Live Theatre Returns to the Historic Elitch Theatre!

August will see the first full live production on the stage since 1991 ~

DENVER, CO (June 19, 2024) – Following 20 Years of Restoration and Preservation, the Historic Elitch Theatre announces the grand return of live performances with the Elitch Encore series. Thirty-three years after Denver’s oldest cultural venue presented its last full live production, the stage lights will glow again for two live shows this summer.

The last full production on the historic stage was in 1991 for the 100th anniversary of the theatre. At the time, Elitch  Gardens was still located in Northwest Denver, and it was home to nearly a century of Denver’s greatest entertainment. The summer of 1987 would be the last regular full season of theater at the park, but four years later for the building’s 100th anniversary, the theatre re-opened for a production of The Robber Bridegroom, starring actor Patrick Cassidy.  

1994 was the final year for the Gardens at Tennyson and 38th Avenue, opening downtown in 1995, so the historic theatre was boarded up and essentially abandoned. However, the City of Denver gave it historic landmark status and it was saved from destruction. In 2002 the Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation was founded (now doing business as Historic Elitch Theatre,) and that kicked off what would be two decades of restoration and preservation. 

Our Next Milestone:  

Several years ago — with the addition of restrooms — the third phase of restoration was completed, and the theatre received its certificate of permanent occupancy. With that milestone achieved, the organization could begin programming inside the theatre.  

However, as an all-volunteer group, Historic Elitch Theatre (HET) has relied on the dedication, commitment, and endless hours of volunteer support, so the journey to live productions has been slow. “Many supporters, including our board and volunteers, have been frustrated by the pace of our progress, but as an all-volunteer organization, we continuously balance progress with longevity,” said Greg Rowley, President of the Board of Directors. “We would love to take off running and have a huge summer of programming, but that is a recipe for volunteer burn-out. We work  hard to be realistic and not over-extend our resources — financial and volunteer — so we look to achieve incremental  success each year as we grow and expand.”  

Elitch Encore: 

Elitch Encore is a revival of live theatre at the Historic Elitch Theatre. The series will kick off with a most-fitting production of The Bonfils Girl — the story of Helen Bonfils — who was affiliated with the Elitch Theatre for over a quarter of a century as an actor, producer, and benefactor. Our second production will be The Secret Garden — the story of a magical garden — which offers a wonderful parallel for the debut of a magical theater. 

While these two productions are the first full live productions since 1991, Rowley explains that there have been other actors and performers who have performed on the stage in the years between. “These productions will be our first full  live ticketed performances since 1991, but we’ve had many wonderful performances on this stage during the  restoration process — many of them donating their time to support the theatre.” He continued, “We’ve had musical  groups — including Hazel Miller, Chris Daniels & the Kings, and Face Vocal Band, in 2017 — and we’ve had play readings, and partial stagings, but none have been a full staging with costumes and tickets and all that you get with a  full theater production.” 

Elitch Encore: The Bonfils Girl — Saturday, August 17th 

Helen Bonfils made her first appearance at Elitch Theatre in 1934, and 90 years later she is the subject of the first full live production on the historic stage in 33 years.  

The Bonfils Girl is a fascinating drama that delves into the life of Helen Bonfils, a pioneering figure in the world of theatre and a Denver icon. Known for her indomitable spirit and significant contributions to the arts, Helen Bonfils’  story is one of passion, resilience, and groundbreaking achievements. Mike Broemmel’s compelling narrative and masterful storytelling promise to captivate audiences, offering a poignant reflection on the life of a woman who transformed the cultural landscape of Denver and beyond. 

“We are thrilled to resume live theatre at the Historic Elitch Theatre with a production that not only celebrates the theatre but also honors a figure who played an instrumental role in shaping our city’s oldest cultural venue,” said  Rowley. “This is a new chapter in the theatre’s 133-year storied history, and we are excited to welcome everyone back into this magical space to experience the richness of live theater.”  

“In the legacy of the Historic Elitch Theatre, Mary Elitch is certainly the primary figure, but Helen Bonfils is certainly the second” added Rowley. “While John and Mary Elitch founded the gardens together, just one year into their big venture, John passed away and Mary was left a widow with a zoo, botanic gardens, and a theatre to manage.”  Rowley continued, “While Mary is our muse, and we reflect on her work in everything we do, we cannot overstate the  impact of Helen Bonfils and we’re excited to celebrate her with the return of live productions!”  

The evening promises to deliver an unforgettable theatrical experience — blending the history of the Historic Elitch  Theatre with the life story of a Denver legend — plus a celebration of the past and future of this historic venue.  

The Bonfils Girl will be on Saturday, August 17th. Tickets are available for purchase at bit.ly/bonfilsElitch Encore: The Secret Garden — Friday, October 4th 

The Secret Garden is a musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, featuring a book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon. Premiering on Broadway in 1991, the show tells the story of Mary  Lennox, a young orphan sent to live with her reclusive uncle. Amidst the somber atmosphere of the house, Mary discovers a hidden, neglected garden that once belonged to her late aunt. With the help of her cousin Colin, a boy presumed to be an invalid, and a spirited young gardener named Dickon, Mary rejuvenates the garden, bringing new life and healing to her family. The musical is celebrated for its lush score, emotional depth, and themes of renewal and the transformative power of nature. 

“Following the first Elitch Encore production about Helen Bonfils — where we celebrate her dedication to the theatre — it seemed appropriate to stage a production about the revival of a magical world. While we work to revive the magical space of the Historic Elitch Theatre, we work to create a space that fosters hope, creativity, and renewal” says  Roberta Hamilton-Griggs, Director of Secret Garden.  

Hamilton-Griggs shared: “As the Artistic Director for The Wesley Players, in residence at St. Luke’s United Methodist  Church-Highlands Ranch, I really wanted to connect the two organizations. What better way than to have Mary  Lennox and her secret garden meet Mary Elitch in her amazing garden…From Highlands Ranch to the Highlands, it  all just seemed like a perfect fit. We can’t wait to perform Lucy Simon’s The Secret Garden at the Historic Elitch  Theatre.” 

The Secret Garden will be on Friday, October 4th. Tickets are available for purchase at bit.ly/elitchsecret.

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