Susan Granger’s review of “The Road: My Life with John Denver” (Ivoryton Playhouse: April 2016)
Ivoryton Playhouse opens its 2016 season with John Denver’s recorded voice singing “Aspenglow,” a prelude to this enjoyable, toe-tapping musical tribute.
Actually, it kind of fits into that subspecies known as a jukebox musical. According to Wikipedia, “A jukebox musical is a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its score. Usually the songs have in common a connection with a particular popular musician or group — because they were either written by, or for, the artists in question, or at least covered by them.”
Premiering at the Milwaukee Rep last summer, it’s scripted by co-writers Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, who played in John Denver’s band for seven years and was his neighbor in Aspen. Wheetman oversees the music, as the production is adroitly helmed by Mylar, utilizing Daniel Nischen’s roadhouse set, Vickie Blake’s costumes, Marcus Abbott’s subtle lighting, and Tate R. Burmeister’s sound design.
The conceit is that John Denver’s music and life are viewed through the reminiscent perspective of Danny (David M. Lutken) and the Singer (Katie Deal), who include favorites like “Rocky Mountain High,” “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Sunshine on my Shoulder.”
At times, Deal also assumes the persona of Denver’s first wife, Annie, as well as Danny’s first wife, Penny. It’s a bit confusing, admittedly, but, over time, as this musical has a few more incarnations, the unevenness may work itself out, even though their ill-fated marriages suffered from them being ‘on the road’ far too long.
“Be careful what you pay with because you will pay,” notes Danny, sadly, “Sometimes with your wife and family.”
What’s in its favor is the audience goodwill engendered by two genuinely likeable, down-home performers, David M. Lutken and Katie Deal.
Concluding, appropriately, with Denver’s iconic “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” the audience is invited – once again – to sing along – which they do, or did, at the matinee I attended.
FYI: John Denver died in a plane crash in 1997 at the age of 53.
“The Road: My Life with John Denver” plays at Ivoryton through Sunday, April 24. For more information, call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.