• Deeper dive: Your first look at a new 'Oklahoma!'

    by John Moore | Apr 02, 2018

    Chris Coleman Oklahoma

    Note: In this daily series, we will take a deeper dive into the eight titles recently announced on the DCPA Theatre Company's 2018-19 season. Today: Oklahoma!


    • Written by: Richard Rodgers (music);  Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics). Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
    • Director: New DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman
    • Dates: Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2018 (Opens Sept. 14)
    • Where: Stage Theatre
    • Genre: Classic American musical
    • OklahomaAt a glance: With a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, cowboys, farmers and traveling salesmen alike have chased their destinies to a land that promises everything they could hope for: Love, opportunity and a brighter future. The first collaboration by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein became a landmark musical for its rollicking music and stunning dance numbers, and this joyful presentation will solidify why it has stood the test of time.
    • The twist: Coleman will set the story in one of the 50 all-African-American towns that existed in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. Coleman directed an all-black production of Oklahoma! once before, at Portland Center Stage in 2011. (Pictured: Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie and Jarran Muse as "Will,” courtesy Portland Center Stage.) 
    • Says Coleman: "I am honored to be making my Denver directorial debut with Oklahoma! This gorgeous musical is such a quintessential expression of what it means to be American. Oklahoma! is centered around a group of people on the verge of grabbing their piece of the American dream and incorporating themselves into the fabric of the whole nation. Experiencing that drive and sense of possibility expressed by a community we haven’t traditionally seen telling this story opens up new windows on what it means to be a Westerner, what it means to be an American and what it means to ‘stake your claim’ in the land."
    • More about the African-American variation: "Several years ago, when I first started thinking about doing this show, I came across a piece of information that blew me away: In 1907, the year before Oklahoma became a state, there were 50 all-black towns in the state, and a third of all cowboys were black. And that fact began to work its way into my imagination. I thought, 'What would it be like to see a community of black actors tell this extraordinary American story?' And I'm particularly excited to have black actors tell it, because when you hear, 'We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand' — that is an extraordinary sentiment to hear sung by that particular community in the moment we're living in today."
    • What the critics have said: Of the 1943 original, The New York Times' Lewis Nichols raved: "For years they have been saying the Theatre Guild is dead, words that obviously will have to be eaten with breakfast this morning." Of Coleman's 2011 all-black production in 2011, The Oregonian critic Marty Hughley wrote: "Coleman's version of the classic fully delivers on its entertaining promise while also subtly deepening the musical's underlying message about the nature of civil society and the distinctiveness of the American experience."
    • About the authors: Oklahoma! was the first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre still being followed today.
    • Fun facts: The choreographer in Denver will be Dominique Kelley, a dancer in the film La La Land and the musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk ... Oklahoma! opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre 75 years ago Saturday, and the cast of the Denver-born musical Frozen marked the anniversary with a curtain-call singalong that you can watch at this YouTube link ... In 1967, an all-female production of Oklahoma! opened at the Takarazuka Theatre, Tokyo ... The original title for the musical was Away We Go! ... So why the exclamation point at the end of Oklahoma!? According to the book “The Hammersteins: a Musical Theatre Family,” Rodgers and Hammerstein included it as a subtle way to distance it from the grim associations the word had taken on a few years earlier because of Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

    (Artwork by  DCPA Senior Graphic Designer Kyle Malone.) 

    2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season at a glance:

  • Aug. 24-Sept. 30: Vietgone (Ricketson Theatre) READ MORE
  • Sept. 7-Oct. 14: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (Stage Theatre) READ MORE
  • Sept. 21-Oct. 21: The Constant Wife (Space Theatre) READ MORE
  • Nov. 21-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol (Stage Theatre) READ MORE
  • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019: Last Night and the Night Before (Ricketson Theatre) READ MORE
  • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019: Anna Karenina (Stage Theatre) READ MORE
  • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019: The Whistleblower (Space Theatre) READ MORE
  • April 26-May 26, 2019: Sweat (Space Theatre) READ MORE
  • DCPA Theatre Company tickets and subscriptions:
    New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Subscription packages are now available online at denvercenter.org or by calling 303-893-4100. Subscribers enjoy 30 percent off savings, 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. BUY ONLINE

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season: In with the old ... and the new

    by John Moore | Apr 01, 2018
    Chris Coleman offers a play-by-play look at the 2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season, his first as the company's new Artistic Director. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Coleman's 40th anniversary season includes two world premieres, Tolstoy and an African-American Oklahoma!

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Incoming DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman has announced a 40th anniversary season he believes both honors the company’s past and boldly steps into the future — and in some intriguing examples, at the same time.

    Coleman will return to the company’s roots by presenting its third Rodgers and Hammerstein musical following previous stagings of Carousel and South Pacific. But Coleman is promising a fresh new look at Oklahoma! by telling the beloved story of a spirited rivalry between local farmers and cowboys from a mostly African-American perspective. Similarly, Coleman will offer adaptations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, stories of women overcoming great societal barriers that may strike audiences as remarkably contemporary.

    A Last Night 800 1“It’s incredibly exciting to imagine what you want your first season at an organization to be,” said Coleman, who assumes his full-time Denver duties in May. "This company has long been known as a place where you can do really big, interesting, meaty, dramatic literature. One of the things that's exciting to me is to do something really traditional and then follow that with something that is brand new and edgy. That collision of styles and voices is really juicy to me.”

    Pictured above: Valerie Curtis-Newton, left, will return to again direct 2017 Colorado New Play Summit offering 'Last Night and the Night Before' on the mainstage season. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Coleman covers the traditional-to-edgy gamut with the announcement of both an eight-play Theatre Company season that includes three classics and two world premieres, as well as an innovative five-play slate from the company's adventurous Off-Center wing.  

    nataki-garrettWhen Coleman was named Artistic Director in November, he promised programming that will further the DCPA’s efforts to diversify its audiences, champion local storytelling and give voice to underserved communities. All five of the other mainstage directors he named today are women — and three of the playwrights are women or persons of color. Four if you count Off-Center's commission of a planned immersive hip-hop piece from This is Modern Art co-writer Idris Goodwin.

    The mainstage season includes two world-premiere plays: Donnetta Lavinia GraysLast Night and the Night Before, which was featured at the company’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, and Itamar MosesThe Whistleblower. With the exception of A Christmas Carol, which returns for a 26th year, every playwright and source writer (even Tolstoy) will be new to Theatre Company audiences except Nottage, whose Ruined was one of the most celebrated productions in company history In 2011.

    The Off-Center offerings, said Curator Charlie Miller, will complement the Theatre Company season and tell exciting stories in unconventional ways. “From original micro plays to new theatrical experiments to a large-scale immersive hip-hop show, Off-Center will take audiences into unexpected Denver spaces and showcase local artists, stories, and communities,” he said.

    Take a deeper dive into each play on the 2018-19 season

    The Theatre Company debuted on New Year’s Eve 1979 with The Caucasian Chalk Circle, starring Tyne Daly. Coleman says there is special significance to this being the 40th anniversary season because the company is old enough to have built an significant canon but also young enough to still have staff, artists and audience members who have been here all along — a lot of them.

    "As we step into the next chapter of the Theatre Company’s history, it's inspiring and energizing to look back on the extraordinary body of work that this company has brought to the region over the last 40 seasons," Coleman said. "What's really vivid to me is how many people have been around from Day 1. There are so many people who are really invested in the history and the future of this organization. So, to me, that's worth celebrating. And I view that as a launching pad for me.

    These playwrights and directors are the cream of the crop, and I look forward to the conversations these works will open up with the Denver community."

    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.

    Meet new Theatre Company Artistc Director Chris Coleman

    Chris Coleman 2018-19 season announcement

    2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season at a glance:

    • Aug. 24-Sept. 30: Vietgone (Ricketson Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Sept. 7-Oct. 14: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (Stage Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Sept. 21-Oct. 21: The Constant Wife (Space Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Nov. 21-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol (Stage Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019: Last Night and the Night Before (Ricketson Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019: Anna Karenina (Stage Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019: The Whistleblower (Space Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • April 26-May 26, 2019: Sweat (Space Theatre) DEEPER DIVE

    DCPA Theatre Company tickets and subscriptions: New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Subscription packages are now available online at denvercenter.org or by calling 303-893-4100. Subscribers enjoy 30 percent off savings, 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. BUY ONLINE

    2018-19 Off-Center season at a glance:

    • July 11-Aug. 22: Mixed Taste: Tag team lectures on unrelated topics (Wednesdays only, with MCA Denver, Seawell Ballroom)
    • Oct. 23-Nov. 18: Bite-Size: An evening of micro theatre (at BookBar)
    • Nov. 23-Dec. 24: The SantaLand Diaries (with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at The Jones)
    • March 2019: Powered by Off-Center (The Jones)
    • Dates TBA: Untitled Immersive Hip-Hop Show

    Off-Center ticket information: 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.

    2018-19 THEATRE COMPANY SEASON: Title by title

    (Descriptions provided by DCPA Theatre Company)


    • Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2016 VietgoneBy Qui Nguyen
    • Original music by Shane Rettig
    • Directed by Seema Sueko
    • Aug. 24-Sept. 30, 2018 (Opens Aug. 31)
    • Ricketson Theatre
    • Glance: This rap-spitting, pop culture-crusted dramedy is an ode to the real-life courtship of Playwright Qui Nguyen’s parents. Forced to leave their country during the height of the Vietnam War, two refugees find themselves at the same relocation camp in Arkansas – the land of Harleys, hot dogs and “howdy!” Before they find their way into each other’s arms, they’ll have to blaze a trail in their weird new world and leave behind the baggage they didn’t pack. Jump on this emotional ride for an adventure that hums with excitement as it hops across time and around the globe through the highs and lows of love.
    • Fun fact: Qui Nguyen is the self-described geeky playwright behind She Kills Monsters, which addressed stereotypes and social issues through the game “Dungeons and Dragons.”
    • Take a deeper dive into Vietgone

    (Pictured: Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2016 production of 'Vietgone,' courtesy Oregon Shakespeare Festival.)

    Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

    • Oklahoma!Music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
    • Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
    • Original Dances by Agnes de Mille
    • Directed by Chris Coleman
    • Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2018 (Opens Sept. 14)
    • Stage Theatre
    • Glance: With a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, cowboys, farmers and travelling salesmen alike have chased their destinies to a land that promises everything they could hope for: love, opportunity and a brighter future. The first collaboration by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein became a landmark musical for its rollicking music and stunning dance numbers, and this joyful presentation will solidify why it has stood the test of time. New DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman makes his DCPA directorial debut with this production, and he will set the story in one of the 50 all-African-American towns in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. Discover an overlooked piece of American history as one small community stakes its claim on a place full of hope. The choreographer will be Dominique Kelley, a dancer in the film La La Land and the musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk.
    • Fun fact: Oklahoma! opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre 75 years ago Saturday, and the cast of the Denver-born Frozen marked the anniversary with a curtain-call singalong that you can watch at this YouTube link.
    • Take a deeper dive into Oklahoma!

    The Constant Wife

    • The Constant WifeBy W. Somerset Maugham
    • Directed by Shelley Butler
    • Sept. 21-Oct. 21, 2018 (Opens Sept. 28)
    • Space Theatre
    • Glance: As the intelligent, charming housewife of a successful doctor, Constance Middleton cheerfully plays her traditional role. But she knows far more than she’s willing to let on. This cheeky satire pokes holes in the expectations of relationships, fidelity and social roles that were just as relevant in the 1920s as they are today. Featuring an infectiously plucky heroine at the helm, The Constant Wife takes joy in the imperfections of life and applauds those who elude the strict confines of society to discover true happiness. DCPA alum Shelley Butler (Human Error, The Most Deserving) returns to direct this contagious comedy.Fun fact: Variety calls Maugham’s protagonist “a perverse protofeminist — and an antecedent to the women of “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City.”
    • Take a deeper dive into The Constant Wife

    A Christmas Carol

    • Sam Gregory A Christmas Carol. By Charles Dickens
    • Adapted by Richard Hellesen
    • Music by David de Berry
    • Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
    • Nov. 21-Dec. 24, 2018 (Opens Nov. 29)
    • Stage Theatre
    • Glance: Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, the Theatre Company’s joyous and opulent seasonal offering now in its 26th year 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. Note: This is an added attraction, not part of the Theatre Company subscription season.
    • Fun fact: Denver favorite Sam Gregory is scheduled to return for a third time as Scrooge.
    • Take a deeper dive into A Christmas Carol

    Last Night and the Night Before (world premiere)

    • Summit. Last Night. Donnetta By Donnetta Lavinia Grays
    • Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton
    • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019 (Opens January 25)
    • Ricketson Theatre
    • Glance: When Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it shakes up Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly New York lifestyle. Monique is on the run from deep trouble and brings their family’s Southern roots with her, grabbing hold of Rachel’s life more ferociously than she could have ever imagined. Poetic, powerful and remarkably funny, Last Night and the Night Before play explores the struggle between the responsibilities that are expected of us and the choices we actually end up making.
    • Fun fact: This play was featured in the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Its original title was simply, Sam. The new title references a line from the children’s game "Last night and the night before, I met my baby at the candy store."
    • Take a deeper dive into Last Night and the Night Before

    Anna Karenina

    • TC-web-Season-Ann-400x3003By Kevin McKeon, adapted from the novel by Leo Tolstoy
    • Directed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman
    • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019 (Opens Feb. 1)
    • Stage Theatre
    • Glance: Love holds the power to bind us together or tear us apart, and no one knows better than Countess Anna Karenina. As a noblewoman and socialite, her glamorous lifestyle shrouds her unhappy marriage. But everything changes when she meets the dashing army officer Count Vronsky. She risks her social status, marriage, friends and family for the thrill of forbidden love. Anna Karenina uses the romantic backdrop of Tsarist Russia to tell a turbulent tale of passion and betrayal, dreams chased and lost, and the consequences of getting swept off your feet. Helmed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman, this lush, modern adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece brings the opulent setting and heart-wrenching story to life.
    • Fun fact: The play was made into a 2012 movie adapted by Tom Stoppard and featuring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
    • Take a deeper dive into Anna Karenina

    The Whistleblower (world premiere)

    • itamarmoses whistleblowerBy Itamar Moses (pictured right)
    • Directed by TBA
    • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019 (Opens Feb. 15)
    • Space Theatre
    • Glance: For screenwriter Eli, an offer to finally create his own TV show should be the ultimate culmination of his goals, but instead shocks him into wondering why he had those dreams in the first place. Armed with a new sense of spiritual clarity, he sets out on a quest to serve up some hard truths to his coworkers, family, exes and friends. What could possibly go wrong? A lively world premiere about the lies we tell to protect ourselves  and how the tiniest gestures can have deep impact on those around us. Written by Itamar Moses, the award-winning author of the musical The Band’s Visit, currently on Broadway.
    • Fun facts: The Whistleblower was first introduced as a staged reading at South Coast Repertory’s 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, Calif. — alongside Vietgone. Also, Moses was an Executive Story Editor for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."
    • Take a deeper dive into The Whistleblower


    • TC-web-Season-Ann-400x3004By Lynn Nottage
    • Directed by Nataki Garrett
    • April 26-May 26, 2019 (Opens May 3)
    • Space Theatre
    • Glance: For the people of poverty-stricken Reading, Pa., work is so much more than a paycheck – it’s the glue that holds the town together. The floor of their central factory is where lifelong friendships are made, where love blossoms and where family members work side-by-side. But as layoffs become the new norm and a cheaper workforce threatens the viability of the local union, the threads that once kept the community together begin to fray. Sweat is an “extraordinarily moving drama,” said The New York Times, that powerfully contrasts life’s happiest highs with the heart-wrenching struggles of survival. Using warm humor and deep empathy, this 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner from Lynn Nottage (Ruined) paints a moving portrait of today’s working-class America in decline.
    • Fun fact: Nottage developed her play through interviews with actual former steelworkers in Reading.
    • Take a deeper dive into Sweat

    2018-19 OFF-CENTER SEASON: Title by title

    Mixed Taste: Tag team lectures on unrelated topics

    • Mixed Taste Aug 9Co-presentation with MCA Denver
    • July 11-Aug. 22, 2018 (Wednesdays only)
    • Seawell Ballroom
    • Glance: Returning for a second summer series, even mismatched subjects find common ground in this fun lecture forum that can go pretty much anywhere. Two speakers get 20 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.
    • Fun fact: One clever example from last year’s series: “Wild West mail delivery and post-conceptual art.” Last year’s series emcee Suzi Q. Smith wrote a poem during each performance and read them at the end of every evening.

    Bite-Size: An evening of micro theatre

    • 2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS Gary Grundie Meridith C. GrundeiCreated and directed by Meridith Crosley Grundei
    • Oct. 23-Nov. 18, 2018
    • At BookBar, 4280 Tennyson St.
    • Glance:
    • Bite-Size brings you five short plays with bookish twists performed in and around BookBar, an independent bookstore and wine bar in the Tennyson Street Arts District. Grab tapas and drinks between the short performances of original works by Colorado-based artists. There is no better way to see a variety of local playwrights and performers in one place. Whether you’re a theatre geek, a bookworm or on the hunt for an off-beat night out, this evening will leave you eager to crack into a fresh hard-cover and dream up some tales of your own.
    • Fun fact: Director Meridith Grundei, a 2017 True West Award winner, packed up a used R.V. and hit the road with her husband and daughter in 2017 to travel the United States and Mexico for a year.

    The SantaLand Diaries

    • A Santaland Diaries Michael BouchardCo-presentation with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • By David Sedaris, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
    • Directed by Stephen Weitz
    • Nov. 23-Dec. 24, 2018 (Opens Nov. 25)
    • The Jones Theatre
    • Glance: This acclaimed one-man show is based on David Sedaris’ best-selling memoir about his curmudgeonly experience working as a Macy’s SantaLand elf, once again featuring Michael Bouchard and Luke Sorge as David, and his devilish Macy’s persona, Crumpet the Elf. Think holiday shopping is brutal? Try being on the receiving end of Macy’s SantaLand madness in a pair of pointy shoes. This twisted tale is the cure for the common Christmas show and the perfect excuse to take a break from it all.
    • Fun fact: 2018-19 will mark the 10th anniversary of BETC’s annual holiday staging, the last seven in partnership with Off-Center. That will equal The Bug Theatre’s run of 10 seasonal The SantaLand Diaries starring Gary Culig.

    Powered by Off-Center

    • March 2019
    • The Jones Theatre
    • Glance: Discover your next favorite Colorado performer as they debut new work at the Denver Center. Off-Center is offering the spotlight to local creators of all kinds as they get their projects off the ground with the support of our team. We’re giving our local artistic community a new place to play and a platform to experiment, engage and excite us all. Performance dates and participating artists to be announced.

    Untitled Immersive Hip-Hop Show

    • Idris Goodwin 160Written by Idris Goodwin
    • Directed by Jenny Koons
    • Glance: Following the hit experiential shows Sweet & Lucky and The Wild Party, Off-Center is cooking up its next large-scale immersive adventure. Off-Center has commissioned playwright Idris Goodwin and New York-based director Jenny Koons (Burn All Night at American Repertory Theatre) to create a one-of-a-kind new hip-hop-inspired event. Title, location, dates, and details to be announced.
    • Fun fact: Goodwin is the director and co-writer of This is Modern Art, currently playing through April 15 in The Jones Theatre.

    Note: Due to the nature of live performance, all productions, prices and dates are subject to change.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • The King and Us: A former Anna recalls her time with Brynner

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2017
    Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I Jose Llana. Photo by Matthew MurphyJose Llana as The King in Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'The King and I'  In Denver, playing 2-14. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

    The King and I is a triumphant survivor of changing theatrical fashions and wildly changing times

    By Sylvie Drake
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    How unfamiliar can anyone possibly be with the plot, music and subject of The King and I? It’s only been around for 66 years and it has hardly stopped playing somewhere in the world since it was launched in 1951.

    At first, incredibly, composer Richard Rodgers and book-writer Oscar Hammerstein II resisted writing this musical, doubting there would be much of an audience for it. Yet the musical about to emerge from their serendipitous collaboration turned out to be their fourth gigantic Broadway-and-beyond success. It made Yul Brynner virtually a one-role star; he played The King 4,625 times over a 34-year span. At an uninterrupted clip, that’s 12 years, seven weeks and five days.

    But a stage musical is not an endurance test (although there is that), but the result of a creative impulse. And The King and I is that result, plus the triumphant survivor of changing theatrical fashions and wildly changing times.

    It all began in 1873 when Anna Leonowens decided to write her two books of courtly memoirs, The English Governess at the Siamese Court and The Romance of the Harem. Little did this gutsy Victorian widow dream that, all these years later, this uncommon episode in her life would become the basis for one of America’s most beloved musicals.

    KING AND I 800When the urbane English comedienne Gertrude Lawrence chanced on a Margaret Landon novel called Anna and the King of Siam, inspired by Leonowens’ five years at the Siamese court, the aging Lawrence recognized Anna as a potential comeback role for herself. After failing to cajole Cole Porter into writing a musical for her based on the Landon novel, she turned to Rodgers and Hammerstein II, who had just delivered three successive Broadway megahits: Oklahoma! (1943), Carousel (1945) and South Pacific (1949).

    (Pictured above and right: Patricia Morison joined Yul Brynner on Broadway as Anna in 1954.)

    The two men had heard about the Landon novel from their wives, and the wives must have insisted, because eventually their husbands offered not only to write The King and I(a title Lawrence reportedly did not like), but also to produce it. Opening in March 1951 with Lawrence in the lead, it became the fourth Broadway megahit for its creators, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. (A fifth, The Sound of Music, would follow in 1959.)

    The production was an all-Broadway-royalty affair. Aside from the glittering Gertie Lawrence, it had fabulous songs (“Getting to Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Shall We Dance?”), Jerome Robbins’ charismatic choreography, opulent sets by Jo Mielziner, lavish Irene Sharaff costumes and, in the role of the King’s son — on Broadway and on tour, until his voice broke — a very young, very personable Sal Mineo.

    As for The King, after turndowns from Nöel Coward, Alfred Drake and Rex Harrison (who’d played The King in the 1946 nonmusical film with Irene Dunne), it went to that little-known Russian-born actor with a funny name who had been a circus acrobat in Europe, the one-of-a-kind Yul Brynner.

    So Lawrence got her wish, but while she created Anna on Broadway, she did not get to savor it for long. Developing cancer, she died in September 1952, after remaining with the show until the last possible minute. By then, Brynner was well on his way to making The King synonymous with himself, eventually wresting top billing and fulfilling the title’s promise, which placed The King before the I.

    Patricia Morison, who at the time had created her own Broadway sensation in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, was Rodgers’ first choice to replace Lawrence. But Morison was in London with Kate and had a year to go on her contract. She eventually joined Brynner in 1954, continuing the Broadway run of The King and I for another four months — the fourth longest of that decade — before going on the road with Brynner and the show for more than three years.

    Still lucid and luminous at 102, Morison gladly shares memories of those heady days, recalling especially the joy of working and traveling with all the young children in the company and their mothers.

    “Yul was remarkable,” she says of Brynner, who continued to draw worldwide admiration if, later in life, also a different set of whispered adjectives (try arrogant, demanding and imperious). Over time, Morison insists they became the best of friends.

    “Yul had broken every bone in his body when he was with the circus and had built himself up again,” she says. “He was wonderful with the children. Every Monday night he would hold acting classes for the actors and dancers. At Sal Mineo’s final performance he and Sal were both in tears.”

    Her biggest challenge? “Dealing with the 60-pound ball gown Anna wears in ‘Shall We Dance?’ It was quite a scramble to dance and leap around in those enormous crinolines.”

    The King and I features José Llana as The King at The Buell, a role he’s played twice in this 2015 Tony-winning Lincoln Center revival directed by Bartlett Sher. Madeline Trumble is his Anna.

    Sylvie Drake is a former theatre critic and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a translator, a contributor to culturalweekly.com and American Theatre magazine, and a former Director of Media Relations and Publications for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

    Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I: Ticket information
    The King and I Set in 1860s Bangkok, this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical tells of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist King, in an imperialistic world, brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children.  score that features such beloved classics as “Getting To Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Shall We Dance” and “Something Wonderful.” Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.

    • National touring production
    • Performances Jan. 2-14
    • Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

  • In the Spotlife: Monica​ ​Joyce​ ​Thompson of 'South Pacific'

    by John Moore | Oct 02, 2017
    Monica.Joyce.Thompson. South Pacific
    Monica Joyce Thompson backstage after opening weekend of 'South Pacific,' which plays in Parker through Oct. 15. Photo via Instagram.

    Nellie Forbush In Inspire Creative's South Pacific at the PACE Center in Parker. 

    • Monica.Joyce.Thompson. South PacificHometown: Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., though I grew up in Colorado.
    • Home now: Centennial
    • High school: Grandview High School
      in Aurora
    • College: Honors Double Major in Vocal Performance and Music Theatre from Oklahoma City University
    • What have you done for us lately? I played Presendia in the 2011 opera Dark Sisters, which centered around polygamy, for the Oklahoma City University's Bass School of Music.
    • Twitter-sized bio: Jesus-loving, Colorado-living actress who just wants to listen and tell stories. Find me hiking, reading, writing, eating (because, food) and squeezing the best moments out of life. 
    • What's your handle? @BitOfMonica on Twitter and Instagram
    • Do you blog? Find me at alittlebitofmonica.blog
    • The role that changed your life: I played Mother in Ragtime my senior year at Grandview High School. It was a full-circle experience because my freshman year, I auditioned for the musical and did not even get a called back. I was so incredibly shy and nervous to sing in front of anyone. Not only did this role teach me a lot about myself, but it gave me a deep desire to pursue a career in acting. Our show was selected out of all the high schools in Colorado to perform at the Colorado State Thespian Conference in downtown Denver. I performed in front of 5,000 people, and I will never forget the feeling of finally overcoming my fear.
    • audra_mcdonaldIdeal scene partner: I trained in classical singing like Audra McDonald, but I also consider her to be an incredible storyteller. That’s where my heart is when I perform. Plus, she has six Tony Awards, so she must be doing something right.
    • What is South Pacific all about? South Pacific is about two love stories set on the backdrop of an island in the South Pacific during World War II. But at its core, the story is really a drama about where our prejudices come from and questions if love can overcome all.
    • Tell us about the challenge of playing this role: Nellie Forbush is such a likeable character; a cockeyed optimist, if you will, which is the fun part to play. But she also is a racist and it is a huge challenge playing someone so deeply affected by those prejudices. I had to find Nellie’s redemption journey under her many layers. She truly grows into a woman in this show and allows herself the freedom to love.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing your show? South Pacific is powerful in every day and age - that’s why it is a classic. But I believe its message is especially poignant in this day and age. In the song You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught, human prejudices are brought into question. I hope the audience leaves with a deeper understanding of what it means to love - to love deeply and fully.
    • What don't we know about you? This past June, I was first runner-up for the title of Miss Colorado. I also won the Miss America Community Service Award for raising more than  $20,000 and dedicating hundreds of hours of community service to my platform, “Building Strong Girls.” I am very passionate about growing the next generation of women to be strong, confident, and healthy.
    • What do you want to get off your chest? My favorite animal is a chicken - for real - but I also eat chicken. It confuses people.

    South Pacific. Inspire Creative.

    South Pacific:
    Ticket information

    South Pacific was written shortly after World War II ended; its message of unity and its confrontation of racial stereotypes through the all-too-familiar lens of the war was poignant to the audiences of the time. Hailed as a landmark musical is still relevant to this day.

    • Composed by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
    • Directed by Ralph Neumann
    • Through Oct. 15
    • At the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker
    • Tickets $20-$29
    • For tickets, call 303-805-6800 or go to parkerarts.org

    Remaining performances:
    • Friday, Oct. 6: 7:30 p.m.
    • Saturday, Oct. 7: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
    • Sunday, Oct. 8: 2 p.m.
    • Friday, Oct. 13: 2 p.m. (reduced price Friday matinee)
    • Friday, Oct. 13: 7:30 p.m.
    • Saturday, Oct. 14: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
    • Sunday, Oct. 15: 2 p.m.

    2017-18 'In the Spotlife' profiles:

    Meet Christy Brandt of Creede Rep's Arsenic and Old Lace
    Meet Deb Persoff of Vintage Theatre's August: Osage County

  • 2017-18 season: TheatreWorks moving forward in memory of Murray Ross

    by John Moore | Mar 30, 2017

    Theatrworks. Sammie Joe Kinnett
    Sammie Joe Kinnett, seen here in Colorado Springs Theatrworks' 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' will star in 'The SantaLand Diaries.'

    Colorado Springs TheatreWorks has announced its first season since the death of founder Murray Ross (pictured right) in January. The 2017-18 season will be presented in honor of Ross:

    • A Murray Ross 160Much Ado About Nothing, by Shakespeare (July 27-Aug. 19 at Rock Ledge Ranch)
    • Heisenberg, by Simon Stephens (Sept. 7-24 at the Bon Vivant Theatre)
    • Wild Honey, by Michael Frayn, adapted from “The Play Without a Title” by Anton Chekhov (Oct. 19-Nov.  5 at the Bon Vivant Theatre)
    • The SantaLand Diaries, by Joe Mantello, adapted from David Sedaris (Nov. 30-Dec. 23, starring Sammie Joe Kinnett at the Bon Vivant Theatre)

    The following will be presented at the new Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs:

    • Oklahoma! by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers (Feb. 15-March 11, 2018)
    • Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer (April 26-May 13, 2018)

    Our tribute to Murray Ross: He put goodness out into this world'

    For more information, visit theatreworkscs.org or call 719-255-3232

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


  • 'President of Theatre' on enduring popularity of 'The Sound of Music'

    by John Moore | Jun 19, 2016
    The Sound of Music. Ben Davis. Kerstin Anderson. Photo by Matthew Murphy

    Ben Davis and Kerstin Anderson from the national touring production of 'The Sound of Music' opening in Denver on June 21. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

    Ted Chapin’s official title is President of the R&H music publishing company. But Broadway producer Ken Davenport once suggested simply calling him “President of Theater," for greater accuracy.

    Chapin was born into a powerful New York family whose patriarch was the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs under Rudolph Giuliani, and whose matriarch was daughter of the founder of Steinway pianos.

    Sound of Music Ted Chapin quoteChapin was just 31 when he was handpicked by the daughter of Richard Rodgers to oversee the library of Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, which only begins with the songwriting duo many consider the best of all-time. R&H wrote nine musicals for Broadway, one movie and one TV show over 17 years. But the R&H library (now owned by Imagem Publishing Group) now licenses about 2,500 productions by composers ranging from Irving Berlin to Andrew Lloyd Webber to Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

    The jewel in the R&H crown is, of course, The Sound of Music, which comes to Denver in a new touring production starting Tuesday (June 21). The franchise born in 1959 continues to enjoy extraordinary popularity. Chapin was one of the key figures behind NBC’s bold move to bring musicals back to live television after 50 years, starting with Carrie Underwood starring in The Sound of Music in 2013. The broadcast drew 44 million viewers. “Part of the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein is how their work has adapted itself to so many different incarnations,” Chapin said.

    Chapin estimates The Sound of Music averages about 700 productions a year worldwide. And 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the film version, which continues to be the most successful movie musical in history.

    As President of Theatre, er, R&H, Chapin has personally overseen more than 20 Broadway and West End revivals of R&H classics. He’s the past chairman of the American Theatre Wing and author of the book Everything Was Possible – a bird’s-eye view of the birth of Stephen Sondheim’s seminal musical Follies from Chapin’s perspective as a 22-year-old production assistant.

    He says the version of The Sound of Music coming to Denver this week is more emotionally layered, much as the first Broadway revival of South Pacific was in 2008. The idea to revisit The Sound of Music came from the Hairspray team of director Jack O’Brien and producer Margo Lion, who saw the first authorized production of The Sound of Music in Russia a few years ago. O’Brien described it as “a fairly abstract Euro-trash production” that made very little literal sense. “But as I watched how an untried young soprano related to the children, and when she faced her remarkably young and vigorous Captain von Trapp,” O’Brien said, “I found unexpected tears of joy and happiness running down my face. What on earth was I to do with this nearly embarrassing reaction?” 

    When O’Brien later saw what he called a “deeply intelligent and carefully crafted” new script by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, “it felt as it some lost vault was opening up,” he said. And so, the revival was on.

    We talked to Chapin this week about a variety of topics, starting with his job title. What exactly does it mean to be President of R&H? Davenport equivocates the job to someone standing outside Fort Knox and deciding who goes in and what goes out. Chapin takes his stab at the same question below: 

    Ted Chapin: Believe it or not, I have never had a job description. That's the fun of it. Only because my job came to be a year after Rodgers died. The only reason there is even an office is because Rodgers and Hammerstein, uniquely among their peers, held onto all of their rights. They didn't have Samuel French or Music Theatre International license their shows. Over the years, as they started making movie versions of their shows, it even got to the point where R&H ended up owning the movies themselves. That was unheard of. To adopt this mentality of keeping all their eggs in one basket showed an extraordinary confidence. They didn't build theatres. Irving Berlin built a theatre. For R&H, it was all about the material they created, and wanting it performed in the best way possible. When I was approached about coming to work here, the two families didn't quite know what to do next. I found out in subsequent years they had talked to a couple of fancier people about coming to run it, but I think the fancy people had fancy ideas about what the job would be. But Mary Rodgers (Richard’s daughter) knew me, she knew my parents and she knew my work. It was Mary who suggested the best move might be to go with the young person to help them figure out what the hell the job should be. I thought the job should be keeping these properties in the family, and keeping these songs out there in circulation in the best way possible. That meant figuring out how to self-manage copyrights in a new era, and as things change. So that basically became the job. And that has been the fun, frankly.

    John Moore: So were their contemporaries being exploited in terms of royalties at the time?

    Ted Chapin: It starts with royalties but was more about managing their own fate.
    John Moore: The R&H name has come to mean so much more than just R&H because of the expansion of your catalog to include names like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

    Ted Chapin: Yes, I certainly hope for that. Early on, I kept saying, 'People know Tiffany's as a place that has high-class stuff. But many people who go into Tiffany's today don't know that Louis Comfort Tiffany made stained glass. The Tiffany’s name has morphed into something that means quality in turquoise boxes. If we can make people think of us as a house that has good stuff, that's fine by me.

    John More: So if you’re the Tiffany’s of music publishing, How picky are you in terms of who you will allow in?

    Ted Chapin: Rather than being 'picky,' I would say we try to be selective. We look for properties we think will be good for both of us. Early on, we had some things that we could not sell in any way. Richard Adler, may he rest in peace, wrote The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. He also wrote a bunch of concert works, and he very much wanted us to publish them. I went to school with one of his sons, so I knew him, and I finally had to tell him: ‘The people who call us for pops concerts only want what they know. We can't seem to get them interested in anything else. So I don't think we're the right fit for these.' But I've always tried to find things like In the Heights. And having faith that Lin-Manuel Miranda was devoted to the theatre, it stood to reason that he might write more shows that are interesting. That was a good call.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: In the Heights was revolutionary in its way, but we don't necessarily think if R&H as revolutionary. Why was that the right property for you?

    Ted Chapin: To be honest, the first time I met Lin-Manuel was because he is a huge fan of my Follies book (Everything Was Possible). That was a nice way for me to meet him. There was a mutual respect. But at the end of the day, it comes down to people. Yes, some people like Adam Guettel (Richard Rodgers’ grandson) came with the family. But Andrew Lloyd Webber is a huge fan of Rodgers' music, and he will speak about that at the drop of a hat. They needed somebody to take care of their shows here. So we made an arrangement with him to represent all of his shows in this territory. That was very good arrangement.

    John Moore: So we have The Sound of Music coming to Denver, and I'm wondering: We as a nation, especially now, seem to have the attention span of a gnat. But somehow or another, The Sound of Music has managed to live on in the collective consciousness of subsequent generations of Americans. How did you do that?

    Ted Chapin: Well, No. 1: I think it's really good, and in the end, good wins the day. It’s a really good story. The songs are really good. People are captivated by it. The interesting challenge with The Sound of Music was it was written as a star vehicle for Mary Martin on Broadway, and it did just fine. She won a Tony Award away from Ethel Merman (Gypsy). Then it was made into a movie and suddenly some very, very smart decisions were made in the film adaptation of this stage show. There are three songs in the stage show that were completely reconceived for the movie - and they work. That's very rare. Usually when people play around with stage productions, something falls on its face, and it doesn't work. But the film people who made that movie were really, really smart. So now these two very different versions of The Sound of Music now exist in a parallel universe, and they are equally good.

    John Moore: What’s new about the touring production coming to Denver?

    Ted Chapin: First of all, it has a major director: Jack O'Brien, who saw the original Broadway production with Mary Martin, and he still remembers it vividly. Well, Jack also saw a more recent production in Moscow with Margo Lion a, producer of Hairspray. Jack realized what's in this story that people overlook: It’s a love story between a girl who has no experience whatsoever in love, and a man whose wife has died and has shut love out completely. They are total opposites, but they have that in common. The way Jack has directed this, audiences are like, 'Whoa. Wow. OK. I hadn't realized that.’

    John Moore: How are the songs different?

    Ted Chapin: Movie fans think of Do-Re-Mi as that lovely song where they romp all around the Alps and ride on bicycles by the side of the lake. But in the stage show, these kids are unhappy. They don't like having new governesses, and they are going to test this one. So the song Do-Re-Mi starts with these kids ready to destroy Maria, just like they have destroyed them all. But instead, in te stage show, this is the moment when the kids bond with Maria. So you need to start with the kids as little monsters, and slowly, by the end of the song, they are actually getting along. That’s when you start to think this could actually work out. I am telling you, Jack has been so smart about he decisions he made for this production.

    John Moore: So I want to get your take on this story: It’s more than 10 years ago. I am the theatre critic at The Denver Post, and I review a production of The Sound of Music at a local dinner theatre. I mention that, for whatever reason, they skip over the wedding scene entirely. And I mentioned that, for potential audiences who might be expecting one. So a day after the review is published, I am told, this theatre had receives a letter from R&H attorneys essentially saying: “Put the wedding back in, or you lose your rights. And within 24 hours, they rehearse the scene and get new more costumes and the wedding scene is back in. Tell me from the R&H point of view about the need to stay true to the story as written – and licensed?

    A Sound of Music Ted Chapin quote 2Ted Chapin: Well, first: I honor you for having said what you did in the review. I don't like doing that. But if people don't behave right, that’s something you have to do. There are theatres around the world that feel whatever script you get from a licensing house is just a blueprint for you to go off and create whatever you want. I always say to these companies from the very beginning, 'Please - no surprises.' If that theatre had called me, that would at least have started a dialogue. We got a request just last week from a production of The King & I that said they do not want a child to play the Buddha in  The Small House of Uncle Thomas ballet because the choreographer feels it's disrespectful to have a child pretending to be Buddha. Their position was so clearly stated and passionately expressed that it was a very easy thing for me to say, 'By all means. Don't have a child play the Buddha.' In the big picture, that is not going to take anything away from anything. I would so much rather be in that situation than be surprised. I grew up in the theatre. I respect what goes on there. But it's our reputation on the line there.

    (Pictured above right: Kerstin Anderson as 'Maria Rainer' in 'The Sound of Music.' Photo by Matthew Murphy.)

    John Moore: I want to ask you about R&Hs commitment to high-school theatre, which is obviously a huge part of your operation.

    Ted Chapin: Yes. I am a firm believer that the earlier you can ‘get’ people, the better. We have embraced the ‘Broadway Junior’ program that MTI started. There was a fear when we started doing student versions that if people can do these shows in grade schools, they won't be interested in doing the full production later on. But exactly the opposite has happened. It has proven to be really interesting. People want to know what was cut - and then they want to do the uncensored version as soon as they can.

    John Moore: So for people who hear The Sound of Music is coming town and say, 'I love that show, but I don't need to see it again’ … why do they need to see it again?

    Ted Chapin: Because it is the best-directed production of The Sound of Music you are ever going to see. When this tour started in Los Angeles, one critic pointed out that when Maria sang the lyric, 'I come to the hills when my heart is lonely' ... in the very first song, that critic wrote: 'She looked troubled.' And for the first time I thought, 'Oh, wait a minute. There is reason this young postulant is alone on the top of a hill. In the stage version, she doesn't twirl. Because while the twirl is all about a helicopter effect. And while that is a brilliant way to begin the movie, it’s not a brilliant way to open the stage production. Because that’s not the kind of emotion she's in. Every decision Jack makes is simply to make clear what's going on in the story. So people who know and love it are in for a bit of surprise, because there are things to be discovered that are kind of wonderful. It’s like revisiting an old friend whose clothes are different. 

    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.

    Our The Sound of Music Photo Gallery:

    The Sound of Music
    Photos by Matthew Murphy. To see more, click the forward arrow in the image above.

    The Sound of Music:
    Ticket information

    June 21-26
    Buell Theatre
    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    Groups: Call 303-446-4829
    ASL interpreted, Audio Described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m., June 25

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of The Sound of Music

    The Real Von Trapps and the sound of freedom

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

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