• What a wonderful world it was with Daniel Langhoff

    by John Moore | Nov 12, 2017

    Video above: Daniel Langhoff sings 'What a Wonderful World' at an April benefit concert for the Denver Actors Fund. Video provided by Eden Lane and Sleeping Dog Media.

    The busy actor, husband and father fought cancer like the errant knight he played in Man of La Mancha. He was 42.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    When award-winning Denver actor Daniel Langhoff was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2015, the first-time father dreamed what most every doctor told him was an impossible dream: To beat an unbeatable foe. And yet, over the next rocky and remarkable two and a half years, he reached star after unreachable star.

    Daniel LanghoffThe cancer was discovered just a few months after Langhoff and wife Rebecca Joseph welcomed daughter Clara into the world. Langhoff then fought the disease with the same earnest fortitude and blind optimism as Cervantes, the playwright who defends his life through storytelling in the classic Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. That's a bucket-list role Langhoff somehow found the mettle to play last year during a brief cease-fire with his disease, which would make a raging comeback only a few months later.

    In April, doctors discovered a second, more virulent form of cancer in Langhoff’s abdomen, and it was everywhere. The Langhoffs were told it would be a matter of months. Not that the diagnosis changed Langhoff’s attitude one bit. He fought on with grit, optimism and no small share of Quixotic delusion.

    “Dying never entered his mindset,” said Langhoff’s best friend, Brian Murray. “He always thought he would beat it.” It was only recently in the hospital, when Langhoff was no longer able to eat and fluid was filling his lungs that the impossible dreamer offered Murray this one slight concession to his adversary: “The prognosis is not good,” he told Murray.

    DanielLanghoffFacebook“Daniel fought the cancer by trivializing it — like it was just this little thing to be taken care of,” Murray said.

    Rebecca Joseph, known as R.J. to friends, gave birth to a second daughter, Naomi, on Nov. 2. It happened that day because Joseph made it happen that day. She had doctors induce labor to make certain Langhoff would be alive to see Naomi born. A few days later, Langhoff was admitted to Denver Hospice, where he again defied experts' expectations by fighting on for days until there was no fight left in him.  

    Langhoff died at precisely midnight today, peacefully and as his wife held his hand. He was 42.

    When he left, he was different from the man who married R.J. in 2015. During the ensuing years, as cancer gradually robbed his life, life in turn gave him everything to live for: A wife, two daughters, and the seminal roles of his acting career.

    (Story continues below the photo.)

    Daniel Langhoff Find an extensive gallery of Daniel Langhoff photos at the bottom of this report.


    A punctilious punster

    Langhoff was born in Denver on Nov. 8, 1975, and has been a performer since the third grade. He graduated from Cherry Creek High School and the University of Northern Colorado, and has been working steadily at theatres all over Colorado since 1999.

    He was known as a consummate actor with a quirky sense of humor; a way with a guitar, a song and a terrible pun; a geeky affinity for sci-fi films ...  and a massive collection of inappropriate T-Shirts.

    One of his favorites said: “When I die, I am going to haunt the (bleep) out of you.”

    "That was Daniel," his wife said.

    "Daniel was into weird science fiction, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, anything counter-culture and all manner of useless knowledge," said his frequent co-star and sometimes director, Robert Michael Sanders. "We had a shared love for underrated big-hair metal bands and Alien movies." 

    In the dressing room, Langhoff was a serial punster who was known for running exasperated castmates out of the room with his wit. But on stage, Sanders describes Langhoff as an intelligent, steady actor who could only be distracted from his task by perhaps, say … a random reference to Ridley Scott (maker of Alien).

    He was also one of the most dependable and pragmatic friends you could ever have, said Murray, who has been friends with Langhoff since appearing in Company together at the Town Hall Arts Center in 2008. 

    “I always called him my Vulcan,” said Murray, currently starring in Town Hall’s Seussical. “He was Spock, and I was Kirk. I was the emotional one, and he was the logical one."

    Ironically, Langhoff was the human being Murray turned to when he needed one most.

    "When I was going through a divorce in 2009, the only thing that helped me get by was playing video games with Daniel until 3 in the morning and telling him the same stories all over again," Murray said. "He would say to me, 'Brian, this thing happened. It was outside of your control. Now what you have to do is move through it and move on from that." 

    Perhaps the greatest testament to any man's character, Murray said: "Daniel was kind to everyone — even to the people who annoyed him." (Although, to be fair, Langhoff also loved to quote Tom Waits' life philosophy: "Champagne for my real friends ... and real pain for my sham friends.")

    Traci J. Kern was a real friend. For 22 years, Langhoff has been her constant. "Soon after our meeting, Daniel proclaimed himself the little brother I never wanted," she said. "Anytime I needed him, he was there. No questions asked, because it didn’t matter. Dan lived his life full of passion. Whether it was talking about music, theatre, movies, Stephen King novels, sports, his family, his babies or his wife — he spoke with such enthusiasm, you couldn’t help but be drawn in."

    A life on every stage

    Daniel Langhoff was, simply put, “the most consistent actor ever,” said Sanders. He was also just about the most consistently working Denver actor ever. The list of area theatre companies Langhoff has performed with reads essentially like the list of all area theatre companies. You would be hard-pressed to find a person or company whose path has not, at some point, crossed with Langhoff's on a Colorado stage.

    Dan Langhoff DCPA Love Perfect Change Shanna Steele Robert Michael Sanders Lauren Shealy“Once Daniel got it right, he went out and nailed it at that level every night," Sanders said. "You never had to worry what he was going to do, whether it was for one person or 100. Even for dumb stuff like Guys on Ice – he would find moments that mattered.”

    Langhoff made his Denver Center debut in 2010 in the musical comedy Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre, followed by a stint in a revival of the longest-running musical in Denver history, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He also performed in the DCPA Theatre Company’s seasonal stagings of A Christmas Carol in 2014 and 2015. The latter staging was right when Langhoff was starting his cancer fight. He had surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes – then immediately joined the cast, fitting rounds of chemo into 10-show weeks at the Stage Theatre.

    Langhoff’s substance and versatility put him in an elevated class among local performers: He was a nuanced dramatic actor with a rich singing voice — and an uncommon knack for comedy and children’s theatre. He could glide from playing the conflicted pastor fomenting the Salem witch trials in Firehouse’s The Crucible, to Coolroy in the Arvada Center’s children’s production of Schoolhouse Rock Live, to the long-suffering husband of a bipolar housewife in Town Hall’s Next to Normal.

    Langhoff’s breakout year was 2016, which began in triumph and ended in terror. It started with Performance Now's Ragtime. As Langhoff was continuing his initial chemotherapy, when he called Director Kelly Van Oosbree to express his interest in playing Tateh.

    “I remember thinking, ‘How in the hell is this going to happen?’ ” Van Oosbree said. “I couldn’t wrap my brain around it because if were in the same situation, I wonder how I would even cope. But Daniel did not let cancer stop him from doing anything.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Langhoff had strong sentimental and professional reasons for wanting to play Tateh. He had played the homegrown terrorist known as “Younger Brother” in a remarkable production of Ragtime for the Arvada Center in 2011, and he wanted to complete the circle by playing Tateh — also a dreamer, also a new father — for Performance Now. “Tateh was a role that spoke to him,” said Van Oosbree said.

    Dan Langhoff Sunglasses project. Photo by John MooreIn the summer of 2016, doctors declared Langhoff cancer-free. He celebrated by performing for the Arvada Center (40th anniversary concert), Firehouse (The Crucible) and Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Every Christmas Story Ever Told). He began 2017 by reuniting with Van Oosbree to play the chivalrous and insistent dreamer in Man of La Mancha. These were perfect bookend roles, said Van Osbree: Both Tateh and Cervantes are kind, inventive men who see the world not as it is, but how it should — or could — be. “They are both Daniel,” she said.

    But just as Man of La Mancha was to begin rehearsals, Langhoff noticed another abnormality in his abdomen, and doctors soon discovered a new, more prevalent and more vicious strain of cancer in his abdominal walls. Langhoff began a second round of chemo just as he had been cast to perform in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Arvada Center, followed by Ring of Fire at Vintage Theatre. This time, he would not be well enough to play either role. And he again downplayed the challenge. “I am just more physically compromised than I was before,” he conceded at the time.

    The great work of helping others

    Langhoff was known for helping out any company or cause that needed a hand — or a voice. Back in 2010, he joined the volunteer cast of Magic Moments' The Child. That's an annual musical revue where up to 200 disabled and able-bodied performers perform together, many for the first time. Langhoff played a war veteran opposite a devil character played by Drew Frady, his castmate back in the Arvada Center's 2008 staging of Les Miserables. Langhoff had been recruited as a late replacement for another actor. On his first day, the stage manager ended her introduction of Langhoff by saying, to his horror, “He loves hugs.” And, he later said with a laugh, “I didn’t really have the heart to correct her.”

    Over the next few months, Langhoff said, he learned to love hugs.

    “This is the kind of place where you can still be 5 minutes late for rehearsal, even if you show up on time, because there is a 5-minute gantlet of hugs to navigate,” he said.

    Daniel Langhoff, Laura Mathew Siebert and Nate Siebert. Photo by John Moore. Throughout his cancer ordeal, Langhoff was both a beneficiary of, and great champion of, The Denver Actors Fund, which in three years has made $133,000 available to Colorado theatre artists in situational need. Between direct aid and targeted donations, the theatre community has so far made more than $14,000 available to help the Langhoff family with medical bills, along with practical volunteer assistance. And Langhoff has given back at every opportunity, performing at five DAF fundraising events over the past three years.

    In April, a weakening Langhoff made a galvanizing appearance at United in Love, a benefit concert staged by Ebner-Page Productions that raised $40,000 for the Denver Actors Fund at the Lone Tree Arts Center. (See video at the top of this page.) 

    Dan Langhoff. Annaleigh Ashford. RDG PhotographyLanghoff sang a heart-rending version of What a Wonderful World to acknowledge the support and love he has received from the theatre community throughout his medical ordeal. “All of these performers, this stunning audience, all of these donors make me feel like my fight ahead is just a matter of logistics,” he said.

    (Photos at right, top: Photographer Laura Mathew Siebert, with son Nate Siebert, raised money for Langhoff's cancer fight in 2016 by taking portraits and donating the proceeds. Photo by John Moore. At right: Broadway's Annaleigh Ashford with Langhoff at Klint Rudolph at the April 'United in Love' concert for the Denver Actors Fund. RDG Photography.)

    His final performance was on Sept. 25 at Miscast, a popular annual fundraiser for The Denver Actors Fund, and it was one for the ages. Langhoff, Jona Alonzo and Norrell Moore, all actors in the midst of their own cancer journeys, performed a variation of the song Tonight, from West Side Story, that was written by Langhoff and his (pregnant) wife, who also choreographed. It was essentially a rousing declaration of war against cancer, and it brought the Town Hall Arts Center audience to their feet. The trio were immediately dubbed "The Cancer Warriors."

    (Story continues below the video.)

    Daniel Langhoff, Jona Alonzo and Norrell Moore perform Sept. 25 at 'Miscast,' a benefit for The Denver Actors Fund, at the Town Hall Arts Center.


    The impact of family


    Everyone close to Langhoff says the courage and unyielding optimism he has shown since his diagnosis can be explained in three simple words: Rebecca, Clara and Naomi. "Those three were everything to him," Murray said. "They were his life."

    He met his R.J.  in a theatre, but Langhoff wasn't on the stage; he was a member of the audience. Joseph caught Langhoff's eye after a performance of Vintage Theatre’s Avenue Q. Langhoff noticed the assistant stage manager — usually one of the most invisible jobs in all of theatre. She eventually agreed to a late-night date at the Rock Bottom Brewery that almost didn’t happen because she was running late. Langhoff was appearing in, ironically, the dating comedy I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change at the Denver Center's Galleria Theatre. She was attending Red at the Curious Theatre, which ran longer than she was expecting. Luckily, he waited. Sanders later married the couple in a ceremony at the Town Hall Arts Center.

    Langhoff recently helped Sanders in a profound creative way when the singer-songwriter went into production on his second solo album (under the name Robert Michael). In 2013, Sanders was the victim of a botched shoulder surgery that partially paralyzed his arms and left him unable to play the guitar. Sanders now writes new music through the help of friends who act as his fingers. Langhoff co-wrote the lyrics and music to a track called Forever that Sanders says is informed in part by their own personal experiences:

    You found your forever. You put your hand in his.
    He pulled you close to him, gave you that forever kiss.
    You found your forever, now you'll wake up every day.

    With him smiling back at you, and you have no words to say.

    And that's OK.
    You found your forever. 

    (To listen to 'Forever' on Spotify, click here. Backing vocals by Daniel Langhoff and Norrell Moore.)

    As the theatre community struggles to process the news that Langhoff is gone, his friend Murray was asked what Langhoff himself might say to bring comfort to those he leaves behind. His response:

    "I think the Vulcan in Daniel would say to us exactly what he said to me: 'This thing happened. It was outside of everyone's control. I did everything I could to make it not happen, but it still happened. Now what you have to do is move through that and try to move on from that.' "

    In addition to his wife and daughters, Langhoff is survived by his parents, Jeannie and Charlie Langhoff, and his sister, Amy Langhoff Busch.

    After an intimate family service later this week, a larger celebration of Daniel Langhoff's life will be announced in the coming weeks.

    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.

    Here's how to help Daniel Langhoff's family:
    The Denver Actors Fund is accepting targeted donations that will go 100 percent to Rebecca Joseph to help with medical, funeral and expenses. Any eventual excess funds will go toward the future educational needs of daughters Clara and Naomi. Here's how it works: Click here. When prompted, "Where do you want your donation directed?" choose from the pulldown: "For the family of Daniel Langhoff." The Denver Actors Fund will absorb all transactional fees.) If you prefer to mail a check, the address is P.O. Box 11182, Denver , CO 80211. Separately, if you are motivated to start your own campaign to proactively raise additional funds for the Langhoffs, you can create your own personalized fundraising page on the Langhoffs' behalf. To do that, just click on this (different) link. Choose "Start a fundraiser." Follow the instructions from there.

    Photo gallery: A look back at the life of Daniel Langhoff

    Daniel LanghoffTo see more photos, click on the photo above to be taken to our full Flickr album.


    Daniel Langhoff/Selected shows and companies

    • High School: Cherry Creek
    • College: Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • Denver Center for the Performing Arts: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre; A Christmas Carol for the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Arvada Center: A Man of No Importance (Breton Beret), Ragtime (Younger Brother), A Man for All Seasons, A Wonderful Life, The Crucible, Man of La Mancha, Miracle On 34th Street Les Miserables. Children's shows: Charlotte's Web, Lyle the Crocodile, Schoolhouse Rock
    • Town Hall Arts Center: Next To Normal (Dan), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Company, Batboy! The Musical
    • Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company: Every Christmas Story Ever Told
    • Firehouse Theatre Compay: The Crucible (Rev. Hale)
    • Miners Alley Playhouse: Pump Boys and Dinettes
    • Performance Now: Man of La Mancha (Cervantes), Ragtime (Tateh)
    • Aurora Fox: Spamalot (King Arthur)
    • Vintage Theatre: Hamlet, Prince of Pork, 18 Holes (Lyle)
    • Next Stage: Assassins (The Balladeer)
    • Magic Moments: The Child
    • Hunger Artists
    • Film: Bouquet of Consequence, Why There Are Rainbows

    Video: Daniel Langhoff presents Community Impact Award to Denver Actors Fund:

  • Meet the Cast: Paul DeBoy of 'All the Way'

    by John Moore | Jan 21, 2016
    Paul DeBoy All the WayPaul DeBoy joined with 'All the Way' castmates last week to read from the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. The video can be viewed here. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    MEET PAUL DEBOY
    Robert McNamara/Sen. James Eastland in All the Way

    Paul DeBoy All the WayAt the DCPA Theatre Company: Debut. Broadway: Harry Bright in Mamma Mia! (also national touring production), Nick in Sight Unseen at Manhattan Theatre Company. Other Theatre: Eurydice at 2nd Stage; My Fair Lady at Pioneer Theatre; The 39 Steps at Repertory Theatre of St Louis; as well as Cincinnati Playhouse, Kansas City Rep, The Walnut Street Theatre, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, The Olney Theatre and Studio Arena. TV/Film: “Royal Pains,” “The Following,” “Law & Order,” “CI,” “Trial by Jury,” "A Dirty Shame," by John Waters.

    • Hometown: Baltimore
    • Training: American Academy and The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
    • Website: PaulDeBoy.com
    • What was the role that changed your life: I've had a lot of roles I've been fond of, or that challenged me, but I'd have to say playing Harry Bright in Mamma Mia!  changed my life. I gave him four years of my life, he got me out of debt, showed me all of North America and gave me my Broadway debut.
    • Why are you an actor? My two older brothers appeared on the stage at early ages. Watching them made me realize it was something I may have a passion for. Turns out I was right.
    • What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t an actor? I think I'd either be a musician or an athlete. Probably musician because you could have a longer career. I love singing and playing the guitar when I'm not learning lines. 
    • Tom WaitsIdeal scene partner: I am such a huge fan of Tom Waits. I know if I ever met him I would be starstruck and tongue-tied. But to do a scene with him would put us both on just the even keel I'd need to break the ice. He's amazing.
    • Why does All the Way matter? Because it talks about an issue America has been fighting for more than 100 years. Race relations in this country has been an incredibly slow and painful process for much of middle America. This play attempts to depict just how difficult and unequal the balance of power and acceptance was in our political world, and what a struggle it was and still is to right all those wrongs.  
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of it? I lived through the Kennedy and Johnson administrations - grant you, I was young, but I remember very well the events and people we are depicting here. I hope the audience will come, not expecting to be preached to, but interested to see the larger-than-life figures we remember as just simple human beings with faults, humor and warts and all, moving through this historic time in our history. It's a fascinating play, and it has been a joy to grasp a better understanding of these events.
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      "Besides world peace, all I want is for people to just understand each other a little better. And to realize that life is a whole lot shorter than you think. Try to make the best of it." 

    All The Way: Ticket information
  • Robert Schenkkan. By Robert Schenkkan (pictured right)
  • Jan. 29-Feb. 28
  • Stage Theatre
  • Called a “jaw-dropping political drama” by Variety, this 2014 Best Play Tony-winner vividly portrays the groundbreaking steps taken by ambitious figures of the 1960s – President LBJ and Martin Luther King Jr. – to pass the Civil Rights Act.
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of All the Way
    Video: Cast reads from Civil Rights Act
    Five ways you don't have to connect the dots 'All the Way' to today
    Full casting announced
    Official show page
    DCPA Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16

    Previous 2015-16 'Meet the Cast' profiles:
    Meet Adeoye of Lookingglass Alice and All the Way
    Meet Kevin Berntson of The Nest
    Meet J. Paul Boehmer of As You Like It
    Meet Molly Brennan of Lookingglass Alice
    Meet Courtney Capek of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Brian D. Coats of The Nest
    Meet Tad Cooley of Tribes
    Meet Allen Dorsey of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Kevin Douglas of Lookingglass Alice
    Meet Napoleon M. Douglas of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Brian Dykstra of The Nest
    Meet Isabel Ellison of Tribes
    Meet Kate Finch of Tribes
    Meet Ella Galaty of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Ben Heil of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Carolyn Holding of As You Like It
    Meet Drew Horwitz of As You Like It
    Meet Maurice Jones of As You Like It
    Meet Geoffrey Kent of As You Like It and All the Way
    Meet Emily Kron of As You Like It
    Meet Nick LaMedica of As You Like It
    Meet Andrew Pastides of Tribes
    Meet Shannan Steele of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Carly Street of The Nest
    Meet Samuel Taylor of Lookingglass Alice
    Meet Lindsey Noel Whiting of Lookingglass Alice
    Meet Jake Williamson  of A Christmas Carol
    Meet Matt Zambrano of As You Like It

  • Meet the cast: Molly Brennan

    by John Moore | Sep 18, 2015
    Moly Brennan

    MEET MOLLY BRENNAN

    Red Queen, Caterpillar, Tweedle Dum, the Dormouse and the Walrus in Lookingglass Alice

    Brennan, MollyAt the Theatre Company: Debut. Molly is an AEA actor, singer and clown. Credits include: Second City’s American Mixtape, Madam Barker in Red Tape’s The Life and Death of Madam Barker, Second City’s Guide to the Opera at Lyric, Peter Pan: A Play at Lookingglass, Animal Crackers at The Goodman, Theatrical Essays at Steppenwolf, and 500 Clown Macbeth and 500 Clown Frankenstein in multiple venues in Chicago and the United States. Molly served as Artistic Director of Barrel of Monkeys for three years. In 2016 she looks forward to presenting a new Clown Rock Musical collaboration co-written by Malic White and produced by the Neo- Futurists. Molly was named Chicago’s “Queen of Mischief and Make Believe” by American Theatre magazine, February 2015. She’s also received a couple of Jeff Awards.

    • Hometown: Chicago
    • Training: University of New Hampshire
    • What was the role that changed your life? There have been a lot of great ones. I've had a lot of opportunities and worked on all sizes of stages all over the country. For 10 years, I toured with an extraordinary physical theatre company called 500 Clown. I learned so much of my craft doing that work, and for it I am grateful. David BowieSomething more recently happened that also feels that it's changed my life, but it was so recent I can't yet tell exactly how. It sits in me like a fire, and it's waiting for more. I was invited to devise a piece for opening of the David Bowie exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. My partner Malic and I performed Heroes, and did all these things on stage that made us feel like heroes. Malic cut themself out of a box, then saved me from the prom dress I was wearing. We gave the audience decorated mirrors that when looked at, gave the user Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" makeup. So THEY could be heroes. We rode our bikes around on the stage. Being on stage with my love, committing outrageous and generous acts, was such a thrill. We have continued making this variety of work and have a full-length piece being produced in Chicago by the Neofuturists in February.
    • Why are you an actor? My favorite way to be with people is through theatre. Onstage or in the audience. I love to be with people that way, in story, in voice, in action, in reaction.

    • What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t an actor? I would work with animals.  Dogs are my other love. I'd run a sanctuary for senior dogs, or maybe train service animals.

    • Tom WaitsIdeal scene partner: Tom Waits. That guy has everything. His theatricality is delicious in his own work, and when he's using someone else's script. I'd love to make and perform a play with that guy.
    • Why does this play matter? Lookingglass Alice matters because we attempt the impossible, as Mr. Carroll suggests. We do these physically challenging feats, then coax the audience back inside their racing hearts. We show that difficulty and challenge can feel like magic, and that becoming "adult" doesn't have to be joyless or free of whimsy.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of Lookingglass Alice? A boost of whimsy. A racing heart. Some big laughs. Maybe a tear or two? The want to do six impossible things before breakfast. Maybe want to take a circus class?
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ... " 

      To hear what people who are hurting have to say.

      To assume that if someone is saying they are hurt that this is true.

      To address a person's expression of pain, not the tone or the vernacular.

      To reject notions of a correct and polite way to express hurt.

      To ally with the injured.

      To ask how I can help, then do it to the best of my ability.

      To demand that leaders hold themselves to the same responsibility to our people that I have.

    More 'Meet the Cast' profiles:
    Molly Brennan, Red Queen and others, Lookingglass Alice
    Maurice Jones, Orlando in As You Like It
  • Neil Berg and the rockin' roots of 'The 12'

    by NewsCenter Staff | Mar 31, 2015
    Neil Berg. Photo by John Moore.
    Neil Berg. Photo by John Moore.


    By Douglas Langworthy
    DCPA Literary Manager

    Composer and co-lyricist Neil Berg traces his interest in musicals to an unlikely origin: seeing Annie on Broadway as a boy. “While everyone else loved ‘Tomorrow,’ ” he remembers, “I loved ‘Maybe,’ her ‘I Want’ song.” In an “I Want” song, the protagonist expresses her dreams (e.g. "Annie wants parents"). It’s telling that the budding composer was interested in the song that sets the entire play in motion. Prologue spoke with Neil during rehearsals for The 12, the rock musical he created with book writer/co-lyricist Robert Schenkkan.

    Douglas Langworthy: When did you start writing musicals?

    Neil Berg: From the time I could play the piano, around 9 or 10. I was the youngest of three and rock 'n roll was what I grew up listening to. From my brother I got The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and classic rock. My sister was into folk — Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul and Mary. And my mother and father were into classical, jazz and opera. Being the youngest, it all trickled down. When I came into my own, I was into the classic rock movement. My favorite albums were all those rock operas — The Who’s "Quadrophenia" and Genesis’ "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," but my very favorite was probably Pink Floyd’s "The Wall."

    Front, from left: Anthony Federov, Terence Archie and Jordan Barbour with other cast members from 'The 12.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. When I got to high school, I chose baseball, but I always loved the theatre. When I got to college my best friend bet me 20 bags of Oodles of Noodles that I wouldn’t audition for the musical. I got into Brigadoon; I was the fifth fellow from the left — I’m not a very good actor — but I loved it. When they found out I could play piano, someone asked me to write my first musical — Ghost Story. My life was changed. I got asked my senior year to compose for Cider Mill Playhouse where I wrote scores for Trelawny of the Wells and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

    I arrived in New York City a little behind because I wasn’t "that “Juilliard guy," but I forged my own path. I auditioned for the BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc. Musical Theater) workshop and got in. That’s how I started writing musical theatre.

    (Note: Photo above: Front, from left: Anthony Federov, Terence Archie and Jordan Barbour with other cast members from 'The 12.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)  

    Langworthy: Talk about how The 12 came about.

    Berg: I wrote a musical version of The Prince and the Pauper that ran Off-Broadway for two years at the Lamb’s Theatre in New York. Lamb’s Theatre was in a former church, so every day I was going to work in a church. Being Jewish from New York, I was always fascinated by religion; by these new televangelists.

    I was asked if I wanted to write a musical about the disciples, but that never got off the ground, so I came up with my original concept to write a rock song cycle. Christianity and rock ’n roll were both revolutions that changed the culture. With Christianity you have all these splinter groups, just as rock has all of its sub-genres.

    So my intention was to give each disciple his own rock style — one could be Elvis, then John Lennon and Bono. I was working with a producer, Adam Friedson, who had just produced Robert Schenkkan’s play By the Waters of Babylon. When I mentioned that I was interested in taking this into a book musical, he put Robert and me together.

    Langworthy: Once Robert came into the picture, how did the project change?

    Berg: Robert liked my parallel concept, but he felt a stricter focus would be more effective. So it was his idea to narrow it down to the story of the disciples in the room just after Jesus’ death. What happens when you have a revolution and the leader is suddenly cut off? What do the followers do? This became about having belief.

    Then we tried a few framing devices. What if this was a rock band on the verge of breaking up, but before they do they make this one last record. So all the different players in the band would come out and become a different disciple. It was cool, but we ultimately felt it was a near-miss. The device was more confusing than helpful, so we decided to simplify. And that’s where we are now, where the struggle of the disciples is the story.

    Watch short video samples of 'The 12' songs from the first sing-through

    Langworthy: What musical influences are reflected in your music for The 12?

    Berg: This is my love letter to classic rock ’n roll. You’ll hear some of The Who, a little Led Zeppelin, a little Tom Waits. John Lennon’s in there in the song called “Why.” And of course the ending is very U2 — the hopefulness, everything Bono has stood for in his career.

    There’s a gospel song called “Rise Up” that I’m excited about because I was thinking about how the first gospel song ever would have been written. It could have been inspired by the first time anyone thought that their leader was risen.

    Langworthy: Do you have a sense of how this will play to theatre audiences and audiences of faith?

    Berg:  Absolutely. We’ve done a few different workshops in different places. One of them was in suburban New Jersey. A large part of that audience was suburban churchgoing Catholic. Their response to the reading was incredible. They felt this is a part of the story that’s not told. They felt that this story was theirs; they could wrap themselves around it and embrace it. And then we did it at B.B. King’s in Times Square, and they loved it too. If we’re telling the story the way we want to tell it, and everyone can bring their life history to it and celebrate it, that would be fantastic.


    The 12
    : Video montage:





    The 12
    : Ticket information

    Through April 26
    Stage Theatre
    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    Toll-free: 800-641-1222 | TTY: 303-893-9582
    Groups of 10 or more: 303-446-4829
    ASL interpreted, audio described and open-captioned performance: 1:30 p.m. April 26

    Our previous coverage of The 12:
    Video montage: Your first look at The 12
    The 12: Three days that rocked the world
    Watch short video samples of 'The 12' songs from the first sing-through
    Video: Robert Schenkkan introduces The 12
    The 12 opens rehearsals with a mandate to 'dig deep'
    Full casting announced for The 12
    Final offering of Theatre Company season: Rock musical The 12

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

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