• Vintage, Denver Center collaborate to bring 'Lady Day,' Mary Louise Lee, to stage

    by John Moore | Nov 20, 2017
    Lady Day Mary Louise Lee Adams Viscom Mary Louise Lee in the 2016 DCPA Theatre Company workshop of 'Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.' Photo by  AdamsVisCom.

     

    From First Lady to Lady Day: Billie Holiday musical to open at Vintage, then move to Denver Center's Galleria Theatre

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Mary Louise LeeWhen Mary Louise Lee revisited her signature role as Billie Holiday
    in a special workshop production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill last year, she dedicated the performance to Shadow Theatre Company founding Artistic Director Jeffrey Nickelson. Lee considers having played the jazz legend in 2002 to be the most meaningful performance of her storied career.

    It couldn't be more fitting, then, that when Vintage Theatre Productions brings the story to full stage life again this January with Lee in the title role, she will be be performing in the Jeffrey Nickelson Auditorium. 

    Nickelson, who died in 2009, was a graduate of the DCPA’s National Theatre Conservatory masters program. In 1997, he founded Shadow Theatre to present “stories from the heart of the African-American community,” as he liked to say. And the biggest hit in Shadow’s history was that 2002 production of Lady Day, with Nickelson directing and Lee starring as Holiday.

    Lady DayFor her haunting portrayal of a woman with a singular singing voice — and a lethal heroin habit  — Lee won a Westword Best of Denver Award for Best Actress in a Musical. The review said: “A stunning evening of theatre. Lee's singing is absolutely radiant. Her voice is smooth as glass. At times she sounds uncannily like Holiday, at others entirely like her full-throated self." She reprised the role for a special three-day workshop engagement in 2016 at the Denver Center's Jones Theatre. 

    After Nickelsen died of a heart attack in 2009, the theatre he opened at 1468 Dayton St. in Aurora was renamed the Jeffrey Nickelson Auditorium. Vintage took over operations there in 2011. 

    Berry HartToday, Vintage and the Denver Center announced an unprecedented collaboration. Vintage will introduce its new production of Lanie Robertson's Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, starring Lee and directed by Betty Hart (pictured right), from Jan. 12 through Feb. 18. The production will then move to the Denver Center's Garner-Galleria Theatre on March 5 and perform there on Monday nights through April 23 — while the Denver Center's ongoing musical comedy First Date continues its run for the rest of the week.

    Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill tells Holiday's troubled life story through the songs that made her famous, including "God Bless the Child," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Strange Fruit" and "Taint Nobody's Biz-ness." Set in Philadelphia in 1959, Holiday's performance at Emerson's Bar & Grill was one of her last, and Lady Day is not just a memorable tribute to the singer, but also a moving portrait of her struggles with addiction, racism, and loss.

    "We're thrilled, of course," said Vintage Theatre Artistic Director Bernie Cardell. "This is an exciting event for Vintage and for the theatre community overall. If we are to thrive, collaboration is the key. While we certainly can survive on our own, we can reach bigger heights together. My hope is this is just the start of a new way of producing quality theatre for our community."

     Lady Day Mary Louise Lee. 2002Lee's performing career began at the Denver Center when she appeared in Beehive at what is now the Garner Galleria Theatre while only 18 years old and still a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School. In 2011, Lady Day also became the First Lady of Denver when her husband, Michael B. Hancock, was elected Mayor.

    (Pictured right: Mary Louise Lee in rehearsal for her award-winning turn in 'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill' for Shadow Theatre in 2002.)

    Lee has performing at many high profile events over the past two decades, including the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions. She performed with the Colorado Symphony at the 911 Remembrance Ceremony, and in the First Ladies of Jazz concert. She has sung the national anthem before 78,000 Denver Broncos fans, was featured vocalist at the grand opening of Union Station was a Season 9 contestant on America's Got Talent.  She has toured internationally performing for the troops of the U.S. Department of Defense. She returned to the DCPA in 2014 to sing with the cast of the national touring production of the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet onstage at the Buell Theatre. And last December, Lee won a 2015 True West Award for her performance in the new musical, Uncle Jed's Barbershop.  

    Read John Moore's Denver Post profile of Mary Louise Lee

    Mary Louise Lee The Wiz. AfterthoughtSome of Lee's other notable local theatre performances have included Vogue Theatre’s A Brief History of White Music, the Arvada Center’s The 1940s Radio Hour, Country Dinner Playhouse’s Ain’t Misbehavin', Denver Civic’s Menopause the Musical and Afterthought Theatre Company's The Wiz, as Glinda the Good Witch (pictured right). She took on that role just after Hancock was elected in 2011.

    From students to senior citizens, Lee is committed to being an ambassador for the arts to help expose and expand access to Denver’s vibrant arts and cultural communities. She is choir director at the New Hope Baptist Church and founder of “Bringin’ Back the Arts," a foundation that encourages arts education in the public schools.

    Betty Hart, the director, recently moved to Denver from Atlanta, where she was a Teaching Artist at the Alliance Theatre. She is the Special Projects Coordinator for Kaiser Permanente Arts Integrated Resources program and recently joined the board of directors for the Colorado Theatre Guild.

    The Music Director will be Trent Hines. He was most recently the conductor and pianist for The Wild Party at the Stanley Marketplace, and he also performed in the show.


    A Lady Day Westword

    Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill: At Vintage Theatre

  • Jan. 12-Feb 18, 2018 (Note: The Feb. 3 show will be performed by Shandra Duncan)
  • 1468 Dayton St., Aurora
  • Tickets $15-$34
  • Call 303-856-7830 or BUY ONLINE


  • Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill: At the Garner-Galleria Theatre

  • March 5-April 23, 2018
  • Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $42
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • The show runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission
  • Adult language and content
  • Age Recommendation: 17 and over
  •  

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Video: Mary Louise Lee sings with Million Dollar Quartet:

    Video: Watch Mary Louise Lee sing 'Fools Fall in Love' with the cast of  the national touring production of 'Million Dollar Quartet' at the Buell Theatre in 2014.

  • 'Girls Only': Where secrets go to die laughing

    by John Moore | Sep 20, 2017

    image

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein of "Girls Only" believe a young girl today should get off her laptop and go back to writing in a diary ... with a lock!" Photo by Terry Shapiro.


    'There is a magical energy in the room when the audience is all women, laughing knowingly at themselves'

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women
    has to be the most successful locally produced play in Denver theatre history ... that half the population has pretty much never seen.

    But many of those on distaff side of the gender scale have seen it so many times, they've more than made up for the AWOL men among us.

    “No, we don’t see a lot of men at the show,” creators Linda Klein and Barbara Gehring say on their web site. “Not because they don’t get the humor, and not because there’s any ‘man-bashing’ going on. But more because women really appreciate it the most.”

    Girls Only began as a kind of comedy experiment at the Avenue Theater in 2008. After a sold-out run, it got picked up by the Denver Center's Garner-Galleria Theatre, where it was a two-year hit and has since expanded nationally faster than that killer plant in Little Shop of Horrors. It returns to the Garner-Galleria for a fourth run Thursday (Sept. 21) and parties on there through Oct. 22.

    Born of the earnest and sweetly absurd writings these two comics discovered they had written into their junior high-school diaries, Girls Only is a slumber party – minus the sleeping. It celebrates sweetly ridiculous rites of passage like boys, puberty and general girliness. It’s a mix of sketch comedy, improvisation, audience participation and comic songs and videos that remind the disparate women who gather of the many similarities they share.

    A man among women: My night at Girls Only

    The show has now been seen by more than 200,000 women (and a few token dudes) in 30 productions around North America. A New York producer is touring the show. The future is limited only to "where there are women,” Gehring says.

    To commemorate the return of the original "dia-ramic" duo to Denver, we posed these five (mostly) silly questions to the creators, who teamed with the DCPA earlier this year on a new comedy called Travelers of the Lost Dimension, which was performed in and around the shops at Stanley Marketplace.

    John Moore: So, seriously … what do you girls have against boys?

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein: Nothing, really - and you'd know that if you read our diaries, hah. But seriously, there is a magical energy in the room when the audience is all women, laughing knowingly at themselves. It's not that men don't "get it." It's just they have never experienced first-hand what goes on in the show. Men do like the show, but it’s really meant for women who remember being girls. It has been likened to a “girlhood reunion.” We have had guys come who have sisters, and they really get it. Once it was a guy who started the standing ovation. We have a disclaimer for our show that reads: 


    "Warning: This show contains feminine subject matter including teenage diaries, breast feeding, tampons, shadow puppets, pantyhose, menstrual cycles, slumber parties, menopause and maxi pads."


    The show has the spirit of a 12-year-old's slumber party. So, sure, a guy could come … but would he really want to?"

    John Moore: Where do you suppose you'd be right now if you had never bothered to keep childhood diaries?

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein: The show would still exist, because reading our diaries was only one of the dozens of ideas we had when we sat down to create a show. But we are glad we did keep them, because they were the inspiration to create this show. We read our childhood diaries to each other one afternoon, and we became better friends in those few hours. We knew something magical would happen if we shared them with other women ... publicly.

    Girls OnlyJohn Moore: Do you think young girls today are maybe expected to share too much of themselves in this age of social media? In other words ... Wasn't the lock on the diary the best part about having a diary? 

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein: Yes. The lock was the best part. And hiding the key. Secrets are so much fun when you’re young, but not for the keeping of them; for the devilment of sharing them, or having them discovered.  Wasn’t half the fun of making a secret club the possibly that someone might find out about it? Girls are still drawn to secrets, but many unfortunately don’t realize the life they live online isn’t private. Many think it is. We had one woman say that every time she comes to see the show she brings a different friend, and the innocence and camaraderie they experience always makes them open up and tell a little secret about themselves. This woman keeps learning new things about her friends as the spirit of the show unlocks something inside them. Online, you don't get to choose who you share your secrets with. We think girls should go back to a diary with a lock. Then they can always have a hard copy of something they can create a show with!

    John Moore: What’s one great anecdote that demonstrates how your show has impacted an audience member?

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein: Many ladies come up to us and share their stories after the show, but the most memorable ones are the women who have been truly moved by it. One gal not too long ago told us that she didn’t have a very good childhood, but after seeing Girls Only, she now feels like she did. A woman who was 87 told us that she had never laughed so hard in her life. That is saying something. In Minneapolis, there was a woman who was crying after seeing the show. She had such a good time and laughed so hard, so she was confused that she was crying. Then she blurted out, "I am so busy being a wife and a mother, and I had forgotten about that girl. Thank you for reminding me!"

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: Weren't you just here like, five minutes ago? Kidding … But you obviously attract audiences who will keep coming back to see your show again and again. Me? I can't sit through a movie twice, so help me understand: Why do your most loyal audience members keep coming back to Girls Only

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein: We are so excited to be back in Denver, where it all began. The fact that this is our fourth time here speaks to the popularity of the show. Women love to share and bond. Girls Only offers an amazing opportunity for both. They come once with family and then want to share it with their book club, and then their church group. It goes on and on. Plus, the humor in the show is charming and never demeaning, which allows women to tap into the joyful innocence of girlhood they may have forgotten about. They can bring their daughter, their mother, their grandmother. We are able to entertain many generations. Another factor is that the show is the universal made personal. Women leave feeling the show is about them ...  So why wouldn't you want to see it again?

    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.

    Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women: Ticket information

    Girls Only – The Secret Comedy of WomenAt a glance: Girls Only is an original comedy that celebrates the honor, truth, humor and silliness of being female with a two-woman cast and a mix of sketch comedy, improvisation, audience participation, and hilarious songs and videos.

    • Presented by DCPA Cabaret
    • Playing Sept. 21-Oct. 22
    • Garner-Galleria Theatre at the Denver Performing Ats Complex
    • Tickets start at $39
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    • For more, go to the Girls Only website

     

     

     

  • A man among women: My night at 'Girls Only'

    by John Moore | Sep 18, 2017

    image

    I am not afraid of the alternate uses for this feminine product as suggested to me by the women of "Girls Only." Looking forward to it, in fact. Photobombing: Carla Kaiser Kotrc.

     

    What happens when a man ignores the writing on the wall?

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    (Note: This essay was originally published in 2014. Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women' returns to the Galleria Theatre from Sept. 21-Oct. 22, 2017.)

    This doesn’t happen every night at the theatre: At intermission, a kindly female usher came up to me at my seat and asked if I intended to use the men’s room during the break. I did a quick mental bladder assessment and determined … OK, pretty sure I'm good. … Why?

     “Well, then – with your permission – we are going to open up the men’s room for the ladies to use,” she said.

    I never thought I would ever hold such power.  But I was raised by a good woman. I knew what was good for me. I gave my blessing.

    Girls OnlyThat’s just sensible strategy, I thought. After all, in a room with more than 200 audience members, I was the only one – presumably – sporting the anatomical equivalent of a caveman’s club.

    Sunday night was my first time seeing Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women. That makes me no different from almost every other man in the world. But for the longest time, this fact has separated me from the more than 110,000 women who have seen Girls Only since 2008.

    That made this a theatregoing night six years in the making.

    You have to understand that I was the theatre critic at The Denver Post when noted local improv comedians Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein debuted their modest little slumber-party comedy at The Avenue Theater. At the time, I tried to see just about every local production I could fit into my schedule, and certainly any original work created by local actors. It was an immediate hit that ran for an extended seven-week run. But, like feminine wiles, Girls Only remained largely a mystery to me.

    The exclusionary nature of the title aside, I did want to go. And I would have, but, in those early days at The Avenue, they weren’t kidding with that title. I was not allowed in. No guy was. Once again, here I was: A middle-aged white man on the wrong end of the discrimination and exclusion propagated by the women who have long controlled this country.

    But I relented.  I didn’t even try to dress up and sneak in. We sent a female staff writer to review the show for The Denver Post instead. Soon the show was building so much momentum, it was picked up for a run here at the Denver Center’s Garner-Galleria Theatre. That was a history-making moment. The Denver Center's Broadway division had never before optioned a locally grown play for a full production in the big house. Or in this case … the big cabaret house. Girls Only ran continuously in The Garner-Galleria for more than two years. Additional productions have sprung up in Des Moines, Charlotte, Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Houston and others. The show has grossed more than $2.5 million in ticket sales.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Now, I’m not the kind of guy who likes being kept in the dark. My brothers did that to me enough times as a kid whenever they got bored and locked me in a closet. I did due diligence by writing with regularity about the show and its progress. But still, I had not seen it for myself. Later on, I learned that the Denver Center, being much more mindful of, you know – the law – than my friends at The Avenue Theater, never actually forbid men from seeing the show. Some men, I hear told, have come back to see it several times.

    image

    Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein singing 'Up With Puberty' from 'Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women.' Photo by Terry Shapiro.

     

    Fast forward to the recent re-opening night of Girls Only at the Galleria Theatre. By now, I was long gone from The Denver Post. Last August, I was scooped up by the Denver Center, where my job is that of an in-house journalist. My delicious duties now include snapping photographs backstage before every Denver Center opening.

    Which brings us to “The Night of Jan. 16.” (That’s also the name of a play, you may know. I played the judge in a high-school production. The audience jury decides if the femme fatale is guilty of murder. But no matter how they voted, I got to scold the jury for making an obviously idiotic decision. That training well-prepared me for my future life as a theatre critic. But I digress …)

    So here I was in the cramped backstage dressing room with my camera and my Girls (Only). I was trying to be a proper gentlemen despite the, shall we say … “casual nature” of my photo subjects. When Barbara and Linda began to undress right in front of me, I, of course, excused myself. They said they would call me back in when they were changed into their proper costumes. And they did just that. I walked back in to the sight of two women wearing nothing but bright, colorful bras and panties (with carefully hidden mic pacs!) … and grins from ear to ear. They snickered. I was blood in the water. My face was hot-pinker than Barbara’s bra.

    “OK, you got me,” I said. “Now call me back in when you put some clothes on.”

    But no, it was not a put-on. It was a take-off. “This is what we really wear to start the show,” Linda insisted.

    And it was!

    I promised to come back soon, see the show and write this manly first-person essay about the experience. They made me promise to bring women along. Lots of them. “You’ll need them for protection,” Barbara teased. Made sense. I didn’t want any women coming to the theatre to giggle about all things girly with their girlfriends to be made in any way self-conscious by the creepy old man sitting alone in the corner. I have my front porch for that.

    Which brings us to Sunday night.

    “Be afraid,” my friend Amy Board said on our way into the theatre, along with the rest of my distaff “Gaggle of Girls,” Carla Kaiser Kotrc and Sharon Kay White. I also had actor Amie MacKenzie, who understudies both of the women who act in the play, one row behind us, watching my back.

    To this point, I really didn’t know what the big deal was. Sure, the evening comes with a warning: “This show contains feminine subject matter including teenage diaries, breast feeding, tampons, shadow puppets, pantyhose, menstrual cycles, slumber parties, menopause and maxi pads.”

    What was on that list for ME to worry about?

    Turns out, not much. Because I think a few of the actual ladies in the house were more uncomfortable than I was with the prospect of using the sticky side of your maxi pad as the equivalent of a waxing agent.

    But man, were those women giggling from the first line to the final bow, both for the evident comic agility on display by these two actors, but for the rabbit hole they sent the audience down, right back into their own girlyhoods.

    The night begins with the aforementioned bra-clad Gehring and Klein revisiting one of their childhood bedrooms. The women read for a bit from their actual journals, comically revealing the universal gawky, geekiness of being a teenager. Who can’t relate to a girl who formed her own one-woman club, but only had enough self-esteem to elect herself  vice-president? I once formed my own political party. I called it the Antisocial Party – “No Other Members Allowed” – but, jeez, at least I elected myself president.

    image

    Audience members are encouraged to leave their thoughts in a diary kept at the Galleria Theatre.

     

    The night soon turns into a series of relatable comedy sketches very much in league with Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy’s Parallel Lives, or a guy-less I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change  These included sweet, sentimental and, occasionally taste-boundary-pushing revelations that were not just for the women in the house. When Linda pulled out her childhood Walkie Talkies, I was right back patrolling my home street of Dudley Court.

    The audience loved a bit called The History of Women, as told by shadow puppets, and recoiled with a reminder of the way women were depicted in 1950s TV commercials. There was some soft political humor. While discussing our societal obsession with boobs, Barbara says, “We even elected one once.” To which, as if on cue, pretty much the entire audience answered back with incredulous spontaneity … “ONCE???”

    The ex-theatre critic in me appreciated Girls Only most for the truly improvised moments. In one sketch, the women snag the purses of two unsuspecting women in the audience, and then build an original story out of whatever objects they find inside. They also make up parody songs on the spot. I can tell you that of all the performing arts, there is nothing more painful to sit through than improv comedy that is tentative, unsure or unclever. Girls Only makes plain that these two actors are among the best you will ever see at thinking on their feet.

    As the only man, I was occasionally called out for not comprehending the meaning of the words Girls Only. But, it turns out, I was not alone. Not really. After all, there was a poster of Shaun Cassidy on the bedroom wall staring back at us like a little lost lamb. 

    Read our Q&A with Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein

    Girls Only strikes me as gateway theatre. Not the kind of show that attracts a regular theatregoing crowd. But the kind of show that might help turn them into more regular theatregoers.

    I see about 160 plays a year, and I can tell you that I feel comfortable in any theater where people are laughing, engaged and having a good time. So rest assured, my dangling caveman club aside, I was one guy who felt right at home at Girls Only.

    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.

    Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women: Ticket information
    At a glance: Girls Only is an original comedy that celebrates the honor, truth, humor and silliness of being female with a two-woman cast and a mix of sketch comedy, improvisation, audience participation, and hilarious songs and videos.

    • Presented by DCPA Cabaret
    • Playing Sept. 21-Oct. 22
    • Garner-Galleria Theatre at the Denver Performing Ats Complex
    • Tickets start at $39
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    • For more, go to the Girls Only website

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    My Gaggle of only 'Girls': Carla Kaiser-Kotrc (back), Sharon Kay White (left) and Amy Board. Photo by Randy Dodd.

     

     

     

  • Video: Dixie's Denver Dialogues

    by John Moore | Jul 27, 2017


    Dixie is back in Denver, and in honor of her record sixth visit to the Mile High City, we present to you Dixie's Denver Dialogues, a series of brief but assuredly profound exchanges with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore. In the fifth and final part, Dixie talks about how her show may positively affect your life, if not your literacy. Think of it as a sequel to our Dixie Does Denver video series in 2014.

    Dixie's Tupperware Party plays the Garner Galleria Theatre through Aug. 6. She will also be presenting No Instructions, a one-night-only standup benefit for The Denver Actors Fund, at the Galleria on Aug. 6.

    Dixie's Tupperware Party: Ticket information
    At a glance: Dixie Longate, the fast-talking Tupperware Lady, packed up her catalogues, left her children in an Alabama trailer park and took Off-Broadway by storm. Now, join Dixie as she travels the country throwing good ol’ fashioned Tupperware parties filled with outrageously funny tales, heartfelt accounts, giveaways, audience participation and the most fabulous assortment of Tupperware ever sold on a stage.
  • Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
  • Through Aug. 6
  • At the Garner Galleria Theatre
  • Tickets start at $39
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Dixie Longate. Photo by John MooreDixie Longate, back in Denver. Photo by John Moore.
  • Check out the all-local casting for DCPA's 'First Date'

    by John Moore | Jul 12, 2017

    First Date

    The cast of 'First Date,' top row from left: Steven J. Burge, Seth Dhonau, Jordan Leigh and Lauren Shealy. Second row: Adriane Leigh Robinson, Cashelle Butler, Barret Harper and Director Ray Roderick. (Note: Aaron Vega plays Jordan Leigh's role from Nov. 11-Dec. 3.)


    Returning Galleria faces among the all-Colorado cast are Jordan Leigh, Lauren Shealy and Steven J. Burge

    By John Moore and Heidi Bosk
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has announced an all-local cast for its  upcoming production of First Date, playing The Garner Galleria Theatre from Nov. 11, 2017, through April 22, 2018.

    When blind date newbie Aaron is set up with serial-dater Casey, a casual drink at a busy New York restaurant turns into a comically high-stakes dinner. As the date unfolds in real time, the couple quickly finds they are not alone on this unpredictable evening. In an unexpected twist, Casey and Aaron’s inner critics take on a life of their own when other restaurant patrons transform into supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents who sing and dance them through ice-breakers, appetizers and potential conversational land mines. Can this couple turn what could be a dating disaster into something special before the check arrives?

    Directed by Ray Roderick (The Last 5 Years, The Taffetas, Five Course Love and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), First Date features both returning Denver Center favorites and exciting new faces:  
    • Adriane Leigh Robinson – Casey
    • Seth Dhonau – Aaron
    • Steven J. Burge – Man 1
    • Aaron Vega – Man 2 (Nov. 11-Dec. 3)
    • Jordan Leigh – Man 2 (Dec. 5-April 22)
    • Lauren Shealy – Woman 1
    • Barret Harper – Male Understudy
    • Cashelle Butler – Female Understudy

    The First Date creative team includes Martha Yordy (musical direction), Lisa M. Orzolek (scenic design), Charles R. MacLeod (lighting design), Meghan Anderson Doyle (costume design) and Craig Breitenbach (sound design).

    The book is written by by Austin Winberg. Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen. Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Dominick Amendum.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    (Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the ONLY authorized ticket provider for this productions in Denver. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that the DCPA is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.)


    First Date: Meet the cast

    Adriane Wilson 160ADRIANE LEIGH ROBINSON (Casey) is overjoyed to be making her Denver Center debut in this production of First Date. Before migrating to Colorado, Adriane performed internationally with a number of Air Force troupes and with James Madison University’s Children’s Playshop in Harrisburg, Virginia. Since graduating from The University of Northern Colorado, Adriane has appeared on the stages of Little Theatre of the Rockies and Miner’s Alley Playhouse, where she recently played Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Adriane was the recipient of Best Actress in a Musical at The European Toppers Awards in Heidelberg, Germany for her role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Aviano Theatre) and an Irene Ryan Awards nomination for her performance as Laurie Williams in Oklahoma (University of Northern Colorado).

    Adriane WilsonHometown: Aviano, Italy. I spent the ity of my high-school years there, and consider it the place where I truly began finding myself as an adult.
    • College: University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • What's your handle? @little.adriane.leigh on Instagram
    • Twitter-sized bio: I am a Pit-bull-loving, cheese-devouring, 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. In my free time, I am a princess impersonator with a fabulous company called Wands and Wishes Occasions, in addition to running a photography business with my partner called Marco Robinson Photo. I am happiest when I’m reading, cooking, and playing with my two handsome puppies.
    • The role that changed your life? I recently played Sally Bowles in Cabaret with Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden (pictured above.) Sally was by far the most challenging and enjoyable character I’ve had the opportunity to tackle in a long while. She is such an iconic persona in the musical theatre world, and it was an honor to put my own spin on her manic yet lovable personality.
    Ideal scene partner: Steve Carell. I am such an enormous fan of his work; his range is so vast, and he seems like such a friendly person.
    What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? I hope they walk away understanding that the presence of love in one’s life should stand above all other things. Professional success, material possessions and good looks all fade away at some point. But the one thing that has been proven to stand the test of time is love. Love deserves our attention, respect and dedication.
    Your worst first-date story: When I first arrived in Colorado in 2011, a friend set me up with one of his classmates. Let’s call him Ryan. Ryan seemed cute and sweet, so I agreed to the date. As a surprise, Ryan set up a horse-riding excursion for us in Colorado Springs, but we got hit by a terrible rainstorm, so that was no longer an option. I was new to the area, so I had no ideas, and neither did Ryan. Things were a little awkward as we sat in his car, trying to make small talk. Then things got very weird very fast. As our conversation started to dwindle, I realized we had nothing in common, especially when he started telling me about the demons that possess him. That’s right … demons. He went into great detail about the personalities of his demonic captors, and how they affected his daily life. Needless to say, there was no second date. I haven’t heard from Ryan or his demons since.
    Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "... safety, good health, and happiness for those I love. Oh, and for my Hogwarts letter to arrive.
    Anything else you want to add?
    Enjoy the show, folks!

    Check out the all-local casting for DCPA's The Wild Party



    Seth DhonauSETH DHONAU
    (Aaron). Since moving to Denver last year, Seth has been seen in several productions including Red Hot and Cole (Cherry Creek Theater, pictured below right) and Evita (Lone Tree Arts Center). Previously he lived in New York and sang with some of the top choirs in the area, appearing at both St. Patrick's Cathedral and Carnegie Hall. Seth studied opera, theater and economics at Northwestern University where he appeared in Bernstein’s Mass, The Waa-Mu Show and multiple productions with the American Music Theatre Project. 

    Seth DhonauHometown: Fond du Lac, Wis.
    • College: Bachelor of Music (Voice and Opera) from Northwestern University
    • What's your handle? @Deathsono on Instagram
    • Twitter-sized bio: Connoisseur of film, literature, music, wine and cowboy boots.
    • The role that changed your life? George in Sunday in the Park with George. It wasn’t until I took on this role that I realized the power of storytelling on stage. To me it’s the ultimate confluence of music and art and the attending emotions that each brings about in us.
    Ideal scene partner: Joaquin Phoenix. I’m absolutely transfixed when he’s on screen; whether he appears to be digging into some unfathomable, wild place or just … being.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? I hope our show reminds our audiences to take chances, and to not focus too much on the stuff you can’t change. There’s a big world out there if you allow yourself to go find it.
    • Your worst first-date story: Back in college, during the dark ages of Facebook (temporally, not socio-politically), I attempted to use my cell phone to look up an acquaintance with whom I’d be going on a first date that evening. Instead of typing her name into the search bar, I accidentally posted it, like a total creep, prominently atop my profile page where it remained for the duration of a recital I had just stepped on stage to perform. The post got no ‘likes,’ and I don’t think there was a second date.
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "... for people to slow down!”



    A Steven J. Burge 160STEVEN J. BURGE
     (Man 1) is thrilled to be back and treading the Denver Center boards again after making his Galleria debut last season as God in An Act of God (pictured below right). He made his Colorado debut in 2003 as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors following the national tours of … And Then They Came for Me and A Christmas Carol. Since then, this award-winning character actor has appeared on stages throughout the Denver metro area including the Denver Center, Arvada Center, Curious Theatre, Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret and many others. Steven was the recipient of The Denver Post Ovation Award for Best Solo Performance in Fully Committed (Aurora Fox), a one-man show in which Steven portrayed more than 30 different characters. Steven has also been recognized for his work in Contrived Ending (Buntport Theatre) and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (Avenue Theatre).

    Steven J. Burge, Erik Sandvold, Steven Cole Hughes, An Act of God. Photo by John Moore. Hometown: Martelle, Iowa. There's a sign on the city limits that reads "Welcome to Martelle! The small town with a big heart!" And it very much lives up to that hype. When my family moved there just after my seventh birthday, the town claimed fewer than 300 people. But I remember them as being the nicest 300 people on Earth. 
    • College: Theatre and Communications at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa
    • What's your handle? I don't do the Twitter or the Instagram. But you should totally feel free to "friend" me on the Facebook if you'd like. It's my most favorite way to waste time.
    • The role that changed your life? In 2003, a tour I was doing ended and I came to Denver to take a three-month contract playing Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. The plan was for me to do the show and hit the road again. But Colorado was so beautiful, and the people were so great, that I just kept on not leaving. Thirteen years later, I consider myself a proud Denverite. I guess that role didn’t just change my life; in some ways it sort of created it.
    Ideal scene partner: I don't need to look beyond Colorado to find a scene partner who will excite me or challenge me or inspire me. The artist community here is vibrant and relevant and I, for one, am so grateful to the Denver Center’s producers and subscribers and individual ticket-buyers for giving so many local theatre artists the opportunity to work where we live. That is a great gift. … OK, also Cassandra Peterson, a k a Elvira Mistress of the Dark. She's hilarious and she has been my comic hero since I was 10 years old. And guess what? She’s also from Colorado, kind of. Colorado Springs. But that counts.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? Kissed. I hope you come to the show with someone you have a big ol' crush on ... whether it's a brand new crush or someone you've loved and married and crushed on for 50 years. I hope you sit in the audience together and get all twitterpated and nervous and get that "barfy" feeling. (It's a great feeling, isn't it?) And then I hope you get kissed. Every single one of you. 
    • Your worst first-date story: Ohmigosh, you guys, no lie: When I read this question, I immediately started to sweat. Then I briefly thought about quitting this show so I could avoid thinking about my dating life and answering this question. Then I recognized I was being a crazy person so I spent the better part of an hour Googling therapists in my insurance network and late-night delivery restaurants in my neighborhood. Then I watched a couple episodes of Dateline on Investigation Discovery because I find that when you're reflecting on your dating history, more often than not an episode of Dateline will remind you that no matter how bad you think it is, your taste in men could be worse. Pass.
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "... a room somewhere.
    Far away from the cold night air.
    With one enormous chair.

    (That's from My Fair Lady. Because I am a #MusicalTheatreNerd)
    • Anything else you want to add?
    Fine! Tell you what. ... If you REALLY want to hear my dating horror stories, find me after the show and I'll tell you over dessert. (It's a first date!) <3



    Jordan LeighJORDAN LEIGH
    (Man 2 from Dec. 5-April 22) couldn’t be happier to be back on the Garner Galleria stage for a fifth time after his record-setting run in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (1,731 performances), Five Course Love, The Doyle and Debbie Show and Forbidden Broadway. A proud Denver native, he has appeared on stages across the city for 20 years, including his co-starring role with the DCPA Theatre Company as the Apostle, Matt in 2015’s The 12 (pictured below right) and in front of capacity crowds at The Buell while co-starring in the DCPA Theatre Company’s, White Christmas. An award-winning film actor as well, (three-time Best Actor-48 Hour Filmmaking Project/Special Screening Cannes), he recently appeared alongside Hollywood legends, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, in the Netflix feature Our Souls at Night. Proud 17-year member of Actors Equity Association. Much love to Hannah.

    Jordan Leigh The 12Hometown: Denver. I am a third-generation Coloradan!
    • College: BA in Theatre and Masters Acting Intensive from UCLA School of Theatre (magna cum laude)
    • What's your handle? @JordanLeighActs on Twitter; @ThatActorGuyJordan on Instagram
    • Twitter-sized bio: Buddhist Jew who loves Jesus. And Science. And South Park. And Animals. Hopes we can find a way to cut through all this worldly Mishegas (Yiddish for “insanity”). 
    • The role that changed your life? I regularly find that the roles I play reflect aspects of my own life journey that I'm experiencing right then and there. I'm constantly reawakened to how this craft is somehow esoterically and intimately intertwined with my own life experience. Well that, and playing Danny Zuko my senior year in high school. Because, well... Danny Zuko.
    Ideal scene partner: I love the idea of discussing the fact with Hugh Jackman that he can pull off playing both Wolverine and Jean Valjean. That seems pretty ideal from an acting standpoint.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? When I am affected by the truth of human connection in this life, it restores my faith in our common journey on this planet. When I'm able to be a part of making others feel that way through theatre, it makes me all warm and fuzzy. That's what I'm hoping this show will do to the good folks who continue to support this ancient form of storytelling. Oh, and I hope that at least one person laughs hard enough to pee a little.
    • Your worst first-date story: When she said, “I'm not a big reader. My favorite book is Hop on Pop." No offense to Dr. Seuss, but I'll just leave that there.
    • Your best first-date story:
    Driving down to Albuquerque to meet the woman with whom I now love and share my life. Hooray for internet dating!
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "... for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.” (That is the goal of Buddhist philosophy.)
    • Anything else you want to add?
    I have been so fortunate to call the Denver Center (and especially The Galleria Theatre) my theatre home for 17 years now. I feel truly blessed to have been able to do what I do so frequently at this incredible place. To all at the DCPA who have placed your professional faith in me all these years, you have my undying gratitude.



    Lauren ShealyLAUREN SHEALY
    (Woman 1) DCPA Cabaret: Forbidden Broadway (Woman 2), The Doyle and Debbie Show (Debbie), I Love You, You’re Perfect… (Woman 2). DCPA Theatre Company: Sweeney Todd (Swing), A Christmas Carol (Ensemble). Off Broadway: Lingoland (Lauren), How to Succeed In Business... (Rosemary). The Arvada Center: White Christmas (Betty), A Man Of No Importance (Mrs. Patrick), Curtains (Georgia), Miracle On 34th Street (Doris), 1940’s Radio Hour (Anne). Lone Tree Arts Center: Evita (Eva, pictured below right), South Pacific (Nellie). National Tour: South Pacific (Nellie). Other Theaters: Jekyll and Hyde (Lucy), Tick, Tick…Boom (Susan), Phantom (Christine). Training/Awards: NYU, Tisch; 2015 CTG Henry nomination for Best Actress in a Musical; Westword’s Best Actress in a Musical for 2013. 

    Lauren Shealy. Photo by Danny Lam. EvitaHometown: Littleton
    • College: BFA Drama from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts
    • What's your handle? I am not that cool.
    • Twitter-sized bio: Lover of life, stories, music, family, heavy weights, hikes, hugs and cake pops. Habitual bath taker, banana bread maker and horror movie watcher.
    • The role that changed your life? My role as a mother changed me as a performer. My heart underwent profound renovations; the current model has no walls, many doors and seriously leaky faucets. Every day I wrestle with a delightful and terrifying mix of fear, love, and humility. I am often raw, I doubt my goodness, question my strength … but I am strangely more brave.
    Ideal scene partner: Emma Thompson. I want to work a scene with her, follow her around for a week, peek in her freezer. She’s so yummy to watch – fully present, strong and beautifully vulnerable. She is so smart! – she adapted the script for the Ang Lee version of Sense and Sensibility – it’s perfection.  
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? I hope the audience laughs and releases the stress of the day. I hope that they make a connection ... to me, to each other, and to the role that love/attraction plays in their lives.
    • Your best first-date story:
    In the summer of 2011, friends set me up on a blind date with Bret Hipsher. I had reservations. I was casually dating a photographer and felt conflicted about going on a date with someone else. My father encouraged me to go. “Lauren, you have nothing to lose and you never know ... this guy could be the love of your life," he said. I kept the date. When Bret arrived, I opened the door and promptly lost the ability to speak coherently. There was something about his easy smile, beautiful blue eyes and delicious smell that rendered me useless for a short time. Once I recovered, I found myself more at ease with Bret than I had ever been with another man. I loved talking to him. I stared at his forearms. I felt his kindness washing over me at regular intervals. I watched the breeze play with his hair. I marveled at his exceptional intelligence and great sense of humor. He had his stuff together. I knew he was important. After he kissed my cheek that night, I called the photographer and wished him well. I married Bret a year later.
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "… what I have.”



    Aaron VegaAARON VEGA
    (Man 2 from Nov. 11-Dec. 3)
    DCPA Off-Center: The Wild Party. Aaron has performed in theaters across the country and after many years in New York City moved to Colorado with his dog. He has adapted and directed Shakespeare, staged rock and symphony concerts, is a founding artist and board member for the puppet and mask ensemble The Zoot Theatre Company, is the Artistic Director for Eureka Suitcase in New York and is the Executive Producer for The People’s Theatre of Denver.

    Aaron Vega. The Wild Party. Adams VisComHometown: I grew up in Amish country in north central Ohio. A little rural town called Mansfield
    • Home now: Denver
    • Training: I graduated from high school early so that I could get a degree at Wright State University's Professional Actor Training Program
    • What's your handle? @bardgeek on both Twitter and Instagram
    • Website: AaronVega.com
    • Twitter-sized bio: Freelance actor and director who is committed to bringing the audience's imagination into the theatrical process. Also an over-eater of pizza and hummus.
    • The role that changed your life? I played John Harrower in an unknown musical by Ricky Ian Gordan and Tina Landau called States of Independence. That was the moment I realized that musical theatre could be something deeper and more meaningful than I previously thought. And that I didn't have to choose between being an actor and being a musical-theatre performer.
    • Ideal scene partner: Laurence Olivier. He was the perfect blend of technique, imagination, grace and courage.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? A sense that the world is not as scary as prime-time TV would have us believe. That there is love in the world and that the only thing separating us from it is our frantic mind.
    • Your best first-date story: I've been incredibly lucky, and I've never been on Tinder so ... I'm good.
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …”:
    "... for the world to create more and destroy less."
    • Anything else you want to add? I have the index page of Shakespeare's Folio tattooed on my forearm. Whenever I'm feeling to big for my britches I can just look down and be reminded of what true genius is, and it motivates me to keep working harder. Kaizen! (That's the Japanese word for "change for better.")



    Barret HarperBARRET HARPER
    (Male Understudy) Denver Center debut. Barret has performed across the country in New York, Arizona and Florida, but is thrilled to return to Denver, which he considers home. He was most recently seen as Lonny in Rock of Ages at BDT Stage after two regional premieres of the production in Colorado and Arizona. Other favorite roles include Cornelius in Hello, Dolly!, Jinx in Forever Plaid, Mark in Altar Boyz, and Link in Hairspray. Regional: Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Arvada Center, Central City Opera, Arizona Broadway Theater, Broadway Palm Theater and Colorado Light Opera. Thanks to friends, family, and my beautiful wife for always encouraging me to dream.

    Barret Harper Forever PlaidHometown: Littleton 
    • College: BFA in Theater Performance, BA in Biochemistry, Minor in Chemistry from the University of Colorado Boulder 
    • What's your handle? @BarretHarper on Twitter; @grin.and.barret on Instagram
    • Twitter-sized bio: Barret. Beets. Battlestar Galactica
    • The role that changed your life? Jinx in Forever Plaid (pictured right at the Town Hall Arts Center). He is this quiet and shy person the audience gets to see come out of his shell, exposing so much heart. Everyone loves an underdog, and Jinx is the perfect personification of one. I love the journey he takes and his uncompromising nerdiness, which makes him incredibly endearing. If given the chance, I would play that role forever. 
    Ideal scene partner: Tom Hanks is a master of subtlety and nuance. His attention to small details makes his characters so vibrant and rich. I would love to watch him work and play off of that energy.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? I hope the audience walks away with a renewed faith for the human spirit. In recent times, I have sensed that we have lost touch with the ability to find common ground as a source of compassion for people with different views. This show is about two impossibly matched people who find that deep down they are looking for the same thing. My hope is that we all find that common ground and a compassion for one another. 
    • Your worst first-date story: That would have to be the time I thought I would impress the girl with some culinary skills. The plan was to make a Greek-themed meal complete with homemade baklava, since she had never eaten any Greek food before. As we finished eating, she had a few bites of the baklava before her face started to flush and swell. I had never thought to ask her if she had a nut allergy, and the baklava was stuffed with finely crushed walnuts. Luckily, she realized what was happening and stopped eating the deadly dessert before it got any worse. We later laughed about my unintentional attempt at murder, but at the moment it happened I was sure I had blown it. 
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "... a room somewhere. Far away from the cold night air.” That’s from My Fair Lady. The world could use a little more of the kind of joy that musical theater celebrates. 


    Video above: Watch as Cashelle Butler returned to her Cherry Creek High School stomping grounds when she was in Denver for the farewell tour of 'Mamma Mia!' Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    CashelleButlerCASHELLE BUTLER (Female Understudy) is thrilled to be back in her hometown of Denver following two years playing Tanya on the national tour of Mamma Mia!. Other credits include: Young Frankenstein (Elizabeth, Westword Best of Denver Award), The Marvelous Wonderettes (Cindy Lou, pictured below right at the Town Hall Arts Center), Parade (Lucille) and Legally Blonde (Paulette). University of Northern Colorado. Former DCPA Education student. Immense gratitude to DCPA, the cast, and the creatives. Love to Mom, Dad, Shea and Aaron.

    • Hometown: Denver
    • College: BA in Musical Theatre from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
    • What's your handle? @cashellebutler on Twitter and Instagram
    • Website:
    cashelle-butler.com
    • Twitter-sized bio: Lover of conversation, family, naps, music, coffee, cute animal photos and Chipotle.
    Chashelle Butler. Town Hall Arts Center. The role that changed your life? Playing Tanya in the Farewell Tour of Mamma Mia! The character is so fun and comical that it was a blast to be able to go to work every night and just be silly and laugh. However, it was also amazing discipline, doing the show for two years straight and staying truthful and genuine every night. It is crazy to think that live theatre can ever become muscle memory, but after a long run it is so important to be present every single night. The role was life-changing, but so was the lifestyle that went with it. Seeing the country while doing what I love was an incredible opportunity, and it was so wonderful to be able to perform in amazing theatres in awesome cities. (My favorite was Denver). It was such a whirlwind.
    Ideal scene partner: I really love Rachel Bay Jones, who is currently appearing in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway). She is so versatile and such a strong actress. I’ve seen her in a few different shows, and every character she plays is just so genuine and believable. She's funny and fierce and vulnerable all in one, and I would love to work a scene (or 20) with her and learn from her.
    • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing First Date? I hope the audience is able to laugh, enjoy, and escape the world, I think First Date has a little bit of something for everyone. The story is so easy to connect with, and the music is so great that I think it’s an awesome way to spend an evening.
    • Your worst first-date story: One first date suggested we go on a hike and, in retrospect, it’s kind of creepy going off into the woods with a stranger. He said he was going to bring his dog, and I love dogs, so that really sold me. I met him at the trail thinking we will get to know each other while we leisurely walk. Instead, the guy broke into a full uphill sprint. What followed was two breathless hours of me trying to keep up on the trail run with this man and his dog. I tripped a lot, sweat a lot - and all we got to know about each other was our very different fitness levels.
    • Complete this sentence: “All I want is …"
    "... Happiness for myself and all those around me. Also music, Chipotle, and endless photos of baby animals.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    First Date: Ticket information
    First DateNov. 11, 2017, through through April 22, 2018
    Tickets : Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    Garner Galleria Theatre

    The book is written by by Austin Winberg. Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen. Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Dominick Amendum.

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

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