• 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.

  • Meet the cast: Cajardo Lindsey of 'The Christians'

    by John Moore | Feb 16, 2017
    Cajardo Lindsey

    Cajardo Lindsey of 'The Christians.' He is pictured below right on the first day of rehearsal for the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit on Tuesday.


    Understudy to Associate Pastor Joshua in The Christians, Reggie in Last Night and the Night Before (2017 Colorado New Play Summit)

    Cajardo Lindsey. 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. At the Theatre Company: All the Way, A Raisin in the Sun, Just Like Us. Other Theatres: A Raisin in the Sun, Wait Until Dark, To Kill a Mockingbird (Arvada Center) The Whipping Man, The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, Marcus: or The Secret of Sweet, Fences (Curious Theatre). TV/Film: "Medium," "Crash," "In Plain Sight," "Easy Money," Silver City, MacGruber, Force of Execution, Assassins' Code, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), Shot Caller (2016), Somnio (2016)."

    • Hometown: Cincinnati.
    • Training: BA from Miami University and a JD (law degree) from Indiana University. (I was home-schooled in the arts.)
    • What was the role that changed your life? Playing Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun at the Arvada Center. My life was changed in the arts because of the look and embrace I received from my mentor after the show.
    • Why are you an actor? Acting called ... and I answered.
    • What would you be doing if you weren't an actor: I presently enjoy two careers,  one as an actor and the other as an attorney. I am unaware of what I would be doing for a career if I were not an actor and an attorney. Maybe a poet, a writer or a coach … I do all of these things in some capacity.
    • Cajardo Lindsey Jeffrey NickelsonIdeal scene partner: My mentor, Jeffrey Nickelson. He was the founder of Denver's Shadow Theatre Company. If he were still alive, it would be great to show him that I was listening.
    • Why does The Christians matter? Because if we, as an audience, can see ourselves in a play and begin to do self-inquiry, I believe the byproduct will be growth and evolution.
    • What do you hope the audience gets out of this play? Love and compassion.
    • Finish this sentence: "All I want is ..."
      "... for the people in this world to love one another."

    Cajardo Lindsey in Curious Theatre's 'The Brothers Size.' Photo by Michael EnsmingerCajardo Lindsey in Curious Theatre's 2013 production of 'The Brothers Size.' Photo by Michael Ensminger.

    The Christians
    : Ticket information
    270x270-the-christians-art-ttA new play about the mystery of faith and what happens when a doctrinal controversy shakes the foundation of a large community church.

    Plays through Feb. 26
    Stage Theatre
    ASL and Audio-Described matinee at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12
    303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

    Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Christians:
    Playwright: The Christians is 'a pathway to empathy
    The Christians: How do you know Kevin Kilner?
    Behind the scenes video: Making stained glass for The Christians
    Video, photos: Your first look at The Christians
    Video: What audiences are saying about The Christians
    Composer Gary Grundei on music to move the masses
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal 
    Meet the cast: Krystel Lucas
    Meet the cast: Robert Manning Jr.
    Meet the cast: Caitlin Wise
    2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

    More 2016-17 'Meet the Cast' profiles:
    Steven J. Burge, An Act of God
    Liam Craig, The Book of Will
    Aubrey Deeker, The Glass Menagerie
    Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, Frankenstein
    Meridith C. Grundei, Frankenstein
    Steven Cole Hughes, An Act of God
    Sullivan Jones, Frankenstein
    Mark Junek, Frankenstein
    Charlie Korman, Frankenstein
    Jennifer Le Blanc, The Book of Will
    Rodney Lizcano, The Book of Will
    Wesley Mann, The Book of Will
    Amelia Pedlow, The Glass Menagerie
    Jessica Robblee, Frankenstein
    Erik Sandvold, An Act of God
    John Skelley, The Glass Menagerie
    Kim Staunton, Two Degrees


  • Mary Louise Lee dedicates 'Lady Day' to Jeffrey Nickelson

    by John Moore | Oct 19, 2016
    Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

    Photos from the opening rehearsal of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill starring Mary Louise Lee from Oct. 28-30 in the Jones Theatre. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 2002 production photos provided by Mary Louise Lee. 

    Mary Louise Lee, star of the DCPA’s upcoming limited engagement of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Jones Theatre, has dedicated the run to late Shadow Theatre Company founder Jeffrey Nickelson.

    Nickelson, who died in 2009, was a graduate of the DCPA’s National Theatre Conservatory masters program. He went on to present “stories from the heart of the African-American community,” he liked to say, from 1997-2011. The biggest hit in Shadow’s history was a 2002 production of Lady Day, with Nickelson directing and Lee playing jazz legend Billie Holiday.

    This new three-day “workshop production” at the Jones is being directed by Hugo Jon Sayles, who was Nickelson’s longtime Associate Artistic Director at Shadow. If Nickelson was the heart of the Shadow Theatre, then “Hugo Jon Sayles is the soul,” actor Jaime Lujan said when Sayles became Shadow's Artistic Director in 2010.

    Jeffrey loved this show,” Sayles said at Tuesday’s opening rehearsal of Lady Day. “He was just so proud of it. And Mary was wonderful in it. It could have kept running and running. We only stopped because we had another show starting up.”

    (Pictured above right, from left: Michael Williams, Mary Louise Lee and Hugo Jon Sayles at Tuesday's rehearsal. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Lady Day, written by Lanie Robertson, is a 1986 concert play that recounts Holiday’s troubled life as she performs in a run-down Philadelphia bar just days before her death in 1959. Holiday was known for songs like "God Bless the Child," "Strange Fruit" and "Taint Nobody's Biz-ness." She had a singular singing voice — and a lethal heroin habit. Her powerful yet untrained vocal style pioneered a  new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. One critic equated Holiday's voice to a broken toy cornet, often slurred by addiction and pain, but one that could convey a range of emotions like few others.

    Lady Day. Hugo Jon sayles. Photo by John Moore“When I first heard Billie Holiday sing, I didn't like her voice,” said Sayles. “But then I met this old jazz player who said, 'I really dig Billie Holiday, man, because when she sings - it's like a horn.' And then I listened to her sing again, and I said, 'It is a horn!' From then on, I really understood why jazz musicians loved her.”

    Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill reintroduces audiences to the jazz of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as to the tragic life of Holiday, who died at age 44. "It’s a tough story," Sayles said, "but I think it can engage the spirit." 

    There has been a huge resurgence of interest in Lady Day since superstar Audra MacDonald brought it to Broadway for the first time in 2014. But Lee never lost interest.

    “For years, every time I saw Mary, she would stop me and say, 'When are we going to do Lady Day again?’ ” said Sayles. “Just seeing the light in her eyes right now, doing it again, is so fulfilling.”

    Check out or Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Lee’s professional career began at the Denver Performing Arts Complex when she joined the cast of Beehive at what is now the Garner-Galleria Theatre. She was just a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School at the time. Through a career that has included performances around the world and singing in front of 75,000, Lee still considers her haunting portrayal of Holiday in 2002 to be her most meaningful performance.

    The Musical Director for Lady Day is Sayles’ longtime musical collaborator Michael Williams. Sayles said he once asked Williams’ mother when she knew her son was going to be something in music. She told him: “When he walked up to me as a boy and said, 'The refrigerator is B-flat,’ ” Sayles said with a laugh.

    Remaining tickets are very limited for the three-day run of Lady Day, but Sayles hopes further opportunities will come from that. “I would love for it to have more life after this,” he said.

    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.

    Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
    Lady DayBy Lanie Robertson
    Featuring Mary Louise Lee
    Directed by Hugo Sayles
    Music Direction and Piano by Michael Williams
    Oct. 28-30
    The Jones Theatre
    Tickets start at $25
    Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    The show runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission
    Adult language and content
    Age Recommendation: 17+

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Mary Louise Lee:
    Mary Louise Lee returning to Denver Center roots in Lady Day
    2015 True West Award: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
    Video: Denver First Lady hosts students, Motown the Musical cast members
    Mary Louise Lee sings with cast of Million Dollar Quartet
    Denver first lady Mary Louise Lee is her own woman
    Video podcast: Running Lines with Mary Louise Lee of The Wiz
  • Denzel Washington to follow in Israel Hicks' historic Denver footsteps

    by John Moore | Sep 18, 2015

    From left: August Wilson, Israel Hicks and Denzel Washington. From left: August Wilson, Israel Hicks and Denzel Washington.

    Denzel Washington intends to  direct all 10 of August Wilson’s plays for HBO, the two-time Oscar-winning actor revealed Thursday during an informal Q&A at the University of Southern California.

    If it happens, Washington would be endeavoring to do on film what Israel Hicks did first on stage. Hicks made history with the DCPA Theatre Company in 2009, when he became the first director anywhere to helm August Wilson's entire 10-play, 10-decade exploration of the black experience in America for the same theater company. "It has to rank up with the greatest achievements in the history of the American theater,” actor Harvy Blanks said at the time.


    Washington, who won a Tony Award for his live theatrical performance in the 2010 Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences, says he had made the arrangements with the Pulitzer-winning playwright’s estate to pursue the project for HBO. The cable network has not independently confirmed the news.

    “I’m directing, producing — and acting in one (Fences) — and I’m executive producing the other nine,” he told interviewer Todd Boyd during the “An Evening With Denzel Washington” event. “I’m really excited about that — that the estate would put that in my hands and trust me. That’s good enough for me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”


    Washington also said Viola Davis — his costar in Fences — will act alongside him in the HBO version. Davis, currently the star of TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, also won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Fences, set in the Hill District circa 1957 and a Pulitzer Prize winner for the late playwright.

    The DCPA Theatre Company's 1990 production of 'Fences,' directed by Israel Hicks. And who was Israel Hicks?

    "I learned the joy of living from him," said Kim Staunton, the longtime Denver Center actor who appeared in many of Hicks' DCPA productions. "Part of me died with him."

    The Wilson cycle in Denver was initiated in 1990 by then-Artistic Director Donovan Marley and completed in 2009 under his successor, Kent Thompson.

    "It's a huge deal because any commitment over that period of time is extremely rare in the American theater today," Thompson said.

    (Photo: From the DCPA Theatre Company's 1990 production of 'Fences,' directed by Israel Hicks.)

    Wilson’s 10 plays, colloquially known as the August Wilson Century Cycle, explored the effects of slavery and Civil War on the culture in the 1900s. When Wilson died in 2005, Shadow Theatre Company founder Jeffrey Nickelson said the American theater had lost one of its giants, "but the black American theater has lost its Shakespeare." 

    "It is the history of a culture," Hicks said of the Wilson Cycle in his final Denver Post interview. He died in 2010 at age 66.

    "Every Wilson play asks big questions like, 'Will we get bogged down by the history, or do we move forward?' " said Hicks, who grew up in New York in the turbulent '60s asking big questions of his own, like, "Where do we come from?" "Who am I?" and "Where is my history?"  "And I think out of that, August gave birth to some answers - decade by decade," he said.

    ​According to Playbill.com, a film version of Fences was discussed as early as 1990, but Wilson “was famously adamant that the project could go forward only if it had a black director, as the original 1987 Broadway production had had in Lloyd Richards.”

    To watch the video of Denzel Washington's announcement, click here.

    Wire services contributed to this report.

    Selected previous August Wilson coverage by John Moore:

    Wilson's entire cycle in words and photos, as performed in Denver
    Wilson's cycle a search for history, family
    Hicks to complete landmark theatre milestone in Denver
    Harvy Blanks on Wilson: 'An August lesson in being American'

    The 10 Most Important American Plays: Fences makes the list

    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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