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By Christine Benedetti | December 9, 2016 | Culture
The Wheeler Opera House rolls out a season of big names and even better ambitions.
A night at the opera! The Wheeler Opera House has extended its programming under one-year Executive Director Gena Buhler to include regular concerts, such as this Queen tribute from last spring’s season.
When tickets to the Beach Boys at the Wheeler Opera House went on sale this summer, they sold so quickly that organizers hurried to add a second afternoon performance for the same day, December 28. The Grammy Award-winning legends are just one of several well-known acts slated to take the historic stage this winter, reflecting the leadership of Gena Buhler, who took the helm of executive director in 2015.
“I think it is a testament to the desire from the Aspen community to see bigger name acts on the Wheeler stage,” says Buhler. “Bigger names bring a level of trust and prestige to a venue, and with such an amazing, historic lineage of acts that have performed here, we are really excited to up the ante a bit on what the community will see moving forward.” One of the goals of this programming, she adds, is to “bring new and different audiences to the Wheeler, which in the long run helps to build audiences.”
Among the artists helping to advance that mission this season are The Blind Boys of Alabama (December 17), comedian Kevin Smith (December 18), and the Ten Tenors (December 25). “For the first time in a long time, we’ll have robust holiday-time programming, and I’m pleased with the diversity,” she says. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to find a place in everyone’s holiday traditions.” Since taking over one year ago, Buhler has been influential in expanding Wheeler’s programming to include everything from more family-friendly shows to an “On the Rise” band series.
Major headliners litter the calendar. Last year, Wheeler Wins, a membership rewards program for loyal concert-goers, rolled out, and this winter promises to see a new website. But one of the opera house’s most high-profile programs is the production of its own four-day comedy festival—a move to fill the void created when the HBO Comedy Festival pulled out of Aspen nearly a decade ago. Cue Whitney Cummings, Margaret Cho, Adam Devine, and Kevin Nealon to dole out the giggles from February 22 through February 25.
And if it seems like this all means more competition for Belly Up, Aspen’s 450-person nightclub and music venue, it’s quite the opposite. Belly Up staff has been contracted to run the Wheeler’s concession and bar area, and the two have even partnered to lure those better-known bands to town. It all translates into a win for the Wheeler—and its fans. 320 E. Hyman Ave., 970-920-5770
PHOTOGRAPHY BY REBECCA STUMPF (BUHLER); COURTESY OF WHEELER OPERA HOUSE (PERFORMERS)