Reviews

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver’s First Lady, Mary Louise Lee,  is on stage performing the life and music of jazz legend Billie Holiday. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is based on one of Billie Holiday’s last performances in Philadelphia. The show includes many of Holiday’s hit songs interspersed with reminiscences of her troubled life. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (credit CBS) “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is a collaboration between the Vintage Theatre and The Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The show runs through February 18th at the Vintage Theatre. It moves to the Garner Galleria Theare on March 5th and runs on Monday nights only through April 23rd. She was a force of nature, bruised and battered by life…found freedom in her own voice. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” examines the life and music of jazz master Billie Holiday, in a way that celebrates her art without turning away from the desperation that surrounded her. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (credit CBS) We’ve become privy to the glory of her music, as well as, the self-destruction of the artist herself. Played by Mary Louise Lee with deep conviction and stunning emotion, the show becomes shocking, and breathtaking, and heart breaking all at once. The glory of Billie’s music, the depths of her pain, it’s a show that stays with you long after you leave the theater. By CBS4’s Critic-At-Large Greg Moody Original Review ...

AURORA | Billie Holiday’s place in the pantheon of jazz vocalists is unquestionable. Contemporaries like Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington possessed vocal talent that surpassed Holiday’s own limited range. But there has been nobody that has come close to the emotional power with which Holiday performed. Each note Holiday sung dripped with the pain, longing and joy that had been forged under the weight of a tortured life. Holiday died in 1959 at 44 years old, her life cut short by the alcohol and heroin addictions that destroyed her health but never her talent. There are times when listening to a recording of Holiday instills guilt, taking such joy at her performance when the tragic ending we know is waiting for the artist once the song is over. And it is in that conflict for an audience that “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” lives in, and why the show has been so successful since it premiered more than 30 years ago. “Lady Day,” which just opened for a month-long stay at the Vintage Theater, takes place just four months before Holiday’s death. Chased by the abuse of her past, including being raped at 10 and 14 and being forced into prostitution to survive, a lifetime living in a racist system that destroyed the lives of the ones she loved, and racked by addictions to alcohol and heroin, Holiday comes out on stage not only to perform but to fight back against all that has been thrown against her. Mary Louise Lee, who takes on the monumental task of bringing Holiday to life, is mesmerizing as she takes over the Vintage’s main stage. Lee’s vocal talent is second to none, but it is her transformation into Holiday that makes her performance so powerful. She’s adapted her voice to Holiday’s, mimicking Lady Day’s unique vocal phrasing and breathless sound. It is impossible to transform a voice into Holiday’s when she was at the end of her life, worn from decades of abuse. But Lee has come as close to it as possible, assisted by her performance when the music stops. There’s always a little risk in shows centered around music that puts acting int the backseat to the vocals. Luckily Lee possesses both in spades. Pianist Trent Hines, who plays Holiday’s accompanist Jimmy Powers, provides Lee with a worthy counterbalance on stage. When he’s alone, buying time for Holiday as she runs off stage, the audience is treated to a truly talented musician. There are times when the layout of the stage creates too much space between Hines and Holiday. It keeps the show from capturing the feeling of being in a cramped nightclub, forcing an intimacy onto the audience that could make Lee’s punches land even harder. The show is set to head to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Garner Galleria Theatre in March after finishing its run at Vintage. The cabaret-layout of that theater might lend an extra hand to fixing that spacing issue but Aurora shouldn’t wait for it to move to Denver. A show this good in city limits should be enjoyed as soon as possible. Lady Day: 4/5 Stars By RAMSEY SCOTT Staff Writer. Original Review ...

Theater Review: “Red,” a character study of Mark Rothko, shines at Vintage Theatre “What do you see?” asks Mark Rothko (Phil Luna), standing before a giant red canvas at the start of the play. “Let it work on you… let it embrace you,” he instructs his assistant Ken (J.W. Spina). What the famous painter wants his assistant to see in the red painting is a living, breathing, pulsating thing, a lifetime of stories, endless layers and “tragedy in every brush stroke.” In his brusque manner, the moody master berates and belittles the young man and loads him with heavy reading, Nietzsche to Freud, Schopenhauer to Yates. But teacher will ultimately learn something from student about art and artistry. What the playwright wants the audience to see in “Red” is that pulsating life and then some. If we let it work on us, the play opens us to new ways of thinking about the power of art and artists. “Red,” through Jan. 7 at Vintage, is a “thinky, talky” piece, as the Rothko character says of himself. It is not a full biography or even necessarily a factual account of a slice of the artist’s life. It is a 90-minute whirlwind complete with paint spatters. Luna, playing the middle-aged Russian Jew with an accent, drives show. He seems to engage the very cerebral piece straight from his guts. Spina, all nervous energy as the willing assistant, eventually dares to express himself as someone with artistic aspirations. He has a more limited role but shows a range, handling his agonizing standout monologue with grace. The action takes place in Rothko’s studio — a terrific set ringed with paintings in the bold abstract expressionist style. There the two debate lofty mythological influences, explore their preoccupation with death, discuss the meaning of colors and Rothko’s resentment of Pop Art, and eventually break through to emotional pain. This intense one-act by John Logan, winner of the 2010 Tony for Best Play, gets a thoughtful as well as physically impressive rendering at Vintage. Director Craig Bond keeps the show taut and the experience of creation visceral. (Theatergoers are advised that the use of real paints may be irritating to those with sensitivities to certain chemicals.) Rothko’s large, colorful paintings have long been dismissed by the clueless as something “a kindergartner could do.” The complexity and intent behind the work gets a thorough review here, as the artist explains his Color Field technique. “Think more!” he exhorts his assistant — and you can feel yourself taking heed. Rothko’s dilemma: In 1958, he was commissioned to do murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant on New York’s Park Avenue, in the Seagram’s building designed by architects Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. Rothko was appalled at himself for accepting. How could he deliver his art to be used as mere decoration in a temple of expense account dining? He later confided that he wanted the effect of his work to “ruin the appetite of (everyone) who ever eats in that room…” More character study and thinking exercise than plot-driven drama, “Red” is an intellectual exploration that ends up finding its heart. “Red”  (3 1/2 stars) BY JOANNE OSTROW. Staff Writer. Original Review ...

The sign of a good show is how long it takes you to stop thinking about it after you’ve walked out of the theater. Little Dog will be a topic of conversation the next day at breakfast and stay with you for a long time AURORA | We all want a Hollywood ending. Credits roll, love has been found, the good guys have come out on top and everyone rides off into the sunset. It’s why we see crap movies and plays. No it’s not shocking when the ingénue who visits home leaves her big city boyfriend for her childhood sweetheart. But audiences generally don’t want shock, they want schlock. The ridiculousness of the Hollywood ending is exactly why “The Little Dog Laughed” is such a wonderfully heartbreaking play. It exposes both the false veneer of Hollywood’s manufactured dreams and the facade we all put up to protect ourselves from heartbreak. And Vintage Theater’s production is a pitch-perfect interpretation of the 2007 Tony nominee for Best Play. “The Little Dog Laughed” centers around the relationship between up-and-coming actor Mitchell, forced into the closet to pursue his dream of Hollywood, and callboy Alex, a confident hustler whose bravado is both genuine and a front for someone looking for a home. Drew Hirschboeck as Mitchell and Christian Munck as Alex have chemistry for days. If these two couldn’t work together, the play would be doomed. Instead the audience is treated to two actors whose back and forth feels so real that it shows just how much work the two put into their characters. Miranda Byers plays Alex’s best friend and somewhat girlfriend Ellen. Byers has the least amount of stage time among the show’s four actors but her presence is felt even when she walks off stage. Ellen’s jaded persona is only a paper-thin disguise to hide her desire for the happy ending. Byers gives us the real Ellen in stages and doesn’t rush to tip her hand to the character’s true center. We get to see the sarcastic shield Ellen carries slowly break down and by the end, we share in her desperation to be anything but alone. Our guide through this little love story is Mitchell’s agent, Diane, played with total glee by Jacqueline Garcia. She seems to relish every line she delivers as the wickedly sharp agent who long ago gave up being true to herself in order to make it in the film industry. From her perch as someone who has survived for years by knowing how to play the game, Diane has already seen how this story is going to end. And Garcia is a true joy to watch as she tries to steer the rest of the cast to the inevitable ending. Throughout the show, playwright Douglas Carter Beane uses intersecting monologues to pull back the curtain on his characters. And director Rachel Bouchard has worked with her cast to make these continuous monologues flow smoothly throughout the show. There’s the risk of a show so filled with monologues having clunky timing as characters keep breaking the fourth wall but Bouchard and her cast have a solid handle on the show’s timing. The sign of a good show is how long it takes you to stop thinking about it after you’ve walked out of the theater. Little Dog will be a topic of conversation the next day at breakfast and stay with you for a long time. BY RAMSEY SCOTT. Staff Writer. Updated: September 21, 2017 10:20 am Original Review ...