Peak musical performances of 2023 | John Moore | Arts & Entertainment

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Now, for the fun part.

The Denver Gazette’s annual True West Awards recall 30 good stories of the theater year without categories or nominations. But attention must be paid to a few of the many standout individual performances of the year.

And the greatest of 2023 (or pretty much any other year) was when Maiesha McQueen, as the abused and embattled but regenerating Celie, brought “The Color Purple” home with her rendition of the anthem “I’m Here” that drew the rare in-show standing ovation at every single performance of the DCPA Theatre Company’s “The Color Purple.”

Attention must be paid. (And, in this case, just one day before the new film adaptation of the stage musical is released in theaters.)

McQueen, a visiting artist from Atlanta, “wears her heritage like a crown, infusing her performances with a rich and authentic spirit,” one observer wrote. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), she has made only one appearance on Broadway to date – in “Waitress.”

Today, we recognize McQueen and seven other representative actors who made singular impressions in locally staged musicals this year. While no attention was given to gender, only one (deliciously evil) man made the list. (Look for actors to be honored for their work in plays on Sunday.)

Abby Apple Boes

Jeannie, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” Miners Alley Playhouse

Abby Apple Boes.jpeg

Abby Apple Boes

Apple Boes has been a steady performer and producer in the local theater community for many years, and while she often plays lead roles, she generally cedes the spotlight’s brightest shine to her castmates. That was no exception with “Trailer Park,” a zeitgeist 2023 musical that introduced all manner of zany, over-the-top characters – including her own).

But Apple Boes anchored all the silly shenanigans with heart and humanity playing an agoraphobic wife who has not left her trailer in the 20 years since the abduction of her son.

Originally from Phoenix, Apple Boes studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and is the co-founder of A and A Productions. Also this year, she played the White DJ’s racist old mama in Town Hall Arts Center’s “Memphis.”

Lindsey Falduto

Aldonza, “Man of La Mancha,” Platte Valley Players

Lindsey falduto Man of La mancha Platte Valley Players

Lindsey Falduto’s Aldonza had a rough go of it in the Platte Valley Players’ “Man of La Mancha.”

Falduto brings such a grounding wounded heart to the role of the exploited prostitute that she wears the role like a second skin. For all the abuse her Aldonza endures, receiving kindness from the delusional old knight who sees in her the beautiful Dulcinea is, to her, the unkindest cut of all.

Falduto previously played the role six years ago, and the twin “Man of La Mancha” experiences have forever changed her.

“Having moments on stage where I could explore and commit to Aldonza’s journey to becoming Dulcinea is a great joy in my career that was only possible because of the wonderful people in both shows,” said Falduto, who is originally from Plano, Texas.

Mike Martinkus Matilda_RDGPhoto-254.jpg Matilda

Mike Martinkus looked groovy in green as Bad Dad Mr. Wormwood in Town Hall Arts Center’s “Matilda the Musical.”

Mike Martinkus

Mr. Wormwood, “Matilda the Musical,” Town Hall Arts Center

Martinkus has had a killer comic year, now currently playing the worst Bad Dad of all in “Matilda” after having played super-nice slacker guy Nicky in Miners Alley Playhouse’s “Avenue Q” and a roustabout in the Aurora Fox’s “Treasure Island.”

The key to a winning Wormwood, of course, is to so totally own your ambivalent antipathy toward your son (I mean daughter) that the audience goes all in on wanting you to be as bad as possible.   

Martinkus was in utter comic command from the get-go, lambasting Matilda (and the audience) for their love of books. All that cruel prep work makes the payoff tenfold at the end of the story when Wormwood gives his son (I mean daughter) away to a much kinder soul. For the first time, he calls Matilda his daughter (not son), his hat comes off and, in that simple moment – his redemption is achieved.

Martinkus is from Fort Collins, graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and (did I mention?) is really, really funny.

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Adriane Leigh Robinson Damn Yankees Amanda Tipton Photography.jpg

“Whatever Lola Wants” is clearly Young Joe Hardy in the Arvada Center’s “Damn Yankees.” Pictured: Adriane Leigh Robinson, right, with Ty-Gabriel Jones. 

Adriane Leigh Robinson

Lola, “Damn Yankees,” Arvada Center

She might not be America’s Sweetheart (yet), but Robinson certainly proved to be Arvada’s Sweetheart in three 2023 productions that had charm practically oozing out of her perfect pores. Her winning turn as the devil’s striking sexpot of an accomplice only solidified her standing as a true triple-threat singer, dancer and actor.

Onstage Colorado’s Eric Fitzgerald said “Damn Yankees” soared whenever Robinson took to the stage. “Robinson turns in a performance that is both beguiling and sexy,” he wrote. “Her erotic dance moves reverberate across the stage with an animal-like magnetism.”

Robinson attended high school on a military base in Italy and graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. She and her husband are both actors and professional photographers. (Marco Robinson starred this year in the DCPA Theatre Company’s “The 39 Steps.”) Adriane also played the key role of Cynthia Weil in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” and is currently in the ensemble for “Cinderella,” both at the Arvada Center.

Monica Joyce Slabach

Julie Jordan, “Carousel,” Performance Now

Monica Joyce Slabach Adriana Tomeu Photography.jpg

Monica Joyce Slabach

Without knowing Slabach, I can only assume she is as far from the battered Julie Jordan as she can be. Slabach was Miss Colorado 2019 and dedicated her year to building strong girls. By day, she is a theater arts teacher in Colorado Springs. She’s also clearly a powerhouse performer. 

The aforementioned Fitzgerald called her performance exquisite in the oh-so-problematic warhorse “Carousel.” Slabach’s voice “could not be stronger,” he wrote. “Her crystal-clear voice reverberates throughout the auditorium. Her interpretation of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sent chills down my spine.”

emily van fleet seth dhonau.jpg

Emily Van Fleet as Carole King and Seth Dhonau as Gerry Goffin in the Arvada Center’s”Beautiful.”

Emily Van Fleet

Carole King, “Beautiful,” Arvada Center

About the only thing that could keep Van Fleet from being recognized by the annual True West Awards somehow would be for her to take a year off – and that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. You could take your pick of credits this year, including very nearly making the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “The Winter’s Tale” almost not seem like the most awful, misogynistic thing Shakespeare ever wrote. Almost. (Van Fleet’s character is “very” pregnant, but her dumb jealous husband feeds their baby to wolves and orders her death. Yeah, the story is that awful.)

But then came “Beautiful,” Van Fleet’s masterful turn as the shy and awkward songwriter-turned-feminist icon in one of the few “jukebox” musicals that has an accompanying life story every bit as good as the score. Van Fleet didn’t try to impersonate the iconic King, and yet somehow she embodied every bit of who she is on the inside.

The (apparently very busy) Fitzgerald said Van Fleet pulled off King with complete conviction. “Vocally, she is up to the challenge and demonstrates her emotional range with each hit song,” he wrote.    

Jalyn Webb

Grizabella, “Cats,” The Candlelight


Jalyn Webb

Over the past few years, Webb has become “the face” of “The Candlelight.” (The name has been shortened from Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, soon to be the last major dinner theater in Colorado once BDT Stage closes next month.)

Webb, raised in Fort Collins and a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, is the director of sales and marketing, she’s hustling subscriptions, she’s greeting patrons at their tables and from the stage – and more often than not, she’s playing leading roles in the thriving Johnstown playhouse’s large (and I do mean large)-scale musicals 45 minutes north of Denver in Johnstown. 

Cases in point: She expertly played the old cat lady who’s weirdly soon-to-reincarnate in the enduringly weird Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats.” She’s currently starring as the Narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and, next fall, she will essentially play the narrator again in the company’s reprise of “Always…Patsy Cline.”

For good reason. Once you hear Webb sing “Memory,” you’re kind of spoiled for life. She’s been teaching vocal classes in Northern Colorado for 30 years, so there’s not many better.

Note: The True West Awards, now in their 23rd year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. Denver Gazette Senior Arts Journalist John Moore celebrates the Colorado theater community by revisiting 30 good stories from the past year without categories or nominations.

Cats Jalyn Webb

Jalyn Webb takes her bow as Grizabella after a performance of “Cats” at The Candlelight.

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