2020 Theatre Review Archive

Theatre Review Archive

Welcome to my archive of Denver-area theatre reviews. Current play reviews are posted on my blog, but after they close, I move them to this page.

2020 Theatre Reviews

Review: Camelot, through October 25, 2020, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Cole Emarine and Ensemble. Photos Credit: RDT Photography

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's trimmed down, small-cast production of Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot" proves that bigger isn't always better when it comes to live theatre. Actually, the scaled-down version, with an eight-person cast and four musicians, has been around for more than a decade. But it is a particularly appropriate musical for this current social-distancing climate. 

If you've been aching to get out and socialize, enjoy a meal, and experience some top-notch live theatrical entertainment, Johnstown is the place to be. "Camelot" runs through October 25.

Spectacle, pomp, and circumstance have their place. The 1960 Broadway version of "Camelot," starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet, took the American imagination by storm, defining JFK's presidency, and becoming a lavish film in 1967 starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, and Franco Nero.

Bob Hoppe

The story of idealistic King Arthur (Bob Hoppe), his ill-fated arranged marriage to the flirtatious and fickle Guenevere (Susanna Ballenski Houdesheldt), and the rise of a chivalric order to unite brawling noblemen into the legendary kingdom of Camelot, benefits greatly from the "up close and personal" treatment. 

Especially poignant is Camelot's ruin from within, seeded by spoiled and selfish Guenevere's seduction of all Arthur's knights but especially the physically superior and noble ninny Lancelot (Scott Hurst, Jr.). Arthur's bastard son Mordred (Cole Emarine) sows further disharmony and rebellion out of spite, and it all comes crashing down. 

Except, of course, for the story of the glory that once was, and the imperative to share it with each new generation.

Director Pat Payne brings vigor and verve to the show, performed by a troupe of "revelers" on a very attractive castle set (designed by Shauna Johnson). This is a robust production, staged with bold theatrical flair, humor, and psychological insight. The complex relationships between the three principal characters stand out in high relief, now that all the fairy tale pastel pageantry has been stripped away.

Would it shock you to realize that the real antagonist of the show is Guenevere? Ballenski Houdesheldt's Guenevere is spoiled and pouty, with unrealistic dreams of romantic ravishment. Sure, she's briefly inspired by Arthur's vision of a society that eschews brute force and in which might serves right. But she treats the noble knights like her personal pets and playthings, literally getting them to jump through hoops for her own amusement. She makes it her personal quest to corrupt the virginal warrior saint Lancelot, realizing too late the consequences of her frivolous actions. Once the manly men realize they are being played, they turn on her and are perfectly willing to burn their hotty and haughty queen at the stake.

Arthur isn't entirely without fault. Blinded by his mission to develop the concepts of law and order, he fails to smite the patently evil serpent Mordred in his garden, a weakness that comes back to bite him. And poor Lancelot, with only a few more brain cells than his less honorable and more brutish cousin Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast" gets so caught up in trying to do the right thing, he makes a mess of everything he touches.

Sure, some might consider the story somewhat misogynistic by today's standards, but there's so much more going on, especially with the songs, some of which sound sappy, but those are the ones to especially watch out for. There's plenty of subtly and satire going on, that many of us who learned them in the 1960s never noticed.
Scott Hurst, Jr. and Susanna 
Ballenski Houdesheldt

Hurst's magnificent baritone voice is swoon-worthy, Hoppe brings boyish charm to the king who well remembers his pre-Excalibur days when he was just "Wart," and Ballenski Houdesheldt is so beautiful and has such a lovely voice, she had the whole audience metaphorically jumping through hoops.

As bright and buoyant as it may be, there's nothing "lite" about Candlelight's small-cast, scaled-back version of "Camelot." 

Kudos to the Candlelight executives for devising ways to open safely, with the staff wearing masks, organizing traffic patterns, reducing seating capacity, requiring patrons to wear masks to and from their tables, and even modifying the restrooms. With guidance from the authorities, they make every effort to protect the patrons, cast, crew, and servers from possible infection, while still managing to provide a welcoming environment and attractive ambiance.

Tickets for Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot start at $55.50 which includes dinner and the show. Purchase tickets by calling Candlelight’s box office (970-744-3747) Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 12 – 5 p.m., or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com 24 hours a day.

September 3 – October 25, 2020

Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 p.m.; Show at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12:00 p.m.; Show at 1:30 p.m.

Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $55.50 ‐ $67.50 (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)

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

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


 CLICK HERE to purchase a DVD of the film version of "Camelot," starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, and Franco Nero.


'Ragtime The Musical,' POSTPONED, BDT Stage, Boulder
March 16, 2020
Center, Hayden McDonald and Scott Beyette with Ensemble


BDT Stage presents...

Ragtime The Musical 

March 13, 2020 – May 30, 2020

BDT Stage's production of "Ragtime the Musical" is a smart, classy, thoughtful show about a revolutionary time in America, the dawn of the 20th century. The musical (music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by playwright Terrence McNally) is based on E.L. Doctorow's magnificent novel. It cuts way back on the novel's sprawling saga, giving tight, episodic flashes of insights into the lives of three sets of characters whose very different lives intersect.

Significant historical characters and celebrities also appear, offering various perspectives on a fascinating time in American history.

I had the pleasure of seeing the show on opening night, less than twenty-four hours before the production was put on hold by the Wuhan coronavirus. I don't know when it will re-open, but when it does, I recommend you see it.

Tracy Warren, Wayne Kennedy, Charles Ray King Jr.
"Ragtime the Musical" follows three very different families whose lives manage to intertwine during a time of social, political, economic, and artistic upheaval. Sleepy America is awakening to turmoil and confusion, suffering growing pains, and the seeds of world war are being planted.

At the top of the heap is a white, upper-middle-class family who seem to have it all. Father (Scott Beyette) is an emotionally distant owner of a fireworks company who goes on an expedition to the North Pole and comes back to find his world utterly changed. Mother (Tracy Warren) is the prototype of an entitled East Coast liberal elitist who thinks love and financial independence can save everyone. Sure, she's protected, but her idealistic optimism couldn't survive otherwise. Their son Edgar is growing up at a most confusing and uncertain time. Mother's underachieving Younger Brother (Scott Severtson) is searching for a cause, whether love or Communism and ends up choosing to become a terrorist for a righteous cause.

Successful and educated African American Coalhouse Walker (Charles Ray King Jr.) is an accomplished pianist at the cutting edge of musical styles, in particular ragtime. Living the Harlem nightclub lifestyle, he falls in love with Sarah (Camyrn Torres) and fathers her child prior to a proper courtship. His attempts to step up and be a responsible husband and father are thwarted by Irish racists, sending him in a tailspin of pride rage at the establishment's injustice.

Hard-working Jewish immigrant and loving father Tateh (Wayne Kennedy) suffers extreme poverty but through ingenuity and drive, works his way up the economic ladder to become self-anointed American royalty. And all without sacrificing his moral principles.

Alicia K. Meyers
The musical also features several historical characters who symbolize the changing times, including educator/orator Booker T. Washington (Emmanuel Davis), escape artist Harry Houdini (Leo Batlle), anarchist activist Emma Goldman (Alicia K. Meyers), industrialist Henry Ford (Matthew D. Peters), and sexy celebrity Evelyn Nesbit (Lillian Buonocore).

Director Michael J. Duran's staging is extraordinary. It's as formal and dignified as the period's manners, matched only by Linda Morken's lavish but tasteful costume design. In particular, Duran's opening image of a stereopticon viewer ultimately leading to moving pictures symbolizes the acceleration of American life and complexity at the dawn of a new era.

Tickets for Ragtime The Musical​ at BDT Stage start at just $50, which includes the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Full bar, appetizers, and desserts are available for purchase. Performances are Wed nights – dinner at 5:30 pm, show at 7:00 pm; Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun nights – dinner at 6:15 pm, show at 7:45 pm; Sun matinee – dinner at 12:00 pm, show at 1:30 pm.

Discounts are available for groups of 12 or more. Tickets can be purchased at bdtstage.com or by calling the Box Office at 303-449-6000 or in person at 5501 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. Box Office hours are Tuesday 10 am-3 pm, Wed-Sat 10 am-10 pm and Sunday 9 am-10 pm. BDT Stage is located at 5501 Arapahoe Ave, Boulder, CO 80303 


CLICK HERE to purchase the 1981 film version of Ragtime, directed by Milos Forman and featuring James Cagney, Brad Dourif, Elizabeth McGovern, Mandy Patinkin, Howard Rollings, Jr., Mary Steenburgen, Moses Gunn, and more.

Review: 'Lend Me a Tenor The Musical,' through March 8, Ovation West, Center Stage Evergreen

March 01, 2020

Photos Credit: Colleen Lee

Ken Ludwig's hilarious door-slamming farce, about the increasingly complicated and hilarious events surrounding a famous tenor's one night stand gig at the Cleveland Opera House in 1934, is pretty much a perfect play. Inevitably, "Lend Me a Tenor" has become a musical, currently receiving its regional premiere with Ovation West Presents at Center Stage, Evergreen, through March 8.

For me going in, the big question was, "Does adding songs to a play about singers improve or detract from the original?"

Adam Kinney, Brandon Bill, Brian Sides
The quick answer is "Yes." But a better response is, "It's something different, and both shows stand on their own merits."

All of arts-loving Cleveland (about fourteen people) turns out for the arrival of legendary tenor Tito Merelli (Brandon Bill). Opera director Henry Saunders (Brian Sides, in a blustery performance worthy of the great Rodney Dangerfield) stands to lose a bundle and gain the wrath of his gold-digging, alimony-craving ex-wives (Lisa Cole, Chelsea Asmus, Kristine Bachicha Hintz) if anything goes wrong.

Which pretty much guarantees that EVERYTHING will go wrong.

Nerdy, insecure Max (Adam Kinney in an outstanding comic and vocal performance) is too shy to fully express his two loves: singing and Maggie (Katrina Glaser, played sweetly with "girl-next-door who wants to be naughty" innocence).

Lindsey Kinney
There's also a sexy soprano (the fabulously talented singer/comedienne Lindsey Kinney) who plans to seduce "il Stupendo" and give him an unforgettable private audition to get a voluptuous leg up on the ladder to divahood.

The great Tito Morelli himself (grandly and warmly played by Brandon Bill) turns out to be a swell, unpretentious guy like Max, who also happens to love both singing and his tempestuously jealous wife (Dana Hart Wright, who delights in her somewhat limited stage time) in equal measures.

The virtuoso generously eases Max out of his timid shell, and then promptly collapses from an accidental overdose of barbiturates and Chianti.

What to do? If Tito can't sing Pagliacci, who can? And what happens if the stand-in is identified?

What follows is non-stop hilarity, mistaken identities, compromising positions, and backstage pandemonium.

Except when the action stops every time someone sings a song. Which is often.

Yes, the breakneck pacing of the original farce suffers, but the songs (by Brad Caroll and Peter Sham) are really good. They add dimension and depth to the characters. The running time of the show isn't much longer than the non-musical version, so I wonder how much was cut or incorporated into the songs. But the major "gags" are still there.

The musical version is certainly a lot harder to pull off. Director Warren Sherrill, who has now staged both versions, does a fine job working with what appears to be local talent mixed with a handful of "ringers" for the parts that require operatic-caliber voices.

How nice to live in a world where one doesn't have to choose between the two versions. I love them both. Despite its comparatively limited resources, Ovation West has successfully introduced the musical version of "Lend Me to a Tenor" to the region. Future Denver-area productions, and I expect there to be many now that the word is out, will be compared to this one. Ovation West has set the bar--and the laugh-o-meter--higher than "high C."

"Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical" runs through Sunday, March 8. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. at Center Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive in Evergreen. Tickets are $30/adults, $26/Seniors, $20/Students. 15% discount for groups of 10 or more. www.ovationwest.org or 303-674-4002


CLICK HERE to purchase or stream the Original London Cast Recording of "Lend Me a Tenor The Musical."


REVIEW: 'Secrets of the Universe and Other Songs,' through March 15, Aurora Fox

February 24, 2020

L to R. Andrew Fischer, Mary Louise Lee, Jordan Lee.
Photo Credit: Gail Marie Bransteitter

Marc Acito's "Secrets of the Universe and Other Songs," making its world premiere at the Aurora Fox Arts Center through March 15, feels like an American version of a Tom Stoppard comedy. The play, inspired by the improbable friendship between Albert Einstein and singer Marian Anderson, crackles with wit, experiments with time and space, and frolics with memory and imagination. There are hefty helpings of fascinating philosophical banter. It's a humorous, heady play, but by the end, I wasn't sure what was actually achieved.

Jordan Leigh
In 1937, Anderson (Mary Louise Lee) returns home from an extended tour and runs headlong into the racism she'd temporarily escaped in Europe. Invited to perform at Princeton University, she was denied a hotel room because she was black. Einstein (Jordan Leigh), a professor at the university, invites her to stay with him, and a lasting friendship blossoms.

Anderson's entourage consists only of her skittish gay accompanist (Mark Rubald). Einstein's sole long-term companion is his no-nonsense German housekeeper-secretary (Sharon Kay White). Andrew Fischer plays piano for the songs sprinkled through the play (but not enough for "Secrets" to qualify as a musical), along with several remembered characters.

All the real conflict of the play happens offstage and is merely suggested. We don't see Anderson confront racism directly, even though she did, performing for a crowd of 75,000 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We see Einstein mope around with guilt for having made the atomic bomb at least theoretically possible, but what he really suffers from is flatulence.

Mary Louise Lee
Einstein is a nice, but quirky genius kind of guy. He incessantly cracks jokes. He reads minds. He drifts off into a wonderland of thought. But he's always kind and caring toward Anderson. 

Anderson is likewise gracious and grateful, enjoying the occasional banter as she seeks to reconcile his scientific agnosticism with her deep-rooted faith. 

Sure enough, they find common ground, but without any real struggle. I'm not sure how many in the audience had been grappling with the perceived incompatibility of science and religion. My response to the "aha" moment was "That's nice." But what was really at stake?

In a virtue-signaling subplot, Einstein encourages and enables the accompanist to go out and pursue brief and anonymous sexual encounters in public places, despite the risk of ruin if caught with his pants down.

"Secrets" is essentially a romantic comedy, but missing a few pieces. Einstein mourns the loss of his wife but admits to being a serial philanderer. Devoutly Christian Anderson carries on a long term affair with a married man. Apparently, the two maintaining a rare platonic relationship marks it as somehow more pure and noble.

Mark Rubald and Jordan Leigh
Leigh gives an outstanding, truly brilliant performance as Einstein, owning the show. Everything about his performance cries out "lively and authentic," though at the most comedic times I was reminded of the over-the-top Hungarian director Bela Zangler from "Crazy for You." 

Lee has a phenomenal voice and carried herself with regal grace. Rubald, White and Fischer were excellent in multiple supporting roles. 

The Aurora Fox may be one of the smaller Equity stages in town, but everything about it is professional.

Helen R. Murray's direction is sound, especially when the play switches from realism to fantasy and back again. The set (Brandon Philip Case) and lighting (Seth Alison) are simultaneously and appropriately cluttered and magical.

"Secrets of the Universe" is smart, funny, and provides an insightful window into a seldom-seen moment in American history. 

Performances are 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, through March 15 at The Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora. Tickets: 303-739-1970 or AuroraFox.org.


CLICK HERE to purchase "The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights," by Russell Freedman.


REVIEW: 'Happy Birthday, Wanda June,' through Feb. 29, Theater Co. of Lafayette

February 16, 2020

L to R: Joan Harold as Penelope Ryan, Ayden Edgar as Paul Ryan, Kurt Keilbach as Harold. 

Photo Credit: Charles Kelly

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Edward Albee brought Asburdist tragicomedy to the American stage, followed by Arthur Kopit's "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad," storied novelist Kurt Vonnegut threw his hat in the ring with "Happy Birthday, Wanda June."
After that, for the most part, Vonnegut gave up playwriting and focused on fiction.

For which we can all be thankful.

Theatre Company of Lafayette's pretty good production of the rarely produced "Wanda June" is definitely worth checking out. It's an experimental play, performed by committed actors, staged by a savvy director (Brett Landis), and seats aren't expensive. The show runs through Feb. 29 at the Mary Miller Theatre.

Surprisingly, the theme of toxic masculinity wreaking havoc on self, family, and friends, is surprisingly relevant for a 50-year-old play.

What goes around, comes around. Especially if it's a cycle of abuse.

In a set up that could have inspired "Fifty Shades of Gray," uneducated waitress Penelope (Joan Harrold) marries rugged, handsome millionaire Harold, only to discover that the "man's man" likes to kill things. Lots of things. People, too. He's a born warrior, a lousy lover, and manages to disappear without a trace on an African or Amazonian adventure, leaving her with their sulky adolescent son Paul (Ayden Edgar).

Eight years later, having taken the time (and Harold's wealth) to get an education and improve herself, nearly emancipated Penelope is now being courted by two far lesser men. Vacuum cleaner salesman Herb (Ian Gerber) idolizes Harold's memory in a way that is not at all, definitely no way, gay. Doctor Norbert Woodley (Terence Keane) is a vain pseudo-intellectual booby who fancies himself a healer, the antithesis of the warrior mystique.

Turns out, when Harold returns unexpectedly with his loyal as a lapdog sidekick (Bill Graham), Norbert presents an actual threat to hearth and home. Stuff gets smashed and a gun gets waved around, but the real battle is psychological.

If this sounds a lot like a blatantly Freudian interpretation of Homer's "The Odyssey," you get extra points and a shot at the brass ring.

To give the play an even more Absurdist feel, and perhaps representing a kind of comic relief Greek chorus, heavenly witnesses observe the goings-on, even though their connection to the action is tangential at best. Ten-year-old Wanda June (Hannah Richards), for whom the play is inexplicably and exasperatingly named, least of all. There's also a soused ex-wife (Stephany Roscoe) and a Nazi war criminal (Shelby Beer).

The play is darkly humorous, and Keilbach is especially effective at communicating brooding menace and barely restrained violence. Gerber and Graham are terrific as beta males who find that "walking away" can require extraordinary courage, and Keane successfully evolves Norbert from poser to ruthless mind manipulator, to whimpering coward, and back again.

I give credit to Theater Company of Lafayette for staging a play that is usually relegated to college drama masters programs, though the play did receive an Off-Off-Broadway revival in April 2018, so I guess it's back on the radar.

"Happy Birthday, Wanda June" is required viewing for true fans of Kurt Vonnegut, and those who are curious about what was "avant-garde" half a century ago. I'm both, so this was very interesting and a lot of fun for me. Others may find the play perplexing or off-putting, but it definitely stretches everyone's theatrical expectations.

The Theater Company of Lafayette presents “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” at The Mary Miller, 300 East Simpson, Lafayette, CO 80026 through Feb. 29. Performance dates are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm,  Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets prices: General Admission - $16, Students, Veterans & Seniors - $13. Industry Night and Preview performances are $15 per ticket. Purchase tickets at www.tclstage.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006. 


 CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of Kurt Vonnegut's "Happy Birthday, Wanda June."


REVIEW: 'The Scottsboro Boys,' through March 15, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

February 12, 2020

Photo Credit: RDG Photography
Vintage Theatre's problematic regional premiere production of "The Scottsboro Boys" is an outstanding choice for a musical during Black History Month, precisely because it's so entertaining...and disturbing. There's plenty of singing, dancing, corny jokes, and imaginative staging, but there's also a barely-concealed undercurrent of accusation and rage that demands justice ninety years after the tragic events it relates. The musical runs through March 15.

Recounting and reinterpreting the outrageous and unbearable arrest, conviction, incarceration, and multiple appeals inflicted on nine black men falsely accused of raping two white women in the 1930s as an old-timey minstrel show was a daring and risky move. To a large extent, it works. Credit composer John Kander, lyricist Nathan Tysen, and book writer David Thompson for doing their homework and finding a creative way to get the audience to swallow a bitter pill.

The nine "Scottsboro Boys," aged twelve to nineteen, had their lives ruined by callous and institutionalized racism in Alabama during the Great Depression. The more you learn about what really happened, the larger and darker the stain grows on our American ethos. Yet the outrages are abstracted into mostly upbeat songs as if these prisoners are forced to keep smiling and dancing, no matter the agonies they suffer. There's only one woman in the cast (Colette Brown), and she is a powerless, silent observer to the ordeal as it unfolds.

Director Betty Hart elicits superb performances, particularly from Christopher Razor as Haywood Patterson, the protagonist prisoner who learns to read and write in jail, which empowers him to attempt resistance. Also, Dwayne Carrington and Michael Peters stand out as Tambo and Bones, along with playing many other characters, both black and white, but who are never sympathetic to the plight of the nine. Timothy Kennedy, the only white member of the cast, has the unenviable task of playing The Man, in various guises, though the Ensemble demonstrates there are just too many wicked, heartless, cruel, and uncaring characters for one person to embody them all.

The factually-preposterous "believe all women" trend gets a solid kick in the teeth, as one of the false accusers maintains her transparently obvious lie through no fewer than seven appeals, without suffering any consequences. Also, hateful Jim Crow segregationalism and blatant anti-Semitism seem to have been the accepted norm at the time.

Hart's staging is innovative and bold, using simple objects to create a variety of settings.

A problem inherent in the original concept is that the story is so abstracted, so theatricalized, we're never sure how much of what we're seeing is historical fact, and how much is artistic license. And having men play the accusing floozies adds a gender identity layer that is distracting, detracting from and diminishing the horror of what those women did to these men, simply because they could.

Minstrel shows from the 1830s-1950s heavily influenced Vaudeville and led to the convention of blackface as a way of mocking African Americans. It was made popular by the likes of Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Robert Downey Jr., Sarah Silverman, and current Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

But other minstrel "variety show" conventions are more benign, with groan-inducing "Hee-Haw" puns, high-stepping dance numbers, skits, and an all-male chorus.

Sure there are smart, heartfelt, appealing moments in the musical, but it's mostly unsettling, as the rage simmers and threatens to boil over. Smiles turn to snarls, brightness becomes bitterness, entertainment becomes indictment, and it's entirely possible that the audience is somehow being held responsible for what happened to the Scottsboro Boys nearly a century ago.

Vintage Theatre presents the regional premiere of “The Scottsboro Boys” at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010 through March 15. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 - $40 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


CLICK HERE to purchase a DVD of the PBS special "Scottsboro: An American Tragedy."


REVIEW: 'Airness,' through Feb.29, Benchmark Theatre, Lakewood

February 11, 2020

Ryan Omar Stack. Photo credit: McLeod 9 Creative

Once again, Benchmark Theatre has mounted a terrific regional premiere production, this time with Chelsea Marcantel's heart-on-your-sleeve, hands-in-the-air comedy "Airness," playing through Feb. 29 in Lakewood.

The play takes us into the unlikely, easily-mocked, but actually fascinating and even inspiring world of air guitar competitions. Six quirky performance artists, aficionados of classic rock and roll, create larger-than-life personas and travel the country in costume and eye-liner to unremarkable venues, so they can pantomime playing an imaginary guitar and express themselves with controlled abandon.

It's sort of like lip-syncing at a karaoke bar and somehow making it awesome.

And to be honest, who hasn't picked up a tennis racket "guitar," or even just mimed being a rock star to their favorite head-banging song? The difference here is that for the close-knit, damaged members of this tribe, they've turned something usually kept private into an art form, and cranked it up to eleven.

Their goal isn't fame or glory, or even money. They're striving to reach a pure, transcendent state called "airness," in which they themselves become the instruments through which the music plays.

It's really very touching. Also hilarious. And seriously, they ROCK!

It would be so cool to be that kind of nerd.

Newbie Nina (Erika Mori) joins the air guitar circuit for artistically and morally questionable reasons. She's a shy but eager student who can actually play a real guitar (most of them can, but prefer the freedom that comes with serious pretending).  Through the course of the play, we learn a lot about the art form, mostly as a series of motivated info dumps. But later, once the audience gets the hang of what we're actually seeing up there, the backstories of the characters emerge.

Each of the characters performs several times, showing a rich diversity of expression. It's all about matching song choice and choreography to their deepest selves, as expressed in "personas" like "Cannibal Queen" (Mackenzie Beyer), "Facebender" (Damon Guerrasio), "Golden Thunder" (Rakeem Lawrence), "Shreddy Eddy" (John Hauser), and "D-Vicious" (Ryan Omar Stack). Ryan Goold plays several cameo characters, onstage and through voice-overs.

Yes, there's a spirit of competition, but in actuality, everyone is there for each other, until one or more of them betray the air guitar code. A form of ex-communication ensues and working your way back into the fold's good graces isn't easy.

I was prepared to laugh, but I sure wasn't ready to fall in love with this pack of social outliers. Credit goes to an amazingly gifted cast, Marc Stith's direction, generous technical advice from actual air guitar artists, and the brilliant costume (Ann Piano), lighting (Brett Maughan) and sound (Rachel Rogers) design.

Everyone needs a tribe, a group of like-minded individuals to offer mutual support in the service of a high ideal. Take a leap and join this club for one night. If you get a whiff of "Airness," you'll be a forever fan.

"Airness" runs through Saturday, February 29th. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Industry Night is scheduled for Monday, February 24th ($12 tickets) with additional half-priced performances ($15) on Thursday, February 13th, February 20th, and February 27th. There will also be one Saturday matinee on February 29th at 2 pm.

General admission tickets are $30 and $25 for students/seniors/military. The production will take place at the company’s home at The Bench at 40West in the 40West Arts District in Lakewood at 1560 Teller Street. Please visit www.benchmarktheatre.com to purchase tickets and send any inquiries to info@benchmarktheatre.com.

NOTE: Denver's US Air Guitar regional championship will be held March 7 at 3 Kings Tavern in Denver. Tickets are $10 online. Sign up to compete at www.USairguitar.com.


CLICK HERE to rent or purchase the 2007 documentary "Air Guitar Nation," chronicling the birth of the US Air Guitar Championships.


REVIEW: 'Jekyll and Hyde,' through March 29, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

February 03, 2020

Scott Hurst, Jr. Photos by RDG Photography

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's "Jekyll and Hyde," playing through March 29, is dark, brooding, and boiling over with emotional turmoil. But at least the story makes a lot more sense than its kissing cousin, "Phantom of the Opera."

The musical is based on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale about a scientist driven mad by his obsession with chemically neutering the shadow self, only to split into two distinct but equally passionate personas, one kind, the other cruel.

Sctt Hurst, Jr.
This isn't a "feel good" happy-clappy musical comedy, but it sure gives the leads a lot to chew on.

Jekyll/Hyde (Scott Hurt Jr., who alternates performances with John Sosna due to the incredible physical and vocal demands of the role) is haunted, obsessed, uncooperative, and rude. And that's his GOOD side. The scientific community scoffs at his absurd claims, and his fiancee Emma (Katie Jackson) is too sweet and hopeful to see the warning signs when he decides to experiment on himself and prove everyone wrong.

Only Henry Jekyll's friend and colleague (Lars Preece) and Emma's aristocratic father (Kent Sugg) recognize the dangers, but their persuasive arguments about playing God with the human psyche and working himself to collapse are powerless against Jekyll's crazed, indomitable will. Jekyll starts off wanting to cure his lunatic father, but once he's addicted to the potion, it's all about trying to save himself.

Set free from Jekyll's inhibitions, the sociopathic Edward Hyde emerges and begins killing off his enemies in the scientific community. In his spare time, he physically and emotionally abuses soiled dove Lucy (Susan Ballenski Houdesheldt). She falls under his bad boy spell in the same way sympathetic Nancy in "Oliver" refuses to turn away from Bill Sikes, even though she knows he will eventually destroy her. Not exactly a good example, but it's easily the most interesting female role.

Scott Hurst, Jr. and Susanna Houdesheldt
"Jekyll & Hyde" requires top-notch singers, and Candlelight has plenty of them so that even the supporting characters and ensemble sound terrific. But Hurst and Houdeheldt have the best opportunities to shine, and they light up the stage. Hurst displays true virtuosity with the spectacular "Transformation," during which he sings a duet with himself, in two distinct voices and characters.

Several of the songs are memorable, but singing along is out of the question. Leave that to the professionals.

Special kudos go to costume designer Liz Hoover for adding Steampunk elements to the nasty Board of Governors characters, showing how their human integrity has been compromised.

Honestly, with a show that starts with the main character already in crisis, there's a danger of emotionally overloading the audience and losing identification with any of the constantly-distraught characters. But director Robert Michael Sanders expertly finds moments of release, whether comic or just returning to baseline normalcy, before the next big upheaval. Also, his overall concept for the production emphasizes how difficult and dangerous it is to choose goodness in an overwhelming, morally corrupt world.

"Jekyll & Hyde" is a musical tragedy about a man who tests the limits, only to lose his humanity. And like so much Gothic entertainment, it's strangely, perhaps even perversely satisfying.

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

Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $50.95 - $65.95 (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: $35.95 (any performance; seating restrictions)
Purchase tickets online, visit www.ColoradoCandlelight.com, or call 970‐744‐3747.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534. I-25 at Exit 254.


CLICK HERE to purchase the "classic reprint" version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: With Other Fables."


REVIEW: 'Hansel and Gretel,' through Feb. 29, Miners Alley Children's Theatre, Golden

February 02, 2020

Rihanna DeVries and Rachel Moore

Writer-Director Alaina Beth Reel's version of "Hansel and Gretel," playing through Feb. 29 at Miners Alley Playhouse, is a revisionist progressive wokefest of the Grimm Brothers's fairy tale, in which two annoying children get lost in the forest and are nearly corrupted by the evils of refined sugar.

The show is a lot more entertaining than it sounds, but the insidious virtue signaling and social engineering that drives the adaptation of a classic folk tale made me long for the good old days when a brave girl could shove a warty-nosed, child-chomping witch into the oven, and everyone laughed and cheered.

Sure, that sounds barbaric, but she was a witch who killed, cooked, and consumed innocent kids, so she had it coming. And besides, in pre-industrialized Germany, children needed to be warned about actual predators, whether beasts or bandits, that lurked in the wilderness just outside the village.

Even today, negative characters can be valuable in helping children work through anxieties and fears. Through story, they can learn that with intelligence, cooperation, determination, and sometimes a bit of magic, good can triumph over evil. But here's an obvious example of sugar-coating the villain and reducing an archetypal fairy tale to a quick and clever sugar high, lacking in real nutritional value.

Gender-fluid Hansel (Rhianna DeVries), whose preferred pronoun is "they," (I'm not making this up) is harassed and bullied by sibling Gretel (Rachel Moore). Bossy Gretel plays mean tricks on her bro...sibling, apparently due to Hansel's prodigious vocabulary and lack of common sense. Because thesauruses and pranks are comic gold.

Ever since their mother, who was the family breadwinner died, their sad and struggling woodcutter father (Damon Guerrasio) can't seem to make ends meet, even with the help of his live-in sister-in-law Aunt Rita (Colleen Lee), whose culinary talents are limited to boiling brussels sprouts and carrots.

Yecch! What to do? Run away into the dark and dangerous forest, where a wicked witch is supposed to keep a candy house, of course. What could go wrong?

Credit Gretel for misconstruing overheard conversations, acting impulsively, and forcing Hansel into one bad situation after another.

Along the way, they meet a hilarious Bird (Guerrasio), a kind of albino, Eurotrash cockatoo, that eats up their bread trail (not sure where the loaf of bread came from), and leads the audience in a breathtaking version of "Green Grass Grows All Around."

And it turns out that the so-called witch, who appropriates the name "Sweet Sally," (presumably because "Willy Wonka" was already taken), isn't bad at all. She's just a lonely and misunderstood kooky candy-cooking lunatic with cotton candy hair and a DayGlo wardrobe straight out of "Waitress." Rendering the children defenseless and overweight due to massive sugar consumption, and tying them up with licorice ropes (a brilliant comedic moment) isn't actually malicious, just a misplaced desire to make them feel like a normal family.

It's all about feeling wanted and fitting in, after all.
With no real antagonist, all anyone can do is try to understand others better and possibly move to an urban environment.

Also, lay off the candy.

After all that venting, you'd think I didn't enjoy the play, but I actually did, once I learned to navigate around the stinky SJW blobs littering the story trail. There are lots of great jokes and beloved slapstick routines that are endlessly funny, and the cast, especially Guerrasio and Lee, are real pros who know how to play for and with children.

"Hansel and Gretel" performs on Saturdays at 1:00 pm  (February 22 & 29 at 11:00 am & 1:00 pm). Tickets are $12 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.


 to purchase a Hansel and Gretel Toy House and Storybook Playset. 


REVIEW: 'Bubble Boy: The Musical,' through Feb.15, Equinox Theatre at The Bug
January 27, 2020
Photos Credit: RDG Photography
There aren't a lot of new musicals out there that are genuinely optimistic, smart, and still manage to convey a valuable message. Cinco's Paul's "Bubble Boy: The Musical," making its regional premiere with Equinox Theatre Co. at The Bug through Feb. 15, is like a breath of fresh air.

Carter Edward Smith
Based on a 2001 movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, "Bubble Boy: The Musical" follows the emotional development and breakthrough of Jimmy (Carter Edward Smith), a boy born without an immune system. He spends his entire childhood in a sealed room, attended by a repressed, draconian pseudo-Christian fanatic mother (Rebecca Lyn Russell), and a milquetoast father (James Bloom). But then the lovely if somewhat soiled Chloe (Brekken Baker) moves in next door, awakening love and a burning desire for freedom from his confinement.

The musical takes its time letting Jimmy grow into a person before setting him free in the wide world, where he meets representatives of various dysfunctional worldviews, including members of a ridiculously chipper cult, a biker gang, and a vegan ice cream vendor (Stella Gordon).

Jimmy's forthright, unbiased innocence proves infectious, but his darker side is revealed as he seeks to prevent his beloved Chloe from marrying wanna be rock star Mark (Joe Lozano), just because she thinks she doesn't deserve better.

Ultimately, Jimmy must be willing to face death before he can say he truly lived.

I just love Jimmy's character arc, and how he learns to tell right from wrong, truth from delusion, the importance of community, and the power of forgiveness while setting boundaries. He's a tremendously sympathetic hero, and Smith does an outstanding job playing the multi-layered character with forthright honesty and not a hint of cynicism. Also, his voice is just amazing.

Baker and Russell are outstanding singers and prove formidable opponents as the women in Jimmy's life. Lozano and Jordan Duran as his buddy are hilarious, and their "bromance" offers a ludicrous counterpoint to Jimmy's awakening desire for companionship.

Caroline Vickstrom, Stella Gordon, and Sage Alberto step out of the ensemble to shine as leaders of various cultural oddities Jimmy meets on his path to awakening.

Director Colin Roybal deserves kudos for his keeping the action funny, never maudlin, always sweet and savvy. His set design is simple, yet light and frothy.

Music director Adam White has a lot of fun with Cinco Paul's bouncy melodies and clever lyrics, and the seven-piece band is just right, never overpowering. There are a lot of solos, with ensemble numbers interspersed, and the cast features many faces new to Equinox Theatre.

"Bubble Boy: The Musical" has a lot of heart, but doesn't leave its brain behind. The packaging is attractive, and what's inside is truly fresh and invigorating. Here's a musical that encourages everyone to take a chance, and leave their own "bubbles," to experience a free and surprising life.

Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 pm, through Feb. 15. Tickets are $25 in advance/$30 at the door/$22 for groups of 6 or more in advance only. All performances are at The Bug Theatre at 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets and more information available online at www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com

Read an exclusive interview with Bubble Boy author, Cinco Paul: http://www.equinoxtheatredenver.com/meet-the-writer-cinco-paul/


 CLICK HERE to rent or buy the 2001 (non-musical) film version of Bubble Boy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Swoosie Kurtz, Marley Shelton, and Danny Trejo.


Photo Credit: Gail Marie Bransteitter
The Aurora Fox Arts Center has literally gone out on a limb with its regional premiere production of Robert Askins's ADHD, liberal idea-hoarding "The Squirrels," a frequently hilarious and bizarre dark comedy of personal and social collapse that also manages to pack Shakespeareanesque tragedy into its over-stuffed, furry cheeks. The frenetically funny, ultimately nihilistic comedy plays in the Aurora Fox's intimate studio theatre through February 9.

After learning a few fun facts about the types of squirrels, their communication patterns and more from a squirrel-obsessed Scientist (Andrew Uhlenhopp), the audience is introduced to a dysfunctional family of squirrels perched precariously atop an unstable nut pile. Through a lifetime of hard work and saving, Scurius (Josh Levy in full squirrel suit) has amassed enormous caches of mixed nuts. His fiercely protective mate Mammalia (Kelly Uhlenhopp likewise furry) adores their idealistic daughter Chordata (Leiney Rigg) and loathes their snarky foundling Rodentia (Rachel Turner).

Their enormous and majestic tree (an extraordinary, gorgeous, practical, and massive creation by scenic designer Brandon Philip Case) rivals any castle, but despite a large resident population, the lead family has no authority over the others, no subjects, no employees. They are insulated and isolated, and thus vulnerable to attacks from above, below, and within.

Scurius is suffering from dementia and losing his grip. Chordata has fallen in love with Carolinensis (Hossein Farouzandeh) a socialist immigrant agitator from the other side of the 7-Eleven who would rather seize and "distribute" Scurius's wealth than work for his own. Sciuridae (Andrew Uhlenhopp), a devious Dumpster squirrel likewise seeks to finagle Scurius out of his nut hoard through manipulation and deceit, turning the patriarch's own family against him.

Andrew Uhlenhopp and Josh Levy.
Soon there are two conspiracies to topple Scurius and confiscate the precious nuts, both enemies gaining access to his family and ultimately ripping the whole community apart in a kind of "Squirrelapocalypse". It's funny, it's tragic, and it doesn't leave much room for hope.

Askins's ingenious, often hilarious script mimics the seeming chaotic pace of a squirrel's daily life. Loyalties flit back and forth as quickly as the actors' voluminous tails. Sex and murder are just a chitter or bark away. Meanwhile, there are fires to the west and a spreading blight of condo-construction to the east, threatening the very tree they all call home.

To its detriment, the script often becomes preachy, frequently cracking its thin shell of political diatribes too much on the nose. And there are too many of them. Like an attention deficit squirrel, the play thinks it can simultaneously juggle racism, sexism, wealth inequality, class/caste systems, climate change, over-development, substance abuse, elder abuse, famine, it goes on and on. Also, in my opinion, two fully-developed antagonist plot and character arcs are one too many. The bough threatens to break.

What saves the show is director Missy Moore's ability to guide the excellent cast through the many and constantly shifting plot and character beats, and assistant director Rachel McCombs-Graham's extraordinary movement direction, translating recognizable squirrel movements into a distinctive look and feel that is endlessly entertaining. Also, Nikki Harrison's costumes, blending human accessories and furry bodies, are a marvel.

Despite its rather bleak outlook and unnecessary virtue signaling, and mostly because of its ingenuity, creative vision, and outstanding performances, "The Squirrels" chases "Cats" right out of the park.
Performances are 7:30 pm Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, Jan. 17-Feb. 9. The Aurora Fox Arts Center is located at 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, CO 80040. Contact the box office for tickets, at 303-739-1970 or www.AuroraFox.org.


 CLICK HERE to purchase "The Secret Life of Squirrels," a photographic story featuring wild squirrels in domestic settings.