Crumpet may be one cynical elf, but Colorado’s own Matt Zambrano proved to be a joyful sprite of a guy when he joined John Moore for a fun-filled hour at November’s “Page to the Stage,” a monthly lunchtime conversation at the Tattered Cover book store. This brief video contains highlights from their talk. The SantaLand Diaries, a co-production with the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, opens Nov. 29 and runs through Dec. 24. Call 303-893-4100, or go to www.denvercenter.org
By John Moore
As a former Denver Post theatre critic in the Google age, you can’t run, and you can’t hide, from your own words. In most cases, I don’t want to.
When it was annnounced that “Pippin” will launch its national tour in Denver in September 2014, I was immediately reminded of my admittedly cranky review of the 2006 Arvada Center production, headlined, “Pippin bares an ick factor.”
My lead from that review:
To see this full photo gallery, click here.
By John Moore
Aug. 21, 2013
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts hosted “Kids’ Night on Broadway” on Aug. 20, 2013, in conjunction with the launch of the national touring production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Kids ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, then were treated to a full array of family activities in the theater lobby, then met with four members of the cast before seeing the show: Nathan Hosner, Carl Howell, John Sanders and Ian Michael Stuart. “Peter and the Starcatcher” runs through Sept. 1 at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. Information: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.
A critically-acclaimed international dance production, choreographed by ABC-TVs Emmy-nominated Louis van Amstel of “Dancing With the Stars”, has taken the inevitable next step and is hitting The Buell Theatre stage.
Ballroom with a Twist stars “Dancing With The Stars” celebrity pros Jonathan Roberts and Anna Trebunskaya, Tristan MacManus and Chelsie Hightower; finalists from TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” Randi Lynn Strong, Legacy and Jonathan Platero, and “American Idol” finalist Gina Glocksen and Von Smith.
This evening of pure entertainment for the entire family pushes the boundaries of ballroom dance, infusing it with the intensity of the latest contemporary and “hip-hop” styles. It also is crowned by stunning costumes, magnificent music and breathtaking performances. What’s not to like…?
by Sylvie Drake
With the release of the film made of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and considering that musical’s 33-year record run on stage, one has to ask: Why? Why does this show never seem to lose its luster? Is it the pathos? The action drama? The deep well of sentiment (as opposed to sentimentality) on which it draws? The pervasive heroics and genuine heroism of the piece?
Whether it’s a carryon, a suitcase, a traveling trunk or — as in the case of Mary Poppins which flies into Denver’s Buell Theatre May 1-5 — a carpetbag, it takes a little organizational magic to pack when you are constantly on the road. So we turned to Madeline Trumble, who plays everyone’s favorite nanny to get some helpful, handy tips.
How many markets will you travel to during your run as Mary?
Oh my goodness, I think I’ve traveled to about forty different cities, in three different countries. And we still have a few stops left!
Matt Goldman, Chris Wink and Phil Stanton are entrepreneurs who created and oversee a global enterprise that has brought joy to more than 17 million people. They are also innovators, educators, artists, and contemporary comedians, known collectively as the founders and originators of Blue Man Group. That these three bald and blue characters would become a cultural phenomenon is an idea that was all but unimaginable when these inscrutable beings first emerged, walking the streets of New York.
“We weren’t really goal-oriented,” says Stanton. “When we started walking around the city, we did it because we wanted to see how people reacted. And being bald and blue was our social life. We didn’t want to go to bars and be part of a singles scene, a drinking scene. We wanted our social life to be somehow creative, and this was a lot of fun. We knew we would eventually do some kind of performance, but we never envisioned a commercial theater run.”
Spamalot uses 30 wireless microphones and consumes more than 2000 AAA batteries per month and runs over 1 mile of cable.
Among the props is a cow that weighs 45 pounds and it takes two stagehands to catapult it over the castle.
Spamalot uses approximately 40 coconuts per month, supplied by the Coconut King in Florida.
by Michael Lassell
Like Mary Poppins, the character she created, P.L. Travers did not believe in explaining. She did, however, believe in self-mythologizing, leaving those intent on biographical criticism so confused in her wake that even her obituaries had the facts wrong (according to Valerie Lawson, author of Out of the Sky She Came, the definitive Travers biography).
PLT, as she was sometimes called, did not even take credit for “creating” Poppins. Instead, she insisted, the nanny with the upturned nose just came to her one day, much as she blows in on the East Wind in the opening chapter of Mary Poppins (1934). But whether Travers created the “Practically Perfect” Poppins—while convalescing from pleurisy in her Sussex, England, cottage—or merely channeled her, the world is in her debt.
A few tips for Monty Python novices and wannabes.
Remember the first time you tried liver? Or asparagus? OK, bad examples. But just like you didn’t have to be Jewish to eat Arnold’s Jewish Rye, you don’t have to be a stuffy, upper-class twit or even a drunken rugby fan to enjoy Spamalot.
“Taste is the enemy of art altogether. I’ve thought about this a lot. People with good taste are constantly worrying about what other people will think. Don’t put that couch over there! It’s the wrong thing to be thinking about because it squashes expression. Of life and vitality of all kinds, and sex – all the funny things!” —Spamalot director, Mike Nichols, New York Magazine
Those blue guys are not aliens; they’re members of Blue Man Group, bringing their energy and enigma to Denver
It’s 10 minutes to show time at a performance of Blue Man Group, and the noise in the theatre is so loud that the audience seems more like a group of revelers at a party than spectators in a theatre. People are boisterous, anticipation is high, the buzz is electric. By the time the Blue Men appear, the audience is screaming with delight.
It’s a scene repeated most nights in New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Vegas and wherever Blue Man Group is appearing. How often do you see theatre audiences so revved up at the end of most shows, let alone before one has even begun? The decibel level rises as the evening goes on. By the end, the atmosphere is euphoric.
The Blue Man Group experience is unique and not confined to the United States. There are or have been productions in Tokyo, Toronto, and numerous European cities including Berlin, London, and Amsterdam. Millions of people of all ages and nationalities have seen the show, and countless numbers are repeat visitors. Although the off-Broadway production has been around since 1991, the demand for it is still strong and Blue Man Group has heeded the call with this, its first national tour—a tour that features a combination of the Blue Men’s most popular pieces with fresh material created exclusively for this iteration.
Why all the excitement?
It’s impossible to say exactly. Blue Man Group is totally off the grid—a contemporary comedic piece, performed by three silent, bald-and-blue characters who engage in a variety of set pieces ranging from primitive to sophisticated that combine music, comedy, science, technology and mind-boggling creativity. Just as in old-time vaudeville, they have something for everyone.
“We’ve done surveys to figure out who our audience is, and we’ve found that our demographic ranges from eight to 85 years old,” says Puck Quinn, creative director of character development and appearances. “That’s when we know we’re doing something right. A kid can come to the show and just enjoy the rhythm or the mess or the colors or the spectacle. Adults can come and do the exact same thing, but they might also come away with something to think about. When we do our work well, the show succeeds on multiple levels.”
Amid the riot of colors and music, the eating and flying food, are the LED screens displaying sometimes silly, sometimes witty, sometimes thought-provoking messages. There also is a sonorous pre-recorded voice guiding the audience through clever set pieces about a variety of topics such as modern plumbing, technology and choreography.
But the Blue Man Group show is mostly visual and aural—as opposed to oral. The Men are mute by choice. Language is not an issue, so the show travels well to other countries. Beating paint-covered drums and creating cascades of color has visceral appeal in any culture, and the “feast”—in which a member of the audience joins the Blue Men onstage to dine on… a Twinkie—retains its humor and sweetness wherever it plays.
“I think the reason the show works goes back to our ideas about the character,” says Phil Stanton, co-founder of Blue Man Group with Matt Goldman and Chris Wink all those years ago. “It might sound heady to talk about it this way, but the Blue Man is a kernel of humanity or a kind of Everyman. The blue paint gets rid of race and nationality.”
Adds Quinn: “The show deals with topics and issues that are common to every culture: Communication. Sensory overload. Beating music and heavy rhythm. Dancing. All of that crosses every border. We have things that we want to say, and the message is there if you want to hear it, but we don’t care if you don’t. We just want everyone to have fun.”
The relationship between the Blue Men and the audience is the most intriguing part of this phenomenon. The audience could be considered an additional—and unpredictable—character. It’s not just that a woman from the audience is selected to appear onstage each night to partake in the “feast,” or that a man is chosen to get “Jelloed” (a new verb?) or that viewers in the first few rows are so close to the action that they’re given ponchos to wear in case paint or other stuff lands on them. It’s that the audience response catalyzes the Blue Men. That symbiosis is what fuels the passions of the show’s devoted fans.
“The relationship with the audience is everything,” underscores Matt Goldman, “because at the end of the day, the Blue Man is really just trying to connect. He knows, either intellectually or at gut level, that in order to get to that ecstatic, heightened moment, he must connect with these strangers. That’s why the Blue Man is so respectful [of his viewers]. He wants their trust. It’s all about connection.”
Clearly, Blue Man Group is connecting. Stanton recalls a man who saw the show 70 times (“he wasn’t a weirdo”) and others who’ve seen it 20 or 30 times. “Usually, if people see a play they liked, they’ll tell their friends to go see it,” says Quinn, “but with our show, people want the experience of seeing it with their friends. And that creates energy and intensity from the start…. It’s not a passive experience. It’s more like going to a sporting event.
“I tell people that you don’t really start seeing the layers of the onion peeled back until you see the show for the second or third time. I also think people come back for very specific reasons: they want to really listen to the music or pay attention to a particular moment because they couldn’t quite figure out how it was done. And they come back because they want to see how the show is different from night to night. The other thing is, we change the show. Every couple of years we swap out a whole bunch of material. We want it to be relevant to time and period.”
The national tour should only expand Blue Man Group’s fan base and recidivists will discover a performance quite different from its predecessors.
“We are going to be in large theatres, and that was one of the main impulses for finding another way to deliver a lot of the content,” says Stanton. “We have a new set design, with LED surfaces and LED curtains. It gives the show a completely different look. And we’ve found that we can use the technology to help people focus more.”
The finale—one of Blue Man Group’s most celebrated hallmarks—is now completely new; replacing it, its creators say, took guts.
“We always wanted the show to feel like it was working toward that moment, that ending, when all the things that make us fragmented in the modern world go away and we become one group,” says Stanton. “It’s hinted at in certain places during the show, and that’s what the arc of the evening is about: two cultures encountering each other and realizing by the end that there are no barriers between them….
“There aren’t many places where you can be with strangers and have this shared experience. The new finale has a similar concept, and the same goal: to make the audience look around and encounter other people. Visually, we’re taking it to another level. We hope audiences will find it even more powerful.”
Material for this article is courtesy of the Blue Man Group website.
By Sylvie Drake
For nearly 60 years, he’s usurped Mark Twain’s persona as his mantle and Twain’s perspicacity as his rapier. Both still apply.
Did you know…. that actor Hal Holbrook was a member of the first Lincoln Center Repertory Company (1963), did a whole lot of regional theatre, film and TV, won numerous Emmys, including one for his role as host and narrator of Portrait of America, a five-year cable TV project that garnered the 1984 Peabody?
Of course not.
Frank Abagnale Jr. is an expert on fraud, scams, deception and beating the system. Between the ages of 16 and 21, he forged and cashed $2.5 million worth of bad checks in the United
States and 26 other countries, while successfully passing himself off as an airline pilot for Pan Am, a doctor, a college professor and a lawyer. He was ultimately caught, as he always knew he would be, and served time in French, Swedish and American prisons.
It’s been a while since Denver had a taste of the mad science inherent in Jekyll & Hyde, the killer musical perhaps more suited to Halloween than the advent of spring. It is now back at The Buell Theatre, better than ever, and drumming up a few extra chills before the imminent demise of winter.
One of New York’s enduring hits, Jekyll & Hyde, which features a book and lyrics by two-time Academy Award-winning lyricist Leslie Bricusse and a score by Grammy Award-nominated composer Frank Wildhorn, is based as we all know on Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous tale of a decent scientist’s wild experiment gone bad. A whirlwind odyssey pitting man against himself is set in motion when the brilliant Dr. Jekyll’s medical fooling around backfires, giving life to his evil—and increasingly uncontrollable—alter ego Edward Hyde.
The musical spent some four years on Broadway and on multiple worldwide tours, but the production currently in Denver is an arresting pre-Broadway reinvention. It has a revised script, a slightly different song list, new orchestrations and an impressive new look.
Aside from the central battle between good and evil, this moody musical is loaded with romance, to be introduced this time by a new pair of stars. Tony Award-nominee and “American Idol” sensation Constantine Maroulis joins Grammy Award-nominee and Canadian R&B superstar Deborah Cox to handle the romantic aspects of this haunting tale, as well as inject robust new life into the Stevenson classic scheduled to make a return appearance on Broadway in April.
Maroulis, who shot to fame on “American Idol” and received a 2009 Tony Award nomination for his work in Rock of Ages, plays the dual title role. He is not shy about sharing a life-imitates-art event that he claims instantly connected him to Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll’s scientific experiment was undertaken in an attempt to help his ailing father; by coincidence, Maroulis’ own Dad was gravely ill when he, the son, was offered the role last year. Playing Dr. Jekyll only strengthened his resolve to give the musical his all.
“I feel you should approach every role with the passion and desire to find everything you need to find as an actor and artist,” he told Playbill at the start of rehearsals last summer. “That’s how I approached Rock of Ages, and that’s how I’d approach Hamlet, which I’d love to do one day. I go about everything the same way.”
Jekyll & Hyde previewed in La Mirada, CA, in September before kicking off its 25-week Broadway-bound national tour in October. The talented Jeff Calhoun is the director/choreographer of this new edition; among Calhoun’s many varied credits are such admired and well-received musicals as the Tony-nominated Newsies, Big River and Grey Gardens.
The original Jekyll & Hyde saw the dark of night in 1990 at Houston’s Alley Theatre, breaking box office records and playing to sold-out houses. At that time, a recording of the musical score yielded all the hit songs that continue to have a strong hold on listeners (“This is the Moment,” “A New Life,” “Someone Like You”), transforming Jekyll & Hyde at the time into something of a theatrical phenomenon.
Despite a mixed critical reception for its original New York run, a 1997 revival at Broadway’s Plymouth Theatre turned things around. It played to sold-out houses and nightly standing ovations, breaking box office records several times and spawning legions of repeat visitors who became known as “Jekkies.” (Some “Jekkies” claim to have seen this show more than 150 times.)
This success is a testament to its creators’ persistence in their pursuit of perfection. When such stars as Liza Minnelli and The Moody Blues began performing and recording its songs, the show gained even greater traction.
While the look may have changed, the mood and the music that first grabbed audiences by the throat are very much there and ready to do it again.
“Any time you have a title with such history and recognition, it’s important to take a fresh look at it,” said Maroulis, who admits to never having seen the musical before being cast in it. Neither, incidentally, had director Calhoun.
“I feel like I’m creating a new role,” Maroulis told Playbill. “We feel we have a really lean and mean script…. Jeff is a very meticulous, detail oriented director. Our approach is very grounded and very real, not over the top.”
This story was assembled from website materials and the Internet
Mat Hostetler is familiar to Denver audiences for for his work with the Denver Center Theatre Company, Creede Repertory Theatre, Colorado Shakespeare Festival and graduate productions at the National Theatre Conservatory. He returns in the national touring premiere of War Horse and took a break to tell us about life since Denver.
Q: So you spent some of your childhood in Glenwood Springs. This is a bit like coming home, right?
A: Absolutely! Perhaps, even more than being my physical home for many years, Colorado has always been my creative home. I started acting when I was in Glenwood and did a lot of community theatre in both Glenwood and Aspen. While in college at the University of Kansas, I came back to Colorado and worked at Creede Rep. Then, after many years away, I came back to Colorado to attend grad school at [National Theatre Conservatory] and had the privilege to work with both the Denver Center and Colorado Shakespeare Festival. So many tremendous teachers and mentors in Colorado have helped me along the way, I’m just so grateful.
Q: So we see that this is your first national Broadway show tour, what’s that like? Good at packing yet?
A: Yeah, I’ve got the packing down to a science! I was terrible for the first few cities, but you learn quickly! It’s been such a thrill, getting the chance to perform in some of the most beautiful and historic theaters in the country. Every week or two, we walk on stage and the house looks completely different. That’s a pretty unique experience.
Q: Tell us about your character, Veterinary Officer Martin.
A: Well, I can’t say much without giving too much away, but he has a pivotal role towards the end of the show. In doing a lot of research about World War I, and specifically about veterinary officers, it’s difficult to fathom what they saw from day to day. The estimated number of horses that were lost in WWI is truly staggering.
Q: How does one person understudy 10 roles? I mean, really, ten?
A: It’s pretty crazy! Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to rehearse every role we understudy, and being in the show every night helps keep it all fresh in our minds. I’ve already gone on in about half those roles, and will likely have done them all before the tour ends. It’s fun to have that different energy on stage from time to time!
Q: You’ve done a lot of television since graduating the National Theatre Conservatory (NTC) and moving to New York. How does TV differ from the stage?
A: I actually really enjoy doing TV. I know, sometimes that’s not the case with stage actors — of course, we all love the paycheck in television – but I really do feel comfortable in that world. Of course, it’s a totally different animal from theatre. As much as I enjoy TV, I’m not certain it could ever hold up to the energy and joy of being on stage every night. There’s nothing like live theatre. I’m very fortunate to get to do both.
Q: And you’ve gotten married since you left Denver, to fellow NTC alum January LaVoy. What’s she up to? How is married life when you’re on the road?
A: January is great! Thanks for asking. When we got married in September of 2011, she made me the happiest and luckiest guy in the world. She’s been doing quite well, just finished a production of Good People at the Pittsburgh Public, and before that was at the Alliance in Atlanta doing the world premiere of What I Learned in Paris by Pearl Cleage. She has also become quite a force in the audiobook world. If you haven’t listened to any of her stuff yet, you should do yourself a favor and pick up The Diviners by Libba Bray. January’s work on it is simply stunning. I know, I’m biased, but still…
And as for married life on the road, it certainly isn’t easy, but we’ve managed it pretty well. We try to see each other once every four to five weeks. We’re racking up tons of airline miles! In the most difficult weeks, we try to remember how lucky we are to be two working actors. It’s a rare thing in this business.
Q: The Colorado audiences miss seeing you. You were certainly a favorite at Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Three Musketeers, Macbeth, Hamlet) and our Theatre Company (Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III, Christmas Carol, Trip to Bountiful), plus roles at Creede Repertory Theatre. Miss Denver? Fondest memories?
A: Too many to name, really. Three Musketeers was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. Truly. Merry Wives at the Denver Center was a blast as well. Getting to work with that amazing cast — with David Ivers directing. What a treat! And there’s no experience quite like a summer in Creede. But, all in all, I’d have to say the National Theatre Conservatory will always be my fondest memory of my time in Colorado. I’m just so grateful for every minute I spent there.
Q: How long will you be in the first national tour of War Horse? Where will we see you next?
A: I’ll be with War Horse through June. Then it’s back to New York to see what’s next. I’ll keep you posted!