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DEATH AIN’T NOTHING BUT A FASTBALL ON THE OUTSIDE CORNER: Review of August Wilson’s “Fences”

By Theresa Allen, guest blogger

The warm golden glow of a summer’s evening juxtaposed against the dark shadows of a dilapidated brick city home provides a luminous backdrop to the riveting and heartbreaking performance of August Wilson’s Fences at the Lone Tree Arts Center. There is still time to pick up tickets to see this extraordinary performance before the play closes on Saturday, April 21st.

Fences opens with Troy Maxson, a garbage man, holding court in his backyard with his captive audience, his wife Rose and best friend Bono. In the opening scene, Troy is a mesmerizing storyteller who humorously recounts a fantastical tale, in the African-American oral tradition, of how he wrestled and escaped from death. This allegorical telling is the thread that holds all the complicated aspects of Troy’s personality together in a deeply disappointing world.

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Esau Pritchett as Troy Maxson. Photo by Danny Lam.

The part of Troy is portrayed by Esau Pritchett, who brings to life a good, but deeply flawed man whose personal frustrations have resulted in building walls between himself and those who love him. Pritchett’s strong voice, charismatic nature, and powerful stage presence provides the audience the sense that they are watching the tragic fall of a working class hero.

In his youth, Troy has the opportunity to play for the Negro Baseball League, at a time before the racial barriers were broken by Jackie Robinson. However, he is involved in a robbery that results in the loss of his baseball future, and he ends up with penitentiary time. He is not home to raise his oldest son, Lyons, played by Bradford Barnes. In his limited understanding of the world, Troy cannot comprehend Lyons’ calling to become a jazz musician and is annoyed by his inability to provide for his wife and his weekly requests for money.

Troy’s second son, Cory, played by Jay Reeves, is a young man with the opportunity to receive an athletic scholarship. Reeves gives a outstanding performance as a young man full of hope and optimism that is dashed when his father will not sign the papers allowing him to play college football. Troy projects his own failure in athletics on to Cory. This is Troy’s way of protecting Cory from the harshness of the world. However, it’s Troy’s sense of duty towards his family coupled with his own inability to be a perfect father and husband that is the tension that holds this play together.

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Esau Pritchett and Julanne Chidi Hill. Photo by Danny Lam.

Without giving away the plot, the pivotal crisis that occurs between Troy and Rose illuminates the complexity of their 18-year marriage. Rose, who in Act I seems marginalized in the lives of Troy, Lyons and Cory steps into the spotlight as a strong and resilient character in her own right in Act II. Julanne Chidi Hill, the actress who portrays Rose, gives a spellbinding performance when she challenges Troy’s view of the world by pointing out her own disappointment in his behavior and her own life. Yet she rises above the situation. There is a great acting chemistry between Hill and Pritchett, which makes Troy’s betrayal profoundly devastating to the audience.

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(L-R)Bradford Barnes, Julanne Chidi Hill, Darryl Alan Reed, and Jay Reeves. Photo by Danny Lam.

The one character that ties all of the family together is Darryl Alan Reed’s memorable performance as Gabe, Troy’s mentally ill brother. It’s no coincidence that Gabe, who carries a trumpet and who is constantly talking to St. Peter will be the vehicle for Troy’s redemption. In fact, I was surprised and delighted by the “deux ex machina” ending reminiscent of the chariot scene in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This interesting ending reminds the audience that no one escapes death and what that means for those who love you. While Troy may have been a free man in 1950s Pittsburgh, he was still enslaved in a culture by racism, poverty, responsibility, and powerlessness in a world that seemed to be constantly conspiring against him. Closure only comes to Troy’s wife and children, and to the audience, through forgiveness and understanding.

Fences is the sixth in a series of ten plays Wilson called the “Pittsburgh Cycles.” Written in 1985, Fences was the winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. In the capable and deft hands of director Wren T. Brown and this fine cast, this smart, funny, captivating, and heart-rending performance of Fences engages the audience with a satisfying story about the human condition.

Tickets for August Wilson’s Fences are sale now from $35 to $60 and can be purchased at www.lonetreeartscenter.org/fences. The Lone Tree Arts Center is located at 10075 Commons Street in Lone Tree. Free on-site parking is available.

Preview: SFJAZZ Collective and the Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions

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By Theresa Allen, Guest Blogger

Looking to spend an evening listening to world-class jazz music in the Greater Denver area? The SFAZZ Collective will be performing “The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

The SFJAZZ Collective is an all-star ensemble that performs new and fresh arrangements of work by a modern jazz master. The SFJAZZ Collective, a nonprofit launched in 2004 in San Francisco, is a collaboration of many diverse and dedicated jazz musicians who wish to inspire audiences with high quality concerts and a children and teens’ music education outreach program aimed at encouraging the next generation of jazz performers.

The SFJAZZ Collective will perform a tribute to legendary jazz composer and musician, Miles Davis, who was one of the most innovative and influential jazz performers of the 20th Century. “The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” will be performed by eight SFJAZZ Collective musicians, all at the top of their fields, including:

David Sánchez, a Grammy Award winning jazz tenor saxophonist, from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Sanchez performed in Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra and Dizzy’s Trio until Dizzy’s death in 1993, toured with the Phillip Morris Superband and with many other jazz greats. He will be performing with Sean Jones, an American trumpeter and composer who was featured on Nancy Wilson’s Grammy Award winning album Turned to Blue in 2007. On vibraphone, Warren Wolf , a musician trained in many genres from classical to jazz and who is a percussion instructor at the Berklee College of Music. Wolf performs regularly with the Rachael Price Group (of Lake Street Dive fame) and the Donel Fox Group.

Miguel Zenón will be performing on the alto saxophone. He is a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective as well as a composer, bandleader, teacher, and a four-time Grammy Award nominee. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Genius Grant. On trombone will be Robin Eubanks, a jazz and fusion musician who has performed with Slide Hampton, Sun Ra, and Stevie Wonder. Eubanks has appeared on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live.

Edward Simon will accompany the group on piano. Simon is a Venezuelan jazz musician who has performed on several Grammy-nominated albums and who teaches at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.  The jazz bassist is Matt Penman, one of the most in-demand musicians in the United States. Penman recently joined the faculty of the Roots, Jazz and American Music program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. And last, but not least, Obed Calvaire will perform on drums. Calvaire has performed along with Wynton Marsalis, Seal, Lizz Wright, and Sean Jones among many others.

An evening with the SFJAZZ Collective offers us the extraordinary opportunity to hear selections of Mile’s Davis’ works interpreted by the foremost musicians in the field of jazz today. Tickets for the SFJAZZ Collective’s “The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” are on sale now from $33 to $55 and can be purchased at www.lonetreeartscenter.org/sfjazz. The Lone Tree Arts Center is located at 10075 Commons Street in Lone Tree. Free on-site parking is available.

Review: Mandy Gonzalez: Fearless

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By Cassie Schauer, Guest Blogger

Who needs to fight for Hamilton tickets when Mandy Gonzalez is in town?  Currently starring as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton on Broadway, singer Mandy Gonzalez chose Lone Tree for the closing night of her week-long tour to promote her debut CD, Fearless. In her words, this CD and tour are a “dream come true.”

I have never heard her sing live, so I was immediately blown away with the power of her jazzy voice. She opened with the classic “On a Clear Day” sung with a sultry Latin beat. Her voice is huge — I imagine it could be heard from the parking lot.  Mandy created an intimate connection with the sold-out audience throughout the performance, waving to the people in the balcony and sharing her connection to each of the songs she chose to perform for us. By the end of the evening, I felt I had been listening to someone whose career I had been following for years.  She was so excited and genuine and having so much fun.

She added a personal twist to each song she performed and referred to several as being “from her first album.”  Her rendition of “I Only Have Eyes For You…and you…and you…and you…” was performed with a playful Latin beat.

As an original cast member of  Lin-Manual Miranda’s In the Heights, “Breathe” is arguably the first song that Mandy is known for.  She told us how returning to the Richard Rodgers Theater for Hamilton brought back such good memories, as if she’d never said goodbye to the theater.  “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard paid tribute to that time in her life.

Mandy sang “Get Ready Cuz Here I Come” in honor of her father’s singing career. It was the first song she remembers hearing him sing. She followed with “Born to Run,” an ode to her husband’s New Jersey roots.  Next was “Life is Sweet,” which she performed on her CD with original Hamilton cast member and her In the Heights co-star, Christopher Jackson.

She then told us the tale of “the Green Girl,” Elphaba from Wicked: the 20 pound dress, the raked stage. Would she ever do it again? No, she said, the green doesn’t come off!  She followed with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of  “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” before singing the powerful “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

The Fearless CD tour began in Florida. Performing so soon after the shooting in Parkland, Mandy decided that she wanted to honor and celebrate every city she performed in by inviting a community choir to sing with her. For tonight’s show, Mandy was joined by a group from Denver’s award-winning Phamaly Theater Company, comprised of performers with diverse disabilities of every nature. “Starts Right Now” is a powerful ballad about the ups and downs in life, about being fearless, and about having the courage to let go.  The result was strong and positive, the performers clearly enjoying their time to perform together.

Finally, Mandy performed the title song from Fearless, written for her by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was inspired by the story of how her mother and father overcame huge personal obstacles and found the courage to stand up for forbidden love. She ended the performance with a very passionate rendition of “Que Sera Sera,” her grandmother’s favorite and her best advice.

Mandy was backed by a talented group of musicians. Seeming like old friends who had been playing together for years, they provided a rich and energetic compliment to her voice.  Lead by pianist and musical director, John Deley, the band included Richard Hammond on bass, Abe Fogel on drums, and Oscar Rodriguez on guitar.

There is something different about a Broadway singer performing on her own. A different vibe. Different connection with the audience. Mandy seemed somewhat in awe of her position now as a solo artist. She was having a blast and so were we.

Review: Moscow Festival Ballet: Cinderella

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By Ashton Temby, guest blogger

Cinderella transformed out of her drab, pauper clothing into a beautifully garbed princess, with the help of her fairy Godmother, of course, at the Lone Tree Arts Center on Thursday night thanks to The Moscow Festival Ballet.

Though throughout the performance the dancers and technical specialists seemed to have had their glass slippers on the wrong feet at times, causing out of sync movements and abrupt endings to the pre-recorded music, the prince came to a masterful rescue in a true classic fairy tale manner.

Alexander Daev danced Prince Charming exquisitely with supreme confidence, grace, and unparalleled strength. He enchanted Cinderella and the audience alike with his precision, speed, and incredibly high leaps. “Oohs and ahhs” could be heard from the audience as he displayed perfect pirouettes and clean transitions while mastering the stage. The skills obtained from his time at Voronej Ballet School did not go unnoticed. It’s no wonder Cinderella fell into his arms and was swept away.

The Prince’s new found love was danced by Maria Sokolnikova in a smooth and innocent style expected in the role of Cinderella. Her persona accurately portrayed the humble and hardworking nature of the exploited sister, while also depicting the turmoil and sadness in the character’s life. Sokolnikova was perfectly in character throughout the life of the performance and reminded the audience that a true princess is beautiful on the inside first.

Sokolnikova is a gold medal winner in the competition of The Soul of Dance, among other impressive accomplishments. Her experience in ballet was apparent, but left one begging for more intricate movements. The choreography for Cinderella’s role was repetitive and appeared far less complex compared to the movements of her counterpart, Prince Charming, though her potential was obvious. More complicated dance from the main role would have brought further life and drama to this production.  It is hopeful she will be rewarded with roles in the future that push her outside her boundaries.

The classic folk tale, Cinderella, was created for the stage by Sergei Radchenko, and his wife, Elena Radchnko. Sergei Radchenko founded the Moscow Festival Ballet in 1989 after graduating from the Moscow School of Dance, and dancing for the Bolshoi Ballet for 25 years. His company has become world renowned as they continue to add to their breadth of work.

While this performance of Cinderella may not have been a pristine example of what audiences have come to expect from The Moscow Festival Ballet, it appeared accessible for audiences of all ages. The interpretation of the story was easily followed and provided a good platform for new and seasoned balletomanes.

Cinderella was a one time show at the Lone Tree Arts Center, but it is hopeful that the company returns with impeccably executed productions in the future.

Review: Matt Dusk

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By Janice Hubbell, guest blogger

On a snowy and brutally cold Saturday evening, my hubby and I arrived at the Lone Tree Art Center (thankfully only a couple blocks away) to see Toronto jazz crooner, Matt Dusk, perform. We expected to see unclaimed seats in the sold-out show but were pleasantly surprised to see an audience full of brave music lovers! Matt’s appearance and voice were as dreamy as one might expect at a pop concert, although much more enjoyable! We enjoyed each rendition of jazz standards from the Great American Songbook as Matt warmed up the audience and proceeded to charm us out of our seats! (Naturally, since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, the songs were romantically inclined such as “My Funny Valentine.” I noticed couples in the audience holding hands and gazing in each other’s eyes…) We also enjoyed the glass of champagne and cookies during intermission—what a lovely surprise!

More than just a professional performer, Matt’s stage presence was warm and genuinely friendly as he invited the audience into his life, sharing bits and pieces of his personal career and family. I especially enjoyed his stories before several of his songs—who doesn’t enjoy a good story?! For instance, I had no idea Johnny Mercer wrote “One For My Baby (And One For The Road)” on a napkin in a bar, in the middle of nowhere, on a road trip to propose to Judy Garland…and he literally was singin’ the blues after discovering she had just married! As much as I like a good cover, I love original music even more so, and Matt performed one of his signature heartbreak stories beautifully. The best song of the night, hands down, however was “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Bad,” written for Frank Sinatra by U2 stars, Bono and The Edge. Sadly, Frank died before performing, and Bono allowed Matt Dusk to debut this song depicting real life. Matt really captured our hearts in his sensitive portrayal as no one moved or made a sound. The concert ended with his moving tribute to Frankie—“I Did It My Way!”

Matt Dusk’s trio of musicians were on the same level as his vocal performance—just a piano, acoustic bass, and saxophone player. Their accompaniment showcased his voice perfectly but he also allowed them to shine individually. As we were leaving, we encountered Matt in the hallway and he stopped to shake hands and chat. We complimented his performance and mentioned the musicality of his band, especially since there was no drummer. As a musician, I know how difficult that is—musicians lean on the drummer to carry the song and must be twice as good to carry the music without percussion. Matt mentioned they were all from Denver and that he would pass on the compliment!

 

 

 

Review: PostSecret: The Show

by Kristi Andrus, guest blogger

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All of the stories featured in PostSecret: The Show were true. I didn’t expect that. I guess I understood the concept, but still thought the production would have embellished or taken creative license or something. Huh, I guess that truth is stranger than fiction.

Some of the secrets and stories were funny, some were poignant, some were disgusting, some were heartbreaking, some were ironic, and some were heartwarming. The ones that moved me were people so touched by other people’s secrets that they responded to offer camaraderie, support, even money. The stories of people saving voicemails of their loved ones to listen to after they died were relatable and hard to hear. The postcard I’m not sure I’ll ever forget said: “Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead.”

Why?! Why would he/she do that to people that love them? To people that know them and cared about them and now mourn them? Was it so bad? Is he/she escaping something? It’s got to be made into a book, right? Someone please take that secret and run with it. Write the book, option the rights to a movie, who knows where it could go?

The best parts:

The actors – There were only three, Maria Glanz, TJ Dawe, and Kerry Ipema. They were fantastic and believable. It was so much fun to see them embody the different people from the postcards.

The start – “Listen. Don’t Judge. Use a voice of compassion. Build rapport.” Relevant and riveting from the get-go. It could have been a mantra.

The stats – I pee in the shower is the most common secret mailed in. Tell me who feels the need to confess that? I wish I had someone to share my secrets with is the second most common secret. That’s sad. Vulnerability is powerful y’all. Share with a friend and watch your relationship evolve. You don’t have to share your biggest, worst, darkest secret, maybe start small and see how it goes.

The timing – “In 2004, nothing went viral.” Timing, ladies and gentleman, is everything, and ideas, businesses, and relationships are made and broken on that alone. This concept probably wouldn’t work in today’s world, but it worked when it launched and it’s still going strong. Check out the blog to see how it’s expanded.

The instructions – Take a postcard, or two. Tell your secret anonymously. Stamp and mail the postcard. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Simple and powerful.

If you missed the show, I’m sorry, it was a great night out. To the fellow audience members with really great laughs, thank you for being a delightful soundtrack to the show.

See you at Lone Tree Arts Center for the next one!

Review: PostSecret: The Show

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By Joy Carletti, guest blogger

I have a secret.

I’ve been an off-again, on-again reader of PostSecret for over a decade and a writer and storyteller for nearly as long – and my biggest concern about PostSecret: The Show was that it wouldn’t have enough story to it. After all, it’s based on lots of random anonymous lines written on postcards. How much narrative could there be? Where would the emotional arc come from? How satisfied would I be when walking away from this show?

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PostSecret: The Show was an immersive experience from the very start. Before the show on February 8, sticky notes bearing secrets hung on mirrors in the restrooms, paired with pens and blank pads encouraging hand washers to add their own. (My husband let me know that the men’s room had a number of secrets that read “I don’t wash my hands.”  I didn’t see any such secrets in the ladies’ room, but there were a lot of secrets about husbands.) In the theater, a large screen beckoned audience members to tweet their secrets with a specific hashtag in order to be put onscreen. A lot of “check-ins” were shared on the screen but few true secrets. To be fair, Twitter does not promise the anonymity that an unsigned postcard or sticky note does.

The show started by dramatizing PostSecret founder Frank Warren’s most memorable call while volunteering on a suicide hotline. This was done through voiceover and simple movement; it was both dramatic and moving. The story’s ending was not revealed, but the scene had an energy and a gravitas that were leading. Why might any call into a suicide hotline be memorable?

There is a quote from Oliver Twist that I’ve long treasured, “It is the custom on the stage… to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon.” PostSecret does this beautifully, segueing from its powerful opening into a series of projected postcards about peeing in the shower. This carried throughout the night: moments of extreme tension were followed by great levity. Each postcard on the screen found murmured relatability in the audience. The secrets came in thematic waves, with some broken out and developed into story-scenes by three actors (TJ Dawe, Maria Glanz, Kerry Ipema). Some of these worked very well, showing how people were affected by secrets shared. Others felt a bit treacly and over the top, occasionally giving the sense that PostSecret was the catalyst for healing – rather than the humans behind the stories.

The show incorporated interaction throughout. Following intermission, the audience’s own secrets were read onstage by the actors. These got the biggest responses of the night: raucous laughter, shouts of encouragement, ripples of sympathy. After the show, a photographer was available to take pictures of audience members with their secrets on a whiteboard. The line to share was long!

In the end, my own fears proved unfounded. Of course, wonderful stories emerged out of mere secrets on postcards. Once a secret is shared, there’s an urge to keep sharing. The emotional arc of PostSecret:The Show builds that urge into a wave. I walked out of the show ready to dig into my inner self for something I hadn’t shared before, if only to be part of the movement. It was a truly satisfying evening of theatre – and made for great ride-home conversation!

Preview: Moscow Festival Ballet’s Cinderella

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Photo by Alexander Daev

By Ashton Temby, guest blogger

The Moscow Festival Ballet brings the classic folk tale Cinderella to the Lone Tree Arts Center’s main stage for one night only on Thursday, February 15, 2018.

Cinderella weaves the tale of an unfortunate young woman suddenly at the mercy of her evil stepmother and stepsisters. With the help of her fairy godmother, Cinderella transforms and gets to attend a royal ball wherein she meets her prince.

This interpretation of the classic story was shaped by Sergei Radchenko and his wife, Elena Radchenko.

Sergei Radchenko founded The Moscow Festival Ballet in 1989, creating the first independent company of classic ballet. As a graduate of the Moscow School of Dance, and a dancer for 25 years with the Bolshoi Ballet, Radchenko possessed the framework to found this, now, world renowned company.

Since 1989, The Moscow Festival Ballet has toured, Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Canada, the United States, and many European countries creating its respected reputation for performing classical elements of Russian ballet.

While Spanish dance is known to be Radchenko’s favorite, he and the company continue to add to their breadth of work, and now also specialize in Twentieth Century ballets, such as Cinderella.

“To stimulate modern viewer interest and need for the art of Russian classical ballet is a main task of our team.” – Elena and Sergei Radchenko (radchenko-ballet.com).

Classical dance elements with a modern twist make this one night performance the event of the season. Tickets can be purchased here or at through the box office.

Preview: PostSecret: The Show

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By Joy Carletti, guest blogger

If you are unfamiliar with PostSecret, you may want to visit the website that spurred the show now. But you should only do so if you have some time to go down an internet rabbit hole. Reading PostSecret is like overhearing a truly intriguing snippet of conversation but knowing you can’t ever have the full back story. The site was started in 2005 and bills itself as “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.” There’s something truly magical about browsing through the postcards. The reader feels a sense of familiarity and camaraderie with the writer even if the situation is new. The secrets range from mundane to scandalous, heartwarming to heart-wrenching, silly to downright horrifying. The site has received nearly 800 billion page views over the years, making it clear that people long for a window into all of these feelings.

PostSecret: The Show is looking to heighten these emotions by bringing secrets to life on stage. With the help of three actors and a guitarist, PostSecret: The Show will immerse the audience in a new level of storytelling. The actors will share anonymous secrets, both from postcards sent in by website readers and from audience members. Then they’ll flesh out the stories behind the secrets. What stories might emerge? It will depend completely on what’s shared on postcards that night, as this show changes from city to city, with each new audience supplying new secrets. If the postcards sent into the website are any indication, the show could run the gamut all the way from “I ate my co-worker’s yogurt” to “I’m having an affair with my co-worker’s wife.” Possibly relatable, possibly scandalous, definitely worth seeing!

PostSecret: The Show is at Lone Tree Arts Center for one night only on February 8 at 7:30pm. Don’t miss this opportunity to peer into other people’s lives – and maybe to share your secrets too! Tickets are available here.

Preview: The Peking Acrobats

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By Tracy Hauff, guest blogger

Flipping, flying, balancing, and diving. That’s what you’ll see at the Lone Tree Arts Center on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. The Peking Acrobats will commandeer the stage with athletic abilities that will make you scratch your head—how is that humanly possible?

Few have had the opportunity to travel to China and take part in a Chinese festival, but the Peking Acrobats bring the carnival to us with contortionists, gymnasts, jugglers, and cyclists. Musicians play Chinese instruments that provide traditional background music during each act. Colorful Chinese lions and dragons prance around the stage assisting the gymnasts and delighting the audience.

My ten-year-old granddaughter possesses impressive gymnastic skills, and she will accompany me to the show. She’s always looking for new moves to master, and the Peking Acrobats are sure to deliver an enriching performance that will inspire her quest for excellence.

The entire family will enjoy the choreographed program filled with fast-paced routines that date back to the Ch’in Dynasty. Join us at Lone Tree Arts Center for a night of thrills as the Peking Acrobats perform their time-honored tradition of entertainment.

Single seats are still available here: lonetreeartscenter.org/pekingacrobats