• 2017 True West Awards: Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill

    by John Moore | Dec 30, 2017
    2017 True West Awards The Breakouts  Jeremy Rill Steven J. Burge

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 30: The Breakouts

    Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill


    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Steven J. Burge and Jeremy Rill are very different performers. Think Sean Hayes and Frank Sinatra. Burge will shock you into gut-busting laughter, while Rill will make you swoon. If Burge is the flamboyant life of the party, then Rill is more, say … sunset on the beach.

    “If there is a spectrum,” said director and actor Robert Michael Sanders, "those two are on the opposite ends of it.”

    The comedian and the crooner.

    Steven J Burge and Jeremy Rill But these two emerging actors have far more in common than you might think. Both had big-time breakout years on Denver stages in 2017 — and both were separately described as “the nicest guy in Denver theatre” in interviews for this very story.

    Something's gotta give.

    Steven Cole Hughes, Burge’s castmate in the Denver Center’s extended hit comedy An Act of God, goes so far as to declare with dead-on eye contact that “Steven Burge is the nicest guy working in the American theatre today. Period.”

    Even Hughes’ 2-year-old daughter, Birdie, backed her father up.

    “Hey Birdie, who is this?” Hughes said, pointing to a poster for An Act of God. The child’s face immediately lit up. She pointed to a photo of Burge playing no less than God Himself, and she declared enthusiastically: “Steven!”

    “She’s 2,” Hughes reiterated. “Even the 2-year-olds love Steve Burge.”

    That’s high praise (or short praise, come to think of it) for Burge, who has been working his way up to this moment with one joyful performance after another since moving from Iowa in 2003, most often in extroverted comic roles. Highlights have included playing Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors and conquering the epic challenge of playing 40 roles in the one-man comedy Fully Committed. In 2012, Westword’s Juliet Wittman flatly declared, “Steve Burge is one of the funniest actors anywhere.”

    Says his friend and fellow actor Shannan Steele: “I love watching him delight in making others happy.”

    But Burge’s body of work has revealed far greater range and uncommon emotional honesty in stagings such as Dog Sees God at The Avenue Theater (I called him "triumphant" in The Denver Post) and Curious Theatre’s Speech and Debate. No matter how big the character Burge is called upon to play, “you always know there's a real and very interesting person underneath," Wittman wrote.

    (Story continues after the photo.)

    Steven J. Burge United in Love Photo by John Moore
    Steven J. Burge co-hosted the 'United in Love' benefit concert with Eden Lane that raised $40,000 for The Denver Actors Fund.  Photo by John Moore.


    But Burge’s steady career trajectory took a turn for the skyward late last year when he was hired by Director Geoffrey Kent to be the understudy for An Act of God, a pointed social comedy in which God comes down to Earth in human form to set the record straight about the misguided ways in which we sometimes act in God’s name. When Broadway and TV star Wesley Taylor’s contract expired, the Denver Center did not seek out a similarly big-named national replacement. It already had Burge, who smoothly ascended to Almighty status for what turned into an extended run at the Galleria Theatre. The role called on all of Burge’s comic skills, as well as his uncommon gift to make people listen and laugh, even when they might not like what he is telling them. Burge had An Act of God audiences eating out of his holy goblet.

    To say that Burge made an impression in his Denver Center debut would be an understatement.

    “Steven has spot-on comic timing, a fantastic voice and the best rehearsal attitude and esprit de corps I know of,” said Kent. “He improves the quality of everything he touches.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    A few months later, Director Ray Roderick punched Burge's ticket for an immediate return trip to the Galleria Theatre in the musical comedy First Date. Gigs at the Galleria are considered jackpot jobs among local actors because they generally come with a minimum six-month contract.

    Burge plays many characters in First Date, most notably the quintessential gay best friend of a young woman who’s just starting to brave the dating pool. The reason Burge succeeds at taking such a stock character and making him meaningfully connect with an audience, says Steele, is his willingness to bring his authentic self to all his roles.

    “The thing you need to know about Steven is that just beneath his hilarious and charming exterior is a beautifully tender, vulnerable, compassionate and generous person,” she said.

    “Steven is the opposite of an old soul. He is brand new to his world ... and his childlike wonder and joy are palpable.”

    800 Red Hot and Cole Cherry Creek Theatre Jeremy Rill Phot by Olga LopezHe’s now being rewarded for paying his many dues, and everyone agrees — it could not be happening to a nicer guy. For years, Burge has been known for saying yes to anyone who asks for his time and talents. This year, he co-hosted a benefit concert at the Lone Tree Arts Center that netted $40,000 for the Denver Actors Fund, and Miscast 2017 at the Town Hall Arts Center, which raised $7,000 more. He also has kept the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards buzzing along since 2012 with his unpredictable comic energy as co-host with GerRee Hinshaw.

    "To me, Burge encapsulates the heart and soul of the Denver theatre community,” Kent said. “He volunteers for almost every arts organization I can list. If Denver were to elect a ‘Theatre Ambassador,’ he would have my vote.”

    Also receiving votes for Nicest Guy in Denver Theatre would be Jeremy Rill, an Arkansas native who already was a big deal in the lofty Chicago theatre scene when he moved to Colorado for love. And it didn’t take long for people to notice.

    “It's that voice,” said his frequent director, Kelly Van Oosbree. “The richness and his absolute control of it is remarkable. The first time I heard Jeremy open his mouth, I said, ‘This guy is going to be big.’ You just can’t deny that voice.”

    Coming Sunday: 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year

    The Performance Now Theatre Company in Lakewood was the first Colorado company to catch wise, casting Rill in the regional premiere of Jane Eyre (Edward Rochester), Guys and Dolls (Sky Masterson) and Ragtime (Younger Brother). By then it was becoming pretty obvious to anyone within earshot that Rill was going to be a man in demand this year.

    Jeremy Rill Miscast Photo by John MooreA lot more people know “that voice” after it opened up and sang for the first time on four different metro stages this year. Rill started out playing no less than Cole Porter himself in the Cherry Creek Theatre Company’s Red, Hot and Cole at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, landing quite cozily among a star-filled cast that included Steele alongside local big-shots Seth Dhonau and Lauren Shealy (both now co-starring with Burge in First Date), Damon Guerasio, Stephen Day, Matt LaFontaine, Sharon Kay White and several others.

    Rill then earned karma points for life when he was asked to join the ensemble of the Arvada Center’s Jesus Christ Superstar after the actor playing Judas had to leave the show for medical reasons. That set off casting dominoes that ended with Rill stepping onto one of the biggest theatre stages in the state a mere four hours before the first performance in front of an audience.

    There’s a reason Arvada Center director Rod Lansberry turned to Rill, whom he had never before cast, when the chips were down, Van Oosbree said. It’s that Sinatra cool.

    “If someone ever asked me to do something like that, I would have said, ‘No, thanks,’ ” Van Oosbree said. “But Rod knew Jeremy could handle the pressure. And he did.”

    That may be one reason karma has smiled back on Rill, who will return to Performance Now to play Cinderella’s prince in Into the Woods opening Jan. 5 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. He then joins the cast of the Arvada Center’s Sunday in the Park with George — and on the first day of rehearsal this time. Rill will play Louis, fiancé of the model who attracts the eye of an artist based on Georges Seurat.

    Superstar led to the 2017 performance that will put Rill on every director’s radar – and wish list — for years to come. Van Oosbree tapped Rill to head another dauntingly loaded ensemble in Stephen Sondheim’s Company for the Aurora Fox that included Shealy, Heather Lacy, Lindsey Falduto, Carolyn Lohr, Rebekah Ortiz, Heather Doris and many others.

    (Story continues below the video.)


    Video bonus: Jeremy Rill performs 'Everybody's Girl' at Miscast 2017:




    You knew going in that Rill would bring any production of Company to a thunderous finish with his take on the forceful ballad “Being Alive.” But what separates a good Company from a great one is an actor who understands that Bobby’s journey is a serious rumination on the relative pros and cons of choosing a married or solitary life. Rill allowed himself to get fully lost in his journey — which at times meant going inside and checking out from the Aurora Fox audience altogether.

    Turns out, as Van Oosbree plainly puts it: Jeremy Rill is not just another pretty voice.

    “He’s also a really good actor,” she said. “He found the vulnerable in Bobby and the underlying pain that I think sometimes goes missing in other performances. The easy thing would be to make Bobby a fun, jovial bachelor, but that’s just not who this man is. Jeremy was clever and he was sexy and he was charming and he was cynical and he was sad. He was all the things. He just killed it.”

    Wrote Ramsey Scott for the Aurora Sentinel: “Jeremy Rill nails the mix of aloofness and emotional despair that plagues his character throughout the show and matches it with a voice that deserves to be the center of attention.”  Added Wittman for Westword: "Jeremy Rill has a richly melodious and supple voice that’s sheer pleasure to listen to."

    Norell Moore by Jeremy RillAnd Rill’s artistry, by the way, is not limited to the stage. He’s also a disarmingly effective portrait photographer who is known for bringing out an astonishing clarity of character in a single frame. Look no further than his revealing portrait of fellow actor Norrell Moore (right) soon after she started chemotherapy for breast cancer.

    “I mean this as no disrespect to any other photographer,” said Sanders. “But if you put 100 random actor headshots in a pile in front of me, I could easily pick out the ones taken by Jeremy because he has such a distinctive style behind the camera. He just has a way of making actors look their best. Maybe it’s because he’s one of them. But somehow he manages to put a sparkle in the eye of every single person he photographs.”

    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 

    Steven J. Burge: 2017
    • The Almighty in DCPA Cabaret’s First Date
    • Co-Host, United in Love benefit concert
    • Co-Host, Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards
    • Co-Host, Miscast 2017
    • Multiple roles in DCPA Cabaret’s First Date

    Jeremy Rill: 2017
    • Man 1 (Cole Porter) in Cherry Creek Theatre’s Red, Hot and Cole
    • Ensemble in Arvada Center’s Jesus Christ Superstar
    • Aurora Fox’s Company
    • Emile de Becque in Platte Valley Players' South Pacific (concert version)
    • Performed in Miscast 2017 for the Denver Actors Fund

    Steven J Burge GerRee Hinshaw 2017 Henry Awards BLF Photography
    Steven J. Burge and GerRee Hinshaw co-hosting the 2017 Henry Awards. BLF Photography.


    About The True West Awards: '30 Days, 30 Bouquets'

    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore's daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

     

  • 2017 True West Award: Lauren Shealy

    by John Moore | Dec 16, 2017
    Lauren Shealy True West Award Photo by Emily Lozow

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 16: Lauren Shealy

    Lone Tree Arts Center
    Aurora Fox
    Denver Center for the Performing Arts

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The thing Lauren Shealy brought to Evita was teeth.

    The thing she brought to Company was … passive-aggressive karate.

    The thing she brought to First Date was … dead Grandma Ida. Oh, and Google Girl.

    The thing Shealy brings to every role she plays is her depth of feeling as both an actor and as a human being on this planet.

    Lauren Shealy Quote True West AwardShealy is an accomplished, homegrown actress and vocalist who is as adept at playing comedy as she is the most ambitious woman in history. (Broadway history at least!) Her résumé is impeccable, with more than 20 years of knockout performances around the country including a national tour of South Pacific, off-Broadway and multiple productions at the Denver Center and throughout the Denver area. Shealy is a Littleton native who can be the picture of 1940s elegance one minute — and rip her shirt open the next.

    Shealy first came to the Denver Center for its 2011 production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and returned for The Doyle and Debbie Show, Forbidden Broadway, A Christmas Carol, Sweeney Todd and now, the new musical comedy First Date.

    But the role that changed her life is the one that also changed her as a performer: Motherhood. Having a child left her raw, she says, and yet more brave. “My heart underwent profound renovations,” she said. “The current model has no walls, many doors – and seriously leaky faucets. Every day I wrestle with a delightful and terrifying mix of fear, love and humility.”

    It’s no coincidence then that the newly leaking, vulnerable, karate-chopping Shealy just knocked three consecutive and very different roles right out of the park. This year she headlined a high-profile production of Evita at the Lone Tree Arts Center alongside a primarily New York ensemble and not only held her own, she had the trailing masses both onstage and in the audience pawing at her fur. It was a gutsy portrayal of a legendary figure whose disputed legacy remains passionately divided 65 years after her death.

    Opening yourself up so fully can both make an actor better, and leave her utterly vulnerable. It’s done both to Shealy.

    “Encountering my best and worst self also has invited me to look at my stage characters differently,” she said. “I have more empathy for them and less judgment. When I look at Eva Peron, for instance, I don’t see a power-hungry manipulator of men. I see a passionate woman who wants to matter; wants to be loved. I see a fighter who uses street sense, wiles and alliances to gain the mobility she needs to realize her dreams.”

    Our full interview with Evita star Lauren Shealy

    Director Gina Rattan believes the real Eva, at her best, was a woman not all that dissimilar to Shealy. “Eva was giving, purposeful and driven,” Rattan said. “She wanted what was best for her fellow man. She stood behind her word and her deeds.”

    Lauren Shealy True West Aeard Lone Tree EvitaThe downfall of many a portrayal of Evita has been presenting the ruthless First Lady with perhaps too much sympathy. Shealy bared both her fangs and her heart, which is what Rattan said made Shealy “a dream” to work with — the very same word First Date Director Ray Roderick separately chose to describe Shealy.

    “Not only is Lauren effortlessly talented and effervescently positive, she has the discipline of a drill sergeant,” Rattan said. “I admire Lauren’s generosity of spirit, shimmering voice and her ability to bring searing truth to even the smallest moments.” 

    (Pictured: The money kept rolling in for Lauren Shealy and Miles Jacoby in Lone Tree Arts Center's 'Evita.' Below: Shealy and Kyle D. Steffen as Sarah and Harry in the Aurora Fox's 'Company.' Photo by Jeremy Rill — who also played Bobby.)

    Shealy followed Evita with an all-star production of Company at the Aurora Fox. That’s Stephen Sondheim’s melancholy musical rumination on the relative merits of solitude versus coupling. Surrounding bachelor Bobby (played by a terrific Jeremy Rill) are five married couples who unknowingly make strong cases for either life direction.

    Lauren Shealy Kyle Steffen Company Aurora Fox Photo by Jeremy Rill Photography Shealy played Sarah, a wife who is deluding herself with food, opposite a husband (Kyle D. Steffen) who is deluding himself about booze. The two walked a very thin tonal line between playful and pathos when they finally broke into a comically antagonistic display of the marital martial arts.

    Then came her current, long-term commitment to First Date, a musical comedy that explores the common pitfalls and pratfalls of contemporary dating, all in one pair’s first blind date. Shealy’s task is to play all the voices inside the dating woman’s head, real or imagined.

    First Date reunites Shealy with Roderick, her director on the daddy of all relationship musical comedies, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Roderick seeks out only the very best actors he can find, but he also proudly espouses choosing actors who show a kind generosity of spirit — actors like Shealy.

    “Lauren is as stunning and engaged in the process as she is onstage,” Roderick said. “She is a true pro with extraordinary range, and a dream to work with." (There’s that word again.)

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Actor Seth Dhonau has witnessed Shealy’s impressive range first-hand this year as her castmate in both Evita and First Date.

    denver-center_first-date_photo-by-emily-lozow lauren shealy“Working with Lauren, one can't help but strive to match the professionalism and preparation she so effortlessly brings to her roles,” Dhonau said. “Imbuing a performance with Lauren's positivity and energy is no small feat, and we're all so lucky to share the stage with her.”

    Audiences may not recognize the steely Argentinian in the taunting, imaginary ex-girlfriend Shealy portrays in First Date. And there’s no bigger compliment to Shealy, Rattan said.

    “I truly don’t know if there is anything she can’t do,” she said.

    (Pictured above right: Seth Dhonau, Steven J. Burge and Lauren Shealy in DCPA Cabaret's 'First Date.' Photo by Emily Lozow.)

    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.

    Lauren Shealy 2017: 

    • Evita in Evita, Lone Tree Arts Center
    • Sarah in Company, Aurora Fox
    • Woman I (six roles) in First DateDCPA Cabaret

    About The True West Awards: '30 Days, 30 Bouquets'
    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. 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. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

  • Colorado Fall Theatre Preview: 'The Mystery of Love and Sex' and 'Company'

    by John Moore | Sep 05, 2017
    For 10 days, the DCPA NewsCenter is offering not just 10 intriguing titles to watch on theatre stages throughout Colorado. This year we are expanding our preview by featuring 10 musicals AND 10 plays. Today is Day 6.

    PLAY OF THE DAY: Firehouse Theatre’s The Mystery of Love and Sex



    Featured actor in the video above: Suzanne Connors-Nepi

    • Sept. 9-Oct. 7
    • John Hand Theatre, 7653 E. 1st Place (former Lowry Air Force Base)
    A Suzanne Connors Nepi Firehouse 400303-562-3232 or go to firehousetheatercompany.com
    • Playwright: Bathsheba Doran
    • Director: Lorraine Scott

     

    The story: Now students at a southern college, Charlotte and Jonny have been friends since childhood. She’s Jewish, he’s Christian; he’s black, she’s white. Their differences intensify their connection until sexual desire complicates everything. Their relationship takes unexpected turns while Charlotte’s parents, who hold secrets and resentments of their own, keep watch.

    But what is it about? The Mystery of Love and Sex is a modern comic drama that explores the impact of racial and religious differences; sexuality, friendship and love; and the fluidity of identity. It is a story of discovery, alienation and ultimately, forgiveness. Audiences will reflect on how relationships affect the ways in which we come to terms with who we are. (Provided by Firehouse Theater Company.)


    Cast list:
    • Charlotte: Kristen Poole
    • Jonny: Johnathan Underwood
    • Howard: Joel Silverman
    • Lucinda: Suzanne Connors Nepi


    A Suzanne Connors Nepi Firehouse 610Clockwise from left: Joel Silverman, Johnathan Underwood and Kristen Poole and Suzanne Connors Nepi in rehearsal for Firehouse Theatre’s 'The Mystery of Love and Sex.' Photo by Christine Fisk.



    MUSICAL OF THE DAY: Aurora Fox's Company

    Featured actor in the video above: Jeremy Rill.


    • Sept. 22-Oct. 22
    • 9900 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora
    A Jeremy Rill 400Call 303-739-1970 or go to aurorafoxartscenter.org
    Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
    • Book by George Furth
    • Director and Choreographer: Kelly Van Oosbree
    • Andrew Fischer: Music Director

    • The story:
    On his 35th birthday, a perpetual bachelor named Bobby contemplates his unmarried state. Through a series of comical outings with pals and an especially anxious wedding, his friends explain the pros and cons of marriage and relationships. Bobby is forced to examine his adamant retention of bachelorhood during these hilarious arrays of social interactions.

    • But what is it about? Company is about relationships in all their oddball, loving and teeth-clenching glory. No person can escape a viewing of Company without seeing themselves portrayed on stage. Regardless of who you love, you are guaranteed to encounter your caricature head-on. The humor is sharp and the music is legendary, written by musical theatre’s greatest composer, Stephen Sondheim. (Provided by the Aurora Fox.)

    Cast list:
    Jeremy Rill: Bobby
    Lauren Shealy: Sarah
    Kyle Steffan: Harry
    Michelle Merz-Hutchinson: Susan
    Patrick McAleer: Peter
    Carolyn Lohr: Jenny
    Andy Sievers: David
    Rebekah Ortiz: Amy
    Timmie Antoine: Paul
    Heather Lacy: Joanne
    Frank Oden: Larry
    Lindsey Falduto: Marta
    Leiney Rigg: Kathy
    Heather Doris: April

    More creatives:
    • Jen Orf: Production Stage Manager
    Brandon Case: Technical Director and Scenic Designer
    Curt Behm: Sound Designer
    Brett Maughan: Lighting Designer

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Our complete 2017 Colorado Fall Theatre Preview:

    Day 1: Curious Theatre's Appropriate and BDT Stage's Rock of Ages
    Day 2: The Catamounts’ You on the Moors Now and Rocky Mountain Rep’s Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver
    Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre's General Store and Town Hall Arts Center's In the Heights
    Day 4: Avenue Theater’s My Brilliant Divorce and the Arvada Center’s A Chorus Line
    Day 5: Bas Bleu’s Elephant’s Graveyard and Evergreen Chorale’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame
    Day 6: Firehouse Theatre’s The Mystery of Love and Sex and the Aurora Fox’s ‘Company’
    Day 7: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s The Revolutionists and Off-Center’s The Wild Party
    Day 8: Lake Dillon Theatre Company's Pretty Fire and the Aurora Fox's Hi-Hat Hattie
    Day 9: Edge Theatre Company’s A Delicate Balance and Midtown Arts Center’s Once.
    Day 10:  Local Theater Company’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias and Thin Air Theatre Company’s The Toxic Avenger Musical



    This 2017 Colorado fall preview is compiled by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Senior Arts Journalist John Moore as a service to the Colorado theatre community. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011 and is the founder of The Denver Actors Fund.
  • Aurora Fox amping up musicals, diversity in 2017-18

    by John Moore | Jul 10, 2017

    Stew, right, the subject and star of the 2008 Broadway musical 'Passing Strange.' Photo by David Lee.
    Stew, right, was the subject and star of the 2008 Broadway musical 'Passing Strange.' Its first local production will be at the Aurora Fox. Photo by David Lee.

    Black, brown, white and transgendered voices will be represented in a lineup led by Passing Strange.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The Aurora Fox's ongoing commitment to bringing diversity to its stages was emphatically confirmed tonight with the announcement of the city-run company's 33rd season, which will include a record four mainstage musicals of all kinds and colors.

    A year after staging Porgy & Bess, Black Elk Speaks and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Fox will stage Hi-Hat Hattie, the story of the first black performer to win an Oscar; Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the cult classic tale of a failed transgender rock star; the Latina immigrant comedy-drama Real Women Have Curves; and the first local production of Passing Strange, an all-black underdog nominee for Broadway's 2008 Best Musical Tony Award.

    This is the Fox's first season announcement since the resignation of Executive Director Charlie Packard, who had led the Aurora Fox since 2009. Packard's duties have temporarily fallen to his former boss, Aurora Cultural Services Manager Gary Margolis, who is heading an ongoing search for Packard's replacement.

    Opening the season Sept. 22 will be Stephen Sondheim’s contemporary musical classic Company, winner of seven Tony Awards. That's the tuneful story of the bashful bachelor who's not getting married today, tomorrow, or maybe ever. 

    Anna HighThen comes Hi-Hat Hattie, a tour-de-force solo musical that will star Denver actor Anna High (The Color Purple and Porgy & Bess, pictured at right). Hattie McDaniel was the Denver native who broke down Hollywood barriers by winning the 1939 Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind. The Denver East grad battled segregation and racism her whole life, yet she was targeted by the NAACP for playing subservient roles, blacklisted by studios and abandoned by all those big-time white Hollywood stars she once bragged were her friends. We never even get to hear McDaniel’s famous mantra: “I’d rather play a maid for $700 a week than be one for $7.”

    The Aurora Fox's original 2004 production of Hi-Hat Hattie starring Sheryl Renee won a Denver Post Ovation Award.

    Read our interview with Hedwig co-creator Stephen Trask

    HedwigThen comes cult favorite musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the Latina immigrant comedy-drama Real Women Have Curves and, perhaps most daringly, the season-ending Passing Strange.

    (Pictured right: Euan Morton in the 2016 national touring production of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch.')

    Passing Strange and In the Heights made history in 2008 as the two all-minority musicals went toe-to-toe for the best-musical Tony Award. Passing Strange is the more groundbreaking and substantive of the two. It opens as a concert with a rousing funk band led by a writer and showman known simply as Stew, who asks us, “What do you do when you wake up, and your whole life has been based on the decision of a teenager — a stoned teenager?”

    As actors come and go in Spring Awakening-like Brechtian fashion, we go back to the tumultuous 1970s and retrace young Stew’s epic journey from the suburban comforts of Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin in search of “something more real than real.”

    But this is no nostalgia trip. It’s a difficult and meaningful odyssey about cultural identity and family that culminates as young Stew comes face-to-face with present-day Stew — and to terms with the unalterable cost his youthful narcissism has exacted from those he left behind. Passing Strange is catchy and cathartic performance art unlike anything Broadway has seen before. Spike Jones filmed the final Broadway performance and turned it into a 2009 concert film.

    (Story continues after the video.)

    Video excerpt: Passing Strange




    Denver's Su Teatro offered Real Women Have Curves in 2015, and Artistic Director Anthony Garcia said the play drew astronomical crowd counts. "The place was just packed all the time with heavily drinking women," he said with a laugh. Josefina Lopez's play is set in a tiny sewing factory in East Los Angeles in September 1987. Its women tell the Latina immigrant experience as they discuss their lives, desires and ambitions. The play was made into a movie in 2001 starring America Ferrera (Ugly Betty.)

    All of the Fox's season productions will take place on the 250-seat mainstage theatre. Next season will be the first at the Fox since the demise of Ignite Theatre, which rented both the Fox's mainstage and studio theatre for its offerings. But the vacancy has created for the company to present a new staging concept for its smaller studio theatre, which it is calling the Cabaret Series.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    "These will be one-off performances, such as you might see in New York City," said The Aurora Fox's Beau Bisson. One performer will be announced per weekend throughout the year, he said. The exact lineup will be rolled out as the season goes along, each about two months in advance of any appearance.

    "At this time, the Fox is holding off on future theatrical rentals until the new executive producer is in place and can weigh in on the direction of the rental program," Bisson said. "We are, however, available for smaller non-theatrical rentals such as film screenings, corporate meetings, parties, dance recitals and more."

    Another new feature for 2017-18 will Thursday night performances throughout the runs of  all mainstage shows.

    Aurora Fox 2017-18 mainstage season
    Sept. 22-Oct. 22, 2017: Company 
    Nov. 24-Dec. 23, 2017: Hi-Hat Hattie
    Jan. 19 - Feb. 10, 2018: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Feb. 23-March 18, 2018: Real Women Have Curves 
    April 13-May 13, 2018: Passing Strange
    Information: 303-739-1970 or AuroraFox.org
  • After Albee: America's 10 leading, living playwriting voices

    by John Moore | Feb 26, 2017
    Tony Kushner. Steven Barclay Agency.
    Photo: Steven Barclay Agency.


    When Edward Albee died last year, USA Today and Time Magazine were just two major publications that referred to the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner as “America’s greatest living playwright.” Which begged the question: America now turns its lonely eyes to … whom?”

    That’s the wrong word, of course – “greatest.” Playwriting is not a competitive sport. Substitute the words “most important” or “most influential,” and you have the seeds for a subjective dialogue on those voices who now bear the opportunity – and the burden – to tell the stories that will help audiences make sense of these newly unstable and uncertain times.  Nataki Garrett Quote

    The DCPA NewsCenter posed the “After Albee” question to a swath of local and national playwrights and industry professionals, and it should surprise no one that they believe the leading, living voice in the American theatre today is Tony Kushner. Not  even close.

    But the Top 10 names the survey yielded is a welcome indication that “the status quo is shifting,” said Nataki Garrett, the DCPA’s incoming Associate Artistic Director. The list, which not long ago might have consisted of nearly all white men, is evenly divided between male and female playwrights - even at a time when studies suggest as few as 25 percent of the plays staged in America today are written by women.

    The Top 10 includes not only Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel, Sarah Ruhl and avant-garde off-Broadway pioneer María Irene Fornés, but they are all writers who have in their own ways abandoned old-school literalism in their storytelling.

    Read John Moore's 2005 interview with Edward Albee

    “This list lets us know we’ve entered the 21st century, but we still have much work to do,” Garrett said. “There is not a trans writer in the Top 10, and there are not enough people of color. There is a greater complexity of voices in the American theatre out there.”

    It is notable that while an equal number of male and female theatre professionals were invited to participate in this survey, more men than women actually responded. And yet, the Top 10 still yielded five women. The panel includes playwrights Robert Schenkkan, Caridad Svich and Jason Grote; American Theatre Magazine editor Rob Weinert-Kendt; Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Artistic Director Wendy C. Goldberg, and resigning Denver Center Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson.

    The response to Albee’s death last year seemed to acknowledge a storytelling void in his wake. "But I believe us to be in a Golden Age of American playwriting,” said Goldberg, who championed, among others, Annie Baker and the emerging, 32-year-old African-American Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon).

    How I learned to Drive. Curious TheatreThe Top 10 also acknowledged established names that have dominated the American playwriting landscape for the past five decades - a wide range of voices and tones that spans the bittersweet nostalgic comedy of Neil Simon to the gleeful cruelty of David Mamet, who inspired a generation of followers who have reveled in the worst in human behavior. On the other end of the spectrum is Vogel, best known for her deeply human examination of family incest in How I Learned to Drive, but whose legacy will include her influence as a playwriting professor who has unleashed the boundary-bending creative freedom in two generations of students.

    Read John Moore's 2011 interview with Tony Kushner

    Simon’s place on the list, while obvious and necessary, surprised even some of those whose votes put him there. “I went back and forth over a 24-hour period and was actually very surprised to land on Neil Simon at the top,” said Denver playwright Jeffrey Neuman (Exit Strategies.) “But when you look at the depth, scope and breadth of Simon's career, his plays have had enormous impact and an immeasurable reach. Simon's plays are a part of our cultural consciousness in a way that virtually no other American playwright can claim today.”

    Angels in America. Bas Bleu OpenstageMost of those who placed Kushner at the top of the list did so in acknowledgement of his epic, angry, six-hour masterpiece Angels in America. Written in two parts and now, shockingly, 25 years old, Angels in America “put gay men at the center of American politics, history and mythology at a time when they were marginalized by the culture at large and dying in waves,” wrote Isaac Butler and Dan Kois for slate.com.

    In a 2011 interview, Curious Theatre founder Chip Walton told me what Kushner does better than anyone else is make the personal the political, and the political the personal. “So rather than sitting in a theater and listening to an ideological argument, he tells this deeply human story that is intricately interwoven with the politics at play,” Walton said, referring to Kushner's Homebody/Kabul. Kushner has always embraced the role of the playwright in the political discourse. Even back in 2011, he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever read about a time in human history as dangerous as this.”

    In that interview, which preceded a public appearance in Colorado Springs, I asked Kushner to assess the importance of the playwright, and he looked to the inherent, ephemeral nature of theatre itself. “When a production is done, it’s gone forever,” he said. “You can take pictures of it. You can make a film of it. But it’s not the production. It’s not the same thing. And yes, you can describe it, and you can read hopefully good criticism about it. But the thing itself is gone, and the only thing that remains behind is the Bible. The play. It’s what begins and it’s what endures. It’s the only fixed thing – to the extent that it is fixed.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Stephanie Prugh, recently the dramaturg for the DCPA Theatre Company’s The Glass Menagerie, said Kushner belongs at the top of her list because of his ability to create beautiful and epic plays that capture how humans struggle with prejudice, fear, longing and an innate need for love and acceptance in such an intimate and personal way.

    Tony Kushner Quote“I think sometimes I walk into the theatre longing to be reminded of our collective humanness, especially during these tumultuous times," said Prugh. "Kushner's body of work is challenging us on the most important topics. He never avoids difficult conversations, and he's asking that we not only remember what we are capable of as individuals, but as a collective - defined by the humanness he actively puts on the stage.” 

    Curious Theatre announced last week it will stage Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures next year as part of its 20th anniversary season.

    Asked his own opinion on America’s leading playwriting voices, Kushner pointed to Suzan-Lori Parks, calling her Top Dog/Underdog “completely in the tradition of a play like Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night."

    While this survey specifically sought “writers of plays,” it should be noted that several voters believe lyricists Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda deserve their places on the list - “by a factor of 10 billion,” said playwright Michael Mitnick (Ed, Downloaded).

    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.


    THE TOP 10 AT A GLANCE:

    Tony Kushner

    NUMBER 1Born: New York
    Age: 60
    Best-known work: Angels in America
    Published plays: 30
    He said it: “We’re living in an age right now where there is a problem in general with serious dramatic criticism, which I think is largely gone and has been replaced by a lot of consumer advocacy-type writing. It’s a problem because theater, given how cash-starved it is, is more vulnerable to the effects of newspaper criticism than something like film. Theater really gets damaged when there is a paucity of good criticism around.”
    Comment: "To me, the title of 'greatest living American playwright' should go to an artist whose work combines structural daring with rhetorical heft. His or her plays should be aesthetically thrilling and intellectually stimulating in equal degree, and they should also be possessed of something mysterious - some pulse of life that we can feel without quite being able to name. Tony Kushner's plays [and musical books] epitomize all those qualities. His work can be savored purely for its aesthetics, yet for anyone trying to think big thoughts about America, it's also an indispensable companion. Plus, one always gets the sense of something bigger lurking just outside his scripts, waiting for us to grasp it. It's exhilarating." – Mark Blankenship, Theatre Development Fund

     


    Sam ShepardSam Shepard

    NUMBER 2Born: Fort Sheridan, Ill.
    Age: 73
    Best-known work: Buried Child
    Published plays: 62
    He said it: “The funny thing about having all this so-called success is that behind it is a certain horrible emptiness.”
    Comment: "Shepard’s dramatic world often takes on the struggles of manhood and is peopled with derelict, disappointed somnambulists: Unmoored souls who form a kind of tribe of the living dead, deracinated men trying to escape a sense of shame that they only vaguely understand. They recede from family, from society, and, through drink, from themselves.” John Lahr, The New Yorker (from his essay here)


    lynn nottageLynn Nottage
    NUMBER 3Born: Brooklyn
    Age: 52
    Best-known work: Ruined
    Published plays: 22
    She said it: "I always thought of my mother as a warrior woman, and I became interested in pursuing stories of women who invent lives in order to survive."
    Comment: “For 30 years, Lynn Nottage has written quality plays from an African-American perspective that are socially important and appeal to wide audiences. I would say she is the successor to August Wilson in that regard.” - DCPA Director of New Play Development Douglas Langworthy. Playwright Michael Mitnick calls Nottage “the inheritor of Paula Vogel and John Guare.”


    Suzan-Lori ParksSuzan-Lori Parks
    NUMBER 4Born: Fort Knox, Ky.
    Age: 53
    Best-known work: Top Dog/Underdog
    Published plays: 19
    She said it: “I don't care what anybody says. Stick to the spirit of the play and you're doing it right. It's about embracing the spirit of the text instead of noodling some idea about things.
    Comment: “As with Caryl Churchill, one doesn’t know what to expect next from her. She can be playful, serious, and theatrical all at the same time. She is bold. She has a lot of plays left to write and she has remained loyal to the theater.” Playwright Rogelio Martinez.
    And another: "Parks brilliantly and unapologetically revises history, revealing the ways in which the personal truly is political. Her plays are delightfully irreverent, keenly subversive, radiant, hilarious, heartbreaking and ultimately very, very important." Emily K. Harrison, founder, square product theatre company


    Neil SimonNeil Simon
    NUMBER 5Born: The Bronx, N.Y.
    Age: 89
    Best-known work: The Odd Couple
    Published plays: 34
    He said it: “All comedy is based on hostility.”
    Comment: “Neil Simon. Yeah, I said it. (Bleep) everyone who disagrees. Comedy is an art, and he is the most popular artist of his generation and beyond because his comedy is foundational and spot-on. Humans love it. Not snobby-smart humans. Humans. That is my statement.” Denver actor Michael Bouchard



    Paual_VogelPaula Vogel
    NUMBER 6Born: Washington, D.C.
    Age: 65
    Best-known work: How I Learned to Drive
    Published plays: 15
    She said it: “The theatre is now so afraid to face its social demons that we've given that responsibility over to film. But it will always be harder to deal with certain issues in the theatre. The live event - being watched by people as we watch - makes it seem all the more dangerous.”
    Comment: “The woman is a lot like her plays: Fun to listen to, tough, relentlessly friendly, and more than a little bit twisted. Paula also holds something back, as her plays do so brilliantly. An unreadable smile, a demon or two, a voice that cracks from pain and then recovers; enigmas, left for her audience to explore or not.” – Actor Mary Louise Parker (in an interview here)


    Sarah RuhlSarah Ruhl
    NUMBER 7Born: Wilmette, Ill.
    Age: 42
    Best-known work: The Clean House
    Published plays: 19
    She said it: “Theatre is, at its roots, some very brave people mutually consenting to a make-believe world, with nothing but language to rest on.”
    Comment: "Sarah Ruhl she knows that childhood shapes world events with a vengeance, even among the powerful. More, she is a deeply literary writer, and what this gentle literary pilferer peruses, she uses. She reads Shakespeare and re-dreams his romances; she reads Woolf and time travels with Orlando. She makes a play from the letters of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. – Todd London, Executive Director of the University of Washington's School of Drama (from his essay here)


     

    MariaIreneFornesMaría Irene Fornés
    NUMBER 8Born: Cuba
    Age: 86
    Best-known work: And What of the Night?
    Published plays: 45
    You should know: Fornés is a Cuban-American avant-garde playwright and director who was a leading figure of the Off-Off Broadway movement in the 1960s. Fornés' themes focused on poverty and feminism, and lesbian identity has been central to her art.
    Comment: “María Irene Fornés is a rough contemporary to Albee who created a new kind of visceral and feminist language for the stage, writing drama as if she'd just landed from another planet and was handed a few random pages of Ibsen and Chekhov.” – playwright Jason Grote, ‘1001’


     

    David MametDavid Mamet
    NUMBER 9Born: Chicago
    Age: 69
    Best-known work: Glengarry Glen Ross
    Published plays: 104
    He said it: “Nobody cares what you feel.”
    Comment: “The master provocateur is infuriatingly brilliant, having spent the majority of his career honing a peculiar, cruel adeptness for showing men and women at their most amoral and violent. His world is a vulgar wasteland devoid of ethics and compassion, but there is an undeniably rhythmic intoxication to his dialogue.” – DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore



    David Lindsay-AbaireDavid Lindsey-Abaire

    NUMBER 10Born: Boston
    Age: 47
    Best-known work: Rabbit Hole
    Published plays: 18
    He said it: “Look, writing Rabbit Hole came out of an interest in diversifying my portfolio, frankly.”
    Comment: “Rabbit Hole is the most perfect play I know of by a living playwright. It strikes the utmost balance between pathos and progress as it examines the relationships of all those left behind after the child's death.” – playwright Leslie C. Lewis



    PRAISE FOR OTHER AMERICAN PLAYWRIGHTS:
    (in alphabetical order)

    Lee Blessing
    “Lee Blessing is, in my opinion, the best-kept secret in American theatre. He has written more plays than Shakespeare and is produced all over the country. His plays are always about something. He has said, ‘The purpose of theater is to shake you up, not give you a warm glow. That's the job of the circus.’ His plays make me think, let me grow and develop as a human being.” - Director Christy Montour-Larson

    Stephen Adly Guirgis
    “I feel strongly that any ‘great’ American playwright should know how to capture the complex and vibrant voices of a diverse America. I fear that many great playwrights get overlooked because they don't consistently write stories from a cultural point of view that is shared by the theatre-patron majority. With Guirgis, I feel there's a vibrancy and cultural complexity to his work that captures America. And as an actor, I love the visceral tensions that fill the souls and words of his characters." - Regan Linton, Artistic Director and Acting Executive Director, Phamaly Theatre Company

    Arthur Kopit
    "He’s had a long career and written some incredible plays. What makes him special is you just don’t know what he’ll write next. Wings, Indians and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, are all classics. The Road to Nirvana has not been seen by enough people, but it’s funny and vicious as all hell. People forget that a lot of his plays are a response to the times he was living in when he wrote them." - ‘Blind Date’ Playwright Rogelio Martinez

    Tarell Alvin McCraney
    "I put Tarell on my list because he's doing something so new and different. He is telling important and intriguing stories for the African-American communities as well as the LGBTQ world. But he is still so young. I think, if he continues to be so prolific, he will be the greatest." - Josh Hartwell, Dramatists Guild

    Terrence McNally
    "My vote is for longevity, continuity, diversity of subject matter, openly addressing homosexuality and the AIDS crisis, working in both straight-play and musical genres, and general intelligence, wit and social criticism. But I vote for McNally especially for Master Class." - DCPA Literary Associate Chad Henry

    Lin-Manuel Miranda
    "Lin-Manuel Miranda is reinventing the American theatre in an unprecedented way. 'Greatest playwright since Shakespeare' is a bit premature, but I hope it ends up being true." - Steve Wilson, Mizel Arts and Cultural Center Executive Director 

    Stephen Sondheim
    “Time will accurately lump him with Mozart and Shakespeare. (And yet, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.)" - Playwright Michael Mitnick

    And another: "Sondheim is, in fact, the greatest theatrical voice alive today." - Blind Date playwright Rogelio Martinez


    THE VOTING PANEL:

    • Mark Blankenship, Theatre Development Fund
    • Michael Bouchard, Denver actor and writer
    • Ben Dicke, Theatre Department Chair at The Chicago Academy for the Arts
    • Brian Freeland, New York writer and director
    • Wendy C. Goldberg, Artistic Director, Eugene O'Neill Theater Center
    • Jason Grote, playwright
    • Emily K. Harrison, square product theatre company founder
    • Josh Hartwell, playwright, Dramatists Guild
    • Chad Henry, playwright, DCPA Literary Associate
    • Douglas Langworthy, DCPA Director of New Play Development
    • Leslie C. Lewis, playwright
    • Regan Linton, actor, Phamaly Theatre Company Artistic Director and Acting Executive Director
    • Ina Marlowe, director
    • Rogelio Martinez, playwright
    • Melissa Lucero McCarl, playwright
    • Timothy McCracken, actor, DCPA Education Head of acting
    • Charlie Miller, DCPA Associate Artistic Director for Strategy and Innovation
    • Michael Mitnick, playwright
    • Christy Montour-Larson, director
    • Jeffrey Neuman, playwright
    • Bev Newcomb, director
    • Stephanie Prugh, dramaturg
    • Robert Schenkkan, playwright
    • Howard Sherman, Director at Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School for Drama
    • Philip Sneed, Arvada Center Executive Director
    • Octavio Solis, playwright
    • Caridad Svich, playwright
    • Kent Thompson, DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director
    • Diep Tran, American Theatre Magazine
    • Allison Watrous, DCPA Director of Education
    • Rob Weinert-Kendt, Editor, American Theatre Magazine
    • Edith Weiss, actor, director, playwright
    • Rebecca Weitz, Managing Director, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • Stephen Weitz, Producing Ensemble Director, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, playwright
    • Steve Wilson, Executive Director, Mizel Arts and Culture Center


    Selected previous coverage of the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit:
    Summit stands in thanks to departing founder Kent Thompson
    2017 Summit welcomes dozens for opening rehearsal
    Summit Spotlight: Robert Schenkkan on the dangers of denial
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Summit Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide
    Summit Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays on the aftermath of trauma
    Summit Spotlight: Eric Pfeffinger on the fertile comedy of a divided America
    Record four student writers to have plays read at Summit
    DCPA completes field of five 2017 Summit playwrights

  • 2016 True West Award: Matthew Campbell

    by John Moore | Dec 23, 2016
    True West Awards Matthew Campbell

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 23: Matthew Campbell

    August Wilson wrote Two Trains Running. Pshaw, two. As Production Stage Manager for Sweet and Lucky, the DCPA’s first deep dive into off-site adventure theatre, Matthew Campbell kept 20 trains running at once as the massive, elliptical story played out in all corners of a 16,000-square-foot warehouse north of downtown Denver.

    Sweet and Lucky was essentially performed by three sets of actors separately and simultaneously. That meant Campbell had to manage 13 performers, six crew members and 72 audience members spread out in 20 smaller performing spaces. It was Campbell’s job to make sure all that constantly moving action never collided on the tracks.

    Check that. Campbell was the tracks.

    True West Awards Matthew Campbell Quote“When we were just beginning Sweet and Lucky, we knew that finding the right Stage Manager would be critical for the show’s success, because we have never attempted anything like this before,” said Charlie Miller, the DCPA’s Associate Artistic Director for Strategy and Innovation. In fact, this was the biggest physical undertaking in the DCPA’s nearly 40-year history.

    The original story, developed in partnership with New York's Third Rail Projects, is a mysterious exploration of memory that begins in a strange antique store where nothing is for sale. The audience is split into smaller groups and led into several different environments – a graveyard, a drive-in, a swimming hole and more – as they witness the relationship between one couple as it plays over several generations. But different audience members saw different actors tell that story, and in different orders. Thanks to the man behind the curtain, the audience never knew the other performances were even happening.

    True West Awards Matthew Campbell. Sweet and Lucky.“Not only did Matthew have to know where everyone was at any given moment, he had to know instantly what to do in any situation where something could go wrong,” Miller said. “If Matthew did not keep everything moving, the whole show might fall apart.”

    It never did. Not that there weren’t some close calls: Late-arriving patrons threw the entire machinery out of whack. Patrons gone rogue. Inevitable technical difficulties including overheating projectors and having to build emergency light cues in the makeshift performance space of a warehouse. Because the run was almost completely sold out and eventually extended several months, new cast members had to be rotated in. The job of any Production Stage Manager is to take cues from any given situation and react. What distinguishes Campbell is that he reacts quickly, kindly and decisively.

    “He is calm under pressure,” Miller said. “He was never fazed by the many unexpected challenges we faced throughout the process. He also made for such an incredibly positive and welcoming environment for all of the artists involved. We heard from so many cast members about how integral he was to the success of the show.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    One of those cast members was Meridith C. Grundei, who said Campbell was “beyond amazing” throughout the run. “He has a great temperament and a great sense of humor balanced with a professionalism in tense situations that put everyone at ease,” she said.

    Campbell was always the first to arrive and last to leave, and he rolled with every unexpected punch that came his way.  After the show’s first two-show Saturday, for example, Campbell waited with a member of the bar staff who was stuck at the warehouse past midnight waiting for an Uber car ride that never arrived. Eventually, Campbell gave her a ride himself. That meant Campbell didn’t get home to his wife and children until after 2 a.m. And yet, he was back at the warehouse at 9:15 the next morning to unlock the building and start another day. On schedule, as always.

    True West Awards Matthew Campbell Believe it or not, Sweet and Lucky has been made into a graphic novel. (Or at least the cover.) And if you look closely at the illustration to your right created by crew member Lauren LaCasse, who's the nerve center of Sweet and Lucky? It's the otherwise unseen Campbell.

    At one time, Campbell was a performer. While still a lad of Littleton High School, he was in the the ensemble of a production of Story Theatre that christened the Dorie Theatre at what is now the Su Teatro Performing Arts Center.

    But over time, his passion took him backstage. One of his early career highlights was serving as Production Coordinator at the 2007 Colorado Festival of World Theatre, an international event that drew Stephen Sondheim, Patti Lupone, Marin Mazzie, Donna McKechnie and other greats to Colorado Springs.

    Campbell has now been a Production Stage Manager with the DCPA Theatre Company for seven seasons. Recent credits include As You Like It, Lord of the Flies and Other Desert Cities.

    But DCPA Associate Production Manager Melissa Cashion says hiring Campbell to be the Stage Manager for Sweet & Lucky “was about the best hire I have ever made in my career.”

    And like many of those who serve in the always invisible and often thankless job of Stage Manager, Cashion said Campbell is an unspoken hero of the DCPA. 

    Photo gallery: Sweet and Lucky

    Sweet & Lucky

    Photos from Off-Center's production of 'Sweet and Lucky' in a RiNo warehouse north of downtown. To see more, click the 'forward' arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams VisCom.


    Matthew Campbell/At a glance

    • High school: Littleton
    • College: Graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with an emphasis in Technical Theatre, Directing and Acting
    • College: Masters degree in Theatre Arts with an emphasis in Stage Management from the University of Iowa
    • Stage Manager or Assistant Stage Manager for the DCPA Theatre Company since 2010
    • Other local experience: Colorado Shakespeare Festival (2013-15); Arvada Center (2007-13); Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (2008-10); Country Diner Playhouse (2003-07)


    Video bonus: An introduction to Sweet and Lucky:



    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. 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. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride
  • Debby Boone takes a wicked turn 'Into the Woods'

    by John Moore | May 18, 2016
    Debby Boone Candlelight Dinner Playhouse Into the Woods

    Iconic 1970s pop singer Debby Boone plays The Witch in Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's 'Into the Woods' through June 5.


    Debby Boone, the singer who lit up the 1970s with the biggest-selling hit of the decade, has spent much of her adult life playing against type. She toyed with her wholesome image by playing the promiscuous Rizzo in a Broadway revival of Grease. At the height of her pop popularity, she switched over to country music. And now she's in Johnstown to play the misunderstood Witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

    Debby Boone? A witch?

    “Yeah, I think this is the furthest from type I have gone so far,” Boone said with a laugh while preparing for tonight’s opening in Johnstown, located 40 miles north of Denver. “Playing Rizzo was a blast for me. And it was scary as all get-out to go out and do that on a Broadway stage. But this is so much more challenging.”

    Debby Boone Quote Into the woods CandlelightAnd she’s the first to admit: When she got the call asking her to join the company in Colorado, “My jaw hit the floor like everybody else,” she said.

    But this isn’t your typical stunt casting. While Boone is not a formally trained classical singer, she’s got training in her DNA. Her maternal grandfather is country music star Red Foley. And her father, Pat Boone, was second only to Elvis Presley in record sales in the late 1950s. Debby Boone began touring in gospel shows with her parents at age 14 along with her three sisters. The deeply religious Boones were essentially America's Von Trapps.

    Debby made her Broadway debut in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1982 and has performed around the world in productions of The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Meet Me in St. Louis, Camelot and even Human Comedy by Galt MacDermot, the man behind Hair. At a proud 59, the pop star has more than credibly crossed over into musical theatre.

    But, c’mon. This is Sondheim.

    “Yes, and this is so much harder than anything I ever imagined,” said Boone, who deep down wanted nothing more than to bite into the juicy role of the infamous witch who is not good, not nice but rather – “I’m just right.” Still, the singer who sold 4 million singles in 1977 alone had a crisis of confidence when she was asked to take on the role The Witch.

    “Hey I know that, on many levels, it's a stretch,” she admitted. “I asked myself, ‘Can I do this?’ Because honestly - it's really scary.”

    Boone found the strength to say yes from two past experiences: One was when her famous father was turning 60 (as she will this coming September), and he starred in a production of The Will Rogers Follies, without any previous musical theatre experience. “He had to learn how to do all of those complicated rope tricks and other things that were so completely foreign to him,” Boone said. “All my life, I have watched him just fearlessly move into things he doesn't necessarily have the background for, but he just goes for the challenge.”

    The other was her own decision to play Rizzo in a 1996 Broadway revival of Grease. This wasn’t Boone’s first time on Broadway stage. After having toured Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for a year in preparation for Broadway, the show was savaged by the New York Times and closed after two weeks. Why would she open herself up to that kind of pain again?

    “Because the only reason not to do it would have been fear,” she said. “And I just don't want to live that way.”

    She ultimately said yes to Candlelight, she said, “because I really wanted to take this on as a challenge and as a growing experience. “

    Boone wasn’t nervous last month when she joined the 20-plus actors who had already been working on Into the Woods for a week before her arrival. She was terrified. Asked whether the locals geeked out just a little bit when Debby Boone first walked into the room, she said, “I think it was the other way around. I was shaking in my boots with intimidation.

    “Listen, I have had many opportunities to do musicals, but I always come in feeling like I am the odd man out, because it's true,” she said. “I don't have training. I never went to a college that has a music program. I've hardly studied voice. I'm a pop singer. But these guys here at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse all have had training, and they have these huge vocal ranges. I have to say, they have assembled the most gifted, talented cast here that I could ever hope to be among.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    She thanks the cast for welcoming her, and especially the “most wonderful” Musical Director, Phil Forman. “This is a very tiring role vocally, and he really worked with me,” said Boone. “He showed me how not to waste my voice when I don't need to -  and when I really have to bring it.”

    She’ll be bringing it, all right, starting tonight and for the next three weeks, through June 5. After that, Into the Woods continues through July 10, with Beth Beyer playing The Witch – an actor Boone says flatly is better in the role than she is.

    Boone, whose husband, Gabriel Ferrer, is an Episcopal priest and the son of legendary crooner Rosemary Clooney, is the mother of four and also a first-time grandmother. She had plenty more to say about Beyer; the song that put Boone the musical map; the single she’d rather you listened to; who the ‘You’ is in You Light Up My Life; and a juicy little story about the songwriter who induced an honest-to-goodness profanity out of that squeaky-clean mouth. Read on.




    John Moore: Take us back to 1977. It’s the height of disco. You’re 21 years old. You have never sung solo - and the songwriter Joseph Brooks asks you to record the title track to his film, You Light Up My Life.

    Debby Boone: It’s funny because the way things are now, with shows like American Idol and The Voice, 21 is like an old hag. And I felt so young. I was still living at home. Going into that studio in New York to record You Light Up My Life, for me, was the exciting beginning of what I call the long, hard climb. I had no anticipation that the song would ever be heard by anyone other than the people who were there in the studio. I did not see it as a hit record. And so no one was more shocked and surprised by what happened than I was.

    Debby Boone Quote Into the woods CandlelightJohn Moore: Did that song ever come to feel like a burden or a curse?

    Debby Boone: Oh yeah. Especially early on. When you are young and you have a big start like that, you are kind of naive. I had been part of The Boone Family Show. I had never been out there on a stage by myself. So I felt very unprepared for what was coming my way. It was really kind of scary. And after that song came out, it was the only song anyone wanted to hear. Everywhere I went, that song had to be done. Of course, you get sort of sick of singing the same thing over and over and over - and you want people to know there is more to you. But I got over that really quickly as I became a little more seasoned. I realized there was no reason to be anything but grateful for people wanting to hear you sing. The kind of emotion that song brings up for people, and the stories they have told me over the years of what that song has meant in their lives personally, has made me realize what a gift and a blessing it is. When I begin to sing that song, it's palpable in the room, and that is a tremendous feeling to experience.

    John Moore: So Joseph Brooks wrote the song. But to you, who is 'You' in You Light Up My Life?

    Debby Boone: When I first decided how that lyric struck me, I never thought anybody was ever going to ask me that question. It really took me off-guard the first time. I couldn't do anything but tell the truth, even though sometimes in print it looks like I had an agenda, which I certainly did not. But, for me, those words really lent themselves to becoming a prayer. I always think of my relationship with God in terms of love and light - of being alone, and God filling that place. Now, the guy who wrote the song was not a very nice man. Somebody asked him in an interview about how Debby Boone said she sang his song to God, and his eloquent response was, 'Bull(bleep!).'

    John Moore: Now I wish this were a podcast so people could have heard you say that word. So tell me this then: For those people who have never heard you sing another song, what’s another single I can point them to that you consider a favorite?

    Debby Boone: When I sang I'm So Lonesome by Hank Williams, I discovered a place in me I had never known was there. It brought together all of the musical influences of my life. My grandfather, Red Foley, was a big Country and Western gospel singer from the Grand Ole Opry and a contemporary of Hank Williams. It was on an album dedicated to Rosemary Clooney, who had also recorded that song. When we were putting the song together, I felt this country depth, as well as a kind of jazz fusion happen in the moment. It was magical. So that was a favorite for a really long time.     

    John Moore: Who do you love among today's country stars?

    Debby Boone: I am a huge fan of Alison Krauss.

    John Moore: You went from pop music to Broadway in 1982. Today, it has become common for performers from shows like American Idol to be cast in shows like Chicago and Rock of Ages. Is that good for Broadway?

    Debby Boone: I really feel for the people who have worked so hard to have a well-formed craft - like the very people I am working with at Candlelight right now. When they see somebody come in who has none of that kind of training or experience, they might see it as taking jobs from them – and I completely empathize with that. I really do. But I also think there are no jobs for those people if theatre continues to dwindle. So there is something to be gained when you have someone in your show who people will come to see – and wouldn't necessarily come if one of their favorite performers were not in it. And if they come, then you have introduced new people to musical theatre. And they may come back because you exposed them to something they didn't ever really notice before. And then there are shows like Hamilton that are not star-driven but they are so original that they draw new people in, too. So I say: Whatever works.

    John Moore: How's your dad?

    Debby Boone: He's great. He is inspirational in that he is 82 years old. He stays busy, and he's always wanting to learn and be involved and vibrant - and he can't stand the thought that he's 82. He still loves to get up on a stage and perform and meet people. There's a chance he may come out to Colorado to see this, but he just signed on to do another movie, so it's not looking like he might be able to get here. But he would love this.

    debby boone into the woodsJohn Moore: So, you … in Johnstown … performing Into the Woods: How did this happen

    Debby Boone: I was brought in about five years ago when they started to do personal-appearance concerts at Candlelight. I did a Christmas show. I was so impressed with the theatre and the quality of the sound. The whole environment was just lovely. It was my ex-manager who suggested to them that maybe they should ask known recording artists to come in and do some of the actual theatrical performances.

    (The photo at right comes from Debby Boone's Instagram account with the caption: "Got to wear my prosthetics for 'Into The Woods' today. We are making some color corrections, but the transformation begins!)

    John Moore: So tell us about The Witch.

    Debby Boone: I find her to be very identifiable. She's acting out of woundedness and insecurities, She has this daughter she loves and wants to protect. But she is in dreaded fear of losing her, and so she acts badly. I have four kids, and I know some of the worst mistakes I have ever made have been out of love and fear of them making their own mistakes.

    John Moore: Essentially she’s just a woman who has had a curse put on her, and she wants it to be lifted. And as we have seen from Beauty and the Beast to Wicked, there really is a human underneath the curse.

    Debby Boone: Yes, and when people hurt people, the circles keep growing and manifesting. Out of her own hurt she creates the same kind of imprisonment on her daughter that was also placed on her. That’s life. That is so much life.

    John Moore: When Meryl Streep played the role in the movie, she said Into the Woods is just a metaphor for how can we all just get along. 

    Debby Boone: I think so, too. And even broader than that, for everybody in this story, it's moving from fear to love.

    John Moore: So tell people why they should come see Into the Woods.

    Debby Boone: It is a magical night of theatre with the most talented cast that I could ever hope to be among. And I think it will be such a surprise to people who aren't familiar with this show. This is a beautiful piece. We are going to take audiences on a ride, and they are going to feel something.

    John Moore: You are performing through June 5, but the show goes on after that. Why should people still come even after you have left the building?

    Debby Boone: The woman who will also play this role is named Beth Beyer, and she is just fantastic. I certainly hope that no one who can't make it in the first three weeks might think they are going to see something ‘less than’ - because it really is quite the opposite.   

    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.

    Into the Woods: Ticket information

    • Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
    • 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO 80534 MAP IT

      (I-25 at Exit 254, just south of Historic Johnson's Corner)

    • Performances through July 10 (Debby Boone appears through June 5)
    • Showtimes:

      Thursday through Saturdays: Dinner at 6 p.m., Show at 7:30 p.m.

      Saturday Matinees: Dinner noon, show at 1:30 p.m.

      Sunday Matinees: Dinner 12:30 p.m., show at 2 p.m.

    • Call 970-744-3747 or go to at www.ColoradoCandlelight.com

     




  • Video: 'Sweeney Todd' actors sing for Denver Actors Fund

    by John Moore | Apr 20, 2016


    Video: Daniel Berryman and Samantha Bruce sing from 'Sweeney Todd' before Monday's Denver Actors Fund benefit screening of the Tim Burton film at the Alamo Drafthouse Denver. 

    They swear it’s a coincidence that the young lovers from off-Broadway’s The Fantasticks have run off together to perform as the young lovers in the DCPA Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed Sweeney Todd.

    Daniel Berryman and Samantha Bruce in 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by Adams Visual Communications. Actors Daniel Berryman and Samantha Bruce, who were performing as Matt and Luisa only a few months ago in the longest-running production in American theatre history, did not even audition together to play Anthony and Johanna in the DCPA’s new staging, which has been infused with new arrangements by revered local band DeVotchKa.

    “I think I forgot my shoes,” recalled Berryman, who had to leave the Sweeney Todd audition room in New York to retrieve the sneakers he had left under a bench in the waiting area. Now sitting atop that very same bench was Bruce, his castmate in The Fantasticks for eight months.

    “We didn’t even know we were both auditioning for the same show,” Bruce said.

    Director Kent Thompson later wondered how it was that these two Denver Center newcomers had such immediate chemistry.

    I just thought it was brilliant casting - and it is,” Thompson said with a laugh. "Just not that brilliant.”

    Samantha Bruce sings at the Denver Actors Fund benefit screening of 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by Carla Kaiser Kotrc. The Fantasticks has performed continuously in New York for all but four years since 1960. Bruce could feel the theatrical significance from her first day with the show two years ago. “

    When you walk in the door and down the hallway with all of the pictures from previous casts on the wall, and you see Jerry Orbach and Liza Minnelli and all of these other faces, you definitely feel the history,” said Bruce.

    Berryman and Bruce were performing in The Fantasticks when the show passed 21,000 performances. They both say the reason for its longevity is simple.

     “It’s the story - and the intimacy of how it is told, said Berryman. “It speaks to people.”

    Bruce thinks any theatre person should love The Fantasticks because, she says, it is a love letter to theatre.

    “The way that it is told, you can just tell that (writers) Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt are so in love with the art form,” she said. “If you are a theatre person, you can't not love it.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    There are unmistakable similarities between the actors’ roles in The Fantasticks and Sweeney Todd. In both, they play sweet, pure young lovers who are thrown into a world of violence and brutality. But they are not the same, Bruce said.

    “Matt and Luisa have a history. They literally are the boy and girl next door,” she said. “With Anthony and Johanna, it's love at first sight. But like Matt and Luisa, they forge a really deep connection, and then they have to go through hell to be together.”

    The ultimate focus of Sweeney Todd is not the fate of the lovers as it is in The Fantasticks. “You don't know if it works out for Anthony and Johanna,” Bruce said. “Well … they live. And in this show, that's definitely a positive.”

    To quote Sondheim, they both are enjoying being alive.

    “I have been in love with Sweeney Todd since high school,” Bruce said. “Maybe even before. I am so incredibly thankful that I got to be a part of this production, because it's not just Sweeney Todd.

    It's also DeVotchKa, she said of the local band that infuses the score with a variety of unexpected sounds ranging from a toy piano to a drum kit. “The drums add a really cool, tribal pulse to the opening number that gets you really excited to go on and tell the rest of the story,” she said. “But there is also tuba and electric guitars. It’s clearly like no Sweeney Todd you have ever heard before.”

    Berryman, who performed with Theatre Aspen in 2014 as Marius in Les Misérables and Charlie Brown in You’re a Good  Man, Charlie Brown, said “DeVotchKa brings a whole different heartbeat to the show. One with powered by percussion.

    He says he is most proud that the DCPA staging is not so much a melodrama but rather a more primal revenge drama. “Keeping the intensity of that revenge narrative was important to Kent Thompson,” Berryman said, “and we all feel really good that we accomplished that.”

    Although Monday was the cast’s only day off in a 13-day period, Berryman and Bruce sang before a benefit screening of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd film starring Johnny Depp at the Alamo Drafthouse Denver. The monthly film series, benefiting the Denver Actors Fund, pairs a film with its stage counterpart, with live pre-screening entertainment by the participating local theatre company.

    Bruce sang Green Finch & Linnet Bird and Berryman sang Johanna at the screening, which raised money for the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial and neighborly assistance to members of the local theatre community in situational medical need. They were accompanied by David Wohl.


    Daniel Berryman sings atthe Denver Actors Fund benefit screening of 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by Carla Kaiser Kotrc.
    Daniel Berryman sings atthe Denver Actors Fund benefit screening of 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by Carla Kaiser Kotrc. Photo at top of page: ​Daniel Berryman and Samantha Bruce in 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by Adams Visual Communications.


    Sweeney Todd: Ticket information

  • 270x270-sweeney-toddMusic and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by High Wheeler (adapted by Christopher Bond); musical adaptation by DeVotchKa
  • Through May 15 (opens April 15)
  • StageTheatre
  • Grammy-nominated Denver band DeVotchKa takes on the legendary demon barber of Fleet Street, serving up a reinvention of Sondheim’s musical thriller. Hell-bent on revenge, Sweeney Todd takes up with his enterprising neighbor in a devilish plot to slice their way through London’s upper crust. Justice will be served — along with audacious humor and bloody good thrills.
  • Accessible performance 1:30 p.m. May 1
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of Sweeney Todd:
    Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
    DeVotchKa frontman promises a Sweeney Todd that's 'loud and proud'
    DCPA announces DeVotchka-infused Sweeney Todd casting
    ​Where the band meets the blade: Rehearsals open
    Co-stars on bringing DeVotchKa’s fresh blood to Sondheim
    Video sneak peek with DeVotchKa
    Five things we learned at Perspectives: Use a dull blade!

    Previous Sweeney Todd profiles (to date):

    Meet Danny Rothman
    Meet Jean McCormick


    Denver Actors Fund benefit screening of 'Sweeney Todd' at the Alamo Drafthouse Denver.  Photo by Carla Kaiser Kotrc.

    Above: Denver Actors Fund benefit screening of 'Sweeney Todd' at the Alamo Drafthouse Denver. Photo by Carla Kaiser Kotrc. Below: The 'Sweeney Todd' trivia contest champ won tickets to a performance of 'Sweeney Todd' by the DCPA Theatre Company, along with a poster signed by the cast.


    IMG_3648-3

  • How DeVotchKa and a man named Coffin made murderous music mischief

    by John Moore | Apr 05, 2016
    Gregg Coffin Sweeney Todd. John Moore


    Gregg Coffin promises the unprecedented alchemy of esteemed Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim mixed with Grammy-nominated gypsy-punk band DeVotchKa ensures Sweeney Todd will be a theatrical experience unlike anything DCPA Theatre Company audiences have seen before.

    Sondheim, author of Into the Woods, Company and Sunday in the Park with George, also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. Many feel his murderous masterpiece is Sweeney Todd, which first shocked Broadway audiences under the direction of Hal Prince in 1979. Since then, Sondheim has been uncommonly encouraging of young artists wanting to experiment with the score. When the Denver Center last year sought permission for a new collaboration with DeVotchKa, Sondheim said, "Bloody well."

    Denver's own DeVotchKa, named after a line in A Clockwork Orange, was deemed the local band most deserving of mainstream attention by The Denver Post all the way back in 2002. Since then, DeVotchka has reached international acclaim, landing in Billboard's Top 10 and opening for Muse before more than 80,000 in France.

    But how does anyone, much less an alternative rock band, even approach rearranging a complex Broadway score? Coffin, who has 30 years of experience as a theatrical Musical Director, had the joyful task of sheparding the band through the year-long process, which has resulted in a 943-page musical opus that three DeVotchKa members (Jeanie Schroder, Shawn King and Tom Hagerman) will perform live each night, along with Conductor Erik Daniells and six backing musicians.

    Coffin has essentially served as steward over DeVotchKa’s creative odyssey to revisit a score he calls the King Lear of the musical theatre. One that has been infused for this staging with an electric guitar, a drum set, toy piano and many other instruments original orchestrator Jonathan Tunick never imagined. For the record, there are 39 different instruments used in the Theatre Company's  new interpretation. It's too soon to say how it will all come out, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better match for a musical that leaves so much blood on the floor than a Music Director named Coffin and a band that penned beloved songs called Dearly Departed, Life is Short and How it Ends. Coffin, who has overseen many Theatre Company musicals including Animal Crackers, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, talked with the DCPA NewsCenter about how it all went down:

    John Moore: What was your first exposure to Sweeney Todd?

    Gregg Coffin: I grew up in Maine, so my initial greeting came from hearing the cast album. Real musical theatre people get the cast album and then they run those grooves right into the wax.

    DeVotchka Sweeney Todd. John Moore


    John Moore: What did you think when you first heard that the Denver Center was not only doing Sweeney Todd, but with DeVotchKa?
     
    Gregg Coffin: I was incredibly excited because I know the wide musical berth Mr. Sondheim allows companies like ours in doing his productions. There was a production in Washington D.C. that used grunge guitars. Sondheim sent them a telegram that said: “Make it murderous.” He has a very open heart about these collaborations.

    John Moore: Has Mr. Sondheim asked to approve this new score?

    Gregg Coffin: We to have to present [the licenser] Music Theatre International with what we propose to do in the form of a printed score. But didn't know ourselves what this would really sound like until our first full orchestra rehearsal March 28.



    John Moore: What did you know of DeVotchKa then?

    Gregg Coffin: I knew they had done the music for the movie Little Miss Sunshine. That’s it. Then I met them, and we just dove in. 

    John Moore: DeVotchKa is known for collaborating with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, but they have never undertaken anything like this before. What is the one thing the DeVotchKa players most needed to know in transitioning to this musical world?

    Gregg Coffin: That the theatricality they connect with authentically in their own work is also present in what Tunick and Sondheim did originally in Sweeney Todd. It’s theatrical, and they are theatrical. Trust that authenticity.

    John Moore: What is the first thing you taught them about writing for the musical theatre?

    Gregg Coffin: The first thing we did was watch a recording from 1980 of the first national touring production under Hal Prince’s direction. It starred Angela Lansbury and George Hearn. We watched it in a conference room. I had the staff print off the piano vocal of the entire show and put it into binders for them. I think a lot of it was just them taking in what Sondheim and Tunick had done. I would tell them stuff like, “That person right there is going to be waiting for a ‘B’ to play, so someone in your nine-person pit is going to have to play it.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: Did you get any blank stares?

    Gregg Coffin: No. They are all alarmingly good musicians, and all of them had been in high school theatre. So they speak the language. And they are having so much fun.

    John Moore: But people do need to understand that this is not DeVotchKa "rewriting" the score. The notes are the same. It’s more a question of choosing which instruments are playing them, correct?

    Gregg Coffin. Sweeney Todd. John Moore. Gregg Coffin: Correct. This is Sweeney Todd, after all, and it’s going to sound very much like what Sweeney Todd sounds like. It’s not as if they just say, “We’re going to do that part with 20 banjos!” Instead, something that was written for a string section might be played here on an accordion. Or an oboe part might be played on a toy piano. Like the song “Johanna”: When you hear the Tunick score, it’s French horns and cellos, and it’s beautiful. Here, we’ve got it on a nylon string guitar, and it’s going to be beautiful, too. In the original orchestration, there has never been a guitar. There has never been a drum set. We will have a drum set, and that will be a real person sitting at a kit playing it: [DeVotchKa drummer] Shawn King.

    John Moore: What do you think the experience will be like for DeVotchKa fans?

    Gregg Coffin: I think people who come from the DeVotchKa camp will recognize and experience this band that they know and love as they interpret this classical piece of musical theatre. And DeVotchKa fans are already used to that part of it, because they play every year with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and I think they are going to be used to that kind of idea.

    John Moore: But this is DeVotchKa, so people are going to expect something of a rock element.

    Gregg Coffin: There will be moments when it rocks out, absolutely. And there will be moments that promote a completely different feel.

    John Moore: What should traditional musical theatre audiences expect?

    Gregg Coffin: I think this production of Sweeney Todd will be as eye-opening and rib-cage-opening for them as it was for them to see the 2005 Broadway revival where all of the actors played their own instruments. When it’s just Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney singing, you hear things with a nine-piece pit that you can’t hear when it’s a big, 23-person orchestra and a whole chorus singing behind you. Here I think you will be allowed to see both a simplicity and an authenticity in the work.

    John Moore: You hand the music over to your conductor, Erik Daniells, on opening night. What is that performance going to be like for you?

    Gregg Coffin: It’s going to be hard for me to have my eyes on the score because I am going to be watching the DeVotchKa players the whole time. It’s a great gift that I get to see a group of really talented musicians dare to open themselves up to another art form and flex their muscles.

    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.

    No Small Parts: Gregg Coffin talks with DCPA CEO Scott Shiller:



    Sweeney Todd
    : Ticket information
  • 270x270-sweeney-toddMusic and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by High Wheeler (adapted by Christopher Bond); musical adaptation by DeVotchKa
  • April 8-May 15 (opens April 15)
  • StageTheatre
  • Grammy-nominated Denver band DeVotchKa takes on the legendary demon barber of Fleet Street, serving up a reinvention of Sondheim’s musical thriller. Hell-bent on revenge, Sweeney Todd takes up with his enterprising neighbor in a devilish plot to slice their way through London’s upper crust. Justice will be served — along with audacious humor and bloody good thrills.
  • Accessible performance 1:30 p.m. May 1
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of Sweeney Todd:
    Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
    DeVotchKa frontman promises a Sweeney Todd that's 'loud and proud'
    DCPA announces DeVotchka-infused Sweeney Todd casting
    ​Where the band meets the blade: Rehearsals open
    Co-stars on bringing DeVotchKa’s fresh blood to Sondheim
    Video sneak peek with DeVotchKa
    Meet the cast: Danny Rothman
  • 'Sweeney Todd' stars on bringing fresh blood to Sondheim

    by John Moore | Mar 17, 2016

    Robert Petkoff and Linda Mugleston gave attendees of a recent awards luncheon a sneak peek at their 'Sweeney Todd pairing.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    It didn’t take long for Broadway star Robert Petkoff to learn the DCPA Theatre Company would be performing his favorite musical, Sweeney Todd, with Colorado gypsy punk band DeVotchKa adding its own sanguine flavoring to Stephen Sondheim’s classic orchestrations.

    “DeVotchKa is my sister’s favorite band,” said Petkoff. “When she found out, she wrote me right away and said, ‘Oh my God, I have to get out to Denver and see this.’ ”

    Now Petkoff’s sister has two reasons come to Denver. Her brother, an award-winning veteran of six Broadway productions, is playing the title role of the barbarous barber.

    “But put DeVotchKa at the top of the list,” he said with a laugh. “I am reason No. 2.”

    The Petkoff siblings are not the only ones excited to see what happens when Sweeney Todd bleeds DeVotchKa’s Latin and Slavic-infused aural amalgam into Sondheim’s perhaps most powerful (and unquestionably most homicidal) score.

    “DeVotchKa will attract a completely different kind of audience,” Petkoff said. “And boy, anytime you can bring a whole new swath of people into the theatre who don’t normally come is a great, great thing.”

    Sweeney Todd Robert Petkoff Linda Mugleston Petkoff and DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata have their own affinities for Sweeney Todd dating back to their very different childhoods. Petkoff remembers hearing the vinyl cast recording in 1979 when he was in high school and the record was hot off the presses. “I was blown away, both by how complex the story is,  and by how incredible the music is,” Petkoff said. “I just instantly fell in love. I knew I wanted to play that role one day.”

    (Pictured right are co-stars Linda Mugleston and Robert Petkoff hydrating, hydrating and hydrating some more to perform 'Sweeney Todd' at Denver's mile-high altitude. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    DeVotchKa has been blurring distinctions between art forms for more than 15 years, notably with its wildly popular annual concerts at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Music fans have been spellbound by the band’s theatricality dating all the way back to its earliest appearances at small Boulder music clubs when Urata and, Jeanie Schroder, Shawn King and Tom Hagerman would enter from the back of a darkened house guided only by the string of lights that line Schroder’s sousaphone.

    “I can’t think of a more perfect platform for us than Sweeney Todd,” Urata said when the project was first announced, “being that we like coming from a dark and twisted place, and this is the ultimate dark and twisted musical opera.”

    Schroder, King and Hagerman have taken the lead with the reorchestration project from the start along with Music Director Gregg Coffin. All three are expected to play in the orchestra pit for all performances of Sweeney Todd when the production opens April 15, alongside conductor Erik Daniells and five local musicians.

    A Sweeney Quote 1

    Petkoff’s co-star is Linda Mugleston in the delicious role of Mrs. Lovett, maker of those curiously delicious meat pies. Petkoff and Mugleston have theatrical bloodlines that crisscross Denver and run deep down into Broadway’s sidewalk cracks. Petkoff appeared in the DCPA’s Tantalus, a 10-play epic Trojan War cycle in 2000 — nothing less than the largest theatre project in the 2,500-year history of the theatre. He returned in 2012 for the world premiere of Sense & Sensibility, The Musical and in the Broadway tour of Spamalot in 2007. Mugleston’s Theatre Company credits include The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Quilters and A Christmas Carol.
     
    When the Theatre Company forays into musicals, Mugleston said, they always have something in common with the company’s nationally-acclaimed world premiere plays: Even when telling  a familiar story, there is something new about them.

    “The Denver Center is always innovative, no matter what they are doing,” Mugleston said. “The creativity is always very high-end, and it never feels like run-of-the-mill, normal fare. It’s always exciting.”

    Sweeney Todd Devotchka. The Sweeney Todd stars appeared together briefly in the 2011 Broadway revival of Anything Goes, during which they swear no throats were slashed. Surprisingly, neither has ever before appeared in a production of Sweeney Todd.

    Sondheim, now 86, has been uncommonly encouraging of young artists wanting to experiment with Sweeney Todd, which first shocked Broadway audiences under the direction of Hal Prince in 1979. It has since been presented in forms ranging from opera to an intimate chamber piece. The musical was revived on Broadway in 2004 with only 10 actors all playing their own instruments. In 2014, Sondheim gave his permission for the Landless Theatre Company to concoct a “prog-metal” version in Washington D.C. That’s a form that blends classical music and jazz while using metal to highlight some of the darker elements of the story. Permission to let DeVotchKa envelop Sondheim’s score with DeVotchKa’s signature horns, accordion, violin and percussion was handed down by the master himself.

    (Pictured above right: Shawn King, Jeanie Shroder and Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa are scheduled to play in the orchestra for all performances of 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.) 

    Urata’s stated goal for the piece is “to make it loud and proud.” And if that sounds too experimental for theatre purists, Urata said, consider that West Side Story was once considered experimental theatre.

    “If I know anything about Sondheim, it’s that he is very open-minded,” said Urata. “I think that’s why we all love him.” That’s because “first and foremost, Sondheim is an artist,” Mugleston added.

    Anytime you tell a story, Petkoff added, “who is telling the story changes that story. So people who come to see this show may have an idea what should be in their heads based on what they have seen before. But we have this great opportunity in Denver to tell our own version of the story, and adding DeVotchKa will make it a really unique version of that story. This is how theatre breathes and grows and evolves.”

    When you change the orchestrations, you are not changing the actual notes, Petkoff said, “you are changing how an audience hears them — the rhythm. The style. I get why a playwright might say, ‘Listen, you need to say every word that I wrote.’ But with a musician, you understand that while he wrote every one of those notes, there are so many different ways to play them. And yet, you are still playing the song."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Imagine, he said, what Broadway audiences who grew up on Camelot and My Fair Lady thought when they first sat watching Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971. “They were outraged,” he said. “’That’s not a musical!’ they said. But there was an influx of younger people who came and became lifelong lovers of theatre. The same thing is happening with Hamilton on Broadway today. There are people who have never been to a Broadway musical and they are standing and screaming in fits of ecstasy watching Hamilton. It’s wonderful for theatre because we need to change and we need new blood, and this is how you do it.”  

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

    A Sweeney Quote 2


    Photo gallery: Sweeney Todd in Denver:


    Sweeney Todd in Denver

    Our photo gallery to date from the making of 'Sweeney Todd.'  o see more, click the forward arrow on the photo above. To download any photo for free, click on it and follow instructions. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Sweeney Todd: Ticket information

  • 270x270-sweeney-toddMusic and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by High Wheeler (adapted by Christopher Bond); musical adaptation by DeVotchKa
  • April 8-May 15 (opens April 15)
  • StageTheatre
  • Grammy-nominated Denver band DeVotchKa takes on the legendary demon barber of Fleet Street, serving up a reinvention of Sondheim’s musical thriller. Hell-bent on revenge, Sweeney Todd takes up with his enterprising neighbor in a devilish plot to slice their way through London’s upper crust. Justice will be served — along with audacious humor, bloody good thrills, and DeVotchKa’s brand of lush gypsy punk.
  • Accessible performance 1:30 p.m. May 1
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of Sweeney Todd:
    Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
    DeVotchKa frontman promises a Sweeney Todd that's 'loud and proud'
    DCPA announces DeVotchka-infused Sweeney Todd casting
    ​Where the band meets the blade: Rehearsals open

  • Where the blade meets the band: 'Sweeney Todd' rehearsals open

    by John Moore | Mar 11, 2016
    Sweeney Todd in Denver

    Photos from the making of 'Sweeney Todd' in Denver. To see more, simply click the forward arrow on the photo above. To download any photo for free, click on the photo and you will be taken to Flickr given download options. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson says there are many reasons for his DCPA Theatre Company to be taking on Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd 36 years after the Demon Barber of Fleet Street first wielded his bloody razor on Broadway.

    “Here we have Sweeney Todd, the great serial killer, and unfortunately we also have mass shootings going in our schools and all kinds of things happening that are terribly scary to us," Thompson said. "It was really on the forefront of so many other things that are present in in our culture now.”

    But, to be real, there is one overriding reason Sweeney Todd opens next month as the Theatre Company’s final offering of the season:

    “DeVotchKa,” Thompson said.

    A Sweeney Todd rehearsal 600 2
    The first sing-through for the DCPA Theatre Company's upcoming 'Sweeney Todd.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    It was DCPA Artistic Associate Emily Tarquin who first suggested that perhaps Denver’s most venerable, internationally acclaimed and proudly non-mainstream band would be perfect to reimagine Sondheim’s score.

    “I already knew DeVotchKa, but as I listened more to their music I thought it's wonderfully dark; it's haunted; it's sly; it's funny; it's outrageous at times; it's mysterious; it's kind of funky, rocky, classical, gypsy Eastern European punk - and it just seems like a match made in heaven,” Thompson said. “Then we asked Mr. Sondheim, and he said yes.”

    DeVotchKa with 'Sweeney Todd' Conductor Erik Daniells. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. On Tuesday, the full cast gathered for the first time for a sing-through led by Music Director Gregg Coffin and Conductor Erik Daniells. Also present were Jeanie Schroder, Shawn King and Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa, who have spent much of the past year adapting Sondheim’s arrangements into a new, 943-page score. All three will play in the orchestra for all Sweeney Todd performances, along with Daniells and four additional local musicians.

    “This play is truly about how human beings turn on each other in times of hardship and imbalance,” Thompson said. “It’s outrageous; it's funny; it’s macabre. It’s very disturbing at times, but it's also thrilling. You can't take your eyes away from it.”

    (Pictured above right: DeVotchKa members Tom Hagerman, Shawn King and Jeanie Schroder with 'Sweeney Todd' Conductor Erik Daniells. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    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.

    Sweeney Todd appearance at the CBCA Awards luncheon at the Seawell Ballroom. Photo by John Moore.

    'Sweeney Todd' appearance at the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts Awards luncheon at the Seawell Ballroom. In front: Linda Mugleston and Robert Petkoff as Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Sweeney Todd: Cast list

    • Daniel Berryman as Anthony Hope
    • Samantha Bruce as Johanna
    • Kevin Curtis as Tobias Ragg
    • Dwelvan David as Beadle Bamford
    • Michael Brian Dunn as Pirelli
    • Kathleen McCall as Beggar Woman
    • Kevin McGuire as Judge Turpin
    • Linda Mugleston as Mrs. Lovett
    • Robert Petkoff as Sweeney Todd
    • Ensemble: Colin Alexander, Tia DeShazor, Donterrio Johnson, Charlie Korman, Jean McCormick, Jeffrey Roark, Danny Rothman, Christine Rowan and Shannan Steele
    • Swings: Jefferson Behan and Lauren Shealy

    Creative team
    Kent Thompson (Director)
    Gregg Coffin (Music Director)
    Erik Daniells (Conductor)
    Joel Ferrell (Choreographer)
    James Kronzer (Scenic Designer)
    Kevin Copenhaver (Costume Designer)
    Kenton Yeager (Lighting Designer)
    Zach Williamson (Sound Designer)
    Geoffrey Kent (Fight Director)

    Sweeney Todd: Ticket information

  • 270x270-sweeney-toddMusic and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by High Wheeler (adapted by Christopher Bond); musical adaptation by DeVotchKa
  • April 8-May 15 (opens April 15)
  • StageTheatre
  • Grammy-nominated Denver band DeVotchKa takes on the legendary demon barber of Fleet Street, serving up a reinvention of Sondheim’s musical thriller. Hell-bent on revenge, Sweeney Todd takes up with his enterprising neighbor in a devilish plot to slice their way through London’s upper crust. Justice will be served — along with audacious humor, bloody good thrills, and DeVotchKa’s brand of lush gypsy punk.
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of Sweeney Todd:
    Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16
    DeVotchKa frontman promises a Sweeney Todd that's 'loud and proud'
    DCPA announces DeVotchka-infused Sweeney Todd casting

    'Sweeney Todd' costume designs by Kevin Copenhaver for the DeVotchKa band members who will play in the pit. Photo by John Moore.
    'Sweeney Todd' costume designs by Kevin Copenhaver for the DeVotchKa band members who will play in the pit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • Colorado Fall Theatre Preview: 10 shows to watch

    by John Moore | Sep 04, 2015
    Town Hall Arts Center's 'West Side Story.'

    Town Hall Arts Center's 'West Side Story' opens Sept. 11.



    Theatre never takes a rest in the busy Colorado theatre community, but September is always considered the traditional launch of the theatre season. The NEA recently ranked Colorado first in the nation in per-capita theatre attendance, and while the Denver Center for the Performing Arts plays a major part in that success, so does the work of the approximately 100 theatre companies of all sizes throughout Colorado, as new President and CEO Scott Shiller acknowledged at a local theatre forum on Monday.

    Continuing a September tradition that goes back 16 years, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore will help mark the opening of the theatre season by offering a quick overview of all DCPA fall shows, as well as 10 intriguing titles on the upcoming theatre calendar outside the arches of the DCPA. These are not the 10 “best"; just 10 intriguing titles that have caught John’s eye as a former Denver Post theatre critic.

    OUR COMPLETE LIST OF SEPTEMBER THEATRE OPENINGS IN COLORADO

    Before we dig in, the 10 fall DCPA offerings (with links to more information on each):

    Through Sept. 13: The Book of Mormon, Buell Theatre
    After record-breaking engagements in 2012 and 2013, the hilariously profane Denver-born tour is back by popular demand for a limited engagement.

    Through Oct. 11: Defending the Caveman, Garner Galleria Theatre

    Enduring,insightful comedy about the ways men and women relate to each other in the  ongoing battle for understanding between the sexes.

    Sept. 9-20: Matilda The Musical, Buell Theatre
    An extraordinary girl, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her destiny.

    Sept. 11-Oct 11: Lookingglass Alice, Stage Theatre
    Imagination soars and laughter and awe abound in this Chicago-born, gravity-defying hit inspired by Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories.

    Sept. 25-Nov 1: As You Like It, Space Theatre
    Banished lovers Orlando and Rosalind become entangled in a beguiling game of mistaken identity when Rosalind disguises herself as a man.

    Oct. 9-Nov. 15: Tribes, Ricketson Theatre
    Meeting Sylvia causes Billy, deaf since birth, to question what it means to be understood.

    Oct. 13-25, 2015: If/Then, Buell Theatre
    In this tour launch, Broadway superstar Idina Menzel (Wicked, Rent, Frozen) will reprise her acclaimed role alongside other original cast members

    Oct. 21-Feb 13, 2016: Cult Following, The Jones
    Off-Center’s signature night of unrehearsed, unscripted theatre features the  quick-thinking talents of some of Denver’s best improv performers.

    Oct. 27, 2015-Feb 21, 2016: Murder For Two, Garner Galleria Theatre
     A musical murder mystery comedy with a twist: One actor investigates the crime, the other plays all of the suspects - and they both play the piano.

    Nov. 4-29, 2015: Disney's The Lion King, Buell Theatre​
    More than 70 million people have now experienced the Julie Taymor phenomenon. The national tour debuted in Denver a decade ago.



    Any Given Monday

    Vintage Theatre
    Sept. 4-Oct. 25
    Directed by Sam Gilstrap (pictured)
    Sam GilstrapOn the surface, this play sounds like it could be a trifle – it’s described as “a comedy for the men who love football and the women who despise it.” Yet it’s written by Bruce Graham – the same guy who wrote one of the most unsettling plays of the past 20 years in Coyote on a Fence, which was about a racist death-row inmate. So maybe this football romp has some bite. It’s about a good guy whose life is shattered when his wife leaves him for a smooth-talking lothario. A development that doesn’t sit well with his best friend, who takes matters into his own hands.

    More Bruce Graham: Graham’s biggest success outside Coyote on a Fence has been The Outgoing Tide, a “death with dignity” dramedy about a man who wants to ensure his family’s security before his mind is consumed by Alzheimer’s disease. It’s playing Sept. 11-Oct. 12 at the Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins. 



    American Girls
    The Edge Theatre
    Sept. 4-27
    Directed by Angela Astle
    Edge Theatre In a very celebrity-driven culture, two God-fearing teenage girls have their sights set on much bigger things. They want fame, even if it means selling their souls to the devil in the name of the Bible. Their naiveté leads them down a dark and seedy path, forcing them to grow up much too soon. A regional premiere written by Hilary Bettis

    (Photo: Bethany Richardson and Alexis Robbins.) 



    The Flick

    Curious Theatre Company
    Sept. 5-Oct. 17
    Directed by Chip Walton
    John Jurcheck, left, and Laura Jo Trexler. Photo by Michael Ensminger. Polarizing playwright Annie Baker has been called everything from America’s next “it” playwright to the world’s next Harold Pinter. Which means she writes a lot of pauses. The Flick, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, is a short play – on paper – that lasts 3 hours in performance. That’s because Baker is known for writing giant intentional silences into her scripts that seem bent on forcing audiences to confront their discomfort with silence. But is that entertainment … or a psychological experiment? You decide as you follow three sad sacks who work at a run-down old movie house in Massachusetts. This play has been hailed as “an hilarious and heart-rending cry for authenticity in a fast-changing world.” Featuring Christopher Hayes, John Jurcheck, Royce Roeswood and Laura Jo Trexler.
    (Pictured: John Jurcheck, left, and Laura Jo Trexler. Photo by Michael Ensminger.)


    Lonny (Sean Riley) and Dennis (Joel Adam Chavez) in 'Rock of Ages' at the Midtown Arts Center.
    Lonny (Sean Riley) and Dennis (Joel Adam Chavez) in "Rock of Ages" at the Midtown Arts Center.

    Rock of Ages
    Midtown Arts Center, Fort Collins
    Sept. 10-Nov. 29
    Directed by Kurt Terrio
    Midtown is well-known for being first to locally stage some of Broadway’s most popular musicals. In this jukebox musical lark, Aqua Net, Lycra, lace and liquor freely flow in 1987 at one of the Sunset Strip’s last legendary rock venues. A small-town girl (natch) and a big-city rocker fall in love to rock legends of the ’80s such as Styx, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Journey and more.



    Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
    BDT Stage
    Sept. 11-Nov. 14
    Directed by Wayne Kennedy
    Brett AmblerThis easygoing bio-musical Starring Brett Ambler (pictured) tells the true and tragic story of the bespectacled Buddy’s rise to fame, from the 1957 day when “That’ll Be The Day!” hit the airwaves, through his tragic death less than two years later – a moment forever immortalized by Don McLean as “The Day The Music Died.” The score includes 20 Holly hits including: “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Rave On” and “Raining in My Heart.”




    Saturday Night Fever
    Arvada Center
    Sept. 11-Oct. 4
    Director: Rod Lansberry
    Shannan SteeleThe end of the Arvada Center’s summer musical tradition was an unsettling development, but Broadway spectacle – along with big hair, bell-bottoms and platform shoes – make a big comeback with the regional premiere of the stage adaptation of the classic John Travolta film. Featuring the music of the Bee-Gees, Saturday Night Fever brings back the zeitgeist and volatility of American pop-culture in the 1970s. Starring Ian Campayno and McKayla Marso as Tony ‘n Stephanie Mangano, and featuring local favorites including Emma Martin, Damon Guerrasio, Steven Burge, Tom Borrillo, Sharon Kay White, Adam Estes, Michael Bouchard, RJ Wagner, Shannan Steele (pictured right), Heather Doris, Sarah Rex, Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Jenna Moll Reyes and more. Costume design by Mondo Guerra.

    West Side Story
    Littleton Town Hall Arts Center
    Sept. 11-Oct. 11
    ​Directed by Nick Sugar
    Nick SugarTown Hall is revisiting Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece 10 years after a staging that launched Elizabeth Welch (Maria) on her way to The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. This production stars Carolyn Lohr and Jared Ming as the fated lovers, and brings back from 2005 director Nick Sugar, Ronni Gallup (Anita), Kent Randell (Bernardo) and Tim Howard (Riff).

    Northside West Side: The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is also presenting West Side Story in Johnstown, about 45 miles north of Denver, from Sept. 24 through Nov. 15.

    Still more Sondheim: The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center becomes just the second Colorado company to ever stage Putting It Together (Sept. 10-27), and the Cherry Creek Theatre Company presents Sondheim on Sondheim from Oct. 2-25.


    Emily Paton Davies and DCPA Head of Acting Tim McCracken will star in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Copmpanys 'Outside Mullingar' opening Sept. 17. Photo by Michael Ensminger
    Emily Paton Davies and DCPA Head of Acting Tim McCracken will star in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's 'Outside Mullingar' opening Sept. 17. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    Outside Mullingar
    Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    Sept. 17-Oct. 11
    Directed by Rebecca Remaly Weitz
    Timothy McCrackenBetsy (the colloquial name for BETC) is the first of what is sure to many companies staging John Patrick Shanley’s latest comedy, which has been described as an Irish Moonstruck. It’s about two stubborn, feuding neighbors who put down their pitchforks and take a chance on later love. Featuring a stellar cast of Emily Paton Davies, DCPA Head of Acting Tim McCracken (pictured right), three-time 2015 Henry Award winner Billie McBride (DCPA's Benediction) and Chris Kendall.  

    More Mullingar: OpenStage & Company of Fort Collins will also stage Outside Mullingar in January.



    Baby with the Bathwater
    Phamaly Theatre Company
    Oct. 8-25 at the Avenue Theater
    Directed by Warren Sherrill
     Trenton SchindeleChristopher Durang’s 1983 absurdist comedy is about parents who are so clueless about even the most basic parenting skills, they think it’s a good idea to give their baby Nyquil. These two are too polite to check the child’s sex (it’s a boy) so they name him Daisy - which leads to all manner of future emotional and personality problems. Phamaly exists to provide performance opportunities to persons with disabilities. The cast includes Micayla Smith, Trenton Schindele, Daniel Traylor, Kimberlee Nanda and Kenzie Kilroy.


    The Explorers Club
    Lone Tree Arts Center
    Oct. 15-24
    Directed by Randal Myler
    photo of Sam GregoryNeil Benjamin’s wildly funny comedy features the madcap adventures of eccentric London-based explorers who are members of a prestigious club. And the looming possibility of a woman assuming the presidency of this club threatens to shake the foundations of the British Empire. This Colorado premiere features a notable cast filled with DCPA favorites including Brad Bellamy, Stephanie Cozart, Sam Gregory, Mark Rubald, Colin Alexander, Randy Moore, Director Randal Myler and Costumer Kevin Copenhaver.  

    OUR COMPLETE LIST OF SEPTEMBER THEATRE OPENINGS IN COLORADO
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda on the power of theatre to eliminate distance

    by John Moore | May 20, 2015
    Lin-Manuel Miranda Quote 4


    NEW YORK - Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer and star of the big-buzz, Broadway-bound hip-hop musical bio Hamilton, had a message for attendees of the Broadway League conference last week:

    When life tells you it's time to go... it's time to go.

    Keynote speaker Lin-Manuel Miranda at the Broadway League's 2015 Spring Road Conference. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.The Caribbean-born Alexander Hamilton had his epiphany working for a rum- and slave-trading company in New Jersey. Luis Miranda, father of the Tony-winning rapper, lyricist, and actor of In The Heights fame, had his moment watching West Side Story at a cinema in a small Puerto Rican town in 1961.

    Read more: Why Lin-Manuel Miranda's father is obsessed with 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown'


    Hamilton, of course, went on to become chief aide to George Washington and took up residence on the $10 bill. Luis Miranda left Puerto Rico for New York and rose to prominence as a New York political consultant who has served in three New York City mayoral administrations. And he's a self-professed musical theatre geek.

    In a powerful keynote speech before the nation's leading theatre presenters, producers and theatre owners on May 12 at the Hudson Theatre, Miranda spoke of the two epiphanies that everyone who finds a life in the theatre has: Transcendence and action.

    Photo above: Keynote speaker Lin-Manuel Miranda at the Broadway League's 2015 Spring Road Conference. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

    Photo below: Lin-Manuel Miranda stars as Alexander Hamilton, which opens for Broadway previews on July 13. Photo by Joan Marcus.

    ______________________________________

    Here is an excerpt from Lin-Manuel Miranda's keynote address:


    There are two moments that happen to everyone who has a life in this business: The moment where the theatre first transported us. And as Moss Hart says to George Abbott in Act One, we have the moment where we say, 'I mean to have a life in this business.'

    I want to talk about those two moments for me. I want to talk about transcendence and action.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda stars as Alexander Hamilton, which opens for Broadway previews on July 13. Photo by Joan Marcus. My father was born in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, and his moment of transcendence happened in a family way. His uncle, Ernesto Concepcion, was the founder of the Actors Guild of Puerto Rico. His first memories were of his uncle playing John Merrick in The Elephant Man. One minute he is kissing his uncle hello backstage. The next he is seeing his uncle as John Merrick in a room full of crying people. And John Merrick isn't Puerto Rican. He is transformed. The man in front of him is both his uncle and not his uncle. And nothing is ever really the same for him again.

    My father was born in 1954; West Side Story came out in 1957. West Side Story did not send an Equity tour to Puerto Rico. My father had to see it at the movies. And back in 1961, there was just one movie theatre in Vega Alta, which was a town of 30,000 then, and it played just one movie every day at 8 o'clock.

    There is that moment where Maria is standing over Tony, and Schrank and Krupke are going to pick up the body. She screams, "Don't you touch him!" ... and the audience laughs. But my father is in tears. He is 7 years old, and he is balling.

    And why is my father the only one crying while everyone else is making fun of gang members dancing, and making fun of Natalie Wood's accent that sounds suspiciously like Marni Nixon when she sings?

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father, Luis. My father didn't see any of that, and it's because he had that early exposure to John Merrick. He had that thing that movies don't really have that can only happen in live theatre. When we're all in the same room together, and we all decide to believe the same moment. We see a man who is not disfigured. But he says he is disfigured, and so we believe him. And so when everyone else who is watching the movie laughs at this outburst of emotion, my father is a wreck. And it's because he grew up watching his uncle's shows in a live theatre. 

    This was my father's moment of action. He looked around at everyone laughing at the grieving Puerto Rican widow Maria and he said, 'I've got the get the (bleep) out of this town.' And he left the Caribbean. He met my mom, he moved to New York and he never went back. And I grew up here with my sister.

    Photo: Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father, Luis. Photo courtesy Luis Miranda.

    My first moment of transcendence and action was seeing The Phantom of the Opera. It was my first Broadway musical. I was 12 years old, and I’ll never forget: There’s Raul banging on the door, and Christine could go over and open the door for him. But instead, she goes into the basement with The Phantom, who is playing really cool music. And I realized - on the cusp of puberty - that I am never going to be the good-looking guy at the door. I am going to be the guy in the basement playing the cool music. I identified so deeply with that guy.

    My moment of action came a few years later when, for my 17th birthday, my girlfriend took me to see Rent on Broadway in its first year. 

    Again, I grew up loving musicals. My dad was a lifelong collector of cast albums. But I didn't think I had a way in. I had parts in the school musicals, but I knew was never really going to get to play the Modern Major General in The Pirates of Penzance - they are going to go for the standard white guy for that part. And then I saw Rent, which took place in my city, downtown. The notion that a musical could take place today was groundbreaking to me. And that these characters were struggling with the urgencies of life and death today, and with the conflict of, "Do I pursue what I love and make a life in this business - or do I make money?" I have friends who make money, and they are really happy. But I am choosing a much harder path.

    I started writing musicals after seeing Rent. There was a moment of transcendence, and there was a moment of action.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda Quote 1


    But this goes beyond transcendence and action: It’s empathy. When you create that moment between the audience and the people onstage, you’re asking the audience to live outside of themselves. You’re asking the audience to identify with people they might not normally ordinarily identify with.

    I went on vacation in 2008, and I grabbed a book at random from a bookstore – back when bookstores still existed. It was Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. I grabbed it because I love reading biographies, and all I knew about Hamilton was that he died in a duel. So I thought, "This will have a good ending at least." 

    So I started to read the book, and I didn’t know that Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean. He was born in Nevis (in the British West Indies) and later moved to St. Croix. By the end of the second chapter, this young man has seen every manner of hardship: His father leaves. His mother dies in bed with him when he is 12 years old. He moves in with a cousin who commits suicide. He works at a trading company - they're trading rum, spices and slaves.

    And Hamilton looks around and he says, “I gotta get the (bleep) out of this town."

    He writes a poem about a hurricane that had destroyed the island of St. Croix, and that poem was used in relief efforts. People took up a collection to send him off the island to get his education. And I thought, “I know this guy.” Ron Chernow's writing had eliminated the distance between me and the dead white guy on the $10 bill.

    And as I read the book, I kept finding moments of immediacy. Parallels between his life and my father's; and the life of any immigrant who comes to this country and creates themselves from whole cloth, and kills themselves to contribute so that their kids can have a better life. It was all of the stories of In the Heights, but even less diluted and even more concentrated into the first immigrant story.

    It's also the story of the founding of our nation. Alexander Hamilton saw one Unites States instead of 13 colonies because he didn’t have a colony to claim. He didn’t have anywhere to claim except for this place that he had adopted. And that’s what Hamilton is about.

    We create our own reality so much these days. You curate your Twitter feed. You unfriend your friend who has the racist or unpopular opinion off your Facebook page. We see the reality that we choose to see, and we have more power to do that than ever before. Theatre is one of the last things that eliminates that. Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton will go see the same show with 299 other people, and they are going to have the same experience. And they are going to have to reckon with that experience.

    My goal, and the goal of our creative team, was to eliminate any distance between the Founding Fathers and the fights we are still having and the struggles that are still happening as Americans. And when you go and sit in The House of Hamilton, it’s an incredibly powerful thing. It has been amazing to see that journey happen. 

    I will close with one more story, and it brings us back to West Side Story, because it all comes back around.

    So I had the good fortune to work with Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim on the last revival of West Side Story. The glorious thing about that was I got to work with the surviving creators of the show on Spanish lyrics for the Sharks. Again: Eliminating distance. And my father, who cried so hard when Maria pushed the police away, saying, "Don’t you touch him!” was the Anita to my Maria while we were writing Spanish lyrics for “A Boy Like That.” He was my thesaurus, because he came to New York at the age of 18 - the same age as the characters who were the Sharks. We got to write that together, and it was a real full-circle moment for him. The success of that tour has been a joy because, again, it creates more identification with even more people who maybe didn’t necessarily see themselves in the show.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda Quote 2

    I conclude with this: The first Equity tour to go to Puerto Rico was In the Heights. We went back to my dad’s hometown. Now, Puerto Rico is very economically depressed. We sold one performance at a time to make sure that we could sustain playing a full week there. But it all worked out.

    I will never forget the review that most moved me was in the main newspaper of Puerto Rico ... and I can’t not cry every time I think of it. It said: “The show is a letter from the people who left. And it is telling us that they struggled, but they did all right."

    That full-circle moment for my father and me is one of the greatest moments I have had in the theatre. That Puerto Ricans on the island saw this show about their cousins and their brothers and sisters and their sons and daughters and were able to see themselves in it means the world to me. 

    That’s what you do every time you mount a show. And every time you bring a student group to your show, there might be some kids who laugh at an outburst of emotion. But I promise you there is a kid balling his eyes out. He is not only being transported ... but he’s saying to himself, “I need to make a life in this business.”

    Read more: Why Lin-Manuel Miranda's father is obsessed with 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown'


    Lin-Manuel Miranda Quote 3


    Our New York report (to date)
    :

    Broadway: The British aren't coming: They're already here!
    Colorado's Annaleigh Ashford and Beth Malone both nominated for Tony Awards Broadway League dedicates New York conference to DCPA’s Randy Weeks
    Idina Menzel will launch 'If/Then' national tour in Denver

    More in the coming days:
    Our New York report continues with videos featuring Colorado actors on Broadway.

  • Video: Annaleigh Ashford's Day in Denver

    by John Moore | Apr 06, 2015


    In advance of Annaleigh Ashford's performances of her critically acclaimed Lost in the Stars cabaret act, she returned to her hometown of Denver to talk about the show.

    Annaleigh Ashford. Photo by John Moore. We followed the Tony-nominated Broadway star
    as she co-hosted the Everyday show on KDVR FOX31 with Kathie J., and then at her appearance at the DCPA's monthly Page to Stage conversation at the Tattered Cover Book Store hosted by DCPA Arts Journalist John Moore.

    Lost in the Stars will be an evening of song, story and sequins at the Galleria Theatre on April 11 and 12.  Performing alongside Will Van Dyke and the Whisky 5 band, Lost in the Stars honors the disco of Donna Summer to Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. There will be an Alanis Morissette singalong as well as a mash-up of Stephen Sondheim and Kurt Weill. All woven together by Ashford's heartfelt stories, many of which cover her days growing up in Wheat Ridge.

    Video by John Moore and David Lenk.

    READ OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ANNALEIGH ASHFORD HERE

    Our Annaleigh Ashford in Denver photo gallery:


    Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars: Ticket information

    • 8 p.m. Saturday, April 11
    • 5 p.m. Sunday, April 12
    • Single tickets start at $50
    • To charge by phone, call 303-893-4100 | TTY: 303-893-9582) | Groups of 10 or more: 303-446-4829
    • Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby
    • buy online
    Please be advised that The Denver Center for the Performing Arts – including  DenverCenter.Org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for the Denver engagement of “Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars”

    Video: Watch Annaleigh perform at last week's Miscast in New York

    Annaleigh Ashford with Kathie J. Photo by John Moore.

    Annaleigh Ashford with Kathie J. Photo by John Moore.

  • DeVotchKa frontman promises a 'Sweeney Todd' that's 'loud and proud'

    by John Moore | Mar 13, 2015

    Video: DeVotchka appearing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks.


    It’s too soon to know just how Sweeney Todd will sound once Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece gets put through the megaphone of revered local band DeVotchKa.

    But frontman Nick Urata, who’s got a bit of the demon barber running through his own veins, knows how he hopes his fresh musical meat pie comes out of the oven a year from now.

    “We kind of want to make it loud and proud,” Urata said this week.  “And hopefully we will sneak some rock ’n roll elements in there if possible, too.”

    DEVOTCHKA800The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has announced an unprecedented programming departure with the release of its 2015-16 season: Its homegrown Theatre Company will present a full staging of Sweeney Todd set to an adapted score by DeVotchka. The plan is for Jeanie Schroder, Shawn King and Tom Hagerman to be playing in the orchestra pit every night. And, if his schedule allows, Urata has every hope of joining them, and up four or five additional musicians.

    DeVotchKa was Grammy-nominated for scoring the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine. Urata has gone on to score several more, including Crazy Stupid Love, Ruby Sparks, Paddington and the current Will Smith behemoth Focus, which has grossed $125 million worldwide in its first three weeks of release.

    But for two decades in Denver, DeVotchKa has been a band of musical misfits beloved for a strict adherence to their gypsy roots and most comfortably living on the fringe.

    “I was just thinking about how many years we were on the outside looking in,” said Urata, whose band now regularly sells out Red Rocks (and is expected to again at its fifth annual concert with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on July 23). “It’s such an honor to be thought of as part of the actual scene now.”

    Urata Quote 1Named after a line from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, DeVotchKa's music comes with a signature sound and a flavor all its own. Urata’s Sicilian vocals are enveloped by bass, tuba, trumpet, accordion, violin and percussion. It all mixes together for a Latin and Slavic aural amalgam that is often described as “mariachi polka punk.”

    Sweeney Todd is such a guilty pleasure,” Urata said. "I can’t think of a more perfect platform for us, being that we like coming from a dark and twisted place, and this is the ultimate dark and twisted musical opera.”

    The dark and twisted DeVotchKa sound starts with Urata’s haunting wails that sound as though he has just emerged from a nightmare in a cold sweat, blurting his most intimate confessions to the world. And perhaps those phantasms are traceable to a 9-year-old Urata growing up in Croton, N.Y.

    “When I was a kid, they would show commercials on Channel 9 for the New York production of Sweeney Todd, like, four or five times a night, and it used to give me nightmares,” Urata said with a laugh. “I didn't even really know what a Broadway show was back when I was seeing those weird commercials every night. But it was constantly playing on TV, so it always loomed as large and mysterious. And it stayed with me. So I eventually got the soundtrack, and I have seen many various productions of it since then.”

    Urata sees his collaboration with the DCPA evolving in much the same way it has with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and other chamber groups. He imagines complementing the core band sound with horns, violins … and a barrage of percussion.

    “The brass is really important in this show,” said Urata. “Trombones played a big part in the original score, and that’s one of our favorite instruments to write for, so we plan to expand on the brass section. Hopefully we will have multiple exotic horns in that section.”

    Whatever DeVotchka comes up with will be necessarily groundbreaking, but the DCPA is not the first theatre to experiment with Sondheim’s exalted score. Last year, the master gave his permission for the Landless Theatre Company in Washington D.C. to concoct a prog-metal version of the musical, a form that blends classical and jazz while using metal to highlight some of the darker elements of the show.

    Nick Urata Quote“If I know anything about Sondheim, it’s that he is very open-minded,” said Urata, who counts Sondheim's West Side Story as his favorite musical. “I think that's why we all love him - because he has always been so experimental.”

    Urata knows Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is already considered by many to be a masterpiece. He does, too. That’s why he said DeVotchKa intends to honor the source material.

    “It’s a lofty challenge,” he said. “There are some vocal acrobatics in this show that have to be approached with some reverence. That's the vehicle the story travels on in this play. So we have to stay true to that and just kind of build around it with our rock ‘n roll gypsy sound.”

    To that point, Urata had not yet given a thought to the fact that in order for this unique collaboration to happen in Denver, Sondheim himself had to sign off on it. But then Urata was asked about it.

    “And now that you say that, in the back of my mind, all I am thinking is like, ‘Wow, Stephen Sondheim is going to listen to this.' We just hope he doesn't puke when he hears it. But if anything, that will definitely light a fire under our (butts) to make this good.”

    The idea started with a conversation between DCPA Artistic Associate Emily Tarquin and DeVotchKa's Hagerman, who will be providing original music for Off-Center @ The Jones' upcoming bit of theatrical experimentation called Perception, opening April 10.

    Urata can’t wait to sharpen his musical blade, especially if the effort induces the band’s fans to come to the Denver Center and see live theatre.  

    “That would be amazing,” he said. "People don't realize that we have this world-class orchestra, and we have this world-class performing arts center right downtown. Hopefully we can bring some people who might not otherwise check it out.”

    DeVotchKa is not a band known for making demands. But, Urata admits, they did have one. All four and members want to have their throats slit, eight times a week.

    “Yeah … that’s true,” said Urata. “We really want to get into that chair, if possible.”

    Go big or go home, right?

    “Exactly.”

    DeVotchKa capsule

    Here are more excerpts from our conversation with Nick Urata: 

    John Moore: You have made some interesting, crazy departures. And this might be the most interesting, crazy departure of all. How did it happen?

    Nick Urata: When we heard what show we are talking about, we definitely wanted to be a part of it. We’ve just been dancing around the issue for the past couple of months trying to clear out our schedules, and so it only became a reality in the last couple of days. It's all pretty fresh.


    Tom Hagerman ogf DeVotchKa - and off-Center's 'Perception.' Photo by John Moore. John Moore: When I watch many local bands playing live, I can see an untapped theatricality to their music that sometimes I don't think they even realize. But there has been an inherent theatricality to DeVotchKa from the very beginning. How do you feel about fully crossing over into theatre with this project?

    Nick Urata: I think we have always been walking the line between those two worlds. We cut our teeth backing up burlesque shows back in the day. One of our first big tours was this vaudevillian variety show, and we were the pit orchestra. We had to think on our feet, and we had to dabble in all these different genres and mood swings throughout the show. We were at a crossroads as a band at that point, and I think it pushed us in the direction we took. We wrote a ton of our songs during that period.

    John Moore: So is that Nick we are seeing on the stage, or a character?

    Nick Urata Quote 3Nick Urata: I have always felt, especially with this band, that I do my best work when I am not myself. In any given song, you are trying to tell a story, so that means you are portraying a character.

    John Moore: That's what actors do on the stage, of course, but I don't know too many frontmen in local bands who think that way. Well, Slim Cessna and Jay Munly come to mind as frontmen who are assuming a character when they get up to perform.

    Nick Urata: I have to. That's how I am able to embody a song. My favorite part of being an artist is playing a part for people, so I don’t want to bring too much of myself into it. You want to be bigger than life and more interesting to people than just being some guy singing at a mic.

    John Moore: So 9-year-old Nick may not have known what a Broadway musical was when he saw those commercials for Sweeney Todd. Did live theatre become a part of your life as you grew older?

    Nick Urata: Luckily, I had older brothers and sisters who were in musicals, so I became deeply immersed in that world throughout my childhood. I have always been a fan of musicals. Maybe that's my dirty secret ...

    John Moore: … Or maybe that is something to be celebrated.

    Nick Urata: Yeah.

    John Moore: So what kind of theatre turns you on?

    I love the classics: Rodgers and Hart, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. West Side Story is my favorite musical. I love amazing melodies and lyrics that stand alone, even away from the show. That's the stuff that takes me back to a warm and fuzzy place.   

    John Moore: Well, Sweeney Todd is not a warm and fuzzy place.

    Nick Urata: Yeah, and that is what is so cool about it. I don't know if we can pull off the bright and sunny thing with this show.

    John Moore: When you were growing up, did you ever perform in live theatre?

    Nick Urata: Only in very amateur productions.

    John Moore: Gotcha. I was just wondering if you harbored any deep desires to play Sweeney Todd yourself.

    Nick Urata: We haven't talked about it - but I've certainly thought about it. (Laughing). Is there still time to audition? I would give it a try.

    John Moore: I’ve heard you sing, but I’ve never heard you sing Sondheim. You realize he only writes music that only a very small fraction of superhuman beings are capable of singing well, right?

    Nick Urata: Yeah, but Sweeney gets the best songs in the play, for sure. 

    John Moore: Speaking of … we know Tom and Jeanie and Shawn are planning to be in the pit and playing every performance, along with with added musicians. What about you?

    Nick Urata: I am planning on it. We are just trying to work out the logistics of it right now.

    John Moore: So there is a possibility that all four of you will be playing every night?

    Nick Urata: That's what we're hoping. We don't want to say it is definite and then let everybody down if it turns out I can't do it logistically. It is a long run, and there are some other obligations I have to keep. But we are going to write it with all four of our parts in mind and then take it from there.

    John Moore: So imagine yourself a year from now. What do you want to bring to his show that people have never seen before?

    Nick Urata: Mostly, I am hoping we will bring people to the theatre who have never seen the show before to check out some Sweeney Todd. Maybe some of those people who might otherwise be at the hi-dive. 

    READ MORE ABOUT THE DCPA THEATRE COMPANY'S NEW SEASON HERE

    Tickets and subscriptions
    New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Tickets are available to subscribers beginning Monday, March 16, online here,  or by calling 303-893-6030 or 303-893-4100. Subscribers are guaranteed the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed, along with additional benefits. Single tickets will go on sale to the general public in late summer.
  • DCPA Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16

    by John Moore | Mar 13, 2015
    Lookingglass Alice"Lookingglass Alice" as presented in Chicago.


    The DCPA Theatre Company’s 37th season will mark a groundbreaking musical collaboration with a beloved local rock band, and a much-requested return to Shakespeare. And not just any Shakespeare: It’s a title the Theatre Company has never performed in its history (As You Like It).

    DeVotchKaFor the fourth straight year, the season will end with a massive musical undertaking. Not only will the Theatre Company stage Stephen Sondheim’s epic masterpiece Sweeney Todd, the DCPA has received permission from the author to allow the Denver band DeVotchKa to adapt the score for what promises to be a cutting-edge new interpretation.

    "When we heard what show we are talking about, we definitely wanted to be a part of it," said DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata, whose music is described as "mariachi gypsy punk."

    "We’ve just been dancing around the issue for the past couple of months trying to clear out our schedules, and so it only became a reality in the last couple of days. It's all pretty fresh."

    The Theatre Company's new slate affords another usual collaboration, this one with Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre. Somewhat in the vein of Traces’ visit in 2011, Lookingglass debuted as a company with its magical reimagining of Alice in Wonderland that employed trapeze and other circus aerial effects. Lookingglass has toured this signature work ever since, but the production in Denver will a completely new staging performed on a completely reconfigured Stage Theatre.

    Kent Thompson. Photo by John Moore. The season lineup also reinforces the DCPA’s commitment to both new plays and women’s playwrights with the selection of two world-premiere comedies by women – both commissioned by the Theatre Company and featured in last month’s Colorado New Play Summit: Theresa Rebeck’s The Nest and Tanya Saracho’s FADE.

    And for the second straight season, the Theatre Company has slotted the most recent Tony Award-winning best play: The LBJ play All the Way. Before this year’s staging of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the Theatre Company had not presented a Tony-winning best new play since Doubt in 2008 - and has only staged three since 2000.

    “This coming season, we will challenge the boundaries in our theatrical spaces like never before to create incredible experiences for our patrons,” said Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson. “It will be a creative, emotionally charged and exhilarating eight months.”

    For the second straight season, the Theatre Company has announced an eight-show season. That’s down from 10 in 2013-14. Last year, Thompson explained that the company was responding to financial considerations, artistic sustainability and audience feedback.

    READ JOHN MOORE'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NICK URATA OF DEVOTCHKA

    THE 2015-16 SEASON AT A GLANCE
    :
    Sept. 11-Oct 11: Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Lookingglass Alice, Stage Theatre
    Sept. 25-Nov 1: As You Like It, Space Theatre
    Oct. 9-Nov. 15: Tribes, Ricketson Theatre
    Nov. 27-Dec 27: A Christmas Carol, Stage Theatre
    Jan. 22-Feb. 21, 2016: The Nest, Space Theatre
    Jan. 29-Feb 28, 2016: All The Way, Stage Theatre
    Feb. 5-March 13, 206: FADE, Ricketson Theatre
    April 8-May 15, 2016: Sweeney Todd, Stage Theatre

    THE PLAYS IN GREATER DETAIL:




    Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Lookingglass Alice

    Sept. 11-Oct 11
    Stage Theatre
    Adapted and Directed by David Catlin from the works of Lewis Carroll
    Produced in association with The Actors Gymnasium, Lookingglass Alice is a gravity-defying hit inspired by Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories. Called “Spectacular” and “pure, unadulterated magic” by the Chicago Sun-Times, Lookingglass Alice transports audiences to a circus-infused playground. It promises “breathtaking theatricality and wildly inventive acrobatics.”

    Says Kent Thompson: “We are extremely excited to kick off our season by bringing the unique magic of Chicago’s Lookingglass Alice to Denver. This is a wildly inventive production that allows audiences of all ages to join Alice as she literally tumbles down the rabbit hole. And one of the very important things is we will be completely re-staging The Stage theatre for this production because there will be about 175 seats onstage looking through back performance area. We think it will be very popular with families, multi-generationals and theatre people.”

    As You Like It
    Sept. 25-Nov. 1
    Space Theatre
    By William Shakespeare
    After falling under each other’s spell, the lovers Orlando and Rosalind are separately banished and become entangled in a beguiling game of mistaken identity when Rosalind disguises herself as a young man. Merry mischief, curiosity, and surprise flourish in one of Shakespeare’s richest and most popular comedies.

    Kent Thompson: “I’m thrilled to bring Shakespeare back to the Theatre Company with one of the Bard’s most famous comedies. This is a piece I’ve had the pleasure of directing several times and that I’m continuously drawn back to. Rosalind is hands-down one of the most intelligent and appealing female roles in all of Shakespeare. As You Like It has four couples that get married at the end. We are sure that not all four will last, but they represent all forms of love, from love at first sight to love seen through the eyes of lust."

    Tribes
    Oct. 9-Nov. 15
    Ricketson Theatre
    By Nina Raine
    In this drama, called “the best-written, deepest, most daring – and funniest – new play in recent years” by The Wall Street Journal, the members of Billy’s fiercely intelligent and proudly politically incorrect family share private languages, inside jokes and fiery arguments. But meeting Sylvia causes Billy, deaf since birth, to question what it means to be understood. Tribes dissects the possibilities of belonging, family and language.

    Kent Thompson: “I was very drawn to Nina Raine’s writing. This is a really dark and almost surreal, sometimes absurdist story about a dysfunctional family who are incredibly literate and verbal. I think for an American audience, it will seem like they are vicious – and sometimes they are. They have raised their adult son as if he were hearing, and he’s become involved with a woman who is now losing her hearing. Having a central character who is deaf allows us to examine how we communicate, and how we don’t. I know that our multimedia team is ready to dive right in to the challenging production elements of this piece.”



    A Christmas Carol

    Nov. 27-Dec 27
    Stage Theatre
    By Charles Dickens
    Adapted by Richard Hellesen
    Music by David de Berry
    Returning for a 23rd staging, A Christmas Carol this opulent seasonal tradition traces Ebenezer Scrooge’s triumphant journey to redemption. A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations. (This staging is an added attraction and is not included in the subscription season package).

    Kent Thompson: “This version of A Christmas Carol has everything. It’s full of humor, scariness, drama, spectacle and music. Most important, this version allows us to follow the full transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge and perhaps see a little of the change that happens in our own hearts.”


    Note: The footage above is from rehearsal for the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit. The full production is not yet cast.

    The Nest
    Jan. 22-Feb. 21, 2016
    Space Theatre
    By Theresa Rebeck
    The middle-class regulars at a struggling bar called The Nest talk about everything you can imagine: Race, ethnicity, cultures and work struggles. No conversation is off-limits ... until a woman walks in and offers a large sum for the beautiful antique bar. With its feisty humor and scorching dialogue, this new battle of the sexes holds a cracked mirror up to friendships, romantic relationships and families. This world premiere is a DCPA commission.

    Kent Thompson: “Theresa Rebeck has created a comedy that is both hilarious and acerbic. I can honestly say The Nest contains the best first scene of a play that I’ve read in 20 years. She is undeniably one of the more foremost female playwrights in the country, and we are excited to bring this commission to a fully staged premiere.”


    Note: The footage above is from the Broadway production of "All the Way." The DCPA production is not yet cast.

    All The Way

    Jan. 29-Feb 28, 2016
    Stage Theatre
    By Robert Schenkkan
    All The Way
    , a “jaw-dropping political drama,” according to Variety, portrays Lyndon Baines Johnson as one of the most controversial, ambitious and ruthless figures of the 20th century. Set in the pivotal year between JFK’s assassination and Johnson’s election, LBJ hurls himself at the Civil Rights Act, determined to rebuild the country into "The Great Society" by any means necessary. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The 12, The Kentucky Cycle), All The Way won the 2014 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics’ Circle awards for best new play.

    Kent Thompson: “The story is centered in an incredible period of tragedy and change in American history that is still relevant today. We are excited to again feature Robert Schenkkan’s incredible work, and are honored to count him among our Denver Center commissioned playwrights.”

    Note: The footage above is from rehearsal for the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit. The full production is not yet cast.

    FADE
    Feb. 5-March 13, 2016
    Ricketson Theatre
    By Tanya Saracho
    In this sharp, world-premiere comedy, a one-time Mexican-American novelist named Lucia is hired to write for a popular weekly TV serial that features a Latina character. Lucia is out of her league but, as her friendship with the Latino studio custodian grows, she begins incorporating his very real stories into her scripts - and discovers a fast track to success with her bosses. But her choices come with personal consequences. This play is a Denver Center commission.

    Kent Thompson: “Tanya Saracho is a funny, gifted, rising writer who is intensely aware of the layers and complexities in the Hispanic culture. FADE uses humor and some of Tanya’s own life experience as a writer in Hollywood to examine our assumptions about each other, and to reveal some of the fissures within the Latino community. At the same time: This is a really funny play.”




    Sweeney Todd
    April 8-May 15, 2016
    Stage Theatre
    By Stephen Sondheim
    Based on an adaptation by Christopher Bond
    Musical adaptations by DeVotchKa
    DeVotchKa, the Grammy-nominated, Denver hometown music heroes, take on the legendary demon barber of Fleet Street, serving up a delicious reinvention of Sondheim’s magnificent musical thriller. Hell-bent on revenge, Sweeney Todd takes up with his enterprising neighbor in a devilish plot to slice their way through London’s upper crust. Justice will be served — along with audacious humor, bloody good thrills, and DeVotchKa’s lush brand of gypsy punk. Not only will DeVotchKa orchestrate this new version, members of the band will be among the live orchestra each night.

    Kent Thompson: “Sweeney Todd is one of the great musical theatre pieces of all time. With Sondheim’s blessing, we’re thrilled to partner with Denver favorite DeVotchKa to create a new orchestral backdrop for this epic villain.”

    READ JOHN MOORE'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NICK URATA OF DEVOTCHKA

    Tickets and subscriptions
    New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Tickets are available to subscribers beginning Monday, March 16, online here,  or by calling 303-893-6030 or 303-893-4100. Subscribers are guaranteed the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed, along with additional benefits. Single tickets will go on sale to the general public in late summer.

  • Annaleigh Ashford to host two special cabaret concerts at DCPA

    by John Moore | Feb 11, 2015

    Video: Annaleigh Ashford's Day in Denver.



    ASHFORD_ AnnaleighDenver native Annaleigh Ashford is already a Tony Award nominee. She has appeared in five big Broadway productions. She performs onstage every night with James Earl Jones. She has been called “a sly comic genius” by The New York Times. She provides a voice in the biggest animated movie on the planet – Frozen. And next month, she returns to her delicious role as prostitute Betty DiMello on Showtime's Masters of Sex. And she’s not yet even 30.

    The one thing it seems Ashford has not yet done in her young life is perform at her hometown Denver Performing Arts Complex.

    Scratch that.

    The Wheat Ridge High School grad will come home to perform her acclaimed cabaret act, Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars, on April 11-12 at the Garner Galleria Theatre. Tickets go on sale to current DCPA subscribers at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 16. A public on-sale will follow at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 19.

    “I am really excited to just share my heart with friends and family and my fellow Coloradans,” Ashford told the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

    annaleighquoteBut she wouldn’t call herself a big shot. “Not at all,” she said. “The last few years, I have gotten to be an actor full-time, which is pretty much the dream of all dreams. So I have to tell you, I have been really lucky.”

    Lost in the Stars is billed as “an evening of song, story and sequin.” Along with young music director Will Van Dyke and the Whisky 5 band, Lost in the Stars celebrates classic cabaret with an eclectic mix of music that ranges from a 10-minute Donna Summer disco medley, to Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, to an audience sing-along of an Alanis Morissette tune. “It’s a game that I created called Cabaret Karaoke,” Ashford said.

    Wait … Donna Summer? But Ashford was born in the 1980s.

    “The medley really celebrates the history of Studio 54,” Ashford said. But she was a fan of the late disco queen, for real. “In high school, when everyone else was listening to Eminem, I was listening to Donna Summer Live for four months straight,” she said.

    'You Can't Take It With You.' Photo by Joan Marcus.When Ashford says the evening will be eclectic, she means it. The program includes the haunting melodies of Kurt Weill and also, Ashford promises, “I even throw in a Stephen Sondheim-Elton John mash-up.” And while big stars don’t typically sing Broadway tunes in their Times Square cabaret shows, Ashford is adding several contemporary Broadway standards to her Denver set list. For those audiences hoping to hear a few of the songs Ashford sang in Legally Blonde, Wicked, Kinky Boots and Rent, “There is a major possibility they will hear them,” she said. “And by ‘major possibility,’ I mean they will hear them.”

    And it’s all woven together through heartfelt storytelling that is sure to call upon Ashford’s Colorado roots.  

    “I prefer to go to cabaret that is very personal and heartwarming and hopefully funny,” she said, “and that was our goal with this piece.”

    Annaleigh AshfordAfter conquering Broadway in Wicked, Legally Blonde, Hair, Kinky Boots and her current role as Essie in You Can’t Take it With You, Ashford has become a sensation on the New York cabaret scene. Local audiences got a glimpse of that when she returned in 2010 to perform a benefit for the Town Hall Arts Center at a church in Littleton. Of her show at the New York hotspot 54 Below, the New York Times said: “Annaleigh Ashford is in a lineage of fearless, saucy entertainers who seem born to conquer,” and called her the “most promising rising star to appear at 54 Below this year.” 

    Her stop in Denver is part of a national mini-tour that also goes through Chicago, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

    But her show will be more than the usual cabaret songs and banter, she said. "What is kind of exciting about our specific club act is that parts of it are like a theatre piece," she said.

    There will even be special appearances by the sun and the moon.

    “I know this because I made them myself,” she said. “And that's all I say. Well, I will say this: Our goal is for people to leave with their hearts warmed.”

    Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars

    • 8 p.m. Saturday, April 11
    • 5 p.m. Sunday, April 12
    • Single tickets start at $50
    • Tickets go on sale to current DCPA subscribers at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 16. A public on-sale will follow at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 19.
    • To charge by phone, call 303-893-4100 | TTY: 303-893-9582) | Groups of 10 or more: 303-446-4829
    • Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby
    • buy online

    Please be advised that The Denver Center for the Performing Arts – and DenverCenter.Org – is the only authorized online ticket provider for the Denver engagement of “Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars”


    Our previous coverage of Annaleigh Ashford in the DCPA NewsCenter:

    Podcast: Our 'Running Lines' interview with Cyndi Lauper
     Interview: Cyndi Lauper on 'Kinky Boots' ... and how to save Broadway


    Here is our 2013 backstage interview with Annaleigh Ashford and fellow Coloradan Andy Kelso when they were both appearing in "Kinky Boots."
  • Photos: An Evening of Sondheim: An Academy Master Class Project

    by John Moore | Apr 10, 2014

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    Jenna Bainbridge performs Wednesday in "Our Time, An Evening of Sondheim." The musical revue culminates the latest Denver Center Theatre Academy Master Class Project with "open rehearsals" through Friday. Photo by John Moore.

    One of the hallmarks of the Denver Center Theatre Academy's programming is Head of Acting Larry Hecht's popular Master Class Project. Following last year's Picnic, Hecht led 15 students this winter into the wonderful world of Stephen Sondheim. Our Time, An Evening of Sondheim is a musical revue inspired by the songs of Sondheim and the art of Edward Hopper. Performers (many of whom, incidentally, also perform with the local Phamaly Theatre Company), must have completed two previous Academy classes or workshops in order to audition. The classes culminate with public "open rehearsals," which already are at capacity for the remaining Sondheim performances this weekend. 

    Hecht's next Master Class will begin in November. But in the meantime, enrollment opens next week for a full array of new Academy classes for all ages. Click here to see the full rundown.

    Here are more photos taken at Wednesday's opening of Our Time, An Evening of Sondheim.

     

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    The cast of "Our Time: An Evening of Sondheim" includes Jennifer Amato-von Henert, Benaiah Anderson, Jenna Bainbridge, Linda Brown, Danyell Coble, Christine Davidson, Meaghan Johnson, Ashley Kelashian, Josh Nelson, Lyndsay Palmer, Lucy Roucis, Vicki Thiem, Daniel Traylor, David Wright and Erin Young. All photos by John Moore.

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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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