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Friday, July 31, 2015

Avenue Q


Book by:  Jeff Whitty

Music & Lyrics by:  Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx


Venue:  Louisville Arts Center, 801 Grant Street, Louisville Colorado.

Running Time (show only):  2 hours, 25 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Thursday, July 30, 2015.

It is no small challenge to do a Broadway musical in a small venue such as the Louisville Arts Center (capacity estimated at 60-70 seats).  Putting a fairly large cast (11 actors), a keyboard musician (Dan Graeber), and a light/sound board operator on the stage leaves precious little real estate for set pieces.  Not all companies would put such a big show on such a small stage, fewer still could pull it off as well as CenterStage Theatre has done in Louisville.

Avenue Q is a naughty puppet show; leave the kids at home.  For the adults, Avenue Q is a fun, engaging, and altogether entertaining show.  The story involves self discovery and coming of age as Princeton (Seth Reder) learns that his recently minted Bachelor of Arts degree in English is useless in the job market.  He is not alone in his quandry; he’s a good fit for the citizens of Avenue Q, including a Muppet with a porn problem (Trekkie, played by Jack Richard), Gary Coleman (Ellie Oliver), former celebrity child actor, Christmas Eve (played by the ironically named "Eve" Olson) and Kate Monster (Chanel Karimkhani).  

It’s not The Sound of MusicAvenue Q  does not pretend to be wholesome family entertainment.  The song Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist is exactly what the title suggests.  If You Were Gay (“it would be OK”) embraces acceptance.  The show won three Tony Awards in 2003, including Best Musical, demonstrating that puppet shows are not just kids’ stuff.

Seth Reder (Princeton)
Avenue Q opened Thursday night at the Louisville Arts Center to a packed house; the crew had to bring in extra folding chairs to seat everyone.  About 10 seconds into the show, it was obvious to all that this was going to be a special event.  The company broke out the Avenue Q Theme song with commanding harmonies, grabbing the audience by the lapels and not letting go for the next two and a half hours.  

Any musical requires strong lead actors with excellent voices, but it also helps if they have some personal chemistry to make the story work.  Co-Directors Jeanie Balch and Amy Austin must have thought they were dreaming when they heard Seth Reder (Princeton) and Chanel Karimkhani (Kate Monster) audition.  Both have marvelous singing voices, as well as the acting chops to bring puppets to life.  Reder and Karimkhani pull out all the stops here, making their puppets sing, dance, and act as if they are actually people.  If that’s not enough, though, Reder and Karimkhani make a credible, lovable couple that powers the story forward at every turn.
Chanel Karimkhani (Kate Monster)
Avenue Q

Princeton and Kate Monster are not the only love story in Avenue Q; Rod (Bryan Anderson) and Nicky (William Thames) are celibate “roommates” whose self discovery reveals their mutual attraction.  It’s a much rockier road for the guys than for Princeton and Kate.  Rod kicks Nicky out of the house for calling him gay.  Bryan Anderson has a great song when he denies Nicky’s accusation.  He sings My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada, explaining he’s straight and in love with “Alberta.”  It’s a hilarious moment, and Anderson plays it with every ounce of sincerity he can muster.  
William Thames (Nicky), Bryan Anderson (Rod)

There’s a LOT of great music in Avenue Q, but there were two standout numbers in the CenterStage production.  Act 1 closes with the ballad There’s a Fine, Fine Line, sung by Kate Monster.  Karimkhani breaks out her best for Fine Line.  Anyone who has ever had a broken heart will see him or herself in Karimkhani’s rendition.  Her performance is a show stopper, and not just because it closes the first act.

The second standout song is I Wish I Could Go Back to College, featuring Reder, Karimkhani, and Thames.  The directors have them separated into a triangle; Reder and Thames are down stage; Karimkhani is upstage and looking down from the top of the set.  The physical distance between the three belies the close, tight harmonies they bring to the music.  It is a dramatic moment in the story as the three characters long to return to their collegiate comfort zone.  It is also a magic moment, hearing these three talented actors pouring out the emotions we have all experienced.

In a bit of a casting coup, CenterStage put a white woman (Ellie Oliver) into the role of Gary Coleman, an African-American male child celebrity.  Oliver doesn’t have to be black or male.  She brings the Gary Coleman sass to her role in all her lines, but especially in a tag line:  “what you talkin about Willis?”  Oliver’s facial expressions are priceless.  She doesn’t need to deliver a line to get a laugh.

Lindsey Jones (Lucy)
Adam Kinney is Christmas Eve’s boyfriend/husband Brian, which in itself is a tall order onstage.  Kinney brings his gorgeous voice and winning smile to the role, and gets a big laugh with his wedding costume:  tuxedo with tails, shorts, and sneakers.  Lindsey Jones adds the sexy swagger as Lucy, who hasn’t met a guy she can’t seduce. She turns her charms on Princeton, and he’s a goner from the get go.

Adam Kinney (Brian)

If you’ve seen Avenue Q before, you know about the Bad Idea Bears.  If you’ve ever made bad decisions, you may recognize them as being partly responsible for that emotional or physical hangover you still get when you remember the consequences.  Natalie Rudd and Alei Russo are the most mischievous, most naughty, and the funniest Bad Idea Bears you will find anywhere.  The best line in the show is one for the Bad Ideas Bears.  “She’s wasted.”  Don’t miss it.
Bad Idea Bears (Natalie Rudd & Alei Russo)

One of the challenges with putting Avenue Q onstage in such a small venue is that the audience is so close to the action that they focus mostly on the actors.  That’s natural, but the puppets are the proper focus.  Acting and puppeteering are separate skills, and at times, the puppets seemed more like props than people.  If there’s any way to improve Avenue Q at CenterStage, it would be to raise the profile of the puppets somehow.

I was probably a little skeptical that Avenue Q would work at the Louisville Arts Center.  I’m happy to report that I was completely wrong.  It doesn’t just work.  It soars. 
It delivers flawlessly as entertainment, and it also delivers the important messages of Avenue Q.  

  • Do our lives need a purpose?  Check.  
  • Should we be more open to those who are not like us?  Check.  
  • Can we change the world by giving instead of taking?  Check.

Sometimes you go to shows and get less than you expected.  Most of the time you get exactly what you expect.  Every once in a while you will be surprised by excellence that exceeds your wildest expectations.  CenterStage's Avenue Q is in this last category.

Adjust your expectations for CenterStage’s Avenue Q.  Adjust them UP, but be prepared.  CenterStage will still exceed your expectations.  It’s a perfect summer musical, with all the witty music, compelling characters, laughs, and the life advice we want from theater.  All you really need to know about Avenue Q is that it opened to a full house and got an extended standing ovation when it was over.  You don’t have to take my word for it; you can trust the audience.  They were thrilled, chilled, entertained and enlightened.  

You will be too if you can get a ticket.
Avenue Q cast at Louisville Center for the Arts.


NOTES:

There is ample free parking on the surrounding streets.

Dress comfortably.  The theater is not air conditioned.  Silent ceiling fans will run during the performance, but when you put 60-70 people in a small room in the summer, things heat up.  If you’re uncomfortable, remember that you’re not an actor, so you don’t have a dozen hot lights shining on you.  If you are in the cast, Avenue Q could be a weight management experience for you.

This show is not for children under 15 years old.  Despite appearances, Avenue Q is not related in any way to Jim Henson or the Muppets.

This show closes on August 9, 2015

PHOTO CREDITSCenterStage Theatre Company.

TICKETS HERE:  


PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:

We made it to Zucca Italian Ristorante, 808 Main Street, during happy hour (4:00-6:00 PM).  What a pleasant surprise:  $3.00 bottled Moretti beers and $7.00 personal pizzas.  Service was excellent, food was delicious, and the price was super.

If you're a locavore, Zucca is your place.  They own Three Leaf Farm, and grown their own ingredients, including vegetables, herbs, and fruits.  Farm to table in a single stroke.  It makes a difference you can taste.

Zucca is less than 5 minutes to the Louisville Arts Center.  There are numerous restaurant choices on Main Street in Louisville, although one of our favorites seems to have moved out.  The Rex, 817 Main Street, is gone, replaced by Madera Grill.  The new venue appears to be a fairly expensive fine dining establishment.  We will miss The Rex.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Directors/Set Design:  Jeanie Balch & Amy Austin

Music Direction:  Katie McClave

Lighting Designer:  Wes Halloran

Props/Sound Design:  Amy Austin

Costume Designer:  Jeanie Balch

Puppets:  All Puppet Players


CAST:

Kate Monster:  Chanel Karimkhani

Princeton: Seth Reder

Lucy/Ensemble: Lindsey Jones

Christmas Eve/Mrs. Thistletwat: Eve Olson

Gary Coleman: Ellie Oliver

Bad Idea Bears/Ensemble: Natalie Rudd, Alei Russo

Brian: Adam Kinney

Nicky: Will Thames

Rod: Bryan Anderson

Trekkie/Newcomer: Jack Richard


Orchestra

Keyboards:  Dan Graeber

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gruesome Playground Injuries



Playwright:  Rajiv Joseph


VenueThe Bakery, 2132 Market Street, Denver Colorado.

Running Time (show only):  1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, July 26, 2015.


Playwright Rajiv Joseph is best known for his Pulitizer Prize for Drama finalist play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. It opened in 2009, about six months before Gruesome Playground Injuries had its first production later that year.  Both are powerful plays raising profound questions.  Bengal Tiger searches for the meaning of life in the chaos of war; Gruesome Playground Injuries focuses tightly on a bond between two damaged characters whose lives can only be described as depressing and self destructive.

The Bakery.
Passage Theatre’s production of Gruesome Playground Injuries is spartan; The Bakery is a small, intimate block box theater with few amenities.  It’s near Coors Field, a neighborhood that has undergone substantial gentrification in the last 20 years.  The Bakery and it’s neighbors have been bypassed by the development; the building is unremarkable, and the sidewalk approach on a Sunday afternoon was littered with broken glass and an empty bottle of Fireball Whiskey.  It’s hard to imagine a better location for Joseph’s gritty play about self destructive behavior.

The set is as black and as simple as the black box that is The Bakery.  Drawers on the set pieces move in and out to form a bed, a table, or a bench, as needed.  A projection screen on both sides of the set tells us the time and shows us the place:  a hospital room, age 28, Kayleen’s bedroom, age 18, and so on.  

For those who have not seen Gruesome Playground Injuries, it’s a non-linear story of Doug (Kevin Lowry) and Kayleen (Mackenzie Sherburne) and their odd but strong bond.  Both are socially inept; they are poorly equipped to relate to anyone but each other.  The story spans thirty years, but careens randomly through those years with no regard for chronological order.  We see Doug and Kayleen at those times in their lives when they are in their deepest crises. 
Mackenzie Sherburne (Kayleen), Kevin Lowry (Doug).

As the play opens, we see Doug, his head bandaged, after riding his bike off the roof of his school.  Kayleen asks him if it hurts.  He answers her.  “A little.”  That, in fact, is his answer no matter the injury, be it from crashing his bike off a building, losing his eye when hit by fireworks, or being struck by lightning.  It hurts.  “A little.”

Kayleen, for her part, suffers from being raped at age 18.  She resorts to cutting herself with a razor knife.  We see her self inflicted wounds at the same time Doug does.  He’s troubled, yet curious.  He wants to know what it’s like, and asks her to cut him.  She does.  We wince at the sight of the blade on his skin.  It's difficult to watch.

Kevin Lowry (Doug)
Kevin Lowry’s Doug is a paradox; he’s a regular guy, but he can’t stop putting himself in physical danger.  Lowry is an eight year old in the first scene, and he has that little boy innocence that can almost seem to explain his reckless behavior.  He seems immature rather than intentionally reckless.  

As the show goes on, however, Doug ages, but for reasons known only to him, he doesn't mature well.   He still deliberately embarks on episodes of recklessness abandon.  It hurts.  “A little.”  

Lowry conveys Rajiv Joseph’s message to us:  Doug’s emotional conflicts are manifested in excruciating physical distress.  Lowry’s performance is nuanced, powerful, and at times stunning.

Mackenzie Sherburne (Kayleen).
Macenzie Sherburne’s performance is replete with eye rolling facial gestures, anger, and frustration.  She reminded me of the tag line from Brokeback Mountain:  “I wish I knew how to quit you.”  She doesn’t exactly love or hate Doug; in fact, she may be incapable of either emotion.  Still, their paths cross at time of crisis, when they most need each other.  Sherburne makes each of those crises painful to watch.  We keep hoping she will get better, but she never does.  Sherburne wrings every ounce of empathy out of us, to no avail.  We feel her pain, but we are powerless to relieve, reduce, or remove it.

Director Josh Hartwell puts his actors on the stage before the show even begins.  As the audience finds its seats, the actors are seated upstage, their backs to the audience.  They are applying their makeup, getting into costume, and in Sherburne’s case, fixing her long red hair.  The effect is riveting, and the show hasn’t even started.  We can’t see their faces, but we can see the process.  These characters are not interacting with the audience, nor even with each other.  They are carefully grooming themselves for what lies ahead.  Slowly, the audience realizes that the performance is underway twenty minutes before the first line is spoken.

Hartwell provides no cover for his actors during scene changes; they retreat upstage and change costumes while the audience watches.  It’s like looking through a peephole.  It seems wrong, but we can’t look away.  We are reminded that these two characters are so disconnected from society that they ignore us even in these intimate moments.  

The onstage costume changes reinforce something Joseph is trying to tell us: these characters can change their outward appearance, but they cannot change who they are.

It’s likely that we all know someone like Doug or Kayleen.  There’s some segment of the population that routinely makes bad decisions that result in both emotional and physical calamities.  It’s difficult to understand, but not unusual.  

Passage Theatre’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is an examination of self inflicted human suffering.  It’s difficult to watch, but well worth the effort.  The performances are stellar, the set and the setting are spot on, and the script is a small masterpiece of theater.  No fan of intelligent, provocative, and meaningful theater should take a pass on this production.

The best reason, however, for seeing Gruesome Playground Injuries is that it may make you more sensitive to the troubled lives that intersect with our own.  That alone could make the world around us a little bit better.

NOTES:

There is little to no free parking near The Bakery.  Plan on arriving early enough to drive around the Ballpark neighborhood searching for metered street parking before giving up and paying for a surface lot or a parking garage.

The Bakery doesn't seem to have any signage other than the street number.  A small signboard on the sidewalk lets you know that you've arrived at the theater.  Watch your step; the sidewalk is raised above street level, so you have to negotiate some stairs for access.  

This show closes on August 9, 2015

PHOTO CREDITSPassage Theatre.

TICKETS HERE:  

PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:

This isn't a recommendation, except in the sense that I'm recommending that no one reading this post ever goes to the View House.

Unfortunately, we stopped at the View House, 2015 Market Street, Denver, just to try it.  It’s only a block from the theater, so you can easily walk from one to the other.  We had never been to either View House (Lodo and Centennial near Park Meadows), so we gave it a try.

It was expensive for what we got, and not especially well prepared.  Service was adequate.  Overall, an unremarkable but acceptable experience.  

However, after reading a few of the plentiful but mixed Yelp reviews, we won't go back.  View House is in the Ballpark neighborhood, so there are many bar/restaurant choices.  Do yourself a favor and read the the reviews before trying the View House.  I wish we had read them before stopping in.

I should also mention the pay toilets.  Not exactly pay toilets, but you will find a washroom attendant in both the men's and ladies' rooms.  If you want a paper towel, tip the person.  

Let me repeat that:  

This is a bar.  With washroom attendants.  

Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?  I spent a weekend recently at the Brown Palace.  No washroom attendants there.  You have to go to the View House for washroom attendants.  

Presumably, the View House believes this makes their establishment a cut above the average Lodo bar.  They are wrong.  It exposes the View House for what it is:  a crass, greedy enterprise that will stoop to any level necessary to get your money.

Washroom attendants guilt patrons into tipping, while stripping the attendant of his or her personal dignity.  The practice is repugnant, and I, for one, am hereby informing View House management that I will NOT return for another visit.  EVER.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Producers:  Kevin Lowry & Mackenzie Sherburne

Director:  Josh Hartwell

Scenic Designer/Projections:  Jonathan Scott-McKean

Lighting Designer:  Michael Walker

Sound Designer:  Not credited

Costume Designer:  Nicole Harrison

Stage Manager:  Jo Gerlick


CAST:

Doug:  Kevin Lowry

Kayleen:  Mackenzie Sherburne


Monday, July 27, 2015

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang



Adapted for the stage by: Jeremy Sams & Ray Roderick

Music & Lyrics by:  Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman

Original Story byIan Fleming


Venue:  Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 4747 Market Place Drive, Johnstown Colorado.

Running Time (show only):  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)  For planning purposes, dinner seating starts at 6:00 for evening performances;  the show starts at 7:30 PM.  Total time from initial seating to end of performance is 5 hours.  If you habitually arrive at or slightly after the show time, you will probably miss part of the performance.  This show runs, as scheduled, like clockwork.

Date of Performance:  Saturday, July 25, 2015.


It’s a 1968 Disney classic, a time when the studio was creating the most entertaining children’s fare in the world.  The original story was written by a guy you’ve probably heard of:  Ian Fleming.  Yes.  That Ian Fleming.  The one who wrote the James Bond books.  Fleming had a children’s book in his head too.   Just like his spy thrillers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is full of unlikely high tech devices, devious villains, romance, and the triumph of good over evil.  It’s James Bond for kids, but with music, singing, dancing, and an incredible car.  Oh.  Wait.  James Bond also had an incredible car.

For those who remember the original, you may be wondering “how can they possibly do Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on a stage?  The answer to your question is straight forward:  they can, they do, and it’s marvelous.  It takes a huge cast (30 or so), a talented orchestra, an aerodynamic roadster, an army of offstage specialists, and a fair amount of theatrical magic.  When it all comes together, as it does at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, it’s an event for kids of all ages.

Director Pat Payne has pulled out all the stops here, using the entire theater to stage his story.  He puts actors in the aisles and the orchestra pit, even staging a dramatic entrance for The Childcatcher (Markus Warren) from behind the seats.  Using follow spots, he lights up the entire room as needed for his actors.  It’s a children’s story, but Payne hasn’t forgotten the adults.  There’s a reference to contemporary popular music that kids may not get, and he lets the conductor stop the show twice to prompt the actors.  

For those who haven’t seen the film or musical, the plot involves Caractacus Potts, a handsome but widowed inventor, and his two children.  Together, they navigate sea, sky, and some seriously scary guys in a place called Vulgaria. It’s all wonderfully magical, including Pott’s best invention:  a floating, flying car called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Alisha Winter Hayes (Truly Scruptious) and David L. Wygant (Caractacus Potts).

Potts is played by David L. Wygant, who looks and sounds like the ideal father. He also has a magnificent singing voice and a credible attraction to his love interest, Truly Scrumptious (Alisha Winter Hayes).  Wygant and Hayes charm the two kids Jemima Potts (Rebecca Hyde) and Jeremy Potts, (Brekken Wald) and the audience simultaneously.  The four of them create an attractive family that works together.  

As they tell us in a signature song called “You Two,” 

team work can make the dream work.”  

That’s a message we all need to hear from time to time.

Grandpa Potts (Stephen Charles Turner) gets a lot of laughs, some of them just by showing up with his pith helmet and safari gear (costumes by Judith Ernst), his mutton chop side burns and his bushy mustache (hair and wigs by Debbie Spaur).  Turner is a favorite for the kids, unlike The Childcatcher (Markus Warren).  Warren is the scariest, most diabolical character in the show, which is a credit to his acting talent.  He waited on our table, and I can assure you that the character you see onstage is totally unrelated to the guy we tipped at the end of the evening.

Baronness Bombastic (Alicia King) hates children, probably because her husband the Baron Bombastic (Bob Hoppe) is one in disguise.  Both King and Hoppe are simultaneously sinister and funny, giving kids in the audience a look at a monarchy run amok.  

Chief among the crazy characters are Boris (Jack Barton) and Goran )(Eric Heine), the bumbling spies for the Baron.  They are a great team; Barton and Heine add color and humor to the show every time they are on stage…or anywhere else in the room, for that matter.

Which leaves us with one more character who makes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang special.  Scott McCoppin plays The Toymaker.  When Jeremiah and Jemima are about to be the next victims of The Childcatcher, The Toymaker saves them from ruin.  McCoppin seems the perfect Toymaker and the perfect antidote to The Childcatcher.  He is a reassuring presence for all the kids everywhere who feel threatened by the real or imagined monsters under their beds.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a great show for kids, and just as entertaining for adults.  With some fine choreography by Alicia King (watch for Me Ol’ Bamboo in the first act), catchy music, marvelous voices, and a very talented cast, this is a sure hit for Candlelight.  Best of all, you will see a magic car that flies over the stage.  
David L. Wygant, Rebecca Hyde, Brekken Wald.

Your kids will love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and so will you.  It’s enough to make us all feel like kids again.


NOTES:

There is ample free parking in the Candlelight parking lot and on Marketplace Drive.

Theatrical fog is used extensively in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  There are also gunshots and strobe effects.  This show is suitable for children over 5 years of age.  It is recommended for children of ANY age.  That said, though, there are brief scenes that could be disturbing to sensitive children.

Dinner theater doesn’t actually have a dress code, but it is usually somewhat more formal than other venues. The Candlelight is located about 50 miles north of Denver, just east of I-25.  It’s a rural location.  As a result, you will see a mix of urban, suburban, and rural patrons, dressed in anything from traditional suits/ties/dresses to cowboy hats/blue jeans/bolo ties.  So choose your wardrobe to fit your mood.  Whatever you wear, you will fit in.

I mentioned above that we tipped our server, Markus The Childcatcher, at the end of the evening.  Your waiter/waitress/server works hard for the money.  The suggested tip should be on approximately 1/3 of your ticket price, plus a tip on the amount of drinks/extras you purchased.  Be generous.  You're tipping for service AND talent at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.  Both the service and the talent were impeccable at our show.

This show closes on September 13, 2015

PHOTO CREDITSCandlelight Dinner Playhouse, RDG Photography.

TICKETS HERE:  


PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:

Dinner is included in your ticket price.  Roxie had the Beef Wellington Pot Pie; I had the Beer Battered Cod.  Both were excellent, and included the house specialty veggie:  “bubble & squeak.”  That’s mashed potatoes mixed with roasted brussel sprouts.  Full menu here.

Like other dinner theaters, you can upgrade your entree for $12-$14.  Choices include Grilled Prime Rib ($14), Lamb Chops ($12), and Roasted Game Hen ($13).


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Pat Payne

Scenic Designer:  Casey J. Kearns

Musical Director/Conductor:  Casey Cropp

Technical Director:  David MacEachen

Lighting Designer:  Shannon Johnson

Sound Designer:  Neal Johnson

Choreographer:  Alicia King

Costume Designer:  Judith Ernst

Hair & Wigs:  Debbie Spaur

Props Design:  Beki Pineda

Stage Manager: Michelle Megan Blake


CAST:

Caractacus Potts:  David L. Wygant

Truly Scrumptious:  Alisha Winter Hayes

Grandpa Potts:  Stephen Charles Turner 

Jemima Potts:  Rebecca Hyde

Jeremy Potts:  Brekken Wald

Baraon Bomburst:  Bob Hoppw

Baroness Bomburst:  Alicia King

The Childcatcher:  Markus Warren

The Toymaker:  Scott McCoppin

Boris:  Jack Barton

Goran: Eric Heine

Lord Scrumptious:  Bob Hoppe

Miss Phillips:  Alicia King

WOMEN’S ENSEMBLE:

Audra Agajanian, Michelle Sergeefe, Katie Burke, Melissa Morris, Britni Girard, Samantha Baldwin, Jennifer Hanna.

MEN’S ENSEMBLE:

Broc Timmerman, Leo Battle, Jon Tyler Heath, Thomas Castro.

CHILDREN’S ENSEMBLE:

Haley Bart, Taylor McAnn, Annmarie Osmus, Ryan fisher, Christopher Walton, Elias Harger


MUSICIANS:

Conductor/Low Brass:  Casey Cropp

Keyboards:  Phil Forman

Reeds:  Andy Kropp

Trumpets:  Larry Currey, Ian Sawyer

Drums/Percussion:  Britt Forman

Bass:  Ben Hornacek

Trombone:  Bruce Fox


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cabaret



Book by:  Joe Masteroff

Music by:  John Kander

Lyrics by:  Fred Ebb

Stories by:  Christopher Isherwood



Based on the play by:  John Van Druten

CompanyPHAMALY

Venue:  Denver Center for the Performing Arts (Speer Boulevard and 14th Street), Space Theatre.

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

Date of Performance:  Sunday, July 19, 2015.


I’m going to give you the bottom line at the top this time.  PHAMALY’s Cabaret is remarkable.  It will take you, shake you, maybe even break you.  You will laugh and cry.  You will remember this performance for a long time.

Now, having already given you my take on Cabaret, I want to thank for reading on.  There’s more.

This Cabaret has two (2), count them, TWO Emcees.  Daniel Traylor plays 1/2 of the Masters of Ceremonies (Emcee) with his shadow Emcee, Garrett Zuercher.  The pair, dressed as you would expect in androgenous but revealing costumes, anchor Cabaret, giving it the required circus atmosphere.  Traylor handles all the lines, delivering them in his best French and German accents when necessary.  Zuercher says nothing, speaking only in ASL signs and gestures.  

Traylor is magnificent.  He seems to float above and around the stage, as if on a cloud.  Shirtless, with suspenders holding up his black pants, he captures the audience quickly:  “Mesdames et Messieurs…Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome.” 

He’s naughty.  He’s flirty.  He likes boys, he likes girls, and he has no apparent boundaries.  He is the poster boy for sexual freedom.  He’s like a little boy gone bad, but we can’t help loving him.  From the opening scene, Traylor, with his shadow emcee Zuercher, capture and enchant the audience.  

Zuercher, who has a stunning professional résumé, alternately leads Traylor and follows him, slinking, signing, and occasionally flirting with Traylor.  The pair are mirror images with slightly different costumes.  That one speaks and the other is mute has a subliminal impact; we hear what Traylor says, but we wonder what is concealed in Zuecher’s silence.  

Director Bryce Alexander’s Emcees are brilliant; having seen his vision will make it difficult to see Cabaret again with just a single Emcee.  Both Emcees tell a story, one with words, the other with his hands.  That story would now seem incomplete without both versions.  

Alexander’s touch is also visible with Sally Bowles (Lyndsay Palmer), who seems somehow more domesticated and less bawdy than expected.  She connects with Cliff Bradshaw (Jeremy Palmer), an American customer at the Kit Kat Club whose sexuality is apparently straight, but possibly closeted gay or bisexual.  Alexander’s Sally Bowles is a sympathetic character, a little girl in an adult world, struggling to survive.  Yes, she’s been around the block.  Yes, she’s aimless and helpless.  Still, Alexander gives us a Sally to root for.

Alexander also springs a surprise on us:  children.  There is a disturbing scene in which a child in a wheelchair is badly mistreated.  Later, two children are seen in prison uniforms in the final dramatic scene.  I don’t recall any children in other Cabaret productions; this was a first for me.  I don’t do spoilers, so there will be no disclosure here of exactly what the children do.  I will say however, that the effect is unforgettable.

Lucy Roucis (Fraulein Schneider) and Mark Dissette (Herr Schultz) play the grown ups in the story.  They are the traditional romantic couple of Broadway musicals, except for the fact that there is no happy ending here.  Roucis and Dissette are exquisitely matched; their chemistry is palpable.  They provide the two most tender moments in the show, starting with their courtship in the song It Couldn’t Please Me More,” AKA the “Pineapple Song.”  If ever any couple got more mileage onstage from a piece of fruit, I haven’t seen it.  I won’t be able to look at a pineapple in the same way ever again.

Roucis and Dissette are marvelous in Married, Herr Schultz’ musical proposal.  It is in every sense a monumental tear jerker.  I would have looked around to see the audience reaction, but I couldn’t.  I was wiping the tears from my eyes.  In a show full of decadence and political horror, Roucis and Dissette gave me hope for humanity with moments that moved me to tears.

Jeremy Palmer (Cliff Bradshaw) brings nuance to his role as an American writer thrust into a social and political maelstrom.  He is naïve but sincere, and somewhat shocked to learn that he has been unknowingly involved in supporting the Nazi party.  He immediately goes from naïve to activist, refusing to participate further.  In the end, Palmer is convincingly both distraught and powerless as he sees Berlin becoming the Third Reich.  It’s not just that the Nazis are seizing power; it’s also that many Germans are ceding power, and Cliff Bradshaw seems to be the only one who cares. 

Trenton Schindele is not just Ernst Ludwig; he is the epitome of the manipulative, scheming politicians who design and deliver revolutions.  Schindele shows us his two contradictory faces.  He is a friendly, outgoing socializer who secretly smuggles materiel for the Nazis.  He is the Nazi we do not know because he is not a beast; he has an air of respectability.  That he is a Nazi enabler is disturbing because he is not the stereotype we are familiar with.  Schindele seems to effortlessly portray the respectability and the despicability as if both should always reside in the same character.

Ashley Kelashian (Fraulein Kost) is playful and powerful as the naughty girl with a taste for sailors.  She brings us some humor at the times we most need it.  Kelashian is a breath of fresh air; she embodies the will to survive in some desperate circumstances.

Cabaret is a reminder that, like a frog slowly boiled to death, we often ignore incremental changes.  We don’t believe that the worst possible scenario might also be the most likely scenario.  When faced with harsh realities and hard choices, we all ask ourselves the musical question What Would You Do?  Just like Fraulein Schneider, we would probably do whatever we could to survive.  And if necessary, we would throw others, including perhaps those we love, under the bus.

Each and every actor on the Cabaret stage is splendid, whether in a leading role, in the ensemble, or in a cameo.  I’ll repeat that.  Every single actor on the stage is splendid.  You may have seen Cabaret before, but until you’ve seen this production, you haven’t seen it all.  This one is special.  I already gave you the bottom line up front, but I’ll say it one more time.  PHAMALY’s Cabaret is remarkable.
Center: Lyndsay Palmer (Sally Bowles), with Female Ensemble.

NOTES:

There is ample paid parking in the Denver Center parking garage for $12.00.  While that seems expensive, other lots in the area are comparable in cost.  There is metered parking (free on Sundays and holidays) on the surrounding streets, but availability is limited.  The parking garage is recommended for both price and convenience.

Theatrical fog is used extensively in Cabaret.  This show features adult content and adult language.  It is not recommended for children under 16.

I did not mention in the body of this review that PHAMALY actors have physical and/or other disabilities.  That was deliberate.  I do not consider them a disabled company; they are a fully abled company that can compete with any other company in Colorado.  And beyond, for that matter.

This show closes on August 9, 2015

PHOTO CREDITSPHAMALY, Michael Emsinger.

TICKETS HERE:  


PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:

We went to Racine’s, 650 Sherman Street, after the show.  It’s a traditional stop, pre and post show, for much of the central Denver theater community.  Look around at your fellow diners; you may recognize someone from a show you’ve seen.

Made to order martinis, great appetizers, and reliable, affordable entrees are standard at Racine’s.  I had the Grilled Monte Cristo $11.99), which was large and delicious.  I took part of it home with me as I couldn’t finish it.  They have an extensive Margarita menu here.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director/Artistic Director:  Bryce Alexander

Scenic Designer:  M. Curtis Grittner

Musical Director:  Mary Dailey

Technical Director:  Tyler Stauffer

Lighting Designer:  Stephen D. Mazzeno

Sound Designer:  Craig Breitenbach

Choreographer:  Ronni Gallup/Debbie Stark

Fight Choreographer:  Erin Ramsey

Costume Designer:  Linda Morken

Hair & Makeup Coordinator:  Carol Kelly-Rohach

Props Design:  Rob Costigan & Bob Bauer

Dramaturg/Artistic Associate:  Ashley Kelashian

Dialect Coach:  Steff Grogan

Stage Manager: Dana Reiland


CAST:

Master of Ceremonies (Emcee):  Garrett Zuercher

Master of Ceremonies (Emcee):  Daniel Traylor

Clifford Bradshaw:  Jeremy Palmer 

Fraulein Schneider:  Lucy Roucis

Herr Schultz:  Mark DIssette

Frauline Kost:  Ashley Kelashian

Sally Bowles:  Lyndsay Palmer

Ernst Ludwig:  Trenton Schindele

FEMALE ENSEMBLE:

Khea Craig, Harper Liles, Megan McGuire, Amber Marsh, Lauren Cora Marsh (understudy:  Frauline Kost), Laurice Quinn, Micayla Smith, Kristi Siedow-Thompson (understudy:  Sally Bowles), Vicki Thiem, Rachel VanScoy, Shannon Wilson, Linda Wirth (understudy:  Fraulein Schneider).

MALE ENSEMBLE:

Brian Be, Stewart Caswell, Donny Gabenski, Adam Johnson, Phillip Lomeo (understudy:  Cliff Bradshaw), James Sherman, Andrew Tubbs.


MUSICIANS:

Keyboards:  Mary Dailey

Reeds:  Harry Grainger

Guitar, Banjo, Bass:  Scott Alan Smith

Percussion:  Larry Ziehl

Trumpet: Ned Avery

Trombone:  Bruce Fox


Violin:  Leslie Wilburn