‘A hope infusion’: Roaring Fork Valley musicians create diverse set for Theatre Aspen performance Monday
On an otherwise quiet summer evening in Snowmass, a series of soulful, profound melodies projected from a condo living room.
First, an upbeat, harmonic rendition of “Above the Timberline” by Five for Fighting, and then right into a slower, Judy Garland-inspired version of “Just In Time.” Each tune was quite different, yet the four musicians made them flow together almost seamlessly as they rehearsed for their upcoming performance.
“It’s amazing to be building this show with my friends from the valley who I’ve known forever and who are incredibly talented,” said Beth Malone, longtime Aspen-area resident, Broadway star and two-time Tony Award nominee.
“We’re not just getting together and going to regurgitate a whole bunch of musical theater songs. We’re making a set list that is time sensitive, it’s thoughtful, mindful, hilarious and moving. So we’re really creating something together.”
Malone is set to headline Theatre Aspen’s two “Celebrity Concert” shows Monday, the first of a four-part series of performances featuring “Broadway’s brightest leading ladies.”
While Malone is the celebrity, she emphasized she feels incredibly lucky to be putting the show together with so many talented locals like “the amazing, beloved icon” David Dyer on piano; Damian Smith, a guitarist and vocalist who Malone said she’s been a huge fan of forever; and Sonya Meyer, a vocalist and actress with Thunder River Theatre Co. Malone describes as a “ski instructor/soprano-diva-badass.”
“I’ve really got this amazing team and I’m really proud of what we’re going to do,” Malone said.
“We have so many laughs and we get to discuss the current situation with each other and then brainstorm on how to express something true collaboratively. That’s the most wonderful thing about theater — it is a group that makes something, not just one person … the collaboration is the thing I love most.”
Being a part of musical theater is all Malone said she’s ever wanted to do.
She remembers as a young girl growing up in Castle Rock, seeing “Singing in the Rain” on TV and realizing that “these were her people,” Malone said, and has wanted to perform ever since.
At Douglas County High School, she fully immersed herself in the theater program and barely remembers taking any other classes. She started auditioning for local area productions right out of high school and booking professional jobs, becoming an Equity union stage actor when she was about 20 years old.
She then worked as a Denver-based actress, performing at the Arvada Center, Denver Center for Performing Arts and former Country Dinner Playhouse, made her way to Los Angeles and New York City where she starred in several on- and off-Broadway productions including “Fun Home,” “Sister Act” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and has performed frequently in Aspen for more than 30 years.
Before the pandemic hit, she was in the middle of playing the lead in the off-Broadway production of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in New York City. But by mid-spring the show was closed and she was back at her condo in Snowmass Village.
“There was a time where I was like ‘Did that show really happen?’ I can’t really feel it. It closed so abruptly, and was just so odd. You were in the middle of something and then it was just over, like a sudden death,” Malone said.
“So when this pandemic hit and we came home (to Snowmass) indefinitely, it just became a no-brainer that if there is any programming here, I was going to be involved in it.”
But while Malone is humble about her leading role in Theatre Aspen’s Celebrity Concert Series, Smith — who sings and plays guitar with the local True Story Band — said getting to be a part of the upcoming performance is an honor because Malone is “the real deal.”
“She’s just such a well-rounded talent, she does it all and she does it all very well,” Smith said. “So to get involved with someone like that is a really great opportunity.”
Smith has known Malone for more than 20 years and said the upcoming show has a lot of diverse material that’s challenging both musically and lyrically, as it references a lot of deep and personal subjects relevant to the current culture nationally amid the pandemic and reenergized Black Lives Matter movement, and to Malone personally.
Dyer — a longtime local dubbed Aspen’s piano man — echoed Smith’s sentiments, emphasizing that while the show contains some typical Broadway fare, it also features some pieces that are more pop and country, challenging him and Beth especially.
“It’s definitely taking Beth and myself out of our usual comfort zone and that’s good because that’s how you grow artistically,” Dyer said.
At a recent rehearsal at Malone’s condo, the quartet practiced their Monday set, laughing together, giving each other constructive feedback and working to make their show as cohesive as possible.
Meyer, who said she’s used to performing across a variety of genres and has helped produce several student performances for Theatre Aspen, said it’s been great to see how much the music has evolved over the past several weeks and feels Malone has done a great job of bringing so many different sounds and genres together.
She said Malone is extremely talented at moving from one style of music to the next and feels the show gives each member of the group a chance to really shine.
“I feel like she’s given me an opportunity to show different sides of me and different skills that I possess even though it’s her show,” Meyer said. “It’s just an honor to get to watch her work … there are crying moments, laughing moments, moments of reflecting and moments where you just get lost in her talent.”
When asked what the group hopes their audiences take away from the two Celebrity Concert Series performances Monday, all four valley musicians said they aspire to help create a release for attendees amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Meyer hopes people go away with the spirit of hope, generosity and empowerment. Dyer hopes the show provokes thought and leads to some action related to social justice, and Smith hopes the audience soaks up the undeniable healing power of the music.
For Malone, she hopes the group can make a positive impact on the well-being of attendees through the live performance in a safe, uplifting way.
“I think (the audience) is going to feel a lot of oxygenated blood pumping through their veins as they walk out of the tent. That is what I hope,” Malone said. “I think this is gonna just be this joy bomb and a hope infusion. That’s what I want it to be, that’s what I want people to take away.”
For more information on Malone’s shows, other Celebrity Concert Series performances and the rest of the Theatre Aspen “All for One” summer season, visit theatreaspen.org.