John Goss is “pulling out all the stops” for the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, quite literally, as the popular dinner comedy show prepares for a big holiday debut in its brand new theater on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs.
Goss, founder and artistic director of the four-and-half-year-old show, has been busy of late working with architects and construction crews on a $250,000 remodel at the former Springs Theatre to get the space ready for the theater’s holiday season, which started Nov. 29 and continues through Jan. 4.
There’s a lot that’s new for the Vaudeville Revue, as the show transitions from its humble beginnings in the nearby Masonic Lodge to Glenwood’s main drag.
For one, the revue welcomes the addition of new cast member/vaudevillian Alexis Van Vleet, who recently starred in Defiance Community Players’ production of “Beauty and the Beast.” She will join the existing cast of Goss, Gary Daniel, Tom Erickson, Jennetta Howell, Julie Maniscalchi, Brad Vierheller and Bob Moore.
Piece of history
Then there’s Goss’ newest toy, an early 20th century Wurlitzer photoplayer piano, which he recently acquired and had refurbished to become part of the Vaudeville show.
“This is the era of Vaudeville, right here,” Goss said, as he fiddled with the different levers, wooden pipes, tubes and pedals that create the sounds of yesteryear.
Part player piano, part sound effects machine, photoplayers, or “orchestrians” as they were sometimes called, provided sound for the early moving pictures known as photo plays.
Before film, moving pictures were literally still photos on a series of pages that, when flipped through, created the first silent movies. Because there was no audio, the only sound effects came from the photo player.
The machine is equipped with a large blower and works off of an air regulator. When the different levers above the piano keyboard, or “stops” as they are called, are pulled, air travels to the different pipes creating additional sounds, such as flute, cello, violin and bass.
The more stops, the more sound, which is where the old saying, “pull out all the stops,” originated.
“When they wanted the most sound, they would literally pull out all the stops, which later came to mean ‘Give it everything you’ve got,’” Goss said.
A variety of pull strings, buttons and foot pedals produce the occasional bass drum beat, symbol crash, bell, train whistle, ooga horn … you name it.
“From what I was told, there are less than a hundred of these still in existence, and even fewer in operation,” Goss said. “This one hasn’t been played in front of an audience for 70 or 80 years.”
The new find for Goss and the Vaudeville show came from a private collection in Redmond, Ore., and was originally part of a movie house in Yakima, Wash., he said.
Topping it off
The photoplayer sits on a special platform atop the front of the stage in the newly converted theater space, with room for one of the cast members to sit and operate all the bells and whistles.
“It will be a big part of the pre-show,” Goss said. “We’ll have the cast do a couple of numbers to get the audience involved before the main show.”
As for the new theater itself, the layout will be similar to the former space.
“Everything is an upgrade, though,” Goss said.
Seating capacity will be about the same as before, at around 150 people, depending on party sizes and table arrangements.
“It will feel very similar to the other location, but with a lot more space to move around and more comfortable,” Goss said.
Instead of a single floor level, there are two levels of table seating for better views of the stage from the back tables.
The former movie theater area was completely gutted in order to make it fit the dinner-theater setting, including removal of the sloped floor. What was the projection room will serve as the stage manager’s booth.
“We have a new, full-fledged theatrical lighting system,” Goss said.
The front part of the building at 915 Grand Ave. includes a new kitchen area and bar where the movie theater concessions and office area were located. The existing restrooms were also upgraded, and a new handicapped accessible restroom was added.
Same as before, meals provided by a long list of local restaurant caterers, including a few new ones, will be prepared for the dinner theater guests each night.
Backstage, there’s more dressing room space and extra side stage area for the performers, plus a loft area for storage and access to the photo player’s perch.
While the theater is being set up initially to accommodate the Vaudeville Revue, during the show’s off seasons Goss is working to line up other types of stage entertainment, and will open the space to other groups in the community to use.
“We have a nice hardwood dance floor,” he said. “It will be a really nice community amenity to have.”
For tickets and other show information, visit www.gvrshow.com or call (970) 945-9699.
John Stroud is a reporter for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.