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Almost Heaven: Songs And Stories Of John Denver

John Denver, who joyfully hymned mountains, rainbows, sunshine and rain, never seemed to get sunburned. You wouldn't expect an evening devoted to Denver's "songs and stories" to attain high voltage, but this world preem at the Denver Center Theater Co. proves his music has not gone stale.

John Denver, who joyfully hymned mountains, rainbows, sunshine and rain, never seemed to get sunburned. You wouldn’t expect an evening devoted to Denver’s “songs and stories” to attain high voltage, but this world preem at the Denver Center Theater Co. proves his music has not gone stale.

Show, written and directed by Peter Glazer, has class and surprising substance. The snippets of Denver’s life that are shared by the members of the ensemble refrain from the mealy-mouthed. The evening increases in entertainment as it proceeds.

Show features about two dozen songs, stylishly sung and played by a splendid aggregation of musicians. The singers are judiciously balanced. David Ranson is the Denver look-and-sound-like. Bryan Scott Johnson, a lanky baritone, expresses rich experience in his singing, while Sean Jenness’ vocalizing has an abundant currency. Lisa Asher has a glow in her impassioned voice. There is also the silvery soprano of young Emily Bauer and the emotionally rich voice of Allison Briner.

The listing of the songs presented during the evening suggests Denver’s affections and his untrammeled appreciation of nature. But there are some unusual digressions, too. The boisterous “Draft Dodger Rag” catches the temper of the ’60s, while Denver smoothes over the rough edges of Woodstock with his jaunty “I Wish I Could Have Been There.” Visiting Russia, Denver went out to the vast cemetery of Russian war dead and was inspired to write “Matthew” and “Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?),” his strong anti-war song. But the wholesome Americana element does predominate, of course, typified by the exultant “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a signature Denver song, followed immediately by similar “I Guess I’d Rather Be in Colorado.”

Glazer’s production is forthright yet complex and sophisticated. A large ball filled with geometric shapes becomes a screen for surrounding projections. James Dardenne’s set, John Boesche’s projections and Dawn Chiang’s lighting combine for a suitably appealing vision. Staging keeps the adrenaline flowing between performers and audience.

The instrumental playing produces a summery glow with its irresistible blend of guitars and country fiddling. Tony Meola’s sound design enhances both the voices and the instruments to fine effect.

Almost Heaven: Songs And Stories Of John Denver

Denver Center Theater Co., Denver; 700 Seats; $38

  • Production: A Denver Center Theater Co. presentation, in association with Harold Thau, of a musical review written, adapted and directed by Peter Glazer, featuring songs by John Denver and others. Orchestrations, vocal arrangements and musical direction by Jeff Waxman.
  • Crew: Set, James Dardenne; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Dawn Chiang; sound, Tony Meola; video and projections, John Boesche; stage manager, Christopher C. Ewing. Artistic director: Donovan Marley. Opened March 28, 2002. Reviewed March 25. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.
  • Cast: <b>With:</b> Lisa Asher, Emily Bauer, Allison Briner, Sean Jenness, Bryan Scott Johnson, David Ranson.
  • Music By: