But there will still be plenty of entertainment, including a concert lineup that kicks off this year with a show by Cobra Starship on June 9 and continues with performances from Roberto Tapia and Hot Chelle Rae, among others. All that's in addition to Reflections, a show on what Elitch's calls "Main Street" that involves fire, colors and thousands of lights timed to the music of nightly performances. And, in case anybody's wondering, Evans promises, "There will be fireworks on the Fourth of July at Elitch's this year."

*****

In northwest Denver, the only vestiges of the original Elitch's are a sign and the old Elitch Theatre; the rest of the property is now a residential complex/shopping center anchored by a Sunflower Market. (The redevelopment won an EPA "smart growth" award in 2005.) The theater sat vacant for more than a decade — the last production here was in 1991 — before the Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation took it over in 2002. Then it sat more or less vacant for another decade while the non-profit organization struggled to make improvements and get the building up to code. The group has been hosting events outside for a few years now, and is hoping to open up the inside soon.

Location Info

Map

Elitch Gardens

2000 Elitch Circle
Denver, CO 80204

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Central Denver

Historic Elitch Theatre Outdoor Plaza

4500 W. 38th Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

Category: Theaters

Region: Northwest Denver

"The foundation lost some money; it went on hiatus," Mercado says. "Which was okay, because it allowed the organization to reinvent itself and take a look at its mission."

One of the things it did was hire Mercado, who had made his name around town when he put on a production of Zoot Suit at North High School that was so popular that the students presented an encore performance at the Buell Theatre. Not surprisingly, kids and theater remain central to Mercado's interests. "I wanted my return to my roots in Highland to be about working with the youth," he explains. "I found there was a need, considering that arts programs are the first to be cut — and that's not the Denver Public Schools' fault. The resources just aren't there. I envisioned Elitch's working with DPS to help provide the arts education DPS can't provide, because I really think this is what motivates kids toward academic success. The kids loved the attention they got from Zoot Suit, but they didn't dig math, you know? But to be there on opening night, they had to make the grade in math — I mean, our program had a graduation rate of 97 percent. That's an amazing figure. A lot of these kids had never even seen theater before."

And with any luck and a lot of hard work, they may get to again see theater at the original Elitch Theatre. Back in the day, this facility was Denver's premier playhouse — and many stars who went on to big careers in Hollywood were featured in Elitch casts. So in addition to a still-TBA run of Bilingual Barrio Shakespeare (Mercado's second annual production of North High kids performing famous Shakespeare scenes in English and Spanish), the Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation will host a series of outdoor movies outside the theater building this summer, all with roots close to home.

The original A Star is Born, released in 1937, will kick off the series on Friday, June 15. "This one stars Fredric March, who used to perform at the Elitch," says Mercado. "Also, the screenplay was written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, who were both Elitch Theatre veterans. I think Parker was actually living on Meade Street when she wrote it."

The Day the Earth Stood Still, from 1951, will screen on July 6. "Patricia Neal, who had been an actress at the Elitch, plays Helen Benson in the film," notes Mercado.

On July 20, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, made in 1954, is the featured film. "Grace Kelly made her final stage performance at the Elitch in 1951," says Mercado. "She actually got the telegram that she was going to be cast in High Noon with Gary Cooper while she was on stage at the Elitch."

But there are newer — and more unexpected — films in the lineup, too, including 1988's Beetlejuice. "The character June, the woman who's helping Gina Davis and Alec Baldwin, advising them on how to deal with going back and forth between the real world, was Sylvia Sidney; she performed here back in the '30s," says Mercado. And 1974's Young Frankenstein makes the cut because "Cloris Leachman, who had a really great role in that film, used to perform here," he notes. "She actually did a fundraiser for us once."

And the fundraisers will continue until Elitch Theatre is up and running again, Mercado promises.

"Besides the educational value, we're introducing the arts to a group of people who have never been invited into the arts before. That's what I want for Elitch's," Mercado concludes. "To be a vibrant cultural center."

Elitch Gardens

Elitch Gardens, 2000 Elitch Circle in Denver, is open daily (weekdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) from now through August 18, when the park goes to a weekend schedule. Tickets are $37.99 for adults and $27.99 for kids under 48 inches high, and season passes run $69.99 for admission to basically everything through the end of the season, which is October 31. For more information, visit www.elitchgardens.com.

Elitch Outdoor Film Series
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