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Brief reviews of current shows

The King and I. Some of the problems with this production are inherent in the show itself. With its emphasis on strong women and abhorrence of anything resembling slavery, The King and I was progressive for its time, but no artist can entirely escape the myths and preconceptions of his own culture. So Rodgers and Hammerstein showed the people of Thailand as caricatures -- the women seductive and giggly, the men stiff as cardboard cutouts. The King -- in some ways and on his own terms a wonderfully humorous and quixotic character -- is still in need of civilizing. And who best to do it but a white, upper-class Englishwoman? The songs endure. No one ever wrote better love songs than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Shelly Cox-Robie makes Anna charming and radiant, and her voice is sweet and pure. Wayne Kennedy does sterling service as the King, though he makes the character funny and cuddly; there's no hint here of the dangerous, mercurial figure we expect, and that would jolt the plot into life. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 26, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed November 10.

Measure for Measure. Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is considered a comedy because nobody important dies in it and all the protagonists couple at the end, but like The Merchant of Venice, it's a shadowed comedy; at every turn, the plot threatens to tumble into tragedy. Kent Thompson has placed his version in fin de siècle Vienna, a setting that -- with its waltzes and colorful curlicued designs -- buoys the lighter parts of the play. But even as Vienna's citizens enjoy their chocolate-box culture, we know that World War I and the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire loom. The Duke of Vienna has allowed licentiousness to flourish, and it is now out of control. Feeling he can't lower the boom himself, the Duke decides to leave town for a while, placing his deputy, Angelo, in power. One of Angelo's first acts is to sentence a young man, Claudio, to death for impregnating his betrothed. Claudio's sister, Isabella, is about to enter a nunnery. Told of her brother's arrest, she hurries to the deputy to plead for his life. Angelo falls for her, promising to spare Claudio if she'll sleep with him. Thompson's interpretation shines new light on the trickier aspects of this plot. His Duke is a good-natured bumbler, and he has also chosen to stress the nastiness of the Viennese underworld rather than make its pimps and whores humorously appealing. This is a beautifully conceived production, beautifully played. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 25, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed February 16.

Party of 1. This is a good play to go to with a date, or to attend in hopes of finding one. The show is a sequence of cabaret songs dedicated to the joys and pains of singlehood, slightly reminiscent of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, though without the monologues; fizzier and more light-hearted than Sex and the City, but less weighted with ego and pretension. Four appealing people spin through songs with topics ranging from the insecurities raised by meet-and-mingle functions to the intense ambivalence you feel when someone with whom you're having a great relationship actually takes the next step and moves into your apartment. Party of 1 ran forever in the Bay Area, where writer-composer Morris Bobrow is famed for his clever lyrics and bright, listenable tunes. Good-natured and enjoyable, with just an edge of grown-up irony, the show deserves its popularity. Presented by the Playwright Theatre in an indefinite run, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, Reviewed November 17.

The Raft. There's one slightly original element in this play: three "Gazes" who surround the central character and apparently represent the critical and unhelpful voices of other people. But otherwise, this is a shallow, sloppily written script that relies on cultural cliches. Marta is attempting to cope with a mid-life crisis by lying around in bed eating chocolate and drinking wine -- Menopause the Musical without the songs. Marta's highly ambitious sister, Elan, is pushing her daughter to attend an Ivy League college and sneering at the University of Colorado, where Marta's two sons appear to be partying and pot-smoking their youth away -- at least until the younger son gets his lover pregnant. Many moments strain credulity, and the plot keeps shedding all over the stage. There's also some real tone-deafness here: No one should be subjected to such pseudo-philosophical lines as "What's your raft?" Presented by Modern Muse Theatre Company through February 26, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-780-7836, Reviewed February 9.

Red Scare. This is a hit-and-miss proposition, with mildly amusing moments alternating with laugh-yourself-silly skits and a few out-and-out clunkers. There's nothing particularly sophisticated, surprising or cutting-edge about the renowned Second City's Red Scare, but there is some funny stuff. In one scene, a teacher in a rough school comes into her classroom after hours to find a student planning to rifle her purse -- but in the end, he tells her in song, he couldn't steal from her because "I Saw Your Paycheck." In another, a suicidal Shakespearean heroine is talked out of her despair by a sassy gay friend. There's a good sketch about the exaggerated way white people talk to their black co-workers; a sad-funny bit involving a coach and his cancer-stricken wife; a monologue in which the talented Amber Ruffin gives grandmotherly advice about marriage and childbirth. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through May 21, Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed February 16.

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