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Monday, June 30, 2008

Durango Diamonds

As I mentioned that I would be in my last blog entry, I'm in beautiful La Plata County, Colorado, about to catch a flight back to the Mile High City, and I wanted to take a moment to share with you a few of the "gems" I re-discovered in and around historic Durango, Colorado.
With gas prices continuing to climb, that summer vacation road trip you've been planning may need to be scaled back a bit and Durango is just under 350 miles and about six hours away, with lots to do and see for young and old alike.
Obviously, you want to take advantage of one of Durango's main attractions and take a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, established in 1881. The D&SNGRR has been in continuous operation for 126 years and has been featured in several movies, including two of my favorites: Support Your Local Gunfighter and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. It's a unique experience and a great way to see some beautiful Colorado countryside.
Before jumping on the train, may I suggest my favorite "greasy spoon" restaurant for breakfast? Oscar's has been around as long as I can remember and is a favorite among the locals. Get there early or you may have to wait a little while for a table. It's that good.
When you pull back into the station that evening, you are just about a block-and-a-half away from one of my favorite Mexican food restaurants, Gazpacho's. I recommend the stuffed sopapilla.
Then I suggest you walk a couple of blocks over to what I consider to be the crown jewel of Durango's family entertainment, the legendary Diamond Circle Melodrama. Now in its 47th season (that's right, folks, I said 47th), the Diamond Circle produces rousing live family entertainment in the much-beloved style of Victorian melodrama. (Well, more or less -- those Vics were a bit on the stuffy side, after all.)
The show that I saw was a musical adaptation of Rex Beach's The Spoilers featuring musical and spectacle far beyond what one might expect to find in a sleepy little mountain town.
There is a surprisingly athletic fist fight between hero and villain, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge "crashes" on stage, and we are treated to both rip-roaring dance numbers and heartfelt ballads from the dance hall girls in the Clipper Saloon -- and that's just the first act.
Director and choreographer Richard T. Hanson is a Theatre Professor at the University of Arizona and many U of A students are included in the cast. If their talent is any indication, the Musical Theatre B.F.A. in Tucson is a program with which to be reckoned.
Customarily I will mention a couple of the more noteworthy performers in a given production, but, in this case, I am loathe to even attempt to single out any performer in this ensemble over another, so I won't.
Here are the names of all of the talent that graced the Diamond Circle stage in Durango this summer:
Kytt McLaughlin
Erik Andersson (or Anderson. Sorry, Erik, it's spelled differently in the program than on the website, so I'm not sure)
David Andino
Laura Weiner
Jason Lee Blank
Ben Mattson
Blaire Baker
Jesse Turtz
Amy Shuttleworth
Nehemiah Powers tickling the ivories
Claire Buchignani, and, okay, I said I wasn't going to single anyone out, but I feel compelled to say that I noticed that this young lady boasts Tamora in Titus Andronicus among her credits, and, based upon what I saw on stage Sunday night, I would wrestle a bear to have been able to have seen that. (Well, a small bear. Maybe a koala.)
Anyway, if you should find yourself in Durango this summer -- and you really should -- do not leave without stopping in at the Diamond Circle Melodrama. (Also check out my previous entry for a short video on this remarkable company.)
There are, in fact, two shows running in rep all summer, featuring the same hugely talented cast. The second is a musical revue entitled Whoop-Ti-Ay, and I only wish I could stay a few more days myself to catch that show as well.
I may just have to make another trip.
If you do decide to head down to Durango this summer, drop me a line at the e-mail address to your right (No, on the computer screen. You keep doing that.), and I'll be happy to fill you in on a few other places in the area worth checking out, like the beautiful Vallecito Lake area or my hometown (and the place where I earned my canine moniker), Ignacio, Colorado.
(By the way, MySpacers, I posted a whole bunch of pics of my visit in the album "Home Again 2008".)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Burn the Shoes and Boil the Rice

I wasn't planning to write anything about Company. I knew it would be good. I knew you all (in the area) would know that, too.
How could it not be? With Joel Sutliffe as Robert, and a "supporting cast" that includes Megan Van De Hey, Janelle Christie, Keegan Flaugh, Reece Livingstone, Daniel Langhoff and a host of others who represent some of the Denver area's best talent, this had the potential to be one of the best musicals produced in Denver this season.
But, again, I figured you'd already know that. Plus, I'll admit that I was just a little concerned that Bob Wells, a great comic director, might approach the comedy scenes with a slightly heavier hand than necessary, and I wanted to see it before I gave it my heart-felt recommendation. I've made a practice of occasionally recommending shows sight unseen, but lately, I've been about fifty-fifty on those predictions. (For the record, I think the comedy was handle quite well, for the most part, and, since the audience was laughing their heads off throughout, what the hell do I know?)
Due to my work on some other projects, which, come to think of it . . . I probably should have mentioned here, shouldn't I? Oh well. Next time I will remember to promote myself, too.
Anyway, due to my work on other projects, I knew that I probably wouldn't even see Company until its closing weekend, and, at that point, you'd have already seen all of the favorable write-ups in the papers or been exposed to the attractively-designed posters that Town Hall had posted up around town.
I figured what more could one more sardonic voice in cyberspace add to the promotion of the show?
Well, we're going to find out.
Here's the deal: if you do not get yourself to see Amanda Earls as Amy performing "I'm Not Getting Married Today" you will have missed perhaps the single greatest musical comedy performance of the year.
Megan Van De Hey, Joel Sutliffe, Janelle Christie and the rest of the talented cast bring everything you would expect them to bring to the table and more. And as a side note, this is my favorite performance that I have seen from Brian Murray, probably one of the hardest-working men in Denver theatre.
So, that's my two cents' worth in there now. Go see Company at Town Hall Arts Center.
And while you're at it, why not round out the weekend by seeing 4 Days in Bed over at the Crossroads and PHAMALy's Side Show downtown at the DCPA. All three of these shows close this weekend, and you will regret not seeing them.
I'd go with you to see them again, but I'm headed back to the place where I grew up for a few days. I still might find some time to take in a little theatre, though:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Glider

I don't very often read movie or theatre reviews. I find that I seldom agree with the reviewers, I think they are often politically-motivated, and, even those reviewers who are competent enough not to write as though composing a book report still manage to give away a few "spoilers" in their effort to fill column-inches.
However, when I saw that John Moore (one of the better reviewers in town, in my opinion) was actually bothering to review And Toto Too Theatre Company's mid-week show at the Denver Vic, The Glider, I couldn't not read it. With something like a hundred theatre companies producing in Colorado each season, it's fairly easy for smaller companies like And Toto Too to go unnoticed -- especially by the major papers.
Well, the review was a little less than favorable. Two stars. Mostly he went after Katherine Snodgrass's script and left the actors (two of whom are pretty good friends of mine) alone.
Still, two stars for the overall production, even if that's primarily for flaws in the script, doesn't bode well for an enjoyable evening of theatre -- particularly when it's a show that friends are in.
Those are the performances where I start making note of the available exits in order to avoid that awkward, "Sooo . . . what did you think?" from the friend in the show.
Well, I went to the show last night with a degree of reticence, but comfortable in the fact that I knew that, even if the script left something to be tired, my friends were far more than competent enough actors to pull off a worthy show.
I am happy to say that I think, in this case, John was between two and three stars off the mark. "The Glider" is a deftly-written, tightly-woven script. Comparison's to Beth Henley's over-rated and meandering script Crimes of the Heart are a bit unfair. (Chekov and Shakespeare wrote plays about three sisters, too, you know.)
In the interest of "equal time," (even though his readership is like 100,000 times that of mine) here's John's review. (Be warned. Even John is not immune from throwing in a spoiler or two.)
Now, while John didn't criticize the performances or the direction, he didn't spend many inches on praising them, either.
Let me take a moment to do that now. Rita Broderick as Fran finds every level in a character whose dark secret is hinted at often, but never fully revealed. Rebecca Remaly manages a fascinatingly steady simmer as the middle sister whose future seems completely out of her hands. Perhaps the most compelling performance (and in this trio, that's saying something) comes from the actress who seems to be given the least to work with in the script. Amanda Von Nostrand as Chrissy moves (glides?) adroitly between vulnerable younger sibling and statuesque family leader.
Now, crisp as Snodgrass's script is, one could see how the potential for melodrama could be exploited. Director Susan Lyles keeps tears and screaming outbursts just as they ought to be -- to a minimum. These characters are not on a reality program. There's no posturing for the "camera." They're just three people trying to simply maintain, in the middle of a very bad situation. The story is all the more moving then for the grounded performances.
There's a saying in theatre that the best tech is the tech that goes unnoticed, and I agree with that somewhat, but it's worth noting that designers Darren Smith and Karalyn "Star" Pytel (with the help of Scenic Artist James Holley) so effectively created a boathouse overlooking a moonlit lake, that I could not help myself but to periodically look over my shoulder expecting to see a bright silver moon and fish jumping on the water.
I don't have a rating system of stars or thumbs-up or anything because I don't really consider myself a reviewer, but let's just say, "I got five on it." (No, wait, I think that means something else.)
Anyway, good show. Great show. Go see it.
The Glider runs Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays through July 10th at the Denver Victorian Playhouse.
Here's a bit of fun: this is a video of the set change between The Vic's set for Catch Me If You Can into the set for The Glider.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin and Me

George Carlin died yesterday. I suppose the proper way to say that would be to say that he "passed away" or that he "is no longer with us," but knowing George's hatred for all things euphemistic, he's dead. He didn't expire or fade away or crossover or anything else. He just f***in' died.
I hate that I had to use asterisks there. Blogspot's bandwidth. Blogspot's rules. That's fair, I suppose. (I'm going to be hard-pressed to find a video of George that I can embed here, though.)
I learned to curse from my dad and uncles and older cousins. I learned how to curse well from George Carlin.
I learned a lot more from George Carlin, though, too. What I know about critical thinking, I learned from watching George's stand-up routines (late night on my cousin Bart's HBO.)
Reductio ad absurdum.
That means (essentially) reducing an argument to the point of absurdity in order to explode it completely. I don't think anybody did that better than George.
I recognized very early on that my brain didn't work the way that everyone else's that I knew did. I was less willing to accept statements as facts. I questioned a lot, which was a point of much consternation among my Sunday school teachers. (Can you imagine trying to explain the story of Adam and Eve to a six-year-old who insists upon logic?)
I think I was about eight years old (maybe seven) when I first saw a George Carlin HBO special. (Also the first week I saw boobs on television. Thank you, HBO! That was a big week.)
I remember thinking: "See? This guy gets it! A lot of stuff that we're just supposed to accept in life doesn't make any sense."
All my life I have always felt a certain kinship with George Carlin. I have found other philosophers (and I do consider him a philosopher) along the way who have helped me to form my world view (still a work in progress, by the way), but George was the first person that I ever encountered who seemed to be "my kind."
My world changed when George Carlin entered into it.
I will miss him. I will miss him a lot.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Come Look at the Phreaks

Okay, for those of you who did not heed my advance advice here and here and have still not managed to get down to the Denver Center to see PHAMALy's production of Side Show, please now look up and to the right (on your computer screen, dope!) at that image of the wise and wonderful wolf. Now imagine him rolling his eyes, sighing, and looking at you reproachfully as he shakes his head.
Great show! Thought-provoking and entertaining!
Great cast! Jenna Bainbridge (recent Henry nominee) and Regan Linton are absolutely stunning as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton!
I told you it would be, now, didn't I?
Say it with me now:
"Big Bad Wolf told us so."
Now, get yourself down to the box office or just go online and get your tickets now. The show closes June 29th, so don't dilly-dally.
Yes, I said "dilly-dally." I have a whole pocketful of colloquialisms, and I will use them if forced to do so. Don't let's bring it to that point, hmm?
Buy the tickets.
See the show.
23 skidoo.
You know what I'm saying.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fresh Homespun Theatre

Ahhhh . . .
I love the smell of the air after it's rained. It smells fresh. It suggests newness and possibility.
Appropriate then that I should find myself at The Crossroads Theater after yesterday afternoon's rain showers, because it was the opening night of Jonson Y. Kuhn's latest theatrical endeavour, 4 Days in Bed, a new play co-written with Ariel Marks.
Those of you unfamiliar with Jonson Kuhn's previous work, Denver, missed something pretty special. I am not alone in saying that Kuhn is one of my generation's most promising playwrights . . . and, folks, he's right here in the 303.
The evening's festivities start off with a "first act" with live music by the band Cosimo and performances by Denver Slam Poets, creating an atmosphere of urban Bohemia that perfectly sets the stage for the second act of the night: a clever and frank examination of twenty-somethings in love (sort of . . . maybe) penned by Kuhn and Marks and brought brilliantly to life by actors Patrick Ryan and Ariana Griffith.
Ryan highlights the autobiographical nature of the play with a spot-on impersonation of high school chum Kuhn. However, Ryan's performance isn't merely clever artifice as he also masterfully captures the soul of his playwright friend. Ariana Griffith is so natural and strong on stage that I might have been inclined to think she had written her dialogue herself were it not for the sight of the real wordsmith, Marks, sitting nervously in the front row. Griffith is eminently watchable as the flawed, but adorable heroine.
The "dry spell" is over. This is One Big Bad Wolf who is excited about theatre again. Get yourselves down to Crossroads and see why, but do it quick: 4 Days in Bed runs through June 28 only.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Shot in the Arm

That, in my opinion, is what the Denver theatre scene could really use.
I have been mulling over John Moore's recent article about the strengths and weaknesses of Colorado theatre, and I must say that he echoes many of the sentiments that have kept me away from my blog here. That is largely because, well, I don't think I would have put things as nicely as he has. If you've not read the article yet, I highly encourage you to do so. John has a good deal more access to facts and figures than I would have. If I could add anything to the article, it would be to point out that, in addition to seasons becoming "progressively more banal" (to use John's well-chosen words) I believe that there is a lot of "copycatting" in that banality.
Can we not rest until every theatre company in the area has mounted their very own production of Escanaba in da Moonlight?
I do also agree with much of John's praise of this theatre community, though, as he pointed out the many strengths of theatre in our state. The support for theatre is here. The talent is here. However, 97 companies in the state all mounting at least one production in a given season leads to:
1) a lot of repetition
2) unnecessary competition for audience
3) a "thinning" of the available talent pool at any given time

Last year I saw somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy plays or musicals -- that's more than one per week on average -- and I barely saw a quarter of what was produced in town, if that.
The less ambitious theatre-goer won't be able to see anywhere near that many.
The 97 producing theatre companies in Colorado need to, I believe, take a long hard look at just why they exist.
As with non-profits (which a great majority of theatre companies are) the question should be asked, "Are we filling a need that is not already being filled?"
Yes, every baritone wants a crack at playing the Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and every ingenue wants to play Belle, but after how many separate productions do we acknowledge that it is now merely a vanity production. Now, I'm not pointing the finger at any particular productions of that show that have been or are about to be produced. I'm simply using it as an example. At the same time, for the intensely curious, it might be interesting to count just how many productions of that particular show have been (and will be produced) inside of five years and inside of 100 miles of the Front Range.
Just a thought.
And speaking of a shot in the arm, check out this trailer for Performance Now's upcoming production of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical: