Theatre Aspen lines up hits for ruby anniversary year next summer
Theatre Aspen announces stellar mainstage lineup for 40th anniversary season
Special to The Aspen Times
Theatre Aspen will return to full-length plays with three notable performances at Hurst Theatre in summer 2023 as part of its 40th anniversary season.
The mainstage productions, just announced, are “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play “Doubt,” and “Rent,” also a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner. None of these plays have ever been performed at Theatre Aspen.
“Next season is going to be probably our most ambitious ever,” said Theatre Aspen Producing Director Jed Bernstein. “We’re back to doing full-length plays, which we love, and we hadn’t done since before the pandemic.”
Ensuring that the mainstage productions were part of a broad and varied mix was top of mind for the organization as it gears up for its ruby anniversary.
“It’s like making a really gourmet soup, in terms of different ingredients,” Bernstein said. “We do try to involve all of the team because there are a lot of aspects of this, in terms of what we want to achieve, from artistic expression to marketing, to development. Sometimes the idea is artist-driven. Sometimes it’s as simple as being a show that I’ve always wanted to do.”
“Our musicals are stylistically so different, but both incredibly iconic,” said Britt Marden, director of artistic planning. “‘Rent’ was a groundbreaking show in so many ways when it premiered and stands the test of time both musically and thematically, while Carole King remains one of the greatest singer/songwriters, whose music spans generations of theatregoers. This is also the first time since 2019 that we are producing three mainstage shows, including one play, and I am thrilled that we have chosen ‘Doubt.’ It is a compelling and thought-provoking work that will really round out the summer.”
Bernstein noted that there are also practical considerations such as costumes, casts and an effort to select shows where their apprentices are going to have good opportunities to learn, as the Theatre Aspen apprentice program is one of the largest in the country, “devoted to training the next generation of theatrical artists and administrators.”
The organization’s ethos of “big theatre in a small space” reverberates through these selections, as well, with all three showcasing complex stories to tell alongside the universal appeal of the music.
“People say about music that one of the true powers of music is that it becomes so associated with memory and experience and the phases of your life. The Carole King story is a really good story. She had obstacles and sadness in her life but was also triumphant. I also think ‘Doubt’ works on so many levels. It’s a mystery story. Did this priest do what he was accused of? It makes you think about relationships, about parenting, about religion, about a lot of things,” Bernstein said. “When it comes to ‘Rent,’ for people who are 40 and 50 years old, ‘Rent’ is a something of a Golden Age musical. It became a beloved piece in the ’90s, and 30 years later you can appreciate it all again. It was very prescient. Social justice was being discussed in this work before people were talking about it in the way that they are today.”
“Both of these musicals are going to be nostalgic in different ways,” Marden said. “The famous rock score in ‘Rent’ is combined with a timeless story, and ‘Beautiful’ is going to be a show that has people singing and dancing when they walk out of the tent.”
In addition to dancing, audiences should anticipate moments of reflection.
“’Doubt’ is going to leave audiences with a lot of questions, which is what makes this show so powerful and unique. Be prepared to want to continue to talk about it long after you leave the theater,” Marden said.
These reflections help the Theatre Aspen team articulate all that Theatre Aspen has accomplished over the past four decades, as well as what’s to come. Bernstein says the organization is currently in continued conversations with the city of Aspen over its capital campaign bid to build a permanent structure in Rio Grande Park. This involves being engaged in testing and feasibility studies, as well as fundraising plans. And these mainstage productions are only the start of all that’s to come on this ruby anniversary.
“We have some wonderful upcoming special events in the works,” he said. “These three shows are the leading edge of a lot more.”
“Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”
Before she was hit-maker Carole King, she was Carole Klein, a spunky young songwriter from Brooklyn with a unique voice. From the chart-topping hits she wrote for the biggest acts in music to her own life-changing, trailblazing success with “Tapestry,” ‘Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” takes you back to where it all began. Featuring classics such as “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “So Far Away,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Up on the Roof,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Natural Woman,” this Tony and Grammy award-winning musical phenomenon is filled with the songs you remember.
All the elements come together like clockwork in John Patrick Shanley’s play, “Doubt,” a story of suspicion cast on a priest’s behavior that is less about scandal than about nuanced questions of moral certainty. Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award.
Set in the East Village of New York City, “Rent” is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “Rent” has become a pop cultural phenomenon. Based loosely on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” follows a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York’s Lower East Side, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Additional information on the 40th anniversary season, including production dates, the Solo Flights festival of one-person shows and the popular Summer Cabaret Series will be announced shortly.