The Great American Trailer Park Musical could be titled The Greatest American Trailer Park Musical — and we’re pretty sure that there isn’t another one that could really compete. It’s a crass, light comedy that hits on all of the stereotypes of the poor, rural, portable south. We meet Jeannie, who is cursed with agoraphobia in the smallest home one can possibly imagine, and her understandably strained relationship with her husband Norbert. Add into the mix Pippi, a stripper on the run, and three hilarious women that form an eclectic Greek chorus, and you’re set for an evening of trailer-rockin’, innuendo-makin’, beer-drinkin’ fun!
The musical Chess tries to bring many concepts together. Written in the early 1980’s, the musical focuses on Cold War relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union while telling the story of a series of World Championship Chess matches between American and Soviet chess players. If you think you’re starting to see a metaphor, you’re right. A collaboration between Tim Rice (who had collaborated heavily with Andrew Lloyd Weber previously) and Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (formerly of the band ABBA), Chess began with a concept album, which was tinkered with a re-tooled into a West End production, which then made its way to Broadway. All three major instantiations include impressive, chart-busing rock songs, but the complex plot points jump around in order between versions. The current production at the Arvada Center is in some ways another version of the musical — they have (with permission) substantially re-ordered and re-assigned songs, as well as streamlining and changing the main plot points.
Although the rock musical has been around for decades, musicals composed entirely of modern rock music are still pretty rare. Green Day’s American Idiot is even more rare in that it stages an entire previously recorded rock album. But it’s not a jukebox musical, where popular songs are thrown together around a post-hoc storyline of dubious strength. No, Green Day always thought of their 2004 album as being driven by a strong narrative. With a book by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer (Tony-Award winning director of Spring Awakening), this unique, 95-minute tour through three men and their relationships with suburbia, urbia, love, indifference and war is a powerful, very current piece of musical theater.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is back! With 1,731 performances under it’s belt, the 2000 – 2004 production of the musical made it the longest running musical in Colorado – and it is easy to see why audiences are so attracted to this delight. A revue-style musical, LPC (as some casually call it) takes you through several sketches depicting the best and the worst of romantic relationships. Four actors (two men and two women) showcase a range of personalities as they struggle to find and keep love. With so many characters, it’s hard for anyone to not find some person and/or situation with which to connect. This time the Denver Center has brought back the original Director (Ray Roderick) and one of the performers from last time around (Shannan Steele) but the three remaining cast members are all new and all bring their own lovely additions to the show.
How many transgressions does artistic license cover? Neil LaBute’s 2001 script explores exactly this, with a sharp, modern feel that is bound to make you feel uncomfortable at some point in the evening. Adam is a shy college student before he meets Evelyn, a confident MFA student with strong views on what constitutes artistic expression. Although Evelyn turns off his friends, Adam is smitten, and forced to think about exactly how much of himself he’s willing to change for her.
Calling Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest hammers home the main device of this classic farce — ridiculous misrepresentation.
There’s a good reason that The Importance of Being Earnest is a constant crowd-pleaser, and therefore a popular choices for theater companies of all sizes. The comedy rotates around two men — Jack and Algernon, whose names I only mention to be perfectly clear that neither is named Earnest. Algernon is delightfully irresponsible, and Jack sickeningly in love. When Algernon learns that Jack has fabricated a brother named Earnest to protect his impressionable young ward from his weekend adventures, and Jack learns that his fiancee is quite attached to his pseudonym, both are determined to manipulate the situation to their advantage — even if it means mistaken identity, brotherly rivalry, and throwing each other under the bus without a second thought.
Often times in theatre, you see plays or musicals where the characters know they are in a show. They break the fourth wall and look/talk/interact directly with the audience, but they usually will stay in character. It’s not too often you see a musical where, from the very beginning, it is made clear that everyone on stage knows that they are an actor playing a part in a show.
In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, our narrator comes out at the top of the show and welcomes us, informs us of what part he will be playing, introduces the cast/characters while leading the opening ensemble number. As the title suggests, our guide spells out, and the chorus sings clearly is that this is meant to be a light-hearted comedy through and through. The show uses every trick in the book to get laughs – slapstick, raunch, farcical chase scenes – and while some land heartily, we left the show with mixed feelings overall.
Brrr. It’s cold in here…
Well, that is partly due to it being Denver in winter, but also the cast of Bring It On: The Musical has rolled into our atmosphere. However, while a lot of people may recognize that infamous cheer from the guilty pleasure flick Bring It On starring Kirsten Dunst, audiences need to be aware that this is not a mere adaptation of the original film. No – unlike other movie-turned-musicals ala Legally Blonde or Shrek, the creative team behind Bring It On: The Musical used the film franchise about high school cheerleading as an inspiration for what is rightfully billed as an original comedy – full of peppy tunes with impressive lyrics, breakthrough talent, stunning choreography, and roof-raising acrobatics. Continue reading
We can’t think of a musical that more theater people geek out about than West Side Story. It starts with the greatest love story of all time (Romeo & Juliet), adds in racial tension that was burgeoning in New York City in the 1950s, and then musicalizes it, complete with entire story sequences told by dance. Then of course consider that it was crafted by some of the best musical theater creators of all time (Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins), and how can it not be a smash hit? Continue reading
1940’s Radio Hour is a holiday story that only briefly touches on the holidays. But set in a cozy radio studio on a snowy day in December 1941, it’s sure to conjure nostalgic thoughts of holidays past. The play centers around the hour-long broadcast for the troops overseas, but the audience is treated to much more than the delightful radio broadcast filled with classic tunes. By peeking behind the scenes, the audience is treated to more than a well-crafted radio show — a hilarious, touching slice of life from the 1940s.
Escanaba: 1922 is a prequel to the other two plays in the Escanaba series: Escanaba in da Moonlight, and Escanaba in Love. Also set in a hunting cabin in the Upper Peninsula, Escanaba: 1922 tells the extended story of the chance encounter of a particularly odd couple. Like the other Escanaba stories, the conversation veers toward topics of utmost import for most north midwestern men: hunting, how to set up a hunting camp, and the appropriate times to consume animal urine. But cutting through this rather pungent humor is the story of a man in search of a story, and so this prequel appropriately explores his personal and family history.
Avenue Q has arguably made the biggest splash on Broadway in the past decade. To give some context, its irreverent, adult take on a Sesame Street style puppet music won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004, over the epic and endlessly successful Wicked. Avenue Q tells the story of a young puppet, Princeton, trying to find his purpose in life, who meets a variety of characters, including the sweet and single Kate Monster, the grouchy, asocial Trekkie Monster, adult roommates Rod and Nicky, superintendent Gary Coleman, and unemployed Brian with his Asian-American fiancee named Christmas Eve.
The Lion King may be the most recognizable Disney story of the last 20 years. The well-crafted cartoon enjoyed incredible success in the late ’90s, and it successfully avoids a lot of the traps that have kept Disney hits from becoming classics. Its transition to the stage in the late ’90s was even more impactful. Julie Taymor’s interpretation added even more depth to the story, both through the addition of several songs with authentic African influence to the well-known Elton John soundtrack. From a design perspective, Taymor’s The Lion King tore down boundaries and introduced Broadway to some of the most creative conceptualizations of animals, using puppetry to supplement the dancers costumes.