Lake Dillon Theatre Co. cabaret highlights ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘The Music Man’ in ‘Gathering Light’ concert
The past year has been difficult for the performing arts community with theaters across the country closed for months and actors finding themselves unemployed.
Performer Melanie Beck moved back in with her parents in Connecticut while Chris McNiff’s catering side job pivoted to providing for virtual events. Music director Jonathan K. Parks questioned his New York City career and did real estate in the winter.
“It was not for me,” Parks said, laughing. “I’m glad I tried something else and delved into that world a little bit. I think it taught me a lot about myself, but eventually things started coming back, and I was happy to let that go.”
Now, the three are headlining their first indoor, in-person show for the Lake Dillon Theatre Co. since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. While the first for the theater company happened in April, this weekend’s concerts will be the first since the county moved to level green.
Titled “Gathering Light,” the two-act show combines classic musical songs and more obscure, contemporary numbers. It pays homage to Broadway stars like the late Rebecca Luker with “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man” medleys and then allows the actors to express themselves with personal picks from shows such as “Baby” and “Jane Eyre.”
“We’re acknowledging the times collectively and what we just experienced with the pandemic, and we’re using our favorite music to embrace the hardships of the various realities of the pandemic,” Beck said. “We’re also shining light upon the fruits that unexpectedly were born from the pandemic, both personally and collectively.”
This may involve the show featuring comforting soundtracks, references to activism and other current events that capture the socioeconomic climate surrounding the pandemic.
With Beck living with her parents, she decided to throw in a shout-out to a few 1960s and ’70s tunes from Burt Bacharach, Frankie Valli and other artists she’s listened to her parents play in the background. Meanwhile, some of McNiff’s favorites in the cabaret are “Light in the Dark” from “Next to Normal” and “All I Need is the Girl” from “Gypsy.”
Beck sings mezzo-soprano, McNiff is a bari-tenor and Parks occasionally sings bass, but he will mainly accompany the other two on piano. The theater company contacted the three in April, and they began meeting over Zoom and eventually in person.
Rehearsal was a little more straightforward for roommates McNiff and Parks; however, and their history and living situation is how McNiff initially got involved. Brett Figel — another roommate and Lake Dillon Theatre Co. alum — was approached first for the show but couldn’t do it. That left the role open to McNiff, who hadn’t worked with the company before.
Growing up in Connecticut only an hour from the city, McNiff would frequently go see shows with his grandmother. He was 7 years old when he first stepped on stage in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Thanks to a middle school tap dancing lesson and student-led shows, he kindled his passion of musicals and choreography through high school and college. His only previous time visiting Colorado was stopping in Denver for the national tour of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at The Buell Theatre.
“The dancing at altitude knocked us out,” McNiff said, laughing.
Parks and McNiff first met doing “Mary Poppins” in Vermont about five years ago. It’s a musical McNiff has performed multiple times, culminating in his favorite version when he played Bert in a regional Arizona production.
All three enjoy having the creative opportunity to work with familiar faces. For Parks and Beck, it’s been a journey coming full circle back to their theatrical family and home base where it all began. Beck most recently performed with Lake Dillon in “Rock Of Ages,” but she first performed with them a decade ago when the theater was on Lake Dillon Drive.
It was Beck’s first time in Colorado, and the repertory season had her in “The Who’s Tommy,” “Godspell,” “Shout! The Mod Musical” and “The Red Cape.” Now the Connecticut native is returning to her roots with songs from “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man” since those were titles her mother shared with her that originally kick-started her love of musicals.
What: ‘Gathering Light’
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 21, and 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 22
Where: Lake Dillon Theatre Co.’s Flex Theater inside the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, 460 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne
Cost: $38.50. Visit LakeDillonTheatre.org to purchase.
Beck participated in drama from a young age because it allowed her to find a community in school. She has grown to appreciate plays as she’s gotten older due to the chance to explore characters and text, but the child in her still loves singing in musicals.
Parks, who also has a long love of “The Sound of Music,“ credits Lake Dillon Theatre Co. for his first professional theater job. Music was a natural part of Parks’ life growing up in Georgia with two musicians for parents. There were many times he wanted to quit in middle school and high school, but his music teacher mother kept him going.
Parks originally wanted to be an actor, yet he realized performing didn’t come as naturally to him as music and found a lack of parts written for bass singers. He blended his two loves into a degree specifically for music direction for musical theater to stay in the industry.
He worked as an assistant music director for Lake Dillon Theatre Co.’s production of “Chicago” in 2007 while still in college and most recently was the music director for Lake Dillon’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 2012. He has done a few concerts sporadically since then, but nothing has become such a focal point in his life as “Chicago.” After going on tour with it for a couple of years, the show was his Broadway debut right before the pandemic.
“I think it is one of the most brilliant shows ever written,” Parks said. “The orchestrations are brilliant, and each time you play it, it seems like you’re always learning something about it. It’s so much fun. I loved that Lake Dillon sparked that interest in me, too. They taught me everything I know.”
Though “Gathering Light” is a much-needed creative outlet for the performers, the artistic future of Beck, McNiff and Parks isn’t wholly clear. Parks is working on “Godspell” with a Connecticut high school while McNiff has nothing on the horizon except for getting back into video submissions for auditions. Beck will start graduate school in the fall to study marriage and family therapy.
“The past year has been kind of a gestation period of how I would like to keep performing in my life but also expand my horizons and hoping that those horizons will only widen my skill set to contribute to the world,” Beck said.
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