Without a net

Salt Fire Circus returns with 'Twisted Fairytales'

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	David Stickler performs Jack and the Beanstalk during a rehearsal for the Salt Fire Circus on Wednesday evening at the Durango Arts Center.</p> Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Herald

David Stickler performs "Jack and the Beanstalk" during a rehearsal for the Salt Fire Circus on Wednesday evening at the Durango Arts Center.

I never cease to be impressed by the number of talented and creative people in our little town. Take any burg in theUnited States with a population less than 20,000 and you'd be lucky to find someone who can even draw.

But here? Odds are you can throw together a few bartenders, hairdressers and maybe the mayor and make a bona fide circus out of it.

This, of course, is no hypothetical posit. The Salt Fire Circus, which sold out every show it put on last spring and fall, is back with "Twisted Fairytales" for a 10-show run that began Thursday night and ends June 5 at the Durango Arts Center. And every member of the local freakshow, be it cast or crew, has skills that belie the image of this or any other "small town."

"We've never gone this big," said artistic director Tiffany Kuepker, who has taken over the top job that was held by founder Julie Hudak for the 2009 spring show and followed by Chrissy Mosier at Halloween. Hudak has moved out of town, but Mosier returns for several memorable acts in the latest show.

Held together by its title theme, "Twisted Fairytales" the circus includes much of what we've come to expect from the Salt Fire gang; juggling, dancing, acrobatics and great music.

But what's "bigger," in Kuepker's words, is a stunning upgrade to the show's visual spectacle in terms of costumes and stage sets.

As you're perusing your program, take special note of costume design manager Candice Jenkins and her team and scenic and prop design manager Aaron Beck and his team. Both have outdone themselves in terms of quality and attention to detail and thanks to them the show has never looked more professional.

And perhaps no cast member benefits more from their talents than chanteuse Rachel Taulbee, who takes the lead on just about every vocal number in the show decked out in an array of costumes from Little Miss Muffett, complete with tuffet, to Rapunzel with her long, long hair.

Taulbee doesn't just sing, either, though it's what she does best. She also wrote and arranged all four of her musical numbers, and the band, taking the moniker of Bremen Town Players for "Twisted Fairytales," fills in the rest of the show with almost-exclusively original music. Even the intermission music was composed and recorded by local DJ Peter Robot. The Bremen Town Players hope to have a CD of the show's music ready for sale by this weekend's performances.

It's a cross-trained band, too; Minna Jain plays a pocket-sized xylophone, the piano and the saw, Colin Rooney plays guitar, bass and piano, and then there's violinist Matt Moon who fills in a few bars on the Tibetan horn. Where, one might ask, does one acquire a Tibetan horn, let alone learn to play it?

"Tibet," Moon answered.

The fact that Durango is devoid of sheet music for the Tibetan horn is hardly an obstacle. In fact, there's not one aspect of the show that came pre-scripted. Every skit, every dance step and every word were written or choreographed by cast or crew members including the choreography debut of dancer Jamie Pittman and the show's hip-hop-inspired Pinocchio finale, which is the brainchild of Maya Sol Dansie, brought to life by the entire cast with Mosier starring as the wooden boy. It's a fitting cap to the show, exhibiting everyone's talents and an array of Beck's props highlighted by strongman David Stickler as a life-sized jack-in-the-box.

In all, there are more than 20 acts with comic relief fillers, many provided by that mayor guy Michael Rendon as the Fairy Godfather. Emphasis on "Fairy." There's hardly a weak link to be found in the program, but of particular note are the juggling acts showcasing the formidable talents of Erin Stephens, Rendon, Randi Foster and Mark Stampfle, who doubles as the most acrobatic member of the cast in a few other numbers.

The troupe dropped the Bare Bones Burlesque part of its name before the Halloween show, but the whole program maintains that aura and feel reminiscent of the classic stage era. And it's been toned down just a bit, risqué-wise, but there's just no way to completely de-sexify these performers. And who'd want to anyway, right? It's not quite NC-17, but it ain't PG-13, either. Once again, leave the kids at home unless you want to have "that talk" with them once you get back home. Taulbee's Miss Muffett outfit would take several hours to explain by itself, and how late do you really want to stay up?

In short, the Salt Fire Circus is a community production through-and-through that's about as far removed from "community theater" as can be. These people, your neighbors and mine, are professionals in every sense of the word, and you've got more chances this time around than ever to see for yourself that I'm not just blowing smoke. Miss it at your own risk.

ted@durangoherald.com