By Susan Froyd
By Byron Graham
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davies
By Josiah M. Hesse
By Bree Davies
By Susan Froyd
By Kate Gibbons
Too Old to Be Loud is the sixth in Heritage Square Music Hall's Loud series, and the cast does much the same thing every time. The very thin plot line always involves an annual reunion in the Boylan High School gym. Actor-director T. J. Mullin and Annie Dwyer play sister and brother — and after so many years of working together, I sometimes think these terrific performers must feel like siblings. Dwyer eventually selects a hapless male from the audience to play her beloved Bobby Lee (she's particularly drawn to bald pates), and everyone sings a lot of songs. This year, the group seems to have given the plot and the jokes even less thought than usual. But they've put plenty of energy into the musical numbers that provide just what we've come to expect: some great rock and roll, hilarious sendups of pop stars, a number in which Mullin gets to reveal his surprisingly melodious tenor (in this case, the Beatles' "Yesterday"), and another in which Dwyer again reveals what we regulars already know: that she's a tempest, a hurricane, a tidal wave, an unstoppable force of nature.
It doesn't matter that all of this is so familiar. You look for originality and surprise in some theater venues, but not in this cozy, funky auditorium with its old wooden stage and low-budget tech. You'd no more ask for Neil LaBute or Sarah Ruhl here than demand Ferran Adria's molecular gastronomy at a barbecue shack.
Heritage Square is unlike any other dinner theater in the state — and probably the nation — because of its history, location and traditions. The area made its debut in the 1950s as Magic Mountain, a Disneyesque theme park with whimsical buildings based on Colorado architectural styles. In 1970, it was bought by the Woodmoor Corporation and reincarnated as Heritage Square; soon after that, G. William Oakley opened Heritage Square Opera House, which featured wickedly silly — yet at the same time oddly clever — melodramas that encouraged audiences to boo the villain and "ooh" at every entrance of the heroine. When current director Mullin took over in 1986, he changed the name to Heritage Square Music Hall and also shifted the focus, alternating hopped-up versions of classic stories like A Christmas Carol and The Phantom of the Opera with shows that are basically a medley of songs.
Some people in the audience have been along for the entire zany ride; others have just hopped on board. I'm always struck by how varied these audiences are — old people and young; couples; parents and kids; mountain folk and city types — and how happily relaxed. The actors address everyone as if they're old friends, and audience members in turn feel free to tease or quiz the performers. Mullin invites us all to come upstairs later, so "we can visit a while after the show." Extravagantly costumed for his riotous performance as Neil Diamond, Rory Pierce crouches to take the hand of an elderly woman in the front row and sing "Baby Loves Me" directly to her.
The musical numbers span the decades from the 1950s to the 1990s and include Mullin's brilliantly funny impersonation of Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" in a sweet-voiced vibrato that the original would surely have envied. The entire group belts out the Mamas and the Papas' "Creeque Alley," augmented by Dwyer's fat-suit-encased antics as Mama Cass. Kira Cauthorn, the newest cast member, gets livelier, funnier and more charming with every production she graces; she's teased mercilessly by the others for her youth. Alex Crawford brings his odd combination of toughness and pixie humor to the proceedings, along with a great performance as Billy Preston singing "Nothing From Nothing." These performers are so adept that they have you howling with laughter and appreciating their musicianship absolutely simultaneously.
While Too Old provides uproarious entertainment, it also carries a wistful undertone involving aging and the passing of time. At the beginning of the show, as the characters convene, they ask each other, "Where's Johnette?" — a reference to departed troupe member Johnette Toye, whose beautiful soprano was a longtime feature of these productions. Most poignantly, in a program bio, Annie Dwyer alludes to the rheumatoid arthritis that torments her.
It's a funny thing about custom and familiarity. You pretty much know what you're going to get at Heritage, and it's easy to take the warmth and enjoyment that the company provides for granted. But keeping this Colorado tradition going requires all kinds of heart and dedication. Beneath the hilarity of Too Old to Be Loud there's a ticking clock; it warns that everything changes, and nothing in this world goes on forever.
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