Bat Boy: The Musical. The character of Bat Boy is based on a recurring character in the Weekly World News -- a two-foot-high boy, found in a cave in West Virginia, who endorsed Al Gore for president and later almost died after being sprayed by a pesticide truck. In the musical, a human-sized Bat Boy is found by some teenagers, wounding one of them before being captured and taken to the local vet to be euthanized. But the vet's wife and daughter -- Bat Boy ultimately falls in love with the latter -- adopt and tame him. Bat Boy is betrayed by his animal nature, as well as by the vicious, tortured vet, who has an evil secret of his own. The show references all kinds of themes, featuring bits and pieces from pop culture and archetype alike. The child reared by beasts is a staple of myth and fairy tale, and the lonely soul standing at the edge of society, yearning for acceptance, stands as a metaphor for outsiders of all kinds: the artist, the homosexual, the exile. But there's nothing at all serious about Bat Boy: The Musical. You empathize with Bat Boy, but his misfortunes are just so damned amusing. The cast, directed by Steven Tangedal, is hilarious, too. Presented by the Theatre Group through May 1, Theatre on Broadway, 13 South Broadway, 303-777-3292, www.theatregroup.org. Reviewed March 18.
Cookin' at the Cookery. Singer Alberta Hunter had an extraordinary life. She left her Memphis home at the age of twelve for Chicago, where she got her start at a rough club called Dago Frank's. Eventually, she moved to New York City, becoming part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. During the '30s, like many black artists, she found refuge in Europe from the racism of her native country and won stardom and acclaim there. Astonishingly, at the age of 59, she quit music to take a nursing course. She worked at a hospital in New York City for twenty years before returning to the stage at the age of 81. All these details are faithfully recorded in Cookin' at the Cookery, but the script seems oddly generic. You never feel that you actually understand anything about this woman that you couldn't have learned from reading a brief bio. Two actresses carry the show. Ernestine Jackson plays Alberta Hunter; Janice Lorraine moves from role to role: She's an impresario, the "ugliest woman God ever put breath in," Louis Armstrong, the show's narrator and the young Hunter herself. Despite some weaknesses in the script, the music and singing might have ultimately rescued the evening if it weren't for the ugly, sound-distorting mikes shadowing the women's faces. In a venue the size of the Denver Civic, the human voice should certainly be able to prevail. Particularly when it's the magnificent voice of Ernestine Jackson singing the music of Alberta Hunter. Presented by Denver Civic Theatre through April 18, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.denvercivic.com. Reviewed February 19.
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Hairspray. Hairspray is about Tracy Turnblad, a rotund little teenager in 1962 Baltimore who dreams of dancing on local television in The Corny Collins Show. Despite the jeers of more slender contestants, she puffs up her bouffant hairdo, struts into the studio and manages to do just that. She also wins the love of teen heartthrob and Elvis wannabe Link Larkin. In support of her theory that the teen dance world should be integrated and every day should be "Negro day," Tracy bridges the gap between the bubblegum '50s and the awakening '60s and assimilates the show with the help of wise, humorous, indefatigable -- and indefatigably rhyming -- Motormouth Maybelle. Hairspray is knowing and ironic, but it also has a heart of the sweetest, purest marshmallow. It's consistently on the side of the underdog and the outsider. There's a cartoonlike brightness to the production, and most of the performers are first-rate. Best of all are the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through April 11, Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 1.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This is a slight piece, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice in 1968 as a twenty-minute-long pop cantata for a school concert. An embryonic work, it is also far less pretentious than the puffed-up, overblown extravaganzas of later years. The musical tells the biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob, whose brothers resent the love shown to him by their father and exemplified by the coat of many colors the old man has given him. They sell Joseph into slavery. After a lot of shenanigans that include a false charge of seduction, time in prison and the practice of prophesy for the Pharaoh, Joseph becomes a big man in Egypt. Eventually, the perfidious brothers appear, begging for food. All this is leavened with musical jokes and lots of effervescent humor. Time periods swirl into each other as schoolchildren in baseball caps move among ancient Egyptians wearing golden headdresses. The cast is talented, and the members work well together. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through June 20, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed March 18.