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New show pays homage to Colorado’s popular, long-running burro festival | Arts & Entertainment

New show pays homage to Colorado’s popular, long-running burro festival | Arts & Entertainment
New show pays homage to Colorado’s popular, long-running burro festival | Arts & Entertainment

Boy meets girl and falls in love, boy loses girl, villain tries to get the girl, boy wins girl and triumphs over evil.

The Butte Theater in Cripple Creek will revive the classic melodrama formula with its latest production, “Darling of the Donkey Derby,” followed by the olio “Blame it on the Boogie: Songs of the Decade,” featuring music from the ’70s. It opens Friday and runs through July 14.

The show is based on an old book that someone found in the Cripple Creek library years ago and turned into a melodrama for the theater, which has performed the production at least once. This year’s version was adapted by playwright Chris Sorenson.

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“It brings back the early days of Donkey Derby Days and the story of how the derby started,” said director Betsy McClenahan. “It brings in the mines and a lot of local references. It’s a lot of fun.”

Set in old Cripple Creek, Tom Moffatt, gold prospector and hero (cheer!), competes with a villain (boo!) for the heart of heroine Katy Darling (sigh!) and a vast estate left by the villain’s rich uncle, who will soon meet his maker. All of this is set against the backdrop of the first Cripple Creek Donkey Derby Days, started over 90 years ago by Cripple Creek businessmen who wanted to attract more people to town during the summer.

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The first festivals featured burro races, with competitors riding the animals five miles from Victor to Cripple Creek. In the 1970s, the race evolved to a team leading the animals down a half-mile of Bennett Avenue.

Eight actors from across the country will break the fourth wall and interact with the audience – this is standard protocol in a melodrama, as opposed to a regular play where there is no interaction with the audience.

Since only one of the actors had already worked on a melodrama, McClenahan gave him some homework.

“I said you should watch ‘The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends’ because Dudley Do-Right is the epitome of melodrama,” she said. “Everything Disney does is based on the formula of melodrama. Rodgers and Hammerstein did the same thing.”

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McClenahan knows what she’s talking about. The longtime actress spent about 15 years making melodramas and says it made her a better actress.

“Many people think melodramas are superficial, but I tell young actors that they taught me to get into a character, even when I’m acting in traditional theater,” she said.

“In melodrama, you always have to listen to the audience and what’s going on in the audience. Are they booing and hissing? Do they understand the supporting characters? That’s different from putting up a wall and just wondering what the other actors are doing on stage. There’s a whole other range of things you have to pay attention to.”

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