Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Theater Review: The Road: My Life with John Denver -- Ivoryton

Katie Deal and David M. Lutken. Photo: Anne Hudson
Gee It’s Good to Be Back Home Again
By Lauren Yarger
I admit it, while everyone else was listening to the latest from Led Zeplin, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan or any other pop rock star in the 1970s, I was listening to John Denver. The wholesome country singer sang about simple things like love, peace, family, happy childhoods and nature and his constant smile and cries of “Far Out!” appealed in a time otherwise filled with angst.

What a treat to get to enjoy his songs in the hands of a master: David M. Kutken, who plays Dan Wheetman (a co-writer on the show’s book and its Musical Director) who toured with Denver. The story (the book is co-written by Director Randal Myler) is told from Wheetman’s perspective. His life and Denver’s seem on parallel courses at times as the men enjoy success in their careers, marry, have children and then suffer marriage problems as the demands of being on the road take their toll.

Lutken is joined by Katie Deal who lends harmony on a number of the tunes, sings some of them on her own and steps in occasionally to give an impression of Wheetman’s wife as he reflects on some of their personal joys and sorrows. There’s just enough story to give context and deeper understanding to the songs, but The Road doesn’t try to be a jukebox musical with some silly plot interwoven around a chance to sing the artist’s most popular tunes.

It’s an entertaining show with the audience singing along (sometimes invited to do so and at other times just because they can’t help themselves) on songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Leaving On a Jet Plane.”  In fact, I was struck by just how many songs Denver has given us – all of which we know all they lyrics to -- as tune after tune was played on a variety of instruments. And both actors play those instruments.

Lutken, you might remember from his appearances here in Connecticut (Ring of Fire at Ivoryton and the fabulous Woody Sez at TheaterWorks). Deal tours and performs as a concert vocalist. My one criticism of this show is that the sound mix (Design by Tate R. Burmeister, who also does the lighting design) makes it hard to hear her, despite Lutken’s obvious attempts to pull back on his guitar.

Other than that, I didn’t take a lot of notes. I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re a Denver fan, or if you are one of the millions of people who got married in the ’70s to a John Denver tune (as Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard quipped probably was the case for many in the audience), you will enjoy doing the same.

The Road: My Life With John Denver plays through April 24 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $44 for adults; $39 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

Additional Credits: Set Design by Dan Nischan, Costume Design by Vickie Blake.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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