suttle) know something is wrong but can’t do much to help.
What makes Night Watch especially effective is that a third of the information the audience receives is related to an external and deadly conspiracy, another part concerns the dysfunctional relationships within the household, and the final third reveals Elaine’s past history of betrayal and loss that makes her an unreliable witness. Is she cracking up? Is something terrible going on just outside her window? Can both be true, and are the two related?
The success of this play hinges on having an actress who can sustain a sense of vulnerability, desperation, urgency and psychological disintegration for two solid hours, bringing variety to countless emotional beats, with others and while alone on stage. Johnson is one of the few actresses in town capable of such a feat. It’s a tour de force performance not to be missed.
Mari Geasair’s direction is outstanding, as she elicits excellent performances from all the actors, even the well-developed supporting and minor roles, and keeps the action moving throughout the set, though a couch blanket was treated almost like it should have received program credit.
Vance McKenzie deserves special mention for a lighting design that provides subtle support for Elaine’s various emotional states and indicates the passage of time in a way not usually attempted by smaller theatres.
Night Watch is a smart thriller, a real potboiler, and though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the obligatory twist at the end, it was a lot of fun getting there. Unlike many thrillers, all the characters are distinctive and memorable long after the lights fade to black.
Spotlight Theatre presents Night Watch through August 13* at the John Hand Theater in Lowry, with performances on Sun., July 10 & 24 @ 2 p.m.; Sat., July 9 & 23 @ 7:30 p.m.; Sat., July 16 & 30 @ 2 p.m.; Fri., July 15 & 29 @ 7:30 p.m.; Mon., July 25 @ 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug 5 @ 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug 6 @ 2 p.m.; Thurs., Aug 11 @ 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$22 and available by calling 720-530-4596 or online at www.thisisspotlight.com.


REVIEW: Equinox Theatre’s ‘Evil Dead: The Musical’ is super-soaked in blood, marinated in mirth

JULY 3, 2016
Sweeney Todd? A mere paper cut. Little Shop of Horrors? Anemic vegan fare. If you want song and dance, horror and humor at it’s boldest and bloodiest, check out Equinox Theatre’s campy, cut-up comedy Evil Dead: The Musical.
Because you just can’t keep a good Deadite down—even with a double-barreled boom stick and a one-handed chainsaw—Equinox has reanimated the hugely popular 2013 production of the hit musical based on Sam Raimi’s 1981 breakthrough horror/comedy film franchise. Evil Dead: The Musical is playing to mostly sold-out houses at the historic Bug Theatre through July 16.
It seems there are plenty of people whose idea of a party is to spend a tune-filled evening at their favorite cabin in the woods cracking puns, spoofing over-the-top mayhem, and getting hosed down with stage blood.
I’m one of them.
Chronically underachieving S-Mart housewares department employee Ash (Michael Martinkus) brings his chipper girlfriend Linda (Lacey Eberl), sniffle-nosed kid sister Cheryl (Katelyn Kendrick), misogynist best friend Scotty (Trevor Hazell) and his ditzy date Shelly (Cassie Lujan) to a remote cabin in a violently haunted forest for a weekend getaway.
Things go pretty much as expected until they discover an axe, shotgun, tape recorder and an obviously evil Sumerian book of the dead. All they have to do is “press play” on the tape player and all hell breaks loose, accompanied by splatters, squirts, showers and sprays of the red stuff, aimed directly at the first six rows.
Since the easily summoned Kandarian demons rip through the cast pretty quickly, a second group of adventurers, including Annie (Holly Joyce Dalton), the daughter of the professor (Marcos Descalzi) who owns the cabin, her nerdy boyfriend Ed (Michael Barlow) and a foul-mouthed redneck (Mike Moran) arrive in time to help sole survivor Ash fend off the gleefully ghoulish possessed Deadites.
Plus they all sing.
It’s bloody good fun, with lots of puns and self-aware references as to how ludicrous the situation and the characters’ decisions are. George Reinblatt’s book and lyrics are smart, shockingly profane, and include Ash’s iconic “boom stick” speech, as well as other popular references to Raimi’s original cinematic trilogy.
The songs are hilarious, performed in a variety of styles, all upbeat and enjoyable, thanks to a live, four-piece band. Music is by George Reinblatt, Frank Cipola, Christopher Bond and Melissa Morris.
Martinkus is excellent as Ash. Though lacking Bruce Campbell’s stature, he makes a credible transition from nice guy to a demon butt-kicking hero, who may or may not also be a maniac. Eberl and Dalton are likewise outstanding as the leading ladies.
Kendrick seems to have the most fun of all as the pun-inflicting sister turned tormenting Deadite. She spends most of her time gleefully popping up from the cellar trapdoor, and each time it’s a delight and a surprise.
The production crew, especially co-directors Deb Flomberg and Christian Munck, along with the gore wranglers, have done yeoman work bringing the thrills and chills, plus body bags of laughs, from the screen to the stage. There’s enormous creativity and ingenuity here, with five gallons of fake blood exsanguinated every performance.
If you know and love the films, you’ll wonder “how are they going to do THIS scene”?
It’s remarkable how they pull—or rather hack—it off.
This show’s not for everyone, but if you enjoyed the Evil Dead films, especially the second one, you’ll relish the “schlock and awe” of the live musical.
Equinox Theatre Company presents the return engagement of Evil Dead: The Musical through July 16, with shows Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM. There will also be a pay-what-you-can industry night on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door/$17 for groups of 6 or more in advance only. Splatter Zone seats are available in advance only for $25. All performances are at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets and more information available online at www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.


REVIEW: Spotlight Theatre’s cheeky ‘No Sex Please, We’re British!’ is a randy romp through yesteryear

No Sex Please, We’re British is one of those cheeky, oh-so-naughty Benny Hill-era door-slamming sex farces that flirts with sin, but winds up affirming traditional values. It’s a throwback to the days of titillation without temptation, sauciness without salaciousness. It’s adolescent leering without lechery and in the capable hands of director Luke Allen Terry, the show is an opportunity for the audience to cut loose with uninhibited, liberating laughter.
Newlyweds Peter (Tony Ryan) and Frances (Rachel Whyte) never have a moment’s peace, what with the early arrival of Peter’s mother (Linda Button), continuous interruptions by his tightly wound odd duck co-worker Brian (Christian Mast), and the accidental delivery of a box of illegal pornographic postcards.
It doesn’t help that Peter lives above the bank he manages, that his boss (Wade Wood) has taken a shine to his mother, the local constable (Dan Connell) makes impromptu visits at odd hours, and he’s expecting an inopportune visit from a bank examiner (Randy Diamon).
Through no fault of their own (except preferring to tell outrageous lies rather than the truth), Peter and Frances try to keep the lid on the proverbial pressure cooker, even as the heat turns up. Scandal is sure to erupt at any moment.
Like all unconfessed sin, the porno problem escalates seemingly of its own accord, with the subsequent arrival of a shipment of stag films, cases of dirty books, and ultimately, a couple of lingerie-clad “working girls” (Susan Rahmsdorff, Kelly Alayne Dwyer) who are eager to crack their riding crops on any “bum” that happens by.
Playwrights Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott have crafted a solid farce, with only a handful of preposterous impossibilities, and Luke Allen Terry keeps the action moving so fast, one scarcely notices. Panic and chaos run rampant almost from the get-go, with only brief pauses of calm before the next ensuing storm. The cast whips up a veritable hurricane of hilarity, leaving the audience breathless by the end.
Mast and Diamon have the funniest slapstick bits, while Wood is the master of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge gag.
In this era of easily-deleted browser histories and “going incognito”, the whole premise seems a lot sillier now than back in 1971 when the show premiered. Younger people in the audience might wonder what all the fuss is about. Which may actually be the point of the play.
Don’t expect anything more than a frenzied free-for-all of frivolity, and you won’t be disappointed with No Sex Please, We’re British. It’s a light-hearted, light-headed, summer evening’s entertainment, well played.
Spotlight Theatre presents No Sex Please, We’re British through August 13 at the John Hand Theater in Lowry. Performances on Fridays July 8 & 22  at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 2, 9, 23 and August 13 at 2 p.m.; Saturday, July 16, 30, and August 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 17, 31 and August 7 at 2 p.m. and Monday, July 18 at 7:30.p.m.
Tickets are $12-$22 and available by calling 720-530-4596 or online at www.thisisspotlight.com.

REVIEW: BDT Stage kicks up its heels this summer with ‘Footloose: the Musical’

MAY 30, 2016
Footloose: the Musical is a wholesome, old-fashioned show based on the 1984 Kevin Bacon film, with a run-of-the-mill score by Tom Snow that is punctuated by mid-80s pop music hits and lots of dancing. BDT Stage’s sterling production, which runs through September 3, elevates the material into a thoroughly enjoyable, heel kicking good time. It’s the ideal summer entertainment for the whole family.
High school senior Ren McCormack (Jean-Luc Cavner) is abandoned by his father, so he and his mom (Joanie Brosseau) downsize big time from hip Chicago to the hick farming town of Bomont, where dancing is actually illegal, on account of a driving-while-impaired accident several years earlier that claimed the lives of four teens.
A talented, compassionate pastor (Brian Burron), seeking to save lives, hardens his heart and grows increasingly legalistic, silencing all dissent, especially from his wife (Alicia King) and rebellious teenage daughter Ariel (Seles VanHuss).
Ariel, a good girl at heart, dresses and behaves like a slut, and keeps company with the local bad boy (Jon Tyler Heath), a high school dropout, drug-dealing, abusive loser. But then she meets nice guy Ren, who needs the physicality of dance to blow off his pent-up adolescent emotional steam. Ariel uses him to shake up the townsfolk and further aggravate her father. What happens instead is a cathartic breakthrough for the silently grieving town, reconciliation, and mutual understanding.
There’s also a sweet subplot about a doofus redneck (Satya Jnai Chavez) and his childhood sweetheart (Bussy Gower) cautiously taking their relationship to the next level.
Since I am of a certain age, and also a pastor of sorts, I especially appreciated the respectful treatment of the reverend’s character arc. He’s never the villain even when he’s being unreasonable, and it’s gratifying to see how a natural leader with well-earned influence can lose, then find, his way. Burron does a superb job with this complex role, and Alicia King is likewise outstanding as his long-suffering clergy wife.
Cavner and VanHuss make a perfect couple, and even though it’s not a typical romantic comedy relationship, their gradually growing friendship is actually more appropriate for high schoolers. She’s been “kissed a lot,” and he wants to wait until it means something. Less satisfying is how the bad boy, after beating Ariel, suffers no consequences except to be further shunned by a community he’d already rejected.
All the hit songs from the movie are intact, including Kenny Loggins’ title number, “Holding Out for  Hero,” “Almost Paradise” and “Let’s Hear It For the Boy.” Music conductor Neal Dunfee’s pit band sounds great as usual, Amy Campion’s scenic design works well, especially with that fatal, oppressive bridge looming over the whole town, and director/choreographer Matthew D. Peters keeps things moving at a snappy pace, with a lot of fun dance numbers. Rae Leigh Case deserves special mention for a spectacular aerial dance routine.
Music conductor Neal Dunfee’s pit band sounds great as usual, Amy Campion’s scenic design works well, especially with that fatal, oppressive bridge looming over the whole town, and director/choreographer Matthew D. Peters keeps things moving at a snappy pace, with a lot of fun dance numbers. Rae Leigh Case deserves special mention for a spectacular aerial dance routine.
Though not critically acclaimed and the recipient of no Tony Awards, Footloose: The Musical was still reasonably successful on Broadway. It’s not controversial in any way, which is a plus considering the plethora of “edgy, push the envelope” musicals I’ve seen over recent years. I was reminded of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s unremarkable but nevertheless enjoyable State Fair.
Tickets start at $39, which includes both the performance and dinner, and the gourmet meal is unparalleled. Group rates are available. BDT Stage is located at 5501 Arapahoe Ave in Boulder. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations and information.


REVIEW: Firehouse Theater Company presents funny, heartfelt ‘The Boys Next Door’ through June 11

Tom Griffin’s The Boys Next Door takes a sweet, funny, yet unflinching look at people who are experiencing mental illness, cognitive/developmental disabilities or have a profoundly different way of coping with the challenges of life, in a group home setting.
Firehouse Theater Company’s current production of The Boys Next Door is filled with humor and sadness, deftly directed by Katie Mangett and performed at a manic pace by an ensemble of talented, fully committed and engaged actors.
The audience is invited  to take a closer look at the lives of these damaged yet uniquely unforgettable men through the eyes of Jack (Peter Marullo), a burned-out caregiver who loves and is amused by these high-maintenance guys, but can’t bear to be around them much longer.
You know it’s time to move on when you start throwing appliances into walls.
The motley crew of residents is clearly an exhausting bunch, moving from urgency to cockamamie schemes to uncontrolled panic, one after the other, and sometimes all at once.
Arnold (Andrew Uhlenhopp) is a nervous person, with rigid coping strategies. He’s easily flustered, sort of like Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, but with anger issues. Lucien (Greg West) is the most severely afflicted. For Lucien, every moment is terribly confusing and life is hard, harder even than learning the alphabet song. Norman (Luke Terry) perseverates on keys and doughnuts but is also the only one capable of pursuing a relationship, in particular with Sheila (Kelly Uhlenhopp), who appears to have Down Syndrome. Barry (Joe Von Bokern) isn’t developmentally disabled and doesn’t really belong in this group. He suffers from schizophrenia and has been institutionalized for most of his life. He dreams of becoming a golf pro but has no clue what that really means, all to win the love of a father (Lucius Wall) who will never deserve a mug that says “World’s Best Dad.”
Anne Myers plays several roles, the “everyone else” in the lives of these men.
Though each has his own story in this ensemble piece, the dynamic of how they live together, sharing chores, chafing one moment and comforting the next, is what makes this such an enjoyable play.
These boys really can’t survive independently, only two are employable outside the center, and as Jack acknowledges, they are never going to change, never going to get better. They are subject to bullying, exploitation, humiliation and judgment by many so-called “normal” people who don’t bother to take the time to understand. As an audience, we become involved in their sometimes sad, often chaotic lives, and find ourselves laughing through the tears.
If you don’t have experience with people who have special needs, The Boys Next Door is the perfect way to get a taste of a world that is literally right next door. We are given the opportunity to experience relief, then guilt, because we weren’t born with these challenges, and face our own fears of someday becoming “like that.”
Personally, I struggled with the depiction of developmental disabilities by profoundly gifted actors. Robert Downey Jr.’s monologue from Tropic Thunder came to mind, in which he counseled Ben Stiller about not going “full retard” in playing this kind of character. The actors aren’t having fun at the expense of their characters, but for some reason I felt uncomfortable in a way I wouldn’t have if the characters were deaf, blind or had restricted mobility.
Also, my wife and I directed the drama program at the Developmental Disabilities Resource Center for four years and worked with people who were actually living the world of this play every day. Part of me wanted to say, “It’s not like that. Well, okay, it is, but not entirely.”
This is in no way a criticism of the heart the actors put into their roles, and their intentions are obviously pure. I guess I’d like to see this play performed by high-functioning, developmentally disabled actors. That would absolutely reduce audiences to quivering blobs of Jello.
There are plenty of local opportunities to see plays performed by actors with varying disabilities, particularly PhamalyMagic Moments, and my wife’s summer drama campShining Stars, through Colorado ACTS.
The Boys Next Door is a worthy, somewhat dated play, performed by a strong cast, about a neglected but important subject. It’s also very funny. I laughed a lot and cried a little. You will too.
Firehouse Theater Company presents The Boys Next Door Friday’s and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sunday’s at 2 pm, through June 11. Tickets are $22, with discounts available. The John Hand Theater/Colorado Free University is located at 7653 East First Place, in Lowry. Call 303-562-3232 or visit online at www.firehousetheatercompany.com.
All photos by Soular Radiant Photography.

REVIEW: Neil Simon’s funny and frightening ‘Biloxi Blues’ boot camp comedy at Miners Alley Playhouse through June 26

Playwright Neil Simon probably deserves more respect than he gets. Originally considered a skilled gag writer, working with the likes of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks when television was new, he produced some really funny domestic comedies, especially The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park before turning inward.
Biloxi Blues is Simon’s semi-autobiographical representation of his first six weeks of Army boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi, during World War II. The show, with equal measures of laughter, horror, and pathos, is sensitively directed and energetically performed by a cast of up-and-coming young adults at Miners Alley Playhouse, through June 26.
The second in Simon’s “Eugene” trilogy, Biloxi Blues draws from painful, formative experience, integrates it with the comic perspective of time and distance and achieves what I think was Simon’s greatest ambition: to become the American Anton Chekhov.
Eugene, determined not to let a world at war put a damper on his desire to become a writer, bonds with four of his future platoon mates during an exhausting, odorous cross-country train ride from New York to Mississippi. A sixth recruit joins them later, but remains the odd man out, despite his decency and friendliness.
Simon’s alter-ego has four goals that he hopes to achieve during his time in the service: lose his virginity, fall in love, become a writer, and survive. He accomplishes the first three in just six weeks but his estimates that at least four of the six will either be killed or wounded once they land in either Europe or the Pacific, prove to be prophetic.
The collection of average joes work out their differences as a sadistic and unstable drill sergeant tries to whip them into shape. All imaginable boot camp scenes are portrayed, except for any actual military training. There are plenty of short, episodic scenes in the barracks and the audience nods sagely as the boys complain about food in the mess hall, are given latrine duty, assigned punitive push-ups, are subjected to verbal abuse, use egregious profanity, go on leave to meet women (whether at a brothel or USO-sponsored dances), keep their heads down and try to stay out of really big trouble.
Only one of them has any aptitude whatsoever for soldiering. They are all woefully unprepared for what awaits them.
Tempers flare, truces called, the strengths and vulnerabilities of each character unfold; there is betrayal, scandal, and growing loyalty. Also, the guys get yelled at and change their clothes…a lot.
Kate Gleason, in her directorial debut, has mastered the first requirement of excellent direction: cast the best possible people for each role. She shows a talent for pacing, building suspense, and making seamless transitions between scenes.
John Hauser is endearing as the awkward, wise-cracking, determined Eugene. He is deft at delivering one-liners, but is also hilarious in his eager-beaver scene with his first prostitute, adroitly played friendly-reassuring, not scary-seductive, by Devon James.
As the erratic nemesis of civility and cooperation, Jude Moran is both physically intimidating and scary-smart as the drill sergeant Toomey. He’s capable of causing physical discomfort, but his ingenious manipulations of the platoon’s social dynamics are what make him so frightening. He doesn’t just get under your skin. He gets into your head.
John Wittbrodt also excels in the role of the highly intellectual Talmudic scholar Epstein, the least appropriate and most resistant person ever to put on a uniform. He suffers numerous indignities, including overt anti-Semitism and bullying, but refuses to allow anyone to crush his spirit.
The other recruits, all with compelling character arcs well presented, are the over-sexed racist Wykowski (Trevor Lyons), the wishy-washy would-be singer Carney (Tait Peterson), a mentally deficient but competitive Seldridge (Erik Fellenstein) and the odd-man-out Hennesey (Eddy Jordan).
Chloe McLeod plays Daisy, a forthright, red-headed Catholic girl who effortlessly makes Eugene, and the audience, believe that there really could be such a thing as love at first sight.
Biloxi Blues won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1985. If it had been contemporary rather than a memory play, it might have won a Pulitzer. The themes of preserving friendship, compassion, and dignity in a harsh, violent world, has seldom felt more poignant.
Miners Alley Playhouse’s funny, frightening, nostalgic and inspiring production of Biloxi Blues plays on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sunday’s at 6 pm, through June 26. The Sunday, June 26 closing performance is at 2 pm. The theatre is located at 1224 Washington Ave, Golden. Tickets are $27, with discounts available. Call 303-935-3044 or visit online at www.minersalley.com.
All photos by Sarah Roshan.


REVIEW: The Avenue Theater’s screamingly funny ‘November’ is a frantic, frightening political satire

Way back in January 2008 — ancient history by political standards —when David Mamet’s Oval Office satire November first opened on Broadway and President Obama ascended to the highest seat of American government, the idea of an obnoxious, narcissistic, utterly corrupt, and impossibly stupid president must have seemed hilarious, because… George W. Bush.
But neither the prolific and brilliant Mamet, nor his audiences could possibly have foreseen changes in our increasingly self-absorbed nation’s personality and the total collapse of functional leadership and character that has brought us to the horrific and depressing mess that is… Batman v Superman.
Oops, I meant to say, Hillary v Donald.
The Avenue Theater’s screamingly funny production of November couldn’t have come at a better — or a worse — time.
President Charles Smith (Kevin Hart) is losing his bid for a second term. Badly. Hopelessly. He’s tanked in the ratings, his own Party leadership won’t give him any money to campaign, and even his closest adviser, lawyer Archer Brown (Eric Mather) tells him it’s because the goofball has f—-d up everything he’s touched.
The clueless, money-grubbing fool can’t catch a break. Even his attempt to leave office with dignity and create a presidential library as his legacy is thwarted, and his wife is upset because she can’t keep a couch she reupholstered with taxpayers’ money.
With the reluctant assistance of Archer and enabled by his miserably ill Jewish lesbian speechwriter Bernstein (Amie MacKenzie), President Smith concocts a cockamamie scheme to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from The Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products (Bernie Cardell), in exchange for pardoning the annual Thanksgiving bird.
Smith also makes a mortal enemy of Chief Dwight Grackle (Sam Gilstrap), who wants the president to cede the Cape Cod island of Nantucket back to the Mi’kmaqs for a 4,000-bed hotel/casino development.
Complications and escalations ensue, as President Smith comes up with a hare-brained plan to revitalize his re-election bid. I couldn’t help wondering how the creator of Glengarry Glen Ross, The Unit, The Verdict and Hannibal could bang out a comedy as funny or funnier than anything Neil Simon ever produced.
Hart is a hurricane of hilarity in the role created by Nathan Lane, storming about the stage and displaying a staggering variety of fascinating emotions, nuances, and gestures as his ill-equipped President Smith tries to think his way out of one catastrophe after another. It’s laughably obvious he’s terrible at his job and wants power for all the wrong reasons. It takes a smart actor to “play dumb,” well, and Hart is a seasoned comic veteran.
The play celebrates the decline and fall of white, upper class, unqualified elite doofuses as de facto leaders, but offers no viable alternatives.
Much of the humor comes from President Smith’s shocking, glib, politically incorrect statements, which come in such flurries and squalls that I’m not sure any special interest group or cause is left unscathed.
The best, funniest and most offensive insults are always the ones grounded in truth.
At this, Mamet is a master.
MacKenzie is so persuasive as the enervated, flu-stricken speechwriter, members of the audience started sneezing. Mather deserves kudos for remaining calm and funny as the eye in President Smith’s tempestuous tantrums.
Cardell is delightful as the jittery lobbyist who understands the role of palm-greasing in business and politics, but is still able to draw the line, and Gilstrap brings a kind of wild-eyed comic insanity of his own to the Oval Office that had the audience circling its wagons.
The timing of this production of November is fortuitous in light of current political vagaries but has also become unexpectedly dated. The “heart” of the play, consuming most of the less-funny soapbox subplot, concerns manipulating the president into publicly advocating for gay marriage, not because he believes in it, but so he can feather his own nest.
It must have seemed a daring and impossibly progressive proposition eight years ago, but that’s all water under the bridge now, and Mamet could never have envisioned that in less than a decade, those same deeply committed social engineers/crusaders would be reduced to arranging preferred seating in public toilets.
Further, with the impending election and the no-win situation in which Americans find themselves, David Mamet’s November could become frighteningly prophetic. Whichever way it goes, a lying, totally corrupt, self-serving scofflaw, bad enough to make poor George W look like a harmless nincompoop, is going to seize the country’s helm.
And that’s just not funny.
The Avenue Theater presents November through May 21. Performances are Thursdays (May 12 and 19), Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $27.50 and available by calling 303-321-5925 or online at www.avenuetheater.com. The Avenue Theater is located at 417 E. 17th Ave, CO, 80203.

Would you like to get your own copy of David Mamet’s November? .

REVIEW: ‘The English Bride’ takes an honest look at lying, through May 14

There are few things more audacious than using an actual event to explore the characteristics of falsehood. And Toto too Theatre Company’s production of The English Bride, enjoying a thoughtful, probing and dynamic regional premiere at The Vintage Theatre through May 14, takes a real life 1986 thwarted terrorist attack and turns it into an exploration of love and hate, anger and shame, truth and lying.
The play is an intriguing emotional roller coaster that tantalizes the audience with bits and pieces of what probably happened and why, then leaves it up to us to decide if the truth can ever truly be known.
Directed by Ron Mediatore in the small black box theatre adjacent to the main stage at The Vintage Theatre, the one hour, forty minute play by Lucile Lichtblau offers rich, intriguing characters, all of whom are motivated to lie through their teeth about the events of the attempted mass murder, and its aftermath.
Dov (Albert Banker), an Israeli interrogator who is as shrewd and unassuming as Columbo, interviews the Arab Ali Said (Michael Gurshtein) in his jail cell, and his British fiancee Eileen Finney (Theresa Dwyer Reid) in less confined quarters. Through a series of soliloquies, flashbacks and back and forth visits, Dov gives each enough rope to hang the other, while disclosing only snippets of the actual facts. The result is a continuous stream of revelations, surprises, and twists that go ever deeper into the motivations people have for lying.
Some of the lies are outrageous, others are unnecessarily detailed in their contradictory fabrications, while others are impulsive.
Cynical and sharp, Dov believes that most people lie most of the time, and he proves to be perhaps the most accomplished of all at deception. But even a falsehood can reveal unexpected truths.
Finney is a self-described “plain” woman who has just turned forty, and is infatuated with the earnest, doting attention of Said. She finds sex to be a mystical experience, and it’s shocking when she discovers that wearing a depersonalizing Muslim face veil excites her.
The alternatively defensive and gullible woman claims being a Catholic as a reason for not aborting their child when Said proves unenthusiastic about procreation but seems to have no problem shagging him silly and shacking up with him. Her catechesis is obviously incomplete. The strongest influence from her upbringing is her ever-present but never-seen, constantly critical mother.
Said appears to be a simple immigrant entrepreneur, but quickly proves himself to be a masterful manipulator, exploiting Finney physically and emotionally without a pang of conscience. He obtains explosives from a mysterious Syrian and arranges, unbeknownst to Finney, for her to carry the bomb on a plane, hidden in her luggage. She, their baby, along with 300 souls are the intended victims of his cold, calculated plan.
He doesn’t consider himself to be a bad guy, and you’d better not say anything bad about his family.
Finney doesn’t want to admit to herself that Said never cared for her because that would condemn her to a loveless life. Said wants Dov to think he’s the dupe of the sinister Syrian, and Dov isn’t so much concerned with justice as retribution. Each will say anything to protect themselves or get what they want.
The acting is excellent all around, with effective dialect work. I could feel Finney’s betrayal and embarrassment as well as Dov’s frustration and grim curiosity. Gurshtein does a great job with a role that can never be even a little bit sympathetic. We are left wondering how cold-blooded and cruel this terrorist is and watch in fascination as he becomes less and less recognizably human.
The English Bride is the kind of drama, ripped from the headlines, that asks pertinent questions and provides thoughtful, complex answers. It’s a great discussion-starter.
Time’s running out. The show closes in just a week. The English Bride is definitely worth seeing.
And that is the unmitigated truth.
The English Bride runs through May 14, 2016, at 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, Colorado at 7:30 pm.  Thursday-Saturday. Tickets are $25.00 for general public, $22.00 for students and seniors. Call 720-583-3975 or go to www.andtototoo.org  for tickets.

REVIEW: Vintage Theatre’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ is an affecting, artistic triumph

The most seductive and damaging temptations in producing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sordid musical Sunset Boulevard are to idolize the show’s aging silent screen legend Norma Desmond as some kind of tragic diva, or to make it a star vehicle. The pathos of this fading star, and thus the show’s success, depends entirely on the audience’s belief that this actress never really was as talented as her fame suggested, really has lost it, and any hope of a comeback is futile.
Congratulations to Vintage Theatre, directors Craig A. Bond and Evgueni Mlodik, and especially the extraordinarily gifted singer-actress Marcia Ragonetti, along with fellow co-stars Drew Hirschboeck, Miranda Byers, and Wes Munsil, for getting it EXACTLY right.
Vintage Theatre’s extraordinary, up-close-and-personal production of ALW’s somewhat bloated, overwrought show runs through May 29. When word gets out about how emotionally affecting and artistically astute this show is, it’s going to sell out quickly. So I recommend you make reservations as soon as possible.
In fact, before I get on with the rest of the review, here’s the information you need to get tickets. Don’t wait.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2:30 pm, through May 29. Tickets are $28-$34 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. The Vintage Theatre is located at 1468 Dayton St., Aurora, 80010.
Based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 film noir potboiler, Sunset Boulevard is actually more about struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis’ (Hirschboeck) corruption, degradation and ultimate destruction by the caprices of Tinseltown. Once a writer with some promise, Gillis sells out his talent, then body and soul for a life of morally compromised comfort, until he is consumed by self-loathing.
That’s right, Gillis is the actual protagonist of the show. It’s just that his fall from grace is primarily internal. His tragic decline is eclipsed by the ostentatious, overblown former film star Norma Desmond (Ragonetti). She’s a colossal star who has outlived her era, who is now sputtering and collapsing into a black hole of insignificance. Whereas Gillis’ doom is indicated by a sigh, a kiss, or a new coat, Desmond is the one who turns ruin into a grand gesture of slit wrists, revolvers to the head, leopard-print ensembles and a gaudy, peacock headdress with its dusty plumage all askew.
Together, their toxic personalities become entangled, then deadly.
Pursued by creditors, down on his luck Gillis can’t get a break in Hollywood, even though he’s willing to hack up any old garbage. He takes refuge in Desmond’s ghoulish mansion, a shrine built to honor excessive ego and the illusion of art.
Desmond has a 600 page screenplay that needs “a little work,” and Gillis cynically accepts the meal ticket, but in reality, he has only replaced her recently deceased chimpanzee.
Desmond survives because of a world-class enabler Max (Wes Munsil), a fascinatingly complex character who serves as butler and chauffeur, but also is keeper of several layers of heart-breaking secrets.
What starts as an arrangement of mutual convenience becomes decidedly less so when Gillis takes a shine to the spunky, idealistic, age-appropriate but already engaged Betty Schaefer (Byers), who insists on finding good in the deceptively boyish reprobate.
The scenes involving Desmond, Gillis, Max and Betty, in varying combinations, are the heart and soul of the musical, and some of the power ballads are among Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best.
That said, the chorus suffers from irrelevancy. Their musical numbers don’t help the story, and in some cases don’t fit in at all, particularly a “male makeover” scene that out-gays Mel Brooks’ “Keep it Gay” number from The Producers. Sure, it’s funny, but it simply doesn’t belong.
Those scenes are distractions that take us away from the main attraction, which is watching Desmond’s pathetic descent into madness, and Gillis selling his worthless soul.
There are a few big name musicals that actually improve with a smart, smaller scale production. Camelot is one, and Sunset Boulevard is another. I don’t need big name stars, in fact, for this show, I don’t WANT big name stars in these roles, who are only going to use the material as a springboard to make it all about THEM.
What I want are skilled actors who care more about their characters than their careers, and that’s what makes Ragonetti and Hirschboeck so emotionally affecting. Their performances are truly magnificent, not in a bombastic way, but in the details, the micro-expressions, the nuances.
Instead of cynicism and censure, these flawed, doomed characters elicit compassion, poignancy, and a longing to find in our humanity something that is genuinely worthy, and lasting. Take the time to read through Mlodik’s insightful director’s notes in the program, and you’ll realize he got it exactly right, from the beginning.
Instead of marveling in a show’s histrionics, extravagant expense (though the costumes and set are spectacular), Vintage Theatre’s production of Sunset Boulevard made me want to be a kinder person, a more generous theatre artist, a more authentic writer.
That’s not glitter. It’s gold.


REVIEW: DCTC’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ is a superior must-see theatrical achievement

In the days of Victorian England, when Jack the Ripper was making headlines, Charles Dickens was effecting sweeping social changes, and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle was chasing ghosts and fairies, “penny dreadfuls” were a popular entertainment for the increasingly literate masses.
Lurid, macabre stories of murder, mayhem, and unbridled passion provided an essential if tawdry release for a repressed, oppressed, voyeuristic society. The story of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, who slit the throats of his enemies with a straight razor while his partner in crime ground their bodies into filling for her popular meat pies, was one of those penny dreadfuls.
Shocking! Horrible! Wildly entertaining!
Cold-blooded murder and cannibalism. Throw in madness and absurdly romantic sentimentality, and you’ve got a sure-fire crowd-pleaser that even the National Enquirer must envy.
Stephen Sondheim translated this irresistibly grotesque and often comically over-the-top potboiler melodrama into high art with his Broadway opera Sweeney Todd in 1979. Now through May 15, the Denver Center Theatre Company has revived the musical—which Tim Burton tried to kill by casting non-singers in his film version—and energized it with superior direction, design, and performances.
Now through May 15, the Denver Center Theatre Company has revived the musical—which Tim Burton tried to kill by casting non-singers in his —and energized it with superior direction, design, and performances.
This is a landmark production, a triumphant, “must see” theatrical event.
I know the Denver Center Theatre Company has already received a Tony Award for regional theatre excellence.
Give ’em another one, I say.
Sailor Anthony Hope (Daniel Berryman), surely the most wholesome seaman ever to sail the seven seas, rescues and befriends brooding castaway/prison escapee Sweeney Todd (Robert Petkoff) and returns with him to London.
We learn that Todd was once a promising and talented barber, whose career, marriage and family were ruined by the sadistic lawman Beadle Bamford (Dwelvan David) and the villainously corrupt and lecherous Judge Turpin (Kevin McGuire).
Eager for revenge, Todd is aided by the hilarious, pragmatic piemaker Mrs. Lovett (Linda Mugleston), who quickly becomes the brains of the operation, staying perky and upbeat as Todd sinks deeper into gloom and despair.
A crazed, mysterious Beggar Woman (Kathleen McCall) knows more than she’s saying, a foppish, braggart blackmailer (Michael Brian Dunn) gets cut down to size, and a ragamuffin street urchin (Kevin Curtis) becomes the unwitting instrument of both good and evil.
The real complications begin when Anthony falls instantly in love with the chirrupy blonde, Rapunzel-like Johanna (Samantha Bruce), who just happens to be Todd’s daughter and the ward of Judge Turpin. He enlists Todd’s aid to rescue Johanna from at least two fates worse than death.
What are the odds?
In a boldly cynical move inspired by the angry, vengeful God a cold, merciless world has taught them to worship, Todd and Lovett decide that EVERYONE deserves to die, including themselves, so they become serial murderers, cutting down and consuming as many men as possible before finally getting to the two who most need killing, but dooming themselves to violent death along the way.
Not exactly the “feel good” show of the season, but it’s VERY entertaining, and stimulating on many levels, from the basest to the sublime, and especially the ridiculous.
Director Kent Thompson has done a phenomenal job giving fresh, new vision and insight into this production. He deftly switches back and forth from horror to comedy with knife-edge precision. Thompson matches the groundbreaking level of Harold Prince’s original direction, then surpasses it.
Everything about the show, from James Kronzer’s detailed scenic design, Kevin Copenhaver’s costumes (also presumably makeup and wigs, which are amazing), Gregg Coffin’s music direction and Kenton Yeager’s garish lighting, come together in perfect unity.
The unparalleled production elements provide the ideal foundation for brilliant, nuanced performances by Petkoff, Mugleston, Dunn and McCall, in particular.
The cast is accompanied by a pit band, along with local gypsy punk group DeVotchKa, which gives the score an updated sound. Amp up the percussion, woodwinds, and brass, and it could almost be Kurt Weill’s music for this decidedly Brechtian tale.
Every once in awhile a show comes along that accomplishes such superior artistry, for years and decades after, people will want to be able to say, “I was there. I saw it.”
Trust me. You want to be there for DCTC’s ambitious, wildly successful production of Sweeney Todd. Don’t miss it.
The Denver Center Theatre Company’s landmark production of Sweeney Todd performs Tuesday-Sunday evenings and Saturday-Sunday matinees, through May 15 at The Stage Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $49. Call 303-893-4100 or visit the box office, or www.denvercenter.org.
Are you interested in adding the  starring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury to your library? .

REVIEW: Equinox Theatre’s Silence! The Musical is welcome parody, an antidote to angst.

Confession time. When I saw the film version of The Silence of the Lambs, I hated it. It’s a dark, twisted film, an unpleasant journey into a kind of degrading, debasing evil that made me want to take a shower afterwards.
I haven’t seen it since.
That was 1991.
But I trust Equinox Theatre, and especially the imaginative, endlessly creative director/choreographer Colin Roybal. More than any other company in town, Equinox Theatre has staged a hit parade of cutting-edge, small-scale, low-budget musical comedies spoofing the most unlikely titles: Bat Boy, Carrie, Reefer Madness, Bonnie and Clyde, even Evil Dead.
Silence! The Musical, the unauthorized parody of The Silence of the Lambs, which plays at the Bug Theatre through April 30, accomplished exactly what I’d hoped. Through silliness and song, Silence! The Musical turns a grim, depressing serial killer thriller into a campy, cut-up comedy, cleansing and recasting the ugly memories of the original.
The book is by Hunter Bell, who pokes gleeful fun at the most horrific moments imaginable from the original, while still somehow managing to avoid a lawsuit. The music and lyrics are by Jon and Al Kaplan.
With grim determination and an unfortunate speech impediment, Clarice “Shtarling” (Holly Dalton) proves her mettle, climbs the FBI corporate ladder, and takes down a maniac transvestite (Shawn Smith), with the help of the deliciously wicked psychopath Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Jim Landis).
A black-clad chorus/ensemble of not even remotely silent lambs, wearing floppy ears, white cuffs and fluffy tails, guides the audience through the story and takes on most of the supporting roles by adding simple costume accessories like FBI ball caps or lab coats to their cute animal costumes.
All of the iconic scenes are here, but scaled down and performed tongue in cheek. The most vulgar, brutal, shocking moments from the original are rendered harmless and absurd. But the musical comedy is still R-rated for raunchiness, deviant sexual references, stylized flaying, and cussin’.
This show is definitely NOT for children. Not even potty-mouthed eighth graders.
Dalton plays “straight man” to a collection of oddball cameos while actually carrying the show. Her grim journey through madcap madness is all the funnier because she, like Jodie Foster in the film, takes everything WAY too seriously. All she really wants is to make her dead Papa Shtarling (Mike Moran) proud. In musical theatre (and Shakespearean tragic) tradition, his ghost appears occasionally to encourage Clarice while letting her know that “it’s lonely being dead.”
Landis is a quite likable Hannibal Lecter, even when singing a nasty ballad about wishing he could smell a particularly private part of Shtarling, explaining that this is, of course, a metaphor for intimacy. Right.
Wade Wood is delightfully energetic and fun as the bombastic Dr. Chilton, who unwisely antagonizes Shtarling and gets in Lecter’s face. Shawn Smith is over-the-top hilarious as Buffalo Bill, batting at his goldilocks wig and prancing around in a silk kimono while seeking out plus-sized victims for his second skin sewing project. Cammie Kolber is a riot as Buffalo Bill’s Twinkie-craving victim.
Aristotle said that drama can bring about catharsis, the purging of negative emotions through pity and terror. But there’s a reason a trilogy of tragedies was always capped off by a raucous, ribald satyr play. It’s the same reason we feast after a funeral. Once we’ve been through the “valley of the shadow of death,” we need to refresh ourselves and fill our souls with joy, and laughter, which is our true nature.
The Silence of the Lambs took me to a very dark, poisonous place back in 1991. Without realizing it, I’ve been waiting twenty-five years for the antidote, and have now found it at The Bug Theatre and Equinox Theatre’s production of Silence! The Musical.
The more you hated the original, the more you’ll LOVE the parody.
Performances of Silence! The Musical are 7:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays through April 30 at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, Denver, CO 80211. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Visit www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.
Are you interested in adding  film version, starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, to your library? .

REVIEW: Spotlight’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ elicits laughter and tears

Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias is a cherished member of the “plays for women of a certain age” club because of the plum roles for actresses well into their careers. It’s a favorite among audiences as well, because of Harling’s success at eliciting laughter through tears, and his larger than life depiction of six women sharing moments of happiness and heartbreak in a beauty salon.
You can’t really call Spotlight Theatre’s current production a “revival,” since the play has held a perpetually prominent place in the little theatre repertoire since the late 1980s.
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen the movie version, or at least one live performance of this show? Even if you have, Spotlight’s nearly-perfect production, which plays at the John Hand Theater in the Lowry development through April 30, is an excellent reason to see it again.
And again.
Really, it’s that good.
And that’s coming from someone who, according to this play at least, has been relegated to the inferior, barely domesticated, best kept offstage and criticized behind their backs subclass of humans known as “husbands”.
Even a mangy dog warrants more affection from these women than their mates.
Truvy (Suzanne Nepi) supports her worthless husband by running a beauty shop in a converted carport. Her new employee Annelle (Nicole Campbell) is a nervous nitwit with a scandalous secret involving a worthless husband.
Truvy has four regular customers, who are apparently her ONLY customers.
There’s M’Lynn (Abby Apple Boes), whose worthless husband terrorizes the neighborhood by shooting birds from trees, but is at least considerate enough to take the dishes out of the sink before peeing in it. She worries a lot, and as it turns out, for good reason. Her willful daughter Shelby (Chloe McLeod) has life-threatening diabetes and is about to marry a man who might turn out to be a worthless father, but is at least a good provider.
Clairee (Libby Rife) is a fading southern belle whose husband proved his worth by dying and leaving her a fortune. Ouiser (Deborah Curtis) is a cantankerous, crackpot curmudgeon whose worthless husband also died and left her rich, so she can endlessly lambaste other husbands, living and dead, and everyone else—but she has a good heart, so it’s okay.
You can probably tell that I’m initially inclined to dislike this play. The script suffers from a meandering structure (written in ten days and it shows) that is all heart and no brains, features a pandering, special pleading soapbox digression, and its plot twists are telegraphed from miles away.
Plus I’ve already reviewed this play half a dozen times already. At least.
If this production can win ME over, it’s got something really special going for it.
With this daring cast, under director Emma Messenger’s courageous guidance, Steel Magnolias proves its worth ten times over. Each actress is willing to “go there,” to pay the price of feeling her character’s disappointments, desires, and pain, of looking ridiculous in the vulnerable position of a hair stylist’s chair, of claiming her role’s rightful place in the universe through sheer audacity.
Despite all the laugh-generating put-downs, criticism and vitriol, there’s an underlying, fierce tenderness.
Theirs is the kind of support group where NOT sharing one’s deepest hardships becomes a personal insult, a sin against the community of women. ‘Cause they sure can’t rely on their husbands for validation.
Rife expresses a kind of natural grace and amused detachment that is perfect for Clairee. McLeod is spot on as Shelby, whose dogged determination to have a normal life against doctor’s warnings makes her a somewhat less sympathetic sacrificial lamb, and all the pink in the world can’t change it. Campbell’s Annelle has perhaps the most significant character arc, as she transforms from jittery victim to tacky Christian zealot, and finally actualizes into a caring, helpful—if still a bit intense—person.
Apple Boes is the perfect suffering mother, torn between over-protectiveness, sacrificial love, and constant dread. She’s easily the most powerful of the women, yet has the least control over what happens in her life. Nepi is perfect as the redneck small business owner who weaves the various plot lines together as carefully yet effortlessly as she styles hair. Curtis provides over-the-top comic relief as Ouiser. She may be the oddball in the group, but she’s THEIR oddball.
Steel Magnolias is emotionally affecting, and its impact lasts long after the laughter quiets down. You may not fully understand WHY you’ve enjoyed the play so much — it’s still something of a mystery to me — but you’ll be glad you dropped by.
Spotlight Theatre presents Steel Magnolias through April 30 at the John Hand Theater in Lowry with performances on Fridays, Saturdays and Monday, April 18 at 7:30.p.m; Sundays at 2 p.m and Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12-$22 and available by calling 720-530-4596 or online at www.thisisspotlight.com.
Are you interested in adding the 1989 film version of , starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, and Daryl Hannah to your library? .

REVIEW: Evergreen Players’ ‘Dear Ruth’ an amusing, entertaining 1940s wartime rom com

Norman Krasna’s 1944 play Dear Ruth might well have been relegated to the dusty drawers of forgotten Broadway commercial comedies if it hadn’t been for an off-off-Broadway revival in 2011. Now, Evergreen Players has brought the formulaic, amusing wartime rom com to Center Stage through April 17.
Dear Ruth is no masterpiece, but it’s a quite serviceable entertainment, with a handful of interesting characters, an intriguing predicament, plenty of quips and comebacks, and a happy ending for all—or almost all.
Judge Wilkins (Gary Webster) lords over a house full of women. His wife Edith (Maria Rosa Galter) tries to get him to eat a healthy breakfast. His lovely and loving daughter Ruth (Valeria Mozena) is engaged to a stable, kindly banker named Albert (William Johnson), whose only fault appears to be that he wants his beloved to quit smoking. The judge’s precocious teenage daughter Miriam (Sonny Walls) is an outspoken activist and well-meaning but misguided agitator. There’s also a maid (Janet Moore), because all prominent judges, even those who preside over traffic court, have maids to answer the telephone and door for them.
All is hunky dory until the impulsive, excessively romantic and pathologically determined Lt. William Seawright (Sebastian Wolfe) gets leave from his assignment as a gunner on bombing missions out of England and shows up at the door. It seems that Miriam has been writing him poetry-laden love letters and forging her older sister’s name. Those letters gave him the will to survive twenty-five precarious missions, and he’s come to claim his bride before being sent out into peril again.
The comic conceit of the show is that the entire family, including Albert, agrees to go along with the fiction for Seawright’s sake. What can be the harm in humoring him, since he’ll be leaving soon anyway? Unsurprisingly, Seawright’s lavish affections toward Ruth are soon requited, and Albert is left with steam coming out of his ears. Complications ensue and escalate.
As with most romantic comedies, there’s a “B” couple (Michael Tandy and Cassie Kelso) whose comparatively minor differences are easily reconciled offstage, and whose spontaneous living room wedding provides a counterpoint to Ruth’s conscientious moral dilemma. After all, breaking it off with Seawright could lead to his death, but marrying him would cost her comfort, stability, and prestige.
Dear Ruth is a by-the-book formulaic comedy, the kind that comprised the bread and butter of Broadway and the community theatre movement of the 1930s and 1940s, then formed the basis for early TV sitcoms like “Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Donna Reed Show” and “Bachelor Father”. There are interesting roles for women, somewhat dated references to American culture, a flirtation with controversial themes (war, sex, politics), enough emotional conflict for an “all is lost” moment, and a rushed, happy ending.
Director Tara Wolfe keeps the action going at a sprightly pace, brings out the period humor of the piece in all its wise-cracking glory, and downplays its more disturbing aspects, like Miriam’s underage drinking binge, Seawright’s possibly dangerous and altogether creepy obsession with a girl he just met in person and who is actually an impostor, and the disappointment of the spurned Albert, who is an entirely sympathetic and admirable character.
Webster is adroit at the off-the-cuff quip. Mozena is appropriately confused and conflicted as the betrothed woman who is compelled to flirt with and tease a perfect stranger, only to fall for him. Hey, the heart wants what it wants, right? Wolfe is a polite, earnest, wholly dogged and devoted suitor. Johnson is a master of the “slow burn,” suffering all kinds of indignities and keeping his mouth shut while watching his fiancee “make love” to a war hero, then quite literally being left in the lurch.
Oh well, “All’s fair in love and war.”
Evergreen Players presents Dear Ruth April 1 through April 17 at Center Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen, CO. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 Adults; $16 students/seniors (60+), Youth (12 and under) $10, Family 4-pack (2 adults, 2 youth) $50 available by calling 303-674-4934 or online at www.evergreenplayers.org. Group discounts and prorated 2016 Season Tickets are also available.

REVIEW: Miners Alley’s ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ is a timely and optimistic Depression-era comedy

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman were great comic playwrights, together or separately, and You Can’t Take It With You is one of their most enduring, endearing collaborations.
The screwball comedy is still performed, eighty years later, by almost everyone, sooner or later. The material is so strong, the characters so well-defined, and the theme so universal, it’s almost “idiot proof,” even when performed by students and amateurs.
But when an ensemble of talented, skilled, seasoned pros, like the one assembled by director Jamie Billings for the Miners Alley Playhouse’s current production of YCTIWY, watch out. Fireworks are going to go off, and not just in the Sycamore family basement!
Grandpa (Tim Fishbaugh) is the undisputed patriarch, the benevolent protector of a band of delightful misfits living in communal bliss. He’s Zeus, Odin, Jehovah (but definitely NOT Allah), all rolled into one, and his adorable family is a veritable pantheon of comic archetypes. Amiable Paul (Rory Pierce) is a loving husband and father who is passionate about “bargain basement” homemade fireworks. He’s ably assisted by Mr. De Pinna (Clark Britan), a pipe-smoking ice delivery man who simply stayed, and ends up actually dressed as Hermes for awhile.
Penny (Sasha Fisher) collects hobbies on a whim and gave up painting for playwriting when a typewriter appeared mysteriously at the door. Paul and Penny have two daughters. Essie (Jacque Jo Billings), a would-be dancer and chocolatier who is all heart and no coordination, gets most of the biggest laughs, along with her dance instructor (Drew Horwitz), a proud, socially inept, yet typically pessimistic Russian. Essie is married to the bunny-hearted and rightfully paranoid Ed (Brandon Palmer), who ricochets between playing the xylophone and printing revolutionary greeting cards.
The catalyst for the comedic and also sentimental complications is Alice (Candace M. Joice), the most functionally “normal” of the bunch, who has a real job as a secretary on Wall Street, and has fallen in love with the charming Tony (JR Cody Schuyler), whose father (Mike Grittner) is her ulcer-churning boss.
Orbiting around the core solar system are lesser bodies, including a dipsomaniac actress (Erin Bell), a Russian countess (also Erin Bell with several show-stoppingly hilarious moments), Tony’s uptight mother (Suzanna Wellens), a maid (Joelle Montoya) and her errand-running boyfriend (Stephen Krusoe).
The family’s communal bliss is interrupted briefly by an IRS agent and a couple of G-Men, who are crazier and much more volatile than the affectionately eccentric residents in this oddball sanctuary.
The real conflict occurs when Alice, in a plot device that has since become common in shows like “The Addams Family,” “The Munsters,” “Hotel Transylvania” and countless others, becomes embarrassed by her kooky kin and fears judgment from the more traditionally successful future in-laws. The climax of the play involves a dinner party in which everything that could possibly go wrong does, but with an impassioned speech, Grandpa in full Wilford Brimley Libertarian mode, makes all well by urging each of us to follow our bliss.
The pursuit of happiness is, after all, a cornerstone of American freedom, that many have neglected or forgotten.
The strength of the ensemble cannot be overstated. These are masterful actors, giving and taking as they share memorable moments, play the comedy broad and toss around gags, one-liners and character-based jokes like juggling clubs. Imagine a badminton game with several birdies in play simultaneously, and you get the idea of the thrilling entertainment, surprises and delights in store for the audience.
Scenic Designer Jonathan Scott-McKean has made a very unusual, and in my opinion, unfortunate choice by having a very tidy set. Dominating the stage is an enormous dining table that has more drawers, lids, and hidden cupboards than a Chinese puzzle box. A scarcely used dartboard hangs prominently up center, above it. Sure, the communal board where the family breaks bread is symbolic of their solidarity, but everything about the characters living chaotically yet harmoniously in this benign madhouse suggests clutter, a riot of visual and tactile stimulation. Instead, the set feels more like Mount Olympus than a cherished home. But that’s just my opinion, and the table is undeniably gorgeous.
Compared to some of the other formulaic, commercial plays that provided affordable entertainment on Broadway in the 1930s and 1940s, You Can’t Take It With You is a masterpiece, a cut above the rest. It speaks to the spirit of a people who want to find a way to be uniquely themselves, and yet fit in with a loving, supportive community.
Given the chance, after just one visit at Miners Alley Playhouse’s charming, optimistic production of this beloved Depression-era chestnut, I might just move in.
Miners Alley Playhouse presents You Can’t Take It With You on Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 6 pm, through May 1. Tickets are $28. Call 303-935-3044 or visit online at www.minersalley.com. Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Ave, Golden, CO 80401.
Are you interested in adding Frank Capra’s film version of , starring James Stewart and Lionel Barrymore to your collection? .

REVIEW: Peter and the Starcatcher a theatrical delight at BDT Stage through May 14

Every once in awhile BDT Stage (formerly Boulder’s Dinner Theatre) goes out on a limb with a less traditional, albeit proven show. They are betting that audiences enjoy being stretched aesthetically now and then, in between revivals of chestnut musicals and low-budget, lightweight comedies.
Five years ago, Peter and the Starcatcher, a boldly theatrical ensemble comedy with just a handful of songs, won five Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Direction of a Play, Best Actor, Actress, and more. It’s based on a critically acclaimed book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and adapted for the stage by Rick Elice. Best of all, it’s a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s immortal and endearing Peter Pan.
So what’s the big deal? Well, it’s not a traditional musical. In fact, it owes more to Paul Sills’ Story Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Nicholas Nickleby than a traditional Broadway show. A cast of eleven men and one woman narrate and act out the story of Molly, a dauntless, intrepid, and annoyingly arrogant English girl, who gets mixed up in an adventure involving a dangerously unpredictable substance called “starstuff,” scurvy pirates, Italian-speaking island natives, the most ridiculous mermaids conceivable, and a handful of orphaned lost boys, including one who eventually becomes Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.
Under the sure direction of Nick Sugar, the staging is extraordinarily creative and imaginative, using simple props to represent a variety of locations and set pieces. The pacing is brisk, and the ensemble cast gets to play a variety of roles, with a few standout performances.
Scott Beyette is delightfully dastardly and double-dealing as the proto-Hook Black Stache, who hates children and spouts all kinds of mangled malapropisms. His faithful and hilarious sidekick Smee is played with full-out goofiness by BDT favorite Wayne Kennedy.
Sarah Grover is a marvel as Molly, a diminutive dynamo surrounded by a sea of salty, swarthy seagoing men…and mermaids. Jack Barton fully inhabits the brooding Boy/Peter Pan, who is the dark, emo mirror image of Black Stache. It’s probably the least fun role in the show, which is ironic because of who he later becomes.
Special mention goes to Brian Burron as the stiff-upper-lipped Lord Aster, a world-traveling explorer, father of Molly, and a member of a secret society entrusted with protecting Jolly Old Victorian England from starstuff-related perils.
The real star of the show is the smart, snappy script, which is filled with literary Easter eggs, puns, and rapid fire dialogue, mixed with evocative narration. This is very intelligent material, which also distinguishes the script from most popular musicals. The show maintains close links with the original text, which for some may be a bit off-putting as the audience is never allowed to suspend disbelief and become immersed in the relationships and story.
The production is impressive, filled with surprises and delights, and yet it’s not a “feel good” show in the sentimental sense. The Boy/Peter is so traumatized by suffering, betrayal and abuse, all the wackiness in the world can’t make up for it. Sure, there’s loads of comic relief and heaps of inspired silliness, but there’s a darkness to the story that all the high adventure and frivolity in Neverland can’t conceal. Maybe that’s why the show is referred to as a children’s story for adults, recommended for ages ten and up.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, through May 14. Tickets start at $39, which includes an extraordinary gourmet dinner and the show. Call 303-449-6000 or visit BDTStage.com.
Would you like to add  to your reading library? .

REVIEW: Cherry Creek Theatre’s lovely, heart-breaking production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ gets up close and personal with family’s dissolution

Tennessee Williams made a name for himself as a great American playwright with his lyrical, semi-autobiographical memory play The Glass Menagerie (1944). The story of a single mother desperately trying to hold her family of two adult children—one restless and detached, the other suffering from mental illness or perhaps autism—plucks the heart strings like a harp, played in a minor key.
The play is a tear-jerker that elevates theatrical realism to something more, a haunting, tender cry from a lonely, sensitive soul that resonates to the depths of our being. It’s about loss—of dreams, of hope, of human dignity, and the wreckage of a broken family.
Or maybe I just feel that way because the character of Amanda reminds me in some ways of my own mom, and I played both male roles once upon a time.
Cherry Creek Theatre Company’s exquisitely directed and passionately performed production of The Glass Menagerie gets up close and personal with the painful dissolution of a single family, a fate that could be anyone’s.
Tom (James O’Hagan Murphy) tells us this is a memory play, but there are lengthy scenes where he isn’t present. Whose memory, then? Tom’s (Tennessee’s actual name) response to the siren call of independence and travel, not unlike his long-absent father, is the catalyst for the final, fatal blow to the family’s coherence.
With all the desperation of a mother trying to save her children from a sinking ship, Amanda (Anne Oberbroeckling) nags, cajoles and suffers through various attempts to get Tom to reconnect, or at least provide for his “painfully shy” sister Laura (Rachel Bouchard). The more she pushes, the more he withdraws. Tom crosses the point of no return when he uses the money needed to pay the electric bill to purchase his Merchant Marines dues, actually abandoning his family alone in the dark.
Laura’s condition is much more serious than mere shyness, as she becomes physically and mortifyingly ill in social situations, finding peace only in listening to her father’s old records on the Victrola and playing with her small collection of glass animals. Williams’ real-life sister Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia, lobotomized, and lived the rest of her life in an institution.
The fourth character in the play is the Gentleman Caller (Michael Bouchard, who is also Rachel’s real-life husband, so there’s hope for happiness at least on some level). Jim O’Connor is a spectacular underachiever, whose great promise and lofty potential as popular athlete and singer in high school has landed him in a lower management position at the warehouse where Tom works. Jim and Laura were acquaintances in high school, making the ultimate disappointment of this blind date all the more poignant.
Under the sure and tender direction of Pat Payne, who until now has been best known as the “go-to-guy” for staging door-slamming farces and large scale musicals, the audience is transported to another, sadder, sepia-toned time and place. He has assembled a gifted cast, and with scenic designer Tobias Harding, transformed the Shaver-Ramsey Showroom in north Cherry Creek into a beautifully squalid split-level jumble of intimate playing areas. The set is struck each night so the rug store can do business as usual, then is “magically” assembled again. What a perfect metaphor for the play, and Tom’s wretched life.
Oberbroeckling’s Amanda is a force of nature—mostly squalls. The character’s doomed efforts to provide for her family and regain some of the faded glories of her past are truly pathetic. I wept for her. Clueless and ineffectual as the character may be, her ferocious love for her woebegone children never comes into question. It is this kind of love, and the disappointments her children have become, that truly wounds.
It is to Payne’s credit that Cherry Creek Theatre Company’s production is not an unrelenting downer. There are moments of mirth, flashes of gentleness and at least hints of an eventual reconciliation.
But don’t bet on it.
The Glass Menagerie performs at the Shaver-Ramsey Showroom, 2414 E 3rd Ave, through March 27. Performances are 7:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 6:30 pm Sundays, and 7:30 pm Thursday, March 24. Single tickets are $35. Call 303-800-6578 or visit www.cherrycreektheatre.org.
Are you interested in adding  to your library? . I also recommend the inexplicably hard-to-find, rather expensive film version starring Katherine Hepburn and Sam Waterston. .

REVIEW: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ at Miners Alley Playhouse is a comfortable, “come as you are” comedy

Rory Pierce (Prime Minister Belrigar), Steve Klein (The Emperor) and Kate Poling (Treasurer Talus). Photo Credit: Jonathan Scott-McKean
Miners Alley Playhouse is squeezing a high-quality, Saturday afternoon children’s theatre program into its busy season. The current matinee production, The Emperor’s New Clothes, which is adapted and directed by Rory Pierce from the original by Hans Christian Andersen, is a family-friendly, funny, charming comedy that also includes audience participation, music and a couple of songs.
The Emperor (Steve Klein) is a benevolent, beloved leader, who is also a clothes hound. The sentiment is that if he looks and feels great, everyone in his empire is going to be happy, too. It’s not that he’s vain, just preoccupied, and a little too gullible for his own good. Because he relies on his capable minister (Pierce) and scrupulous treasurer (Kate Poling), he’s lost touch with reality. Along come a couple of quick thinking swindlers (Lisa Ann Gaylord and Alex Crawford), who inadvertently set things right in the kingdom by tricking the emperor into walking around town in his bloomers.
Along the way, children from the audience are invited to come onstage as the king’s guards, march in the parade, and more. And why not? The cast has created such a warm, welcoming atmosphere, no one would think of being self-conscious, least of all the Emperor. On the afternoon I attended, they installed a special ramp so that the stage would be accessible to a kid in a wheelchair. Now THAT’S an empire I want to be part of.
A spirit of goodwill permeates the whole experience. This is a children’s theatre troupe that not only loves quality theatre, they love children, too. It really shows. As a result, everyone has a “come as you are” good time.
The Emperor’s New Clothes runs through April 30, though several weekends in March are blacked out.  Performances are on Saturdays at 1 p.m. through Apr. 30, 2016.  Tickets are only $10 and available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com.
Are you interested in reading  and other works by Hans Christian Andersen? .

REVIEW: ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ yucks it up big time at The Vintage Theatre through March 26

Luke Allen Terry as Francis Henshall. Photo Credit: DenverMind Media
When Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni penned The Servant of Two Masters in the 1740s, the style, characters and subject matter of his fast-paced, broadly physical comedy were already considered “retro.” He drew liberally from (if not exactly plagiarizing) the mostly-improvised slapstick farces of 16th century commedia dell’arte, which in turn were a throwback to the raucous and randy street theatre popularized by Plautus in 200 BC!
One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s 21st century adaptation of Goldoni’s play, is set in 1963 Brighton, England’s tacky Atlantic City counterpart. The play proudly carries the original’s tumescent torch, then uses it to ignite the flatulent fireball of fast and furious farce for contemporary audiences.
Under director Linda Suttle’s tutelage, a cast of comedians work themselves into a frothing lather of increasingly silly situations involving mistaken identies, lust, gluttony, thievery and avarice, any two of which would be plenty of grist for the laugh grinder. Think of two-plus hours of Benny Hill episodes with an actual connecting plot, and you get the idea.
At the center of the hilarious hurricane is Francis Henschall (Luke Allen Terry), a not-so-bright Harlequin (actually a Truffaldino, but who cares?) who goes from unemployed to overemployed in a matter of moments. He is hired separately by two lovers (Scott Hogg, Molly Killoran), one of whom is in gender-bending disguise as her brother, who was stabbed to death Tybalt-like by her boyfriend, but she forgives him because…love. Francis strives mightily to juggle their confusing and overlapping commands while meeting his own needs for food, sex, and cash, if ever a spare moment should occur and the opportunity arise.
There are several other Moliere-style minor plots going on, involving a girl who wants out of an arranged marriage with the supposedly dead man, paying off creditors, and so on, but these are mostly to pad out the showcase role of Francis.
Of special note are Eddie Schmacher as Alfie, who is truly delightful as a much-abused, feeble old waiter who gets knocked around like a soccer ball, and Thomas Jennings as the absurdly poetic, hopelessly dramatic innamarato.
Really, though, the show belongs to Luke Allen Terry in the pivotal role. Terry gets to strut his stuff, improvise, joke with the audience and do all kinds of physical comedy. It’s a headlining role, because Goldoni wrote the original play as a vehicle for a hugely popular actor friend of his. And that, too, is a cherished tradition.
The audience on opening night laughed uproariously, and in a couple cases, I suspect, drunkenly. Terry and his backup comedy crew work up quite a sweat earning these laughs. The problem for me was that it showed. This style of acrobatic, door swinging, pratfalling hijinks requires a level of polish that makes the impossible seem effortless. The production, at least at opening, lacks the grace and poise to catch us off guard. Instead of Tim Conway, we get John Candy.
I’m all for encouraging the classics, even updated versions. I only wish American actors had the training the Brits seem to cherish. If you disagree, consider how many British and Australian actors are playing Americans on TV and in movies these days. We’ve been outclassed on our own home court. Maybe if Two Guvnors was set in the Wild West, like The Ridiculous Six and A Million Ways to Die in the West
Vintage Theatre Productions and Spotlight Theatre combined their formidable talents and resources to present One Man, Two Guvnors, which plays through March 26 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.; Monday, February 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 26 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $24 – $30 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. Group discounts for 6+ are available.
Are you interested in reading a contemporary translation of Carlo Goldoni’s classic Italian comedy ? .

Review: The Avenue Theater’s ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’ filled with heartache and hope

Tell Me On A Sunday is a sad, one-woman musical, about a lonely English girl looking for love in all the wrong places and finding only heartache. The one-act “song cycle” features tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Don Black, and plays at The Avenue Theater through Feb. 27.
In a series of sung vignettes, Emma, played by Megan van de Hey, goes through a roller coaster succession of four failed relationships: three in Manhattan and one in Hollywood, without ever seeming to leave her apartment. We never see the men, except for their photographs, but it’s clear that nobility of character in each is sadly lacking. The first doesn’t want to commit to having a family, the second and third are unfaithful to her, and the fourth decides not to leave his wife after all.
Through it all, Emma perseveres, determined to keep the dream alive.
Originally conceived as part of a television program in 1979 and undergoing numerous rewrites over the years and as recently as 2014, Tell Me On A Sunday went to Broadway in 1985 and starred Bernadette Peters.
This is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smallest show, clocking in at 65 minutes without intermission, but even so, it boasts a couple of hit songs and memorable musical themes. The lyrics are lovely when they focus on her tumultuous emotional journey, but jarringly trendy and annoyingly trite when describing Manhattan and Los Angeles lifestyles.
Other than the novelty of seeing a rarely-produced Andrew Lloyd Webber piece, the real draw for this show is the person and presence of Megan van de Hey. She is no mere vocalist selling a song, but a talented actress who fully embraces a character that is in love with love, but makes choices that inevitably lead to disappointment and pain. van de Hey combines a thrillingly expressive voice and authentic emotion to tremendous effect. In a world where most musicals simply require a singer to belt out the numbers, van de Hey offers intimacy, subtly and welcome variety, even though some tunes become repetitious.
The material, though, has tunnel vision in its depiction of Emma’s relatinship maelstrom to the exclussion of all else, and the character of Emma is not particularly admirable. She rebounds from so many cruel betrayals, we are left wondering what’s wrong with her, even while admiring her grit.
It’s never clear what ambition Emma has other than to get married and have kids, except to get a green card so she can stay in the States. And yet from the dictated/typed e-mails we overhear, the one who truly loves Emma unconditionally is her mum back in England. Maybe the next time she bounces back, she should bounce back home.
Tell Me On A Sunday doesn’t have the appeal of a PhantomJoseph or Cats, or even Evita, but I’m glad I saw it, and will long remember van de Hey’s tour de force performance.
Tell Me On A Sunday plays at the Avenue Theater, through Feb. 27. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $29.50. The Avenue Theater is located at 417 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80203. Call 303-321-5925 or online at www.avenuetheater.com.

REVIEW: The Edge Theater Co. presents monstrously feminist Greek tragedy ‘Medea’ through Feb. 14

Karen Slack in The Edge Theater Company’s Medea. Photo Credit: RDG Photography / Rachael D. Graham
The Edge Theater is to be commended for opening its 2016 season with a “reboot” of one of the first plays ever produced…anywhere. Ancient Greek tragedy is not everyone’s cup of hemlock. Why go to the trouble of resurrecting a play that flopped way back in 431 BC?
The Edge Theater’s version of Euripides’ Medea, ironically playing through Valentine’s Day, is a far cry from an academic or literary museum piece. The shocking story of a barbarian witch’s horrific revenge on a less-than-heroic Argonaut thrashes and wallows in lurid, provocative, over-the-top sensationalism.
In Alistair Elliot’s artlessly contemporary and politicized translation, Medea almost seems as if it was a messy divorce drama originally intended for the Jerry Springer/National Enquirer generation.
The teaser might read: “Scorned immigrant wife murders her two kids and hero hubby’s mistress in rampage of calculated rage.”
Where The Edge’s production runs into trouble is in director Warren Sherrill’s assertion that this over-the-top melodrama is also a “feminist” play.
Really? Let’s see what kind of role models Medea offers our young, cookie peddling future feminists:
A chorus of upscale Corinthian women (Lauren Bahlman, Maggy Stacy, Kellly Uhlenhopp) sit around drinking coffee and complaining about what jerks their husbands are, how they have no power in this male-dominated world, that women have no control over anything, not even their own bodies. But when an alpha female starts ordering them around, bullying them, even revealing her lethal intentions, they become passive, verbally abused accessories to murder. All these “disempowered” women do is huddle together, express shock and dismay, sob and weep copious tears.
The Nurse (C. Kelly Leo), who traditionally is portrayed as a matronly figure but in this production is much younger, knows exactly what’s going on, but loyalty prevents her from doing what she knows is right. She ends up sidelined with the lamenting chorus.
ALL of the men are depicted as emasculated weaklings. Each one takes a turn caving in to Medea’s raw emotional power and irresistible feminine wiles. The king of Corinth (Rick Yaconis) admits outright he’s afraid of Medea, and for good reason. There’s a docile and clueless male nanny (Jim Valone). The buffoonish and impotent king of Athens (Mark Collins) is such a boob that Medea masters him with a single, cynical, seductive gesture. A Messenger (Drew Hirschboek) relates the gory murder details to the perpetrator, then walks away without ever trying to apprehend her, and Medea’s two sons (Ben Feldman, Harrison Lyles Smith) are merely silent lambs waiting to be slaughtered by their own mother.
At least Medea doesn’t offer to sell her kids’ mutilated body parts and call it health care. That would take a REAL feminist.

Jason (Drew Horwitz), the principal antagonist, is a sniveling liar and transparently self-serving con man. Yes, even the noble hero of Golden Fleece legend is a philandering, grasping, narcissistic ass. So much so, Medea’s righteous outrage at his inevitable betrayal rings as false as the proverbial Hillary’s. Their marriage of convenience was built upon mutual ambition unfettered by morality.
Medea is not a feminist protagonist. She is a monster, in the grand tradition of ball-busting, scenery-chewing roles made famous by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, late in their careers.  Medea realizes, after committing heinous crimes and escaping unscathed, she can’t ultimately blame her actions on what jerks and losers all men are. She accepts that she is willing to do monstrous things because of her own pride, self-will, her own hubris. Taking perverse pleasure in her own suffering, Medea destroys everything and everyone she values–including her reputation–with eyes wide open and a snarl on her lips.
Karen Slack gives a magnificent performance as the manipulative, conniving, spiteful Medea. She offers an extraordinary number of variations on the theme of a spurned woman’s revenge, and she switches extremes with a flick of her untamed hair. This has to be an exhausting role, but Slack’s performance is a powerhouse of seething emotion, an erupting volcano of toxic thoughts and irrational actions.
Sherrill’s staging on Justin Lane’s appropriately stacked-marble slab set maximizes the intimacy of The Edge Theater’s space, though some of the feminist jibes become tiresome (the word “man” is always spoken with contempt by the women, and likewise “woman” by the men), and he allows the chorus, our proxies on the stage, to do so much background emoting there’s nothing left for us to do except marvel how anyone can cry without stopping for more than an hour.
Even though I consider Robinson Jeffers’ 1947 translation to be superior in every way, I still think you should go out of your way to see Medea. Greek tragedies are rarely staged outside of university settings anymore, and that’s a real tragedy. The Edge Theater’s Medea has a kind of twisted, voyeuristic, crime scene appeal, and is sure to provoke a strong, if not truly cathartic response…which is certainly what Euripides intended.
The Edge Theater presents Medea through February 14, 2016 at 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Monday, February 8 at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 6 p.m. No show on Sunday, February 7 (Super Bowl). Tickets are $26 and are available online at www.theedgetheater.com or by calling 303-232-0363.

REVIEW: ‘The Big Bang’ demolishes political correctness with explosive laughter

Joe von Bokern, Blake Nawa'a & Ben HilzerSpotlight Theatre’s low-budget, high-concept production of The Big Bang is, laugh for laugh, just about the funniest musical I’ve ever seen.
Or the most insulting.
Those who have sacrificed their sense of humor on the altar of political correctness and pledged allegiance to the fascism of the diversity police may have a tough time with this show. Not because it’s pushing the trendy envelope of rude profanity, provocatively subversive themes and raw shock appeal, like Avenue Q or The Book of Mormon, but because the jokes are so unbelievably OLD, so lame, so jaw-droppingly, knee-slappingly innocent in their appalling cluelessness.
Imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary saying “Holy Cow” to Mahatma Gandhi’s Hindu mother. Or Yiddish Jews building the Pharoah’s pyramid. Or gags about Indians, or “Orientals” or hippies. Or a starving Irishman singing about tater tots to his last potato.

Joe von Bokern & Ben Hilzer
No one has the chutzpah to crack these jokes anymore.
And that’s the point.
With comedy, you can get away with just about anything if the audience accepts your good intentions. The Big Bang lays it all out on the stage—ethnic sterotypes, religious satire, gender norms, even fat jokes—and DARES the audience to take offense, because it’s all in the name of good, clean fun, right?
But beware. If you slip up and laugh at ANYTHING, you have to laugh at EVERYTHING. Otherwise you’re just a selectively offended liberal poser.
Boyd (Ben Hilzer) and Jed (Joe von Bokern) are young, idealistic theatre artists who have created their magnum opus—The Big Bang, a 12-hour musical comedy encompassing the totality of existence, from creation to the present day. Their plan is to mount the production in four, three-hour segments, involving a cast of several hundred, with thousand costumes and dozens of sets.
If you’re going to dream, dream big.
Except that they need $23 million to pull it off, and we, the audience, are the potential backers, who have come to a borrowed apartment to hear their pitch, and sample some of the show’s highlights.
There’s no way this bloated production is ever going to happen, which makes it all the more enjoyable to see the appalling wrongness of every single one of their choices. It’s unbelievable what Jed and Boyd think will sell, and that’s why it’s so funny.
That and the outrageous sight gags, hilariously silly improvised costumes and non-stop, low-brow prop comedy.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the lyrics are elegantly brilliant in their lunacy, that the tunes are charming, and the two leading men, accompanied by Blake Nawa’a on the piano, are versatile singers and comedic dynamos.
Hilzer and von Bokern are amazingly gifted clowns, they are willing to bare nearly all for a laugh, and they sing their hearts out with utter sincerity, even if the lyrics are stupefyingly goofy. Both are best known for playing supporting roles in mainstream productions, and it’s a real treat to see these jokers take over the stage for a change.
The Big Bang was written by Jed Feuer (music) and Boyd Graham (book and lyrics), no doubt as a vehicle for their own careers. The John Hand Theater in the Lowry development is an excellent location for the small-scale show, though it would play equally well in a cabaret setting.
Katie Mangett’s direction is no-holds-barred, all-out comedy genius.
If you enjoyed (and are willing to admit it) Mel Brooks’s The History of the World, Part 1, this is the show for you.
If not, go suck a lemon.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
The Big Bang, with a running time of approximately 90 fast-paced minutes, plays through Feb. 6 at the John Hand Theater in Lowry. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Monday, January 11 at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range $22 – $25; $11 on Monday, January 11 and are available by calling 720-530-4596 or online at www.thisisspotlight.com.
Photo credit: Soular Radiant Photography

Review: ‘The Addams Family’ at BDT Stage through Feb. 27, 2016

At first glance, The Addams Family is an odd musical for BDT Stage to offer during the holy-day season. It’s patently NOT a Christmas show. And yet, this gleefully gloomy musical celebrates the closeness of a tight-knit family, and hammers home the message of “true love means not keeping secrets.”The Addams Family is an all-season, must see, morbid musical comedy for the entire brood.That’s quite an accomplishment for a macabre cast of characters that includes a disembodied hand, a butler who hasn’t yet decided whether he’s alive or undead (Casey Andree), a swashbuckling dad (Scott Beyette), a sultry mom in black widow’s weeds who yanks the heads off flowers (Alicia King), a daughter who takes a crossbow to a petting zoo (Sarah Grover), a son who enjoys being racked in the dungeon (Ethan Leland/Owen Leidich), an addled, potion-mixing witch (Barb Reeves), and a maniacal lunatic who puts lightbulbs in his mouth and has a (requited) love affair with the moon (Wayne Kennedy).Oh, and the chorus consists entirely of ghosts, who are family too, but of marginal help to the story other than to move trees and set pieces around, and sing backup.The musical showcases elements from Charles Addams’s ghoulish cartoons, with extensive references to the popular television show and feature films, but the thin, lightweight plot is pure Broadway. Or maybe ancient Roman comedy. It was even rehashed in Hotel Transylvania.The proto-Emo Wednesday (Grover), who is now the older sibling, has fallen in love with a “normal” boy (Brett Ambler) who wants to be either a writer or a medical examiner. She asks her father Gomez (Beyette, who also directed) to withhold news of the engagement from her mother Morticia (King), putting the husband/father in an untenable position.I can’t even remember why, and it doesn’t really matter. Just snap your fingers to the music and move on.Secrecy and harmony don’t mix, and the ooky, kooky, mysterious and spooky Addams household is turned upside down. The confusion and hilarity reach a climax when the boyfriend’s repressed parents (Scott Severtson, Joanie Brosseau) arrive at the creepy mansion for a dinner party.Each of the beloved Addams Family characters have their signature moments, including a cameo by Cousin Itt. We all have our favorites, and mine is the oddball Uncle Fester, who is particularly delightful as portrayed by Kennedy.The book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Their task was apparently to make sure the show felt authentically “Addams,” keep the action going, maneuver multiple character arcs, have a lot of jokes and sight gags, and introduce songs that are inoffensive and amusing. The ghostly chorus feels oddly detached, and I wondered if a previous version of the show had been much smaller in scale.Neal Dunfee leads the live band. Amy Campion’s set design has more moving trees than Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, and Linda Morken’s costumes are spot on.The Addams Family musical is no masterpiece, but neither were the television series or movies. But it does provide a campy, upbeat, entertaining evening with beloved characters and excellent food.Tickets for The Addams Family start at $39, which includes both the performance and dinner served by the stars fo the show. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations and details about the show.