• 2017 True West Award: Emily Van Fleet

    by John Moore | Dec 08, 2017
    Emily Van Fleet True West Award 2017

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 8: Emily Van Fleet

    Arvada Center
    Creede Repertory Theatre
    DCPA's Off-Center

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Denver actor Emily Van Fleet was a shape-shifter in 2017. She played a hillbilly wannabe starlet stranded in a snowstorm. She played a soaking wet corpse in a bathtub. She played a Hungarian lonely heart. She played a coy minister’s daughter. She was an improv comedian. Her stories spanned the globe from 1912 to 1956. Apparently she can play anyone, anywhere, in any time period.

    But once in a great, lucky while, you get to witness an actor killing it so hard in a particular role, you just know they will never be looked at the same way again.

    A Emily Van Fleet The Wild Party Adams Viscom 400 That was watching Van Fleet play a self-destructive showgirl in Off-Center’s very wild The Wild Party, a debauched musical drama based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March and staged under The Hanger at Stanley Marketplace with a cast of 15, a live band and 200 audience members doubling as in-your-lap party guests.

    (Photo at right of Emily Van Fleet in 'The Wild Party' by Adams Viscom.)

    Van Fleet played the hostess Queenie, and she was regal. It was an absorbing and undeniably seductive performance that demanded Van Fleet’s complete immersion into a role that, on paper, director Amanda Berg Wilson said, frankly didn’t give the actor all that much to work with.

    “That character is actually a trope,” Wilson said, “and yet Emily somehow managed to make a not-terribly developed character fully dimensional, heartbreaking, vulnerable and sexy. And to do that in such an intimate space is a really tricky thing to pull off.”

    Van Fleet is a Boulder native who graduated from Fairview High School and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She has been a company member with the Creede Repertory Theatre for five summers. Last year, she was chosen to be among the inaugural class of actors in the Arvada Center’s new repertory company. So, she’s actually been killing it for quite some time.

    Last winter, in fact, she killed it as a woman who already had been killed in the Arvada Center’s exquisite staging of The Drowning Girls, which posed an entirely different kind of acting challenge.  

    A Emily Van Fleet She Loves Me Creede. Photo by John Gary BrownThe Drowning Girls tells how three wives of serial killer George Joseph Smith met their watery demise between 1912 and 1914. The stories are told by three actors who must play the wives (and every other relevant character) with great narrative and physical precision, and Van Fleet, Kate Gleason and Jessica Robblee executed the challenge with complete (sorry) fluidity. It’s not easy to act while sopping wet but, as Westword’s Juliet Wittman put it, the three actors committed to it with gusto.

    “The trick for all three of them was to be both choral and incredibly specific and unique in their performances, and I think Emily was brilliant in both regards,” Director Lynne Collins said. “She played a hunchbacked old landlady so precisely, you could almost feel the curvature of her spine and the arthritis in her hands. And two seconds later, she was back to being lovely young Alice. To be that specific and clear in all your characters is incredibly difficult to do.”

    (Photo at right of Emily Van Fleet in Creede Repertory Theatre's 'Arsenic and Old Lace' by John Gary Brown.)

    Just as impressive, one might say, was her performance in Bus Stop as Cherie, the doe-eyed role made famous by Marilyn Monroe in the 1956 film. Van Fleet’s take on the profoundly innocent woman was virtually unrecognizable from Monroe’s take in the famous film.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Van Fleet glides easily from light musicals to romantic comedies to dramas with uncommon ease. But there was something fundamentally “next level” about her star-making turn in The Wild Party. Van Fleet stripped everything from her inhibitions to her clothes while hosting a corker of a party fueled by cocaine, bathtub gin and uninhibited sex.   

    “Queenie is a sexually ambitious, morally dubious, low-rent vaudeville performer who is promiscuous and probably an alcoholic,” Wilson said. “And through the course of the play she falls in love and consummates that love right then and there — with a man who is not her husband. Emily somehow kept that up for two hours in very close proximity to the audience — and that requires a level of being present that not every actor has. That’s what I think made it such an amazing performance.”

    A Emily Van Fleet I Mackers Creede Repertory Theatre Photo by John Moore 800Off-stage, Van Fleet and her husband, Nathan Jones, wrote an ingenious modern adaptation of Macbeth that was performed by and for teens last summer in Creede, located 250 miles southwest of Denver in Mineral County I, Mac(kers) uses spoken word and cell phones to tell the story of an aspiring but morally compromised high-school thespian who succumbs to the temptation of social media, technology and cyberbullying to fuel his ambition by spreading rumors and manipulating his fellow students.

    (Photo at right: Audiences greet the teen cast of Creede Repertory Theatre’s youth production of 'I, Mac(kers)' after a performance. Photo by John Moore.)

    “Emily Van Fleet is a magical unicorn,” said Creede Rep Artistic Director Jessica Jackson. “Yes, she’s an incredible actor and musician, but Creede audiences also get to experience her as this passionate community member and leader in our company as well. And in some unquantifiable way, that makes what she does on stage even more compelling.”

    And she’s finishing the busiest year of her life by performing in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Yuletide Celebration.

    There’s a simple reason Van Fleet is enjoying the level of success she attained in 2017, said Collins. She’s earned it.

    “She hit her stride in every area of her work this year," Collins said, “and she works harder than any other actor I know.”

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


    A Emily Van Fleet The Drowning Girls M. Gale Photography 800

    From left: Emily Van Fleet, Kate Gleason and Jessica Robblee in the Arvada Center's 'The Drowning Girls.' M. Gale Photography 

    Emily Van Fleet 2017

    • Cherie, Arvada Center’s Bus Stop
    • Alice, Arvada Center’s The Drowning Girls
    • Amalia, Creede Repertory Theatre’s She Loves Me
    • Elaine, Creede Repertory Theatre’s Arsenic and Old Lace
    • Performer, Creede Repertory Theatre’s Boomtown
    • Director and Playwright, Creede Repertory Theatre’s youth production of I, Mac(kers)
    • Queenie, Off-Center’s The Wild Party

    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)

    Video bonus: Emily Van Fleet talks The Wild Party

  • 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 Autumn Hurlbert of 'Something Rotten!'

    by John Moore | Oct 18, 2017
    AUTUMN HURLBERT. Something Rotten

    Autumn Hurlbert of the national touring cast of 'Something Rotten!' attended college in Greeley.


    MEET AUTUMN HURLBERT
    Portia in 'Something Rotten!,' playing through Oct. 29 in the Buell Theatre.  

    AUTUMN HURLBERT On Broadway: Legally Blonde. First National Tour: Little Women. Selected Off-Broadway/Regional: Nobody Loves You (Second Stage), A Taste of Things To Come (York Theater Company), The Last Five Years (ACT Lousiville), Private Lives (Shakespeare Theatre Company, Huntington Theatre Company), every tongue confess (Arena Stage), Les Miserables and Evita (Pioneer Theater). Film/TV: “The Sound of Music, Live!,” “Legally Blonde: The Search For Elle Woods,” Sudden Death!, Research.

    • Hometown: I was born in Montana, and that's where most of my family lives now.
    • Home now: I have lived in New York City for almost 15 years now ... longer than anywhere else.
    • Training: I have a Bachelor of Arts in Musical Theater from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
    • AUTUMN HURLBERT. Twitter-sized bio: Performer, mommy, wife, yogi, explorer, rule-breaker, wannabe political-science expert, musician ... and a silly, life-loving adventurer. 
    • What's your handle? @autumnhurlbert on Twitter and Instagram
    • What do you be doing if you were not an actor? Ooh! I would pursue a profession in some form of social advocacy: Social work, animal rescue, public school after-school programs, something along those lines. I feel that my purpose here on Earth is to empathize and help others in any possible way I can. Or ... this is weird, but I would totally be an aesthetician. I would love to give people facials!
    • One time you saw greatness play out in front of you: One of the most transformative theater experiences I witnessed was Coram Boy (which on Broadway featured former longtime DCPA Theatre Company member Jacqueline Antaramian). It was an epic adventure that addressed child cruelty in the 18th Century. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it took my breath away. It was a huge production, but it had these beautiful, nuanced themes that I still think about. It closed much too soon and I am sad more people didn’t get to experience it. It was sad and magical and mind-blowing.
    • Bucket-list role: There are so many great roles I would love to tackle, but my No. 1 dream is to originate a role on Broadway. I love the creative process, and I really hope some day I can put my stamp on a role that future musical theater comediennes will conquer with their own interpretations.
    • One time you were totally miscast: I played one of the urchins in a production of Little Shop of Horrors at a community theater in Arizona. I sang the crap out of it, but it was definitely three white girls playing the urchins. Miscast!
    • alabamashakesWhat's playing on your your Spotify? I am currently obsessed with Alabama Shakes. They have been around for a while, but - man! - their music makes me feel the feels. I also really love Big Boi’s album, Big Boi Boomiverse. He calls himself an old-school rapper, but he says, 'I can lay down all of these new sounds and make them my own.' It’s an eclectic and fun album.
    • How should we should foster the next generation of theatregoers? I think arts education is the most important avenue, not only for nurturing future theatregoers, but also for making the world a better place. The arts teach empathy  and inclusiveness. The arts challenge and enhance your world view and your ability to participate in an ever-changing and evolving world. Studies have shown that children who play musical instruments are better at math. The arts are everything. (But I am totally not biased, am I?)
    • One thing we don't know about you: I have my toddler and my husband on tour with me. We are a like a traveling family band. We are living our gypsy spirit dreams!
    • Why does Something Rotten! matter? Our motto for this tour is: “Make America Laugh Again." Something Rotten! offers an escape from the stress and worry of daily life. One of the main themes is “To thine own self be true." That is a courageous and beautiful mission for anyone to live by. And we exemplify how to do that through comedy. Laughter is a necessity in life, in my opinion.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of this play? I hope they walk out with their cheeks and bellies sore from laughing. I hope the love we have for each other on stage is felt in the audience — you are our final cast member.
    • One thing you want to get off your chest: Please, please, make fanny packs go away for good. They really don’t look good on anyone. ANYONE. 😜

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Something Rotten!: Ticket information
    Something Rotten!At a glance: Set in 1595, this hit musical comedy  tells the story of two brothers who set out to write the world's very first musical. It was called  'The Producers + Spamalot + The Book of Mormon. Squared,' by New York Magazine. The New York Post called Something Rotten! 'a big, fat hit.'

    • National touring production
    • Performances Oct. 17-29
    • 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
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Something Rotten! (to date)
    Something old, something new, something borrowed and Something Rotten!
    Go to the Something Rotten! show page
  • In the Spotlife: Adriane Wilson of 'Cabaret'

    by John Moore | May 19, 2017
    Adriane Wilson
     


    MEET ADRIANE WILSON
    Sally Bowles in Miners Alley Playhouse's Cabaret, opening tonight and running through June 25.

  • Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
  • Home now: Greeley
  • Adriane Wilson Quote 1High school: Aviano American High School in Aviano, Italy
  • College: BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
  • What have you done for us lately? I played Morticia Addams in The Addams Family for the Little Theatre of the Rockies in Greeley
  • Twitter-sized bio: I am a pit-bull rights activist, cheese-lover and Harry Potter enthusiast. I was raised in a military family, so I had the opportunity to live and perform all over the country and overseas. I am happiest when I am cooking, reading and playing with my two handsome puppies.
  • What's your handle? @little.adriane.leigh on Instagram
  • What was the role that changed your life? In all honesty, I think I am playing a life-changing role right now as Sally Bowles. She is such a complex and challenging role to tackle, and our director Len Matheo has truly helped me find a grounded and realized version of her. I have always doubted my abilities as an actor, but working with this cast and team, I have started to gain a new kind of confidence in myself as a performer that will most definitely fuel my performances in the future
  • steve-carell 300Ideal scene partner: Steve Carell. I am an enormous fan of his work. His range is so vast, and he seems like such a friendly person.
  • What is Cabaret all about? This musical explores the horrific reality of the Nazis’ rise to power in 1930s Berlin, and how varying groups of people were affected by the new regime. Some citizens remained blissfully naïve, while others had their lives turned upside down.
  • Tell us about the challenge of playing this role: Finding a believable balance between the showman’s persona she wears in public, and the deep, depressive state she regularly finds herself in. Sally also struggles with self-loathing, doubt and addiction. I want to stay far away from playing those traits in a caricatured fashion.   
  • More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing this play? Foremost, I want the audience to enjoy themselves, because the first act is truly a raucous time. The second act, however, should be a wake-up call. History has been known to repeat itself. And as a Jewish woman, that frightens me. This play is a reminder that politics affect us all, no matter how far from home the conflict is taking place.
  • What's one thing most people don't know about you? I desperately want to join a Dungeons and Dragons campaign!
  • What’s one thing you want to get off your chest? I think it is absolutely outrageous that there is a ban on Pit Bulls in the city of Denver. I rescued a Pit Bull from a kill shelter three years ago, and it was one of the best things I have ever done. His name is Scott, and he is a total angel. He loves to snuggle, play with his big brother and give kisses. I would love to move to Denver as my career in theatre continues to blossom, but I cannot because of the ban, and I refuse to leave Scotty behind. There is no such thing as a “bad breed” - only people who do bad deeds. These creatures are naturally strong and smart, so cruel people taught them to fight because they were more likely to win, and they looked awfully tough on the end of a leash. The media has taken this image and blown it out of proportion, causing ill-informed people to believe it blindly. Educate yourselves, and adopt a Pit Bull today.

  • Adriane Wilson. Luke Sorge. Adriane Wilson. SARAH ROSHAN PHOTOGRAPHY
    Luke Sorge and Adriane Wilson in Miners Alley Playhouse's 'Cabaret.' Sarah Roshan Photography.

    Miners Alley Playhouse's Cabaret: Ticket information

    • Written by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Joe Masteroff (Book)
    • Directed by Len Matheo and Mitch Samu (music)
    • Through June 25
    • 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden MAP IT
    • Tickets $18-28
    • For tickets or information, call 303-935-3044 or go to minersalley.com

    Performance schedule:
    • 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
    • 6 p.m. Sundays May 28, June 4, 11 and 18
    • 1 p.m. Sunday, May 21 and June 25

    Cast list:

    • Jim Walker as The Emcee
    • Adriane Wilson as Sally Bowles
    • Luke Sorge as Cliff Bradshaw
    • Tim Fishbaugh as Herr Schultz
    • Kristen Samu as Fräulein Schneider
    • Alaina Beth Reel as Fräulein Kost
    • Rory Pierce as Ernst Ludwig
    • Kit Kat Girls: Steph Holmbo, Kenzie Kilroy, Abbey Kochevar and Kayla Mally
    • Kit Kat Boys: Parker Fowler and Gabe Morales

    More 'In the Spotlife' profiles:
    Meet Lauren Bahlman of Wide-Eyed West's theMumblings
    Meet the ensemble of Buntport Theater's The Crud
    Meet Mark Collins of And Toto Too's Lost Creatures
    Meet Carley Cornelius of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Constellations
    Meet Emily Paton Davies of Miners Alley Playhouse's God of Carnage
    Meet Kelsey Didion of Curious Theatre's Constellations
    Meet Denise Freestone of OpenStage's August: Osage County
    Meet Sam Gregory of the Arvada Center's Tartuffe
    Meet Emily K. Harrison of She Rode Horses Like the Stock Exchange
    Meet John Hauser of Curious Theatre's Hand to God
    Meet Jim Hunt of Buntport's The Zeus Problem
    Meet Jeff Jesmer of Spotlight Theatre's The Crucible
    Meet Wayne Kennedy of BDT Stage's Mid-Life 2
    Meet Carla Kaiser Kotrc of Miners Alley Playhouse's A Skull in Connemara
    Meet Heather Lacy of the Aurora Fox's Priscilla Queen of the Desert
    Meet Seth Maisel of Town Hall Arts Center's The Firestorm
    Meet Tim McCracken of Local Theatre's The Firestorm
    Meet Tamara Meneghini of The Last Testament of Mary
    Meet Angela Mendez of Beauty and the Beast
    Meet Joelle Montoya of Su Teatro's El Sol Que Tu Eres
    Meet Rebekah Ortiz of The Robber Bridegroom
    Meet Anne Oberbroeckling of Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's Ripcord
    Meet Jessica Robblee of Buntport Theatre for All Ages' Siren Song: A Pirate Odyssey
    Meet Cory Sapienza of Miners Alley Playhouse's Hir
    Meet Sean Scrutchins of the Arvada Center's Bus Stop
    Meet Lauren Shealy of Lone Tree Arts Center's Evita
    Meet Jane Shirley of The Avenue's Santa's Big Red Sack
    Meet Marc Stith of Benchmark Theatre's The Nether
    Meet Peter Trinh of the Aurora Fox's Chinglish
    Meet Petra Ulyrich of Germinal Stage-Denver's Johnny Got His Gun
    Meet Megan Van De Hey of the Arvada Center's Sister Act
    Meet Sharon Kay White of the Arvada Center's I'll Be Home for Christmas

  • 2016 True West Award: Matthew Campbell

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

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 23: Matthew Campbell

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

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

    Check that. Campbell was the tracks.

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

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

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

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

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

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo gallery: Sweet and Lucky

    Sweet & Lucky

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


    Matthew Campbell/At a glance

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


    Video bonus: An introduction to Sweet and Lucky:



    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

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

    by John Moore | Dec 14, 2016
    Rudolph Jamie Mills Ben Burch
    Jamie Mills and Colorado native Ben Burch, who met in Greeley, are coming home this week to perform at the Buell Theatre. 


    When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical lands on the Buell Theatre stage Dec. 16, Santa and Mrs. Claus won’t be the only lovebirds in the house. The ensemble features Colorado Springs native Ben Burch and his wife, Jamie Mills, who met as students at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. The couple have been together for nine years and will celebrate their third anniversary on Dec. 28.

    We caught up with the Colorado-bound couple to talk about performing in the holiday musical, which is based on the stop-action TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that first aired on NBC in 1964. It has been telecast every year for 52 years, making it the longest-running Christmas TV special in history. Now it comes to Denver as a family friendly stage adaptation. 

    We caught up with the Colorado-bound couple to talk about life on the road and performing together at the Buell Theatre Dec. 16-18.

    Rudolph. Jamie Mills. Ben Burch.


    John Moore: How did you meet in Greeley?

    Ben Burch: We were both in the musical theatre program at UNC. I was a sophomore and Jamie was a freshman. We first saw each other at an audition for The Rocky Horror Musical, where she was wearing a beautiful pink dress and I was wearing silver pleather pants. I mean, who wouldn't be confident in silver pleather pants? So, I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. That night I told one of my roommates I had found the woman I was going to marry.

    John Moore: How did the opportunity to perform together in Rudolph come about?

    Jamie Mills: Ben auditioned for the show in the summer of 2015, and he performed in it last year by himself. The entire time he kept saying how wonderful it would be to go out on tour together. So, when the opportunity arose this past summer, we jumped at it. It was a long audition process for me, but Ben helped me every step of the way. Sometimes, if you work hard enough, the best of things can happen. 

    Rudolph. Jamie Mills. Ben Burch. Photo by George Garvin PhotographyJohn Moore: What do you consider to be your home?

    Ben Burch: We live in Los Angeles now. And while our home base may change because of the nomadic lifestyle of the traveling actor, Colorado will always hold a special place in my heart. What can I say? I bleed orange and blue. 

    What is the secret to performing on the road and maintaining a successful marriage?

    Jamie Mills: We always tell people that communication is the most important part of a marriage. We've both done a tour without the other, and we agree that it's harder for the person left at home. On tour, you're with new people and in a new place almost every day. It's important to remember that your significant other doesn't have that and to try to share all of your experiences with them. Time differences also can be hard. You have to remain focused and know that your separation will only last for the length of the contract, but your love and relationship ARE forever. 

    (Photo above and right: The 2013 wedding of Jamie Mills and Ben Burch. Photo by George Garvin Photography.)

    John Moore: How important is Christmas in your household? 

    Ben Burch: It is THE MOST IMPORTANT! Christmas is our favorite holiday. Both of our families have very different traditions, and we are still in the process of picking and choosing what we will keep. If I had my way, we'd start celebrating and decorating in October. But Jamie has a very specific timeline. There's Halloween, then her birthday, then Thanksgiving, and the Friday after Thanksgiving we can start celebrating Christmas. But we started Rudolph rehearsals in October, so we were singing Christmas music before Halloween this year!

    John Moore: Everyone knows the story of Rudolph. Tell us about the theatergoing experience, and why families should add it to their holiday plans.

    Jamie Mills: It's a live-action version of what you've seen on your TV screen for so many years, and it’s the most charming family event that you could imagine. Parents and grandparents who have seen the movie will love passing the tradition on to the newer generations in the family. Kids will delight in seeing Rudolph grow from a young buck into the hero of Christmas right before their eyes. Seeing the audiences’ faces at the end of the show while Rudolph is flying above our heads is truly a joy for all the actors. 

    Rudolph. Ben Burch. John Moore: How many family and friends are coming to see you perform?

    Ben Burch: Every family member I have in Colorado is coming to a performance, and some are coming from as far away as Washington. Friends from high school who have never seen me perform are coming. College classmates who have started their own families are bringing their kids. Needless to say, the Buell Theatre will be packed with fans of Yukon Cornelius, Mrs. Donner and Dolly. 

    (Photo above and right: Ben Burch as Yukon Cornelius, with Hermey. Photo by Character Arts.)

    Ben, since you grew up in Colorado Springs – what will it mean for you to be performing on the Buell Theatre stage? 

    Ben Burch: It has been five years since I last performed in Colorado and 10 since I performed in Colorado Springs. My nephew and nieces have never seen me on stage. The Buell is a beautiful theater, and I can't believe it's where I get to share my passion for live performance with them. Not bad for a kid from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center to make the jump up to the gorgeous Buell

    John Moore: What’s your message for Colorado in advance of your return? 

    Ben Burch: I'm back … and go, Broncos!

    John Moore: You close here in Denver on Dec. 18. So how excited will you be to be spending Christmas together … in Los Angeles?

    Ben Burch: Not as excited as we will be to fly back to Colorado the day after! 


    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

    • Dec 16-18
    • Buell Theatre
    • 7:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Dec. 17
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Photo gallery: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

    To see more production photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos courtesy of Character Arts. 
  • 2016 True West Award: Jake Mendes

    by John Moore | Dec 13, 2016
    True West Awards Jake Mendes

     



    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 13:
    Jake Mendes

    Every year announces the unmistakable arrival of a select few major new talents in Colorado theatre. And one of the freshest faces of 2016 was the ever-changing face of Jake Mendes.

    The Lakewood native played a sadomasochistic dentist with a penchant for pain; a high-heeled mad scientist hell-bent on creating his perfect sexual plaything; and a brooding former teen idol just back from Vietnam.

    True West Awards Jake Mendes “That tells me that Jake has great range,” said Gavin Mayer, who directed Mendes in the Arvada Center’s world-premiere holiday musical I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which plays through Dec. 23. “For anyone to pull off that kind of variety, you have to be willing to be very vulnerable and honest. Jake isn’t afraid to take risks on the stage. He’s a great singer with nice comic timing – and he also happens to be very smart, articulate and kind.”

    Mendes, 28, graduated from Green Mountain High School and the University of Northern Colorado before enjoying a rare streak of immediate good fortune in the Big Apple. He was cast in Bunnicula off-Broadway among other productions including The Drowsy Chaperone and The Little Dog Laughed.

    But Mayer says Mendes is an uncommonly levelheaded young man with a long-range plan to have a career in arts administration. So he returned to Colorado to earn his masters degree in Arts Development and Program Management from the University of Denver. While doing so, he worked as a part-time teacher for Jefferson County Public Schools and helped out on the drama productions at his Green Mountain High School alma mater.

    “It’s rare for someone who is so young and successful on the stage to have the foresight to prepare for a career off the stage as well,” Mayer said.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    But that administrative career might have to wait if Mendes continues the on-stage roll he has been on in 2016. His streak began playing the gas-happy and Audrey-slapping dentist Orin Scrivello (DDS!) and other small roles in Miners Alley Playhouse’s Little Shop of Horrors – while also serving as assistant choreographer. He then played the sweet transvestite (and hedonistic, pleasure-murdering alien) Dr. Frank-N-Furter in StageDoor Theatre’s The Rocky Horror Musical in Conifer.

    Jake Mendes Quote “Jake had audiences in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked onstage,” said his Rocky Horror director, Steven Tangedal.

    Mendes capped his year originating the role of the wholesome former teen idol Simon Bright in I’ll Be Home for Christmas for the Arvada Center. He’s a kid (think Ricky Nelson) who grew up in the 1950s performing on his parents’ nationally televised variety show. He has come back from Vietnam just in time to join the family for its annual holiday special.

    Mayer said Mendes was hungry to work on a world premiere. “It can be intimidating for a lot of actors to take on the challenge of being handed 10 new pages every day, but he always came into the room with such a positive attitude,” Mayer said.

    Read more about Mendes' first teacher, Shelly Bordas

    “Mendes' voice is fantastic as he infuses his numbers with palpable emotion,” Chris Arneson wrote of I’ll Be Home for Christmas for Broadway World.

    Mendes got his start as a boy taking classes from beloved children’s director Shelly Bordas, who died of cancer last year at 41. Tangedal said the ethic Bordas instilled in Mendes was evident from Day 1 of Rocky Horror rehearsals. “When he reminded me that he got his start with Shelly and her troupe at Theater On Broadway, I knew that he had her spirit in his work ethic,” Tangedal said. “He was always ready to help out wherever help was needed. He was a true professional.”

    Now the question is: Will his profession now pull him on stage — or off?

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

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

    by John Moore | Nov 06, 2016
    Andrew Russell and the Company of Jersey Boys. Photo Jeremy Daniel

    The national touring company of 'Jersey Boys.' Photo Jeremy Daniel.


    Andrew Russell can relate to the Four Seasons’ unlikely rise from a street corner in New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s lived a storybook tale of his own, rising from Pomona High School to his new place at the Jersey Boys’ table. Along the way he’s married his high-school sweetheart, performed in five musicals at the Arvada Center and now he returns home to perform in the national touring production of Jersey Boys from  Nov. 9-13 on the most fabled stage of his youth, the Denver Center’s Buell Theatre.

    “It's definitely going to be a very eye-opening experience. This is something I have always dreamed of,” said Russell, who saw his first live theatre performance at the Buell Theatre when the national touring production of Rent, starring Anthony Rapp, visited Denver in 2001.

    “I spent a lot of time around the Buell as a kid, and throughout my entire life, seeing whatever big shows were touring at the Denver Center,” Russell said. “Theatre in Denver was what I always imagined Broadway would be like. I also remember seeing Les Miserables at the Arvada Center and the touring production of Avenue Q at the Buell. That was my ticket to becoming whatever it is that I wanted to be in my life. Being able to see these quality productions really sparked something in me and made me think that possibly I could be doing this.

    “And now being part of one of those quality productions, and coming back to Denver - it's a full-circle story.”

    Jersey Boys Andrew Russell QuoteRussell wasn’t particularly driven to join the theatre program at Pomona High. You might say gang-leader Gavin Mayer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – Jersey Boys-style.

    "He pulled me into the program,” Russell said of his teacher and director. “I was this very shy, awkward kid, and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I was nervous and not ready for high school. I just didn’t have confidence, and I feel like Gavin saw something in me.”

    Russell’s family had moved often when he was a kid, finally settling in Westminster when he was in the fifth grade. Pomona was his first time at the same school for more than two years.

    On his first day of orientation, Mayer invited Russell to sit in and observe what the theatre program there was all about. “Sure enough, a few months later, he cast me in Footloose, The Musical. That was all him,” Russell said. And seven years later, as fate would have it, Mayer would cast Russell again - in the Arvada Center’s Legally Blonde, The Musical.

    “And so Gavin cast me in my first production of anything in high school, and then in my junior year of college, he cast me in my first professional theatre production of anything, and that was Legally Blonde.”

    Before Russell graduated from Pomona, Mayer also cast him in Hello Dolly! opposite Brenna Larsen, another fortuitous gift in Russell’s life. The two played Minnie Fae and Barnaby. They became high-school sweethearts, they matriculated together to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and they were married in August 2015.

    Andrew Russell. She Loves Me. Arvada Center. In 2014, Russell performed in the Arvada Center’s throwback holiday musical She Loves Me. At the cast party, he met a party-crasher named Matthew Dailey. He was another Arvada Center alum who had just learned he would be playing Tommy DeVito in the national touring production of Jersey Boys. “We talked a little about the show, and I just thought that was so cool,” Russell said. “Who knew that a couple years later, I'd actually be joining him in the tour? It's a crazy thing.”

    It’s a little more crazy that Russell made it into the cast than Dailey, given Russell’s own account of his audition. He was up for the role of goofball Hank Majewski, who was briefly a member of The Four Lovers – the precursor to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. “It was kind of a flop,” Russell said of The Four Lovers. “Hank was kind of a dorky guy who didn’t really lead the group to any kind of success at all. So they dropped him and picked up Bob Gaudio, who obviously made everything right.”

    (Photo above and right: Andrew Russell with Rob Costigan in 2014's 'She Loves Me.' Photos by P. Switzer.)

    Because Russell is now based in Burbank, California, he submitted his audition tape through YouTube. When the casting team then asked him to come in for a real audition, Russell left a key accessory at home. “Hank needs to play guitar, and when they called me back, I didn't even think to bring a guitar,” Russell said with a laugh. “I walked into the room and the first question they asked was, 'Where's your guitar?' And so I had to say, "Um ... back in Burbank?”

    But it worked for him.

    Andrew Russell Quote“I think that set up this kind of goofball attitude from the beginning," he said. "I feel like they saw that in me.”

    The Four Seasons – sans Majewski – went on to chart 50 hit singles and sell an estimated 100 million records worldwide. The core of the group during its 1962-67 heyday were lead singer Frankie Valli, Gaudio on keyboards, DeVito on lead guitar and Nick Massi on electric bass. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

    All of which was news to Russell when he was a student at Pomona – more than 40 years after “Sherry” was the No. 1 song in America. It was 2005 when the Jersey Boys Broadway soundtrack was released and found its way to Arvada.

    “My friends and I would be singing along down the halls of Pomona High School,” Russell said. “I had never heard these songs before. I didn’t know who the Four Seasons were. So me being able to attach to these iconic songs at my age is very much attributable to Bob Gaudio's genius. They are just so memorable that kids generations later can snap along to them just like their parents did.”

    When Russell was cast, part of his intensive training was a third-row ticket to watch the original New York production, which is preparing to end its 11-year run in January as the 12th-longest-running show in Broadway history.

    “I just listened to the way people responded to these songs like ‘Oh What a Night,’ ‘Sherry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man,’ ” Russell said. “This isn't your typical Broadway experience. On top of the book and the score just being really, really good, the direction and the choreography are very specific; It's like a well-oiled machine, from the way the Four Seasons snap their fingers to the way the ensemble put their chairs down.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “The audience forgets they are watching a show. They find themselves singing along and enjoying their memories. Then you see the kids like me who just really enjoy the show, too. That's definitely why the show keeps on going like it has: Because everybody can enjoy it.

    Russell enjoys stepping into the spats of a band of brothers who like to play with each other and make fun of each other. "They get in each others' faces," Russell said. "But in the end, they have this bond, and that bond is their word. They are family.”

    And Russell’s family is his high-school Minnie Fae. Brenna Larsen Russell is also a performer, and she is currently touring the country in Nick Jr.’s cable television show Peppa Pig Live.

    “We always had this crazy bond together,” Russell said. “I couldn't be more proud of her. Here we are just a couple of years out of college in little old Greeley, Colorado, and we both are working professionally, sustaining our life together as a married couple in the industry. It’s been pretty fun.

    “Throughout our whole lives, people have told us, ‘Don't have relationships with other people in the industry.’ But I have seen a lot of relationships be very successful, especially when you find somebody you really have a connection with. I feel like we were brought together for a reason. We just have this soulmate connection. I can’t imagine my life with anybody else.”


    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.

    Jersey Boys: Photo gallery

    Jersey Boys

    Jersey Boys: Ticket information

    • Nov. 9-13
    • Buell Theatre
    • Talkback with the cast following Thursday, Nov. 10 performance
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Additional NewsCenter coverage of Jersey Boys:
    Andrew Russell workin' his way back to Denver
    Matthew Dailey walks like a man back to Denver
    Dailey, Russell: There's plenty of Colorado in Jersey Boys
    Video, photos: Jersey Boy sings national anthem at Broncos game

  • Meet the cast: Jessica Robblee of 'Frankenstein'

    by John Moore | Oct 25, 2016
    Jessica Robblee. Frankenstein


    MEET JESSICA ROBBLEE

    Gretel the Prostitute and Clarice the Servant in Frankenstein

    At the Theatre Company: All the Way, Lord of the Butterflies, Drag Machine. Other Theatres: After the Revolution, Homebody Kabul, Rabbit Hole, Aphrodisiac (Curious Theatre), This (Boulder Ensemble Theatre), Gidion's Knot (Sis Tryst Productions), 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche (square product theatre), Siren Song: A Pirate Odyssey, Duck Duck Dupe, Trunks (a live comic book), Yesterado, Unbeweaveable (Buntport Theater for Young Audiences), Waiting for Obama (New York International Fringe Festival) and The Odyssey: A Walking Tour (Buntport Theater). She is a co-writer, co-director, and actor for Young Audiences productions at Buntport, an artistic company member at Curious Theatre Company, and a writer-performer for the Denver Art Museum’s family theatre programs.

    • Hometown: I don’t have one.  My Army family (mom, dad and brother) are my hometown, I think. 
    • A Jessica Robblee 800 3Training: Davidson College and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • What was the role that changed your life? Cha-Cha DeGregorio in Grease. Playing this role during 9th grade at the community theatre on Camp Zama, Japan, showed me that the theatre community is incredibly fun, creative, free and smart. That pure-fun experience is what drew me back to taking acting classes years later … and that choice changed my life trajectory entirely.
    • Why are you an actor? Acting is playing … in the smartest, most alive, most connected, and most exploratory way you can.  It helps me understand and respond to all the craziness, wonderment, and difficulty of living.
    • What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t an actor? I would be a florist. That’s my first thought. I wanted to be a florist when I was 5 years old, because I was obsessed with colors and rainbows and jobs that involved colors and rainbows … and now I’m in love with gardening.  It’s magical how all the pieces come together, and how the plants respond to your care and do miraculous things. Which sounds like directing. So, I’d be a director. And a writer. And an actor. And a gardener.
    • Ideal scene partner: Will Ferrell. Come on, that man is fearless and talented and so much fun.
    • More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    • Why does this production of Frankenstein matter? This play embodies how our impulse to explore the unknown sits right next to our intense fear of the unknown.  What do we do with these two, sitting side by side, staring at us … imploring us to do and to fear doing? What are our responsibilities as we seek and cross new frontiers?  Also, this piece examines the pain and heartbreak of an individual trying to get others to acknowledge his humanity. What a sad thing, to have to make that argument to your fellow beings. The creature’s plea to be understood as human reminds me of the Black Lives Matter movement. Why does this completely justified, utterly logical movement spark such outrage and fear in parts of our community?  Why are we so threatened? Of course we’re not perfect. Of course there’s work to be done.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of seeing Frankenstein? Questions about who the Creatures of our world are, and why they are denied humanity - and how they are changed by that denial.
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      "... for us to know each other better, so we can care about each other more. And smiles on the street, great books to read, songs on the air, and stories and jokes that encourage us to keep going when we are feeling like we can’t.  And for Rice Krispies Treats to be good for you. Like, really, really good for you."

    • Learn more about Buntport Theater's 'Siren Song' for all ages

      Jessica Robblee. Lord of the ButterfliesPhotos above and right by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

       

      Frankenstein: Ticket information
      Frankenstein• Through Oct. 30
      • Stage Theatre
      • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 23
      • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
      • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

      Previous NewsCenter coverage of Frankenstein:
      Photos: Opening Night of Frankenstein
      Video series: Inside look at the making of Frankenstein
      Five things we learned about Frankenstein at Perspectives
      Photos, video: Your first look at the making of Frankenstein
      Frankenstein
      : On the making of a two-headed monster
      Frankenstein and race: It IS a matter of black and white
      Breathing life into the Frankenstein set: 'It's alive!'
      A Frankenstein 'that will make The Bible look subtle'
      How Danny Boyle infused new life into Frankenstein
      Casting set for Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie
      Introducing DCPA Theatre Company's 2016-17 season artwork
      Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
      2016-17 season announcement

      More 2016-17 DCPA Theatre Company 'Meet the Cast' profiles:

      Aubrey Deeker, The Glass Menagerie
      Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, Frankenstein
      Meridith C. Grindei, Frankenstein
      Sullivan Jones, Frankenstein
      Mark Junek, Frankenstein
      Charlie Korman, Frankenstein
      Amelia Pedlow, The Glass Menagerie
      Jessica Robblee, Frankenstein
      John Skelley, The Glass Menagerie
      Wesley Taylor, An Act of God

      Jessica Robblee. Waiting for Obama. Follow the DCPA on social media @DenverCenter and through the DCPA News Center.

  • In the Spotlife: Joelle Montoya of 'The Sun That You Are'

    by John Moore | Oct 02, 2016
    The Sun That You Are
    Su Teatro is bringing back its original take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, with a bilingual twist. In 2005 The Denver Post called perhaps the most ambitious undertaking in Su Teatro's history. 


    (The DCPA NewsCenter regularly profiles actors performing in theatre productions throughout the state of Colorado.)

    MEET JOELLE MONTOYA

    Rudi in Su Teatro's El Sol Que Tu Eres, or The Sun That You Are

    • Hometown: Littleton
    • Home now: Denver
    • High School: Mullen
    • Joelle Montoya QuoteCollege: BA in Performing Arts, acting emphasis, from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley; MFA in acting from University of Essex (United Kingdom)
    • What have you done for us lately? I played Crystal in Little Shop of Horrors at Miners Alley Playhouse
    • What is the Sun That You Are all about? It is a modern adaptation of Orpheus and Eurydice. Set in Mexico, this classic myth weaves Mexican traditions (El Dia De Los Muertos), Aztec culture, beautiful music, poetry and modern day struggles to re-tell the story of Orfeo (Orpheus) and Rudi (Eurydice).
    • Most challenging aspect for you as an actor: (Writer and director) Anthony J. Garcia made it clear that he wanted to give Rudi something he thought was missing in most other re-tellings of this famous myth. He wrote Rudi so she has a voice of her own. Rudi is definitely a spitfire. I love this attribute about her, and I love the challenge of bringing someone so obviously contradictory to life.
    • What do you love most about Su Teatro? I absolutely love the Denver theatre community, but Su Teatro is unique because it has and will continue to provide a creative outlet to the Latino community. It is a theatre where my relatives, who are not typically theatre patrons, will go and see a show because they can relate. Su Teatro allows its audiences to witness something outside of the normal theatre scene and delve into another culture. That's how I believe theatre can work its magic for change.
    • What's one thing most people don't know about you? I Iove collecting rocks. Whenever I go for a hike or traveling, I have to find the right one because, to me, it is a piece of the place I visited, which is the best souvenir there is.
    • What’s one thing you want to get off your chest? To believe is to create, and to create is to love. "Creer es criar, y criar es amor.” I am passionate about all artistic endeavors, because in our effort to create beautiful theatre in Denver and the world is our effort to give love. So please, let us all work together to create a better world for ourselves. Be brave and never give up.

    Read John Moore's 2005 review of The Sun That You Are

    Su Teatro's El Sol Que Tu Eres, or The Sun That You Are: Ticket information
    • Written by Anthony J. Garcia and Daniel Valdez (music)
    • Directed by Anthony J. Garcia
    • Oct. 13-Nov. 6
    • At 721 Santa Fe Drive
    • Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
    • Tickets $20-25 at 303-296-0219 or suteatro.org

    Cast list:
    Rudi: Joelle Montoya
    Orfeo: Miguel Martimen
    Tia: Yolanda Ortega
    Narciso: Jesse Ogas
    Hector: Lorenzo Gonzalez
    Tommy: Phil Luna
    Annie: Sierra Fernandez
    Lencho: Camilo Luera
    Meghan: Joi Hyatt
    Trisha: Gloria Gray
    Alex: Iliana Barron
    Ensemble: David Carrasco, Felicia Gallegos Pettis, Leslie Gomez.

    Musicians
    Band Leader/Guitar: Adolfo Romero
    Bass: Eli Montoya Pablo
    Percussion: Jared Rains

    More 'In the Spotlife' profiles:

    Meet Jeff Jesmer of Firehouse Theatre Company's The Crucible
    Meet Jessica Robblee of Buntport Theatre for All Ages' Siren Song: A Pirate Odyssey
    Meet Wayne Kennedy of BDT Stage's Mid-Life 2
    Meet Joelle Montoya of Su Teatro's El Sol Que Tu Eres
    Meet Sam Gregory of the Arvada Center's Tartuffe
    Meet Lauren Bahlman of Wide-Eyed West's theMumblings
    Meet Carley Cornelius of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Constellations
    Meet Emily Paton Davies of Miners Alley Playhouse's God of Carnage
    Meet Megan Van De Hey of the Arvada Center's Sister Act
    Meet Anne Oberbroeckling of Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's Ripcord

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • In the Spotlife: Lauren Bahlman of 'theMumblings'

    by John Moore | Sep 20, 2016

    Matthew Blood-Smyth and Lauren Bahlman in rehearsal for Wide Eyed West's 'the Mublings,' opening at The Bakery near Coors Field.


    The DCPA NewsCenter regularly profiles actors performing in theatre productions throughout the state of Colorado.

    MEET LAUREN BAHLMAN

    Jodie in Wide Eyed West's theMumblings, by Dan Kitrosser

    • Hometown: Phoenix
    • Home now: Denver
    • College: BA in Theatre Arts, acting emphasis, from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • What have you done for us lately? I played Jessica in Hysteria for Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • Coming up: I will be playing Karen Weston in August:Osage County for Vintage Theatre in the fall of 2017
    • What is theMumblings all about? Jodie, who happens to be straight, is married to Allen, who happens to be gay. Over the course of the 90-minute play, the audience is taken through the journey of their story: How they chose each other, and how the other characters in their lives influenced that choice. Oh, and did I mention those other characters are all played by myself and Matthew Blood-Smyth? It's a fascinating exploration of perception, the stories we tell and how we tell them, as well as attempting to answer the basic question of the search for love and how it does or does not rule our lives.
    • Most challenging aspect for you as an actor: This play is unlike any two-person play I have ever read or seen. Being able to explore the "base" characters of Jodie and Allen by also playing their exes, a professor, Jodie's mother, and others, is such a gift from our playwright. It's also a huge undertaking, but, as it's being fleshed out, it's also incredibly rewarding. I just hope I can keep all their idiosyncrasies straight.
    • What do you love most about your director? Kristin Skye Hoffmann is not only a fantastic director and producer from New York, she also happens to be my best friend. We're beyond excited to bring something new and fresh to the Denver community. Being on the producing side of things is different and challenging for me, but it's also an incredible thing. To see an artistic dream literally coming true in front of our eyes is thrilling.
    • What's one thing most people don't know about you? I am pretty obsessed with podcasts, particularly those of the 'true crime' genre. If I weren't an actor, I probably would attempt a career as some sort of low-budget detective.
    • What’s one thing you want to get off your chest? Yes, I am also an improviser. (I make up half of the two-lady improv duo, BAUS, with Jessica Austgen). No, I will not randomly start comically riffing in your living room in front of your friends.

      Wide Eyed West's theMumblings: Ticket information
      • Directed by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
      • Through Oct. 8
      • At The Bakery, 2132 Market St.
      • Performances: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; plus 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, and Monday, Oct. 3; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2.
      • Tickets $20-25 at wideeyedproductions.com or brownpapertickets.com

    Cast list:
    Lauren Bahlman
    Matthew Blood-Smyth

    More 'In the Spotlife' profiles:
    Meet Carley Cornelius of Colorado Springs TheatreWorks' Constellations
    Meet Megan Van De Hey of the Arvada Center's Sister Act
    Meet Emily Paton Davies of Miners Alley Playhouse's God of Carnage
    Meet Anne Oberbroeckling of Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's Ripcord

  • Janice Sinden: Historic choice for DCPA's new CEO

    by John Moore | Aug 23, 2016
    Janice Sinden Quote


    The Denver Center for the Performing Arts searched the globe for its third Chief Executive Officer, and it found her less than a mile away.
     
    Janice Sinden, a fourth-generation Coloradan from Fort Collins, has been named President and only the third CEO in the nearly 40-year history of the largest non-profit theatre organization in the country. And first woman. DCPA Chairman Daniel L. Ritchie made the historic announcement this morning.
     
    “This hiring means there are no walls, and I’m sure Janice will demonstrate that in everything she does," said Ritchie. "She's just an extraordinary human being, and I have no doubt she will succeed as a person and a leader.”

    Sinden, 44, has served as Chief of Staff to Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock for the past five years, where she oversaw 26 city departments with more than 11,000 employees and a budget of more than $1.5 billion. Before that, she ran Colorado Concern, an alliance of more than 100 of Colorado top business executives.
     
    “We wanted someone well-connected in the community, and she is about as well-connected as anyone could possibly be,” said DCPA chairman Daniel Ritchie.
     
    It says something of Sinden’s character that when Hancock chose the most vital connector of his administration, the Democrat mayor turned to a Republican who had previously served under Sen. Wayne Allard. Five years later, perhaps the greatest measure of Sinden’s success is evidenced by how hard it is for Hancock to let her walk away. Sinden has helped spearhead numerous mayoral initiatives that have strengthened city finances, reformed city operations, improved the lives of underserved communities and supported Denver’s children, Hancock said.
     
    “So much of what we’ve been able to accomplish is because she was in the lead making sure we could get across the finish line,” said Hancock. "Her professionalism is unparalleled. The people of Denver are better off and on a better course because she answered the call to serve.”
     
    Michael Hancock quoteAnd  when Sinden was offered the opportunity to become the first female to lead the DCPA, Hancock gave his reluctant blessing.
     
    “Mayor Hancock has often told me: ‘Janice, when the time is right, don’t run away from something. Run toward it,’ ” Sinden said. “I’m ready to grab the baton and join this incredible team as we run toward a common goal.”
     
    Since 1979, the DCPA has presented Broadway tours and produced homegrown theatre, cabaret, musicals and innovative, multimedia plays. As the primary tenant of downtown’s Arts Complex, the DCPA entertained nearly 1.2 million last year through 40 productions, 888 performances and 205 events. The Education program serves 92,000 students each year. It has been estimated the DCPA has registered a $600 million economic impact over the past five years. It has an annual budget of more than $50 million and employs 1,000 full- and part-time staff.
     
    Sinden, who assumes her duties at the DCPA on Sept. 12, said her top goal will be to help the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District win reauthorization from voters on Nov. 8. That penny-per-$10 sales tax generates more than $50 million annually for more than 300 arts organizations in the metro area.
     
    “That’s No. 1. We need to get that done,” said Sinden. “I have traveled to 20 countries with the mayor over the past five years, and the first thing everyone asks about is the SCFD. It's a model that no one else has anywhere in the world.”
     
    She also cited as a top priority The Next Stage – the city’s grand vision for transforming the Denver Performing Arts Complex into an entertainment destination complete with a new amphitheater and music hall, residential towers, hotels, restaurants and retail. As Denver’s former Chief of Staff, Sinden should bring key insight to the project as discussions turn next to governance and funding.

    Institutionally, Sinden said, her initial focus will be on inclusion, diversity, fundraising and expanding audiences.
     
    Daniel Ritchie quoteThe Hancock administration’s support for arts and culture has been well-documented. Hancock created Imagine 2020, the city’s first strategic plan for arts and culture in 20 years. His wife, singer and actress Mary Louise Lee, has also created a city program called Bringing Back the Arts.
     
    “Arts and culture are the fabric of our city. They are woven through everything we do,” said Sinden, who imagines a 2020 when Denver arts will be “better, deeper, richer – and with lot more diversity in our participation.”
     
    Sinden replaces Scott Shiller, who resigned in May. Ritchie said he has no doubt Sinden was the right person for the job.
     
    “We wanted someone who had demonstrated leadership with a large complex organization; someone who has a passion for theatre and the arts; and someone who shares our values of integrity, diversity, innovation and putting the customer first in everything we do,” Ritchie said. “Janice fits every bill.”
     
    Sinden said she was not deterred that Shiller resigned after only a year on the job.

    "Jim Crowe, the founder of Level 3 Communications, told me recently that 40 percent of all CEOs don't work out, and it's not because they're not qualified," Sinden said. "It's because it just didn't work, for a variety of reasons. I don't think it's a reflection on Scott or on the organization. Chemistry is everything."

    Sinden is a quintessential Coloradan who hikes, skis and recently took in the  Michael Franti concert at Red Rocks. She lives in Evergreen and often can be found hiking Bergen Peak. She recently scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, an experience she said was “one of the most important things I have ever done for myself.”

    She was born in Steamboat Springs, where her father, Roger Sinden, ran the town’s first Grade-A dairy farm. When the family moved to Wellington, her father then went to work for a Northern Colorado water conservancy district. Her mother’s family owns many dryland farms in northeastern Colorado that are “spread out from Brighton to Yuma and everywhere in between,” she said.
     
    Sinden grew up playing the piano and attending the theatre with her mother, Arleen Brown, as often as possible. She remembers seeing a production of Annie Get Your Gun at Fort Collins’ Lincoln Center that turned her into a theatre-lover for life.
     
    “We didn’t have a lot of money,” she said, "but my mother was always exposing us to theatre, and that was a wonderful part of growing up. My mother made sure I could play the piano and swim - and I am grateful for both.”
     
    She loves live theatre, she said, because "it presents us with an opportunity to tackle a whole lot of issues and experiences we are facing as a community in a way you can't get from television or film."

    Sinden graduated from Rocky Mountain High School and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley before completing the Executives in State and Local Government program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
     
    She attends theatre and other arts performances as often as time allows. Most recently, she frequented the DCPA Theatre Company’s DeVotchKa-infused production of Sweeney Todd, and her response offers some insight into what kind of programming might most appeal to her at the DCPA.
     
    “I loved Sweeney Todd because was risky,” she said. “And that’s exciting, because theatre should be risky. If we weren't willing to take risks, we'd just show Cats over and over again. This organization is clearly progressive.”
     
    While the DCPA fielded inquiries for the CEO position from around the globe, Ritchie said Sinden’s intimate knowledge of Colorado and its most powerful business leaders will uniquely situate her to succeed.

    “Denver is not like New York or Boston or L.A.,” Ritchie said. “Janice doesn’t need to learn the culture here – she is already part of it.”


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

    Janice Sinden's community work:
    Janice Sinden served on and/or led the boards of some of the area’s leading non-profit organizations:

    • American Transplant Association
    • Colorado Civil Justice League
    • Colorado Council on the Arts
    • Colorado’s Future
    • Colorado Preservation Inc.
    • Colorado Reform Roundtable
    • Colorado Workers Compensation Coalition
    • Denver Good Government Committee
    • Denver Preschool Program
    • Downtown Parks & Public Spaces Master Planning Committee
    • Executives Partnering to Invest in Children
    • Mental Health Colorado
    • ONE Colorado
    • Visit Denver

    Janice Sinden’s city initiatives
    Mayor Michael B. Hancock credits new DCPA CEO Janice Sinden for the following city initiatives since 2011:

    • Recruiting a new Police Chief and Sheriff to implement major reforms in those two public safety agencies;
    • Creating the new Rose Andom Center, Colorado’s first family justice center to serve domestic violence victims by bringing multiple agencies and services together in one location;
    • Securing voter approval for Measure 2A in 2012, which eliminated the city’s recession-induced budget deficit and restored essential city services;
    • Re-authorizing and expanding the nationally recognized Denver Preschool Program allowing the program to reach more preschool students and reduce costs for families;
    • Creating the Office of Behavioral Health Strategies and Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, both of which will bring a new force and focus addressing vulnerable and underserved populations;
    • Establishing the Mayor’s Good Government Committee, which has led to many reforms that today make city government more modern, effective, efficient and fiscally responsible;
    • Negotiating seven successful collective bargaining agreements with the city’s fire, police and sheriff associations; and
    • Supporting other Mayoral initiatives, including international economic development and cultural missions to promote Denver nationally and internationally, the memorial events for the 10th and 15th anniversaries of 9/11, and Denver's bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
  • Colorado actors take center stage in Oregon

    by John Moore | Feb 25, 2016
    Benjamin Bonenfant and Jamie Ann Romero.

    Benjamin Bonenfant and Jamie Ann Romero in Ashland, Ore.


    Jamie Ann Romero and Benjamin Bonenfant, two rising Colorado actors whose rockets have been propelled by fuel from the Colorado theatre community, are opening in major new world premieres at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this weekend.

    On Saturday, Bonenfant stars as Pip in a massive new look at Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations. The next day, Romero introduces Belmira in Marisela Treviño Orta’s new ensemble drama The River Bride.

    While Pip is of course the iconic orphan who becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor, Romero plays a Brazilian fiancée named Belmira whose wedding plans are disrupted three days before the ceremony when fishermen pull a mysterious stranger out of a river.

    While they won’t appear together in Ashland, the actors have 13 seasons between them at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder, starring together as the star-crossed lovers in 2011’s Romeo and Juliet. Bonenfant is fresh off starring roles in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Henry V and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s 4000 Miles, and most recently appeared at the Denver Center in the Theatre Company’s Benediction and A Christmas Carol. He’s a graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

    Romero’s Denver Center credits include Romeo & Juliet, Sunsets and Margaritas, The Three Musketeers and a breakout, gender-bending turn in the 2014 world premiere of The Legend of Georgia McBride, which led to a high-profile run in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. She is a graduate of Chatfield High School and the University of Northern Colorado (UNC).

    “A large chunk of my heart is still in Colorado, and I miss it every day,” Romero said this week on the eve of her opening. “From high school through UNC through the things I learned working with brilliant actors at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Denver Center, I think every single thing has led me to being here. To being anywhere, really. That just goes back to Denver being an incredible community that supports and lifts up everybody.”

    They now find themselves reunited at the oldest Shakespeare festival in the nation.

    “When I look around in the rehearsal room and I see the interactions of the company members here and the rapport that they have, it makes me miss home,” Bonenfant said. “Because I found those kind of relationships in a great rotation of theatre companies all over Colorado – but specifically, for me, at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.”

    The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is considered a dream job among the nation’s actors because the company presents an 11-show repertory season that lasts 10 months, employing perhaps the last true resident acting company in the nation. So while most actors scramble from one job to the next every month or two, Bonenfant has signed a 40-week contract with the OSF, which equates to the first real professional and financial stability of his young adult life. He also will play two roles in Hamlet (Osric and Reynaldo) while understudying the princely title role.

    Romero, who now lives in New York City and has other upcoming commitments there, chose a one-show, six-month contract that runs through July 7.

    Jamie Ann Romero. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
    Jamie Ann Romero with Armando McClain in 'The River Bride' for The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jenny Graham.


    One reason the OSF is considered “the granddaddy of American theatres” has been its ability to adapt with the times. Its wildly varying 11-show 2016 season includes five Shakespeare titles as well as The Wiz, Gilbert & Sullivan, and edgy new works like The River Bride, Roe and, if the publicity materials are to be believed, "a brash new comedy about three young Vietnamese immigrants making their way through the bewildering landscape of 1970s America," called Vietgone.

    “It's an interesting mix,” Bonenfant said. “The legacy of the company certainly has been built for decades on producing Shakespeare. And it’s that history of producing Shakespeare that has gotten it to the place where it has become a powerhouse when it comes to developing all kinds of works.”

    The authors of the two new plays the OSF is launching this weekend are familiar to Colorado theatre audiences. Penny Metropulos and Linda Alper, who have created this new version of Great Expectations, also adapted The Three Musketeers for the DCPA Theatre Company. Metropulos, who is directing Great Expectations, also directed Quilters, You Can’t Take it With You and The Trip to Bountiful for the Denver Center.

    “I think this new production might bring a lot of people into contact with this classic novel, and this great Dickens language, for the first time,” said Bonenfant. “The focus of the narration is just one person telling the story to another person, so it seems to be saying something about the simplicity of storytelling.”

    And, he added, about the generosity of shared storytelling.

    “OSF is very straightforward about the importance of diversity and inclusion,” Bonenfant said. “In this particular telling of Great Expectations, you have an ensemble that is extremely diverse. You have people from all different walks of life, and all different social strata, sharing in the telling of this same story together.” 

    Benjamin Bonenfant. Jamie Ann Romero. Romeo and Juliet. Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of ColoradoMarisela Treviño Orta is a young playwright from Texas, but Denver’s Su Teatro was onto her talents eight years ago when it staged the world premiere of her play Braided Sorrow, a devastating look at the very real plight of thousands of young women who commonly disappear from their jobs at American factories in the border city of Juárez, Mexico, and are later found mutilated in the nearby desert.

    The River Bride, winner of the National Latino Playwriting Award, is set in Brazil and is inspired by Amazonian folklore. “It’s called a 'grim' Latino fairy tale,” said Romero, “and that's exactly what it is.” The story is the first in Orta’s planned trilogy inspired by the Brothers Grimm.

    “It does have humor and tragedy and pathos in it, but the play is really about love,” Romero said. “Being brave in love and what happens when you are … and what happens when you aren’t.”

    (PIctured above right: Benjamin Bonenfant and Jamie Ann Romero in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 2011 'Romeo and Juliet.' Photo by Glenn Asakawa.)

    Bonenfant and Romero now join a longstanding Colorado pipeline to Ashland that dates back to James Sandoe, a seminal figure in the development of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and a regular director in Oregon from 1948-68. Over the years, the OSF family has included Colorado natives including Phamaly Theatre Company’s remarkable Regan Linton, James Newcomb (son of the legendary Bev Newcomb-Madden and currently starring as Hubert Humphrey in the DCPA’s All the Way), and Sandoe’s daughter, Anne, who is a mainstay at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and played a central role in Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s award-winning Ghost-Writer. The connection has grown so strong that, for the first time, casting directors from Ashland took advantage of their time here in Denver for the Colorado New Play Summit last week to audition many of the area’s most accomplished actors for consideration in Oregon’s 2017 season.

    Benjamin Bonenfant. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
    Benjamin Bonenfant with Nemuna Ceesay in 'Great Expectations' for The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jenny Graham.


    Bonenfant learned he would headline Great Expectations while visiting the Creede Repertory Theatre in August. He closed the DCPA’s A Christmas Carol on Dec. 27 and was in Ashland for his first Great Expectations rehearsal less than 48 hours later.

    “My last couple of months in Denver, I was really keenly aware that I was going to be leaving, and just how large and how vibrant and wonderful the theatre community in Colorado is,” he said. “On the one hand, it’s a joyful experience getting to join a new community here completely fresh. But I think that only adds more appreciation for what you've left behind and how it's afforded you your opportunities to grow.”

    For as long as Romero has loved Shakespeare, “which is a very long time,” she said, “I've always wanted to work for the OSF. And to actually be here is wonderful and kind of indescribable. I've felt so comfortable and so supported in every way. But to echo what Ben said, the community here does remind me a lot of the community in Denver and Boulder and Colorado in general. Everyone is so supportive and loving of each other there, and that's very much the way it is here too.”

    More about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

    • Founded in 1935
    • Located in Southern Oregon
    • Season runs from February through early November
    • Three theatres: The flagship outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, and the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre and Thomas Theatre
    • Summertime visitors can see up to nine plays in one week
    • More information
     

    2016 Oregon Shakespeare Festival season:

    • Twelfth Night
    • Great Expectations
    • The River Bride
    • The Yeomen of the Guard
    • Vietgone
    • Roe
    • Hamlet
    • The Wiz
    • The Winter’s Tale
    • Richard II
    • Timon of Athens
     

    More about Benjamin Bonenfant:

    Benjamin Bonenfant True West AwardRonald Dean in Benediction, Fortinbras, Hamlet (understudy) in Hamlet, Ensemble in A Christmas Carol, Gerald Forbes in When We Are Married (DCPA Theatre Company); Prince Hal in Henry IV, Parts One and Two, Henry V in Henry V, Dauphin in Henry VI, Part One, Ferdinand in The Tempest, Hamlet in Wittenberg, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew, Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing (Colorado Shakespeare Festival); Philip II in The Lion in Winter (The Arvada Center); Ken in Red (Curious Theatre Company); Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Herod in Salome, Treplev in The Seagull, Dionysus in The Bacchae, George Gibbs in Our Town, Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac, Bobby Strong in Urinetown, Silvius in As You Like It (TheatreWorks); Leo in 4000 Miles (Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center); Joey/Jim in Ambition Facing West, Rheticus in And the Sun Stood Still (Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company); Elijah in Elijah: An Adventure (Local Theater Company). 

     

    More about Jamie Ann Romero:

    Jamie Ann Romero. The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo by Gabe Koskinen. Nina in Vanya & Sonya & Masha & Spike (Paper Mill Playhouse); Jo in The Legend of Georgia McBride, Kitty in The Three Musketeers, Bianca in Sunsets and Margaritas (DCPA Theatre Company); Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lucy in Dracula (Utah Shakespeare Festival); Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Queen in Richard II, Lady Percy in Henry IV, Part One, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia in Hamlet (Colorado Shakespeare Festival); Sylvia in Sylvia, Audrey in Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Lone Tree Arts Center); Celia in As You Like It (Modern Muse Theatre Company); Nina in The Seagull (TheatreWorks); International: Brooke in Noises Off (Maxim Gorky Theatre in Vladivostok, Russia).

    Photos: Benjamin Bonenfant won a 2015 True West Award for his performance in the title role of Henry V for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen. Jamie Ann Romero appearing in the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Gabe Koskinen

  • Video: Andy Kelso of 'Kinky Boots' backs the Broncos

    by John Moore | Feb 05, 2016


    Andy KelsoAndy Kelso, who stars as Charlie Price in Kinky Boots on Broadway, is a Colorado native, graduate of Eaglecrest High School in Aurora and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and a die-hard Denver Broncos fan.

    Here's what he has to say about the upcoming Super Bowl matchup with the Carolina Panthers.

    In the photo at right, Kelso is joined by Kinky Boots co-star Wayne Brady supporting the Broncos ina team cap. hat. Hey, whatever Lola wants!

    Photo courtesy Andy Kelso.


    Re-live Andy Kelso's National Anthem Day in Denver:

    Andy Kelso came home to sing the national anthem at the Denver Broncos' nationally televised victory over the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 24, 2014. Watch above.

    Super Bet: DCPA backing the right horse in Super Bowl


    This just in: A message from Fun Home on Broadway!



    The cast and crew of Fun Home, the Tony-winning Best Musical of 2015, have a message from Broadway. Fun Home's Tony-nominated Beth Malone is a Castle Rock native and recently starred as Molly Brown in the DCPA Theatre Company's "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Thank you, Fun Home!


    Andy Kelso. Photo by John Moore
  • Video: Ryan Jesse is getting down and Dirty (Dancing) in Colorado return

    by John Moore | Jan 29, 2016

    Ryan Jesse, a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, is back in Colorado through Jan. 31 playing Neil Kellerman in Dirty Dancing  –  The Classic Story On Stage. Based on the hit 1987 film, the musical features the hit songs “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and Jesse's personal favorite from the show, “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”

    Jesse made his Broadway debut in 2010 playing Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys.

    Interview by DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore. Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk.

    Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage
    Click the forward arrow to see more production photos by Matthew Murphy.

    Dirty Dancing  —  The Classic Story on Stage

    Through Jan. 31
    Buell Theatre
    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    Groups: 303-446-4829
    ASL interpreted, Audio described and open-captioned performance: 2 p.m. Jan. 30

    Ryan Jesse. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.  Ryan Jesse outside the Buell Theatre. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 
  • 2015 True West Award: Shauna Johnson

    by John Moore | Dec 11, 2015
    Shauna Johnson True West Awards Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
    Photo by Rachel D. Graham of RDGPhotography.


    2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    ​Today’s recipient: Shauna Johnson
    Technical Manager, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse


    Today’s presenter: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
    Managing Director, Midtown Arts Center


    In a field dominated by men, Shauna Johnson manages all the moving parts at Colorado’s largest dinner theatre. This year, that included making rain fall and a car fly at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown, located about 45 miles north of Denver.

    Johnson has the unusual title of “Technical Manager,” which at Candlelight means overseeing all technical elements and all backstage personnel including crew, electricians, carpenters, set builders and painters.

    “She is pretty much the unsung hero at one of the largest theatres in Colorado,” said Jalyn Courtenay Webb, Managing Director of the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins and today’s True West Awards guest picker. “It’s especially impressive that she has succeeded as a female in such a typically male field. It is so cool to see a woman doing technical theatre with such passion and integrity. She does beautiful work. And she is really able to command a great deal of respect from anyone who walks into that building.”

    Shauna Johnson quoteJohnson has been with Candlelight since Loveland construction magnate Dave Clark opened the 380-seat, $6.2 million dinner theatre in 2008.

    Every technical challenge at Candlelight becomes a Johnson opportunity, Webb said. And this year, Candlelight scheduled two Herculean opportunities in the form of stage adaptations of Singin’ in the Rain and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She and her team made it safely pour on stage and not on patrons’ desserts as Bob Hoppe reanimated the famous Gene Kelley dance sequence where he sings, spins an umbrella, splashes and gets soaked to the skin. Then Johnson solved how to elevate a 1920s-era racing car and move it up, down, left and right. The year also has included stagings of West Side Story and A Christmas Carol, which plays through Dec. 31.

    Johnson is known as a tenacious problem-solver. Tasked years ago with building the set for a Front Range Music Theatre production of Beauty and the Beast without a place to, you know, build it, she simply took over her parents’ front lawn.

    a Shauna Johnson 300Johnson, who graduated from Loveland High School and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, comes from a performing family. Mother Judy is a piano teacher, brother Craig is a singer and brother Neal is the Technical Director at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley.

    The Colorado theatre community mourned with the Johnson family in February 2013 when Shauna’s sister Angela, a well-loved Northern Colorado stage performer, died in her sleep at age 34.

    Webb says everything Shauna does in theatre is a way of remembering and honoring her older sister. Starting with running her own theatre operations with integrity. In her spare time, Johnson does volunteer work for various nonprofits like A Dream is a Wish. Johnson offers her technical skills at fundraising event so the foundation can make it possible for children with life-threatening illnesses to participate in live theatre.

    “As someone who has spent my whole life in the theatre, to get to the point where you know you are going to be safe when you walk in the door is no small thing," Webb said. "The team at Candlelight is in good hands with Shauna. I would trust her with anything.”

    (Photo above and right: Shauna Johnson led the team that had Bob Hoppe 'Singin' in  the Rain' at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse earlier this year. Photo by Rachel D. Graham of RDGPhotography.)

    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
    The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, 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 around the state 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

    THE 2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS
    Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
    Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
    Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
    Day 4: Laurence Curry
    Day 5: Bernie Cardell
    Day 6: Susan Lyles
    Day 7: John Jurcheck​
    Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
    Day 9: DCPA Education's 'Shakespeare in the Parking Lot'
    Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
    Day 11: Shauna Johnson
    Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
    Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
    Day 14: Keith Ewer
    Day 15: Allison Watrous
    Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
    Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
    Day 18: Emma Messenger
    Day 19: Shannon McKinney
    Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
    Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
    Day 22: Scott Beyette
    Day 23: Augustus Truhn
    Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
    Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
    Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
    Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
    Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
    Day 29: Mark Collins
    Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company's Cabaret
    Bonus: Donald R. Seawell
  • Real 'Just Like Us' women: 'Our story is the story of millions'

    by John Moore | Nov 15, 2015
    A JUST LIKE US 600

    The 'Just Like Us' talkback at Westminster High School drew two of the real women in the story. Photo by John Moore.


    Just hours after the Paris terror attacks, Westminster High School students performed the play Just Like Us, an intensely local story of four Mexican-born, straight-A students whose paths from a Denver high school to higher education vastly differ based on their immigration status.

    But the specter of what happened in France hung over the performance nearly 5,000 miles to the west, and that was acknowledged during an emotionally charged discussion following the performance. Two of the four real women whose stories were the basis for the play joined the cast onstage and took questions afterward.

    In the play, adapted for the stage by Karen Zacarías from former Denver First Lady Helen Thorpe's acclaimed book, two major real-world events brought on a severe backlash that made immigration rules much more restrictive. The 9/11 attacks took place just six weeks after the Dream Act was first introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bipartisan proposal to create a legal path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States remains unpassed. Closer to home, undocumented immigrant Raúl Gómez-García shot and killed Denver police Detective Donnie Young in 2005. After an international manhunt, police sweeps were stepped up throughout Denver, and immigrants took to the shadows. Both events made efforts to get two undocumented Denver high-school seniors from Just Like Us into college much more difficult.

    On Saturday morning, government officials confirmed what many at the play had been speculating the night before: At least one of the attackers entered France by posing as one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Turkey in recent months. Now there are fears of another backlash against reform efforts in this country. A conservative radio host in Denver on Saturday declared Donald Trump "the winner" in France because of his campaign promise to deport all 11 million Mexicans living in America without legal documents.

    DCPA's Kent Thompson visits cast of Just Like Us

    The Friday night performance of Just Like Us, meanwhile, drew a capacity crowd to Westminster High School, a standing ovation from the audience and a spirited conversation afterward. This was the first high-school production of Just Like Us since the play was commissioned by the DCPA Theatre Company and first staged in 2013. Another production is in the works at a Dallas high school.

    Thorpe, who becomes the narrator in Zacarías' stage adaptation, followed the four high-school seniors for five years. All four were born in Mexico and brought to this country as infants. Two have legal documents, and two do not. The two talkback guests who joined the cast onstage Friday were the two who did not have legal status in high school.

    The woman whose character is named Yadira said watching Friday's performance was an emotional roller-coaster; even traumatic at times. The woman whose character is named Marisela said she got the chills "because it's not just our story. It's the stories of millions and millions of people and their families."

    They encouraged the students at Westminster to become politically active at their school, which is made up of 40 percent undocumented students. The woman who is known as Marisela told them to share their stories with the state legislature, and to work both locally for the passage of in-state tuition for immigrants, and nationally for the passage of the Dream Act.

    "No matter what, we have to continue fighting,” she said. “We can't give up."

    The host for the discussion was University of Northern Colorado professor Gillian McNally, who has a personal stake in all of this: Just Like Us Director Andre' Rodriguez, was once her student at UNC in Greeley. Together, they have embarked on a year-long collaboration between their schools. McNally recently hosted 70 Westminster students for a campus tour, and the school has waived its fee for any of those students who apply for admission there. In addition, the UNC theatre department will produce an original bilingual play in the spring, and perform it at Westminster High School. 

    McNally commended the Denver Center and Artistic Director Kent Thompson for commissioning the writing of Just Like Us as a play. "That's walking the walk," McNally said. "I think the Denver Center took a risk by producing this play, and I would argue that you here at Westminster took a risk by presenting it."

    Rodriguez let his guests do the talking during Friday's conversation. But in his program notes, he wrote: "It is ironic that in a country where dreams live free, fear also consumes. This is especially true for the thousands of undocumented young people who dream of the same opportunities as those born to the light, but are limited by the shadows and borders that oppress."





    Given the rare opportunity to address the women who have for the most part protected their anonymity since the beginning of Thorpe's reporting on their lives, the DCPA NewsCenter asked their thoughts on their nemesis, former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo (who also is a character in Just Like Us).

    Tancredo not only ran for the Republican Party nomination for President in 2008, he has twice run for Colorado governor, each time centering his campaigns on the issue of illegal immigration. When the DCPA introduced Just Like Us two years ago, Tancredo - also a frequent conservative talk-show host on Denver's KOA 850 AM - publicly accused Thorpe of making the four women up. Citing his unsuccessful efforts to identify them, he called Just Like Us a work of fiction.

    "Well … here we are," the woman known in the play as Marisela said on Friday to applause and laughter. 

    She continues to work for understanding on the issue of immigration, but she has nothing to say to Tancredo, she said, because he represents “pure hate.”

    "Throughout the course of my life, I have learned not to deal with those people," she said. "They don't budge. When in-state tuition (for immigrants) was being discussed at the state capital, (former state senator) Chris Romer bought a copy of Helen’s book for every house representative and every senator, and left it at their desks. When they voted, in-state tuition died. But a lot of them changed their votes, and they quoted the book as their reason. Those people, I can have a conversation with. I don't think I can have a conversation with Tom Tancredo. It's just pure hate.”

    The women talked further about how messy and surprising the immigration issue can be. They praised Ralph Nagle, the millionaire Republican who provided much of the funding for their scholarships to the University of Denver. Nagle also significantly contributed to  the first staging of Just Like Us at the DCPA.

    “What I want people to understand is that our story is the story of top students who just happen to be undocumented,” said the woman whose character is named Yadira. “We were in AP (advance placement) classes at our high school. We got straight-A’s. We were involved in our school and in our community. So we're not the type of students who can hide in the shadows. But when Marisela says in the graduation scene, 'I started with a freshman class of 712 students and now 200 of us are graduating' - That's true. That really happened. So that's 500 students who went missing. They dropped out, they were pushed out, they gave up. A lot of students give up hope for many reasons.

    “So yes, our story is powerful, but I think it's important we remember that so many other students fall through the cracks. One of the reasons we said yes to Helen when we met her was not just so that she would tell our own personal stories - but tell the story of everyone."

    A JUST LIKE US 6002The 'Just Like Us' talkback at Westminster High School. Photo by John Moore.
  • 'If/Then' composers: Writing for Idina Menzel is like learning to drive a Porsche

    by John Moore | Oct 14, 2015
    Brian Yorkey quote. Photo by Joan Marcus. The direction of 'If/Then,' and the lives of composers Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, below left, changed when they learned they would be writing their new musical for Idina Menzel. Photo above by Joan Marcus.



    When Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey won the Pulitzer Prize for writing the Broadway musical Next to Normal in 2010, they already were looking ahead to their next project. It was to be the story of a 25-year-old woman finding her way in New York.

    And that’s when producer David Stone dangled the most mellifluous bait in musical history before them: Why not make the character a little more seasoned, with some wear and tear?

    In other words: Why not write the character for Broadway superstar Idina Menzel?

    Hook, line and singer. If/Then was re-born, and the star of Rent, Wicked and the film Frozen would become both its face, and its biggest champion.

    Brian Yorkey, left, and Tom Kitt. This week, the first national touring production of If/Then launches in Denver with Menzel again taking center stage alongside principal castmates LaChanzeAnthony Rapp and James Snyder.

    “To be able to write for someone like Idina is a privilege,” said Yorkey, the musical’s lyricist. “It's also a challenge, because you have what will ultimately be considered one of the legendary instruments of the American musical theatre. So you better make it worth her while if you are writing songs for her.”

    In an era of larger-than-life Broadway spectacles, If/Then is an ambitious but deeply human story of a modern woman whose carefully designed plans for a new life collide with the whims of fate. The musical shows two parallel paths of how her life might unfold after she makes one seemingly ordinary choice.

    It’s The Butterfly Effect – the chaos theory that says the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world can eventually build up to a hurricane on the other. Or, in this case, it's that one small decision really can change the entire course of your life, and of those around you.

    Yorkey believes in it.

    “I do. I read Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was 17, and James Gleik's Chaos when I was 25. Those books blew my mind,” he said with a laugh.  

    Many of us, he added, would like to believe that there is a path chosen for us, or fated for us. “But I do know very small variations in the paths we take can lead to very great differences in the outcome,” he said.  

    “We can't know all of the implications of the choices great and small that we make today. Because we don't know which choices are going to end up looming large. I think that's terrifying and also kind of wonderful.”

    Kitt also believes everyday decisions can have huge, unknowable effects on other parts of your life.

    “I know that I got into Columbia, and that I am writing musicals, and that I have the family that I have because of a number of circumstances I couldn't even begin to plan out or fathom,” Kitt said. “But they happened, and here I am. Is that fate, or just the natural order of life? I think we all contemplate where we are at a certain point and wonder how we got there - and If/Then really lives there.”



    Here are more excerpts from DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore’s conversation with writers Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics):

    Tom Kitt quote. Photo by Joan Marcus.
    Photo by Joan Marcus.


    John Moore: I know you two got into this business to write new musicals for the American theatre. And when you were classmates at Columbia, I am sure you were told there is a certain formula that will most likely result in the production of marketable new musicals. I am wondering how you got the courage to not follow those rules?

    Tom Kitt: Certainly when you are a young writer and you are just looking to make your way in the world, you have to make your own opportunities and follow your own instincts and inspirations. For both Brian and me, Next to Normal felt like something really gargantuan to tackle. It felt like it was firmly in the world of shows like Hedwig and Rent and Tommy. Those shows were having an enormous influence on us when we started writing Next to Normal. 

    Brian Yorkey quote. Brian Yorkey: OK, let's let the truth be told: For a number of years, Tom and I were trying to write a musical version of Jerry Maguire. But we would get distracted by Feeling Electric - which was the working title of Next to Normal at the time. Part of us was primed to do something we thought would be commercial, but Next to Normal just kept pulling us back. You hear writers say things like this and it smells like (bleep), but Next to Normal really did kind of demand that we write it. But initially, I don't know if we were courageous ... or procrastinating. 

    John Moore: Can you promise me that somewhere in a trunk there is a song called “Show Me the Money”?

    Brian Yorkey: As a matter of fact, John, there is a song called "Show Me the Money." And when we see you in Denver, I will have Tom play a little bit of it to you. It totally exists.

    John Moore: That completes me.

    Tom Kitt: We were just trying to figure out how to pay the bills and find the writing time that we needed back then. Once the spark for Next to Normal happened, we just didn't look back, and we never questioned. We just felt like this was the thing we were supposed to be working on. 

    Brian Yorkey: And we were really lucky to have some very key allies along the way, like (producer) David Stone and Peter Askin. He directed the original production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

    John Moore: How do you wrap your head around the impact that Next to Normal has had, and the lives that it has saved?

    Brian Yorkey: Tom and I set out to write a show that was very personal to us, and for many years we didn't know that it would matter to anybody else. But it told a story that many people hadn't seen before in the musical theatre. Music has a way of digging in and seeping into your subconscious, which is perfect for a story like ours. We learned over time that the show doesn't just belong to us. It belongs to all of those people who respond to it and claim it in some way as their own. We always find it very humbling when people tell us the show has touched them, because we didn't set out to do that. And the opportunity to touch people in that way doesn't come along very often.

    Tom Kitt: Next to Normal was a labor of love, and it never gets tiresome to hear the effect that it has had on people. 

    READ COMPOSERS' WORDS OF COMFORT AFTER COLORADO SUICIDE

    John Moore: When I had my first opportunity to write about Next to Normal in The Denver Post, I said that if we’re lucky, Next to Normal and Spring Awakening were going to redefine normal when it comes to the new American musical. Do you think that's happened?

    Tom Kitt: The wonderful thing about musical theatre as an art form is that it keeps evolving and changing. And we keep getting hit, luckily, with these huge, impactful shows that change the game. They spark young writers who keep challenging the art form. I got to see Spring Awakening while I was working on Next to Normal, and that was hugely impactful for me. And then I got to go work on American Idiot with (director) Michael Mayer, and that show has had a huge effect on people. You can go back further and talk about Sondheim, and Kander and Ebb, and on and on. They are all linked. These shows happen, and they affect people, and what they all say is, 'Oh, this is possible.'

    Brian Yorkey: Look, I would love to believe that the success of Next to Normal gave courage to other writers and producers, just as I hope the success of Fun Home gives courage to other writers and producers. But nothing ever completely changes. Tom and I wrote Next to Normal, but we are also working on adaptations right now that we're very excited about. So I think adaptations and movies-turned-into-musicals will be part of our landscape forever. But I also hope shows like Fun Home and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson are part of our landscape, too. The fact that Next to Normal actually earned its money back and paid its investors off and then some, that is thrilling.

    Tom Kitt: We are seeing that again right now with Hamilton. Everyone is talking about how game-changing that is. I knew that as soon as I saw it.

    Brian Yorkey: (Hamilton writer and star) Lin-Manuel Miranda is someone we have always adored and respected. Hamilton is not only inspiring to us, it is also a little bit of a kick in the tush that says, "Hey, don't sit around and use old forms. See what you can do to take this thing we love and make it into something new. Lin is clearly doing that. Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years) is doing that. It seems like a great time for all of us to be inspiring and galvanizing and challenging each other to so something new and exciting.  

    Tom Kitt: Certainly the ambition behind If/Then was this: "What's possible in the musical theatre?" ‘How do we keep challenging ourselves to tell stories that seem like they could only happen on stage in a musical?"

    John Moore: So you essentially wrote If/Then for Idina Menzel. What was it like for you to write for someone of the magnitude?

    Brian Yorkey: As a songwriter, it's like being a race-car driver having the most brilliant Porsche to take out on the track. But you had better well know how to drive it. That's part of the great challenge of it.

    Tom Kitt: First and foremost, to be writing for Idina Menzel is a gift. I wanted to utilize Idina's enormous, gargantuan instrument, but I also wanted to vary it and really explore a number of different places for her to sing.

    John Moore: What was she like to work with?

    Brian Yorkey: It sounds like I am doing a con job on people whenever I talk about Idina, but for someone with such gifts and such stardom, she is generous and loving. She will try anything that we write for her, and she will do her damndest to make it work. We would cut songs that we felt just weren't good enough to have Idina and Anthony (Rapp) and LaChanze sing them - and Idina would argue with us to try to save them. She's got an amazing heart as well an amazing talent, and that combination is more rare than you would think. More than anybody, she is the one who has put this show on her back from Day 1 and carried it forward. It's been an absolute joy to work with her, and couldn't be more in awe.

    John Moore: Can you help describe her voice to a layman?

    Tom Kitt: Her range is so huge that she can really go anywhere. She sings as high as the highest people can go. And then she has a hugely wonderful richness to her low notes as well. There is just nothing that she can't do. Really, "Always Starting Over" and "You Learn to Live Without" is a great example of that because the former sits much more in her low tones, and the latter challenges her skyward. So that's a great way of saying you can write anywhere for this person and she can do it. That's why she is who she is.

    John Moore: How important is it that Idina Menzel is here in Denver to launch the national tour of If/Then?

    Tom Kitt: It's hugely important. The show was written for Idina Menzel. It is thrilling to see what has happened for her career since Frozen. But even with all that, she has remained a fierce champion of If/Then. And the fact that she is now doing this tour when she has a million things pulling her in all different directions - it just means a great deal. And it goes without saying how helpful it is to have Idina Menzel to raise interest in the show.

    John Moore: And how did feel about getting all four principal actors back for the tour?

    Brian Yorkey: It’s insane, right? It's kind of brilliant. But that also comes right down to Idina. I mean if she’s in, I’m sure it would be kind of hard for anyone else to say no.

    John Moore: So it’s really just peer pressure, pure and simple.

    Brian Yorkey: Exactly right.

    Brian Yorkey quote. Photo by Joan Marcus. Pictured: Idina Menzel and James Snyder. Photo by Joan Marcus.


    John Moore: This is history in the making. No Broadway musical of the modern era has ever managed to re-gather its entire principal cast for a national tour before.

    Brian Yorkey: To me, having Idina and LaChanze and Anthony and James - as well as our Musical Director, Carmel Dean - heading out for the first leg of the tour is absolutely essential because they are paving the way for the people who will follow. They are helping to build this thing for tour the way we built it for Broadway. And they are also showing the world once again that they believe in this kind of quirky, not-entirely-traditional new show of ours. To me, that means everything.

    John Moore: So what do you say to fans in the cities that come after the first leg?

    Brian Yorkey: Nobody is Idina Menzel. She is not replaceable. But they said the same thing about Alice Ripley, and Next to Normal is still playing all around the world, and it has flourished in the regional theatre. My great hope is that If/Then will go beyond this national tour. I hope many great actors will want to play Elizabeth and bring their own artistry to the role. I can tell you that people will see a gargantuan performance at the center of this show wherever the show is playing.

    LISTEN: COMPOSERS INTRODUCE YOU TO IF/THEN SCORE SAMPLES

    John Moore: If touring audiences only know you two from Next to Normal, how will the If/Then score both satisfy and surprise them?

    Brian Yorkey: I think it depends on the person. What I think If/Then has in common with Next to Normal is that Tom writes really emotional music. The music wears its heart on its sleeve. It doesn't necessarily prioritize complexity and sophistication in the way a lot of modern music does. Tom is really interested in getting to the heart of the matter musically, and I try to do the same lyrically. I try to be conversational, be human, to have lyrics that speak the way people speak and get to the heart of things. If/Then is certainly not as tensely emotional at every moment as Next to Normal, because it's telling a broader story.

    Tom Kitt: If/Then is definitely not trying to be Next to Normal in any way. The nature of the orchestrations, and the size of the orchestras, are very different.

    Brian Yorkey: Next to Normal is often referred to as a rock musical. It’s not just rock music, but the basic instrumentation is the same as a rock band. If/Then has a 13-piece orchestra. So I think there are more orchestral colors, both musically and lyrically.

    Tom Kitt: The thing that never goes away for Brian and me is that there is always a strong rhythmic quality in our songs. I think the people who come to see If/Then will definitely recognize us in the score.

    Brian Yorkey: I think the people who know and love Next to Normal will certainly find things to know and love in If/Then. And I hope they will also find colors that maybe they didn't hear in Next to Normal.   

    John Moore: How would you say the theme of the show is best reflected in your writing?

    Brian Yorkey: I don't want to be a (jerk) and quote my own lyrics, but at the end of the show, Elizabeth says, "You learn how to love the not knowing." I think a big part of life is learning how to be present in this moment and trust that we make decisions as our best self, and that the life that follows will be one worth living.

    John Moore: Denver has developed a reputation as a launching pad for national tours including The Lion King and The Book of Mormon and Pippin. Does it mean anything to you that the If/Then tour is launching here in Denver?

    Tom Kitt: Absolutely. Certainly to be in the company of all the shows you mentioned is meaningful. But when I have had other shows visiting Denver - Next to Normal, for example - the support and the reception have been wonderful. This is a city that has welcomed me as a writer into its collective heart. So the news that this is where we would begin the tour was really gratifying to me. 

    Brian Yorkey: For those of us on the creative team, you want to start at a place that is going to feel like a home away from home. You don’t want to be in a city that takes great pride in knocking things over. There are a few of those, if you know what I mean. You very much want to start in a city that is both sophisticated and theatre savvy, with people who are going to help you know what tweaks you need to make before you head out into the world. You want someplace that is going to feel welcoming. Denver fits that to a T, and I imagine that has a great deal to do with why it has become such a launching pad. And it is such a beautiful city. There couldn't be a better place for us to kick the tour off, as far as I am concerned.

    John Moore: Do you have any Colorado connections?

    Brian Yorkey: I have tons of cousins in the metro area, so I was really thrilled to hear we would be starting in Denver. I'm always very proud to show my relatives that what I do for a living is actually a real thing. One my cousins is studying musical theatre at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, so I am excited to have him and his classmates see the show. I visited him earlier this summer and I got to see him in a production of Godspell that was just fantastic. It knocked my socks off.

    Tom Kitt: My father used to work for NERA: National Economic Research Associates. They used to have annual conferences in Aspen, so I spent a lot of time there as a kid.

    John Moore: OK, so I am going to end with a really hard-hitting personal question.

    Brian Yorkey: Bring it.

    John Moore: Where do you keep your Pulitzer Prizes?

    Tom Kitt: I am moving, so my Pulitzer is going to be in a box soon.

    Brian Yorkey: I have a great story about the Tony Award (for Best Original Score).

    John Moore: Bring it.

    Brian Yorkey: So I met Warren Leight, who wrote Side Man, the night before the Tony Awards, and he said we were going to win. And I said, "Oh, I don't know about that." But he said, "No, you are going to win the Tony Award, and when you do, whatever you do, don't (bleeping) put it in your office." I asked why, and he said, "Because it will sit there staring at you every day saying, 'You will never write anything this good ever again.' " So I took him at his word, and I kept it in a bag on the floor of my office for about six months."

    John Moore: But you also won the Pulitzer Prize.

    Brian Yorkey: The funny thing about the Pulitzer is that you go to the ceremony and you meet all these reporters who risked their careers and their lives to report on this company that is poisoning this river. And then people ask you, 'Well, what did you write?' and I am like, 'Um … I wrote a play?'

    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.



    If/Then
    :
    Ticket information
    Oct. 13-25
    At the Buell Theatre
    Call 303-893-4100, buy in person at the Denver Center Ticket Office located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby, or BUY ONLINE
    ASL interpreted, Audio described & Open captioned performance: 2 p.m. Oct 25,
    Groups: Call 303-446-4829
    (Please be advised that the DCPA's web site at denvercenter.org is the ONLY authorized online ticket provider for 'If/Then' performances in Denver)



    Our previous NewsCenter coverage of If/Then and Idina Menzel:

    Look for additional coverage of If/Then throughout the next two weeks at denvercenter.org/news-center

  • Colorado's oldest theatre celebrates Artistic Director Tom McNally

    by NewsCenter Staff | Jul 31, 2015

    Dan McNally, left, as Nixon, and broether Tom McNally as Henry Kissinger in 'Nixon's Nixon' in 2011.
    Dan McNally, left, as Nixon, and brother Tom McNally as Henry Kissinger in 'Nixon's Nixon' in 2011.

    Editor's Note:
    The DCPA NewsCenter offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.


    By Gillian McNally

    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Gillian McNally GREELEY In the summer of 1988, we packed up a large U-Haul in State College, Pa., and headed back west to our home, Colorado. I remember venturing north up a dull, dusty, dreary Highway 85 and wondering where on earth our next chapter of life would be. We arrived in what was then a much smaller Greeley, Colo. The first show my dad directed that summer was The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash. Much like the characters in this play, we were searching desperately for hope. I couldn’t help but connect to Nash’s description of his play. He said:

    What happens to the people of the west — beyond the sudden poverty and loss of substance — is a kind of desperation. Rain will never come again; the earth will be sere forever; and in all of heaven, there is no promise of remedy. Yet, men of wisdom like H.C. Curry know to be patient with heaven. They know that the earth will not thirst forever; they know that one day they will again awaken to a green morning.

    Although not as severe, when we arrived at the University of Northern Colorado in 1988, the theatre program was at risk of a possible drought. With dwindling numbers and looming financial cuts, the theatre program, and its Little Theatre of the Rockies summer theatre company, could have possibly disappeared. Yet, like H.C. Curry, Tom McNally knew to be “patient with heaven.” He rolled up his sleeves and set out to create his “green morning” here with so many other talented artists at LTR. He has carefully built and tended this garden, this little piece of heaven for the arts here in Greeley, for the past 28 years.

    The Little Theatre Rockies is now the oldest theatre company in Colorado, and this summer is celebrating its 81st year. Tonight (July 31), we will honor Tom McNally for his dedication as Artistic Director of Little Theatre of the Rockies for the past 28 years. In that time, he has directed or acted in 39 productions. In 2012, he was awarded the Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Award for Lifetime Achievement.

    At our core, theatre artists are storytellers. Through his magical gifts as both a director and actor, Tom McNally has been an amazing storyteller. Through his craft, he has transported us from the Dust Bowl Depression in The Rainmaker, to the hilarious new bachelors in New York City finding their way in The Odd Couple, to kidnapped hostages in Lebanon in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.

    And finally this summer, Greeley audiences sat in the living room with the Younger family as they struggled with racial prejudice in America in A Raisin in the Sun. Certainly a timely story to share just days after the church shootings in Charleston, S.C.

    Tom McNally. Photo by John Moore. The influence my dad has had on me is immeasurable. Something I’ve learned from him all these years is to choose stories that move us in a big way: Stories that must be told. Maybe it’s the Irish in us…

    My dad chooses stories of people going through the impossible, yet by watching their struggle, the audience leaves the theatre feeling hopeful and courageous to take on challenges in their own lives. These are the stories that Tom McNally chose to share at LTR over 28 summers.

    There was not a dry eye in the house as we watched M’Lynn lose her daughter much too early in Steel Magnolias. We admired the strength of Henry Kissinger as he stood up to the most powerful man in the world in the midst of the Watergate hearings in Nixon’s Nixon. We contemplated our complex relationships with our own parents in the final chapter of their lives in On Golden Pond. I watched as my dad experienced a small bit of healing as he directed stories very close to his life growing up. The hilarious family struggling to make ends meet in Over the Tavern poked fun at growing up Catholic in the 1950s, but also looked beyond the Father Knows Best façade to the dark and scary truths of an alcoholic father.

    These moments and many more are the stuff of legend.

    I am honored to help celebrate the amazing contributions of my dad. Because of his tireless dedication and amazing artistic vision, Little Theatre of the Rockies continues to be a theatre that tells stories that bring us together as a community to question, analyze and celebrate the human experience.

    About Our Guest Columnist:
    Gillian McNally currently serves as Associate Professor of Theatre Education and Head of Community Engagement and Programs for Youth at the University of Northern Colorado. At UNC, she teaches undergraduate and graduate level theatre educators and oversees the yearly production for young audiences. She holds an M.F.A. in Drama and Theatre for Youth from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a current Board Member of TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)/USA.

    Previous Guest Columns:
    Margie Lamb on the Henry Awards: Something doesn't add up
    Bryan VanDriel on Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley
    Jessica Jackson on Creede Repertory Theatre's 50th anniversary season
    Susan Lyles on 10 years of staging plays for women in Denver

    Be Our Guest (Columnist)
    The DCPA NewsCenter offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and proposed topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.

  • Video: Coloradans on Broadway: Aisha Jackson

    by John Moore | Jun 04, 2015


    All this week leading up to the Tony Awards, we are rolling out a daily video featuring a Colorado actor working on Broadway. No. 4: University of Northern Colorado alumna Aisha Jackson, who starred in the Arvada Center's Memphis last year and followed that up by making her Broadway debut on Jan. 23 in the ensemble of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - at the tender age of 23.

    Jackson talks about why Greeley was the perfect fit for her when she left her hometown of Atlanta for college, and shouts out several of the UNC faculty, including Ken Womble, Tom McNally, David Grapes and Shelly Gaza.

    Beautiful visits the Buell Theatre in Denver as a national touring production from July 19-31, 2016. The show won two Tony Awards in 2014. The 2015 Tony Awards will be presented at 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, on CBS-4 in Denver.

    Video and photos by John Moore.

    2015 Tony Awards
    Sunday, June 1
    7 p.m., CBS-4 in Denver 

    Our 2015 New York report (to date):
    Video: Coloradans in New York: Actor Andy Kelso

    Video: Coloradans in New York: Playwright Max Posner
    Video: Coloradans on Broadway: Actor Rebecca Eichenberger
    Video: Coloradans on Broadway to high-schoolers: 'Be relentlessly yourself'
    Lin-Manuel Miranda on the power of theatre to eliminate distance
    Broadway: The British aren't coming: They're already here!
    Colorado's Annaleigh Ashford and Beth Malone both nominated for Tony Awards Broadway League dedicates New York conference to DCPA’s Randy Weeks
    Idina Menzel will launch 'If/Then' national tour in Denver

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

    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.