The online ‘Miscast 2014 Auction’: Bid now!

 

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As the countdown to “Miscast 2014” enters its final week, the Denver Actors Fund is tickled to introduce the 2014 Miscast Auction: Services provided by artists as they are “cast” in real life.

Many of our most accomplished actors and artists have off-stage careers that call upon a wide variety of real-world skills. Some have kindly agreed to donate their time and talents to help raise funds for the Denver Actors Fund. Check out what they have to offer here, and then bid online by using our public Google doc here.

The bidding will continue online until 3p.m. Sept. 29. It will then continue and culminate at “Miscast 2014” on Sept. 29 at the Aurora Fox Theatre.

“Miscast 2014″ is an opportunity for members of the local theatre community to sing songs and act out scenes they would never … ever! … get cast to perform on any legitimate stage. This popular tradition dates back a decade to its origination by the late Next Stage Theatre Company.

For more information on Miscast 2014, click here

Tickets for “Miscast” are just $10 and are available now by clicking here, or call 303-739-1970.

MISCAST 2014

 

HERE ARE THE SERVICES UP FOR AUCTION.

TO BID, ADD YOUR OFFER TO THIS PUBLIC GOOGLE DOC

 

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Photos: My night at Curious Theatre’s ‘Rancho Mirage’

To see caption information on any photo above, or to see the gallery on a mobile phone, click here. (It will be on the lower-left corner.) Or just click “show info” on any photo.

By John Moore
Nov. 12, 2013

Opening No 131: Curious Theatre’s “Rancho Mirage”: Colorado native Steven Dietz’s latest play continues Curious’ entire season of evident if perhaps unintentional looks at dysfunctional family relationships. Here, six longtime “friends” (?) gather for one final dinner party. The evening unfolds with comic surprises, alarming secrets and near-farcical bombshells. Also featuring Erik Sandvold, Emily Paton Davies, C. Kelly Leo, David Russell, Karen Slack and Devon James. Directed by Christopher Leo. Dietz is now the most produced playwright in Curious history. Dietz also wrote “Jackie & Me,” which will be performed by the Denver Center Theatre Company, opening Nov. 15. “Rancho” showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 7 at 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524 or Curious’ web page. Thanks: Sean Cummings, Kate Marie.

 

OPENING 131
“It’s been a year … did you miss me, Denver?” “Rancho Mirage” marks oft-honored freakyman actor Bill Hahn’s return to the stage since last appearing at Curious in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” Here, he plays a freakily normal-seeming suburban husband. Which, for Bill, is, you know … freaky.

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How you can donate to the Denver Actors Fund

The new Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in sudden medical need. To donate to the Denver Actors Fund, please go here (with our humble thanks):

Pump and Dump: Moms, comedy and cocktails

Three funny Denver  moms (from left, Karen Slack, Shayna Ferm and Tracey Tee) host a monthly comedy show by moms for moms called "Pump and Dump" at the bar Local 46. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

Three funny Denver moms (from left, Karen Slack, Shayna Ferm and Tracey Tee) host a monthly comedy show for moms called the “Pump and Dump” at the bar Local 46 in northwest Denver. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

By John Moore
Feb. 22, 2013

The Pump and Dump is a new monthly “parentally incorrect” live comedy talk show where moms dish the diaper-doo … and the men? Well, the lady with the mic playfully refers to the few outnumbered guys hanging awkwardly near the back as “the mother (bleepers). She’s not so much being cruel as … literal. After all, if it weren’t for these (and other) husbands and fathers, none of the women here would even be mothers. And almost all of them are.

This is a freelance story I wrote to lead Friday’s Denver Post entertainment section. Click here to read the whole thing, and to find information about Wednesday’s next gathering of the Pump and Dump.

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Photo series: “It’s Opening Night in Colorado Theater”: To see my ongoing gallery featuring one intimate, iconic snapshot from more than 30 opening nights (and counting), click here.

2013 theater photo series: It’s Opening Night in Colorado

By John Moore
Jan. 1, 2014

Welcome to my 2013 labor-of-love photo series bringing you iconic snapshots from behind the scenes on opening nights in Colorado theater. This series includes one representative shot from 151 of the performances we saw 2013. The intent was to allow the reader a window into a part of the creative process they are not often allowed to witness. The result was awide swath of public and private moments backstage, onstage and outside of the stage entirely. In addition to this primary series, we dedicated a gallery of outtakes to most every production we visited as well. All photos by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. To inquire about reprints, email culturewestjohn@gmail.com.

Most recent entry:

OPENING 151
At the end of their final performance last night, it was only fitting that, from left, Scott Koop, Alex Crawford, Amie Rau, Johnette Toye, Annie Dwyer, Rory Pierce, T.J. Mullin (and, unseen, musicians Randy Johnson and Eric Weinstein) had no choice but to stand silently while the overflow cheering crowd stood for several minutes  thanking them not just for an evening of entertainment, but for a quarter century of laughs, songs, terrible puns  and heart-tugging moments.

Opening No. 151: Heritage Square Music Hall’s “Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Goodbye”: It seems only appropriate that the final entry in our “opening nights” photo series was, in fact, a closing night. And what a closing night it was for the Heritage Square Music Hall: A New Year’s Eve celebration, followed by a midnight toast, live band and dancing into the wee hours. For this wasn’t just the end of a show for the Golden institution. That was closing night … period. And not just for T.J. Mullin and his venerable cadre of triple-threat performers. No, this was the end of the kind of entertainment Heritage Square has been providing audiences since Mullin bought the Heritage Square Music Hall from the legendary Bill Oakley in 1988. The Music Hall stopped being an old-fashioned house of melodrama long ago. It evolved into a place that offered blue-collar, comfortable, throwback fun. Clean, family entertainment (the hardest kind of comedy to pull off) that was both ridiculous and impeccably delivered at once. The Music Hall became best-known for its “Loud” shows, a series of pop radio hits performed by a cast that never got the credit it deserved for being among the most talented performers on any Denver stage. That final cast was Alex Crawford, Johnette Toye, Annie Dwyer, Rory Pierce and T.J. Mullin, with musicians Randy Johnson, Eric Weinstein and Crawford, with help from the booth from Scott Koop and Amie Rau. Merry Christmas indeed, Heritage Square Music Hall. And to all of you: Goodbye. Until we see you again. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Connie Helsley. Look for a full photo gallery from the final night in the coming days, as well as a video podcast that will include cast and audience interviews, and some performance highlights.

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Previous entries:

OPENING 148

Opening No. 150: Vintage Theatre’s “Young Frankenstein”: The final opening night of our 2013 series has Mark Shoney jumping for joy. Actually Shonsey, who plays Igor, was pumping himself up during warmups for Friday’s opening-night performance in Aurora. This wickedly inspired re-imagining of the classic Mel Brooks movie follows young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronkensteen!”) as he attempts to create a monster, just like his uncle Victor – but not without comic complications. The brains behind the laughter is the mad genius himself – Brooks wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the book. This production is the first since renovations to the Vintage Theatre stage that lowered the playing area, allowing for greater vertical playing space. There is also increased wing space that allows for larger sets and larger live orchestras. Musical director Hunter Hall sports a merry band of 11 for “Young Frankenstein.” Starring Seth Maisel (Frederick Frankenstein), Mark Shonsey (Igor), Kristi Siedow-Thompson (Inga), Mike Keinker (The Monster), Shahara Ostrand (Elizabeth), Barbara Porecca (Frau Blucher), Patrick Brownson (Hans Kemp), Chris Gallegos (Victor), Richard-Curtis Simpson (Harold the Hermit) and Zach Nick (Ziggy), with an ensemble of Matt Cantwell, Matt Davis, Steffan Scrogan, David Ballew, Teig Stanley, Preston Britton, Kathi Wood, Kaitlyn Althoff, Bianca Hinchley and Nicole Giordano. Directed by Deb Flomberg. The show plays through Feb. 2. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays at 1468 Dayton St., Aurora, 303-839-1361 or vintage’s home page . Photo by John Moore for CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Aran Peters, Deb Persoff and Craig Bond.

 

OPENING 149

Opening No. 149: Starkey Theatrix’s “Home for the Holidays 2013″: For theater audiences, and the actors who perform it, a play or musical is an everyday, scheduled, temporary escape. But there are days when there is no escape from the unexpected barbarities the real world has been visiting upon Colorado with cruel regularity over the years: Chuck E. Cheese. Columbine. Platte Canyon. Aurora Century Cinemas. Multiple award-winning actor Margie Lamb (“Next to Normal”) sang and danced in the opening performance of Starkey Theatrix’s “Home for the Holidays 2013″ in Lone Tree on Thursday night. Now just try to imagine her horror when, at 12:36 p.m. the next afternoon, she received the text pictured above from her son, Blake. He’s a junior at Arapahoe High School. That text came in just a few minutes after fellow Arapahoe student Karl Pierson allegedly sought revenge against a teacher by opening fire with a shotgun at the school before taking his own life, police believe. What does a son do in those first few moments of inescapable, indescribable panic? Blake took out his phone and wrote his mom to make sure his parents knew, no matter what might happen next, that he loves them. Lamb immediately rushed from her downtown job to the school in Littleton, where she was reunited with her son, who by then was safe. Together, they became part of the lockdown that kept them both at the school for several more hours. And then, because the clock never stops, there was another show scheduled for Lamb to perform that night. And Lamb, being the pro that she is, went on. The show is a talent-laden bouquet to family audiences, a high-energy trifle meant to lift the community’s spirits during the holiday season. So what better way to stand up to violence and fear than to sing and dance? The musical revue offers some of the most popular holiday music from the past and present, much of it recast with cleverly altered lyrics to suit any given situation. And a wide variety of dancing styles, including gymnastics and a pulse-racing break-dance segment. The narrator is an elf played by Sarah Rex, alongside a deep ensemble made up of some big names in the local theater community including Lamb, Kenny Moten, Randy St. Pierre, Stephen Bertles, the very busy young Alejandro Roldan (“In the Heights” and “Next to Normal”) and Starkey’s founders, Chris Starkey and Ronni Gallup. The ensemble includes Rae Klapperich (who made the more than 100 costumes with her mother, Laurie Klapperich), Wyatt Baier, Hula-Hooper extraordinaire Ambrosia Brady, Olyvia Beyette, Cole Emerine, Erica Lloyd, Britni Girard, Jennifer Lynne Jorgensen, Anne Terze-Schwartz, Kristi Vogel and Tess Williams. In addition, there are special appearances by — I kid you not — members of the Denver Broncos Stampede Drumline, a competitive jump-roping team called the Jumping Eagles, and a dance company called Hip Hop Theatre. Not to mention 14 children and a live orchestra of six. Directed by Paul Dwyer, best known from his days as an actor at the now-closed Country Dinner Playhouse. The music director is Trent Hines; the Choreographers are Matthew D. Peters and John Gilette. Modifications have been made to make this show more accessible to individuals on the autism spectrum, who have learning disabilities or a variety of sensitivities. The show ran from through Dec. 22 at the Lone Tree Arts Center, 10075 Commons St. That’s just west of Interstate 25 and Lincoln Avenue, 720-509-1000, or go to Lone Tree’s home page. Thanks: Heidi Echtenkamp.

 

OPENING 148
At its best, live theater in schools empowers young student performers with self-confidence and a sense of both camaraderie and shared accomplishment. At any level, live theater at its best moves audiences … and these two young audience members were clearly moved to, well, move during the Willow Creek Elementary School’s musical, “Dear Edwina Junior.”

Opening No. 148: Willow Creek Elementary School’s “Dear Edwina Junior”: This middle-school fave follows the adventures of plucky advice-giver Edwina Spoonapple as she directs the neighborhood kids in a series of production numbers as part of the latest edition of her weekly “Advice-A-Palooza” extravaganza. Written in the episodic style of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Dear Edwina Junior” takes turns showcasing different members of its young cast. In the case of the fifth-grade musical at Willow Creek Elementary School, one of those cast members was my nephew, Aiden, who played a vampire named Frankenguest. It must be in the (vampire) blood. Aiden his made his stage debut with the school’s “Madd Hatters” group two days shy of his 11th birthday.

 

OPENING 147Young Catamounts cast member Quinn Hirschland jumps for joy – and casts a long shadow – during a pre-show rehearsal for Feed.”

Opening No. 147: The Catamounts’ “Feed: Short and Sweet”: Boulder’s The Catamounts performance collective reference food in their slogan: “Theatre for the Adventurous Palate.” So it’s feeding, I mean fitting, that Amanda Berg Wilson’s young team has turned its unique “Feed” series into its signature offering. “Feed” offers audiences professional storytelling paired with specialty beer and locally sourced food. In this case: A roster of Sanitas beers paired with hand-crafted desserts from Kim and Jake’s Cakes; Sweet Cow Ice Cream; and pastry chefs Dorian O’Connell and Kathy Moore.) They perform while you nosh in the back brewing room at Sanita’s Brewing Company. The food and the theater fare serve as equal partners in creating a cohesive narrative here. The common ingredient for this round of stories: Each evokes sweet moments that arise from The depths of the coldest and hardest times of year, when the days are shortest and challenges the biggest. The Catamounts’ aforementioned Amanda Berg Wilson, Joan Bruemmer-Holden, McPherson Horle and Jeremy Make are joined by guest storytellers Heather Grimes (from Boulder’s “Truth Be Told” story slam) and a boy named Quinn HIrschland to perform a mix of monologues, adapted short stories and real stories from Boulder’s recent floods. There’s some A.A. Milne (“A House is built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore”) in there, with a taste of former Colorado Mines engineering student turned celebrated fiction writer George Saunders (“Tenth of December.”) A second “Feed” has been scheduled to accommodate demand at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m. at Sanitas, 3550 Frontier Ave. (off Foothills Parkway and Pearl Street). Tickets are $30. Call 720-468-0487 or go to The Catamounts’ home page.

 

OPENING 146
Introducing one of the lesser-known Knights of the Round Table: Sir Fabio. Scott Severtson, who’s not normally this … maned … plays Sir Dennis, a k a Galahad.

Opening No. 146: Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “Monty Python’s Spamalot”: Monty Python has come to Boulder to taunt poor King Arthur, the principled if idiotic leader of the quest for the Holy Grail. Why God the all-knowing has misplaced a cup is anyone’s guess. “Spamalot,” the Tony Award-winning best musical of 2005, lovingly rips off the beloved, warped source film, with its full allotment of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and that one snickeringly legless fightin’ knight. While the plot loosely follows the same course of events as the film, the stage equivalent is very much its own sacrilegious thing, so do not come expecting a carbon copy. We open in Finland, after all. I mean, this is a bona fide Broadway musical, so it’s got to have some actual women too. And here those women are Laker Girls. For real. Starring Wayne Kennedy as the utterly guileless King Arthur, with Alicia Dunfee as his Lady of the Lake. The ensemble includes Brett Ambler, Scott Beyette, Brian Cronin, Barrett Harper, Jessica Hindsley, Bob Hoppe, Brian Jackson, Norrell Moore, Brian Norber, Joey Revier, Scott Severtson, Burke Walton, Tracy Warren, Tracey Zimmerman and … STG … Jerry Lewis (the real Jerry Lewis) as the Voice of God. Directed by Piper Lindsay Arpan, who appeared in the Broadway production of “Spamalot.” Showtimes: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7:45 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 1:30 and 7:45 p.m. Sundays (dinner service 90 minutes before) through March 1 at 5501 Arapahoe Ave., 303-449-6000 or BDT’s home page Thanks: Michael J. Duran, Seamus McDonough, cast and crew.

 

OPENING 145
Noal Blessing, left, and Everett Ediger show off their varying flying machines backstage on opening night. Noal sports a Lego spaceship; Everett sends his paper airplane aloft just as the shutter is snapped. Noal, who has Spastic Cerebral Palsy and a progressive hearing deficit, and Everett, who has Spina Bifida, play the sons of George Bailey. The Phamaly Theatre Company prides itself on adding new levels of complexity and meaning to any production it takes on by virtue of the evident disabilities its actors incorporate into their stage characters. So what we have here is a George Bailey driven to the brink of suicide, only here he’s leaving behind four handicapped kids, two of them young boys in wheelchairs. That certainly adds layers to the emotion-laden issue of suicide. There are those who intractably believe that any act of suicide, for any reason, is inherently selfish and/or sinful. So the very idea of George leaving a wife behind to care for four (adorable) handicapped children here no doubt makes actor Jeremy Palmer’s challenge in playing him sympathetically that much more difficult. But young Jeremy is up to the task. It should be noted that directors Steve Wilson and Bryce Russell Alexander do not have Palmer utter the second half of Jimmy Stewart’s most chilling line of the famous source movie, which he blurts when George is at the depth of his anger and despair: “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?”

Opening No. 145: Phamaly Theatre Company’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”: This is the acclaimed local handicapped theatre company’s first-ever holiday presentation. The story of George Bailey and his not-so-wonderful life in Bedford Falls (he thinks) remains a timeless fable of dreams, disillusionment and, ultimately, the power of love. The cast includes Jeremy Palmer (George Bailey), Lyndsay Palmer (Mary Bailey), Trenton Schindele (Clarence), Michael Leopard (Mr. Potter) and an ensemble that includes Daniel Traylor, David Wright, Lucy Roucis, Edward Blackshere, Ashley Kelashian, Jaime Lewis, Twanna Latrice Hill, Kim Jackson, Cassie Ferro, Amber Marsh, Tammy Davison, Noal Blessing, Everett Ediger, Lily Blessing, Harper Ediger, Shannon Wilson, Alicia Young, Eric Richerson and Edric Richerson. Co-directed by Steve Wilson and Bryce Alexander. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; plus 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16 and Thursday, Dec. 19. Through Dec. 22 at the Aurora Fox, 9900 E. Colfax Ave., 303-575-0005 or phamaly’s home page. Thanks: Gloria Shanstrom, Chris Silberman, Grace Hartke and Danielle Rankin.

 

OPENING 144
Pssst …. Look who’s REALLY playing the Baby Jesus bundle of joy in Su Teatro’s holiday pastoral? Yes … It’s Minnie Ratón! I think that kid’s got a future in show biz. That’s Jessica Portillo as Proud Mary.

Opening No. 144: Su Teatro’s “La Pastorela”: “The Shepherd’s Play” recounts the epic battle between the dark angel Luzbel (Jesse Ogas and minions) and the sword-swinging San Miguel (Amy Luna). Luis Valdez’s retelling of this centuries-old folktale is a family friendly comedy that follows the trek of humble shepherds as they encounter the Angel of the Lord, who announces the birth of the Redeemer in Bethlehem. Embarking on their spiritual journey in search of the Holy Child, the scruffy shepherds find themselves beset by the demonic followers of Lucifer and Satan, who waylay them with obstacles born of their own human frailties. This adaptation is no sleepy drummer-boy version of the Nativity: it is a pageant of passion, excitement, action, adventure, music and comedy. Valdez, considered “the father of Chicano theatre,” attended Saturday’s performance. It was`his first visit to Su Teatro, though his brother, Daniel, has contributed original music for Su Teatro productions for years. Daniel is the music director of “La Pastorela.” He is in residence at Su Teatro for the next two years, to develop new work with artistic director Anthony J. Garcia as part of a two-year innovation grant from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. In the fields of rural California, without financial backing and using farm laborers as actors, a 25-year-old Luis Valdez singlehandedly created a movement that has since become international in scope. “La Pastorela” is also performed as part of the St. Cajetan’s Reunification Project, an annual event in which Su Teatro and the community recognize the Chicano residential community that was displaced in 1972 for Auraria to be built. Also featuring Lorenzo Gonzales, Charlie Romero, Jaycee Sanchez, an ensemble of dozens and a live band of six. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees (Dec. 15 is reserved solely for AARP members and their families). Through Dec. 22 At the Su Teatro Performing Arts Center, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-296-0219 or su teatro’s home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Mica Garcia de Benavidez.

 

OPENING 142
You know what I was thinking before the opening performance of “A Christmas Carol”? It’s too bad these kid actors are so darned shy. Clockwise from center, that’s Max Raabe (nephew, I found out last night, of longtime Denver Post reporter Steve Raabe),Sam Modesitt, Edwin Harris and Connor Nguyen Erickson

Opening No. 143: Denver Center Theatre Company’s “A Christmas Carol”: The Denver Center Theatre Company’s holiday tradition turns 21 this year with a return to its opulent musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. Twenty-one? That’s older than, like, every kid in this picture combined. The story, of course, traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s overnight journey to redemption. This timeless tale illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations. Again starring Philip Pleasants as Scrooge, with Phamaly Theatre Company’s Leonard E. Barrett as the Ghost of Christmas Present, John Hutton as Marley, Jeff Cribbs as Cratchit, Stephanie Cozart as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Douglas Harmsen as Fred, M. Scott McLean as Young Ebenezer, Michael Fitzpatrick as Fezziwig, Leslie O’Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig, Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Cratchit and Charlie Korman as Tiny Tim. (Check out our short video interview with Charlie here. It’s worth the two minutes, I promise). They are backed by a huge ensemble that includes Colin Alexander, Benjamin Bonenfant, Michael Bouchard, Kathleen M. Brady, Courtney Capek, Jenn Miller Cribbs, Connor Nguyen Erickson, Michael Gaessler, Tanner Gardner, Edwin Harris, Gabe Koskinen-Sansone, Kyra Lindsay, Amelia Modesitt, Sam Modesitt, Gabriel Morales-Gonzalez, Tricia Moreland, Mackenzie Paulsen, Jeffrey Roark, Christine Rowan, Thomas Russo, Maggie Sczekan, Lauren Shealy, Jake Walker and Christopher Wells. Showtimes: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Also: 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 24. No performance on Wednesday, Dec. 25. No evening performance on Sunday, Dec. 29. At the Stage Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or the denver center’s home page

 

OVER THE TAVERN
Bas Bleu Theatre co-founder Wendy Ishii, right, greets the cast in the dressing room before they face their first audience, a sold-out house in Fort Collins. From left, Thomas Borrillo, Billy Dean Allen and Ailie Holland.

Opening No. 142: Bas Bleu Theatre’s “Over the Tavern”: This bittersweet period comedy looks back at family living over a blue-collar bar in 1959. Four children are caught between the claustrophobic authoritarianism of the Roman Catholic Church and an emotionally abusive father. Only their mother keeps this family afloat. At the center of the piece is precocious 12-year-old rebel named Rudy, who goes knuckle-to ruler-with his formidable teacher, Sister Clarissa, in the questioning of his beliefs. The cast features Thomas Borrillo as Chet (revisiting the bad-dad role he played at the Arvada Center in 2006) Ailee Holland as embattled wife Ellen and Deb Note-Farwell as old-school nun Sister Clarissa, a character who bears a striking resemblance to battleaxe Sister Aloysius in “Doubt.” Director Jonathan Farwell (he won the recent Henry Award for his performance in “Amadeus”) has gathered some fine teen and teen(ish) actors in August Slaughter (perhaps the greatest not-even-fake stage name in stage history), Billy Dean Allen as Georgie, Miles Chandler Horne as Eddie and Erin Johnson as Annie. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 5 at 401 Pine St., Fort Collins, 970-498-8949 or bas bleu’s home page. Thanks: Wendy Ishii, Tricia Navarre and Amy Mills. More “Over the Tavern” photos will be posted in the coming days.

 

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Among this lovely crowd of sock-puppets and do-gooders are “Balls” cast members GerRee Hinshaw, Melanie Owen Padilla, Mare Trevathan and Jim Ruberto, as well as staff members from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, including executive director Erin Jemison and program manager Karen Moldovan.

Opening No. 141: “Balls V! A Holiday Spectacular”: For the fifth straight year, a trio of “Balls Babes” and a standing bass player joined forces to present a rollicking benefit variety show that included audience sock puppet sing-alongs, spontaneous haikus and worthless prizes. “Balls” is slightly bonkers, mostly heartwarming with an emphasis on fun. It played Dec. 1 and 2 this year at Lannie’s ClockTower Cabaret. It again starred GerRee Hinshaw (host of The Bug Theatre’s “Freak Train”), Melanie Owen Padilla (of the Cedar Avenue Blues Band) and local actor Mare Trevathan of Boulder’s Local Theatre Company. Musical accompaniment by Jim Ruberto. Rotating special guests included John Common and Jess DeNicola, Lannie’s emcee Naughty Pierre, comedian Matt Monroe, singing comedian Shayna Ferm and juggler Reid Belstock. This year, proceeds went to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a non-profit promoting safety, justice and healing for survivors of sexual violence. If you missed this year’s “Balls,” you can still make a donation to CCASA here.

 

OPENING 139

Opening No. 140: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s “The SantaLand Diaries”: National Theatre Conservatory graduate and Wheat Ridge native Matt Zambrano has constructed a dressing-room tribute to all of the recent Denver actors who have played Crumpet before him. That’s Geoff Kent’s head on the golden reindeer, and a Bille Holiday-ish Gary Culig with an elfin Bernie Cardell atop the clock radio (surrounded by, you know, Merlins and action figures). Zambrano is donning the candy-cane tights for a second straight holiday season telling David Sedaris’ real-life story of working as an elf in the New York Macy’s SantaLand display. Kent preceded Zambrano for three Decembers at the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company; Culig played the caustic elf for 10 straight years at the Vintage Theatre; and Cardell starred for Vintage Theatre. This staging is a co-production with Denver Center Attractions, which is presenting the show in its Garner-Galleria cabaret bar. Directed by Stephen Weitz. Contains adult subject matter and explicit language. Photo by John Moore for CultureWest.Org. (Look for a full, dedicated gallery of “SantaLand” opening-night photos to come). Thanks: Heidi Bosk, Anja Hose Jess Buttery and Maxie Beth Bilyeu. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Tuesdays; also 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. No performances on Wednesdays. No performance on Tuesday, Dec. 3. At the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or the Denver Center’s ticketing page

 

OPENING 138

Opening No. 139: Arvada Center’s “A Christmas Carol”: Emily Ann Luhrs accepted two marriage proposals on Tuesday. First, as herself, she agreed to marry longtime boyfriend and “A Christmas Carol” castmate Ben Dicke, mutton chops and all. Ben (star of the self-produced “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson last year at the Aurora Fox), presented the ring at a private dinner before last night’s opening performance. Just an hour or so later, Emily, playing a character named Emily (!), accepted another marriage proposal from young Ebeneezer Scrooge. One not being played by Ben Dicke. Nervy! (In her defense, she does give THAT ring back.) The Arvada Center’s version of “A Christmas Carol,” back after a year off, is the 1994 musical adaptation of Dickens’ classic story, written by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, featuring music by Alan Menken (Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”). The cast features Richard White as Ebenezer Scrooge — he was the voice of Gaston in the “Beauty and the Beast” animated film), Cole Burden (Bob Cratchit), Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck (Ghost of Christmas Future), Megan Van De Hey (Ghost of Christmas Past), Stephen Day (Ghost of Christmas Present) and Brad Nacht (Jacob Marley). The ensemble members also include Joanie Brosseau-Beyette, Stephen Cerf, Rob Costigan, Jennifer DeDominici, Maddie Franke, Kaden Hinkle, Tim Howard, Hannah Katz, Charla Mason, David Miller, Julia Perrotta, Katie Phipps, Gregory Price, Parker Redford, Vincent Rodriguez, Mark Rubald, Robert Michael Sanders, Nate Patrick Siebert, Jacob Lewis Smith, Ron Tal, Rachel Turner, Kira Vuolo and Sharon Kay White. Directed by Gavin Mayer. Showtimes through Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1. No performance on Thanksgiving (Nov. 28). At 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., 720-898-7200 or the Arvada Center’s home page. Thanks: Melanie Mayner, Rod Lansberry, Pat Payne, Lisa Cook, Lisa Kurtz, cast and crew.

OPENING 137

 

Opening No. 138: Equinox Theatre Company’s “Carrie: The Musical:” This musical takes a legit stab at adapting Stephen King’s novel for the musical stage. Carrie White is a misfit. At school, she’s an outcast who’s bullied by the popular crowd, and virtually invisible to everyone else. At home, she’s at the mercy of her wacko, overprotective mother. But Carrie has just discovered she’s got a special power, and if pushed too far, she’s not afraid to use it… And you already know she does: When Carrie is humiliated at the prom, she wreaks havoc on everyone and everything in her path. Audiences should know that unlike recent stagings of “Night of the Living Dead” and “Evil Dead” at the Bug Theatre, “Carrie” is not a campy satire. It is written very much in the vein of traditional Broadway fare. “Carrie” stars Haley DiVirgilio, Terra Salazar, Shahara Ray, Dana Hart Lubeck, Devin Bustamante and Ember Everett; and features Chris Arneson, Joseph Graves, Savannah Lake, Chelsea Winslow, Ashley Brown, Taylor Sommer, Chris Riney, James L. Crapes and Zach Nick. Directed by Colin Roybal and Hunter Hall. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 30 at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo St., 720-984-0781 or equinox’s home page. Thanks: Lauren Meyer, Deb Flomberg, Leticia Bisgard, cast and crew.

 

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Opening No. 137: Midtown Arts Center’s “Les Misérables”: This production closed on Saturday night, but the buzz on it was so strong all the way down from Fort Collins, I wanted to see it — and represent it in our photo series — before it was too late. And it lived up to its billing. They may have been prodded, but it didn’t take much cajoling to get the screaming dinner patrons to wave their red napkins at the curtain call in support of the rebellion — and the production they had just seen. In all, more than 9,000 attended “Les Misérables” during its 12-week run, making it the second-most attended show in Midtown (formerly the Carousel Dinner Theatre) history. No. 1: “Shrek, the Musical.” “Les Misérables” featured a cast made up of both established local actors and a few who were brought in from New York. It starred David Ambroson as Jean Valjean and featured Brandon Schraml as Javert, Amy Madden Copp as Fantine, Nigel Huckle as Marius, Colleen Johnson as Eponine, Lisa Carter as Cosette, Colin Morgan as Enjolras, Michael Lasris as Thenardier and Jalyn Courtenay Webb as Mrs. Thenardier. The directors were Kurt Terrio, Jalyn Courtenay Webb (vocals) and Casey Cropp (orchestra). Thanks: cast and crew.

 

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Opening No. 136: Denver Center Theatre Company’s “Jackie & Me: Linda G. Alvarado, co-owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, congratulates 22-year-old actor Aaron Davidson for his opening-night performance by allowing him to wear her 2007 World Series ring. Davidson, a Colorado native and graduate of the Denver School of the Arts, plays Joey Stoshack, a 12-year-old boy who is bullied because of his Polish descent. When the boy goes back in time to 1947, he not only witnesses Jackie Robinson break the baseball color barrier, his own skin color changes in the process, giving him a whole new perspective on prejudice and discrimination. Alvarado is president and CEO of Alvarado Construction, Inc., which built Sports Authority Field at Mile High. She is also a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and was named one of the 100 Most Influential Hispanics in America by Hispanic Business Magazine. When the Rockies were awarded a franchise, Alvarado became the first Latino owner, male or female, in Major League Baseball history, and the second female owner in the big leagues. “Jackie & Me” is written by Denver native Steven Dietz, who also wrote “Rancho Mirage,” which is presently being performed by the nearby Curious Theatre Company through Dec. 7. “Jackie & Me” is directed by Stephen Weitz. Also starring William Oliver Watkins (top right of photo) and featuring Michael Santo, Kristen Adele, Ryan Wuestewald, Diana Dresser, Timothy McCracken, Leigh Miller, John Jurcheck and Justin Walvoord. It runs through Dec. 22 in the Space Theatre. Showtimes are variable because of a preponderance of student matinees during the week. Generally there are public performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site. Thanks: Lyle Raper, Alexandra Griesmer.

Video: Watch as the cast of “Jackie & Me” takes a field trip to a Lakewood batting cage, and gets a tour of Coors Field.

 

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Pictures of pictures of cast members arranged on a lit lobby tree. Not pictured: Kevin Lowry.

Opening No. 135: Betsy Stage’s “The Travesty of Lear”: There’s a new theater sheriff in town, and she’s doing things a little differently. Shannon McAndrews is the general manager of the Betsy Stage (not to be confused with Boulder’s BETC, also colloquially referred to as “Betsy”) and get this — the shows are all free. Always. And the actors get paid. Decently, even. How do they do it? There’s a benefactor, McAndrews says. A Lear with a kingdom, apparently, to partition out, only for the making of art. The company’s mission is to “adapt Elizabethan theater for a new audience.” Here, Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is set in the Old West. Lear is the owner of the Scarlet Slipper Saloon. Here he divides his kingdom by putting his three favorite prostitutes to the test. The script is rife with one-liners, but sticks to the Shakespeare in tone. They call in “Shakespeare spiked,” but it’s more like Shakespeare with a “Deadwood” ear. You may recognize some of the names — Phil Luna and Kevin Lowry, for example, but even those you might not recognize make for a pretty decent ensemble. Starring Michael Vasicek as Lear and also featuring Patti Murtha, Brooks Mullen, Michal Andrea Meyer, Jacob Abbas, Todd Simmonds, Elinor Reina, Jeannie Saracino, Jim Hitzke and R.J. Harris. Directed by Samantha McDermott. Again, all tickets are free … really … the bar is even run on an honor system. But please call for reservations, or email Lear@Betsystage.com (though you won’t be turned away if you don’t). “The Travesty of Lear” plays through Jan. 25. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays at 1133 S. Huron St., 720-328-5294 or go to betsy’s home page. Thanks: Jennifer McCray.

 

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Erik Edborg, left, and Andrew Horwitz backstage before Buntport’s “Electra Onion Eater.” Some photos … some completely candid photos … require no explanation.

Opening No. 134: Buntport Theater’s “Electra Onion Eater”: “Hilarious. Squeamish. Incorrigible … Sunburnt.” Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have stumbled upon Buntport Theater’s new slogan. Buntport kicks off its 13th season of innovative, organic and original collaboration with a modern adaptation of Sophocles’ classic yarn. Set in the kitschy pop-culture world of the 1970s, Electra waits patiently for her studly, sunburned brother (a hybrid of Selleck, Reynolds, Hasselhoff and Hutch, to return home in order to enact revenge on their mother for killing their father (who had killed their sister — you know, just the usual family dynamic). With nothing but time on her hands, Electra watches soap operas, cuts patches in her scalp and makes onion pies as offerings to the gods. Also featuring Erik Edborg, Hannah Duggan and guest star Drew Horwitz as … Bruce. And Samantha Schmitz pushing all the right buttons. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 23 at 717 Lipan St. Call 720-946-1388 or go to Buntport’s web page.

 

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Brian Landis Folkins puts one of his core performing skills — juggling — to useful use before a performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Edge Theatre.

Opening No. 133: The Edge’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”: Brian Landis Folkins plays the boozy, brutal and broken Brick, who is tormented by the death of his best friend (and the incriminating inferences made about that friendship) in Tennessee Williams’ uncompromising tragedy, presented here in its ugly, unedited glory by director Angela Astle. In the tradition of O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the play follows one long day of a Southern family in inebriated crisis. (But which came first? “Long Day’s Journey” was written 13 years earlier, but wasn’t published until a year after “Cat” won Williams a Pulitzer Prize in 1956.) The story is set on the night of a gathering at the family estate in Mississippi to celebrate the birthday and apparent good health of patriarch Big Daddy Pollitt (Russell Costen). Much like “Death of a Salesman,” the story is a constant joust between appearances and delusion and the malleable, elusive truth. And starving in the corner of this house of malice and death is a wounded, feral alleycat named Maggie (Maggy Stacy). Also featuring Emma Messenger, Marc Stith, Kelly Alayne Dwyer, Ryan Goold, Bob Byrnes, Geri Crawley, Banji Osindero, Sonsharae Tull, Amelia Modesitt, Sam Modesitt, Aliza Fassett and Pace Becker. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 17 at 1560 Teller St., Lakewood, 303-232-0363 or the edge’s home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Amelia Retureta, Rick Yaconis, Patty Yaconis. To see the entire “Opening Nights” photo series, click here: www.culturewest.org/?p=6068.

 

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Dawn Bower, left, and Sasha Fisher put the dancing in the “Dancing at Lughnasa” during a pre-show “dance call.”

Opening No. 132: 11 Minutes’ ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’: 11 Minutes Theatre Company’s “Dancing at Lughnasa”: The 11 Minutes may be one of the area’s newest theater companies, but they perform in the historic and cozy Arvada Festival Playhouse, believed to be the oldest building in Arvada. The company is the work of Janine Ann Kehlenbach, who has put together a tight and talented “Dancing at Lughnasa,” Irish playwright Brian Friel’s answer to “The Glass Menagerie.” It’s a memory play told intermittently through a narrator (a wonderful Andrew Uhlenhopp) as he remembers one summer in 1936 with his mother and four aunts. As he recounts the story, we go back in time and watch as these five feisty women confront their loves, hardships and a society whose customs are not changing fast enough. Also featuring Margaret Amateis Casart, @Sasha Fisher, Janet Mylott, Sara Michael, Dawn Bower, Kevin R. Leonard (“Sordid Lives”) and Charlie Ault as the uncle missionary who has just returned from an African leper colony with malaria. Ault’s family started the Festival Playhouse’s resident company (the Festival Players) nearly 80 years ago. Their next offering is “Somethin’ Special for Christmas,” opening Nov. 19. “Lughnasa” plays through Nov. 16. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; also 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at 5665 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., 303-422-4090, or go to the Festival Playhouse’s home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Janine Ann Kehlenbach, Amy Hanselmann and Donna Ault.

 

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“It’s been a year … did you miss me, Denver?” “Rancho Mirage” marks oft-honored freakyman actor Bill Hahn’s return to the stage since last appearing at Curious in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” Here, he plays a freakily normal-seeming suburban husband. Which, for Bill, is, you know … freaky.

Opening No 131: Curious Theatre’s “Rancho Mirage”: Colorado native Steven Dietz’s latest play continues Curious’ entire season of evident if perhaps unintentional looks at dysfunctional family relationships. Here, six longtime “friends” (?) gather for one final dinner party. The evening unfolds with comic surprises, alarming secrets and near-farcical bombshells. Also featuring Erik Sandvold, Emily Paton Davies, C. Kelly Leo, David Russell, Karen Slack and Devon James. Directed by Christopher Leo. Dietz is now the most produced playwright in Curious history. Dietz also wrote “Jackie & Me,” which will be performed by the Denver Center Theatre Company, opening Nov. 15. “Rancho” showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 7 at 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524 or Curious’ web page. Thanks: Sean Cummings, Kate Marie.

 

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Oooh, Edgar Allan Poe, he’s so scary, can’t you tell? From left: Nancy Flanagan, Seth Maisel, Kristin Mair and Michael Gurshtein yuk it up before one of the Byers-Evans House Theatre Company’s final performances before the troupe moves to RiNo as the new Ripple Effect Theatre Company.

Opening No. 130: Byers-Evans House Theatre Company’s “Evermore”: Maggie Stillman’s company, which specializes in the period macabre, is presenting its final show in the environs of the Byers-Evans House. She’s renaming her troupe the Ripple Effect Theatre Company and moving into a bona-fide theater in RiNo that is about to be vacated. (We’ll leave it to you to connect those dots.) Her goodbye to the museum tells the romantic whims and publishing difficulties of Edgar Allan Poe. We open October 1849. Poe has recently died, and his literary executor is compiling Poe’s works for posthumous publication. Memories of Poe’s final years full of love, hate, loss, and literature are played out through the memories of Dr. Griswold and Poe’s mother-in-law, Maria Clemm. Poe’s best-known tales and poems are woven into the dialogue. Featuring Seth Maisel, Kristin Mair, Michael Gurshtein and Nancy Flanagan. Directed by Ed Berry. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 16 at 1310 Bannock St., 303-620-4933. Thanks: Dana Huss, Orianna Keating and Maggie Stillman. Click here to see the complete “Opening Nights” photo series.

 

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Burke Walton works hard for your money … so you better treat him right.
Opening No. 129: Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Full Monty”: The photo above shows a side of working the dinner-theater circuit that most audiences don’t see: The actors settling up at the end of each performance. (Most times they don’t do it in robes, but most times, it’s not “The Full Monty,” hah.) Most actors also bus tables for the tips that, combined with their acting stipends, help make for something approximating a liveable wage doing what they love to do on the stage. It’s a good opportunity to remind readers that when you attend theater that involves personal service, the performers are primarily working for your gratuity. OK, so back to “The Full Monty”: Based on the popular British film, this now ubiquitous tale has five unemployed steelworkers (moved for the stage to Buffalo) who come up with a bold way to make some quick cash: By taking off their clothes. In the process, they find renewed self-esteem and the importance of friendship. “The Full Monty” stars Seth Caikowski as Jerry, the gruff but well-meaning dad who’s desperate to make some cash to keep visitation rights with his son. Also featuring Joel Adam Chavez as Dave; Scott Beyette (also the director) as Harold, Burke Walton as Ethan, Brett Ambler as Malcolm, and longtime big-time vocalist Robert Johnson (17th Avenue All-Stars) as Horse. The cast also includes Alicia Dunfee, Shelly Cox-Robie, Amanda Earls, Jason Vargas, Joanie Brosseau, Scott Severtson, Tracy Warren, Jessica Hindsley, Norrell Moore, Bob Hoppe (alternating with Matthew D. Peters), and young Thomas Russo as Nathan (alternating with Kaden Hinkle). Showtimes: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7:45 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 1:30 and 7:45 p.m. Sundays (dinner service begins 90 minutes before) through Nov. 9 at 5501 Arapahoe Ave., 303-449-6000 or go to BDT’s home page. Thanks: Michael J. Duran, Seamus McDonough, Neal Dunfee and Brian Jackson.

 

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The cast of the Evergreen Players’ “All My Sons” circles up for one last bit of bonding before taking the stage. Joe Wilson, left, had just left the pre-show ritual to take a final solitary moment in the dressing room before the play began. He plays Joe Keller.

Opening No. 128: Evergreen Players’ “All My Sons”: Arthur Miller wrote “All My Sons” as a final attempt at writing a commercially successful play. If the play failed to find an audience, he had vowed “to find some other line of work.” What resulted was perhaps his masterpiece. “All My Sons” is based on a true story a child who informed on her father who had sold faulty parts to the U.S. military during World War II. Asked in a TV interview what about the story had inspired him, Miller said, “I was fascinated by the idea that a child could have this kind of moral courage.” When asked why he changed the gender of the character for his play, Miller said, “At the time I didn’t understand women very well.” The cast features Joe Wilson, Jacquie Jo Billings, Jennifer Condreay, Jordan Crozier, Cindy Laudadio Hill, Brandon Palmer, Ken Paul, Eric Ritter, JR Cody Schuyler, and young Spencer Coffey as young Bert. Directed by Len Matheo. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 10 at Center/Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, 303-674-4934 or go to the Evergreen Players’ home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Rachael Henney. To see the entire “Opening Nights” series to date, click here.

 

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Among the many ridiculous tasks contestants must endure is having a salad tossed … onto your head. For starters.

No. 127: Off-Center @ The Jones’ “Wheel of Misfortune”: This new theatrical adventure from is billed as “the scariest game show ever.” It invites audience members to compete in everyday tasks that Vanna’s … er, Bruce’s magic Wheel of Misfortune makes terrifyingly difficult. Competitors must master trivia, solve puzzles and surmount ridiculous physical obstacles — all for your enjoyment. (If you are not one of the contestants). The two finalists will go head-to-head in a lightning round designed by the LIDA Project’s Brian Freeland. (He’s not only the purveyor of some of the freakiest theater in town, he’s moving to New York after all of this is over — so he has nothing to lose.) To maximize the contestants’ humiliation, “Wheel of Misfortune” is being videotaped, as any game show should be, for later airing as an online web series. They are touting “Wheel of Misfortune” as “the show that everyone might one day be possibly raving about.” The hosts are Bruce Montgomery, Mark Sonnenblink and Emily K. Harrison. The second of two initial tapings is at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1 at The Jones, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 1101 13th St. (Speer Boulevard and Arapahoe Street), 303-893-6090 or off-center’s home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Jane McDonald, Charlie Miller, Emily Tarquin. To see the entire “Opening Nights” series to date, click here. Read my profile of game-show host Bruce Montgomery here.

 

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Opening No. 126: Phamaly Theatre Company’s “Vox Phamalia: G.I.M.P. Nation”: Who’s a douchebag? According to the Disability News Team (Daniel Wheeler, left, who has Crohn’s Disease, and Stewart Caswell, who has cerebral palsy), it’s the CEO of Goodwill Industries, who lobbied for legislation that allows businesses to pay the handicapped a fraction of minimum wage based on their performance on a test that measures their ability to complete ordinary tasks against able-bodied people. That’s one example of the cutting but good-natured comedy that director Edith Weiss gets out of her cast for this annual sketch-comedy revue. This year’s show features all-new material including “Sex and the Pity,” “Suicide Hotline” and “Your Own Private Hell.” Plus, they explore the subject of dwarf-tossing. Vox Phamalia is the result of an annual writing-to-performance development workshop with Weiss, designed for Phamaly members. The cast includes 15 actors with disabilities, including veterans Lucy Roucis, David Wright, Amber Marsh and James Sherman, along with new or near-new faces Harper Liles, Dominique Frary, Daniel Wheeler, Jeff Zinn, Khea Craig, Paul Migliorelli, Stewart Caswell, Kim Jackson and Naomi Morrow. Intended for audiences 16 and older. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m.; also 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Monday, Oct. 28) at the Laundry on Lawrence, 2701 Lawrence St., 303-575-0005 or phamaly’s home page. Thanks: Jean Egdorf and Gloria Shanstrom.

 

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There’s nothing elder about A.J. Holmes and Nic Rouleau, the young actors who play the idealistic Elders Cunningham and Price in the national touring production of “The Book of Mormon.” They are pictured here after the official opening night of the Tony-winning musical’s second national touring stop in Denver on Oct. 23. The party location was Pizza Republica.

Opening No. 125: National touring production of “The Book of Mormon.” When the first “Book of Mormon” national touring production debuted in Denver last year, the 51,000 available seats moved in five hours. By the time the longer return engagement opened here on Tuesday, nearly all of the 111,506 seats already were snatched up. Broadway’s 2011 Tony-winning best musical has moved from the Ellie Caulkins Opera House into the Buell Theatre, opening up about another 600 seats per performance. Like the first national company a year ago, the Denver engagement launches the second national tour with a new cast headed by Nic Rouleau, who plays Elder Price, and A.J. Holmes, who plays Elder Cunningham. The musical tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in northern Uganda, where a brutal warlord is threatening the local population. Naive and optimistic, the two missionaries try to share their scriptures – which only one of them knows very well – but have trouble connecting with the locals, who are more worried about war, famine, poverty and AIDS than about salvation. This profane, witty religious satire lampoons organized religion and traditional musical theater. It was written by Colorado natives Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park”) with Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”). The cast includes Tallia Brinson, who appeared in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s “Ruined.” Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker. There are scattered single tickets remaining, and a daily lottery for 24 discounted, front-row seats will be held 2 1/2 before every performance. Contains explicit language. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 24. At the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or the denver center’s home page. Photo by John Moore. Thanks: Heidi Bosk.

 

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Pals and co-stars Steve Emily, left, and Matt Radcliffe enjoy a lighthearted backstage moment (Matt is pretending to toss scalding coffee in his partner’s face) before a recent performance of “A Steady Rain” in Colorado Springs.

Opening No. 124: “Springs Ensemble Theatre’s “A Steady Rain”: If you loved “The Shield” on FX, you are certain to get Vic Mackey flashbacks while watching the equally round-headed rogue cop played by Steve Emily in this uncompromising crime drama by Keith Huff. In the story, two cops are longtime partners, best friends since childhood … and seriously flawed human beings. One is single, a recovering alcoholic and lonely. The other is married with children, but there are clearly … shades of Mackey. What begins as a routine domestic disturbance call snowballs into an uncompromising downfall that tests their loyalties. For mature audiences. Through Oct. 27. Starring Steve (Vic Mackey) Emily as Denny and Matt Radcliffe as Joey. Directed by David Palmbeck. Remaining showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, plus 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at 1903 E. Cache La Poudre in Colorado Springs. Call 719-447-1646 or go to springs ensemble’s home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org.. Thanks: Keri Pollakoff and Keegan Jenney.

 

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Opening No. 123: The Catamounts’ “Failure,” A Love Story”: Meredith C. Grundei, playing one of the fated Fail Sisters, goes for a pre-show swim practice safe in the arms, er, feet, of castmates Ed Cord, front, and Ryan Wuestewald. Her character swims the Chicago River. “Failure” is a fanciful musical fable about the triumphs, aspirations and untimely demises of three Chicago sisters who never saw death coming. Set in 1928 in a clock shop on the edge of the Chicago River, this wistful comedy that tells the stories of all three sisters, and the one man who loved them all. “Failure” also features Joan Bruemmer, Ed Cord, Crystal Verdon Eisele, Michelle Hurtubise, Trina Magness, Jeremy Make and Jason Maxwell, with Nina Rolle providing live various music (which includes a bell on her head). There are four remaining performances, at 8 p.m. tonight (Oct. 21, all ticket sales will go toward flood relief in Boulder County), Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Oct. 26) at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. The Saturday performance will be preceded by a community meal from a menu inspired by the play. Call 303-440-7826, or go to the The Catamounts’ home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org.. Thanks: Andy Bakehouse

 

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Opening No. 122: Denver Center Theatre Company’s “The Most Deserving”: Hold that tiger! Or should I say, “Hold that, Tiger?” Sam Gregory wants you … to see him (very nearly ALL of him) in the Denver Center’s world premiere comedy about amateur art and amateur politics in a tiny West Kansas town. The local arts council has $20,000 to award to a hometown artist with an “under-represented American voice.” Should they choose the son of a town big-shot, thus guaranteeing their continued funding; or the mentally unstable, self-taught “Trash Man” who creates religious figures out of rubbish? Gregory, believe it or not, is NOT playing the unstable Trash Man. Rather, he’s a ponytailed British beatnik on the lookout for a shag. (And a member of the town arts council.) The play explores how gossip, politics and opinions of art can decide who is “the most deserving.” Also featuring Jeanne Paulsen, Judith Hawking, Rebecca Miyako Hirota, Craig Bockhorn and Jonathan Earl Peck (who once played Othello at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival). Written by Catherine Trieschmann. Directed by Shelley Butler. “The Most Deserving” runs through Nov. 17 at the Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. Showtimes: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 303-893-4100 or go to the denver center’s home page. Thanks: Rachel Ducat, Mariah Becerra.

 

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Julia Hemp as Belle and Mateo Correa as Belle and Lumiere in the Denver School of the Arts’ no-holds-barred fall musical, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Opening No. 121: Denver School of the Arts’ “Beauty and the Beast”: Denver School of the Arts is an arts magnet school that serves grades 6-12 in the Denver Public Schools. It regularly produces such top-notch theater kids that recent graduate Gabriel Ebert just won the Tony Award as best supporting actor in a Broadway musical (for “Matilda”) — and he never even did musicals back at DSA. Saturday’s first-ever DSA Friends Foundation gala showed off students in every discipline, but centered on a no-holds-barred performance of “Beauty and the Beast.” Sporting a cast of more than 80, an orchestra of 25 and production values professional companies would theatrically die for, the students managed to produce a staging that, while still very much educational theater, managed to meet or exceed any reasonable professional expectations in several areas. DSA teacher Shawn Hann directed the spectacle (her first at the school in three years), and the endlessly creative choreography was by Brandon Becker. (“Be Our Guest” pulled a mid-show standing O — and it deserved it.) The results were so stirring, we can forgive the director for her absolutely adorable sucker-punch: Casting her cutey-pie 5-year-old daughter Tihun Hann as the Dinner Bell. The show starred Julia Hemp as Belle, Austin Marquez as the Beast, Logan D. Snodderly as Gaston, Jimmy Bruenger as Lefou (he played the spunky, doomed Gavroche in the Arvada Center’s “Les Mis” back in the day), Mateo Correa as Lumiere, Jeremy Willis as Cogsworth, Taylor Bowman as Mrs. Potts, Madison Kitchen as Bebette, Randy Ho as Maurice, Jackie Smook as the Wardrobe, and dozens more. Saturday’s performance was preceded by the presentation of the school’s first Community Arts Leadership Award, which went to “Just Like Us” author Helen Thorpe. The stage adaptation of Thorpe’s book opens for previews on Oct. 4 by the Denver Center Theatre Company. The award presenter was Susan Daggett, an environmental attorney, DSA mom and wife of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. (Their daughter made a video appearance in the Denver Center’s production of “The Giver” last season.) Also in attendance was Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Read more about that here.

 

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Opening No. 120: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s “Seminar”: John Ashton capped a crazy week with a triumphant opening performance on Friday night. Three days before the opening performance, Ashton was deployed by his day job, FEMA, to working 12-hour daily shifts in response to the flooding in Boulder. The extra busy-ness didn’t seem to affect his performance. He’s pictured above before the show, running through a tense scene opposite stage manager Maxie Beth Bilyeu. In Theresa Rebeck’s latest exploration of nasty human behavior, four aspiring young novelists find themselves in over their heads when they sign up for private writing classes with Leonard, a force of nature and washed-up international literary figure (Ashton). Under his reckless instruction, the wordplay is not the only thing that turns vicious. Recommended for 16 and older. Featuring Matthew Blood-Smyth, Devon James, Mary Kay Riley and Sean Scrutchins. Directed by Stephen Weitz. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; plus 4 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 20 at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7826 or betc’s home page. Thanks: Maxie Beth Bilyeu, Rebecca Remaly Weitz.

 

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Opening No. 119, Denver Center Theatre Company’s “Death of a Salesman”: Some call this the most important play ever written, and after actors Mike Hartman and Lauren Klein conquered the iconic roles of Willy and Linda Loman on opening night, the real-life married couple deserved a party. Though they settled for a seat. Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama is the story of an aging, deluded and failing salesman who cannot accept that his dreams for his family are no match for the sad realities of their ordinary lives. This heartbreaking indictment of the American Dream is an actor’s dream. Showtimes: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 20 at the Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org.

 

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Opening No. 118: National touring production of “Sister Act”: Kingsley Leggs plays bad-guy Curtis Jackson on stage, but in real-life, nice guy Kingsley makes the painfully early morning rounds with local radio stations, pictured here with KOOL 105’s Kris and Kelly, and later with KEZW’s Rick Crandall. Denver audiences know Kingsley from the extended world premiere of “Almost Heaven: Songs and Stories of John Denver” with the Denver Center Theatre Company. Now he’s playing in the movie-turned-musical that Whoopi Goldberg made famous. “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. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 6 at the Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org.

 

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Opening No 117: The Wit Theatre’s “Edges: A Song Cycle”: The Wit Theatre Company executive director Kristin Honiotes congratulates the cast of “Edges, A Song Cycle” with a toast before the opening performance. That’s Alex Evert and Blake Nawa’a to her left. This non-traditional musical follows burgeoning adults sorting through classic coming-of-age questions. The songs cover universal issues such as love, commitment, identity and meaning. Characters confront emotions, escaping expectations and deciphering complicated relationships. Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, recipients of the 2006 Jonathan Larson Award. Directed by Valerye Rene and featuring Marissa Romer, Blake Nawa’a, Tyler Nielson, Alex Evert, Erica Trisler, Nancy Begley, Juliet Garcia, Christopher Galinski and Chris Arneson. Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 5 at the Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington St., 303-296-3798 or wit’s ticketing page at http://thewittheatrecompany.ticketleap.com/edges. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. To see the complete “Opening Nights” photo series to date, click here: www.culturewest.org/?p=6068

 

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Opening No. 116: Starkey Theatrix’s “Bingo, the Musical”: This audience-included musical comedy is about a group of die-hard Bingo players who let nothing get in the way of their weekly game. Best girlfriends Vern, Honey and Patsy brave a terrible rainstorm (life imitating art?) to get to their game. As the storm knocks out power at the Bingo hall, audiences learn of an another ominous night 15 years before that created a still-unresolved conflict. In-between the number-calling, superstitious rituals and fierce competitions, long-lost friends reunite. Audiences play three games of Bingo along with the cast. Directed by Ben Dicke and featuring Jona Alonzo, Sarah Grover, Lacey Connell, Jennifer Lynne Jorgenson, Alannah Moore, Laura Presley Reynolds and Josh Nelson. This special engagement runs this weekend only. Remaining showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Sept. 13); 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 14); 2 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 15). At the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, 303-805-6800 or PACE’s ticketing page. Thanks: Shaun Albrechtson and Ronni Stark.

 

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Opening No. 115, Arvada Center’s “Camelot”: A shy young Nate Patrick Siebert, one of two boys who play Tom of Warwick, prepares to present castmate David Bryant Johnson, who plays King Arthur, with flowers at the cast party following Tuesday’s opening performance. This classic Lerner and Lowe musical focuses on the love triangle between King Arthur of England, his feisty Queen Guenevere; and the invincible French knight, Sir Lancelot. With one glimpse at the lovely Guenevere, Lancelot falls hopelessly in love, and the story becomes one of tragic consequence. Numbers include “The Lusty Month of May” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Directed by Rod Lansberry. Musical director David Nehls. Starring Johnson, Melissa Mitchell (Guenevere), Glenn Seven Allen (Lancelot), William Thomas Evans (Merlyn, Pellinore), Aaron M. Davidson (Mordred), Jennifer DeDominici (Nimue), Jeffrey Roark (Sir Dinadan), Michael Bouchard (Sir Sagramore), Matt LaFontaine (Sir Lionel) and Megan Van De Hey (Morgan Le Fey). Ensemble members are Stephen Day, Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Karen M. Jeffreys, Heather Lacy, Daniel Langhoff, Ian McCauley, Rebekah Ortiz, Parker Redford, Lauren Shealy, Jacob Lewis Smith, Bethany Swiontek, Rachel Turner and Benjamin Wood. Young Brady Dalton and Nate Patrick Siebert alternate as Tom of Warwick. Their show only just opened and it already has been extended to Oct. 6. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., 720-898-7200 or the arvada center’s home page. Thanks: Melanie Mayner, Pat Payne, cast and crew.

 

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Is it Flash — ah-ah — savior of the universe?! Or Todd Black just being a big (non-strip) tease backstage before Monday’s performance of “Next Fall?”

Opening No. 114: Firehouse Theatre’s “Next Fall”: Luke is devoutly religious. Adam is an atheist. This Broadway play by Geoffrey Nauffts recounts the ups and downs of an unlikely gay couple’s five-year relationship, leading to an explosive familial confrontation following a critical accident. Starring Mark Lively and Todd Black, featuring Michael Leopard, Judy Phelan-Hill, Brian J. Brooks and Johanna Jaquith. Directed by Steve Tangedal. Co-produced by Theatre Out. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sundays Through Sept. 28 at the John Hand Theatre, 7653 E. 1st Place, 303-562-3232 or firehouse’s home page . Thanks: Andrew Hunter, Helen Hand.

My review of the Broadway production of “Next Fall”

Quote: “You don’t have to believe in hell to walk around believing that you are going to burn in it.”

This riveting, familiar family tragedy starts with a car accident that leaves a strapping young man comatose and clinging to life. But the real collision is about to come down between his lover and the encroaching fundamentalist family who never knew — or at least acknowledged — that their son is gay. Rife for the possibility of cliche, Geoffrey Nauffts’ drama instead deftly weaves one of the hot-button social issues of the day into an understandable and achingly unwinnable conflict between flawed, knowable characters on both sides of the family tree. Zigging from past to present (as most new plays now seem to do), we see how this unlikely romance bloomed between a spiritual (yet still closeted) southern Christian hunk and the jaded — and refreshingly kind of jerky — older New Yorker he somehow fell in love with.

The playwright raises fair points about the inherent contradictions of fundamentalism and the sadly nonexistent place a gay man has in making critical medical decisions for a loved one. But it’s flawed — it’s too long and gets ideologically confused by the unnecessary presence of one support character. It’s most compelling because the two immoveable forces here — the young man’s racist, homophobic father and his intractable lover — are both obstinately set in their ways. Still, I can’t remember the last new play I’ve seen that had audiences openly sobbing by the end. My main misgiving: The story ends in the only way you can imagine it might, and I was hoping the playwright might instead invoke his right to mess with our minds. That might have changed the questions we’re left with after an ending that, as written, leaves little doubt about who was right all along.

 

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Opening No. 113: Curious Theatre’s “After the Revolution”: Sisters! Lauren Bahlman, right, tries to get a rise out of Jessica Robblee before the opening curtain. In this new play by Amy Herzog, a passionate young woman named Emma Joseph proudly carries the torch of her family’s long-held Marxist ideals by devoting her life to the memory of her legendary, blacklisted grandfather. When a stunning revelation uncovers a dark secret, she and her entire family must reconcile everything they thought they stood for with the shadowy truth of history. Featuring Lauren Bahlman, Anne Oberbroeckling, Jessica Robblee, Mark Collins, Dee Covington, Jim Hunt, Matthew Block and Gordon McConnell. Curious Theatre has a resident company of more than 30 actors, but director Chip Walton has always had an open-door policy, and he proves it again here: Five of the eight actors are making their first appearances for Curious in “After the Revolution.” Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; also 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 19 at 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524 or Curious’ home page.

 

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This theatergoer, surrounded by cast members Chris Arneson, Jason Lythgoe and Patrick Brownson (and presumably, a friend!), looks like she’s not completely sure where the play ends and the real world begins.

Opening No. 112: Equinox Theatre’s “Evil Dead, the Musical”: The bloodletting spills out onto the streets in front of the Bug Theatre following every performance of “Evil Dead.” Meaning the eviscerated cast joins departing theatergoers for photo opportunities with chain saws and all manner of fake gore. This campy musical is based on Sam Raimi’s 1980s cult classic film. The story is the one you remember: A boy and his friends take a weekend getaway at an abandoned cabin. The boy expects to get lucky, but instead unleashes an ancient evil spirit. When his friends turn into Candarian Demons, the boy fights until dawn to survive. The score features comic numbers like, “All the Men in my Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” “Look Who’s Evil Now,” and “Do the Necronomicon.” (Take THAT, “Rocky Horrow Show.”) The show stars Jason Lythgoe as the smoldering Ash, with help from Chris Arneson, Erica Trisler, Savannah Lake, Natasha Gleichmann, Preston Adams, Ember Everett, Eli Stewart, Patrick Brownson, David Ballew and Aran Peters. The director is Deb Flomberg; musical direction by Hunter Hall. Just two performances remain, and they’ve been selling out: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13-14, at 3654 Navajo St. 720-984-0781 or Equinox’s home page. If you can’t get in, you’ll have a second, and third chance to get your taste of blood. Next up at the Bug is “Night of the Living Dead” (Oct. 4-26), followed by “Carrie, the Musical” (Nov. 8-30). Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. To see the complete “Opening Nights” photo series to date, click here: http://www.culturewest.org/?p=6068. Thanks: Kate Blair.

Click here to see our full gallery of “Evil Dead” photos.

 

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Opening No. 111: National touring production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”: Well, with some photos, black-and-white is just not an option. Sept. 3 wasn’t just opening night of the national touring production of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” at the Buell Theatre. It was also Drag Night, with many of Denver’s top entertainers attending, bringing both vibrant color and the same air of freedom and tolerance the popular film, and now stage musical, espouses. Audiences were invited to have make-up makeovers. Audience members stopped some of Denver’s very tallest tall Drag Queens (in heels, many reach 6 1/2 feet in height) asking for everything from photos to make-up tips for advice on how to talk to loved ones. One Denver Drag said afterward she never felt more validated as an entertainer than she did in the lobby chatting with friendly, curious “Priscilla” audiences. The musical is the uplifting story of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus to cross the Australian outback. It features more than 500 Tony-winning costumes. All the songs are familiar dance-floor hits, including “It’s Raining Men” and “I Will Survive.” Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 15. Also: Special Thursday matinee: 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12. Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or the Denver Center’s home page. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. To see the complete “Opening Nights” photo series to date, click here: http://www.culturewest.org/?p=6068. Photo by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Heidi Bosk, Emily Lozow. Click here to see the complete “Opening Nights” photo series to date.

 

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Photo Gallery: My night backstage with “Maple and Vine”

By John Moore
Jan. 17, 2010

Here are some images from my night visiting the cast of the Curious Theatre’s 1950s parallel-universe comedy “Maple and Vine,” just before their opening-night performance on Jan. 12. Starring Josh Robinson, C. Kelly Leo, Karen Slack, Dale Li and Stuart Sanks. Through Feb. 23 at 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524 or www.CuriousTheatre.Org. Photo by John Moore of www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Kate Marie Roselle and Chip Walton.

To see the our full photo series, “It’s Opening Night in Colorado Theatre,” featuring one intimate, iconic snapshot from 27 Colorado opening nights (and counting), click here.

Click here to subscribe to the CultureWest.org Monthly E-Newsletter

 

Curious Theatre company members Jada Roberts, Brian Landis Folkins, Josh Hartwell and Jim Hunt meets hours before the opening performance to prepare food for the eventual afterparty. Photo by John Moore.

Curious Theatre company members Jada Roberts, Brian Landis Folkins, Josh Hartwell and Jim Hunt meet hours before the opening performance to prepare food for the eventual afterparty. Photo by John Moore.

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What companies can learn from the reinvention of Denver’s Curious Theatre

Tara Falk stars in Curious Theatre’s current offering, “Time Stands Still,” Donald Margulies’ drama about an injured photojournalist just home from Iraq. Photo by Michael Ensminger.

By John Moore

Nov. 4, 2012

A tremor from a divisive national debate that has been growing among theater professionals nationwide for years finally rumbled its way to the picturesque Rocky Mountains — and Curious Theatre director Christy Montour-Larson felt it.

You won’t find anyone more loyal to Denver’s primary mid-sized professional theater company than Montour-Larson, a genial midwesterner straight out of “Fargo.” But when confronted with the hard question, she could feel the ground shift.

It came in the form of a question that was being flatly laid out at a company retreat in Steamboat Springs.

“Are are we doing the best work we can do?”

And Montour-Larson wanted no part of it.

“I thought, ‘I am not going to go there,’ ” she said. Because even though Curious is one of Denver’s most accomplished companies, “I did not think we were doing the best work possible,” she admitted, “and I thought that might be a scary, and a hard, and maybe even a dangerous thing to say out loud.”

But something about the dynamic in the room emboldened Montour-Larson to come out and say exactly what she was thinking: “No.”

And, as it turns out, “the group was sort of glad that it was out there on the table,” she said.

And so, the artists and staff who make up the spine of the Curious Theatre Company on and off stage got down to the business of reinventing the organization in fundamental ways that speak volumes about that aforementioned national Great Debate.

After two years of planning and prototyping, Curious recently unveiled a new organizational model that founder Chip Walton believes is a replicable blueprint for similarly sized professional theaters around the country. One that merges the needs of the individual artist with those of the organization in a mutually supportive union.

It will work, Walton said, because “this is a model that I think really obliterates territorialism.”

 “When did being pro-artist make one anti-institution?”

At first blanche, the question reads as pure semantics, like so many chickens and eggs. But there is a prevailing sense that a wedge is being driven between individual artists and the institutions that house them throughout America. And how institutions proactively respond to that perception could shape the way the business of theater is conducted for years to come.

The artist vs. institution rift has been simmering, well, for as long as there have been artists and institutions. But the divide erupted from watering-hole banter into a heated national dialogue in June when Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington Theatre in Boston, accepted an award for his contributions to the American theater at the Theatre Communications Group’s industry conference in Boston.

At the conclusion of his speech, the head of Boston’s leading professional theater left no doubt that he believes arts institutions, like Mitt Romney’s corporations, are people, too.

“I run a large institutional theater. Yes, we built new spaces with multiple performance halls in order to produce new plays and create programs for local playwrights and provide first-class facilities to other local theaters. Yes, we sell tickets to get an audience. Yes, we raise money because tickets alone don’t pay the bills. Yes, all of that takes people. Does that make us overstuffed bureaucracies? Bullshit!”

Artsjournal.com blogger Diane Ragsdale responded to Maso with a pointed salvo that included:

“With rare exception, artists (in this instance meaning writers, actors, directors, and often designers) are not generally part of the institution (meaning resident theaters). Administrators, marketers, and development staff have a home. Production and technical staff have a home. Literary managers and dramaturges have a home. But artists are not part of the institution. They are jobbed in as needed, and then sent home to live their precarious lives, unattached (in every sense of the word) to theater institutions.”

But a wedge? “how does one drive a wedge between two things that are not attached?” Ragsdale said.

To some, this whole topic might read as so much “inside baseball,” the very notion that institutions are somehow obstacles to the art — or the artists — that they present.

But to Curious’ Walton, “I can tell you this is an argument that is hot and it is heated, and it is deeply personal.” And it calls into unavoidable question the age-old cultural priorities of a country that endows institutions to a much fuller degree than it does individual artists.

So … have they had that backward all this time?

“There is a large faction of individual artists working in the field who have a pretty high degree of antipathy toward institutions,” said Walton, “and toward how resources within the field are skewed so tremendously toward organizations and institutions, and not  toward individuals.”

Actor John Carroll Lynch, a Denver native and a veteran of stage, film and TV, says the chasm is as obvious as the difference in paychecks between artists and the executives running their institutions.

“The institutions you are talking about, like the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, were started by people who run corporations,” said Lynch, “and so they were set up from the beginning to run as corporations. Just look at what the people at the very top of those organizations make in salary each year.”

A public records check shows that Denver Center president Randy Weeks made  $273,000 in 2010, Denver Center Theatre Company artistic director Kent Thompson made $250,000, and two vice presidents made about $150,000 each. For starters. That pales in comparison to longtime Guthrie Theater director Joe Dowling, who cleared nearly $700,000 running the Minneapolis institution back in 2007 — making him the highest-paid theater artist in the United States.

And what does an actor make in comparison? An actor might be lucky to get 16 weeks of work at a professional regional theater company each year. That would gross him or her around $24,000, depending on the company and contract.

“And that,” Lynch said flatly, “qualifies him for food stamps.”

Like corporations, Lynch said, artistic institutions are very much made up of people. And, just like corporations, “there is a 1 percent. And artists aren’t part of it.”

So the deck is stacked, naturally, in favor of institutions that consistently fail to incorporate artists into their planning, from architectural design to day-to-day operation.

“When the Goodman Theatre building was designed (in Chicago), they didn’t ask actors for their input,” Lynch said. “And because of that, there are no sinks in the dressing rooms.”

Lynch starred in “A View From the Bridge” in 2008 at the Guthrie, known as a kind of cineplex for live theater in Minneapolis. Lynch was surprised to discover there are not only no green rooms for actors in the entire facility, “there is no place for an actor to warm up that is not in full view of the audience.” That’s because most walls there are made of glass.

And that is just the way it is, Lynch said. “Because art is ephemeral. Art ends. Institutions don’t. So when it comes down to the survival of institutions vs. the creation of art, it’s going to be the institution that wins out, every time.”

The exception, and the solution, Lynch said, is for companies that start out small, such as the highly honored Buntport Theater in Denver, to maintain their original artist-driven value systems as they inevitably grow into bricks-and-mortar institutions.

Buntport is made up of a group of six Colorado College classmates who have presented ensemble-created original works for 12 years while maintaining a proud independence from the prevailing institutional model.

“At Buntport, the mentality is completely different from most theaters,” Lynch said. “They are an artist-driven company. They committed themselves to working as a cooperative group, not as individuals. And they pay themselves. Their primary focus is to ensure that none of them have to also wait tables.”


The reinvention of Curious Theatre Company

Curious Theatre is a 15-year-old company that presents five “new to Denver” plays each year with an annual budget that has steadily grown to $1.23 million and a full-time staff of seven.

In 2010, Curious was a recipient of a MetLife/TCG “Aha! Think It! Do It!” grant. The company was given $75,000 “to explore innovative opportunities for reinventing the resident artistic company model for the 21st century American theater by re-centering artists within producing organizations.” The grant was for $25,000 to “think it” — and an another $50,000 to “do it.”

So this theater company was going to be paid $25,000 to think? Seriously? Shouldn’t  all theater companies be doing that for free?

Walton gets the joke. But he knew the work his people were about to undertake could not only fundamentally change the course of his company, it could provide solutions to the age-old artists vs. institutions conundrum by coming up with a way to fully integrate artists into the very core of how the organization operates.

“The debate caused me to be think, ‘We are asking these questions about the relationship between artists and institutions every year, and apparently everybody in the field is now asking the same question,’ ” Walton said. “So I thought, instead of spending several weeks every summer around a retreat debating this question, let’s spend a dedicated, concerted length of time and really try to answer it: How should artists be in relationship to the organization?”

It’s important to understand just where Curious was at in its development at the time it took on the task of reinvention. Curious was founded in 1998 like so many others — by a small group of eager artists who wanted to put on plays. To do so, the founding members would be expected to do everything from working the box office to painting the stage to acting in the shows.

But Curious officially began as a company of designers, gradually taking actors into a fold that by 2007 grew to 19. By then, a fully professional staff and a forward-thinking, fundraising-focused board of directors were long in place, and the actors were no longer expected to do those extra things beyond blowing people away on the stage.

Also by 2007, Curious had established a national artistic reputation by mixing Denver debuts of Tony-winning plays  like “Proof” and “Take Me Out” with original commissions such as “The War Anthology,” an evening of short plays inspired by snapshots of America at war, written by 10 playwrights including three Pulitzer-winners: Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks and Paula Vogel.

The company also was being noticed for its innovative outreach and fundraising initiatives. Now in its ninth year, “Curious New Voices” is a year-round playwriting intensive that culminates in a three-day festival of new works spawned from the fertile minds of writers ages 15 to 21, and performed by dozens of local actors. For “Denver Stories,” Curious employs playwrights, directors and actors who present short original plays based on the lives of local celebrities and politicians. This high-society annual event now raises more than $100,000 for the company in a single night.

For the past few years, the work on-stage has been mostly hit, but also, as Montour-Larson earlier intimated … sometimes miss. So, two years ago, the “Think It! Do It!” grant came at the perfect time for the company to re-examine everything from how it was structured, to how plays were selected for performance, to just how big the organization should be, to this biggie: “Are are we doing the best work we can do?”

As an organization, Curious had been growing so fast in a volatile economy that Walton knew things had to slow down. So he recently entered into a conscious three-year period where the priority has shifted away from rapid growth to sustainable stabilization. “We’re an interesting case study,” Walton said, “because we’ve had a great influx of some very generous foundation support over the past few years (including a recent $500,000 catalyst grant from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation). But it is not support that is in perpetuity. So while the budget has grown accordingly and appropriately, now we have to make sure that we can sustain that budgetary level without those large foundation grants.”

But as a company of artists, Walton had a much dicier decision to make: As a collective, he knew the body count of company members needed to get much bigger — or much smaller.

“The company was then at an awkward size — 17 — in relationship to the size of the palate of our work,” Walton said. “It was just big enough so that there was no way I could give everybody in the company opportunities every season — but it was also still small enough that sometimes that felt really conspicuous to some of the company members. So whether you are a designer or director or actor — if it’s been two to three seasons since you’ve done a show at Curious, the question will inevitably surface: ‘Well, why is that?’ ”

The MetLife grant affords grantees the chance to visit other companies and compare notes. So Curious dispatched a team to the acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, which claims as many as 50 artists as company members. Walton had two key takeaways from that visit: “There is an incredibly competitive dynamic inside the Steppenwolf company that they all acknowledge, and they actually embrace,” he said. “And because of the sheer size of the company, no one who is in it is sitting around counting on an automatic artistic opportunity next season — because they know that not everyone it going to get one every year. They also know that when they get one, it’s a really exciting opportunity, and they should make they most of it.”

But rather than simply expand the already large acting pool, Curious has taken fully committed theater artists whose only job before was to bleed their hearts out on the stage, and given them real institutional responsibilities and an actual stake in the running of the company.

Karen Slack is one of those actors who has expanded her involvement with the company to an organizational level.

“It gives me a huge sense of ownership,” said Slack, “not just around the artistic company but around the organization a whole. It’s also given me a tremendous amount of perspective as to how many people it takes to actually get things done, and how hard everybody in that office works.”

Curious Theatre Company members Josh Hartwell (Hellcat Hartwell) and Jim Hunt (Luther)  (Jim Hunt) came to play at the wrestling-themed “Smackdown-A-Mania” promotion organized in September by producer in residence Karen Slack. Photo by John Moore.

The new Curious Theatre Company

After great deliberation, Walton recently named 31 actors and designers as Curious Theatre Company members, an increase of 14. They were chosen from among those who have worked on Curious mainstage shows in the past. Some not for many years, “but one of our core values will always be honoring individual contributions,” Walton said.

That said, Walton is also one competitive guy, and competition is another core value he holds dear. While most of those who were asked accepted their appointments as company members, not all did. A few decided, with no guarantees of roles in future shows, to just say no.

*Company members: The core members include 21 actors (14 of them men), two playwrights and eight designers or  directors. They come out in force on opening nights, a veritable army of name-tagged audience greeters.

*The artistic council: From among the core company group, six nominate themselves for one-year terms on the artistic council. In return for a small stipend, they participate at a deeper, executive level of company business, focusing on accountability, innovative thinking and risk-taking. That also includes serving on the in-house literary committee that considers titles for the upcoming season — though the final decisions rest with Walton.

*Featured company: Each year, up to five company members will be given the opportunity to participate at a deeper level in the organization, in non-artistic capacities. That might mean anything from attending fundraising brunches to placing thank-you phone calls to donors, in exchange for a small stipend.

*Artist-trustee: Curious’ new model calls for one company member to serve as an ex-officio (non-voting) member of the board of directors. That means, for the first time, when the venture capitalists and business leaders make the big board decisions that impact the direction of the artistic company, there is now, for the first time, the  opportunity for an artist to have a say in the conversation as well. Erik Sandvold, a veteran actor at both Curious and the Denver Center Theatre Company, is the first to hold that job.

*Producers in residence: Two company members will be selected annually for one-year, part-time paid staff positions that include producing community-wide outreach events, as well as fun marketing initiatives that support the company’s mainstage programming. The first two producer designees are Slack, a multiple award-winning company actor, and Montour-Larson, who mostly splits her time directing at Curious Theatre, the Denver Center Theatre Company and teaching theater at a local college.

Their primary jobs are to enrich and expand the audience’s experience with any given mainstage play through social outings called “Urban Adventures.” A recent example was “Clues and Brews” — a pub crawl/scavenger hunt that sent participants to some of Denver’s iconic bars in search of clues centered around the play. Slack also recently talked local comedians, actors and real-life wrestlers into participating in “Smackdown-A-Mania,” a ridiculous, mid-week night of silliness filled with sweat and spandex. Urban adventures are intended to entice a new kind of audience to come and check out the company. “Smackdown” promoted the regional premiere of  the innovative wrestling drama “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.”

Slack admits there’s a learning curve when you give a pure, undiluted actor responsibilities that once belonged to producers and trained staff. “I felt like the new kid at school who doesn’t know anybody,” she said. “But I think integrating artists back into the center of organizations is probably one of the smartest things you can do.

“I think most organizations don’t even consider having an actor at the table, because, they think, ‘What are they going to offer?’ The whole idea around this ‘producer-in-residence’ role is that we are at the table specifically because we think ‘out of the box.’ We are at the table because we are going to offer a ridiculous suggestion to do something like Smackdown-A-Mania. That is itself a testament that things are going to be totally different.”

Lessons learned

Montour-Larson said the two-year reinvention process has proven to be both scary and emotionally difficult for her, as she suspected it might at that first mountain retreat two years ago. “To go through a reinvention like this, one has to be very brave,” she said. “However, theater people are used to doing very scary and hard and brave things onstage. In the end, it was  difficult to separate the practical and the idealism from the personal. What I learned most is that this innovation process was bigger than all of us. And that Curious is far more than just a handful of people.”

Slack believes that by giving individual artists more ownership in the company, “that automatically changes the conversation you are going to have with people in the  community about your company,” she said. “Because now the company is offering you an opportunity to maintain your work not only as an artist, but to also expand yourself in a different capacity for the overall health and well-being of the entire organization. I think it’s very smart.”

Walton believes the reinvention of his organization will make Curious a more holistic organization. “And I believe this reinvention makes both the work we do on-stage — as well as the work that we do on a day-to-day basis in the office — better, and more informed and meaningful.”

Ticket information: Curious Theatre’s “Time Stands Still”

Now through Dec. 15: Donald Margulies’ intimate, character-focused drama is about a couple at a crossroads. Sarah, a photojournalist recently injured while on assignment in Iraq, returns home to Manhattan, where her partner, James, anxiously tries to nurse her back to health. But despite James efforts to keep her home, Sarah never feels completely comfortable staying in one place. The play was nominated in 2010 for a Tony Award for best new play. Directed by Christy Montour-Larson. The cast includes Michael Morgan, David Russell, Tara Falk and Devon James.

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.

Information: At 1080 Acoma St. Call 303-623-0524 or go to curious’ home page

 

Curious Theatre: 2012 artistic company

Artistic council
Dee Covington (actress/playwright/director)
Shannon McKinney (lighting designer)
Christy Montour-Larson (director)*
Erik Sandvold, (actor)
Karen Slack (actor)
Chip Walton (founder, director)
*Also producers in residence

Additional company
Lisa Boehm (stage manager)
Paul Borrillo (actor)
Kevin Brainerd (costume designer)
Ed Cord (actor)
Laurence Curry (actor)
Richard Devin (lighting designer)
Jason Ducat (sound designer)
Brian Landis Folkins (actor)
Kathryn Gray (actor)
Bill Hahn (actor)
Josh Hartwell (actor/playwright)
Markas Henry (costume and scenic designer)
Jim Hunt (actor)
John Jurcheck (actor)
Christopher Leo (director)
C. Kelly Leo (actor)
Cajardo Lindsey (actor)
Michael McNeill (actor)
Michael Morgan (actor)
Josh Robinson (actor)
Jada Roberts (actor)
Jessica Robblee (actor)
David Russell (actor)
Mare Trevathan (actor)
Todd Webster (actor)

 

Video, photo coverage: “After the Darklights” web-series launch party

By John Moore

Oct. 10, 2012

The 10-minute pilot episode of “After the Darklights,” a new post-apocalyptic web series written and directed by Denver’s Michael Morgan, was launched today as a free online offering. The video posted above chronicles the launch party held at the Laundry on Lawrence artists collective at 27th and Lawrence streets in the RiNo neighborhood just north of downtown. The video posted below is the actual pilot episode.

Morgan, also a local actor who will next appear in Curious Theatre’s “Time Stands Still,” opening Nov. 3, filmed the pilot with an all-local cast and crew that includes Emily Paton Davies, Leah Watson, Josh Hartwell, Brian Landis Folkins, Pamela McCreary, Mike Marlow, Chuck Fiorella, Channel 9 news anchor Kirk Montgomery and more. The series is produced by Brian Landis Folkins, who also appears in the series. Future episodes will feature Karen Slack, Jude Moran, Jim Hunt and others. Specials effects were designed by nationally recognized make-up artist Todd Debreceni.

Here is the official summary statement describing “After the Darklights,” which is most easily categorized as a zombie tale — but the undead evil ones here are better described as “ferals”:

The world as we knew it ended the night the lights came. There were a few of us who missed their coming. The few survivors. The rest who watched fell where they stood in the glow of the unexplainable strobing and fading in the sky. Most died. But not all. Many rose, bloody, shaking. Changed. Like animals. Ravenous animals. The last of us woke to a world where the air hurt to breathe, the sun burned you alive in minutes, and the risen hid in the shadows, waiting for nightfall, waiting to hunt. Waiting to feed. We are the last of who we once were, and we’re fighting every minute against a world that wants us dead…

The creative team has launched a $20,000 online fundraising campaign to help pay for the filming of the next several episodes.

Look for “After the Darklights” to be featured on the Friday (Oct. 12) episode of “In Focus with Eden Lane,” airing in Denver at 7 p.m. on Colorado Public Television Channel 12.

 

 

Photos from the Oct. 7 launch party:

Emily Paton Davies and Mike Marlow. Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

 

Elgin Kelley, director/writer Michael Morgan and Cat Tobiasson at Monday’s launch party for “After the Darklights.” Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

 

Full disclosure: The author of this article has a cameo in the pilot episode of “After the Darklights” as a dead body. John Moore was made that way by a feral Pamela McCreary. An inauspicious film debut for Moore.

 

Director/writer Michael Morgan was joined by Denver Comic Con director Charlie LaGreca at Sunday’s launch party. Photo by John Moore.

 

Director/writer Michael Morgan is interviewed by Eden Lane for an episode of “In Focus with Eden Lane” that airs at 7 p.m. Friday (Oct. 12) on Channel 12. Photo by John Moore.

 

A still from the pilot episode of “After the Darklights” featuring actor Josh Hartwell. Photo by John Moore.

A still from the pilot episode of “After the Darklights” featuring Emily Paton Davies. Photo by John Moore.

Actor Mike Marlow. Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

 

“Feral” Pamela McCreary and feral flee-er Emily Paton Davies. Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

 

Actor Leah Watson. Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

 

“After the Darklights” producer Brian Landis Folkins with director/writer Michael Morgan.

A still from the pilot episode of “After the Darklights” featuring actor Emily Paton Davies.Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

Photos: Curious Theatre vs. Buntport at “Smackdown-A-Mania”

By John Moore

Sept. 20, 2012

“Wrestlers” from the Curious and Buntport theater companies joined local comedians on Wednesday for “Smackdown-A-Mania,” a ridiculous night of silliness filled with spandex, swerves  and several incidents of … self-flagellation.

The night was part of Curious Theatre’s “urban adventures” series, designed not only to promote current programming but to allow new people to discover the company. Curious is currently staging the innovative wrestling drama “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” through Oct. 13. It then moves to Colorado Springs’ TheatreWorks from Oct. 19-Nov. 11.

Hellcat Hartwell with his manager, Luther (a.k.a. Josh Hartwell and Jim Hunt) before his title Jell-O thumb-wrestling match against Philip (Not The Author) Roth (a.k.a. Brian Colonna) at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

World Leg Wrestling Champion Nacho Ass Whippin’ (a.k.a. Hannah Duggan) at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

Professional Scandinavian wrestler Lute-Fist (a.k.a. Erik Edborg) takes on an Invisible Giraffe at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

“Smackdown-A-Mania” co-host GerRee Hinshaw, of Freak Train. Photo by John Moore

“Smackdown-A-Mania” co-host Erin Rollman, of Buntport Theater. Photo by John Moore

Philip “Not the Author” Roth (Brian Colonna) weighs in at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

Comedian Mara Wiles. Photo by John Moore

Jess Robblee wrestles with herself, literally and metaphorically, at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

Karen Slack brings the Jell-O to the Jell-O wrestling. Photo by John Moore

Ed Cord as the worst wrestling fan in the world. Photo by John Moore

Old Glory came out on top in the “legit” wrestling match of the night. Photo by John Moore

Comedian Abbey Jordan. Photo by John Moore

Kathryn Gray and her canine pal whip up the crowd at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

A smackdown between “Smackdown-A-Mania” co-hosts Erin Rollman, left, and Freak Train’s GerRee Hinshaw. Photo by John Moore

Improv comedian Libby “Liberty” Gordon. Photo by John Moore

Lute-Fist (a.k.a Erik Edborg) and Nacho Ass Whippin’ (a.k.a. Hannah Duggan) at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

Hellcat Hartwell with his manager, Luther (a.k.a. Josh Hartwell and Jim Hunt) before his title Jell-O thumb-wrestling match against Philip (Not The Author) Roth (a.k.a. Brian Colonna) at “Smackdown-A-Mania.” Photo by John Moore

 

More coverage:

Fall 2012 most intriguing titles, No. 1: Curious Theatre’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

Our review: Thought-provoking, blood-pumping, high-decibel theater

 

Where: In Denver: Through Oct. 13 at 1080 Acoma St.

In Colorado Springs: Oct. 19-Nov. 11 at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, corner of Union and Austin Bluffs Parkway on the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs campus

 

Performance times: In Denver: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays in Denver

In Colorado Springs: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays;  4 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: In Denver: $25-$44
In Colorado Springs: $35 reserved; Children under 16 $15; UC-CS Students free
Contact: In Denver: 303-623-0524 or curious’ home page

In Colorado Springs: 719-255-3232 or theatreworks’ home page