2019 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.

2019 Theatre Reviews


REVIEW: 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,' through Dec. 28, Bug Theatre, Denver

December 16, 2019

Photos by Seraphim Fire Photography
I was eight years old when the original movie version of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” came out, and even way back then I thought it was corny. Now, roughly forty-five years later, The Bug Theatre is presenting a live stage version (through Dec. 28), and it’s just as hokey as I remembered. 

But it’s also silly and campy, and that’s why "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is playing to nearly full houses.

Martians, having created an ultra-efficient totalitarian state, realize that their children aren’t happy with Matrix-style speed learning, or taking concentrated meal pills, and not getting presents from Santa.

From what can be seen from Earth-based television broadcasts, the green folk are missing something crucial at holiday-time. Martian leader Kimar (Jack Mariotti), an authoritarian who loves his kids, leads a mission to earth to kidnap Santa Claus (Mike Kienker). His kooky crew includes the dastardly and villainous Voldar (Brian Dowling), the lovably clumsy goofball Dropo (Christian Munck) and various other Martian minions (Lauren Michelle Long, Axel Manica, Daphne Bichler, Genevieve Moreland, Clint Heyn).

Since there are way too many “men in red” from which to choose, the alien invaders seek guidance from ten-year-old Betty (Kelsey Brown) and her little brother Billy (Reese Blanton) then decide to keep them captive after exfiltrating Santa from the North Pole.

The show is primarily concerned with power struggles among the culturally evolving Martians. The human kids are appropriately “gee-whiz” annoying, and Santa’s goodwill is infectious. Also, he’s omnipotent and benevolent, so rest assured, all will end well on both planets in time for Christmas.

Glenville Mareth and Paul L. Jacobson’s 1964 film version of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” was made for $200,000, which I think was pretty cheap for sci-fi even then. “Robinson Crusoe on Mars,” made the same year, had a $1.2 million budget.

The Bug’s production goes to great pains to recreate the original silly Martian costumes (kudos to Rachel Finley) and mostly-plastic props. There are also several filmed sequences, splicing together stock footage, clips from easily identifiable other movies, and original content.

Director Deb Flomberg is particularly adept at staging this type of comic lunacy, and there are lots of laughs. Even so, there are some structural and thematic problems that suggested to me that this holiday ham needs a little more time in the oven.

Filmmaker Eileen Agosta is credited with adapting the film for the stage. There are times, though, when being “true to the original” isn’t the best course. Rather than duplicate scenes from a flick that was a mess to begin with, and updating some of the humor, a thorough overhaul might have been a better choice.

For example, there’s really no reason to throw an incongruous robot into the mix, just because it was in the movie. There are other ways to show that Santa can transform “bad machines” into toys with a touch. And why doesn’t he use that power on all the space guns?

Cutting between scenes on film is easily accomplished in the editing room. But on stage, it requires frequent pace-stalling set changes and light cues.

The Bug’s version of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is playing to entirely young adult and middle-aged audiences. I didn’t see ANY kids. And yet the movie was obviously made for children. Should we be concerned as a culture that post-adolescent grownups are having so much fun with something that’s clearly retro kiddie fare, almost totally lacking in irony or subtext?

And when is a person too old to sit on Santa’s lap for a photo op after the show?

In its current iteration, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is good, campy fun for young and young alike, but only if they’re adults.

Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM through December 28 at The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets are $20 in advance online or $25 at the door. Tickets and more information available online at www.bugtheatre.org.


CLICK HERE to rent or purchase the original 1964 cult classic movie "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

REVIEW: 'Holiday Inn,' through Jan. 19, 2020, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

December 03, 2019

Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Candlelight Dinner Theatre’s regional premiere production of “Holiday Inn,” running through January 19, 2020, delivers everything families are looking for in easily-digested musical entertainment. Sure, the plot is forgettable and the characters don’t bear close examination, but there’s a hit parade of big, bright musical numbers with catchy Irving Berlin tunes.

How forgettable is it? “Holiday Inn” is based on a 1942 Paramount Pictures film that is often confused with “White Christmas” (1954). Both are about a couple of Vaudevillians who put on Broadway shows at a bed and breakfast in the country, and both feature Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin’s greatest hit. Which one co-starred Fred Astaire, and which one featured Danny Kaye? Does it matter?

Sara Kowalski and Ben Griffin
Turns out it does, because “Holiday Inn,” which opened and closed on Broadway in the last three months of 2016 isn’t just a Christmas show. It’s a “holiday” inn, so audiences are treated to a full calendar of seasonal numbers, including Valentine’s Day (“Be Careful, It’s My Heart), secular Easter (“Easter Parade”), Independence Day (“Song of Freedom”), Thanksgiving (“Plenty to be Thankful For”), Christmas (“White Christmas”), and New Year’s (“Let’s Start the New Year Right”).

There are even MORE memorable songs, including “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and others. And of course, it’s all summed up with “Happy Holidays."

Director/Choreographer Kate Vallee has a terrific cast to work with, both in the leads and in the chorus.

Ben Griffin plays Ted (the Bing Crosby character), a singer who burns out on the Vaudeville circuit and leaves his excessively ambitious partners Ted (Cole Emarine in the Fred Astaire role) and Lila (Susanna Ballenski Houdesheldt) to seek fame and fortune without him.

Jim moves to Connecticut, where he buys a broken-down farm and immediately learns he’s an inept farmer. Foreclosure is just around the corner, so Jim sits in a chair and sulks.

Fortunately, the property comes with Linda (Sara Kowalski), a lovely schoolmarm who grew up on that farm, and Louise (Annie Dwyer) a jack-of-all-trades kind of gal who single-handedly fills in for all the middle-aged characters who would typically be in this kind of show.

In a bit part, David L. Wygant plays the mercenary manager who tries to keep the money stream flowing. Eli Emming and Hayden McDonald alternate as Charlie, a bright and likable kid who’s actually helpful in moving the story along.

The old “let’s put on a show” trope is hauled out and dusted off not once, but several times, because that farm REALLY needs saving. Also, Jim stubbornly refuses to return to the show biz meat grinder, and Linda is slow to come to her senses and marry the big lug. Besides, this is a “holiday” inn, and there are so many fun holidays just begging to be acknowledged with a complete set of costume changes and a show-stopping song and dance number.
Cole Emarine

The characters are problematic in ways I don’t recall from the film version. Jim is a depressed, passive protagonist with very little agency. He sits and mopes when his girlfriends dump him and lacks self-awareness about his purpose in life, but boy howdy, can he sing. Ted is a tap-dancing sensation, but also a terrible best friend, a narcissist so caught up in his own quest for fame and fortune he takes and takes, oblivious to the hurt feelings of those closest to him.

Lila can sing and dance up a storm, but also is a shameless golddigger who will hook up with anyone offering to make her a star. She still needs a man to be successful. Linda is a classic “Mary Sue.” She enjoyed singing and dancing as a child, so without any training, experience, or even hard work, the schoolteacher rockets past a literal chorus of professional entertainers and becomes a potential overnight Hollywood headliner because…”Mary Sue.”

Sassy, meddling Louise is a catch-all character, conflating three or four traditional supporting roles. She’s the handyman and cook who can transform a farmhouse into a theatre/hotel, sings and dances with the “kids,” serves as an expert matchmaker, and in the finale, puts on a suit to officiate at the wedding. Dwyer does a wonderful job bringing humor to a role that is more walking plot convenience than a person.

The young and attractive chorus gets to sing and tap dance a whole lot, but they remain mostly anonymous, content to remain in set designer Casey Kearns’ bright and airy background.

Debra Faber is responsible for the more than 200 costumes, a major selling point for this production, along with Phil Forman’s always-strong music direction.

If you don’t look too closely at the threadbare plot and dysfunctional characters, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s family-friendly “Holiday Inn” is an overflowing cornucopia of classic Irving Berlin songs and happy-tappy dance, which is a cause for celebration any time of year.

SHOWTIMES: November 29, 2019 – January 19, 2020; Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 PM; Show at 7:30 PM; Saturday and Sunday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Select Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday Evenings have been added to this production

TICKETS: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $53.95 ‐ $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)

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

Purchase dinner and show tickets by calling Candlelight’s box office 970-744-3747 or online at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com.


CLICK HERE to stream, or purchase the DVD or Blu-Ray of the 75th Anniversary Edition of Irving Berlin's "Holiday Inn," starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. Includes a featurette on the Broadway musical version.


REVIEW: 'Twist Your Dickens,' through Dec. 22, Aurora Fox Theatre

November 30, 2019

Sean Michael Cummings, Erik Sandvold, Charlie Schmidt

This seems to be the year for more spoofs of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol than traditional productions. Topping the list of small-cast, fast-paced, and perhaps low-brow, low-budget comedic adaptations of the holiday classic are Miners Alley Playhouse's version by Josh Hartwell (see promo here) and The Second City’s too clever by half “Twist Your Dickens,” playing through Dec. 22 at The Aurora Fox.

Seth Palmer Harris, Erik Sandvold
The script, by former Colbert Report comedy writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, uses the most obligatory scenes from the Victorian ghost story as a springboard for a loosely-knit series of anachronistic, topical, and ironic comedy riffs that in themselves are funny enough--sometimes hilariously so--but often at the expense of the original tale.

Dickens' iconic story of a miser's redemption after being visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve provides a very loose framework. Scrooge (Erik Sandvold) is played as a gleeful, melodramatic villain who relishes causing misery and woe. Sandvold, one of Denver's great thespian treasures, has both the gravitas and the comic chops to make this work.

Sandvold is surrounded by an ensemble of very, very funny actors, any of whom could run circles around all but a few of the past three decades of Saturday Night Live comics. Sean Michael Cummings plays Bob Crachit as a grinning idiot with an iPad, and numerous other roles. Ilasiea Gray plays Belle, Ebenezer's "one that got away," and more. Seth Palmer Harris takes on all the roles that would have been given to Will Ferrell on SNL, especially if they require partial nudity or over-the-top bombast. Sarah Milbrath plays two different boozy broads, including the Ghost of Christmas Present and a burned-out lounge singer. Jenna Moll Reyes is slyly humorous as Tiny Tim, and also excellent in other parts. Charlie Schmidt is frighteningly funny as the demented Nephew Fred, but also takes everything to an even higher level of hilarity in several other roles. His versatile hair should receive credit as an additional performer.

Erik Sandvold, Sara Milbrath
It's not just "A Christmas Carol" that is held up to ridicule. "Twist Your Dickens" roasts countless other Christmas season chestnuts, especially the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and It's a Wonderful Life. Pop culture characters, including miserable Victorian urchins matched with American Depression-era orphans (including Batman) compare their woes, and the Three Kings argue about why gold is the worst of the three gifts to give the Son of God.

There are several opportunities for improv, based on audience suggestions, and they mostly work, adding a local immediacy and edge to the hijinks.

Many of the jokes are obvious grabs at low hanging fruit, some reference liberal agendas more akin to Monty Python's social satire, but most are built around an eclectic collection of outrageously exaggerated characters you might readily find in an improvised sketch comedy.

Commedia dell’arte expert Matthew R. Wilson is the director, and his program comments that "the world needs both kind people and compassionate social structure" play out clearly, especially when the comedy veers toward the dark side. Special credit goes to Katy Williams, who designed roughly 200 props, some seemingly on the fly to accommodate input from the audience.

The writers admit that they are more interested in American pop culture, history, and social concerns than Scrooge's eternal fate. I felt that sometimes even they got bored with Dickens and brainstormed the comic potential of other Christmas stories. Some of the sketches were only marginally funny or ran on too long, though none of them flopped. It's pretty much what you expect from professional-quality sketch comedy and improv, which is to say amusingly ironic, entertaining at the moment, occasionally shocking, but not especially transformational or even particularly memorable beyond a few flashes of comic brilliance.

Due to mature themes and profanity, "Twist Your Dickens" is not recommended for children.

The Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” runs at the historic Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E Colfax Ave, Aurora, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 22. Call the box office at 303-739-1970 to reserve your seats.



REVIEW: 'Tuck Everlasting,' through Jan. 5, 2020, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

November 26, 2019

Sophia Dotson and Ensemble

No one wants to die, and I suspect most of us secretly harbor the belief that, in some sense, we never will. But when actual physical immortality, and along with it invulnerability and eternal youth are offered, what might those who have no concept of an afterlife be willing to do...or not do to obtain it?

Nick Johnson and Sophia Dotson
The homey, dreamily heartfelt musical "Tuck Everlasting," based on Natalie Babbitt's children's novel, addresses this question while making its regional premiere at the Vintage Theatre, through Jan. 5, 2020.

Grieving her father's death and having no friends, spunky Winnie Foster (Sophia Dotson alternating with Hazel Kachline) chances upon a natural spring in the New Hampshire woods that grants life everlasting, and also a loving family that has lived with the consequences of its discovery for more than a century.

Angus Tuck (Nick Johnson) temporarily becomes a kind of surrogate father for Winnie, while his wife (Hannah Quinn) offers the kind of maternal nurturing her actual mother (LeeAnn Scherlong) and grandmother (Kate Bogdewiecz) can't provide. Their eldest son (Carter Edward Smith) is bitter about the high cost of never dying in a world of constant change, and the youngest (only about 119 years old) emotionally-stunted son (Elton Tanega) is attracted to the eleven-year-old girl in the same kind of immature "don't think about it too much" creepy way Edward becomes enamored of Bella in the Twilight vampire series.

Brian Trampler and Kyriana Kratter
There's a flashy, unscrupulous carnival barker (Todd Black) who wants the lifespring's gift for all the wrong reasons, and a pair of comical detectives (Brian Trampler, Kyriana Kratter) who track down the runaway Winnie for all the right ones.

No attempt is made to explain how something so simultaneously natural and unnatural as a fountain of youth could exist and remain a secret for so long, or why the Tuck family keep gravitating back to it. In New Hampshire.

Except for a couple of traditional musical comedy numbers, the show's score (by composer Chris Miller, with lyrics by Nathan Tysen) is lyrical and introspective, like a collection of tone poems. Nearly all are solos revealing and embellishing the characters' feelings and deepest thoughts.

Throughout the musical, an ensemble of dancers, who are in no way acknowledged by the primary characters, interprets the music into mesmerizing images and patterns. Choreographer Adrianne Hampton's profoundly sensitive work channels the inspiration of Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring" and other inexpressibly lovely dream ballets.

Todd Black
Director Michael O'Shea does a fine job staging the musical on a mostly open stage (to accommodate all the dancing), punctuated by a handful of mobile set pieces designed by Ryan Walkowviak. The music is performed live by an orchestra of seven musicians, and Athena Wilkinson's sound design is particularly smooth and unobtrusive.

"Tuck Everlasting" is a mature, sensitive musical that thoughtfully respects and considers a young person's grief, and her need to both embrace and let go of all that matters most, which is life itself.

Vintage Theatre presents the Regional Premiere of “Tuck Everlasting” November 22 through January 5 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora, 80010. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $19 - $38 and available online at http://www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.

Recommended for children ages 8 and up.


 CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of "Tuck Everlasting" by Natalie Bobbitt on Kindle, paperback, hardcover, or audiobook.


REVIEW: 'Parfumerie,' through Dec. 22, Benchmark Theatre, Lakewood

November 26, 2019

Ryan Omar Stack and Emma Rebecca Maxfield

E.P. Dowdall's adaptation of Miklos Laszio's Hungarian comedy "Parfumerie," playing at Benchmark Theatre through Dec. 22, goes much deeper and darker than a typical Hallmark holiday rom-com. The early 20th-century bourgeois comedy, set in a beauty supply shop during the Christmas rush, takes an oblique approach to two non-traditional romances, resulting in a satisfying treat that delivers more substance than sentiment, along with plenty of laughs.

In an economically recovering post-WWI bourgeois Budapest, when a man built a career before thinking of marriage and supporting a family, George Horvath (Ryan Omar Stack) engages in an 18-month-long romantic correspondence with a woman he's never met, not realizing that his poetic and lonely-hearted pen pal is actually Amalia Balash (Emma Rebecca Maxfield), the abrasively charming co-worker who appears to loathe him.

There's a parallel plotline, in which aging shop owner Mr. Hammerschmidt (Tim Fishbaugh) discovers his gold-digging wife is cheating on him with the roguish Mr. Kadar (Drew Hirschboeck), another clerk at the store, and nearly succumbs to the betrayal.

Perry Lewis and Ryan Omar Stack
An eager apprentice (Christopher Robin Donaldson) and a mild-mannered, quirky clerk (Perry Lewis) offer more-or-less helpful assistance and advice on both fronts, while a handful of other fully-realized clerks (Haley Johnson, Maggy Stacy, John Wittbrodt) do their jobs and live their lives on the less-complicated, but still affected periphery.

All the characters are interesting and relatable, not at all the placeholder types we usually see in workplace romantic comedies. There are genuine risks to establishing, building, and sustaining relationships, and "happily ever after" doesn't happen without compromises, forgiveness, and humility. This is a mature work, all the more satisfying because love for another person, or even one's job, requires the characters to work out their differences and extend mutual respect.

The performances are all strong, as is Rachel Rogers' direction.

The original play inspired Jimmy Stewart’s "The Shop Around the Corner," Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s "You’ve Got Mail" and the beloved musical, "She Loves Me".

"Parfumerie" an entirely different, but welcome, Christmas story.

The play runs through Sunday, December 21st. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday evenings at 6 pm. Industry Night is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2nd ($12 tickets) with additional half-priced performances ($15) on Thursday, December 5th, December 12th and December 19th. There will not be performances on Thursday, Nov. 28th or Friday, Nov. 29th due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

General admission tickets are $30 and $25 for students/seniors/military. Benchmark Theatre performs 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.


 CLICK HERE to download or purchase the 1940 James Stewart romantic comedy "The Shop Around the Corner," with Margaret Sullavan and Frank Morgan, and directed by Ernst Lubitsch.


REVIEW: 'Looped,' through Dec. 15, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

November 06, 2019

Deborah Persoff as Tallulah Bankhead. Photo Credit: RDG Photography
Vintage Theatre's funny, vulgar, riveting production of "Looped" is presented in a theatre that holds only 65 people. It's a small-scale show in an intensely intimate space and features big ideas and a couple of Denver's most prestigious actors. This funny, powerful, comedic, visceral drama plays through December 15 and is a must-see for early 20th-century film buffs, those who collect caustic, sarcastic one-liners, and anyone who enjoys watching psychological autopsies performed on the living.

Based on a tedious yet necessary sound dubbing appointment in a Los Angeles recording studio in 1965, a faded, larger than life movie star (Deborah Persoff as Tallulah Bankhead) has one last pathetic, inspiring, heart-breakingly hilarious hurrah, at the expensive of a tightly-wound film editor (Christian Mast as Danny Miller). All the former flapper, former movie star, former scandalously notorious celebrity needs to do is record one line of dialogue. That's it. And it'll be a wrap on her final flop, the last nail in the coffin of an ignominious career.

Deborah Persoff and Christian Mast. RDG Photography
But where is the fun in that? The foul-mouthed, unrepentantly drug-addled, alcoholic and opportunistically promiscuous Bankhead makes it her mission in life (that day) to reduce poor Danny to a quivering, blubbering mess, then possibly put some of the pieces back together. She casually exploits his weaknesses and vulnerabilities as no mere mortal could, but also reveals the catastrophe of her own willful, miserable life. For one shining moment she is once again a feline goddess of snark, doomed to oblivion, and Danny is her plaything.

The script, by Matthew Lombardo, presents drama on a scale with Greek tragedy, featuring a battle of wills between a capricious goddess as an antagonist and a deeply conflicted everyman as the protagonist, with a seemingly disinterested observer (David Bond-Trimble as the sound engineer Steve) serving as the Chorus.

Persoff appropriately chews the drab scenery with grand panache, and Mast is wonderfully twitchy and tense in her presence. He loves her, he hates her, and both are fine with that, so long as she gets the attention she craves more than life itself.

Director Craig A. Bond does a terrific job of moving the cast through the flip-flopping and occasionally repetitious emotional beats. There are wisdom and irony in his interpretation of the text. The cast gets the big laughs, but there's a sadness, too, in the brokenness and hopelessness slowly poisoning the characters' lives.

"Looped" will appeal to anyone who is fascinated by the power of personality, the cult of celebrity, and the ability of those with nothing to lose to courageously, if only temporarily, transcend ordinary existence before winking out into obscurity.

Vintage Theatre presents “Looped” at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010 through December 15. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, November 16 & Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 - $32 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


 CLICK HERE to purchase Tallulah Bankhead: A Scandalous Life by David Bret, available in paperback, hardcover, or Kindle. 


REVIEW: 'Pippin,' through Nov. 9, Theater Co. of Lafayette

October 25, 2019

Melissa Fike, Rob Payo, Jessica Peterson, Michael J. Martinkus,
Jason Vargas and Marcus Neppl. 
Photo credit: Charles Kelly.

The Broadway musical "Pippin" is about an idealistic, ambitious young man in search of his place in the world. Like the titular character, the show itself has gone through several incarnations, especially as a razzle-dazzle vehicle for the Bob Fosse brand, and as a high-stakes circus spectacular. Theatre Company of Lafayette's current smaller-scale production, under the direction of Heather Frost and running through Nov. 9 at the Mary Miller Theatre, feels like Pippin's wandering soul has finally come home at last.

Rob Payo
Pippin (Michael J.Martinkus) is an unexceptional medieval university graduate who also happens to be the son of Charlemagne (Rob Leary) and heir to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Guided by the wily and wicked Leading Player (Rob Payo) and an ensemble of minions, Pippin samples the glory of war, the delights of the flesh, the circular intrigue of progressive politics, and finally a simple, rural, family life. But the reality never quite lives up to the promise. Discouraged and overcome by despair, Pippin's next best option is to commit a spectacular suicide, the inevitable last resort of an ego-driven, selfish life.

Unless there's something better to live for.

The music and lyrics by Roger O. Hirson and book by Stephen Schwartz are great good fun in this modern medieval morality play, with a lot of emphasis on comedy, song, and dance, until things begin to get serious. But even those moments are entertaining.

Martinkus is wonderfully "average," in an awkward, quirky kind of way, but his professionalism is revealed every time he sings or dances. He makes it easy for the slick, serpentine Payo to maneuver and manipulate him with false promises, clouding his judgment and dazzling him with glamour.

Leary is delightful as the goofy, doofus king, except when it comes to waging war, where he's all business. Melissa Fike plays Charlemagne's conniving wife with style and a smile, and Marcus Neppal is very funny as Pippin's muscle-bound -- and brained half-brother, second in line for the throne. Leslie Belfor makes a grand cameo appearance as Pippin's grandmother, who recommends he simply live for the moment while he can.

Emily Gerhard plays a caring, nurturing widow who finds herself loving Pippin despite his faults and Antonina Monsolino is adorable as her "just annoying enough to be cute" daughter.

This show has a LOT for the ensemble to do, and each player has a fully developed character. Lena Murphy's choreography is especially effective and sharp, making ingenious use of a very small stage. The Mary Miller Theatre seats only seventy-five patrons, but the show feels bigger and never cramped, thanks to Chris Pash's airy set design.

I give a lot of credit to the show's success to Frost's thoughtful interpretation and the commitment of the cast, all volunteers.

"Pippin" has been one of my favorite musicals for more than forty years. If you've never seen the show, see this production. It will become your definitive version. Theatre Company of Lafayette raises the bar -- and our spirits -- sky-high.

The Theater Company of Lafayette Presents “Pippin” at The Mary Miller, 300 East Simpson, Lafayette, CO 80026. Performance Dates are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, Thursday, November 7 at 7:30 pm, and two shows closing Saturday, November 9 at 1 pm and 7:30 pm

Tickets: General Admission - $24, Students, Veterans & Seniors - $20. Purchase tickets at www.tclstage.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006. 


CLICK HERE to rent or purchase a video of the 1981 production of "Pippin" starring William Katt and Ben Vereen.


REVIEW: 'Mamma Mia!' through Feb. 22, BDT Stage, Boulder

October 24, 2019

I have tremendous respect and regard for the creative team and performing ensemble at BDT Stage. So believe me when I say, if this top-notch, talented troupe can't make the ABBA pop musical "Mamma Mia!" work, no one can.

Except for perhaps movie stars with no musical theatre training who lean on their celebrity appeal, and an audience who doesn't care about story, character, theme, songs being relevant to the action, or anything else other than seeing someone recognizably famous.

Like the movie. And even that wasn't very good, despite raking in $609 million.

If "Mamma Mia" doesn't quite take flight (at least for me), it's not for lack of talent and effort.

Put aside whatever reason BDT Stage has for choosing an oddly unromantic, summer wedding on a Greek Island musical requiring a perpetually underdressed chorus, to carry them through the holiday season and a Colorado winter.

In my opinion, the music is mostly vapid bubblegum disco-pop, with only a suggestion of an emotional foundation. The lyrics never seem to have any relevance to the context, action, or even the characters. The songs were originally meant to stand alone, not carry an extended plot or character arc. It actually does them a disservice to try.

Joanie Brosseau-Rubald, Tracy Warren, and Alicia K. Meyers
The story is a downer, no matter how hard the cast tries to pump up the enthusiasm. Donna (Tracy Warren) is a stressed-out single mom, trying to make ends meet with her small Mediterranean resort hotel. Her chirpy daughter Sophie (Christy Oberndorf) is getting married to a rather milquetoast Wall Street dropout (Chas Lederer) the next day, and there's so much still to be done. The mostly useless employees are nowhere to be found, except when they get a cue for an upcoming musical number.

The last thing Donna needs is three middle-aged men, who all had sexual liaisons with her one fateful summer of love twenty-one years ago, arriving all at once to crash the ceremony.

Sophie found their names in her mother's diary and, feeling that resolving her daddy issues was more important than her upcoming marriage, invited them without consulting her mom or her fiance. For most of the show, Donna is too stressed and unhappy to figure out the "coincidence" of their simultaneous and untimely appearance.

Sam (Scott Severtson) is the only one who is father material. He's calm and wise as if Mike Brady suddenly found out he had spawned a love child who needed two decades of paternal Brady Bunch nurturing in a single day. Bill (Scott Beyette) is a globetrotting travel writer who is uncharacteristically shy around forward women, and Harry (Bob Hoppe), is a British banker who obviously doesn't fancy women at all. The pair are clearly more the eccentric, lovable uncle types. All three embrace the possibility of Sophie's paternity, but only Sam has any interest whatsoever in rekindling a romance with the sad, off-putting Donna.

Lillian Buonocore, Christy Oberndorf, and Sarah Hackshaw
Donna's only relief and consolation are her former backup singers from when disco was a thing, who also drop in for the wedding. Tanya (Alicia K. Meyers) toys with men, devours them, and takes their money. Rosie (Joanie Brosseau-Rubald) is still as quirky and fidgety as she was in her twenties when the Suzanne Somers "baby doll" routine was all the rage. The trio reminisces over their halcyon days of singing upbeat, silly songs in nightclubs and never considering middle age.

Perhaps six of the show's nearly two-dozen songs were big hits during ABBA's brief chart-topping days, including "Thank You For The Music," "Chiquitita," "Dancing Queen," and the power ballad "The Winner Takes It All."  Many of the also-rans involve repeating the same word over and over, like "Honey, Honey," "Money, Money, Money," "Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie," and "I Do, I Do, I Do."

The staging, by Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters, conveys the story better than the songs do, though actors who aren't singing spend a lot of time posing and looking off into the distance, trying to dredge up emotions. The mechanical, punchy choreography reminded me of a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots match.

The performers are consummate professionals one and all, but this show really needs to bank on the celebrity appeal of say, a Spice Girls reunion. These dedicated troupers give it everything they've got, which is more than the musical deserves.

To be fair, most of the patrons have seen the film, know what to expect, and are happy to overlook the show's structural problems, as long as those innocuous and nostalgic disco-pop songs keep coming.

Mostly, though, I found the plot, characters, and themes meaningless. The atrocious ending resolution when wedding bells ring falsely and a Greek Orthodox priest from Fantasy Island simply shrugs off everyone's casual approach to the sacrament of matrimony suggests that none of this really mattered all that much anyway.

Then came the brilliant extended curtain call, which delivered EVERYTHING "Mamma Mia!" could and should have been all along. The show-stopping, high-energy medley of ABBA's most memorable pop tunes, accompanied by multiple mirror balls, bright neon sparkly Lycra costumes, and unrestrained joy practically lifted the audience out of their seats. The cast, freed from the maudlin plot and characters, rejoiced and celebrated the music itself. This was the most gloriously realized curtain call I've seen since Candlelight's "The Music Man" or the Arvada Center's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

The sequence showcased what the BDT ensemble can really do, and it was perfect.

Tickets for "Mamma Mia!" are on sale now starting 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. All tickets for preview performances (Oct 5 - 10, 2019) are just $45. Discounts are available for groups of 12 or more. Tickets can be purchased at www.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 10am-3pm, Wed-Sat 10am-10pm, and Sunday 9am-10pm.


 CLICK HERE to rent or buy the 2008 film version of "Mamma Mia!" starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth.


REVIEW: 'Laughing Stock,' through Nov. 10, Evergreen Players, Center Stage, Evergreen

October 19, 2019

Photos by RDG Photography.
Charles Morey's "Laughing Stock" is a funny, charming, bittersweet comedy for those of us who nurture a tender place in our hearts for amateur and community theatre. Evergreen Players' delightful production, which runs through Nov. 10 and is directed by the talented Katie Mangett, is a thespian's love letter written to the rhythm of a slapstick.

Leslie Randle, Darcy J. Kennedy,
Todd Black, and Gina Walker. 
A supposedly-professional but patently amateur summer stock company has prevailed against humidity, mosquitoes, and manipulative benefactors for sixty-nine seasons, in a ramshackle New Hampshire barn. The shoestring budget is stretched cellophane thin, the talent pool is somewhat shallow even after New York auditions, and patrons must endure metal folding chairs, but dedicated artistic director Gordon (Todd Black) is undeterred.

Artistic pursuits transcend the material world, after all, so he announces a season consisting of the classic farce "Charley's Aunt," an original (and therefore royalty-free) adaptation of "Dracula," and "King Lear," which is immediately nixed by the benefactor for being too depressing (after last season's mega-flop "Peer Gynt"), and so is replaced by the much more upbeat "Hamlet."
Kelly Alayne Dwyer, Nick Roberts,
Jim Honiotes

Gordon's neurotically efficient production manager (Darcy J. Kennedy) obsesses over payroll and pencil usage, while a giddy/panicky technical director (Leslie Randle) performs miracles of stagecraft on the cheap. Meanwhile, Gordon's alcoholic ex-wife (Gina Walker) is the stage manager, and he's stuck with a catastrophically "visionary" director (Lisa Kraai) who discards text, tradition, and technique to explore vague thematic ideas through bizarre improvisation.

Only a few of the actors hired for the summer stock are actual professionals, including leading man Jack (Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry) who is seriously considering giving up on his stalling acting career, and a consummate character actor (Jim Honiotes) who accepts the reality of show business and makes the best of whatever life throws at him, after complaining just a little. There's a "method actor" juvenile lead (Nick Roberts) who seduces his leading ladies, an overeager, sexy ingenue (Kelly Alayne Dwyer), an aging diva (Christine Kahane) with a pocketbook pooch, a forgetful seasoned trouper (Rand Moritzky), and a handful of quickly-exhausted interns (Jennifer James, Dominic Herrick, Carol D. Henry).

Rand Moritzky, Christine Kahane
In true community theatre fashion, all of these familiar personalities have their own plot and character arcs, enduring logistical and egotistical crises and resolutions in varying degrees. This show truly demonstrates that there are no small parts, only small actors.

The audience is treated to glimpses of the entire production process from casting to rehearsing, including significant selections from the "performances" themselves, from both audience and backstage points of view. Scenes of hilarity are interspersed with heartfelt expressions of why all the blood, sweat, and tears involved in putting on a play are actually worth the trouble.

Structurally, "Laughing Stock" is cleverly crafted, and the characters, while "types," are well-rounded. Gags set up early on pay off handsomely. Several of the performances are truly outstanding. The second act stretches out a little longer than a comedy should, but I can't think of anything that could be cut without toppling the whole house of cards. Besides, this is more than just a comedy. It's a heartfelt tribute to and celebration of a rare participatory art form and deeply human storytelling pastime, after all.

Lisa Kraii
I'm surprised "Laughing Stock" isn't produced more frequently. It's perfect for community theatres, with a large, varied cast, simple set and costume requirements, loads of laughs, and just the right amount of nostalgia. I can't think of a better setting for the "barn" than Evergreen's rustic Center Stage.

It helps with a play like this if the audience knows and loves members of the cast, but even if you don't, no one leaves "Laughing Stock" feeling like a stranger. After all, patrons are also part of the magic of putting on a play, and this comedy embraces that wholeheartedly.

Evergreen Players presents "Laughing Stock" through November 10 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 $25 Adults; $20 students/seniors (60+), Youth (12 and under) $15 by calling 303-674-4934 or online at www.evergreenplayers.org. Group discounts are also available.


 CLICK HERE to purchase the book Summer Stock: An American Theatrical Phenomenon.


REVIEW: 'Mrs. Warren's Profession,' through Nov. 9, Germinal Stage at John Hand Theater, Lowry

October 15, 2019

A little over a century ago, before socialists devolved into masked fascist rioters and puritanical, shame blaming social media virtue signalers, Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw promoted his progressive ideas with wit and unflinching intellectual honesty. Germinal Stage Denver's current production of "Mrs. Warren's Profession," playing through Nov. 9 at the John Hand Theater in Lowry, strips away the hypocrisy of genteel Victorian society, exposing fallen humanity's propensity for rationalizing vice into virtue.

An early work of Shaw's, when he was heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen's "problem plays," "Mrs. Warren's Profession" was banned from production for eight years due to its frank references to prostitution and incest. Germinal's production is an excellent choice for this day and age, and it's the perfect venue: a small cast, simple set, staged in a small theatre. It's the ideal laboratory for prompting discussion and debate, without a lot of distracting spectacle.

Vivie Warren's (Hannah Lee Ford) is a first wave feminist whose primary ambition is to run her own business involving advanced mathematics of some kind and to live as a confirmed spinster. Her mother Kitty (Carol Bloom), whom she hardly knows, having been raised in boarding schools, paid for Vivie's education by leveraging her experience as a prostitute into running a string of brothels, with high-class gentleman clubs throughout Europe. Sir George Crofts (Stephen R. Kramer) is her former client who invested in the franchise. Both have profited handsomely from exploiting poor women and wealthy adulterers, and fully intend to continue doing so, regardless of Vivie's disapproval.

A non-religious clergyman (Dan Hiester) who buys his sermons, is a former client of Kitty's and has a profligate son (Greg Palmer) who flirts with both mother and daughter in the hopes of seducing one or both of them so they might cover his gambling debts. A kind and caring architect (Gary Leigh Webster) befriends Kitty without carnal expectations and represents aesthetic order and morality in an otherwise corrupt, mercenary world.

The cast is up to the task of spouting volumes of Shaw's heady but heartfelt dialogue. Director Laura Cuetara knows exactly what she's doing, and how to get the best possible performances from the actors. The play has plenty of twists, turns, and shocking revelations, but never becomes melodramatic.

It's perversely invigorating to see despicable characters speak so rationally as they seek to justify their moral bankruptcy. "Mrs. Warren's Profession" stands tall amongst other problem plays, like Ibsen's "A Doll's House" and "Ghosts." The play is rarely staged, and Germinal's production does the script credit.

If it's not too late, maybe some would-be socialists and progressives could pick up a few pointers on how to win rational people to their way of thinking.

Even if they're wrong.

Germinal Stage presents “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” through November 9 at the John Hand Theater on the Colorado Free University Lowry Campus. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 - $25 and reservations are available by calling 303-455-7108 or by email at germinalstage@gmail.com. $15 rush tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain based on availability; walk-up only, no reservations required. The John Hand Theater is located at 7653 East 1st Place, Denver, Colorado 80230


 CLICK HERE to purchase a 6-disc set of 10 plays by George Bernard Shaw, as produced for the BBC.


REVIEW: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' through Nov. 17, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

September 17, 2019

Photo Credit: Rachel Graham, RDG Photography
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is an epic artistic achievement, designed, directed, and performed on a grand scale that rivals the best opera houses.

Fortunately, the music is much more accessible, despite occasional lapses into Latin.

Though some of the songs (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) were taken from the lamentable 1996 Disney animated film, this is a massive cantata-style musical intended more for grownups.

Adapted with insight and compassion by Peter Parnell, the plot is based on Victor Hugo's sprawling 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris. Quasimodo (Ethan Knowles), the Paris cathedral's disfigured bell ringer, is only one of many pivotal characters in this complex psychological study of virtue versus righteousness, human decency versus monstrosity, love versus lust, sanctuary versus exposure. 

David L. Wygant
Dom Claude Frollo (David L. Wygant) embraces the Church with utter devotion. His profligate brother runs off with a gypsy and then dies of his sins, leaving a hideously misshapen infant to be raised as Frollo's cross to bear, an unwelcome and shameful burden he treats like a slave.

Quasimodo grows to be virtuous and strong, curious and longing to overcome his disabilities so he might participate in a world he can see only from high up in the cathedral bell tower. 

Immigrant gypsies have flooded Paris, bringing crime and licentious behavior with them. The beautiful, enchanting, yet forthright and unromantic Esmeralda (Sarah Grover) beguiles the crowds, while the gypsy king Clopin (Scotty Shaffer) picks their pockets.

War-weary Captain Phoebus (Scott Hurst, Jr.) tries to uphold law and order, while Frollo advocates for ethnic cleansing.

The lives of these complex and fully developed characters intertwine, become complicated, and ultimately deadly. Quasimodo rises to the challenge of being a caring adult. Frollo descends into the flaming abyss of self-loathing and judgment, while Clopin can't afford the luxury of morals. Esmeralda risks her own precious survival for the sake of others, and Phoebus wrestles with his conscience when given immoral orders. 

That's a lot of passion, and this essentially secular tale is presented as a quasi-religious event, with the entire cast wearing monastic habits. The cathedral choir stretches into the audience, and the enormous, visually stunning Notre Dame looms over us all.

Entire scenes are absolutely breathtaking in their beauty and moral significance. This production blows its closest contender, Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," out of the water.

Sarah Grover
Wygant's Frollo is entirely sympathetic until he takes a tragic wrong turn away from the loving God he serves, at which points he becomes terrifying in his zeal to rationalize any atrocity. Knowles has a voice to make you weep with the beauty of it, and he appears to have no fear of heights whatsoever. His Quasimodo is sympathetic, without becoming maudlin. Grover's Esmeralda is all the more attractive because she holds her beauty and sex appeal in such low regard. It's compassion that reveals her inner beauty. Hurst is terrific as the capable but haunted veteran who wonders if there's anything left to fight--or live--for. Shaffer's Clopin is great for comic relief, though he's also a responsible and potentially ruthless leader and protector of his persecuted tribe. 

Director Richard Cowden's concept for this production is brilliant, fully realized, and revelatory. Ranae Selmeyer's enormous yet responsive scenic design, with bells, beams, platforms, and stained glass window backdrop is a colossal work of art, especially as complemented by Christopher Waller's sensitive lighting design. 

No longer can anyone claim "it's just dinner theatre." Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is a full-scale, stellar achievement in high concept musical theatre.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" plays through Nov. 17.

SHOWTIMES: Thursday, Friday & Saturday Evenings -- Dinner seating at 6:00 PM, show at 7:30 PM; Saturday & Sunday Matinees – Dinner seating at 12 noon, show at 1:30 PM; Select Wednesday Evening performances added on Sept 18, Nov 6 & Nov 13

TICKETS: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $50.95 ‐ $65.95; 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)

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.


CLICK HERE to purchase the Blu-Ray version of Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."


REVIEW: 'The Addams Family,' through Oct. 27, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

September 16, 2019

Photo Credit: Rachel Graham, RDG Photography
Even though everything about the Broadway musical version of "The Addams Family" is derivative, Vintage Theatre's fast and funny production, playing through Oct. 27, is a must-see, family-friendly Halloween season treat.

Based on Charles Addams' comic strip (1938-1988), which was adapted into a popular television show (1964), an animated series (1973), and a couple of films (1991, 1993), the Addams Family offbeat, macabre characters are now iconic.

Alexa Marie Rodriguez and William B. Kahn
Hot-blooded Gomez (William B. Kahn) adores the cool and aloof Morticia (Liz Brooks-Larsen). Their ghoulish and violently psychotic 18-year-old daughter Wednesday (Alexa Marie Rodriguez) falls in love with "normal" Lucas (Elisha Horne), much to the dismay of her masochistic kid brother Pugsley (Gabriel Waits) who's afraid she'll stop torturing him if she marries.

Rising above it all is the celestial and silly Uncle Fester (Eddie Shumacher), the not-yet-dead zombie butler Lurch (Gary Lewis), and potion witch Grandma (Tobi Johnson-Compton). Missing in action are the comically hirsute Cousin Itt and disembodied hand Thing.

Eddie Schumacher and Chorus
There's also a lively chorus of ancestral ghosts so the show can have big singing and dance numbers.

The completely predictable "guess who's coming to dinner" plot is lifted unapologetically from "You Can't Take It With You," as Lucas and his uptight, stuffed-shirt middle-class parents (Faith Siobhan Ford, Doug Herman) attend a dinner party at the Addams House. Gomez promises Wednesday not to tell Morticia the young couple are engaged and suffers for his secret-keeping.

The premise is sabotaged by how obvious it is that a marriage between Wednesday and Lucas is an incredibly bad idea, with lots of red flags along the way, culminating in a reckless "proof of love" moment that made the dad in me want to leap up and stop these kids from making a terrible mistake.

Liz Brooks-Larsen and William B. Kahn
Yet the plusses far outweigh the negatives in Vintage Theatre's production, directed with a genius for staging comedy and eliciting nuanced performances even with "cartoonish" roles.

Kahn's Gomez is particularly rich in laughs and pathos as he struggles with his conscience and salivates over the statuesque, unyielding Brooks-Larsen. Rodriguez is a force of nature as Wednesday, with clarity of purpose and a fantastic voice.

Ford performs a delightfully twitchy nervous breakdown as the "neurotically normal" mom, and Schumacher nearly runs away with the show as everyone's favorite uncle.

The music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa are often quite good, with several outstanding songs, and a surprising amount of opportunities to dance, which are choreographed with wit and precision by Heather Westenskow. In fact, the music is so good, it could probably be enjoyed independently of the script.

Gabriel Waits and Alexa Marie Rodriguez
Though Marshall Brickman's book has more holes than open graves on the museum-like property, there are still plenty of quintessential Addams Family moments. There are a few unnecessary political jokes tossed in as if only the Left can lay claim to these kooky, ooky characters. After all, even though their lifestyle has been inverted toward the dark, funereal, and macabre, the Addams Family is a life-affirming, traditional, nuclear family.

Obviously, I have some issues with "The Addams Family" musical, but not with this production. The performances and the staging are so perfect, most people won't be bothered by the script's shortcomings. Plots were never the strong point of the television series, anyway. It's the characters and their love for each other, along with a spirit of innocent goofiness that lives on in our memories of the Addams Family, and they still sing out loud, and strong, and clear at the Vintage Theatre.

Vintage Theatre presents “The Addams Family” through October 27 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora, 80010. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Monday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $19 - $38 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


CLICK HERE to audio stream, purchase the MP3 or the CD of the original Broadway cast re


'Once,' Sept. 6-Oct. 13, Miners Alley Playhouse, Golden

September 10, 2019

Photo Credit: Sarah Roshan

The multi-award-winning musical "Once," playing through Oct. 13 at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, is based on a 2007 independent Irish film, and somehow, against all odds, manages to embrace, maintain, and celebrate its indie origins.

The show is set up like a typical rom-com: moody musician Guy (John Hauser) still mopes and rages six months after his Ex-Girlfriend (Katie Jackson) abandons him in Dublin and goes off to New York to seek her fortune. A vacuum cleaner repairman by day, Guy's poetic soul is so incapacitated, he's about to hang it all up, and maybe himself as well.

Girl (Carmen Vreeman Shedd), a blunt Czech immigrant and single mom, may seem the least likely new love interest imaginable, except that she's also a gifted pianist who recognizes Guy's rare talent, and decides to save him.

Through a series of obstacles and breakthroughs, Girl teaches Guy that life shouldn't be wasted just because we're afraid of living. This is an Irish tale, not a Hollywood rom-com, so the ending is less formulaic and all the more satisfying.

On the surface, there's really not much to it. The leads don't even have real names, so maybe it's just meant to be a parable. What distinguishes "Once" is the TRIBE. Guy and Girl are surrounded by characters who actually do have names. They bring reality, identity, diversity to the story. Yes, we need to muddle through our woundedness, but we're not meant to do it alone, and by the time Guy finds wholeness, he has received a gift from everyone in turn. Each character might symbolize another facet of a single soul, a well-rounded personality. This theme of "wholeness" is the real genius behind "Once."

Hauser and Shedd are superbly cast. Of particular note also are Joel Abelson as a giant Spanish-Irish hothead with a little boy's ego, Aaron Vega as a banker with organizational skills and a love for music, Damon Guerrasio as a Steve Martin-style "wild and crazy guy," Parker Fowler as his devotedly capitalistic brother, and Allegra Ludwig Michael, a violinist who burns up the stage like a Slavic firebird. Nelson Walker is a blissed-out cellist, Denis Berkfeldt is appropriately "normal" as Guy's father, and Ellen Orloff Gauthier delivers a blistering monologue as Girl's mother.

Playwright Enda Walsh's  "meet-cute" opening between Guy and Girl has the clever gags and jokes required of a rom-com, but the real joy, the deep, character-based, life-giving humor of many quirky people bumping heads trying to accomplish a single goal, is resonant with a genuine love for humanity's foibles.

Guy can't and shouldn't try to make it as a solitary soul/artist. Fortunately, nearly everyone in the cast also plays an instrument, and the resulting "sessions" are glorious. The opening number begins as a simplistic, annoying, nursery rhyme melody, but by the time the tribe gets ahold of it, the song soars. The show's music and lyrics are by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, which suggests that at least part of this love story finds its genesis in real life.

"Once" resists the lure of Broadway musical razzle-dazzle at every turn. The songs come from deep within, expressions of emotion set to music rather than numbers to be performed. It's all grounded and organic, not in the least artificial.

Director Len Matheo is to be highly commended for casting and developing such an extraordinary ensemble, then staging "Once" so that it swirls around the stage with nearly hypnotic ease. Music director David Nehls brilliantly achieves the impossible dream of coordinating musicians who are in nearly constant motion, without the assistance of any sheet music, and staying in character all the while. There's a lot of music, too, and it's all really good. At one point, half a dozen actors sit still and sing acapella, and even that is perfect, with no conductor in sight.

Miners Alley Playhouse is the ideal venue for this kind of show. Though Jonathan Scott-McKean's mostly neutral, plain wood setting easily represents multiple locales, it most resembles a music store, with instruments hanging on the walls. It doesn't hurt that the audience is always aware of a fully stocked pub-style bar awaiting them just a few feet away in the lobby.

Keeping the leads' "generic" labels makes the show feel like it's not fully developed. Why not just give them the names of the composer/lyricists and be done with it? The tribal aspects would still come through just fine. But why nitpick when there are so many guitars, fiddles, and even a banjo waiting to be plucked?

"Once" is a defining moment in Miners Alley Playhouse's surge into the upper levels of Denver's already impressive theatrical atmosphere. It's a "must-see" production of a truly original musical.

"Once" runs through October 13, 2019, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Also Wednesdays, Oct. 2 and 9. Tickets are $17 - $32 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.


Once CLICK HERE to purchase or rent the film version of the musical "Once."


REVIEW: 'Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,' through Sept. 22, Performance Now Theatre Co, Lakewood Community Center

Photo by Rachel Graham - RDG Photography
"Ring of Fire: the Music of Johnny Cash" isn't Performance Now's usual fare, but it certainly is a crowd-pleaser. Known for lavish productions of large scale musicals, Performance Now typically features a cast of dozens, with an orchestra in the pit. "Ring of Fire" is a cabaret musical with a cast of six talented singer-musicians totally unburdened by concerns over plot or characterization, with scarcely any choreography and only a handful of costume changes.

The music speaks for itself, and the show's thirty-eight songs, written by, performed by or made famous by the legendary Johnny Cash (some with June Carter Cash) give the audiences what they most want, connected by scarcely enough narrated biographical information to launch a Wikipedia post.

Singer-guitarist Benjamin Cowhick does a reasonable impression of Cash, without attempting to impersonate the Man in Black. Director Kelly Van Oosbree rightly assumes that less is more. Cowhick offers just enough of Cash's tormented, brooding, and suppressed rage for us to fill in the rest. A full-on impersonation would have felt disrespectful somehow, in the way Elvis impersonators focus on the image to the detriment of the music.

Isabella Duran, who plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, piano, and banjo, stands in for June Carter Cash, but is also allowed to interpret many of the songs, especially the title number, in her own way. Ray Anderson, playing bass and piano, gives the impression of Cash in his older years, while music director and virtuoso player of anything lying around Eric Weinstein brings gleeful mischief to the goings-on.

Parker Goubert is primarily there for his phenomenal guitar playing, and Kurt Ochsner spends most of his time behind the drum set, but both are given several shining showcase moments.

Special mention should be given to lighting designer Jeffrey Johnson's flashy "rock concert" lighting and Andrew Bates' shipping pallet set design. There's also an evocative series of "family album" slide projections depicting Johnny Cash throughout his life onstage and off, mixed with landscapes and vintage photographs.

Though milestones in Johnny Cash's career are mentioned, including his breaking into the music business, the Grand Ole Opry, pill addiction, adoration of June Carter Cash, and his kinship with prison convicts despite never having been incarcerated, there's simply not enough development for them to be much more than placeholders for different sets of numbers.

A musical revue of Johnny Cash songs obviously includes the classic hits: “I Walk The Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” "Hurt," "Cry, Cry, Cry," and "Hey Porter." But there are also some other fun songs, including June Carter Cash's "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart," as well as "If I Were a Carpenter," "I've Been Everywhere," "Daddy Sang Bass," the bleak "Sunday Morning Coming Down," and a healthy helping of Gospel greats like "Sweet Bye and Bye," "The Old Rugged Cross," and "The Far Side Banks of Jordan."

The show was created by Richard Maltby, Jr., and conceived by William Meade.

"Ring of Fire: the Music of Johnny Cash" is a tribute cabaret show, not a biographical musical. Everything about it is lighter, easier, thinner than a full-scale stage production, but the superior musicianship and incomparable material make it well worth a visit.

"Ring of Fire: the Music of Johnny Cash” plays through September 22 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 - $36 and are available or online at www.performancenow.org or by calling 303-987-7845.


Ring Of Fire: The Best Of Johnny Cash CLICK HERE to stream, download, or purchase "Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash."


Review: 'Mountains Made for Us,' through Aug. 18, Roshni, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

August 10, 2019

Deepali Lindblom

"Mountains Made for Us," performing through Aug. 18 at Vintage Theatre in Aurora, is community theatre at its most affecting. With a mostly-amateur multinational cast representing fourteen ethnicities, the "community" element is truly extraordinary. Billed as Colorado's first Bollywood-style romantic comedy, "Mountains" features a charming yet predictable rom-com plot, a handful of interesting character types, exotic costumes, and joyfully, yet haphazardly interjected dance numbers. Though no singing.

Mini (writer, director, choreographer, and costumer Deepali Lindblom) has been given permission by her traditional father (Sandeep Koppa) to postpone an arranged marriage for one year and emigrate to America, to try and make it as a dancer and film star. In Denver. Now turning thirty and reduced to teaching dance, she meets Cal (Jeremy Barnes), a tall, taciturn Gary Cooper-type Colorado native who longs to roam the high lonesome but instead operates the cannabis shop next to her studio.

Mini and Cal's cultures collide like craft beer and curry, creating enough friction to kindle romance. Cal's dying father (Jaime Lewis) encourages him to boot up and jump in, emotional walls are dismantled, and things start looking good for America-India relations. But when the year is up, Mini's father and mother (Mireille Bakhos) arrive in Denver with her betrothed (Sanket Wagh). Complications ensue, and conflicting values clash, even though everyone tries to do the "right thing".

Whether the story ends in comedy or tragedy, in true Bollywood tradition, "Mountains" is sure to finish with a spectacular and prolonged dance number.

Lindblom has built the show around her own remarkable talent, but "Mountains" is more than just a showcase project. She really has fostered and nurtured a diverse community of locals, immigrants (several born in refugee camps), and found a way to affirm the gifts of all. At one point Mini explains that dancing isn't so much about technique as long as it comes from the heart. I suppose that's true of acting as well as dancing, though perhaps less so of performing.

"Mountains" is like nothing else around the Denver theatre scene. Sure, it's community theatre, but what a loving community to be part of, and how generously they share of themselves. With "Mountains Made for Us," home is where the heart is, whether it's Mumbai or Hollywood, Bombay or Denver.

Performances are Thurs/Fri & Sat, Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m.; Sat, Aug 10 & Sun., Aug. 11 & 18 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: www.vintagetheatre.org or 303-856-7830. Vintage Theatre is located at 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010.


CLICK HERE to purchase Bollywood: The Films! The Songs! The Stars!, a visual tour of the glamour and color of Indian cinema in the only comprehensive illustrated guide to the world of Bollywood movies.

Review: 'Fairfield,' through Aug. 18, Miners Alley Playhouse, Golden

July 15, 2019

Sheryl McCallum. Photo Credit: Sarah Roshan.
Eric Coble's outrageous and daring social comedy "Fairfield" is dangerous, subversive, incendiary...and unbelievably funny. Miners Alley Playhouse's brilliant production, running through Aug. 18, feels like getting a root canal while on happy gas. You know they're drilling deep to get at the rot, that your life will never be quite so carefree as before, but you're so busy gasping, giggling, laughing, and roaring at something that shouldn't be funny but is, you're actually sorry when it's over. Only afterward do you numbly wonder what it's going to feel like when the meds wear off.

Brian Landis Folkins and MacKenzie Beyer
At Fairfield Elementary, a model school in an intentionally diverse, liberal neighborhood, the motto is "Peace, Love, Respect for All." Principal Wadley (Sheryl McCallum), who proudly achieved her leadership position through merit and not because of her race or gender (or so she believes), runs a tight and tidy ship until an over-eager white first-year teacher (Adeline Mann) takes it upon herself to add words like "chitlins," "collard greens," and "watermelon" to the first grade spelling list during Black History Month.

Before Principal Wadley can say "let's put a pin in that idea," the teacher, who is the niece of the school superintendent and so enjoys job security by way of nepotism, also organizes a role-playing activity for the tots, dividing the class into "masters" and "slaves," during which the "N" word is allegedly spoken by a white boy, accompanied by some shoving from a black boy.

The parents, including Brian Landis Folkins and MacKenzie Beyer (white) along with Kristina Fountain and Sinjin Jones (black) are called in to nip the misunderstanding in the bud, but everyone tries so hard to be accepting and accommodating, they end up insulting and offending each other.

Sinjin Jones, Kristina Fountain, and Sheryl McCallum
Unintended or suppressed racist and sexist bigotries are exposed in this no-holds-barred, "yes, we're going there" comedy of escalation. Oh, and it should come as no surprise that the show is "R-rated" for language.

Coble's writing is simply genius. There are so many subtle digs and jabs, and they all feel natural, organic, never forced. No one is immune. The social systems meant to foster meaningful dialogue and resolution of differences break down. The dark side of diversity is divisiveness. Everyone is racist and sexist deep down beneath the veneer of liberalism, and the only common ground to be found turns out to be a minefield.

My only criticism of the play is the character of the young teacher. Is she an idealistic, clueless catalyst for chaos with no concept of consequences, or is she a deliberate agitator, a freckle-faced Antifa commando in disguise, subverting authority and fomenting anarchy at every turn? Coble suggests that she can be both.

Jada Suzanne Dixon's direction is amazing, as she navigates a very fine line, allowing the pressure to build gradually, giving the actors somewhere to go until they hit the roof and the comedy turns into a Marx Brothers-style farce.

This is bold, fearless comedy at its most unsettling and therapeutic. Don't miss "Fairfield." Bring a lot of friends to talk with afterward. Treat a teacher, someone who works in this kind of social engineering environment. Then settle in your chair, open wide, and get ready for the happy gas.

You know the drill.

"Fairfield" runs through August 18, 2019, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 - $32 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: "Emma," through Aug. 18, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

July 15, 2019

If you love Regency romantic comedies, and who doesn't, Vintage Theatre's sumptuous production of Rachel Atkins's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel "Emma" is a refreshing breath of gentrified air. As performed in the Vintage's most intimate space through Aug. 18, the audience is made to feel as though we too are most fortunate indeed to be welcomed at the Woodhouse manor house for tea and charming social intercourse. And perhaps even a ball.

Sara Risner and Bethany Luhrs
Self-contained and overconfident Emma Woodhouse (Sara Risner) feels no need for love or marriage herself, so she deigns to use her exceptional social skills to arrange matches for others. But of course, she is blind to her own inadequacies, forgets that she will eventually need an eligible and suitable man (before they're all snapped up) to run the family estate when her elderly father dies, and most of all, must be humbled and learn not to meddle in affairs of the heart.

Emma revolves within fascinating social circles, which include a pastor with neither discernible spiritual inclinations, nor wisdom in selecting a mate (Damon Guerrasio), a self-possessed, considerate aristocrat who is handsome, wealthy, and wise  (Stephen Krusoe), a draught-dodging father who's never heard of dancing with the windows open (Wade Livingston), a flamboyant show-off who acts and sings like Dudley DoRight (Eric Carlson), a supercilious and domineering, hilariously scene-stealing shrew (Victoria Pace), a delicate, talented, and gentle soul who naturally exhibits all the graces Emma mistakenly believes she herself has perfected (Emily Gerhard), a chatty spinster (Christine Kahane) and her elderly, wander-risk mother (Chip Winn Wells).

Emily Gerhard and Victoria Pace
There are other adults, suitors, and even a blissfully happy maid, but perhaps most charming of all is the delightfully awkward nerd, a would-be blushing bride who submits to Emma's advice with near-disastrous results, but just might get lucky in the happily ever after department anyway (Bethany Luhrs).

Atkins' adaptation feels more authentic and respectful than recent tricked out versions of Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility", which are filled with flashy gimmicks but lack soul. "Emma" features carefully delineated, easily recognized, and invariably sympathetic characters. The humor, and there's a lot of it, arises from the characters' humanity. The narrative device involves unobtrusive narration when needed, but otherwise, suspension of disbelief is unimpeded.

Director Craig A. Bond, in addition to skillfully moving a lot of people around elegant furniture in a confined space, makes the most of a cast who are not intimidated by period costumes and comedy of manners-style acting. With all the pretty trimmings and trappings, they aren't afraid to plumb the vulnerabilities of their characters, which makes the play so moving and memorable.

And funny. Because despite the Empire dresses and cutaway jackets (thank you, costume director Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry), these are just people who are searching for love and fulfillment, in a time before speed dating or Tinder.

Sara Risner and Stephen Krusoe
I don't recommend backloading a lot of social commentary onto this story. Emma's world is entirely insulated from ugly realities like the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars. She cares nothing for managing properties or wealth, and her resistance to the natural order is quickly put right.

Don't bring your world into hers. That would be unforgivably rude. Simply enjoy the amusements offered, and enjoy the good company of Emma and her charmingly amusing friends.

Vintage Theatre presents “Emma” July 12 through August 18 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays and Monday, July 29 at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 - $32 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of Jane Austen's "Emma."


Review: 'Crowns,' through Aug. 4, Vintage Theatre, Aurora

June 30, 2019

Photos by RDG Photography
Vintage Theatre's production of "Crowns" is so spirit-filled, so gloriously overflowing with faith and goodwill, you could almost be excused for skipping church this Sunday.

But then, where would you show off your fancy new hat?

The gospel musical was adapted by Regina Taylor from "Crowns," a collection of portraits and anecdotes featuring southern black women and their church hats. The revelations and testimonies about the deeper meaning and significance of these decorative but impractical hats or "crowns," is punctuated by a hit parade of gospel greats and spiritual hymns.

Sullen and rebellious teenager Yolanda (Michaela Murray) relocates from Brooklyn to the Deep South to escape gang violence and urban soul blight. She is immediately surrounded by mature southern ladies (Jasmine Jackson, Mary Louise Lee, Sonsharae Tull, Adrienne Martin-Fullwood, and Rajdulari), who use their obsession with adorning their heads on special occasions to reconnect Yolanda to the meaning of a fulfilled and faith-filled life.

"Crowns" owes a great debt of gratitude to "Quilters." The book consists entirely of monologues and quips, only loosely held together by the Yolanda character arc. Through words of advice, instructions in hat etiquette, and heaping helpings of "hattitude," these women share their history, culture, even their most intimate lives through stories about their sassy headgear. The funniest observations fill the first act, while grief and social upheaval are covered in the second.

Michael Peters plays "Man," filling in as a preacher, various husbands, and other characters, as needed. Primarily, though, this is a musical about women enduring life, its joys and burdens, together...and doing so with style.

The singers, performing without body mics, are exceptional, raising the Vintage Theatre's roof again and again. They don't merely "sell" the songs like in many musical comedies. The voices and words of praise and sorrow rise up from deep within a fathomless collective memory, a faith born from a deep acceptance of their flawed humanity, and hope for everlasting glory.

Director Betty Hart elicits fine performances from the cast, but her deft handling of countless transitions between vignettes is particularly remarkable. Special thanks to music director Trent Hines on piano, and John Olsson on drums.

Also, credit must absolutely be given to milliner Sarah Havens, costume designer Erika Daun, and above all, Betty Lou Freeman, for the loan of dozens of amazing crowns from her extensive personal collection.

For me, the most inspiring part of "Crowns" is how the characters repeatedly demonstrate the difference between shallow, ostentatious pride and deep-rooted dignity, between silly vanity and the kind of self-worth and authentic identity that comes from a desire to honor our Creator.

For the courageous and inspiring women of "Crowns," the hat one chooses, even if you already own hundreds, is a window into the soul.

Vintage Theatre presents “Crowns” through August 4 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora 80010. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $19 - $38 and available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830.


CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats." Photographer Michael Cunningham beautifully captures the self-expressions of women of all ages-from young glamorous women to serene but stylish grandmothers. Award-winning journalist Craig Marberry provides an intimate look at the women and their lives. Together they've captured a captivating custom, this wearing of church hats, a peculiar convergence of faith and fashion that keeps the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.

Review: 'Disney's Tarzan: The Stage Musical,' through Aug. 25, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown
June 11, 2019

Barret Harper is "Tarzan." Photos by RDG Photography.

There's a deliciously comical moment in Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's colorful, creative, and frequently entertaining production of "Disney's Tarzan: The Stage Musical," in which an ape pounds madly on a typewriter keyboard. It's a canny nod to the fanciful infinite monkey theorem that suggests, given forever, a monkey could unwittingly and randomly write Shakespeare's complete works.

Or pound out the book for this second banana musical in less than half that time.

Not to throw too much poo at it, but "Tarzan's" script (pounded madly out by David Henry Hwang) is easily the show's weakest, nearly missing link. Certainly, Phil Collins' heartfelt, pop music score deserves a better enclosure.

Which makes Candlelight's energetic, gorgeous, and smartly directed production such a pleasant surprise. Thanks to Piper Lindsay Arpan's bold and insightful direction and choreography, Mike Grittner's spectacular scenic design, and Liz Hoover's costumes and wigs, "Tarzan" nearly manages to walk upright for several steps until the script drops to all fours and scoots along sidewise before tumbling into a jumbled heap to pick its nits.

Scotty Shaffer
Baby Tarzan is marooned and orphaned somewhere in deepest, darkest Africa, where he is found by Kala (Harmony Livingston), who just lost her newborn gorilla to a Leopard (Zachary Bane). She adopts the hairless infant, much to the dismay of her silverback husband Kerchak (Scotty Shaffer), the gruff but tender-hearted leader of the ape tribe. When Mowgli, oops, Young Tarzan (Tyler Fruhwirth), starts inventing tools and behaving more human than ape, it's time for him to go into exile.

It plays faster and better in "Jungle Book."

In a transition that makes absolutely no sense onstage, and was probably a montage in the (as yet unwatched) 1999 animated version, Young Tarzan becomes the super-ripped, emotionally and intellectually infantile Tarzan (Barret Harper), who is immediately welcomed back to the gorilla nest after killing the leopard with the now weaponized, formerly harmless fruit-picking utensil that had gotten him kicked out in the first place.

Go figure.

Katie Jackson and Barret Harper
Then the show doesn't simply shift gears to a second Tarzan adventure. It becomes an entirely different Tarzan musical, with all-new characters, including the over-educated yet ditzy and sexually seething Jane (Katie Jackson), her bumbling professor father (Kent Sugg) who has dual degrees in ape anthropology and cockroaches, and their dastardly mustachioed guide (David L. Wygant) who is both greedy and gun-happy.

Jane wanders alone into an immensely dangerous jungle spouting Latin and possessing no perceivable survival skills. Unfortunately, the only leopard in the jungle is now dead, so it's up to a carnivorous vine to imperil the starry-eyed heroine, and for hunky, dreadlocked Tarzan to swoop in and rescue her.

There's a strange and slightly disturbing "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" romance between Jane and Tarzan, a subplot about sighting, capturing, or killing the apes (or all three), angst about where Tarzan really belongs, and animal rights because gorillas are endangered by bad white men and therefore need a good white man to live with and protect them.

Really, you'll enjoy the show a lot more if you skip worrying about how none of this holds together or even makes sense and simply marvel at the terrific singing, the excellent costumes, the muscles, and the live music.

I especially liked how the gorilla chorus, lacking any of the individuality of say, "Cats," are having more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I'm not kidding. These musical theatre professionals seem to relish the opportunity to squeeze into five-fingered Vibram toe shoes, pull on matching fringed ghillie gorilla suits, swing on ropes, tumble all over each other, and groom each other's bugs. It's almost like having a cast party five times a week, through August 25.

Even though "Tarzan" has no idea which story it wants to tell, it's still enjoyable summer fare. Hop on the nearest vine and swing up to Johnstown for some unconventional, family-friendly entertainment. Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has even tweaked its menu from flat out comfort food to slightly more exotic flavors in gastronomic solidarity with this production.

SHOWTIMES: June 6 - August 25, 2019
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

Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 - $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)
Family 4-Pack: $129.00 (2 Adults and 2 Children age 5-12, Thursdays and Fridays only)

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

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


CLICK HERE to purchase the Broadway soundtrack for Disney's Tarzan, on streaming, MP3, or CD.


Review: 'Be More Chill,' through June 29, Equinox Theatre at The Bug, Denver

May 27, 2019

Photos by RDG Photography

Equinox Theatre Company has scored a real coup by obtaining the rights to produce the regional premiere of the upbeat high school sci-fi musical comedy "Be More Chill," while the original show is still live on Broadway.

It all comes down to waiting for the right moment and making good choices.

Which is precisely what "Be More Chill" is about, though most of the characters demonstrate impeccably and hilariously bad timing and awful, comically cringe-worthy choices.

Jeremy (Cody D. Schmitt) is an awkward, socially inept, unpopular sophomore along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite, who is just trying to survive high school until, as his best friend and videogame obsessed buddy Michael (Andrew Alber) declares, they miraculously somehow become cool in college. Jeremy's dad (Brian Wilcox) is too broken up about his divorce to wear pants. Jeremy is plagued by a bully (Aaron Szindler), mocked by the popular girls (Jane Simonds, Solveig Swanson, Rachel McCulloch), and terrorized by a psychopathic rocker wunderkind (Michael J. Martinkus).

In this very funny sci-fi/horror musical, the real terror is in how everyone takes for granted that bullying, frequent drug abuse, porn addiction, casual promiscuous sex, and unsupervised house parties are normal, socially-accepted behavior. To his credit, Jeremy longs for something lasting and real.

Willa Board and Cody D. Schmitt
He has a crush on the chatty, gangling, slightly ADD-addled, and self-absorbed Christine (Willa Bogard) and will do anything to win her attention, be it joining the drama club, attending a bizarre Halloween party, or even making a Faustian bargain with Squip (Derek Helsing), an omniscient miniaturized artificial intelligence who happens to look like Keanu Reeves.

Quicker than you can say "Little Shop of Horrors" meets "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and has a "Limitless" baby, Jeremy gets a makeover from the inside out. He reluctantly yet ruthlessly ascends the social ladder, but leaves his antiquated values...and friendships...behind.
Jane Simonds, Willa Board, Solveig Swanson

Things escalate until the fate of the world is at stake and the only hope for humanity's free will is mad Nintendo skills.

"Be More Chill" is uproariously funny, the songs are peppy and enjoyable, and everyone in the show seems to get their own showcase number. The music and lyrics are by Joe Iconis, with the book by Joe Tracz, based on the novel by Ned Vizzini.

Director/Choreographer/Set Designer Colin Roybal once again brings ingenuity, creativity, and comic vision to The Bug Theatre's stage. The live band, led by Adam White, is terrific, and Rachel Finley's uproariously funny and occasionally disturbing costume design is bold, bright and often exceptional.

The best thing about "Be More Chill" is its appeal to younger audiences. There were numerous teens present on opening weekend. They laughed, cheered, and thoroughly enjoyed the show, though their parents squirmed through a few of the scenes.

Cody D. Schmitt, Michael J. Martinkus
In a world where adults are ineffective and teens are left to their own devices, self-destructive behavior is frequently the default setting. But is handing control over one's life to an entity that may or may not have our best interests at heart necessarily better? There's a huge religious implication in this question which "Be More Chill" ignores, preferring to focus more on the potential consequences of a presumably benign technology turning tyrannical.

What the musical does suggest, is that maybe it's time for grownups to put their big boy pants on and set an example.

Performances of "Be More Chill" are Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM through June 29. There will also be a pay-what-you-can industry night on Thursday, June 27. 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, 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets and more information available online at www.EquinoxTheatreDenver.com.


 CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of the novel "Be More Chill."



'Sister Act,' through June 16, Town Hall Arts Center, Littleton
May 26, 2019

Sheryl Renee (center)

I'm going to have to go back and watch the 1992 film version of "Sister Act" to make sure, but I don't recall the plot, dialogue, and characters of the original being so inane as they are in the Broadway musical, currently packing the house at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, through June 16.

I seem to recall characters (played by luminaries like Maggie Smith and Harvey Keitel) that resembled actual humans rather than cartoonish buffoons, with gradual and credible development and meaningful arcs.

And I especially don't recall "Sister Act" the movie being so cynical and even hostile in its depiction of the Catholic Church, simultaneously appropriating and lampooning the institution, mocking the Faith and faithful.

On the plus side, the disco-fueled, meticulously and delightful choreographed (thank you, Christopher Page-Sanders!) pre-recorded musical numbers are absolutely wonderful. Every song is a revelation of late 1970s silliness, and did I mention that the dancing is terrific?

Deloris (Sheryl Renee) is a fabulously talented nightclub singer who is unfairly and absurdly denied headliner status by her cheesy gangster boyfriend Curtis (Tony Rivera). Now I can believe Whoopi Goldberg as a tacky and tawdry, whiskey-soaked lounge floozy, but Sheryl Renee's roof-raising voice is way too good for her to be treated so badly. Her situation deteriorates further when Deloris accidentally witnesses Curtis execute one of his henchmen. She knows she's next on his hit list, and flees to the police, where she comes under the protective and damp chicken wing of Lt. Eddie "Sweaty Eddie" (played to perfection by Ben Hilzer), who carried a flame for her back in school.

Eddie moves Deloris into an unlikely safehouse, hiding her out at Queen of Angels Cathedral convent, where she tries hilariously to impersonate a nun, despite the protestations of the disciplined and otherwise kind Mother Superior (Maggie Lamb). Against all logic, Mother Superior fails to disclose the singer's identity or even her reason for being there to the cloistered nuns, who pose no security risk whatsoever.

Fish out of water hijinks ensue.

The action is fast and often funny, which isn't surprising with comic master Robert Wells in the director's chair.

There are a dozen imbecile nuns who can't sing, then can, then can't, until Deloris teaches them to be divas in about three minutes. A handful of henchmen who look like they stepped out of a '70s porno run around the city firing guns into the air. A priest (Brian Tramper) is dazzled by the singing/dancing nuns and exploits them to boost attendance and church donations, eventually finagling a command performance for the Pope himself.

Only Lamb, as the Mother Superior, maintains her dignity, and she acknowledges her faults with actual humility. The rest is "look at me" over-the-top, jump the shark, nuke the fridge silliness that somehow works because...disco.

Will Deloris learn to care about others or just hog the spotlight? Will the shy, repressed nuns break out of their shells and becoming a singing/dancing sensation? Will Curtis get his comeuppance? Will the lovestruck Eddie simply shrug off his aspirations when he realizes he's not in Deloris's league? And will Deloris finally become the star she always knew she should be?

Despite how ludicrous the scenario, it's a lot of fun watching it all play out, despite clunky dialogue and wildly unbelievable complications. The book is credited to four authors, whom I will not mention by name because they deserve to be in protective custody. The music is by super-composer Alan Menken ("Little Shop of Horrors," "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," but also "Sausage Party."). The songs easily soar above the rest of the material.

Ultimately, I didn't mind how stupefyingly dumb the show is because the musical numbers were fantastic. But the treatment of the Catholic Church was insulting. I don't mind irreverent and irreligious humor, especially when cheap shots are directed at a flawed institution. But "Sister Act the Musical" crossed the line for me.

No amount of razzle-dazzle, neon costumes, slapstick humor, ingenious dance moves, and flashy disco balls can fully disguise the show's crudely camouflaged anti-Christian spirit.

"Sister Act" runs through Sunday, June 16. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 6/1) and Sundays at 2 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. on 6/2). 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/sisteract. 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.


CLICK HERE to view the original 1992 film version of "Sister Act," starring Maggie Smith, Harvey Keitel, and Whoopi Goldberg.


Review: 'Pygmalion,' through May 26, The Upstart Crow at the Dairy Center, Boulder

May 26, 2019

Kristy E. Pike and Stephen J. Mathis

Travel plans prevented me from attending The Upstart Crow's splendid production of "Pygmalion" until the closing weekend. That's really a shame because this excellent production of George Bernard Shaw's comedy, which inspired the masterpiece musical "My Fair Lady," was worthy of a longer run in a larger venue.

Comparisons with the musical are inevitable. The play is much less sentimental, with three strong female roles instead of just one. Professor of Phonetics Henry Higgins (the extraordinarily gifted Stephen J. Mathis who has played the role several times in both musical and non-musical versions) is a bully with very little self-awareness. He's rude, socially inept, and callously dismissive of others.

Higgins gleefully accepts a bet from the amiable Colonel Pickering (played with warmth and sympathy but comical cluelessness by John Wesley Roberts), that he can use his mastery of phonetics to pass off a common guttersnipe and scrappy flower girl Eliza Doolittle (winningly played with uncommon self-respect and dignity from the get-go by Kristy E. Pike) as a duchess at a major social event.

Pickering funds and oversees the endeavor, while Higgins rides roughshod over Eliza, careless of her feelings and behaving atrociously with everyone he meets. Only his persistent housekeeper (Cherrie Ramsdell-Speich) and his hilariously blunt yet caring mother (Katherine Dubois Reed) can reign Higgins's excessive narcissism in, and only for short periods.

Higgins is both the play's protagonist and antagonist. Eliza, the subject of his social experiment, is merely the catalyst, pushing Higgins toward a more human and humane existence with almost no success. Eliza undergoes two significant conversions, but both occur offstage. We see the result, but not the transformation. Except for her speech and manners, Eliza's character remains constant. She was a "good girl," meaning determined and essentially moral from the beginning, and has changed only in her ability to express her convictions more eloquently.

The interplay between Higgins and Pickering is fascinating. They have quite the Sherlock and Watson dynamic going for them, and for all the right reasons.

Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle (played with irony and palpable frustration at his fate by Tom Mann) provides an entirely separate subplot, in which Higgins carelessly dooms the unrepentant panhandler to a life of middle-class respectability.

Special mention should be given to a more tragic subplot involving the Eynsford-Hill family, including the desperate mother (Deanna Young), spoiled daughter (Joanne Niederhoff), and completely useless ninny of a son (Charlie Kirkwood). This upper-middle-class family is spiraling down the social ladder into poverty and social isolation, mirroring Eliza's scrabbling upward mobility.

Ultimately, and despite several warnings from those who care, Higgins fails the humanity test. He damns himself by his own selfishness, and scarcely even notices that his self-will has rendered him practically and indecently irredeemable.

It would be a mistake to think of "Pygmalion" as a "female empowerment" play, in which a controlling male loses his hold over a malleable female. Strong-willed Eliza is never broken and refuses to give in to "womanly" sentimentality. From the beginning, she is master of her own dignity and the transaction regarding self-improvement. Higgins and Eliza don't even complement each other, and neither looks back when the arrangement is ended.

Director Lois Moger does a fine job staging the play and finding the emotional "beats" that Shaw built into the script. The whole performance moves at a brisk pace, with lots of energy. It's a pleasure to see how The Upstart Crow, closing its 39th season, just keeps getting better and better. I used to affectionately refer to the company as a "classical community theatre," but they now hold their own with any of the semi-professional companies in the region.

"Pygmalion" performed May 16-26 at The Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St, Boulder.


CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion."


Review: 'Disney's Beauty and the Beast,' through Sept. 21, BDT Stage, Boulder

May 15, 2019

Photo Credit: Glenn Ross Photography
Of all the Disney animated versions of classic fairy tales, "Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite. Of all the inevitable Broadway musical versions of these animated films, "Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite. And of all the local versions of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" I've reviewed over the past 25-plus years, BDT Stage's current production, running through September 21, is easily among my favorites.

Cole LaFonte and Lillian Buonocore
That's actually saying a lot.

BDT Stage has spared no expense to present a visually stunning, perfectly cast and imaginatively staged version of a show that truly is a contemporary classic.

Repentance, conversion, acceptance, and redemption are powerful themes driving this remarkable musical. A boorish prince (Cole LaFonte) and all his household are cursed by an enchantress. Their humanity ebbs away daily, their only hope lies in the possibility that unconditional, sacrificial love might somehow bring salvation.

Meanwhile, small-minded peasants seek to destroy anything they can't possess or don't understand.

Book-loving Belle (Lillian Buonocore) bridges that gap, bringing miracle upon miracle for those whose hearts are receptive. Belle's bibliophilia isn't about accumulating knowledge, but the wellspring of her spiritual imagination and ethical core. There's something incarnational about her arrival at the beast's castle.

LaFonte and Buonocore are terrific and have tons of chemistry as Beast and Belle. Scott Severtson plays the braggart Gaston as the most dangerous kind of narcissist. Sure, he's a buffoon, but he carries a wicked knife. Leo Batlle is all slapstick silliness as Gaston's sidekick LeFou, without the annoying virtue signaling of the recent film version. Bob Hoppe reprises his role as the "flame buoyant" candelabra Lumiere, and Scott Beyette is a wonderfully fastidious and tightly-wound Cogsworth.

Scott Severtson and Leo Batlle
In case you forgot how important the feather duster Babette is, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much Danielle Scheib makes of her role. Wayne Kennedy plays Belle's goofy father Maurice with broad, chuckling strokes, placing him firmly in the ranks of the other cartoon-character townspeople. Tracy Warren is a warm, maternal Mrs. Potts, and three kids alternate playing the plucky Chip. Alicia K. Meyers does what she can as Madame de la Grande Bouche, stuck in a wardrobe with all the mobility of a mechanical gypsy fortune teller on the Santa Monica Pier.

Nearly every song is a memorable hit. I used to think Belle's "Is This Home?" was the heart of the show, but in this production, "A Change in Me" is what it's really all about. Buonocore's lovely voice and heartfelt interpretation make both solos especially affecting. LaFonte also gives a soaring performance, bringing palpable anguish to "How Long Must This Go On?" and "If I Can't Love Her."

And of course there are several show-stopping numbers beside "Be My Guest," including the opening prologue "Belle," the stein-clinking tavern number "Gaston," and the "Kill the Beast" fight scene.

Amy Campion's scenic design, matched with Linda Morken's costumes and Debbie Spaur's hair and wig designs are bright, bold, and theatrical. The show really does look "exactly" like the original animated version. This causes the musical to vacillate between a long children's theatre production and a fairy tale musical romance for grownups. The rotating, constantly morphing castle is a marvel. This is a big show, so much so that for the first time in nearly thirty years, I noticed how intimate the stage actually is.

Matthew D. Peters and Alicia K. Meyers co-directed and co-choreographed the production, and bless them for working some tap dancing into the mix. Neal Dunfee leads the BDT Orchestra.

"Beauty and the Beast" features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton.

Take your family to see BDT Stage's "Beauty and the Beast." Then, this summer, when you have guests visiting, take them, too.

Tickets start at $45 and include both the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Group Rate tickets and season subscriptions are available. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bdtstage.com for reservations.


 CLICK HERE to purchase the 25th anniversary animated Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast." (I'm pretending the grotesque "live action" remake never happened.)

Review: 'Hay Fever,' through June 8, Germinal Stage, John Hand Theater Lowry

May 11, 2019

Noël Coward's flippant, only seemingly shallow, topsy-turvy talky comedies established the bon vivant playwright as a worthy successor to Oscar Wilde. Unburdened by socialist ideology like George Bernard Shaw, his plays boast the kind of brittle wit and sardonic worldview that gives decadence a good name.

Coward's 1925 comedy "Hay Fever," produced by Germinal Stage and performing at the John Hand Theater in Lowry through June 8, puts the "fun" in "dysfunctional" family dynamics. The ironically named Bliss family care for one another, after a fashion, amusing themselves at the expense of the unlucky souls who come under their roof for a weekend in the country.

Playing off the out-of-town seduction cliché, hack novelist David (Leroy Leonard), his semi-retired actress diva wife Judith (Michelle Moore), and their peculiar progeny (Hannah Lee Ford, Greg Palmer), each invite prospective lovers to their country home outside London. The whole weekend is a complex parlor game for the Bliss family, as they indulgently entertain themselves and exasperate their guests.

Their victims (Andrew Horsford, Owen T. Niland, Libby Arnold) are for the most part guileless ninnies, except for one (Anne Smith Myers) who attempts to play the same game and is easily outclassed in the cunningly seductive manipulation department. What they hoped would be a relaxing weekend of "making love" turns into a confounding descent into bizarre histrionics and confusion.

Remember the "innocents" who walked into the Addams Family's house, only to be dismayed by a disturbingly odd family comfortably at home with themselves? "Hay Fever" is something like that, and also a sex comedy of frustration.

Director/designer Ed Baierlein, a legend in Denver theatre and master of difficult theatrical styles, has staged the show with the precision of a door-slamming farce while coaxing the actors to step up their games as they deliver rapid-fire quips and perform abrupt changes in over-the-top emotions. Even the "lambs to the slaughter" characters elicit laughs, and that's quite an achievement.

It's easy enough to dismiss this kind of comedy as a trifle, a merely amusing diversion, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the complexity of the Bliss family dynamic. There's something fascinating--and horrifying--about how the Bliss family, immune to sexual or emotional foolishness, revels in callously mistreating their guests. And how the victims might actually deserve to be spun on their heads.

Germinal Stage presents Noël Coward’s “Hay Fever” through June 8 at the John Hand Theater on the Colorado Free University Lowry Campus. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 - $25 and reservations are available by calling 303-455-7108 or by email at germinalstage@gmail.com. $15 rush tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain based on availability; walk up only, no reservations required. The John Hand Theater is located at 7653 East 1st Place, Denver, Colorado 80230.


 CLICK HERE to purchase a collection of Noël Coward's three best-known comedies.


REVIEW: “Outside Mullingar,” through April 27, Firehouse Theater Co., Lowry

April 06, 2019

David Ufford, Mark Collins and Anne Myers. Photo Credit: Christine Fisk
"Outside Mullingar," a romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley, opened on Broadway in 2014 but feels like an older play, more akin to its late-1980s sister script by the same author, "Moonstruck." The dialogue lies somewhere between the exquisite Irish lyricism of Synge's "Playboy of the Western World" without waxing overly poetical, and the blunt, unsentimental frankness of a Martin McDonagh shocker, without the cruelty.

And while I make no claim of being the slightest bit objective about Ireland and its people, "Outside Mullingar" really is something special, particularly with Firehouse Theater Company's intimately staged, brilliantly acted, and lovingly directed production, playing at the John Hand Theater in the Lowry district through April 27.

Haley Johnson and Mark Collins
Anthony (Mark Collins) is a repressed, forty-something Midlands farmer, whose land overlaps the property of thirty-something emotional pressure-cooker Rosemary (Haley Johnson). She's been doggedly in unrequited love with him since she was six and he was twelve and has punished him for it all their lives. The play, which consists almost entirely of two-person scenes, revolves around whether or not they'll ever effect a merger of hearts and property.

Complications arise in the form of Anthony's irascible father Tony (Dave Ufford) and Rosemary's whimsically wise mother Aoife (Anne Myers), both of whom are in precarious health and not likely to survive the intermission. But more than that, Anthony's "big secret" prevents him from seizing the day and getting on with his life and the natural order of things.

"Outside Mullingar" is very funny throughout because the humor is rooted deeply in characters that the actors clearly understand and appreciate. There are so many wonderful moments of breathtakingly beautiful language, but often, even more is said in the silences, especially with Johnson's heart-achingly genuine performance.

Mark Collins gives one of his best performances ever as Anthony, an admitted weakling and unremarkable man with an unimaginable secret that he feels disqualifies him from true love. Dave Ufford is surprisingly sympathetic as the primary antagonist, who rails against growing old and urges his son to take a stand or lose everything, even as they live mostly in estrangement under the same roof. Anne Myers smiles wryly as she questions, then acknowledges the value of a life filled with misery, hardship, and loss.

Steve Tangedal has worked miracles with the lighting design in a small space with a presumably inadequate and antiquated electrical system. The John Hand Theater is preparing for a much-needed upgrade, so his layered, sculpted lighting is particularly impressive. Beki Pineda has pulled unusual and period-appropriate props from who knows where, lending even more authenticity as a foundation for the drama, and an anchor for the comedic moments.

Shanley's script, except perhaps for the completely unexpected "big reveal," is a wondrous accomplishment. This is one play that, after relishing Firehouse Theater Co's funny, heartfelt production, you'll want to read for yourself. Some of the dialogue is pure poetry.

Katie Mangett, one of the funniest actresses on the east side of town, is an extraordinarily astute director with an unerring sense of timing, pacing, and character beats. Again and again, she plays the script's moments of gentle observations and startling clarity with musical precision and grace.

It's not simply that the comedy is bittersweet. "Outside Mullingar" embraces the joy and pain of being alive, and lonely, and loved, all at once.

Performances of "Outside Mullingar" are 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, through April 27, at John Hand Theater, 7653 E 1st Place, Denver. Information: 303-562-3232 or https://www.firehousetheatercompany.com.


CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of “Outside Mullingar,” on Kindle or paperback.

REVIEW: 'Crazy For You,' through April 7, Performance Now Theatre and Lakewood Cultural Center

March 26, 2019

Nick Charles Madison and Anna Hardcastle
Some Broadway musicals delve deeply into the vast and meaningful human condition. “Crazy For You” isn’t one of those. Performance Now Theatre’s tap-happy production of the “new” Gershwin musical, playing through April 7, is filled with corny gags, clever quips, mistaken identity, love at first sight, a bevy of giddy showgirls, and one show-stopping number after another. Best of all, “Crazy For You” is packed curtain to curtain with George and Ira Gershwin's inimitable songs.

There are nearly two dozen of them, most notably the classic ballad “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the S&M-inspired “Naughty Baby,” the rousing “Stiff Upper Lip,” the heartfelt “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” the pitiful “But Not For Me,” the formerly political “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the hokey “Bidin’ My Time,” the optimistic “Things Are Looking Up,” “Embraceable You,” “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “Shall We Dance?” and more.

Performance Now, in my opinion, is primarily a singer’s company, and there are plenty of really strong voices in the large cast. Also, music director Eric Weinstein, a local legend, has a terrific pit band. 

What’s “new” about the show is Ken Ludwig’s madcap book, because, if we’re honest, very few of the scripts from the 1920s and 30s hold up as well as the tunes.

Co-presented by Performance Now Theatre Company and Lakewood Cultural Center, “Crazy For You” features most of the top amateur musical theatre performers who aren’t currently working in dinner theatres. The leads are especially strong in a show that requires crackerjack comic timing, a strong set of pipes, and serious dancing skills.

Bobby (Nick Charles Madison) wants to break into Broadway in the worst way (and does), which means harassing fabled Hungarian auteur Bela Zangler (Andrew S. Bates) for an audition. The alternative is a life of drudgery working at a bank for his controlling mother (Jane Phillips) and marrying a domineering socialite (Brekken Baker).

As fate would have it, underachiever Bobby is sent to bleak and barren Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on -- you guessed it -- a fully equipped Broadway-style theatre. Except that he is smitten by the spirited Polly (Anna Hardcastle), heir to the theatre and who is steadfastly unimpressed by his plans to win her heart and save the theatre by -- yes, that’s right -- PUTTING ON A SHOW!

A rough saloon owner (Dave Gordon) is also putting the moves on both Polly and the theatre. Disguising himself as Zangler, Bobby brings a gaggle of showgirls out to inspire the lazy cowboys into joining the chorus, and all goes fairly well, until Polly falls in love with the ersatz Zangler, just as the real director and Irene show up in the desert, upsetting the manure cart.

The adorably zany real-life husband and wife Brian Trampler and Becky Delio-Trampler appear out of nowhere as Eugene and Patricia Fodor, British travel guide writers, to boost the show up when it starts to sag in the middle.

Director/Choreographer Michael Lasris has done a fine job translating the staging and dance numbers from the Broadway version to a mostly amateur cast on the Lakewood Cultural Center’s vast stage. The set design seems almost anemic in that huge space, particularly when long scenes are performed in front of an expansive black curtain meant to represent the theatre, which is MUCH bigger inside than it looks from the outside. Sure, Deadrock is nothing but wide open spaces, but there’s room for the Grand Canyon in the orchestra pit.

“Crazy For You” is lightweight entertainment that celebrates its clichés and boasts several show-stopping songs and dance numbers. But don’t underestimate the value of apparent frivolity. This is one of the happiest shows I’ve seen in a long time.

The Lakewood Cultural Center and Performance Now Theatre Company co-present "Crazy for You" through April 7 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $20 and are available at 303-987-7845, Lakewood.org/LCCPresents or the Lakewood Cultural Center Box Office, 470 S. Allison Parkway (Wadsworth and West Alameda Avenue).


  Purchase an audio CD of the Original 1992 Broadway Cast recording of "Crazy for You." CLICK HERE.


REVIEW: ‘Our Town,” through April 28, Miners Alley Playhouse, Golden

March 23, 2019

Photos by Sarah Roshan Photography

Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer Prize for “Our Town,” a nostalgic and sentimental depiction of life and death in a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the 20th century, while also introducing revolutionary staging and storytelling styles to the American stage. Miners Alley Playhouse’s heart-warming production, playing through April 28 in Golden, captures the innocence and moral center of the play, but some of the choices meant to bring the script into the present day actually work against the play’s charming tone.

Jim Hunt
Guided by an omniscient Stage Manager (Jim Hunt), the audience becomes immersed in the poetic, pastoral rhythms of rural, small-town America. Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs (Rory Pierce, Lisa DeCaro) and their children George and Rebecca (Laurence Katz, Ella Matheo) live next door to Mr. and Mrs. Webb (Josh Hartwell, Shauna Earp), and their two children Emily and Wally (Hannah Haller, Sam Charney). George and Emily’s friendship evolves into courtship in Act One, they get married right out of high school in Act Two, and life in Grovers Corners, New Hampshire takes a fateful turn in Act Three.

Other citizens contribute immeasurably to our appreciation of life in a slower lane, where people could gaze at the moon instead of their phones for hours, where milk was delivered daily to your screen door, and church choir practice was the week’s most anticipated social event.

The town gossip Mrs. Soames (Amy Arpan) unequivocally LOVES weddings. The sour-spirited town drunk (Simon Stimson) is given a pass because he’s suffered so much in life. The town constable (Tim Fishbaugh) walks his beat, checking to make sure doors to family-run businesses are locked at night, even though burglary is something that happens somewhere else. Maybe in the city.

There’s never been a world war or an influenza epidemic, immigrants are readily assimilated, and until recently, a dog could sleep in the middle of Main Street all day without being disturbed.

All the performances are outstanding. The play could have been about any one of the characters, all of whom embrace the life they have been given and live it to the best of their ability until they die and begin waiting for the moment when that which is eternal arises.

Director Len Matheo has an uncanny talent for eliciting layered, varied, genuine performances from his actors, even the kids. There are countless inspired “moments,” many of them funny because they are so recognizably and universally human. The audience is swept away into the world of the play, even if some actors play several roles. The show is performed “in the round,” and there is no scenery other than a few sticks of furniture.
Rory Pierce & Lisa DeCaro

The values and moral center of “Our Town” are diametrically opposed to our current failing culture, and I can’t help but wonder if the choices we are free to make now aren’t making us happier. In the first decade of the 1900s, men were men and women were women (who voted “indirectly”), marriage was the lifelong norm for nearly everyone, a woman would die in childbirth rather than consider abortion, everyone attended the church of their choice, home was where the heart was, people worked hard, saved their money, and took pride in their heritage and community.

When did these things become offensive?

Except for the few pieces of furniture, the audience is left to imagine the various locations, aided by consistently exceptional pantomime from the actors, and the richness of the language. In a play that relies exclusively on “a plank and a passion,” costuming becomes especially important. Unfortunately, the costume choices didn’t work for me, especially in the first act. I wasn’t looking for crinoline and corsets and period-perfect costumes, but women wearing blue jeans as if in rehearsal, caused them to move differently. For example, straddling a bench to pull string beans just wouldn’t happen, and it drew me out of my willing suspension of disbelief.

Further, several other anachronistic choices, especially the music and behavior of the cast during the second act intermission worked against the play’s tone. Yes, we are always aware we are watching a play, that these are actors, but breaking character makes it all the harder to get us back where they’d worked so hard to take us.

“Our Town” is a time capsule, filled with wisdom and insight. It’s not played for laughs like “The Andy Griffith Show,” and not simplistic like “The Waltons,” but is filled with warmth and profound understanding of our fallen but redeemable human nature.

Miners Alley Playhouse presents the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Our Town" through April 28 in Golden. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 - $32 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.


 CLICK HERE to rent or buy the 1940 film version of "Our Town," starring William Holden and Martha Scott.


REVIEW: ‘Oliver!’ through May 26, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

Kent Sugg. Photo Credit: RDG Photography

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s production of the Broadway musical sensation “Oliver!” looks and sounds great. But more than that, it has heart, and that makes all the difference. The show runs through May 26 in Johnstown.

Since 1960, “Oliver!” has been a crowd-pleaser, but when you think about it, a lot of really scary things happen to that little orphan boy in just a few days. By comparison, “Annie” seems cloyingly cynical on her easy street from rags to riches. While Oliver isn’t much more than a sheep destined to be fleeced, sacrificed, or slaughtered before he’s fortunate enough to become a rescue pet, he nevertheless manages to survive several harrowing ordeals, thanks to acts of kindness from unlikely people.

The musical, based on the Charles Dickens novel, with book, music, and lyrics by Lionel Bart, begins with a dying woman handing off an infant and perishing in the street. That’s about as sobering an opening as you could ever hope to see. Flash forward to young Oliver (Eli Emming) in an orphanage workhouse, where the “haves” get plenty and the "have nots" do without.

Instinctively recognizing that he belongs to a higher class, Oliver speaks up and asks for more gruel, setting into motion a chain of events that will see the lad sold by a human trafficker (George Lemmon), apprenticed to an undertaker (Scotty Shaffer), join a gang of pickpockets led by a crafty villain (Kent Sugg), awaken the maternal heart of a harlot (Charlotte Campbell), and bring him into the sights of a murderous psychopath (David L. Wygant), never realizing that his wealthy grandfather (T.J. Mullin) is searching for him.

Eli Emming
There are plenty of musical numbers, some with the poorest excuse for a lead-in imaginable. But what does it matter? Most of the songs are familiar and beloved classics like “Food Glorious Food,” “Where Is Love,” “Consider Yourself,” “You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two,” and the standalone power ballad “As Long As He Needs Me.”

Candlelight spared no expense in this attractive and appealing production, which was capably directed by Shannan Steele, ingeniously choreographed by Bob Hoppe, and features a dozen live musicians in the pit, under the direction by Phil Forman.

Emming is really good as Oliver. He has a lovely voice and was never whiny or annoying, just the person to bring out the best in people who still retain a modicum of goodness despite their station in life. 

Sugg is likewise wonderful as the wily Fagin, who takes pity on starving street urchins but is always watching out for his own well being, and tragically wonders if it’s possible for a villain to change his ways at the end of a misspent life.

Campbell boldly belts out her ballad and pub songs, but melts at the sight of innocent Oliver, and willingly protects him though she die for it. Mullin is spot on perfect as the compassionate and courageous aristocrat. Wygant is appropriately menacing as Bill Sikes, and Lemmon is a marvelous basso profundo Bumble. In fact, there are several members of the ensemble with truly outstanding voices.

There’s also a chorus (technically two, alternating performances) of kids to play orphans, pickpockets, and other ensemble roles, along with many of the Candlelight regulars and a few new faces.

Charlotte Campbell
The sets, lighting, costumes and even sound design are just what you’d hope for in a professional dinner theatre production.

All in all, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s “Oliver!” earns high marks all around. It has been produced with care and is performed with skill and devotion. They don’t shy away from the theme of choosing compassion, mercy, courage, and determination in a world otherwise filled with meanness, poverty, selfishness, misery, and cruelty.

An innocent boy sings through the slums of Victorian London, searching for love and finding it in unlikely people, then is given new life. That’s something we can all sing about.

Showtimes are 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, through May 26. Tickets are Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 - $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).

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534.

Showtimes are 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, through May 26. Tickets are Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 - $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).

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534.

For more information or to purchase tickets online visit ColoradoCandlelight.com or call the Box Office at 970-744-3747. http://www.coloradocandlelight.com/shows/oliver/


https://www.amazon.com/Oliver-Ron-Moody/dp/B001IWUZYK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1548535060&sr=8-2&keywords=Oliver&linkCode=ll1&tag=patdorplaautt-20&linkId=604f6e4cfe2ebd149c8a2b355d7e1918&language=en_US Rent or purchase the 1968 film version of Oliver! featuring Ron Moody and Oliver Reed. CLICK HERE.

REVIEW: '1984," through April 13, Benchmark Theatre, Lakewood

March 19, 2019

Chris Kendall and Sean Scrutchins. Photo by McLeod9 Creative.

There’s a tendency to endow George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” published seventy years ago, with some kind of prophetic portent. Now, more than thirty years after the dreaded date of doom has passed, readers and audiences are still looking for signs that the end is near.

Benchmark Theatre’s riveting, visceral production of “1984,” playing through April 13 in Lakewood, suggests we have a long way to go before things get THAT bad.

And that’s a good thing.

The play, adapted from Orwell’s book by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, and keenly directed by Neil Truglio, is performed without intermission in a theatre space entirely transformed into an authoritarian, utilitarian space where intimacy and privacy are an illusion, language is a weapon, and the conveniences of technology are a trap.

Winston, played in varying levels of sustained agony by Sean Scrutchins, condemns himself to torture, death, and annihilation the moment he decides to write a journal expressing his private thoughts. He can’t trust his co-workers. He can’t even rely on his own memories. Paranoia, fear, and oppression are facts of his life, and for everyone he knows, until they disappear.

Winston finds fleeting respite with a female comrade (Rebecca Buckley), a kindred spirit in a quirky antique dealer (Chris Kendall), and an unlikely ally in his upper tier boss (Dan O’Neill).

But how can one man stand up to a society where the Party rules with an iron fist by declaring individualism to be selfishness, then systematically and mercilessly putting it to death?

Benchmark Theatre’s “1984” has more in common with the nihilistic Theatre of the Absurd and even Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty than the political theatre of Bertolt Brecht. It’s not prophecy, but it does serve as a warning about how dangerous a godless ideology can become.

We regularly embrace Orwell’s genius concepts like “newspeak” and “thought police,” enforced by instant and violent censure, applying them to contemporary power struggles.

If you want to become a Winston-esque martyr in our own brave new world, simply point out the anarchically insane logic behind “Women have penises,” “Abortion is health care,” or “No borders, no walls, no country at all,” and see what happens.

And contrary to what some universities would like their snowflakes to believe, there are no “safe spaces” from people whose ideas differ from their own.

Because every cell phone conversation, every internet search or social media comment ever posted, every purchase, every traffic cam and orbiting satellite, and even the cameras in our doorbells remind us that Big Brother really is watching.

And not watching only.

Benchmark Theatre’s powerhouse production of “1984” is a brutal, yet aesthetically astute wake-up call, the antithesis to it’s most recent uplifting, individual-affirming production of “Wakey, Wakey.”

Get on Benchmark's mailing list. See everything they do, because this company has guts and talent to spare.

Performances of “1984” are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday evenings at 6 pm, through April 13. Industry Night is scheduled for Monday, April 1st ($12 tickets). Additional performances on Thursday, March 21st, March 28th, April 4th, and April 11th.

General admission is $30 and $25 for students/seniors/military with Thursdays offering half-priced tickets. The Bench at 40West is in the 40West Arts District in Lakewood at 1560 Teller Street. Visit www.benchmarktheatre.com to purchase tickets and send any inquiries to info@benchmarktheatre.com.

*Warning: This production contains graphic and adult content. Strongly not recommended for children under the age of 15.*


Rent or buy the 1984 film version of 1984, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton. CLICK HERE.

REVIEW: ‘As You Like It,’ through March 24, The Upstart Crow at the Dairy Arts Center, Boulder

Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” is a comedy best remembered for several spectacularly sublime speeches, and a handful of memorable characters. As large ensemble romantic comedies go, it’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and the cast, including no fewer than four couples wrangling their way to matrimony, is bloated with what amounts to a series of guest-star cameos and pitifully underdeveloped subplots.

It’s the Elizabethan equivalent to “Love, Actually.”

The Upstart Crow, my favorite classical community theatre, is now in its 39th season, and I adore the company for the abiding respect it shows the texts of great works of dramatic literature.

There’s minimal “concept” interference in the current production, directed by Christopher Shelton, and running through March 24. There’s no attempt to be edgy or woke, and when women play men’s parts, I got the feeling that he simply cast the best people he could find and made adjustments only when absolutely necessary. His biggest innovation is an audience participation "sing along."

The result is a straightforward production, without a lot of flash or dazzle, and I’m so grateful. The approach reveals the strengths of the play but also exposes its weaknesses.

I almost get the feeling, which is entirely possible, that Shakespeare threw “As You Like It” together as a slapdash rush job, inserting some speeches he actually spent some time on, and linking it together with this couple, then that couple, and adding a fourth one later on for good measure. And don’t even worry about one main lover’s complete inability to recognize his paramour simply because she exchanged a dress for a doublet.

Several performances stand out in The Upstart Crow’s production. Jack Janzen’s Orlando is repeatedly disdainful of attempts by a youth (Rosalind in disguise) to give him boyfriend lessons. Valerie deGroot’s Rosalind is often brooding and petulant, easily angered. There’s little trace of playfulness or teasing, so their convoluted courtship loses a lot in the rom-com silliness department, but gains depth and gravitas, even when Orlando refuses to take “Ganymede” seriously. 

Jeffrey William Hill is less of a clownish jester-type Touchstone, and his romance of the clueless Audrey (Deb Conley) is more about affection than satyr-like lust. Susie Matthews is a delightful Celia, turning a confidante role into a wry observer of bizarre human mating habits. Particularly exciting and entertaining was Kelly Diana MacLeod as the “Duchess” Frederick, turning what could have been a Queen of Hearts “off with his head” role into a richly complex, powerful woman.

Dan McNellan is a good-natured noble with buoyant cockeyed optimism, and Danice Crawford is a more reclusive than melancholy Jacques. She’s amused by the hijinks, but a little goes a long way for the natural introvert, so she’s always excusing herself and going off to her safe space cave.

Marcus Cannello does a great job as the mustache-twirling evil older brother who sleeps through a lion attack and suddenly makes an abrupt character change into an awesome good guy with an eye for a certain lady.

One thing I consistently love about Upstart Crow productions is how they work intergenerational casting into the mix. This becomes especially handy for Jacques’ classic “All the world’s a stage” speech.

“As You Like It” not only has a little bit of everything, it has perhaps a little bit too much of everything. Still, it’s a spritely three hours well spent, especially if you love the Bard as much as The Upstart Crow clearly does.

“As You Like It” performs at 7 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, through March 24 at The Dairy Arts Center 2590 Walnut St, Boulder. Tickets are on sale at bit.ly/theupstartcrow or by calling 303-444-7328. Tickets start at $25. Seniors and Students (with ID) $21. Thursdays are Name-Your-Price Night. For more info email info@theupstartcrow.org or visit www.theupstartcrow.org


 CLICK HERE to download the 1936 film version of "As You Like It," starring Lawrence Olivier and a merry Elizabeth Bergner.


REVIEW: 'Dames at Sea,' through March 17, Town Hall Arts Center, Littleton
February 16, 2019

There's a fine distinction between parody and homage, and Town Hall Arts Center's production of "Dames at Sea," playing in Littleton through March 17, has plenty of both. Directed with over-the-top, pie-in-the-face comic genius by Bob Wells, the laughs, especially in the first act, are inspired and nearly non-stop.

Serving up pretty much every cliché of the many Broadway-bound, boy-meets-girl backstage musicals, "Dames at Sea" feels at once familiar and fresh. The delightful songs are all reminiscent of more famous versions, often with similar titles. The continuous musical jokes are just as funny as the slapstick and corny gags, especially if you're familiar with the original shows being lampooned.
The cast, which includes Chrissy Keane-Schmidt and Matt LaFontaine as the starry-eyed, not terribly bright young lovers, John Mackey and Carie Millard as the more experienced comic secondary couple, the incomparable Mary McGroary as the petulant diva, and Stephen Turner as the harried director/producer and a jealous battleship captain, are all outstanding singers and dancers.

It's obvious which performers have found some truth in their ridiculous characters, and which simply screw their faces up and mug their way through their roles. This is a small-scale cabaret show that isn't meant to be taken seriously for a second, but I especially appreciated the performers who invested in going a little deeper and thus seemed to have more fun. Their comic choices were invariably more surprising, seasoning my laughter with genuine appreciation. It's nice to know we're all in on the joke.

There's a lot of singing and dancing, and not just tap dancing. Choreographer Kelly Kates deserves kudos for her amazing and varied choreography. All that's missing is the trademark Busby Berkeley "top-down" kaleidoscopic geometric routines. The band, consisting of music director/keyboards Donna Debreceni, Scott Alan Smith on bass, and Larry Zheil on percussion, bring a surprisingly full sound to the show.

"Dames at Sea" was created in the late 1960s as an Off-Broadway parody of the Busby Berkeley musical stage and film extravaganzas of the 1930s and 40s. Ironically, Berkeley, who lived until 1976, was capitalizing on the younger generation's "camp craze" and directing shows of his own at the same time he was being spoofed.

It's been more than forty years since "Dames at Sea" launched Bernadette Peters' career. But the show still holds up. The Town Hall Arts Center's production is smart, sassy, a musical delight, and very, very funny.

"Dames at Sea" plays through March 17, 2019. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (also 2 p.m. on 3/2) and Sundays at 2 p.m. (also 6:30 p.m. on 3/10). Ticket prices are $24.00-$44.00. Contact 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/damesatsea. 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.

To stream, download, or purchase a CD of the original 1968 Off Off Broadway Cast Recording of Dames at Sea, CLICK HERE.


REVIEW: "The Diary of Anne Frank," through May 17, Arvada Center

February 04, 2019

Photo Credit: Matthew Gale Photography
Following shocking results from a recent study about young Americans' lack of knowledge about The Holocaust, and close on the heels of Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), the Arvada Center's nearly perfect production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" couldn't come at a better time.

I only hope the drama, inspired by the journal of a Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis with her family in Amsterdam for a year and a half before perishing at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, can still affect audiences in a meaningful way.

Current culture has stacked the deck against the pledge, "Never again." After all, there were 42 million babies destroyed worldwide last year alone. There are five current genocides, including Christians in the Middle East, Nigeria, and Central Africa, ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar, and more. 

What difference do another six million murders that were committed seventy or eighty years ago make in the larger scheme of things?

How do you make people care anymore? How do you soften hardened hearts inured to murder on a massive scale?

For Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Wendy Kesselman, who dramatized Anne Frank's diary, and in the Arvada Center's production directed by Christy Montour-Larson, the goal is to create fully human, easily-relatable characters, and subject them to extreme stress.

It's the humanity of the individual that puts a face on global suffering and persecution.

Montour-Larson has assembled a capable professional cast, including Darrow Klein as Anne, Larry Cahn and Emily Paton Davies as Anne's parents, Annie Barbour as Anne's big sister, Emma Messenger and Abner Genece as additional adults thrust into a trying intimate relationship with the Franks, Daniel Crumrine as their son who becomes a potential first-love interest for Anne, and Zachary Andrews as a quirky later addition that disrupts the tenuous equilibrium. Regina Fernandez and Lance Rasmussen play the "outsiders," non-Jews who try and help their hidden neighbors.

Eight people share cramped quarters, a single lavatory, diminishing food supplies, crushing boredom and lingering dread for an extended period of time. All the while they anticipate the day when they are discovered and denounced, then follow so many of their friends and neighbors to certain death at the Nazi death camps.

This is the stuff of compelling drama, laced with humor and insights into the human condition, and the Arvada Center's production brings it all close to home.

Except that I couldn't help but wonder about a younger generation raised on popular dystopian fiction that capitalizes on the same trope: "a group of survivors take refuge in an unreliable sanctuary while a relentless, malevolent force lurks outside".  Like "racist," "Nazi" has become an epithet bandied about indiscriminately. It might as well be zombies out there. Or aliens. Or evil white Purge predators. "Don't go outside or you'll die." "Don't make a sound or we'll all die."

And it doesn't help that no one in this group has any inclination to fight back. They are counting on far away foreigners, the British of all people, to care enough to come and rescue them. So they sit in an intolerable situation with no agency except to try and get along with each other and maintain basic human decency.

I'm afraid many people have become too fatalistic about their futures to fully embrace the desperately important reality behind this play. Nowadays, audiences don't expect the characters in these kinds of stories, even true ones, to survive. In "The Diary of Anne Frank," we're surprised that one person does, and he isn't much better off than those who died.

Performances of "The Diary of Anne Frank" are Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm, through May 17. "The Diary of Anne Frank" is performed in repertory – for specific performance dates, consult the Arvada Center website at www.arvadacenter.org. Audience engagement events, pre-show chats with members of the cast, and audience talkbacks are held nearly for every performance. To purchase tickets, and for additional details, visit https://arvadacenter.org/the-diary-of-anne-frank or call the box office at 720-898-7200.


Purchase the 50th anniversary DVD/Blu-Ray release of The Diary of Anne Frank HERE.


REVIEW: "Lost in Yonkers," through March 3, Miners Alley Playhouse, Golden

January 26, 2019

Photo by Sarah Roshan

Neil Simon's not-particularly-funny 1991 play "Lost in Yonkers" can't decide who the story is supposed to be about. 

Miners Alley Playhouse's current production, running through March 3, is beautifully staged by Warren Sherrill, with an eye to achieving the most powerful impact possible. The show, with perfect casting and outstanding performances, packs an emotional wallop. But since Simon couldn't decide on and stick with a protagonist, the various scenes and character arcs progress without really accomplishing anything.

Two teenage brothers (Dee Jimenez, Ben Feldman) are stuck staying with their relentless and unrepentantly cruel grandmother (Deborah Persoff) while their father (Rory Pierce) works out of town earning money to pay off debts incurred when their mother got sick and died. Living with them is their mentally challenged and volatile aunt (Haley Johnson). The boys' misery is tempered by fear when their on-the-run criminal uncle (Damon Guerrasio) hides out with them in the apartment situated above grandma's candy store. Another aunt (MacKenzie Beyer) appears in the final scenes as a convenient afterthought.

Without a clear thematic or story through-line, each of the actors must assume that the play is about their character, and each makes the most of their scenes until their plotline is dropped in favor of another. Haley Johnson and Deborah Persoff have the most spectacular roles, offering nuanced and compelling performances. Pierce's scenes bookend the rest of the play, but he's great when he's onstage. Guerrasio is smooth and menacing as the man who turned his own abusive childhood into feigned "moxie." Jimenez and Feldman are terrific young actors who more than hold their own.

Mostly, this play is about miserable people who can't escape each other because they're family. All are emotionally wounded and permanently damaged by the hateful, despicable granny, who is the literary descendant of the child-devouring witch with the gingerbread house in "Hansel and Gretel." 

This is Neil Simon at his darkest. He's purging something deeply troubling in this play and doesn't sugarcoat a thing. Although he's often called the "American Anton Chekhov," with "Lost in Yonkers" he's taken a page from Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" playbook. 

Miners Alley Playhouse presents "Lost in Yonkers" through March 3. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 - $32 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.


Rent or buy the 1993 film version of "Lost in Yonkers," starring Mercedes Ruehl, Richard Dreyfuss, and Irene Worth on Amazon. CLICK HERE.


REVIEW: 'Motones vs Jerseys,' through Feb. 25, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

January 21, 2019

For those of us who grew up listening to and singing along with the chart-toppers of the 1960s through the '80s, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's staged concert production of "Motones vs Jerseys" is an upbeat, high-energy blast from the past.

The rest of you will just have to catch up on the amazing hit parade of songs that came out of Hoboken, NJ and Detroit, MI during that tumultuous era. Trust me. It'll be fun.

"MvJ" boasts 46 hit songs, complete with authentic behind-the-mic choreography, performed by two teams of singers who are supposedly competing against each other, though the stakes are strictly points only. In a bit of interactive genius, the audience awards the points to the singers via the magic of smartphones and real-time online voting.

There are no folk or protest songs here. Actually, most of the hits offer examples of the human male (and sometimes female) mating call, complete with hypnotic, stylized, and seductive motions. How else can you describe titles like "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," "Under the Boardwalk," and the less than subtle "Give it To Me Baby" and "Let's Get It On."

Other songs seem just silly today, but you can't get the melodies (and sweet, sweet harmonies) out of your head: "Sherry," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "My Girl," and "Workin My Way Back to You." And then there are the power anthems: "Eye of the Tiger," "Living in America," "Dancing in the Streets," and "Proud Mary." There's a sampling of British Invasion hits, and ample opportunities to sing along to "Help Me Rhonda," "Sweet Caroline," and "Love Potion #9". 

Honestly, describing this show feels like one of those K-Tel or Time/Life greatest hits collection infomercials. 

For the complete song list of all 46 titles, visit http://www.mvjshow.com/.

The Motones include four singers of color (Randy Chalmers, Rakeem Lawrence, Alejandro Roldan, and Tezz Yancey). The Jerseys are less so (Joe Callahan, Will Hawkins, Brian Jackson, and Jacob Villarreal). Their costumes separate them black and white as well, but in this show, and despite the differences in musical styles, there is no trace of racial tension. This is a friendly competition, like black and white chess pieces. The performers frequently congratulate the opposing team on their vocalistic and stylistic mastery. They even exchange songs and styles, and frequently, both groups sing together.

Nearly all the cast are first-rate soloists, and all blend well with the period's distinctive harmonies. None of them were even born when these songs first hit the airwaves, but they clearly love singing the tunes and often sound like the real deal.

The emcee for the evening is Jalyn Courtenay Webb, who pumps up the audience by screaming into the microphone like a WWF referee, makes a few off-color comments about the handsome male cast, and also sings a few numbers, including a fantastic "Son of a Preacher Man," then brings us home with "Stand By Me".

"Motones vs Jerseys" was co-created by Kenny Moten and Chris Starkey, directed by Kenny Moten, and choreographed by Jessica Hindsley. The cast is backed by a terrific band of six or seven musicians.

The show, which is not part of the season ticket package, has a very short run, performing on the "off nights" when CDP's production of "Nunsense" is dark. Tickets are selling fast, but not as fast as time has flown, when I realized some of these pop songs are nearly sixty years old.

Thanks to "Motones vs Jerseys," they're still alive and kicking.

Performances are Sunday and Monday evenings, through Feb. 25. Sunday evenings are $35, which includes dessert and show (no dinner available). Monday evenings are $50 and include the full dinner theater experience. Call the box office at 970-744-3747 or visit http://www.coloradocandlelight.com/motones-vs-jerseys/.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is located at 4747 Marketplace Dr, Johnstown, CO 80534. Located right off I-25 at Exit 254 – halfway between Denver, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. The theatre is visible from I-25 immediately south of Johnson’s Corner and directly east of Lazy Days RV.

Review: 'Wakey Wakey,' through Feb. 16, Benchmark Theatre, Lakewood

January 19, 2019

Benchmark Theatre's regional premiere of Will Eno's "Wakey, Wakey" begins its 2019 season with a bang...and a whimper.

Eno's funny, sad, wise, and inspiring play offers an "elegy for the eulogist," as a dying man (Augustus Truhn) humbly and gently presents his thoughts on the meaning of life and how to make the most of the time we have, complete with slides, short video clips, and the loveliest language I've heard on stage in a long, long time.

Even with his crumpled 3x5 cards, Guy occasionally loses the thread of his unraveling thoughts. He appears to ramble and drift off, but as the audience leans in and pieces together the often comical fragments of wry observations, hard-won lessons, and the sheer poetry of expressing a life lived from the point of view of one who has nothing and everything left to lose, the treasures begin to reveal themselves.

Guy is both unencumbered and uncomforted by any faith systems, even eschewing the trite proverbs found in fortune cookies. He faces the abyss of his own mortality with humor and gratitude, finding inestimable value in the simplest of easily ignored but nevertheless precious moments. And he nudges us in that direction, too.

Augustus Truhn
Truhn gives an utterly authentic, fully invested performance. He is alone on stage for almost the entire play, and only once raises his voice, yet his range of emotions is impressive and compelling. This is a complex script, with layers of meaning, abrupt changes in focus, and all the while depicting a slow, inexorable demise. Later, Arlene Rapal appears as Lisa, who isn't a nurse per se, perhaps more of well-meaning end-of-life doula.

Director Rachel Rogers employs deceptively simple staging. What can you do with a man in a wheelchair in a bare room full of unopened cardboard boxes? And yet she finds a way to keep the action interesting and surprising. More importantly, she has dug deep into the text and found brilliant and lasting images, not to mention helping Truhn to achieve the performance of a lifetime. Somehow, something so simple as a pair of empty slippers can convey the devastating fact of our universally-shared bereavement.

For a somewhat short play, performed without intermission, both the comedy and tragedy masks of drama are in full bloom. It's a courageous and inspiring play, unlike anything I've seen or read since Eugene Ionesco's "Exit the King." (1962)

Neil Truglio and Susannah McLeod deserve special mention for the digital projection and video designs.

Plan to stay for the reception following each performance. Like the reception after a funeral or rather a celebration of life, it is an important part of the overall service and a gift of hope and life from one hurting loved-one to another.

Tickets are $30 for general admission and $25 for students/seniors/military with Thursdays offering half-priced tickets. 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.


 To purchase your own copy of 'Wakey, Wakey,' click HERE


REVIEW: 'Nunsense,' through March 3, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, Johnstown

January 16, 2019

Dan Goggin's "Nunsense" franchise, a series of small-scale variety-show musicals with an all-female cast dressed as traditional nuns, now boasts nine titles. The first one, which is currently playing at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown through March 3, is my favorite.

It's not just a case of the diminishing returns common to sequels. The original has such a sense of innocence and spontaneity, it's easy to believe the surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken are as flabbergasted as the audience that their little fund-raising event to move four recently deceased nuns from the kitchen freezer into hallowed ground plays out as well as it does, despite numerous mishaps.

The genius of "Nunsense" is that these are supposed to be amateurs who love the "holy trinity" of God, the Roman Catholic Church, and Musical Theatre, in sometimes scandalous proportions.

There are two ways to go with this show, and director Pat Payne has chosen the wisest path for his venue. You can cast modestly talented, mostly middle-aged women who understand and appreciate the peculiar and dwindling world of professed religious, and put them in an intimate, thrown-together setting. Or, you can cast professionals on a big stage and bump up the musical comedy factor.

With a house seating 300+ dinner theatre patrons who are most likely either non-religious or members of a mega- or evangelical churches, it's best to downplay the "Catholic nostalgia" angle, cruise through the many subtle in-jokes, and go for big laughs and polished numbers with mega-watt entertainment value.

The cast of luminaries on the Colorado dinner theatre circuit dress up as nuns, but not for one second do we believe they spend more time on their knees praying or serving the poor than singing, dancing, and performing. 

Case in point: the winsome, sweet, slightly sad "Growing Up Catholic," which is about being a traditionalist who feels left behind by an increasingly progressive Church, is turned into a rafter rocking, virtuoso power ballad.

We're not surprised that a wanna-be ballerina nun for God dances en pointe like a pro. We laugh at how a ditzy nun with a concussion and memory loss after being bonked on the head with a crucifix gives every indication that with or without her identity, she's always been a bubblehead. Or how the Mother Superior can go from operatic to shrill, domineering to out-of-control in a heartbeat.

The cast includes Samantha Jo Staggs, Heather McClain, Sarah Grover, Abigail Hanawalt, and Lisa Kay Carter. Phil Forman leads the onstage band as "Father Phil," interacting with the cast and playing the piano.

Once the show discards the idea of suspension of disbelief, the "penguin" jokes don't work as well, but Payne has added plenty of inspired contemporary references, brilliant sight gags, and perfectly timed slapstick to more than compensate. Stephen Bertles' choreography is better than it needs to be, but the cast handles it like, well, pros.

Consequently, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's "Nunsense" is loads of laugh out loud fun, a real crowd-pleaser, but perhaps not as edifying as it might be.

Nunsense at a glance

SHOWTIMES: January 10 - March 3, 2019; 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

TICKETS: Adult Dinner & Show Tickets: $52.95 - $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

Purchase a DVD of the entire Nunsense Collection HERE.