Henry Awards welcome Theatre Aspen to the party

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Theatre Aspen’s ‘Cabaret’ is the most-nominated musical of the year in Colorado theatre, with 11 Henry Award nods. The winners will be announced Monday night, July 18.  Photo by Jeremy Swanson.

The Colorado Theatre Guild expanded in 2012 to make companies beyond the metro area eligible for its annual Henry Awards, which celebrate overall excellence by member companies. And ever since, Theatre Aspen Artistic Director Paige Price has crossed her fingers and hoped: “Maybe this will be our year.”

2016 is looking like Theatre Aspen’s year. What with 25 nominations for three of its four offerings last summer: Cabaret, Other Desert Cites and Peter and the Starcatcher.  That’s second only to the 27 nominations for the DCPA Theatre Company.

“I was in a board meeting when we got word of the nominations,” Price said. “I was sitting there counting them up and I couldn’t believe it. I felt like Sally Field. I definitely feel more welcome to the party now.”

Theatre Aspen, located 160 miles southwest of Denver, has been presenting Broadway-quality summer repertory theatre in the idyllic setting of the Rio Grande Park for much of its 33 years, and with a roster of Broadway alumni including Tony Award nominee Beth Malone. But other than a special nod as the state’s outstanding regional theatre company of 2009, Theatre Aspen has yet to win an actual Henry Award.

That seems all but certain to change tonight. The most-nominated musical of the year is Theatre Aspen’s Cabaret, with 11, and the most-honored play is Other Desert Cities, with eight.

“This acknowledgement is nothing short of huge for our entire organization,” Price said. “It’s fun to let people know that we are playing in the same ballpark with the Denver Center. And we have been saying that it in every curtain speech since the nominations came out.”

That Theatre Aspen performs in a tented theatre in a park may give potential audiences the wrong impression about what kind of theatergoing experience they are in for there. “People hear we are in a park, and often they don’t even think we have a roof,” Price said. “But when they walk in, they see that it’s like walking into any studio theatre off-Broadway – except that the walls wobble with the wind.

“What I tell people is that if you could take Broadway and shrink-wrap it – that’s the caliber of theatre we offer.”

Sex With Strangers: Read our profile of Paige Price

The Hurst Theatre, with a capacity of less than 200, makes for an unlikely home for Broadway musicals and intense dramas. Audiences experience stories in extreme close-up and with great emotional immediacy.

“It’s really in-your-face theatre,” Price said, “and our audiences respond to that.”

While Cabaret has been around for nearly 40 years, Theatre Aspen presented the recent Broadway revival that Price says is much darker and deeper than people remember. And Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities is a brutal family drama that centers on a daughter who returns home with news she is publishing a divisive family memoir focusing on the suicide of her late brother.

“I think Other Desert Cities really spoke to the people of this community,” Price said. “It was both the polarity of political views here, combined with the very real problem of suicide in mountain towns. I know some of our patrons were uncomfortable – which is a good thing.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

2016 was not only a transformational year for Price as Theatre Aspen’s Artistic Director but also as an actor herself. Price has several Broadway credits but had not performed in eight years when she was cast in Curious Theatre’s Denver staging of Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers. That’s a two-person play for which Price and Michael Kingsbaker earned a Henry Award nomination as Outstanding Ensemble. And Price has the DCPA Theatre Company’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s world-premiere play The Nest to thank for it.

“While I was watching that play at the Denver Center, I had an epiphany,” she said. “I was seeing all those wonderful actors just going at it with all they had, and I said to myself, ‘This is exactly what I’ve been missing in my life.’ Sometimes you just have to jump off a new cliff, and after eight years of not doing that, it was important for me to tap into the part of me that makes me click as an artist.”

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Theatre Aspen’s ‘Other Desert Cities’ is the most-nominated play of the year, with eight  Henry Award nods. Photo by Jeremy Swanson.

Here’s more of our conversation with Paige Price: 

John Moore: When did you start to sense things were changing as far as the outside perception of Theatre Aspen?

Paige Price: We didn’t really hit our stride until we decided to do Les Misérables in 2013. That was a seminal year for us. The Broadway cast was something like 28, and we were given the opportunity to explore how it might look in a much more intimate setting, with a cast of only 18. Until then, we had been doing the kind of shows you would expect for the size and scope of the theatre we are in. But with Les Misérables, the proximity to the actors delighted our audiences.

John Moore: What impression do you hope your 25 Henry Award nominations will have, both on Denver actors and audiences?

Paige Price: I hope the actors in Denver will be more interested in coming up here and working. And for potential audiences, we have added more matinees to make it easier for people in Denver to make a day trip and still get home at a reasonable hour.

John Moore: So you also have been nominated for your performance in Sex with Strangers at Curious Theatre. It’s been an ongoing controversy within the Henrys as to whether two people should constitute a true ensemble. What are your thoughts on that issue?

Paige Price: I thought it was an interesting and flattering way of looking at that show because I don’t think one person works without the other. I don’t know. I think you could make the case that every show is an ensemble effort. But that’s the judges’ perview.  

John Moore: What does Theatre Aspen have in store for the audience at Monday’s Henry Awards?

Paige Price: Jon Peterson will be performing a song from Cabaret. It will be a great way to underscore what we do here at Theatre Aspen, and give people a taste of the quality of the actors who come and perform for us. I am really looking forward to it. Feeling like we are part of the larger community is very important for us.

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.

Theatre Aspen’s 2016 Henry Award nominations:
Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company

Other Desert Cities
Outstanding Production of a Play
Outstanding Direction of a Play: Sarna Lapine
Outstanding Ensemble Performance
Outstanding Actress in a Play: Lori Wilner
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: Curran Connor, Jack Wetherall
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play: Peggy J. Scott
Outstanding Scenic Design: Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams

Cabaret
Outstanding Production of a Musical
Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Mark Martino
Outstanding Musical Direction: Eric Alsford
Outstanding Choreography: Mark Martino
Outstanding Ensemble Performance
Outstanding Actor in a Musical: Jon Peterson
Outstanding Actress in a Musical: Kirsten Wyatt
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Richard Vida
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Lori Wilner
Outstanding Lighting Design: Paul Black
Outstanding Sound Design: David Thomas

Peter and the Starcatcher
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Michelle Coben
Outstanding Costume Design: Annabel Reader
Outstanding Lighting Design: Paul Black
Outstanding Scenic Design: Paul Black
Outstanding Sound Design: David Thomas

2016 Henry Awards: Ticket information
6 p.m. Monday, July 18
PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Avenue, Parker, MAP IT
Tickets: $23 for CTG members, $30 non-members or $50 VIP. Tickets are available at  parkerarts.org, or by calling 303-805-6800. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door for $35

Recent NewsCenter coverage of the Henry Awards: 
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