courtesy of OpenStage Theatre
From left, Paul Green as Dorian Gray, Devora Millman as Victoria and Charlie Ferrie as Henry in OpenStage Theatre's production of 'Dorian Gray.'
FORT COLLINS - Oscar Wilde's only novel, "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," was about a man and his mirror, and area audiences might think they are seeing double when they see two adaptations of the work opening in the next three weeks.

It's not so much a case of Dueling Dorians as it is tough timing, but the first of the two world-premiere original musicals opens Saturday at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.

The OpenStage Theatre is up first with its high-stakes "Dorian Gray," which at a cost of nearly $50,000 is the most expensive production in its 28-year history - by nearly double. On Sept. 12, it will be followed by Denver Center Attractions' much more expensive and ballyhooed "Dorian" at the Buell Theatre.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is the Faustian story of an orphaned boy who becomes heir to a great fortune. As he gazes upon his portrait he declares he would give his soul to remain young while the painting instead would grow old. In classic melodramatic style, his wish is granted, and as he drives his fiancee to suicide and grows consumed with murder and deception, the portrait grows not only older but more sinister.

While the Denver Center's adaptation is a contemporary jazz musical, OpenStage is much more faithful to the story's gothic, 1890s origin while letting the timeless nature of the story's themes speak for themselves. "Dorian Gray" is written in the tradition of darker musicals such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables."

You don't need to make a classic story of vanity and depravity contemporary, director Jules Aaron believes, when its themes already are. "Especially coming from California, where everyone is more interested in the gift-wrapping than in the gift underneath," he said.

OpenStage has not only nurtured the work since giving it its first workshop performance in 1997, it has brought in five guest artists to carry it off.

"We're very proud of the work," said Aaron, a nationally recognized director based in Los Angeles. He is joined by composer Eddie Reyes, writer Thomas Sheehan and Equity guest actors Paul Green of Los Angeles and Devora Millman of Florida (she appeared in the Denver Center's "Inna Beginning" last year). "We want people to come in with very high expectations, and hopefully we will fulfill them," Aaron said.

But back in the summer of 1997, the only expectation was "literally trying to keep our heads above water," Aaron said. "Dorian Gray" had been given entry into what became the last annual Horsetooth Festival of Contemporary Musical Theatre, which was all but wiped out by a flood in Fort Collins. The "but" being "Dorian Gray," which was the only show to go on, purely because of the persistence of Reyes, artistic director Denise Freestone recalled.

"He pushed and pushed until finally we said, "OK, we will do two performances of just your show,' " Freestone said.

Aaron recalls the apocalyptic rainstorm "certainly gave the theatrical drama some real-life drama." It has taken five years to bring the creative team together again, and for Freestone to commit to the expense of it. "It's a major risk, but we believe in this work," she said.

Aaron said he has two purposes: "To give life to Wilde's story in a world of beauty where time ravages, and to give a stronger push to the ramifications of his choices. We take Dorian on a journey that is different from the book, to a place where he has to really live with the guilt of what he's done.

"It points up the morality of the choices he has made, and that gives not only the character but the theatrical work a much more interesting journey."

Take your pick

What: 'Dorian Gray,' an original musical

Written by: Eddie Reyes (music) and Thomas Sheehan (book)

Directed by: Jules Aaron

Presented by: OpenStage Theatre at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, 417 W. Magnolia St.

When: Saturday, 8 p.m., then subsequent Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 21; also at 2 p.m. Sept. 8, 14 and 15; and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19.

Tickets: $12-$16; call 970-221-6730