Rocky Mountain News: On Stage

Denver Performing Arts Complex

The bigger picture

Creator of 'Dorian' envisions Broadway for his new musical
By Lisa Bornstein, Rocky Mountain News
September 12, 2002

It's still a long road to New York for the new musical Dorian, but creator James J. Mellon vows to get there
yet. The musical, which sets Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1980s New Orleans, begins its first full
staging tonight in Denver. Like Wilde's novel, Dorian revolves around a beautiful young man and his portrait,
which, as the protagonist ages and corrupts, decays while Dorian's face stays pristine. "I read it in high school like everybody else had to, and I just always was fascinated with it," Mellon says. Mellon - later joined by co-author Duane Poole and co-composer Scott De Turk - began the project with a single song, Without Tomorrow, which remains in the show. "It's had many, many evolutions," Mellon says of the musical. "I didn't like the Edwardian thing (in the novel). It didn't feel right to me. I thought, why would I write this? And then I decided to contemporize it." Two years ago, Mellon conducted a workshop of the musical at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, followed by readings in New York for potential investors. "My purpose of going to New York was to see what we
had," Mellon says. "We had done the workshop in Los Angeles, and people were pretty ecstatic. They really
went crazy over it, but the difference between New York and Los Angeles is worlds."

New York went well, but Dorian still wasn't Broadway-bound. "That would kind of be suicide," Mellon says. "And to be honest, there was still a lot of work to do." So Dorian moved to Denver. "It's just always better to
go out of town and keep honing things," Mellon says. He learned his lesson about refining the work when a
performer. In 1980, he played Riff in a Broadway revival of West Side Story. "There I was in the rehearsal hall with Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents. I thought, 'How is it possible that it opened 23 years ago on Broadway and they're still trying to fix it?' " Technologically, the show is a challenge, with bugs yet to be worked out. Twelve large picture frames hover over the stage, including a center one that moves and
revolves. Via video technology, it becomes a stained-glass ceiling, the moon, and Dorian's portrait. And Mellon has tinkered further with the 112-year-old novel. He adds a racial element to the class struggle of Dorian Gray, turning actress character Sybil Vane into Celia, a black singer from the bayou. The action is bookended by the frenzy of Carnival and the attendant voodoo elements. The racial element drew Mellon to the South, and "I picked New Orleans because of the Anne Rice kind of feel that New Orleans has," he says. In a tale about decadence, New Orleans was a natural character.

Dorian was a natural crossover for Robert Cuccioli, who starred on Broadway in the similarly gothic cult hit Jekyll & Hyde. Cuccioli plays the mysterious artist Henry Lord (a spin on Wilde's Lord Henry Wotton), and relative newcomer Matt Cavenaugh plays the pretty-on-the-outside title character. When the two take
the stage in Denver, representatives of Broadway's biggest producers will be in the house, Cuccioli says,
including the Shuberts, the Nederlanders, Dodger Theatricals and Clear Channel.
"The theatrical world is coming in from New York to see this," Mellon says. "We will partner with one of them, ultimately. "I'm not (Jekyll & Hyde author) Frank Wildhorn, who, when he writes something, everybody looks at it. Little by little, we've gotten on everybody's radar screen."

Lisa Bornstein is the theater critic. or (303)892-5101

2002 The E.W. Scripps Co.

Name: Dorian
ShowTime: 8 p.m. Sept. 12, plus 8 p.m. Tuesdays
through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays
Location: Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts
Complex, Speer Boulevard and Arapahoe Street
End Date: Sept. 29
Price: $10 to $60
Ticket Info: (303) 893-4100
Backmoving.gif (10803 bytes)