Outtakes: My day at Magic Moments’ ‘Spirit & Soul’

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By John Moore, March 24, 2013

Opening No. 49, Magic Moments’ “Spirit & Soul”: That’s 193 people — count ’em! — at the curtain call for Magic Moments’ 30th annual pop-music revue at Kent Denver High School. Magic Moments integrates disabled and able-bodied cast members of all abilities, ages and experience levels for a show that has now raised more than $200,000 for organizations that provide services for people with special needs. “Spirit and Soul” is set within the context of a traveling revival show where a betrayal from within the ranks tests the faith of all involved. Songs from musicals “Spring Awakening,” “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and rock icons The Who, Queen, Kenny Loggins, Bare Naked Ladies, Lyle Lovett. There is even a number by recent Grammy darlings fun., as well as evangelical tunes like Matthew West’s “Forgiveness.” Something for everyone. Directed by K.Q. Starring Keegan Flaugh, Keith Hershman and … everyone else, including familiar local actors such as Amy Board, Sarah Rex and many others. Remaining showtime: 2 p.m. today, Sunday, March 24, at the Anschutz Family Theatre, 4000 E. Quincy Ave., Englewood, 303-607-7555. Thanks to Duncan R. Northern, Ted Kuenz, cast and crew.

Read more about Magic Moments in my earlier story here.

This photo gallery is part of my ongoing, 2013 labor-of-love photo series called “It’s Opening Night in Colorado Theatre,” bringing you iconic snapshots from behind the scenes all over Colorado theater. All photos by John Moore for www.CultureWest.Org. To see the actual, official photo series featuring one intimate, iconic snapshot from 49 Colorado opening nights (and counting), click here.

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It’s Amy Board with the plague … Tell me you don’t want a piece of that!

 

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They call TJ Board the “special needs coordinator,” but something has clearly gone wrong in his interaction skills here. Something about whether Coke is better than Pepsi.

 

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For some reason, the director known only as K.Q. never seems to go anywhere without his teddy bear.

 

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A very prominent piece of advice posted throughout the backstage area.

 

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Friday’s overnight snowstorm threatened to wreak havoc on Saturday’s two scheduled performances. But Magic Moments cast and crew are used to conquering far greater obstacles than snow.

 

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It takes a whole lot of volunteers to get stage makeup applied to all 193 cast members.

 

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Molly Nash isn’t shy about her excitement over having a solo in the 2013 show — singing, “I’m Shy,” from “Once Upon a Mattress.”

 

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These are just some of the dozens of vocal body mics the actors wear during the show.

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Director K.Q. and the actors who play roadies in the show gather to talk over some on-stage logistics.

 

(Please click below to go to the next page of our photos from Magic Moments’ “Spirit & Soul.”)

Magic Moments’ rotund roster includes some big-name local actors

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It is not uncommon for more than 200 people to participate in the annual Magic Moments pop-rock revue. This year’s crew includes some established names in the local theater community, including Amy Board, Sarah Rex, Ronni Gallup, Keegan Flaugh, Mark Shonsey, Dana Hart Lubeck, Donna Debreceni, David Nehls and others.

 

By John Moore
March 19, 2013

For 30 years, Magic Moments has presented an annual pop-music revue that integrates disabled and able-bodied cast members of all abilities, ages and experience levels. Those revues have now raised more than $200,000 for organizations that provide services for people with special needs.

The cast is made up of nearly 200 performers — and that is actually (and intentionally) down from an all-time high of about 250 a few years ago. But while Magic Moments is no longer an all-comers affair, it certainly remains open to most. It integrates a whole fleet of single-digit-aged moppets alongside some of the most respected members of the local acting community, as well as dozens of people with a wide variety of physical and mental challenges. Some of them might be detectable to the outside eye; others are quadriplegics. The belief at Magic Moments is that as long as you can move your eyes, you can act. And sing. And dance. That’s right — a team of up to eight choreographers make sure every cast member is included in at least four big group numbers, and here a wheelchair is no detriment to dancing. It is rather the tool that allows dancing to happen.

The rewards of participating in, or just attending, this completely singular theatrical experience, are both evident and manifest. But with a cast that is so varied and so large, it has been difficult for Magic Moments to find its place within the context of the larger Colorado theater community.

Magic Moments has much in common with the nationally recognized Phamaly Theatre Company, a troupe of all “differently abled” actors who present year-round musicals, dramas, stand-up comedy and, starting this year, a holiday offering. The companies share some of the same actors. Molly Nash has a big solo in this year’s Magic Moments revue, the Broadway showtune, “I’m Shy!” Phamaly audiences will again recognize longtime Phamaly favorite Ed Reinhardt and others.

But Magic Moments is different in at least two significant ways: Phamaly primarily presents known titles such as “The Elephant Man” and the upcoming summer musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” The madman behind Magic Moments, who goes only by the name of K.Q., goes to great pains each year to thread the dozens of rock, pop and Broadway songs together with an original and recognizable narrative, some recurring characters and an occasionally discernible plot. This is the first year Magic Moments is reprising a title from the past. It is bringing back “Spirit and Soul,” which is set within the context of a traveling revival show where a terrible series of events tests the faith of all involved.

The score is always subject to tinkering and modernization. This year’s production features songs from “Spring Awakening,” “The Wiz,” “Evita” and rock artists Queen, Kenny Loggins, The Call, Bare Naked Ladies, The Who and Lyle Lovett. There is even a number by recent Grammy darlings fun. (yep, lower-case and period included). A few years ago, the indie-cool Decemberists made it into the show.

But the big difference between Phamaly and Magic Moments is that you see the able-bodied performing right alongside those who are not. And while Phamaly prides itself on producing some of the best theater by any company of any skill level, Magic Moments is peppered with housewives and middle-aged parents who have no greater theatrical ambitions than these. They just want to perform on the same stage with their kids. What really makes Magic Moments … well, magic, is what happens when you immerse all of these disparate people into a common creative cause over many months. That can’t help but change the lives of all involved. That’s what makes it, in my book, among the most legitimate theatrical experiences you can have on any stage … or from any seat.

Any while Magic Moments has battled against the “snob” factor for decades — “Is it real theater or not?” — it will be tough to argue against the many well-known and highly regarded actors from the “legit” theater community who are performing this year: We’re talking Amy Board, Sarah Rex, Ronni Gallup, Keegan Flaugh, Mark Shonsey, Ken Paul and Keith Hershman. This year’s musical directors are award-winning Donna Debreceni and Arvada Center hot-shot David Nehls. There isn’t a theater company in Colorado that wouldn’t take that group.

If you don’t know who those people are, no matter. You will after you see “Spirit and Soul.”

Spirit and Soul” ticket information:
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday (March 21 and 22); 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (March 23); 2 p.m. Sunday (March 24) 
At the Anschutz Family Theatre at Kent Denver School, 4000 E. Quincy Ave., Englewood, 303-607-7555 or buy tickets here.

Some of my previous Magic Moments coverage:

My Magic Moments video podcast from 2011

2010: Magic Moments pays actors in a different kind of currency
2009: Wheelchair dancers ready for some rockin’ and rollin’
2008: Magic Moments is a stage for all

Photos from my visit to Saturday’s “Spirit and Soul” rehearsal:
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The mysterious director known only as K.Q. commands respect by wielding a soft … teddy bear.

 

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Sarah Rex (Arvada Center’s “Legally Blonde”) is one of the many respected actors in the Colorado theater community lending their services to Magic Moments’ annual fundraising revue.

 

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Amy Board, who won a Denver Post Ovation Award for her work in the Arvada Center’s “Les Miserables” as Eponine, was last seen starring in the Aurora Fox’s “Xanadu.” She plays a cancer patient in “Spirit and Soul.”

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For years, Ronni Gallup has both choreographed numbers for Magic Moments shows (along with her mother, Debbie Stark), and also provided sign-language interpretation at performances through her company, Hands on Productions. She played Lola in “Damn Yankees” and Nickie in “Sweet Charity” for the Town Hall Arts Center. But this year marks her first performance in a Magic Moments revue. She wanted to play alongside her two young sons.

 

(Please click “Page 2” below to go to the next page of photos from this year’s Magic Moments rehearsal)

Video: The Skype Sessions: Angela Reed and Mat Hostetler of ‘War Horse’

By John Moore
Jan. 7, 2013
Introducing: The Skype Sessions. Fun conversations taped, on, yes, Skype. Episode 1: Coloradans Mat Hostetler and Angela Reed talk from Chicago about their return to Denver this week in the national touring production of “War Horse.” Run time: 9 minutes.
And here’s our 2009 feature story on Mat Hostetler, “Conservatory pushes actors to the limit.”

After 136 years, my high school is finally building a place where kids can perform

"Uh ... what do you mean we can't print that in the Raider Review?"

“Uh … what do you mean we can’t print that in the Raider Review?”

By John Moore
Dec. 20, 2012

Longtime readers know I have a bit of a contentious relationship with my beloved alma mater, Regis Jesuit High School, where I was once valedictorian, senior of the year and, most proudly … voted the senior who throws the best parties! I recently got more than a little angry blowback from the present-day Regis community when I lovingly recounted our old rivalry with Mullen High School. Ah, good times.

I loved Regis for the open-minded Jesuit education it provided not only to poor white kids like the many mini-Moores, but to kids of several skin colors … not all of whom were recruited for sports. The school took the money and ran south in 1990 when a wealthy alum struck a major retail deal with the city of Aurora that required him to give back a certain amount of acreage for public use. The city suggested a park, but the alum decided instead to give the money to Regis in exchange for his name now being, shall we say, very prominent on campus. This is all water under the bridge but … our Regis was never the same.

Well, in one way. Even at its swank new academy-style campus in Aurora, Regis has never made much of a priority of the performing arts, which is amazing considering how many contributors to the arts the school has produced. We performed wherever we could, and the kids at the new school have had to perform in various places like the corner of the cafeteria, or now in a rented theater far across town. For a school with as much money as Regis has, it has never sat well with me that it has never made a real, a bricks-and-mortar commitment to arts education.

Until now. For the first time in 136 years and umpteen locations, the school is building its very first, bonafide performing-arts center, including a 500-seat, state-of-the-art theater. Which I think is pretty swell. Even though I’ve never been invited to a single reunion (though I have crashed one), I was recently asked by my pal Colin St. John, Regis’ fence-building and forward-thinking alumni director, to answer a few questions about this major news from an alum’s point of view. Colin would ask his questions via email, then I would rant about this or that, and he then would judiciously edit my nonsense into the following, safe-for-publication Q&A. I am not going to lie: My politically incorrect ways put Colin’s editing skills to the test. So, out of respect for him, I’m presenting his edited version here. (Now, if any of you would like to see the unedited version of what I had to say, you just let me know …) Enjoy!

An alumni perspective on the new performing arts center:

What were the arts spaces like when you were at Regis?

I remember as a boy going to watch my oldest brother Brian perform in the dumpy old gymnasium barn behind the Pink Palace. My first play was “Inherit the Wind” in the “new” chapel, which was no place to perform a play. But we got bounced out of there when the drama teacher found a half a can of beer in the light booth. By then, the new main high-school building had been built just north of the Pink Palace, but we were forced to perform in a lecture hall with no backstage. Just a storage room. A few years ago, I learned that Regis Jesuit was renting out the cavernous old theater at Colorado Heights University. That’s where my mom performed theater in college, so I’m guessing it isn’t in all that great of shape now. And I couldn’t help but notice it’s a 17-mile drive each way for them to and from school. Drama kids are always being asked to sacrifice like that, and it kind of stinks. Can you imagine putting the Regis football stadium in Wheat Ridge? This is why I applaud the school’s commitment to building a 500-seat theater for drama and music. I think having a first-class facility will not only encourage students to participate in theater arts, but will expose greater student audiences to the thrill of live performance. Both bring essential, lifelong benefits.

How vital do you see arts as part of an education?

I strongly believe the performing arts should be a required part of the curriculum just as much as math, science and physical education, I really do. This is an old stat, but drama kids outscored other students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in verbal and 34 points in math. Studies show drama kids have better reading comprehension, better attendance records and generally stay more engaged in school than those who don’t.

Do you think your arts education at Regis led you down your career path?

As the editor of the Raider Review student newspaper, I learned how to courteously edit other people’s work, and to develop my own writing style. Performing in high-school plays just made every aspect of high school better. While my parents were getting divorced, I buried myself in books (including, yes, my pocket New Testament), parties, the school newspaper and the drama program. I was looking for answers … anywhere. Somehow, I ended up being the valedictorian of my class, and for that I owe a great debt to Kim Smith (drama), Julie Martin (English) Kathy Madden (newspaper), and the chance I was given to play Walter Hollander in a stupid Woody Allen comedy. Performing kept me sane, it kept my studying, and it kept me laughing through many tears.

 Is there any one play you would like to see Regis students perform?

I have several dozen suggestions, and I’m guessing every one would probably get shot down. I hope every high-school kid gets the chance to perform in “Spring Awakening,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Next to Normal” and “The Book of Mormon” someday. I taught theater for a couple years at Holy Family and Machebeuf, and I know that to really show kids the incredible, visceral joy of performing, you have to give them material they can relate to, and will mean something to them in their everyday lives. Schools should not be afraid to let high-school kids explore sexual or violent content. As those studies shows, drama kids are the best kind of kids. They are in it for the right reasons. Let’s challenge them. They can handle it.

 

RAIDER3