Aspen Community Theatre looks back on ’40 Years of Laughter and Tears’
If You Go …
What: ’40 Years of Laughter and Tears!’ presented by Aspen Community Theatre
When: Friday, Nov. 11 through Sunday, Nov. 13
Where: Aspen District Theatre
How much: $18-$25
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
40 YEARS OF ASPEN COMMUNITY THEATRE
2015 Beauty and the Beast
2013 The Producers
2012 Crazy For You
2009 The Music Man
2007 She Loves Me
2006 Fiddler on The Roof
2004 The Sound of Music
2002 My Fair Lady
2001 A Little Night Music
2000 The Wizard of Oz
1999 Man of La Mancha & Shooting Stars
1998 Little Shop of Horrors & The Diary of Adam and Eve
1997 Jesus Christ Superstar & The Actor’s Nightmare
1996 The King and I & Black Comedy
1995 How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying & Steel Magnolias
1994 Oliver & You Can’t Take It With You
1993 Oklahoma! & Rumors
1992 Peter Pan & The Diary of Anne Frank
1991 West Side Story & The Curious Savage
1990 South Pacific & Blithe Spirit
1989 Damn Yankees & Lurking on The Railroad
1988 Annie Get Your Gun & Harvey
1987 Hello Dolly! & Stage Directions
1986 Annie & As You Like It
1985 A Chorus Line & The Mousetrap
1984 Guys and Dolls & Sunshine Boys
1983 Kiss Me, Kate & Under Milk Wood & Woolgatherer
1982 Camelot & The Odd Couple
1981 The Sound of Music & Tribute
1980 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum & Nightwatch
1979 Gypsy & Thieves Carnival
1978 The Music Man & Fiddler on The Roof
1977 LUV & Prisoner of Second Avenue
1976 “and yet another version of The Wizard of Oz”
The theater lights dim and a movie screen drops from the ceiling and Bob Finnie is on video talking about the kinds of moments that change our lives forever.
“Sometimes,” he says, “it’s a random event that happens on a random day, and later on when you look back on it and connect the dots, you realize that day changed the whole direction of your whole life forever.”
For Finnie, and a legion of others, one of those moments was working on an Aspen Community Theatre production.
The company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this fall with an introspective blend of story and song that looks at how this scrappy band of amateur thespians has shaped Aspen and Aspenites.
Titled “40 Years of Laughter and Tears,” the production is something new for local audiences and for Aspen Community Theatre — a sort of a hybrid between a variety show and a storytelling event like Justice Snow’s “Writ Large.” It mixes traditional song-and-dance segments with video montages, testimonials and big musical numbers from an ensemble cast. The original show marks a departure from the annual tradition of staging a big fall musical and from the greatest-hits approach of Aspen Community Theatre’s 30th anniversary production a decade ago, which restaged favorite songs and scenes from over the years.
A big red “4” and “0” set piece (designed by stalwart Tom Ward, making sets for his 31st Aspen Community Theatre show) moves about the stage. The cast is in tuxedos and ball gowns (“It’s like a penguin convention,” one castmember quipped during Wednesday night’s rehearsal). Music director David Dyer is at his piano, with a 12-piece band to his side. And alumni from 40 years of shows make their way on and off the stage to reminisce and to perform.
“It’s been a reunion,” said Mike Monroney, the Aspen Community Theatre vet who wrote the new show and serves as a sort of emcee. “A reunion of all these talented people and getting to see what makes the organization special and what makes the relationships between the people who make it work special.”
Thousands of Aspenites have volunteered to put on more than 60 productions since 1976 (until 2000, they did both a spring and fall show). This spring, Monroney went on the hunt for stories from the past four decades. He and Dyer hoped to put together an original production, with stories from cast and crew from years gone by, that would speak to the heart of the organization and the soul of Aspen.
What they came up with is “40 Years of Laughter and Tears” and its blend of reminiscences and Broadway-style razzle-dazzle. The show opens today at the Aspen District Theatre and runs through the weekend.
“Early responses were, ‘Oh, loved ACT and I made great friends and thank you very much,’” Monroney recalled of his search for community theater stories. “Which was nice, but it wasn’t particularly in-depth. It takes time to get people to open up. So I kept poking at the people who I felt had some spore of an interesting story there.”
The persistence paid off.
The show now has 12 stories from past cast and crewmembers, interspersed with big ensemble numbers, solo vocal performances compiled from four decades of shows, along with some video montages of productions past.
Tammy Baar, an Aspen native and regular on the community theater stage, tells the story of auditioning for “The Sound of Music” in 2004. Her recollection of the emotional journey of that audition process is followed by a big ensemble performance of a Rodgers and Hammerstein medley, closing with Baar doing a solo. Peggy Wilkie recalls the 1992 production of “Peter Pan” and taking flight in a professional-grade theater production put on by an all-volunteer band of community thespians.
“I think we got some of the emotional depth that we had hoped for,” said Monroney, “and tapped into what the organization has meant to people who have invested time into it.”
Four of the stories in the show are on video, coming from Aspen Community Theatre veterans who no longer live in Aspen. Finnie, who now lives in the northeast, taped his recollections about his life-changing time as music director in September, when the Aspen Community Theatre family gathered for a picnic at the Inn at Aspen. Others who make appearances by video include Georgia Hanson and Nancy Oden, who was involved with Aspen Community Theatre nearly from the start. An “In Memoriam” segment also pays tribute to the cast and crew who have, as Ward put it, “moved on to that other big stage.”
The anniversary show also recalls the 2001 production of “A Little Night Music,” which was particularly powerful for its cast and local audiences. Early in the creative process, the attacks of Sept. 11 shook the country. Coming together as a community to put on a musical took on a broader importance that fall, shouldering the emotional weight of a small town in mourning.
“That had a huge impact on the cast,” Monroney said. “Some people left the show to go be with family somewhere else. People changed plans to move and stayed in the valley and thus were able to do the show. This America-changing event cast a shadow over the whole production.”
Of course, Monroney is hoping above all that the anniversary show is an entertaining piece of musical theater. But he and his cast are aiming for more. The emotional retrospective, he hopes, will give audiences an idea of the meaning of Aspen Community Theatre, offering “a glimpse into the amount of commitment it takes to be a part of the show and part of the organization, yet also to understand how that can be a transformative experience.”
The “laughter and tears” in the title are no metaphor. Audiences will see both on stage — and probably in the audience.
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