Entertainer’s old-timey show proves a hit in tourist town
When John Goss debuted a vaudeville show in Glenwood Springs some five years ago, he just wanted to be up on a stage entertaining people for a living, rather than continuing to pay the bills by painting houses.
Turns out, he ended up creating an institution that has taken its place in this tourist town among such attractions as the Glenwood Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, putting smiles on the faces of visitors and locals alike. And now the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue dinner theater also has become a new fixture on the city’s main street, Grand Avenue, after Goss moved it into a former movie theater from the Masonic Lodge a few blocks off the main drag.
Goss has been surprised that what started out as a business has come to mean so much more to this community.
“I was shocked about their attitude that this has become one of the things you do in Glenwood, and all of the locals come and all of the tourists come and they really look forward to it,” Goss said.
Said Marianne Virgili, president and chief executive officer of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, “I think it’s kind of nice, you go to work every day and then you kind of wake up several years later and realize you make a contribution to people’s lives and enjoyment for people’s lives.
“… I think what (Goss) has done has really expanded our tourism offerings. Frankly, Glenwood does not have a lot of nightlife and so there’s not that much to do in the evening and he’s added that dimension,” Virgili said.
“We’re just delighted to have him in the community and especially the downtown community.”
As much as Goss has enjoyed the applause and appreciation at his shows, he was even more moved by the community response after he survived a paragliding accident this summer and was plucked by helicopter off the side of Red Mountain alongside the town. He was overwhelmed to learn how many watched the rescue in progress from town and voiced their concern to him later when they learned who had been injured. And he also has been taken aback by the way he’s been received more generally in the town.
“It’s silly the recognition that I get just because I like to perform for people,” he said.
GROWING UP IN THE BUSINESS
His love of performing dates back to his childhood, and to some degree was inherited. Goss’ mother was a singer and dancer back in the 1940s, and he got involved in community theater while growing up in Albuquerque.
He eventually performed in various locations around the country in melodrama theater, which consists of overly dramatic, soap-opera-like performances. Those shows usually included some extra revue- or vaudeville-type shows, including songs, comedy skits and dance. Goss saw audiences particularly enjoying the vaudeville and began getting ideas for a vaudeville act.
He ended up in the Roaring Fork Valley when the opportunity arose to work at the since-closed Crystal Palace in Aspen, where the performances often centered on politically satirical songs. After a season there he became involved in community theater in the valley and began dreaming up his vaudeville business while painting houses.
As it turned out, the Crystal Palace closed not long before Goss opened his revue, and he hired on several of its veterans as cast members. One of them, Julie Maniscalchi, remembers when Goss approached her about joining.
“I couldn’t have been more thrilled, with the other cast members that he mentioned that I’d be getting to work alongside. It’s just been a great ride so far and I see this hopefully being around for many, many years to come,” she said.
A MAN OF VISION
She described the high-energy, rail-thin Goss as “a workaholic, a little bit of a perfectionist.”
“But he’s got a great heart and very big vision, even if it just comes down to a song in the show.”
“One of the shows, he’s like, ‘We’re going to be bats, we’re going to be upside down.’”
Maniscalchi marveled at the fact that Goss didn’t just dream up such an idea but figured out a way to pull it off, something he’s done over and over.
“He doesn’t just talk about, ‘Oh, maybe we can do this.’ He does it.”
Goss’s determination was exemplified by his quick recovery from his paragliding accident, which required surgery that involved getting two rods and 10 screws in his back.
“Three weeks after the accident he was on stage actually doing some performing and emceeing. It was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s a miracle he’s here,’” Maniscalchi said.
While Goss got back on his feet quickly after the August accident, the memory of it still clearly haunts him. He launched from the mountaintop and later slammed back into the mountainside, immediately realizing he’d hurt his back so badly that for a time he couldn’t feel his hands or feet. He clinged for his life to bushes and worried for hours about sliding over a steep cliff below him, before rescuers were able to reach him and ready him for a Colorado Army National Guard helicopter to fly him from the slope.
Goss has given up paragliding, at least for now, as he doesn’t want to jeopardize things for his business or its employees. But he clearly still misses the sport, having jumped 130 times, and getting good enough that he would catch thermals and ride for hours at a time.
“It’s hard to find those things in life that you truly love and enjoy. That was one of them. I truly love flying,” he said.
If he can figure out what went wrong the day of the accident, it could help dictate whether he returns to the sport, Goss said.
FOCUSED ON THE SHOW
For now, though, his focus has been on the move of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, which involved gutting and remodeling the former Springs movie theater. He’s also been busy tinkering with his recently acquired Wurlitzer Photoplayer, an early 1900s keyboard contraption used to accompany silent movies, literally with all kinds of bells and whistles, not to mention car horns and other sound effects.
“When you hear it, it puts a smile on your face,” Goss said.
He tracked it down in Oregon with the help of a broker and installed it in a place of prominence above his theater stage. He estimates there are probably fewer than a dozen still in public use.
Goss gets a kid’s grin on his face as he demonstrates the device.
“It’s obnoxious and it makes a lot of noise. That’s what I was looking for,” said Goss, who plans to incorporate it into future acts once he gets it in better working condition.
Goss will do virtually anything for a laugh; a particularly amusing act involves popping toilet plungers off floors, walls and ceilings to make a rhythmic sound in time with a song. Goss specifically designed the stage to accommodate that number. Cast members likewise have beat each other over their hard-hat-shielded heads with plastic tubes — and done the same with volunteer audience members — to accompany other numbers.
As he recently was working up another number involving a grossly oversized pan flute, he mused, “it may be really funny or it may not be — I don’t know.”
Describing the revue’s shows to those who haven’t seen it can be difficult. Amusing gags may give way to a moving, expertly performed Christmas carol sung while holding candles in a darkened theater during a holiday performance. But clearly Goss loves his comedy, and coming up with new comic acts to try out on the crowd.
“It has to be clever enough, and it has to be well put together at least. If it’s ridiculous, it still has to be quality ridiculous,” he said.
Whatever it is, it’s working in Glenwood Springs, where the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue continues to win rave reviews and an ever-growing audience, which makes Goss feel good about all the hard work he puts into it.
“It’s growing, drawing more (theater-goers). It’s got a great reputation. I’m extremely proud of that,” Goss said.
For more information on the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue shows, visit http://www.GVRShow.com.