Henry Awards a triumph for Theatre Aspen, 'Rabbit Hole'

ragtimePerformance Now presents a powerful medley from “Ragtime” at Monday’s Henry Awards. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

Here’s a sure sign of growth: Last year, Theatre Aspen was nominated for eight Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards. This year, it won eight.

In an uncommonly well-spread evening celebrating statewide achievement in Colorado theatre, two upstarts clearly emerged: Theatre Aspen, which won both the Outstanding Musical for Cabaret and the prestigious Outstanding Season by a Company awards; and Vintage Theatre, which swept nearly all of the acting awards for the family drama Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit Hole, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for David Lindsay-Abaire, is the wrenching story of a family coming to grips with the death of a child. The Vintage staging, directed by Bernie Cardell, was named Outstanding Drama, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Supporting Actor (Marc Stith) and Outstanding Actress (Maggy Stacy – who was also nominated in that category for her performance in The Edge’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

While the annual Henry Awards often turn into landslides, this year the 25 competitive awards were distributed among 11 different companies and 13 different shows. That still left a number of the state’s most prestigious companies on the sidelines this year, including the Arvada Center, Curious Theatre Company, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Phamaly Theatre Company, BDT Stage and Creede Repertory Theatre.

The evening drew many standing ovations – none more fervent than for Performance Now’s medley from Ragtime. It culminated with the lines “We’ll never get to heaven till we reach that day,” which took on added significance given recent tragic events in America.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the night? Three hours and not a single reference to the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton.

Jonathan Farwell, otherwise known as “The Force of Fort Collins,” won his second Outstanding Actor Henry Award – since turning 80. Seriously. Farwell won in 2013 for his performance as Salieri in OpenStage’s Amadeus. On Monday, now 84 and legally blind, Farwell won his second Henry, for Bas Bleu Theatre Company’s The Outgoing Tide. Farwell delivered a fully fleshed and close-to-the-bone portrayal of a man whose encroaching Alzheimer’s disease steels his determination to control the final course of his life. Farwell, who also won a True West Award for his performance in The Outgoing Tide, was The Fantasticks’ first-ever El Gallo, back when the enduring musical was a college workshop project.

“The joy is in the doing, and in the sharing of the work,” said Farwell, who cited encouragement from a young and not-yet Dame Maggie Smith for propelling him on his acting journey.

Outstanding Actress in a Play went to Missy Moore, who played a newly tamed, just-released jailbird in The Edge Theatre’s Getting Out. That broke a streak of two straight wins by Emma Messenger, who was again nominated in the category for The Edge’s Exit Strategies.

The DCPA Theatre Company led all companies with 27 nominations and won five Henry Awards, including four for its DeVotchKa-infused staging of Sweeney Todd. Linda Mugleston, who made the human pie-maker Mrs. Lovett seem downright motherly, was named Outstanding Actress in a musical. Other DCPA winners included Director Kent Thompson, Costume Designer Kevin Copenhaver and Scenic Designer Jim Kronzer for Sweeney Todd; as well as Sound Designer Craig Breitenbach for Tribes.

(The Henry Awards split the four design categories, honoring winners in both larger budget and smaller-budget productions. The dividing line between tiers is whether the presenting company’s annual budget is above or below $1.2 million.)

Theatre Aspen won five Henrys for Cabaret, including Jon Peterson as Outstanding Actor in a Musical, and Lori Wilner as Outstanding Supporting Actress. Peterson described Theatre Aspen as “a magical kindom of theatre.”

Like Theatre Aspen, the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre of Grand Lake won its first competitive Henry Award when Steven Sitzman was named Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for “The Addams Family.”

2016 Henry Awards memoriam video:

Video by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Deborah Persoff

deborah-persoff-henry-awards-rabbit-holeThe winner of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award was Deborah Persoff, who was part of Vintage Theatre’s winning Rabbit Hole ensemble. Persoff was born in Philadelphia to a composer father and pianist mother. She moved to Colorado in 1969. Her first show was at the Changing Scene.

“I was the fifth narrator on the left, which meant that I sat in a chair, opened a book and just babbled. Everyone who paid their dues in those days had to work at the Changing Scene,” Persoff, who later player Glinda in the Bonfils Theatre’s 1971 production of The Wizard of Oz, said in a previous interview.

In recent years, Persoff has played Maude in Harold and Maude, Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens and a 91-year-old Communist in Miners Alley Playhouse’s 4000 Miles. She has worked for most every theatre company in the metro area and beyond, and has been president of Vintage Theatre’s Board of Directors since 2013.

“I want to have a bumper sticker that says. ‘Got gas. Will work,’ ” she said. “I feel like the border patrol. I do all four sides of the I-25 corridor. I’ll go anywhere.”  

Persoff took seven years away from acting to raise her two sons. And while women are often told the best roles tend to dry up with age, Persoff says instead, “I’ve been lucky. I don’t find that to be true in Denver. The roles are terrific. I’ve been working in a city that is just abounding with fabulous women, and it’s just been a joy to watch this city grow and grow up.”

While presenting the award, Vintage Theatre founder Craig Bond said, “to receive this award is to work with legends of the community.”

Persoff was one of many who took time to honor the late Miners Alley Playhouse Artistic Director Brenda Billings, who died in April of a sudden brain aneurysm. She was known for her motto, “Be Brave.” Said Persoff: Those are not just two words.

“Keep shining,” she told the crowd, “because dreams have no expiration date.” 

Denver Actors Fund going statewide

Other special Henry Awards went to the Denver Actors Fund, which in three years has raised $117,000 to support artists (on stage on off) facing situational medical need. In accepting the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Community Impact Award, President Will Barnette announced the non-profit’s breaking news that it is expanding eligibility to theatre artists statewide.

Denver East’s legendary and recently retired Melody Duggan was named Theatre Educator of the Year.

The evening was again hosted by GerRee Hinshaw and Steve J. Burge and directed by Jim Hunt and Josh Hartwell.

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.  


1-theatre-aspen-season-henry-awardsOUTSTANDING SEASON FOR A THEATRE COMPANY
Theatre Aspen

2-rabbit-hole-playOUTSTANDING PLAY
Rabbit Hole
Vintage Theatre Productions
Bernie Cardell, Director



3-theatre-aspen-musical-henry-awardsOUTSTANDING MUSICAL
Theatre Aspen
Mark Martino, Director; Eric Alsford, Musical Director



4-sarna-lapine-henry-awardsDIRECTION OF A PLAY
Sarna Lapine
Other Desert Cities
Theatre Aspen

5-eric-alsford-5-henry-awardsMUSICAL DIRECTION
Eric Alsford
Theatre Aspen



6-kent-thompson-henry-awardsDIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Kent Thompson
Sweeney Todd
DCPA Theatre Company



7-rembrandyt-room-henry-awardsOUTSTANDING NEW PLAY
The Rembrandt Room
Buntport Theater



8-missy-moore-henry-awardsLEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Missy Moore
Getting Out
The Edge Theater



9-jonathan-farwell-henry-awardsLEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jonathan Farwell
The Outgoing Tide
Bas Bleu Theatre Company


10-linda-mugleston-henry-awardsLEAD ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Linda Mugleston
Sweeney Todd
DCPA Theatre Company


11-jon-peterson-cabaret-henry-awardsLEAD ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Jon Peterson
Theatre Aspen



12-ensemble-rabbit-holeENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
Rabbit Hole
Vintage Theatre Productions



13-maggie-stacy-henry-awardsSUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Maggy Stacy
Rabbit Hole
Vintage Theatre Productions



14-marc-stith-henry-awardsSUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Marc Stith
Rabbit Hole
Vintage Theatre Productions


15-lori-wilner-henry-awardsSUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Lori Wilner
Theatre Aspen


16-steven-sitzman-henry-awardsSUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Steven Sitzman
The Addams Family
Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre



Mark Martino
Theatre Aspen



18-craig-breitenbach-henry-awardsSOUND DESIGN (Larger companies)
Craig Breitenbach
DCPA Theatre Company



19-jonathan-scott-mckean-henry-awardsSOUND DESIGN (Smaller companies)
Jonathan Scott-Mckean
Pump Boys and Dinettes
Miners Alley Playhouse



20-paul-black-henry-awardsLIGHTING DESIGN (Larger companies)
Paul Black
Peter and the Starcatcher
Theatre Aspen



21-shannon-mckinney-henry-awardsLIGHTING DESIGN (Smaller companies)
Shannon McKinney
Local Theatre Company



22-kevin-copenhaver-henry-awardsCOSTUME DESIGN (Larger companies)
Kevin Copenhaver
Sweeney Todd
DCPA Theatre Company



23-cindy-franke-henry-awardsCOSTUME DESIGN (Smaller companies)
Cindy Franke
Ragtime: The Musical
Performance Now



24-jim-kronzer-henry-awardsSCENIC DESIGN (Larger companies)
Jim Kronzer
Sweeney Todd
DCPA Theatre Company



25-michael-r-duran-henry-awardsSCENIC DESIGN (Smaller companies)
Michael R. Duran
The Explorers Club
Lone Tree Arts Center


26-deborah-persoff-henry-awardsLIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Deborah Persoff



Denver Actors Fund



27-melody-duggan-henry-awardsTHEATRE EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
Melody Duggan, Denver East High School


Recent NewsCenter coverage of the Henry Awards: 
Henry Awards welcome Theatre Aspen to the party
DCPA leads hugely expanded pool of 2016 Henry Award nominees
Paige Price: From Broadway to Sex With Strangers
DCPA leads way with 11 2015 Henry Awards