Heritage Square Music Hall has the last laugh with Merry Christmas to All
Johnette Toye and Rory Pierce in Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good-Bye.
This is it: Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good-Bye is the last show at Heritage Square Music Hall — a strange venue that's half true Western-style building, half pure Disney-level kitsch. If you're already a fan of the 25-year-old troupe, catch this show immediately. And if you're not, you should still check out this unique slice of Colorado theater history before it vanishes.
As I've explained — oh, I don't know how many times over the past decade — the regulars at this theater are director T.J. Mullin, Rory Pierce, Alex Crawford, Johnette Toye and Annie Dwyer, with musicians Randy Johnson and Eric Weinstein. Also Scott Koop and Amie Rau, usually working offstage. The shows are both scripted and improvisational; some are a little serious, but most are just hilarious; many consist of strings of musical numbers patched together with the slimmest of plots. And there's almost always a lot of interaction with audience members — some of them repeaters who have no problem yelling out ideas, requests, even the occasional "I love you" to a specific cast member.
Merry Christmas to All has no plot, just songs the cast happens to like or feels you will. There are jokes about job-hunting and a famous guest artist who's inexplicably absent or perhaps just passed out backstage. Dwyer purports to spot this elusive quarry in the audience and — on the night I attended — pulled on to the stage a remarkably poised young woman in leather pants who cheerfully joined the company's rendition of "Jingle Bells," doing her best to copy their slick dance moves.
The actors each sang a song they'd chosen as a farewell: Crawford did his own take on Cab Calloway's "The Hi De Ho Man," Pierce contributed a tender "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and Dwyer, looking glamorous in a glittering white dress, said quietly, "All my formative years have been spent right here," before launching into Sondheim's "I'm Still Here." Mullin came up with a moving rendition of an aria from Puccini's Turandot, revealing himself as a man seriously in love with music. From there, it was on to the broad humor of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," a clutch of other comic songs, and the sweet sounds of "O, Holy Night" and "Silent Night."
Among my enduring memories of Heritage Square productions: Toye singing "Poor Wandering One," one of the most lyrical of Gilbert and Sullivan's many lyrical songs. She "makes her mouth into a dark, wide-open square from which emanates a cascade of extraordinary sound," I wrote at the time. "This woman could sing the difficult coloratura parts beautifully if she wanted to — and every now and then she does emit a tantalizingly perfect trill — but for the most part she's too busy barging around like a drunken, demented and utterly delighted-with-itself duck."
And, of course, I'll miss those ferocious forays during which Dwyer singled out an unfortunate male audience member, flirting with him mercilessly, shaping his hair into horns or braiding his beard, slagging off his female companion. Best of all were the bubble-gum shenanigans that won her a Best of Denver award: "Annie can make an inverted bubble," I wrote. "She can make an inverted bubble inside an inverted bubble. She can form her gum into a long rope and swing it out over the audience like a lasso, then command it to come back to her."
There was also Pierce, costumed as Neil Diamond, coming to the edge of the stage to take the hand of an elderly woman sitting in the front and gently singing "Baby Loves Me" directly to her.
But the best memory ever — and the one that encapsulates the magic these people weave — was of a four-year-old boy sitting next to me one evening. I was afraid he'd be bored or restless, but he was riveted throughout. At one point Nerf balls began flying through the air, and he reached for them as they flew, rearing high out of his seat, missing repeatedly. Until he connected — at which point he gasped, burbled with laughter and collapsed, exhausted, onto his mother's lap.
I'm sure these talented and generous-hearted performers will take on fascinating next acts around town. But I'm also sure we'll never see anything quite like this again.
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