"Country Roads" Lead to NYC Premiere of Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver

News   "Country Roads" Lead to NYC Premiere of Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver Off-Broadway will experience a "Rocky Mountain High" Nov. 9 when the musical, Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver, opens at the Promenade Theatre.
Terry Burrell in Almost Heaven.
Terry Burrell in Almost Heaven. Photo by Joan Marcus

The musical entertainment using the songs of the late blond-mopped, boyish singer-songwriter is adapted from the John Denver autobiography "Take Me Home."

The show — a sort of concept concert — was developed regionally in recent years, including two engagements by the Denver Center Theatre Company, where director Randal Myler is an artistic associate.

Harold Thau has shepherded the work around the country and produces the New York premiere. Previews began at the Upper West Side venue Oct. 28.

Myler (Love, Janis; It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues) directs a cast of six. They weave together the songs of John Denver "to create a uniquely theatrical narrative that reflects upon the country during the years in which he wrote them," according to production notes.

Almost Heaven stars Jennifer Allen (Broadway's City of Angels), Terry Burrell (Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie), Valisia Lekae Little (Las Vegas' Mamma Mia!), Lee Morgan (Broadway's Brooklyn, The Musical), Jim Newman (Broadway's Steel Pier) and Nicholas Rodriguez (Jesus Christ Superstar tour). Originally conceived by Harold Thau, Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver has orchestrations, vocal arrangements and music supervision by Jeff Waxman. In its developmental engagements, the show's adaptation was credited to Peter Glazer, but the nature of the show has changed over the years and his participation ended.

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The show boasts 29 of Denver's songs — including "Rocky Mountain High," "Sunshine on My Shoulders," "Annie's Song," "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Calypso" and more. The songs "are rediscovered and reinvented, performed against a backdrop of stunning visual images of America in the late '60s and early '70s, a time of social unrest and political protest."

The production features scenic design by Kelly Tighe, costume design by Tobin Ost, lighting design by Don Darnutzer and sound design by Lewis Mead. Jan Hartley serves as projection technical advisor.

Almost Heaven is produced in association with Lexie Potamkin, R.H. & Ann Crossland, Lawrence J. Winnerman and Robert Courson. Denver Center Theatre Company was an early incubator for the musical (a 2002 engagement was followed by a 2003 run, which had revisions and gained Myler as a director). Its most recent incarnation, with this cast, played Center Repertory Theatre in Walnut Creek, CA.

The late John Denver — boyish, bespectacled and known for his tousled blond hair and fresh-scrubbed quality — was a singer, songwriter, actor and activist. Since 1972, he sold more than 60 million albums around the world. His 1973 "Greatest Hits" package racked up sales of over 10 million — an unprecedented achievement for a compilation disc. In the U.S. alone, John Denver had 10 No. 1 hits and multiple RIAA certification awards: 21 Gold album awards, 14 Platinum album awards and seven multi-Platinum album awards.

As an actor, he starred in the movie hit "Oh, God!" with George Burns. He hosted several musical variety specials, including the Emmy Award-winning "An Evening with John Denver." He performed with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Muppets and recorded duets with Emmylou Harris ("Wild Montana Skies") and Placido Domingo ("Perhaps Love").

Denver used his celebrity clout to further issues he cared deeply about, especially environmental conservation and world hunger. He encouraged the exploration of space and of our oceans (which inspired the song "Calypso"), and "he tried to foster understanding among diverse cultures as the first Western superstar to tour extensively in China and the former Soviet Union."

According to his official bio on www.JohnDenver.com, "The son of a U.S. Air Force officer, John's artistic journey began after the family moved to Tucson, where at age 11, he was given his grandmother's guitar. John eventually took up guitar lessons and joined a boy's choir, which led him at age 20 to take matters into his own hands and pursue his dream of a career in music.

"In 1963 he struck out on his own, moving to Los Angeles to be in the heart of the burgeoning music scene. It was during this time that Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. was urged by friends to change his name if a recording career was to be in his future. His friends suggested the name John Sommerville, but he ultimately took his stage name from the beautiful Rocky Mountain capital city of Colorado, his home state."

John Denver died in 1997 in a plane crash. He was piloting the aircraft.

Producer Harold Thau has produced theatre in New York, London, Los Angeles and Aspen. His recent credits include the productions of Bombay Dreams and Tuesdays With Morrie in New York City. Other credits include productions of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, Sam Shepard's True West, Stephen Poliakoff's Breaking The Silence, Camille, Beirut, Love Letters, Swim Visit and more. Thau was executive producer of the television production of A.J. Gurney's The Dining Room, True West and Heartbreak House. He is the president of Advent Management Corp., an entertainment management firm. Thau is a director of Plant-It 2020, a tree planting foundation in Colorado, as well as a director of the Jazz Aspen Festival and Foundation. Thau's autobiography, "Bronx to Broadway – A Life in Show Business," has been published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

The Promenade Theatre is at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street. The Almost Heaven performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM, with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 PM and Sunday matinees at 3 PM.

Tickets are $51.25-$69.50 (prices include a $1.25 facility fee) and are available by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or in person at the Promenade Theatre box office. Same-day general rush tickets are also available for $26.25 at the Promenade Theatre box office, beginning at noon daily. There is a limit of two rush tickets per person, and tickets are subject to availability.

For more information, visit www.almostheaventhemusical.com.

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There will be no matinee performances Nov. 9 or Nov. 23. There will be no performance Nov. 10. There will be an added performance Nov. 25 (2 PM).