2015 TRUE WEST AWARDS: 30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS
Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop
Today’s award presenter: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore
Let’s get this first part out of the way: Yes, Mary Louise Lee happens to be married to the mayor of Denver. But this First Lady is second to no one when it comes to that voice. Lee’s professional stage cred dates back to being hired to perform in Beehive The Musical at the now Garner-Galleria Theatre when she was still a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.
When they invite Lee to sing the national anthem before 78,000 Broncos fans, or to sing on America’s Got Talent, or to join the cast of the national touring production of The Million Dollar Quartet onstage at the Buell Theatre, it’s certainly not because her high-school sweetheart won an election.
It’s because she’s Mary Louise Lee.
Lee’s lengthy theater resume includes work at the DCPA, Arvada Center, Country Dinner Playhouse and theaters around the country. The Mary Louise Lee Band has been knocking out blues covers like “Chain of Fools” from military bases worldwide to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. 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.
When the creators of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop decided it was time to finally, fully stage their unapologetically sentimental new family musical at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, they weren’t messing around. Their cast featured Broadway veterans Ken Prymus (Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Wiz), Nora Cole (Jelly’s Last Jam, On The Town) and Terry Burrell (seven Broadway credits including the original DreamGirls), along with a host of local stalwarts including Lee, Harvy Blanks, Leonard Barrett Jr. and Anna High.
And they weren’t messing around when they unearthed a then 12-year-old named Yasmine Hunter to share with Lee the leading role of Sarah Jean.
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop follows Sarah Jean’s life dating to her childhood in rural Arkansas, where Uncle Jed was the only black barber in a segregated county. The sharecropper’s dream was to open his own barbershop, but instead he freely gave up his savings to pay for emergency medical care that saved Sarah’s life at age 5. Sarah Jean then struggles to reconcile her past in the decades that follow.
Lee is not easily intimidated – and young Hunter was clearly not daunted to share the role of Sarah Jean with her. Lee brought the backbone and Hunter brought down the house on a solo called “I Will Go Where You Go.”
Lee said working with Hunter, a four-year member of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir, was a complete joy. “She’s funny and congenial, and extremely talented,” she said. “This girl has such a bright future.”
Margaree King Mitchell, author of the award-winning source book, has seen every iteration of this developing music, but this newest incarnation made her feel as if she were seeing it for the first time because of the caliber and exuberance of the company. “The high-spirited music and soul-stirring singing took me back in time,” she said. “The incomparable Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter brought Sarah Jean to life as she dreamed right along with Uncle Jed.”
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, which has high ambitions for a continued life, is written by Kenneth Grimes, David Wohl and Susan Einhorn, who is also the director. For more information, click here.
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.
Video: Watch Mary Louise Lee sing ‘Fools Fall in Love’ with the cast of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at the Buell Theatre in 2014.
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 TO DATE
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