Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's recent review of Cymbeline
The play is performed with gusto by David M. Lutken (as Dan Wheetman) and Katie Deal, but one can feel at times the story being told is too much on the periphery of John Denver's life and career. That being said, it is still entertaining, with the two actors performing a great deal of John Denver's most popular songs. The show turns out to be a real crowd-pleaser and the audience at the Ivoryton Playhouse lapped it up at the performance I attended.
The Road: My Life with John Denver is told in two acts, with the first act focusing on how Dan Wheetman first got to meet and perform with John Denver, and the second half detailing the toll touring took on Dan Wheetman's life and family. And while the actual story of the life and career of John Denver himself would probably have made a more interesting play, whenever David M. Lutken and Katie Deal sing (which is quite often), everything is golden onstage. I will confess to being only slightly familiar with the majority of John Denver's songs, but, for those audience members who can sing along with the performers, The Road: My Life with John Denver is definitely the show for you.
What really makes this show worthwhile, in addition to the John Denver catalogue of songs, are the two extremely talented performers. David M. Lutken is an enormously ingratiating actor, as well as singer and musician, and he proves to be the perfect guide for the story. Assuming the identity of Dan Wheetman, Lutken ably takes us through the ups and downs of being a musician and performer on the road, but the best moments are when he sings John Denver's songs. The audience is treated to all the hits, including "Take Me Home, Country Road," "Rocky Mountain High," and "Sunshine on My Shoulders."
Katie Deal is absolutely lovely as the other singer in the show; her vocals are terrific, and she also proves to be a fine actress when called upon to play Dan Wheetman's wife Penny, who, more often than not, was the neglected wife at home. That said, The Road: My Life with John Denver only touches a bit on Dan Wheetman's personal life. Director Randal Myler (who co-wrote this show with Wheetman) is canny enough to know that things are best when he David M. Lutken and Katie Deal are singing.
The show's trump card is nostalgia and, in this aspect, The Road: My Life with John Denver most definitely works. When it focuses on the two wonderful performers singing the John Denver hit songs, this Ivoryton Playhouse production wins the audience over.
The Road: My Life with John Denver continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through April 24, 2016. For tickets, please visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.