REVIEW WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD
For Digital First Media
Dan Wheetman played in John Denver’s band for eight years. They even lived near each other in Aspen, Colorado. Wheetman’s newest work, “The Road,” is a tribute to Denver and his music, as he presents 20 of those songs, as well as a half dozen from other artists and two by Wheetman himself. If you loved Denver, as so many did, you will enjoy hearing these songs again as they are sung by David M. Lutkin and Katie Deal. If you are not a big Denver fan or if you expected a larger piece of theater, you may come away disappointed.
Lutkin and Deal share the stage on a simple set as they sing one song after another. I loved seeing Lutkin earlier in the year as he sang the role of Johnny Cash in “Ring of Fire,” also at People’s Light. In that show, he was supported by eight other performers who sang and danced and played dozens of instruments. “The Road” is more intimate- acoustic guitar and two singers. But although it was in the smaller theater, it somehow seemed out of place. A more intimate space, like a coffee house, might have served it better.
Between songs, Lutkin tells a little of his (Wheetman’s) story — his overwhelming drive to make it in the music industry as he leaves his wife and kids at home to go on the road, but it is so minimal. And though the two performers sing well together, there is little chemistry between Deal and Lutkin. Even as she takes on the role of Wheetman’s wife Penny, there is no connection. She simply stands on stage and presents her songs,
Lutkin is an outstanding guitar player, and he does a fine job with the Denver songs, but that’s all it is — someone singing Denver songs. John Denver had a very unique style and voice, and without Denver’s voice, I needed more story.
Wheetman wrote it with his long time collaborator, Randal Myler, who also directed it. They say a writer shouldn’t direct his own work. Perhaps with a third eye, the show could have benefitted with an additional perspective and a greater dynamic between the two singers.
The best parts of the evening were when they sang those familiar songs that Denver fans love. “Take Me Home,” “Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Annie’s Song,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” Sometimes, theater is about expectations. I went to the theater expecting to see a show. What I saw was a concert.
Note: Beginning Dec. 20, the role of Dan will be played by Sam Sherwood