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Brief reviews of current shows

 Amadeus. The Denver Center Theatre Company's glittering, sumptuous version of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus focuses more on a clean, elegant delivery of the text than on the passion at the play's core. The central figure, Antonio Salieri, was the best-known composer of eighteenth-century Vienna, an upright man dedicated to serving his God through music. Enter Mozart -- as Shaffer envisions him, the distorted product of his life as a child prodigy. He's a giggling boy, given to lewd behavior and scatological speech, as coarse and vulgar as his music is exquisite and full of emotion. Salieri plots to bring his rival down; pretending to be a supporter, he works behind the scenes to make sure Mozart sinks into penury. He even tries to seduce Mozart's playful little wife, Constanze, and finally works to hasten Mozart's death. Brent Harris holds the stage with authority as Salieri. His speech is crisp and strong; what's lacking in this skilled technical performance is heart. At the start, Douglas Harmsen's jumpy Mozart seems even more of a caricature than the playwright had intended -- but Harmsen succeeds completely by the play's end, as we watch the arrogant, silly youth transmuting his personal weakness into transcendent art while, at the same time, devolving into a terrified little boy, huddling under the table, cut off mid-giggle. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 28, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.

Cabaret. This musical follows a very young English chanteuse by the name of Sally Bowles, who sings in a seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub in the early 1930s and meets up with an aspiring American novelist -- the usual innocent abroad -- named Clifford Bradshaw. She's a waif and a naif, ignorant of politics, greedily self-absorbed, and he finds her fascinating. Still, the central figure is the sexually ambiguous, apparently all-powerful Emcee, played here by Nick Sugar, who also choreographs and directs this production. Sugar might have been born to play the role. He makes the character a mocking, sexually ravenous omnivore: Boys, girls, men, women -- it's all the same to him. Although most of the songs, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, are bouncily irresistible, they're also debauched, with an unsettling undertone of menace. On number is particularly hard to watch. The Emcee dances with a gorilla while singing what sounds like a sweet song about tolerating differences. It's comic. The audience laughs. At the end he explains that the gorilla is a Jew, and they realize just what they've been laughing at. This is a depth charge of a production, powered both by Sugar's performance and the kick-ass music of Donna Debreceni and her band. Presented by Town Hall Arts Center through October 22, 2450 West Main Street, Littleton, 303-794-2787, www.townhallartscenter.com

The Dresser. The year is 1942, and England is at war. A revered but aging actor, identified only as Sir, is traveling the country, bringing Shakespeare to the provinces. To complicate things further, the actor is moving swiftly into dementia. The action begins an hour or two before the curtain for King Lear, and he has just been retrieved, weeping, from an aimless peregrination around town during which he began taking off his clothes. The sensible stage manager, Madge, wants to cancel the evening's performance. Sir's common-law wife -- referred to as Her Ladyship -- is torn. But the devoted dresser, Norman, is determined the show will go on. The first act of Ronald Harwood's play is more compelling than the second because it's focused tightly on the relationship between Sir and Norman and unified around the urgent question of whether Sir will be able to perform the role he has inhabited so many times before; there are a few too many plot complications in the second act. But the central characters are fascinating: Sir, whose egotism is so all-encompassing that it sometimes edges on magnificence; and waspish, funny, tender Norman, a man with no life of his own. This production is blessed with a strong cast. As Sir, Jonathan Farwell has the manner of an old-fashioned English Shakespearean actor down pat. And Leonard E. Barrett, one of the most interesting actors around, makes Norman both a sad clown and the strong spine of the action. Presented by Bas Bleu Theatre Company through October 21, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949. www.basbleu.org.

Hedda Gabler. Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, first published in 1890, is a play about the havoc wrought by an out-of-control woman, a woman who's driven by impulses she herself cannot understand. When you set her shenanigans in a 1950s context, as director Warren Sherrill does here, you no longer feel oceanic impulses moving beneath the text; instead, the action seems shaped by the sheer kitschiness of that strangest of decades. This interpretation works on its own terms. It rescues the play from the museum and makes the dialogue (a fluid translation by Doug Hughes) feel relevant and contemporary. Barbra Andrews gives us a skilled and fascinating Hedda, who comes across like one of those bitchy mean girls everyone hates in movies about high school. The soul in this production is supplied by two characters usually considered so boring as to be almost invisible: Josh Hartwell's George Tesman and Kate Avallone's Thea Elvsted. As these two begin their years-long task of piecing together Eilert Lovborg's lost manuscript, there's a sense that they're engaged in a genuine and important act of creation. If you can accept Hedda as black comedy rather than tragedy, you'll find this production loads of fun. Presented by Paragon Theatre through October 28, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com.

Living Out. Everything that playwright Lisa Loomer says about the blindness of the middle class -- even the kindest and most liberal-minded among them -- to the problems of the people who work for them is true and desperately needs saying. She explores these issues through the relationship between Ana, a Salvadoran nanny, and her employer, Nancy, a high-powered entertainment lawyer married to a public defender. Nancy knows nothing about the life Ana has fled, and she harbors many of the usual stereotypes about Latinos. But she's a decent enough sort, and the play raises the possibility that a real friendship might develop between these women. The beginning of Living Out can be funny, and Loomer's points are worth making -- but argument isn't drama, and the characters seem to have been created solely as the playwright's mouthpieces. We've met affluent liberals like Nancy and her husband before, and a lot of the dialogue is at a sitcom level. As for Ana, she's purely sad and saintly. Like the dialogue, the direction lacks urgency and the action feels slow. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 28, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.

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