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What the Critics Say

Well known songs taken to new heights in TGR’s “Forever In Blue Jeans” A tribute to the iconic classics of Neil Diamond!
ByBarbara Yoresh

Some pop singer-songwriters attain a meteoric rise to success and then, like a shooting star, blaze away into oblivion. And then there is another – like Brooklyn, NY-raised Neil Diamond – who has literally lit up the sky and music charts for more than a half century and at age 76, still tours to sold-out crowds.

And so it was to another sold-out and wildly appreciative opening night crowd of nearly 100 people that Diamond’s iconic music was presented by Jon Putzke’s Theatre-Go-Round Dinner Theatre (TGR) in a memorable music retrospective entitled “Forever in Blue Jeans.”

The show features 14 of Diamond’s top hit songs sung by cast members Brendan Wenger, Gregory Harris, Beth McKenzie-Shestak, Caitlin Harris and Shane Frampton appropriately clad in – what else? – blue jeans.

According to Putzke, the show’s initial run through mid-September is nearly sold-out in an obvious testament to the popularity and quality of TGR’s shows and the gourmet meals presented by Chef Kurt Runge at The Quilted Giraffe Restaurant in Vero Beach.

When a singer-songwriter writes material for himself to sing, it is solo artistry. And while vocal icons such as Frank Sinatra or Barbra Streisand hardly needed anyone else’s help, there was an added sense of fullness and dimension when they sang duets with others.

Jon Putzke – a true impresario described by one TGR patron as “the Flo Ziegfeld of Indian River County” – has a life-long sense of what works musically and theatrically. He is a visionary and what he has produced with “Forever in Blue Jeans” is nothing short of genius. He has taken material Diamond wrote for himself to sing and incorporated five voices resulting in unique harmonies. The result is pure magic.

“The challenge of this show was how do you take a songwriter who wrote songs for one person to sing and now put it in five-part harmony?” Putzke said.

But Diamond is a personal favorite of Putzke and wife Marg who came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s and Putzke was more than up to whatever challenges there might be.

“I did this show for me,” Putzke said with a smile.

Judging from the audience’s enthusiastic response, it was evident he did it for them as well.

On opening night many in the audience were singing along with cast members with such precision that cast member and TGR musical director Greg Harris noted from stage that one gentleman named Bob seemed to know every word to every song and could come up to help if cast members faltered in any way.

Not surprisingly, they did not! These five are a seasoned group of performers whose voices perfectly blended to present Diamond’s material in a whole new way.

“Solitary Man” is a song Diamond has said described himself in the early days of his career and TGR male voices Harris and Wenger individually and harmoniously took a well-known hit song to new heights with an ingeniously crafted arrangement and presentation.

And McKenzie-Shestak’s treatment of “I Am, I Said” left the audience literally hooting its approval.

TGR will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the commencement of the 2017-2018 season.

Barbara Yoresh attended Boston University and became a staff writer for a group of Palm Beach County newspapers, both daily and weekly before moving to Vero Beach 10 years ago. Since then, Yoresh has written countless feature stories, previews and reviews in the arts and entertainment field for Hometown News, Vero Beach 32963, The Press Journal and the Vero Beach Newsweekly.


 

“Love Changes Everything” becomes instant hit!”

BY BARBARA YORESH

Jon Putzke’s latest show “Love Changes Everything” – a musical tribute to the award-winning works by British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber – caps the Theatre-Go- Round (TGR) Dinner Theatre’s 10th season. Opening recently at the Quilted Giraffe Restaurant, the musical premiered to a sold out crowd. Originally intended to perform through May 6, the show has extended its run into July due to pre-opening demand. Like Webber’s smash musicals on Broadway and London’s West End, this latest TGR offering is an audible and visual show-stopper.

I should note that I have been reviewing TGR shows since the dinner theatre’s inaugural season and have experienced a virtual cornucopia of musical delights over the past decade, thanks to Putzke’s keen ear and unerring ability to produce a show. While the cast has changed over the years, audiences could be assured of high caliber professional talent. And this cast of Beth McKenzie-Shestak (choreographer), Gregory Harris (vocal director), Caitlin Harris and Brendan Wenger provided the most stunningly beautiful and gorgeously performed effort to date.

Elegantly attired in black tail tuxedos and satiny indigo gowns, the cast made a grand entrance that gave strong indication that “Love Changes Everything” would indeed change everything that TGR had previously performed. Viva la difference!

For me and my husband – who has accompanied me to every TGR performance these past 10 years – “Love Changes Everything” is the most impactful performance we’ve ever seen Putzke and his cast present. It’s the best of the best and included more choreography, more complex vocal harmonies, more elegant costuming and more pertinent spoken facts about the show than any preceding presentation. It’s a brilliant “grand finale” to a decade of fine performances which included tributes to Neil Diamond, Motown, the ‘60s, Americana, New York and Mississippi riverboats.

Truly, the realm of music is like a vast universe in which Putzke is a seasoned traveler.  And his almost uncanny ability to know what will work and what won’t has, over these past ten years, given TGR a word-of- mouth reputation resulting in sold-out and extended shows. This is also dinner theatre and so a fine gourmet meal – courtesy of Quilted Giraffe Executive Chef Kurt Runge – adds a gustatory enjoyment to the evening which leaves all senses beautifully sated.

“Love Changes Everything” is one of the most ambitious productions Putzke has presented to date and audiences seemed to know it in advance.

The show will perform at the Quilted Giraffe Restaurant located at 500 South U.S. 1 in Vero Beach on selected Sundays through July 22 with dinner served at 4:30 p.m. and the show at 6 p.m. The cost is $65 per person which includes a three-course dinner, show ticket, tax and tip. Reservations are required. For complete dates and for more information, call 772-252- 9341.


 

Detroit’s Dynamic Duo Returns to Theatre-Go-Round!

BY BARBARA YORESH   

Theatre-Go-Round Dinner Theatre (TGR) artistic director and impresario Jon Putzke has a well-earned reputation on the Treasure Coast for presenting an unbeatable combination of high-level performances paired to a gourmet dining experience. And while most of his presentations feature his in-house TGR cast of singer/dancer performers, he occasionally finds other worthy acts to present to appreciative audiences.

And so it was that a truly dynamic Detroit-based pair – who fittingly calls themselves the “The Dynamic Duo” – made a return engagement recently to TGR’s home at the Quilted Giraffe and wowed an appreciative audience that included one overly enthusiastic fellow Michigander who without invitation joined them on stage to lend a rather bizarre visual to the duo’s wonderful rendition of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”

These dynamos – and they most assuredly are – are best friends who met in college 16 years ago and who decided to join forces as a musical act. Eric Swanson and Gerianne Ditto-Harvey met in the music department of Adrian College in southeast Michigan and like other music majors often gathered around to hold impromptu jam sessions. With a dual proficiency in both keyboards and vocals, the friends formed a personal and professional alliance that now delights audiences as they perform in dinner theatres, bars, cabarets and other venues around the country.

When not on tour, Gerianne is the music director for a progressive Catholic church in the Detroit area and Eric is executive director for the Detroit Actor’s Theatre Company which he co-founded with Michael Johns in 2011 which provides a nurturing environment for artists to create and stage thought-provoking works about pertinent social justice themes.

As a music education major, Eric took a semester at Oxford University to study Shakespeare and previously worked for five years as a choir teacher. Gerianne, a musical performance major, is a cancer survivor who advocates for those with the disease.

“We work with hundreds of actors and singers in a season. It’s a total dream,” Eric said of their work on and off the touring stage.

With two Yamaha keyboards which, this night, produced a fine piano sound, the pair sang a wide range of show and other popular tunes. The performance at TGR was billed as “Broadway Duo Pianos” and the program delved deeply and richly into a wide range of songs. Selections were gorgeously performed as this pair possesses truly beautiful voices with wonderful phrasing and range. Add to the mix outgoing personalities which make audience members feel like they’ve known these entertainers as personal friends for years.

Though consummate performers, this dynamic duo also possess egos generous enough to invite and even encourage the audience to sing along. And in rollicking good form, we did, thereby adding another facet of enjoyment as an audience segued into active participation. What fun!

The intimacy of the venue added to a truly up-close-and-personal setting for which TGR is locally so well-known and loved. Yet it also occurred to me during many moments of the evening that Eric and Gerianne would be just as fittingly seen and heard from a Broadway stage. They are simply that good at their craft.

The depth of their ability was especially evident during Eric’s show-stopping rendition of “Music of the Night” from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Phantom of the Opera.”

I have never heard a version performed any better than Eric’s was.

The duo obviously enjoys what they do and the pair long ago decided to “go for it.”

“We thought life’s too short not to do what you truly want to do. Our lives are music and art,” Eric said.

When told that The Dynamic Duo’s performance is an uplifting experience for an audience, Eric noted “it uplifts us too. It’s our life on stage.”

For more information about The Dynamic Duo’s tour dates and venues, visit online at www.dynamicduoact.com.

 

"That's What Friends Are For" A Really Big Show
BY BARBARA YORESH

To use the parlance of the late TV variety show host Ed Sullivan, “it’s a really big show.”

And in the very best of musical and vocal tributes to a really big pop singer by the name of Dionne Warwick and her equally larger-than-life musical collaborators Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Theatre-Go-Round (TGR) Dinner Theatre’s new show “That’s What Friends Are For” proves that good songs well sung stand the test of time.

The show’s recent opening at the theatre’s Quilted Giraffe restaurant home at 500 South US 1 in Vero Beach was a literal cornucopia of Warwick’s biggest hits. Though Warwick was a solo performer, the TGR cast of three female and two male voices lent a delightful richness of vocal depth and harmony to the songs.

For sure, Warwick needs no help in the singing department. But to hear songs she made famous sung with beautifully blended multi-voices, was to hear an enriched version that proffered a wonderful creativity and a possibility that, yes, sometimes two (or three or four or five) voices are better than one.

Warwick – sometimes called the “Queen of Pop” - was and remains a mega-star in the recording industry. Second only to the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin as the most popular female vocalist of all time, Warwick made the Billboard charts more than any other female artist and her career including more than 80 hit single songs has spanned more than 50 years.

I probably should disclose that Warwick was my favorite female vocalist when I was in high school in the 1960s. I still thrill at her voice and Bacharach’s arrangements and, like others of my baby boomer generation, can still sing along to each song. So obviously, this show had all the elements of being one of my personal favorites in the 10-year TGR repertoire. By the closing number, that was a “done deal.”

So why would TGR artistic producer and creative genius Jon Putzke conceive a show based on a female solo act and cast it with three female and two male voices? Perhaps the overwhelming success of a previous (and returning) show spotlighting Neil Diamond (“Forever in Blue Jeans”) became a new template as TGR begins its 10th Anniversary Season.

“Neil Diamond and Dionne Warwick were of the same era and I was being nostalgic to my own time and place. I grew up with these two mega-stars and I just loved the music that both of them created. This whole season is loaded with the musical artists and music I can remember – without hesitation – where I was and what I was doing every time I heard them,” Putzke said.

With his own career in theatre and musical productions which began in his high school days, Putzke is always seeking a new creative facet for his shows and seems to love a challenge in producing and staging them. His young and supremely talented cast for this show includes Greg and Caitlin Harris, Beth McKenzie-Shestak, Shamara Turner and Brendan Wenger. They did more than justice to the material and Warwick’s legacy.

“This entire cast literally did not even know who Dionne Warwick was when we started rehearsals! There was (also) the challenge of using two men which was based around the chosen songs and in true TGR fashion, turning a solo artist’s work into good rich sounds of four and sometimes five-part harmonies,” Putzke said.

The tenor and baritone voices of Harris and Wenger were crucial to “rounding out” those multi-voiced harmonies by adding a layer of rich sound, Putzke explained.

“No one can duplicate the sounds of either Diamond or Warwick, so for me, it’s better to take their mega blockbusters and turn them into lush sounds you can only achieve with more than one solo vocalist.

“Dionne has a distinct style and would be nearly impossible to duplicate but when you take the songs and embellish for a quartet or a group of five singers, you have a recollection in the back of your head of her sound and it almost becomes another level of harmony,” Putzke said.

Assembling the proper blend of voices is one thing. The degree of difficulty to effectively sing a Bacharach-written song is quite another and this cast was more than able to master the vocal gymnastics, tricky phrasing and tempo changes found in this material.

“Bacharach and David wrote these incredible songs with THE most difficult musical signatures imaginable,” Putzke said.

And while the songs needed a talent as large as Warwick’s to do justice to them vocally, for listeners the melodies and signature composing styles of Bacharach/David became what Putzke terms “catchy” and remained in the “memory banks” of listeners heads seemingly forever.

When asked whether he thought Bacharach’s musical material would have become as popular if someone other than Warwick had recorded it, Putzke said he believed the paring was destined.

“Burt had Dionne in mind all along to complete the “sound” in his songs that he was looking for. They knew that what they were creating was something extraordinary after her first single (“Don’t Make Me Over”) hit the top of the charts,” Putzke said.

The TGR cast and Putzke have also created something extraordinary. Go see a really big show.

For more information or to make reservations, call 772-252-9341.

Barbara Yoresh attended Boston University and became a staff writer for a group of Palm Beach County newspapers, both daily and weekly before moving to Vero Beach 10 years ago. Since then, Yoresh has written countless feature stories, previews and reviews in the arts and entertainment field for Hometown News, Vero Beach 32963, The Press Journal and the Vero Beach Newsweekly.

 

Theatre-Go-Round Dinner Theatre production pays tribute to Neil Diamond
Angela Smith, Special to TCPalm

Paying tribute to an artist such as Neil Diamond is no easy task, but the performers behind Theatre-Go-Round Dinner Theatre are up to the challenge.

In its newest production, “Forever in Blue Jeans” at the Quilted Giraffe Restaurant, the group of five singers deliver a glittering show while performing some of Diamond’s most iconic songs.

Hits such as “America,” “Sweet Caroline” to “Forever in Blue Jeans” and many rare ones are included in the show, which is full of history, excitement and energy from the beginning to the end. 

What really makes the production work well is the dynamic duos, trios and solos sung by cast members, Gregory Harris (vocal director), Beth McKenzie-Shestak (choreographer), Caitlin Harris, Shane Frampton, and Brendan Wenger.

With Shestak’s solo of “I am, I said,” Caitlin Harris’s rendition of “Play Me” and the men’s performance of “September Morn,” everyone creates nostalgia for the good old day when Diamond’s songs topped the music charts.


 

Vero Beach music review inspires folks to sing along
ANGELA SMITH, SPECIAL TO TCPALM and Press Journal
Published 10/27/2017

When it comes to putting on a successful dinner theater production, Jon Putzke seems to have the winning recipe. The artistic producer directed Theatre- Go-Round Dinner Theatre’s first show of the 10th anniversary season without a hitch.

The sparkling costumes and superb voices help make “That’s What Friends Are For,” another hit for the Vero Beach theater that calls the Quilted Giraffe home.

The five-member cast (Greg and Caitlin Harris, Brendan Wenger, Beth McKenzie-Shestak and Shamara Turner) did a wonderful job performing more than a dozen of Dionne Warwick’s songs, including the show’s title song, “That’s What Are Friends For.”

“It was a challenge at first for us to get the harmonies, but we all found our parts and came together so beautifully,” said Turner, who’s returning to the Go-Round stage after a brief hiatus. “I grew up singing that song in talent shows, and it was one of my favorite songs,' she said. “So just to sing that song, I was wowed and it gives me goosebumps.”

Throughout the opening night, almost every theatergoer sang along, bopped their heads or tapped their feet to the songs including “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” and “Wishin' and Hopin’.”

Unlike most shows Putzke puts together, he admits this time it was easy to choose which hits to highlight by the Billboard Hot 100 artist. “Having over 80 to choose from wasn’t as daunting as it sounds, actually,” Putzke said. “I simply took the ones that Ms. Warwick is most famous for having recorded — the hits that you hear day in and day out because they are timeless. They never lose their popularity.”

The cast members made this show enjoyable, particularly Turner’s big solos, McKenzie-Shestak’s long notes, Caitlin Harris’ energy as well as Greg Harris' and Wagner’s charming personalities.

“The audiences are tapping their feet and singing along!”“A must-see show for anyone who appreciates and enjoys the finest in entertainment and food.”

“There’s no finer entertainment than this dinner theatre adventure.”

“A wealth of musical delights!”

“In true cabaret style, the performers interact with audience members.”

“A musical tapestry that captures all the richness and colors of a rainbow.”

“Takes flight in musical magic.”

Published Reviews

Download the pdf to read the reviews!

2017

2016

2015

2014

Critical Review of Milestones & Memories, a Theatre-Go-Round Dinner Theatre production in Vero Beach, Florida

“Expertly winding their way amid patron tables, the singers provide an up-close-and-personal live entertainment experience for a captivated audience.”

Hot Tropical Nights at Theatre-Go-Round Dinner Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida

“An ensemble triumph!”


“Date nights just got a little more musical thanks to a local dinner theater.”


“The melding of these outstanding voices is impressively powerful.”

“A fast-paced and polished production.”

“Just go see it!”

“Their pleasing voices make for an entertaining and polished production.”

“The revue's numerous ensemble pieces were executed with enviable timing and coordination.”