Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rumplestiltskin, Private Eye

Playwright:  Todd Wallinger

Venue:  Black Box Theatre, 1367 Pecan Street, Colorado Springs, CO.

Running Time:  1hour, 40 minutes (includes 10 minute intermission). 

Date of Performance:  Thursday, April 28, 2016. 

Perhaps the best way to insure the future of live theater is to engage kids at an early age.  There is an entire genre of “children’s theater” that does exactly that.  Not only does children’s theater give kids a sense of the magic that is live theater, but it also inspires some to dream of standing on a stage some day, bowing to thundering applause. 

Colorado Springs playwright Todd Wallinger specializes in theater for young people, and his script for Rumplestiltskin, Private Eye (hereafter Rumplestiltskin) is one of his most successful works.  Targeted at middle school aged kids, Rumplestiltskin has also been a hit with elementary school audiences.  Wallinger’s script won the Julie Harris Award in 2014 at the Beverly Hills Youth Theatre Guild competition.  

Rumplestiltskin opened on April 28 to a packed house at the Black Box Theatre, and the audience (with ages ranging from elementary school to, ahem, 68 years old) loved it.  Rumplestiltskin takes a character from central casting and puts him in a new role.  The kids were totally engaged, following the action and the story with a laser beam focus.  It was obvious; there was appropriate laughter, appropriate surprise, and no fidgeting for the entire 90 minute performance.

Children’s theater requires straight forward story telling, and Wallinger’s Rumplestiltskin does exactly that.  Wallinger weaves stories they already know (Snow White, The Ugly Duckling, The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and others) into a brand new story.  Using these universal children’s stories as a primary plot ingredient lets Wallinger connect quickly with his audience.  They know and love the stories, and they can’t wait to see how their favorite fairy tale characters play out on stage.

Rumplestiltskin has a huge cast (29 actors by my count) and the Black Box is a small stage.  The logistics of entrances, exits, and scene changes are daunting, but director Steve Perkins makes it all work seamlessly.  Perkins also has a keen sense of how to do children’s theater, prompting his actors to exaggerate and overact in ways that mirror classic children’s behavior.  

Cast of Rumplestiltskin, Private Eye.  Foreground:  Brand Davis-McCluskey (as Rumplestiltskin, yellow hat and coat),
Alicia Franks (as the Ugly Duckling, yellow hat and tutu), and Destiny Labride (as Little Red, in red cape).
There are some standout performances (which is not easy when one is competing with 28 other actors) on the Black Box stage, not the least of which is Alicia Franks as the Ugly Duckling (“I’m a SWAN!“).  I’ve seen Ms. Franks as a dog, and she’s just as much fun as a fowl.  “Frankly,” Alicia owns the stage here as Rumplestiltskin’s flighty but focused sidekick.  Brand Davis-McCluskey (Rumplestiltskin) has his hands full in this plot, tracking down the bad guys.  He bumbles through the clues, and wouldn’t be able to solve this caper without his Ugly Duckling.  Or, as she prefers, she’s a SWAN.

Matt Brady takes a small part (Gloomy the dwarf) and totally nails his role.  His monotone, baritone delivery is perfect for Gloomy.  Paul Stewart III does the same with his tiny part (the Gingerbread Man), slipping and sliding across the stage as if gravity doesn’t exist.  The youngest actor on the stage is fifth grader Destiny Labride (LIttle Red), and she holds her own with the adults.  If any kids in the audience were inspired to follow in someone’s footsteps, those footsteps were Destiny’s.

Wallinger’s script has something for everyone.  The kids connect to the fairy tale characters and the constant physical comedy.  Adults get a big dose of puns.  Everyone has a good time, and the good guys win in the end.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Wait.  It may in fact get better than that.  Mr. Wallinger may look back on Rumplestiltskin in 5, 10, or 20 years and realize that someone in that audience has eclipsed him in the world of theater.  Inspiring a new generation of theater artists is infinitely more rewarding than a happy ending for the Rumplestiltskin scriptIn fact, it truly does NOT get any better than that.  I hope the possibility of such an outcome brings some hope and joy to Mr. Wallinger.


This show is suitable for all ages.  There is ample free parking on Pecan Street in and around the theater.

There is some important information included in the Rumplestiltskin program:

Sadly, Black Box closes its doors on May 31st, 2016. We have loved every moment here.

(Well, maybe not the moment when an ill patron threw up on the floor, or all the
many moments the toilets flooded. Ah, memories!) 

We will remember you, dear audience, as we hope you remember us.  Many of us will be continuing in theatre locally, and we hope you will look for us on - and behind - the stage. Without you, we couldn't do what we do.

Black Box will be missed.  Their slogan is “Theater with Integrity.”  They have delivered on that slogan every time I was in the house.

This show closes on April 30, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Black Box Theatre Company



Producer/Executive Director:  Nancy Holoday

Director & Fight Choreographer:  Steven Perkins

Technical Director:  Kitty Robbins

Lead Technician:  Evan Danforth

Stage Manager:  Kylie Hartnett


Rumpelstiltskin:  Brand Davis-McCluskey

Ugly Duckling:  Alicia Franks

Mama Bear: Danine Schell

Papa Bear: Bob Peloso

Baby Bear:  Dave Gallo

Goldilocks: Brittany Kernan

Gingerbread Man:  Paul Stewart III

Worried Pig: Quinn Baker

Smart Pig:  Hunter Buck

Not So Smart Pig:  Kiffin Irwin

Big Bad Wolf:  Alec Nichol

Virginia Wolf:  Lore Davis-McCluskey

Little Red:  Destiny Labride

Snow White:  Michaela Johnson

Drowsy:  Ricky Carter

Clumsy:  Bekah Bowman

Bossy:  Katherine Larson

Gloomy:  Matt Brady

Perky: Brooke Yingling

Nerdy: Sicily Mezzofante

Hungry:  Joey Peloso

Prince Pronto:  Camden Sharkey

Cinderella:  Ali Warren

Fairy Godmother:  Armour Ratcliffe

Minerva:  Shelby Evanoika

Hortense:  Arielle Miagkov

Penelope: America Copeland

Fairy Godfather:  Richie Kotwica

Grannie:  Deb Gillman

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Playwright:  Edmond Rostand

Translator:  Michael Hollinger

Adapted by:  Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner

Company:  Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

Running Time:  2 hours, 35 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission). 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, April 24, 2016. 

The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) is nothing if not creative; they have turned the major renovations at their home base (The Dairy Arts Center) into a bold opportunity.  They have moved out of their comfort zone and spread their talents all over the front range.  They produced Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light at the Fiske Planetarium, and Ideation at two “outside the box” Boulder locations.  Their latest traveling production Cyrano takes BETC 45 miles southeast to the Lone Tree Arts Center.

At each of their temporary venues, BETC has maintained the high quality of its productions.  I have seen all three of their road shows, and there is no sign of any drop off whatsoever despite the logistics of the disparate venues.  BETC had no choice about using alternative venues, but they have done it so well that perhaps the company should consider doing at least one show each season at a new venue.  In addition to challenging the company, these traveling shows expose BETC to a new audience at every venue.

Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano has stood the test of time.  Written in 1897, the script is a Beauty and the Beast variation that has been adapted for opera, radio, and various film versions, including the 1987 Roxanne with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah.  The BETC production is based on a new adaptation by Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner.  BETC is very familiar with both Posner and Hollinger; they produced Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird script last year, as well as Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer in 2013, one of my all time favorite BETC productions.

The Hollinger/Posner Cyrano adaptation takes some liberties with Rostand’s script, updating the language and turning Rostand’s verse into prose.  Both of those changes are for the better.  To their credit, Hollinger and Posner have preserved Rostand’s story and structure.  
Stephen Weitz as Cyrano.

Director Rebecca Remaly uses this adapted version to emphasize the human as well as the comic qualities of the characters.  Her Cyrano (Stephen Weitz) is a humble but wittty romantic who overcompensates for his legendary nose with exaggerated panache.  Christian (John DiAntonio) is both brave and insecure, and no match for the smarter Cyrano.  Roxane (Adrian Egolf) is beautiful, confident, and smart enough to know her own heart.  Instead of Rostand’s caricatures, Remaly’s characters are decent people who know both their limitations and their dreams.  Remaly understands that although the comedy in Cyrano is central, it is the emotions that are universal.

Stephen Weitz is, literally, a three dimensional Cyrano.  He’s a swashbuckling braggart, a gifted poet, and a devoted if secret lover.  Weitz zips seamlessly from one dimension to the next, as if it’s natural to slay 100 enemies and then write a sonnet.  His wit and bravado aside, though, it is Weitz’ devotion to Roxane that endears him to us.  He’s a romantic, and a very effective one.  

John DiAntonio (Christian) & Adrian Egolf (Roxane).
Adrian Egolf blindly but fully embraces the heart of the man she loves.  Egolf is radiant.  More importantly, though, she is convincingly disinterested in her lover’s appearance but hopelessly captivated by his nature.  

John DiAntonio is an intriguing Christian.  Like any man his age, his attraction to Roxane is strong but shallow.  DiAntonio makes the delicate shift from lecher to leader in battle by recognizing that he lacks some of Cyrano’s best qualities.

Brian Shea (De Guiche) & Sammie Joe Kinnett (Desiree).
Well known for his ability to steal a scene in the wink of an eye, Sammie Joe Kinnett is in rare form for Cyrano.  He plays multiple roles, most of them women.  Sammie Joe in drag is, well, a rare opportunity to see an accomplished actor strut his funniest stuff.  If you haven’t seen him before, see him in Cyrano.  Once you’ve seen him perform, you'll know why his fans can't get enough of his shows.

Although Cyrano is not a musical, there are musical moments, and the best one is the “Gascony Guard” song. The males in the cast gather for a testosterone fueled a capella statement intended to strike fear in their enemy's hearts.  It’s a great moment, and the harmonies are surprisingly good.

The technical aspects of Cyrano are exemplary.  From the stunning set design by Tina Anderson and Ron Mueller, to the eye popping costumes (Brenda King) and realistic wigs (Diana Ben-Kiki), Cyrano has an authentic look and feel.  Fight Director Geoffrey Kent puts on a swashbuckling swordplay extravaganza as Cyrano mows down any and all comers in extended battles.  

Cyrano cast and set.
If there is any fault with Rostand and this adaptation, it’s that there is a huge gap between the chivalry of the 17th to 19th centuries and the "selfie" generation today.  Cyrano had limited his dating prospects in the 19th century, presumably because his nose was also his first impression.  People meet with a digital photo now, and the indignity of that first impression has been reduced to a swipe.  Dating has never been easy, but a prominent nose is not the obstacle it was in 1897.

There’s a lot to like in this BETC production.  It’s a singular revival of Rostand’s story,  revved up for contemporary audiences.  BETC and Stephen Weitz have abundant “panache.”  That’s the word Cyrano used to describe his approach to life.  That panache makes for a very entertaining experience for this BETC road show in Lone Tree.  It’s well worth the trip…for both BETC and for fans of theater classics.


This show is suitable for teens and up.  There is ample free parking at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

Information about the renovations at The Dairy Arts Center can be found here.  

As always, BETC provides a very useful Food for Thought handout in the program.  In addition to some history of the actual characters in Rostand’s script, the handout also provides historical background and context for Cyrano.  If you have time before the show starts, look it over. It adds some fascinating background about the characters and their Gascony heritage.

This show closes on April 30, 2016.



Director:  Rebecca Remaly

Fight Director:  Geoffrey Kent

Scenic Co-Designers:  Tina Anderson & Ron Mueller

Sound Design:  Andrew Metzroth

Lighting Design:  Jen Kiser

Costume Design:  Brenda King

Wig Design:  Diana Ben-Kiki

Properties:  Anja Hose

Stage Manager:  Jonathan D. Allsup

Assistant Stage Manager:  Jordan Brockman

Prosthetic Design:  Todd Debrecini

Music (“Gascony Guard Song” and “Behold The Bee”):  Michael Hollinger

Additional Original Music:  Andrew Metzroth

Violin/Guitar:  Priscilla Arasaki/Paulo Oliveira


Cyrano:  Stephen Weitz

Roxane:  Adrian Egolf

Christian:  John DiAntonio

Le Bret:  Logan Emstthal

De Guiche:  Brian Shea

Ragueneau/Cyrano understudy:  Casey Andree

De Valvert/Fight Captain:  Benaiah Anderson

Liginere:  MIchael Bouchard

Desiree:  Sammie Joe Kinnett

Understudies:  Kevin Lowry/Kyra Lindsay

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

MacHamlet: An Improbable Bromance

Playwright:  Roy Ballard

Company:  Funky LittleTheater Company

Venue:  Funky Little Theater, 2109 Templeton Gap, Colorado Springs, CO.

Running Time:  1 hour (no intermission). 

Date of Performance:  Saturday, April 9, 2016. 

I know.  MacHamlet sounds like a new breakfast item at McDonald’s, perhaps a hybrid of a  Big Mac and an omelet.  But no.  It’s the title for an “improbable. bromance” between Shakespeare’s two most tragic characters:  Macbeth and Hamlet.  Still, I can't get the idea of an omelet/Big Mac mashup out of my head.  I'd definitely try it.

MacHamlet is definitely not the first time Shakespeare's work has been used as fodder for satire and parody, nor will it be the last.  Shakespeare brings a couple of advantages to writers who seeking satire sources:  1) many are familiar with the original works, and 2) all manner of copyrights have long expired for the bard.  If you add in the ease of satirizing a guy who wrote in antiquated verse, the parodies almost write themselves.

If two such parodies can be a trend, the front range has somehow become an incubator for Shakespeare send ups.  MacHamlet is the second original revision of Shakespeare’s works I’ve seen, the first being Ham Mcbeth.  Add in a recent version of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr and a dynamite local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it would seem the bard is more popular now than he was when he died 400 years ago.

Funky’s current send up of Will’s most famous tragedies is done strictly for fun.  That’s important; no one should buy a ticket expecting to see a show that significantly resembles the original material.  The better expectation here is that some humor can be wrung from Shakespeare’s best tragedies.  If that sounds like a reach, it is, but it’s a reach that at times works at Funky.

Roy Ballard’s script borrows from both of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and he adds his own material to turn tragedy to comedy.  Ballard is a veteran of the Funky stage, and his last appearance there was a dark triumph.  Kevin Taylor also gets credit for his contribution to MacHamlet:  a decidedly irreverent rap scene with Hamlet (Chris Medina) and Macbeth (Dylan McClintock), which is arguably the funniest part of MacHamlet.  Costume designer Delaney Hallauer brings some visual fun to the show, dressing her male characters in skin tight “I have no secrets” leggings.  

Summarizing the script seems unnecessary; if you know something about Hamlet and Macbeth, you know enough already.  No deep understanding or appreciation of the original scripts is needed.  Ballard weaves the two together, using the title characters to forge a comedic alliance.  Ballard’s characters are necessarily somewhat less proper than Shakespeare’s; Ophelia (Emma Colligan) drags Hamlet behind a set piece for a quickie.  Gertrude (Josh Boehnke in a blond wig and exquisite drag) is seductive, sexy, and has a thing for Macbeth.  

MacHamlet is not for Shakespeare purists.  If you think the original work is untouchable, this is not for you.  For the rest of us, there is value in both the original scripts and in updating them.  The audience at Funky was responsive and enthusiastic, two words I rarely use for Shakespeare productions.

Exposing a new generation to Shakespeare is a worthwhile endeavor, even if that exposure is a rap music driven romp that bears only a slender relationship to the original.  Funky proves that Shakespeare, enhanced and on steroids, can be fun and relevant.  That’s enough to make MacHamlet a potential gateway for a new generation to read and appreciate the original classics.  

Shakespeare might be rolling in his grave, but Funky and Roy Ballard won’t let him be forgotten.


This show is suitable for teens and up.  There is ample free parking in the Funky Little Theater strip mall.

Humble Coffee has a kiosk in the parking lot; depending on the date/time of the show, you may be able to pick up an excellent latté before the curtain goes up.  Funky also has a concession stand.  At the performance we attended, they were offering a free homemade dessert.

This show closes on April 16, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Funky Little Theater Company & Megan Williams, Photographer



Director:  Benji Dezaval

Scenic Design:  Dylan McClintock

Sound/Light Design:  Chris Medina

Costume Design:  Delaney Hallauer

Dramaturg:  Laura Marden

Properties:  Michelle Pantle/Justin Anderson

Stage Manager:  Chelsea Rigor

Rap music/lyrics:  Kevin Taylor


Horatio/Laertes/Gertrude:  Josh Boehnke

Ophelia/Lady Macbeth/Francisco:  Emma Colligan

Macbeth/Bernardo:  Dylan McClintock

Hamlet:  Chris Medina

Claudius/Duncan/Ghost Dad:  Chad Orr

Marcellus/Witches/Messenger:  Valiant Pico

Monday, April 11, 2016

Rabbit Hole

Playwright:  David Lindsay-Abaire

Venue:  Vintage Theater, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, CO.

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

Date of Performance:  Friday, April 8, 2016. 

It was with some trepidation that I sat in the crowded theater waiting for the curtain to go up for Rabbit Hole.  The brief summary of the story was enough to give me pause:

“Becca and Howie Corbett have everything a family could want, until a life-shattering accident turns their world upside down and leaves the couple drifting perilously apart. RABBIT HOLE charts their bittersweet search for comfort in the darkest of places and for a path that will lead them back into the light of day.”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that this story is about the loss of a loved one.  It’s not that long ago that I personally experienced such a loss (see Notes below).  Three years later, I am still careful to avoid shows that may take me back to my darkest days.

Despite my concerns, Rabbit Hole turned out to be poignant and comforting rather than disturbing.  David Lindsay-Abaire’s script is one part tragedy, one part humor, and two parts hope.  It's the double parts of hope that creates a lasting impact.  Lindsay-Abaire is direct and honest; Rabbit Hole is an uncompromising tragedy. But Rabbit Hole is such a compelling story because, despite the tragedy, he lights up an otherwise very dark tunnel with a realistic hope for recovery.

L-R: Nat (Deborah Persoff), Becca (Haley Johnson), and Izzy (Maggy Stacy).
Becca (Haley Johnson) is the character most traumatized by her loss; everything has changed for the worse for her.  Johnson is not just depressed.  She is also angry and takes out her frustrations on her husband Howie (Mark Stith) and her mother Nat (Deborah Persoff).  Johnson walks a dramatic tight rope.  She plumbs the depth of her loss by approaching irrationality but without actually crossing over into it.  We sympathize with her, even as she victimizes those who are reaching out to her.  It’s a striking performance by an actor who never holds back.

Haley Johnson (Becca) & Mark Stith (Howie).
Mark Stith is so emotionally engaged in his role that he cries actual tears onstage.  That is not just unusual; it’s also very powerful.  Men rarely shed tears, even in an emotional crisis.  Stith gives men in the audience permission to cry in a crisis.  If that were the only takeaway from his performance, it would be more than enough.  Stith, however, goes further.  He exemplifies the courage and persistence one needs to be a caregiver while needing care himself.  Stith’s Howie is the strongest of men; he cares about and for Becca while suffering in relative silence.  His performance will stay with me for a long time.

Izzy (Maggie Stacy) is Becca’s sister, and Stacy nailed her from the moment she walked on the stage.  She’s sassy, she’s naughty, and she’s unapologetic for breaking all the rules.  Stacy takes Izzy to the limit, bringing humor and perspective to the rest of the characters.  Few women get in bar fights; Izzy, of course does and floors her opponent.  Maggie Stacy convinces us that while it's unusual, she really had no choice.  She’s a veteran actor with a polished resume, but Izzy may be her best role yet.  

Nat (Deborah Persoff) is a compelling mother to Becca, equal parts loving and annoying.  She really wants to help Becca out of her funk, but Persoff demonstrates vividly why she’s so poorly equipped to advise anyone on grief.  Her terse comments about the Kennedy family are a dismal, pitiful attempt to comfort the grieving Becca.  Persoff has a maternal love for Becca, but a simultaneous and profound emotional disconnect that thwarts her good intentions.  

Haley Johnson (Becca), John Hauser (Jason).
Jason (John Hauser) is a minor but critical character.  He’s arguably responsible for the tragedy visited on Becca and Howie.  Hauser delicately balances Jason’s guilt, remorse, and contrition.  It’s a small part done very well.

Director Bernie Cardell wrings the maximum effect out of both the tragedy and the hope that Lindsay-Abaire has baked into this marvelous script.  Cardell insists that the details be correct; when the cast sits down to celebrate a birthday, it’s with a real cake and real candles.  Set designer Douglas Clarke also covers every detail; the fully stocked refrigerator has a working light when the door opens. 

There’s not a wasted moment or a flaw of any kind in this production.  It’s honest.  It’s powerful.  It’s profound.  Rabbit Hole is that rare combination of a brilliant script, a meaningful message, inspired performances, and technical excellence.  

Grief is universal; we will all experience it sooner or later.  Grieving, however, is both universal and personal.  We must all find our own path through the darkness.  Rabbit Hole shows that we can do both:  grieve and recover.  Grief is the end to one reality and the beginning of a new one.  If you’re having trouble dealing with your new reality, Rabbit Hole may be just the medicine you need to help you get through the darkness.


This show is suitable for teens and up.  There is free but limited street parking and additional free parking on the north and south sides of the theater. 

Discretion is advised for adults who have suffered the loss of a child.  Some scenes may be difficult for those still grieving that loss.

This post avoids a detailed description of the plot of Rabbit Hole.  That’s deliberate; it’s difficult to go into details without spoiling the story for those who haven’t already seen it.

Full disclosure:  While I haven’t lost a child, I did lose my wife, Linda Rae Wheeler, in 2013.  The grief still seems fresh, and Rabbit Hole brought it back to the surface.  Watching a loved one die a long and painful death is traumatic, but I do not think my lingering grief has affected this review.  

This show closes on April 17, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Vintage Theater & DenverMind Media.


Pre/Post Show Dining Suggestion

We had enough time before the show to have dinner at one of our north side favorites, Jim N’ Nick’s Community Bar BQ in the Northfield Shopping Center (8264 E 49th Ave, Denver).  This is southern cooking for carnivores, with a side of community service.  They will bring you a basket of cheese biscuits while you read the menu.  I could make a meal out of those biscuits.

This is the second time we’ve been seated at a table at Jim N’ Nick’s and were quickly greeted by one of the staff:  Chef Dion Williams.  Williams spends as much time in the dining room as he does in the kitchen.  We mentioned that we had spoken to him the last time we were there, and he immediately thanked us for coming back and comped an appetizer for us.   

Williams brought up his special for the night:  Barbecued Prime Rib.  It’s not on the menu, but it’s available on Friday and Saturday nights.  He called it “ meat candy.”  I ordered it and I agree.  It’s meat candy.

If you see a tall African American guy walking around Jim N’ Nick’s talking to customers, that’s probably Dion.  Say hi to him.  He’s from Alabama, and he’s the real thing.  He knows how to treat customers, and he loves to meet them.  He’s a chef who sets a professional example for his kitchen, and works the entire restaurant to make sure everyone goes home happy.


Artistic Director:  Craig A. Bond

Producer:  Biz Schaugaard

Director:  Bernie Cardell

Assistant Director:  Mark Pergola

Scenic Design:  Douglas Clarke

Sound Design:  Madison Kuebler

Lighting Design:  Jeramy Boik

Costume Design:  Erin Leonard

Properties:  Beki Pineda

Stage Manager:  Kortney Hanson


Izzy:  Maggy Stacy 

Becca:  Haley Johnson

Howie:  Mark Stith

Nat:  Deborah Persoff

Jason:  John Hauser

Voice of Danny:  Harrison Lyles-Smith