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THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE – Music and Lyrics by William Finn; Book by Rachel Sheinkin; Directed by Carter Edward Smith; Musical Direction by Alec Steinhorn; Choreographed by Joyce Cole. Produced by Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton St, Aurora) through June 9. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or VintageTheatre.org. 

Ah, the power of words. As children, my brothers and I were not allowed curse words. Indeed, I never heard my parents’ curse. As a result, when I heard words from other sources and innocently used them myself, I often got my mouth washed out with soap. In retaliation, we discovered that it wasn’t so much the word as it was in how you said it. We developed our own private set of “almost” curse words. My favorite was “Phenobarbital” (a prescription medicine). With just the right inflection, it can sound like “Damn it all.” Deluded my parents for a little while, at least. 

So is it any wonder that a play about words and their impact on people should delight. This group of six actors reenacting the joy of competition, the chance for recognition, the hope of pleasing the adults in their lives, and the fear of failure strike chords of memory in everyone watching. We’ve all gone through some test of our mettle at some point in our lives, whether it be in a sports arena, a classroom, a performing space, or . . . a spelling bee. 

While ostensibly a simple plot – who wins? – it becomes about much more in terms of personal growth for these six participants. William Barfee (Barfay, if you please!) (Grant Bowman) has convinced himself that his “magic foot” technique of spelling will see him through. But he learns that he has the power to spell and achieve without the use of any kind of magic. Olive Ostrovsky (Ava Arangua Francis) – who has vocal chops that belie her tiny structure – has seemingly lost her parents to spiritual searching and work demands. She displays a heart that has room for everyone, even her competitors. Logainne Schwartz and Grubenierre (Lily Horst) finds her own space in her world dominated by two fathers with different parenting skills – both of which place incredible pressure to succeed on her. Her moral compass is stronger than both her adult models. Leaf Coneybear (Cal Meakins) is a free spirit from a hippy family who fell into the Bee through a fluke but delights that he’s there at all. Marcie Parks (Charlotte Quinn) is an over-achiever who is a little bit tired and bored with it all until she discovers, during the middle of a word, that achieving or not is really up to her. Chip Tolentino (Andrew Wilson, Jr.) was the winner of the 24th Annual and believes he will skate to a win again, only to be betrayed by his developing puberty. Watching this talented group of faux middle-schoolers navigate their early life challenges allows the audience to remember how they negotiated their own tribulations and eventually thrived. 

Even the adults playing the adults at the Bee are not without personal baggage. Anna Hardcastle plays Rona Lisa Perretti, the organizer of the Spelling Bee and a former winner herself. Basking in the glory of a 20-year-old triumph, she provides a sympathetic moderator to the current group of competitors. Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry returns to the Vintage Stage to play Vice Principal Panch who is in “a better place” since his last attempt at participation as the word-reader in a Bee. It is his job to supply the spellers with the words, their definitions, the origins and use the word in a sentence. Laughs abound at Luke’s deadpan delivery of the obscure words and their use in ridiculous sentences. In what could be considered a “throw-away” part, Justin Milner shines as Mitch Mahoney, a “comfort counselor” handing out juice boxes and little bracelets that say “Goodbye” to the departing losers. His character as a man on probation doing community service at the Bee gives him a genuine sense of sympathy for the ones who must walk off stage. His strong voice contributed to two of the sweeter songs in the show – a duet with Logainne (“Woe is Me”) and a song as Olive’s Dad (“The I Love You Song”) as well as his own declaration in “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.” 

A stripped-down cast gives several the opportunity to slide in and out of various smaller roles such as Olive’s Mom and Dad and Logainne’s two warring Dads, displaying the versatility of these actors. The clever costuming of Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry allowed these to be smoothly accomplished with no break in the pace of the production. Stripped down but authentic was also reflected in the set design by Kortney Hansen. A realistic high school gym is recreated complete with bleachers and an auditorium-like stage. The live five piece band led by Alec Steinhorn provided support for the performers invisibly.  

Maybe your own early school memories weren’t so good. Maybe it would make you feel better about your own dilemmas to learn that maybe you didn’t have it so bad after all. Maybe seeing young people succeed would bring you joy. Bring your “maybe’s” to Vintage and laugh at them for a couple of hours. 

A WOW factor of 8.50!! 

THESE SHINING LIVES

THESE SHINING LIVES – Written by Melanie Marnich; Directed by Kate Poling. Produced by Firehouse Theater Company (Presented at the John Hand Theater, 7653 East 1st Street, Denver) through June 8. Tickets available at 303-562-3232 or Firehousetheatercompany.com. 

Those of you who have been attending Denver theatre for a while will remember Terry Dodd, long touted as one of the best directors Denver ever produced. If you enjoyed Terry’s work, you have a new director in town to follow. Kate Poling is starting what promises to be a (hopefully) long and productive career as a theatre director in Denver (hopefully). Her work with THESE SHINING LIVES shares the same warm, almost nostalgic and musical quality that brought Terry’s work to life. She moves her actors as though conducting a waltz, using space, time and speech as her tools. There is an economy and grace of movement that carries through each scene and beyond. A script that could have wallowed in its sorrow instead is presented with the joy of friendship, the happiness of a good marriage, the satisfaction of work, and the truth of laughter. Good job, Ms. Poling. Terry would have been proud of you. 

The cast she chose proved her right in her choosing. Her lead, Rachel Barkalow, embodies the fated Catherine with warmth toward her husband, joy at finding a good-paying job, disillusionment at her treatment as a worker and finally, a stoic strength at the consequences of her life. She addresses the audience as interested friends who have not heard the story before.  Her gradual descent into sadness, while hard to watch, is portrayed with honesty. As she takes on her new role as spokesperson, you root for her undying determination. 

Her partners in work and fun welcome Catherine to the workplace and share everything from gossip to bad jokes to disease. They make a good quartet with Charlotte (Babs Karney) as the wild child of the bunch, Frances (Gabby Mann), the “moral compass” that keeps them in line and on track, and Pearl (Shyan Rivera) as the teller of bad jokes with the gentlest heart of all. Each woman brings a distinctive personality to their roles. Together they share the story with the audience, even stepping into supporting roles as newscasters and the judge at an early trial. 

The two remaining cast members are Joey Torrison who plays Tom, Catherine’s loving husband, as well as later becoming the doctor who finally tells them the truth in a devastating scene. Tom’s confrontation with the factory manager illustrates his frustration and pain eloquently. Matt Hindmarch also plays multiple roles as the factory manager who does as he is told and other assorted bad guys. Together the five cast members move around Catherine setting furniture, comforting, and telling their part of her story. It is this moving about to get to the next part of the story while maintaining their basic characters that is so touching to behold. They are not just setting up the next scene efficiently; they are preparing the next part of Catherine’s story. It’s as though they are saying to her “We’re here for you” in everything they do.  

The simplest and most effective of sets consisting of two platforms, basic furniture (including work desks with ominous glowing paint pots), and clocks of every size makes the subtle point of precious time passing. The triumvirate design team from Firehouse, Jeff Jesmer as designer/builder, Megan Davis as scenic painter, and Rick Reid as projection and sound master, created another effective and meaningful acting space for the cast. They were augmented in this production with Samantha Piel collecting the props that gave the ghastly green glow to their workspace, Rachel Finley who created appropriate 1930’s clothing for everyone and Emily Maddox who brings the shine to every production. 

You have three more weekends to catch this all-too-meaningful tale of corporate greed and the ones who pay the price. Try not to think about Big Pharma and the cost of medicine, the profits garnered by the oil companies as they raise the price of gas at will, the misused Covid funds, and your own personal examples of corporate greed as you watch. 

If you find this a “glowing” review, there’s a good reason. This cast literally shines! 

A WOW factor of 8.75! 

THE HEARTBEAT OF THE SUN

THE HEARTBEAT OF THE SUN – Written by Melissa Lucero McCarl; Directed by Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski. Produced by Cherry Creek Theatre (presented at the Pluss Theatre at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia, Denver) through May 19th. Tickets available at Cherrycreektheatre.org. 

When attending a recent performance of this exciting new production, I had the pleasant opportunity to say Hello to Kathy Brady, a long-time rock-solid stalwart at the Denver Center Theatre Company back when we enjoyed a true repertory company of actors. The current play at the Cherry Creek Theatre was written expressly to be performed by the two actresses now playing the parts. Kathy Brady also took part in a production that was written for her and fellow DCTC actor Jamie Horton by Nagle Jackson called BERNICE/BUTTERFLY. This would normally be a dream situation for any pair of actors and Mr. Jackson’s play did go on to be published and enjoyed at least one future production. This too is, of course, what playwright Melissa McCarl hopes will happen to her new script – that other seasoned actresses will take on the roles in future productions. But how odd that would be after seeing the premiere performance with our favorites. 

Two women who have given their lives to theatre are now relegated to a care facility with all the normal restrictions and complaints inherent in that sort of housing. But they manage time alone to reminisce about their past glories on the stage, the pros and cons of the commitment to that life, and the saving grace of their friendship. Through the thin veil of time, we watch their younger selves meet, bond and grow together toward experience and professionalism in their chosen field. Through a symphony of scenes, we witness the talent they have nurtured. But at what a price? However, both actresses profess that they wouldn’t have changed anything about the choices they have made. Except maybe the place in which they are now living. 

The featured actresses, Billie McBride and Anne Oberbroeckling (just a heads up, Anne. If you ever go into the movies, that last name will never fit on a marquee!) have appeared in numerous local and national productions, won every award Denver has to offer, and have fans that flock to see everything and anything in which they appear. This production verifies that adoration is well-deserved. Both women can crack wise, drop a delicious one-liner, AND perform Shakespeare with ease and fluency. They catch the poignancy of their present situation, revel in their true friendship (both on and off stage) and demonstrate the pain that comes with growing older and watching the world pass you by. But nothing is passing Anne and Billie by; they are both hard-working theatre professionals to this day and beyond. Slow down? Not in their DNA. 

The actresses that portray their younger selves, Lorraine Larocque as Bea and Maggy Stacy as Althea bring their own special charm to the roles. They provide both a precursor and an echo of the older women and explain their long-term connection. Friendships built on common goals and shared experiences is the best kind. Throughout the play, we hear about Javier, Bea’s grandson, and finally meet him in the waning moments of Act II. But Daevon Robinson is worth the wait as he begins his own theatrical journey under the tutelage of Althea. 

While the portrayal of a theatrical life is certainly illustrated with this script, it is not the life story of either actress. While they have certainly appeared in some of the plays and places mentioned, their own lives have taken different turns. The beautifully poignant ending of the play has certainly not happened. This is a love song to theatre and the people that work on the stage to bring joy to the rest of us.  

The set designed by Tina Anderson is a work of art with a wall-sized cabinet displaying trophies of their past lives and accessories to their present life. The cabinets underneath the shelf unit open to display pull out furniture. And provide a resting place for the animated plants that being to infiltrate Bea’s slide into dementia. A hilarious and unexpected device! If only the play could have been written with fewer back and forth scene changes which – no matter how efficiently made – could not help but interrupt the flow of the story. 

You don’t have to know a lot about theatre to enjoy this production. It will probably answer any curiosity you had about why one would ever choose this life. It is, however, a special experience for those who have welcomed theatre into their life in whatever form. Another short run – only three more performances. Run – don’t walk to get your tickets !! 

A WOW factor of 9!

SHADOWLANDS

SHADOWLANDS – Written by William Nicholson; Directed by Dan Schock. Produced by Coal Creek Theater of Louisville (Presented at the Louisville Center for the Arts, 801 Grant Avenue, Louisville) through May 18th. Tickets available at cctlouisville.org. 

HADOWLANDS – Written by William Nicholson; Directed by Dan Schock.  Produced by Coal Creek Theater of Louisville (Presented at the Louisville Center for the Arts, 801 Grant Avenue, Louisville) through May 18th.  Tickets available at cctlouisville.org. 

At the beginning of the evening, a rather smug and self-satisfied author C.S. Lewis (known as Jack to his friends) (portrayed by Andy Anderson) is addressing the audience in the manner of a Pen and Podium speech.  He is an author; therefore, it follows that he has figured things out and knows more than the rest of us about nearly everything.  This night he’s exploring the correlation between love and pain reviewing God’s role in both.  We later see him with his comrades as they trade gossip and philosophy; they are all nearly as intellectual and self-absorbed as Jack. Through these discussions, we get a rather clear picture of his place in the world, his place in Oxford, and his place in his life. 

Which is about to be brought to its knees in the form of a brash young American woman (Beth Crosby) who has fallen in love with him through his writing and the unexpected fact that he wrote back when she wrote to him.  Joy has a plan involving Jack already, although neither of them are quite aware of it initially.  Their growing relationship softens the awkwardness of him and enhances the boldness of her.  It also serves as an illustration of Lewis’ theories about the juncture of love and pain. 

More talk than action, the script however does carry one along with the story.  This cast tells it well.  The supporting actors – sometimes taking more than one part – create a smooth ensemble that supports the story of Jack and Joy.  I especially enjoyed the quiet unflappable work of veteran Steve Rausch as Jack’s brother and roommate in yet another of his quiet unflappable roles in which he nails every nuance of his characters part in the story.  Beth Crosby, a recent addition to the CCTL family, has an easy grace and a likable self-effacing attitude toward the situation in which she finds herself (or created to live out her plan – you choose).  If Adam Farland was directed to be obnoxious and annoying, he nailed it.  His over-bearing and, at times, rude character couldn’t say a nice word about Joy even considering the happiness she brought Jack.  The program says that Millie Marquez, drafted into playing Joy’s son, is a 5th grade student.  Her maturity and calmness on stage belies her youth and foretells a distinguished career for this young lady. 

Of course, the moving force in this script is the character of Jack Lewis given a solid portrayal by Andy Anderson.  Andy’s experience on the stage was evident in the way he moved the story forward, going from awkward unlikely suitor to besotted caregiver.  The audience enjoyed seeing his uneasiness around Joy at first, how he would shy away whenever she got too close or reached out to touch him.  Unfortunately, the script does not give enough time to let their relationship simmer a little longer, rather asking him to develop into a devoted suitor during the intermission.  But all in all, it’s a relationship we revel in seeing grow.  Andy handles both sides of his character with grace. 

I love going up to Coal Creek Theater.  It’s a nice drive from Denver, not too far but still feels like “out of town.”  A plethora of fine restaurants to find a meal.  A lovely park containing a well-appointed little theatre.  And nice people that I’m beginning to recognize from their times on the stage.  One would wish occasionally for walls for their acting space, but they always manage to solve the technical problems of the script creatively.  One criticism: Their runs – at three weeks – are too short.  It’s too easy to miss a production when you only have three weekends from which to choose. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!

237 VIRGINIA AVENUE

237 VIRGINIA AVENUE – Written by David Myers; Directed by Nick Chase and Pesha Rudnick. Produced by Local Theatre Company (Presented at the Savoy Event Center, 2700 Arapahoe, Denver) through May 19. Tickets available at 720-600-7082 or Localtheaterco.org. 

What a joy it is to see two actors at the top of their game duke it out over a piece of property – be it a game of Monopoly or a real-life homestead. David Myers’ new play explores the history of a piece of land from 1654 to the present days. Jumping back and forth from historical to current, they present the generations of people who have owned, lived on, tended to and abused their legacy of land. The (im)moral decisions made by the landowners through the Indian wars, the Revolutionary War, slavery and into modern times ultimately lead to the house now standing on the land being used as a blackmail tool of the father against his only heir. 

While in many ways this is a sorry tale, the playwright and actors have found humor in many of the situations. Instead of it becoming a maudlin exploration of woe and moral ambiguity, it becomes an all too authentic tale of family disintegration. 

Larry Hecht and Jacob Dresch play the warring family members. The time travel – while enhanced by subtle changes in costume, the voiceover announcement of the past years, and a change of light – is also made crystal clear by the actor’s change of attitude, style of dialogue, and adjustment of posture. As an audience member, you are never unsure of the era being illustrated and your place in the story. 

The co-directors, Nick Chase and Pesha Rudnick, found the humor in the script while not sacrificing the seriousness of the subject matter. The look of the play is more or less created by Markas Henry who designed the set and costumes and found the props that placed the play firmly in the era being shown. Working on a raised platform with a table and two chairs, a historical drama was created. The lighting and sound enhancements were designed by Sean Mallary and CeCe Smith. Loved the choice of Rosemary Clooney music to announce a scene from 1957 and a potential redlining incident. 

It always adds to the pleasure of the evening to return to the charming Savoy Events Center. If you haven’t been there yet, find an excuse to go. Maybe this show?? 

A WOW factor of 8.75!! 

THE ROAD TO LETHE

THE ROAD TO LETHE – Written by Jeffrey Neuman; Directed by Betty Hart. Produced by Benchmark Theatre Company (presented at 1560 Teller St, Lakewood) through May 18. Tickets available at 303-519-9059 or benchmarktheatre.com. 

Every theatre company in town has its own reputation, its own signature, its own modus operandi.  Curious does pieces that Miners Alley doesn’t take on; Vintage does things Firehouse wouldn’t touch; Lone Tree starts off a new season of theatre with two old favorites.  And that’s OK and as it should be to accommodate the eclectic tastes of the Denver theatre-going public.  But few in town can touch balls-to-the-wall Benchmark for bold gutsy controversial theatre pieces.  Does it mean they win with each one?  It’s up to your personal preference. 

My personal preference was a little shaky on this new piece.  Don’t get me wrong.  The actors did a fine job with the script they were given; the tech was impressive and there was an interesting story trying to be told.  It just didn’t feel quite like a cake yet.  Jeffrey Neuman is an amazing storyteller.  He did a great job of telling the story of The Headliners last year; I’ve seen several of his scripts that were interesting and enlightening pieces.  

A story drawn from Greek mythology translated into modern sensibility could have used a little pre-education in the publicity or program for those of us not well-versed in the Greek traditions. Research done after viewing the production disclosed that the road to Lethe of the title is one that needs to be crossed by the dead to forget their former life and progress into their next. Those that choose not to make that crossing stay mired in their memories and desire to return through the thin veil back to their former existences to complete unfinished business or impart a message to a loved one. Our hero in this case is Kal, a handyman mourning the loss of his brother. He is hired by three sisters to open and put together whatever is inside a huge box from Prime. The sisters compete for his time and attention using the appearance of power, wisdom and love as their tools. But what is their power? Do they display outstanding wisdom? How can love be so fraught with menace? 

Kal seems a gentle man torn between trying to put a world together as he works on creating a globe at his workbench – and – listening on the TV to a world being torn apart. Behind the thin veil that makes up the back wall of the set, we observe a man walking back and forth beside the unseen river, pondering his future choices and regretting his former acts. He ultimately makes a choice just as Kal is finished completing his task as well while none of the sisters seem to get whatever they wanted from Kal and fade into the background. I hope these observations from my viewing may make it easier for future observers to enjoy the production. 

Kal is created by Arthur McFarlane III, a welcome new face on the Denver scene. It seems he has filtered his own personality into his stage character because of the quiet way he talks and the deliberation with which he tackles his construction project. He never gets upset yet seems to be a man carrying a heartfelt burden. eden origin puts down his dancing shoes (almost) to take on a serious role as a soul torn by indecision and regret. It’s a little hard to imagine Arthur’s gentle giant and eden’s pixie like persona being related, but they make it happen.  

The three sisters are portrayed by Christine Kahane, Barbara Porreca, and Jennifer Condreay – all three talented and dedicated actresses. Again, while in appearance they are unlikely family siblings, they bond together to teach and reach Kal with their life lessons. Barbara wields her candy like a scepter; Jennifer creates a stately teacher who enjoys a lesson in the use of power tools while Christine seduces with her overwhelming empathy. 

The set designed by Tina Anderson, while simple, creates a realistic living room on the border of eternity. Some startling and effective sound and lighting effects were designed by Marc Stith and Neil Truglio. Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry did her usual fine job on finding authentic clothing for the actors. Whoever found that giant box from Prime did a heck of a job with props. Good job, either Colby Bleicher or Haley Johnson. 

Two weeks left in this run. Please share your personal observations about this production in the comment section. I’m truly interested in what you thought. 

A WOW factor of 8.25!! 

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Kelly Van Oosbree and Jeffrey Parker; Choreographed by Kely Van Oosbree. produced by the Platte Valley Players (presented at the Armory Performing Arts Center, 300 Strong Street, Brighton) through May 11. Tickets available at plattevalleyplayers.org. 

Out of the cast of twenty players, eleven are making their debut at Platte Valley Players with this production. I mention this only because it says something that so many local actors are becoming anxious to work at (or return to) PVP and the opportunity to be creative with Kelly Van Oosbree. I can’t remember that I’ve ever seen Kelly ON a stage but what she can do with a CAST OF PEOPLE on a stage is not to be missed. To drive that far to rehearse and perform says something about the draw of KVO and Mr. Shakespeare. 

Speaking of Mr. Shakespeare, I am confident that he is standing backstage at his celestial Globe smiling down at his friends in Brighton and laughing at their antics. This interpretation of MIDSUMMER includes rock ‘n’ roll, sultry blues music, a rousing rendition of “I Would Walk 500 Miles,” bubbles and assorted variations of wackiness – in addition to the familiar humor built into the script from the beginning. 

The cast is more than up to the task and have, no doubt, contributed little bits to the fun as rehearsals progressed. While MOST of the dialogue is Shakespeare’s, it is performed in a modern style that aided in understanding. The ten-year-old sitting next to me was giggling at all the appropriate places. First timers and purists both will approve of this treatment of the sacred script. 

So much rests on the shoulders of the feuding lovers of the story. This quartet of players – Aspen McCart as Hermia and Dallas Slankard as Helena are paired with Sam Werkema as Lysander and Tyler Strickland as Demetrius – trade places and tempers with abandon. Starting as warring lovers before falling under the power of Puck, they end up in a tumbled pile of sleeping children. With a lot happening in-between. 

The other group that is so crucial to the humor of the show is the Mechanicals – tradespeople who want to gain prestige and pennies by entertaining Theseus (Daniel Mothershed) and his bride Hippolyta (Jennifer Grahnquist). Their choice of plays is a “tragical comedy” called Pyramus and Thisbe, a storyline originally fashioned by Ovid in 8 BC, then stolen by Shakespeare and centuries later, turned into THE FANTASTICKS by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. The Mechanicals and their parts within the play-within-the-play are Greer Caldwell as Wall, Kris Graves as Lion, Rick Long as Moonshine, Chase Ralston as a reluctant Thisbe and Charlie Schmidt as the over-acting Pyramus, all directed by Adam Luhrs as the “director.” They each bring a unique look and style to the parts in the play, as well as retaining the innocence of tradespeople unschooled in the ways of the theatre. Their enthusiasm is laugh inducing; their performance brings belly laughs. 

As always, the mischievous Puck is behind all the confusion and chaos. Denver’s own magical imp brings her special charm to the role. Rachel Graham is athletic, conspiratorial, subservient yet independent, and squeezes all the humor from Shakespeare’s words and then finds additional laughs with her body language and eye-rolling facial expressions. 

Special kudos must go to Terri Fong-Schmidt for the beautiful costumes which include rich robes for the royalty, innocence personified by the white garb of the lovers and comical costume depictions of the characters in the Mechanicals turn on stage. I’m not sure who to give credit to for the brilliant choice of music to accompany the madness – Ryan Michener, the Sound Designer or Kelly, the director – but every bit of it elicited laughs from the audience as recognition set in.  

PVP is making its mark on Denver theatre. Don’t be the last one to find this out for yourself. This show has a very short run, but tickets are still available for next weekend. 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

THE FULL MONTY

THE FULL MONTY – Book by Terrance McNally; Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek; Directed by Nick Sugar; Musical Direction by David Nehls. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1100 Miners Alley, Golden) through June 2. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com. 

Let’s get it straight right off the bat! FULL MONTY as done by the men of Miners Alley is an absolute HOOT! Full of fun, charm and a little bit of skin, there’s something for everyone is this delightful production. While totally recognizing my own dotage, the truly elderly woman I sat next to on a recent Sunday afternoon was grinning through the whole production and only covered her eyes once during Ethan Walker’s opening performance as Keno, the professional Chippendale. This is a musical comedy, folks; it’s not a genuine male strip show. As a matter of fact, they don’t even list a choreographer for this show that talks about and leads up to a bunch of men demonstrating how they can barely dance (see what I did there!). Which means the actors themselves must have come up with the steps they did at the end. 

This is totally part of the charm of this piece. You may have seen some of these guys (and girls) in other shows and know that they can dance. They can act sophisticated and suave. But for this production, they personify the man off the street drawn into a situation they never thought possible; absolute fish out of water. If they didn’t all sing so well, you could believe that they all met in a bar and decided to do this show on the spur of the moment. 

Let me introduce the main players. Nick Rigg Johnson plays Jerry who is driven to desperation to raise child support so he can keep seeing his son. If there’s any doubt as to his determination, listen to the words of his lullaby to his son in “Breeze Off the River.” There’s Alejandro Gutierrez playing Dave, a part that has to be assigned to an actor with bulk to his body and a tender singing voice. Alejandro bravely fits the bill as he serenades his sleeping wife with “You Rule My World.” Next we have Rory Pierce, a Miners Alley Favorite, as Harold who has kept his unemployment from his wife and needs to raise money to pay for their next cruise. He joins Dave, making “You Rule My World” a duet as he sings of his love for his wife. The fourth member is Malcomb (Caleb Wenger) who Jerry and Dave save from an attempted suicide by outlining the better ways of doing it with “A Big Ass Rock.” The Hot Metal dance crew add Horse (Dwayne Carrington) and Ethan (Alejandro Roldan) through a hilarious audition process. Also adding youth and heart to the production is Greyson Allensworth (himself a high school junior) as Jerry’s son Nathan who slowly understands why his dad is doing this crazy thing. 

The women in their world are also ably performed by Kayleigh Bernier as Pam (Jerry’s ex), Julia Tobey as Vicki (Harold’s unsuspecting spendthrift wife) and Leiney Rigg as Georgie (Dave’s loving wife). In a show-stopping role as the pianist who shows up to play for the men’s rehearsals (piano and all) is the unforgettable Annie Dwyer. What a treat to see her perform “Jeannette’s ShowBiz Number” where she tells the men how inadequate they are and recounts her own adventures as accompanist to the greats like Frank Sinatra, etc. 

Miners Alley has learned to use their small playing space by creating set pieces that move off and on stage quickly from the wings. It keeps the pace moving steadily and puts the emphasis on the story itself, rather than the “look” of the stage. Scenic Designer Johnathan Scott-McKean and Prop Designer Samantha Piel created the pieces of this process. Kudos as well to Sound Designer and Mixer John Hauser for balancing the music of the offstage five piece live band (led by David Nehls) and the singing of the actors on stage. 

I would be remiss in not mentioning the original creators of this piece who seem to have been left out of the program. The script for the musical which was adapted in 2000 from the script of the original British movie which came out in 1997 was written by the brilliant Terrence McNally who wrote nearly forty plays before his recent death, many of whom you have seen. David Yazbek found just the right note with his music to infuse the production with heart and humor. Any composer who could come up with “Big Ass Rock” and “The Goods” as well as “You Walk With Me” and “Let It Go” deserves the Tony he was nominated for. This is the hot ticket in town right now – don’t let it get away without seeing it!! 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

CHEYANNE

CHEYANNE – Written by Cipriano Ortega; Directed by Phil Luna.  Produced by Control Group Productions (Presented at the People’s Building, 9995 East Colfax, Aurora) through May 5. Tickets available at thepeople’sbuilding.com/tickets. 

What an absolute joy it must be to have your first actual play find its voice and tell your story! Cipriano Ortega is a local actor who has worked for a long time on this script and finally sees it through to finish. And then act in it himself and speak the words he worked on for so long. Congratulations, Cipriano! He has had the added joy of performing with and writing for his friends who join him in the cast. 

Angel Mendez Soto is a steadfast member of the Su Teatro company and has graced dozens of scripts with them. As a stage elder, he continues to bring meaningful characters to life with ease. In this tale, he plays the father of Cheyanne, confined to her apartment by physical impairment and creeping dementia. A fine artist who could not make a living for his family in that field, he turned instead to painting houses for most of his life. Now in his dotage, he can’t stop painting all the walls he sees – even in their living room. Angel gives his character dignity, affection and understanding for his daughter and a righteous opinion about everything left in his life. 

Angel is joined by Iliana Lucero Barron, well known to Curious and BETC audiences, as Cheyanne, a noted fine artist who, for some unknown reason, thinks it’s a good idea to “collaborate” on a painting with her boyfriend. As soon as she finishes one section, he comes to the canvas and paints over it or “fixes” it. Whoever thought that would be a good idea?? She contains her frustration (barely) and there seems to be very little love left in their relationship or partnership in paint. She is irritated all the way through the evening, except with her father, then has a marvelous breakthrough right at the very end of the story. 

Both of the painters, Cheyanne and her boyfriend, are represented by an art agent and gallery owner played over-the-top by Megally Luna. This is a real break from the ordinary for Megally whose characters are usually either distressed or comforting, played with sweetness and heart. Her part in this play brings out her saucy side with her flamboyant clothing, her compulsion toward the bottom line (money, not art), and her two-faced approach to her problems with these two painters who don’t seem to be able to finish anything. She’s a hoot every minute she’s on stage and provides the catalyst for the final showdown. 

Cipriano plays the boyfriend himself and gives a touching performance of one who really seems to care for Cheyanne, but is getting frustrated by her plow-ahead attitude when all he’s really interested in is painting what the gallery wants and getting the money. Oh, and marrying the girl might be kind of nice too. He’s caring with the father, but the father sees through it to his true motives. I got the sense that he was on the down slope of this career while Cheyanne was on the rising side of hers. 

The four of them tell an interesting story of family commitment, art vs. Industry, ambition vs. surrender. The story could be a sharp saucy story told in about 40 minutes or so; the current production runs for a normal length two act play which seemed a little stretched out for the dialogue that needed to happen. I like it that the cast is comfortable with no dialogue for stretches at a time while action only with no words is taking place on stage. It’s hard to be on stage and not talking; these guys make it work. But the bottom line is that the whole show comes down to a one-word sight gag that we never see. Is that enough of a mystery to pique your interest?? Come on down to the People’s Building this weekend and see for yourself. 

A WOW factor of 8.25 !! 

THE SECRET GARDEN

THE SECRET GARDEN – Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman; Music by Lucy Simon; Directed by Shelly Gaza; Music Direction by Katie Hughes; Choreography by Adria Maria.  Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace, Johnstown) through June 16.  Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or ColoradoCandlelight.com. 

The music and lyrics from THE SECRET GARDEN by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon (as taught and conducted by Katie Hughes, Music Director) is absolutely lush and illustrates an uplifting story. A girl left orphaned by cholera thrust into a new strange unwelcoming world. Two brothers who loved the same woman who died in childbirth. A son isolated from his father fearful he had inherited a disability. All brought back to life by the love of the absent mother, the presence of a curious young girl, and the miracle of a magical garden. How could you not love that? 

Candlelight’s production delivers on telling the story and performing the music beautifully. While the young actors are double-cast, the duo I saw, Alianna Glorioso as Mary Lennox and Gus Gaza as the sickly Colin, were outstandingly strong performers. With precise diction, strong voices and commitment to their characters, the young people charmed and moved the story from dark to light with grace and ease.

The adults were ably represented as well with Patric Case as the broken-hearted Archibald and BDT alumni Scott Severtson as Neville, the two brothers. Their rendition of “Lily’s Eyes” with its mind-blowing octave drop in the middle of a verse easily moved the female half of the audience to tears. Amazing! The woman they are singing about – the absent Lily – was beautifully sung by Maryann Aurie who shares a lovely duet with her sister Rose (veteran Candlelight performer Sara Kowalski). 

The supporting performers are a mix of first-timers and long-timers including Chas Lederer as a delightful Ben, the gardener; Sarah Forman as Martha, the housekeeper and friend to the children, and Eric Heine and Hugh Butterfield playing members of the doomed India Company. Newcomers welcomed to the fold include Ariana Duran as Ayah, an Indian nurse; Jerod Mose as the Fakir, Jazz Mueller and Jennasea Pearce (both fresh from BDT) as the lively Dickon and the harsh Mrs. Winthrop; and Jason Rexx as Albert, Mary’s deceased father. 

There were lovely moments in the staging, such as the guardians watching over Mary as she moves into this new world and begins to make friends. Figures dressed in white behind a scrim that neither guided nor interfered – just watched hopefully. The camaraderie between the young Dickon, the older Ben and Martha, the housekeeper, seemed authentic and enjoyable. But there were also moments that disappointed. The healing ceremony for Colin seemed out of place and poorly illustrated through dance. An almost bizarre comical ritual in the midst of an English garden. The climatic duet between the deceased Lily and her grieving husband was beautifully sung but unimaginatively staged. This was not enough to spoil the production for the enthusiastic audience, and it shouldn’t deter any of you reading from seeing the production. Candlelight ordinarily sets the bar so high that sometimes it’s hard to meet their own standards. 

A WOW factor of 8.25!!