• 'Hamilton' tickets in Denver: Don't get scammed on Monday

    by John Moore | Jan 17, 2018
    Mathenee Treco, Jordan Donica, Ruben J. Carbajal & Michael Luwoye - HAMILTON National Tour (c) Joan Marcus

    From left: Aurora native and Eaglecrest High School graduate Mathenee Treco with Jordan Donica, Ruben J. Carbajal and Michael Luwoye in the 'Hamilton' national touring cast. Tickets for the Denver engagement go on-sale Jan. 22. Photo by Joan Marcus.

    Here's how to make your ticket-buying experience go smoothly when Hamilton tickets go on sale Jan. 22

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Monday will be a historic day in Colorado theatre when single tickets go onsale for the Denver run of Hamilton, one of the most honored and rapturously received musicals in Broadway history. Denver Center officials are expecting consumer interest to be akin to that of a Denver Broncos playoff game.

    But along with passionate theatergoers, the Hamilton ticket sale promises to also attract third-party ticket brokers hoping to scoop up tickets and re-sell them for well above face value — which for most tickets in Denver will not exceed $165.

    Re-selling sports and entertainment tickets is big business. How big? according to Northcoast Research, it's a $5 billion annual industry. They do it by using “bot” technology that can access legit online ticket providers such as denvercenter.org and essentially replicate human behavior. By the thousands. And with super-human speed.

    JohnEkebergHAMILTONQUOTE"This is a worldwide problem," said John Ekeberg, Executive Director of DCPA Broadway. "The bigger the show, the bigger the problem."

    And shows don't get any bigger than Hamilton. With tickets going on sale at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 22, this is both "buyer beware" and "buyer be aware" time for all potential consumers, whether you choose to buy tickets in person, on the phone or online.

    "We have safeguards in place to try to keep tickets in the hands of those people who actually want to attend our performances," said Yovani Pina, DCPA Vice President of Information Technology. But he and his team are in an endless race against technological advances that help secondary brokers get their hands on tickets.

    Those safeguards include limiting purchases to four tickets per account so if the brokers win, they don’t win as much as they might have won before. "Anti-bot" technologies have been implemented to prevent bots from obtaining tickets. Another safeguard: The Denver Center does not allow a single credit-card to be used from multiple computers.

    But perhaps the biggest new weapon in the good guys’ toolbox is a service called “Queue It.” That's a virtual waiting room that guarantees your place in line, and lets you know in real time how long it will be before it is your turn to buy. "We will even let those folks know that they can either stay on the site or we will let them know via email that it's their turn," said Pina.

    No matter how long you have been purchasing your theatre tickets from denvercenter.org, this will be a whole new consumer experience. The "Queue It" service will help ensure a smooth patron experience when purchasing tickets online.

    Here’s how it works:

    Visit hamilton.denvercenter.org between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan 22. You will find yourself in a virtual waiting room. At 10 a.m., you and everyone else in the virtual waiting room will be assigned a random place in line. (And then any latecomers who join after 10 a.m. will be placed, in order, at the back of the line.)

    Hamilton Virtual Waiting RoomOnce your place in line is randomly assigned (see example pictured at right), your place in line is secure. If and when you reach the front of the line before Monday’s allotment of tickets are claimed, you will have 15 minutes to complete your transaction.

    "The whole point of this new system is to ensure that the patron purchasing experience online is as smooth and as efficient as possible," Pina said.

    Now here’s perhaps the best news for legit Hamilton-loving customers: After Monday’s available tickets are gone and the sale is over, the DCPA has committed to reviewing every single online purchase for its legitimacy before any sale is final. That part of the process is essentially a cleansing of the list of unfairly bought tickets.

    "We will be looking for different indicators of purchase behavior that violates our ticket policy," Ekeberg said. Any and all transactions that are detected to be “bot” purchases will be canceled without further consideration. Also: Any patrons who create duplicate accounts with the intention of purchasing more than four tickets per account will also find their orders canceled.

    "We want to reassure people that we are doing everything we can to make this as fair as possible," Ekeberg said. 

    If you do not make it to the front of the virtual line by the time Monday’s allotment of tickets are gone, an announcement will appear in the waiting room that says, “This Event Has Ended.” But if that happens to you, do not despair: Before every performance, there will be a lottery for 40 $10 orchestra seats. That’s 1,500 lucky people who will see Hamilton in Denver from great seats — and for only 10 bucks each. Details will be announced closer to the Feb. 27 opening.

    Here are more helpful tips, useful background information and answers to some of your anticipated questions, not only to help you from being scammed on Monday, but also to help you make your purchasing experience go as smoothly as possible:  

    Five helpful tips to make your Monday go better:

    NUMBER 1 This is big: If you have not created a ticket-buying account on denvercenter.org, do it before Monday. Heck, do it right now. Here's where to do it. Fill out all your information now, so that if you make it to the front of the virtual line on Monday, your transaction will go that much faster. (And those behind you in line will thank you for it.)

    If you already have a Denver Center account, know your username and password. Test it today so that you won't have any trouble purchasing tickets quickly on Monday. If you are unsure of your username and password, please call the box office at 303-893-4100 no later than 5 p.m. on Jan. 21 to ensure a smooth login process on Monday.

    Also: Look up your account information and write it all down in a secured, secondary place so if you need that information on Monday, you will have it handy — on a device separate from your computer.

    NUMBER 2This one is even bigger: The Denver Center's web site at hamilton.denvercenter.org is the only authorized online ticket provider for Hamilton. Do not buy tickets from ANY OTHER online source. You will pay more on any other site. And how to know you are buying from the Denver Center?
    • Look for the Denver Center logo at the top of the online page.
    • Make certain that you see "denvercenter.org" somewhere within your URL.
    Don't be fooled by sites with URLs that might even include official-looking words like "buelltheatre" in the web address. It's all a ploy to make you believe you are buying from an official site, when you aren't. Bottom line: On Monday, just remember "denvercenter.org."

    NUMBER 3Real Hamilton tickets will range from $75 to $165, with a select number of $545 premium seats available for all performances. So if any seller asks you for more than $165 (plus fees), something is probably wrong.

    Take it from 9News' Jeremy Jojola: Only buy from denvercenter.org

    NUMBER 4 Bonfils ComplexThe DCPA is providing three points of purchase: Online, by phone (303-893-4100) and at the box office located in the lobby of the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex. (See map at right.) Tickets are not guaranteed for any point of purchase, and agents are authorized to process only one transaction per customer, regardless of point of purchase. If you choose to purchase in-person at the DCPA box office, know that the line outside will not be allowed to form until after 6 a.m. on Monday. If you plan to purchase by phone, you can expect a very high call volume. Certain carriers may give a "disconnect" message as opposed to an "all circuits are busy" message — which is, unfortunately, out of the DCPA's control.

    NUMBER 5If you succeed in buying tickets, congratulations! As part of your purchase, you will be asked whether you prefer to have your tickets mailed to you, or left for you at will call. For this show only, the Denver Center’s "Print at Home" service is not a ticketing option — purely as a safeguard to cut down on potential fraud. So if any seller says they will email your tickets as a PDF to download, print and take to the theatre, know that it's a fake.

    And a bonus: Even after Monday’s sale, a small number of new tickets often become available for a variety of reasons. Before overpaying any secondary broker, try checking back on denvercenter.org first for any new availability. 

    View answers to your Hamilton questions in our FAQ

    Now, you might be asking: If tickets for Hamilton don’t go onsale until Monday, why am I seeing them being offered online right now, and for as much as $3,000 a seat?

    The answer: These brokers do not even have their hands on any actual tickets yet, because until Monday, Hamilton tickets do not exist. Potential customers searching the web today for Hamilton tickets will find such offers and might think the Denver Center is gouging them — only it isn't the Denver Center that is doing the gouging.

    So how can these brazen brokers sell tickets they don't have? "Essentially they are making promises to their buyers in the certainty that, one way or another, they will get their hands on enough tickets to satisfy their demand," Ekeberg said. Bottom line, added Pina: “They are gambling. And they are betting the house.”

    Despite the Denver Center’s best efforts, Ekeberg acknowledges, the brokers will successfully amass some inventory of actual Hamilton tickets. Just how many is not currently measurable.

    HAMILTON Google screen shot One of the most common mistakes buyers make, Pina said, is trusting a Google search to send them to the right place for real tickets. For example, if you search "Hamilton tickets Denver," the first four options you will see are actually paid ads from third-party ticket brokers. The official denvercenter.org outlet only comes up fifth. (See the example at right.)

    "Most folks hear about a show like Hamilton on TV or the radio, and they go to Google to buy," Pina said. "But most consumers aren't aware that the first few options they see are paid advertisements. Take a second to look at your screen. These are sites that pay big money to look like the Denver Center when they are not. And if you click one of the wrong sites, you are going to find a ticket broker who might be selling a $70 ticket for $500."

    What to do? If you start at hamilton.denvercenter.org, you will not have this problem. But if you do use Google, keep scrolling until you see the real denvercenter.org option. hamilton.denvercenter.org is the only place you can buy tickets at face value.

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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Hamilton: At a glance:
    HamiltonWith book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s biography.  It is the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway, Hamilton is the story of America then, as told by America now.

    Feb. 27-April 1
    Buell Theatre

    Related NewsCenter coverage:
    Hamilton Tickets
  • Idris Goodwin is going places: From Curious' 'Detroit '67' to Denver Center

    by John Moore | Jan 11, 2018
    Detroit 67 Curious Theatre Cajardo Lindsey and Jada Suzanne Dixon. Photo by Micjael Ensminger.
    Cajardo Lindsey and Jada Suzanne Dixon in Curious Theatre's 'Detroit '67,' directed by Idris Goodwin and opening Saturday. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    Groundbreaking artist directs Curious' look back at uprising before bringing This is Modern Art to Jones Theatre

    By Jeannene Bragg
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Plays. Raps. Essays. Poems. Film. Idris Goodwin is a storyteller at heart. Performance and words are his jam. "Why not?" is his constant refrain.

    "If I can do all these things, why not?" says Goodwin. "Just like a visual artist has various mediums: oils, acrylics, collages, so do I. I work with stories and some are plays, some are raps or poems."

    Idris Goodwin QUOTE Detroit '67And that versatility has taken him far, from HBO to Sesame Street to the Kennedy Center to, at present, Curious Theatre Company — and after that, to the Denver Center.
    Curious Theatre's Detroit '67, opening Saturday, is Goodwin's Denver directorial debut. Goodwin then directs own play This is Modern Art at the Denver Center's Jones Theatre in March.

    Goodwin has a special connection to both Detroit and Detroit '67. He met playwright Dominique Morisseau during the premiere of his play And in This Corner ... Cassius Clay at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville, where the two connected over their shared childhoods in Detroit.
    "After meeting her, I immediately went out and read Detroit '67, and started teaching it in my class," said Goodwin, a full-time associate theatre professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. "It had been on my radar for many reasons, including being a fan of American history and drama. And when the opportunity came, I said, 'Of course, what a perfect piece for my directorial debut in Denver.' "

    The story is set in the summer of 1967, when the soulful sounds of Motown were breaking records and breaking down barriers. Siblings Chelle and Lank make ends meet by running an unlicensed bar in their Detroit basement — a risky business as police crack down on after-hours joints in black neighborhoods. When Lank offers shelter to an injured white woman, tensions escalate both in their home and in their community — and they find themselves caught in the middle of the violent ’67 riot. Detroit ‘67 explores a moment rife with police brutality, immense racial divide and a powderkeg of emotions.

    This is Modern Art Denver School of the ArtsAs a native of Detroit, Goodwin knows the world and rhythm of Morisseau's play. "I know the people. I know their spirit. But there is also a universality of the show," he said. "My goal is to make people feel like they are in that basement with that family, going through what they are going through, too."

    (Photo above and right: 'This is Modern Art' was read last year to the students at Denver School of the Arts.)

    Shorty after Detroit '67 closes on Feb. 24, Goodwin's This is Modern Art will bow at the Jones Theatre. That incendiary play, written with Kevin Coval, recounts the true story of one of the biggest graffiti bombs in Chicago history. In less than 20 minutes in a 2010 snowstorm, a stealthy crew spray-painted a 50-foot graffiti piece along the exterior wall of the Art Institute of Chicago. The tagging began with the words “modern art” and ended with the phrase “made you look.”

    "They were putting out a challenge,” Goodwin said. “What is modern art? Who gets to decide who a real artist is? And where does art belong?”

    Athe-way-the-mountain-moved-2In 2018, Goodwin's plays will be seen all across the county. His highly anticipated new play The Way The Mountain Moved gets its world premiere at the esteemed Oregon Shakespeare Festival in July. It tells the powerful story of how the Transcontinental Railroad shaped the country’s moral and environmental future from previously untold perspectives.

    (Photo above and right: Christopher Salazar, Christiana Clark, Sara Bruner and Al Espinosa in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's upcoming 'The Way the Mountain Moved.')

    In This Corner...Cassius Clay, a children's play that explores the early life of the man who would later rename himself Muhammad Ali, will be performed in Charlotte, N.C.; Anchorage, Alaska; and Portland, Ore. This is Modern Art also will be staged by the New York Theatre Workshop June 1-24.

    Goodwin also will perform at a reading of the book Breakbeat Poets in the Age of Hop Hop in Southern California this spring. That's a collection of poems edited by Coval that features Goodwin, among otheres. Goodwin and Coval have their own book due to drop in February called Human Highlight: An Ode to Dominique Wilkins.

    All while teaching full-time at Colorado College and raising a young family.

    He's going places. But right now, he's in Denver at Curious Theatre.

    Jeannene Bragg is the Community Engagement Organizer for Curious Theatre and the founder of Creating Justness, which is committed to amplifying the voices of artists from oppressed arts , community and social justice groups. She also does contract work for Colorado Creative Industries, the state's arts council. She can be reached at 303-800-3030 or jeannene@curioustheatre.org.

    Detroit '67: Ticket information

    • Presented by the Curious Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 13-Feb. 24
    • 1080 Acoma St.
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    Detroit 67 Ilasiea Gray and Anastasia Davidson. Photo by Michael EnsmingerCast and Creative team:
    • Jada Suzanne Dixon
    • Cajardo Lindsey
    • Anastasia Davidson
    • Ilasiea Gray
    • Frank Taylor Green

    • Idris Goodwin, Director
    • Charles Dean Packard, Scenic Designer
    • Kevin Brainerd, Costume Designer
    • Richard Devin, Lightning Designer
    • Jason Ducat, Sound Designer
    • Dylan Sprauge, Props Designer
    • Diana Ben-Kiki, Wig and Make-Up Design
    (Photo: Ilasiea Gray and Anastasia Davidson. Photo by Michael Ensminger.)

    Modern Art 800
    Above: 'This is Modern Art' at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2015.

    This is Modern Art
    : Ticket information

    • Presented by Off-Center
    • Performances March 22-April 15
    • Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of Idris Goodwin:
    Graffiti: Modern art or 'urban terrorism'?
    Vast and visceral: Off-Center season will include This is Modern Art
    Video: Victory Jones and the Incredible One Woman Band

  • Time-lapse video: Creating your first look at 'Zoey's Perfect Wedding'

    by John Moore | Jan 09, 2018


    How a broad brushstroke turns into a raw, emotional and contemporary introduction of a new play to its audience

    Kyle MaloneArt Director Kyle Malone, an 18-year employee of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, isn’t an actor. Nonetheless, he has had a profound influence on how audiences have experienced every DCPA Theatre Company production since 2013.

    Check out our time-lapse video look at how Malone came up with the show art for the DCPA Theatre Company's upcoming world premiere Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, the raucous story of a wedding gone horribly, comically, catastrophically wrong, which has its first performance on Jan. 19 in the Space Theatre.

    "The Theatre Company illustrations are meant to feel raw, emotional and contemporary," says Malone. "I do this by using a mix of hand-done pencil-and-ink washes topped off with digital color floods and simple object overlays."

    Zoey's Perfect Wedding show Art Kyle Malone For each show, DCPA Creative Director Rob Silk and Copywriter Carolyn Michaels come up with what they call an “Ignition Point” to guide the narrative of the image. For Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, written by Matthew Lopez, the team worked off the phrase: “Commitment isn’t pretty.” Malone starts off exploring that direction with lots of quick sketches, After some curation, the team gathers to review and decide on the strongest one.

    “To create the final illustration, I lay down a pencil drawing as a guide,” Malone said. He then goes over it using Micron pens for fine details and ink washes for large areas.

    “Once the hand-done character is complete, I take a high-resolution photo to create the digital version,” he said. “From there on out, the art lives in the computer, where I add the colors and play with various object overlays that I’ve drawn in Adobe Illustrator. Finally, I explore different compositions until I find the best way to fit all of the pieces together.”

    Zoey's Perfect Wedding: Ticket information
    At a glance: The blushing bride. The touching toast. The celebration of true love. These are the dreams of Zoey’s big day…and the opposite of what it’s turning out to be. Disaster after disaster follow her down the aisle, from brutally honest boozy speeches to a totally incompetent wedding planner. Even worse, her friends are too preoccupied with their own relationship woes to help with the wreckage around them. Like a car crash you can’t look away from, watch in awe as this wildly funny fiasco destroys her expectations with the realities of commitment, fidelity and growing up.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 19-Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage of Kyle Malone's work:
    Theatre Company introduces bold new artwork for 2015-16 season
    Art and Artist: Meet Graphic Designer Kyle Malone

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of Zoey's Perfect Wedding":

    Video: Director Mike Donahue on just how perfect Zoey's Perfect Wedding really is
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal

  • 'American Mariachi': Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Jan 04, 2018
    The making of American Mariachi: Photo gallery:

    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Photos from the opening week of rehearsals for 'American Mariachi.' The world-premiere play with music performs in the Stage Theatre from Jan. 26 (opening Feb. 2) through Feb 25. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photo above by Bobby Plasencia. Other photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Director James Vásquez says now is a wildly important time to be telling stories about women in the American theatre

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Rehearsals for the DCPA Theatre Company's upcoming world-premiere co-production of  playwright José Cruz González's American Mariachi began in earnest this week, launching an unprecedented partnership with the acclaimed Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

    Amerian Mariachi QuoteThe new play with live music will open at the Stage Theatre in Denver on Feb. 2 and run through Feb. 25 as a featured attraction of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. And once it closes here, the entire production will be transported intact to San Diego for a second run opening March 29 – sets, actors and all.

    American Mariachi is set in the 1970s American southwest. It follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha, who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia. When Lucha finds a mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, she becomes determined to learn how to play this magical song for her before it is too late. But at a time when being a female mariachi player was unheard of in the U.S., Lucha's hopes for performing seem like a fantasy until she assembles a spunky group of female mariachi musicians who are ready to make her dream come true.

    "This is an opportunity to tell a really important story about women, about the Latinx culture and about music,” DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden said at a gathering to greet the cast and creative team as they began rehearsals.  

    Director James Vásquez agreed that now is a “wildly, wildly” important time to be telling stories about women in the American theatre. “I grew up surrounded and influenced by strong women all my life,” he said, “so to be able to help tell these stories is an honor — and, I think, a duty.”

    Here are five things we learned at first rehearsal:

    NUMBER 1American Mariachi Patty Baca. Photo by John Moore The DCPA will host its second community conversation introducing American Mariachi and its importance from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, at the Newman Building for Theatre Education, located at 13th and Arapahoe streets. DCPA Director of Strategic Projects FloraJane DiRienzo said the gathering is an opportunity for all interested parties to join Vásquez, learn more about the play and discuss with DCPA staff how to deepen engagement with the Hispanic and Latinx communities around this high-profile staging. "We are truly thrilled to have you here," said Dr. Patricia Baca (pictured above and right), longtime DCPA board member and former Denver Public Schools deputy superintendent, in welcoming the American Mariachi cast and creative team to Denver. "To me, this play is extremely important, certainly for the Latinx community, but really for all communities. We're going to get a lot of people here to see the talent that you bring, and the potential that you represent to young people in our community. You are the reality of what our kids dream of." Anyone wanting to attend the free conversation is asked to RSVP by email to Jennifer Kemps at JKemps@dcpa.org.

    Our report from the first Mariachi community conversation

    NUMBER 2 Conversations around American Mariachi reflect a rise in the term “Latinx” (pronounced “Latin X”), which is being more widely embraced among scholars, community leaders and journalists as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.  According to The Huffington Post, Latinx is part of a “linguistic revolution” that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. In addition to men and women from all racial backgrounds, Latinx also makes room for people who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid.

    American Mariachi Mural in progress. Designed by Regina Garcia. Photo by John MooreThe mural that made the director and playwright cry is shown in progress. It is the vision of Scenic Designer Regina Garcia. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    NUMBER 3González returns to Denver with his third world-premiere play for the DCPA Theatre Company, following the lyrical magical realism piece September Shoes in 2005 and the outright comedy Sunsets and Margaritas in 2008. Last week, he and Vásquez got an early peek at a massive mural that will serve as the foundation of Regina Garcia's scenic design in the DCPA's scenic shop. "Both of us just started crying," Vásquez said. Addressing all of the artists who are working in any capacity toward the creation of this show, González said: "To me, you are all magical unicorns, because you make magic. You are the heart and soul of the DCPA, and I am humbled by that. Thank you for your talent, for your professionalism, and for your desire to make the impossible happen."

    American Mariachi Cast

    NUMBER 4 Vásquez described American Mariachi as the story of underdogs, "and right now, there is no better play to celebrate the underdog stepping into their voice than this one," he said. "We get to tell the story of five underdogs who have been pushed down, and they step out into the world and make a change. I think that's really exciting, and I think the world is ready for that. So that's what we are going to do."

    NUMBER 5 For more than a decade, the DCPA Theatre Company has typically introduced developing new works at its annual Colorado New Play Summit and then scheduled two or three titles to be fully staged on the next mainstage season. American Mariachi was given an unprecedented two-year gestation period, and for that, González is grateful. "It's really great to have been given the extra time to continue to develop the play with continuing workshops here and in Los Angeles, González said. "What was so wonderful about showing early versions of our story was seeing young women in particular come and see their lives being played out up there on the stage. That is a rare and important thing for them." 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    American Mariachi: Cast and creatives announced:

    • Playwright: José Cruz González 
    • Director: James Vásquez
    • Music Director: Cynthia Reifler Flores
    • Natalie Camunas as Gabby / Ensemble
    • Crissy Guerrero as Soyla / Sister Manuela / Ensemble
    • Rodney Lizcano as Mino / Padre Flores / Ensemble
    • Doreen Montalvo as Amalia / Doña Lola/ Ensemble
    • Jennifer Paredes as Lucha / Ensemble
    • Bobby Plasencia as Federico / Ensemble
    • Luis Quintero as Mateo / René / Rubin / Ensemble
    • Amanda Robles as Isabel / Tía Carmen/ Ensemble
    • Heather Velazquez (Hortensia (Boli) / Ensemble 
    • Scenic Designer: Regina Garcia
    • Costume Designer: Meghan Anderson Doyle
    • Lighting Designer: Paul Miller
    • Sound Designer: Ken Travis
    • Dramaturg: Shirley Fishman
    • Stage Manager: Rachel Duca
    • Assistant Stage Managers: Heidi Echtenkamp and Amanda Salmons
    • Violin: Martin Padilla
    • Violin :Tomás Tinoco Jr.
    • Trumpet: Guadalupe Zarate
    • Vihuela:Erick Jiménez
    • Guitarrón: Ruben Marin
    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.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 26 through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Video: José Cruz González at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit

     José Cruz González talks with John Moore about 'American Mariachi' during its first iteration in 2016.


    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    American Mariachi: Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • 2017 True West Award: Colorado Theatre Person of the Year Regan Linton

    by John Moore | Dec 30, 2017
    2017 True West Award Regan Linton



    Regan Linton

    Colorado Theatre Person of the Year

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    We’ll never know whether Phamaly Theatre Company would have survived 2017 had Regan Linton not been here. She was here. And one of the nation's signature theatre companies is still here. And that's why Linton is the True West Awards' 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year.

    For 28 years, one of Denver’s crown jewels has produced professional plays and musicals exclusively for actors with disabilities. But at this time a year ago, it was in catastrophic financial trouble.

    Regan Linton True West Award Quote Photo by John MooreLinton, a former core company member who went on to become a shining national example of what begets opportunity, had just been named Phamaly’s interim Artistic and Executive Director to fill a short-term leadership vacuum.

    Linton’s appointment was a cause for celebration. Not only had the Denver East High School graduate helped elevate Phamaly’s game as an actor with wrenching performances in musicals such as Side Show and Man of La Mancha, she came home with serious cred. In 2012, she became the first paralyzed student ever to be enrolled into one of the nation's top master’s conservatory programs when she was accepted at the University of California San Diego. And in 2015, Linton became the first actor in a wheelchair ever to be hired into the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival's year-round repertory company since it was founded in 1935.

    Today, Linton is a highly respected actor, educator and prominent voice for disability inclusion in the national theatre community. And when she accepted the one-year Phamaly assignment last year at age 34, Linton became the first person in a wheelchair ever to lead a major U.S. theatre company as Artistic Director, according to Theatre Communications Group.

    Then came the sticker shock.

    “I immediately became aware that the company was not in as healthy a financial position as I had thought,” Linton said. Phamaly's annual operating budget had more than doubled over the previous seven years, to $850,000. But revenue had not grown proportionally. Just two months into the job, Linton realized Phamaly was facing an immediate $100,000 shortfall.

    (Story continues after the photo gallery below.)

    Photo gallery: A look back at Regan Linton's year (and years) with Phamaly:

    Regan Linton: 2017 Colorado Theatre Person of the Year
    Photos from Regan Linton's first year as interim Artistic and Executive Director of Phamaly Theatre Company, followed by additional photos from years past. To see more images, just click on the image above to be taken to the full gallery. Photos by or compiled by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Linton attacked the problem swiftly, first by shaving the upcoming budget. She scrapped expensive plans to stage Peter Pan with wheelchairs flying over the DCPA’s Stage Theatre. A Shakespeare collaboration with a New York company was put off. And then, on March 28, Linton took a deep breath and released an uncommonly forthright public statement bluntly telling supporters that without an urgent cash infusion, Phamaly would be bankrupt by July 1. And that was just to make it to the summer. “We were really more like $250,000 in the hole,” she said.

    The most important thing to Linton was being open and honest about the situation. “If we were going to go down, then we were going to do it having been completely transparent with every one of our supporters,” she said.

    But, it turns out, It’s a Wonderful Life ain’t just a holiday movie.

    Phamaly’s “Sunny Tomorrow” campaign didn’t just raise $100,000. It raised $108,000, thanks to more than 325 individual donors. And that still takes Linton's breath away. “I feel like that wasn't just people saying, 'We love this theater company.’ It’s deeper than that. I feel like they were saying, ‘People with disabilities are valuable.’ And as a person who lives with a disability, that's really, powerfully meaningful to me.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Just a few weeks after the campaign ended, Phamaly netted an additional, record-obliterating $60,000 from its annual gala — up from $35,000 the year before. And then Annie, which Linton chose to present instead of Peter Pan, drew 6,700 to the Stage Theatre. That’s nearly 20 percent more than the previous Phamaly attendance record.

    Janice Sinden Regan Linton QuoteAll three of those things had to happen, Linton said, for Phamaly to fully climb out of the hole it was in. And all three did.

    But Phamaly didn’t get the backing it needed on sentiment alone. It got it because it was Linton who went out and asked for it, Denver Center President and CEO Janice Sinden said.

    “Regan is a determined, passionate woman who leads with her heart, but always with an outcome in mind,” Sinden said. “She was uniquely situated to lead this campaign because of who she is and what she means to the community. She leveraged smart relationships to drive this turnaround.”

    Boy, did she. The first call Linton made was to Sinden’s predecessor, Daniel L. Ritchie, a longtime Phamaly supporter who cut Linton a $10,000 check just 20 minutes after sitting down with her. The Harvey Family Foundation then agreed to match up to $35,000 in new donations, a goal that was reached in just 17 days.

    But Linton’s greatest fundraising achievement of 2017 came at the end of the year, after Sinden facilitated a visit with William Dean Singleton, retired chairman of The Denver Post and newly named Chairman of the Bonfils Foundation. They hit it off, Sinden said, because the two share a powerful commonality as former able-bodied persons now living with mobility challenges.

    Life changes in the ordinary instant

    Regan Linton HospitalLinton was a 20-year-old undergrad at the University of Southern California when her spine was wrecked in a fraction of an instant on a rainy Santa Monica Freeway. Linton was in the back seat of a car that was stopped for a vehicle that had been abandoned in the fast lane of the highway. The car behind Linton, filled with five sorority sisters, hit her at full speed.

    Linton no longer feels sensation below her chest. And yet, whenever she prepares to go on stage, she playfully says, “I can still feel butterflies.”

    Singleton is a newspaper magnate and cattle rancher who founded MediaNews Group, the fourth-largest newspaper company in the U.S. by circulation, with The Denver Post as its eventual flagship. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, which has slowly robbed him of his mobility, and today he gets around in a motorized chair.

    (Story continues after the video.)

    Video bonus: Regan Linton wins 2017 Spirit of Craig Award:

    The video above was played at the annual PUSH Gala for Craig Hospital in April with the announcement of Phamaly Theatre Company Executive and Artistic Director Regan Linton as its 2017 Dave and Gail Liniger Spirit of Craig Award winner. Video provided by Craig Hospital. To watch Linton’s acceptance speech, click here

    “They hit it off when they met,” Sinden said, "and Dean immediately saw an opportunity to help.”

    On Oct. 11, Singleton presented Linton with the Fourth Annual Dean Singleton Legacy Grant, a $50,000 gift made through the Denver Post Community Foundation. “It was very emotional for both of them,” Sinden said.

    A Regan Linton and Dean Singleton“I couldn’t be more proud of our grant recipient this year, for what Phamaly does to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theatre,” said Singleton. “Phamaly provides such a benefit to the metro-Denver community.”

    Linton called the grant “an incredible honor for Phamaly.”

    In just six months, Linton implemented a campaign that moved Phamaly from the financial brink to something akin to stability. And that, said former Phamaly assistant stage manager Max Peterson, is an astonishing accomplishment.

    “I had both the pleasure and the anxiety of watching Regan and (Director of Production and Operations) Paul Behrhorst walk through that whole mess,” Peterson said. “It was inspiring to see their determination and persistence to bring that company all the way back. The blood, sweat and tears were real — and the stakes could not have been higher.”

    Meanwhile, back on the stage

    A Regan Linton Theatre Person of the Year Ytue West Awards Photo by John MooreLest we forget: While this was going on, Linton also had a company to run, both as Artistic and Executive Director.

    In February, Phamaly presented George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at the Aurora Fox, followed by the record-breaking run of Annie at the Denver Center and, last month, Phamaly’s annual original sketch comedy called Vox Phamilia at Community College of Aurora.

    (Pictured at right: Regan Linton backstage with the cast of 'Annie' on opening night. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Linton pushed herself to her physical and mental limits in 2017, in part because she also chose to direct Annie on the largest stage in Phamaly history. Linton began to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all as preparations for Annie approached. “The stress of even thinking of Phamaly going away was emotionally taxing for me,” she said. "It all finally caught up to me. I was a mess.”

    One of Linton’s smartest moves of the year was calling on former longtime Phamaly Artistic Director Steve Wilson to co-direct Annie with her. “Wilson knows to his bones what directing disabled actors entails: The difficulties many face, the need to work without sentimentality or condescension, and to treat his actors as the artists they are,” wrote Westword’s Juliet Wittman, who called the resulting production “Ready, willing … and very able.”  

    MacGregor Arney and Regan Linton Curious Incident Mixed Blood Photo by Rich Ryan Linton kept her own acting skills sharp in 2017 by performing in two major productions for the Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis. In February, she played the governor of California in a site-specific immigration play called Safe at Home that was set and performed at a local baseball stadium. And just last month, she returned in one of the first regional stagings of the big-buzz play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Star-Tribune theatre critic Chris Hewitt said Linton was excellent as an autistic boy’s calm, compassionate teacher.

    (Pictured at right: MacGregor Arney and Regan Linton in 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' for the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Photo by Rich Ryan.)

    As Linton reflects back on her year now, she won’t say she saved Phamaly Theatre Company. But Behrhorst will.

    “I say it because it is true,” Behrhorst said. “Of course Regan didn't do it single-handedly. But from the start, she gave the community, the actors, the board and the staff something to believe in. Regan didn't back away from the problem. She gave us new life."

    Sinden sides with Behrhorst.

    John Moore’s 2005 Denver Post feature on Regan Linton

    “Regan came home and she brought both thought leaders and community leaders to the table who invested in the future of this organization," Sinden said. "Regan put Phamaly on a trajectory for long-term success. And only she could have done that.”

    All of which is only part of the reason Linton has been named the 17th annual Colorado Theatre Person of the Year. She not only saved a theatre company. She not only preserved future performance opportunities for persons with disabilities that do not exist elsewhere. She saved something that is part of the city's soul.

    Regan Linton. Craig Hospital PUSH Gala Photo by John Moore“There's a lot of great theater that happens in Denver,” Linton said. “However, one-fifth of the population of the United States identifies as having a disability. So if you don't have that identity prominently represented in your local theater, then you are missing out on a whole subset of what it means to be human. And that's what I think people would have missed out on if Phamaly had gone away. They would've missed out on this unique experience that opens your eyes to something you just don’t see anywhere else.”

    Linton’s 2017 odyssey has changed her career itinerary in ways that are not yet clear, even to her. Her initial one-year appointment is now entering its 15th month. She says she is very close to hiring the company’s next Executive Director. So what does that mean for Linton, who officially lives in Montana now, while maintaining a second artistic home in Minneapolis?

    “It means I will be around for the near future, at least,” she said. “I feel committed to Phamaly, and I want to see Phamaly succeed. To me, that means following through with my commitment to make sure the company is in a good place if and when I move away. And I don't think that work is done yet.”

    Asked to assess where she is at as 2018 begins, compared to the start of the year, Linton laughs. “Well, I'm not nearly as much of a mess as I was,” she said. “But most of all, I will say I am proud to be part of Phamaly living on, and I'm proud to be part of leading Phamaly into its next chapter.”

    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 

    Regan Linton: 2017
    •  Artistic and Executive Director for Phamaly Theatre Company
    •  Winner, 2017 Spirit of Craig Award READ MORE
    •  Played the Governor of California in Mixed Blood Theatre's Safe at Home in Minneapolis
    •  Co-Directed Phamaly's mainstage production of Annie at the DCPA's Stage Theatre
    •  Played Siobhan in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nght-Time for Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis

    The True West Awards' Theatre Person of the Year / A look back

    • 2016: Billie McBride: Actor and director
    • 2015: Donald R. Seawell: Denver Center for the Performing Arts founder
    • 2014: Steve Wilson: Phamaly Theatre Company and Mizel Center for Arts and Culture
    • 2013: Shelly Bordas: Actor, teacher, director and cancer warrior
    • 2012: Stephen Weitz: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company co-founder
    • 2011: Maurice LaMee: Creede Repertory Theatre artistic director
    • 2010: Anthony Garcia: Su Teatro artistic director
    • 2009: Kathleen M. Brady: DCPA Theatre Company actor
    • 2008: Wendy Ishii: Bas Bleu Theatre co-founder
    • 2007: Ed Baierlein: Germinal Stage-Denver founder
    • 2006: Bonnie Metzgar: Curious Theatre associate artistic director
    • 2005: Chip Walton, Curious Theatre founder
    • 2004: Michael R. Duran: Actor, set designer, director and playwright
    • 2003: Nagle Jackson, DCPA Theatre Company director and playwright
    • 2002: Chris Tabb: Actor and director

    Phamaly Theatre Company: Coming in 2018
    • April 14-22: Romeo & Juliet, at the Dairy Arts Center
    • July 12-Aug. 5: Into the Woods, at the DCPA's Space Theatre
    • Oct. 18-Nov. 11: Harvey, at the The Olin Hotel Apartment, in partnership with Senior Housing Options
    Information: 303-575-0005 or phamaly.org

    Selected recent NewsCenter coverage of Phamaly:
    Photos: Phamaly Theatre Company's amazing opening-night tradition
    The triumph of Phamaly's not-so-horrible Hannigan
    Pop-culture Annie, from comics to Broadway to Jay-Z
    Phamaly gala, campaign raise $200K, ‘save the company’
    Phamaly launches emergency $100,000 fundraising campaign
    Regan Linton accepts Spirit of Craig Award
    Regan Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment

    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

  • 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


    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)


  • Rocky Mountain News theatre critic Jackie Campbell dies at 89

    by John Moore | Dec 29, 2017
    Jackie Campbell Thom WiseRocky Mountain News theatre critics Thom Wise and Jackie Campbell.

    The pioneering theatre critic followed her own voice and left her mark on the city, former editor John Temple says.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Two things you knew with longtime theatre critic Jackie Campbell, says former Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple, "is that she loved the theater — and that she knew what she thought. Period. She followed her own voice."

    And that voice took all of us to some very interesting places.  

    "She was one of the pioneering women journalists at the Rocky Mountain News," said Temple . "She left her mark not just on the newsroom, but on the city."

    Campbell died this morning, according to the man who succeeded her in that job in May 1997, Thom Wise. She would have turned 90 this coming Feb. 8.

    “Jackie was quite something,” said Wise, “She was an old-guard member of the newspaper world, for sure. Jackie will always be remembered for her sharp mind and keen insights. And she was one of the earliest female rock ‘n roll writers at a daily newspaper."

    Jackie CampbellCampbell had "a spectacular sense of humor," Rob Reuteman, adjunct Journalism Professor at Colorado State University, posted on Facebook.

    Campbell was a highly respected theatre critic whose opinion mattered, whether pro or con, and she was not afraid to state a contrary opinion. For example, she rode against the tide when the DCPA Theatre Company staged Waiting for Godot with Ann Guilbert (Estragon) and Kathleen Brady (Vladimir) playing the two tramps.

    "What abomination is at work here that someone thought it clever to transform Beckett's Gogo and Didi into Valley girls?” Campbell wrote. “I didn't forget for a moment that these two men were women."

    On the other hand, she helped elevate smaller productions into the larger public consciousness. She called Su Teatro’s Intro to Chicano History: 101 “a homegrown product of the blue-ribbon quality. If anything can draw the disparate segments of an Anglo-Hispano population closer, it might be the destination of artfully composed statements like this play.”

    Said Mike Pearson, Campbell's boss at the Rocky for a decade: "I can think of countless adjectives to describe her: Smart, funny, clever, sardonic, generous, imperious and passionate about her craft. She was always quick to speak her mind which, as you can imagine, made managing her difficult at times. Still, my memories of Jackie are largely fond. I can only imagine that the choirs of angels are trembling at the thought of her wielding her critic's pen in heaven."

    Campbell covered all the big stores of the theatre day. One in 1996, when a Boulder lawyer led a successful challenge to a city of Boulder smoking ordinance that drew international attention after it was used to crack down on a Boulder’s Dinner Theatre staging of Grand Hotel. After weeks of negative publicity, the city adopted an amendment exempting live performances.

    Photojournalist Dean Krakel said Campbell edited the first story he ever wrote for the Rocky Mountain News. "She was always funny and witty and a pleasure to be around," he wrote on Facebook. "What a great voice and laugh."

    Added former Colorado Theatre Guild General Manager Gloria Shanstrom: " She was a great voice for theatre and the arts, an amazing lady and always delightful to spend time with and talk to."

    Comedian Rob Becker found himself on the wrong end of a Campbell review and had great fun with it. “Back on a Limb” was an emotionally raw one-man theatrical exploration of his mental  illness. Campbell gave it a D, “because it sounded like a madman yelling at the back of the bus.” Becker responded: Jackie, that’s what it is. Give it an A!"

    This report will be updated.

  • 2017 True West Award: Composer and Music Director David Nehls

    by John Moore | Dec 29, 2017
    2017 True West Award David Nehls


    Day 29: David Nehls

    Composer and Music Director
    I’ll Be Home for Christmas

    Killer Wigs from Outer Space

    The Wild Party

    Mommie Dearest

    A Midnight Clear

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Composer David Nehls had four new musicals in various stages of development over the past 12 months.

    Wait, wait. Let me repeat that:

    Composer David Nehls had FOUR NEW MUSICALS in various stages of development over the past 12 months.

    It’s nearly incomprehensible to think that one composer based here in Colorado could have that much new musical material gestating out there in the theatre world all at once. And all four of his musicals got staged and seen, in some form or other, in three states.

    And that doesn’t even include his musical direction of someone else’s musical: Nehls made his Denver Center debut in 2017 by taking on Off-Center’s full-flapper cannonball dive into immersive theatre with The Wild Party, a truth-in-title Jazz Age musical that was staged under The Hangar at Stanley in Aurora.

    Joan_CrawfordLadies and gentlemen, this is David Nehls’ moment. And his moment includes brain-eating parasites, unapologetic holiday sentiment and partnerships with none other than the daughter of Joan Crawford (pictured at right) and a star of Broadway’s Rock of Ages.

    Maybe we should go back to the beginning of the year.

    Nehls began 2017 by bravely leaving the safe embrace of his 12-year artistic home at the Arvada Center, where he supervised the music for about 45 mainstage productions. And he went out on top: His final project there was one of his own: The Arvada Center premiered Nehls’ I’ll Be Home for Christmas, a familiar holiday throwback with a little bit of bite. He ended 2017 premiering a purely joyful holiday commission called A Midnight Clear: A Musical Tale of Christmas at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, where Nehls’ writing partner, Kenn McLaughlin, is the Artistic Director.

    "The work that David is doing is really vital for the future of the American musical,” said Denver's Robert Michael Sanders, who traveled to Houston to be the assistant director A Midnight Clear. "Because without people like David continuing to take these big risks and write this new stuff, we’ll continue to just perform The Sound of Music and Beauty and the Beast into the next century."

    Here’s a quick look at Nehls' four very different new musicals in 2017:

    A David Nehls 800

    I’ll Be Home for Christmas

    • World premiere at the Arvada Center
    • Nov. 18-Dec. 23, 2016
    • Written with: Kenn McLaughlin
    • At a glance: Set in 1969, the Bright family prepares for their annual Christmas variety show, always one of the most-watched national TV events of the year. As the telecast approaches, they welcome their eldest son home from the Vietnam war. The former teen idol is now a decorated hero but deeply challenged by his return to civilian life in front of the cameras.

    Killer Wigs from Outer Space

    • Workshop staging at the University of Colorado Boulder on Dec. 5-6, 2016. Fully presented at the New York Musical Festival from July 10-16, 2017
    • Written with: Zac Miller
    • At a glance: This “hair-raising rock opera” is the story of a carnival handyman named Orville who is attacked by a galactic, brain-eating parasite. The alien transforms Orville into "a rock ’n roll prophet for peace with out-of-this-world hair." We follow Orville on his epic operatic journey to save our world. The New York cast featured Mitch Jarvis, who starred in Broadway’s Rock of Ages.

    Mommie Dearest

    • Presented as a reading on Sept. 1, 2017, at Out of the Box Theatrics in New York
    • Written with: Christina Crawford
    • At a glance: This is the musical stage adaptation of Crawford’s shocking, bestselling memoir about growing up as the adopted daughter of Joan Crawford. The focal point of the stage story, written in full collaboration with Christina Crawford, is the famous actor’s will, which disinherits her two eldest adopted children. The plot becomes the coming-of-age story of the brother-sister pair who try to remain family as various obstacles force them down different paths.

    A Midnight Clear: A Musical Tale of Christmas

    • True West Award David Nehls Megan Van De Hey A Midnight Clear HoustonNov. 8-Dec. 24, 2017
    • Stages Repertory Theatre, Houston
    • Written with: Kenn McLaughlin
    • At a glance: It’s Christmas Eve 1964, and a snowstorm threatens to cancel a concert hosted by the Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart. But when a mysterious stranger and a stranded motorist arrive at their chapel, the nuns find that the songs of Christmas have far more power than they had imagined. The score combines traditional Christmas songs with Nehls originals including “A Joyful Christmas Noise,” “St. Christopher's Prayer” and “Eyes of a Wandering Stranger.”

    'If regular theatre takes place in three dimensions, then immersive theatre takes place in six.'

    No less impressive than creating those four new works from scratch was tackling the unique challenges Nehls was presented by Off-Center’s staging of The Wild Party, said director Amanda Berg Wilson.

    “First of all, the way the music functions in an immersive-theatre space like The Stanley is a totally different ballgame from how it works in a traditional theatre,” Berg Wilson said. “If regular theatre takes place in three dimensions, then immersive theatre takes place in six. Performing the show environmentally seriously changes how the music is going to play out in your time and space.”

    Imagine a cast of 15 actors playing characters who are attending a drunken, decadent party in a 16,000-square-foot apartment crammed with 200 guests. The live band is stationed in one far corner of the room, but the actors sing and dance and run down tiny aisleways at times more than 100 feet away from the musicians. This was a new performance challenge for actors and musicians alike.

    “David really had to be there to support the actors and to help them develop techniques for how to perform the songs in completely different corners of this massive room and still make it sound blended and lovely,” Berg Wilson said.

    A David Nehls The Wild Party Aaron Vega Jenna Moll Reyes Photo by Adams ViscomAnd Nehls had to abandon his own comfort zone to do that. “After so many years at the Arvada Center doing outstanding, but traditionally presented musical theatre, David had to be willing to go places he had never gone before —  and he was completely game for it,” Berg Wilson said.

    Perhaps no actor has more practical experience working with Nehls than the multiple award-winning Megan Van De Hey, who has performed in nearly two dozen productions under Nehls’ musical supervision since 2005. She even went on the road to Houston with Nehls last month to play the Mother Superior in A Midnight Clear.

    “The one thing that has impressed me the most about David over the years is how much that he, as a composer and lyricist, thinks about the characters and the story and the mood and the ambience — and then he puts all of that into his songs,” said Van De Hey. “He has a very clear concept for every show that he goes into.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    She cited the Arvada Center’s 2012 production of the Cold War musical Chess as an example. “He took every song that was focused on the Russians and filled it with the warmth of violin and cellos,” Van De Hey said. “And anything that had to do with the Americans had more of an electric sound to it. That’s the kind of twist that David adds to everything he does.”

    In recent years, Nehls vigorously joined the now 30-year-old grassroots movement to resurrect the dilapidated old Elitch Theatre summer playhouse that once hosted the likes of Vincent Price, Grace Kelly and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as a year-round, functioning crown-jewel of Denver theatre. As a former board member, Nehls got further than anyone else has in 2015 when the old wooden theatre in the Highlands began hosting an annual new-play festival of readings.

    Despite Nehls’ breakout year as a composer in 2017, his success in new-musical development is not actually new. Nehls first hit it big back in 2004 with The Great American Trailer Park Musical, which he developed here in Denver with Betsy Kelso before it went on to dozens of productions in New York, Australia, the U.K. and many points in-between.

    Van De Hey was asked how she reconciles the breadth of Nehls’ story subjects, ranging from the sci-fi silliness of Killer Wigs to basking in the show-biz mud to holiday stories geared for traditional theatre audiences.

    From 2014: Nehls' work to save the Historic Elitch Theatre

    “No one who has met David would ever expect him to turn out to be a sentimentalist in any way, shape or form,” said Van De Hey. “But actually, so much of his work is rooted in actual memories from his own childhood.”

    She describes working with him as "insanely collaborative."

    “It’s never been his way or the highway,” she said. "If you are the person who is going to be singing his song, he talks to you. He asks you questions. He asks for your point of view. As a composer, he works with the actor, and you discover the song together. And when David turns a song over to you, he is really turning a piece of himself over to you."

    And that works to everyone's advantage, Sanders said.

    "David is not only furthering his own craft — he’s creating work for the rest of us,” Sanders said on behalf of the hundreds of actors, musicians and other creative personnel who produce musicals in Colorado and around the country.

    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 

    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: Vance McKenzie

    by John Moore | Dec 28, 2017

    2017 True West Awards Vance McKenzie


    Day 28: Vance McKenzie

    Lighting Designer

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    To shed a little light on Lighting Designer Vance McKenzie, we offer this bit of illumination: He’s a cool kid with a cool kid. Clearly. He and wife Crystal named their son Grayson — the non-nom de plume of Batman’s original sidekick Robin before he became known in the DC universe as Nightwing.

    Seriously, how cool would it be to have a nickname like Nightwing? As your birthright?

    McKenzie is a busy lighting designer from Carbondale whose friends use other words to describe him as well: Collaborative. Patient. Unafraid. Outside the theatre, they say he's an avid skier who loves board games, role-playing Starship Troopers and playing Xbox. "So yeah, he's a total uber-geek,” says Miners Alley Playhouse Managing Director Jonathan Scott-McKean. (And it takes one to know one.)  

    Vance McKenzie QuoteSuch a fine line between tech-nerd and guardian protector of the universe.

    McKenzie is definitely a superhero to Seth Caikowski, who directed The Wedding Singer last summer with McKenzie as his “let-there-be-light” guy. McKenzie is the resident lighting director for Performance Now Theatre Company at the Lakewood Cultural Center.

    “I would trust him with any type of show,” Caikowski said. “From Shakespeare to Sondheim, Vance will always deliver.” 

    He’s delivered for a wide variety of Colorado theatre companies including the Arvada Center, Colorado Springs TheatreWorks, Performance Now, Phamaly Theatre Company, Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, Miners Alley Playhouse, Platte Valley Players, the University of Denver, Ballet Nouveau Colorado and Lake Dillon Theatre. Those companies perform in venues ranging from a state-of-the-art, 975-seat concert hall to a tiny, 60-seat studio. And it takes a special someone, Scott-McKean says — one might even say cool — to design for both kinds of spaces effectively.

    “Miners Alley Playhouse is a harder place for a lighting designer to work than, say, the Arvada Center because we have fewer instruments and circuits to work with,” Scott-McKean said. “Vance came in here wanting to do highly professional work in a venue that, frankly, was not designed for truly high-quality lighting. But instead of settling, he worked with us to move up in the world and get better gear. He’s upped the game here.”

    Vance McKenzie Adriane Wilson Cabaret Miners Alley Playhouse 400Here’s a brief look at McKenzie’s busy and very varied 2017:

    • Miners Alley Playhouse’s Hir
    • Miners Alley Playhouse’s Cabaret (photo at right of Adriane Wilson, currently appearing in DCPA's 'First Date' as Adriane Leigh Robinson, by Sarah Roshan.)
    • Performance Now’s Man of La Mancha
    Performance Now’s Hello Dolly
    • Performance Now’s The Wedding Singer
    • Performance Now’s The Mervelous Wonderettes
    • Lake Dillon Theatre Company’s Sister Act
    • Lake Dillon Theatre Company’s Ghost
    • Arvada Center’s The Foreigner
    • Platte Valley Players' A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

    Lake Dillon Theatre Company Artistic Director Christopher Alleman said McKenzie’s adaptability made him the perfect choice to simultaneously design two very different film adaptations in its swank new $9 million Silverthorne Arts Center: Sister Act in the 165-seat mainstage theatre and Ghost in the 60-seat studio next door.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “Those are two very different spaces,” Alleman said. “Sister Act had more bells and whistles, while Ghost was simple storytelling. Although Vance was successful with both shows, I believe his design in the smaller and more challenging theatre was beautiful.”

    Vance McKenzie Sister ActDespite the obstacles McKenzie faced in designing Cabaret for the 120-seat Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, Director Len Matheo said McKenzie went the extra mile to make sure the lighting "truly evoked the seedy atmosphere of Berlin’s pre-World War II Kit Kat Club." McKenzie’s lighting ideas even informed the show’s scenic design.

    “We decided early on we wanted to use spotlights,” Matheo said — which, to anyone’s memory, had never been used for any MAP show since its 2003 opening. “Working together, we created actual towers to house those spotlights — and those same towers eventually became the guard towers in the concentration-camp scene.”

    (Photo at right of Lake Dillon Theatre Company's 'Sister Act' by Christopher Alleman.)

    McKenzie, a graduate of Roaring Fork High School, the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, teaches lighting for the Community College of Denver. His wife, Crystal, is the Assistant Costume ShopVance McKenzie The Wedding Singer Manager at the Arvada Center and is currently focused on the upcoming Sense and Sensibility, opening Jan. 26. Crystal designed the costumes for Neil Simon's Broadway Bound at MAP last summer and will be designing two more shows there in 2018.

    Here’s more of what those who worked with McKenzie in 2017 had to say about today's True West Award winner:

    • Alleman: “We love working with Vance. We like to surround ourselves with talented and knowledgeable people but, most important, we surround ourselves with generous, kind and collaborative people. Vance is all of those. His spirit in the room is palpable. His goal is to make the show stronger — whether it is his lighting vision or not.  He listens to directors and incorporates their thoughts — without losing his own vision.”
    • Vance McKenzie The ForeignerCaikowski: “Vance understands exactly how to work in challenging spaces. And he has the patience to roll with changes in a very small amount of time. Vance has to navigate around the chaos of load-in and produce an entire show in about two days. All while taking notes and being patient in a sea of frustrations. He is truly incredible."

    (Photo of the DeLorean from The Wedding Singer courtesy Seth Caikowski. Set photo from the Arvada Center's 'The Foreigner' by M. Gale Photography.)

    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

    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: Buntport Theater

    by John Moore | Dec 27, 2017

    2017 True West Award Buntport Theater Zeus Crud Poe


    Day 26: Buntport Theater

    The Zeus Problem
    The Crud
    Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    When you’ve done what Buntport Theater has done for 17 years, the worst thing that could possibly happen would be for complacency to settle in.

    Not in them. In us.

    Buntport has been such a consistent contributor to the Colorado creative ecology that I sometimes wonder whether audiences might eventually (and perhaps even naturally) begin to take what they do for granted.

    What they do is make the magical look mundane time and time and time again. But this is a condition which must be guarded against at all costs. Because to normalize what Buntport does would be like normalizing … I dunno. Butterflies.

    Buntport The Zeus Problem Jim Hunt QuoteThink about it: Now entering its 18th year, Buntport is older than all but 20 Denver metro theatre companies. In that time, these five uncommonly compatible college pals have conjured, written and staged 45 original, intelligent, accessible and often very funny full-length theatrical productions. From scratch. Collaboratively, without designated writers, directors, designers or even janitors. "We do it all. Because we love it," says, well ... one of them. Because another thing they do collaboratively is ... talk about themselves.

    Think about that: Forty-five distinct, form-bending stories unlike anything any other company brings to any Colorado stage. Often while employing old-school Eastern European transformational theatre techniques they were introduced to at Colorado College.

    The Buntport Five — Brian Colonna, Hannah Duggan, Erik Edborg, Erin Rollman and Samantha Schmitz — have pretty good heads for business, too, having long ago turned working at Buntport into full-time employment, thanks in large part to rentals and supporting monthly and children’s programming that keeps people coming back to the iconic warehouse theatre in the Santa Fe Arts District whenever the company is between mainstage shows.

    The three new works Buntport entered into the canon in 2017 well-demonstrate everything they do right as an artistic collective — even when not everything they do necessarily comes out just right. That’s part of the fun. The Zeus Problem was metaphorically political — or as political as Buntport gets, which usually isn’t all that much. The Crud was a theatrical adventure and party game of epic scale: The company bought a random storage locker at an auction and committed to building an entire play around whatever contents they found inside, sight unseen. Next was Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat, an unabashed Halloween comedy that was intentionally about as scary as a trip to Boston Market. (So you'll have to apply your own personal experience to that barometer.)

    Read more: The Buntport ensemble talks about The Crud

    That’s the thing about these sweet smarty-pants: They can fly 6 feet over your head one minute and go 6 feet under the next depending on where their present creative whim wants to take them. All they ask of audiences is that you meet them halfway. So that's ... 3 feet, over or under.

    “The most remarkable thing about Buntport to me is that they start over every single time. It’s like they always return to Ground Zero,” said Buntport guest actor Jim Hunt. “And they put themselves at incredible risk with their audiences because they don’t say to people, ‘If you liked what we did last time, then you are automatically going to love what we are doing this time — because what we are doing this time is unlike anything we have ever done before.’ ”

    Buntport Poe The Buntporters began preparations for 2017 with a plan, which they promptly threw out with the bathwater after the presidential election. And it was an intriguing plan. Buntport shows often begin with one company member stumbling onto a really interesting bit of otherwise useless trivia — which they then build an entire show around. Colonna, for example, latched onto the discovery that child murderer Nathan Leopold (of Leopold and Loeb infamy) was also an ornithologist who kept 3,000 bird specimens in his home.

    Now that sounds like the quintessential premise for a new Buntport play. But it never happened because Donald Trump won the election.

    (Pictured above and right: Erin Rollman (as The Suit) with Hannah Duggan as a grieving cat owner and Brian Colonna as a creeper wearing Baltimore Ravens boxers in 'Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat.' Below: Erik Edborg in 'The Crud.') 

    “When they realized the play would be opening within days of the inauguration, they felt it would be unconscionable if they didn’t do something that was more closely related to the way people were feeling at the time,” said Hunt, a Colorado Theatre Guild Life Achievement winner they had asked to play famous lawyer Clarence Darrow.


    Buntport. The CrudThey still wanted Hunt — they just no longer wanted Darrow. So instead they cast him as Zeus, the vainglorious and hotheaded ruler of all other gods, in The Zeus Problem. Then they asked the esteemed and ever-erudite actor with the somewhat British sensibilities to, oh … let’s run down the list: Pull his pants down, fart, dance on a table, chew on a heart, repeatedly brag about his manhood and grab his testicles — a lot. Hunt’s Zeus was a charmer with the audience, too. Particularly when Hunt said to them: “You violent things. You dim lights. You armored and inedible vegetables. You (bleeping) artichokes.”

    What he was not doing was an impression of you-know-who.

    “They told me, ‘You are playing a crazy, childlike god. You are not playing Donald Trump.’ They did not want me to mimic him. They did not even want me to watch him on television because they didn’t want it to bleed into the performance.”

    The setting for the play was sort of a dinner party. At one end of a long table sat an amiable Henry David Thoreau (Colonna) working on his boring translation of AeschylusPrometheus Bound. At the other end was Prometheus (Edborg), who was chained to his rock, condemned by Zeus to a life of torment for the crime of stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man. Duggan played a giant eagle who unenthusiastically snacks on Prometheus’ continually regenerating heart and liver. And then there was Rollman as a beautiful maiden named Io (pronounced I.O.) whom Zeus transformed into a cow to prevent his wife, Hera, from picking up on his lust for her.   

    So what you had with Zeus, Hunt said, “is a crazy god who behaves like a temperamental, narcissistic child. Who was mad with power and armed with lightning bolts. Who chained a man to a rock as punishment for wanting to liberate all mankind. Who turned a beautiful woman into a cow for his own selfish pleasure. Who could do absolutely anything he wanted, and absolutely no one could stop him.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    And if that sounds vaguely similar to someone who appears regularly in your daily Twitter feed, then that’s all on you. But Westword’s Juliet Wittman went there. “Zeus’ clownish and impermeable ego is irresistibly reminiscent of the current president’s,” she wrote. “Except that Jim Hunt is a whole lot funnier.”

    BuntportTo Hunt, “The genius of the play is that it never directly commented on what was going on in the world. It was not trying to change or solve anything. And yet so many of the people who came to our play told us, ‘You gave me a container for me to put my frustration in for 90 minutes. You gave me a place to laugh and have fellowship.’

    “To me, that is the genius of Buntport.”

    (Pictured at right: Buntport's four performing members with their self-chosen celebrity doppelgängers, from the top: Erik Edborg: Jim Carrey, Hannah Duggan: Tina Yothers, Erin Rollman: Rowan Atkinson and Brian Colonna: Jim Belushi.)

    The rest of the year was closer to Buntport’s more expected, unexpected form. In The Crud, the crud that filled the stage became a universal metaphor for the crud on our floors and in our heads and out in the world. The ensemble brainstormed the plot of the play (subtitled Hoarder's Delight) based on what they found in the storage unit they bought. The resulting play explored the nature of memory, the transience of "having," our relationship to technology, and our need for play and fantasy.

    And the unapologetically funny Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead, and So Is My Cat featured a quintessentially original Buntport staging device — Rollman coming to life as a man’s suit. Craig Williamson of the North Denver Tribune called the dead-cat play a return to Buntport's funny roots, "but it still manages to make the audience think about the nature of life, and especially what it takes to make life meaningful."

    Our look back at the 2006 end of Magnets on the Fridge

    So that was Season 17, which was one of Buntport's best yet. And yet, despite years of critical praise, more awards than they have places to put them and a fiercely loyal core audience base, Buntport seemed to be flying somewhat under the radar this year. For example, much thoughtful media and social attention was paid over the past year to the leading contributors of new work among Colorado theatres. And for the most part, none of it thought to include Buntport — the most prolific producer new work by any company in Colorado — in the conversation. Has Buntport become a thing that we, gulp, now take for granted?   

    Buntport Magnets on the Fridge“I do think that Buntport remains somewhat underrated," Hunt said," even as they have become a kind of a staple over all these years."

    To be fair, Buntport doesn’t always start over with every new project. Sometimes they repeat themselves — to their fans’ delight. They have been clamoring for the return of Buntport’s brilliantly stupid monthly sitcom Magnets on the Fridge, about a group of 20-something friends who have a book club even though they don’t read books. And they shall be rewarded, once a month, starting Jan. 3.

    (Pictured above and right: The 'Magnets on the Fridge' cast in 2003.)

    Magnets debuted in 2001 and ran for 65 episodes over five years, nearly all of them packed to the alleyway. Like the Friends/Seinfeld TV series that inspired it, Magnets introduced a group of vapid 20-somethings doing nothing. And the new Magnets no doubt will re-introduce a group of vapid 40-somethings doing nothing. Probably brilliantly.

    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

    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

  • 2017 True West Award: John Ashton

    by John Moore | Dec 24, 2017

    2017 True West Award John Ashton


    Day 24: John Ashton

    Vintage Theatre
    The Edge Theatre
    Benchmark Theatre
    Netflix's Our Souls at Night

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    John Ashton rang in 2017 as the guest of honor at his surprise 70th birthday party — and he went soft. Proactively, profoundly and proudly soft. Overwhelmed by both community and camaraderie, the longtime actor, director and producer publicly promised not to let himself become an angry old man. The line got a laugh. That's easy for Ashton.

    A John Ashton 70th birthday Pam Clifton Photo by John MooreIt was funny because Ashton has never shown any encroaching proclivity for shouting at anyone aged millennial or younger to get offa his lawn! Caustic, sure. Playfully cynical — you bet. He is one of the few ex-journalists to have ever worked at The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News AND Westword, after all. That ought to bake anyone’s shell.

    But the actor we saw on Denver stages this year was noticeably more open. More vulnerable. More focused. The change was evident in his work both as vaudevillian comic in The Edge Theatre’s The Nance and more subtly as a genuinely gentle husband in Vintage Theatre’s family corker August: Osage County.

    Ashton, it appears, celebrated his milestone birthday by taking his acting to the next level — something that’s virtually unheard of after reaching the senior side of 70.

    John Ashton Quote Abby Apple Boes“I think there is something about how closely he is examining his work and his life these days that is allowing him to dig deeper and be more honest,” said director and actor Abby Apple Boes, who is also Ashton’s partner in life and, occasionally, on stage. “It maybe means more to him now.”

    It certainly seemed to mean more in everything Ashton did this year. He finished 2016 directing a solid revival of Arthur Miller’s incestuous immigrant drama A View from the Bridge for The Edge Theatre — with Boes as the matriarch who looks the other way.

    “He was really proud of that project. I think he felt like he put a great cast together and brought some nuanced performances out of them,” Boes said of an expert ensemble that included Rick Yaconis, Benjamin Cowhick, Amelia Corrada, Jon Brown and the ever-reliable Kevin Hart.

    Ashton returned to The Edge as an actor in The Nance, Douglas Carter Beane’s disarming play about the lives of burlesque performers in the 1930s. That was a time when it was perfectly fine to play a “nance” onstage, but not to be an openly gay man off it. Ashton played a gruff vaudevillian and theatre manager. In the routine, Ashton's Ephraim played the slapstick “straight man” to  2016 True West Award winner Warren Sherril's self-described pansy, Miles.

    It would have been easy for Ashton to go unnoticed in the shadow of Sherrill’s rich and haunting portrayal, but Ashton did not. The Met Report’s Avery Anderson called Ashton “a Colorado theatre legend who keeps the laughs rolling, even at the toughest times."

    (Story continues below the photo.)

    True West Awards John Ashton by RDG Photography
    John Ashton with the cast of 'The Nance' at the Edge Theatre. RDG Photography.

    Sherrill said Ashton is "both a blast to watch and to be on stage with. He gives and he plays — and he plays a lot — but is always a professional.”

    That's about how Darcy Kennedy described partnering with Ashton in Vintage Theatre’s Herculean undertaking of Tracy LettsPulitzer Prize-winning beast August: Osage County. This feral story of a fractured Oklahoma family that has gathered after the disappearance of its patriarch is filled with strong female characters who could easily swallow all of the men whole. But Ashton’s performance was again impossible to ignore.

    A John Ashton Darcy Kennedy August Osage County RDG PhotographyAshton was perfectly cast as Charlie Aiken, a simple, quiet man who is fully in love with a woman who is very hard to fully love.

    “Oh, he’s a card backstage,” said Kennedy, who played Mattie Fae. “But it was a true pleasure to perform with him. He was very much a giver, and if you ever needed something from him for the sake of your own performance, he would be more than willing to work with you. For example, Mattie Fae says some really rotten things to Charlie, and at one point I told John I really needed him to get more pissed off at me for the scene to work — and we worked our way up to that together.”

    (Pictured above: John Ashton and Darcy Kennedy in Vintage Theatre's 'August: Osage County.' RDG Photography.)

    That moment comes when Charlie admonishes his wife for continually tearing down their son. Ashton nailed the killer line not by going large, but by going real: “We've been married 38 years and I wouldn't trade it for anything," he says to his wife. "But if you can't find a generous place in your heart for your own son, we're not gonna make it to 39.” It was a poignant display of both heart and backbone. Two things, Director Bernie Cardell says, that capture Ashton’s biggest strengths as an actor: Tenderness and strength.

    Ashton has been such a fixture in the Colorado theatre community for the past quarter-century that surely many are unaware of the adventurous pre-theatre life that preceded it.

    A quick recap: Ashton grew up in St. Louis and was sent to Colorado during the Vietnam War after filing for conscientious-objector status. Ashton was assigned to work with Monsignor Charles Woodrich, more popularly known as Father Woody — Denver’s patron saint of the poor. Ashton still works for people in need as an external affairs officer for FEMA, responding on-site to occasional disasters around the country.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “John truly is one of the most interesting people I have ever met,” said Boes. “Not only did he work in the newspaper business, he had a radio talk show and he wrote a bunch of murder mysteries, and he was in a bunch of movies — and he was in Breaking Bad."

    After his rather, ahem, colorful journalism career, Ashton reinvented himself as a theatre producer, director and performer. He bought operational control of the Avenue Theater from Bob Wells and ran the vagabond boutique theatre from 1990-2005, including overseeing its move down 17th Avenue from Vine Street to Logan in 2003. Ashton has continued to have a place in the running of The Avenue ever since, but it’s probably no coincidence that when he shifted his full focus to acting last December, he went on to perhaps the best year of his acting life.

    ARandyMooreJohnAshtonOh, and Ashton notched one other thrilling little achievement in 2017: He landed a role in the Netflix film Our Souls at Night, an adaptation of the beloved late Colorado novelist Kent Haruf’s final book. Ashton had two scenes with, ho-hum … Robert Redford.

    (Ashton is pictured at far right with veteran DCPA actor Randy Moore on the set of 'Our Souls at Night.' Photo courtesy of Ashton.)

    Ashton has managed to stay relevant in the Colorado theatre community, Boes said, because he's never stopped being curious or giving. He's always in demand as a voice of Colorado's theatre history, recently having hosted memorial celebrations for towering figures such as Henry Lowenstein and Terry Dodd. He's also always up forJohn Ashton Denver Actors Fund Miscast 2016. Photo by John Moore having fun at his own expense, appearing regularly at the Denver Actors Fund's annual Miscast fundraiser —  most recently as an aging Little Orphan Annie and as Grizabella from Cats (not in the same year).His first gig in 2018 will be directing the regional premiere of the musical Bullets Over Broadway for Vintage, opening April 13.

    “John is a pioneer of the Denver theatre scene, and I love his crazy stories of the good old days,” Sherrill said. “And yet he’s constantly thinking about what Denver needs next.”

    Sherrill admires Ashton no matter what hat he’s wearing. “He’s smart when it comes to producing because he always gives the audience what it wants," he said. "That may be nothing more than a simple slamming-door comedy — which really isn’t that simple — but he will work his hardest to make sure that comedy is a quality experience for his audience. As a director, he’s able to streamline and simplify things, without taking anything away. And as a person, he is one of the most kind and endearing people I’ve ever met.”

    All of which helps to make him a better actor.

    “John is all heart, and that is what he brings to the stage,” Cardell said. “You love watching him — and, while you do, you fall in love with him.”

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

    Video bonus: A video review of The Edge Theatre's The Nance:

    Video by The Met Report's Avery Anderson.

    John Ashton: 2017

    • Directed A View from the Bridge for The Edge Theatre*
    • Played Efram in The Edge Theatre's The Nance
    • Played Charlie Aiken in Vintage Theatre's August: Osage County
    • Appeared in five plays for Benchmark Theatre's Fever Dream Festival
    • Played Rudy in Netflix's Our Souls at Night, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda

    *This production was staged in December 2016. The True West Awards consideration period runs from December through November of each calendar year.

    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

  • 2017 True West Award: Meridith and Gary Grundei

    by John Moore | Dec 22, 2017

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS Gary Grundie Meridith C. Grundei


    Day 22: Meridith C. Grundei and Gary Grundei

    The Catamounts
    Naropa University

    DCPA Theatre Company
    Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    Bar Choir
    Stories on Stage
    The Singing House Productions
    Pipedream Productions
    Visionbox Studio

      Local Theater Company
    Theatre Playback West

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Gary and Meridith C. Grundei are proof that the couple that rocks together, rolls together.

    On Sept. 29, the free-spirited pair packed up a used R.V. and hit the road with their daughter to travel the United States and Mexico for a year. They’re having what they are calling “an improvised year” in what already has been a fairly improvised life together so far.

    The Grundeis are couple of unconventional artists, and nothing if not an unconventional couple. Meridith is a director and Gary a composer, but both are performers to the bone, and neither is confined to a single discipline. For example, one of their popular fringe acts has them playing a brutal, drunken couple hilariously called Jack and Coke.

    Burns and Allen, they are not. Funny, they most definitely are.

    GerRee Hinshaw, who partners with Gary on a traveling rock flash-mob called Bar Choir, calls them The Fabulous Grundei Duo: “They are the rare couple who can collaborate with each other and still be friends — and keep all their other friends,” she said.

    One of their points of connection, says Amanda Berg Wilson, Artistic Director of the Boulder-based collective known as The Catamounts, is that they both have strong and compatible but individual artist identities.

    “Meridith has a very playful sense that dovetails nicely with Gary’s improvisational taste in music and art,” Berg Wilson said. “They’re always up for an adventure as artists and in life, and this road trip is certainly proof of that.”

    Their first stop was for their daughter to meet her birth family. Subsequent adventures already have been had in Georgia, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Florida and two unexpected weeks in Nashville following a breakdown. But the unexpected is kind of the point. Friends believe, but no one is ever really sure, that they are presently in Mexico.

    Meridith C. and Gary Grundei True West Award Photo by John MooreThe Grundeis hit the road at the height of a prolific period of ongoing and eclectic creative activity spanning theatre, music, academia, improv comedy, performance art and more. Their list of creative undertakings for 2017 is all the more impressive given they did it all in only nine months.

    Topping that list is Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage for The Catamounts at the Dairy Arts Center. This was truly event theatre: A blood-pumping, leather-clad, sexy-weird gypsy-punk musical adaptation based on the ninth-century epic poem, backed by a live band playing an original score written by the composer of Broadway’s The Great Comet of 1812.

    Meridith was the director while Gary was music director, bandleader and even the actor who played King Hrothgar of the Danes in sexypants. He was the embodiment of a true rock star as the king who entreats Beowulf to get rid of the man-eating monster Grendel.

    In most musicals, the man at the piano sits at that piano and plays. But Gary Grundei just plays in every sense of the word. On stage and in life.

    “He jumped fully into it,” Berg Wilson said. “He had a great sense of humor about it. He’s a super-compelling performer with this fabulous, unique voice.”

    Berg Wilson called Beowulf “très Catamounts.” Westword’s Juliet Wittman called the free and fierce evening “a throbbing and raucous experience.” And that Meridith Grundei could take credit for the show’s precision, flow and eye appeal.

    Beowulf. Catamounts The staging earned a whopping nine Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award nominations for The Catamounts, including best musical. Both of the Grundeis were individually nominated.

    Both Grundeis are in equal but separate demand. Beowulf was fully Meridith’s idea, one that was four years in the making. One of the reasons her husband decided to go all-in on it himself was the rare opportunity to work together with his wife on an extended theatrical project. At the time, Gary was composing music for the DCPA Theatre Company's provocative church-service play The Christians. But he declined a tempting offer to also play with the onstage church band he put together each night so he could do Beowulf with his wife instead.

    Gary separately collaborated on two other cool 2017 creative partnerships: First was Visionbox’s workshop production of a complex new musical called The Wild Hunt written by popular film actor Bill Pullman (currently starring in The Ballad of Lefty Brown). The other was the creation of a tantalizingly titled new musical called "__________”, An Opera with acclaimed local actor Ethelyn Friend. Grundei conducted live, improvised music at each performance in a Victorian house in old-town Lafayette for what was later described as "a singular opera experiment that found that sweet spot between Gertrude Stein, Spike Jonze and Kendrick Lamar."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Meridith, meanwhile, is an actor, director, improviser and public-speaking coach who created her own traveling corporate training company called Red Ball Speaks. She played Curtis (Petruchio’s servant) in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s The Taming of the Shrew last summer and later accepted Pipedream Productions’ community-wide challenge to perform the one-person play White Rabbit Red Rabbit script unseen before opening an envelope containing that script before an already gathered audience.

    In September, she helped the second-year MFA students at Naropa University stage the devised piece Under Construction, written by Charles Mee, again with her husband as music director and sound designer.

    The Grundeis both have long ties to the DCPA Theatre Company. Gary started as a paid intern in 1997 and soon was hired on a big-shot sound designer. Over the years, he often has been commissioned to compose original scores for productions ranging from Plainsong to Shakespeare’s As You Like It to The Christians. Meridith has appeared in three Denver Center productions as an actor, most recently in Frankenstein and Off-Center’s Sweet and Lucky.

    True West Grundei Gary’s other great musical love is an irregular bit of flash-mob fun called Bar Choir with Hinshaw, host of the enduring monthly Freak Train at The Bug Theatre. “Choir is that thing you didn't know you need in your life,” Hinshaw said. “But once you've had it, you crave it at random times in your day.”

    The idea: The hosts put out an invitation on social media encouraging singers of all experience levels — including none — to show up at a hipster bar such as Syntax Physic Opera, learn three tunes from rockers who have included Pat Benatar and The White Stripes and, after a bit of instruction, perform them for a generally blown-away happy-hour bar crowd.

    Gary Grundei’s invitation for one and all to join in on the next Bar Choir (whenever that might be) is pretty much his clarion call for living an artistic life.

    “Everyone has a voice,” Grundei said. “If you can talk, you can sing. If somebody at some point in your life told you that you can’t sing, what the (bleep)? Are you going to believe that? The more you sing, they better you get. So come (bleeping) sing with us.”

    If life is an unpainted canvas, then the Grundeis are evidence that life is also a not-yet-traveled highway.

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

    Video bonus: Our visit to Bar Choir at Syntax Physic Opera

    To read more about Bar Choir, click here

    Meridith C. Grundei: 2017

    • Directed Beowulf for The Catamounts
    • Performed in Stories on Stage's Mother's Day program
    • Played Curtis in The Taming of the Shrew for Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Facilitator for Pain Management, a devised piece for Local Theater Company
    • Performed Red Rabbit White Rabbit for Pipedream Productions
    • Directed Under Construction for Naropa University masters students

    Meridith Grundei, a native of Fort Collins, has performed for the DCPA Theatre Company in Frankenstein, and for Off-Center in Sweet & Lucky and SWEAT. Other Theatre credits: The Misanthrope (American Conservatory Theatre), God's Ear, Messenger #1, Failure...A Love Story, Mr. Spacky, Mr. Burns, The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen, Spirits to Enforce (The Catamounts), Faith (Local Theater Company) and House of Yes (square product). Recipient of the 2011 Camera Eye Award and nominated as Best Actress in a Comedy by the 2012 Culture West True West Awards. She is married to frequent DCPA Theatre composer Gary Grundei.

    Meridith Grundei and Gary Grundei as Jack and Coke. Photo by John Moore.Gary Grundei: 2017

    • Composed music for workshop production of The Wild Hunt, by Bill Pullman, for Visionbox Studios
    • Composer of The Christans for DCPA Theatre Company
    • Music Director, Band Leader and performer (Rothgar) in Beowulf for The Catamounts
    • Co-host, Bar Choir (ongoing)
    • Music Director of Under Construction for Naropa University masters students
    • Composed music for Stories on Stage's Making Merry holiday program

    Gary Grundei, who is from Ohio, is a composer, pianist and teacher whose music has been heard at the Kennedy Center, DCPA Theatre Company, New York Stage and Film, Boulder Theater, Ogden Theatre, Boulder’s Chautauqua Community House, Vintage Theatre, Occidental College, and The Ohio State University. He also writes for and plays with the band High Fiction, and directs Golden Lotus studio in Lafayette.

    (Photo above and right: Meridith C. Grundei and Gary Grundei performing as as Jack and Coke. Photo by John Moore.)

    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

  • 2017 True West Award: Lenne Klingaman

    by John Moore | Dec 19, 2017

    2017 True West Awards Lenne Klingaman Hamlet


    Day 19: Lenne Klingaman

    Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    National touring production of Waitress

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    For Colorado Shakespeare Festival Director Carolyn Howarth, the question wasn’t, “Why a female Hamlet?”

    It was, “Why not a female Hamlet?”

    Howarth says she wasn’t trying to be radical when she cast Lenne Klingaman to play one of the greatest roles ever written — for a man. She was just bored with the same old, same old. “I had seen dozens of productions of Hamlet, and I just couldn’t get excited about it,” she said.

    But then she got in touch with Hamlet’s female side.

    Carolyn Howarth Quote “Pages and pages have been written about the femininity of Hamlet,” she said. “It’s all there in the text. So when you read it again with a woman in mind, suddenly all of these sexist lines that are so often stereotypically played by a man bounce out with all new meaning."

    Lines like: “Frailty, thy name is woman.” And, of course: “Get thee to a nunnery.”

    “There has never been an equivalent character to Hamlet for female actors," Howarth said. “It’s very uncommon for a woman to get to play a character with that kind of brain power, range, verbal dexterity and wit. So I thought, well why not let a woman take on the great questions of this play from a female perspective?”

    Howarth admits the journey started out as “a clever little experiment that maybe was going to fail badly" — until she saw Klingaman audition for the role. “She was luminous,” Howarth said. “Spectacular. I knew right then she had to do it.”

    Klingaman, who made for a lovely Juliet for the DCPA Theatre Company in 2013, was gobsmacked by the offer. She then plunged herself into the world — and the words — of the play like a swordsman. A female swordsman.

    “It was extremely empowering to work with Carolyn Howarth on a female Hamlet because it opened up this whole range of possibility of what acting can be, and of what women can do on the stage,” said Klingaman, a Minneapolis native who returns to her second artistic home of Colorado tonight in the first national touring production of the Broadway musical Waitress. “There was something so freeing about playing a role written for a man.”

    Klingaman’s Hamlet was filled with passion and clarity. As for her big “To Be or Not to Be” monologue? That was not even a question for Klingaman. “I don’t think the speech is about killing oneself,” she said. “It’s about action. It’s about what it means to truly live, which goes hand-in-hand with dying — the ultimate consequence of living.”

    (Story continues below the photo.)

    True West Awards Hamlet Lenne Klingaman Emilie O'Hara Phot by Jennifer M. Koskinen for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    Lenne Klingaman with Emilie O'Hara as Ophelia in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's'Hamlet.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

    Klingaman played Hamlet like an actor who loves her character with her whole heart. She embraced all the flaws, the joy, the wit, the desire, the intellect, the heart, the love — all of it. “Love drives this human,” she said. “Love for her father; for her family that’s been broken apart; for her mother, as conflicted as that is; for her friends. And so, when they wrong her, the pit of despair and pain runs so deep that not much can stop her.”

    Howarth says Klingaman surprised her — and herself — along her Hamlet way. “She plumbed the depths of that character in ways I never imagined,” Howarth said. “In fact, now I sort of have a hard time imagining the role as a man again.”

    It actually isn’t all that radical for a woman to play the master of melancholy as the mistress of moody. Colorado Shakespeare Festival Dramaturg (and DCPA Theatre Services Manager) Hadley Kamminga-Peck says more than 200 women have played the role, dating back to 1741 Dublin. But it has been rare for a female actor to play the prince as a princess. What added to the curiosity — and the controversy — of Howarth’s staging in Boulder was her decision to make Laertes and Fortinbras women as well, while pointedly leaving fair Ophelia as a woman.

    That made the forbidden love-hate relationship that drives the waif to suicide a lesbian relationship here. And that seismically shifted the world where this play existed into a strange and never-before seen kingdom. That and moving many crucial scenes into the snowy Nordic forest turned Howarth’s tragedy into a kind of Midwinter Night’s Dream.

    “Our understanding of gender today is so different from Shakespeare’s time," Klingaman said. "Some of our ideas of what might be feminine today are now more in line with might have been considered masculine in Shakespeare’s time. I wanted to open up a more fluid conception of masculinity and femininity. It's not just a question of one or the other."

    Our full interview with Lenne Klingaman on playing Hamlet

    The result was record-breaking attendance for an indoor Colorado Shakespeare Festival production. A.H. Goldstein, reviewing for Boulder’s Daily Camera, came to the conclusion that madness knows no boundaries of gender. The experiment succeeded, he wrote, because of Klingaman. “All of Hamlet's finest gut-wrenching and soul-searching moments find ample gravity in Klingaman's performance,” he wrote. “What's more, her soliloquies and queries offer Shakespeare's poetry in a new light.”

    Colorado Shakes Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr found Klingaman’s performance to be incredibly powerful. “She was so alive in the moment and experienced every thought and action with fresh vision,” he said. “It was a pleasure, and astonishing, to watch each night.”

    But not everyone was pleased by the experiment. Some longtime subscribers refused to even attend the play. “Some of them thought what we were doing was just wrong,” Howarth said. Westword’s Juliet Wittman came out with an uncommon advance essay that declared: “It sounds beyond wrong" — before the production even opened.

    Cleary, Howarth was onto something. Shakespeare so rarely riles anyone up. The Boulder staging even caught the attention of The New York Times.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “Listen, we need roles with greater range for women,” Howarth said. “And I hope our production encourages other theatres to cast women in traditionally male roles that both allow you to reimagine the play and promote more equality for women in the theatre. I’m also hoping there can be a sea change in the way we view classical theatre. Because if you are going to do the same plays the same way every time, then why even do them at all?

    True West Awards Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Lenne Klingaman Michael Bouchard Sean Scrutchins Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen for the Colorado Shakespeare FestivalDoubling Klingaman’s summer fun was the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s clever decision to stage Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead in repertory with Hamlet. That play takes place in the real-time world of Hamlet, but shifts the focus of the inaction to Hamlet’s presumed two best friends — the two tramps who also inspired Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. All the actors in Hamlet, including Klingaman, played their same roles in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern on the same stage and set as Hamlet.

    (Pictured above: Sean Scrutchins, Lenne Klingaman and Michael Bouchard in 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)

    It was around the time Hamlet opened that Klingaman was offered the role of Dawn in the first national touring production of Waitress, which opens tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 19) and runs through Dec. 31) at Denver’s Buell Theatre. Dawn is a woman Klingaman describes as a bit of a turtle who comes out of her shell through the bond of sisterhood with her fellow waitresses. And the story of how Klingaman got that job is straight out of Hollywood fiction. (Click here to read all about it.)

    The national tour opened just two months ago in Cleveland, where Klingaman was singled out for her “adorable nerdiness” by the critic from the Plain Dealer — which after her summer of intense brooding in Boulder, is proof-positive of the actor’s versatility.

    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.

    Waitress. Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman. Waitress. Photy by Joan Marcus

    From left: Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman in the national touring production of 'Waitress,' opening tonight in Denver. Photo by Joan Marcus.

    Lenne Klingaman at a glance: 

    • Hometown: Minneapolis
    • Home now: Brooklyn
    • College: BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz; MFA from the University of Washington
    • For the Denver Center: Theatre Company: Appoggiatura and Romeo and Juliet
    • For Colorado Shakespeare Festival: Record-breaking run as Hamlet; also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Measure for Measure and The Fantasticks
    • Other regional highlights: Fingersmith (A.R.T.), Berkeley Rep, Shakespeare Theatre, South Coast, St. Louis Rep, The Jungle, Intiman.
    • TV: “Chicago Med,” “Cold Case,” “Welcome to Sanditon”
    • Album: “The Heart is the Hunter,” available on iTunes and elsewhere

    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

    Video bonus: Lenne Klingaman's Waitress shout-out to Denver audiences:

    Lenne Klingaman talks about returning to Colorado in Waitress, through Dec. 31. 

    waitressWaitress in Denver: Ticket information
    Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna — a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. But Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life. This is an uplifting musical celebrating friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie.

    • National touring production
    • Performances Dec. 19-31
    • Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here


  • 2017 True West Award: Randy Chalmers

    by John Moore | Dec 17, 2017
    2017 True West Awards Randy Chalmers

    Main photo above: Randy Chalmers performed at 'Miscast 2017,' a benefit for The  Denver Actors Fund, in a number with 'In the Heights' castmate Jose David Reynoza that was spun as a comic competition between two male actors for the lead in 'Funny Girl.'


    Day 17: Randy Chalmers

    Breckenridge Backstage Theatre
    Town Hall Arts Center
    Inspire Creative and Parker Arts

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Randy Chalmers is a young guy to already have a signature role, but the rising actor joined some heady company this year when he played the same character in Hairspray for the third different company and third different director.

    Only a handful of local actors have ever done it in Colorado, and the names are big: Joanie Brosseau (Evita), Billie McBride (Driving Miss Daisy), Margie Lamb as the mad mother in Next to Normal, Sharon Kay White as Adelaide in Guys & Dolls, Carla Kaiser Kotrc as Domina in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Scott Rathbun as William Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Carolyn Lohr (Kate Monster) and Leslie Randle (Bad Idea Bear) in Avenue Q, and the great comedian Bill Berry as Mr. Sowerberry (Oliver) among them.

    That overachieving Megan Van De Hey has played Patsy Cline four times in Always … Patsy Cline for four different directors. That's not everyone but ... it's a short list. (Side note: The legendary Melissa Swift-Sawyer has played Patsy five times for four directors in four states.)

    And this year, along came young Randy Chalmers.

    400 Randy Chalmers HAIRSPRAY Photo Becky TomaThe Colorado Springs native, whose very first postgraduate performance was a breakout turn as Seaweed J. Stubbs in Hairspray for Performance Now in 2014, joined that rarefied group this year by again playing Seaweed in back-to-back stagings of the sweetly subversive John Waters musical for the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton and then Inspire Creative in Parker.

    How back-to-back? He was in performances for one when rehearsals began for the other.

    Chalmers’ roster of Hairspray directors goes like this, in order: Kelly Van Oosbree, Nick Sugar and Liane M. Adamo.

    (Photo above right: Randy Chalmers in Town Hall Arts Center's 'Hairspray.' Photo by Becky Toma.)

    One might imagine that playing the same role for a third time could start to become old hat for an actor. Van De Hey says “the difficulty comes in being open to new direction and not just re-creating the exact same performance.” Re-creation, she says, is easy. “Finding new is difficult.”

    But Tanner Kelly, the Music Director for Inspire Creative’s Hairspray collaboration with Parker Arts in July, said Chalmers approached the challenge as a professional in every sense of the word. “Though Randy was still playing Seaweed in another production, he was willing and ready to try our fresh take and adapt to what we wanted for our production,” Kelly said. “Not only did I love what he brought to Seaweed and to our version of Hairspray, I also loved what Randy brought to the table as a human being.”

    Seaweed is the charismatic son of R&B icon Motormouth Maybelle in the story, set in segregated 1962 Baltimore. He’s a charming, silky-smooth dancer but is only allowed to appear on a popular local TV dance show on the designated monthly Negro Day. And in falling in love with an impressionable white teenager, Seaweed turns a woke Penny Pingleton into a gleefully proud Checkerboard Chick. In Chalmers’ case, make that Checkerboard Chicks: Scene partners Chelsea Ringer, Cara Lippitt and Christy Oberndorf.

    (Story continues below the photo)

    Randy Chalmers True West Awards Seaweed
    Above: Randy Chalmers in three productions of 'Hairspray': Photos by Becky Toma (left), Pam Spika (middle) and RDG Photography (right).

    2017 was remarkable Chalmers for more than just Hairspray. The role that perhaps even more clearly signaled the emergence of a mature leading man was his follow-up performance in Town Hall’s In the Heights. Randy Chalmers Rose Van Dyne IN THE HEIGHTS Town Hall Photo By Becky Toma

    That's Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Fiddler on the Roof-inspired love letter to the gentrifying Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Chalmers played Benny, a taxi-cab dispatcher who falls in love with the Puerto Rican boss’ daughter, Nina.

    “Chalmers smooth, riffy voice is exactly what the role requires,” wrote Broadway World reviewer Chris Arneson. Or, as esteemed Music Director Donna Debreceni puts it: “He’s got a voice like buttah.”

    Says Sugar, who has now directed Chalmers in five productions: “It's great to see Randy embrace his strengths and talents and shine as a performer. He continues to get stronger as a musical-theater actor with each show, and it's exciting to watch that growth come alive on stage.”

    (Pictured at right: Randy Chalmers with Rose Van Dyne in Town Hall Arts Center's 'In the Heights.' Photo By Becky Toma.)

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Chalmers graduated from General William Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs and attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. His early credits in Denver include major opportunities made possible by the late, audacious Ignite Theatre, including Rent and Dreamgirls.  

    Audiences presently can see Chalmers in a completely different light this holiday season as a Wickersham Brother in Town Hall’s kid-friendly (and nearly completely sold-out) Seussical. He’ll follow that by playing Sebastian for Inspire Creative in the first homegrown production of The Little Mermaid since Disney first introduced the developing musical to the world here on its way to Broadway in 2007. The Inspire Creative production will play at the PACE Center from Jan. 19-Feb. 11.

    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.

    Randy Chalmers 2017: 

    • Destiny Walsh and Randy Chalmers at Miscast 2017. Photo by John Moore.Ensemble in Breckenridge Backstage Theatre's Toxic Avenger The Musical
    • Seaweed J. Stubbs in Hairspray, Town Hall Arts Center
    • Seaweed J. Stubbs in Hairspray, Inspire Creative and Parker Arts
    • Benny in In the Heights, Town Hall Arts Center
    • Wickersham Brother in Seussical, Town Hall Arts Center

    They said it:

    • Donna Debreceni, In the Heights Music Director: "Whether he is a Wick in Seussical; or a pig in Shrek; or Flick in Violet; or Seaweed in Hairspray; or most recently, an amazing Benny in In the Heights, Randy’s instincts and innate musicality are something I can always depend on and — most important — enjoy.”
    • Alisa Metcalf, Performance Now Artistic Director: “He’s very reliable, a hard worker and just a really sweet person … and super-talented to boot.”

    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

    Video bonus: Inspire Creative's Hairspray cast appears at Alamo Drafthouse:

  • 2017 True West Award: Lauren Shealy

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


    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)

  • Meet Denver's Jack Stephens of 'ELF the Musical'

    by John Moore | Dec 15, 2017
    Jack Stephens Elf

    Jack Stephens of Eaglecrest High School is the Company Manager for the national touring production of 'ELF The Musical,' visiting the Buell Theatre through Sunday (Dec. 17).

    Company manager of ELF The Musical, playing through Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Buell Theatre. He was the Company Manager for the Blue Man Group when it visited Denver in 2014    

    • Hometown: Denver
    • Home now: The road
    • High school: Eaglecrest in Aurora
    • Training: University of Colorado Denver
    • What's your handle? @sirjackstephens on Instagram
    • What's playing on your your Spotify? Adam Young's various "film scores." Known more popularly as "Owl City," he set out on a project last year to compose one film score per month. And he did it. The scores are for films that don't really exist —  but as you listen, you can imagine those cinematic visions playing out before you. And the sheer scope of his project speaks to his talent and proclivity as a musician.
    • One thing we don't know about you: Even if I see a large, scary spider, or some similar creepy thing, crawling around my house, i can't bear to harm them, so I catch and release.
    • How should we nurture the next generation of theatregoers? I'd love to see shows get back to "event theatre." In the 1990s in particular, when a big Broadway show came to town, it was a real event. Audiences were exposed to all sorts of fascinating behind-the-scenes information on how the show was created. Also, having quality, affordable theatre — even on a small scale, where storytelling is strong and one's imagination muscles are flexed. Making theatre available to a diverse array of audiences is important. 
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of seeing ELF The Musical? I hope our show puts them in the Christmas spirit, and I hope it reminds everyone to prioritize the important things in life. 
    • One thing you want to get off your chest: It is unwise and unfair to make broad, sweeping generalizations about groups or types of people based upon the actions or behaviors of only a few. I so wish more people in our government and in our society could understand this idea. 

    Read our 2014 interview with Jack Stephens

    ELF The Musical: Ticket information
    elfAt a glance: Based on the beloved 2003 film, ELF The Musical is a modern day Christmas classic that is sure to make everyone embrace their inner ELF. Variety proclaims, “ELF is happy enough for families, savvy enough for city kids and plenty smart for adults."

    • National touring production
    • Performances through Dec. 17
    • Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    • ASL Interpreted, Audio-Described and Open Captioned Performance: Dec. 16, 3 p.m.

    ELF The Musical. Jeremy Daniel Photography. The cast of 'ELF The Musical,' which comes to Denver's Buell Theatre from Dec. 13-17. Jeremy Daniel Photography.

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of ELF The Musical
    How ELF became an instant holiday tradition on stage and scree

    More 2017-18 'In the Spotlife' profiles:
    Meet Katie Drinkard of Off-Center's The Wild Party
    Meet Hugo Jon Sayles of Su Teatro's I Don't Speak English Only
    Meet Autumn Hurlbert of Something Rotten!
    Meet Zak Reynolds of DCPA Education's The Snowy Day
    Meet Rachel Kae Taylor of DCPA Education's The Snowy Day
    Meet Christy Brandt of Creede Rep's Arsenic and Old Lace
    Meet Deb Persoff of Vintage Theatre's August: Osage County
    Meet Monica Joyce Thompson of Inspire Creative’s South Pacific

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

    By Sylvie Drake
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2017 True West Award: Maegan Burnell

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2017
    2017 True West Award Meagan Burnell Arvada Center


    Day 14: Maegan Burnell

    Arvada Center Stage Manager

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Maegan Burnell moved to Colorado to become a stage manager and fell in love with a stage manager and is soon moving to Chicago so they can both be stage managers together.

    We're talking a two-logistician family.

    “If those two ever have a kid,” Director Robert Michael Sanders said of Burnell and Jonathan D. Allsup, “he’ll be born with head-sets on and holding a spreadsheet.”  

    Today’s True West Award is a parting shot. Because Burnell is moving true east. And the Arvada Center’s Lynne Collins, for one, is “desperately sad we are losing her."

    Stage managers are the chief practitioners of what are often called the invisible arts. They are highly organized, detail-oriented, no-nonsense train conductors who are inordinately calm in the midst of chaos. And if they are doing their jobs well — you in the audience will never know they even exist.  

    “Stage managers are the unsung heroes of what we do,” said Collins, who was hired as the Arvada Center’s Artistic Director of Plays in 2016 to create a company of recurring actors to perform a four-play repertory season. It was Collins’ job to run that operation. It was Burnell’s job to help build that operation from scratch.

    “The logistics of stage-managing a repertory company are enormous,” Collins said. “In our case, it means you are running three productions at the same time. It means managing overlapping actor calendars. It means keeping track of hours and rehearsal spaces."

    A stage manager’s job description can vary from theatre to theatre and show to show. Typically, they provide practical and organizational support to the director, actors, designers, stage crew and technicians throughout the production process. And after the opening performance, when it’s time for the director to move on, the stage manager becomes the law by running the show and standing in for the director in all matters.

    And Burnell, Collins said, “is phenomenal at all of that. She is calm and cool and collected and organized and compassionate and utterly without drama.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Burnell was a grad student when she was hired in 2012 as an assistant stage manager by the acclaimed Creede Repertory Theatre, which presents up to seven productions each summer in the San Juan Mountains about 250 miles southwest of Denver. Her boss was Allsup, who is now the cause of all the distress running throughout the Colorado theatre community because he’s the one she will be starting a life with in Chicago after the Arvada Center’s second rep season ends in May with All My Sons.

    Burnell, originally from Waterford, Mich., graduated from Central Michigan University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City's graduate program before answering the call from Creede. She was lured to Denver in 2014 to become the permanent Stage Manager (losing the “Assistant” from her title forever) of the Arvada Center’s highly accomplished children’s theatre program, starting with Billie McBride’s Lyle the Crocodile.

    In the short three years since, she has helmed mainstage productions at the Aurora Fox, Cherry Creek Theatre Company, The Avenue Theater, Slingshot Theatre and Vintage Theatre, working for an impressive roster of top-notch directors including Sanders, Christy Montour-Larson, Edith Weiss, Bev Newcomb-Madden, Warren Sherrill, Jim Hunt, Piper Lindsay-Arpan, Gavin Mayer, Pat Payne and DCPA Director of Education Allison Watrous.

    Notable credits include Porgy & Bess at the Aurora Fox and Tartuffe, which launched the Arvada Center’s rep company in 2016. And it can’t be underestimated, Allsup said, what it took to start that operation from nothing. Her impressive list of 2017 credits has included Bus Stop, The Drowning Girls and The Foreigner. Coming up, before she bolts: Sense and Sensibility and All My Sons.

    (Story continues below the photo.)

    Maegan Burnell Quote Robert Michael Sanders Miscast True West Awards

    But Allsup says what gives Burnell the most joy has been running the Arvada Center’s annual “teen intensive” — that’s a fully staged Broadway production for students, most recently no less than Les Misérables. That and volunteering to run big benefit events such as Colorado Theatre Guild’s Henry Awards and the Denver Actors Fund’s annual Miscast cabaret at the Town Hall Arts Center.

    “I love seeing the pure joy that she feels when she is working with students who are eager to learn,” Allsup said. “And I think she especially loves mentoring young theatre technicians at the Arvada Center more than anything.”

    Jonathan Allsup Maegan Burnell True West AwardsAs one of the state’s few gainfully employed, full-time stage managers, Burnell really has no free time for charity. But she makes time, Sanders said, because since the minute she landed in Creede, the Colorado theatre family has become her family. That was obvious enough last week when more than 700 packed the Arvada Center to celebrate the life of actor Daniel Langhoff. “You just don’t always see that in other cities,” Allsup said.  

    Allsup thinks Burnell can do just about anything, but he said the most difficult challenge she has ever taken on will simply be leaving the theatre community that has in short order gone from embracing her to utterly depending on her. “Colorado will always be the state that gave her the start of her career,” said Allsup, who was hired as the new Production Manager at Chicago’s Paramount Theatre seven months ago.

    “Maegan stepped into this community and she made a difference everywhere she went,” added Sanders. “She made a lot of places better while she was here.”

    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.

    Stage Manager Maegan Burnell 2017: 

    • Drowning Girls, Arvada Center
    • Bus Stop, Arvada Center
    • Les Misérables Teen Intensive, Arvada Center
    • The Foreigner, Arvada Center
    • Henry Awards, Colorado Theatre Guild
    • Miscast 2017, Denver Actors Fund

    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

  • 2017 True West Award: White Rabbit Red Rabbit

    by John Moore | Dec 13, 2017
    True West Awards 2017 White Rabbit Red Rabbit


    Day 13: White Rabbit Red Rabbit

    Pipedream Productions, Denver
    Star Bar Players, Colorado Springs

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Imagine walking into a theatre and having no idea what you were about to see.

    Now imagine being an actor walking onto a stage and having no idea what you were about to say.

    Now imagine being a 29-year-old playwright forbidden to leave your country.

    Those three imaginings were all realities that informed the most intriguing theatrical experiment of the Colorado theatre year: White Rabbit Red Rabbit.

    White Rabbit Red RabbitThat’s the name of a very meta, one-actor play written by Nassim Soleimanpour in 2010, when he was jailed in his native Iran for refusing to perform two years of required military service. Because he could not leave the country, Soleimanpour sent White Rabbit Red Rabbit out into the world like a message in a bottle, hoping someone might find it and perform it. Knowing that even if anyone did, he would probably never see it performed himself.

    “This was his way of traveling the world, essentially,” Dylan Clements-Mosley, Executive Director of Star Bar Players, told the Colorado Springs Independent.

    Adding to the intrigue: Soleimanpour included some party rules for every interested theatre company to follow: No director, no set and a different actor for every performance. The script must remain sealed until that night’s guinea rabbit, er, actor, enters the stage and begins to read aloud the 40-page script, which includes specific tasks for the narrator and audience to follow.

    We’d love to tell you more about the narrative’s twists and turns, but the biggest rule of Rabbit Club, as you might expect: No one talks about Rabbit Club.

    Now you might naturally assume from the playwright’s circumstances that his play must be a damning political screed. It turns out to be more of a thoughtful, allegorical rumination on many different ways we live in closed worlds. Starting with a playwright who is trapped in a cage — and an actor who is, in many ways, trapped on a stage.

    Sending the play out in the playwright’s stead, said acclaimed Denver actor Emma Messenger, “was like setting a balloon free into the atmosphere — and you have no idea where it will end up.”

    But it turns out, the balloon ended up on dry land throughout the world.  Over the past seven years, more than a thousand actors have performed White Rabbit Red Rabbit, including Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Martin Short, F. Murray Abraham, Cynthia Nixon, Stephen Rea and John Hurt.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    It ended up in Colorado for the first time this year when two very different companies accepted the challenge to stage it: Pipedream Productions, made up of five unafraid youngsters from the University of Denver who took it on as just their company's second production; and the venerable band of Colorado Springs renegades known as the Star Bar Players.

    True West Awards 2017 White Rabbit QuoteThe DU whippersnappers assembled an ambitious roster of 21 actors any local casting director would drool over, including Messenger, Mare Trevathan, Luke Sorge, Adrian Egolf, John Hauser and Meridith C. Grundei (for starters). Clements-Mosely and wife Alysabeth Clements Mosley adopted a diverse, 10-show slate that included a mix of well-known Colorado Springs actors (Hossein Forouzandeh, Lynne Hastings), as well as community leaders such as the outspoken Rev. Dr. Nori Rost of All Souls Unitarian Church.

    That Pipedream Associate Artistic Director Ashley Campbell didn’t know Messenger didn’t stop her from asking the actor who has as many local theatre awards as Streep has Oscars. Messenger’s two-word, email response: “How terrifying!” Quickly followed by a terrified "yes."

    And it was terrifying, Messenger admits. “Until you actually stepped onstage,” she said. “And then, all of a sudden it became this instant connection between you and the audience and this unseen playwright whose words took on a life of their own.”

    True West Award White Rabbit Ashley Campbell At one point, Messenger said, “It got emotional for me, and it became hard to say the lines. It was like we were puppets. And the playwright was pulling the strings not only across continents, but through time.”

    The mission of the Pipedream collective, which includes Campbell (pictured right), Alexis Robbins, Tony Ryan, Trevor Fulton and Katie Walker, is to push the boundaries of the stage while bringing attention to notable causes. Both were accomplished with this self-funded undertaking — all proceeds went to three local charities that fight for animal rights, immigrant rights and free speech, respectively. (Just to give you another clue about the play’s themes.)

    2017 True West Award White Rabbit Jihad MilhemIn all, about 500 curiosity-seekers came out to see one of Pipedream’s 21 performances —  and many of those returned again and again to see how the tone and impact varied according to each narrator’s commitment and passion.  Campbell said audience members regularly milled around for an hour after each performance talking about the experience with the designated actor and fellow audience members. (Pictured above: Jihad Milhem.)

    By the way, the playwright eventually was freed and left Iran in 2013 for London, where he saw White Rabbit Red Rabbit for the first time. And because Soleimanpour has violated the rules of Rabbit Club and given away the ending of his own play in various YouTube videos, it’s not all that much of a betrayal here to say that the possibility of suicide is, understandably, one of the narrator's many touchpoints. And that’s the part that hit Campbell the hardest.

    2017 True West Award White Rabbit Adrian Egolf“There is this point in the play when he lists all these different ways you can commit suicide,” Campbell said, “and the last method he lists is 'suicide by life.' That was really meaningful to me because while we are all living, we are also all dying. And here was this writer who could not leave Iran — but he did not let that prevent him from doing what he loved.

    "There is something so magical about how you can create something when you are confined, and yet it still can be seen all over the world — even if you are not part of it.”

    White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was an ambitious theatrical experiment, an audacious social experiment, and a potent reminder of the power of spontaneous theatre.

    And as they sang in the Broadway musical Urinetown, you know — don't be the bunny.

    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.

    Pipedream Productions' Denver lineup: 

    • Adrian Egolf
    • Meridith C. Grundei
    • Luke Sorge
    • Anthony Adu
    • Emma Messenger
    • Ilasiea Gray
    • Ben Hilzer
    • Andrew Uhlenhopp
    • Erik Fellenstein
    • Jihad Milhem
    • Julie Wolf
    • John Hauser
    • Kelly Uhlenhopp
    • Sean Michael Cummings
    • Anne Penner
    • Chloe McLeod
    • Jonathan Edward Brown
    • Jeff Jesmer
    • Cooper Braun
    • Mare Trevathan
    • Susannah McLeod

    The Star Bar Players' Colorado Springs lineup:

    • Rev. Nori June Rost
    • Hossein Forouzandeh
    • Phil Ginsburg
    • Lynne Hastings
    • Stoney Bertz 
    • John Hazlehurst
    • Bob Morsch
    • Omid D Harrison
    • Jodi Papproth
    • Michael Lee

    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

  • 2017 True West Award: Josh Hartwell

    by John Moore | Dec 12, 2017
    True West Awards 2017 Josh Hartwell


    Day 12: Josh Hartwell

    Teaching Artist
    Dramatists Guild of America

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Josh Hartwell has done enough this month to earn a True West Award for all of 2017. Oh, he’s made his mark as an actor, director, playwright, teaching artist and community organizer throughout the calendar year. But consider that Hartwell has written two new plays that are being staged at the same time at two different local theatres — and he’s performing in one of them.  

    Resolutions Andrew Uhlenhopp Karen Slack The Edge RDG Photography“I don’t think another Colorado playwright has ever had two professional premieres running concurrently at different theatres,” said Jeff Neuman, co-founder of the local writing group known as the Rough Draught Playwrights. Hartwell graduated from Longmont High School and Metropolitan State University of Denver. But the fact that he's a writer from Colorado only seems to make it harder for his work to actually be seen in theatres here, Neuman believes.

    “I don’t know if people really understand how difficult it is for a Colorado playwright to get produced in Colorado,” he said. “Many Front Range playwrights regularly get produced all over the world, but are unable to secure one single production in their own home state. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so incredibly thrilled for Josh — and more than a little envious of him.”  

    Hartwell was commissioned by The Edge Theatre Company to create Resolutions (pictured above), a plum assignment that came with three stipulations, said Producing Artistic Director Rick Yaconis: “It had to be a holiday play that wasn’t about Christmas, it had to have the word resolutions in the title, and it had to be edgy,” he said.

    Side note: A commission is when a theatre company actually pays you to write a new play for them — the ultimate sign that a playwright has really made it. Because most playwrights pen their plays, submit them blindly to anyone with an address (digital, postal or otherwise) and then pray to the literary gods that someone actually reads them, believes in them and then stages them.

    Meanwhile, a little further west, Miners Alley Playhouse is currently staging Hartwell’s original and intimate spin on A Christmas Carol in downtown Golden with a cast of just six.

    Having the two new plays running at once, Neuman said, “Is a supremely exciting landmark for the local playwriting community, as well as a testament to Josh’s amazing skills and talents as a dramatist.”

    Josh Hartwell Christmas Carol Photo by Sarah RoshanIronically, both of Hartwell’s stories depict actors enjoying very — very — different holiday gatherings away from the stage. His family friendly take on A Christmas Carol (pictured right) drops us in on a group of merry actors who endeavor to stage Dickens’ classic right then and there, as swiftly and cleverly as possible. It stars Jim Hunt as the thespian who takes on Scrooge, with Hartwell among the ensemble playing several supporting roles.

    Miners Alley Playhouse audiences are lapping up the new take on an old favorite like sweet eggnog, and Artistic Director Len Matheo already has announced that Hartwell’s script will henceforth become the company’s annual holiday offering.

    “What I'm most excited about with this production is that this play is a heightened glimpse into us theatre folk,” said Hartwell, who finds it completely conceivable that off-duty actors sitting around a cozy fire at the holidays are compelled to re-enact their favorite Christmas stories. Lisa Kennedy of The Denver Post called the work a gentle, sweet and tender bit of nostalgia.

    Resolutions at the Edge is considerably more … well, edgy — as ordered. As in a 'Stephen King meets Quentin Tarantino popcorn pulp' kind of way. This group of former college thespian pals gathers every New Year’s Eve at a posh cabin in Vail to relive their Big Chill days and share their hopes for the coming year. But this time, one of the gang is a little ax-to-grindy, and let’s just say one of these buddies will soon be adding “reattach severed limb” to his list of New Year’s resolutions.

    Westword critic Juliet Wittman called the resulting world premiere, appropriately playing through New Year's Eve, "a swift, funny, clever, 85-minute holiday treat."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Hartwell is a young writer with a veteran resume that includes productions in New York, Florida, Washington, Minneapolis, New Zealand and beyond. He’s a big-enough deal that he’s represented by the Abrams Artist Agency in New York City.

    Bad Jews Edge John Wittbrodt and Missy Moore. RDG Photography But writing is just a slice of his breakthrough, renaissance year. He directed two plays, including the comedy Bad Jews for the Edge (pictured right) and a milestone production of Hir at Miners Alley. That was a dark and difficult family drama that dared to include a transitioning teenager as part of a major subplot. Hartwell also continued to vigorously mentor student writers, both through Curious Theatre’s wildly successful Curious New Voices program and Denver Center Education’s year-round and statewide playwriting competition, which has Hartwell offering dozens of in-class workshops throughout the fall semester.

    Banned Together Josh Hartwell Miners Alley Playhouse Angels in America Photo by John MooreHartwell also stepped up into a major leadership role in the community when he took on producing Banned Together, A Censorship Cabaret, on Sept. 28 at Miners Alley Playhouse. MAP joined a national coalition of theatres in presenting an informal evening of censored theatre pieces to mark Banned Books Week in America and raise awareness about the ongoing issue of free expression in the live theatre (pictured right and below).

    An array of acclaimed local actors presented songs and scenes from controversial plays and musicals ranging from Cabaret to Fun Home to Rent to Spring Awakening to Angels in America. Hartwell read from the critical moment in The Laramie Project when murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard’s father addresses his son’s killer in court and bitterly spares him from the death penalty.

    Banned Together Miners Alley Playhouse Rent Photo by John MooreBanned Together was an important evening that Denver might easily have missed entirelyhad not Hartwell, Matheo and Hunt not taken the project on. (See video highlights below.)

    And while acting was low on his list of priorities this year, Hartwell is a company member at Curious Theatre, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and The Edge Theatre Company.

    If all that weren’t enough, Hartwell has worked tirelessly as Colorado's first regional representative for the Dramatists Guild of America, endeavoring throughout the year to both unite, grow and empower the local writer community.

    It’s been a busy year for a writer who has again proven that the pen is mightier than the pillow.

    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.

    Josh Hartwell: 2017 in review

    • Director, Hir, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Teaching Artist, Curious New Voices, Curious Theatre Company
    • Director, Bad Jews, The Edge Theatre Company
    • Producer, Banned Together: A Censorship Cabaret, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Playwright, Resolutions, The Edge Theatre Company
    • Playwright, A Christmas Carol, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Actor, A Christmas Carol, Miners Alley Playhouse
    • Teaching Artist, Denver Center Education Student Playwriting
    • Dramatists Guild of America, Colorado Regional Representative

    Photo credits, from top down: Karen Slack and Andrew Uhlenhopp in 'Resolutions' (RDG Photography). Jason Maxwell, Meredith Young, Josh Hartwell and Ella Matheo in 'A Christmas Carol.' (Sarah Roshan Photography). John Wittbrodt and Missy Moore in 'Bad Jews' (RDG Photography). Josh Hartwell performing from 'Angels in America' for 'Banned Together.' Photo by John Moore. Abigail Kochevar, Steph Holmbo and ensemble performing 'Seasons of Love' for Banned Together.' Photo by John Moore.

    Video bonus:Our coverage of Banned Together


    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

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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