Theatre Aspen to hold ‘all-star weekend’ with one-man show, gala
Darren Criss, Fred Grandy to appear at midseason events
Smack in the middle of the main stage musical season, Theatre Aspen will present “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” this weekend, a one-man show with “no real bells and whistles except for the wit and wisdom of Harry Truman,” actor Fred Grandy said in an interview Tuesday.
Grandy, a self-professed fan of the 33rd president, will step into Truman’s shoes for a one-act, two-nights only iteration of the 1975 Samuel Gallu play. Hunter Foster will direct the show, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Hurst Theatre.
The focus will be on storytelling, Grandy said; he described it as a “political cabaret” that has topical elements even in its historical context.
“There’s still that sense of unrest out there and a desire to find somebody you can believe in, which is one of the reasons we wanted to do this show,” Grandy said. Another driver behind the performance was a desire to usher theater back into the public sphere post-pandemic.
Producing director Jed Bernstein told The Aspen Times in June that he considers “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” to be a preview of what the future could hold for the creatives developing their own one-person shows for Theatre Aspen’s Solo Flights festival in August. Grandy said he hopes that the Aspen iteration of “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” could lead to a new tour of the production.
“Here’s the challenge — and Hunter and I have talked about this — this is a show that you have to pay attention to,” Grandy said. “It’s not — it’s not glossy. It’s not glitzy. … It’s one guy talking about his life, and it is an enormously colorful life and a surprising life.”
The glitz will come Sunday, when Theatre Aspen follows Grandy’s performances with a gala featuring Darren Criss. Both events are part of what Bernstein sees as an “all-star weekend” for the organization, he said in an interview Friday.
Grandy has had a long running tenure as both an actor (best known for his role as Gopher in “The Love Boat”) and as a politician who served four terms in Congress as a representative from Iowa. Criss’ extensive resume includes a number of stage and screen roles, including the lead in Broadway’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” five seasons on television’s “Glee” and an Emmy-winning turn in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”
As for Criss’ role at the gala, the performer will sing for attendees at the Hurst Theatre on Sunday night before patrons head to Rio Grande Park for a dinner, auction and dancing with a “Midsummer Masquerade” theme.
The summer iteration of the gala is a new concept, according to Clare Evert-Shane, the vice-chair on Theatre Aspen’s board of directors.
Annual winter galas and summer “Splash” events have been the go-to fundraisers in the past. The choice to move the gala to the summer was prompted in part by a desire to “broaden our fundraising abilities,” Evert-Shane said. Tickets ranging in price from $600 for an individual to $25,000 for a 14-guest table were nearly sold out by Sunday afternoon.
The proceeds from the gala support Theatre Aspen’s education programs for young creatives in kindergarten through 12th grade; the department expanded offerings for students to include three summer shows, plus more than a dozen immersive camps. More programming and more participation necessitates more funding, she said.
Organizers felt that the summer timing could come with the added benefit of a “captive audience” with folks already tuned into Theatre Aspen happenings with main stage musicals like “Chicago” (wrapping up Thursday) and “Rock of Ages” (opening July 30), according to Evert-Shane.
“The most important thing for us is that we never turn a child away from our education department. If someone can’t afford to pay the tuition, we make sure that we cover that,” Evert-Shane said. “And, you know, that’s something that we’re very proud of. … We don’t want to let up on that, and that’s why we hold this major fundraising event now, during the summer, when we have our audiences already coming to our main stage shows.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the dates of “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry.” Due to an editing error, the text incorrectly listed the run; the show runs Friday and Saturday, July 23-24.
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Yefim Bronfman coaxed an ear-caressing range of tone from the Steinway grand piano on the stage of the Benedict Music Tent on Tuesday evening.