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Brief reviews of current shows

 All's Well That Ends Well. This play isn't Shakespeare's best: It lacks the usual poetry and insight, and the plot is highly problematic. Helena, one of those smart, resourceful, charming heroines we've seen in other Shakespearean comedies, is in love with Bertram, son of the Countess who raised her, but the man has nothing to recommend him. He's mean-spirited, callous, dishonest and a womanizer — and besides, he doesn't even like Helena. When she cures the King of France of an illness, he gives her Bertram as a reward, telling the sulky youth to choose between Helena and death. This All's Well That Ends Well is worth seeing, however, if only for Sean Tarrant's performance as Paroles and Randy Moore's wry old Lafew. If the entire production were up to their standard, it might be possible to see this infuriatingly difficult play in an entirely new light. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 17, Mainstage Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, Reviewed August 9.

Around the World in 80 Days. The Victorians became increasingly fascinated with stories of adventure as technological advances in travel made their world smaller and more accessible. It didn't hurt that so much of that world map was colored an imperial red. In his famous novel Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne makes fun of the British, creating in Phileas Fogg the kind of imperturbable Englishman who ventures into foreign lands with no concern for local tradition or custom, taking his tea and kippers wherever he goes. Fogg makes a bet at his gentleman's club that he can circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. He's accompanied on his journey by Passepartout, a Frenchman as acrobatic, voluble and emotional as Fogg is stiff and inexpressive. The two are followed by a Scotland Yard detective who mistakenly believes that Fogg is a thief, and they encounter many adventures, most notably rescuing Aouda, a beautiful Indian woman who's about to be set ablaze on her husband's funeral pyre. Unfortunately, the staged version is static. Over and over again, some character or other (five actors play dozens of roles) explains where the travelers are and what has just happened. The moments that work best are those when something is actually happening on the stage: the ingenious creation of an elephant from a variety of props, for instance, and the dazzling scene when Passepartout rescues the unconscious Aouda. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 18, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554, Reviewed July 5.

Cendrillon. This Central City Opera production is a visual feast. The costumes combine charming empire lines with the crooked, cunning shapes we associate with fairy tales. The sets are sophisticated. Director Marc Astafan has done his part, too, creating graceful dances and eye-pleasing character groupings. And all of these shapes, tones and colors are beautifully coordinated. But none of it would matter if the music weren't lovely — operatic set pieces, charming melodies, an occasional church chime that echoes the Fairy Godmother's gliding coloratura — and if the voices weren't as gorgeous as the design. Leah Wool makes Cendrillon a far warmer-blooded creature than Disney's blank-faced, artificially feisty Cinderella, and her rich, full singing voice sounds equally beautiful solo, paired with the fine tenor of Vale Rideout, who plays Prince Charming, or blending with Heather Buck's ethereal notes as the Fairy Godmother. There's enough solidity here to prevent the production from flying off into unmoored whimsy, enough humor to offset the pathos, enough style to keep the farcical elements contained. Nothing is overdone, but everything is done fully, and the result is an almost unadulterated delight. Presented by Central City Opera through August 19, 303-292-6700, Reviewed August 2.

Julius Caesar. Cynthia Croot's direction amplifies the problems of the script but also provides small moments of revelation. She's set the action in "a fictional Rome several years from now," which means she can do just about anything she wants: costumes of no particular period; an intrusive pile of junk stage left that serves no purpose whatever. The Soothsayer wanders around in a peculiar white costume and futuristic headgear; a dead deer, presumably the animal Caesar's servants slaughtered in order to read the future in its entrails, is hung up on the stage, head lolling. Caesar's corpse is wrapped in a shower curtain. Or perhaps it's a dry-cleaning bag. Croot even has the actors freeze at the moment of the attack on Caesar while one of them announces intermission. Some of the ideas work. Bob Buckley makes Julius Caesar a corporate type: brisk, practical and unimaginative. Richard Thieriot's Marc Antony manifests none of the charisma we associate with the role. When he enters the Capitol to view Caesar's body, he's a sheepish nerd, shifting from foot to foot, flashing appeasing grins at the bloody-handed men surrounding him; he mutes the poetry and passion of the great speeches. And Cassius is played by a woman, which helps us reimagine the play but ultimately throws it off-kilter. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 18, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554, Reviewed August. 2.

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