Review: ‘The Fantasticks’

By Beki Pineda, Boulder Magazine

THE FANTASTICKS – Music by Harvey Schmidt; Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones; Directed by Billie McBride. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through October 17. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 x5 or boxoffice@townhallartscenter.org.

Born in 1960 in the creative minds of Schmidt and Jones, THE FANTASTICKS is a classic show that everyone has done or seen at least once. It holds the record of the longest running musical on an American stage still after its 42 year run Off-Broadway in the Sullivan Street Playhouse. It even had a seven year run here in Denver in the now-gone Third Eye Theatre run by Joey and June Favre, one of the first shows I saw in Denver. People who go to the theatre regularly have seen multiple productions and have their favorite El Gallo, their favorite Old Actor and Mortimer, even their favorite Mute. Each production either teaches or reminds us of the joy of first love and the price of experience. This production adds to that library of musical wisdom.

Town Hall has assembled a kick ass cast for their version. You have to have a strong appealing personality for your El Gallo, the bandit narrator. They have found him in Randy Chalmers who seduces with a smile, swashes his buckles with style, abducts with abandon and dispenses hard won insights musically. “Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

Katie Jackson lends her astounding vocal and acting chops to the crucial role of Luisa, the girl who falls in love twice in short order, once with Matt and once with the idea of adventure. Katie has a sweet appealing nature that conveys both the innocence and later disillusionment of Luisa. Her true love Matt is played by Carter Edward Smith with his usual flair and ease. What is there to say about Carter except that he can play anyone – old or young – with authenticity and grace.

Matt and Luisa are kept apart by a wall put up between the gardens of their parents who feign a feud to discourage their kids. Played by Boni McIntyre as Matt’s mother and Rick Long as Luisa’s father, they know the quickest way to get their children to do what they want is to tell them they can’t do it.  “Why do the kids put beans in their ears? They did it coz we said No.” They too learn that the best laid plans often go awry as their joint garden doesn’t quite pan out like they hoped.

An abduction scene is plotted by El Gallo and the parents which will allow Matt to rescue Luisa from the clutches of El Gallo (hired for the event), end the false feud and lead to a happy ending for all. When El Gallo needs extra players in the planned abduction, he calls on Henry, an Old Actor (played with magical aplomb by John Ashton) and Mortimer, his sidekick (a nearly unrecognizable Diane Wzionktka). Henry revels in proclaiming garbled Shakespeare and boasting of his past glories. Mortimer dies. That’s what he does best. Even though this production gave Mortimer’s death demonstration short shrift. John channels the ghosts of Shakespearean actors from Burbage to Olivier and yet adds his own casual appealing style to his character. Diane channels Dopey from the Seven Dwarfs for her Mortimer while still displaying humor and a desire to please. The Master Die-er in this Abduction scene was Randy as El Gallo who created a full three encore production out of his demise. The lone remaining player was Cal Meakins as The Mute who silently and unobtrusively provides the wall to separate the lovers, Luisa’s precious necklace from her mother, the leaves when it becomes fall, the snow when winter sets in, and the sparkly rain for ‘Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

My only complaint with this production was the staging of the scenes of Matt’s adventures to find fame and fortune away from his family, but finds misery and loneliness instead. Placed at the top of the aisles in the seating area, in order to see the vignettes, everyone in the audience had to turn around in their seats. By the third ”misery,” most people had tired of it and just listened to the scene behind them instead of observing. I understand that Matt was “out in the world” by this time but staged this way made the scenes awkward for the audience to see Matt’s “agony.”

The production team at Town Hall always comes through with pizazz. The gazebo type setting designed by Michael Duran and constructed by Mike Haas and his crew added to the whimsy of the show. Lit by Brett Maughan with sound design by Curt Behm and costumes by Terry Fong-Schmidt, it all worked together for the audience’s enjoyment. The accompaniment on keyboard by Donna Debreceni and harp by Barbara Sims completed the ensemble. This may become your favorite FANTASTICKS in days to come. “Try to remember . . . .”

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

Review: ‘The Fantasticks’ gets magical treatment

By Sonya Ellingboe, Littleton Indepenedent

‘The Fantasticks’ gets magical treatment at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center

Bellomy (Rick Long) and Hucklebee (Bonnie McIntyre) are neighbors, who like to garden — and who wish their offspring would fall in love with each other as they grow up. They recognize they must not push it, or those kids will react negatively …

The pair schemes a bit, pretends to feud, thinking kids will be contrary and take a counter route … “The Minute You Say No” and talks about gardens as well: “Plant a radish, you get a radish …” is a recurring theme in the charming “The Fantasticks,” playing at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center through Oct. 17.

This is the longest-running theatrical production in the world, running for 42 years off-Broadway. The book and lyrics are by Tom Jones and music is by Harvey Schmidt.

El Gallo first sings the sentimental “Try to Remember,” setting the mood … We are in a magical story.

Director Billie McBride, who is also a very accomplished actress, has used a gentle touch on this tale.

After the parents, we meet Matt (Carter Edward Smith), who enters while the tall, lean, expressive Mute (Cal Meakins) hangs around on stage, occasionally supplying a prop piece … or a moon … “I’ll marry when I marry …,” Matt sings. “There is a girl…”

Sweet Luisa (Katie Jackson in lacy anklets and Mary Janes and a girlie dress) appears singing and looking dreamily at neighbor Matt … They talk through a wall of sorts.

Onstage most of the time is El Gallo, who speaks with a dry humor and may be up to no good at times. Randy Chalmers plays this part with imagination and humor — and straight face. He interacts and sings with the other cast members …

(I’d suggest addition of a song list to the online program of sorts — print it and carry with if you like to have actors’ names in hand, because there are none at the theater— a COVID casualty. Nor are there paper tickets …)

El Gallo explains dryly: “The lovers meet in secret … there may be musketeers and so forth … a happy ending, and so forth … cost? Depends on what you buy … perhaps an abduction is in order … first class, with trimmings, a couple singers, a string quartet …”

Music director Donna Debreceni performs on piano and harpist Barbara Lepke Sims adds a melodic accompaniment throughout — really pleasing to these ears … live music!

As the audience is seated, they notice a large wooden trunk onstage. It eventually opens and out come Henry (John Ashton) and Mortimer (Diane Wziontka), a pair of players, who are a delight. Mortimer specializes in dying on stage and proceeds to demonstrate — a hilarious spoof of theatrical traditions … “I’ve been dying ever since I was a child,” Mortimer explains …

I’ve enjoyed Ashton’s performances in the metro area for years and have never seen him look so absolutely delighted to be on stage … it’s been a tough time especially for those talented folks who love to entertain us … The man glows! “There are no small actors … only small parts,” Mortimer declares.

The parents, Bellomy and Hucklebee, are cranky with each other as they try for the best garden. They sing about how you have control over veggies — “Plant a radish, you get a radish,” while rearing children is not so predictable. They are competitive about their gardens and almost come to blows …

Complications ensue with the romance, but of course, there is eventually a happy ending to this quirky piece, which Town Hall first performed in a big tent in the 1980s, when Hudson Gardens opened.

What a great choice after a tough stretch!

The year’s program is announced: “Winter Wonderettes” and “Plaid Tidings” in repertory over the holidays, followed by “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Once on This Island,” and “The Wedding Singer.” There will be some short run musical programs-tba.

Town Hall Arts Center is at 2450 W. Main Street in downtown Littleton. Tickets cost $37 and $52, townhallartscenter.org, 303-794-2787, ext. 5.

On Oct. 4, proceeds from a special performance of “The Fantasticks” will be donated to the Denver Actors Fund, which has assisted many members of the theatre community over the years.

Review: ‘The Fantasticks’ still has it

By Blythe Smith, OnStage Colorado

Littleton Town Hall production features a powerful cast

The Fantasticks premiered in 1960, but all I knew about it going in was that it had the song “Try to Remember.” My high school, like most other high schools in America, put it on sometime in the early ’80s (I can still see the fading poster with all its commemorative counterparts on the choir room wall.)

Now playing at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center under the direction of Billie McBride, The Fantasticks shows why it still holds the title as longest-running theatrical production in the world (1960-2002 for the original off-Broadway production).

Matt, the boy (Carter Edward Smith) and Luisa, the girl (Katie Jackson) live next door to each other, and their feuding parents have built a wall between their homes. This, of course, only fans the flames of their young romance. We quickly find out that the neighbors actually like each other just fine and have intended for their children to marry all along. The wall is their clever and apparently successful experiment in reverse psychology. In order to really move the romance along, the scheming parents decide to hire a villain, El Gallo (Randy Chalmers, who’s also the narrator) to pretend to abduct the girl. Aiding in the plot are an aging actor, Henry (John Ashton) and his sidekick, Mortimer (Diane Wziontka). The boy will heroically save her, and the boy’s mother and girl’s father can end their pretend feud. Everything goes to plan, and so ends the first act.

In Act 2, matters deteriorate. The girl and boy quarrel, and the boy goes off to see the world. The villain courts the girl, who seems receptive to his dash and worldly ways. Their parents blame each other and begin to rebuild their wall. The boy and girl appear to be gaining new perspectives, which does not necessarily seem to be an improvement on their earlier naiveté.

I saw this production of The Fantasticks with my brother, and when I saw him again the next morning he asked, “Have you thought any more about the play?”

I had, but I’m still not sure what I think about it. The concept is very of its time, which is not to say it is bad, merely that I could see today’s audiences finding it somewhat confusing. I’m still not sure what the point of the show is, if it has one. You can’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone? Idealize your youth, because things will get worse? Young love is great, but you can’t really be in love until you’ve had some of the callow optimism knocked out of you? I’m still thinking.

What I can say, unequivocally, is that the performances are absolutely fabulous. Vocally, the songs are challenging, and the entire cast is up to the task. Katie Jackson has a gorgeous, crystalline soprano voice that fits her role perfectly. It would be worth seeing this show just to hear her, no matter what you thought of the plot. All the other actors are engaging, their songs and harmonies on point. Randy Chalmers is a winsome narrator.

Though some of the references (like the numerous Shakespeare puns) might go over the heads of some, there is also a lot of humor in the play. The physical comedy ages well enough, and the audience found a lot to laugh about. I also couldn’t help but be struck by the social commentary in the song “Round and Round,” which seems as appropriate now as it would have been 60 years ago.

And let’s face it, who isn’t glad to just be back in a theater after a year and a half? Everyone, from the theater staff to the actors to the audience, seemed glad to be there. It is worth noting pandemic norms and protocols. Masks are encouraged for all audience members, and most were wearing them. But you won’t be thrown out of the place if you aren’t wearing one (and they did have some available at the entrance).

What I really want to do is tell everyone to see everything right now — all the plays, all the concerts. This particular musical might be best enjoyed by an older audience, but the performances are so good that it should appeal to all ages.

Review: SHOUT! The Mod Musical

By Beki Pineda

SHOUT – Created by Phillip George, David Lowenstein and Peter Charles Morris; Directed by Kate Vallee. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through June 20, 2021. Tickets available for live performances and streaming at 303-794-ARTS or townhallartscenter.org.

The very first song on this program celebrating the music popular among girl singers in the 60’s is “England Swings.” I can vouch firsthand that England was swinging in the 60’s because I was living there from 1964 to 1967. Not doing much swinging myself however; but did get to witness as music and fashion burst on the streets and on the TV. This production recalls with fondness the music and the mentality of this time. The patter in-between the songs vividly illustrates the prevalent female state of mind in this pre-feminist era. . . which elicited audible groans from the women in the audience. Were we really ever that naïve?

The five women singers who comprise this cast pay homage to the music of the amazing Petula Clark (“Round Every Corner,” “I Know a Place,” Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” “A Sign of the Times,” and all time favorite “Downtown”), the soulful Dusty Springfield (“Wishing and Hoping,” “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” “All I See is You,” and the rocking “Son of a Preacher Man”), Sandie Shaw (“How Can You Tell”), Lulu (“To Sir With Love” and the title song), Shirley Bassey (a parody of “Goldfinger” callec “Coldfinger”) and Cilla Black (“You’re My World”). Mary Hopkins remembrance of “Those Were the Days” added an even deeper sense of nostalgia. The girls even allowed American’s to invade the party by including Dionne Warwick’s hit “Wives and Lovers” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” The very slight insignificant contribution of men to the festivities were with Roger Miller’s “England Swings” and Len Barry’s “One-Two-Three” – fun to hear again.

But the ladies of the cast made the evening. Their energy and vocal renderings brought back the era and the memories. The Mary Quant style dresses conceived and created by Costumer Terri Fong-Schmidt conjured images of Twiggy and Sassoon hairstyles. Performing on a set straight out of the American LAUGH-IN show, the girls recreate an English style variety show. Hanna Dotson, Piper Lindsay Arpan, Amy Dollar, Valerie Igoe, and Ryahn Evers are all making their Town Hall debut, as well as Director and Choreographer Kate Vallee. A winning team to be sure, they performed together as though they had been doing the show for months, instead of it being opening night. While all the girls had outstanding solos, Hanna stole my heart with her renditions of the Petula Clark songbook. It was so enjoyable to see each of these talented ladies step into the spotlight time and again and sing their little socks off. Each of them have spent hours in the chorus of other musicals; each of them deserve this chance to show audiences that they have what it takes to carry a show. Good on you, ladies.

The stories and patter between songs enhanced the impression of the (somewhat) innocent 60’s. “I tried coke once but the ice cubes kept getting stuck in my nose!” “In my family, inheritance means my mother’s hips!” A unique little side note: It was so much fun to be there the night that Piper’s husband and son Tucker attended the show. Because every time I glanced down the aisle at Tucker, he was dancing in his seat and miming the words to his mother’s activities having watched her rehearse. Obviously a dancer in the making!

Many theatres are choosing light-hearted small cast productions to ease their way back into the spotlight. This joyful musical was a good choice for Town Hall. For those still leery of public outings, the production is also available for streaming on certain dates – check the website for time and date. It is guaranteed to make you smile and sing along.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

OUT FRONT Magazine Show Review: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

By Addison Herron-Wheeler (OUT FRONT Magazine)

We’ve now heard this a million times, but the past year-and-a-half has been incredibly tough on the theatre community. Like other entertainment industries, it was virtually destroyed by COVID, with any remaining shows moving online entirely for a livestreamed experience.

Now, as the world is finally getting vaccinated and opening back up, shows are slowly returning, and one of them is Town Hall Arts Center’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

For those still not fully vaccinated, or just feeling a little squirmy about the idea of going back to in-person shows, put your worry at rest. Town Hall has done an amazing job of making things safe. The actors, who have to undergo regular COVID testing, are encased in a glass box on the stage. While this may sound odd, it doesn’t impact visibility or sound. There is still a live band, nestled to the side of the stage and all wearing masks, and you can still feel the energy coming from the performance and get that live theatre feel, instead of the livestream blues.

There are also plenty of precautions in place when it comes to the audience. Shows are smaller capacity in order to make sure parties can distance from other parties, and exiting the theatre is done safely, in shifts.

COVID precautions aside, the show itself is also wonderful. For those familiar with the classic musical, there aren’t really any surprises or new twists, but each of the characters is warm, funny, philosophical, and engaging, just as they are intended to be. Probably because live theatre has been missing for so long, and the actors are so excited to get back in the spotlight, each performer seems to be throwing themselves 110 percent into what they are doing to tell a compelling and timeless story.

Similarly, the stage accommodations don’t do anything to diminish an amazing, stand-out, set and scenery. While the set is simple and childlike, intentionally, of course, the bright colors in the costumes and set pieces weave seamlessly in with the story, and you get some cool lighting effects and even a kite that really flies.

If you’re itching for some live theatre done safely, make sure to catch You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, Thursday through Sunday and running through April 18.

Review: ‘Peanuts’ gang takes to stage

By Sonya Ellingboe (Littleton Independent)

Audience members were scattered sparsely around Town Hall Arts Center and the stage is wrapped with a plastic barrier, but it was indeed a joy to settle in for a live performance last weekend as pianist Donna Debreceni and percussionist Sean Case played the opening music for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center.

Centered on stage, we see a large red doghouse as lights go up and we welcome Charles M. Schulz’s beloved crew, who first showed up in October 1950 in the syndicated comic strip, “Peanuts.”

American cartoonist and Peanuts creator Schulz (1922-2000) was born in Minneapolis and lived and worked for years in Santa Rosa, California, where a museum honors his memory.

My concerns about whether that barrier would affect the sound were gone immediately as the cast moved into a series of vignettes from the beloved Schulz comic strip. With book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, additional dialogue by Michael Mayer, additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, this musical, based on what was probably the most famous comic strip of all, is a charmer.

Carter Edward Smith, looking suitably bewildered in his yellow shirt with the black zigzag on it, plays Charlie Brown on a stage he last played on three years ago, while Brekken Baker is bouncy, bossy Lucy Van Pelt, in her first appearance at THAC.

(An old lemonade stand serves as the office for her psychiatric services — 5 cents, please!)

Widely-traveled Mica Dominguez-Robinson appears as Charlie’s little sister, Sally Brown, and Andrew Alber, who appeared in “Cabaret” at THAC, plays Lucy’s blanket-toting little brother, Linus.

THAC regular Matt LaFontaine, who recently appeared as Monty in the virtual Town Hall production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” is philosophical pianist Schroeder, while Logan Traver, also a former “Cabaret” cast member, wears a white suit with a big black spot on his back and reclines on a bright red doghouse — that lovable Snoopy, of course! (He too was in the large “Cabaret” cast.)

He flies with the Red Baron and worries a lot about his supper, which does arrive, of course. Sweet performance.

Expert director Nick Sugar (“Cabaret” Director and Emcee} has returned to direct and choreograph this whimsical work, delivering his usual polished production, despite minimal set pieces and the constraints of a clear wall between cast and audience. The play, originally produced in 1967, does not include some characters who appeared later in the strip. But we certainly can enjoy this crew as we picture Schulz’s whimsical little guys and girls …

The “Happiness” song is perhaps best remembered, but none of the songs ever took on a life of its own like some musical numbers have. Schulz published a book called “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”

The musical is said, in a review we found, to be based on the cartoonist’s own life — he had a dog as a kid.

Schulz won numerous awards during his lifetime and a posthumous congressional Gold Medal awarded the year after he died. He left a body of work that has indeed become part of America’s cultural fabric.

Review: You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown

By Beki Pineda

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN – Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schultz; Directed by Nick Sugar. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main, Littleton) through April 18. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 or townhallartscenter.org.

You’re a good man, Nickie Sugar, for bringing this nostalgic valentine to childhood into our lives at a time when we all long for the “good ‘ol days.” You knew just what would make us smile, remember, and rejoice that here we are again in a live theatre watching live actors perform together in their own bubble (or, in this case, fishbowl) with other audience members sitting two or three seats away from us. Good for Town Hall as well for arranging all of this and making us feel as safe as observers at an aquarium.

Designed as a comic strip with short vignettes enhanced with music, the whimsical script explores the highs and lows of childhood. From a D on your homework to the successful flight of a kite. From the terror of first love to the affection of a big sister. Playing baseball together and playing with your dog. All of these and many more fun memories are played out for our enjoyment. Carter Edward Smith uses his “dopey” vibe (remember Seymour?) to great effect as the sometime clueless Charlie Brown. His unfulfilled yearning for the Little Red-Headed Girl brings back nostalgic longing for your own first loves. Like the puppets in AVENUE Q, Charlies is on a search for happiness and what makes a “good man”. One conclusion that he very wisely comes to is that if he can find happiness for himself, he can then help others find their own happiness.

Charlie’s high flying dog, Snoopy, is given an energetic portrayal by Logan Traver as he chases the Red Baron and frolics through the musical numbers. He describes a dog’s life and decides he’s got it pretty easy. Until someone forgets to feed him. Who among us as we struggle to give up cigarettes or sugar cannot relate to Little Brother Linus as he tries to rid himself of his security blanket. We watch as he throws it on the ground and walks away . . . . and then desperately runs back to collect it. Andrew Alber makes that struggle real, painful and humorous – all at the same time. Matt LaFontaine brings his bouncy charm to the role of Schroeder, the virtuoso on a toy piano who perfects the definition of aloofness as Lucy attempts to coerce him into a relationship. He even manages to pull together a celebration of Beethoven’s birthday.

The women in the cast also play an important role. Lucy is given obnoxious charm by Brekken Baker while Little Sister Sallie comes to life with the help of Mica Dominguez-Robinson. Lucy’s unrequited affection for Schroeder leads her to finally conclude “Never try to discuss marriage with a musician!” Sallie becomes thoroughly disgusted with a D she got on her homework and uses it as an excuse to create an ever changing philosophy for handling disappointment.

Happily Town Hall has managed to hang on to their top notch crew of technicians. They have created the safe environment in which the actors can perform and the audience can watch with security. The plexiglass shields which circle the stage space create the slightest little distraction because of the occasional reflections on the inner sides. It made me wonder if the cast was watching themselves perform or if they could see through the reflections to the audience. The crew also deserves kudos for the “Kite Gag.” Charlie Brown tries to fly his kite around the notorious kite-eating tree. He successfully gets it aloft, enjoys his few minutes of triumph before the kite starts to fly away and then finally explodes. This difficult special effect was performed flawlessly by all involved. Even though it sounds like a full show band, the on-line program gives musical credit to only Donna Kolpan Debrecini on keyboards and Sean Case on percussion. All I can say is WOW! Good job, everyone.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

Review: Lessons from a summer of outdoor theatre in the time of COVID – John Moore

Almost Heaven - John Moore Review

by John Moore (Senior Arts Journalist – Arvada Center)

Those companies that got out of the box deepened relationships with grateful audiences. Those that grow stagnant do so to their own peril.

…Not every live offering was so limited by crowd size. The Littleton Town Hall Arts Center had big plans to present a late-winter indoor production of the John Denver biography “Almost Heaven” on an indoor set accompanied by a provocative, original video underscore. When the shutdown ended those grand plans, Town Hall moved the production outdoors to the picturesque environs of nearby Hudson Gardens, which can accommodate about 70 on its expansive grounds.

By the time the run ends on October 11, Town Hall will have managed to sate about 1,500 of its audiences’ theatre fixes. Yes, that only represents about half the crowd size for a single performance of any big Broadway musical downtown. But then again, there aren’t all that many theatergoers who have so far shown much willingness to venture out to any production right now (inside or out). But those who have are being richly rewarded. At such a lousy time, you have to appreciate the opportunity to take in an early fall sunset in a garden while birds fly overhead and you’re listening to lyrics like: “I guess he’d rather be in Colorado; he’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after a rain.”

In every case, the thing that made those efforts special is the very thing that only came about through active problem-solving. Each of those environments enhanced the storytelling experience, and our understanding of the language or the lyrics. I would not have wanted to watch any of them indoors…

Review: Pivoting with Nick Sugar and the Town Hall Arts Center – John Moore

by John Moore (Senior Arts Journalist, Arvada Center)

How a lovely outdoor musical experience grew out of necessity and innovation

‘Almost Heaven’ was scheduled to open inside the Town Hall Arts Center on April 3 when rehearsals were shut down by the pandemic on March 13. What a strange set of circumstances that allowed for the musical to be reimagined as an outdoor, botanic experience at sunset that perfectly matches the tenor of John Denver’s music. Director Nick Sugar talks about it.

What are you doing to pivot?
We were shuttered during our third week of rehearsal. When I realized this was going to be much worse than expected, my first conversation with Town Hall was that “Almost Heaven” was the show that needed to open our theatre back up when the time came. The music is inspirational. It is the spirit of our community at Town Hall. “Almost Heaven” is Colorado. This version at Hudson Gardens is not the theatrical production that we had envisioned. It is not being performed on the set that was designed and completed on our stage. However, being able to see and hear these amazing singers without their masks on is joyous. “Almost Heaven” gives us all hope.

Why are you doing it?
All of us at Town Hall were invested in the show physically and emotionally. The cast was committed to the show as well. If I had to re-cast several performers, or if the Town Hall team felt it weren’t appropriate material to be doing for our first venture back, “Almost Heaven” would not be happening. Putting up a production takes a lot of work. Getting “Almost Heaven” up at Hudson Gardens has taken even more hard work, dedication and determination, and that work will continue throughout the run. After every performance, the band, lights, tent and sound have to be set-up and taken down each night.

Is there a timeline for programming to return to the indoor theatre?
It’s pointless to even speculate right now. Town Hall was lucky enough to be able to pivot with “Almost Heaven.” Hopefully, we can continue to pivot successfully with our next production.

Words of encouragement for others who are now pivoting their way through 2020?
We as a theater community are hurting. We have lost wages and jobs. We are re-learning, growing and trying to survive. Be brave and stay strong. We are a creative group of people. Create. We will pivot.

“Pivoting With …” is a new, ongoing series talking with members of the Colorado theatre community about how they are adapting to changes in their creative and personal lives as the COVID pandemic continues.

Review: Enjoy an outside chance for live theater – Littleton Independent

by Sonya Ellingboe (Littleton Independent)

“Almost Heaven: The Songs of John Denver” is an appropriate title for Town Hall Arts Center’s production at Hudson Gardens, running through Oct. 11. The lawn next to the blooming Rose Garden is marked with “pods” that hold a blanket or up to four chairs, inviting a relaxed audience to enjoy a LIVE performance with five singers/“Storytellers” and a four-piece band. The air is sweet and the audience happy to be there.

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., who understandably took on the stage name of John Denver, was born in New Mexico and gained international recognition as a composer, songwriter and performer before his untimely death as he solo-piloted his own airplane and crashed.

Harold Thau is credited with the concept for this appealing show and Jeff Waxman for the orchestrations and vocal arrangements in the production. The program says: “songs by John Denver and others,” but the “others” are not spelled out.

Skillfully interwoven are familiar songs such as “Rocky Mountain High,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “I Guess I’d Rather Be in Colorado,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and more … easy listening. Some audience members brought a picnic, while others just relaxed and visited before the performance and during a brief intermission. (No food was on sale at the venue, though it may be during the daytime shows at the trail entrance …)

Performers include Town Hall repeat-performers Matt LaFontaine, Mark Middlebrooks, Alison Mueller and Zach Stanley, as well as area newcomer Tasha Waters, who recently relocated from Philadelphia.

The atmosphere is laid-back and fragrant.

Director/choreographer Nick Sugar has created nice patterns of movement for these Storytellers, but they can’t be dancing on lumpy grass as they might on a wooden stage floor.

Voices blend smoothly and each singer is a solo-quality performer as well — what a joy to experience this on a lovely summer-into-fall evening outside!

Donna Debrecini leads the musicians: Mitch Jervis on guitar, Scott Alan Smith with bass, banjo and harmonica, and percussionist Larry Ziehl, filling that delicious night air with music.