Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Noises Off"

Photo Credit:  Lone Tree Arts Center

Playwright:  Michael Frayn.

VenueLone Tree Arts Center, 10075 Commons Street, Lone Tree, CO  80124

Company:  Co-produced by Lone Tree Arts Center and Starkey Theatrix

Date of Performance:  Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes one 10 minute one 5 minute intermission)

Although I’ve seen a lot of theater over the years, I’ve never been backstage at a dress rehearsal hours before the opening performance.  Of course, I’ve never seen how sausage is made either.  The difference is that sausage making is not fun to watch, while the dress rehearsal in Noises Off is hilarious.  I think I can say, without spoiling any of the fun, that Noises Off successfully demonstrates how a production can go off the rails and descend into insanity and hilarity.

A “play within a play,” Noises Off is a complex, layered, frenetic script offering substantial challenges to the director (Nick Sugar) and the cast.  The actors are playing dual roles here, first as “actors” and second as the characters they portray in “Nothing On,” a play that is always near collapse both on and offstage. 

Photo credit:  Lone Tree Arts Center
Sugar has assembled an experienced and talented cast that is more than equal to the challenges.  Precise comedic timing is an essential element for Noises Off, and the cast is consistently amazing for hitting their marks at exactly the right time.  Michael Bouchard (“Garry”) Anna Gibson (“Brooke) Evan Marquez (“Freddie”) and Lauren Bahlman (“Belinda”) are the center of gravity around which the other characters orbit.  Their timing, gestures, facial expressions, and delivery sell the action and entertain the audience at every turn. 

Anna Gibson (“Brooke”) stands out here as an airheaded actress who doesn’t realize she’s unintentionally hysterical.  She is not just endearingly ditzy, but she also heats up the stage with her costume (which appears to be lingerie from Fredericks of Hollywood).  She never seems to notice that she is usually the only one onstage in underwear, and acts as if it’s all perfectly normal.  At one point, in fact, she offers to take it all off (she doesn’t), as if that would somehow solve some problems.

Evan Marquez (“Freddie”) has mastered physical comedy, and even manages to climb a flight of stairs with his pants around his ankles. (His Union Jack boxers are a hoot.)  His facial gestures are deliciously exaggerated as he reacts with what appears to be genuine surprise at the developments.

The first act drags a little, but it’s essential to setting up the chaos of the second act.  There is a lot of physical comedy here…so much so that it’s exhausting just watching the actors. 

If I have a quibble with the production, it’s that the program does not credit the set designer.  Presumably, the credit goes to both the Lone Tree Arts Center and to Starkey Theatrix.  The 360 degree set is striking in its functionality and detail.  It sits on a turntable, and can display both the onstage action and the backstage chaos.  The set here is as important as the characters; I think the designer deserves a mention in the program.  In any event, a tip of my hat to whoever was responsible for putting that set together.

I had a great time watching this performance.  Noises Off is engaging, charming, entertaining, and hilarious.  It definitely gets my recommendation.  However, it’s a pretty short run (through February 10), so if you’re interested, you need to book tickets soon.   


This show runs through February 10, 2013.  Noises Off may not be appropriate for young children due to some vulgar language in the first act. 

If you haven’t been to the Lone Tree Arts Center (west of I-25 at Lincoln), you haven’t seen one of the newest and finest theaters in the area.  The Main Stage Theater seats nearly 500, but feels much more intimate.  It’s a great venue, and the line up of coming attractions is impressive.

Director:  Nick Sugar

Lighting Designer:  Jacob Welch

Producers:  Starkey Theatrix & Lone Tree Arts Center

Costume Designer:  Linda Morkin


Trina Magness, Michael Bouchard, Evan Marquez.  Photo credit: LTAC
Dotty:  Trina Magness

Brooke:  Anna Gibson

Garry:  Michael Bouchard

Poppy:  Rachel Bouchard

Belinda:  Lauren Bahlman

Freddie:  Evan Marquez

Selsdon:  Ron Welch

Tim:  Scott Cahoon

Lloyd:  Kurt Brighton

Saturday, January 19, 2013

RFK: A Portrait of Robert Kennedy

Photo credit:  Vintage Theatre
Playwright:  Jack Holmes.

VenueVintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, CO

CompanyVintage Theatre

Date of Performance:  Friday, January 18, 2013

Running Time:  2 hours, 10 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)

They say that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963.  I know I do. 

I was in Mrs. Muckenhirn’s 5th period sophomore English class at West High School in Madison, Wisconsin.  Just after 1:00, we got an announcement over the loudspeaker.  President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.  Classes were dismissed.  I remember getting my coat and waiting at the bus stop a block away at the corner of Regent and Allen Streets.  A light rain fell as I waited for the bus, trying to process the unthinkable reality of that day.

We all bring some baggage to the table when the subject is the Kennedys.  Love them or hate them; few are neutral.  Consider the above information to be my full disclosure.  RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy is a history lesson for most, but for me, it’s reliving a reality.  My sophomore, but hopefully not sophomoric, reality may affect my review.  Take it for what its worth.

James O’Hagan-Murphy delivers an intense, personal RFK.  He walks about the small stage, recounting the learning experiences he endured from 1963 to 1968.  Many of those experiences were traumatic, including the assassination of his brother.  O’Hagan-Murphy’s one-man performance is inspired; he commands the stage as the Attorney General, as the junior Senator from New York, and as the candidate for President in 1968.  I knew RFK in these roles because I was a politically aware young adult at the time. 

What I didn’t know was RFK’s role as a husband, father, brother, and as a man.   It is those moments where O’Hagan-Murphy shines, reminding us that RFK was much more complex than the political images we remember.  He enjoyed football, his kids, meeting celebrities (yes…that includes Marilyn Monroe), and jumping into dangerous waters.  Literally.

O’Hagan-Murphy tells the story of RFK meeting a six year old girl in a dilapidated building in the Bronx.  He tries to connect with her, but she won’t meet his gaze.  O’Hagan-Murphy’s passionate portrayal of the incident elicits audible gasps from the audience as he tells the story.

Director Terry Dodd has used the small room to great advantage.  O’Hagan-Murphy moves constantly from stage left to stage right, telling stories, and making direct eye contact with each and every person in the audience.  You cannot avoid his eyes; he locks on to you.  Dodd and O’Hagan-Murphy have made the experience intensely intimate and personal. 

The blocking and lighting are magnificent; O’Hagan uses the entire stage, but every move appears natural.  Despite his apparent meandering about, he is never in the dark. 

The subtle but unmistakable truth sewn into the fabric of RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy is that not very much has changed since 1968.  We are still a divided country, we still fight unjustified wars, and we still tolerate poverty and racism in the most affluent country in the world.  Whoever said “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it” was obviously right.  Unfortunately, it also seems true that knowing history does not cure our historical failures.

If I haven’t yet made myself clear, RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy is a total winner.  Perfectionists may quibble of the quality of O’Hagan-Murphy’s Boston accent, or over the somewhat humorless two hours of RFK as a ruthless practitioner of hardball politics.  I have no such reservations about this production.  It is engaging, enlightening, entertaining, emotional, and at times inspiring. 

Whatever your political persuasion, you will benefit from seeing RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy.  If you don’t care for Kennedy and his politics, you will still be impressed with his resilient personality and his undisputed accomplishments.  If you see the world as RFK did, you may be surprised to see his temper, his flaws, and his humanity.  He was not the idol on a pedestal that some mistook him for, nor was he a rich, isolated, liberal elite as his enemies believed.  The truth is somewhere in between.  

Vintage Theatre, James O’Hagan-Murphy, and Terry Dodd have given us a behind the scenes look at RFK, the ambitious but flawed man who didn’t get to finish his mission. 

We are left with the ultimately futile question of “what if RFK had not been cut down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968?”  Of course, we can’t know the answer.  “RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy” can only remind us of what might have been.  

That is an opportunity that no local theater fan should miss. 

Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons

“Some men see things the way they are and say, 'Why?'  I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?”

Robert F. Kennedy


Originally scheduled to run through January 27, RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy has been extended through February 24, 2013.  Purchase tickets here.

Director:  Terry Dodd

Sound Designer:  Luke Terry

Lighting Designer:  Luke Slotwinski

Set Designer:  Terry Dodd/David LaFont


Robert F. Kennedy:  James O’Hagan-Murphy

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Forever Plaid"

Book by:  Stuart Ross.

Venue:  Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 West Main Street, Littleton, CO

Date of Performance:  Thursday, January 17, 2013

The 1950’s are generally remembered as the best of times.  It was a time of peace, innocence, relative prosperity, and “traditional” family values.  Whether those memories are accurate is subject to debate, but there’s no dispute that it was the Golden Age of musical harmonies.  Forever Plaid is living, breathing, singing proof of the musical magic of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the Plaids were a 1950’s guy group, singing harmonies in bowling alleys and lounges in eastern Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately, they were all killed when they were slammed by a school bus full of parochial kids from Our Lady of Harrisburg on their way to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.  In other words, the entire cast is dead for the entire show.

In death, the Plaids have one last opportunity to do the concert they never got to do in life.  They have come back to the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center for a truly final appearance.  They take advantage of the opportunity and deliver a triumphant show chock full of delicious musical memories.

The story, however, is secondary to the music.  This play is about the music, and the plot serves only as a way to string together great songs.  And the set list is indeed impressive:  Three Coins in the Fountain, Catch a Falling Star, and Heart and Soul…just to mention a few.

Tim Howard, Barret Harper, Mark Middlebrooks, Jacob Villareal
Forever Plaid requires a solid cast with perfectly matched singing voices.  Nick Sugar (Director) and Donna Debreceni (Music Director) have put together a highly talented group, and they belt out every number with precision, harmony, and a touch of comedy.  When the Plaids are not blending their voices in delicate harmonies, Barret Harper (“Cry”) and Jacob Villareal (Sixteen Tons/Chain Gang) deliver solid, soulful solos. 

The audience demographic skews to a fairly mature group, but that doesn’t mean that younger audiences won’t enjoy this show.  In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that those who don’t remember the 1950’s and 1960’s will be impressed with the music and energy of Forever Plaid.  The contrast between guy group harmonies of 50-60 years ago and the current crop of rap music is stark.  Exposing kids to the former may change their views of the latter.

Forever Plaid at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center is a guaranteed good time for all.  If you’ve never seen this show, don’t miss this opportunity.  If you’ve seen it before, see it again.  It’s a two-hour trip back in time that will make you smile, sing and laugh. 


This show runs until February 10, 2013.  This show is suitable for children.  You may want to arrive early, as the on street parking is limited.  There is an RTD park and ride lot nearby.  There are numerous restaurants and taverns nearby, so you may want to make Forever Plaid a dinner and show event.

Director:  Nick Sugar

Music Director:  Donna K. Debreceni

Sound Designer:  John Rivera

Lighting Designer:  Jacob Welch

Set Designer:  Tina Anderson

Costume Designer:  Linda Morken


Francis:  Mark Middlebrooks

Jinx:  Barret Harper

Smudge:  Jacob Villareal

Sparky:  Tim Howard


Piano:  Donna Debreceni

Bass:  Austin Hein

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"War Horse"

Photo Credit:  Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Based on a novel by:  Michael Morpurgo.

Adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford.

VenueDenver Center for the Performing Arts, Temple Hoyne Buell Theater, 1400 Curtis Street, Denver, CO.

Date of Performance:  Tuesday, January 8, 2013 (opening night)

Running Time:  2 hours 45 minutes (includes 20 minute intermission and 12 minute stoppage in the second act).

Opening nights are risky; if something can go wrong, there’s a pretty good chance it will happen at the first performance.  War Horse opened at the Buell on Tuesday, January 8, and it was as memorable for a serious glitch as it was for its dramatic aspirations.

War Horse hit Denver shortly after winning five Tony awards in 2011.  It was a highly anticipated theater event; substantial print and TV press coverage preceded the opening performance.  The show features lifelike puppets to portray the title character.  

To be clear, those puppets do NOT disappoint.  The illusion is so good that one easily forgets that there is no horse on the stage.  The movements, the mannerisms, and frankly, the personality of the horse Joey are dead ringers for a real horse.  It’s no wonder that, in addition to the five Tony awards for the play, the Handspring Puppet Company also won a Special Tony Award in 2011 for War Horse.

Joey, like many of the human characters in War Horse, is “drafted” into World War I, to serve in the British cavalry.  That is a high-risk assignment for Joey; of the 1,000,000 horses that actually went to war, only 62,000 returned.  Albert Narracott (Andrew Veenstra), who raised Joey from a foal, lies about his age to enlist in the British cavalry so he can find Joey and bring him home.  Albert’s devotion to his horse is limitless, as is the carnage he sees on the battlefield.

I really wanted to like, no, love, this play.  Alas, it fell short of the high expectations created by the Tony buzz and the media hype.  Lowlights include:

·      The story is fairly predictable, although the ending is unlikely and frustrating. 

·      Using a horse to show how cruel war can be tends to diminish the cruelty visited upon the human beings whose lives are changed or randomly destroyed. 

·      The horses are not the only puppets in War Horse.  They are, however, the only necessary puppets in the performance.  The other puppets distract.  If you haven’t seen War Horse, picture sparrows on a pole, flitting about the stage followed by a human pole handler.  It just does not work.

While the show fell short of expectations by intermission, the coup de grace was administered near the end of the second act.  In the middle of the battlefield, something went awry backstage, taking down all the sound and light cues.  The house lights came up, the actors left the stage, and the show stopped.   The public address announcer apologized to the audience for the “technical problem backstage.”  It took about 12 minutes to restart the performance.

The effect was that of letting the air out of a balloon.  The audience just sat there, waiting for further instructions. 

Shows that rely on high tech effects walk a tight rope.  If it all works, it’s magic.  However, if there is a small (or in this case, a large) glitch, the effect is calamitous.  It’s not magic.  The illusion is gone.  We think we are participating in an event, but when the magic is gone, we remember that we are watching a performance.  It’s the difference between experiencing an event and observing an event.  That difference is profound.

These things happen.  Computers crash, microphones fail, lights burn out…relying on these tools requires taking the risk that they will perform flawlessly.  They usually do, but not always, and not on opening night for War Horse

My experience with Broadway productions, both in New York and on tour, is that they are “state of the art.”  They employ the most talented performers, the best technicians, the most creative producers, directors, and technicians in the industry.  The tickets are expensive (up to $125 for War Horse) because the performances are the best in the world.  War Horse is the first such production where I felt the performance did not justify the ticket price.

I realize that it is unlikely War Horse will suffer another show stopping “technical problem” on this tour.  Unfortunately, I can only review the performance I saw, and that performance fell short of my high expectations.


This show runs until January 20, 2013.  This show is suitable for children.  However, the subject is war, and some scenes may be too intense for some children.  Parental discretion advised.

Director for US Tour:  Bijan Sheibani

Cast (main characters):

Arthur Narracott:  Brian Keane

Billy Narracott:  Michael Wyatt Cox

Albert Narracott:  Andrew Veenstra

Emilie:  Lavita Shaurice

Rose Narracott:  Angela Reed

Private David Taylor:  Alex Morf

Cast (horses):

Joey as a foal:  Laurabeth Breya, Catherine Gowl, Nick Lamedica

Joey:  Danny Yoerges, Brian Robert Burns, Gregory Manley

Topthorn:  Jon Hoche, Danny Beiruti, Aaron Haskell

Coco:  Patrick Osteen, Jessica Krueger

Heine:  Grayson DeJesus, Jason Loughlin