Luck and magic at the Alchemist Dinner

Sometimes, life gives you a little luck, and sometimes you feel like life has given you a touch of magic.

More than 300 Colorado Academy donors who attended the annual Alchemist Dinner on Friday, September 10, might have felt they benefitted from both luck and magic.

Good luck gave the event a beautiful (albeit warm) evening and a memorable sunset, which guests could appreciate from the Cindy Jordan Plaza of the Leach Center for the Performing Arts and from a 6,000 square-foot tent at the end of Firman Field.

Just one year after heavy equipment demolished the Froelicher Theatre, the Leach Center had risen from its ashes. Hard work and excellent planning played the largest part in that transformation, but workers also benefitted from a little luck—a mostly mild winter kept the project on or ahead of schedule for a year of construction.

But it was Tony Award-winning actor, singer, and dancer André De Shields who conjured true magic at the Alchemist Dinner. With character and charisma, he brought the house down with a rendition of “Believe in Yourself,” which he first sang on Broadway in The Wiz.

De Shields also reprised his 2019 Tony Award-winning speech with words that resonated throughout the 500-seat theater: “One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming,” he told the audience. “Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next. So keep climbing.”

‘This place is special’

The Alchemist Dinner is an annual event which celebrates CA’s leadership donors, members of CA’s planned giving Musil Society, and faculty award recipients. This year, leadership donors to the See it Through campaign also attended.

When they were not catching up on the latest news after a year when the dinner was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, invitees could enjoy music provided by CA musicians, wander through the Leach Center and marvel at the magic of its beauty, and enjoy a dinner prepared and served by Sodexo General Manager Paul Worley and his staff.


After dinner, guests returned to the Leach Center theater where they were greeted by Board Chair Erika Hollis and Head of School Dr. Mike Davis. Hollis thanked generous donors that helped Colorado Academy “See it Through” with their gifts, culminating in the construction of the Leach Center.

“More than 800 families—many of you are with us this evening—are behind the success of the campaign,” Hollis said. “We could not have done this without you and your generous support and passion for the arts that are taught and performed on this campus.”

Hollis also thanked families who had supported other fundraising efforts, including The CA Fund, the new Lower School playgrounds, the CA endowment, and Horizons at CA.

Board Chair Erika Hollis and Head of School Dr. Mike Davis

Davis thanked the many donors who, seven years ago, envisioned and supported a Colorado Academy campus of the 21st century, with the renovation of the iconic Welborn House, the reconstruction of the Ponzio Arts Center, and construction of both the Athletic Center and the Leach Center. But Davis emphasized that what matters most is what happens inside those buildings.

“Among us are many teachers who have been recognized for their excellence in the classroom with faculty teaching awards,” he said. “They inspire your children to be curious and ask courageous questions and to go out and make the world a better place.”

Davis went on to point out that he had been at CA 14 years, but, he said, “It doesn’t matter if you have been here one year, 14, or 25—this place is special. Memories are made everywhere you look.”

Vocal Music Director Dr. Kevin Padworski accompanied De Shields for “Believe in Yourself.”

‘He is a national treasure’

For almost everyone, the evening represented their first experience inside the new theater. It was amazing how quickly their recollections of Froelicher Theatre productions were replaced by new memories dominated by De Shields, who is currently starring as Hermes in Hadestown on Broadway. He held the audience in the palm of his hand and talked about what it means to be an artist and an activist.

“He is a national treasure,” said retired teacher Suzanne Kolsun Jackson. And when De Shields reached into the audience and found her hand, she “felt touched by an angel.” Whether angel or wizard, De Shields captivated the crowd, especially when he sang, unaccompanied, “What a Wonderful World,” originally recorded by Louis Armstrong, and when he asked the crowd to sing along with him, “None of us are free, if one of us is chained.”

De Shields’ audience were members of the CA community whose generosity has transformed the Colorado Academy campus. But the generous soul of André De Shields left everyone feeling that, on this night, they had experienced both luck and magic.

View and download more photos from the Alchemist Dinner.