Closing time for the ‘Opening Nights’ photo series; No. 151: Heritage Square Music Hall’s ‘Goodbye’

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By John Moore
Jan. 8, 2014

Welcome to my ongoing, 2013 labor-of-love photo series bringing you iconic snapshots from behind the scenes on opening nights in Colorado theater. All photos by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. To see the official “Opening Nights” photo series to date (these ones are specifically the “Heritage Square” outtakes), click here.

 

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At the end of their final performance on Dec, 31, 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.

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. All photos by John Moore for CultureWest.Org. Thanks: Connie Helsley. Look in the coming days for a video podcast from the final night. It will include cast and audience interviews, and some performance highlights.

IMG_7567The mark of Dwyer … Annie Dwyer.

 

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Photos: My night at Heritage Square’s ‘One Enchanted Evening’

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Heritage Square Music Hall co-owner T.J. Mullin told the opening-night audience of “One Enchanted Evening” that the company’s 25th season will be its last in Golden.

 

By John Moore
Feb. 16, 2013

Opening No. 28: The Heritage Square Music Hall opened its 25th and, sadly, final season on Valentine’s Day. Co-owners Connie Helsley and T.J. Mullin have decided to close the venerable theater on Dec. 31, 2013, citing declining attendance and an aging audience base among the reasons for ending a quarter-century era of family friendly, blue-collar and often silly entertainment out of a classic Victorian theater nestled in the Heritage Square amusement park and shopping village in Golden.

Because the Music Hall traditionally closes in January so that it can operate uninterrupted the rest of the year, Thursday’s opening night — Valentine’s Day — was the first time the cast had gathered since news of the closure became public. Because they have performed “One Enchanted Evening” before, it took only one brush-up rehearsal in the afternoon to have the cast ready to go.

The final season has been rejiggered to reflect a mix of old favorites and new shows. In “One Enchanted Evening,” Grandpa falls asleep reading bedtime stories to the kids, and his dreams take him to visit Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and other famous fairy-tale characters. The cast includes T.J. Mullin, Annie Dwyer, Alex Crawford, N. Randall Johnson, Rory Pierce, Johnette Toye, Scott Koop, Robert Wagner and Eric Weinstein. Through March 3 at 18301 W. Colfax Ave., Golden, 303-279-7800 or heritage square’s home page.

Photo by John Moore of www.CultureWest.Org. Thanks to Amie Rau, Scott Koop, Connie Helsley, T.J. Mullin, cast and crew.

Read our exclusive news report about the impending closure of the Heritage Square Music Hall.

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.

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The Music Hall, formerly the Heritage Square Opera House, anchors the popular Golden amusement park and shopping village. There is no word yet on how the theater’s closing will affect surrounding business, all of which are individually owned.

 

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The Music Hall is big on acknowledging birthdays and anniversaries.

 

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Heritage Square is one of the last remaining diner theaters in the metro area. Patrons eat in the tasty bufet line above the Victorian theater, then go downstairs for the show. The difficulty in navigating both the amusement park’s sloping incline at the entrance, and so many steps once inside, is one reason attendance is down among the Music Hall’s graying regular audience base, co-owner Connie Helsley believes.

 

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Assistant stage manager Amie Rau distributes cards for the cast sent, as the do most opening nights, by the Zernows. They are one the Music Hall’s most loyal patron families.

 

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It doesn’t take long for Annie Dwyer to transform from herself, above, into her comically tacky garb for “One Enchanted Evening,” in which she plays one hot grandma, below.

 

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Breaking news: Heritage Square Music Hall will close at end of year

"The Pinch Hitter," from 1997. The Heritage Square Music Hall will close on Dec. 31.

“The Pinch Hitter,” from 1997. Sixteen years later, six of the eight actors shown above are still performing at the Heritage Square Music Hall, which will close on Dec. 31.

 

Bonus coverage: See my full photo gallery from my night at Heritage Square Music Hall’s “One Enchanted Evening,” part of my ongoing photo series, “It’s Opening Night in Colorado 2013.”

By John Moore
Feb. 14, 2013

There’s a reason the venerable Heritage Square Music Hall will finish the year with the poignantly titled, “Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night.”

That holiday production will be the Music Hall’s last, ending a 25-year era of providing family friendly, blue-collar and often outrageously silly musical and comedy entertainment out of a classic Victorian theater nestled in the Heritage Square amusement park and shopping village in Golden.

Annie Dwyer and T.J. Mullin in "Who Done In Belle Star?" in 2004.

Annie Dwyer and T.J. Mullin in “Who Done In Belle Star?” in 2004.

Connie Helsley, who co-owns the business but rents her theater space from Martin Marietta Materials, cited the economy, location and an aging demographic among the many factors for the decision to shutter the business on Dec. 31. The closure will leave the Denver metro area with only two regular dinner theaters — Boulder’s Dinner Theatre and the Adams Mystery Playhouse.

“It’s just too tough,” said Helsley. “We’re hoping for a full year of seeing a lot of returning customers. But if you want to see us, you have to come and see us now.”

The Music Hall is located at 18301 W. Colfax Ave., just west of I-70.

Helsley estimates that audiences and revenue have fallen 40 percent over the past three years. In its heyday in the mid-’90s, the Music Hall would draw upward of 40,000 people a year. Last year, Helsley estimates attendance was about 18,000.

“I think we offered the best family entertainment in town; the best value for the money in town; and we were the most involved with our customers,” said Helsley. “But they are getting older; we are hard to get to; and we’re located on a steep incline. We’re just not in people’s line of sight anymore.”

Popular veteran actor T.J. Mullin, the face of the company on-stage and the vice-president and co-owner of the company off-stage, opened the Music Hall on June 1, 1988. Previously the theater had operated as the Heritage Square Opera House, traditional melodrama entertainment run by William Oakley. While never fully abandoning that dying art form, Mullin opened up the theater fare to include comic adaptations of classic tales, while ushering in a wildly popular era of pop-musical spoofs called the “Loud” series.

“There is a great amount of sadness,” said Mullin. “I don’t know what I will do if I’m not performing.” At the same time, though, this will be Mullin’s 40th year on area stages. “I am going to be 65 this summer,” he said, and some things aren’t coming as easily.” (Here is our report from Mullin’s 60th birthday celebration in 2008: : “The Loudest Quiet Man on Colorado stages”).

The Music Hall offered among the most consistent year-round entertainment in all of Colorado theater. Regulars Mullin, Alex Crawford, N. Randall Johnson, Rory Pierce, Johnette Toye and comedian extraordinare Annie Dwyer have more than 140 performing years among them on the tiny Heritage Square stage. That’s 140 years of singing, dancing, silly vaudevillian bits … and thousands of bald heads embossed with Dwyer’s lipstick. Performing alumni include Oscar-winning actor Amy Adams.

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