Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 15, 2008

"Almost Heaven - Songs of John Denver"

CityStage, Springfield
February 13, 2008
By Eric Sutter

CityStage played host to a wonderful feel-good musical theatre production with "Almost Heaven - Songs of John Denver." Songs of love and hope were nestled nicely alongside songs of open country and playfulness. The players, including Ryan Nearhoff as John Denver, sported a clean-cut whole-earth image. The choral group consisted of three men and two women and with back-up musicians on fiddle, guitar, and keyboards they conjured up a sensitive portrayal of the music of Denver.

The talented group cleverly cultivated the era's folk-rock and country-rock feeling of getting back to the basics of country living with the aid of visual images displayed on the theatre's backdrop. The males harmonized vocals on Denver's first love song "For Bobbie" to great effect. "Country Roads" shifted to a female lead voice with the others harmonized to perfection. "Fly Away" was lead by a beautiful female voice and a carefully balanced arrangement of supportive vocals with a ministerial tone. "Rocky Mountain High" created a comfortable image of rural utopia as the Rocky Mountains flashed in the background. Edgier emotions emerged as the singers tackled the love and war-themed "Matthew/Weapons." The first half ended with the ecological dream song "Calypso," with its high yodel set against images of the sea.

The second half started with a rousing "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy" and a playful "Grandma's Feather Bed" with some fine harmony singing and dancing. The "Love/Leave Medley" featured "Back Home Again" vocally interwoven with "Leavin' On A Jet Plane." "Sunshine on My Shoulders" showcased the powerful gospel voice of female vocalist Vernae Taylor as a sunny-scened backdrop lightened the stage. The classic "Poems, Prayers and Promised" closed the evening. A short film clip of John Denver singing "Yellowstone" at a campire followed, after which the cast sang an encore of "Rocky Mountain High."