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.
Blithe Spirit. As Blithe Spirit opens, Charles Condomine is working on a novel that features a medium who's a charlatan. He invites a local psychic over so he can observe her holding a séance. Unfortunately for his book, Madam Arcati is dotty and befuddled -- but she's the real thing. After some of the usual hocus-pocus table tapping, the summoning of a child guide from the other world, a trance and lots of cucumber sandwiches, she actually manages to conjure up the ghost of Charles's former wife, Elvira. Current wife Ruth is less than delighted to have her deceased predecessor flitting around the living room. Elvira, on the other hand, is a prankish spirit who thoroughly enjoys the panic and confusion she causes. Although several of the British accents fail to convince, the acting is strong, and this is a pleasurable and very funny evening of theater. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 24. The Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 8.
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.
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.
The Merchant of Venice. Although it's a comedy, The Merchant of Venice is far darker than such sunny offerings as Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's also a difficult piece for modern audiences because of the figure of Shylock at its center. The plot is derived from anti-Semitic medieval sources; it's hard to square it with the love tangles that make up the rest of the play. Some directors simply take out the most problematic language. Denver Center director Anthony Powell, however, has chosen to present the play as written. It's a brave and intelligent choice, but also one that requires a strong directorial vision, and this production feels fragmented, lacking in balance and authority. The acting is uneven, the set flat and linear, and there are several out-and-out directorial gaffes. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 24. The Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 8.
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