Take a weekend and drive east. You’ll see some of Colorado’s natural wonders and some of the most professional stage performances to be found in the Southwest. On the way home, you might be singing “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.”
Last weekend, on one of my many summer road trips for scenery, hiking and culture, I attended an imaginative spinoff of a Disney musical, fresh interpretations of two American classics and a first-rate concert. Here’s a summary:
Thingamajig Theatre at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts
Mounting its second season of four musicals, only a summer company of dedicated theater rats – all graduates of solid drama and musical comedy programs across the country – would attempt something as crazy as staging multiple musicals in repertory, meaning they’ll be the star in one and chorus in another.
From “Damn Yankees” to “The Secret Garden” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the range is impressive, although I was skeptical of “Tarzan.” My taste doesn’t run to Disney’s sugar-coated classics, but I wanted to see how the company mounted this version of the Edgar Rice Burrows 1912 story.
The fictional tale centers on an English boy raised by apes in an African jungle. For more than a century, the fantasy has captivated Western imaginations, but I walked into the theater with a tinge of skepticism.
Pagosa Center has a huge, high-ceilinged lobby, which has been transformed into a jungle. A bamboo forest serves as a lush backdrop with massive artificial trees arching forward laden with vines, a.k.a. swinging ropes. A canopy of leaves covers the ceiling under which the audience sits, adults in chairs, kids on the floor.
Director-choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker exploits the ideas of play and pursuit by having the gorillas run, scamper and cavort, while the British explorers walk, talk, take notes and point guns.
Credit the handsome and agile Marek Zurowski for wonderfully realizing the boy-man Tarzan. He’s physically and musically perfect for the role, and he’s a match for Annie Jenness’s Jane Porter, all-English pluck and manners.
A recorded orchestral soundtrack supports the show, and while it follows a Disney formula, the original tale wasn’t short on melodrama either. Be prepared to be amazed.
‘Our Town’ and ‘Guys & Dolls’
Creede Repertory Theater
The picturesque old mining town of Creede is only a two-and-a-half hour drive away. In addition to its breathtaking caldera and high-altitude vistas, Creede has an Equity theater that is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play gets an elegant and true interpretation thanks to director Michael Perlman. Technically known as meta-theatrical in style, the production is spare and self-aware. Wilder envisioned it that way with a narrator known simply as the Stage Manager (the engaging Logan Ernstthal) and actors who mingle before, during and after the show as themselves. When the play begins, they seamlessly merge into their roles.
The story moves from 1904 to 1913, as themes of life, love and loss thread through two particular families and their neighbors. If you’ve seen “Our Town” before, on stage anywhere in the world or in movies featuring William Holden or Paul Newman, you owe it to yourself to see this fresh rendering told in a deceptively simple manner.
“Guys & Dolls,” based on a wise-cracking New York story by Damon Runyon about gamblers and do-gooders, is the big musical offered by CRT this summer. Directed by Jessica Jackson with storytelling choreography by Ryan Hazelbaker, CRT’s stylish presentation is all fire and fun.
On an abstract set with jazzy, cartoonish costuming, the company spins platforms and climbs stairs to take us to the oldest floating craps game in New York. “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” is one of many familiar songs, and it rumbles through like a subway train with a pitch-perfect cast and a particularly endearing Miss Adelaide (Mehry Eslaminia).
From the bustling overture, played by a snappy on-stage band, to a rousing finale, director Jackson sets a crisp pace. Scenes slide into each other as fluidly as Nathan Detroit (the comically desperate Tosin Morohunfola) places a bet on strudel vs. cheesecake. Hazelbaker’s smart choreography propels the storyline as effortlessly as Adelaide famously sneezes.
Music in the Mountains
After a four-year lull, MITM reconvened a concert tradition at a new venue in Pagosa Springs. On July 24, artistic director Guillermo Figueroa and company performed chamber works at the Pagosa Lakes Club House to a sold-out crowd.
The musicians opened with a playful Mozart flute quartet followed by an unusual violin-viola duo unspooling a dozen variations on a well-known sarabande for harpsichord by Handel. Aleksandr Snytkin and Dmitry Kustanovich began with a straightforward reading of the theme, then quickly slipped into Johan Halvorsen’s sparkling variations.
After intermission, Figueroa introduced Max Bruch’s Octet in B-flat by highlighting its lush romanticism and late-in-life sense of defiance. Standing Russian-style, the players began with a somber line in the lower strings soon picked up by the upper strings and sailing forth into rolling motifs that sparkled with tremendous energy.
The lyrical second movement evoked longing, but it, too, held surprises. And the final movement brimmed with agitation right up to its brisk conclusion.
There certainly was talk of returning next summer.