Cabaret. Cabaret is grim and distressing, and there's not a hint of redemption anywhere in it. Quite the contrary. But this is a bloody good production, the kind of production that could -- and should -- attract all kinds of people who might never think of setting foot in a conventional dinner theater: shop owners and professionals and scientists and parents and college students out on a date. Anyone, in fact, who responds viscerally to fantastic music, deft staging and vivid, emotionally honest performance. Cabaret is loosely based on English writer Christopher Isherwood's account of his life in Berlin between 1929 and 1933. It centers on Sally Bowles, a singer who lives on charm, manipulation, willful eccentricity and the distribution of sexual favors, and her affair with an American writer. There's a second love story involving a middle-aged landlady and a Jewish grocer who brings her fruit. But the show's heart lies in the decadent Kit-Kat Klub, where a leering, epicene Emcee oversees all the acts. In time, as the shadow of fascism deepens, he seems to oversee the entire city of Berlin as well. Presented by Boulder Dinner Theatre through November 7, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theaterinboulder.com. Reviewed July 15.
Metamorphoses. Mary Zimmerman's play is a sometimes ironic and sometimes respectful take on Ovid's work of the same name. The cast assembles around a granite pool -- a miracle of design and engineering at the Avenue Theater -- that can be anything from a backyard pool to the Greeks' dangerous wine-dark sea, a medium for death, birth, baptism and transformation. Actors act out the myths or narrate them, sometimes addressing the audience, sometimes each other. The gods they portray are pretty much like the rest of us, vain or large-spirited, compassionate or cruel. Zimmerman may deserve all the praise she's earned for Metamorphoses, but the most powerful scenes rely on the words of Ovid and poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Still, Metamorphoses is a seductive combination of lighthearted pleasure and resonant, powerful theme. Presented by the Avenue Theater through August 29, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
Romeo and Juliet. The action of Romeo and Juliet takes place on a relatively empty stage, with a tall clock on one side and a Victrola suspended in the air on the other. The period is Victorian. The sparse set helps keep the action swift and clean, but it also betrays the production at a couple of important points. Throughout the play, characters keep cuffing other characters. Director Joel Fink has focused on the use of corporal punishment in Victorian society, suggesting that the family feuds and ensuing street brawls that caused the deaths of Romeo and Juliet were the product of a violence that began at home. Perhaps this idea isn't well enough integrated into the production. In a couple of first-rate and original characterizations, the actors portraying Mercutio and the Nurse come close to romping off with the play. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in rotation with Antony and Cleopatra and The Comedy of Errors through August 15, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 15.
Say Goodnight Gracie. George Burns, having just died, finds himself in limbo. To enter heaven and reunite with his professional partner and beloved wife, Gracie Allen, he has to audition for God. The audition is a recounting of his life. Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on the New York's Lower East Side. He shared a weekly bathtub of hot water with several siblings and a dog. Still a kid, he undertook a number of jobs to help keep the family afloat after his father's sudden death. He found that people would pay to hear him sing, and his infatuation with show business bloomed into passion when he teamed up with a young Irish Catholic vaudevillian named Gracie Allen. After their first performance together -- which bombed -- Burns realized that Allen was much funnier than he was, so he proposed that they switch lines, and he assumed the role of straight man. Instantly, they became a hit. The couple succeeded, sequentially, in vaudeville, radio and television. Frank Gorshin's performance as George Burns keeps the evening entertainingly afloat. He simply is George Burns for an hour and a half. The play is a lovely tribute to a fertile period in American comedy and a genuinely original comic couple. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through August 15, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed July 1.
The Tales of Hoffmann. Jacques Offenbach was known for his light comic operettas, but he composed Tales shortly before his death with posterity in mind. You can see his comic-opera talents in the toe-tapping, buoyantly enjoyable drinking songs. But the opera also features beautiful passages of yearning and passion. The plot concerns a poet, Hoffmann, who's mooning around in a tavern, while across the street the woman he loves -- the great diva, Stella -- performs in Mozart's Don Giovanni. Stella, Hoffmann says, is everything to him: artist, maiden and courtesan. He then tells his drinking companions the story of three previous loves. The romances he describes may be real or they may come from his fevered imagination. In any case, Hoffmann reels from beloved to beloved, drinking and taking drugs, until he's finally destroyed. The acting is good, and all the singing first-rate. Presented by Central City Opera in rotation with The Student Prince and Le Jongleur De Notre Dame through August 8. Central City Opera House, Central City, 303-292-6700, www.centralcityopera.org. Reviewed July 8.
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