Ark Valley Players Set to Perform ‘Cotton Patch Gospel’

Arkansas City, KS–Arkansas City’s community theatre, Ark Valley Players, is happy to announce tickets are available for the rollicking, foot-stomping, hand-clapping musical Cotton Patch Gospel. With book by Tom Key and Russell Treyz, it’s the “Greatest Story Ever Told” in a setting of rural Georgia with country music songs, the final and perhaps best work of Harry Chapin.  Performances are August 19 and 20, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. in the historic, climate-controlled Burford Theatre, 118 South Summit Street, Arkansas City (KS).  Dinner starts at 6:00 p.m.

Directors Dejon Ewing and Stephen Butler are excited to share the work of their talented cast members Jason Brewer, Spencer MacLaughlin, Jodie Stanley and Eric Swanson, all of Arkansas City, along with Thomas Meyer of Ponca City.

Dramatic Publishing writes, “This ‘Greatest Story Ever Retold’ is based on the book The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John by Clarence Jordan in which the Gospel is presented in a setting of rural Georgia with country music songs, the final and perhaps best work of Harry Chapin. As this Gospel begins, they sing that ‘Somethin’s a-brewin’ in Gainesville.’ Herod is the mayor of Atlanta and, inevitably, Christ is killed by local thugs only to rise again. Drama critics loved this show and so did a broad spectrum of religious commentators.”

Patrons interested in including dinner in their show plans will enjoy a meal of brisket, country style green beans, scalloped potatoes, corn bread, salad, and apple cobbler along with their show ticket for $40 each.  “Show Only” tickets are available for balcony seating at just $15 each.  For tickets call 620-442-3045.

Seasons of the Valli

Four guys singing under a streetlamp become one of the most iconic pop groups of all time.  This is Jersey Boys and it is playing at Great Plains Theatre.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has got it all.  Pathos, greed, temptation, petty jealousies, the triumph of the underdog, the terrible price of success, and so much more.

And it’s all true.

It’s a fascinating story especially as it’s told from the point of view of each band member, all of whom have their own slant on the events of their career.  It’s also an incredible case study on super success as two handled it gracefully, one walked away from the pressure, and another caved to its excesses.  Combine it with the excellent pop tunes and you’ve got the makings for an incredible night of theatre.

Mitchell Aiello understands the many complexities of the script and his direction reflects that understanding.  This is a hard show to direct because, in a sense, the show tells 4 separate stories and the director has to make certain each tale gets the proper weight and focus and that becomes trickier when the stories start to intersect.  Aiello handles this task admirably as his four leads get ample opportunity to shine.  He also has done some terrific staging with some of my favorite moments being when the lights fade out on the Seasons as they fall away from the group.  Aiello also has coached his actors to a rock-solid set of performances.

Some wonderful performances in the supporting cast come from Braden Cray Andrew who adds just the right element of peculiarity to Bob Crewe, the eccentric, but talented, producer and lyricist who let astrology guide his business decisions.  Madelynn Washburn gives a fierce performance as the tough as nails Mary Delgado, Valli’s first wife and then flips that ferocity on its head with a turn as the airheaded lead singer of the Angels.  Washburn’s vocals match her fiery Delgado especially with her lead on “My Boyfriend’s Back”.  Annika Andersson finds some deep layers in the small role of Lorraine, a reporter who has a relationship with Valli, but isn’t wiling to share him with his career or family.

Matthew Ruehlman is a true con artist as Tommy DeVito.  Ruehlman’s DeVito has a certain likability crucial to a good con man, but he can be a real prick, too, as he writes checks his butt can’t cash and rubs the other Seasons the wrong way.  Ruehlman also brings a good sense of vanity to DeVito who thinks he’s the leader of the group (he’s not), but melds it with a tremendous force of will which arguably did hold the group together until they hit it big.  Ruehlman also brings some pathos to DeVito when his love of the high life and get rich quick schemes nearly sink the group at its zenith as well as endanger his continued well-being.

I was extremely impressed with the depth Bobby Guenther brought to the role of Nick Massi.  At one point, Massi compares himself to Ringo Starr, but George Harrison is the more apt comparison as Massi is the quiet Season.  Guenther’s Massi was content to go with the flow until the pressures of success and DeVito’s irresponsible behavior cause him to crack.   His breakdown was honest and true and you could feel his regret at the way he let stardom blow his family life to smithereens.  Guenther also has a big, beautiful bass voice who served as the foundation of the Seasons’ harmonies.

I really enjoyed Clayton Sallee’s take on Bob Gaudio.  Sallee plays the legendary songwriter with an ironclad sense of confidence with just the slightest sprinkling of ego.  Gaudio’s music was a big part of the equation in the success of the Four Seasons, but he never lords it over the others even though he argues, and pretty strongly, that “they couldn’t have done it without him”.  Sallee well communicates Gaudio’s knowledge of the music business with his negotiations with DeVito and his business dealings with Valli.  Sallee also an angelic tenor and knocks it out of the park with “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”.

This being my second go-around reviewing this musical, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the role of Frankie Valli has to be one of the most difficult to cast in theatre as talent isn’t enough.  You also need an actor of a certain physicality who can emulate Valli’s singular vibrato falsetto and tenor.  Luckily, this show has the talents of Bear Manescalchi who fits the role to a T. 

Manescalchi lays out a beautiful arc for Valli starting with him as a shy, hesitant teenager smoothing out the rough edges on his singing and evolving him into the strong, confident leader of the Seasons and mimics that falsetto and tenor to perfection from “Sherry” to “Rag Doll” to “Dawn” and all the rest. Manescalchi brings some raw emotional power to the role and knows how to act through a song with renditions of “My Eyes Adored You” and “Fallen Angel” that made me want to burst into tears.  Manescalchi can act up a storm away from a song with his smoldering fury and frustration with DeVito and his personal collapse upon learning of the death of his youngest daughter being particular treats.

Mitchell Aiello’s choreography is right on the mark.  This show isn’t known for big, flashy numbers though he gets some boppin’ in with “Short Shorts” and the curtain call reprise of “December, 1963”.  Rather it just needs well-coordinated, simple moves as the singers perform and he does that in spades.  Aiello has also designed a simple set of risers and crisscrossed slats to create the world of this show.  Kent Buess’ lights add fantastic detail and are highly emotional with a tragic blue for sadder moments, red for angrier moments, and a sunset purple for passionate moments.  He also has a good use for shadow as he brings the lights down on each Season as he leaves the group and also leaves the replacements (at least initially) in the shadows to emphasize the star that is Frankie Valli.  Becky Dibben’s costumes fill the bill with the trademark colorful suits of the Seasons as well as the period correct clothing of the cast as the show evolves from the 60s to 2000s.  Donna Rendely Peeler’s musical direction is spectacular.  The harmonies are gorgeous, the solos are heavenly, and never is a sour note sung.

The performers definitely needed to tighten the cue pickups both internally and in dialogue to help boost the energy and some moments of violence and horseplay need some smoothing out to be a bit more realistic. I’d also like to see this show again with a more demonstrative crowd as the quiet crowd of this performance wasn’t giving the cast enough energy to feed upon and that high octane flow between cast and audience is essential for a production such as this one.

That being said, this show is still another feather in the cap of Great Plains Theatre and you should get a ticket to see it.  And don’t be shy.  Be big.  Be boisterous.  Let it all hang loose because this cast is going to give you a show to remember.

Jersey Boys plays at Great Plains Theatre through July 31.  Showtimes are 2pm on Wed, Sat, and Sun and 7:30pm Thurs-Sat.  Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.greatplainstheatre.com, or calling 785-263-4574.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

Cut Loose. . .Footloose

Ren McCormack relocates from Chicago to the small, rural town of Bomont.  He struggles to fit in as he is eyed with suspicion by the town’s adults who beat him down spiritually with their morality laws banning dancing and rock music within the town limits.  A budding relationship with the rebellious daughter of a powerful, influential preacher inspires Ren to challenge the town’s ordinance and provide some emotional healing for himself. . .and others.  This is Footloose currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

If you’re a child of the 80s like myself, then you know this play was inspired by a hit teen movie of the same name.  Teen movies of this time frame embraced similar themes and characters.  You had the loner hero, the rebellious kid trying to escape from under the thumb of controlling parents, the crusty authority figure, and the smug and pompous bully that you can’t wait to see pulverized.  Well, this show has all those cliches and then some.  It’s also one of the five best musicals I’ve ever seen.

The show is helped greatly by the fact that Dean Pitchford, who wrote the original film, also helped write the musical.  This allows the show to mostly retain its original themes and ideas.  It’s also a surprisingly sensitive story whose dominant theme is finding peace.  A great many of this show’s primary characters are emotionally wounded or broken and all are following a path towards patching up those spiritual injuries.  Throw in a fun score laced with original songs plus hits from major 80s stars and you’ve got a fun-filled night that might even squeeze some tears from your eyes.

Mitchell Aiello’s direction is precisely on point with this show.  He definitely embraces the 80sness of the show, but does an excellent job emphasizing the show’s themes with the quieter, more emotional sequences being quite potent and mesmerizing.  He’s staged the show well, utilizing the whole theatre and well placing his actors so all faces can be seen.  Aiello has also guided his troupe to very strong, developed performances.

There were way too many good performances for me to cite in this review, but some of these performances come from Hannah Hill who’s a lovable motormouth as Rusty and, man, can she belt out a tune, especially the show’s namesake number and “Let’s Hear it For the Boy”.  Erica C. Walker is sweet and sensitive as Vi Moore, wife of Rev. Shaw Moore and her beautiful, plaintive voice shines in two of the show’s saddest numbers “Learning to Be Silent” and “Can You Find it In Your Heart?”.  Dylan Ray Herrin is utterly punchable as the local thug and bully, Chuck.

Carson Zoch is not only a gifted actor, but he’s also, in my nearly thirty years in the business, the best hoofer I’ve seen grace a stage.  He brings an irresistible charm to Ren and is immensely likable, yet you can see the anger bubbling under the surface.  The anger takes the form of his fighting against authority and ramming his foot into his mouth when he gets nervous.  But he’s also a guy you’d want as a friend as he is noble and would follow a friend to the gates of hell to provide support.  That nobility is important because it allows Zoch to really reflect the pain he feels from the distrust, poor treatment, and outright hostility from Bomont’s denizens.  Zoch has a fantastic tenor to go along with his flaming feet which lets him shine in numbers such as “I Can’t Stand Still” and “Dancing is Not a Crime”.

Maddie Allen really gives a multifaceted performance as Ariel Shaw, daughter of the town’s preacher.  At first, she comes off a little mean-spirited, even slutty.  Then you realize the mean-spiritedness is really a reflection of her own anger at her crumbling relationship with her father and her looseness is her attempt to escape from the prison of her life.  But underneath she’s got a heart of gold and hidden depths.  Allen really does a superlative job letting Ariel’s real nature peek out and regain control over the course of the show as she opens herself up to Ren.  Allen’s voice is ideal for rock and she sizzles with turns in “Holding Out For a Hero” and “Almost Paradise”.

Tim Falk is the crusty authority figure as Rev. Shaw Moore.  However, there’s a twist to this character.  He isn’t a villain because he’s nasty.  On the contrary, he’s actually motivated by very good intentions which is the element from which the best villains arise.  And villain is probably too strong a word.  Antagonist would be better.  Falk’s Moore can be unbelievably cold.  He never loses his cool.  He just has a matter-of-fact way of talking that leaves you feeling like you were slapped.  A devastating loss in his past prompts him to try to protect Bomont’s youth with morality laws, but also blinds him to the reality that he is just promulgating his own pain on the town.  Falk is good at showing flashes of the inspirational person he once was and the conflict between the man he was and the man he is gets center stage in “Heaven Help Me” where he asks God to help him reach others again.

Matthew Glen Clark is a joy to watch as Willard.  The character is a bit of a stereotype as he is a hick all the way from clothes to personality.  But his Sean Astin-like charm makes you forget all that.  Clark’s Willard is a decent kid and a loyal friend who will jump into a fight wherever he sees a wrong that needs to be righted, be it with his words or his fists.  Clark has got some impressive dance moves which is best proven by the character’s seeming inability to dance in “Let’s Hear it For the Boy”.  But when he learns how to dance, watch out.  His feet are greased lightning.  Clark’s Willard is also a bit of a town philosopher as he often shares the wisdom (and insanity) of his mother particularly in his featured number “Mama Says”.

Melissa Ford has provided one of the two best pieces of choreography I’ve seen on stage.  She truly excels in large group numbers as her performers flawlessly execute her moves with smooth as silk dancing with the finale being a particular success.  Alicia Santee and her honkytonk band (Gaby Fluke and Jacob Andres) do an incredible job of playing this score with simply keys, guitar, and percussion.  Becky Dibben’s costumes suit the locale and the personality of the characters from the southwestern/rural clothes of Bomont’s youth to the more formal gear of Bomont’s adults to the more laid-back Midwest clothes of Ren.  Mitchell Aiello has designed a simple, bare bones set of water tower and phone lines to depict Bomont and uses a wooden entryway to depict a club entrance and a window to show a private home.  Kent Buess’ lights really add a certain zip to the musical numbers with their use of colors and spotlights.

The only disappointment of the show is that the bully never gets the comeuppance he deserves.  There were also some sound difficulties in Act I when microphones seemed to go dead at various points.  Still, that did little to stop the momentum of this show which is truly fun and has more than a bit of heart.  So pardon me for being a little corny, if you gotta cut loose, go see Footloose.

Footloose plays at Great Plains Theatre through June 12.  Showtimes are 2pm on Wed, Sat, and Sun and 7:30pm Thurs-Sat. Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at www.greatplainstheatre.com.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

Professional Auditions for Great Plains Theatre

Great Plains Theatre Announces Audtions for Season 28: Season of Possibilities

Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, will be holding in person auditions as well as accepting video submissions. All shows listed below will be cast by February 2022. Please see the audition details below.

IN PERSON AUDITION

Where: Great Plains Theatre – 215 N. Campbell St, Abilene, KS 67410

When: Saturday, December 11, 2021 – Registration @ 8:00am – Auditions begin @ 8:30am

What: Please prepare one 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you as well as a 60 second monologue. You may be asked to sing something else from your repertoire. A group dance call will be held at 11:00am. Any needed callbacks will be discussed at 11:45am or conducted virtually. Please bring one copy of a current head shot and resume for the Artistic Director to keep. Must sign up below to audition.

Sign up for In Person Audition at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0d4fabae23a3face9-gptseason

VIRTUAL AUDITION SUBMISSIONS

Where: All audition submissions must be sent to the Artistic Director at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

When: Audition Submissions must be received by January 28, 2022 for consideration. All callbacks will be virtual and sent/received between January 31 and February 28.

What: Please submit a current head shot and updated resume. In addition, please send one 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you, a 60-second monologue, and any dance footage. All videos MUST be submitted as a viewable YOUTUBE link. You may be asked to sing something else from your repertoire. You may also submit any musical theatre reels for considerations. 

Thank you and happy auditioning!

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Main Stage):

Footloose (Rehearsals: May 23-June 2, Performances: June 3-12)

Matilda the Musical (Rehearsals: June 13-23, Performances: June 24-July 3)

Jersey Boys (Rehearsals: July 4-14, Performances: July 15-31)

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Rehearsals: August 29-September 8, Performances: September 9-25)

The Christmas Schooner (Rehearsals: November 20-December 1, Performance: December 2-18)

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Live Literature Series):

The Ugly Duckling (Rehearsals: February 23-March 4, Performances: March 5-12)

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Rehearsals: August 29-September 8, Performances: September 9-25)

Questions? Contact Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

Great Plains Theatre Announces Season 28: Season of Possibilities

Abilene, KS–Great Plains Theatre has announced its 28th season. Dubbed Season of Possibilities, the season will consist of the following productions starting in the summer of 2022:


Footloose
June 3-12

Kick off your Sunday shoes with this classic movie turned musical about inspiring a town through the importance of love and dance while witnessing the powers of wisdom and forgiveness. Gotta cut loose!

Matilda: The Musical
June 24-July 3

Follow the classic Roald Dahl story of an astonishingly witty girl with special powers that teaches us to use our extraordinary imaginations to change our destiny. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!

Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
July 15-31

Join us for the international musical phenomenon that takes you behind the story and music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Come be a part of the challenges, the rise, and the ultimate triumph a group’s music that became symbolic of a generation. Oh, what a night!

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
Sept 9-25

The classic literary character of Sherlock Holmes is teamed up once again with John Watson and over 40 other characters to solve a kooky and educational whodunnit. “Elementary, my dear Watson, Elementary.”

The Christmas Schooner
Dec 2-18

This Holiday treat will have you leaving the theatre with warm fuzzies about a story of the Great Lakes voyages of Christmas Tree ships and a family’s positive spirit to share the power of classic inspiration and Christmas miracles. The heartbeat of life is in our stories and our songs!

Season Tickets are on sale now! Early Bird Season Tickets are only $150. This is $10 off per ticket in savings! You can buy your season tickets online or by calling the office. Individual Main Stage tickets will go on sale Monday, January 31. Season Tickets and more information are available at www.greatplainstheatre.com or (785) 263 – 4574.

The Barn Players Announces 67th Season

The Barn Players‘ 67th year…in a new venue…

The Black Box Theatre at Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center

SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD
February 17 – 20
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Rated: PG-13
Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday @7:30pm
Saturday & Sunday @2pm

PUTTING IT TOGETHER
May 12 – 15
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Stephen Sondheim & Julia McKenzie
Rated: PG-13
Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday @7:30pm
Saturday & Sunday @2pm
DIRECTED BY ERIC MAGNUS
MUSICAL DIRECTION BY MICHELLE ALLEN McINTIRE

FIRST DATE
August 19 – 28
Music and Lyrics by Michael Weiner & Alan Zachary
Book by Austin Winsberg
Rated: R
Performances: Week 1 / Friday, Saturday, Monday @7:30pm – Sunday @2pm
Week 2 / Thursday, Friday, Saturday @7:30pm – Sunday @2pm

NEXT TO NORMAL
October 21 – 30
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics and Book by Brian Yorkey
Rated: PG-13
Performances: Week 1 / Friday, Saturday, Monday @7:30pm – Sunday @2pm
Week 2 / Thursday, Friday, Saturday @7:30pm – Sunday @2pm

2022 6×10 PLAY FESTIVAL
November 18 – 20
Produced by Lynn Reddick
Performances: Friday & Saturday @7:30pm / Sunday @2pm

PLUS…THE BARNEY AWARDS January 22nd
Our volunteer appreciation night returns at The Arts & Heritage Center

DISNEY’S FROZEN, JR.
July 29 – 31
A Barn Junior Camp Production for grades 6-12!
Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
Book by Jennifer Lee
Based on the Disney film written by Jennifer Lee and directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Rated: G
Camp Dates: July 11 – 15, 18 – 22, 25 – 28
Performances: Friday & Saturday @7:30pm / Sunday @2pm@ Bishop Miege High School

That Beloved Blockhead

It’s a day in the lives of the Peanuts gang.  Join them in their adventures of life in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

This show is what theatre is all about.  After viewing this production, I think it should be the first show any performer should undertake because it offers actors the opportunity to completely embrace their inner child and just get into the simple enjoyment of pretending and that is the place from which great acting arises.  And, believe me, this ensemble cast understands that and blasts the ball right out of the park with a merry, fun filled production suitable for the entire family.

Clark Goeser’s script does a remarkable job capturing the spirit of the original comic strip.  Astonishingly, this show holds together despite the fact that there is no singular plot.  It’s like watching a series of comics come to life before your eyes.  In fact, some of the interstitials and scenes were pulled straight from the newspaper.  And, yet, it all flows so naturally and truly feels like just another day in the neighborhood.

Goeser’s songs are also a great deal of fun, sometimes incredibly sad and sweet and the additional dialogue of Michael Mayer and songs of Andrew Lippa seamlessly merge into Goeser’s original story.

Directors Mitchell Aiello and Melissa Ford effortlessly bring this production to life.  It’s clear they understand the spirits of Charles Schulz’s characters and bring them to colorful and vibrant life.  They nail the beats of each individual scene and use the power of imagination (the show has very little staging) to pull the audience into the world of the Peanuts gang.  They’ve also guided their performers to pitch perfect depictions of Schulz’s iconic characters making them all instantly believable and recognizable.

Some of the terrific performances you’ll see in this production come from Emi Fishman who is a delight as Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally.  Fishman truly shines as the obnoxious younger sister as she wrestles with stupid jump ropes and develops new philosophies to shift blame away from her poor work in school.  Ben Jaeger is also right on the money with his take on Schroeder.  Jaeger’s Schroeder has that slightly snooty attitude needed for the Beethoven loving piano player.  His bare tolerance for Lucy’s constant presence at his piano is spot on and he is quite the athletic dancer with his backflips in “Beethoven Day”.  Nolan Hall brings a cute charm as Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock.

Matthew Cox brings real intelligence and wisdom to the role of Linus.  Cox’s Linus has that even keeled nature one would expect from the gang’s resident philosopher and would especially be required of the younger brother of the combustible Lucy.  Cox’s Linus does have a tendency to be too smart for his own good as demonstrated by his doctoral level psychological analysis of the characters of Peter Rabbit, but I especially enjoyed his dependency on his blanket and the little things he did with it.  He didn’t simply drag it around.  He wore it, cuddled it, and even had an impressive tap routine with it in “My Blanket and Me”.

Given how much I disliked the character growing up, I’m amazed at what I’m about to say next.  Erica Lee Bigelow made Lucy my favorite character in this show.  Her commitment to the role is staggering and she perfectly captures the bullying, crabby, bellicose, arrogant, self-centered, selfish, overbearing nature of the neighborhood fussbudget.  Whether she’s doling out questionable advice to Charlie Brown, dreaming of being a queen, or simply pushing around her younger brother, Bigelow is just a scream as the resident brat of the group.

Mitchell Aiello is a hoot as Snoopy.  Aiello perfectly captures Snoopy’s free spirited nature as he truly marches to his own beat.  With Snoopy it’s hard to tell who’s the master and who’s the pet with his refusal to do traditional dog things like fetching and chasing rabbits (though he acquiesces on the latter to get Sally to stop bugging him) and harbors a certain disdain combined with a fierce loyalty to his beloved round-headed kid.  Highlights of Aiello’s performance were his interpretation of Snoopy gleefully escaping into his imagination to battle the Red Baron as the World War I Flying Ace and his showstopping performance in “Suppertime” as Snoopy’s well known mealtime dance morphs into a Broadway dance production.

Ultimately, the show needs to be anchored by its central character and Billy Eric Robinson is the Charlie Brown required for this show.  Robinson ably shows Charlie’s doubts, fears, and insecurities.  But he also shows his decency, his purity of heart, and his perseverance.  While Charlie never notices his more positive traits, it’s those traits that his friends admire most about him.  They may often chide him for his foibles, but they also gladly tell him that he is truly a good man.

Susie Jolink’s musical direction is a pristine piece of precision and having her onstage playing the piano for the musical pieces was an inspired bit of creativity.  Becky Dibben’s costumes look like they were taken right out of the comic strip with bright colors that just pop and match the clothing of the characters’ comic strip counterparts.  Jim Wohler Restorations provides a set that appears simple, but may be a bit more complex than this show typically gets.  Restorations sucks the viewer into the world of the show with the pillars of comic strips, the top of Snoopy’s doghouse, and Lucy’s psychiatric booth.  Mitchell Aiello’s lights also had that needed X factor with the lonely spotlight of Charlie’s sadder and more contemplative moments and the pizzazz of the flashing lights for the equally flashy “Suppertime”.

Great Plains Theatre has conjured a real gem with this production and you should get a ticket to enjoy it.  Bring the family.  Bring your friends.  Revel in your childhood once again and experience theatre in its purest and fullest sense.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs at Great Plains Theatre through August 22. Showtimes are Wed, Sat-Sun at 2pm and Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at www.greatplainstheatre.com.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

The Con Man’s Band

Con artist Harold Hill decides to fleece the citizens of River City, IA by selling them on the promise (and equipment) of a boys band and then split with the cash.  However, his shenanigans actually begin to spark a bit of life into the staid town and the local librarian/music teacher sparks something in the heart of The Music Man currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

Meredith Wilson’s story is considered one of the finest musicals ever made and for good reason.  It’s funny, sweet, and serious.  It also teaches valuable lessons about the importance of family, the folly of narrow-mindedness, and the transformative power of love.  In fact, the script’s only weakness is its incredibly abrupt ending.  That being said, this show does have a little something for everyone.  Memorable tunes.  Unforgettable characters.  And some lengthy dance numbers.

Mitchell Aiello provides a worthy piece of direction for the production as well an exemplary piece of choreography.  As director, Aiello demonstrates a strong understanding of the characters and their motivations as he knows what moments to emphasize to maximize the humor or the emotion.  He has also guided his troupe to solid performances and has well shaped the quirky personalities of the characters.

But Aiello truly shines as choreographer as he has assembled some impressive, larger than life dance numbers that utilize the entire theatre.  Some notable moments were the opening “Rock Island” where the actors perfectly emulated the jostling of a train, the theatrical “Seventy-Six Trombones”, and the energetic “Shipoopi”

This particular musical depends on its chorus and featured players more than any others as the two leads are the only fully developed characters and this group comes through in the clutch.  Some truly wonderful performances are supplied by the barbershop quartet of Bear Manescalchi, Brayden Krikke, Billy Eric Robinson, and Joshua Steckelberg who will entertain you with “Lida Rose”, “Sincere”, and “Goodnight”; Kendra Campbell as Eulalie Shin, the mayor’s wife and town’s cultural bastion who also happens to be a raspy voiced, talentless hack; and Susie Jolink as the steadfast matriarch of the Paroo family. 

But I’d like to give special notice to Margaret Campbell and Jacobi Robinson for their performances.  Campbell skillfully vacillates between being an obnoxious brat and a sweetheart as Amaryllis.  Though he has no lines, Robinson gives a master class in how to be present in a scene and he has an absolutely flawless sense of rhythm as his dancing is so precise and on target.

Corbin Eakes is a blast to watch as Marcellus.  His animation could power a city and he milks the role for everything it’s worth.  He is so delightfully high strung as he helps his old partner in his schemes and he throws himself into his dance routines, especially in “Shipoopi” and “The Sadder but Wiser Girl”.

Rachel Weinfeld is a darling Marian.  She perfectly captures Marian’s aloof, somewhat condescending nature at the start of the show complete with the ramrod posture of a very proper librarian.  As she slowly opens up to the world, her body language becomes more fluid and graceful as Hill helps her gain a new lease of life.  And her soprano is heavenly.  She provided some of my favorite musical moments with her soaring and sustained final note in “My White Knight” and her touching take on “Till There Was You”.

Gregory Gore provides a refreshingly original take on the role of Harold Hill.  Gore adeptly underplays the character and gives him a fierce intelligence.  His Hill thinks fast on his feet and seems capable of turning the most impossible situations to his advantage.  With every victory, he gives a knowing and smug smile suggesting that he knows he’s a step faster than these bumpkins.  Gore also has that oily charm that makes his insincerity seems sincere and he makes certain to imbue his Hill with enough positive qualities so his transformation into a decent person is realistic and believable.  Gore also has a well-modulated baritone that shines in “Ya Got Trouble” and “Marian”.

Jim Wohler Restorations has constructed a terrific “less is more” set with the outlines of store fronts, houses, windows, and an excellent footbridge.  Becky Dibben’s costumes invoke memories of the early 1900s with straw hats, classic suits, and billowing dresses.  Kent Buess’ lights make one think of clear, starry nights and also enhance emotional moments with soft colors.

There were a few blips in the evening’s production.  Cue pickups could have been tighter at some points and the pacing needed to be a bit brisker at certain moments.  Some actors really needed to speak up as I lost a few bits of dialogue and there were a few instances of microphone issues.

In the end, it’s a very enjoyable night at the theatre and, to paraphrase one of the show’s songs, you really ought to give The Music Man a try.

The Music Man plays at Great Plains Theatre through July 25.  Showtimes are Wed, Sat-Sun at 2pm and Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at www.greatplainstheatre.com.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

Switzerland in America: Black Bear Manor & Ouray, CO

Black Bear Manor

Today the road has brought me to Ouray, CO.

Ouray (pronounced you-ray) is nicknamed the Switzerland of America and is a quaint, mountain village nestled in the Rocky Mountains.  I was actually led to this trip by a couple (The Jacksons) whom I met when I visited Racine, WI earlier this year.  They told me I had to visit Ouray as it contained the most beautiful B & B they had ever visited:  Black Bear Manor owned and operated by Tom and Cyndi Elliston.

The inn was actually on my list, but on the farther end as Ouray is nearly 13 hours away from Omaha.  But with the country rapidly reopening and the fact that I hadn’t had a proper vacation in nearly two years, I decided to embark on the biggest road trip I had undertaken.

This was truly a tale of two drives.  The first day of the drive was pretty flat as once you get past Lincoln, the state of Nebraska is pretty flat and sightless.  Around Kearney, the route veered off the interstate and became mostly a highway drive which broke up the monotony as I at least was able to drive through small towns.

Around noon, I found myself in the tiny town of Alma, NE and I decided I could use a lunch break to stretch my legs and stopped into KJ’s Café for a bite to eat.

It was a pretty decent little diner where I enjoyed a Special Hamburger (it’s uniquely seasoned) along with some fries while I continued working through my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  After a restful meal, it was back on the road.

The lack of scenery continued to be broken by occasional forays through small towns as I passed from Nebraska into Kansas and eventually into Colorado.

After 7.5 hours, I finally found myself at my stopping point of Limon, CO.  It’s a town of only 1,000 people yet actually has a Holiday Inn.  I was weary and truly grateful for the free upgrade to a suite as I was darn near ready to collapse after the grueling drive.

A couple hours of relaxing did rejuvenate me enough to attend an evening service at Our Lady of Victory.  Most surprising to me was that the service was at 7pm as, historically, most Catholic services tend to be held between 4 to 5:30pm on Saturdays. 

Our Lady of Victory

It was a very nice service as Father shared a great sermon about witnessing and the best way to do it was to tell people about why Jesus was my friend.  After the service I returned to the hotel where I read for a bit before finally answering the calls to the land of Nod.

The next morning, I was out the door by 8am for another long drive.  But the scenery began to change around Colorado Springs when I saw the Rockies looming in the distance.  Soon I was enjoying a picturesque drive through the mountains and forests and I just drank in the scenery as well as watching numerous rafters shoot the rapids.

Around 3pm, I finally arrived in Ouray and felt like I was transported back in time.  The town definitely has the feeling of another era with its older building designs and a Main Street where all the major businesses are located.  And everything is within walking distance.

Soon I found myself at Black Bear Manor which is one of the most interestingly constructed houses I had seen and I suspect the building had been a traditional hotel once upon a time.  Before I could dial the inn’s number, Tom opened the door, introduced me to Cyndi, and gave me the nickel tour of the inn before leading me to lucky number 7, Cliffside King.

The room is small, yet comfortable, with a soft king-sized bed and a private balcony which has a view of the Rockies.  I got settled in, wandered about the inn, and then took a walk through town.

Ouray has a semi-boxed in feeling as it’s surrounded by mountains on all sides and only has two ways in and out.  One from the north and one from the south.  The southern entrance/exit is actually the start of the Million Dollar Highway.  This highway is a 20ish mile stretch of road considered the most beautiful drive in America.  The flip side is that it’s also considered one of the most dangerous with its narrow roads, hairpin turns, and lack of guardrails.  The speed limit never exceeds 25 mph on this road that connects Ouray with Silverton.

Million Dollar Highway

I had a relaxing walk through town (though it is very steep) and stopped in at Ray’s Jerky where I bought some jalapeno jerky for my hikes the next day and snacked on an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae complete with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry at The Yankee Girl Café & Sweets before going back to the inn.

I decompressed for a bit before heading out to dinner at the Ouray Brewery.  Only rooftop dining is currently available, but it was a cool evening and I supped on a Green Chile Cheeseburger while sipping on a Box Canyon Brown (most beer in Ouray is brewed locally or regionally) which was quite flavorful and tasted closer to a black beer without the bitterness.  After a satisfying meal, I returned to the inn and spent some time in the hot tub where the churning water massaged and soothed aching muscles.  I then went back to my room where I forced myself to stay up late to compel my body to adapt to Mountain Time.

Ouray Brewery

The plan worked as I woke up at 6am.  I then lazed about watching some TV and catching up on the news.  At 9am I headed down to breakfast.

Black Bear Manor is unique in that it offers two breakfasts.  At 7am a continental breakfast is laid out and then a hot meal is served at 9am.

The hot breakfast is served buffet style so you can have as much or as little as you please.  The place was packed as the inn was actually sold out (the first I’ve experienced since starting this project back in 2013).  I filled my plate with a smidge of everything so I was able to enjoy a taste of French Toast Souffle, ham, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and fruit.  It was such a nice day that I ate outside and enjoyed some conversation before heading off to commune with nature.

A little breakfast buffet

I began my day at Cascade Falls Park and I certainly got my exercise in.  It’s not an extremely difficult trek, but it is steep and one has to take the much higher altitude into consideration so be sure to pace yourself.  Interestingly enough, the trek actually starts at the waterfall and it is an awesome sight, not to mention a quite refreshing one as cool air buffets you from the thundering falls.  I spent nearly two hours hiking around and keeping my strength up with water and jerky.

When I was through with Cascade Falls, I made my way over to Box Canyon Park which included a brief, and I do mean brief, drive on the Million Dollar Highway.  Box Canyon contains two treks.  An easy 500 foot walk to Box Canyon Falls and a difficult trek up to a high bridge overlooking the falls.  With the sun beating down on my head and my protein supply depleted, not to mention the few hours I had just done, I decided to simply visit the falls. 

The roar of the falls in deafening and one wouldn’t even be able to have a shouted conversation.  As I gazed upon this force of nature, I suddenly realized how the battle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty would have played out in reality.

Box Canyon Falls

I then returned to Black Bear Manor where I organized photos and caught a small nap.  Around 4pm, I took a walk down to Ouray Hot Springs and back and partook of Black Bear Manor’s happy hour where I enjoyed some regionally brewed beer.

About 6pm, I headed over to an Ouray institution, The Outlaw, for dinner.  The restaurant has a rustic feel, but is actually a fine dining establishment.  I entered the restaurant and smiled as I listened to the piano player deal up a bevy of standards and movie tunes.  I was led to a table at the back where I ordered a New York Strip with garlic mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.  I had a side salad added on and the meal came with a small loaf of freshly baked garlic bread.

The Outlaw

In fairness I didn’t think the salad merited the extra $5, but that was countered by the steak which was tender and delicious and seemed a bit bigger than the 10 oz advertised on the menu.  The potatoes were fluffy and light and the vegetables were nice and crisp.

From there it was back to the inn for another session with the hot tub and a quiet, peaceful evening.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a breakfast casserole, personal quiches, bacon, eggs, and fruit.  I had another round of great conversation with fellow guests before embarking on my day.

As the previous day had been quite active, I decided today would be a relaxing day.  So I decided to visit The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings.  This is a very unassuming hotel, but hides the incredible vapor baths below.

For $25 per two hours, day guests can enjoy a soaking session in the famed caves.  The mineral water that comes from the springs is a constant 104-108 degrees and is not recirculated.  The water is completely chemical free and is known for its restorative and therapeutic properties.  The cave acts as a natural sauna so you’ll really sweat out the impurities.  Sections of the cave also drip much cooler water which helps to cool down the body after a session in the springs.

From there I returned to Cascade Falls where I just admired the waterfall while engaging in a conversation with my best friend.  Afterwards, I headed down to the riverbank by Black Bear Manor where I pondered life for a little while.

In hindsight, I think I made the day too relaxing.  By mid-afternoon, I was itching for another activity, but some nearby museums had not yet reopened and the local historical museum was about ready to close.  Should I ever find myself this way again, I’ll be sure to visit them as well as schedule a jeep tour, another local highlight.

Instead I took a little walk and then enjoyed the happy hour where Tom serenaded the guests with some solo guitar work and songs.  He even takes requests and I joined him for some two man harmony on Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”.

Tom performs for his guests during happy hour.

Then I made my way to The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar.  This completely outdoor restaurant provides a comfortable eating experience under the sun and I enjoyed a Philly Steak for the evening repast before returning to Black Bear Manor for a bit of writing and photo organizing.

The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar

What a way to close the trip! Today I had what is easily one of the best breakfasts I’ve enjoyed since starting this project. This morning I enjoyed Chile Relleno Casserole, breakfast enchilada (with some red and green salsa), country potatoes, and a cinnamon roll that just melted in my mouth. Braced for the long trip, I wrapped up this article and said my good-byes.

If you ever find yourself in Ouray, rest assured you’ll find plenty to do. It’s a popular tourist site with activities for all seasons (famed for ice climbing and skiing in the winter). And if you want some real hospitality, make sure to visit Black Bear Manor. Tom and Cyndi will treat you right and you’ll enjoy comfortable rooms and food that will knock your socks off.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Scottish Midwest: Woodstock Inn

Woodstock Inn

Today the road has brought me to Independence, MO.

For the first time ever, I have returned to a city to review a different inn.  A few years ago, I was in the KC area to review The Crucible for the Barn Players and reviewed Silver Heart Inn while I was in the area and you can read that article here.  Today I was back to review Woodstock Inn owned by Kim Morgan.

The inn holds quite a bit of history as it was originally the home of Morris Short and his family in the 1890s.  Within one hundred yards of the inn, one can find a historical marker designating a Confederate line.  So part of the Civil War was fought almost literally at the doorstep of the inn. 

The inn’s most famous resident was Ruby McKim, the daughter of Morris & Viola Short who was famed quilter who turned the home into McKim Studios which later evolved into Kimport’s Dolls.  In the 1980s, the inn was repurposed into a B & B with each room themed to a different country and changed hands several times before Kim Morgan took over ownership.

I had arranged to arrive at 1pm and was greeted at the door by the innkeeper, Debbie Gardner, who led me to the Scottish King Room.  Inside the room one finds hallmarks of bonnie Scotland including a painting of a Scottie, a pair of bagpipes hanging on the wall and a flat cap akin to the style favored in Scotland also adorns a wall with a cane.

The room is quite large and its sky blue walls and thick off-white carpeting instantly began stoking relaxation.  A gas fireplace is present on the far wall while the king bed sits in the centerish of the room.

Normally, I would have used the additional time to visit sites of interest, but due to a combination of the off-season, renovations and COVID I found that the museums and historic homes were closed.  However, I did enjoy a lengthy walk through the historic neighborhood and spent a bit of time admiring the architecture of the headquarters of Community of Christ.

After my walk I returned to the inn where I caught an online church service before heading out for a bit of dinner at A Little BBQ Joint

The sign is very truthful as it is a little BBQ joint.  And with social distancing protocols, it’s even littler.  But it serves a good meal as I enjoyed a bowl of thick Brisket Chili loaded with plenty of vegetables. 

With dinner digesting, I went back to the inn.  Woodstock Inn has a small commons area which also serves as the dining area.  A large, cozy fireplace is the centerpiece of the room and off to the side is a small area where one can find baked goods in the afternoon and a movie library.

I caught up on a couple of TV shows before calling it an early night.  Such a wonderful sleep.  The heavy blankets combined with what felt like a memory foam mattress put my lights out good and proper and I dreamily remember barely waking up once before turning over to sleep on my stomach.

Thanks to a rejuvenating sleep, I awoke energized and ready for breakfast where I enjoyed a Crème Brule French Toast with yogurt topped with fruit and granola, a lemon/cranberry (I think) muffin and a thin slice of ham.

Creme Brule French Toast, lemon/cranberry muffin, ham and yogurt with fruit and granola

With breakfast tucked away, I headed back to Omaha and reality.

Woodstock Inn is a comfortable inn suitable for a romantic night with your loved one and is just a hop, skip and jump from shopping, restaurants, Community of Christ headquarters and a bit of history and is worthy of a visit.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.