2016 True West Award: Sharon Kay White

by John Moore | Dec 24, 2016
True West Award Sharon Kay White


30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

Day 24: Sharon Kay White

Sharon Kay White is all kinds of funny – literally. Close-to-the-bone funny, rim-shot funny, vaudevillian funny. You name a style, and the dependable musical-theatre veteran knows a different way to make you laugh.

White showed off at least three kinds of funny in three charmingly diverse performances in 2016. She nearly stole the show out from under infamous thief Frank Abagnale Jr. as the con man’s mother-in-law in the Aurora Fox’s Catch Me If You Can. She was just cheek-pinchable as the jovial cloistered nun Sister Mary Patrick in the Arvada Center’s Sister Act. And she brought the year home like the seasoned pro she is originating the role of a throwback variety-show sidekick in the Arvada Center’s world-premiere holiday musical, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. 

True West Award. Sharon Kay White. Tim Howard. Photo by Christine Fisk. “You give that woman a song with a bit of sass and humor in it, and she’ll knock it out of the park every time. That’s her,” said actor Amy Board, her castmate in 2007’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical. “She knows how to set up a joke - and she knows how to drive it home.”

Yes, White was every kind of funny in 2016. But there’s much more to her. White is a classic, old-school hoofer, Board said. But if you give her a chance to break your heart, then you had better grab a broom to sweep up the pieces. She brought Carol Burnett’s mother to gritty life in a memorable 2008 turn in Hollywood Arms, followed in 2011 by a riveting turn as the relentless social activist Emma Goldman in Ragtime.

(Photo above and right: Sharon Kay White and Tim Howard in the Aurora Fox's 'Catch Me If You Can.' Photo by Christine Fisk.)

“Sharon’s humor is well-known, but her excellence in dramatic roles is something many audience members don’t see coming,” said Arvada Center Artistic Producer Rod Lansberry. “Her work in Hollywood Arms still stands out as one of her strongest roles - as well as her Emma Goldman in Ragtime. We love her for her humor, but we admire her for her versatility.”

Read our 'meet-the-cast' feature on Sharon Kay White

Oddly enough, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts inadvertently changed the direction of White’s life forever in 1996. Not by hiring her to perform here, but rather by keeping her from performing here.

Pop star Debbie Gibson’s national touring production of Funny Girl was supposed to be Broadway-bound. White, who was a member of that touring cast, had been a gainfully employed New York actor for years. She had starred as no less than Adelaide in a national touring production of Guys & Dolls, but Funny Girl was going to be her Broadway debut. Until late DCPA President Randy Weeks previewed the show in Minneapolis and was so unimpressed, he canceled the show’s upcoming Denver booking. And when Denver dropped out, the tour fizzled out.

True West Award Sharon Kay White QuoteWhite took stock. She decided to exit the New York rat race and move to Colorado to live a more normal life. Why Colorado? “I saw picture of Colorado in a magazine on an airplane and said, ‘I am going there,’ ” she said.

White came here intending to become a respectable Realtor – and she still is one. She has also had a reliable second career as a transcriber for all kinds of television shows – a job she can do from her home in Denver. But shortly after she arrived in Colorado, she got the acting bug again, and it has never left her since. She became a favorite of the now shuttered Country Dinner Playhouse, where she brought her Broadway-caliber Adelaide of Guys & Dolls to Arapahoe County. She also had memorable turns as a stripper in Gypsy and as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, among many others.

“She is a rock star,” said Paul Dwyer, who co-starred and produced many of her shows there. “She can do anything.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

White started 2016 with her surprisingly affecting turn in Catch Me If You Can, which further solidified Tim Howard as perhaps the leading leading man among the local twentysomethings. “But the night belongs to Sharon Kay White as the blusteringly sexy comic tour de force, Carol Strong, the Deep-South mother of Abignale’s fiancé,” wrote Dave Perry of the Aurora Sentinel. “White is famous for making every role seem that it was written for her, and this one is a memorable escapade that encapsulates the best part of the show.”

In Sister Act, based on the Whoopi Goldberg film about a loose-moraled singer who witnesses a mob crime and is sent into hiding in a convent, White played one of the many naive nuns whose eyes are opened to the excitement of the outside world. “She was just so freaking earnest in her joy, and it wasn’t for a joke,” Board said. “It was honest.”

At the end of 2016, White had the rare opportunity to create a character from scratch in the Arvada Center’s just-completed new musical I’ll Be Home for Christmas. It is written by Kenn McLaughlin and longtime Arvada Center resident Music Director David Nehls, who has been developing the piece from scratch over the past several years. And from the first iteration of the show, White has been cast to play an actor in the Bright family’s 1950s televised variety show. But now it’s the Vietnam era, and the Brights’ grown-up, all-American son is coming home from war to appear in the family’s annual Christmas special. There’s tension on the set, and White is there to break it.

Her character’s name is Carol Marie, but think Rose Marie in The Dick Van Dyke Show - with a killer voice. White is given two songs that humanize the loneliness of a single, middle-aged woman of that era at Christmas. But she's playing a character-within-a-character. Carol Marie, the actor on the show, turns out to be a happily married mother.

To top off White's year, she was nominated in July for a Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award for her work in 2015's Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

“In my humble opinion, Sharon Kay has some of the most sound, organic comic timing I’ve ever seen,” said Board. “And the amazing thing is, she was never taught comedy. Never once. It’s all her.”

Sharon Kay White/At a glance

  • Hometown: Gilroy, Calif.
  • Home now: Denver
  • High school: Gilroy High School
  • College: Bachelor's of Science degree in Textile Science and Polymer Chemistry from the UC-Davis (California)
  • Coming up: She will be playing Elsa Maxwell in Cherry Creek Theatre's Red, Hot and Cole from Jan. 19-Feb. 26 in the Mizel Arts and Culture Center's Pluss Theatre
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

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  1. Daniel Perkins kis | Dec 24, 2016
    A well deserved award for a terrific actor and even better person!

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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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