30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS
Day 13: Jake Mendes
Every year announces the unmistakable arrival of a select few major new talents in Colorado theatre. And one of the freshest faces of 2016 was the ever-changing face of Jake Mendes.
The Lakewood native played a sadomasochistic dentist with a penchant for pain; a high-heeled mad scientist hell-bent on creating his perfect sexual plaything; and a brooding former teen idol just back from Vietnam.
“That tells me that Jake has great range,” said Gavin Mayer, who directed Mendes in the Arvada Center’s world-premiere holiday musical I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which plays through Dec. 23. “For anyone to pull off that kind of variety, you have to be willing to be very vulnerable and honest. Jake isn’t afraid to take risks on the stage. He’s a great singer with nice comic timing – and he also happens to be very smart, articulate and kind.”
Mendes, 28, graduated from Green Mountain High School and the University of Northern Colorado before enjoying a rare streak of immediate good fortune in the Big Apple. He was cast in Bunnicula off-Broadway among other productions including The Drowsy Chaperone and The Little Dog Laughed.
But Mayer says Mendes is an uncommonly levelheaded young man with a long-range plan to have a career in arts administration. So he returned to Colorado to earn his masters degree in Arts Development and Program Management from the University of Denver. While doing so, he worked as a part-time teacher for Jefferson County Public Schools and helped out on the drama productions at his Green Mountain High School alma mater.
“It’s rare for someone who is so young and successful on the stage to have the foresight to prepare for a career off the stage as well,” Mayer said.
But that administrative career might have to wait if Mendes continues the on-stage roll he has been on in 2016. His streak began playing the gas-happy and Audrey-slapping dentist Orin Scrivello (DDS!) and other small roles in Miners Alley Playhouse’s Little Shop of Horrors – while also serving as assistant choreographer. He then played the sweet transvestite (and hedonistic, pleasure-murdering alien) Dr. Frank-N-Furter in StageDoor Theatre’s The Rocky Horror Musical in Conifer.
“Jake had audiences in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked onstage,” said his Rocky Horror director, Steven Tangedal.
Mendes capped his year originating the role of the wholesome former teen idol Simon Bright in I’ll Be Home for Christmas for the Arvada Center. He’s a kid (think Ricky Nelson) who grew up in the 1950s performing on his parents’ nationally televised variety show. He has come back from Vietnam just in time to join the family for its annual holiday special.
Mayer said Mendes was hungry to work on a world premiere. “It can be intimidating for a lot of actors to take on the challenge of being handed 10 new pages every day, but he always came into the room with such a positive attitude,” Mayer said.
“Mendes’ voice is fantastic as he infuses his numbers with palpable emotion,” Chris Arneson wrote of I’ll Be Home for Christmas for Broadway World.
Mendes got his start as a boy taking classes from beloved children’s director Shelly Bordas, who died of cancer last year at 41. Tangedal said the ethic Bordas instilled in Mendes was evident from Day 1 of Rocky Horror rehearsals. “When he reminded me that he got his start with Shelly and her troupe at Theater On Broadway, I knew that he had her spirit in his work ethic,” Tangedal said. “He was always ready to help out wherever help was needed. He was a true professional.”
Now the question is: Will his profession now pull him on stage — or off?
ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS
The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org
THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS
Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
Day 3: After Orlando
Day 4: Michael Morgan
Day 5: Beth Beyer
Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
Day 7: donnie l. betts
Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
Day 10: Jason Sherwood
Day 11: Leslie O’Carroll and Steve Wilson
Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
Day 13: Jake Mendes
Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
Day 15: Patty Yaconis
Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
Day 21: Jeff Neuman
Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
Day 23: Matthew Campbell
Day 24: Sharon Kay White
Day 25: John Hauser
Day 26: Lon Winston
Day 27: Jason Ducat
Day 28: Sam Gregory
Day 29: Warren Sherrill
Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride