Almost Heaven. Director Randal Myler has assembled a group of terrific musicians and a winning, uniformly strong cast. Each member brings a distinct and interesting sensibility to the music. The show is intelligently written and directed, and the production values are impeccable. A large screen at the back of the stage shows evocative stills and, later, gorgeous, rushing Colorado scenes. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" acquires a whole new meaning when it's juxtaposed with photographs of young soldiers in the terrifying jungles of Vietnam. At his best, John Denver represented the free-souled and generous-hearted ideal that America has of herself. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 1. The Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 16.
Bright Ideas. Bright Ideas is about a couple who will do anything to get their toddler into the best kindergarten in town. This could be a vacuous sitcom premise, but for the most part it's attacked with savage humor, leavened by moments of dazed empathy. Genevra and Joshua were nice enough people, after all, before cultural pressure and their own concept of what good parenting required drove them to insanity. The couple's only son, Matt, was signed up for the Bright Ideas school on the day of his birth. As the play opens, he's almost four, and first on the waiting list. By the end of the play, Genevra is knee-deep in blood and Joshua is a drunk, mad, sleepwalking mess (references to Macbeth are intentional). The story is told in a series of wickedly cartoonish scenes, and it makes for a hilarious evening of theater. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 21, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curiousATacoma.com. Reviewed January 15.
McGuinn and Murry. McGuinn and Murry is a spoof of those '40s detective movies where the men wore fedoras and the women had gams. It's a lighthearted take on the genre that's neither cliche-ridden nor weighted by scholarship. The helium that keeps this smart, entertaining trifle aloft is the group's irrepressible inventiveness. A pair of washed-up detectives slump around their dusty office. The phone never rings. No shadowed, mysterious, cigarette-holder-wielding blonde ever appears at the door. To pass the time, the two P.I.s try to stump each other with hypothetical cases. Murry sets McGuinn a puzzler that involves a letter sent to his home, but the letter gets into the wrong hands, and soon McGuinn is frantically pursuing what he believes to be a real case -- in which he is somehow the suspect -- while Murry applauds the veracity of what she perceives as his performance. Presented by Buntport Theater through February 1, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed January 8.
Mercy of a Storm. It's New Year's Eve, 1945, and an elegantly dressed couple shares champagne in the pool house of a country club. They are George and Zanovia, a divorcing couple, who fight, argue about money, regret the past and think about reuniting. This is an exploration of a marriage riven by issues of age and class, a gentle play, with a patina of sophistication and moments of humor. There are little puzzles throughout, and some surprising answers to those puzzles. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's dialogue is craftsmanlike, and both characters are likable even if they're not deep or sharply delineated. As you watch, you find yourself rooting quite sincerely for the characters, but you don't think about their predicament once you've left the theater. Presented through February 15, the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-361-2910. Reviewed January 22.
The Producers. This is an entertaining show, polished and highly professional. It passes the evening delightfully -- well, at least up until the last third of the second act, which drags. There's lots of wit -- verbal, visual and musical -- and some of it is startled-laugh-out-loud funny. As most of us knew before entering the theater, The Producers is about a washed-up Broadway producer by the name of Max Bialystock who gets capital for his ventures by shtupping little old ladies and eventually figures out, with the help of accountant Leopold Bloom, that a Broadway flop can earn him far more money than a hit. He sets out to find the worst script imaginable and stumbles across Springtime for Hitler. Then he signs on a campy queen to direct and a bunch of talentless actors. The production is a hit. The Producers often bows to other shows. You get a yearning, Fiddler on the Roof-style violin, moments from A Chorus Line, a rumpety-thump segment from Oliver, a lament from the depths reminiscent of Mac the Knife's prison song in The Threepenny Opera. None of the music is memorable, but it's skilled and clever. The entire cast is talented, and there are several standout performances. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through January 31, Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 15.
A Streetcar Named Desire. At the beginning of Streetcar, Blanche Dubois, a faded Southern belle who has lost the family estate, arrives at the home of her sister Stella in New Orleans's French Quarter. The Quarter is a near-mythical place to Williams, sultry and hot, filled with jazz music and the scent of decay, evocative of both sensuality and death. Stella is living in a haze of blissful eroticism with her working-class husband, Stanley, a sexy lout who's violent and tender by turns. Blanche is horrified by her brother-in-law. Stanley is infuriated by Blanche's pretensions. He also realizes instantly that she's a threat to his marriage. There's a vicious dynamic of attraction and repulsion between these two damaged but seductive people. The cast is talented, but much of the direction of this all-black production is ill-conceived. The most glaring problem is Kim Staunton's unsympathetic performance as Blanche Dubois. Terrence Riggins creates a Stanley who's entirely original -- a bit of a goof, albeit a dangerous one. January LaVoy is a lovely, gentle Stella. Overall, it's hard to see how so much talent in the service of such an evocative play could go so wrong. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 14, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 22.
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