Monday, July 15, 2013


Based on:  Les Fourberies de Scapin, (Scapin's Deceits), by Moliere (1671).

Adapted by Bill Irwin & Mark O'Donnell
VenueLake Dillon Theatre, 122 Lake Dillon Drive,  Dillon, Colorado, 80435.
Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Sunday, July 14, 2013

I don't think the U.S. Census has any data tabulating the number of fans of 17th century dramatists.  If they did, there's a pretty good chance that Jean Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his pen name Molière, would still poll very well even 340 years after his death.  Yes.  He was that good.
Molière specialized writing comedies for the stage.  His farces were both timely (for the 17th century) and somewhat risky; he often made subtle criticisms of  society, business, and politics.  
Why, you might ask, would a small community theater take the risk, in difficult economic times, of producing a very old script that does not have a built in audience?  That's easy.  Their script is a relatively recent and extremely funny adaption by Irwin and O'Donnell, which they spiced up with local references ("Welcome, second home owners!").  The result is that Scapin is funny.  Knee slapping, belly laughing, tears rolling down your cheek FUNNY.  
The opening of Scapin is a little disconcerting; Jonathan Cable appears onstage first to take his place at the piano.  That may sound straightforward.  Trust me; it's not.  He engages and amuses the audience before the first actor sets foot on the stage.
Once Cable is seated at the piano, the action begins, and it's nonstop, high energy, and relentlessly funny.  It's like reading a Joseph Conrad novel; there is so much going on, Scapin may require several viewings to appreciate all the humor.
How funny is Scapin? On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it a 12.  It has physical humor.  It has puns.  It has jokes.  It has "unbelievable coincidences."  The actors gestures and facial expressions are hilarious.  The set is funny all by itself ("Watch Your Head").  The costumes are exaggerated, colorful, and always funny.  Actually, there's nothing about Scapin that isn't funny.
Kevin Alan (Scapin(, Ben Whitmore (Sylvestre)
Comedy is not always easy for an actor; it requires precise timing, nuanced delivery, and the perfect facial expression.  The hard part of comedy is to make it look easy and natural. The Lake Dillon Theatre Company cast is comically gifted; they never miss a mark, and it all looks and feels natural.  In fact, one actor took a fall onstage early in act one; I was not sure if it was scripted, but I was pretty sure he might be hurt.  I was wrong on both counts.  It was scripted, he was not hurt, and the effect was both dramatic and comedic.  
Scapin (Kevin Alan) and Sylvestre (Ben Whitmore) engage in an elaborate hoax in which Scapin claims to be clairvoyant.  The ensuing scene is a comedic gem.  Pay careful attention though.  The action is so fast and so funny that it's easy to miss some of the best lines.
I won't go into a detailed discussion of the "plot."  This is a farce.  I don't think there's too much more to say about the plot.  Farce is an accurate description.
Scapin is on my list of the most entertaining, amusing, and rewarding shows I've seen this year.  If you live in or near Dillon, get a ticket.  If you don't live in or near Dillon, get a ticket.  I guarantee you that you will enjoy this production.

If you are a little concerned about the age (340 years) of the script and that it might possibly be boring, dismiss that concern now.  It has been adapted and updated for Dillon ("Welcome, second home owners.")  
Twenty minutes before the show, there will be a mini lecture on Moliere and the context of his work. It's a marvelous and informative ten minutes,  Don't miss it.  When it's over, you'll have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of Molière and Scapin.
There is abundant audience participation, especially if you are seated in the front row.  
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  Arapahoe Cafe & Pub, 626 Lake Dillon Dr, Dillon, CO 80435. I've had the Buffalo Cheeseburger and the fish and chips.  Both were excellent.
Photo Credits:  Lake Dillon Theatre Company.
This show closes on August 1, 2013.  
Ashley Alana Kenney, Ben Whitmore, Alex Kidder

Director:  Wendy S. Moore
Scenic & Lighting Design:  Nick Kargel
Costumer Design:  Nicole Harrison
Sound Design:  Isaac Mandel
Musical Director:  Jonathon Cable

Scapin:  Kevin Alan
Sylvestre:  Ben Whitmore
Octave:  Frank Sansone
Leander:  Zachary Conner
Argante:  Bob Moore
Geronte:  Kevin Hart
Hyacinth:  Alex Kidder
Zerbinette:  Ashley Alana Kenney
Nerine:  Brittany Jeffrey
Porter/Gendarme:  Jimmy Patalan, Danny Daigle
Jonathan at the keys:  Jonathan Cable

Shrek The Musical

Based on:   Book by William Steig (1991), Dreamworks film (2001).
Music:  Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
VenueMidtown Arts Center, 3750 S. Mason Street, Fort Collins Colorado
Running Time:  2 hours, 45 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, July 13, 2013

This beautifully staged Shrek The Musical opens with an eye popping set bathed in brilliant colors..  From that opening scene, you will be constantly dazzled by this tale of a beautiful princess and an ugly ogre finding love and happiness.  
It's a familiar story; who among us hasn't seen the 2001 Dreamworks film or one of its sequels?  It was a huge box office hit, eventually returning nearly a half billion dollars for the $60 million in production costs.  
Midtown Arts Center (MAC) is nothing if not ambitious.  With a cast of eighteen actors on a relatively small stage (and that doesn't include the larger than life dragon), it is indeed a daunting project.  This is a high energy musical, requiring a live band, actors who can sing, singers who can act, dancers that can act and sing, and that special chemistry that can turn a script into a love story.  Despite these challenges, MAC has put out a polished, professional, and highly entertaining show for the entire family.
Director Kurt Terrio has expertly, and seamlessly, put together the myriad of moving parts in
Colleen Johnson and Kyle Blair
Shrek The Musical.  Shrek (played here by Kyle Blair) and Princess Fiona (the marvelous Colleen Johnson) are not just capable, competent performers.  They bring a chemistry and emotion to their roles that makes us believe that impossibly dissimilar personalities can fall in love.  Simply put, Blair and Johnson are magic on the MAC stage.
Shrek and Fiona, of course, can't be the whole show.  They need a lot of support...and they get it.  Music Director Tom Berger has put together  a tight band of excellent musicians (currently under the direction of Robbie Cowan, Associate Music Director).  Phillip B. Richard II washes the stage in brilliant colors and precision spot lighting.  Choreographer Michael Lasris doesn't just deliver the required dance moves.  He gives us an irresistible Rockettes style tap number that dazzles.  
If I have any issue with Shrek The Musical, it would be that the first act script is perhaps too long and too confusing for the younger kids.  The story takes quite a while to be set up, which is fine for us adults.  However, Shrek The Musical is, arguably, a children's show.  Parents bringing younger children might want to be prepared for some wiggling, fidgeting, and fussing during the first act.
Like the Shrek film, Shrek the Musical has additional, but seemingly unrelated music after the end of the story.  I say "seemingly unrelated" because you will get a rocking, rousing version of "I'm a Believer" (written by Neil Diamond, released by the Monkees in 1966):

I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me.
Love was out to get me
That's the way it seemed.
Disappointment haunted all my dreams.

Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind.
I'm in love, I'm a believer!
I couldn't leave her if I tried.

Shrek The Musical reminded me that love can bloom where least expected.  That's a great message for kids, and it's a great reminder for adults.  We often find love when we think the odds are against us, the game is over and our loneliness is permanent.  Shrek The Musical reminds us that love can happen anytime, in any place, and in circumstances we never expected.  
I left the theater with that melody and that message playing in my head; "I'm in love, I'm a believer..."  A cast, crew, and production that that leaves the audience humming the message on the way to the parking lot deserves a standing ovation.  

Photo Credits:  The Midtown Arts Center.
Fog effects are used during this performance.  This show is highly recommended for the entire family.
Your waiters and waitresses double as the onstage talent.  They work hard both onstage and delivering food and beverages to your table.  Please leave them a generous tip.  They deserve it.
MAC also does a Young Audience Series, a program of children and family entertainment.  Part of that program includes free tickets when possible for disadvantaged children in the Poudre School District.  
MAC's live children's theater is one of benefits of living in the Fort Collins area; that they are including children who could not otherwise attend is a credit to the Company and to it's supporters.
This show closes on August 25, 2013.  

Producer/Director:  Kurt Terrio
Scenic Design:  Marc Haniuk
Lighting Design:  Phillip B. Richard II
Costumer Design:  Jessica Pribble
Sound Design:  Joshua Selvig
Musical Director:  Tom Berger
Choreographer:  Michael Lasris

Shrek:  Kyle Blair
Princess Fiona:  Colleen Johnson
Donkey:  Chasdan Mike
Lord Farquaad:  Michael Lasris
Voice of the Dragon/Mama Ogre/Mama Bear:  Ryane Nicole Studivant
Pinnochio/Ensemble:  John Cardenas
Gingy/Sugar Plum Fairy:  Kelsey Hopkins
Teen Fiona/Ensemble:  Lisa Carter
Young Fiona/Baby Bear:  Hanna Neergard
Young Shrek/Grumpy:  Kaden Dolph
Ensemble:  Ronald Brady, Matt Casey, Cassidy Cousineau, Jennifer Crews, Elliot  Cunningham, Aaron Nicholas, Jodi Watson, Megan Wolfelt.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Minimum Wage

Playwrights:   Charlie LaGreca & Jeff LaGreca
Music:  Sean Altman, Charlie LaGreca & Jeff LaGreca
VenueAvenue Theater, 417 E. 17th Avenue, Denver Colorado
Running Time:  1 hour 35 minutes (no intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, July 7, 2013
Described in the program as a "rip roaring A Cappella musical comedy," Minimum Wage at the Avenue Theater has nearly all the required elements for a hit show:  a strong and talented cast, a gifted director, and an a capella soundtrack.  The Saturday night performance was a near sell out, and most of the audience went home happy.  
Unfortunately, I was one of those who left the theater more disappointed than entertained. 
To be clear, the production is fine.  The onstage talent and offstage crew have put together a high energy, rocking show that soars at times.  Nick Sugar is one of the best directors currently working in Denver, and he has once again made the script and the music come alive for the audience.  There is nothing at all wrong with the Avenue Theater's production of Minimum Wage.
Michael Bouchard and "Minimum Wage" cast.
My disappointment with Minimum Wage is entirely due to the script and song lyrics.  Even a top shelf cast and crew cannot salvage a bad script.  What we have in Minimum Wage is a minimum script, precious little plot, a lot misguided humor, and a cynical take on its characters.
Lets start with the music.  A capella music is special, but it gives the performers no cover for a a subpar performance.  The cast is more than equal to the challenge.  Each cast member has a very good singing voice, and their harmonies together are fine.  
The lyrics, however, range from puzzling to offensive.  Take, for example, the tune "Connecticut."  As one who has lived in Connecticut, I recognized nearly none of the references to the state.  The lyrics were essentially nonsense, used only to string together the "Connecticut" chorus.  
Abby McInerney, the only female cast member, does a graphic demonstration of what she "can do" in a limited amount of time during one of the tunes.  While that part of her performance did not offend the entire audience (some of whom found it hilarious), others (the 40+ demographic) were not as amused.
Scripts that include audience participation can be risky; not everyone in the first row wants to be part of the performance.  The Minimum Wage cast gets into the audience several times during the show; the elderly lady seated next to me (in the first row) did not appear amused when she was sprayed with Silly String.  Other ventures into the audience went a little better, but a good script doesn't require the cast to become personally acquainted with the audience members.  A good script should engage the audience best from, of all places, the stage.
Humor is personal; my sense of humor is unique to me.  I found few laughs in Minimum Wage.  While the majority of humor was supposedly "adult" humor, I found it more juvenile than adult.  I'm not a prude, but shaking one's booty for laughs is tiresome after the first or second such event.  Asking Kooky the Klown to "tell us about your lazy eye" is not amusing.  It's cruel.
The most serious script failure is how the playwrights have treated their "minimum wage" characters.  All of them are portrayed as socially inept losers, except for one cast member who may actually be a potato.  That's correct.  A potato.  I think that was supposed to be funny, but it came off more as a lame insult.  
We all know people who have, and perhaps still do, work for minimum wage.  They are not universally losers; they are most often hard working souls who, for a variety reasons, have no other career choices.  There is an inherent, intangible dignity in all work, no matter what the pay is.  The characters of Minimum Wage have not a shred of dignity.  They are mocked, mistreated, and dehumanized.  
Could a script have been funny without mocking the characters?  Of course, but that's not the play the LaGrecas wrote.  For me, it was a missed opportunity.  For the cast and crew, I fear it was a waste of their considerable talents.

Photo Credits:  The Avenue Theater and Steve Hirsch, Resident Photographer. 
This show closes on August 3, 2013.  
This show is not appropriate for children under 16.  Strobe lighting and fog effects are used during the performance.
Pre/post show dining suggestion:  Pizza Fusion, 571 East Colfax, Denver.  Pizza Fusion is a sponsor of Minimum Wage.  The partnership between the Avenue Theater and Pizza Fusion included inviting some homeless individuals in the neighborhood to see the show for free.  Kudos to both partners for being socially responsible members of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Director:  Nick Sugar 
Scenic Design:  Tina Anderson
Lighting Design:  Seth Alison
Costumer Design:  Linda Morken
Sound Design:  Colin P. Elliott
Musical Director:  Mark J. Middlebrooks

Michael Bouchard
Keegan C. Flaugh
Damon Guerrasio
Abby McInerney
Carter Edward Smith