Already a John Denver fan, I was eager to see this production of Almost Heaven – John Denver’s America at Theatre at the Center in Munster (now through March 12, 2020). I wasn’t sure how this would be organized; I only knew there would be a lot of familiar folk music. That was enough to drag my fiancé to Theatre at the Center with me for a matinee showing. Folk lover or not, you will be a fan of John Denver by the end of the show and be singing “Country Roads” or “Rocky Mountain High” for multiple days after.
Walking into the theatre, I was stunned to see the set of large white trees towering over the stage – encompassing the multitude of instruments on display. There were dark blue and purple lights shining with the sound of crickets in the background as if you were sitting on a country porch at night. We were accompanied in the audience by multiple groups that had taken the day to see the production and all seemed to be quite as excited as me.
When the production opened up with Stephen Romero Schaffer as John Denver singing “All of My Memories,” there were smiles all around. Throughout the song the other actors entered the stage from the corners with different instruments and started singing along. Andrew Mueller, Tommy Malouf, Sara Geist, and Shannon McEldowney singing all together with Schaffer was a harmony so beautiful, they should think about starting their own group! I was amazed from the start, as were others in the audience.
Between songs, the cast told pieces of John Denver’s life through a short series of conversations and reading letters from fans and his father. Though these short dialogues only lasted a couple minutes each, they told his story well. They talked about his start with the Mitchell Trio, butting heads with his father, his love life with Anne, his affection for nature and the outdoors, hate for the war, and of course his own personal struggles.
I personally liked that each song was sung by different actors throughout the musical. Each and every one of them sung so beautifully alone it made it more intense when the others would join in. I also noticed the audience lip-singing the songs along with the actors and tapping their feet along with the beat. The musical talent on the stage was so entertaining, watching each of them pick up guitars, banjos, spoons, maracas, a harmonica, and even a washboard, was truly impressive. That’s not including the three musicians in the orchestra behind them, William Underwood, Malcolm Ruhl, and Alison Tatum, playing the piano, violin, cello, and many other instruments throughout the production.
Whether you just want to enjoy your favorite classics by John Denver, or see a captivating production about this treasured musician’s life, this production is on stage until March 12, 2020 at Theatre at the Center with matinees and night showings throughout the week. You can check the times and buy tickets early at theatreatthecenter.com.