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Capsule reviews of current shows

The 1940's Radio Hour. There's not much dialogue in this sweetly nostalgic musical revue, just ballads, novelty songs, swinging little numbers and Christmas favorites interspersed with comic routines and inadvertently comic commercials. The setting is a shabby radio station in 1942, when America was united behind what was almost universally considered a just war, and radio was the country's voice. Soldiers stationed overseas listened to programs like these; folks at home sent their thoughts out to these young men over the airwaves. There are bits of story. You can see that lovely lead singer Ann has something going with drunken, Dean Martin-style crooner Johnny Cantone. Obviously up-and-coming youngster BJ Gibson is fascinated by perky little Connie, and she reciprocates. Biff is off to war after the show, and everyone's wondering if he'll come back. But these aren't story lines you follow, just evocative moments that bob to the surface and sink under again. The 1940's Radio Hour is an excellent showcase for the talents of the Boulder's Dinner Theater troupe. Neal Dunfee's fine orchestra, usually hidden from the audience, is right there on stage, and the players become part of the action. Pursing her improbably heart-shaped lips and chugging soda at every opportunity, Joanie Brosseau-Beyette is full of infectious excitement. Scott Beyette unleashes his inner comic in a couple of very funny routines, complete with mangled words and dropped pants. Wayne Kennedy gives another of his appealing, low-key performances as caretaker Pops; Alicia Dunfee is in her element as slow-thinking, gum-chewing, would-be sexpot Ginger. If you're dreading the sentimentality, forced humor or relentless cheeriness of the usual Christmas offerings, this melodic, quietly charming piece may be just what you need. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through January 26, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed November 15.

Plaid Tidings. Perhaps there's a kind of thespian hell, in which actors who are clearly capable of so much more are stuck forever in stale shows as punishment for being bad in some way. If so, this production definitely qualifies. The four performers, while very different from one another, are all talented. James E. Bullard is the boy next door, open-faced and lively; Alan Swadener comes across as charmingly awkward and possesses a very pleasant tenor. Scott Ahearn is energetic and highly versatile: He can tap and play the piano, and has a strong on-stage presence as well as a powerful voice. Joseph Torello comes across as shortsighted and bookish, and his bass notes are amazing. The men's voices marry so well, and their sense of rhythm and harmony is so pleasing, I'd have been quite happy to spend an evening listening to them singing Christmas carols and songs, particularly since the accompaniment consists solely of a piano and a bass, so the singers aren't overwhelmed by a large orchestra. But no. Instead, Sparky, Frankie, Jinx and Smudge have been brought back to earth after dying in a car accident, and although they offer up pieces of well-loved songs, these pieces are often welded together into arrangements that are pointless and annoying. Besides, the plot and the gags are so dumb, obtuse and white-bread, the audience participation sections so manipulative and the sentimentality of the show so calculated that it's simply impossible to lose yourself in the music. Presented by the Arvada Center through December 23, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, Reviewed November 22.

Pride and Prejudice. To turn Jane Austen's novel into a play, writer Jon Jory chose an approach somewhat reminiscent of reader's theater. At the Denver Center, the story of the vulgar Mrs. Bennet's attempt to marry off her five daughters, and how witty, spirited Elizabeth and her good-hearted sister Jane find love despite all, is told on an almost bare stage, with two-dimensional-feeling scenery. In the book, depth and context are supplied by the voice of the author-narrator, and one of its great delights is the sense that beneath the elaborate social veneer, passionate human hearts are beating. But Nisi Sturges, who plays Elizabeth, tends to be an external actress, and her Mr. Darcy has very little to do or say; he's confined to standing around watching the others, or listening while Lizzie scolds him. There's no sensuality in either portrayal, and you never feel for a minute that these two are fighting a strong attraction toward each other. The same can be said for Jane and her beloved, Bingley. Adding to the artificiality, some of the roles are double-cast — including the central part of Bingley, and it's distracting to see the same actor pop up later as Bingley's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 15, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed December 6.

Starship Troy: Fame. By 8 p.m. the place is jammed. The audience looks young, some as young as high--schoolers, others in college; there are couples, gay and straight, and a scattering of older folk. Starship Troy is one of Buntport's informal efforts to create cheap, fun, accessible theater. It is a dramatized cartoon, each episode lasting about 45 minutes. The premise: A dump truck orbits space on a mission to clean things up. Its addled crew includes all the usual Buntport suspects: Erik Edborg, who for some reason has dryer-duct tubing sticking out of his front and who cuddles a white stuffed animal; cynical Hannah Duggan; Erin Rollman as an expressionless android (watching Rollman trying to remain expressionless is a comic feast); half-ape Brian Colonna; and Evan Weissman as something, well, something epicene and highly sexualized. An audience member volunteers as Ensign McCoy, who — in a tribute to South Park's Kenny, and perhaps to the Goon Show's Bluebottle before him ("You have deaded me again!") — gets killed in every show. This is throwaway theater in the best sense. If a line thuds to earth, no matter; it's gone as soon as it's said. If a piece of business is pure brilliance — too bad! It'll never be seen again, either. But what the hell, there's always another episode. Presented by Buntport Theater every Tuesday and Wednesday through May, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, Reviewed November 15.

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