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Video, photos: At 40, BDT celebrates its just desserts

by John Moore | Aug 13, 2017
Video by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

The venerable Boulder dinner theatre will soon mark 150 productions after Technicolor bookends of Joseph

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

BDT Stage celebrated its past and looked forward to its future on Monday when the enduring dinner theatre marked its 40th anniversary with a special performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Generations of past and present BDT cast, crew and staff were invited back, along with friends and original investors. Fitting that the title was Joseph: The aerobic Andrew Lloyd Webber dance musical christened the then-named Boulder’s Dinner Theatre back in the Jimmy Carter administration.

BDT Stage. Joseph. 1977 castWhen Joseph closes Sunday (Aug. 19), it will be followed by Rock of Ages, an homage to 1980s big-hair bands. That will mark BDT’s 150th production at 55th and Arapahoe streets in Boulder. Producing Artistic Director Michael J. Duran estimates the company has given 13,000 performances in that time.

(Pictured right: Eleven members of BDT Stage's first production, 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,' in 1977, returned Monday. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

BDT has defied all the industry odds by surviving for four decades while all but one other metro-area dinner theatre (the Adams Mystery Playhouse) has fallen by the wayside. Back in 1977, the cast and creatives weren’t sure BDT would survive its first night.

“It was a disaster,” said Dee Height, one of eight original investor families who put up $17,000 each to buy the land and start the business up in 1977. That’s a total of about $136,0000 in startup money. Crews were still laying down the carpet when it was time to open the doors for opening-night patrons. That first performance did not begin until 10 p.m. as the kitchen struggled to feed the crowd.

The opening cast included Duran in the title role and two others who would go on to become longstanding professional BDT performers: Barb Reeves and John Scott Clough. Although the ensemble, 11 of whom returned for Monday’s party in Boulder, isn’t so sure just how professional that first show was back in the footloose and fancy-free 1970s.

“For one thing, none of us could dance,” said Duran, who would nonetheless go on to a 23-year career as a theatre performer in New York before returning to run BDT in 2003. Duran was a late addition to that first Joseph cast. “He joined us two weeks before opening, and he saved our butts,” said castmate Jim Robb.

So was that first show any good? “It’s all relative,” Duran said with a smile. “It was a small production, but for the very first show at a brand-new dinner theatre in Boulder? It was fantastic.”

BDT Stage. John Moore

The theatre used prerecorded music in its early days, and original investor (and current co-owner) Gene Bolles remembers being rallied to record a small trumpet part for that first show. “Our sound booth was the bathroom,” Bolles said. “So I sat on the toilet with the microphone in front of me, and we did about a hundred takes.”

That first cast ranged in age from 17 to 25. Clough was the youngest.

“We tried our best, but I was 17, and I was doing what 17-year-olds do, which is get into trouble,” said Clough. Two years after Joseph, Duran played Jesus in BDT’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. “On the final night, we put peanut butter on Mike’s crucifix, and he had to sit in it,” Clough said. Duran said he will never forget the night Jesus died with peanut butter in his crotch.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The founder and mastermind of BDT Stage was Ross Haley, who was not at Monday's party in person but was very much present in the thoughts of those gathered. Haley was the theatre director at nearby Boulder High School in 1976, and his production of Jesus Christ Superstar there was so well-received, parents and others encouraged him to found Boulder’s first professional dinner theatre.

“Ross always encouraged us to take it very seriously,” said Reeves. Duran said Haley’s “vision and tenacity really helped keep this thing moving through the years.” Clough, likewise, said Haley “took great pride in this building. This was his baby.

"And we … didn’t as much.”

Clough mentioned a gigantic backstage fake-blood fight that left the men’s dressing room covered in corn syrup and red food coloring. “Ross was not happy,” Clough said with a smile.  

BDT Stage. RagtimeBDT has now presented Joseph three times in its history, and all three Josephs were present Monday: Duran (1977), Scott Beyette (2004) and Jack Barton (2017). Beyette, who has been regularly performing with BDT for nearly 28 years, is now playing Joe’s ageless oldest brother, Reuben. He’s been at BDT so long that Barton remembers seeing him in BDT’s celebrated co-production of Ragtime with the late African-American Shadow Theatre Company (pictured above). He was 13. Barton, not Beyette.

“In fact, I made my parents take me here to see Ragtime for my 13th birthday,” said Barton. “I have wanted to perform here since I was a little kid. That’s why I just feel super lucky to have been a part of this tonight.”

Beyette is one of about a dozen local actors who have essentially performed at BDT for their entire careers. And the ties are multi-generational. The cast of Joseph includes four children whose parents have worked for BDT Stage onstage and off through the years. One of them is Beyette’s daughter Olyvia, who will star in the upcoming production of Rock of Ages.

In the Spotlife: Meet Jack Barton of Joseph

“I truly have been blessed to be able to do what I love to do, and live in this beautiful state, and raise a family,” said Beyette. “It’s been fantastic. Not a single day here has ever felt like work.”

As he addressed the crowd on Monday, Duran acknowledged that many talented BDT performers have gone on to have successful careers in New York and Los Angeles, including Oscar winner Amy Adams, Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford and Tony nominee Beth Malone. “A lot of other people have come to work here and stayed, and we are ever so grateful to them as well,” Duran said.

BDT Stage. Jack Barton. John Moore. The closest BDT ever came to closing was in 2003, when Haley was in ill health and the future of the theatre was uncertain. That’s when Bolles and his wife, Judy, bought the theatre and hired Duran to come home and run it. The Bolleses are the unlikeliest of theatre owners. Gene Bolles is a now-retired military neurosurgeon who worked on soldiers injured in Iraq. He has dedicated more than two decades to providing medical care in dozens of impoverished countries.

Joseph is about dreaming, and I think we’ve all been dreamers, because being in the arts is a dream,” said Judy Bolles.  

Forty years in, Duran said the reason BDT is still here is because “dinner theatre or not, we present some of the best theatre in the area. Our production values are high. The level of our talent is very high. People like working here and want to work here, and our food has gotten so much better.”

Reeves says the impact BDT has had on audiences and the local theatre community is huge. “I can’t tell you the number of people this place has touched,” she said.   

Duran also announced the release of a new book covering the history of the theatre, Remember the Magic, by Brandon Palmer. It is available through the theatre by calling 303-449-6000.

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.

BDT Stage's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Ticket information
Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
• Directed by Matthew D. Peters
• Through Aug. 19
• 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder < MAP IT
• Tickets $35-$55
• For tickets, call 303-449-6000 or go to bdtstage.com


Performance schedule:
• 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7:45 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 1:45 and 7:45 p.m. Sundays (dinner service 90 minutes before).

Photo gallery from Monday's 40th anniversary celebration:

BDT Stage's 40th anniversary

To see more photos, click the forward arrow on the image above. All photos may be downloaded and shared with photo credit. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

1 comment

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  1. louie horvath | Aug 19, 2017

    Although I no longer live in Colorado (California) I so miss you guys. The shows I have seen and the food and service rendered by everyone at BDT has far surpassed other theaters. I now live in Palm Springs, which is very much a theatre town, yet not one place has the dinner/theatre concept. So, Palm Springs is ready, come on in. Last and most important is the prices. RESONABLE, and not price gouging like so many places today.Last show I saw there was FOREVER PLAID. I am going back for me, perhaps 1990 when I was introduced to BDT. You an use my name for whatever you want. And PS, I saw in Washington DC this year, "Crzy Mary Lincoln " a great musical. 

    Louie Horvath

    760-325-6966 

    Leave a comment

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    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has created a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Email him at jmoore@dcpa.org. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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