In her closing scene as Crystal in the cinematic version of The Women, Joan Crawford stares through her deliciously darkened diva eyes and growls, "There's a word for you ladies, but it is seldom used in high society -- outside of a kennel." The manicured claws of bored 1930s Manhattan matriarchs first got the fur flying when Clare Boothe Luce presented her play to the public in 1936. The 1939 film adaptation, which headlined renowned rival starlets Crawford and Norma Shearer, bought a new audience front-row seats to the Park Avenue rumble.
And now the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is hosting the regional premiere of The Women in its Main Stage Theatre. The play, which features an all-female cast of no fewer than 31 local actresses, opens tonight and runs through February 22.
The story is told through the clever and cutting dialogue of a group of rich and biting socialites, who, through vicious gossip and witty exchanges, dissect their obsession with men to near distraction. Initially dismissed by critics, the popular show eventually toured across the United States and eighteen other countries.
The script was rumored to have been written by Luce after she overheard a conversation in a women's washroom, though it may also have been reflective of the author's exceptional life of rubbing elbows with high society's upper crust. Married to publishing magnate Henry Robinson Luce, she was the "It Girl" of the conservative Republican Party for a great deal of her life. An accomplished editor of Vanity Fair magazine, a war correspondent for Life magazine and an Academy Award-nominated playwright, Luce eventually moved into politics, serving in Congress and, later, as U.S. ambassador to Italy. President Reagan awarded her the presidential Medal of Freedom.
Although she was revered for her intelligence, Luce was often scorned for her outspokennes. With regard to The Women, she was quoted as saying, "The women who inspired this play deserved to be smacked across the head with a meat-ax, and that, I flatter myself, is exactly what I smashed them with."
Tickets to the Arvada Center production are $28 to $38 and are available at the center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, or online, at www.arvadacenter.org. Call 720-898-7200 for more information. -- Kity Ironton
The saucy style of Alberta Hunter returns in Cookery
In the late '70s, Robert Altman protegé Alan Rudolph made a moody little film called Remember My Name. It starred Geraldine Chaplin in a tour-de-force role as a sad, crazed, fixated ex-con with a mission, but perhaps its most remarkable point was the soundtrack. This whirlwind of a score was checkered with a smoky set of songs written and performed by Alberta Hunter, a jazz/blues diva from the '20s and '30s who found new life as an octogenarian. That's the Alberta -- an 82-year-old songstress making a comeback -- who we meet in Cookin' at the Cookery, a blues-soaked musical biography opening tonight at 8 p.m. at the New Denver Civic Theatre, 721 Santa Fe Drive, and she is as hot as the title implies. Much of that heat is generated by sassy, big-voiced Broadway actress Ernestine Jackson, who has garnered two Tony nominations for her roles in Guys and Dolls and Raisin; she'll portray Hunter in the Denver production with the same kind of earthy gusto that once prompted New York Magazine theater critic John Simon to write of her: "I have seldom seen such highly concentrated yet unhistrionic humanity exuded so simply on stage." Four musicians and fellow actress Janice Lorraine (as the narrator) back Jackson in the show, which continues Wednesdays through Sundays for an open-ended run. Tickets, $30 to $40, are available at 303-309-3773 or www.ticketswest.com. -- Susan Froyd
Gilda's Spirit Invokes Humor
Applying the old adage that laughter is the best medicine, organizers of tonight's It's Always Something... Funny! fundraiser promise a rip-roaring good time. Headliners from five local comedy troupes will take the stage to help raise money for a new clubhouse for Gilda's Club Denver, which is part of a national organization named for late comedienne Gilda Radner. The group sponsors social events, workshops and support groups for people with cancer and their families and friends. "We've put together a sketch-comedy show because that was what Gilda Radner specialized in," says Dave Shirley, artistic director at Rattlebrain Theater Company, one of the participating groups. "She was the type of woman who always tried to keep a sense of humor about things. Even in the face of cancer, she could still see the comedy in life."
The event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Mile High Station, 2027 West Colfax Avenue, and will include cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction. Tickets are $125 per person or $200 per couple and can be purchased at www.blacktie-colorado.com.
For more information on Gilda's Club, call 1-800-316-4660 or go to www.gildasclubdenver.org. -- Julie Dunn
Denver Women's Chorus sings praises in Sheroes
Members of the Denver Women's Chorus explore their inner Valkyrie today during two performances of Sheroes, a production dedicated to "strong, brave and history-making women." It's a musical salute to the likes of Joan of Arc, Xena the Warrior Princess, even the Virgin Mary.
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"It's a real variety in terms of style, with the thematic thread being that all the songs are about history-making women or those who we think of as role models," says Lisa Goettel, executive director of the chorus.
"We'll have everything from fifteenth-century madrigals to a very contemporary arrangement about Joan of Arc. That will be followed by a piece about our mothers and a parody of every song that's ever been written with the word "Mary' in it -- from 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' to 'Oh, Maryland.'"
The concerts, at 3 and 7:30 p.m., will be held in the newly renovated Oriental Theatre, 4335 West 44th Avenue. Tickets are $10 for the matinee and $15 for the evening performance.
For more information about the group or to purchase tickets in advance, go to www.denverwomenschorus.org. -- Karen Bowers