• Video: The summer of 'Frozen' is heating up in Denver

    by John Moore | Jun 23, 2017

    Disney Theatrical Productions launches its new Broadway-bound musical Frozen from Aug. 17-Oct. 1 at Denver's Buell Theatre. The new stage adaptation of the popular animated film plays here for seven weeks before joining Disney hits "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" on Broadway in spring 2018 at the St. James Theatre.

    In this video, DCPA Broadway Executive Director John Ekeberg talks Frozen as banners for the show were hoisted throughout the Denver Performing Arts Complex - ironically, on the first day of summer.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    "Hosting a pre-Broadway theatrical engagement is so unique because this will be the first time any audience gets to see the full Broadway production up on its feet in the theatre before it goes to New York next spring," said Ekeberg. The venture is also great for the local economy, he added, "because it provides a lot of jobs for the Denver region."

     Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk. 

    Frozen Banner. John Moore
    Banners are going up throughout the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
    More photos here.


    Frozen
    : At a glance

    From Disney, the producer of The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast comes the beloved tale of two sisters torn apart and their journey to find themselves and their way back to each other. Be among the first to see this highly anticipated new musical before it makes its Broadway debut. This Broadway-bound Frozen, a full-length stage work told in two acts, is the first and only incarnation of the tale that expands upon and deepens its indelible plot and themes through new songs and story material from the film’s creators.  Like the Disney Theatrical Broadway musicals that have come before it, it is a full evening of theatre and is expected to run 2 1/2 hours.

    Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions
    Aug. 17-Oct. 1
    Buell Theatre
    Sales to groups of 10 or more here

    BUY NOW

    Ticket information for Denver:
    Single tickets for the pre-Broadway engagement of Frozen are on sale now. Tickets start at $25, with a limit of eight tickets per account

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Frozen
    Don't get scammed buying your Frozen tickets
    Principal casting announced: Caissie Levy to star as Elsa
    Casting completed for Denver launch of Frozen
    Photos: Rehearsals begin for Frozen
    Denver Frozen tickets go on sale May 1
    Disney confirms director Michael Grandage
    Denver dates for Frozen announced
    2016-17 Broadway season to include pre-Broadway Frozen
  • Photos: Rehearsals begin for Denver launch of 'Frozen'

    by John Moore | Jun 20, 2017
    Frozen

    Rehearsals began on Monday for Disney Theatrical Productions' new Broadway musical Frozen, the new stage adaptation of the popular animated film that plays its out-of-town tryout at Denver's  Buell Theatre from  Aug. 17-Oct. 1 before joining Disney hits Aladdin and The Lion King on Broadway in spring 2018 at the St. James Theatre. To see more photos, hit the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Jenny Anderson for Disney Theatrical Productions.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Frozen. Caissie Levy. Patti Murin. Photo by Jenny Anderson
    Caissie Levy, left, and Patti Murin at the first rehearsal for 'Frozen.' Photo by Jenny Anderson.


    Frozen
    : At a glance

    From Disney, the producer of The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast comes the beloved tale of two sisters torn apart and their journey to find themselves and their way back to each other. Be among the first to see this highly anticipated new musical before it makes its Broadway debut. This Broadway-bound Frozen, a full-length stage work told in two acts, is the first and only incarnation of the tale that expands upon and deepens its indelible plot and themes through new songs and story material from the film’s creators.  Like the Disney Theatrical Broadway musicals that have come before it, it is a full evening of theatre and is expected to run 2 1/2 hours.

    Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions
    Aug. 17-Oct. 1
    Buell Theatre
    Sales to groups of 10 or more here

    BUY NOW

    Ticket information for Denver:
    Single tickets for the pre-Broadway engagement of Frozen are on sale now. Tickets start at $25, with a limit of eight tickets per account

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Frozen
    Don't get scammed buying your Frozen tickets
    Principal casting announced: Caissie Levy to star as Elsa
    Casting completed for Denver launch of Frozen
    Denver Frozen tickets go on sale May 1
    Disney confirms director Michael Grandage
    Denver dates for Frozen announced
    2016-17 Broadway season to include pre-Broadway Frozen
  • Breakin' Convention promises to bring authenticity, local artists to DCPA

    by John Moore | Jun 07, 2017
    Breakin Convention. Ian FlawsPhoto by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Full photo gallery at the bottom of this report. 

     

    The international hip-hop dance theatre festival will be an opportunity to both to fill a void and open a door.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The circle was made up of local hip-hop poets, dancers, graffiti artists, MCs, DJs, business owners, educators, musicians, activists, promoters and parents. And when they all got done introducing (or reintroducing) themselves, acclaimed Block 1750 choreographer DeAndré Carroll looked around in wonder.

    “It took somebody outside of our community to bring us all together in one room,” Carroll said to nodding heads and finger snaps. “This needs to not be the last time.”

    BREAKIN CONVENTION QUOTEThe occasion was a community roundtable organized by the Denver Center to start a conversation about Breakin' Convention, an international and local hip-hop dance theatre festival that will take over The Buell Theatre and the surrounding Denver Performing Arts Complex the weekend of Nov. 4-5.

    “But this is not just about dance from around the world,” Alicia Bruce, General Manager of the DCPA’s Broadway division, promised those gathered. “It’s also about dance from around the corner.”

    The major ticketed events will be two public performances in the Buell Theatre featuring four international hip-hop dance acts, one as-yet unnamed national act and four local crews who will be chosen from auditions to be held in Denver on July 6 (more info below). The Buell Theatre and surrounding spaces under the DCPA’s famed arches will be home to a free and unprecedented public hip-hop festival. “That's where we really want to give a stage to a variety of local artists,” Bruce said, including musicians, DJs, MCs, rappers, graffiti artists and dancers. “The hope is to present a program that is engaging to both theatre and hip-hop communities - and brings them together.”

    Breakin ConventionBreakin’ Convention was started in 2004 by Jonzi D of Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. The British dancer, spoken-word artist and director is the most influential advocate for hip-hop theatre in the world. He first took his creation across the pond to Charlotte two years ago. It comes to Denver in November both to fill a void and open a door here.

    “We have an awesome, supportive theatre community here in Denver,” said DCPA Broadway Executive Director John Ekeberg, whose primary job is to bring touring New York theatrical productions to Denver. “We try to bring a broad range of musicals and other types of entertainment here. But there are untapped opportunities out there for us to bring in some other art forms we don't typically have down here at the Arts Complex.”

    Ian Flaws, the designated local rep for the Denver gathering, made it clear that Breakin' Convention is, indeed, all about breaking conventions. His personal priority, he said, is authenticity.

    “I was really excited to be asked to do this because this will be a bigger stage and a bigger platform that we are all hungry for here in the community,” said Flaws, who runs the Bboy Factory here in Denver, which is a dance studio dedicated to the preservation of the traditional hip-hop culture. “And I think we deserve it,” he added, “because there is a ton of talent in this state.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    About 35 members of the local artistic community attended the conversation at the Denver Center. They represented a wide swath of organizations and crews from the Disciples of Funk to Youth on Record to the Colorado Ballet to Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

    The guests included Laurence Curry, a former DCPA Teaching Artist, movement specialist and actor who most recently performed in the DCPA Theatre Company’s epic LBJ drama All the Way.

    “I am so excited and thankful for this on so many levels,” said Curry, whose passion is infusing hip-hop into school curriculums. He was also part of the DCPA’s Hip Hop Jumbalaya pilot program in 2010.

    He was joined by Bianca Mikahn, who last year directed the Denver Center's How I Got Over - five celebrated slam poets weaving an interconnected story about womanhood, self-discovery and adversity. Her focus is on using urban arts to increase mental wellness and reduce youth violence. “I have been saving my life through art since … breath,” she said.

    Breakin Convention.Also among the attendees were Denver rapper Soul Daddy, DCPA Board member Tina Walls (sister of one the Little Rock Nine) and Arian Noorzai, co-founder of Hype Hyena Entertainment and a contributing artist from the Muslim hip-hop community.     

    The organizer was FloraJane DiRienzo, the DCPA’s Director of Strategic Projects. “The roundtable accomplished our goal of gathering the community to discuss the elements of Breakin’ Convention including auditions, festival planning and youth outreach," she said. "But more important, it allowed us an opportunity to get to know one another, start a conversation and bring together all the amazing talent and energy of the Denver hip-hop community.”

    And Ekeberg promised the conversation doesn’t end in November. Toward that end, he told the group that the DCPA’s Off-Center next March will be staging This Is Modern Art, a controversial play by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval that explores graffiti as modern art ...  or urban terrorism.

    Breakin' Convention: The international lineup

    • Yeah Yellow (France) - An explosive b-boy crew from France, YY brings agility, creativity and invention to the BC stage. Bodies create orifices to dive through, and reform physical shapes with muscular alchemy. Recently performed at BOTY16.
    • Protocol (U.K.) - Lanre Malouda directs as well as performs in this duet that explores racial dynamics. Popping and tutting techniques, as well as text and physical theatre is used to present ideas that reflect the tensions in our community today.
    • Salah (France) - A living legend in the world of hip-hop dance, Salah returns to the Breakin’ Convention stage after an eight year hiatus. This consummate performer is a master popper, locker, b-boy, clown and all around entertainer. Known for his amazing battle abilities, Salah will present his theatre piece The Sickness.
    • Soweto Skeleton Movers (South Africa) - From the most notorious township on the African continent comes the Soweto Skeleton Movers. The audience highlight of Breakin’ Convention 2016 returns with a brand new show. Experts in a particular form of pantsula dance developed by Skeleton Mover pioneer Jabulani, the crew use comedic contortionism, frenetic footwork, and magical hat tricks. 

    *International companies subject to change


    Photo gallery: Breakin' Convention community roundtable

    Breakin' Convention in Denver

    Photo gallery: About 35 members of the local artistic community attended the conversation at the Denver Center. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Breakin' Convention local artist auditions:

    Dancers, Graff Writers, DJ’s, Emcees, Rappers and Beatboxers are invited to audition from 4-10 p.m. Thursday, July 6, at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education, 1101 13th St. Audition submission forms will be accepted from June 5-18. “This is a highly produced hip-hop dance theatre show, so we are looking for polished acts,” said Ian Flaws. Visit denvercenter.org/BreakinConvention for more information, or to receive audition alerts.


    Breakin' Convention:
    Ticket Information

    Breakin’ Convention 2017 International Festival of Hip Hop Dance TheatreNov. 4-5
    • The Buell Theatre and surrounding areas
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829
    •Special student performance at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Breakin' Convention:
    Breakin' Convention to kick off Denver Arts Week in November


  • Dear Evan Hansen, You will be found ... in Denver

    by John Moore | May 16, 2017
    Dear-Evan-Hansen-You-Will-Be-Found-4645-Photo-Credit-Matthew-Murphy 800Director Michael Greif says 'Dear Evan Hansen' 'is going to give people the opportunity to talk about some really important and healing things.' Photo by Matthew Murphy

    The Denver Center will launch the acclaimed
    new musical’s first national tour in October 2018

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Dear Evan Hansen, one of the most celebrated musicals of the current Broadway season, will launch its first national touring production in Denver in October 2018, it was just announced, continuing a trend that has recently included Denver premieres of If/Then, Pippin and The Book of Mormon.

    Dear Evan Hansen, which is nominated for nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, is the story of a lonely boy who perpetuates a lie that earns him Internet fame. Director Michael Greif, who also helmed the groundbreaking musicals Rent and Next to Normal, says Dear Evan Hansen “is a cathartic story about a kid who comes to love himself. And it's about a grieving family that gets healed.”

    And Greif could not be happier that the show’s hopeful message will be going out into the heartland, starting in Denver.

    Michael Greif quote“This show has such a beautiful and generous and important message,” Greif said in an exclusive interview with the DCPA NewsCenter. “I am thrilled that the universal appeal of this story is going to continue to touch and move people throughout the country. It’s going to give people the opportunity to talk about some really important and healing things, and I can’t wait to share that with as many people as possible.”

    Dear Evan Hansen, which will open DCPA Broadway’s 2018-19 season in the Buell Theatre, was greeted by overwhelming critical and box-office success when it opened in December. The New York Times called it “a gorgeous heartbreaker of a musical for anyone with a beating heart.” The Washington Post called it historic.

    The plot turns when a misunderstanding over a teenager’s death inadvertently turns Evan into a social-media celebrity. Greif says he knew the unlikely story would work on a Broadway stage before he even finished reading the earliest draft of Obie Award-winner Steven Levenson’s script. The score is written by the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who just won Academy Awards for La La Land.

    “I knew right away - which I don't often say, and I don't often believe,” said Greif. “As soon as I got to talk to these three brilliant writers, I knew that this was a very special project. I knew it because of the incredible, complicated way they were going at this material. I just think it's so smart and beautifully crafted. I love it because the real theme of the play is not lying or fabrication - it's actually generosity."

    The score is built around a celebrated anthem called “You Will Be Found.” And as was the case when he directed Rent and Next to Normal, Grief is being reminded nightly of live theatre’s power to save lives.

    “It’s really unbelievable what we are hearing from kids and from parents and from families in crisis,” Greif said. “They are telling us that they are seen. They are telling us that things they didn't feel they could talk about – yes, they can talk about them. They are telling us that the redemption and the catharsis and the forgiveness in Dear Evan Hansen is helping them to get through whatever they are going through, and to forgive and to accept themselves.

    “Evan coming to terms with himself in our story is a proxy for our audiences being able to come to terms with their own issues."

    Listen to the anthem 'You Will Be Found'

    The Associate Director of Dear Evan Hansen is Adrienne Campbell-Holt, who last year directed the world premiere of the DCPA Theatre Company’s The Nest, by Theresa Rebeck. The producer is Stacey Mindich.

    DEH-Mike-Faist-Ben-Platt-0104-Photo-Credit-Matthew-Murphy 800The original Broadway cast recording of Dear Evan Hansen was released on Atlantic Records in February 2017 with the highest Billboard Chart debut of any cast recording in the past 50 years. 

    This is just the latest coup for Denver, which is quickly rising among the country's elite touring cities.

    “I am thrilled and honored the Dear Evan Hansen team has chosen Denver for their upcoming tour launch," said John Ekeberg, Executive Director for DCPA Broadway. "Bringing new voices and artistically powerful work to the stage is a primary goal of the DCPA, and this compelling new musical embodies all of these qualities and more.” 

    Information regarding on-sale dates and tickets will be announced at a later time. To sign up to receive alerts, click here or visit DearEvanHansen.com. Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – will be the only authorized ticket provider for Dear Evan Hansen tickets in Denver.

    (Pictured above and right: Mike Faist, left, and Ben Platt from the original Broadway company of 'Dear Evan Hansen.' Photo by Matthew Murphy.)

    Here's more from John Moore’s interview with Michael Greif:

    John Moore: Do you think we've ever seen a protagonist quite like Evan Hansen in a Broadway musical before?

    Michael Greif: When I first met this play and started to get to know it, it felt like we were doing the Natalie and Henry story from Next to Normal. It was really profound for me to be able to think, ‘Oh, what's so wonderful here is that the focus has shifted, and this here is a musical about Henry.’

    John Moore: I think with the advent of social media, we have created a generation of teenagers who are both more connected and more isolated than ever before. Now that you have been through this experience, what do you think are the pros and cons of growing up in the world of today’s social media?

    Justin Paul, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek - Photo Credit Jenny Anderson 800Michael Greif: I have a 22-year-old and an 18-year-old, so I have really watched it through the eyes of a parent, which has been very helpful in developing this musical with these three fantastic writers. What's remarkable about our story is how organically the role of social media informs both plot and characters. This particular story could only take place because the mechanism of Evan's fame is so credible to us in this moment. The germ of Benj's original idea had to do with how one high-school kid's identity changes through the various things that people say about him on social media. From the very beginning, the interaction of a very domestic plot in relation to access to the bigger world has always been a really, really important part of this musical. Like everything, my thoughts about social media relate to monitoring and understanding. It would be backward and conservative and wrong for me to say that it's not wonderful to be able to be in touch with the world the way social media allows us today. It's spectacular to have that kind of access to the rest of the world.

    (Pictured above, from left: 'Dear Evan Hansen' writers Justin Paul, Steven Levenson and Benj Pasek. Photo by Jenny Anderson.)

    John Moore: Why are you particularly attracted to the kind of theatre like Rent, Next to Normal and Dear Evan Hansen that can have such a profound impaMichael Greif quotect on the lives of their audiences, as opposed to the safer escapism of other musicals? 

    Michael Greif: I think everyone is attracted to great stories. I am really fortunate that I have some sort of a track record, so that I actually get the opportunities to work on these kinds of projects. The opportunity to recognize yourself, or someone you know, or some of the pain or struggles that you feel or have felt, in someone else’s acting, is both powerful and profound. And I think all three of those terrific musicals you mentioned share that. All three have incredible music and compelling characters and great stories. But what I think Dear Evan Hansen has that Next to Normal and Rent do not is an extraordinary duality. You are able to completely give your heart over to Evan and to the grieving Murphy family. And at the same time, your mind is racing because there is this whole other level of mistrust about the whole thing. So while your heart is feeling one thing, your head is feeling another. I think that’s just remarkable.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: Are you watching 13 Reasons Why, which also addresses similar issues?

    Michael Greif: Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then) wrote that, and so I am very interested in it, but I have not yet had the opportunity to watch it. I have a great regard for Brian Yorkey, as you know, and I am excited to be able to dive into that series when I have a little more time.

    John Moore: Speaking of If/Then, which also began its national tour in Denver, what are your thoughts about Denver as the launch pad for Broadway touring productions?

    Michael Greif: I am looking forward to spending time in Denver again because I had such a wonderful time there with If/Then. It's a great walking town, and that is fantastic for me. The audiences are open and interested and interesting, so I think Denver is a wonderful place to launch it.

    John Moore: Several years ago, producer David Stone told me it was the encouragement he got from late Denver Center Broadway President Randy Weeks that even got him thinking that a national touring production of Next to Normal might work.

    Video: Watch the NBC News report on Dear Evan Hansen

    Michael Greif: I know that there was the concern about touring that show. I feel so happy about the great success of that tour. I think the Fun Home tour also tells us that these are great stories and people around the country are hungry for them. I think it's wonderful when you can really integrate the play-going and the musical-going audiences. I don't think they should be two different kinds of audiences. I always love it when people who say, 'I generally prefer plays,' get so much out of musicals like Dear Evan Hansen and Rent and Next to Normal.

    John Moore: Speaking of Rent, the 20th anniversary tour is also coming to Denver, in November. After two decades, do you feel this is now a nostalgia piece for the original fans, or can Rent still be a musical for the Dear Evan Hansen generation?

    Michael Greif: It's certainly a wonderful opportunity for a new generation of people who love Dear Evan Hansen to see an ancestor. I think Rent remains profound because it's a musical about a group of people who learn to take care of one another.  And they have seen both the cost and the reward of taking care of one another.


    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.


    Video: Dear Evan Hansen:



    Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss from the original Broadway company perform 'Waving Through a Window' on 'Late Night with Seth Meyers.'

    Dear Evan Hansen: Denver information

    UntitledOctober 2018
    • The Buell Theatre
    • Tickets: An on-sale date will be announced at a later time. For more information, 303-893-4100 or sign up for EMAIL ALERTS
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829
    • ASL, Audio-Described and Open-Captioned performance 2 p.m. June 11

    Dear Evan Hansen: Creative team

    • Book by Steven Levenson
    • Score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

    • Directed by Michael Greif
    • Music direction by Ben Cohn
    • Choreography by Danny Mefford
    • Scenic design by David Korins
    • Lighting design by Japhy Weideman
    • Costume design by Emily Rebholz
    • Sound design by Nevin Steinberg
    • Projection design by Peter Nigrini
    • Hair design by David Brian Brown
    • Music supervision, orchestrations and additional arrangements by Alex Lacamoire
    •Vocal arrangements and additional arrangements by Justin Paul




  • Breakin' Convention to kick off Denver Arts Week in November

    by John Moore | Apr 25, 2017
    Breakin' Convention

    Photos from 'Breakin' Convention.' To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above.

    By The DCPA NewsCenter

    Breakin' Convention, Sadler’s Wells Theatre's critically acclaimed international hip-hop dance theatre festival, will take over the The Buell Theatre and the surrounding Denver Performing Arts Complex the weekend of Nov. 4-5, it was announced today. The party will kick off Denver Arts Week, which runs throughout the city from Nov 3-11. Events will include a special student matinee at 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 3. Tickets are on sale now at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

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

    BREAKIN CONVENTION. Jonzi D. Photo by Paul HampartsoumianSadler’s Wells Theatre, located in London, is renowned as one of the world's leading dance venues. Breakin' Convention is the world's biggest festival of hip-hop dance theatre showcasing the best from around the world and around the corner. Curated and hosted by U.K. hip-hop pioneer Jonzi D, this is weekend will be filled with exceptional performances from world champion b-boy crews to cutting-edge street-dance companies live on stage and taking over the whole building. Events will include dance workshops, graffiti, DJs and freestyle sessions. 

    (Pictured above right: Jonzi D. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumian.)

    Jonzi D is the founder and Artistic Director of Jonzi D Projects and Breakin' Convention. A dancer, spoken-word artist and director, he is the foremost advocate for hip hop who has changed the profile and influenced the development of the U.K. British hip-hop dance and theatre scene over the past two decades.

    Breakin' Convention includes four international companies*:

    • Yeah Yellow (France) - An explosive b-boy crew from France, YY brings agility, creativity and invention to the BC stage. Bodies create orifices to dive through, and reform physical shapes with muscular alchemy. Recently performed at BOTY16.
    • Protocol (U.K.) - Lanre Malouda directs as well as performs in this duet that explores racial dynamics. Popping and tutting techniques, as well as text and physical theatre is used to present ideas that reflect the tensions in our community today.
    • Salah (France) - A living legend in the world of hip hop dance, Salah returns to the Breakin’ Convention stage after an eight year hiatus. This consummate performer is a master popper, locker, b-boy, clown and all round entertainer. Known for his amazing battle abilities, Salah will present his theatre piece The Sickness.
    • Soweto Skeleton Movers (South Africa) - From the most notorious township on the African continent comes the Soweto Skeleton Movers. The audience highlight of Breakin’ Convention 2016 returns with a brand new show. Experts in a particular form of pantsula dance developed by Skeleton Mover pioneer Jabulani, the crew use comedic contortionism, frenetic footwork, and magical hat tricks. 

    *International companies subject to change


    Breakin' Convention
    local artist auditions:

    Dancers, Graff Writers, DJ’s, Emcees, Rappers and Beatboxers are invited to audition from 4-10 p.m. Thursday, July 6, at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education, 1101 13th St. Audition submission forms will be accepted from June 5-18. Visit denvercenter.org/BreakinConvention for more information.

    BREAKIN CONVENTION. Project Soul. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumain.Project Soul. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumain.
  • Guest column: Judy Craymer on the origins of 'Mamma Mia!'

    by John Moore | Apr 04, 2017
    MAMMA MIA!

    Photo from the farewell national touring production of 'Mamma Mia!' visiting Denver's Buell Theatre from April 11-16. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia.


    By Judy Craymer

    Creative Producer

    As Creative Producer of Mamma Mia!, my job started long before any script had been written. The story begins more than 25 years ago when I first met Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the songwriting geniuses behind ABBA. I was working for Sir Tim Rice at the time, who was collaborating with Benny and Björn on his musical, Chess, and I was immediately smitten — after all, these were the men who had written Dancing Queen, one of the greatest pop songs of all time — but it was another of their songs, The Winner Takes It All, that first suggested to me the potential of an original musical using their compositions. The lyrics revealed a roller-coaster story of love and loss that struck me as extraordinarily theatrical, but how was I to bring this to life?

    First I had to approach Benny and Björn, who were a little unsure of my intentions. I explained that the project I had in mind would focus on a new and exciting story. It wouldn’t be a tribute show or “The ABBA Story,” but rather a truly original “book” musical. They weren’t 100 percent convinced.

    Mamma Mia Quote Judy CraymerSo I sat on the floor of my apartment listening to ABBA late into the night. I may have driven my neighbors to despair but as time passed, I became more and more certain of my idea. In 1995 my tenacity finally paid off. Björn said, “If you can find the right writer and story, well ... let’s see what happens …”

    A year later I was on location with a film I was producing when the director mentioned Catherine Johnson. I was aware of her work as a playwright. We met in January 1997 and soon I was confidently telling Björn that we had found our writer.

    My brief to Catherine was that no lyrics could change, the story should be a contemporary, ironic, romantic comedy and that if she listened carefully to ABBA’s songs, she’d notice how they fell into two different generations: the slightly younger, playful songs like Honey, Honey and Dancing Queen and the more mature, emotional songs such as The Winner Takes It All and Knowing Me, Knowing You ... and so the idea of a cross-generational love story was devised.

    By the end of that year Catherine had finished the first draft of the script and I persuaded Phyllida Lloyd to come on board as our director. Her background was serious, legit theatre and opera, and her secret weapon was her dry-martini wit.

    It was unusual, if not unheard of, for three women to be the collaborative creative force. I think it readdressed the balance and had a great nurturing effect on the production. Appropriately, Mamma Mia! features three strong women in the story. Their characters are completely different — slightly bossy, a bit chaotic, extremely practical, and very high maintenance. We have a lot of laughs about who is who in real life.

    Suddenly it was time to give up my day job as a TV and film producer and prepare for the white-knuckle ride of making the dream a reality: Money to raise, a theatre to find, artwork to create, ticket agents to seduce, deadlines to meet. It was the summer of 1998 and we had to open by April 7, 1999, or we’d lose Phyllida, who’d been booked to direct an opera in London. April 6 happened to be the anniversary, to the day, of ABBA winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo 25 years before. It seemed a good omen.

    Mamma Mia Although Björn was enthusiastic and shared the vision for the musical, Benny was a little more cautious and at any time both, he could have put an end to the project. It was a tense time, as their emotional backing as well as their creative input was very important. If they were going to trust me with their fabulous songs, I didn’t want to let them down. Benny and I agreed that on our opening night one of us would be able to tell the other “I told you so.”

    By now we had a date for opening but we had no theatre. We’d been looking at smaller venues when suddenly the rather large and prestigious Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End became available. But its sheer size meant that the scale of the production had to expand dramatically too, with cast, crew, set and budget all having to be reworked. A lot of fingers were crossed for the big night.

    And so ... April 6, 1999, a night I will never forget — the world premiere of Mamma Mia! The audience was charmed, and one British critic wrote, “Mamma Mia! could put Prozac out of business.”

    Benny heartily accepted his defeat: with the entire theatre dancing in the aisles, he turned to me and said, “You can say it now.” I flashed back, “I told you so!”

    (Pictured above and right: Betsy Padamonsky in the farewell tour of 'Mamma Mia!, which visits Denver from April 11-16. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.)

    Our very first North American premiere was in Canada, where we were booked for six months and stayed for five years. The first U.S. tour opened in 2000 at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre. Having celebrated more than 12 years and 5,000 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre, Mamma Mia! transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway in late 2013. As of its final performance in September 2015, it was the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history. There it remains, ahead of Wicked and Beauty and the Beast. Mamma Mia! also holds the title of longest-running "jukebox musical" (one with a pre-existing score).

    And let’s not forget Mamma Mia – The Movie, which had had its worldwide premiere in London on June 30, 2008, rapidly making history as the highest-grossing movie of all time at the UK and Irish box offices.

    One thing I’ve learned from 17 fun and frantic years of overseeing and coordinating the many productions of Mamma Mia! is that the potential and possibilities are continuously exciting, and seem to be limitless.

    Editor's Note: The DCPA NewsCenter offers a regular guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.

    About our Guest Columnist: Judy Craymer
    Judy Craymer graduated from the Guildhall School of Music in 1977 and has since worked extensively in the theatre, film, television and music industries. She worked as a stage manager for the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, the Old Vic Theatre, London, and on the original production of Cats for Cameron Mackintosh and the Really Useful Theatre Company. In 1984, Judy became the managing director of Three Knights Ltd, formed by Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus and was the Executive Producer for the West End production of Chess at the Prince Edward Theatre. The idea for Mamma Mia! originated with Craymer, Judy who in 1996 formed Littlestar Services Limited to produce the stage musical. She is the Creator/Producer of Mamma Mia! and has produced 50 productions of the show in more than 440 cities around the world.




    Mamma Mia! Farewell Tour
    : Ticket information
    MAMMA MIA! This hit musical that combines ABBA’s greatest hits, including Dancing Queen, S.O.S., Super Trouper, Take A Chance on Me and The Winner Takes It All, with a romantic tale  of love, laughter and friendship.

    April 11-16
    Buell Theatre
    ASL and audio-described performance: 2 p.m. April 15
    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Selected previous Guest Columns:
    Douglas Langworthy on 'translating' Shakespeare: First, do no harm
    David Nehls: Live theatre returns to Elitch Gardens after 24 years
    Gillian McNally: Colorado's oldest theatre celebrates Artistic Director Tom McNally
    Margie Lamb on the Henry Awards: Something doesn't add up
    Bryan VanDriel on Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley
    Jessica Jackson on Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
    Susan Lyles on 10 years of staging plays for women in Denver
  • Breaking news: Denver 'Frozen' tickets go on sale May 1

    by John Moore | Mar 13, 2017

    Frozen


    Single tickets for the pre-Broadway engagement of Frozen, a new musical based on Disney’s Academy Award-winning musical film, will go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday, May 1, it was announced this morning. Tickets start at $25, with a limit of eight tickets per account.

    Frozen plays The Buell Theatre from Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2017. For more information, to to sign up for email alerts, go to Denvercenter.org/Frozen.

    Frozen

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

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

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

    Frozen’s director is Michael Grandage, a Tony Award-winner (Red) and director of three Olivier Award-winning Outstanding Musicals (Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel and Guys & Dolls), and Tony Award winner Rob Ashford is the choreographer (Thoroughly Modern Millie, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Curtains). The design team for Frozen includes scenic and costume design by Tony and Olivier Award winner Christopher Oram (Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Evita), lighting design by six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (Aladdin, An American in Paris, The Glass Menagerie) and sound design by four-time Tony nominee Peter Hylenski (The Scottsboro Boys, Motown, After Midnight).

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

    Frozen is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions.

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

    Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions
    Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2017
    Buell Theatre
    Sales to groups of 10 or more here

    MORE INFO


    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Frozen
    Breaking: Disney confirms director Michael Grandage
    Denver dates for Frozen announced
    2016-17 Broadway season to include pre-Broadway Frozen
  • Barton Cowperthwaite: A Denverite in 'Paris' returns to alma mater

    by John Moore | Mar 11, 2017

    Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Denver native Barton Cowperthwaite, a featured ensemble member in the national touring production of An American in Paris, visited his Denver School of the Arts alma mater on March 8.

    Barton Cowperthwaite. Photo by John MooreCowperthwaite, son of Curious Theatre co-founder Laura Cowperthwaite, conducted a master class for dance and musical-theatre majors at the school, where he is a member of the Class of 2010. "It's cool to impart on them the wisdom that I wish I could have told myself when I was that age," he told DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.

    Interviews also include DSA Director of Dance Alicia Karczewski and Director of Theatre Shawn Hann. Cowperthwaite, already a member of several major dance companies and Denver's Black Actors Guild, is making his musical-theatre debut in An American in Paris, playing several roles and understudying the lead role of Jerry Mulligan.

    "As a dancer, it’s exciting that there is a show that gets to employ really well-trained dancers in this musical format," Cowperthwaite said.

    Photo gallery: Barton Cowperthwaite at Denver School of the Arts

    Barton Cowperthwaite

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


    An American in Paris
    : Ticket information
    An American In ParisAn American in Paris brings the magic and romance of Paris into harmony with unforgettable works from George and Ira Gershwin. This new hit musical about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war, earned more awards than any other musical in the 2014-15 Broadway season.
    Through March 19
    Buell Theatre
    ASL, audio-described and open-captioned performance 2 p.m. March 19
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE


    Previous NewsCenter coverage of An American in Paris
    An American Paris dances from beginning to end
    Meet Sara Esty, who plays Lise
    Meet Garen Scribner, who plays Jerry

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Meet Garen Scribner of 'An American in Paris'

    by John Moore | Mar 10, 2017
    A Garen Scribner 800. Photo by Matthew Murphy


    MEET GAREN SCRIBNER

    Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris

    Garen comes directly from the Broadway company, where he also played Jerry Mulligan. A former soloist with the San Francisco Ballet and an artist of Nederlands Dans Theater I, Garen believes art has the capability of changing lives, and he is grateful for the opportunity to share his passion with the audience. Follow Jerry, Garen and his dog, Pilot, behind-the-scenes at @GarenScribner5.

    • Garen ScribnerHometown: Brooklyn
    • Your Twitter-sized bio: I love to laugh, have fun, be on stage with my colleagues, love design, music, art, dance and the people who create such things.
    • What was the role that changed your life? This role. It taught me how to be a leading man, onstage and off. Being a star is not a gift. It is a huge responsibility and humbling honor.
    • Why are you a performer? It’s where life brought me.
    • What would you be doing if you weren't a dancer? I have an obligation to help guide others and cultivate talent, nurture developing projects, stay involved in the form without performing myself.
    • Sara EstyIdeal scene partner: Sara Esty, who I have the privilege of performing with every day. She and I have a special bond that can’t be described. (Pictured right.)
    • Tell us about the particular challenge of playing Jerry in An American in Paris. Jerry is an artist, he’s optimistic and brave to a fault. He believes in the power of true love and that both art and love are transformative and intrinsic to one another. I’m right there with him.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of this musical? Inspiration, hope and joy.
    • What is one thing many people might not know about you? I can name almost every kind of hook-billed bird. Had a parrot obsession as a kid.
    • What's one thing you want to get off your chest? To all you AirBnB hosts, here’s what most of you are missing: Hooks, colanders, cheese graters, garlic presses, chests of drawers, large pots, aluminum foil and last but most importantly, a new, clean sponge. We’ve stayed in a lot of AirBnB’s on this tour!
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      " ... to be happy and spread love."
    • Twitter and Instagram handle: @GarenScribner5
    • Web site: garen.co

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Nick Spangler, Garen Scribner and Etai Benson. Photo by Matthew Murphy

    Three men, one object of their affection. From left: Nick Spangler, Garen Scribner and Etai Benson in 'An American in Paris,' playing in Denver through March 19. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

     

    An American in Paris: Ticket information
    An American In ParisAn American in Paris brings the magic and romance of Paris into harmony with unforgettable works from George and Ira Gershwin. This new hit musical about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war, earned more awards than any other musical in the 2014-15 Broadway season.
    Through March 19
    Buell Theatre
    ASL, audio-described and open-captioned performance 2 p.m. March 19
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE


    Previous NewsCenter coverage of An American in Paris
    An American Paris dances from beginning to end
    Meet Sara Esty, who plays Lise

  • 'Circus 1903': Death-defying humans ... and puppet elephants

    by John Moore | Jan 31, 2017


    Neil Dorward and Simon Painter are proud circus geeks. The Brits love the quintessentially American Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus so much, they fashioned their new entertainment spectacle Circus 1903 largely in nostalgic tribute to the tradition P.T. Barnum started in 1875 as a traveling museum in Wisconsin.

    That’s why recent news of Ringling’s impending demise went down like a double-edged sword down a contortionist’s throat. Ringling will play its final show on May 21 in Uniondale, N.Y. Promoters cited declining ticket sales, high operating costs and a decision to take live elephants off the road after protests from animal-rights activists.

    Barnum called his circus, which traveled with as many as 1,200 live animals, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Painter calls Circus 1903 “The Most Amazing Show on Earth,” and it travels with … zero live animals.  The family friendly new spectacle, which plays under the Buell Theatre Big Top from Feb. 21-26, celebrates The Golden Age of Circus with all the strong men and acrobats and aerialists you might expect, alongside magnificent elephant … puppets.

    Circus 1903 Quote“It's very sad to us that Ringling is closing, because that's 150 years of legacy,” Painter said. “It’s part of American history. Even putting the elephant controversy to one side, it's a lot of people's jobs. So I think it is a real shame.” But, Dorward added, “we are keeping the Ringling tradition alive for new generations to experience.” And there is no controversy about these elephants. After all … they’re puppets.

    “My original idea was to bring elephants back to the circus,” said Painter, the Creative Producer, “but obviously we couldn't use real ones.” Instead, his Circus 1903 elephants were designed by the award-winning puppeteers from the acclaimed Broadway play War Horse, which visited Denver in 2012. That’s the story of a British World War I soldier whose beloved horse, Joey, is sold into military service. Joey was brought to breathing, galloping onstage life by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. He was operated by four human puppeteers inside and around him.

    Circus 1903 features two elephants – a mother and her baby. One stilt-walker works the mother’s head, one works the hind legs, and one, Painter says with unabashed sentimentality, “works the heart.”

    “These guys from War Horse make the most unbelievable puppets, and they really feel like they are 100 percent real when they are on stage,” said Dorward, the Director and Choreographer. “I sat next to this lady in the audience, and she thought it was a real elephant. People are very moved by them, and they are a very special part of the show.”

    And no animals are harmed ... because there are no live animals.

    “But make no mistake," Painter said, "The rest of the circus acts in our show are really death-defying. Yes, we are very safety-conscious, and we have an amazing technical team. But we are risking lives every time we perform. These amazing acts very scary to watch, and we always have to be on our guard.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Dorward took a year to cast Circus 1903, scouring the globe for what he calls “raw, amazing circus talent.” There are 17 nationalities represented among the cast. “We have this amazing contortionist from Ethiopia. She's just beautiful, and she bends herself in ways you have never seen before,” Dorward said. “We also have a family high-wire act from Mexico, and it's pretty spectacular. And scary.”

    Circus 1903 QuoteWhile Dorward and Painter both have artistic roots in Cirque du Soleil, they could not emphasize more strongly that Circus 1903 is not Cirque du Soleil, which takes more of a theatrical, character-driven approach to its shows - and without the use of performing animals. If you think of Cirque as contemporary circus, Painter said, Circus 1903 is a proudly old-school, turn-of-the-century throwback. The first act shows the company rehearsing backstage and raising the tent, followed by the actual circus performance. “Our production is much more about life back in the day of circus, and the people who worked there,” said Dorward. As opposed to Cirque, which is more narrative-based.

    “It would have been really easy for us to call our show Cirque 1903, but we didn't want to do a story about, you know - searching for the soul of the clown,” Painter said. “I think audiences these days are a little bit bored with that. I think they want to see the spectacle. That's why they come to the circus. So we really wanted to put the acts front and center, with an old-fashioned ringmaster. Our show focuses on showmanship and grandeur. This is really, legitimately, the greatest acts in the world performing very high and very fast.”

    Circus 1903 Tightropers. Photo by Mark Turner.

    Painter and Dorward are also part of the creative team behind The Illusionists, Live From Broadway, which, coincidentally, visits Denver from May 21-23, That show, Painter says, is seven of the greatest magicians in the world, each doing 10-minute sets.

    At a time when there is so much division in America and rancor in public discourse, the Brits think the time is perfect for the kind of theatrical escape they provide. 

    “Our shows are entertainment pieces,” Painter said. “We're not trying to tell you a deep story or change your political views. We're just trying to entertain you. And our shows are  hysterically funny. So whatever your political beliefs, or whether you are happy or sad or worried or upset or confused about the world right now, laughing together in a roomful of people is fantastic medicine - and we provide that with both of our shows.”

    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.


    Circus 1903 - The Golden Age of Circus: Ticket information
    The story: Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of CircusSensational puppetry puts elephants back in the ring as never seen before with a cast of unique, amazing and dangerous circus acts, from strong men to contortionists, acrobats to musicians, knife throwers, high wire and more.
    • Feb. 21-26
    • Buell Theatre
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829

    For more information on The Illusionists (coming May 21-23), please visit here

    A Circus 1903 Elephant 800 3Circus 1903. Photo by Mark Turner.
  • 'Fun Home' opening postponed by road closures

    by John Moore | Jan 10, 2017
    Fun Home. Joan Marcus

    Alessandra Baldacchino as 'Small Alison' and Robert Petkoff as Bruce in the touring production of 'Fun Home.' Photo by Joan Marcus.


    Tonight's scheduled opening of Fun Home has been canceled because of road closures on I-70 preventing the trucks transporting the set to Denver from arriving in time.

    The Denver Center Box Office will contact all ticket-holders who purchased for the Tuesday, Jan. 10 performance through denvercenter.org by Thursday to exchange into another performance or discuss other options.

    Alternatively, ticket holders may call 303-893-4100. Otherwise, they may contact their point of purchase for additional ticket options.

     

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter



    Fun Home
    : Ticket information

    • Jan. 11-22, 2017
    •  The Ellie Caulkins Opera House
    •  Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic-novel memoir; book and lyrics by Lisa Kron; music by Jeanine Tesori; directed by Sam Gold
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829
    For more information on the production, please visit FunHomeBroadway.com.


    Video bonus: Broadway's Beth Malone sings the national anthem:


    Video: Colorado native Beth Malone returned home to talk about the Denver-bound Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home and sing the national anthem before the Denver Broncos' Oct. 30 win over the San Diego Chargers at Mile High Stadium. Malone is not appearing in the touring production, but she was here as an ambassador for 'Fun Home,' opening Jan. 11 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of Fun Home:

    Beth Malone on Fun Home: ‘It’s about anyone born of a mother'
    Denver’s Sweeney Todd will return with Fun Home tour
    Another Malone takes spotlight at Denver Film Festival
    Fun Home
    highlights Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    Denver’s Beth Malone returning to Broadway in Fun Home

  • NewsCenter: Our 10 most popular articles of 2016

    by John Moore | Jan 08, 2017

    Hamilton in Denver. Broadway Nothing got readers more excited last year than the news that the hit Broadway musical 'Hamilton' will be coming to Denver as part of the 2017-18 Broadway season.


    The DCPA NewsCenter was launched in October 2014 as an unprecedented new media outlet covering theatre at the Denver Center and throughout the state and nation telling stories with words, videos, podcasts and photos. It is a service made possible by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as a shared resource for the Colorado theatre community as a whole. Here are the 10 most-clicked stories on the NewsCenter in 2016 from among the nearly 430 posted. Thanks to our readers for making it a record-breaking year:

    NUMBER 1HamiltonBroadway’s Hamilton is heading to Denver: The national tour of the Broadway musical Hamilton will play the Buell Theatre as part of the Denver Center's 2017-18 Broadway subscription series. Information regarding engagement dates and how to purchase single tickets will be announced at a later time. READ IT

    NUMBER 2Brenda Billings 1Brenda Billings: 'A warrior of acceptance':  Brenda Billings died while doing what she loves most – conducting auditions for an upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors. She was the co-Artistic Director of Miners Alley Playhouse and  President of the Denver Actors Fund, and she was only 57. “Her passion for storytelling and art is carried on through all of us who were lucky enough to call her friend,” said Tony Award-winning actor Annaleigh Ashford. READ IT

    NUMBER 3Fun Home. Joan Marcus2016-17 Broadway season: Frozen, Fun Home, Finding Neverland and more: The DCPA announced a landmark 2016-17 season lineup that includes both of the most recent Tony Award-winners as well as the pre-Broadway debut of the highly anticipated stage adaptation of Disney’s record-breaking hit Frozen, the highest-grossing animated film in history. It was later announced that the Denver dates for Frozen will be Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2017. READ IT 

    NUMBER 4Terry DoddTerry Dodd: a playwright, director who bled empathy: Terry Dodd will be remembered as one of the most prolific local directors in the Colorado theatre community, as well as an accomplished playwright and screenwriter who was known for exploring deeply personal family issues. Dodd died of a heart attack at age 64. READ IT 

    NUMBER 5osg-christiana-clark2In Ashland, converting rage into action: In many ways Ashland, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, seems to be an insular, harmonious bubble immune to outside social realities. But on June 24, the bubble burst when an African-American company member had an ugly encounter with a white supremacist. Now the local and national theatre communities are asking difficult questions about race. READ IT

    NUMBER 6Finalists for the 2015-16 Bobby G Awards announced: The annual Bobby G Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in high-school musical theatre in Colorado. The year-long program culminates in a Tony Awards-style ceremony at the Buell Theatre. Here’s who was nominated from among the 40 participating schools. READ IT

    NUMBER 7Tom SutherlandFormer hostage Thomas Sutherland is freed a second time: Former Colorado State University professor Thomas Sutherland was held hostage in Beirut for more than six years - or 2,353 agonizing days. The genial Scotsman made his first foray into acting at age 72, and later donated $500,000 to Bas Bleu Theatre Company’s new performance space. He drew it from the $35 million he was awarded in frozen Iranian assets. Sutherland died July 23 at age 85. READ IT https://dcpa.today/EX6aBY

    NUMBER 8David Bowie Elephant ManDavid Bowie's acting career began in Denver: David Bowie’s death had the world mourning the loss of one of rock’s most chameleonic performers. But he was also a versatile stage and screen actor whose legit theatre career began in Denver starring as the ultimate “Broken Man,” John Merrick, in a 1980 touring production of The Elephant Man. "Judging from his sensitive projection of this part, Bowie has the chance to achieve legit stardom,” one critic wrote. READ IT 

    NUMBER 9Buell TheatrePhantom return will mark Buell Theatre’s 25th anniversary: The Buell Theatre was built, in large part, to host the national touring production of The Phantom of the Opera in 1991. It was, Denver Post critic Jeff Bradley wrote at the time, “the most successful theatrical event in Denver history.” We take a look back at the Buell’s first 25 years. READ IT 

    NUMBER 10Theresa Rebeck quoteRebeck's The Nest flies in face of national gender trends: Theresa Rebeck, author of the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere play The Nest, says the need to level the gender playing field in the American theatre is urgent. “Women's voices have been marginalized in the theatre, and in film and television,” said Rebeck. But the Denver Center, she said, is bucking the trend. “Kent Thompson and everyone at the Denver Center have always been way ahead of the curve on this issue.” READ IT


    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.
  • Once more, with feeling: Tom Hewitt gives 'em the Hook

    by John Moore | Dec 21, 2016
    Finding Neverland Tom Hewitt. Photo by Carol Rosegg


    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland runs through Jan. 1 in Denver's Buell Theatre. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the principal cast and creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in a seven-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 7: Tom Hewitt, who plays producer Charles Frohman and Captain James Hook.

    Imagine a world, says the actor playing Hook, where the Wright Brothers were taking flight at the same time as Peter Pan.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter
     

    Tony Award-nominated actor Tom Hewitt plays Captain Hook in Finding Neverland with a hook. Well, a twist. OK, a hook - and a twist.

    Hewitt actually plays two characters in the national touring production visiting Denver through Jan. 1. His primary role is that of the struggling theatrical producer Charles Frohman, who is desperate for his playwright friend J. M. Barrie to come up with a hit story that will rescue his theatre. And when a widow and her four adventurous sons plant the seeds in Barrie’s brain for what will become Peter Pan, what else should grow forth but perhaps the greatest villain of all-time?

    Captain Hook is not so much a character In Finding Neverland, but rather Barrie’s inner voice unleashed.

    “The Captain Hook you see in Finding Neverland is really a facet of J. M. Barrie's personality,” Hewitt said. “Hook manifests himself in Barrie’s mind to encourage him to his explore the darker sides of his personality.”

    To that point, was a modestly successful playwright of conventional and often recycled stories that were choking the creative life out of him. Until Hook springs forth and essentially “pirates him up.” At a seminal moment in the story, Hewitt says, “Hook gives Barrie the courage and conviction to walk his own path.”

    It is, in the opinion of Director Diane Paulus, the most meaningful moment in the entire play. Hook says to Barrie: "You can go back to being what everyone expects you to be ... or you can find the courage to write your own story." To Paulus, that line could mean “write your own story,” literally. Or it could mean, “write the story of your life. “And when Paulus first read that line in James Graham’s Finding Neverland script, Paulus knew she had to take on the project. It spoke to Barrie. It spoke to Paulus. It speaks to Hewitt.

    “Every artist faces the same question that J. M. Barrie faced: Do you take the money, or do you do the art?" said Hewitt. "Do you do what people expect you to do, or do you venture into unexplored territory?”

    Writing Peter Pan for the London stage of a century ago was a risk for Barrie. Children were not meant to be seen or heard on a London stage at that time. No one had dared to tell a story that spoke to children - and spoke to the inner child in everyone. That made Barrie’s play an ever bigger risk for Frohman to bankroll.

    “Think about what was happening at the time,” said Hewitt. The modern era of flight began with the Wright Brothers in 1903. And the modern era of stage flight began with the debut of Peter Pan the next year.

     “That means play opened at about the same time that man was literally flying for the first time,” Hewitt said. “And so the idea of people flying on the stage represented a big, new technical advance in theatre stagecraft. The press was covering the play very intensely as it was progressing. Insurance had to be taken out on the performers. There was a lot at stake.”  

    Hewitt has made a career of playing bad guys and monsters, including on Broadway Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar; Billy Flynn in Chicago; Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show and has also played Scar in The Lion King. But he brings a unique perspective to playing Barrie’s inner Hook, given that he also played the Captain Hook in both the 1998 and 2011 national touring productions of Peter Pan starring America's perennial Lost Boy, Cathy Rigby.

     “That was really magical,” Hewitt said. I freakin' loved it. She is a little boy in that role. Just astonishing. And she's a good person. And so just feels right and fun to get to do Captain Hook again, and to explore different aspects of him now.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The major difference is that the Hook we meet in Finding Neverland is not off on some magical island. He’s in Barrie’s mind’s eye. The fun here is watching the inspiration for Hook spring forth like Tinkerbell and make itself evident to Barrie.

    “At one point I hold up Charles Frohman’s cane, and the shadow of it creates a hook that you can see on the back wall,” Hewitt said. “Every night you can hear the audience go, ‘Oooooh! He's getting the idea for Captain Hook!’ It’s great fun.”

    The thing both his Hooks have in common, Frohman said, is that part of us can’t help but like him.

    “Hook is just a terrified child,” he said. “He's haunted by this crocodile that has a clock inside of it; that swallowed his hand and is now following him around. How awful is that? I think everyone can identify with that.”

    Finding Neverland Tom Hewitt Carol RoseggTom Hewitt as producer James Frohman, left, and Captain James Hook in 'Finding Neverland,' running through Jan. 1 in Denver. Photo by Carol Rosegg.) 

    Here is more of Tom Hewitt’s conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore:

    John Moore: Do you remember how Peter Pan first came into your life?

    Tom Hewitt: Very vividly. It was the black-and-white version of Mary Martin's Peter Pan on television, with Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. I have a very clear memory of watching that show and loving it. I remember going into the kitchen - making sure I was by myself - and wishing so hard that I could fly. I wanted to fly so bad. I was really swept up in the magic of it, and I have loved that story ever since. Then I had the great pleasure and honor of playing Captain Hook with Cathy Rigby.

    John Moore: And how was that experience?

    Tom Hewitt: It was really magical. I remember watching Peter Pan on Broadway in 1998, and having the opportunity to visit the set afterward. I remember walking around that pirate ship going, 'Oh my God, I would love to be in this show.' And then I got the opportunity to tour with Cathy.

    John Moore: Why do you think Peter Pan remains such a timeless source of new stories for the stage and screen?

    Tom Hewitt: I think it’s the possibility of eternal youth, and both the joy and heartbreak that would bring. Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz are cultural phenomena that really speak to a modern mythology. The characters and the stories are so ingrained in so many people's psyches that their fans just really want variations and prequels and the back stories of the characters.

    John Moore: One thing we know about your director, Diane Paulus, is that when she assembles a creative team, she seeks out people from unconventional artistic backgrounds. How did that play out in Finding Neverland for you?

    Tom Hewitt: I get the feeling that our choreographer Mia Michaels really likes working with people who aren't particularly trained in dance. And I love that. Doing musicals is relatively new for me, but Mia celebrates and exploits people's natural movement qualities. I really enjoyed the time I spent with her.

    John Moore: What’s the most fun part about playing Charles Frohman?

    Tom Hewitt: A lot of the story has to do with the specifics of presenting Peter Pan to that first live audience in 1904. So we’re doing a play about a play, and we are actors playing actors. I love that we get to play some unapologetically theatrical characters.

    John Moore: Because this is not a staging of the Peter Pan story, what kind of theatrical experience is the audience in for?

    Tom Hewitt: I can tell you, there are some of the most beautiful special effects I have ever seen. They are moving and fun and surprising and magical – and they are so beautifully simple at the same time.

    John Moore: You were nominated for a Tony Award for your portrayal of Frank N Furter in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show. What did you think of the recent Fox remake?

    Tom Hewitt: I was actually doing a show that night, so I didn’t get to see it, unfortunately.

    John Moore: OK then, last question: What’s one thing you want to get off your chest?
    Tom Hewitt: When you are standing on the subway platform, and the doors open - stand to the side and let people get off the train before you get on. That's all I ask out of life. It really does make everybody's day go so much smoother.

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


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

    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Finding Neverland
    creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 3: Composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 4: Book writer James Graham
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 5: Actor Christine Dwyer (Sylvia)
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 6: Actor Kevin Kern (J. M. Barrie)
    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season


    Photos: Opening night of Finding Neverland in Denver:

    Finding Neverland in DenverImages from 'Finding Neverland' in Denver. to see more, click the arrow on the image above. All photos are downloadable for use with proper credit. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • Kevin Kern on 'Finding Neverland': Time is the villain

    by John Moore | Dec 19, 2016
    Kevin Kern. Finding Neverland


    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opens in Denver on Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the principal cast and creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in a seven-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 6: Kevin Kern, who plays the playwright J.M. Barrie. Next: Tom Hewitt.

    The radical playwright implored all who encountered Peter Pan to hang on to the fun of childhood throughout their lives.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter
     

    Not many people “got” J. M. Barrie during his time. But Broadway actor Kevin Kern gets Barrie.

    Kern plays Barrie in the national touring production of Finding Neverland, the story of how the inventor of Peter Pan found his calling – and his voice – with the inspiration he finds in a widow and her four young sons.

    “I have four kids back at home,” said Kern. “And the thing I know about having kids is that you just want to stop them from growing up, because it happens so fast. And then you start to think about your own life and how it has gone by so fast.”  

    Peter Pen remains a popular cultural icon, and a continuing source for new stories, because it doesn’t just speak to children. It speaks to the man, the father and the inner child in millions of dads like Kern.

    Kevin Kern in 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg. “I’m 42, and the older I get, time just seems to speed up,” he said. “Time is actually a villain in our show. The crocodile has swallowed a clock, and he's always chasing us – and that means time is always chasing us. Everybody can relate to that fear because time is chasing all of us. But the main idea behind Peter Pan is that you can stop time.

    J. M. Barrie introduced the world to the boy who would never grow up. But wasn’t saying that we Wendys should never grow up ourselves. “He was saying that you should hang on to the fun of childhood throughout your life – especially when you have children yourself,” said Kern.

    “I think most of the people who live to be 100 years old tend to be happy-go-lucky people who fully embrace their inner child. And our show fully embraces that idea.”

    (Pictured above right: Family man Kevin Kern with his onstage family in 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

    Kern is a quintessential family man who has appeared on Broadway in Finding Neverland, The Bridges of Madison County, First Date, Wicked, The Wedding Singer, and Les Misérables, where he was the final Marius when the original Broadway production that closed in 2003. He says his 15-year-old son and three daughters (13, 11 and 4) aren’t surprised by anything they see him do on stage.

    “My girls came to see me in The Bridges of Madison County, and somebody said to my wife, ‘Is this appropriate for them to see?’ Because I was sort of making out with a girl the whole time,” Kern said with a laugh. “But I thought, ‘Well, they have already seen me naked onstage in Hair, so I think I've already destroyed their childhood.' ”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    That said, shows don’t come more family appropriate than Finding Neverland, which is based on the 2004 Oscar-winning film of the same name. Oddly enough, the same can’t be said of the original play. Barrie was considered a radical when he introduced Peter Pan to London theatregoers a century ago. No one put children on the stage back then. No one told stories about children. And certainly no one but Barrie had the audacity to tell a story where the only adult with an active supervisory interest in the children was the family dog.

    “It's so hard for us to understand how dangerous this play was for J. M. Barrie’s career, because almost everything now is geared toward children,” Kern said. In our story, the producer Charles Frohman says, 'Children can't buy a ticket! Adults buy tickets!’ and it always gets a laugh. Because producers have come to understand that parents will more easily spend money on their kids than on anything else.

    “It's also a very a British thing. Britain was very class-structured, and very gender-structured, and very age-structured - and still is to this day,” Kern said. “Children really were meant to be seen and not heard. Parents didn't even really hang out with their kids back then. They would send them away to boarding schools.”

    Kevin Kern. Tom Hewitt. Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.  Kern has been with Finding Neverland since it opened on Broadway in 2015. As understudy to Matthew Morrison, he occasionally went on as Barrie in New York. When he was offered the role on the road, Kern and wife Megan Lawrence decided the opportunity to own the role for the start of the road tour was one he could not pass up. Director Diane Paulus calls Kern “a genius in the role who sings it like no one else. He is such a generous soul and an incredible father” – praise that made Kern tear up a bit upon hearing it.

    As a witness to the entire creation process, Kern promises that the touring production is appreciably improved from the Broadway show that closed in August. That's because he says the creative team that includes choreographer Mia Michaels, writer James Graham and composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy have never stopped working on it.

    “The first 20 minutes of the show have been completely re-written for the road,” Kern said. “It has different songs and new dialogue that really explains what is happening in a much more concise, understandable way.”

    (Pictured above right: Kevin Kern as J. M. Barrie and Tom Hewitt as Captain Hook in 'Finding Neverland,' opening Dec. 20 in Denver. Photo by Carol Rosegg.) 

    Video preview: Finding Neverland national touring production



    Here is more of John Moore’s conversation with Kevin Kern:

    John Moore: Why was this the right show for you to take on the road when it would mean so much time away from your family?

    Kevin Kern: It's just a great role, and it just fits me so well. It fits my voice so well. And I just have so much fun doing it. I'm not going to be out here forever. The thing you have to understand is that I have done a lot of original Broadway shows, but I have really been a 'career swing,' which means I mostly cover actors playing all these different roles. I love being a swing. It can be very artistically rewarding because you've got to be so creative and quick on your feet. But I have never gotten to create a role. We have changed so much of this show from Broadway that it was almost like creating a new role from scratch. And that has been fantastic.

    John Moore: Have you noticed any difference in the way the show is being received in the heartland compared to Broadway?

    Kevin Kern: When they started talking about taking us out on tour, I said, 'Guys. The Midwest will eat our show up.' I’m from Cincinnati, so I know these people. I am one of these people. One thing that's great about New Yorkers is that they really embrace their edginess. But the thing about the people in the Midwest is that they embrace their politeness.

    Video: Kevin Kern in the final performance of Les Misérables in 2003



    John Moore: So what was it like to be the last Marius in the original Broadway production of Les Misérables?

    Kevin Kern: I was 23 when I first got into the show, and when we closed I was 29. It gives me goosebumps just to think about that final performance. Anybody who had ever done the show was in that audience. Nothing will ever compare to it. It was a dream-come-true to finally be Marius, and it was such a cool thing to be the last one.

    John Moore: What’s one thing you want to get off your chest?

    Kevin Kern: In the typically liberal world of show business, I am probably a little more conservative than most. Having grown up in Ohio, which is a purple state, I realized when I moved to New York how great it was that I come from a place where people can actually talk to each other as neighbors who happen to have different opinions. I want to encourage people to embrace the fact that just because somebody has a different opinion, don't vilify them or deify yourself. They might have a real reason they feel the way they do.

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

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

    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Finding Neverland
    creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 3: Composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 4: Book writer James Graham
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 5: Actor Christine Dwyer (Sylvia)
    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season

  • 'Rudolph' brings deer, er, dear love home to Colorado

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2016
    Rudolph Jamie Mills Ben Burch
    Jamie Mills and Colorado native Ben Burch, who met in Greeley, are coming home this week to perform at the Buell Theatre. 


    When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical lands on the Buell Theatre stage Dec. 16, Santa and Mrs. Claus won’t be the only lovebirds in the house. The ensemble features Colorado Springs native Ben Burch and his wife, Jamie Mills, who met as students at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. The couple have been together for nine years and will celebrate their third anniversary on Dec. 28.

    We caught up with the Colorado-bound couple to talk about performing in the holiday musical, which is based on the stop-action TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that first aired on NBC in 1964. It has been telecast every year for 52 years, making it the longest-running Christmas TV special in history. Now it comes to Denver as a family friendly stage adaptation. 

    We caught up with the Colorado-bound couple to talk about life on the road and performing together at the Buell Theatre Dec. 16-18.

    Rudolph. Jamie Mills. Ben Burch.


    John Moore: How did you meet in Greeley?

    Ben Burch: We were both in the musical theatre program at UNC. I was a sophomore and Jamie was a freshman. We first saw each other at an audition for The Rocky Horror Musical, where she was wearing a beautiful pink dress and I was wearing silver pleather pants. I mean, who wouldn't be confident in silver pleather pants? So, I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. That night I told one of my roommates I had found the woman I was going to marry.

    John Moore: How did the opportunity to perform together in Rudolph come about?

    Jamie Mills: Ben auditioned for the show in the summer of 2015, and he performed in it last year by himself. The entire time he kept saying how wonderful it would be to go out on tour together. So, when the opportunity arose this past summer, we jumped at it. It was a long audition process for me, but Ben helped me every step of the way. Sometimes, if you work hard enough, the best of things can happen. 

    Rudolph. Jamie Mills. Ben Burch. Photo by George Garvin PhotographyJohn Moore: What do you consider to be your home?

    Ben Burch: We live in Los Angeles now. And while our home base may change because of the nomadic lifestyle of the traveling actor, Colorado will always hold a special place in my heart. What can I say? I bleed orange and blue. 

    What is the secret to performing on the road and maintaining a successful marriage?

    Jamie Mills: We always tell people that communication is the most important part of a marriage. We've both done a tour without the other, and we agree that it's harder for the person left at home. On tour, you're with new people and in a new place almost every day. It's important to remember that your significant other doesn't have that and to try to share all of your experiences with them. Time differences also can be hard. You have to remain focused and know that your separation will only last for the length of the contract, but your love and relationship ARE forever. 

    (Photo above and right: The 2013 wedding of Jamie Mills and Ben Burch. Photo by George Garvin Photography.)

    John Moore: How important is Christmas in your household? 

    Ben Burch: It is THE MOST IMPORTANT! Christmas is our favorite holiday. Both of our families have very different traditions, and we are still in the process of picking and choosing what we will keep. If I had my way, we'd start celebrating and decorating in October. But Jamie has a very specific timeline. There's Halloween, then her birthday, then Thanksgiving, and the Friday after Thanksgiving we can start celebrating Christmas. But we started Rudolph rehearsals in October, so we were singing Christmas music before Halloween this year!

    John Moore: Everyone knows the story of Rudolph. Tell us about the theatergoing experience, and why families should add it to their holiday plans.

    Jamie Mills: It's a live-action version of what you've seen on your TV screen for so many years, and it’s the most charming family event that you could imagine. Parents and grandparents who have seen the movie will love passing the tradition on to the newer generations in the family. Kids will delight in seeing Rudolph grow from a young buck into the hero of Christmas right before their eyes. Seeing the audiences’ faces at the end of the show while Rudolph is flying above our heads is truly a joy for all the actors. 

    Rudolph. Ben Burch. John Moore: How many family and friends are coming to see you perform?

    Ben Burch: Every family member I have in Colorado is coming to a performance, and some are coming from as far away as Washington. Friends from high school who have never seen me perform are coming. College classmates who have started their own families are bringing their kids. Needless to say, the Buell Theatre will be packed with fans of Yukon Cornelius, Mrs. Donner and Dolly. 

    (Photo above and right: Ben Burch as Yukon Cornelius, with Hermey. Photo by Character Arts.)

    Ben, since you grew up in Colorado Springs – what will it mean for you to be performing on the Buell Theatre stage? 

    Ben Burch: It has been five years since I last performed in Colorado and 10 since I performed in Colorado Springs. My nephew and nieces have never seen me on stage. The Buell is a beautiful theater, and I can't believe it's where I get to share my passion for live performance with them. Not bad for a kid from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center to make the jump up to the gorgeous Buell

    John Moore: What’s your message for Colorado in advance of your return? 

    Ben Burch: I'm back … and go, Broncos!

    John Moore: You close here in Denver on Dec. 18. So how excited will you be to be spending Christmas together … in Los Angeles?

    Ben Burch: Not as excited as we will be to fly back to Colorado the day after! 


    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

    • Dec 16-18
    • Buell Theatre
    • 7:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Dec. 17
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Photo gallery: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

    To see more production photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos courtesy of Character Arts. 
  • Christine Dwyer on 'Finding Neverland': 'It's like coming home again'

    by John Moore | Dec 13, 2016
    Finding Neverland. Christine Dwyer. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
    "Sylvia says, ‘I am going to live my life to the fullest. I don't care if people feel that it's wrong. And that was unheard of at that time." Pictured: Christine Dwyer in the national touring production of 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.


    EDITOR'S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opens in Denver on Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the principal cast and creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in a seven-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 5: Christine Dwyer, who plays the widow James Graham. Next: Tom Hewitt.

    Fans of Harry Potter and Wicked owe a debt to J. M. Barrie for his risk in putting Peter Pan on stage a century ago, she says.

    By John Moore
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Broadway actor Christine Dwyer thinks we have J. M. Barrie to thank for the boy wizard Harry Potter, the good-girl witch Elphaba and hundreds of fantastical young characters in between. It all starts a century ago with the man who was willing to break with the tradition of the stodgy London theatre and put children center stage.

    “No one was writing about children back then,” said Dwyer, who plays the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in Finding Neverland, the story of how Barrie found his calling – and his voice – with inspiration from Sylvia and her four young sons.

    Finding Neverland Christine Dwyer Quote“No one was writing things dealing with your imagination and fantasy,” Dwyer said. “They were writing about very specific and realistic things in their lives. People wanted to go to the theatre to see themselves on stage and not kids flying around or a crazy guy named Captain Hook with no hand.

    “We are used to having Harry Potter and Wicked. We are in that world now. But it's really because of Peter Pan and J. M. Barrie. What he wrote back then allowed for all the stories that have come since."

    It was more than risky for Barrie to put his play on a London stage before high-minded, high-society theatergoers of the time. "It was dangerous and potentially career-ending for him to write this story, because at that time, stories were written for adults, period," Dwyer said. "Children were meant to be seen and not heard. They were pushed to the side."

    And yet, Peter Pan has become a cultural phenomenon that lives on more than a century later. “This is true of any true artist,” Dwyer said. "You have to break boundaries and tell a story that hasn't been told before.”

    Dwyer has been able to play some extraordinary women in her stage career, including Elphaba in Wicked, Maureen in Rent and even Tommy in The Who’s Tommy. “But I've never play someone who actually existed,” she said, “someone who actually went outside the box and societal norms.”   

    Christine Dwyer and Kevin Kern. Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.The real Davies’ life got turned upside down when her husband passed away. Her decision to raise her children as a single mother rather than re-marry for convention and stability flew like Peter Pan in the face of the day's custom.

    “She says, ‘I am going to live my life for myself and my kids. And I don't care if people feel that it's wrong. I'm living my life to the fullest.' And that was unheard of at that time.

    “I love to play her because she's different from the other woman I have been able to play. She's lighter and airier … and she’s a soprano. I don't get to do those often. She's a groundbreaking woman and I love her. She's childlike and fun, but she's also grounded. She's truly happy to be living in every moment.”  

    (Pictured above and right: Christine Dwyer and Kevin Kern from the national touring production of 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

    Dozens of plays, musicals and movies have their roots in Peter Pan. Finding Neverland is different, Dwyer says, because it is the creation story of how the iconic character came to be.

    "A lot of other stories like Peter and the Starcatcher and Hook are more about the story that J. M. Barrie wrote, and the characters he created," she said. "Our story is about the people he met who inspired him to write that story. So this is the story before the story." 

    Dwyer describes the theatrical experience of attending Finding Neverland to be “like coming home again.”

    “When you leave the theatre, all you want to do is be home with your family and loved ones,” she said. Life can get kind of stressful, and sometimes you forget how much you love home - whatever 'home' is to you. It might not be with your family - it might be with this amazing group of friends that you found in Denver, Colorado. But however you define it, Finding Neverland makes you want to go home again and be around the people you love.”

    Here’s more of John Moore’s conversation with Christine Dwyer:

    Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg

    Cast of the national touring production of 'Finding Neverland.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.



    John Moore:  When you were first introduced to the story of Peter Pan?

    Christine Dwyer: I was really introduced to it through the movie Hook with Robin Williams. I was probably 10 or 11. I love that movie so much. The way that story is set-up is similar in a way to Finding Neverland. It's less about following the kids and more about J. M. Barrie trying to find his imagination and his inner-child again.

    John Moore: Why does Peter Pan remain such a timeless source for new material?

    Christine Dwyer: I think it's timeless because Peter Pan is timeless. He never grows up. And you can always connect that idea to different people you know. When I am around some people in my life, I feel like a kid again. And that's important because as adults we can still have fun and follow our dreams. But we fall into routine and take on responsibilities as we grow older. We forget how important it is to have a childlike enthusiasm throughout our whole lives. Peter Pan reminds us of that.

    John Moore:  What was it like working with Director Diane Paulus and such an unconventional creative team?

    Christine Dwyer: The cool thing about our show that it’s set in 1903, but the music is very contemporary British pop. It's a nice contrast between the old and the new. Mia Michaels’ choreography is so interesting. If anyone has watched So You Think You Can Dance, you know her choreography. It is so specific, and so different from anything I have ever seen in a Broadway musical - which makes it perfect for a show like ours. You will see characters in these full three-piece suits and beautiful dresses with corsets, and yet they are doing this cool modern choreography. Diane and Mia are able to create these gorgeous pictures, which is so perfect for the fantasy element of our show.  

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: Right turn: What’s one thing you want to get off your chest?

    Christine Dwyer: Just because people are different than you doesn't mean they're wrong in their opinion. I think if we all spent a little more time trying to communicate with each other and listening to each other, we would all be better off. You can only learn and you can only grow by being around people who are different from you.  

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


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

    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
    Finding Neverland
    creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 3: Composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
    Finding Neverland creative team, Part 4: Book writer James Graham
    Diane Paulus on the rise of 'adventure theatre'
    Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season

    Bonus coverage: Christine Dwyer on Murder Ballad
    Christine Dwyer appeared in one of the first productions of the new rock musical Murder Ballad, which recently made its Colorado premiere at the Edge Theatre in Lakewood. She played Sara, a young mother whose Upper West Side life is perfect until she crosses paths with a dangerous man from her past. Dwyer was asked about her experience with the show.

    Christine Dwyer: To be in a production with just four people that is really stripped down and in your face was just edgy and cool. It was a very immersive experience. It's 75 very physical minutes on the stage. We were jumping around on pool tables right next to the audience while they were drinking their beers. So you really had to rely on each other. That made the cast really close, too, and I'm still on a chat chain with all of those guys almost two years later. I loved that show - and I want to do it again.

  • Denver dates for 'Frozen' announced

    by John Moore | Dec 05, 2016

    Frozen

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Frozen’s director is Michael Grandage, a Tony Award-winner (Red) and director of three Olivier Award-winning Outstanding Musicals (Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel and Guys & Dolls), and Tony Award winner Rob Ashford is the choreographer (Thoroughly Modern Millie, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Curtains). The design team for Frozen includes scenic and costume design by Tony and Olivier Award winner Christopher Oram (Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Evita), lighting design by six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (Aladdin, An American in Paris, The Glass Menagerie) and sound design by four-time Tony nominee Peter Hylenski (The Scottsboro Boys, Motown, After Midnight).

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

    Frozen is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions.

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

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

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

    MORE INFO


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

    by John Moore | Nov 22, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Stephen Trask: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Stephen Trask: Yeah, very much so. Yeah.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Stephen Trask: It lives. It lives.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

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

    John Moore: Did you have to give it back?

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

    John Moore: Final thoughts on Hedwig?

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

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

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

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

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

    by John Moore | Nov 15, 2016

    Hedwig John Cameron Mitchell Stephen Trask



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

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

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

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Casting: Euan Morton to don Hedwig's wig on national tour
    Hedwig named to Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    Hedwig creator’s parents are tearing down a wall
  • 'Jersey Boy' Andrew Russell workin' his way back to Denver

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But it worked for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Jersey Boys: Photo gallery

    Jersey Boys

    Jersey Boys: Ticket information

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

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

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

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