It’s been over a decade now since Aspen’s famed Crystal Palace dinner theater shut down.
In that time, a rotating cast of forgettable pop-ups and failed ventures have haunted the former space of the iconic cabaret restaurant on the corner of Hyman Avenue and Monarch Street. The hallowed piece of Aspen history that dates back to 1957 is to be redeveloped into a boutique hotel.
It may seem a wholly sad fate, but in its time the Palace family put down such deep, sturdy roots in the valley that its influence will be felt for years to come, physical structure or not. Palace founder Mead Metcalf begat a tight-knit clan that still includes some of the valley’s most prominent performers, and even those who know nothing about the Crystal Palace have likely been entertained by one or more of them in just the past few months.
Still, that’s no substitute for a true Palace show, so to right that wrong, a troop of those talented alumni will be coming back home — well, two doors down from home — for two old-school cabaret shows tonight at the Wheeler Opera House, at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Dubbed “The Crystal Palace Review,” it’ll be a trip down memory lane for folks who caught the show in its heyday. And for those who never saw the show, it’ll be a chance to see why Aspen remembers the Crystal Palace so fondly.
“We’re doing a mix of old standards and new stuff,” said Nina Gabianelli, a Palace alum who put the show together with musical director and pianist David Dyer (who occupied the same roles in the last years of the Palace). “The good news is that some of the old tried-and-true numbers, like ‘Too Much Botox,’ which was a staple in the show the last six or seven years we were doing it, are still relevant and still funny. And now, a decade after we closed, there’s a whole new group of people who never saw the material back in 2002, so for them it’s going to be new and fun.”
Gabianelli is among the busiest of the Palace progeny and can be found leading tours for the Aspen Historical Society, entertaining kids of all ages through Spellbinders programs, performing in numerous plays and staging her own one-woman cabaret, which she has performed throughout the valley and nationally. Dyer, meanwhile, has provided the soundtrack to more local productions, cabarets and other performances in the past decade than even he could list.
The other alums joining Gabianelli and Dyer on stage have been arguably as prolific and make up a veritable who’s-who of valley performers.
Mike Monroney is a history guide and a ubiquitous presence in the local theater community who performed on the Wheeler stage just last night in the Sopris Theater Co.’s production of “The Other Place.” Married couple Gary and Meredith Daniel met years ago as Palace performers, and since its closing have appeared in numerous productions and the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue (owned by Palace alum John Goss). David Ledingham is the founder of the annual Aspen Fringe Festival. Kathy Pelowski and Travis McDiffitt have acted in numerous plays and musicals in the past decade. And Danielle Kopf has been a performer and stage manager for everyone from Aspen Community Theater to Theatre Aspen to Carbondale’s SOL Theatre Co.
That talented cast alone would be worth the price of admission, but to make the Crystal Palace Review even more authentic, Metcalf himself will be flying in from his home in Sedona, Ariz., to finish up both shows, just like he used to back in the day.
There’s one last cast member who needs to be mentioned: Emery Major. He’s not a Palace alum — he was just a kid when it closed — but he is an Aspen High School alum who now acts and performs professionally in New York.
“He’ll be joining us as a first-time Palace performer in this production,” Gabianelli said. “It’s fun to have a young energy in the show with us.”
That young energy may be all well and good for a future the Palace wasn’t supposed to have, but in the meantime, the old energy is still going strong (Metcalf is “doing a fair amount of performing in his retirement” at age 86!), and it’ll help turn back the clock tonight at the Wheeler.