BH Interview: Denver-Based Artistic Director on the Enduring Power of Jane Austen

BH Interview: Denver-Based Artistic Director on the Enduring Power of Jane Austen

Kent Thompson, Artistic Director for the Denver Center Theatre Company, understands a key to attracting audiences is mixing the old with the new.

Just look at the plethora of “jukebox” musicals rattling around stages across the country. But Thompson wanted something more for his Colorado stage, and it took some time to get it.

The result is the company’s first new, full-scale musical in 15 years. The world premiere of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” will close out the DCTC’s 2012-2013 season. Thompson, who previously served 16 years as the Producing Artistic Director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, had a production like “Sense and Sensibility” in mind since arriving in Denver in 2005.

He started the company’s New Play Summit in part to find new and challenging productions, but he knew it would take time to develop something as ambitious as a full-scale musical.

“If you do anything beyond a musical review, it takes three times the resources of doing a new play,” he says. Along the way he read a dozen adaptations of Austen’s classic yarn, but the musical adapation – book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow and music by Neal Hampton – proved the best of the bunch.  The fact that it was a musical made it all the sweeter, and allowed Thompson to fulfill his personal mission.

“I loved the lyricism of the music,” he says, and he can see the production moving on to various stages after its Denver debut.

Bringing “Sense and Sensibility” into the 21st century required a delicate touch. First, the production had to whittle down minor characters as needed. The next trick was figuring out how to “make the language work today,” he says.

“You’re kind of treading that line, making it simpler yet preserving the period romance and lushness of it,” he says. “It’s about the emotional journey of those two sisters. It’s about the highs and lows then highs again, it’s an emotional roller coaster.”

Thompson isn’t surprised to see Austen’s work in vogue – again.

“There’s certainly been a huge revival of Jane Austen. It happens about every 25 years,” he says.

Denver isn’t New York or Los Angeles, but Thompson is learning the city’s educated populace is hungry for the arts.

“The irony is, when you combine all the arts in Denver … and the surrounding communities, we do outsell the sports teams,” he says. And the Mile High City isn’t so different than other parts of the country, Thompson says. Both artists and audiences crave stories that connect to modern times, even if the stories are more than two centuries old.

“Sense & Sensibility The Musical” will run in 2013, April 5 – May 26 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Stage Theatre.