The Wheeler Gets Back
Beatles show marks return of Wheeler produced events
The team at the Wheeler Opera House is producing its first event in some 17 months on Friday night and doing it with an audience-led celebration scored by Beatles music.
The night’s headliner is “Yesterday and Today,” a well-regarded Beatles concert experience featuring a six-piece band led by brothers Billy, Matthew and Ryan McGuigan who play an all-request set Beatles songs.
It marks the first Wheeler-produced event since before the coronavirus pandemic closed the theater in March 2020. The theater has hosted independently produced events including Aspen Fringe Festival and the Aspen Music Festival’s summer-long series of opera master classes, but hasn’t yet programmed its own.
It also marks the first show produced by Wheeler executive director Lisa Rigsby Peterson, who took the helm in February, replacing Gena Buhler who resigned shortly before the pandemic.
“I just thought it was a great way for us to kick off because it’s a celebration and it’s the first show that we’ve done,” Peterson said Monday outside the Wheeler. “It’s a way to say we welcome the community back into our building in a really great, memorable, fun way.”
She discovered the McGuigan’s Beatles show when she was running the Lone Tree Arts Center, where it became a popular annual tradition.
“By the end of the show, everybody had their phones up in the air, and they were just dancing and singing and it was just one of those like crazy electric moments,” Peterson said of the first time they hosted the production.
The pandemic may still throw a wrench into planning for winter, which is the theater’s primary programming focus (it is controlled by the Music Fest during the summer high seasons). But the Beatles’ show announcement and a handful of others that have followed do indicate that Peterson will resume at least some aspects of the pre-pandemic Wheeler calendar including the autumn “On the Rise” series showcasing emerging music acts (Birdtalker on Oct. 22 and Susan Werner on Nov. 16) and a December performance by stand-up comedian Kathleen Madigan branded as an “Aspen Laugh Fest” event, confirming the popular winter comedy festival is here to stay.
The theater also announced a Christmas-New Year week magic performance by Justin Willman, continuing what has become a popular tradition of family-friendly magic acts at the Wheeler during the holidays.
Those four acts were contracted pre-pandemic, and canceled, but Peterson noted that she has observed audience support for the On the Rise acts and for illusionists, and she is already deep into planning Aspen Laugh Festival 2022, she confirmed, for February.
A full winter season announcement is expected in early autumn. Since performances returned to Aspen in June, Peterson said she has been soaking up everything she can – she noted Jazz Aspen, Fringe Fest, Aspen Music Festival and Theatre Aspen performances – with an eye on how the Wheeler can partner with other local organizations and how it can fill the niches not met elsewhere.
She expects to continue learning for awhile through the winter as she learns how best to serve Aspen audiences.
“This is my season of observation,” she said.
The Beatles show also a safe bet of a return show for local crowds. Beatles programming has been a fixture of the calendar for the past seven years, including the multimedia Beatles-inspired “Nu-Topia,” multiple stops from The Fab Four Beatles Tribute and a Classic Albums Live performance of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.”
“Yesterday and Today” adds a wrinkle to the tribute band formula, doing an all-request concert with a set list decided by the audience. Concert-goers are asked to fill out request cards before the show – providing name, favorite Beatles song and the reason why they picked it.
The McGuigans play the songs requested – no Beatles track is too obscure, apparently – and use the audience’s reasons to craft a story for the night.
Peterson believes the band will wow Aspen and set a standard for her vision of Wheeler programming.
“When I look at the kinds of artists to bring in, artistic quality is priority no. 1,” she said.
The McGuigans, for their part, are excited to make their Aspen debut.
‘We’ve never been to Aspen before, never performed here and we can’t wait to be there,” Billy McGuigan said in in a video message for Aspen last week. “We hear it’s nice.”
What: ‘Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience’
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Friday, Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25 ($15/kids)
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
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