Denver theater producer Robert Garner was a man for all ages

 

Robert S. Garner

By John Moore

To ask Robert Garner, he was about in his mid-20s.

Garner was a legendary theater producer and bon vivant for whom the Garner-Galleria Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex is named. He died Thursday morning (July 19, 2012) at home, no doubt against his will, at the (chronological) age of 80.

“What’s my secret?” he said in a 2007 Denver Post interview: “Two things: Have a little passion about life – and keep your friends young.

“If you get to be 75, and you act 75, and you are only around people who are 75 … then you become 75.”

Denver Center president Randy Weeks described Garner as an entrepreneur and impresario. “Bob’s influence in Broadway touring theater at the Denver Center and around the country will not be forgotten,” Weeks said.

Garner was born on Oct. 29, 1931, in Massachusetts, and moved to Colorado when his Army dad retired here. The young Garner thought only Indians lived here at the time, he said. He graduated in chemistry from the University of Colorado and began his producing career when a 1961 production of “Fiorello” was basically handed to him – and he cleared $10,000.

Over the next 34 years, Garner booked almost everything that played at the Auditorium Theatre (now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House) and later, the Buell Theatre. He brought in acts as diverse as the Vienna Boys Choir, Marcel Marceau, Hal Holbrook and the African Ballet.

Those were star-system days, when big film names routinely performed on Los Angeles stages as well. Garner hooked up with the comparably sized Ahmanson Theatre there and arranged for the stars to test-run their plays here in Denver before friendlier audiences. That four-year arrangement brought Maggie Smith, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston, Carol Channing, Kate Hepburn and dozens more to Denver.

“That was a real boon to us because we got shows nobody else in the country ever saw,” Garner said.

Ray Roderick, who directed “The Taffetas” at the Garner-Galleria, in 2007, said of Garner: “He’s rubbed shoulders with Carol Channing and Kate Hepburn and all these other stars. He is show business.”

Garner joined forces with Denver Post publisher Donald R. Seawell in 1970 as Seawell began building the Denver Performing Arts Complex around the Auditorium Theatre.

“Don called me very early on and asked me to head up his Broadway division,” Garner said. “He was editor of The Post at the time and he had a lot of power, so you knew he was going to do it with or without you. So I thought, ‘What’s the point of being on my own fighting this big arts center when I can throw my weight into it, too? So that’s what I did.”

The only time Garner ever appeared on stage himself was in the ensemble of “Kiss Me, Kate,” a production that starred Marilyn Van Derbur at the old Bonfils Theatre. That was 1959, a year after Van Derbur was crowned Miss America.

“I never, ever had any desire to be on the stage,” he said. “I always wanted to be just  what I was, which was a producer.

Garner retired in 1985, before the theater that now bears his name was opened and independently operated by Rick Seeber as StageWest. A dozen years later, the Denver Center was running the now-Galleria Theater and renamed it for Garner in tribute to his career.

“I always wanted my name up in lights, but I never really thought it would happen,” Garner said.

In 2007, Roderick rallied Garner to participate in his staging of “The Taffetas” in the Garner-Galleria. In the lighthearted 1950s musical, Garner appeared in taped segments as the host of an Indiana  televised musical variety show.

Jenny Schiavone, now director of media relations for Denver International Airport, went to work for the Denver Center when she was 18. “I really found a family there in that group of people, and Bob was patriarch of that found family,” she said. “He loved the opening nights, the cast parties, and he was responsible for a lot of great, fun times.”

Garner grew up in the era of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Frankie Laine, but he loved whatever was new.

“My whole career was about passion.,” he said. “It’s true of anybody who wants to be successful: If you don’t have passion for anything, you have nothing.”

Garner served as an honorary DCTC trustee until his death. He is survived by a sister.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts will host a celebration of Garner’s life at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Seawell Grand Ballroom, 1011 13th St. The event is open to the public but your RSVP is requested at http://www.rememberingbobgarner.com/content/home.html

Note: Garner’s quotes above come from an interview conducted by John Moore in 2007 for a story in The Denver Post. 

 

Jason Henning played Robert Garner in a Curious Theatre tribute to Garner’s career in 2007. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Henry Awards paint the town “Red”

By John Moore

The Henry Awards painted the town “Red” on Monday night, giving the Curious Theatre  Company’s must-see staging seven awards among its eight nominations. The haul included best play, best director (Christy Montour-Larson), supporting actor (Benjamin Bonenfant) and even best ensemble, even though that play is an ensemble of two (Bonenfant and Larry Hecht).

John Logan’s charged dialogue between the manic — and egomaniacal — abstract expressionist Mark Rothko and his young whipping-boy of an assistant (Ken) was the 2010 Tony Award-winner for best play, and Curious proved to be up to the challenge of introducing the work to Denver audiences.

Sean Scrutchins’ win for best actor in ”9 Circles,” about a war vet on trial for heinous crimes committed in Iraq, brought Curious’ haul to eight awards at the Colorado Theatre Guild’s annual celebration of the best theater in the Denver metro area by its member companies.  That represented  a huge reversal from last  year, when Curious was shut out despite eight nominations.

The Arvada Center and Denver Center each won four awards Monday. The Arvada Center is well-known for its professional, Broadway-scale musicals, and its top-flight stagings of “Hairspray,” “The 1940s Radio Hour,” “Chess” and “Ragtime” helped it land the prestigious best-season award, along with plays such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” and a co-production of “Twelfth Night” with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

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Theatre on Broadway to become Matthew Morris hair salon

 Dave Shirley’s YouTube video imbroglio. See news item, below.

By John Moore

Theatre on Broadway, the iconic home for Denver’s former long-running gay theater company Theatre Group, is slated to become the new home of the trendy Matthew Morris hair and skincare salon. The salon will soon be moving from its present location three blocks south to 13 S. Broadway. Construction on the long-dormant TOB home, which shares the corner lot on Ellsworth Avenue behind the hi-dive rock club, is well underway.

Morris has purchased the site from controversial club owner Regas Christou. The grand opening is scheduled for October.

The former Theatre on Broadway is set to become a Matthew Morris hair and skin salon. Design by Studio Collaborative.

Theatre Group died a painful and protracted death after 37 years that began in earnest with the company leaving TOB in May 2007, its landowner claiming the group was $19,000 behind in rent. Eventually, Theatre Group sold its second space at the Phoenix Theatre (which it owned), and a short go as a tenant at what is now Su Teatro’s Denver Civic Theatre ended in 2008 with Theatre Group’s eviction.

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Handicapping the Henrys: Who got snubbed (“Hairspray!”)

 

 

 

By John Moore

There seems to be more grumbling than ever before about this year’s list of Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards nominations, and for some understandable reason — five companies hoarded a combined 78 percent of this year’s noms. The CTG is a member-based, dues-paying service organization, and when only 14 of your 60 members get even a single nod (23 percent), you can bet there’s going to be some pushback.

But c’mon, what is this … Field Day?

To look at the list of 106 nominees (of which I saw 102 first-hand), I’ll just come out and say that I think the 30-plus Henrys judges mostly got it right. Mostly. What they got wrong, they got really wrong, but when it comes to singling out the best of what was staged in metro Denver theater in the past year, we really are a land of haves … and those with widely varying distances yet to go.

I love the Henry Awards. But I’m not here to defend their specific nominations. The goal for any awards program, however it is devised, is to come up with a list that fairly represents the quality of work presented on local stages in the previous year. And an easy case can be made for all 106 nominees. It’s solid.

And yet, every year there are big-name companies that are inexplicably wiped off the Henrys’ nominations map – this year, that’s most evidently the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, the handicapped company PHAMALy and that perpetual Henrys doormat, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The CSF snub particularly stings this year given that “Romeo and Juliet” and “Comedy of Errors” helped make 2011 perhaps the fest’s best season in Boulder since Philip Sneed became producing artistic director in 2006. And for the second straight year, the Henrys gave him nothing for it.

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