Arvada Center Blog
The Arvada Center has the opportunity to work with so many talented members of the Colorado theatre community every year – and this year, six actors and one designer involved in our productions were recognized in the 2016 True West Awards! Congrats to these talented people – look for their work in upcoming Arvada Center productions in 2017.
Michael Morgan starred in the Arvada Center’s fall Black Box production of Tartuffe. He’s a member of the Center’s Black Box Repertory company and will be appearing in Bus Stop, which opens in February. Artistic Director of Plays Lynne Collins calls him an “actor’s actor — You watch him and you can’t help but go away thinking you really know whatever guy he’s playing. He’s just very relatable and accessible to an audience.”
The husband and wife duo took on an interesting task this year. O’Carroll appeared as Madame Pernelle in Tartuffe, but almost turned down the role because of a schedule conflict until Lynne Collins suggested her husband, Steve Wilson, step in. The actor swap fit perfectly into Moliere’s comedic masterpiece, as a husband stepped into his wife’s shoes.
New to the Arvada Center stage, Jake Mendes took on the role of Simon Bright in the Center’s world premiere musical I’ll Be Home for Christmas. But theatregoers may have seen him elsewhere – even if they didn’t recognize him. He also appeared in Little Shop of Horrors at Miner’s Alley Playhouse, and as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in StageDoor Theatre’s Rocky Horror Picture Show.
If you saw Tartuffe, you saw Diana Ben-Kiki’s handiwork firsthand on the heads of the actors onstage. The Denver Center’s “Wig Goddess” produced over 130 heads of hair this year, including productions of Sweeny Todd, Frankenstein and A Christmas Carol as well as Tartuffe.
Sharon Kay White brought her voice and comedic talents to two Arvada Center productions this year – she appeared as Sister Mary Patrick in the fall musical Sister Act and belting variety-show star Carol Marie in I’ll Be Home for Christmas. She was one of a few actors involved in the world premiere musical from its first staged reading.
Alongside Michael Morgan, Sam Gregory’s hilarious take on Tartuffe‘s hapless patriarch Orgon had audiences laughing. Another repertory company member, Gregory will appear in two upcoming Black Box productions in 2017. He plays Dr. Lyman in Bus Stop, and stars as Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, opening in April.
This holiday season the Arvada Center produced a brand-new musical work – the first in our 41-year history. Arvada Center Artistic Producer of Musicals Rod A. Lansberry and I’ll Be Home for Christmas co-creators, David Nehls and Kenn McLaughlin offer their perspective to what it takes to build a new musical from the ground up.
- Describe what it feels like to create a new musical like I’ll Be Home for Christmas from concept to completion?
Rod Lansberry (RL): The idea to have a world premiere on the Arvada Center stage is something we have worked on for many years, and we are happy to have this chance to bring something new and fresh to our audience.
Kenn McLaughlin (KM): It is a very hard thing to describe! Rod and (director) Gavin Mayer have been champions of the work from the start and have offered great direction and feedback that have helped shape where we are.
David Nehls (DN): Creating a new work for musical theatre is one of the most thrilling journeys in the arts. To be in the room to see the final result with an audience is both exciting and terrifying because you are experiencing all the elements coming together for the first time in real time. It is truly like nothing else.
- This musical draws on an old holiday tradition, but it’s also rooted in a specific time (1969). What was the inspiration for the setting of a Christmas variety show? What about this point in history?
KM: Both David and I grew up watching these shows. When we started talking together about our memories of the shows it was clear they had had a deep impact on us.
DN: The TV variety shows of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s honed my sensibility for what I liked as an artist and helped encourage me to go into the arts as a career. Plus, the idea of family is the cornerstone of I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and my family came together to watch these shows.
KM: The idea of the turmoil of the late 1960’s gave us a way to bring in more powerful social themes and put those up against the traditional ideas of an American Christmas. The collision of these ideas is what gives the show its voice. People who have read it or heard it remark how it feels very relevant to our circumstances today and that was the biggest of our goals.
- How long did the development of this musical take?
KM: The first time we even discussed it was December 2012. At that time David and I had just finished work on a holiday pantomime for my theatre in Houston, and we were looking forward to what else we might work on. He called me as I was about to board a plane and laid out the idea. I wrote the first treatment of the show on the plane
DN: When Rod reached out about the show after this past Christmas, we jumped on it completing a first, readable draft by March.
RL: The actual production has been in process for almost a year, It went from rough drafts of the script and music to table readings and a staged reading for an invited audience in June.
- What phases did the musical go through in development? How did it change?
KM: The biggest change came late in the process with a different approach to Simon’s journey through the play. He now gets more caught by surprise by several things and that sets him on his path. It is much more playable for the actors, and I think much more interesting for the audience.
DN: Dialogue shifted in places, strengthening characters here and there, but the basic structure remained.
5. The Arvada Center held a workshop with actors and a live audience in June. Was having an early audience to hear the words and music helpful?
Rod Lansberry: Actually getting live feedback led us to many insights and ideas that only helped to solidify and improve the piece.
KM: Based on the response we got that day, we knew that the characters and the core story mattered to people. We got to hear where the audience got lost and we got to hear what moved them and all in all it was a remarkable and important day for the play.
- What was the collaboration process like, particularly with one of the creators living in Houston?
DN: Working with Kenn is always a joy! He is so smart and fresh and has a great sense of how the process works.
KM: David and I spoke on the phone several times a day during creation – he’d write something he was excited about, and he’d send it, and I’d write something I was excited about and then we’d get on the phone and work it out. David and I think a lot alike about theatre so it was an easy process for us and the distance was not a problem at all.
RL: Kenn and David have a great working relationship that has served to make the entire project an enjoyable and creative process.
- What is the biggest challenge?
RL: Creating a piece that will artistically fit the reputation of the Arvada Center and enlighten while entertaining an audience – especially a piece that fits the theme of the holiday season.
KM: This is a play of extremes and getting that just right is a challenge. It’s a musical comedy with a very powerful story about a soldier and his return from Vietnam. Balancing the power of that story and making sure we honor all the voices of that story while we surround it with some joyful singing and dancing– it is a great and thrilling challenge indeed.
DN: And casting these specific roles with such specific talents is a bit of a challenge.
- What’s most exciting to you personally about presenting a world premiere at the Arvada Center?
RL: Bringing a fresh new holiday production to our audience and producing our first new work.
DN: This has been my home theatre for 14 seasons and to have my own work premiere here for the first time is a big thrill. My shows have now been produced all over the country, but we have never produced one here. So to cross this off the bucket list is great!
KM: The fact that Rod challenged us to go deeper and to find the darkness too – I can’t be more excited about that. I think it has made the play very special and in fact more joyful than I could ever have imagined. I cannot wait to share it with people – I just can’t wait!
I’ll Be Home for Christmas runs until December 23. Tickets are available online!
If you’ve visited the Arvada Center recently you may have noticed a construction project in front of the building. An historic art piece is getting a facelift and a new location this month!
“Jack’s Piece,” by John Young, was installed at the center in 1981. It was originally part of an exhibition called Issues Of Gravity/Elements Of Suspense, which also featured the work of Barbara Baer and John van Alstine.
“Jack’s Piece” is a study in weight and tension, built with a combination of natural and manmade materials. Rigging made of wire and boulders keep slabs of flagstone standing parallel to each other.
The piece stayed up outside the Center for decades, but was eventually taken down because of wear on the wires. And now it’s back. You can view the restored “Jack’s Piece” at its new location on Fire Lane – easy to see if you are driving into the Center!
The Arvada Center’s production of Moliere’s famous satire Tartuffe is filled with humor, silly references and surprising twists – including an unexpected casting change-up in the production’s last two weeks.
For two weeks the role of Madame Pernelle, until now played by Leslie O’Carroll, will be played by her real-life husband Steve Wilson.
Madame Pernelle is the imposing matriarch of the Tartuffe family who is duped by the con man’s false piety. In her first scene, she makes it clear exactly what she thinks of her family members, and how Tartuffe’s hypocrisy has impacted her.
O’Carroll had to leave Tartuffe early to begin rehearsals for the DCPA Theatre Company’s annual production of A Christmas Carol – and she almost turned down the role because of the scheduling conflict. Director Lynne Collins suggested she take the role anyway – but switch it up so Steven Wilson would step in at the end of the run.
Wilson is a well known face in the Denver theatre community – he was the Artistic Director of Phamaly Theatre Company for many years and is now the Executive Artistic Director of the Mizel Arts and Cultural Center. But it’s been a long time since he’s been on stage. Wilson brings a serious approach to a humorous role – he memorized his lines four months in advance and even shaved his face to prepare. He made his debut in Tartuffe last week and will perform through the closing of the production.
Jessica Austgen, who plays Dorine in Tartuffe, filmed this 15-second interview to send Leslie O’Carroll off to A Christmas Carol.
Leslie O’Carroll talked about the casting decision earlier in the year when we introduced the Black Box Repertory Company:
This is the last week to catch Tartuffe and see Steve Wilson in action! The production closes November 6 and tickets can still be purchased on our website. Don’t miss the play that the North Denver Tribune called “a great beginning for the Arvada Center Black Box Repertory Company!”
What happens when classic Christmas carols, the Vietnam War and an old-time variety show all share the Arvada Center stage?
It’s called I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and it’s the first world premiere musical produced by the Arvada Center. The cast and crew gathered yesterday to prepare for the brand new production of the musical, and rehearsals begin this week!
Set in 1969, the musical focuses on the Bright family as they prepare for their annual Christmas variety show, one of the most-watched and anticipated television events of the year. In the midst of rehearsals, they welcome their eldest son home from the war. A decorated hero, and former teen idol, Simon is challenged by his return to civilian life and the expectation and anticipation of performing again.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas is set in the hours leading up to and during the live TV broadcast, featuring rich costumes, great dance numbers and exciting new music along with many seasonal favorites. It’s a family friendly show that people of all ages will enjoy!
Original music and lyrics were written by the Center’s longtime musical director David Nehls. Kenn McLaughlin wrote the book. Gavin Mayer is directing, and Rod Lansberry is producing.
The historic setting – a throwback to variety shows of the 50’s and 60’s – was inspired by Nehls and McLaughlin’s nostalgic love of television from that era. They began playing with the idea in 2012, and have been doing writes – and re-writes – and more re-writes – for the past nine months. It mixes beloved holiday music with original tunes and choreography.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas Cast
Noah Racey – Dana Bright
Megan Van De Hey – Louise Bright
Jake Mendes – Simon Bright
Kim McClay – Maggie Bright
Andrew Diessner – Len
Sharon Kay White – Carol Marie
Darius Jordan Lee – Sandy
Sheryl McCallum – Ruby
Women’s Ensemble: Norrell Moore, Maddie Franke, Rae Case, Rachel Turner
Men’s Ensemble: Jean-Luc Cavnar, P. Tucker Worley, Benjamin Roeling, Darrell T. Joe
The musical opens November 18. Preview performances take place November 15 – 17, and it closes December 23. Tickets are on sale now!