Arvada Center Blog

From Page to Stage – the Making of a Musical

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.

  1. 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.

Noah Racey as Dana Bright and Megan Van De Hey as Louise Bright

Noah Racey as Dana Bright and Megan Van De Hey as Louise Bright

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


Arvada Center techs build the set

  1. 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.


Jake Mendes as Simon Bright

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.

Director Gavin Mayer, writer Kenn McLaughlin and musical director David Nehls

Director Gavin Mayer, writer Kenn McLaughlin and musical director David Nehls

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


Kim McClay as Maggie Bright

  1. 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!

Historic art piece returns to the Center


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!


Archive photo of “Jack’s Piece”


“Jack’s Piece” in its new location on Fire Lane


“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.

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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! img_20161109_135601


The restored art piece has been installed with support from the City of Arvada Culture and Art Commission‘s Art in Public Places program.


Tartuffe’s final week has an understudy stepping into some unusual shoes


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.


Matt Gale Photography 2016

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.

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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!”



Arvada Center prepares for the holidays

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!

Junie B. is Back!

She’s back! Rehearsals are underway for the big reappearance of everyone’s favorite first grader. Melissa Morris reappears in her role as the precocious Junie in the children’s theatre fall production of Junie B. Jones, the Musical!

Matt Gale Photography 2016

You might be familiar with her adventures already – Junie and friends graced our stage just last spring. The musical is adapted from the beloved Junie B. Jones series of books by Barbara Park.

The musical opens October 13 at noon, and it runs through December 30, 2016. Check out a complete performance schedule!

Colorado Parent Magazine has recognized the Arvada Center’s children’s theatre productions as #1 in the state for five years in a row. We cast talented adult actors in our children’s productions, giving kids an introduction to the world of theatre!

Accessibility is also important to our children’s theatre program. Select performances of Junie B. Jones, the Musical will be Audio Described for the sight impaired, and Shadow performed for the hearing impaired. Shadow – interpreted theatre utilizes specially trained American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to perform as “shadows” on stage alongside actors.


Junie B. Jones – The Musical Cast

Melissa Morris –  Junie B. Jones
Rachelle Wood  – Lucille/Jose
Valerie Igoe –  Camille
Susannah McLeod –  Chenille/Herb
Maggie Tisdale –  Mommy/Grace/May
Damon Guerrasio –  Mr. Woo/Student
Benjamin Wood –  Daddy/Mr. Scary/Gladys Gutzman
Jonathan Hallowell –  Lennie/Sheldon
Katie Jackson –  Bobbi Jean

Junie B. Jones, the Musical Book and lyrics are by March Heisler, with music by Zina Goldrich. The Arvada Center production directed by David & Julie Payne, with musical direction by Keith Ewer and choreography by Piper Arpan. The Arvada Center Artistic Producer is Rod. A. Lansberry.


The show is suitable for audiences of all ages! Tickets are on sale now.