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Capsule reviews of current shows

La Cage Aux Folles. This is a big, splashy musical with lots of big, splashy song numbers. But unlike many such musicals, La Cage Aux Folles also has heart, humor and a good story to tell. In a time of intense mean-spiritedness and prejudice, it carries a message of tolerance and joy — and does so without preaching. Georges is a middle-aged homosexual who runs a transvestite club in St. Tropez. He lives in cozy, bourgeois domesticity with Albin, the club's temperamental star. Together the two men have raised Jean-Michel, the result of a long-ago one-night stand by Georges. Now a handsome young man, Jean-Michel is preparing to introduce his beloved to his parents. But this beloved is not only a woman, she's also the daughter of Edouardo Dindon, an extreme right-wing politician with designs on the presidency. Jean-Michel begs Georges and Albin not to reveal their homosexuality when the Dindons arrive for dinner. This results in a madly farcical flurry of scenes, and finally, after much yelling, celebration and cross-dressing — all punctuated with songs — a happy ending ensues. La Cage Aux Folles won a slew of awards when it opened on Broadway in 1983, and the 2004 revival won several more. Director Rod A. Lansberry's lavish production features a very strong cast, led by Michael E. Gold as Georges and Stephen Day as Albin, and all in all, it's a hell of a good time. Presented by the Arvada Center through December 23, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed November 22.

The Diary of Anne Frank. The Denver Center Theatre Company has mounted Wendy Kesselman's rewritten version of The Diary of Anne Frank, the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett that not only sugarcoated the horror that drove Anne into hiding and eventually destroyed her, but — in deference to the prejudices of the time — soft-pedaled the family's Jewishness in order to make the story more universal. Kesselman has restored some passages that reveal how central Anne's Jewishness was to her sense of herself, and she reminds the audience of the Nazi menace, incorporating the sounds of Allied bombing and shouting German voices into the action. But every time period has its own biases, and those of our culture show in Kesselman's revisions. She has made the Franks perhaps a touch more observant than they actually were, and added moments as sentimental as anything the 1950s could come up with. Anne and her mother arrive at a tear-saturated reconciliation. The relationship between Anne and Peter — shorn of all its magic, awkwardness, ambivalence and eccentricity —- climaxes like a scene in a Hollywood movie: Peter summons up the courage to give Anne an awkward peck on the cheek, and she responds by kissing him full on the mouth. And almost every line that isn't a direct quote from Anne's diary sounds tendentious or uninspired. Overall, this feels less like a piece of theater than an instructive after-school special. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 15, the Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 22.

For Better. Karen has just become engaged to Max. She's met him face-to-face only once, but they've conducted a three-month relationship via cell-phone conversations, texting and instant messaging. Everyone in Karen's small circle —- sister Francine, brother-in-law Michael, old friend Stuart (who's secretly in love with her) and Francine's best friend, Lizzie — communicates (or miscommunicates) in the same way. No one is ever actually in the same room with anyone else. The exception is dear old Dad, who's just as much in thrall to technology as the rest but hasn't gotten past the glued-to-the-television-screen-for-Kojak-reruns phase. The idea that current forms of communication affect our relationships in profound and unpredictable ways isn't new, but playwright Eric Coble has crafted some wonderfully farcical scenes in which his characters perform like sections of a wildly drunken choir or the bobbing objects in a fairground shooting gallery. But when he tries to get serious, he falters. By the play's end, Coble wants us to feel for these people, and things get cloying. Francine and Michael are much more amusing when he's telling her "You are not the most ant-free picnic, you know," than when they're coyly feeding each other bits of cookie. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 15, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 8.

The 1940's Radio Christmas Carol. For a while, as radio manager Clifton Feddington pitches us questions, hustles his performers and generally works to keep things on track, you can't help wondering just why you're watching this show. Clearly, it's supposed to be a slice of life, as awkward, desultory and filled with non sequiturs as life itself often seems, but in the theater, even desultoriness needs to be animated by an underlying sense of purpose, or at least incipient purpose. The precursor to this show is The 1940's Radio Hour, which is held aloft by a wonderful sequence of 1940s songs. This play lacks music, relying on mild jokes and the interactions among radio personnel as they present their own version of A Christmas Carol, but we never really learn anything about these people. Still, there are several appealing performances, particularly that of Niccole Carner, who has a compelling presence and the most charming dimples imaginable. And while The 1940's Radio Christmas Carol isn't exactly a smash, it does create a sweetly Christmasy sense of peace and community. Presented by Bas Bleu Theatre Company through December 30, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed November 22.

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