Monday, March 31, 2014

Sisters of Swing

Conceived & Written by:  Beth Gilleland & Bob Beverage  

Venue:  Boulder's Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe, Avenue, Boulder CO

Running Time:  2 hours, 25 minutes (includes 20 minute intermission)

Date of Performance:  Saturday, March 29, 2014 

The Andrews Sisters sold 90 million records and had more Top 10 hits than Elvis or The Beatles.  Sisters of Swing is the story of Laverne, Maxene, and Patty Andrews as they charmed and entertained America from the 1930s, through World War II, and on into the 50s-60s.  It was a simpler, but special, time in American history, and The Andrews Sisters were a crucial musical part of that time, mood, and culture.

The story follows them from their Minneapolis roots to clawing their way to the top of the music charts, working with Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, and nearly every other big name of that era.  

It's a familiar story; they were very young when they went on the road, accompanied by their parents/managers.  There were the usual sibling rivalries, the boyfriends/lovers/husbands, the artistic conflicts, and the inevitable deterioration of their sisterhood.  The arc of the story is not quite as dramatic as say, Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan, but the "kids as celebrities" story was as difficult then as it is now.  It's not a normal life for youths, and the routine can be grueling.

The story here, though, is really secondary to the music.  Simply put, the music is fabulous.  Fifty, sixty, even seventy years later, we still know this music.  Sisters of Swing brings us an Andrews Sisters "Greatest Hits" concert done by a fabulous cover group.  If you're a fan, you'll recognize the tunes:

  • Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. 
  • Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree.  
  • All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.  
  • Near You.  
  • Beer Barrel Polka.  
  • I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time.  
  • Accentuate the Positive.  
  • Three Little Fishes
  • Six Jerks in a Jeep
  • Count Your Blessings
The music, the mood, the costumes, and this hugely talented cast will take you back in time while you sing along, laugh, and maybe even cry a few tears.

"Six Jerks in a Jeep." Front, L-R:  Scott Beyette, Joey Revier, Wayne Kennedy.  Rear, L-R:  Tracy Warren, Norell Moore, Joanie Brousseau.  

The cast (Norell Moore as Patty, Joanie Brousseau as Laverne, and Tracy Warren as Maxene) is superb.  Their voices blend into pitch perfect harmonies that do justice to the original Andrews voices.  Each is a true triple threat; they 1) act, they 2) sing, and they 3) dance, and the result is as entertaining as Patty, Laverne, and Maxene were at their peak. 

While the three part harmony is The Andrews Sisters signature, Norell Moore is the lead singer in many of the songs.  Early in the second act, she belts out Corns for My Country.  Moore gets a chance to step up to the plate, and she knocks it out of the park.  If you haven't seen Sisters of Swing, get a ticket, if only to see Moore sing this one.  She ROCKS the house when she does a solo; when she's joined by Tracy Warren and Joanie Brousseau, the combination is pure Andrews Sisters magic.

Tracy Warren does double duty as both Maxene Andrews and as the Director.  Her direction is tight and focused, and her pacing is frenetic.  There's not a wasted moment on the stage, and every note, every dance move, and every costume change is seamless.  

Audio Designer Wayne Kennedy mixes the orchestra with the harmonies well; the former never overpowers the latter.  Kennedy has filled the room with the sounds of what seems to be B-52s landing next door.  In the second act, the audio news clips from World War II had the audience hushed, focused.  It was a moment to listen, a moment to remember.  

For most musicals, the BDT orchestra is backstage somewhere, heard but not seen.  That's a shame; they're a very accomplished group.  For Sisters of Swing, they take center stage and never leave it.  Music is, after all, a pretty important part of a "musical," and it's great to see the band in action for a change.

As you can see from the photo above, the costumes, wigs, and hair designs are all spot on. Linda Morken and Debbie Spaur have dressed the cast in period appropriate beautiful outfits.   How they got the hats to stay on through all the dance moves is a mystery to me, but the look and mood of the cast was perfect.  

Speaking of dance moves, the choreography is beautiful, and it is beautifully executed by the cast.  The physical demands for the ladies of Sisters of Swing are formidable.  This cast is up to the challenge.  They deliver the dance moves just like they deliver the music.  In other words, you will see very talented actors sing and dance with boundless harmony, synchronicity, and energy.

Sisters of Swing is top notch, first rate musical theater.  Whether you're a fan of the Andrew Sisters or not, you'll be thoroughly entertained by this show.


There is ample free parking is ample at the theater.  

This show closes on May 11, 2014.  

This show is suitable for all ages, and there were a few young (6-10 years old) children in the audience.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  

Dinner is included in your ticket price.  Seating for evening performances begins at 6:15; the lobby bar opens at 5:30.  We had 1) the cod and 2) the prime rib ($9.00 up charge).  Both were excellent.  The BDT kitchen is very efficient.  Service begins almost immediately after you are seated.  Drink and desert orders are taken just before the opening curtain.  

Here's the important thing about dinner. The cast doubles as your waiters and waitresses.  Norell Moore (Patty Andrews) was our beverage waitress, so she was responsible for keeping my Diet Coke refilled as well as belting out marvelous music for the whole house.  These are hardworking, talented actors working your table for tips.  Yes.  That's right.  They are working FOR TIPS.  Chat with them, joke around with them, but do NOT forget to tip them before you leave.  They have earned your tip, onstage, in the kitchen, and at your table.  It's your chance to "support the arts."

Photo Credits: Boulder's Dinner Theatre

Producer:  Michael J. Duran

Director:  Tracy Warren

Music Conductor:  Neal Dunfee

Scenic Artist:  Amy Campion

Audio Design:  Wayne Kennedy

Lighting Design:  Brett Maughan

Choreographer/Dance Captain:  Jessica Hindsley

Costume Designer:  Linda Morken

Hair & Wig Design:  Debbie Spaur


Patty Andrews:  Norell Moore

Laverne Andrews:  Joanie Brousseau

Maxene Andrews:  Tracy Warren

Vic:  Joey Revier

Utility Guy:  Scott Severtson

Lou, Male Swing:  Scott Beyette

Lou, Male Swing:  Wayne Kennedy

Female Swing:  Chaundra Nelms

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Playwright:  Martin McDonagh
Venue:  The Edge Theatre, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood CO  80214
Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, March 22, 2014 

Leenane is a small village in County Galway, on the rocky west coast of Ireland.  Martin McDonaugh's Tony Award winning black comedy is set in Leenane, an isolated, harsh environment that McDonaugh has populated with bleak and cynical characters.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane debuted in Galway in 1996, and won four Tony Awards on Broadway in 1998.  Billed as a dark comedy, the script is both funny and tragic.  
The plot revolves around Maureen Folan (Emily Paton Davies), a decidedly plain woman in her 40's whose main task in life is to care for her prickly and ungrateful mother, Mag Folan (Emma Messenger).  Maureen's caregiving skills are borderline, and she teeters somewhere between tolerating her mother and hating her.  Her life is very lonely; she is unmarried and probably destined to stay that way forever.  Despite her history of mental illness, Maureen seems to cope well with the grim reality of her daily life.
The Dooley boys (Ray, played by Michael Bouchard and Pato, played by Mark Collins) are neighbors.  There is a romantic spark between Maureen and Pato in the first act, and that spark drives the plot through its tragic conclusion.  
One way to measure the power of a performance is to pay attention to the audience reaction.  Based on those reactions, Beauty Queen at The Edge is one very powerful production.  The audience was laughing out loud at the comedy, but also reacting viscerally to the tragedy.  There were audible gasps at the brutality on stage, and whispers of disbelief at the complete depravity of the tragic turns.
Cast L-R:  Michael Bouchard, Mark Collins, Emily Paton Davies.  Front:  Emma Messenger.
Emma Messenger's performance as Mag is, as the Irish might say, "bang on."  She whines.  She squints.  She stares.  She glares.  She moans.  She shuffles.  She dumps her bedpan in the kitchen sink.  She commands the stage every moment she is on it.  
Emily Paton Davies sparkles as Maureen, the lonely, semi-dedicated caregiver on a doomed quest for love.  She is the disturbed, dysfunctional "beauty queen" who is ultimately incapable of love.  Paton Davies heats up the stage with her passion for Pato, but dashes her own dreams with her sociopathic descent into madness.  The chemistry between Paton Davies and Pato (Mark Collins) is palpable; she boldly seduces him and brags about it to her mother.  Paton Davies takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride, playing the audience like a violin.
Mark Collins and Michael Bouchard are compelling as the Dooleys; both are talented, capable actors with credible Irish brogues.  Collins is endearing as the lovable Pato with a dismal but predictable future.  His monologue at the beginning of the second act is touching and heartfelt.  Bouchard brings his considerable comic chops to his role as  Ray.
The Edge puts its talented cast on Christopher Waller's gorgeously detailed set; an Irish farmhouse complete with a functional sink and a wood burning stove.  
Director Michael Stricker deftly shows us a nearly normal Maureen who struggles with flashes of insanity.  Stricker emphasizes the love starved but lovable Maureen, saving the evil Maureen for maximum shock value.  At times, the direction is also tender.  When Maureen wants Pato to touch her, it is done in a mature, delicate manner.  What could have been vulgar comes off as delicate and tasteful.
In the intimate space at The Edge, any flaw is magnified.  That said, Emma Messenger's makeup is flawless.  The staff has aged her to perfection, from the wig to her slippers and socks.  It's more than makeup and costumes though.  Her face includes prosthetic cheeks and jowls, giving her the appearance of a 70 year old.  Caroline Smith (prosthetics) and Brynn Starr Coplan (costumes) have done a marvelous job of totally changing Messenger's appearance.
McDonagh's script turns the traditional love story upside down.  Instead of showing us the power of love, we see the consequences when love is lost, absent, and unattainable.  It's a powerful if bleak reminder of how we all need someone to love in our lives.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane in the hands of The Edge Theatre is unquestionably a complete joy to watch.  It is one of those rare theater experiences that engages, teaches, and stays with you long after you leave the parking lot.  The Edge has delivered some sparkling shows recently (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Orphans).  The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues the string, and I think it's the best of the three.  In fact, it is safe to say that The Edge is in an elite group of the best theaters in Colorado.  Based on The Beauty Queen, it is arguably the very best.
If you haven't bought a ticket yet, you should get one.  Now.  Before they're gone.

The dialog comes with a heavy Irish accent.  It will take most in the audience a few minutes to get used to the accent and cadence.  A few hints:  "Kimberlys" are cookies (or biscuits, in Ireland).  Mag Folan eats "porridge."  "Wee" doesn't always refer to something small.
This show closes on March 30, 2014.  This show is recommended for adults.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
One of my favorites is within 10-15 minutes of The Edge Theatre:  The Yardhouse, 14500 West Colfax Ave., Lakewood, CO 80401 (in the Colorado Mills Mall).  You will not find a better selection of draft (and mostly craft) beers anywhere.  The food is very good, and the background music is always classic rock and roll.   Happy Hour (3-6:00 PM) includes half price appetizers.  It does get busy, though, so add 15 minutes minimum wait time to your plans if you don't use call ahead seating.

Photo Credits:  The Edge Theatre Company.

Director: Michael Stricker
Set/Lighting Design: Christopher Waller
Master Carpenter Emeritus: Rich Munoz
Sound Design:  Kenny Storms
Costume Design:  Brynn Starr Coplan
Prosthetics:  Caroline Smith
Dialog Coach:  Scott Bellot

Maureen Folan:  Emily Paton Davies
Mag Folan:  Emma Messenger
Pato Dooley:  Mark Collins

Ray Dooley:  Michael Bouchard

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche" 2014 version.

Playwrights:  Evan Linder & Andrew Hobgood
Venue:  First Divine Science Church of Denver, 1400 Williams Street, Denver, CO 80218.
Running Time:  1 hours, 15 minutes (no intermission)
Date of Performance:  Friday, March 14, 2014 
I saw Square Product's production of 5 Lesbians in 2012; it was a hoot.  Their current remount has nearly all of the original cast, and all of the same silly fun, witty dialog, and feminine charm of the original production.  
5 Lesbians is set in 1956 at a meeting of the officers and members of The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein.  The membership demographics skew heavily towards widows.  There are no men in the crowd, by design.
It's the annual Quiche Contest meeting, and the anticipation of finding the perfect quiche made from the perfect egg with the perfect combination of vegetables is at a fever pitch.  (The perfect quiche cannot contain any meat.  You have to see the show to figure out why.)  
As the thespians/lesbians open the contest by sampling the first quiche, you'll be treated to what has to be the best (and only) onstage demonstration of a food fetish I've ever seen.  Adjectives fail me here, so I'll just describe that scene as a memorable and "tasty" aphrodisiac.
L-R:  Jessica Robblee, Laurie Lynch, Michelle McHugh Moore, Emily K. Harrison, Lindsey Pierce.
As in the 2012 production, the ensemble is over the top, preening and posing at every opportunity.  They are truly "sisters" onstage, each playing off the other caricatures and characters.  Emily K. Harrison reprises her role as Dale, a lesbian with father issues who hasn't spoken to a man since she was three years old.  Her poignant story of her older sister's demise is one of the few tender moments in the script.  Harrison has the dramatic range and the comedic chops to be a character in the midst of four other caricatures.
Laurie Lynch (Vern) is the "Girl Scout" in the group.  She's out, she's butch, and she's full of bluster.  Lindsey Pierce (Wren) is feminine, dignified, and full of mischief.  Pierce's costume and hair were perfect for her role.  Michelle McHugh Moore (Lulie) is the President of the "Sisters," and she struggles constantly to maintain control of the chaos.  
Jessica Robblee (Ginny) thinks she's straight, but discovers her hidden attraction to women.  Robblee has a crucial role in the cast; not only must she convincingly discover her true nature, but she also has a central role as an enthusiastic quiche lover.  She handles both of these delicate situations like an intelligent but innocent character would.  In the hands of a lesser actor, 5 Lesbians would not be nearly as entertaining.
Entertaining, in fact, is exactly how to describe 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche.  The show is fun for all who are open to the adult theme.  
I'm going to indulge myself now and get on my soap box.  Feel free to skip the rest of this review if you'd rather not hear the sermon.
I couldn't help but consider how much has changed since I saw 5 Lesbians in 2012.  There's a line in the show that hopefully states that in four years (1960), "we can probably get married."  Of course, that didn't happen.  
Nevertheless, since the last Square Product version of 5 Lesbians, nine (9) states have legalized same sex marriage (bringing the total to 17 states).  Court rulings currently on appeal would make marriage equality the law in five more states (Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, and Texas).   In fact, it appears that marriage equality may run the table in courts all over the country, including Colorado.
Marriage equality is on the way to becoming the rule instead of the exception.  Is that because of Square Product and other media and entertainment options that show gay and lesbian characters as our fun, charming friends and neighbors?  Probably not, but it would be naive to say the arts have no impact at all.  Square Product, in fact, can take credit for reminding us that lesbians are our sisters, our daughters, our friends and our neighbors.  Not only are they people we know...they are also the people we love.  
Despite all the tragedies (9/11), disappointments (officially sanctioned torture), and hardships (Great Recession) we have known in the first decade of the 21st Century, marriage equality is a beacon of hope and inspiration.  Art, film, and theater, including Square Product, are part of that beacon.  
There were many couples in the audience who came to see a show that they can relate to, that entertains them, and that doesn't marginalize them.  Thank you, Square Product, for giving dignity and respect to all in your audience.  
As far as I know, there is no local "lesbian" theater company, catering to primarily to that niche audience.  Perhaps we need one.  Perhaps Square Product should be that company.  
Playing to a small slice of the potential audience is risky, but the rewards are huge.  I know a lot of theater fans who would not hesitate to see good theater, no matter the niche.  Consider PHAMALY.  It's focused on disability issues, but their high quality productions attract diverse audiences and show disabled individuals as performers with amazing talent.
The Square Product mission statement includes "change":
"The mission of square product theatre is to create and collaborate on original, honest and innovative works of theatre with local and national artists...(W)e dedicate ourselves fully to the beauty of simplicity and the importance of theatre and performance as a vehicle for communication, relation and change."
If I were writing this mission statement, it would be shorter and simpler.  But since I'm not writing it, I'll just suggest one revision.  Perhaps it's time to revise the last line to "equality and change."   

The venue is a church basement, and given the setting for the play, it's a very appropriate location.  There was a church dinner event going on at the same time as the play.  While some may see an incongruity between church activities and dramatic lesbians, it was comforting to see each group's acceptance of the other.
Arrive early enough to find a parking place.  There is limited church activity parking available on the north side of the building.  Otherwise, expect an extensive tour of the nearby blocks searching for street parking.
This show closes on March 22, 2014.  
This show is suitable for adults of all ages.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
This theater is sandwiched between Cheesman Park and East Colfax.  In other words, it's not exactly in the middle of a lot of great restaurants.  
I traveled from Colorado Springs, stopping at The Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Company in Castle Rock.  Expect very good craft beers and typical brewpub grub.  Try the Firebird sandwich; it's one of the best buffalo chicken sandwiches I've found.

Director:  Joe Gill
Production Manager:  Rand Harmon  
Set/Costume/Properties Design: The Ensemble
Lighting Design:  Jess Buttery
Sound Design:  Rebecca Easton & Emily K. Harrison

Wren Robin:  Lindsey Pierce
Vern Schultz:  Laurie Lynch
Dale Prist:  Emily K. Harrison
Ginny Cadbury:  Jessica Robblee

Lulie Stanwyck:  Michelle Moore

Monday, March 10, 2014

All My Sons

Playwright:  Arthur Miller

Company:  Thunder River Theatre Company

Venue:  Thunder River Theatre Company, 67 Promenade Court, Carbondale, CO 81623

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

Date of Performance:  Sunday, March 9, 2014 

There is little debate; Arthur Miller is a giant of 20th century American theater and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1949 for Death of a Salesman.  He won a Tony Award for All My Sons in 1947, his first Broadway venture, establishing himself as a serious playwright.  His work is still produced regularly more than 60 years later, proof of the timelessness and universal themes in his work.

Thunder River's production of All My Sons is a solid one.  Director Lon Winston obviously appreciates Miller's insight into some deep moral questions.  Winston's (and Miller's) characters hold up a mirror to each of us, challenging us to sift a meaningful message from the emotional debris we all have to deal with.

Miller's script sets up a complex moral dilemma:  are "family" values (providing financial and moral guidance to loved ones) more important than the "social" values we owe our fellow citizens?  It's a very real and relevant question, decades after Miller posed it.  

To make the moral point, Miller's protagonist, Joe Keller, is a successful businessman whose plant made pistons for P-40 fighter planes during the war.  Keller allegedly (although never convicted of the crime) covered up defects in the pistons.  Those defects led to a number of P-40s crashing and killing the pilots.  Keller sees his coverup as protecting his family from the potential ruin of his enterprise.  Indeed, he asks, what else could he have done?

Joe's son Chris is convinced that such a coverup is not only a criminal enterprise (one he naively believes his father would never participate in), but is the moral equivalent of murder.
This conflict between the father (played here by Kent Reed) and his son (David Pulliam) is compelling theater.  The father is supposedly the older, wiser, and savvy patriarch; Chris is the naive, good hearted kid who wants to be universally liked.  Reed and Pulliam both bring their A games to the Thunder River stage.  Their physical confrontation in the second act is the inevitable result of the clash between the father's corrupted morality and the son's innocent idealism.  Reed and Miller's performances do justice to the power of Miller's script.

To illustrate the contemporary relevance of Miller's script, one need only look as far as current events.  General Motors (GM) has known of a defect in their automobiles since 2004.  Rather than report the problem or recall the vehicles, they did nothing for a decade.  In the interim, at least thirteen (13) deaths resulted from the defect.  GM's choice to neither report nor recall their vehicles is exactly the kind of moral failure Miller was focused on in his All My Sons script.  One wonders how the responsible GM executives can sleep at night, knowing that 13 of their customers died at their hands.

Thunder River gets a lot right here.  Powerful performances from the lead actors, excellent sound and lighting design, perfect period costumes, and a functional as well as beautiful set all combine for an entertaining and thought provoking experience.  


Parking is abundant behind the theater, but it's not paved.  Watch for mud.  You may not want to wear your best shoes.  There is also ample on street parking.

This was my first time at the Thunder River facility.  It's a magnificent venue.  The company won the 2012 Henry Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.  

For those who are unfamiliar with Carbondale, it's a happening town at the base of Mount Sopris, on the road between two big Colorado tourist destinations:   Glenwood Springs and Aspen.  Think skiers, galleries, restaurants, and downtown townhouses as well as rural McMansions. 

The Thunder River Theatre Company has an excellent motto:  "Not Just A Place, But Where It Takes You."  I don't doubt for a second that they are taking their audiences to some marvelous places.

This show closes on March 15, 2014.  This show is suitable for all ages.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:

White House Pizza, 801 Main Court, Carbondale.  

It's not on the menu, but if you ask your server, you can get thin crust pizza as well as the standard thick version.  Their ingredient list includes one of my favorites that doesn't show up on very many pizza menus:  GREEN OLIVES!  They have about a half dozen beers on draft, and for St. Patrick's Day, you can get $3.00 shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey.  That, in my world, is a bargain.

Tickets HERE.

Director:  Lon Winston

Set Design: Brad Moore

Technical Director:  Kerek Swanson


Joe Keller:  Kent Reed

Kate Keller:  Valerie Haugen

Chris Keller:  David Pulliam

Ann Deever:  Sarah Dale Payne

George Deever:  Corey Simpson

Dr. Jim Bayliss:  Lee Sullivan

Sue Bayliss:  Laurie Clemens

Frank Lubey:  Chris Walsh

Lydia Lubey:  Kelly Ish