Saturday, May 10, 2014

Forever Plaid

Playwright: Stuart Ross

Company:  Fine Arts Center Theatre Company
Venue: SaGaJi Theatre, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs CO 80903.
Running Time:  1 hours, 55 minutes (includes 20 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Friday, May 9, 2014 

I don't normally do spoilers, but in Forever Plaid, the contrived story line is only a vehicle for the music.  Forever Plaid is about the music, not the story.  So, for the handful of folks who are still unfamiliar with the fictional Plaids, here's the "plot."
The Plaids were four high school guys in a harmony group in the early 1960s.  They were on the cusp of making the big time when their Mercury Monterrey was hit by a busload of Catholic school girls going to a Beatles concert.  The Plaids were killed instantly.  Through some hocus pocus stuff, they are given one chance to do a final concert.  And that, folks, pretty much sums up the story.
Even though the story is thin, the music is wonderful.  The set list includes Rags to Riches, Three Coins in a Fountain, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, and a boatload of other marvelous songs done in exquisite four part harmony.  
Forever Plaid is a musical, and it depends heavily on talented actors with strong singing skills.  In that respect, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (CSFAC) has hit the musical jackpot with its cast (Thadd Kreuger, Jesse Havea, Jason Lythgoe, and Kevin Pierce).  Each brings his part to the harmony, and the result is a wonderful blend of music and talent.  Given that many successful artists today perform with auto-tune software, it is a distinct pleasure to hear the Plaids' natural harmonies without any need whatsoever for electronic enhancement.

Not only are these guys masters of the four part harmony, they are great stand alone singers as well.  Kevin Pierce had to do the last verse of his solo Cry over thundering applause from the near capacity opening night crowd.  Not to be outdone, Jesse Havea followed Kreuger with Sixteen Tons, showcasing his honey dipped bass tones.
Erik K. Diaz' set design is spectacular; the art deco theme is a reminder of the Radio City Music Hall stage where the Plaids never got to play.  The set pieces double as light boxes, and lighting designer Jonathan Spencer has made full use of them.  He bathes the Plaids in a rainbow of colors.  The best lighting moment, though, happens the very end, as the Plaids leave the stage.  I've seen numerous productions of Forever Plaid, but that final moment has never been done better in my experience, and it's the dramatic lighting that makes the difference.
The CSFAC production is one of the best I've ever seen, and the opening night audience agreed.  The standing ovation started immediately, and continued through two curtain calls.  From start to finish, the set, the lights, the costumes, the harmonies, and the marvelous music, Forever Plaid is a total winner.  
As the Plaids sing in Moments to Remember, "January through December, We'll have Moments to Remember."  They give us a thousand moments to remember at the Fine Arts Center, and every one of those moments is a precious memory.
Four talented lads...crossing the musical road.

This show is suitable for all ages.
Free parking is available at the theater, across from the front entrance on Dale Street.
While the singing is best left to the Plaids (this is not a karaoke show), there is one audience sing along.  Here's your lines:  "Matilda, Matilda, Matilda...she take my money and run Venezuela."  Sing your heart out...this could be the most fun you've had in a long time.
This show closes on June 1, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Cafe 36, in the Fine Arts Center, provides a pre-show dinner ($39 per person).  The menu changes with the performance, you can find the Forever Plaid menu here.
If you're celebrating a special occasion, The Famous in downtown Colorado Springs (31 North Tejon) is close enough for a pre-show dinner.  It's expensive, but it may be the best steakhouse in El Paso County.  It got the CS Indy award for Best Restaurant for Carnivores, 2013.

Tickets HERE.
Photo Credits:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Jeff Kearney.

Director/Choreographer: Nathan Halvorson
Musical Direction:  Jay Hahn
Scenic Design: Erik D. Diaz
Lighting Design:  Jonathan Spencer
Costume Design:  Janson Fangio

Francis:  Thadd Krueger
Smudge:  Jesse Havea
Sparky:  Jason Lythgoe
Jinx:  Kevin Pierce

Musical Director/Piano:  Jay Hahn
Percussion:  Richard Clark

Bass:  Jay McGuffin

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Servant of Two Masters

Playwright: Carlo Goldoni

Venue: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs CO 80918.
Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Thursday, May 1, 2014 

You know a show is a hit when you go to a midweek performance in mid-run and can hardly find a parking place.  Theatreworks' The Servant of Two Masters packed the house on a weeknight, and for good reason.  Servant is a high energy, laugh out loud romp done with gusto.  It's two and half hours of puns, double entendres, pratfalls, zaniness, and craziness.  
In other words, it's magnificent entertainment.
Director Murray Ross has reimagined Servant, moving Carlo Goldoni's 1745 script to sometime in the 1960's, and setting it in Venice Beach California instead of Venice, Italy.  The update from the city of canals to a SOCAL beach town is marvelous; we have no problem accepting some elitists, a buffoon, and a bevy of  rascals in Southern California.  In fact, they seem perfectly at home there.
The story line and characters are pretty standard for Goldini's time and for the commedia dell'arte tradition.  Without spoiling the fun, the action here revolves around lost lovers, trying to find their way back together again.  Stock characters (devious servants, thwarted lovers, a clown/harlequin, and foolish masters), sometimes in drag, mock, fight, and flirt with each other in a delicate dance of deception and betrayal.
Ross makes great use of Christopher Shely's movable set pieces, using the interior/exterior scene changes for brief musical interludes.  If you're a fan of music of the 1960s, you may remember a tune by the one hit wonders, The Trashmen.  Stand by to be blown away when you hear the Theatreworks version.  The musicians, Dave Weed and Kevin Rodela, wonderfully recreate the music of the 1960s for a script nearly 270 years old.  
Oh.  And who knew there is an accomplished ukelele player (Kevin Rodela) in a place like Colorado Springs?  
Beatrice (Shaundra Noll) & Truffaldino (Sammie Joe Kinnett)
The fun is non-stop as Truffaldino (Sammie Joe Kinnett) tries to serve two masters who each believe that Truffaldino works exclusively for him.  Or her.  Truffaldino gets himself into jam after jam, trying to preserve the charade of serving both while actually serving neither. It's all improbably hysterical.
The cast sparkles, obviously enjoying, and embellishing, the mischief and mayhem in the script.  Ask yourself when the last time was that you heard a joke based on some "spotted dick" and you'll have a sense of what to expect at Servant.  There are also some things you may NOT expect, unless you've seen Gallagher perform with a sledge hammer.  This is some serious slapstick, physical, and cuisine comedy.
Servant requires a capable lead, one who can convincingly, and with charm, sell the unlikely and totally implausible events in the script.  Sammie Joe Kinnett is perfect as the mischievous, lovable glutton Truffaldino.  He attacks his role with relish, gorging on, but still savoring, each and every bit and bite.  In fact, one could say he has a ravenous appetite for his role, from the first aroma of an appetizer to the last scrumptious dessert.
Bob Rais' performance as Colonel Pantalone is a gem; he looks every bit the father, the Colonel, and the master of the house.  It is, however, his particularly memorable musical interlude that nearly brought the house down.  
Michael Lee is a hilarious Silvio, lurking, leering, looming, slouching, and slinking when he isn't literally fighting for his life.  
Shaundra Noll rocks her "Beatrice" costume (knee high black leather boots and a leather jacket), dressed as a man.  It is obvious to the audience that she's in drag; that the other characters can't see her true nature is part of the onstage craziness.  
Eryn Carman's Smeraldina is saucy, sassy, and smart.  She oozes sexual tension, and has the best line the show.  She tells her mistress Clarissa "Men are all bastards, so just pucker up and take your medicine."  Given the male characters onstage with her, she comes off as wiser than all of them put together.
Clarissa (Stephanie Schlis) is central to the plot, and Schlis never deviates from the proper, but distraught socialite betrothed to two men.  Her constant whining about her predicament is a joy to watch.
In what is a relatively small role, Mark Cannon (Waiter) absolutely shines.  He shuffles his way across the stage, making a profound physical statement with every step.  His sense of comedic timing is perfect, which is fortunate.  He might be carried off the stage unconscious if he missed a mark.
Yes...I know.  It is crazy.

The Servant of Two Masters is a rip roaring good time.  An usher told me that the rest of the run is sold out, but they do have a waiting list.  If you can get a ticket, get one.  It's as entertaining and as FUN as comedies get.

This show is suitable for all ages, although there is some adult content.  There is an attempted suicide scene that may disturb young children. 
Free parking is available at the theater, although the parking lot is posted for campus permits only.  Don't worry; they do not enforce the campus permits during Theatreworks performances.   
Gunshots (not real ones) are used during the performance.  Just so you know.
This show closes on May 11, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
One of our favorite Mexican restaurants is just minutes from the theater.  Hacienda Colorado, at 5246 N Nevada Avenue, is not just convenient; it's also a sure winner for dinner.  Upscale Mexican, full bar.

Tickets HERE.
Photo Credits:  Theatreworks.

Adapted & Directed by:  Murray Ross
Scenic Design: Christopher L. Shely
Lighting Design:  Lloyd Sobel
Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin  
Costume Design:  Betty Ross

Truffadino:  Sammie Joe Kinnett
Beatrice Rasponi:  Shaundra Noll
Clarissa:  Stephanie Schlis
Pantalone:  Bob Rais
Silvio: Michael Lee
Professor Lombardo:  Logan Ernstthal
Smeraldina:  Eryn Carman
Sal Brig:  Tom Paradise
Macdonald Dick, III:  Max Ferguson
Porter/Waiter:  Steve Wallace
Waiter:  Mark Cannon

Bass/Vocals:  Dave Weed

Ukelele:  Kevin Rodela