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The Glenwood Vaudeville Revue: It’s entertainment

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesJohn Goss, director, writer, performer and impresario of Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, whose second season opens Friday.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS – No one has to tell John Goss what Vaudeville is. For 25 years, Goss, an Albuquerque native who has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for the last decade, performed in Vaudeville-style shows from Durango to Cripple Creek to Oceano, Calif. Actually, if you had asked Goss back then what his specialty was, he would have said melodrama – another stage form that is distinguished by the way the audience is engaged with and responds to the performance (often with exaggerated boos and hisses). But melodrama, at places like the Straiter Hotel in Durango and the Imperial Palace in Cripple Creek, typically came with a side of Vaudeville – the theater in Oceano is called The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville – and Goss soaked up the style.But few people are as knowledgeable about performance niches as Goss. So when he opened his own theater last summer, the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, he knew that the biggest challenge would be conveying to potential audience members exactly what Vaudeville was.”There’s cabaret, there’s burlesque, Vaudeville – all these different things,” the 46-year-old Goss said. “And they’re such old terms that people have different ideas of their meanings nowadays. There’s a different connotation for every word out there – Vaudeville, revue, melodrama, variety show: What does that all mean?”Signing up top-notch talent was among the least of Goss’ concerns. With Aspen’s Crystal Palace dinner theater shutting down a few years ago, Goss – who had moved to the valley, in 1999, to take a job at the Palace – had a good-sized pool of performers, just waiting to jump back onstage, from which to choose. Putting on a quality show was likewise not an issue; Goss knew the capabilities of the former Palace cast, and he knew, from his own past experience, how to make Vaudeville work.But getting the word out proved, at times, to be as difficult as Goss had imagined. He gives as an example the prominent Glenwood Springs businessman who just couldn’t embrace the concept of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue. “He didn’t have much interest in supporting the show, or learning about it,” Goss said. “He wasn’t familiar with the cast. As far as you know, it can be a high school revue of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”But Goss had two aces in the hole. One was the quality of the show, which he utterly believed in. The other was word of mouth: Even if people attending the show didn’t leave with as precise a definition of Vaudeville as Goss had, they could convey to friends and neighbors such concepts as “hilarious,” “fun” and “You’ve got to see this … whatever it is.”After a strong opening weekend last summer, bolstered by the friends of cast members, Goss saw attendance begin to dive. He worried that the project – which he had spent five years putting together, and which is financially backed by no one but himself – was going to come to a swift end. On one Saturday evening in early July – prime tourist season – he saw that advance reservations totaled no more than 30. A feeling of doom swept over him.”I was downstairs, sitting on a couch, getting ready to open the doors, with my head literally in my hands, thinking this was over. Done. If I can’t draw more than 30 people on a Saturday night … ,” he said. But the reservation company – which he no longer uses – had made an error. “Come time to open the doors, and there were 90 people standing there waiting to come in. I was shocked.”I still get shivers thinking about it. Because I was distraught. And that was my turning point.”In fact, there have been many turning points, most of them involving skeptical or uninformed audience members leaving the theater as fans of Vaudeville. One of those was that prominent Glenwood business owner, who was persuaded to attend based on the buzz that reached all the way to his own business.”He came and saw the show and approached me at intermission and said, and I quote, ‘This is exactly what Glenwood Springs needs,'” Goss said. “It was a great moment because this guy has a huge amount of power in this town.”There were also a lot of smaller voices adding to the chorus. “We got a ton of comments from guys, drug in by their girlfriends, who’d come up to me afterward and say, ‘This is not at all what I expected,'” Goss said.Those sorts of comments piled up. The first season of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue closed in boffo fashion, with three consecutive weekends of sold-out shows at the 144-person capacity Blue Acacia Theatre in the Masonic Lodge. Instead of shutting down, Goss is in expansion mode. This summer’s season, which opens Friday, features the same schedule as last year: Friday and Saturday nights at 6:30 p.m., and a Sunday twilight show at 5:30 p.m., through early October. But the menu offerings now includes items from various Glenwood eateries (Uncle Pizza, Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse, The Daily Bread), and a host of specialty drinks inspired by the performance numbers.And when summer goes away, Goss and his cast – Crystal Palace vets Gary Daniel, Tommy Erickson, Jennetta Meitler Howell and Julie Maniscalchi, as well as newcomer Bob Moore – will not. The Glenwood Vaudeville Revue will present a Christmas show from late November through New Year’s Eve, followed in February by a separate winter show that runs into April.

Anyone notice we still haven’t gotten around to answering the question: What exactly is Vaudeville?”Vaudeville is a very specific revue-type variety show, of anything that’s entertaining,” the 46-year-old Goss said. “Back in the day, it was magic acts, animal acts, songs, comedy – anything. And Vaudeville always meant family-oriented entertainment.”The Glenwood Vaudeville Revue doesn’t have animal acts – unless you count the “Road Kill Rap,” featuring four white guys dressed as rodents, rapping about the dangers of the highway – and there’s no magic. But there are jokes that hearken back to the glory days of Vaudeville in the early 20th century – “some will make you laugh, some will make you groan,” according to a press release from the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue. There are song-and-dance pieces that range from a sophisticated tap number that employs plungers to a straightforward female ballad to a comedy bit about inviting an opera diva into the Vaudeville cast. Two traditions Goss made sure to stick to were family friendliness and a lightning-fast pace.”The psyche of it is, it’s such a rapid-fire experience, you get caught up in the energy of the laughter of the people around you,” said Goss, who has created all the material himself – some entirely original, some modified from old numbers he performed in the past – and also directs, choreographs and performs the show, serves as M.C., manages the bar and food, and handles marketing.Goss won’t say that he’s fully met the challenge yet of educating the public about just what Vaudeville is, or how the style plays out at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue. He still frets over his advance reservations.”In four months, how do you spread the word of what you are – especially when it’s such a vague style?” he said.But he has also witnessed how the buzz can get started, and that people are beginning to grasp the concept of Vaudeville.”If you describe just two numbers from the show, you haven’t described what the show is,” he said. “It goes from legitimate tap to sincere ballads to the weirdest thing you ever saw in your life. It’s whatever entertains people. It’s anything I’ve ever seen in my life, and can go, That’s going to entertain an audience.”stewart@aspentimes.com


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