Reviewed: Six Theater Productions to See Now!

Tommy Koenig as Paul McCartney in Baby Boomer Baby.
Tommy Koenig as Paul McCartney in Baby Boomer Baby.
Playhouse Productions

Summer's here, and while much of the artistic action moves outside, local stages are ringing with the sound of music, from Johnny Cash tunes to Andrew Lloyd Webber showstoppers. And this weekend is your last chance to catch Baby Boomer Baby, a real blast from the past. Keep reading for capsule reviews of six current productions:

Maria Ciobanu and Daisy in Annie.
Maria Ciobanu and Daisy in Annie.
Michael Ensminger

Annie. For the artists working with Phamaly, the company — comprised of folks with all kinds of physical ailments — is a lifeline. You can see the joy in the cast’s bodies and faces as they perform in Annie, the ways in which they surmount their disabilities, ignore them or openly use them to create intriguing new interpretations: the two men in wheelchairs who become New York City taxis; the woman gracefully waving as she rises on a platform for a radiant solo while you slowly realize that much of her left arm is missing; the wheelchair-bound child able to happily kick along with a leg-kicking chorus of youngsters after being carefully lifted onto a waiting lap — a moving illustration of these orphans' love and caring for each other. So here’s Maria Ciobanu as Annie, lively, spunky and cheerful, though never obnoxiously so, working with a wonderful group of children, some limping, some wheelchair-bound, others leaping around the stage — and among them young Moira McConnell, for whom the word “irrepressible” might have been invented. Ashley Kelashian is the most powerfully evil Miss Hannigan imaginable. When she sings the loathing-filled “Little Girls,” she evokes the image of the tentacled Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid, crunching terrified shrimp. Leonard Barrett brings warmth and charm — not to mention a magnificent voice — to the role of Warbucks; his charisma is matched by lovely Jenna Bainbridge as the aptly named Grace. And let’s not forget the two canine stars: blind Sonny and three-legged lab mix Daisy. Trent Hines directs an admirable orchestra, lush with strings. From their bios, many of the young cast members play instruments, and that makes sense, given the primacy of music in healing. Presented by Phamaly through August 6, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 800-641-1222, phamaly.org. Read the full review of Annie.

Baby Boomer Baby. If Baby Boomer Baby, the one-man show written and performed by Tommy Koenig that's now at the Dairy Arts Center, could be trimmed from a hundred minutes to about seventy – with each right-on-the nose moment given a little more space and attention while the just-miss bits were ruthlessly cut – and if you were able to enjoy Koenig's undeniable gift for mimicry while enjoying a glass of beer or wine from the lobby bar, you’d find this a cool, funny after-dinner diversion. But as it is, too many of the jokes fall flat, leaching energy from others that hit; too many parodies of famous singers lack juice; and after a while, the production feels shapeless and, worse, a bit pointless. An actor, standup comic and impersonator, Koenig was born in 1953, making him an authentic baby boomer. He describes his coming of age and, ultimately, his aging, by leading us through the music of each decade since the year of his birth, from the Everly Brothers to Lady Gaga, and also tossing out various non-musical cultural references. These references are sometimes really pointed, bringing laughs of recognition from his audience. He reminds us of the effect of the Beatles’ mop tops on the tight-assed, crew-cut culture of the early ’60s, and impersonates all four of the mop tops in turn as they perform on The Ed Sullivan Show (he also does Sullivan), switching deftly from one Beatle to another. Important dates and events swirl by. It’s sort of funny that Koenig was in the general vicinity during the wild days of Woodstock but serving as a day-camp counselor at a Borscht Belt camp; it might have been funnier if he’d told us how he reacted when he learned of the drug-, mud-, music- and sex-soaked experience he’d missed. Some things definitely work: It’s clear that many in the audience remember the mail-order Columbia Record Club, which enticed members to join with absurdly low-priced discs and then saddled them with all kinds of music they never wanted. There are knowing laughs as Koenig talks about hippies transitioning into yuppies, wearing their sweaters around their shoulders and sunglasses on top of their heads. His Edith Bunker imitation draws fond chuckles. But there are a couple of questionable choices, too: a Chinese waiter complete with buck teeth and a stereotypical accent created in service to I forget what gag, a transformation of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” to “Black Cleaning Woman.” These jokes might have flown once in the Borscht Belt, but they’re groaners now. And doesn’t Willie Nelson deserve better than an incontinence lament titled “On the Commode Again”? Presented by Playhouse Productions through July 22 at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 303-444-7328, tickets.thedairy.org. Read the full review of Baby Boomer Baby.

Cindy Laudadio-Hill as Kate.
Cindy Laudadio-Hill as Kate.
Playhouse Productions

Broadway Bound. The dining-room table is at the center of Kate Jerome’s life, a life devoted to caring and cooking for her family. So it’s intensely meaningful that — though she spends long periods of time waiting for her husband, Jack, to come home and eat, and continually encourages her two grown sons, Eugene and Stan, to come to the table — you never see everyone seated together for a meal in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound. The only person who does eat there, grumbling continuously, is Kate’s cantankerous socialist father, Ben. The play is a realistic family drama, though young Eugene Jerome, clearly a stand-in for Simon himself, occasionally steps out of the warmly cluttered frame to deliver a comment or explanation directly to the audience. The action takes place in the late 1940s. The war is over, times are rapidly changing, and everyone in the family is seeking his or her place in the world. Kate clings to her traditional role. Ben, who knows Jack is about to leave and his grandsons will soon be trying their luck in the world, worries about leaving Kate alone and retiring to Florida, as his wealthy daughter Blanche — who married money — urges. Eugene and his excitable older brother, Stan, are hoping to break into show business as comedy writers. Their talk about what comedy is and what makes a good script provides an interesting commentary on Simon’s own work and the play itself. The characters are all richly drawn, and kudos to director Kate Gleason, a fine actor in her own right, for assembling equally rich performances. Kate is the heart of this household, and Cindy Laudadio-Hill gives a beautiful performance in the role. There’s a pivotal moment when Eugene persuades Kate to describe the peak experience of her life: the evening at the Primrose Ballroom when, as a young woman, she danced with the soon-to-be-famous George Raft. As she speaks, Eugene provides commentary, essentially transforming her memory into a movie in his mind. Until she silences him with a single flat sentence: “The movie isn’t over yet.” Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through August 20, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com. Read the full review of Broadway Bound.

Keep reading for three more reviews.



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