• Photos: Hedwig's Euan Morton and Hannah Corneau in Denver

    by John Moore | Dec 07, 2016
    'Hedwig' in Denver
    Euan Morton and Hannah Corneau offered songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch before a Q&A with local media on Wednesday in the Wolf Room at the Buell Theatre. To see more photos, just click the forward arrow on the image above. Video to come tomorrow. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Denver: Ticket information

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the genre-bending, fourth-wall-smashing musical sensation, with a pulsing score and electrifying performances, that tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage.
    • Dec 6-11
    • Buell Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 10
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    John Cameron Mitchell on the ageless appeal of Hedwig
    Hedwig'
    s Stephen Trask: There are Thors all around us
    Mitchell and Trask: The two halves of Hedwig's whole
    Casting: Euan Morton to don Hedwig's wig on national tour
    Hedwig named to Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    Hedwig creator’s parents are tearing down a wall

    A Hewdwig 800 a
  • Denver dates for 'Frozen' announced

    by John Moore | Dec 05, 2016

    Frozen

    The Pre-Broadway engagement of Frozen, a new musical based on Disney’s Academy Award-winning musical film, will play The Buell Theatre Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2017, it was announced this morning.

    FrozenThe Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Broadway subscribers may purchase additional tickets starting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12. Broadway subscriptions are available now. Sales to groups of 10 or more will start in February.

    Single tickets will go on sale to the public in the spring of 2017. For more information and to sign up for alerts, go to Denvercenter.org/Frozen.

    Please be advised that the DCPA’s web site – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for Frozen in Denver. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that DCPA is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.

    This Broadway-bound Frozen, a full-length stage work told in two acts, is the first and only incarnation of the tale that expands upon and deepens its indelible plot and themes through new songs and story material from the film’s creators.  Like the Disney Theatrical Broadway musicals that have come before it, it is a full evening of theatre and is expected to run 2 1/2 hours.

    FrozenWritten by a trio of Oscar-winners, Frozen features music and lyrics by the creators of the film score Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit, Up Here) and EGOT-winner Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Up Here) and a book by Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), the film’s screenwriter and director (with Chris Buck). Frozen won 2014 Oscars for Best Song (“Let It Go”) and Best Animated Feature.

    Frozen’s director is Michael Grandage, a Tony Award-winner (Red) and director of three Olivier Award-winning Outstanding Musicals (Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel and Guys & Dolls), and Tony winner Christopher Gattelli (Newsies, South Pacific, The King and I) is choreographer. The design team for Frozen includes scenic and costume design by Tony and Olivier Award winner Christopher Oram (Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Evita), lighting design by six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (Aladdin, An American in Paris, The Glass Menagerie) and sound design by four-time Tony nominee Peter Hylenski (The Scottsboro Boys, Motown, After Midnight).

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Two-time Tony Award winner Stephen Oremus (Avenue Q, Wicked, The Book of Mormon) is music supervisor and creates vocal and incidental arrangements.

    Frozen is slated to join Disney hits Aladdin and The Lion King on Broadway in spring 2018 at the St. James Theatre.

    Casting and Broadway dates will be announced at a future date.

    Frozen is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions.

    Frozen: Ticket information
    FrozenAt a glance: From Disney, the producer of The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast comes the beloved tale of two sisters torn apart and their journey to find themselves and their way back to each other. Be among the first to see this highly anticipated new musical before it makes its Broadway debut.

    Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions
    Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2017
    Buell Theatre

    • Broadway subscribers may purchase additional tickets starting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12
    • Broadway subscriptions available here
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more will start in February
    • Single tickets will go on sale to the public in the spring of 2017

    MORE INFO


    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Frozen
    Breaking: Disney confirms director Michael Grandage
    2016-17 Broadway season to include pre-Broadway Frozen
  • Hedwig's Stephen Trask: There are Thors all around us

    by John Moore | Nov 22, 2016

    Stephen Trask photo by Bruce Gilkas
    Stephen Trask photo by Bruce Gilkas.


    Hedwig is an iconic fictional character divided by gender, born out of one divided nation and now living in another. Birthed from two creators who imagined a world where from its earliest form, love itself was violently divided by an angry and capricious god of lightning.

    Her two makers, Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, have been divided throughout their own lives by their own forms of otherness. Yet for the past 18 years, their cult-favorite rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch has told the rocking, wrenching and ultimately healing story of a woman seeking wholeness.

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch was born in a raucous gay New York nightclub called Squeezebox. It grew into a seminal off-Broadway production that ran for nearly three years before being made into an underground phenom movie. Finally, in 2014, Hedwig arrived tattered and triumphant on Broadway, where it won three Tony Awards including best revival. Now, as it embarks on its first tour of the American heartland, Trask sees the opportunity for a divided America to stop shouting and start singing … fist-pumping and full-throated.

    “I'd like to see a world where people don't have to spend as much mental energy dividing us all into categories of us vs. them or as a series of 'others,' ” Trask said on the eve of Hedwig’s arrival in Denver on Dec. 6. “ I hope people can come to understand that the categories we have grouped ourselves in are really just states of mind. I hope we all will be able to love each other more and share the planet better.”

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock concert, during which our heroine intermittently reveals the intimate details of her shocking life. Hedwig was born a boy in communist East Germany and underwent a brutal sex-change operation to marry an American soldier who takes her to Kansas and abandons her there. Now she travels the country following a young boy named Tommy Gnosis whom she believes has stolen her music, her fame and half of her soul. The origin of her emptiness – indeed of our universal human emptiness, she believes – is explained in the song "Origin of Love," which tells of the petty god Thor, who used lightning bolts to split prehistoric man in half, damning all descendants to an unending search for our "other half.”

    And in the wake of this bitterly fought election season, Trask sees plenty of Thors in our world who are creating divisions in every direction.

    “In the opening song, Hedwig comes out and she says very defiantly that she's right in the middle of all of these divides,” Trask said. “And it's not just gender divides. It's a lot of divides. But she tells us, ‘Hey, there ain't much of a difference between a bridge and a wall. And without me right in the middle, babe, you would be nothin' at all.’

    “What she means is, you can look at that thing that is dividing you, that wall, and say that's actually a connecting point. The thing that is dividing us is actually also what makes us have stuff in common. What's binding us is our common humanity. And if we tear down those mental constructs as much as possible, the whole world just opens up in a way that makes life better - not just for other people, but for yourself.”

    The video above shows John Cameron Mitchell singing 'Origin of Love' in the 2001 film version of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch.'

    In advance of Hedwig’s arrival in Denver starting Dec. 6, Stephen Trask opened up for a wide-ranging conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore covering how he and John Cameron Mitchell first conceived the Hedwig character, how he approached writing the seminal song “Origin of Love,” and much more – including his blunt response to the blunt question, “Do you feel like you have gotten your share of the credit over the years?” Along the way, Trask references Barbra Steisand, Dr. Seuss, The Clash and The Justice League of America, among others. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

    John Moore: The Hedwig story really starts at Squeezebox, where you were the bandleader. What was going on in your life and in the world that made that the right time and place for Hedwig to be born?

    Stephen Trask: I was a gay singer-songwriter trying to disguise my softer side in punk-rock music and glam-rock music. I had a band, and I think people were interested in what we were doing because the songs were melodic and the music was fun and the lyrics had meaning. But people were pretty put off by the idea of an outwardly gay singer-songwriter, particularly one for whom it wasn't really a political thing. For me it was political to not be political. Sometimes I might write a song about an issue, but we were not political in the way that The Clash were political. Politics was not the point of our band, so there really wasn't much room for us in the music scene. I got to be friends with Pat Briggs, who was one of the co-founders of Squeezebox. We both bonded over the fact that there really wasn't much space in the rock world for gay people, and there wasn't really a space for rock music in the gay world. He and Michael Schmidt decided to start this club and asked me if I would be the bandleader of it. It had reached the point where enough people now wanted to see a drag queen singing a real rock song instead of lip-syncing to a Barbra Streisand song. Or who wanted to hear a DJ who was playing rock music of all eras and punk rock and new-wave. And it turned out that there were a lot of people who wanted this. Squeezebox was a hit from the moment it opened its doors. Every week we put on a different show with a drag queen. I was leading a four-piece rock band, and it was basically the same lineup that's in the Hedwig band. That was also my band outside of the club.   

    So at the same time, John and I were working on a new show. There was no female character in it yet, but we started inventing her together - and I emphasize 'her' because if this character were to be a woman, and John were playing her, then that would mean I could get us a gig at Squeezebox. Hedwig was partly drawn on somebody John knew, and partly drawn on my experiences as a frustrated musician, which is part of her story, too. We thought she was going to be a minor part of this show but we kept getting gigs. And so we slowly developed this original show.

    John Moore: So the idea for John to play this failed rock star was really yours?

    Stephen Trask quote Stephen Trask: Oh, yeah. That was my idea. We had a rock-star character in our story that was loosely based on John who later became Tommy Gnosis. But frankly, and no offense to John, but he wasn't really that interesting of a character. Now, I am sure if we really wanted to make the story about John, we could have made it very interesting, but it wasn't really a subject we were getting very far with. I had taken a class in biography in college, and they taught us how to interview people. So I got my notebook out and I started interviewing John. I thought we would find some biographical material that we can use. And sure enough, he started telling me about this babysitter he had as a kid. And I just said, "John, why don't we take her and make her into a failed rock musician who used to have a relationship with our central rock-star character. But he went on to become famous, and she is left singing in dives, and she is bitter about it, and that's what she talks about. I'll write “Wicked Little Town,” her song of bitterness over never getting out of the town. You'll write a monologue and you'll play the character. We'll get her a wig and we'll put her in Squeezebox." And so that's kind of how it happened. We just sort of invented her right there in the room.

    John Moore: I've gotten to interview John a couple of times and one of the most meaningful stories I ever got to write was an interview with his parents, who were living in Colorado Springs when the first production of Hedwig was being staged down there. So I knew John's father was the high-ranking general based in Berlin who stood behind Reagan when he called on Gorbachev to tear down the wall. Now all of those biographical details seem to equate John's life more directly to the character of Tommy than Hedwig.

    Stephen Trask: Right.

    Mitchell and Trask: The two halves of Hedwig's whole

    John Moore: And so that would make you the internationally ignored sing stylist?

    Stephen Trask: That part's me. Absolutely. The person looking for her other half? That's John. And the internationally ignored song stylist? That’s me. We just kind of mashed it together. She's an odd character. Her biography is a bit of a fairy tale, but we were able to make it feel human because we were able to both tell our own story without being self-indulgent. I can talk about being a bitter rock star. I'm not actually bitter, but when you are a struggling musician, you want to make it. You don't want to be singing in dives. I can relate.      

    John Moore: So do you feel like you have gotten your share of the credit for creating this character over the years?

    Stephen Trask: No. Not one bit. No, not at all.

    John Moore: So speaking of Hedwig as of two halves of a whole, I guess the fair way to say it is that Hedwig really is half of both of you.

    Stephen Trask: Yeah, very much so. Yeah.




    John Moore: Well speaking of that very thing, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to ask you about the origin of "Origin of Love." When I was a reporter at the Denver Post, I wrote a column called "The 10 Most Gut-Scraping Songs of the Aughts," and I put "Origin of Love" on the list. I cheated a little bit by citing the Rufus Wainwright cover, because that put me in the right decade, but I specifically called out the song for your line, “I was looking at you. You had a way so familiar, but I could not recognize. ’Cause you had blood on your face; I had blood in my eyes.” I just want to know what gave you the confidence that you could distill everything that is going on in that story into a pop song and communicate all of its depth and complexity in three minutes.

    Stephen Trask: I first heard of the story because John bought me that book, "Plato's Symposium." He said to me, 'Can you write a song about this?' I was very into ambitious narrative songwriting. I was also obsessed with Lou Reed at the time. He had that huge mythic song called "Last Great American Whale," but he had tons of other songs that were just as hugely ambitious. And there was the Townes Van Zandt song "Pancho & Lefty." Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard did a spectacular cover of that one. I had been trying in different ways to write songs that tried to cover a lot of subject matter. So when John gave me this story, I knew this was something I could really sink my teeth into. The big thing I knew I was always leading up to was telling the story as a myth and then turning it personal at the end. Doing the whole thing in a way where you set up this really fascinating story and then make it gut-wrenching. It started out with me figuring out that I could get in by describing it in a kind of Dr. Seuss language. I had this book called "Happy Birthday to You" when I was growing up, and there is this really strange world described in this book. The drawings were these really spectacularly strange creatures. So I thought, “Well, let's describe this world before humans were cut down into their current size when there were just these big, huge two-faced, eight-limbed beings, and how can I tell this story like Dr. Seuss?” Once I figured that out, it came out almost all at once. It was just:

    When the earth was still flat,
    And clouds made of fire.
    Mountains stretched up to the sky.
    Sometimes higher.

    It’s very sing-songy. You can even imagine where the pages of the book turn, and what the pictures would look like.
     
    Folks roamed the earth.
    Like big rolling kegs.
    They had two sets of arms.
    They had two sets of legs.

    I imagined it from the start as an animated children's book. I asked myself, 'So who else would the gods have thought were threatening that they would have cut down, like dinosaurs into lizards, and cut the legs off of whales? I just imagined these vengeful gods taking these giant rival creatures and cutting them down to size. I also imagined kind of like The Justice League of America where the gods of all the religions all had one clubhouse together. A place where Thor is like a member of the Justice League. Where creatures from different myths all occupy the same space. It just unfolded like that, just trying to be extremely visual so that I could imagine this picture book that people could listen to and follow along the whole way.

    John Moore: The idea that we all have predestined soulmates is somewhat refuted by my favorite song in the score, "Wicked Little Town." So I am wondering: Do you believe that we have predestined soulmates or are you more the "Wicked Little Town" kind of a guy?

    The film version of the 'Wicked Little Town' reprise.


    Stephen Trask: I am a more the "Wicked Little Town Reprise" kind of guy, actually. John is the one who was very into the 'other half' idea. He's the one who gave me the Plato. When the show was oriented around a character based on John's life, we did explore this idea of, 'Who is my other half?' But that kind of went away. And so when I wrote what Tommy says to Hedwig, it was also me writing to John, saying, 'I don't actually believe in this concept of the other half. I think it's more the love you create with the people around you and the relationships you create with the people around you, rather than searching for the person you are destined for.   

    John Moore: So what did it mean to you when the show finally got a chance to be seen on Broadway after so many years?

    Stephen Trask: It was life-changing. It definitely put the work out there in a bigger way. It's one thing to have people go, 'Oh, I love that show!' every so often. It's another thing to actually have a lot of people who have seen it. I assume some people don't like it, but for some people, it's clearly life-changing. I tend to gravitate toward the people for whom it is life-changing. When you are doing something like that, you are talking to people. You are trying to put out these ideas, and they aren't, 'Oh, I wish I were a rock star.' Instead it's a discussion about how we construct our world into a series of dualities, and how the lines can be blurred or erased depending on your perspective. The discussion about love and whether love is something that is destined, or whether it is something that you find and recognize and nurture in the way that Tommy also sings about Hedwig. The reprise in "Wicked Little Town" is inspired by the idea of found objects becoming art. It's not just love as something you find as opposed to are destined for, but I believe the world is the thing that we make of it, and it's not really our destiny so much as what we do with who and what we are presented. So you want to get into a discussion like that, and you certainly don't want to be shouting off into the dark. So Broadway brought all of that to a wider audience. When people actually respond to it, and it begins a conversation, and it either has a profound effect on people's lives, or it begins a discussion or an argument, it feels good to have been a part of that.

    I also want to say that we ran the Broadway show as a year-and-a-half-long fundraiser for the Harvey Milk School. We ended up giving them more than $600,000. We are their biggest donor ever. Bigger than car companies. And so, if you feel like you are trying to create some good in the world, then that certainly did it. 

    John Moore: Tell me about solving the specific problem of telling the story on Broadway when the whole idea of the story is based on Hedwig playing in dive bars and bowling alleys? I saw the show on Broadway, and you guys clearly had a lot of fun acknowledging that this really isn't a Broadway show. It's more a Broadway takeover.

    Stephen Trask: Yes, on Broadway, the idea was that Hedwig and company are squatting on the set of the disastrous fictional production of Hurt Locker the Musical, which closed after one performance the night before. And that particular conceit is one that you can only do in a Broadway house when the joke is that big. I mean there we have an entire joke set. You are literally going to a Broadway house and there is the set to an entirely different show. We also made Playbills for Hurt Locker the Musical and scattered them around the theatre as if they had been discarded by patrons who hated it as they left at intermission. There is no end to how much you can tell this joke. It all started when John was visiting my house in Kentucky where I live with my partner, and the two of us were trying to come up with a funny Broadway show title that had closed after one night. We were naming one after the other and my husband actually came up with Hurt Locker the Musical. We just cracked up so much that we knew it was the right one. So then I wrote a song for it, and it's not even necessarily a bad song. The concept is that it's the kind of song that a good writer would write if they agreed to be hired onto a project called Hurt Locker the Musical, and approached it sincerely. The problem isn't the song, per se. The whole idea is wrong, and that's why it was so fun. Everything about that was a blast.
    John Moore: So how do you do that on the road?

    Stephen Trask: We definitely loved the Hurt Locker concept, and the jokes work great, and we didn't want to lose it. So we thought, 'Well, the road is where Broadway shows are being developed.' So on the road, Hurt Locker is not a Broadway show. It's a pre-Broadway run like you would have in cities like Denver,  where the producers are hoping for it to go to Broadway. But it failed. So we found a different context to tell the same jokes.           

    John Moore: So even though Hurt Locker the Musical died on Broadway ... it lives on the road, in cities all across America.  

    Stephen Trask: It lives. It lives.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: And what can you tell us about the new musical you are working on, This Ain’t No Disco!?

    Stephen Trask: I’ll tell you, it’s not really like anything that anyone has said about it so far, except that it vaguely relates to Studio 54. It's about young people who come to New York in the late 1970s and early 80s to find themselves and each other in the nightclub culture of the time. It takes place partly at Studio 54, partly at the Mudd Club, and also in artist spaces and on the streets of the city. What's interesting is the way that people in these cultures find themselves forming found families that are not biological or nuclear. I am writing it with Peter Yanowitz, who is the drummer in the Hedwig band. We developed the story with Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) but it's a sung-through musical, so there is no actual dialogue. The music is a mix of choral and gospel and punk and rock and disco and new-wave and soul and R&B. Rick came up with this great concept of Studio 54 as a church and (Studio 54 founder) Steve Rubell a street preacher.

    John Moore: In closing, now that you are this Broadway big-shot, do you think it might be time for you to embrace your birth name of Stephen Schwartz, and go ahead and let people confuse you with the Stephen Schwartz who wrote Godspell and Wicked

    Stephen Trask: I remember the first check I mistakenly got for writing "Defying Gravity." I said, “What the hell is this?” I didn't know the songs to Wicked, so I had no idea why I was getting it. And it was actually a really small check, unfortunately.

    John Moore: Did you have to give it back?

    Stephen Trask: I called him up and we compared things that he has gotten of mine, and things I have gotten of his, and it was within, like, $10. So we agreed if something big comes in, we'll tell the other person. But it's not worth it to call him up and say, "Hey, I got $3.87 for this.” And he's fine without it.

    John Moore: Final thoughts on Hedwig?

    Stephen Trask: It's going to knock your socks off, I can assure you.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    More to come from John Cameron Mitchell
    Look for John Moore’s expanded individual interview with John Cameron Mitchell coming soon to the DCPA NewsCenter

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Denver: Ticket information
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the genre-bending, fourth-wall-smashing musical sensation, with a pulsing score and electrifying performances, that tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage.
    • Dec 6-11
    • Buell Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 10
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Mitchell and Trask: The two halves of Hedwig's whole
    Casting: Euan Morton to don Hedwig's wig on national tour
    Hedwig named to Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    Hedwig creator’s parents are tearing down a wall
  • 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' will belly up to the bar ... in St. Louis

    by John Moore | Nov 17, 2016

    Video above: The making of 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' in Denver. Photos below from the DCPA Theatre Company's 2014 production by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

    Colorado may be Molly Brown’s home, but her next residence will be in her birth state of Missouri.

    Two years ago, the DCPA Theatre Company launched a completely re-imagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown, directed by Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall and featuring both a new book by Dick Scanlan and a recalibrated Meredith Willson score that includes new songs from the Willson catalog. Marshall called the result "Americana at its best: Big, strong, open-hearted and optimistic.”

    The production was well-received at the DCPA but its creators were intent on incorporating lessons learned from Denver toward the eventual goal of a larger life on the national stage. The next step in that journey was announced today when The Unsinkable Molly Brown was included on the 2017 season for The Muny next July 21-27. Located in St. Louis, The Muny is America’s largest outdoor musical theatre.

    MollyBrown-billboardThe Unsinkable Molly Brown tells the story of perhaps the most colorful woman in Colorado history. The original 1960 Broadway musical was beloved by some but was also problematic. The musical tells the story of a Hannibal girl who went to Colorado and married a miner who became fabulously wealthy. But unlike others in her position, Brown opened a soup kitchen and fought for immigrants. Ultimately she boarded the Titanic but survived, rescuing others in the process.

    “It’s a classic American musical: beautiful and heartfelt,” said Mike Isaacson, the Muny’s artistic producer and executive producer. “And what Dick has done with it is extraordinary.”

    Scanlan, a three-time Tony Award nominee also wrote the book for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and other musicals.

    “Dick has kept the songs you love…and hopefully he’s gotten rid of the ones you don’t,” DCPA Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson said.

    In Molly Brown’s 1932 obituary, The Denver Post’s Jack Carberry wrote: “She was a pot rustler who, shamed by her ignorance, mastered music, literature and the arts to storm the portals and pass the barriers of society.”

    But while Scanlan promises audiences will see a much deeper Molly Brown than they did in the 1960 original, The Unsinkable Molly Brown remains very much a musical. And a musical comedy at that.  

    LEAD MOLLY“This is not a documentary,” Marshall added. “This is a historical fiction. This is the journey of Molly Brown as a woman, and her marriage.”

    That means this is also a romance.

    “Oh it is very much a romance,” Scanlan said.

     

    Casting for St. Louis will be announced at a later date.

    Selected previous Molly Brown coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter:

     

  • Mitchell and Trask: The two halves of Hedwig's whole

    by John Moore | Nov 15, 2016

    Hedwig John Cameron Mitchell Stephen Trask



    Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    is a 90-minute rock narrative that tells the story of an East Berlin boy who dreams of finding his other half. But while the biographical details of this extraordinary tale are shockingly unique — the desperate boy submits to a brutal (and botched) sex-change operation to marry a soldier who takes her to Kansas and abandons her there — this underdog and largely underground phenomenon has made a profound impact on a generation of audiences seeking their own kinds of individual wholeness. For Hedwig, it was the dream of connecting with her believed soulmate, a pimply boy named Tommy Gnosis who instead grows up to steal her music — and her fame.

    “The most common positive effect I hear from people is that our story creates a space in their lives for them to find themselves,” said writer John Cameron Mitchell. “Everybody is fighting a battle. Everyone is a misfit and a loser. Or has felt that way. Hedwig’s road is particularly hard, but she laughs at it. And that’s what makes her story a communal thing.”

    John Moore's 2005 interview with John Cameron Mitchell's parents

    Speaking of two sides of a whole, the fictional Hedwig is very much the two halves of her own two creators — Mitchell and composer Stephen Trask.

    “The person looking for their other half is John,” said Trask. “And the internationally ignored song stylist is me. We just mashed her together into one.”

    Hedwig Stephen Trask QuoteHedwig — both the character and the theatrical rock concert — were born after New York was gripped by AIDS, but not yet by terror. Trask was the bandleader at a new gay nightclub called Squeezebox, which fully embraced punk, new-wave and glam-rock at a time when, he said, “There really wasn’t much space in the rock world for gay people, and there really wasn’t a space for rock music in the gay world. But it turned out there were a lot of people who wanted it.”

    Squeezebox was a hit from the moment it opened its doors. Gone were the days of drag queens lip-syncing to Streisand. In their place was a full-throated Hedwig and her band.

    Mitchell and Trask first began working on a show about a rock-star character loosely based on Mitchell — the now unseen Tommy Gnosis. “Frankly, and no offense to John,” Trask said, “but he really wasn’t that interesting.” So they focused instead on inventing a female character Mitchell could play. Hedwig was inspired by a babysitter Mitchell remembered having.

    Trask said to Mitchell: “Why don’t we take her and make her into a failed singer who used to have a relationship with our rock-star character? Now he’s famous, and she’s singing in dives, is bitter about it and is telling us about it.”

    Hedwig went from the club to the theatrical stage in 1998 with an off-Broadway run that led to a cult-favorite 2001 independent film. But another dozen years would pass before the theatrical gods aligned and Hedwig finally bowed on Broadway — sort of.

    In the film, Hedwig performs in a bowling alley, among other places. Around the country, the musical is typically presented in seedy nightclubs. A classy Broadway theatre was no place for Hedwig’s act, so this would require an anachronistic wink. When Hedwig opened on Broadway, the gag was that the host Belasco Theatre had just housed a disastrous run of The Hurt Locker, the Musical, which closed after one performance. Hedwig and Company are now essentially squatting in the abandoned theatre as Tommy performs on a legit stage across the alley.

    Hedwig John Cameron Mitchell Quote“The whole idea of a Broadway musical based on The Hurt Locker is just so wrong, and that’s why it’s so much fun,” Trask said. “There is no end to how much you can tell that joke.”

    But the joke doesn’t work on the road, so the team has adopted a slight alteration for its first national tour: When Hedwig plays road houses such as Denver’s Buell Theatre, it’s a disastrous pre-Broadway run of The Hurt Locker that just tanked.

    It took Hedwig so long to make it to Broadway, Mitchell believes, because Broadway wasn’t ready for Hedwig. “We didn’t change. The world changed,” said Mitchell. “The idea of rock ’n’ roll on the stage, the idea of drag, the idea of this unusual story — they all became less frightening. It was just time. And we wanted to make sure we had the right person to play Hedwig.”

    And at age 51, the right person was no longer Mitchell, who instead happily handed the wig over to the man he calls “America’s sweetheart,” Neil Patrick Harris. He was followed  by a steady stream of bankable stars including Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss, Taye Diggs, Andrew Rannells and, for three months, John Cameron Mitchell.

    Yes, after rave reviews and nearly a year on Broadway, Mitchell decided to step back into Hedwig’s heels and bring his personal journey full circle.

    “It was just like the old days, but somehow better because there was less at stake,” said Mitchell, who said he took on the challenge as a way to shake him from the complacency he felt stuck in following the deaths of his longtime partner, Hedwig band member Jack Steeb, and father, Army Major General John H. Mitchell. The general was in charge of all U.S. military forces in West Germany in 1987 and stood behind Ronald Reagan when the president famously implored, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Mitchell’s father, who retired to Colorado Springs and died in 2013, profoundly influenced his son’s writing of Hedwig.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    From Broadway, Mitchell learned he was not too old to play Hedwig — nor will he ever be.

     “This is a story that can be told at any time, and a role you can do at any age,” Mitchell said. “The character can age. I am sure I will do it one more time when I am in my 70s, sitting in a chair. I’m just sure the keys will be very low.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    More to come from John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask
    Look for John Moore’s expanded individual interviews with John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask coming soon to the DCPA NewsCenter

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Denver: Ticket information
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the genre-bending, fourth-wall-smashing musical sensation, with a pulsing score and electrifying performances, that tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage.
    • Dec 6-11
    • Buell Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 10
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Casting: Euan Morton to don Hedwig's wig on national tour
    Hedwig named to Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    Hedwig creator’s parents are tearing down a wall
  • James Graham on 'Peter Pan' as true theatre anarchy

    by John Moore | Nov 14, 2016
    Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg
    "There was an idea about what art should be, and J. M. Barrie contradicted that by suggesting there was possibly a value to learning from children," says 'Finding Neverland' writer James Graham. Pictured: Laura Michelle Kelly and Aidan Gemme of the original Broadway cast. Photo by Carol Rosegg.


    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opens in Denver on Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the principal cast and creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in a seven-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 4: Book writer and playwright James Graham. Next: Tom Hewitt, who plays Charles Frohman and Captain James Hook.

    J. M. Barrie not only put children on the stage - he made them the focus. And that gave them the power of the storytelling.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Finding Neverland is the story of how playwright J. M. Barrie found both the inspiration to write Peter Pan, and the courage to put his story on the turn-of-the-century London stage.

    James Graham, a 34-year-old British playwright who has been cutting the edges of the London theatre himself with a series of timely and political plays, understands why modern audiences might be a bit baffled to hear that it took actual courage for Barrie to stage what has become one of the most beloved myths of the past century.

    “Yes it's easy to forget now, because Peter Pan is so ingrained in our popular conscience,” said Graham. “But when J. M. Barrie wrote that play in 1904, it was incredibly radical and actually quite dangerous.”

    What Barrie was doing 100 years ago just wasn’t done in London. He not only put children on the stage - he made them the focus. And that gave them the power of the storytelling.

    James Graham Finding Neverland Quote“The idea that J. M. Barrie would, first and foremost, give children voice, rather than the grownups, was a complete reversal of the hierarchy and the status quo,” Graham said. “He was famous for flipping those power dynamics. He even made their nanny a dog. All of that was quite anarchic. It was quite shocking to the theatre establishment when he delivered that play.”

    This was, he further explained, a very rigid, post-Victorian society. “And if you look at Downton Abbey, which began about 10 years later, it’s all about social structures and hierarchy and knowing your place and never going above your circumstances,” said Graham. “There was a proper way of behaving, and that did not suit Peter Pan in any way.”

    Finding Neverland recounts many amazing backstage stories we probably can't believe now, Graham said. “They wouldn't even hand out the whole script of Peter Pan to the actors at first because they thought they would rebel. They had to have security on the doors in the rehearsal room because they thought that if it ever leaked out that this was a play about flying pixies and fairies and dogs and pirates, it would destroy the theatre’s reputation - and Barrie’s.

    “There was an idea about what society was and what art should be, and Barrie contradicted that by suggesting there was possibly a value to learning from children, from returning to that sense of innocence and make-believe from childhood.”

    Graham 's recent plays include the acclaimed Privacy at London’s Donmar Warehouse and This House at the National Theatre. This House, which was nominated for the Olivier Best Play Award and later was broadcast to cinemas worldwide, took a hard political look at the House of Commons. The more recent Privacy, which starred Daniel Radcliffe and became a hot ticket at the Public Theatre in New York, investigates the consequences of living your life online in the post-Snowden era. Variety’s David Benedict called Privacy “theatrically sophisticated, deeply researched, sharply structured material that’s as fascinating as it is unnerving.”

    Which might not make Graham Director Diane Paulus’ most obvious choice to write the book for the Broadway musical adaptation of Finding Neverland. But when you think of yourself not only as a kindred spirit but a direct literary descendant of Barrie’s – Graham was perhaps the perfect choice.

    “Everything about it appealed to my slightly anarchic side,” he said. And Graham evidently appealed to Paulus.

    “Diane has an incredible forensic knowledge of how you build a musical and how musicals work in terms of their structure and their effect on an audience,” Graham said. “I think she does apply some pretty out-of-the-box thinking when she puts a show together. That was certainly the case with this process.”

    Here is more of our in-depth conversation with ‘Finding Neverland’ book writer James Graham:

    John Moore: Congratulations on Privacy.

    James Graham: Thank you. It's such a crazy play.  We're really pleased that people have taken to it. It's cool. It's great.

    John Moore: How was it received in New York? 

    Daniel Radcliffe in 'Privacy.' Photo by Joan Marcus. James Graham: Really well. It was furiously sold out, which was good and bad, because obviously you always want to get all of the people in who want to see it. It's such a strange show. The form is quite experimental. We ask the audience to keep their cell phones on during the play, and to share every night on social media. It was a tough one, but it was fun to do something a bit crazy and a bit different. 

    (Pictured: Daniel Radcliffe in 'Privacy' off-Broadway with Michael Countryman, left, Raffi Barsoumian and Reg Rogers. Photo by Joan Marcus.)

    John Moore: I find it fascinating that Diane Paulus thought to pick you for Finding Neverland. I mean, you’ve just written this very timely new play about the impact of social media, and yet Diane looked you to adapt this century-old story. Why you?

    James Graham: That’s a very good question. I often ask that myself. I write political plays in the U.K. about obscure British historical events that would not normally interest anyone else. So I was as surprised as anyone. But as you say, my roots are very much in theatre, first and foremost. I love writing television dramas and screenplays, but I started on the stage and that's where I feel the most comfortable. I had a reasonable success at the National Theatre about four years ago with This House. (Finding Neverland producer) Harvey Weinstein saw that show and then we imagined we might make a movie together at some point. Then I was incredibly surprised with the call I got from him a couple of weeks later inquiring about the writing of a book for a Peter Pan musical. I didn't quite imagine that’s what that conversation was going to be. But I'm so thrilled he asked, because it's been extraordinary. I love being tested and challenged in different parts of my creativity and my brain. I loved the challenge of going from one production that features what I think is the biggest socially political issue of our time - how technology is eroding our privacy and our sense of self - to writing a pop musical with these guys that explores childhood, fantasy and imagination. Most of us have never had the joy of working with a composer or a lyricist or a choreographer. And we’re all from such different disciplines, like TV dance shows or the U.K. pop circuit. It's been awesome. It’s been cool.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: So you're a writer, and J. M. Barrie was a writer, But what specifically interested you most about the story you were being asked to write?

    James Graham: First and foremost, I would say I related to the plight of the main character, J. M. Barrie, as a writer who is feeling slightly trapped and blocked, and a writer who yearned to return to an age of living in his head and imagination at a time when life was more fun and playful and free. I think we all have a bit of Peter Pan in us, and I think I probably have more of a child than most of the people I know my age still. I spend my life making up characters and living in my own head. So I associated with that, because in real life, I'm not very exciting.

    John Moore: When you talk about J. M. Barrie’s anarchic spirit, it begins to seem as if Finding Neverland has more in common with your plays Privacy and This House and than meets the eye.

    James Graham: I hope so, because I think if you are going to ask people to leave their homes and come to the theatre and watch a show like Finding Neverland, I think it has to mean something and have some value in their lives. But equally, I won't pretend it was also anything other than what we hope is a sort of raucously entertaining, thrilling night at the theatre. It's such a comical and sparkly show. I think visually, Diane Paulus has created some of the most beautiful and thrilling effects on stage that I've ever been a party to.

    John Moore: What was it like working with your pop-star composers, Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy?

    James Graham: We tried to take the spirit of J. M. Barrie and do something that felt sort of intentionally incongruous. Having upbeat British pop music in an English, Edwardian setting was really exciting to me. There are some incredible numbers in the show from these guys. That has nothing to do with me, but I think the audience hopefully should be leaving the theatre singing at the end of the night.  

    John Moore: I know that in the theatre, the playwright is God. When you sit down to write Privacy and This House, that all comes straight from your laptop. So what are the challenges when there is not only a source film to be faithful to, but you also have these other creators saying to you, “Hey, we need to stop your story and sing a song right here”?

    James Graham: It's an entirely different writing process. I say this in the best possible sense: You kind of have to leave your ego at the door of the rehearsal room every day. As you say, there is tradition in the theatre world that the author is God, and your name is above the door, and there is kind of a reverence around you. That’s not the case when you write a musical. Because you're only one part of a team, or a machine, and all of it has to be functioning. I really, really loved that because I have never had to incorporate other people with my art, and here that might be dance or music or sound or visual effects or anything else that goes into the show. That's such a good discipline I think for a playwright to have to work at. It's very humbling to see other peoples’ skills, and then try and bend your own work around theirs - and see them bend theirs around yours.

    John Moore: What did you think of the 2004 source film with Johnny Depp?

    James Graham: I absolutely loved the film. I watched it when it came out. I found it really moving and beautiful and funny. So that was another reason to sink my teeth into it as well.

    James Graham Finding Neverland QuoteJohn Moore: What was it like watching the film again, knowing that your challenge now was to bring that story to the stage?

    James Graham: I wasn't really intimidated by it. I always feel quite free when I'm adapting anything, whether it be historical events or source material. I think I convinced myself that you can only really take the essence of a film or a book that you're adapting, and then you really have to find what it means to you personally and how you might find theatrical language for that. And I was super, super keen to find a theatrical language to this show, because it is a play about the theatre and the power of storytelling to inspire and change things. So I was keen to move it as much away from the film universe and toward the theatre universe as possible. 

    John Moore: Was Peter Pan part of your childhood?

    James Graham: Oh my gosh, yes. Hugely. I had it from age 4 or 5. I have a very vivid image of me in my house as a kid in the 1980s standing on the arm of my sofa and genuinely believing that if I closed my eyes and had a good thought, then I would be able to fly off the thing. Obviously, I crashed and burned. I remember that very vividly. Here in London we have a tradition which you don't really have there in America. It’s a Christmas show called pantomime, where we take on legends and stories and myths like Robin Hood or Cinderella and Peter Pan. It’s a very specific type of silly comedy show that we've been doing here for hundreds of years, and everyone goes to watch at Christmas. My favorite one to go and watch at my local theatre was always Peter Pan.

    John Moore: There have been so many variations of Peter Pan in books and film and on stage. What can I tell people so they don't mistake Finding Neverland for any other Peter Pan story?

    James Graham: This story tells the origins of one of the greatest works in our shared culture. We're getting used to that in the theatre now, when you think of the huge popularity and success of Wicked. Finding Neverland is almost like the Star Wars prequel. It's not the story of Peter Pan itself - it’s the story how Peter became Pan. And it's a really, really brilliant and funny and amazing and moving story of how this playwright, finding himself in a condition which I think every audience member will understand, of suddenly feeling like you've gotten slightly older, without meaning to. You’ve taken on all this responsibility, and life just isn't quite as much fun as it used to be. Meeting this extraordinary family, as Barrie did in real life, turned him into this brilliant, silly kid again. And then he took on London society and created this play that inspired them all. It's a real-life story and it so brilliantly exciting and funny and moving that I think hopefully people should love it. 

    John Moore: Sadly, we, we don't get to see it here in Denver it until December.

    James Graham: Oh, but that's the perfect time to come and see it - Christmas.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Finding Neverland: Ticket information
    • Dec 20, 2016, through Jan. 1, 2017
    • Buell Theatre
    • Cast talkback: After the Dec. 21 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 30
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Finding Neverland
    creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 3: Composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season

  • Photos, video: 'Jersey Boy' Matthew Dailey goes back to school

    by John Moore | Nov 08, 2016

    Matthew Dailey, who grew up in Littleton and was a member of Arapahoe High School's Class of 2007, returned home to his alma mater Nov. 5 to talk with theatre students. Dailey is playing Tommy DeVito in the Denver-bound national touring production of Jersey Boys, which plays at the Buell Theatre from Nov. 9-13. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Full photo gallery: Jersey Boys in Denver:
    'Jersey Boys' in Denver

    Photos include Matthew Dailey at Arapahoe High School and appearing at the DCPA's special Denver Arts Week presentation on the making of theatre magic. All photos are downloadable for free. To see more, just click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore.



    Jersey Boys: Ticket information

    • Nov. 9-13
    • Buell Theatre
    • Talkback with the cast following Thursday, Nov. 10 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Additional NewsCenter coverage of Jersey Boys:
    Andrew Russell workin' his way back to Denver
    Matthew Dailey walks like a man back to Denver
    Dailey, Russell: There's plenty of Colorado in Jersey Boys
    Video, photos: Jersey Boy sings national anthem at Broncos game

    Matthew Dailey. Jersey Boys. Arapahoe High School.  Photo by John Moore.

    Matthew Dailey of 'Jersey Boys at Arapahoe High School. Photo by John Moore. 
  • 'Jersey Boy' Andrew Russell workin' his way back to Denver

    by John Moore | Nov 06, 2016
    Andrew Russell and the Company of Jersey Boys. Photo Jeremy Daniel

    The national touring company of 'Jersey Boys.' Photo Jeremy Daniel.


    Andrew Russell can relate to the Four Seasons’ unlikely rise from a street corner in New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s lived a storybook tale of his own, rising from Pomona High School to his new place at the Jersey Boys’ table. Along the way he’s married his high-school sweetheart, performed in five musicals at the Arvada Center and now he returns home to perform in the national touring production of Jersey Boys from  Nov. 9-13 on the most fabled stage of his youth, the Denver Center’s Buell Theatre.

    “It's definitely going to be a very eye-opening experience. This is something I have always dreamed of,” said Russell, who saw his first live theatre performance at the Buell Theatre when the national touring production of Rent, starring Anthony Rapp, visited Denver in 2001.

    “I spent a lot of time around the Buell as a kid, and throughout my entire life, seeing whatever big shows were touring at the Denver Center,” Russell said. “Theatre in Denver was what I always imagined Broadway would be like. I also remember seeing Les Miserables at the Arvada Center and the touring production of Avenue Q at the Buell. That was my ticket to becoming whatever it is that I wanted to be in my life. Being able to see these quality productions really sparked something in me and made me think that possibly I could be doing this.

    “And now being part of one of those quality productions, and coming back to Denver - it's a full-circle story.”

    Jersey Boys Andrew Russell QuoteRussell wasn’t particularly driven to join the theatre program at Pomona High. You might say gang-leader Gavin Mayer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – Jersey Boys-style.

    "He pulled me into the program,” Russell said of his teacher and director. “I was this very shy, awkward kid, and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I was nervous and not ready for high school. I just didn’t have confidence, and I feel like Gavin saw something in me.”

    Russell’s family had moved often when he was a kid, finally settling in Westminster when he was in the fifth grade. Pomona was his first time at the same school for more than two years.

    On his first day of orientation, Mayer invited Russell to sit in and observe what the theatre program there was all about. “Sure enough, a few months later, he cast me in Footloose, The Musical. That was all him,” Russell said. And seven years later, as fate would have it, Mayer would cast Russell again - in the Arvada Center’s Legally Blonde, The Musical.

    “And so Gavin cast me in my first production of anything in high school, and then in my junior year of college, he cast me in my first professional theatre production of anything, and that was Legally Blonde.”

    Before Russell graduated from Pomona, Mayer also cast him in Hello Dolly! opposite Brenna Larsen, another fortuitous gift in Russell’s life. The two played Minnie Fae and Barnaby. They became high-school sweethearts, they matriculated together to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and they were married in August 2015.

    Andrew Russell. She Loves Me. Arvada Center. In 2014, Russell performed in the Arvada Center’s throwback holiday musical She Loves Me. At the cast party, he met a party-crasher named Matthew Dailey. He was another Arvada Center alum who had just learned he would be playing Tommy DeVito in the national touring production of Jersey Boys. “We talked a little about the show, and I just thought that was so cool,” Russell said. “Who knew that a couple years later, I'd actually be joining him in the tour? It's a crazy thing.”

    It’s a little more crazy that Russell made it into the cast than Dailey, given Russell’s own account of his audition. He was up for the role of goofball Hank Majewski, who was briefly a member of The Four Lovers – the precursor to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. “It was kind of a flop,” Russell said of The Four Lovers. “Hank was kind of a dorky guy who didn’t really lead the group to any kind of success at all. So they dropped him and picked up Bob Gaudio, who obviously made everything right.”

    (Photo above and right: Andrew Russell with Rob Costigan in 2014's 'She Loves Me.' Photos by P. Switzer.)

    Because Russell is now based in Burbank, California, he submitted his audition tape through YouTube. When the casting team then asked him to come in for a real audition, Russell left a key accessory at home. “Hank needs to play guitar, and when they called me back, I didn't even think to bring a guitar,” Russell said with a laugh. “I walked into the room and the first question they asked was, 'Where's your guitar?' And so I had to say, "Um ... back in Burbank?”

    But it worked for him.

    Andrew Russell Quote“I think that set up this kind of goofball attitude from the beginning," he said. "I feel like they saw that in me.”

    The Four Seasons – sans Majewski – went on to chart 50 hit singles and sell an estimated 100 million records worldwide. The core of the group during its 1962-67 heyday were lead singer Frankie Valli, Gaudio on keyboards, DeVito on lead guitar and Nick Massi on electric bass. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

    All of which was news to Russell when he was a student at Pomona – more than 40 years after “Sherry” was the No. 1 song in America. It was 2005 when the Jersey Boys Broadway soundtrack was released and found its way to Arvada.

    “My friends and I would be singing along down the halls of Pomona High School,” Russell said. “I had never heard these songs before. I didn’t know who the Four Seasons were. So me being able to attach to these iconic songs at my age is very much attributable to Bob Gaudio's genius. They are just so memorable that kids generations later can snap along to them just like their parents did.”

    When Russell was cast, part of his intensive training was a third-row ticket to watch the original New York production, which is preparing to end its 11-year run in January as the 12th-longest-running show in Broadway history.

    “I just listened to the way people responded to these songs like ‘Oh What a Night,’ ‘Sherry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man,’ ” Russell said. “This isn't your typical Broadway experience. On top of the book and the score just being really, really good, the direction and the choreography are very specific; It's like a well-oiled machine, from the way the Four Seasons snap their fingers to the way the ensemble put their chairs down.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “The audience forgets they are watching a show. They find themselves singing along and enjoying their memories. Then you see the kids like me who just really enjoy the show, too. That's definitely why the show keeps on going like it has: Because everybody can enjoy it.

    Russell enjoys stepping into the spats of a band of brothers who like to play with each other and make fun of each other. "They get in each others' faces," Russell said. "But in the end, they have this bond, and that bond is their word. They are family.”

    And Russell’s family is his high-school Minnie Fae. Brenna Larsen Russell is also a performer, and she is currently touring the country in Nick Jr.’s cable television show Peppa Pig Live.

    “We always had this crazy bond together,” Russell said. “I couldn't be more proud of her. Here we are just a couple of years out of college in little old Greeley, Colorado, and we both are working professionally, sustaining our life together as a married couple in the industry. It’s been pretty fun.

    “Throughout our whole lives, people have told us, ‘Don't have relationships with other people in the industry.’ But I have seen a lot of relationships be very successful, especially when you find somebody you really have a connection with. I feel like we were brought together for a reason. We just have this soulmate connection. I can’t imagine my life with anybody else.”


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.

    Jersey Boys: Photo gallery

    Jersey Boys

    Jersey Boys: Ticket information

    • Nov. 9-13
    • Buell Theatre
    • Talkback with the cast following Thursday, Nov. 10 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Additional NewsCenter coverage of Jersey Boys:
    Andrew Russell workin' his way back to Denver
    Matthew Dailey walks like a man back to Denver
    Dailey, Russell: There's plenty of Colorado in Jersey Boys
    Video, photos: Jersey Boy sings national anthem at Broncos game

  • Take That! How Barlow, Kennedy wove pop sensibility into 'Finding Neverland’

    by John Moore | Nov 04, 2016



    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opens in Denver on Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the principal cast and creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in an eight-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 3: Composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Next: Book writer and playwright James Graham.

    'Pop-Tart' composers set out to create a big, heartfelt and emotional musical without irony or apology

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    It might be surprising for Americans to learn just how popular Finding Neverland composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy are in the United Kingdom, says the Broadway musical’s book writer, James Graham.

    Kennedy has written No. 1 hits for Spice Girls, Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Aretha Franklin and more. And Barlow was only voted the single greatest British songwriter of all time in a 2009 national survey. Yes, from a field that included a couple of Liverpool lads named John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney.

    Barlow is both “furiously well-known and well-liked” in England, Graham said. He is the frontman of the enduring British pop group Take That - and while the group has only No. 1 song in the United States, Barlow and the boys have topped the charts 12 times in the U.K.

    “Oh, my God, I was so nervous just before I met Gary because he’s just this massive star here,” said Graham. “My sister had posters of him on her bedroom wall when I was growing up. He can fill stadiums and arenas when he tours. We're talking the stature of Elton John. He's a national treasure in the U.K., for sure. And equally Eliot Kennedy, who is part of that tradition of British pop music writing that is just so impressive. He knows his stuff inside out.”

    That success and notoriety in the rock world made Barlow and Kennedy unlikely candidates to pen the score for Finding Neverland, the stage adaptation of the Johnny Depp film about how J. M. Barrie brought Peter Pan to London life in 1904. But as part of a creative team filled with anachronistic artists from a variety of creative backgrounds, Kennedy and Eliot were the perfect choice for Director Diane Paulus and Producer Harvey Weinstein.

    (Pictured above and right: Sawyer Nunes and Aidan Gemme of the Original Broadway Cast of 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

    Weinstein is one of the most famous film and theatre producers in the world. Except perhaps to Barlow, who bluffed his way through the initial call from Weinstein, then phoned Kennedy.

    Barlow whispered to Kennedy: “Eliot … who's Harvey Weinstein?"

    Kennedy’s response: "Whatever he wants, tell him yes, we'll do it. Because whatever he's doing … it'll be big."

    Kennedy knew Weinstein, all right. Kennedy had been nominated for a Grammy Award for co-writing a song for Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige in Weinstein’s film Bobby, about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. And what Weinstein wanted, Kennedy said, was a more youthful and unconventional approach to the Finding Neverland score, which was already under development by other songwriters.

    Finding Neverland Gary Barlow QuoteWeinstein had a modest request: Just one song. “Yes, it started that innocently,” Kennedy said with a laugh.

    “Now I'm going to be honest here,” Barlow added. “If Harvey would have called and said, ‘We need the whole score,’ I'd have told him I was too busy. Because I had been told how long the process of writing musicals can be, and I thought I was just too busy to dedicate four years of my life to writing a musical. Now I don't know whether this was Harvey's plan all along, but one song turned into two songs. And then, before you know it, we've replaced all the music for the whole musical.

    “And of course the one thing I've learned getting involved with musicals is that once you enter that world, you become a part of that world. Once you've fallen in love with the piece, and you've fallen in love with the director and the choreographer and everyone else, then all of a sudden you're like a responsible part of the musical body. So once we were in, we were in. There was no going back.”

    That first song they wrote turned out to be the title tune. And it came to life with almost no labor pains.

    “Both of us watched the movie. And the next morning I had an idea for the song,” Kennedy said. “I was just strumming along in a sort of folky way, wanting it to sound a little bit Celtic, what with J. M. Barrie being Scottish and all. And then on the way down to pick up Gary, I got a little idea for a chorus, and that turned out to be the duet “What You Mean to Me.” So by the time I got to Gary's, I already had a couple of ideas. I sat at the piano and sang the chorus of “What You Mean to Me” to him, and Gary just went, ‘El, move over.’ So Gary sat down, and within 15 minutes, we had that song pretty much nailed. 

    “Then I grabbed a guitar and sang him the chorus to “Neverland.” And, again, we just fired it off very quickly. Those were the first two demos straight out of the bag. Within 15 minutes of sending the songs to Harvey, he called back and said, ‘We're going to need some more of these.’ And we just got so inspired by it all. We watched the movie again a couple of times, and from that point onward, all we were doing really was imagining writing a soundtrack to a film with a lot of songs in it.”

    Fundamental to Barlow was that he and his partner not appreciably change their songwriting style to fit the Broadway genre. They are, after all, Kennedy said, “a couple pop tarts” -  and pop tarts they should want to stay.

    “At the very start of the process, I said, ‘Look, if you want a Broadway musical, there's thousands of people who do this every day. I don't do that,” Barlow says he told Weinstein. ‘But what I can give you is my version of how I think it should sound. And it won't sound like it's from Broadway. It'll sound like it's from a pop album because that's what I've done for 25 years. And if you want to employ me to do this, that's what you're going to get.’ ”

    And what they got, as Barlow describes it, “is an entire score of these 3-minute, carefully crafted British pop songs.” And that was music to Paulus’ ears.

    “In fact, there was only one song we wrote that we thought Diane would really love, because it sounded to us like really ‘musical theatre,’ ” Kennedy said. “But she hated it.  She just said, ‘Look, guys, don't think about this too much - just do what you do.’ ”

    So they produced a contemporary score that was ahead of its time to tell the story of an author whose mind, Barlow said, was a century ahead of its time.

    “Listen, J. M. Barrie was such a visionary that if we can imagine being in his head - he wouldn't be hearing this pompous 1904 music,” Barlow said. “He'd be hearing pop music. He'd be hearing what we're all listening to right now. And so that was our excuse to go, ‘All right, we can make this feel modern. We can make it feel like part of the fabric of the world we are creating, even though it’s set 100 years ago.’ So we used conventional instruments like a piano and a guitar, and over the top of that we wove it all in with these magical, mysterious melodies you hear in everyday pop music.”

    And that, Graham said, is the songwriters’ true strength.

    “I think they're some of the best melody writers in the world,” Graham said. “And you can hear it in every song of Finding Neverland. They have so much heart in their music. And I am certainly aware that there's been a creeping incursion of what I would call 'ironic' or 'insincere' musicals in the U.K. I really embraced and enjoyed Diane's and the boys’ commitment to unapologetically do this very heartfelt, big, emotional musical without irony or apology.”





    Here’s more of DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore’s wide-ranging conversation with Eliot Kennedy and Gary Barlow:

    John Moore: Your title song strikes me as evidence that a song can convey a magnitude of emotion just as powerfully if it is performed by a singer with a guitar, or by an ensemble with a full orchestra.

    Eliot Kennedy: I really like that you said that, because that song has all the elements we love about classic singer-songwriters. There's a folkiness to it. There's a James Taylor quality that I really love. The songwriters I really admire are those who are able to just sit down with a guitar and make a song work. We needed songs in Finding Neverland that could do that. And it’s funny you say that because whenever Gary and I perform that song, we do it very much as you describe: Just a piano and an acoustic guitar and two harmonies, and it really works. I think that gives it a bit of a timeless quality, I hope. Let's hope that never goes away.

     Gary Barlow: We've always had a theory that if a song can work well with just piano or guitar and voice, then it can work well with anything. I always think of "Yesterday," by The Beatles. It couldn't be more simple - and it's probably the most perfect pop song ever written. You know a song is flawed if you can't make it work with a piano and a voice. That's how we wrote all of our songs for Finding Neverland. The title song works in a community center or a village hall with just someone sitting at a piano and singing it. Now, the thrill of hearing an orchestra on top of all that is just fantastic. But fundamentally, underneath it all, the foundation has to be a well-written, crafted song.

    John Moore: What are your first recollections of encountering Peter Pan as a boy?

    Eliot Kennedy: It’s almost like Peter Pan is in our DNA, and I wonder if that’s the reason it's been so successful. It's like we're born already knowing the story. All those insecurities about growing up and getting older and wanting to hold onto your youth. It's one of those incredibly human stories that we've all somehow experienced, no matter what whereabouts in life you're from. That's why I think this story really transcends.

     John Moore: I imagine that when you come from the rock world, you never want to grow up, either?

    Gary Barlow: It's a funny thing, isn't it? When you're younger, you want to be older. When you're older, you want to be younger. It's a strange thing. But it's funny. I'm 45 now. I've got a group of friends and we've all decided that we'd actually be quite happy stopping time at the point where we are at now. So if I was in Neverland, I'd stop it at age 45. That would be absolutely great. That's the perfect age.

    John Moore: But isn’t not wanting to grow up an essential ingredient in both rock and roll and the story of Peter Pan?

    Gary Barlow: I know, I know. Yeah, I think so, absolutely.

    Eliot Kennedy: And I think that’s because this is such a young story. Even if it’s 100 years old. It's about youth and young energy. And I think  pop music resonates with that, too. To use a Peter Pan-ism: That's the cleverness of Harvey Weinstein. He was the one that got that, I think, when he chose us.

    Gary Barlow: We have a very famous pop star here called Cliff Richard, and he’s called ‘The Peter Pan of Pop.’ I always think of him when I think of Peter Pan. He's one of those people who's never aged and never grown up.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: When you started to do your research and learn more about J. M. Barrie as a creator, did you relate to the conflict he felt as an artist who was trying to find his true voice?

    Finding Neverland Gary Barlow QuoteGary Barlow: It's every songwriter's story. Forget that. It's everyone's story. Anyone who's ever created. A creative lifetime is a very difficult one because you're always constantly, every day, trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. That's the truth. Whether you're a photographer or an artist or whatever. A creative life is tricky. It's very blessed, of course, because we do amazing things and we see the fruits of our work come to light in incredible ways. But that doesn't happen every year. For every one success, we have all these other things that perplex us and curse us. It's a hard life. It really is. So as we all watch and learn about J. M. Barrie, we definitely can relate to him.

    John Moore: Can you give me a sense of how you work together as a songwriting team?

    Eliot Kennedy: Gary and I work very closely, but rather differently than other co-writers. We do the same things. We're both lyricists and musicians and producers, and we both play. I'm either the guitarist or the keyboard player, depending whether Gary is in the room. Or the lyricist,  depending on who's got the laptop on them. We tend to divide and conquer quite a lot. We'll sit together and come up with four or five ideas. I'll take two or three of them, and he'll take two. And then halfway through the day we'll swap ideas. By the end of the day, we've got five songs. A lot of that comes from the fact that we've known each other for 25 years. We know each other inside out. We trust each other implicitly, and we think the same way. Essentially, we approached Finding Neverland as if we were in a pop band, and I think that's been one of the reasons it worked so well. 

     John Moore: I'm pretty sure Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't work that way.

    Eliot Kennedy: I'm pretty positive they didn't.

    John Moore: How does your score evolve as the actual show progresses?

    Finding Neverland Eliot Kennedy QuoteEliot Kennedy: I think that for the first 10 minutes, the music serves to set the whole thing up as a typical musical-theatre performance. Because you start with J. M. Barrie, and he’s frustrated that he is doing the same old thing. And then all of a sudden these kids and this woman turn up into his life, and everything changes. When we get to the point in the story when J. M. Barrie is in with the kids and Sylvia, it becomes a real emotional journey. I think it changes everything. So when the show gets to the song “Believe” onwards, I think it's  just a magical moment where they are all in. And I think the songs become much more significant because we've really bought into Barrie and his journey. Literally everything changes. He dares to do things he never would do normally as a writer, or as a human being. He just puts himself out there. You know, when we look back on our lives, I'd like to think we don't regret not doing that. Do you know what I'm saying? It would be really sad to get to the end of your life and kind of go, ‘Do you know what? I never just went for it. I never put myself out there. I never expressed myself.’ Because that's what eventually led to the creation of Peter Pan.

    John Moore: Does that in any way match your journeys in writing your first Broadway score?

    Eliot Kennedy: One of the things I discovered in the writing of this thing is that just about anything that is really truly amazing was born out of an incredibly painful process. And a whole lot of heartache and a whole lot of upset. It's an unfortunate human trait, but anything that's been brilliant in this world usually has been born out of a great deal of pain and confusion and insecurity. That's what makes this so triumphant: It’s the human spirit. I think that's what this story represents more than anything. The odds were against J. M. Barrie. No one wanted his Peter Pan play. His producer didn't want it.  His wife wanted nothing to do with this nonsense. Yet somehow, out of these children this inspiration came, and we have this incredible thing in the world as a result that everyone relates to. That should give you inspiration to keep going. These stories need to be told over and over again to remind people not to give up. I got a great deal out of that realization. 



    John Moore: Gary, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about Take That.

    Gary Barlow: We've got a new record this Christmas, and we're doing another big tour next year. It changes as people come and go, but those people have been a part of my life and my family for a quarter of a century now. Take That lives in me somewhere in a place that's very safe. I feel like I have my brothers with me when I go up on stage. Finding Neverland Take ThatBut it’s also been a great experience to be free of being in a band to do the music for Finding Neverland. For someone who writes for the radio to write for the theatre, it's almost like my keyboard has grown three times. I feel like I've had a kind of freedom I haven't had for a long time. And it's nice to use some of my training as well. There are some techniques I've used in this score which I've never been able to use in my pop music. So it's been really nice to push the boundaries of my musical journey, especially at this place in my life. I never dreamed I'd be hitting 45 and opening a brand-new musical door. I thought those days were well behind me. So it's been fabulous for all of that. I feel very blessed to have been involved in this whole thing.

    Finding Neverland. Take That. John Moore: What did it mean for you to be voted the greatest British songwriter of all time?

    Gary Barlow: I wrote that. Yeah - that's my quote. 

     John Moore: Is there one Take That song that’s your favorite?

    Gary Barlow: Well, the only hit we ever had in America was a song called "Back for Good" in 1995. That was the only record we ever had that was sort of like a semi-sort of big hit there. It's funny. I come to America a lot, and I often hear that song on the radio still.



    John Moore: What did your children think when they saw Finding Neverland for the first time?

    Gary Barlow: Ah, well, I took my 11-year-old daughter with me to the very first read-through and she loved that. It was really interesting because Harvey wants perfection. And so he actually sat there talking to my daughter for half an hour after the reading, getting her take on who she thought was good, who wasn't, and what she didn't understand in the story. So she's followed this whole thing right through and she still loves to go and see the show with me now. She knows every word.

    Finding Neverland Eliot Kennedy: I have two teenagers, a 14- and an 18-year-old. Obviously they knew it was about the creation of Peter Pan, but it was just the best thing to be able to sit with them in the audience and say, ‘Check this out. This is what we did. This is why dad has been away so much.’ It was a highly emotional moment. I was in tears at the end, because all of Gary's family was there with us, too. It was just magic. It was like, ‘Wow, we've really done something cool here - more than just making a great album or having a hit in the charts.’ It felt like this was going to be around for a long time, and that people are going to enjoy it for a long time.

    John Moore: Diane Paulus has always been an unconventional director, which was again born out in her choices for the Finding Neverland creative team. How was she the right person to shepherd you through your first Broadway musical endeavor?

    Finding Neverland Eliot Kennedy QuoteEliot Kennedy: She is a genius - and I have to say, I think that's an overused word. But she is. She's a genius - and not in the way that those dudes in an Apple shop are geniuses. She is a visionary. I learned a great deal from just sitting and watching her work things out, and then translating her ideas to people. That was inspiring. And I'll be honest with you. Near the end of the musical, when the children perform their play in the bedroom for Sylvia, who is dying, I remember thinking at the time, ‘I don't get this at all. I just don't know what Diane is thinking.’ And then we got to the workshop, and I saw it all play out in front of me. All of a sudden it was just like, ‘Oh my God, how on Earth did she see this working this way?’ There were so many moments like that for me. And it's not just because I was naive and new to musical theatre. It's because she is just really clever. She interpreted our music in ways I never would have dreamed of. I mean, we had Harvey Weinstein and Diane Paulus. Talk about being spoiled. We had just an incredible creative team. And on top of that, we had Mia Michaels as our choreographer. Just ridiculous. The riches were absolutely amazing.

    John Moore: So how do you think musicals like Finding Neverland and once are changing things for the next generation of theatregoers?

    Eliot Kennedy: I would imagine that in any sort of changing circumstance, there's a little bit of a pull away from what is traditional. Now there’s certainly a lot of traditional musical theatre out there. But I think Finding Neverland falls into a similar kind of place as once  - and then the extreme of that being Hamilton - where you've just got a different medium to help tell the story, and that medium being contemporary music. Now there have been a lot of musicals with contemporary writers and scores, but it does feel like there is a groundswell right now for more of a pop influence in musical theatre. Younger people are starting to relate to it. I think that can only be a good thing. Listen, if it brings kids to the theatre, then it's got to be a brilliant thing, because we need to keep it alive, you know.

    John Moore: So has this whole experience turned you into a musical-theatre fan?

    Eliot Kennedy: Oh, God, Gary and I totally got the bug of it all. We've seen loads of shows, and we've written two more musicals since Finding Neverland. Yeah, we're really into it. We're really excited about the next thing we're doing. We're doing Around the World in 80 Days and another musical that's starting in the West End soon which is called The Girls. It's a musical based on the 2003 film Calendar Girls. It's primarily Gary and the writer of the story, Tim Firth, although I wrote the main two songs with them for it. It was a fabulous thing to be a part of. So we've really got the bug. We love it now.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Finding Neverland: Ticket information
    • Dec 20, 2016, through Jan. 1, 2017
    • Buell Theatre
    • Cast talkback: After the Dec. 21 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 30
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Finding Neverland
    creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels
    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season

  • Matthew Dailey walks like a man home to Denver

    by John Moore | Nov 02, 2016

    Matthew Dailey. Jersey Boys. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

    From left: Keith Hines, Aaron De Jesus, Cory Jeacoma and Denver native Matthew Dailey in the national touring production of 'Jersey Boys,' coming to Denver from Nov. 9-13. DeJesus  played Tom Sawyer in the Arvada Center's 'Big River' in 2009. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.


    Matthew Dailey may be a Jersey Boy today, but he’s as Colorado as they come, having grown up in Littleton and learned the craft of theatre in Denver’s equivalent of The Mickey Mouse Club. Disney had Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling, but Denver had Melissa Benoist, Annaleigh Ashford, Matthew Dailey and more.

    “When I was 9 years old, I saw a production of Guys and Dolls at the Country Dinner Playhouse,” said Dailey, who now plays Tommy DeVito in the Denver-bound national touring production of Jersey Boys. “I saw how much fun everyone was having and I told my parents right there I wanted to be up there doing that, too.

    Paul Dwyer was an actor in that production of Guys and Dolls, and a longtime friend of Dailey’s mother, Mary. “So after the show he came over and we started talking, and I started taking classes with him the next week,” Dailey said.

    Dwyer and local choreographer Alann Worley ran an after-school program called the Academy of Theatre Arts, and Dailey was a student there for the next eight years. Among his classmates were Benoist, of Glee and Supergirl fame; Ashford, who won a Tony Award for her comic turn in Kinky Boots; and Jesse JP Johnson, who will soon return to Broadway in a new musical based on SpongeBob SquarePants. “A lot of really talented kids came out of Denver, and still do,” said Dailey, including many around Denver such as Tim Howard, who recently starred in the Aurora Fox’s Catch Me If You Can and has been Dailey’s best friend for 20 years.

    Matthew Dailey QuoteDailey is now playing DeVito, who grew up the hard way in Jersey. He was youngest of nine children to Italian immigrant parents and raised in a cold-water flat. “You did anything to survive,” DeVito often has said. “You’d steal milk off of porches.” But there there is an ethical side to DeVito, Dailey said, even though, in Jersey Boys, he is shown to have been a minor crook at times.

    "He did steal milk off people's porches as a kid, but he never stole from his own neighborhood, because those were his people," Dailey said. "And if a house had two jugs of milk, he only took one. Or if they had three, he only took two. He always left them with some.

    "Tommy is definitely not without his good qualities. He's very determined. He sets his mind to something, and he then does everything within his power to achieve it."

    Dwyer swells with pride to see Dailey coming home in a big Broadway national touring production. But he had to chuckle a wee bit when he first heard Dailey was cast as DeVito, because, well ... "Let's just say Matthew did his character study at a young age," he said.

    Wait, what?
     
    "So in the show, you see Tommy DeVito and the guys do some bad things," Dwyer said, reveling in the telling of his story. "Well, when Matthew was in high school, I do remember this one time when he - without the owner's knowledge - broke into the Academy of Theatre Arts to have a party. So I'm just saying ... maybe the role isn't that much of a stretch."

    Oh, what a night!

    Here’s more with Dailey, a graduate of Arapahoe High School, on growing up in Colorado and his imminent return to Denver, where he will perform on the Buell Theatre stage for the first time.

    John Moore: What were some of your favorite performances in Denver?

    Matthew Dailey: The first show I ever did was Little Women at the Town Hall Arts Center in 1998. I loved doing shows at the old Country Dinner Playhouse. I did The Music Man, Titanic, Nuncrackers, and Annie Get Your Gun there. I also did Bye Bye Birdie and A Chorus Line at Town Hall – both with Melissa Benoist. I have done A Chorus Line three times now, but you never forget your first. I was only 16 at the time. That one was directed by Michael Gorman, and it was such an incredible experience. He was a taskmaster in the best possible way, and I think we all came out better for it.

    John Moore: This will be the fourth Jersey Boys tour stop in Denver since 2009. Why is this show still truckin' along like it is?  

    Matthew Dailey: There is something really special and magical about this show. It's the perfect storm where you have this incredible story, paired with this incredible music. If you were to take the music out of the show altogether, you would still have this incredible underdog story of these four guys going from the streets of New Jersey to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Similarly, if you were to take away the story, and just had this music, you would be left with this incredible soundtrack that has lasted more than 50 years. And when you bring the two together, you get this incredible Broadway show that has lasted 11 years on Broadway.




    John Moore: Jersey Boys is, of course, the story of the beginnings of the Four Seasons, who combined doo-wop with astounding harmonies to make No. 1 hits like “Oh What a Night,” “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.” What’s your favorite?

    Matthew Dailey: It changes almost nightly, but I would say right now, my favorite is a song called Begging. It happens in the second act. It's fun choreography. It's got a great beat to it, and it launches us into one of my favorite scenes in the show.

    John Moore: Tell us about playing Tommy DeVito.

    Matthew Dailey: Tommy is this guy from the wrong side of the tracks, and he’s the ringleader of the group. Everyone brings something different to the band, whether it's Frankie Valli's voice or Bob Gaudio's songs or Nick Massi's arrangements. Tommy brings everybody together. He brings the leadership and the ability to keep everyone heading in the same direction.

    John Moore: Tommy DeVito is now 88 years old and still alive. Have you met him?

    Matthew Dailey: I have not, but I hope to one day.

    Dailey, Russell put the Colorado in Jersey Boys

    John Moore: Tell us about that Jersey Boys attitude. Because when we think of what that means - a Jersey Boy - we think of Springsteen and Sinatra on Bon Jovi. What is a Jersey Boy to you?

    Matthew Dailey: To me, a Jersey Boy is a product of his neighborhood. There is a swagger. There is an air about him that is unlike any other. I mean there is no real "Denver Boy" to speak of. We just don't say that. But these are “the Jersey Boys.” There is a kind of a cocky arrogance to them - but not in a bad way.

    John Moore: What is it going to mean to you to be performing on the Buell Theatre stage for the first time?

    Jersey BoysMatthew Dailey: It is a dream come true. I can't wait. I have been looking forward to it since I joined the tour, hoping that we would eventually get to go to Denver. Last year, we went to Colorado Springs, which is the closest I thought we were ever going to get to Denver. When they announced we are actually going to the Buell, it was an unbelievable feeling. I didn't think it was even going to be possible. I grew up seeing shows on that stage. The Buell is where I would go and see all of these people living out the dream that I hoped to achieve one day. So it's really going to be meaningful and exciting for me to go back and hopefully bring that same feeling to a new generation of kids who are out there in the audience and want to be up performing on that stage someday, too.

    (Photo above right: Matthew Dailey, far right, with Matt LaFontaine, Ben Dicke, Lauren Shealy and Shannan Steele in the Arvada Center's 'The 1940s Radio Hour' in 2011. Photo by P. Switzer.)


    John Moore: You have dedicated your performance in this tour to your father, Phil Gottlieb, who was a good friend to the Colorado theatre at large. Tell us a little about him.

    Matthew Dailey QuoteMatthew Dailey: My dad passed away in 2009 from a series of heart attacks. But he was a performer his whole life. He was born in New York, grew up in Wyoming and then moved back to New York after high school and a little bit of college. He started dancing and performing, he and achieved his dream to dance on Broadway. So he did that for a while, and then he danced in Vegas and L.A. Eventually, he came to Denver and had a family and became a Realtor. But eventually he got back into performing and choreographing for theatre companies all around Denver. For a number of years we got to do that together, which was amazing. Then he passed very suddenly in 2009. And so every night when I go out there, I always think about him.

    How Matthew Dailey's family responded to loss

    John Moore: You mentioned your mother, who is a busy and beloved Music Director for theatre companies all over town. What is it going to mean to Mary and your brother, Chris, to see you at the Buell?

    Matthew Dailey: They're excited just to have me home for a little bit. I rarely make it back to Denver, and when I do, it is always very rushed. They both have traveled all over the country to see me in the show, which has been fun. But they are looking forward to seeing it in Denver. I know they are both excited to bring friends and get to experience it all together.

    John Moore: I have a feeling you are going to sell a few tickets in Denver.

    Matthew Dailey: I hope I didn’t use it all up last year. I had a whole party bus of people come down to Colorado Springs, led by (local choreographer) Piper Arpan. Hopefully there are still a few people there who want to see me at the Buell.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: So for those who haven't seen Jersey Boys, what are they in for?

    Matthew Dailey: They are in for a night unlike any other. There are in for flashy costumes, great music, a great story, live instruments, good-looking girls and good-looking guys. It's got something for everybody. It's not a typical night at the theatre. The theatre stereotype is that women have to drag their husbands and boyfriends to the theatre. For this show, it’s the other way around. This is the show that boyfriends and husbands drag their girlfriends and wives to. It’s like a Hollywood blockbuster – only it’s live.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.

    Jersey Boys: Photo gallery

    Jersey Boys

    Jersey Boys: Ticket information

    • Nov. 9-13
    • Buell Theatre
    • Talkback with the cast following Thursday, Nov. 10 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Additional NewsCenter coverage of Jersey Boys:
    Dailey, Russell: There's plenty of Colorado in Jersey Boys
    Video, photos: Jersey Boy sings national anthem at Broncos game

  • Breaking all the rules: Exclusive interview with Mia Michaels

    by John Moore | Oct 26, 2016

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opens in Denver on Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the entire creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in a five-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels. Next: Book writer and playwright James Graham.

    Finding Neverland choreographer shares rebel spirit
    with Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Mia Michaels, the Emmy-winning choreographer best known for her work on “So You Can Think You Can Dance,” did not have a normal childhood.

    Mia Michaels Quote How not normal? She never knew the stories of Peter Pan or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland until she was an adult. 

    “I was in my 40s,” she said. “There were no fairy tales. I never knew what that was. That just wasn't my growing up.”

    Instead, Michaels was usually in a dance studio as a kid. “So nothing else really existed,” she said. Which might make her childhood the saddest story in all of Neverland - if not for the fact that wee Michaels was carving out her eventual place as one of the most acclaimed and highly sought choreographers of the modern dance generation.

    “You know what?" she said. "Because I didn't grow up with fairy tales, I just create my own. That’s what I do.”

    It was only when Director Diane Paulus approached her about choreographing the new Broadway musical Finding Neverland that Michaels started to discover not only the story of Peter Pan, but of J.M. Barrie, the like-minded playwright who created him.

    “It was another world, and it was so brilliant,” Michaels said. “I fell in love with stories that take you to all these wonderful worlds.”

    The stage was Michaels’ first love, but her rocket guided her toward television, where she spent five seasons as a coach and judge on “So You Can Think You Can Dance.” But after only one season, Michaels remembers saying to herself: "I'm bored. I'm bored. I'm bored."

    She found her calling – and new direction – in her grief. On the 100th episode of the show in 2009, Michaels introduced her now iconic “Bench Piece,” danced by Travis Wall and Heidi Groskreutz, as a response to the death of her father. It told the story of a woman meeting her father in Heaven, and it won Michaels the first of two Emmy Awards.

    Using dance to tell stories was a new idea in modern-dance circles. “When I started, it really wasn't so much about storytelling,” Michaels said. “It was more about concept.”

    But breaking rules is something Michaels does organically, she said, “without even trying.” That comes, she said, from her need to constantly seek newness. “So it should come as no surprise that Paulus, who is known for assembling creative teams from non-traditional backgrounds, called Michaels and invited her to attend an early reading of Finding Neverland, which was then a budding musical about how Barrie came to bring Peter Pan to life in culturally repressed Victorian England. Thus began Michaels’ introduction to the boy who would never grow up.

    “I was at the reading, and all I remember was sobbing in my chair because it was about this artist who was stuck, like me,” Michaels said. “It was just a very raw, human story that I felt everybody could connect to because it was about loss and love and creativity. I knew that I had to do it in that moment. And the rest is history.”

    Michaels related to the story of Peter Pan. But she really related to the story of the man who created him. “J.M. Barrie’s story is about that child within,” she said. “He was an artist who was always creating, and he got stuck, just like me. Once he had his breakthrough into this unknown place of his imagination, everyone thought he was crazy. I mean, not even Barrie knew what he was doing. He was making what seemed like madness at the time. And he became legendary for it.

    “I just find that as an artist, that should be the goal every single time: To go to the unknown and go to the scary place and go to the places that don't make sense because they will make sense at the end. And I think Peter Pan is that.”

    Finding Neverland. Laura Michelle Kelly. Photo by Carol RoseggLaura Michelle Kelly from the Broadway company of 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.


    Here, in greater detail, are more excerpts from our in-depth conversation with 'Finding Neverland' choreographer Mia Michaels:

    John Moore: Peter Pan has been so iconic in our pop culture for 100 years. But not for you. When did the story finally come into your consciousness?

    Mia Michaels: When I was asked to do Peter Pan, that’s when I first started doing research on it. It was another world, and it was so brilliant.

    John Moore: Now that you have discovered Peter Pan, why do you think the tale continues to fascinate storytellers 100 years later?

    Mia Michaels: I find stories like Peter Pan to be very “out there.” They challenge your imagination. They challenge your child within. They challenge everything that we know because they take you somewhere else. When you read about Peter Pan, you just have to go on that journey and try to understand it. Peter Pan is one of those things that makes you go "hmm." What’s the backstory? What does it all mean?

    John Moore: When you left the TV show, you specifically talked about wanting to expand your creative horizons and take on new challenges. What is it about Broadway that fulfilled that need in you?

    Mia Michaels: Well, I did almost 10 years of television, and when I started the show, I was very much a concert choreographer. Dance then was all about complexity and phrases and human movement. It really wasn't so much about storytelling. It was more about concept. I did one season of “So You Think You Can Dance?” and I remember just going, "There's got to be more.” And so I started exploring storytelling. I fell into it so organically. The first story that I told was the Bench Piece, which I won an Emmy for, and it came out of me so naturally. I mean, I started exploring storytelling as a concept in a matter of 90 seconds: Trying to tell a story with the human body, and really make sense of it. I just fell in love with storytelling and didn't even know that was inside of me until I did “So You Think You Can Dance?” And then after a couple years of that, I knew I wanted to go back to the stage.

    Mia Michaels QuoteJohn Moore: You mentioned the Bench Piece, and that was obviously a watershed moment in your career. It was written of you: "That was a turning point for the show, and Mia Michaels changed the game forever." When you set out to do with the Bench Dance, were you out to change the rules of dance?

    Mia Michaels: I didn't, no. I'm one of those people who is always breaking rules, but I'm not ever setting out to break rules. It's just that I'm constantly seeking newness. I'm constantly seeking the unknown. That's very scary for a lot of people. Some people would call me a Banshee rebel artist, because I'm not afraid to break new ground. I didn't know, honestly, that I was going to create the Bench Piece when I went into rehearsal that day. I'm very instinctual, and I create in the moment. I create from my truth, and from what I know, and from my life experience. I tend to think that when you are an artist, and when ego and self get out of the way, then you're a vessel for something much greater than yourself - and something much greater comes through you. I try to get out of the way. When the Bench Piece was created, it was a moment in time that was like, "Boom, OK, there it is.” It’s interesting because, yeah I don't even remember a moment of how it was created.

    John Moore: Well, luckily it lives forever on YouTube.

    Mia Michaels: Yes, I can always look at it there.

    John Moore: You have said you created that dance as way to work through your grief after the loss of your father. How did the Bench Dance help you?

    Mia Michaels: That was my therapeutic outlet. When my father died, I was like, "Where did he go?” I watched him take his last breath, and it was like his spirit just went out, and there was this empty shell there in his place. It was clear that this was not my father. Where did he go? And so I was kind of obsessing over that question, and the fact that we'll never know the answer until we get to the other side. When people who lose loved ones, you just have to believe that you're going to see them again. That's what you hang on to. You have to believe that, because that's what gets you through the morning. And for me, that means reuniting in Heaven with my dad. And so, in the dance, sitting on one side of the cloud and him seeing me and waving - that moment was very consoling for me. It was very hard for me to create that piece because I couldn't stop crying the whole time. But it was really important for me. I really think all of my work is just my life through my art.  It’s a part of me, and it's a part of my therapy.

    John Moore: So Diane Paulus approached you. I imagine it must have been intimidating to get a call from someone who’s been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine.

    Mia Michaels: Yes.

    Finding Neverland, Denver Center_Finding Neverland, Sawyer Nunes and Aidan Gemme.  Photo by Carol RoseggJohn Moore: But part of her genius has to be in knowing who to call. Like you and other members of your Finding Neverland creative team who don’t come from a traditional theatre background. That kind of out-of-the-box thinking is part of what makes her great, isn't it?

    Mia Michaels: I totally agree. I think that's why we get along so well, and why we create so well together - because she's not afraid, either. She likes to surround herself with really creative people. It’s like this very powerful force that happens between her team and herself. She is not one of those directors who stifles creativity; she encourages it. She never, ever stops any creativity. We throw it against the wall and see what's right. She loves to see it all, and hear it all before she makes her decisions. I think the people who make the greatest directors are those who hire really creative people and then they let them create.

    (Pictured at right: Sawyer Nunes and Aidan Gemme in 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg)

    John Moore: So I'm curious about the approach you took to Finding Neverland. If you’re a rule-breaker, tell us what are those signature rules that you have broken here?

    Mia Michaels: Ours was definitely not a traditional Broadway approach. The choices we made musically, directionally and choreographically were just not traditional. Finding Neverland is its own thing and it has its own unique voice. And I think it's very unexpected. It has humor to it. It has emotion. And there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns. When I was creating the vocabulary for it, it took on a life of quirkiness. It lives in its own world in Neverland. Every project has its own personality. It tells you what it wants to be. For me, because this is my work, I don’t really think of it as different. But people who see the show go, "Wow, it's so different." And they are right. Everything about Finding Neverland is very different. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: Can you tell me one generally accepted dance rule that you would love to see obliterated?

    Mia Michaels: I come from a very trained background. But as much as I love technique, and I know how important it is - there's a part of me that thinks technique also stops creativity.  You can get so caught up in the technique of it that you lose the freedom of being a true artist. I wish sometimes I had no knowledge of technique at all. I hate technique, actually, because it never leaves your body. I wonder what my creativity would be if it was just some kind of wild animal.

    John Moore: The list of stars you have worked with is a bit boggling, starting with Madonna and Celine Dion. But you are also known for your passion for quality dance education. It must be a lot of fun for you to choreograph for kids who don't know who you are. 

    Mia Michaels: It definitely is. Sometimes it's better when you're working with kids who don't know who you are because then they don't get caught up in the celebrity of it. It's not for any other reason but to come into the room and work and grow and become a better artist. I love it, actually, when nobody knows me. Inspiring the next generation is really, really important for me. In fact, that is more important than any actual step I could teach them. I teach them about professionalism and work ethic and seeking out your own voice as an artist and not trying to conform to anyone else. Those are lessons you can't learn in any school. My whole career has just been trial and error. I really had no guidance other than my instincts, and I've learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. So if there's anything I can do to help the younger generation avoid those pitfalls I hit along the way, then it is very important for me to do that. I tell them to stand in their own uniqueness.

    John Moore: Speaking of celebrities you have worked with, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you your thoughts on the passing of Prince.

    Mia Michaels: Shocking. Very shocking. Big loss. Huge. I worked with him for a very short time, but it was a very impactful time for me as an artist. He was incredible. He was just free. He's a genius. That word shouldn’t be thrown around easily, but he is a genius, by far. Even though he's gone, what he left behind was awesome. What he did is just mind-blowing. He changed the game. He was a rule-breaker and he was a rebel and he wasn't afraid of change. He was a chameleon. I think it's important to constantly be evolving and changing. That's the only way we continue to grow, instead of doing the same thing over and over again.

    John Moore: So we have established what you, Prince and J.M. Barrie have in common there.

    Mia Michaels: That's not bad company. Not at all.

    John Moore: Finding Neverland is going to be new for most people who see it on the road. What kind of theatrical experience are people in for if they come to see this show in their town?

    Mia Michaels: What I love most about our show is that it's from the heart. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s also important to point out that Diane made a deliberate decision not to fly people on rigging. We decided to do it manually through the human body and doing lifts as dancers and movers. So they fly through the air that way instead of using wires. It feels so homemade. I'm Italian, and our version of Peter Pan feels to me like Grandma's Sunday sauce for the soul. One of my favorite scenes is at the end. That’s all I that I am going to say. But it takes you to a place that is so unexpected and so beautiful. It's not glossy. It's very real. And I love that.

    Bonus coverage: Thoughts on Colorado's Mandy Moore:

    Mandy MooreJohn Moore: I also feel I would be remiss if I didn't point out that one of the favorite daughters of Colorado dance is Mandy Moore.

    Mia Michaels: I love her. That's a special life force, right there. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is a warrior, she is smart and she continues to do great things. She's a teacher - a great teacher - and she's an inspiration. I love her. She's a powerful woman who's out there making it happen and inspiring generations, as well as directing and creating in the industry. I have a lot of respect for her. She's a special, special girl.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Finding Neverland: Ticket information
    • Dec 20, 2016, through Jan. 1, 2017
    • Buell Theatre
    • Cast talkback: After the Dec. 21 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 30
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Finding Neverland
    creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season

  • There's plenty of Colorado in 'Jersey Boys'

    by John Moore | Oct 20, 2016

    Jersey Boys Matthew Dailey. Photo Jeremy Daniel

    Arapahoe High School graduate Matthew Dailey, far right, is playing Tommy DeVito in the national touring production of 'Jersey Boys' coming to The Buell Theatre on Nov. 9, alongside, from left, Keith Hines, Aaron De Jesus and Cory Jeacoma. Pomona High School graduate Andrew Russell plays Hank Majewski. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.



    There always has been plenty of Jersey in Colorado. The towering 14,110-foot Pikes Peak, for example, is named after a New Jerseyan named Zebulon Pike. Had to be a Jersey Boy who got to the summit first, said local public relations maven and Garden State transplant Wendy Aiello. “Who else is going to be that pushy?”

    Other well-known Denverites from Jersey include Nuggets strongman Kenneth Faried, top chef Frank Bonnano, CBS4 General Manager Walt DeHaven and anchor Kathy Walsh. But when the show for all seasons that is about the Four Seasons returns to Denver for a fourth time, there will be plenty of Colorado in Jersey Boys, too.

    Jersey Boys tells the story of the band that combined doo-wop with astounding harmonies to make enduring No. 1 hits like “Oh What a Night,” “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.” The current national touring cast visiting Denver includes Arapahoe High School graduate Matthew Dailey, who plays Tommy DeVito, and Pomona High School graduate Andrew Russell, who plays short-lived band member Hank Majewski while also covering for musical mastermind Bob Gaudio. Both actors saw their very first professional theatrical performances at The Buell Theatre when they were kids. For Dailey: Beauty and the Beast in 1997. For Russell: Rent, starring Anthony Rapp, in 2001.

    Jersey Boys Andrew Russell Quote“The Buell is where I would go and see all of these people living out the dream that I hoped to achieve one day,” said Dailey. For Russell, “The Buell was my Broadway,” he said. “That was my ticket to becoming what I wanted to be in my life.”

    They both call performing at The Buell for the first time now a dream come true.

    “It's really going to be meaningful to hopefully bring that same feeling to a new generation of kids in the audience who will be wanting to be up on that Buell Theatre stage someday, too,” said Dailey.

    The Four Seasons were the most popular band in the world before the Beatles, charting 50 hit singles and selling an estimated 100 million records worldwide. While there have been 36 members of the band, which still performs into its sixth decade, the core during the 1962-67 heyday were lead singer Frankie Valli, Gaudio on keyboards, DeVito on lead guitar and Nick Massi on electric bass. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

    All of which was news to Russell when he was a student at Pomona High School – more than 40 years after “Sherry” was the No. 1 song in America. It was 2005 when the Jersey Boys Broadway soundtrack was released and found its way to Arvada.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “My friends and I would be singing along down the halls of Pomona High School,” Russell said. “I had never heard these songs before. I didn’t know who the Four Seasons were. So me being able to pick up these songs at my age and really attach to them is very much attributable to Bob Gaudio's genius in writing these iconic songs. They are just so memorable that kids generations later can snap along just as much as their parents did.”

    Jersey Boys Matthew Dailey QuoteJersey Boys is preparing to end its 11-year New York run in January after having played 4,642 shows, attracting 13 million people and winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. It will end as the 12th-longest-running show in Broadway history.

    Not bad for a band that rose up from the gutter all the way to the street corner.

    “Our scrappiness comes from living in the street,” Gaudio said. “We came from the kind of areas most people strive to get out of, so that you can make something of yourself.”

    DeVito, played by Dailey, was the initial driving force behind the group until gambling debts put him on the outs with the mob. He was known for stealing milk off people's porches as a kid. But he did it according to his own set of ethics, Dailey said.

    “First, he never stole from his own neighborhood, because those were his people. And he would never steal from a house that only had one jug of milk. If a house had two, he took one. If it had three, he took two. But he always left them with something.”

    How Matthew Dailey's family responded to loss

    Colorado’s Jersey Boys are where they are today, they believe, because of strong family and educational support growing up in Denver. Dailey’s mother is award-winning local Music Director Mary Dailey. Matthew has dedicated his Jersey Boys performance to his late father, Phil Gottlieb, who died in 2009. Dailey’s training began at age 8 at an afterschool theatre school run by Paul Dwyer and Alann Estes Worley, whose wee students also included future TV star Melissa Benoist (“Supergirl”), Tony-winning actor Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots) and Broadway actor Jesse JP Johnson (Wicked).

    Russell’s theatrical mentor is Gavin Mayer, his director at both Pomona High School (Footloose) and, later, at the Arvada Center (Legally Blonde). “I was this very shy, awkward kid in high school, and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life,” Russell said of his freshman-year alter ego. “Gavin was the person who inspired me to join theatre. He cast me in my first production of anything, and later he cast me in my first professional production, at the Arvada Center.”

    Those who come to see these local actors fulfill their childhood dreams in Jersey Boys will be treated, Dailey says, to a night like no other.

    “There is great music, a great story, great musicians, good-looking girls, good-looking guys and flashy costumes. It's got something for everybody.”

    Including plenty of Denver Boys who don’t normally go to the theatre.

    “The theatre stereotype is that women have to drag their husbands and boyfriends to the theatre,” Dailey said. “For this show, it’s the other way around. This is the show that boyfriends and husbands drag their girlfriends and wives to. It’s like a Hollywood blockbuster – only it’s live.”

    Look for our expanded, individual interviews with Matthew Dailey and Andrew Russell leading up to the arrival of 'Jersey Boys' in Denver on Nov. 9.


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. This article includes some quotes from a previous article he wrote for The Denver Post.

    Jersey Boys: Ticket information

    • Nov. 9-13
    • Buell Theatre
    • Talkback with the cast following Thursday, Nov. 10 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Additional NewsCenter coverage of Jersey Boys:
    Video, photos: Jersey Boy sings national anthem at Broncos game

    Jersey Boys Andrew Russell Matthew Dailey. Photo by P. Switzer
    Two current Jersey Boys in previous Arvada Center productions: Top, Matthew Dailey, far right, with Matt LaFontaine, Ben Dicke, Lauren Shealy and Shannan Steele in 2011's 'The 1940s Radio Hour'; and, above Andrew Russell with Rob Costigan in 2014's 'She Loves Me.' Photos by P. Switzer.


    Video: More about Matthew Dailey

  • Video: 'Jersey Boy' sings national anthem at Broncos game

    by John Moore | Oct 17, 2016


    Frankie J. Galasso of Jersey Boys was in Denver on Sept. 18 to sing the national anthem before the Denver Broncos' 34-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Mile High Stadium. Jersey Boys returns from Nov. 9-13 at the Buell Theatre. The cast includes Colorado natives Matthew Dailey and Andrew Russell.

    Video shot and edited by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk. Anthem footage provided by the Denver Broncos.

    Colorado native Beth Malone, nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Broadway's Fun Home, will sing the anthem before the Oct. 30 game against the San Diego Chargers.

    Photos from Frankie J. Galasso's Day in Denver:

    'Jersey Boy' sings Broncos national anthem

    To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. All photos are downloadable for free. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Jersey Boys: Ticket information
    Jersey Boys
    is the Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award-winning Best Musical about Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. This is the true story of how four blue-collar kids became one of the greatest successes in pop music history.

    • Nov. 9-13
    • Buell Theatre
    • Talkback with the cast following Thursday, Nov. 10 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829

    Recent previous national anthems covered by the DCPA NewsCenter:
    Colorado Rockies: Chris Mann, The Phantom of the Opera
    Denver Broncos: Kathryn McCreary, The Phantom of the Opera
    Denver Outlaws: Curtis Salinger and Charlotte Movizzo, 2016 Bobby G Award winners
    Denver Broncos: Kevin Massey, A Gentleman's Guide ...
    Denver Broncos: LaChanze, If/Then
    Denver Broncos: Gabe GibbsThe Book of Mormon
    Colorado Rockies: Evatt Salinger and Emma Buchanan, 2015 Bobby G Award winners 
    Denver Nuggets: Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., Motown the Musical
    Denver Broncos: Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Jersey Boys
    Denver Broncos: Andy Kelso, Kinky Boots
    Denver Broncos: Beth Malone, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

     Jersey Boys. Frankie J. Galasso. Denver Broncos. Photo by John Moore.
  • Euan Morton to don Hedwig's wig on national tour

    by John Moore | Oct 13, 2016


    Euan Morton, left, and Hannah Corneau.


    The long-awaited first national touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch will come to Denver starting Dec. 6 with Tony and Olivier Award-nominee Euan Morton in the title role of the internationally ignored song stylist, it was announced this morning.

    Morton is perhaps best known for originating the role of Boy George in the musical Taboo in London and New York. Hannah Corneau will play Yitzhak in Broadway’s 2014 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Revival.

    Denver will be the second stop on the new tour after it officially opens Nov. 29 in San Diego.

    “I have been blessed in my career, but no blessing has been as exciting as the chance I've been given to take over the role of Hedwig,” said Morton. “Joining the cast is the kind of challenge an actor dreams of.”

    Read John Moore's interview with John Cameron Mitchell's parents

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the landmark rock-concert musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask that debuted off-Broadway in 1998 and was made into a cult-hit indie movie in 2001. It’s about a fictional rock band fronted by an East German singer named Hedwig - formerly Hansel - who undergoes a botched sex-change operation to marry an American soldier who helped her to escape East Germany to Kansas, where he abandoned her.

    The now iconic role was originated by Mitchell off-Broadway and again on film. But when Hedwig finally arrived on Broadway (or, as the clever story now goes, when Hedwig essentially trespassed her way onto Broadway), the role of Hedwig was bequeathed onto the man Mitchell calls “America’s Sweetheart” - Neil Patrick Harris.

    Hedwig quoteBut as successful as Hedwig was on Broadway, with more than 500 performances, the role was not conceived to be performed by a major celebrity. That national touring audiences will not be as familiar with Morton, Mitchell said, will work to the show’s advantage.

    “I have to say that I am really, really excited about (Euan),” Mitchell said in an exclusive interview with the DCPA NewsCenter. “His audition was spectacular. It was the best that I have ever seen for Hedwig.

    “The pressure on Broadway was harder because you had more seats, the ticket price was higher. You had to have some kind of name, or you were going to close. On the tour, we are selling 'the show.' So there is a certain release in being able to cast the best, as opposed to someone who is really good that is famous.”

    Added Trask: “Euan’s Hedwig is going to be so exquisitely beautiful and achingly heartbreaking. He is otherworldly.” Mitchell said he is going to be taking special care with Morton “to give him the benefit of what I know and help him out along the way - because I have sneaking suspicion that he could be spectacular.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Morton was born in Scotland and received both Olivier and Tony Award nominations for his performance as Boy George in Taboo. More recently, he appeared as Prince John in the play Heart of Robin Hood in Canada opposite Denver School of the Arts alum Gabriel Ebert as Robin Hood.

    “I'm ready for the ride of my life; I hope America is ready for her ride too,” Morton said.

    Corneau just played the title role in Evita at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre outside of Chicago and Fantine in the Paramount Theatre production of Les Miserables. “Hannah is a force of nature, and I'm really excited to unleash her on the country,” said Hedwig director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening).

    The members of Hedwig’s band “The Angry Inch” – aka “Tits of Clay” – are music director Justin Craig (guitar and keyboards), Matt Duncan (bass), Tim Mislock (guitar), and Peter Yanowitz (drums), all of whom originated their roles on Broadway. Rounding out the company are Mason Alexander Park (Standby for Hedwig), Shannon Conley (Standby for Yitzhak), Dylan Fusillo (Standby for Schlatko) and Matt Katz-Bohen (Standby for Skszp, Jacek and Krzyzhtoff).


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Ticket information
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the genre-bending, fourth-wall-smashing musical sensation, with a pulsing score and electrifying performances, that tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage.
    • Dec 6-11
    • Buell Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 10
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 
  • How Peter became Pan: Exclusive interview with Diane Paulus

    by John Moore | Oct 12, 2016
    Finding Neverland. Laura Michelle Kelly. Photo by Carol RoseggLaura Michelle Kelly of the original Broadway cast of' Finding 'Neverland,' which comes to Denver on Dec. 20. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

    Acclaimed director calls Finding Neverland

    'a complete love letter to theatre'

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opened Oct. 7 in Buffalo, and will come to Denver starting Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the entire Finding Neverland creative team this summer, and he will post his extensive interviews in a five-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 1: Director Diane Paulus. Next: Choreographer Mia Michaels.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Acclaimed Broadway Director Diane Paulus was drawn to Finding Neverland because as an artist, she says, “It is a complete love letter to theatre.” Because as a mother, this was a show she could create through the eyes of her two young daughters. Because as a storyteller, this was the first story to fully explore how author J. M. Barrie first imagined Peter Pan and brought his iconic character to life.

    But mostly, she was drawn to a line from the show that Captain Hook says to Barrie himself:

    Diane Paulus Quote Finding Neverland"You can go back to being what everyone expects you to be. ... Or you can find the courage to write your own story."

    That resonated deeply with Paulus, the director, mother and artist who previously brought the launch of the national touring production of Pippin to Denver in 2014.

    “That could mean literally, ‘write your own story.’ Or it could mean, ‘write the story of your life,’ ” said Paulus.

    The story of Peter Pan, she says, is a call to anyone of any age to ask themselves: “When do we wake up and live the life that we know we need to live - not the life we think we should be living?” That, she said, is the story of Finding Neverland.

    The innovative Broadway musical is based on the 2004 Oscar-winning film of the same name. The story follows Barrie as he summons the courage to become the writer – and the man – he yearns to be. Barrie finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets a widow and her four young sons who inspire him to conjure the magical world of Neverland. And it was surprisingly risky for him to put the resultant play on stage before high-minded, high-society London theatergoers.

    “I love stories that take us backstage, that take us through all the trials and tribulations and the fear that go into making art,” Paulus said. “All sorts of people who have seen Finding Neverland have then said to themselves, ‘Oh my goodness - what am I doing with my life? I've got to wake up, do what I love and take a risk. That's where the riches of life will lie.”

    The lasting influence of Peter Pan on popular culture is vast and continuing. There has been the 1953 animated Disney film, of course; the 1954 Broadway musical; and countless movies and songs. It has been suggested that Peter Pan influenced J. R. R. Tolkien's creation of his Elves of Middle Earth. And in 1983, psychologists even gave a name to young men with underdeveloped maturity: The Peter Pan Syndrome.

    “This story has been part of our psyche and in our zeitgeist and on our peanut-butter jars for so long that it’s hard for us to imagine a time when there wasn't Peter Pan,” said Paulus. “It feels like an archetypal myth, and yet it didn't exist until J. M. Barrie took this artistic plunge in 1904. And in doing so, he really comes into his own as an artist. And at the same time, he discovers himself as a father. And so in that way, Finding Neverland is also a story that redefines family.”



    Here is more of our conversation with acclaimed Director Diane Paulus. It took place the morning after the 2016 Tony Awards:

    John Moore: Last night was a certainly celebration of diversity in the theatre.

    Diane Paulus: You know, I'm so excited to be part of this theatre community, and particularly this last season on Broadway - the artists that it embraced and of course the many landmarks that were reached.

    John Moore: Congratulations on Waitress. What did it mean for you to direct the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team?

    Diane Paulus: I've said it time and time again: Every artist is in their position at Waitress because they were best person for the job. There was no agenda to only consider women. It's just a reflection that women are at the top of their fields in composing, in writing and in choreography. This is the 21st Century, and we all have benefited from the generations of women behind us who actually were told that they couldn't be the directors or the writers. We all have benefited from their mentorship and their example. I hope more than anything we can provide that same example to the next generation of artists wherever they are across America. We need to say, “Look, this is a place for anyone, if you work hard and you work with integrity. If you tell important stories, this is not a closed door.” I mean, we still have a long way to go for women. But, yes, this was a great landmark - and let’s hope it continues.

    Diane Paulus on Broadway's response to the Orlando massacre

    John Moore: How does this sudden proliferation of women storytellers tangibly manifest itself in what we see in the theatre?

    Diane Paulus: One out of three women in the United States experiences some form of intimate-partner domestic-violence abuse. This is a syndrome in our culture. It's a crisis in our time and in our world. So the fact that the stories being told this year are stories like Eclipsed, Black Bird, Waitress, The Color Purple, Spring Awakening -  these are all stories about women who have encountered some form of abuse or violence. We need to be telling these stories - not because that's all we care about as women, but because it's actually happening in our world.

    Finding Neverland, Denver Center_Finding Neverland, Sawyer Nunes and Aidan Gemme.  Photo by Carol Rosegg
    Sawyer Nunes and Aidan Gemme from te original Broadway cast of 'Finding Neverland,' which comes to the Buell Theatre in Denver on Dec. 2. Photo by Carol Rosegg.


    John Moore: Switching gears, can you give us an idea of what kind of theatrical experience we're in for with Finding Neverland?

    Diane Paulus: I was so drawn to Finding Neverland because it operates on so many important levels for me. One, it's about the creation of a seminal work of theatre: J. M. Barrie’s play of Peter Pan. He had a producer named Charles Frohman who committed, come hell or high water, to make it happen. So Finding Neverland is the story of how Peter became Pan. And of course, inextricably threaded through that is the discovery of love and family.

    John Moore: Speaking of family: When we last talked, you said you wanted to take on this particular project specifically for your two daughters. How has this experience impacted their lives?

    Diane Paulus: I did think this would be one that I could really create with my two daughters in mind. They are 9 and 11 now, and they were always present with me throughout this process. You know: The spirit of what it means to be a kid, and how kids see the world, and their honesty, and their imaginations, and their ability to see things. I've seen it in my own living room. A blanket literally becomes a magic carpet, and you can go anywhere you want just by being pulled through the hallways of your house. That is so much of a part of my life as a mother, and it is so much a part of Finding Neverland. I think they've grown through this, especially my younger daughter. The story also deals with how you survive hardship. It's about resilience. It's about overcoming some of the hardest challenges in life. It’s sort of like when children experience the heartache of Bambi. They understand that, and they move through that, and then they find comfort in that. We've experienced so much of that as a family. We have had people of all ages come to see Finding Neverland, whether they're kids or grandparents, who have experienced loss. If a kid has experienced the loss of a grandparent, there is something deeply comforting about this story and the power of metaphor and how we use metaphor in stories to help us in life. Theatre is metaphor. This idea of the ticking clock chasing you constantly was obviously so central to J. M. Barrie. And the idea that there is this place called Neverland where you never grow up. Peter Pan has really become this archetypical myth, and these myths are there to help us. I have really come to appreciate the power of Finding Neverland as a piece of theatre. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: Between Finding Neverland and Peter and the Starcatcher and so many others, why do you think Peter Pan myth is remains such a good source for new stories?

    J. M. Barrie QuoteDiane Paulus: Because I think Peter Pan is such a classic archetype. The definition of a classic is, for me, that you can take it and twist it and interpret it and re-interpret it - and no matter what you do to it, it survives all the tests of time. You can have any number of productions of Hamlet, and it stays Hamlet. Hamlet will survive. There's something about this story, and our fascination with it, and people wanting to get inside of it or look at it from a different angle. That’s what we do with classics. We want to feel them and explore them and get inside them in different ways. And I think this one is so powerful because it applies across generations. This is not just a kids show. Adults have grown up living with Peter Pan and love Peter Pan and remember their childhoods through Peter Pan.

    John Moore: Can you tell us how the stage version is not a mere replica of the source film?

    Diane Paulus: It's a beautiful film, and Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp give a sublime performances. But film has a certain pace that is completely appropriate for that medium, and that doesn’t always necessarily work on a stage. I knew it was the imagination of J. M. Barrie that we had to explode on that stage. That is really what led me to understand how Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy's pop score could function in the story. Because J. M. Barrie’s imagination is timeless, I learned that we could be in 1904 London and have the juxtaposition of this very British pop score representing the timelessness of J.M. Barrie’s imagination. The musical takes small moments in the movie and makes them into whole numbers - like the dinner party where the kids, through J.M. Barrie’s instigation, misbehave. That becomes this disastrous dinner-party number called “We Own the Night.” To me, the movie felt like it should become a musical because I could see these portals into musical theatre where we could dig deeper than the film ever could because we have music to take you there.

    Kevin Kern. Finding NeverlandJohn Moore: What can you tell us about the actor playing your J.M. Barrie, Kevin Kern? (pictured at right) 

    Diane Paulus: Kevin played the role on Broadway so much this past year. He's just a genius in the role. He sings it like no one else, and he knows this role inside and out. And he's such a generous soul. He is an incredible father of a huge family, and God bless him. I think it’s all going to work out, and we are so lucky he's going to be leading the tour. 


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Finding Neverland: Ticket information
    • Dec 20, 2016, through Jan. 1, 2017
    • Buell Theatre
    • Cast talkback: After the Dec. 21 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 30
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 
    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:

    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Diane Paulus on the Tony Awards' response to Orlando massacre
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    The Pippin Profiles: Diane Paulus on directing without a net

  • Study: Denver metro arts generate $1.8 billion in economic activity

    by John Moore | Oct 05, 2016

     

    Denver metro arts, cultural and scientific organizations generated  $1.8 billion in annual economic activity in 2015, according to a study released this morning that is conducted every two years by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts.

    Of that total, the study showed a total economic impact of $512.8 million – which specifically represents new money injected into the economy in 2015.

    The survey showed that metro arts and science groups draw 13.9 million in attendance, reach nearly 4 million children through their educational outreach programs, and are responsible for 10,731 full-time jobs. In return, citizens and foundations gave $176.4 million to local arts organizations in 2015.

    Download the complete Economic Activity Study

    While the $1.8 billion total amounts to a 2.2 percent decline since the most recent study in 2013, CBCA Executive Director Deborah Jordy said the results again show the cultural community’s conitinued "significant and sustained on our local, state and regional economy by creating jobs and providing extensive outreach to metro area schools."

    Jordy attributed the overall decline since 2013 to less capital investment than in previous years. But she pointed out that jobs in arts, cultural and scientific organizations have reached pre-great recession levels. And cultural tourism, measured by dollars spent at cultural organizations by people from outside the metro area, contributed $367 million – the highest total recorded to date.

    (Pictured above right: DCPA Education students participate in the culmination of its annual statewide teen playwriting competition. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    The $1.8 billion overall figure includes $894 million in audience spending, $860 million in operating expenditures and $55 million in capital expenditures.

    “Coloradans understand that tourism is a key driver for our economy. And cultural tourism’s contributions to that effort are important factors in our state’s overall success,” said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. “Couple those contributions with the total economic activity and jobs created and you begin to understand what key, long-term contributors our cultural organizations are to the overall economic health of our state.”

    Other key findings from the report, which has been issued every two years since 1992: 

    • Corporate sponsorships in the arts were up more than 10 percent since 2013.
    • Outreach to children through educational institutions ensured an average of more than seven arts experiences annually for each metro area student.
    • Following jobs, total payroll for cultural organizations was up more than 9 percent.
    • Free attendance increased by 3 percent since 2013, indicating increased emphasis on access by cultural organizations.
    • Total volunteer hours are up 15 percent over 2013 at 2 million.

     According to the National Endowment for the Arts, Colorado ranks third in the nation in terms of per capita attendance at live dance, music and theatre performances.

    Jordy said the continued success of the arts in Colorado is attributable in large part to the taxpayer-supported Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), which since 1989 has distributed funds from a sales and use tax to cultural facilities throughout the seven-county metropolitan area. In 2013, the tax generated $53.2 million for more than 300 arts and science organizations in metro Denver. A public vote for reauthorization of SCFD will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The Denver Center for the Performing Arts depends on the SCFD for about 10 percent of its operating budget. The nation’s largest non-profit theatre organization is coming off its most successful season ever, having welcomed 1.2 million guests in 2015-16.That includes engaging with 85,000 through its Education programs.

    “The DCPA is encouraged by the tremendous engagement shown throughout our community in support of art and culture as illustrated in the CBCA’s 2016 study,” said CEO Janice Sinden.

    “The DCPA contributes significantly to the economic impact of our arts community. Over the past five years, ticket sales at Broadway, Cabaret, Theatre Company and Off-Center shows alone have generated a $600 million economic impact.

    “This love of the performing arts, combined with our community’s level of engagement, enable organizations such as the DCPA to attract top talent and Broadway’s biggest hits, including Hamilton and the pre-Broadway debut of Disney’s Frozen.”

    About the Economic Activity Study

    The biennial Economic Activity Study of Metro Denver Culture compiles data from all nonprofit organizations who received funds through the SCFD within a seven-county region: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson. This study examines self-reported data from 264 cultural organizations in the 2015 calendar year with a 100 percent response rate.

  • October: Crossword puzzle solution

    by John Moore | Oct 03, 2016
    With each new issue of Applause Magazine, we offer readers a crossword related to our current shows. Here is the most recent puzzle, covering The Glass Menagerie, Frankenstein and the Roundabout Theatre Company's Cabaret.

    The solution is posted below. Print and play!  CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE PUZZLE WITH THE SOLUTION!


    Applause Crossword Cabaret October 2016 Frankenstein Menagerie

  • 'Frankenstein': The making of a two-headed monster

    by John Moore | Sep 30, 2016
    Director Sam Buntrock, on the benefit to audiences of seeing his 'Frankenstein' twice. His two leading actors will rotate nightly in the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 


    Frankenstein is a play in a hurry, says Director Sam Buntrock. So the first thing Denver Center audiences will notice is that playwright Nick Dear has sliced off the first 100 pages of Mary Shelley’s classic source novel. The Theatre Company’s new staging opens instead with a birth – the animation of Victor Frankenstein’s hideous collection of moribund corpse parts. 

    "Nick Dear is not interested in how we got there,” said Buntrock, whose live visual feast has its first preview performance tonight (Sept. 30) in the Stage Theatre. “There is very little backstory. It relies on you already knowing the story, which is smart. Frankenstein is so culturally understood that it’s a word we use every day. It’s in our lexicon. The play knows that.

    "The fundamental moment is really when the Creature is born – and everything else is just claptrap.”

    The second thing audiences will notice is that Buntrock’s two leading actors alternate nightly playing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creation. In Denver, that will be Sullivan Jones and Mark Junek, who says this play is also not at all interested in the science of how the Creature comes to life. Instead it simply assumes that the Creature, despite being assembled from a variety of cadavers, is indeed a singular human being – and therefore capable of basic human traits including learning, memory, love and suffering.

    “I think there is sort of a supernatural quality about this version of the Creature,” said Junek. “It is an almost fully formed human being but it has no impressions of humanity. So I think of it more as an alien - someone who has never directly experienced society or humanity before, but yet has a full capacity to learn."

    Except, as the well-known story goes, this society will not have it. Or him. Or any other Other. And we witness the lethal, legal and moral fallout.

    A tag-team wrestling event

    The challenge for both the director and his entire ensemble of actors is that they have essentially created two different plays - in just more than a month of rehearsal.

    A Frankenstein actors“My approach was to first find out who Mark and Sullivan are as actors and then work out their needs,” said Buntrock. “Even though they are playing the two leading characters, there are huge sections where they aren’t interacting with each other onstage. So I have isolated them a lot of the time - and it’s been interesting to watch them because they both come to the exact same conclusions some of the time, and at other times they come up with their own versions.”

    Sullivan compares those first few days of rehearsal to WWF tag-team wrestling. “One guy goes in and he puts the other guy in a headlock. Then he tags out, and the other guy does it. That's kind of what we have been doing.”

    Junek said he and Jones were freely stealing from one another other in the first few days of rehearsals. But once Buntrock isolated the actors, Jones added, “that freed us up to kind of craft our own performances.”

    By encouraging his actors to go their own ways, Junek said, “I think Sam is admitting the obvious, which is that we are very different people, and we bring different things to the roles.”

    But the more the actors explore the parallel lives of Frankenstein and his Creature, Sullivan says, the more they are discovering that there is more to this role-reversal idea than the actors simply trading places. The refined man of science and his hideous creation, they have discovered, essentially trade places themselves by the end of the story.

    Frankenstein and race: It IS a matter of black and white

    “The more we do this, the more clear it becomes that they are of the same cloth,” Sullivan said. “They are the same person. They are mirrors of each other. Or shadows.”

    Buntrock promises a special satisfaction, he said, for those audiences who come back and see the play twice. (On Saturdays, audiences can see the play twice on the same day.)

    “This is a play which really merits going back to anyway just because there are so many ideas in it, and it all happens so quickly,” Buntrock said. “It’s almost like one of those great films that you want to go back and see again because you get so much more out of it the second time. I think these are two phenomenal actors, and it’s a real treat to see what they both bring to it individually.”

    'Frankenstein' stars Sullivan Jones, left, and Mark Junek.

    'Frankenstein' stars Sullivan Jones, left, and Mark Junek. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter 



    For Buntrock, a Tony Award nomination at 32

    Buntrock’s life fundamentally changed at age 32 when he became one of the youngest directors ever to be nominated for a Tony Award, for the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. Buntrock’s innovative infusion of animation and projected color not only helped the audience to visualize the brilliance of Georges Seurat’s perplexing, 1884 abstract masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – it has been credited with forever changing the role and expectations of multimedia in live theatre. The next year, for example, Les Misérables was reimagined without a barricade but with 180-degree scenographic projections of revolutionary Paris streets in its place.

     “We used projection to allow us to really tell the journey of the painting, starting as a charcoal line across the page all the way through to the last dab of paint,” said Buntrock. Ben Brantley of the New York Times said Buntrock “used 21st-century technology to convey the vision of a 19th-century Pointillist to truly enchanting effect.” But despite the “rhapsody of images” that Buntrock kept unfolding before the audience, “the great gift of this production,” Brantley wrote, “was its quiet insistence that looking is the art by which all people shape their lives.”

    The Tony Award nomination opened doors for Buntrock, who has been living and working in the United States exclusively since 2011. “It’s the reason I have a career here,” said Buntrock, who added with a laugh, “It also means my name now has the words ‘Tony nominee’ in front of it in anything I read.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    In 2013, Buntrock accepted an invitation to direct the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere of Ed/Downloaded. How could he not? Playwright Michael Mitnick wrote the play specifically for Buntrock. The story is set in the near future, when you will be able to download your 10 favorite memories when you die - essentially leaving behind a carefully curated if not necessarily accurate representation of your life. When Ed dies and his girlfriend discovers he was cheating her, she sets about to change his digital scrapbook.

    A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_JatteThe fun for Buntrock was combining live theatre with filmic elements. “So for example, in one scene, our theatrical reality is that the actors on the stage are in the woods,” Buntrock said. “But when we see the memory that goes with it, it’s Ed having been filmed in the real woods. It was extraordinary fun to play with those realities off each other.”

    (Pictured above right: Georges Seurat’s 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.')

    Buntrock loved “working with such incredible artists across the board at the Denver Center,” he said. “So when it came to being asked to come back for Frankenstein, of course I said yes.”

    His expertise in animation and visual stimulation very much informs his approach to Frankenstein, which will include fire, rain, snow … “all of the elements,” he said.

    Frankenstein“We are using a lot of technology. It’s not really that literal of a production. It’s much more evocative and suggestive than architectural. (Scenic Designer) Jason Sherwood, (Lighting Designer) Brian Tovar and (Projections Specialist) Charlie Miller have been working so hard with technology and with lights to find a way to make that organic and real and of the theatre, rather than seem superimposed.”

    Buntrock has carried his greatest takeaway from Sunday in the Park with George with him to Frankenstein: It’s best, he said, when you take something that's big … and distill it down.

    “I am interested in diluting rather than complicating,” Buntrock said. “We had all this amazing technology to play with 10 years ago on Sunday in the Park with George, but a lot of our work was spent trying to find the smallest thing. Our challenge was how to use projection and strong, bold, almost filmic imagery onstage in a way that still allowed the audience’s imagination to engage.

    “The most powerful thing that I have in my tool set as an director is an audience’s imagination.”


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

     


    Photo gallery: More on the making of Frankenstein in Denver

    'Frankenstein' in Denver
    Photos from the making of 'Frankenstein' in Denver. To see more, click the forward arrow in the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Frankenstein: Ticket information
    Frankenstein• Sept. 30-Oct. 30
    • Stage Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 23
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 


    Previous NewsCenter coverage:

    Frankenstein and race: It IS a matter of black and white
    Breathing life into the Frankenstein set: 'It's alive!'
    A Frankenstein 'that will make The Bible look subtle'
    How Danny Boyle infused new life into Frankenstein
    Casting set for Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie
    Introducing DCPA Theatre Company's 2016-17 season artwork
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    2016-17 season announcement

    Follow the DCPA on social media @DenverCenter and through the DCPA News Center.

  • Disney confirms director, August launch for 'Frozen' in Denver

    by John Moore | Sep 27, 2016

    Tony Award-winner Michael Grandage will direct 'Frozen,' which will launches in Denver on its way to Broadway. He is also slated to direct an upcoming film version of 'Guys & Dolls'. Photo by Marc Brenner.


    Tony and Olivier Award-winning director Michael Grandage and Tony and Olivier Award-winning scenic and costume designer Christopher Oram are confirmed for the creative team of Frozen, a new musical based on Disney’s Academy Award-winning musical film, slated to open at Broadway’s St. James Theatre in spring 2018.  
     
    Frozen will play its out-of-town tryout at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in August 2017 before joining the Disney hits Aladdin and The Lion King on Broadway.

    frozenFrozen, featuring the Oscar-winning hit song "Let It Go," is  the highest-grossing animated film in history, and is a part of the DCPA's 2016-17 Broadway season. It continues a strong pipeline from Disney to Denver, which hosted the launch of national touring productions of The Lion King and Peter and the Starcatcher as well as the pre-Broadway engagement of The Little Mermaid. For information on the Denver engagement, visit DenverCenter.org.
     
    Michael Grandage is the recipient of Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, Evening Standard, British Critics’ Circle and South Bank Awards. His Olivier Award-winning musicals include Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel and Guys & Dolls. Grandage is confirmed to direct 20th Century Fox’s film remake of Guys & Dolls (John Goldwyn and Working Title producers).  Grandage received a Tony Award for Best Direction for Red and two Tony nominations for Best Direction for Frost/Nixon with Michael Sheen & Frank Langella and The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe. Grandage served as Artistic Director of London’s Donmar Warehouse for 10 acclaimed seasons prior to establishing the Michael Grandage Company (MGC) in 2012. As Artistic Director of MGC, he directed Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman, Henry V with Jude Law, The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe, Peter and Alice with Judi Dench & Ben Whishaw, and the feature film Genius. Visit his web site at MichaelGrandageCompany.com
     
    Christopher Oram is the recipient of Tony, Olivier, Evening Standard, British Critics’ Circle, Garland, Ovation and Falstaff Awards for his work both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.  Recent work on Broadway includes the scenic and costume designs for Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Evita, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (scenic design) and the Donmar Warehouse productions of Red, Hamlet with Jude Law and Frost/Nixon.  Also, Photograph 51 (West End) with Nicole Kidman, Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh (Park Avenue Armory), King Lear with Derek Jacobi (BAM), and the Glyndebourne production of Billy Budd (BAM).
     
    Frozen is written by a trio of Oscar® winners. As previously announced, the show features music and lyrics by the creators of the film score Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit, Up Here) and EGOT-winner Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Up Here) and a book by Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), the film’s screenwriter and director (with Chris Buck). Frozen  won 2014 Oscars for Best Song (“Let It Go”) and Best Animated Feature.
     
    Frozen is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions.
     
    Casting and Broadway dates will be announced at a future date.



    Video bonus: On Michael Grandage's recent film, Genius

  • 'Cabaret' is a mirror of its times – at all times

    by John Moore | Sep 14, 2016
    Roundabout Theatre Company's Cabaret

    Photos from the Roundabout Theatre Company's 'Cabaret,' playing in Denver from Sept. 27-Oct. 9. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Joan Marcus.



    American musicals hold a mirror up to our culture, hoping to reflect the issues of their day and the concerns of Americans. As a product of the tumultuous 1960s, the original Cabaret seduced and entertained while commenting on social issues and showing a frightening vision of our darkest potential.

    The generation reared in the conservative 1950s became the counterculture youth of the ’60s, and American society was divided by volatile conflicts. The African-American civil rights movement that began in the ’50s was growing to involve large-scale nonviolent protests and civil disobedience. The National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed in 1966 in order to help gain full participation for American women in mainstream society and gain the same freedoms and privileges as American men of that time. President Lyndon B. Johnson promoted reforms to extend human rights, education, economic opportunities, and health care. Not all Americans supported these reforms, and some reacted with alarming violence. A rise of Ku Klux Klan activity in the south instigated beatings, shootings, and lynchings of activists.

    Broadway was not immune to the cultural shocks of the era. The Broadway and Times Square district saw a rise in prostitution, adult shops, and derelicts, which created a dangerous environment for theatergoing. Production costs were rising, and Broadway producers had to raise ticket prices: a top price of $12 in 1966 was the equivalent of $86 today. Prior to the rise of rock-and-roll in the mid-’50s, showtunes were considered popular music — what played on Broadway played on the radio. By the ’60s, an entire generation was listening to rock and pop instead of
    show music.

    (Pictured right: Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles in the Roundabout Theatre Company's national touring production of 'Cabaret.' Photo by Joan Marcus.)

    Broadway needed to reinvent itself and find a new relevance, and visionary directors like Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, and the emerging Harold Prince became more prominent and, sometimes, more identified with shows than the songwriters. With the rise of the director came the “concept musical,” described by critic Martin Gottfried as a show whose music, lyrics, choreography, and scenes are woven together to create “a tapestry-like theme” or central metaphor, more important than plot. Gottfried identified West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959) and Fiddler on the Roof (1964) as the first important concept musicals.

    By the early 1960s, Harold Prince had a proven reputation as a producer and was emerging as a formidable director. At this time Prince was taking on the challenge of turning the play I Am a Camera into a musical, but it was not until Prince received the first draft of the libretto from Joe Masteroff that he realized this was an opportunity to tell the story parallel to contemporary problems. Prince saw an opportunity to show ties between racism in the U.S. and the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s through the renamed Cabaret. Prince brought on writing team John Kander (composer) and Fred Ebb (lyricist), whose first show, Flora the Red Menace, had premiered the year before. The team set out to create a show about civil rights and tell audiences that what happened in Germany could happen here. (What he might not have foreseen was that parallel remaining relevant 50 years later.)

    At his first rehearsal, Prince showed the cast a photograph of a group of angry young white men taunting a crowd off-camera. The cast assumed that it was a picture of Nazi youth harassing Jews; in fact, the picture was taken that year in Chicago, and the men were taunting black tenants of an integrated housing project. For a short time, Prince thought about ending the show with a film of the march on Selma, Alabama, though he abandoned that idea.

    The original idea for the show was to begin with a prologue of cabaret-style songs to set the tone of Weimar Germany and then move into a straight play, but the team found that the songs worked better when distributed throughout the evening. As the show took shape as a more traditional musical, with some songs within book scenes, the cabaret world emerged as a central metaphor. The Brechtian device of songs that comment on the action rather than tell a story gave a central function to the Emcee character. Designer Boris Aronson conceived the production’s penultimate metaphor: a giant mirror center stage reflected the audience and reinforced the message that “it could happen here.”

    After previewing in Boston, the play opened in November 1966 to great acclaim. Cabaret won eight Tony Awards, including Best New Musical, Best Direction, Best Score and Best Featured Actor for Joel Grey as the Emcee. The production ran nearly three years, for a total of 1165 performances, followed by international productions, a national tour, an Academy Award-winning film, and Roundabout Theatre Company’s breakthrough revival in 1998. In its own day, and almost 50 years later, Cabaret validates the power of musical theatre to reflect a complicated world and the willingness of audiences to see ourselves in its mirror.

    (Note: The article was reprinted with permission from Roundabout Theatre Company’s Upstage Guide.)


    Cabaret: Ticket information
    Come hear some of the most memorable songs in theatre history, including "Cabaret," "Willkommen" and "Maybe This Time." Leave your troubles outside — life is beautiful at Cabaret.

    • Sept. 27-Oct. 9
    • Buell Theatre
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829

    Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Reinvented Cabaret returns as a seismic warning
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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.