• Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company, Off-Center seasons

    by John Moore | Apr 03, 2017

     

    Macbeth, The Who's Tommy, four world premieres and
    "a deep dive into some truly exciting collaborations"

    By John Moore
    DCPA Senior Arts Journalist

    The DCPA Theatre Company’s 39th season will include vast and visceral reimaginings of two distinct cutting-edge classics, a record-tying four world premieres and the company's 25th staging of perennial favorite A Christmas Carol.

    The season begins in September with visionary director Robert O'Hara’s Macbeth to reopen the newly renovated Space Theatre, and builds to The Who’s rock musical Tommy, directed by Sam Buntrock (Frankenstein). And both directors promise ambitious stagings unlike anything audiences have seen before.

    Nataki Garrett QuoteThe DCPA has worked its way to the forefront of new-play development in the American theatre, and next season’s slate will include the comedy Zoey’s Perfect Wedding by former Playwright in Residence Matthew Lopez; José Cruz González’s American Mariachi, the musical tale of an all-female 1970s mariachi band; Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, about an American college basketball team that travels to Beijing in 1989; and Eric Pfeffinger’s timely comedy Human Error, which raucously explores the great American ideological divide through two vastly different couples - and one wrongly implanted embryo.

    Zoey’s Perfect Wedding will reunite Lopez and Mike Donahue, writer and director from the DCPA’s endearing world premiere The Legend of Georgia McBride (which makes its West Coast debut tomorrow at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.)

    American Mariachi
    was a favorite from the Theatre Company's 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. "Women of course had many challenges trying to play in such a male-dominated musical form," González said. "We interviewed a number of amazing women who were able to help us enter into that world, and we found an amazing group of artists who will play and sing in the piece."

    The Great Leap and Human Error emerged from the recent 2017 Summit in February.  In The Great Leap, Yee explores sport as a metaphor for how countries rub up against each other in terms of strategy, styles and priorities. "If you think of all the sports out there, basketball is the one in which you can really lay the ideals of communism on top of it. Everyone gets to touch the ball. Everyone is equal in their position,” she says.

    Human Error will set a precedent as the first Theatre Company offering ever to be staged in the cabaret-style Garner-Galleria Theatre.

    “The 2017-18 DCPA Theatre Company season represents the microcosm at the heart of the American experiment,” said Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. “These writers, spanning across generations, cultures, and genders, are exploring the ways in which our commonalities are more meaningful than our differences."

    2017-18 Broadway season brings Hamilton to Denver

    For the first time, the DCPA simultaneously announced the upcoming year of its adventurous and ambitious Off-Center line of programming. Off-Center is known for creating experiences that challenge conventions and expand on the traditional definition of theatre. Next season will be the largest yet for Off-Center. It includes Mixed Taste, a summer-long partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; a 360-degree immersive staging of The Wild Party musical at the Stanley Marketplace. Also of great intrigue: Remote Denver, a  guided audio tour of the secret city; and This Is Modern Art, a controversial play by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval that explores graffiti as modern art ...  or urban terrorism.

    “The expansion of Off-Center is a result of the incredible response of the Denver community,” said Off-Center Curator (and Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director) Charlie Miller. “We have seen that audiences are hungry for a broad range of experiences, and are eager for the unexpected.”

    Miller calls the upcoming year "a deep dive into some truly exciting collaborations." A continuing one will be the return of The SantaLand Diaries, in partnership with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and again starring Michael Bouchard

    Combined, the DCPA today announced 14 upcoming new productions that will be presented across eight different venues at the Denver Performing Arts Complex and beyond.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “Theater has the opportunity and the ability to help bridge our differences by offering performances that inspire us to seek deeper connections with one another,” said Garrett, who will make her DCPA debut directing Lydia Diamond's acclaimed race comedy Smart People. “We are honored to provide a space for conversations and connections to the Denver community this year through this season's offerings.”

    Lisa Portes Robert O'HaraMacbeth will be directed by Robert O'Hara, a rising playwright, director and screenwriter who won the 2010 NAACP Best Director Award and the 2010 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play. He was a young prodigy of original Angels in America Director George C. Wolfe and is perhaps best-known as a writer for Insurrection, a time-traveling play exploring racial and sexual identity. 

    The Who's Tommy, the rock musical based on the classic 1969 concept album about the pinball prodigy, will reunite acclaimed British Frankenstein director Sam Buntrock and Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood (who also will create the world of Macbeth). Native Gardens will mark the DCPA return of playwright Karen Zacarias, who wrote Just Like Us in 2014. Zacarias has penned a very close-to-home border-war story: One that plays out between two neighboring couples in D.C. who have a dispute over their property line. The director is Chicago's Lisa Portes, who recently won the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation's 2016 Zelda Fichandler Award, which recognizes an artist who is "transforming the regional arts landscape through singular creativity and artistry in the theatre." She is head of the masters program in directing at DePaul University.

    Next year's A Christmas Carol will be the 25th season staging of Dickens' classic by the DCPA since 1990. Melissa Rain Anderson will return for her second turn at directing, and popular longtime DCPA actor Sam Gregory again will play Scrooge.

    DCPA THEATRE COMPANY SEASON AT A GLANCE:

    • Sept. 15-Oct. 29: Robert O’Hara’s Macbeth (Space Theatre Grand Reopening)
    • Oct. 13-Nov. 19: Smart People (Ricketson Theatre)
    • Nov. 24-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol (Stage Theatre)
    • Jan. 19-Feb. 25, 2018: Zoey’s Perfect Wedding (Space Theatre)
    • Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018: American Mariachi (Stage Theatre)
    • Feb. 2-March 11, 2018: The Great Leap (Ricketson Theatre)
    • April 6-May 6, 2018: Native Gardens (Space Theatre)
    • April 20-May 27, 2018: The Who's Tommy (Stage Theatre)
    • May 18-June 24, 2018: Human Error (Garner Galleria Theatre)

    DCPA OFF-CENTER 2017-18 SEASON AT A GLANCE:

    • July 5-Aug. 23 Mixed Taste, with MCA Denver (Seawell Grand Ballroom)
    • Oct. 12-31: The Wild Party (The Hangar at Stanley)
    • Nov. 24-Dec. 24: The SantaLand Diaries, with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Jones Theatre)
    • March 22-April 15, 2018: This Is Modern Art (Jones Theatre)
    • Spring/Summer 2018: Remote Denver (on the streets of Denver)

    TC 2017-18 800

    And here is a more detailed look at all 14 newly announced productions, in chronological order:

    MIXED TASTE (Off-Center)
    mixed-tasteTag team lectures on unrelated topic
    Presented by Off-Center with MCA Denver
    Wednesdays from July 5 through Aug 23
    Seawell Grand Ballroom
    Even mismatched subjects will find common ground in a lecture series that can go pretty much anywhere. Two speakers get twenty minutes each to enlighten you on unrelated topics, but can’t make any connections to each other. Ideas start to blend afterward when audience members ask questions to both speakers and anything goes. READ MORE ABOUT IT



    MACBETH
    macbethBy William Shakespeare
    Directed by Robert O’Hara
    Sept. 15-Oct. 29
    Space Theatre (Grand Reopening)
    To get what he wants, Macbeth will let nothing stand in his way – not the lives of others, the people of Scotland or his own well-being. As his obsession takes command of his humanity and his sanity, the death toll rises and his suspicions mount. Shakespeare’s compact, brutal tragedy kicks off the grand reopening of our theatre-in-the-round in a visceral re-imagining from visionary director Robert O’Hara, who is “shaking up the world, one audience at a time” (The New York Times). This ambitious reinvention of the classic tale reminds us that no matter what fate is foretold, the man that chooses the dagger must suffer the consequences. 



    THE WILD PARTY
    (Off-Center)
    the-wild-partyMusic and Lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa
    Book by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe
    Based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March
    Directed by Amanda Berg Wilson
    Oct. 12-31
    The Hangar at Stanley
    You’re invited to leave your inhibitions (and Prohibitions) behind for a decadent party in the Roaring Twenties. Indulge your inner flapper as you mingle with an unruly mix of vaudevillians, playboys, divas, and ingénues in a Manhattan apartment lost in time. Debauchery turns disastrous as wild guests becomes unhinged and their solo songs reveal the drama bubbling underneath the surface. Whether you’re a wallflower or a jitterbug, you’ll think this jazz- and booze-soaked immersive musical is the bee’s knees. Dress up in your finest pearls, suits and sequins – encouraged but not required.



    SMART PEOPLE

    smart-peopleBy Lydia R. Diamond
    Directed by Nataki Garrett
    Oct. 13-Nov. 19
    Ricketson Theatre
    Intelligence can only get you so far when it comes to navigating love, success and identity in the modern age. This biting comedy follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. But no matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life. Fiercely clever dialogue and energetic vignettes keep the laughs coming in a story that Variety calls “Sexy, serious and very, very funny.”



    A CHRISTMAS CAROL

    christmas-carolBy Charles Dickens
    Adapted by Richard Hellesen
    Music by David de Berry
    Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
    Nov. 24-Dec. 24
    Stage Theatre
    Essential to the holiday season in Denver, A Christmas Carol promises to “warm your heart and renew your holiday spirit” according to the Examiner. Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, this joyous and opulent musical adaptation traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s triumphant overnight journey to redemption. A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations. Denver favorite Sam Gregory returns as Scrooge. READ MORE ABOUT IT

    (Note: 'A Christmas Carol' is an added attraction, not part of the Theatre Company subscription season.)



    SantaLand Diaries 2016. Michael Bouchard. Photo by Adams VisCom
    'The SantaLand Diaries,' 2016. Michael Bouchard. Photo by Adams VisCom.

    THE SANTALAND DIARIES
    (Off-Center)
    By David Sedaris
    Adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
    Presented by Off-Center with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    Directed by Stephen Weitz
    Nov. 24-Dec. 24
    The Jones Theatre
    This disgruntled Macy's elf has the cure for the common Christmas show. Looking for a little more snark in your stocking? Crumpet the Elf returns for more hilarious hijinks in this acclaimed one-man show based on stories by David Sedaris. Crumpet’s twisted tales from his stint in Macy’s SantaLand are the cure for the common Christmas show. Release your holiday stress, get all of those obnoxious carols out of your head and check out even more late night options this year. READ MORE ABOUT IT



    ZOEY'S PERFECT WEDDING

    zoeys-perfect-wedding2By Matthew Lopez
    Directed by Mike Donahue
    Jan. 19-Feb. 25, 2018
    Space Theatre
    The blushing bride. The touching toast. The celebration of true love. These are the dreams of Zoey’s big day…and the opposite of what it’s turning out to be. Disaster after disaster follow her down the aisle, from brutally honest boozy speeches to a totally incompetent wedding planner. Even worse, her friends are too preoccupied with their own relationship woes to help with the wreckage around them. From the team that brought you, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Matthew Lopez’s wildly funny fiasco destroys expectations with the realities of commitment, fidelity and growing up. READ OUR 2015 INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW LOPEZ



    AMERICAN MARIACHI

    american-mariachi2By José Cruz González
    Director to be announced
    Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018
    The Stage Theatre
    Lucha and Bolie are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in the 1970s. The only things standing in their way are a male-dominated music genre, patriarchal pressure from inside their families and finding the right women to fill out their sound. As they practice, perform and strive to earn the respect of their community, their music sparks a transformation in the lives of those around them – especially Lucha’s parents. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music played on stage. González writes a passionate story about families and friendships that you should share with yours. READ OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH JOSÉ CRUZ GONZÁLEZ


     

    THE GREAT LEAP
    the-great-leap2By Lauren Yee
    Director to be announced
    Feb. 2-March 11, 2018
    Ricketson Theatre
    When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly-changing country and Chinese American player Manford seeks a lost connection. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action in the stadium. Yee’s “acute ear for contemporary speech” and a “devilishly keen satiric eye” (San Francisco Chronicle) creates an unexpected and touching story inspired by events in her own father’s life. READ OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH LAUREN YEE


     

    THIS IS MODERN ART
    this-is-modern-artBy Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin
    Directed by Idris Goodwin
    March 22-April 15, 2018
    The Jones Theatre
    Graffiti crews are willing to risk anything for their art. Called vandals, criminals, even creative terrorists, Chicago graffiti artists set out night after night to make their voices heard and alter the way people view the world. But when one crew finishes the biggest graffiti bomb of their careers, the consequences get serious and spark a public debate asking, where does art belong? This Is Modern Art gives a glimpse into the lives of anonymous graffiti artists and asks us to question the true purpose of art. READ MORE ABOUT IT


    NATIVE GARDENS
    native-gardensBy Karen Zacarias
    Directed by Lisa Portes
    April 6-May 6, 2018
    Space Theatre
    Dealing with neighbors can be thorny, especially for Pablo and Tania, a young Latino couple who have just moved into a well-established D.C. neighborhood. Though Frank and Virginia have the best intentions for making the new couple feel welcome next door, their newly budding friendship is tested when they realize their shared property line isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Frank is afraid of losing his prized garden, Pablo wants what is legally his, Tania has a pregnancy and a thesis she’d rather be worrying about, and Virginia just wants some peace. But until they address the real roots of their problems, it’s all-out war in this heartfelt comedy about the lines that divide us and those that connect us.



    Sam Buntock

    THE WHO'S TOMMY
    the-whos-tommyMusic and Lyrics by Pete Townshend
    Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
    Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
    Directed by Sam Buntrock
    April 20-May 27, 2018
    Stage Theatre
    Based on The Who’s iconic 1969 rock concept album, Tommy is an exhilarating musical about the challenges of self-discovery and the resilience of the human spirit. When young Tommy retreats into a world of darkness and silence after a deeply traumatic incident, he must navigate a harsh and unforgiving world with no hope of recovery. But when he discovers a newfound talent for pinball, he’s swept up in the fame and fortune of his success. Tommy and his family give new voice to The Who’s classic stadium rock as they navigate the troubles and joys of being alive. This production reunites director Sam Buntrock and scenic designer Jason Sherwood, the team behind last season’s audience favorite, Frankenstein.



    HUMAN ERROR

    human-error2By Eric Pfeffinger
    Director to be announced
    May 18-June 24, 2018
    Garner Galleria Theatre
    Madelyn and Keenan are NPR-listening, latte-sipping, blue-state liberals, while Heather and Jim are NRA-cardholding, truck-driving, red-state conservatives. After an unfortunate mix-up by their blundering fertility doctor, Heather is mistakenly impregnated with the wrong child. Now the two couples face sharing an uproarious nine-month’s odyssey of culture shock, clashing values, changing attitudes and unlikely – but heartfelt – friendships. “Up-and-coming scribe Eric Pfeffinger has the vital nerve to explore the gaping communication gap between red America and blue America, liberal humanists and the conservative right” (Chicago Tribune). READ OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH ERIC PFEFFINGER


    REMOTE DENVER
    remote-denverBy Rimini Protokoll
    Concept, Script and Direction: Stefan Kaegi
    Research, Script and Direction Denver: Jörg Karrenbauer
    Spring/Summer 2018
    On the streets of Denver
    Join a group of 50 people swarming Denver on a guided audio tour that seems to follow you as much as you are following it. Experience a soundtrack to the streets, sights, and rooftops of The Mile High City as a computer-generated voice guides your group’s movements in real time. Discover a "secret Denver," exploring places like gathering spaces, back alleyways, dark hallways and public areas through a new lens. You’re not just audience members — you’re actors and spectators, observers and observed, individuals and hordes, all at the same time.

     

    TICKET INFORMATION:

    • Theatre Company: New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Subscription packages are available online at denvercenter.org/nextseason or by calling 303-893-4100. Subscribers enjoy free ticket exchanges, payment plans, priority offers to added attractions, discounted extra tickets, a dedicated VIP hotline, free events including talkbacks and receptions, and the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed. Single ticket on-sale date will be announced at a later time. Note: Plans for the new season are subject to change and benefit restrictions may apply.
    • Off-Center: The single-ticket on-sale date for all Off-Center productions will be announced at a later time. Subscriptions are not available for Off-Center shows.

     

     

  • 'The Legend of Georgia McBride' charms New York critics

    by John Moore | Sep 10, 2015

    MCC Theatre's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
    Dave Thomas Brown as Casey in MCC Theatre's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Joan Marcus.


    New York theatre critics generally lauded the Denver Center-born comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride after its high-energy off-Broadway opening last night. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times led the way, praising Matthew Lopez’s heartfelt comedy as "a first-rate production."

    Isherwood, one of the most respected (and feared) theatre critics in America, called the MCC Theatre’s staging “a stitch-in-your-side comedy” that is “full of sass and good spirits — along with a spritz or two of sentimentality."

    With "quips flying like shuttlecocks," he continued, "there's as much richly catty humor here as in a full season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, along with some clever pop-culture gags. The Sound of Music joke alone is worth the price of admission."

    The Legend of Georgia McBride joins The Most Deserving and The Whale as recent DCPA Theatre Company world premieres that have found continued life on New York stages. Just Like Us and The House of the Spirits are other recent premieres that have been picked up outside of New York. Counting the upcoming Fade and The Nest, Kent Thompson has now slated 27 world premieres in his 11 years as Producing Artistic Director. He not only believes his legacy in Denver will one day be judged by those numbers — he has said he wants it to be.

    The Legend of Georgia McBride which was developed through Thompson's annual Colorado New Play Summit, is Lopez’s genial story of a broke Elvis impersonator who, in desperation, resorts to becoming a drag queen to support his growing family – and finds that he loves it. It is a fast-moving comedy about finding your true voice … complete with several high-energy drag numbers.

    The MCC Theatre production is directed by Mike Donahue, who also helmed the world premiere staging at the DCPA in February 2014. Isherwood called Donahue's direction snappy and “totally flawless.”

    Isherwood was particularly charmed by Matt McGrath's performance as an aging drag queen named Miss Tracy. McGrath is the only common cast member from the Denver staging. Isherwood wrote:

    Most impressively, while drag queens have practically become stock characters in pop culture, Mr. McGrath imbues his version with a life-hardened authenticity underneath the garish wig and the cracking makeup; there isn’t a trace of caricature in his portrayal of the sweetly maternal Tracy. Mr. Lopez has naturally given Tracy the play’s choicest bons mots, but Mr. McGrath also achieves the signal feat of making Tracy’s flip wit feel spontaneous and fresh.

    Assuming the role of Casey, the Elvis impersonator-turned-drag queen, Isherwood called  Dave Thomas Brown's move from a laid-back country boy to glittering, acid-tongued drag performer "a delight."

    Several of the New York critics expressed surprise that Lopez is the same playwright who previously broke through with his weighty Civil War slavery drama, The Whipping Man. Some were thrown to find Georgia McBride to be a much more intentionally uncomplicated comedy. Isherwood cited the potential to delve more deeply into what making a living as a drag queen might do to a country-bred heterosexual man’s psyche. Likewise, Alexis Soloski of The Guardian said questions of gender and sexuality remain unexplored. But that issue was more than countered, she felt, by “the cheerful abandon with which director Mike Donahue and his cast plan and execute the musical numbers." She wrote:

    McGrath, long reliable as a character actor, is a particular wonder, especially in a terrifying medley that jumbles pretty much every Broadway ballad and some pop ones, too. His Tracy is an utter caricature, though always somehow sympathetic and credible. And McGrath looks surprisingly good in capris.

    By contrast, Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News found the play to be “deceptively deep.” He found the relationship between Casey and his wife, Jo, to be filled with tenderness. “Lopez’s latest play may not make him a legend, but it confirms his status as a writer worth hearing from,” he wrote.

    Here are more excerpts from the reviews:

    Matt McGrath in MCC Theatre's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Joan Marcus. Matt Windman of amNewYork called the play a heartfelt, feel-good comedy: “Once it gets going, some very funny exchanges and polished drag sequences follow, plus a spirited defense of drag as a form of cultural protest and a way of life. McGrath is terrific as Miss Tracy Mills, a witty and aging drag queen.”

    Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter called the play sleek and fast-paced: “Featuring enough amusingly bitchy one-liners and energetic musical numbers to be a genuine crowd-pleaser, the play is frothy to the extreme, a show for people who find Mamma Mia heavy lifting. But its relentless silliness is sweet and amiable enough to make it go down easy.”

    (Pictured right: Matt McGrath in MCC Theatre's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Joan Marcus.)

    Adam Feldman of Time Out New York: “A Queer Eye for the Straight Guy version of Tootsie, Matthew Lopez's feel-good comedy delivers many of the diversions that its premise suggests. Directed by Mike Donahue, on a terrific set by Donyale Werle, the production features silly-glam costumes and snappy one-liners for the queens, an amusing learning-curve montage for our hero and several zippy musical numbers, including a delightful show-tune medley. And McGrath is soup-to-nuts wonderful as Tracy: seasoned, sympathetic and shrewdly funny. But the other characters rarely get beyond the formulaic beats of the plot.

    The Legend of Georgia McBride: Production information
    By Matthew Lopez; directed by Mike Donahue; choreography by Paul McGill; sets by Donyale Werle; costumes by Anita Yavich; lighting by Ben Stanton; sound by Jill B C Du Boff; makeup and wig design by Jason Hayes; production manager, B. D. White; production stage manager, Lori Lundquist Featuring Dave Thomas Brown (Casey), Wayne Duvall (Eddie), Matt McGrath (Tracy), Keith Nobbs (Rexy/Jason) and Afton Williamson (Jo). Presented by MCC Theater, Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey and William Cantler, artistic directors; Blake West, executive director. At the Lucille Lortel Theater, 866-811-4111, mcctheater.org. Through Sept. 27. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.

    SELECTED PREVIOUS NEWSCENTER COVERAGE OF GEORGIA McBRIDE:
    Georgia McBride to be staged in New York
    Photos: Opening night of The Legend of Georgia McBride
    Chairman and CEO Daniel Ritchie's drag transformation
    Matthew Lopez's trip down the straight and fabulous
    10 Ways Georgia McBride is going to blow your theatregoing mind​
    Matthew Lopez named DCPA Playwriting Fellow for 2014-15
    'Georgia McBride' team: 'Subtlety is our enemy'
    Video: It's Waxing Day for Georgia McBride actors. Yelp!​

  • 'Georgia McBride' team: 'Subtlety is our enemy'

    by John Moore | Jan 28, 2014

    image

    image

    "Georgia McBride" Choreographer Will Taylor, left, and Director Mike Donahue.

    On opening day of the Denver Center’s world-premiere comedy, we took some time with director Mike Donahue and choreographer Will Taylor to talk about staging the story of a straight Elvis impersonator in the Florida Panhandle who turns to the world of drag to support his growing family. It plays through Feb. 23 in the Ricketson Theatre.

    John Moore: What did you guys think months ago, before rehearsals had even started, when you saw the video that showed 82-year-old Dan Ritchie, CEO of the largest performing-arts organization between L.A. and Chicago, undergoing a public drag transformation just to bring attention to this play? That video has had nearly 3,000 hits, and I just don’t think there are many other CEOs out there who would have done it.

    Mike Donahue: I thought it was awesome. And he looks fabulous, by the way. We had big plans for him to be one of the drag queens who perform in the lobby after every performance. But after some discussion, he politely declined. But still, I love his sense of humor, and his commitment to the show.

    Will Taylor: I thought it was a great gesture.

    Daniel L. Ritchie does drag.

    John Moore: Let’s talk about what first attracted you to this script by Matthew Lopez.

    Mike Donahue: Well, the play is incredibly funny, and there is this wonderful world of drag at play. But at the end of the day, the thing that is most exciting for me is actually what a big heart the play has. At its core, it's two love stories. The first is between this guy and his wife as they struggle to figure out how to survive in the world and take that next step toward having a family and raising a kid and having a house. And then there is the love story between this same straight man his drag mother; this artistic mentor who comes from the most unlikely of places. Somehow they are able to establish this really close and loving relationship. That's what is particularly special for me.

    Will Taylor: There is something really great about the fact that it’s about this very specific part of the country (the Florida Panhandle) and this very specific world of performance (drag) -- and yet it’s still somehow universal.

    Video montage of scenes from "Georgia McBride"

     

    John Moore: I'm curious about your thoughts on the Denver Center taking on this project in the first place. Because staging and selling any new play is inherently difficult. There is a lack of familiarity with the title and the subject matter. And they say producing any new play typically costs about 30 percent more than producing an existing script. From an outsider’s perspective, what does it say about the Denver Center that they were willing to take on this play as part of a 10-play new season in which there are four world premieres?

    Will Taylor: The Denver Center has a great reputation for being a place that has a lot of resources and open arms in embracing new works and nurturing them. 

    image

     

    Mike Donahue: For me, it is remarkable the way the Colorado New Play Summit works. They do readings of five new works every year, and most of them are then fully produced the next season. There are very few companies in the country that are able or willing to make that kind of promise to developing new work through to full production. I think that’s extraordinary, and the fact that four of the five readings from last year are being produced this season says so much about the Denver Center’s commitment to developing new work. It’s also exciting to me that we can do a world premiere here of a play like “Georgia McBride,” and many of the people in the audience were there at the staged reading last year. They really have an investment in the development of the piece. They have more of an attachment to the play than a lot of audiences typically get to have.

    John Moore: Are you at all surprised by how warmly audiences have received this story?

    Mike Donahue: One of the things I think (playwright) Matthew Lopez has done so brilliantly is how he introduces the audience to the world of drag. Your guide into that world is Casey, this sort of fumbling, straight-guy Elvis impersonator in the Panhandle. And then you consider all of the curatorial elements that have been added by the Denver Center to extend the experience into the lobby after the show. Everyone at the Denver Center has been so sensitive to exactly how we should be introducing this play to audiences. People here have been very respectful in trying to honor what the play actually is. It isn’t really a drag play. It’s a play about a guy who is trying to take care of his family. It’s a coming-of-age story.

    John Moore: You know, I think the fear that (actor) Ben Huber's character sheds during the course of the play speaks to the inherent squeamishness in our society about the bending of genders. But at a time of quickly changing opinion polls on subjects like same-sex marriage, Casey represents the Everyman. He’s got to get over his own fear of how he is being perceived by his wife and family in the same way the audience might have to get over whatever preconceptions about drag that they bring into it. But why do you think we are still somewhat hung up on this issue?

    image

     

    Mike Donahue: Oh gosh. Well, I don’t know, but I hope that we get over it real fast. Maybe it is our innate Puritanism.  I think the thing that is so beautiful in the play is that Casey is not a guy who is outwardly homophobic.  He just has a lack of familiarity with gay people and with drag queens. It's not something he or anyone in his life has ever come into real contact with before. There is an innate fear of the unknown and shame around participating in that, and he has to get over it. He approaches life with such openness, and hopefully that is infectious for audiences as well.

    John Moore: It's interesting timing with "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" having toured here just a few months ago. The messages of tolerance are similar. The Denver Center turned opening night into "Drag Night in Denver” and invited drag performers to come see the show and pose with audience members for photos in the lobby. Everywhere you looked you could see these suburban, white-haired grandmothers having these tearful conversations with these 6-foot-6 performers, one of whom later told us that her half hour in the lobby was the most validated she ever felt as a drag performer. When you look at how warmly audiences are now responding to Georgia McBride: Are we further along than maybe we think we are?

    Mike Donahue: That would be a lovely thing if that were true. Maybe Denver is just a magical place. 

    Me: Hah, yes, maybe Denver is. Will, I want to ask you about your challenge as the choreographer. The drag numbers are such an essential element in this play, but this isn't just another musical. Can you speak to all of the various challenges you faced, and not just with high heels. Two of the three guys you worked with are not musical theatre actors.

    Will: Yes, they aren't inherently musical theatre actors. And a couple of them are very masculine. So one challenge was finding a way to minimize the masculinity in the heels and in the clothing. Now I think a little bit of masculinity in drag is actually kind of interesting, so we haven't completely eliminated it. But we had to break it down to a science. We had to find a way to use the physicality they have in life and make it work in the clothing they have to wear. Sometimes it was a matter of keeping the legs straight as they walk, or keeping their feet closer together. When you put masculine guys in a pair of heels, they kind of want to let it all hang out, like they are used to doing. It was a challenge at first just getting them really comfortable in the heels so that we could then build the choreography on top of that. And then there’s the lip-syncing, which is a big part of the drag performance. That’s maybe the most important element in creating the illusion. When we talked with some drag queens before we started, we found that subtlety is our enemy. We really wanted to find a heightened expression of everything feminine and everything performance-related. The lyrics are heightened in a way that is almost bastardized. We decided to take the quirks and nuances the original artists sometimes show on their tracks and lift them up to an almost comedic level. We also found that working with the mirror is really helpful.

    John Moore: How do you think your actors did with the whole movement challenge?

    Will Taylor: They did great. I am glad we had such strong support here at the Denver Center with the costume pieces we were able to have available to us early in the rehearsal process. That were really, really integral in getting us there.

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    John Moore: Speaking of subtlety, were you sometimes shocked by some of the things you have gotten away with, in terms of, say, costuming and props?

    Mike Donahue: Maybe … pleasantly surprised. I mean, what we are doing is nothing compared to what I feel like so many people must surely see on TV and movies. And our matinee audiences, which tend to be made up of older people, actually have been our most raucous, raunchy houses so far.

    John Moore: Mike, let’s talk about Nick Mills and Ben Huber. You sent them to Drag Camp. They went through body waxing and eyebrow threading. And they both play characters who at some point have to be at the top of the drag craft. Talk about the challenge they undertook, and how they did with it.

    Mike Donahue: The first thing I will say about both of those guys is that they are both so unbelievably game to do anything and everything we asked of them. They are also both so rigorous in their work. I almost think the part of their drag performance that has to be really good is almost easier for them to get to than the stuff that has to be obviously bad. That’s because you sort of know what the good thing is supposed to look like eventually, and you just have to keep working until it's as good as it possibly can be. So something like My Man, which has to be the best performance of Ben’s that we see, I think was maybe easier for him. Whereas figuring out, say, how that first Edith Piaf scene works, when Ben is walking in heels for the first time in a way that has to be believable and honest … that’s almost the trickier thing to accomplish. You have to get them to be as good as possible -- and then you have to get them to forget all of that stuff and remember what they were naturally and instinctually doing badly back when none of us knew any better. That’s unbelievably hard.

    Video: Waxing Day for cast members.

     

    John Moore: And then there is Matt McGrath, who has some experience at this.

    Mike Donahue: Yeah, Matt's done a lot of musical theatre. He has played Hedwig and he’s done “Rocky Horror,” so he's done work that bends gender before. But Ben and Nick really had never even worn a pair of heels before.

    John Moore: So how would you summarize your experience at Drag Camp? 

    Mike Donahue: Drag Camp was like being alone in your bedroom playing dress-up in front of a mirror -- and hoping that no one else can see you. 

    Will: Nobody should have to pay to see that.

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    John Moore: For those people who don’t know much about the show yet, what do you want to tell them about what it’s trying to accomplish?

    Will Taylor: I really like what (artistic director Kent Thompson) said about the show on the first day of rehearsal: It’s not about drag. It’s about the transformative power of performance. It’s about the power of transformation.

    John Moore: You mentioned the curated effort that has gone into giving the audience an extended lobby experience so that the show in some ways continues after the final curtain. How do you describe the overall experience of attending “Georgia McBride”?

    Mike Donahue: Hopefully it's an event, and it's a fun night out. Come with friends and have a drink. The atmosphere in the lobby is a little more relaxed than it normally might be. It’s infectiously funny. And the whole curatorial thing just makes it easy for people to tap into that early on. I think it's a life-affirming, joyous night at the theatre.

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    Ben Huber and Jamie Ann Romero in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s world premiere production of "The Legend of Georgia McBride." Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

     

    The Legend of Georgia McBride

    • Through Feb 23 • Ricketson Theatre
    • Tickets: 303.893.4100
    • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    • Groups (10+): 303.446.4829 • denvercenter.org

    The Denver Center Theatre Company is a community-supported, nonprofit theatre company

  • Photos: Opening night of 'The Legend of Georgia McBride'

    by John Moore | Jan 17, 2014

    image"Georgia McBride" Choregrapher Will Taylor, left, with Director Mike Donahue.

    Here are some photos from last night's world-premiere performance of Matthew Lopez's sweet new comedy, The Legend of Georgia McBride. It’s the story of an Elvis impersonator who delves into the world of drag to help support his growing family. The play runs through Feb. 23 in the Ricketson Theatre. Call 303-893-4100 or go to www.denvercenter.org. Photos by John Moore.

    And to see our complete gallery of production photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen, click here.

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    Playwright Matthew Lopez and Denver Center costumer Kevin Copenhaver. The 'Georgia McBride' costume designer was Dane Laffrey.

     

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    Audience members Brianna Firestone, Eden Lane and Rhonda Brown after the show.

     

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    Ben Huber (Casey/Georgia McBride) with his wife.

     

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    Nick Mills (Miss Rexy/Jason) with his friend, Beatrice Seale.

     

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    Actor Jamie Ann Romero (Jo/Eddie), right, with an usher sporting a  new, casual "Panhandle of Florida" look.

     

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    Post-show drag entertainer Danielle DeCoteau.

     

    imagePost-show drag entertainer Danielle DeCoteau.

     

    imageChoreographer Will Taylor, center, with post-show drag entertainer Danielle DeCoteau. 

     

    imageThe audience is asked to leave their comments on the lobby mirror with lipstick.

     

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    Post-show drag entertainer Danielle DeCoteau.

     

    The Legend of Georgia McBride

    • Through Feb 23 • Ricketson Theatre
    • Tickets: 303.893.4100
    • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    • Groups (10+): 303.446.4829 • denvercenter.org

    The Denver Center Theatre Company is a community-supported, nonprofit theatre company

  • 2014 Colorado New Play Summit will complete 'Plainsong' trilogy

    by John Moore | Nov 19, 2013

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    Jamie Ann Romero and Quincy Dunn-Baker read "The Legend of Georgia McBride" at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by Kyle Malone.

    The Denver Center Theatre Company's 9th annual Colorado New Play Summit will include a reading based on the novel Benediction, completing author Kent Haruf's trilogy of rural Colorado tales, all  adapted for the stage by Eric Schmiedl.

    The Colorado New Play Summit previously introduced Haruf's "Plainsong" in 2007 and "Eventide" in 2009, both of which went on to full productions on Denver Center mainstage seasons.

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    "Eventide," the second of Kent Haruf's novels to be adapted to the stage by the Denver Center, was fully staged in 2010. Photo by Terry Shapiro.

     

    Also on the 2014 Summit lineup for the weekend of Feb. 7-9 are Victory Jones and The Incredible One Woman Band by Idris Goodwin;  Appoggiatura, by three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee James Still; and The Comparables by Laura Schellhardt. A fifth title will be announced at a  later date.

    The Colorado New Play Summit is the brainchild of Denver Center Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson and Associate Artistic Director., Bruce K. Sevy. Their festival draws artistic directors, literary managers, dramaturgs, directors, members of the media and the curious public to view the latest works by some of America’s most exciting playwrights. For savvy subscribers, the Summit is often a preview of the following year's mainstage season. The current season, for example, includes mainstage productions of four plays that were introduced as readings at the last Summit in February: "Just Like Us," by Karen Zacarías; "The Most Deserving," by Catherine Trieschmann; "black odyssey," by Marcus Gardley; and "The Legend of Georgia McBride," by Matthew Lopez.

    The Denver Center's new-play tradition goes back to its beginnings, with credits ranging from “Quilters” to “The Laramie Project.” By season's end, the Denver Center Theatre Company will have launched 129 world premieres in its 35-year history.

    Since Thompson arrived in 2005, he has nurtured some of America’s most celebrated and promising playwrights through his new-play development program, including Lee Blessing, Steven Dietz, Richard Dresser, Laura Eason, Jason Grote, Samuel D. Hunter, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Michael Mitnick, Julie Marie Myatt, Theresa Rebeck, Octavio Solis, Caridad Svich, Catherine Trieschmann, Ken Weitzman and Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. Those are just some of the playwrights who have been commissioned, premiered or otherwise developed at the Denver Center under Thompson.

     What sets the Denver Center apart from other new-play programs is its ongoing commitment to developing new plays from readings through full-scale season productions. More than 40 new plays have now been introduced in readings at the Colorado New Play Summit. By the end of the current season, the Denver Center will have fully premiered 21 new American plays since 2005.

    Many of those productions have gone on to significant continued life in the American theatre, including Grote’s “1001,” a deconstruction of the tales of the Arabian Nights that has had 22 stagings since 2007, including Page 73 Productions in New York and the Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia). Grote has written for “Mad Men” and “Hannibal.” Solis’ "Lydia,” about an unusual maid charged with caring for a Mexican-American teenage girl severely injured in a car accident, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hunter’s “The Whale,” about a morbidly obese man’s attempt to re-connect with his daughter, has since last year been staged by Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, and at South Coast Repertory in California. Haruf's "Plainsong" will make its Chicago premiere from Jan. 30-March 8 at the Signal Theatre Company.

    In addition to five staged readings, Visitors to the 2014 Summit also will see mainstage productions of two plays from February's Summit:  The Legend of Georgia McBride and the lower-cased black odyssey.

    The 2014 Colorado New Play Summit will take place Feb. 7-9 at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Summit passes, which include seating at all readings, admission to the two world premieres, plus meals, receptions, and discounts to nearby downtown Denver hotels, are now available. Tickets to individual readings will be available in early January. For more information and Summit registration, go to  www.denvercenter.org/summit,  or call 303-893-6030.

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    Director Chay Yew during rehearsal with the cast of "black odyssey" during the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit." Photo by Kyle Malone.

     

    The 2014 Colorado New Play Summit plays at a glance:

    Staged reading

    APPOGGIATURA

    By James Still

     Followed by a violin-playing Vivaldi, a charming but bogus Italian tour guide accompanies a widow and a bereaved middle-aged man who both mourn the same person while her granddaughter questions her future. Appoggiatura is a sun-drenched romance about love, loss, and a broken family re-living the past and healing its heart in Venice.   Playwright James Still is a three-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A Denver Center Commission.

     

    Staged reading

    VICTORY JONES AND THE INCREDIBLE ONE-WOMAN BAND

    By Idris Goodwin

     A brightly talented girl aims for a place center stage in the world of music.  Using live and recorded "looping" technology, the world of break beat music sets the background for an African American girl's hip hop odyssey along the bumpy road to music stardom.   Smart, sassy, humorous, heartfelt and rousing with a cast of colorful, contemporary characters, Victory Jones is an ear-to-the-streets portrait of American pop culture experienced by one gifted girl.  Goodwin’s previous break beat play, How We Got On, was read two seasons ago at The Humana Festival and was produced in Chicago at Company One. Victory Jones and The Incredible One Woman Band is a Denver Center commission.

     

    Staged reading

    BENEDICTION

    By Eric Schmiedl

    Based on the novel by Kent Haruf

     Set on the high plains of eastern Colorado, Benediction follows the lives of three souls yearning for communion--a dying elderly man, a young orphaned girl and a renegade preacher. As with Haruf’s novels Plainsong and Eventide, the Denver Center has once again brought playwright Eric Schmiedl on board to adapt this penetrating, deeply human story for the stage. A Denver Center commission.

     

    Staged reading

    THE COMPARABLES

    By Laura Schellhardt

     In this dark comedy, Iris and Monica jockey for power in Bette’s “Boutique” –a high-end real estate agency run and staffed almost solely by women. In a world of double standards, what happens when the gender tables are turned? Does the glass ceiling still pertain? And who’s going to make the coffee?  The Comparables is a hilarious look at climbing the corporate ladder in three-inch heels.

     

    World Premiere: Mainstage production

    THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE

    by Matthew Lopez

    Directed by Mike Donahue

     A heartwarming, music-filled comedy about Casey, an Elvis impersonator who just learned his dive bar act is being replaced with a drag show. With the bills stacking up and a kid on the way, Casey’s going to have to adapt to a whole new show business like none he’s ever known in this risqué romp. The Legend of Georgia McBride was workshopped at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit.

     

    World Premiere: Mainstage production

    black odyssey

    by Marcus Gardley

    Directed by Chay Yew

    The Greek gods meet African-American culture in this twist on Homer’s The Odyssey. Centered on a black soldier returning home from a harrowing tour in the War in Afghanistan, this compelling new play fuses modern reality, humor, and song with ancient myth. black odyssey was workshopped at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit. A Denver Center commission.

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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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