Sunday profile: Goss takes vaudeville to a new level
When John Goss first opened the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue in the city’s historic Masonic Lodge in 2009, he did so “on a dime and a prayer.”
By that time, Goss had already spent a decade in the Roaring Fork Valley acting in venues like the Crystal Palace and Thunder River Theatre Co., and directing and choreographing shows for Aspen Community Theatre.
He and two friends began talking about opening their own theater in Glenwood, which Goss knew was “a great little tourist town.”
“I had worked in 10 or 12 different small theaters like this in tourist towns where people were looking for something fun to do, and they always did well,” he said.
His friends ultimately decided to go in a different direction, but Goss held onto his dream.
“I scraped up 30-grand — that’s everything I had — and I put it all into one summer and took a big risk,” he said. “It had its real highs and its real lows and some real challenging times, but it was a very entertaining show, and people were asking for more.”
Goss grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, doing high school theater — “the only thing I was good at that I enjoyed doing,” he said — and then began performing with the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera in the 2,000-seat theater on the University of New Mexico campus.
“It was an amazing experience to be in such big productions with 60 to 70 actors,” he said. “Every now and then I’d get a good role or leading part. I was going up through the ranks there, and it was a great learning experience.”
He enrolled at UNM, but found himself spending a lot of money on tuition to learn theater, performing and music. So he changed his career path and started auditioning for professional theater productions where he could get paid to learn theater.
“I think theater and music are things where it’s not necessary to have a degree, unless you want to teach, direct or go into certain fields,” Goss said. “But if you want to perform, sometimes the best thing is to just perform, and do it as much as you can and get experience and work with many people and be as versatile as you possibly can.”
With that realization, Goss spent the next 30 years on the “melodrama circuit,” bouncing around the West and working in beautiful places.
In 2013, Goss approached John Buxman, owner of the Springs Theater and asked if he was planning on continuing to show movies at the theater with the industry trending toward digital as opposed to analog formats.
The two men worked out a deal, and Goss moved in six months later — transforming the theater by removing the sloped floor and installing two-tiered, dinner theater-style flooring, adding a theatrical lighting system, changing the theater’s concession and office areas into a new kitchen and bar, and building dressing rooms for the performers backstage.
He also bought and refurbished a rare, early 20th century Wurlitzer photoplayer piano — a player piano/sound effects machine originally used in theaters as the audio for silent movies.
“I did all the work, put the kitchen in and paid for everything,” Goss said. “And six years later, I’m slowly paying if off.”
Familiar is funny
When Goss first opened the Vaudeville Revue, his troupe performed classic, hilarious bits, skits and songs — in the older, classic vaudeville theater style — that he had gathered through the years from other theaters where he had worked. But as the years have passed, his shows have morphed into more of a modern vaudeville style, he said.
“We use the term ‘vaudeville’ loosely, and we do everything from dispensary numbers to roundabout songs,” he said. “The most popular song we have in the current show is about that crazy roundabout Glenwood has now. The audience just goes nuts because everyone can relate to that roundabout and how crazy it is.”
“When you make it something that they’re really familiar with, and you take it over the top, of course — we make it out to be this horrifying experience of trying to drive through the roundabout — its amazing the response we get from people.”
Another popular song in the show is the “Taco Bell Canon” — a parody of the classical piece “Pachelbel’s Canon” — where the cast dresses up in giant taco and burrito outfits and sings different pieces in the tune of the Pachelbel’s Canon.
“It became one of the most popular things we ever did,” Goss said.
Goss writes much of the material for the shows, and said he usually takes an idea from something else or someone else and either Americanizes it, modernizes it, or changes it to work for the vaudeville.
But sometimes he’ll write something that is completely original.
“I’ll get an idea and say ‘I love this theme,’ and sometimes the music is original,” he said. “We’re doing a show right now called the Aspen Tour Guide, and it is a true story. I used to be an Aspen tour guide — we called it the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous tour — and I gained all kinds of ridiculous questions from people and the silly things that I would do.
“I’m really proud of those when the idea is original, the music is original the dialogue is original. But they are tons of work and energy to make them entertaining and to find out how they work together and how the concept works.”
Goss directs three vaudeville shows each year — a spring show, a summer show, and a holiday show, and three years ago he had the idea to do a Broadway musical.
“It was a minimalized version of ‘Sweeney Todd,’ — we had an orchestra, we had 14 cast members, and we had a second stage out in the audience,” he said.
Two years ago, the theater was inhabited by “Little Shop of Horrors,” which included an 8-foot, man-eating plant, and last year they did another full production with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“So now we’ve got this reputation for doing one big production show a year,” Goss said. “In the past we’ve done it in the fall, we called it our ‘Fall Musical.’ The problem with that is that in the fall, we’re competing with Thunder River, Defiance and Aspen Community Theater.”
So this year, Goss is moving the theater’s annual musical to February and March, and renaming it the “Winter Musical.”
“I finally got the rights to do “Into The Woods,” he said. “I’ve had a great response from a lot of talented people. … Everybody’s like ‘you’re doing ‘Into The Woods?’’ I want to do it.”
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