A Eugene O’Neill Award finalist tells the astonishing story of two wildly popular Vaudevillians who beard gender roles with an act of defiance
DENVER—From the ancient Greeks to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” genderbending performances have entertained audiences for millennia.
A new play from Cherry Creek Theatre (CCT), founded by Maxine & Mark Rossman, fictionalizes a moment in the lives of two historical vaudeville superstars as the pair straddle their on- and off-stage personas. “The Headliners” puts “female impersonator” Julian Eltinge and flamboyant co-star Eva Tanguay in the spotlight. Their latest engagement satirizes gender and marriage with a staged wedding — performed in drag for a standing-room crowd.
Local playwright Jeffrey Neuman, who identifies as queer and deaf, infuses vaudeville song and show into a surprisingly timely story that explores the explosive crossroads of gender, fame, sexuality, and power.
“This incredible piece of theater could not be more timely,” said CCT Artistic Producer Susie Snodgrass. “Queer humans and persons in drag are being persecuted physically, along with the commitment from groups of elected officials to take away their rights.”
“The Headliners” was named a finalist for the prestigious O’Neill Award from the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 2021. Last year, “The Headliners” was named a Woodward/Newman Award finalist.
“When we first read Jeff’s play for consideration in our new-play reading series, it stood out,” said board member Carolyn Hunter, who acts as CCT’s literary manager. “I really, really liked it.”
CCT established its reputation for producing classic works by playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and, most recently, Eugene O’Neill. The company now to looks to the future of the next generation of classics with this world premiere.
“Our 13th season is a celebration of theatricality and heart,” said Snodgrass. “We’re proud to add Jeff’s diverse voice to the classics of the American theatre canon.”
Norrell Moore (“The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” Miners Alley) portrays Tanguay, and Jeremy Rill (Henry Award Nominee, “A Little Night Music” at CCT) is Eltinge. Paul Jaquith rounds out the ensemble. Twenty-three-time Henry Award nominee Nick Sugar directs. Local composer David Nehls (Denver Center, Arvada Center, “My Way” at CCT) music directs.
Scenic design by Tina Anderson, costume design by Linda Morken, lighting design by Emily A. Maddox, sound design by Max Silverman, prop design and stage management by Kia Heafner. Produced by Snodgrass for Cherry Creek Theatre in association with the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center.
“The Headliners” plays May 5–21 in the Pluss Theater at the Mizel Center. Single tickets and season passes are on sale now.