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Capsule reviews of current shows

Little Shop of Horrors. This show began in 1960 as a seventy-minute black-and-white movie, featuring Jack Nicholson in a small role and shot by director Roger Corman in two days. In 1982, the musical Little Shop of Horrors opened off Broadway, where it ran for five years. In 1986 it was made into a second film, with Steve Martin giving a brilliant performance as Orin, the sadistic, black-leather-clad dentist. A big reason for Little Shop's success is Alan Menken's catchy, rhythmic music, much of it a takeoff on the hits of such 1950s girl groups as the Chiffons, Crystals and Ronettes — and in fact, the trio of vocalists who accompany much of the action are named Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette. There's also the brilliantly spoofy central conceit: An alien embodied in a cannibalistic plant is determined to proliferate and consume the human race. To do this, he employs the unwitting services of Seymour, an innocent nerd employed in a skid-row florist shop. Seymour is in love with comely blond shop assistant Audrey, but she's been claimed by Orin and is afraid to leave him. As the tiny plant he discovered in an alley reveals its murderous nature to him, Seymour is confronted with a Faustian dilemma: The plant can help him win wealth, fame and Audrey — but only if he feeds its insatiable appetite for blood. Boulder's Dinner Theatre does a great job of capturing the show's lighthearted, capering energy. The costumes are witty, the set well designed and the orchestra's sound infectiously effervescent. But it's the actors who give a show its soul, and there are several good ones here, foremost among them strong-voiced Brandon Dill as Seymour. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through May 3, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed February 21.

The Merry Wives of Windsor. This is a bawdy comedy, filled with the kinds of jokes that Elizabethans found irresistible but often leave the rest of us scratching our heads — mispronounced words and weird accents, miscues, misidentifications and misunderstandings, the administration of sound thumpings, lots of talk about horns and cuckoldry. Rather than the cunning, cowardly and hilarious knight of the history plays, Sir John Falstaff is nothing but a fat, cash-strapped lecher, who decides to replenish his coffers by wooing two well-to-do — and entirely faithful — wives. The women learn of his intentions and embark on a sustained campaign to humiliate him. Around these people swirl a clique of peculiar characters of various types and regions. Director David Ivers somehow makes this minor play not only funny but elegant, seamlessly marrying the script's punning and dated Elizabethan humor to the bright optimism of the era of flappers and growing female independence — and clarifying both the action and the language in the process. There's joy and reconciliation at the end, including a coupling provided by Ivers rather than Shakespeare that puts a heart-cheering cap on a satisfying evening. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 19, the Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 10.

Oleanna. This play is about language, learning and the mysteries at the heart of education; it's also about the ever-shifting power between teacher and pupil, woman and man. Written about a year after the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill imbroglio, Oleanna is also a furious, misogynistic response to feminism, although its two antagonists are equally loathsome and, by the end, both have revealed the depths of their own depravity. At the start, Carol, the student, is in the office of John, her professor, because she doesn't understand his lectures. John is distracted, exulting in the recommendation he's just received for tenure, negotiating the purchase of a new house on the phone. He and Carol toss staccato, Mamet-style half-sentences past each other. Neither listens, and every time one of them seems about to pay attention, the ringing phone interrupts their dialogue. In the second act, we learn that Carol, with the help of a cult-like entity she calls her "group," has come to the conclusion that she's been sexually harassed by John, and has launched a campaign to destroy him. The more frantic he grows, the more vicious she becomes, and the more overblown her account of what originally happened between them, until finally the young woman who'd at first seemed so thick and inarticulate is pointing her finger and orating like a windbag politician. Although Oleanna doesn't provide much insight into sexual politics, it does provide entertainment — intellectual entertainment, because the writing is so sharp and swift, and the cheaper, more visceral entertainment we get from watching contestants in reality shows try to destroy each other. Presented by Avenue Theater through April 19, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed April 10.

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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, www.buntport.com. Reviewed November 15.

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