2021 Theatre Review Archive


 REVIEW: 'Shrek: The Musical,' through Aug. 22, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

Oscar Whitney Jr. and Scott Hurst Jr.
Photos Credit: RDG Photography

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's hilariously funny production of "Shrek the Musical," playing through Aug. 22 in Johnstown, is phenomenal family-friendly entertainment. The story is delightful, the singing is superb, the set and costume designs are colorful and bright, and the nearly constant gags are perfectly timed. Even the menu is designed to entice families to come out of hiding and spend a night out for plenty of comfort food and wholesome fun.

The lovably loathsome ogre Shrek (Scott Hurst Jr.) is sent off into the swamp to fend for himself at age seven, living a gleefully disgusting life of solitude. Meanwhile, lovely Princess Fiona (Kelly Maur) is likewise abandoned by her parents, confined to a tower until some handsome prince comes along to rescue her.

Ethan Lee Knowles

Pint-sized potentate Lord Farquaad (Ethan Lee Knowles) demands normalcy and conformity in the land of Duloc, so he exiles all the "freaks." Pinocchio (Nathaniel Beutel), Three Little Pigs (Bob Hoppe), the Mad Hatter (Nik Vlachos), White Rabbit (Grace Napoletano), the Big Bad Wolf, Humpty Dumpty, the Three Bears, Peter Pan, a "wicked" witch, and more (double and triple cast ensemble members) get dumped in anti-social Shrek's back yard, and he wants them out.

After reluctantly picking up a chatty Donkey (Oscar Whitney Jr.) as a sidekick, Shrek agrees to rescue a captive princess for Lord Farquaad to marry. This quest would allow the narcissistic noble to become King, and Shrek would receive the deed to his swamp so he could evict the homeless fairytale refugees. There's a back and forth extended "road trip" where a lot of bonding takes place, and it also turns out Fiona's tower is guarded by a Dragon (Sophia Ruiz).

Even though the verbal and slapstick humor is nearly non-stop, there are some remarkable themes underlying the story, involving healing the wounds caused by childhood abandonment, cultivating and recognizing inner beauty, the value of true friendship, and finding strength in unified diversity. Shrek, Fiona, and others have fully realized character arcs. These are the kinds of things I look for in a story, and "Shrek" delivers.

Shrek is not a classic fairytale musical, but a modern reimagining of the old tropes with plenty of exuberance and over-the-top hilarity. The book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on William Steig's children's book and the DreamWorks film are constantly inventive, clever, and surprising. Jeanine Tesori's music is fun and for the most part forgettable, but each song suits the occasion and gives the stars opportunities to cut loose with their extraordinary voices. 

The cast is a top-notch mix of well-known Candlelight veterans, students/graduates of the University of Northern Colorado's music theatre program, and a few new faces. I was particularly impressed by the warmth, tremendous voice, and light-as-a-feather moves of Whitney Jr. Unrecognizable in his costume and makeup, Hurst Jr.'s awesome voice is put on full display, and I was delightfully surprised by his comic chops. Maur's lanky poise while Fiona's childhood fantasies fall away and she embraces her true nature is wonderful, and Ruiz's rafter-ringing vocal pyrotechnics as the Dragon is a real show-stopper.

There are so many wonderful "bits" lavishly sprinkled throughout the show, every member of the ensemble has his or her moment to entertain.

The sets, backdrops, puppets, and costumes are exceptional, and it's great to see the live band, led by Phil Forman, seated above the action. 

Special congratulations to director and choreographer Piper Lindsay Arpan for steering this crowd-pleasing summer show and guiding its many elements to total triumph.

"Shrek" is one of those rare musicals that perfectly balances its appeal to children and adults alike. It's the perfect antidote to post-lockdown summer doldrums.


Online: http://www.coloradocandlelight.com/shrek/
Box Office: 970-744-3747 (Tuesday-Friday: 10 am - 5 pm, Saturday: Noon - 5 pm)
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Market Place Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534.


 CLICK HERE to purchase the children's book by William Steig that started it all. (Affiliate link.) 


REVIEW: 'Little Women, The Broadway Musical,' through June 6, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

April 12, 2021
Photos Credit: RDG Photography

Little Women - The Broadway Musical

Thursdays-Sundays, through June 6
Reservations required. Box Office: 970-744-3747; Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Book by Allen Knee
Music by Jason Howland
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Pat Payne and Phil Forman
Choreography by Susanna Houdesheldt
Music Direction by Phil Forman

After a year of missing out on one of my favorite pastimes, I'm just so delighted to attend live theatre again, to enjoy a beautifully staged and performed production, that I can easily disregard the "just okay" libretto and music of "Little Women, The Broadway Musical."


 "Little Women" is a better-than-adequate musical based on a hugely successful novel, performed by outstanding singers/actors, during an extraordinary time. 

So most of all, I want to say, "Thanks! I needed that."

Based on Louisa May Alcott's "not so autobiographical as you might think" novel, "Little Women" follows the mid-19th century adventures of the March sisters Jo (Emery Hines), Meg (Elaina Osburn), Beth (Charlotte Movizzo), and Amy (Sara Kowalski). With an absent father, the family is held together by nurturing matriarch Marmee (Jalyn Webb). Complications arise through the presence of the wealthy and opinionated Aunt March (Michelle Jeffres) and they are further disturbed by the arrival of several men who inadvertently disrupt the close-knit sisterhood's equilibrium.

Emery Hines

Jo has a driving ambition to become a successful writer, particularly of Gothic "blood and guts" melodramatic pulp stories. But she also wants to keep the family together, unchanging through the years. The first goal is extremely difficult in the male-dominated, wartime 1860s, and the other is simply impossible.

Hines gives a standout, stand up and cheer performance as Jo. She's equally skilled in the many comic and dramatic moments. Hines is a dynamo of onstage energy, propelling the musical, which is told almost entirely from her point of view, along at a fast pace. Her "crazy woman in the attic" scene during which she must integrate all her memories, relationships, and experiences into what will become her breakout novel, rivals the "Garden of Gethsemane" scene from "Jesus Christ Superstar" for angst-ridden intensity. 

I was especially gratified to see that Jo's desire to write sensational operatic tragedies for "The Weekly Volcano Press" was not vilified in favor of penning a sentimental semi-autobiographical novel for girls. Indeed, the whole "Rodrigo's Revenge" recurring theme produced some of the musical's most entertaining numbers.

Osburn is pleasantly memorable as the far less mercurial big sister Meg, a romantic who wishes only to fall in love and raise a family. Movizzo's introverted and musically-inclined Beth is sweet and playful, exuding warmth and gentleness. The character's tragic illness and premature death, in the context of so much loss all around us, are both devastating and inspiring. (And no, I don't feel obligated to give a spoiler alert for a 153-year-old story.)

Kowalski's Amy is a wonderfully selfish brat of a little sister, with bouncy ringlets and a golddigger's mercenary heart. Webb has a couple of blockbuster songs as Marmee, the woman who hadn't signed up to be a single mother but can also find the wherewithal to encourage her daughters to pursue their dreams. Michelle Jeffres plays Aunt March like a buffoon, winning laughs, but undercutting the character's villainous determination to intimidate, manipulate, and force Jo and Amy to conform to social expectations.

The scenes and songs involving the sisters, in particular, are the great big heart of the show. There are plenty of richly defined, truly moving moments, which is why this story has endured and been adapted so often. 

The shallow depiction of some of the men, used for comic effect, may be true to the musical's theme but ultimately weakens the show's impact. I believe most of the responsibility falls on the script, not the performances.

This musical's version of Laurie (Eric Heine) is a giddy man/baby, who would certainly grow insufferable to the vastly superior March sisters, rather than be initiated into their tight circle. Even after he grows up, he's still no more than a puppy/puppet. The older, wiser, philosophically inclined Professor Bhaer (Chris Bain), whose opinion Jo is supposed to respect, has one great solo. But whenever he's around her, he turns into a fumbling, bumbling adolescent. 

Treated a little more seriously is stern Mr. Laurence (Todd Resseguie) whose emotionally crippling grief at the loss of a daughter is rather easily dissolved by Beth's simple goodness and the one song in the musical that actually sounds true to the period. And though he doesn't have many scenes, Laurie's tutor Mr. Brooke (Ethan Lee Knowles) at least behaves like a healthy adult.

I doubt the women in the audience minded the disparity between the female and the male roles. It's so nice to have well-rounded, complex, sympathetic female characters, one can almost dismiss the unworthy beta males in the background. 

Almost. But then, this is "Little Women" after all, so allowances must be made.

I guess we should all feel very lucky indeed to at last be able to spend an evening with them. After this past year, I surely do.

Performances are Thursday-Saturday with seating for dinner at 6 pm (show at 7:30), also Saturday-Sunday with seating at 12 pm (show at 1:30).

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown. Box Office: 970-744-3747.

Candlelight has taken every precaution to make sure audiences feel secure in this public setting. Check out the website for all the measures involved. So at last, in the waning days of this pandemic, it's safer to come out and see a show than it has been for a long time.