Aurora Fox amping up musicals, diversity in 2017-18

Stew, right, the subject and star of the 2008 Broadway musical 'Passing Strange.' Photo by David Lee.
Stew, right, was the subject and star of the 2008 Broadway musical ‘Passing Strange.’ Its first local production will be at the Aurora Fox. Photo by David Lee.

Black, brown, white and transgendered voices will be represented in a lineup led by Passing Strange.

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

The Aurora Fox‘s ongoing commitment to bringing diversity to its stages was emphatically confirmed tonight with the announcement of the city-run company’s 33rd season, which will include a record four mainstage musicals of all kinds and colors.

A year after staging Porgy & Bess, Black Elk Speaks and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Fox will stage Hi-Hat Hattie, the story of the first black performer to win an Oscar; Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the cult classic tale of a failed transgender rock star; the Latina immigrant comedy-drama Real Women Have Curves; and the first local production of Passing Strange, an all-black underdog nominee for Broadway’s 2008 Best Musical Tony Award.

This is the Fox’s first season announcement since the resignation of Executive Director Charlie Packard, who had led the Aurora Fox since 2009. Packard’s duties have temporarily fallen to his former boss, Aurora Cultural Services Manager Gary Margolis, who is heading an ongoing search for Packard’s replacement.

Opening the season Sept. 22 will be Stephen Sondheim’s contemporary musical classic Company, winner of seven Tony Awards. That’s the tuneful story of the bashful bachelor who’s not getting married today, tomorrow, or maybe ever. 

Anna HighThen comes Hi-Hat Hattie, a tour-de-force solo musical that will star Denver actor Anna High (The Color Purple and Porgy & Bess, pictured at right). Hattie McDaniel was the Denver native who broke down Hollywood barriers by winning the 1939 Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind. The Denver East grad battled segregation and racism her whole life, yet she was targeted by the NAACP for playing subservient roles, blacklisted by studios and abandoned by all those big-time white Hollywood stars she once bragged were her friends. We never even get to hear McDaniel’s famous mantra: “I’d rather play a maid for $700 a week than be one for $7.”

The Aurora Fox’s original 2004 production of Hi-Hat Hattie starring Sheryl Renee won a Denver Post Ovation Award.


Read our interview with Hedwig co-creator Stephen Trask

HedwigThen comes cult favorite musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the Latina immigrant comedy-drama Real Women Have Curves and, perhaps most daringly, the season-ending Passing Strange.

(Pictured right: Euan Morton in the 2016 national touring production of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch.’)

Passing Strange and In the Heights made history in 2008 as the two all-minority musicals went toe-to-toe for the best-musical Tony Award. Passing Strange is the more groundbreaking and substantive of the two. It opens as a concert with a rousing funk band led by a writer and showman known simply as Stew, who asks us, “What do you do when you wake up, and your whole life has been based on the decision of a teenager — a stoned teenager?”

As actors come and go in Spring Awakening-like Brechtian fashion, we go back to the tumultuous 1970s and retrace young Stew’s epic journey from the suburban comforts of Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin in search of “something more real than real.”

But this is no nostalgia trip. It’s a difficult and meaningful odyssey about cultural identity and family that culminates as young Stew comes face-to-face with present-day Stew — and to terms with the unalterable cost his youthful narcissism has exacted from those he left behind. Passing Strange is catchy and cathartic performance art unlike anything Broadway has seen before.
Spike Jones filmed the final Broadway performance and turned it into a 2009 concert film.

(Story continues after the video.)

Video excerpt: Passing Strange

Denver’s Su Teatro offered Real Women Have Curves in 2015, and Artistic Director Anthony Garcia said the play drew astronomical crowd counts. “The place was just packed all the time with heavily drinking women,” he said with a laugh. Josefina Lopez‘s play is set in a tiny sewing factory in East Los Angeles in September 1987. Its women tell the Latina immigrant experience as they discuss their lives, desires and ambitions. The play was made into a movie in 2001 starring America Ferrera (Ugly Betty.)

All of the Fox’s season productions will take place on the 250-seat mainstage theatre. Next season will be the first at the Fox since the demise of Ignite Theatre, which rented both the Fox’s mainstage and studio theatre for its offerings. But the vacancy has created for the company to present a new staging concept for its smaller studio theatre, which it is calling the Cabaret Series.


More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

“These will be one-off performances, such as you might see in New York City,” said The Aurora Fox’s Beau Bisson. One performer will be announced per weekend throughout the year, he said. The exact lineup will be rolled out as the season goes along, each about two months in advance of any appearance.

“At this time, the Fox is holding off on future theatrical rentals until the new executive producer is in place and can weigh in on the direction of the rental program,” Bisson said. “We are, however, available for smaller non-theatrical rentals such as film screenings, corporate meetings, parties, dance recitals and more.”

Another new feature for 2017-18 will Thursday night performances throughout the runs of  all mainstage shows.

Aurora Fox 2017-18 mainstage season
Sept. 22-Oct. 22, 2017: Company 
Nov. 24-Dec. 23, 2017: Hi-Hat Hattie
Jan. 19 – Feb. 10, 2018: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Feb. 23-March 18, 2018: Real Women Have Curves 
April 13-May 13, 2018: Passing Strange
Information: 303-739-1970 or AuroraFox.org

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