As inevitable as the spring melting the Rocky Mountain snow, Denver Center Theatre Company has yet another world premiere dawning March 21, when Almost Heaven, a new musical about the life and world of singer John Denver, begins previews.
Subtitled Songs and Stories of John Denver, the new biographical show, presented in association with Denver's longtime friend and manager, Harold Thau, is written, adapted and directed by Peter Glazer. Songs written or sung by the late blonde-mopped vocalist will be part of the experience, which is already a Rocky Mountain High experience: The musical is 80 percent sold out, according to DCTC spokesman. Thau, who will take the show into a commercial future, has said publicly he is aiming the work for Broadway, a national tour or a staging abroad.
Orchestrations, vocal arrangements and musical direction are by Jeff Waxman, who brings to life such soundtrack-of-your-life classics as "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Annie's Song," "Rocky Mountain High," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," "All My Memories," "Sunshine On My Shoulders," "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and the little-known "Yellowstone," among many others. The show is being called a kind of storytelling theatre concert that shows audiences not just Denver (who died prematurely when a plane he was piloting crashed) but the times in which he lived. Official opening is March 28, continuing to April 27 on DCTC's Stage Theatre.
His lyrics said that "he was born in the summer of his 27th year" (when he moved to the mountains of Colorado) and for many years the country-flavored pop singer celebrated a chart topping high that, during the 1970s in particular, offered listeners a sense of hope and optimism as well as environmental awareness.
The new show uses text from Denver's autobiography, interviews, media accounts and original material, offering up a remarkable life story — the bespectacled singer was also a writer, composer, activist and movie star — wrapped in new vocal arrangements and orchestrations by musical director Jeff Waxman, with assistance from musical consultant Milt Okun, founder of Cherry Lane Music Publishing Company. Video and projections are part of the show, as well. The Almost Heaven design team includes James Dardenne (set), Michael Krass (costume), Dawn Chiang (lighting), Tony Meola (sound) and John Boesche (video and projection).
The cast of Almost Heaven includes all newcomers to Denver Center: Lisa Asher, Emily Bauer, Allison Briner, Sean Jenness, Bryan Scott Johnson and David Ranson. The band, billed as a collection of some of the nation's finest folk and country-pop musicians, includes Jeff Waxman (conductor and keyboards), Dave DeMichelis (guitar), Tony Marcus (strings and saxophone), Johnny Neill (fiddle and mandolin), Tony Pantelis (percussion), Mark Simon (bass) and Chris Soucy (guitar).
Information and tickets may be obtained at the Center box office at 14th and Curtis streets, by calling (303) 893-4100 or (800) 641-1222. Visit www.denvercenter.org.
— By Kenneth Jones