Friday, December 28, 2007

"1940s Radio Hour" in Boulder

Though the Boulder production differed from last year's Fine Arts Center production in many respects, they were remarkably comparable in quality. The women were a slightly better here; the men were slightly better in Boulder. (Scott Beyette as the comic Neal was outstanding.) I preferred Boulder's thrust stage, because it puts the audience closer to the actors, and this semi-chaotic show doesn't really benefit from the framing of a proscenium stage. The band here was better, but the band in Boulder had the advantage of being unamplified (except for the string bass and the piano, which was electronic).

The show itself is as mystifying as ever. Why not do a simple revue of period songs? The wisps of story and characterization add little, while creating a very real challenge: For a revue, all you need is a bunch of excellent singers who maybe dance a little; "1940s Radio Hour" requires people who can sing, dance and act. The result - at least in these two productions - is a show about professional radio singers performed by people who mostly don't sing well enough to be professional radio singers. The dramatic gain from the nostalgic atmosphere doesn't counterbalance the almost-inevitable drop in vocal quality.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oh, no, I'm a Scrooge, too!

I saw the Fine Arts Center musical version of "A Christmas Carol" on Thursday, and I have to agree with our critic, Mark Arnest. In fact, Mark, as usual, was too kind.

It's a play that will bring a tear to your eyes ... for the wrong reason.

When Scrooge and Marley start doing a soft-shoe routine, you know something's gone horribly awry.

Man, I thought Star Bar's "Heidi Chronicles" had problems. This is a real train wreck.

The vast majority of the blame goes to this terrible musical adaptation. The music is either annoying, forgettable or so sickly sweet, like somebody dropped a jar of sugar in the cranberry dressing.

The cast consists of, by and large, actors. Some are actors who sing. Only one or two are true singers, and those aren't among the leads.

Given these issues, the bright moments stand out even more. Amy Brooks, as always, is brilliant, radiant, owning every bit of the stage as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Then there's Bob Rais as Scrooge. Having now seen Bob in four back-to-back productions (the others at TheatreWorks), he's undoubtedly one of the most impressive actors in Colorado Springs. I'm glad he returned to us from the big cities.

But after seeing Bob in four roles, I have to say that, although he has a great stage presence, there's something studied about his work. At least the nights I've seen him, it seems there wasn't a heavy emotional commitment. That said, he's still a force to be reckoned with in the local theater community.

One point that Mark and I agree with is that the general level of acting in this community has gone up dramatically. "Doubt" at TheatreWorks showed some of our best, especially Lynn Hastings, who may just be the single best actor we have in this city.

But, as we saw in "Doubt," they need the right vehicle. FAC's "Christmas Carol" ain't it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

You Can't Please Some People

To the Editors:

Mark Arnest's review of "A Christmas Carol" was sour, mean-spirited, and completely off the mark. The show was actually beautifully done and delighted the audience, as I could tell by the enthusiastic applause and the comments I heard as people were leaving. I had reservations about going, as I am tired of the way the story is usually presented, and if I never hear "God bless us, everyone" again it's too soon, but I loved this adaptation. The set and the costumes were beautiful, the music was great, and the actors were superb. People in the Springs should be grateful we have such marvelous local talent to put on such a fine show, and they deserve our appreciation, not such a snotty review.

I take exception to Arnest's assessment of Rais's performance. It was all right, but not exceptional. Dave Plambeck, another actor in the play, could have done a better job, and he is a local. I have seen him in many roles and know his versatility.
As for Arnest's comment that the script made explicit what Dickens merely implies, Puhleeze! I wouldn't call Arnest a Scrooge, as Scrooge repented and changed. I'd call Arnest a supercilious jerk and recommend he be replaced.

Pat Krieger
Colorado Springs
I just had a phone conversation with Ms. Krieger, who sounded very nice - rendering me completely incapable of writing the scathing response for which my wounded vanity cries out. But even the wiser, kinder Mark Arnest is compelled to note that Bob Rais is in fact local (she knows that now), and that Ms. Krieger and I agree on pretty much everything about the production except the music's quality and the script's ham-fistedness. (An example of the latter, which was cut from the review due to lack of space: When the young Scrooge’s sister comes to take him home during the first spirit’s visit, this version has her mention that their father no longer drinks. Dickens doesn't.)

And a very merry Christmas to all!

Denver Post Ovation Nominations

The Post's annual Ovation Award nominations are out, and Colorado Springs is better-represented than ever.

Of 27 non-Denver Center categories on the Readers Choice ballot, Springs productions are nominated in 10 — especially impressive considering that the only local productions the Post (aka John Moore) reviews are those by TheatreWorks and the Fine Arts Center, and only a handful of those.

For instance, Moore reviewed “Into the Woods,” but not “Brighton Beach Memoirs” — which accounts for the otherwise inexplicable omission of Marco Robinson in the “Young Actor” category. (Unfortunately, this is one of the categories with no provision for write-ins.)

The Fine Arts Center's production of "Into the Woods," garnered nine nominations. Only "Ragtime" - a partnership between Boulder’s Dinner Theatre and Shadow, Denver's only black troupe - had more, with 10.

Among the other local nominees was Murray Ross, my old friend and frequent conflict-of-interest. Ross was nominated twice - for "Theater Person of the Year" and "Best Year by a Director."

The local non-Ross nominations on the Readers Choice ballot, by play:

  • "Antonio's Revenge" (TheatreWorks): Best actor in a comic role - Michael Cobb
  • "Into the Woods" (Fine Arts Center Theatre Company): Best Musical; Best ensemble; Best actor in a musical - Kelly Walters; Supporting actress, musical - Mercedes Perez, Sally Lewis Hybl; Best director, musical - Alan Osburn
  • "The Importance of Being Earnest" (TheatreWorks): Best actress in a comic role - Sarah Fallon
  • "The Syringa Tree" (TheatreWorks): Best year by an actress - Karen Slack

In addition, "Into the Woods" also received nominations for Best Band - Roberta Jacyshyn; Musical Number - “Opening," Mary Ripper Baker and Roberta Jacyshyn; and Set Design - Christopher L. Sheley. TheatreWorks received nominations for Best New Work - "Zorro"; and Best Remount - The Syringa Tree.

The full story is available here, and the ballot here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Fuming over Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I heard the concert at the World Arena on Wednesday was great musically, but potentially hazardous.

As we'd reported in GO! last week, the band uses a lot of explosives and pyrotechnics. Apparently, the World Arena shut off its ventilation, so that the show's fake snowflakes wouldn't gum up the works. As a result, some audience members were subjected to some pretty nasty fumes from the fires.

I don't know what the solution to this is. You can't have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra without explosions, can you? Maybe they could just hand out gas masks next year.