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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, Reviewed November 22.

A Child's Christmas in Wales. Director Philip Sneed has captured some of the true, pure spirit of Christmas with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's first winter production. Dylan Thomas's famous short story is a series of childhood memories. "I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find," he writes. "In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen." The show gives Thomas's gorgeous and amazing words their due, but "A Child's Christmas" is a short piece, and a staged reading wouldn't last even the 75 minutes that this production does. So Sneed and his cast added movement, mime, songs and words from other sources. Some of these embellishments work well, as when the family passes plates of food around the table in choreographed sequence, moving faster and faster, then slower and slower as fatigue and satiation set in. Some others feel shoehorned in, or a little too cute. But while the cast — which actually sings all the carols Thomas mentions at the end of the piece — is sometimes overly twinkly, overall this is a very pleasant contribution to the holiday season. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through December 24, University Theatre-Mainstage, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554, Reviewed December 13.

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, Reviewed November 22.

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.

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