The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Blog

Posts tagged musical

'Animal Crackers' Funny Business: Bringing the Marx Brothers Back to Life

In this fun backstage video, we show you the cast of “Animal Crackers” learning the ladder routine made famous by the Marx Brothers back in 1928. Actors Jonathan Randell Silver, Jonathan Brody and Director of Physical Comedy Geoffrey Kent are featured. Video by David Lenk and John Moore.

"Animal Crackers" plays from April 4-May 11 in the Stage Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Call 303-893-4100 or go to the Denver Center’s web page.

SPAM FACTS: From the National Tour

Monty Python's SpamalotSpamalot 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.

Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

Constantine Maroulis as Edward Hyde and Deborah Cox as Lucy in JEKYLL & HYDE.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.

Constantine Maroulis as Edward Hyde in JEKYLL & HYDE. © CHRIS BENNION PHOTO.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.

Constantine Maroulis as Henry Jekyll in JEKYLL & HYDE. © CHRIS BENNION PHOTO“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.

Teal Wicks as Emma Carew and Constantine Maroulis as Henry Jekyll in JEKYLL & HYDE. © CHRIS BENNION PHOTO.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.

Deborah Cox as Lucy and Company in JEKYLL & HYDE. © CHRIS BENNION PHOTO.“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


Jekyll & Hyde plays Denver’s Buell Theatre January 29-February 10, 2013. Tickets: 303.893.4100


War Horse’s Spectacular Journey

War Horse logoTony-Award winning stage spectacle moves families, audience members to tears

By David Freeland

War Horse, the astounding theatrical experience opening this week at The Buell Theatre, exerts its pull from the moment the title character, Joey, first trots on stage as a foal, petted by his owner and best friend, 15-year old Albert.  The audience gasps, aware that Joey is a puppet, not a real horse, but captivated by the way he shudders and whinnies at Albert’s loving touch.  Joey’s lifelike eyes, shining and reflective, draw us into the soul of his journey; as the evening progresses, and Albert sets out to rescue Joey after he has been sold to the English cavalry, we find ourselves carried along and hoping for Joey to make it home.

Andrew Veenstra, Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob Laqui_smIt’s that kind of emotional power that has made War Horse an international phenomenon, sweeping up audiences and awards on both sides of the Atlantic and even inspiring an Oscar®-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg.  War Horse won five 2011 Tony® Awards (including Best Play) for its New York premiere plus a Special Tony® Award for Handspring Puppet Company for creating the 11 puppets at the heart of the show.

“One of the things we like to imagine,” observes Basil Jones, who runs Handspring with co-founder Adrian Kohler, “is people in the audience nudging the person next to them, saying, ‘did you see that?’” 

Catherine Gowl, Nick LaMedica, Laurabeth BreyaSet during the First World War, War Horse combines a powerful story with thrilling stagecraft and music.  In addition, it showcases what may be the most inventive use of puppetry ever seen on stage.  Soon after meeting him as a young horse, we watch in amazement as an adult Joey, seven feet tall, materializes before our eyes.  Two puppet masters working inside Joey’s frame (built of light, malleable cane) raise and lower his torso, letting out forceful breaths, while a third manipulates his ears, lifting and pulling them back to register tender shades of emotion.  Spielberg’s film version of War Horse employed real horses, but these onstage creations fully personalize equine ideals of courage, strength and loyalty in ways that reinforce the themes of the story.   

“Spielberg made a terrific film,” enthuses Michael Morpurgo, upon whose beloved novel War Horse is based, “but cinema has its limitations.  It isn’t live, and that’s the difference.  What’s amazing about the stage show is that, whether it’s the music, design, or lighting, the puppets, the quality of acting or direction, it’s ingenious and unique.  It’s a theatrical event.”

Grayson DeJesus and Michael Wyatt CoxDuring World War I, more than one million horses were conscripted by the British military alone; of these, only 62,000 returned.  As Joey is forced into battle, serving in both the British and German armies, we are moved by his bravery and the trust he places in those who exploit his strength.  His innocence makes him seem above the fighting: in War Horse, animals behave with a dignity that humans do not always achieve.  Still, Joey is unprepared for the true brutality of 20th century warfare.  In a brilliant scene that defines the excitement of Act Two, he faces a new kind of foe: a massive tank rolling his way, prepared to flatten everything in its path.  The scenic design is so visceral that we are rushed into battle alongside Joey, enveloped in the sound and smell of combat.  Joey rears on his hind legs as the tank pitches toward him and the stage goes black. 

“The First World War is emblematic,” suggests Mervyn Millar, War Horse’s puppetry director, “in the way the possibilities of destruction changed.  You see Joey standing, looking at the tank, which advances without logic, without thought.  Joey tries to work out what it means, what it wants, and it doesn’t want or mean anything.  It just destroys.”

Joey’s plight resonates with anyone who has ever loved an animal or taken a pet into the family.  As Albert continues his search, we are reminded of the ways in which animals remain with us through many stages of our lives, giving much and asking for little.

“People emotionally invest in animals,” Millar believes.  “I think everyone can empathize with Joey.”

Andrew Veenstra, Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob LaquiDetermined to save his friend, Albert runs away from home with the hope of getting close to the front.  But in trying to rescue one family member, he hurts another, leaving behind a mother anxious with worry.  War Horse’s relevance comes from our awareness that, nearly a century after the start of the First World War, families are still being separated by armed conflict.        

“We talk a lot about the history of the war,” remarks Chris Harper, producer for the National Theatre of Great Britain (which first staged War Horse in London), “but at the heart of the show it’s just a family, struggling to deal with life.  The thing that’s exciting about War Horse is that it appeals to lots of generations.  We see grandparents bringing their kids, wanting to explain the history from their own personal journeys with World War II or more recent conflicts.  It’s a production that brings the family together.”

Will Albert find Joey in time?  As War Horse reaches its beautiful climax, the hopes of parents, children, and beloved friends – both onstage and off – merge into a shared experience, as tissues are drawn from pockets and eyes glisten with tears.       

“We get people coming back again and again,” Harper explains, “and they always have the same reaction.  It awakens something in you.  War Horse makes grown people cry.”


War Horse plays Denver’s Buell Theatre Jan 8-20. Tickets: 303.893.4100 or 800.641.1222.

War Horse: Joey Facts & Figures

Andrew Veenstra, John Riddleberger, Patrick Osteen, Jessica Krueger1. The puppet (Joey), which weighs 120lbs, is handmade by 14 people. Its frame is mostly cane, soaked, bent and stained.

 2. An aluminum frame along the spine, lined partly with leather for comfort, allows the horse to be ridden.

3. Stretched, hosiery-like Georgette fabric makes up the “skin” beneath the frame.

Joey and the US National Tour of WAR HORSE4. A puppeteer at the head controls the ears and head; one in the heart controls breathing and front legs; a third in the hind controls the tail and back legs.

5. A harness connects the puppet’s and puppeteer’s spines so his or her movements become the breathing of the horse.

6. The tail and ears are moveable instead of the lips or eyelids, because that’s how horses usually express themselves.

Andrew Veenstra, Nick LaMedica, Laurabeth Breya, Catherine Gowl7. Two levers connected with bicycle brake cables control the leather ears.

8. The puppet, just under 10ft long and about 8ft tall, has about 20 major joints. Vertical levers curl the knees and lift the hooves.

9. The neck is made of carbon fiber glass for flexibility.

10. The eyes are black color behind clear resin so light refracts through them.

Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob Laqui11. The right hind lever moves the tail up and down; the left hind lever, left to right; moved together, it spirals.

 12. The hair in the mane and tail is made of Tyvek, a plastic-like paper. 

Rock and Race in Memphis

By Rob Weinert-Kendt

Bryan Fenkart (Huey) and Felicia Boswell (Felicia) in the National Tour of MEMPHIS - photo by Paul KolnikThe conventional wisdom on Broadway today is that you can’t have a hit without a star name or a Tony winner headlining the cast. If it’s a musical, your best bet is a property with some built-in brand recognition, which helps to explain the trend toward jukebox musicals and adaptations of popular films.

Memphis has been a blazing exception to all these rules since its opening in October of 2009. This original musical about the birth of rock’n’roll took the Best Musical Tony the following spring and ran for 1,165 performances; it arguably made stars of its lead actors, Montego Glover and Chad Kimball, each also nominated for Tonys. (Kimball was replaced midway through the run by Adam Pascal, something of a name in musical theatre circles for his originating role in Rent, but hardly box-office gold by himself.) And as it neared the three-year finishing line this past summer, Memphis checked another box in the success column: It recouped its entire $12 million capital investment before closing in August.

White Christmas: A Most Theatrical Transformation

White Christmas logoBy Sylvie Drake

Little known item: The Irving Berlin song that comes closest to epitomizing Christmas, the song that evokes glistening tree-tops, children listening for sleigh bells in the snow—that song—was written by Irving Berlin in the late 1930s sitting by the pool at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa under a full, hot sun. The first verse was a tongue-in-cheek barb at a wealthy Los Angeleno pining for a traditional Christmas under palm trees and in 80-degree heat.

Berlin smartly dropped the joke, the verse and the irony—a good thing or “White Christmas” might never have made it to the top of the nation’s emotional chart—as it did. But then this immigrant son of impoverished immigrant Jews from Siberia was nothing if not shrewd. 

Talented, too. He may have acquired his love of music from his father—a cantor forced to work in a market to keep his wife and six children alive. And yet the son played piano only by ear (lessons were not on the financial radar), living his entire life with an astonishing absence of musical performance skills.

“I heard Berlin play the piano, back in vaudeville days and found his harmony notably inept,” wrote Alec Wilder in his 1972 book, American Popular Song. What Berlin had instead was what Wilder calls “some mastery of his inner ear” that enabled him to compose melodies “with his natural, intuitive harmonic sense at work in his head, but not in his hands.”

Other things he had were an innate doggedness and a nose for opportunity that rarely steered him wrong.

Irving Berlin

As an unsupervised kid on New York’s Lower East Side, this young scrapper hustled junk for pennies, sold newspapers, joined gangs briefly and eventually left home after his father’s death to try to make it as a singer on the streets of the city. He got himself hired at various cafés around the Bowery, including the Pelham, doing parodies of popular hits. A rivalry among establishments triggered the writing of Berlin’s first hit: “Marie of Sunny Italy,” earning him the grand sum of 37 cents—and prompting a name change from Israel Baline, the name he was born with, to Irving Berlin. (Some say it was a printer’s error that Berlin chose not to correct.) 

But in 1911, he wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band and the country jumped. More than a million copies were sold in a matter of months. Irving Berlin was off and running, branching out, writing musicals that are still in the Broadway lexicon (Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam), movies (the incomparable Top Hat among them) and a host of songs now forever woven into the American psyche: “Easter Parade,” “Supper Time,” “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,”“Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” 

In the end, it was poverty that proved to be Berlin’s best teacher. He learned the value of money early and to the point of stinginess.In an article for City Journal, Stefan Kanfer relates that as Berlin hawked newspapers on a downtown pier in 1901, he was accidentally knocked into the East River by a loading crane, rescued “and packed off to Gouverneur Hospital for further  ministrations. An hour later, as the young newsie slept, a nurse pried open his clenched hand. In it: five copper coins. He remained tight-fisted for the rest of his 101 years.”

That judgment may be a bit harsh. As one of the most patriotic of American composers—which Berlin turned out to be—he refused to profit from his patriotism and gave away the proceeds of “God Bless America” (surely the most patriotic—and profitable—song of all time) to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America in perpetuity, while contributing royalties from other wartime compositions to the Navy Relief, Red Cross, March of Dimes and various bond drives.

The first public performance of the song “White Christmas,” was reportedly by Bing Crosby on The Kraft Music Hall in December 1941. Its appeal was immediate and re-affirmed a year later when Crosby sang it in the movie Holiday Inn. “White Christmas” spent 11 weeks at the top of the charts and the 2007 Guinness Book of Records lists Crosby’s recording as the biggest hit single of all time with an estimated 50 million copies sold; double that if you count all versions, including albums and CDs.

The song re-emerged in 1954, in the immensely popular movie that bore its name, White Christmas, again featuring Crosby, this time with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. So what took the film so long to become an all-American stage musical?

(L-R) Amy Bodnar, Andrew Samonsky, Benjie Randall and Kate Marilley in Irving Berlins WHITE CHRISTMAS. Photo: Terry Shapiro“Two things,” offered Denver Center Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson, charged with directing the production in The Buell Theatre. “First, the presence of David Ives and Paul Blake as the writers. What works really well in the musical—better than in the movie—is the storyline involving the two couples. You now have real character development throughout.

 “The other thing is they’ve pulled out the inappropriate blackface minstrel number that was in the film, as well as a couple of other scenes, including the war scenes (good in the movie but difficult to do on stage), and made the general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly, what she was supposed to be, but was not cast as: a nine- or ten-year-old girl, who’s worried about her grandfather losing the inn. She doesn’t understand it, because she thinks of him as a hero, and she has trouble talking to him because he’s a military man and he’s gruff.”

The change in Susan’s age allows the song “Count Your Blessings” to have an entirely different effect than it had in the film, where it was sung to a 16- or 17-year-old. “It’s significant,” said Thompson, “because you begin to see the bright side Bob Wallace, the good-hearted side of him.”

The movie’s instant scene changes, achieved through the camera’s magic, are actually aided here by the flexibility of theatre—in particular the finale, in which, in the movie, the general’s troops show up more or less spontaneously and all of the inn is transformed into a grandly festive dining hall in fewer than 24 hours without a glint of effort on anybody’s part.

(L-R) Benjie Randall and Andrew Samonsky as Phil Davis and Bob Wallace in Irving Berlins WHITE CHRISTMAS. Photo: Terry Shapiro

“In the theatre, the audience becomes the troops,” Thompson said, “and the general addresses to the audience that wonderful speech where he’s completely moved and surprised by what his troops have done for him. Even Bob Wallace talking about him is more specific about why he admires the man. It works really well and, in that sense, does things the movie can’t.”

And then there are the major dance breaks.

“Blake and Ives have taken the strengths of the movie,” Thompson continued, “and tailored them into this very 50s type of musical with these big, exciting tap numbers and these big jazz or Broadway dance numbers. And, of course, it has the wonderful Berlin music. Patti Colombo, who has been choreographing for a decade or more and has a long history as a Broadway dancer, including being in the original production of A Chorus Line, is doing the choreography.

“Because they wanted to keep it under two-and-a-half hours, Blake and Ives had to streamline the story and focus more on the central six characters and on Susan, the little girl. That sharpens and clarifies the story. We’ll have a 21-piece orchestra and our musical director this time is Gregg Coffin.”  

But above all, Thompson emphasized, “the book is loaded with comedy and romance. It’s all about heart.”



Irving Berlin’s White Christmas plays Denver’s Buell Theatre November 23-December 24, 2012. Tickets: 303.893.4100 or

Republished from Applause magazine.