Broadway series in Denver: There’s a lot to catch if you can

Joey the War Horse, and his human handlers, made an appearance with Denver Center president Randy Weeks at Thursday’s season-announcement celebration. “War Horse” comes to Denver in January 2013. Photo and video by John Moore.

By John Moore

Some years, when it comes to selling whatever New York has to offer cities across America, Denver Center president Randy Weeks must take on the unwilling role of Harold Hill: He’ll sell it, with gusto, a smile and gritted teeth — but some years that’s no easy task.

And other years, “the stars align,” said Weeks, who was positively giddy on Thursday while announcing an extended, expanded 2013-14 season that has a whopping 17 offerings, including just about every major title from the past two Broadway seasons.

 

For those who seek the best of what’s new, the season opens in January with the previously reported, astonishing British epic “War Horse,” which stars a “Lion King”-like, life-sized horse named Joey that requires four humans to operate. Also, the breakout Irish romantic film adaptation “Once,” and, in the latest major coup for the Denver Center, the swashbuckling Peter Pan prequel play, “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

New York producer Nancy Gibbs announces a hometown gift.

 

“Starcatcher” producer Nancy Gibbs (pictured at left), who studied theater under the legendary Harry Schanker at Thomas Jefferson High School and went on to graduate from Colorado College and the University of Northern Colorado, came home Thursday to announce that Denver has been chosen to be the coveted launch city for the “Starcatcher” tour in August 2013. The play just won five Tony Awards.

“It’s magical,” Gibbs said. “I am really thrilled that we are getting to share it with you all.”

With the launch of the first “Book of Mormon” tour now just days away at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the Denver Center can now brag upcoming visits from the three most recent Tony-winning best musicals in the next 12 months, including “Memphis” and “Once.”

For those most drawn to familiar titles, which these days makes up just about everything Broadway has to offer, the 2013-14 slate includes a newfangled, Broadway-bound “Jekyll & Hyde” featuring the Denver return of Constantine Maroulis (“Rock of Ages”) alongside R&B star Deborah Cox.

 

Local actor Stuart Sanks in a “Priscilla”costume. Photo by John Moore.

Popular movies musicalized for the stage include “Once,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “Sister Act.” The only “jukebox” musicals (based on pre-existing pop catalogues) are “Priscilla” (mostly disco and glam radio hits)  and “Million Dollar Quartet,” which draws from songs by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Return engagements (not included in the subscription package) will include ”Chicago,” “Spamalot,” the Blue Man Group, Mary Poppins,” “Evita” “Les Misérables” and the charming Canadian import “Traces.” On Friday, The Denver Post’s Lisa Kennedy got the scoop that “The Book of Mormon:” will return to Denver in October 2013 (tickets go onsale next year).

Every year, Denver Center Attractions and its sister Denver Center Theatre Company share one subscription offering, and next season that will be the theater company’s previously announced world premiere musical staging of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility.”

DCA subscribers also will see “The Doyle and Debbie Show,” an homage/parody of famous Nashville duos, in the cabaret space at the Garner-Galleria Theatre. The 2013-14 season has been dedicated to the namesake of that theater, local longtime Broadway touring producer  Robert Garner, who died two weeks ago at 82.

 

The challenges and opportunities

DCA seasons typically cover a single calendar year. The season announced Thursday extends from January 2013 all the way to May 2014, mostly because, for Weeks to get an early lockdown on “Once” and “Evita” — touring productions that don’t even exist yet — he had to commit them to a subscription package. “We felt fortunate the producers of those two shows were willing to commit so far out,” Weeks said.

The wealth of available material poses both great opportunities and sales challenges for the Denver Center staff. The 11 offerings on the subscription package are up from the more typical seven of last year.  As consumer tendencies continue to quickly evolve away from subscription packages and toward single-show impulse buys, selling an 11-show package will be difficult because that’s asking for an even greater level of subscriber commitment. That’s why you’ll see more “subscription tailoring” than ever before, where buyers will be allowed to buy into a widely varying array of packages ranging from $275-$885, each offering payment installments as low as $36.

Perhaps the single biggest eye-opener on the new season announcement isn’t even a show title. It’s the revealing fact that only one of the DCA’s visiting season offerings will be stopping in Denver for more than two weeks (“Starcatcher,” with three). Long gone are the days when shows like “The Lion King” would stop for 6 to 10 weeks. That’s a reflection of the shaky overall economy and the prevailing belief that no new Broadway shows have the staying power to last in any city for more than a few weeks.  Even the biggest-buzz musical of them all, “The Book of Mormon,” opening Aug. 14, is only stopping here for three weeks. The irony there is “Mormon” could have sold out here for four months or more if given the chance, but tour dates were committed long before the show received 15 Tony Awards and its New York producers fully understood what a runaway hit it had on its hands. It rights an unnecessary wrong that it will return in 2013.

For subscription info, call 303-893-4100, 800-641-1222, go to www.denvercenter.org/bwaysubs or visit the ticket office located in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at Speer Boulevard and Arapahoe Street. Single tickets are not yet available for purchase.

 

Denver Center Attractions’ overall upcoming schedule:

(at Buell Theatre unless noted)

(*Denotes 2013-14 subscription offerings)

 

  • Now through Oct. 14, 2012: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” (Galleria Theatre)
  • Aug. 14-Sept. 2, 2012: “The Book of Mormon” (Ellie Caulkins)
  • Sept. 4-16, 2012: “La Cage Aux Folles”
  • Oct. 10-21, 2012: “Memphis”
  • Nov 23-Dec 24, 2012: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”
  • *Jan. 8-20, 2013: “War Horse”
  • *Jan 29-Feb 10, 2013: “Jekyll & Hyde”
  • *Feb. 26-March 10, 2013” “Catch Me If You Can”
  • *Spring 2013: The Doyle and Debbie Show” (Galleria Theatre)
  • March 19-24, 2013: ”Chicago”
  • March 28-30, 2013: “Spamalot” John Moore’s review
  • *April 5-May 26, 2013: “Sense & Sensibility” (Stage Theatre)
  • April 12-21, 2013: Blue Man Group
  • May 1-5, 2013: Mary Poppins” John Moore’s reviewMay 22-26, 2013: “Les Misérables” John Moore’s review
  • June 25-July 14, 2013: “Traces” (Stage Theatre) Denver Post review
  • *Aug. 15-Sept 1, 2013: “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Ellie Caulkins)
  • *Sept. 3-15, 2013: “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”
  • *Sept. 24-Oct 6, 2013: “Sister Act”
  • October 2013: “The Book of Mormon” returns (Ellie Caulkins)
  • *January 2014: “Evita”
  • *Feb. 25-March 9, 2014: “Million Dollar Quartet”
  • *TBA April through May 4, 2014 “Once”

 

Denver actor Stuart Sanks dons a “Priscilla” dress with Randy Weeks and four “War Horse” actors. Photo by John Moore.

 

Denver Center Attractions’ 2013-14 subscription offerings in greater detail:

(Descriptions provided by the Denver Center)

 

Jan. 8-20, 2013: “War Horse” (Buell Theatre)

Winner of five 2011 Tony Awards, “War Horse” is a remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship. As World War I begins, Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped from England to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home. At its heart are astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, that bring to life breathing, galloping, charging horses strong enough for men to ride. warhorseonstage.com

 

John Moore’s Broadway review of “War Horse”

 

National Theatre of Great Britain production of “War Horse.” Photo courtesy Denver Center.

The most captivating offering of the Broadway season is this harrowing but magically expressed tale of a boy and his horse. Masterfully presented by the National Theatre of Great Britain, “War Horse” is a multimedia marvel that stars a life-size equine made of sticks and leather who delivers one of the most stirring survival stories ever told on a stage.

His name is Joey, and he’s manipulated by three puppeteers — one a visible handler controlling his head and making all the horse sounds; the two others inside.

“War Horse,” based on a children’s book that Steven Spielberg is making into a film, opens wistfully in rural England 1912. Joey is a lost, skittish colt who is taken in by a teenager named Albert who endures all manner of obstacles to keep and raise him, only to lose him to an army officer who enlists him as his “War Horse,” with a course set for France.

That’s a term we’ve all used without much consideration of its origin. Horses have been employed in combat for centuries, of course — and subject to the same danger, exhaustion, starvation and misery as trench soldiers. Joey is trapped in the no-man’s land of the Western Front at the very time in history when armies finally figured out how effectively to combat them: with barbed wire, machine guns and tanks. But Albert embarks on a stirring odyssey to somehow reunite with Joey.

This stunning anti-war parable combines cutting-edge animation, jaw-dropping lighting and innovations in puppetry (developed by Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town) that will redefine live storytelling in much the same way Julie Taymor did with “The Lion King.” But it’s also a throwback to simple storytelling at its most thrilling.

 

Local “War Horse” connections: Angela Reed, who graduated from Ponderosa High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder., plays the lead boy Albert’s mum, alongside her real-life husband Todd Cerveris as his father. National Theatre Conservatory and Glenwood Springs High School grad Mat Hostetler is in the ensemble. 

 

Jan. 29-Feb 10, 2013: “Jekyll & Hyde” (Buell Theatre)

“American Idol” star and Tony Award-nominee Constantine Maroulis joins Grammy Award-nominee Deborah Cox to inject new life into the classic tale of good and evil. After four years on Broadway and multiple worldwide tours, this dark and dangerous love story from Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse returns in a newly re-imagined pre-Broadway production that includes all the classic songs like “This is the Moment,” “A New Life” and “Someone Like You.”

 

Feb. 26-March 10, 2013” “Catch Me If You Can” (Buell Theatre)

Based on the Leonardo DiCaprio/Tom Hanks film and the incredible true story that inspired it. This splashy new Broadway musical tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., a teenager who runs away from home in search of the glamorous life. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination and millions of dollars in forged checks, Frank successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer — living the high life and winning the girl of his dreams. But when Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, Carl chases Frank to the end…and finds something he never expected. CatchMeOnTour.com

 

John Moore’s Broadway review of “Catch Me If You Can” 

Broadway cast of “Catch Me if You Can.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

The stylish and surprisingly fun transformation of the 2002 film to the stage takes the attitude that the attention-starved con man Frank Abagnale Jr. was just a guy putting on a show his whole adult life — so why not present his story on Broadway the same way?

Opening with the airport arrest that ended years of audacious moneymaking schemes, Frank takes a cue from Nicely-Nicely Johnson of “Guys and Dolls” by offering up his life story like a defendant to a jury that’s won over from the start.

“You’re not putting a show on for these people!” protests hard-boiled agent Hanratty (the Tom Hanks role) — but that’s just what he does. It’s all accompanied by a “glamazon” of statuesque dancers and the tuxedoed, 19-piece Frank Abagnale Jr. Players Orchestra.

Set against cool ’60s fashion and mores, the musical takes only a surface stab at exploring the pathological reasons Frank assumed identities as varied as a teacher, doctor, lawyer, pilot and Secret Service agent. The heart instead is the real friendship that develops between cat and mouse — Frank is a perpetual kid; the agent chasing him never got to be a father. Both are lonely.

But mostly “Catch Me If You Can” is an old-fashioned variety show, performed to a swinging score that evokes everything from Dusty Springfield to Aretha Franklin. A major weakness is Frank’s paper-thin romance with nurse Brenda — the role Denver’s Amy Adams originated on film. It’s played here by big-shot Kerry Butler, whose only reason for taking the job must be the knockout number, “Fly Away.”

Former Denver stage favorite Rachel de Benedet plays Frank’s red-hot mama, an elegant French woman who, shall we say, had more than one dance partner. She’s a babe who Agent Hanratty says “gives new meaning to ‘fem fatal!’ “

 

Spring 2013: The Doyle and Debbie Show” (Galleria Theatre)

This new musical features all-original songs simultaneously idolizing and lampooning country music’s tradition of iconic duos and the battle of the sexes that accompany them. Doyle Mayfield, an old-guard country star with a handful of hits back in the 70s and 80s, is reviving his career 30 years, four wives, and three Debbies later. The new Debbie, a single mother with three children, sees this lovable lothario as her last chance to make it big in Nashville – but she also questions hitching her star to this loose cannon. Fresh off an eight-month stop in Chicago.

 

April 5-May 26, 2013: “Sense & Sensibility” (Stage Theatre)

A Denver Center Theatre Company production. Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, opposites in temperament, struggle to find love and happiness in one of literature’s most beloved romances. When half-brother John inherits their father’s estate, the sisters, now virtually penniless, move to a rural cottage to make do as best they can … but not even desperate financial circumstances can keep love at bay. With book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow, music by Neal Hampton and based on the novel by Jane Austen. The director/choreographer is Marcia Milgrom Dodge, whose recent Broadway revival of Ragtime received seven Tony Award nominations. The costume designer is Emilio Sosa of “Project Runway.”

 

Aug 15-Sept 1, 2013: “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Ellie Caulkins)

A mayhem-filled evening of madcap fun. Hailed by The New York Times as “the most exhilarating storytelling on Broadway in decades,” this romp through the Neverland you never knew won five Tony Awards – the most of any play in 2012. It’s based on the best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Return to a time when the world’s most important battle was being fought by a glum orphan boy and his exuberant leader. A dozen actors play more than 100 characters. peterandthestarcatcher.competerandthestarcatcher.com

 

Sept 3-15, 2013: “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” (Buell Theatre)

An international hit with more than 500 dazzling 2011 Tony Award-winning costumes, “Priscilla” features a hit parade of dance-floor favorites including “It’s Raining Men,” “Finally” and “I Will Survive.” This spectacular show tells the uplifting story of a trio of friends on a road trip of a lifetime, who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the middle of the Australian outback.

 

 

Sept 24-Oct 6, 2013: “Sister Act” (Buell Theatre)

Featuring original music by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Little Shop of Horrors”), “Sister Act” tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a wannabe diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a crime and the cops hide her in the last place anyone would think to look—a convent. Under the suspicious watch of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own.

 

January 2014: “Evita” (Buell Theatre)

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical returns. Eva Perón used her beauty and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world — while her greed, outsized ambition and fragile health made her one of the most tragic. Songs include “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying, Adored.” This new production is directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford.

 

Feb 25-March 9, 2014: “Million Dollar Quartet” (Buell Theatre)

Inspired by the true story of the famed recording session that brought together rock  icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time. On Dec. 4, 1956, these four young musicians were gathered together by Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. An irresistible tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations featuring timeless hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more. milliondollarquartetlive.com 

 

April (opening TBA) through May 4, 2014: “Once” (Buell Theatre)

Broadway’s 2012 Tony Award-winning best musical is based on the Academy Award-winning 2006 film. It tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together. Performed by an ensemble cast of actor/musicians. www.oncemusical.comwww.oncemusical.com