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Brief reviews of current shows

Phantom of the Music Hall. You really haven't lived until you've heard Johnette Toye singing Gilbert and Sullivan's "Poor Wandering One." She preens and staggers and makes her mouth into a dark, wide-open square from which emanates a cascade of extraordinary sound. This woman could sing the difficult coloratura parts beautifully if she wanted to -- and every now and then she does emit a tantalizingly perfect trill -- but for the most part, she's too busy barging around like a drunk, demented and utterly delighted-with-itself duck to worry about aesthetics. This isn't Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, although it's based on the same Gaston Leroux story. T.J. Mullin has transposed the events to an early-twentieth-century English music hall, where a strange caped figure coaches a beautiful young ingenue into stardom, then abducts her. The plot is only the plain shortcake base on which the skillful cast piles layers of frothy improvisation, hilarious bits and all kinds of songs, some from the appropriate time period, and others that they just bloody well feel like singing. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through May 28, 18301 West Colfax Avenue D-103, Golden, 303-279-7800. Reviewed April 6.

Quartermaine's Terms. At first, Quartermaine's Terms seems like one of those gentle, wistful British comedies in which all the meaning lies beneath and around the actual lines. It's set at a school in Cambridge where foreign students come to learn English, and the action takes place in the staff room over a period of two years, during which the lives of seven teachers shift and change. Mark wants to be a novelist. He's so obsessed with his writing that, at the beginning of the play, his wife has left him, taking their child. Eventually, she will return. Another teacher, Henry, talks about his high-strung daughter; toward the play's end we realize just how troubled she is. The youngest member of the staff, accident-prone Derek, struggles to survive on his tiny paycheck. And in the center of things is St. John Quartermaine, a politely smiling empty vessel who has been at the school for decades and has long since given up any attempt at actual teaching. Although these people socialize together periodically, they never really see or hear each other, and the actors mock and display their characters rather than inhabiting them. The play may be all about subtext, but there doesn't seem to be anything going on beneath the surface here. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through May 7, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, Reviewed April 20.

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.

Waitin' 2 End Hell. This play feels like the revenge fantasy of a man who's been dumped a few times too often. It tells the story of a career-minded black woman, Diane, who's cold and unfeeling toward her noble and long-suffering -- though quick-tempered -- working-class husband, Dante. Once Dante has left her for a warmer, sexier woman, Diane weeps alone on the sofa, finally realizing just what a bitch she's been. The women are paper-thin stereotypes: Diane is the cold-hearted sister who's succeeded in a white man's world; Shay's either a slut or a woman deeply in love with Dante -- depending on the kind of mouthpiece playwright William Parker needs at any particular moment; and Angela is the sweetly subservient Oriental woman who knows how to honor her man, giving him appreciation and lots of exotic sex. But there's vitality in the scenes where the men tease, mock or confide in each other, and when Waitin' 2 End Hell is funny, it works. When it goes for drama, though, it's obvious and excruciating. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through May 6, Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, 303-837-9355, Reviewed April 20.

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