Monday, May 28, 2012


Jenna Bainbridge as "Cinderella" at Boulder Dinner Theater
Playwrights:  Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II (music, lyrics, book)

Venue:  Boulder's Dinner Theater, 5501 Arapahoe Road, Boulder, CO

Date of Performance:  Sunday, May 27, 2012

Standing around in the lobby at the Boulder Dinner Theater, waiting for the house to open, I immediately noticed something different about the crowd.  I guess I didn’t expect to see a large number of young girls (ages 4-40) in sequined slippers, tiaras, and dresses fit for a royal ball.  But there they were, chattering, giggling, and anxious to see the girl who met the prince at the royal ball. 

We all know the story.  Poor, pathetic Cinderella is brow beaten by her ugly stepsisters and her wicked stepmother.  She toils away in obscurity until her Fairy Godmother waves her magic wand and makes her the belle of the royal ball, where she meets her Prince Charming.

To take such a familiar story and tell it on stage is a challenge.  We all know how it turns out.  But despite the lack of suspense, the Boulder Dinner Theater nailed it.  Nailed it to the wall.  They breathed life, love, and inspiration into the story we all know by heart. And the audience is touched by the message that all things are possible:

“Because these daft and dewy eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day.”

Strong singing voices are a threshold requirement for a musical.  Without good voices, nothing else matters. “Cinderella” blows by that threshold in Act I, Scene I.  The voices aren’t just adequate; they’re delightful.  “Cinderella” is replete with talented, strong, singing voices that bring the story to life. 

For Jenna Bainbridge, a veteran of the PHAMALY theater company, I’m sure this is a role she relishes.  Her enthusiasm for the role is obvious in every smile, every glance, and every line she delivers on stage.  There are aspects of Cinderella that parallel her own life; she has turned the impossible into the possible, and her theater dream into her reality.  And that, in part, is what makes her such a perfect actress for Cinderella.

Bainbridge not only brings her life experiences to the stage; she also brings her crystal clear singing voice and her impressive acting skills.  She is a joy to watch (and hear).  But she doesn’t need a glass slipper to prove that she’s the one we’ve been looking for.  We can tell when we first hear her sing, alone, on a darkened stage, lit by a single muted spotlight, during the overture.  Yes.  She’s the one.  We know it immediately.  She is Cinderella.

Matthew Daily plays the Prince, and he looks like, acts like, and sings just like the fantasy prince we all want for Cinderella.  He is our “Prince Charming” in every sense.  His chemistry with Cinderella is unmistakable. 

The entire cast is talented, animated, and fun.  The costumes are breathtaking, and Bainbridge’s costume change at the end of the first act is a feat of theatrical magic.  The entire production is a polished combination of on stage talent and backstage expertise. 

As for Alicia Dunfee’s skillful direction, one item stands out as especially inspired.  She cast Matthew Peters and Bob Hoppe in drag as the stepsisters (Joy and Grace).  Both make the most of his/her role, playing the sisters as hilarious caricatures.  As a result, the stepsisters are not your usual witch types.  Rather, they are fun, witty, and entertaining witch types.

There’s something very comforting about a story where the heroine gets the prince and everyone lives happily ever after.  No matter how many times we see that story, we’re charmed and inspired.  And what better way is there to walk out of the theater at the end of the show? 

NOTEThis is one of the best musical productions I have seen in a long time.  It’s also one of those all too rare live theater experiences that works superbly for children.  So take your kids to “Cinderella,” no matter their ages.  And then, take your friends and their kids.  It’s that good.

This show runs through September 1, 2012.

Director:  Alicia Dunfee

Jenna Bainbridge (Cinderella)

Ali Dunfee (Fairy Godmother)

Shelly Cox-Robie (Stepmother)

Matthew D. Peters (Joy)

Bob Hoppe (Grace)

Matthew Daily (Prince Christopher)

Seth Caikowski (Lionel)

Tracy Warren (Queen Constantina)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"The Misanthrope"

Playwright:  Molière (né Jean-Baptiste Poquelin)

Venue:  Germinal Stage Denver, 2450 West 44th Avenue, Denver, CO

Company:  Germinal Stage Denver

Date of Performance:  Sunday, May 20, 2012

How do you update a classic piece of theater written in 1666?  You start by introducing it with one of John Denver’s greatest hits, of course. 

"But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby
Rocky mountain high"

Oh.  And move the play from Paris to Aspen, and set it in the 21st century.  And violà!  It works!

For those unfamiliar with the play, a misanthrope is a person who dislikes and/or distrusts people in general.  I think we all know a “misanthrope,” but we would use different terms today; rude, inconsiderate, self centered, and antisocial all come to mind.

Molière’s comedies often mock the upper classes, showing them to be shallow hypocrites and fools.  He writes in verse, and Germinal Stage Denver has very wisely used the Richard Wilbur translation.  Wilbur has deftly preserved Moliere’s wit and rhymes without losing anything in translation. 

The plot seems thin by today’s standards; Alceste gets into a huge dispute with Oronte.  The disagreement is over whether Oronte has any promise as a poet (he doesn’t), and whether Alceste could somehow be a little more sensitive in his criticism (he can’t). 

Molière also dabbles here in some more serious plot questions.  Are manners the enemy of truth?  Do men compromise all their convictions for a woman?  Actually, though, these questions are secondary to the comedy.  Molière will make you laugh, he will entertain you, and that, frankly, is the goal here.

Alceste (Terry Burnsed) is brilliant as the antisocial misanthrope.  He’s a cranky curmudgeon, and he doesn’t care in the slightest that he is exceedingly unpopular as a result.  He’s rude because he insists on telling the truth to people instead of exercising the false politeness that passes for manners.  He speaks truth to power…and to everyone else as well.

Alceste has a highly capable foil in Celimene, played by Julie Michalak.  She’s sassy, sexy, witty, and she knows how to handle the Misanthrope.  Michalak brings a perky feminine presence to the stage that makes us laugh at Alceste’s foolishness while she charms every male who takes the stage.  She may be from the 17th century, but she’s a modern woman in every sense.

The entire cast is very capable, and this production makes Molière fun again.
Even better than making Molière fun again is that director Ed Baierlein makes Molière relevant again.  Setting the play in contemporary Aspen reminds us that the “elites” are still an easy target for Molière’s wit.  Money may get you a condo near the ski lift, but it doesn’t cure the self-indulgent foolishness that often accompanies the privileged class.

I think if Molière were alive today, he might be a rap artist.  His rhyming lines and social commentary would make him a great collaborator with 50 Cent or Jay-Z.  Or perhaps he would be a comedy writer…and a very good one.  He can throw out zingers as well as the writers of “Big Bang Theory” or any other contemporary comedy.

As a long-standing Molière fan (we all have guilty pleasures, right?), I was definitely looking forward to this Germinal Stage Denver production.  It delivered.  I totally enjoyed the production and the performance.  If Molière is not your guilty pleasure, I get it.  But if you give it a chance, I think you’ll be glad you did. 

NOTE:  This is definitely a family show.  Kids might resist seeing something written in verse 340 years ago, but they might also be very surprised to find they like it.

This show runs through June 10, 2012.

Director:  Ed Baierlein

Terry Burnsed (Alceste)

Julie Michalak  (Celimene)

Leroy Leonard (Philinte)

Eric Victor (Oronte)

Sam Gilstrap (Acaste)

Randy Diamon (Clitandre)

Mary Cates (Eliante)

Anne Smith Myers (Arsinoe)

Marc K. Moran  (Dubois)  

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Playwright:  Tracy Letts

Venue:  Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO

Company:  Devil’s Thumb Theater Company

Date of Performance:  Saturday, May 19, 2012

Good theater entertains us.  Great theater challenges us.  Devil’s Thumb’s production of “Bug” is one of the biggest theatrical challenges I have ever encountered.  Does that make “Bug” great theater?  You will have to answer that question for yourself.

“Bug” is a dark, depressing descent into paranoia.  During this excursion into insanity, you will endure physical violence, fighting, emotional suffering, drinking, drug use, murder, and a tumultuous, tragic conclusion.  You will be challenged; this show is not for the squeamish. 

Graham Emmons plays Peter, the Gulf War veteran who has spent four years in a military mental hospital.  Peter introduces himself early in the first act by proclaiming that he is not “an ax murderer.”  That’s probably true, but it is ultimately not very comforting.  Peter cannot and does not live in the real world.  He is consumed by a perceived conspiracy of military doctors who have infected him with “bugs.”  Aphids.  Tiny, nasty creatures that get under your skin, lay eggs, and take over your body.

Emmons is completely convincing as a soft spoken, sensitive, and sincere victim of his war experiences, and his resulting insanity is equally convincing.  This is a physically and emotionally difficult role for any actor.  Emmons has mastered his craft.  He is a scary, convincing and ultimately tragic Peter Evans.

Kirsten Deane plays Agnes, the drug addicted loser who lets Peter live with her in her flea-bag motel room.  I don’t do spoilers, so I will just say that her performance is worth whatever you pay to see this show.  She makes the transition from troubled to insane before your eyes.  Her gradual retreat from reality is difficult to watch, but it is a performance that you will not easily forget.

Put Emmons and Deane on the stage with this strong supporting cast, excellent direction from Gregory Thorson, some outstanding fight choreography, and stunning makeup, and you have a recipe for the remarkable theater experience that Devil’s Thumb has served up for us. 

Great theater challenges us.  “Bug” challenged me.  It disturbed me.  It made me uncomfortable.  But without taking anything away from the performances and production, it also made me angry.  “Bug” challenges the audience to endure the insanity, but it offers no reward for the effort.  The characters learn nothing from their experiences, and there is no “takeaway” for the audience.  This is not in any sense a criticism of the performance.  Rather, it is a criticism of a script that gratuitously provokes, shocks, and disturbs the audience.  In fact, I left the theater feeling somewhat used, even abused, by a self-indulgent playwright. 

As inspired as this production is, I cannot give an excellent performance of an empty script a higher rating than I did below (3.75 on a scale of 0-5).  Feel free to disagree.  I’d appreciate any opinions you might have on “Bug.”  Comments are encouraged…

NOTE:  This is not a family show.  Be prepared for drug use, adult language, nudity, and graphic violence. 

This show runs through June 2, 2012.
Director:  Gregory Thorson

Kirsten Deane (Agnes White)
Graham Emmons (Peter Evans)
Haley M. Driscoll  (R.C.)
Sean Scrutchins  (Jerry Goss)
Scott G. Hartman (Dr. Sweet)

Monday, May 14, 2012

“A View from the Bridge”

Playwright:  Arthur Miller

Venue:  Edge Theater, 9797 W. Colfax, Denver, CO

Company:  The Edge Theater Company

Date of Performance:  Sunday, May 13, 2012

Overheard leaving the theater after the Mother’s Day performance of “A View from the Bridge:”

“You know, sometimes these small theaters put on a better show than the big, expensive shows downtown.”

I agree completely.  And the Edge Theater’s production of “A View from the Bridge” is Exhibit A in support of that statement.

The story, in a nutshell, involves a large influx of immigrants coming to America in search of work and a better life.  Some of the immigrants are legal, others illegal.  Families hide illegal relatives to protect them from Immigration.  If you think this sounds like contemporary Arizona and Mexican immigrants, you’d be right, but mistaken.  It’s the 1950’s, and the location is Brooklyn, New York.  And the immigrants are not Mexican; they’re Italian.

The plot involves a complicated family crisis, triggered by Beatrice (Carol Bloom) when she invites her cousins to live with them when they enter America illegally.   Her husband, Eddie Carbone (played by Rick Yaconis) is incensed when his niece Catherine (Rebecca Morphis) falls in love with Rudolpho (played by Stephen Siebert), one of the live-in illegal immigrants.  The harder Eddie tries to break up the young couple, the more volatile (and violent) the conflict becomes.

This production is performed in the round.  In such a small venue (less than 70 seats total), the effect is striking.  You are not watching the show; you are in the middle of it.  You cannot help but be engaged by actors who are sometimes merely a foot away from your face.  The action is natural, not blocked to present an artificial, front facing delivery. 

There is not a weak spot anywhere in the cast; the performances are all top notch.  That said, though, Rebecca Morphis stands out in a cast of very capable performers.  In such close quarters, everyone in the theater can see fear in Morphis’ eyes, see her lips quiver, see the real tears falling from her eyes.  Rather than portray her character, she becomes Catherine.  Her emotion is real, and every look, every gesture, every line is convincing.  Watching her at such a close range will make you realize that the cheap seats in a big venue are not a bargain.

Stephen Siebert’s performance is also very engaging.  As the young Italian immigrant who falls in love with Catherine, he has all the qualities that would attract a girl like her.  He’s convincing as both the sexy guy who wins over Catherine, and as the effeminate peacock who repulses Eddie Carbone.  Seeing Siebert portray both personas is a joy to watch.  And his brief a cappella performance of “Paper Doll” in the first act is not to be missed.

The costumes and set are simple and functional.  The Italian accents are convincing.  The fight choreography in the second act is realistic.  All the technical parts work seamlessly with the actors to create a compelling performance.

“A View from a Bridge” is a timely reminder to all of us that immigration problems are not new, nor are they given to oversimplification.  “What part of illegal do you not understand” is a bumper sticker position that ignores the complex reality of immigration.  Arthur Miller knew it was a complex issue 50 some years ago.  And it still is today.

When one says that sometimes the small theater venues in Denver are better than some of the large ones, they may well be talking about The Edge Theater.  They are consistently producing and performing at a very high level.  I recommend “A View from the Bridge” to everyone who enjoys live theater done right.

NOTE:  This is not really a family show; the themes are definitely mature.  Despite that disclaimer, there’s no nudity, no sex, and no profanity.  So the kids may not be interested anyway.

This show runs through June 3, 2012.

Director:  Angela Astle

Rick Yaconis (Eddie Carbone)
Carol Bloom (Beatrice Carbone)
Rebecca Morphis  (Catherine)
Stephen Siebert  (Rudolpho)
Ryan Goold (Marco)
Verl Hite (Mr. Alfieri)