Aspen Fringe Festival turns to music in its 15th year with composer Craig Bohmler

This year's Aspen Fringe JuneFest will feature the musical works of composer Craig Bohmler.
Aspen Fringe Festival/Courtesy photo

The Aspen Fringe Festival is returning to the Wheeler Opera House for its 15th season. This year’s JuneFest is the first that will feature a full musical lineup with musical theater, dance, film, and opera with award-winning composer Craig Bohmler. I recently spoke with festival founder and Executive Director David Ledingham about his deep ties to Aspen, why he founded Aspen Fringe Festival, and this year’s unique musical offerings.

AT: Tell me about yourself — did you grow up in Aspen?

DL: Yeah, I grew up here from like middle school. My family had a bed-and-breakfast lodge for 47 years, The Snow Queen, in Aspen. And my aunt ran the place next door, The Little Red Ski House. My mom and my aunt were identical twins, and so back in the ’80s, they were known as the Victorian Lodge Twins.

I left and went to New York to become an actor, which I still am, but I came back to run it. I left my acting career in New York because my mom was like, “You better get out here and take over, or it’s going to be gone, and you won’t get anything.”

AT: When and why did you start the Fringe Festival?

DL: Right after that. I came to Aspen, and and I was working at the lodge, and I did tons of shows for Theatre Aspen as an actor, and I was directing there. I was also in the last season of the Crystal Palace, which was really fun. And then, they sold the Crystal Palace, and I was out of that job. And all of a sudden, I was like, ‘Oh boy, you better you better figure something out.’ So that’s why I invented the Aspen Fringe Festival. That was 15 years ago.

AT: What is the Fringe Festival?

DL: We’re a little niche because what we do at Fringe, it’s not just theater. We do theater, we do dance, we do music, some opera, and film. I wanted it to be a true arts festival.

AT: What are you most proud of?

DL: We’ve got like seven shows that we are credited for developing with A- and B-list playwrights. One went on to win the Fringe Fest award at Edinburgh and then got picked up by NBC Universal to develop into a TV series, but they ended up dropping the ball on that. But it’s been really, really fun. We kind of do everything.

I’m hoping that there’ll be more developmental stuff that we’ll be doing in the future.

The award-winning musical “Enter the Guardsmen” will open the Aspen Fringe Festival on Friday.

AT: What is unique about this year’s festival?

DL: The thing that’s really cool this year is this is our first musical Fringe. The whole thing is entirely music-based.

But it’s the same format that we did last year of picking one artist and exploring their works, and this year will be composer Craig Bohmler, who is going to be here for 10 days. The cool thing is I know this composer from doing one of his musicals. It’s my favorite musical of all time, which is “Enter the Guardsman.” It’s based on a 1910 play written by Ferenc Molnár, with music by Bohmler.

I love this musical. I don’t always get to perform and because I’m always producing, and it’s really hard to produce and perform. We’re going to do a concert version of it, so it’s going to be lightly staged. It’s going to be a really lean version. But the best part of the whole thing is Craig is going to be playing his own score of “Enter the Guardsmen,” while we’re on stage acting and singing it. I get to share my own performance with the community, which I don’t get to do very often.

AT: That’s Friday night, what about Saturday?

DL: And then the second evening, like we did last year, we’re going to do selected songs from his (Bohmler) different musicals in our musical salon.

We’re going to bring “Blue Eclipse” with the dancers from New York, choreographed by my wife (Adrianna Thompson) and the filmmaker who created a film accompaniment to the piece that’s going to be on the second night for the musical performance salon. We’re going to do an excerpt of an opera Bohmler created for the Emmy Award-winning documentary “Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera.” And it’s really one of the only operas he knows that’s a real Western American opera.

I think this year, more than anything else, is we wanted to have some fun. Yep. And this is going to be a fun Fringe Festival. The musical is hysterical. The music is amazing. And then the second evening has a lot of comic pieces.

Blue Eclipse, Soulskin Dance will be performed on Saturday night.
Aspen Fringe Festival/Courtesy photo

AT: What’s your biggest challenge in terms of producing the festival?

DL: I find one of the most challenging things is getting the sponsors and the donors to take on stuff that is cutting edge and exciting. Aspen is actually a pretty conservative town artistically. That’s probably my biggest challenge is finding financial support.

I wish somebody in this community knew the kind of amazing opportunity that is available to support the Aspen Fringe Festival and to support new works. I hire locals and students all the time to work with the professionals we bring in. Last year, we had students working with a Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens. He was literally sitting down with them in the room giving them feedback on their scenes that they were doing that he wrote.

After that, all of them came up to me and said ‘This was life changing, thank you so much.’

If you go…

What: 15th annual Aspen Fringe Festival/JuneFest
Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
More info:

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