Kansas City Theater Review: “The Bodyguard – The Musical”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
August 8, 2017

Bang! The sound of a gunshot fills the theater while, behind the curtain, a voice cautions, “You know what I do!” Whether the other person does or doesn’t is irrelevant. With another shot, he is dead.

The above transpires in the first few minutes of “The Bodyguard: The Musical.” Based on the popular Lawrence Kasdan film, which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, the show is hoping to recreate it’s huge London success on a tour of the states.

To those familiar with the film, you know that the story involves pop superstar and budding film star Rachel Marron (an outstanding Deborah Cox) and her hate/hate more relationship with Secret Service agent turned personal bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), who has been hired by Rachel’s manager to look after the singer after a series of threatening notes are found. Frank is a no-nonsense kind of guy and this rubs Rachel the wrong way. Not only is she worried about her privacy but that of her young son, Fletcher. As the show progresses we are treated to some nice choreography and some amazing Whitney Houston songs. In fact, this show is so full of Houston’s hits that it should have been called “WHITNEY! – The Musical.”

The show’s plot consists of every way possible to introduce another classic Whitney Houston to the audience. The songs are classics, but the plot is a dud. It didn’t really work as a film but translated to the stage, especially in musical form, is a gamble that doesn’t quite pay off. On the plus side, both leads are committed to their roles and Ms. Cox’s voice is loud and clear. The choreography is top notch and the direction keeps the show moving. If you’re a fan of the film you may want to skip “The Bodyguard.” If you’re into the music of Whitney Houston, then by all means take it in.

Kansas City Theater Review: “An American in Paris”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 11, 2017

It’s one of the most beloved film musicals of all time, winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was often referred to by its star, the great Gene Kelly, as his favorite of his films. I’m talking, of course, about 1951’s “An American in Paris,” which introduced a new generation to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Paris. World War II has just ended and American G.I. Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an aspiring painter, has decided to stay in the City of Lights in hopes of gaining new inspirations to put brush to canvas. He meets fellow soldier Adam (Etai Benson), who delivers the story to the audience. He also meets Henri (Nick Spangler), an aspiring performer. The three men are anxious to remove all memories of the war and begin whatever great adventure life has planned for them. Things go well until they meet the beautiful Lise (Sara Esty), a young ballet dancer. While Adam’s relationship with LIse is professional, both Jerry and Henri fall in love with her, with complications aplenty.

First off my sincere thanks for the marvelous performance turned in by the entire cast on a night where, as the curtain rose, the temperature was near 90 degrees. Thankfully there was a nice breeze all night because the night went by swiftly. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has embraced the ballet aspect of the story, with much of the on-stage movement based on that form of dance. The graceful movements of those involved were perfect accompaniments with the musical score. No wonder Mr. Wheeldon was nominated for the Tony Award for both his directing and choreography, winning the award for the latter.

The four leads were in fine voice, breathing fresh life into such well known standards as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love” and “‘S Wonderful.” The costumes were bright and colorful and the set design, though a little dark, evoked Paris in the late 1940’s.

Again, the video screens were a little distracting but I will give Starlight credit for using mostly wide-shots of the stage (“Mamma Mia” utilized a lot of close-ups, meaning those watching on the screens were missing a lot of the dancing), giving the audience a complete view of the award-winning choreography.

Theater Review: “Jersey Boys” – Kansas City

Jersey Boys
Starlight Theatre, Kansas City MO
June 27, 2017

Review By: J.R. Deeter

If you are of a certain age, you certainly know the musical history of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. From the early 1960’s with breakthrough hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” the hits just kept coming…..few bands consistently gave their fans hit after hit on the Billboard Pop Chart.

What most people may not have known, and do not realize, is the story of how four boys from Jersey came together, from lowly beginnings and backgrounds while dealing with constant band name changes (they finally settled on The Four Seasons, borrowed from a local bowling alley) to struggle and then soar to the highest levels of success, before falling completely apart. One member removed, one member walked away, with two left to try again….and succeed again. It really is a great American rags to riches story and two and a half hours of pure entertainment.

Starlight Theater is a beautiful outdoor venue in Kansas City and the theater can be a very enjoyable experience, when the weather is nice. For our performance it was “Oh What A Night”!

The cast did a fantastic job, both musically and in portraying their respective roles, picking up after what seemed like a few stumbled moments during the opening scenes. Aaron De Jesus shines as Frankie Castelluccio, soon to become Frankie Valli, with an “i”. His voice was the best part of the show by far leading and hitting the high falsetto notes Valli is most famous for.

Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, Keith Hines as Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio were also very entertaining, as each member gets to tell his version of the story. As the show moves through the hit songs and the personal experiences of the guys, you can get a feel for what it was like for them, although I do think there is just enough embellishment for entertainment value. The supporting cast held their own, the female members handling many different roles and pulling it off easily. The Jersey Boys Orchestra was top notch and the music was fresh and crisp.

Note to Starlight: While I can appreciate the offer of the large screens installed this season about mid level up on the left and right side of the stage for the benefit of the folks in the back, I did find myself drawn to keep looking away from the performance on the stage. I feel it is more appropriate for a concert event….let’s keep theater events theater.

Theatre Review “Finding Neverland” @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts – Orlando, FL

Finding Neverland
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Orlando, FL
June 6th, 2017

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Finding Neverland is a story about how author and playwright J.M. Barrie overcame creative struggles when four children and their widowed mother came into his life one day in Kensington Park in London, just after the turn of the century in the early 1900’s. Jack, George, Michael, Peter, and their mother Sylvia Llewelyn Davies broke Barrie out of a creative “slump” he was in by helping him to rediscover his inner child, reminding him that sometimes you shouldn’t take life too seriously and should just have some fun.

Barrie draws his inspiration primarily through Peter, who lost his playfulness and imagination following the passing of his father. Although Jack, George, Michael and their mother tried to maintain positivity following their loss, Peter just wasn’t the same. He had seemed to “grow up” too soon. But when Barrie and the Davies’ all met that fateful day in Kensington Gardens, Barrie couldn’t help but feel like he had to somehow restore Peter to the child he was before his father’s passing. In the process of doing so, Barrie ultimately found the child that had been suppressed within himself for far too long. As a result of Barrie finding that child buried deep inside, he remembered Neverland – an imaginary place he had fashioned in his mind when he was a young boy. That imaginary place, combined with inspiration Barrie drew from his various adventures with the Davies family, is what drove Barrie to give life to the story of Peter Pan as we now know it.

Neverland itself can be summed up as a beautiful story… about how we came to know another beautiful story. There’s laughter, joy, a little bit of sadness, and a whole lot of fun. But Neverland, in its Broadway play format – now traveling North America – is truly a masterpiece of the stage. It’s not just the story that made it such an enjoyable experience – but also the fantastic cast that brings the story to life in front of a live audience.

For just a few short hours, I hung on every line and every lyric of the dialogue and song that projected towards me from the stage. I couldn’t wait for the next witty line, silly joke – or even sad twist in an overall whimsical and upbeat storyline. The four young actors that played the Davies children were wonderful. Rory Donovan, who plays the roles of both Charles Frohman, the man who backed Barrie’s plays, as well as Captain James Hook – was fantastic. His Hook was intimidating yet hilarious at the same time. The entire cast worked so well together, was so polished and really seemed like they were having the time of their lives up on the stage.

Throughout the play I didn’t look at my watch, check my phone, or even have a single thought about anything else in the world outside of that theatre – not even once. When the play broke for intermission I was annoyed; I didn’t want the fun to stop. When it finally ended, I wanted it to start from the beginning all over again. If you have a chance to catch this play while it’s on tour do yourself a favor, and anyone else who you might consider bringing along, and go buy some tickets right now. I promise you that you’ll have a blast, and for at least a few short hours you’ll forget about everything else in the world and do nothing by laugh and smile. And we could all use more of that in our lives.

Theater Review: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” – Kansas City, MO

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
June 3, 2017

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Under the Sea. That is where the new production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” which made it’s debut performance this past Saturday – the show will be leaving KC to embark on an 18-city tour – intends to take theatre-goers. And it largely delivers on that promise, though not without a few questions.

If you are familiar with the animated film, and judging from a full-house which was easily 60% children, you know the story concerns young mermaid Ariel, the youngest daughter of Triton, falling in love with the very human Eric. Also along are the evil Ursula, the over-protective Sebastian and the goofy best pal Flounder. Young love, evil squids and great songs usually make for a fun night at the theater. However, there were a few things that distracted not only me during the performance but, if the fidgety children all around me were any indication, others as well. The problem with going to a show based on something familiar (book, movie, etc) is that any changes – and there are several plot/character changes here) or, in the case of a musical, new songs, have a tendency to throw viewers off, especially the little ones. If you’re hoping to see Max the dog or are hoping to see a cool shark chase on stage, you may be a little disappointed.

The production was directed by Glenn Casale, who also directed the original Broadway production. It is full of bright lights, bubbly performances and (mostly) familiar songs. Yet it didn’t really hold my full attention. I attribute this, in part, to the fact that this year Starlight has decided to utilize it’s large video screens above the stage, usually reserved for concerts, to “broadcast” the show to the audience. Meant to give the people in the rear of the theater a better, close-up view of the action on stage, if you are in the plaza seat area, watching the stage, you can’t help but have your attention drawn to the flickering images above the stage, which totally draws you out of the show. Also, for the first time in my years of attending shows here, the performance didn’t start on time. It was almost 8:30 before the curtain went up on the scheduled 8:00 show. Which means that the fidgety children were extra fidgety by the time it started. I do understand that this was, literally, the first show of this tour and that there may have been technical issues that needed to be worked out. A quick announcement to the audience would have been nice, especially with a show that runs almost two and a half hours.

Now on to the good stuff. The cast was first rate, with Diana Huey bright and energetic as Ariel. Eric Kunze was in fine voice as Prince Eric while Melvin Abston was truly the crowd favorite as Sebastian the Crab. Connor Russell earned some laughs as Flounder while Jennifer Allen oozed evil while belting out “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as Ursula. The production design was well conceived, and a scene where the creatures of the deep, including some impressive jelly fish, go by was a treat for the eyes. The one question I had, and maybe it’s because I’m an adult, was why, when everyone is in the water, why is Ariel the only one that has to move around CONSTANTLY while Flounder and other creatures just get to stay in place? Poor Ms. Huey’s arms must be dead tired after a show!

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” runs in Kansas City through Sunday, June 11. For tickets head here.

Stage Review: “42nd Street” – Kansas City

“42nd Street”
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, MO
May 2, 2017

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

In the summer of 1981, Uncle Sam decided to send me to Germany. I used a couple days before I left to visit New York City. I got there on a Sunday night and was amazed that, at three in the morning, I could get Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had planned on seeing “The Elephant Man” but sadly learned that it had actually closed the night I hit town. Wanting to say I had seen a Broadway show I remembered an article I had read on the plane about a show called “42nd Street.” I wasn’t intrigued by the plot, which is basically the story of a Broadway musical inside an actual Broadway musical, but by the story of how the show itself was a bit of theatrical folklore. It seems that the show’s director/choreographer, Gower Champion, had actually passed away just before the curtain went up on opening night. While the audience is giving the cast a rousing and much deserved standing ovation, the show’s producer comes out on stage and breaks the news. Now THAT’S theater.

“42nd Street” tells the story of director Julian Marsh (Matthew J. Taylor) preparing for his next Broadway hit. He is surrounded by many fresh-faced youngsters who want to get their big break alongside his “star,” Dorothy Brock (Kara Gibson Slocum). Also along to audition is Miss Peggy Sawyer (Clara Cox), a young lady from Allentown, Pennsylvania with stars in her eyes. Peggy is clearly talented but her exuberance becomes a pain in the rear for Brock. An accident with Brock leads to Peggy being fired. But, when Brock is injured, It’s discovered that the only way for the show to go on is to hire Peggy back. Will she go out on stage a youngster but come back as a star? What do you think?

I have many fine memories of the Broadway show, including the performances of the late and great Jerry Orbach and the amazingly talented Tammy Grimes. And while those two are revered as Broadway legends, the performances of Mr. Taylor and Ms. Slocum are equally strong. The entire cast kicks back and tap dances their butts off. This is what you might call an old fashioned musical, with classic songs and some of the greatest hoofing you will ever see on stage. So take my advice and “Come and meet those dancing feet, on the avenue I’m taking you to, 42nd Street!”

Stage Review: “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” – Kansas City

“Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”
The Music Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
March 28, 2017

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

What can I tell you about Carole King that you probably don’t already know? Her 1971 album “Tapestry” has sold over 25 million copies, making it one of the most successful albums of all time. It earned four Grammy Awards, was the second highest selling album of 1971 (behind “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and spent an amazing 313 weeks on the Billboard charts, second only to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” But what was Carole King like before she became CAROLE KING?

When we meet Carole Klein (Julia Knitel) she is 16 and writing songs on the living room piano. Her mother wants her to be a teacher but she allows Carole to take her latest composition into New York City to try and sell. There she meets music publisher Don Kirshner (James Clow) who likes the song and buys it. Having skipped two grades in high school, Carole is a freshman in college and it is here that she meets Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), who dabbles in writing song lyrics. Soon the two are a couple, both personally and professionally. They compete with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil (Erika Olsen) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser). From the beginnings of rock and roll through the fabulous 60s they created some of the greatest music of all time, and “Beautiful” captures those songs perfectly.

You can have great music but if the cast is not up to snuff it doesn’t matter. If you don’t believe me, you should have been with me at a performance of “Les Miserables” where the little boy playing Gavroche was so bad that I actually applauded when he was shot. But this isn’t a problem here. Ms. Knitel is spot-on perfect as King. She plays her like the young, innocent woman she was, gradually growing more and more as her life takes various turns. Vocally she is amazing, belting out song after song with a voice that could easily hit the back row of the balcony without a microphone. Tobin and Fankhauser play Goffin and Mann with quiet vulnerabilities, especially when things do not seem to be going their way. Ms. Olsen is a firecracker on stage while James Clow does his best to keep things together, adding humor and emotion to a character many of us think we know but clearly don’t. (You can read my interview with Mr. Clow here)

Couple these performances with such classic songs as “So Far Away,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” Up on the Roof,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and over 20 more and you have a genuine toe-tapping musical that the audience can – and does – sing along to.

“Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” continues in Kansas City through April 2. For tickets go here.

Additional stops on the tour:
April 4-9 in Omaha, Nebraska
April 12-16 in Schenactady, New York
April 18-23 in Syracuse, New York
April 21-30 in Richmond, Virginia

Stage Review: “The Phantom of the Opera” – Kansas City

“The Phantom of the Opera”
The Music Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
February 10, 2017

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“The Phantom of the Opera” opened on Broadway on January 26, 1988. Almost 12,100 performances later, it is still running at the Winter Garden Theater, establishing itself as the longest running show in the history of Broadway. I’ve seen the show five times on Broadway, including two weeks after it opened and was very lucky to have seen the great Michael Crawford, who originated the title role and won nearly every award for his performance twice. A “new” version of the show is now touring the country and this week it began a limited run in Kansas City.

The story is a simple one: there’s a “ghost” in the Paris opera house who has taken an interest in the latest young singer on the bill. He gives his heart and soul towards making her the best only to be thwarted by others. But not until he’s wreaked a little havoc.

Knowing that the production had been tweaked a little I went into the show with an open mind. Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to hold a touring show to the Broadway experience. Though I needn’t have worried. The production I saw was brilliantly produced and, though I had a few quibbles with some of the changes, I was thoroughly entertained.

The cast was amazing. As the title character, Derrick Davis embodied the role. Playing an iconic role can sometimes make an actor “cheat” – and borrow from other performances. I can’t tell you how much of the character Moss I stole from Ed Harris when I did “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Here Mr. Davis makes the Phantom both frightening and sympathetic, a hard combination to pull off. And musically, he is in great voice. Joining him are the other main characters. As the Phantom’s love interest, Christine, Katie Travis was perfectly cast. Torn between her feelings for her benefactor and those for the man she loves (a strong Jordan Craig as Raoul), it is easy to see her emotional quandary. Both she and Mr. Craig have a strong chemistry on stage. As the Opera’s resident diva, Carlotta, Trista Moldovan hit all the right notes, both comedic and musical. You can read my interview with Ms. Moldovan here. The supporting cast is equally strong.

If you’ve seen the show on Broadway, or in other touring shows, here are a few things that I noticed in this “new” edition of the show. Firstly, the revealing of the Phantom’s face happens twice for some reason. The show does journey to the roof of the Opera house here and the changes did nothing to effect my enjoyment of the show. What did bother me was the opening of the 2nd act with the musical number “Masquerade.” In previous shows the cast came down a huge, sprawling staircase and, even though half of the “guests” were smartly disguised mannequins, the effect was breath-taking. Here it is a ballroom lined with mirrors that, I’m guessing were supposed to multiply in the viewers eyes the number of people. I was in the center of the theatre and it just looked like 24 people dancing. Also, the Phantom used to crash the party in a striking costume reminiscent of the Masque of the Red Death. Here he looks like a cross between Iron Man and Captain Marvel. Not as menacing as a giant red skeleton. Again, if you’ve never seen the show you won’t be disappointed by the changes but if you have you might.

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs in Kansas City through February 19. Other upcoming tour dates:

Feb. 22-March 5, Atlanta, GA
March 8-19, Little Rock, AR
March 23-April 1, West Palm Beach, FL
April 5-16, Birmingham, AL

Theatre Review: Wicked @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando FL

“Wicked” opened on Broadway in New York back in 2003 and has since com “a cultural phenomenon” according to Variety and called “the best musical of the decade” by Entertainment Weekly. “Wicked” has been performed in over 100 cities in 14 countries around the world being translated into six languages and is the winner of over 100 international major awards, including a Grammy® and three Tony® Awards. And this month it is in Orlando, FL at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts’s Walt Disney Theater from January 11 – 29, 2017.

If you have never seen or heard of “Wicked” here is a quick premise: The surprising tale of an unlikely friendship between two women in the Land of Oz, Wicked tells the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good, long before Dorothy dropped in. Elphaba, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. Glinda is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. The remarkable odyssey of how these unexpected friends changed each other’s lives for good has made Wicked one of world’s most popular musicals.

This show was simply outstanding. Simply outstanding! I grew up in New York and visit the theatre district many many many times and have seen hundreds of plays. I loved the grand scale of it all. The sets, the cast, the music! It was all so amazing to me. When I moved to Florida in 2010, I thought I wasn’t going to be  able to see that scale of amazing again in the theatre…and that was true until I found the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts’s Walt Disney Theater. These people put on shows like I have never seen. “Wicked” was so just epic and breathtaking that I feel like I have to see it twice to soak in all the magic that it was!

I am sure that Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth were amazing in their original roles on Broadway. No doubt. But these two leads in Orlando were absolutely breathtaking! Their voices really pick you up and take your through this amazing story behind “The Wizard of Oz”. The talent on this production overall is just A+. With all the shows I’ve seen I have to admit this was in no question of the best in recent year! Must see this show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts or at least during its North American tour.

Theatre Review: “The Book of Mormon”

Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

If you are a listener to our “Behind the Mikes” podcast (and if not, why aren’t you) you’ll recall that a few weeks ago we were talking about the most recent great original film musical. Not something like “Dreamgirls” or “Les Miserables,” which were translated from the Broadway stage, but a musical written just for the movies. The first one that popped into my mind was 1999’s “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” From it’s opening song to it’s grand finale’, the film tells it’s story through virtually every style of music known to man. To say that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are talented would be an understatement. 12 years later, Parker and Stone teamed up with “Avenue Q” co-composer/co-lyricist Robert Lopez and have created one of the most entertaining and inspirational shows in Broadway history. “The Book of Mormon.”

In Utah a group of young men wait patiently. They have all spent months studying to go abroad to spread the word of God through their ministry, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Or, as they are more commonly referred to, the Mormons. As each pair of boys is named they learn their destinations. Japan. Norway. France. Exotic places all. Finally, only Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs), the highest regarded person in the group, and Elder Cunningham (Chad Burris), who is pretty much the opposite of Elder Price, are left. They soon find themselves teamed up and heading for beautiful….Africa. Two years in the jungles fighting aids and poverty. Woo hoo!

There isn’t a lot you can say for a musical that contains four letter words, Darth Vader and an image of a Hell that contains both Hitler AND Johnnie Cochran except this: IT’S BRILLIANT! The songs are both clever and catchy and the cast spectacular. Even the story, which many reading this may think mocks the Mormon faith, is uplifting. That’s a trifecta that very few shows ever hit.

As Elder Price, Gibbs brings a wide-eyed youthful joy to the role. He KNOWS that Heavenly Father is on his side. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Burris was actually the understudy for the actor scheduled to play Elder Cunningham. He was both funny and touching in his performance. And, if anyone ever decides to do a bio-pic on the late Chris Farley, I would hope that Burris would get an audition. He brings the kind of energy and innocence to the role as well as Farley ever did in his film performances. Other cast standouts include Bryce Charles (another stand-in) as Nabulungi and Sterling Jarvis as Mafala. The ensemble cast was also spot on, a tribute to the kind of shows that the Broadway Across America consistently bring to Kansas City.

Of course since, according to the show, the Garden of Eden IS located in Jackson County, Missouri, maybe the show got a little nudge from Heavenly Father!

The tour continues on through August 2017. Here are a list of it’s next few destinations:

December 13 – 18, 2016 Fayetteville
December 20 – 31, 2016 Dallas
January 3 – 15, 2017 Houston
January 17 – 22, 2017 Jacksonville
January 24 – 29, 2017 Ft. Meyers
January 31 – February 5, 2017 Greenville

Paradiso Chapter 1 “NYC’s Most Interactive Escape Room”

In a New York Comic Con weekend filled with virtual reality experiences, nothing entertained my imagination more than Michael Counts’s escape room, PARADISO: CHAPTER 1. Billed as “part immersive theater, part escape room, part existential game,” Paradiso satisfies multiple action movie nerd fantasies in one pulse pounding hour.

The Paradiso experience begins, if you choose to provide your smartphone number, before you reach the venue with some ominous video messages ‘exposing’ the Virgil corporation who you are due to meet at your appointed time. Everyone in my party also received different clues to help us but to keep secret from each other.

In midtown we met up with our contact in a functioning karaoke bar to begin our experience. Ostensibly we are being welcomed into the offices of the Virgil Corporation who are on the lookout for genetically gifted escape artists. A wonderfully spacey secretary doled out forms and waivers in Virgil’s reception before the “normal” procedures were quickly overridden and the ‘real’ escape experience begins. Cue the Saw-ready voice changer demands from the heavens. Suddenly the office was revealed to be full of puzzles and my team sprang into action.

Chapter 1 features four more spaces after that reception office, each offering their own distinct look. For my money, the best room was a vintage library where we encountered a frantic handcuffed woman who upped the tension and hastily armed my teammate with a pistol. Other thrills included an air duct for us to feel extra John McClane-y and a massive bomb to be disarmed complete with digital countdown clock. The actors, handcuff lady included, make for an extra level of intrigue as they can help or hinder your progress and to this day none of my team can decide on if we allied ourselves correctly.

Teams who have diversified their skills roster get rewarded as the in-game puzzles range from visual clues to math and physical puzzles. If you’ve ever fantasized who would be in your Oceans-type heist amongst friends, that’s the crew to bring. And going into this Halloween weekend, Paradiso provides an excellent alternate to conventional horror houses by getting your heart-racing without scaring you silly. Ultimately my escape team was done in by some algebra in the final room–who knew that would come in handy?!–but we eagerly look forward to many more chapters to come.

View the Paradiso trailer below, and find ticketing information at its official website.

Theater Review: “If/Then” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
July 26th, 2016

Our review: 4 out of 5 stars

What if? That is the question many of us have asked ourselves. What if, the day we did something that changed our lives, we didn’t. Instead of walking down one street and meeting the woman of your dreams you went the other way and found no one?

That is the question poised, as well as the name of the first musical number, in the show “If/Then,” now playing at Starlight Theater through July 31st.

Our show concerns itself with Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), who has returned to New York after a failed marriage in Portland. While waiting to meet an old friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp) she meets a new one, Kate (a very funny and talented Tamyra Gray). Each want her to do something different. Each also call her by a different name. To Lucas she is Beth, hard working and dedicated. To Kate, who feels that Beth is the name of a woman living alone with her cats, she is Liz, ready to take on the world and all it has to offer. Liz/Beth also has a chance meeting with Josh, a young soldier just back from a tour of duty. As the show progresses, we often find Liz/Beth being put in a situation where, depending on which way she goes, has an immense impact on her life. What if?

Nominated for two Tony Awards when if first appeared on Broadway, “If/Then” was a perfect show to highlight the vocal talents of the great Idina Menzel. Ms. Burns is up to the challenge of stepping into Menzel’s vocal shoes here. It was nice to finally get the chance to see Anthony Rapp on stage. The only drawback is that his voice is so recognizable, thanks to a little show he did on Broadway two decades ago, that throughout most of the first act I could hear people around me, who apparently didn’t read the Playbill, that he was “the guy from RENT.” Ms. Gray, who you may remember was one of the first people to appear on “American Idol,” was also in great voice. All in all, an entertaining show.

The show continues on to Hartford, Connecticut the first week of August then moves on to Atlanta. For more information head here.

Theatre Review: “The Bridges of Madison County” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
June 14, 2016

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Theatre Review By Mike Smith

1965. In small town Winterset, Iowa, Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley) sees a stranger coming down her driveway. With her husband and children off to show their prize steer at a fair in Indiana, she is at first apprehensive about the man’s arrival. But from the moment she first meets Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a photographer for National Geographic who has lost his way, her life will never be the same.

Based on the novel by Robert James Waller, which also inspired the very popular film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, “The Bridges of Madison County” is a faithful adaptation by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Marsha Norman, opened up a little to provide for more characters and a little humor, which comes courtesy of the various neighbors who can’t help but notice the handsome stranger and his spending time with the married lady.

Winner of two Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, the show boasts some excellent songs that not only set the mood of the show but progress it along. The cast, from top to bottom is well cast. My one problem was Ms. Stanley’s accent. Francesca is supposed to be from Italy, but she is played as a combination of Meryl Streep from “Sophie’s Choice” and Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles,” where “Like” is pronounced “Lock” and “Play” sounds like “Ply.” A small squabble, to be sure, but it was something I really noticed.

As a bonus for our Kansas City readers, you yourself can visit the real Bridges of Madison county by heading north on I-35 for 2 hours. You’ll find Winterset to be a nice little town where you can go into the same restaurant used in the film and sit on the same stool that Clint Eastwood rested his butt on (I’ve done it). It’s also the hometown of John Wayne so men, while you’re lady is looking at the bridges you can visit the birthplace of the Duke! Like the show, a good time is guaranteed for all.

Theatre Review: “Matilda” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Matilda the Musical
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
May 24, 2015
Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Review by Mike Smith

As an owner of a satellite radio one of my guilty pleasures is the “On Broadway” channel. Lots of show tunes, both old and new. One of the shows whose score I’d heard, but hadn’t seen, was the story of the girl who likes to read, “Matilda.” I was happy to learn that it would be kicking off the season this year at Starlight. That being said, I wasn’t as happy when I left the theater.

Based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, “Matilda” tells the story of a young girl born to uninterested parents. Her mother (Darcy Stewart) is upset that her labor has interrupted her goal of dancing in an upcoming contest. Dad (Brandon McGibbon) is a car salesman who is so upset at having a girl he continuously refers to Matilda (a very good Lily Brooks O’Bryant) as a boy. “I’m a girl,” the young lady repeatedly reminds him. They send her off to school, but, as a young child, she is put in the worse class where all she gets for her love of reading is lectures by the school mistress, Miss Trunchbull (David Abelles). Hilarity ensues.

OK, first the good part. The songs are catchy and the young cast members are in good voice and have nailed the choreography. The bad part, especially with the parents, is that their British accents seem forced. And that’s being polite. It’s almost as if they had attended the “Dick Van Dyke School of Accents.” When he played Bert in the film “Mary Poppins,” Van Dyke’s accent was so atrocious – and yes, I know that word rhymes with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – the book’s author, P.L. Travers – refused to let Walt Disney make a sequel.

If you like watching talented children then go see “Matilda.” If not, read the book.

Theatre Review: “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

CINDERELLA
July 7, 2015
Starlight Theater, Kansas City, Missouri

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Imagine I’m telling you this in my “old man” voice: Back in my day, theater on television was a rarity. Two things that kids looked forward to were the annual presentations of Mary Martin in “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella,” starring Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. This touring production captures the magic of my early television memories.

The story is well known. Cinderella (Paige Faure) lives with her mean step-mother (Beth Glover) and two step-sisters (Kaitlyn Davidson and Aymee Garcia). While step-mom dreams up ways of marrying her daughters off and moving up in life, Cinderella toils in the house, cooking, cleaning and making the beds. A chance meeting with Prince Topher (Andy Huntington Jones) allows her to dream of a better life When the Prince invites every eligible lady in the kingdom to the ball, in the hopes of meeting his future bride, Cinderella longs to go. But she could use a little help…

Well produced and performed, this version of “Cinderella” mixes up great songs (by the legendary Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers), a strong cast and a familiar story to make it sure to entertain everyone in the audience, both young and old. The cast is in fine voice and the choreography is sharply performed. Both leads have great range and the supporting characters, especially Cinderella’s mean relatives, prove themselves fine comediennes. And the magic isn’t reserved just for the performances. Some amazing sleight of hand occurs when Cinderella obtains her ball gown. I urge you to pay attention and if you can tell me how they do it, please drop me a line. The accompanying orchestra also helped keep the show moving, helping give a familiar story a few much needed high notes.

“Cinderella” continues at Starlight through Sunday, July 12, 2015.