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…
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.
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.