Arvada Center Blog

Six reasons to love Jeffrey Siegel

Six reasons to love Jeffrey Siegel

By Leslie Simon

Here at the Arvada Center we are major music aficionados, and we love learning more about the music we are hearing. Fans of old shows like VH1 Storytellers and MTV Unplugged will find world-renowned pianist Jeffrey Siegel’s Keyboard Conversations® to have a familiar concert-with-commentary format. Giving bits of background before playing the entire song, Jeffrey Siegel has been enriching and deepening patrons’ musical knowledge for decades, and we are honored to host this program year after year. Listed below are just six reasons we love Siegel.

Take a look at his upcoming event calendar and come see for yourself why we love him so much:

  1. Jeffrey is a musical globetrotter. Among the international groups he has played with are the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, Moscow State Symphony, Oslo and Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestras, and the NHK Orchestra of Japan.
  2. Jeffrey has also played coast to coast with America’s greatest musicians including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
  3. Speaking of Chicago, he’s a Windy City native, and studied with eminent pianist and teacher Rudolph Ganz there.
  4. He went to the prestigious Juilliard School in his current hometown of New York City. There at 17, he got to meet one of his idols, Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s musical lectures inspired Jeffrey’s own concert-with-commentary series Keyboard Conversations®, where he shares what Bernstein called “the transformative power of music.”
  5. Time Life created a one-hour PSB Special about this program titled Keyboard Conversations® ~ Piano Treasures. He’s also been on Oprah Radio’s “Dr. Oz Show” where he discussed this fun concert series with Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen.
  6. He’s funny, and doesn’t make classical music feel stuffy. While his career is certainly filled with “white-tie-and-tails” performances (in his words), the Keyboard Conversations® format is set up similar to VH1 Storytellers or MTV Unplugged, making these concerts warm and approachable.

Director’s Note: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

One of my earliest memories at the Arvada Center is of Agatha Christie and murder mysteries. I was twelve-ish and remember little of the plot aside from the haunting image of two spears with a sash strung between them that lowered behind the victims until it entrapped and strangled them. I still remember every detail of that moment!

In my twenties my first paid acting work was performing in murder mysteries, primarily with “’Til Death do us Party” productions in Gold Hill, CO, telling tongue-firmly-in-cheek stories with seven actors to about eighteen guests over a five-course meal, complete with murder and trips to crime scenes, occasionally by candlelight. I worked on my ability to die with my eyes open and failed often.

In my thirties I solo traversed Europe and soon ran out of books for my train travels. I quickly discovered that almost every country’s bookstores had a section in English that always included mystery classics. Rearmed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Christie, I devoured Hound of the Baskervilles and Murder on the Orient Express by overnight train to Barcelona, trading sleep for the lure of guessing whodunnit?

We are drawn to mysteries in all mediums, plays, films, television, novels and more. I am a self-avowed complete coward when it comes to horror and jump scares, but give me a story of gruesome murder with a complicated plot full of mysterious motivations, and I will drive to that last chapter as if my life depended on it. And my Netflix queue is awash with recommendations for dozens of murder mystery films and series, and I will likely watch all of them.

Matt Gale Photography 2020

But I return again, and again, and again to Agatha Christie. I suspect it is the eclectic company of suspects she pens, the secrets all the characters carry with them, her amazing detectives—the mercurial Poirot a favorite, her use of exotic locations, wit and drama that keeps me coming back. Best of all, I have rarely if ever guessed the ending.

Which brings you here, either to experience this famous case for the first time or to re-visit a favorite tale. And we intend to provide all of the above and in the round to boot. You will meet a cast of suspects each in turn coming face to face with the world’s greatest mustache on the world’s greatest detective. This tale is underscored with a classical soundtrack, staged with a whirling dervish of Art Deco furniture, leaving just enough room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. Expect some brash American warbling, some Scottish haranguing, some fervent Swede, a pinch of flirtatious Hungarian, a judgmental Russian and not one but two Belgians on the case.

Welcome to your ride on the Orient Express. If you are traveling in a first-class compartment, please lock your door. Bon Voyage et dors bien!

— Geoffrey Kent, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express director

Light that Gets A-Round

Light that Gets A-Round

by Leslie Simon

This spring season, the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre has undergone a significant change, converting to a brand new configuration that brings the audience inside the plays.   A “theatre-in-the-round” configuration takes background scenery out of the equation, and places all the emphasis on the actors. However, when the audience surrounds the stage on all sides, unique challenges arise. This season’s productions of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Small Mouth Sounds have provided our lighting and scenic designers with interesting problems to solve.

“The greatest challenge in-the-round is lighting the actor from all directions so that all audience members see mostly the same stage picture, and have the same theatrical experience,” says Lighting Designer Shannon McKinney. “Front light for one section of the audience is back light for another section, so balancing these angles and directions of light is quite a challenge.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream set rendering by Brian Mallgrave

To ensure that audience members have equal theatrical experiences, lighting, sound and set designers spend a lot of time collaborating and planning. “If my lighting choices are out of step with the scenic, costume, or even sound design, then you get a product that is incoherent and disorienting to the audience,” says Lighting Director Jon Olson. “The best designs are the ones that complement one another.”

Not only is it important to carefully plan out the lights in a good lighting setup, but you also have to factor in the shadows (or “modeling” as it’s called in Lighting Design). “It’s not where you put the light, but where you don’t,” says Olson.  With light and shadow being equally important, a lot of careful consideration is required when working in-the-round. McKinney adds, “I will spend a great deal of time making sure I’m sculpting an interesting picture with highlights and shadows on all sides.”

One of the unique challenges they have faced when designing for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is how to turn the stage into a train car. “Scenic Designer Brian Mallgrave has masterfully designed a floor pattern that implies the train car’s composition, and I have brought in top lights from above with sharp edges to create the boundaries of the train cars,” says McKinney.  “Hopefully, the combination of floor paint, lights, and furniture will help the audience feel like they see a train.”

Once the rehearsal process begins, new challenges and obstacles are discovered. “Creating the repertory lighting plan is like a painter picking a palette, and in this case, it’s two painters sharing a palette,” says Olson. “Once rehearsals start, we find moments where a show needs something very specific, and then those needed elements are layered on top of the plot.  Shannon and I always try to leave ourselves room for adjustments as a production starts to take shape.”

During the rehearsal process, the designers are able to see the work they have created in action, and the addition of the actors provides a lot of new inspiration. “The actors always spark new ideas — there is always that magical moment when I see them doing something that sparks a new concept that I would never have imagined without them,” says McKinney. “I love those moments, so I try to be as nimble as possible in my planning to allow those inspirations to influence the design until the show is open.”

To see Jon and Shannon’s lighting-in-the-round designs in action, make sure to enjoy all three productions playing this spring during the Black Box Theatre’s repertory season.

Theatre From Every Angle

What is theatre-in-the-round?

by Leslie Simon

 “Give me the best seat in the house!”

“Well, they are ALL the best seat when it’s theatre-in-the-round.”

This spring season, the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre has undergone a significant change, converting to a brand new configuration that brings the audience closer to the plays. “Theatre-in-the-round” takes background scenery out of the equation, placing all the emphasis on the actors and providing extraordinary theatre at every angle.

Stage model for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, designed by Brian Mallgrave.

Also known as arena theatre or central staging, this layout puts the action in the center of the room and places the audiences around the stage on all sides. The stage can be a circle, square, octagon, icosagon – whatever polygon or shape the director desires. While the acting space may be at the same level as the audience, you sometimes see the stage sunken down into a pit, or alternately, on a raised platform. These adjustments make for a more informal viewing experience and create more rapport between audience and actors.

Set rendering for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, by Brian Mallgrave

However, when the audience surrounds the stage on all sides, unique challenges arise. To ensure that patrons have equal theatrical experiences, lighting, sound and set designers spend a lot of time collaborating and planning. “If my lighting choices are out of step with the scenic, costume, or even sound design, then you get a product that is incoherent and disorienting to the audience,” says Lighting Director Jon Olson. “The best designs are the ones that complement one another.”

There are also interesting obstacles in regards to changing scenery and props. Everything must be done with the audience watching, so directors get to try out solutions like creating choreography that makes taking away furniture and props intentional and part of the action.

Fans of popular culture may recognize this configuration from Elvis Presley’s televised ’68 Comeback Special, which saw the King clad in black leather from head to toe and playing guitar surrounded by adoring fans on all sides. If you have never attended a performance that is “in-the-round,” come see what the fuss is about this spring in the Black Box Theatre.

For a list of performance dates, visit our website at

2019 Arvada Center Year in Review

by Leslie Simon

2019 Arvada Center Year in Review

As the past decade comes to an end, the Arvada Center thinks fondly back on a year of big changes and fun times. From the unveiling of a new look and logo, to celebrating local artists from all mediums, this is our list of 19 moments we loved from 2019.

What were your favorite moments at the Arvada Center in 2019?

  1. We unveiled our new logo!

This year was the beginning of a new chapter for the Arvada Center as we presented a new logo and mission conceived by local Denver agency AOR. Replacing the old logo that we affectionately called “the eyebrow,” the new starburst logo is multi-faceted and dynamic, and accurately represents who we are and what we do. With a new brand as our backbone, the Arvada Center will continue to act as a beacon of creativity in our community for 2020 and beyond.

  1. We installed a beautiful sign with that new logo on our building.

No longer does anyone have to wonder “what is this large building back here?” For the first time in the Arvada Center’s history, we have a big, beautiful sign with our big, beautiful new logo on our main building. It looks even better when it is lit up at night!

  1. Jessica Austgen’s Sin Street Social Club had its world premiere.

We specially commissioned local thespian powerhouse Jessica Austgen to write a new play, and this past spring in the Black Box Theatre, audiences laughed until they cried as they watched the world premiere of Sin Street Social Club, her hilarious adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover. Aphra’s play was perhaps the first known play written by a woman, and she paved the way for other smart, talented women such as Austgen.

Zachary Andrews and Lance Rasmussen in Sin Street Social Club – photo by Matt Gale

  1. The Diary of Anne Frank was the highest-grossing play in our Black Box Theatre history.

The Black Box had its most successful and highest-grossing play ever with The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Christy Montour-Larson. Extra performances had to be added, and the Arvada Center was packed with school groups coming for our special school matinee performances.

  1. Darrow Klein (Anne Frank) won a True West award.

It’s no easy feat portraying one of the world’s most famous teenagers, but local talent Darrow Klein brought authentic heart and pathos to her portrayal of Anne Frank – and her riveting performance won her a True West award! We can’t wait to see what 2020 brings for Darrow.

Darrow Klein as Anne – photo by Matt Gale

  1. Bright Star regional premiere received much critical praise.

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s bluegrass-tinged Broadway musical Bright Star had its regional premiere this past fall here at the Arvada Center, and critics and patrons alike showered the production with praise – in particular the clear, robust vocals of lead actress Merideth Kaye Clark.

Dieter Bierbrauer (Jimmy Ray Dobbs) and Merideth Kaye Clark (Alice Murphy) in Bright Star – photo by Matt Gale

  1. Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical had a special visit from Co-Bookwriter Gary Holmes

Co-bookwriter Gary Holmes was on deck and in person to celebrate the regional premiere of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical. Toes were tappin’ and fingers were snappin’ as the Harlem Renaissance/ Tin Pan Alley-influenced songs stuck in audiences’ heads for days after.

Natalie Oliver-Atherton
(Billie) and Milton Craig Nealy (George Walker) – photo by Matt Gale

  1. A Christmas Carol – The Musical was presented with an all-local cast.

Larry Cahn led the way with his empathy-inducing portrayal of the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge in the Arvada Center production of A Christmas Carol – The Musical. The production saw an all-local cast performing this beloved holiday favorite to their hometown families, friends, and fans.

Larry Cahn as Scrooge – photo by Matt Gale

  1. Arvada Center Literary Series kicked off with Salman Rushdie.

They don’t get more internationally renowned than author Salman Rushdie, and a sold-out crowd listened and laughed at the inaugural event for our new Arvada Center Literary Series. The Salman Rushdie event was in partnership with indie bookstore favorite Tattered Cover Book Store, and Rushdie signed copies of his latest novel Quichotte for those in attendance.

Salman Rushdie speaks at the Center – photo courtesy of Tattered Cover Bookstore

  1. National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Arvada Center with the Big Read grant.

The Arvada Center was honored to be the only organization in the state of Colorado chosen as a recipient for the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant. We celebrated with interesting discussions and book clubs, and Arvada Center arts instructors held interactive workshops at various Jefferson County Public Library branches. We also hosted the Colorado Book & Arts Festival which centered around the dystopian themes of Big Read book selection Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

  1. Front Range Youth Symphony created a new Teacher of the Year award.

Ms. Kelly Watts was awarded the 2019 Teacher of the Year award, the first award like this given to a music teacher by the Front Range Youth Symphony (FRYS). Students who participate in FRYS also participate in their own schools’ musical programs, with FRYS enhancing rather than replacing that curriculum.

The Front Range Youth Symphony recognized Ms. Kelly Watts as the 2019 Teacher of the Year at the May 6 concert.

  1. Jeffco Schools alumni Austin Parkhill honored with his solo exhibit Unselfie.

The chickens came home to roost as former Jeffco Schools student Austin Parkhill was celebrated with his own solo exhibit as part of our Jefferson County High School Art Exhibition. Teacher Keith Oelschlager also had a solo exhibit during this annual exhibition.

  1. The third installment of Art of the State took over the Center.

Art of the State 2019, the third installment of this juried exhibition, saw art from all mediums by 135 local artists from throughout the state of Colorado. Jeffco Schools’ Warren Tech provided the poster art design, and was onsite screenprinting t-shirts and sweatshirts.

  1. The celebration of the 10th anniversary of seminal art book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture.

In partnership with Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Colorado abstract art book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture by Michael Paglia and Mary Voelz Chandler. The Arvada Center hosted Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey, and Kirkland Museum held the complementary exhibit Colorado Abstract +10: A History which celebrated the history of abstraction in Colorado, and the artists who led the way.

Clark Richert, chronosphere – photo by Leslie Simon

  1. Brothers of Brass provided sassy, brassy tunes for our Mardi Gras Parade in Olde Town Arvada

Known for their upbeat renditions of both classic jazz favorites and newer danceable tunes, local horn-and-drum outfit Brothers of Brass joined forces with the Arvada Center and Olde Town Arvada and threw a festive Mardi Gras second line parade that saw festive participants dancing along through the streets of downtown Arvada.

  1. The Colorado Symphony played the music of Comic Con.

The Colorado Symphony delighted audiences with their performance “Symphonic Tribute of Comic Con,” containing orchestral renditions of songs from various video games and movie soundtracks including The Empire Strikes Back, Tron, and Harry Potter.

  1. Steuben’s Arvada hosted a summer pop-up kitchen during our outdoor concerts.

Local favorite Steuben’s Arvada fed hungry tummies at our outdoor concerts this year with their summer pop-up kitchen. Patrons were delighted with having the option to eat some of their signature dishes, as well as a specially created Fried Chicken Waffle Cone.

  1. Breakout stars Orquesta Akokán impressed music lovers during our Summer Concert Series.

Daptone Records’ Orquesta Akokán had people moving and grooving during the Cuban Big Band’s stop at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheatre on their biggest American tour yet.

  1. Ceramics classes studio got major facelift and operated at peak capacity.

With a second kiln added and major facelift done to the studio, the ever-popular ceramics program continued to grow and keep up with demand in 2019. Two sales each year at the Center allow patrons to purchase some of the beautiful ceramics made by these talented students.

Matt Gale Photography