Aspen’s Crystal Palace Players carry on
November 21, 2009
ASPEN – Economics, changing tastes, competition in both the dining and entertainment sectors, and the aging of founder Mead Metcalf combined to bring down Aspen’s Crystal Palace in the spring of 2008. But the spirit of the performers who sang, danced and joked on the Palace stage is not so easily snuffed.
After a hiatus in the months following the closing of the Palace – “Give people a chance to miss us,” Nina Gabianelli, a former Crystal Palace cast member, noted – the crew was reborn as the Crystal Palace Players. Judging from the heavy schedule of appearances this coming season, the Palace’s satirical song-and-dance has indeed been missed. Gabianelli, who has organized the nine-member troupe under the banner of Palace Productions, counts eight dates on the books for the winter, with several more in the works.
The Palace crew kicks off its season Saturday, with an appearance at the Wheeler Opera House as part of a fundraiser for Lift-Up. The benefit also includes a silent auction and a preview of the upcoming Jayne Gottlieb Productions musical, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” Lift-Up is a 27-year-old organization that distributes food to the hungry, and last year opened a pantry in Aspen.
The Crystal Palace Review will also make appearances at the Christ Episcopal Church in January and at the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf in March, and will do dinner shows at the Aspen Mountain Club and at Montagna at the Little Nell. In February, the ensemble appears at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts in a performance presented by Metcalf, who now lives in Crested Butte.
The Crystal Palace Review isn’t only reviving the old numbers from the dinner theater days, but adding some new ones. Rick Crum, a New Yorker who wrote much of the material during the Crystal Palace days, has contributed “1599 Pennsylvania Ave.,” about the two old ladies who watch with surprise as the new neighbors move in next door.
“Mr. Right” features Gabianelli as a woman who complains about her mate with “an encyclopedia of faults” – only to realize that he is just perfect for her. Several members of the Review have been writing non-musical comic material to go with such old song-and-dance favorites as “Boy Band” and “Botox.”
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“We’re amazed with the reception we get, and how welcoming the community, how inviting they’ve been to see us again,” said Gabianelli, who was the Crystal Palace’s general manager in its final years, and who still works for Metcalf, managing his Aspen properties and caretaking the McLain Flats house he still owns.
Not that most of the cast has actually disappeared from local stages. Gabianelli and Mike Monroney, along with Palace Productions music director David Dyer, appeared in the recent Aspen Community Theatre production of “The Music Man.” Gabianelli also appeared in ACT’s “Chicago” last year, as well as Theatre Aspen’s production of “Seussical.”
Monroney also directed the Hudson Reed Ensemble’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in September. Gary Daniel, Tom Erickson and Julie Maniscalchi were featured this past summer in the premiere season of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue. David Ledingham founded the Aspen Fringe Festival, organized a play reading last week at the Aspen Art Museum, has participated in musicals by Jayne Gottlieb Productions, and is directing Basalt High School’s version of “Rent.” All of them – as well as Meredith Daniel, Kathy Pelowski and Peggy Mundinger – are part of Palace Productions.
Gabianelli said that the troupe is even able to perform in events they couldn’t have back when the Crystal Palace kept them occupied. Among those is the Christmas caroling gig they have taken on, which will have them in Wagner Park Dec. 23-24, singing holiday tunes in four-part harmony.
Gabianelli observed that “Aspen doesn’t do the change thing very well. Families and groups that came to Aspen accustomed to seeing the Crystal Palace have been disappointed.” But the players themselves have adapted reasonably well to life after the Palace. Many more have stayed in Aspen and found other jobs, off and on stage, than have left town. And with the Crystal Palace Review finding more venues to resurrect the old show, they are making sure that a vital bit of Aspen history has continuing life.
“In the last year and a half, that void has been recognized. And now the void is being closed up a bit, as we resurface,” Gabianelli said. And it’s going to snowball. That’s what I’m predicting.”