Tuesday, May 31, 2016

9 to 5: The Musical

Book by: Patricia Resnick

Music & Lyrics by:  Dolly Parton

Company:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

Venue:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale Street, Colorado Springs, CO.

Running Time: 

Date of Performance:  Friday, May 27, 2016. 

Based on the 1980 movie of virtually the same name, 9 to 5 The Musical (hereafter 9 to 5) premiered in Los Angeles in September, 2008.  The 1980 hit film starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, three of the most successful women working at that time in Hollywood.  It was the the second biggest grossing film that year, finishing behind The Empire Strikes Back.  The comedy was successful because of (or in spite of, depending on your opinion) a starkly feminist message.  That it starred three of the biggest stars available at the time undoubtedly powered a lot of its success, as did Dolly Parton’s catchy theme song.

9 to 5 The Musical  opened some 28 years later to mixed reviews in both Los Angeles and on Broadway, but Parton’s music was nominated for Drama Desk and Tony awards.    9 to 5 hasn’t lost any of it’s original appeal from the 1980 film, and the big hair, big ideas musical is now showing at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC) through June 12.

9 to 5 is not just a musical; it’s also a powerful statement about women in the workplace.  The message that drove the film’s production in the late 1970’s is also central to the musical, and it is still relevant today.  Accordingly, I think it fair to address both the artistic value and the feminist relevance of 9 to 5 in this review.

In the hands of Director/Choreographer Nathan Halvorsen, the FAC production is a feast for the eyes and ears.  Halvorsen has preserved the essence of the original film, making Franklin Hart (well played here by Stephen Day) as unlikable as possible.  He turns his trio of co-stars (Miriam Roth, Jennifer DeDominici, and Crystal Mosser) loose on Hart, giving them the giggles as they take down their boss.  Halvorsen is doing double duty as director and choreographer, two jobs rarely combined for a single person.  He must have a bottomless supply of talent and drive to put his touch on both.
Crystal Mosser (Doralee) Jennifer DeDominici (Judy), & Miriam Roth (Violet).

Halvorsen’s casting of Roth, DeDominici and Mosser is inspired; the three have an abundance of talent and an obvious chemistry with each other.  There’s an unlikely scene in the first act where the three gals get stoned, and it’s precious.  

DeDominici’s “Maui Wowie” line drops on the stage like a flower floating on a pond in some smoky dream; she’s clearly intoxicated with weed.  The three share an unforgettable hash fueled bonding, establishing themselves as a potent force for both fun and rebellion.  Once the reefer wears off, the three are reminiscent of Dumas' Three Musketeersone for all and all for one.

Stephen Day plays the villain boss, Franklin Hart, and he’s a perfect fit.  Rude, crude and lewd, Day seems to enjoy tormenting the women in his life, making revenge that much sweeter for them.  Day has a number in the first act (Here for You), and he nails it.  When he started singing, I sat up straight in my seat.  His strong melodic voice is an outstanding counterbalance for the women’s voices that carry most of the show tunes.

This is the second time I’ve seen Jen Lennon on the FAC stage, and she has stolen a scene in both shows.  Here, it’s her number Heart to Hart.  She belts it out, and it’s a stunner.  Lennon plays it for laughs, and she gets them.  

FAC’s production is flawless, from the 1970’s supergraphic set design (skillfully executed by Erik D. Diaz) to the creative lighting (Holly Anne Rawls).  Alex Ruhlin’s effective sound design expertly mixes the voices and the orchestra.  Lex Liang’s costume designs are splashy 1970’s vintage, and Jonathan Eberhardt has recreated all the bad hair days of the disco decade.  How Mr. Eberhardt got Crystal Mosser’s wig to stay on her head is probably a trade secret.  As with the illusion of a magician, it’s probably better that we don’t know how Eberhardt works his magic.

Parton’s music is perhaps the best part of 9 to 5.  The tunes are perky, pertinent, and advance the plot, although none are as fun as the theme/title song.  The 2008 book/script makes no attempt to update the 1970’s screenplay, which is unfortunate.  There is still abundant advantage take of women in the workplace, although it may be more subtle now.  A book/script that preserved the themes in a contemporary workplace could have been more effective than a flashback to the office environment of 1980.  Such an update would have made the story more relevant to a millennial generation, while advancing the notion that the progress women have made at work is far from complete.

Which brings me to the real message of 9 to 5.  It is overtly feminist.  The genius of the original film was that the feminist medicine went down with a spoonful of sugar; that is, the comedy took the edge off the politics.  That’s still the case with the musical version, but the message arguably needs more edge and bite more than it did in 1980.  The humor now seems to diminish rather than articulate the message.

Equality in the workplace is arguably more urgent now than it was when the film came out.  The film and the musical both empower women to take charge and make changes.  Unfortunately, those changes seem inadequate after several decades, and worse, potentially in jeopardy.  We have a candidate for the highest office in the country who proudly dismisses, insults, and degrades women.  I don’t say that just as a personal opinion; there are plenty of examples available here, here, here, here, and here.  These are just samples; a Google search will yield hundreds of such hits.  Extending his attitude toward women in any workplace would be an insufferable setback; extending it to the White House would be an colossally bad example for others.

9 to 5 is breakthrough film/musical that empowers women in the workplace.  Not only is the message of 9 to 5 still relevant; it is more compelling than ever.  I know people walked out of the theater humming the title song.  I only hope they are also mulling over the real message of 9 to 5.  Our wives, our sisters, and our daughters still need to hear that message. 


There is ample free street parking in the area and in the lot across the street from the theater.  This show is suitable for all ages.

This show closes on June 12, 2016.



Producing Artistic Director:  Scott RC Levy

Director/Choreographer:  Nathan Halvorson 

Music Director:  Jay Hahn

Scenic Design:  Erik D. Diaz

Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin

Lighting Design:  Holly Anne Rawls

Properties Design:  Liz Hultz

Costume Designer:  Lex Liang

Hair & Makeup Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Production Stage Manager:  Kaetlyn Springer

Flying Effects:  ZFX, Inc.


Judy Bernly:  Jennifer DeDominici

Violet Newstead:  Miriam Roth

Doralee Rhodes:  Crystal Mosser

Franklin M. Hart Jr.:  Stephen Day

Roz Keith:  Jen Lennon

Joe:  Zachary Seliquini Guzman

Dwayne:  Brian McClure 

Josh:  Josh Owen

Missy:  Alannah Vaughn

Maria:  Marisa Dannielle Hebert

Dick:  Thomas Voss

Kathy:  Sierra Reynolds

Margaret:  Solveig Olsen

Bob Enright:  Kody Maynard

Tinsworthy:  Jerry Mcauley II

Ensemble:  Grant Brown, Alex Campbell, Nathan Ferrick, Sammy Gleason, Marisa Dannielle Hebert, Tracy Hedding, Kody Maynard, Jerry McCauley II, Solveig Olsen, Sierra Reynolds, Carmen Vreeman Shedd, Alannah Vaughn, Thomas Voss.

Dolly’s Darlings (Orchestra):

Conductor:  Jay Hahn

Guitars:  Jim Robertson & Jason Vaughn

Bass: Jay McGuffin

Keyboards: Sharon Skidgel

Trombone:  Rick Crafts

Trumpet:  Chris Walters

Reeds:  Ed Hureau & Cully Joyce

Percussion:  Richard Clark

Monday, May 23, 2016

Clown Bar

Playwright:  Adam Szymkowicz

Venue:  Zodiac Venue, 230 Pueblo Street, Colorado Springs, CO.

Running Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, May 21, 2016. 

Clown Bar is an unusual theater experience.  From the Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) program for the show:

“Hi!  Welcome to the Clown Bar.  Prepare yourself to be immersed into the seedy underbelly of the underground clown crime world.  Your evening tonight will consist of an immersive experience that draws you into the mix.  There will be burlesque, a show, and live music.  What a deal!

Still, given that description, I was hardly prepared for what followed.  It’s a marketing executive’s dream show:  sex, booze, & rock and roll, all live and in person on the same stage.  It’s one stop shopping for your entertainment pleasure.

The venue, Zodiac Venue, is a bar, club, music venue, and now a stage for all manner of clown mischief.  Peaks and Pasties (hereafter P & P) provides the sexy gals to keep the mood focused on fun.  The cast performs, not on the Zodiac stage (that’s reserved for the Band Idiot, P & P, and the emcee), but in the midst of the crowd.  The effect is not exactly like breaking the fourth wall…it’s more like having no walls at all.  

Zodiac Venue.  You are looking at the performance stage.  Photo credit:
Bill Wheeler.
This is a “breakout” performance for SET for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it “breaks out” of their performance space on East Cache La Poudre.  It’s not just that they took this show on the road.  It’s that they have somehow managed to find a perfect fit for Clown Bar.  It’s in a bar.  There’s alcohol.  It’s adults only.  It’s a club that (I’m speculating here) few of SET’s subscribers ever heard about. 

This is also a breakout for SET (at least in my experience) because Clown Bar is a campy, melodramatic script with a single focus:  fun.  This is not Shakespeare.  It’s a silly story about a drug addicted clown whose demise is a mystery.  The Clown Bar script calls for over acting, and the cast never misses a chance to ham up their lines.  SET has done a lot of serious theater (see here and here); Clown Bar is a brilliant and unexpected deviation.

I found that it helps if I think of Clown Bar as a 3 ring circus.  Ring 1 is the Band Idiot.  Ring 2 is the Burlesque Show.  Ring 3 is the play itself.

Clown Bar is a highly creative production, from the immersive staging to the clown costumes and makeup, and to the freedom given to the musicians.  For Ring 1, SET employs three different bands, one for each weekend of the production.  The bands were given lyrics from the script and asked to come up with their own music.  Band Idiot played the performance I saw, and the indie punk group tore it up with their Clown Bar compositions.

SET’s loyal patrons are quickly plunged into this three ring circus, complete with clowns, and fueled by a cash bar (try the Irish Whiskey Mule, $7.00 with Jameson Irish Whiskey).  Ring 2 brings us the lovely ladies of P & P vamping through their sexy, naughty burlesque act for the crowd.  Their job is to warm up the crowd.  I’m here to say “mission accomplished.”

Ring 3, Adam Szymkowicz’s Clown Bar, is the main event.  Szymkowicz is not worried about writing the next Les Miserables.  Rather, he’d be happy if Clown Bar becomes the next Rocky Horror Show.  He goes for campy fun and knocks it out of the park.  There’s clown hookers, clown murderers, a clown drug addict, a clown tough guy, a clown emcee, and of course, some clowns who are even funny.  

L-R  Angela Kinnett (Petunia), Bob Morsch (Giggles),
Jill Marie Peterson.  Photo credit:  Bill Wheeler.
Angela Kinnett is unrecognizable in her clown make up and wig.  Seriously.  I’ve seen Angela before at Dragon Theatre Productions, and I did NOT know she was Petunia until I read the program.  My passing acquaintance with her did not prepare me for her character:  she’s a hooker clown. Knock me over with a feather…not a role I would have imagined for her.  Let me just say that she’s a very convincing clown with a part time job.

Micah Speirs is the male lead, playing Happy Mahoney, a clown who left the circus to become a detective.  Speirs winks and nods his way through the story, mostly pursuing justice but really looking for revenge.  He plays it straight (overacting is for clowns), and doggedly pursues the clown who murdered his brother Timmy (David Atkinson).  

Micah Speirs (Happy Mahoney).  Photo credit:  Springs
Ensemble Theatre.
I’m pretty sure Speirs didn’t object to what seemed like five minutes of passionate making out with his love interest, Blinky Fatale (Nikita Bonita).  Bonita was the headline dancer for P & P, which is to say she can shake some serious booty.  Speirs might want to mention this “get a room” test of endurance on his acting resume.  

After Bonita finished her burlesque bit, she slipped into a full length see through black gauzy coverup adorned with vertical multicolored LED lights.  Let that image sink in for a minute.  Stripper. Gauzy.  Black.  See through.  Tiny lights.  Got it?  You don’t see that combination often. 

David Atkinson (Timmy).  Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble
David Atkinson (Timmy) has an unusual role; he has to be killed multiple times in Clown Bar.  He recreates every nuance of the scene perfectly each time.  He is the ultimate clown gone bad, from funny guy to drug addict to hit man.  Atkinson cleverly displays both his bad boy side and his human side.

Dusty the Clown (Kala Roquemore) hammed it up as the emcee for the festivities and kept the audience engaged as the show bounced around the three rings of the circus.  

One of the Rules of Clown Bar is “don’t say I didn’t warn you.”   If you suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns), you do not want to meet Popo (Erica Erickson) in a dark alley.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Band Idiot stayed after the show to do a one hour set for those whose bedtimes were substantially later than mine (the performance doesn't begin until 9:00 PM).  Again.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Director Crystal Carter pulled off some minor miracles at the Zodiac.  With very little rehearsal time in the actual venue, she has packed the evening with a mystery, multiple gun fights, a love story, and a whole lot of laughs from a cast that has given her everything she asked for.  

I was a little apprehensive and somewhat skeptical when we pulled up to the Zodiac before the show.  I was wrong.  If more shows focused on sex, booze, and rock & roll, the world might be a better place.  Clown Bar was a blast.   It’s extremely rare to have this much fun packed into 90 minutes.  SET went out of the box and blew the roof off the place. 
Clown Bar Cast.  Photo credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre.

This show is for adults only.  Since the Zodiac Venue is also a bar, minors are not admitted.  Due to the immersive presentation of the play, every seat in the house is great for most scenes, but every seat in the house will also have a somewhat obstructed view of some scenes.  Don’t worry about your seat.  They’re all great, except when they’re not.  If you have the choice, the best seats for the band and the burlesque are near the stage.

For those who adhere to the maxim that “the more you drink, the better the Band/Girls/Guys look,” I only had one beer.  I take my work seriously.  But they all looked pretty hot to me.

One of the unexpected benefits of burlesque as done by Peaks and Pasties (this page may be NSFW*) is that you might get some ideas for tattoos.  There was a substantial display of body art on display.  Yes.  I was looking.  No.  I’m not going to get a tattoo.  Especially not THAT tattoo.  Not now.  I guess.  Well, maybe.  I need another beer first.  We’ll discuss it later.

*NSFW is short for “Not Suitable For Work.”  In other words, don’t click on this link if your boss is looking over your shoulder.  If you already clicked on it, work on your résumé next.

There is ample free street parking in the area.

This show closes on May 28, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre and Bill Wheeler



Producers: Crystal Carter and Matt Radcliffe

Director:  Crystal Carter

Sound Design:  Pat Collins

Clown Arms Wrangler: Cyndi Parr

Costume Designers:  Tammy Smith, David Atkinson, Crystal Carter

Costume Construction:  Sarah S. Shaver

Makeup:  Special assistance from Mark Modeer

Board Operator:  Andrea Stone

Stage Manager:  Gabriel Espinoza-Lira

Stage Hand:  Cheyenne York


Giggles:  Bob Morsch

Shotgun McGhee:  Tammy Smith

Dusty: Kala Roquemore

Popo:  Erica Erickson

Blinky Fatale:  Nikita Bonita

Timmy:  David Atkinson

Twinkles:  Erick Groskopf

Happy Maloney:  Micah Speirs

Bobo:  Max Ferguson

The Band Idiot

Marni Green, Jeremy Monteleone, Cassie Eacker


Heads up.

For a lot of reasons, after more than 4 years, more than 250 reviews, and nearly 250,000 page hits, I am winding down my blog Theater Colorado.  I have also informed the Colorado Theater Guild that I will no longer be available as a Henry Judge.  

The Commitments.  My commitments.
What started as a hobby has become a black hole, sucking time and energy from my other commitments.  I had intended to slow the pace in 2016, but after 5 months, that pace is still accelerating.

Travel to and from Denver, often 2-3 times per week, has become difficult.  It seems that I ALWAYS encounter traffic problems and delays.  In order to make a 7:30 curtain in Denver or Boulder, I have to plan to leave Colorado Springs not later than 4:00 PM (which puts me in the middle of the afternoon Denver rush hour).

The writing process, which I love, takes roughly 4 hours per post.  My self imposed turnaround for each post is 48 hours after the performance is over, but in 2016 I have routinely missed that deadline.  Seeing 3-4 (and sometimes 5) shows in a weekend means there are times when I can’t post some reviews until the following Wednesday.  

That’s unacceptable for me; I strive to do a quality review with detail and substance.  With so many shows to cover, I feel the quality and the timeliness are both suffering.  The actors, directors, crews, and companies in the Colorado theater community do first class work every time they take the stage.  I can do nothing less.

As I wind down the new content on Theater Colorado, be assured that I will not delete any of the existing content.  Please feel free to continue to use whatever content you like for resumes, marketing, grant applications and so on.

I will finish all commitments I have made for May, 2016, but will no longer make commitments for shows for June 1 and beyond.  In the future, Roxie and I will continue to attend productions as customers, and if the mood strikes, I may still post some thoughts on Theater Colorado.  However, I expect any new content to be sporadic and intermittent at best.

Please remove me from your press list.

I will always be grateful for the many personal, intangible benefits the Colorado theater community has generously shared with me since I started Theater Colorado in 2012.  This message is my personal “Thank You!” for the work you do and the value you bring to the community.  

Thanks again for all you do…”the show must go on.”



Playwright:   David Mamet

Company:  Avenue Theater

Venue:  Avenue Theater, 417 E. 17th Avenue, Denver, CO.

Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermissions). 

Date of Performance:  Friday, May 20, 2016. 

David Mamet is a highly successful playwright; his script for Glengarry Glen Ross won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Not content with writing for the stage, Mamet has also written for films, doing screenplays for The Verdict and Wag The Dog, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, to name a few.  The Avenue Theater’s current production of Mamet’s 2007 script November is one of his lesser known works, even though it’s a piercing political comedy that seems to be as relevant as it was when it premiered.

I’m late to the party.  I had scheduling conflicts that left me few options to see November.  As I write this post, November is set for its last performance in a few hours.  As a result, I can only offer a post mortem of sorts.  

Based on other reviews (see illustration at left), November has been a huge hit for The Avenue Theater.  After seeing the performance last night, I completely agree with the unanimous praise that has been heaped on November.  It’s a laugh out loud gem that delivers hilarious, vicious uppercuts right to the chin of its political targets.  This is a professional, polished production that takes no prisoners.  

It’s worthwhile to review some recent history to understand the context for Mamet’s script.  George W. Bush was President.  There was some question as to whether he was intelligent enough to be President, and there are ample anecdotes to think the answer could be “no.”  Bush himself often contributed to the perception that he might not be up to the challenge:

"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"—Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000

"There's a huge trust. I see it all the time when people come up to me and say, 'I don't want you to let me down again.' "—Boston, Oct. 3, 2000

It was against the backdrop of two terms of George W. Bush (hereafter GWB) that a cynical Mamet turned his typewriter on the intellectually and ethically bankrupt “leaders” we elect in November every four years.  The results are predictably biting and hilarious.

Kevin Hart is not playing GWB, although the confusion is understandable.  He plays fictional President Charles Smith, a guy with a confident ignorance and an ethical vacuum.  Hart delights in threatening his opponents with a one way flight to a third world torture chamber (there is no evidence that GWB tortured any of his political opponents).  Hart is a master as a deal making opportunist, quick to sell out his principles (and his principals, for that matter) to the highest bidder.  Willful ignorance is President Smith’s defining quality, and hearing him express it is so much funnier than when we hear an actual President say something similar:

President Smith:  “What is it about me that people don’t like?” 

Archer Brown: “That you’re still here.”

Hart’s deadpan response is exquisite; he can hardly believe facts that are common knowledge.  Saddled with his character’s racism, sexism, anti gay bias, and a volatile temper, Hart still makes us believe Smith is basically a decent guy.  He brings the requisite gravitas to his presidential role, while winking and mocking his character with a straight face.

Eric Mather’s role is no less significant; as Archer Brown, he’s an ethical Chief of Staff to Hart’s GWB.  Mather is a joy to watch, speaking truth to power even if that power is incapable of either listening or understanding.  Mather mixes frustration with fear, both of which are appropriate responses to President Smith.  

Bernie Cardell’s gift for comedy is well established.  He does not disappoint in November.  As the lobbyist for turkey producers, he perfectly embodies the sleaze associated with lobbying while making fun of the utter lack of ethics in the transaction.  His breakdown, precipitated by President Smith’s absurd demands, is a showstopper.  

Amie MacKenzie (Bernstein) and Sam Gilstrap (Chief Dwight Grackle) are perfectly cast.  MacKenzie fights through her head cold (or is it Bird Flu?), going toe to toe with the President in a fight for social justice.  She makes such a compelling argument that not even a cold hearted Commander in Chief can resist her.  Gilstrap plays an enraged native American chief looking for some frontier justice.  There’s humor here, but couched in the dismal history of the mistreatment of native Americans.  A fictional President piling on is marginally funny only if you’re not related to, or one of, the victims.

L-R: Sam Gilstrap, John Ashton (Director/Producer), Bernie Cardell,
Kevin Hart, Eric Mather, Amie MacKenzie.
The script for November suffers somewhat from events overtaking the story.  Less than a decade after the play premiered, the social justice issue that is central to the plot is largely resolved.  We can celebrate the progress, but November comes off as something of a quaint reminder of how much has changed so quickly.  

The strength of November comes from its relevance.  It looks back to the days when GWB was stumbling through his second term, but also delivers a message about the current election.  We have another candidate who is proud to be unacquainted with governing.  He puts instinct above knowledge, preferring to come to the job unprepared.  He has presented his party with an opportunity to elect an actual, as opposed to a fictional, President Charles Smith.

November.  It’s politically incorrect.  It’s fiction.  It’s satire.  Or is it our new reality?  

We’ll know the answer to that question in November, 2016.  I’m hoping the answer is “no.”


This show is suitable for adults.  As is typical for Mamet, the script is packed with more F bombs than I could count.  In addition, the subject of Presidential politics is unlikely to appeal to those younger than 16 or so. 

There is both metered and free street parking in the area, but plan on circling the block several times to find a spot.

Amie MacKenzie gets to use an IBM Selectric typewriter to write President Smith’s speeches.  That’s right.  An actual, functioning typewriter.  There may be some younger folks in the audience who have never seen an actual typewriter.  

This show closes on May 21, 2016.

Photo Credit:  The Avenue Theater

TICKETS HEREThe box office is now closed for this production.


Producers:  John Ashton, Abby Boes

Director:  John Ashton

Scenic Designer:  Jeff Jesmer, Patrick Gerace, John Ashton

Set Construction:  Jeff Jesmer, David Christian

Lighting Design:  Steve Tangedal

Production Coordinators: John Ashton, Steve Tangedal, Jeff Jesmer, Patrick Gerace

Costume Designer:  Those who wear them.

Stage Manager:  Patrick Gerace

Artwork:  Khalid Goldston


President Charles Smith:  Kevin Hart

Archer Brown:  Eric Mather

Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products: Bernie Cardell

Bernstein:  Amie MacKenzie

Chief Dwight Grackle:  Sam Gilstrap