• First rehearsal: Scrooge, in typical fashion: Let's get to work!

    by John Moore | Nov 07, 2015
    Photos from the opening meet-and-greet rehearsal for the DCPA Theatre Company's 2015 staging of 'A Christmas Carol.' Photos by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter. To download any photo for free, click on "View original Flickr" image and choose from a variety of download sizes.

    Director Bruce K. Sevy took a moment during the first rehearsal for the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming 23rd staging of A Christmas Carol to honor venerable actor Philip Pleasants, who will be playing Scrooge at the Denver Center for the 11th and final time.

    Sevy called working with Pleasants over the past decade a remarkable partnership and learning experience. “This is one of the rare experiences you get in the theatre that makes you think your whole career was worth it,” Sevy said.

    Sam Gregory and Philip Pleasants. Photo by John Moore. DCPA veteran Sam Gregory, who will understudy Pleasants this year and eventually assume the role of Scrooge as his own, called Pleasants the greatest actor to ever play the role.

    “I have watched Phil progress and grow in this role since I first played Bob Cratchit to Phil's Scrooge at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 1998,” Gregory said. “He has been so magnificent. There is no one in this room more intimidated than I am right now.”

    Pleasants had to sit there and take the accolades like Cratchit working on Christmas Eve. He then summoned his inner Scrooge and declared simply, "It is a great honor and privilege. I am thrilled to be here. Now ... let's get to work!"

    (Photo above: Sam Gregory, left, and Philip Pleasants. Photo by John Moore.) 

    Sevy welcomed faces old and new for the official meet-and-greet that launches the beginning of the rehearsal period before every Theatre Company production. This year, the noontime party included guests from another DCPA holiday offering, David Sedaris’ caustic monologue, The SantaLand Diaries.

    Stephen Weitz, who also directed the Theatre Company's Tribes (running through Nov. 15), is helming SantaLand for a seventh straight holiday season. This is the third year the show is being presented as a collaboration between Weitz's Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and the DCPA's Off-Center.

    This year, Michael Bouchard, who appeared in last season’s A Christmas Carol, will assume the candy-striped tights of Crumpet the Elf from Matt Zambrano in The SantaLand Diaries, which plays Nov. 27-Dec. 27 in the Jones Theatre.

    Another first: For the first time in eight years, Weitz announced, that will be a new Crumpet costume Bouchard is sporting. Weitz jokingly cited an EPA violation from eight years of cumulative sweat from his previous Crumpets, Zambrano and Geoffrey Kent.

    Michael Bouchard and Bruce K. Sevy. Photo by John Moore.
    A joking 'A Christmas Carol' Director Bruce K. Sevy, right, doesn't look too happy with actor Michael Bouchard's life choices. After performing for Sevy in 'A Christmas Carol' last year, Bouchard will move over to the Jones Theatre to star in David Sedaris' 'The SantaLand Diaries' this holiday season. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    David Sedaris wrote The SantaLand Diaries in 1992 detailing his real-life experience working as an elf at the Macy's department store in New York,” Weitz said. “Since then, it has really become a staple of holiday theatre all across the country. We've always thought of it as an alternative holiday outing to more traditional offerings like A Christmas Carol. It attracts a somewhat different audience, and it traffics in Sedaris’ unique brand of snark and cynicism. In many ways, Seadris' view of the holidays in 1992 was prophetic in that he was just starting to comment on the commercialization of Christmas, and how it was becoming about all the wrong things. I don't think any of us knew how far that trend was going to continue, but when you look at where we are today, it's still incredibly timely.

    “And yet what makes the play wonderful is that underneath all the biting commentary, it really does have a heart about what Christmas is, and should be, and can be.”

    Daniel Langhoff, Laura Mathew Siebert and Nate Siebert. Photo by John Moore. Before offering his thoughts on A Christmas Carol, Sevy invited returning cast member Daniel Langhoff to address the gathering. Langhoff, a new father, was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in August, and two weeks ago had the mass removed. Next week, he starts a 24-week course of chemotherapy.

    “I don’t know how this is going to hit me,” Langhoff said, but he thanked his director, cast and crew for inviting him to come back to the show regardless. “This couldn't be coming at a better time for me,” he said of A Christmas Carol. "I just want to say thank you all for that. “

    Langhoff gave a shoutout to the Denver community for supporting him through the start of his ordeal, including the Denver Actors Fund, which has raised about $3,600 to help off-set his medical expenses. Also present was local photographer Laura Mathews Siebert, who hosted a recent portrait fundraiser that raised an additional $1,500 for Langhoff’s family.

    In a remarkable small-world twist, Siebert is also the mother of 10-year-old Nate Patrick Siebert, who is newly cast in the Denver Center's A Christmas Carol for the first time. Twice before, young Nate has donated $100 from his acting stipends (Arvada Center’s Camelot and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s Mary Poppins) to the Denver Actors Fund.

    “If you ever are worried about the transient nature of relationships in theatre, it's a lie,” Langhoff said. “Theatre relationships go on. We are all here for each other, whether or not we even know it.”

    (Photo above right: Daniel Langhoff, Laura Mathews Siebert and her son Nate, along with a montage of portraits Laura photographed to raise money for Langhoff's cancer treatments. Photo by John Moore.)

    The children of 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo by John Moore

    The children of the DCPA's 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo by John Moore.

    Four things Director Bruce K. Sevy loves about A Christmas Carol:

    1 PerspectivesThe music by David de Berry, with fresh orchestrations by Gregg Coffin. “This is a very musical play, with its use of traditional carols, singing, underscoring and sound,” Sevy said. Added Coffin: “The music is beautifully ornamental. None of the music defines character or forwards the plot. Instead it hangs like little ornaments on a tree. And all of these little musical moments help to paint a fuller picture of the Dickensian world.” Over his six years with the DCPA, Coffin has completely reimagined the scoring by adding more indigenous instruments such as hammer dulcimers, fiddles and guitars that help bring out the feel of Victorian England.

    2 PerspectivesTheatricality. "We did Hamlet a couple of years ago, and I realized while I was watching it how much Marley's scene with Scrooge is actually borrowing the same sensibility from Hamlet with his father, who is also a ghost,” Sevy said. He added with a laugh: “So Scrooge is actually Hamlet, and Marley is his father. That is really what is going on here.”

    3 PerspectivesSocial conscience. "This story is remarkably progressive; moral without being stuffy," Sevy said. "It gets into some fundamental questions about our relationship to one another, and what the point of life is after all. We know at the core of this play is a man who has cut himself off from the world, and from other human beings. His journey is one of reconnecting. I think when most people come to A Christmas Carol, they leave thinking mostly of the happy stuff. But by the time we get to the part where Scrooge comes to ask if he can come to dinner at his nephew's place, and then surprises Cratchit with a pay raise - it's moving. That's the power of this piece. It speaks to a shared value that we all have."

    4 PerspectivesTimeliness: “What's similar between 1840 and now is that we have a comparable imbalance between those who have money and those who don't,” Sevy said. “Almost every scene in this play has some reference to either money, finances or the lack of it. The reason Belle breaks up with Scrooge is because he has a new golden idol - and it is money. Just as it is today, Scrooge's world is out of balance when we start the play. That's a big part of what this play is about.”                  

    A Christmas Carol: Cast list:

    Based on the novel by Charles Dickens
    Adapted by Richard Hellesen
    Music by David de Berry

    Directed by Bruce K. Sevy
    Music Direction by Gregg Coffin
    Orchestrations by Gregg Coffin
    Choreography by Christine Rowan
    Set Design by Vicki Smith
    Costume Design by Kevin Copenhaver
    Lighting Design by Don Darnutzer
    Sound Design by Craig Breitenbach       

    Colin Alexander (Ghost of Christmas Present)
    Leslie Alexander (Mrs. Cratchit)
    Benjamin Bonenfant (Undertaker’s Man)
    Courtney Capek (Belle)
    Stephanie Cozart (Ghost of Christmas Past)
    Allen Dorsey (Ghost of Christmas Future)
    Napoleon M. Douglas (Ensemble)
    Mehry Eslaminia (Ensemble)
    Michael Fitzpatrick (Mr. Fezziwig)
    Ella Galaty (Fan)
    Sam Gregory (Scrooge Understudy)
    Edwin Harris (Ensemble)
    Ben W. Heil (Peter Cratchit)
    Charlie Korman (Boy Scrooge)
    Robert Andrew Koutras (Ensemble)
    Daniel Langhoff (Ensemble)
    Avi Levin (Ensemble)
    Kyra Lindsay (Martha Cratchit)
    Brody Lineaweaver (Ensemble)
    Rodney Lizcano (Old Joe)
    Emma C. Martin (Ensemble)
    M. Scott McLean (Young Scrooge)
    Leslie O’Carroll (Mrs. Fezziwig)
    Philip Pleasants (Ebenezer Scrooge)
    Max Raabe (Edward Cratchit)
    Augie Reichert (Tiny Tim)
    Helen Reichert (Belinda Cratchit)
    James Michael Reilly (Bob Cratchit)
    Jeffrey Roark (Jacob Marley)
    Christine Rowan (Ensemble)
    Nate Patrick Siebert (Ensemble)
    Shannan Steele (Ensemble)
    Olivia Sullivent (Want)
    Jake Williamson (Ensemble)
    Erin Willis (Ensemble)
    Owen Zitek (Ensemble) 

    A Christmas Carol: Ticket information

  • Nov. 27-Dec. 27 (Opens Dec. 4) at the Stage Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Accessibility performance: 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19

  • The SantaLand Diaries: Ticket information
  • Nov. 27-Dec. 27 at the Jones Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Accessibility performance: 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 20
    For both shows:
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at DenverCenter.Org

  • Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for 'A Christmas Carol' and 'The SantaLand Diaries.'

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of  A Christmas Carol:
    Beginnings and endings for stars of A Christmas Carol, The SantaLand Diaries
    Video: Leslie O'Carroll performs A Christmas O'Carroll ... in 5 minutes
    Actor Scott McLean is now also a published children's author
    Video: The Christmas Carol Coast to Coast Challenge. No. 1: Denver
    By the numbers: A Christmas Carol over 22 years at the DCPA
    First day of 2014 rehearsal: Interviews, cast list and photos
    Meet the cast video: James Michael Reilly
    Meet the cast video: Leslie Alexander
  • DCPA CEO Scott Shiller: How to respond to declining arts coverage?

    by John Moore | Nov 04, 2015
    DCPA President and CEO Scott Shiller, right with his wife, Kerry. Photo by John Moore.
    DCPA President and CEO Scott Shiller, right, attended a recent performance of 'Oliver' at Denver School of the Arts with his wife, Kerry. Photo by John Moore.

    The definition of “news” is changing. That’s no secret, right? It used to be the time-honored Fourth Estate, printing and broadcasting the narrative of our collective experience. Now it can be an anonymous tweet, a viral video, a sound bite or a leaked document, all of which have steadily drawn our eyes away from traditional news sources and toward our personal circles of influence. A new study, conducted by Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that 42 percent of the U.S. population now say Facebook and Twitter serve as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family.

    John MooreOne of the biggest changes in news, especially for theatre, is the decline of dedicated arts coverage from the major print and broadcast sources. As established news organizations have struggled to balance modern profitability with journalistic tradition, they’ve had to make tough choices. I understand that’s not easy, and never will be. But I also don’t like it. We in the arts invest so much in telling stories that reflect the social issues facing our community that it hurts to know that fewer people are hearing about these plays and musicals from mainstream sources. Once we could rely on a minimum of coverage. Now we have to hope for it.

    I’m certainly not blaming the news organizations themselves or the wonderful people who work with us every day to keep us in the news. We have amazing fans in our news partners and appreciate everything they do for us. Truly. This isn’t about blame at all; it’s about behavior. People get their news differently now. So we have to do things differently, too, if we want the same level of attention.

    That’s why, in addition to our ongoing use of Twitter and Facebook, we’ve built our own online NewsCenter at MyDenverCenter.Org with former Denver Post theatre critic John Moore at the helm. (Pictured above right). Every day, we’re publishing theatre news from across the entire state with no agenda other than the news itself. Obviously, we hope it helps promote our work and Colorado’s theatre community as a whole. Eventually, though, we want it to be a resource for anyone interested in arts reporting, in our talented community and in Denver’s unique place in the national arts scene.

    Until then, where do you get your arts and entertainment news? Which matters more to you — a review by an established theatre critic, or a recommendation from a friend or family member?

    Scott Shiller quote

    Talk to us: What are your thoughts on the changing world of arts journalism?
    Let's keep the conversation going. Your feedback is important. Please leave your comments at the end of this story. Follow Scott Shiller on Twitter @ScottShiller and the DCPA @denvercenter

    About our Guest Columnist:
    Scott Shiller, a nationally recognized Producer, Presenter and Entertainment Executive, was named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in February, 2015. As President & CEO, Shiller has overall responsibility for the DCPA’s programmatic, operating, revenue, marketing, development and administrative functions. He comes to the DCPA from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, where he served as Executive Vice President from 2007 to 2015. With direct oversight of programming and marketing initiatives, Shiller’s first season at the Center resulted in a $3.3 million turnaround, more than 100 sold-out performances, and a 76 percent increase in attendance. Shiller began his career working with Tony Award-winning producer Jon B. Platt on productions including Wicked (Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey), Man of La Mancha (Brian Stokes Mitchell), Sly Fox (Richard Dreyfuss), The Graduate (Kathleen Turner, Alicia Silverstone, Jason Biggs), Blue Man Group: Tubes, Cabaret (Teri Hatcher, Norbert Leo Butz), Master Class (Faye Dunaway), Wait Until Dark (Quentin Tarantino, Marisa Tomei), Taller than a Dwarf (Matthew Broderick, Parker Posey), Macbeth (Kelsey Grammer), The Diary of Anne Frank (Natalie Portman), and The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler).

    Our previous conversation: Social media in the theatre 

    Previously, Scott Shiller posed this question for NewsCenter readers: How will we, as theatre professionals and audiences, find common ground for mobile devices in theatres? To read his essay - and reader responses, please visit our NewsCenter here

  • Posner's triumphant tale is a world-changer and a page-turner

    by John Moore | Oct 29, 2015
    Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner returned to Denver Oct. 20 for the release of their new book 'Find Me Unafraid.' Photo by John Moore


    FindMeUnafraidJessica Posner
     came home to Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store this month telling a tale so tall Hollywood would never believe it. This had everything – police corruption, violence, civil war, gangs, social injustice … and a seriously mushy love story.

    Posner, a self-described privileged white girl from Denver who attended Denver School of the Arts and Wesleyan University, went to Kenya on a semester abroad and fell in love with a 23-year-old black man named Kennedy Odede. He was the unofficial "mayor" of Kibera – Africa's largest slum, with a population of 1.5 million. Twenty-three is not so young to be mayor when you consider that the life expectancy in Kibera, where 1 in 5 infants die by age 5, and there are 1,300 people for every available toilet - is just 30. It was a gloomy, violent place mired in extreme poverty, lack of opportunity and deep gender inequality.

    Posner went to Kibera at age 19 with the goal of introducing theatre to young Kiberans. She did that. Eight years later, she has also brought clean water, the Internet and a health-care clinic that now serves 60,000. Perhaps most remarkably, she opened Kibera’s first free school for girls. And, oh yeah - she married the mayor.

    In 2010, Posner was named the biggest world-changer under age 25 on VH1’s nationally televised Do Something Awards, a TV event hosted by Jane Lynch

    Read the in-depth Denver Post account from 2010

    On Oct. 20, Posner and Odede read from their newly released book Find Me Unafraid, which has a foreword written by Nicholas Kristof, arguably The New York Times’ most influential writer.

    “They faced enormous obstacles, but ultimately their personal and professional saga is uplifting, hopeful and thrilling,” Kristof wrote. “I hope you have the chance someday not only to read their incredible tale, but also to see their life’s work taking a winding mud path through Kibera, only to turn a corner and find something close to a miracle.”

    Odede, named after U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was a homeless 16-year-old when he took courage from the book A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

    “My mother once told me, ‘Kennedy, you don't have to be rich to have an impact on someone's life,’ ” Odede told an overflow crowd of about 200 at the Tattered Cover. “That was amazing for me.

    “In Africa, we have snakes, and they can bite you. My mother said, ‘Kennedy, when you see a snake, you don't have to look for a stick to beat the snake. Use whatever you have to beat the snake.’ ”

    Poverty was Kennedy’s snake. And he beat it.

    He got a job in a local factory making $1 for 10 hours of work. Determined, he bought a 20-cent soccer ball in 2004 and started a youth group called Shining Hope for Communities. He started a street theatre company as a way for young people to express their anger in a peaceful way.

    In 2007, he received a surprise message from Posner, then a sophomore at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., asking if she could join him and put her extensive theatre background to use in Kibera. Posner was not like other theatre kids. When she was still in high school, she produced her own staging of Lee Blessing's Eleemosynary, including making a budget and paying her professional actors and crew.

    Odede thought she was crazy. He accepted anyway. The romance began immediately – and unknowingly.

    “The first day we met, Kennedy held my hand a little bit too long as we crossed the street, and I looked at him funny,” Posner told the Tattered Cover crowd. “He told me that holding hands is part of Kenyan culture. And I was just so proud that I had already learned a little bit of Kenyan culture. So we walked around for weeks holding hands - only to find out much later that it was definitely not a Kenyan cultural thing.”

    Jessica Posner, left, and Kennedy Odede talk about their new book 'Find Me Unafraid' at the Tattered Cover. Photo by John Moore

    Posner’s youth theater initiative proved to be popular to the point of competitive, because participating came with meals. For many of her “actors,” ages 16-25, it might be their only opportunity to eat. A powerful creative process ensued. The students wrote of hopelessness, gender violence, tribal conflicts, AIDS and unemployment. Posner cobbled their words into a play. The company toured the country performing everywhere from sidewalks to Kenya’s national theater to a political rally attended by both presidential candidates.

    That rally preceded a disputed 2007 presidential contest that escalated into widespread rioting over charges of fraud. Posner's stay in Kibera ended just three days before much of the slum was set ablaze as fighting erupted along tribal lines. "It was total chaos. People turned on one another in confusion and anger," she said. Thousands died, including a young mother who was a member of her theatre company.

    Posner got out safely but insisted she would be back, over Odede’s protestations. “That semester in Kenya changed my whole perspective,” Posner said. “When I came back to Denver, I looked at the world so differently.”

    a Find Me Unafraid Quote 7Posner told Odede that when she returned, she would stay in the slum with his family of 10. Before then, no white relief worker had ever stayed in the slum. They always typically stayed in nearby hotels.

    “I said, 'Jessica, you are crazy. You can't do that. You can't survive here. There is no running water. There is no toilet. It's not the place for you.' But, Jessica being Jessica, she forced herself into our house,’ ” Odede said with a laugh.

    “The funny part was my neighbors were knocking on the door every morning asking, 'She is dead? ... Or she is alive?' ”

    But with Kenya mired in terrible political violence – and Odede on a government watch list - Posner knew she had to get Odede out of the country. She helped him get a full scholarship to Wesleyan. His turn for a culture shock.

    They put together a plan to fundamentally change Kibera, starting with women and girls. With $10,000 and some babysitting money, they returned to Africa and opened the Kibera School for Girls. They also launched a wide range of holistic social-service programs tackling health care, clean water, economic empowerment and more.

    “We just recently opened a second school for girls, and our girls are thriving,” Posner said. “They finished No. 1 in their entire district on their most recent government exams. We have big dreams of taking this model of a school for girls and expanding it across Kenya and beyond."

    Their story, publishers HarperCollins espouse, "vividly illustrates the power of young, hopeful people to have an impact on the world, and stands as a testament to the transformations made possible by true love." ​ 

    The overflow crowd gathered at the Tattered Cover on Oct. 20, above and below right. Photo by John Moore. 

    To order the book:

    Find Me Unafraid, by Jessica Posner, is available at all Tattered Cover book stores, or can be ordered online at www.tatteredcover.com or at amazon.com

    SHOFCO: Impact to date

    • A national survey of 18- to 24-year-olds found that 32 percent of females had experienced sexual violence. By comparison, only 4 percent of students at the Kibera School for Girls had experienced sexual violence since enrolling.
    • 78 percent of women involved in SHOFCO Economic Empowerment Programs have their own source of income.
    • While 44 percent of married women in Kibera participate in household financial decisions, 62 percent of women whose daughter attends the Kibera School for Girls either jointly control or head household financial decisions.
    • Parents of Kibera School for Girls students have more stable employment and an average of 14 percent higher income.
    • 1,333 households (6,665 people) get their daily water at one of SHOFCO’s clean water kiosks.
    • 6,000 people use SHOFCO toilets every day.


    Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner at the Tattered Cover with Posner's parents, Helen Buchsbaum and David Posner. Photo by John Moore.
  • SCFD board: Unanimous vote to stay the course

    by John Moore | Oct 23, 2015
    Erin Rollman. Photo by John Moore.
    Buntport Theater co-founder Erin Rollman led the crowd at the Butterfly Pavilion through an alternative funding plan called FACE that would have provided more tax revenue to the area's smallest arts organizations. Photo by John Moore.

    WESTMINSTER – The dozens of arts advocates who packed the Butterfly Pavilion on Thursday overwhelmingly agree the one-of-a-kind taxing district that provides metro cultural organizations with more than $52 million a year is a national model that must be preserved.

    But what exact shape that model should take when it goes before voters for reauthorization in November 2016 has been the subject of growing discontent over the past five months.

    In May, the governing board of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District unanimously adopted the recommendations of a multi-year task force that would essentially provide an additional $2.2 million a year to the smallest of the SCFD’s 304 member organizations should the tax be reauthorized by voters next year.

    But a variety of concerns have been raised since, ranging from transparency to overall fairness. And so on Thursday, the 13-member SCFD board of directors agreed to hear new information and alternative plans from those arts advocates who feel the presently offered concessions will not help the smallest arts organizations to achieve proportional parity.

    “We have a fundamental agreement that the Tier II and III's deserve more money,” said SCFD board chairman Dan Hopkins. “The conversation is over how much.”

    The board heard three hours of civil but impassioned, numbers-crunching testimony, after which they voted 13-0 to leave the task force’s previous recommendations unchanged.

    “This was a process of negotiation and compromise, and we ended up in the middle,” said task force member Jim Harrington.

    The SCFD is a penny-per-$10 sales tax that was first approved by metro voters in 1989 and has been reauthorized by large voter margins twice since. The taxing district is structured into three tiers, with the metro area’s five largest institutions constituting Tier I: The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Art Museum, Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Denver Zoo. The next-biggest 28 arts groups are in Tier II, and there are 271 in Tier III. 

    Assuming the tax is reauthorized by voters next year, this pre-election process is the SCFD’s only chance to tinker with the existing formula for the next 12 years. And there is much at stake. Harrington estimates that by 2030, the SCFD should be generating a staggering $88 million a year.

    Jerome H. Kern of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Dan Hopkins. Photos by John Moore. Jerome H. Kern of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, left, tells SCFD Board Chairman Dan Hopkins, right, about the financial consequences of future Tier II growth. Photos by John Moore.

    While it was widely hoped that hosting Thursday’s public forum will clear the way for all arts advocates to move forward and work together for the SCFD’s reauthorization, the board’s quick vote and immediate dismissal of all three alternative plans without taking them under further advisement did little to engender real unity. While dozens of arts organizations and governmental agencies, as well as The Denver Post editorial board, already have endorsed the task force’s recommendations, Tier III advocate Jane Potts took to Facebook after Thursday’s meeting proclaiming, “The Tier III's lost today.”

    “We need a plan that everyone can get behind,” urged Jerome H. Kern, CEO of the Tier II Colorado Symphony Orchestra. His major concern was over the financial consequences of potential Tier II growth on existing member organizations.

    “The bottom line at the CSO is that we don’t believe the process is finished," he said.

    But for all intents and purposes, after Thursday’s vote, it is. The SCFD is now expected go to the state legislature in January proposing the following referendum language, a necessary step toward getting on the November ballot:

    For the first $38 million in tax revenues collected:

    • Tier I will receive 64 percent (down from 65.5)
    • Tier II will receive 22 percent (up from 21)
    • Tier III will receive 14 percent (up from 13.5)

      For any tax revenues over $38 million:

    • Tier I will receive 57 percent
    • Tier II will receive 26 percent
    • Tier III will receive 17 percent

    “The plan adopted by the board represents a significant compromise," said board member Kathy Kucsan of Boulder County. "Funding for the regional Tier I organizations, our cultural anchors, will stay even with inflation while funding for the Tier II and Tier III organizations will increase at double the rate of inflation. This allows the tier I organizations to maintain their facilities while Tier II and III groups will be able to grow."

    The major counterproposal Thursday was offered by a group called FACE - Friends of Arts and Cultural Equality - which called for a gradual shift in distribution ratios until reaching “20/30/50” by 2030 – 20 percent to Tier III, 30 percent to Tier II and 50 percent to Tier I.

    Buntport Theater co-founder Erin Rollman, who presented the FACE plan on Thursday, said Tier I’s would lose about $8 million a year in projected funding by 2030. “But that’s an $8 million shift shared between five giant organizations, with 15 years to plan for it,” she said. “This is not a problematic shift.” And, she emphasized, “None of the tiers are projected to lose any money under this plan. Tier I’s would just be making less of an increase. There’s a big difference.” 

    Because the board received the FACE plan in advance of the meeting, Harrington was prepared with a dire response. “Under the FACE plan, Tier I's would be underfunded by $29.6 million relative to the rate of inflation," he warned. “Anytime an organization does not have revenue growth that is at least equal to inflation, what happens? You cut your programs. You cut the core. That's what would happen under this proposal.”

    SCFDHopkins remained unconvinced that simply allocating more money to the area’s smallest organizations would solve the real problem. “Just during the life of the SCFD (27 years), nearly 256 Tier III's have folded,” he said. “So no matter how much money goes into the pot, maybe the larger issue for us to think about is what we can do to help assure the sustainability of these smaller organizations.”

    (Photo at right: This "United for SCFD" logo is part of an online petition organizers hope will promote a unified front for the reauthorization campaign moving forward. Erin Rollman and others who advocate changes to the SCFD task force's recommendations have nevertheless signed the petition.)  

    Many local arts representatives used the public comment portion of the meeting to praise the SCFD, advocate for the task force’s recommendations and warn against infighting.

    "We believe the reauthorization process was open and inclusive and transparent,” said Colorado Business Committee for the Arts chairman Mark Davidson. “We believe the SCFD task force's recommendations are the most prudent use of taxpayer dollars.”

    Voters reaffirmed their support of the SCFD tax in 1994 and again in 2004 with 65 percent voter approval.

    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.

    Related coverage

    Largest metro arts organizations offer major concession

  • Photos: Off-Center's Launch Party; 'Back to the Future' is Wednesday

    by John Moore | Oct 20, 2015

    The photos above are from Off-Center's season Kick-Off Party and Mile High Mashup, a full evening of entertainment on Oct. 9 at The Jones Theatre that included DJ Savior Breath (pictured below right), a rock ’n roll flash-mob choir, a 9-year-old lemonade baron, slam poetry from Suzi Q. Smith and friends, live music from the Noah Wilson Collective, and improv comedy from Off-Center’s own Cult Following ensemble. Michael Bouchard, who will assume the role of David in Off-Center's upcoming co-production of The SantaLand Diaries with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, offered a brief preview.

    DJ Savior Breath. Photo by John Moore. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. To download any photo for free, in a variety of available sizes, click "View original Flickr image."

    Cult Following returns on Wednesday (Oct. 21) to celebrate "Back to the Future Day." In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly travels to Oct. 21, 2015, to save his children, yet to be born in 1985, the setting got the original Back to the Future film.

    Off-Center's party this Wednesday will be an homage to the '80s, hover boards and Marty McFly, complete with a DeLorean photo op. (Yes ... real DeLorean!)

    The bar, sponsored by Great Divide Brewery, opens at 7:30 p.m.; the show begins at 8. Then on Friday (Oct. 23), Cult Following hosts "Karoake Musical," a mash-up of karaoke and musical theatre. Willing audience members will be invited to grab the mic and sing their hearts out while driving the actors' improvised and unexpected plot twists.


    Cult Following Back to the Future

    Ticket information: Cult Following this week

    Back to the Future | Wednesday, Oct. 21
    Karaoke Musical | Friday, Oct. 23, 2015

    • Bar opens at 7:30 p.m.; shows start at 8
    • Jones Theatre, at Speer Boulevard and Arapahoe streets
    • Tickets $15
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at Denvercenter.org.
    • More info on Off-Center: Go to Off-Center's home page
    About Cult Following:
    Off-Center’s signature night of unrehearsed, unscripted theatre features the quick-thinking talents of some of Denver’s best improv performers: Jessica Austgen, Sarah Kirwin, Nanna Thompson and Chris Woolf. Look for low-budget special effects, amateur stunts, audience participation and a one-of-a-kind experience.

    Off Center Season Launch featuring actors led by the slam poet Suzi Q. Smith. Photo by John Moore.

    The acclaimed slam poet Suzi Q. Smith brought women who performed excerpts from their original work. They will return for a full performance as part of Off-Center's spring schedule next March. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.

  • 'If/Then' composers: Writing for Idina Menzel is like learning to drive a Porsche

    by John Moore | Oct 14, 2015
    Brian Yorkey quote. Photo by Joan Marcus. The direction of 'If/Then,' and the lives of composers Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, below left, changed when they learned they would be writing their new musical for Idina Menzel. Photo above by Joan Marcus.

    When Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey won the Pulitzer Prize for writing the Broadway musical Next to Normal in 2010, they already were looking ahead to their next project. It was to be the story of a 25-year-old woman finding her way in New York.

    And that’s when producer David Stone dangled the most mellifluous bait in musical history before them: Why not make the character a little more seasoned, with some wear and tear?

    In other words: Why not write the character for Broadway superstar Idina Menzel?

    Hook, line and singer. If/Then was re-born, and the star of Rent, Wicked and the film Frozen would become both its face, and its biggest champion.

    Brian Yorkey, left, and Tom Kitt. This week, the first national touring production of If/Then launches in Denver with Menzel again taking center stage alongside principal castmates LaChanzeAnthony Rapp and James Snyder.

    “To be able to write for someone like Idina is a privilege,” said Yorkey, the musical’s lyricist. “It's also a challenge, because you have what will ultimately be considered one of the legendary instruments of the American musical theatre. So you better make it worth her while if you are writing songs for her.”

    In an era of larger-than-life Broadway spectacles, If/Then is an ambitious but deeply human story of a modern woman whose carefully designed plans for a new life collide with the whims of fate. The musical shows two parallel paths of how her life might unfold after she makes one seemingly ordinary choice.

    It’s The Butterfly Effect – the chaos theory that says the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world can eventually build up to a hurricane on the other. Or, in this case, it's that one small decision really can change the entire course of your life, and of those around you.

    Yorkey believes in it.

    “I do. I read Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was 17, and James Gleik's Chaos when I was 25. Those books blew my mind,” he said with a laugh.  

    Many of us, he added, would like to believe that there is a path chosen for us, or fated for us. “But I do know very small variations in the paths we take can lead to very great differences in the outcome,” he said.  

    “We can't know all of the implications of the choices great and small that we make today. Because we don't know which choices are going to end up looming large. I think that's terrifying and also kind of wonderful.”

    Kitt also believes everyday decisions can have huge, unknowable effects on other parts of your life.

    “I know that I got into Columbia, and that I am writing musicals, and that I have the family that I have because of a number of circumstances I couldn't even begin to plan out or fathom,” Kitt said. “But they happened, and here I am. Is that fate, or just the natural order of life? I think we all contemplate where we are at a certain point and wonder how we got there - and If/Then really lives there.”

    Here are more excerpts from DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore’s conversation with writers Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics):

    Tom Kitt quote. Photo by Joan Marcus.
    Photo by Joan Marcus.

    John Moore: I know you two got into this business to write new musicals for the American theatre. And when you were classmates at Columbia, I am sure you were told there is a certain formula that will most likely result in the production of marketable new musicals. I am wondering how you got the courage to not follow those rules?

    Tom Kitt: Certainly when you are a young writer and you are just looking to make your way in the world, you have to make your own opportunities and follow your own instincts and inspirations. For both Brian and me, Next to Normal felt like something really gargantuan to tackle. It felt like it was firmly in the world of shows like Hedwig and Rent and Tommy. Those shows were having an enormous influence on us when we started writing Next to Normal. 

    Brian Yorkey quote. Brian Yorkey: OK, let's let the truth be told: For a number of years, Tom and I were trying to write a musical version of Jerry Maguire. But we would get distracted by Feeling Electric - which was the working title of Next to Normal at the time. Part of us was primed to do something we thought would be commercial, but Next to Normal just kept pulling us back. You hear writers say things like this and it smells like (bleep), but Next to Normal really did kind of demand that we write it. But initially, I don't know if we were courageous ... or procrastinating. 

    John Moore: Can you promise me that somewhere in a trunk there is a song called “Show Me the Money”?

    Brian Yorkey: As a matter of fact, John, there is a song called "Show Me the Money." And when we see you in Denver, I will have Tom play a little bit of it to you. It totally exists.

    John Moore: That completes me.

    Tom Kitt: We were just trying to figure out how to pay the bills and find the writing time that we needed back then. Once the spark for Next to Normal happened, we just didn't look back, and we never questioned. We just felt like this was the thing we were supposed to be working on. 

    Brian Yorkey: And we were really lucky to have some very key allies along the way, like (producer) David Stone and Peter Askin. He directed the original production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

    John Moore: How do you wrap your head around the impact that Next to Normal has had, and the lives that it has saved?

    Brian Yorkey: Tom and I set out to write a show that was very personal to us, and for many years we didn't know that it would matter to anybody else. But it told a story that many people hadn't seen before in the musical theatre. Music has a way of digging in and seeping into your subconscious, which is perfect for a story like ours. We learned over time that the show doesn't just belong to us. It belongs to all of those people who respond to it and claim it in some way as their own. We always find it very humbling when people tell us the show has touched them, because we didn't set out to do that. And the opportunity to touch people in that way doesn't come along very often.

    Tom Kitt: Next to Normal was a labor of love, and it never gets tiresome to hear the effect that it has had on people. 


    John Moore: When I had my first opportunity to write about Next to Normal in The Denver Post, I said that if we’re lucky, Next to Normal and Spring Awakening were going to redefine normal when it comes to the new American musical. Do you think that's happened?

    Tom Kitt: The wonderful thing about musical theatre as an art form is that it keeps evolving and changing. And we keep getting hit, luckily, with these huge, impactful shows that change the game. They spark young writers who keep challenging the art form. I got to see Spring Awakening while I was working on Next to Normal, and that was hugely impactful for me. And then I got to go work on American Idiot with (director) Michael Mayer, and that show has had a huge effect on people. You can go back further and talk about Sondheim, and Kander and Ebb, and on and on. They are all linked. These shows happen, and they affect people, and what they all say is, 'Oh, this is possible.'

    Brian Yorkey: Look, I would love to believe that the success of Next to Normal gave courage to other writers and producers, just as I hope the success of Fun Home gives courage to other writers and producers. But nothing ever completely changes. Tom and I wrote Next to Normal, but we are also working on adaptations right now that we're very excited about. So I think adaptations and movies-turned-into-musicals will be part of our landscape forever. But I also hope shows like Fun Home and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson are part of our landscape, too. The fact that Next to Normal actually earned its money back and paid its investors off and then some, that is thrilling.

    Tom Kitt: We are seeing that again right now with Hamilton. Everyone is talking about how game-changing that is. I knew that as soon as I saw it.

    Brian Yorkey: (Hamilton writer and star) Lin-Manuel Miranda is someone we have always adored and respected. Hamilton is not only inspiring to us, it is also a little bit of a kick in the tush that says, "Hey, don't sit around and use old forms. See what you can do to take this thing we love and make it into something new. Lin is clearly doing that. Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years) is doing that. It seems like a great time for all of us to be inspiring and galvanizing and challenging each other to so something new and exciting.  

    Tom Kitt: Certainly the ambition behind If/Then was this: "What's possible in the musical theatre?" ‘How do we keep challenging ourselves to tell stories that seem like they could only happen on stage in a musical?"

    John Moore: So you essentially wrote If/Then for Idina Menzel. What was it like for you to write for someone of the magnitude?

    Brian Yorkey: As a songwriter, it's like being a race-car driver having the most brilliant Porsche to take out on the track. But you had better well know how to drive it. That's part of the great challenge of it.

    Tom Kitt: First and foremost, to be writing for Idina Menzel is a gift. I wanted to utilize Idina's enormous, gargantuan instrument, but I also wanted to vary it and really explore a number of different places for her to sing.

    John Moore: What was she like to work with?

    Brian Yorkey: It sounds like I am doing a con job on people whenever I talk about Idina, but for someone with such gifts and such stardom, she is generous and loving. She will try anything that we write for her, and she will do her damndest to make it work. We would cut songs that we felt just weren't good enough to have Idina and Anthony (Rapp) and LaChanze sing them - and Idina would argue with us to try to save them. She's got an amazing heart as well an amazing talent, and that combination is more rare than you would think. More than anybody, she is the one who has put this show on her back from Day 1 and carried it forward. It's been an absolute joy to work with her, and couldn't be more in awe.

    John Moore: Can you help describe her voice to a layman?

    Tom Kitt: Her range is so huge that she can really go anywhere. She sings as high as the highest people can go. And then she has a hugely wonderful richness to her low notes as well. There is just nothing that she can't do. Really, "Always Starting Over" and "You Learn to Live Without" is a great example of that because the former sits much more in her low tones, and the latter challenges her skyward. So that's a great way of saying you can write anywhere for this person and she can do it. That's why she is who she is.

    John Moore: How important is it that Idina Menzel is here in Denver to launch the national tour of If/Then?

    Tom Kitt: It's hugely important. The show was written for Idina Menzel. It is thrilling to see what has happened for her career since Frozen. But even with all that, she has remained a fierce champion of If/Then. And the fact that she is now doing this tour when she has a million things pulling her in all different directions - it just means a great deal. And it goes without saying how helpful it is to have Idina Menzel to raise interest in the show.

    John Moore: And how did feel about getting all four principal actors back for the tour?

    Brian Yorkey: It’s insane, right? It's kind of brilliant. But that also comes right down to Idina. I mean if she’s in, I’m sure it would be kind of hard for anyone else to say no.

    John Moore: So it’s really just peer pressure, pure and simple.

    Brian Yorkey: Exactly right.

    Brian Yorkey quote. Photo by Joan Marcus. Pictured: Idina Menzel and James Snyder. Photo by Joan Marcus.

    John Moore: This is history in the making. No Broadway musical of the modern era has ever managed to re-gather its entire principal cast for a national tour before.

    Brian Yorkey: To me, having Idina and LaChanze and Anthony and James - as well as our Musical Director, Carmel Dean - heading out for the first leg of the tour is absolutely essential because they are paving the way for the people who will follow. They are helping to build this thing for tour the way we built it for Broadway. And they are also showing the world once again that they believe in this kind of quirky, not-entirely-traditional new show of ours. To me, that means everything.

    John Moore: So what do you say to fans in the cities that come after the first leg?

    Brian Yorkey: Nobody is Idina Menzel. She is not replaceable. But they said the same thing about Alice Ripley, and Next to Normal is still playing all around the world, and it has flourished in the regional theatre. My great hope is that If/Then will go beyond this national tour. I hope many great actors will want to play Elizabeth and bring their own artistry to the role. I can tell you that people will see a gargantuan performance at the center of this show wherever the show is playing.


    John Moore: If touring audiences only know you two from Next to Normal, how will the If/Then score both satisfy and surprise them?

    Brian Yorkey: I think it depends on the person. What I think If/Then has in common with Next to Normal is that Tom writes really emotional music. The music wears its heart on its sleeve. It doesn't necessarily prioritize complexity and sophistication in the way a lot of modern music does. Tom is really interested in getting to the heart of the matter musically, and I try to do the same lyrically. I try to be conversational, be human, to have lyrics that speak the way people speak and get to the heart of things. If/Then is certainly not as tensely emotional at every moment as Next to Normal, because it's telling a broader story.

    Tom Kitt: If/Then is definitely not trying to be Next to Normal in any way. The nature of the orchestrations, and the size of the orchestras, are very different.

    Brian Yorkey: Next to Normal is often referred to as a rock musical. It’s not just rock music, but the basic instrumentation is the same as a rock band. If/Then has a 13-piece orchestra. So I think there are more orchestral colors, both musically and lyrically.

    Tom Kitt: The thing that never goes away for Brian and me is that there is always a strong rhythmic quality in our songs. I think the people who come to see If/Then will definitely recognize us in the score.

    Brian Yorkey: I think the people who know and love Next to Normal will certainly find things to know and love in If/Then. And I hope they will also find colors that maybe they didn't hear in Next to Normal.   

    John Moore: How would you say the theme of the show is best reflected in your writing?

    Brian Yorkey: I don't want to be a (jerk) and quote my own lyrics, but at the end of the show, Elizabeth says, "You learn how to love the not knowing." I think a big part of life is learning how to be present in this moment and trust that we make decisions as our best self, and that the life that follows will be one worth living.

    John Moore: Denver has developed a reputation as a launching pad for national tours including The Lion King and The Book of Mormon and Pippin. Does it mean anything to you that the If/Then tour is launching here in Denver?

    Tom Kitt: Absolutely. Certainly to be in the company of all the shows you mentioned is meaningful. But when I have had other shows visiting Denver - Next to Normal, for example - the support and the reception have been wonderful. This is a city that has welcomed me as a writer into its collective heart. So the news that this is where we would begin the tour was really gratifying to me. 

    Brian Yorkey: For those of us on the creative team, you want to start at a place that is going to feel like a home away from home. You don’t want to be in a city that takes great pride in knocking things over. There are a few of those, if you know what I mean. You very much want to start in a city that is both sophisticated and theatre savvy, with people who are going to help you know what tweaks you need to make before you head out into the world. You want someplace that is going to feel welcoming. Denver fits that to a T, and I imagine that has a great deal to do with why it has become such a launching pad. And it is such a beautiful city. There couldn't be a better place for us to kick the tour off, as far as I am concerned.

    John Moore: Do you have any Colorado connections?

    Brian Yorkey: I have tons of cousins in the metro area, so I was really thrilled to hear we would be starting in Denver. I'm always very proud to show my relatives that what I do for a living is actually a real thing. One my cousins is studying musical theatre at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, so I am excited to have him and his classmates see the show. I visited him earlier this summer and I got to see him in a production of Godspell that was just fantastic. It knocked my socks off.

    Tom Kitt: My father used to work for NERA: National Economic Research Associates. They used to have annual conferences in Aspen, so I spent a lot of time there as a kid.

    John Moore: OK, so I am going to end with a really hard-hitting personal question.

    Brian Yorkey: Bring it.

    John Moore: Where do you keep your Pulitzer Prizes?

    Tom Kitt: I am moving, so my Pulitzer is going to be in a box soon.

    Brian Yorkey: I have a great story about the Tony Award (for Best Original Score).

    John Moore: Bring it.

    Brian Yorkey: So I met Warren Leight, who wrote Side Man, the night before the Tony Awards, and he said we were going to win. And I said, "Oh, I don't know about that." But he said, "No, you are going to win the Tony Award, and when you do, whatever you do, don't (bleeping) put it in your office." I asked why, and he said, "Because it will sit there staring at you every day saying, 'You will never write anything this good ever again.' " So I took him at his word, and I kept it in a bag on the floor of my office for about six months."

    John Moore: But you also won the Pulitzer Prize.

    Brian Yorkey: The funny thing about the Pulitzer is that you go to the ceremony and you meet all these reporters who risked their careers and their lives to report on this company that is poisoning this river. And then people ask you, 'Well, what did you write?' and I am like, 'Um … I wrote a play?'

    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.

    Ticket information
    Oct. 13-25
    At the Buell Theatre
    Call 303-893-4100, buy in person at the Denver Center Ticket Office located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby, or BUY ONLINE
    ASL interpreted, Audio described & Open captioned performance: 2 p.m. Oct 25,
    Groups: Call 303-446-4829
    (Please be advised that the DCPA's web site at denvercenter.org is the ONLY authorized online ticket provider for 'If/Then' performances in Denver)

    Our previous NewsCenter coverage of If/Then and Idina Menzel:

    Look for additional coverage of If/Then throughout the next two weeks at denvercenter.org/news-center

  • Photos: Opening night of 'As You Like It'

    by John Moore | Oct 05, 2015

    Photos from before and after the opening night performance of the DCPA Theatre Company's As You Like It, in The Space Theatre.

    It was a bittersweet evening at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, as the death of DCPA founder Donald R. Seawell was marked before the start of all shows with remarks and a round of applause. Seawell was the first producer to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company to America.

    As You Like It was followed by a traditional cast celebration in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Performances run through Nov. 1.

    Photos by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter. To download any photo for free, click on "View original Flickr image."

    Montage of scenes by Video Producer David Lenk.

    As You Like It:
    Ticket information

  • Performances through Nov. 1
  • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
  • Space Theatre
  • 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at Denvercenter.org.

  • Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for 'As You Like It.'

    'Meet the Cast' profiles (more to come):
    J. Paul Boehmer, the Dukes
    Drew Horwitz, William and others
    Maurice Jones, Orlando
    Geoffrey Kent, Actor, Assistant Director and Fight Director
    Emily Kron, Phoebe
    Nick LaMedica, Sylvius
    Matt Zambrano, Touchstone

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of As You Like It:
    ShakesCheer video: The Bard meets the Broncos' cheerleaders
    Perspectives: 5 things we learned about As You Like It
    Kent Thompson and the Four Loves of As You Like It
    As You Like It opens: A woman's woman in a man's world
    As You Like It begins rehearsals: 'Literally, watch it bloom'
    Costume corner: Letting it all go in the Arden Forest
    Shakespeare's largest female role might surprise you: It's Rosalind
    Casting announced for Theatre Company's fall shows
    DCPA Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
    Official show page

    Opening night of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'As You Like It.' Photo by John Moore.
    Opening night of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'As You Like It.' Photo by John Moore.
  • Don Seawell: A 'singular vision' to build the DCPA for Denver

    by John Moore | Sep 30, 2015

    A video retrospective on the remarkable life of DCPA founder Donald R. Seawell.

    UPDATE: A public celebration of DCPA founder Donald Seawell's life will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, in the Seawell Grand Ballroom.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Donald R. Seawell had absolutely no fear of dying. He worried about his legacy not one bit.

    “What’s the point of worrying?” he was fond of saying.  “I'll be gone.”

    Seawell died today at age 103. And ironically, perhaps no one in Colorado history leaves behind a greater cultural legacy than the man who didn’t care about his legacy.

    He cared only about what he left behind: The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, today the largest non-profit theatre organization in America, last year attracting more than 800,000 visitors. 

    "Donald Seawell was a visionary whose dreams for the city of Denver, the state of Colorado and indeed the world will outlive generations to come," said DCPA President and CEO Scott Shiller. "Mr. Seawell’s reputation as an industry leader inspired the creation of countless other performing arts centers throughout the country. Denver is the No. 1 arts city in the country because of the innovative path Mr. Seawell set us on 43 years ago. We will continue to honor his legacy in all we do."

    Seawell’s multifaceted career spanning more than seven decades included producing more than 65 Broadway plays, debating at Oxford Union against Winston Churchill, conducting World War II counterintelligence, publishing The Denver Post and founding the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in 1974. Even after he stepped down as Chairman and CEO in 2006, Seawell continued to come to work in his emeritus position most every weekday until just a few months before his death.

    “The day I retire,” he once said, “is the day they take me out of here in a box."

    Instead, in true Seawell fashion, he was said to be entertaining international guests at his home in the hours before his death.

    Wellington Webb, Denver's mayor from 1991 to 2003, called Seawell "a pioneer with a clear vision and a singular focus on the expansion of the performing arts complex."

    Denver Center Trustee Margot Gilbert Frank called Seawell "a visionary who put Denver on the international map." Fellow Trustee Judi Wolf, who cared for Seawell in his later years, said Seawell will go down as the most important builder of culture in Colorado history, “hands down.”

    Daniel L. Ritchie

    Daniel L. Ritchie, the cable magnate and former University of Denver Chancellor who succeeded Seawell as Denver Center Chairman, said Seawell’s esteemed place in theatre history is most secure.

    "Nobody in the world could have done what he's done,” Ritchie said.

    Governor John Hickenlooper said in a Tweet late Tuesday: "Farewell, Donald Seawell. You were one of a kind. Thank you for all you did for the Denver community. Consider this a standing ovation."

    Donald R. Seawell. Photo by Mark Kiryluk. Seawell has counted among his friends Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Joseph Kennedy, Prince Charles, Noel Coward and a playbill full of star actors, including Tallulah Bankhead, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne and Howard Lindsay.

     In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II conferred upon Seawell the honorary award of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In 2006, the two-time Tony Award winner was given the Theatre Hall of Fame's Founder's Award in New York.

    But his permanent, singular legacy will be the arts complex he built out of a ghostly part of downtown Denver at a time when absolutely no one other than Seawell was calling for it. “But there was a great need for it, because downtown was dying at that time," he said. (Photo credit above: Mark Kiryluk.)

    "There was absolutely no demand for it at the time," said former Denver Center President Lester Ward. "But Don said, 'Denver will never be a great city unless you have a great performing arts complex.' And so he saw to it that Denver got one."

    Seawell set out to create what he called “the finest arts complex in the world.” Today the complex hosts more than 10,500 seats in 10 venues and is home to the Colorado Ballet, Opera Colorado, Colorado Symphony, Broadway tours and his own beloved DCPA Theatre Company.

    Seawell's epiphany for creating the arts complex came in 1972, when he stopped at the intersection of 14th and Curtis streets. He looked up at the Auditorium Arena, then an aging eyesore from 1908, surrounded by "a mass of urban decay."

    He pulled an envelope from his coat and sketched a blueprint covering four blocks and 12 acres. Before the day was out, he had secured the approval of not only Mayor Bill McNichols but the Bonfils Foundation board, whose primary asset was control of The Denver Post.

    In 2006, Seawell celebrated his 90th birthday in style - with a black-tie gala in the $16 million ballroom that bears his name. And why not? "By the time you're 90, you've outlived most your enemies," he joked at the time. Seawell was beloved, reviled, respected and feared. And he would be first to admit he acquired -- and outlived  -- many enemies during his colorful and controversial life in the spotlight.

    Since the 1972 death of longtime Denver Post owner Helen G. Bonfils, his client and producing partner, Seawell has both enjoyed profuse praise for founding the center and weathered lingering resentment over his 1986 closing of the theater Bonfils built and ran for 40 years on East Colfax Avenue.

    “Some people perceived him as a little rough along the edges in terms of getting his way," Webb said, "but that charge can be made of all of us who are in positions of authority and have a mission to accomplish.”

    Seawell considered arm-twisting Ritchie into succeeding him as among his top accomplishments. But his greatest, he often said, was being married for 59 years to actress, playwright and poet Eugenia Rawls. He also took great pride in presiding over The Post from 1966-81 and founding the DCPA. He considered his 2002 honor from the queen "the icing on the cake," because "I have had a love affair with England since my misspent youth."

    Donald Seawell with wife Eugenia Rawls.
    Donald Seawell with his wife, Eugenia Rawls.

    Seawell spent a lifetime promoting the cross-pollination of British and American theater. In 1962, he became the first producer to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company to America. He directed the RSC's The Hollow Crown" on Broadway, and two years later, he brought King Lear and The Comedy of Errors to New York to mark the 400th birthday of Shakespeare. He was the first American named to the RSC's board of governors.

    One artistic endeavor ranks above all else: In 2000, Seawell brought the 10-play epic Trojan War cycle Tantalus to Denver at a cost of $8 million. The money came from donors and by reducing the number of plays presented by the Theatre Company that year.

    "It was the largest theater project in the 2,500-year history of the theater," Seawell said. "Nothing has come along like it, and it probably won't ever happen again.

    "It brought more attention to the Denver Center than anything else we have ever done. It brought critics from all over the world. It brought people from more than 40 countries."

    The cost, he said, "was more than repaid in terms of increased donations in the years that followed, as well as national and international recognition."

    Annette Bening

    Artistic Director Gregory Doran called Seawell one of the Royal Shakespeare Company's greatest friends. "​Tantalus was a heroic project that brought together international artists from the U.S., U.K., Japan, Greece and Ireland, and reflects the scale of Donald's vision and his extraordinary passion for theatre and the RSC," he said.

    Former RSC artistic director Adrian Noble called ​Tantalus "an extraordinary, landmark event in world culture that would never have happened without Donald Seawell."

    After RSC founder Peter Hall failed to woo European investors for Tantalus, Seawell not only came forward offering the services of the Denver Center, he insisted that no money from the Denver Center be put at risk.

    "I call him my deus ex-machina," Hall said at the time. "When I had failed to raise the money we needed, Donald came along with that rare mixture of madness and shrewdness which marks all good impresarios and said, 'I'll do it.' He allowed us to dream our dream."

    Prince Charles wrote to Seawell congratulating him on the queen's honor, stating: "Personally, I could not be more grateful, as a very proud president of the Royal Shakespeare Company, for all your support for this wonderful organization. I know the company has always been impressed and delighted by your active involvement with all that they do, most recently by making possible the ​Tantalus project."

    Denver Center Trustee Jim Steinberg praised Seawell as a giant. "He is a wonderful man,” Steinberg said, “and he has devoted everything to building the Denver Center.” Former Denver Center Director of Publications Sylvie Drake added, “He had boldness, and he had vision - no question about it."

    Oscar-winning actor Annette Bening was a member of the Theatre Company's resident acting company in the early days of the Denver Center, a time when regional performing-arts centers were starting up all over the country. "But when all of these other theaters were founded, the government was much more involved in supporting the live theater," Bening said, "and now a lot of those theaters are almost on their own in terms of trying to stay above water and trying to survive. In Denver, it was really the (Bonfils Foundation) endowment that got it on its feet. The fact that someone like Don Seawell was willing to put up the money ... that was an incredible act by a man who has been part of the theater for a long time."

    Seawell was born Aug. 1, 1912, in Jonesboro, N.C., where the young redhead developed a lifelong if inexplicable affinity for frogs. He grew up with no religion to speak of because, he said, "organized religion has been a barrier to progress from the word 'go."'

    He earned his law degree from the University of North Carolina, where in 1932 he saw fellow student Eugenia Rawls walking across the campus.

    "I went up to her and said, 'My name is Don Seawell, and I am going to marry you,' " he said. Nine years later, he did.

    In a 1936 radio debate, Seawell said of Joseph Kennedy, "It takes a thief to catch a thief." Kennedy, then head of the new Securities and Exchange Commission, was listening. He called Seawell and hired him upon graduation as an SEC staff member.

    On April 5, 1941, Seawell married Rawls, whose Broadway career spanned from 1934 (The Children's Hour) to 1976 (Sweet Bird of Youth). She died in Denver on Nov. 8, 2000. Over their 59 years together, Rawls wrote dozens of love poems to Seawell, each beginning with the line, "Over the hills of all the world, I would go with you." They had two children, Brook and Brockman.

    With the outbreak of World War II, Seawell was lent to the War Department to work in counterintelligence for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower with a combined American and British team working on preparations for the invasion of Normandy.

    After the war, he entered private law practice in New York and became increasingly involved in theater. His career as a Broadway and London producer alongside legendary partner Roger Stevens included milestone productions of Showboat, Our Town and Harvey.

    "Roger and I once tried to count how many shows we had co-produced, and we came up with 65," Seawell said. "But that was after a bottle of champagne, so we may have missed a few and doubled some others."

    Seawell began to represent actors and writers including Bankhead, Coward, Ruth Draper and the famous married couple of Lunt and Fontanne, who often referred to Seawell as "the son they never had." Upon their deaths they left their memorabilia to Seawell, who since has turned it over to the Denver Center.

    Seawell also represented Bonfils, a legendary theater figure and an heiress to the dominant newspaper in Colorado. "Miss Helen" was a tireless philanthropist and theater champion who partnered with Seawell in producing Broadway productions. Back in Denver she built the Bonfils Theatre at East Colfax Avenue and Elizabeth Street in 1953. It was Denver's crown jewel through Bonfils' death in June 1972.

    Bonfils' will, and the ownership of The Post, were involved in a long litigation battle that resulted in Seawell taking control of both. He opened the DCPA in 1974 with money from the Bonfils Foundation, which for years went toward operating The Post and funding Miss Helen's many cultural philanthropic projects.

    Some groused when he built the complex that Seawell was dipping into Bonfils' money to build what was called a monument to himself. The competing Rocky Mountain News led the fight to have him stopped.

    Where all those naysayers today? "They are now supporters," Seawell said.

    Webb's only reservation with Seawell was his inability to keep staging community theater at the Bonfils Theatre. It was closed in 1986, just six months after Seawell renamed it for producer Henry Lowenstein.

    Seawell said the Bonfils was losing $500,000 a year, but many suspected he had come to see Miss Helen's east-side jewel as competition for his downtown Denver Center. Shuttering it was seen by some as a show of disrespect to the woman whose money built both it and the Denver Center.

    Seawell admitted the vision for the Denver Center was solely his own.

    "Helen wanted very much to have a professional theater company at the old place, and I got Tyrone Guthrie to agree to come here as artistic director (in the 1960s)," Seawell said.

    "But he took one look at the old Bonfils Theatre and said it was fit only for Noel Coward drawing-room comedies - and he didn't do those. So we were going to build another theater by the old Bonfils, and we actually acquired land for it. But then Tyrone died before we could do anything."

    Two former DCPA CEOs: Daniel L. Ritchie, left and Donald R. Seawell.
    Two former DCPA CEOs: Daniel L. Ritchie, left and Donald R. Seawell. 

    However, the creation of the Denver Center required the adherence to The Tax Reform Act of 1969, which represented a significant change in the relationship between government and philanthropy. It established that no private foundation could control any corporation, so Seawell drafted the Bonfils Amendment, which provided that if the private foundation is a satellite of a public foundation, it would not have to give up control. Seawell then created the DCPA as a public foundation and designated the Bonfils Foundation as the satellite to act as a permanent endowment for the DCPA.

    The 2,700-seat Boettcher Concert Hall, (the nation's first concert hall in the round) opened first, in 1978. By 1979 the Auditorium Theatre had been renovated. Four new theaters made up the Helen G. Bonfils Theatre Complex. The 2,880-seat Buell Theatre opened in 1991, and the Seawell Ballroom followed in 1998.

    Seawell was particularly proud to have made the Denver Center home to the National Theatre Conservatory, a three-year MFA program that offered full scholarships to masters students from 1984 through 2012, when it was closed for financial reasons.

    Donald R. Seawell with DCPA Trustee Judi Wolf at Hattitude. Photo by John Moore.Seawell oversaw every aspect of the Denver Center’s growth, and perceptions of him gradually changed from "empire maker" to unparalleled visionary. His Denver Center Theater Company, now 37 years old, won a Tony Award as the nation's best in 1998.

    Today, it's is nearly impossible to imagine downtown without the Denver Center.

    "When I proposed an arts complex, people kept telling me of a study that said in 1974 there weren't 3,000 people in Colorado who had ever attended a professional theater production," Seawell said. "Well, millions of those 3,000 people have attended the theater now."

    (Photo above right: Donald R. Seawell with DCPA Trustee Judi Wolf at the 2015 Hattitude, a fundraiser for the DCPA Theatre Company's Women's Voices Fund. Photo by John Moore.)

    As chairman of the Denver Center's board of trustees, Seawell's contract called for him to make just $1 a year, even though he routinely reported to work up to seven days a week. "But somebody has been forgetting to pay me," he joked.

    Seawell became a Colorado resident in 1966, when Bonfils asked him to help her withstand a hostile takeover attempt of The Denver Post by the Newhouse newspaper chain, which owned 15 percent of Post stock. It was a 12-year battle that started in 1960 and did not end until just after her death.

    Bonfils had appointed Seawell as The Post's president and CEO, and later he became publisher.

    "Nothing that I have done in my entire life was more fun than running a newspaper," Seawell said. "I took a great deal of pride in keeping The Denver Post alive as an independent, objective voice - while still making money."

    But by 1980, the economy was sputtering and the paper was teetering on the brink of collapse. Critics accused Seawell of abandoning the paper while preoccupied with building up the Denver Center. With the paper rife for a takeover, Seawell sold The Post to Times Mirror of California for the fire-sale price of $95 million. Proceeds went to the Bonfils Foundation, securing the financial future of the Denver Center.

    Times Mirror was the first out-of-state owner in the then 88-year history of The Post. The paper switched to morning delivery, and circulation soon plunged by 200,000. Though The Post survived, many blamed Seawell for disposing of Miss Helen's treasured newspaper.

    "That criticism hurt Eugenia deeply, but I was never hurt by it because the people who were expressing that opinion never understood it," said Seawell. "I expect to make enemies because The Post was the dominant paper, and you're a target."

    Seawell is survived by his children, Brockman Seawell of New York City and Brook Ashley of Santa Barbara, Calif; granddaughter Brett Wilbur of Carmel, Calif., and three great-grandchildren.

    Of all his memorabilia, he considered his greatest treasures the poems his wife wrote to him.

    "Over the hills of all the world, I would go with you, that we might know each crest. And later on remembering how we stood, hands clasped above the cities and the smallest towns, find that we left our love in space, over the continents and seas, and thus retained our love."

    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.

    Key events in the life of Donald Seawell:

    Aug. 1, 1912: Born in Jonesboro, N.C.

    1932: Earns law degree from the University of North Carolina, where he meets his future wife, actress Eugenia Rawls.

    1940s: During World War II, he works in counterintelligence in preparation for the invasion of France.

    1956: Takes on Denver Post heiress Helen G. Bonfils as a client in New York, where his private practice already represents a stable of legendary actors and producers.

    1962: Becomes the first producer to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company to America. He is later named to the RSC's board of governors.

    1966: Seawell relocates to Colorado to help Bonfils withstand a hostile takeover attempt of The Denver Post.

    1972: Helen Bonfils dies, leaving a will that names Seawell president and chairman of the board of The Post. Within weeks of her death, two private Bonfils foundations run by Seawell are merged to fund the creation of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA).

    1977: Adds publisher to his other titles at The Post.

    1978: The 2,700-seat Boettcher Concert Hall opens at the DCPA at 14th and Curtis streets. The ensuing years witness the renovation of the Auditorium Theatre and construction of the Helen G. Bonfils Theatre Complex and the Buell Theatre.

    1980: Amid criticism that he abandoned his interest in The Post to pour his energies in the DCPA, Seawell sells the financially struggling paper for $95 million to Times Mirror, the first out-of-state owners in the paper's history.

    1986: The Bonfils Memorial Theatre on East Colfax Avenue is renamed for Henry Lowenstein and then abruptly closed by Seawell, who is criticized for closing Bonfils' favorite venue, built in memory of her parents in 1953. He says it is losing too much money.

    1998: The Denver Center Theater Company wins the Tony Award as the nation's best regional theatre

    1998: The $16 million Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom, situated atop the Denver Performing Arts Complex, is unveiled.

    2000: Eugenia Rawls, his wife of 59 years, dies.

    2001: Brings the 10-play Trojan War epic Tantalus to Denver.

    2002: On his 90th birthday, Queen Elizabeth II confers upon him the Honorary Award of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

    2015: Died at age 103. 



  • Miscast 2015 helps Denver Actors Fund reach $50K milestone

    by John Moore | Sep 22, 2015

    Video highlights from Miscast 2015. Video by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Miscast 2015, a community-wide benefit for the Denver Actors Fund,
    raised $4,102 for the non-profit organization that serves members of the local theatre community in need.

    This year's show, held Sept. 14 at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, featured 45 local performers, including an aging (male) Annie, a pair of female The Book of Mormon Elders, a hot-potato national anthem, and a high-heeled local TV personality who brought the house down.

    Miscast is an opportunity for members of the local theatre community to sing songs and act out scenes they would never … ever! … get cast to perform on any legitimate stage. The popular revue has been staged intermittently by various local theatre companies. But after a few years of dormancy, the Denver Actors Fund revived the tradition as its annual fundraiser last year.

    The Denver Actors Fund provides both financial and situational help to members of the local theatre community both on and off stage. Funds raised at Miscast 2015 brought the 2-year-old organization over the $50,000 mark in overall revenues raised.

    Under the guidance of director Robert Michael Sanders, Miscast took on more of a variety-show flavor in 2015. The bill included actors performing in miscast roles, as is the norm, but hosts Mark Pergola and Damon Guerrasio opened up the program to include fun audience-participation games that were chosen to capture the zeitgeist of the late-night TV wars, such as an homage to Jimmy Fallon's popular "Lip Sync Battles" on The Tonight Show.

    As guests entered the Town Hall lobby, they were asked if they wanted to be entered into a drawing to play in several on-stage games. Those who did paid $5 - sparing audience members with no desire to leave their seats. Several theatre companies and local merchants donated prizes.

    After two playful audience members took on the challenge of a cold lyp-sync assignment (including actor Margie Lamb, who starred in Town Hall's Next to Normal, syncing Sir Mix-A-Lot's "I Like Big Butts"), audiences were told the third contestant would be Eden Lane, host of the weekly arts TV showIn Focus with Eden Lane, airing on Fridays on Rocky Mountain PBS Channel 12. It was soon evident Lane, who has performed on Broadway, was a ringer.

    Lane emerged in the signature red boots from the hit Broadway musical Kinky Boots and lip-synced Lola's big song, "Sex Is in the Heel," joined by members of the cast of Ignite Theatre's recent La Cage Aux Folles: Peter Dearth, Carlos Jimenez, Jeffrey E. Parizotto, Keith Rabin Jr. and Eric Pung.

    For the second straight year, Miscast featured a comical appearance by M.U.T.T.: The satirical Multicutural Urban Theatre Troupe, which performed several short scenes from plays they are clearly miscast for, including this year scenes from Shakespeare's Othello and Romeo and Juliet. The actors included Arlene Rapal, Laura Slack and Sam Wood.

    "Miscast 2015" was attended by more than 200, including DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson. Several of  the volunteer performers have appeared in DCPA productions, including Leslie O'Carroll (A Christmas Carol) and Sarah Rex (Forbidden Broadway).

    Photos from "Miscast 2015" held Sept. 14 at the Town Hall Arts Center. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. All photos are available for free downloading by clicking "View original Flickr image."

    • Taylor Nicole Young Cory Wendling, "Me, Beauty and the Beast
    • Reace Daniel and Matt LaFontaine, two numbers from Chicago
    • Steven Burge and Sarah Rex, "The National Anthem,' with appearance by Tim Howard
    • Phamaly Theatre Company, "When You're a Gimp," a West Side Story variation featuring: Brian Be, Don Gabenski, Adam Johnson, Harper Liles, Amber Marsh, Don Mauck, Lucy Roucis, Robert Michael Sanders, Rachel VanScoy, Daniel Wheeler, Leslie Wilburn, Linda Wirth and Lisa Young
    • Carter Edward Smith, "So Much Better," from Legally Blonde.
    • Jalyn Courtenay Webb, "Dead or Alive," from Rock of Ages, joined by members of Midtown Arts Center's cast from the same show:  Courtney Blackmun, Barret Harper, Jon Tyler Heath, Morgan Howard, Michael Lasris, Anne Terze Schwarz and Jason Tyler Vaughn
    • Maximillian Peterson, "Climb Every Mountain," from The Sound of Music
    • Megan Van De Hey and Leslie O’Carroll, "You and Me" from The Book of Mormon
    • John Ashton, "Tomorrow," from Annie
    • Mark Pergola and Damon Guerrasio, "This Little Light of Mine"
    • Robert Michael Sanders, director
    • Donna Debreceni, musical director
    • Jessica Swanson, assistant director
    • Ronni Gallup, Event coordinator
    • Jonathan D. Allsup, stage manager
    • Alexis Bond, lights
    • Cara Wallingford, sound
    • Clint Heyn, technician


    • Anonymous donor who bought tickets for cast and crew
    • Brenda Billings
    • Tom Borrillo
    • Bree Davies, Westword
    • Kim Drennan
    • Becca Fletcher
    • Deb Flomberg
    • Nikki Harrison
    • Kevin Hart
    • Margie Lamb
    • Cheryl McNab
    • Debbie Minter
    • North End Sound Inc
    • Susan Ramsdorf
    • Leslie Rutherford
    • Lola Salazar
    • Gloria Shanstrom
    • Kent Thompson and Kathleen McCall-Thompson
    • Town Hall Arts Center

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of the Denver Actors Fund:
    Miscast 2015 is coming to the Town Hall Arts Center
    Miscast 2014 photos, video highlights
    How Denver Actors Fund is helping the local theatre community
    DSA students make remarkable, record donation to Denver Actors Fund
    2014 True West Award: Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
    'Once, The Musical' cast members perform at Denver Actors Fundraiser

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The Denver Actors Fund was started in 2013 by DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore, who runs the DCPA's NewsCenter, and local actor and attorney  Christopher Boeckx. The current President is Brenda Billings of Miners Alley Playhouse.

  • Photos: Opening night of 'Lookingglass Alice' in Denver

    by John Moore | Sep 19, 2015
    Photos from the opening night of 'Lookingglass Alice' in Denver on Sept. 18, 2015. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    The DCPA Theatre Company's 37th season kicked off last night with Chicago’s gravity-defying hit inspired by Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories. Opening night featured jugglers, tea parties and the mind-bending mentalist Professor Phelyx, featured in the recent Off-Center staging of Perception. Lookingglass Alice features Lauren Hirte and Lindsey Noel Whiting alternating the title role of Alice, along with Adeoye, Molly Brennan, Kevin Douglas and Samuel Taylor. The show runs through Oct. 11 in the Stage Theatre like you have never seen it before. Call 303-893-4100 or go to www.denvercenter.org

    Video montage of scenes from 'Lookingglass Alice' in Denver. Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Lookingglass Alice
    : Ticket information

    Performances through Oct 11
    Stage Theatre
    ASL interpreted & Audio described performance: 1:30 p.m. Oct 3
    Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    TTY: 303-893-9582
    Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
    Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at Denvercenter.org.

    Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for the Denver engagement of 'Lookingglass Alice.'

    The cast on opening night of 'Lookingglass Alice,' which launched the DCPA Theatre Company's 37th season on Sept. 18. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.
    The cast on opening night of 'Lookingglass Alice,' which launched the DCPA Theatre Company's 37th season on Sept. 18. Back row, from left: Molly Brennan,Samuel Taylor,  Kevin Douglas and Adeoye. Front: Lindsey Noel Whiting and Lauren Hirte. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Lookingglass Alice:
    Lookingglass Alice: A tumble through time, childhood in tow
    Perspectives: 5 things we learned about Lookingglass Alice
    Casting announced for Theatre Company's fall shows
    DCPA Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
    Win the Cadillac Treatment on Opening Night of Lookingglass Alice
    Official show page

    More 'Meet the Cast' profiles (more to come):
    Molly Brennan, Red Queen and others
    Samuel Taylor, the White Knight

  • Denver School of the Arts announces Randy Weeks Award

    by John Moore | Sep 18, 2015

    Photos from the Denver School of the Arts' Friends Foundation gala on Sept. 12, 2015. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Denver School of the Arts’ annual arts leadership award has been renamed the Randy Weeks Community Arts Leadership Award after the late president of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

    Principal William Kohut made the announcement at the school’s annual fall gala held on Friday (Sept. 12). The inaugural Randy Weeks Community Arts Leadership Award was presented to the namesake's brother, Joel.

    Joel Weeks accepts the gift of art from Denver School of the Arts students in honor of the memory of his brother, Randy. Photo by John Moore. Weeks, who helped build Denver into a preferred stop among national touring productions of Broadway musicals, was a longtime supporter of Denver School of the Arts and a member of the school's Friends Foundation board of directors. Three years ago, Weeks founded the DCPA’s Bobby G Awards, which celebrate achievements in Colorado high-school musical theatre.

    (Photo: Joel Weeks accepts the gift of art from Denver School of the Arts students in honor of the memory of his brother, Randy. Photo by John Moore.)

    “Randy had a great love for Denver School of the Arts, and he is greatly missed on our board,” Kohut said. “It means a lot for us to be able to bestow this award every year in his name knowing what he did in terms of leadership for arts education in our community.”

    Kohut then introduced a video tribute to Weeks produced by the school’s film students.

    CEO and President Scott Shiller led a large DCPA contingent at the ceremony, which was held in the school’s mainstage theatre just before a sold-out student performance of Oliver!

    Shiller was joined by his predecessor - and continuing DCPA Chairman of the Board - Daniel L. Ritchie, who received the school’s arts leadership award last September. Weeks, who helped present that award to Ritchie, died just two weeks later at a conference in London.

    John Ekeberg, Weeks’ successor as Executive Director of the DCPA’s Broadway division, praised Weeks as his mentor for nearly 18 years. He cited the qualities that he said made Weeks an effective arts leader: His intelligence, positive energy, passion for theatre and his generosity.

    “He was a very generous person with his time, whether you were the CFO, or an actor on one of our stages, or a ticketing agent in our box office,” Ekeberg said. “If you walked by Randy's door and it was open, you were always welcome to come in and pull up a chair.”

    He remembers Weeks as a boss who was not about winning every argument. “He was certainly about consensus and sometimes compromise, and looking at the big picture,” Ekeberg said.

    Joel Weeks traveled to Colorado to accept the award on behalf of his larger family.

    “This award embodies everything that Randy was,” said Weeks, “a leader in the arts community, and a passionate mentor of youth.”

    Weeks told the story of running into a Colorado couple at an out-of-state fundraiser who were awestruck when they realized that Joel was Randy Weeks’ brother. They had never met Randy, but they had often attended theatre at the Dnver Performing Arts Complex. They thought of him as a rock star for bringing Broadway programming to Denver.

    The husband told Joel Weeks: “It almost sounds trite to say this, but I hope he died knowing he did something great for the people of the Front Range.”

    “My brother cared about Denver School of the Arts, and he cared about the Bobby G Awards,” Joel Weeks said. “Not only was he a caring human being, but he changed our lives for the better. By counseling, by fundraising, by mentoring. By just being a friend. He is sorely missed, and I am sure he always will be. But we are all better off that he existed in this world."

    Photo by John Moore.

    Our previous coverage of the death of Randy Weeks:
    DCPA president Randy Weeks dies at London conference
    Video: Highlights, interviews from Randy Weeks celebration
    Celebration draws 1,500 to recall a singular friend in story and song
    Video: Randy Weeks honored with dimmed lights, moments of silence
    Randy Weeks photo gallery
    DCPA to celebrate Randy Weeks' life on Nov. 3
    A look back at Randy Weeks' 'It Gets Better' video
    'Pippin' dedicates entire tour to Randy Weeks
    <a target="_blank" href="http:// www.denvercenter.org/blog-posts/news-center/2015/07/02/video-photos-randy-weeks-memorial-golf-tournament-raises-$45000">Video, photos: Randy Weeks Memorial Golf Tournament raises $45,000
    Annaleigh Ashford raises $735 for new Bobby G Awards memorial fund
  • Denzel Washington to follow in Israel Hicks' historic Denver footsteps

    by John Moore | Sep 18, 2015

    From left: August Wilson, Israel Hicks and Denzel Washington. From left: August Wilson, Israel Hicks and Denzel Washington.

    Denzel Washington intends to  direct all 10 of August Wilson’s plays for HBO, the two-time Oscar-winning actor revealed Thursday during an informal Q&A at the University of Southern California.

    If it happens, Washington would be endeavoring to do on film what Israel Hicks did first on stage. Hicks made history with the DCPA Theatre Company in 2009, when he became the first director anywhere to helm August Wilson's entire 10-play, 10-decade exploration of the black experience in America for the same theater company. "It has to rank up with the greatest achievements in the history of the American theater,” actor Harvy Blanks said at the time.


    Washington, who won a Tony Award for his live theatrical performance in the 2010 Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences, says he had made the arrangements with the Pulitzer-winning playwright’s estate to pursue the project for HBO. The cable network has not independently confirmed the news.

    “I’m directing, producing — and acting in one (Fences) — and I’m executive producing the other nine,” he told interviewer Todd Boyd during the “An Evening With Denzel Washington” event. “I’m really excited about that — that the estate would put that in my hands and trust me. That’s good enough for me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”


    Washington also said Viola Davis — his costar in Fences — will act alongside him in the HBO version. Davis, currently the star of TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, also won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Fences, set in the Hill District circa 1957 and a Pulitzer Prize winner for the late playwright.

    The DCPA Theatre Company's 1990 production of 'Fences,' directed by Israel Hicks. And who was Israel Hicks?

    "I learned the joy of living from him," said Kim Staunton, the longtime Denver Center actor who appeared in many of Hicks' DCPA productions. "Part of me died with him."

    The Wilson cycle in Denver was initiated in 1990 by then-Artistic Director Donovan Marley and completed in 2009 under his successor, Kent Thompson.

    "It's a huge deal because any commitment over that period of time is extremely rare in the American theater today," Thompson said.

    (Photo: From the DCPA Theatre Company's 1990 production of 'Fences,' directed by Israel Hicks.)

    Wilson’s 10 plays, colloquially known as the August Wilson Century Cycle, explored the effects of slavery and Civil War on the culture in the 1900s. When Wilson died in 2005, Shadow Theatre Company founder Jeffrey Nickelson said the American theater had lost one of its giants, "but the black American theater has lost its Shakespeare." 

    "It is the history of a culture," Hicks said of the Wilson Cycle in his final Denver Post interview. He died in 2010 at age 66.

    "Every Wilson play asks big questions like, 'Will we get bogged down by the history, or do we move forward?' " said Hicks, who grew up in New York in the turbulent '60s asking big questions of his own, like, "Where do we come from?" "Who am I?" and "Where is my history?"  "And I think out of that, August gave birth to some answers - decade by decade," he said.

    ​According to Playbill.com, a film version of Fences was discussed as early as 1990, but Wilson “was famously adamant that the project could go forward only if it had a black director, as the original 1987 Broadway production had had in Lloyd Richards.”

    To watch the video of Denzel Washington's announcement, click here.

    Wire services contributed to this report.

    Selected previous August Wilson coverage by John Moore:

    Wilson's entire cycle in words and photos, as performed in Denver
    Wilson's cycle a search for history, family
    Hicks to complete landmark theatre milestone in Denver
    Harvy Blanks on Wilson: 'An August lesson in being American'

    The 10 Most Important American Plays: Fences makes the list

  • Perspectives: 5 things we learned about 'Lookingglass Alice'

    by John Moore | Sep 15, 2015
    From left: Douglas Langworthy, choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi and director David Catlin at the 'Lookingglass Alice' Perspectives. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.  From left: Douglas Langworthy, choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi and director David Catlin at the 'Lookingglass Alice' Perspectives. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter. 

    is a series of free panel conversations moderated by DCPA Theatre Company Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy. They take place from 6 p.m. to 6:45 on the evening of each production's first preview performance. The next two Perspectives will be held Sept. 25 (As You Like It) and Oct. 9 (Tribes) in the Jones Theatre. No reservations necessary.

    Langworthy's guests for the Lookingglass Alice Perspectives on Sept. 11 were adaptor and director David Catlin, as well as choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi, who grew up in a circus family. 

    Alice1Mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson (otherwise known as author Lewis Carroll) based his heroine on a real girl named Alice Liddell who challenged him, along with her sisters, to tell them stories fantastic stories. “He was interested in bending and challenging ideas of logic,” Catlin said. “He would have notions, like, “If you fell through the center of the Earth, then, at a certain point, you wouldn't be falling down anymore - you would be falling up.” His stories celebrated nonsense. His stories asked people to believe in impossible things. Which you can do with a kid. Kids know how to play.”

    2Lookingglass Theatre was formed by a group of students at Northwestern University back in the late 1980s, one of whom was David Schwimmer (TV's Friends). “He had $500 sitting in a bank account that he had gotten for his Bar Mitzvah, and he didn't know what to do with it,” Catlin said. “So he decided to self-produce a version of Alice in Wonderland. It was a very physical production. Andre Gregory - you may be familiar with him from My Dinner With Andre - developed the script we used. It was stripped down. It was about ensemble. It was about physical storytelling.” 

    3The root word for “audience” is “audio,” so the word actually means “to hear” – which is kind of obvious when you stop to think about it. “Shakespeare is mostly an auditory experience,” Catlin said. “You wouldn't go see a play in Shakespeare's time; you would go hear a play.” Catlin was comparing other theatre experiences to seeing a Lookingglass production. “We were starting this company about the same time as the start of Cirque du Soleil,” he said. “We wanted to see if we could take the traditional auditory experience of a play and add these other physical, visual elements that would allow you to experience the story in new ways.”

    4None of the Lookingglass Alice actors had circus training before joining the company. “We create the shows based on the physicality of the performers,” Hernandez-Distasi said, “and then I come in and I push them to the edge of their limits of physicality. We get these very physical performers who have climbed ropes and we go a little further than they can naturally go.”

    5The DCPA’s Stage Theatre has been lowered by 2 feet to accommodate this production. “Part of the fun is that the whole team at the Denver Center has been like the White Knight," Catlin said. They are very inventive and very creative and very collaborative here. When we came in, they had already – and in an excited way - solved a lot of the things that were going to be different for us here. One of the issues was that the stage floor here was 18 feet to the (ceiling) grid. We have been accustomed to having 20 to 22 feet. So, normally, that would be a big problem. But here at the Denver Center they said, 'Well then, we will just lower the floor 2 feet.’ And that's … beautiful. That's 'believing in impossible things.' Because even if something is possible - that's a lot of work. But they believe in the show that much here."

    • Bonuses: Catlin developed Lookingglass Alice in part as a way of saying to his daughter - and to the kids we adults once were - “Let’s not be in such a hurry to grow up.” he said. "My daughter recently turned 13 and said to me, ‘Dad, do you think I could get my nose pierced?’ And I thought: ‘Oh, my goodness. We've got to keep doing this show, I guess.’ ”  
    • If you want to know how long most plays will be in performance, look at the script. Typically one written page means one minute of stage time. Not so with Lookingglass Alice. “This play is about 95 minutes in performance, but the text is only about 30 pages long,” Catlin said. “Two-thirds of the storytelling is visual, physical storytelling. Sylvia has been instrumental in writing the physical parts of the story."

    Lookingglass Alice: Ticket information
    Performances through Oct 11
    Stage Theatre
    ASL interpreted & Audio described performance: 1:30 p.m. Oct 3
    Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    TTY: 303-893-9582
    Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
    Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at Denvercenter.org.

    Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for the Denver engagement of 'Lookingglass Alice.'

    David Catlin addresses the audience at the 'Lookingglass Alice' Perspectives. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.  From left: Douglas Langworthy, choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi and director David Catlin at the 'Lookingglass Alice' Perspectives. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter. 
  • John Ashton is back in charge at The Avenue Theater

    by John Moore | Sep 11, 2015
    Chas Lederer, Haley Johnson and Erica Fox in Bright Ideas. Photo by Jennifer Walker

    Chas Lederer, Haley Johnson and Erica Fox in 'Bright Ideas,' which will continue as scheduled at The Avenue Theater through Oct. 3. Photo by Jennifer Walker.

    Gavin Mayer’s tenure as Executive Director and Artistic Director of the ever-shaky yet uncommonly venerable Avenue Theater has ended after only three months because of a dispute over nonpayment of wages.

    The board of directors moved immediately to name John Ashton as Mayer’s replacement. Ashton ran The Avenue from 1990 to 2005 and until just two months ago served as president of its board of directors.

    John Ashton quote“There are great challenges to be dealt with, but I can assure you that anyone who has a contract with The Avenue, and anyone who has work scheduled coming up at The Avenue, will be paid,” Ashton said of the boutique theatre that moved to its present home at 417 E. 17th Ave. in 2003. He said he can make that promise because “there has been some quick fundraising from people who support The Avenue Theater.”

    He added that all presently scheduled programming at The Avenue through the end of the year will go on as scheduled. That would include The Avenue’s current production of Bright Ideas (running through Oct. 3), Equus (Oct. 29-Nov. 21) and Santa's Big Red Sack (Nov. 27-Dec. 20), as well as Phamaly Theatre Company’s Baby With the Bathwater (Oct. 8-25).


    Ashton also confirmed next year’s scheduled production of Legacy of Light, written by Karen Zacarias (Just Like Us) and directed by Christy Montour-Larson (DCPA’s Shadowlands). That production will run March 10-April 16, 2016, and just yesterday Montour-Larson finalized her A-List cast of Paul Borrillo, Ed Cord, Emily Paton Davies, Heather Doris, Susie Scott and Sean Scrutchins.

    Mayer was scheduled to direct Equus, which will now be led by Warren Sherrill, who recently helmed the Edge Theatre’s Jerusalem and is directing Phamaly’s Baby With the Bathwater.

    When Mayer took over The Avenue on June 1, he said he was offered an annual salary of $48,000, but he said it became quickly apparent that the board had not yet established a reliable income stream to pay for a full-time salary. So Mayer was asked to be paid temporarily as an independent contractor, with part of his wages deferred to a later date. By the end of August, Mayer says, he was owed $7,000. Mayer's stop-gap freelance contract expired on Aug. 30, and Mayer decided that, rather than run the tab up further when he a working three other jobs trying to make ends met, he would leave at that time.

    Mayer and Ashton then met for 90 minutes to facilitate what both have called a friendly and orderly transition.

    “There are no hard feelings, and certainly I hope that they can keep the doors open,” Mayer said of the 30-year-old theatre founded by Robert Wells in 1985. “The Avenue Theatre has a storied history, and there just aren’t many of those that come around.”

    Board president Jane Shirley said was not expecting Mayer to leave on Aug. 30. She said that that once a review of Mayer's work is completed, “and if all of the terms of his contract have been met," she said, "he will be paid in full.”

    Shirley said the problem was one of expectations stemming from what she cited as a common difficulty for many small theaters: “Cash flow is always a problem,” she said.

    Gavin Mayer quote“I am confident that we were fully transparent with Gavin in terms of how payment would be made. We told him that cash flow was going to be an issue until our fall fundraising efforts kicked in, and I thought he understood that."

    In 2005, Ashton and business partner Robert Roehl sold the Avenue theater back to Wells and his business partner, Dave Johnson. The theater was converted to a non-profit operation at that time, but it has been beset by a series of administrative changes ever since. Ashton is The Avenue's fourth Executive Director in just the past five years. Because he has a longstanding emotional stake in the Avenue’s future, his primary concern at present is not his personal compensation – it is the theater’s survival. So he has agreed, for now, to work for free.

    “I am sorry to see Gavin go, but at the same time, I am glad to be taking over,” Ashton said. “I am just sorry for the circumstances.”

    Shirley said The Avenue ended the fiscal year in June in the black, and that The Avenue’s future looks bright.

    “Let's be honest – this is a really, really hard job,” Shirley said. “But the only reason I am still around is because I know this is absolutely doable, and I am really confident that with John Ashton at the helm - with his contacts and his history and his passion - that this is going to work.”

    Bright Ideas
    Presented by The Avenue Theater
    Written by Eric Coble
    Directed by Pat Payne
    Through Oct. 3
    417 East 17th Avenue
    303-321-5925 or avenuetheater.com

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of this story:
    Avenue Theater changes direction under Gavin Mayer

  • The Book of Mormon: Gabe Gibbs' anthem day with the Denver Broncos

    by John Moore | Sep 09, 2015

    Actor Gabe Gibbs, standby for Elder Price on the national touring production of The Book of Mormon that plays at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts​ through Sept. 13, sang the National Anthem at the Denver Broncos​' game against the Arizona Cardinals​ on Sept. 3 at Mile High Stadium. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter.

    Our photos from Gabe Gibbs' day with the Denver Broncos. To download any photo above for free, simply click on 'View original Flickr image.' Please credit John Moore for the DCPA'sNewsCenter.

    The Book of Mormon
    in Denver: Ticket information

    Through Sept. 13
    7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
    At The Ellie, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    Tickets start at $35
    Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    TTY: 303-893-9582
    Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
    Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at Denvercenter.org.

    Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for the Denver engagement of The Book of Mormon.

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of The Book of Mormon:
    Q&A with The Book of Mormon creators
    Announcing the daily Book of Mormon ticket lottery

    Gabe Gibbs sings the National Anthem. Photo by John Moore.
  • Inside the wonderful world of the wicked Wormwoods

    by John Moore | Sep 09, 2015

    Cassie Silva and Quinn Mattfeld in 'Matilda The Musical.'
    Actors Cassie Silva and Quinn Mattfeld get to scream at children for two hours in 'Matilda The Musical.' 'It's really fun,' says Silva.

    For the record, Quinn Mattfeld and Cassie Silva adore children. Some of their best friends … have them. But still, Silva says, “It’s pretty rad” to get to play pretty much the most comically, horribly oblivious parents that pen ever put to paper.

    “Our jobs are fun because we get to just scream at children all day. That's pretty much all Cassie and I do ... on-stage,” said Mattfeld, who teams with Silva to play the ghastly Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1988 favorite, Matilda. The first national touring production of Matilda The Musical is visiting Denver through Sept. 20.

    To be fair, Mattfeld emphasized ... “on-stage.”

    “And then off-stage, we laugh and giggle with them and we have super-fun,” he added. “It's a fun, complicated relationship.”

    Dahl is beloved – and in some parts, even banned – because he dared to depict mean parents and other tyrannical adults in his dark and delicious stories for children. The Wormwoods are terrible parents who come off as absurdly comic in their boorishness because they are too self-absorbed and clueless to realize that they have been blessed with the greatest of gifts – a sweet and highly intelligent 5-year-old who (by necessity) teaches herself to read. Matilda’s reward is being abandoned to the care of the dangerously cruel Head Mistress, Miss Trunchbull.

    “I really feel the need here to say that I can't get enough of children,” Silva said with a laugh. “And it's both awesome and difficult to play Mrs. Wormwood because of that. But yeah … it’s really fun.”

    Quinn Mattfeld and Cassie Silva play the Wormwoods in 'Matilda The Musical.'The reason it’s fun, Mattfeld said – and not so threatening to adults in the audience – “is because these parents' deficiencies could not be more visible. They could not be more transparent as awful people. There is this great Roald Dahl sense that the adults are in power, but the Wormwoods realize at some point that they actually have no power. And so they are constantly trying to compensate for that.

    “Mr. Wormwood is constantly trying to tell everyone how smart he is, when it couldn't be clearer that he is dumb as a stump.”

    Mattfeld says in performance, Matilda The Musical is a little bit like a horror movie with comedy in it.

    “You need to be a little bit scared in order for there to be a release when you realize that this person is not capable of actually doing any damage, other than to themselves,” he said.

    The villainous Miss Trunchbull, he admits, is a bit of an exception. “There is always the potential that she could really do some damage to the children, and she does,” Mattfeld said. “But in a very fun, theatrical way. Like, you know … throwing children off the stage.”


    But it’s important to the actors, Silva said, that the parents be seen as real, or else they lose all impact. “I don't look at Mrs. Wormwood the way other people do,” she said. “Our job as actors is to breathe life and empathy into these creatures. The Wormwoods are these big, giant, cartoon-esque people, but they still are real, heartfelt humans in the world. And Mrs. Wormwood especially. To understand her is heartbreaking.”

    But Silva, who spent two high-school years living in Longmont and graduated from Front Range Academy in Broomfield, loves that the stage musical is so true to the dark and ghoulish tone of the Dahl books.

    “That’s so important because Roald Dahl is such an iconic writer for creating these fanciful, extreme worlds, and our audiences expect that when they come to our show,” she said. “Our production is true to that world right down to our beautiful costumes and sets. They are very honest to the Quentin Blake illustrations from the book. And so you really are able to lose yourself in the world.

    “It also doesn't hurt that we have 14 incredibly talented and focused children. This no lack of adorability in our show."

    Why, those kids are so freaking adorable, Mattfeld said, "they are the Cerberus of adorable."

    But another thing Silva really appreciates, she said, "is that our show was written with adults in mind. It truly is good for all ages.”

    While there is much on-stage magic on display, Mattfeld says the real magic of Matilda is the story itself.

    “If there is any real magic in this world, it is storytelling,” he said. “And rather than sitting kids down in front of a screen, which literally limits their imagination to the size of their television or a movie screen, putting them in front of live people telling a story is both metaphorically and actually magical.”

    Silva said the message of Matilda to children is that you can change your destiny.

    “It's extremely empowering that we have this young hero who goes through all this scary stuff but then finds a way to take power over her own life and play the cards as she sees fit," she said. "Taking control of your life is scary for anyone at any age, all by itself.  Those are life lessons we go through every day. In the end, it comes out in a positive way. So I think it’s worth being scared out of your pantaloons along the way.”

    At the end of the interview, the actors were offered the opportunity to thank someone from their own childhoods for inspiring their performances in Matilda The Musical. But unlike their characters, they were too smart to take the bait.

    “I am so glad I didn't have anyone in my life who resembles Mr. Wormwood in any way, shape or form,” Mattfeld said with a laugh. “I would like to thank my parents for not letting me be around people like Mr. Wormwood or Ms. Trunchbull.

    “But if you really think about it - and I try not to - Wormwood is a sad, sad dude. I really do think that at the end of the play, he realizes that he backed the wrong pony. There was real value to this girl that he just didn't see. And by the time he realizes that he actually wants to get to know this person and have her be around, it's too late. She's already gone. Which is really sad. I have a lot of sympathy for these dumb, dumb characters.”

    Matilda The Musical
    : Ticket information in Denver

    Performing Sept. 9-20
    At The Buell Theatre
    Tickets: 303-893-4100, 800-641-1222 or  BUY ONLINE
    Kids Night on Broadway: 6:30 p.m., Sept. 10
    Accessibility performance: 2 p.m., Sept. 20

    Our previous NewsCenter coverage of Matlida The Musical
    Meet the man behind the worst woman in the world
    Bonus Matilda The Musical coverage:

    • Silva graduated from Front Range Academy in 2006, and credits much of her professional success to her time here working under Lynn Waggoner-Patton at the Rocky Mountain School of Dance and Performing Arts. “Lynn is a goddess. My goodness,” Silva said. “She took me under her wing and she let me compete with her company. She treated me as her own and I owe being a performer to her influence.” Waggoner-Patton now runs The Silhouettes, runner-up on Season 6 of America's Got Talent. “They do these extravagant, beautiful creations with lights and shadows,” Silva said, “which is no surprise because Lynn is a creative genius. I am so lucky to have trained under her.”
    • Matilda The Musical is in undeniably British show. But despite cast members with names like Bryce Ryness and Quinn Mattfeld, they swear no one in the cast of the national touring production is British. “Percentage-wise, I would say that I am about 95 percent not British,” Mattfeld said. “The other 5 percent is a question mark. It's like statistical noise. It is funny, though. Working in the theatre, I would say that I do spend most of my time speaking in some form of a British accent.”
    • Mattfeld is playing the role that young Denver actor Gabriel Ebert originated on Broadway – and won a Tony Award for at the age of 26. “Certainly his presence is still felt among the Broadway company, even a year and a half later,” said castmate Bryce Ryness, who plays Miss Trunchbull.
    • Mattfeld has performed several seasons at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is run by former longtime DCPA Theatre Company member David Ivers, who often employs DCPA actors for the summer. The Theatre Company’s upcoming production of As You Like It features several of Mattfeld’s friends, including Matt Zambrano and Geoffrey Kent. “I love, love, love Denver,” he said. “I have spent a good amount of time there bookending my time at Utah Shakespeare Festival.”
    • Mattfeld was asked to describe Mr. Wormwood’s majestic mustache in two words. His response: “Resplendent. And fantastic.” The rest of the exchange you can read for yourself here:

    Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. Wormwood in 'Matilda The Musical.' Quinn Mattfeld: Mr. Wormwood clearly puts a lot of thought into his hair. He says: “In business, a man's hair is his greatest asset.” So the mustache is an outward symbol of his inward abilities. He clearly has groomed all of this in some sort of topiary fashion in order to reflect how brilliant he is on the inside … even though he's not.

    John Moore: Wait. Does that mean the mustache isn't real?

    Quinn Mattfeld: The mustache is not real.

    John Moore: That's crushing.

    Quinn Mattfeld: Nor are the 19 wigs I wear.

    John Moore: I was imagining you walking down the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver sporting that mustache.

    Quinn Mattfeld: Well, if I were in Seattle I would totally fit in with my cool, ironic mustache. Although it would probably play better in, like, Portland.

    John Moore: I do have to say that facial hair like Mr. Wormwood’s is really big in Denver right now for anyone under the age of 30.

    Quinn Mattfeld: So I could be on the cover of Denver's Mustache Enthusiast?

    John Moore: Or you could be the lead singer of just about every indie-rock band in town at the moment.

    Quinn Mattfeld: Good.

    Cassie Silva: Quinn, do you think you could grow it out that long?

    Quinn Mattfeld: Oh, yeah.

    Cassie Silva: Really? Just in the time we are in Denver?

    Quinn Mattfeld: Oh, no. Absolutely not. I tried to grow just my sideburns out because I didn't want to have to put them on every day, and it just didn't happen. I don't have the “follicle fortitude” that Mr. Wormwood has.

    John Moore: Well there's the name of your indie-rock band right there: Follicle Fortitude.

    Cassie Silva: What Quinn is saying about hair being one of the greatest assets to a person is extremely true in their household. Mrs. Wormwood has three wigs that she wears at the same time, and they all have names. It's a whole ordeal. I say that she kind of looks like a poodle. And then she has all this makeup, and multiple pairs of neon fishnets. She just wants so badly to be seen in the world. But she's not able to see herself or anything around her, for that matter.

    Quinn Mattfeld: You put all that stuff on and you go Full Wormwood. As soon as I put all my stuff on, I was like, “OK. I totally get who this guy is.” And let me tell you: Once you go Wormwood, you never go back.

    Matilda The Musical.

  • 'Matilda': Meet the man behind the worst woman in the world

    by John Moore | Sep 08, 2015

    Matilda The Musical

    Miss Trunchbull is such a legendarily loathsome teacher, the late author Roald Dahl himself described the beastly woman as "a gigantic holy terror; a fierce, tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of pupils and teachers alike.”

    So what does it say about Bryce Ryness that when an actor pal saw the new Broadway stage adaptation of Matilda the Musical on Broadway, he immediately thought Miss Trunchbull was a role Ryness was born to play one day?

    Bryce Ryness“Hey, that’s a really good question!” Ryness said with a laugh. It’s a funny question because Ryness is an affable father of three who would not seem to conjure immediate comparisons to the most horrible head mistress in literary history.

    Miss Trunchbull is the antagonist in Dahl’s modern children’s classic Matilda, the story of an extraordinary little girl who decides her story is going to be an astonishing one despite rotten parents, a terrifying school and a vicious head mistress. It was adapted into a popular stage musical by the Royal Shakespeare Company that last week celebrated its 1,000th performance on Broadway. A new national touring production featuring Ryness as the aforementioned Miss Trunchbull visits Denver from Sept. 9-20 at the Buell Theatre.

    “It is so much fun to be in a position where I have the freedom and even the mandate from the creative staff to be funny and terrifying,” Ryness said.

    It was Kristoffer Cusick, Ryness’ castmate in the 2013 Broadway musical First Date, who encouraged Ryness to audition for the role.

    Bryce Ryness stars in the national tour of 'Matilda The Musical' as Miss Trunchbull.I think what Kristoffer probably saw was this character who has to be really intense and able to execute a joke,” Ryness said. “I am a pretty intense guy, and I am also able to run head-first into a joke. I am fearless in that regard. I tend to gravitate toward characters who say ridiculous things, but they have no idea that they are being funny.”

    Like when Matilda calls Miss Trunchbull a big, fat bully, and Miss Trunchbull responds: "You ought to be in prison. The deepest, dankest, darkest prison.”

    “I mean, come on!” Ryness said with laugh. “A 5-year-old should be in prison? That's ridiculous. But what makes it comical and what makes it scintillating and interesting for an audience is that the character is not joking.”

    On any given performance of Matilda the Musical, the collective audience reaction to Miss Trunchbull might be laugh-out-loud funny. At other times, viewers might recoil with uncomfortable stoicism. Either reaction is fine with Ryness, as well as his director, Matthew Warchus.

    “Mark told me, ‘Listen, if you go through this entire show and you are terrifying, that's totally OK. On the flip side, if you go through this show and you are very funny and only sort of terrifying, that's OK, too.' The primary challenge with this character is that she must not come across as a panto (or stock) character. They like to hire actors to do this role, not clowns. It just so happens that the role is perceived of as hilarious. But I am not setting out to make people laugh. So it's not slapstick or Borscht Belt or a Seth Rogen kind of comedy.”

    In order to play Miss Trunchbull meaningfully, Ryness needs to play her as a real, three-dimensional human being. Something awful must have turned innocent young Agatha into the feared Miss Trunchbull. And it's a doozy.

    “Part of the Matilda the Musical lore is that the story Matilda tells in the show is not just some fiction," Ryness said. "It's actually Miss Trunchbull’s childhood she’s talking about. And it goes that little Agatha grows up in the shadows of this sister who was a beautiful and brilliant acrobat in a circus family. But wherever Agatha goes, she is laughed at because she looks ridiculous. She's this massive creature who is mercilessly harangued by kids everywhere she goes.

    “But she finds, finally, the one place that she fits in, and the one thing in her life that she is actually good at - which is throwing the hammer. And so she takes all of that energy that she used to use to defend and protect herself, and she dives into discipline and training - and she wins. She is the hammer-throwing champion of 1969. And what do ex-Olympic athletes do? She becomes the phys-ed teacher at this school called Crunchem Hall. And over time, she becomes the Head Mistress. And her task is to right all of the wrongs that were levied against her when she was a little kid.”

    'Being scared is part of the human experience'

    Matilda The Musical may be a quintessentially British musical. But no matter how British the name sounds, Bryce Ryness is actually an All-American Boy from Danville, Calif. He grew up with aspirations of playing catcher on a major-league team until a broken finger made baseball’s loss theatre’s gain. At 34, Ryness already has four Broadway credits: Legally Blonde, Hair, Leap of Faith and First Date.

    He has a unique perspective on Matilda, given that he has three children under age 6. He knows that Roald Dahl became one of the world's most revered storytellers for children because of his affinity for unsentimental and dark humor (James and the Giant Peach, The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)

    Ryness is aware some parents might naturally feel some trepidation about taking their kids to see Matilda The Musical if it might possibly frighten them. Ryness actually believes that is all the more reason to take them.

    “Being scared is part of the human experience,” he said. “That has never changed. I believe as a parent that we shouldn't run away from fear, and I don’t think we should shelter our kids from fear. Whatever scares our kids should be talked about.”

    Ryness’ kids are age 5 1/2, 4 and 18 months. The oldest celebrated her 5th birthday watching Matilda the Musical on Broadway. Later, when the tour opened earlier this year in Los Angeles, she brought her brother to see their father’s debut as Miss Trunchbull together.

    “They had been briefed, and they had listened to the cast recording, so they knew what they were getting into,” Ryness said. “My daughter totally took it in stride. She loved every second of it. What was interesting was that there were a few moments when my son was a little bit scared, but what was actually frightening to him were the lights and the sound. It wasn't the story. It wasn't seeing his father playing this tyrannical monster who is going around terrorizing these kids.

    “But I think that’s what Roald Dahl, as well as the creative people who crafted this piece, do so well: There is just enough humor that for every moment that could be terrifying, it never gets out of control. There’s a safety.

    Matilda the Musical is an excellently told story. It's theatre of the highest quality in terms of its composition, in terms of its formatting, and in terms of its execution. So if people are scared, or if kids are frightened for a moment, just know that will turn into satisfaction and joy. What is that line from Lord of the Rings where Sam is trying to encourage Frodo to keep going? He says, 'You actually want it to be hard, because it makes the end more satisfying.' For good storytelling, and a good, satisfying piece of theatre, you want the bad guys to be bad, so that when the good guys win, it is so much more satisfying.”

    “I am of the school that says the villain defines the hero,” he said. “And if you are laughing at the villain, the hero does not need to have as much substance. If I do a good job, then you are really satisfied when Matilda wins."

    Ryness suggested that parents use this pop culture icon as a litmus test: If you have shown the movie Star Wars Episode 4, A New Hope to your kids, he said, you can take them to Matilda the Musical.

    “I don't think anything that goes on on-stage is any more terrifying than anything that you would see in that movie," he said. "The character of Darth Vader … the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi is killed right in front of you? There is nothing we do on-stage that is any more terrifying than what you see in that film.”

    And nothing has been more terrifying to Ryness than stepping into a woman's boots.

    "I definitely have a new empathy for anyone who is overweight  ... and for women with enormous breasts," he said. "I mean, anything that leads us toward more compassion is a good thing, isn't it?" 

    Matilda The Musical: Ticket information in Denver
    Performing Sept. 9-20
    At The Buell Theatre
    Tickets: 303-893-4100, 800-641-1222 or  BUY ONLINE
    Kids Night on Broadway: 6:30 p.m., Sept. 10
    Accessibility performance: 2 p.m., Sept. 20

    Bonus: How do you say it?

    Bryce Ryness has a tip for how to correctly pronounce the author who wrote Matilda, Roald Dahl. Says Ryness: "You know how you can pronounce it and sound really cool? Think of it as R-O-L-L-E-D. As in, 'I rolled it down the hill.' "

    Bryce Ryness stars in the national tour of 'Matilda The Musical' as Miss Trunchbull, the evil, sadistic headmistress of the school Matilda's ridiculously boorish parents force her to attend. (Photo courtesy Matilda The Musical.)
    Bryce Ryness stars in the national tour of "Matilda The Musical" as Miss Trunchbull, the evil, sadistic headmistress of the school Matilda's ridiculously boorish parents force her to attend. (Photo courtesy Matilda The Musical.) 

  • Miscast 2015 announces stellar lineup for Sept. 14 at Town Hall

    by John Moore | Aug 20, 2015
    Denver Actors Fund Miscast 2015

    The lineup for "Miscast 2015," a community-wide benefit for the Denver Actors Fund to be held Sept. 14 at the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, has just been announced - and the cast list is enough to make any local director envious.

    "Miscast 2015" is an opportunity for members of the local theatre community to sing songs and act out scenes they would never … ever! … get cast to perform on any legitimate stage. Tickets are $10 (plus fees if ordered online) and are available at 303-794-2787 or online at townhallartscenter.org.

    Scheduled performers include Megan Van De Hey, Leslie O’Carroll, Matt LaFontaine, Steven Burge, John Ashton, Jayln Courtenay Webb (the newly announced Managing Director of Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins) and members of the acclaimed handicapped Phamaly Theatre Company.

    The hosts are again Damon Guerrassio and Mark Pergola (better known in the local theatre community as Elvira Barcelona.)

    This year's event will include several special performance twists, such as a series of games a la Jimmy Fallon's lip-sync contest on "The Tonight Show." Eden Lane, host of Colorado Public Television's "In Focus with Eden Lane," is one of the local luminaries who has agreed to play along for one of the games.

    To see our complete gallery of photos from the evening, which raised just more than $2,000 for The Denver Actors Fund, click here.

    The Denver Actors Fund provides financial and practical services to members of the local theatre community who find themselves in medical need. In just two years, the grassroots nonprofit has raised more than $47,000 to help local artists.

    Each applicant submitted a proposed song and a 'Miscast concept' for judges to consider. Now just in its second year as a Denver Actors Fund benefit event, Director Robert Michael Sanders said he received far more submissions than he had performance slots.

    "This year's turnout was completely overwhelming," said Sanders. All applications were  considered by a special "Miscast" selection committee based on variety and cleverness, among other factors.

    "We made the choices we think best suit this year's show,," said Sanders, who called the resulting list "the best cross-section of talent from many different theaters, types and styles of performances."

    While the list of scheduled performers has been announced, their actual Miscast musical numbers will remain a secret until the night of the show on Sept. 15. Last year featured a Girl Scout singing "My Unfortunate Erection" (from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and members of Phamaly doing a Full Monty strip-tease. For starters.

    "It may be all wrong ... but it feels so right," said Sanders.

    Taylor Nicole Young and Cory Wendling
    Carter Edward Smith
    Matt LaFontaine and Reace Daniel
    Jalyn Courtenay Webb
    Max Peterson
    Phamaly Theatre Company
    Steven Burge
    Megan Van De Hey and Leslie O’Carroll
    John Ashton
    Kaiser Educational Group "The Mutts"
    Special appearance by TV personality Eden Lane
    (More surprises to come)

    ​Director: Robert Michael Sanders
    Event Coordinator: Ronni Gallup
    Musical Direction: Donna Debreceni
    Lights: Alexis Bond
    Stage Manager: Jonathan Allsup
    Special Thanks: Leslie Rutherford, Denise Kato and Cheryl McNab, Town Hall Arts Center

    MISCAST 2015:
    7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 14
    Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St.
    A benefit for the Denver Actors Fund
    Tickets for “Miscast” are $10 (plus fees if ordered online) and are available now at townhallartscenter.org or call 303-794-2787

    To read more about last year's "Miscast," and see photos and video, click here

    Video by John Moore for the DCPA.

    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.

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