Arvada Center season: ‘Mamma Mia,’ Harlem and empowered women

Jessica Austgen, seated right, is currently featured in the Arvada Center's 'Sense and Sensibility' through May 4. Now she has been commissioned as a playwright to adapt a 1664 restoration comedy for the Arvada Center next season. Matt Gale Photography.

Jessica Austgen, seated right, is currently featured in the Arvada Center’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ through May 4. Now she has been commissioned as a playwright to adapt a 1664 restoration comedy for the Arvada Center next season. Matt Gale Photography.

At this time next year, three plays will be running in repertory that are all written by female playwrights

The Arvada Center’s newly announced 2018-19 season includes three musicals and four plays, a world premiere, two regional premieres and the Broadway hit Mamma Mia. The holiday musical will be the stage adaptation of ELF, and the spring musical is Trav’lin: The New 1930s Harlem Musical, which evokes the Harlem Renaissance and pays tribute to composer J.C. Johnson.

(Pictured: Cherry Torres, left, Miche Braden and Yewande Odetoyinbo in “Trav'lin' 'ast year at the Seven Angels Theatre in Connecticut. Photo by Gary Rosengrant.)

Cherry Torres, left, Miche Braden and Yewande Odetoyinbo in “Trav’lin’ ‘ast year at the Seven Angels Theatre in Connecticut. Photo by Gary Rosengrant.

“Our three musicals take a look at love and life and the many forms it takes,” said Rod A. Lansberry, Producing Artistic Director of Musical Theatre. “This season’s musicals offer us with three different views of love: Love of family; love of life and tradition; and romantic love, even when there are complications.”

Next season also will mark the third year of the Arvada Center’s Black Box Repertory Theatre, a company of local actors who will perform three of the company’s four non-musical plays in repertory. And when all three are up and running next spring, they will all be stories written by women — including a world premiere commission penned by former DCPA Teaching Artist and longtime Cult Following performer Jessica Austgen.

“The Black Box is launching many firsts this season,” said Lynne Collins, Artistic Director of Plays. “And we will continue to hire the area’s finest actors to tell stories that will move, delight and surprise our audiences.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Austgen’s Sin Street Social Club is an adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover, which is based on Thomas Killigrew’s 1664 comedy of manners Thomaso, or The Wanderer.  The source story, which depicts the sexual adventures of a group of badly behaving Englishmen in Naples at Carnival time, is nothing if not problematic in the “Me Too” era, so Austgen is re-casting the story from a female perspective.

“In this update, we give the female protagonists more agency, so the story becomes more about them taking control of their lives rather than being pawns of these men,” Austgen told the DCPA NewsCenter.

Austgen made her professional playwriting debut with last year’s Drag On for the DCPA’s Off-Center. That lark brought together the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, Comic Con and the fabulous world of drag for a wholly original hour-long stage adventure. Austgen is also a member of the Avenue Theater’s Comedy Sportz improv-comedy team, and is currently appearing as an actor in the Arvada Center’s Sense and Sensibility and All My Sons through May 5.

“I’ve been trying to transition more to playwriting, and so this opportunity is a huge career boost,” said Austgen, whose Arvada Center roots run deep. “The Arvada Center gave me my Equity (union) card as an actor in 2003 for The Women, they gave me the opportunity to perform in a rep company, and now they are giving me my first full-length play commission as a writer. It means so much that they believe and trust in me.”

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The Arvada Center 2018-2019 season: At a glance

  • Sept. 7-30, 2018: Mamma Mia!
  • Oct. 5-Nov. 11, 2018: Educating Rita (Black Box)
  • Nov. 20-Dec. 23, 2018: ELF – The Musical
  • Feb. 1-May 17, 2019: The Diary of Anne Frank (Black Box)
  • Feb. 22-May 18, 2019: The Moors (Black Box)
  • March 15-May 19, 2019: Sin Street Social Club (Black Box)
  • April 9- 28, 2019: Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical

The Arvada Center 2018-2019 season: Title-by-title


Mamma Mia!

  • Sept. 7-30
  • Music and Lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson with some songs with Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Originally conceived by Judy Cramer
  • Directed by Rod A. Lansberry

At a glance: This hit musical that combines ABBA’s greatest hits, including Dancing Queen, S.O.S., Super Trouper, Take A Chance on Me and The Winner Takes It All, with a romantic tale of love, laughter and friendship.

Audition alert: Mamma Mia! auditions will be held April 23 and 24 in Arvada (Chorus dance call is April 20), and in New York City, on May 9. To receive alerts for upcoming productions, send an email including your name and phone number to

ELF: The Musical

  • Nov. 20-Dec. 23
  • Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. Music by Matthew Sklar. Lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Based on the New Line Cinema film written by David Berenbaum
  • Directed by Gavin Mayer

At a glance: Elf: The Musical tells the story of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Trav’lin: The 1930s Harlem Musical

  • April 9- 28, 2019
  • Book by Gary Holmes and Allan Shapiro. Score by J.C. Johnson and others
  • Directed by Rod A. Lansberry

At a glance: Trav’lin’ takes the audience back to Harlem in the decade when the music was swinging, bands were big and the Harlem Renaissance was in high gear. The show follows the romantic stories of three couples of three different generations. There are the young lovers who are still innocent, the seen-it-all couple who may bicker but still love each other, and the mature couple who wonder if it is too late to fall in love one more time.


Educating Rita

  • Rita Broderick and Wade Wood in a 2009 production of 'Educating Rita' at the Victorian PlayhouseOct. 5-Nov. 11
  • By Willy Russell
  • Directed by Lynne Collins

At a glance: Educating Rita is a witty yet poignant look at a working-class woman’s attempts to change her social circumstances through pursuit of an Open University qualification. Rita is a married, 26-year-old hairdresser living around the corner from her family. She has enrolled on an Open University course in an attempt to discover herself and better her circumstances. Her tutor is Frank, a frustrated poet, academic and alcoholic who is fascinated by her take on life and realizes that she has academic potential. Under his cynical guidance, Rita grows in confidence and understanding.

The Diary of Anne Frank

  • DCPA Theatre Company's 2007-08 'The Diary of Anne Franl.' Feb. 1-May 17, 2019
  • Adapted from Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett by Wendy Kesselman
  • Directed by Christy Montour-Larson

At a glance: In this powerful new adaptation for a new generation, Anne Frank emerges from history as an intensely gifted young girl who confronts the increasing horror of her time with honesty, wit, and determination. The story captures the claustrophobic realities of their daily existence hiding from the Nazis with seven others in a concealed storage attic. As she famously wrote: “I want to go on living even after my death!”

The Moors

  • Feb. 22-May 18, 2019
  • By Jen Silverman
  • Directed by Anthony Powell

At a glance: Two sisters and a dog live out their lives on the bleak English moors, and dream of love and power. The arrival of a hapless governess and a moor-hen set all three on a strange and dangerous path. The Moors is a dark comedy about love, desperation, and visibility.

Sin Street Social Club

  • March 15-May 19, 2019
  • Adapted by Jessica Austgen from Aphra Behn’s The Rover
  • Directed by Lynne Collins

At a glance: The Rovers was a revision of Thomas Killigrew’s 1664 restoration comedy Thomaso, or The Wanderer, and depicts the amorous adventures of a group of Englishmen in Naples at Carnival time. The play stood for three centuries as Aphra Behn’s most popular play.

Audition alert: Auditions for the 2018-19 Repertory Season will be held April 30 and May 1. Online sign-up for auditions will begin April 2. Email to receive full details.

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.

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