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Steppenwolf visits the Rockies

Wren Wertin

Steppenwolf is the cornerstone of Chicago theater and a primary force behind Beaver Creek’s new Theatre Festival. Though not usually a touring company, they will be bringing a production to the Vilar every year for three years. This year they’ll perform “Side Man” as part of the inaugural festival titled “The Best of Chicago Theatre.” Tickets are still available for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances.

“Side Man,” written by Warren Leighton, won the Tony award for Best Play in 1998, and has been performed ever since in various parts of the world. It’s a memory play that moves in and out of the past, centering on one family and the music of their life – jazz.

Clifford, the narrator, is trying to move forward in his life, but before he can do that he – and the audience – have to come to terms with his past.



“When I was a kid, I thought The Melody Lounge was the coolest place on Earth,” he says in Act I. “In high school, where I was a complete loser, the only thing I had going for me was bringing the guys here to see my old man play the trumpet. I walk in and I hear him before I see him. You could play me a hundred trumpet solos and I’d know which one was his. My father’s voice.”

Clifford, an only child, takes the audience on a journey that begins with his parents’ first meeting during the heyday of jazz, and continues through big band’s decline and the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. Zoot suits, club dates and unemployment checks weave in and out of the music.



“Side Man” is directed by Anna D. Shapiro.

“It’s the quintessential American play dealing with jazz and family,” said Shapiro.

They’ve taken it to Australia and Ireland. Despite the distinctly American theme, those audiences were appreciative of it.



“Jazz didn’t put them off – it was a way in,” she said.

This is Shapiro’s sixth season with Steppenwolf. Her challenges as a director lie in re-invigorating her cast, having them re-invest themselves into the play.

“We try to reinvent the energy every time,” she said.

She’s aided by the strength of the cast. Steppenwolf is an actor-based theater company, something that makes all the difference to the audience as well as the actors. They won’t do something they’re not interested in, so the energy is fresh and real.

“I don’t know about all actor-based theater companies, but the advantage to working with Steppenwolf is you get to work with the best actors ever,” said Shapiro. “The bar starts really high, and it keeps getting raised.”

According to Steppenwolf literature, the company celebrates the intelligence of the actor, the vision of the director, the words of the playwright and the power of the theater. Everything good theater should do.

To prepare for the “Side Man” festivities, cast and crew from the play will host a free, interactive discussion about the world of theater on Wednesday in the May Gallery in Beaver Creek.

The actors performing in Beaver Creek are Rick Snyder, Rondi Reed, Josh Stamberg, Jim Saltouros, Chris Stolte, Jason Wells and Natalie West. Shows are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Vilar Center for the Arts. For more information call the box office at 845-TIXS.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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