Curious Theatre raises thousands with one-night play

The love story of Wellington and Wilma Webb and their partnership in Denver politics played out in front of a sold-out crowd and raised money for the Curious Theatre on June 3.

The yearly fundraiser, called Denver Stories, celebrated its 10th anniversary with “One Degree of Separation: The Esteemed Legacies of Wilma and Wellington Webb” written by Josh Hartwell and directed by Christy Montour-Larson. It featured actors Keith Carlton Smith and Jada Suzanne Dixon as the couple.  

Seven additional actors played several roles as they chronicled the couple’s lives from casually knowing each other as Manual High School students to reuniting as divorced adults, each raising two children and merging their families. Also highlighted was the couple’s desire to enter politics, not as a job, but to make a difference in their community, state and country.

Wellington served in the state legislature, as Denver’s Auditor and 12 years as Denver’s first African American mayor. Wilma served 13 years in the state legislature, including sponsoring the bill that created the Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday. Both fought for social justice issues, including anti-discrimination laws for women and gays and police brutality.

The one-night play, which cost $1,000 a ticket to benefit the theatre, attracted longtime political supporters, former administration members and the couple’s children and grandchildren.

The couple praised the actors and script for depicting their lives inside and outside of the public spotlight.

“Many people only saw one side of us, the public side,” Wilma said, following a standing ovation from the audience. “This played showed our private side as well.”

In preparation, the couple spent hours with Chip Walton, producing artistic director, and scriptwriter Hartwell. “It became clear to me early in the play development process that they could easily provide enough material for us to produce a full-length play for each of them,” Walton said.

Hartwell also read, “Wellington Webb: The Man, the Mayor and the Making of Modern Denver,” the mayor’s autobiography published in 2007.

Wellington called the play “awesome.”                      

“I did not see the script beforehand so I had no idea,” he said. “It was great, better than I could have hoped.”

Mayor Michael Hancock could not attend the performance but wrote a tribute in the play’s program.

“Tonight you honor a couple who have individually and collectively blazed many trails and opened the eyes of an entire generation as to what is possible when you believe in right and are willing to work hard toward the goal,” Hancock wrote. “Their vision, courage and integrity set the standard for taking on the hard issues, asking the right questions and working for the benefit of all people.”

Surprised guest actors who revised their roles in the couple’s lives included former state Sen. Penfield Tate, who also worked in Mayor Federico Pena’s administration;  Paula Herzmark, Mike Dino, and Fabby Hillyard, all instrumental in Wellington’s 1991 mayoral campaign; and Andrew Hudson, who at 28 joined Webb’s administration as his communications director shortly after the 1995 election.

The play was the main fundraiser for the theatre founded 16 years ago and now home for 28 professional actors.

Previous “Denver Stories” have featured Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Richard Lamm, bluesman Otis Taylor, concert promoter Chuck Morris, Westword editor-in-chief Patricia Calhoun and Denver Health Foundation Director Paula Herzmark.