Sharon McKnight Plays Red Hot Mama Tucker in Denver

News   Sharon McKnight Plays Red Hot Mama Tucker in Denver She received a Tony nomination for her outrageous performance as an intergalactic evil diva in Starmites; now Sharon McNight has an equally brazen character to play -- a real one, in fact.

She received a Tony nomination for her outrageous performance as an intergalactic evil diva in Starmites; now Sharon McNight has an equally brazen character to play -- a real one, in fact.

In Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story, opening at CO's Denver Center July 31, McNight plays the bawdy, bodacious comedienne, who went from vaudeville to burlesque to movies and TV in a career that spanned more than 50 years. Red Hot Mama is scheduled for an open run at the Center's Source Theatre.

McNight is reprising Mama, which played at the Denver Center's Ricketson Theatre in 1997. Tunes associated with Tucker in the show include "Some of These Days" and "I'm Living Alone (And I Like It)." Other McNight credits include Heartbeats at the Pasadena Playhouse, and a well-received cabaret act.

Also currently playing at the Denver Center is Barrymore (July 7-Aug. 2). Christopher Plummer won a Tony for his performance in William Luce's lightly biographical look at legendary actor John Barrymore. Luce's play catches Barrymore well into his drunken slide.

* Although the upcoming season at CO's Denver Center will feature such standard fare as A Christmas Carol, Shakespeare's The Tempest and Terrence McNally's Master Class, the company will also offer two world premieres, plus a version of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals that features underscoring and songs with music by Peter Schickele. Schickele has been a composer and arranger for three decades, but he's best known as the archivist for works by forgotten fictional composer P.D.Q. Bach, including "Concerto For Piano vs. Orchestra" and "Iphigenia In Brookyn."

Here's the full 1998-99 season line-up:
Travels With My Aunt, Giles Havergal's adaptation of Graham Greene's whimsical novel, opens the season Oct. 8-Nov. 14. Nagle Jackson directs this tale of a boring man whose life is turned around when he begins spending time with his aunt Augusta.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Steve Martin's wild "what if" play, opens at the Stage Theatre space Oct. 15-Nov. 14. Randal Myler stages this comic piece that asks, what if Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso conversed in a small Parisian cafe?

The Last Night of Ballyhoo, running Oct. 21-Nov. 28 at the Ricketson Theatre, won the 1997 best play Tony for Alfred Uhry and his tale of a Southern Jewish family battling subtle prejudice and spinsterhood. Anthony Powell directs.

Holiday time brings Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol back for the ninth consecutive season. Laird Williamson stages this version he co-wrote with Dennis Powers, Nov. 27-Dec. 26.

Dream On Monkey Mountain fashions an African dance/theatre work out of a 1970 Derek Walcott piece. Cleo Parker Robinson choreographs; Israel Hicks directs this dreamlike exploration, co-produced with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. Jan. 14-Feb. 20, 1999.

The Rivals arrives Jan. 21-Feb. 20, 1999, directed and adapted by Elizabeth Huddle (of Portland Center Stage, where the work was first developed). Lyricist Louisa Rose is cowriting the songs with Schickele.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde comes in Jan. 27 March 6, 1999. Moises Kaufman's Off-Broadway hit continues to play at NY's Minetta Lane Theatre.

Gross Indecency follows "the arrest, judgment and sentencing of the most celebrated playwright of his time." The drama makes use of original transcripts and letters, as well as biographical material on Wilde. Laird Williamson directs.

The Importance Of Being Earnest may be a staple of theatres around the world, and an An Ideal Husband and Salome have both had recent, star-studded Broadway productions, but in his day, legendary wit Oscar Wilde wasn't quite so well accepted. He was sentenced to two years' hard labor in an English prison for "gross indecency with male persons" -- in other words, homosexuality. Upon his release, he moved to France and died of meningitis three years later.

Viewers who think Wilde was simply arrested and tried for being gay in England might be surprised at the full story told here: Wilde first sued Lord Queensberry for defamation of character, but the suit backfired, with Wilde becoming the victim of his own pride - and England's hypocritical legal system. A similar story is told in David Hare's current Broadway drama, The Judas Kiss.

The Tempest blows in March 11-Apr. 17, 1999, directed by Anthony Powell. Staged in the intimate Space Theatre, this Tempest will center on the relationship between master Prospero and slave Caliban.

Master Class, Terrence McNally's 1996 Tony winner, arrives Mar. 18-Apr. 17, 1999, directed by Bruce K. Sevy. The play mixes Maria Callas' recollections of her career and life with Ari with her critiques of various singers who audition for her.

After an as-yet-unannounced world premiere (Apr. 29-June 5, 1999), the Denver Center season ends with the premiere of a new Nagle Jackson play, The Elevation of Thieves. Winner of the 1997 Onassis Foundation new play award, the dark comedy shows what happens when network television decides to broadcast a centuries-old religious pageant in a small European town. Other works by Jackson include The Quick-Change Room and Taking Leave, which premiered this past season at DCTC.

Now in its 20th season, Denver Center, currently led by artistic director Donovan Marley, has staged more than 200 productions.

For tickets and information on shows at the Denver Center, call (303) 893-4100 or (800) 641-1222 outside Denver.

-- By David Lefkowitz

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